01 May 2012

A Letter from a New Friend

Here is an excerpt from an email with a cousin of a friend of mine from high school.   She is American, born and raised, but became Muslim in her 20s, then married an Omani man and moved to Oman.  She now lives with her family in a town about a 300km drive from Muscat, the capital of Oman.  The lines in bold are my questions, and the italics are her answers.

My first question would be, how would you prefer me to address you?  Moroccans don't use the name format of "Oum" [Mother of] or "Abu" [Father of] very much, so I'm not sure which is more polite?  Would you call someone "auntie" or "uncle" as a way of respect, or is that more for family?  Would you use "sidi" [Mr.] and "sida" [Mrs.] (Moroccans use "lalla" for ma'am, but I think that is only a Maghreb thing)?

You may just call me J. We don't use 'sida/sidi' or 'lalla' here at all, but 'Oum' and 'Abu' are used often. Among women, women of the same age call each other by their first names, though a younger woman will often address an older woman as 'Oum ...'. I address most of the older women in our town as 'Khaaloo', [aunt] and my daughter's friends address me this way. My husband's young nieces and nephews call me 'Khaaloo J' or 'Amoo [uncle] J'. Out of respect, men here prefer not to address a woman by her first name, if a kunya (ex, 'Oum A') is known. Similarly, if a woman is mentioning something about me to her husband, she would usually refer to me as 'Oum A'.

I'm thinking a lot, for now, about what to pack.  My goal is to be able to make a friend or two, and I feel like perhaps, the more conservatively I dress, the more respected I will be, but does that apply for foreign 20-somethings wanting to make friends in order to practice language and culture too?

It is more like the more conservatively you dress, the more comfortable others will feel around you. What is 'conservative' varies from region to region here. Almost anything goes in Muscat now, and people there are used to that.  Here in Ibri, it is much better to dress on the very conservative side, with a scarf on one's head even if it is only loosely so and half of your hair is out.  Things were much more conservative when I first got here back in 1993 but have been changing a lot since then.

It used to be here in Ibri that women always wore long pants under their dresses, pants which zipped at the ankle so that nothing showed above the ankle.  And women in Ibri used to see Salalah women as 'immodest' because it was said that they didn't wear anything under their dresses.  In Salalah, the women all wore small niqaabs to cover their faces and the Salalah women used to say that the women up here in Ibri were 'immodest' because they didn't all cover their faces!  But things have changed and all areas of Oman get lots of visitors now from other parts of Oman and from outside Oman.  You will notice many different kinds of styles in dress among women.  In fact, you can tell a lot about where an Omani woman is from by her dress here, though there is not so much difference in the way Omani men dress.  Then there is the dress of Western expats, Indians, Pakistanis, etc. You will see a lot of variation in dress here. 

I think that you will find that Oman is quite different from Morocco. 

I noticed the dates of your trip.  I encourage you to try to spend some time in Muscat and this 'northern' part of Oman before you head down to Salalah.  It looks like you'll be finishing up during Ramadan, and while it is nice to see how Ramadan is in Oman, you will get a much better feel for the lifestyle here if you can see it outside of Ramadan, too.  True Omani life really revolves around the family and home and during Ramadan most observant Muslim families won't be out and about much, except to do necessary shopping and go to the mosque.

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