Thursday, October 20, 2016

Wagyu Hamburgers at the Crowne Plaza

If you have ever been to Japan you might be familiar with Kobe or Waygu beef. It is basically the most delicious thing in the entire encyclopedia of edible Mammals. You might have to mortgage your house or sell your children to afford it, but your taste buds will thank you, and when you think about it, you might actually be saving money because College is really expensive these days.

OMG, look at that marbling! 
Eat it once, and like an opioid addict you'll be chasing that original high forever. Every single bite contains the flavor of an entire ordinary cow, and the flesh is so tender that you hardly need to chew. It's my favorite thing to cook and to eat.

So Much Tasty Fat!!!!
Sultan Center reliably stocks Wagyu beef, and although it totally blows the budget, once or twice a month I'll buy some and bring it home to cook. And it's AMAZEBALLS. The flavor of Wagyu is incredibly distinctive. Seared rare with a little brandy and soy sauce it's like Beefy heaven. So delicious.

Thus, Imagine my delight last night when I saw Dukes bar has Wagyu burgers on the menu. I'd actually forgotten about it, but I had one there a few months ago and it was really good. I was feeling celebratory after a good day and out with one of my oldest friends so I thought why not, and ordered one of those bad boys up, Medium rare. After much back and forth with the wait staff regarding did I really want the burger medium rare or not, they came out and asked me to sigh the following :

Yes, there is such a thing as a "Hamburger Policy",  evidently...

This is the best picture my dining companion and I could take since it was dark. It's a FULL PAGE release indemnifying the crowne against future legal action should they poison me with poorly prepared meat. I have literally signed shorter indemnity papers for motorsport activities, bungee jumping, and medical procedures.  The whole vibe was not exactly confidence-inducing but YOLO! So I signed it and got ready to eat an amazing Hamburger and then possibly die a slow and horrible death from salmonella, hepatitis-B or E-coli.

Much, Much later, my burger arrived, and it was a thing of beauty. Perfect bun, perfect cheese, perfect beef bacon, perfect veggies, crispy chips, and a little tiny pot of roasted onion mayonnaise. The food at the Crowne Plaza has been improving by leaps and bounds over the last year or so, and my companion's steak sandwich* was a thing of beauty to taste and see. Seriously, guys, I was so pumped to eat that massive, bloody, fatty, wagyu flavored burger.

But then I ate it, and it wasn't made of Wagyu. The meat was lean, bloody bright red, no fat or grease, and had no flavor of Wagyu. What I had was a reasonably tasty burger made from grass-fed beef of some description. I'm figuring they either pulled a regular grass fed burger from the fridge, or ground up some fresh beef, or ran out of Wagyu but figured nobody would know the difference, or the Wagyu burgers were nearing the end of their shelf life so the kitchen knew they couldn't get away with sending out questionable meat cooked mid-rare.

And whilst I'm honestly grateful that the kitchen or management erred on the side of caution in order not to kill me or have to admit that the wagyu they were serving that night was well past it's prime, when you are charging just under 10 OMR (26 USD) for a burger that is made out of the most delicious cows on earth, I would like to buy a burger that contains pieces of the most delicious cow on earth.

I ate it, paid and left. It is hard to imagine a scenario where I would show them the burger and they would say "oh, gosh, you are right, we will go get you a wagyu burger now" What would have happened, inevitably, was me saying that this wasn't wagyu, and them insisting I must be mistaken or don't understand beef.

So, I guess I'll just go back to cooking my own Wagyu from now on, and leave the Crowne Plaza to serve up their legally indemnified liability-free mystery meat to others. Bummer.

* My companion's Steak Sandwich tho... I would eat that for my last meal, it was so good. Seriously. 

Sunday, October 16, 2016

American elections, Sexual assault, and consent.

Firstly: On the subject of obtaining consent before one does something sexual to or with another Human being, one of my favorite Ex-boyfriends said it best:
"Consent is a good thing, Don't get me wrong... But personally I would hold out for Enthusiasm" -Ex-Boyfriend Matt, an outstanding human being. 

Is anyone else fantasizing about slitting their wrists if they have to watch any more of the American election? November 8th can't come soon enough.

One particularly rage inducing aspect of the election has been watching the backlash against the women who have come forward with accounts of being fondled or sexually assaulted by Donald Trump. Various snippets of the backlash show up on my facebook news feed, where several men whom I previously held in high regard, say that the accusations are all made up. Their rationale for this is that if these women were in fact assaulted or groped, why didn't they speak out about it sooner? Every time I see a comment to that effect, I want to scream, or hit something, or not be a woman anymore, or die. I am not alone in this feeling, as the hashtag on twitter #Whywomendontreport shows. Reading the tweets on that hashtag is therapeutic in a re-living every sexual trauma of my entire life sort of way. Which is to say: not really all that therapeutic.

What might be therapeutic is actually talking about my rape (It's all Mine! I'm so cool, so hip, so lucky that I have my very own rape!) and all the reasons I didn't report it, why I didn't tell anyone  about it until 11 years after it happened, why until now I have only told a handful of people in detail what happened, and then maybe examining why I can't bring myself to say this to my own family, or on facebook, or directly to the people I actually KNOW but instead have to write it down here in the safety of quasi-anonymity in blogland. Before that, I'm going to list a few of the responses I got from the people I DID tell.
  • Why were you even there? 
  • You shouldn't have put yourself in that position. 
  • Were you drinking?
  • Maybe you gave him the wrong idea. 
  • You are way too friendly with people.
  • He's not that big a guy, you could have fought back.
  • You are way to naive, you need to protect yourself more.
  • That doesn't seem like a "real" Rape-y sort of rape.  
And this was when I told the three closest men in my life, one of whom I am ACTUALLY MARRIED TO, about being raped. Do you really think that total strangers, the police, industry peers, or co-workers would be more sympathetic?

These responses above are a selection from three different and genuinely wonderful men: From my own husband, from a good friend, and from my partner at work. There were two notable outliers in the responses who should be thanked by name. Parmy and Mans:  You are both gentlemen above and beyond measure, and I'm eternally grateful to you both for listening to me, for responding so kindly and appropriately, and for loving me. Thank You, Guys. 

I don't know if I will follow this up with a post that details the HILARIOUS nitty-gritty account of my own rape. More to the point, Whilst I could recount to you every detail of that one time I was genuinely, definitely, and totally raped, I could not possibly tell you about the absolute countless times I have been groped or assaulted or fondled and had to brush it off as "flattery" "he was drunk" "he's just a bit like that" "You were basically inviting it" etc... I couldn't write that because that kind of shit has happened so many times the post would be like 20,000 pages long. You guys, it's fucking bonkers.

To recap the words of Matt, my absolute favorite Ex-Boyfriend, you can grope or assault a woman against her will, and hey, there isn't much she is likely to do about it, or you could beg and plead and guilt trip her into giving consent, but wouldn't it be better if she WANTED you to do that? Guys, hold out for enthusiasm.

More tomorrow. 

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Rant: Radio in Oman

Mr. Sythe, over at Muscat Mutterings is running a poll about radio in Oman, which you should go and fill out because I am asking you nicely.

Mr. Sythe sent me a facebook message today asking me nicely to fill out the poll. I did so and then replied with something akin to the following:
"There is not a space in your survey for me to put in how much I hate every DJ in this goddamn country except Faiq on the Mike and that Canadian guy they fired and also why in the name of god are there still expat people on the goddamn national radio station who cannot actually speak English please someone explain this because jesus fucking christ we have been trying to achieve Omanisation for like 20 goddamn years I mean what is this even. furthermore I want to light all the annoyingly chipper british dj's on fire and I will buy the petrol if you think we can get permission to do it in the interest of public service "
So Mr. Sythe said maybe if I had such strong feelings about the radio I should blog it. That is a good suggestion since I have little else to do with my time except for trying not to fall to the floor screaming in the grocery store because EVERYTHING IS TERRIBLE and I feel like I am living in some sort of extremely boring expat housewife version of groundhog day.

What follows is a rant, where I am going to say mean things. If you don't feel like reading it you should go somewhere else now. OK?

So, Radio Listeners of Oman, here is everything that I wish there was a space to put in Mr. Sythe's survey about English Language Radio in the Sultanate:

  • What happened to that Canadian guy on 90.4? He was the best thing that happened to radio here in Oman since 2003 or 2004 when there was a very funny lady who would sometimes co-host the morning show with Faiq.
  • When you really really really think about it, Faiq on the Mike is an incredible DJ. I will love him until the oceans dry up and the earth is a cold, dead hunk of carbon circling a burned out star. 
  • The music is the worst, presumably chosen by a 12-year-old girl. 
  • The music is all the same. I suspect the director of programming at all three stations is the same 12-year-old girl. 
  • How can there be so many annoyingly chipper people who sound exactly like a narrator in Minecraft videos and how did they all get here and are we paying them ACTUAL MONEY and are they all mildly retarded because I think they would have to be in order to engage in chatter as banal and mindless as that and lastly how can we persuade them to please go away? 
  • No, really, the chatter is so vapid that I feel it is an insult to the intelligence of the entire nation. 
  • Actually, the best thing that ever happened in Oman radio was back when HiFM didn't have any on-air talent and they were just broadcasting music from Eihab's iPod. The mix of music was great except for one day when the Electric 6 song Gay Bar came on. It played for almost a minute before somebody managed to skip forward to the next song. THAT RIGHT THERE, was the single most entertaining minute of radio in the history of the sultanate. 

  • Finally, can anybody explain to me how it is possible that we have not fully Omanised 90.4 FM, and if we have failed to Omanise it why we have thus far been unable to staff it with expats who can actually speak English, or who are able to provide more entertaining content than asking questions my kindergartner can answer, and reading shit from Wikipedia verbatim? Why? Why? Why??? 
  • Slightly related to the point directly above, I give you the real, actual, very best moment in Omani Radio History: This happened on 90.4 FM in maybe 2006 I think. I was driving home from work late one night and the DJ was asking questions and callers were calling in to answer the questions live on air. 
    • DJ: A, E, I, O, and U form what part of the English Alphabet? 
    • Caller: Those are Vowels.
    • DJ: I'm afraid not, would you like to guess again?
    • Caller: VOWELS. A-E-I-O-U are vowels. 
    • DJ: I'm sorry, but that's still not right, Would you like to know the correct answer?
    • Caller: Um, I guess? 
    • DJ: It's Waavvles!  A-E-I-O and U are WAAVLES!!!!
    • I ran my car off the road and nearly into a tree because I was laughing so hard. 
  • OK, that was the ACTUAL best moment in Oman Radio History. 
I feel surprisingly better having got that off my chest. Thank you, Mr. Sythe! 

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Economics, Omanisation, Brain Drain, and a Blog you need to follow

Sorry if it's been a bit quiet around here lately. Local & international politics have put something of a damper on my desire to write, and lets not even talk about their effect on my desire to continue living. Cough (Brexit, ISIS, MSF Hospitals Being Bombed, Oman Arresting Journalists, Donald Trump) Cough... Ahem.. Moving on.

A Real Live Economist Returns to the Omani Blogosphere and Talks About Omanisation!

Back when I first started reading blogs there was a small but vibrant commuinty of English Language Omani Bloggers. What was cool about the community was that it really was something of a community, and over time I came to think of my internet "friends" as real friends. One of my favorite internet friends to bounce ideas off of, was this guy Abdullah who was studying to be (or perhaps already was?) an economist.

Like the rest of us, Abdullah moved on from blogging to twitter, and then eventually lapsed into silence. I suspect his reasons for stepping away were similar to mine, in that the internet is less fun once everybody has the internet, and careers, marraiges and kids get in the way of sitting around late at night typing things for your imagainary internet friends to read and share with thier imaginary internet friends.

But, I have the Best News EVER: Abdullah started blogging about Omani issues again last month! He's doing it now from the USA where he works as a real live Motherfucking* professor of economics. His Latest post, "Understanding the Omani Labor Market" is well worth a read, and I'd reccommend following him on twitter, or subscribing to his blog if you have an interest in Economic policy presented by someone better looking and smarter than me, who swears a lot less.

You can follow Abdullah on Twitter HERE
You can read his whole website HERE
You can listen to an interview with him on a website called EconomicRockStar.Com (yes, for real)  HERE

You might wonder why a guy like this is slaving away as a professor of economics in the USA and not working here in some sort of cabinet level position or heading up a team of Ass-kicking economists at the MONE**. I don't know, but I would fancy a guess that there are a number of compelling microeconomic and sociological reasons for that. Abdullah, an article I would LOVE to see in the future is the impact of Brain-Drain on Oman's economy, and how do we measure the economic impact of the many highly qualified Omanis who go abroad for work, and how the government is or is not incentivising those folks to come home.

*probably not actually fucking your mom...Economists can get way hotter chicks than her these days.

** Is it not the most Ballin' coincidence that the Ministry Of National Economy's Acronym can be shortened to MONE???? 

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Unsurprising News: Oman Air suspends Sohar flights

Today, in news that shouldn't surprise anybody, Other Oman reports on the announcement from Oman Air that they will suspend flights between the Sultanate's capital Muscat, and Sohar, a thriving port city located a vast 190 kms from Seeb Muscat international airport. Certain members of the Majlis Ashura are apoplectic  Somewhat concerned about the cancellation of this thrice-weekly service and the loss of vast economic benefits that the service, which averaged ONE PASSENGER PER FLIGHT was bringing to the city of Sohar and the surrounding region.

Those were outstanding run-on sentences! Thank You.

I don't think anyone can or should be upset about the cancellation of a glaringly unpopular service that served basically nobody. On the other side of the coin, I don't think the criticism that is being heaped onto the Authorities for building a decent airport in Sohar is justified. The airport might be a few years ahead of its time, but I do think it's an asset to the North Batinah region and the northernmost suburbs / outlying areas of the capital.

Look at our national carrier's blue, silver, and gold livery!
 I was a skeptic at first, but now I think it's so pretty.
 Photo credit: Muscat Daily

So what's the back story on the Sohar airport? How did we get here?  I'm not 100% sure, but below is my understanding of the situation. Perhaps our resident aviation experts Muscati or Muscat Jet Driver would like to chip in with better facts of data? Your contributions are most welcome, Gentlemen.

Anyway, back in early 2008 or so, the government decided that Sohar needed a proper airport to handle cargo (great idea) and lots of passengers (not such a great idea). Tenders were issued, speeches were made, everybody I think was patting themselves on the back. Whether this had anything to do with the hubbub surrounding the now dead Blue City development, or the high hopes for Shoar's future as a port and industrial city is unclear to me. Perhaps both, perhaps neither.

At any rate, the Airport in Sohar opened sometime in maybe 2014 /2015 with the fancy-ass jetway equipped passenger terminal still unfinished and a quickie temporary terminal in its place. One assumes that the government was initially unsuccessful in getting international carriers to utilize the airport and so Oman Air was basically strong-armed into starting these flights in order to test the feasibility of using Sohar airport as a commuter hub, or something...

The problem with this is that one can drive between Sohar and Muscat in 1.5-2.5 hours for significantly less than the cost of the ticket. This might be useful if you are travelling onward to an international destination, but again you'd need the arrival and departure times to jive, otherwise it's faster and cheaper to grab a taxi between the two cities. Oman Air even went so far as to give away FREE flights from Sohar to muscat for passengers travelling on their connecting international flights. Sadly, No dice. The flights averaged a single passenger per flight, and must have caused the airline and Oman Aviation services to hemorrhage money trying to keep the service afloat.

BUT, BUT, BUT, I don't think it's a bad idea to have a good airport in Sohar, and I think there is likely a lot of viability to using the airport for charters full of Russians or tourists from Europe, or low cost reigonal airlines, perhaps offering a connection to muscat via bus. Kind of how Sharjah airport used to be (still is??) back in days of yore.

I think it is likely that Air India could operate a couple of international flights a day out of Sohar, given the number of Expatriates working in the region.

The other thing that MIGHT be viable to float the idea of a commuter service using tiny or smallish turboprops that would run a commuter schedule a couple of times a day up the coast from Duqum to Khasab, with stops in say, Qalhat, Sur, Muscat and Sohar on the way. I've used similar commuter airlines that fly from small towns in the American northeast into larger cities like Boston and New York. You don't even buy regular tickets, you buy a coupon book and use the coupons to exchange for flights. Lots of (usually pretty wealthy) people use these services as a daily or weekly commuter service, like a Mawasallat bus, but with wings. My daughter have taken a few thrilling flights in little 8 seater planes between Boston and elsewhere, and when I am not busy thinking about the ways I am going to die from the turbulance, the views are amazing, and an hour or so in an airplane saves me 5 hours of driving.

And Cargo, we could ship a shit-ton of Cargo out of the airport, and it would make great sense to have a robust airport cargo hub there since the port in Sohar is now handling all the cargo that used to come into Muttrah.

Anyway, there's my two cents on that matter. Your opinion or understanding of the background may differ from mine. Please feel free to set me straight in the comments below!

Later in the week I think I want to write about my newest addiction: Waygu Beef.  If you guys are not eating this beef, you need to start. It is so amazing.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

The Automatic Car Wash and other staggering failures in Omanisation

I am a really really really lucky girl. Whilst you all were here starving in the oppressive heat and humidity, I opted out of Ramadhan for a week and instead attended a conference on critical care medicine in Ireland. I don't care how much you love the holy month, there is absolutely NO WAY any of you guys had a better week than I did. Here are some ACTUAL presentations and workshops I attended

  • The magic of remote ischaemic preconditioning.
  • Rethinking adrenaline in cardiac arrest.
  • Acute care of the elderly.
  • The Aorta will F*!&K you up.
  • Neurosurgeons are not idiots, honestly.
  • Oh SH^*T! They're bombing the hospital. 
Match that sort of academic / intellectual content with Dublin's amazing restaurant and bar scene, 2,000 of the smartest people in critical care, a handful of old friends and you have a recipe for AWESOME.

Sadly, all good things must come to an end, so last night I returned home brimming with optimism and full of  ideas and motivation to improve patient outcomes here in Oman. I am going to be a catalyst for positive change, dammit. 

Then this morning Stone took me to the petrol station and decided to run the car through the carwash. During the 37 minutes we were in line / going through the car wash I realised that my local car wash is a pretty good analogue for why a lot of things in Oman are so totally screwed up. My views on this may have been somewhat coloured by the fact that I was hungry, Jet lagged, Hungover, and hot, but bear with me here and if you disagree you can have you say down below in the comments. 

Here was our "Automatic" car wash experience this morning: 
  • Pull up to the car wash, we are third in line. 
  • Watch time grind to a halt as each car ahead of us takes a full 10 minutes to make it through the wash cycle 
  • Arrive at the front of the que. 
  • Communicate with understandably surly car wash attendant via various hand gestures and broken Hindi / Arabic that we would like a quick wash, just the outside.
  • Surly car wash guy confers with the other car wash guy, takes 2.5 Rials from me, and goes to a window where he communicates with yet another carwash guy who slowly accounts for the money, produces a hand-written receipt, and sends Surly guy back to us. 
  • The receipt is placed on the dashboard, and we are motioned into the car wash. 
  • The car is now on the rails where the automatic car wash will drag it past various fixed and moving nozzles that will spray water, soap, or whatever onto the car, making it clean. I figure we will be out of here in under two minutes now. 
  • Not So! First, the guys use a manual powerwasher to pre-wash the car.
  • Next, the car is advanced 8 feet past the "Automatic high-pressure wash" and the "Automatic Soap" 
  • The line grinds to a halt and two guys appear out of the mist to manually scrub the car using the automatically applied soap. 
  • The line starts up again, dragging us past a genuinely automatic rinse, and the automatic dryer nozzles.
  • Stone can see the look of murder in my eyes and politely declines the hand drying stage of the "automatic" car wash We are free to go. 
  • It is 38 degrees outside, we merge onto the highway and the car is completely dry within 10 seconds. 
Photo credit: Times of Oman

I think, first and foremost that if you are going to call something an "Automatic Car Wash" then it should involve automation, and therefore efficiency, in at least some elements of the experience. It's not like this is a revolutionary new technology that's just in BETA testing.  Automatic car washes have existed at least since I was a little girl, and have been tried and tested in various climates worldwide to effectively get the grime and grit off dirty cars in an expedient and cost-effective manner. I cannot imagine that our everyday dust and dirt is that much different from anybody else's dust and dirt, and therefore requires the addition of 3-6 brown guys from poor(er) countries in order to get my car to an adequate state of cleanliness. 

So here's the crux of why the automatic car wash guys matter, economically, to Oman: We are paying armies of imported workers to do jobs that should probably not exist at all. It's not just the carwash guys: How about the guys who pump gas? Let's assume, conservatively, 4 guys pumping gas per petrol station, and 600 petrol stations nationwide, with a salary of OMR 80 per month. That's OMR 2,304,000 per year in salary payments alone, before we even account for accommodation, healthcare, flights, visas, etc.. I do not know how much they spend on remittances, but I would expect the vast majority of the money earned is remitted elsewhere. 

There is some data to support this idea: did you know that Oman is in the top five for countries losing GDP as a result of remittances by foreign workers? 12.5 percent of our GDP here in Oman is sent home by temporary workers. That's like, roughly 2and a half billion dollars a year leaving Oman and never coming back. Here's the link to the article in Times of Oman  

It's not a made up number either, it came from a world bank report which you can read in its entirety HERE

The only graph I am aware of where Oman is in the same league as Luxembourg

To take the idea a step further: How about the little corner stores and restaurants where you pull up outside and Honk to get service? There are armies of imported workers who's only job is to take things from an establishment to your car, basically because you are too lazy to find parking and walk. 

How about the guy who sits at a desk at MCC and QCC renting out shopping trolleys shaped like cars? How about the guys who bag your groceries and then push the trolley out to your car, and then load the groceries into your car? 

Are there Omanis who would do these jobs? Probably a few, if we paid them enough, but in reality, these are jobs that should not exist, or should not exist in such great numbers. We are not a rich enough country to afford these sorts of luxuries, and this sort of dependence on expensive imported labor to do all the very basic things we can already do for ourselves leads to a culture of helplessness / apathy. It also Fucks up the already dire ratio of Omanis to expats in muscat and elsewhere. 

Whilst gradually reducing or eliminating the totally unnecessary Expat jobs would not do much for creating jobs for Omanis, I do think it would do a lot for starting to normalize the ratio of Omanis to expats, as well as  reducing the impact of remittances outward from Oman. 

More from here soon. Hope you all are well. 

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Suburban Reviews Things: An Inexpensive Burkini

Today on Suburban Reviews Things, I'm going to tell you all about a 3.8 OMR burkini Conservative Swimsuit that I found last week in Carrefour. Having never tried one before, and intrigued by the competitive pricing, I grabbed a large and threw it in the cart. For a mere 3.8 OMR this burkini Conservative Swimsuit comes in a variety of sizes, a variety of hideous floral prints, and includes a matching hideous floral swimming cap. Ever wondered what it's like wearing one? Read on, and be enlightened.

You can have it in Black with Flowers, Black with Flowers, or Black with Flowers. 

Great, but why exactly do you need one of these, Sub?

I'm glad you asked! My daughter adores swimming, and given the choice would only leave the water to eat and sleep. Unfortunately for her, I do not much like swimming. There are several reasons for this:
  • Swimming pools are disgusting. You are swimming in a bath of filtered chemically neutralised urine. Add to that the boogers, drool, dead bugs, bird poop, fecal matter and long stray hairs floating around. Ick. Ick. Ick. 
  • The ocean is full of seaweed and other floaty things and possibly raw sewage or toxic contamination.
  • Fish are unpredictable and scare me. 
  • Jellyfish
  • The water in either the ocean or the pool is almost never the right temperature, so I am either too warm or too cold. 
  • The whole swim suit thing. Think about it: You are basically wearing your underwear in public, except it's ok because this underwear is made of lycra. Weird, right? 
Anyway, almost every afternoon I suck it up, put on my skimpy-ass swimsuit, grab the kid, and face the horror that is the ocean, unpredictable fish and all. I take her snorkeling because when you are snorkeling, it's impossible to talk about Minecraft.

With Ramadan in full swing, I wasn't sure how I wanted to address the snorkeling / skimpy swimsuit issue. The beach we go to is part of a private facility where western beachwear is the norm, but conservative dress is recommended during the holy month. What's a girl to do? Enter Carrefour and the 3.8 OMR imitation Burkini. The first thing I noticed was that the size LIES. I'm somewhere between a medium and a small size, but I bought a large to ensure it would be extra baggy / conservative. The large size just barely fits me, (defeating much of the point of modest swimwear) and is a struggle to get in and out of. That however, is really the only major drawback I could find with the swim suit. Below is a list of Pros and Cons of the imitation Burkini. 

  • No more awkward moments when you run into your kid's teachers or husband's boss at the beach and you are like, basically in your underwear. 
  • Excellent value for money
  • Protects against jellyfish stingers 
  • Protects against other floaty crap and seaweed in the water that might drift past my skin and freak me out.
  • Provides some protection against sunburn
  • Has little padded disks over the breast area to prevent pooky-outy-nipple issues if the water / air is cold. (If you are my husband Stone, this lack of nipple potential would go in the "cons" category)
  • Since it completely covers your armpits, legs, and V-Jay, you may never need to shave or wax again!!! (Stone also thinks this should go in the Cons category)
  • Enables me to avoid having to hear about Minecraft for at least an hour every afternoon, even in Ramadan
  • New awkward moments when you see your friends who are used to seeing you in a bikini and they are all like " WTF is wrong with you? Why are you wearing that? You look like the curtains in my auntie's house."
  • Slows you down when swimming. Lots of drag. 
  • Terrible sizing
  • Hot as hell outside of the water. I don't know what sort of cheap-ass fabric they made it out of but it's like a magnet for humidity. Everything except the flowers is black, which makes it like, crazy hot in the sunshine. 
  • Difficult to get into or out of. Would benefit from a zipper. 
  • Not really as conservative as I had hoped due to the scoop neck and aforementioned sizing issues. 

So, there you go. I think that as far as swimsuits that cost less than 4 Rials go, it's an excellent value and a great weapon for your summertime wardrobe. I like mine so much I'm going to keep a lookout for a really nice one that I can make a permanent part of my ocean-phobia toolbox. 

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Round Two

So, We're back. 

We got back late last year and have been catching our collective breath, trying to find our place in the newer, larger Muscat that grew up around our house while we were away. It's one thing to come home for a visit a couple times a year, but completely different to move home and readjust to a changed city as a changed person. I would like to think Muscat and I have grown for the better, but only time and hindsight will determine if that is indeed the case. 

Anyway, it's good to be home, and we are all doing OK. None of my children are taking their clothes off for money or selling drugs, so as a parent I feel I am meeting my Key Performance Indicators and am unlikely to get fired anytime soon. Stone is happy in his work, but counting down the last few years before he can retire and do something other than be a nerd all day. The baby has grown into a frighteningly smart child, and I rarely contemplate selling her into an arranged marriage in Saudia anymore, though I have not yet informed her of that. I am surviving here, although it is very weird not to be working. 

Since I have a lot of spare time I joined a craft group, which has been a great way to meet a lot of amazing people, and learn now skills. It has also been an adventure into the depths of expat wife politics and drama, and only a few short months in I already have enough material for a dissertation on unmedicated social and psychological disorders in the ageing western female expat population. If anyone would like to fund or co-author my paper hit me up.

On matters relating to Local Journalism: You might have had to be dead to miss this, but the Times of Oman ran what was probably the single worst piece of English language writing in the history of English language writing. Entitled "Oman's Image of Pacific Grandeur" and authored by Gautam Ghosh - Dastidar, it was thesaurus spaghetti. I'll paste a couple of highlights below, but feel free to go over HERE and read the whole thing in its entirety. 

"A branch of physics and engineering coated as electronics rather microelectronics reached us pretty ahead of our times.

Indebted to informatics we are well-informed today; we are yet to know whether and when we are well-off, though. Anyway, most factual information we proudly take into custody today are but the worst examples of heartlessness against ourselves. They rather cause discomfort to us. They are those intentional but irrational irritations of ours.

Some theories ascertain that the unearthed fossils of Neanderthals were mostly the leftovers of what their ‘comrades in arms’ had in a banquet. This may be prehistoric anyway, but our history says, the survivors of the Andes Mountains (South America) plane crash (1972) ate their dead companions."

I mean, Jesus christ, what is that? By the fact that this was published, and front page, I can only assume that there a company in the Sultanate that is paying this guy actual money to do a job. Maybe he's your boss? 
Not that I am going to win a Pulitzer or anything either, to be fair.    

Anyway, the plan for the blog is what it always was, part personal diary, part highlighting the extraordinarily terrible standards for writing in the Times of Oman, partly public sounding board for unanswerable questions, Diatribes on our ongoing failures at Omanisation, and rants and raves. Whilst my spelling and English has improved immeasurably after five years in the states, my swearing is still problematic. You've been warned. 

This blog will be 10 years old in November, and it has been really interesting for me to go back and read the archives. The insecure 20 something struggling with a new marriage and a new baby has been replaced by a fatter but more self-assured 30 something struggling with marriage and children. I thought about starting a new blog, and wiping the slate clean, but I think that it is more transparent and perhaps more interesting to let the archives stand, warts and all. Should your life be so boring that you choose to peruse the archives, remember that the young person who wrote those words is gone now, replaced by a smarter but more wrinkly adult. Be kind. 

Next week, Would you like some healthy vegetables with extra pesticide? Are you an Entrepreneur or a Parasite? And a review of a very fast Mercedes. 

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Used Cars of Unknown Merit: The Volvo XC90

We need a new car. Well, we need several new cars, which means it is time to test drive hundreds of rolling shitboxes in search of a few diamonds in the rough. We don't buy cars new because I refuse support most of the dreadful automotive monopolies here, I don't want to carry debt on a car, and also because I can't stand the thought of the write-down on value that occurs the moment I drive a new car off the lot. Buying used also means I can forgo comprehensive insurance, which saves us a lot off of our monthly budget as well. Anyway, here's the first in a recurring series on buying used cars in Muscat. 

 According to Wikipedia, Volvo means "I Roll" in Latin. Despite the awesome Latin meaning, Volvo to me sounds like a word for something from Ikea, or perhaps your genitalia or some sort of punctuation mark or maybe that dangly thing that hangs down at the back of your throat. Volvo. Not a sexy word, not a sexy car.

But I digress. Despite a name that sounds like it's referring to somebody's junk, Volvo has been making some damn fine cars for the last decade or so. A few slick sedans, A station wagon that doesn't too dreadful, a hot hatch that goes around corners really fast, and the XC90, a semi-luxury crossover designed to compete with the VW Touareg and the top of the line Subaru Outback. These are not your mother's Volvos. They are slick, competitively priced, well-engineered and carry on the legendary safety that Volvo is synonymous with. What they are not, is Boring. 

This brings us to today's Used Car Of Unknown Merit!  We will be reviewing a 2007 Volvo XC90 with 175kms on the clock.  Asking price is in the vicinity of 2,800 OMR. The XC90 came with three engine choices, and this car has the smallest, a 2.5 litre turbocharged petrol engine. The original owner went for all the bells and whistles, so the car has leather seats, power everything, DVD Player, Sunroof, and many other nice accessories which one can break, and then pay astonishingly exorbitant fees to have repaired at your local monopolistic dealership. Got it? On to the review!

Woah, look at that fabulous shade of Orange! 

You guys, I fucking LOVE this car. I cannot believe I had it in my heart to like, let alone love a Volvo, but I do. My love begins with the key, it's weighty, with big buttons you can find without looking, and contains inside it an actual key that you can stick into a real live ignition lock assembly and use to start the car.None of this push-button-start proximity sensor bullshit. You will never, ever, accidentally drop your keys in a parking lot and drive away without them, leaving yourself stranded 30 miles from your key fob thingy which, by the time you realize where you dropped it, has been run over 15 times and crushed into oblivion. Because you have to actually stick the keys in the ignition and turn them in order to go anywhere! Genius, I tell you. 

I am highly averse to cars with technology. I think power windows are the work of the Devil, and that any car should have the absolute minimum of accessories that can break. I do not want automatically retracting mirrors, adjustable headlights, heated massaging seats, dual climate control, or a button that gives me a Blow-Job. I want all the shit that worked when my car was brand new to still be working when my car has half a million kilometers on it. Hence, you can imagine my trepidation when I saw the laundry list of accessories that this car came loaded with. I was expecting mechanical and electrical gremlins galore, wiring harness issues, mysterious shorts, and broken power windows. To my astonishment, absolutely everything works as it should on this 8-year-old car. Stone remarked that even the cigarette lighter works, which is AMAZING, because neither he nor I can recall ever having a used car where the cigarette lighter still works. I would like to send the engineers at Volvo little gold stars for designing car accessories ALL that still work  8.5 years on. Bravo!

The console is well arranged, with no unnecessary buttons, and all the buttons are large and positioned to be easily accessible to the driver. The visibility from the cockpit is excellent, allowing you to see everything and everyone trying to kill you on the roads. The interior is quiet on the road, and the stock sound system lets you hear every note of the Abba Gold album you just purchased to accompany your Sweedish-Built car. (Sorry Stone!) The car seats seven, with the back two seats folding flat to allow for shit-tons of cargo space. Everybody has a cupholder, and when the car is configured for five, seats five Adults with generous legroom. 

The car has one of the highest safety ratings, even scoring well for pedestrian impacts. Everybody gets an airbag, seatbelt pre-tensioners, anti-roll technology, and a reinforced roof for when you do roll it over. It's a tank, but doesn't drive, look, or handle like one. 

The driving is fantastic, even with the smaller turbo-supported engine, the acceleration is sharp and aggressive. It has just enough power to get you out of trouble, and not quite enough power to get you into it. The engine is mated to a 5 speed Automatic with power distributed through front and rear differentials for full time all wheel drive. Despite the mileage and hot climate / difficult driving conditions the Turbo, transmission and differentials are still working flawlessly, with solid traction on any surface, and smooth up and down shifting and plenty of oomph when I put my foot down. That said, I would love to see one of these things with a V6 or a 3.5 litre turbo, as I still feel it is a bit underpowered with the 2.5. I wouldn't take this dune bashing, for example, or off road camping. I just don't trust that little engine to manage. 

The suspension is firm, but not too firm, giving the car really tight handling even on awkwardly banked curves. The firm suspension and stiff body mean you get very little body roll on corners, and can really attack the chicanes on the school run like the badass racer mommy you know you are. The steering is very positive, well dampened, and amazingly light. You don't need any muscle power whatsoever to turn the wheel, it's almost like you just think about turning and the car does it for you. Sadly, The front C/V joints are almost shot, which is a bit disappointing given that the car is still under 200,000 kms. That's going to be an expensive repair. 

The styling is lovely and doesn't look dated in the slightest. It's not a sexy car, but it's no pig, either. It looks like the sort of car a responsible executive would drive, and the styling is far better than what's available on similar cars from Subaru / VW/ Toyota etc... The leather seating has held up surprisingly well, but the head liner and other cloth or thin plastic interior finishes are showing their age. 

After having this thing for just 48 hours I am seriously considering buying three. One for me, One for Stone, and one to modify to use off road. I am going to go ahead and say that it's the best Used car I have ever had for a long test drive, and I am really impressed with the reliability shown at 8 years of age. 

Monday, October 19, 2015

this and that

More On Omanisation: 

A few months ago the CEO of some steel company in Oman had to resign for saying aloud what lots of bosses here say in private. I don't work for the company, so I have no idea if what he said was factual / fair/ unbiased/ bullshit/ or what. It WAS a bit weird that his apology was published as an advert in the papers. Was that because what he said was wrong, or was it because what he said was too close to the truth to make the powers that be happy? You guys tell me, I'm at a loss.

This leads into  an article in the Times of Oman titled

The first thing I thought when I read this (with a growing sense of rage and disbelief) was that I cannot believe that the OCCI has come out with an argument that holding one's employees hostage is fair practice and excellent labor policy. My second thought was that the OCCI is doing an outstanding job of serving their corporate masters protecting the interests of the businesses in Oman, who would clearly much rather hire a foreign worker than an Omani worker.

One need only look at the comments section at the times of Oman to get some idea of what a contentious issue this is for both sides. One also gets an inkling of the sort of intellectual horsepower employers are dealing with, and it is DIRE on both sides. Honestly, looking at the TOO comments section one would think that half the Omani and Expatriate population  have taken up competitive lead paint licking or undergone voluntary lobotomies. You get a real taste of what HR managers in the country are up against.

I have already written endlessly on the subject of Omanisation,

  1. Here,
  2. Here,
  3. Here,
  4. Here,
  5. Here,
  6. Here,
  7. And Here, 
So I think you guys know why I think the 2 year ban is not only not beneficial, but outright harmful to the Omani economy and our drive towards Omanisation, but one thing I failed to mention in previous RANTS articles is the importance of having a country where as many people as possible are really fucking good at what they do and are really fucking good to work with and for. The A-team, vs the B team, if you will.

As I mentioned before, a quick browse of the comments section at TOO should make it very clear that;

  1. We already have a lot of B-team expats and Locals. 
  2. These B-team individuals have opinions, and like the Tea Party in the USA, they won't let facts or data get in the way of a poorly articulated argument. 
  3. Some fuckwit has gone and given these morons internet and facebook accounts. 
  4. We need better people crafting our economic and labor policy.

Now that Expats, Omanis and the Chairman of the OCCI hate me equally, let's continue, shall we? 
  • For all the Expats out there saying "we are invaluable, and the country would fall apart without us" please remember that you can be replaced at the snap of a finger by someone more desperate for your job. You are not a special snowflake. 
  • For all the Omanis who are saying "If you don't like it, Leave" rest assured that the expats that will inevitably replace the existing ones will be even less talented, and have fewer options outside Oman, and will likely be even more desperate to hang onto their jobs at any cost. Don't expect an improvement in knowledge sharing or interest in the future of the country, much less the future of you or your fellow Omanis.  
  • There are expats that are good for the country, and expats that are bad for the country. We need our labour law to be designed to make the country and working conditions MORE attractive to the A-team foreigners. The two-year ban means we are less likely to attract top-notch foreign talent and instead get the B-team. 
  • We need to find a way to make it less attractive for companies to hire a foreigner, possibly using economic incentives, across the board minimum wages based on job classification,  and allowing foreigners to change jobs as easily as Omanis. 
  • We need a complete and total reform of the Omani Educational system so that it produces kids with the skills needed to enter the workplace, and some actual perspective on what entry-level work is like.   
  • We need a labour market that levels the playing field so Omanis and Expats can compete, based on performance and experience, for the same jobs, with the same benefits, without nationality coming into the equation. 
As it stands, nobody really wants to hire Omanis. And why would you, when all the labor laws make it so much more attractive to hire a foreigner?

Second, regarding current events over in neighbourly Yemen:
You would literally have to be dead to have not noticed the proxy war in Yemen, where the key players appear to be (in no particular order) Saudi, Iran, UAE, Bahrain, hired mercenaries, Houthis, Qatar, Al Qaeda, People who back Hadi, Dead women and children,  and Assorted Unfortunate Yemeni People. It is a complete shit-show.

Oman has the noble distinction of being the only sensible country in a 700-mile radius, and has smartly refused to participate in the GCC military offensive. We are not sending troops, and as far as I am aware, we are not allowing our airbases or naval ports to be used to support either side in the conflict. Whilst rumours indicate lots of grassroots and financial support for the Houthi faction coming from individual Omani citizens, the government has been admirable in their role as mediator and peacemaker in this conflict. I hope the Muscat Talks prove that we, as Arabs, can occasionally see the big picture. Well done, guys. The whole world should be proud of the example we are setting for diplomacy.

So here's the shit that really scares me stupid: There have been quite a few war casualties coming from the emirates and if you read the papers out of Abu Dhabi, the hyperbole is astonishing. 3 days of mourning, lots of quotes from important people calling these poor kids "martyrs" and stating outright that they died in Yemen "Defending the UAE" Just like the US soldiers in Iraq are "Defending America's Freedoms"

Bullshit. The UAE, Saudi, Qatar and the rest and  are sending our young men (and whatever hired mercenaries they can recruit from Africa / Pakistan) off to die for a political and religious war that has nothing whatsoever to do with "Protecting Freedoms", "Restoring the Democratically elected president" or "Defending the Sovereignty of the UAE".

No, really, stop laughing. These were actual quotes in the papers about how these autocratic Gulf Monarchies are "Defenders of Democracy!" Defenders. Of. Democracy. You can't make this shit up.

Our glorious GCC leadership is sending our young men off to die because we don't like Shias, We don't like Iran, and fuck those crazy Qat-Chewing Yemenis anyway.

The rhetoric coming out of the UAE and Saudi media sounds scarily like the rhetoric coming out of the Bush Administration circa 2004. Let us not be as stupid now, as America was then.

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.

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. 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, went to college and discovered that I am not actually as stupid as I thought.

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.