Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Changing Eid Traditions

Published August 13, 2013 - Muscat Daily

As I flew across three continents on the last day of Ramadan for a much needed month-long holiday with my family, I couldn’t help but feel a slight pang of guilt at not being home in Salalah for Eid al Fitr. It is probably safe to assume that many Omanis feel the same way. More and more families I know of are going away for Eid or simply refusing to partake in endless week-long Eid activities.
Eid traditions are very strong in Muslim communities around the world, and Dhofar is no exception. Growing up, the last few days of Ramadan always involved a frenzy of activity in preparation for Eid. My mother and I would bake hundreds of cookies and sweets, stock up on the best Halwa, prepare the house for hundreds of guests, and make a list of all the relatives that we would have to visit.
During my childhood, the night of the moon-sighting at the end of Ramadan was a big deal. We would gather around the television after iftar and wait for the Omani moon-sighting committee to tell us whether Eid was the next day or not. If Eid was declared, the announcement would be followed by several hours of intense activity and majlis-preparation. If the moon wasn’t sighted, we would breathe a sigh of relief and look forward to an extra day of fasting and more time to prepare.
On the morning of Eid the men of the family would head off to the mosque after dawn for Eid prayers while the females frantically prepared the majlis for the first envoy of guests who were bound to start showing up at eight o’clock in the morning. Traditional Eid songs would be playing on the radio or on television. As a child, Eid meant gifts, new clothes, sweets, and small change that is handed out to children in the form of brand new 100bz notes.
The first three days of Eid involved non-stop visiting with relatives and friends. The days that followed were usually a bit easier. Nevertheless, the visiting and catching up with relatives did go on for at least a week. In other words, Eid was a big deal
Then came the Internet and cellphones and life in Oman began to change more and more rapidly. Keeping up with Eid traditions and hundreds of relatives became overwhelming and no longer feasible. The number of guests has dwindled as people have become busy with their own lives.
For an introvert like me, I still love to spend the days before Eid baking for guests but having to be on guest-duty for at least three days just doesn’t entice me anymore. Furthermore, Eid al Adha is only two months away. I’m ready to make an effort with Eid traditions, but at the moment I think one Eid a year is enough for me. As selfish as it may seem, I’d much rather use my time off to travel and relax. Staying at home without partaking in Eid activities is just not an option in Oman at the moment.
Thinking of all the Eid traditions and special memories that helped to shape my childhood in Salalah can make me feel slightly nostalgic but not for long. I’ve accepted the fact that life changes and so do traditions. So, from the back patio of my holiday hideaway I tip my mug of coffee to you and hope you enjoyed your holidays. Back to my pile of vacation reading!

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Future Leaders

Published July 30, 2013 - Muscat Daily

A few weeks ago I was invited to give a workshop on the importance of writing to a group of 30 high-school students from Dhofar who were participating in a leadership programme in Salalah. Before I delve into details, let me make one thing clear. I am terrified of public speaking. It took me about four days to sum up the courage to accept the invitation.
Convincing my paranoid self that someone doing a post-graduate degree in leadership studies might have something useful to offer these kids was not an easy task. And anyway, I hadn’t done nearly enough volunteering this year so giving this workshop would make me feel better about myself, right?
As the workshop date drew closer, I started receiving more information about the intensive two-week leadership programme. It covered everything from volunteer work with the municipality’s cleaning crew to lectures on the Seven Habits of Highly Effective Teenagers. This project was the brainchild of a friend of mine who is probably one of the most proactive people I’ve ever met. A PhD student, he is passionate about education and intends to become Oman’s minister of education in the future. I chose the word ‘intends’ instead of ‘hopes’ because I am confident that he’ll work day and night to achieve that dream and become one of the drivers of educational reform in Oman.
On the day of the workshop I nervously downed three mugs of coffee as I reviewed my materials and activities chart before heading over to meet the kids. As someone who spends very little time with teenagers, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. Would I succeed in engaging them? Are any of them interested in writing? What if - heaven forbid - they spend the whole time tapping on their cell-phones? What if they don’t have a sense of humour? What if the girls were too shy to participate in front of the boys? These obsessive questions were swimming around in my head as I dragged my materials to the lecture hall.
As it turned out, I ended up spending my day with the most enlightened young people I have ever met. They asked a million questions and were eager to soak in everything I had to say. It was evident from the moment I stepped into that room that these weren’t just any ordinary kids. They were carefully selected from high schools across the governorate of Dhofar for their leadership potential.
Over the course of the workshop, I told them about my journey with writing and how I ended up becoming a columnist. We talked about the importance of having good writing skills in order to get ahead in life, and our longest discussions revolved around the importance of writing for Dhofar.
Fortunately, these enlightened teenagers understood my message. The south of Oman is an amazing place and we are doing next to nothing to document our culture, way of life, language, and history. Unless we start putting things down in writing now, we are going to lose huge chunks of knowledge about this part of Oman.
The young leaders were also eager to talk about current issues and changes in society that need to be written about. None of them shied away from bringing up even the most difficult topics including witchcraft, tribalism, slavery, human rights, and even Wasta.
Although still in high school, most of them could boast more achievements and interests than all my friends put together. A couple of them are already writing novels and a few write poetry. One of them was studying the historic presence of the Portuguese in Dhofar in his own free time and another kid even co-wrote the script for Dhofar’s first movie.
Their future plans cover everything from becoming university professors and brain surgeons to publishing books, travelling the world, becoming movie directors and establishing Dhofar’s first reptile museum. In other words, they are incredible.
After the workshop, I spent nearly an hour driving in circles around Salalah trying to process everything. I was quite literally blown away. In fact, I am still blown away by their sharpness, talent, confidence, energy, and discipline. Looking forward, I intend to dedicate more time and effort to working with young people because clichés aside, they truly are the leaders of the future!