Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Maniacs on the Road

Published December 22, 2009 - Muscat Daily
A colleague of mine bought the car of his dreams a few weeks ago, and I saw him driving down the highway without his seatbelt on. I was horrified so I asked him the next day at work what the heck he thought he was doing speeding around town without wearing it? His answer was 'I spent 25,000 Rials on this car. You want me to drive around Salalah looking like a 2-year-old strapped to a child's car seat?' Yes, those were his exact words.

Speaking of car seats for kids, Salalah has yet to discover the benefits of using them. I cannot speak for other parts of Oman because I haven't left Salalah for a while, but here you will often see young children on the driver's lap or hanging out of the window or standing on the seats in a speeding car on a major highway. Parents seem to think their children are protected by some magic voodoo.
Is it just me or do others agree that a large percentage of drivers in Oman seem to have acquired their driver's licenses out of a Cheerios box? Whenever I'm on the road, I'm always on the lookout for old men from the mountains in ancient pickup trucks who think the highways are a free-for-all and who seem to exist in a parallel traffic universe, or the young men in expensive sports cars who overtake any vehicle in front of them that isn't going at 120 km/hr on a highway with a speed limit of 100 km/hr. What about the underage boys secretly driving their fathers' land cruisers who are too cool to indicate when switching lanes?
Why can't drivers judge distances and the speed of oncoming cars when they pull out? Why would you even consider overtaking on the left of a vehicle that is turning left? Need I mention the terrible habit of men who proceed to put their turbans on while driving during morning rush hour? They seem to control the steering wheel using their knees (while driving at 100 km/hr on the highway).
Last but not least, what in the world makes people in this country addicted to using their mobile phones while driving? I know that people all over the world do this but people in my town seem to wait until they get into the car to start making important phone calls. It's completely insane. They're not only endangering their own lives, but others' lives as well. The obvious complete absence of a sense of responsibility is extraordinary.
I was shocked to read the latest road accident statistics for the first ten months of this year. Almost 800 lives lost on the road and almost 8,000 injured in 5,895 accidents. Why did all those people have to die? Is it so difficult to drive carefully? We all know that using the phone while driving, speeding, being distracted, etc, is dangerous, but must we really wait until we are in a vehicle collision to fully comprehend what it all means?
I'm pleased with the fact that police officers seem to be spending more time on the road looking for offenders. Several people I know have been given a ticket during the past few weeks for even holding their phone in a small alleyway or for not wearing their seatbelts. I've also recently come to notice the new huge signs around town with messages practically begging people to be more careful. Kudos to the ROP for being more strict, and a salute to His Majesty for appealing to citizens to show restraint on the roads during his Meet-The-People Royal Tour last month.
I hope Oman introduces a new driving school program where not only are they required to complete at least 60 hours of training, but where new drivers are forced to watch lifelike videos on the results of texting while driving and which show in detail what actually goes on in a car during a collision. There are some really good and rather graphic videos available on YouTube and other sites. Please make an effort to drive carefully and avoid taking chances on the road. Don't wait for a tragedy to teach you the value of life.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

How Was Eid?

Published December 7, 2009 - Muscat Daily
My alarm clock went off at 6:00 a.m on Saturday morning. I cursed and begged for another day of holiday. Just another day! But no such luck. It just kept on ringing until I was forced to get up and go to work. Don't get me wrong. I love my job, but I really enjoyed Eid and those precious nine days of holiday. I'm figuring you all cursed your alarm clocks too.
Basic Eid rituals are similar throughout the Muslim world, but each society also has its own unique traditions to celebrate this religious event. Also known as the 'Festival of the Sacrifice', Eid Al-Adha is a holiday celebrated by Muslims worldwide to commemorate the willingness of Abraham to sacrifice his son as an act of obedience to God. It is also about spending time with family and enjoying the simple blessings that life has to offer. The first day of Eid occurs the day after the pilgrims conducting Hajj descend from Mount Arafa in Saudi Arabia.
This Eid is a major social event in Dhofar. The build-up alone is an event! During the week before Eid, it is nearly impossible to move in town. The streets are filled with frantic shoppers trying to do last-minute Eid shopping. Old men bargain with carpet sellers by the side of the road, children beg their parents for new toys, and women carefully select the colours and patterns on the traditional Dhofari 'thobes' that they wear for Eid. Meanwhile, cows and camels are transported around town in old pick-up trucks, on unsteady legs, unknowingly headed for sacrifice.
On the day before Eid, also known as 'Yom Arafa', most adults fast and prepare their houses for visitors while keeping an eye on their television sets which broadcast the live descent of the pilgrims from Mount Arafa in Saudi Arabia. Some are even lucky enough to spot someone they know waving at the camera through the crowd.
At dawn on the first day of Eid, mothers prepare food and burn frankincense while fathers and sons dress in their finest for Eid prayers at the mosque. After prayers, the males head off with their relatives to slaughter. In Dhofar, brothers often get together to buy a cow or camel. They then distribute the meat among their families and the poor.
By mid morning, the men are back from slaughter, and the women begin to cut up and cook the meat. Dhofar's favourite Eid dish is 'ma'ajeen', small pieces of boneless beef cooked in beef fat. It remains tasty (and sterile!) for months if kept in a sealed container. Many families also make ‘makadot’, or camel meat dried in strips.
Children put on their new clothes, meet up with friends and visit houses in the neighbourhood to eat sweets, giggle and collect ‘Eidia’ (small change). Usually men do their visiting in the afternoon and women in the evening. When I say 'visiting' I basically mean making an effort to visit every relative in the immediate and extended family as well as all the neighbours. This can take days.
Every visit is almost identical. Guests are greeted in the family majlis with the usual 'Eid Mubarak! How are you? And your family? Your health? Come and eat meat!' Every majlis offers exactly the same things; Omani halwa, Arabic coffee, nuts, sweets, orange flavoured Tang, fruit, and the required bowl of ma'ajeen. It can become a little overwhelming once you've reached house number ten! Some large families choose to have a tribal picnic on the third or fourth day of Eid to avoid visiting houses individually.
Eid is all about being social and 'doing your duty' by visiting family and neighbours. Most people in Dhofar would never be seen in shops or at tourist spots during Eid. They're too busy visiting the 1,000 relatives on their Eid list! Looking back, I know I ate enough dried camel meat to last me a lifetime, and I probably discovered at least 10 new relatives whom I never knew existed, but it was a great holiday and a time to touch base with people I don't see very often. Until next year!