Friday, May 9, 2014


I just realized I have not updated this blog for four months and I will not allow myself to feel guilty because my time has been occupied with things that will help my community. I intend to come back to writing as soon as possible once I'm finished with a couple of projects. To give you an update of 'part' of what I'm doing, I'm currently in Istanbul attending/presenting at the 2nd Middle East and Asia Conference on Female Genital Mutilation. It's an extremely sensitive topic and one that needs to be tackled in Oman and in Dhofar in particular. No one is keen to be the one to start tackling this issue, but after years of slowly gathering data and understanding the topic, I am no longer hesitant. However, I am also a firm believer in starting any awareness-raising by gaining support of authorities instead of adopting an us-and-them approach that many activists tend to follow. Ministry of Health five-year plan 2006-2010 intended to start raising awareness on FGM; however nothing was done. Perhaps the topic was too sensitive? Perhaps they didn't have the will to start tackling? Perhaps they didn't find the right people on the ground to do the dirty work? I have been speculating a lot. In all cases, the government has tried. Many of you may remember that I have been writing openly about FGM since 2011 on my blogs and in the newspaper. I have received endless criticism and also a lot of support. I started studying FGM practices in Dhofar in 2006. Although no detailed studies have been conducted, the general picture is very clear. It's extremely prevalent, it's harmful, and it has to stop. Nuff said for the moment. Bear with me until I'm organized enough to start SAR (Smart-Awareness-Raising), which is a tricky thing to accomplish in Oman.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Coming Home

Something a little different - Reflections from my journal 
December 29, 2013
I am on a bus between two cities in North America. It’s dusk and the snow is falling ever so softly.  Even after two hours, the landscape is mesmerizing. Snow-covered field after snow-covered field. Bundled up in my bright green hoodie and white hijab, I blend in relatively well with the other passengers on this bus. How many of us are going home? How many of us are content with our lives right now? How many of us know where we belong? I ask the same questions whenever I settle down for a session of people-watching, be it at a sidewalk café in Europe or at the local supermarket at home.
and when you’re needing your space …. To do some navigating … I’ll be here patiently waiting to see what you find….. Jason Mraz is crooning into my ears. I Won’t Give Up is probably one of my all-time favourit songs. 
I haven’t blogged for a while. The past year has been insane (in a very good way) but has also forced me to take time off writing. I feel guilty (why?) but I need not apologize.
December 30, 2013
Ladies and Gentlemen, captain from the cockpit, we’ll be starting our descent into Muscat International Airport in approximately twenty minutes. Please adjust your seat to the upright position, stow away your tables, and switch off any electronic equipment. Also make sure no blankets are blocking the exits to the aisles. The weather in Muscat is lovely at 19 degrees Celsius with a gentle wind. If this is your last destination, wish you a pleasant stay in Muscat. If you are transiting here, then we wish you a wonderful continuation of your journey. As always, thank you for flying KLM and we look forward to welcoming you on one of our flights in the future….
I could probably recite this in my sleep. Traveling a lot does that to you. You find yourself in line at Starbucks at Schipol and the loudspeaker system shouts out “Passengers V.VOMPKIN and B.VOMPKIN traveling to Oslo, you are delaying the flight. Please go to gate E12 immediately….”  And you find yourself completing the sentence out loud “or we will proceed to offload your baggage”. The American in line behind me snickers and says he’s always tempted to do that. 
It’s always that cup of coffee in Schipol Airport when I suddenly feel ill, nostalgic, homesick. Homesick for what? In a few hours I will don my black abaya and black headscarf, replace my backpack with a feminine purse, my sneakers with flat blacks, stow away my iPod and put on my ‘Omani persona’. Technically, in a few hours I will be home, if home is where one grows up and lives. But in fact, I’m never really home. I’m not entirely sure where home is. Is home that place in the snow with a warm fireplace, cups of hot cocoa, a Christmas tree, and loving family? Or is home that place in the sand with even more family?
There must be a word to describe people like us with mixed backgrounds. Always homesick for a place that doesn’t exist.

December 31, 2013
I’m standing by the luggage belt at Salalah Airport, surrounded by other abayas and white dishdashas. Men stare at me. Perhaps they’re still not entirely used to seeing females without a face veil. The first thing I notice when I reach Oman is how people stare. Sometimes I tell myself that it’s a curious stare. Other times I want to pull my hair out and scream. I’m not very good at ignoring my surroundings. My luggage appears. As I reach out to grab my big bag, a man steps forward and pulls it off for me then insists that he will take it to my car. I thank him politely and reject his offer. He starts to insist. In the end I had to be firm and tell him ‘Thank you but NO, I’m perfectly capable of pulling my own bag, thank you’. He notices my Dhofari accent and immediately starts the usual ‘Are you from Salalah? Whose daughter? Which tribe?’. In other words ‘who the hell are you and why are you traveling alone without a dozen chaperones?’. Instead of telling him to piss off, I pretended to get a phone call then I dragged my bag off to arrivals. A man pushes past me with his trolley and knocks my purse over. In Canada, he would apologize. Here, he growls at me and moves on. I’m just a woman. I step out into the sunshine and admire the palm trees lining the airport road. What a beautiful town this is. To my right a man takes one long look at me then turns to his side and spits on the sidewalk. Oh well, there goes my moment. Welcome home, Susan. At least for the moment this is home.