An unusual encounter in Oman
Wadi al Hijri - He was more than 80 years old when I first met him in the caves of the small hamlet of Dmeitha in the heart of Wadi al Hijri, in Oman’s Dakhiliya region. Musabbah had spent all his life in this barely accessible canyon, indifferent to the comforts that modernisation and development offered.
Musabbah boasted that he had lived in 35 different locations in the canyon, moving from one place to another in search of grazing fields for his goats. But two years ago medical concerns forced him and his wife Nasra, to leave their secluded haven and resettle in Tanuf, the closest town to his “paradise”.
My first contact with this unique couple was during an exploration trip of Wadi al Hijri six years ago. Along with family and friends, I was surveying the terrain in preparation to make the full crossing of the rugged canyon. We had been hiking for two hours in the wadi’s bed, climbing rocks, crossing water ponds and ascending rocky slopes, when suddenly a herd of goats appeared out of nowhere just in front of us. A few metres away, we discovered the most unexpected hamlet nestled in the greyish rocks. There were chickens, goats and dogs but no human beings.
We were bewildered to find signs of a living soul in such a remote and desolate place!
Leaving the company behind, I advanced in the wadi, when, all of a sudden, I heard a voice from the cliff. “As salamu aleykom” (“Peace be on you”),” the voice greeted. It was just unreal! I saw this skinny old man through the zoom lens of my camera. He was walking easily on the edge of the dangerous cliff, overlooking the wadi bed.
“Don’t go further in the wadi, it is full of dangers! Join me for coffee and some dates at our house,” he shouted, as he waved his hands.
I realised that my unexpected host was the master of the place that we had just discovered. I thanked him and promised to visit after completing the exploration of the wadi. Musabbah and Nasra had lived in their isolated area in the middle of the rugged canyons for as long as they remember, refusing to leave even when many others deserted it.
“We were around ten families living in Dmeitha until 30 years ago. With Nasra, we decided to remain in our house when the rest of our relatives preferred to move to the city,” Musabbah said. “We have everything we need here. We have water running in the wadi the whole year round and enough grass to feed our animals.”
The goats and chickens constituted Musabbah’s wealth and unique source of living. Once a month, the couple travelled to Nizwa, the capital of the governorate, to sell chickens, eggs and dairy products from goat milk, and buy provisions of rice, dates, fruits and vegetables.
In addition, the army supplied the hermit couple with food for more than 15 years. “Every two to three weeks, they used to come by helicopter and drop food provisions,” Musabbah said.
The couple sold their goats and moved to Tanuf two years ago. Old age and health problems made it impossible for them to stay in Dmeitha.
“I go back there regularly, even alone, just to spend one night or two in our house in Dmeitha… I really miss that life,” a nostalgic Nasra said during a May 2nd visit with The Arab Weekly.
Musabbah, as well, cannot stay away for long. His age did not prevent him from going for regular walks in the wadi “to check on his bees”.
Musabbah has adopted the wadi’s bees. He can tell exactly where beehives could be found. “Whenever you see a yellow spot on the rock, it is wax dropped by a bee, it also indicates that there is a honeycomb somewhere in the vicinity,” he explained.
In his new home in Tanuf, Musabbah receives his guests in the garden, even in May when the temperature is above 40 degrees Celsius.
“I can’t sit inside the house with these machines blowing cold air in my face,” he said, pointing at the air cooling units. “I’d rather stay in the open air,” he added, not minding the feeling of sitting in a furnace.
Musabbah and Nasra are a unique couple whose attachment to the traditional Omani culture and ways of living, made them popular figures in their Dakhiliya region.
“Of course I know Musabbah and Nasra… Who doesn’t,” exclaimed a shopkeeper in Nizwa, with a big smile on his face. “They are the most unusual couple on Earth!”