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Posts Tagged ‘Oman’

Female Circumcision in Oman

Female circumcision in the Gulf area is widely practiced, maybe not as popular anymore, but it has been practiced for centuries. Now, talking about this subject freely might have some stigma to it, and many expats wonder about it but are too polite to ask.

To make it clear, female circumcision in the Gulf is not the same as that practiced in some African regions where women’s external parts are all cut off leaving small openings. Also, it is neither required nor sought after in Islamic teachings. Female circumcision is a cultural aspect of the Middle East. When I asked some relatives about circumcision a few years ago, the explanation was that we live in a very hot weather climate, and the Arabic women usually have external vaginal parts that are larger than the normal size. The combination of hot weather, no underwear, and the large sizes made women uncomfortable or rather (frankly) aroused.

This explanation may sound naïve and unrealistic to many of you, but it is a valid reason to many here. Now, what is female circumcision in Oman and the Gulf region? As far as I know, circumcision varies from cutting parts of the clitoris to making a small cut that makes no impact (I guess the sight of bleeding = purification). I do not believe that there is a certain cultural event or a ritual that happens during the circumcision. Women just call a known lady to their houses when men are absent. She makes the cut, gets paid, and leaves.

Now, is female circumcision wrong? Yes, and the younger the generation gets, the more they are aware of the repercussions. The idea that circulates now-a-days is that female circumcision is the result of females’ inability to enjoy sexual activities with partners. Many mothers these days refuse to circumcise their daughters.

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Since I held my job in Oman I have been having a hard time adjusting to the male-female boundaries and relationship at work. Yesterday, I complained to one of my male relatives (who is more open than others) about a male co-worker who always finds a way to be inappropriate.

After listening to my complaint, my relative concluded that it was my fault. I am not strict enough with my co-worker. Though I view my relationship with him as formal and sometimes casual, apparently I must never assume that he should always respect me. Here, women have to constantly demand respect and never be lenient. Not once because that one time would be the key to inappropriate conversations.

I told my relative: “Why do women always have to protect themselves from inappropriate male behavior? Why can’t men assume that they have to respect women up front, instead of women constantly having to prove themselves worthy of respect?!” Then, I told him that this was not the experience I had in the US, well, the reply I got was harsh: “This is the culture you live in and you have to adopt a new attitude if you want to live in it. If you don’t like it then move to another country that fits your culture!”… ouch!

The problem I am facing is that I do not want to be that girl that is constantly thinking about what precautions I have to take to not cause the opposite sex to disrespect me. I want to be respected. Period. This culture surrounds the male’s animal instinct. Women have to build walls and walls just to gain respect. Those walls have to always be maintained because a woman can never fully earn respect. It is an ongoing process that never ends.

Tired!

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Its been a while since I blogged about stuff here in Oman, but there has been some certain things that I see that annoy the hell out of me. As you see from the title, its about people showing off their slaves in Oman…Yes, slavery is abolished.. but apparently this tradition is still alive and well..

A few weeks ago I went to an engagement party “Malka” for someone in the family. The male was a cousin of mine and we were going to see his bride to be. So, we walk in to the living room, sit down.. and I see all these older black women. At first, I thought they were part of their family. I think I was hopeful or being wishful that these people intermarry with Omanis of various ethnic background. Well, I was wrong.

There were many of of these women sitting, then they started serving us food. Going around to give us coffee and sweets. I didn’t think much of it then.

On the way back home, I asked a relative of mine if those women were their relatives, and the answer was “NO!”. They were their “khedaam”, meaning slaves. “Huh,” I said, “we don’t have khedaam in Oman!”, well.. apparently, they were their slaves at one point in time, before slavery was abolished. The “bride to be” family apparently used to own many slaves and whenever they have an occasion they invite their ex-slaves to come and serve the guests. They do pay them though, but the idea was to show off how many slaves they had in order to impress us.

Some people do that in many occasions, such as funerals, weddings, eids, and large gatherings. It gives them a sense of power and importance because back in the day, you only had slaves if you were wealthy and an important person within your tribe.


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Men Behind Walls

Today I would like to talk about the roles of men in our society. Please note that this is not meant to generalize, though I think it is true for the majority of people here.

I had a conversation with a co-worker a few days ago about his daily life. He works in Muscat but lives in the inner parts of Oman. The conversation went as follows:

“Do you cook?” he asked, “Yes, sometimes” I replied, and in an attempt to bring up a discussion I asked, “Why? Do you?”.

“Nooo!” he replied with a tone of disbelief as if I have hurt his honor. Knowing him, I kind of expected it and I continued, “Why not? There is nothing shameful in cooking”. “But I am a MAN!, I should never touch a pan!”… huh, If cooking is shameful, then is starving honorable?.. just wondering

Then, he went on to describe how things go with him once he arrives his village, “Once I enter my house, I put my bag of dirty clothes on the side and sit in the living room. A few minutes later, my lunch arrives. Of course my mom or my sister brings it to me. Then, I sleep. I barely enter our kitchen, and even if I needed to drink, they would bring it to me. At the end of the weekend, I find my clothes cleaned and ironed, ready for me to take back to Muscat”…. Thinking while not being shocked, that hardly makes you a man!

“Now what you are saying is that you are a man because you do nothing and let the women in your house serve you?” I replied.

“No, its not because I do nothing, but women are supposed to serve men. That is their duty. The Quran says ‘Men are in charge of women’ (Surat al-Nisa, 34).” He continued.

“That does not mean men are above women!, and it certainly doesn’t mean that women are servants to men!”

Here, the phrase ‘Men are in charge of women’, is widely used in the Gulf area. In our local Arabic, the term “in charge” has changed to mean that men are above women. Now, if we look at the whole verse concerning the “in charge” part, the Quran says: “Men are in charge of women, because Allah hath made the one of them to excel the other, and because they spend of their property (for the support of women). So good women are the obedient, guarding in secret that which Allah hath guarded.”

Now this makes me wonder. Women, in many times, work and too spend part of their salary (sometimes all of it) on their household needs. So, in another light, and may I dare to say this: men being in charge of women is somewhat not needed as much with those that work and are independent.

There are many men that would not marry a non-working female because their income alone is not enough. Then, they expect their wives to work (same hours as they do) and run back home to cook, clean, and look after the kids. On top of that, if the wife is not looking after herself – as in being attractive– then she is not a good wife!

So, my question is… in this society, where does the men’s role fall behind the walls of houses?

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After posting an article on dating in Oman, and after reading Dhofari Gucci post on “Internet Dating“, I wanted to write a more comprehensive review over the situation.

What I will try to do here is not to state whether dating is good or bad, but to tackle the issue from a more objective point of view rather than a judgmental one.

There are a couple of points to consider here:

First: Past vs. Present
The difference between the past and the present is that in the past, women would get married at the age of 14 (and above) and men would get married at 17 (and above). The act of marrying your children off was such a sacred act that very few girls would reach the age of 16 without having a fiancee.
Today, you have kids from both sexes that are between the ages of 15 to 25 (and above) that are unmarried for family, educational, and financial reasons. So, the issue is.. if people reach their prime in sexual needs at the age of 18, where would you put all their sexual frustrations? If talking to a guy, dating, and even masturbation is a taboo… where does all their sexual needs (which are normal human needs) go?

I don’t blame girls that believe guys who tell them over the chat room or the phone that they are in love. These girls are in desperate need to fulfill their emotional desires, and the guys are in desperate need to fulfill their sexual desires (or vice versa).

Also, the big difference between the past and the present is the sensitive situation women are put in. In the past, if a woman gets married and it doesn’t work out, then its okay. She gets divorced and after a few months, she is married again. Now, women are in a difficult situation. She is labeled a “divorcee”, secluded from society, and people looked down on her. A woman tries her best to chose that one person who will be good to her for the rest of her life. Therefore, looking for a suitable partner becomes her responsibility too. Women prefer to know their partners at some extent before marrying them.

Second: Marriage Obstacles
There are many women and men that desire to get married, but they are faced with obstacles that premarital sex is soo much easier to do than get married. This is one of those serious situations we are facing here in Oman. Marriage sometimes is not delayed for financial reasons. Sometimes the guy “is not good enough” for the family. His heritage, his lineage, or his level of education does not meet the parent’s requirements no matter how much the girl feels about the guy.

We don’t live in a culture where someone is only valued based upon their morals and good intentions. No. Some people would say, “you can’t blame the parents for wanting the best for their kids”, well.. my response is “Can you blame the kids for wanting to fulfill their needs?”.  How many guys and girls have fought to be together but all tries were in vain? Who are we to judge them later on for ending up dating and having premarital sex?

Third: media
Dhofari Gucci mentioned the media’s influence over dating in Oman. It is very true that it feeds young adults with sexual imagery. However, does the problem lie on the media only?
If you look around Oman, and the Gulf for that matter then tell me.. what do young adults do? What other options do they have? Where can they direct their energy other than it being suppressed into massive sexual desires?

The activities that happen in Muscat are what? Girls walking around the Shatii or driving their cars over and over again at the Qurum area along with the guys. (if you can see the headlights flashing and hear the honks from time to time, it means.. helooo there! or check me out!). If playing sports is somewhat seen as a waste of time for girls and sometimes as a taboo so that they do not injure their hymens. I mean, not all young people are interested in going to Quran lessons (with all respect), or participating in poetry events.

My final conclusion:

When I was in college in the US, I used to have friends that were conservative protestants. They also believed that premarital sex  and inappropriate male to female behavior was unacceptable. However, you might wonder, how were these young adults able to avoid acting upon their desires in a society that not only it does not condemn it, but encourages it in many instances. Well, these kids did a hell lot of community work. Volunteering and participating in group activities as much as they can. They also married young: around the age of 22.

However, they also don’t ban girls and guys from having friends of the opposite sex. I think this teaches a very valuable lesson, that you can look at the opposite sex as just a friend with no sexual connotations.

To be honest, here.. many of the men and women that are unmarried (even married in some instances) are seen as potential sexual partners.

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Dating scenes in Oman

Many wonder about the dating scenes in Oman between our younger generation. Well, about 60% of the dating happens in Universities and Colleges! Many of the students that attend these colleges come from conservative families. However, in any case, there is a pattern that you will notice happening on the dating scene.

Guys:

Some guys come to the college and have never seen uncovered girls (not wearing face cover, or the head scarf). Being sexually suppressed, they start to spot a potential victim. The whole thing begins with them trying to be nice and funny (sometimes the scene is just sad! But some girls still manage to giggle!). After they get the signs of OKAY, which are usually indicated through smiles and giggles, they start by asking help in assignments. Then, the guy starts telling the girl that she is different the rest and that he feels sooooooo comfortable around her…. Etc (you get the point).

Girls:

Well, I must say that girl’s transformation is the most predictable of all. A girl comes to college and finds many boys that she is not used to seeing. Coming from a conservative family, she “rejects” the idea of even talking to a guy. She gives her “stares” of disapproval and gossips with her “similar mentality” friends about those “sluts” that talk with guys. Now, of course these girls would brag about how they are better than those “sluts” and that they are the “good apples” that are left. After the first month, these girls will find that they cannot help but smile whenever guys try to be funny.

Then, the transformation begins… you start seeing signs of make up on their faces. The head scarf becomes smaller (not bellow the chest). The abaya’s become tighter. After another month, the head scarf becomes loose and the silky (straightened) hair starts to show. All of this includes the smiles and giggles they have been sending towards the guys. Then, girls starts having that special someone in their lives that they talk to every night. Ohh, and yes, these are the girls that start with wearing clothes under their abayas and end up with undergarments under it only!

So here is the dating scene:

In a college, the girl and the boy look for a place that they “think” is invisible to everyone else. So, they might chose the library and go behind the book shelves. If the library is quite, you will be able to hear the giggles. Otherwise, that “invisible” place in not so… invisible. The guy might start touching the girl on her hand, then as the relationship advances, the more touching occurs. Then, all signs of compassion and love between the two appear in public. She leans on him, puts her arms around him.. etc. The difference is, it is not always love and compassion. Guys in this country like to brag about “how many” girls they have. They usually have more than one!

Then, as any relationship, things start to advance. Girls start attending college even when they don’t have classes (parents think they are studying very hard.. well.. they are working hard on something!). However, they are picked up from college by their guys. God knows where they go, but I’m guessing they just stay in the car and the guy gets some action. Once they are done, they guy drops the girl back at school.

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Alright, a friend of mine that works at a private college gave me this picture. What you see here is an example of the cheating habit students have in Oman. These here are called “Barasheem”. Students take their teacher’s notes and copy them in a 10% scale. What they get are these small prints of the notes. I have no idea how they use them, but my friend tells me it is almost a daily thing, so I guess it works great for them.

Barasheem: Students preparing to cheat for an exam at an Omani college

Barasheem: Students preparing to cheat for an exam at an Omani college

Cheating is a common problem within the Omani educational system. It is common throughout the whole Gulf region. Students (mainly males) cheat their way through school and college – and they wonder why no one wants to hire them! – I mean, what a waste!

Students spend more time trying to find out ways to cheat than anything else. They cheat through phones, watches with tiny screens, tiny papers, writing on their knees..etc. I remember when I was in high school and attending my final exams. There were guys honking on their cars outside our classes… honk honk (question 2) *silence*  honk honk honk (answer c)… honk honk honk (question 3) *silence* honk (answer a)

If you wonder how they got the answers (supposedly, no one can get the questions before the exam starts), well, they get it once the exam starts.. they go to their tutors, get the answers.. and spread them around!

The problem starts in school. There are no harsh measures for those who cheat! In school exams, some students discuss questions with each other and open their books while one teacher helps them out and other.. well, guards the door!

As some one told me one day…

No one studies, we cheat in exams and if we can’t do copy/paste for our papers then we pay some Indians 30 rials to write them for us!

Disappointing!

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