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Ehdaa Al Barwani

10 Takeaways from Our Talk with a Mermaid

Ehdaa Al Barwani has a message.

It’s hardly a hot take that scuba diving – like countless other sports – remains a male-dominated field, but leave it to Ehdaa Al Barwani to change the narrative, one dive at a time. The first and only female dive instructor from Oman, she earned her PADI Divemaster certification in 2018, but found herself in the spotlight in recent years after spontaneously taking a dive in traditional Omani attire. 

Her mission? To showcase the symbiotic relationship between her culture and ocean health, while inspiring others to join her efforts towards marine conservation. Today, she’s the founder of Muscat-based dive centre Aura Divers and often likened to a mermaid, a nickname she refers to as “endearing”. A candid conversation with this pioneering woman in honour of World Ocean Day, today, brought with it plenty of takeaways. Here are our favourites.

Spontaneity pays off.

“I have a confession about my dive in Omani attire: I didn’t plan the photos as much as people think. It was supposed to be a little series for Instagram, but I didn’t expect it to blow up as much as it did. I had two dives scheduled that day and only an hour in between. One of my students just happened to be a photographer, so I asked if he could take a few photos, but I didn’t have a set plan or anything – we just went with it. We jumped in, he took a few shots, and it was time for the second dive by the time I came back up. I didn’t have time to change, so I got my students ready and jumped back into the water for the second dive.”

Omani attire is surprisingly versatile. 

“Omani clothing is made to be versatile. Traditionally, women wore it while making fishing nets, they wore it while farming – it was a part of their daily lives. You can get the fabric to be thick enough to stay warm, but the beauty of Oman is it’s warm and we don’t have too many currents. The seas are very calm most of the time, so it wasn’t really a challenge swimming in those clothes. They were actually really comfortable – I didn’t even realise that I had an elaborate dress on. In fact, I was there, chopping away at a net I spotted.”

One person’s trash is another person’s treasure. 

“There are strewn pieces of wood, plastic, and netting in the ocean and on the roads – there’s a lot of construction happening here in Oman, and wood that can be utilised is thrown out. My idea is to utilise these pieces in different sections of my boat, turning them into something that we can enjoy, that we can use. The boat came out of necessity. I own a dive centre and rent out boats, but I need one that’s comfortable for women. I need a boat with a hardtop and an all-female crew as well as a place for them to change. If I’m catering to women – especially Omani women – they need to feel safe. These are the little things that will encourage them to try diving.”

The term ‘female entrepreneur’ isn’t always sexist. 

“We’re still governed by our traditions and family values, and men and women have very set roles to play in society. In my case, terms like ‘female diver’ or ‘female entrepreneur’ help create a community, a safe space for women who are interested in scuba diving, but uncomfortable doing so around men. I understand women who’d rather keep gender out of their accomplishments, but here in Oman – where it takes courage for women to move away from what’s expected of them – it’s essential.”

We all come from water. 

“I once read that the umbilical sac is composed of salty water, so humans quite literally come from water – those are your surroundings, which is why babies are quite comfortable in the water. The panic sets in much later in life because we’ve been away from it for so long. That’s why exposure to bodies of water early in life is a must, but not enough people are. I mean, the majority of my local students have no knowledge of swimming and are quite afraid of the water. They’ve just never been exposed to water, you know? I was lucky enough to go to a private school, where I learned how to swim, which is such a privilege – that doesn’t escape me.”

Fear amongst first-time divers is normal.

“Swimming underwater does feel claustrophobic, as contradictory as that sounds – it’s all blue, especially if you go really deep. There’s almost a sense of being lost in space, but there is a little trick that helps: see where your bubbles go because they always go up. I suggest diving in shallow locations at first. Most dives are done in the morning and, with the sun shining through the water, you can see all the colours of the coral, the surface of the water, and the seabed if you need to – it helps. Go slowly, and chances are you’ll be so enthralled by everything that you’ll forget you’re going deeper. But fear is very normal, so start by snorkelling.”

Diver Ehdaa Al Barwani

The region boasts beautiful dive sites.

“It’s only when I got a job in Salalah that I realised that, unlike other Gulf countries, there were no female dive instructors in Oman. That’s when I decided to encourage more women to come into diving because they don’t know what they’re missing. Red Sea aside, Oman has the most beautiful dive sites in the Gulf. We have the Daymaniyat Islands, a natural reserve, and Bandar Al Khayran, which is still untouched. These places are so pristine, so gorgeous.”

How you dive affects your environmental impact.

“I teach PADI, which is heavily focused on sustainable diving. Its Project AWARE movement, for example, is rooted in education on ocean protection. And it’s because of how I was taught that I’ve implemented this aspect in my own teaching. Everything my divemaster taught me was about minimising one’s impact on the surroundings – swimming with your hands close to your body so you don’t hit anything, ensuring your fins are nice and high so you don’t damage coral reefs. Then there are the bigger things, like using cotton nets because nylon doesn’t disintegrate.”

Plastic will outweigh fish in the oceans by 2050.

“It’s not a great statistic, is it? It tells us exactly where we’re going. And when I talk about conservation, I don’t mean that we need to get to a point where there is no plastic – we’re so far down this path where every other thing we use is made out of plastic, right? But what we can do – and should do – is minimise the damage. The damage has been done, but all we can do now is slow down. Hopefully, we’ll get to a point in the future where we can get rid of it completely.”

Ehdaa Al Barwani

You don’t have to dive to make a difference.

“There are different ways in which you can contribute to marine health – you can monitor your carbon footprint and track how much single-use plastic you consume. You can also opt for reef-safe sunblock, volunteer for beach clean-up sessions, and remember to be mindful of where you dispose of your rubbish. In Oman, we take the car to go the shortest of distances, so maybe cycle if you’re close by or walk to the corner store once or twice a week? There’s also this idea that, as a small population, our actions don’t make an impact. But that’s just not true – every bit helps.”

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Around the World with Eid Al-Fitr

Celebrate the fast, differently

Eid al Fitr and Eid ul Fitr are different spellings of the same Arabic phrase which means “festival of breaking the fast”. “Eid” is the Arabic word for “festival” or “holiday”, and it is used to refer to both Eid ul Fitr and Eid al Adha, another important Islamic holiday that commemorates the willingness of Prophet Ibrahim to sacrifice his son, as an act of submission to (PBUH) Allah’s command.

This is a time when Muslims come together to offer prayers, exchange gifts, and share meals with their loved ones. It is also a time to reflect on the values of Islam, such as compassion, generosity, and forgiveness, and to strengthen ties with family, friends, and the community.

Eid’s Global Significance

Eid is one of the most significant and widely celebrated festivals in the world. It is an occasion that marks the end of Ramadan, the Islamic holy month of fasting, and is a time of joy, celebration, and giving thanks. The significance of Eid is not just limited to Muslims; it is also recognised and celebrated by people from different cultures and religions around the world.

The significance of Eid varies across cultures and countries. In some countries, such as Egypt, Eid is celebrated for three days, while in others, such as Turkey, it is celebrated for four days. In some countries, such as Indonesia, Eid is known as “Lebaran” and is celebrated with traditional foods, such as Ketupat and Rendang. In other countries, such as Pakistan, Eid is a time for new clothes, henna designs, and special desserts, such as sheer khurma.

One of the most important aspects of Eid is the act of giving. Muslims are encouraged to donate to charity and to give gifts to friends and family members, especially to children. This act of giving is a way of expressing gratitude for the blessings that one has received throughout the year and is an opportunity to share those blessings with others.

Another important aspect of Eid is the gathering of family and friends. Muslims are encouraged to visit their relatives and loved ones during Eid and to strengthen ties with them. In some countries, such as Saudi Arabia, it is customary to visit the graves of loved ones during Eid and to pray for their souls.

Eid is also a time to forgive and seek forgiveness. Muslims are encouraged to forgive those who have wronged them and to seek forgiveness from those whom they have wronged. This act of forgiveness is a way of purifying one’s soul and starting anew.

UAE Eid Al-Fitr Celebrations

Eid al-Fitr is one of the most significant celebrations in the UAE, marking the end of Ramadan and a month-long fast from sunrise to sunset for Muslims. The festival is celebrated with much joy and enthusiasm, with families and friends coming together to share food, exchange gifts, and greetings, and participate in a range of traditions.

The day typically starts with a special Eid prayer, which is held at mosques and prayer grounds across the country. After the prayer, families often visit each other’s homes or gather in public spaces to enjoy traditional foods such as dates, sweets, and other delicacies. Children are often given money or gifts by their elders, and many families dress up in their finest clothes for the occasion.

In the UAE, there are also many events and activities that take place throughout the Eid al-Fitr period. These include traditional markets, food festivals, and cultural performances, as well as fireworks displays and other outdoor activities. Many shopping malls and other venues also hold special events and promotions during this time.

Overall, Eid al-Fitr is a time of joy and celebration in the UAE, with people of all ages and backgrounds coming together to share in the festivities and express their gratitude for the blessings of the past month.

Eid Celebrations Around the World

Eid al-Fitr is celebrated in various ways around the world, often reflecting the local cultural traditions and customs. Here are some examples:

Indonesia: In Indonesia, Eid al-Fitr is known as Lebaran. The celebrations typically last for one week, during which people visit their relatives and friends, and seek forgiveness from one another. Special food is prepared, including ketupat (a type of rice cake), rendang (spicy meat dish), and opor ayam (chicken in coconut milk).

Egypt: In Egypt, Eid al-Fitr is known as Eid el-Fitr. The celebrations last for three days, during which people wear new clothes and visit family and friends. Special dishes are prepared, including fata (a bread and rice dish), kahk (a type of biscuit), and maamoul (a sweet pastry).

Turkey: In Turkey, Eid al-Fitr is known as Şeker Bayramı (Sugar Festival). The celebrations last for three days, during which people visit their relatives and friends, and give candy or small gifts to children. Special dishes are prepared, including baklava (a sweet pastry) and güllaç (a dessert made from thin layers of pastry soaked in milk).

Malaysia: In Malaysia, Eid al-Fitr is known as Hari Raya Aidilfitri (Celebration Day). The celebrations last for one month, during which people visit their relatives and friends, and seek forgiveness from one another. Special dishes are prepared, including lemang (glutinous rice cooked in bamboo), rendang (spicy meat dish), and ketupat (a type of rice cake).

United States: In the United States, Eid al-Fitr is celebrated by Muslim communities across the country. Many communities hold special prayer services, followed by communal meals and other festivities. In some cities, there are even public celebrations, such as parades and street fairs.

Iceland: In Iceland, Eid al-Fitr celebrations are unique, in part, because the Ramadan fast is performed in a way that is not to be seen anywhere else in the world. Iceland’s midnight sun phenomenon means that during Ramadan many Muslims fast for up to 22 hours a day! Muslims in Iceland do have the choice to break their fast based on the timings of sunrise and sunset from the nearest country, or of Saudi Arabia, however many have iftar when the sun breaks above the Icelandic horizon. So when Eid al-Fitr comes around, the celebrations are magical. The capital city of Reykjavik has a few mosques where the joyous merrymaking takes place and guests come laden with food inspired by Indonesian, Egyptian, and Eritrean cuisines to celebrate this holy day.

Morocco: In Morocco, Eid al-Fitr festivities give center stage to the country’s colourful culinary dishes. Where other countries focus on gift-giving and more commercialised displays of celebrations, Moroccans, after their morning prayers, hold low-key foodie affairs with family and friends. Lamb, couscous, and prunes feature prominently in meals throughout the day, followed by traditional cookies and pastries.

These are just a few examples of how Eid al-Fitr is celebrated around the world. Regardless of the specific customs and traditions, the holiday is a time for joy, forgiveness, and a renewed commitment to one’s faith and community.

Eid is a significant festival that is celebrated around the world by Muslims and non-Muslims alike. It is a time of joy, celebration, and gratitude and is an opportunity to reflect on the values of Islam, such as compassion, generosity, and forgiveness. It is a time to strengthen ties with family, friends, and the community and to express thanks for the blessings that one has received throughout the year.

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