Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Ramadhan and Eid in Ibri, Oman

As you all know, I've been in Oman for the past 2 months studying Arabic - and I'm returning to the U.S. in about 2 weeks, inshaAllah. Generally speaking, I've had a fairly good time, and I know I'm going to miss it. I'm glad I got to spend all of Ramadhan and Eid here, and I've learned some fascinating things about the culture and society and people here.

Happy Birthday, Kashmala!

Anyone who knows me knows that I'm blessed with three precious niblings--two nephews and a niece. They're pieces of my heart, and the happiness and joy that have come to my world and to my life because of them have been such that I cannot describe them in words. I've tried many times and have failed. When my first nephew was a baby, I used to write love poems for him. I stopped as my feelings grew deeper and deeper for him. For Kashmala, I haven't been able to write anything at all. For the littlest one, same - nothing. They're so beautiful, they're so blessed, they're such a joy. They bring noor to every home they occupy, especially my parents', and without them, we might as well not exist.

May God grant these three little creatures full, healthy, and happy lives that are blessed with excitement (good excitement), love, and peace. May they all grow into beautiful people (revolutionaries) who will bring positive change into the lives and communities they come across. May they give back to this world in (positively) memorable ways. Aameen.

So it just occurred to me that I could actually write letters to these itty bitty creatures that they could actually read later on, especially when they face some hardship and need a reminder that they matter, that they are loved, that they are someone's life. Since it's Kashmala's birthday--and since I'm prolly just being biased because she lives with my family, so is closest to me physically--we'll start with her.

Dear Kashmala,

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

I did not like "And the Mountains Echoed" - too disappointed.

I started reading And the Mountains Echoed by the talented Khaled Hosseini over a month ago, and I just finished it yesterday. A good novel, a good book takes me less than four days to finish - this one took forever because I was not hooked to it. But I was also not going to abandon it in the middle. I still wanted to know what happens in the bigger, main story.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Musandam, Oman Photos - Tour through the Gulf of Oman

The second day of our vacation in Musandam, Oman, we had a 4-hour tour through the Gulf of Oman. Here are some pictures.

Friday, July 18, 2014

That moment in Musandam (Oman) when I jumped into the Gulf of Oman

The highlight of not just our time in Musandam but also of this whole summer was today, Friday, July 18th, when I, a new swimmer and not yet excellent, decided to jump off the boat into the Gulf of Oman.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Pictures from Musandam, Oman

I'm currently visiting Musandam in Oman, which required a 3-hour van and a 5-hour ferry ride. It's been so wonderful so far I feel like I'm in heaven, alhamdulillah! This place is so beautiful I wanna live here forever!

The hotel is beautiful, and the people are really nice. It's really cheap because it's new, so they're giving out great deals to guests. They even provide courtesy rides to and from the hotel to anywhere want around here, like restaurants, the port, etc.

I took a lot of pictures in my camera, but I unfortunately forgot my USB for the camera at home so cannot upload the pictures, BUT! I also took a few pictures in my phone, and here they are.


Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Today for iftar

Today for iftar, a local Omani friend of mine and someone at our institute - God bless him infinitely - told me his mom would like to send me some harees. So I had harees with my iftar. God bless generous people!! Also, she make the best harees ever, mashaAllah!

Then later, someone brought me some fruits for iftar. Said person has brought me iftar a couple of times before, but either I'm away from the apartment for the moment or am at host family's so never received it. This time,  I was home, and the person didn't know if I'd be home or not so just brought fruit and said I'll have real food on Saturday once we've returned from Musandam. How does a heart not smile at such kind gestures?!?! Beauty is real! Humanity is real! Indeed, Ramadhan kareem.

The last visit to the host family

Some pictures from our last visit to the host family.

Their farm

They said I could take as many as I want. God bless them!

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

I don't understand arrogance and abuse. And I'm glad I don't.

I wrote this about a week ago, but I've been waiting to calm down a little bit over this before I made it public. (Un)fortunately, though, I'm still as disturbed over this, and my experience here is actually taking an entirely different turn. Well, that started a couple of weeks ago once I became more aware of the treatment and situation of the migrant workers here as well as of the rampant racism and prejudice here (not at all to insinuate that these flaws exist only here and not in other countries, since they're also actively present and real where I'm from and live - but at least there, it's safe and comfortable and acceptable, at least in my experience, to talk about the problems we're facing there! Here, it's a different story). 

So this is what happened. But before I tell you, the *last* thing I'll tolerate right now is anyone's telling me, "But, but ... but, silly qrratugai, you can't take the example of one migrant worker and think it's the same everywhere in the country!" No, I know there are exceptions to everything, but in my opinion, this ONE person's experience is problem enough for me to pay attention to. I know there are good people out there, "good slave owners," but it's the bad ones I'm interested in and the bad ones I'm talking about. Nothing can justify it, and I won't tolerate anyone trying to justify it, either. I "get" it - I really do, I swear I do, but I reject it completely. And all it takes is to try to put yourself in that worker's/maid's (no, actually, that slave's) position and ask yourself why you happened to be the chosen one and she/he isn't. It's reached a point where I am actually now realizing that the primary reason I'm being respected and treated well here by some locals is generally not because I'm another human being, especially a human living away from my family and they want to treat me as family, but actually because I'm American, because I have American citizenship, because they assume I'm rich, because they expect I'm from a better socio-economic class than their servants/maids/slaves and that being "above" them makes me more deserving of the privileges they bestow upon me, that being in this position gives me the privilege of being served by their servants. Again, of course, this isn't all of the locals here; I know some of them do sincerely care about their servants, pay them on time, treat them well, buy them round-trip tickets home frequently to see their families, let them speak to their families on the phone regularly, and so on, and in that case, I do appreciate their generosity, but in the rest of the cases, I no longer do.

So here's what happened.

An above-average home of a migrant worker. 40 Omani riyals/mo.
Some days ago, a friend and I went to the house of a friend we've made here. For suhoor (the dawn meal you eat in order to begin your fast) and a little before that, we were at her neighbor's house. This neighbor, an Omani, has a South Asian maid. We'd smiled at this maid the few times we'd met her before that, so she really likes us. Then this time, we took the risk of actually talking to her, which made her so, so happy; she was all smiles, and she hugged me and my friend. It made my heart smile to see her that happy. God give her strength in the hellhole she lives in. After hugging us unstoppably, and thanking us infinitely and joyously, she started crying to us. Pointed to parts of her body where she gets beaten. Pointed to folks in the house who beat her, who include the "madam" (who's younger than me, by the way) and then the madam's 10-year old niece who lives with her (her sister is divorced, so her sisters daughter lives with the Madam), THE TEN YEAR OLD BEATS UP THIS WORKER, who's at least 40 years old!!!!!!!!!!! OH MY GOD!!!  IN WHAT WORLD IS THIS ACCEPTABLE?!?!?! She later then showed us pictures of her children after she told me I look like her daughter and asked me to live in that house. I was like I'll go crazy knowing you're being abused and there's nothing I can do about it. But didn't say this because she doesn't know Arabic or English and I don't know her language. She said her mother has passed away, may she rest in peace, and when she was dying, the family wouldn't let her speak to her own mother, who had been sick for some time as well, and the worker was still not allowed to speak with her. She said her daughter calls her but the family won't let her talk to her. She said she gets fed nothing and has no clothes. (And now you can imagine why we wanted to throw up while eating the food, the infinite fruits and rice and meat that this same worker had just served us). They don't give her ANYTHING and beat her up all the time. She cried again. I was scared for her because I feared that if the family sees her talking to us, they'll find another excuse to abuse her. Fortunately, she said she's leaving in I wanna say 15 days? She was really happy when she'd show us those fingers. She also said something that appeared to mean, "They punish me by not letting me sleep or eat for three days." The family later told us, when they were shitting about how useless she is to them, that "We're sending her back this Ramadhan and getting a new, younger, more educated girl. Someone who'll take care of our kids better" or something. Indonesians maids aren't allowed anymore because, rumor has it according to some Omanis I've spoken to about this issue, "Indonesians have no manners and no feelings and they kill our children." 

The same home as the above picture
 Since we don't share a mutual language, you might wonder how we communicated then and how I got all of this out of our time with her. Because we used signals mostly and she understands certain words of one of the languages I know and was speaking with her.

Now, after thinking more seriously about the status of foreigners here, especially of the migrant workers/slaves, I no longer even appreciate the food offered to these same people during Ramadhan. Because, while that's fantastic that they're fed well at least a month of the year, their reasons aren't quite something I can respect, and it all just seems to be a show, a shallow act to hide the terrible lack of humanity of the same people they're supposedly feeding because of the blessings of Ramadhan.  

I don't know in what world such arrogance can be acceptable. I don't know how poor, how weak, how ruthless a person has to be to treat another human this way. I don't understand arrogance and abuse, and I'm glad I don't.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

More good Iftar food

I'm sorry if this sounds arrogant and all, but I really don't mean to imply at all that I'm more well-fed than anyone else out there.  I understand that more people in this world go hungry daily and many starve to death, and this isn't fair to anyone at all - but I suspect that  those who have access to internet are most probably not suffering from a lack of food. Still, my well wishes to everyone out there!

Alhamdulillah for all this food and these opportunities to try out iftar with generous local Omanis.

It's almost iftar time here, and I'm starving, so. A couple of days ago, I was invited for iftar to a friend's house, and I just might have had the best harees (traditional popular Omani dish) yet! We also had a great pasta dish and lots of halawiyaat (sweets). As is the tradition here, we went over to visit the family's relatives after iftar, and thank God for big families - I got to talk a lot and meet more wonderful people AND!!! I got to feel like I was fascinating enough for children to sit around me and marvel at my existence. Bless. Hamdallah for good humans, hamdallah for Ramadhan.
Before iftar, we were shown around the house and because of my obsession with houses, especially Omani houses, I was granted permission to take photos and post them on my blog. So here. Foods in the end.

Friday, July 11, 2014

My Omani host family's farm

All right - we finally now talk about my host family's farm (animal and plant). 

So we ate a boosboosa and headed out to tour the huge farm. I'm not gonna label all of the photos below because some of them, I don't remember what they are anymore. (I know, I should post pictures like these almost as soon as I take them. InshaAllah next time.) But they have the following in plants:

grapes, grapefruit (or something like it that's big and green but red on the inside), mangoes, bananas, apples; olives, mustard, coriander, other spices; various flowers; plenty of date trees (they're called nakheel in Arabic); figs, eggplants, okra, red and green pepper, lemons and limes. Other plants that I don't remember anymore.

For animals, they have goats, sheep, cows, chicken. 

MashaAllah 'alaihim. God preserve them, their wealth, and their farms - aameen.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

That engagement ceremony I went to in Ibri, Oman

Okay, so I promised y'all I'll write about that engagement party/ceremony I attended a few weekends ago. Now here I am finally fulfilling that promise.

BUT! Honestly, there's not much to tell or show since pictures weren't allowed (only an official photographer and some close family members were allowed to take pics). I'll discus the reasons for this below.

I hope I haven't left out anything important, but I'll add it later on if I remember something essential.

The visit to an Omani farm (animals and plants)

Some weeks ago, we visited the family farm of an Omani family here. As you've probably figured from my previous blog posts, most families here seem to have farms - animal and plant. I'll share photos of my host family's farm soon as well. 

It's been a long time since I took these photos, though, so I don't remember the names of most of some of the plants, but we can look them up if need be, ei!

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

The trip to a falaj (stream) and Bat, Oman

A few Saturdays ago, we visited a UNESCO heritage site called Bat (بات) here in Oman. The same day, we also visited a falaj (a stream used for irrigation purposes) in a village called Zahir al-Fawaris (قرية ظاهر الفوارس). Oman is crazy hot, as you know, so it's quite refreshing to come across a small, even half empty, body of water and some greenery. As tends to happen to me wherever I go, I fell in the water. *Insert heart icon here.* But I didn't get hurt, so no worries. The water's source is the mountain nearby, and where it meets the mountain is where it's the cleanest, so people use that water as drinking water. I filled up a couple of water bottles there. After a little bit, my tummy wasn't feeling good so I'm not sure that was a good idea, BUT I didn't get sick or anything. It was prolly in my head because I was fearing it might happen, hah.

Then we went to a family farm (pictures of that another time - and, yes, I remember that I still owe y'all pictures of my host family's farm). We had a wonderful huge meal at the family whose farm we visited (God reward them for their kindness and hospitality, aameen!) and afterwards, we went to Bat. I didn't take many pics in Bat because it's pretty much the same view all throughout, but a couple of things about Bat: It's a necropolis - that is, a huge and ancient, historical cemetery. The way these tombs are built reveals much about the funeral practices (and the evolution of those practices) of the people who lived in the Omani peninsula during the Bronze Age (3000 BCE). Bat is the most complete known site of the time period. In 1988, it became the second site to be included in the World Heritage list.

I'm going to paste from about the different tombs from different time periods in Bat:
"In the southern part, the site is a collection of graves built on the lines of those found in Um AnNar, while in the northern part, the graves look like beehives and date back to the third millennium BC. The architecture is similar to the tombs built in the Hafit period. Another cemetery containing 100 tombs built of stone was also discovered, where the evolution from the beehive style to cemeteries built during Um AnNar period is apparent. While the beehive cemetery contained between two to five tombs, Um AnNar cemeteries were mass graves. A similar cemetery of this style was discovered containing 30 burial chambers. The historic significance of the Bat site is that it is located at the crossroads of an ancient trade route. Caravans loaded with goods heading to other nearby destinations passed through Bat. Included with the Bat settlement in the World Heritage List are two other sites: Al Khutum “Al Wahrah” and Wadi Al Ayn Tombs."
Feel free to google it up for more information and for better pictures and all; here's a good start - a video. It can give you goose bumps, provided you visit in a non-hot time of the day. We were there between, I don't know, say, 2:30pm and 4? The sun is cruel that time of the day, so.

Below, I'll first show photos of the falaj and then of Bat.

The Falaj

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Iftar and cooking with another generous Omani family

Yesterday,  Sunday, July 7th, we were invited to the institute director's sister's house for iftar (fast-breaking) - which is more than just breaking the fast, being a whole exciting process, you know. We were taught how to make some delicious Omani appetizers/snacks slash iftar stuff: fataayers, little pizza stuff, sandwiches, and samosas (samboosas in Arabic), and so on. We made them together and then we ate them all afterwards along with a traditional Omani meal that included Omani bread (khubz Omani). Khubz Omani (youtube video)  is really, really thin. Hold on, I show you pics in a second. But let's first take a moment to send some well wishes to this family and to our institute director for providing us with this opportunity. They're a beautiful family, and may God grant them all good health, peace, and much happiness, aameen. Anyone with a heart as big as theirs deserves nothing but the infinite blessings of God. 
Now the pics.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

What "nikah" actually means in Arabic

One of my next blog posts is going to be a description of the engagement party that I went to two weekends ago in Ibri, Oman, but for now, let me just tell you a funny thing that happened recently.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Iftar at the mosque and a visit to a wonderful family

Yesterday, Wednesday, July 2, 2014 was a beautiful, beautiful day! Alhamdulillah for good people and for generosity and for Ramadhan and for Oman and for Muslims and for fasting and for all other goodnesses out there!

You know how I told you guys that there are tents set up by mosques in Oman during Ramadhan where anyone but especially travelers, the poor, and people who live away from families can break their fast and eat a beautiful meal with others? (And mosques are all over; people should be able to walk to one conveniently. This is the case with all Muslim countries, I want to say.) And then it turned out that there were no women in the tents but only men, and so I was disappointed and all? Yeah, well, I was told that iftar (the fast-breaking meal) is served for women inside the mosque, so I decided to try it.  While I do appreciate free food and all, the one thing I go for and am seeking here is a community. I don't prefer eating alone in general but especially the iftar meal. I really prefer that it be with others. More blessings that way, more fun that way. I love people and I love talking to people, and considering how funny being a foreigner is especially around Omanis, I'm always looking to meet more Omanis. I was even recently complaining to CLS that there aren't enough opportunities for the girls at CLS to meet and interact with local Omani women. All this time, I thought women don't go to the mosque here except in Ramadhan (THAT IS WHAT OMANIS TOLD ME!), so I didn't even bother visiting it! It's the Sultan Qaboos mosque, the largest in Ibri, although the actual Sultan Qaboos mosque is even bigger and grander and more beautiful and is located in Muscat, Oman's capital. We're going to Muscat today in a couple of hours, inshaAllah, and we'll visit the mosque and I'll share pics on my blog then.

Anyway, so I wish I'd gone to the mosque this past month before Ramadhan began and met more Omani people that way! Such a beautiful thing, really.

Importantly, though, before I tell you the story of how I met this non-Omani Muslim woman.

The food provided at the tents is donated by local Omanis/Muslims for Ramadhan.
The food provided at the mosque in Ramdhan is from the government. Anyone and everyone is welcome to eat it. Doesn't this just melt your heart?! God bless these people! I wish all goodness upon Oman.

Now, the story ...

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Iftar (fast-breaking) with a local Omani family

Omanis continue to impress me with their unlimited generosity--and Omani women's cooking skills (OH MY GOD! MashaAllah alaihinna). Today, for iftar (fast-breaking), I went to the house of a family I have never met or visited before, but the woman who gave me and my friend a ride to her house turned out to be our institute director's sister. There was SO much food, SO much kindness, and SO much fun! After iftar, we talked and all, and then after taraweeh prayers (the long, voluntary prayers during the night prayer, performed only in Ramdhan) were finished at the mosque, several neighbors (women only) came over to visit - an Omani (commonly Muslim) tradition during Ramadhan where neighbors and relatives visit each other and eat some more. And talk loads, too. Today was a happy, happy day, hamdallah! Oman's being so good to me right now.

Pictures below.

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