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