Monday, October 22, 2012

The story of the football match

After much last minute planning on the part of us exchange students, we found ourselves at the Oman v. Jordan match last week, carrying illegal backpacks and still wearing out super-attractive school uniforms. It went something like this:

*Arabic class ends*
Someone: "Hey, I wanna go to the football match tonight"
Everyone except Lisa: "Hey, me too"
Some Sultan School YES kid: "Is anyone from school going?"
Another Sultan School YES kid: "No everyone's busy supporting cancer" 
Someone: "Does anyone have a ride/know if they're allowed to go?"
Everyone: "No"
Peter and Dylan: "We're boys so Omani society says we can do whatever we want and no one will care"
*flurry of calling parents and figuring out rides occurs*
Someone: "Hazzah! We're going to the match right now!" 
Hannah: *begins to throw hissy fit* "But....I can't....I have to change first....I'm still in my school uniform......cannot cope......wahhhh" 
Everyone else: "Hannah, get over yourself" 
Lisa: "Bye guys!" 
*Lisa does not go to the game for unknown reasons*

We stumble towards the stadium 20 minutes into the game, two white chicks in long navy jumpers, one normally-dressed girl in a vintage skirt that one of the jumper-wearing girls is exceedingly jealous of, an Asian kid in Ray Bans, and some guy in a dishdasha who no one can figure out if he's Egyptian or Lawati or a weirdo American, all carrying backpacks like a grade-school field trip.

So this picture is one of the times when they scored, and, because of my exceptional photo taking skills, everything is blurry. 

There were a few minor mishaps which turned out fine, like when they told us we couldn't bring our backpacks in and we had to plead and wheedle to make an exception for the stupid Americans. Or, at the end of the match, when we momentarily lost the boys in the crowd, and thought it would be a good idea to stand on a bench to see better, which of course caused small roar and stream of "hello how are you"s from the crowd of people flooding out of the stadium, because apparently 90% of the attendants of Omani football matches are 12 year old boys who have never interacted with women before. I can't say I wasn't warned, but it was still really funny/awkward. But all was well (to both of my mothers, don't worry, we handled ourselves just fine, honestly, stop worrying).

Oman won, 2-1 over Jordan, which is super exciting here because it means they might just possibly maybe have a tiny shot at qualifying for the world cup. In November they play Japan so, ehm, we'll see how that goes...
In all, a pretty fantastic first-ever football match :) 

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

What is r@w?

For all the engleejis, it's pronounced "rohw" and spelled raw.
I've been given several definitions ranging from "exceedingly tacky", "someone from the interior who is trying to act modern" and "Things that most Arabs like but that we don't like." 

Eithaar had a slightly more in-depth explanation.

 It's used much in the same way as affluent Columbian teens use the word "ratchet" as they walk through a Wal-mart and point out various bling-ful and weave-ful items. And if you're looking for raw, Lulu is the place.
If Wal-mart, a Dollar General, a TJ Maxx and a Food Lion had a baby in some kind of bizarre consumerism orgy, they would name it Lulu and exile it to the Arabian peninsula. It is a vast and shiny land, filled with bright colors, frustrated-looking workers who don't appreciate loud groups of teenage girls, and so. much. stuff. And apparently, a lot of it "raw" stuff. 
So far I've gathered that this is raw: 
This is raw: 
And this is very very raw: 
What looks like a vertical bed of gigantic flowers is actually a rack of these things that some girls put under their headscarfs to make their heads look big and poufy....because, I guess that's a desirable thing. Pretty much the definition of raw. 

Being an outsider, it's very strange to see the same genre of biases and stereotypes I see at home, but in a completely different cultural context. I have nothing hilarious or preach-y to say about this, frustrated and repressed sociology major inside of me (don't worry Dad, I promise to study something useful that won't have me working at Starbucks all my life) just finds it fascinating. It's very easy to see how natural the creation of an "other," an embarrassing or backward social group, is in a changing culture, I wonder if it's entirely unavoidable. 

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Adventures in Fabric and Culture

There's one kind of store I can walk into anywhere in the world and be instantly at home. Whether peopled by blue-haired old quilters, somebody's Abuelita, ironically-grey-haired hipsters, or floral-swathed Balushi women--fabric shops all have that familiar musty smell that means I'm home. 
So much shiny
We recently went to Pakistani fabric shop, in search of traditional-style Balushi dresses for Eid, the holiday that's coming up at the end of October. Long story short, we didn't find them. However that didn't keep me from getting distracted by shiny things and buying this beautiful totally non-Omani piece of fabric. 
The next day we went into the Mattrah Souk, an old-school marketplace that's 50% tourist trap 50% place where actual Omanis buy stuff. 

The souk is a maze of tight alleyways, bustling with women in abayas, men in dishdashas and old British tourists trying to haggle over prices. The main area is lined with shops selling random and generic things like camel-shaped snap-close gold leaf boxes or football jerseys. Every so often the line of shops is interrupted by a corridor jutting out, where the shops on either side sit within kissing distance of one another and the rows of vendors seem to stretch on for miles. Each of these alleyways loosely specialize in one good or another, ie textiles, silver, gold, etc. 
This entire shop was devoted to selling fancy trim
I spent most of my time flitting from one stall to another in the textiles area, constantly being distracted by the next exciting shiny thing. I think between that and the sparkly green fabric from the day before which I was wearing as a shawl, (classic white person tries to wear something "cultural" which just further accentuates their whiteness) I gave off the impression of some kind of deranged bird-woman. 

There's this feeling that pervades the entire experience of the souk that, as a foreigner, you're constantly being ripped off, so I felt kind of bitter about buying anything because I knew the "special discount price just for you" was still way too high. I ended up settling on some ribbon trim for a skirt that I will totally actually make and not just leave in the corner and sigh at while I do less productive activities like write blog posts.

All the cramped stores reminded me so much of the little junk / antique shops in old Ellicott City or Hampden. Of course "antique" here has a very different meaning than it does in the States, by a margin of about a thousand years. It was funny though to see that even, maybe especially, here in the souk, a place touted as "super actual traditional Omani" there were so many things not from Oman. Turkish antiques, Pakistani fabrics, Indian silvers, Chinese Khanjars, sold much cheaper than the real ones.
These are the traditional Omani daggers, called Khanjars, worn at weddings or cultural events by men 
So you have these distinctly-Omani daggers, which are being made in China to be sold to Americans or Brits or any number of people for whom Muscat is a port of call on their 10 day cruise. I don't know if that's a bad thing or a good thing or a the-world-is-becoming-a-mono culture-homogenized-wasteland thing, but it's definitely an interesting thing. 

It's a theme that keeps being repeated over and over in everything that i see. Omani culture is so much more than everything we think of as "traditional." Sure, it's easier to simplify Omani culture down to a twelve-person family sitting on the floor eating biryani with their hands, and I'm not saying that's not a part of the culture, but to get the full picture you need to see all the people speaking Swahili and Tamil and Tagalog. You need to see all immigrants and the native-born Omanis who don't follow any of those stereotypes. Omani culture historically has been and continues to bear strong influences from India and all over Southeast Asia. There's strong ties to East Africa, and Western Europe, particularly the UK. These influences aren't separate from "true" Omani culture to which all the rest is merely an addition. Culture isn't a snapshot of what people think it should be, it's an ever-changing, intangible conglomerate of the people who make it.