Longing in Limqasil

Limqasil is so remote some people have never left it. Wedged tightly between canyons, teetering on the precipice, with the wadi falling suddenly, deep down into recesses you cannot see. The furthest Khamis bin Rashid bin Khalfan al Nasibi has ever been is Rustaq, four hours of hiking and crawling and tiptoeing over rock away. There wasn’t anywhere else to go, and it was much too much effort anyway.

Stuck on the far side of Jebel Dawi, under the crooked rock finger of Qarn Dawi, somewhere between the anonymous northern slopes of the Western Hajar, above the dusty innards of Wadi Sahtan incessantly hammered into dust by 4WDs, Limqasil is a spot even the goats might miss. This is how it got its name, which translates into ‘the place between mountains that no one can see.’

But Khamis calls it home, and his ancestors, originally from Fasah in Wadi Sahtan, bought it from the Dawyani who lived here originally. It is from the Dawyani that the mountain Dawi gets its name, a tribe that you will now find in al Hamtain and Jamma. There seems to be some confusion about when this was, because Khamis first said it was his grandfather who bought it, and then, a couple of sentences later, said it happened 2,000 years ago. “My family paid 100 karshes for it,” he says, “for the farms and goats.”

Those farms — a handful of mud terraces held from disintegrating into the abyss by stones — are the reason why people squeeze themselves between the rock here, eking out a living in the nooks that no one else wants. And that few knew till a road was scraped over the mountain as recently as 2004.

But Limqasil itself is an explosive splash of green, of raw shoots and fresh leaves sprouting high above the wadi: thom, burr, bakdonas, dera, basal and of course, the inevitable date palm. Khamis doesn’t take no for an answer, and proceeds to fill a large blue plastic bag full of spinach and coriander and everything else he can get his hands on — enough greens to last a whole day of wandering through the rest of the mountain — so I’d stop every hour or so, rip off the occasional leaf, roll a khubz around it and munch under the shade of a mango or lemon tree in whichever garden or abandoned village I happened to pass through.

Location helps. Wadi Sahtan can be particularly barren, mostly grey rock and dust baking under the sun, with barely a suggestion of shade. The slopes of Jebel Dawi face east and are barren, but reach the top, just under the needle-like peak, and the rest of the dirt track tumbles recklessly down the other side: rock faces so steep that sunlight doesn’t reach the western slopes till it is practically overhead. It is here, in the cool shade, that the charm of Dawi is in full bloom — the mountainside carpeted with shrubs, especially boot, whose little berries are collected, sold and eaten.

Limqasil can be as lonely as it is lovely, for the most you could hope for is an echo in reply. Khamis ached for a wife for years, but didn’t have enough money to pay for one. How does a shawawi goatherd earn money? You hike down Jebel Dawi to Wadi Sahtan and sell the occasional goat for RO25–80, depending on its size, or you collect a bit of honey from the wild bees that buzz around the sidr trees, or cultivate the handful of crops that you can from the fitful spring.

In reality, all this is more wishful thinking than business plan. The reality is government assistance in the form of monthly allowances that typically amount to about ten rials for every child you have. So Khamis took all he had, all his assets and earnings of a lifetime and came up with the RO7,000 he needed to get married: 4,000 from his pocket and 3,000 worth of personal loans.

This is why Khamis is now an old man while his children are too young to help in the field — it took him that long to get married. His wife, whom he married ten years ago, is now 38, and fetches firewood while he tends to the fields, the children hanging on to her laysu.

He’s lucky he managed to sell enough goats before disease raged across the mountains. He estimates he had up to a thousand-strong flock that roamed these slopes, but after years of affliction, sales and neglect they now add up to a measly 200. “The vets come every half a year, but can’t save the sick.”

Was it worth it? Khamis laughs out loud at the question, while his brother Salim, who couldn’t ever put together enough money for a wife, laughs a little less. Even a lifetime wasn’t enough for him to break even, and I found him alone, walking through the wadi that doubles up as Limqasil’s lone street, a sack over his shoulders.

“This place is special,” he insists, “it is where my grandfather wanted to be. And it is ours now: our goats can roam free.”

January 2008

www.pinaki.ch

The farm at Limqasil