Sunday, November 15, 2009

My Holiday Plans

Monday, November 02, 2009

just like when video killed the radio star ...

... Facebook-ing killed the blogging star.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Called my mom

I called my mom yesterday.
I wanted to tell her first before I blog about it and in effect, tell everyone else.
I told her I had good news and bad news.

Good news:
We've bought our flight tickets home, and our flight is on November 17th. (Lunch Ladies sila ambil perhatian).
We'll be back before raya haji, and will be spending raya haji in Kelana Jaya. I'm planning a small kenduri with sedara mara. (Honeytar sila ambil perhatian)

Bad news:
We are flying back to Saudi on December 30th.
Why are we flying back to Saudi, you ask?
Well, the thing is, there is a possibility that we might not be able to go home for good just yet. We are sure we'll be leaving Saudi though. We're just not sure where we're going next. The upper management haven't made their minds (or they have, but have not officially informed us) yet.
So we're kinda in a limbo.
That's why we decided to just book our tickets home first. Whatever happens, we would come back to Saudi end of December and pack our stuff and go wherever we're supposed to go.

I hope we get firm news before we go back home though. Coz if we could go home to Malaysia (Taufik and I are still really hoping!), I would have to make time to visit schools and register the kids and stuff.

So right now, we're just going with the flow, living day by day, see what happens.
The tiny control freak in me hates not being able to plan ahead though :P

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

What I will and will not miss

Well, it's about a month and a week and a few days away from the date we plan to leave the kingdom for good, so I guess it's about time I come up with this list.

What I will miss about Saudi
1. Not driving - believe it or not, I love being treated like a tai-tai and being chauffeured around ... tee hee.
2. Dates - the fruit. I love the crunchy half-ripe ones.. I dont know whether I can get them back home. And I love the variety and availability of the varieties.
3. Living in a compound - I love the security of living in the compound. I can just chase my kids out of the house and let them play outside without worrying that some stranger is going to grab them into an unmarked white van. We can have walks and bike rides around the compound without worrying about getting run over.
4. Speaking arabic and being spoken to in arabic - My arabic is nothing to be proud of. I find myself always having to explain to the other person "Ana kalam arabia shuey shuey" (I speak arabic only a little bit), but I like being able to speak, even though a little bit. I also like it when I learn a new word just from listening to and trying to decipher the arabic words being spoken to me. My one regret is not being able to enroll in arabic classes when I was here.
5. Being in a foreign land - where even just stepping out of the house is an adventure, an opportunity to experience new things, new cultures. :)
6. Going for umrah whenever I want - something that we really took for granted. Thinking that "we can always go later", we postponed one trip after another, and now I'm not sure whether we'll be able to go again. But, Alhamdulillah, I am thankful for the opportunity that Allah has given me, I have at least done umrah once, and have managed to perform my Hajj. Alhamdulillah.
7. Fresh fruit juices - and I mean, FRESH fruit juices. YUMS.
8. Free gifts for little kids - I am sure Izani will miss getting toys, candy (once even, a falafel!) and fruit juices from shopkeepers when we go out shopping.
9. The smell of arabian incense - in new clothes, walking down the malls and souq, from arabian ladies walking past.. I am sure the next time I smell it, it will bring on a flood of memories :)
10. The teachers in DBGS - who dont care about tests or exam results or who's smarter than who.
11. The sand dunes - how something so barren and stark can be so beautiful and the mysteries it holds under its mounds (i.e. desert roses and the singing dunes). It always amazes me how fertile the desert can be with just the right amount of water. Subhanallah. I love the sense of awe, realization and motivation that I get when I stand on top of the dune and look at the vastness of the land, feeling small, yet purposeful, so alone yet not.
12. The leisurely pace - Not worrying over traffic jams. The lull of activities between noon and 4 (when all the stores are closed).
13. Ladies/Family Sections - I just find it convenient that I am ensured a table for me and my kids, almost anywhere I go. I like it that I dont have to wrestle over places/spots in queues with men. I like it that they give priority to ladies with children over single folks :)

What I will not miss about Saudi
1. Not driving - I do miss the lack of freedom and I hate feeling dependant on my husband all the time :P
2. The way other people drive - *shivers*
3. 'Saudi Service' - which is practically non-existent if you don't pay for it.
4. Being hit on by store helpers - nuff said.
5. The sand every where every where - even up your nose and in your ears during Shamal (sandstorm) days. I will definitely not miss dusting and vacuuming up sand in every nook and cranny of my house.
6. The rather inconvenient business hours - Even after almost 5 years here, I still havent gotten used to not being able to just pop into my favourite store whenever I want during the day, without having to check if it's 5 minutes before or half an hour after the call for prayers. I still find it inconvenient to shop at night.
7. Being judged by the way you dress or look - eh, come to think of it, this happens every where. But in Saudi, more bling gets you respect and service, not mugged. No bling gets you unnecessary attention from the shop assistants. The more you cover, the more you are treated like "the ma'am". The less you cover, the more you'll get in trouble. And as a universal rule, Blondes always have more fun.

hm.. looks like I have more things I will miss than I will not.. :)

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Eid Mubarak 1430H !

"Happy Eid, Forgive me for any wrong doing"

Have a safe one, everyone!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009


Taufik came home today with an extremely sombre expression on his face.
I should've known something was wrong.
"I have to go to Taif", he said.
My brain started to list down all the rigs I have ever heard him mention, trying to recall if any were in or near Taif.
Thinking there must've been a problem with one of the bits or something, I gave a disappointed "hah???"
He responded in silence.
He called one of his colleagues and talked about flight availability.
His tone sounded different. Not pissed. Not business like.
"What happened?" I finally asked.
A few smith staff members decided to drive to Makkah yesterday, he started.
Uh Oh, I thought.
"Dah tu, accident?", I asked, recalling the other time when an inexperienced staff member rolled a brand new truck into the side of the road.
"Hm." he said, very controlled. "Rahim injured, his son in ICU. Rayiz is dead".
I stopped short with whatever I was doing.
"Rayiz???? Serious??", not meaning to disbelief him, but still hoping I could disbelieve.
"Hm" was all he could say.
I rushed over to hug him.
I felt his pain even though he didn't show it.
Rayiz is probably the one reason why he's still sane while working in the Saudi office.
I know how much Rayiz's friendship meant to him.
Throughout iftar, maghrib and isya', I watched him tackle one phone call after another, getting updates and relaying it to the VP and District Manager.
I see the emotions stirring right underneath the stiff exterior. I know it's trying to come out. I know it's being suppressed by more pressing matters. Protocols, procedures, paperwork.
During one rare private moment, I hugged him tight and whispered "you can cry if you want to", and cried on his behalf. He was quiet, but I think I heard a sniffle. It wasn't long before the moment was broken by my kids begging attention and assistance with homework.
After Isya', I helped him choose clothes and put them in a backpack.
He is now on his way to the airport, hoping to catch a flight to Jeddah.
He hopes to be able to see his friend for the last time.
Knowing the regret of not saying goodbye to my own friend, I let him go with an open heart.

Innalillah hi wa inna ilahi ro ji oon.
Al-Fatihah to Rayiz.
May your soul be spared from the tortures in the grave, be saved from the fires of hell and may you be placed among the pious in jannatul firdaus, ya sadiq.

Oh Allah, please protect my husband.

Monday, September 14, 2009


In searching for schools back home for my children, I realized a few things.

Firstly, how much I took formal islamic education back home for granted. The adage "You dont know what you've got till it's gone" could never be more true. I only realized how much I had learnt from the religious classes I had to attend since Year 1, when I compared what I knew at that age to what my children know now.
The absence of formal religious lessons in their international school had robbed them of the knowledge they could have gained if their were to be schooling back home.
I worry how they will cope when they go to school in Malaysia. Will they be ridiculed, will they be seen as 'unislamic'?
However, I realized that going to an international school has also made them more analytical, outspoken and not shy to ask questions and seek understanding, traits that I see lacking in some malay muslims. I hope that they will continue with this trait, so that they will fuly understand Islam, Allah and His infinite wisdom and become a well-rounded muslim, rather than one that just follows without understanding why. I hope that with these traits, they will be able to recognize the wrong path when they see one.

I also realized that as parents, we have also tried our best to instill islamic values in our children. We have taught them the basics, how to pray, fast and right from wrong. Is that enough though? I feel limited in my own knowledge that I am afraid I have not provided them with enough, or worse, if I had provided them with wrong information. Na'uzubillah!
However, I realized that in teaching them, I am improving myself. With every question that they pose to me, I am learning new things as well. It also made me look at the world in a different way. I now see everything around us as an opportunity to teach, to show how a real muslim should think and act and to point out the beauties of Allah.
I also now see that every single thing that I do, from brushing my child's teeth, to making them breakfast, to putting them to bed, is an ibadah, for I am raising muslims, someone who will in turn, dedicate their own lives to pleasing the Almighty. (Insya-Allah).

Masya-Allah, what a blessing children are.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

First of Ramadhan 1430

If you've read my blog in previous years, you'd know that my first day of Ramadhan usually ends in chaos. I would usually still be cooking when the adzan maghrib is called.
Well, guess what, this year I was all ready!! I actually got to sit at the table to break my fast :) yay!
What's different?
This year all my kids helped out.

I got Ilham and Ihsan help me make the samosas (Ilham made the potato ones, Ihsan made the cheese ones). I laid everything out on the kitchen table - the samosa leaves, a bowl of water (to soften the leaves and act as glue to seal the edges), the cheeses and curried potatoes at different 'stations'. I showed them how to carefully peel the samosa leaves, how to position the filling, ow to fold it into a neat triangle, how to seal it and how to arrange then neatly in tupperwares. I now have enough samosas to last me .. maybe 3 days.

Anis helped me peel garlic for the sambals (sauces) and bumbu (spices) for chicken rice. She also helped out in miscellaneous tasks as in taking out required ingredients from the frdige, and re-arranging the samosa in the tupperwares because somehow her elder brothers do not have the aptitude to 'arrange neatly'. She also helped prepare the salad to go with the chicken rice we were having, and helped me make air cincau (grass jelly drink).

Most suprisingly, though, was Izani. I guess watching everyone help out, he wanted to help out too! His motor skills are not adept enough yet for folding samosas, and it took him forever to peel one clove of garlic, so I got him to do something I knew he'd enjoy thoroughly. I got him to pound garlic and ginger with the mortar&pestle.
You should have seen him, sitting cross-legged on the floor, holding the mortar with both hands, just pounding away. After a few minutes of pounding while sitting down, he decided to do it while lying flat on his stomach. I kept asking him if he was okay or if he needed any help, but he said he was doing fine. At one point Anis asked if she could try pounding and he possessively said "No! I do it!". He did quite a good job, actually. I only needed to pound it a few times more to make the ginger&garlic finer, but he definitely did most of the work. While I did the actual cooking, he went upstairs and fell right to sleep!

At the dinner table, everyone was so proud of their work. They pointed out to Taufik which dish they helped make. (I had to point out to Anis which dish had her garlic in it).
Perhaps I could have them make murtabak today.
tee hee.

Ramadhan Kareem, everyone!

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Staying In Love

A few weeks ago someone asked me how I could still be so in love with Taufik even though it's been almost twenty years since we've known each other.
Hm.. sometimes I wonder too. I mean, after knowing someone for so long, and seeing him day in and day out, how is it that I never get bored of him or being with him? (but then, I also wonder why he's not bored with *me*)

Rather than giving you tips because I don't feel I'm qualified, let me just share what I do and how I feel about my husband Taufik. If you see something you can learn from, then, go for it. If not, consider it just entertaining reading (if it doesn't make you puke *lol*).

Focus on the good stuff
. I love looking at Taufik. He's very easy on the eyes, especially when he was younger. Even now that he's older, I still look at him as if I'm looking at a superstar heartthrob. I admire his good features and try not to dwell on the less appealing ones (not that he has a lot). I think if you look at person long enough, I'm sure you will be able to see the beauties in the person and appreciate them more.
. I look at him when we talk. I notice that sometimes I forget to look at him when we are having a conversation, perhaps because I'm doing something else. I recently make it a point to really look at him and absorb every little thing he says, not just with his voice, but also with his eyes, with his mouth (smiling? frowning?), the tilt of his head, his gestures. I think it makes me understand him more.
. During gatherings, sometimes I take a peek at him when he's across the room. I like watching him interact with other people, sharing a joke or discussing a serious topic. I give myself bonus points if I catch his eye and we exchange even a little smile or a slight twitch of the eyebrows.
. My most favourite thing to watch is when he's physically working on something. Be it mopping the floor, building me a closet, plumbing, gardening or mowing the lawn .. something about watching his flexing muscles just turns me on :). Sometimes even watching him hold a pen and write seems very appealing.
. I love listening to him chat with the kids. Especially when he's teasing them or sharing a joke. His laughter sounds so happy.
. Even though sometimes I complain about it, I am actually comforted by his snoring at night. Irregardless of whether it's just the sound of his breathing or the all out thunderous snorts, I would rather hear that than silence.
. Even though my husband may not be the sexiest man alive, it doesn't matter, because *I* think he's the sexiest man alive. I don't need other people to think so, just like I don't need other people to think I'm the most beautiful woman on earth as long as my husband thinks I am :)
. I don't know whether it's pheromones or his deodorant or what, but dayummm my man smells good...!

Keep in touch
. Whenever I miss Taufik, I would just open his closet and pick out one of his 'worn but clean' shirts (he has this habit of putting a shirt that he has worn for only one day but is not really dirty yet, back into the closet, to be worn another day), and bury my face in it and inhale. Heavenly.
. I love snuggling up to him just to get sniff.
. We're not the lovey dovey text messaging kinda couple. I would usually send Taufik an sms saying I've reached my destination or home, but mostly I would send him the list of groceries for him to pick up on the way back from the office. He would usually just reply with a short 'Ok'. Occasionally though, I send him a message that would make him reply "Be back in 15 minutes" and he would really be back home in 15 minutes ;)
. I believe in the power of touch, so I try to touch Taufik at every opportunity I can. I mean, who else can I touch but my husband, right? I don't grope him in public, of course. Even just tapping the tips of our toes under the table would satisfy me.
. Whenever I need a hug, I would just hug Taufik. I'd be guaranteed a hug back. :)

Communicate honestly and sincerely
. During the early years of our marriage, I used to be scared of telling Taufik how I really felt, because I was not confident of his love for me. But ever since moving to Saudi and having no one else to talk to but him, that fear slowly eroded away. I am now more honest and forthcoming about my feelings and opinions. I think Taufik appreciates it, because it takes a lot of the guesswork out of loving me :) and I am more satisfied in the relationship because he knows exactly what makes me happy. (Sounds easier said than done, but I keep working on it)
. I tell Taufik I love him, all. the. time. I use to care, but nowadays I don't, whether he says I love you back.

Take the time, and savour every moment
. Maybe it's because we were apart most of the time during our courtship and before Ilham was born, I have learnt to treasure every moment we spend together. If things needs to be ironed out, I try not to drag it for too long and resolve it as soon as possible, so that time is not wasted on arguing over something. With his job, I don't know when he'll be away next, and I don't want to regret not saying what needed to be said when he is away.
. When we were both working (me in PJ and him in KL), I would apply for half-day leave about once a month or so and ask my sister to pick up my kids (or pick up my kids and leave them with my mom or sister), then take the train to KL and have a date with Taufik.
. I don't have the luxury of leaving my kids with anyone in Saudi, so we haven't been on a date for a long time. We can still do activities together in the privacy of our own house, though. It can be simple things, like watching TV or reading together, but I take that opportunity to cuddle up or bermanja ;) (gedik dengan husband sendiri, dapat pahala tau!).
. I also love weekend mornings, when Taufik need not rush off to work and I need not rush the kids to school, and we both could spend a few minutes in bed talking about anything we want.
. I love taking it slow, savouring every moment, every single sound, every single sensation, every single scent ... just breathing and swallowing everything in.

Don't compare, be aware
. Just as no two people are the same, neither are two marriages the same. Things that work for other couples might not work for Taufik and me. I don't expect Taufik to treat me the same way my friends' husbands treat them, because I am not like my friends, and Taufik is not my like friends' husbands. I just have to accept that Taufik loves me in his own unique way, just like I expect him to accept that I love him in my own unique way.
. We've had our share of arguments, outbursts and sulkings (and we probably will always have them), but what I noticed is that, if I remind myself of what the goals of our marriage is, I don't waste my energy on arguing about stuff that does not lead us to that goal, and focus on resolving stuff that would.
. Whenever Taufik does something to hurt my feelings, I try hard to remember that he loves me, and that he doesn't do it out of malice, he's probably just not aware that he's hurting my feelings. I think it has saved me from a lot of resentment.

Hm .. this has been very interesting, writing all of this down.
I hope that it has been as much fun for you reading it, as it was for me writing it :) Hope you didn't puke too much.

p/s Happy Anniversary, Sayang :)

Friday, August 14, 2009

La Dolce Vita

I've been watching this Korean Drama Series on mysoju.
It's about a housewife (Hye Jin), who upon discovering that her husband is having a long-standing affair with a younger woman, decided to go to Hokkaido, initially to kill herself. There, she is relentlessly pursued by a younger man (Jun Soo), who made it his mission to save her life, whilst in turn, saving himself. As the story progresses, I watched who these two people were prior to the trip, how that few weeks in Hokkaido absolutely turned their lives upside down, and how they worked on living on with their lives. It's a love story and psychological drama all rolled into one. I found it quite intriguing.

From an ahjumma (makcik) point of view though, I was thinking, wahhh this must be the ultimate fantasy for a housewife lah kan? I mean, even though the housewife acts all aloof and reluctant when seduced by this younger man, you know deep inside she's really very flattered. It's Lee Dong Wook, siut. It's no wonder why this drama was so popular.

Jun Soo's (Lee Dong Wook) character was very interesting. Being so used to watching one-dimensional characters on TV, initially I didnt know what to make of him. Is he a psycho? Why is he pursuing this older woman with such passion and determination? He definitely had demons and a sordid and tragic past. He seems to be looking for a mother figure, or something. Maybe he's just out for revenge. One thing for sure, he definitely knows how to capture Hye Jin's heart (and the viewers'!).

This series is also different from other Korean series I've watched (though I haven't watched many) in terms of public display of affection. Most Korean series I've watched only implied sexual tensions and at most would show closed-mouth kissing scenes, usually towards the end where the boy finally gets the girl. But this one had kissing *and* bedroom scenes as early as the third episode. Nothing expicit lah of course, they were all very arty and respectful, but I must say they were quite sensuous and must've caused quite a sensation with the very conservative viewers in South Korea. Incidently, I think the most sensuous scene of all occured when the two were fully clothed, and they were only touching their faces. (Episode 16, if you're going to look for it. Tee hee).

Aside from Lee Dong Wook's success in showing his range of acting capabilities in this drama, I also began to realize another reason why I liked watching him so much. He so reminds me of Taufik. I mean, he is pale, thin, tall and in this series, rides a CBR. How crazy is that lah.
After every episode I watch, I couldn't wait for my husband to get home. Macam nak terkam aje. ha ha ha.
(Please dont get me wrong. Lee Dong Wook reminds me of Taufik ya, not the other way round. I dont think of LDW when I look at Taufik. Anyways, I think Taufik is way hotter. tee hee. )

Unfortunately, there are some episodes missing on mysoju. So I'm kinda 'lost' in certain story lines in the drama. I hope I can get a DVD of this drama when I get home. Ada tak?

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Mixed Nuts

I have no excuse for not blogging.
I mean it's not like nothing is happening in my life that I've run out of blog fodder. Lots is hapenning. Just that .. hm.. I dont know where to start and nothing in my head is coherent. On top of that, every time I try to blog, a part of me tells me I should be doing something else.
Maybe I should write in point form.

. Our last day here is going to be November 22nd. We'll prolly drop by Dubai for a bit and visit Sharlee and her clan. And then we'll head home, just in time for Eid Ul Adha. I hope my mom is around and won't be off somewhere again.

. I still dont know which school my kids are going to :P
Except for Izani. Izani is definitely going to Salsabiila.

. Business is doing okay. I am so happy to see that there are people out there who likes my taste in clothing. I tend to pick stuff I like, so it's kinda hard not to take it personally when something goes un-sold. I know I shouldnt really do that to myself, but I still do. Sometimes I wonder if I'm cut out for this.

.Oh, I am also trying to figure out how I can still do this when I go home, but I'm kinda a control freak. How now brown cow lah.

. I have lots and lots and lots of ideas in my head, but I do not have the drive to make it come true :P I sit here in front of the computer and become lost in it.
Something needs to be done about that.

. I wish I did more stuff with my kids during the holiday :P They are kinda neglected and I am tired of telling them to clean their room, so I just ignore ignore ignore and drown myself in other stuff.
Something needs to be done about *that*.

. I am amazed at how my husband is still in love with me.
I am not amazed at how I am still in love with him, coz dayum... he's hawt.
*tee hee*

ok lah ok lah. dont puke.

Gonna go masak maggi for lunch now.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009


What is it about women that makes them always think about everybody else first then only themselves? Men has no trouble putting themselves first, it's almost an instinct.

Take this argument I had with Taufik last night:
I have been discovering that he gets up and goes to sleep with the kids almost every night in the past few days. When I asked him why before, he said our room was too warm and the kids' room was cooler (which is true.. our airconditioning distribution is a bit wonky). But last night he told me that I snored too loud, so he had to get away to get some sleep.

Okay, I admit that I snore. Especially when I have a stuffed nose and is forced to breathe through my mouth. Sometimes the snore is so loud, it penetrates my dreams. Sometimes it even blocks my breathing that I wake up because I was suffocating.
Taufik snores too. (In fact, i think it's a genetic trait, because everyone in this house, including Izani, snores!). His snores are probably as bad as mine, because there were times when I would wake up just to adjust his head and pillow so that his breathing is not obstructed. Or I would try to turn his body sideways so that he could breath easier.

But that is the extent of how I would handle his snore. It never crossed my mind to leave the room to get a better sleep, no matter how sleepless or groggy I felt in the next morning. Maybe because I thought it would hurt his feelings if I did, just like it would hurt mine.

He didnt even need to think twice about sleeping in another room though. To him, he comes first. He needs his sleep, and that's the bottom line.

He comes first.

Now why is it that I can't bring myself do that?
Is it some internal wiring or what? Can I re-wire myself, and if I did, would it make me a better person?

Thursday, July 09, 2009


These past few weeks I have been crying almost every other day.
It's not just about MJ's passing.
It's not just about watching Nur Kasih.
It's not just about mourning the assasination of Warrick Brown (I know, it's like so old news ... what to do, I'm a little delayed)

Last week I read about ben's mom-in-law's cancer.
Today I learned that she has succumbed to the disease.

I have never met Ben in real life, nor have I met her husband and his mom. But having read Ben for all these years on modblog, efx2, and now wordpress, (five years?) I felt like I know Ben and her family. I have grown to care for them.
I am saddened for her loss, just like I was saddened by the losses suffered by all of my other friends these past few years.
From what I have read about Heiny (ben's husband), and the 21 years of their marriage, I have concluded that ben's mom-in-law must have been quite a woman to have raised a son like that.
May she rest in peace and may her memories be forever cherished by her family.

*sends lots and lots of hugs to ben*

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Got Some

Is it just me, or is Eddie starting to look like Grissom?

p/s can't wait for Backspacer to come out! Yay!

Sunday, June 07, 2009


I think continuing to build settlements after the US President called for its halt is a defiance, but calling it Givat Obama, is like them thumbing their noses at you while doing it.
It's an outright dare.

Do you dare to walk the talk, Mr. Obama?

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Izani's Itsy Bitsy Spider

At last...
Somehow this video couldnt be uploaded into Yootoob. I kept getting "Uploading failed". I almost gave up totally. Then today I visited salt&vinegar, and discovered vimeo.
Thanx PB!

Enjoy :)

izani spider song from elisa taufik on Vimeo.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Shawls for School

As some of you may or may not know, our friend Nonah is trying to finance her way to school.
She needs to raise at least the registration and first semester fees by November.
You can go read "help me raise my fees" to find out how much she needs and how she's planning to save up for it.

To help her along, I am launching SHAWLS FOR SCHOOL on my Barang-barang Bonda online store.

For each shawl you buy, Nonah's College Fund will get 75% of the profits.

These shawls are divine! They are 100% wool, and are lovingly hand embroidered by kashmiri hands.
They are perfect for the coming fall/winter months, or even worn off the shoulder with your sleeveless spring/summer dress. Exquisite and elegant enough even for a dinner party. It would look stunning against a black dress!
Buy it for yourself, or as a gift.

If you see something else you like on the Barang-barang Bonda store, you could also buy them, because 50% of the store's profits go to Nonah's College Fund as well :)

The store's profit is not much, but I hope it'll be enough to help her along.

Thankyou in advance for your support!

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Muscat, Oman

Ops Jalan Sakan (Mission: Travelots) - UAE and Oman, Spring 2009
Part 7

April 6th, 2009.

As early as 9am we were already out of our hotel in Muscat and was heading towards Muttrah Souq. While searching for parking we decided to drive along the corniche and check out the view. We finally found a parking spot (note: get your coins ready, you need to buy parking coupons at a machine) and walked towards one of the few restaurants that was already opened for business. The restaurants along the corniche serve typical fare that would attract arabs and westerners alike : Fast food like burgers, hot dogs and pizzas, much to the delight of my children :)
After a quick breakfast, we entered the souq.

The souq was a bustling place, but I was relieved to find that the shops were quite well arranged, not arranged in a maze like Khan El Khalili (Cairo). Shops in the souq sold all sorts of souviner items, from wooden frames (for pictures, mirrors or windows), to statuettes (camels, elephants, cats, etc), to urns made from all sorts of material (clay, brass or silver, painted or embellished with glass beads or precious stones), to perfumes, to embroidered skull caps, to t-shirts, to shawls, to textiles, to khanjars (the curved daggers), to all sorts of boxes and containers from metal or wood with mother of pearl inlays, and there were also the ocassional knick-knack store that sells cheap made-in-china items.

Coming from Saudi, I have seen most of the souviners sold in the souq, but I suppose if this were your first visit to the middle east, you would be spoilt for choice.
I would suggest:

Khanjars - the curved dagger usually made from silver, either on it's own, or readily framed. This might cost you a tidy sum of money (prices are usually more than OR100, depending on it's size and decorations), but if there's one thing that is a symbol of 'middle east', the khanjar would be it. If you are not ready to invest in the real thing, you could always buy khanjars in other forms, i.e. smaller replicas and as key chains.

Silver items - be it jewellery, coins, incense containers or pill boxes. Oman is renowned for its silversmiths. Silver is sold by weight though, and prices fluctuate, and they are not cheap. A small pill box about the size of your thumb could cost about OR2.5(SR25). Bracelets with semi-precious stones would be about OR10-OR25.

Camel figurines - comes in all sizes and adornments. Some even have small camel bags with mock treasures tucked in , on them. Price vary, depending on material (wooden ones cost less) and of course size.

Middle Eastern teapots - my husband's favourite. You can get them in either brass or silver, but the brass ones looks more traditional. Try to find one with the distinct pointed spout and a pear shaped body. You get bonus points if the bottom of your teapot has a stamp in arabic (this means it wasn't made in china or india or indonesia).

Embroidered Skullcap - the trademark of an Omani man. These skullcaps are distinctly Omani. They come in different colors and different patterns. The handmade ones are more expensive and can cost from OR8 up to tens of Omani Riyals, but you can get machine made ones that costs as cheap at OR2 riyals. One size doesn't fit all, so measure the person's head before you come to Oman if you're planning to buy it for someone else.

Dish-Dash - the traditional Omani male robe. In Saudi, it's called a "thaub". This comes in different colors and materials and you can even find one that matches the color of your skullcap, but white is traditional. I don't know exactly how much this will cost, but I am assuming that it's almost the same as in Saudi, so a comfortable cotton dish-dash would cost around OR3-5, depending on the material and tailoring.

When I got bored (and confused) of looking at souviners, I enjoyed the souq's architecture. It is quite a stunning building, with exposed rafters decorated with carvings, middle eastern chandeliers with colorful glass panels and 2 'courtyards' covered with stunning stained glassed domes. The colorful domes are decorated with pictures of traditional middle eastern items like the khanjars, teapots and jewellery. The courtyard provided me a much needed respite from the calls of the shop owners to step inside and check-out their wares.

We left Muttrah Souq to meet up with Taufik's Omani friend for lunch. Mohammad lives in Barka (an hour from Muscat, and he drove all the way to meet us!), and he doesn't know any good Omani restaurant in Muscat, so he brought us to a Turkish seafood restaurant instead. Seafood is really fresh in Muscat, and the fish are exported even to Saudi. We were treated to fish that were grilled and also fried, and they were all so yummy. The fish was served with a starter of lentil soup (my first time trying this, and I loved it!), and the usual side dishes: arabic flat bread, rocket salad in balsamic dressing, hommous (chikpea and tahini dip), spicy dip (i dont know the name) and rice. Suffice to say, we were stuffed!

After lunch, we followed Mohammad's car to Al-Bustan Palace Hotel, which boasts a really grand architecture, but we couldn't go in to look because there was a ministers' function going on. So, we drove on to Qantab instead, a small fishing village nestled between mountains. It was quite amazing to drive up and down along the mountain road, to first see nothing but rocks, go around a turn to suddenly see this little village with its stark white houses against the blue of the sea and sky. We spent a few minutes here because Taufik wanted to see if he could find a vantage point where he could take a picture of the Al-Bustan Palace Hotel. We picked a few interesting pebbles and Izani managed to get himself wet before Taufik came back, dissapointed.

We followed the signs to Shangri-La's Bar Al-Jissah Resort and Spa (picture above), which is a beautiful beautiful hotel that I'm sure I could never afford to stay in.
By that time, it was already a bit after 4pm, and Mohammad needed to go home to pick up his wife from school (she's a teacher), so we said our thankyous and goodbyes, and parted ways.

We headed to the other side of town, to the famous Sultan Qaboos Mosque, for solat.
Sultan Qaboos Mosque is huge (the biggest in Oman) and grand, you could see it from the highway. It is a relatively new mosque, built in the 1990s.
It is reputed to have the biggest chandelier in the world, standing at 14 meters tall. It also has the biggest single-piece handmade carpet in the world, which took artisans 4 years to make over a million knots, using 28 different colors of vegetable dyed wool. The intricate detailing on the main dome alone is mind boggling.

The toilets were modern and very clean and well maintained, and the best part is the ladies prayer hall is actually a huge hall, in it's own building, so unlike most mosques I've visited in the middle east. We had to walk a bit to get to it from the ablution rooms, but we walked under grand arches and crossed a marbled courtyard lined with shady green trees that added to the already peaceful atmosphere, so we didn't mind.

After solat, we did a little grocery shopping for the next morning's breakfast. We were still quite full from lunch, so we decided to have a light dinner, and the kids were screaming for 'civilized' food after days of eating traditional fare, so we stopped at a McDonald's :P
Thus ended our trip to Muscat, for the next morning we left early for Dubai, with a short detour at Rustaq and Nakhl.

Useful Information:
The accomodation we stayed in was nothing to shout about, but it was one of the cheapest accomodation we found in Muscat. We rented a two-bedroom apartment in Darsayt, a very convenient location for it was just a 15 minute's drive to Muttrah Souq, and has a hypermarket close by. Rooms were okay, but the water pressure was a little bit low, and I discovered too late that the oven doesn't work. The electric stove worked, but they did not provide pots/pans (nor plates & cutleries), so I had to use a baking pan (came with the oven) to 'fry' nuggets for breakfast.

Nuzha Hotel Apartments .
Two bedroom apartment OR50/night, room only.

Next: Muscat to Dubai.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

School Searching

We are pretty sure that we'll be moving back home by this December the latest.

So now, we're starting to search for schools for our children.
Ilham will be 12 (Year 6), Ihsan will be 11 (Year 5) and Anis will be 8 (Year 2). Izani will need to go to a Taska.

Personally, I would like my kids to go to an English-medium school.
It's not that I don't want them to speak Malay, but it's because I want them to have an easier first few months of school, without going through class not understanding lessons or instructions, or worse, being teased by their friends for not being able to speak Malay. I want them to be able to feel confident in a new environment. I want them to be able to make new friends.
Furthermore, Ilham would be taking his UPSR (a national level exams, not unlike SATS). I dont know how much of the syllabus he has to catch up with, but I think his pace would be slower if he has to do the catching up in a language he doesn't really grasp. At least if the classes are in English, he only needs to be up to speed with the topics, not the language, right? If I don't have to worry about the other papers, at least I can concentrate on helping him with the Bahasa Malaysia and Agama papers (less work and worry for me. Yay!)

I would also like my kids to go to an Islamic Integrated school, the kind that combines the national curricullum and the religious curricullum.
When Ilham was in Year 1 for the 6 months before we moved to Saudi, he had had to go to the national school in the morning, then on to the religious (KAFA) school in the afternoon. I had to pick him up from school, rush through lunch, then poke and prod him to change into his KAFA uniform and walk to school. Even though the KAFA school was practically at our doorstep (my mom's front gate is right in front of the mosque's gate, where the school is), I still found the schedule pretty tight. I can't imagine what it was like for kids who lives a little further away from us. By the time Ilham came home from KAFA, he's pretty pooped out and just wants to play. He would be too tired or too fed up with anything to do with school for homework.
I think having the religious lessons incorporated into their regular school would be less of a hassle, for the kids and also for me. I don't have to worry about two uniforms, two school bags, two schedules, two exams..
The religious school is not compulsory, but I would like my children to at least have the basic knowledge of the religion they are practising. I am ashamed to say that even though we are living in Saudi,(which is supposedly the epitome of an islamic country), my children have had very little religious education because they go to an international school that is not allowed to have religious classes by the Ministry of Education.
We do our best on our own of course. Apart from the Qur'an lessons three times a week by a Pakistani imam, most of their religious lessons were informal. We've taught them how to properly perform solat and the recitations involved, we've taught them how to properly fast and the rules about it, we've taught them the components of umrah/hajj and its significance, we try to instill Islamic values as much as we can, and point out the greatness and wisdom of God in our every day life and activities but these were all done by example and by doing. There were no notes, no reference books, no lapbooks. If you ask my children to list out the five pillars of islam, the six pillars of faith, Allah's names and attributes, the 25 messengers, the obligatory steps in solat, they wouldn't know. If you ask them to take a test, they would fail. I want their knowledge to be complete, to be at elast at par with other students who have gone through formal religious classes.

So, in conclusion, I am looking for an English-medium Islamic Integrated School.
Preferably within driving distance from our current house in Kelana Jaya (assuming we don't move elsewhere).

Unfortunately, most Islamic Integrated Schools are way over on the other side of the Klang Valley, in Gombak, Bukit Antarabangsa and Ampang.
There are only 3 on this side of the Klang Valley (that I have found):
Integrated School Shah Alam (ISSA -
Integrated Islamic School Kota Damansara (IISKD -
ITQAN Integrated Islamic School (ITQAN -

ISSA currently only accepts students up to Year 5.
ITQAN somehow doesn't teach Islamic or Qur'an lessons (?).

So my best bet right now would be IISKD. It has a primary school *and* secondary school. I don't know how much they'll cost me, since my queries via their website have gone unreplied.. :P
Perhaps I should call them.

If you have any information on any other schools around PJ/Damansara/Taman Tun, please do drop me a line ;)

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Nizwa, Oman

Ops Jalan Sakan (Mission: Travelots) - UAE and Oman, Spring 2009
Part 6

April 5th, 2009.

We left Al-Mintirib, the small town bordering the vast desert of Wahiba Sands, at around 10am and reached the town of Nizwa at around 12pm. By that time, the adzan for Dzuhr prayer had been called, and most of the shops in the souq are closed. In one of the souviner shops that was opened, though, we coincidently met with one of our friends who happened to be holidaying with his family. Zarul and Kak Rosnah had just come from Muscat, and they were spending the day in Nizwa and Al-Hamra. Zarul had hired a local guide and from him we found out that the souq is closed from 12pm to 4pm, just like in Saudi :P Since the souq is closed, we decided to have lunch with Zarul's family in a restaurant on the outskirts of Nizwa.

After lunch we said our goodbyes and safe journeys to Zarul and his family, and we returned to the center of Nizwa. We performed our solat at the nice Nizwa mosque that had a not so nice little shack at the back as an excuse for the ladies' mussollah (prayer room). After solat, we decided to explore the Nizwa fort. Fortunately the fort was open till 4pm. I can't remember how much the entrance fees were, but they were not expensive.

Nizwa fort is bigger than its facade presents. Inside there are several stairs that lead to the different levels of the fort. On the ground level is the courtyard with stables and such. There's a basement level with storage rooms and a prison. The mid-level houses the kitchen, sitting rooms and bedrooms with secret hiding places. Then there's a rooftop where the guards would sit and look out for approaching enemies.

The fort had quite sophisticated defense mechanisms, with secret peepholes to view who's at the door, to hot oil/water/date syrup channels that runs from the roof to the entrance to scald enemies, and trap doors on the stairways that gives way and plunges unsuspecting intruders into deep wells below. Looking out from the fort to the date filled valley surrounded by mountains, I could imagine why someone would guard Nizwa like a precious jewel.

I'm sure Nizwa has a very strategic historic significance, but meh.. I'm not Lollies... you can go read her entry on Nizwa, if you want to know :) All I could think of is what the blueprint of the place must've looked like, how they constructed the place with all the channels and trapdoors and wells and hiding rooms. I imagined what life in the fort must've been like in those days. I wondered what noises and smells must have wafted around when it was bustling with all the different activities, both military and mundane.

The Nizwa fort also has a small museum that displays artifacts on daily Omani life, from how the falaj works (i.e. how water is pulled out from wells or springs and distributed along channels to irrigate the plantation), how metal smiths forge their wares and the different potteries and weaved items. It was interesting to note that much of the traditional way of life is still practiced in Oman today. I also got an idea of what souviners I want to get ;) tee hee.

After exiting the fort, we had a drink while waiting for the souq to open.
The souviner shops sold a lot of pottery ware, and I would've gotten one of those earthen water jugs, but I kept thinking of how it might break on our drive home (we still had 4 days to go), so I decided not to. Taufik got another teapot for his collection and Ihsan bought some stamps and a postcard to mail to his Nenek.

By the time we were done browsing and shopping (more browsing than shopping), it was almost 6. We had promised to drop by a friend's house for dinner in Muscat by 7:30pm, so we decided to make a move.
As with any highway in Oman, the view was breathtaking.

As we reached Muscat, we had our first view of 'modern civilization' after several days of seeing traditional houses and unspoilt nature. We waited for our friend at a McDonald's and encountered a traffic jam on the way to his house. Sutan and Fatimah treated us to a wonderful dinner, and we regtretfully had to say goodbye at 10pm to head to Nuzha Hotel Apartments in Darsayt.

Next: Muttrah Souk, Sultan Qaboos Mosque and around Muscat.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Wahiba Sands, Oman

Ops Jalan Sakan (Mission: Travelots) - UAE and Oman, Spring 2009
Part 5

April 4th, 2009. Evening.

This was the part of Oman that I was most anticipating about.

After leaving Wadi Bani Khalid, we drove for about 30 minutes to the town of Al-Mintirib, where we had an appointment to meet the driver who will bring us into the desert to the camp. Sukhairi had to hire the shuttle (4WD plus a driver) because his car is a 2WD, and we will just follow his 4WD. We only took what was necessary for an overnight stay, and stowed the rest of our luggage in Sukhairi's car which will be parked and left in Al-Mintirib.
After a quick toilet stop, we drove deeper into Al-Mintirib, which already sits at the edge of the desert, to enter the Wahiba Sands, a vast body of nothing but orange sand in the middle of Oman.

Driving to our camp was actually not as challenging as our previous desert driving in Qatar and Saudi. The sand was quite compacted, providing enough traction for the tyres, even for a 2WD. Perhaps it's because many vehicles have driven through this route before us. But at one point, we did have to climb over a huge dune , and that portion of the drive would necessitate a 4WD.
Along the way we passed a few bedouin tents, Al-Raha camp (another site that provides overnight accomodation, but in concrete rooms covered with palm leaves) and miles and miles of orange sand dunes.
After about 45minutes or so of driving through and up and down sand, we finally reached 1000 Nites Camp. At the really rustic reception (a concrete desk, a concrete bench, under fronds of date leaves), we were served with really strong arabic tea and halwa and dates. We were then brought to our accomodation for the night, a room fashioned out of a bedouin tent, but equipped with the very basic modern amneties (bed, bathroom, lights).

The tent is made out of thick wool, and ours was right under a tree.
Arriving that afternoon, I found it to be quite hot and stuffy, so we had to open up the 'window' (flaps that are secured by a metal hook), but I was sure it would be very nice when it gets colder that night. They had laid 2 extra mattresses for our kids.

The tent had one big main beam in the middle of it, supporting the roof (also wool) and several smaller and shorter beams at the edges of the tent, supporting the walls, which gives it its distinct shape. The edges of the roof and the walls are then secured together with big metal pins. The floor is laid with carpets which are quite comfortable. The tents are equipped with lights, but they only turn on the generator in the late afternoon and switches it off at around 3am.

Fortunately, the bathrooms were not bedouin bathrooms :). They have proper sit down toilets and sink and shower with complimentary toileteries. The pipes run hard water though, so it tasted a little salty (definitely not for drinking) and there is a little sign that says "We are in the desert, please conserve water" :)
The bathroom is open air and ours was partly covered by a tree, which provided somthing to look at while you... uhm... whatever. Taking a shower under the blue skies really reminded me of shower times in my late grandmother's open air bathroom.

After a quick solat, we headed for the dunes which was just in front of our tent, to watch the sunset.

As usual, the kids found little trouble in climbing up the dunes, but I found myself huffing and puffing not even a quarter of the way. Izani was a little frustrated coz he kept sliding back down, so we went up via an alternative and relatively easier route. Even then, it was still a challenge, and Izani kept saying "I cant do it.. help me" and I had to motivate him (and indirectly, motivate myself) to keep on going and Izani's triumphant "I did it!" when we finally reached the top is as much a boost for me as it was for him.

Izani and I decided to stop halfway to where the rest of our party were because the wind was too strong and being that high among that much sand, we had sand blown into our eyes. Taufik, who had gone ahead with the other kids, managed to take the picture shown above.
Coming back down the dunes was much easier :)
Anis lost her faux crocs, though.

We went back to our tents to wash up, change, solat and get ready for dinner.

Dinner was served buffet style in an open air (but roofed) majlees. The food was really good (or maybe we were just really hungry after dune climbing). They served briyani rice with lamb or chicken curry, an eggplant dish, the usual salad and yoghurt, arabic bread, and they also had grilled meats - lamb kebabs, chicken wing and lamb chops. For dessert there were fresh fruits, halwa and a really yummy custard dish. They put canned and bottled drinks in two huge freezers in the majlees and you can take whichever you prefer.
While we eat, we were entertained by two men playing the traditional middle eastern guitar (gambus) and singing traditional songs. One of the songs sounded so much like zapin, a type of traditional music popular in the southern states of peninsular Malaysia, that we almost got up and dance :)

After dinner, we hung around the majlees just chatting about the plan for the next day. The two families exchanged riddles but my kids keep coming up with toilet ones, so then we played the 'shopping list' game. Someone starts with saying "I went to the market and bought ..." (the first item), then everyone else take turns to say "I went to the market and bought ..." (the list of items said before) and add their own item to the end list making the list longer and longer and more difficult to remember.
The night breeze started to get stronger and colder as the night progressed, so we decided to end the games and walked back to our tents and retire for the night.
We were lulled to sleep by the sound of wind and crickets.
Izani fell off the bed a few times. tee hee.

Early the next morning, the first thing Ilham and Ihsan did after brushing their teeth was ask if they could go on the dunes on the pretext of searching for Anis's shoes.
After doing my morning routine and getting dressed, I went out to find them tirelessly climbing up and running down the dunes, only stopping at intervals to have a drink of water at the bottom. They said they couldnt find Anis's shoes. I wasn't suprised, because the wind blew pretty hard yesterday, and it would've been buried under tonnes of sand by now. Plus, they werent really looking anyway.

I walked around taking pictures of dead bushes, sand dunes and insect trails on the sand (pics on my flickr).

At around 7, I called Ilham and Ihsan back to tent for their shower and woke up the rest of the clan for breakfast. Ilham and Ihsan snuck in a game of 'Who could toss a stick the farthest' while waiting for everyone else to get ready.
Anis had to walk to the majlees barefoot, as she did the night before for dinner.

On offer at the buffet breakfast was cereal, bread with assortment of jams and butter, arabic bread with foul, sausages, and eggs cooked any way you want.
There was a bedouin woman selling souviner items and trinkets while we were having breakfast. Items were quite expensive but I understand why, because they were all handmade by her. Even a small square of wall hanging must have taken her months to complete.
She was very smitten with Izani because he kept coming to her and ask "What you doin?". Before she left (because it was starting to drizzle), she gave Izani a string bracelet (2 for OR1). I offered to pay, but she said it was a 'hadiah' (gift). Izani was so happy, and he wore the bracelet every where he went. (I dont know where it is now though, I'm sure it's somewhere around the house).

We left 1000 Nites Camp at around 9 because dark coulds were beginning to gather and there was a light drizzle and we didnt want to be caught in the desert in the middle of the rain. We need not have worried though, because as we were driving out, the drizzle stopped and the sun started to come out.
The drive out was more exciting that the drive in, because we had to go (more like, slide) down a really steep dune before going on the compacted sand route again.

driving out

We got back to Al-Mintirib by 10am, retrieved our luggage from Sukhairi's car, refilled our tyres and gas tank and headed towards Nizwa.

Thus ended our unforgettable adventure in the Wahiba Sands of Oman.

A friend of ours had spent a night at 1000 Nites Camp in the deserts of Wahiba Sands when he came to Oman in December and looking at his pictures, we were inspired to do the same. Initial research and inquiries led me to a package tour that would cost us OR120 per person. The package would include transport from Muscat, a visit to Wadi Bani Khalid, a bedouin camp, a night in the desert at Al-Raha Camp, then the next morning a drive along Sur-Muscat highway. At first it seemed reasonable, especially for a once in a lifetime experience, but after considering that we will be coming from Nizwa, not Muscat, and that we have our own cars to think about, and that we would have to pay for 8 persons ... erks... we sought other (cheaper) alternatives.
My googling led me to, which allowed me to book a tent for each of the families, and a 4WD for Sukhairi's family, for less.

Useful Information:

1000 Nites Camp
Double tent OR67/night, OR7/extra person/night (Child under 5 free)
Price includes dinner and breakfast, freeflow of water/juice/soft drinks.
4WD shuttle to/from camp is OR45/car
They also have a car escort service (In case you want to drive on your own, but dont know the way) OR20/car.

Next: Nizwa

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Killer Among Us

Yesterday I caught Larry King Live and the topic was 'A Killer Among Us', discussing about how sociopaths and psychopaths think and how difficult it is to understand and identify them before they start killing people.
Suddenly one of the members of the panel came up with this gem:
"In fact, the most dangerous psychopath is the one that appeared on this show, and I'm talking about M@hmoud Ahmadenij@d ... wants to destroy Israel, etc etc."
(or something to that effect).

I am not a supporter nor fan of Ahmadinej@d, but mister member of the panel sir, should I point out to you that Ahmadinej@d has not started any wars and has not directly caused deaths of any citizens from his own country or another country, but I can't say the same about your former president.
If you put your former president against the same standards, who's the psychopath?

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Wadi Bani Khalid, Oman

Ops Jalan Sakan (Mission: Travelots) - UAE and Oman, Spring 2009
Part 4

April 4th, 2009. Daytime.

Before heading for Wadi Bani Khalid, we needed to stop by a supermarket to buy supplies. We had planned to barbecue some chicken for our lunch at the wadi, after having a swim. Taufik bought some charcoal and a griller, but could not find any raw chicken. We ended up buying some half cooked barbecue chicken, along with some rice.
Again, the road signages in Oman guided our way to our destination, because most of the roads do not appear in our GPS.

We drove up spectacular mountains and then down again until we reached a small town. At first we were not sure if we were even at the right place, but we just drove on again, past houses and date trees until we reached what looked like a road washed out by a small stream. We followed a local truck to cross the stream for a bit, until he turned around and told us something like "Khamsin" or something and pointed to a gravel road ahead of us. We guessed he meant the wadi is about 50meters ahead of us on the gravel road. We thanked him and drove on, and sure enough at the last turn, we were greeted by two huge green pools of water in the middle of lush date trees. Judging from the white range rovers parked along the road, there were quite a few tourists who were already there ahead of us.
Getting off the car, we were greeted by the croaking of frogs, something that I haven't not heard in a very very long time. I cherished the sound then, oblivious to the premonition.
We unloaded our 'supplies' (food, water, tents, mats, a change of clothes and towels)(oh and cameras) from the car and proceeded to climb the steep path up to the top of the wadi.
Part of the concrete walkway leading up to the wadi was destroyed during the typhoon in 2006, so we had to carefully cross it. The dads took turns to carry over kids, supplies and wives.

The rest of the path is still intact though. Looking forward to swimming in cool waters flowing fresh from the mountains, we lugged our supplies and walked up with some other tourist. Everyone was carrying something, even Izani, who had to carry the aluminum griller (the lightest item). Halfway up, a few boys about 7 or 8 years old asked us in broken english if he and his friends could carry our stuff for us (for a fee). Of course we said yes and lightened the load for some of our smaller children.
Our stuff looked big and heavy for them but when I asked them "Bas?" (Okay?), they said they were okay.
(Omani children not in pictures)

Along the sides of the paths are date plantations that are irrigated by the waters flowing down the wadi. The water is chanelled down narrow canals called 'falaj'. Even though I've seen it many many times (even in Saudi), I am still amazed at how a seemingly barren and dry land could become so fertile with only a litte supply of water. Masya-Allah.

The water flowed in a steady stream along the walkway and at points, it flowed across the walkway and we had to walk through the mini waterfalls. The amount of water we saw was not as much as we expected, but we were encouraged by the stories from travellers before us and the urging of the young porters that the pools at the end of the long walkway is nice.
One of the porters stopped by his house (which nestled in a grove of date palm trees) and emerged with a shopping trolley, which he then used to carry the more bulky and heavier stuff (our juice & water and the mats). He happily pushed the trolley while half-walking, half-running, singing some arabic ditty. Several times along the way the trolley toppled over, which amused me, but agitated Taufik a bit :P

We finally reached the end of the walkway, but saw no pools. Apparently the pools were much further up and you had to balance yourself on the concrete canals to go up. The dads and kids decided to go check out the pool, while Kak Faridah, Izani and I spreaded a mat under a mango tree and had a chat with the porters.

With my limited and broken arabic, I asked them their names, "ma ismuka?".
"Muhammad, Saeed, Ali" (or something) they answered.
Saeed, in particular, was very chatty, and seems to be the leader of the porters, always shouting instructions to the other boys.
"Mafi madrasah?" I asked. (No school?)
"No, school closed" Saeed answered, "raining, teacher say go home".
"Where rain? Mafi rain!" I teased him.
"Madrasah kalam ingleezi?" I asked (School speaks english?)
"La.. arabiya" he said.
"Where learn english?" I asked, getting into my habit of imitating another person's way of speaking.
"here" he said, pointing up and down the walkway, indicating that he learnt english from the tourist whom he carried bags for. I was impressed :)
"masya-Allah!", I gave him a thumbs up sign, "Anta, *points at him and his friends* ukhwat, au sadiq?" (You, brothers or friends?)
And he went into this long explanation how they are friends but Ali's father is his mother's brother and their houses are just next to each other in that grove of date trees.
The boys threw Saeed's sandals up the mango tree to retrieve young mangoes and offered us some, but they looked too green (thus sour) to me. Saeed and Izani also tried to chat and share a sour mango.

Taufik came back and reported that he saw pools, but the water was kinda stagnant and to his alarm, he also saw leeches! Erks...
So he decided to camp at one of the spots we passed by on the way up.
Hearing this, Saeed exclaimed "Lahaulawalla!!" (err I dont know how to translate this, but it's usually used to express frustration or tired of something), which made me laugh :D mainly because it was also my sentiment.

So we all walked back down the walkway, searching for the perfect spot to pitch our tent. We found the perfect spot, but it was a bit away from the walkway and had to then search for a safe way for us to bring the kids and our stuff to the perfect spot.
The porters helped us carry our stuff to the picnic spot. For their trouble and patience, we gave them each some juice and water and a bag of marshmallows, on top of the OR1 that Taufik paid them.
They sat on the bank of the walkway, drinking juice and munching on marshmallows while watching us pitch our tent, start a fire for barbecue and our kids going for a splash.

Our kids didn't spend too much time swimming, mainly because even though the sun was shining bright, the water flowing down the wadi was really really cold! They were also getting hungry and thirsty. Furthermore, the kids that were snorkelling saw many many frogs. And not just frogs, frogs spawning! With trails of eggs behind them.
It's a good thing we bought half-cooked chicken, because it didnt take that long before we could have lunch of rice and barbecue chicken, which tasted so yummy after such a long walk and wait.
We had promised to meet up with the driver who was going to bring us into the Wahiba Sands at 2pm, so as soon as everyone had finished their lunch, we packed up and carried all our stuff and trash down the walkway back to our cars.

Even though Wadi Bani Khalid was slightly dissapointing because there was not as much water as we imagined there would be, the interaction with the local boys and the adventurous experience was still enjoyable to me, and I am sure both of our families will remember this picnic spot for a long time.

Next: Spending a night in the desert!

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Ibra, Oman

Ops Jalan Sakan (Mission: Travelots) - UAE and Oman, Spring 2009
Part 3

April 3rd, 2009. Evening.

We still had another 3 hours drive ahead of us before we reached our accomodation for the night. We did not want to drive at night because even though the larger highways are well lit, the smaller roads are not. Tarmac retain heat very well, therefore are warm and comfortable rest areas for wandering animals, especially camels. You DO NOT want to encounter a camel on the road at night. Especially when the camels are as black as the night itself.
We reached the town of Nizwa at around 5pm and we got a peek of the Nizwa Fort and the souq surrounding it because the GPS told us to drive that way even though it was jam packed with people. I took the opportunity to call the accomodation and tell us what time we were estimated to arrive.

The GPS brought us through really mountainous road that was like riding a rollercoaster at times. Too bad my pictures didnt turn out so good because it was getting dark. We had to drive on really winding and dark and empty roads to reach Ibra (not to be mistaken with Ibri, which we passed earlier in the journey). It was quite creepy and scary, because not only did Taufik need to watch where the road is going, he also needed to watch out for any huge obstacles in his way (read: camels).
We finally reached Nahar Tourism Oasis at 7:30pm and was very happy to find dinner waiting for us.

We were served halwa muscat and dates with hot arabic tea while we wait for them to bring out the buffet items.
'Halwa muscat' is a type of sweet unique to Oman. The closest thing to it in the west would be Turkish delight (except it's not rolled in powdered sugar) and the closest thing to it for malaysians, would be dodol. The difference is that halwa muscat is very very fragrant, from the spices and rose water used in its preparation. It's almost like dodol spiked with arabic perfume. In fact, i felt as if I was biting into the ample flesh of one of the fragrant arab women I often pass by at the mall. It is really an acquired taste.
Dinner was quite good, or maybe we were just really hungry. They served rice with lamb curry, fried chicken, salad, and this really nice fried eggplant dish.
After dinner we were directed to our rooms. It was a little bit away from from reception/restaurant area, so we had to drive a bit there.

I had booked two 'Omani House Suites', and they were just as the name implies, the suites were fashioned and decorated, I assume, just like a traditional Omani house.
Our suite had a long living room with a settee made of wooden cabinets with cushions on them, a cabinet with a TV (with a sattelite decoder), a small coffee table for two, and a smaller side table with an electric kettle and tea/coffee making sachets. Two single beds are situated in an enclave in the 'house', with an antique looking side table and a mirror on the wall in between them. The closet was also an old looking cupboard. The bathroom, fortunately, was not old looking and had hot water :)
On the walls were old potteries and an antique looking shotgun.
I slept that night looking up at these rafters and wondering what the phrases mean..

The next morning we got to see what we didnt see when we arrived that night. Our room was surrounded by rocky hills! There was even a lookout point on a hill behind our Omani house where we could climb up and look at the view. This picture really does not do justice to the scenery.

Looking at the surroundings of this 'hotel', with its traditional concept and antique decorations, I see a potential of it being a tourist attraction. We were the only customers there that day/night, however, and I don't know why it is so. Perhaps the location is not conducive? Ibra is situated right in between Wadi Bani Khalid and Muscat/Nizwa, and it is only a 2-3 hours drive between them. Perhaps people would rather drive straight through to these locations instead of stopping halfway at a small town.
I am glad that we spent the night there though, because it gave us a chance to leave and reach Wadi Bani Khalid earlier than if we were to stay in Muscat or Nizwa, especially since we were travelling with children, who can be unpredictable in their punctuality.

At the hotel's Al-Kous Whisper Restaurant, we were served breakfast of arabic bread, sausages, foul (beans in gravy), scrambled eggs, coffee/tea and juice.
After taking pictures of the old doors near the restaurant and the tented majlees (middle eastern sitting room) and settling the bill, we left Ibra and headed towards Wadi Bani Khalid.

More pictures on Facebook Photo Album: 2009 Spring Road Trip - Oman : Ibri, Bahla, Jebel Shams, Ibra

Useful Information:

Nahar Tourism Oasis
2-bed Omani House Suite OR38/night, OR5/extra bed/night
They also have rooms.
Price includes dinner and breakfast, freeflow of water/juice/soft drinks.
Clearly the cheapest acommodation during our trip.

Monday, April 20, 2009

The Fountain, and death.

After receiving news of the passing of a young man yesterday, I needed distraction.
I dont know why the news affected me so, since I dont really know him. Perhaps the thought of the loss that his family is feeling reminded me of my own loss.
I tried sewing. An online quiz gave me relief, for a short time. I made chicken soup for dinner, and made a spicy chilli+soy sauce to go with it, but that reminded me of Lollies, which in turn reminded me of the boy and the grief the family must be going through.
I decided to watch TV and discovered The Fountain was on. Surely Hugh Jackman and the always beautiful Rachel Weisz would be able to cheer me up?
This movie started off really confusing, but I kept on watching believing it is going to be a love story with a happy ending and I was going to emerge warm and fuzzy at the end.
This movie was really really really sad.
I kept crying and crying, even long after the movie was over. Even when I didnt understand the ending.
I tried to sleep but I continued thinking about the scenes in the movie. The sense of love, of loss , of extreme grief, of loyalty, of tenacity, of what you would do for love that was potrayed in the movie really affected me. Perhaps more so with the current news still lingering in my mind.
I finally slept, and couldnt remember what I dreamt of.
When I woke up though, I had a sense of peace.

I think I know now.

Death is inevitable. No matter how much you try to avoid it, no matter how much you try to prolong your time (or somebody else's time), you will, eventually, face death.
This does not mean you should stop trying to prolong life, it only means that you need not fear death so much so that you stop living.
And when death does come (to you or your loved one), and you suffer the loss, we need not fear the loss, because it is not the end.
Death is not the end of the person.
The end of the life does not signify the end of the loving.
Thus we should not wallow in grief or regret, because it does nothing to the dead, nor the living.
Continue loving, and continue living.

Knowing this, I am ready to let go.
I love you. I am ready to let go now.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Jebel Shams, Oman

Ops Jalan Sakan (Mission: Travelots) - UAE and Oman, Spring 2009
Part 2

April 3rd, 2009. Day.

After breakfast (around 10am) we left Al-Ain and headed for the UAE/Oman border.
Getting out of UAE took longer than expected. We had to fill up a form for each person and pay an exit visa. By the time we were done, it was almost noon.
Next we had to go through the Oman immigration. The dads took care of everything while the moms and kids hung around the beautiful immigration building. Taufik said they looked at a person's work permit before issuing a visa. If you're a mere 'technician' or lower, most likely your visa would be rejected. I guess this is a way to control illegal immigrant workers. At the customs, they could also be really strict. From what I read, if you're a non-muslim they'll check for liqour, since UAE has no restrictions on alcohol. When it was our turn, the custom's officer's girlfriend/mom/someone called on his mobile and he saw we were muslims, so he just looked at our visa receipt and waved us through. tee hee.

By the time we entered The Sultanate of Oman (trivia: one of only 2 sultanates in the world)(Pop quiz: what is the other one?), it was half past 1pm, so we decided to hurry on to Ibri for lunch and break for solat. We couldnt really drive so fast because like UAE, Oman has a lot of stationary radars placed along their highway. Furthermore, the road from Al-Ain to Nizwa is not really a big highway, but a two-way lane.
The scenery during the first part of our journey was mostly flat rocky land with a few orange dunes and trees that resembles the ones in Africa. As we pass Ibri and drive towards Bahla, mountains started to appear. By the time we reached Bahla, the road started to wind and ascend as we drive into the mountainous region.

Bahla is a really small town, but it is home to the Bahla fort, which is an official UNESCO heritage site and currently going under restoration. We couldnt go in, so we just took pictures of it outside. It looks huge, bigger than Nizwa Fort, I'm sure it'll take more than hour to walk through it.
We pressed on to Jebel Shams instead.
The signages for Jebel Shams are quite clear, so you can't really miss the junction to turn into the mountains. Just a few minutes from the juction, you are greeted by the majestic mountains of the Jebel Al-Akhdar range. I dont know if it was the weather or if it was the region, but the air here was very clear and cool. The view of mountains and more mountains were fascinating to us who have seen nothing but piles and piles of sand in Saudi. Some parts of mountain range have deep gashes in it , as if God had traced a finger through it, and in these valleys you could see some vegetation. It was really amazing to see how plants could survive in the rocky terrain that was seemingly barren.

On the way up we reached WadiGhul, which looked like a dry river bed, but with a very fertile plantation nearby, you could imagine the water flowing through in the wetter seasons. On one of the cliffs, clung the brick (rock?) houses of the town of Misfah (i assumed). As you can see from the picture below, it is quite a spectacular sight to see these houses on the steep cliff, with the lush date and herb plantation right below it.

We stopped for pictures and was greeted by 3 boys who were selling key chains made of braided colourful wool yarns. We politely said "La, Shukran" (No, Thankyou) and the boys respectfully stepped away but still watched us take pictures. They were barefooted and looked no more than 10 years old and were really fascinated with Izani. I asked for a picture and they obliged, and Taufik gave them all the change we had in the car. One of them offered a keychain, but we didnt take it, hoping the next tourist would buy it from them.

We saw some people in 4WD inside the wadi, and some people hiking, and I'm sure it would be really nice to be able to do that, but unfortunately, we did not have time to do that :P
We drove on towards Jebel Sham (Another half an hour according to the signs) along ascending road that snaked up the mountain.

For a place that looked remote and barren, the road up to Jebel Sham is quite liveable, as evident by the number of houses we passed by. I am guessing most of them raise goats, because I saw several houses with pens, and several people walking with what looked like goat feed balanced on their heads. We even passed by some people picnicking among the rocks and trees in one of the valleys.
When the road started to look very steep, we decided to turn back, because our friend's car is not a 4WD. Our car was a little delayed because Taufik slowed down to let a boy cross the road to run after his soccer ball.
Taufik stopped by the soccer 'field' (because there weren't really any grass, just rocks) and I stuck out my head and camera and asked, "mumkin? *points to camera* wahid?" (May I? One?) and they were like "Okay!".
I wanted to take a picture of them playing football, but the boy who had chased after the ball excitedly called out "Sabr! Sabr!" (Patience! or Wait!) and that gave them time to assemble and pose. :D

I gave them a thumbs up and a "Shukran!" and hurried off to catch up with our friend. As we drove off, one of the boys yelled "Barcelona!" and I just raised my hand in acknowledgement, because .. er.. I dont really watch professional football :P
Taufik stopped for another time to take a picture of this handsome fella:

Aparrently, this is one of the many wild mountains goats that roam freely in this area.

We reluctantly left the road to Jebel Shams to head towards Nizwa and onward to Ibra.

To be continued : Ibra