Tuesday, November 11, 2014

The Weight of Uncertainty

I often attempt to zoom out of my reality here in Dhofar and try to see our life from a different perspective... the bigger picture. Usually these attempts are successful when I'm in another country. Nevertheless, here I am yet again on an airplane between Muscat and Salalah thinking (no, I'm not going to complain about Oman Air again ... I have faith in the new CEO).
Anyway, I was thinking to myself how odd it is  to live in such a quiet peaceful country where you could almost swear there are no rules. There are rules of course, but they're almost invisible. 

For months I have been unable to blog about something that has hung heavy on the hearts of all Omanis since July. Most of you know what I'm talking about. 

His Majesty's health has been on everyone's minds, everyday. No one would talk about it openly but it was the topic of discussion behind closed doors. In July a cheerful message was released via the Oman News Agency informing us that His Majesty was off to Germany for his annual vacation. I thought to myself, that's odd. We're never informed of his personal holidays. Later, I recall a message saying he would be undergoing medical tests as well in Germany. 

Lack of further information led to speculation. External sources (outside Oman) speculated openly and even provided details on a possible illness. 

You see, in Oman we follow something called "the policy of silence". . . if we ignore problems in the press, they'll go away and won't grow out of proportion. Sometimes this policy works, other times it doesn't. In all cases, we are often unable to speak publicly about 'real' issues because of this form of censorship/self-censorship. 

When it came to His Majesty's health, newspapers and reporters worldwide were openly discussing it and those of us who blog about Oman were receiving emails from journalists/curious people abroad asking us for more details, asking us to confirm whether reports on cancer were true.

It hurt us that we were unable to either confirm or confidently deny these speculations/rumors. It hurt us that we were kept in the dark. It hurt us that our beloved leader was far away in a European city for months and none of us really knew what was going on. The world was looking at Oman and all we could do was stand there awkwardly and pray for his good health. Why? Because we were a nation kept in the dark. I asked myself, why should we be? Of course, no answer.

July came and went, August came and went, September, October,... ghost royal decrees were being issued every week. From where, I wonder?  Vague reports from ONA said he was following a medical program...more tests, etc. Omanis got more worried. We wanted a photo! A sign! A voice message! Anything! Just tell us he is ok. We can handle the rest. 

Then, last Wednesday morning the oddest thing happened. Oman News Agency announced that His Majesty would be giving a brief speech to the people of Oman from Germany. What?! 

People stopped work, schools stopped, everything stopped. People gathered around televisions waiting. It was very emotional. He appeared on the screen looking frail, but still powerful, confident, wise. My colleagues started crying. I was holding back tears. He's ok, I could hear my brain telling me... he's ok. He must be ok. He started speaking. The speech was brief, but it was enough. You could hear a collective sigh of relief across the country. 

Within minutes, you could hear cheers, cars beeping their horns, songs, happiness. It was like the country had come to life. Everyone in their hearts was thinking the same thing "He's sick, but he's ok! He's fighting! He's thinking of us! He's OK!". Celebrations continue to date. Omantel even changed the ringtone to national music for the whole country. People hung flags from their balconies, people decorated their cars, mosques gave sermons praying for his safe return.

It was the oddest feeling. One minute no one can talk about his health in public, and the next everyone is out in the streets celebrating his recovery. As I mentioned earlier, Oman is an odd country.

Yes, he's in his seventies and we're all human. We all get sick and all have to deal with difficulties in life. Yes, we will all end up the same way. But you must understand one thing if you are not Omani. You must understand what this man means to us. He resembles the only form of true leadership we know. He is the only person we feel our country is safe with. He is the one person Omani trust. Did Oman promote diverse leadership over the past four decades? Not really. We have been dedicated to him as a leader and only him.

I'll tell you why. People like my family will tell you why. My father was born in a cave. He lived a primitive and difficult life until he was an adult. No electricity, no running water, no warmth, living in the mountains of Dhofar sharing his shelter with animals. At times he was very hungry. There was never enough food. 

Today, he has a career, a big car, several houses, children, and a very comfortable life. No matter how happy he is now, he will never forget where he came from. People will never forget what Sultan Qaboos did for them and how he led this country from the darkness to where we are today. You need to understand that. 

In March 2011 I was in London. I met an elder Englishman, a bit of a political analyst. It was the peak of the Arab Spring. Leaders were dropping like flies. He confidently said "Oh, your leader is next, believe me". I didn't get angry or defensive. I simply laughed at him and said "You have no idea what you're talking about. Sultan Qaboos is different. He's something else. There's absolutely no comparison". On my walk home through the streets of London, his words bothered me, but deep inside I knew he was an ill-informed person. Despite this, I felt like I wanted to bite his head off and defend His Majesty. But then again, did he really need my defending? He's such a powerful and wise leader. Surely the world knows this? Surely the world sees him as we do?

For 44 years this man has paved the way for our future. He had a vision. He still has a vision. The past few months have been so difficult for Omanis. We have been walking around with heavy hearts. There are no other visible leaders in Oman. There is no clear successor. We don't want a successor. Not now. Not yet. None of us, young and old, can imagine Oman without him. None of us can even begin to comprehend our reality without this great human being in our lives. 

As the celebrations in the street continues, as Omani release the built-up worry and tension, I sit here on the airplane thinking about this country, my people, my leader. To those of you censoring this blog, I ask you to not harass me over this post. I am a citizen like you. I am extremely loyal to His Majesty just like you. 

To those of you who have kept us in the dark over the past few months, I urge you to have faith in us as a nation. Surely we are mature enough to handle information, whether good or bad. 

To His Majesty I say, .. your people truly love you. Get better, come home. We're waiting for you. We need you.

Yours from seat 11 A.


Monday, September 8, 2014

Dhofaris Marrying Expats: The Sad Side of the Story

Hello world! Dhofari Gucci is officially out of hibernation now that the tourists have left, the mud isn't as bad, and I can actually go out and enjoy the mountains. The past two days have been rainy, but cheerful nevertheless.

Today's post is about  something I've been meaning to write about for quite some time now. It's a sad topic, and I know victims of this issue may be reading my post, so please forgive me in advance if any of my words hurt you.

After the oil boom in the 1970's in Oman and influenced by the Dhofar Rebellion, many Omani young men from Dhofar were sent abroad to study (by the Government or by the communist revolution) since no institutions for higher education were available in Oman and definitely not in Dhofar at the time (the first university in Oman was established in 1986 - Sultan Qaboos University). These young men (and I refer to men since women were not normally considered for overseas scholarships back then), were sent to places like Cuba, the Soviet Union, and later on to the UK and the USA. 

Naturally, being sent out to the world for the first time away from the conservative gender-segregated society in Salalah meant that these young men discovered beautiful women. To cut a long story short, many Dhofaris married Cubans, Russians, and later on American and British women. 

Many of these men married foreign women and kept the subject of their marriages hidden from their families back in Dhofar since the thought was so taboo, they knew their families couldn't handle it. A lot of these men came back to Dhofar, married their first cousins or a local girl and established a family here in Salalah. They would go back and forth to their foreign wife, keeping each wife hidden from the other. This has happened so many times. I've seen it. I've heard about it. I've helped people through it. 

Anyone who knew Salalah back in the 1980s knows that it was a harsh place, particularly for someone coming from more economically developed countries like the US. Our society is still harsh to women , particularly outsiders, but it was even more harsh back then. Therefore, it is understandable that very few of these Dhofari men would even think of bringing their expat wife to Oman in the first place. So many of them attempted to balance between their wife abroad and their wife at home.

Another set of men  braved society and brought their wives home to Oman. Some tried to adapt, some couldn't, some ran away, some marriages ended badly, and of course ... a handful succeeded.

Now, from my experience with mixed marriages (many of these foreign women have emailed me over the past few years seeking advice ... some who just discovered their husbands had married a cousin, and some who were contemplating marrying an Omani man full of promises), .... so where was I? From my experience with mixed marriages -  the ones involving a Dhofari man marrying a Western women -  most of these marriages don't work.

Sad, but true. They simply don't work. 

This post is exclusively about Dhofar since Muscat is another world. Being a foreign wife married to an Omani in Muscat is much easier and there are plenty of success stories. 

I have seen so many families fall apart. I could list 20-30 if I had to. People close to me. Colleagues. Friends. Family. I've seen ugly battles for custody (mostly won by the man of course - this is Oman after all), I've seen women run away (with or without the children), I've seen some ugly shit. 

From my humble experience on this planet, I will list the reasons why many Dhofari-expat marriages have failed. Then I will list the characteristics of the Dhofari-expat marriages that worked. I do this because I constantly get emails from women mainly who want to marry a Dhofari (most in the USA). If you're contemplating marrying a Dhofari man, please read carefully: 

So why do many Dhofari-Expat marriages fail? 

1. When a Dhofari man studies abroad and falls in love with a girl (say... in Portland for example), he's going to be charming, funny, handsome, and most likely he'll try to avoid talking about his family and societal pressure in Dhofar. He's not going to tell the girl about his family's expectations that he will marry a cousin. He's not going to tell her that he's 'already' married to a cousin. I'm not saying all of them do this, but many do. 

2. He's probably going to have a completely different personality than the one he has at home in Dhofar. Men here play a particular role in public. They put on a completely different face. Our culture doesn't promote individuality or personal interests. 

3. Our society in Dhofar is dismissive of outsiders, be it someone from another part of Oman or someone from another country (or even another tribe!! Been there, done that). We are proud and very tribal, often stupidly so. Dhofari society does not welcome strangers into the family. Most of them don't. Some families do (they remain a handful)

4. From a western perspective, Dhofari society can be described as 'dismissive of women'. Men are always in charge. Men are in control. Women play a secondary role. Unless the Dhofari husband is very liberal (very few of them actually living in Salalah), usually the wife is shocked. 

5. When a Dhofari man is brave enough to bring his expat wife home, the woman is usually shocked by the way of life. Quite often, the man hasn't given her enough information or details on what life is really like at this end of the country. Dhofaris aren't very good at going into personal details. It's not part of the culture. 

6. There is very little privacy in Dhofar if you're married to a Dhofari. People will constantly be sticking their nose in your personal life. If you can't handle it, think again. If you want an independent life, you want to raise your kids your own way, you want them to speak your language, you want privacy? Don't come to Salalah unless you're a very strong person willing to stand up and fight for what you believe in. 

7. Family roles and expectations here are very high. There is very little respect for your own private life, your private plans with your family, etc. Expectations are that you/your husband will attend family funerals, weddings, gatherings, and that people can drop by at your house whenever they wish. If you try to object, they'll be offended. Men here WILL not and CANNOT stand up to their families. I've seen it.  

8. The dress-code. If you don't already wear an abaya and cover your hair, rest assured that society won't leave you alone until you put on a black abaya and cover up. It's their way or no way. I'm not saying it's right, but it's reality. I've seen foreign wives forced into the face  veil as well and gloves. Hidden behind closed doors, told to be demure and quiet. 

9. Once you're pregnant, you're stuck. The law in Oman does not protect you if you get a divorce and want your child. From my experience with some ugly divorces here, the Omani husband always wins custody. The law does not protect you if you are a foreigner and your children are Omani. 

10. It is very difficult to make friends here, particularly if you're married to an Omani. He/his family will be very picky about where you go to make friends. Expat meetings at  local hotel? Forget about it! Meeting someone in a cafe? highly unlikely. I tell you, society is harsh. 

11. Your husband will be constantly 'needed' by family members, friends, relatives, etc, etc. Want him to spend a lot of time with you? It's difficult here. 

12. Relatives will also always be wanting money. All...the...time. 

13. If you're a Muslim revert/convert and you've come to Oman with your Dhofari husband to be in a Muslim society, you will probably become irritated by many things practiced in society that are contradicting Islamic teachings. 

14. There will always be a risk of him taking on a second,third, fourth wife.

15. There is very little compromise. Your upbringing and your history and your traditions have little or no value here. 

Do I sound depressing? Maybe I do. But, truly, I'm writing this post to help you. If you are contemplating marrying a man from Dhofar, make sure you really know him. Ask to come to Oman and meet his family. Judge their reaction. Get a feel of Salalah. Discuss the important issues (listed above). 

If you are a strong and confident person  who is able to adapt to a harsh culture and who is ready to fight for what you believe in and stand up for your own life, then good luck. Otherwise, think again.

I am not proud of everything listed above. I'm not proud of how harsh and horrible our society has been to some foreign wives. It's sad. I'm writing this to help anyone who needs help. I don't want to see another shattered wife torn away from her children. Really I don't.

Now..... the success stories.

Naturally, there is a silver lining to each problem. There are of course, a handful of successful marriages involving a Dhofari man and an foreign woman. I have met some of them. I know some very well. I have seen happy marriages. 

From my experience, Dhofari-foreign marriages work when (in no particular order)...:

1. They live in Muscat or anywhere outside of Salalah. (a major factor) 

2. The man is ready to compromise. 

3. The man is usually liberal.

4. The man is ready to stand up for his marriage. 

5. The woman takes an interest in understanding the history/culture of Oman. 

6. The man doesn't immediately try to enforce his traditions/dress-code/beliefs/lifestyle on the foreign wife. 

7. They take it step by step.

8. They make it clear to family members and relatives from the very beginning that they want their privacy to be respected. It won't be easy, but it's possible. It needs to be done gently. 

9. Expectations are clear from the beginning. 

10. The wife arrives in Oman knowing exactly what is waiting for her.

11. There is clear agreement from the beginning about things like the idea of multiple marriages, languages spoken at home, circumcision of children, privacy, whether or not the woman will wear hijab, whether she will work, whether you'll be living with the in-laws, etc. If you figure this stuff out from the beginning, your chances of success are much higher. These discussions should happen before you think of having kids. 

So, that's the end of my schpeal on foreign marriages. I'm fully aware of the fact that many people won't agree with me. However, I remind you that I have lived through many horrible marriages with close friends who ended up marrying Dhofaris. Or, some Dhofari guy or other has sought me out at the end to 'talk to his wife' and 'be her friend' and maybe convince her not to leave. They think it's so easy. Well, it's not. 

If you have more points to add to the bad list or the good list, let me know and I'll add them.

Yours from rainy Salalah


Sunday, August 17, 2014

No Plans to Enforce Dress-Code

So, referring to the post below on the two frolicking tourists at Mughsayl, a piece in the Times of Oman yesterday addressed the topic of tourists and clothes. You can read it here. The government apparently has 'no plans' for enforcing a dress-code. 

Oh, and a mini-comment on Thursday's major blackout in Dhofar. Those of you in Muscat may not know that Dhofar was out of power (yes, the entire region) for 3-4 hours on Thursday afternoon/evening. It was insane. Truly. I wanted to blog about it, but discovered I needed electricity to blog.

Oh wait! I could blog from my phone!

Woops. Phone battery died. Lemme charge it...

Oh shucks. I need electricity to charge the phone.

Never mind, let me cook.

Oh wait! I need power for that too!



Fine, ironing.

Nope. Still need electricity.

I'll watch a movie!


Call someone? 

Phone dead.

Fine, I'll just lay on my back in the middle of the floor and listen to music until the power comes back on.

Oh, wait. I need electricity for that too.

It got darker. I had no power. No phone. I could do nothing but sit. It horrified me that my life revolved around being hooked up to electricity. The traffic was insane (thank you UAE land cruisers) so going out for a drive was not an option. The town isn't ours until at least September. Furthermore, the traffic lights were out of power so traffic was super-crazy.  

So yes. I read for a bit until it got dark. Then I sat on the sofa waiting for an epiphany. Fortunately the electricity came back on at 7 pm. 

Monday, August 4, 2014

The Indecency of it All

2 August 2014 - Times of Oman "Two tourists were summoned by Royal Oman Police, (ROP) on Saturday for allegedly committing acts and indulging in behaviour that are against public morals in Mughsayl area of the wilayat of Salalah"  - read the rest of the article here

The moment I saw the video on WhatsApp (merely an hour after the incident occurred), I thought to myself ... "I wonder how long it will take before they're arrested?".... then I thought again "Nah, Omanis are pretty tolerant". 

Then again, to quote the article ... they were indeed 'frolicking' and being pretty stupid to the horror (and entertainment) of the hundreds gathered at Mughsayl blowholes. I wasn't particularly offended by it, but I know a lot of people who were. Nevertheless, it amuses me to see how the video traveled at the speed of light and how worked up people got about it.

Maybe if they followed the depressing world news more often, they wouldn't get so excited about tourists in bikinis at Mughsayl posing erotically. Oh, well.

Salalah is never boring. 


(PS: I'm hibernating until the mud and UAE population decreases)

ADDED NOTE: Based on the comments below, I'd like to ask all expat readers when/if/how they received information on the dress-code in Oman. Sometimes I think tourists simply don't know. 

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Invasion 2014

It's the UAE Invasion ........ see 2012 Post to understand. HELP!

I'm hibernating for academic reasons - but was forced to leave the house today briefly only to discover every second vehicle on the highway had a UAE license plate. They're everywhere. E...v....e...r...y....w....h...e...r..e

More on the Khareef soon. Yesterday was the first day of the main Salalah Tourist Festival in Ittin (lots going on there - check out the heritage village). There's also a mini-festival in Mughsayl, one in Sumhuram near the Hilton, and a new fourth festival called Saada Pioneer Festival in Saada near the main Police Station.

We've had a lot of rain. There are deep puddles everywhere, happy tourists, mosquito, coconuts, traffic, the smell of barbecues, dirty cars, and all the things that make up the Khareef in Dhofar.

Come visit.

But book in advance.



Friday, June 20, 2014

Friday + Monsoon

And as expected, the monsoon never fails to start on time or even early! It started raining this morning in Salalah. Folks, Khareef is officially in. HOORAY! 

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Salalah on a Tuesday

I'm alive! I promise. Don't go away! I won't explain my blog's slowdown because previous posts have done enough explaining. Tonight I'm busy reading through 37 journal articles (skimming, cross-eyed, looking for key words, forming ideas, scanning through bibliographies, etc ... you can imagine).

My inbox is over-flowing with questions and requests! I promise I'll get back to you! 

Now, .... news from Salalah:

1) Weather sucks. Heavy. Humid. Hot. The absolute worst. Of course, this is only a build-up to the first monsoon rain that we hope will happen on June 21st, not a day later. You do realize that's four days away right? MONSOON IS FOUR DAYS AWAY! For some reason, I truly am excited this year. I want to see green and rain and mud.

2) Ramadan is next week. You do realize Ramadan is probably on June 28th or 29th? That's like next week. Time to prepare myself. Month of fasting, here we come! It will be a nice change to have Ramadan in the rain like last year. It will be over by July 26th or 27th? Meaning we have the whole of August to picnic and party. I was at Lulu's yesterday looking for chevre and stumbled upon a mountain of vimto, reminding me that Ramadan is just  around the  corner. For more on the mountains of vimto, read my old post here

3) Naturally, our municipality totally screws up their road-building schedule by ensuring the main highway and roads are under construction in the middle of tourist season. Right now they're in the middle of building two major bridges (one near Saada over Um Al Ghawarif roundabout) and the other at Hamdan/Lulu intersection. Furthermore, the main highway is shut from the clock-roundabout to the fountain round-about, causing wonderful traffic jams each morning, as policemen stand by the side of the road and watch blankly expecting the traffic jams to go away all by themselves. 

4) Casa Mia, the new Italian restaurant is open at Salalah Gardens Mall. I hear their Tiramisu is very good. I'm waiting to pay them a visit. Does anyone know if they serve gelato? I could do with some Italian gelato. Perhaps passion fruit, cookies, and nutella flavours. Oh yum.

5) I haven't seen an accident for two weeks. Something must be changing.

6) There's a major anti-drug campaign in Salalah from May 27th to June 25th I think. Posters everywhere. For some reason including photos of children. I didn't know drugs were a serious problem with younger kids. 

7) Yesterday I noticed a sign on a building near Lulu entitled the 'Association for Caring for Orphans' or something to that effect. It looks brand new. I'll have to investigate. If they're active, this is fantastic news. If they'll look at children born out of wedlock who are abandoned at the hospital in Salalah then sent up to the orphanage in Muscat, that would be even better. Orphans who have only lost their father but whose mother and siblings are alive are usually much better off because of the tribal network and support in Dhofar.

8) I stumbled upon a new chocolate (and watch and expensive gift) shop in new Salalah behind Barbecue Nation and near the new Al Fair. It's called Al Awadi. Their chocolates are darn good.

What's new with you?


Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Family Bookshop Closing

I realize the post is a little late because news spread around town like fire a couple of weeks ago. The much beloved Family Bookshop, Salalah's only English bookstore is closing tomorrow. It was the only bookstore in Salalah where you could buy English books, postcards, English publications, magazines, and also the only guaranteed bookstore where you could purchase books on Dhofar in Arabic and English. You would always find books by local authors on sale as well as other treasures on Oman. The bookstore has been running for as long as I can remember. However, the sad truth is that Dhofaris don't read. I'm not surprised they closed. As far as I know, they had been struggling for years to keep up the business. Most customers were expats. All I can say is, it's a true disappointment.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Five Years

Five years ago today Dhofari Gucci came to life. I was sitting in my living room fuming at something (ok .. someone) and I was scribbling furiously in my diary. Unfortunately, my hand wasn't moving fast enough. This is when I decided to start a blog since my typing skills are top notch. I told myself "Nadia, honey, why not start a blog to write everything down... don't worry, no one will read it but at least you know your thoughts will be preserved somewhere out there on the world wide web". 

So I sat down at my laptop and created Dhofari Gucci. The reason I chose the name is a long story that I'll save for some other time, but the idea behind the blog is something I will share. 

You see, I love writing. As a child all I wanted were paper and sharpened pencils. I started scribbling down notes and thoughts and ideas from a very early age. In fact, I wrote a 237-page novel at the age of 13 about a girl called Sarah Spindle, my alter-ego. I liked the idea of having an alter-ego, particuarly in Salalah where girls are constantly told to act and behave in a certain way. Having an alter-ego meant I could live something that I couldn't in real life. Going to a public girls' school in Salalah was not my favourite experience. 

Books and writing to me were often more real than anything in my own life. I have spent half my life with my nose in a book, but one eye peaking over the top taking note of what is happening around me. The other half has been spent scribbling notes. If you peak into my purse, you'll find paper, notebooks, and at least five pens. I write everywhere. For as long as I can remember, I have wanted to write a book or novel about Dhofar. A human being close to my heart once referred to Dhofar and its people as a 'Living Museum' which is the truest description I've ever encountered for my region. 

Dhofar is fascinating. Its people, traditions, culture, landscape, insanity, connections, tribes, contradictions, things that drive you crazy, conformity,support, everything. I've been taking notes for my 'book' for years. One day I'll write it, even if I'm a little old lady.

 In early 2009 I read a novel by award-winning author Isabel Allende... well, I've read all her novels actually, the first being House of the Spirits. For some reason beyond my comprehension, I wrote to her in early 2009. I told her how much I loved her books and then I proceeded to describe Dhofar and my dreams of becoming a writer. Lo and behold she wrote back within half an hour. She was sitting at her writing table in San Francisco early in the morning and my email was the first to grab her attention. Maybe I was lucky. She wrote to tell me to WRITE WRITE WRTIE. She told me I could do it and that the secret was to write one page a day. She then asked for postal address so she could send me some books that would help me. Yes, this story actually happened. I still have the big brown envelope that arrived at my little post office in Salalah from her. 

Because of this encounter, I  toyed with the idea of starting a blog. I figured it's the easiest way to write one page a day. Over the past five years the changes in my life that have taken place because of this blog have been overwhelming. I met some of my closest friends ( V & W!) and closest humans (WP) through this blog. I have attended many blog meet-ups in Oman and have met some incredible human beings. The number of journalists and researchers who have contacted me is insane. International and local publications have contacted me to do some writing for them on Oman/Dhofar/Salalah. Sometimes I obliged and other times I had to turn offers down because of time. 

My inbox was overflowing with emails, requests, questions. People moving to Salalah for the first time would email me for advice and tips. I would put them in touch with other people I know who could help. I have been invited to attended countless conferences and workshops around the world. Many times I accepted and went, other times I had to turn down offers due to the time issue again. When you Google Dhofar, chances are I'm the first thing that pops up. My journey through Dhofari Gucci has been CRAZY and WONDERFUL.

I know I've been slow with blogging lately but that's because I had to prioritize in life. You see, I'm doing a graduate degree on a topic that I'm passionate about. Those of you who know me understand. For the readers who complain that I've been a lazy blogger, please forgive me. I intend to return to blogging full-time in the very near future. I totally love this blog and everyone who reads it (excluding the internet trolls who constantly accuse me to hanging Dhofar's dirty laundry for the world to see). 

My focus in writing has always been Dhofar and particuarly the struggles of women. Female empowerment, change, marriage, love, working, society, tribalism, female genital mutilation, and any taboo subject out there. It's what I'm passionate about. Occasionally there has been the viral post here and there (hint: my letter to the CEO of Oman Air, who resigned recently). My posts have been a mix of humor, anger, and passion. I know they're not everyone's cup of tea, but you can't please everyone. 

So, the bottom-line is, thank you for reading my outbursts. Thank you for passing through. Thank you for emailing me. Thank you for adding me to your blog-roll. Thank you for inviting me to your conferences in all corners of the earth. Thank you for getting in touch and meeting me for coffee. I'm a busy person but I try my very best to make time for people. I'm a firm believer that everyone who passes through my life (even for a cup of coffee) was brought to me for a reason. I wouldn't be who I am today without you (yes you, reading this). It has been a wonderful journey, a very personal one, and one that will continue. 

Yours truly from my little corner in Salalah, Gucci

Saturday, March 22, 2014

A Twisted Kind of Love

No, this isn't the post I was referring to earlier. That one is still cooking. Today's post is the result of an 'Aha!' moment I had yesterday morning when a wonderful human being (you know who you are) enlightened me with one sentence that suddenly made sense. It all started with me ranting on as usual about people in Dhofar interfering in each others' business non-stop and continuously bombarding you with unwanted advice. 

I'll give you an example. Recently I was at Carrefour in Salalah in the home section ... in the corner where the annoying voice attracts you with 'Everlock! The solution to all your problems! The suction cup system that holds and holds and holds....'. Yes, that corner. 

As I was attempting to choose a few boxes to store my ever-growing pile of papers, notes, musings, and writing... I heard someone approach me. High heels. I stuck my head deeper into the boxes hoping whoever it is walks by without recognizing me. You see, I'm not very social. I don't like to be out in public particularly in shopping malls or supermarkets unless it's at 9:00 am on a Friday morning (as Travelallergy so very well knows since we tend to shop at the same time). 

Anyway, I wasn't lucky. The heels stopped two feet away from me and I hear the usual "Nadia? Are you Nadia?". I look up and see a woman in a burqa (face veil). I smile politely and nod my head. She immediately sticks both her hands out and takes my right hand in both of hers. 

Weird Woman: "Nadia?? It's you? Daughter of X and X? Cousin of X and X?"

Me: "Yes, that's me. I'm sorry I don't recognize you. Who are you?"

Weird Woman: "Did you sister get married recently?"

Me: "Uh, yes. Who are you again? Sorry I didn't get your name..."

Weird Woman "Oh, but she's younger than you, no?"

Me "Um, yeah"

Weird Woman "You know Nadia, everyone knows that you studied abroad and are independent and everything, but you really shouldn't see marriage as an obstacle to your life .."

Me: (by then I'd given up finding out who she was) "Don't worry. Insha'allah everything will be fine"

Weird Woman "Yes, but you've reached an age where you need to start making sacrifices and getting married. You can't let past experiences or other people's experiences stop you from getting married"

Me: "Um, ok?"

Weird Woman "Look at your cousin X and sister Y. They rejected the idea of an arranged marriage at first. But look at them now, they're settled and content"...

Me: "Um, thanks. I'm kind of in a hurry to meet someone in ten minutes, so..."

Weird Woman "Really, you should open your mind to marriage. It's time. Stop being difficult. The more independent you get, the fewer men you'll get. It's not worth it"

Me: "Ok, well thanks. See you around" 

I walk away fuming and thinking to myself "who the hell does she think she is? I don't even know her! she didn't even give me her name!!! I HATE THIS TOWN"  as I pull out my emergency packet of Dettol wipes (I have OCD and can't stand the idea of someone holding my hand ...I had to disinfect immediately)

If you think that conversation that took place was weird and completely rude, then you're probably an expat. In Dhofar it's completely normal. People do it to each other every day ... all day. And if you're an expat living in Salalah they probably do it to you too. (why don't you wear an abaya? It will make you more beautiful. Why not wear makeup?  Teacher, you should do this or eat this or wear this, etc, etc) 

In that past one week alone, I've been told to wear the veil, stop driving, become more demure, wear more makeup, wear less makeup, get married, not get married, eat, not eat, lose weight, not lose weight, etc, etc. 

It's insane.

It drives me crazy.

And there's nothing I can do about it.

Another example, one of my cousins got married to a girl who is slightly darker than he is. The girl is extremely pretty and wears makeup to match her skin color (i.e. not Marylin Manson white please click on that link). At a family lunch, a bunch of women approached the groom's sisters and proceeded to inform them that they NEED to advise their new sister in law to wear more makeup because it's shameful to be darker than the groom. 

Yes, they had the nerve to approach the family with serious faces with serious advice concerning something that is none of their business. 

Here's three main points one needs to keep in mind before telling a Dhofari to 'F*** Off' if they offer unwanted advice: 

(1) They really do believe from the bottom of their hearts that they're doing you a FAVOR. 
(2) They give you advice because this society is all about conformity. They want you to be just like them. Take it as a compliment.
(3) When they interfere in your business and ask you personal questions and insist that you answer them, it's because they're looking for flaws in your life that they can help make better. 
(4) They do it out of love.

Ok, so you're probably thinking I've gone nuts. But I haven't. Yesterday morning I was sipping coffee with that wonderful person and complaining to them about someone else who keeps offering advice and telling me what I'm doing wrong (everyday, all day). The wonderful person (we'll call him W.P) chuckled and said "But Nadia, it's a form of love"

I stopped for a moment and looked at him blankly. Love? What love? Telling me I need to start wearing the burqa is a form of love? Telling me I'm too liberal and I need to calm down is a form of love? Telling me I shouldn't be driving is a form of love? Telling me I should make myself whiter is a form of love? What the heck was he talking about?

Then, when I let it sink in for a little bit I realized he may be right. They don't do it because they're horrible, nosy and rude people. They do it because it's their way of expressing caring. When you live differently, they worry about it. It keeps them awake at night. They want everyone to be the same (collectivism at its best). They feel comfortable and secure when everyone around them lives the same way they do. Dhofaris are terrified of change. They want society to remain the same. When someone tries to do something different they stick out like a sore thumb. Society then does its best to correct that by offering advice. 

This isn't an affectionate society. It isn't a society where people openly express love or their feelings. Hell no. People here express their love in different ways. When someone dies they'll be the first people at the funeral helping to get things organized. When you get married, they'll support you. And most of all, they'll offer advice. On everything and anything. 

It drives private people like me CRAZY. But if I look at it from a different perspective, it becomes easier to handle. 

So thank you W.P for phrasing it like you did. It's a form of love.

Oh well.


Monday, March 10, 2014


Why yes, my last post was on January 20th. And yes, about a MILLION things have happened since then. I was planning a post on Saturday March 8th to mark International Women's Day. But then horrible things happened that made me despise the way women are treated in Oman sometimes, so I put that post on hold. I didn't want to vent 'on' women's day itself otherwise I'll get harassed by all the Oman internet trolls who have nothing else to do and who keep accusing me of spreading Oman's dirty laundry to the 'expats'. Well, why should we hide? Problems don't get solved unless you bring them out into the open and talk about them. I can't become a renaissance spokesperson who assures the world that things are peaches and cream in Oman as usual. Life isn't peaches and cream anywhere. And I'm not anyone's spokesperson. I'm Nadia. A blogger. A fierce feminist in the works. Someone who feels more comfortable highlighting issues through writing. I'm not a social person. But I'm strong-willed and determined to improve the situation of women in Oman, in whichever way I can. Blogging is only one aspect of my life. I do a lot more. And I will do a lot more until I feel satisfied in my old age that I have contributed to the empowerment of women in my conservative society (Dhofar). 

Several incidents over the past two months have caused me to grow very bitter at times. These incidents involve ill-treatment and disrespect towards women close to me. I have tossed and turned in bed for nights on end with a heavy heart. Sometimes I think things are improving, then society turns around and slaps me in the face to remind me that shit still exists for women. I'm lucky, but many women around me are not. Forced marriages, social-pressue, in-law abuse, control-freaks, etc etc etc. Salalah is not going to change fast. 

I will try to write when I am not so bitter... not so angry. I will try to be objective and less furious in my writing. It is difficult but I will try.

Until then, I hope you forgive me for not writing everyday like I used to. I'm working full time and completing an additional degree. It's not easy. I had to prioritize. Few months and I'll be back to normal. 

Yours from my quiet corner in Dhofar, 


Monday, January 20, 2014

The Value of Planning

Anyone who has lived in Salalah long enough knows that people here don't plan. In fact, they actively avoid planning. When they are forced into planning something, they take great measures to screw up the plans at the last minute. I'll never understand why. Maybe you can help me.

The reason this has come up today (and every other day in my life here in Dhofar) is because I was sitting with a colleague of mine who wanted to take annual leave. Why? Well, his sister is getting married and she mentioned that she wanted to go to Dubai to buy fake designer products and to spend her dowry in style. All fine till now right? Until he told me they intended to go 'tomorrow'. Naturally, being the obsessive compulsive person that I am, I immediately asked the usual "Did you book tickets? Hotel?". 

The answer was a blank 'no'.

But Amer, you said you're going tomorrow. Do you have any idea how many people are going to Dubai for the school holildays? Yes, he said.

So why didn't you book  tickets and plan in advance?

Well, we still hadn't decided, he said.


Ok, I'll see if I can go by a travel agent.


Nah, I don't like to take the shortcut. I'd rather waste my time at a travel agent.

A few hours pass.

Amer shows up at my office again. Ok, we have tickets he says.

What about your hotel I ask frantically.

Oh, we'll get something when we land at the airport. There are hotel offices there.

Me: AMER, no one does that anymore. It's high season. You have to book in advance.

Yes I know, he says. I'm sure when we get there, there won't be any reasonably priced hotels left. We might have to spend a lot of money just to find a room in Dubai.

By then, my fingers are already on the keyboard and logging into Booking.com

Amer, look! There's nothing in Dubai under 60 OMR a night. NOTHING. But here, there's a small hotel in Ajman about 13 km away and it's a good price. Do you want me to book it for you?

Nah, he says. We'll get something at the airport.

I tell him that this non-planning mentality of Dhofaris just won't work anymore. You'll just waste time and effort and money. What's so difficult about booking in advance?

He says "Well I dunno, it's just how we Dhofaris are".

And off he goes with his tickets.

Later on I find out that they landed in Dubai at 7 pm and ended up in a lineup of people all needing accommodation. By 10 pm they had found a room in Sharjah. He sent me a long message complaining about the lineups and the chaos and the lack of hotels...... as ... if .... we ... hadn't....had....that ....conversation .... the .... day ..... before.

I tried not to pull my hair out in frustration. I shouldn't get frustrated. It's their lives.

Among my theories to explain this ridiculous phenomenon is that they refuse to plan anything in advance because:

1) They might jinx themselves and get cursed by the evil eye

2) They enjoy not planning because then tons of problems arise due to lack of planning and they get to be manly heroes by making a lot of noise in an attempt to solve the crisis. It makes them feel good. Gives them something to do.

3) They just don't value planning and don't see the benefits of planning ahead of time.

This goes for all planning crises in Salalah. Another example is weddings. A girl at college will go weeping to her teachers that she can't take a final exam because it's on her wedding day. The men in her family come and make a fuss at the college to 'rescue' her in her distress. But no one asks the obvious question: why the HECK did you plan your wedding in the middle of final exams?

I could give tons of examples. Tons.

It drives me crazy.

I'm typing this from the business class lounge at Salalah Airport. No, I'm not off to Dubai to rescue Amer. An older gentlemen (obviously a businessman) who was sitting on the other side of the lounge came up to me and pointed to a tiny walled-in corner of the room and said "That's for ladies". I look up from the laptop and smile "Yes?". He said "that room there is for ladies". I said "I know, can I help you with anything?". So he shuffles off back to his corner and huffs and puffs. If I were in a different mood, I'd probably give him a dose of feminism and ask him exactly what's bothering him about my presence in the main area of the lounge. Then I'd tell him he offended me and that I think men should be walled in instead.

Oh well, maybe another lifetime. 


Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Bits and Pieces

Brace yourselves for one of my random posts that cover bits and pieces from absolutely everything and anything Dhofar. To give you an idea of the scenario, yours truly is in a bright pink thobe budhail hibernating in her room over a mug of Salalah Chai and country music (don't judge). I've just finished drafting my 2014 resolutions, one of them being to blog more often. You must understand that I really love blogging. I've just been so bloody busy that I've had to put some things aside until I finish a couple of large projects. Anyway, 2014 will bring more posts. You may now roll your eyes.

So, in Salalah....

1) My last two posts were about the security threats in the Dhofar region,particularly concerning possible attempts by A Qaeda to cross the border from Yemen. The UK and US embassies both warned their citizens to steer clear of Dhofar. The warnings seem to be over, although to the best of my knowledge there may have been a mini-threat alert yesterday evening (hint: Port). 

2) There has been an exaggerated burst of nationalism these past few weeks after Oman bluntly refused to join any future Gulf Union. Read this article for more details on the Iran-ties that have come up again and again in any conversation concerning Oman's stance. 

3) Dhofar Club (primarily a soccer club) has set up dozens of clothes donation boxes around Salalah. Needles to say, it's the first 'organized' clothes donation initiative in Dhofar since ...well .... never. I've donated a lot and so have my friends. As far as I know, a lot of it is going to Syria. They're having a rough winter and the refugees need all the help they can get. The one I've used is on 18th of November Street, the main street in Saada right at the corner from Trygve Harris' frankincense ice cream heaven. 

4) The  weather these days is awesome.

5) I've witnessed two forced marriages over the past two months. More on that later. I'm fuming.

6) If you've emailed me over the past four weeks, I apologize for not getting back to you. I haven't been able to keep up with emails. I WILL answer.

7) I'm not a Facebook person. I'll try to re-activate my page, but can't make any promises. There's only so much social media I can handle. Don't even say the word Twitter to me, or I might internet-troll you.

8) Speaking of trolls, you guys need to get a life (those of you whose lives are so boring you waste your time sending horrible messages to others using multiple accounts. Seriously, get a life)

9) Remember our mini Arab Spring in Oman? And the one in Dhofar that ended rather harshly on May 12th, 2011? Remember this photo of the protest square? Well. they're currently in the middle of digging up the WHOLE FRIGGIN SQUARE to build a POLICE STATION. You heard me right. A police station.

10) Hasik-Shuwaymia road (east of Salalah) is finally open. We can finally drive up the coast easily. Bring on the day-trips! (ignore the photoshopped picture)

11) As of January 1st, Omanis can travel to the UK without a visa. Oh yes. OH YES! 

12) I found this hilarious definition of Salalah in Urban Dictionary. We heard our animals, they said!

13) Someone at work keeps on using my coffee press and carefully hidden Sumatra coffee. I'm going to find the sucker and I'm going to kill him.

14) Patchi is finally open at Salalah Gardens Mall. 

15) Khumba (3D Animation movie - still on at City Cinema Salalah) was awesome. Everyone in the audience were adults by the way. Don't be shy. 

16) Finally, you do realize we have a public holiday next week for the birth of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH)? Probably Monday or Tuesday, but most likely Tuesday. Hooray!

The End