Archive | February 2015

Omani Souvenirs – II

Incense Production

1Omani incense refers to the mixtures of natural incense resins, woods and herbs which are heated on smoldering coals to release their fragrant smoke and aromas – as opposed to the well-known frankincense ‘teardrops’ that are burned on their own. There is an ancient and proud history of incense making in the Sultanate, and the mixtures and various combinations of incense are held in high esteem by the Omanis that produce them.

 

Mandoos Design

2An Omani mandoos is a type of ornate wooden storage box traditionally crafted from rosewood, walnut, or other special wood. They are prized for their beauty, and are typically inlaid with brass, silver, precious stones, and even gold in geodesic designs that are inspired by Islamic art. They are traditionally used to store valuables, and are made in a variety of sizes – the largest being a meter or more wide, the smallest being jewellery box size.

 

Rug Weaving

3Most Omani rugs are traditionally made with woven sheep’s wool and goat’s wool. Many of them also feature colorful, striped designs, which are created with various selections of natural dyes. The people of the Sharqiyyah Sands region are especially well-known for their rug making ability, and their consistently high quality and very beautiful creations.

Sleep Well!

In today’s fast-paced world, the idea of a good night’s sleep seems to have fallen down our list of priorities. But adequate rest plays an absolutely essential role in our physical and mental wellbeing. Health experts warn us that we can’t function to the best of our abilities without sleep – and we should be doing everything we can to make sure we ‘get a good night,’ every night!

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Why do we need sleep? Scientists have many theories on why humans need to sleep. (In fact, many health resources explain that reasons for sleep are only partially clear and the subject of ongoing research). What we do know, however, is that humans must sleep and many essential things happen to us while we’re doing it:

  • The brain has a chance to exercise important neuronal connections that might otherwise deteriorate due to lack of activity.
  • Sleep gives the brain an opportunity to re-organize information to help find solutions to problems; process newly learned information; and ‘organize’ memories.
  • Sleeping is a time for genuine rest. While we’re asleep, our metabolic rate and energy consumption is lowered.
  • The cardiovascular system also gets a break during sleep. Researchers have found that people with normal or high blood pressure experience a 20% to 30% reduction in blood pressure and 10% to 20% reduction in heart rate.
  • During sleep, the body has a chance to replace chemicals, and repair muscles and other body tissues and aging cells.
  • Growth hormones are also released during deep sleep. But the most obvious reason why we need sleep is to consider what happens when we don’t get it. We’ve all experienced the moodiness, reduced alertness and concentration, reduced work efficiency, lack of motivation, poor memory etc, associated with a bad night’s sleep. The more serious consequences are accidents as a result of fatigue (falling asleep while driving, for example); depression; an inability to learn and process information at an effective level; health consequences as a result of weight gain; reduced skin health; and forgetfulness. Some studies also show that patients who suffer from a lack of sleep appear to have a significantly higher risk of developing cardiovascular disease.

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Sleep tips…

  • Stick to the same bedtime and waking times, even on the weekends. This habit regulates your body’s biological clock and helps you fall asleep and stay asleep, every night.
  • Practice a relaxing ‘bedtime ritual’ before sleep time. A relaxing, routine activity right before bedtime conducted away from bright lights helps separate your sleep time from activities that cause excitement, stress or anxiety which make it difficult to fall asleep.
  • Exercise daily. Even light exercise is better than no activity. But avoid exercising at the expense of your sleep, of course!
  • Re-evaluate where you sleep. Experts recommend that the room where you sleep should be coolish (around 20 degrees Celsius); free from any disturbing noises; and free from any light.
  • Sleep on a comfortable, good quality mattress, and use a pillow that is comfortable and supportive.
  • Avoid alcohol, cigarettes, and caffeine and heavy meals in the evening. Some wellness experts even say we should avoid eating for up to 2 to 3 hours before sleeping.
  • Your body needs time to shift into sleeping mode. Before going to bed, spend some time doing a calming activity like reading, drawing, or some light breathing exercises or meditation.
  • Using an electronic device such as a laptop or Smartphone can make it hard to fall asleep because the particular type of light emanating from the screens of these devices is activating to the brain. If you have trouble sleeping, avoid electronics before bed or in the middle of the night.

Omani Souvenirs – I

Jerz axe making

6The craft of Jerz making is unique to Musandam, and the local men here carry this long-handled axe as part of their traditional costume. In days gone by, the Jerz was used for chopping firewood; as a support stick while walking and climbing over Musandam’s rocky terrain; and occasionally, as a weapon of self-defense against wild animals. Jerz making falls under the metalworking or blacksmithing craft in Oman – something which the Sultanate’s people are famous for. A typical Jerz is just under a meter in length and a few centimeters in diameter. The axe head is about 10 centimeters long.

 

Silversmith crafts

7The silversmith craft and culture in Oman is unique and fascinating. This is due to the fact that over several centuries, the silversmiths and metalworkers of Oman have taken design elements in silverware manufacture from all over the world – especially India, East Africa, China, various Middle Eastern centres and even Europe – and come up with a unique style of their own that is inspired and influenced by the Omani culture and identity. Nizwa is renowned for its high quality silverware, but silver products can be found throughout the Sultanate.

 

Kohl making

8Throughout Oman’s history, women have worn kohl around their eyes. The function of khol is a cosmetic one – and it is said to give a woman’s eyes more expression. Kohl is a paste traditionally made from finely powdered sulphide of antimony mixed with rosewater – and in some cases, wood ash mixed with vegetable oils. These days, kohl is commercially available, but the traditional, hand-made version is held in high esteem, and worn with pride. An Almekhala is a small metal bowl (it is sometimes made of silver) used to contain kohl.

Balad Sayt Village

Longitude: 23° 11’ 28.2” N Latitude: 57° 23’ 15.6” E

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Balad Sayt is a mountain village located just over 200 kilometers west of Muscat, approximately on the border between the A’Dakhiliyah and A’Batinah Governorates.

The village is an exquisite example of what ‘Old Oman’ was like – a trip here feels like a trip back in time to an era where you might never want to return from!

The village is located on the slopes of the Hajar Mountains near the highest peak in the Sultanate of Oman, Jebel Shams.

The town of Rustaq is located just less than 60 kilometres away (about an hour’s drive) from Balad Sayt, and is a good place to stock up with supplies for the day, or for a camping trip.

Due to the relatively high altitude, Balad Sayt enjoys moderate daytime temperatures – even during the peak summer months.

The village is surrounded by the awe-inspiring peaks and valleys of the Jebel Shams mountain range. A camera is essential!

There are some spectacular natural camping sites next to the few kilometers of road that ascend towards the village. Campers need to bring all amenities and supplies with them – including lots of water.

Many of the village buildings are constructed in the vernacular style – they have been built the same way for hundreds of years using locally sourced clay, mud, stone and date palm fronds.

The village itself is next to the local people’s date palm plantations and agricultural terraces.  The final approach to the village involves a steep climb, followed by an exhilarating descent into the mountain and valley oasis.

Due to its inaccessibility and out-of-the-way location, Balad Sayt’s natural and cultural beauty is unspoiled. Balad Sayt is accessible only via rugged mountainous roads, so a four-wheel drive vehicle is highly recommended.

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