Al Rams: A community facing an uncertain future, by Antonie Robertson

  • Mohammed Khasan stands in the doorway of his shop that he's been running for over 40 years. The shop is located in the old quarter of Al Rams that lies 20 minutes drive north of Ras Al Khaimah city. Nesteled between the mountains and the sea this ancient community now face plans to re-develop the original neigbourhood that forms the old village.
  • Amarjet Bhardwaj, an Indian foreman who has not had any work for six  
months, lives in a rundown house in the old quarter of Al Rams with 12  
other labourers. The house has no running water or electricity, and  
the cooking is done on a gas stove in a shack in the old courtyard. He  
survives mainly on food donations from friends. Amarjet and his  
colleagues have a dispute with their employer that will be going to  
the labour court on October 3. He writes poetry in his spare time.
  • Al Rams maintains its maritime heritage, with fishing boats sailing  
out each day. Local employers often operate several boats, hiring  
Bangladeshi, Indian, Sri Lankan and Pakistani fishermen. Tending the  
nets and preparing the boats for the next day is a constant task.
  • Muhammed Mufis, a Bangladeshi who has been in the UAE for two years,  
works in a small welding shop in the old quarter of Al Rams. Plans are  
under way to redevelop the neighbourhood in which his shop is located.
  • With few options for recreation, labourers spend the early evening  
playing games such as  'lamboard', while drinking cups of tea and  
smoking cigarettes.
  • Mohammed Safiola, from Bangladesh, fills bottles with drinking water  
from the public tap supplied by an Emirati resident in the old  
neighbourhood of Al Rams. Water at Mohammedís accommodation is of low  
  • Mohammed Khasan stands in the doorway of the shop he has been running  
for more than 40 years in the old neighbourhood.
  • Ali Mohammed and Ali Obaid Humeid, both in their 60s, sit in their  
friend Mohammed Khasan's shop.
  • Noor Islam, from Bangladesh, strips copper wire for recycling in the  
small electrical and plumbing shop in which he works. Many of the old  
shops in the original souq of have closed but some still offer their  
services to customers living nearby.
  • The village of Al Rams has a myriad old businesses still operating in  
the old quarter, including barbers, cafeterias, car washes,  
greengrocers and motorcycle-repair garages.
  • A merchant mixes cumin, black pepper and dried chili to make a blend  
called 'zir'. In the background hangs a poster celebrating the 29th  
year of Sheikh Zayedís rule.
  • With a local population searching mainly outside of Al Rams for more  
lucrative employment than fishing, some residents still actively keep  
the vibrant past of the humble village alive.
  • Dusk brings rest for the fishermen of Al Rams, and time to prepare for  
the next day when they will head out on the early morning to return  
about noon with their catch.
  • Saeed relaxes outside in the cool evening with his midwakh, or Arabian  
pipe, in which he smokes dokha, a sifted tobacco product mixed with  
aromatic leaf and bark herbs.
  • Al Rams harbour after sunset.

Al Rams is a small northern town in Ras Al Khaimah, lying on a thin strip of land between the Hajjar mountains and the ocean. It has a vibrant history based on the pearl divers of yesteryear and a tradition of fishing that continues today.

The Ras Al Khaimah Government, along with federal government housing programmes, has in recent years provided the Emirati inhabitants with nearby plots on which to build modern houses. This has led to many of the old traditional houses being abandoned or turned into labour accommodation.

The old houses, built mainly from coral, rock, gypsum and wood beams, lack basic modern amenities such as sanitary services and water supplies. Surrounded by the small, dusty alleyways that wind through the neighbourhood, they have become dumping grounds for household trash and discarded furniture.

With this mish-mash of dilapidated houses, functioning shops and housing, the question of whether to modernise or restore the district is now being investigated by the emirateís Government.

It will decide whether to restore the neighbourhood to offer a historic view, or demolish what is left to build modern accommodation and allow the people and culture of Al Rams to flourish.

* Antonie Robertson