Archives for posts with tag: culture

Bilad Sayt

Having travelled to Oman recently, I came back to Qatar deeply impressed and humbled. Not only have I never before been more welcomed by the people, but I realized quite a few significant differences to the society I experience in Qatar every day.

My feeling was a mixture of unprecedented hospitality and generosity by the locals, a warm ambiance of helpfulness in every situation that I encountered and a lasting curiosity for my own cultural background. I asked myself, why?

The first explanation that came to my mind was the way the population constitutes itself. The majority of the people living in Oman is in fact of Omani nationality. Out of the roughly 3 million people living in Oman, a relatively low number of only 550.000 is of foreign nationality. This is in contrast to the other gulf countries (except Saudi Arabia), where an expatriate workforce outnumbers the locals by far. Being a minority in their own country imposes different challenges on the cultural identity and socialization of a people. Omanis do not face that challenge, also thanks to extensive government initiatives to increase the percentage of Omanis in various economical sectors. This has somehow stabilized the number of  immigrants to the current level. The best way to observe one of the omanization policies is taking a taxi in Muscat. The drivers are almost without exception Omanis with Balochi origin.

Photo of traditional omani headdress

To explain the openness of the people in Oman (including the immigrants that I met) with just their number does not really satisfy me. I asked myself, whether it might be the bedouin culture with its deeply rooted values of hospitality and loyalty that made Omani people so famous for their friendliness and ethical values. Yet, Oman shares its bedouin history with the rest of the Arabian Peninsula, but what makes Oman different from its neighbors? Oman has prospered on ocean trade in the indian ocean, but so have the previous tribes in the contemporary states of Qatar, Bahrain, Kuwait and the UAE. Any explanation has to look further.

Oman is distinct from most other islamic countries except Zanzibar, in that three-quarters of the Omanis are Ibāḑī Muslims. They believe that the attitude of a true believer is based on three religious obligations:

  • walāyah: friendship with the practicing true believers
  • barā’ah: dissociation towards non-believers and sinners
  • wuqūf: reservation towards people with unclear believe

It is thus very surprising to see the unconditional friendship the Omani people offered to many people I know, who do not follow Islam.

Even discussions among other western friends about my initial question, did not produce any useful conclusions. While not claiming any level of expertise about the real reasons, I talked to Omanis and asked them what they think:

First, they were humbled, but at the same time they felt comfortable expressing their pride of being Omani and being associated with an extraordinary set of values.

First they named the fact, that people in Oman do not mind physical, hard work. Even if the working conditions are strenuous, in the desert or in hot weather in general. Several People told me, they like the hard-working history of the germans and feel close to that.

Another reason, I heard often, was the recent history with the current ruler Sultan Qaboos, who invested heavily in education as soon as he overthrew his father, about 40 years ago. In fact, today most children enjoy a solid base education, even if they live in remote villages, which is in part thanks to Qaboos’ accompanying investments into the infrastructure. Most of the children I met, spoke very fluent english, even at the age of 7. This is quite remarkable, when you realize, that Oman’s tourism industry is way behind most of the other arab countries. — On a side note I have to mention that Oman has probably the biggest potential for further touristic development when it comes to its contrasting and diverse nature and combined with the inviting people.

Omani_children (2)

Yet the most common explanation by the people I asked is the Omani’s strong connection to their respective cultural heritage, which has unique facets in the different regions. Be it music, crafts, clothes, food or trades. This is a stark contrast to the other oil rich gulf countries, where a lot of people see big parts of their cultural heritage slowly disappearing into folkloric reenactment or expensive self entertainment (like falcon hunting or camel racing). In the northern Omani city of Sur, for example, you can find many workshops that specialized on the making and artistically carving of wooden doors. They are famous all around the country. A popular explanation for why these old traditions could survive until today is the fact that most Omanis do not live in the cities, but still live like nomads, tending to their camels, goats or sheep in the search of fertile feeding grounds.

Omani_fishermen (2)

It is this connection with the history and heritage that I could feel in everything the people do, in daily life. I am grateful to have been able to experience some parts of this culture by the people who invited me and my travel partners.

Being back in Qatar I wonder how the people can ever be inspired to develop a similar attitude towards foreigners and their cultural heritage.

I have to say that all arabs in general and arabs from a bedouin culture share the same values of hospitality and generosity. When being invited by locals in Qatar, you will probably get a similar impression about their hospitality and generosity. For many visitors it is just a little harder to meet Qataris in a purely private environment. The best chances of meeting locals in Qatar is probably going to the remote areas of the desert. It is there that you resemble the nostalgic and lone explorer who came to a new land (maybe by camel) who will be invited into a camp just out of the bedouin imperative of hospitality.

Omani_beduin_camp_desert

You will possibly then feel the shared culture of Qatar, its neighbors and  Oman. I encourage anyone to look beyond modern clichés and stereotypes and discover their own relation with this part of the world. It is worth the effort!

Sometimes it is the locals who break the ice, sometimes it has to be you.

The care-packages that were handed out during the Iftar drive

Jump to the english text

Auf Einladung eines Freundes habe ich gestern eine Freiwilligengruppe von rund 70 Leuten beim alljährlich veranstalteten Iftar-Drive verstärkt. Die Idee ist, an zwei prominenten Kreuzungen mit kleinen Versorgungspaketen zu stehen und diese kurz vor Fastenbrechen an die Autofahrer abzugeben, welche aufgrund ihres Berufes oder anderer Verpflichtungen nicht pünktlich zum eigentlichen Iftar gehen können. Die Pakete enthielten Wasser, Datteln, Saft und ein süßes Gebäck wie Mammoul.

Etwa anderthalb Stunden vor der Aktion wurden die mehrere Tausend Päckchen auf etwa zwei Dutzend Autos verteilt und die verschiedenen etwa 5 Köpfe starken Teams postierten sich an allen Bereichen der beiden Straßenkreuzungen. Von den Einheimischen werden diese nach den jeweils landschaftsprägenden Bauwerken nur Ramada Intersection und Toyota Towers Intersection genannt. Gegen 18:30 waren unzählige Autos versorgt und unsere Vorräte aufgebraucht.

Auch wenn das ganze einen karitativen Charakter hatte, setzen sich die Empfänger aus ganz unterschiedlichen Gruppen zusammen. Es gibt die Busse voller Bauarbeiter, die mit diesem Paket tatsächlich eine für sie außergewöhnliche Gabe erhalten. Die Dankbarkeit und das Lächeln dieser Gruppe war mit abstand am größten und hat die Mühe und Anstrengung und eingeatmeten Abgase vielfach kompensiert. Daneben gab es aber auch einfach Familien oder Einzelpersonen, welche alle Arten von Fahrzeugen fuhren.

Etwas paradox erschien mir unsere Aktion, wenn der Empfänger in einem teuren und dicken Fahrzeug saß. Aber, auch diese dicken Autos haben ihren Fahrern kein pünktliches Eintreffen zuhause ermöglicht. Somit war die ursprüngliche Absicht erfüllt.

Auch wenn die Freiwilligengruppe «Qatar Volunteers» noch keinen offiziellen Status hat, besitzt sie jedoch eine große Mitgliederzahl. Andere Aktionen sind das Verteilen von Trinkflaschen an Straßenarbeiter, die keinen Sonnen- oder Hitzeschutz besitzen, das Verteilen von warmer Kleidung an Straßenarbeiter im Winter, Blutspendeaktionen und so weiter. Die gestrige Aktion wurde wohlgemerkt alleine von den Freiwilligen selbst finanziert und ohne professionelle Hilfe durchgeführt.

Verglichen mit den Problemen in sehr viel weniger entwickelten Ländern, scheinen diese Gesten auf den ersten Blick eher klein zu sein. Jedoch ist alleine die Existenz einer humanitären Gesellschaft in diesem kleinen jungen Land ein Zeichen der Hoffnung. Hoffnung auf eine Zivilgesellschaft, in der Niemand durch das soziale Raster fällt. Für manche Menschen hier gibt es noch Verbesserungspotential. Ein Beispiel dafür sind manche Straßenarbeiter, die schutzlos der Sonnenhitze ausgesetzt sind und nichts zu trinken bei sich führen [dürfen]. Ich muss an der Stelle aber darauf hinweisen, dass auch der Staat Qatar große Summen Geld für karitative Zwecke ausgibt. Dazu gehören auch zahlreiche klimatisierte Zelte, in denen Jeder  das Fasten kostenlos und in Gesellschaft brechen darf.

Insbesonders wenn die großen Ziele und die Visionen der qatarischen Vordenker irgendwann einmal realisiert sind, kommt es um so mehr auf Grass-Roots Initiativen wie den Iftar Drive und ähnliches an. Genauso wie die Aktion selbst, gefiel mir die große Anzahl unterschiedlicher Nationalitäten, die daran beteiligt waren. Ich hatte den Eindruck der «Vereinten Nationen» der ganz normalen Leute.

The supplies comprised of dozens of large bags and many small bags

More volunteers at the “Toyota-Towers intersection” in Doha, waiting to begin.

One of the volunteers handing a package to drivers at the intersection “Toyota Towers”

Another volunteer

// English

Following the invitation of a friend, I joined a group of volunteers at the annual Iftar charity drive yesterday. The idea is to position many volunteers at two prominent intersections just before Iftar with a huge supply of care packages and hand it out to people who are still out on the street and cannot make it home in time. This applies for some construction workers who have to work in the evening due to the daytime-heat, but also to all the other people who have binding obligations.  The packages contained water, dates, juice and pastries like Maamoul.

Just about an hour before the event, all the packages were divided between the many cars and people that have been involved. Then the teams of usually five people would take their places at the various spots of the intersections. We began to hand out the packages around 6 pm and by 6:30 everything but huge empty bags had gone. Sometimes the recipients would be sitting in luxury cars. While that might have seemed a little odd at first, it was not really wrong. These luxury cars did not help their “poor” owners to be at home with their families and have Iftar. We could have started the entire action a little later, to make sure, that we reach more people that really would not have made it home at all.

I did enjoy to have a completely new experience in Doha. To be honest though, the most rewarding moments of the happening were the smiling joyful faces of the hardest-working, least paid construction workers in their buses without A/C, when I handed them the food. Just any of these happy faces made up for the exhaustion of standing in the middle of a hot, overcrowded and over-poluted intersection. It also helped me realize, that some of the street workers spend whole days in this dangerous and unhealthy environment. Yet I felt, that really everybody was quite thankful about our small gift, regardless of the car, job, age or nationality.

Although “Qatar Volunteers” is not yet officially accredited, it has a few hundred participating members. The activities spread throughout the year. My impression is, that every event aims at creating public awareness of certain conditions in the Country. Really impressive is the fact, that everything was sponsored completely by the volunteers themselves. The existence of a humanitarian society that involves mainly grass-roots activities like this, is a significant sign of hope on Qatar’s self-proclaimed quest of becoming a modern role-model country for others.

What I also liked a lot  about the Iftar drive, was the multi-nationality of the activists. I can’t even remember all the countries that were represented. This is like the UN reenacted by ordinary people like you and me.

find more photos here.

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