You Have Nothing to Fear from Sheep’s Eyes but Beware the Carrot Sweet: Researching Foodways in Southern Oman

During over a decade of picnics with men from southern Oman, I have never been offered the eyes, brain, tongue or tail of any animal. The cliché of guests being offered the ‘unloved’ parts of an animal doesn’t hold here in the Dhofar region. And it’s not that large platter of rice and meat that will cause you problems. Men will encourage you to eat, but if you gather up a few grains of rice in your hand and lift it towards your mouth, the host’s attention will move on.

If you are given a fish, you can turn the head away from you and start to eat from tail up, scattering by chance a few shreds of lettuce over the eyes. Then you declare yourself full before you need to deal with the stomach area, much less digging into the skull for the fish cheeks.

What you should fear is ladies’ parties with lots of very generous, caring, strong-arming women.

Men usually have dinner with friends on the beach or in a scenic place in the mountain. It’s dark, eating is done quickly and men come and go freely; there is little policing of who eats what. Although the cook might toss special pieces of meat or fish towards you, if you don’t want to eat them, simply leave them alone.

But women parties are usually indoors, with lots of light and everyone sits in their places for several hours so you are constantly under observation.

I love wedding parties because the air is full of beautiful perfumes and everyone is in gorgeous, comfortable, multi-color thobes (the loose, traditional Dhofari dress). And the food is delicious, but you cannot escape it. Either waitresses or relatives of the groom will bring around trays of drinks and sweets and everyone, not just the hostess, but all the other guests, will encourage you to partake.

You have had four cups of super-leaded, espresso-strength, cardamom-spiced Omani qahwa (coffee)? The generous women would like you to have a fifth cup! “You didn’t drink anything! Do you not like the coffee? Do you want tea! BRING TEA, SHE WANTS TEA!”  they call.

You protest but, alas, give up. The tsunami of kindness is coming for you. Take up the tea cup and drink. And as soon as you set down the cup, here come someone with juice, soda, instant coffee, chai ahmar (“red tea,” black tea with only sugar added), chai haleeb (“milk tea,” black tea with milk and sugar), or karak (loose tea with spices and milk).

Then come the sweets accompanied by women benevolently asking you to take another spoonful of halwa, the traditional Omani dessert. And like a swan-dive into a bowl of whipped cream, you submit to your fate: a small plate of carrot sweet, a bowl of crème caramel, a slice of cake, a bowl of ice cream, fruit salad, luqaymat/ loqeemat (sweet fried dough with a sugar syrup), basbousa, and wrapped chocolates.

And now, just as you give up any thought of ever moving again, dinner is served. A generous woman hands you a plate heaped high with a selection of appetizers (hummus, fattoush, baba ghanoush, etc., with pita bread) and qabooli (a dish with spices, rice and meat). Then, of course, dessert is served.

There have been weekends in which I have inhabited both worlds. One night was spent wearing loose cotton trousers and a tunic top with a plain blue headscarf and sitting on a plastic mat on a beach out of sight from any man-made lights. Dinner was fresh-caught fish cooked over a fire. The men in my research group and I ate with our hands, drank Dew, looked at the stars, listened to the sea and talked until 1am. The next night I wore a decorated velvet thobe with full make-up, my meager supply of gold jewelry and a lot of duty-free perfume, in a room full of air-conditioning, bright lights, and delightful women who wanted to stuff me until I burst.

Omani people are very open-hearted and open-handed and doing research on foodways is a lot of fun, but it is not for the meek or the small of stomach.

Reflections on Ethnographic Research: (Not) Asking Questions

“What is your favorite fruit?”

I stared in surprise at the younger relative who had just asked me that. There are a group of us eating breakfast and chatting; the question seemed odd to me, but I answered. Then I realized that I should ask “back.” So I asked her what her favorite fruit is.

Thinking about that exchange, I decided that I am out of practice for being asked questions. With my friends in Dhofar, I usually follow their pattern which is “if you want someone to know something, tell them.” Direct questions are rare, especially questions about expressing a preference.

At a friend’s house a few weeks later, I was talking to her son about of interest of his and ran into the opposite problem. I recognized afterwards that I should have asked what “his favorite” was – I had missed a good chance to hear his opinions.

Remembering those two moments in which I felt out of tune with American conversational tactics made me consider how I use and don’t use questions while doing research. Part of my hesitation about asking Dhofaris about their ideas and lives comes from trying to find a balance between a good friend and a good researcher. It’s not necessarily a tension, but it means (as Dhofaris say) “holding myself,” trying to think before speaking and choosing the right time and reason for asking for information.

As one example, a few years ago I asked one of the research guys (X) if he was free to have a picnic with the group on a Thursday night. He told me that his sister was getting married. I read that statement as a way of shutting down, not opening up, further conversation. If he had simply said, “I am busy” I probably would have asked if he wanted to meet with the group on Friday. I interpreted him telling me about the wedding, as if he was saying, “I and the people who you know in my family and extended family will all be busy all weekend” given that weddings are usually held on Friday or Saturday nights and in the days before, all members of the household are getting ready.

Dhofaris usually only talk about relatives when there is a specific need and usually only ask if there is a specific reason, such as asking after someone who you were told was sick or going to travel. Hearing that his sister was getting married made me want to ask a lot of questions; with Americans, asking about a sibling’s wedding is a positive sign of interest in your friend. But I couldn’t justify asking him. In my opinion, there was no need for me to know details. Even though I wanted to know, I felt that I had to accept Dhofari standards so I replied with the conventional statements about how I wished the couple well and hoped everything would be well. The next time I saw him I asked about “the wedding” in general terms. He affirmed that everything went well and that was the end of the topic.

Later, the situation changed. I was writing the section of my Houseways book about how Dhofaris move rooms (or don’t) when they get married or divorced. One facet that came out in interviews was whether a married woman would spend the night in her family’s home with her husband. I had information from a few women, but I wanted to get a man’s perspective.

So during a picnic, I told X that, if it was ok, I wanted to ask a few questions about where couples stayed after they were married. He agreed.

The next time I saw him, I pulled out my notebook and, even though I had done other interviews with him about topics related to houses, I started again at the beginning by explaining the Houseways project, then about my current focus about how people moved between houses. I said I wanted to ask some questions on that topic and that I would not write his name, tribe or any details that would allow readers to identify him or any family members.

When he agreed, I picked up my pen, opened my book and started in. I asked him about which houses he had spent the night in as a child and after he was married. Then I said, “Is it ok if I ask about your sister?” When he agreed, I asked a whole series of questions: How often does your sister come to visit your family house (where she was raised)? When your sister comes to visit, does she spend the night? How often? Does her husband stay the night with her? etc.

Then I moved on to general questions (do you know of any examples of married women who spend the night in their family’s house with their husband?) and hypotheticals. Then I paged back to a previous interview. I told him that I had asked a woman (Y) from Z group of tribes about this issue, I was going to read what she said and could he please give his opinion on her attitude.

I wrote up the interviews, tried to figure out the variables of the decision tree of who stays where in which house, then discussed what I had written with X, Y and other informants. At the end, I had a few paragraphs which I think accurately sum up the issue.

In the general context of talking between friends, asking X about his sister was not OK. But in the specific context of me trying to figure out how married Dhofari women maneuver through various houses, asking X questions directly related to my research was acceptable. He was helping me understand a world-view, i.e. what choices people perceived they had and how those choices were decided.

(picture is part of a photo from social media – yes Dhofar is very green now and, gentle reminder, please pick up your trash after picnicking!) 

Foodways: Cultures, Food Selfishness and “Could I Have a Little Bite?”

“May I have a sip?” asks a much-loved older relative.

I stifle a sigh and hand over my coffee cup.

Three minutes later, “Can I have another sip?”

With a small sigh, I hand over the cup.

Two minutes later, “Can I…” and I hand the cup over while biting my lip.

I don’t want to share. That cup of caramel/ Brazil nut/ vanilla-flavored coffee is my first flavored filter coffee in 11 months and, since I probably won’t be back to that store again this summer, it’s the last of that kind for another year. And I want to savor every drop of it.

And cherished older relative could have bought their own, heck I would have paid for their own. But no, my relatives want “just a sip” and “just a bite.”

This might have turned me into a person happy to share, but it did not. I turned into a person who hates handing over my coffee cup, doing it only under duress and after chiding myself about the importance of generosity.

Then I moved to Oman and learned a whole new system of dealing of food. There is no “mine” and no “yours” when eating with my Dhofari friends. There is “ours” and everyone attempts to be the person who is fastest to pass the freshly poured cup of tea or the newly opened box of cookies to someone else.

When I am with female friends at restaurants; food is automatically pushed towards the center of the table. We cut off pieces of whatever we ordered and place it on each other’s plates, even if that person is protesting that they don’t want any. We unconsciously put some French fries on a plate in the middle of the table or turn our plates so it’s easy for someone to take some.

On picnics, the food is set out communally on a platter. No one takes anything out of the coolbox without asking each person what they want first. At the end of the night, you try as hard as possible to give the leftovers to someone else. Several times I have pushed others to take food (halwa or qibqab, a thin, plain cracker-like bread) that I really wanted to bring home.

I do this instinctively in Oman but when I am staying with family, my food protection systems engage, the remnant of years of fending off “just a bite” and “you should share.”

Seeing food (taco salad! cinnamon-raisin bread! potato salad! cranberry muffins!) that I haven’t had for almost a year, I get selfish. When I open a small (one person!) bag of Old Bay-spiced potato chips and a relative hovers and dives in, I fight my instinct to hold the bag out of reach.

When people ask for “just a sip,” I am still cranky but I envision my Omani friends’ horror at the thought of my behaving badly. I remember all the meals shared and all the French fries I have stolen as I hand over the coffee cup.

“It’s just pie, people are more important than pie,” I say to myself as a foreign fork appears at the side of my plate. I push my plate towards the fork, saying “go ahead” with a cheery tone. Ethnographic work changes you. For the better.

 

 

 

New essay: “Sîn is for Zenith” on the Arabic alphabet website

The Arabic Alphabet: A Guided Tour – http://alifbatourguide.com/

by Michael Beard, illustrated by Houman Mortazavi

“Sîn is for Zenith” – http://alifbatourguide.com/the-arabic-alphabet/sin/

excerpt:

The sound of Sîn (pronounced “scene”) is the clear sibilant we represent with our letter S. The S we know is all curves. Sîn is usually more angular, a little closer to the W shape of its Phoenician ancestor. Greek Sigma comes from the same source, the W shape tipped up 90 degrees clockwise.There was a Nabatean predecessor of Sîn in the form of a bowl shape with an upright growing out of it, something like Hebrew Shin. The shape of Sîn grows out of it: two miniature half-circles resting side by side. What strikes the eye are those three short uprights, referred to as “teeth” (Sîn word sinân in Arabic, the plural of sinn). It is not my job to say what is beautiful and what isn’t, but what I’m taken by in the most elegant handwritten Sîn is a slight asymmetry: the space between the first two teeth (reading right to left) is slightly narrower than the space between the second and third.

In terminal form Sîn ends with a rounded clockwise sweep, a shape which fledgling calligraphers struggle over, the clockwise descent and return, thickening along the bottom, tapering to a point as it rises on the left. The same curve reappears in Shin, Ṣad & Ḍad.

Sîn went through a period in its evolution when it had a triangle of dots suspended below the line, to distinguish it from the letter Shîn, the next in sequence, which has three dots above. (Shîn kept them. Present-day Sîn goes commando.) A streamlined variant of Sîn, still used, was developed in interests of efficiency: it can take the form, perhaps as a visual representation of the smooth prolonged sound of sibilance, of a straight unrippled line, often descending slightly, throwing the base line down a notch and continuing at a lower level. Easiest letter ever. In the initial or medial position the line simply continues on for a bit with nothing else happening.

The source of sinn, “tooth,” is the Arabic stem S–N–N, which, as a verb, means to sharpen, mold, shape. In one form, sunna, it means, in Hans Wehr’s definition, “habitual practice, customary procedure or action, norm, usage sanctioned by tradition; al-sunna or sunnat al-nabîy, the Sunna of the Prophet (nabîy), i.e. his sayings and doings, later established as legally binding precedents…” In other words, the ahl-al-sunna are the follows of the sunna, in English “Sunnis.” It’s an admirable definition, if only because Wehr defines the etymological stream of meanings without getting excited, or lost in detail. A history book, once it has said “Sunni,” has to go into teacher’s mode, including the actors and the theology, plus the alternative, Shiism, and to describe how Shiism ended up breaking away from “Sunnism.” Today everyone knows it, or can look it up, and the history hardly seems necessary. Hans Wehr defines shî‘a, the other major branch, as “followers, adherents, disciples, faction, party, sect”; al-shî‘a, the faction of Ali, the Shiah, the Shiites (that branch of the Muslims who recognize Ali, the Prophet’s son-in-law, as the rightful successor.)” It’s all the definition you need. They’re just words, ordinary words. Neither sunna nor shî‘a occur in the Qur’ân.

Reflections on Houseways Research

I got the e-mail confirming that my Houseways book will be published in January 2023 while sitting in a living room that is completely opposite of the rooms I have described and lived in Oman. The Canadian house had wooden floors and furniture, windows without curtains, no AC, a big fireplace, floor lamps, crocheted afghans, many photos and bookshelves overflowing with novels, candles, puzzles, souvenirs and small wooden carvings of birds. Looking at the room while thinking of the descriptions of Omani houses in my book was a good reminder of how differently people arrange their living spaces.

Given that my academic background is literature and travel writing, it might seem odd that I decided to write about houses, but I grew up in a home in which everyone had strong opinions about how to live and an active interest in building decks, planting gardens, finding a rug in exactly the right shade of blue and putting the sofa there, no, not there, there, a little to the right, no, now forward a little.

As I child, I wanted to live in a Baroque castle; everyone else wanted to live in a modernist, northern European design-aesthetic structure. I wanted to read novels; everyone else wanted to figure out if it was possible to punch a hole in that wall to put in a window. For my 13th birthday I wanted a ball gown and was given my very own tool kit with hammer, pliers, wrench, level and screwdrivers.

I heard about Mansard roofs, color wheels, mixed-use developments and Frank Lloyd Wright. Our living room had a Barcelona chair, a Scandinavian Designs sofa and a Century House (Madison, WI) rug; when my father and I went to England, it was to see Milton Keynes and Welwyn Garden City. I watched my family build furniture, swatch paints, install insulation, build benches to strengthen community bonds in our neighborhood and weed. I read in cafés while they re-framed doorways.

The root of this problem was that when he was in his early 20s, my father walked into Louisburg Square in Boston and thought, “everyone should live like this.” That collection of houses changed his life; he became an urban planner and spent more than 60 years thinking, talking, writing and teaching about how to form better-organized houses, neighborhoods and cities. My mother creates gardens and both siblings have planned renovations of their houses down to the trim on the underside of cabinets.

I thought I had escaped this legacy until I got interested in how Dhofaris design kitchens as part of my Foodways project [ Foodways in Southern Oman – Short Essays and Images ]. I realized, while that I am not interested in decorating or remodeling, I love listening to people’s stories about how they live in their houses, what choices they make and why.

I am grateful to my family for all that early training and to the Omanis who have trusted me with their stories, opinions, photos and friendship.

https://www.routledge.com/Houseways-in-Southern-Oman/Risse/p/book/9781032218595

https://www.taylorfrancis.com/books/mono/10.4324/9781003270317/houseways-southern-oman-marielle-risse

Reflections on Ethnographic Work: Behaving Badly and Defending Grandpa

I was talking to a researcher about doing work in Oman and gave my usual spiel about the necessity of being honest and calm. Sometimes it’s better not to answer a question or get involved in a discussion about a certain topic, but you need to remain truthful and composed.

This reminded me of a conversation I had with some of the research guys when I had only known them a few years. I can see contours of the argument now that I couldn’t see then, but I clearly remember how uncertain I felt to wade into a heated disagreement.

A few of the research guys and I were sitting on a beach and somehow we got into a discussion about Masons. I said my grandfather was one. One man had read some conspiracy theories about Masons and started in on the evils of the organization. I am usually perfectly fine ignoring provocations or avoiding arguments, but this was about my grandfather’s morals and I refused to back down.

I was not close to my grandfather. He was slightly forbidding, somewhat reminiscent of a hawk, and the pillars of his life were the Methodist church, fishing, golfing, deer-hunting and the Masons. His career was in banking and he ran one of the few banks in Wisconsin that stayed open during the Depression, something I have always been proud of. That might seem a slender thread to hang family honor on but I cherish the fact that he had used his hard work and business acumen in the service of others. And while I was arguing with the research guys I thought about his funeral service. He was buried in his Masonic apron and there was no one who could say that he had ever cheated or lied in his entire life. I was not going to allow anyone to tarnish his reputation.

We went back and forth for almost two hours. I raised my voice, argued stridently, interrupted and refused to acquiesce. I felt uncomfortable quarreling with the guys but I would not let them have the last word. My upright grandfather would never have belonged to a group that caused harm in the world. I knew I was being rude and not adhering to the normal standards of our conversations but it felt like a betrayal of Grandpa’s memory if I quietly accepted what they were saying.

In the end, given the conventions of friendships, we had to find a way to resolve the argument so we hammered out an agreement that MAYBE upper levels of Masons had POTENTIALLY done bad activities in the past but these were HIDDEN from the lower level ranks who did good things like raise money for charity, thus my grandfather was a GOOD man who did good things.

Thinking about that fight now, I think that the guys were deliberately pushing the topic to see what I would do. The role of Masons in world politics is certainly not a subject of great concern to them. They had no personal investment in the topic which would warrant an extended attack on the organization. They had not seen me really mad before and I think were interested to see how much self control I would lose. And I think there was a level of understanding that I was fighting for the respect/ reputation of my grandfather, so while my anger showed a lack of self-control, they never brought up Masons again or teased me about the argument as an example of my behaving badly.

Reflecting on that conflict later made me realize that the general Dhofari expectation of keeping a pleasant atmosphere sometimes has to be broken. It’s impossible to foretell for yourself or anyone else when the time will come, but during the Masons argument, my cautious, ethnographic self went right out the window. Although I was afraid of angering the guys, I dug in and fought my corner.

When I talk to people about the need for staying peaceful, I remember my yelling and pounding my fist that night. And it’s hard to explain when it’s OK, or even justified, to lose your temper; each person needs to make that decision for themselves.

I was lucky that I didn’t get furious over something to my personal advantage which would be read as selfish. Of course it’s better to control yourself, but defending Grandpa was an acceptable reason to shout.

 

Reflections on Ethnographic Work: Shopping, Safety and Maneval’s New Islamic Urbanism (2019)

To better understand issues related to housing and how house fit within cities, I have read many texts about the growth of cities on the Arabian Peninsula. Across differences between authors there are two similarities: writers often fail to put themselves in the location and scorn shopping. Perhaps the genres they are writing in (political science, urban studies, architecture, etc.) call for a distanced view but it’s odd to read so much information about a place by people who never talk about what it’s “like” to be there. Critiques of road placement, enclave developments, poorly designed open spaces, congestion etc. might be accurate, but there’s nothing in the text to show that the author was actually there except for some ‘taken by the author’ photos.

And there is widespread contempt for shopping with lots of remarks about mindless, over-consumerism but nothing about joy of walking into a shopping center with a mix of languages, scents, sights and people. I lived in Sharjah from 1997-99 and City Center Mall and the Blue Souq were my favorite places to shop and people-watch.

This summer I was in New York City, Boston and small towns in the Northeast. In each location, people blended together. Most clothes in NYC were black; most clothes in Boston were khaki. No feathers, no saris, no rhinestones, no apricot-colored silk dresses worn with sandals decorated with small birds, no little girls running around in 7-layer tulle dresses with bare feet, no long robes with pointed hoods, no teal leather slippers with the toes curled up, no purple fake-crocodile leather skirts. But that is what is waiting for you at a Dubai mall: uniforms from every kind of job, clothing from many countries and people strutting around in whatever dream they and their tailor could come up with, plus goods from Africa, Australia and New Zealand, Europe, Japan, Korea, South America and others.

And the souqs! When you read the disparaging comments about how inauthentic they are, how they are set up for tourists and what was torn down to build them, you get no sense of the wonder of, for example, the Sharjah Blue Souq. It’s lovely (and safe! more on that below). There are Emiratis and expats shopping and a wonderful cacophony of Iranian, Pakistani, Indian, Afghani, Syrian, etc. sellers.

To walk into Muttrah Souq in Muscat is to overwhelmed with rainbows of colors: scarves, shoes, dresses and ribbons. There are displays crowded with shells, colored glass lanterns, little metal oil lamps, spices, frankincense, gold necklaces and silver rings. It might not be completely authentic or following all best practices for urban design but it’s fun. And used by Omanis as well as tourists.

By not talking about the “feel” of urban spaces, writers miss another important aspect: safety. When I worked at the American University of Sharjah, I didn’t have a computer in my on-campus apartment, so I would often walk about 6 blocks to work in the evening. How many female academics can say that they can walk through any building and any part of their campus at any time of day or night and feel perfectly safe?

In Dubai, Sharjah and Muscat I get into taxis without a second thought. I walk through parking garages without threading my keys through my fingers or looking around. At Washington National airport I had to assess fellow passengers before deciding who I could ask to watch my carry-on bag when I went to buy a magazine. At Dubai and Muscat airports, I just leave the bag if I need to walk a short distance to get a soda. At my café in Salalah, men leave their laptops, phones and sunglasses on the table when they go to pray. At the grocery store, I can leave my purse in the cart as I go to get some apples and then stand in line to have them weighed.

I do not ever try to put myself in danger. I never camp alone but many times I have driven home from a research meeting at 2 or 3am. I worry about camels on the road, not about being harmed. The times when my car has broken down or gotten stuck in the sand, the men who have stopped were helpful.

Happily, Maneval’s New Islamic Urbanism (2019) does not follow the norms of talking about urban spaces in the abstract and disparaging shopping centers. Maneval has a thorough understanding of the history and architecture of Jeddah but he also muses on what “it’s like” to walk down the streets and through the buildings. The focus of his work is to reframe the concepts of public and private to

conceive of these spaces as variable products of social practice involving both people and artefacts…[e.g] walls, doors, curtains etc. are not enough to turn a building into a private space. It could just as well be used as an office or for the assembly of a political party. In order for it to become a private space, whether continuously or temporarily, people have to use it as such, that is, keep other people out to remain undisturbed, screen certain bodily appearances and activities from view, do what they only want to do alone or with a limited number of persons with whom they share an intimate bond (63)

However, to me, how he sets himself within the context of Jeddah is just as important as his academic framework. He is the only author I found who talks in first person about the difficulty of every-day actions such as crossing a street or finding the entrance to a building. [An article that also discusses “what it’s like” to walk in Arabian Peninsula cities is Nastasi’s excellent “A Gulf of Images: Photography and the Circulation of Spectacular Architecture” (2019), but this text concentrates on urbanscapes, not houses.]

When Maneval talks about how gender separation displaces both women and men, he discusses how he was not able to enter an art exhibit or sit in a café with a group of men. His opening example, of being guided/ guarded through a female-only university, is the only time I have read a male author explaining how it feels to be “othered” on the Arabian Peninsula.

I am grateful that I found his book early in my research on Houseways ; it was heartening to find someone who blends the academic with the personal to create a comprehensive view of how people navigate through houses and cities.

Ethnographic Work and Pop Songs

(photo by M. A. Al Awaid)

A friend jokingly asked if I was going to talk about pop songs in my next book as my books were the only ones they had seen in which an academic author thanked Bernice Johnson Reagon, Bruce Springsteen, Elton John, Josh Ritter, the Muppets, Pink, Prince, and Toby Keith in the acknowledgments. I said yes.

Living where I do research and living overseas for more than fifteen years is sometimes difficult. Sometimes I drive around town with the car windows rolled up blasting the Boss; sometimes the only way to get motivated to sit down and work on a Friday morning is to play Toby Keith.  I see listing the songs and singers as a way of being honest about how I do research.

Recognizing that I use pop songs to keep me focused is modeling that researchers do not have to be serious all the time, in the same way I try to model honest behavior for my students. Acknowledging pop songs is similar to my saying to students “I don’t know” or “I am not sure about the spelling of that word.” Sometimes a student will gasp, “YOU DON’T KNOW?” I laugh and explain that there are no spelling bees in Germany because they aren’t needed, but every state in the USA has spelling contents because English spelling can be tricky with all the loan words. So, no, I don’t know how to spell every word in English and I sometimes need to do a quick check to make sure.

About a week after I started on-line teaching I watched the movieTrolls and I loved the song “Get Back Up Again.” All that spring “Get Back” was on constant repeat as I fought unfamiliar tech, new ways of teaching, trying to increase student involvement (“TURN ON YOUR MICROPHONES!”). Now when I hear “Get Back Up Again” I am transported back to those tough weeks in March – May 2020 when I left my apartment once a week to go to the grocery store. Bereft of my café, friends, chats with colleagues, the pool where I went swimming and picnics with the research guys, that saccharine song was my stay-positive mantra.

When I first heard the line “I don’t know when, confused about how as well” from the song “Chasing Cars” by Snow Patrol, I thought: that’s my life as a researcher. I am constantly trying to make sense of what I am seeing and I spend a lot of time living in confusion.

When I used to do teacher-training, I would tell teachers to work from their strengths, be frank when they were lost and ask for help when they needed it. By embracing my inner Top 40 doo-wop persona, I practice what I preach. What helped me through Spring 2022:

  • Big Energy – Latto, and the remix with Mariah Carey
  • Devil with the Blue Dress – Mitch Rider and the Detroit Wheels
  • Don’t Start Now – Dua Lipa
  • Duke of Earl – Gene Chandler
  • Happy all the Time from Elf
  • Hello, Hello – Elton John
  • House on Fire – Mimi Webb
  • I Don’t Feel Like Dancing – Scissor Sisters
  • Leave before You Love Me – Marshmello and Jonas Brothers
  • The Lion Sleeps Tonight – The Tokens
  • Mr Brightside – The Killers
  • The Other Side – SZA and Justin Timberlake
  • Pretty in Pink soundtrack
  • So Happy it Hurts – Bryan Adams
  • Thunder – Imagine Dragons

from my books:

Community and Autonomy in Southern Oman. Palgrave Macmillan, 2019

I would like to thank the memory of Gerald Durrell and Lawrence Durrell, whose books pulled me out into the world: Jersey, Cyprus, Rhodes, Provence and Alexandria. I have lived over 15 years overseas and have missed a lot of popular culture, but I am grateful for The Mummy (1932 and 1999 versions), Chariots of Fire (1981), Sahara (2005), Black Gold (2011), Theeb (2014), and A Perfect Day (2016), and “All these Things That I’ve Done” sung by the Killers; “If You’re Going Through Hell” sung by Rodney Akins; “Club Can’t Handle Me” sung by Flo Rida;  Elton John, especially “Island Girl” and Aida; Prince, especially “The One U Want to C”; Bruce Springsteen, especially “From Small Things” and “Frankie Fell in Love”; Toby Keith, especially “How Do You Like Me Now,” “Rum is the Reason,” and “Ain’t No Right Way”; Josh Ritter, especially “Getting Ready to Get Down” and “Girl in the War”; Bernice Johnson Reagon; John Denver; Jimmy Buffett; Kid Rock, and the Muppets.

Foodways in Southern Oman. Routledge, 2021

Thanks to Kid Rock (for the slow songs, not the politics, not the rap), Pink, Toby Keith and all the songs picked by Steve Nathans-Kelly which got me through a lot of long drives late at night on dark roads.

Houseways in Southern Oman. Routledge, forthcoming

I am grateful for Aida (Broadway and concept albums); “Mama Knows the Highway,” Hal Ketchum; “Unwritten,” Natasha Bedingfield; “La Vie Boheme,” Rent; “Drunk Americans,” Toby Keith; “American Rock ’n Roll,” Kid Rock, “Let the River Run,” Carly Simon, as well as Jimmy Buffet, Pink, Prince, Bob Seger, Shaggy and Tina Turner.

New book about Al Baleed

(photo by S. B.)

One of the great truths of writing a book is that as soon as you send it to the publisher, you find a text that you would have wanted to include in your discussion. Although my work is on modern, middle-class houses, I have a section on earlier lifeways in Dhofar, specifically about the two important archeological sites: Al Baleed and Sumhuram.  And I have just found this interesting new text on Al Baleed. Of particular note is the Annex which lists early visitors (with citations) and then all the people/ groups who have studied the site.

D’Andrea, Andrea, Roberta Giunta, Alexia Pavan and Rosario Valentini, eds. 2022. The Site of Ẓafār/al-Balīd (Sultanate of Oman) – Archaeological Investigations between Past and Present. Proceedings of the Round Table, Università L’Orientale, June 18, 2021. Centro Interdipartimentale di Servizi di Archeologia (CISA): Napoli.

  • Andrea D’Andrea, THE URBAN SPACE BETWEEN REPORTS AND EXCAVATIONS
  • Roberta Giunta, ẒAFĀR/AL-BALĪD: DATING ISSUES AND MAIN EVIDENCE BETWEEN THE 11TH-14TH CENTURIES
  • Alexia Pavan, A SENTINEL ON THE INDIAN OCEAN: THE CITADEL OF AL-BALĪD (EXCAVATIONS 2016-2020)
  • Rosario Valentini, PHOTOGRAMMETRIC AND TOPOGRAPHIC INVESTIGATIONS AT AL-BALĪD
  • Carlotta Passaro, ATLAS OF THE WALLS: FIRST RESULTS FROM THE STUDY OF THE CITADEL
  • Alessandro Ghidoni, SHIP TIMBER RECYCLING IN AL-BALĪD
  • Agnese Fusaro, THE HISTORY AS TOLD BY THE POTTERY: AN INSIGHT INTO THE LAST OCCUPATION PHASE OF THE CITADEL OF AL-BALĪD
  • Chiara Visconti, CHINESE-STYLE CERAMIC UNEARTHED AT ẒAFĀR/AL-BALĪD: A GENERAL OVERVIEW OF THE CORPUS AND A FOCUS ON THE LATEST PERIO
  • Arturo Annucci, THE COINAGE OF ẒAFĀR/AL-BALĪD IN THE MONETARY CONTEXT OF DHOFAR
  • Alexia Pavan, Ali Al Kathiri, THE OBJECTS FROM AL-BALĪD AT THE MUSEUM OF THE FRANKINCENSE LAND, ṢALĀLAH, SULTANATE OF OMAN
  • Amanda Antonelli, DHOFAR CEMETERY AREAS: THE STATE OF RESEARCH AND NEW INVESTIGATION TASKS
  • ANNEX: Visits, archaeological surveys and excavations in Ẓafār/al-Balīd (1834-2019)