Jabal Akhdhar is business as usual. At least as far as the damask roses harvest season is concerned. The truth is, the families had been tending to their gardens for generations. They know the perfect timings — of when to harvest, when the next buds will bloom, and when to process the rose petals to make them into to the prized rose water.
Hundreds visit Jabal Akhdhar every year specifically for the damask roses season. It’s an attraction one cannot miss — fields upon fields of terraced gardens, the greenery of which are dotted with the pink awesomeness of the blossoms.
The people of Jabal Akhdhar do not earn anything directly from tourist visits. Unless of course they buy some of the products directly which probably happen one in every 10 visits. The entrance to the gardens is usually free. It is out of the kindness of the Omanis living in Jabal Akhdhar that they open their garden doors to visitors — so that tourists can learn a piece of their tradition and culture.
It was easy to take that for granted as a tourist. There had been numerous reports in the past of visitors plucking flowers during their visits, of creating disruptions making loud noises as they passed through traditional villages, vandalizing alleys and pathways, leaving trash everywhere, and interrupting workers while they are busy tending the farms.
Without visitors, life goes on. And the season carries on.
Closing access to Jabal Akhdhar was one of the best decisions as well. A bit frustrating for those who longed to see the gardens while in full bloom but a great way to protect the people especially the old citizens.
Jabal Akhdhar is home to some of Oman’s brilliant but aged farmers. These are the grandfathers and the fathers, the grandmothers, and the mothers who made it possible for the knowledge to be passed down to the younger generations.
They were the most vulnerable and it was a sigh of relief that the pandemic was stopped before it can cross over.
All is well as far as the harvest is concerned. This is according to local explorer and mountain lover Ahmed al Amri.
His family has been tending one of the gardens in Jabal Akdhar and through a series of photos and videos, he showed that everything is as normal as it can get.
Children are helping pluck the flowers. The old men distill the petals. Families work together to transform the soft beauty of the roses into the prized rose water.
In a few days, the harvest season will be over. And they will move on to the next season, possibly the olives and the figs.
But many of the farmers are not spared from the long term effect of Covid-19. Small businesses like theirs are dependent upon market demands so while they have plenty of the supply, the question they would have to contend with is where to sell them.
It’s hard to imagine how the farmers will weather this storm. The majority of the efforts we see is how to keep small and medium businesses in big cities alive. Nothing much is discussed how they will be helped.
Many of these farmers are also not on social media. It will be hard for their voices to be part of the narrative, to be put on the spotlight. They exist in the background finding solutions to their own problems. On their own.
And for some reason, I know they will find a way to weather the storm. My dozens of visits to Jabal Akhdhar has exposed me to the resilience of families there. They’ve navigated those mountains without roads, thrive in their villages for years.
But just because they will be able to make it on their own doesn’t mean they do not need support. Wherever the help will come from, it is needed. Even in a simple gesture as buying locally produced products you find in the supermarket.
Someone said it before. When the pandemic was declared globally, nobody rushed to buy gadgets or any of that modern stuff. Everyone focused on buying milk and vegetables — the basics produced by a farmer somewhere.
Hopefully, this piece of writing will bring attention to the plight of small guys who don’t own a social media account. Just because nobody is saying anything doesn’t mean all is well.