Food Usually Served at Weddings in Dhofar

Note: Most writing and visuals about food in the Middle East concentrate on one of four topics: food memories connected to loss (e.g. cookbook memoir of displaced people), food scarcity (areas of war/ poverty), elite food (extravagant meals, gourmet cuisine, social media photos) and sharing food at Ramadan (photos of giving away food and communal Iftar at mosques). I am interested the often not-seen, not-discussed topic of everyday food: what is procured, produced, cooked, eaten, shared and disposed of by Omanis who have neither an insufficiency nor a super-abundance of food. These short essays on cooking/ food in Dhofar are not meant to be exhaustive or prescriptive. From sharing food with and asking questions about food for over ten years, I am attempting to build up a general picture of Dhofari foodways, with the understanding that there are elements I am missing and that there is a wide variety of practices between house-holds. Lastly, when I talk of “Dhofari” I am referring to Omanis who live in Dhofar, although there are many people from different countries who live in Dhofar with their own food traditions.

Drinks – offered by waitresses/ groom’s relatives

  • Coffee (qahwa/ Arabic or Nescafe/ instant)
  • Juice, fresh or bottled
  • Laban
  • Soda
  • Tea (“red” [chai ahmar] black tea with only sugar added, “milk” [chai haleeb] black tea with canned milk and sugar, or karak is loose tea with spices and canned milk)
  • Water

Snacks offered before dinner

  • Finger food such as mini-pizzas, spring rolls (filled with vegetables or cheese)
  • Fruit – Bananas, Grapes, Oranges, Watermelon or chopped as a salad
  • “Sweets” – see below

Meals – at a rented house or hall, usually served 8pm – 2am, after the bride has arrived

  • appetizer selections: hummus, fattoush, baba ghanoush, etc., with pita bread
  • rice and meat – usually qabooli, rarely/ never chicken or fish

Meal – at the bride’s house if she will be taken directly to the groom’s house or a hotel, usually served anytime from 5pm – 11pm

  • rice and meat – usually qabooli, rarely/ never chicken or fish – served with side salad and sauce, extra rice and meta is distributed to neighbors and relatives

Sweets

  • Baklava
  • Basbousa (usually flavored with coconut)
  • Cake
  • Cheesecake (either slices or mini individual ones)
  • Creme Caramel
  • Custard مهلبية
  • Dumplings (stuffed with cheese, soaked in lemon and sugar syrup with cinnamon)
  • Jell-O
  • Halwa (the Arabic word for sweet), Omani specialty made with sugar, water, clarified butter, cornstarch and flavorings such as cardamom, saffron, sesame seeds, almonds and cashews. Served with a thin, plain cracker-like bread (khoubz raqaq/ raqeeq or kak)
  • Kanafeh/ Kunafa
  • Luqaymat/ Loqeemat/ Loukoumades لقيمات/ لقمة القاضي (sweet dumplings dipped in sugar syrup)
  • Pancakeخبز حوح
  • Swiss Roll
  • “Traditional Sweet” (pita bread soaked in milk and sugar and cardamom).
  • Dream Whip

 

Typical Foodways at Wedding Celebrations

Groom’s Side

The party for men is usually held on a Saturday (second day of the weekend) morning; it is best if the date is close to the end of the month, after the salary has arrived. The groom’s family will usually arrange a marquee near their house, near a mosque or at a space outside of town. The marquee will be rented for the day and be furnished with rugs and chairs, arranged  in a circle. Sometimes there is a secondary tent to the side where the food is prepared. In many Dhofari tribes, the brothers, close friends and cousins of the groom will usually butcher the camels/ cows the night before, or very early in the morning; some meat is then distributed to close relatives and the rest given to restaurant workers to cook. The quantity of food shows the respect for the guests. No one is expecting (or would like) a new recipe or dishes. The two most important components are tea and meat with rice; Omani coffee, Omani sweet (halwa), fruit, soft drinks, water, salad are also served. Brothers and close friends come and go but there is always a core group next to the groom, i.e. he is never without a good friend and a brother or cousin to keep him company and help with the guests. The event ends at the ‘asr (mid afternoon) prayer when all the guests and the groom leave.

Bride’s Side

Sometimes the bride’s party will be quite simple. The bride’s friends and sisters help her get ready at home and serve dinner to female relatives and friends, while male relatives sit with her brothers and father outside the house or in a nearby relative’s house.

Then the bride is brought to the groom’s house by her relatives in a procession of cars. The groom’s sisters and her sisters take her to her new room. Her sisters help arrange her; then the bride’s female relatives come in to see the room and the groom’s female relatives come in to see the bride. She usually does not speak, and never smiles in keeping with the expected cultural ideal that she is “shy,” sad to leave her parents. Sometimes items bought with the mahar and gifts, especially of gold and perfume from friends and relatives, are put on display in the room.

The groom’s family gives the bride’s relatives dinner in the salle and majlis or in an open space near the house, then the bride’s family leaves except for the bride’s mother and/ or a close (older/ already married) sister or aunt. Then the groom, usually carrying a gun as a symbol of his ability to protect her, and his father will come into the room where her mom and (perhaps) sisters are sitting with her. After a short ice-breaker sort of conversation (the bride does not speak), everyone leaves the bride and groom alone.

A more elaborate wedding will be celebrated at a hotel or “hall,” basically an big empty enclosed space. Sometimes this is an issue of wealth but it also happens when there is more than one wedding (e.g. two brothers marrying), or if the bride and groom are from different tribes. In this kind of wedding, the women are invited by phone and sometimes given a ‘card’ for entrance by the groom’s family (who are paying for the event).

Close female relatives of the bride and of the groom show up in finery – often shimmering dresses they have designed themselves. They start to gather about 7 or 8pm; finger-food, sweets and drinks are passed around by waitresses. There is usually water, fruit and maybe snacks laid out on the tables, but no name cards – people sit where they like. The bride makes a triumphal entrance (think the fan fare from 2001: A Space Odyssey) late in the evening, perhaps 12 or even 1am. The main meal is usually served after the bride arrives. Then, with the bride seated on a sofa on the elevated stage,  various women dance for her in an open space in front of her or on the elevated stage. At the end of the event, the bride will be brought in a procession of cars to the groom’s house, or the groom might actually come into the room (a very new innovation) and escort her out.

 

What I’ve Been Reading: Food, Cooking, Cuisine, Culture, Anthropology, & History

(image from Instagram account of Tiny Spoon, tiny_spoon, full image below)

Food Practices in Southern Oman – My current research focuses on food practices in the Dhofar region, specifically how food is used to show personal generosity and how eating together defines and enhances social relationships.

[this post reflects my current reading – the permanent link for my updates food/ culture bibliography is: Selected References for Research on Foodways and Society in Dhofar] 

Al-Hamad, Sarah. (2016). Cardamom and Lime: Flavors of the Arabian Gulf, the Cuisine of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Oman, Qatar and the U.A.E. Singapore: IMM Lifestyle Books.

Avieli, Nir and Rafi Grosglik. (2013). Food and Power in the Middle East and the Mediterranean: Practical Concerns, Theoretical Considerations. Food, Culture and Society 16.2: 181-195.

Appaduari, Arjun. (1985). Gratitude as a Social Mode in South India. Ethos 13.3: 236-245.

Boxhall, P. G. 1966. Socotra: ‘Island of Bliss’. The Geographical Journal 132.2: 213-222.

Brown, Victoria. (2014). Language: A Taste of Reality. One Dish Closer. http://www.onedishcloser.com/food-anthropology/2014/3/19/language-a-taste-of-reality.html

Campbell, Felicia. (2015). The Food of Oman: Recipes and Stories from the Gateway to Arabia. London: Andrew McMeel.

Clements, Frank. (1977). The Islands of Kuria Muria: A Civil Aid Project in the Sultanate of Oman Administered from Salalah, Regional Capital of Dhofar. Bulletin (British Society for Middle Eastern Studies) 4.1: 37-39.

Cleveland, Ray. (1960). The 1960 American Archaeological Expedition to Dhofar. Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research 159: 14-26.

Ciezadlo, Annia. (2011, April 25). Eat, Drink, Protest: Stories of the Middle East’s Hungry Rumblings: Buying Peace, One Feast at a Time. Foreign Policy 186. https://foreignpolicy.com/2011/04/25/eat-drink-protest/

—.  (2011, March 15). Eating My Way Through the Cedar Revolution (excerpt). Foreign Policy. http://foreignpolicy.com/2011/03/15/eating-my-way-through-the-cedar-revolution-2/

Coleman, Leo, ed. (2012). Food: Ethnographic Encounters (Encounters: Experience and Anthropological Knowledge). Oxford: Berg.

Counihan, Carole and Penny van Esterik, eds. (2012). Food and Culture: A Reader. London: Routledge.

Crowther, Gillian. (2018). Eating Culture: An Anthropological Guide to Food. Toronto Press: University of Toronto Press.

De Regt, Marina. (2010). Ways to Come, Ways to Leave: Gender, Mobility, and Il/legality among Ethiopian Domestic Workers in Yemen. Gender and Society 24.2: 237-260.

—.  (2009). Preferences and Prejudices: Employers’ Views on Domestic Workers in the Republic of Yemen. Signs 34.3: 559-581.

Deeb, Lara and Jessica Winegar. (2012). Anthropologies of Arab-Majority Societies. Annual Review of Anthropology 41: 537-558.

Elie, Serge. (2006). Soqotra: South Arabia’s Strategic Gateway and Symbolic Playground. British Journal of Middle Eastern Studies 33.2: 131-160.

Ferguson, Priscilla. (2011). The Senses of Taste. American Historical Review 116.2:  371-384.

Fieldhouse, Paul. (1998). Food and Nutrition: Customs and Culture. Cheltenham, UK: Stanley Thomas.

Fisher, Jennifer. (2003-2004). “Arabian Coffee” in the Land of Sweets. Dance Research Journal 35.2: 146-163.

Fox, Robin. (2018). Food and Eating: An Anthropological Perspective. Social Issues Research Centre. http://www.sirc.org/publik/foxfood.pdf

Gilette, Maris. (2019). Muslim Foodways, in The Handbook of Food and Anthropology. Jakob Klein and James Watson, eds. London: Bloomsbury Academic. 48-73.

Goody, Jack. Cooking, Cuisine and Class. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982.

Julier, Alice. (2013). Eating Together: Food, Friendship, and Inequality. Chicago: University of Illinois, 2013.

—. (2013). Meals: ‘Eating In’ and ‘Eating Out’ in The Handbook of Food Research. Anne Murcott, Warren Belasco and Peter Jackson, eds. London: Bloomsbury Academic.

Julier, Alice and Lindenfeld. (2005). Mapping Men onto the Menu: Masculinities and Food. Food & Foodways, 13:1–16.

Jurafsky, Dan. (2014). The Language of Food: A Linguist Reads the Menu. New York: W. W. Norton.

Klein, Jakob and James Watson, eds. (2019). The Handbook of Food and Anthropology. London: Bloomsbury Academic.

Lichfield, Gideon. (2010, January 15). A Look Inside the Middle East’s New Weapons of Mass Consumption. Foreign Policy. https://foreignpolicy.com/2010/01/15/food-fight-4/

Maclagan, Ianthe. (1994). Food and Gender in a Yemeni Community, in A Taste of Thyme: Culinary Cultures of the Middle East. Sami Zubaida and Richard Tapper, eds. New York: I.B. Tauris Publishers. 159-72

Mauss, Marcel. (2011/ 1924). The Gift: Forms and Functions of Exchange in Archaic Societies. Mansfield Centre, CA: Martino Publishing.

Mbaga, Msafiri Daudi. (2015). The Prospects of Sustainable Desert Agriculture to Improve Food Security in Oman. Consilience 13: 114-128. http://www.jstor.org/stable/26427275

Meneley, Anne. (2007). Fashions and Fundamentalisms in Fin-De-Siecle Yemen: Chador Barbie and Islamic Socks. Cultural Anthropology 22.2: 214–243.

Miller, Anthony, Miranda Morris, and Susanna Stuart-Smith. (1988). Plants of Dhofar, the Southern Region of Oman: Traditional, Economic, and Medicinal Uses. Muscat: Office of the Adviser for Conservation of the Environment, Diwan of Royal Court.

Mintz, Sidney. (1996). Tasting Food, Tasting Freedom: Excursions into Eating, Culture, and the Past. Boston: Beacon Press.

Mintz, Sidney, and Du Bois, Christine. (2002). The Anthropology of Food and Eating. Annual Review of Anthropology 31:99-119.

Morris, Miranda. (1997). The Harvesting of Frankincense in Dhofar, Oman. In Alessandra Avanzini, ed.  Profumi d’Arabia. Rome: L’Erma Bretschneider: 231-250.

—. (1987). ‘Dhofar – What Made it Different’ in Oman: Economic, Social and Strategic Development. B.R. Pridham, ed. London: Croom Helm. 51-78.

Nagy, Sharon. (2000). Dressing up Downtown: Urban Development and Government Public Image in Qatar. City and Society 12(1): 125-47.

—. (1998). “This Time I think I’ll try a Filipina”: Global and Local Influences on Relations between Foreign Household Workers and their Employers in Doha, Qatar. City and Society 10(1): 83-103.

Omezzine, Abdallah. (1998). On-shore Fresh Fish Markets in Oman. Journal of International Food and Agribusiness Marketing 10(1): 53-69.

Omezzine, Abdallah, Lokman Zaibet and Hamad Al-Oufi. (1996). The Marketing System of Fresh Fish Products on the Masirah Island ion the Sultanate of Oman. Marine Resources Economics 11: 203-210.

Popp, Georg. (2018). Notes on the Omani Kitchen Eating with Tradition. Just Landed. https://www.justlanded.com/english/Oman/Articles/Culture/Notes-on-the-Omani-Kitchen

Rodionov, Mikhail. (2012). Honey, Coffee, and Tea in Cultural Practices of Ḥaḍramawt in Herbal Medicines in Yemen: Traditional Knowledge and Practice, and Their Value for Today’s World. Ingrid Hehmeyer and Hanne Schönig, eds. Brill: Boston. 143-152.

Roseberry, William. (1996). The Rise of Yuppie Coffees and the Reimagination of Class in the United States. American Anthropologist, New Series, 98.4: 762-775.

Rubin, Aaron. (2015). Recent Developments in Jibbali. Journal of Semitic Studies 60: 431–441.

Sadeghin, Farideh. (2015, Oct. 27). The Food of Oman is Too Good to Ignore: Recipe-testing a Middle Eastern Cookbook Gives our Test Kitchen Director a New Love for an Under-appreciated Cuisine. Saveur. https://www.saveur.com/food-of-oman-cookbook-cuisine-felicia-campbell

Stoller, Paul and Cheryl Olkes. (1986). Bad Sauce, Good Ethnography. Cultural Anthropology 1.3: 336-352.

Stork, Joe. (1973, March). Socialist Revolution in Arabia: A Report from the People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen. MERIP Reports 15: 1-25.

Swift, Candice Lowe, ed. (2015). Teaching Food and Culture. London: Routledge.

vom Bruck, Gabriele. (2005). The Imagined ‘Consumer Democracy’ and Elite Re-Production in Yemen. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 11.2: 255-275.

van Esterik, Penny, Alice Julier and Carole Counihan, eds. (2018). Food and Culture: A Reader. London: Routledge.

Watson, Janet C.E. (2013). Travel to Mecca in the Pre-motorized Period in The Hajj: Collected Essays. Venetia Porter and Liana Saif, eds. London: The British Museum. 96–99.

Watson, Janet C.E. & Abdullah al-Mahri. (2017). Language and Nature in Dhofar, in  RiCOGNIZIONI. Rivisti di Lingue e Letterature straniere e Culture moderne.  Simone Bettega and Fabio Gasparini, eds. Turin: University of Turin. 87–103.

Webster, Roger. (1991, October). Notes on the Dialect and Way of Life of the Āl Wahība Bedouin of Oman. Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies 54.3: 473-485.

Weir, Shelagh. (2007). A Tribal Order: Politics and Law in the Mountains of Yemen. Austin: University of Texas Press.

Yamani, Mai. (2000). You Are What You Cook” Cuisine and Class in Mecca in A Taste of Thyme: Culinary Cultures of the Middle East. Sami Zubaida and Richard Tapper, eds. New York: I.B. Tauris Publishers. 159-72.

Blogs – Omani Food

Mariya. Omani Food. https://omanifood24.blogspot.com/

Omani Recipes. (2015). Arabic Recipeshttp://www.encyclopediacooking.com/recipes_in_english/omani-recipes-53-1.html

Traditional Omani Food. (2008, March 1). https://ward-traditionalomanifood.blogspot.com/

Yasmeen. (2018). Omani Cuisine. http://www.omanicuisine.com/

Websites – Expat, Tourist and Commercial

The Delicious Cuisine of Oman! (n. d.). Holidify. https://www.holidify.com/pages/omani-food-230.html

Food and Drink – About Oman. (2018). Rough Guides. https://www.roughguides.com/destinations/middle-east/oman/food-drink/

Guide to Omani Cuisine. (2017, June 14). Expat Woman.com. https://www.expatwoman.com/oman/guide/guide-to-omani-cuisine

Medhat, Gehad. (2017, Dec, 27). The 10 Best Coffee and Tea Shops in Salalah, Oman. Culture Trip. https://theculturetrip.com/middle-east/oman/salalah/food-misc/

Medhat, Gehad. (2017, Dec, 27). The Top Restaurants in Salalah, Oman. Culture Trip. https://theculturetrip.com/middle-east/oman/articles/the-top-restaurants-in-salalah-oman/

Oman. (2018). Countries and Their Cultures.  http://www.everyculture.com/No-Sa/Oman.html

Omani Food. (2015). Best Country. http://www.best-country.com/asia/oman/food

Omani recipes and cuisine. (2018). Nestle.  http://www.nestle-family.com/english/omani-recipes.aspx

Popp, Georg. (2018). Notes on the Omani Kitchen Eating with Tradition. Just Landed. https://www.justlanded.com/english/Oman/Articles/Culture/Notes-on-the-Omani-Kitchen

 

mini truck

(image from Instagram account: Tiny Spoon)

 

 

 

Considering Cartoons/ Graphic Art about Foodways

I started to look at cartoons (sent by Omani friends or posted on Instagram) because I wanted to see how buying, making, eating and sharing food was portrayed in graphic art. The cartoons are fascinating because they give personal insights into many aspects of Arab/ Muslim/ Gulf cultures, not just what food is eaten (when, where and why) but what is said (and the subtext), who is talking,  what clothes are worn (and what do the clothes signal?), body issues (how close do people stand to each other? do they face each other directly? how much can you tell about body size/ shape? can you see hair?), background (how is the place drawn? is it in the home or in public?), even how the words are spelled (are the people speaking formal Arabic?) and grammar choices mark the characters vis a vis status, nationality, sub-culture, etc.

For example in this cartoon – the woman on the left is drawn as less traditional with hair piled up under her sheila, hair showing, shaped eyebrows, prominent eyes (eyeliner? mascara? colored lens?), open-mouth smile (lipstick?), open abayah, colored dress and purse, showing more of her forearm showing (is her lighter skin tone deliberate?) but also because she is carrying a coffee clearly drawn with a green round label like Starbucks. The coffee is grey and in a larger cup; while the other woman is carrying a small cup filled with a light brown liquid that looks like tea with milk. The woman with the less conservative look goes to the expensive and foreign coffee company – the woman with the more conservative appearance drinks tea in the (traditional) smaller cup.

2 women.jpg

Not all of the cartoons below have food but all give important insights into cultural issues.

ramadan love

Vimto/ laban signal Ramadan because they are usually drunk at Iftar but henna is not usually worn during Ramadan so this image points towards Eid, especially with the moon design of the henna, the lights and the creme carmel.

looking at woman

new baby

argue man and woman

 

abayahs

share ramadan

 

 

 

 

 

Relationship Cartoons – Worthy of Study

shopping with manIt’s not my area of expertise, but I find relationship cartoons posted on social media fascinating. There is so much cultural information to be unpacked for example, many have women with uncovered hair in settings with other women, whereas Dhofari women keep their hair covered even if sitting in the salle with other women. Here are a few I find particularly interesting. I hope someone from or living on the Arabian Peninsula does some kind of systematic study by country, topic, etc.

emmy - brother asking

 

dano - legal look

 

emmy - girl guy apart

 

emmy - hair

 

emmy - fight

Excerpts from “Issues of Autonomy in Southern Oman”

(photo by M.A. Al Awaid)

Abstract from “Issues of Autonomy in Southern Oman” by Dr. Marielle Risse

Gibali (also known as Jibbali, Śḥeret, Shari and Eḥkili) is a non-written, Modern South Arabian language spoken by several groups of tribes in the Dhofar region of Southern Oman. While teaching in Salalah for more than ten years, I have been working with several Gibali-speaking men researching the culture and life-ways of one particular group of tribes, the Qara. Gibalis, both in interviews and from my long-term observations, see their culture as giving both men and women opportunities to craft their own lives and, specifically, to gain a positive reputation for wisdom.

This paper will explore how the Gibalis create and maintain an atmosphere in which both men and women are seen as having access to positive virtues and some control over their own lives. In addition to my observations and interviews, I will include examples from the fields of political science and anthropology, as well as stories from the first set of written texts in the Gibali language.

Aunt Alice

My Aunt Alice passed away a few weeks ago. She was my mother’s older sister and lived in Wisconsin her whole life. She married a farmer, Bob, and raised six children on a farm. When I was in middle school I spent part of two summers living with her family and my grandparents, who lived a few miles away. She had the calm kindness of a woman who made her life looking after her family and her neighbors.

My aunt was the kind of woman who would pitch in to help and bring a casserole to those in need, which might not sound like much until you are the person in need and then Aunt Alice would be exactly who you would want to see. I never saw her deliberately mean to any person. She gardened, she read, she cherished her family and friends.

When my students say “America” they think of New York City. When I think of America, I think of driving a rental car from Madison or Minneapolis to northern Wisconsin to visit my aunt, my grandparents and the “Wisconsin cousins.” The road would start in the tangle of city streets and gradually the buildings would thin out and there would only be sky and gentle rolling hills, cows in pasture and rows of corn in summer and snow-covered fields with tree lines in winter. Small towns full of people growing the food that everyone eats, taking care of the cows which produce the milk that everyone drinks. Areas referred to by coastal people as “the flyover zone.” One trip was, by chance, on July 5th and flags fluttered from the infrequent farm houses and shops. That’s “my” America.

Part of the reason I can live here is because my life in Salalah reminds me of the life I saw in northern Wisconsin and Grand Forks, ND:  men and women who are quietly competent, who don’t need to make a big deal of what they know. In photos, her children and grand-children always stand with a little space between them, as if to show “we’re here together but not encroaching.” “We are glad to be together” the photos seem to say, but no need to make a fuss about it.

I visited Wisconsin infrequently after I graduated from UW-Madison and then I have lived overseas for 14 years. But I always sent Aunt Alice postcards – happy to think of her reading my notes in her kitchen and, later, in the assisted living home where she lived. She always wrote long Christmas cards, full of family news and what she was reading.

Aunt Alice lived a quiet life without fame or glory. She is one of the few people I know who are assured to be in heaven. If she isn’t there, then it’s not the sort of heaven for me. I can just picture here in line to talk to St. Peter with a “Well now, hello, isn’t this nice?” and chatting away with gentle small-talk with everyone else in line. And I can see her walking through the Pearly Gates and immediately inquiring if there is anything to be done, checking out celestial gardens, perhaps circling quietly around to find a favorite author, peeping though clouds to check on her family. She was an anchor for me and I am sorry she is gone.

 

My Job

(photo by M. A. Al Awaid)

 

It’s possible for someone to be your mentor without every meeting them. Over ten years ago, when I started to do anthropology research, I found articles and books by Lila Abu Lughod and realized that she set the standard I wanted to emulate. Now a professor at Columbia University, she did research among the Awlad’ Ali tribe in Egypt for years, writing numerous articles and books which make the women come alive as complex, thinking, reasoning beings.

When I first read her work, I had a profound sense of relief – HERE was someone, finally, writing about Arab, Muslim, tribal women who were not passive, oppressed cardboard figures but real women who experienced emotions, trying to create a good life for themselves and their families. The women in her work are like the women I know here.

Her Writing Women’s Worlds: Bedouin Stories (1993/ 2008) is brilliant: section after section of real people talking about real life. One part that stands out for me is her writing about an older married man talking with his first wife, and later private conversations with each one about the changes in their lives when he married again. Abu Lughod lets the couple speak; she shows the short- and long-term effects and costs of multiple marriages on all the people involved and how the effects change over time. It is a nuanced, heart-breaking discussion of polygamy, how different people think different things are important at different times and she shows the cost to the husband. This section, and all her work, stand in contrast to so much lazy, sloppy, overheated and stereotypical writing about Muslim and Arab people who have never spent significant time in the area.

So I was stunned when I went to a conference and another woman on my panel made a dismissive remark about her – how could an Arab, Muslim woman disparage Abu Lughod, who has dedicated her life to understanding and helping others understand the lives of Arab, Muslim women? I talked to the woman for a while, trying to get to the root of her anger. She explained that she felt Abu Lughod was being used by traditionalists to show that Arab, Muslim women are happy and they have all their freedoms (i.e. there is no need for change and/ or reform in terms of women’s lives and choices).

I countered, as I can’t address how traditionalists/ conservationist are using Abu Lughod’s work, that she has spent her life articulating the lives of Arab, Muslim women. But therein lay another problem. The young academic felt that Abu Lughod had positioned her work towards non-Muslims, non-Arabs rather than working for increasing women’s freedoms in the Arab world.

I couldn’t think of a way to argue back because the statement which came to mind [“It’s not the responsibility of all women to fight the fight you are most interested in”] sounded too curt, so we agreed to disagree.

At the same conference, another Muslim, Arab woman took issue with a statement I made that it’s not my duty to make my students “modern.” I was speaking about trying to find texts that fit within the conservative worldview of the area where I teach; the woman suggested that I put modern novels (about social change) on my syllabus even if I don’t discuss them in class. I responded that it wasn’t my job to teach works with aspects (alcohol, adultery, etc.) that were not acceptable in the local culture. She countered that it was my job to open my students to new/ modern/ open ways to thinking. I laughed and said that as an American Christian, some students and some of their parents are already nervous that I might try to push a political or social agenda in my teaching and “It’s not my responsibility to change my students.” That conversation also ended in a strained silence.

As I wrote in an earlier essay, the image that comes to mind is the velvet rope blocking off the entrance to a room in a museum. The tour guide slips under the rope and shows off the treasures of the room, explaining their history and importance while the tourists stay outside, looking in. Against the colleagues who believe that Westerners should ‘liberate’ the students, I believe my job is to show that there are different ways to live and different ways to believe. The presentation should be honest but neither cheerleading (we do it better!) nor insulting. The tourist/ student should learn about different cultures but not feel pressured to adopt the manners and customs depicted, in the same way that I see Omani culture but am not able to enter fully as I am not Muslim or Arab. If the tourist/ student wants to change, that is a personal choice, not the responsibility of the tour guide.

When I worked at MIT, I went to a lecture by Noam Chomsky. During the question period, another person in the audience asked what could he (we) do about the persecution of the Falun Gong in China. Chomsky said, “Nothing.”  He continued by explaining that we weren’t there. A person can only work honestly and effectively in the place where they are.

The two Arab women I met at the conference had ideas and strategies that were effective from them where they are, but they would not work for me where I am, or for Abu-Lughod where she is. She specifically addresses these issues in a recent article [“The Cross-publics of Ethnography: The Case of ‘the Muslimwoman’,” American Ethnologist Nov. 2016].

Time and time again in her writing Abu Lughod argues that:

others live as we perceive ourselves living – not as automatons programmed according to ‘cultural rules’ or acting out social roles, but as people going through life wondering what they should do, making mistakes, being opinionated, vacillating, trying to make themselves look good, enduring tragic personal losses, enjoying others, and finding moments of laughter (Writing Women’s Worlds 27)

My students and the people I write about in my research are people who live valid lives and make valid choices – it is not my job to change them. It is my job to listen carefully and speak honestly. In teaching, I should find interesting, relevant texts and give assignments that allow students to express their own opinions and improve their language skills. In my research, I should observe as accurately as possible, ask questions and write only after reflection and double-checking. That’s my job.

Living Expat – Dressing, Covering, Swimming, and Mutual Respect

In all my twelve years of living here and two years of living in the United Arab Emirates, I have never been harassed, insulted, frightened, much less attacked, by any Omani or Emeriti for being American or a Christian. Devout Muslim friends, neighbors and colleagues wish me “Merry Christmas” and I say, “Thank you.” I wish them “Eid Mubarak” and “Ramdan Kareem” and they say, “Thank you.”

Likewise, I have never been made to feel different or foreign or wrong because I was wearing clothes which were normal in my culture. Because I choose to live and work here, I do make the small adjustment of wearing clothes that cover my knees and shoulders when teaching, but I wear the same clothes I wear when I’m in the States: JJill, Fresh Produce, LL Bean, Eddie Bauer, and April Cornell.

When I visit Omani friends at home, I wear what they are wearing out of respect. It is a simple adaptation like taking off my shoes before I walk into a friend’s house, learning to eat with my hands, shooing my cats out of the living room if a friend who is allergic comes to visit or not eating ice cream sundaes in front of a friend who is dieting.

In Omani houses, I wear an abayah (the long loose black cloak that women wear on the Arabian Peninsula) with a black headscarf or a dhobe (the long, loose, patterned cotton dress local women wear) with a lossi (a matching, light cotton headscarf). At first it was a little difficult to maneuver surrounded by almost 4 yards of fabric, but I learned how to gather up some of the extra while walking up stairs and to arrange my lossi to stay neatly in place, something akin to learning to French-braid my hair in middle school.

During Ramadan, I also wore a headscarf during the day out of respect for the culture and I was interested to see how it would feel psychologically to cover. In Oman, unlike some Muslim countries like Saudi Arabia, abayahs and headscarves are not required by law for daily life. Most women wear them because of personal beliefs and/ or traditions.

Some abayahs are very loose and plain black, some are black with colored decorations, some are colored (often navy blue or beige) and some are worn like an open cloak showing the jeans or skirts worn underneath. Some women wear tightly wrapped, plain black scarves, others wear colored scarves or have the scarf resting on their shoulders. Some women have suggested non-Muslim women should wear headscarves as a show of solidarity. I don’t agree with that, as not all Muslim women believe it is necessary to cover their hair.

The first time walking into the mall with a colored headscarf was tough – I felt self-conscious and hypocritical. I am in the mall usually once a week, reading at my café or shopping, and to walk in with a headscarf made me feel like I was playing a game.

When the Omani men in my research group saw me wearing a headscarf for the first time, they would smile, nod, make a quick comment and then ignore the issue; no one ever pressed me to wear a black sheila (headscarf) or abayah. It probably took me six or seven times wearing the headscarf in public until I became comfortable with it; then the only issues were finding scarves which co-ordinated with my clothes and were the right fabric weight, not too heavy or stiff.

My big insight about wearing a headscarf is that it gives you something to do. Standing in the grocery store trying to decide which spaghetti sauce to buy, I reach up, tighten, adjust, and smooth it down. Fussing with the scarf became a habit, a micro-control fidget, like men straightening their tie or shooting their cuffs. It’s a little uncomfortable when it’s hot and humid outside, but very helpful when I’m in a room with the AC on full blast. It’s another 2 minutes of getting ready time as I pull out my tiered hanger with 15 scarves and try to figure out which one looks best with my outfit.

When Ramadan ended, I went back to uncovered hair during the day but I still wear scarves when I see my Omani female friends at home. The result was I put a piece of fabric on my head and it was sometimes a little hot but that’s about it. I did not feel more religious, or less religious, or any particular change. I am a Methodist by baptism and by my own choice when I was in my 20s. Neither my religious devotion nor personal beliefs are diminished or altered by having a piece of fabric on my head. I didn’t feel closer to God – I didn’t feel farther away from God. I don’t believe God enjoins me to judge other people by what they have on their head or their body.

Most Sunday and Tuesday nights I go swimming with 60 or so Arab, Muslim women wearing burqinis. I first learned to swim in a public pool with a Red Cross instructor and over my 50 years I have swum in the Wilde Lake village center pool in Columbia MD, the Old Red Gym at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, the University of North Dakota pool when it was negative 10 outside, Canadian lakes, MIT, the Atlantic Ocean at Ocean City, and Tacoma, WA.

The women who swim at my pool now are just like the women I have swum with at all those other places, only they are wearing a bit more clothing. They are in swimming pants or leggings with short or long-sleeved tops as is consistent with the conservative culture, but no one has ever told me that I have to wear what they wear. I am a life-long feminist but I don’t believe my feminism allows me to dictate someone else’s feminism. The women at the pool and my Omani women friends (college-educated, multi-lingual, who work and have traveled/ lived abroad) don’t feel comfortable exposing their body to other women, much less men. Who am I to argue that with them?

When I go swimming, I get lots of smiles, waves, friendly glances and “hellos” from women I don’t know. In almost a year of twice weekly visits to the pool I have never received a harsh word, much less a lecture, on my bright blue Land’s End swimsuit. We all exercise mutual respect for different customs and religions while we exercise our bodies. And then we will go home happy.