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Desert life

Oman day four

View Oman 2019 on ToonSarah's travel map.

A morning in camp

Early morning at the camp - our tent on the right

We slept well in our cosy tent, enjoying the peace and quiet of the desert until woken around 6.30 by bird noise. A pigeon was cooing on the tent roof, so we got up, dressed quickly and went out to take some photos. The clouds we had seen last night still covered the sky, unfortunately, and the sand flies were a bit bothersome, but the air was pleasantly fresh. Chris climbed the big dune above the camp but I stayed below, photographing the birds and other details that caught my eye.

Dove on the tent roof, and storm lantern

Camel, and camels crossing sign

We had a good breakfast (with another nice omelette and excellent coffee) and soon after finishing that, the clouds began to break and patches of blue sky appear. We took a few more photos around the camp (camels, birds, dunes) before meeting up with Said for a chat about the plans for the next few days (he had some proposals for varying the route, to which we agreed), and a briefing about Omani culture, geography etc.

Chris and Said

Bedouin visit

We then had time for a cold drink in the Desert Ship (as the bar is called), before leaving with Said to visit a local Bedouin family for lunch. We could have opted to stay and relax at the camp today, but it would be a real shame to come to the desert just to sit by a pool, and besides, these visits, while obviously ‘staged’ for tourists, help to support the Bedouin financially and do, based on our experience, offer real insights into their way of life.

We retraced the route through the dunes which we taken when arriving yesterday, stopping to take photos of the camp’s old truck left to rust just outside the gates for that very purpose.

The old jeep buried in the sand

Sign by the jeep

Said decided to take a photo too!

The sign by the jeep reads:

'It's time to have rest, 1000 Nights Camp doesn't need me
any more, I'm too old to move. Give me a favour and take
a photo with me, you might tell my story..'

Arriving at Salma’s home we left shoes and socks in the car and entered the compound to be met by her husband. Inside we were greeted by Salma herself, our hostess, and her daughter in law. There were two grandchildren at home too (two others, older, were at school).

Entrance to the home
Salma and her husband

Salma wore the traditional Bedouin face mask which Said explained is designed to protect from sandstorms and the elements in general. Her daughter in law however wore a veil. Together they served our lunch of traditional bread, rice, dhal, chicken, fish and salad. Being cautious I stuck to the bread, rice and dhal, which was delicious. Chris also tried, and liked, the chicken.

As everywhere in the world, the traditional life-style of the Bedouin is threatened by modernisation and a trend for younger people to move away to the cities. We learned elsewhere on our tour that the government is encouraging this move by building homes in towns which are offered at low cost or even free to the tribal people. The motive, we were told, was to help unify the country by bringing people closer together, as well as enabling everyone to benefit from modern health services and schools. But I’m not sure how well it is working, as in places (near Salalah in the south for instance) we saw new houses standing empty because the Bedouin have moved back to their tents or to villages nearer their traditional homelands. The fast pace of modernisation in Oman, which in less than fifty years has moved from a largely feudal to a technologically advanced economy, is perhaps having its greatest, or at least its least positive, impact on these people.

Inside the room where we ate

Meanwhile tourism, including hosting visits like ours and working as guides in the desert, offers those Bedouin who want to continue to live around here the opportunity to do so. Many, like Salma’s family, split their time between a home here and one in town. Possessions are for the most part small and portable – apart from a wooden dresser, a trestle table and some low benches, there is little solid furniture. The family sit and sleep on the colourful cushions made by Salma and her daughter in law, the sandy floor is covered with a patchwork of rugs, and family photos and small ornaments hang on the walls of the two rooms.

Salma's daughter in law relaxing in the other room
Family possessions

The only incongruously modern notes come from the mobile phones propped on a ledge to charge (they have solar power) or used to keep the children occupied.

Salma's granddaughter with mobile phone

Said had already told us that we were free to take as many photos as we wanted, so we did, asking permission however when we wanted to photograph any of the family. I am not sure what they thought of our interest in their various possessions, but I guess they are used to visitors taking photos of such things!

A window

After we had eaten we moved to the room on the other side of the sandy open area. There we had coffee and dates, and learned a bit of Omani coffee culture from Said. He taught us to shake our cup if we wanted to indicate that we had had enough, or to hand it back directly if we wanted more. I handed mine back without shaking!

The family had set up a small stall of handicrafts, most of the items woven by Salma herself. The bigger items included scarves and bags, while the smallest were key chains, bookmarks and bracelets. I felt we should buy something to repay their hospitality (even though I trust that our tour company, Undiscovered Destinations, ensures that a fair price is paid for these visits) so picked out a mobile phone pouch to serve as a case for my compact camera – something I did genuinely need.

Salma at her handicrafts stall
Weaving loom

There was time for more photos around the home before leaving, and Salma’s husband kindly posed for me with his grandson. I was a bit disappointed though not to be offered the chance to try on a face mask as Said had suggested I might (and as my friend Grete had done on a similar visit), but on reflection I realised that I would probably have felt a little silly and looked even more so!

Salma's daughter in law and grandson

Salma's husband and grandson

The enclosure

Dune view

Relaxation time

Oryx in an enclosure at the camp

We returned to the camp in the middle of the afternoon. Said offered to take us again to watch the sunset but on such a cloudy day it seemed unlikely that it would be a good one, so we decided to give him, and ourselves, the afternoon off to relax.

I considered going in the pool, but my shoulder was still a bit sore and a group of young children were playing there a little boisterously, so I wasn’t sure how relaxing the experience would be. Instead we enjoyed another delicious cold fruit juice drink in the 'Desert Ship' bar, and occupied ourselves with our books and sorting photos. There is no WiFi at the camp so catching up on messages or emails wasn’t an option and we found ourselves wondering about football results and world news; being cut off from just a couple of days seemed good ‘practice’ for our planned September visit to North Korea!

Lemon mint drink

Chris in the 'Desert Ship' bar

Dinner again was a buffet, as the norm in the hotels here it seems, but although I’m not a big fan of these the selection was good and I found several tasty dishes. There were musicians again, and I found them rather more tuneful than the previous evening - the brief video I shot is not great quality because of the low lighting in the restaurant, but gives a flavour of the music.

The day’s clouds had finally dispersed so after dinner we were able to sit outside and enjoy the stars for a while before retiring for our final night in the desert.

Posted by ToonSarah 02:43 Archived in Oman Tagged people food desert culture music costume oman crafts customs

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I've never seen a realoryx only statues in Qatar. Looked like an interesting day.

by irenevt

Thanks for including the brief music video. I think I could develop a taste for this sort of music, if I heard it a bit more often.

by Nemorino

I don't like to be without the internet. We didn't have it for a few days in Tanzania (and also in Yellowstone), but I was happy to be back in touch. So did the Bedouins have internet on their phones? Or were they just used for games for the kids?

by greatgrandmaR

It was great to see the desert life through your eyes, Sarah! Thanks for sharing your memories!

by Vic_IV

Thank you all :)

Rosalie, there was a satellite mobile connection in the area around where the Bedouin live, as it's only a little way into the desert. But at the camp there was neither satellite nor broadband, although Said told us that if you went up the highest dunes you could sometimes pick up a connection. We didn't bother trying as we were only using hotel wifi when available to avoid high data roaming charges. In N Korea the internet is banned so we'll be forced to do without for several weeks!!

by ToonSarah

Another wonderful "virtual" journey Sarah. I especially liked the photograph of Chris in the Dessert Ship bar as, at first glance, it did indeed look like a ship. I was surprised at Salma's house having loosely woven bamboo (or such) walls. I always assumed that homes in the dessert would be of fabric in order to keep most of the sand out. Interesting insight into the rapidly changing culture. We westerners might like to see indigenous peoples in their traditional surroundings but, whilst we live in modern surroundings, I do feel uncomfortable with this. I am really good at sitting on the fence and approve that they are keeping traditional life-styles alive and providing entertainment and craft items helps to funs this but the other half of me feels that I am taking advantage of them.

by Yvonne Dumsday

Thank you Yvonne. I believe the Desert Ship WAS actually once a ship - one of the traditional dhows which when it fell into disrepair was brought here and partly reassembled to form the bar

I do understand your point about our visit to the Bedouin and as I said I had some misgivings myself, but I don't think we were taking advantage. They run this as a business, serving lunch in their home in a similar way to how one of us might run an airbnb, using their property to generate an income. And for those of them who want to preserve their life in the desert and other rural parts of the country, income from tourists is a huge help, enabling them to stay when they might otherwise me forced to leave in search of work. Salma's family live on the edge of the desert so the children can go to school and the son to work in the town, while maintaining a way of life they seem to genuinely prefer and subsidising their income while helping tourists engage with local people. To me it's a win win :)

by ToonSarah

Fascinating. The carpet in their house was gorgeous. What a great experience.

by Beausoleil

Sarah another very interesting read. By the way, you can now get access to the internet and overseas calls in NK on your mobile. It is very expensive and only one of our group did it and it won't work in many of the places on your itinerary outside Pyongyang. You can make overseas calls from a number of hotel lobbies for now not to unreasonable rates - useful in emergency and of course your Western guide will be able to contact base. Should you get internet (I strongly recommend you do not - enjoying the absence) you would be on a completely different network meaning you cannot access local (NK) calls or the local net. It is rather odd that you can ring overseas but cannot ring your guide in reception to tell them you are a minute late! Additionally in Pyongyang and only there you will have access to Al Jazeria (again guides/ locals cannot see it). At some point between 2014 and 2018 the BBC was banned so its no longer available in your room. Though illegal, it is fun trying to pick up a SK signal when you are near the DMZ and Chinese one when you are up North. It was funny when we were asked to turn our phones to flight mode as we approached the border with China. Everyone started trying to get messages out and when guides started insisting that phones be switched of we explained that we were 'trying' to work out how to do exactly that with all our button pressing! If you get a Sim card and or make calls from hotels you should assume that your usage will be monitored !!!

by Wabat

Thank you Sally and Albert :) Noted re internet in NK - I don't think we'll bother if it's that expensive, and the enforced detox will be interesting ;)

by ToonSarah

It's good to see that your Bedouin experience was mutually beneficial Sarah. I'm sure it helps to make these sort of trips much more worthwhile knowing that you're helping these people maintain the way of life that they seem to want to hold on to

by Easymalc

Thanks Malcolm - yes, it seemed a win win to me :)

by ToonSarah

It was very interesting to get a glimpse of the Bedouin lifestyle and I would like to know more about it as it left me with some questions. I, too, was a little surprised that the home's construction was different than I would have expected -- but, it was good for not confining stifling heat during the day, although not necessarily for keeping sand out in a sand/wind storm. I am sure your visit did help out the family financially and Salma's traditional handicrafts too as well as being a point of pride for her I would guess.

by starship

Hi Sylvia. I've been thinking more about the construction of the Bedouin home since getting the comments here. It didn't strike me at the time as I know from things said during our visit that regardless of appearances this home can be dismantled easily, just as a tent would be. Some of the nearby homes that we saw were tents. I reckon if there were sandstorms it would be easy to drape the thick hangings used for those tents on the walls of this one, so perhaps that's what they do? I should have asked!

by ToonSarah

Shame you didn't get to try on the face mask, we could both have looked silly! :)

by Grete Howard

Haha Grete, we could indeed

by ToonSarah

The visit to the family must be awesome. Like you said, they do it especially for the tourists, but than again, it helps the people in a way to survive as I think that the Bedouin way of living is slowly losing from living a modern day life.

by Ils1976

You're right Ils, their way of life is under threat, but some seem to be finding a way to balance the old and the new - e.g. a modern house in town but still spending some time in the desert too

by ToonSarah

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