Sunday, January 31, 2010

Desert Camping

I have never been so busy in my life! Who knew that you could get so caught up in sleepy Salalah? To be honest, I'm not sure the ride is over. The good news is....I've been having a blast and I am eager to share my adventures!!!  I am sincerely touched by all the emails asking if I am okay and sending words of encouragement to keep writing, it means a lot. If I haven't responded to your email yet, please know that its coming...

This past weekend I had a SPECTACULAR time camping in the middle of the desert. If you live in Salalah, the gulf or remotely close to a desert its a must-do! I am saddened by how few locals have ever experienced what its like.

We drove nearly two hours deep passed Thamreet before we found "our spot". We were fortunate to have a clear blue sky and with Asr approaching the air was cool and breezy. We camped amidst these amazing sand dunes that appeared to be untouched in perfect unison with its Creator. The right atmosphere can easily change ones mood and for a moment my imagination took flight and I envisioned myself as an Arabian Queen atop her hawdah as she reviewed a grand caravan of camels and men laden with treasures before they embarked into the sands. I looked around tempted to find a random camel and climb its back ha!

Instead we spent the rest of the day slipping and sliding on the dunes, racing each other up and down, creating sand angels and writing all sorts of things in the sugar-like sand. Fascinated by how the wind could make it dance, the kids couldn't stop taking hand full’s of sand and letting it slip through their fingers. Yes, it was magical.

We watched the first stars appear before Maghreb (sunset). I couldn't believe just how many stars poked through the sky despite the Sun's persistence. We decided to pray on the pure sand instead of using a sajadah (my idea). I thought it would be nice to "connect" with the earth being that we are created from it. It was more romantic than practical. Sam had sand stuck to his forehead most of the night and the grains left my forehead sore, alhamdulilah.

Dinner was simple, plain rice and vegetable sauce, salad and hot tea. The sun disappeared before we could finish eating and making a fire in total darkness was a bit of a challenge, but we did it! We sat in a Bedouin style tent around our fire and sipped tea. We told stories and jokes and between the silences we'd look up and marvel at the magnificent stars. It was as if, every single star, ever made, appeared that night to send Salaams (salutations) and remind us of the Creator. Our mood quietly shifted and became serious as we sat under this blanket of stars in contemplation, SubhanAllah (Glory to Allah). I swear I have never seen so many shooting stars. I lost count. Although cliche, the silence was utterly deafening. My ears became full with the humm in the air.

Whether you look out into the Ocean, or up at the Stars or down from the Mountains something unexplainable, but very real, stirs beneath your skin. All your "problems" melt away, like ice left in the sun and then somehow you feel free. The feeling is euphoric and satisfying but short lived. Just as your mind is about to rest, the hairs on your body stand and the realization of how small you are hit you like a ton of bricks. Your heart sees something the eyes cannot and you can't help but wonder "what is my purpose?", "why am I here?" What is it about the earth, nature, environment that makes you ask yourself the tough questions?

Its times like this, when I want to express/translate what I feel into words, that I realize how limited language can be. I can only say that the night spent in the desert will never be forgotton. I slept beneath a zillion bright stars in complete and total silence of the earth and for a moment, although fleeting, I connected with something.


* It is important to mention that travelling in the desert can be dangerous and that you should go with someone experienced.   

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Three Good Friends

What a crazy, busy weekend! On Wednesday evening I had the pleasure of attending a concert in Al Marooj Theatre with one of my closest friends. It was better than I expected. The singer Naziha Meftah had such a lovely voice and watching the emotion in her face as she sang added to the experience. I just wish I understood the words! I took some snapshots of her and her amazing dress along with the talented orchestra. I was surprised to see so many Omani men relaxed and enjoying themselves, I guess Salalah is slowly chipping away at its conservatism? My hubby stayed home with the dumplings.

I was especially dazzled by her beautiful emerald dress layered in gold lace.  While aiming my camera and adjusting the lens, I noticed that all the women seated around me were using their cell phones as cameras. At one point I counted 12 cell phones in the air all taking shots. Its strange the way cell phones here are an essential item for everyone; male, female, young, and old.

On Thursday afternoon I had lunch with a friend who shared really sad news with me. One of her "western" friends told her that a colleague of hers passed away (alone) the night before.  I'm not one to relay gossip and perhaps the story has been twisted along the way, but I was told that an elderly woman passed away in her apartment and was discovered by her dear friend who came to simply check up on her. After hearing this I couldn't help but feel sad myself. Imagine being in a foreign country and dying alone in your apartment?. I can't even begin to think about the devastation of the friend who found the body. The trauma. My heart and prayers go out to her. I don't know what I would do if I found my friend dead. My friend ended the story with "Praise be to God".

This morning I spent nearly two hours on the "phone/computer" talking with a friend who is deeply offended by Frances inclination towards banning the face veil. She is a French-American convert living in France who wears the face veil... by choice. She asked my opinion, what should she do if the law is passed, should she take it off, why are they doing this to women, and of course, what will happen if she doesn't remove it? I don't have all the answers of course, but I am affected nonetheless as a woman who chooses to wear the face veil in a place where its common-place. I've become so used to it that I might feel violated if I was forced to take it off.

For those out of the loop; In 2005, France declared that any and all conspicuous religious symbols would be banned from all French public schools. While its true, Christian crosses and Jewish kippas also fell under this category, it was obvious that this ban would primarily affect the hijab, which it has, considering France has the largest European Muslim population. Now, things are moving quickly and women seem to bearing the brunt of it. Its only a matter of time for hijab to be banned period in France, no?

Just last November the Swiss voted "no" to minarets in their country despite the fact that there are only 4 in the entire country. I still don't understand that. It happens in doses all over the place the push for secularism in the name of democracy.

My Christian friend sent me the photo above. We both had a good laugh and I appreciated her sharing and joked that Nuns wore Abayas first. Sometimes when you're "in" something, your perception is skewed, limited. I remember my non-hijab days and how I perceived the women who covered, I always admired them, maybe I'm just weird like that?. I would be so curious to know how people really feel about the women who wear hijab/niqab today.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The Road Less Traveled

When do you know if you should just bite the bullet, have faith, take a risk or as Nike says "just do it"?

I have been battling with a personal dilemma for months now. I have to decide whether to take a huge chance and pursue a "dream" or pass up the opportunity and remain "safe". If I "just do it" there is so much I am putting at risk, everything and everyone around me will be affected in some way or another. There's a part of me that says I must fulfill this dream at all costs and that in the end it will benefit myself and my family.

Then there’s the other side. The side that tells me I am being selfish, too much is at risk, and that the risk isn't worth the cost. The potential for it to all crumble down and be a mistake weighs heavy on my shoulders.
Yes of course I have prayed on it, talked endlessly with myself about it, chewed my mothers ear off about it, even dreamt about it, and still after all that I am unsure.

Help please, when do you know when/if you should "just do it"!

Saturday, January 9, 2010

The Perfect Stranger

Have you ever been so shocked and touched by an act of kindness from a complete and total stranger? One that left you to reflect on your own kindness and question whether you’ve been selfless enough? Well, its happened to me many times, but for some reason here in Salalah, its been happening almost…often? Someone, usually a stranger, does something entirely selfless for me.

We were being really adventuress this past weekend. We packed up our igloo on thursday night and when the sun rose we set off into the desert. It was beautiful. Romantic. The mountains, the trees, the sand and the beaches all seemed more perfect than the day before. Two hours into our drive, our eyes caught a glimpse of a distant a part of beach that was simply too gorgeous not to venture to. The only thing separating us and the beach was …..SAND of course (soft sand).

Without a thought we swerved to the right off the paved road and cut through into the beautiful sand. The exhiliration lasted 4 seconds, our tires never experienced it. The car wouldn’t move. The tires spun in the sand digging us deeper in. Reverse, nada, Drive, nada, Neutral, nada. Not a person in sight, no sign of civilization and we were stuck. Of course being a woman, a million thoughts ran through my head. "We’re gonna die here, there’s no cell phone reception, well at least we have water, ok so we’ll ration our sandwiches and worse come to worse we can walk to the beach and find fish until help comes?"

So, we got out of the car, and being rookies in the desert we tried to dig ourselves loose. Of course that didn’t work. Then we tried to push our car, our huge car. It didn’t budge, barely shook. Darn this brand new defiant car!. After 45 minutes and no more ideas we resigned to eat lunch... in the car. I thought to myself, but dared not say aloud "You call yourself Omani and can't get us out of the sand?" lol. Before I could finish my rationed sandwich, we heard another car. Hubby jumped out of the car to wave our saviour down. The car was going so fast, so furious, I thought for sure the guy in it didn't even see us! His car zigzagged through, passed us in seconds, practically skipping in the sand.  I could almost swear, I heard it whistle it was so happy. My mouth agape I thought “How the HECK can that, old beat up car go through the sand soooo easily and our brand new defiant car wont even crawl????!

By Gods Mercy, the car zigzags over to us, the driver rolls his window down to talk to Sam. A minute later the guy gets out of his car so excited, opens our door and shakes Sams hand smiling from ear to ear praising God and swears to help (at least that’s what I could make out). He skips away in his car and we’re left in the sand again. I wonder to myself if the guy will ever come back. I ask hubby to translate what the guy said. "He's gonna come back with a rope". I roll my eyes thinking "yeah right, where is he going to get a rope in the middle of nowehere?" Well, a little over 30 minutes later, yes, skipping of course (and whistling), he comes back with a rope and in minutes we are rescued. This perfect stranger drove out all the way to his home, got a rope, drove back to us and then insisted we come to his families home for tea!!!. We were truly touched. We very politely declined and kept thanking him for his help, I even convinced Sam to offer money(total insult I learned). But you should know, you can’t say “no” to an Omani.

We were so graciously served hot tea and were with wonderful company. I tried my best to communicate in broken Arabic. By the end of our visit we were sad to say goodbye. I wont ever forget them. They also convinced me to try camping in the desert during winter. I think I'll take their advice, maybe next weekend?

And about the skipping car, Khalid (our saviour) advised us; “New cars no good. Old, much better.”

Have you ever been touched with selfless kindness by a total stranger?

Wednesday, January 6, 2010


It's been stuck in my head all morning! "If theres something strange in your neighborhood, who you gonna call?? Ghostbusters!!"

Too many things are happening all at once and I just can't get a hold of time! The new year creeped up without any sign or signal, no decorations, bright lights or fireworks in my neck of the woods.
If it weren't for the bright big full moon that magically appeared on New Years Eve I would have never suspected something strange on the horizon. At exactly 12:00 AM I was woken up by a generic "Happy New Year" text message from a friend. I don't like my sleep to be interrupted and as far as I was concerned the new year was sleeping too. I haven't even contemplated any resolutions, and I don't think I will. In fact, I don't think anyone really follows through. Every day is a new beginning, another chance to make things better.

I'm not superstitious at all, but this particular full moon seems a bit peculiar to me. It's like an overt warning that things are preparing to unfold, good or bad who knows. I'm seriously praying that great and good things happen this year and I am trying extra hard to ignore those itching pessimistic feelings warning me of great world change.

So the Burj Dubai has been renamed, Burj Khalifa after it's saviour...interesting. The fireworks made up for the years of missed fireworks due to living in Salalah . Now that the Burj Khalifa has made its debut, has prophesy been fulfilled?? Do we now believe the hadith?

The weather has declared war on my sinuses. My throat is so scratchy and dry that I sound like a drag Queen when I speak.  I've been reading instead of talking, thus my hubby is pleased :)

Im so glad its Wednesday! I'm looking forward to a relaxing weekend somewhere in the desert.

I have drafted 3 posts today and couldn't decide which one I should post first, so I figured it best to simply let you all know that I am still alive, breathing in the dust, and overmedicating myself with benedryl.

The sureal moon accompanied by the new Burj are making me uneasy. I humbly ask "Please God, make this year better than last!"