Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Rainy Ramadan

Six days down and approximately 23 more to go if the moon cooperates! Once again Dhofar has been blessed with cool temperatures and a heavier-than-normal monsoon drizzle to help us get through the holy month of fasting.

To be honest, I am not necessarily looking forward to a couple of years from now when Ramadan will coincide with the hottest most humid time of year in the south. Then again, is this something I want to be worrying about now? Probably not. Fasting this year has been quite easy so far.

I have mastered the art of rolling over in bed at four in the morning to switch on the coffeemaker, pressing the snooze button on the alarm, then dragging myself out of bed a few minutes later to sip my coffee in the dark and eat whatever breakfast concoction I have prepared the night before.

By the time I’ve had my dose of caffeine, I am ready to pray the sunrise prayer then head back to sleep for another three hours.

As bizarre as it may seem, my system works quite well. I usually have plenty of energy until about three o’clock in the afternoon when my mental abilities become limited to studying recipes online.

This usually results in my jotting down a couple of ingredients and convincing myself to head to the supermarket to purchase them. I work my way through the mountains of Vimto, crème caramel and other Ramadan specialties in search of the two ingredients on my list.

Half an hour later I am usually standing in a queue of 15 people with at least ten more ingredients than I had anticipated. Every person standing in line is equally guilty.

Food aside, this Ramadan has been busy with tourists here in Dhofar. It seems that many of our annual visitors from the GCC and other parts of Oman would rather fast in rainy Salalah than in their oven-hot hometowns.

At one point, we assumed the tens of thousands of tourists would flock to Dhofar during Eid. Who were we kidding?

In all cases, we are expecting the majority of tourists in August. In preparation, I have booked my ticket to a faraway country for the duration of August to ensure I miss the tourist chaos.

After last year’s mess, Salalah is the last place I want to be. During Eid last year nearly 100,000 tourists arrived in Salalah causing a week-long shortage of petrol, milk, bread, and even accommodation.

Hundreds of Omani families opened up their homes to stranded tourists who had no place to stay. In fact, four of my direct neighbours rented out their living rooms to tourists from neighbouring countries.

Traffic was insane and it was impossible to get anywhere near the mountains due to backed up traffic. To avoid that crisis again this year, it was announced in January that RO15mn would be allocated to improve tourist facilities and services in Dhofar.

Nothing very visible has come of it so far, but I assume we’ll hear of these improved facilities by August. It’s worth noting that a tent complex is being set up at the base of the mountains that will cater to the envoys of tourists arriving by road from various destinations in Oman and the GCC.

From what I’ve heard, this complex will host car rental agencies, housing services, and other facilities required by tourists. It will be interesting to see how that pans out!

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Extraordinary Women

Published July 2, 2013 - Muscat Daily

A few months ago I received a Google alert on Oman’s 1st Extraordinary Women Conference. I was intrigued by the name of the event despite very little media coverage at first, so I went ahead and registered without a clear plan in mind.

All I knew was that I could not miss an event dedicated to women in my own country even if it meant flying up to Muscat during one of the hottest months of the year (something I tend to avoid at all costs).

The original line-up of speakers for the conference included activist and award-winning author Sheryl WuDunn as well as retired boxer Laila Ali, the daughter of famed boxer Muhammad Ali. At the time I was in the middle of reading Sheryl’s latest book Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide that she co-authored with her journalist husband Nicholas D Kristof of The New York Times. Both Sheryl and Nicholas are on my list of contemporary heroes.

As it turned out, Sheryl and Laila disappeared from the line-up for the conference but were replaced with other extraordinary women, namely India's one and only Kiran Bedi. If you've never heard of Dr Bedi, it's time you put this newspaper down and got online to do some research on one of India's most controversial revolutionaries. If anything, she is an icon of female strength and one of my idols. I have been privileged to meet her not once but twice already this year. I was truly humbled last week during one of the coffee breaks at the conference when she recalled what I had said on my panel at a human rights conference in Montreal that we both spoke at earlier this year.

On the first day of the conference, I slipped into the venue quietly and settled in to observe and take notes. The broad theme of the conference revolved around extraordinary women but ended up covering everything from entrepreneurship and leadership to the science of breathing.

Most of the speakers were interesting and I was glad to see plenty of debate on the struggles of female leadership in Oman. There was plenty of discussion on the glass ceiling and on getting more women into the executive C-suite. As someone who is doing her master's dissertation on women and leadership in Oman, I was intrigued by many of the formal and informal discussions that took place in that room over the course of two days.

Overall, the event was insightful and very useful for networking. However, if I were managing the conference in the future, I would use social media to ensure Omani women far and wide hear of it and are invited to it. I would have liked to have seen more women from different parts of Oman. Although the Omani patriarchal work environment in general is not particularly keen on nurturing female leadership, professional women in the capital area are miles ahead of their counterparts in the regions.

The event was attended by a large number of professional Omani women including members of the State Council as well as leaders in the private sector. I left with 30 pages of notes, a handful of business cards, new friends, and new ideas on how to advance my research as I dive deeper into post-graduate work. Oman's 2nd Extraordinary Women Conference 2014? Bring it on!

For information on the conference, here's their website:  Oman's First Extraordinary Women Conference.