Monday, January 31, 2011

To Crush a Rumour: one of UAE's Omani spies WAS NOT the head of internal security

So as Muscat Confidential just blogged the news is out. Oman busted some traitors who turned on Oman for a UAE paycheck, and UAE, of course, denies any involvement whatsoever.

I just want to nay say the rumour going on that one of these fellas so busted WAS NOT the HEAD OF INTERNAL SECURITY, but he did work for them.

Long before this post was out the entire village and all of Omani Internal Security already knew this guy was a spy. And as far as rumours go, a patriotic family member who ALSO works for the gov. turned the guy in, and a co-worker from his office, ***not Iran***.

This guy, whose entire name and geneology I am not going to post, since, well, no one else in his tribe/family is a spy, and no one from his village really ever liked him all that much anyway, and his own mother I'm sure wasn't surprised to hear he turned on his Sultan and country for the bling bling ching ching, worked for Internal Security. You see, I know this, because Oman, and especially where we are all from therein, is a very village-like place. His name is Abdullah.

Your Majesty, if you are reading this, you should give me Abdullah's passport. I would die to protect Oman and I love this place, and especially the village that this man betrayed. And who weren't all that surprised, though I am sure his very sweet family is quite ashamed. I know his tribe is, which is why I won't damage tourism or the jobs these innocent folks of the same geneology in government positions by posting more than his first name.

Dear Friends not in Oman, do not worry. Though I often end up in the midst of every trouble, and if something strange is going to happen to someone, it happens to me, I am not in the middle of some crazy Omani spy ring;) so don't worry. That ring of corrupt UAE airport police running drugs and prostitutes in Abu Dhabi Aalia & I infiltrated quite by accident was SOOOOOOOOO last year. ;). You can believe me when I say, I am fine and 100% back to being normal now, and quite safe, alhamdulilah. Aalia too. In fact, she was offered a job in law enforcement a while ago.

Well, anyways, how DID they know what Abdullah was up to?

Well, he was already known to care alot about money. UAE gave him an offer, and by this time, Internal Security ALREADY knew of the offer from one of Abdullah's tribe and his co-workers, so they fed Abdullah a CD containing fake intell, and when Abdullah went to deposit his pay-off from UAE in Bank Muscat {how stupid can you get?---actually, I don't know for SURE if it was Bank Muscat, but mostly everyone from their tribe uses Bank Muscat, so I am assuming} the 70, 000-77, 000 {I was told the exact number by a very reliable source in the family but forgot the exact ammount already} kind of gave him away.

WHAT information he was trying to get for UAE, and what intell they wanted, would be the more interesting, and more important question, than WHO IS HE, since, well, he's in jail now, and not likely getting out anytime soon. The government knows who he is, and he isn't high enough to be given a consulting job anytime soon now; ; So don't worry about him.

Before the news was ever out, his village knew, but kept hushed, because it is a shame you know? Wouldn't want to be him. But his fam is awfully nice, so don't hate! :D

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Observations on Entertaining in Oman

Omanis are very famous for their hospitality... which is a very great thing if you are an expat or a tourist.

Invitations for meeting Omani families abound with a "come for a meal" or just for "qhawa" [i.e Omani coffee], usually accompanied by dates, helwa [Omani sweet], tea, pistachios, almonds, cashews, and various sliced fruit. Probably Mountain dew, Vimto, and Tang, as well.

If you are an Omani, you MUST, absolutely MUST keep all these things on hand at all times for your guests, which could arrive at any time, without notice, and for certain, without a phone call

Which is fine, if you are a bored housewife, and have little else to do right?
I am no bored stay at home house wife, but Omani entertaining varies VASTLY from the kind of entertaining I am personally skilled at. I have no skill at Omani entertaining because a. I need notice for people to come. [I was the girl who hand-made, and then hand delivered invites to build hype for my soirees once-upon-a-lifetime-ago] b. I like to be dressed nice. [Now, I'm lucky if I have time to brush my hair and smear on some eyeliner let alone try on a nicer dress than the one I wore for cleaning and cooking].

c. I like to have the house nice. [When your guest just shows up at your door, you hide your knickers, and kick anything embarassing behind the couch cushions/musada].

d. I like to plan special little details to be appreciated for my guests. [If it is a movie night with girlfriends, I make popcorn, and cute appetizers, and make the room more comfy and glam- in Oman, the only details people get to notice is I don't have much ready for them, not even sliced fruit or nuts in a bowl!!!!]

e. I need time to go grocery shopping because I don't keep things that can go bad on hand. [Honestly, I eat out alot, and don't really keep alot of fresh fruit in the house that can turn in a few days.]

and f.: I generally like visiting to have a reason. [In Oman, it is part of the culture to visit for absolutely no reason, and to not even have anything new or worthwhile to talk about when one visits]. If it is to catch up with a neighbor or friend, and little prep need be involved, I am ok. For a stranger, I want time to clean the house (at least the majlis/living room ect).

Omani entertaining usually involves no time for prep. If you are lucky, you get a day.

For those back in the home country who liked to tease me and call me Martha Stewart with all my do-it-yourself work, projects, and plans, it would surprise them vastly to hear I am a horrible hostess. Me, who once got paid just to show up at parties or host them for others, what seems a thousand lifetimes ago now.

Yes, dear non-Muslim friends and family of yore, I am a horrible hostess by Omani standards. I hate the whole process, and I cannot abide to listen to women gossiping about eachother or talking about the same old same old boring on repeat.

You may not believe it, friends at present, that while I was never famous for my cooking (I famously poisoned many Muslim women at an Eid dinner by not defrosting some meat before cooking it), I was a rather lauded hostess. I did get paid to show up at parties (my great style and conversational skills I am sure [which are no avail in Omani hosting being I am not a conversationalist in Arabic, and my dress has to be a form of Muslim dress] being the reason), and friends and co-workers always coerced me into hosting and planning their affairs.
A visit with other women to me is a few things:

It is to chat: and thus non-alcoholic cocktails, girly clothing, and cute appetizers should be the order of the day, or a tea party-esque adventure.

It is to eleviate boredom. Numerous kinds of these bits.

I am just no good at this no planning but a little thing. To be honest, it gets very, very boring to me. A repeat of the same, on the same, on the same.

And where I am moving in a few years (have to, my house is there) same will apply with multiples of 2-3 guests a day, the only variation of daily routine in entertaining possibly being related to rather traditional Omani white weddings.

How I miss harvest themed festivals, and friends that threw Marie Antionette themed parties!

Aalia, from "Chasing-Jannah " was once my favourite host, as her tea was immaculately delicious, and her cute Marie Antionette movie party with pink cream soda and cake from Daniel's Pattiserie was wonderful [though I loved the new conversations and lack of gossip]. Remember that rainy boring day Aalia?

Anyways, I think I will try to creative-up my Omani girlfriends and their family members, and an OPNO or two. A party is planned this summer to unveil my new back yard. Theme: of course garden party.
Anyways, for once I will post pics:)

Friday, January 28, 2011

Daily Diary: I kicked off Muscat Festival in Qu'rum Park and traditional Omani architecture facts to do with mud bricks and sarooj

So, last night I headed out to Qu'rum park to kick-off Muscat festival with a visit to the Omani heritage village there.

My intention was to learn to do half-tanjeem's for my Omani Kuma embroidery (I suck at these little traditional knotted stitches), to weave a palm mat to the embarassment of some, and to learn how to restore a traditional Omani house that is falling down.

I know, not your AVERAGE Muscat-Festival go-er, but this was my OPNO agenda.
First off though, I did the tourist bit and got some yummy traditionally made Omani food, and bought some freshly made laban. Not a fan of it, but some of those I was with totally are. I also nearly bought traditional Omani dresses from Dhofar, Al Wusta, and Ad Dakliyah because the prices were good, and an Omani silver anklet. But I resisted. I will be back so do not waste all my pay check at once was my thinking.

I also watched the (minscule) firework show, and strange laser neon thingies parade. I had to, because I wanted to leave at the time of both and was stuck in the traffic.

At the heritage village I plopped myself down with some Omani ladies weaving blankets and embroidering kumas. If you want to learn traditional crafts, Muscat Festival is the free-est tuition for the old arts that you can get.

After my kuma half-tanjeem embroidery was improved, and I was espousing my favourite abaya shopping haunt in MQ to a group of women "MashaAllah-ing" my abaya, I headed to the area close to where they had some rather skinny donkies pulling the traditional style well. Don't they usually use the ox for that? Well, the ox was rather busy griding sugar cane. MOP endeavored to get us a sample, but well, I've been to South America and I am not exactly a fan of sugar cane.
Here, I found Omani men making bricks the traditional way.
First off, I learnt that once the grains were stripped from the wheat shafts, the straw was put in a pile hacked and whacked by men in a circle with heavier date frond tips smacking it into small pieces.
To make a traditional mud brick, the kind used to build the houses in Al Hamra in Ad Dakliyah region for example, you take this hay, and mix it with mud, about 60% straw and the wet clay-like mud. This is cut with a mould that slices the bricks into squares. While still wet, these mud bricks are stacked on/and with stones and they bake together in the sun, to make your structure. I need to go back for more on this, because my structure skills are weak, and I neglected to ask the precise ammount of time before another layer of bricks is added/ ie how dry do they have to be?

I also learned how to make the stronger building component in traditional Omani architecture, sarooj. Sarooj is made by making mud into cakes and burning them a series of times between coals of searing palm bark. After the mud is baked and the fire is out, it is smashed into powder and then water is added to it to make the right consistancy and thus you have a cement stronger than cement to be used to secure stones together. This is what is used to repair old falaj systems and to make Omani fortresses. I am waiting to hear from this man if he knows anything more than I do. I intend to diagram/sketch and label the process, as I will be, within two summers, working on repairing some old village houses belonging to MOP and his wife.

Who were with me at the festival, BTW.

MOP threatened OPNOother with divorce if she jumped on a donkey with the kids, so that SERRIOUSLY tempted her to do so, but all was well, since she was wearing a designer abaya and she didn't want to get donkey on it, and MOP would never divorce my girl.

Afterwards, we got icecream, and played with street cats in Al Qu'rum since it was a long, long walk to the car. By Omani standards anyways.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Omani Traditional Dress on the Runway

Oman has managed to preserve much of its original culture, including the differing and colourful varaiations of regional dresses for women. Now more or less reserved for special occasions or hidden under black abayas, the traditional dress is being reinvented and influenced by the different regions brought together in workplaces and schools. The kind of jewelry once worn by women in Dhofar is now worn by women in Buraimi, ect. Designers of the "new " traditional dress are influenced by the other regions or other media, and this has always been the case in Oman, due to the import of Indian craftsmen and trade in Zanzibar, and a policy of welcoming foriegners as valued guests.
Traditional Muscat/a form of Al Batinah regional dress is constantly adapting, but has strongly influenced the perceived form of the 'national dress' along with the interior Ad Dakliyah region. Often worn for state occasion and by school children for His Majesty Sultan Qaboos bin Said, the Al Batinah and Ad Dakliyah dresses could most commonly be considered the majority Omani dress.

Mistakenly referred to by expats and non-Omanis as "Hindu" or "Pakistani" influenced dresses, due to the predominance of the tunic top and sirwal, Omani pants, being tighter at the ankle, are in no way similar in cut to the churider pants of India, nor is the cut of the Omani tunic, though the embroideries of these dresses today, are predominately Pakistani and Indian due to the tailors originating from those countries in Muscat.

*In the 1900s it was quite common for the women of Muscat to wear the birqa face covering now more closely associated to Beduoin culture in other regions.*

Traditional Muscati dress consists of a knee length tunic dress and worn over sarwal /pants, a headscarf often fringed called waqayah or lihaf, worn under another longer rectangular scarf without fringe called the leso or a kanga by the Zanzibari/East African Omani population dependent on the textile used. Al Batinah and Ad Dakliyah Regional Dresses

Dresses of the Muscat and Al Batinah region also typically feature what are called zarrie laces running from the shoulder to the hem as a means of decoration, on the sirwal, and at the neck fastening of the tunic. This is also consistant from Muscat, Al Batinah, and Ad Daklihaya region/governates, only difference being Al Batinah and Ad Dakiliyah typically have a textile trimming the bottom of the tunic additionally called, I believe, the sinjaf??? Al Batinah usually use purple fabric to form the sinjaf traditionally, while Ad Dakliyah tunic styles are hemmed on the longer side, mid calf rather than knee length. Ad Dakliyah dresses ALWAYS include the leso and the yarn fringed warqiyah/lihaf, and this is the Omani style you will most often spot OPNO sporting.uscat style, are also, now being influenced by Western and Indian culture, as these artistic expressions below bear testment to:

Dhofari dress: The outfit worn by Dhofari women is made up of three parts: the sarwal (the trousers), the loose dress which is shorter in the front and longer in the back called abuthail "father of the tail", the shayla/headcovering. It differs from the regional dress of other parts of Oman, mainly because of the area's classical relation to the Hadramout Kingdom.
Traditionally, the sarwal were not worn in areas of Dhofar further away from Yemen, although they always WERE worn in Yemen. Today, however, women in Dhofar wear the sarwal when leaving the house. For more casual occasions they are made of cotton and for special occasions velvet, silk or another more valued textile, and often decorated at the ankle hem.
Daily worn, the abuthail dresses are made of cotton with no embellishment and with a shorter tail hemline as exampled in the below, albeit, the below being a highly embellished example of the shorter, more practical day-wear hemlines.For special occasions they are made of velvet and silk chiffons, and highly embellished with crystals or embroideries. Traditionally, black velvet was worn for the abuthail with edging embroidered with bright alternating coloured threads in pointed and straight lines. Though new styles have evolved, originally the dress had a square neckline with no sleeves, only openings in the side seams. With the back trailing behind and the front hemmed above the ankles, legend in Salalah says the dress evolved this way to erase a woman's footsteps. Of course, it wouldn't have been made of silk in the past, if the legend holds true;)
The headcovering in Salalah is traditional worn loose but is now securely wrapped, this having evolved from more Northern Omani styles.
Having just covered one of the most often produced traditional dresses reinvented by designers on the runways, after the Dhofari dress, the other dress most worn by my Omani friends who aren't ACTUALLY from Dhofar or Sur in Ash Sharqiyah region, is the traditional dress of Sur, the suri.

Ashsharqiyah Dress from Sur is traditionally of the same function as Northern Omani dress, consisting of a tunic dress and sarwal pants, but the way that these items are embellished is distinct to the region. While other Omani regions typically embellish the bottom of the tunic and its chest, this region only embelished the garment on the wrists and on the bottom hem of the Sirwal. Additional embroidery for the chest panel was left for the suri.
The suri, better described pictorially in its traditional form in this post is a loosely woven (traditionally black) wide sleeved overgarment, usually extensively embroidered along the chest, and often minutely on the sleeve hems. It is worn over the embroidered traditional tunic and pants by pulling the sleeve edges up and over on the head so that they criss-cross eachother. This can leave the arms either covered to the elbow, or to the wrist, depending on how far back on the head the garment it tied/pinned. It may also be used to fully envelop the face. It is very breathable, and easy to move in and usually covers to the feet or ankles, unlike the shorter tunic worn beneath.

Barka Al Jig Baluchi dress- There are no concrete facts as to the origin of this design but popular opinion is that it originated in the city of Barka in the Al Batinah region. However, there are numerous other cities where the Baluchi women also wear this style.

Unlike traditional Baluchi dress with ruched siding seams at the waist, this dress is not worn beyond Omani borders, and the embellishments on the chest, wrists, and hem all demonstrate an Omani influence, including the two vertical lines that run from each shoulder to the hem.

This style dress usually includes a lihaf (headcovering), tighter sirawal than traditional Baluchi pants embroidered Omani style with laces and zarrie, and a mid-calf dress without set-in sleeves called a Juma. Similar to the Dhofari abuthail, it has side seam openings instead.

Although I could not find any pics of traditional Baluchi dress at this fashion show, I posted about it here:

and this Muslim woman whose blog I enjoy also did:

Beduoin Al Wusta Dress traditionally consisted of a long dress mainly embroidered at the wrists called a jalabiyia, with sirwal that could hardly be seen that were rarely embellsihed, and shayla/headscovering made from sheer black cotton mesh.
The burqa/facial mask is always worn by married women in Al Wusta region, and traditionally dark colours like indigo and black are preferred for the burqa.
Overtop of the jalabiyia a ghabaah is worn. A ghabaah is a fine black mesh covering worn over the full-length of the jalabiyia and unlike the Suri version, is not used to cover the hair and so, is much narrower in cut and unembellished traditionally. This covering is completely sheer but tends to protect the clothing underneath from being scratched by sand and dust.
*These are the runway fashion pics I could find thus far depicting regional dressing, though I will still endeavor to include regions thus far neglected.*