x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Long, hot wait for a ride on the road to nowhere

Labourers near the Empty Quarter stand at the side of the road for hours to hitchhike to the only place that offers them a bit of respite.

Mohammed Rizwan, 20, originally of Fasial Abad, Pakistan, waits two hours to get a ride from the nearest mosque for kilometers back to his accommodation at the Barari Forest, where he is a gardener. He hitches every Friday to pray.
Mohammed Rizwan, 20, originally of Fasial Abad, Pakistan, waits two hours to get a ride from the nearest mosque for kilometers back to his accommodation at the Barari Forest, where he is a gardener. He hitches every Friday to pray.

Dressed in his Friday-best clothes, Mohammed Ramzan stands on the E65 motorway, protected from the heat of the sun by his red baseball cap, while the brooding presence of an oversized Land Rover looms behind him. This huge car marks the entrance to Sheikh Hamad bin Hamdan al Nahyan's Emirates National Auto Museum on the road to Liwa.

Ramzan, from Faisalabad in Pakistan, is not alone. He is one of dozens of hitchhikers who journey here every week from the many labour camps that dot the edge of the Empty Quarter.

These men travel long distances - up to 100 kilometres in some cases - simply to stroll in the gardens of the museum, buy phone credit at its shop or to have a meal. These precious few hours offer a rare chance to escape the confines of the working week but, with no connecting bus routes, the men have to rely on lifts from passing traffic to get them to and from this remote spot.

The wait to get back to camp can often be long, offering plenty of time for the hitchers to reflect.

"Sometimes we wait one hour, sometimes more. Mostly we think if we had a car we wouldn't be waiting here for a lift," Ramzan admits. "We also think about our country a great deal.

"We feel very bad living far away from the city," he said. "Even the nearest shop is 60km away. There is peace [in the desert], but we don't have good facilities."

The hitchhikers rarely venture inside the museum's great hangar, but are grateful for the free use of its surrounding gardens.

"We go there and walk and chat and buy a drink. If we are in luck, there will be a car in one hour. If not, we don't know how long it will be," said Ramzan's friend, Mohammed Shahed. The return trip can take anything up to six hours to complete. "All day we wait here, but we have no choice," he said. "For one month I worked in Sharjah. The job was soft. It was better to be in the city.

"We think when we return to our country we will take some money, we make a small business for our family and build a beautiful house."

In the meantime, all Shahed and Ramzan can do is wait.

Anna Zacharias is a reporter at The National.