Category Archives: People

World music fest adds the actual taste of what people hear

By Jan Harvey — In their native Iran, Mahsa and Marjan Vahdat are best known for their soaring voices, flawless harmonies and dedication to the art of singing in the face of tough restrictions on public performances by women.
But on a Sunday morning last weekend in the Wiltshire region of southwestern England, Mahsa’s chief preoccupation was the correct sourcing of dried plums.
“These are from eastern Iran, from a village near the desert,” she told host Roger de Wolf and the assembled crowd at Taste the World stage at Womad, a festival of traditional music and dance, as she unwrapped the fruit, brought with her from the Middle East. “They’re sourer than others.”
Around her, sister Marjan assembled lemon powder, turmeric and saffron for the chicken dish they were cooking, while in the background, the stage’s sous-chef and kitchen assistants supplied saucepans, chicken and rice.
Within a few moments, the sisters had broken off from the recipe to demonstrate the talent that brought them from Tehran, with a rendition of their fusion-edged Iranian song for the assembled crowd. Shortly after that, the meal they had prepared was distributed to the same audience, so they could taste, as well as hear, a little of Iranian culture.
This combination of food and song is the culmination of an idea dreamed up by one of the festival’s organisers Annie Menter, who set up the Taste the World stage at Womad (the acronym stands for World of Music and Dance) eight years ago.
Menter, who had long been involved with the festival in its various incarnations around the globe, had seen how the musicians she travelled with sought out their national dishes on tour, as a little taste of home.
“If you’re away from home and family, what connects you back to those is food,” Menter said. “It’s a comfort thing. If you’re feeling lonely or out on a limb, even a bowl of rice that’s traditional for you instantly raises your spirits.”

Musical tastes
She began asking musicians if they would be prepared to cook a dish from their home country while being interviewed before the Womad crowd, peppering the process with songs.
Given Womad’s focus on bringing together music from around the world — acts this year have hailed from as far afield as Rwanda, Cuba, Armenia and Wales — the result has been eclectic, to say the least.
This year New Zealand-based reggae-soul collective Fat Freddy’s Drop knocked up a seafood ceviche; Sweden’s Linnea Olsen produced dumplings with chanterelles and lingonberries; and Cyprus’s Monsieur Domani prepared a traditional meat stew that was marinated by the Taste the World team overnight.
From a strictly culinary perspective, the experiment has not always resulted in Michelin-standard results, Menter said, but that was not the point. Its success has been in bringing another dimension to the festival by broadening out its presentation of the different cultures represented beyond just music.
It has also allowed the crowd to see a wholly different aspect of these musicians. Host de Wolf invited questions from the audience throughout the interview with the Iranians, and they came thick and fast, on food and culture as well as music.
“I love the fact that it’s so intimate,” said Karen Chapman from north London, who works in film finance. “You really get to hear the story behind the artist and their culture, through music and through food.”
From the small tent it occupied on the edge of the festival in 2006, the Taste the World event has grown considerably. Menter says she’d be happy for it not to expand any further, but she’s clearly delighted with what’s been achieved.
“The rationale for me was, what’s life about?” she says. “Music, food, conversation. This is an extension of sitting around your kitchen table and cooking for friends.
“In that situation, you want to share your food, but you also want to share your conversation, your opinions, your ideas, your culture. That’s what’s important.” — Reuters

Ministry helps needy people in Oman through public

Muscat: In a move to curb the menace of begging, which increases especially during the holy month of Ramadan, the Ministry of Social Development has provided a link on its website for reporting any poor person genuinely in need of help, said a reliable source at the ministry.

“The link has been provided to help the poor in the community and the ministry is targeting needy people through the public,” said the source.

He added that the general public had more knowledge of people who genuinely needed financial support. “Anybody can report needy persons and the ministry guarantees that the details of the reporting person will be kept confidential,” the source informed.

He added that the team formed by the ministry for attending to needy persons reported on the website would deal with such cases within a week.

The person reporting a needy case can visit the link on the ministry’s website to register their name, email address, contact number, place and provide details about the case.

“The reported needy case can be for personal, family member or any other individual,” said the source.
“The service is named ‘We Reach You’,” said the source, adding that 358 needy cases had been reported to the Ministry until July 7. The ministry is providing the reporting service with the aim of curbing the menace of begging and encouraging people who usually give cash to beggars to instead help genuinely needy persons by reporting them to the Ministry, as it can help them in a better way.

Financial condition
“The ministry’s team formed to deal with the reported needy cases will examine each case separately and proper documents to prove the financial situation in each case must be provided.”

According to the ministry’s records, its anti-begging team arrested 41 beggars, including 27 Omanis and 14 expatriates, during the first 14 days of Ramadan.

The records also show that 201 beggars had been arrested in the past two months, including 108 Omanis and 67 expatriates in May and 15 Omanis and 11 expatriates in June.

The source stated that the Ministry also examined the financial situation of Omanis arrested for begging. “The Ministry normally transfers some cases to the Ministry of Manpower for finding them jobs,” said the source.

He added that other Omanis arrested for begging could receive a monthly stipend, while those who were not poor would be warned for the first time and referred to the public prosecution if they were caught for the second time.

“Most of the arrested beggars are below 18 years of age,” said the source, adding that in such cases, their parents must give the ministry an undertaking that the children would not repeat the act.

“Arrested expatriate beggars are directly transferred to the public prosecution for further legal action,” he said.

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People regret spending with bottom dollar in pocket

Do you regret buying that pair of shoes or your favourite T-shirt at the fag end of the month? That nagging feeling about your money being wasted is a global phenomenon.
According to a new study, consumers are less satisfied with what they have purchased with their bottom dollar compared to when they have money in the bank.
“As someone spends money, parting with one’s remaining funds makes a product feel more costly and causes consumers to be less satisfied with what they buy,” wrote researchers from the University of Arkansas, the University of Texas in Austin and the University of South Carolina.
To better understand the effect, authors conducted six studies that measured satisfaction from purchases made with the last of participants’ financial resources.
Results reveal less satisfaction with a purchase if someone thinks it will be difficult or take a long time to replenish their budget.
On the other hand, if someone comes into money without any effort, they are more satisfied with their purchases.
Being aware of our own spending cycles can help increase personal product satisfaction.
“While some consumers might be able to mitigate the effects of bottom rupee spending by ignoring their budgets, a more fiscally responsible approach would be to wait a day or two for your paycheck to clear before making a really important purchase,” explained Robin L Soster from the University of Arkansas.
Brands looking to increase customer satisfaction can run product promotions during times of the month when they believe consumers have more money in their budgets, suggested co-author Andrew D Gershoff from the University of Texas.
The research appeared in the Journal of Consumer Research. — IANS

Just people on the deserted beach

Every picture tells a story and that evening, on the deserted beach, the woman in a black abaya, told a sad story. She had her knees pulled up on her chin, the white surf at the end of the rushing waves were breaking on her pink toes. She was crying and she was looking at the water as if to find answers.

I was tempted to sit next to her and asked what went wrong. But I fought the impulse and walked away like I should. I kept on walking until she was just a dark blob in the white sands of the beach. I wondered, as I was looking at the seagulls feeding on mackerel, if the roof of her world had collapsed on her head.

Women are vulnerable to men’s exploitations but then it has always been a man’s world whichever way you look at it. On the other hand, it is never about right or wrong in a woman’s world. It is about the stability they can get from a man whether they grow up in their father’s house or with their husbands.  

I would not say women are unpredictable as some men would suggest. If they appear mysterious it is because men do not understand their needs. But women are expected to understand men’s motives, show patience and wait for their partners to “come around.” When they never do, women just hope that their men would change for the better but does it ever happen?  

The best thing about women is that they keep discovering themselves as they grow older while men get stagnated as they get long in the tooth. All these thoughts went on my mind as I was walking the opposite direction of the beach. In the daylight and Ramadan, no one comes to the shoreline for a quick exercise. Only those who have been abandoned or treated unfairly by some circumstances perhaps beyond repair, would do. My excuse for being there was to pick up unusual shells. The fact that I was more likely to pick up dead fish than something of any value proved that I had other things in my mind.
I passed a man who was holding a flute but had no intention of playing it. The flute was just his excuse for being there. There was also a fisherman on that patch of the beach. In theory, he had every right to be there since he plied his trade from the sea. But in close scrutiny, he was like the rest of us with a similar frame of mind.

He was absent-mindedly stroking the side of his boat, the way you would do to your favourite pet. He had his back to me and that gave me a few seconds to extend my curiosity. There was so much tenderness in the movements of his hand to the structure of the wood that really surprised me. Certainly it was his appreciation to the boat for earning him an income. He must have felt my presence because he snatched away his hand from the vessel and turned his head. I just mumbled my salaams and walked away but felt like an intruder who invaded his private thoughts.

For the fishermen, the boat reciprocated his love unconditionally. It would never let him down. There was something about the beach that attracts people who find themselves falling from grace and they needed to be alone with their thoughts.

I left the graceful beach when the sun was continuing its climb to the west to signal the beginning of Iftar. The woman was still there when I drove past the embankment on that side of the road. I really hope she would find the comfort she was looking for in this holy month of forgiveness.           

Rift among people, global indifference worsen Iraq crisis

Muscat: Iraq is going through a difficult period and the recent surge of violence has displaced thousands of citizens. However, the suffering is not limited to people living in Iraq only, the hearts of Iraqi nationals are bleeding for their motherland even as they watch the developments from miles away from home.

“The situation in Iraq has become very complicated. The people should come together and unite to help solve the problem,” said Abdulrazaq, an Iraqi national, who lives in Muscat.

“There is a plan to divide Iraq, and different parties in the country should reach an agreement,” he told the Times of Oman.

He also said that the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), known colloquially as Daesh, poses a threat not only to Iraq but to other countries in the region. “We should come together,” he added.

Another Muscat-based Iraqi national, who asked not to be named, said that a practical solution should be found to the crisis to prevent Iraq from plunging into further chaos. Daesh is a great danger to Iraq and the whole region, he said, adding that the situation in Iraq is now ‘difficult, dangerous and complicated.’

“I am optimistic and hope all the problems will be resolved with the help of God because my family is in Iraq. But at the same time, I see black fog covering Iraq’s sky,” he said, adding that the main problem is the disagreement between people of different sects in Iraq.

He also criticised the inaction on the part of the United Nations and other international organisations concerned.

“They just condemn the things. They do not do anything.”

Commenting on foreign interference in Iraq, the Iraqi national said that it only makes the situation worse.

“I hope that what happened in 2007, when mosques and other prayer sites were destroyed, is not repeated again,” he said.

“There is a big crisis going on in Iraq now. It is not going in the right direction,” he said, expressing the hope that peace and stability will come back to Iraq.

“It is not only my opinion. I am sure all my countrymen all over the world feel the same way for our country,” he concluded.

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Royal Oman Police seeks people’s help to curb begging

Muscat: As beggars become an ubiquitous presence all over Oman, the Royal Oman Police (ROP) has urged people to help combat this menace effectively since it has “negative social implications.”

The ROP, in coordination with the Ministry of Social Development, has set up a team to curb the practice. This team can be approached on phone numbers 24704886, 24794949 and 24707405.

The ROP, in a statement, said that people of various nationalities were found begging in various areas. “This practice has adverse social implications and it came from outside and has entered the Omani society,” it said.

Beggars frequent many areas including those in the vicinity of mosques and marketing complexes. Some of these beggars pretend as if they really need help.

According to Article 234 of the Omani Penal Code, begging is a crime. If anyone is spotted begging in a public place, he or she would have to face an imprisonment for a period of two months to a year with a fine of OMR 50-100.

Children being used for begging
According to the data of Ministry of Social Development, more than 500 people, both Omanis and expatriates, were arrested while begging in Muscat. Among them, 264 were Omanis and 245 were non-Omanis. Of the Omanis caught, 200 were men and 64 were women. Among the 245 non-Omani beggars, 173 were men
and 72 women.

Some families are reported to have utilising their children for begging. The data from 2013 suggests that eight males and 12 females arrested were aged below 12 years and 33 males and five females were  aged  between 12 and 18 years. There were 117 males and 51 females in the age group of 18 to 40 years.

The largest segment belonged to the age group between 40 and 60 years. There were 136 males and 46 females in this age group.

Then came the age group of those above 60 years, which had 79 males and 22 females, according to the ministry’s data.

MCBS students develop smartphone app for people with speech disabilities

Three graduate students pursuing the computer science programme at MCBS have developed an innovative, userfriendly smartphone app that assists inarticulate people communicate better.

The highlight of the Tawasul app, which assists people with difficulty in communicating to better integrate with community, is that it helps them function more efficiently in different cultural environments. Tasked with designing a project with significant real-life application value, final year students Nawaf al Alawi, Mazin al Hasni and Salim al Jabri doing their bachelor’s in computer science, zeroed in on the idea of developing a useful mobile app that would benefit people with communication disabilities.

“The app can be installed and used on any smartphone. It has a very simple and attractive interface offering a language choice of Arabic or English. It is also equipped with a special visual keyboard that matches the hand gestures with letters of the Arabic or English alphabet. All the users have to do is type the sentence they want to communicate and the software will encode and then decode it into audio-visual output,” the developers said.

At the project presentation and panel discussion event at MCBS, the project was hailed as best reflecting the college’s commitment to society, embodied in its students projects and activities aimed at adding value to people’s lives. “The scope of the project, as it came out in its final form, would definitely contribute a great deal towards establishing better social interaction between people of different social categories within the Omani society.

It is a project grand in intent and impact,” said Dr Basant Kumar, project guide at MCBS. “Our computer science programme fuses theory with practical learning through projects aimed at instilling a strong understanding of computing technology in students. The findings of this project have motivated them to carry out further research in order to develop an enhanced version of the proposed system,” he said, adding, final year Capstone Project is mandatory for all bachelor programmes at MCBS. The projects offer students a great opportunity to apply accumulated knowledge and knowhow in tackling real-life problems.

Books woo readers at Muscat’s Bareeq Al Shatti Mall

Muscat: From literature to romance, from children’s books to autobiography, from science to religious texts, books of all genres are on show at the yearly event that has found a special place in the heart of book lovers in Oman.

Some people who pass by the box at the entrance of Bareeq Al Shatti Mall, that reads ‘Help Us Educate’, may have no clue right inside the mall exists a treasure for readers who are looking for books at affordable prices.

Books, all donated by caring readers, are available from 100 baisa to OMR3, thanks to the initiative of Bareeq Al Shatti Mall, which started three years ago.

The event is organised by the mall in association with Al Qandeel. This year, the proceedings from the sale of the used books will be handed over to Down Syndrome Parents Support Group.

Inside the shopping centre, a growing collection of over 10,000 books covering a wide variety of topics, including Fun Word Search, All About Computers, Ballroom Dancing, Gas Conditioning and Processing and great novels of all time, attracts 150 to 200 people who browse through the many shelves of priceless material every day.

“It all started as an idea to promote reading culture in Oman and now many people here know about us. The event has become quite popular,” said Kaillash Gidwaaney, head of the mall and commercial leasing, Al Qandeel Real Estate.

Speaking to the Times of Oman, Gidwaaney explained that donated books are collected throughout the year and are put on display at the mall for a maximum of three months.

This year, the event started on the first day of the holy month of Ramadan.

“Books are expensive and not everyone can afford them. On the other hand, there are people who have read a book and no longer need it. So we decided to do something to help promote education here in Oman,” he said.

Those who want to contribute to this worthy cause can donate their books from 4 pm to midnight at the mall throughout the week, including Friday and Saturday. But this is not the only way to make a book donation.

“Special boxes have been placed at various outlets of Pizza Hut, Just Grilled, Lulu and VLCC as well as Al Araimi Complex,” Gidwaaney added.

Also, those who have piles of books can call the numbers printed on the boxes (99860545, 98082113, and 97202295) to have their books collected.

According to the mall’s head, the event will continue for two months after Ramadan and visitors can donate and buy books at the mall from 10am to 1pm and from 5pm to 10pm once the fasting month is over.
Volunteers are welcome to help with the sale and tagging of the books, he said.

According to Nilesh Pindolia, the event has received a very positive response from the people, especially since books in both Arabic and English are available.

“The event encourages people to read more,” he said, adding that the books are available at less than half a price.

“It starts from 100 baisa for small books to maximum OMR2.5, and some books like encyclopaedias are available at OMR3. We have all kinds of books for all age groups,” he said.

Additionally, regarding the qaranqashow event, Bareeq Al Shatti is organising a drawing and colouring competition for children and essay competition for parents on July 12 from 7.30pm onwards.

For more information about the event and for registration, interested people may call 24643892 from Sunday to Thursday between 9.30am and 3.30pm.

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WFP to provide food to displaced people

ISLAMABAD — The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) is rapidly scaling up food distribution aiming to reach approximately half a million recently displaced people from North Waziristan.
A statement issued by the WFP here said that since the start of food distribution on June 22, WFP has provided 15-day food rations over 4,600 families in Bannu and Lakki Marwat districts.
“We are working closely with the national and provincial authorities and civil society and our utmost priority is to provide food to all displaced people in the shortest possible time,” said Lola Castro, the WFP Pakistan Country Director.
The Disaster Management Authority in the area said that around 36,000 families have been registered as displaced so far following an operation by security forces in North Waziristan earlier this month.
The WFP is aiming to provide food assistance to all those displaced families who have fled their homes and are staying in different parts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province (KPK) including Bannu, Lakki Marwat, DI Khan and Tank districts, it added.
It further said that the government of Pakistan has announced last Tuesday an additional contribution of 25,000 metric tonnes of wheat to WFP to continue providing food rations to all displaced people in KPK, including the families from North Waziristan.
With this contribution, WFP will be able to continue its relief assistance until early September; USAID has provided $5.5 million to cover the cost of milling, fortifying and distributing the wheat.
The WFP is distributing its standard food basket of fortified wheat flour, pulses, vegetable oil and iodized salt, as well as emergency rations of high- energy biscuits for children, it added.
The statement said that assistance is being provided from humanitarian hub established in Bannu and Lakki Marwat.
Plans are under way to establish further hubs and to operate from additional distribution points for NWA families in DI Khan and Tank. — Internews