It was Friday morning, and the streets of Ras Al Khaimah were still drowsy, plunged in the lazy silence of the weekend’s dawn, as our convoy passed, heading towards Wadi Sha’am, the last coastal gorge in the U.A.E. before the Omani borders. Sha’am village soon emerged among the sharp mountain peaks, quaintly picturesque with its small touches of colour lightening the dullness of the fabled sandy shades. The few locals who had already ventured into the streets paused to greet us, waving cordially even from within their cars, until the last of our vehicles had passed, and the dust had settled down.
We stopped at the house of Rashid: a young Emirati, a Navy captain, who volunteered to guide us around the yanz structures. Dismissing our protests – for, we were a large group – he ushered us first to the majlis of his house: a carpet-covered veranda with seats and pillows in the periphery, and a large plate of morning treats placed in the middle. There was bread – a local, tandoor-type, whole-grained bread – and honey collected from the wild beehives of the region. Traditionally, the locals cultivated their own cereals, but the recent droughts have forced them to import grain from Oman. Similarly, we were told, the plains around the village used to be full of apple orchards but, given the lack of rain, the increased cost of agriculture, and the alternative career options for the Emiratis, it was much cheaper now to merely import the apples. The honey, however, was quite exquisite, since there are no professional beekeepers in the region and, instead, the locals rely on the wild bees that collect the nectar from the samer trees of the desert. Although there is no official ownership of a beehive, an unwritten code of conduct exists, and people respect the hives that have been already claimed by someone else. The honey production obviously remains limited, which forces the prices to skyrocket heights. Indicatively, we were informed that a bottle of honey (less than a litre) costs around 1,500 AED – an equivalent to almost 400 USD.
Yanz is a Bedouin word to describe small, stone-made storage structures built along the edge of the cliff or within terraced fields. Constructed with rocks coming from the mountains, they stand well camouflaged and, in the beginning, we had trouble detecting them, even though we were just a few hundred meters away from them. These storehouses used to protect the produce of the surrounding tribes from animals, thieves, water, or any other danger. Their owners would rent them to farmers, and various crops would be stored in the same place since each yanz was not product-specific. The negotiation of the water pouring – often flooding – from the mountain slopes had always been of significant importance to the people of the region; hence, they constructed several canals and a series of vents (or doors) to direct the water away from the yanz and into pools where it would be kept for future use by the families.
We strolled around the dilapidated structures, Rashid constantly among us telling stories from the past and recounting how life in the countryside has changed over time. Before leaving, he insisted on taking us to his grandfather house nearby. It was a traditional abode, comprised of a cluster of rooms (including the majlis, sleeping rooms, storage areas, and a kitchen) erected around a courtyard. The section that served as the main bedroom was decorated with several distinct local items like mattresses woven out of palm-tree leaves, a storm lamp, kilims, pictures of the sheikhs of the region, and the indispensable pillows lined up next to the walls. It is not common to enter an original country home in the UAE, and we were touched by the hospitality and friendliness of our host – whom, after all, we had never met before.
We continued our way towards the Al Ghabba cluster of villages, perched on the mountains on the borders with Oman. The first community we encountered was called Silli, numbering a handful of stone-built dwellings that used to be inhabited not so long ago but now they are falling to pieces. As we moved upwards, the structures seemed to be in better condition – yet, the whole area was evidently abandoned as the locals have moved to the urban centres. Unlike other similar villages, there was no tower or other sign of fortification here: somehow, the surrounding mountains seemed to have provided enough protection over the centuries.
Although from afar the villages looked little more than piles of rocks, a closer examination offered interesting details regarding the traditional architecture and the habits of the locals. For example, some of the houses were large enough to accommodate a full family during the harsh winter months, while a few adjacent rooms with no ceiling and holes on the walls for ventilation were apparently used as the sleeping quarters in the summer. The roofs of the structures were made of trunks and branches from the acacia trees that abound in the region. A few buildings had low doors, and we had to crouch and go down a few stairs to reach the rooms. Some were still locked – despite their abandoned appearance – while, in others, we discovered wooden boxes and palm-weaved mats left behind by their owners. A humble mihrab indicated the location of the mosque, while a few kilns – which are, in general, common in Ras Al Khaimah – proved that, in their prime, these villages used to produce ceramics. The rest of the area was full of terraces – some of their walls remaining quite well preserved – indicating the cultivational plots and the agricultural activity of the local tribes.
There is always a feeling of tenderness when rambling among the remains of old communities. The scraps of life that can still be found – a beautiful metallic door, a kettle, pieces of ceramic jars – echo the impact of human presence, regardless of whether this habitation has been recent or lost in the annals of mankind. As people, we tend to look forward to testimonials of our passage, remnants of our civilisation, fragments of thoughts, actions, or activities. Despite our frequently aggressive disposition, we long to build bridges and, throughout our history, we keep reaching out hoping that our invitation to connect will never be left unanswered.
Photo credits: © Konstantina Sakellariou.
Original Post found: http://www.myunusualjourneys.com/yanz-villages-rak/