By Olga Velikaya
“We come back on the weekend,” said Aisha Ali, smiling. “My parents’ house is right there,” she pointed at the light beige flat-roofed house with a brown door. Her eyes wandered around the sleepy village bathed in midday light, down the lush banana farm, and up the ancient tree she was sitting under. Its large crown offered a welcoming escape from the burning heat. The texture of the tree held countless stories. Aisha’s hands were painted with henna, and the yellow floral dress and hijab she wore glowed like cheerful sunshine.
“Are you here to see the wadi?” she asked. “Welcome, welcome!”
In 161 kilometres, dozens, if not hundreds, of small and large wadis had to be crossed before reaching Wadi Tiwi from Muscat. A wadi /was a word that was impossible to escape in Oman. It meant a valley or a riverbed that was dry except when it rained. Those thirsty rocky passes awakened with a drop of rainfall. Their sleepy calm nature was completely misleading, for, in a storm, wadis turned into fierce, all-consuming currents.
Wadi Tiwi was named after a little coastal village in the Al Sharqiyah North Governorate. Though often overshadowed by more famous neighbouring Wadi Shab, it had its unique charm. Hugged with mountains on each side, the road through the valley stretched along green plantations and tiny settlements with characteristic pastel houses. It was necessary to beep at sharp turns in Al Hosn village since it was a one-way street. A thick canopy of banana and palm trees towered over mud-brick fences that protected the residents’ privacy. In contrast to the absence of travel during the pandemic, narrow paths were packed with curious travellers.
Our car slipped while crossing what appeared to be a harmless puddle. It seemed that when the roads were covered with water, they became slimy, so caution was needed. Driving up the hill past rounded boulders and green plants, we reached Harat Bidah village, where the paved road ended. Although it was just further down the valley, few people were around. While some of the mud houses stood in ruins, others sparkled with fresh paint and blue and white mosaic décor. Muffled voices and TV commercials could be heard from some beige houses. Little goats peeked through the gate, interested in newcomers. Colourful, unique designs and wooden engravings on Omani doors deserved an article of their own. A young boy came running and sat under the shade to listen to the conversation we were having with locals who were both curious and eager to share.
Whenever an Omani met another Omani, they politely asked about the health and well-being of each member of the family.
To what a customary reply was, “Al-Ḥamdu lillāh.” When an Omani met a foreigner, the conversation eventually led to a family. They asked about your country, what you did in Muscat, and whether your family was with you. Family ties in Oman were strong, and Friday was the day when everyone got together.
“My daughters often visit,” Aisha Ali said and then looked at her son. “Mohammed comes every weekend.” Though the majority of people moved to Tiwi, Sur, or Muscat and returned on weekends or holidays, three or four families still lived in the village permanently.
The path by the mosque led to the falaj tracks inside the plantation surrounded with lush greenery. While burnt leaf tips hinted at a prolonged drought, the entire valley was extraordinarily green. The air was filled with the sounds of bees and butterflies humming around banana and date trees. We walked down the paved steps to the wadi and found an exposed, textured riverbed with shallow emerald-green pools. With the first rain, the valley would fill with water attracting countless visitors.
Near one of the houses in the village, there was a large traditional oven for roasting shuwa meat. Aisha Ali, who was talking to one of her elderly neighbours, said it belonged to her brother and invited us to come during Eid Al Adha to have the meat with her family. Some younger Omanis came and asked questions, and a small boy seemed interested in the camera. Unlike many adults, kids often felt open to taking photos. Dressed in a light brown robe, the boy calmly looked directly at the lens with his brown eyes. For a brief moment, he was serious, but then intrusive thoughts kept changing his expression. Out of nowhere, he got a dry tree branch and started playing with it. Amid the silence, only distant children’s voices and insect buzzing could be heard. Wadi Tiwi filled travellers’ minds and memory cards with new faces, sights, and a sense of calmness – peaceful and welcoming.