Sunday, January 29, 2012

My Own Photos: Sama Al Wasil Desert Camp in Al Sharqiya

Sama Al Wasil desert camp is located just 15 kilometers inland from Al Wasil village in Bediya on the main road from Muscat to Sur. It does require a four wheel drive to get there, but if you don't have one or aren't confident driving on sand you can arrange to have the camp pick you up when you make your reservation [968 25 586 036 or]. We had the camp pick us up and along the way we saw this beduoin family and some camels (but my photos of the camels sucked so I will not bore you with them).The camp has three basic kinds of accomodation (tents, which I didn't see the inside of), and one and two bedroom houses, each of which has a nice clean western style bathroom and a sitting area outside. In case you aren't a traditional sleep on the ground kind of camper which some of the women in my family certainly are not, there are beds, and electricity and heaters (the desert gets cold at night). The camp is run on a generator and the power is from 6:00 pm-10:30 pm. Depending on the size and type of accomodation you get, prices range from 25-60 Omani rial (prices include meals).In the center of the camp there is the social area which is very large to accomodate mixing and/or privacy, and serves Omani coffee, nescafe, Indian kerak, red tea, juice, sodas, and water 24 hours a day, as well as some fresh fruit. It is really beautiful at night, sitting under the light of the multi-coloured lanterns. There is also a play area for children, which our family really enjoyed. The adults of course, preferred to enjoy the flawless veiw of the night sky, and for the more sporty, there is a football/soccer pitch, and a volleyball net. ATVs [all-terrain vehicles] can be rented at the cost of 10 rials, and camel rides, both of which can be arranged when making your booking with the company. Everyone in our family enjoyed using the ATVs around the red sand dunes.There is also a large tented area for the meal service. A buffet, serving different grilled meats, and salad options, as well as some fresh juices, and soft drinks. I found it well worth the climb, early in the morning, to scale the dunes to watch the sunrise. The tracks of all the desert creatures, lizards, birds, mice, are clear, and the shifting shades of colour on the dunes is why one goes out into the desert in the first place. The serene peace of it all, the clearest night skies one may know, and the clean horizons of undulating red sand. I heart Al Sharqiya. The tent accomodation at Sama Al Wasil:The house accomodation. Our family booked the entire camp for privacy and they catered really well for our large party.A goodbye breakfast for those who don't enjoy breakfast; qhawa and fresh fruit:Goodbye Sama Al Wasil. Until next winter.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

My Own Photos: Bait Al Sarooj in Sumail part I

This will be part I of II on Sumail because unfortunately MOP deleted most of my photographs before I could transfer them to my laptop:(. This post came about because MOP and I were seeking Sumail castle and someone from Sumail thoughtfully offered to guide us there (about a half an hour out of his time) when we asked where it was. This was the second time we were guided, not to Sumail Castle, but to Bait Al Sarooj. We thought, what the heck, the last time we had been through this way and toured Bait Al Sarooj, we had been through sans camera, and we had spied Sumail castle on our journey to Bait Al Sarooj, so we'd hit that up next time and take some pictures of this fortified 16th century Sheikh's home instead for my blog since we were there anyway.

Sumail, just 100 km out of Muscat, is situated over a large area compared to other townships/willayat in Oman, but you can easily find Bait Al Sarooj by seeking it by name or the village of Al Khobar in the foothills of the Al Hajar mountain range. Villagers here are super friendly, and people always offer to guide us straight to Bait Al Sarooj [even if you are asking for Sumail Castle ;p].Built in 1694, Bait Al Sarooj was restored in 1900 by the Ministry of Heritage and Culture and renamed after its primary building material: sarooj. It was the personal residence of a Sheikh (I forget his name) and fortified in his lifetime. It is supposed to be open 8 a.m to 4 p.m. 7 days a week exlcuding holidays, but in my personal experience, around 12-1 it occasionally closes for a half an hour or so on occasion, but should this happen to you, you could easily drive back to see Sumail Castle and then come back to Bait Al Sarooj. Despite the operating hours descrepancy, the gate keeper is surprisingly well-informed (in Arabic) about Bait Al Sarooj, unlike many other such tourism gatekeepers I have encountered in my quest to see all Oman has to offer in the way of traditional architecture. The carving on the front door was exceedingly lovely, one of my favourites in Oman so far. It was also a traditional door, without hinges, set into the grooves of the door frame. Exquisite.That is the side of the gate-keeper's white dishdasha poking through the side of the doorway. It was 1 p.m. when we arrived and he was just reopening.The architecture of Bait Al Sarooj differs by way of its layout from many other historical sites in Oman. It is more sporadic and less thought out, none of the stairs being of equal length or height {be careful with that}, 3 different stairways leading from one particular passage. One passage was so narrow I could barely fit with my purse on my shoulder {I am a pretty petite personage} and I almost got stuck. It didn't lead to anywhere impressive but there was a well {again, be careful with young children here} {photo to be added in part II inshallah}.The space pictured above was particularily lovely, as was the stairway to the rooftop {not pictured}. Like many other historical architectural gems in Oman, Bait Al Sarooj has majlis sitting rooms with woven palm and wood beam ceilings, and like all 16th-17th century fortified structures, murder holes for pouring boiled date honey on invaders, and spaces for a storm of arrows to strike at marrauders below attempting to raid the home of _____ Sheikh. But Bait Al Sarooj is unfurnished, and does not have any antique or replica artifacts warming up and depicting what would have been daily life here. Bait Al Sarooj is just the bare sarooj and naked architecture of its time period. This open courtyard acted like an early AC system, funneling cooler air into the fortified manor house. As you can see, it was a particularily lovely day, blue skies with light fluffy clouds, denoting that it was niether too hot nor too cold.

{end part I}

My Own Photos: Girls Camping Trip

Despite my love of spending night and day outdoors, I am actually, quite a horrible camper. Not because I am one of those girls who can't sleep on the floor, and screams at the sight of bugs or chipped nail polish or anything, but because I am not a good planner when it comes to camping. I overplan in everything else in life but when the weekend comes and I get a chance to runaway to Asharqiyah, I just get so excited that I miss things. My friends don't help that much either, they're just as bad or even worse than me. Thankfully, out of all the trips I've been on, I had one friend who brought her mobile, and it had a camera, so here is what is probably the amalgomation of a gazillion memories from multiple trips into one trip because my memory just doesn't hold up without photos to jog it.We often went to the same spot, just before this wadi. On this particular trip photographed we managed to remember to pack our tents, and we never forget the food, but firewood was an issue.My friend spent over thousand hours {I exxagerate} hacking away at this tree, while I discovered a gully packed with dry and already fallen wood which I packed back to our chosen site on a cliff overlooking the sea with two beaches shaded from the road. I almost managed to get some wild donkeys to carry it for me, but Omani friends were like, they're Jinn, they're Jinn! that I was discouraged, and well, the donkeys that let me ride them, ran away when I tried to put a load of wrapped sticks on their backs, go figure. I have a talent with certain types of animals, birds not being among them, which is a more likely scenario than our campsite being overrun with Jinn donkeys.That is me, triumphant with my fire wood. Alas, maybe it wasn't on this trip but on another but we left too late and it got dark too fast, and we couldn't see to put up our tent so we slept under the stars while the surf crashed below us. Or maybe that was the time we camped at Sawadi and forgot the tent altogether???The darkness, and the gazillion billion stars above us impressed too, but didn't photograph well.This is me the next morning, pretending to put up the tent. It had been put up already, and not by me. That morning, early, I had gone for a swim in the sheilded cove pictured below. I like this spot because if you are the only campers, no one can see you from the road.Our picnic spread, supplied by a mad rush to the Ghubra Lulu:It was consequently so yum yum yummy {food is the best part of camping} that we had 1 uninvited guest.This is him {or her?}:Yes, we could not photograph the little critter well. Cellphones just don't come with the same lense as a Nikon, alas.And this was the other pretty little beach, with all the firewood you could ever need. {We never used the branch that had to be axed by the hour, and so, in a fit of revenge it was doused with jet fuel {don't ask} and set ablaze {not by me} and left to burn in a fume-ey mess as we drove away by our Omani friends}. At least we attempted to take all our garbage with us.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Designer Abayas: DAS is seeing blue

Some images of DAS designs. As I haven't visited the showroom, I don't know if there's anything new to this label this season but blue seems to be in.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

OPNO needs a job

OPNO needs a job. This may sound a little desperate but if you are looking to hire I am someone sitting here with fairly decent English and correspondance skills, I can obviously turn on a computer and oh so much more than that. If you hire me, I promise, I will use spell check. Being a stay-at-home housewife really doesn't suit me so if you are looking to hire someone let me know about your job requirements. And of course benefits. I may be the person you are looking for.

Since I actually DID get the perfect job offer once through this blog, but missed out on it due to the fact that I was having a baby at the time, who knows what this post will bring about right;)?

Networking through a blog. Can't decide what kind of impression that gives.

what I would have said if my Arabic were as good as Pink Birken's- a short story

Three women were walking through Mutrah souq the other night, two of them new to the sensations and sights of Oman on a full moon. The corniche was bustling, and the girls made their way quickly through the twists and turns of the souq, one of the girl's memories serving as a guide.

In a Al Motahajiba black face veil, the simple sheeath of a nameless black Islamiyia abaya of Saudi crepe, and baby pink Hermes Birken bag cradled neatly on her arm, it had been a while since she had gone this way, but her friends had requested a face veil more tricky to find in the souq than her own. Pink Birken Girl knew just the shop though.

The other two were bumbling on the uneven walkways of the souq and their own eyes were tripped and tossed between all the treasures of Ali Baba's cave and then some, trying to avoid the freshly hewn spit of a few Pakistani men.

With their beautiful exotic kohl-rimmed eyes, and and their Motahajabah gashwa veils flipped back from their faces and pinned to fall along with their crystal-encrusted shaylas like waterfalls down their backs, the other two were obviously foreign to Oman. Omani girls from Buraimi sometimes wore the like, but never flipped back to reveal their makeup.

The tallest girl stood out the most, partially from her height. She was taller than the Omani women for the most part, and her giant gamboo3a hairclip piled just past the crown of her head emphasized that to the point of caricature. Next, for her whiteness, drawn even more apparent by the blush pink of her lipstick and the streak of her rouge, and the shock of her styled brown fringe arranged to show neatly outside her headscarf. Actually, it was probably the hair.

Good girls in Oman just didn't do that, and the ones who did were either uneducated or from a less religious Baluchi family, Pink Birken Girl had been told, disgusted as always for the stereotypes. Only Dhofari girls did that, or the African Omani girls. Other Omani girls who did were looking for trouble. Everyone knew that, she'd been warned.

But it might have been the loud laughter as the three friends were reunited after such a long time, paired with the black abaya synonmous with the image of the Gulf Arab/"Muslim".

Both girls wore plain black abayas stylishly cut, but the taller one's abaya was a shock more modern and ala mode, and made of Jersey. And the other friend with her playful leopard print handbag, was dark. African Omani girls were always allowed to get away with more, whether it was makeup, colourful clothes, or Gamboo3a hair clip, Pink Birken knew.

So when Pink Birken saw the disapproving glances of Omani women aimed at the teetering and bobbing image of her taller friend's Gamboo3a, and yet not at her darker friend for the same, the hypocrisy started to get to her. That, and all the Indian and Pakistani shop men trying to shove Bukhoor and perfume into her face.

Finally, they rounded the corner, the shop door chimed, and they were safe from the street and all the disapproving and sour faces.

Five different styles of Salalah niqabs hung from the wall, and the girls touched each one, gauging if the fabric of the veils were too thick or not to breathe in. Finally, a simple Salalah style was selected by each of Pink Birken's guests, the kind with a stiff headband and a short face veil, same length sideways as one would find on an elastic niqab, affixed to the headband by three strings to make a bigger space for the eyes. One attached in the middle from the nose, and 2 at the sides.

Pink Birken's tallest friend had complained on how the more convential Gulf style slip niqab chafed her eyes. Since she had to wear contacts, this wouldn't do. Thus the trip to the souq in the first place.

The Salalah niqab style with the strings satisified her need and after bargaining a fair price, the guests of Pink Birken left the store, proud owners each of 1 Salalah style niqab.

Outside the store, the girls were seeking a place where the two could slip on the new niqabs, as they had to take off their gashwa veils in order to do that, and weren't comfortable showing that much hair in order to do so when a group of juvenile Omani males walked by.

Disrespectfully, Pink Birken knew, because they walked too close.

One in a Burgundy-embroidered Omani cap turned around and sneered at the tallest girl and spat out the word "siflah".


In Arabic.

Pink Birken's mind reeled. These were tourists to Oman. These were people she'd told good things about Omani people to. About Omani friendliness, about how honor was valued, and kindness, and...

Pink Birken stopped in her tracks.

She was taken back to her student days back in Canada, when she'd first met these friends. She remembered when people had called her names for wearing her face veil, and told her to go back to Saudi Arabia, and a tall and somewhat awkward but tough girl had jumped in to defend her.

'Why don't you go back to your country?' the tall girl wearing a black abaya had challenged Pink Birken's harrassers. 'Go on now, get back into your boats, and row yourselves back to England, because this is MY country,' she had snarled at them, protecting Pink Birken.

'Your country?!' the teenage boy had laughed. They are ALWAYS cowardly boys who start to harass women walking peacefully by themselves. 'Canada doesn't belong to the Arabs.'

'I'm Native you tool,' Tall Girl said, taking Pink Birken's arm and helping her walk on. 'And your people stole my country. Like I said. Get back on your boat and row, before you try and tell anyone to go anywhere. Idiot.'

That was how they'd become friends. Pink Birken wouldn't take it, any man disrespecting an honest Muslim woman out just trying to live her life.

They didn't know her friend. They didn't know anything about them.

"Excuse me?" Pink Birken said rotating on her heel and going up to Burgundy Kuma. "Excuse me? What did you say about my friend?"

Her friends didn't speak Arabic. They didn't know what was going on.

Tonight, it didn't matter.

He kind of quivered back into himself and edged towards the outskirts of the souq at being confronted by a woman.

"Nothing," he mutttered, backing into his friends. They all thought it was funny.

"That's right it's nothing," Pink Birken spat at them. "Because you don't know anything about her. You don't know who she is, and what you've done."

In Oman, calling someone a bitch is punishable by law. The guys wanted to get away in case the girls wanted to press charges. Most girls walking by themselves in Oman would ahve shaken the incident off if there wasn't a male family member nearby to deal with it for them.

But these girls were closer to Pink Birken than any living family she had because they'd been Muslim with her in a place where there hadn't been any Muslims.

Pink Birken wanted them to know that.

"This girl gave up her family to be Muslim you know? Would you have done that?!" She restricted herself from yelling at Burgundy Kuma but intoned passionately. "She gives shelter to the poor and those in need, the clothes off her own back if you have nothing? Do you do that?"

Burgundy Kuma wants to get away but his friends are listening.

"She fights for the weak and oppressed, and wears an abaya even in a non-Muslim country where people yelled at her and called her names. I bet you aren't even brave enough to wear dishdasha out of the country, and you see that she isn't quite strong enough yet or ready in her understanding to put that scarf on her head the right way, and yet she prays five times a day never miss, and fasts every Ramadaan, and do you do that?!"

Tears are in Pink Birken's eyes for every injustice that stems from ignorance such as his.

"You call her a 'bitch' because there's something dirty in yourself to be looking for something dirty in her, and I promised her this was a safe Muslim country, and that Omanis are good and honourable people, and you call HER a bitch. I promise you, I am more a bitch than she ever was, but how people dress guarantees you nothing but the image of piety.

I guess you already knew I was a bitch because I was walking with her, because how can a good person be with someone less than perfect small-minded village minds keep telling me. How could you be friends with a theif who steals, people liken some hair out of the scarf to me, like, a wrong is a wrong if you tell your friend it is a wrong and they don't fix it, but who am I to judge her faults, when I know her strengths? Who am I to say, leaving your hair out of her hijab and wearing a Gamboo3a is sinful to the person who protected me, who has always prayed more than me, who fasted Ramadaan more faithfully than me?! Who am I?

And I am her friend." Pink Birken looked to Burgundy Kuma with seeking eyes. "So tell me. Who are you?"

Burgundy Kuma didn't know what to say. He was ashamed. He looked to the Tall One, and mumbled in Arabic that he was sorry.

"Nevermind," Pink Birken brushed passed him and his apology. "She doesn't understand you. She can only read the sounds in Arabic. She learnt THAT to read the Qu'ran. Imagine, for a minute, if you'd still read the Qu'ran if you couldn't speak Arabic." And with that, she left, and returned to her friends.

"What was that all about," her tall friend said, still wanting to get to a shop to put on the new niqab. "Why'd he say he was sorry?" She understood a few words in Arabic.

"Because he insulted you," Pink Birken said. "I am sorry. I am so ashamed for what is happening to my country."

"Stop saying sorry," the tall one winked, "and show me a place where I can get this on and then take me to a place where they serve some food, because I'm starving."