30 June 2012

Lessons from the Old

In a recent previous post, I talked about a Shawafa, and how she changed my life.  And yet, even before my encounter with her, I was attracted to old people in Morocco, to talk to them and to learning from them.  So of course, when the chance came up in Oman, I was delighted!

Two Mondays ago, we went to the Center for Handicrafts of Salalah.  Before this visit, I had been feeling rather like our chances to talk to Omanis had been dismally low, and so when the time came around for our weekly “Language Socialization” event, I was excited at the chance to visit with different Omanis, and especially Omanis who did not speak English.  

CLS Students helping make the incense burners
At first, the visit wasn’t very exciting.  After a few weeks in any place, you can pretty much get an idea of how the tourist industry works, and what objects and ideas are being mass reproduced and sold to people as genuine artifacts of a culture.  So when we entered the small center, this is what I noticed.  More frankincense burners, more perfumes.  Fortunately, after a small introduction from the manager of the center, we were able to go into the back rooms, which they had set up to represent traditional Omani culture, one room of a bridal suite at a traditional Omani wedding, and one room of how Bedouins live.  

Finished and unfinished products
The good times really began though when we were herded into the back room where there were 5 older women working with clay to make the incense burners.  As soon as I saw them, all my wonderful experiences working with and talking with women came rushing back.  So I did my best to remember my social justice lessons about taking time to SIT with people, and to ask questions, and give try to give them the most TIME that I could.  It was interested to talk to these women, because, unlike Morocco, our dialect wasn’t quite the same, but they definitely appeared to understand me, and I know that I understood 80% - 90% of what they said.  

The ladies!
I asked them about how they make the burners, of course, but I also was thinking about all the people I know who worked in Morocco with traditional handicraft makers trying to start small businesses, and so I asked them about what their daily schedule is like, and how the center is organized - cooperative? association? small business? (I’m so glad all those words are the same in dialect and Standard Arabic).  Unfortunately, I didn’t quite understand the answer, but I did get that, like most of the new development and projects here in Oman, a lot of the start up money came from the government, and now they are working on paying off the loan (maybe?) and trying to perhaps save some money as well.    And then of course all the usual expenses of a small business.

Working on a very big incense burner!
Eventually, the small back room got too crowded, and I moved out into the main room.  While I was waiting for the visit to finish, one of the bus drivers came up to me, and started talking about how life used to be in the past.  Again, I didn't quite understand everything he was saying, but I definitely got the point that he didn't bathe more than 2 or 3 times every few months, and that he used to wear just a braid of leather on his head, and that he spend most of his time tending to his herds.  I used what I knew about life in the desert/mountains of Morocco to imagine how his life might have been.  I guessed that perhaps he did not tell me that much about what they used to do because life back in the day took a lot more effort in general.  Even getting bread could have been an all day affair - he told me they used to bake it in the sand, when they did bake it, because rice is the primary staple in Oman, unlike bread in many other Arab countries.  They used to carry their water in lizard skin pouches too, and not drink very much of it because, well, the lizards were not that big.  

Is this what the Mountain People looked like??
Having the opportunity to talk to these people has inspired me to seek out as much contact with older Omanis as I can.  Hopefully my efforts will, at the very least, lead to some good blog entries!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hi,'Zineb'! I've enjoyed reading through many of the posts on your blog. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and impressions!

Re: "After a few weeks in any place, you can pretty much get an idea of how the tourist industry works, and what objects and ideas are being mass reproduced and sold to people as genuine artifacts of a culture."

Of course, many things are going to be produces specifically to sell to tourists, as part of the important tourist industry. Still, bukhoor/luban/incense and incense burners are indeed used DAILY in most Omani homes, all the way from the Salalah region to Muscat, to the border with UAE (and even in UAE, too). Omanis are very particular to smells, and they don't like a home to smell of cooked food. Also, perfuming guests with oils and incense before they leave one's home is both an ancient tradition as well as one that continues to be commonly practiced today... Oum Abdul-Aziz (Ibri, Oman)