Saturday, 18 October 2014

Imti and Jebel al-Akhdhar

On the last day of the Eid holiday we went out to Imti, a small town in al-Batinah province.  The census data I can find says Imti had a population of 72 in 2010, but it has to be more that that.   My friends pointed out the houses of people they were related to - quite a few.  We walked around the house and their uncle showed us his fruit trees - banana, papaya, lemon, some citrus and a Malaysian fruit I couldn't find a name for in English, the famous Khalas date palm with dates spread out drying in the sun.  There were pigeons in a cage, and a honeycomb swarming with bees in the Malaysian fruit tree.  We sat inside and visited, and ate way too much fruit and meat and rice.  These friends always give me a separate plate and a spoon and eat together from the main platter with their fingers - it's kind, but I'm not sure why they do it.  
We had a brief nap and my friends woke me up - they were going to Jebel al-Akhdar (the Green Mountain), did I want to come.  So seven adults squeezed into a small SUV meant to seat four (a few people sat on the floor between the back seat and the hatch) and set off up the mountain.  My friend's uncle was driving way too fast and passing on the oncoming lane on switchback turns where you couldn't see if anyone was coming.  People kept telling me about terrible accidents that had happened on that road and I spent the whole trip clutching my purse and praying and peering over the driver's shoulder.  Then we went to the Jebel Akhdar Hospital, which was small and nearly empty (there were six patients listed on the whiteboard at the nursing station) to visit the uncle's granddaughter who had been in hospital for three days with a respiratory infection.  I always feel awkward visiting people I don't know when they're sick, but they didn't seem to mind strangers standing around. 
Solanum spp. (devil's apple or apple of Sodom) growing in the hospital parking lot.  It looks a lot like a tomato and it's related to the tomato, but it's quite poisonous.
There were also datura spp. growing in the parking lot.  Also poisonous.
I thought the hospital parking lot would be all I saw of Jebel Akhdar, but after the hospital we went to Wadi Bani Habib.  The parking lot was full of trucks with people selling pomegranates off the tailgates.  

A boy saw me taking pictures of the pomegranates and tossed me two and wouldn't let me pay him.  I walked down the stairs in the wadi a ways and took some pictures of the old village, but there wasn't time to go all the way down into the wadi and then back the other side to the village.  I would have liked to see the houses up close, but the path would have been too steep and long for me to make it anyhow.

Jebel Akhdar was cold and had trees, just like people said it did, although they were scrubby little ones.  I didn't get a close enough look at the trees to know what they were.

We were planning to drive back then, but an aunt of the girl who was in hospital phoned my friend's uncle and insisted we visit, so we went to see her.  The yards in her neighbourhood were crowded with pomegranate trees laden with huge fruit, I had never seen so many.

I think I took this at their uncle's house in Imti.  The pomegranates in Jebel Akhdar were larger and rosier.

We ate tons of fresh pomegranates and oranges and coffee, everyone sharing three cups and rinsing them in the fingerbowl between turns.  By that time it was nearly seven pm and everyone had to work tomorrow, but the lady wanted us to stay for dinner.  She made Eid kabobs, and flatbread with potato curry and hummus and cheese and olives.  I felt awkward not doing anything because she had about eight small children to look after, and she'd gone to a lot of work to make that much food, but she was glad to have guests.  We passed the smallest baby around to keep her entertained, and she was so cute.  The girl who was in hospital's father signed her out of hospital that night against doctor's orders, so her aunt would have less kids to take care of at least, because she had been taking care of her sister's kids while her sister stayed with her daughter who was in hospital.

And then we went back down the mountain in the dark - their uncle didn't drive as fast that time, and went around the police checkpoint so they wouldn't have to notice how many people he had in the car.  His nephews run the checkpoint so he could do that, but I didn't intially know that and was kind of scared.  Going around checkpoints is a really bad idea in most places I've lived. 

When we got back to Imti, the men were just being served supper, and we had more coffee and fruit and talk while we waited for them.  And then the long drive back to Muscat, where my room was hot and stuffy and empty and I lay awake for a long time. 

I didn't get much sleep, but I did have a nap on my office floor this morning.  I wore men's one-riyal crocs to work - I only realised I was still wearing them when I got in, oops. But the boss isn't in today, but I come in early and leave late and we spend all day in the office with the door locked, so hardly anyone will notice.

Monday, 13 October 2014

Reading: October 2014

You Don’t Have To Be Pretty – On YA Fiction And Beauty As A Priority | The Belle Jar
The problem is that when we promote this idea that all women are beautiful, what we are really doing is emphasizing that it is important for women to be physically attractive. We are telling girls that, as females, the way that they look is a huge part of who they are – that we expect prettiness from them, and that we expect them to want it. Even if we don’t mean to, we are still attaching a high value to physical appearance. And that’s messed up. [...]
We never say that all men deserve to feel beautiful. We never say that each man is beautiful in his own way. We don’t have huge campaigns aimed at young boys trying to convince them that they’re attractive, probably because we very rarely correlate a man’s worth with his appearance. The problem is that a woman’s value in this world is still very much attached to her appearance, and telling her that she should or deserves to feel beautiful does more to promote that than negate it. Telling women that they “deserve” to feel pretty plays right in to the idea that prettiness should be important to them.

Teju Cole on "First World Problems", quoted here:
"I don’t like this expression "First World problems." It is false and it is condescending. Yes, Nigerians struggle with floods or infant mortality. But these same Nigerians also deal with mundane and seemingly luxurious hassles. Connectivity issues on your BlackBerry, cost of car repair, how to sync your iPad, what brand of noodles to buy: Third World problems. All the silly stuff of life doesn’t disappear just because you’re black and live in a poorer country. People in the richer nations need a more robust sense of the lives being lived in the darker nations. Here’s a First World problem: the inability to see that others are as fully complex and as keen on technology and pleasure as you are.
"One event that illustrated the gap between the Africa of conjecture and the real Africa was the BlackBerry outage of a few weeks ago. Who would have thought Research In Motion’s technical issues would cause so much annoyance and inconvenience in a place like Lagos? But of course it did, because people don’t wake up with “poor African” pasted on their foreheads. They live as citizens of the modern world. None of this is to deny the existence of social stratification and elite structures here. There are lifestyles of the rich and famous, sure. But the interesting thing about modern technology is how socially mobile it is—quite literally. Everyone in Lagos has a phone.”

Edward Said, "Impossible Histories: Why the Many Islams Cannot be Simplified," Harper's, July 2002 (I love Edward Said's snark: "Samuel Huntington's vastly overrated article on the clash of civilizations", "its belligerent (and dishearteningly ignorant) thesis", "an energetically self-repeating and self-winding British academic".  I wish I could be that salty in my day job writing and get away with it.)  Said rakes Bernard Lewis' ridiculous Clash of Civilizations over the coals:
 For the book is in fact an intellectual and moral disaster, the terribly faded rasp of a pretentious academic voice, completely removed from any direct experience of Islam, rehashing and recycling tired Orientalist half (or less than half) truths. Remember that Lewis claims to be discussing all of "Islam," not just the mad militants of Afghanistan or Egypt or Iran. All of Islam. He tries to argue that it all went "wrong," as if the whole thing—people, languages, cultures—could really be pronounced upon categorically by a godlike creature who seems never to have experienced a single living human Muslim (except for a small handful of Turkish authors), as if history were a simple matter of right as defined by power, or wrong, by not having it. One can almost hear him saying, over a gin and tonic, "You know, old chap, those wogs never really got it right, did they?"
But it's really worse than that. With few exceptions, all of Lewis's footnotes and concrete sources (that is, on the rare occasion when he actually refers to something concrete that one could look up and read for oneself) are Turkish. All of them, except for a smattering of Arabic and European sources. How this allows him to imply that his descriptions have relevance, for instance, to all twenty-plus Arab countries, or to Indonesia or Pakistan or Morocco, or to the 30 million Chinese Muslims, all of them integral parts of Islam, is never discussed; and indeed, Lewis never mentions these groups as he bangs on about Islam's tendency to do this, that, or the other, backed by a tiny group of Turkish sources.

Sunday, 12 October 2014

Eid day 3: Nekhl

On the third day of Eid I went with the same friends out to their other relatives in Nekhl.  We ate more mishakeek (I am lucky enough to be tired of meat now.  I've mostly been eating fruit the rest of Eid vacation), had a nap (or tried to.  The boys were setting off firecrackers right outside the room where all the aunts were sleeping.  It's weird thinking of myself as one of the aunts, but I'm thirty in a week), and then walked down to Nakhal Fort, which was open and admission was free that day.  Some teenage boys employed by the fort (I think by the Ministry of Heritage or Tourism) told us about the rooms where they were stationed, and what they had been used for.  They seemed proud and excited to have the job.

There was a group of young men yelling at each other - one of them was wearing a cheap bisht and a really fake beard and leaning on a walking stick, which seemed odd because he might have been twenty - but I realised they were reciting lines and not actually angry.  It was a short play about a group of men going to the qadi (the one with the fake beard) in the fort to settle a disagreement.

Looking out over the irrigated valley.

Ladder up to the top of the astronomy tower, which reminds me of Harry Potter.

The view through one of the barred windows.  Some of the windows were unbarred and at floor-level, which made me nervous for all the little kids running around.

Old women making and selling crafts.  There were also old men making and selling palm baskets and one throwing clay pots on a wheel, but I was too shy to ask to photograph them.

The Eid market, mostly selling toys for kids.  The men in white standing in a circle were getting ready to do a sword dance.

Thursday, 9 October 2014

Eid day 2: Sama'il

The first day of Eid I was alone, but the second day I went out to Sama'il with some friends who have relatives there.  It was fixing to rain, which I haven't seen in nearly a year.  Probably since the last time I was in Sama'il.  It doesn't rain much in Muscat.

It's not all as bleak as these pictures, since it rains a lot.  It's just that the green irrigated areas are off in the distance in another direction and these shots are of a dry river bed, which doesn't get the chance to grow much.

We had a nice time visiting, I explained why I wasn't praying traveller's prayers.  Ibadhis pray them when 18 km from home, but Shafi'is have to be 80 km from home.  People here think I should just adopt the Ibadhi ruling or become Ibadhi to take advantage of the ruling, but I like the Imam ash-Shafi'i too much and so I stay. (I just don't want to switch madhhabs and suddenly have no idea what any of the rules are).  We ate too much halwa and drank a lot of qahwa.  Being over-caffeinated and high on sugar is an Eid tradition.

I'm told that Oman's oldest masjid is in Sama'il, but I've never seen it.  My friend's family don't seem to know which one I mean, but they say that there's an old masjid near their daughter's house, so maybe that's the one.

Saturday, 4 October 2014

Eid al Adha

I've had two groups of Eidiyya trick or treaters today, the first around seven thirty in the morning, a pair of girls in their Eid clothes and makeup, the second a group of four boys in red and green trimmed thobes with fake guns.  The first time I panicked because I had been sleeping and I thought they wanted candy and I didn't have any candy and then I thought the girl was saying hediyya and I didn't have any presents to give them.  The second time I didn't have enough baisa to give all of them.  I hope I don't get any more, because I'm all out of baisa.

I am that person in all those tumblr posts who is spending Eid alone, but I don't want to be pitied.  I had ice cream and coffee for breakfast after sleeping in.

Pictures of the 1907 Hajj (from the Guardian)

Mount Arafat
Paradise of al Ma'ala

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Wreck of the Amstelveen

In 1763, the VOC (Dutch East India Company) ship Amstelveen was headed from Batavia in the Dutch East Indies (now Jakarta, Indonesia) for Kharj, Iran with a load of mainly sugar and spices when she wrecked off the coast of Oman.  From the Cultural Heritage website:
On the 5th of August [the Amstelveen] sailed near Ras Madrakah (Cape Mataraca), on the South East coast of Oman. In the evening, as the darkness was setting in and hampered by the foggy conditions, the ship came too close to the coast and ran aground. Due to the very high and powerful waves crashing on and breaking over the ship, she capsized and broke into pieces and sank. On board were 105 men of which 75 of them drowned. Only 30 crewmen reached the shore alive.

DrKlaas Doornbos, a retired professor of education and friend of the Dutchman who discovered Eyks' logbook concerning the Amstelveen in an antique market in Southern France in 1997, has written a book about the wreck of the Amstelveen and the subsequent trek across Oman by the survivors,  titled Desert Survival in Oman, 1763: The fate of the Amstelveen and thirty castaways on the South Coast of Arabia.  It's set to be published in English and Dutch by Amsterdam University Press in October 2014, but from the news reports it looks like publishing has been scheduled for some years and has not yet happened.

Doornbos explained in The Week in 2012:

“I am not a professional maritime historian or a cartographer; I am a retired professor. But I was asked to solve the problem of the wreckage. The log that was found was useful, but I couldn’t solve it solely based on that. I used Google Earth and looking at the topography and the map I was able to determine the area where the ship wrecked. We still don’t know the exact location of the wreck because there was no evidence.

The ship was shattered and, I suppose, pillaged later.” Cornelis Eyks was the ship’s third mate and used his talent of writing to keep a detailed log of all the events that transpired from the time the crew set sail from Batavia (Jakarta, Indonesia), headed to Kharg, Iran in 1763.

Of the 30 survivors, 22 arrived in Muscat after an arduous trek that took the survivors from Ras al Matrakah, via Duqm, 500km to Ras al Hadd in Sur. After four days of walking, the survivors reached a cape (the cape of Ras al Matrakah), which helped them realise where they were and where they needed to head in order to reach civilisation in Muscat. They reached Muscat 31 days after they shipwrecked, encountering pillaging Bedouins, compassionate nomads, Arabian oryx and giant sand dunes.

According to AUP's website, Eyks' journal is the oldest European account of the coast of Oman and its inhabitants.

The Dutch Embassy to Oman produced a documentary about the trek and the search for the wreck, in coordination with the Ministry of Heritage and Culture.

More from The Week:

The other 30 would make it to a rocky beach in Ras Madrakah south of Duqm and about 20 of those would live through the torturous walk to Sur and Hadd. One of them would faithfully log the story of the survivors of the Amstelveen, a ship whose story ended in Oman and, almost 250 years later, is about to begin once again.

The subject of a new book as well as a whole new chapter in the relationship between the Netherlands and Oman, interest in the Amstelveen was rekindled recently after a chance discovery of a copy of the log kept by the ship’s third mate Cornelis Eyks. Surfacing in an antiquarian bookstore in the south of France, the log came to the notice of Dr Klaas Doornbos who researched it and wrote Shipwreck & Survival in Oman 1763.

A copy of the manuscript is here in Oman in the care of H E Stefan van Wersch, Ambassador of the Kingdom of the Netherlands to Oman but as it has not been published yet, H E van Wersch has promised the author that he will not pass it on, but he was kind enough to narrate excerpts to us.

“The story is like the TV show Extreme Survival, where they drop someone in a remote place and they have to survive with what they can find, only in this case it was a real life or death struggle,” said H E van Wersch. “These men had to walk some 700km to reach a point from which they were taken by sea to Muscat. And this was in August, so you can imagine the heat they had to deal with.

The log describes how at day they would burn in the sun, their feet in terrible shape from walking without proper footwear on hot sand and rock, and at night though drained they could never sleep properly because of the cold. All of this with a terrible shortage of water.”

As not all of them could maintain the same pace, the survivors thinned out into small groups of twos and fours. Some, possibly injured or just unable to go on any further, would drop and have to be left behind never to be seen again. Perhaps due to some misunderstanding in communication, the men came under attack by some of the people they came across in the desert.

Eyks’ log speaks of being treated with compassion too with some people helping to treat their cracked and burnt lips with some sort of unguent. Some villagers they met also gave them dates and water as well as shelter from the cruel elements to sleep in. “The great thing about the log is what it describes but sadly he leaves so much out. There were many mysteries about the Amstelveen that have not yet been solved,” said H E van Wersch.

One mystery is why it ran aground in the first place. The captain was experienced and would have known these waters. Another enigma is the man whom Eyks met in Muscat who spoke fluent Dutch - he would surely have asked how the man had learnt Dutch but has not recorded that. Some of the anomalies caused the whole wreck story to be treated with suspicion by the Dutch East India Company who suggested that the crew might have fabricated the story and sold off the cargo.

Not sympathetic to the harshness endured by the men, the company sent Eyks to Kharg where he was questioned and from there back to Batavia for another round of interrogation before finally buying his story and paying him his back salary but only up till the day the ship was wrecked. As to the treasure the Amstelveen was carrying? A load of mainly sugar and spices, so there is not much in those rough waters to go diving for - other items such as the cannons, which commanded a good value in those days, would almost certainly have been salvaged shortly after the wreck by whoever learnt about it.
I very much hope the book is eventually published, because it is the only source I can find for this story.

Wreck of the Cromdale

The 1,903-tonne steel barque Cromdale ran aground in heavy fog off the coast of Cornwall in May 1913 while carrying nitrates from Chile to Fowey.  Within ten minutes she had to be abandoned.  All passengers were saved by local lifeboats but the ship was a total loss and within a week the wreck had broken up completely in a heavy gale.  Her steel ribs and masts still lie underwater.

According to the St. Keverne wreck diving site:

The Lizard is not named after some legendary beast - although it is a land where such stories abound. The name actually comes from the Cornish lezou, or headland. The Lizard is, in fact, a peninsula, whose cliffs support the moorland plateau of Goonhilly Downs, some 300ft above sea level.

The Lizard sticks out into the Channel so far that it is the biggest ship trap in British waters. In fact, so many ships have fallen victim to the Lizard's cliffs and underwater reefs that the Admiralty advises navigators to keep three or more miles off in any kind of rough weather. Those who failed to take that advice have made the Lizard a Mecca for today's wreck divers.
 - A Diver's Guide to the Shipwrecks of the Lizard
Wreck of the Cromdale (Image from Helston History website)
The [Mount Stewart and Cromdale were the] last two ships to be built specially for the  Australian wool trade were the magnificent steel skysail-yard ships Mount Stewart and Cromdale. The former was launched in May, 1891, and the latter in June, both from Barclay, Curie's yard. They were identical sister ships, and were the very latest development of the full-rig ship. They were of course good carriers, with the modern short poop and long sweep of main deck. Yet, in spite of their carrying powers, they both made some excellent passages out and home. [...]

The Cromdale came to grief in 1913 when commanded by Captain Arthur. She was 126 days out, bound home from Taltal with nitrate and was heading for Falmouth. There had been a dense fog for some days, when, most unfortunately, a steamer was passed which advised Captain Arthur to alter his course. Not long after a light was suddenly seen through the fog ahead, but before the ship could be put about she struck on the rocks right at the foot of a cliff. This proved to be Bass Point, close to the Lizard light. The ship was so badly holed  that the captain ordered the boats out at once. Luckily it was calm weather, and some rockets brought the Cadgwith and Lizard lifeboats upon the scene, but the Cromdale settled down so quickly that there was only just time to save the ship's papers and the crew's personal belongings. Lying on the rocks in such an exposed position, it was of course hopeless to think of salving the ship, and the Cromdale became a total loss.
 - from The Colonial Clippers, pg 336 (Basil Lubbock, Glasgow, 1921)
Postcard of the Wreck of the Cromdale (from Helston History website)

Sunday, 13 July 2014

Beach photos and the supermoon

A few days ago the full moon of Ramadan rose over the darkened houses of my neighbourhood as I was walking to the beach.  It was a supermoon this year, at its closest point to the earth.  It hung in the sky like a great gold coin.

The Supermoon rises over houses in Olvera, in the southern Spanish province of Cadiz, July 12, 2014.
The supermoon over Oman.  This image has been circulating on Whatsapp.

More moon photos: NASA; Reuters

I have been bored lately.  I can't even really say I'm bored, as I have plenty to do.  I work, and translate, and write fiction, and read nearly a whole book a day.  But I'm restless and distracted and so I've taken to walking to the beach every day even though it's a tad hot in the afternoon and there are men in the street at night.  It beats sitting at home chewing on the furniture.  I feel restless at the beach too, but at least there are dead things to photograph (does anyone want to see?  I can post pictures), and after an hour of walking at least I'm tired and somewhat less restless.  And 4pm during Ramadan is the perfect time to go to the beach!  I usually have it all to myself.  The soccer players don't come out to jog until 6pm.

Portuguese Man of War

Seagulls at low tide.

Mosque behind a palm grove.

Running the pump to fill up the falaj.

A fishing boat.

Thursday, 10 July 2014

Juha and the wali's donkey

From the arabicprose tumblr:

    دخل جحا قصر الوالي فسلم عليه وقال له : أخبروني بأنك أرسلت في طلبي يا سيدي الوالي ..!
    قال الوالي: نعم .. فقد أرسلت إليك لأستشيرك في أمر هام ولن يقدر عليه إلا أنت ..!
    قال جحا : تفضل ياسيدي .. أنا في خدمتك !
    قال الوالي : أخبروني بأنك لديك قدرة عجيبة على تعليم الحمير أفعالا خارقة للعادة ..!
    قال جحا : صدق من قال لك ذلك يا مولاي ..!
    قام الوالي واصطحب جحا لحظيرة القصر وعرض على جحا حمارا مليحا ، وقال لجحا : ما رأيك في هذا الحمار الذي احتفظ به وأوليه عناية فائقة دون غيره من خيلي وحميري ..؟
    قال جحا : حقا .. إنه حمار مليح ويستحق الرعاية والعناية دون غيره ..!
    قال الوالي : هل تستطيع تعليمه الكتابة والقراءة ..؟
    فكر جحا قليلا وقال مندهشا: الكتابة والقراءة ..! الحمار يكتب ويقرأ .. ! أه فهمت .. فهمت .. تريدني أعلم الحمار .. هذا أمر بسيط ولكنه يحتاج لوقت طويل وصبر وجهود جبارة ..!
    قال الوالي : سأجعلك تقيم هنا في القصر طوال مدة تعليمه ولك ما يكفيك من الطعام ولوازم الإقامة وسأجعل لك راتبا شهريا مثل أكبر موظفي القصر ..!
    قال جحا : ولكن ذلك يحتاج لعشر سنوات حتى يتعلم حمار الوالي تعليما يليق به.. !
    قال الوالي: ولكن إذا انتهت المدة ولم تعلمه سيكون عقابي لك شديدا جدا ..!
    قال جحا : اتفقنا يا مولاي ..!
    وبينما جحا ماشيا في الشارع ، لقيه أحد أقاربه فسخر منه قائلا : يا لك من أحمق يا جحا .. ألم تخش من عقاب الوالي إذا لم تعلم الحمار ..؟
    فقال له جحا : يا أحمق .. أنا اتفقت معه على عشر سنوات وفي هذه المدة إما أن أموت أنا أو يموت الوالي أو يموت الحمار ..! ”
 Juha entered the castle of the wali and said: they told me that you sent to ask for me, O Wali.

The wali said: Yes.  I sent to you to ask your advice on an important matter, and no one can do this but you.

Juha said: Go ahead, my lord.  I am at your service.

The wali said: They told me that you have a strange ability to teach donkeys to do extraordinary things.

Juha said: Whoever said that was truthful, my lord.

The wali got up and accompanied Juha to the palace's stock pen and brought before Juha a handsome donkey and said: What do you think of this donkey; it and its excellence have been protected by superior care, apart from any of the others of my horses and donkeys.

Juha said: Truly it is a fine donkey and deserves care, apart from others.

The wali said: Can you teach it to read and write?

Juha thought for a while and then said in surprise: Reading and writing!  A donkey, read and write!  Ah, I understand...I want me to teach the donkey...this donkey.  It's a simple matter, but it will take a long time and require enormous effort.

The wali said: I will let you stay here during the period of its instruction and give you sufficient food and necessities of living and will give you a monthly salary like that of the greatest employees of the palace.

Juha said: But it will take ten years to give the wali's donkey a suitable education!

The wali said: But if the period ends and you have not taught it [to read and write], there will be a severe punishment!

Juha said: We are agreed, my lord.

While Juha was walking in the street, he met one of his relatives, who mocked him, saying: You are the stupidest, Juha.  Aren't you afraid of the punishment of the wali if you don't teach the donkey?

And Juha said to him: O stupid one.  I agreed with him on ten years, and in that period, either I will die or the wali will die or the donkey will die!

Thursday, 3 July 2014

Iftar in Sama'il

I went out to Sama'il with the family of a friend for iftar.  It had rained that afternoon and there was standing water all over the roads, so not all of the family members were able to make it to their grandmother's house for iftar.  Sometimes there were wadis in the way.

I wasn't able to take any pictures, we were in a hurry to get there before maghrib was called, so I'll borrow someone else's.  This is the largest thread I've seen of pictures of rain and clouds (source).

Sama'il fort, which I saw from a distance:

Sama'il is in Dakhiliyya province, about 40 km from Muscat, and Wikipedia tells me it has a population of about forty thousand.

I do at least one embarrassing thing every time I eat at someone else's house.  This time, I bit off half a fresh bone-in herring and chewed.  And chewed.  And chewed.  And then my friend's mom leaned over and showed me how to split the fish open and pull out the spine fringed with little bones before eating it.  It was really obvious I'd never seen a herring before that wasn't pickled or canned. 

Wednesday, 2 July 2014

The Tree That Grew From Her Bones

In the book this was titled simply “Omani Cinderella (2)”, but I think it bears more resemblance to Snow White.  I’ve taken the liberty of translating sidr (Ziziphus spina-christi) as the Christ’s Thorn tree in some places instead of just leaving it as sidr, giving it a significance I don’t think the name had in the original.  Mea culpa.

It is said that there was a happy family composed of a father and a mother and their one child, a girl, except that the wife was struck by an illness that led to her death, and the father was saddened just as his daughter was by the loss of the love of their wife and mother.

However, the father’s work often required a lot of travelling, to India one time and to Zanzibar other times, which decided him to marry another woman who would take care of his daughter and raise her while he was gone.  And indeed he married a woman who appeared in the beginning to be good and of generous character, but not long passed before she began to be jealous of the love of her husband for his daughter, and not long passed before the jealousy turned to strong hate which filled her chest with venom, although she continued to hide it.

Monday, 30 June 2014

Mowza and Zuweyna, or Omani Cinderella

An Omani variant of Cinderella-type tales that neatly answers the question of how to solve the impossible task: get a jinni to do it.  

*Where we would say step-mother in English, Arabic says either father's wife or sometimes paternal aunt.


It is said that there was a man who had two daughters: Mowza from his deceased wife and Zuweyna from his current wife.  The father’s wife treated Mowza like a servant, making her sweep the house and clean the furniture and bring water and wood and cook and wash the dishes and clothes, all while she and her daughter were chatting or have neighbours and close relatives over as guests, or going to visit them.   One day the father’s wife gave Mowza an order, saying:

-Today you must go and bring wood that is not from the sun and not from the shade, not crooked and not straight, not green and not dry, not too much and not too little, and not too short and not too long. 

So the girl went with her friends to bring wood.
While her friends were gathering wood, Mowza was sitting on a rock thinking about where she would find wood with the conditions that her father’s wife had set.  Her friends finished gathering their wood and left her alone, confused and thinking.  When the place was empty a male jinni came to her and asked:

-Why are you sitting alone hanging your head in this deserted place?
-Because my father’s wife wants me to bring her wood that is not from the sun and not from the shade, not crooked and not straight, not green and not dry, not too much and not too little, and not too short and not too long.
-I will bring it to you on one condition.
-That you marry me.
-And you will take me away from the bitterness of life with my father’s wife, but how?
-I will turn into a ghul (here, a snake), and enter the bundle of wood, and when you put it down by the door I will exit it and enter your private room and you will ask to marry me.

It did not take long for him to bring her the wood, and she carried it and returned with it to the village.  When her friends saw it they were amazed at its shape because it was different from any wood previously and from any they had brought.
Woman carrying a bundle of wood, Adis Ababa (wiki)
When she arrived at the house, she threw the wood down from on top of her head to the ground, and the ghul slipped out and crawled into her room, and then she asked her father’s sister [her father’s wife] if she could marry the ghul, without telling her that he was a male jinni.  When her father heard the request he refused to marry his daughter to a ghul, but his wife insisted on accepting, so as to be rid of the girl.

And in this way Mowza’s marriage to the ghul was celebrated in her room…and when they closed the door on her they heard Mowza scream, because the jinni was piercing her ears in order to put in each one a gold ring.  

When her father’s wife heard the scream she called to the ghul, saying: sawwigh wa zeed (sawwigh has two meanings in Omani dialect: either to make gold jewellery, and so meaning to give her more gold, or to bite, as in a snake or insect bite.  Zeed means to increase).  And every time Mowza screamed, her father’s sister screamed in turn at the ghul, saying: sawwigh wa zeed.
An Austrian silver Maria Theresa thaler dating from c.1880–

1920 used as a pendant on an Omani necklace of the 1950s (British Museum)

Then Mowza screamed: my throat, my throat, while the jinni was putting jewels around her neck, and her father’s sister supposed that he was wrapping around her neck to strangle her and she encouraged him from outside the room, yelling: sawwigh wa zeed.

When it was morning, Mowza left her room weighed down with gold which the jinni had showered her with.  Her father’s wife was astonished and filled with spite and jealousy, and she decided to search for another ghul for her daughter Zuweyna among the cracks and filth, until she found a viper and it was larger than the ghul which her husband’s daughter had married.  So she brought it and took it into her daughter’s room and they had their wedding celebration.
Chinese sharp-nosed viper (source)
When they closed the door upon the snake and her daughter, Zuweyna screamed once.  Her mother yelled with joy: sawwigh wa zeed.  But no other sound emerged.

The mother waited until the morning for her daughter to come out of the room weighed down with gold, but her wait became long without anyone coming out.  When she got very worried she knocked on the door three times, and when no one answered she pushed the door hard to see the snake slither crawling across the earth, and he slipped hidden out of the room and left the house to return to the cracks and the filth.  As for Zuweyna, she was dead and unmoving.

Saturday, 28 June 2014

Iraq in days past

I can't recommend the text at all, but this article has some great images of Iraq in the middle of the last century.

Baghdad, 1956

Basra, 1950

Mosul, 1963

A meat market in Mosul, 1959.

Kirkuk, 1956
 I do recommend this article by Roqayah Chamseddine:
Jean Bricmont’s powerful book Humanitarian Imperialism: Using Human Rights to Sell War, written during the occupation of Iraq, is a timely historical critique of Western interventionism, one worth examining as the United States of America moves once more in the direction of military entanglement in Iraq. Bricmont, a Belgian theoretical physicist and professor at The Université catholique de Louvain, discusses the ideological factors which legitimize military action in response to humanitarian abuses and “in defense of democracy” (p. 7). — “This is the discourse and the representation that must be challenged in order to build a radical and self-confident opposition to current and future wars.” The humanitarian rationales offered under the banner of there being “a responsibility to protect” have only increased since the end of World War II, and methods to reinforce such motivations have grown progressively coercive.
Bricmont introduces a formula which will come to define “humanitarian imperialism:” when A exercises power over B, he does so for B's "own good" (p. 11). This is the creed of philanthropic power — which peddles and rationalizes war as a column maintaining international order — and which continues to define the very nature of international conflict post-World War II. Interventionism is no longer argued as being warranted in the name of Christianity, Bricmont argues, but what he calls ideological reinforcements: democracy and human rights. For example, despite former US President George W. Bush’s frequent use of religious imagery, the call to invade Iraq was not only drenched in chilling white saviourism but an overwhelming exceptionalism which contends that only military efforts led by the United States of America would bring about a just liberation and lasting stability for the people of Iraq. “[T]he dangers to our country and the world will be overcome. We will pass through this time of peril and carry on the work of peace,” George W. Bush stated in 2003. “We will defend our freedom. We will bring freedom to others and we will prevail.”

The horrors inflicted upon the people of Iraq are still understated, and since 2003 the bloodshed has not stopped. When Obama delivered his speech in 2011 celebrating the US military withdrawal, there were bombings and shootings in Baghdad, in Mosul, in Kirkuk and in Tal Afer. While the Iraqi people were preparing burial shrouds Obama was reaffirming the previous administration’s claims that the US left for the Iraqi people a stable country, had forged a lasting peace and made the world more secure. Amongst the congratulatory frill and repugnant nationalism Obama did make one salient point — that the US legacy in Iraq will endure and that it shall be remembered. The legacy of this tragic and implacable war will live on in the wombs of Iraqi women who bear children with congenital birth defects as a result of depleted uranium; the riddled bodies of those now suffering from cancer due to the toxic munitions used by the US military and finally in the land of Iraq, which has been devoured and polluted by the chemical weapons the US unleashed during its occupation.
 - Iraq intervention, redux? The folly of 'humanitarian imperialism.'