Thursday, June 29, 2017

Omani Swordsmanship Over the Eid Weekend at Al Azwah

Do you know what sucks being a woman in Oman?

Swords.

Swords suck.

...Because if you are a woman who happens to find playing with swords fun, you pretty much can't in public, and even when you go to watch, it is frowned upon if you stand to close or too long to take photographs. Nonetheless, I managed to zoom pretty decently with my camera at the Al Azwah in Misfah Al Abriyeeen over this last Eid holiday. My photos would be better if I wasn't constrained by culture but I like al Azwah in general. Still have to make Bahla's one, and the Fanja canon one, so maybe next year?

Al Azwah are traditional singing and dancing (with drumming usually), usually taking place on the Eid weekends starting the second day for most villages, from like 4:30 pm until sunset. Although one village in Rustaq the Al Azwah when I was there went from like 8 pm until sunrise in the a.m.

My favourite thing about Al Azwah is the sword dancing.

I call it sword dancing because in the old days, back when people actually fought with swords, I don't think anyone was fighting with the swords they use for sword dancing. They probably did use a buckler type of fighting, but maybe with a small straight sword, or curved blade, or spear. Not a bending sword that is for sure.

Nonetheless , the steel on the dancing swords is still sharp enough to slice a thumb off if you catch it wrong.

The whole point of buckler shield style fighting is to be quick so Omani sword dancing is enjoyable to watch. Very good showmanship. There's throwing the blade in the air to spin and catch it. There is feinting and thigh and shoulder tapping. There is also a loooooooot of leaping in the air.

...Real buckler style fighting, there is a lot less leaping, no throwing, a lot of foot-work, and a lot of punching your opponent with the shield. The al azwah dancing type is a lot more fun to watch, and less broken noses;). Occasionally there is a sliced finger, like every ten years or so I suppose, but I have yet to witness such an event. I have only heard.
Here is the sword throwing (apparently my husband says it wasn't a perfect throw but I have no idea honestly because I was taught not to let my sword out of my hand, and only to throw a sword with my non-sword arm to another fighter so...):
 Back to the tapping and feinting and leaping:

Monday, June 26, 2017

Getting Lost in Old Izki, Then Having My Purse Stolen in Souq Seeb: an exciting way to round off Ramadan

One of the places I had always wanted to see but never had was old Izki. Less than an hour from Muscat really if you don't stop (and we always do for gas or snacks, or to pray so it winds up longer), Izki was a place I had no real excuse for never seeing.

Izki was important for me to see because of how zakat (the collected Islamic taxes) were distributed in  the old Imamates of Oman. It was also a rather fascinating Persian settlement in Oman, having pre-Islamic origins.

From a tourism sort of point of view, the ruins are extensive and impressive, and so is the story of Jarnan cave (Jarnan was the Persian idol that was once worshiped there).

Me, personally, I like the old war stories from the fort there from the Islamic periods, when the tribes were being crappy Muslims and not following Islamic laws governing warfare. Some of the sieges in Izki were broken using questionable means, like destroying the water systems, and as I would walk around the old fort remains, I could imagine what I've read taking place before my eyes. I don't like to do this in places like Rustaq and Nakhl, because I cringe a little going through certain doorways, or thinking of all the torture that went on in prison cells, but Izki to me, is more like imagining Homer's Illiad, and the taking of Troy. It would make a great movie;).

But...we just had never made it to Izki. All these years in Oman, and yeah, I didn't go.

My Omani husband has friends here who always beg him to visit, and still, we've never stopped.

But we finally did. And this was my adventure:

The ruins are quite a maze, and I recently went there and got myself totally lost. I took my 6 year old daughter with me.

She wanted to come, and she later regretted it, because it was the middle of the afternoon, and after an hour of exploring the old part of Izki, she wanted get back to the AC of the car and find some water. It was also still Ramadan. Most people were asleep.

We had seen some beautiful old houses, with unique staircases and beautiful old doors and shutters, as well as an Omani scarecrow, a grape arbor, and the cutest little cement old house with a pink and green iron painted gate and a cactus on its wall. Omani preppy;). We kept coming back to this little blue door though, so we knew we were going in circles somehow, and just couldn't find this hill we had come over. That hill led to the house we cut through to get to the side street where out car was parked. The blue door was the only landmark we could find to point us to the hill, but it only seemed to lead me in circles.

When I could not find our car again, this was, of course, embarrassing.

At the insistence of my daughter who had been turning the colour of a tomatoe--- she was begging me to swallow my pride and ask for directions--- we asked for help from the only person we saw awake.

Long story short, a local family ended up helping me and taking me on a tour of Izki. This  included the place they fire their rifles off for Eid celebrations, and the cave of Jarnan.
All in all I enjoyed myself, but it was embarrassing.

As my phone was just recently stolen (also during Ramadan, thank you Souq Seeb purse thief for also stealing my money and bank cards while I was buying my kids Eid gifts!!!!!!) I have no way to contact the lady who helped me. So Aisha from Izki, thank you.
So, now the theft story. It was the last ten days of Ramadan and I was buying my kids new shoes (and later was going to get them toys for Eid gifts) in Seeb Souq, back in Muscat. I put my purse down beside me, and someone stole it. The police refused to even file a complaint because it was not stolen out of my hands.

Sorry Seeb police, but yeah, you try minding three kids, while trying on shoes for them, and keep your purse in your hands at all times. Stealing is stealing, if you take something from beside someone, same as you rip it off their arm. Maybe I should take a ride in a squad car parked outside my house, because no officer was in it at the time? I think that is about the same thing but whatever, I know it was about to be Eid weekend and no one wanted to work.

I lost the money I had to buy my kids new shoes, and toys, and to get a new headscarf that actually matches my Eid dress, and my phone with all my contacts, but whatever, people are worse off in this world I guess.

While the theft experience was very disheartening, the generosity of people like Aisha and her husband from Izki more than make up for that, and define Oman for me.

They made sure my daughter had a nice cool water to drink, drove around looking for our car, then spent time showing us their city even though it was the middle of the day, and they were fasting. That is Oman and Omanis.

Not useless police, and petty thieves.

So when Muscat gets me down, all I need is to get lost on a road trip it seems.

Anyways, Eid Mubarak Oman, and Muslims everywhere. May your holiday be blessed.
The GPS coordinates for Izki, are, according Y magazine: N24°20’16.6” E56°30’11.0”. But of course, I didn't use these. I just drove around and got lost;).

Friday, June 23, 2017

Souq Sinaw on Thursday Morning, Just Before Eid Al Fitr Weekend

Sinaw Souq in Al Sharqiyah is probably my favourite livestock souq in Oman. It beats Nizwa for me because Sinaw has more camels, and there is just something so fantastically authentically Arabian about wandering around so many Bedouin women in their gauzey bright dresses with their gold and black birqa masks, and all the men with their rifles slung casually over their shoulders.
To get there we woke up in Muscat super early, and left by 4 am. We took the old road, although one could come by the Izki way. We got to Sinaw around 6:30 am, on a Thursday morning (yesterday) just before the Eid weekend, when the souq is, arguably, at its most impressive.

Apparently the GPS for Souq Sinaw is  N23˚ 09' 52” E57˚ 51' 14”. The timing for the Souq is Thursday mornings, open from 7am-11am. The last time I went here was 6 years ago, and we were a bit late, and missed all the good stuff.

This time, we made it on time.

We drove past the carpets hung off the sides of trucks, parked at a closed dry cleaners, then walked through the pots, and clothes and toys, to the white gates that read in black English letters "Souq Sinaw". This little loup is the best part of the Souq: the livestock auction ring, the fish and fruit and veg, and on the sides, the knife and khanjar shops.
My children love it for the goats being crammed four to a wheel-barrow, or the baying of young camels being dragged past us after being bought at auction.

My sister-in-laws like the very authentic antique Omani silver jewelry (usually in the khanjar stores, not always in silver stores). If I wasn't broke, I'd have bought the silver anklets I saw while my husband was buying the boys new assa sticks, and bullets. Not that I need giant-ass anklets, but ya know, they were cool.

My Omani husband likes Souq Sinaw for the knives, and khanjars, which is why we happened to go yesterday. There are some really good craftspeople for khanjars in Sinaw, and decent antiques as well.

I wandered around staring rudely at people (because I love how Bedouin dress!) but I was too shy really to ask anyone if I could take their pictures, though two lovely local women in a pick-up decided to talk to me because my kids and I look strange. We were probably as odd a sight for the souq, as Bedouin dress is to me;).

The people watching is one of the best things about Sinaw, but it is also the thing my Omani husband hates the most, because it seems alright for Bedouin to stare, but I don't know, I felt fine. No one was creepy beyond staring, and since everyone was staring, that wasn't even creepy, so... And the women were friendly.

Beyond people watching, and buying my kids really crap plastic toys because you can't avoid this here, there were a few Omani handicrafts stores, but I liked the fresh smell of the herb and grass section of the souq, after spending a lot of time near the livestock section of the souq.
Afterwards, knowing how much I love Old Omani architecture, my husband took me up the hill over the souq, to see the old mud brick village part of Sinaw, and it really was impressive. I felt like I could truly imagine walking around here when people still lived in what are now ruins. The spaces, and arches, impressed me, along with the harat designs, around little courtyards. Sharqiyah architecture definitely has more arches than interior architecture.
The inner parts of the arches, exposed due to the current state of  the sites' deterioration, show how they were constructed, which I found  really interesting. Same for the outer township walls.
I mean, I literally felt like I was passing into a fairy-tale when I slipped inside through one collapsed room. It is one of the least tourist-ey tourist sites in Oman.
...I could have wandered around for hours, but my kids wanted a bathroom, and so, we had to leave this enchanted setting, alas.

I wonder what it would have been like growing up here? Would the local Omani kids have played in the ruins throwing dust and mud clods at one another, like I made war with pinecones and played at Robin-Hood in the forest when I was a little girl in the land-far-and-away?
Walking up these stairs, and coming to this little room, I totally felt like I was in that scene from the Disney movie "Aladdin" when Aladdin takes Jasmine to his place after saving her in the market, and says "It's not much, but it has a view."
Anyways, that was about it.

We went from Sinaw via the Izki way, and my kids were delighted because they got to see a camel crossing the road: