Friday, 30 March 2012

Views on Veils

I wear a veil in public these days.  Not because I have to, indeed quite a few people (mostly non Omani) people have said that I don't have to, but I feel more comfortable wearing one.  There is, I think, a subtle difference in the way people interact with me when I'm wearing it.  Maybe I'll keep wearing it, maybe in time I won't.  However, for the moment I shall continue as is.

Oman certainly is the place to see veils.  There are all kinds, covering more or less of the wearer.  From delicate bits of floral chiffon draped artfully over truly enormous hair to the completely black, head to toe burqa.  I'd love to run around snapping pictures to show you the variations, but it's a little bit (read a lot) rude.  Besides, I don't have enough Arabic to ask politely enough.  May be when i do have enough Arabic I'll create a photo essay; after the T thing of course.  In the meantime you'll just have to deal with a written description.

I'd love to snap the gaggles of teenagers.  Teens are teens in any culture.  Take the mall for instance.  Muscat City Centre is the biggest mall in Muscat, well until the bigger mall opens closer to the centre of town. In comparison to even Australian malls that's not saying very much, but the similarities are alive and well.  Large groups of mid-teen boys, in pristine white dishdashas (a close necked, long sleeved, ankle length dress) and closely embroidered kumas, swagger and pose when they see equally large groups of giggling mid-teen girls swathed in black from head to toe with flashes of bright decorations swirling around hems, wrists and heads.  If I close my eyes I could be back at Belconnen mall on a weekday afternoon.

There are a some very distinct styles of dress for the young Omani lass  (These are my observations only and any connection to fact may be tenuous, I don't know the ins and outs of groupings here yet).  The abaya is reasonably universal, and has varying degrees of adornment, some of it gently bright embroidery and some outrageous bling that dazzles the eye.  It is the veil that is different.

Some ladies just where a simple scarf or pashmina around their heads.  Colour is up to the individual and there is plenty of it.  Florals and paisley styles are the go, the brighter the better.  Some westerners (including me) dress like this.  Although I'm not a bright colour sort of girl. These are worn over black abayas, coloured robes or western clothing.

There is the large head, little body look.  Sort of Italian renaissance in reverse. In this style the hair is pulled back into a tight bun and held in place with a claw comb which is liberally adorned with fabric flowers.  Lots of fabric flowers.  Lots and lots of flowers.  The decorated comb ends up about the size of a human head and then it, and the actual human head  it's attached to, is draped liberally in several black veils, leaving a tiny, white, heavily made up face peaking out at the world.  Make up is very important to the Omani lass.  Eyes are heavily kohled, thick, perfect eyebrows are painted on (even to the extent of delicate shading across the bridge of the nose in what is unkindly known in western society as a mono-brow). It is this group that sometimes wear their veils completely covering their faces - unless they're eating ice-creams.  Apparently ice-cream negates the need to cover your face in public - at least for some of the teenage girls I've come across.

Then there is the burqa.  Those women who wear the burqa do not subscribe to the large head, little body attitude on life.  These ladies waft through the crowd with an elegant ease.  All you can see is brown, luminous eyes.  Not a dark, dark brown like my boy's a little lighter.  It is easy to see them smile and laugh, as well as being stern with their children.  The burqa really brings home the old adage that 'the eyes are the windows of the soul.'  Don't for one instant think that these women are subservient or shy.  Standing next to one young lady and her daughters (who were groovin' to the beat in the electronics store and staring at the strange western lady) I could see some tantalisingly beautiful henna swirls and arabesques painted round her eyes.  Her hands were also covered in intricate patterns and her finger tips were tipped with henna.  All in all, breathe takingly beautiful and exotic. Henna designs are common here on hands and arms, but not so much on the uncovered face.

Then there is the Effie-style of dress.  Remember Effie?  A Greek lassie with enormous hair?  Well, she's alive and well and living in Oman.  Her hair is huge and stiffened to within an inch of it's life, her scrap of veil (a sort of passing nod to tradition) draped artistically over her gargantuan "bun."  Her clothes are not what one would call concealing, she's got it and it's on show.  Her nails are long and brightly painted, her heels high and tiny.

All of these ladies make up just one part of the colour of the Omani street.  I have to say, if you are concerned that women are being downtrodden by the requirement to wear a veil, come to Oman for a thirty second tour of the mall.  You'll change your mind very, very quickly.  Here the veil is more than just a head covering. It is a language, an art, but most importantly, it is a personal statement of a woman's individuality.

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Setting Up House - The Move

I can highly recommend moving with practically no possessions, our worldly goods fitted in the boot.  Of course that does mean that we are living in an large marble and concrete box box, with accompanying echo.  David has already revealed what was bought during the great shopping expedition (one of the shopping expeditions, I'm over shopping, I really am) so it is my turn to reveal the pictures.  Bwhahahahah!! Competitive? David and I?  Never.

Ir's not very hard to see where our priorities lie.  Let's just say that everything was supposed to come on Sunday.  Only one delivery happened.  Probably the most important one.  The bed.

The bed is made in India, solid wood, king-size and very, very yummy.  David and I saw it separately and fell in love with it just a little bit.  It has matching side cupboards and a dressing table with a huge mirror.  You can imagine how big the room is when you see how bare it looks with these gigantically heavy pieces in place.  The curtains are a little lush and frame the greenery in the window beautifully.  Apparently, when those plants flower, they are wonderfully perfumed.

The Bed.  

The Dressing table

I tried to get the study up and running as quickly as possible, with limited success.  I braved the wilds of an industrial area, right at the moment when all the trucks are let loose and during major roadworks, to pick it up from the warehouse.  When I unpacked it I discovered just how many pieces had to go together and how many different fastenings there are.  Of course, not having any tools is a novel situation too.  I'll just go and grab... No, maybe I'll..... Shopping list!

The desk in the study - round the study

You will notice that the chair (which is bright purple by the way) is together = yay me!  The desk comes with instructions - of a sort

A bit of a challenge.......

Lucky for me I have a lovely husband who has worked most of it out and it's almost together.  The main problem will be the window.  It has full sun in the afternoon.  Interesting at 32 degrees, but probably uninhabitable in 45 degrees.  Curtains are definitely on the agenda, unfortunately most of the curtains they sell are light.  I mean really light, even the ones we put in the  bedroom have light coming through them and they were the heaviest I could find.  It's early days though.  Our neighbour, the other part of the twin villa, has given me the name and number of her curtain man.  How bizarre is that?  A curtain man.  Only the other day I was scoffing about some ladies on an expat list talking about her curtain man.  The only other option is buying a sewing machine and making them.  That was lies dooooooooom.  So once things have settled down, the curtain man it is.

The lounge room and dining room are little interchangeable at the moment and they're both pretty much empty - except for the television and a little outdoor setting which will eventually end up on the roof.  David has his eye on a spectacularly OTT lounge suite with lots of pillow and even tassels.  Luckily we have lots of room.

The Dining room - well half of it at least

The Lounge room - again half of it

Just out of the window you can see our little car.  It's a Mazda 2, a little small for David, but it zips along quite nicely.  I'm sort of enjoying zapping around Muscat.  The drivers are "interesting," and , similar to New York, they use their horns to carry on conversations, they don't get grumpy about you doing stupid things (even like driving down the wrong side of the road - just a little bit, not for very long - really).  They even stop and let you turn when it might not be your turn.  The taxi's and buses, however, are evil.  Just evil.  You flag down both taxis and little 12 seater buses.  Well, I say "you" I really mean other people.  Crazy people who flag them down in the middle of  120km/hr freeways.  Eeeeeeek!!  

Anyway, the car.  We had been about to rent a car for a month when David looked at the expat classifieds and an d saw an ad from a lovely Scottish lassie who was leaving the country very soon and needed someone to take over the last four months of her six month lease.  It's cheaper than any of the hire options we'd come across and all we had to do was meet her at the lease company and sign things over.  Easy peesie.  That was another thing off our minds.

The worlds cutest refrigerator
Not in the kitchen at all.

Now for the kitchen.  This is the most organised of all, at least appliance wise.  Of course there's practically no food, but the worst is the lack of containers, the little bits and pieces that you use everyday but don't even think about until you don't have it.  Take this evening.  I cooked my first meal in Oman.  It was supposed to be David's favourite, but he deserted me for some work dinner and some posh restaurant.  So I had some Gorgonzola and walnut tortellini with fresh tomato, mushrooms, zucchini and olives.  I finished  cooking the pasta and went drain it.  Whoops, not colander.  They're slippery little buggers and I lost a few down the sink. The sink I had just scoured to within an inch of its life.  The previous tenant might have been some cool, French cook, but her sure as hell didn't know how to look after his plumbing.  Blerk.  The cupboards under the sink are a little pongy. I think there might be some damp in there that was painted over.  Well, I'll know soon.  Anyone with any bright ideas?

So here is one end of the kitchen with all the new shinies

The other end of the kitchen.

The laudry (and probably pantry once I'm organised)
So things are going swimmingly.  The weather is lovely, the dust is bad, the food is fantastic.  If you want a cheap takeaway eat Omani or Indian.  Last night David and I grabbed some dinner after shopping.  We ordered two serves of a meaty special at the Indian place in the food court at Muscat City Centre (it's a mall, not very large even by Australian standards.  It has a food court with McDonald's, KFC, another fried chicken place, a Chinese place, an Italian place and a couple of others. Very expensive.  A meal for one will cost you about 7 Rials ($A17).  The Indian, on the other hand, after he told us that it was supposed to be fore two, cost only 3.800 rials (about $A10) with drinks, and filled both of us up.

We've been here now for two weeks.  By golly they've been busy.  Tonight has been my first real downtime and I'm not crawling into bed unable to function and aching all over.  Let's see what the next week brings.

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Setting up House - the beginning

Tonight we went shopping after I picked up David from work.  Picking up David had already involved hurtling down the Muscat Express Way at 140km/hour in a dust storm.  I'd had a bad morning - you know the ones, you have two really quick things to do and they take four hours, 14 people and the ability not to stab your computer in the screen with a sharp knife.  It was close, but I did manage to get International Money Transfer working working so that we could go shopping. Let's just say that one iPhone, one iPhone hotspot, 2 sim cards and no idea of the arcane code required to reactivate access to the local internet provider does not make a calming day.  Still, I got it done.

We've been having this little dust storm.  Yesterday temperature dropping back into the high 20s and the wind came up.  Damn. There is a lot of fine sand and dust all over Oman  (and I mean a lot - for those of you familiar with the dust during Rowany Festival site at Yass throughout the drought might think you know dusty -Ha!! I say, Ha!!!) and it all went up.  Today there was very little wind, and the dust stayed up - except for the large amounts that are on our car.  There are lots of shiny cars in Oman and lots of dust.  How can that be you ask?  Surely that's not possible?  Well I'll tell you a secret.  There are armies of little men in blue (dark blue, not sky blue that's another army of men) who lurk in each row the big car parts pulling green carts.  For very little money they will happily wash the dust of your car.  So, you go shopping dusty, you go home clean.

I'm sure there must be land further on......
It was a bit like driving into the Nothing  from Never Ending Story 

Yup, there it is, looming out of the...errr...dust
At home you'd be expecting the smell of smoke from the fires.
Wait, no fires, no smell.........weird

There are lots of different armies of men in Oman.  When we went to visit the camels (it seems like years ago) the Officer who was showing around very proudly told us that here, everyone has a job to do, they know what they have to do and they just do it.  Then it is all done.  Simple.  I think that once upon a time it was like that everywhere and we, with our level playing field, multi-skilling ways, have lost the knack of it.

So why were we going shopping.  Weeeelll, we've spent much of the week looking for somewhere to live.  When David tootled off to work on Wednesday, he discovered we were only supposed to be staying at the police club for three days.  Mmmm.  No.  "But you were supposed to organise your accommodation before you arrived!"  Errrr. No.  "But they are booked out!"  Ummmm. No. Let's just say that house hunting started quickly and has been all consuming.  (The lovely Major in charge of the complex said "Don't worry about it, we will work it out." just before launching into a very odd conversation about, of all things, lesbians.  If I'd thought about what I might be discussing with a Major in the Middle East, that wasn't going to be it...ever.)

We have seen some interesting and beautiful places.  The very first place we looked at gave us a bit of a shock.  The place was completely empty.  No stove, no nothin'. The rentals are 'maintained' after the tenants leave and completely re-plastered and painted.  So we started to look for furnished places with a mad French woman called Florence.  Florence found some horrible and some lovely places for us, drank coffee with us, drove us round, laughed when we got lost, and carefully smoked outside while we looked at places. But in the end we chose a little twin villa near the airport, in a little suburb call Al Hail.  We had been looking and looking and were feeling somewhat despondent when I met a lovely English lassie called Jade, who suggested this two bedroom place.  The landlord was looking for expats to look after his fig and lime trees and the kitchen was a bit odd -it was outside.  I was intrigued, David was intrigued so off we went at looked. We loved the feel of it immediately.  It might only have two bedrooms, but there is a room just perfect for a study, there are three bathrooms (most places have a bathroom for each bedroom and one for guests).  The kitchen is a separate  room outside.  I have to say that appealed to the cook in me.  No heating up the house in the middle of summer by cooking!  Yes!  We looked at a lot more places before we said yes, but it drew us in.  There was green around it.  There is not very much of Muscat that normal people can afford that has much in the way of greenery and it was just a little odd.  Perfect!

The Front Entry

The lounge room, notice the big trees out the front :-)

Katrina scurrying off to look into something.
You can see that things aren't particularly square.

Just outside the back door.
In fact, between the main house and the kitchen.
There is a store-room and laundry attached to the kitchen.

Another bit of garden.
 These are just a teaser....  The villa is totally enclosed in a white wall and the block next door is vacant.  It it lovely and private and I think we will be very happy there.  It is all on one level, but has a staircase to the roof, marble floors throughout and air conditioners in almost every room.  We are not far from the beach and when you stand on the roof terrace (there will be furniture up there, there will) you can smell the sea.

So, we went shopping.  We did.  Next week perhaps you'll get to see what we bought.......

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

The Adventure Begins

Well it's been two weeks since I last posted and our lives have had a teensie tweensie change.  We've been in Muscat for four days now.  The trip over was boring and uneventful - yay!!!  We flew direct from Melbourne to Dubai on the night flight, an excellent choice by the way, it meant it was dark almost all way to Dubai.  Then the sun came up.

Dubai from the air is quite something.  There is much more green than I was expecting, but it was in higgledy piggledy patches.  I had thought that the irrigated (if that's quite the right word) areas would be far more symmetrical,more like the views in Australia or the US, but no, it's like a green crazy quilt; every imaginable shade of green from dirty sage through to brilliant emerald.  Of course the bulk of the landscape is not in the slightest bit green.  At first I thought I was looking at concrete, lots of flat concrete with enormous amounts of form-work.  Then I noticed the little piles...mmmm...not concrete - sand.  The landscape was like a huge cake that had been iced with an positively gargantuan palette knife.  Astonishing.

Flying along the gulf over Oman was beautiful.  The sea is quite a different colour to Australia's coast.  It's difficult to explain how it is different, only that you know without a doubt if you crash landed in the sea and swam to shore, it wouldn't be an Australian shore you swam to.

As we made our way to the visa queue the cry of "Mr David, Mr David" rang out.  Mr David? I wonder who Mr David is?  Ah!  That would be my husband.  We were greeted by a lovely man in uniform who took us directly to the visa station, right passed the crowd of people waiting in line - the looks on the faces of the watching crowd was priceless - "Are they famous? Are they important?  Have they been arrested?"  Next the baggage carousels.  A baggage handler was snaffled and followed us wherever we went.  With the exception of David's sleep apnoea machine being trapped inside the x-ray machine passing through Customs and Immigration was as simple as pie.  We left the passenger hall and were greeted by our driver, a lovely Omani called Sultan.  We bought new sim cards, picked up the hire-car, packed our bags into the back of the work car and, eventually, set off through Muscat to arrive at the Royal Omani Police Compound.  I say compound because I really don't have any other word for it.  If you look it up in google maps what you will see is the Royal Oman Police Stadium.

The Officer's club is built into the area under the stands of the stadium.  We were given a guided tour by the Major, after having our first experience of Omani tea - black and sweet, although Omani's call tea without milk 'red tea' which caused some hilarity.  The Major very proudly showed us the bar.  The biggest and longest bar in the Middle East, made to order in Germany.  Not bad for a people who don't drink alcohol.  The whole club is simply amazing.

We have managed to meet Dan, David's University Canberra contact, who has kept sending us the most reassuring emails throughout this crazy time.  He, and is wife Nooshin (a simply stunning Iranian lass who is due to have her first baby in July), live in a block of villas called the Rose Garden.  Lovely place, but at 800 OMR per month un furnished (multiply by 2.5 for $A) we thought not, even though there is a villa coming up in the complex.  We visited them for drinks and then went out to dinner. Lovely but sooo tired.

I started writing this a few days ago and have only just got back to it.  Life has been insanely busy.  David has been stressed, I have been driving on the wrong side of the road for the first time.  It's not as hard as I thought, but I haven't needed to get myself out of trouble yet.  I will leave you with a selection of photographs from our day in Muscat.   All I can say is that it is a very lovely city.  The people are very friendly and they all love speaking English - some better than others.

David at Dubai Airport

On the way from the airport
Who said it wasn't green

David and the hire car parked outside the Police Club villa

The unit.  You can just see the kitchen window under the tree.
The tree that fills up with 100s of loud birds morning and evening
Every tree has its very own sprinkler

David looking nonchalant on the waterfront

The worlds cutest lamp posts on the main street AS Sultan Qaboos Street

Saturday, 17 March 2012

A Short Trip to old Musqat

We are just back from a lovely middle of the day jaunt down to old Musqat with Dan and Nooshin (and their British visitors).  I should have really finished my blogging backlog before writing about today, but what the hell.

After a lazy morning of not very much at all, Dan and Noosha arrive we took off down towards Mutrah to visit a certain iconic souk.  Oh my, oh my.  We had thought the souk was closing at 1:30pm (it being Friday and all), but we were a little bit wrong, it closed at 12:00.  What time did we get there?  11:30.  These photographs look washed out.  We forgot both our cameras and I was taking photos with my phone.  It was 35 degrees and I think the level of sun and white was a little too much for it.

Outside the Mutrah Souk
They are very fond of leaping dolphins and hill forts
Even mostly closed it was amazing...oh the shopping.  Lilya, if you are reading this, you and Bran really must start saving for a trip over .  So many fabrics, trims and braids, jewellery, well, let's just say STUFF lots of STUFF.

More than one umbrella with glass panels
Inside it's really a big umbrella - NOT

After not managing to even think about buying anything at the Souk (don't worry, it's only 10 or 15 minutes away, I'll be back) we drove down to look at the Sultan's palace in Old Musqat.  The road down was fascinating.  The rocks came right to the edge of the road in many places. In others, highly stylised and carefully maintained greenery sat between the stone and the road.

Very, very close to the road

Topiaried trees right next to the rock of the mountain.
As surreal as you're likely to get.

Palm trees at the foot of the rock

Just to make sure that we were well aware of the power of just one man, we went to visit Al Bustan Palace Hotel.  It is a massive luxury hotel build on the grounds of the town of  El Bustan.  Apparently all those who lived there were moved by the Sultan so that the hotel could be built.  The Sultan built a new town (which nestles between hills in the next bay) for the the people of El Bustan and guaranteed them all employment at the hotel.  It seems to be a very successful way of employing your populations.  Apparently another town is in the process of doing just the same thing.

The road leading to the hotel
The road swings to the left just before hitting the rock.

The chandeliers drip from the dome
From a distance, the walls appear gilded.
They are actually carved in deep relief

The central fountain
The hotel is astonishing.  It is grand in a palatial style, combining the aesthetics of both East and West and has the air of a cathedral.. All helped, I'm sure, by the lingering scent of frankincense and the sounds of Mozart and Beethoven flowing through the halls. 

The grounds are manicured and watered.
Some rooms have access directly to the pools.
You can just see the new town of Al Bustan in the distance

Sunday, 4 March 2012

Soothing the savage beast

Golly gosh, a few days of complete relaxation is very, very tiring.  Must. Get. Up. And. Do. Something.

Last week saw us both getting just a touch scratchy.  Just a touch.  It's getting harder and harder to stay focussed on just one thing.  Bing, bing, bing, bing.  Ooooh look - pretty!  Gosh, look over there! Whoops there goes a....  Ooh pretty!  I have hit Curves most days,  and it does make me sweat and gets the heart rate up,but feel like I really need to rev things up.  Some boxing would be good, really good.  This week I must pop down to the local gym and see if they have boxing set up.

After grumping and whinging all week, - thank the Lord for husbands who know when enough is enough.  David declared we were going to hire a car and go to Daylesford for a few days. So hire a car and drive (with the odd "interesting" turn) is what we did.  To spa country.  To the spa in spa country. Mmmmmmmm.

We visited with Colin and Audrey at their country estate just outside Daylesford. It sits in bushland next to the State forest.  You can just seen the glint of water in the upper dam. The lower dam has an island in the middle and lovely times have been spent paddling around it.  David has been known to catch the occasional fish in there as well.  I love this part of the Australian bush.  I so, so much a Victorian girl.  There is something about the bush around Victoria which relaxes me and leaches away niggling cares -  especially when it's raining.  Daylesford put on its best weather for us.  Raining, windy and cool.  Glorious!

Heath Cottage

 This has been their "retirement" project, made with rock hewn from the ground it stands on. Some of the rocks are huge, some are small - all of them were dragged from the earth by Colin and Audry.  Then, in order to hone their stone-laying skills they built Heath Cottage rock by rock.  Now it's a lovely little one room cottage with a mezzanine bedroom (more bed than room I have to say) that is accessed by ladder. I actually managed the ladder very well.  I won't say that I dashed up and down willy nilly, but I didn't have any scary thoughts - that's progress brought on by fitness and more awareness of what my body is doing.
Ladder cleverness aside, it is not hard to imagine bringing the milking cow and chickens in on cold nights.  It is, of course, much more civilized than that.  These days it has running water and electricity.

When Heath Cottage was finished  and there was somewhere to sleep that wasn't a tin shed or a caravan, Gran and Pa moved on to the main house. It took a few years, quite a few years actually, as they continued levering rocks and building walls while having almost sole care of my two nieces Emma and Abby.  Now, theoretically, they can rest on their laurels and enjoy the beauty they have created with their own sweat and toil.
The main house

It's a magnificent house.  The gardens around it sit lightly in the bushland and my imagination has a tendency to float back into days gone by.  The natural shapes of the rocks have holes and gaps and, rather than plaster them all up, they have been encouraged.  These  are my favourite parts of the house.  As you walk around the house, inside and out, strange little creatures peer out at you from little caves, nooks and crannies and some very odd additions catch your attention.
Man vs nature
Nature doing what nature does best

A wall just because
A very tiny dwarf

Sneaky mouse

A happy green pixie
Koalas looking after the water!

The water goes where?

Two naughty pixies
A tiny nativity