Friday, 15 June 2012

Of forts and other things Omani

Last weekend, after visiting the Nizwa goat market, David finally got to see the Nizwa fort.  It's been there for a very long time.  Nizwa, the "Pearl of Islam," intermittently served as the capital from the 8th to the  12th century AD.  Built around the 9th century, the citadel consistes of the the Fort (Q'ala) and a residence/administrative castle (Hisn) - actually I lie, the Fort was built in the 17th century.  It is quite amazing - as you may have read in David's blog.  It is simply gigantic - 30 metres high & 36 metres in diameter - and filled to a height of 15 metres with earth and stone replete with murder holes and wells.  The walls continue to create an immense circular platform ringed with 23 cannons - yep, 360 degrees of cannon.  Just the thought of moving that much earth to fill that size fort beggars the imagination.  If I was a better person, I'd work out the volume.  Feel free to let me know the answer.

David and a 16th century cannon
This is one of the cannons at the door of the Fort.  Purty aint she?  You will, of course, notice the sexy basket at David is holding.  That's my new knitting basket - it seems to be kitten proof at the moment.

Sultan and David admiring the view (and the cannon)
This is just one of the 23 cannon positions.  Best View Ever!!! I certainly wouldn't want to be sneaking up on this thing.


The first well inside the fort.  There are two wells at ground level, both are still in use.  The original ropes are still in place for the tourists to look at, but both now also have monster pumps in them - not to mention the heavy grills to stop inquisitive tourists falling in.  Although..........



There are four wells, two round and two rectangular, at the top of the citadel.  All bored through that 15 metres of rock and earth.  All still with water at the bottom. All mind boggling. 

Just to give you an idea of the scale of the thing.  I took the next photograph sitting on the steps of the flagpole in the centre of the citadel (hey, there was shade, it was hot, I have knees that were already complaining violently at the less than gentle stairs to get this far!). Much to David's disappointment, the sentry walk was blocked off to the public.  Darn.

Climbing to the top 
The whole thing is an amazing museum, beautifully presented and fascinating.  It is definitely on the list of places to take visitors. 

This weekend we have a four day weekend.  It was only declared during the week, so we organised nothing.  Which was good, because the last two weeks has been a little tiring.  A break was definitely called for.  So we stayed home.  Well in Muscat, well close to Muscat.

We went looking for the mysterious Al Khoud Fort.  It only has one mention on the internet and that mention may be the wrong fort.  Odd.  Anyway, we went looking and we found this one! We have no idea what Fort it is.  It seems to be under renovation but was closed when we wandered round. This Fort is only about ten minutes from our house.  We need to find out more
    There are in fact cannons poking out!
from the car park

The secret garden Omani style

What's left of the next door neighbours

The fallaj the fort protects
That quick visit was followed by visiting the Bait Al Zubair in old Muscat.  This museum, consisting of three houses, was greated by the Zubair family from their own collection.  It houses a massive collection of Omani artefacts and has been set up as an educational institution.  Unfortunately photography is prohibited inside the museum, so I can't show you the amazing artefacts, clothing and everyday items that are displayed.  Of course if you come to visit it's definitely on the to do list.

Outside the buildings they have set up some old Omani living spaces.  We could take photos there.......

One of the mud brick structures used for kitchen and storage
There were two mud brick structures that seemed to be storerooms and perhaps a kitchen.  I'm actually kicking myself that I didn't open the door in the photo above.  Next time. You can see the water storage jars hanging from posts. This was the best way to keep water cool in summer and warm in winter.  Of course, in Oman, winters aren't very cold.......

The inside of the long house.
From the other end looking across into the low ceiling'd half of the room

The high pitched ceiling
This particular building was fascinating.  Like the men's sitting room at Sultan's house, the whole thing has sitting couches all the way round the walls.  The whole building appeared to be palm based wooden bits lashed together with palm fronds.  Inside was quite dark, although air movement was possible through the walls.  It was beautifully cool compared to the outside's high 30's temperature (note to self, do not stand on black slate in bare feet at this temperature).

A frame for perfuming cloth

This little baby is my new favourite Omani thingy.  It's a little tripod that you sit over your incense burner.  The you pop over a cloth, veil, any thing that you want to perfume!  Yet more uses for palm fronds!

First glance at the diorama
So, this is the best place to go for a first visit if you want to get an idea of Omani culture.  You will get a marvellous idea of the material culture of Oman.  Essential for getting some idea of what to get as souvenirs :-)

The Kitten formerly known as Bundle
Apparently it's time to shower more attention on the now infertile cat, who has  been renamed Button.  She's just not a Bundle any more and she's as fast as Jenson Button of formula 1 fame.

Saturday, 9 June 2012

Visiting Villages

This weekend we took off down to Adam, the village that Sultan (the lovely man who was assigned to us when we first arrived) lives in.  Well, Sultan and his family have apparently lived there for generations and he's been wanting us to go down and visit every since he met us.  This weekend was the first available opportunity and since it looked like I was over the bug from Dubai, we decided to go.  Of course I wasn't over the bug, but the long and short of it is that we had a lovely, if not slightly abbreviated, time.

We took off after our Arabic class on Wednesday night; after a quick dash into Qurm City Centre Mall for some post class food and a map.  After looking at the only available map, the obvious happened and we bought a GPS.  All prepared for our adventure we set off.

I had thought that we would leave Muscat and be in the middle of nowhere straight away - like we were going down to Wadi Shab - but no, there were lights on either side of the highway all the way.  The highway that the map said was a metal topped single lane road with occasional stretches of graded surface, turned out to be dual lane divided highway all the way to Nizwa and most of the way to Adam.  Road building is moving very fast in Oman, but I do wish they'd employ some good map makers.

It was dark all the way, but every now and then the shadow of mountains would loom beside us.  I was probably the worlds worst passenger, but David showed his usual restraint and refrained from hitting me on the head and leaving me in the desert to wander wailing into the distance.

We arrived safely in Adam and a very excited Sultan met us at the Shell service station. We had not known what to expect. All Sultan had told us was that his village was small and quiet.  Was it going to be a weekend with no running water? No electricity??? Sleeping on the ground?  No air-conditioning?????  We presumed no toilet paper, so we had come prepared with four rolls.  But what else??????  We pulled up outside Sultan's three storey, gracious residence...and forgot to take a photo.

The inside was cavernous and quite new.  I completely neglected to ask him how long they'd been living in it.  There were the traditional two entries, one for men and one for women; the men's opened into the men's sitting room (gigantic with a continuous couch all the way round and a large flat screen TV on one wall) and the lady's entrance to the main entry hall.  The lady's sitting room was much smaller, with a carpet and a small stool (for Sultan's mother) and a smaller flat screen TV.  Each has a bathroom attached.  Sultan proudly showed off the house to us and led us up stairs to our room - the purple room - very empty except for the mattresses on the floor.  He had asked if we needed to sleep off the floor but, since David had a sneaking suspicion that he would go out and buy a bed just for us, we said we were happy to sleep Omani style.  He was very pleased when he found out that purple was my favourite colour and left us to make ourselves comfortable. We weren't entirely sure of the comfort of a two inch mattress on a marble floor, but we plugged in the apnoea machines and crashed.

Next thing we knew it was almost eight o'clock and Sultan was going to be knocking on the door any second.  Yes, the mattresses were very comfortable.  But a warning for young players.  It seems that towels are not part of traditional Omani life either.  After a blank stare when we asked Sultan about them, along with a slow "yes I think we have some,"  I decided to go native and shower before bed, wandering around the bedroom for the two minutes it took to dry.  Best way to cool down evva!  David sacrificed a shirt to the cause after his shower.
Breakfast was lovely and eaten in the men's room on the floor, just Sultan and the two of us.  I think that we were very much Sultan's guests. David only laid eyes on Fatimah (Sultan's wife) once as she scurried into the kitchen.  She is a mathematics teacher at the girls school in Adam and is a tiny, and very gentle young lady.  All the ladies of the family cooked food for us and made sure it arrived safely. It seems that, even though they physically live in separate houses, they maintain a very close family structure.  Each cooking for the other and children racing in-between houses. Lunch on Thursday was the only time we ate with any other members of the family and the only time I ate in the ladies sitting room with Sultan's mother (who spoke no English - I think I managed to tell her that I had three sons and their ages - I think), Fatimah and Sultan's son Mutaz.  David ate in the men's lounge with Sultan, a few brothers and Sultan's father.  Mutaz is three and a half years old and the image of his mother.  He is a lively, cheerful, boisterous and loud little boy who is extremely ticklish - extremely.  He of course thought David was wonderful and at dinner on Thursday wanted to eat with us.  He would normally eat with the women.  We interceded on his behalf and he was very pleased and very well behaved.

Exploring Adam

Adam has been in existence for a very, very long time.  It has a good supply of water through a falaq system, which Sultan tells us has been use for 4000 years.  There are three falaq in Adam and many wells so the dates flourish. Our morning travels around Adam included visiting the crossing of two of the falaq which included the remains of a house situated right next to the crossing.
Sultan and David inspecting the crossing of two 4000 year old falaj

David dangling his feet in a 4000 year old falaq
I have no idea how old the house is and neither did Sultan.  It is a mud brick constuction, as were all of the building here before concrete was introduced.  It was quite small, but very sturdily built. Stones, grasses and palm fronds could all be seen in the construction.  Lintels and supporting beam were made of palm wood and woven palm fronds stuff with mud.

A rather old house in the middle of the dates 

Yes we were there together

The treasure of Adam is the original walled village that is under reconstruction in the centre of Adam (at least I think it was the centre-it was slap bang in the centre of the dates anyway.  Speaking about dates, Sultan tells us that summer is described by the colour of the dates at the time.  At the moment the summer is yellow.

Yellow dates
These dates are just beginning to ripen. The ripe ones look like they're rotting, but I have to tell you.  Omani dates are simply divine.  I won't be able to return to eating the horrible dates we get in Australia, they have no resemblance to the Omani date at all.  A traveller in Oman in the 18th century (I read this on the wall  at Nizwa Fort so I can't tell you who) commented that the Omani's produce a huge quantity of dates, but the use of them is so widespread that they only export around 10 percent of the crop.  One date palm will give you around 80kg of dates, a good tree will give you 150kgs!  

Back to the walled village.  This was where the grandfather of Sultan Qaboos' father was born, so it is a very important historical site.  Apparently about 1000 people used to live here in interconnecting houses.  Each time a new house was needed it seemed to have been added to the last.  The houses have multiple stories, ablution rooms, date storage and roof tops for sitting.  It is all made of mud brick and palm products.  There were piles of new mud bricks and palm wood cut into various thicknesses, just inside the gate, waiting to be used in the restoration.  It should be finished in about a year and we will definitely be back to look at the finished product.  It should be amazing!

The sign outside.  Unfortunately the red sign said do not enter.  There were no gates........

Unfortunately about then my lovely gastric virus raised it's ugly head and I tootled back to the house to lie down and recuperate.  Which I did.  This is definitely the way to be a tourist. A couple of hours out and about and then an hour or two of lying down smelling a delicious lunch being prepared.

After lunch and another bit of a lie down, which turned out to be a two and a half hour nap, we set off to visit the largest of Sultan's family farms.  David had been to see the smallest and had been on a Cook's Tour of Adam - which I'm sure will feature in his blog.

David and friend watching camels

The farm is about 10 hectares of gravel desert just out of town.  It has a deep well and the water is pumped into a holding tank and then out through terracotta pipes (mostly covered with earth) to the date palms, the animals and the fodder crops.

One small boy (Mutaz) with a big stick and water

They have chickens, sheep, goats, cattle and bees.  All of which are carefully protected from the sun and looked after by one or two Indian migrant workers.  The male cattle are kept together and the ladies are housed separately, each with her own room.

Da Boyz

Da Goats - the chickens are kept with the bigger animals because it's cooler

A goat and a sheep one each of many on the farm and the only ones not shorn

Small boy with stick poking sheep.  The sheep will remember.....

Walking from the large pens back to the dates
You can see that growth is really only exactly where there is water
I hadn't really appreciated the difference between desert and oasis. 

Animal fodder
Animal fodder is also grown under the date palms.

I gather the bees collect pollen from the date palms.
They collect honey in June and December.
Sultan's honey is light in colour, deep and dark in taste.

Mutaz, Sultan and David in with the dates
It is so much more pleasant in the green under the trees. 

Sunset over the goat sheds
Yes, staring directly into the sun.
Now you know why we couldn't see the transit of Venus.

Sunday, 3 June 2012

What I did on my weekend by Katrina Hunt Grade 1

Our first trip to Dubai seems to have gone swimmingly- mostly. We had cunning plans of relaxing by the pool, not doing very much, a little bit of shopping, some sightseeing and I planned to meet up with the Dubai ravelry knitters. Ravelry is an on line community of knitters - it's huge. When I first signed up it took a week to process, because it's slow, but because there are soooo many people signing up all the time. Anyway, that was our great plan 3 out of 5 ain't bad.

The sightseeing we did was from the hotel balcony. Not so bad when you consider we were on the 35th floor of a many starred hotel Grosvenor Towers.  One of David's contacts in Dubai had arranged us a limousine and driver to and from the airport (a tad more expensive than a taxi, but definitely the way to go) and managed to book us into a non smoking room when there were none available.  That meant, instead finding something vaguely affordable, we stayed in luxury.  This is what greeted us in the lobby when we staggered in at 11:00pm.

A bit of a floral arrangement
The size of it is more obvious in the photo of it during day light hours

A refreshingly icy drink with ginger to pep us up

This is the sightseeing that I did.  David did more, he also visited Dubai Mall on Friday  - because he could - while I was lounging around knitting and drinking coffee .  After an exhausting day in the Mall, we scampered home (after a lovely meal in a Lebanese restaurant overlooking the ski field) ready to gird our loins and study Arabic.  Fortunately two bottles of wine intervened and we may have got a little squiffy.

Looking over the balcony

And once more, from the other side of the balcony

David relaxing on said balcony
Yes, David is blue.  No, it's not because of my camera skills; although the blurriness in the previous two shots could be blamed on my squiffiness. The outside of both towers of the hotel have blue lights - so you can tell the difference between them and all the other tall buildings.

Waiting for something in the lobby the next day I spotted the really cool pattern the flowers made on the ceiling. The table has a mirrored top and the reflection was truly lovely. I think there's a monochrome quilt in it.  Off you go mum.  You know you want to :-)

The renewed arrangement.   
See?  It really was huge.  That fellow with the astonishing beer gut wasn't actually very far away from the table.  Breakfast was part of the deal and you can read about that on the food page when I get to it.  It was a rather nice breakfast and set us up for about a week of sightseeing.  A quick dash to the toilet, to make room for more coffee,  revealed another level of interest.  Apparently it's good to watch flat screen TV while washing your hands after doing the necessary.  No mucky paper towels to catch the drips, damask napkins thank-you very much.....

The Ladies on the Mezzanine

Our little bit of shopping ended up being, for me any way, eight hours in the Mall of the Emirates. I bought ibuprofen, a camel teapot with matching cups that was so fanatically horrible I couldn't leave it there, a top that I will be cutting a pattern from and some *ahem* fabric.

The World's most 'interesting' teapot
and yes, this one does spit tea.

Not a lot of fabric...just...well...yummy fabric.  David and I both need some lightweight linen pants, and there was a linen in this shop, very fine, light, Italian linen.  Whoops, nine yards of it feel into my bag.  Then there was the silk. There is a lot of silk in the Middle East and I ignored it all.  Well, except for the printed Italian duchess satin which also fell into my bag.

Mmmm, designer fabric....

I had a lovely morning on Friday knitting with the Dubai knitting group.  I now have five balls of yarn in my new stash and one and a half pairs of knitting needles - do you have a stray red knitting needle at your house Liz?  I have since remedied the needle situation by ordering more on line. 

We left Dubai feeling like it had lost it's Middle Eastern identity.  We had flown in on a plane full of (mostly western) businessmen and flew out on a plan full of very short Indian migrant workers.  It reminded David strongly of Singapore, but really didn't remind me of anywhere at all.  If you dropped me in Dubai blindfolded, I really could not not have told you what city I was in when the blindfold was removed.  I find that a little bit sad.

 I have rather regretted leaving all my knitting gumpf back in Australia.  I don't usually knit in summer (except when needing to supply very warm things to children who decide to live in cold climates) and thought that it would definitely be too warm in Muscat to knit.  I had not figured on the effectiveness of multiple air conditioners and the completed trashidness of  my brain in the evenings.  By the time everything stops (by everything I mean Arabic lessons and nipping out most afternoons to get something that we didn't have) all I want to do is collapse.  When we first arrived the chairs were too uncomfortable to relax in and I was hitting the bed at about 7:30.  Now we have comfortable chairs and can sit up a little later - sometimes staying up until 9:30pm!  Sitting still is not really for me, and I need to do something I don't need to pay much attention to.  Hence knitting.  The bottom row of my little 4 ply stash will make three pairs of socks (watch out Brooke - the lime green pair might be for you) and one of the top two will have a whole lot of friends come over and turn into a cardie in 50% merino, 50% silk.  All the yarn is hand dyed, the multicoloured ones in country England and the other three by a lovely lady in Dubai.  The question is - which will become the cardie?  The purple or the sage?  Who know?  The decision will be in the swatching.