Once back in Oman from Damascus my wife Dawn decided to follow her line of research into the Bedouin. The poorest and most isolated of the tribes in Oman at the time was the Harasiis. Living in an area the size of Scotland within the central deserts, they had only one supply of fresh water from a well in a small settlement, Haima.
The people relied on the milk from their goat and camels and the herds obtained their liquid from the seasonal morning heavy dews. The families followed the grazing and many lived under tarpaulins erected against shrubs. Unlike today, the tribe had no medical, educational or social government support. They spoke a language derived from Yemen which was quite different from Arabic and was, of course, unwritten.
Although the language was maintained by the mothers, gradually over the years, Arabic is taking its place mainly as there is now a school in Haima.
Dawn succeeded in creating a co-operative effort between the ministries of health, the interior, education and social affairs and labour to supply the basic services that the tribe so desperately needed.
She then presented her initiative to the United Nations in New York asking for financial support in partnership with the Omani government. Again she was successful and was able to recruit two helpers from the United States Peace Corps.
Friendships forged in fifty degrees
In order to gain access and also to win the confidence of the scattered families, she planned to begin a mobile immunisation programme against diphtheria, polio, whooping cough measles and tetanus. For this they needed a vehicle, a guide, a driver, co-operation from the local governor and accommodation from a central location. Radio communications also were essential in case of an emergency, accident or breakdown.
A new Landrover equipped with extra long-range fuel tanks, a high frequency radio set, two extra spare tires, sand tracks and comprehensive spares were all purchased and installed.
The first trip she made was to explain the project to the local governor of Haima and to obtain his permission to recruit a guide and a driver and also to arrange accommodation. Just the two of us made the six hour drive in temperatures of around fifty degrees centigrade. All went well and she was assigned a guide by the name of Knadish who together with his family, over the years, became beloved friends.
Knadish is an expert tracker and is one of the few to know the whole of the tribal area. He was able to gauge the tire pressures of the vehicle by the sound of the escaping air, fix a carburettor in driving sand, capture a hare with his bare hands and entertain the group with his intimate knowledge of the families and the tribal history.
All it takes is a tiny spark
On the return journey to the capital the same day we decided to take a break at the only hotel in Nizwa for a drink, refuel and a wash. We had done nearly twelve hours in the vehicle with only a hour’s break at Haima. Nizwa is a town about fifty miles south of Muscat.
We parked the Landrover outside the hotel next to a small blue car. Dawn went inside for a wash while I refuelled the vehicle from one of our metal jerry cans. As I poured the petrol into the vehicle I saw a spark fly between the chassis and the jerry can. The fuel caught alight and I backed away as the whole vehicle and its precious contents went up in flames.
It took a great deal of persuading the local police that I had not been smoking while refuelling and that the reason for the fire was clearly a build-up of static electricity after our long journey in the heat.
Dawn took the whole debacle amazingly well and she made sure that the replacement vehicle she bought was grounded.
The only casualty was the little blue car which we had parked next to. It was made of fibreglass and the whole of its nearside had partially melted from the intense heat. We heard later that it belonged to an employee of an oil company who had quietly taken a day off without permission. It just wasn’t his day.