Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Happy Renaissance Day Oman: In case you are wondering, what exactly Renaissance day is, it is the day His Majesty, Sultan Qaboos ibn Said took over from his father, Sultan Taimur. This happened on July 23rd, 1970. This move effectively ended the country's isolation and began the phase of using Oman's oil revenue for modernization and development: i.e. universal education, healthcare, and the building of roads and infrastructure such as water and sewers. A lot has changed in Oman since the 70s, even since the early 90s, most of it for the better in terms of access to health, education, and improved living conditions for many wilayats (towns).

And since we are not likely to be posting again until well after Eid, please enjoy your last few nights of Ramadan, and have a lovely and safe Eid holiday:).

Monday, July 21, 2014

This Ramadan... liking Jotun's "Colours of Happiness" intitiative

If one reads Y magazine Extreme Makeover | Y - Pulse of Oman, they already did a report on Jotun's (the paint company) new socially responsible initiative "Colours of Happiness" . If you haven't heard about it, it was the makeover of one underprivillaged Omani family's home.

It was a beautiful gesture, although more could be done to expand upon this type of charity such as is done with Habitat for Humanity Int'l. Back in my home country one could volunteer their time and work to help build or restore homes for those who need them or the underprivellaged. I would like to see this sort of intiative expand in Oman and if anyone knows anything more by way of Jotun or other companies in Oman ect... for volunteers to help out it would be lovely to share here in the comments.

Thank you.

Making Hijrah (i.e moving for Islamic reasons) to Oman?: OPNO's thoughts

One of the questions our inbox fills up with the most is, should I make hijrah to Oman with my family/can you girls/OPNO tell me more about whether or not I should make hijrah to the Sultanate of Oman?

To the expats who are not Muslims readings this, hijrah is migration or moving for Islamic reasons. The Qu'ran tells Muslims that they do not have to stay somewhere where they are being hurt or persecuted, and may move to somewhere safer to make their lives. Islam doesn't require suffering for God/Allah. It is about service and devotion, and striving for the sake of, which is different than suffering for the sake of. Suffering for the sake of suffering is actually a notion our religion preached against.

The first early Muslim-followers of Prophet Mohammed (peace and blessings be upon him) migrated from Mecca (where they were being tortured and killed and economically and socially segregated through sanctions enforced by the Quraysh tribe {which was, in many cases, their own tribe}) to Madinah, in what is now the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia didn't exist as it does now. Many of the early Muslims recieved reward, the Qu'ran says, for making this migration, as when they did so, it was to be able to practice their religion without fear of torture or without having to hide their faith.

Many people say I made hijrah when I moved to Oman. I don't really think of it like that per say...

In my own country, Canada, I openly practiced Islam. I went to friday prayers at the Mosque, learned to read Arabic, bought Islamic books online, wore abaya, hijab, and even niqab. I fasted, I could make umrah, and apply for Islamic loans which were actually more Islamic in structure than the Islamic banks here in Oman... I was not tortured, and I could practice my religion. I went to school. I had a job.

That's not to say, that any of that was not a struggle. I am an out-going person, who at soul, is a fighter. I used to also be patient and idealistic. That's worn off now, but being put down upon by others' ignorance is never anything I allowed on myself or others'.
Young Canadian men did rip off my scarf, a group of men threatened to rape me {because of my dress}, I had a pop can filled with pop (like a rock) thrown at my head, and people constantly {especially women} decided I was intellectually inferior to them because of my beliefs. I got told to move to Saudi Arabia very often (usually by people who had been in the country less time than my own ancestors...who were some of the earliest Europeans to settle there). Usually, none of this bothered me. Like I said, I am a fighter. I felt sorry for these people. That they knew or allowed themselves to know so little of the world.

Then one day, one woman, simply refused to be served "by people like me" and that broke me down. I don't know why. that one woman's simple, non-violent prejudice, broke me, but it did.

I decided, why the hell not move to Saudi Arabia?

The reason is, there is no such thing as an Islamic country. There is no truly Islamic government (unless you somehow think Iran is one... and I don't since they don't elect according to the best qualified and their courts are a mess--- not truly Shariah, and they don't handle non-Muslims the way Shariah should). Saudi and Afghanistan are horrible examples... Neither country's governments are run on Shariah law---only claim to be, taking whatever portions of shariah law as they see fit or beneficial to their ruling parties.

Even some of the earliest Islamic governments are not Islamic, historically, since they favoured a tribe or family or bloodline over the tenents of Islam, which were always, that the best qualified should run the government.

I guess that's why Oman looks attractive to some, getting back to the questions we OPNO girls are asked.
Oman is a Muslims majority country. That means, if anyone tries to pull off your scarf here, or doesn't allow you to work, ect... they get in trouble with the police.

They also [currently----who knows about the future], nicely support a lot of non-Muslim rights in understanding to Islam, so that Islam is not forced upon others in terms of dress and behaviour. Which I prefer personally, to Iran or Saudi Arabia where I'd feel hypocritical in faith to the way it is enforced.

But that being said, Muslim majority doesn't necessarily mean Islamic. In fact, the Muslim communities I was in touch with in Canada were more visibly practicing than the majority of Muslims here. Here Islam can be confused with culture, and tribal and family considerations override Islamic notions often and in many cases. Marriage is one (racism abounds). Legally, many things are not according to Shariah law (although there is a shariah basis).

In terms of general safety, Oman is pretty safe.

But when it comes to creepy guys per say, abaya and hijab doesn't protect one like it does in Canada, where abaya made me feel like a Princess by most Canadian guys (not the hick prejudiced neo nazi ones of course, but they are a minority). I am serrious. There, what I wore meant I was looked at for my thoughts and actions, not what I looked like. Here, it doesn't have that power, and it means "female", not necessarily always a good thing. Here female behaviour is still tribally a source of "honour" as pathetic as that is, although the government has tried to make headways into changing these pre-Islamic mindsets.

I personally, don't know what this means for my daughter. I'd like her to grow up with the Canadian/British-convert Muslimah ideal of what a female is supposed to be in terms of society, yet be as legally protected as she is to practice her faith as she is by the Omani government at this time without all the tribal-jahiliyia mumbo-jumbo.
I would like her to see races and nations as extensions of herself, something beautiful, to marvel at, to know about, not to derive borders and barriers from, or be afraid of, or to be faced with legal or familial sanctions on.

If you are thinking of moving to Oman for Islamic reasons, know that Oman is still segregated on nations and races. Passports are not given fully based on merit, nor are marriage permissions. Visas can be difficult, limited for single females, investments depend on sponsorship in most cases, and shariah law is not the basis of all laws... Corruption exists here in government, there is no true election system (Sultan Qaboos is, in many, things, pretty awesome, but not even he would ever try to label himself a Caliph).

The country is an Ibadhi majority (which the majority of Muslims worldwide are not). Still, the shiite community here is very well treated compared to Iraq and Bahrain... So I'd think about it if I was Shia for sure, not willing to consider Iran a good example.

The economy in Oman is rocky. It is not fully developed to the point it can support itself without oil reserves, and policies favouring Omanis doens't always ensure even that aim...

Education is expensive if you are not Omani (and relatively of poor quality if you are Omani). Healthcare is also expensive if you are not Omani. If you are not Omani, there are only certain places where you can buy and own property. These are things to consider.

Sure, there are Qu'ran schools, Mosques, and abaya retailers. There are public holidays for Eids, and reduced working hours for Ramadan.

But that to me, does not make Oman ideal for hijrah. In many ways, Canada could be just as Islamic in principle, although perhaps a little less safe (though Muslims I know from Toronto always subscribe to love for that city).
I'd probably advise UAE (one of the smaller Emirates like Sharjah or Ras Al Khaimah) if one was looking for a legally and economically sound Muslim majority Khaleeji country to immigrate to that suited my means and education, or even sections of U.K. if you had the income, or Malaysia, if Khaleej wasn't your thing.

But there is no Islamic country, or Medinah of the early days, to make hijrah to anymore.

I chose Oman because I love it here. I have the patience for the prejudice I do encounter. I can stand and fight here, if I have to. My income is enough, as per the cost of living, but then, I am not living your average expat immigrant to Oman situation, as my husband is Omani and other OPNO girls all make well over the average expat salary for Oman being PHDs or successful business owners. I don't think I can advise others to move.

I chose Oman randomly, after I realized UAE  (Abu Dhabi at least) didn't suit the person I wanted to be as a career woman. I'd had history here. The culture, which will never be my own, is ingrained in my psyche. I can leave the bad, keep the good.

I think often, in the concept of hijrah, of the kind of woman I want my daughter to become. I think of what society or a nation ingrains into her consiousness. I decided I want her to be a citizen of the world, and be learned enough to follow Islam of the earliest history, not of consequent generations of fatwas of muftis and sheikhs of today. She must learn Arabic for that, so any Arabic country can provide that. She must also travel, to be aware of Allah's creation, not man's interpretation of its meaning. Oman is our base. It is not ideal, it is not Islamic, it is not even safe at all times, or sure in politics or economics, but it is simply the base.

My only advice would be, is hijrah is impossible. Making a better world around you, is possible in some places, at certain times, considering political, economic, social, and Islamic factors. Making yourself better, is possible, anywhere, at any time.

That's all I've got. Sorry for the long rambling post.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Restaurants in Oman: Al Makan Cafe for Iftar Tent, 2014

Al Makan Cafe right next to City Center Seeb mall, always pitches a nice looking iftar tent for Ramadan. I went this year with my husband and two year old daughter for iftar.

There was a large assortment of spreads in the buffet, but all in all, the food was as good as the food at the Sultan Qaboos University Hospital cafeteria at lunch time. I am serrious. And I have had good buffets from Al Makan before (they catered for one former friend's wedding and it was pretty decent then). However, I really didn't enjoy anything much this time, although I could eat my fill.

The price for two adults was 18 OMR. Which is really too steep for general low-quality buffet food. Also, apparently the price is lower for the actual iftar, but they charge an entrance fee to the tent (which they didn't do last year) which made it so high. The entrance fee should include chocolates which are only served later in the evening.

Iftar starts around 6:50 and the chocolates are given out at 8:30 or something like that. So one has to stay long time to make that entrance fee worth whatever its cost (if it is worth it I don't know, we didn't stick around).

Part of Ramadan is, that Muslims have to pray, so if the dining experience should be all evening, prayer facilities simply have to be better...

As it was, we left, to go pray and have the rest of our evening somewhere else well before 8:00 pm. In the end, we splurged for coffee and milkshakes at Fauchon at the Opera Galleria (with complimentary chocolates for the two year old) and ran around the Opera House grounds playing with a bouncy ball with the two year old. I doubt she would have maintained her good behaviour up until 9:00 at Al Makan, despite the pretty lights and lanterns there...

So that's definately the last time I go to Al Makan for iftar unless they change the food to be better, or the prices to be lower.

Restaurants in Oman: Grand Fish Market in Seeb/Al Mawaleh near City Center Mall, for Iftar 2014

I don't eat fish... or seafood, ever. But this restaurant is beloved by my Omani husband and my Canadian father for its relatively low priced seafood, and quiet but efficient and friendly service. Also, the giant fish tanks (absuredly clean) with turtles and shiny scaled fishies situated right next to the tables make a welcome distraction for the two-year old so we can sit down and enjoy the food.

An average meal here for two people costs 15.000 OMR. The iftar buffest for two plus the two year old was 16 omr... and the buffet included different kinds of fish, three different soups (husband and two-year old love the shrimp soup), plus rice and vegetables and usual iftar snacks like samboosa, fatoush salad, tabouli salad, homous dip ect... My husband thought it well worth it. He likes spices however, and I'm told the spices on everything but the cod tend to be very Omani in flavour. I cannot comment, as I tried absolutely nothing, but the salads were good (not mind boggling but good). The menu also has chicken tikka when it is not Ramadan, so that's what I normally would order. It tastes fine to me. With tikka I am not picky. I find it pretty much the same everywhere so long as it isn't overly greasy ect.... and it tastes like good chicken tikka here. Anyways....

I find the decor odd but pleasant (too many styles for my taste) but as I said, the fish tanks when one has kids, totally make up for it. Omani Cuisine also did a review (a fish-eater) which is probably better than mine here http://www.omanicuisine.com/grand-fish-market-al-mawaleh/ (the photo I have used belongs to that blog---I only have photos of the fish tanks taken by a two year old so....). You'll find directions on his site. If I gave you directions you'd probably get lost.

Restaurants in Oman: Pizza Hut in Al Hail, Seeb, for Iftar 2014

If you are like me, with Omani inlaws from the interior, then you will know that people tend to force you to go to pizza hut. It is, as Italian as they get (besides Chillis). This is probably because there are so few good restaurants out by way of Nizwa... that Pizza hut seems classy. I don't know. Usually I have terrible experiences at Pizza hut (its a chain) in Oman, but the other night, in Al Hail branch, I had a good experience.
The service was amazingly good (the staff listened to us, didn't screw anything up, and had five star politeness going on). They held the doors open for us, didn't make us wait on anything and yet didn't hover. All in all, better than many other restaurants in the capital. I was surprised. The decor in the branch was also very new, and clean, so I liked that. They had family seating suitable to jealous Omani husbands (you know, wooden boxed off cages with doors {stylish despite the confinement I might add;D}, suitable to Interior families not used to Muscat) and also, normal seating, so that gave me options on who I could go with here. For example, my mother-in-law would probably wear a face covering (not even eyes showing---niqab isn't normal for use but wearing a scarf over one's face to Carrrefour is) if I treated her to a normal seated restaurant. But family rooms, and she feels very at ease.
My husband liked that the salad bar was clean (no hovering flies like a few other pizza hut locations---ewww gross) and I liked the general service. I've had terrible service experiences at Pizza huts in Muscat and Sohar and even Nizwa... but Nizwa I let slide because there's so few nice options out there that aren't tikka or kebab or burgers and rice.
I liked my blue lagoon drink. I however, hate the new lasagna format (it looks bigger but is merely a two layer noodle excuse for a lasagna). It is cheap and not lasagna so I will never order that again. My two year old loves the alfredo, and I can live with the pizza (which the Al Hail location actually does let one customize unlike some other branches). However, my daughter's "tutti fruiti" drink looked nothing like the picture on the menu... That's all I can say for the food. It is pizza hut afterall.
However, they did have a very affordable buffet for iftar that consisted of hummous, muttubel, breads, samboosa, drinks, coffee, three kinds of pastas, three salads, and two kinds of pizza. It was around 4-5 rials per person, so very affordable. I didn't try anything but the coffee being I ordered a pizza and lasagna but everyone else seemed very happy with it. (Also, the delivery for this location is way less of a cheat than the Al Khoud Pizza hut----which totally sent orders without all the food in the dishes to more than one person I know)... So, here's to hoping the lovely ladies at Pizza hut Al Hail, Seeb, stay as happy and smiling as they are whenever I have met them... they truly made what is otherwise a blah dining experience for me, a really happy one.

Monday, July 7, 2014

My Ramadan Beauty Regime

Okay, so I am not a 'beauty person'. I can barely part my own hair, never pay to go to spas or salons or get my makeup professionally done, and I am certainly not one of those idiots who think of fasting Ramadan as a kind of diet. Because it is not. But I do find during Ramadan, I tend to eat healthier, and also, I am pretty tired, so I give up on make-up. So, in a way, it is a time to take advantage of that, a detox per say.
 First thing I do is recharge via drinking ALOT of water after magraib. But not only water. I like to raspberry or strawberry yogurt smoothies to recharge, both for suhoor and iftar. Full of anitoxidents (so the beauty people say) I find these concotions keep me less thirsty through-out the day, and help improve my skin in general, which has a tendency to look tired from the time we are supposed to stay up for praying at night, and for getting up in the morning to make sure my family prays and has suhoor, ect.... Frozen berries and plain yogurt from Carrfour.
 I like raspberries. They remind me of summer and home, and in Oman they are dreadfully over-priced. However, I saw this mud mask facial at H&M for 1.5 rial and bought it while I was bored waiting in the line. I loved it. It smelt wonderful, made my skin all dewey, pores clean.... And I smellt good for hours. Of course I scared the heck out of my husband and two-year old daughter while I left it one for 15 minutes, but hey, husband was fasting so being ugly, meh, and daughter thought it was cool after approximately five minutes. Only thing is I had to apply a little moisturizer after, but other than that, it was perfect on my skin type.
I brush my teeth while fasting. Unless one purposefully swallow toothpaste (loser) out of sheer hunger than it doens't break one's fast. I discovered that I love for this brand, that my daughter actually through into the cart when we were shopping (we didn't notice until it was already on the bill at the check out. Awesome toothpaste though, very mild, work greats, and the kid actually can tolerate using it, unlike Crest or Colgate. I got this one at Lulu I think.
 Now, I am one of those who believe prayer doens't count if one doesn't make wudu and that nailpolish voids wudu. However, this was a little treat I bought myself (12 OMR) after successfully managing a day's fast. If I go out somehwere fancy for iftar with my husband I put it on. Yes, yes, I know, I have to take it off to pray after, but that's my kind of high maitenance. I do have the patience even to chip of my polish in the wudu area of prayer halls should my kid throw my protable nailpolish rmeover pads out the window of the car on the highway. I love nailpolish THAT much. My husband likes the modest colour of "Yacht" the shade I got, since he is Omani, and a total weirdo when it comes to other people notcing anything different about me. God forbid hot pink or raspberry nailpolish is noticed by our waiter, like oh no, the man will fantasize about my nails for the rest of the evening.... I highly doubt it. Moving on....
Another treat was some blush, since, well, people ask me if I am sick if I don't wear make-up since I am the palest fish ever,  and I am lazy in the morning. Without blusher I require eye-shadoe and lipstick. This colour, "553 cocktail peach" is the same shade as my natural colouring, so it works well for me without anything else.

Both Dior products were purchased from Areej.

The only other beauty thing I might so is, instead of using mascara, dip and old, cleaned mascara wand that I have saved, and use it in castor oil. Usually I am far too lazy for that.