When we prepared the lunch for our fieldtrip participants on the first day we triggered a lot of confusion. ‘Is this dinner already?’ (at 1 pm mind you.) ‘No this is lunch.’ ‘WE GET LUNCH?’
Yes indeed, you get lunch. Yes, every day. Three meals a day is apparently unconventional for fieldtrips and I have to admit I gain a few pounds every year, but come on, did you think we would let you starve?! There are fresh veggies, fruit, eggs (oh so many eggs), bread and a number of spreads on the buffet. Dinner embraces the popular concept of ‘Reis mit Scheiß’, whereby ‘Scheiß’ is usually spicy goat or camel or, on meatless days, chicken. But where does all of this come from? How does Oman satisfy its food consumption?
Generally, Oman has two major problems in the food-growing sector: water and soils. The water problem has led to settlement in mountain oases, that utilise natural springs. In the mountains, however there is no soil formation so that artificial terraces are needed to trap sediment. Soils on the other hand are forming naturally in the very distal part of the alluvial fans out on coastal plains like Al Batinah, here water is below the surface so wells are needed.
On Thursday, we visit both of these agricultural systems only interrupted by some geology in Wadi Mistal. We begin with the mountain oasis Wakan, which lies shortly below the highest peak of Oman: Jebel Akhdar (the green mountain). Through gardens of wine, onions, garlic, fruit trees and animal fodder, we follow the falaj until we reach the spring. Wait a second, did you say wine? Isn`t alcohol strictly prohibited in the Islamic country? Yes, it is, but one can eat the grapes or use them to make vinegar. Sometimes, as an Omani friend tells us, the vinegar turns out too sweet, but that`s also good and then he grins.
In the evening, we arrive at our last stop that is simultaneously our campsite: an Omani farm in the Batinah Coastal Plain. Entering this farm is like going through a portal from one planet to another. One moment you`re driving on a dusty road, nothing but sand left and right. Then, you enter a winged gate and a completely different world lies ahead of you. We go through an alley of tropic jungle, thick green leaves hanging so low that they brush the car`s roof. A myriad of insects buzz in the air. There is no more dust, no more sand just lush greens and humidity. At an instance, the temperature drops by two degrees and the songs of hundreds of birds and one very enthusiastic rooster swell up.
You get the feeling that water is endlessly available. This farm grows tomatoes and watermelon, both very water intensive crops, the sprinklers make it rain in a painfully ineffective way. All the water that is used here is groundwater. Water from desalination plants is available to the farms but it has to be bought, groundwater is free. As if that wasn`t enough, a swimming pool is waiting – no expense is spared for the guests. From the same mind-set of hospitality comes the offer to prepare Shuwaa for us – a traditional Omani meal that is usually reserved for the most festive occasions. The meat of two sheep is marinated with spices and wrapped in banana leaves. The whole package is then roasted for 24 hours in a pit dug in the ground. Except for the slaughter of the unlucky sheep, we get to watch the whole ceremony after a tour of the farm.
We have to wait until Friday to enjoy this treat, but from my research I know what most people will have for dessert: banana with Nutella. Most of our meals might be Omani style now, but some things never change.