Omani elder sticks to the old ways of desert life

Ahmed Al Masroori refuses to compromise his nomadic values for urban comforts

Ahmed Al Masroori is content with his peaceful life, with no modern accoutrements. Photo: Jawad Ibrahim
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Ahmed Al Masroori may well be the last Omani resisting modernity's call to abandon his ancestry and desert home for town life.

“I have lived all my life in Gharb with my parents, then later with my wives and children,” Mr Masroori, 97, told The National.

“My children then moved to Bidiyah one by one for work, taking their mothers with them and left me alone in Gharb.”

He has 14 children.

Once they reached adulthood, they all moved to Bidiyah and started their own families.

Villagers in Gharb

His family have been urging him for years to move to the little town of Bidiyah, in the eastern region of Oman, after living all his life in the desert oasis of Gharb, about 45km west of Bidiyah.

The small town is right in the middle of a desert, where camels, sheep and goats sometimes still wander in the streets.

Born in 1926 in Gharb, Mr Al Masroori got married at the age of 19 and, 10 years later, married his second wife and built his own house, next to his parents’ house.

Five years after that, he married his third wife before marrying his fourth a year later and extending his home.

Six years ago, his children were able to get Mr Al Masroori to move to Bidiyah as well, after they built him a house in the town so they could be near him, since he refused to move in with them.

But they failed in getting him to adapt to modern comforts such as electricity and household appliances.

A year later, he returned to his old house in Gharb, insisting he missed his old way of life.

“He lives alone and we are really worried. He is so used to his old surroundings that he cannot live any other way. He even chose the spot he wants to be buried,” said his daughter Hartha, 68, who visits him only on the weekends, leaving him in his old six-bedroom house most of the week.

“On my visits, I take food that would last him the next five days until my return.”

Gharb has only nine houses where villagers herd animals and grow dates like the old days.

All the houses in the desert oasis have no running water or electricity.

Mr Masroori said that the residents of Gharb residents number fewer than 50 and, just like him, they refuse to move to larger modern towns to join their children, preferring the old way of life.

“We use lanterns lit up by kerosene and our water supply comes from the aflaaj [natural spring] that flows to our houses. Our living rooms have mats woven from date fronds where we sit to read the Quran,” he said.

“We have big and wide windows to cool us during the summer.”

After a short stay in the village of Bidiyah, Ahmed Al Masroori returned to his home in Gharb. Photo: Hartha Al Masroori

He said that twice a month a lorry would come from Bidiyah to sell commodities such as rice, sugar, flour, chicken and fish.

In return, villagers sell them fresh milk, dates and animals for meat.

Despite his assurances, his daughter still worries about him.

“We have no communication with him to contact him in case of emergency,” Hartha said with a worried look on her face.

“According to him, the modern trappings are a curse.”

But Hartha is grateful to her father’s neighbours who are looking after him.

His neighbour Ali Al-Hashmi, 43, a father of four, said: “For me and my wife, he is like our father. We have the key to his house and if he does not respond to the knock on the door, we just unlock his front door to check up on him.

As Mr Masroori he looks back at the last nine decades of his life among the desert's rolling dunes, he has no regrets and is filled with gratitude.

“I raised successful children and I still have a good and serene life. I am now at an age I can live my life on my own terms.”

Updated: May 18, 2023, 3:56 AM