Monday, June 30, 2014

STYLISH SISTERS: Lubna Al Zakwani, designer of Omani Fashion label, Endemage

I remember spying Lubna on the first night of Muscat Fashion Week seated in the VIP section, in a black dress with simple white buttons on each sleeve, and a slash of white fabric falling from the waist to the floor. I thought to myself, "that is elegant". I was bored of the row of girls before me with the bottoms of their Louboutins stuck up in an un-lady-like manner to show off the red soles. Little did I know then, that Lubna was the designer behind Omani fashion label, 'Endemage', a brand that I first heard about via the publicity of fashion week there in Riyam park. However late I was in hearing of it, her label had been around for a long time, and was a favourite already with the Dubai ladies club set in UAE.
 
I got a chance to speak to Lubna's sister Nadia at the Opera Galleria, where I fell in love with the embroidery of the label, and Arabic cut-outs. Where Lubna is elegant, Nadia's style is free and fun, and I love that the two sisters manage to wear the same clothes so differently and still be totally, irreverently, smashing. Super sweet, Nadia took the time to tell me about their brand, fabric sourcing, and garment construction, and while I was shy to say how great she and Lubna looked at fashion week, she was soooooooooo nice to me considering I was dressed like a hobo housewife that day;) like, I totally wasn't going to buy anything then... lol. When she told me that both girls read my blog I was beyond flattered. {P.S. if you ladies still read it, let me know next time there is something going on with Endemage in Muscat, I swear I'll shop and not dress in a torn house dress this time;p}.
Anyways, I wasn't at all surprised when Harper's Bazzaar listed Lubna as one of Arabia's best dressed. The way the girl can take a pair of baby pink sunglasses, and pair it with a turquoise, Arabesque-laser cut abaya and make it wearable, elegant, and not at al kitsch, is beyond me. I also love her use of colour, since in Oman, we don't really have to restrain ourselves to purely black abayas unless we want to stick to family culture/traditions, since many forms of Omani traditional dress were indeed, very colourful. If you are at all interested in following Lubna and Nadia's style, they are on instagram http://www.enjoygram.com/tag/endemage.
 The first time I saw Lubna, at Riyam Park during Muscat Fashion Week:

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Fashion I love: Chanel 2014 Couture -Up Close and Personal

 The Chanel Spring 2014 collection was absolute candy http://tomandlorenzo.com/2014/01/chanel-spring-2014-couture-collection/ for the eyes. And of course, Blake Lively became the It-girl of Cannes 2014 wearing the collection. However, if you've ever been to a runway show you know there is a huge difference between the pieces you love on the catwalk (usually) and the pieces that draw your admiration up-close-and-personal on the rack. Here are B's photos (not original to our blog) of the collection.
And Blake, at Cannes:

Eid Shoes for 2014


My favourite heels for 2014 kind of surprise me, but I am loving the "New Look" at Dior. Charles & Keith were obviously inspired, and so they are currently carrying a lot of the looks for less if you can't hop over to Dubai to shop Dior (or can't afford to;) ).
 
For me, what I am loving about the Dior shoe is the straps, but if it is the inverted heel that rocks your boat, Zara has an option for less than 20 omr.

Monday, June 23, 2014

HOUSE UPDATE: floor plans are finished

BTW, soooo not my house {Tiger Woods'}but a little inspiration never hurt anyone
Buying and building a house in Oman is quite an adventure. Sometimes I feel like giving up, other times I am so excited that I can bear to be a little more patient. One of my dreams has always been to build, decorate, and own my own home.

BUYING
I can now say that I am about 8% towards each of those things, as the land is now purchased (though only to be transferred to my name after payment reaches over 50% as it is an Islamic loan ---so technically I still see it as a mortgage but it is a mortgage where they rent it to me until I own enough of it to be considered a co-owner I guess). Islamic loans are controversial. I still don't think they're very Islamic, just a mortgage by another name, however, if the loan payment on the interest (or whatever the Islamic banks choose to rename that) is less than my rent... I don't see it as anything more than renting. If it were more than my rent, then I would see it as a loan. Does that justification make sense or seem oddly hypocritical?
Beyond that, the land purchase itself was an adventure because the bank wanted the owner of the land before me to sign a paper saying the Islamic bank could sue him ect... if he changed his mind towards the sale before it was completed----which he tore up and threw in their faces and refused (after he'd already been given a cash downpayment from my end of the purchase). So that was a little scary. He could back out of the sale and keep the cash if he wanted to but thankfully, he just refused to sign the paper, and was an honest man beside having a distrust of banks (warranted-me too). The bank carried over the change in ownership despite lack of formerly required paper and signature, which could then be confirmed at the Ministry, and tud duh.

I now own a debt towards a small peice of farmland in Muscat, where dying palms shadow long green grass. I was surprised to find any land I could afford anywhere but Mabaila you know...so this close to my preferred real estate (Al Athaiba) really shocked me, and not being clustered next to fisherman shacks and crumbling cement buildings was... I don't know. More than I'd really ever dared hope for. I'd always just consigned to ending up back in my husband's village someday with a house there. So Alhamdulilah. I'm a Muscat girl at heart;) though I love my husband's culture (not all of it-still).

Of course, because I am not an Omani citizen, this is put into the name of my daughter (ownership) until she reaches age of maturity 18. Tricky bit of business, that. If I get citizenship BEFORE the house and land paid beyond 50% the ownerhsip is easily transferrable to my name.

BUILDING
I've gone to two different enginerring offices now to design the floorplan. It was supposed to be a very simple, very small villa but of course, some engineers kept making it bigger than my needs. No, I do not need a lobby, a dressing room, and ten bathrooms, plus a grand majlis. Despite being married to an Omani, my cultural needs for a floorplan and limited to preferring the family areas be away from the guest areas. I prefer investment in quality kitchen and bathroom ware over marble and chandeliers and elaborate staircases. I don't really use a majlis. If my husband's friends visit my girls and I can go to the family areas. Majlis are really for the hosts, or the heads of the family ect... and in my tribe, and family, I am such a minor player that none of that is required whatsoever.

However, last night, I finally got a finished floor plan I approved of in size and cost and lay-out, and I started to feel really excited, as what woman doesn't love the design phase the best?

Step now is to get the floorplans approved from the Ministry/Baladiyia and choosing the construction company, and our materials.

My husband estimates it will be completed in 6-8 months.

Me, being a realist, and used to everything in Oman taking longer than anywhere else I've ever lived, estimate a year and half.

I am sure there will be royal screw ups, things that drive me insane, and general blundering, beyond my predictable joy if it all works out despite. Stay tuned.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Parking Wars

Dear blog readers forgive, this post was written over a year ago, but was relegated to the drafts folder in my mismanagement as editor:

When I first moved to Oman I was hesitant to learn how to drive and relied soley on taxis. However, after a while I realized that driving here is actually a lot safer than driving in many of the countries I had lived previously, including Singapore, and Egypt, and was, perhaps, more dignified than relying on taxis whose drivers were always proposing marriage to me. I got my driver's license in 2012, however, I did not save up enough money to buy a car until 2013, as my work hadn't been paying me my salary on time or at all.

I have a beautiful flat in what I consider one of the most perfect areas to live in Muscat, the capital of Oman. It is close to all the major shopping, the homes of my Omani friends and their families, and roads to catch taxis if one so requires. I didn't really need a car until I started a new job (where they paid me better, on time, and required me to drive to different areas of Al Batinah and Muscat).

My flat is one floor of the most adorable white Omani villa. My landlord and his family are great, and occupy the downstairs, and the only other tenants are another Omani family who occupy the floor above me. I am kind of a quiet person and I like to keep to myself, so until I got a car, I didn't really know my neighbors that well.

The parking wars began in 2013. My apartment comes with a designated parking space. My flat number is painted on the concrete to mark which spot is mine, and which is my neighbor's. The landlord and his family have a gate on their side where they park inside on their side.

My neighbor's often parked in my spot, as they have a number of vehicles, being a larger family. Even when I first bought my car, I would park across the road because I was too shy to ask them to move.

Eventually the ROP (Omani police) phoned me to ask me to move my car, and park on my own property. I guess I was annoying my other neighbors after a few months of always parking across the road.

I finally got up the nerve to knock on my neighbor's door and ask him to move one of their cars so I could have my space.

They very rudely told me that since they had been using the post for so long, it had become theirs.

Again, I am a shy person, so it took me a while to get up the nerve to ask my landlord to ask them to move just one of their cars. But I did it.

For a few days, they parked on their side and left my space open.

It only lasted a few days, because on the morning of the fifth day I found myself blocked in. They had stopped parking in my space but started to park directly behind me to block me in out of spite!

Now I have friends who would, I don't know, BASH cars out of their way who are blocking them in, throw dirt on the perfectly manicured and waxed hood of some tosser's ride, egg them... but me, I didn't know how to win this battle with my maturity intact.

I phoned the ROP. I phoned the landlord. The problem kept happening. I thought about moving from my perfect apartment. Then one day, by some mircacle, I asusmed they had moved, because my parking space was free.

Later I learned that one of my two crazy friends had gone with all her Omani relatives and threatened them, and thus, the parking war became a cold war, where my neighbors hate me, my landlord is happy not to be phoned on a daily basis, and I can get to work on time. I guess it is as happy a compromise as anyone can get.

Does anyone else ever have problems with neighbors regarding parking in Oman?

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Women's Rights in Oman pt. I

I love Oman, and have applied to become an Omani citizen... and I have no hesitation towards doing this. The passport I currently hold is Canadian, and I am aware, of the rights I am risking, changing my nationality. But the change in nationality is essential if I want the words I am to say to have any weight---an outsider can complain and say what needs to change, but only a citizen has the right to demand that change. I am a hypocrite otherwise, to speak about Omani women and what they want, what they tell me they want, and ask the government for something. I understand my decision and stand by it. I believe in the noble intentions of many in government (okay---not all---but the Canadian government was not all that great either while I lived there...;) and will support them towards strengthening and ammending the laws already in place towards women's rights in Oman.

That said, as female Omani citizen blogger Dhofari Gucci wrote in this post http://dhofarigucci.blogspot.com/2010/03/discrimination-against-women-in-dhofar.html quite a long while ago about the subject, there are legal, constitutional, and societal reforms that have to take place to present us in Oman with gender equality. Being married into an Omani family, having mostly-Omani friends and social aquaintences, I also hear things that make my blood boil. Stories of things that should never happen in Oman, considering what Oman's laws actually do claim to protect, and HM Sultan Qaboos' own statements about guaranteeing human rights in regards to dignity, liberty and independence, and how the success of Oman as a nation depends equally on actions {political, economic, and social} of both men and women in deciding and building society.

In February 1996, Oman ratified the United Nations Convention for the Elimination of all forms of discrimination against women (CEDAW). Oman's Basic Law, drafted in 1996, and used as a sort of constituion in Oman, stated in article 17 that Omani citizens are not to be discrimiated against based upon "gender, origin, colour, language, religion, sect, domicile, or social status." Article 12 further guarantees equal justice, and equal oppurtunity. Further, Oman instituted a new law on evidence, which stipulates that the testimony of men and women in court is now equal most situations (excepting Shariah considerations). This, for your reference, dear readers, is Law No. 63 of 2008. {for my own reference: Kelly, S. (2009). Recent gains and new opportunities for women’s rights in the Gulf Arab states. Women’s Rights in the Middle East and North Africa: Gulf Edition.}

When it comes to protection of Omani citizens based on religion, sect, domicile, social status, language, origin, colour, and even equal oppurtunity, I have few complaints. I feel citizens are protected in general about slander, or insults, or discrimination on the above outlined grounds.  When it comes to equal oppurtunity, Oman has female Ministers, Shura Council members, and a female workforce whose legal rights are protected by law. Oman's legal system does not require women to be obedient to men and "it provides women with the explicit right to work outside the home" {for my own reference: pg.343-342 Kelly, S., & Breslin, J. (2010). Women's Rights in the Middle East and North Africa: Progress Amid Resistance: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.}.

Further, Oman's Ministry of National Economy has started to issue booklets to make Omani women aware of their rights to work, and as employees in Oman, to own property, to open and close their own business files... ect... or attend educational training.

Where inequality or discrimination can still be felt, however, is on the subjects of gender and equal justice.

GENDER DISCRIMINATION

The biggest inequality between Omani women and men is in regards to citizenship. In none of the Gulf countries (Oman, UAE, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, or Saudi Arabia) do women enjoy the same citizenship and nationality rights as men, which can carry serious consequences for the choice of a marriage partner. "Under such laws, a man can marry a foreign woman with the knowledge that his spouse can become a citizen and receive the associated benefits. By contrast, a woman who marries a foreigner cannot pass her citizenship to her spouse or her children. Children from such marriages must acquire special residency permits, renewable annually, in order to attend public school, qualify for university scholarships, and find employment.” {reference: pg. 7 Kelly, S. (2009). Recent gains and new opportunities for women’s rights in the Gulf Arab states. Women’s Rights in the Middle East and North Africa: Gulf Edition.}. In Oman, the children's residency must be renewed every two years.

EQUAL JUSTICE

Before I get into discrepencies and discrimination based on sex in Omani law, I should describe Oman's legal system, and stress some of the benefits it has (compared to...well, Saudi).
Oman’s courts are organized into three tiers: the courts of first instance, the courts of appeal, and the Supreme Court. Each court has a department of Shariah within them that deals with personal status law (family law). Oman's personal status law has been unofficially translated from Arabic by the Oregan Distract Attourney's Office (USA) which I will link to here for the reference of my readers: http://odaa.oregon.gov/events/personal_status_law_english_sharia_law.pdf.
 
Under the personal status law Omani women have some key rights:
1.) Omani women may sue for divorce (conditions apply) 
2.) Omani women may refuse potential marriage partners selected by their family
3.) A marriage they were forced into by their family but did not desire can be annulled even if consumated
4.) Omani women can choose their own marriage partner and sign their own marriage contract, although, to make their marriage legally valid a guardian must preside over the registration of the marriage contract. If a guardian is not present, or objects to the marriage on grounds not accordance with the law, the judge may sign the contract. in place of the guardian. This is in accordance with articles 9&10 of the personal status law. {Additionally, I personally got a fatwa from the Grand Muft (the Ibadhi religious authority in Oman) ----that since marrying a non-Omani is illegal, and since a judge would not preside over my marriage contract, that the Imam who married me could act as my guardian, and our signatures in this case would be sufficient {Shiekh Ahmed Khalili}.
5.) Omani women may obtain identification and passports (although apparently married women do need their husband's written permission by law to apply for a passport----umarried-no).
6.) Omani women have freedom of movement, in they can drive or travel in-country and abroad without permission provided they have obtained an id card and a passport.
7.) Having obtained the age of maturity, 18, Omani women may own property, vote, and live independently. However...
 
 
Throughout the region, however, the prevailing patriarchal attitudes, prejudice, and traditional leanings of male judges, lawyers, and court officials (and in my personal opinion, female staff as well, who are generally uninformed of the full legal rights of Omani women-OPNO)—as well as the lack of an independent judiciary that is capable of upholding basic rights despite political or societal pressure—threaten to undermine these new legal protections. Unless effective complaint mechanisms are in place and the appropriate court personnel are trained to apply justice in a gender-blind manner, the new laws will not achieve the desired effect. Moreover, unless the judicial system of each country becomes more independent, rigorous, and professional, women of high social standing will continue to have better access to justice than poor women...” {for my own reference: pg. 8 Kelly, S. (2009). Recent gains and new opportunities for women’s rights in the Gulf Arab states. Women’s Rights in the Middle East and North Africa: Gulf Edition.}

Another issue, is filing of complaints. In Oman, many Omani women are not aware of their full legal rights and entitlements, or the procedures or places the Omani government has in place to protect their rights. Taking the wrong step in the process of steps for filing for protection from your Omani family or spouse with the Omani government, for instance, could mean being returned to where you escaped from, possible harm, and even death (....some Dhofari girls told me horror stories about one of their cousins).

Of course, it is purely socially, and not a fault on the part of the Omani government, that many women feel they cannot discuss their personal situation without damaging the family honor or their own reputation, but my personal experience has been, that court and police personnal are not properly trained or aware of the law enough to apply justice in regards to the protection of the female population of the Sultanate's citizens.
I totally agree with Kelly's (2009)  statement that "Consequently, abused women rarely attempt to file complaints with the police. When they do choose to seek police protection, they frequently encounter officers who are reluctant to get involved in what is perceived as a family matter and who encourage reconciliation rather than legal action.” Pg.5
 
I've personally been through this in Oman. Let me example two cases out of four for you: 
 
OPNO: "Yes, Mr. Omani-Police-Officer-Sir, my mother first choked me, and then when I escaped, she locked all the doors in the house, and tried to stab me with a knife."
 
MR. OMANI-POLICE-OFFICER: "Maybe you were not being as patient or as gentle as a Muslim should be with your mother. In Islam, heaven is under the feet of your mother. Maybe you should say sorry and she will accept and you will go home and be happy."
 
OPNO: "."
 
Or
 
OMANI WOMAN, 38 yrs: "But my father locked me up for six months, took away my passport and phone, threatened to beat me, shut down my business...."
 
MRS. ROP-WOMEN'S-PROTECTION-BUREAU-OFFICER: "But yani, it is our culture. We respect our parents. Maybe he wants the best for you? You should think about going home." 
 
Serriously, yes.
 
“In the UAE, the first government-sponsored shelter for victims of domestic violence opened in Dubai in 2007 under the auspices of the Dubai Foundation for Women and Children. The shelter has a residential capacity, offers legal assistance for the victims, and provides training for the police on how to handle domestic violence cases. While this is a sign of progress, as it indicates an official acknowledgment that the problem exists, a single shelter is grossly inadequate for the needs of the emirate and the entire country.” Pg. 5 (Kelly, 2009). Oman officially has no such training in place, although there is a branch of ROP that offer's protection to Omani women fleeing for their safety, their lives, or trying to protect their legal rights. Again, however, I have seen this department return women with mere promises of the woman's family to not hurt her and to give her, her rights.
 
This leaves me aghast. This is Oman, not Saudi Arabia (no offense awesome Saudis that I know). We do not tell women to forget their legal entitlements, their personal safety, and "go home" to the family or husband that has threatened them with physical harm or death.
 
We don't do that----or we are not supposed to. We are Oman. We are different.
 
-----So why is that difference not helping the women who desperately need it through the laws and departments are in place to help such citizens of the Sultanate?
 
What about the Omani Women's Association? people ask me that:----the OWA, which is supervised by the Ministry of Social Development, does not address issues such as civil and political rights, or women's autonomy and security, although occasionally you meet a meaningful woman there that directs another Omani woman in trouble towards sound legal advice and correct procedure for her particular grievance. most NGOs in Oman do not deal with running a woman's shelter, or providing legal advice or procedural direction. If you know anything towards those ends, link me up here in our comments box, please.
 
I have more to write, but not today. All my wishes and strength and prayers out there to the women I know struggling, and those I don't know. Thanks be to Allah, and all the people who helped me along the way, to know, and obtain my rights (even not as citizen), and protected me as if I were family. Many awesome people in this beautiful country. It makes me cry almost, to think back on them, and yet how far there is to go in terms of making things just, clear, and fair...