Saturday, August 28, 2010

Oman's female entrepreneurs mean business?

I received this link in my inbox from Google alerts this morning. It's a CNN interview with a Dhofari female entrepreneur, the one and only Mariam Belhaf. As a woman, I know exactly who she is because I'm a fan of her frankincense and bukhoor mixes. She makes a mean oud mix. No idea how CNN got hold of her, though.
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Anyway, just thought I'd highlight one issue here for you. Despite the fact that women in 'Oman' seem to be free, independent, active, strong, leaders, ambassadors, ministers, etc .. keep in mind that most of this progress is IN THE MUSCAT AREA.
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Do not forget that a thousand kilometres South (and in other parts of the interior) women are still (many of them, not all) forced to wear the burqa (face veil), stay at home, hide from the world. Simply because they're women. Although the number of working/driving females is increasing everyday in Salalah, this change has only happened in the past couple of years or so. Society is still heavily male-dominated and yes there is discrimination! Many of us young women are fighting for our rights on a daily basis. AND IT'S NOT EASY. If you live in Muscat, then you have no idea what we go through in other parts of Oman. Re-read my longest post in the world about discrimination against women here if you've got all the time in the world :)
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That's all for now!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Comment Issues!

Dear Readers,
(1) I am annoyed: for the past month I thought all my readers were busy and not commenting on my posts! Turns out I had forty eight comments to moderate when I went to my bloggers' dashboard! Why did blogger stop sending my notifications by email when a new comment awaits moderation?! And I thought you were all ignoring me :) Thanks Mr. Sythe for asking me about a missing comment. And please accept my apologies for the delay. I guess I'm going to have to check my dashboard from now on. I was counting on email!
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(2) For those of you still interested in helping flood victims in Pakistan, donation headquarters in Salalah are at Muadh Bin Jabal Mosque مسجد معاذ بن جبل near the hospital/Khawla high school. They accept clothes, blankets, shoes, etc. Not sure about money, but you can ask (and if you find out, let me know). Please spread the word. They will continue accepting help for the next few weeks. Pakistan needs it and I know all of you have accumulated old clothes and things you don't need. It's the least you can do.
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(3) We had a few dry days last week where we were worried the monsoon had stopped. However, a few of days ago it started raining again ... heavily. It's been raining almost non-stop since Saturday and it's actually (believe it or not) rather chilly. I'm even wearing socks at night (without the air conditioning!).
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(4) My family 'attempted' an Iftar picnic yesterday in the mountains. Bad idea. Bad bad idea. The Evil Airnoots did their very best to ensure we had a splendid time (not). See my post on Evil Airnoots from last Khareef.
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That's all for now folks! What have you been up to lately?

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Witches on Main Street

The number of veiled female beggar/wackos around Salalah has been on the rise recently. Many of them have GCC accents but claim to be Palestinian, etc. They accost you in supermarkets and start saying prayers very quickly and asking you for help. You're so annoyed by their fast praying that you immediately shove a couple of rials in their hand to get away from them. They then clutch your hand and thank you profusely. You notice their wrists are heavy with gold and they wear expensive perfume. Their faces are covered so you have no idea what they look like. They creep you out and you try to leave the store immediately.
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I've had to deal with them at least ten times in the past month. They usually hang out in expensive abaya or perfume stores. And they certainly lurk around bank machines.
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One of my colleagues claims they're witches and my other colleagues agree. I thought it was odd they should think that (they look like gold-wearing beggars to me!). Anyway, last week my cousin was getting into his car in front of the Isteqrar Hypermarket in Salalah. As he was loading groceries into his car, a woman approached him. She started praying and almost chanting under her breath. He couldn't exactly pinpoint the accent, but he figured a Saudi accent. He told her to shoo off and get away, but before he could do anything, she grabbed his hand and started rubbing her wrist into his palm. He started feeling dizzy and almost numb. He didn't know what was happening to him. He dropped a bag of groceries to the ground. She started telling him about himself. She knew his name, his family, problems in his current life, his wife, etc. She then told him she wants money. He said he didn't have any. She said he had 73 rials in his wallet (which he did) and if he didn't give it to her, she would put a curse on his wife. She continued praying and chanting until he pulled his wallet out and gave her the money. She she shoved a few strings tied to a shell, etc into his hand (curse bundle) and told him to go home and put it in the frankincense burner. She left. He got back into his car and sat there for half an hour trying to understand what had just happened. He felt tired, drugged, sleepy. He decided the best thing to do was to go to the nearest mosque and ask the Imam. The Imam told him she was playing around with black magic and that he needed to go home, wash and pray. He also said if my cousin's faith was strong there was nothing to be afraid of.
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I've heard several stories like this before, but none of these incidents had actually occured with someone I know until my cousin came home a nervous wreck. I myself am not a firm believer in magic or evil spirits, etc. As a Muslim I am required to believe in Jinn and other beings, etc, but I don't necessarily believe they can be used to assist witches and sorcerers in their black magic. However, having grown up in Dhofar (an area where people openly identify witches and where people dwell in the dark arts and claim to use Jinn as assistants) I'm exposed to this kind of stuff reguarly. Magic is against Islam yet many people continue to play around with it. I'm against all of it, but I can't deny the fact that it exists in Dhofar.
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As for the female witch beggars, they are not your typical Dhofari witch. They are not Omani but they've figured out a few magic tricks to help them get more money.
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So! Next time you're in town and an odd-looking woman approaching you and starts speaking fast, RUN IN THE OTHER DIRECTION! :)

Monday, August 16, 2010

Why I love Dhofar

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Sunday, August 15, 2010

I LOVE FEEDJIT!

I decided to upload the little sidebar to my blog where I can monitor incoming blog traffic. AMAZING. I'm not a technology person, so I'm terrified of uploading anything new to my blog because I'm afraid all my posts will disappear, but as a person who has always been fascinated with georgraphy, I'm thrilled. In the past 24 hours alone, I've had hits from New Zealand, Texas, California, Alaska, Minsk, Cape Town, Nepal, Russia, Germany, British Columbia, Quebec, Kentucky (!), Saudi Arabia, China, Malaysia, England, ... etc. WOW. WOW. WOW.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Ramadhan 2010 - Part (1)

Hey everyone! As expected, there were no moon sightings yesterday. To those of you who are new to the Islamic world, this is how it works. If Ramadhan is expected on Wednesday or Thursday (depending on the moon and the Islamic calendar), Oman TV will set up studios around the country and all our bearded sheikhs in their white turbans will line up on the fancy gold and red sofas around sunset. Meanwhile, more bearded guys are out in the mountains with telescopes trying to spot the moon. Finally, an hour or so later, His Excellency the Minister of Religious Affairs announces that the moon has not been seen, and therefore, Ramadhan for Oman will not start the next say but the day after. Secretly, everyone knows we won't be fasting till Thursday because frankly speaking, I can't remember the last time we fasted 30 days. Oman's been doing the 29-day trend for years. We always end up fasting a day after Saudi, and we break the fast with Saudi. Is it deliberate? God only knows.
What does Ramadhan mean? Muslims go into a month of being spiritual and pious. We do not eat or drink or smoke, etc (see picture above) from sunrise to sunset. Everyone tries to read the entire Holy Quran (30 chapters) during Ramadhan and many people pray Taraweeh (long Ramadhan prayers) at the mosque in the evening after the fast has been broken. People give to the poor and try to do good. The purpose of Ramadhan is to continue with your normal routine and actually feel the hunger and count your blessings, thus become more spiritual. That's how Ramadhan is supposed to be. How we survive the month in Oman is another story!
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First of all, our eating habits are terrible. Instead of breaking the fast with something sensible like fruit or light food, Omanis dive into at least 10 dishes. (at once). Pretty much everything on the Ramadhan menu is deep-fried or greasy. The food deserves a post of its own. Stay tuned.
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Then, due to the terrible evening eating habits in Ramadhan, people spend all night up and sleep late with a full stomach, and end up waking up in the morning feeling awful and zombie-like. Sleep deprived, stomach issues, and unable to even drink water. They come to work like that. And cheerful people like me who combine food properly and get enough sleep have to deal with them. Not cool.
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Anyway, I do not 'expect' my colleagues to be super-productive during Ramadhan, but my intention is to keep them busy with things that don't require much brain-work like filing and organizing. However, for those of you who deal with the government sector during Ramadhan, my suggestion is to STAY AWAY and postpone all communication until after Eid. Same with any smoker you know. It's not worth it. To all non-Muslims reading this, be patient and just ... chill.
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On a more cheerful note, the monsoon rains continue in Dhofar and it's just simply breathtaking. Evidently, many of the tourists from the UAE and Saudim are staying for Ramadhan since it's much cooler and nicer than it is in other GCC countries. It makes total sense. They can sleep all day, wake up early afternoon, cook/buy their Iftar(breaking-fast-food) and drive their fancy land cruisers into the mountains for a sunset-picnic and a night of relaxation.
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As I mentioned last year, I AM BLESSED to be fasting in a Muslim country. Everything and everyone is on your side. Restaurants are closed, everyone is fasting, working hours are shorter, you pray with thousands of others and basically you're all in the same boat. When I was living abroad, it was h.e.l.l. Sunset was at 9 p.m. I fasted for 14-15 hours. No one understood. And very few people cared. Everywhere I went, there were distractions. As usual, I dedicate this post to all the Muslims living in non-Muslim countries who will be fasting this year. I am thinking of you and I wish you a blessed Ramadhan. It's not easy fasting. In the Muslim world, things slow down and you're given the chance to focus on religion and spirituality. In the non-Muslim world, not so much. Every Ramadhan, I prepare my list of resolutions and feel I have time to organize my life. No one is bugging me for appointments, meetings, social gatherings, etc. An entire month to myself. It's lovely.
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So, that's Part (1) for now. My colleagues are forcing me to pick up goodies for them. They've demanded chocoaltes, cake, baked goodies and sandwiches. Why do I humor them?
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Happy Ramadhan!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Pakistan Flood Victims

NOTICE: evidently there is a drop-off point at the Port of Salalah where people can take clothes, blankets, etc for the flood victims of Pakistan. Time to unclutter your house and do some good. Remember over 4 Million people were affected by the floods and more than 1600 lives were lost. Say a prayer for Pakistan and spread the word.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Khareef-Snoozing

Do you have ANY IDEA how hard it is to blog when:
(1): It's 23 degrees (celcius) outside
(2): the rain and drizzle goes on for days on end
(3): the mountains are a dark emerald green
(4): the chilled coconuts by the side of the road are TO DIE FOR
(5): wild flowers are growing everywhere (including on the pavement)
(6): camels and cows are wet and happy
(7): EVERYONE is out on picnics
(8): the Salalah Tourism Festival 2010 provides daily entertainment
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How on earth do you expect me to write? I'm too relaxed. I'm a-chill-in! And no I haven't given up on the blog like so many others. I'll get back in gear once the weather gets boring again.
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Anyway, few updates here and there to keep you happy before I jump into the big puddle outside my office:
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(1) evidently the march on July 23rd to celebrate Oman's 40th Reniassance Day was successful and I've heard my collleagues say over 20,000 people showed up (I highly doubt that). It started at the Grand Mosque and ended at Al Husn Palace. His Majesty did not make an appearance so that was a little disappointing. I spent that afternoon up in the mountains with hot thyme tea and a couple of cousins.
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(2) His Majesty has been in Salalah for the past few weeks at his palace on the outskirts of town. There were major renovations going on in the past year or so and everytime I flew to Muscat I'd get a peak of the gardens. Very beautiful. I'm really glad he's spending time down here.
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(3) I've been to the Salalah Tourism Festival grounds twice already and it's not bad. My favorite Arabian style tent-restaurant is gone as well as Browniz Cafe on the hill (taken over by Omantel for unknown reasons) but it's still going strong. The photography exhibition was great and I LOVED THE ABAYA FASHION SHOW LAST NIGHT! The book fair isn't too wonderful but still semi-acceptable. I took my young nephews to the festival once and they had lots of fun.
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(4) the concerts weren't as impressive as previous years. I mean seriously, ONE big name only? (Nabil Sha'ail). Whatever happened to the good old days of constant concerts and huge names like Abu Bakr Salim and Asalah Nasri?
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(5) the weddings I attended deserve a post of their own.
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(6) check out the new UAE shit-of-a-decision here at Muscat Jet Driver. How the heck can they just suddenly decide to ban blackberry services???????
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(7) Ramadhan is next week. Oh. My. God. How are you preparing?
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(8) Have any of you been down here for a visit in the past few weeks? How was it?