A Sea of Green
The steps of the half-restored ruin that angles towards a periwinkle sky, are slowly disintegrating. The earth from which it was built is flaking away and is returning to a powdery dust. At the top an unexpected view awaits: Jebel Hafeet looms behind a sea of green. The oasis, from this vantage point, appears almost tropical. I find it hard to believe that a city and desert lie hidden behind this leafy ocean. It is hot on this late summer’s afternoon, and I can feel rivulets of sweat tickling my skin; reminding me that summer has not yet receded, despite the noticeable drop in temperature.
Al Jimi Oasis is one of many oases sprinkled across the city of Al Ain. It is a green haven that provides a welcome reprieve from the urban reality of daily life. Here the constant flow of traffic ebbs into a soft background whisper, making way for the sounds of roosters, cattle, and abundant birdlife. Spending an hour amidst the date palm gardens is like taking a refreshing dip in the ocean.
It is also a reminder that in a time not so long ago, people depended on these patches of land for their livelihood. The handful of ruins that remain amongst the palms remind me of a time when the pace of life was slow. Here, the falaj system is still in use, and the gentle murmur of water adds to the pervading peace. My expectation to find the rushing water in the cement channels icy and refreshing is dashed when I lower my feet into its swirling current. It holds the baking heat of the sun that speaks of a long, arduous journey. The once abundant wells in the area have mostly dried up as the underground water levels have fallen sharply over the years. Al Ain’s water now comes from Fujairah on the east coast where it is desalinated and then piped to this corner of the thirsty desert.
The sweet water that, for millennia, flowed through this ingenious network of underground tunnels that eventually surface to where the flow can be directed to water the crops, has become a scarce commodity. Al Ain has been continuously inhabited for over four thousand years, and with its once abundant water, it is no wonder that historically important trade routes intersected here. It is said that it was the introduction of the falaj system thousands of years ago that led to permanent settlement in the area. Over time the aflaj (plural for falaj) fell into disrepair. One of the first things the late Sheikh Zayed did when he was appointed as the Rulers Representative in the Eastern Region was to clean out and repair this ancient irrigation system in 1955. Under his leadership agricultural activity in the area increased and flourished.
In recent months Al Ain has received more rain than usual, partly as a result of cloud seeding, and the hope is that the aquifers underground will be replenished with sweet water. For now, though, the date palms will have to depend on the sea.
* An interesting article recently appeared in the Gulf News regarding cloud seeding in Al Ain.
*** GPS co-ordinates for Al Jimi Oasis: N 24° 15.345′ ; E 55° 44.851′