Thursday, December 13, 2018

Social Media & Dhofar

Over the past couple of years I've become almost allergic to the idea of social media. I use Whatsapp to contact family (and maintain multiple useful groups for my team at work, project teams, university friends, etc). I also use Facebook to stay in touch with people I actually know in person who live abroad. That's it. No Instagram. No Snapchat. No shit. 

As I continue my retreat into normal life, I've noticed a baffling phenomenon among Dhofari women. Youngish women in particular. Due to the social segregation of women and men and the general non-involvement of women in public life, women have used social media to create an entire society, or shall I say "parallel universe"for themselves. 

Salalah has dozens of "social media influencers" (I hate the term) who are extremely popular on Snapchat and Instagram and who have a significantly large following. 

Of course, these accounts are for the shallow-minded. They talk about themselves or promote products (for a fee), or talk about absolutely nothing. I've watched some of their posts and I almost feel nauseous. Shallow and empty. Yet they have thousands of followers who then spend ages gossiping about the latest social media scandal. 

It is empty. It adds no meaning to life. It just leads to slow deterioration of the brain. This is my personal opinion and I feel very strongly about it. 

I was on the plane yesterday flying back to Salalah. The person on my left and the person on my right were on their phones scrolling through Snapchat and Instagram before take off. Through the accounts of weird Kuwaiti celebrities in revealing clothing, local influencers talking about how dumb other influencers are, and anyone else who thinks their latest perfume purchase or food post is adding value to the world. I spent the flight reading Hemingway.

I'm not a snob, but I'm terrified of where the world is headed. People don't think when they're on their phones. Sometimes even I get carried away online and time flies and I have no idea how I ended up scrolling through a page on vegan muffins. I acknowledge this and then put my phone away as punishment. I'm trying to exercise self discipline. I can't lose touch with my humanity. How is one supposed to reflect on life, God and the universe when they spend six hours a day looking at a screen?

Food for though. 

Saturday, August 5, 2017


Thank you all for your support /horror stories after my Bank Muscat rant below. After 52 days, my card was finally activated. 52 days of no credit card. For someone who travels a lot, this is a NIGHTMARE. Can't book flights, can't book hotels, can't book cars. Can't guarantee anything. I just felt so insecure. 

Oh, and on a positive note, the Salalah Grand Mall (sister of Muscat Grand Mall) is finally seeing the light of day. Last year a huge poster went up near my house saying this land has been blocked for Salalah Grand Mall (right in front of the Indian school... lucky kids). 

As of last week, the engineers' cabins went up and heavy machinery arrived. It's finally happening. This should ease up traffic at the other end of town. 

Oh, and no khareef posts because this year the rain sucks. Last year we had three months of basically non-stop rain. This year the mountains are all nice and wet,  but the town is basically dry. Sigh.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Letter to the CEO of Bank Muscat

Dear Abdulrazaq Bin Ali Issa,

I have been a customer at Bank Muscat for many years. I'm one of the quiet customers who never goes to the branch except to pick up a new credit card every two years. I use your excellent online banking for everything. I encourage other people to join Bank Muscat. It works for me.... or 'worked' for me for more than a decade. You were the 'reliable' bank in Oman. 

Until now. 

On June 14 I received a call from the infamous 24795555 .... your call centre. As an introvert, I cringed. I hate receiving calls, and I was worried they would try to sell me insurance or something. Reluctantly I answered. It was one of your cheerful employees.

Employee: "Hello Madam! We're calling to let you know that your credit card information has been compromised. We received a list of at-risk cards from VISA"

Me: "What? Compromised? How? What do I do?"

Employee: "Oh, no worried. We cancelled your card"

Me: "You what.....?"

Employee "We cancelled your card. Do you want a new one?"

Me: "WHAT DO YOU MEAN? I'm travelling outside the country in a week. All my hotel, car, ticket, everything bookings are under that card!!!!"

Employee "Don't worry Madam. You'll have your new card within three business days".

Of course three business days passed. Four business days. Five business days. Six business days. My heart sank. I called the call centre. Each time a new person answered me. Each time they told me "Hmmm.... I just checked in the system. Your card hasn't been issued yet. Try going to the branch". 
I go to the branch. Branch says "Hmmm... it shows your card hasn't been issued yet. Go to the call centre".

The same bloody circle. I was going outside the country in two days. I had no credit card. All my bookings were at risk. I was extremely frustrated. 

June 22 was the last working day before Eid holidays. That was the end of my hope for a credit card. Fortunately, a very kind family member allowed me to use their card (can't be legal, but what was I supposed to do?). I sent a very long complaint message to Customer Service via Online Banking. No answer of course. Bank Muscat are the record-breakers for shitty customer service. 

The nine-day Eid holiday came and went. I was still out of the country. I called the call centre "Ummm... your card is issued. Maybe it's in the branch?". He said "MAYBE". Yes he did. 

I go to the branch. No card. 

FINALLY I get the effing SMS saying "Please come to collect your card at XXX Branch". 

I run to the branch. I'm treated like shit. There is no order. It's a man's world. Everyone is in chaos. I sit at the very back because there's no other place for a woman to sit. As usual their "Women Only" counter was closed, as was the cashier. It was all a lie to begin with. Trying to compete with Bank Dhofar. 

A distracted employee tosses my envelope onto the table. I sign for my card. I ask him when it will be activated. He said "Half an hour max". 

Half an hour passes. One hour. Two hours. One day. Two days.

Unfortunately I was travelling yet again and I needed the bloody credit card. I called the Call Centre. 

Employee "Hello! What can I do for you"

Me: "Dude, I've been without a credit card for a month. I picked it up and it's not activated. What is going on?"

Employee "Well, Madam, it shows in our system that it's not activated. Go to the branch"

At this point, I'm trying not to swear at him. It's not his fault. He's just a call centre employee thrown at the frontline of shitty customer service practices. 

Second trip to the branch. Have to leave the office..... again. Oh sorry, Madam. The Branch Manager is on a course and he's the only one who can activate the card. 

You're joking, right? There is only ONE person in the country who can activate my bloody credit card?????

Two days pass. No activation. Third trip to the branch. Oh sorry, Manager still on a course and he's the only one who can activate the card.

By then I had to travel again. Using someone else's card. 

FORTY days passed since they cancelled my card. I called the call centre again. This time I just told the employee "Who can I complain to? I need to raise an official complaint".... he professionally tried to calm me. I explained the entire situation. Told him I'd been without a card for FORTY EFFING DAYS for absolutely no reason. Told him I'm leaving the bank and switching to Bank Dhofar. This is insane, etc etc.

This 'employee' told me "no no, don't worry Ma'am. I will PERSONALLY follow up tomorrow with the bank branch manager. By tomorrow your card will be activated. You can count on me".

I decided to give it one last shot. Meanwhile, my SO went to the bank on my behalf. They took down the credit card details and phone number and promised to activate it the moment the manager was back from his training or  foot massage or whatever. That's TWO 'You Can count on me" promises. 

It's been forty five days.

Forty... Five..... Days... since you cancelled my card. And you told me I'd have a new one within three days.

I never thought I'd see the day when I had to switch banks, but for real, this is unacceptable. 

Goodbye. Enjoy your plush office and your all-male (minus one) board of directors and all-male executive management team.

This girl is out of here. 

Monday, March 13, 2017

My Belated Women's Day Post

Goodness I've been lazy. I have notes written all over the place for the blog, but then I get sucked in to the 'holy-shit-the-world-is-falling-apart' mode and I lose the will to live. Is anyone else feeling this? I find it so difficult to blog about 'Salalah' when so many major things are happening in the world. The refugee crisis, climate change,Orange Face, women's rights, Syria, etc etc. Is it right to be sucked in regularly? Is it selfish to want to switch off? Am I doing enough? Am I not doing enough? 

Last week I felt the feminist blogging fire erupt after Salalah launched its first 'Ladies Mall'. Yes, a LADIES mall. And guess what? The photo in the newspaper of the opening showed men cutting the red ribbon surrounded by an arch of pink balloons. Not a woman in the photo. A 'men's initiative' apparently. I asked around. 

I was so pissed off. There are so many wrong things about this. Is this what we've come to? Men launching a women's mall to brainwash their women into thinking they are independent and respected? Salalah at its best. Herding women into a corner. Encouraging 'entrepreneurship' (i.e. selling frankincense and starting a home-baking business). They're happy to support women as long as it's within the limits they impose. DRIVES ME CRAZY.

Why can't you raise your girls to be strong and smart and sensible? Then you won't have to worry about them 'misbehaving' and you won't have to constantly obsess about how to chaperone them and control them. Treat them like humans from the day they are born and encourage them to be active members of society. 

I know TWO young women who were married off recently in 'arranged marriages'. University-educated women. Smart women. And I know for sure that they weren't entirely happy about it. Imagine! Someone else making life's big decision FOR YOU. As if you aren't capable enough of making your own decision.. . . especially when it comes to choosing a life partner. 

I hired a smart young woman a couple of years ago and during the offer-signing process, her father came to my office demanding to know what her salary would be. I refused to disclose such information and he made such a fuss about it. 'She's my daughter!!! I have every right to know her salary!!! She will be paying me monthly!!!!'. This is what women go through. I know so many women who were forced by their families to take out a loan the moment they got a job. 

A colleague of mine is university-educated, smart, excellent English, hard-working, ... a shining star at work. Constantly taking on new projects and challenging herself. A very serious employee. I predict a managerial position for her in the next 10 years. She's that kind of person. All nice and dandy, right? Except her husband won't 'let' her drive and gets whiny and sulky when she has to travel to Muscat for one or two days business trips (with other females). 

Examples like these are what drive me so mad. Examples like these remind me (and should remind you) that no, it's not all ok in Oman. Muscat may be modern and supportive of women's independence, but the rest of the country has a long way to go. 

There were plenty of people writing about the positive accomplishments in Oman for Women's Day (March 8) but it's not enough to just highlight the good stuff. It's good for SOME people, but a large portion of female society is still fighting for basic rights. The problem isn't legislation alone (marriage, divorce, inheritance.... these laws are so discriminatory, don't get me started). It's families. It's society. It has to start at home. 

If you are reading this and you have young daughters or are close to young girls, please support them. Get them a science kit instead of a barbie doll. Teach them how to rollerblade instead of manicures. Show them a world map. Take them to 'Hidden Figures' instead of princess movies. Buy them books. Tell them they can be whatever they want to be. Tell them they can change the world. They will thrive if they have a support network. Be that support network. 

Over and out for now. 


Thursday, August 4, 2016

Letter to the CEO of Oman Air ... Part 2

Dear Oman Air,

I'm beginning to think I'm being targeted... like this is some mean joke someone is playing on me because I travel so much and because I probably pissed someone off with my last Letter to the CEO of Oman Air. in 2013... ( the one post that earned me 116 comments)

I will send this letter to the complaints section, but I would also like to share it with my readers because I'm a blogger. That's what we do. I'm sorry. 

On July 25th I had to endure one of your worst customer service failures of ALL TIME. I regularly experience customer service failures, but this almost takes the cake. I'm a frequent flyer. I'm a Gold Sindbad member. I'm loyal (have no choice really unless I fly up to Muscat on a magic carpet). My current statistics show that one out of every three flights I have an unpleasant experience. Yes, I maintain an excel sheet. These experiences usually involve one or all of the following:

1) Sindbad Gold/Silver counters in Muscat Airport have no one manning them

2) Online Checkin counter is hogged by one person with a serious problem who just can't sort out their ticket. 

3) Having to constantly remind your customer service people at the checkin counters to put the priority baggage tags on my luggage. 1 out of 2 times they forget unless I remind them. 

4) Arriving at gate only to be informed that "WOOPS we forgot to tell you that we changed planes and now you're in a different seat". Highly annoying when I'm traveling with someone and we wanted to sit together. That's why we checked in online and booked our seats in advance. That's what normal people do. Why can't you just inform us like normal airlines. A simple email. I register my phone number with every ticket I book but I have NEVER received an SMS from you. Ever. 

5) Looking at Boarding pass as I go through security only to discover that the flight has been delayed. Well why didn't you bother telling me at the counter? I could have gone out and had another passion fruit frozen yogurt at Pinkberry instead of sitting in the lounge for hours listening to Omani businessmen trying to sound loud and important on their phones while lining up to schedule foot massages in the quiet zone (while not being quiet). 

6) Arriving at the gate and being told to wait forever. 

7) Not finding a seat at the gate

8) Getting on the bus and waiting a good 10-15 minutes until it moves... with the doors open  (imagine Muscat heat in July... that was not fun)

9) Arriving at the aircraft only to wait some more in the bus (my record is 32 minutes in 2015... standing.... with a crowded bus)

10) Getting on the plane finally only to find someone else sitting in my seat. Usually a woman who doesn't want to sit beside a man, or a man who doesn't sit beside a woman. If I'm in a good mood I smile and ask the cabin crew for assistance, or I'll take the person's boarding pass and try to find their seat to take their place. If I'm in a bad mood I just ask them to get up with my "you don't wanna meet me in a dark alley" expression. The blank cold "I've been in a meeting all day and I'm not afraid to hurt you" expression. Yes, that one. 

11) Being told to move from my seat two or three times (happens regularly with me). They see a friendly-looking Omani girl with no face veil and automatically assume I'm cool sitting next to a man. I am, as long as we take off on time, but I hate being shifted again and again. Get your shit together and enforce rules. Or create a section for women. Stop this chaos. I have NEVER seen this on any other airline before.

12) Taking off finally. The food trolley comes. They throw (literally) a sandwich and apple juice on my tray as if I'm in a prison canteen. Normally I don't ask for anything. I hate eating on short flights. Why don't you ask before you force your cold little sandwich and warm apple juice on me? Why aren't there options. More importantly ... why do you sometimes offer water and sometimes not?

13) Taking off late and NEVER getting an apology for the delay. All the pilot or senior flight supervisor have to do is say "Dear Passengers - we apologize for the delay". Just admit you're late. Everything is better if you just say sorry. The indifferent we don't give a shit about you attitude drives me nuts. 

14) I've been on 45 minute flights across North America where they have an efficient food and beverage service with a choice of snacks and a choice of drinks. Why can't you do that? You have a one hour-twenty minute flight. Sometimes a cup of coffee would be nice. When we ask for one, the standard answer is "I'll see if we have time". If you have time for duty free, why don't you have time for coffee? Just have the bloody thermos on the snack trolley with you and a pile of paper cups. It's not rocket science.

15) Landing finally. Waiting in the baggage area. Everyone starts getting their bags ..... except me. What on earth is the point of Priority Baggage Tags if they're going to arrive at the very end? I just don't get it. If you don't have the ability to ensure an efficient priority baggage service for First/Business Class/Sindbad members, just don't offer the tags in the first place. 

So anyway, back to my experience last week from Muscat to Salalah. Bear with me.

I had spent 42 hours traveling across the world. Five flights. I was tired and jet-lagged and eager to get home. I checked in online that morning to ENSURE my seat was still there (economy aisle seat at the front of the plane... easy and quick to leave when we land). A few days before I tried to use one of my upgrade vouchers to upgrade to business class for this flight, but guess what? I applied through the website a good week before and to date I have not received a response. Great service, thanks.

 I went to the counter to drop off my heavy bags. The employee kindly put on the Priority Baggage tags. All was well. I went to Duty Free to buy something. Went to Costa Coffee for a caffeine fix. All was well. Wasn't in the mood for the lounge. 

I then headed to the gate a good 50 minutes before departure because I'm organized like that. The gate was full. I kid you not. Was this some kind of joke? You booked Gate EIGHT (one of the smallest) for the new Dreamliner aircraft? Some talented logistics people you guys have. For real. 

There were a few people at the gate ahead of me trying to get in. A family it turned out. A wife, children, a husband, and their housemaid. The Oman Air staff would not let the housemaid onto the flight. She had some permit letter from somewhere but it had expired two days before or something like that. The Omani husband was going nuts and arguing with the staff. I decided to be patient and observe the gate to see if I can spot one empty seat for me. My eye caught something... the flight information screen. Flight delayed. 


I waited another twenty minutes hoping the Omani family would stop arguing with the two employees at the desk and quietly observing the monitor to see if the flight would be delayed any further. Finally, I asked Mr. I Don't Care Oman Air Staff  if I could just get into the gate to sit down. He looked at me then he said "There's a line behind you". I looked behind me... lo and behold, at least thirty people standing in line. INSANE. But that's what you happen when you try to stuff an elephant into a telephone booth. Bad planning, my friends. Bad planning. 

We waited for an hour. I kid you not. In line. Standing. No apologies, nothing. By the time 40 minutes had gone by, I was leaning against the counter for support. I had a heavy laptop and bag. The Omani family were still arguing about their housemaid. A more senior Customer Service person was brought over to convince the family. The "Senior" customer service person completely ignored the 40+ line of people who had been standing for ages because your gate was too small to handle all the passengers. I wasn't willing to yell 'screw it' and go back to Costa because I had no idea when the flight was taking off, and I didn't want to lose my place in line leaning against the counter. 

The indifferent J.A and M. B. staff at the counter completely ignored me for an hour even though I stared them dead in the eyes waiting for one of them to give me an apologetic smile and say "Madam, we're sorry for the delay and sorry you have to line up like this and sorry there's no room for any of you to sit". But no, they completely ignored us. 

A man from the back of the line came up to argue that his wife was pregnant and needed to sit. They asked to see the wife then declared her unfit for travel. The man went berserk. "What do you mean?!! We're checked in! We're going home!". J & M said "Nope, she's eight months pregnant'. Husband says "No she's not. I said SIX months". They argued and argued and argued. The family with the housemaid and the family with the pregnant wife took up a good twenty more minutes with the customer service people while we continued to stand in line staring at them.

Some people already seated at the gate asked to be released in order to go to the bathroom (five feet away from the counter). The staff at the counter CLEARLY discriminated. Omanis allowed to go easily. Hand in your boarding card and go to the bathroom. Poor Pakistani laborers were not given the same treatment and in fact were treated like they were asking for a HUGE impossible favor. For real, Oman Air? Why the discrimination. Mother Nature does not discriminate.  We all need to pee. I'm sorry but it's a reality especially if you've been stranded at a gate with no information on your flight. Stop treating us like we're part of Zimbardo's Stanford Prison Experiment

By the time an hour had passed, your staff didn't even update the information screen for new departure information. I had no idea when we were taking off. We were still at the gate ten minutes after the screen said we would take off. So professional. I had no idea when to confirm my arrival time to the person picking me up in the Salalah. Unfair to them too. 

When we finally boarded, I was ready to murder. Fortunately, I'm not the type of customer who makes a loud scene at the gate. I prefer to bottle up my anger and release it through this blog. 

The flight took off without ONE apology or even MENTION of the delay from either your pilot, first officer, or senior flight supervisor. Why couldn't your staff just acknowledge that everyone had been treated like crap and you're sorry for it? When I landed in Salalah, I had to wait 25 minutes to get my bags. People with no priority tags received their bags before me. What is wrong with the baggage system?

Your letter above confirms that you are committed to going the extra mile for your valued customers. To be honest, sir, I'm not feeling it. I have flown KLM, Swiss, Gulf Air, Air France, Lufthansa, British Airways, Czech Airlines, Jet, Air Canada, Delta, United, Qatar Airways, Etihad, Emirates, and Porter. Sir, I know airlines. I know customer service. Oman Air is in the KG-1 class when it comes to customer service half the time. 

I have flown Oman Air internationally to London, Paris, and Delhi. The treatment was 'slightly' better to London and Paris, but not much. Delhi was another story altogether.  

The domestic flights are a nightmare. 50% of my flights between Salalah and Muscat are unpleasant. I'm not even a difficult person. I just want to get to where I'm going with minimum hassle. That's what I'm paying you for. I want to be able to leave at a decent time, be informed of any delays via email or sms, receive my bags as planned, and not be shifted from my seat. It's not too much to ask for is it? If it is, please let me know. 

I know everyone complains about Oman Air, but I wonder how many people actually take the time to write you long letters with feedback. Something has to change. You are our national carrier. What happens if competition is introduced domestically? You'll lose half your passengers! Just because you currently have a monopoly over the Omani market doesn't mean you have the right to treat people like this. 

Find a way to improve. Please. I'm tired.  

Dhofari Gucci.

PS ( On a positive note, I'd like to mention how professional and efficient your Sindbad email team are. Whenever I email directly, they respond efficiently and handle queries quickly. Thank you Manal & team) 

Sunday, June 12, 2016


After weeks and weeks of suffering from extreme humidity, it finally started raining. Yesterday was a drizzle and this morning was full-on rain on the way to work. 

I'm not sure whether this is actually "Khareef" (monsoon) rain, but it's rain nevertheless.

Dhofari Gucci is one happy blogger. 

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Chronic Wanderlust & Anantara

I am and will always be a traveler. I have one foot in Salalah and one foot firmly placed in the rest of the world. My heart is out there exploring, fantasizing, curious. In my free time, I look at airline websites to study the latest and easiest connections from Salalah to the rest of the world. I update my travel bucket list daily. One of the happiest days of my life was the day Qatar Airways launched the Salalah connection. 

When I'm not traveling or planning my next trip, you'll usually find me sprawled on the sofa flipping through travel magazines. During the months when I am stuck in Salalah, I comfort myself with my travel magazine subscriptions; National Geographic Traveler and International Traveller. I've been getting National Geographic Traveler for years. I decided to try out the Australian International Traveller last year. So far so good.

Yesterday I was reading the latest issue of International Traveller. In the section on the latest hotels around the world, something caught my eye..... Salalah! 

A piece dedicated to Anantara's new Al Baleed Resort, the new luxury resort opening up in the summer on the beach in Salalah. I've been following updates on the resort through various acquaintances including one of the board of directors. Someone (ehem... MM) offered to give me a tour of the construction site but I never got around to it. We snuck into the site a couple of months ago and it looks lovely. A hotel with (I think) around 30 rooms and then dozens of water villas. Yes, you can now actually rent a villa with a POOL in Salalah. 
(this is on their website for the pool villas)

All in all, very exciting. A true luxury resort, and not cheap either. For November a normal sea-view room with breakfast is around R.O 120. The pool villas start at R.O 200. In September during the monsoon it's way more expensive. The three-bedroom pool villa can cost you R.O 950 per night. Bookings start from September 1st according to their website. 

I'm looking forward to hearing about their dining options. Salalah has a very limited list of restaurants in town where one can go for a special dinner (you're basically stuck with either the Hilton or Crowne Plaza). The finest restaurant (in my opinion) is Silk Road at the Rotana, but it's 20 minutes out of town. Al Baleed Resort appears to have three main restaurants; international, Mediterranean, and Asian. They're also going to have a luxury spa and multiple activities, etc. 

They're right next door to Al Baleed archaeological site on the beach. According to my sources, staying at the hotel will gain you free entrance to multiple archaeological sites in Dhofar as well as the museum next door. 


Over and out for now.


Wednesday, April 20, 2016

To Marry or Not to Marry

I know the title sounds like Gucci is contemplating marriage, but the post is not about Gucci. It's about something that has been frustrating to me these past few weeks. I know I know, I tend to write when I'm mad, frustrated, on a roll, angry. Trust me, these feelings generate good posts. Happy posts just ain't my style unless I'm talking about Onken yogurt or coffee.

So, as someone who works in a relatively senior position where people are constantly trying to convince me that they need to be hired, I am faced with all types of people.

98% of them are absolute losers who are unemployed for a reason. 1% are professionals who are seeking to switch organizations and build their careers. 1% are the incredibly smart fresh-outta-college kids who have great potential but don't realize it yet. I tend to zoom in on this minority. They're the best part of my day. As for the other 98%, if I'm in a normal mood I'll give them no hope and gently end the conversation and hope they leave. If I'm in a good mood I'll give them shit about getting their lives together and give them advice on how to apply for jobs and write a CV. If I'm in a bad mood, I call security. 

Anyway, this post isn't about my job. It's about the types of people who come asking for jobs (the lazy ass college graduates who can't write a CV, the people who don't want to go to college and think they can get a comfortable office job with a high school degree, the people who think their connections will get them a job, the people who think they can charm me into hiring them, the people who use the "we're a charitable case" line, etc. The list is long. Little do they know that large organizations like mine have strict recruitment procedures including psychometric testing, English testing, and in-depth interviews. You don't get hired unless you're human gold. Period. 

Today's post is about a relatively significant percentage of the 98% male trash who come for jobs. Normally their fathers or uncles come (never could figure out why). These are the guys who either never finished college, never started, or finished and have been at home for years doing nothing (like zero). Their parents find a girl for them, and think that by marrying them off they'll somehow magically mature and find a job.

It doesn't work.

I have met SO MANY of these people, it's an epidemic. I don't know if it's the same outside of Dhofar, but we have this shitty terrible habit of arranging marriages at a young age when the guy doesn't have a job. Why do they do it? This is my theory: 

1) The guy graduated (or didn't), has been sitting at home for years sleeping and staying out all night with friends. He's useless. His family are fed up with him. Let's find him a bride in hopes that she'll "straighten him out". (sounds risky to me). 

2) Let the boy complete half his Deen (religion) and get married. It's Islamic. Marriage sex will keep him away from the dark side. God will bless him with a job later. 


4) His brothers are getting married, so let's marry him off along with them. Bil Marra. It's cheaper. 

5) If he's married, companies and government are likely to take pity on him and offer him a job. I swear this is the case most of the time. 

I could think of more reasons once I've had my second cup of coffee. 

Anyway, it's the year 2016. Life is hard. We're in the middle of an oil crisis. The cost of living is not what it used to be. Families can't continue to support useless young men who can't get their shit together, let alone married ones. They are expensive (petrol, pocket money, clothes, food, cigarettes), let alone a wife and babies (diapers, milk, bottles, etc etc). Who is supposed to pay for them?! This is why I have so many fathers come to my office asking us to hire their useless sons. They can't pay for them anymore. They're tired. They're frustrated. I often just want to shout at them "Why did you marry them off when they had no means of supporting themselves or their wife/babies?!!!". 

In an ideal world (and in my head), a young man/or woman first finishes high school, then goes to college or university, then spends a year (or two? or more AT LEAST) working, growing up and learning about life and adulthood. THEN get married. First learn about responsibility, about yourself, about bills, about where you want to go in life. Go out, travel, learn, experience. 

Then again, my ideal world is very different from the one I'm living in.

What are your thoughts? 


Monday, February 22, 2016

The Oil Crisis: Impact on Daily Life

Good afternoon my few loyal readers who still check in on me from time to time although I have yet to pull myself back into regular writing. Looking back at my posts from 2009, etc, I find that my angry posts were always the popular ones. My feminist outbursts and descriptions of women and life in Salalah. I find that I am not so angry anymore, and I'm not a very effective 'happy blogger' if you know what I mean.

Nevertheless, I'm pleased to inform you that I am a bit angry today, hence the post. 

I do not need to elaborate on the existing oil crisis in Oman and why it happened, etc. My post today is about the direct impact on the lives of Omani citizens from the perspective of someone who directly works on budgeting and employee benefits. 

As many of you know, in early January, the Minister of Finance announced that the price of fuel would go up. Muscat Mutterings wrote about that here.  That was the first step. Most people thought "Oh well, it's a small price to pay. I don't mind paying extra for fuel". Some of us knew this was just the beginning, We assumed electricity and water would be next.

In mid-December, it was announced (again through Ministry of Finance) that all government entities as well as government-companies, and any companies owned 40% or more by the government would not be allowed to issue any bonus/rewards to employees until further notice. Employees gritted their teeth and said "Ok, we can handle a hike in fuel costs and no bonus... we'll be alright". Some grumbled, but most were ready to sacrifice this to help Oman get back on its feet again.

December 31st, another Ministry of Finance circular, this one with more serious requests... They requested the following from government entities and companies again (40% or more government owned):

1) Reduction of operation costs by 10% at least
2) Stopping all promotions
3) Cutting over-time
4) Minimum salary spending (in other words, please don't hire anyone)
5) Monitoring vehicle usage (don't use your car after office hours, please)
6) Reduce spending on electricity, water, internet, and rent.
7) Cutting down on business travel whether inside or outside Oman, using Oman Air only, cutting business class, 
8) Not sending anyone to conferences abroad, and also not arranging conferences in Oman. 

A lot of people were royally pissed off, particularly about the promotions and over-time. Some of us were royally impressed. It made sense after all. Promotions aren't necessarily a given right. 

Silence for a little bit. Things calmed down. Then another F-Bomb dropped (F referring to Finance ministry, not what you think...). Yesterday another major announcement from the Ministry of Finance to all government organizations and companies 50% or more government (basically most of Oman, right?). The announcement was a polite order to murder all employee benefits. A neat table listing everything that should be cut... where do I start? Here are some samples:

1) Employee medical insurance (families included)
2) Life insurance 
3) Vehicle insurance
4) All internal loans (whether company sponsored housing loans or salary advances, etc)
5) No more 13-salaries or Eid money, or Ramadan bonus, etc. 
6) Basically no rewards. 
7) No schooling fees to be paid for employees' children
8) No scholarships or sponsoring employees' higher education
9) No gifts to employees 
10) No marriage support funds
11) No funeral support funds
12) No birth support funds
13) No phones and paid phone bills
14) No annual medical checkups
15) No company vehicles for top managements
16) No annual airfare tickets for expats (I presume) 
17) No payment towards house-maids (didn't know that was a benefit!)
18) No gym memberships
19) No home internet or phone benefits
20) No covering employees' rent
21) No share of profits for employees
22)  No relocation allowance or settling-in allowance or furniture allowance
23) No credit cards for CEOs
24) No monetary reimbursement in the event of a disability (say what?!)
25) No reimbursement in the event of death (even worse)
26) No benefits for retirees.

Etc, etc. The list is long. Basically what they're saying is "Your salary and nothing more".

Now, don't bite my head off, but I think a good chunk of the list is perfectly sensible. In fact, I respect the Minister's decision on those items. 

However, I can't help but wonder if this was thought-through. Did they really think carefully before cutting all medical insurance? For real? Do they realize that Salalah basically has one government hospital for a quarter of a million people? What about life insurance? 

What about internal study-assistance support for employees completing their university degrees. What do you tell them? Sorry, no more support halfway through your degree?

And disabilities and death support? Really?

Some of these benefits were clearly stipulated in employees' contracts. What does that say for Oman's legal system? What's the point of a contract? In fact, what's the point of a Board of Directors for many of these organizations if the Ministry of Finance can dismiss them and make these decisions on their behalf. Did the Ministry actually consult any of the sectors before dropping the bomb? Unlikely.

If companies aren't able to offer any benefits (whether private or public sector), what's the point of a job market? How do you retain your employees? 

I understand and respect his decision to cut down on some managerial benefits. In fact, I tip my hat to him. However, why not introduce other measures as well instead of cutting medical benefits from people and their families without any notice? 

Why not impose income tax on extremely wealthy people? What about land-tax for people hogging way too much land? Why not stop projects? Cut down on Diwan costs? Entertainment? 

The one thing the minister hasn't said outright is "Stop recruitment". But anyone working in the government and semi-government sector knows that's what's between the lines. They can't say it outright because it may lead to another mini Arab-spring. 

There are a lot of pissed off people in Oman today. These difficult times require leadership. I think Omanis would feel so much better if His Majesty gave us a speech along the lines of "We're going through a tough period, we need your support, we can get through this if we all work together and make small sacrifices,... what doesn't kill us will make us stronger".  

Is it so hard? In times of difficulty, clear communication is key. It's the only way to convince people. Change Management, my friends. Change management. 

Over and out for now.


Monday, January 25, 2016

Ancient Script Leads Dhofar to Colorado

Very happy that this incredible researcher is getting some of the attention he deserves. I've been to his mini museum and have read a lot of his work. He's one of the people who was working on the Salalah-Mormon connection as well. Most (or all) of the cave writings research done in Dhofar is his as well. 

This article was published in the Oman Observer two days ago:

By Kaushalendra Singh:  How a language would have travelled from Dhofar, south of Oman, to Colorado, a western US state or vice versa, is a complex question. The answer is also not simple, as experts from both sides have been researching to reach a conclusion and have done scores of papers, meetings and have collected samples to prove their points. But one thing is for sure that the scripts of an unknown language found both in Dhofar and Colorado are almost the same. And there has been similarity between climatic conditions of both the places. Like Dhofar, Colorado is known for its geographic diversity, with mountains and arid desert. Colorado, however, has snow-covered mountains and is perched a mile above the sea level. Experts from both the ends are trying to establish travel and other possible links to establish the history of a language and two cultures.

Ali Ahmed Ali Mahash Ash-Shahri, 68, has taken unto himself the task of establishing the fact that the language that has been found in Colorado was in fact the local language of the people living in Dhofar region some 2100 years ago. Ali humbly suggests adding or subtracting 200 years (+-200), as it has not yet been established and the language is yet to be deciphered. “Lots of evidences have been found, collected and documented but still not fully established,” he says and drops a hint that the language in question might be present day ‘Sahri’ which is known also as ‘Jabbali’ (Arabic word for something that belongs to mountain).

Ali Ahmed, however, strongly refutes the language being called ‘Jabbali’ “as mountains do not speak and languages are known by the people who speak them. The language was being used by local Dhofari Sahari tribe and hence it should honourably be called ‘Sahari’ language,” he insists and says “today there has been no written record of ‘Sahari’ language but it is spoken widely in Dhofar. He is trying to establish the missing link with the scripts that have been found in Dhofar and Colorado.

What makes more interesting is the fact that 28 years of research of this sexagenarian has led some researchers to understand that the remains of 33-alphabet language found in Colarado is very similar to the undeciphered inscriptions of Dhofar.

Ali Ahmed strongly believes that 28 years of meticulous research would lead him to get the written clue of the Shahri language. He is pained at disappearance of the written records of ‘Shahri’ language and says: “Each time a language disappears, a part of history and a way of thinking vanish. It is very important to establish written records of the language and we are lucky that its spoken form is widely practised in whole of the Dhofar region.”
The similarity between the alphabets found in Colorado and those of undeciphered inscriptions means a lot for Ali Ahmed. “It is a clear indication that the language is very old and the people from our place must have travelled to those places and finally settled there,” he says.

Tradition and culture is very close to Ali Ahmed. His studies in History as a subject in Beirut University and later his career in defence services made his passion for past more pronounced. He decided to do something for his own spoken language while collecting everything ‘old’ that came in his way.

His house in Saada speaks volumes of his hard work to give ‘Shahri’ a written identity. His living room has turned into a delicate house museum with all possible records in the forms of pictures, inscriptions, tools, photo negatives, audios and videos to support his research.

Besides all possible documents to support his research work, Ali Ahmed’s house museum has several items ranging from leather utility items to guns and gums.

He has written two books titled ‘Ancient inscriptions and drawings in Dhofar’ and ‘Language of Aad’. Both the books are written in Arabic and English.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Christians, Muslims, Humans...

Dear Readers,

My 2016 list of resolutions is almost complete. Rest assured that it includes more blog posts. I have 12 topics lined up for the coming weeks. 

In the meantime, I just wanted to share something with you. Today as most of you know marks two special occasions; Christmas Eve and the Prophet Muhammad's birth. Both are significant dates for billions of people around the world. As the year comes to an end, we gather with our families to celebrate the holidays and wish each other a blessed whatever-occasion, let us not forget those who are suffering as we speak. There are millions of displaced humans with no home, many with no family, no shelter, and no clear future. As we gather to celebrate our own blessings, please keep these refugees in your thoughts and discuss with your loved ones how you can help. There are many many ways to extend your support, whether it's money or other means. Each and every one of us can and should help in any way we can.

On a happier note, the reason I'm typing this post is to reflect on my evening. It's 11 pm in Salalah on Christmas Eve. I am sitting in my garden in my thobe buthail sipping Dhofari tea and listening to the beautiful voices of the choir singing Christmas carols at the church up the street. I heard music and didn't know where it was coming from so I went outside and realized it was Christmas music coming from the church. I smiled as I thought to myself 'Only in Oman'. 

Yes, we have our problems in Oman like any other country, but in essence we are very peaceful people who like to avoid drama at all costs (obvious to anyone who follows Oman's foreign policy). The fact that as a Muslim, I can sit here in my garden listening to Christmas carols coming from up the street, knowing that there are thousands of Christians in Salalah gathered right now up the street from me is a happy thought. I live in a country that generally accepts you for who you are.

It had me thinking about how lucky I am to be living in a peaceful country that isn't torn apart by war, poverty, excessive corruption, sectarianism, and all the other horrible things humans have created. Our bliss probably won't last for long, but we should appreciate it while it does and extend a helping hand to others. Pay it forward. 

Love to all,


PS (Donate what you can to the UN refugee agency at UNHRC . Every rial helps) 

Monday, November 23, 2015

Thoughts on National Day

Before you bite my head off, remember that I'm one person with an opinion. I didn't post patriotic schpeal on National Day (November 18th) because I didn't feel like it. I am torn between being happy and being pissed off. Not exactly a good combination, right?

As you all know, National Day celebrations are continuing in every Wilayat. Tens f thousands of school children trained for months (missed out on SO much school), performances, dancing, parties, balloons, badges, scarves, lights, fireworks, the whole thing. Every company/organization threw a party, even families covered their houses in flags and picture of Sultan Qaboos. People decorated their cars (at great expense), and there was the magnificent military show. 

All in all, a continuing party. It hasn't stopped yet. Yesterday was Ibra. Tomorrow is Sur. Salalah was on Thursday. It's just non-stop. 


Everyone was happy (not sure about the tens of thousands of kids), His Majesty made an appearance at the military show, people got to eat cake (Lots of Cake), people got to be wild, paint their cars, have parties, watch fireworks, do something different. Overall, tons of people celebrating something that many of them haven't even fully comprehended (kids especially). It's been fun.


I'm no party-pooper (well, yes I am), but hear me out here. We are on the brink of an oil crisis.  Actually, we're already in the crisis.  Companies and government organizations are being pressured to cut costs (I have witnessed this and worked on this firsthand). 10% , 20% cuts. That's a lot of money. This is the WORST TIME to be spending millions and millions and millions on Wilayat celebrations and shows, etc. And in my opinion, it's completely unnecessary. Really, it is. Some of the shows were insanely boring and a repetition of the same stuff. Renaissance, Oman before and after, etc. 

45 years means a lot to us, but I can think of better (and cheaper ways to express loyalty and happiness).... ways that aren't just 'for show' if you know what I mean. 

For example:

1) I would have been 100% content if His Majesty had given a speech to the people of Oman. A sincere, genuine, informal, speech. Televised live. A real moving inspiring speech. His personal take on the past 45 years. I would give anything for a speech like that. Why not? I just don't get it. It would mean SO MUCH to every single Omani and non-Omani living in this country. 

2)  Major cities can have a march for Oman. Walking from point A to point B. Happy thousands of people walking for National Day. Minimum cost, right? 

3) Light up the streets, play a few songs on TV, get people together, give speeches, you know... like normal people do. 

4) Ok, you can have some fireworks. They're expensive, but they mean  a lot. 

5) Have cake. For heavens' sake, have your cake.

Overall, I was disappointed with the amount of money wasted on celebrations across the country that mean nothing. Everyone was celebrating the Sultan but he seemed so distant, so far away from it all (apart from the military show). National Day shouldn't just be about spending money. It should be about genuine patriotism. A mature understanding of the past 45 years and the way forward. 

Le fin. 

Thursday, November 5, 2015

More weather conditions?

News of more weather conditions over the coming days. Have any of you heard anything regarding a tropical storm? It seems to be heading straight for Yemen again....  

Monday, November 2, 2015

Weather Update

Not that I want to jinx us or anything, but it seems we scared the cyclone off with all our obsessive preparations. The weather forecast for today indicates heavy thundershowers, torrential rain, and heavy wind. 

Looking out my office window, all I see is sun and scattered puddles. 

Hmm... is it too early to put the candles and buckets away? 

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Cyclone Chapala - Update

No major updates. Oman TV confirmed (at 10:00 am on Saturday) that the cyclone is 500 km away from the coast. They're still expecting rain to start today and the major effects to happen starting Sunday evening. They've evacuated Al Halaniyat Islands (officially reported on TV) and Rakhyout (word of mouth). Stay safe, stay home. Even if it moves towards Yemen in the next 24 hours, wer're still going to get major rainfall. Salalah is not equipped for major rainfall. Prepare yourself to have water in your home (especially if you live in a low area). Move important belongings upstairs. 

Friday, October 30, 2015

Tropical Cyclone Chapala: Eight Years of Rain Expected in Two Days

As you all know, Dhofar is about to be hit with Cyclone Chapala. There's a lot of information going around on social media, WhatsApp and the news. Lots of leaked memos from civil defense, police, schools etc. The government doesn't want people to panic, so they're not being informative about precautions except for the usual "stay away from wadis"  Here's what you should know:

1) It's around 800 km off the coast of Dhofar. Rain already started in Shuwaymia and Halaniyat Islands 
2) The cyclone is supposed to start "officially" tomorrow (Saturday afternoon/evening). 
3) They are expecting up to 60 ml of rain. 
4) It is expected to continue until Tuesday. 

A leaked memo from civil defense likened this cyclone to the one we had in 2002. Meaning? It's bad. 2002 was bad, not necessarily because of the cyclone, but because the rain had nowhere to go and Salalah pretty much drowned (highway was cut off), wadis running, trees fallen, cars floating around, dead animals, etc. Some lives were lost as well. Mostly people who were in or near wadis. 

I remember looking out the window and seeing trees bent over backwards and satellite dishes floating around (ones that had fallen OFF roofs). 

So my advice?

1) Stock up on packaged food, candles
2) charge your batteries
3) If you're anywhere near a wadi, move your vehicle/animals, etc to higher ground
4) Don't go NEAR Wadis. Flash floods are REAL, people. 
5) Even though Dhofar Power Company and Rural Areas Eelctricity company are working non-stop to ensure there is no power cut during the cyclone, keep in mind that you may have no power. These cyclones are powerful.
6) Omantel is also working hard to keep everything under control, but keep in mind that the 2002 cyclone led to zero communication for a couple of days. Make a plan in case there are no phones.
7) Stay indoors (and put towels near your windows just in case) 
8) AVOID THE BRIDGES. There are plenty of temporary steel structures around the two new bridges. THEY MIGHT COLLAPSE. 

Just stay indoors if the storm starts, and stay safe. 

Will update if any important info comes along.


Friday, October 23, 2015

Festival of the Negroes 2015

Although I find the name of this festival quite offensive, this is what it's called in Salalah whether I like it or not. The festival, otherwise known as "Mahrajan Al Zunooj" is a gathering of all former black slaves and their families to perform dances and displays of loyalty for His Majesty. The date is this event is never known in advance. An order comes from the palace, Oman TV is informed to come record it, it's never on TV but as far as I know is recorded for the party mentioned above. The event I believe starts with a visit to a grave, followed by rituals, following by this gathering of thousands of people. They all wear purple indigo wraps and go crazy for a couple of hours. 

Today the festival took place (as usual, on a random date at a moment's notice. I was privileged enough to be able to go and enjoy it up close. The history of this event is ambiguous and even creepy (hint: involvement of djinn? magic?). I don't have time at the moment to post photos but I'm re-posting photos from 2012. Same exact scene.  Enjoy!

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Upcoming elections and other tidbits...

Hello everyone. Greetings from my freezing office on this very hot day. I'll never understand why men need to have the central air-conditioning in our office building at freezing level. I suffer. 

Alrighty, so referring to the post below on the upcoming Majlis Al Shura (parliament) elections, take note of the following:

1) I'm still amazed about the Salalah Alliance selection criteria

2) I'm happy that this election season has featured fewer hideous bulletin board campaigns with        people promising to deliver the world (when we all know they have very little authority)

3) Elections will take place on Sunday October 25th.

Even though voting takes five minutes, and the polls are open until evening, don't expect to see many Omanis at work. For some reason, people feel the need to take the whole day off work to hang around feeling important. This will be my third time to vote. Every single time, I've worked a full day (normally alone in a big empty office) then went to vote after 5 pm. That's what normal people with job accountability should do right? Or take off say... an hour off from work to go vote? Does the country really need to come to a complete halt? 

On the topic of voting, congratulations to my Canadian readers (assuming they're not conservatives) on your new hot Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau. I'd vote for him any day.

And finally, rumor has it that the Oman navy are going to ruin occupy one of Mirbat's most treasured beaches.  Do you have any details about this? 

Thursday, August 13, 2015

The Times They Are A Changin: A Look Into The World of Shura Elections

Before I spew forth one more word, rest assured that I speak only of practices in Salalah. I am not familiar whatsoever with election practices in other parts of Oman.

Oman's Majlis Al Shura is the only version of an elected parliament that Oman can speak of. The duties of this group of men consultative assembly are no where near those of a proper parliament, but they are something nonetheless. The members are sometimes ridiculous, and at other times effective. I've watched various live discussions they've had, and some have been ... well.... a little embarrassing.(example, demanding an educational children's channel to raise our kids on our behalf... yup, sounds like a critical item on the agenda for parliament). Nevertheless, having an elected body is a step in the right direction. We have a long way to go, though. 

Official schpeal sources will tell you that Majlis Al Shura is the only democratically elected legislative body in Oman. Unfortunately, our version of democracy is a little skewed. If you wish to read more about the duties of Majlis Al Shura, refer to this shallow little piece from Wikipedia

The Majlis Al Shura consists of 84 members representing all Wilayat of Oman. Because Salalah is a large-ish wilaya, we get to elect 2 members. Every four years, people in Salalah trundle along to local voting centers to select their candidates. The next elections are in October. Sounds all nice and dandy, right? Wrong. 

Despite the fact that Oman doesn't allow political parties officially (which completely defies the concept of democracy), political parties exist indeed in the south of Oman... in the form of tribes and tribal alliances. Tribal politics are complicated but they are intense politics nonetheless.

When it comes to Majlis Al Shura elections, the Wilayat of Salalah is divided into three political parties:

Group 1: The Qara Tribes... in other words, most of the mountain tribes within the wilayat of Salalah mountains. I'll not list any tribal names to avoid being arrested for causing havoc.

Group 2: The Al Kathir tribes... in other words, the fancy schmancy town tribes in addition to a few bedouin tribes, etc.

Group 3: The Salalah ِAlliance.... a mix of minorities (black families, small town tribes, some mountain families, etc). In essence, a large alliance of smaller groups. 

Around election time, these three groups become very active. The number of meetings increase, tribal male discussions heat up, and the number of alert bodies at our lovely intelligence hub increases. Of course, Oman will never officially admit that political parties exist in the form of tribal alliances, but rest assured they do. 

Now, from my modest observation as a redundant female (not of any value to the alliances), I have found that the third party, known as the Salalah Alliance, are more progressive. They've always been more progressive. The reason probably goes back to the fact that they are a group of minorities. They may not be so obsessed with tribal power. This is just my observation.

So, the big question is, ... how do the alliances nominate their candidates? And how do they secure votes? Well, they've all been following almost the same exact method for years. I'll give you an example: The Qara Tribes have a simple rotation method. Every four years, one of their tribes in  a particular alliance gets to select the nominee from within their tribe. This year, it's the turn of the T****k tribe. The male members of this tribe will have dozens of intense meetings and will finally nominate someone to represent the Qara Group in the elections. Meanwhile, all the Qara Tribes will be busy counting the number of eligible voters to estimate the number of votes this person will get on election day. They automatically assume that every adult in the Qara Tribes will vote for the person nominated within the T****k tribe. Fair or not, this is how their system works. 

The same thing will be happening in the other alliances... people counting the number of eligible voters within their tribes. So basically before election day even arrives, people have a pretty clear idea of who will win. They automatically assume that everyone over the age of 21 is going to blindly vote for the person the men chose in their closed meetings. 

My own family goes around counting the number of women and men over the age of 21. On election day, I'm normally given strict instructions on whom to vote for. I usually vote based on these instructions because I know nothing of the other candidates. When you go to the Ministry of Interior's website, they should have a list of all the candidates from Oman with their resume/CV and picture, etc.They never bother with updating their website, so there's no way in hell I can know who the other nominees are and whether they deserve my vote. It's the crappiest system e.v.e.r. 

So back to the tribal rotation system.... I tried raising the obvious question to a member of the T****k tribe, "What if you can't find a suitable candidate in your tribe this year?". He got all huffy and puffy and said they WILL. I dropped the subject, but it's been bothering me... 

Are we just supposed to assume there are a dozen qualified male members in each tribe that are ready to run for parliament?  Sounds impossible to me, so I'm pretty sure they often end up selecting the best of the worst just to keep up with tribal alliance tradition. 

I have had zero faith in the Shura system because of these tribal practices. Every year the more senior men in my alliance will get together and argue about who to nominate from the alliance for a particular election. They'll finally agree on someone, and then at the very last moment shuffle their women over to the voting centres and force them to vote. Why the heck should women have a say anyway in selecting the alliance's candidate? We're only the guaranteed vote. We're only second-class citizens, and tribal politics are male-oriented anyway. 

Sarcasm aside, something remarkable happened this year. I'm  still in awe. 

The Salalah Alliance (Group 3) decided to do something different (I told you they were progressive.. not Netroots Nation progressive, but for us ... progressive). They decided to follow a strict evaluation process to select the candidate who will represent the Salalah Alliance this year. Yes you heard me right, a formal EVALUATION PROCESS. Not a group of men around a fire sipping tea and throwing around names, but an actual P.R.O.C.E.S.S. 

The alliance had around 8 final candidates. These candidates went through a tough evaluation session on Saturday August 8th. I'm pretty sure there was zero media coverage at this event, so I'm reporting about it here because I find it truly remarkable for such a tribal society. 

The alliance chose six panelists I believe (those who question the candidates and challenge them). The panelists included the likes of the head of Oman's Journalism Association. They then selected 40 judges/evaluators from within the alliance (the evaluators being well educated, qualified, balanced male members of the alliance). They then selected a further 8-10 observers from outside the alliance. These were also highly educated and experienced men.  

On Saturday August 8th, that roomful of men witnessed history in the making. The eight (I think eight) candidates had to sit before this crowd, be interrogated by six panelists, and then be judged by 40 evaluators, while being monitored by a group of observers. 

How were they evaluated? They followed a 40/60 method. 40% being the qualifications and experience of the candidates, and 60% being the person's plan and performance in front of the judges. Each judge had to fill in scores on pieces of paper. A separate committee filtered through these scores and announced the winner. 

The Salalah Alliance officially selected Dr. Mohammed Al Ghassani as their final candidate following a strict, monitored, evaluation process. Do you have ANY idea what this means? This could be the beginning of the end for tribal powers in Salalah since Majlis Al Shura has always been one of their major ways of exercising tribal power. 

The other two alliances, Qara Tribes, and Al Kathir are following the same old tribal rotation system, but I'm pretty sure they've taken note of the new path the Salalah Alliance have taken and I'm pretty sure soon enough they'll do something similar and start choosing candidates based on qualifications/competence. 

I'm sure there were few glitches in the evaluation process, but it's still a remarkable first step towards proper democracy. I'm in awe. Did I already say that?

So, two more major questions remain for those of you who are not familiar with our system?

Question One: What actually happens on election day? 

Answer: all voters will head to the voting centers. There will be a list of candidate from Salalah. There will be three main candidates representing the three alliances, The Qara Tribes, The Al Kathir Alliance, and the Salalah Alliance. There may also be a small number of stand-alone poor souls who've bravely stood for parliament even though they know they don't stand a chance against the candidates from the three alliances who have a guaranteed number of pre-determined votes. 

By the end of election day, two of the three alliances will have won the Salalah seats in parliament. Normally it's the Salalah Alliance and the Qara Tribes. 

Question Two: Where the heck do women fit in?

Answer: They Don't. 

Well, actually, they do. Women are considered guaranteed votes. We have no say whatsoever in nominating someone, but on election day we are blackmailed and forced by our male relatives to go and vote for the person they chose around that fire while sipping tea. 

In terms of standing for parliament, another remarkable thing happened this year. One of the Salalah Alliance candidates was a WOMAN until the very last minute. She backed out at the last minute before the evaluation session on the 8th of August because according to a source who spoke to her "She didn't think voters are ready for a woman". I think she's pretty qualified, and I'm pretty sure she would have continued if men hadn't convinced her to back down. Pretty sure it wasn't her own decision. Nevertheless, kudos to her for stepping forward in the first place. Some women have stood for parliament before, but they've been loners, not nominated by one of the three big alliances. Salalah has never had a female member of parliament. In fact, Oman's record as a whole sucks. I think at the moment there's one woman? Or is it down to zero now? 

Overall, women in Salalah are nothing more than guaranteed votes when it comes to the tribal alliances for Majlis Al Shura. I asked my T****k pal if the women in his tribe will have a say in the selected candidate this year, and he almost bit my head off. Why would I suggest such a ridiculous thing?

I have plenty more questions to ask, so I've sent out feelers into my social network to find out the following:

1) Whose idea was it to deviate from the norm and do something sensible?
2) How were the 40 judges selected?
3) What kinds of questions were the candidates asked on August 8th?
4) Why the heck weren't there any women in that room on August 8th? At least as observers? 
5) What was the exact criteria on those evaluation sheets? 
6) Are more tribes going to join the Salalah Alliance because they now have a fair system in place?
7) Have other parts of Oman caught wind of this?
8) Are people from other alliances going to secretly vote for Dr. Mohammed Al Ghassani because they believe he was actually selected properly based on competence? 

Overall, remarkable change. 

I'll update you if I get more details or answers to the questions listed above. Thanks for listening reading to the end of the post. I really appreciate it.

Your Truly,