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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 September 2018

Heartache of mixed marriages in Oman

Cultural differences pose a big challenge for foreigners married to Omanis, with about 35 per cent of such marriages ending in divorce

Omani grooms dress up ahead of a mass wedding ceremony of 25 couples in the Al-Mudhaibi province on July 7, 2017. The government is proposing to give Omani men financial assistance if they marry citizens rather foreign women. Mohammed Mahjoub / AFP
Omani grooms dress up ahead of a mass wedding ceremony of 25 couples in the Al-Mudhaibi province on July 7, 2017. The government is proposing to give Omani men financial assistance if they marry citizens rather foreign women. Mohammed Mahjoub / AFP

MUSCAT // Whenever she visits her in-laws, Pamela Al Subhi takes care to wear a longer skirt than usual and a headscarf. Her in-laws live in the rural town of Al Hamra, in Al Dakhliya region, which is one of the most conservative areas of Oman.

Though both her father and mother in-law are “nice” to her, the people in the neighbourhood look at her with scorn every time she walks in the streets with her Omani husband. Born Pamela De Santos in Portugal, the 31-year-old changed her last name to “fit in" with the local culture in an attempt to be accepted. But her efforts appear to be futile.

“I don’t think I will be ever accepted in my husband’s hometown. We have been married only for seven months and we already feel the stress. I am alright with my in-laws but they also feel the pressure from their relatives for having their son married to a European,” Mrs Al Subhi told The National.

Cultural differences pose a big challenge for foreigners married to Omanis and according to the official statistics, about 35 per cent of such marriages in the past 10 years have ended up in divorce.

For the couples that stay together, life is a constant challenge as they defy conservatism in Omani society while trying to live in harmony with both cultures.

Rosy Garcia, 43, from the Philippines, married her Omani husband in 2010 and they have two children. The couple met in 2009, two years after Ms Garcia came to work in the sultanate as a housemaid. Her life has been far from “rosy” since then.

“I will always be the housemaid to my in-laws though I never worked in their houses. They look down at me just because I was once a domestic help. I try to please them for the sake of my husband but I don’t think I will ever match their expectations,” Ms Garcia said.

Marriage counsellors say the law does not help couples in mixed marriages either. Omanis wishing to marry foreign nationals need to satisfy many conditions before they can get permission from the authorities. After that, the foreign spouse must wait 10 years to be eligible for Omani nationality. Some have been waiting even longer.

“The government is not encouraging mixed marriages. For those who get a permit to get married, the foreign spouse will wait for a long time to get a passport and that puts extra pressure, apart from the cultural factor, on the couples,” said Dr Habsia Al Naabi, a marriage counsellor.

Five years ago, representatives on Oman’s elected body, the Shura Council, discussed the issue of a growing number of men choosing non-Omani women as their wives. They argued in a televised debate in 2012 that the trend of "mixed marriages" was leading to a demographic imbalance in the sultanate, as a rising number of Omani women were unable to find husbands.

In 2013, the Shura Council recommended the government set up a marriage fund to give 4,000 rials (Dh39,510) each to young Omani men — especially those earning less than 800 rials a month — who marry Omani women.

However, the government has yet to approve the fund, mainly because of falling revenue from oil, with prices plummeting from $115 per barrel in June 2014 to about $48 per barrel now.

“The Shura Council wanted to help young Omanis on lower income with the wedding costs. Weddings in Oman cost a lot of money. It is the parents of the brides who normally demand to have lavish receptions and big dowries. This is one of the reasons Omani men find foreign women cheaper to get married to than Omani women,” Dr Al Naabi said.

She said the average cost of a wedding was about 12,000 rials.

Another woman facing turmoil in her marriage is Moroccan-born Samia Zakaria, 36, who has two children with her Omani husband. But she also has an 11-year old son from a previous marriage who has foreign status even though he was born in Oman.

“Since the father of my other two children is Omani, they have been granted Omani citizenship. But my child from the first marriage will never get citizenship since his father was non-Omani. That means I have three children who do not all have the same nationality,” Mrs Zakaria told The National.

She and her son live in Oman with Moroccan passports.

“Which means, when he is 18, he needs to find a job or leave the country," Mrs Zakaria said. " Where would he go? His father died three years ago. It is something which gives me a constant headache.”

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