Belgian journalist explores lives of empowered Omani women in book

Maria Dekeersmaeker

It was eight years ago when Belgian freelance journalist, Maria Dekeersmaeker, first visited Oman to seek inspiration for her writings. Cut to present, and the romance hasn’t ended yet. The more she explores, the more she learns about this place and its people. 

Each time, Maria only has a different story to tell. Her previous books, The DNA of Salalah-Dhofar: A Tourist Guide and Treasure Chest Salalah Dhofar, were a treasure trove of stories from the land she now describes as her second home.

Her latest offering, Whispers of Oman, goes a step further as the Salalah-based writer examines the politics of gender through portraits of women, whose lives she found remarkably striking. “Sometimes, the story of a woman is linked with the modernisation of her country,” explains Maria.

While researching feature articles for her blog magazine, Maria encountered interesting women. She made a mental note of what she had seen. And three years ago, she starting putting it all together.

“The more I got busy with the stories, the more I got inspired. And then the idea came to my mind, ‘Why should I not write a book about them?’ I was not only thinking about business- women, decision makers or women active in certain areas. I wanted to talk about women of all ages and levels of the society, about their interests, their dreams, about what keeps them busy and where they stand today. I wanted a variety of stories,” she says.

“Of course, a book means limited space. So, at a certain point, I had to make choices about  the stories that I wanted out there,” Maria says, adding that while some portraits give the reader an insight into the life of the women in Oman, others are empowering stories of how women used the opportunities their country offered them, especially after His Majesty Sultan Qaboos bin Said came to power.

“Then there are also statements made by women,” she says. “For example, there is the statement of Sara, a student, who explains why being part of theatre is so important for her personal development. Another woman, Amna explains how she dealt with injustice done to her in her youth. Naifa and Dr Aida, give the reader an insight into how modernisation of the country took place.

“Raya, who has been diagnosed with cancer, explains the role of her belief while fighting the disease. Their lives are inspiring and will push you to reach for your dreams,” says Maria.

Among the 42 portraits in her book, Maria has also featured a few men and their efforts to “become the people they wanted to be”.

Explaining why she titled the book Whispers of Oman, she says, “Every story, every statement was like a whisper in my ear. You hear it, the whisper takes your attention and a story is born.”

Meanwhile, the author, who keeps shuttling between her home country Belgium and Oman, is also busy collating material for a novel, which is incidentally going to be based on the governorate of Dhofar.

“The book will combine facts with fiction,” she says of the novel.

Her non-fiction works happened by accident, Maria says. She is, however, glad that she began with non-fiction, because it became a base for her to understand the culture, and will now help her take her story forward. 

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