As urbanisation creeps closer towards the desert, some fear that traditional Bedouin culture is being left behind.

Sharqiya Sands, Oman – Leading towards the reddish, rolling dunes of Sharqiya Sands, the paved road gives way to a compressed dirt track, peppered on both sides with tufts of green scrub.

Deeper into the desert, the road disappears, but our 27-year-old Bedouin tour guide knows the way instinctively. He grew up here and now spends his days teaching foreigners about his family’s traditional way of life.

Tour groups meet in the afternoon under the baking sun, where they stay in tiny huts made of palm fronds. They snack on bread cooked over a fire, chopped up and mixed with milk and honey. In the evening, they pause atop the dunes to watch the sunset and sip strong Omani coffee.

“This life is special … At night, after dinner, it is quiet, and everyone joins in to see the stars and join the silence,”

But the Bedouin lifestyle is changing. As modernisation creeps closer towards the desert and young people increasingly look to large urban areas for work, some fear that traditional Bedouin culture is being left behind.

Earlier this year, more than a dozen Bedouin families from the village of Asaadiyah in Oman were reportedly given 18 months to move to a nearby town and make way for the construction of a highway. Other villagers have publicly complained about the state’s decision to build modern, low-income housing near their lands.

Amid this backdrop, more and more young Bedouins are voluntarily trading the desert life for urban conveniences and employment opportunities, observers note. Most of them are getting a better education, so they want to seek more stable jobs, and it’s an easier life in the city compared with the hard life in the desert.

Young Bedouins searching for jobs

Some are even splitting their time between the two worlds. Some work five days a week in Muscat and return to Sharqiya Sands each weekend. It is a three-hour drive each way,.

The only jobs available in the desert are “camel-herding and camel races, cultural-related jobs” says one young Bedouin.

“There are not many jobs in the desert, and Bedouins need many things that they cannot find in the desert, so they move a little closer to the town to get better jobs, and also specifically for school for the kids,”  “Bedouins have traditionally raised camels and goats to make a living, travelling from one spot to the next while following the water and grass. “But today, it’s not enough, because in the desert there’s less rain, less grass, so they have to buy everything from the town – and what they get now from the animals, it’s not enough,”

Some Bedouins believe that their lifestyle is strong enough to withstand the threats of modern encroachment.They like the desert life, they like the sands, they like the culture.

However, others think that the government’s provision of modern housing and subsidised water and electricity has led many Bedouins away from their roots.

In addition, replicas of traditional Bedouin products can now be mass produced cheaply in countries such as China, denting another conventional income source.

They also believe that urbanisation will keep affecting this lifestyle negatively, and if the government keeps providing them with housing in their areas, of course this will contribute to this …

Amid rapid development in the Gulf region in recent decades, many young people are racing to catch up, despite the risk of erasing their rich cultural traditions.

Abridged and based on an article in Al Jazeera.

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