Sunday, November 27, 2016

Oman's National Museum, the ground floor galleries: Maritime, Arms and Armour, Omani Dress, Al Falaj, and Coins

Good morning Muscat! Oman! People reading from elsewhere!

How was your National Day long weekend?

Mine was very... "National." For one, I spent it at Oman's National Museum, and in old Muscat. My little family also went out for a lunch of rice and meat and grilled shrimp at a restaurant in Al Khoud named after an Omani coffee pot.

...That means, actually, that I spent the long weekend doing very 'expat' things in Oman, since most Omanis I know actually spent the days visiting family, and picnicking in wadis, else shopping in Muscat and UAE;).
Meanwhile, we drove out to old Muscat. There, the streets there were charmingly done up in red-white-and-green bunting.

There upon, I attempted to force my kids to try to fall as in love with museums and history as I am.

...That might have failed, being my kids are 5, 2, and 5 months;), but I enjoyed myself. I am a Museum girl. I can visit a museum and spend hours there, and come back, day after day.

...At least I could, in Canada, and in London, but in Oman it has been a struggle. The only two Museums here I really liked at all before the National Museum was built were Bait Zubair, and the Sultan Armed Forces Museum (I mean "museum" museums, not Forts and Castle or historical building-type museums of course).

...And those were kind of small. Good, but small.
But now, the National Museum exists.

It is a relief, something Oman desperately deserved and needed. Oman is very ancient, and historically important in the GCC, in case y'all didn't know that.

Oman has quite a long history, geologically, archaeologically, and historically speaking. Maritime and military history (Islamic, Persian, and Portuguese incursions) as well as cultural history are somewhat well established in Oman  and, of Oman, elsewhere. Oman's other history however, pre-Islam, pre-break of the Yathrib dam in Yemen, not so much.

But the Copper Kingdom of Magan (think of this region as Sohar up to Al Ain in UAE) and the Frankincense Kingdom of Sheba (Dhofar to bits of Yemen and Southern KSA) are not well known by even the general Omani population themselves, let alone Oman's earlier bronze age and various "Stone-age" cultural settlements and achievements.

Myself, the one section I wanted to see (bronze age) I will come back for. It was boring my kids, because we got to it near the end, and I would be reading a lot, and looking at stuff that doesn't look like much to them, so I left it....

But I will be back.
The picture above represents the times we found to be in effect at the Museum, and the admission charges. For .200 baiza you can get a map. For (I think it was 5 omr) one can get a detailed booklet/guide book. As for accessibility, it was wheelchair/stroller accessible.

The public part of the Museum consists of a ground floor, and 1st floor. When you enter the first floor you are greeted by an Omani Museum worker who can tell you where to go and advise you what to see first. I assume they always tell the general public to begin in the Maritime History gallery after the Land and People Gallery. 

I should have started on the top floor, but I know better next time. I thought I'd see a more archaeology-geared section in the "Civilization in the making" gallery...But no, that was models of forts and important architecture in Oman.

Interesting, but I've seen the full-scale originals, so I didn't bother photographing any of that gallery.

I may have also skipped the "Timeline" gallery. I find Timelines to be dull in general. Important, but dull. If I did see it, I rushed through it with my kids happy to be leaving a room so fast;).
The "Land and People gallery" (which you enter into) mostly features Omani traditional dress for men and women, silver jewelry, khanjar daggers, coffee pots, copper trays, and common palm frond goods. It reminded me a little of the Bait Zubair collections.

My very traditional Omani sister-in-law loved the silver jewelry on display here.

My Omani husband took issue with the foot-gear on the Omani "mountain" man's dress however. He said the shoes are historically inaccurate. They are only supposed to cover part of the sole of the foot, not all. I doubt the cruise ship tourists loving this gallery will notice;).
General Al Batinah Region Omani woman's dress
General Dhofar Region Omani woman's dress
General Desert Region Omani man's dress
General Hajar Mountain region Omani man's dress
the apparently inaccurate "shawawwi" shoes
From there we entered into the 'Maritime History' gallery. It held various models of dhows used in Oman along with information on dhow building, Oman's ancient sea routes and typical trade fares, as well as navigation. My 5-year old liked the puzzle area here (she didn't like much in the museum).

Myself, I was much more interested in Oman's ancient maritime history, and so I focused a lot on the pottery. The technique of joining through sewing dhows together with coconut rope was very interesting to me however, despite this technique dating from a more modern period than the rush-boats I cared about.
Photos, this, and immediately above. How boats were sewn, before nails were used in the Dhow industry.

Ancient pottery shard from Ras Al Hamra (import from Iraq). The bitumen traces found on it were likely used for caulking ancient maritime craft, such as the Magan-era replica boat pictured below (which can be seen in a gallery on the 1st floor, not the Maritime gallery).

The collection of large storage vessels pictured above (and below) was interesting to me. 1st photo down was a container for olive oil from the Mediterranean. 2nd photo down, grains from India. So before Lulu-in-Oman there was...
The next gallery was the one my husband wanted to see the most, the "Arms and Armour" gallery.

Despite what many would reckon, the most common weapon in Arabia, from the Iron age up until the emergence of the rifle, was the long-tipped spear.

Of course, (my husband's first guess at the above) the arrow, featured over a longer period, since the Paleolithic in Oman.
Of course, I love swords.

I do.

I love love love love love love swords.
And they had some Omani examples from Bronze age burials, and the early Iron age. I love that beyond my regular sword love of course.

Omani sword fighting (11th c. AD onward) requires speed and agility, which I find interesting, compared to European sword fighting styles which require more strength than agility, given similar historical time periods. 
There were, of course, a good display of Khanjar daggers as well, and some Yemeni jambiyia too. Boring to us.
Though my Omani husband remarked that the Museum claims Khanjars are valued for their blades, when we know, at least as of the 1900s anyways, they've been valued for their hilts (Rhino and ivory).

Anyways, the rifles were his favourite (I really need to take him to the Armoury in London) and a museum in Texas;).
At the very end of the Arms gallery was a colouring station for kids to draw Khanjars. I wish this was situated at the start of the gallery, as  my kids wanted to stay and draw (okay, the 4 month old was neutral) but we were ready to move to the next set of rooms.
In the "Al Falaj" gallery, which documents the irrigation system in Oman, I found this Wakeel's journal about who gets how much water and when to be funny.

I mean every village in Oman must have one right? But I guess, being so common, not every village keeps receipts for water bills going back hundreds of years right?;).
I almost skipped the currency gallery (on purpose, I'm not a currency collector) but my husband insisted I go back to see the Drachams from the Sassanian Empire (Iran) from 600 AD, which were discovered in Sharqiyah. Kind of cool.

I really think kids would like a currency gallery if they had like, fake but properly weighted ancient currencies, and a fake little Souq area (or ever a computer game for this) and the kids could learn how much the ancient coins were worth and what people earned them, and what they'd buy in their given time period. Omani kids in the Museum raced to anything with computers and headsets with videos.

My daughter was asking to go home at this point, of course, that's why I'm getting all these "make museums fun" ideas. Plus, I used to intern at Museums, and often got stuck in exhibits. I was good at it;). This Museum is good, but it isn't "back-home" good yet, and it could be better than back home good, because Oman has better history than back home. Kids could love it.

After that we went into the "mostly architectural models" area of the "Civilization in the making" gallery. While there is certainly a better artifact representation of Oman's architectural heritage in the upstairs galleries, there were a few building fragments here from Izki and Bahla, along with that turquoise glazed tile imported from Iran during the start of Oman's Islamic period that I so love:
Pretty much down the ground floor, we headed to the main elevator/stairs area where they serve dates, Omani coffee, and water, free of charge to guests.

The Museum workers in charge of qhawa were very nice to my daughter. "You are Omani?" they asked her.

"I am five," she tells them, in English.

"Can you speak Arabic?" they ask her.

She can, better than she can English, but she says nothing. "I want a pink cup," is what she says, in English.

So they give her a pink plastic cup.

There are two flasks of Omani coffee. She points to one and say, "what is this?" in perfect Arabic.

"It's qhahwa," they tell her.

She makes a face, like, gross, and point to the other. "And what is this?" she asks them in Arabic.

It's also qhawa of course, so she looks at the both of them like they are idiots, because in what sabla/majlis in Oman, do they serve two flasks of qhahwa? One of them is always "chai" aka tea-with-milk-and-sugar.

"She wants chai," I tell them, and they automatically think that this is adorable. It is a very Omani thing for her to do.

"Did you like the Museum?" they then asked her, giving her a water.

"No," she said, and they don't know what to say.

"She liked the puzzles of the boats," I rush to assure them, but she has to ruin it.

"Not really."


So, the Museum is really good. Wide, varied, and quality collections, with good access, modern preservation that doesn't detract from viewing too much, and big open spaces so people can walk comfortably.

I like it.  Best "museum" Museum in Oman, definitely.

...But to get the younger Omani generation interested in history more, I should make a post of my suggestions.

I think, unless one is doing a shorter visit (we spent almost 3 hours and I would need 4-5 to glance at everything) then kids should be at least 13-14 to appreciate the place unless they are overly interested in history in general.

Beyond kids, I really do recommend you visit, if you haven't yet. I'll post about the upper floor next inshaAllah, but this is a really long post in itself, so I think I'll end it here for now.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

OPNO on Driving in Oman: 15 years road experience, no license

I think my Omani husband is jealous of Gordon Ramsay, because I watch his cooking shows, and quote them. (I am the OPNO who is the horrible disgrace of a cook BTW). Today, to rib me, he sent me the above via Pinterest.

I answered back, "I'd love a Gordon Ramsay GPS...It would remind me of driving lessons with my Dad."

Omani husband writes back, and I imagine his words in grumbles as I read back: "And I'd like a Kate Winslet dubbed GPS." {To make me jealous}.

No luck there. If he has a Kate Winslet crush, so do I;).

Anyways, driving in Oman is something almost all expats complain about.  And I really should have nothing to complain about, as I still don't have my driver's license.

But complain I can, on driving in Oman.

Yes, I am a thirty-something whose been driving since I was 15 years old, and I still have not passed my bloody driver's test.

I blame this, initially, on my whole family's overwhelming enthusiasm for getting one's driver license... I was not excited, not even by half the amount they were, when they first heard I got my Canadian learning (ketchya) license....Also, their total despair over when I failed anything.

My father is, probably, one of the best drivers beyond professionals, that I have ever known. My mother...kind of sucks. So of course, he would teach me.

Despite being a really good driver, my Dad kind of sucks as a teacher and makes Gordon Ramsay seem like the ideal driving coach.

Also, I have to admit, I am one of those very smart, annoying kind of people, who do not like to not be good at something instantly (my first driving lesson involved death) and I will berate a bad teacher with purposeful insolent behaviour if I find their demands upon my abilities to be unrealistic.

First driving lesson: there was a goose (Canadian goose), and I killed it.

My father was like "never veer off the road for an animal."

Of course, we were in a parking lot, not on the road.

So he was like, "Don't worry, it'll move."

Needless to say, it didn't. We ran it over and left the trail of its baby goslings orphaned. I was traumatized. It took another year or so before I agreed to lessons again.

Finally, I was getting really good at driving.

Omani roads by the way, and Omani road tests, are for sissies, compared to West Coast Canadian roads.

I drove in rain, I drove in snow (at night), I drove on dizzying corners on mountain logging roads where a mistake could mean falling down a cliff to your death. I did city streets where signage is spare, and everything is one-way if you screw up.

I also drove in Vancouver. People can be nuts there, especially in Richmond rush-hour.

I could park, parallel park, drive standard and automatic, and my father mostly had stopped calling me a "dumbass".

I however, lived in B.C. a region that has a novice driver licensing system imposed before you get your full legal driver's license, so even if you pass your BC driving test, you are considered a learner until you make one full year without a serious accident.

Needless to say, my Novice DL expired. I do not stay in one place for a year at a time sadly.

So that meant getting my license in Oman. Yayyyy!!!!

My first driving teacher sucked. She was like, don't shoulder check, use your mirrors, and park super slowly.

So everything my father taught me she tried to un-do. So while I parked the barrels and did the slope on the Omani test flawlessly the first 8 times she had me do it, after two days of her teaching I was crashing into barrells again while reversing.

Needless to say, when I went for my first Omani test with the ROP, I tried to forget everything she taught me and just did my thing. I passed, and that felt awesome.

(Also, the sign test---In Canada there is  a pre-ketchya written exam of almost 70 questions that makes sure you know road safety in signage. In Oman I got asked "what do you do at a stop sign" and what do you do at a red light... and that's it. Yeahhhhhh, no wonder no one knows who has the right of way here.)

Her street driving lessons were even worse. She basically told me to tail-gate people really fast and then bop on my hazard lights whenever I had to slam on my breaks, which was every other minute.

Also, she lost my ketchya. And so did, apparently, the ROP, so I had to re-do the barrel and slope test, when I was ready for my road test.


It took me a while to convince my Omani husband to find me a male driving teacher.

Eventually he did, and thank goodness, for Khaleel, because Khaleel was like, a less angry version of my father. Safe, clear explainations, patient, and not creepy;). Also, super super nice.

Knowing I'd stop lessons and tests when I was broke, he insisted I could pay him back later and just not fall out of practice.

So then, I took the test... and I passed it. I did nothing wrong, and I know it for a fact, and Khaleel was arguing with the tester, so I assume I am correct, but still ROP dude failed me first try.

I was sooooooooooo mad.

I did the test again. I did screw up that time. Took a left when I was asked to do a right. Did it safely and correctly, but still, it was a fail.

Same thing the third time. Left and right directions annoy me in roundabouts. I asked if they could just say it like GPS, 1rst exit, 2nd exit, ect., because I never screw that up, but no, they can't and I am lucky I am not getting "yasar, yimeen" blah blah.

Fourth test, I did it perfectly again. Failed though. Khaleel looked confused. I told him I would stop trying. I wasn't wasting my money on this crap anymore.

For one, my husband has his license. He passed the third time. He's a lucky driver, not a safe one.

My sister-in-law passed the second time, and she's always parking in disabled spots, and I have been with her in the car when she hit someone in a parking lot.

If they have their licenses, it was so unfair that I did not.

Then stuff happened. I was pregnant, and had emergency, and my husband was a four hours drive away, and no one was answering their phones, and I was like, I am going to drive myself to the hospital.

And I did.

And then I kind of started driving without a license after that, only close to home, and nowhere the car would injure someone at the speed we were going.

And I realized a few things.

-People do not know how to reverse park very well here because they were not taught to do so shoulder-checking, or how to go about parking quickly.

-No one seems to know who has the right-of-way.

-Lexuses, Jaguars, and luxury 4x4s are always driven by total jerks who do not signal and will cut you off at 130 on the freeway.

-Taxis, and Toyota pick up trucks will do anything at any moment so be wary of them at all times.

-Any Omani guy under 25 driving a Toyota Corolla or Echo or other crap discount model of car, is going to go annoyingly slow over speed bumps. People in 4x4s with a lot of ground clearence will be the same, like, they don't know their vehicle was built for harsher crap than that.

-Speed bumps in Oman make no sense whatsoever. They are placed in places where one is supposed to be going a speed that one cannot possibly make it over said speed bump without bloody good suspension or without scraping their undercarriage. Speed bumps, Oman, are supposed to help people change from like, a 50 km road, to a 20 km road, like, to remind the forgetful driver of the transition. In Oman, they have no logical placement, and exist like ski jumps, making what is supposed to be a 40-50km/hr road into a black diamond run. Unless one goes under 20 km.

-Drunk people stumble out onto the roads on friday nights on dead quiet streets.

-Waiting for a parking space, some stupid b**** is going to steal your spot. What might have worked in Canada will not work here. Getting out of your car to stand in her way so she can't take your spot will only result in you getting run down. I'm serious. It has happened to me. Punching her out in the parking lot will likely only result in you going to jail. I've yet to think of a solution for this issue. The best I've managed is to spit my gum onto to said B****es abaya and grind it into the designer fabric with my foot.

So, going back to take the test again, Khaleel (a veritable stickler for rules) asks me if I need to practice since it has been almost a year since I gave up on getting my license here. I admit to him shyly, that I've been driving without a license without a single incident for over a year.

He shyly admits back, that before he got his driving license he drove without a license in Muscat for 6 years.

...One of the original OPNO bloggers, she had this sporty convertible, and when she left the country I remember her telling me I could have it if I had wasta enough to get someone at the ROP to erase the speeding tickets she'd accumulated on the registration?

I went to see if I could just pay them off, but you know the ROP web application that lets you see your offenses? Well it only lets you view the first three pages of a print out, and 3 pages for her was like, 3 days of driving in Muscat. She got about 7 speeding tickets a day! The tickets were worth more than the value of the car.

...And she got her license here;).

So yes, I may be a criminal, but isn't there something more criminal about that?!!!!!

So... yeah. Hope they pass me this time right? Here's to the fifth time being the charm.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

This morning in Muscat, my National Day post

I feel like a princess when I wake up some of the time in the mornings in Muscat, in our new house. Like a princess, in that, I don't want to get up. I want to lie there in the gilded early morning light, while green parrots alite on the balcony, date palms gently wave in a soft warm November breeze, and pretend that I don't have work to do. I could be a house wife right? It's Oman, I could. So for a minute longer than usual I just lie there and pretend for a minute that some smiling, uniformed housemaid is going to come up the stairs with a breakfast tray while I luxuriate in silk pajamas and soft white cotton sheets---because this is is Oman---it could totally happen. Not in my life of course;) but in somebody elses' it does, on golden days like this. And then, in my mind anyways, the housemaid and I would chat about the news, from her country, and from Oman, and about plans for the day. It's all pretend of course, but part of it is real, and lovely. I still choose to immerse myself in only half that life, even it would be possible, because of everything I know.

The most maddening and beautiful thing about living in Muscat, I have learned, is that anything is possible. It simply is. What was yesturday, can be changed another day. Tomorrow is not, the same as today. Your dreams can change, and that's okay too.

...We lived like wild, beautiful things, behind the pristine white walls of our Qurum and MQ expat villas, we privellaged white expat teenaged girls, for the imported expertise of our educated relations. Anything was possible. Most of us left that life though, and sought another Oman. Some ended up poor and lonely in the green mountains and mists of Dhofar. Some of us ended up hardworking housewives in the Interior, with more society than ourselves remaining. One or two became like a Princess for real, and married a diplomat or kin to the royal family or lived life like that. Some of us became Muslims. Some of us left and returned. And left and returned. And left and returned. ...And some of us stayed. Some of us made lives on other corners of the globe, taking what it was that life in Muscat taught us, with us, whereever we go.

Myself, I went from privellage to poverty, to not caring about any of that for the sake of love and Islam. I loved the beauty in the simple things poor people get to see that richer or "whiter" ;) folks never get invited to see. Even my furniture now is hand-carved solid wood and gilded, I still love furniture made of palm frond. I love solid glazed Omani pottery in my hands; its strength is more part of what my fingers seek than the delicate porcelains I grew up with. I like dirt and stone floors, and wood shelves built right into walls, and while I am too much of a collector to be simple myself, I still find serenity in having less. I can appreciate the light on the mountains, no matter how many days I live to see here, the shadows and light on those mountains...the light is never twice the same.

Of course, I lie in the bedroom pictured now, and I'm thankful, for I've lived in houses in Oman where the roof leaked, the power always went out so the ACs wouldn't work, and I had to deal with floods and lizards, and I remember a time I really wanted a strawberry juice and couldn't afford it, the kind you know, that is like, 200-300 baisas? I went to Bank Muscat to withdraw 300 baisa and the teller felt sorry for me, but was like, "uh, you only have 30 baisa, not 300". That was the life.
So know, a lot of Omanis who have luxury now, worked hard for what they have. It is a common White or Indian expat misconception, that they didn't.

Just as it is a misconception commonly held by Omanis, that for white Western expats in Oman any life they dream of is possible. They can be poor, and struggle, and be just as alone. People are the same whereever you go.

But life in Oman, Muscat in particular I have found, anything is truly possible, in the end. You just need to choose, and stay, and try. It might not wind up the life you always envsioned for yourself, but then again, it might turn out to be just that.

...Afterall, I was always that girl who was supposed to wind up in a pristine white townhouse in the city, and a weekend country home to maintain right?;). So old friends can laugh and tease and make fun of "Princess" all they want while I wake, taking a break before beginning the next 18 hours-straight of work I have left to complete before the weekend with a cup of tea in hand, appreciating the gilded light that often frames the coarse reality of an idyllic little Muscat existance.

Tomorrow is National Day, and I see the day in shades of the brass morning Muscat the faded vert and rugged gold of palm, dried and the green of the happy cacophony of the silver scent of frankincense...and in all the layered purples of the Hajar mountains... and in the pink of the bougainvilla that grows so often over white walls of Muscat villas...instead of in shades of red and green and white.

I am sure whoever you are, expat or Omani, or like me, someone stuck in both-and-neither of those two worlds, that you see Oman in the same light, and thus, because of that changing light, the colours we perceive the country in, what images bring to mind life here, are different to every single one of us. For myself, it is not a flag, or the Sultan, but that light, that recalls Oman to me. However you see it...

Happy National Day, Oman.