Monday, February 28, 2011

Update on Protests (3)

(1) Protesters growing in numbers in Salalah.
(2) A large group of lawyers (wearing their robes) have joined the protesters.
(3) Rumor that needs confirming: His Majesty is to address the nation at 7 p.m tonight. Can anyone confirm if this is true?

Update on Protests (2)

(1) Just received an automated phone message from Sabak (breaking official news in Oman) announcing that the letter with the people of Dhofar's 'demands' has been successfully delivered to His Majesty the Sultan. The message reached me at 8:00 a.m Monday morning.
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(2) Protests continue in Salalah in front of the Governor's office (Minister of State & Governor of Dhofar). They're peacefully gathered under their tents and feeling empowered.
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(3) More royal decrees out today. Lots and lots of government reshuffling!

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Update on Protests

I'm exhausted. It's been a long day. Here's a mini-summary of the past 48 hours:

(1) Protests continue in Sohar & Salalah

(2) Protests in Salalah quiet and peaceful

(3) Protests in Sohar violent.

(4) Police shot 2 dead (confirmed) in Sohar and maybe up to 4 (last I heard an hour ago)

(5) Tear gas and rubber bullets used on protesters in Sohar.

(6) Police in Salalah snoozing in their cars while protesters sit peacefully opposite the governor's office.

(7) Protesters claim they're not moving until their demands have been fulfilled

(8) Their plan seems to have worked.

(9) His Majesty reshuffles ministers around last night. Royal decrees can be read here.

(10) Protesters still not satisfied

(11) His Majesty (as of a few minutes ago) announced a monthly compensation package of 150 OMR for each registered unemployed person in the country. Where did THAT money come from?

(12) His Majesty has also announced the 'creation' of 50,000 jobs. Sounds highly suspicious. Where did the 50,000 come from?

(13) Huge protests expected on Tuesday March 1st all over the country.

(14) If you live in Salalah, RELAX. There's no violence and it's safe to go outside. The protesters have congregated in front of the Minister's office. There are no protests anywhere else in town. It's not even called a protest anymore. It's a peaceful 'sit-in'. Send them cookies if you want.

Read Muscat Mutterings for more details. I'm cross-eyed. Cheers.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Anti-Government Protests in Dhofar

And I thought the opening of Oman's largest Lulu Hypermarket and the launch of the National Geographic exhibition would be the only interesting piece of news from Salalah today! Apparently not! Protesters gathered outside the Governor's office yesterday after Friday prayers and evidently they have not moved and won't until their demands have been fulfilled. I sent my brother to investigate. They've been chanting 'People want an end to corruption!'.
الشعب يريد اسقاط الفساد
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What demands? They want the following from His Majesty the Sultan:
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(1) An end to corruption in the government
(2) More jobs for people in need
(3) increase in salaries for the poor, widows and divorced women
(4) Lowering prices
(5) An end to financial and administrative wasta in the government and private sector
(6) And other demands.
It'll be interesting to see how it turns out. The police are standing around watching. Nothing violent.
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Here's a video of the demonstrations last night in Salalah. Evidently protests have erupted in Sur, Sohar, Shinas, and more in Muscat. What is going on in the Arab world?!!
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Lulu post will come later!

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

New Blogger

Just wanted to welcome new Dhofari blogger Shaboun Al Mashani to the scene. I totally dig the name, by the way. I'm assuming it's not your real name! Keep writing and I'm sure you'll build up a loyal fanclub in no time! Have a great weekend everyone!
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News next week: Largest Lulu Hypermarket in Oman opens up in Salalah on Saturday the 26th. BIG NEWS!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Dance Troupe from Georgia

I received an invitation this morning in my inbox to attend a performance by a dance group from Georgia. Evidently it's free. You should go.
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Date: Wednesday February 23, 2011
Time: 8 p.m
Location: Al Muroog Theatre in Ittin
Town: Salalah

Saturday, February 19, 2011

The Cave Dwellers: Dhofar's Collective Identity Crisis

If you remember, several months ago I published the longest post in the world. (more like the longest rant in the world). Today is one of those days. Forgive me if my thoughts seem random, violent, or incoherent. Every once in a while I feel the need for a good rant, hence the existence of this blog. I recommend a strong cup of coffee or tea before you read this. If you think I’m crazy, the least you can do is humor me. I started my grumbling this morning with a good friend (you know who you are) but if I had allowed our SMS conversation to continue, it would have eventually been forgotten and then disappeared into Omantel’s magnificent (and heavily monitored) infinity.
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I was at the wedding of a distant cousin on Thursday where I wore the same ‘thobe’ (traditional dress) that I had worn to another relative’s wedding a couple of months back. I was sitting next to a woman I didn’t recognize (let’s name her Fatma). She stared at me for a good half hour and then finally spoke. This is how the conversation went:
Fatma: You’re X’s daughter?
Me: Yes. And you?
Fatma: Don’t you work?
Me: Yes, I do. Why?
Fatma: So you can afford a new thobe. Why are you wearing an old one?
Me: Excuse me?
Fatma: I saw you wearing this thobe at Y’s wedding in November.
Me: It’s only 3 months old and I’ve only worn it once.
Fatma: But the same people have ‘seen’ you wearing it. What will they say? My husband is not well-off and we have four daughters but even though it’s expensive, all my daughters are wearing new thobes today. We know how to ‘act’ in this society.
Me: How much did you spend on the thobes, makeup, wigs, and henna?
Fatma: What?
Me: HOW MUCH DID YOU SPEND?
Fatma: Over 500 rials.
Me: And you’re convinced that it’s right?
Fatma: Of course. This is society. There’s nothing you can do. You can’t change society.
Me: YES YOU CAN.
Fatma: You think that because you’ve been abroad for too long. My dear girl, you don’t understand anything.
Me: God help you. (and I stood up and left)
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The sheer collectivism that I witness in Dhofar every day is baffling. Most of the time I am able to just keep calm and carry on, but sometimes it just drives me crazy. Why is it that after being back in Oman for over two years, I still haven’t been able to adapt? Or perhaps I never will?
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My dear readers, I hereby accuse Dhofaris (and Arabs in general) of being unable to break out of what I call ‘Dhofar’s Collective Identity Crisis’. A collective identity refers to people’s sense of belonging to a group (Dhofaris). A collective identity forms the identity of the individuals until they are unable (in some cases) to make their own decisions. Sometimes the sense of belonging to a particular group will be so strong (tribalism) that is will undermine other aspects of one’s personal identity.
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George Orwell, a dedicated democratic socialist, believed that collectivism resulted in the empowerment of a minority of individuals that led to further oppression of the majority of the population (in the name of some ideal such as honor or tribalism or whatever… ring a bell? Have you been following the news lately?)
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In our defense, I must state the obvious: we have not been encouraged to think for ourselves. It all starts when we are young. We go to school and are taught to memorize. We spend 12 years memorizing and copying out what the teacher writes on the blackboard. When we get into college, we struggle because we are unable to write our own essays or form our own opinions and theories about anything. To survive, we plagiarize. We take the same courses as our ‘friends’ because we cannot face the idea of attending the classes alone and studying alone. We graduate (barely) and end up getting a job through someone’s wasta. We do what we’re told and nothing more. Then we whine like babies when we don’t get a bonus for being innovative. We watch hours of TV everyday and are fed media crap on a silver plate. We don’t do any thinking in the process.
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We decide to get married when society starts pressuring us (you’re too old – 24- it’s time to get married!). We choose a husband or wife based on what society deems ‘suitable’ (i.e. someone from a ‘good family’ with a ‘good reputation’, ‘good morals’ and ‘good connections’ and preferably lots of money). When you finally get married, you are forced to spend thousands on stupid un-Islamic Dhofari wedding ‘necessities’ in order to be like everyone else, regardless of whether we can afford it or not.
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We wear the black face veil and frequent the same stores, and buy the same things because other people are doing it. Men wear the kumma and dishdasha because guys who wear jeans are considered wild. (not only do we have an identity crisis, but a fashion crisis – a country of black and white).
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We are told that we must pray 5 times a day to avoid going to hell. We go to the mosque and listen to sermons that in most cases are irrelevant to our times. Fathers beat their sons who do not pray. If you’re not seen at the mosque on Friday, people will talk about you. Fear of hell and fear of people. Since when was religion and spirituality built on fear? Islam is a beautiful religion. If we are to truly appreciate it, we must study and contemplate and think and write and discuss and not take things so literally. Fellow blogger and thinker Muawiya is an expert on metaphors. Sadly, most of us are not thinkers. We are followers. We question nothing. As long as we avoid going to hell, we’re cool. We listen to men with long beards in Saudi who thrive on ignorant people like ourselves. We demand fatwas for the simplest of matters like women driving, wearing mascara or whether men can wear shorts. Surely we can decide for ourselves without feeling the need to seek advice from bearded-dudes who threaten us with hell if we follow ‘The West’ (evidently even Brazil, Korea, and Sweden are considered ‘The West’ to our Arab intellectuals). Whatever happened to the days of Ibn Sina, Ibn Tufayl, St. Augustine (who just happened to be Algerian) and others like them? When did we stop thinking?
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Several years ago, us Dhofaris adopted the second head and decided anyone who didn’t wear it was ‘weird’ and unfashionable (Do you know Manal in Grade 12? Who? Oh yeah, the one who doesn’t wear the 3okfa?). Recently, some sheikh in Saudi released a fatwa that is was ‘haram’. Immediately (like chickens), people panicked and forwarded the fatwa to everyone they knew via SMS and email. Our precious 3okfas (2nd heads) are now being discussed endlessly at social gatherings (should we or should we not?). Why do we even DISCUSS such petty things? Does society (collectively) have to ‘decide’ whether ‘we’ (the society) should wear this or that, do this or that, and act in this way or that way?
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I’m looking forward to the grand opening of Salalah’s first shopping mall next year. I’m sure our men will debate endlessly about whether women should be ‘allowed’ to go there on their own. Will we ‘allow’ the women to go to the cinema? Will girls who go bowling be considered sluts? Can we go without the burqa or is that too much? Gosh, it’s going to be so difficult to decide. But we have to make up our minds at some point, so others can follow, right?
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We’re just too comfortable in our own little lives. It’s so easy being a follower. Our sheikhs and tribal leaders make our decisions FOR us. The men in our life pick up on these decisions and implement them in our households. My society decides whether I can walk down the beach in the afternoons, whether I can leave the house alone, whether I can greet male visitors, whether I can go to weddings looking like myself or like a freak show. My society decides that any girl who has her own photo as a profile picture on Facebook has a bad reputation. My society decides.
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Thank Goodness I don’t have to figure it all out myself! Hooray! *insert sarcastic tone*.
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Dammit, people. It’s time to break out of our comfortable cocoon and learn to think for ourselves.
Our isolation from the realities of a bigger and greater world drives me crazy. Dhofaris are not travellers by nature. We stick to the tribe and stick to the homeland. We think we are better than everyone else, so why bother learning about other cultures and people? Most of us don’t really care about the rest of the world. Hell, we don't even like our fellow Omanis up north! Most of the discussions you hear among people in social gatherings or at your regular shisha cafes are simply EMPTY. The latest phone, latest car, cheapest abaya taylor, where to buy land, where to get wasta, whether the government is giving us a bonus, which minister is gay, who is marrying who, which girl was ‘SEEN’ driving a car in which area, what someone wore at a wedding, and what people are saying on the Sabla, etc. Most of us can’t go beyond that.
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In our defense, we have some really interesting thinkers in this town (wonderful people) but they are a MINORITY (right, Ma7feef?). I’m talking about the majority.
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With all the tension in the Middle East lately (fall of the dusty traditionalist Arab empire = hello new world!), I find it’s necessary for each and every one of you Dhofaris to get hip to the happenings. First you must understand what the situation really is about in order to have an opinion. Then for heaven’s sake form an opinion of your own. Do not echo the opinions of others. And do not believe everything you see on TV, or wherever.
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With the revolutionary domino effect that is currently taking place in the Middle East (Arab subjects were significantly more collectivist, so no wonder…), don’t think Omanis aren’t watching. We all want change, but it’s time to realize that change comes from within. Do not be afraid of thinking for yourself. Stand up for your rights and decide what YOU want from life and how YOU want to live. There’s no point fighting unless you know what you’re fighting FOR.
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I’m not saying rebel against the Sultan or the government. They’re not the cause of our problems. The problem with us here in Oman is that we act like children and expect the government to solve all our problems. For example, we criticize the government for not setting up a marriage fund to support ‘troubled young men who cannot afford dowries’ when the obvious solution would be to simply STOP feeding into these pathetic and useless traditions where a girl’s family demands a dowry of 10,000 Rials. Must we spend 2000 rials on frankincense and buhkoor, 2000 on a wedding dress and 4000 on jewelry simply to keep up with what everyone else is going?
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We march and criticize the Sultan and government for not ‘cancelling’ all personal bank loans on the 40th National Day… but why should they be cancelled? Were you forced into taking a loan that you cannot handle? To buy a new 4WD Lexus when you can only afford a used Corolla…. in order to impress others? To build a mansion you don’t need? To apply expensive gypsum to your ceilings and purchase chandeliers for your bedrooms? To fly to Thailand to cure the simplest of ailments? To make sure you have the latest phone? Why? Because we MUST be like ‘everyone else’. Dhofaris have a terrible habit of living above their own level of income. Every family is in debt. It’s shameful. If you don’t have the money, don’t spend it. There’s no shame in saying ‘I can’t afford this’!
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Don’t blame the government or the Jews or the Americans. Blame yourselves. Start at the bottom. Change the way YOU live. Start making your own decisions. Forget about what people ‘think’. Make your own decisions. Break out of the habits that you’ve been stuck with for so long.
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In the conversation this morning with my friend, we touched upon Plato’s Allegory of the Cave (a little heavy for early morning conversation, but nevertheless….). If you’re unfamiliar with Plato – one of the great ancient philosophers circa 400 b.c - it’s time to slap yourself and start reading. If you’re unfamiliar with the theory I forgive you and here’s all you need to know:
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In the Allegory of the Cave, Plato describes a group of humans who are trapped in a cave (chained to the floor) and facing the back wall of the cave. Behind them is a roaring fire. The world continues normally outside the cave, but these men can only see the shadows on the wall. After some time, they come to believe that these shadows are reality. The brave ones break away from their chains and turn around and see the light and the ‘real world’ but the majority remain in the cave and are content with sitting there in their own little reality. My summary does the theory no justice, so I advise you to look it up and read if you can.
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In the theory, Plato depicts humans as being imprisoned in their own small reality (the cave) with only a fire behind them. They perceive the world by watching the shadows. They do not realize that this existence is wrong and in no way related to true realty. They doesn’t know any better, so who can blame them?
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But what will happen if they suddenly turn around, break out of the chains and step out of the cave into the divine light? (i.e. true reality). What would happen if people became enlightened and free? Some won’t be able to handle it and will run back to the cave (their comfort zone). A few others (leaders) will not be afraid and will venture out and become enlightened. A couple of the kind-hearted ones will go back to the cave to try and educate their prisoner friends but they will be puzzled when they realize that the cave dwellers really don’t want to come out into the light. They prefer the darkness which they have become accustomed to. It baffles the enlightened ones that their cave dweller friends would refuse to acknowledge any truth beyond their current existence in the cave.
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Here were are thousands of years later, and we remain cave dwellers. Most of us Dhofaris (and Omanis?) are stuck in our comfort zones (caves) and don’t want to break out into the unfamiliar. Plato is probably rolling over in his grave.
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However, one thing remains true. A cave dweller who left the cave and then came back to educate his friends will not succeed. Why? Because TRUTH MUST BE EXPERIENCED rather than told. Language fails to convey belief. Language is the barest shadow of reality, yet it is the one weapon our leaders and religious sheikhs use against us. We must experience and see for ourselves what life is all about.
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I can’t help but link Plato’s theory to society here in Salalah. For some reason, most people in our society are followers. We think collectively and act collectively. Anyone who is slightly different is looked down upon. We are expected to dress the same (black for women, white for men), act the same (women are timid and demure and quiet, men are MEN), attend the same events, follow the same rules and always care about ‘what people will say should we dare change’. We are afraid of change and of anything new and different.
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I’m not saying all Dhofaris are isolated and the rest of the world are thinkers but I do believe that there are more cave dwellers in Salalah than there are enlightened individuals.
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Dear Dhofari: Don’t be a cave dweller. God gave you a brain, so use it. Think for yourself. Life is too short. Aspire to be the leader, not the follower.
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I need a cup of tea. I'll come back and review what I wrote in a little while. I know I'm being a little harsh today. Don't criticize me. Humor me. I look forward to your feedback. I need to know what YOU think. Your very own personal opinion.
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Ideas: Collectivism. Groupthink. Identity crisis. Blind followers. Individuality. Cave dwellers. Reality. Tribalism. Hayy Ibn Yaqzan. Ibn Tufayl. Socrates. Plato. Dhofar. Salalah.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Country Music & Salalah

(1) WASTA IS NOT AN OPTION ANYMORE DAMMIT.
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(2) Tomorrow is a public holiday for the public sector whereas us miserable creatures in the private sector get Thursday off.
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(3) To my favorite reader: Dear "Ahmed ... SO LONG": you are the only other person I know in this town who listens to George Strait's music. I adore you. In fact, you're the 2nd person I've ever known in Salalah with a passion for country music. Coming to think of it, I knew an older Dhofari gentleman who kept his Kenny Rogers CD collection in his majlis. In fact, his son is called Ahmed. Should I be worried?
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(4) Crappiest weather EVER in Salalah this week. Dust. Wind. More dust. More wind.
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(5) Ahmed, my theme song today is Brad Paisley's Everything. Have a nice weekend everyone...
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PS (Dhofaris are cowboys at heart)

Saturday, February 12, 2011

My Take on Egypt ...

This blog is not about world affairs. It's about Dhofar. However, I feel the need to share with you my feelings on the recent events in Egypt. I cannot judge whether Mubarak was a good guy or bad guy (he's 'one' human!). It's not my country and definitely not my field of expertise. HOWEVER, Friday was a pivotal moment in the history of the world. On Friday, we were all Egyptians. Moments after Hosni Mubarak stepped down as president of Egypt (after 30 years), everyone in Salalah headed to the nearest television to see for themselves if it was true. Every television screen in all Shisha restaurants were playing Al Jazeera news channel. In fact, I'm pretty sure every television in the Arab world was on that night. I received at least 25 text messages from friends and family sharing the news. The events of the past few weeks in the Middle East have been an eye-opener for us all. Proof that power really is with the people. To hell with crappy regimes.
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I was reminded of of the amazing feeling of really understanding the meaning 'a common humanity'. Friday was one of those days when it felt great to be alive. If only for a few moments, the world stopped to relish in the beauty of such power together. Similar days for me were the fall of the Berlin Wall, the day the Chilean miners were freed, President Obama's inauguration (I just happened to be very near Washington D.C at the time!), and even Martin Luther King's 'I Have a Dream' speech that I have watched and re-watched on YouTube many times. (Though not relevant, dare I add that I felt the same when Oman won the Gulf Cup in 2009?) Friday was a reminder that we cannot shut ourselves off from the world. In the end, we are all connected to one another. We are all one. And life's too short for violence, prejudice, hate, racism, etc. Life. Is. Too. Short.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Salalah Survival Guide - Ideas needed

Dear Readers,
I've been toying with the idea of writing a Salalah guide for newcomers to this town ever since I started this blog. Recently, Henry (name changed) moved to Salalah and emailed me with questions that all newcomers tend to ask.... where can I buy a phone? Nawras or Omantel? Where can I get groceries? Where can I find a tailor? Where do I find local handicrafts? What is there to see/do in Salalah? Where can I buy a coffee maker? Can I wear shorts? When do shops close/open? That sort of thing. I've been answering emails like his for two years, and maybe it's time I published my Dhofari Gucci Guide to Salalah?
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So ...... it doesn't matter if you're an expat reader or an Omani, whether you live in Salalah or Muscat. Your help is needed. What should I include in the essential newcomers' guide? For expats, what useful info would you have liked to have been given when you first moved to Oman? For Omanis, what is 'essential Salalah'? What do you want expats to know/learn when they come here to live?
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You can post your ideas as comments or email me. I'd love to hear what you think!

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Gracias!

My live traffic feed tells me I had a visitor from Bogota this morning! Welcome to Dhofar and thanks for stopping by!