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.