Tuesday, November 17, 2015

HAPPY NATIONAL DAY: Omanis Are Different Than They Were Ten-to-Fifteen Years Ago

Omanis are different than they were ten years ago. At least, to me;). As Sultan Qaboos grows another year older, I think of how much older we all are... the people of this country.

No, this will not be a post by that "annoying expat" who complains and thinks that Omanis have become in-hospitable suddenly, or depedent on government-hand-me-freebies-over-hard-work----and have-to-have-the-latest-i-phone--and-a-new-car-every-year-without-understanding-the-economy-type Omani.

As you probably know, I'm not that kind of expat. I know too many Omanis to have ever have been that kind of expat.

When I first came to Oman I lived in Madinat Sultan Qaboos (MQ) and Qurum. To me, at least because of my parents, most Omanis were people who lived in shiny white marble villas, which they invited you to for coffee and you'd sit on gilded furniture, and pretend you just ate that helwa you were just offered while you spat it into a planter or a napkin when no one was looking or passed it off to the toddler who was always happily about.

These Omanis (the wives anyways) didn't always (often) speak English, but the husbands or individual women, were at times, in management, in the oil and gas sector, or were, like, a former diplomat and his wife. They were kind. The wives always seemed more modern somehow, even in their traditional surroundings, and  often lower educational levels, than their husbands, somehow.

These people invited us to Al Bustan, invited us to weddings... They wanted to show us their culture, explain it, show us it wasn't what we were led to believe and liked to know our thoughts on issues, what we liked or didn't like about Oman and their culture, religion, everything.

...Otherwise, they were the sons of fishermen, or small shop owners, who lived in crumbling illogically planned and horribly (death trap) wired houses.

I had some very deep religious discussions with the admittedly non-religious security guards at PDO. They weren't live-in- marble houses kinds of Omanis generally. They all had limited education I knew, most of them lived in Seeb (the end of the world back then lol) and would struggle to afford the living conditions and maher (dowry) required for them to marry even a cousin. All of them were helping support their family (where a brother was studying). I knew they were often jealous of me and my sister (in the nicest possible way) for our freedom and lol, luxurious lifestyle.

The nickname "Princess" with my Omani friends came from more than one incident. Somehow, I could tell, they always thought I was just "slumming it" hanging out with them, trying to be their friend, like we were from two seperate worlds rather than the different planets one would figure different religions, countries, cultures, and races entailed to more racist/classist rude expat types of that era. To this day, since that gap was never closed, it saddens me, and I have to feel it wasn't my fault for that. I don't see the world that way. But they did, and some of them, most of them, still do. An expat seeking them out might be a temporary bridge, but a Muslim girl from where I'm from, knowing what I know, thinking the thoughts that I think, liking what I like, all that is too far a chasm for even childhood conversations that spanned oceans to ignore...apparently.

And then there were grossly ignorant Omanis, of all class types, even back then. I remember being told I should hurry up and get married before it was too late (at like, fifteen or something) by some old rich (well educated formally but a dumb-ass) Omani dude who wanted to sponsor my mother for some kind of business. Ten years ago, I thought all these people would be dead by now or replaced by wiser souls... Alas.

The Omani girls my age I knew as a kid were only two types... studying, studying, studying (maybe allowed to play tennis with me or shop but otherwise just allowed to study) or already married or engaged to get married or already married with one kid.

Boy, at sixteen, does that make you feel immature. When all the girls your age are like, "I have a husband and a baby, I am too busy to go to the movies", or, "I want to go to study in the U.K. so yeah, can't visit you or go to the beach or the mall", and the guys my age are like, "yeah, wish I could get married", and "I can't study because I have to pay for my brother to study while my salary helps pay for the gas for my Aunt who drives a school bus whose salary pays our rent" yada yada...

I felt bad about myself. I was a lazy under-achiever, that's for sure. I didn't change though;).

...We didn't often go too far out of Muscat, and when we did, we always assumed things about Omanis that were totally wrong... Still people were beyond friendly and generous. I got invited for meals, to weddings, always, and people were like, oh you like that old door you're photographing? Take it! It is a gift! One woman, she even gave me the abaya off her back when I said it was pretty in a camera repair shop. That kind of thing, just doesn't happen as often anymore. .

..Unless one is in Sohar, or else one travels to much more remote places.

...I found a place in the middle of nowhere in Rustaq one Eid weekend a year ago, and it was like, Oman hadn't changed.

Now I know Oman better, I know some of those differences were based on the ethnic mix of the Omanis I encountered, and the geography.

I've seen much much more of Oman since girlhood. I see less of the positive male end of it, of course, since I am Muslim now. I don't have deep conversations with good Muslim men who try to be examples of good qualities...and the good guys let the female sex of their nation example the entertainment of the country now. So I see more of the creeps and losers, than were balanced out, as a non-Muslim expat, I know.

More and more Omanis are used to expats now. That maybe makes some of them less inclined to like us (not all expats are great---as a consequence, as a kid, I'd much rather hang out at the PDO security gate playing James Bond with staplers than at the pool with a group of annorexic American girls saying how ugly they all were and fat when I was given the option). Us expats aren't as special as maybe we seemed before;)? We're not all princesses or rich girls or interesting or even all that skilled and smart at times.

I know now also, being involved in Omani culture, suppression of Omani women does exist, usually not by the government but usually by families. A lot of it is women-on-women suppression, or male ego being all dumb. Girls are more aware of it now though, then they were when I was a teen here. They have more dreams, they rebel more. They have plans for themselves, not just for their family.

I also know now, the studying Shatti girls, who grew up in palaces on the shorleline, with wide green lawns, whose mothers presided over smoking incense and perfume trays and gilded qhawa pots, are the minority in Oman, although they were the majority in my memories. They now run businesses, organizations, and own property. They have PHDs. They all usually marry before 35 but later than Omani girls elsewhere that I know. They are leaders in this country... unfortunately, they still don't know a lot of Omani women outside their circle. They all too often assume the world is the same everywhere... So do village girl housewives of course, but they do not get to speak for others, usually, so no danger.

I know the dispointment of that almost lost generation of Omani guys, who had to work while other family members got educated... They still sufffer badly from all that is wrong from old Omani culture (pride, ego) where they can't go back to to school or will seem dumb, or can't marry a wife who'd help support them (i.e a much richer wife) because that would be taking advantage of her. As noble and as foolish as they'll always seem to me, for the fact that they have not changed, there is something in them that is a little dead these days. That love for Oman, and this country... it is less true love than it was in our youth...now it is more a kind of,  poccessive pride? Oman is ours they say, but what is in their care, they do not treasure, not its beauty, uniqueness, heritage, or cleanness, and there is something dejected in that.

As those were the guys who told me about Islam (without being preachy) and made me laugh at all the ridiculous things I hated about being stuck here as a  kid, I feel... sad. ...Like we are all just sleeping. Some in beautiful gilded Shatti sugar-plum-lipstick-and-porsche-paint-dreams, and others, waiting to wake, praying for that alarm that will stir them.

No one is "lazy" per se, or expecting hand-outs from the government like I hear stupid internet expats accuse them of. But the dream is still a dream. Some things haven't changed that we all thought would change, or they changed to what we didn't plan or what was never a priority. People aren't as excited as they used to be about the future, or they are excited rather stupidly for something stupid, for something that is a mirage of what Omanis truly are... Does that make sense? People are still waiting. Everything is a ten year plan for the future. It isn't now, today.

I'm rambling lol...

Also, I am considered Omani now. That's different than when this blog began. I see what Omanis experience from time to time, feel it occasionally, get caught up simultaneously in the drama, the apathy, the polite avoidance, the mad scrambles, the grand passions, of the nation, all at once.

Omanis seem different to me... but in a way that is the direct influence of my own experiences, the broader geography of generalizations, cultural and religious immersion, and of course, the course of economic and socio-political development (or lack thereof in cases) for Omani,s as a whole, and as individual entities.

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