For miles and miles, there was only darkness and the silence was deafening. It should have scared Hamida al Habsi but she was at peace. She always yearned for moments like it and while watching the stars seemed an antiquated hobby reserved for old people, she never minded the stereotype.
In her late 40s, she is a strong, independent woman. As an Omani, she considers herself a pioneer in doing outdoor adventures. While the stereotype for Omani wives is that they only stay at home and do nothing, she’s the first one to argue that this is purely a jaded generalisation.
Six tents were set up around a small bonfire one of which was for her and her son Abdullah while her daughter will be sleeping in another tent.
She has camped in the desert many times with different groups and each time, she felt that it was her first. She’ll never get tired of the peace and quiet, she shared.
“I’d been to the Empty Quarter with another group. The dunes are much higher, more ominous in the evening, even colder but I love the whole experience. You can never forget moments like this,” she said.
While it would have been more comfortable renting a tent or a room at one of the luxury camps in Rimal al Sharqiya, Hamida prefers the rawness of the experience of setting her own tent and selecting a spot far from the modern conveniences of hotels and inns.
As an Omani, she wanted her children to reconnect with their country, to experience what the Bedus and people living in the desert experience. She felt that there was a lesson to be learnt from it all.
“Things are changing so fast,” she said in between breaths during a hike at a wadi that is part of the tour group’s agenda that day.
“I just wanted my kids to be well-rounded kids. I want them to know their country. I don’t want them growing up hearing stories about this place or that place where it is within their power to access it,” she said.
“I don’t want them to be limited in their world views. While I don’t have control over what they learn at school, there is something I can teach them as an Omani mother and that is how important the past and the present are for their future,” she said.
Earlier that day, her daughter got into a little slip and fall accident while exploring a wadi. There were tears shed and her daughter felt a little sick but she saw her determination and it is in this spirit of being a survivor and a fighter that Hamida was so proud of letting her experience the things she ought to experience.
Hamida knows that she cannot stop her daughter from getting hurt, but she can teach her how to get up and face the problems that come her way.
After a dinner of grilled meat and authentic Omani food prepared by Hiko Adventures, the trip organiser, together with Oman Outdoor Adventures, Hamida stared into the darkness and the starry sky.
For a little bit, a few miles where they came from, she can hear the rumbling of engines — some late night campers trying to find their own spot to camp for the night.
Desert camping has been a thing amongst the Omanis for years now. With their four-wheel drives and their tents, they can go anywhere and find the strangest of fun in the simplest of activities.
Hamida’s family is no different. She wanted them to love the outdoors and embrace the beauty of their own country. She wants them to find beauty in a stark landscape and parched earth and to appreciate the golden, shifting sand and the treeless mountains that are awe-inspiring in their uniqueness.
While she was lost in her owns thoughts, a little while later, her two kids joined her. She has other kids all grown up and have jobs and living decent lives in the city. She tried her best as a mother to raise them all well. She is giving the younger two their own quality time with her.
They had a moment all to themselves talking about the day that was. They snickered and they bonded — the mother fully aware that these are the moments she will remember the most.
In a few years, life will take her children away. They’d be busy with their own family and perhaps, she’d only see them on holidays but Hamida is content that she did her best for them.
The kids eventually went to sleep together with the rest of the group. The desert was calm and silent. It also started to get colder as is typical in the winter.
As the ember of the bonfire died, Hamida stayed awake. She’s one of the many Omani mothers who have long nights like this. Many women of Oman had been witness to the staggering change sweeping the country and it is within their hands to pass on the traditions and culture to the next generation.
Hamida waited for the sun to rise. She was alone in her thoughts. Change is coming but she can make more memories with her children. She can also hold on to them a little bit longer.