Tuesday, November 6, 2012

The Vacation

Published November 6, 2012 - Muscat Daily

As many of you know, Dhofar is a region where working and driving is still taboo for many women. It is a region where marriages are arranged, female genital mutilation is widely practiced, polygamy is almost normal and where most women go nowhere without a chaperone and a face veil showing only the eyes. Things are changing rapidly but Dhofar remains the most conservative region in Oman for women.

On a quiet evening a little over a year ago a few of my very Dhofari female friends were fantasising about all the countries they'd love to visit as a group of friends. Naturally, the thought of young women going off together on vacation was unthinkable. As we sat quietly on the beach sipping our tea, I suddenly asked them 'Why not? What are the real barriers to you getting on a plane and going on vacation? You all work and can afford it'.

Their eyes widened then they sat upright and started listing the perceived barriers. It is taboo, everyone would find out, the number of suitors would dwindle, reputations would be stained, upset families, tribal problems, general societal unrest, and the possibility of male relatives getting the police to stop the girls from leaving the country.

After reviewing the list carefully, they realised there were no solid barriers. Fortunately, His Majesty Sultan Qaboos bin Said is an advocate for the empowerment of women in Oman. As far as I know, currently there are no legal restrictions when it comes to women and travelling. Following two hours of intense discussion, the girls decided to apply the law of attraction and turn their dreams into plans. Anyone who walked past our group of huddled abayas on Haffa Beach that evening didn't know they were witnessing history in the making.

After 14 months of outrage, fights, tears, blackmail, and sheer determination, the girls packed their bags and we flew out to a beautiful European city at the top of our travel list. Many of our overly conservative male peers in Dhofar would probably assume we immediately threw off our headscarves and went clubbing. What really happened, though? What happens when you release a group of Dhofari girls from conservative families into the world for the first time on an allgirls trip?

Believe it or not, our intense seven days of pure bliss over Eid holidays last week involved bright-coloured headscarves (a wonderful break from the traditional black), long breakfasts at little cafes, bookstores, museums, galleries, lectures, long walks, many cups of tea, exploring the city on foot, and skipping through puddles in our boots.

The whole trip was everything we had wished for and more. Goodness knows we earned it. Several times a day the girls would ask each other 'Is this really happening? Am I really here?' On the flight back to Salalah we high-fived each other and celebrated our success as we slipped back into our fashionable black abayas.

Our trip may not seem like much of an achievement if you're unfamiliar with this region, but it means a lot to us. I remember when the idea of going to college after high school was still taboo. I remember when young women first started to drive and work. When breaking deeprooted traditions that are not practical, someone has to start. Someone has to pave the path for others.

Following the usual 'What did you do over Eid?' conversations this week at work, I sat through long uncomfortable silences followed by awkward conversations with my traditional middle- aged male colleagues after I confirmed that all my fellow travellers were indeed unmarried independent Dhofari females. They were difficult conversations but they needed to happen. Change has to start somewhere. What comes next? Another vacation? We may have opened up a whole new world for girls in our conservative little town.

I'm not calling for an immediate revolution and saying all Omani girls should get a passport and go backpacking through Europe. All I'm saying is that your life is too short to be tied down by invisible chains. Quite often the only real barrier stopping you from achieving your dreams is you. Your life and your choices are your own. I know mine are.


  1. sounds as if you all had a great time - one of many to come

  2. I am very proud of us for going through our "Goals / Dreams" list and actually achieving 90% of it!

    Thanx for saying "Why Not".


  3. Sounds like a lovely Eid trip.

    I simply can't imagine not being able to travel when I want to. Of course, now that I AM married, I prefer to travel with my husband over friends. Its like, I don't understand why Omani women ALLOW their husbands to travel with guy friends without them and yet, the guys have a heart attack if the girls wanted to do the same? Oh right, because their trips are usually not innocent and they assume the girls goooo crazy like they do:(. All guys trips once married are usually hurtful and unfair to the women in the families. Same things effects my friends married to Emiratis. So me and my husband have a rule for eachother, no trips without eachother. Exceptions is made once in alifetime for Hajj of course, if he gets a chance to go;).

    I miss cafes! Muscat has, but too many creepy dudes ruin the happy cafe vibe.

    Anyways, sorry for rambling. I agree. There always has to be a first person for everything and congrats to you women. May coloured headscarves (niqabs too if you believe in them) find their way back to Dhofar.

  4. Glad you had a good break, Sheikha Susan, and I do love the tone of this article. Baby steps, breaking taboos but no bones. I like it. :)

  5. Well done girls! How wonderful to read what a good time you had as a reward for your many efforts. While you were in Europe (Paris?) I flew eastward to Oman for my first visit to a Middle Eastern country. Walking the streets of Salalah all by myself I was approached by groups of women, even cars full of women stopped by my side wanting to know who I was and what my plans were. I hadn’t expected such spontaneous contacts. Dhofari women are openminded, interested and obviously ready for some changes at home. Good luck.


  6. Your trip actually sounds like a huge achievement to those of us who understand Salalah. Braver by far than you make it sound. May you all get to enjoy the many more freedoms that you are entitled to and that the rest of us take for granted. And may all those other enchained Dhofari girls follow closely in your footsteps

  7. I am a Dhofari man and I am proud of you.

  8. You are ruin our society. Girls should not go anywhere without mahram. You know rule of Islam.

    1. She won't. Having Mahram is disputed.

      جواز السفر مع غير محرم مع شرط الأمـن ـ وسبق ـ ، وهو وجه عند الشافعية وقول محكي عن مالك رحمه الله . قال النووي في: "المجموع" (7/70) : "(فرع) هل يجوز للمرأة أن تسافر لحج التطـوع؟ أو لسفر زيارة وتجارة ونحوهما مع نسوة ثقات ؟ أو امرأة ثقة ؟ فيه وجهان ، وحكاهما الشيخ أبو حامد والماوردي والمحاملي وآخرون من الأصحاب في : (باب الإحصار) . وحكاهما القاضي حسين والبغوي والرافعي وغيرهم . أحدهما: يجوز كالحج . والثاني : وهو الصحيح باتفاقهم ، وهو المنصوص في (الأم)" أ.هـ المراد . وقال ابن الملقن في : "الإعلام" (6/81) : "فإن كانا ـ أي : الحج والعمرة ـ تطوعين، أو سفر زيارة أو تجارة ، ونحوها من الأسفار التي ليست واجبة . فقال الجمهور : لا تجوز إلا مع زوج أو محرم . وقال بعضهم: يجوز لها الخروج مع نسوة ثقات لحجة الإسلام . وفي مذهب مالك ثلاثة أقوال عند عدم الولي" أ.هـ المراد .

  9. I am an English teacher at a college in Dhofar. I will be sharing this article if you don't mind with my all-girls class!

  10. Good for you, Susan! Sounds like you had a fantastic vacation.

  11. Great news and glad you girls enjoyed the trip. Sometimes these restrictios are not there physically to stop anybody but only in our minds and when we have a courage to challenge them we find they are either not there at all or vanish quickly. Proud of you Susan and all the girls for courage.

  12. Great to hear this breakthrough - You girls had courage and you broke the sound barrier - skys is now the limits. With 40 years of renaicense, some of those restrictions have crumbled away long time back but are just there in our mind.

  13. Susan so sorry that you have to deal with some people who would call you a ruin to society. They obviosly don't know you and that you are a highly respected person.

  14. Invisible chains, small minds, fear, intelligent women, curious women, beautiful women, invisible chains, intimidation, shame, guilt, fear, unknown, small minds, oppression, education, travel, fear, bravery, etc.

    Outstanding post. I am proud of ya'll from Texas. I can't imagine the bravery you possess and the courage to lead. You are setting the stage for independence and freedom. Females willl be free!

  15. Very good susan the nice topic ... Keep tender expect more from you.

  16. Very good susan the nice topic ... Keep tender expect more from you.