With the Colours
|Pink desert, pink camouflage|
My little unit was multi-coloured, too. The majority were (are we allowed to say this?) brown – Omani Arabs, and Baluchis (in the black berets). As regards the other berets, I don’t recall beyond the burgundy ones worn with the khaki uniforms, which denoted the Royal Guards regiment.
|Played by actors (to protect the innocent)|
And then of course there were my two sidekicks and I: white on arrival and only a little browner as time went on because direct exposure to the sun would have been unwise. Everyone got on really well, including the obvious dummies, who were endearingly honest about their shortcomings and were bolstered by the rest, which is very much the army way. You will never get a full complement of top intellects in the services: it’s attitude that counts for so much, and enough of a GSOH to rub along. It became evident that banter was fine, and (as translated for me) seemed of a pretty universal military kind. Only a very small number of the officers in camp had been to Sandhurst, so this culture was either endemic, or introduced by those Omanis and Brits who had. The former seems the most likely. The taciturn ones were the Baluchis (see earlier episodes) … but no-one was in the business of winding them up.
|The desert: pink, gravel ...|
|... except where it's orange grass|
These rains flood everything, making the roads impassable at points where a dip is built to let the water flow, delineated by red-and-white depth-markers to warn when fording is not on – naturally known as ‘Irish bridges’ (are we allowed to say that?)
|Irish bridge over a wadi|
It’s a system you can find on a much smaller scale feeding water-mills in the UK, as well as in the Moorish areas of Spain, as I recently discovered (I may write a whole post on this one day). Any village that doesn’t have its own oasis will be built over a falaj, which is split into several smaller channels as it goes under the houses, then re-converges to go on its way. (Again, you can find this system in the UK, where diverted streams ran through big Cistercian monasteries.) Each house has a single hole-in-the-floor over one of the sub-channels, through which the occupants are permitted to dip a small bucket to draw fresh water. This is the only use they may make of the hole … probably on pain of something horrible. As mentioned in Part1, although the rebel village of Tanuf was thoroughly shot up by the RAF, the falaj there was carefully rebuilt. There would be villages downstream that depended on it.
Pink, green, black, white, brown, orange, burgundy ... the colours of northern Oman.
The falaj near Tanuf, rebuilt after the RAF shot the place up. Note how it snakes around the hillside. A masterpiece of Persian craft: they really know about water conservation in the dry areas around the Med and Middle East
Photos © Nick Drew 2016