Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Celebrating Eid al Adha

Published October 23, 2012 - Muscat Daily.
It’s rather hard to believe another Eid is knocking at our doors. I haven’t quite recovered yet from Eid al Fitr celebrations nine weeks ago!
For many of you, it may sound like just another Eid, but both occasions are quite different for Muslims worldwide. Eid al Fitr that we observed in August was a celebration following the completion of Ramadan, the holy month of fasting. The last few days of Ramadan witnessed intense worship and prayer rituals followed by a communal sigh of relief as we all re-discovered the privilege of eating and drinking during daytime for the first time in a month!
On the other hand, Eid al Adha that we will be celebrating this Friday is a commemoration of the Prophet Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his eldest son to God. It also marks the end of the Haj, the annual pilgrimage to Mecca that Muslims must complete once in their lifetime. It is not uncommon for Muslims to go two or three times, hence the millions of pilgrims each year.
Last week Dhofar bid farewell to this year’s many pilgrims as they embarked on their journey to Mecca to complete the Haj rituals. Going on the pilgrimage is a big deal and the farewells are often filled with emotion. I was approached by several acquaintances of mine who went off to Mecca asking me for forgiveness if they had ever done me wrong. They wanted to go off to the holy city feeling relieved and unburdened. I haven’t been to Mecca yet but I am very much looking forward to my pilgrimage when the time is right.
On Thursday every household in Salalah will turn on the television early in the morning to watch live coverage of the pilgrims as they observe the final day of Haj, otherwise known as Yom Arafa.
At dawn, the pilgrims will head to Mount Arafa, the site where the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) gave his farewell sermon. Families will gather around the television to try and spot their loved ones among the millions of pilgrims dressed in white. It is a rather extraordinary sight and I recommend that you tune into any Arab television channel on Thursday to watch part of it.
The first day of Eid on Friday morning will involve a lot of animal slaughtering (ie our sacrifice), plenty of meat, excited children, and then endless visiting of relatives and neighbours.
During the weeks leading up to Eid the main topics of conversation in this town are often limited to the following questions; ‘Anyone from your family on the pilgrimage this year? What are you slaughtering? When do you think the holidays will be?’ Naturally, the third question is always the hardest to answer. The powers that be in this little nation of ours aren’t always generous with holiday information. We are often informed of the public holiday a mere four or five days before Eid. It’s rather unfair to people who have travel plans.
Speaking of travels, I have noticed an interesting trend in Salalah these past couple of years. Many families have taken to escaping during Eid to avoid the hassle of having to slaughter and then visit a hundred relatives. This is rather surprising for such a family and tribal-oriented region, but in many ways I don’t blame them. I personally find that two back-to-back Eids can be a little overwhelming.
While the whole population of Salalah heads out into town today to create traffic jams (a favourite pastime) and stock up on last-minute Eid goods, I will be quietly packing my bright red suitcases in preparation for my own Eid escape. Even though I’m not fond of visiting and the thought of large quantities of meat make me feel rather ill, this trip isn’t about escaping. It is more of a social experiment involving a group of rebellious Dhofari girls eager to see the world. Stay tuned….

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Child Safety

Published October 9, 2012 - Muscat Daily. Click here to view article on their website.

No, this isn’t another column about road safety even though I’d very much like to mention our road safety crisis in Oman every fortnight until authorities do a little muscle-flexing and enforce some of the existing laws.

This column is about child safety, another issue that drives me up the wall in Oman. The number of fatal accidents caused by child negligence in Salalah over the past few years seem a little too abnormal to me.

Just last week an innocent child fell out of a fifth floor window to her death in busy central Salalah. A teenager accidently drove over his toddler brother who just happened to be out in the middle of the road with no one watching him. Three young kids drowned earlier this year because their parents thought the ocean was a friend. A child fell out of a car window while her father sped like a maniac. A little kid was electrocuted while playing with loose wires in his home. The list seems unusually long for a town like Salalah.

This doesn’t even include all the precious children who lost their lives in car accidents because their parents didn’t bother putting them in car-seats or fastening their seatbelts. I do not have access to official statistics about child deaths and injuries in Oman, nor do I know if such statistics exist. What I do know is that many of the avoidable incidents I have witnessed over the years reflect a casual ‘Insha’allah everything will be fine’ attitude towards child safety here in Oman.

I observe the gangs of wild young kids in my neighbourhood who play soccer in the middle of the road and harass cars into the late hours of the night and can’t help wondering where their parents are. They don’t look left nor right when crossing the street and aren’t old enough to judge the speed of oncoming cars.

There’s a fierce little four year old in my neighbourhood who is determined to get run over by my car every afternoon when I get home from work. He is often roaming around the neighbourhood on his bicycle for hours at a time and his family is nowhere to be seen. Need I say more?

Recently I had an eight year old in my car. Before we started driving, I asked her to put her seatbelt on. She gave me a puzzled look and asked, “Why?” I gave her an equally puzzled look and after a rather awkward conversation where I tried ever so patiently not to start screaming about safety, I finally managed to explain why seatbelts exist. Apparently, she thought it was better not to wear a seatbelt because in the event of accident it would be easier to get out of the car in a hurry instead of being stuck with a seatbelt. I explained as delicately as possible that in the event of an accident the most likely scenario would be her flying straight through the glass windshield and landing in a motionless heap in the middle of the highway. What have her parents been thinking?

A few days ago the State Council of Oman posted a discussion topic on Facebook asking if it’s time to make car seats mandatory for babies and young children in Oman. I decided to mention it to a few of my colleagues and to my surprise they were furious. They felt that authorities had no business making decisions concerning their own kids. I tend to disagree. Omanis have proven time and time again that they have no understanding of road safety, especially when it comes to children. The only Omani I know in Salalah who owns a car seat for their child is my sister.

I don’t want to generalise but the overall attitude of many people in Oman seems to be that the minute kids are out of diapers they can take care of themselves. The reality of it is that they cannot.

I am not a mother, but I am very much aware of the fact that kids are small, vulnerable, and ever so fragile. You can never be too careful. Are there laws in Oman against child neglect? Do you think many families in Oman are too laid-back about their children’s safety? If so, how can we improve the situation?