Thursday, May 25, 2017

MY POEMS OF OMAN: The Onyx Butterfly

THE ONYX BUTTERFLY

From the West I fly over fields and islands of ice,
Always a life contained in a suitcase.
So here, aptly stuffed under my seat with a flotation device
Are the fragile remnants of my birthplace.

In between the folds of my carry-on are packed
Breakables and valuables inherited from my father
And towards the East my flight is tracked,
While I am a cracked vessel that only pride can fother.

There is a genealogy, a family tree, and ancient photos,
And a coral necklace for me that he did buy
When I was a little girl, that he kept wrapped in a sheet of my prose.
With some of with my old drawings. And that did make me cry.

Apparently he was always proud of his daughter.
But I always lived too far away. So he put aside for my child,
He did not ever get the chance to know. So I cross the water,
And keep my head held high, and cast grief aside, still unreconciled.

For his youngest granddaughter he leaves an onyx butterfly
A pretty little useless ornament, among so many other pretty useful things:
But for all the things he'll never get to say to her, he wanted her to have the sky
And he wanted to speak to her of wings.

"A girl is like a butterfly," I hear him now, his voice is still in mind
"She should be careful never to caught up fast in the hand of any boy
And she should feel free to leave them all behind
And follow the wild winds, to the heights that bring her joy.

Until the day she finds at last the hand of the him, that will let her be, well, alone.
Then she should not be afraid to rest, and enjoy the peace that brings...
Finding the one who appreciates her for what she is, and all the places that she's flown...
That will never try to rip from her, her wings."

Then, of course, he'd add, "Of course, being who you are, your own,
...Because no daughter of mine ever had wings delicate as tissue!
Your wings are likely made of steel, and hard as stone.
I wanted to remind you to know I've always taken pride in this, before I said adieu."

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

My Dream-Home PT 2

So I was wandering around looking for an old house to renovate when I stumbled upon my dream home. My husband seemed almost saddened that I fell in love with the wretched ruin that I did happen to fall head-over-heels for, because he was hoping for something classified as "sufficient" not "ruinous" by the Heritage Ministry, but we can't help who we love right? I happen to love a house that has no front door, few ceilings, and no roof. What can you do?

TO MY LITTLE SIS: Used bookshops and over-priced coffee shops gluten-free chocolate cake remind me of you.
LITTLE SIS: Walking to the lighthouse reminds me of Dad.
TO MY LITTLE SIS: Does any place remind you of me? [I totally expect her to say libraries, because all my friends always say libraries...or antique shops].
LITTLE SIS: Castles. Crumbling down ruinous castles. I don't know why. But that's you as a place to me.

She's so spot on.

So yeah. My dream house.

Me: It is situated on a very quiet street.
My Husband: By quiet do you mean totally abandoned?

Me: .... Anyways, yeah, so it has really high ceilings. lots of open concept potential in the bones of the lay-out....
My Husband: ...That would be because it is missing the ceilings. And a couple of walls. And the roof.

Me: Walls, schmalls.... Look at the space. And the lay-out. This was the kitchen (it even has the fireplace I always wanted... But imagine it as the living room? And the kitchen could go over there, and a bathroom, a laundry, and even a guest bedroom if you wanted. I don't know about the engineering but you might be able to make a separate entrance for that bedroom even.Then it could be like the majlis.

And the entry.... Look at the entry...
Me cont'd: Like, yeah I know those stairs need to be replaced, and like, the place is a ruin, but what a beautiful riun. Can't you imagine this though, all fixed up with like 16th-18th century antiques in here? Arabic lighting/

My husband: It would be beautiful. This was once a rich person's house by the height of the ceilings.

Me: It is even lain out like an English home. Door. Entry. Entry, Stairs to bedrooms upstairs. Down through entry, living room (was kitchen but make the kitchen further inside). Kitchen here. Bathroom/Laundry here. Guest room here. Khalas. It is PERFECTION.

My husband: Whoever owns this, they'll never sell it to you. or they'll ask for too much.

Me: Can you at least find out who owns it for me and try? I love it. I'll sell our house in Muscat in order to buy it and fix it. But I have to know who owns it to know how much it will cost to fix it etc...
So yeah, I know it is still a ridiculous day-dream but then, so was building our Muscat townhouse when we started and now that's done so....;) you never know right? This is Oman. Anything can happen.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

THE HOUSE: Drama, drama, drama, thieves and liars, and government corruption, and Ramadan is on its way too

So I haven't updated about the house I built in Muscat a lot. Mostly, because I was tired of drama, and needed a break from it all.

We are suing our contractor. He never finished "finishing the house" in terms of wiring, and plastering and painting, and he also used the cheapest plumbing pipes even though in our contract with him we paid for the best. His name is Salim but I am not allowed to print his whole name or his company. His brother is running it for him right now. Salim is from Al Sharqiyah and is a "Rashid" for his family. Nice to know they have such an honest, caring, responsible guy for their "Rasheed/Rashid" right? He didn't care because he knew this would cost us money, which we clearly didn't have, but guess what "Salim"?

I inherited half a house, which has been sold, and I now have the money to sue you. I don't even care if I don't get the money. I want you to suffer, Salim, like I did, when I was almost 9 months pregnant, and had to move into an unfinished house that had no electricity (i.e air conditioning).

Enough said on that subject. I have enough drama in my life without Salim-the-Respectable-Rasheed and his idiot brother. The courts and lawyers can deal with them.
And the drama with the neighbors never ended.

In fact, apparently I bought a land that reveals corruption in the office of the Muscat Municipalities, the Housing Ministry, and the Electricity and Water sections. How lucky for this OPNO right? Something to blog about.

So I've already blogged about the corruption regarding electricity and water right? Like we were told we can't have temporary water, so we have to pay to take from a neighbor or from water trucks. Then one of the neighbors (the bad one) gets temporary water for his land, after we had to pay his relatives a ridiculous price for our water while we were building. Fishy but meh.

When we have to hook up for electricity we are told there is no space on our box and we have apply for a new one, do all the work to get it approved, etc... Turns out there was space, go figure. Good thing we learned enough about our neighbor's wasta to check.
Then it comes to my land. It is on a parcel with two other lands, that were once a farm. Obviously, since this farm still has water and a working well, someone had some wasta at the housing ministry to get it made into residential land, since it isn't supposed to be split for that.

Okay, so this is where we entered into it. Beside our land is a well. Since the farm is cancelled we asked for the well to be covered. Not just for the safety of our own children, who rarely go outside, but for the random children of renters on the other side of the farm, who let their children run free around the well.

Corrupt neighbor gets really mad at us when the city makes him cover the well. Alas.

The well issue is also a puzzle, that I have looked into and it appears the government already paid this family for the well land, to make the road. They got lands. In Mabaila. We've seen the papers.

Bad neighbor has a female relative who works in an important office in the housing ministry. I also have a relative who works there too so this is how we know everything. Wasta. Ain't it great.
Now, they are claiming for the land a second time, which is another scam. Which I guess is why they pulled out our land stakes to try to make our land smaller, and argued about where we could put our gate? We built our house to the edges of where the land is according the croquet (deed to the land), and we have seen the croquet for the well and know they do not own it, and are only claiming for it again to steal more land from the government, but whatever, wasn't a big deal to me. I do feel sorry however for the old lady who occasionally walks by my house to curse it and us, since she thinks we stole the land from her, when her relative actually sold it to us, and when they split the lands and got the Mabaila lands, apparently they didn't give anything to her, but said "us wasta people" with the new house got it somehow.

No wonder she hates us, even though I do find her amusing, and as my Arabic sucks, she can swear curses at me all she likes and I will still try to shake her hand, because it makes her even more mad and I find stuff like that to be funny. Like I am some evil expat wasta English woman who can take whatever she wants, and doesn't care about widows who've been cheated out of their inheritance.

I do feel sorry for her though. That her own family stole her rights and no one seems to care but me, who she curses whenever she walks by my house.

What did annoy me is there an adjacent land...and to annoy another neighbor who the bad neighbor hates who is directly across from it, he decided to go a major building effort from midnight until 4 am. And parked his bloody cement truck outside my bedroom window.

Tired, I told him to move his bloody truck, and that in Islam, we have respect for our neighbors and don't purposely try to ruin their sleep.

He used this incident to bug my husband, being like oh I talked to your wife on the street blah blah blah. Like that means anything but that if he ever hit on me I'd punch him in the face and he could say, I touched your wife, and I'd be like, sure you did, with your nose to my fist and that's all good. And I liked that too;).

But of course, Omani husbands don't like any of that so...

Also, the farm behind our houses, is a pile of garbage. The bad neighbors keep dumping and we asked them nicely to clean it up a few times. Why? Because it creates a nice habitat for snakes and rats.

I've seen many rats now, and had one snake.

So my husband filed a complaint with Muscat Municipalities.

Apparently bad-neighbor has a relative who works there too, because we ask why nothing was done about and they say their inspector came out, saw that it was cleaned, and erased the complaint from the file, and also gave us a ring to ask if we were satisfied.

No we were not, we surely never got a call, and, the person who was the inspector is clearly a liar, because the garbage heap is still there, same as ever.

Also, said neighbor knocked one of the wall lights of my wall. We asked him to fix it but he never did. Not worth fighting over that one I suppose. Although we did advise a neighbor whose female daughters his sons apparently molested to sue him at the police for that.

Then today, he is mad and drives over all the trees in our front yard. The ROP said he has to sign a paper not to do that again but only because we saw him.

My husband is freaked out that he'll break into my house or something but I am like, ha ha let him, and I will just shoot him, and all this drama will be over.

My husband is like... ughhhhhh no.

This is all so annoying. Like he seems freaked out that we are trying to steal the well land from him when really we just want the road fixed, because I guess greedy bad people think all people are just as greedy and hypocritical but blah. Like, yeah we have a relative there too, but we aren't trying to steal anything just get the well covered and the road built, since technically, that's supposed to be done already, bought and sold.

Drama.

And then Galfar comes in with the sewer project and they break my garden hose (I know they did because like literally five seconds before I used it in perfect condition and left it just fine then they were in my yard and used it and it was broken). Galfar said prove it.

I couldn't of course, and it isn't worth going to court over a garden hose.

Then the very next day a couple of Galfar employees come into our yard, at 5:30 am (I happen to mop in the am) and proceed to steal stuff out of our tools. I see them from my living room window. I am in a nightgown and don't expect people to be in my yard at that time since Galfar already finished our sewer part, so I am just thankful that the sun was up enough that my window was not entirely see-through.

Again, I didn't video-tape this, but it happened.

They got away with it until---stupid---they did it again in the afternoon (since I don't sleep) and my husband video-taped them doing it.

So thanks Galfar. I want a new garden hose, thank you very much, and I think you will get me one.

So that's life in my 'hood.

This Ramadan I want to make a giant sign (but have someone translate the following into Arabic for me please), that says: "Dear Neighbors, Just a Reminder, it is Ramadan. Let us refrain from stealing from, and lying about and lying to each other for just this month, okay? Because I come from a non-Muslim country and the non-Muslims there act better than my so-called Muslim neighbors here seem to. Much love. The Crazy Canadian."  I am totally willing to hang it down the entire front-side of my house. I'd add the part from our Islamic teachings that says that the believers want for one another what they want for themselves.

What do you think?

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

So I found my dream home. It doesn't exactly have a roof...or floors, but

The conversation went like this:

OPNO: "So you've seen the pictures of my house. What do you think of it?"
KPS: "I think it looks exactly like what I always envisioned your house would look like."
OPNO; "And will you buy a place here {in the land far-and-away}?"
KPS: {Laughs}. "One day. When I'm a millionaire."
OPNO: "That will happen. Everything else we always said would happen happened, just in a way we never expected it would.And when it does, what will you buy?" 
KPS: "A penthouse somewhere. Or an old Victorian just to be difficult. Or something ultra modern over the beach."
OPNO: "Remember when I said I would one day buy the old Oriental hotel and fix it up into a townhouse?"
KPS: "We thought you were crazy but you'd be a millionaire now if you had."
OPNO: "I would have done it better. The developers made it too small. I'll have to buy at least two to live to the size I want to live."
KPS: "So now that all of your dreams have happened in Agra-bah {Oman, inside joke}, what do you want now?"
OPNO: "I don't know. To keep my promises. Get my driver's license. Travel. Finish that bloody novel. Buy a broke-down-castle and run around all day playing with swords. You?"
KPS: "See the world, at last."
Well, while my friends are off seeing the world, and I am back to life-as-usual as a house-wife/writer/currently unemployed researcher in Muscat, I finally found my castle.

While scuttling around in ruins (which is how I like to spend my child-free weekends) trying to photograph a door lintel, I happened to spy a staircase. I made for it, because let's face is, abandoned Arabia, and staircases make awesome photos...when there are no rooftops or ceilings, and the stairs lead to the sky.

My husband is like "Remember when you fell through the roof!" (which every one likes to remind me of----and it was only one time!). Usually he stops me from exploring by insisting the structural integrity is crap, but I weigh less than most people so I can usually go up on something ready to come down without issue. Still, there have been some instances with bats. I don't like guano, and I don't care how many times it has happened to me, but I never get used to being overcome by a cloud of frightened bats at noon. People should warn me instead: "Remember that time you tripped when you were running away from the bats in Rustaq!"...That would work better than reminding me of the house in Qantab whose roof I fell through, but whatev.
There were no bats...but the staircase was crumbling nigh away, so I did not go up.

Going in to reach the staircase, however, I found another door and it lead to the most beautiful room I have ever seen in any house or fort in Oman as of yet. And yes, it was open to the sky. Yes there were no ceilings or floors where there should have been the like, and yes, the floor was covered with stinking garbage, but I blinked twice, and saw my castle in the remains of the architecture.

It was just a late 16th-17th century kitchen yes, but such a kitchen! It had two fireplaces, and big open area, and it led to other rooms, and I could see it converted into a seating area, with furnishings and materials from the time period. Looking up, I saw the bedrooms exposed to the sky, and I told my husband I would sell my house in Muscat if someone will sell us this ruin, provided they have the ownership papers. If an engineer says I can fix it, I will try to buy it.
I loved it that much. 

My husband squinted at it, and said from the height of the ceilings it once had a rich owner, and said if it belonged to a Sheikh they will never sell it to me or him, but I tell you, if I can one day I will live there. Like, I'll put a bright big brass plaque on the outer wall of the house saying who owned it and their entire history, and even leave a public open room near the front for free to tell the story of the original family if they are so proud to have it like that, but I don't want it to fall down, and I want to live in it. I'd even have a deal that the cost of the land+whatever repair I put into it (and I'll keep all receipts), and the original family can buy it back for that before ever any one else is allowed to buy it if I ever had to sell it once they sold it to me. I care about history like that. Some nice man in France once made my family a deal like that. 
So yes, now I found my castle. I don't know who owns it but my husband is asking. Of course, gotta live in Muscat until next year at least... but maybe...who knows. My husband thinks it is crazy of course, but he likes crazy. I know he didn't want to do stone and mud brick because that's what he grew up with, but this one was more European than Arabian in scale and lay-out if that makes sense? Like the rooms were divided with more central flow, and old Omani is usually different inward tracks, and a bit more maze-like, excepting the main sabla/majlis and entry stairs, so far as I have seen in two-three-story old Omani houses. And it wouldn't take much to make it lovely. A front door would be nice, Just some walls here and there, a little ceiling, a roof, and some floors;). Electricity. Running water. You know.
But I can't get it out of my head, like the old Oriental Hotel in the land far-and-away that someone else bought and restored like I had always planned to do...

My First Poisonous Snake-In-the-Yard Experience

I have lived in Oman a lonnnnng time. I have been visiting the country regularly even longer. I myself have never seen a poisonous snake (or even a not-poisonous snake) here, in Muscat, in the Wadis, or the mountains or desert. That means...they are not too common, or I am lucky...I guess?

...Although, a sister-in-law-through marriage was bitten as a child and still suffers (the bite was not immediately treated and caused nerve damage I am guessing), and another sister-in-law in Mabaila living near a wadi had a few in her house that had to be killed. And back when I lived in Barka a ten-year old boy was bitten by a viper and died very fast, before they could take him to the hospital, so it does happen I suppose. And my little sister saw a viper in PDO housing once. The house boy (that's what my parents called him not my fault---he was more like our gardener?) killed it with a stick.

Well, all that changed recently when I was in Canada, because my kids saw a snake in our yard in Muscat. Yes, I was not here, but it was in my yard, spotted by a two-year old, so that counts as even scarier don't you think? Alhamdulilah no one was bitten.

The snake apparently climbed the tree next to the wall around our yard, dropped down to the balcony of the roof, and then dropped from there to the yard, which was witnessed thankfully, so no one went to change the gas cylinder, where the snake decided to curl up and around after the exertion of getting into our yard.

I don't know what kind of snake it is (it is shown in the photo above the post), but my Omani husband insists it is poisonous, and promptly killed it. How, I did not ask. He once shot a harmless but ugly little yellow lizard inside our rental home with a rifle sooooo....Needless to say any poisonous snake in our yard is going to get itself killed.

I don't know much about snakes, and there are no poisonous snakes where I am from so I have no natural fear of them, and I've always wanted to see one out in the wild, but not in my yard, around my kids;).

Monday, May 8, 2017

Ancient Resources of the GCC: timber, pearls, carnelian, ivory, linen, copper, dates, and perfumes

Timber (i.e, trees) is not a natural resource I often relate to the context of Oman. I, having been born in a temperate rain forest, and living close to a lot of villages where logging was the predominant historical livelihood (or fishing) kind of smirk when I think of the trees we have here in Oman in general: Date palm, Mangrove, Christ's thorn, or more rarely, Juniper, and Olive. But ancient Kings in Sumeria and Mesopotamia did not laugh at the GCC timber industry.
Pakistani rosewood, called "mes-magan-na" by the Sumerians, came via trade with Magan (i.e, Oman). This was probably sourced from Baluchistan or the Indus Valley through further trade links there.

Dilmun (i.e Bahrain) was referenced by Mesopotamian Kings as the exporter of teak, Indian cedar, and probably rosewood. This was all back in the mid 3rd millennium B.C. .
The degree of competency required for sailing as far as the Indus valley has been discussed by Potts (1995 & 2017) and Potts mentions depictions of sailing craft that would be capable of such a journey being found on pottery dated to 6,000 BC. Potts likens these craft to the batil style dhow boat from Musandam in Oman.
Similarly, anywhere, and anyone who brought timber to Mesopotamia, also brought Indian carnelian gemstone, and carnelian has been found in period sites along the Gulf coast and up inside
the mainlands here as well, along with famous finds in Mesopotamia.
Ivory (being famously valued for the hilts of Omani khanjar daggers) came the same route as timbers, and gemstones...from the Indus Valley civilization, and examples have been found dated to the late 3rd millennium BC. Most ivory found in Mesopotamia was imported via Magan (Oman), and to the UAE (parts of which were then part of Magan) as early as 2000 BC. Ivory appeared to be worn as hair combs at this time period, and persons were found buried wearing these hair combs, which I personally find very interesting.
Pearls are by far the most famous resource for GCC states other than Oman before the discovery of oil. Pearling sites existed from the cost of Qaatif in Eastern Saudi Arabia, to Dubai, being the richest in pearls to the North of Bahrain and Qatar, and North-Western of Abu Dhabi in UAE. The world's earliest pearls have been excavated from Umm al-Qaiwain in UAE, this being dated to the mid 6th mill. B.C. (Potts, 2017). The closest date-able pearl finds to Mesopotamia of course, come from Kuwait.
Linen was sent (we know this by the remains of letter sent to the Queen of Lagash by the/a Queen of Dilmun (Bahrain)) in the form of three gift dresses. The cultivation of flax for linen has been found in Turkey to date from at least 7,000 BC, but we know from the Egyptians, that this goes back earlier. For Mesopotamia, a scrap of linen was found dating back to the mid 3rd mill., and linen production is known to have existed here around 2000 BC. However, did earlier linen come from the Indus Valley or the ancient GCC areas? While the most likely source was export from Baluchistan, whether or not flax was cultivated and produced in linen weaving by Dilmun, UAE Tal Abraq culture, or Magan remains unknown, only that ancient GCC civilizations circulated linen and flax, and that, by the reign of Queens of Lagash and Dilmun, the craft existed to make linen dresses worthy of gifting to queens.
Copper is Oman's most famous ancient resource. The copper mines of Magan were well-established exporters to Mesopotamia by the mid 3rd mill. BC, via trade links with Dilmun (Bahrain).

Frankincense perfumes are also famous to Oman via the Dhofar region, but Dilmun was a famous for trade in the stuff. Myrrh has been found (probably from Baluchistan)  taken from Dilmun by the Assyrians in the 7th century BC, but deposits of it may exist on the Ras Al Jinz finds.

Relating to the perfume export business, through which Magan often acted as a centre, soft-stone containers and dishes have been found to originate, which, Potts (2017) surmises were mostly for the holding or perfumes and oils and incense gums and resins. These have been distributed as far afield in the 3rd mill BC as Palmyra in Syria, Iran, Pakistan, Iraq, and Uzbekistan.

Dates were also traded, as the letter from the Queen of Dilmun to the Queen of Lagash illustrates, and although Iraq would have been no stranger to date cultivation, maybe ancient men and women preferred variety in their produce as much as modern day Omanis do, when it comes to dates?:).

Potts (2017) surmises that the most common trade Magan and Dilmun made with Mesopotamia was for clothing and textiles.

REFERENCES
Potts, D. T. (2015). Watercraft of the Lower Sea. Pages 559-557.
Potts, D. T. (2017). Resource Origins and Resource Movement In and Around the Persian Gulf. Pages 133-142.

Preserving the architectural history of Oman by Oman's Own Citizens: STEP ONE

I am really thankful for the Curtis Law Blog for reading my mind, because I really needed to know how to start an NGO in Oman, for the purposes of creating something akin the Georgian societies in England and Ireland, and the Victorian society in Canada, who aim to preserve the culture, both architectural and cultural, of given eras.

For Oman, we currently have nothing like this. We have so many projects, and so many talented people, and so much history, and apparently, even some free resources, and volunteers, but all this exists with no connections, no framework, no easy path to discovery and help for deserving efforts. Everything that we do have is currently unorganized, uncoordinated, and undefined, with no collaboration, and few resources for citizens to preserve elements of culture, such as important buildings, structures, or sites...and while there is some support for artisans and knowledge, this is made irrelevant if it has no meaningful economic application (so I have found personally).

Anyways, will see what I can do on this, but thank you Curtis Law Blog, for preventing me for having to google another subject today (since I still have a thousand on my list left to google).

http://omanlawblog.curtis.com/2017/05/establishing-non-profit-organisation-in.html