By Ali Ahmed al Riyami -
Thanks to the expediency of the Muscat Express Highway, which begins in Qurum and ends at Al Felaij, the time it takes to reach Barka from the capital area has been halved from around 40 to 20 minutes.
All along this fabulous 53-km, six-lane dual carriageway, there are convenient exits to various urban centres, and prior to reaching Al Felaij there is a turnoff that takes you to Barka. From here, it is possible to travel further up the Batinah coast to Rustaq, Al Musannah, Wudam Al Sahil, Suwaiq, Al Khabourah, Hafeet, Saham and Sohar.
All of these places are blessed with many farms where lush green vegetation, palm groves and various fruit trees abound, and thanks
to the expansive coastal stretch of the region, it is also home to numerous local fishermen.
The Observer spoke to some of the people residing in the region to find out more about their way of life and day-to-day transactions.
Khamis bin Darwish al Hamdani, 38, was born and raised in Barka. He did not complete high school and opted to join the Ministry of Defence a decade ago as a light duty driver.
Earlier this year he also took up taxi driving during his spare time, so as to supplement his income. He is married and has five school-going children. He said that although there has been an increase in salaries since the issuance of Royal Directives, in order to meet all of his increasing expenses, including housing loan and family costs, he had to take up the extra job.
Commenting on the life in Barka, he noted that there are lot of commercial activities taking place with a number of new ongoing projects as well as those that have been finalised.
This has given rise to many employment opportunities, but there are some youths still seeking employment.
He said it is nice to live in Barka, which is a well laid-out and organised place and not too far away from the capital. There are some services the place still lacks, especially in relation to tourism and public amenities.
There are not many hotels in Barka and most visitors prefer to visit nearby Nakhl and stay at the Al Nahdha Resort in Rustaq or the Al Sawadi Beach Resort.
Some of the interesting sites include the ancestral mansions of Bait Naaman and Bait Barka, which offer a taste of olden day Oman and where visitors can learn about the history of these places.
Saif bin Salim al Ghafri, aged 34, is from Rustaq where he has a small farm. He works as an electrician in Sohar, but lives in Musannah with his family and commutes daily to Sohar, which is about an hour’s drive away.
He said he enjoys living in Musannah, where there are jobs available and where most of the people are able to make a living.
Musannah is home to the illustrious Al Mussanah Sports City and the Millennium Hotel. Visitors can enjoy a variety of water sports, and for dive enthusiasts, the nearby Daymaniyat Islands are world-class diving sites. A visit to Wadi Bani Jabir affords entry into the famous Majlis Al Jinn, one of the biggest cave chambers in the world.
Mohammed bin Khalfan al Maamari, 64, is a street vendor in Sohar. He is originally from the area and now lives in nearby Liwa. He buys seasonal farm produce from farms in Shinas, which he sells directly to customers from his stall, which is usually located at the beginning — at the Sohar end — of the dual highway that takes commuters on to Buraimi. His stall functions twice or thrice a week, depending on weather conditions.
He has been working as a street vendor for the past 15 years after serving for 20 years in the UAE defence services. Prior to this, in the early 70s, he had worked for five years in the Ministry of Defence.
He is married and has three children, one working at the Port of Sohar, one seeking employment and the other physically unable to work. He used to receive a monthly payment of RO 40 in social security payments when he returned to Oman and was given public housing, which has since been transferred to his name.
Thanks to Royal Directives, he now receives RO 80 a month and, as a street vendor, he is able to earn an extra RO 45-90 per month depending on how well his sales go. On some occasions he is unable to earn anything.
Ayub bin Ibrahim al Balushi, 36, works in Al Ain’s Civil Defence Unit, where he works for 24 hours and then has 48 hours rest on a rota basis.
He lives in Sohar with his extended family along the beachfront, behind the beautiful Sohar Beach Hotel. Here, he and nearly all of his neighbours, have taken up fishing to supplement their income.
All along the extensive beachfront are fishermen’s shaded areas, boats, fishing nets and cages, and most conveniently of all, their houses, which means they only have to travel a few yards to where their boats and their livelihoods are.
Ayub is married with four school-going children, and with these two occupations he is able to provide for his family. He said he does not always come back with a catch, but is happy with what he is able to bring in.
Most of the catch goes to his direct and extended family and any surplus is sold off at the nearby fish market.