Friday, March 8, 2013

Muscat Festival(s)

I recently had the opportunity to go to the Muscat Festival--think state fair with more culture and less sand art. Actually, it was two different fairs, one with my host family that focused on Omani heritage and cultural events, and one with the YES and some Omani girls that was more of the fried-food-and-spinning-rides variety. Also firework displays that happened randomly, spectacularly, and without warning.
At the festival in Al Amerat, there was a mini "village" set up with traditional Omani crafts. Sellers lined the way with everything from tassels to woven baskets. 
There was also an international village area, where artists from all over the world were selling and demonstrating their respective crafts. As I walked around the sizable square of vendors, I kept track where I was in the world by how aggressive the sellers were. As I moved from the Middle East towards Europe, I went from being physically pulled to look at some Moroccan shoes (And yeah, I ended up buying a $15 pair that are worth maaaybe half that. The justification for this is that I had a long, Arabic conversation with the seller, and got to learn a bit of Moroccan.) to being coolly ignored by the guy selling Uzbek chess sets.
Egyptian metalworker
Sudanese Potter
French stained-glass artist
Iranian weaver
Thai silk-spinner
One of my favorite spots was the Palestinian area, where this guy was making blown-glass sculptures. I was completely mesmerized watching him delicately shape molten glass for twenty minutes, and so was the small crowd  that formed as he worked. 
 Right across from him was this table, with passages from the Qur'an and nativity scenes displayed intermixed; and I thought it made an interesting statement about how this Palestinian shopkeeper viewed the relationship between these two religions. I don't think I would have ever seen a display like this in America, we're much more comfortable with religions neatly segregated, playing into the media's Us vs. Them narrative. Just some food for thought. 
About a week later I went to the Naseem Park festival with Lisa, Claire and a big group of Omani girls. They're all in a program called Access, also sponsored by the State Dept, an ESL program that's run by Amideast in classes all over Oman. It was really fun to hang out with them and to help them practice their English while we practiced our Arabic. 
The three Americans decided to go as Omanis, or at least attempt to. Even in full abayas and lahafs, our terrible accents and pasty skin give us away pretty quickly, but I think we did manage to make quite a few people quite confused.

Naseem reminded me the most of the County fair, with rides that looked like they could break down at any second and a cornucopia of blinking lights. I only have a few pictures since technically cameras weren't allwoed, so I had to be super sneaky . 

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