Houseways: ‘Homespaces’ Away from Home

plans by Maria Cristina Hidalgo,

This essay focuses on areas which are perceived as a home. For both picnics and camping, all the general understandings of etiquette followed in houses apply although usually everyone takes on the role as host to some degree. For example, rather than the host pushing people to eat or drink, when any person opens the coolbox, they will act like a host (asking each person what they would like) before they take something to drink. Food that is opened is passed around before the person who opened the package takes any. The man who is cooking might ask a man who comes late to bring fresh bread or more supplies such as water although no one would ever ask a “guest” to bring anything to one’s house.

Further, the cook decides when to eat, but unlike inside a home, in which the hosting family must do all the work, all the people should share by clearing space on the mat, setting out a plastic cover, getting the hot sauce, cutting the limes, etc. And people should, of their own accord, help with the clean-up.

In general, picnicking in open space means creating a private salle. Dhofaris on picnics see themselves as inhabiting a homespace which is inviolate. The space is always clearly defined either by bodies (a group of women sitting in a tight circle) or mats; if there are women, the space must never be approached unless there is specific, immediate need. Men will approach other groups of men to ask for information or share food, but not a group of woman. Cars are always parked to block the groups from view.

Some families share one large mat; other families might make two seating areas, one near the car and one at more of a distance. The two spaces act as salle and majlis; as in a house, small children will act as messengers and carriers and have freedom of both mats and the space between them.  

 The exact amount of space depends on the landscape. The zone under temporary control of the family might be very large or, in crowded places like beaches on the night of the full moon, might only encompass a few meters more than the mat with the car at an angle chosen for privacy. In open areas like the desert or near-desert open spaces, people should camp out of sight of others.

Government- and hand-built straha (“hut”) are important in that they are roofed; shade is essential in Dhofar for most of the year. Both kinds of shelters are first come-first serve. Even if a man made the structure himself, if someone has parked in front of it and set up camp, the builder has no recourse and must wait until that person has left. Sometimes, men will leave bundles of wood, their blankets and some supplies in a shelter and go fishing; no one will take the space or steal the provisions.  

Once the car is parked in front; the shelter is treated like a person’s house whether it is occupied for a few hours or days. As with picnics, the car acts as the bab, the gate in the wall around the house. No one will come nearer than the car without calling out loudly and waiting to be greeted. Normally, even if the person is invited to come closer, they will stay on the far side of the car and explain what they want, to ask for something or give away food. Since there are no internal divisions in strahas, the space is like a salle and a man will usually not accept to sit down or come close unless he is a close friend.

Camping is slightly different as there are three layers while strahas and picnics have only the dichotomy of being outside (the far side of the cars, mats or circle of bodies) and inside (where the people are sitting).

The first layer is where the cars are parked, an area that functions like a hosh. Anyone can walk on the far side of the cars without acknowledging/ being acknowledged. On beaches, the area below the high tide mark is see as a free passageway. The passer-by might lift his hand or call out, but a man walking next to the water or beyond the cars is like a man walking on the far side of a house wall. A stranger who approaches a camping area and needs help will not come closer than the cars. For example, he will stand on the far side and call out his request for a tow or a tow-rope.

The second space, like a majlis, is the public area for friends and family, usually delineated by mats in the space bounded by the cars and whatever natural features are used such as the ocean, wadi walls, rocks and drop offs. Once a man has approached, called out and been invited “in,” he may join the group and sit on the mat. If he is older, younger men will offer him their chairs or pillows to lean on. The new-comer, as in a majlis, will be offered whatever there is to eat or drink.

The third space, corresponding to the bedroom, is the area used for sleeping. This can be all or part of the inside of the shelter or the area closest to the overhang and is delineated by either piled or set out sleeping mats, pillows, bags of clothing, etc. This zone should never be acknowledged or approached by anyone who is not spending the night; sleeping bags, blankets and personal gear are treated as invisible. A man might reach over and take his blanket to use as a pillow to lean against, but no one else should touch it unless the owner offers it although food, juice, soda, water and the accoutrements for tea are available to everyone.

Safety on picnics and while camping is first and foremost about wild animals: scorpions and snakes in sandy and rocky places, wolves and hyenas in unpopulated areas. The site has to be chosen with care and a fire needs to be lit after dark. Foodstuffs need to be put in cars or well-packed and placed near the fire/ sleeping people to keep them safe from foxes. Animal attacks are very rare but keeping a fire going is essential in areas away from towns.

Example of picnic site on a beach- note cooking fire is away from mat and cars are parked to provide privacy


Examples of camping sites


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