Tag: oman

CultureVisual Arts

Street Art in Oman?!!

Imagine my surprise when one of my Omani students told me that the walls of his entire village had been painted by a local street artist. “Really,” I exclaimed with glee! “I love street art!”

On the following weekend, I headed north from the port city of Sohar in a bid to capture on video whatever I found. What I discovered in a small fishing village just west of the slightly larger town of Liwa was much more than I had expected. The walls of the village were indeed covered in art—an assortment of male faces—from the walls immediately surrounding the local mosque all the way to the sea.

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CultureHuman Rights

Labor in the Arabian Gulf–Part 3

The future of the citizen workforce

As teachers charged with preparing young adults to become productive members of their society, it was important for my colleagues and I to first understand the peculiarities of the Gulf labor market. We were informed by periodic seminars and workshops, conversations with industry representatives and recent graduates as well as through personal research projects.

While Oman’s wise Sultan’s plan has long been to train Omanis for white-collar jobs in education, business management and the STEM industries, the reality was that in many instances this was a long-range goal. Maintaining expat labor in supervisory and management positions was key to keeping the economy humming in the near-term. What I clearly heard from my students was that they weren’t interested in being part of the blue-collar workforce. They wanted a job, preferably with the government, that came complete with their own desk, computer and a sufficient salary.

Students taking an exam at one of Oman’s major universities. The percentage of females studying is considerably higher than males at many of the Sultanate’s universities.

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Human Rights

Video–90 Seconds of Migrant Labor in the Gulf

 

IMAGINE…

You’re recruited to live and work in a foreign country

You work from sun up to sundown 6 days each week 

You’re herded onto the back of trucks like cattle and dropped off at a work

location before dawn each day, then picked up after sunset

You’re paid very low wages for your hard manual labor

You have to work for months to pay the recruitment agency fees

You send all you make back to feed your extended family and often go without

Your labor is arduous and you’re working outside in extreme heat and humidity

You only get to return to your country to visit your family every 2 years

You live in extremely crowded substandard housing

You live this way for years because you have no other way to feed your family

You will never be allowed to become a citizen of the country you’re developing

You have very few rights under your host country’s legal system

You may have to put up with mistreatment by your employer

You’re often lonely, depressed and sick due to neglecting your health

Your employer will only pay for medical care that involves your ability to do your job-

injury to arms, legs or back are covered…eye infections, no way

You will be sent home if you get sick and can no longer work

IMAGINE…this is your life…

peace~henry

CultureHuman Rights

Labor in the Arabian Gulf–Part 2

But, things are SO cheap here!

The Gulf was one of the few places I’ve lived where many of my teaching colleagues hired help each week, especially for house cleaning and car washing. For less than US $10, a teacher could hire the services of a cleaner for an entire weekend afternoon. Call me crazy, but I like doing my own cooking and cleaning so I never went the way of many other expats while I was living there.

During my first two years in Oman, college administration officials allowed faculty to have their cars washed on campus. This practice gave some of the college-sponsored laborers the opportunity to add to monthly salaries as low as RO 40, or a little over US $100. I was accused more than once by co-workers of ‘spoiling’ the system because it was difficult for me to pay one of these laborers the equivalent of US $1.00 for hand-washing the exterior and cleaning the interior of my car in temps that would bring on heatstroke for an average person. In reality, I wasn’t alone in paying more than the standard rate for such services.

Another example of low-tech construction methods–workers routinely dug trenches by hand before burying water pipes or electrical cables.

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CultureHuman Rights

Labor in the Arabian Gulf-Part 1

Here, as in many of my posts, I’ll be walking along a precipitous slope while making cultural comparisons based on my personal experiences and research while living and working in different regions of the world where cultural norms and practices may contrast starkly. My aim is not to find fault or present one culture as being superior to another. As I’ve stated repeatedly in this blog, it’s my belief that all cultures hold valuable lessons for others to learn. These posts are simply meant to be a starting point for discussion on topics I feel are important, not an indictment of any specific people, religion or way of life.

Understanding that we’re all products of our own cultural upbringing and accumulated life experiences, I’ve admitted repeatedly that it’s challenging for me to maintain an objective cultural perspective, especially while living and actively participating in life within a given country and culture. I’ve found it’s much easier to see all sides of an issue once you’ve put a bit of distance between yourself and the major challenges of the moment. With all our shared human flaws, we’re more likely to achieve a balanced point of view by reflecting on experiences over a period of time.

So, with that in mind, I’d like to share some thoughts I had this week while visiting one of the huge building supply stores here in the USA. While searching aisle to aisle for just the right type of lumber, hardware and screws to complete a small project, I was reminded of the differing perspectives on physical labor and the concept of self-sufficiency that are evident from one culture to another.

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Culture

Concepts of Ownership

A few days ago, I noticed an ‘invitation’ from one of my USA-based frequent flyer programs, nestled among the dozens of other promotional emails I had received. This one caught my attention with the bold headline, “Earn up to 13,000 bonus miles and help keep what’s yours, yours.” On most days, an advertisement of this sort would only deserve a cursory glance, but physically being back in the USA has heightened my awareness of marketing messages and I found myself pondering the reasons for duplicating the possessive pronoun “yours, yours” at the end of the statement.

I understand these words were carefully selected to dramatize the very real threat of identity theft, but to me the message was typically American since the targeted individual (moi) was being told ‘you possess something of great value, so don’t let anyone else take it away from you’. While the words had been carefully chosen to appeal to personal ego and our sense of self-importance along with highlighting our legal rights of possession, I also see them as yet another sign that the American cultural pendulum has swung to the extreme end of the individualism spectrum.

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CultureTravel

Oman Photo Stories #3: The South

When I say southern Oman, I’m referring to the governorate of Dhofar which borders on the Arabian Sea, Yemen and Saudi Arabia to the east, south and west respectively. This region includes the country’s second largest city, Salalah, which has a more tropical climate than the north, complete with coconut palms and a summer monsoon season known as the ‘Khareef’.

Salalah draws thousands of summer visitors from other Gulf countries who enjoy picnics surrounded by lush green (shades of which I’ve never seen before!) mountain landscapes and waterfalls, along with cool temperatures and misty, overcast skies. I lived and worked in Salalah for two years and must admit this region’s weather, white-sand beaches and unique variety of plants and animals, more akin to East Africa than the north of the country, made it my favorite.

This southern region is separated from northern Oman by 500 kilometers of barren, mostly flat and featureless sand desert. Making the torturous 10-hour drive across this moonscape between Salalah and Muscat multiple times alone (which surely places me high on the list of potential candidates for a mission to Mars!),  gave me plenty of time to ponder both the geographical and cultural differences that spring from such isolation.

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CultureTravel

Oman Photo Stories #2: North Central

I lived in the north central region of Oman for six of the eight years I worked as a university lecturer in the Sultanate. This region contains the vast majority of the country’s population, commerce and higher education institutions.

While more than 25% of Oman’s population lives in the Capital Area of Muscat alone, I worked and made my home in the Al Batinah Governorate’s administrative center of Sohar, a small industrial city on the coast about 2 hours northeast of Muscat and 2 1/2 hours southeast of the UAE’s popular destination of Dubai.

The cities in this region are Oman’s most prosperous and least traditional, although a drive into the countryside’s smaller villages quickly exposes the viewer to the Bedouin way of life where close family ties are far more prized than the glitzy excesses of city living.

North Central Oman

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CultureTravel

Oman Photo Stories #1: Musandam

Over the past few years, the Sultanate of Oman, where I lived and worked from January 2008 until August 2016, has received a steady stream of accolades from top travel publications such as Lonely Planet and Condé Nast Traveler.

Words such as ‘a hidden gem’, ‘a startling variety of beautiful landscapes’ and ‘rich in history’ have been used to describe this friendly and peaceful country located on the eastern edge of the Arabian Peninsula, bordering the clear waters of the Arabian Sea (part of the Indian Ocean).

According to Rough Guides:

Amid the ever-changing states of the Arabian Gulf, Oman offers a refreshing reminder of a seemingly bygone age. Over-development has yet to blight its most spectacular landscapes and cultural traditions remain remarkably undiluted, making the sultanate one of the best places in the Gulf to experience traditional Arabia.

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Culture

ME Primer 3: The Ghosts of Bahla

 

Sometimes, fate gives a traveler time to slowly absorb the intricacies of a new culture, but at other times situations force us to jump in head first, sink or swim.

On a weekend about six weeks into my second stint in the Sultanate, a Canadian teacher and close friend I’d worked with in Thailand came to visit me. Wanting to be a good host and give him a tour of some of the main tourist sites in northern Oman, we set out on a weekend trip to visit Nizwa and Balha, two towns of historic and religious significance in the interior.
I had readily found a small, inexpensive car to rent soon after arriving back in Oman, but I was so concerned about my friend’s comfort that I exchanged it for a Toyota Yaris which provided more comfortable seats as well as a more powerful AC system which would surely be needed in the interior. While driving the white Yaris out of its parking space and onto the highway, I felt a chill run up my spine, and just for a moment I considered returning it. I tried to pass off this negative feeling of impending doom as dehydration and drove on telling myself that I was just being silly. This decision would later come back to haunt me.

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