svetlana baghawan maverickbirdMy Qalanciya days can be broadly divided into 2 parts, the unbelievable beauty of the place and the unimaginable warmth of the people of the little fishing town. Although, Qalanciya is officially Socotra’s 2nd largest town, in reality it has about 15-20 houses, a mosque, a school and a brand new hospital. Rocky mountains divided Qalanciya into the isolated Detwa Lagoon and the littered, humming fishing village community and the residents of the 2 usually did not cross over into each other’s territories. While traditional fishermen and date farmers had consisted of the villagers, the Detwa Lagoon had been more of the tourist’s zone. Beach huts had lined the crescent shaped lagoon and apart from occasional gawking, villagers had always respected the privacy of the holiday makers.

Detwa had been a gorgeous blue green shallow lagoon which had reduced and increased with tides and amber coloured mountains had circled the water body. Sharp, sculpted with beautiful glistening coat of sand, the mountains had been spectacular and I had never managed to get enough of their beauty. They had seemed to change colours and moods depending on the time of the day and cloud cover had made them look like something out of the world. Several caves had ringed along the circular sugary mountains and they had contained several interesting characters and stories. One of them had been Abdullah, a friendly wiry fisherman whom I had met immediately upon claiming a beach hut and till today I am conflicted whether it had been his offer to cook calamari for me or his happy, infectious smile, which had made me his fan.

Beach huts of Detwa had been as basic as possible and they had been 4 postered thatched structures which had allowed an unhindered view of the lagoon and freshest sea breeze throughout the day. They had no doors, attached bathrooms or toilets, but at night it had felt better to go to sleep without the fear of getting buried under shifting sand. Rudimentary bathrooms and toilets had stood at a distance and they had been concrete 4 walls, where I had bathed precariously positioning myself over the “throne”. An attached water tank had made the unit functioning and I had kept mine jealously secured with lock and key. My folding mattress had consisted of my only piece of furniture and in the evening, a portable electric lantern (along with an extended electricity connection) had made things comfortable. Only the kitchen had posed to be a problem and the biggest irk had been the dual task of flapping away thieving Egyptian Vultures while cooking. Our small camp stove had been much used in Qalanciya and Anwar and I had experimented with many seafood dishes there. While Anwar’s trials had been positively tasty, most of mine had been of questionable taste, look and odour.

Needless to say, it had been my culinary skill, rather the severe lack of it, which had drawn Abdullah to my beach hut and he had come rushing to save the sacrificial lobsters with a disapproving loud “tsk tsk”. Those had been the jewel coloured bright eyed pair which we had shopped for at Omak in the morning and Abdullah had grabbed them from my hand before I had massacred their edibility for good. Perhaps it had been his OTT love for seafood or my Hind (read Bollywood) connection which had made him shower me with a huge sunny smile and after that we had been fast friends. He had been so enchanted by my squeaky renditions of popular Hindi songs and Anwar’s CD (which had been gifted by me), that he had sealed our friendship by cooking us a big, slippery calamari which he had freshly plucked out of the lagoon. Thus had begun my Qalanciya sojourn, with Abdullah, Detwa lagoon, hiking the sugary sculpted mountains every morning and at night getting lulled to sleep, without the fear of being buried alive.

Abdullah had been quite a character. An expert story teller, he had loved fishing, hogging the limelight and regaling people with his notorious, and a bit embellished tales. He had apparently once discovered amber inside the belly of a beached whale and had sold it for a fortune. With the sudden downpour of wealth, he had chased women, lived the life of a high roller, drank, dined and in general had a pretty good time. For his family, he had built a concrete, comfortable house and had sent his father for the annual Mecca pilgrimage to purge his sins, in his place. He had bragged about his various ex girlfriends, while cooking our lunch and how they had disappeared after his fortune had gone bust. A dreamy smile had played on his lips as he had reminisced of his erstwhile days of wealth and he had confirmed that they had been all nice, vivacious ladies. It had been around 4 in the evening, when Abdullah had spun his outrageous stories and I had listened to him in dazed hunger.

Post lunch, I had mentally credited his stories to vivid imagination when Anwar had suggested a small hike to Abdullah’s cave. As atrocious as his stories of wealth had been, the reason behind his forced exile to the cave had been even more hilarious. The little Qalanciya fisherman, apparently had been sentenced to spending some parts of his time in the cave after his wife had lodged a civil complaint against him. The poor, overburdened woman had borne him 6 children and Abdullah, who had been aiming at having a perfect dozen, had refused to listen to her objections. In the end, the harassed, good lady had sought the local village council’s help and thus Abdullah had been barred from having any more children. It had been a hot lagoon afternoon, when a post lunch drowsy me and Anwar had hiked up to the cave and I had dragged my heavy feet behind the 2 Socotra men, unwillingly.

By then, I had liked the lovable fisherman enough to not harbour any intention of finding out the truth behind his stories and a nice siesta had tempted me wildly. Abdullah’s cave however had arrived at the mouth of the lagoon and the yawning entrance had totally blown my mind. Decorated with a huge whale jaw bone and pair of massive ribs, the cave house had all the telltale remnants of his fantastic adventure and I had slumped down on the turtle shell stool in open mouthed amazement. There’s more to what meet the eyes and Abdullah of Qalanciya had certainly been the epitome of it.

RESPONSIBLE TRAVELING-BECAUSE I CARE

My 1st glimpse

My 1st glimpse

Had been mind blowing

Had been mind blowing

And what had

And what had

Followed later

Followed later

Had been utter bliss

Had been utter bliss

A moody sun

A moody sun

Naughty clouds

Naughty clouds

And pure solitude

And pure solitude

Had greeted me

Had greeted me

At my new home

At my new home

And I had recklessly

And I had recklessly

Fallen in love

Fallen in love

With the beauty of Qalanciya

With the beauty of Qalanciya

With so little work

With so little work

And so much of loveliness

And so much of loveliness

Claiming Qalanciya

Claiming Qalanciya

As my private paradise

As my private paradise

Had been delightfully easy.

Had been delightfully easy.