Al Ameen Mosque

This incredible building is called the Muhammad Al Ameen Mosque and is situated just off 23rd July Street in the district of Bausher, near our home.

back-view

Named after the Prophet Muhammed it was privately financed to the cost of 40million Omani rials and bears the third largest carpet in the world costing around US$4million to weave.

day-front-01

The mosque was opened in 2014 by Sheikh Ahmed bin Hamad al Khalili the Grand Mufti of the Sultanate of Oman. Here’s a closer look at the intricate designs in the domes and spires.

intricate-designs

The mosque covers an area approximately 20,000sqm in size and caters for a maximum of 2,100 worshippers at any one time and there is a library spread across two floors so as to accommodate the 12,000+ volumes of Islamic literature.

side-view

For women there is an area of 450sqm to allow up to 570 female worshippers to attend prayers at any one time.

night-side

Day or night, it is an amazingly beautiful piece of Omani architecture.

night-front

Crown Jewels

As @BeefeaterDave pointed out to us, these jewels are real. They are not copies, fakes, faux gems or cubic zirconia, they are the real Crown Jewels. From memory the conversation went something like this;

“Now ladies, when you go into the building next door make sure you see the Sovereign’s Sceptre. When you find the sceptre check out the Cullinan I diamond positioned at the top.”

Beefeater Dave was a ruggedly handsome man who held the ladies in thrall, but the mention of the word ‘diamond’ seemed to snap them out of their daydreams.

“Also known as the Star of Africa it is the largest diamond ever found, weighing in at around 530 carats.”

The collective drooling in the Chapel Royal of St Peter ad Vincula was disgusting.

“Have a long hard look at this diamond ladies and then gaze down at the ring finger of your left hand.”

Uh oh, where was he going with this?

“See that tiny little thing that you husband, boyfriend, fiancé has given you.”

Low blow Dave.

“Take another look at the Cullinan I.”

Don’t do it Dave.

“Now slap your partner.”

Bloody Beefeaters 😉

Sorry there are no pictures of the jewels, but photography was forbidden :-/

Kahwa

Kahwa is traditional Omani coffee. The core ingredients are ground cardamom pods and good quality Arabic coffee beans. Other spices such as cloves, cinnamon or saffron are added to the brewing process and these can differ from village to village, and from family member to family member. The method is simple:

1.) Take a kettle of water and bring it to a simmer.Coffee
2.) Add the coffee grounds and bring it to a boil.
3.) Place ground cardamom, or cloves, or cinnamon etc into the empty coffee pot.
4.) Pour the boiled coffee through a strainer into the pot.
5.) Serve with dates

We shared some lovely kahwa with our friends in Al Rustaq over Eid. Each pot was made by a different member and each pot had a different flavour.

Coffee culture is huge in Oman with giant coffee pots adorning traffic roundabouts and large clay pots available at various souks.

The traditional way of enjoying kahwa in the home is to sit on the floor and never fill the cup to the brim. Once the guest has had enough coffee they simply shake their cup so that the host knows to stop pouring. I learned this lesson a little late in the day and was positively buzzing by the time I had to drive home 😉

Reparations

Heidi wrote a compelling article about the COPE Centre in Laos back in April 2016. In her post she addressed the issue of unexploded ordinance (UXO) spread throughout certain parts of Laos, and the damage these devices are doing to the local communities.If you haven’t read it yet please follow the link above and do so.

“That conflict was another reminder that, whatever the cause, whatever our intentions, war inflicts a wrenching toll, especially on innocent men, women and children. – President Barack Obama, September 2, 2016.”

More than two million tonnes of bombs – “one tonne for every Lao citizen” fell on Laos between 1964 and 1973. ‘Bombies’, as the locals called them, were dropped from American planes on a peaceful country that they were not at war with, as part of a CIA led operation desperately trying to prevent the expansion of Communist North Vietnam. To put this in context, the Americans dropped more bombs on Laos during the Vietnamese war than they dropped onto both Germany and Japan during the second world war.

I’m not going to discuss the morality, politics or strategic reasoning that this decision was taken. Many people have been doing this for decades and will continue to do so for many more years to come. I just want to see some support and assistance for the Laos people to clean up the mess and prevent further catastrophe. To that end I was pleased to see that President Obama recently announced during his visit to Laos that it was,

“…time to pull America’s secret war in Laos from the shadows.”

Great! So what does this equate to for the Laos people? Unfortunately the President stopped short of apologising for the actions of his predecessors, however he did commit to a three year, ninety million dollar, clean up plan.

Will these reparations result in a UXO free Laos? Only time will tell, but its a good first start.

laos

Halwa

Halwa03Halwa is the national desert of Oman and a symbol of the countries heritage and culture. The taste is unique to the family that makes it and the recipe is handed down from generation to generation. The method of producing halwa has been preserved for hundreds, perhaps thousands, of years as grandparents teach their grandchildren the hidden family secrets.

“Omani halwa is a symbol of Omani culture and heritage and we have to take extremely good care to preserve it.” – says Younis Abdulrahim Al Balushi, whose family has been making Omani halwa since 1951. Times of Oman.

Halwa02There are several types of halwa including honey, saffron and rosewater based. The later has a flavour with a hint of Turkish delight. During the Eid al Fitr celebrations at the end of Ramadan, tons of halwa is produced and sold with prices ranging from 2 to 10 rials per kilogram.

We were lucky enough to visit a local halwa production facility in Al Rustaq, a lovely town in the Al Batinah region of northern Oman, during the first day of Eid. The family showed us their methods for producing their particular brand of halwa down to the hand decorating of individual bowls with dates, dried fruit and slivered almonds. In spite of the crush of locals lining up to collect their orders, our hosts looked after us very well and presented us with a lovely gift of homemade honey halwa, which requires more than three hours to cook and is the most expensive variety of halwa, at the end of our visit.

Halwa is a uniquely flavoured desert so if you get a chance to try locally made halwa then grasp the opportunity in both hands. It may not be what you expect, but it will be an amazing experience.

Halwa04

Ramadan Kareem

Ramadan is the ninth month in the Islamic calendar and begins after the night that the crescent of the new moon is sighted. This can vary by a day or two amongst Muslim nations and this year Oman’s Moon Sighting Main Committee, led by Sheikh Abdullah bin Mohammed Al Salmi the Minister of Awqaf and Religious Affairs, announced that Ramadan in Oman would officially began on the 7th June.

Ramadan is a time to reflect and re-evaluate our lives. It’s the time to be mindful, work on our strengths, and overcome our weaknesses. The fast involves not only abstaining from food and drink, but also from sins like dishonesty, cruel words, pride, and over-indulgence – Times of Oman

On the 20th June children throughout Muscat celebrated Qaranqasho to mark the halfway point of Ramadan. Qaranqasho is an event similar to Halloween whereby children in traditional costumes visit their neighbours singing songs and receiving sweets as a gift. Qaranqasho began as a reward for children who had managed to fast for the first half of the month of Ramadan.

A specific song is sung on this occasion, “Qaranqashoyonas, atonishwayathalwa (O people, Qaranqasho time, give us some sweets please.” It further goes “doosdoos fi almandoos, hara hara fi a’sahara,” where they ask for candy – Times of Oman

I guess that face painting, games and a belly full of lollies is a great way to encourage the children to continue fasting for the second half of Ramadan 😉

Now that we are well past the halfway mark we through we would share with you some of the things we have learned so far about Ramadan etiquette for non-Muslims in Oman.

The Grand Mosque at Night

Do not eat, drink or smoke in public:

Fasting begins at Sehr, which is sunrise in Oman, and concludes with Iftar (the breaking of the fast) after sunset prayers. The Sehr o Iftar time scale roughly equates to a 4:00am beginning and a 7:00pm finish. During this time frame Omani Muslims are not permitted to eat, drink or smoke.

Non-Muslims are also not permitted not to eat, drink or smoke in public during fasting hours. This includes semi-public spaces such as motor vehicles. Sipping water or munching on a snack whilst driving is not entirely private and therefore it is against the Islamic faith, as is chewing gum in public.

Public observance of Ramadan is compulsory, however many Omanis are aware that non-Muslims have a different belief system to their own and may make allowances within the work place if their own beliefs are treated respectfully.

Workplace etiquette:

Ramadan brings shorter working hours. The working day is reduced to six hours and traveling business people need to be aware of this when organising their schedules. Lunch meetings should be avoided and conference rooms that supply tea and coffee facilities need to be carefully vetted.

Travel:

The Ramadan road toll is very high. The rush to visit family at Iftar, combined with low blood sugar and dehydration from fasting, can lead to road fatalities, so try to avoid driving within an hour of sunset.

Entertainment:

ChocolateAlthough the shopping malls are open for business, cafes, restaurants and movie theatres are closed throughput the day. At night however they become a magnet for Omanis celebrating Iftar and are therefore crowded. Live music is prohibited so clubs and bars will be closed. Non-Muslims also need to be mindful of the sounds emanating from within their own domiciles. Parties involving loud music, drinking alcohol etc are acceptable so long as the sounds are contained within the premises and not allowed to be heard outside.

Dress modestly:

Revealing clothing, sheer clothing, too low, too short, too tight, are all items that should remain in your wardrobe. A Muslim Mosque, Buddhist Temple, Christian Cathedral etc, should all be treated with dignity and respect regardless of what your beliefs may be. Walking the streets of Oman during Ramadan is no different and respect costs little.

Public displays of affection:

No matter how romantic you and your partner find the amazing Muscat sunsets to be, snogging in public is a no-no. There will be plenty of time back in your apartment or hotel room for that 😉

Iftar is awesome:

Iftar is both a feast and a celebration with a strong focus on family and community. Perhaps the best way to describe Iftar to Christians is to imagine the daily fasting of Lent being concluded with Christmas dinner. Traditionally the celebration begins with a few dates to break the fast, washed down with Laban (a delicious yoghurt drink) and plenty of fruit. Then the feasting begins with shawarma, kofta, kibbeh, shish taouk, tender lamb, grilled meat and a vast array of delicious salads including fattoush, tabouleh and a Lebanese potato salad full of mint, lemon juice and olive oil. The Baba Ganoush has that delicate smoky flavour of slow-roasted Aubergine and the Hummous is as smooth as King Island triple cream.

The Arabic coffee, brewed for hours with a mix of ground coffee beans, cardamom, and various subtle spices, is both sweet and savoury at the same time. It is the perfect compliment to Umm Ali, a Middle East bread pudding we enjoyed for dessert.

Ramadan Mubarak!

Coffee

Fun With Food

The kids at OURPLANET International School in Muscat, Oman have been attending ‘Fun with Food’ co-curricular activities after hours, learning about nutrition and enjoying some healthy snacks along the way.

Obviously the students have rather discerning palettes for all things red…

…except when it comes to vegetables 🙂

I Love Laos’ Chaos

This little beauty appeared on the J&C Expat Services website a couple of days ago

No More Right Turns On Red Traffic Lights: Lao Police

Source: Laonationaltelevision Tnl

As of yesterday, according to this report of the Lao National TV, it’s forbidden to take a right turn on a red traffic light, unless there is an additional green arrow light (apart from the main signal light) present and flashing.

green arrow

Not following this rule will result in fines of Kip 700’000 for cars and Kip 300’000 for motorbikes.

There was no mention of going straight ahead through a red light (which multitudes or locals do every day),

…or riding your motorbike on the footpath whenever you feel you want to,

…or the amount of passengers a motorbike may carry at any one time (the most I’ve ever seen is six),

…or…

I miss living in Laos.