Friday, 28 January 2011

Daily Diary: I kicked off Muscat Festival in Qu'rum Park and traditional Omani architecture facts to do with mud bricks and sarooj

So, last night I headed out to Qu'rum park to kick-off Muscat festival with a visit to the Omani heritage village there.

My intention was to learn to do half-tanjeem's for my Omani Kuma embroidery (I suck at these little traditional knotted stitches), to weave a palm mat to the embarassment of some, and to learn how to restore a traditional Omani house that is falling down.

I know, not your AVERAGE Muscat-Festival go-er, but this was my OPNO agenda.
First off though, I did the tourist bit and got some yummy traditionally made Omani food, and bought some freshly made laban. Not a fan of it, but some of those I was with totally are. I also nearly bought traditional Omani dresses from Dhofar, Al Wusta, and Ad Dakliyah because the prices were good, and an Omani silver anklet. But I resisted. I will be back so do not waste all my pay check at once was my thinking.

I also watched the (minscule) firework show, and strange laser neon thingies parade. I had to, because I wanted to leave at the time of both and was stuck in the traffic.

At the heritage village I plopped myself down with some Omani ladies weaving blankets and embroidering kumas. If you want to learn traditional crafts, Muscat Festival is the free-est tuition for the old arts that you can get.

After my kuma half-tanjeem embroidery was improved, and I was espousing my favourite abaya shopping haunt in MQ to a group of women "MashaAllah-ing" my abaya, I headed to the area close to where they had some rather skinny donkies pulling the traditional style well. Don't they usually use the ox for that? Well, the ox was rather busy griding sugar cane. MOP endeavored to get us a sample, but well, I've been to South America and I am not exactly a fan of sugar cane.
Here, I found Omani men making bricks the traditional way.
First off, I learnt that once the grains were stripped from the wheat shafts, the straw was put in a pile hacked and whacked by men in a circle with heavier date frond tips smacking it into small pieces.
To make a traditional mud brick, the kind used to build the houses in Al Hamra in Ad Dakliyah region for example, you take this hay, and mix it with mud, about 60% straw and the wet clay-like mud. This is cut with a mould that slices the bricks into squares. While still wet, these mud bricks are stacked on/and with stones and they bake together in the sun, to make your structure. I need to go back for more on this, because my structure skills are weak, and I neglected to ask the precise ammount of time before another layer of bricks is added/ ie how dry do they have to be?

I also learned how to make the stronger building component in traditional Omani architecture, sarooj. Sarooj is made by making mud into cakes and burning them a series of times between coals of searing palm bark. After the mud is baked and the fire is out, it is smashed into powder and then water is added to it to make the right consistancy and thus you have a cement stronger than cement to be used to secure stones together. This is what is used to repair old falaj systems and to make Omani fortresses. I am waiting to hear from this man if he knows anything more than I do. I intend to diagram/sketch and label the process, as I will be, within two summers, working on repairing some old village houses belonging to MOP and his wife.

Who were with me at the festival, BTW.

MOP threatened OPNOother with divorce if she jumped on a donkey with the kids, so that SERRIOUSLY tempted her to do so, but all was well, since she was wearing a designer abaya and she didn't want to get donkey on it, and MOP would never divorce my girl.

Afterwards, we got icecream, and played with street cats in Al Qu'rum since it was a long, long walk to the car. By Omani standards anyways.

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