All posts by Heidi Allen

Digital Strategy in Health And Publishing

24 hours in the desert – sleeping on the sand

Hamid is a Bedouin.  His family have lived in the desert for generations. He is one of three sons and two daughters.  His family live in the local village, breed camels and run a desert camp where people can experience some of what life is like.

Hamid welcomed us to Nomadic Desert Camp and after we stowed our things we went for a drive.  The camp is basic and beautiful.  Each hut has 2 single beds (you can push them together if you would like to), a table and small chairs outside.  Showers are at the back of the camp, work very well and surprisingly large. There is no electricity in the camp.

Before our drive we visited a camel that was resident in the camp.  And if you think Matthew was nervous, he was.

Hamid drove us to where his family’s camels are.  Camels roam freely unless rounded up.  Pregnant females are penned just prior to giving birth to help them when the time comes and also to make sure that the foal can suckle. This is Hamid’s grumpy, feisty camel who has just given birth and loves him.  Surprisingly camel hair is very soft, especially the foals – we were asked not to touch her back as it wasn’t yet fully formed. 

Camels in the Middle East have a variety of purposes – meat and milk of course, but also camel racing and beauty contents (I kid you not). 

After camels we drove further into the sand dunes to watch the sunset while Hamid built the fire.

After sunset coffee and dates are served. Right hands only are washed in a finger bowl and then dates are offered along with rich, sweet, thick Omani coffee.  Your cup is filled and refilled until you shake it to indicate you’ve had enough.

We are a mixed group from all over the planet and while we are chatting Hamid quietly excuses himself, walks to the ridge facing the sunset and prays.

Then it’s back to camp for a dinner and time to sit around the campfire in the Majlis.

Next day Hamid is up early making bread on the fire ready for breakfast.  It is served along with humous, Arabic breads, coffee and fresh camel milk still warm (from the camel Matthew met in the morning).  We took a stroll before breakfast and this is what we found.

While we were breakfasting these camels were being got ready for our camel ride – the last experience before leaving the camp.

24 hours in the desert – Wadi Bani Khalid

Ana has lived in Muscat for several years and took us into the desert for 24 hours.  First stop Wadi Bani Khalid. Drive over the mountains that frame Muscat one side (the sea is on the other) and into a valley of desert, mountains, villages and trails.

What does wadi mean? Wadi is an Arabic term traditionally referring to a valley.  Sometimes it may refer to a dry riverbed that contains water only during times of heavy rain [1]

Over the mountains and into a long stretching valley of occasional villages, scrub and mountains.  The wadi is literally in the middle of nowhere.

When we arrive, nearly 4 hours later this is what we find.  An oasis, with crystal clear water, fish that nibble your toes (free pedicure) and sweet spring water.

Wadi Bani Khalid is a beautiful place that surprises you in how large it is.  For families, there is a restaurant and large pool that is child friendly, for the more adventurous, you can hike up into wadi and choose a pool to your liking.  You will need to be sure of foot though – the trail can be narrow and uneven in places.

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Reference

[1] Wadi definition: Wikipedia Accessed 4 April 2018

Local Shopping in Muscat

Spices available in Muscat

Pick and mix of spices. Around the back are nuts, dates….

You can get pretty much anything here –  some stores even stock pork in sections for non-muslims (the local version of turkey ‘bacon’ does not appeal I must admit).

There are also a lot of western clothing shops – Next, Monsoon, Matalan etc, along with the usual assortment of techie, chemists and jewelry shops etc.

What I was completely unprepared for were the local supermarkets or hypermarkets as they are called.  They are truly enormous and filled with all sorts of local and international brands.  

One of our local hypermarkets, Lulu, has a huge food and outdoor section on the first floor, with household and furniture on the next floor up.  Why is this relevant?  I had no idea what to expect on moving here – from what sort of clothes I could buy to what food would be available in what is essentially a country in the desert.

There is a big English and American influence here – I’ve found Marmite (happy days), Vegemite (yuck, but Matthew loves it), Skippy’s peanut butter, Twinings Tea, McVities digestives, and many brands I’d forgotten about – for me a home away from home. 

Greek slow roasted Goat

Greek slow-roasted goat

However, of big note are the veggie and spice sections – AWESOME. There are mounds of pulses, spices, nuts, kernels, herbs, olives and soooo many different types of dates – a pick and mix of anything you could wish for – and many items I don’t yet recognise.  

So, in my first few weeks I have found Oman is the place to learn new dishes, and play with old favourites – so far I have messed about with chicken, experimented with Za’atar (its a funky middle-eastern spice mix), nibbled on cheeses with names I cannot pronounce, cooked Greek-style slow roasted goat, made a delicious buffalo goulash and created a rather unique hummus from scratch – which came out a little green, but tasted fantastic.  Next I will attempt to concoct some new Indian curries.

There are also some brands I am less familiar with…

Needless to say, Matthew is feeling right at home 😉

Oh man! Oman

First impressions of Muscat, Oman

We are week 2 of living in the suburb of Bausher in Muscat, Oman.  Still missing a dining table etc our apartment has a ‘nearly moved in’ look.   The view makes up for it.

Sunset over Bausher, muscat Oman

View over Bausher, Muscat Oman

Curious about the new place we find ourselves in we did some research: Oman has a population of nearly 5 million of which 1.5 Million live in Muscat the capital (for comparison, the population in London is currently nearly 9 million).[1,2]  The type of  Islam  practiced here is called Ibadism [3] more liberal compared with that of some of its neighbours.  Traditionally Oman has a welcoming community where other religions can be practiced and there are churches for various denominations to be found in Muscat.  

Where is MuscatThe Government here is an absolute monarchy. The monarch is called the Sultan and he is Qaboos Bin Said. His Majesty was educated in Britain and there is a large British influence here. 

It is said that there are more expats in Muscat than local Omanis. The population consists of a large contingent of workers from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Morocco, Jordan, and the Philippines, as well as Americans, Australians and British. Clothing is modest but expats in their western gear, Indian women in traditional dress and Omani men and women in their white Dishdasha and black hijab mingle without so much of a glance.  On our first visit to the local mall more than one Omani welcomed us to their country as they passed by.

Tourism is encouraged and Muscat is well worth a visit – only five hours drive from Dubai in a truly beautiful setting with the Gulf of Oman on one side and mountains on the other.  Any guidebook worth its salt will give many things to do here and if you are into exploring the big outdoors this is the place for you.

Bander Khyaran Muscat

In our first week here we were taken to Bander Khyaran – a short boat ride from Muscat marina

Traditional Omanis do not drink alcohol so most restaurants will not have a liquor licence but drinks are to be had of an evening in hotel bars and some additional venues of which there are quite a few in Muscat, many along the beach front. If you have a license (for which you need to be a non-muslim with a work visa) you can also buy alcohol from designated stores.

Grans Hyatt, Muscat

View of one of the bars at the Grand Hyatt, Muscat

If you stay here for any length of time you may notice a slightly different taste from the tap water as Muscat has a desalination plant – but nothing that fresh mint and lemon can’t fix or some people buy bottled.

One of the things that has taken some getting used to is that the working week starts on Sunday and the weekend starts on Thursday evening.  What this actually means is that it completely throws your calendar out and you have no idea what day of the week it is at any given point.

Temperature at the beginning of May

Temperature at the beginning of May climbing into the 40’s

One word of advice if you are planning a trip: the times to avoid are Ramadan (most places shut during the day) and the summer months (June – August) where the weather is too hot to be outdoors for most. This is the temperature currently at the beginning of May for the week.  The words on everyone’s lips are “Summer is Coming”.

Bibliography

[1] http://countrymeters.info/en/Oman – accessed 5 May

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Muscat,_Oman – accessed 5 May 2016

[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Islam_in_Oman – accessed 5 May 2016

Useful facts about Oman:

http://country-facts.findthedata.com/l/181/Oman – accessed 5 May 2016

http://www.heritage.org/index/country/oman – accessed 5 May 2016

The COPE centre

Understated, tucked into the ground of the Centre of Medical Rehabilitation in Vientiane, Laos, the COPE visitor centre tells incredible stories of survival and challenges today.

More than two million tonnes of bombs – “one tonne for every Lao citizen” fell on Laos between 1964 and 1973.  Laos is most heavily bombed country on Earth, per capita. [1,2]

Cluster bombs COPE centre

At the very least, that’s a lot of scrap metal to be had, which means money to be made. People have become reliant on the scrap metal trade. Although it is illegal there are still communities using basic metal detectors and small shovels to check paddy fields and forest for metal they can sell. Children earn money by collecting metal and selling it to scrap metal merchants.  Scrap dealers pay less than 25 cents a mile which is enough incentive for poor families to take the risk.

It also means a lot of UXO’s (unexploded ordnances – or ‘bombies’ as they are known in Laos.

Mr Ta COPE visitor centre

Mr Ta COPE visitor centre

Mr Ta was fishing with two of his sons, aged 8 and 10, when he found a zombie lying in the ground.  He knew it was dangerous but he had heard that you could use the explosive inside to catch fish.  He sent his children behind a tree and crawled up to the zombie.  As soon as he touched it it exploded.  His sons ran from the terrifying noise – when they returned they had to take care of their father, who was losing blood from his terrible injuries.  The dragged him into the boat and rowed back to the village.  In total it took nine hours for him to reach medical help.  Ta lost both arms and an eye.  After returning home from hospital his life was very difficult – Ta described how he had to “eat like a dog”.

Ta was not aware that there were services available to help him; he was, fortunately, brought to the CMR yay a UXO clearance team.  He received three different types of arms that enabled him to be much more independent and to play a larger role in his family  Ta went on to become an advocate fro an international ban on cluster munitions and traveled to Oslo in 2010 to see the singing of the Convention on Cluster Munitions.  He continues to campaign for countries to sign the ban and implement its obligations.

There are some good stories too.  Since 1995 the US has invested over UDS$60 million dollars to clear and safely dispose of UX in Laos, and deliver education to people in at-risk areas.  In June 2014, the US announced that it was increasing its contribution to the UXO effort from $9 million to $12 million per hear.  In October it announced that it would provide an additional $1.5 million to COPE to expand the provision of free, local access to prostheses and other mobility devices as well as quality physical rehabilitation services throughout the country.

Prosthesis COPE Laos

What is COPE?

COPE (Cooperative Orthotic and Prosthetic Enterprise) was founded in 1997 focused on working with Lao health authorities in developing quality services for people with disabilities.

COPE Connect began in 2009 to make services available in remote areas.  Inspired by a boy named Santar it has a powerful outreach programme, and shows and how much difference a prosthetic can make.

Santar is from Muang Sin, in the far northwest corner of LAOS.  COPE staff on holiday there heard about a little boy who had been in involved in an accident some years before.  After some searching the village was located and there, in one of four houses, sat 8-year-old Santar, depressed and withdrawn.  He had been hit by a sugar cane truck two years before, losing one leg and badly damaging the other.  He had been confined to the house since.

Santar COPE Connect Laos

Some months later he made the 24-hour bus journey to Vientiane.  Surgeons operated to correct his left foot and fitted a prosthesis for his right leg.  After four months of physiotherapy Santar returned home and returned to school.  A few years later Santar returned to Vientiane to study, the pictures tell their own story.Santar COPE Connect

What can you do?

Make a donation to COPE!

This is the best present you could imagine, giving someone an improved life through mobility. Here are examples of what your donation will go towards. It’s easy to make a difference here in Laos.

  • US$10 – a developmental toy for a child with a disability
  • US$ 15 – Food for a week
  • US$ 30 – Rehabilitation equipment
  • US$ 10 – A developmental toy for a child with a disability
  • US$ 15 – Food for a week
  • US$ 30 – Rehabilitation equipment
  • US$ 40 – Special Chair for a child with a disability
  • US$ 75 – Prosthetic leg
  • US$ 150 – Prosthetic Arm
  • US$ 200 – Complete Treatment
  • US$ 250 – Club Foot Treatment

Donate and Make a Difference – We did!

References

[1] Mekong: a river rising.  Guardian Newspaper 26 November 2015.  http://www.theguardian.com/environment/ng-interactive/2015/nov/26/the-mekong-river-stories-from-the-heart-of-the-climate-crisis-interactive  Accessed 29 November 2015.

[2] COPE visitor Handbook

Vientianale International Film Festival

Mini-VIFF-POSTERThe Vientianale International Film Festival celebrates the art of film and the diversity of Lao culture in the country’s capital, Vientiane. The annual festival showcases an exciting program of international feature and short films, emerging as an important platform for local filmmakers to screen their works.

The Mini Vientianale International Short Film Festival returns to the silver screen from March 11-13 2016. The festival showcases an exciting line-up of national and international short films to the Vientiane community both indoors for daytime screenings and under the stars in the evenings at the Cinema Department, off Khouvieng Road.

The final evening of the festival on March 13 will be held at the Cultural Hall for the screenings and awards ceremony of the annual Vientianale Short Film Competition.

Download the screening schedule here.

Check out the full program here.

All screenings are free and open to the public.

This year’s program is shaping up to be as diverse and captivating as ever, with 90 short films from more than 30 countries across Asia, Africa, Europe, the Middle East, and North and South America. The short films span multiple genres including drama, comedy, animation, documentary, storytelling and experimental – and none run longer than 30 minutes.

Special features include award-winning films from the Berlinale International Film Festival, British Academy of Film and Television, Binisaya Short Film Festival in Cebu (Philippines) – along with a discussion on Cebuano film from Binisaya director Paul Douglas, Chaktomuk Short Film Festival in Cambodia, and a selection of shorts from Interfilm Berlin – Germany’s biggest short film festival – handpicked by Interfilm director and festival guest Heinz Hermanns.

LocationsFamilies will not want to miss the Spotlight on Luxembourg on Saturday afternoon which showcases some of the country’s finest animated films, including Oscar winning short Monsieur Hublot. The children’s program also includes whimsical shorts from KuKi International Short Film Festival for Children and Youth, and Kids Docs – a collection of short documentaries.

Mini Vientianale Short Film Festival, in partnership with the Cinema Department and DokLao Media Centre is generously supported by the Embassy of the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg, the Goethe Institute, the Deutsche Gesellschaft fuer Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ), the Lao Coca Cola Bottling Company, the Delegation of the European Union to Laos, the British Embassy to Laos, the Embassy of the Philippines, the Republic of the Philippines’ National Commission for Culture and the Arts, Heineken Beer Company, Seng Lao Café, the German Development Bank (KFW), the German Adult Education Association (DVV), the British Council and the French Cultural Institute. With thanks to Vidéographe, Yangon Film School, Chaktomuk Film Festival, Chomp-a, Tuk Tuk Safari.

Tombs of three kings

Located in the grounds of the old Ayutthura city is the temple of Wat Phra Si Sanphet.  It includes the tombs of three Kings.

Wat Phra Si Sanphet was the holiest temple on the site of the old Royal Palace in the ancient capital.  It housed a gold Buddah 16 meters high (over 300 kg of gold) and also included three Chedi’s where the ashes of three kings are buried.  The city was destroyed by the Burmese in 1767 (and the gold taken).

Ayutthura tombs of 3 kings

The three Chedis of Wat Phra Si Sanphet

IMG_3890 copy

And here’s more on the history (according to Wikipedia) if you want to know more:

In 1350 King Ramathibodi I, ordered the construction of a royal palace in the same area that Wat Pra Si Sanphet stands today. The palace was completed and King Ramathibodi established Ayutthaya as his capital. The palace contained three wooden prasats named “Phaithun Maha Prasat”, “Phaichayon Maha Prasat”, and “Aisawan Maha Prasat”.  However, in 1448 King Borommatrailokanat built a new palace to the north and converted the old palace grounds into a holy site. His son, King Ramathibodi II had two Stupa, which in Thailand are known as Chedis, built in 1492 where the ashes of his father, King Borom Trailokanath, and his brother, King Borommaracha III were buried.

In 1499 a viharn, or hall of worship, called “Vihara Luang” (Royal Chapel) was built on the palace grounds. King Ramathibodi II gave orders for a gigantic image of Buddha to be cast, and installed in Wat Si Sanphet. This image of Buddha was 16 meters high, covered in gold, and the pedestal was 8 meters in length. The core of the statue was made of bronze and weighed approximately 64 tons. The surface was covered with approximately 343 kilograms of gold. This statue, called “Phra Si Sanphetdayan”, was the main object of veneration within the royal chapel.  Another Chedi was built under King Borommaracha IV in 1592.

The city of Autthaya including the temple compounds were completely destroyed in the Burmese invasion in 1767, with the exception of the three Chedis that can be seen today.

Reference

Wikipedia – Wat Phra Si Sanphet https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wat_Phra_Si_Sanphet Accessed 19 Sept 2015