Thursday, 26 July 2012

Mid July and things are moving

I guess calling the 26th Mid July is strictly speaking not all that accurate.

But things are moving on at work and home now only needs furniture in the spare bed room!  I have a study desk, we finally found a lounge suite - although that cost more than we really wanted to pay, but after months of looking when we found on we were both comfortable with the decision was made. And we have a day bed in Katrina's study, which folds out into a queen size bed. 

Things at work are starting to heat up - in the sense that the project I came over for should really start to hit top gear in the next couple of months.  Yay!

The walls of Sohar Fort - under re-construction as you can see.
In the mean time I have been looking at organisational arrangements and making recommendations for improvement. Hopefully some of these will be picked up and I will be able to start feeling that I am making a real difference. 

The week before last I spent up country in and around Sohar looking at operational locations, with an eye to process and looking for possible improvements. Sohar is north of Muscat in the direction of Dubai and Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates.  

Unfortunately on the week away I didn't really get to look at much of the scenery. The days tended to be rather long with 7am starts and on one occasion a 1am finish - that was a long day. Having said that we did get a break in the afternoon that day and avoided the worst of the heat. How outside workers do it I don't know. 

We did get to have a short walk around Sohar town. This is a seaside town, not really developed at all for tourism and well on the way to becoming the industrial heart of Oman.  

According to some Sohar is one of the places that Sinbad the Sailor is reputed to have originated from. Could be the basis for some pretty good tourist attractions I would have thought. 

Exercising the Bull
Sohar also practices Omani bull fighting and has a bull ring somewhere in the town. Now don't get carried away, it's not like Spanish/Mexican bull fighting at all. Essentially two bulls are led up to each other, they lock horns and then spend about two minutes pushing each other around the ring. On a pre arranged signal the handlers grab a rope tied around the left fore foot and pull the bulls apart, ending the pushing contest.  Could be worth having a look as it would seem that little to no damage is done to the bulls. Apparently the guy "walking" his bull in the sea would have been training it for the ring.  

About a week ago the holy month of Ramadan commenced. For Muslims it is a period of fasting, prayer and giving. Fasting commences each morning at dawn (which is around 0430 here) and ends around 7pm. Fasting is complete - no water, no tobacco and definitely no food. Although there are exceptions made for the sick, elderly, young, pregnant and sports-people. Even so the Islamic Olympians will have to make up their fast when they return home after the games. 

It is illegal to eat or drink in public, including in your car and you can be fined for doing so. Most of the food outlets are closed throughout the day, opening in mid to late afternoon so that people can buy food to take home and break the fast (istfar). Some have been given dispensation to remain open to service non muslims, but these are places where people eating and drinking cannot be seen from outside. 

I have been asked at work a few times if I am fasting and the answer to that is yes during the work hours.  Although I could close my office door and eat or drink, and I am told that would be accepted, I do not think that would be fair on the people around me. And it is no great hardship in any case.  You see as they have no formal meal break in the office I have often worked through with nothing more than a drink of water and a cup of tea, and during Ramadan office hours are shortened. Work starts at 0830 (instead of 0730) and ends at 1 (instead of 2).  Although I always start earlier and end later than most, an extra hour or half hour at each end, partly because that lets me avoid traffic and not having had a desk at home, until this week............

It is pretty quiet, people wise, at work at the moment. Many people take leave through Ramadan and some have gone on pilgrimage to Mecca. This isn't the Hajj, which falls in September this year and is a holy obligation that Muslims must (if they are able) make at least once in their lifetime.

Once the office closes everyone goes home and the place pretty much shuts down as people take their rest through the heat of the afternoon. And then come dark everybody is out and about. Friends and families coming together to break the fast and continuing until well into the late late hours. Followed by bed and a really early start for that breakfast.

In about three weeks Ramadan ends and the Islamic World then moves into a celebration called Eid Al Fitr. A time of feasting and hospitality. The public sector closes down for Eid. But Katrina and I will be off to Europe for two weeks then, to go to a wedding in Switzerland and catch up with some people.

Friday, 13 July 2012

For Zanzibar food

Pretty much everyday since we moved into our house one or both of us have driven past the African food and coffee shop, for Zanzibar food. But why Zanzibar I hear you ask? Well for some centuries Oman was a maritime trading empire that included Zanzibar. For a time there were two Sultans one in Oman and the other in Africa. That all ended with an episode of fratricide and the Sultanate was re-united. There are many Omani's who can trace their ancestry and cultural heritage back to Africa. There are I understand people who live in parts of Africa that are or consider themselves to be Omani. Our suburb Al Hail North has strong ties in that direction.

Having seen how busy Zanzibar food is in the evenings we finally decided to go last night.  And boy are we glad we did, really nice and well cooked food that fed us to a standstill and cost, well not a lot! Even though the waiter talked us into some of the more expensive menu items.

Oh yum shrimp in coconut sauce a whole grilled and spicy herb encrusted fish, salad, muttabel dip, flat bread fresh from the making and a fabulous fruit cocktail. All for less than $20 Au.  We wobbled away from the table and had to go for a long beach walk afterwards.  Ahhh Mr Zanzibar food we will be back!!!!

Our Zanzibar food.

And drink

Of course we didn't help ourselves having dined at the club the night before.  I ordered an English mixed grill. No problem they said only to come back a while later and say, it's been so long since anyone ordered this that we don' have any lamb cutlets and veal kidney, do you mind if we replace the lamb with more beef and the kidney with chicken liver.  Hmm no problem said I (not really a lamb or kidney fan) so a bit of a win. Mind you I wilted when the plate arrived with more meat than a David can eat in a sitting.  But needs must.... Although the chips were left untouched.

My English mixed grill! Backed up by Katrina's Steak.
But that's enough of my most common sin - Gluttony!

All in all this last week has been pretty good.  I got lots of positive reinforcement and feel much better about life the universe and everything! So yay me, and tomorrow I head off for a week long tour of a number of the work places up towards the UAE.  Should be fun and just in time, because Ramadan is scheduled to start just after I get back. Methinks outdoor in the sun without the ability to drink may be a bit hard on this soft Westerner.

There's a certain buzz building about Ramadan.  A number of the guys have told me they look forward to it and feel better after the month of daytime fasting.  The radio has ads about Ramadan and the charities to help the needy that are a part of Ramadan.  Most of the food and drink places close during the day through Ramadan and I understand that includes malls in their entirety.  Although they will open for the evening and late into the night.

Eating and drinking in public is forbidden and transgressors can be fined.  Your motor vehicle is included as a public place.  So that is essentially anywhere where you may be seen breaking the fast between dawn and dusk.  Some food outlets are given permits to open during daylight hours through Ramadan, to service non-Muslims, but those permissions are few and far between and subject to licensing controls.

This will be an interesting experience for me, never having fasted. Not eating and drinking at work or anywhere in public through daylight hours, yet another new experience.

In the past week the weather has improved, its fallen down into the mid to low thirties and one night the high twenties.  A lovely relief which we and most of the locals grabbed with both hands. Off to the beach for walks up and down the sea shore for us. Dodging the joggers and fishing boats coming and going along the shoreline.  We walked at and in the waters edge, which also kept us clear of the numerous soccer games in progress.  The pitches had scraped out boundaries and in some cases looked to share goal mouths, so many and closely packed the games were.

Mid thirties, beach - ahhh that would mean humidity - you betcha! I tried to take some pictures of the thronging beach, but after about five minutes this was still the view through the camera lens..
Honest there is a beach, people and soccer games in there!

One of the things I find quite bizarre here is the dust haze.  It is omnipresent and means that most evenings you can look directly at the sun.  The blue sky is somewhat muted, but it also means that I don't need sunglasses very often and while you tan, sunburn is pretty hard to achieve.  So swings and roundabouts.

The sun at dusk
And this weekend we went to another museum, this time the Museum of Natural History. A very nice little museum that tells the natural history and development stages of Oman. There are a series of display rooms and display cases focusing on the geology and animal life of the country.  In a separate hall there is a sperm whale skeleton along with some dolphin and other aquatic animal bits and pieces.  We enjoyed the museum, but were bemused by the lack of people there.

In one corner there was a couple of sheets of paper showing attendance figures at the museum since its opening. I was very disappointed to see that each year since opening attendance figures have dropped.  While it is nice to have a museum almost to yourself, it is such a shame as Oman has so much to tell of its history.

A false killer whale - actually a dolphin species

Saturday, 7 July 2012

It's July already?

Wow time has flown!

Almost 4 months down now and we continue to settle in.  The last few weeks have  been fairly quiet as the weather has really hit its stride now and most days top 40! Although the last few have been a cool change - around 35 or so.

It's funny the things you miss from home - the greens and the ability to roam around outside without really having to worry about the heat.  I am at a total loss to understand how the frantic building and outdoor work continues in this constant heat.  I really miss the ability to cycle to and from work - apart from the heat there's no such thing as a bike path and while I'm willing to drive on the roads I can't say the same for a bike.

That relaxed Australian attitude to life would be nice. Not that people here aren't relaxed, it's just a different type of relaxed.  I still don't feel right walking around in shorts for example, although Katrina now goes most places without a head scarf.
Traditional Islamic helmet - check the decorative work!

Work has been reasonably intense, so quiet weekends at home have been a good thing. Couple intense work with my innate ability to question myself and my worth and David has had a self inflicted interesting time.  Hopefully that's all behind me now!

One of the little joys is being able to wander around in sandals rather than shoes. Shoes are just too hot, apart from at work and even then sometimes its touch n go. But sandals, of yeah rather comfy!
Traditional Omani shield (Buckler) made of HEAVY, HEAVY leather.

We had Katrina's birthday last week and that was fun, a dinner party followed by a late lie in the following morning.  In Katrina's case it was a well deserved birthday lie in. In my case, well in my defence the morning after a dinner party - I ask you? And I did give Katrina the keys to a perfume shop to select a perfume as her birthday present.  She chose well, rose and musk oil, made her happy, so me happy and the shop keeper was well satisfied with the purchase too.

And then last weekend I took off to the Sultan's Armed Forces Museum. It's located in a functional army base and the museum itself is housed in a rather old fort, which was used by the Sultan at the beginning of his reign. Naturally enough the museum focusses on the history of the Sultanate with much of it given over to the last 40 odd years.
Walking into the outdoor display area with my serving military guide.

Quite the weapons collection, gun nuts would love display. Not least because many of the larger weapons are left out and can be touched and photographed from all angles.  Outside there are static displays of retired aircraft, patrol boats and a field command centre and hospital.  On arrival you are met by a serving officer and guided through the outside displays.  My guide was called Bader and through a misunderstanding introduced me to a Dutchman whose guide had decided the Dutchman was Australian too. Turned out said Dutchman will shortly be touring through Australia.
One for the gun nuts!

Last Wednesday night we went to the club for dinned and ran into a recently arrived English bandmaster who has been employed to work with the Police bands.  Goody we thought let's find out when and where the camel pipers are going to play next. Not so, apparently they only do a few gigs a year and there is no formal schedule as such and their primary concert is National day for which the location is a closely guarded secret until the last minute.... Sigh! We will find in concert one day........................

And now Katrina has kidnapped the sole remaining kitten from the litter our local feral had just after we got Button the Kitten.  So now we have a not so little girl cat and a little boy (visit to the vet soon).