Thursday, September 29, 2011

Changing the "InshaAllah" Mindset

It is often thought that because of the inefficiency with which the services in Oman are delivered, that Omanis are lazy. Knowing Omanis well, I know there are lazy people in cultures everywhere, but this is a longstanding expat percieved belief of Omanis, first introduced by Brits who came here in the 1900s to make Oman a healthier and more productive place [I have met some longterm expat (explorers, adventurerers) and really, they are the most facsinating people and I enjoy their conversation]. I liked how Ian Gardiner, who served here during the Dhofar War in the 70s and wrote the book "In the Service of the Sultan: A first hand account of the Dhofar Insurgency" more correctly summed up how this reasoning incorrectly came about. Remember, he observed this in the 70s. The Omanis you likely interact with, came to be where they were after this period, but their parents and social fabric were woven long before and still effect to this day, no matter your age. Trust me. Especially those who have come from the villages on the weekend in any way at ALL even if they were raised in Muscat.

...Omanis, far from being indolent, simply had priorities which reflected the prevailing circumstances. It was a hot, poor country. Hard labour and rushing about was energy consuming and rarely cost effective. How much easier it is for us western Protestant capitalists to exert ourselves a little, knowing that by so doing we will see a directly related benefit in terms of money, goods, status, or fulfilment.

In their country, the lesson of life was that if you worked hard enough to plant and harvest your date palm and a keep a few goats, and if you were lucky, you could subsist at an acceptable level. Harder work did not guarantee any higher level of material satisfaction. There were no material goods to be had. There were no jobs, no industries, no universities or schools as stepping stones to wealth. More work only produced an incremental improvement- a few more goats or dates- not a quantam one, so the pressure to work just hard enough to achieve a sufficiency and no more was strong.

Fatalistic is not quite the right adjective, but certainly Omanis had a resigned approach to life which was sometimes difficult to move. Convincing them they could influence the course of events for the better if they tried harder, did things differently, or simply turned up, was not always easy. 'InshaAllah'- if God wills- was the frequent retort in response to a proposal for action. This drove some British people to distraction and they did not usuallly stay in the country long.

MOP, my husband, who was born just as these circumstances in Oman had the possibility to change under Sultan Qaboos, gets annoyed ALL THE TIME by things written on Sablah by those who can't remember what Oman was like before. He was fortunate to have had a father who was educated and fascinated with the world beyond Oman, but still wanted to keep the traditions of his village and not reject his culture. MOP is aghast at those who don't understand that to have what they have anywhere else, they'd have to pay taxes, work to pay for scholarships to higher education, ect. He knew when he was young, even though he prefers life in the village on the farm, that he'd have to do good in school to get a job as his country was changing. Farm life would not content or be enough eventually when this change came. The majority in his village? They didn't recieve the same emphasis on education. Not alot are education. Those that are, maintain and still see the way the government in Oman works, the way preindustrial pre-oil wealth Oman was, as a place where their efforts will not provide much advantage.

Linoleum Surfer wrote the truth in his last post [he got to know the real Omani culture and not alot of expats bother to or have the social means to]. Jobs for Omanis are limited. Too many attended IT training and there were not enough companies in Oman that needed their skills. Too many trained as engineers, and lacking the experience of expats from oversees and many other company-valued skills, were not given the best positions or chances to advance, or had Omani bosses that were not so skilled but scared of being replaced by someone more capable. MOP, besides blaming corruption by wasta (advancing one tribe and sabotaging another from within the Ministries) [which he admits, exists, as his tribe's rival tribe always seems to try and prevent him or his family from changing positions which he finds laughable but doesn't blame them entirely for because they used to do the same over water and farms only 40 years ago] blames the old Omani mindset about harder work, and the fact that the government's attempts to satisfy the desires of Omanis for improvement are often applied in a completely ineffective manner.

A friend of mine who is a blogger based in Jordan [link on sidebar- By the Fig & Olive], observed that Jordan's government manages similarily. In her example, Oman and Jordan both have undeniable bad driving to contend with, and its effects on society. Both want it gone, both make laws to try and circumvent it, but neither seem to know how. By the Fig & Olive: "There are police officers stationed on all the major roundabouts during the day, occasionally flagging down vehicles, but I find their choice of laws to enforce amusing and a little puzzling. Yes, talking on cellphones while driving is a hazard, but so is having eight feral children running around inside the car. Why not enforce seatbelt laws [for all passengers], or number of passengers, turn signal use, yeilding, or anything else, really. "

MOP finds the fact that some Omanis sit at home and get payouts from the government without legitimate disabilities disgusting. But at the same time, knowing there are not alot of jobs or their skills are not up to scratch he suggested the following to assure effort for change before giving such payouts. The hese hand-out recievers should do the following first:

a. Provide proof of having attended so many interviews during a handout period.

b. If they haven't attained a job during the interviews then they should be given training on how to write a resume, cover letter, and how to answer interview questions. [Omani schools have started to do this but for those who didn't finish school but are quite capable of learning skills on the job, or who came before this, or who were inadequately trained by the schools, this could help].

c. If after a year of this, still no work, additional training should be required in a particular skill that IS required by employers and provided by the government, instead of just a handout alone.

MOP suggested that if Omanis weren't willing to comply with these requirements, they didn't deserve a work handout at all for lack of jobs. His comments were not met happily on the Sablah forum he made them on at the time, but "InshaAllah" means that one is going to do something or it will happen unless God does something specific to deny it. It doesn't mean
doing laddy-da and hoping it magically changes or gets done [and preferably by someone else]. It is sad that this beautiful spiritual phrase has come to mean something different entirely by our expat population, isn't it, Omanis?

1 comment:

Maymunah said...

Oh dear, I've been quoted! And I sound so much more official and thoughtful than I actually am. I wrote that post on a whim because the cell-phone incident struck me as funny and typical of Jordan, just assuming that everyone else knows why things are the way they are here. Of course they don't.

I've discovered myself how futile putting effort into anything is. The country is so disorganized and riddled with wasta that it is next to impossible to change anything. There are good reasons why the country is the way it is, and you have done a good job of explaining them, masha'Allah.