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Bathing in the Falaj

A Falaj, in Oman, is an irrigation system used for agriculture and domestic use. Many of you would see these at some districts in Oman, such as Sama’il, Al Rustaq, Jabal Al Akhdar, Bahla, etc.

Bathtime in Wadi Fanja, Oman (c) Christian Fenwick

When I used to be a kid, my mother would take us to the Falaj to bathe. Now, in the 1980’s, people still didn’t have full bathrooms in their clay houses. So, we used to go to the Falaj, and it was fun. The women’s Falaj is usually enclosed within clay walls. Only women are allowed to go inside. You can usually tell where the women’s Falaj is located verses the men’s. The men’s Falaj is usually next to a Mosque. The women’s is usually further away and is totally enclosed between clay or cement walls.

We used to be very shy girls, not used to bathing in public. Even though we managed to clean ourselves properly, we would bathe with our pants and shirts on.  However, other women wouldn’t. Some would take their scarves and tie it on the nails sticking out of the walls making a small partition where they can wash “properly”. Other women were less shy. Though I preferred not to talk to them or look them in the eye when they asked me “How are you doing?”, it was considered normal for women to be nude in the Falaj. They still somehow managed to keep their privacy intact.

There was of course the other part of the Falaj. The “matrab” is where women go to get rid of their bodily waste. This place is an open space. I remember always being uncomfortable walking around that open space trying to find a “clean” spot. If you wonder about all that waste, well, local men come in to gather it either once or twice a week and use it as a fertilizer. Yea, those days nothing was just waste. Anyway, as I think of it now I think it is interesting how female-to-female nudity in Oman was culturally acceptable (not as much anymore).

As for men, on the other hand, you can never catch two nude males at the same place. It was and will never be accepted. The men’s Falaj has a couple of small partitions to segregate the men from being nude together. I remember my uncle getting a beating from my grandfather for being impatient (he wanted to perform the Wudu before prayer, and there were no empty spots) and invading another man’s privacy. It is considered offensive. If they are in a public Falaj (similar to the kids in the picture above) then they are usually wearing shorts.

Today, men still sometimes bathe at the Falaj. However, for women it is almost a lost tradition. The Falaj that I used to go to is still used for washing dishes and clothes, but you never see it crowded with women bathing. The walls of the “Matrab” had fallen down as people these days enjoy the privacy of going to the toilet at their own houses. Female tourists from other (more conservative) towns in Oman are no longer shocked with the view of nude women chitchatting together.

Glimpses of Work

Every day as I walk up the stairs towards the kitchen, I glimpse at our receptionist (we absolutely hate each other) and look at her screen. If she is not watching a youtube clip or an Arabic show, then she is definitely reading at some forum. You can see all the latest styles of abayas as you come down or go up the stairs. It shocks me sometimes that she is not fired yet, but I guess she owes that to the Ministry of Manpower. There are times when the phone rings, and she just waves her hand at it with disgust as if saying “shut the F… UP”.

She does that too along with slurring racist comments to our "bad" clients

One thing happened today, which is the first since I started working here, is that I got a present from a client. I definitely don’t feel comfortable holding that small green bag that has an Arabic fragrance oil and a necklace with the engraving “Allah is great”. Of course I said “No” but he just dropped it on my desk and left. I’ve never seen this client before, but the gift makes me wonder if he also has another gift set that is meant for a male. Ohh well, I guess this little green bag will be put away in a drawer somewhere. Maybe under the quality control reports?

My boss just arrived at work and has a stack of papers with him. He is going to lock himself into a small room and read for a while (he is taking online courses). One of the papers is an astrology overview of his son’s welfare. Apparently, his fourteen year old son has bad grades and my boss is worried. So he went online and paid this guy some money to prepare an overview of how the son’s life will end up. “The major problem is that he doesn’t listen to his mom and has bad grades”, he said to me while flipping through the papers. Well, that is not such a huge surprise since he is a teenager and has seizures every once in a while where his memory gets wiped out. Apparently the summary says he will start doing better once he reaches the age of twenty. I’m not really a believer (the disclaimer states that personal choice plays a big part on whether this overview will be true or not), but I really hope his son gets better. Oh, you need the birth date and exact time for this forecasting to be at least 85% true.  

 And just a quick note: for those who are thinking about getting the iPad, how about you look at the other option (HP Slate) and compare specs.

I thought I was just going to ignore all the comments I have been getting from some readers (a cause from someone posting my blog on their facebook) that either know the DJ at Park Inn or are just offended from a previous post I wrote called “Are Black Omanis Dumb?“. Well, today I received an e-mail from the DJ herself requesting that I remove her name from the post (I had to, she said plz). I realize that this has become a larger issue than just me venting on my blog about the Hotel’s loud music. Therefore, I decided to write this update so that my haters can have an update on the issue since I deleted all their comments and they are left with no response.

They were similar messages to this with a lot of name calling of course!

I will just post my reply to the DJ:

I would most delightedly remove your name from the post. However, I would like to explain to you that my post was not directed to you personally, as when I wrote the post, I did not know you even existed. So, you should not take it personal. Also, Park Inn is located on a higher ground and is a high building. The problem with that is that the sound travels sometimes further than what you expect because there are no other higher buildings in front of it that would block the sound. Also, many people work on Thrusdays and sometimes the sound becomes too annoying and harder to handle.

About my post on “Are black Omanis dumb?” I would like you to read that post one more without that anger that you have on you right now. Once you do that, you will realize (as did the commentators) that I was discussing an issue in Oman where regular Omanis always use the phrase that black Omanis are dumb, and what I did was to explain their role (the post was specific to ex-slaves) in our society and that saying black Omanis are dumb is in itself a dumb statement. Also, I was inspired to write that post after reading an article about IQ’s of blacks vs. whites, which discuss a similar issue. Therefore, I do not understand that storm of anger that is directed towards that particular post. If anything, I think I have the right to discuss issues such as racism and equality in Oman, as I think they are important and not because I am racist.

Oh, and I really didn’t mind the extra hits I’ve been getting 😉

Have fun!

Now, if you guys want your comments to be approved, use a better language and everyone will hear your point of view!

Oman vs. Kuwait

Alright people, I just wanted to show you all these pictures of early preparations for the football match between Oman and Kuwait. It will start today at 7:30pm. So, go and have fun.

Today I was coming back from work at 3:30 and got stuck on the road. People were coming out of everywhere. It was nice to see all the creativity in their costumes 🙂 One girl had her face fully covered with her scarf, yet she still managed to wear the red, green, and white scarf around her neck! Other girls were wearing some wild outfits… over all every one, no fear…. it is PACKED!

Have fun!

Alright, I don’t have much to say that would come out as a single post.. so here’s whats’ on my mind:

– I’ve been getting loads of hate mail (comments) lately from a certain group who seem to dislike my post on Park Inn’s loud music. The FACT is.. people.. Park Inn is LOUD.. not always though. When I posted about it, it was loud about three times a week. And DARLINGS… if I complain about it, then it is LOUD. So that “immature” picture is still VALID.. and I would post it again here if I didn’t feel it would be redundant! love the fact that I’m getting more hits though! Thanx whoever for posting it on your Facebook!

Nadia,  Dhofari Gucci, has a really interesting post on sacrifice rituals practiced in Dhofar. Nothing of that sort happens in my part of the region, but I find it interesting how we “humans” categorize rituals. For example, we glorify and are deeply humbled by the story of Abraham and his attempt to sacrifice his son to Allah. That exact same story, if believed by another religion, would sound pagan and barbaric to us. However, we sacrifice a cattle every year to Allah in its honor, and to many of us it is a blessing. So, maybe we need to be a bit humble and tolerate other religions because at the end, they are not that different from ours.

– Now, this is just out there, but I am excited about the up-coming Windows Phone 7. If you have not heard of it before, then you should read a bit about it. I really don’t feel like buying an iPhone (not an apple fan) so I hope this is a great alternative. The fact that my B promised to get me one is not the only reason I’m excited about it coming out (partly the reason), but it’s currently the buzz right now in the gadget world.

– Just a note to all readers, Other Oman would like you all to participate on her poll on thefts in Oman.

– Ohh, some local news you will not hear anywhere else.. a mom died last night from a heart attack because her son rushed into the house drunk while the cops were following him. I wonder about her last thoughts.. “my son is drunk!! COPS!! did he KILL someone!!!!????” .. maybe? Poor mom, may Allah rest her soul in peace…

Driving Lessons

Finally back to browsing the internet, which has been down for the past couple of days at work! Thanx OmanTel! yea, GREAT service!

So, I am back to taking some driving lessons. I started taking lessons in the summer of 2006. I went back to the States, got my license, and it expired right before I came back. I couldn’t exchange it here, so now I have to take a driving test.

Driving Learner's car (except mine is old and shakes a lot)

On my first day of driving, I managed to be “almost” hit by a car and driven over by two trucks! All at the same time! No, it wasn’t my fault… Not like my first driving test in 06 where I almost hit a truck (The police officer freaked out and asked me to return to the parking lot!).  Anyway, my driving teacher has a character of his own!

First day: apparently he is in the mood for talking, and I sometimes get tired from driving AND listening to someone blabbing about how good people they are. He was annoyed that I wasn’t as talkative! (Sorry, I was concentrating). Plus, he is from Jama (very inner Oman) and apparently learning to speak in a Syrian Accent (It was just weird)…. “Sho banaaaa”.. and the “La haykaaaaaaaaa”… the elongation part at the end of each sentence was unbearable, especially when you know it’s fake. “I’m learning the Syrian accent now, and before I was learning the Lebanese accent. It’s hard for me to talk normal Omani now”…. yea, right! show off!

Ohh, and I told him I failed my test last time (a few months ago) because I got nervous. My teacher is now determined to take away all that fear by screaming at me for the whole two hours! “go! Go! I said GOOOOOO NOW!”… ” I can’t turn now :'(, there is a car coming towards me”… hands on the steering wheel “I SAID NOW”…. “okay! OKAY!….” … “Tomorrow when I pick you up, YOU BETTER LEAVE YOUR FEAR AT HOME!!!”…. “fine”…

Second Day: well, yesterday I decided that I’m not going to take his crap and keep silent! … Did I mention he has an obsession with the “danger” signals!? .. I HAVE to use it even if I am in the parking lot waiting for a car to pull out.. “Danger Signal” … “huh! why?”… “I SAID signal!!”… ugh! Well, yesterday, a car pulls out and I press the danger signal.. and go “Oh my GOD! danger people .. DANGER!! a car is pulling out!! watch OUT!”.. “ahaaaaa, you are talking now and being smart I see!!”…

So anyway people, tonight I’m going out again.. so if you see a girl with an old guy screaming at her.. be nice.. and give me a break! don’t try to hit me or HONK at me because I HAVE to follow the rules…thank you!

Reality on the Times of Oman

As you all know, a couple of the bloggers have been interviewed by the Times of Oman. Big thanx to “Sandhya Menon” for her time and effort. Here is a list of us all:

Reality in Oman

Dhofari Gucci

Muscat Confidential

Sleepless in Salalah

Other Oman

Omani Cuisine

Omanoymous

Sew Chic and Unique

Oman Stimulus

The article was published in two parts: “For the love of change and blogging” & “Keeping it real in English

Copyright @ Times of Oman

Here are the Questions I have been asked and the answers…

1) Will you ever blow your cover?

I don’t think I will. My identity does not define my ideas and I find that I have more freedom of expression writing in anonymity.

2) Are you afraid you might be found out?

No

3) If you are, what do you think the consequence would be?

4) How was it for you to have moved back after living in environments that afford women much more freedom that Oman?

I love my country, but understandable had a difficult time adjusting when I first returned for living abroad. A big part of having this blog is to maintain a sense of intellectual freedom. In the US, I did not have the family ties and obligations that I have here. Most of my friends were other students at my university, who were of different nationalities and religions. In the course of my studies I had to answer many different types of questions about my culture and beliefs. That allowed me the opportunity to reflect on my own feelings and to form my own independent ideas. Oman is a very social-centric and family oriented society and it is often difficult to form a solid sense of individuality, or an identity that is distinct from that of the immediate family group. The primary difficulty that I face  here is having freedom in being an individual with my own “identity”

5) Apart from realization of writing skills and a wonderful level of comfort with English, what was the reason you started to blog?

Well, before I moved back to Oman I was aware of the difficulties many of my Gulf female friends face. I decided after considerable thought, that it might be beneficial to my own mind to write a blog where I was able to reflect on and discuss the issues faced myself and others.

6) Do you think you can bring about a change in society, however slow and tedious, with your writing and the awareness that your blog spreads?

My purpose is to spread awareness through my writings. I do not shy away when it comes to talking about sensitive issues in Oman. I believe we can and should talk about love, divorce, racism, and gender roles in society without feeling we should be embarrassed or ashamed. Real change is often slow and tedious, but I hope to encourage others to think outside their comfortable zone and to form their own opinions.

It certainly gives me great pleasure and a sense of accomplishment when someone reads a post and replies with “this is thought provoking” or “I never thought of it that way”. Also, personally, my blog also allows me to continuously develop my thoughts and opinions, which allows me to grow intellectually.

7) Has your blog ever been noticed by anyone who has objections to what you write in there?

Of course. With writing, you can never please everyone, but this is often a blessing as it allows you to see things through other people’s eyes. Even though at times it contradicts your own beliefs, other’s opinions are not less valid. We all form our beliefs through our own experiences and that’s what makes us so diverse and complex.

There are, however, times where people have responded to my blog in a negative an non-constructive way, calling it useless, or stating that it does not add any value to the writing sphere in Oman. With these comments I disagree.

8 ) If yes, how have you responded/reacted?

I do moderate the comments that I receive. Any comments that are in any way constructive or pertinent to the post or general topic I publish, even if these comments disagree with my point-of-view. However, I do not tolerate the use of insulting or profane language. The purpose of my blog is to initiate a discussion and debates are welcomed. At the least, I hope that my posts allow people to look at certain issues in a different light, but it is important to me that people feel the blog is a safe place to express their ideas and post their thoughts.

9) How far do you plan to take your blog in that that it reveals a side of Muscat/Oman and its people that is not very well known?

There are many aspects of the Omani culture that foreigners find hard to understand. I like to provide my own interpretation of what goes on in the society and I base it on my own observations and readings. In my experience, many times people prefer that foreigners see our society from a narrow perspective, such as saying “dating is not allowed, and abaya’s are for showing modesty”. However, dating does happen in the society and many times abaya’s second purpose is fashion rather than modesty alone. Here, foreigners become confused and my role as an intellectual is to show this side of the culture rather than cover my face and be embarrassed that normal behavior exists in the society.

10) Do you have any ambitions for the blog?

Yes. I look forward to the day where my blog becomes a hub for discussing the different issues we face in the Omani culture.

11) Does it bother you that you have to be anonymous to tell it like it is?

Not at all. Being anonymous is exciting because it allows me to give my opinion and develop different ideas without having to worry that my opinions will be seen as the opinions of my entire family or friends. Being anonymous allows me to more fully express myself as an individual with my own ideas.

12) Does anyone know of your identity? Family, close friends?

Very few do.

13) What is their response?

They follow my blog, but rarely ever comment. I think it allows them to see the other side of me. Most choose to discuss “offline” the issues that I raise.

14) How does having this unlimited space affect your personality? For eg: Are you more interested in the goings-on of things so that you can have material for your blog? Are you more socially aware because you realize you can’t put up something that you don’t understand.

Since beginning the blog I have certainly become more outgoing and I pay closer attention to what happens around me. I think the advantage I have is that I lived outside of Oman for almost ten years. I was out of the culture, which in turn allowed me to question different behaviors and have a different view at my surroundings when I moved back.

I have to confess though that sometimes my views and experiences are limited to my environment. This does not make them less valid, but it might contradict with another fellow blogger’s experiences. For example, I talked about female circumcision in Oman, and how the act is more of a symbolic ritual that does not involve any sort of deformation to the female’s genitals. However, I came to know that in certain areas in Oman, deformation of female’s genitals is the common practice of female circumcision. We live in a diverse and varied country and I though I can only provide my own viewpoint I hope that in doing so I am able to hit on wider societal and cultural issues.

15) Do you write in Arabic as well?

I speak and write fluently in both English and Arabic, but at this time choose to write the blog only in English.