RAS AL KHAIMAH // People in the fishing village of Al Rams are divided only in their reactions to one question: to modernise or restore.
That question is about to be posed by RAK government representatives planning to tour the area to decide its future. At the heart of the matter are two versions of what it means to honour the past.
Some would like the buildings restored as a physical testament to history; others want the village rebuilt with modern houses so people can continue to live in Al Rams and keep their traditions alive.
“The building, it changes with time anyway,” says Ebrahim Ali, 62. “It is the place that is important.”
Al Rams, like its people, is built from the sea. Its houses tell the story of the land and its citizens: traders, pearlers, fishermen and mountain men who lived in houses built of palm, coral, seashells, Zanzibari wood, and for the privileged, mountain stone.
Most are now derelict, cluttered with litter or used as labour accommodations.
The village sits on a sliver between the sea and the mountains. Families are large and land is scarce.
The RAK Government and federal government housing programmes have given thousands of plots to Emiratis in recent years. Most are moved south of RAK city in the desert of Al Dhait, about 60km from Al Rams.
But many have refused to move so far from their ancestral land. Generations crowd into homes. For them, honouring their history means staying between sea and mountains.
“The people of Rams here are all one family,” says Ali Hasan, 40. “If you come here on the weekend you will find 50 people here sitting together, each from different families.
“None is a brother of another but we are all families.”
He points to a fishing shack painted with calligraphy that reads, “Our motto – Al Rams as one family”.
“This is our vision,” Mr Hasan says.
Most men in Al Rams and the north coast work in Abu Dhabi, returning to their families at weekends.
For the children who stay behind with their mothers, life in quiet Al Rams means the chance to practise the traditions of the village.
“All the men here are working in Abu Dhabi and many of their children are forgetting their past,” says Khaled Abdullah, whose family is from Rams, but who was born in Abu Dhabi.
“Al Rams people are moving from place to place but they are not coming to the place where they were born. We want this place to be a magnet for our children.”
New housing in the old town is one solution but others feel the old village must be preserved as oral history disappears.
“We work in Abu Dhabi and we see many new villas so we want the same as that. But we don’t want to delete this, our design,” Mr Hasan says.
“We don’t want towers. We are looking for something that looks traditional, sometimes that is new but still Al Rams.”
A partial restoration of the village could bring tourism to generate local jobs, which are rare outside of the slumping fishing industry.
The RAK Government has hired a consultant to review what can be saved and how this can be balanced with residential needs.
What happens in Al Rams could become the model for other old neighbourhoods, such as Maaridh and Old RAK. The problems faced there are the same as those faced across the north coast and in the mountainous regions to the south.
The Government continues to find new places to build: against the mountains near Dhaya Rams, on reclaimed land in Maaridh and into the desert.
“Most of the planning is in Al Dhait and there is no housing in the north area, but people reject this. They don’t want to be away from their family,” says Fatima Al Shamsi, a town planning engineer with the RAK Municipality who is from Al Rams.
“If you do something without them [the residents] will not allow you to do any development in that area so we have to do what they need but walk parallel with the planning.
“At the end of the day they will live there, they know the culture, they are all looking to be in one place.”
Mr Abdullah says: “I feel Al Rams it is a part of me. I cannot leave it.
“I am born in Abu Dhabi but I have something here that I cannot leave.”