Looking a gift horse in the mouth

February 3, 2012


For my birthday we cashed in on the vouchers for a free night at the Grand Hyatt, Muscat. It’s a stunning building – opulent and rich with atmosphere. The entrance is an Arabic tent. Arabs and tourists from all over sip tea or coffee listening to the grand piano. By the time we had dinner, breakfast and lunch hundreds of pounds had disappeared from our account into their company profits. Well, we expected that.

However, even a free room can be a rip-off. They put us in the smelliest nastiest room in the hotel, by the bins. The shower had big brown stain in it. They had the nerve to bash our door waking us up at eight ‘to check the mini-bar‘. Then they charged us sixty pounds for two breakfasts. For this breakfast – equivalent to the price of a decent hotel room in most countries. the tea was weak as a Zimbabwee dollar. They ran out of eggs. When they finally got them back again, demand was so high the crush was unpleasant The pool was freezing. The baby pool was even colder and unusable.

We complained. They said the hotel was full (which it clearly was not) and promised us a better room next time. And why exactly do they think there will be a next time? We’re off to the Chedi (never tried but stunning Far Eastern architecture), the Crown Plaza (friendliest staff in Muscat and magnificent view) or the Shangrai La (voted world’s best beach resort and Oman’s only six star hotel a few miles out of Muscat).

Driving test update

January 23, 2012

“You’ve failed,” said the Royal Omani Police examiner when she finished her test.

“But I  drove perfectly,” snarls daughter with attitude. She was pretty confident about this as she had only been round a roundabout and back to the test centre.

“Your phone rang during the test. No mobiles.”

“But I didn’t touch it!” she shouts.

The Omani smiles like an indulgent parent. “Only joking. You passed.”

So the comedy that has delighted us all is now over.

Clearly the planets are all in daughter’s favour today. She also got a job as a trainee dog trainer for a company that trains all the police and army dogs (how many times can I get the word ‘train’ into one sentence).

Karuna’s son

January 23, 2012

Last post I was telling you about the maid’s thirty-three-year-old son who had advanced tetanus – a disease that can prove fatal.

I haven’t been giving progress reports on our maid Karuna’s son as they were too depressing.  When she flew back, the doctor’s wouldn’t let her see him because they were worried about her being too upset (and fear of further infection). When she did, he only had eye movement. His legs were paralysed and he was on a drip. There was fear of brain damage. However, last I heard the news was better. He had been moved off the drip and swallowing. Recovery would be  very slow but the doctors were now hoping for a complete one. Apparently he is the first tetanus survival from that hospital ever.

So everyone – thanks for your thoughts and get your tetanus jab now.

Two lives – two worlds

January 2, 2012

New Year has started both badly and well depending on who you are. Well for us because we took a relaxing cruise on a dhow with a party of friends – saw dolphins, snorkelled where there were amazing fish and even turtles (is snorkelled really a verb?) and returned to a sunset cruise. Tragic for our maid Karuna’s 31-year-old son is fighting for his life in Sri Lanka having caught tetanus from a rusty nail. He is in a coma. She flew out to be with him last night. If only this was an episode of Eat, Pray, Love then everything would work out happily. Sadly it is not. tetanus is entirely preventable with a vaccine but it was too expensive to administer in Sri Lanka.A five-year-old child could be left fatherless as a result.  Please pray if you believe and think of Karuna and family.

My first opera

December 27, 2011

I went to see Carmen at the splendid newly opened Royal Opera House Muscat. It opened a few months ago and I think we were the last people in Muscat to go.

I persuaded hubby to put on bow-tie and dinner jacket as I think nothing suits him better and that is what people wear to operas. Most men won’t be, says he. I disagreed. I’ll look stupid. I disagreed. He wore the DJ and, of course, He was quite right. Most people did wear jacket and tie but I thought he looked great and that’s what matters, isn’t it? The women however really went to town and one of the joys to me of going was to see everyone – Indian, Omanis, Scots – in their national costumes. Students – be warned. Jeans and flip-flops do not count as national costume even if everyone under 25 in your country wears nothing else.

Half the bloggers of Oman seemed to be there. Our chief blogger Andy was in the seat in front of me – Andy from Oman. We had a nice chat and I met his wife who has another baby on the way. Another – a nomad in the land of Nizwa –  was in the 15 rial seats and couldn’t see properly which really is rather poor for a modern opera house. Andy and I could both see brilliantly. The auditorium is not that big so the singers seemed very close.

The show was incredibly long – four hours. A friend of mine said, “Well, that’s four hours of my life I’ll never see again.’ I enjoyed it thoroughly but … For me one of the problems with opera is by the time the singers have developed a strong enough voice, they are at an age where in another career they would be senior managers. The young and passionate Don Jose seemed like a middle-aged banker who enjoyed liquid lunches and even Carmen looked as if she would make a damn good Head of Sales. I could admire their technique but could never suspend belief and really involved myself in the unfolding drama.

This wasn’t helped by playing with the totally wonderful electronic displays that my husband set to French. I kept involving myself in the translation and bemoaning I didn’t work harder at school.

Frivolity aside. it really was a magnificent performance. The scenery was breath-taking. The production powerful and I have never seen such a spontaneous, heart-felt standing ovation.

Photo courtesy of aliberalslibretto.com

Christmas in Oman

December 22, 2011


Photo courtesy of  Tripadvisor

I was dreading Christmas out here. To me, dark afternoons, cold weather and a nation wearing office suits with a Santa hat and reindeer nose is what Christmas is all about. I thought it would be awkward in a Muslim country. I imagined my family huddled into a broom cupboard opening presents secretly and all Christmas decorations being out of sight.

I underestimated the Omanis tolerance AND their love for a good time. Far from being clandestine, we are allowed to enjoy it fully. There is Father Christmas in the mall (and Omanis in dish dashers queuing for photographs) and decorations everywhere. Our Compound is a festival of light. (OK. Helen. I know that is your doing). We can order fresh turkey, sausage-meat stuffing, brussel-sprouts and even fresh Christmas trees from Au-Fair. The Embassies do carol services. The WGO organises Christmas lunches for friends. Friends organise parties for other friends (Helen again!)

What you don’t get is Xmas compilation albums played over the loudspeaker from August. Ian was just saying that he hadn’t heard I wish it could be Christmas everyday when I spoilt it for him by putting it on. You don’t have mad rushes and frustration because toys that the children want sell out. And if you forget something on Christmas Day you can pop out and buy it. I find this lack of a siege mentality very hard to adapt too. I still stock up.

I made a Christmas pudding but had to adapt it a little. Where the recipe says candied orange and lemon, I had to use candied papaya and pineapple. I used lime instead of lemon. Just couldn’t be bothered to go to the shop to get a lemon – limes cost the same per kilo as they do individually in the UK.

I do miss my family though – so if any of you are reading this, Merry Christmas.

Postal service in Oman

December 15, 2011


Photo courtesy of Our Surprising World.

Believe it or not, there is no national address system in Oman and therefore reliable postal service. Whenever you visit  someone and ask for the address, it tends to go something  like: “Head towards MQ, when you reach that roundabout with gold coffee pots, take third left, keep going until you reach the Blue Mosque,” (this will invariably be a different colour to the one described) and you’ll come to some newly constructed houses. Mine’s third on the left.”

“Em. I’ve got a sat nav system. Could I have a road name or something?”

“Crumbs. I haven’t got a clue.” Person shouts to someone offline.

“Darling. What’s our address?” You hear vague mutterings as her beloved wonders aloud. Eventually someone digs out the rental lease or goes out on the road to find street sign.

I suppose if everything was a desert up until forty or fifty years ago, addresses wouldn’t really work. British explorer in Arabian Sands in forties and fifties says plenty of the normads slept under the stars and moved around the sand dunes pretty often so I suppose it would have been pretty frustrating for any local postie to travel miles on his camel to deliver a postcard to an address that went  ‘Head towards sand dune, when you reach the well,  take third left,  until you reach the red embroidered cushion (naturally it’s blue) and we are just by the water jug and set of rifles’ only to find they had all disappeared somewhere else or been bumped off by a raiding party.

What I can’t understand is why PO Boxes are so few and far between now. We tried to get one and were told , ‘none available’. But they charge a fortune to have one and they are only a drawer in a steel cabinet. Why don’t they just manufacture more of them? How much can it cost? Well, they don’t.

This means Christmas cards and presents are not the easiest things to receive out here. However, don’t cross us off your Christmas list just yet. If you want to send me something airmail but don’t want to pay the price, send it to  Al-Manahil Books UK address. We get it ten to 14 days later. We pay a small amount (between one rial and two) but it’s good value. They prefer it to be books but we have done nappies, a ball gown and DVDs.  Frankly they have been an godsend for doing my MA History and everyone there is very friendly and even show an interest in my obscure academic books.

Snow in Oman – The Crystal Ball 2011

December 11, 2011

Our first Christmas in Oman opened spectacularly with the Crystal Ball. The Women’s Guild  Oman organise a ball every year for about 1,000 people to raise money for charity. Ian, Lizi and I went and it was wonderful.

It was held at Barr Al Jissah which recently won an award as the best resort in the world. It deserves its reputation. As the venue is about 10km out of Muscat so we decided to make an occasion of it and spend the night there. When we booked in, we were given a free upgrade to Al Husn, their top hotel. It was a great start. Each bedroom has a large balcony overlooking the bay. The minibar is complimentary and afternoon tea and cocktails are included. We felt like royalty.

The ball itself was held outside in an amphitheatre. The theme was Winter Wonderland and the decor tried to make the desert icy and cold. The palm trees and date trees shimmered with blue fairy lights. The tables and chairs were covered in white cloth that sparkled. There were large glittering ice sculptures dripping cool and wet. As you walked in there was a white carpet and we walked through real snow flakes (made by an ice-machine – I want one). I expect if you are reading this in Edinburgh you are probably muttering darkly, “I’ll give them snow.” But under the moonlight, palm trees silhouetted against the night it was the most beautiful sight.

Photographers and camara-men circulated round taking photos (camara in one hand, glass of champagne in the other) and Lizi was papped all the time. She looked stunning in her ballgown.

We dined on five courses, drank copious amounts of wine and danced under the stars till about midnight. The hard core lasted till 3am.  Here endeth the ball of the season.

What is Oman like?

December 11, 2011

Found this on YouTube which sets the background to my blog.

Life is good in the Sultanate

November 26, 2011

The weather in Oman is gorgeous in November. So fresh! We can sit outside, have BBQs, swim any time of day, hear birds sing. The cold tap water runs cold. Air-conditioning can be turned off (sometimes).  Plants that appeared to be dead as twigs have sprung back to life – a feature of the dessert plants-   apparently some species can go 20 years without rain and then recover completely when there is.  In addition, we have another two days public holiday. Since we came back from the UK we have had nearly three weeks public holiday. Life is good in the Sultanate!Image

Not in all things though. Latest news on Lizi’s diving test. She failed again in true Omani style.

The driving instructor asked her to turn left.

She turned left.

He tells her to stop the car. “You’ve failed.”

“Why?” says Lizi outraged.

“You turned the wrong way.”

“What do you mean? You told me to turn left!”

“Is that left?”

“Yes!” says Lizi between gritted teeth.

“I meant right.” he says. “I muddle them up.”

“So you can’t fail me?”

“Oh Yes. You failed.”

“But why?”

“You turned the wrong way,” he explains patiently.

Other cultural mysteries: The maid arrived early this morning and asked to borrow a hammer (It’s her day off). We heard lots of banging and a number of Karuna’s friends were bustling about so we went to investigate. Apart from a gorgeous curry being prepared on her outside cooker, there was an enormous haulage crate – 5ft by 6 ft. Our garage and the area outside was transformed into a junk yard. There was a washing machine, ironing board, electric lamps, carpets, rugs, a bed, , oil, a cot, about 200 plastic carrier bags filled with stuff and lots, lots more.  Karuna seems to have set up an export business. This much I can grasp. Things here are cheaper than Sri Lanka – especially electronic goods. But there were bottles of coca cola and washing up liquid! Can it really be worth it? And how can she afford it? Any ideas let me know.