Monday, August 30, 2010

The Diet Root Beer War Will Soon Unfold!

I noticed a year ago that grocery stores were stocking Diet A&W Root Beer in their "Exotic Import" seection. The stuff is expensive, but it's great in that a) Limeys hate root beer b) Arabs don't know what it is and c) It's something different that I can drink beside Diet Coke and Diet Pepsi.

All was well for a long time. Then, one day after I had purchased my meager 4 cans of Diet A&W, I noticed that the refrigerator in our house stopped running out of the stuff. I turns out, one of Rhanda's new American friends also drinks and ONLY drinks Diet A&W Root Beer. I was drinking her stash that she keeps in our fridge for when she comes over. This isn't bad, except I found out.

All the managers of all the supermarkets selling Diet A&W Rootbeer have her on speed dial and she buys out their stock as soon as it gets in.... So -- the war is on!

Sunday, August 29, 2010

It's All About Small Miracles

They finally have Stubbs Beef Marinade at "Sultan Center" grocery stores.... Life is good....

A Strange Thing Happened Last Spring...

All photos courtesy
Firstly, to all muslims: If I misquote or misrepresent the Koran or Islam in any way, please correct me. I will change those sentences immediately (I know how important that is).
Last March I went to a lecture given by an ex-music minister from Houston, Texas, who later coverted to Islam. I went to all three of his lectures and was invited to visit him at a private party after (they really liked my questions after the lecture). I had a great time at these lectures and met a lot of new friends and Yusuf Estes taught a lot of essential info about Islam that many Westerners do not understand. I had a number of questions after these lectures. I kept the questions simple and stayed away from old arguments as they would lend nothing to the process.

Question No 1. There was a guy up on stage earlier (an Englishman) who had just converted to Islam. He appeared to go through some sort of emotional change during the "swearing in" (for lack of a better word). My question was: Christians also go through such an emotional change during the point at which they are saved, what is the difference between Christian salvation and Islamic salvation?

Answer: According to Muslims, you are not connected to God through another being (ie: Jesus). Instead, you are connected directly to God (Allah). This was a very short trip to a very long answer which Estes tried to explain...
Question 2: If I remember, this question was regarding original sin and how Muslims find absolution of that sing.
Answer: Muslims do not believe in original sin. They believe strongly in staying out of sin as much as possible and then putting the rest on the mercy of Allah. (I imagine this is why it is so important to stick to to the 5 pillars).
Question 3: I had a very hard time finding a bible in Muscat to look up something. At Borders, I was told that they were not allowed to sell Bibles. Apparently this is not a law. I later found out that bibles were sold at several stores, but (silly me) they are in Arabic! But my question was: It seems to me that the most faithful person will be the one who has read two books and made his mind up about both (holding up a copy of the bible and a copy of the Koran). It seems to me that it would be best to teach both books rather than just one and a very slanted or non-existent view of the other (certainly America is no better at this).

Answer: You can buy bibles anywhere in Oman. They teach bible in Oman.

What a picture! All I need is a quarter staff and a monk's robe!

Question 4: If choosing to be a muslim is something of that should be done of free will, why is it a death sentence to leave Islam?

Answer: Yusuf says it is not a death sentence to leave Islam (I have higher sources to the contrary). But the death sentence was set up to prevent non-muslim terrorists from sneaking into mosques and killing everyone (it happened a few times back when this rule was written). The rule is not in the Koran.

Final comments were a compliment to Yusuf on his lectures, an appology for being mistaken about bibles in Oman and a final greeting and handshake.

Yusuf shook hands with me and showed everyone that Christians also believe in telling the truth. He pronounced me "Brothers Through the God of Abraham".

It's funny... After the second speech I was sort of surrounded by guys in white turbans and long beards, but in friendship. They sort of gave me the Islamic version of what Christians call "The laying on of hands..." I had a lot of people talking to me. I had a lot of guys asking me questions... I got invited to a dinner with that Yusuf Estes guy.... That was an experience! It was at somone's mansion.

Omani houses have two entrances, the men's and the women's. My wife had to go through a different entrance. When I came into the men's entrance, Yusuf was sort of sitting in a central chair and talking to everyone through a microphone (it was a VERY big house belonging to someone famous). When he saw me walk in, he jumped to his feet and shouted "Paul's here! Allah Akhbar!" ... Which was followed by about a hundred guys in white turbins shouting "ALLAH AKHBAR! ALLAH AKHBAR!" over and over and I had to shake about a hundred hands and return a hundred smiles... It was pretty intimidating. After all that, I decided to keep a low profile. The ladies around the women's entrance asked my wife who she was. She said, "I'm famous Paul's wife!"

The end result was that it got my wife and I down to our own church (Generic Protestant) on sunday - which we hadn't attended in ... well never.... Yusuf pinned down a guy at the party and I was stumped at any means to defend him... Ofcourse, five minutes online and I was shouting "I should have said that! I should have said that!" So I decided that I had to get my head back in the game.

Muslims take their beliefs VERY seriously. There's no room for argument or jokes with anyone but your closest friends.

Like I said, I didn't want to be famous, so I laid low and let the attention go away. Every once in awhile. Someone comes up to me in a shopping mall and wants to shake my hand because he saw me at the Yusuf Estes lectures...

Yusuf is an evangelist minister, converted to Islam, so he uses all the evangelical chrisma that he picked up as a Christian, but under a different religion. People call him "The Funny Sheik".

Here's a sample of Yusuf in action.

My take on the 9/11 Mosque

Photo from

Something we need to consider first before forming opinions either for or against the giant mosque and Islamic education center on the back door of the hole in the ground that was once the World Trade Center: It is against Islam to build a memorial to the dead. So before you get the idea that this is going to be something to memorialize or appologise to the thousands who died on 9/11 in the WTC, think again...

With that fact in hand, what is the purpose of putting such a large center for Islam at this location?

What stops the Japanese from putting a Shinto shrine on the Arizona memorial? What stops the American Airforce from flying barrel rolls over the Ginbeku Dome at Hiroshima every 6th of August during memorial services?


The people building this mosque must have one of two motives in mind:
1) To recruit muslims at the sight of the most extreme terrorist act ever performed by Muslims.
2) To educate Americans about our poor foreign policies.

To quote former NYC Mayor, Rudolf Giuliani, "There is no moral equivalent for this [terrorist] act. There is no justification for it. The people who did it lost any right to ask for justification for it when they slaughtered 4,000 or 5,000 innocent people." He made this statement after rejecting a 10 million dollar aid check from the Saudis that came couched in lecture from Saudi Prince Alweed on how America "should re-examine it's policies in the Middle East."

If this is an attempt to "educate" America, it is in poor taste. If it is to recruit us - or those who find this kind of action admirable, it needs to be stopped. There are other more appropriate venues for this.

I'm all about having an open mind, and yes, the United States is a free country, but we're also a nation that values mutual respect. This is where laws at the local level should take over. There are really good reasons why officials wouldn't approve of a KKK bookstore in Harlem. Why should it approve a mosque at the 9/11 site? There is no reason that muslims can't have a 13 story mosque - even in Manhattan, just not so close to Ground Zero.

Yes. Muslims also died in the Twin Towers, but muslims do not build memorials to the dead. They DO, however, build memorials to victory.

One Month of "The Middle East Sucks"

It's Ramadan here in Oman. Ramadan is the month that the Quran was first revealed to the Prophet Mohamed. Islam follows a lunar calendar, so their year is 11 days shorter than Western calendars, so Ramadan moves a little forward every year.

There are idiots out there who say that Muslims are a "moon cult" because they worship according to a lunar calendar. If that's the case, Christians are a "sun cult" because we worship a solar calendar....

Anyway.... While I love Oman and love living here and I believe that 99.9% of the Muslim population is misunderstood: You can't have roses without thorns. So for 11 months of living in a fun and exciting place, we expat Christians have to put up with one month a year of daylight starvation. During this month, a Muslim can not eat during the daylight hours. He/she must fast. So that means that everyone around them has to fast too.... by law... So every restaurant in Oman is closed until sunset.
At work, I'm sneaking snacks in and hiding them behind my monitor... Shhhhhhh.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

How the "Other Half" Lives...

Remember on my last post, I said the story of my maid's uncle was "another story". Well here it is. The day before yesterday, my maid came into our house while I was sorting out my medicines for the day and was crying here eyes out. She is from Sri Lanka and works here in Oman because it is close to most of her family (her uncle is the closest family member and is the rock of her whole family unit). He's an electrician and works at the city desalination plant where Muscat draws nearly all it's fresh water supply. He's worked there for over 23 years.

Last week he had a heart attack and was put in the hospital for a few days. They don't do angioplasties and other things here that you'd think would be done for people with blocked blood vessels in the heart... They just give you a shot in the arm to open your blood vessels and watch you to make sure you don't die. Well... They released him from the hospital and when he returned to work, he was informed that his services were no longer needed. They were bringing in a fresh new recruit from India. So, as his visa is determined by his employment, he's got to leave the country. He needs to leave anyway because he wants to go back to Sri Lanka where he trusts the doctors (go figure). His company claims he's too old. 55 is the age limit for employees here and he's 56. Also, they're probably afraid that he'll have another attack while doing something vital and kill himself on the job site... So I imagine they saw him as a liability and decided to terminate him... Nice... You'd think we had stepped out of the 18th century on employers who act like this...

Anyway... My maid is over the edge with grief. I have tried to explain to her that it's just a job... He'll get another job... I also tried to explain to her that she needs to be happy that her uncle isn't dead and that heart attacks are serious business. It turns out that he's had undiagnosed diabetes all this time... probably what led to the attack.

I drove her to her uncle's apartment to visit him. Boy did I feel like an elephant in room full of mice... Firstly, this "apartment" is a 10 story building that looks like it was built in the early 70's. It has that "70's" look about it. The ceilings are only 7 feet high and the place is falling apart. Paint is peeling off the walls, carpeting is all ripped up, half the lights don't work.

I was taken to his son's apartment, which was the nicer one. It was a single room apartment with a small makeshift kitchen area and a bathroom. The main features of this single room being a huge fuze panel on the wall and a collection of tattered particle board book shelves which act as a divider between the door to the apartment and the "bedroom" which contains two twin sized beds for a husband, wife and two children...

Guns and Short Vacations...

My wife and I had a vacation planned for the end of May for three weeks. We were all set to go when one of our client's geologists decided that he didn't like having somebody new working on his wells (remember that I'm a geologist). He worked fine with new people before, so why now? It takes a crew of two people working back to back 12 hour shifts to "geosteer" a well. We basically watch horizontal wells and steer them so that they stay in the oil. So, after much debating, I finally had to settle on leaving on the 1st of June - requiring the new guy to work in another field and the only two experienced crew left to work on his wells.

This was supposed to be a nice long break, three weeks of vacation and then three weeks of classes at the Halliburton facility. I got three days into my classes and got called back due to the needs of this same exact client. So... wife has to stay in Houston (because she's got a PA licensing test to take) and I have to go back and attend a job that really didn't need attending. Well, since then, I've been working, without a day off from 7AM till I get home at 9 or 10 every night. Everything in my house decided to fall apart all at once... Every air conditioner is leaking. Washing machine is broken, and our maid's uncle .... that's another blog topic.... and before anyone starts going, "oooOOOooo... a maid... are we hoity toity"... Everyone has maids here. They're very cheap and every house has a maids quarters in the back.

So then... The icing on the cake... 4 AM my wife calls and apparently, someone has broken into our storage shed on my parents farm (in Texas) and stolen both of my gun safes... We're talking heavy armor... Lots of guns... I had a collectors license, so I had recorded serial numbers on nearly all of them... So that much is good. The loss is sad. Some of the guns I had were family heirlooms, handed down through the family. The serial numbers were put on a nation wide database, so we'll see what turns up...