Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Dhofari Gucci

Dhofari Gucci posted a brutally honest essay last week. Well worth the read if you have a minute.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

How do you say "Do you want fries with that" in Arabic?

Guess what was in the papers yesterday? The Ministry of Manpower is going to allow our underproductive and somewhat entitled youth to work part-time jobs, paid by the hour! I cannot wait to be asked if I would like extra ketchup in Arabic! 
Sheikh Abdullah bin Nasser Al Bakri, minister of manpower, issued a ministerial decision whereby employers can recruit workers on part-time basis on the following conditions including that part-time workers should not exceed 10 per cent of the specified Omanisation rate and their employment should be confined to private institutions.
This decision is AMAZEBALLS and should be applauded by everybody. Good Job M.O.M. It has the potential to be the thin end of the wedge that will eventually drive up competition in the job market as well as increase the quality of the pool of applicants we have to choose from. It has the potential to give all Omani's opportunities for casual or part time work. Bravo!

The limits on the new policy are extremely restrictive, and it only applies to kids between 16-18, but guys.... it's a start, and it's a great idea, which is all the more surprising because it came from a ministry more often known for terrible ideas, poorly executed.

I have been going on and on (and on and on and on) about Omanisation, and the underemployment of youth in the Sultanate since 2006, I think.  One of the things that consistantly boggled my mind was that we had no options for our youth to earn pocket money or learn basic practical job skills.

 Think about this for a minute: Your average middle class Omani Graduate, with a bachelor's degree from one of our astonishingly shitty private universities is unlikely to have any experience with any of the of the following:

  • Managing a household budget
  • Doing his own laundry
  • living outside of his parent's house. 
  • Ever having had a Job of any description, and has almost certainly never had a really really shitty job pumping gas or working in fast food or being a janitor. 
  • The absolute heartbreak of failure.
  • Having to admit to a superior that you don't know the answer, but will go find someone who does. 
  • being the lowest man on the totem pole, and working with assholes who hate you. 
  • Working a shitty job, and basically starving. Living off ramen noodles and samosas for 4 years while working through college. 
None of the above experiences are particularly fun, but they do build character and life skills such as empathy, time management, effective communication with assholes, and a genuine terror at the thought of ever being that poor again. 
Put yourself in the shoes of the people in HR then when these kids rock up with their Bachelor of Business management and expect to be made managers. 

I'm like, "friend, come back when you are not so fucking stupid to show up for an interview 2 hours late, with no C.V,  a half eaten chips oman sandwich in hand and three of your friends along for support.

It is little wonder that so many expats are quick to write off Omani's as feckless, lazy and dumb when in fact, much of that is simply a symptom of being wildly inexperienced with no life skills and perhaps a bit spoiled. It's not so much the fault of these kids, it's partially the fault of a government that has been too stupid to let them work, and a society that has coddled them for far too long. 

I'm very interested to see how this initiative is going to work out in reality, and if the M.O.M will back up businesses when they want to sack an underperforming hourly employee. 

More from here tomorrow, but I wanted to get this written down while it was fresh in my mind. Be good, Muscat. 

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

A voice of reason falls silent.

If you have lived in Oman for any length of time, you have likely heard of Sheikh Khalfan Al Esry. If you are really lucky you might have talked to Sheikh Khalfan, or even had dinner or an iftar celebration with him. You might have listened to his Ramadhan radio show, attended a seminar on HSE led by him, or perhaps sought out his consultation on matters religious, political, cultural, small business staff development, or industrial safety. Jack of all trades does not come close to describing his skill set or his wide array of scholarly expertise. 

I knew Sheikh Khalfan from his time working for PDO. PDO put him in charge of corporate safety, and he did an admirable job of changing the safety culture of PDO from the fatalistic "If Allah Wills It, I will die" to "I will take all the motherfucking preventative measures possible to ensure safety, I will ensure that all my motherfucking colleagues work safe too, and only after that is it in the hands of Allah to protect me" 

Sheikh Khalfan occasionally hosted "Scary Arabs 101" or as PDO preferred to call it, "New Expat Orientation". If you were fortunate enough to attend one of those sessions, you will undoubtedly recall the side-splitting portion on "Our Amazing Omani Underwear!" It was priceless. Sheikh Khalfan's easy going attitude, humor, and willingness to discuss the "questions that white people wonder about but are afraid to ask" made a huge difference in the ability of new western expats to understand the culture they were living in, and to embrace it without fear or ignorance. 

Although it wasn't his profession, Sheikh Khalfan was a VERY highly respected religious scholar, and generally as well liked by the elites of Muscat, as the folks in the village. His sane, thoughtful, and outward looking thoughts on matters religious personified the Omani attitudes of tolerance, moderation, and self-determination. He is, perhaps, the only Religious scholar with whom a fallen heretic such as myself can agree on many, many things. Indeed, If I could find common ground with a man so esteemed, it is little wonder then that his messages resonated with Sunni and Shia alike, and youth as much as the old guard. 

Sheikh Khalfan Al Esry passed away yesterday after battling an illness for a year or so. Inna Lillahi Wa Inna Ilaihi Rajioon. 

With his passing, the country looses a respected moderate voice, a champion of reasoned dialogue, a force for safety and sanity, and a humble, hilarious, genuinely wonderful man. Sheikh Khalfan was to so many expatriates the embodiment of what an Omani was, and what makes our country so very different, and indeed better than anywhere else in the Middle East. 

I intend to honor his legacy today by making safe choices, Being deliberate in my actions instead of reactive, and showing thought and consideration, even to those I disagree with. 

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

empty quarter

WRT the latest in ineffective Oman government initiatives: I read that we have decided to require motorcycle riders to own the bike they test on in order to get a full motorcycle licence, and that in order to own a bike, one must already have a full motorcycle licence. Well done, chaps! Reminds me a little of the "no expats may own pickup trucks" thing. let me know how that works out?

Also, the great and the good of the Omani intellectual stratosphere (otherwise known as the Majlis Ashura) have come forward with the genius suggestion that all expat managers be replaced by Omanis. Fuck me, perhaps we all CAN be astronauts!

On the bright side, at least we don't live in the Emirates. I used to kiss the tarmac at MCT every time I returned from a business trip to Dubai or Abu Dhabi, so grateful to be back in Oman, where perhaps everything is completely fucked up, but so much less so, and in a much more pleasant way.

More on the unintentional comedic genius that is our government in a few days, but for now, let us talk about something even more important; Me, and what I've been up to. 

I was in Abu Dhabi for a couple weeks at the end of March, working this event I have worked since the early 2000's, and catching up with old friends. previous years, I worked for the orginisation or directly for the teams competing. It was pretty high stress, low sleep, no time to eat or think or do anything other than react to whatever the next disaster might be, and attempt to head it off, or minimise the disruption to the event.

When I say we worked hard, and spent days and nights preventing small disasters from becoming big ones, I am really not kidding. Each year, I would lose 5-10 kilos in 12 days from lack of food, stress, physical exertion, lack of sleep, and probably drinking too much gin. In the first few years I worked the event, it was headquartered somewhere rather remote, requiring that a temporary city for 1,500 people be built in the middle of fucking nowhere. generators, portacabins with toilets and showers, hundreds of tents, fire, ambulance, helicopter cover, search and rescue team, remote medical clinic, remote fueling sites, catering, communication via satellite phone, gsm, radios, and water trucked in by tanker truck from the nearest city, 80 kms away. It was AMAZING.

 A particularly tough first day of the race would see us getting up at 03:00, setting up the ceremonial start somewhere flashy, starting off 50 cars and a hundred or so bikes, packing up the start, dividing the essential paperwork and supplies we needed to run the event into two different cars, because if I die in a ball of flames and crushed metal, and my share of the paperwork gets burned up, the event can still run. Mad dash from the ceremonial start 200 kms into the desert to check on the real start, find lunches for the civil defence guys who are refusing to work without 5* catering, putting out an actual bike on fire, and then another 200k or so into the desert to the site of the event. set up comms, sort out a hundred thousand problems (no power, no diesel, tanker trucks are lost, sandstorm, so the helicopters can't fly, etc..) set up the office and administration in a portacabin. get organised for the nightly meeting. As the bikes and cars begin to trickle in after a day on the sand, track down lost time cards, resolve minor competitor violations, realise we are out of water for the second time that day and task someone to go find a water bowser before the toilets overflow with shit. run 60 kms into the nearest town to get the route amendments that the advance team faxed over to the local hotel. have someone translate them from french and make a ton of photocopies. prepare to hand out road books and amendments and get everything ready for the driver's briefing 19:00. help with the driver's briefing. find the lost survival rations and hand those out. attend a three-hour meeting covering the first day of the race, type and print minutes from the meeting, and file them into 12 identical folders. be interrupted every three minutes by someone with a question, or an urgent need. it is now 22:30 and you have missed dinner. have a beer. track down 13 different teams to find out if they retired or will start tomorrow. Have another beer. Fuel tanker is lost, grab a beer and drive out to meet them and have them follow you back in. Fuel tanker forgot their generator, find a generator, and borrow a mechanic from one of the teams competing to get the malfunctioning pump up and working. it's midnight. sit down and have a few beers with your favorite people in the world, and trade stories of the day. 02:00 am, and you are in bed, and someone is shining a flashlight on you saying the bathrooms have no water, and it's a literal shit-storm in there now. throw your clothes on, realise the bathroom situation DEFINITELY cannot wait, check the water tanks. they are empty. grab someone who speaks whatever it is the water tanker drivers speak, grab a beer, and head 60 kms to go find a dozen more water tankers at 02:30 am. beg. borrow, cajole, and steal all the water you can find. drive back in convoy. 04:30 am, and the water tanks are full again. go through the bathrooms flushing toilets where you can and shutting off all the taps that were left on when the water ran out. leave a note for the guy in charge of that so he knows to get the cleaners in there asap when they get trucked in tomorrow, and to order more water for tomorrow. 05:00 am, back in bed. 06:00, alarm. off to the start to start the bikes and cars for another day in the desert. do roughly the same thing for the next 5 days, and you get the idea. exhausting, but fun, and working in the company of (mostly) amazing people.

But this year... this year was different: This year, I was on the medical team.  Do you know what being on the medical team means?  7 hours of sleep a night, 3 square meals a day, practicing field medicine with some of the finest medics in the entire world, and  Motherfucking helicopters, that's what. 

this was the view from my office for the week. 

Yes, I am in the front seat in a helicopter. Yes, I did pee on myself a little bit. 

and spent a day dune bashing with the amazing drivers on the sweep team!

I don't need to tell you guys how wonderful it was, but I usually do a by the numbers roundup of this event so here it is. It is somewhat different than past years. 
  • numbers of kms driven by me: 30
  • number of kms flown: thousands
  • best car driven: International MXT
  • worst car driven: 2012 range rover
  • runner up for best car driven: 2015 VW Touareg.
  • ratio of days to showers: 1/1
  • hours slept each night, average: 7
  • number of weird American pilots with moustaches 0
  • number of Canadian pilots without moustaches, who's junk I may or may not have grabbed while making a drunken point about I don't remember what: 1 (Sorry, Mike!) 
  • very smart medical professionals who do seem to like me: 8
  • very smart medical professionals who don't seem to like me: 12
  • new best friends for life acquired:1
  • beers consumed: 24
  • bourbon consumed (in litres) 1.5
  • average number of meals eaten per day: 2.2
  • weight lost: 3 kg
  • Epic road trips with Sheikh Your Booty:1
  • wrong turns on above road trip: 7
  • Regrettable confessions regarding past lovers and weird one night stands on above road trip: 6 

So, on the whole, a pretty good time was had. more on the rally in a few days, as well as the latest from tht majlis ashura thing. hope you all are well, and kicking ass.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

March Blues

I took the kid out to dinner tonight. It's been bitterly cold here for two months, without a single day above 0c, (most days the High has not been above -20c!) and tonight is no exception. Indeed, my phone informs me that it is presently -15c outside once one factors in the windchill. I love winter, but I'm ready for spring. Anyway, we had an otherwise uneventful meal at the sushi place and departed for the three block walk back to the car. And my Kid, this gorgeous little child, my wingman, my partner in crime, nearly broke me, shattered my sanity into 10,000 little pieces, right there in Midtown Detroit.

It took us 30 minutes (thirty motherfucking minutes!) to walk the three blocks as she unhurriedly drifted from one side of the sidewalk to the next, babbled away asking me questions she already knows the answer to, fucked about with icicles, made a snow angel, petted dogs, chatted up homeless guys, stared off into space, and basically did everything EXCEPT hustle her shit up and out of this insane cold. We were in the final 200 meters to the car, and I'm like half a block ahead and behind me I hear her singing the Sponge Bob Square Pants song except she has replaced all the words with "meow". and she's just standing there in the middle of the fucking sidewalk, staring off into space, meowing Sponge Bob.  Meow, meow, meow, meow...

What the shit, Kid? Are you incapable of feeling the cold? Have you no Goddamn sense of urgency?  Are you doing this deliberately to see if you can actually kill me through passive-aggressiveness? Do you not love me, the woman who just paid 9 bucks for your shrimp tempura in order to watch you eat exactly HALF a shrimp? What? Why do you hate me?

People say to treasure this because it will all be over too soon, but for 30 minutes tonight I was seriously contemplating mailing her to my parents and running for the Canadian border.

One of the things I miss the most about blogging (aside from the amaze-balls Omani Blogging community) is the emotional nourishment and release that comes with keeping a sort of diary of rants, raves and life events. Blogging really is therapeutic.Finding myself deep in the abyss of the March blues, I figured it was time to break out the laptop, uncap the bourbon, and treat myself to some intensive therapy. For whatever follows, I apologise.

There is so much that has been going on in Oman that is worth blogging about, or that I wanted to blog about, but couldn't find the time. I miss the old blogging community and all its warts, trolls, and weirdos. I miss reading actual opinions and insight into what is REALLY going on, what people REALLY think, and what. exactly, is pissing people off this week. You know it's a sad state of affairs when the blogs only report good news and the local print media are the people writing daring shit. A lot has changed in the last 15 years.

I am glad to see the local media has grown some teeth, even if they are baby teeth. Well done chaps, now grow some Balls.

One of the issues that I think deserves a bit of rational discussion is the ban on alcohol proposal from the cesspool of genius that is the Majlis Al Shura. (what ever happened with that, BTW?) If these guys gave even half a shit about the future of the country, they would be focusing instead on the terrible schools, the entitlement culture, the carnage on the roads, the exorbitant cost of getting married, the drug trafficking and addiction issues, and the everyday welfare and wellbeing of the citizens of Oman. This optimistic wishing on my part is, I know, an exercise in futility.

For me, the core issue comes down to this: There shall be no compulsion in religion. You smarter readers know where that particular quote comes from.  One of the most beautiful things about Oman is that for the most part, everybody is legally free to practice their religion as they wish. It is not the government's job to dictate to you how to live, dress, or think, because this shit is between you and the creator and at the end of the day, He's the one that's gonna judge you, not us. And to be honest, that's a pretty fucking enlightened position for the Omani Government to take, and we should all be proud of it.

When a government starts dictating how we live, and making decisions for us that should be between us and god, that's a slippery-ass slope. I talk a lot about the trickle-down Wahabi Islam that is infecting our beautiful country and I think this is another good example. You can climb to the rooftops and scream that we are all Ibadhi, and I clearly don't understand the difference between Wahabi and Ibadhi, and you would be completely right. Nobody is saying we are practicing Wahabi Islam, but we with initiatives like the ban on alcohol, we are certainly practicing contemporary Wahabi style governance.

My dad tells stories of back in Saudi, when I was a tiny girl, and the research university used to cut off the power to all the (primitive) computers 5 times a day to enforce prayer times. Friend, if your shit wasn't saved before the power cut you were in a world of hurt. I suppose this provided some sort of added benefit in that everybody's work was (hopefully) saved 5x a day, but it certainly didn't change the behaviors of the guys who were working. It's not like the screen shut off, they lost all their work and then they were all like " hell yeah! let's go pray!" the guys who WANTED to go pray at the appointed times were already going to go do that. the guys who were not, just took a nap instead. Totally pointless.

If you don't want to drink, don't drink. If you don't want to wear an abaya, then don't wear an abaya. If you love bacon, then eat it or don't because that's between you and Allah. it is critically important that as citizens we learn to make up our own minds about what is best for us as individuals. This is a critical life skill that everybody should have. Think your shit through, then make your own decision.

I am super worried about the health of His Majesty. He's been better to us than we deserve, that's for sure.

Are you guys reading the blog Oman Coast? You should. it's really good, if not a little sparse.

How are we? we are doing well here in the states. we lost our minds and bought a 107-year old mansion in Detroit's best neighbourhood. What we paid for it would make you weep tears of envy. it's awesome, but needs a total gut job to all 5 bathrooms and many other astonishingly expensive updates. At any rate, we are enjoying slowly bankrupting ourselves.

I finally decided that maybe being a jack-of-all-trades high school drop out wasn't working for me anymore, and went to college. I kicked ass at that shit, and discovered that I am not actually as stupid as I thought.

I am sending my kid to an exorbitantly expensive private school in Detroit, and hate it. State school for her next year, if we are still in the states.

I own the most amazing 1991 GMC suburban. It makes me obscenely happy.

I miss you guys. I have a business trip to Abu Dhabi in two weeks, but won't get a chance to make it home for a visit. I'm hoping we will all be back later in the year.

That, I think, concludes this therapy session. I feel better already. Hope you all are well.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Omani invents amzing car, well meaning journalist invites mokery with crap article

Times of Oman ran an article about a new Omani invented car. You can read the article here. Sultan Al Amri is a local tinkerer, inventor, and maker of things here in the Sultanate, and has been in the press occasionally with this car thing and possibly a wristwatch thing since 2007 or so.

Looks pretty cool to me! 

But I'm not sure how it's going to do in a side impact collision. 

Before we all launch into mocking this guy, and heartlessly crushing his dreams, can I just take a second to point out that maybe we should be applauding his initiative instead. Sure the car is preposterous, but at least he is out there actually doing something, and creating something. So let's all try to be kind, and not turn this poor dude into an internet punching bag.

That lecture accomplished, let's look at a few quotes from the article so we can all learn more about this revolutionary new vehicle!

The car, says Sultan, has many unique features which cannot be found in any other car. It is a four door salon car, the design of which is inspired by the form of an Omani cat...
The rear seats can be reclined to form a majlis while passengers can also enjoy watching 12 television channels aired via satellite on an inbuilt screen....
Attention has also be paid on minor details, which most established brands overlook, like provision of a mini waste-bin, a dedicated space for placing a tissue box...
See that? A dedicated space for placing a tissue box! If you have spent more than 5 minutes in Oman, you will understand why THIS CAR MUST BE PRODUCED ON A MASSIVE SCALE. Because dedicated space for a tissue box!
As for changing flat tyres, which is a difficult task for women drivers, the vehicle has provision for elevation of tyres as well release of the bolts with the simple touch of a button. The car also has a 'black-box' connected to all the 4 cameras, which can be of help during eventualities. 
Our talented Journo goes on to wrap the story up with this gem of a summary:
Sultan's car can very well be termed as Oman's first invention, once the necessary clearance comes by, as it would allow him to produce Oman's very own automobile, something which people had never imagined a few decades ago.  
 May I point out that the way the journalist chose to write the article basically opens the door to the whole world making fun of this guy and by proxy, Oman. More care in the editing (and writing!) could have gone a long way toward lending the dude some much needed credibility, instead of detracting credibility from what would appear to be a somewhat farcical endeavor.

 Interestingly, here in Detroit, a city with insane unemployment levels, and an adult literacy rate hovering at about 50%, somebody actually went and created a factory to make high-end wristwatches, bicycles, and luxury leather goods. And it's going gangbusters! It's called Shinola, and their branding, manufacturing, and everything else is pretty slick. The watches are gorgeous and covetable, and the bikes the stuff of dreams.

There isn't any reason that Oman couldn't do something similar. Think Amouge fragrances, but with other luxury goods.

I would like to close with the following quote from SUltan himself, which maybe bears pondering, given the amount of ink we have been spilling on the subject of Omanisation.

"Whenever, I buy anything, I always check out where it has been manufactured and always wonder why we, in the Arab world, cannot manufacture it."- Sultan Al Amri  

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

How do you spell sexy? D.A.T.A. baby.

Are you a great big nerd? Do you love reading studies and research papers? Would you rather read the economist than Playboy? Maybe you are wondering why, exactly, we in Oman are not living it up large like the Qatari's, and where, exactly, is YOUR Lamborghini? Or perhaps like me, you are a bored housewife desperately trying to avoid housework.

Then buckle up bitches, because I have some reading for you!

If you are interested to examine the myriad of reasons that we are not, and will never be, Qatar, one of the best places to start is by looking at Gross Domestic Product per capita (GDPPC). This is a measure of the total output of a country that takes the gross domestic product (GDP) and divides it by the number of people in the country. The per capita GDP is useful when comparing one country to another because it shows the relative performance of the countries. A rise in per capita GDP signals growth in the economy and tends to translate as an increase in productivity. 

Looking at the GCC states, one can see that Oman's GDPPC is in the vicinity of $23,500. Qatar's by way of comparison, is about $94,000. So using those rough metrics, Qatar is about 4 times as rich as we are. That's why you don't have a Lamborghini. 

Qatar is not richer because they are harder workers, or smarter, or funnier, or nicer, or prettier. They are richer because they are sitting on a shit-ton of hydrocarbon reserves. Lucky Them! 

Oman's GDPPC compares pretty nicely with Saudi's and with Bahrain's. so if we want to compare the quality of life and workforce nationalisation issues, those might be good places look. They had, of course, a 30-40 year head start on development. And don't feel too sad, in the GDPPC Olympics we are totally kicking Yemen's ass, so that's something!

Anyway, back to the light reading...

  • The World bank has a wonderful interactive data map that you can find right here. Zoom into the GCC area and select from about a hundred data sets to contrast and compare to your heart's content. 
  • One of the best papers I have read on the issue of Omanisation is available through Google Scholar. it's called Progress Towards Omanization: Implications From A Psychological Contracting Perspective and you can find it  Right here Its the top link in the search results. Google Scholar BTW, has HUNDREDS of other papers on the subject of Omanisation available to read online.
  • Lastly, Google has access to a million billion different datasets, and an interface for people like you and me to browse through them and compare data. Everything from infant mortality to agricultural exports to literacy to self reported happiness. It's there. Here's the link to get you started. Scroll down and look through the pages and pages of data sets available. You should be able to postpone doing laundry or sweeping the floors for weeks with this one. 

Now, none of this is the word of God himself, OK? There are likely data errors here and there and things that stick out as anomalous. Like, some of the stuff pertaining to Bahrain makes me thing they changed the way they collect data in 2010, or are submitting bullshit reports, or ??? 

In other news, I finished the laundry yesterday. I also vacuumed the carpets and holy hell you would not believe the amount of dog hair. So. Gross.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Showing Our Dirty Laundry

Literally. I'm down to my last pair of underwear, and the kid had to wear yesterday's socks to school today. I have another few posts in the chamber, but I need to put them aside for the moment in order to do the Laundry.

On the subject of laundry, we have a dryer and washer that do the most annoying thing in the world.  When they are finished washing / drying, they play this super happy chirpy, upbeat tune. It fills me with RAGE. Because why are you so happy that I now have to fold and put away all this laundry, asshole?

This. This is how I feel every time you play that stupid ditty.
In the interim, If you would like to read a much more salient, and less long winded post about Omanisation, it would seem that Undercover Dragon, of Muscat Confidential, has shared a few thoughts on the matter.  I would really like to buy that guy a beer sometime.

Ok. Back to the laundry. Y'all be good.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

How about a meritocracy?

So, Wednesday night I published an expletive laden rant regarding Omanisation as it stands here in the Sultanate. If you have not read it yet, feel free to go over here and give it a quick scan. I'll wait.

Done? Great. It's Saturday afternoon now, I have filed the points down off my claws, wiped the spittle off my laptop screen and settled in with a pint of Ghettoblaster.  (Best name for a beer, Ever!) I'm still going to swear, but instead of just heaving stones at all and sundry, I'm going to bore you all to death with a series of posts on how to make Omanisation a reality, and a successful one at that.

And just who the fuck are you to tell us how to achieve Omanisation, Suburban? 

Y'all, I'm Nobody. And it's not like anybody else, anywhere else, has figured this shit out perfectly either. So take it with a grain of salt. Tomorrow I'll link to data sources and studies regarding the nationalisation of workforces and demographic / economic data. You should read them so that you can make your own informed opinions, which may well be different from mine. 

The first thing I would like to talk about is changing the work environment in the public sector to something that resembles a meritocracy . The weird thing about this is that is doesn't really involve or relate to Expats. They are completely irrelevant, for today! This is one of the only issues where we cannot blame expats, expel them, imprison them, or make excuses for needing them. This one is entirely on us, guys.

an elite group of people whose progress is based on ability and talent rather than on class privilege or wealth.
a system in which such persons are rewarded and advanced: The dean believes the educational system should be a meritocracy.
leadership by able and talented persons.

Ouch. That cuts a little close to the bone. 

Of the three definitions above, the one I am most concerned with at the moment is #2. Promotion, payscale, and benefits based on a system of MERIT, would be a great place to start. E.g. If you are a hard worker with great ideas and great results, you get promoted and get more money. If you are mediocre, you stay where you are. If you really suck, your shit gets fired, asshole. Nobody owes you anything.

And there is no better place to start introducing the concept of Meritocracy, than within the ministries themselves.

If you work for a ministry, your payscale promotions are generally not based on merit, but on how long you have been working there. You can bust ass all you want, and you will still receive promotions and pay raises at the same rate as your useless colleagues. In fact, if you are really and truly an awful employee, you will often be selected to go on lengthy overseas training courses, or reassigned to "watch the beach" just to get you out of the office. I don't need to tell you that this does not encourage the others to work hard. Indeed, it is a real demotivator for the many talented and hard working ministry employees who would like to get shit done, and view their jobs to be an opportunity to improve and serve their country. Can you imagine how much it must suck to be a highly motivated ministry employee?

Interestingly, if you work in a ministry, it is literally impossible to get fired. Really. Two  personal examples (although I have many more):

1) I was sexually assaulted by a no-wasta underling in the ministry of REDACTED. Dude grabbed my head and my tits, shoved his tongue in my mouth, pinned me up against a wall, and grabbed my tits and crotch. He did this in front of my boss, two undersecretaries, and six other employees. (And No, I am not making this up). My boss raised holy hell, as did I, The minister himself was livid, the witnesses spoke up, and.... The guy got a promotion. He still works at that ministry, and is one level below undersecretary these days.

2) In another ministry, I was assigned to work closely with a specific undersecretary. The only thing he had to do was co-sign the cheques we were writing against the budget, and show up for a bi-weeky meeting. The guy would go on drunken benders for weeks at a time, making our payroll late, our payments to overseas vendors late, and ultimately costing us thousands of rials in additional expenses and bridging loans. He would show up to press conferences and events wasted and angry, screaming obscenities and kicking over tables. He brought the project, and the ministry itself into disrepute. His reward? Not Rehab, not counseling, not AA meetings, not termination, but eventually being "retired" to the Diwan, with a pay raise.

These guys are not representative of the majority, but they are in no way a statistical anomaly, and we should not allow our government to subsidise, coddle, insulate, and promote incompetency. We should all be considered lucky to work for a ministry! We should be honored to be serving our country.  A ministry should be able (and encouraged) to fire an underperforming employee like they are blowing their nose. Are you useless? then GTFO.  Nobody should be entitled to have, or to keep, a ministry job if they are not giving 100%.

If you work in a ministry, your hours are predictable, and super short. Ministry employees have more vacation, fewer working hours, better benefits, and  absolute job security. Landing a ministry job, with it's cushy hours, benefits, perks, wasta and guaranteed payscale promotion is pretty awesome, makes a job in the private sector seem unattractive by comparison. Indeed, ministries are such a desirable place to work, that many private sector businesses have a hard time recruiting Omani's.

And that, guys, is a perverse incentive. We are creating more cushy, accountability-free jobs in the government, thinking it's a good thing, while in fact those policies are crippling true Omanisation.

Why? Because The government is unintentionally competing with, and  defeating the very Omanisation initiatives they promote, by turning the ministries into what amounts to glorified adult daycare facilities. The private sector, where there is a real bottom line, and where our much trumpeted SME's exist, simply cannot compete with that.

And that's pretty fucked.

Great, Suburban, and really sorry you got your junk fondled, but how does all of this go towards actually fixing the Omanisation  issue?

Good question. Let me ask you a question in return?  What if the ministries were actually creating good, clever, inspired employees? What if they were instead the training grounds for outstanding people? What if the first place you looked to poach an Omani employee was a ministry? What if working for, and successfully staying employed by a ministry actually looked great on your C.V.?

The unpopular thing that has to happen is to make the ministries hire, fire, and promote based on MERIT. Let's start firing people who suck. Let's lengthen the working hours of the ministries to match what would be expected in the private sector.  Let's start making people apply for promotion, and EARN it. Let's invest our training dollars in the people who deserve more training. And lets pay and reward the truly outstanding employees for being truly outstanding. They deserve nothing less.

I understand that this will be extremely unpopular, and perhaps the merit system would be best rolled over / applied to people who have joined ministries in the last 5 years or are just joining now. It's going to suck a little, but I promise it will be worth it.

But, this is totally impossible! How will we create the systems to handle a meritocracy in a country such as Oman! OMG, what you are suggesting is insane! The Omanis will never stand for it!

It's not totally impossible. The highly (indeed almost totally) Omanised  ROP and MOD (the branches of the government that actually matter) already promote on merit, most of the time. If you want or are due for a promotion, you interview and justify it. While I am not sure they actually fire anybody, you can become pretty motivated if the alternative is guarding some communications shack on the Saudi border, or directing traffic full time.

Promotion, hiring and firing based on merit can be done in Oman. We should demand, and expect nothing less of our public servants.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Thank You!

I have a couple of follow up posts regarding Omanisation, in the works, the first of which should go up Saturday afternoon. So please, do come back and visit then.

In the interim, I wanted to say thanks for the astonishingly kind comments I've received via facebook, email, twitter, etc... It is perhaps a case of the right time, the right place, the right friends...  but this latest post on this long neglected blog had 4,500 plus views since I published it with 3,800 +/- coming from Oman. Clearly, this is a subject that continues to generate a lot of interest in the sultanate.

I don't for a second imagine that I can facilitate any sort of change on a national level, or that anyone in their right minds would change policy based on what an underemployed mommy blogger has to say. I'm really just one asshole with an opinion.

While I finish off the upcoming posts, I thought I would share a brief update on life over the past three years, and answer a few common questions I've been asked.

One of the first things everybody asked me on my last visit to Oman was the following "What's it like without a maid? Do you have any help?" Those of you who knew me in Oman know that I was HIGHLY housemaid dependent. we had not just a live in maid, but a live in nanny as well. I was totally THAT lady.

What's it like without a maid? It's an adjustment, to say the least. I spent the first six months in the states buried on laundry and house work, and being super frustrated that I could never really stay on top of things. The house was never really, truly, clean. At some point I had a moment of clarity, and stopped trying to hold myself to an impossible standard of housekeeping. We have accepted the fact that we are total slobs, and embraced the filth. Here is a picture of my kitchen counter this very moment.

Don't even ask about the floors.
It looks like this all the time. I have not seen it clean and empty in over six months. And you know what? It's OK.

What are you driving these days? Here in America I have an unlimited selection of crappy used cars. Surprisingly, I have been pretty restrained, and only managed to purchase three, a 1973 VW camper van (big mistake) a 1988 Deisel Chevrolet Suburban (small mistake), and a 1991 Petrol GMC Suburban (second best car I have ever purchased). Stone drives a manual transmission Subaru Outback, which is a lot of fun on dirt roads and in the snow.

How are the kids, or have you sold them? The kids are doing great, with the oldest ones having flown the nest for the world of work / university. Pebbles, our youngest has blossomed into a confident, hilarious, and clever little girl. We decided to homeschool Pebbles this year so that we could travel, and while it has not always been easy, it's been great, and we have had some really stonking adventures.  As our daughters get older, the more I value arranged marriages. Seriously, just let me pick a good one for you sweetheart.... Thus far, the kids have declined my matchmaking expertise. Sigh....

So, America... What's it like there? America is pretty bizarre, but I think we have found our happy place in Detroit. It's really a fascinating city, with a real small town feel. Detroit is plagued by many of the same problems as Oman, (unemployment, poor education, racism, tribalism, corruption, and useless politicians, to name just a few) which perhaps makes Detroit easier for us to understand as a place and a culture.

The thrill of going to a massive hardware store with adequate parking has not yet worn off. I fucking LOVE Home Depot. OMG, guys, you have no idea what you are missing out on.

Anything else?  Yeah, we got a dog. I hate dogs. HATE DOGS. But I have to admit a grudging and slow growing affection, or even perhaps love, for this brainless mound of fur.

The kid and the dog are inseparable. 

And that's really all there is to say about that. Talk to you guys on Saturday.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Omanisation. You're doing it wrong

*This is going to be a really long post. Maybe grab a coffee or a beer, and get comfortable.  

So.... I got bored last month, and hopped on a jet to Muscat because I have really been missing you guys. I had a lovely stay and the weather cooperated, I can report that the new Muscat expressway is a thing of wonder, that the traffic in Ruwi is still terrible, and that we are totally and unequivocally failing at Omanisation.  

You don't need me to tell you this, of course, as you need only look around anywhere in the capitol and see that expats doing like, 75% of everything. Dude who made my coffee? Expat. Man who rented me my car? Expat. grocery store bagging guy? Expat.  Lady who sold me a pretty cocktail dress? Expat. Dude who asks if you want fries with that? Expat. 

There is, truthfully, no fucking reason we should need to import people, by the thousands, from half way around the fucking planet, in order to enquire, do I or do I not want fries with my Big Mac. Seriously.  (also, great run-on sentence there! Hi5!)

Before we continue, may I ask you to ponder the profound demotivational poster below? Think of it as a Zen Koan, and meditate deeply on how it may apply to our current employment situation in the Sultanate. 

*See also "Christmas is Over" 
While I was in town last month, I noted an interesting article in Muscat Daily, which I will Excerpt below, though I encourage you to go read the whole thing

The sultanate's population crossed the 4mn mark on April 1 this year, with Omanis making up 55.8 per cent, latest statistics revealed by the National Center for Statistics and Information (NCSI) show. As on April 2, the total population stood at 4,000,345 - 2,232,949 Omanis and as many as 1,767,396 expatriates (44.2 per cent)....
NCSI figures show that compared to December 2013 figures, the number of Omanis has increased by 20,256 in the first quarter of 2014, while expatriate numbers increased by 23,049 during the same period.....
Muscat governorate had the highest number of expatriates – 62 per cent of the governorate's total population – at the end of March this year. Omanis constituted 38 per cent.
You read that right, in Muscat governate, expats make up more than 3/5ths of the population. that's just over three people out of every five, and nationally, we have imported more expats, than we have managed to produce "organically" despite our high birthrate. In a country that has been pushing Omanisation HARD for more than a decade. How can this possibly be? 

Well, I had a few thoughts on the matter back in 2007, and again back in 2008 and while I am by no means an expert economist, I think I can say that exactly what I predicted / observed continues to come to pass. 

There is no single factor in why Omanisation has thus far been an unprecedented failure, but one of the biggest reasons, in my opinion is something called Cobra Effect. Cobra Effect, also known as a perverse incentive, and less accurately the law of unintended consequences, is what happens when the ACTUAL effect of something is the OPPOSITE of what was intended. I'll quote a few examples below, to make sure we all have this in context before I press on. 

The British government was concerned about the number of venomous cobra snakes in Delhi.[3] The government therefore offered a bounty for every dead cobra. Initially this was a successful strategy as large numbers of snakes were killed for the reward. Eventually, however, enterprising persons began to breed cobras for the income. When the government became aware of this, the reward program was scrapped, causing the cobra breeders to set the now-worthless snakes free. As a result, the wild cobra population further increased. 
In Hanoi, under French colonial rule, a program paying people a bounty for each rat tail handed in was intended to exterminate rats. Instead, it led to the farming of rats.
Providing company executives with bonuses for reporting higher earnings encouraged executives at the Federal National Mortgage Association and other large corporations to artificially inflate earnings statements and make decisions targeting short-term gains at the expense of long-term profitability. 
This brings me to the latest news that pretty much the entire country has been discussing the last week... I am going to totally oversimplify and generalise the new rule here but in essence here it is: Expats may no longer quit their jobs for a better one in the Sultanate. You don't like your job? Employer is an A-hole? Greener pastures are available down the street? Too Bad, Motherfucker! You stay where you are, or you go home for two years. 

So we are back to where an Omani Employee can pack up and pursue better opportunities with another company, and an Expat staffer is effectively imprisoned in his existing job. This does not exactly incentivise me to hire or invest much training in an Omani. 

Admittedly, the information from the government and the media has been totally contradictory and misleading. Are there any adults running the show at the ministries? Piss-ups and Breweries come immediately to mind... Sigh. 

Muscat Mutterings has a series of posts on this matter, which you can read HereHere, Here, and Here. Twitter, facebook, etc... are afire with comments both for and against. Indeed, the comments on social media make me hate Expats, Housemaid-dependent families, and Omanis in equal measure. Everybody, I hate you. 

While the specifics on the implementation of this particular law are beyond the scope of this post, I want to talk generally about Omanisation in the last decade and a half. Ready? I am finally getting to the whole point of this post!!!!! 

Despite being well-intentioned, almost* everything we are doing in the name of Omanisation and controlling the expat Labor market for the benefit of Oman's long term growth and sustainability.... is having the EXACT OPPOSITE EFFECT. From the manpower related Omanisation initiatives, to the sponsorship system, to the unequal wages, to the unequal benefits, to the total lack of meritocracy in the ministries, to the fact that the guy offering me fries is a SALARIED, but semi-imprisoned employee, to the fact that it is absolutely impossible to fire an underperforming Omani from a job without spending many months and many Rials in the labour court, before likely losing. 

This is because most of the rules and regulations as they stand, make it less attractive to hire or employ an Omani, and negatively incentivise Omani's to apply themselves, to do stuff like show up for work, get dirty, and bust ass while they are there. Because there is no incentive for them to be outstanding employees, and no disincentive for being a crap employee. 

Why, Exactly, do we have a million imported and cheery Philippinos proffering fries and ice cream sundaes at every fast food joint in the Sultanate, when in most other countries that job is performed by pimple speckled teenagers and people with felony convictions or meth habits? 

Because by and large, everybody expects to be an Astronaut. Or a Manager, or a successful business manager presiding over hoards of hardworking Indians. I have news for you guys, no country, anywhere in the world, even one as nice as Oman, has the kind of intellectual capital and outstanding DNA that allows for EVERYBODY to be a successful manager. Some of us are going to have to collect the trash, pump the gas, develop meth habits, become telemarketers, or work at Subway. 

I don't have enough fingers and toes to count the number of companies I know of where they "employ" and actively recruit a huge staff of "Sleeping Omani's". What is a Sleeping Omani? It's an Omani whom you pay to stay home. Their only role is to receive a minimum wage salary each month in exchange for propping up your Omanisation Quotas. 

How astonishingly sad is that? It breaks my heart, truly. 

It's not like we don't know how to work and do Manual labour. Oldies can still recall in the 50's and 60's Omani's going to Kuwait, Saudi, and later the UAE as street sweepers, houseboys, and menial labourers. So I don't want to hear any uppity shit from Expats about how "The Omani's Just don't have the ability to work... Sigh..." Because that's bullshit. 

If we are among the lucky, we have been trained, like good little pavlovian dogs, that there is no real benefit in working hard, since merit rarely pays. We have been indoctrinated to believe that everything about our country and culture is the best, so that zombie-like, we reject any opinion that differs. We have been brainwashed into believing that we all deserve to be astronauts because we are on some level better, or more worthy of those coveted good jobs. We drink the Kool-aid and believe ourselves to be above manual labor, to be above taking orders from lesser beings. Our sense of entitlement is outsize to our ability, and our position in our companies infallible. We cannot be fired. 

If you are among the unlucky, you have been raised by parents and grandparents completely unprepared for the world they were setting you out into. We are shuffled through chaotic schools, badgered by teachers with no real passion for teaching. We graduate with education and skills worth less than the paper our diploma is printed on. We are denied opportunities at every turn thanks to Wasta, corruption, bureaucracy, oppressive religious dogma, lack of mass transport infrastructure, and the sheer terror that any company feels when hiring an Omani. Should we find a job, and do well at it, We are denied opportunities to learn and improve ourselves by our expatriate co-workers who are far more concerned with their job security than sharing information with us. We can work our asses off, yet always be promoted at the same rate as the guy at the next desk supervising the inside of his eyelids. 

If we are like most people, we perhaps fall somewhere in the middle. 

The situation as it stands isn't anybody's fault, rather it's EVERYBODY'S fault. It's your fault, Consumer, for not being willing to pay fair market prices for goods. It's your fault, Business, for not investing in training and caring well for the local employees you have. It's your fault, Parents, for raising dumb, lazy and entitled fuckwits instead of responsible and contributing members of society. It's your fault, Expats, for covering your asses, entrenching yourselves in whatever position you are in, refusing to help your Omani colleagues realise their full potential. It's your fault, schools and colleges for turning out "graduates" who lack even the most basic job skills. But above all, it's your fault, Omani Government, for kowtowing to wasta-laden big businesses, for yielding to spoiled, entitled citizenry expecting to do little in exchange for much, and for buckling in the face of a few unruly Arab Spring inspired teenagers with molotov cocktails. 

You, Omani Government, should have told every single soul in the country, entitled Expat and entitled Omani alike, to grow a pair of balls, and Man The Fuck Up.

You should have done it years ago. You are now looking down the barrel of a gun that you made, loaded and pointed at your own metaphorical face. Is there is anyone in charge at the Ministries or Diwan or Majlis Ashura who is capable of doing the soul searching necessary, and making the hard and unpopular choices that the country needs? I don't know, but I hope so. 

*As a former PRO, I can tell you that the Omanisation of PRO's was a genius move, and has worked out quite well for everybody concerned. 

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Stuff White people like, Detroit Edition

Over at Detroit is the new Hamptons, I'm blogging about the apparent lack of integration at a local New Year's Eve, "Fun Run"

Hope you all are well? We are doing great over here. 

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

I am an AWESOME handyman

Really. Today I installed a window mounted AC unit in a way that would make even the most incompetent handyman in Oman proud.

You can read about it here

In other news, we have been spending a lot of time watching these guys work. They put on an extra special show when we are there, and wave at the kid. We have not yet scored a ride on the equipment, but I can sense it's coming.

She is so tiny, and those things are so big.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Detroit Lemonade Stand

Yesterday, the kid organised a Lemonade Stand out front of our building in Downtown Detroit. It was Fantastic.

I honestly think one of the best ways to feel good about the world is to have a lemonade stand. I never saw a lemonade stand in Oman, maybe we should give it a try! What if all the kids in Muscat had a lemonade stand, once a year? Would it be good for the community, for the neighbourhood? If an of you guys do it, let me know how it goes?

You can read the whole write up on our Detroit Lemonade Stand Here, if you are interested.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

dumpster diving, sport of kings.

You guys NEED to see what I scored out of the dumpsters in our apartment building this morning.

The full report is over on my other Blog, We are having a blast here.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Moving On!

Guys, I would like to introduce you to my New Blog, Detroit is the New Hamptons.

It's a blog about our summer home in Detroit, and our adventures getting there. You'll be able to see a lot more of Stone and Pebbles, as well as experience a virtual road trip with two idiots, a four year old, and one 1973 VW camper Bus.

We departed Houston today, waving goodbye to the cats, the house sitter, and a small collection of neighbors, who stood, bewildered, in their front yards as we steered our overloaded bus onto the main roa . First stop, Texarkana, Arkansas.

Please come over to the other blog and say hi, of ask questions, or give us advice on things we should see between here and there! 

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Dead little girls

My daughter just learned to swim, properly, three weeks ago. One day she was sort of drowning slowly, the next she was shooting across the pool at Mach II and hurling herself off the high diving board like a teeny tiny parachuteless skydiver. I am terrified by this. I hover by the pool, unable to take my eyes off her for even a second, certain that at any moment she will drift from my sight and sink to the bottom of the pool, graceful, peaceful, placid, brain-dead and glassy eyed. I hate the pool.

A little over a year ago, I watched a little girl named Dana die. She drowned in the pool at Marina Bandar Rawdah, right in front of me, and I was too stupid to recognize that she was drowning. For real. this little, lithe, eight year old girl, drowned, right there in the pool surrounded by me, other swimmers, and adults, who never realised she was in distress or drowning. Dana never woke up. Dana never turned nine. Dana will never graduate from high school, never learn to drive, never travel the world, never have a career, never fall in love, and never know the joy of becoming a mother, watching her children play in the park, or growing old. She is totally, truly, and forever dead.

So, if you read nothing else this week, or nothing else on this blog ever again, that's fine, but please follow this link to Mario Vittone's article on how to recognize the signs of drowning  I can assure you that drowning looks nothing like you or I would imagine. Please, it's very important, for your kids, and for the kids around you.

What happened after Dana died? Well, there was a lengthy, nasty lawsuit. But a better question to ask is what happened before Dana died? It's a long answer, which I'll go into at a later date,  but in summary;

  •  Parents knowingly placed Dana, who could not swim, in a pool, and walked away, assuming a non existent life guard would look after her. 
  • Dana played, and then drowned, for 15-20 minutes, in a pool full of people, none of whom recognized she was drowning
  • Dana was discovered at the bottom of the pool, Chaos ensued. and bystanders began CPR
  • It took 20-30- minutes for an ambulance to arrive.
  • Dana was transported to Khoula hospital, where she later died. 
There were a number of failures on that day, but the only ones which you and I have control over as bystanders, parents and citizens, is that we can watch our children, and we can learn to recognize the signs of drowning

 I'm blogging tis today, because according to a quick search of the Times of Oman, at least four kids have drowned just recently here in the sultanate, one of whom was in a supervised, but overcrowded school pool attending "Swimming Lessons". This really has to stop.

More from here soon, and the full story on what happened after the drowning. 

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

We're a little Envelope

Now that we live in America, I can avail myself of the fantastic service known as Google Voice. It's sort of like skype, except it's built into your mobile phone. No Computer or internet connection needed!

Here's the best part: It even comes with a handy dandy voice mail service! That's right! I'm using Voice mail! I can listen to the voice-mails from my phone, or read the interesting transcriptions which Google thoughtfully sends me via SMS. 

Following is the most recent gem of a transcription from this morning. 

Hey baby just calling to say hi. It's about 5 past ten and That's about that really exists. Outside electric cigarette and it'll be less you love you Hope everything's good We're a little envelope bye

I have no idea what Stone was trying to communicate here, but You know what? We ARE a little Envelope! 

In other news: 
  • We have closed on our new house, and the sea freight arrives tomorrow! 
  • To celebrate the occasion, pebbles has come down with the Flu. 
  • I have, in three months in Texas, managed to make ONE friend. It's a start, right? 
More soon. 

Wednesday, December 15, 2010


First Up; Confidential to Western Expatriate Bloggers and Blog Commenters: You cannot possibly be helping the country if you are unable to see past Local / Expat divides. Complaining and criticism is good, outright racist degradation and shallow-ass insults? Bad. If you are truly so bitter and angry about Oman that you can only see it as "US vs THEM", or so deluded to think that you are irreplaceable, maybe it's time for you to move on somewhere else, for your happiness, sanity and for everybody else's sake.  I did, and I'm glad because I managed to leave with my sanity and passion for Oman (Mostly)  intact

We are surviving, here in America. Slowly but surely, I am making friends, getting to know the neighbors, and reacquainting myself with my home country. We have a local bar where some of the regulars know our names, we are friendly with a handful of neighbors, and every once in a while my phone rings and it's someone other the Stone or my Mom on the line. 

The most surprising thing to me about our new life here is how very foreign I feel in a country which I had always assumed was home. I was not aware of the extent to which I had assimilated into the Omani culture. I can't get used to people wearing shorts, or men jogging shirtless down my street. I am a physically affectionate person, but I'm struggling to be comfortable with virtual strangers hugging me. The freedom of speech is wonderful, but shocking, reading the opinion pieces in the newspaper, or listening to these really offensive morning DJ's makes me gasp aloud. Like I can't belive you can just say / write that sort of stuff for public consumption. The food is not spicy enough, the people talk really loudly, and I cant' seem to keep up with the somewhat frenetic pace of life. Americans are really really busy people. 

Most telling, however, is my adjusted attitude towards Voice-mail. Voice mail is where you call a person, and if they don't answer, you leave a verbal message on a machine that plays it back for them at a later time. As you may know, Voice-mail is practically unheard of in Oman. If you want to actually talk to somebody in a business or personal setting, you give them a missed call, or if it's really urgent, send a SMS. In almost a decade there, I think I left One voicemail for somebody. 

Arriving here in Houston, the "Missed Call Culture" is noticeably absent. everyone has voice mail, answering machines, they expect you to leave a message, and to be able to do the same for you.  People take it really personally if they cannot leave a message for you. Seriously, my landlord threatened to stop calling me if I didn't set up voicemail on my mobile phone, and I was all " Wha? But I see your  missed call, I'll just call you back? No?"

I have another post in the works about the many many many similarities between Texas the the GCC, but I'll have to save that for another day. Crazy driving, racism, tribalism, and unjustifiable levels of state/national pride, jump immediately to mind

 Hope you all are well?  Below, a few recent photos of what we have been up to lately.

We have to pay extra to get Omani Style Dew

We are making Ass-Loads of homemade Ravioli

There is a giant tank of Piranhas at the Zoo with a tunnel through it. 

I am being menaced by vicious Raccoons and Possums.