Thursday, December 29, 2011

Happy New Years Oman

The Girls of OPNO are sending out their blog-card early, and would like to wish you all a safe and happy new year. Our editor (moi, typing this) is going away for a busy week and likely won't have time to create or edit new post until the new Year, so please check back with us then. Happy New Year.

Lotsa Love,

-OPNOs in total LOL, looks like my internet ran out before this got posted.

Books We Girls Buy in Oman: The "Princess" trilogy by Jean Sasson

Trilogy reviewed by OPNO:

The MOST popular chick litt purchase for bored expat wives in Muscat, no doubt, the "Princess" trilogy by American author, Jean Sasson, promises to be a "true" story of life inside the Sa'ud Royal family of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

If you are a biography girl, or love true life stories, then this book IS NOT for you.

Jean Sasson, who worked as a nurse in the Kingdom, claims she got the go-ahead to be a ghost writer of the story from a privalleged but suppressed Saudi Princess who wanted the world to know about the woesome life of Saudi women, even the state's royalty.

A lawsuit from another expat woman who was married into a rich Kuwaiti family tells otherwise, since her memoirs, scooped up/stolen by Sasson's publishers----and written much earlier than the "Princess" series, bear striking resemblances to the life of the fictional "Sultana" who is the protagonist of Sasson's works. Since I had a good look at this lawsuit and the memoirs online [someone feel free to post the link if you have it saved on your desktop] the resemblances are too many to be coincidence.

Since it is NOT the true life story of a "Desert Royale", but a highly embellished tale based upon the stolen memoirs of a glamorous divorcee once married into an extroidinarily wealthy Kuwaiti family, I read it as such. It is a fast and enjoyable story. And since I have many friends who worked as nurses to the Royal Family in the Kingdom who note that "had ever a princess been drowned by her father in the swimming pool of their villa it would have been common knowledge in Riyadh".

That aside, there are some truth in the oriental extravagance of Sasson's emblishments, such as the use of young child prostitutes sold by their own Egyptian parents to young Saudi princes in Cairo. Many of the same issues affecting a Kuwaiti woman who converted to Islam just to marry her handsome Arab business man would affect a Saudi Princess, and your average Omani girl too, should she have a hypocritical irreligious/immoral family.

The book IS an Orientalist's romp through the sexual fantasies of slaves, buying and selling maids for sex, marrying multiple wives and divorcing some to make way for younger prettier versions ect, and honour killings, all issues I am sure that have occured in Arab society, but on the scale and sequence of Sasson's books it was really too much for me to find even remotely plausible, even for the Sa'ud's.

All wildly entertaining, but shameful when marketed all as a true story, which would have been an incredible tale of survival of the human spirit otherwise, I give it that.

The series follows the life of Sultana, a Saudi Princess with a womanizing father, an evil brother, and a weak husband, and the lives of those women around her, including her sisters and daughters. As a story, it is an entertaining and quick read, with none of the honesty and slow bits and parts of a true biography. If you don't mind a bit of graphic sexuality such as a bunch of young virgins sacrificed in temporary marriages forced to tickle a man's face with a peacock feather shoved up their butts {yeah, I'm serrious, that was part of it} than by all means, this book will easily take your day up and leave you hating Saudi men forever;).

My conclusion. While the "Princess Series" does talk about some honest and true issues of gender inequality, and how Saudi society before the 80s only left a few roles for women in the Kingdom to grow up with {"Rebel without a Cause" and "Religious Extremist"}, because it was marketed as a true story that is nothing of the kind and paints Saudi society in an extroidinarily bad light as a whole, I have to say, it reads a little like propoganda, since most of those who read it believe it.

Did I love it? No, it is no work of litterature to be sure. Did I like it? Actually yes, it is a fun read. Does it have relevance? Kind of, in one way to speak of how the world outside of Saudi Arabia imagines Arabia to be, that extreme Orientalism still exists and sells better than truth, and of the topic of the limited roles for Saudi women in their society, but those two don't go together as they cannot be a platform for talk of change since they contradict any honesty on the subject thereof. I'd of preferred a well written version based on the Kuwaiti divorcee's memoirs though, to this romp through the menagerie of a fictiousous Saudi household and its palaces. The publisher should have gotten Sasson to write her memoir. Sasson is a much better writer for sure.

If you know it isn't the brave biography it is marketed as, it is Orientalist chick litt. at its best.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Books We Girls Buy in Oman: "Girls of Riyadh" by Rajaa Alsanea

This is a new section for the blog where OPNO shall review books women tend to buy in Oman, especially expat women. As OPNO doesn't particularily enjoy Chick-litt unless it is well written, or it is made into a cute movie, like "Shopoholic", I hope you can enjoy her opinions;p

Here goes:

So, "Girls of Riyadh" was banned at first in Saudi Arabia, and the original Arabic translation went around on the blackmarket. Much love to Rajaa Alsanea for having the guts to talk about difficult Saudi traditions regarding sex and premaritial dating [with or without the former] that complicate many a life in the Kingdom. That said, I will make an allowance for the quality of the writing and try not to class the book as classic "chick litt" and blame the translator instead, or the English language itself, for not having the right words to convey Alsanea's original style which might have been more enticing for the English reader.

That said, if the ban was the reason you picked the book up and what got you all excited, you might actually enjoy your read. The book follows the love lives' of four young, upper middleclass Saudi women from the Kingdom's Capital, Riyadh.

Since OPNO's real-life Saudi friend circle consists MAINLY of women from this class of Saudi women, I find the portrait painted of the women themselves in the story highly innacurate and unrepresentative of Saudi women as a whole. Which most of my friends, the "girls" of Riyadh, will tell you themselves if you for a moment think them to be as irreligious and materialistic as the girls in the book. But that, they will tell you, as I now will in better English than they can for the most part afford [albeit in attrocious run-on sentances] is not the glorious point the book made that made it so salaciously spoken of by those weak minds it contradicted and confronted.

Following the love lives of the girls in a controversial way that is overly stated to make a point, we encounter time and time again, the very flat character that is the "man/boy of Riyadh". The flatness of his character, his inability to stand up to his overwhelming family or tribal ties, or his woman's career choice, or even his own desires', is TRULY what the novel addresses.

While Alsanea clearly narrates that this story is about the girls' lives, the antagonist is always the flatness of the male Saudi character and his inability to stand up to anything, even for the sake of himself. Traditions tie him thus, just as the girls are tied, but the book does not confront those traditions in a head-on way, more or less it snakes around the failed expectation for the man to do that while the girls go on with their careers inside the traditions that define Riyadh society to whatever fate awaits them. Either the lonely, tragic and bleak demise of hope for love, or the solid but not romantic traditional safety net won by driving within the lines.

Which makes reading the middle towards the end a little slow.

Which, reminds me very much, of the girls of Riyadh, that I DO know.

Did I love the book? No. Did I like it? Not really. Did I find it relevant? Yes, but not for the reasons it was marketed to its English audience.

What did I like about besides its relevance?

I like the style of narration from the beginning of the book. The character is sending out a string of weekly anonymous emails subscribed to by her followers, detailing the lives of the four young women the novel revolves around. This style is very realistic, and punchy, to the point of its relevance. I found it to be the ONLY highly realistic ungeneralised thing about the book.

The girls of Riyadh that I know? That is EXACTLY how they would tell the world the story of their lives, if they so desired to.

That's what we girls do on the OPNO blog, afterall;)

Natural Splendour in the GCC: the Sultanate of Oman

I woke up this morning and sat outside in the courtyard's sunshine. As I sipped my turkish coffee in a small red clay cup, I was startled by the sizzling turquoise and bedazzling emerald colours of the bird pictured above, apparently named the "little bee eater". Neither the name, nor the picture, do the bird any justice.

And I am a cat person. To be such, you cannot have an overwhelming passion for birds. She was beautiful though, and didn't make a cacaphony of sounds like the neighboring parrots that overhwelm the mango groves, and the dark kohl-like markings around her eyes drew me in. She was probably a "he" so any passiontate bird-watchers out there, forgive me.

If I phoned my friends back home and talked about parrots, gazzelle, and the like, they'd assume I either lived near some rich Sheikh's personal zoo, or, next to an oasis, as fertile as their brainwashed orientalist imaginations run. My father is among them. All they expect are camels, camels, camels, which actually, I am always happy to see because they aren't very common in the places I have lived in the Sultanate. Most people never imagine Oman as green and wild as the Sultanate truly is. When I talked of wolves, foxes, leopards, no one believed me.

I hosted a business woman from the UK for my work around Oman this time last year. She remarked that Oman had surprised her. She expected, of course, desert, and was surpirsed to find the lawns of Muscat's highways and roundabouts so manicured, and, well, green.

Oman has always been green, but I do remember from my childhood, when the only grass I could really find not on a hotel lawn in Muscat was on the grand mosque's garden. Expats who do live in Oman, Muscat has never really BEEN Oman's greenest place, so you do have to venture beyond your safety zones to find a little touch of home.For those of an adventourous nature, or who have always fantasized in an Orientalist mindset of a trek through the desert ending up at an oasis with palms and clear water, Sharqiyah region has many a fine wadi for you:For what I consider a more authentic Oman adventure a climb into the peaks of the mountains to find the green villages between is an enduring pastime of mine, in Al Dakliyah region, and Al Batinah:And for the homesick and heat-stricken, Dhofar region aka Salalah during the Summer will conjure images of Ireland and the rolling English countryside before it does a Gulf oil state, that is, of course, until you spy a camel grazing:I remember a facebook conversation with an American friend of mine who'd remarked she had a Kuwaiti friend who'd said Oman was the armpit of the Gulf States. Since even my most arrogant Saudi friends think Kuwaitis are arrogant I could leave that comment up to that, but since I had a Qatari aquaintance who remarked that Qataris, Kuwaitis, Saudis, and people from Bahrain quickly get bored of the sights of shopping, desert camping, and modern architecture in their own Gulf states, it could be that this Kuwaiti FB fellow was suffering green with envy over Oman's remarkable greenery. Salalah's Khareef is famous GCC wide and the assortment of thobes, ghutras [even Kobra styled ones], igals, and kandouras there year in and year out bear testament to that, as well as some supersized SUVs that DEFINATELY DON'T know how to drive in the rain of Salalah's misty roads. So amid all that envy, and amid the invasion of your arrogant neighboring GCC tourists, I would like to remind my Omani country-mates of your famed Omani friendliness and hospitality despite all that past "Saudi stole our oilfeilds" and "Emirates took our water" and "Kuwaitis make the most horribly ridiculous and repetative soap operas that we are indeed addicted to" yada yada for a minute, and be your cute, adorably grinning selves, because yes, even the Messenger of Allah said this green would stay with ya'll in this place until the day of judgement in a hadith, so: Yay Oman;)

The "InshaAllah..." Mindset Strikes Again

After having asked my husband to clean the yard "this week" 9 weeks running now, so that HIS guests can have a safe (and clean) place for their children to play, I do not feel bad at all posting this. Anyone who has been a English teacher in USA, or anywhere in Asia, and in the Middleeast, will relate. So will loads of others, so even though MOP DOES NOT fit the "inshaAllah" stereotype, I am mad about the "inshaAllah I will clean the yard" soooooo.... here goes.


"If one can do it, I can do it. If no one can do it, I must do it."


"Wallahi, if one can do it, let him do it. If no one can do it, ya habibi how can I do it?"

Monday, December 26, 2011

Daily Diary: More Photos of my Own from Nakhl, Al Batinah, Oman

Some more of my cellphone photography. Taken at Nakhl fort. More photos can be found in the older post on Nakhl.

"Caring What People Think Too Much in Oman"

Caring what people think too much, is a village's theme in Oman. Which is why my husband, who loves his village more passionatley than many who actually reside there, does not want to live there at this point in his life. Same goes for his cousin, who has all her family and friends there, but wishes often, that she could escape to a nice cosy apartment in Muscat.

Example: my sister in law recently purchased the abaya pictured below.
Now, fact is, some are jealous that she can afford such designer looks. There will always be haters. Some are jealous in fact, that all her money is her own, and that she takes a share of her husband's also. No man in her life tells her she has to stay at home and accept what he can hand her. Some women let themselves be told they cannot work, or what feild they can work in [Oman is awesome for the fact that its government and even religious authority DOES NOT]. My husband, as great as he is in many things, is jealous, because he loves me, and he tries to say don't work where you have to talk to men, ect. My sister in law and I, we simply don't let the men in our lives tell us what to do as long as we are doing no wrong and that's that. Any man worth anything gets over it, and those that aren't, better to leave them ANYWAYS.

Some people resent this freedom because they don't understand it or are threatened by it.

I'll admit my sister-in-law's overall hijab isn't perfect (who's is?), but the abaya was pretty perfect. A little design on the edging of her sleeves shouldn't warrant any gossip because there is indeed, nothing haraam in the shape of the abaya. It meets all the Islamic dress code requirements should one consult the litterature we Muslims use to draft our legislature. It wasn't covered in jewels or an ostentasious show of wealth. People in the village show off in other ways, by building bigger villas than they need so what is the harm in a sleeve, even if most other girls in the village wear plainer sleeves? It wasn't tight. It was, in fact, looser than many a plainer abaya.

Even those of our family knowing this, educated as they, are afraid they will stand out. People will notice. People will talk.

When my husband first married me almost no one in his family would even meet me. Since I am Muslim, this is not Islamic at all. In fact, it is sinful even. Only this sister-in-law, who will admit, she is the least well read on religious books out of any of them. But the thing is, what she has read, she follows, even if it is different from "the people".

WHY should we do this? Because, well, sometimes the people are wrong.

As well read as I am on the subject of hijab, my sister-in-law could march down the street in a yellow abaya and I would know she was closer to how the Prophet Mohammed's wife Ayesha dressed historically, than any woman in the village, so a little design on her sleeve was nothing to rag on her about.

People in the village tell me so many wrong things about Islam, and our village is still one of the most Islamic places I have ever seen or lived, that I feel it is no wonder the non-Muslim world perceives Islam as it does.

Now, as time has passed, and I have been accepted into the society of this place, even more than my sister-in-law is, and she was born here, and those who physically locked doors so they wouldn't see me invite me and come to my door, I want those same people to know that their acceptance has not come because "I cared what they thought" and changed anything about myself, but because there was nothing wrong with myself to begin with, and I carried on living my life in a way that was harming no one.

My husband's additude of "Just watch me", when everyone was like "You can't do that" and 2 of his sisters' being the same, made all the difference in the world. They may not have been able to stamp out every kind of prejudice, but they made a dent. N&K you are the best, and MOP, I love you;)

Eventually, when someone just ends up doing the right thing, or even just doing their own thing when it isn't anything harmful, others of a more timid nature will follow suit, and then the haters won't have much of an audience left to listen to them go on anymore.

Moral of this post is, I want to live in the village. I want my husband to live in his village. He loves it there. I don't want haters to be able to stir up people with limited understanding and even more shallow depths of courage. So what should I do? I should just continue to live my life, and always do what I know to be the right thing over the wrong thing. Sometimes just doing a thing that isn't wrong but that other people don't do once in a while while maintaing a moral life is enough to remind someone out there, to think for themselves and maybe more right actions to correct larger problems will follow.

So, when something isn't wrong, but someone out there tells you, you can't? Turn around and tell them: "Watch me".

WTH?! Say what? So I took off my hijab and was just sitting around smoking shisha????

This is a rant of a rather personal nature. All those not involved please forgive.

If I could remember exactly which villa is yours I would drive up to your house and confront you thus:

How dare you slander my friend and myself and say you saw that we had taken off our hijabs and were sitting around smoking shisha. What a load of bull crap, excuse my plain English.

Anyone who knows me even a little, even those who have no great love for me, know how ridiculous that accusation is, knowing what the two of us went through to wear hijab in our own country.

Insulted almost daily, seen as suppressed women of inferior understanding despite our education, my friend had boiling hot water thrown on her, we both lost many job opportunities, and of course our non-Muslim parents will never treat us with the same closeness as before, and still we supported our decision fiercely and with smiles.

We love our hijabs so much so, that the way that you and your daughters wear it IS an insult to us, you with all your freedom to wear it with ease and support. Wearing it as you do, incorrectly in a cultural rather than Islamic manner, what nerve you have to sit around and gossip about others. What you said of us was in no way true, but I imagine that if you lied about us so lightly it is no trouble to you to judge others. Beware such habits. As you judge, so shall you be judged. That is why Islam tells us to cover the sins of others.

I remember one of your daughters sitting around and having a laugh at being at the top of the Eiffel tower in Paris and a French Muslim girl coming up to her to tuck your daughter's fabulously styled bangs back into her stylishly thrown-on scarf. If you knew what that French girl goes through to wear her hijab, forbidden from attending school as she is because of her beliefs, or enter government buildings, you wouldn't laugh at the joke that is the cultural form of hijab that you are all so okay with while deriding how she and I are dressed.

I never took off my hijab while staying with your family. I have never taken it off since I started wearing it actually. I have never been tempted untuck even one strand of my fringe. I didn't even take off my niqab while staying with your family. I wore it my own non-Muslim country for God's sake! I didn't take it off to get a job that I wanted so desperately, so why would I take it off in a Muslim country to go smoke a shisha?!

I wore it in a non-Muslim country…

So did your daughter in law, once upon a time, better than your daughters have ever worn it in a Muslim country.

And I have never smoked in my life. Not shisha, not tabacco. My friend, also, being the health nut she is, would never touch shisha or any other kind of poison.

I know you don't respect the niqab, being that alot of women of your nation wear it to make harrakaat. I too have known women who wear niqab and are prostitutes, and have heard tell of women who wear abaya raas and are pimpettes. But I wear it because I try to keep Um Salamah, Aicha, and Asma bint Abu Bakr as my examples, and I don't care what anyone else thinks as long as what I am doing is good and right. With that line of thinking, I was totally okay with non-Muslims who don't understand Islam and the role of Muslim women coming up to me and insulting me over my veil, but I was never prepared for you, a Muslim woman, and the mother-in-law of my bestfriend, to insult me thus. To this day, your words, said with a smile but tongue meant like a knife, cut me: "Little ghost." Meaning, the veil makes me look ghastly or half a person. Which it cannot. No amount of fabric in the world can change the person I am or cover what I want the world to know about me. Your words revealed all I ever wish to personally know of you, beyond the prayer that God guide you, forgive you your slander as I now will having ranted enough, and that you change.

You know what? I remember your daughter in law. She was the kind of woman strong in her own Islam, when I knew her. In fact, it was her who taught me to seek the knowledge that makes me so adamant in my own hijab. Her time surrounded with the rather hypocritical like of yourself and others changed her, into someone I now worry over, but alhamdulilah she is doing alot better now that she is away from ya'll. I can't hold you responsible for all that, but I want you to know you had a part in breaking down one of the strongest and best people I have ever known. And your lies about my friend and myself will never affect me beyond making me feel sorry for you. Even your own son never believed you because he knows what kind of women we are, and what strength we have in us.

Allah guide you, and help protect you from your own tongue.

DAILY DIARY: Sights Along the Way to Wadi Abyad

In Barka, turning left off the highway at the Lulu roundabout, and then going right past the small park until you come to a paved road surrounded by alot of little mechanic shops ect where usually quite a few trucks are parked, if you head straight eventually you will pass a small village to the left called Habra with quite a few date palms and eventually come to Wadi Abyad (there will be signs and you will go over a bridge). OPNO took a 4x4 the other day to head out there, but was distracted by the sights along the way. Namely some camels on a ridge of sand shortly after the turn off.There were alot of camels, and some very cute baby ones. Which is what really drew OPNO's attention. Running down the sand dunes was also fun. We had no idea really, that there were dunes here.Finally arriving at Wadi Abyad, after going through some mountains spotted with grazing goats where the local Omani women dress in colourful printed village dresses rather than black abayas, it was very private and serene under the setting sun.On the way back we drove through the village of Habra where OPNO just had to stop to photograph these beautiful doors. One could forget and think for a minute they were on the coast of Zanzibar. Except it was better, surrounded by the shade of date palms;). One can also go to Nakl or Rustaq from this road, and a 4x4 is not required to reach all the sights posted on OPNO blog.