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,


Monday, July 27, 2015

Monday Night

Greetings from rainy wet muddy delightfully cheerful Salalah. 

First of all, thank you for those of you who commented on my previous post and for the many readers who emailed me privately to express their support/their own beliefs. It means the world to me.

Now, for news updates from our end of the country:

1) Salalah is officially invaded. Review my post from 2012. Nothing has changed. I avoid leaving the house at all times. Last weekend I went grocery shopping at 8:30  a.m to avoid the tourists, and the supermarket was still packed. Oh well.

(road from Ittin to mountains - avoid at all costs)

2) Very sad news today about the bodies of two missing young men from the UAE who drowned in Mirbat after attempting to swim in the ocean. Despite the signs up everyone saying "DON'T SWIM FROM MAY TO OCTOBER", people continue to risk their lives every year. Then every year we hear sad news about tourists who drown. 

3) I was VERY pleased to hear that Big Bus Tours is running tours in Salalah this khareef. It's 7 rials per person for 24 hours. The tour is 1 1/2 hours long and takes off from Salalah Gardens Mall main parking lot. You can get brochures with the route at the tourist kiosk in the mall near Carrefour (opposite Red Tag). 

4) Rumor has it that a mother-daughter duo (from Italy!) have opened up an authentic lasagna restaurant (take-out) in Salalah. It's on airport road (near Dhofar Hotel). The food is incredibly good. I'm heading there ASAP. 

5) The Festival: started officially on July 23rd but some of the exhibitions and attractions aren't open yet, so I'm waiting a few more days before I go to visit. For more details on the festival and news in Salalah, listen to Oman English FM (90.4) from 7-8 pm every evening. Informative program with interesting interviews. They have a new correspondent (Hani Al Baraka). He and Talal are doing Salalah proud. 

6) Dahariz Beach: has gone through a complete makeover. There is a lovely new walkway, barbecue areas, little gazebo thingies, and lots of seating area for about a kilometer. They're also about to open up a huge Al Makan Cafe (popular in Muscat). I've been walking there. It's a great place to be outdoors while avoiding the crowds. Tourists tend to head more towards the mountains during the monsoon with very few people congregating on beaches (the waves are rough because of the monsoon)

7) Oman lover and author Maria Dekeersmaeker has published yet another book on Oman. The new book is called Whispers of Oman and it is essentially stories about women. I can't wait to get my hands on it. Her book "The DNA of Dhofar" is also in my possession. Despite its unique structure, it's very informative. If you see any hard copies of the new book let me know.

8) RAFO roundabout is NO MORE. Salalah's infamous fountain roundabout that changes colors is gone. There is a story about that roundabout. Apparently back when it was first build, people had never seen color-changing fountains before. An old woman thought His Majesty had built a juice fountain to quench the thirst of all Dhofaris.  Well, it's gone now. In its place is an efficient set of traffic lights that have made our lives much much easier this week. They were inaugurated on Saturday. 

9) Most importantly, Lulu is selling caffeine-free coke. You have no idea what this means to me. Occasionally (like once every week or two weeks) I crave a coke. Problem is, I'm becoming increasingly caffeine intolerant. I have my coffee at 7 am. Anything after about 11 a.m will have me doing an Irish jig at midnight.

That's all for now folks. Back to snorting at Tom Hanks in Carly Rae Jepsen's video "I really like you". I finally got around to watching it.


PS (will the new Mall of Oman have Ikea? That's all that matters to me)

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

An Honest Post

Normally my Ramadan posts involve a lot of complaining about supermarkets, and gushing about spirituality.

This Ramadan is a bit different for two reasons.

Reason One: I meal-plan very carefully in order to ensure that I venture out for food once a week early on a Friday morning before the food-crazy crowds make it to Lulu. Trust me, it works. I plan the meals down to the very last cup of coffee.

Reason Two: The word Islam is depressing me. Don't misunderstand me. I love my faith, but the filthy horrible inhuman behavior of those whose name happens to be the Islamic State almost puts me off the word 'Islam'. I know it's not a positive thing. I'll find my way back, but for the moment let me share with you some minor rants.

The moderate, the peaceful, and the liberal Muslims out there all cry out 'but the Islamic state doesn’t represent Muslims!!". Oh but it does! It may not represent the faith that we believe in, but it represents a large majority of Muslims who have made a huge effort over centuries and centuries to misinterpret and screw up the message of this religion for purely political or otherwise greedy purposes.  They do not represent us. But their teachings have reached us and in many ways continue to govern our lives. Don't turn a blind eye to this. And don't act helpless. Start asking yourself difficult questions.

I'll give you an example. A couple of years ago I was invited into a WhatsApp group by a relative of mine whose purpose was to 'educate' women about Islam. Naturally, men in our societies still think women need to be taught about religion. So, I joined the WhatsApp group out of curiosity to see what they were up to and how this man intended to 'educate' women. The group consisted of 50 women, mostly housewives. After a year in the group I learned that the purpose of the group was to brainwash women. It was to spread the teachings of extremist Saudi scholars. It was to remind women that their place in the world is behind closed doors. It was to teach women that God will love them if their hands are gloved, if their faces are covered, and if they never met or spoke to strange men. The group spent hours discussing how corrupt and blasphemous normal people (like me) were. They spent hours discussing how God would punish women who drove, women who worked and interacted with men. They thrived on these conversations. Of course, I remained anonymous in the group as did everyone else. I knew none of these women.

After a year, I couldn't take it any more. I removed myself quietly and resumed my normal corrupt life (as they put it).

But you see… these women supported ISIS. Everything they were taught in this group supported extremism. These ignorant uneducated women were being groomed. They were being taught that the purest version of Islam is the extreme version. This dangerous school of thought (originating in Saudi) is what causes people to join organizations like ISIS (whether developed by western conspiracies, or locally groomed in the Arab world).  ISIS and mainstream Muslims share the same mindset to some extent and similar attitudes. This is reality.

These types of extremist schools of thought are messing up any chance we have as Muslims of promoting peace.

When you cry out 'They do not represent me!', think again. Anyone who goes around beheading people and blowing up people's lives in the name of any religion is damn well representing that religion whether you want to admit it or not. They are damn well representing the fact that something is screwed up in some of our teachings.

What are we doing wrong?  Where did we go wrong? And what can we do to collectively turn things around? I was asking myself these questions at Suhoor this morning. A little heavy for  4 AM but what can you say? 

I was listening to an interesting program on Oman FM this afternoon on living a 'life of worship'. I didn't listen to the whole thing, but it got me thinking about other things… about Ramadan. About what I perceive as hypocrisy while others perceive as piousness.

In my community, regardless of whether you do it or not, there is always an expectation that you will suddenly become a deeply pious hermit in Ramadan. It is expected that you'll go around holding prayer beads, pray all your prayers at the mosque, and spend hours on Taraweeh and Qiyam Al Layl (both forms of prayer and worship). It is expected that you will read the Quran cover to cover once if not twice.

In reality, I'd say a large number of people here would like to think they're doing all that, but in fact they're spending a third of Ramadan in bed, a third in the kitchen, and a third watching scandalous MBC soap operas.

In all cases, it is not what Ramadan should be. Not to me at least. This Ramadan I'm not tolerating any of the Holier than Thou drama. This Ramadan I'm focusing on something different. How can I be a better human? Will spending three hours at the mosque every night help humanity? Probably not. Should I be out instead actively trying to make a difference? Yes I should. With every step I take (in work and in my personal life), I am trying to ask myself "How can I be kinder?". With every phone call, message, meeting, conversation, email, and word I utter I ask myself 'How can I be kinder? How can I help this person? Let me put myself in their shoes. How can I go the extra mile for this person today?  It's hard, trust me. It requires one to slow down and be more conscious, more aware. Does God need me to spend all day praying? Doubtful. How am I helping others this way? Surely we can start comprehending the fact that worship is not restricted to prayer and reading the Quran. Worship is action.

This Ramadan, I am setting aside religious traditions. This Ramadan I choose to be kinder, I choose to be conscious, I choose to read about common human values (Karen Armstrong anyone?), this Ramadan I am focusing on bettering myself as a human, not according to others' expectations, but according to my internal moral compass. I refuse to feel guilty. This Ramadan is about family, about the bigger picture, about empathy, awareness, strength, freedom, charity, and peace. This Ramadan my religion is humanity.

So there. 

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Developments Developments!

Good afternoon folks from my quiet little corner of the world. Sometimes I just can't seem to get around to blogging, and at other times (like today), I find there is a lot to report. Anyway, no need to complain. I have a happy life and have learned not to feel guilty about not being able to blog so often. It's all about balance: 

This post is a mix of pieces of news from Salalah that are of interest. Separate posts to follow:

1) THE AIRPORT! Destiny ensured that I was on the first flight out of the new airport by pure coincidence on June 15th. The night before I was due to travel, I received a notification by phone informing me that my flight would take off from our new airport. A NEW AIRPORT! I was thrilled beyond belief. The building is beautiful, it feels like a proper international airport. A lot of work needs to be done still but it was a fantastic beginning. I took pictures and will post them. But just imagine, when I was returning to Salalah from Muscat, I had to wait at the hideous gate, get on a bus in the heat, drive for ages, climb a staircase to the plane in 45 degrees celcius... then upon arrival in Salalah I stepped off the plane into an air-conditioned tube (what are they called anyway? Those tube things?). Service was efficient, minus the security team who were still struggling with the system and didn't even notice I had a pair of scissors in my bag. 

2)THE BRIDGES! Bridges are coming along well. The one connecting Saada to the highway is progressing fast, whereas the one near Lulu's is as slow as a turtle. The roundabout that used to be the fountain roundabout has been flattened. Rumour has it they'll build a tunnel instead of the bridge because RAFO (Royal Airforce) don't want anyone looking  at their base from the top of the bridge. Who knows. 

3) THE MALL! No, not Salalah Gardens Mall, but the soon to be built Salalah Grande Mall (Sister to MGM in Muscat). The sign is officially up in Saada/Dahariz area very close to the Indian school and that sports complex. There's also a locally built mall in Saada that is about to open now called Salalah Galleries or Saada Galleries. It's huge, but I think the shops will be mostly crappy local (i.e. no big international brands). 

4) AL HAFFA is Al Haffa no more. It has been flattened and the last stubborn citizen who refused to leave his house was evicted and his house has been demolished as well. Haffa no more. Still no signs up explaining what the hell they plan to do with the waterfront area. I think it's stupid not to share with citizens. (Oh wait, this isn't a democracy... and we aren't responsible taxpayers... so why should they even consider what the locals feels? Bah)

5) AL BALEED! Al Baleed Resort/hotel appears to be almost finished. It's located on the beach between Haffa and the Crowne Plaza. It's huge. If my pal F.S. wants to give me a tour, don't hesitate. It looks fantastic; 

6) ANOTHER HOTEL! So, at the moment, Salalah's decent hotels include Hilton, Crowne Plaza, Salalah Gardens, Juweira, and Rotana. (Marriott doesn't count because it's so far away). I was at the Rotana for Iftar the other night and we noticed the new Al Fanar Hotel is looking good. It's no-where near finished but the structure is mostly done. Again, huge. 

7) KHAREEF! I know you all want to know. We had rain for two days on June 18th and 19th. Then it all went dry and humid again. I drove into the mountains yesterday and it's foggy up there, but no rain. So, don't get your hopes up yet. Within the next couple of weeks the rain should start properly. 

8) EID HOLIDAYS! We're expecting a full week for Eid (i.e. July 19-23) because Eid will be either the 17th or 18th, and National Day will be the 23rd, so they're bound to give us a week off right? Surely they will right? Especially since there's no way in heaven we're getting a week off for Eid Al Adha since it falls on a weekend. 

9) VISITING US! If you plan to visit Salalah during Eid holidays, I suggest you book your hotels ... a month a go! A friend of mind wants to come during Eid and she couldn't find any hotel rooms. It's insane. If you want to come, book now. 

10) Actually, don't come. If you want my honest honest advice... and if you want to actually enjoy the monsoon and some peace and quiet, don't come anytime between July 18th and August 31st. I know it's peak tourist season, but it will be INSANE. Best time to visit is September. The clouds will have parted, the fog will have lifted, and we can actually have the city to ourselves again. 

Nuff said for the moment. Time to fantasize about Iftar. 

Stay tuned for posts on more news including  Wasta woes, marriage insanity, and Whispers of Salalah......

Yours Truly,


Tuesday, April 28, 2015

That Time of Year...

It's that time of year.. When you get into your car and can't touch the steering wheel because it's too hot. It's that time of year.. When it's so humid outside, all your car (and home) windows fog up. It's that time of year.. When your trusty Panasonic split unit AC decides to stab you in the back and become a heater. It's that time of year... When you wake up from sleep feeling fresh and energetic.. but the moment you take one step out of the bedroom and into the hallway, you are hit with a wave of humid hot air. But wait! It gets worse! It's that time of year, when you put on your makeup, open your door, step outside and attempt to walk to your car. In those 12 seconds, your makeup fails you and starts melting. You get into the car, take one look at your face in the rear-view mirror and bid farewell to your mascara. It's that time of year when you would rather hide than go out and run errands. The time of year when you actually enjoy grocery shopping at Lulu's because it's cool. The time of year when everyone is irritated. It's hot, humid and so bright, you feel your eyes being baked if you are outdoors. It's that time of year when you're not entirely sure if the person tailgating is a mirage a**hole or a real one. It's that time of year when you actually don't mind going to the mall. Drive all the way to Salalah Gardens for an ice cream? Why not. If it's air-conditioned, it's for me. It's that time of year when people are frantically trying to get married because shucks... Ramadhan is in six weeks! Wedding season in July/August is fully booked and very busy, so let's get married in the hottest time of year. Very romantic. Poor bride with the 5KG of makeup and the oven of a wedding dress. It's that time of year when frantic construction is everywhere in a feeble attempt to get everything done before "Khareef" when the 300,000 thousand Gulfies will descend upon us. I've almost had it with road construction. It's that time of year when Dhofari Gucci is so obsessed with staying cool that she either plans a vacation to the North Pole, or she blogs. The latter was more convenient. Six more weeks Inshallah until the first rains then I'll cheer up...... Nadia.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Weight No More

The day before yesterday His Majesty Sultan Qaboos returned from Germany after eight months of treatment for what we believe was cancer of some sort, but we were never told. It doesn't matter now. The official statement on Monday said his treatment was 100% successful. 

For most of us Omanis, a huge weight was lifted off our hearts when news began to trickle in about his return. There had been rumors for MONTHS about his return. This felt different. News was trickling in from trusted sources. Insiders at Oman TV, the radio, the palace. For a few hours, WhatsApp and other means of social media were exploding with chatter about his return. 

But ... at 7:30 pm it became official. 

Read my post about his illness here. It's called "The Weight of Uncertainty". 

The past few months have been horrible for us. Media outlets and political analysts around the world have been speculating about his health with a huge focus on succession and Oman's lack of a clear succession plan. It was a healthy discussion, but for those of us in the dark, it was difficult at times. Not only were we not in the picture about his health and the future of our country, but the rest of the world were openly discussing a future of this country without him. We all know it's inevitable, but no one wants to think about it. If you've lived in Oman long enough, you'll know why.

The country has been in non-stop celebration since he arrived. It's almost out of control, in a good way. 

In Salalah, a march is being arranged on Friday afternoon with everyone invited (men, women, Omanis, non-Omanis) . The march will take off from the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque at the Nahda/23rd of July intersection and will end at Al Husn Palace in Haffa. Not a very long walk, so it's easy if you want to join. I believe people will start gathering around 4 or 4:30. Correct me if I'm wrong.

Overall, a happy week for Oman. 

Peace to all.


Friday, January 23, 2015

Salalah No More

Well.... not as we know it anyway. Some may think I'm exaggerating and may even suggest I change the title of this post to "Haffa No More". But ... this is my blog after all and I've decided to name this post "Salalah No More". So there.

Dhofari Gucci is huddled in her little living room with a cup of tea and some country music. Lady Antebellum's "Hello World". You see, I'm feeling nostalgic. And when Dhofari Gucci is feeling nostalgia, she listens to country music. 

I'm having an emotional day, you see. I woke up to the news of the demise of the king of Saudi Arabia. Watching Saudi Arabia mourn created a tight knot the heart of every Omani as we all prayed for our own ruler's health. Trust me, it's not easy being in the dark as you can see from my previous post. After that, I was informed of the sad death of a friend's family member. Then I spent the morning in Haffa mourning Salalah as we know it. I'll say more about that in a bit. Following my heartbreaking morning in Haffa, I spent time cruising past Dahariz beach and Taqa beach, more areas that the government plans to revamp murder.  I decided to cheer myself up by seeing a movie. Unfortunately, the only movie showing at that time was American Sniper. I'm not a fan of war movies, but Bradley Cooper's kinda cute and I like Sienna Miller, so I went. 

Big Mistake.

No words can describe how much I despise Hollywood right now. It's like America (no offense) is begging Arabs to hate them. What a racist stupid idiotic movie. Sure, show your movie in all Arab cinemas. Throw in a good-looking actor playing an American sniper, a few hundred F-words, and refer to Arabs more than a dozen time as 'savages' as you shoot them one by one from your comfortable mattress on the rooftop of an Iraqi home.  Many events in the movie took place in Al Falluja, an Iraqi city. "A city of savages" according to the US Marines. Yep. Not very nice for those of us who actually KNOW people from Falluja. Two of my math professors at university were from Falluja, and they were some of the nicest people I've ever met. 

And then Americans wonder why the Arab world aren't fans. When people around the globe are struggling to strengthen understanding and build bridges to promote peace, out comes one stupid movie that ruins everything. I couldn't keep track of the number of people who got up and left in the middle of the movie. I consider myself to be a calm realistic and intelligent person, but I left feeling upset and well.... furious.  America, you failed.

Now, back to Haffa.

Anyone who has been to Haffa beach/corniche/souq knows what it means to us Dhofaris. In fact, the first post I ever wrote on this blog in 2009 was about Haffa. See the link here.  For decades and decades, Haffa beach is where locals go to practice the art of doing nothing. For as long as I can remember, Haffa has been the hub of local life. 

The picture above depicts Haffa as I know it.  Old men sitting in circles on the sand playing cards and board games. Young men playing soccer. Women huddled in groups sipping tea and talking. People on their front steps watching the world go by. Fishermen mending their nets. Guys smoking hookah. Kids build sandcastles. Tourists, locals, expats, everyone. All these people came to Haffa to chill. The entire length of the beach was dotted with ancient ancient precious coconut palms, old houses, cafes, a traditional souq, and at the other end Al Baleed archaeological site. Despite its ancient feel, people love the place. Local fishermen have lived on that beach for as long as they can remember. My friends and I sat on that beach every Friday evening for years. We'd gather to chat and sip tea. Haffa beach is part of us. It's in our hearts. 

Anyway, one day many years ago (at least a decade?) the government decided 'Hey, let's kill Haffa and build a few hotels'. So yeah, families who have been living there for generations were given land and money and told to evacuate. They fought, they struggled, this was all kept out of the media (of course... like seriously, why would Oman wants to cover REAL issues in the media?). I know about this because a friend of mine and her family were evacuated. 

It took years to get everyone out, and a few weeks ago they finally switched off water and electricity in Haffa. The houses were empty, vandals had stolen everything they could steal (windows, doors, metal, etc, etc). It looked like a war-zone (I have photos - to come soon). 

A couple of weeks ago I drove over there in the morning. The silence was deafening. It felt like the aftermath of war. Crumbling ruins. Abandoned homes. Stray dogs. Vandals. A lump formed in my throat. How we took this beautiful part of town for granted assuming it would always be there. Now that it's gone, all I had were these crumbling ruins and my memories. There were other Dhofaris there that morning, all standing there like I was, heartbroken. 

Last week they bulldozed everything down. Before they killed what was left, I decided to work on a very special project. I'll share it with you later, it needs a little editing. 

In the meantime, this is what Haffa looks like today:

Yes. That's what's left. The palm trees and a load of rubble. People's homes. 

Now, don't get me wrong. I'm not against development. I even like the idea of having Costa on the beach. But did they really have to kill the heart of the city? For tourism? People come to Salalah looking for something authentic. Haffa was authentic. Seeing life for what it really is was authentic. Five-star hotels, cafes, and fancy walkways are anything but authentic. Do we really want to become another Dubai or Doha? We need to hold on to what makes us Dhofari. Our local life. 

If you've been to Muttrah, imagine them tearing down all the waterfront buildings in Muttrah to make room for hotels and modern development. Imagine what the locals would feel. People come from all over the world to see Muttrah JUST AS IT IS. 

The same applies to Haffa. 

The worst part is that the government hasn't even bothered to share their plans with locals. We have no idea what they plan to do with the area. We hear through the grapevine... hotels, walkway, cafes, ... the usual. 

Dahariz beach is also being revamped. I fear Taqah is next. 

Is this what we want? Is this what tourists wants?