Driving into Oman from the Hatta border, I catch glimpses of farms all along the Batinah coast- date palms swaying against the rain-washed sky, groves of coconut, papaya and banana trees, green carpets of mustard and spinach behind closed gates and wire fences. We are headed into the Omani desert for our Eid holiday.
Stopping for a break at a petrol station, I catch sight of this brilliant blue gate- half ajar. I cant't resist poking my head in. Just inside, a couple of Bengali men are washing their clothes. After a brief exchange in a mix of English, Urdu and gestures, they wave us in. We look harmless enough, I suppose. It appears to be a small private farm. Palm-shaded paths lead off into a couple of directions, peaceful and dappled in the late afternoon light. The girls run ahead of us.
I linger by a mango tree, fingering the long stiff-edged leaves. It hits me that I hadn't really seen one in Dubai- they do grow there but I suppose I just hadn't paid attention. I grew up with one right outside my grandma's house in Karachi. The story goes that one summer day my dad ate a mango and buried the seed just outside the gate. The tree grew strong against all odds. Much happened around the house- new storeys added for newly married sons, municipality footpaths, a garage built within an inch of the trunk for my dad's first car. But the tree grew on and brought us an enviable mango harvest year after year, not to mention neighbourhood boys who whiled away their summer afternoons by throwing stones at the fruit (and breaking window glasses in the process which had my dad chasing after them!). I don't know how long mango trees live but our one started to weaken. Some pest bored it into it, hollowing it from the inside. It died. A few years later in 2007, my grandma passed away too. The neighbourhood had already been changing, bare of trees and lined with vehicles and renovated houses. The last Peepul tree in front of the cricket ground had been cut for new electricity cables. But by then, I had already moved on and away.
This Omani mango tree is still young and obviously the preferred laundry hanger for the workers. In the forty five years grandma's tree lived, it grew grand, its roots drawing life from under the concrete of the street. From our first floor balcony, we used to be able to see the sparrows, crows and lizards that lived under the lush canopy. But looking back, I don't think I ever took the time to wonder...too busy growing up, checking out those boys :D
It's funny that we have come to Oman for a holiday in the desert but all we have seen so far are things green and growing. In the desert too, life pulses on. Thorn Trees dot the resort. Birds twitter. The sky itself seems to be more alive here, thick with stars at night while we eat outside.
The girls are besotted with the camels. Zola, Salman and Baraaq arrive every morning with their bedouin owners to offer rides around the resort. They have eyelashes a girl would kill for.
Back in Dubai, my plants are thriving despite my four day absence. The drip system seems to be serving its purpose. Deep down I know that whatever else I may become, I will always be a city girl. And much as I love open fields and rustic farms, I will always come back to the intimacy of an urban garden. The contrast of a 34 floor high-rise and a modest collection of vegetable plants right at the base of it gives me a real kick.