A curious caravanserai of notoriety and nonsense, poetry and prophecy.

First thoughts on arrival in OMAN!!!

Kuma, traditional pill-box style hat worn by Omani men

OH.MY.GOODNESS. Long couple of days! But here I am in Muscat, Oman – finally have a modem for my computer so (sometimes) I connect to the internet, so wahoo! victory!

So I got into Dubai at 1am from Beirut the other day – was thrilled to see my friend Fahad in Beirut for dinner, and he took care of me cause I had a fever! Fortunately I’m feeling better now.  The two of us went out to our favorite restaurant, Taa Marbuuta, and then wandered around looking for, as Pinky would say to Brain, “a tattoo parlor at this time of night”…

I really didn’t know what to expect upon arrival (left Dubai at 8:30am, got to Muscat at 9:30am).  Oman is one of the most conservative countries in the Middle East – so not the same active nightlife/partying/rooftop bar/bikini-beach culture as is so popular in Beirut among Lebanese and expats alike.  However,  Saudi Arabia is really the only extreme example of gender and social conservatism (women aren’t legally allowed to drive) in the Middle East.  In Oman (much like in Kuwait, Qatar, the Emirates, and Bahrain, the other four Gulf [oil] monarchies) women make up approximately 2/3 of university students, many ministers and government officials are women, and the Omani Ambassador to the US, Hunaina Sultan Ahmed, is a woman (http://www.washdiplomat.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=category&id=136:oman&layout=blog&Itemid=168&layout=blog).

The post-graduate fellowship I’m doing in Oman is focused on women’s empowerment in the private sector, in particular through women’s use of social media for self-representation and promotion of small business.  Because internet freedom in Oman is rather tightly regulated (Skype is banned for instance…GChat get at me!), I’m not sure how practical undertaking my entire proposal idea – at least as initially conceived during the 2011 post-Arab spring internet-liberty-grace-period –  will be.  One of my host affiliations, a prominent female Omani  blogger who goes by Dhofari Gucci (http://dhofarigucci.blogspot.com check it out!),  recently described it to me this way:

“As for the censorship thing, it felt like 2011 was a free-for-all (a wonderful one, that is) in terms of speaking out. After the crackdown, people are joking that it’s as if the Arab Spring never happened.”

“The crackdown” meaning when a lot of bloggers were jailed, blogs shut down by the government etc.  Even I have trouble connecting to the internet sometimes because you have to verify wifi connections through a pin code sent to your (Omani) phone number, so if I try to connect to wifi through my (American) iPhone (even though I also have an Omani one as of yesterday), my connection will be blocked.

In other news, I was actually pretty concerned about what to wear on the plane.  It’s 100 degrees here (usually doesn’t get above 110 here in Muscat now that the summer’s over, although it’s hotter elsewhere in the country, especially the mountains southwest near Nizwa), but I wanted to dress conservatively.  However, I’ve been informed that foreign men can get arrested for wearing the dishdasha and kuma (traditional dress that Omani men over the age of 16 are required to wear in public as part of Sultan Qaboos’ “Omanisation” program) because it is considered inappropriate/mocking.  So even though almost all Omani women wear the abaya (full black silk cloth over the whole body and hair, sometimes also part of the face), I figured that wearing a hijab (headscarf) would not be a wise idea, since I am both not Muslim and very obviously not Arab (hello freckles).

His Majesty Sultan Q looking fly and regal in a dishdasha (robe with short, often-perfumed neck tassel) and musyr (headwrap alternative to kuma)

His Majesty Sultan Q looking fly and regal (per usual, there are gorgeous official portraits of him everywhere) in a dishdasha (robe with short, often-perfumed neck tassel) and musyr (headwrap alternative to kuma)

I decided upon a floor length dress of Mary’s that I stole before coming (Sorry Mary! My closet is all yours!).  However, the dress is sleeveless.  I figured this was a good middle-ground – under-promise and over-perform, my father once said – so that I don’t wear my MOST conservative long-sleeve floor length dress on day one and then end up having to wear it every day…then again I’m pretty glad I didn’t wear shorts.  The sleeveless long dress was a good call.

Long pants/skirts and short or long sleeve shirts should be good going forward.  I’m not too worried, especially because every single building I’ve been in is so extremely air-conditioned that wearing shorts would be pretty foolish anyway. And, as you might expect, 90+ percent of the time people are indoors, because of the “oppressive” (I like it) heat

OK more soon,

G

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