x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Labour on the rugged slopes of Jebel Jais

Many labourers in Jebel Jais live in the stone villages that are holiday homes to Emiratis.

RAS AL KHAIMAH // The men who work on Jebel Jais expected something different when they came to the UAE. The tales of Dubai's bright lights draw men from the tropics of Sri Lanka to the mountains of Afghanistan. Most expected work on skyscrapers or in glamorous shopping malls. Instead of a glittering metropolis, these men found work among the dust and stone of a mountain.

Half of the Jebel Jais workforce are farmers who live in traditional stone villages that serve as holiday homes for Emiratis.

Sudeen Fadel Haq, 23, spends 14 hours a day guiding a donkey up and down the mountain. He lives in a traditional stone village at the top of Jebel Jais that his Emirati employer is restoring. It is his job to transport the concrete for this restoration. With no roads, the trip is done by donkey.

Mr Fadel Haq will be the first to welcome the new road. Its construction means cement can be dropped halfway up the mountain, cutting a round trip from six hours to two.

"This road is a wonderful thing, it brings us people," Mr Fadel Haq said. "Hopefully one day we'll get a city on this mountain. I'm from Peshawar and it was great. It was a real city like Abu Dhabi or Dubai. Not like these RAK mountains."

More importantly, the Jebel Jais road provides the chance of some company. He has lived here for six months and he is counting the days until he returns to live in the city this summer.

"Cities are wonderful places," he said. "I mean the city has people, lots to do, friends. In the mountains there's nothing, just rocks. Rocks and animals and donkeys. That's it. We don't even have a television here, just a radio. Did you hear that Osama's dead? It's a big drama with America."

For other workers, the mountain means opportunity. There are about 150 men building the Jebel Jais road who live at a labour camp halfway to the mountain's summit. Each day they might drive the excavators and bulldozers that mould the mountain's contours.

Mahdi, a 19-year-old welder from Afghanistan, has a simple motto to keep his spirits high on the lonely mountain.

"If you try, you can fly," he said, rumbling a lorry down a steep access road. "I will go to any country, no problem for me. Just I want for my future."

Mahdi left school in year nine to support his six younger siblings.

"I abandoned school for work," he said. "All of my family is studying. Just I will work for their books, bags, clothing, caps, shoes. We don't have other support."

His optimism and his television bring joy to the mountain camp. He set the TV up to watch Manchester United matches and boasts that he had the only Cricket World Cup venue on Jebel Jais.

"If I work on this mountain, I can do good for my family," Mahdi said.

azacharias@thenational.ae