One of the hidden Agendas of my journey to Al Qunfudhah was to spend some time with Ismael and his goats in the desert. When Qunfudhah Malayali Association invited me for their meeting, at first i skimmed, saying irrelevant reasons. They insisted. As I was not interested I promised to arrange someone else instead of me. After the call, thoughts about Ismael came into my mind. I knew that he stays in some alienated village near Qunfudah deserts. After a second thought I gave Faizal a ring agreeing to attend the meeting. Intentionally I hid my agenda from the Association people.
It would be awkward, if I let them know that I am going to meet a friend at their expense. Later on I found where he lives and its 100 KM drive from Jeddah through the Geesan highway. There is a small town named Mudhailif, somewhere near to Qunfudhah. From there the road leads us to the village of Navan, Ismael’s place. Ismael asked me to call him up, when we reach Navan.
Indian diplomatic envoy from Jeddah was also planning to attend the event. Their main aim was to renew the passports and arrange travel documents to stranded Indians out there.
The Pravasi Association appointed Abbas to arrange my travel facilities. Abbas was a truck driver, transporting drinking water. He drove the trucks to the deserts even when there were no roads like as of today. During our journey together Abbas shared a lot of precious memories of him. When I started my journey, I had concerns about finding Ismael. But, when I told Abbas about Ismael and the location, he was very cool as he knew the place much better than me and used to deliver water to his farm.
The event in Qunfudhah was at 10.00 PM. We started from Jeddah at 4.00 PM and Abbas was driving not below 140 kmph throughout the journey. The six lane highway was so good that you will not feel any jerks inside the car. We reached Mudhailif even before our scheduled time and decided to take the cut-road to Navan, where Ismael stays. After sometimes Abbas stopped the car in front of a hollow brick factory. Ismael along with some of my neighborhood friends were waiting there. A short walk from there took us to Ismael’s place. It was a stranded with two rooms, just like our village shops. When I thought of going for a walk, Ismael warned me not to as the place was new to me. We sat on a carpet in front of the room. While having tea and snacks the chit-chat went on for some time and Ismael interrupted us with Roti and Chicken Curry.
I really wanted to spend that night over there, but at the same time I had to fulfill my commitments too. My topic of speech was ‘Saltant India and Pursy Expatriate’. We reached our destination on time. Before the event I had Appam and Chicken Curry (again !).
The event culminated well and good. Speech had been well appreciated by the audience. The Next day I was free till afternoon. There was a place called Amaq 30 kilo meters away, a popular tourist destination and a market where you will get special fried sea fish. I went there along with my two friends. Apart from having the fried fish, I had another agenda (hidden). One of my cousins owns a petrol bunker and a shop adjacent to the market; I wanted to meet him as well. As it was a Friday I couldn’t find any rush in the market.
Village women were serving fried fish to visitors in a tent like shops, which had stoves made of mud. My cousin ordered Hamur, a fish which is dear to Arabs with the cost of 45 Riyal. They trimmed the fish in a special shape and cooked in a different style. There were two mud stoves with fire in one and fish in another. When we tried to capture it the women said no to it and she pulled herself away from the camera. After giving the fish for cooking we visited the nearby church and when we came back it was ready to eat.
The cooking style was different from ours. They haven’t used any kind of oil, masala or anything of that sort to fry the fish. If you are so fond of spicy, there is an option to sprinkle some masala over the fish. Arabs are not that fond of spicy food. One among the specialties of their cooking is that the amount of masala in their food will be very less. With the satisfaction of a tasty savor I have continued my journey to Qunfudhah and reached there in an hour. Abbas was waiting for me with his car.
We have reached Ismael’s place around 4.00 in the evening. When I reached there, he was in a deep sleep, but I woke him up. When I tried to befriend the goat herd they ran away in fear. But when Ismael approached them, their attitude was different. Then I realized that he have a special bonding with the animals. There was around 200 goat’s altogether in the farm. The main food for them was some dried grass brought from the neighboring village and a very less amount of wheat. These goats belong to Ismael’s sponsor, who is a kind hearted man. He nurtures the farm without any profit motive. He will take three or four goats in a month to his house for meat. But Ismael used to get his share of meat and salary without pending.
Ismael, along with the farm works in a nearby factory. His sponsor doesn’t have any problem with doing works for some extra perks. Arabs have a special concern for their cattle, even if they are out of food, they will never let their animals starve. Even the affluent Arabs take their goats and camel for feeding, which they consider as the continuation of a tradition.
After giving food and water to the animals, Ismael will go to the factory and returns in intervals to see them. Evenings he went to drive the tractor. Even though it is a desert, villagers do have farming there. Ismael will run the tractor for rent, which he will also get a share from his owner. He took me to a place where he worked earlier. I have amazed seeing the greenery in the farm with full of vegetables and fruits. When he plucked some I asked, “Is it okay to pluck fruits without the owner’s permission” –Then he replied with a smile that, It was his owners order to give whatever the visitor wants. The mangoes we plucked where expensive– 32 Riyal for a box of six mangoes. There are some coconut trees in the farm, which Ismael brought from Kerala. Even though they procure no yields, he nurtures them with love, just for the sake of nostalgia.
When I completed roaming around the farm it was night. While sitting under the mango tree the workers shared their good experiences with the Arabs. As far as we are concerned Arabs are ruthless people with arrogant and cruel behavior. But the fact is most of the Arabs are kind hearted and lovable people. It is for the sake of book sales that our writers are portraying Arabs in a bad shade.
When I bid adieu to Ismael he invited me again. With a yes I waved good bye.
Translation of a blog post written in Malayalam in vallikkunnu.com