Monday, December 31, 2012

What to wear in in the Interior and Muscat Oman for Expats: some designer and real-life inspirations

I remember when I first saw this darling little floral chiffon Valentino number floating it's way to the Venice film festival. I though to myself, with the slightest trace of a pashmina or silk scarf tossed on head, my own very traditional Omani mother-in-law would welcome this form of dress which relates very closely to the looser waisted and unbelted but still floral Omani version.
Valentino 2013 resort collection: rated perfect for a trip to the Interior of Oman
Valentino 2013 resort collection: with slightly sheer sleeves and bright colours this frock still rocks for visiting more conservative families in Muscat. Pair with studded flats.
While the fabric of this Oscar de la Renta 2013 collection set of seperates is a bit formal, similar silloughtettes are available in City Center shops like forever 21, Mango, H&M, and Zara in more relaxed prints and colours. Loose shirt tucked into loose light trousers (maybe belted) is sooooo in-style right now it makes Muscat modest dressing easy. To make the same outfit interior worthy I suggest getting a few long sleeve cotton pajama tops. Why pajama? The fabric is light that a regular t-shirt top for layering under other fabrics so you won't boil while covering all your skin!
Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, loosely draping a scarf over her hair while still wearing clearly Western-clothing for not-Islamic-purposes. This is the kind of respect that the women from my more conservative region of Oman respect in other women from other cultures. They don't like women to be around the men of their family while not covering their hair (or at least making a gesture towards that). I know alot of girls from the U.S. here in Oman who don loose fitting clothes and scarves on their hair (albeit not tied into hijab) to be more approachable to more conservative or cultural Omani women here in the capital. While it isn't required, I do recommend it if visiting a more conservative village for Eid celebrations ect... It is more likely to get you invited into a home or able to photograph the local populace.

I know alot of women get offened by religious connotation ect, or women are suppressed yada yada, but I personally loved the excuse to dress up like a Princess diplomat as a teen, I don't know about you.

No one will harm your safety, call you names, ect.. if you choose to wear shorts and a tank top or fitted jeans instead. I mean, Oman is very tolerant. But different Islamic sects, like Ibadhi, recommend puting a distance between a practing Muslim and anything contrary to practiced Islam (even and expecially with other Muslims), so that's why alot of Omanis get a reputation for being xenophobic I guess, which isn't true to my own experience of Oman.

Modest outfits composed of pieces from Zara, H&M, and Forever 21:

All imediately below photos are from www.pennypincherfashion.com
I think she's just so adorable.
Australian street style:
 Paris steet style:

 So onto my tips for modest non-Muslim dressing (tips vary depending on region, Muscat or Interior) :

1.) Match the colour of your scarf (for your head) if you choose to don one, to one of the colours in your outfit. Looks chicer that way.
2.) If you are going to have your outfit fitted, choose that it be fitted in only one place. Tight isn't right in public dress for conservative Omanis. A fitted waist or bust-line but not both, or wholly loose on top with slightly fitted mid-calf downwards is best. Thighs and butts and no-nos outside of Muscat if those are your preferred tight spots. Some fabrics, like jersey, and stretchy knits, will always fit themselves to your body in places so you have to watch for that in otherwisely loose designs.
3.) Knee length is the best length for skirts, dresses, and shorts...


...and shorts in Muscat, and loose is better if you are going short in public. Ankle length is HIGHLY highly recomended for the interior region of Oman and other more conservatives towns or villages. Actually some Muslim women (not all) think it is a sin even for women to show the skin of thigh area or anything below the collar bone or even for a woman to look at another woman dressed thusly so keep this in mind when choosing cuts.
4.) Accessories make an outfit when it comes ot modest dressing. Rings, belts, braceltets, cuffs, purses and shoes. The abaya set already know this.
5.) If you aren't keen on a headscarf, why not try a hat? I always wore floppy sun hats and bucket style hats when I was a kid here in Oman and Omanis seemed to find that to be a respectful alternative.
6.) Long sleeved pajama shirts are usually lighter to wear if layering under other clothes.
7.) Shorter dresses make great t-shirts by Muslim standards:)
8.) Invest in light and quality button up shirts and blazers which flatter almost all body types and change otherwise less modest outfits instantly.
9.) I love loose cut trouser pants and jeans and tunic vests worn over them. Very modest and still practical enough for hiking.

If I think of any more I will add them.


Sunday, December 30, 2012

School Uniforms in Oman

Art by Narjooosa on Deviant Art.
I personally only attended a school with a uniform for two months and that was in my class 12 year of highschool. Until my chemistry teacher admitted that he had fallen in love with me and I consequently dropped the class which was the only one I was taking from that particular school because my regular school didn't offer chemistry during that particular time slot and I needed my English litt., and other courses. The uniform was alot different than the Omani ones but since I wasn't formally enrolled in the school they gave me a month more to start wearing it. It was pretty damn cold out that month and unlike the other students I didn't live in the area so trecking across the city in a flimsy blouse and skirt was not my preference for January.

I never completed chemistry and my vast experience in school uniform's is thus limited to the short skirts and sweatshirts of our non-uniform wearing highschool's feild hockey team and the booty shorts and sports bras of our high school cheer squad (which I was kicked out of for not being positive enough and refusing to wear booty shorts and besides that I hated holding bakes sales). No big loss.

My opinion of school uniforms is that I think they create a ruling class in schools, and put other schools over other schools, which defies the purpose to which pro-uniform people propose them to perform, which is to create an evironment of equality among students so that the sole focus of school is school.

You can agree to disagree but no form of dress will stop people from puting others over themselves or themselves above other. The uniform just stresses the financial and creative girls over others. The latest designer handbags, shoes, and accessories are the standouts. And limiting creative expression even to that small extent makes me sad. I enjoy people expressing themselves even though the results can be some girls are the "rich girls" and others "the artists" and the rest are "the other girls at the school".

Plus, in Oman, you have alot of private schools, so some people rate kids in one school uniform as being superior than other school uniforms based on the expense of attending the schools.

Omani government school is based on a military-like approach. The uniform for boys is dishdasha and short cropper hair. The girls uniform is a maroon or navy blue tunic dress over white trousers and shirt with a white headscarf.

My daughter is going to attend Omani government school. I want her to see the Oman most Omanis live because she will otherwise grow up a little different from them. I know the teaching and funding of these schools isn't the best (any teacher that gives 2 hours of homework everyday of the week isn't doing their job). Does anyone know what restrictions are further placed on the girls' uniforms? Like are they not allowed to wear headbands or pins on the scarves, or different coloured shoes, ect?

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Dress Guide for Expats Interested in Visiting or Living in Oman

Beautiful and stylish, Omani fashion blogger, Shurooq Al Haremi demonstrating that to be modest is not always boring and certainly not unattractive. She is wearing an outfit here, that my own in-laws would probably be okay with allowing a guest to wear into their homes (albeit they'd prefer some semblance of a scarf on the head however little it covers). Her blog: http://hershoolathots.blogspot.com/
I have noticed a new trend here in Oman that diverges from when I was a non-Muslim teen growing up here in Muscat----more and more expats seem to be seemingly totally void of common sense in terms of what the majority of the population will or will not take offense to in terms of dress. Now I, as a Western and a Muslim woman, don't care if anyone decides to go around even in a bikini or a burka [though that chic who decided just to wear a pashmina for a swim at Qantab and flashed me her every secret crevice was not my fondest memory]. But I have to say, not every Omani will respect you if you don't respect them. Same goes likewise, of course. That doesn't mean you have to wear an abaya or cover every inch, but make sure you are wearing moderately loose covering clothing if mixing with the local population in more conservative areas. There IS moderately loose covering clothing in Western brands.
I swear, this is how I remember all the expat "grownups" who knew better dressing for a trip to the grocery store or mall in Muscat when I was a kid. Either that or knee length skirts and sundresses with cardigans from Marks and Spencers.
I mean, how it is okay to dress at Qantab is not okay to wear at a grocery store or City Center mall. How it is okay to dress even by modest standards in Muscat is not going to get you invited into Omani households in the interior of Oman. The same thing can be said about life in the West. Where I am from, dressing like a day of surfing at the mall WILL get you the evil eye or called a 'ho by some less well mannered girls than I. Or dressing as stylishly as in the city will make you stand out in some where more country. All the world is the same when you've seen enough of it. Respect is just shown in different ways in different places.

I will give you an example of my own "more country" Omani inlaws. In a house that has more than one family living together, women in the house wear floor length long sleeved loose floral printed gowns with matching shawls on head (not necessarily but almost always covering every single strand of hair and the neck). Most men see only their closest inlaws like this. Outside the home black abayas are worn on top of these dresses and ankles aren't seen as women wear tight pants underneath their skirts and dresses. So yeah, men who are from here and haven't travelled will invariably find ankles sexy and tight fitting clothes.

When I became a Muslim in the West I adapted many Muslim peices of clothing to my culture. I usually didn't wear the black veil. I wore coloured ones with big pretty flower broaches/pins attached to it so that Westerners wouldn't find my ultra conservative mode of dress as scary. Usually the colour of the veil started a conversation. "Muslim women are allowed to wear colours?" Yes, of course we are. We often choose not to, or culture insists we don't but the religion totally promotes colours. I also wore abayas, but more stylishly cut and embellished ones than you are likely to find in a remote interior Omani village.

 
Zubaida Jacobs, a Dubai-based fashion blogger, wearing an outfit totally cute and modest enough for Muscat even with a fitted waist and more fitted t-shirt top. Not what my inlaws prefer but nothing out of the ordinary for the capital. Her blog: http://www.butterhotshoes.com/
But anyways, when I first became a Muslim I made the number one mistake culturally concsious (those expats who care what Omanis think of them) person(s) seem to  make. I thought skin totally covered WAS modest. But I forgot the loose and see-through factors. So I do see alot of expats in tight pants and long sleeve fitted t-shirts which just doesn't cut it for my Omani inlaws. Or skirts that are loose and flowy but see-through and blow up to show ankles and even thighs ect....

1.) The difference is absolutley huge in what impact one can get from the culture. For example, a famous Lebanese TV host visited our village in a mini skirt and tank top to interview the head of the village. He out and out walked away and ignored her. Which might make Omanis come across as rude.

2.) A pair of South African girls in attempts at modest dress {skirt blowing up, pants and t-shirt too tight} came to our village and none of the women from the village offered to give them a tour and everyone even the men hid from their camera lenses. Which might make it seem that Omani women and men are secretive unsocial creatures.
3.) Two women, both Swedish journalists, came to do a story on our village for the Eid. They wore loose trousers with loose knee length tunics on top and fitted long sleeve pajama t-shirts poking out. Very "the English Patient" chic still. They draped scarves loosely (not tied) over their hair. We could still se emost of their hair but my own mother-in-law took it as a sign of respect and the women of the family invited them to join in on the festivities in our house. A limited number of photos were permitted to be taken of the women (albeit only detail shots not of faces).

4.) A Japanese non-Muslim tourist dressed head-to-toe in black abaya and black head scarf came to tour the village. Every single woman came to greet her, invite her to their homes for food and visiting, and alot fo women allowed her to take their full-body face-shot included photographs.

As you might note, the experiences people had of the Interior of Oman where my in-laws are from can totally change depending on how they dressed and where they go (off the road from more tourist-ridden cities like Nizwa ect;)). I want to end this post by adding, I don't really care how other people dress but add that alot of Omanis do;). So if you want to truly experience Oman you have to understand that. Peace!

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

'Tis the Season

 'Tis the season for me to buy those pretty glass bulbs I like to fill up my glass lanterns with for Eid decorations, stock up on sale candycanes and mandarin oranges, and a more exotic array of french foods. Like foi gras, cheeses, and mushrooms that only seem to be around for the Christmas season.
Whatever the day means for you (me, nothing much but my family it is their biggest gathering of the year and also the day they volunteer to feed the sick, elderly, homeless and miskeen after a month of getting together collections)  wish it be one filled with God/Allah's peace for all.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Being a DIYer in Oman

I don't know alot of DIYers [Do-It-Yourself] in Oman. Maybe because labour is so cheap and people can always find a couple of Pakistani dudes on the road willing to do heavy lifting and all (and haphazard construction). But I like to do things myself.

No.1 with an Omani husband it gets done alot faster since husband is always oh Gooooooooooooooooooood noooooooooooooooooooooo!!!!!!! Wife can sooooooooooooooooo not be alone in house for any deliveries or construction because the workers are....

Nevermind that I am perfectly capable of locking myself in any given room in the house and all our doors are the same as our front door in strength so...

Anyways. Yeah, so if they didn't paint the house before we moved in, I either have to go on vacation until it gets done, or it never gets done. And it never gets done.

No. 2 it always get done better. This last weekend we bought two used old bedroom sets that needed a little repair and after moving needed to be reconstructed because they are massive and thus need to be taken apart to be moved through any given door.

I am absolutely sure even for 30-60 OMR no Indian or Pakistani or even [most certainly] Omani dude is going to drill it and hammer it and fill gaps as well as the actual owners of said furniture. With the state our stuff was in, I am sure they would have just told us it couldn't be done. But we did it. After 12 hours of hard work and alittle elbow grease, we successfully guessed which unlabelled peices went with what, how to repair the things we couldn't buy parts for, and the stuff looked good and ready for the makeover I intend to give one of the sets (an Arabic faux-European style set in a light colour like the one above, needs a little updating and styling for me to find it acceptable in my home since it reallly, really is not either my classic anglo-style orr my rustic GCC style).

No. 3 it totally saves you money. If you want an entire bedroom set that looks like it belongs in a nice home for under 100 OMR then you are going to have to master the art of DIY.

No. 4 Women AND men find it totally sexy when someone can get things done around the house without needing alot of help. Hear that boys? Lean how to hang your own curtains, ladies, know how to sew them ect if you are not up to hanging them.

Anyways, if you are going to be a DIYer in Oman I recommend you buy the following tools (they save you alot of cash and hassle) first:

THE DRILL
 I own a small Black and Decker drill (I am pretty faithful to brandnames when it comes to power tools) with a cord. I bought it for 16 OMR at Carrefour. It works for hanging curtains, mirrors, through cement, metal, and wood (though not for attaching sattelite dishes apprently). It came with its own set of drill bits and have been all that I have ever needed as far as DIY work in the house. For around 35 OMR one can get a really really useful cordless drill of more strength and better grip than my little baby [pictured below]:.
THE SCREW DRIVER

Now, since scredrivers come with different headtypes, it is useful to have more than one in the house and to match the screw driver with the screw. The Standard [also known as "slotted"], Philips [also known as "star"], and Robertson [also known as square] tend to be the most common types but products from China often use the "toryx and "hex" and European products occasionally mystify with the "Pozidrive".  If the screws won't fix into freshly drilly surface (common with cement walls) then little rubber or plastic "anchors" solve that little conundrum so commonly encountered in Muscat (and are available in Carrefour and Rameez):
THE HAMMER
 
A classic tool. It is used to pound nails into wood (not so good generally with cement). I tend to use a small and medium size hammer in home improvement projects rather than a large carpenter's hammer.
THE LADDER
I honestly believe EVERY home should have a ladder the reaches at least one's ceiling. Because everyone should be able to change their own lightbulbs and if you are going to dust properly, let alone paint your own walls, you are going to need one. Often if you rent your landlord may already have one you can borrow. If not, invest in a good stainless steel one it will be safe for your to store outside.
THE WRENCH

If you are buying just one kind, get an adjustable kind. It is used for holding things and turning objects that the human arm doesn't have the strength or ability to do easily.

Anyways, if you don't buy my speal about DIY work being better than professional [hahaha a loosely used term in Oman ANYWAYS] work, see this blog http://www.centsationalgirl.com/ for some inspiration of what you TOO are capable of with a little know-how:

Friday, December 21, 2012

The Corruption in the Minstry of Housing and rumours of Moroccan Prostitutes?

It is a well known fact that the Minstry of Housing in Oman is one of the most corrupt of our Omani Ministries. I say this on good authority, being that alot of our family friends and relatives work there, and many admit to the corruption. But on the hush hush.

Before I continue, for those who do not know, the Ministry of Housing in Oman is that great bastion of free lands for Omanis [though not quite free, nearly free]. Depending on what requirements one meets, an Omani citizen, male or female, may apply for land, either residential or commercial [though commercial has stricter requirements these days they do say at the 'ole Ministry]. Usually residential land is meted out according to tribal heritage. I.e. this is where your tribe is from, this is where your land is from. But if your family has not lived in the tribal area ect... for a reasonable ammount of time and such land would not be practical for you, you may apply to change lands for another area. This area SHOULD, and this is the key factor in the corruption nowadays, SHOULD BE OF EQUAL value to the land that you had earlier. But that may not be practical when people are exchanging a middle-of-nowhere location for Muscat.

On to the allegations of corruption. A recent story was posted on the Arabic sabla [Omani online forum] (which was taken down immediately, but not before Omanis managed to take the story and repost it all over the whatsappp phone message boards). The story allegated that through a string of Moroccan prostitutes who would take a commission in order to get lands equivelent in value to 60, 0000 Omani rials or more sexual favours would be exchanged for land papers. Photos and names were posted by someone claiming this deal was offered to him after waiting nearly a decade to recieve his rightful land.

Now whether this rumour was true or not, I wouldn't deign to say. I myself will not be part of another Omani-Moroccan Chicks are baaaaaad smear campaign.

What I can say, is my Ministry sources do say that they themselves were never aware of Moroccan girls coming in and out of the Ministry ever or regularily.

Which is different than the sabla story. Suspicious but possibly slanderous reasoning could still assume such deals took place beyond Housing Minstry offices and rooftop but there are no eyewitness accounts beyond the man who added the online story to back-up the "blame the Moroccans" account.

But one particular family member who is perhaps a more reliable source since he quit his own position in the Ministry because he was tired of everyone in our tribe and family expecting him to do favours to finish lands for a more humble position therein, can relate that he has known cases of Omani girls [not professional prostitutes] that did sexual errr, stuff, in order to finish their family's papers. That was the price of wasta someone at the Minstry [who I won't name because neither my source nor I are willing to get into any legalalities over this] to get the paper.

I know Omanis will find that fact overly disgusting, and not to say that it isn't. But many families I know personally may find that disgusting but are okay to use the influence of a friend to exchange a 6,000 OMR peice of land for a 22, 000 OMR peice of land, or get a commercial land that they do not have the requirements to be entitled to.

My family and firends included. Some of them really nice people, but I mean, haraam [arabic word meaning 'sinful' or 'not allowed'].

No offense Minstry of Housing, but it IS KIND OBVIOUS that corruption is the norm therein, when an employee that makes only 300 OMR and never had a baiza to his name before he got his job within the Ministry, now drives a car more expensive than any doctor [and even a couple of Ministers whose tastes run more humble] I have ever known and has lands in areas of Shatti and Al Qurum that folks that hail from Shatti and Al Qurum don't have enough wasta to get, and all his family finish their papers in a day, while it takes eight years for others to do the same in areas "where available lands are limited". Um, yeah, and Shatti and Al Qurum don't have that problem, yeah hummm, yeah right.

But I'm sure, as a person, Mr. 300 OMR a month is really such a swell guy, that everyone and himself, just had to help him out. That has to be it.

That's how it always is.

I know it is much easier to blame some dudes who are pervs and a string of Moroccan prostitutes for the corruption, but it really is our own faults as Omanis, when people say, well, if our son/father/nephew/cousin/neice/daughter in the Minstry didn't do that than others would do it anyways and all the lands would even up taken illegally anyways, and I mean, at least they didn't trade sexual favours for anything.

Everyone sighs a sigh of relief when their own family member (who does use wasta at said Ministry) doesn't appear in the list of names in the Housing Ministry Sex Scandal on sabla, LOL.

But it isn't funny.

Next up on my rants on tribalism/wasta/corruption: The dude at the Minstry of the Interior [passport, immigration, ect] who offered to get me my Omani passport in six months if I bought him a new Galaxy type phone.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

OPNO leaving Oman?

Are any of you, my readers (not Omani) going away for the holidays?
Living here, I almost forget about the holiday season until my family phones and are like, "we are sending you are Christmas present." Which always involves repeating about how difficult it is to get something posted to a post box (which I do not have to my name and share with someone I have never met whose name I do not know whose name the box actually IS in). The end result is a trip to Western Union or a bank wire, that always loses the "festive" touch I suppose. As I am Muslim, there are no dinners, or decorating, besides, so all in all, I hardly notice beyond the Christmas phone calls to relatives far and away (such as myself).
But anyways, I am busy trip planning anyhow... a wee trip back to the old country.
I am highly excited to visit the sites my ancestors built and explore a little bit of my own heritage for a change;D.  And itis MOP's turn to be the tourist with the camera.
12th century Templar castle, in ruins by the lake.
Queen Meabh's Cairn
 ...And of course MOP is just as excited to see nothing but green country side with a good chance of some hunting and/or fishing thrown in. Since I originally wanted Marrakesh and Casablanca or Tanzania and Zanzibar.
Benbulben
Sligo countryside
I certainly aim to explore at least one of the great Irish country houses (though probably only the one we will be staying at....
(I doubt Lissadell would interest MOP a great deal.). The the train ride itself I could probably talk him into, and exploring the gardens and grounds but the house and its history would interest only myself:
Beyond just hoping to enjoy some hiking, archeology, and picnicing, and beyond being cosy in a great old country house, I fully intend, with or without MOP, rain or shine, to go riding across the estate to the beach. I haven't gone in ages, and I swear I am dying.
 I don't know why, but Ireland reminds of a colder, less tropical Dhofar. ;), without bukhoor, without bananas and coconuts, but it reminds nonetheless. So my dear readers, are any of you going away for the holiday [which is not a holiday here]?