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.