YAP proposal #265: Long term permaculture (Mohamed Tarek, Egypt)

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THE GFAR BLOG

When people hear about Sinai in Egypt they often ask, ‘Isn’t it dangerous to live there?’ It can be, especially for people living and farming in North Sinai along the Mediterranean coast, close to Gaza and Israel, where certain groups are fighting Egyptian military forces.

However, I live in the Janub Sina, South Sinai, where it is peaceful and the economy over the past 30 years has been based around foreign tourism, in places like Sharm el Sheikh, Dahab, Nuweiba, and Taba. These are beautiful areas famous for the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aqaba.

I am Bedouin Mohamed Tarek, 28, from the Gararsha tribe, and I grew up between living in Dahab with my grandparents and my parents in Suez—a mixture of village and city life. One of my favourite things is to be in the open desert wadis and mountains with camels on safari.

However, because of…

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Bedouin do put down roots…

DSCN4446This is a blogpost I have helped Mohamed to write for YAP Project Seed Fund Competition. We are seeking more funds so a grant like this would go a long way and it has been a worthwhile exercise at minimum. When the blog is posted I shall edit this to create a link so people can help him get through the first stage by liking commenting through WordPress.

“When people hear about Sinai in Egypt they often ask, “Isn’t it dangerous to live there?” It can be, especially for people living and farming in North Sinai along the Mediterranean coast close to Gaza and Israel where certain groups are fighting Egyptian military forces. However I live in the Janub Sina, South Sinai where it is peaceful and the economy over the past thirty years has been based around foreign tourism in places like Sharm el Sheikh, Dahab, Nuweiba and Taba. These are beautiful areas famous for the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aqaba.

DSCN4412I am Bedouin Mohamed Tarek, 28 years old from the Gararsha tribe and I grew up between living in Dahab with my grandparents and my parents in Suez, a mixture of village and city life. One of my favourite things is to be in the open desert wadis and mountains with camels on safari. However because of political changes in Egypt over the past years, life in South Sinai has become difficult, even more so of late and no tourists means no work for dive centres, hotels or other activities.

DSCN4399An older Bedouin friend wanted to re-establish his farm in Wadi Saal close to the mountains of St Katherine’s Monastery and I agreed to be his partner in January 2016. The garden had been growing many things up until four years ago but had to be abandoned during the military takeover. The land just needs water and it is again capable of producing various crops. There are a few trees remaining but wandering camels have stripped the lower branches. One beautiful olive tree and almond tree growing over 4 metres have blooms covering the upper branches. These blooms represent my hope, flowering in the desert.

DSCN4408The name of my farm is Mazra’a Saida – Happy Farm. I chose that name because that is what I choose to be and how I want to live – a normal life with family and friends around me in a happy environment.  A friend gave me a copy of “The Secret” and I am trying to only think positive thoughts and let the world I want develop around me. I have faith Allah and life will provide.

I have little personal money so my best offer is to work hard every day to make sure that everything goes forward even in tiny steps. I am very grateful for some foreign friends have believed in my vision and lent me small amounts up to 1500 Euro total. That money goes a long way in Egypt.

 

 

DSCN4422So far…

  • The first thing we needed to repair was the generator and the water pump in the bottom of the existing 145m well. To hear the generator running and see water flowing into the 120m2 holding tank was one of the happiest events in my life. Water truly brings life.
  • Now I am connecting all the irrigation pipes for the area to be planted. I have employed local workers to help prepare the area for planting. First I plan to plant cash crops like tomato, cucumber, peppers and water melon. With short term crops I will establish a cash flow to invest more into Mazra’a Saida.
  • Initially I may have to sell most of it in bulk but if I sell directly to market there will be more profit. There are markets in El Tur, Sharm el Sheikh, Ras Sudr through to Suez that will require organising and paying for transport. I will discuss this with other farms in the area and perhaps we can form a cooperative to reduce costs.
  • On a national scale, Egypt has 90 million people who need to eat and currently there are not enough foreign funds to import everything. Growing fruit and vegetables in Wadi Saal contributes to the national as well as local economy.

 

DSCN4426In the near future more funds will mean…

  • That I am able to immediately purchase plant other crops for long term permaculture like olives, mangoes, dates, almonds and nabq. A friend in Bahareya Oasis in the Western Desert currently has young palm trees of the best quality costing 100Le each that would need to be planted before the end of March.
  • A metal frame is already erected but I need to cover it by October so that I can grow tomatoes over the winter when they are of higher value. Yes the desert does get cold in winter, possibly even a few frosts.
  • Other Bedouin living close in the small community of Marra are asking if they can come and grow crops. If I am able to purchase another electric pump I can extend the irrigation pipes far enough then be able to lease some of the land to them.
  • I will purchase some sheep and goats to utilize their manure for fertilizer and meat for special occasions. Ramadan is midsummer this year so animals purchased now, would ready for Eid Adhar. I love animals and will bring our cats to help with the rodent control to discourage snakes foraging. I will also get a watch dog to keep out wandering destructive camels.

Further into the future

  • Mazra’a Saida will accommodate visitors in an eco camp/lodge at the garden life where people can learn and share Bedouin hospitality. I love to play samsameya and am learning to play the oud.
  • Mazra’a Saida will be a base for safari. People have been travelling through Sinai for thousands of years and I want the world to know and honour this ancient place.
  • There are older people who have much knowledge of medicinal plants and life in the desert and I would like to make sure this knowledge is not lost. I will find a way to incorporate this into the garden.

I am grateful to my friends who believe enough to lend me some of their hard earned money, to my girlfriend who had helped me write this as English is not my first language – speaking I am fine, writing I need more practice. Thanks to God.”DSCN4449

 

 

Dreaming of a Desert Garden

320393_163934253730761_359809319_nThe beginning of 2016 still finds me living in Dahab, South Sinai, Egypt wondering what I should be planning for the future. This time it is an oriental carpet of a thousand knots that has been pulled out from under my feet  to leave me wobbling in the middle of rocky track in a mountainous desert. There have been definite points in my life where there were stop signs, forks in the road and crossroads but this one is not so clear. However as Led Zeppelin sings in Stairway to Heaven, “There’s still time to change the road you’re on.”

The tourist market in Sinai, atrophying since 2009 when the European financial crisis hit, followed by the revolution, the Icelandic volcano cloud, the military coup, the backlash of insurgency, finally hit the dirt along with the Metroliner in October last year. It remains wallowing in dust.

The traditional tourist market for the whole of South Sinai – Sharm el Sheikh, Dahab and Nuweiba – has been strangled to a harsh breath that one hopes is not a death rattle. I was in Sharm el Sheikh over New Year and I stayed in a 90 room hotel that struggled to fill 9 rooms. Dahab lovers still manage to come in small numbers, very small numbers, but some are shocked to see such empty restaurants and few joyous parties as before. Foreigners living here are leaving in droves to return to European countries to survive. Many of my friends dislike being back in the material led “West” but they know it is their best option for now.

10400166_70827490814_4429309_nI have heard said, that for true love, it is best for one to not know the whole reason to be in love, there should always be some mystery that cannot be described or put in to words. That is how I feel about living here. I have good reasons to stay or go but my final heart desire remains hidden within me, even from me. I just know when I search inside myself to see where I truly want to be at this point in my life, it is here in South Sinai. I cannot, in my heart make the decision to leave.

It is time to search my “Dream Book” – a scrap book with pages dedicated to things that I want in my life where I add small pictures and words as I want. I created it some years ago when another rug was pulled and I hit a wall on the road of my life. One of the pages has pictures of plants – herbs, flowers, vegetables, trees because some years ago I decided I want them back in my life despite the fact I live in a desert. They had been prominent in my life in Aotearoa New Zealand where my last property had been six hectares of green organic garden many moons ago. I miss the sensuality of growing stuff – getting my hands dirty, the smells, the feasts for the eye and the mouth.

Mohamed, my Bedouin boyfriend of some years, told me he has found a place in the desert where he wants to grow fruit and vegetables so I have decided that this is the time and this is the opportunity for me too. Others have asked before if I was interested in “doing some business” with other gardens or bringing tourists but I could never see a green light.

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Beautiful gardens at St Katherine’s monastery

The garden is on the edge of Wadi Sa’aal just off the road that leads from Dahab/Nuweiba to St Katharine’s area. It was laid out and producing vegetables and fruit for some years previously but when the coup of 2013 happened the military got permission from Israel, against the agreements of Camp David, to have a greater presence again in Sinai so they decided in their “wisdom” that the garden could no longer produce so was abandoned. I won’t expound further but one can see satellite pictures of the garden and actually see where the trees were planted. There is still a functioning water well and holding tank so we know it can produce.

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Trekking in nearby Wadi Arada

The local Bedouin owner went though civil courts and now has his land officially designated as a garden but he no longer wishes to be involved in the day to day replanting of the garden. The deal is profit share and Haj has gifted Mohamed some land to plant as he sees fit, most likely in fruit trees. Everything has been done according to Bedouin law, not with paper but in discussion with witnesses. Bedouin tribal law is as strong as any and they respect it more than any other. They don’t even use paper for the toilet. Continue reading

The Current Situation – Life in South Sinai

I, the Queen of Procrastination have decided to follow Blog assignments on WordPress to build a better habit for blogging, and writing in general.

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A winter’s day at the end of a camel race in Wadi Zalaga

When I first came to Egypt I was on a six week exploration holiday that initially extended to three months followed by a decision to live in Dahab, South Sinai and work in scuba diving. I wasn’t even keeping a diary but I did write a few stories that I shared with friends who said they enjoyed the revelations. Lindainlalaland started as a way of documenting and commenting on my life here in South Sinai.

I am aware that my life is viewed unusual, more from others’ perceptions than my actual life, but maybe by writing this blog I may inspire others to step outside and follow their dreams. It is also a way of communicating to my friends and family with whom I love and appreciate dearly but do not have regular contact. Thank goodness for Facebook ‘life bites’. Write emails? No way!

Many challenges have risen from my life here and I am not even able to share all of those as yet if I wish to remain safely living here, “in sha Allah” as they say. I have already written about some events so I won’t delve into the past at this point. The goal of this assignment is to state why am blogging, and what my goals are so I’ll stick to the current situation.

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A friend and I enjoy a shisha in an open air bar, Dahab

Quite frankly ‘The Situation’ in South Sinai – essentially Sharm el Sheikh, Dahab and Nuweiba is economically dire. It was Ok after the revolution in 2011, difficult after the army coup in 2013, and is almost impossible after that Russian Metroliner fell out of the sky for one reason or another in 2015. That investigation continues but that didn’t stop all sorts of knee jerk reactions by foreign countries, especially Russia and Britain who insisted on evacuating holiday makers and banning flights from Egypt until now. Since then Russia has contracts to build nuclear power plants and sell new Russian aircraft to Egypt… manipulation much?

Islamic “State” gleefully jumped on the opportunity bragging they shot it down but then when it was revealed that was not the case, they conveniently rolled out photos of a soft drink can that was apparently placed in the hold. Why did they change their story and wait some days before releasing the ‘evidence’? And Britain said their security had received ‘chatter’ indicating something was up days prior to the crash which supposedly proves there was something going down but not enough to stop the tragedy.

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One of the desert rides I used to guide frequently.

And the Egyptians? Well the rumour mill spun into immediate action, the pilot supposedly reporting all was fine then problems which turned up to be complete gossip as the orange Black Box revealed all completely normal in the cockpit until an explosion followed by silence. The investigation, which is continuing has released no conclusive report one way or another as yet but media are told to spin “that no evidence of an explosive device has been found”- as yet.

There is no doubt that something instantaneous and tragic happened as planes do not just fall out of the sky unless they are attacked or they have major structural failure. There were red herring tales in The Daily Fail and the like, about passengers being able to bribe and pay whomever, from police to airline staff to jump queues or take extra luggage. These are moot points as hold luggage in most airports is not scanned until after it has been checked in. You can jump as many queues as you like before that. And Sharm’ staff do actually check all luggage before check in so anything entering in luggage would be rare…Geesh! They don’t even let you take cigarette lighters!

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Enjoying open air lunch before one friend leaves.

Any explosive device was, in my opinion placed on the ‘secure’ side of the airport not by any of the boarding passengers. Consequently there are rumours, denied by the Egyptian authorities, that some airport staff are in detention and likewise some security staff were immediately transferred; I met one of the latter who was not there that day, who got to stay. Now there is a company from the UK consulting on airport security in Sharm but why it took over two months to instigate this is ridiculous. However I think only good can come from this – there is no harm in having an update on the whole system to find out where the breakdown may lie, pun intended.

However not all flights into Sharm are cancelled so how come it is fine for some planes to fly in and not safe for others? Do they know something we don’t? In that case, they owe it to their foreign nationals living here to warn them too, but they don’t. Which essentially means they know “sweet f.a”. Since this debacle I have personally flown internal flights from Hurghada and Sharm el Sheikh and security seems pretty comprehensive in both airports – right down to the physical frisking by forbidding Egyptian female security staff with weird make-up. (What is it about those creepy painted eyebrows?)

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A light moment at the inaugural “Stitch’n’Bitch’ meeting.

Life continues in the ‘Orange Zone’ as Dahab is designated “essential travel only” by various Foreign Offices. We have been Orange Zone for over two years while Sharm itself actually still remains ‘Green’, only the airport being the pariah. This has made some too cautious to travel here but many who have been to Dahab on return occasions know that there are no unusually unsafe situations here. The problem at the moment with so few direct flights to Sharm el sheikh, the closet airport about an hour away, people are reluctant to spend a lot more money and time to get here for short holidays.

A short note on ‘safety’ – I have lived most of my life in various parts of New Zealand and I feel safer walking the streets here sober or slightly intoxicated at any time of day than I would in eNZed. Egyptian people are generally very polite and non violent unless provoked although they do have noisy “dousha” disagreements. Be discerning about what you see or hear in the mainstream media.

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Selling stuff at the local Dahab Friday Market

The local South Sinai economy continues to atrophy at a disconcerting rate. When the tourists don’t come, shops, restaurants and dive centres close down. As they close down staff, Egyptian and foreigners leave the area or the country. As they leave the hotels and rental properties remain empty and even the shops servicing locals suffer. The spiral is emphatically downwards.

Many of my friends have already packed up and left for various reasons, some economic mixed in with ‘the children need better schooling options’, ‘my parents are ageing’, ‘my marriage has broken up’, ‘there is not much social life’, ‘work permits are too expensive’, etc etc

However daily life in Dahab goes on as normal – it is cooler in winter but the sun usually shines and there are still plenty of comfortable places to share a coffee and good food. Without the horses I struggle to get motivated to exercise so I make a point of walking everywhere I can – to the shops, to friends’ houses, to the apartments I care for. This means walking through dusty streets, past houses with delicious smells of Bedouin baking bread, through small mobs of milling sheep and goats, petting street dogs at every opportunity and being stopped by people I know for short chats. Village life.

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D’for (Dog) surveying his beach, south of Dahab

I spend time with my five rescue cats, they all have a story, and yesterday even ‘my’ rescue dog, that I found a better home for in a beach camp, decided to run ten kilometres to visit though he was not unhappy to go back with his new carer.

I frequently ask myself do I want to stay here? My heart replies, “Yes” while my head rolls eyes and goes, “Oh really? Better get my Resourceful Hat on – again!” So living here in Dahab what do I do to survive? I’ve been a scuba diving instructor, a stable manager and guide, a hotel reservations clerk, dabbled in restaurant management, sold second hand stuff at the local market, cleaned houses and guest apartments, done reiki and massage, lead group tours and written stuff. I am currently still doing the last four and I want writing to feature.

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Where my heart is leading me – the Sinai desert

My major current writing project, aside from my blogs, is to ghost write an autobiography which I am just over half way through. I probably could not have chosen a more difficult task as a first attempt at a book but I think I am doing fine – the client is happy. I have also written text for a couple of websites, written a few magazine articles and have just taken on another blog for a small business. Onwards and upwards.

I also have another hopefully life changing project in the throes of ‘start up’ – joining my Bedouin partner to develop a market garden in the desert. It is called Mazra’a Saida which translates to Happy Garden and that covers the intention – happy people, plants and animals in the South Sinai desert. Watch this space!

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The sun goes down on another day in Dahab.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Horses in Dahab Need Your Help

HAD logoThe current economic situation in Dahab and South Sinai, Egypt is dire because of now almost non existent income from tourism which is the mainstay of the area for most inhabitants. In the beginning of 2016 it is like the tap has been closed to a rusty trickle with no plumber in sight as the powers that be in various countries indulge in their machinations. The Egyptian horse and stable owners in Dahab now find themselves in an untenable situation with little alternative than to try and survive.

Check out Horse Aid Dahab Facebook page for current updateshttps://www.facebook.com/dahabhorseinitiative/photos_stream and how to make a donation in Egypt. Other donations to Horse aid Dahab can be made via Paypal to  info@zwerfdierenindahab.nl

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This was Zizi in 2013 – she survived thanks to Dahab Horse Initiative and is living a happy life in Upper Egypt.

These current stable owners remaining after years of attrition are generally committed responsible owners who, through no fault of their own are left high and dry with horses and families to care for with no sign of any income. I spoke with one of these whom I consider to be responsible and he is in his words “very tired”, exhausted. He has taken food on credit and now the delivery trucks are refusing to supply him with food for his horses.

 

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This once magnificent stallion did not survive 2013

The situation in Dahab has been difficult with regards to declining tourist numbers for some years now. The 2011 Egyptian Political Revolution had some impact but generally there was enough work for all and those responsible owners always managed to present their horses well. The true downturn was the military coup of midyear 2013 and since then the decline in tourist numbers has affected all businesses here. The Metroliner falling out of the sky onto Sinai desert after taking off from Sharm el Sheikh with no confirmed reasons has been the nail in the coffin.

 

In 2013, a group called Dahab Horse Initiative was started by a worried horse lover and they managed to save a number of starving horses after the coup, although some did die. Their owners shrugged the deaths off as a possible virus but quite frankly there is nothing viral about lack of sufficient food. The rescued horses were variably given food, or purchased and sent to Cairo; some owners left town, others just went out of business or faded into the shadows.

The original group of Dahab Horse Initiative has been resurrected as Horse Aid Dahab under the banner of the local registered charity Animal Welfare Dahab. (This latter group focuses mainly on Trap Neuter and Release programmes for dogs and cats and has had great success over the past few years.)

 

 

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Zizi eating her way to recovery in Dahab 2014.

Horse Aid Dahab is proposing to raise funds to give current owners some relief from the continual stress by at least knowing the horses will have enough food. It costs about 25 Euro/Pounds to feed hay per horse per month, maybe 50 Euro/Pounds for total food. There are other costs of course with water, rent, staff so about 100 Euro per month per horse. I estimate there are currently less than twenty-five horses in the area including those based south in the Wadi Gnai area.

 

I think good hay is an absolute requirement for these animals so if we can raise 650 Euro per month Horse Aid Dahab can purchase enough hay to supplement the horse’s food over the next six months. We do not want to favour any particular owner nor do we want to only support those who are less responsible. (While we are aware that ultimately it is the horses that suffer, in the past groups have only supported these dubious characters.)

Keeping horses in a desert environment is never going to be easy however as the manager of Blue Beach club Stables for five years I have been surprised at how well they thrive providing they are offered good water, food and shade. Food for animals is easy to come by although not cheap and the predominant foods offered are drees hay, corn and grass chaff. (Blue Beach horses have all been moved to Cairo outskirts as their owner has other alternatives for income.)

Drees hay is made from a legume called barseem which looks the same as alfalfa/lucerne but grows larger leaves like red clover. The plant is cut and dried then baled into mini bales of varying size and weight often about 60 x 30 rectangles. A horse should consume a minimum of one of these a day plus hard feed depending on individual requirements. They currently cost about 5 Egyptian pounds – a little more than 60 pence in Euro terms.

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Healthy horses playing in the sun – Piper and Enigma

Horses relish the plant fresh but can only be offered it in Dahab during the winter as in summer it wilts and rot on the back of the truck during the sometimes up to twelve hour journey through myriads of check points to reach here; by then it is nothing more than stinking mush suitable for compost.

 

None of these stable owners are Bedouin so they have no support from family here. In fact the reason they originally came away from their homes in mainland Egypt as I call it, was because of the money making opportunities from taking tourists for regular rides. As young men it was their responsibility to make money and send it home to their families on the Delta or Fayoum where many of the men originate from. It is too glib to say “Why don’t these men just pack up and go home” as now many have their immediate families living here with wives and children. They have been sticking it out in the hope that things will improve and even if they went ‘home’ there are no new possibilities of jobs open to them either.

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One of the reasons we all love living here – riding in the beautiful Sinai

Check out Horse Aid Dahab Facebook page for current updates

 

and how to make a donation in Egypt. Other donations to Horse aid Dahab can be made via Paypal to info@zwerfdierenindahab.nl

 

Coloured Dahab

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Artists working on their wall projects in Dahab

While some may perceive there to be dark clouds hanging over Sinai, artists in Dahab are currently doing their best to show the colours of happy life in Dahab and South Sinai.

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Artists working on their wall projects in Dahab

“Coloured Dahab” is an initiative that began earlier this year under the encouragement and support of the current town’s Mayor Mr Emad Elwan and he again offers his full support for this second project.  He initially announced a meeting where artists could apply to reserve a section of wall along Dahab’s auspiciously named Peace Road. Each artist is allocated a fortuitously paneled section of approximately two and a half by three metres to paint their masterpiece. Popular Local artist, Khaled ‘Dahab’ was commissioned to paint a twenty metre wall closer to the Bridge area and he will again do a longer section.

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Artists working on their wall projects in Dahab

This year 2015, the scheme has again proved even popular with the initially assigned sections reserved so quickly another twenty five panels have been prepared by the council. Previous artists are also encouraged to repair and seal their walls from the ravages of wind and sun prevalent for desert weather conditions. The council generously provides most materials for the new artworks and for repairs free of charge.

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A wall from the earlier project

This year’s themes are desert nature, marine life and Bedouins (no politics, nudes, or religion) and artists begin by submitting a sketch for approval. In the words of local organiser Sherihan El Gammal , “Bright and happy colors are very recommended. The target of the whole project is to have Dahab as the city with most artistically painted walls in Egypt! There are enough walls for everybody.” Maybe these walls will rival the beautifully painted buildings by the Nubian people of Aswan in southern Egypt.

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Artists working on their wall projects in Dahab

Many artists are well established residents of Dahab, while others are relatively new to both Dahab and to public art. Talking to some of the artists I discovered that they find the whole project exciting and a wonderful way to show how they feel about living in South Sinai.

One panel is being painted by students of Futures School Dahab where a group has collaborated to produce a scene of swirling fish and a dreamy human, reflecting both dynamic movement yet tranquility at the same time. Another by established artist Anja Makulik uses bold colours for purple camels attended by a traditionally dressed Bedouin under a blazing sun. She has chosen to paint the sand in metallic gold which reflects and glistens at night.

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Artists working on their wall projects in Dahab

Alia Negem has produced a work of boldly coloured abstract forms from ever increasing circular shapes also incorporating cut mirror and recycled materials while Nienke Lemmen has chosen a brilliant sunset sky over silhouetted Sinai mountains. Ursula Rohde has vermillion goats staring boldly out of strong blocks of colour and Ana Farid, another established successful artist depicts joyous life in the sand and sea with her paintings. Ali a local Bedouin has painted a scene of fish and corals reflecting what he has grown up with all his life in beautiful Dahab. More scenes will be finished in the coming days.

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My contribution inspired by the stunning rock etchings in Wadi Zalaga from Nabatean times

It is hoped that most of the paintings will be completed by mid December however there is still time for artists to join this popular project. Anybody seeking more information to join the activity can contact the local Dahab council or Sherihan El Gamal. If you don’t think your skills are up to painting a wall, show your support for art and Dahab by posing for a photo in front of these great artistic assets.

Peace and goodwill to all.

 

A Tale of Two Kittens

I don’t know what the universe is trying to tell me, give me pain or pleasure, but as of the past few days I have been delivered two kittens.

Street life a la Andrew Lloyd Webber

Street life a la Andrew Lloyd Webber

The first was when I came home in darkness to see an Egyptian man come out of the apartments close to where I live, holding a screaming kitten at arms’ length. I was still in shadow so he couldn’t see me as I watched to see what he was going to do. The negative thought “OMG! He is going to kill it! What should I do?” The positive thought, “Maybe the mother is over there. He is just taking it back for her.”  As is often the case in this world, neither was correct. He just unceremoniously deposited it into the darkness near to another house.

From the shadows I barked loudly in Arabic, “Where’s its mother?” I could feel his shock rather than see it as I am sure he nearly crapped himself/had a heart attack from surprise. His reply was irrelevant but it was obvious he didn’t want the kitten inside the apartment gates that he returned through.

The kitten was at that point silent so I steeled myself and marched straight up the stairs to my apartment. I reminded myself that I already have 4 cats, all of them rescues in some way. I reminded myself that sometimes I have not even had enough money here for a cup of coffee and feeding cats here is ridiculously expensive. I rationalized that if I choose this one, what about the hundreds of others?

Whose bed? Filfil, Mushkella and Batman, front to rear

Whose bed? Filfil, Mushkella and Batman, front to rear

Over the course of the next 8 hours I learnt that that small kitten had extraordinary powers of persistence and what could be one of the best set of feline lungs on the planet, because it yowled and howled the entire night somewhere outside my bedroom window. I slept fitfully but stupidly in that delirious state where you are uncomfortable but not awake enough to do anything about it; I knew  I should go find the earplugs I had hidden somewhere so “safe”  but that probably required searching for them the entire night.

At first light about 4.30am, I gave up, threw an inside out T-shirt over my baggy dress-come-sleep-attire and went out to find the, by this time, intermittently quiet kitten. Unsuccessful, I trudged back up the stairs and back to bed to see I could get a few more hours sleep. Then He (I decided by then it had to be a “he”) started up crying out again. Still ‘dressed’, I went out again.

I found one very determined kitten trying to break into the apartment below by clawing his way up the mosquito net door screen. Maybe the previous tenants had fed the kitten for a few days before departing unexpectedly with their dog and kid and it was now the apartment of the guy attempting to dump him the previous evening.

Big sigh! What to do? I take the kitten off the door put him on the ground and say to him, “OK, decision time. If you want to live with us you have to follow me.” With absolutely no hesitation he immediately walked behind me around the wall, up the 22 steps to announce himself to the other resident cats.

"Like it or not, she invited me!"

“Like it or not, she invited me!”

They were mortified. “Not again!” they cried. “You know we hate it when you bring strangers in, let alone cat strangers, let alone young cat strangers!!!”

He (I had by now ascertained that he was indeed a male) was absolutely immediately at home, strutting the impeccable stray cat strut and announcing, “Hi guys! Thank you for inviting me.” The other cats were so not amused – complaining, spitting and growling, all to no avail; He was here to stay. They have essentially vacated the premises, only slinking inside in the middle of the night to eat what He has left. They even spit more at each other and I am being ignored completely. If you want to get rid of all your older cats, just get one noisy kitten. Not like I kicked them out though; it was their decision and the window is always open (now that it has police proof bars – another story).

Rowdy in his tree

Do you like my tree?

What to name the noisy black male kitten? Ruffian came to mind and it remained Ruffian for about a day until I realised this kitten has lungs on him like Pavarotti on steroids so his name is now Rowdy – by name and nature. Rowdy is one of the most confident cats I have ever met. Nothing fazes him, not being tossed away 5,10,15 times when I am trying to sleep/write/drink/smoke/talk to myself. Nothing! 11111111111111111111111111111111!11111112222222222222222222222221 is an example of his “help” as I write.  He is like a bad penny, always turning up. (Isn’t that an odd expression, as if money could be bad. Actually, someone said I was like that the other day, then thought better of the insult and said she didn’t mean it like that. Is there any other way to take it?)

He absolutely loves me. Tries to give me cat kisses on the lips, sits gazing adoringly at me, sleeps as close as possible, usually on my face or around my neck which I can only stand for about 2 seconds in this heat.  He is at this moment lying right next to me. The other cats still hate him. I haven’t seen Batman or Ameira this morning at all, Mushkella and Filfil only briefly.

Princess Ameira sleeps, high above the kitten troubles.

Princess Ameira sleeps, high above the kitten troubles.

Not two days after the arrival of Rowdy I came home to find another small kitten under the tree at the foot of my steps. Rowdy was maybe 8 weeks, this one maybe a week younger and much weaker, with a scabby snuffly nose and eye infection, tottering where Rowdy scampered.

I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry so ended up doing both. How could I say “Yes” to one obviously healthy kitten and two days later refuse a struggling one? For me not possible, I will cope, the other cats will cope. But I couldn’t bring myself to name him immediately, to give permanence in my memory.

What's going on?

What’s going on?

He seemed interested in life, the other cats, in food but had no energy for dealing with anything himself. I offered him egg yolk and milk. He would come when the other cats eat, sit by his feed bowl, dip his poor little scabby nose in for a taste, lick his lips then take no more. Fat kitten would then gorge himself if he got the opportunity even thought his stomach was almost bursting. I oscillated between pity and frustration at Skinny kitten.

I put the egg milk mixture in a syringe and forced a few mls down his throat. On the really hot days I also give Skinny kitten electrolytes with glucose. He fights and claws ineffectually at me so I hold him firmly in a towel.  His eyes are much better for antibiotic eye cream but his little nose is still rough and scabby despite my efforts to clean it with saline. I feel the dilemma of why am I force feeding a cat who does not know if he wants to live or die? I keep thinking, if I can just get him strong enough to eat by himself he will choose life.

Trying to stay clean.

Trying to stay clean.

After eating Skinny kitten finds a place in the sun to nod his head and snooze but I can see he is shrinking as fast as Fat kitten (my comparison name for Rowdy) is ballooning. One day Fat kitten ate so much food left by Skinny kitten, he suffered major diarrhea  – enough of the details.

Skinny is not playful, not cuddly but he deserves love too so I stroke and cuddle him on my lap when he lets me. Fat cat is far too cute, playful, confident, purring, trying to kiss me, staring into my eyes, demanding to sleep beside me; everything to worm my way into my heart. He has even toilet trained himself to use the bathroom drain.

I ask myself,” What is the difference between Fat kitten’s zest for life and why does Skinny cat not grab the opportunity?” Child development psychologists have been asking that question for years. Too little too late, inadequate mothering, illness, lack of opportunity, intelligence, social ineptitude, family issues, abandonment, depression, cruel society … there but for fortune…

Yesterday I decided I will no longer force feed Skinny kitten. He is offered food and drink often but takes very little. This morning he is very weak. When Fat kitten cries out he answers in a pathetic squeak; his head is nodding and he can hardly walk. I have found and old cushion cover, royally red and placed him on it and left him in peace.

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What’s that in your ear? No, I will not stay still for a selfie!

Fat kitten in the meanwhile has his playtime completely oblivious to the Skinny kitten’s immobile drama. Fat kitten is actually very annoying with his persistent energy and demands. He even tries to play with Skinny kitten so I have to improvise a makeshift cage out of a palm vegetable basket. I don’t find Fat kitten’s exuberance or cuteness comforting and have to remind myself not to be angry at him.

I feel terrible and keep wanting to force feed Skinny kitten again, more for my sake than his. I don’t really think he is feeling suffering in a physical way, drifting into a coma. He squeaks occasionally, tugging my heart. This brings tears as when I allow grief even in small amounts, it opens me up. I remember watching my father in hospital realising that death is not really one moment, it is a process we are living all the time. Most of the time the balance is in favour of life but there comes a time when the balance tips and death is closer. Skinny kitten has tipped over the edge towards death.

The circle of life is so much smaller for some of us.

sunset, Dahab