Monday, April 27, 2009

Paganism in Salalah

I am in a state of shock. Indeed I am, even though I know I shouldn't be. I'm a Salalah girl. I know what our culture is all about. I know we still practice some forms of paganism, witchcraft, black magic, etc. However, we do live in the year 2009. Women pray five times a day, wear black from head to toe, drive their BMWs around town, chat on their brand new cell phones, and watch Dr. Phil. We are a modern Islamic country, right? Wrong.

My colleagues at work told me an amazing story today. So, it all started hundreds of years ago when a certain mountain tribe (call them Short Tribe) owned the land around a water spring in the mountains. Their animals drank from that spring for hundreds of years. To this very day, there are guards from Short Tribe guarding the spring (and paid to do it by the government!). It was all nice and dandy up until Wednesday April 22nd, 2009, when the government announced an extra 15 guard positions to guard the spring. These positions were to be given to certain families in Short Tribe. The Shiekh of Short Tribe gathered his men to decide on the distribution of jobs. It was all going fine until someone from Tribe Tall (a new tribe) barged into the meeting claiming his tribe owns part of the land and therefore deserve half the positions. All hell broke loose, and they started arguing. The man left in a fury claiming he'd 'show them' the hard way not to mess with Tribe Tall. Everyone from Short Tribe knew this meant business, so they gathered the older women in the tribe (around 100) and took them to the water spring to perform an ancient pagan ritual to put a curse on Tribe Tall to ensure they never try to mess with Short Tribe again. The men isolated the area to ensure no strangers came through. Meanwhile ,the women proceeded to chant and scream. They slaughtered 10 cows under the water at the spring and then all beat the cows with their bare hands while chanting and screaming. They then proceeded to pull their hair until it stood on end and continued chanting. This went on all afternoon and evening. The curse would be complete by midnight when they would twirl a thick black rope in the air until it stood straight up like a stick. At 11:34 they succeeded and the curse was complete.

Meanwhile, Tribe Tall heard about this and out of fear sent their sheikhs to approach Short Tribe to surrender and announce that they had excommunicated the man who created all this trouble. Thus, the curse was transferred from the entire tribe to one man. Once the curse was complete, everyone went looking for the man to see if the curse had worked. Turns out he disappeared. Everyone is talking about it, and some say he vanished; others say he was eaten by Jinn. Most say he died mysteriously as a result of the curse.

This all happened last night by the way. A colleague at work (from Short Tribe) told me all about it today. In fact, he went to watch, but wasn't allowed near the spring because it seems the sight of the women doing their ritual was too disturbing and indecent.

I wish to remind you all that all this is against Islam and anything to do with magic and curses is considered paganism and therefore a terrible sin. I'd love to know how they're going to justify their actions to the rest of town. Sigh. Life in Salalah Never Lacks Excitement.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Dhofaris Love Wigs

Don't have time to write today. My week has been crazy. However, I couldn't help not posting this picture up. Wigs and weird hairpieces are one of life's necessities in Salalah. Anyone who has been to a wedding will know what I mean...

I took this picture at Taj Al Arfeen, a women's needs store in Al Haffa.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

I stand corrected!

Slight error in my facts. I did some research. According to the Ministry of Health, there have been around 1700 (not 1000) AIDS cases in Oman since 1984. 1119 of them are still alive. Most cases are men. Yup, men. Men returning from Asia. Men who can't stay away from their house maids. M.E.N.

Disturbing News ...

Holy Bananas! Over five HIV-positive cases at one of the two girls' high-schools in Salalah??! What the HELL is going on? (I'm afraid the news is VERY recent, and my source is the hospital). I know that some of the girls have been into drugs (pills, not injections). There were also a group of women distributing drugs at the high schools, convincing the girls that the pills would make them thin, beautiful, fat, white, pink, grey, whatever... but this...? There have (supposedly) been around 1000 AIDS cases in Oman since 1984. Oman is one of the 7 countries that imposes a complete entry ban on HIV-positive people (the others are Brunei, Qatar, Sudan, South Korea, United Arab Emirates and Yemen), and I hope the government soon imposes an entry blood-test for young men returning from places like Thailand. This is very disturbing. Why would high-school girls in such a conservative little town be HIV-positive? Comments anyone?

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Guitars and Fishing Nets

It's been three days since my last post! I've been busy with several projects, and have been brainstorming ideas for my blog. I now have a list of 53 (yes 53!) topics that I'm interesting in writing about. Some of them need a little research (especially Khor Rori, the Valley of the Spirits and portal to another world, according to our witches). I'm not in writing-mood today, so I'll make this short. Yesterday I went to Haffa Souq (by the Sultan's palace on the ocean) with my mother to buy frankincense, one of life's necessities! Families in Salalah burn frankincense everyday at sunset. It's a traditional habit, but it's also to ward off evil spirits that tend to hang around at sunset. Haffa Suq is a series of little shops around a sort of courtyard and all these shops sell exactly the same thing basically; frankincense, Bukhoor, frankincense burners, and traditional perfumes. As my mother was busy bargaining with the old lady in the shop, I noticed something very odd. I've seen it before but it never really 'hit' me until yesterday. I was wandering around the suq, heading towards the beach, and I noticed the usual group of old (and I mean old) men sitting in a circle on the sidewalk drinking tea and mending their fishing nets. It's one of Salalah's most charming sights. However, a few metres away, on the same sidewalk, but sitting in a circle on chairs were a group of young Dhofari men playing the guitar! Yes! Four men and four guitars practicing some Spanish tune I think. Obviously both groups were aware of each other's existence. What were the old men thinking? Probably sad thoughts about the younger generation losing touch with traditions and real life in Salalah. What were the young men thinking as they watched the old men mending their fishing nets? Were they reminded, if only for a moment, of who they were and where they came from? I was dying to go up and ask them, but that would be so taboo! It was bad enough that I was wandering alone in the suq!

Sunday, April 12, 2009

I know you!

I drove to Sultan Qaboos Hospital today with my little sister to visit a distant aunt, who just went through kidney surgery (don't worry, she's fine). As we walked through the long hallway towards the surgical ward, an anonymous woman (when I say anonymous I mean dressed in black from head to toe with her eyes showing only) GRABS my arm and violently stops me and whispers 'I know you!'. I sighed .. here we go again. 'Really?', I answer sweetly, 'how is that?'.
She proceeds to explain that she was my aunt's husband's step-brother's son's neighbor. 'Ahh... ', I smile at her from under my face veil, 'pleased to meet you! Anything I can do for you?' .. and immediately she prepares herself to bombard me with questions (since we had established the connection and thus she now had authority to quesion me about any (or all) aspects of my life).
Q: Were you the daughter who went to study abroad?
A: Yup, that's me.
Q: How long were you there?
A: Five years, dear aunt.
Q: Your brother was with you the whole time right?
A: No, he's married with children.
Q: You were alone??!!
A: Yup.
Q: Without a man?
A: Yup.
Q: Living alone?
A: you know, I really have to go...
Q: Did you cover your face while you were there?
A: no, just my head.
Q: WHAT???
A: Listen, dear aunt, I have to go .. really
Q: Your sister here, how old is she?
A: 14
Q: Why doesn't she wear the face veil???
A: Because she's 14.
Q: But .....
A: It was lovely meeting you! See you soon!
And off we went (running) towards the surgical ward.
Salalah.... sigh

Saturday, April 11, 2009

A Typical Day

The alarm clock goes off at 6:15. Muna (name has been changed) gets out of bed, prays, heads to the kitchen to put the kettle on for tea, then starts getting ready for work. She decides on blue jeans, a t-shirt, tennis shoes, her new abaya, and matching head-scarf . She hears voices. Her brothers and sisters are getting ready for school and work. Muna prepares tea in her favorite Starbucks travel mug and heads out the door, yelling 'Please no fish kebsa for lunch!'. She gets into her car, and as the engine is warming up, she flips through her CD collection, trying to decide what to listen to on her way to work. Amy Winehouse will do today, she mumbles to herself.

Her 8-hour workday goes by quickly. Salim, the new administrator, was trying to flirt again. She just rolls her eyes and pretends not to notice. He's so boring amd awkward. During lunch break she opens her Facebook account. She sends several messages to friends. Four of them decide to meet up for pizza after work the next day. She has received several friend requests from suspicious looking Dhofari guys. Ignore. Ignore. Ignore, and Ignore. Mission Accomplished. On her way home from work she stops by the one and only decent DVD rental place in Salalah. The guy who runs the place is pretty cute, she thinks to herself. He tries to convince her to watch the new James Bond movie, and she explains that girls have no interest in James Bond. She decides on the new Kate Hudson flick and he sighs.

She gets home, tosses her bag on the bed, and throws on a bright orange thobe and matching losie. She heads out to the living room and greets her parents on her way to the kitchen. They tell her that Uncle Ahmed's second wife gave birth to a little boy that morning. 'Is this not his 12th child?', Muna asks her father. He shrugs. It doesn't matter in Salalah. The more, the better! 'Fish kebsa in the fridge!' her mother yells across the hall. She sighs and force-feeds herself before grabbing a Mountain Dew and heading to her room. Her younger sister, a student at Dhofar University is already waiting for her with a secret supply of Pringles and popcorn. They put up the 'Do Not Disturb' sign on the door. Salma, her sister, talks about her day at university and about the guy she has a crush on. Muna remembers what it was like to study with boys for the first time. She sighs and pushes the play button on the DVD player. Later that night she lies on her back on bed looking up at the ceiling thinking of the future. Will she ever get married? Are there open-minded intelligent Dhofari guys out there? Will they accept me as I am? Who am I anyway?

Friday, April 10, 2009


Did I mention that life in Salalah is never boring? Yes, I think I did. It's the title of my blog! After a week or so of posts, you'll begin to know why. As a Salalah-tarian, I have insider's input. If you follow my blog, you'll begin to appreciate (if not already) the richness of our amazing little town. Salalah is very special, and very different.If you're wondering why I'm fluent in English, it's because I spent several years studying abroad. However, I am a Salalah girl through and through. What is my aim? I was inspired by the novel 'Girls of Riyadh'. I dream of writing a similar book about Salalah but less-corrupt f course. We are nothing like Saudi. I have a lot of positive (and rather amusing) things to write about. I do not aim to criticize the society in Salalah or the way of life. I am proud of who we are and how we live. I only intend to tell it as it is.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Transvestites in Salalah!

Well I'll be damned! Never thought I'd live to see the day. This is not New York! I remind you, Salalah is a small Muslim town in the middle of nowhere with a population of 120,000. Most women wear face veils, everyone is stuck to their traditions, and yes ... WE ARE CONSERVATIVE and proud of it! Where was I? Oh right, so I walk into Salalah's one and only shopping centre, and yet again witness the gay dudes who run the place. We've gotten used to that over the past year or so, but I was a little concerned about the outfits today. A young Omani guy wearing a skin-tight version of the shop's uniform, in addition to red hair ribbons and matching hair clips, long hair, pink nail polish, lip gloss, makeup, and high heels? I'm not even going to mention posture and body language. I've seen plenty of that in South-East Asia, but Salalah??Transvestites aside, I spent a lovely evening on the beach under the full moon with friends. Love Salalah!

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Salalah & The Full Moon

I love Salalah when it's the full moon. Everyone disappears. Literally, everyone disappears to Mirbat or Taqa (nearby towns) for all-nighter picnics under the stars. Barbecues, fires, gossip, and tales of Jinn.
I spent the late afternoon/evening walking down the Haffa beach with a friend. It was unusually quiet at the beach. A few groups of females huddled in group talking, some children playing, definitely NO males over the age of 12 within a 2 mile radius. They were all watching the Dhofar -Muscat soccer match. Wonder who won ....
I've attached a picture of the Haffa Corniche on a busy afternoon. Typical Salalah. (April 9, 2009)

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

The Time Has Come

Dear Whoever,

The time has come ..... to blog!