Monday, November 29, 2010
Many world leaders haven't come off too well, although from what I've read I can't say much of it was shocking. Who knows why one of the stories most hitting the headlines is of a leak which mentions Libyan leader Gaddafi's relationship with his Ukranian nurse?! Exposed and embarrassed, the White House are condemning Wikileaks, one congressman even calling for it to be treated as a terrorist organisation!
Sultan Qaboos and Oman however have come off well. The Sultan's comments on international affairs such as Iraq and Iran show great wisdom and ration.
An excerpt in which he mentions women struck me the most; he said "Omani women were stuck in tradition and needed to be empowered to "take more charge" and to "be less shy". "Some customs (regarding women) shouldn't be kept".
The Sultan's views on the development of women are no secret; the progress he has pioneered says everything. The support and encouragement Omani women get is unique in this area of the world and its a great shame for any women who don't seize the opportunities given to them by this enlightened man.
Long live Sultan Qaboos and his Oman.
Saturday, November 27, 2010
The response to the mosque has included vandalism, construction equipment on-site being set alight and a lawsuit. Even a couple of authoritative figures (one wonders how they came to be such) have put in their two cents. A Republican candidate for Congress commented that she was "opposed to the idea of an Islamic training centre being built in our community". Yes, right alongside their Christian training centres (if thats what we're now calling them).
Whilst theological debate is healthy, it is being used as a cover for prejudice and oppression. Scarily its beginning to feel as though all of these efforts towards so-called 'freedom' and human rights have been a waste of time and that humans are in some ways regressing. I don't suppose any of them have read the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (major contributor: the United States) which permits every human to freedom of religion and "either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance". It shouldn't even need to be re-stated.
We can't just blame Americans, nor Christians for this transgression. The story is being repeated in many other parts of the world and among all religions. Egyptian authorities are currently in the news (again) for preventing the construction of churches, causing violent riots. In Syria too, the repression of Protestants and Evangelicals is being claimed as several buildings operating as churches have been closed down for not having licenses.
How, in our modern world of great scientific and technological advancement, is religion still causing such fear and fury?! At the moment Oman stands pretty well in terms of religious tolerance (at least officially). Lets just hope it doesn't get bitten by this dangerous bug.
Tuesday, November 23, 2010
I'm wondering what the meeting will be like, the two monarch's have such different roles in their respective countries. Whilst Queen Elizabeth does not rule her country and has no official political influence, Sultan Qaboos is an absolute monarch and the head of the government. Also, in Oman only males are entitled to the throne. It will be interesting if these come up in conversation between the two.
In a small tribute to the visit here are a few interesting facts you may or may not have known about the Queen and the Sultan.
1) The Queen's last visit to Oman was in 1979 and this month's visit will be her first to the Gulf since then. The Sultan's last State Visit to the UK was in 1982.
2) During her reign the Queen has made over 60 State visits to foreign governments.
3) The Sultan studied in England and graduated from The Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst.
4) The Queen is 84 years old, the Sultan is 70.
5) The Queen's official birthday is not celebrated on the same day every year, the Sultan's is celebrated alongside the National Day on 18th November.
6) The Queen is head of State in 16 Commonwealth countries.
7) The Queen has been married for 63 years, the Sultan's brief marriage to his cousin ended in divorce.
8) Since 1800 the two countries have been tied by a Treaty which states that their friendship will "endure till the end of time". The Queen quoted the Treaty during the Sultan's visit to the UK in 1982.
Monday, November 15, 2010
Thursday, November 4, 2010
I have to say, for me the show was a mixture of enjoyment and disappointment. They did all make me laugh. However Tsarouchas in particular, who although seemed popular with the audience, gave me the feeling that he was using old and repetitive material and that he hadn't made a lot of effort to prepare to perform in Oman. Surely it wouldn't take too much effort for a skilled comedian to do a little research on the place they are performing and find something to joke about, in order to relate more personally to the audience, which is apparently just what Moz Jobrani did in his performance at the same venue last year.
Apart from this one bone of contention though, they all made great jokes and managed to relate to a very mixed audience. For me Griffin was the highlight of the show and his clever impressions and sound effects had me doubled up with laughter.
Oh, and on a slightly unrelated (though still comic) note, I think Ahmed Ahmed looks like a young Alan Sugar (from the British "The Apprentice").
Thursday, October 28, 2010
I think that despite the disdain with which arranged marriage is looked upon in the West, perhaps there is something to be learned from it, or at least the attitudes that drive it. Here are some reasons I have come up with about why there are more successful marriages here (and I don't intend to show any bias to either side).
1) Religion; people who believe in the afterlife are usually more content with what they have in this life and Muslims strongly believe there is religious benefit in a good marriage. (This view could be supported by the correlation between religious affiliation and divorce rates in the UK.) There are those who don't have these beliefs, who would like to get the most enjoyment from life and are on the constant search for "happiness" which is often accompanied by a sort of 'the grass is greener on the other side' attitude.
2) Love; feelings are great but they are also changeable. If you expect to be passionately in love with your spouse for the rest of your life you are likely to, at one point or another, be disappointed. Traditional Omani marriages are not based on any Hollywood-induced idea of being in love. It is hoped that love will blossom over time but it is understood that the key to marriage is effort.
3) Bad examples; perhaps those who are surrounded with more divorce are more likely to get divorced themselves. They may have a lack of confidence in the success of marriage as well as less positive examples to look to.
4) Arranged marriages; they aren't always the outdated tradition they are portrayed as. If you are lucky to have good parents they will find a spouse who will suit you, have the same values and the same ambitions, which will help maintain a balanced relationship.
5) Maybe Omanis are just more inclined to settle?! More serious grounds for divorce such as adultery and violence are probably no less common here, but maybe people are more likely to look the other way or forgive.
6) In some cases here in Oman an unhappy marriage is dealt with by the man marrying a second wife. While this is certainly a way of avoiding divorce I'm not sure it's a valid one....
7) More kids: Omani families tend to be a lot bigger. When a couple are completely consumed with children they probably have no time for personal disagreements! ; )
Anyway I hope this post hasn't felt like a condemnation of divorce, but I do wholeheartedly believe in marriage and only feel sad that it can't work out for everyone.
Monday, October 18, 2010
In Oman education has been welcomed by all, but has not been at the expense of culture and tradition. This is certainly a reason why there is stability here. The reality is that Omanis (not to mention expats) have love for, and faith in Oman and their Sultan. There is a widespread drive to succeed, not just for the benefit of individuals but for the pride of the country. Also, the Sultan's efforts to maintain a peaceful relationship with other countries has earned favour both at home and abroad.
For more Oman-loving you can read Kristof's article here.
Thursday, October 14, 2010
So there is a lot going on in Muscat in the coming months; National Day, Eid al Adha, Omani Women's Day (tonnes of writing material!) There are also a lot more performances at the Oman Auditorium. Personally, I'm hoping to catch the Antonio Najarro Dance Company perform the "Flamenco Oriental" in November. Apparently in the last Flamenco performance in September the auditorium was so full people were having to sit on the floor in the aisles! It's great that the performing arts are so enthusiastically received in Oman.
Oh and it's great news that six girls have been chosen to represent Oman at the Young Arab Entrepreneurs Competition in Morocco. Another triumph for females in the Sultanate!
Tuesday, August 31, 2010
The global consumption of meat has become a topic of concern among environmentalists and is something for us to think about here in Oman, which is a population of fervent meat-eaters. This will be brought further into context soon with Eid al-Adha on its way (the defining feature of this holiday being the slaughter of animals). Even on regular days red meat, which once would have been considered a luxury, and still is in many parts of the globe, is eaten frequently. For many families it would be considered bad hospitality not to serve such an excessive amount of meat to guests that they would barely be able to make an impression in it (forgive me for generalising, I'm sure its not universally the case).
Besides the well-known health risks of consuming too much read meat, there are some really startling environmental factors. Meat production requires vast amounts of water and grain and the animals' waste is pollutant (cow manure emits methane and nitrous oxide). For the grain alone,huge areas of the world's rain forests have had to be destroyed. The production of beef produces 24 times the amount of greenhouse gases as vegetables. Apparently, 12,000 gallons of water is required to produce one pound of beef, compared with 60 for the same weight in potatoes. And its not just industrial-sized confined factories; free-range meat has the same requirements but also needs substantial amounts of space.
I may seem like some ranting vegetarian but I'm not, I just believe in valuing moderation, not excess. The world's population is bursting along with its consumption, and a little moderation would definitely go a long way. I think the shocking stats are a deterrent enough (although if that doesn't do it the talk about methane certainly does).
Thursday, August 19, 2010
One of my new favourite places to have a treat in Muscat has to be The Chedi, where I spent Iftar recently. For those who haven't been, The Chedi is a modestly luxurious hotel along the beachfront in Boushar. I say modest because the drive leading up to the hotel would not convince you that there is a multi-award winning hotel at the end of it. Anyone who has seen the traditional Omani-inspired architecture and interior of the hotel will agree that it is beautiful.
The restaurant itself is so attractive and has so many interesting features we found ourselves spotting new things we liked about it all night. The service was one of the highlights of the night. And that's not to say the food was bad, just that the service was exceptionally good. Our waiter was attentive to the point where he escorted us to the lobby after our meal and brought us coffee.
The food itself was delicious (well not much isn't after a day of fasting), well presented and well timed. The Iftar set menu included five courses, including a selection of juices at the start. The jallab was my favorite which was a mixture of peach and rose-water. In line with tradition, dates and laban were already on the table ready for the moment of breaking fast. This was followed by a light lentil soup and cold and hot mezze. A much needed pause....then the main. Mixed grill (nice and charcoaled) and hammour fillets. The fish was so good we asked for extra, which of course the waiter happily obliged. Followed by another pause and a breather outside, and then fresh fruit and Arabic sweets for dessert. All of this with the accompaniment of a pianist.
If there was one thing I had to find fault in its the dessert, which seemed a little unimaginative. But to be honest I was so full at that point I couldn't have eaten much anyway.
Wednesday, August 11, 2010
This is a particularly special Ramadan for me because it is my first in Oman. And whilst I have some reservations about how I will cope with the unfamiliar heat while fasting, I am looking forward to it. The idea of observing Ramadan along with my (Omani) family, and even the whole country, is a great feeling and I'm keen to see all of the Ramadan conventions that for those who have lived here a long time are just routine. For example, I was pleased to learn that restaurants and many shops comply with fasting hours by closing during the day so that even those not observing Ramadan will give it some thought.
In my experience non-Muslims have often expressed their aversion to the idea of fasting for a whole month. But what they are not grasping is the fact that Ramadan represents so much more than just not eating. It is a time for spiritual reflection, attentiveness to faith and charity, and for paying tribute to Allah's grace, from which we have so much, though it doesn't have to be so. Of course it would be ideal to apply this all year round but I'm certain that for most people, life just becomes overwhelming. This is the purpose of this special month.
I hope this Ramadan is peaceful, productive, and painless for everyone!
Sunday, August 8, 2010
There are many reasons why this ensemble is so amazing. It's very feminine and elegant being so flowy and trailing. It is available in any material you like, for every single occasion. For example, wedding thobes are usually in velvet with intricate embroidery and crystals on. Beautiful silk thobes are often worn for occasions and my favourite for everyday is cotton or this stretchy heavy fabric (I'm not sure what it's called so maybe someone else can tell me).
With thobes you don't have to worry whether you are a size 10 or a size 18 because they are very loose fitting and don't display all your lumps and bumps. They are also nice and cool to wear. But their most economical feature is that they are cheap (I'm mostly talking about the everyday ones now). It's refreshing to see that those who are wealthy go to the same shops and buy the same 3 Rial thobe and lossi set that those who are poorer do. Ideally, you can just have a small selection of thobes in different colours and then just keep buying different lossi's...for 1 Rial each! My first shopping trip to the street in Salalah where all the thobe shops are (I know it as Al Gharbiya) was heaven!
I must just mention one drawback...the Dhofari thobe doesn't appear to be intended for those who are particularly active. I have struggled to achieve household chores while wearing one, constantly sucking up a corner in the vacuum cleaner or tripping over the tail. And I have nightmares about setting myself on fire while cooking. But they are so very pretty....
Wednesday, August 4, 2010
In particular I will mention people's comments about "the West". I've heard a few comments but the last straw was an article I read in a newspaper (I would quote it but unfortunately I can't remember which one it was) where someone was writing about the merits of family in Oman in comparison to the West.
Now believe me, I am the first to criticise my own country for its social flaws but I like to think, having lived there all my life I have the knowledge and experience which allows me to do so. I'm not, like some, making sweeping judgements which are loosely based on some image I have gathered from TV or from hearsay.
I also don't group all the countries in the West together and make assumptions about the lot. Just as I wouldn't make generalisations on the "Middle East" as I'm aware that the cultures of say, Lebanon and Saudi Arabia are very different.
Some people obviously just like to use blanket phrases such as "the West" as a tool to elevate their own culture. Denouncing aspects of another culture is a good way of validating aspects of your own. And I am well aware that this is also relevent when applied vice versa (from West to East).
Well, I say each should look at their own flawed culture before condemning others, because if I may make one generalisation, it's that they are all flawed.
Sunday, July 25, 2010
Anyway, after my many rants about the fact that there are car insurance companies in the UK which provide women with cheaper insurance because they deem them to be safer drivers, I was happy when I found an advert in Y magazine for car insurance exclusively for women. I'm hoping this one has the same sentiment, showing support for women drivers in Oman, although I suspect its just a marketing ploy.
(It's probably best to look ahead of you)
Thursday, July 22, 2010
In September, along with the National Day celebrations, a fashion show is being held at the InterContinental Muscat to showcase Omani fashion from the last 40 years. According to the organisers everyone involved is Omani, including the models and the designers. It is also intended to highlight the progression and achievements of Omani women since the reign of the Sultan. I am always excited about anything which demonstrates the great contributions women can make, and have made, to society. This is particularly significant in Oman where women have made incredible progress in a fairly short period. It also serves as a testament to how much effort the Sultan and his government have made towards the advancement of women.
Good news also, that after the show they will be auctioning the designs. It's definitely going to be a fun event for fashion enthusiasts and those interested in Omani culture as well.
Friday, July 16, 2010
Wednesday, July 14, 2010
Also, from what I've heard I don't think sport is greatly encouraged as an activity, especially for girls. This is such a shame, I think it's important for every child to be encouraged to participate in some type of energetic extra-curricular activity, whether its football or dance or just walking. Exercise is not only good for your physical health but is also a great tool for de-stressing, confidence building, co-ordination and social interaction.
What is perhaps not pushed enough is that so many health problems are related to obesity, which can have really damaging effects in later life. And once a person becomes overweight it becomes harder to get back to good health. Getting your body accustomed to healthy eating and exercise from a young age will set you up for later, when you will need it most.
Thursday, July 8, 2010
Wednesday, July 7, 2010
The distinction between the behaviour and treatment of males and females, and gender in general, is a current and popular topic in England, although I'm not sure it is such in Oman. There is of course the famous nature versus nurture debate; whether we adopt certain gender-specific roles because we are wired that way, or because we are trained to from birth. The article doesn't really come to a specific conclusion. It basically claims that although boys and girls appear to yield to gender stereotypes very early, which tends towards the 'nature' argument, it may just be that society immediately encourages the behaviour without even being aware of it.
In England for example, women for years have been trying to reverse stereotypical female roles and win equal rights which have universally been denied women. Unfortunately there has been some sort of mix-up between the two issues and women's attempts to secure equality has just resulted in women imitating men's bad habits. The point they're missing is that equal rights are fundamental, but identical behaviour/ treatment isn't. In fact, the loss in value of traditional roles is being rethought as detrimental and the family structure is undergoing a bit of a crisis. This change has been considered to have some connection with the deterioration of children's behaviour, success in education, marriage and divorce rates and crime.
Even drawing the conclusion that behaviour is influenced more by nurture than nature isn't a bad thing. It is important for girl's to be taught nurturing qualities because they will use these skills as mothers. Just as, idealistically speaking, men will use their protective skills as husbands and fathers.However, this isn't set in stone and it is not nice when things are forced. Some people may find the freedom to interchange roles beneficial and are able to in a society where people choose their partners based on mutual interests and attitudes. It is more difficult in a society such as in Oman, where arranged marriages are the norm. This is because not knowing the intimate details of a future partner's personality and their desires, parties can only assume that traditional roles and attitudes will be fulfilled according to what is expected by society. This in turn compels girls and boys to observe the norm in order to be sure of securing a future marriage.
Moving from family to professional roles (which is maybe a subject for another day), it is clear that women are more than capable of taking on roles that have been traditionally thought of as men's and it is a great loss to a society who denies this. I am happy that Oman is not one of these societies and at least officially, women are encouraged to seek success in whichever field they like.