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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

Massage Anyone?

One of my friends tells me I am so resourceful – it’s called survival of the fittest. Not that I want to think of myself as just surviving by continuing to live in Dahab but by choosing to stay here it certainly has become more and more difficult to make ends meet.

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Painting in the outside wall of Dahab Cemetery. Love is always the answer.

I learnt to do massage in eNZed just for fun so when I first came here and shared a house with a German physiotherapist, she taught me more skills and techniques. She remarked I am a natural however I suspect the “natural” feeling came from years and years of grooming horses. My son says I am always equating whatever I do in my life according to horse mastership, including child rearing (since he is an awesome son, I believe I am on the right track). A good groom should follow body lines, use sensitive pressure, notice behavior, know all muscle groups, feel what is happening under their hands – and it is physical, one gets a good sweat up. Most people never really groom their horse, they just flick a brush over to remove dirt but that is hardly effective. Ask any horse.

I was struggling to earn much money over summer as a Dive Master so my German friend encouraged me to do some massage work. “Yea, why not?” Many women masseuses here will not ‘do’ men, any men; others refuse to touch Middle Eastern men. Sometimes this is because they have local Muslim husbands who do not approve of them touching the body of another male; other times it is because they can’t be bothered with the possible hassle. Here in Egypt it is often equated, as was previously in western culture, as a front for prostitution. I have a completely open mind about prostitution – if it is a contractual agreement between two consenting adults, anything goes. However I have never been that broke! Might have had sex with a pizza in mind, but that’s another story.

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Blue Beach Club Stables horses queuing up for massage.

Anyway as I believe one’s pudenda should not affect one’s agenda, I am non discriminatory. Massage is a relevant health treatment that aids body and mind. Giving a massage requires one to be prepared mentally and physically as for anyone who works in a profession that requires sharing personal body space of another human. This is not something most people do in their daily lives with strangers and requires trust on both sides. Energy passes from one to another on many levels so afterwards the client should be relaxed and comfortable while the masseur may feel exhausted and drained.

The booking was for an ‘in house’ guest of a reputable beach front hotel where I was working for another masseuse who was taking a summer break. An Egyptian man entered the room, about 40 or so, a little overweight but not obese – hard to tell once they get over 30 as smoking and Egyptian life takes effect. For the sake of my story, let’s call him Ahmad. I greeted him and clarified that he had indeed booked a full body massage with reception. “Yes”. “OK. Step behind the screen to remove your clothes, except for your underpants. You can leave those on, just wrap the towel around you.”

He stepped from behind the screen stark naked carrying the towel. Ding, ding went the alarm bells but I must have been in a particularly Zen mood that day. “I said you could leave your underpants on.”

“Oh, I don’t wear them.”

I grimaced involuntarily but I suspect Achmad is too narcissistic to notice details like that; probably thought I was smiling. “Okayyyy. Just hop up on the massage bed, lie face down and I will cover you with the towel as I work.” Ahmad did so and I placed a towel strategically over his buttocks and back to begin work on his legs. I made small talk in the beginning – to relax both of us in this case.

He complained of being too warm and removed the towel. Unsightly pale buttocks now exposed,  Ahmad says, “You do happy endings don’t you?”

What the hell is a ‘happy ending’? That expression is not something I grew up with as a teenager in country NZ where we call a spade, “A spade”. I have been known to fake it until I make it but my mother always said, “If in doubt, don’t”, so for once I followed her advice and silence ensued. Not being unintelligent, a few seconds later the penny dropped. He is asking for what!!!

Visions of Borat came to mind. There is a scene on the DVD outtakes that never made the movie (least that is how I recall it) where Borat goes to a masseur. Borat is unbelievably obnoxious  (yes, even more than in the movie,) pretending he doesn’t know how to lie on the massage table, asking a demonstration then jumping on top of the masseur, blaming the masseur for giving him an erection, etc. The masseur is totally professional throughout the ordeal. “No sir, I did not give you the erection. You did that to yourself.”

So I decided to treat Ahmad like the professional I am and said, “No, I do not do that. That is about sexual health and there are other places in Dahab for what you require.” Not that I really knew but I had been told there was a place somewhere in Masbat area. “I do not do sexual massage. That is private and between me and my partner.”

Ahmad was persistent and insistent that he got that service in Dubai and other places. He even tried to tell me massaging his prostate was for health … I don’t think he really understood the situation – he was naked on a bed with his arse up and I ride horses. The dominatrix in me was rapidly coming to the fore and visions of long dressage whips flashed across my mind. I ignored his whining until he gave up.

Of course refusing to continue would have been an option, but as I suspect he has intimidated other women in this situation I wanted to set an example to Ahmad that he couldn’t bully or shock me. I was determined I would have control and he was not going to get his own way, any way.

I completed the massage without vomiting and took my hard earned money, no pun intended. He even had the nerve to ask me I wanted to meet up for a cup of coffee. Tosser!!! When I told the hotel what happened, they asked why didn’t I come and get someone from the hotel, “I don’t see the point of running to a man to sort out my difficulties”. I hope I did some woman in his future, a favour.

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Busy beach a few kilometers south of Dahab

Just recently I returned to massage to earn some dosh. A relatively up-market hotel called to make a booking for two guests at their hotel where I use their well appointed massage room. There were two guests, a man and his wife so I was to treat one after the other starting at 6pm, early evening in winter.

The first client was the woman, a young Egyptian in her mid twenties I guessed. She entered wearing hijab (head scarf worn by many Egyptian Muslim women) and western clothes. We didn’t make much conversation but I can tell she didn’t do much physically because although she was slim, she had little muscle tone.

About 10 minutes before the end of the massage, she was lying on her back with a towel over her breasts and abdomen, when there is a voice outside and the door slides open. I hadn’t locked it but I wasn’t perturbed as she recognized the voice and didn’t stir. I realised it was her partner coming to prepare himself for his massage on the other table.

An Arabic speaking man, certainly not Bedouin but I couldn’t say from exactly where, of about late 40’s came in and over to the table and started speaking to the woman. Odd but not too many alarm bells went off in my head. They were obviously familiar with each other when he touched her on her arm. I was massaging her legs as he made some small talk with me and I started to get annoyed. “Why doesn’t he just go and make himself comfortable on the other table? I will soon be finished here”.

He does not leave the woman. In fact he continued to talk more and kiss her and she is quite comfortable with this. I was not! In fact I could believe this was happening. What is it with these people!!! Supposedly publically the most frigid uptight region of the world yet totally socially unaware of other people’s attitudes, mine in this case! I was not the least curious to see these two having sex! When he starts to fondle and kiss her breasts I have had enough. “Low somaht! – excuse me! Helas – stop this please.” The look he gave me was meant to kill but the one I returned just said “Fuck off!” He did, el hamdo allah – thanks to God.

The woman did not react in any way and as I was essentially finished the massage, she got up and put her clothes on, including hijab. I kid you not. I waited for him to return as the next booked guest thinking I do not want to be alone with that creep. The angels didn’t want either, so when he did not return I went out to find out what was happening. They were both sitting with other men outside and I asked “Is there someone else requiring a massage?” One of the others replied “He doesn’t want it now” Thank the angels for that! “So you owe me xxxLe.” No tip, surprise, surprise! Wife or prostitute I do not know nor care, but the duplicity of some people here is extraordinary but generally people are nice and appreciative so the good outweighs the shite. Like the rest of life.

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Sundown, Lighthouse area, Dahab, Egypt

What time is it?…. gotta run, massage booked!

On the Road to Peace – Peace Road that is!

Gelabeya dresses recycled into awesome handrafted handbags,

Gelabeya dresses recycled into awesome handrafted handbags,

Peace sisters! Peace Road that is, the brand name of bespoke handbags dreamt up, designed and made in Dahab from beautiful recycled gelabeya by New Zealander Bronwyn JonesThese gelabeya are long dresses worn by local Bedouin women daily for work and for special occasions alike. When walking on the street they cover all with a black abeya and schall so tourists would hardly ever get to see these sometimes stunning clothes unless invited into a Bedouin home. The gelabeyas, usually made in India or China, have beautiful beadwork and embroidery decorating the neck and sleeves and Bronwyn incorporates these into pockets and other features on her truly original bags.

For a “win, win” situation, Bronwyn believes in supporting the local community through women and buys the old gelabeyas that would usually end up as rags or covers around the women’s’ homes. She even has a couple of women now who source the used garments for her for a small commission and so far the supply keeps up with demand.

Peace Road workshop, Dahab, South Sinai, Egypt

Peace Road workshop, Dahab, South Sinai, Egypt

When she has a new delivery, Bronwyn washes and displays the gelabeyas in her small central workshop hanging them along the wall. Decorative as they are, these give the whole workshop a festive feeling when you enter. She also photographs each gelabeya and posts them on her Facebook page  so customers can choose via the internet. Choosing is not easy, one usually wants them all!

The customer selects the gelabeya of her choice

The customer selects the gelabeya of her choice

The finished Peace Road item ready to travel the world- this one went to Switzerland.

The finished Peace Road item ready to travel the world- this one went to Switzerland.

Together with the customer, she selects the base fabric, usually a bright canvas that compliments or contrasts the gelabeya colouring. Currently there are three main patterns to choose; smaller shoulder style with lots of zips and compartments perfect for travel and daily handbag use, a larger hand bag variations with end compartments large enough to fit drink bottles – ubiquitous item here in hot Dahab, and another large shoulder bag that takes practically everything a girl could need. I used one of this style when I last travelled and used it for my carry-on luggage; it swallowed my netbook, reading book, scarf, travel papers, etc with plenty of room to spare. The advantage of a shoulder bag (the trap easily fits across the body) is that I can access everything without removing it – unlike a backpack. I also feel they are more secure as you can keep the bag close to me; I have had my wallet stolen out of a backpack style bag on the Paris Metro when I only travelled on it for about 2 minutes! – another story.

Unique shoulder bags from Peace Road

Unique shoulder bags from Peace Road

Bronwyn Jones first came to Dahab to establish a casual restaurant in the bay area. She successfully grappled with the mire of Egyptian bureaucracy, recruited and fired numerous staff members finally succeeding in making the restaurant one of the most rated on Trip Advisor. Such are the personal skills and aptitude that she brings to any business, it is revealing that once she left the business its popularity plummeted and now no longer exists.

She left Dahab travelling through Asia on her way back home to New Zealand, attended to personal and family matters but always felt she had unfinished business in Dahab. They say that once you have drunk form the waters of the Nile you leave part of your heart forever in Egypt and that you will always desire to return. Dahab is like this too – a special little oasis with a big magnet.

Smaller size Travel Bags, perfect for passports, wallet, camera, e-reader, etc

Smaller size Travel Bags, perfect for passports, wallet, camera, e-reader, etc

The magnet varies for everyone – some it is the scuba diving, the technical diving, the free diving, the snorkelling, the yoga on the beach, the almost constant sunshine, the clear starry skies, the full moon over Saudi Arabia, the inexpensive accommodation , the camels and goats wandering the streets, the horse riding in the desert, the camel safaris. Bronwyn loves the beach life, the palms, the friendly community and the ambience of Dahab.

Peace Road is an actual main road here in Dahab – running from south to north through this small seaside village on the Gulf of Aqaba. Peace by name, peace by nature if you ask the majority of inhabitants of this town – a mixture of Bedouin (mostly  Muzeina tribe), Egyptians from the Nile valley or delta,  and foreigners who are drawn to the idyllic shores.

A trained fashion designer and skilled pattern maker, Bronwyn is able to bring her professionalism to every personally made bespoke bag. The first Peace Road bags were made of fabric printed with Egyptian Kayameya patterns that have been printed from the intricate appliqué that lined the insides of the fabulous tents hand made by the tent makers in Cairo. She still makes these popular bags as well in various designs but it is the gelabeya bags that really catch the eye. Every bag takes on a life of its own as she builds a relationship with each customer when considering which parts of the gelabeya to recycle where; every gelabeya bag is unique.

These bags are infused with life, starting from the original artisan’s beautiful hand work adorning clothing items turned into functional and stunning accessories carrying Peace Road proudly throughout the world.

Colourful make-up purses  made from Kayameya fabric.

Colourful make-up purses made from Kayameya fabric.

 

 

Iftar under the Stars

There is no moon like a Dahab moon.

There is no moon like a Dahab moon.

So it is over half way through Ramadan; the full moon having waxed, now wanes leaving less than two weeks until Eid. This year Ramadan has fallen in the middle of summer so some days have been extremely hot, 40oC plus, and the longer daylight hours mean longer fasts. Summer in the Scandinavian countries must be extreme tests of endurance, however I think they adopt times of more southern climes, maybe German. I have been invited to share iftar – literally breakfast – on a number of days for which I am grateful even though I am not Muslim and not fully fasting. Food I can easily forego but restricting fluids would just make me ill especially if I have to work riding the horses in this desiccating heat. As it is, I often add electrolytes to my water as a precaution measure; sweat dries off immediately so I don’t even realise how much fluid and salts I am is losing and the minimum result is a smacking headache.

Street decoration for Ramadan, Dahab

Street decoration for Ramadan, Dahab

I have seen many a tourist complain of food poisoning when I suspect they are actually suffering the effects of dehydration which include vomiting and diarrhoea due to severe electrolyte imbalance. Drinking only water exacerbates the problem because the body voids water to try to keep the salt balance. They rapidly end up on drips administered in hotel rooms by the experienced local doctors. During daylight, those fasting try to stay as quiet as possible, sleeping in the shade until late afternoon. I often see Bedouin men lying in the palm covered beach arishas built close to the waters’ edge to catch any breeze. Luckily Dahab, as a renowned wind surfing spot usually has wind and the men lie on stripy blankets with their heads completely covered by their shaals to keep any annoying insects at bay. Women generally remain at home as they have the doubly difficult task of fasting and preparing food for everybody, however the men do contribute, helping prepare meat, shopping etc.

It's a free life for Bedouin children in Dahab

It’s a free life for Bedouin children in Dahab

Children, who are not expected to “do Ramadan”, play unattended on the streets or the beach. They have about four months summer holiday a year during which time they become progressively more feral and problem causing. Late in the afternoon, people start to stir and wander home to prepare for iftar. Even in Dahab there is a pre iftar rush which in Cairo is apparently manic – everybody rushing to get home, ready and out to wherever they have been invited for iftar. In this respect it is a social month of reciprocal meals at friends’ and family houses. In Dahab things are on a much quieter scale but there is still noticeable tension. This irritation could also have something to do with the fact that they are strung out from no liquid, food or smoking during the day as nothing should pass their lips. By late afternoon they are like grumpy lions. Even the driving becomes more erratic, which is saying something considering how badly many drive on a normal day.

Minaret of Mosque Sheikh Jameer, Dahab

Minaret of Mosque Sheikh Jameer, Dahab

The mosques call quietly as people go to their respective places. Mohamed invited me to eat with him at the local communal breakfast. The women’s circle of privacy is sacrosanct and as I do not know any of the women in this area, I ate with the men. The meal took place on an open sandy space in front a house under construction. I didn’t see any signs of current work so maybe it will take a year or so to complete. The owners live in adjoining properties linked by small gates and there is one double door opening on to the sandy lane where the goats congregate during the day. One evening a few of the cheeky kids actually hopped through the door and started to nosey about. They were efficiently shooed back to the lane, skittering and leaping about.

Sheep and goats loitering in the lane waiting for any opportunity to find food.

Sheep and goats loitering in the lane waiting for any opportunity to find food.

Rectangular rugs are laid out to sit on in a five metre square centred by a small charcoal fire. These are not matching or in any particular pattern although Bedouins often use colourful striped rugs hand woven out of goat and camel hair. Each person leaves their shoes outside the square and sits cross legged facing inwards. Food is served on large metal platters, usually a main course on a bed of rice or circled by bread. These vary depending on which woman made them –vegetables, chicken, meat, fish – there is no requirement. You essentially share what is in front of you with those next to you although in my case, Mohamed always tries to find something he knows I prefer, but I don’t want to feel privileged. However Bedouin do pride themselves on hospitality so certainly take no offence by it. He also placed me close to the elder men because, again as a privilege for guests. Boys and younger men poured cold drinks into plastic containers and distributed these around everybody – you end up with water, tamrahindi, juice and cordial on the sand in front of you depending on what has been contributed. The group changes every night with the local family interspersed with visitors. One night the men who drive trucks of animal food from the Nile Delta were breaking fast in the group and Mohamed managed to negotiate that I purchase their remaining bales of hay at a cheaper rate. Another night an old man with an opaque eye who wanders the streets begging for a coin here, a coin there joined the group – probably one of the richest men in town!

Dates ripen on the palms over a Dahab street.

Dates ripen on the palms over a Dahab street.

As the sun sets, dates are distributed and it is customary to have a few in your hand to break the fast as the prayer starts in the mosques; dates followed by a drink then food. It is idyllic to sit in the open air at dusk with palm leaves swishing, people grateful for their first drink and food in more than twelve hours as sohour, the last meal before dawn, had been at about 3a.m. When the meal starts everybody gathers around the platter of their choice, moving off the rugs if necessary. There is little talk and I know from experience Bedouins eat fast – even faster after a fast! However there is absolutely no pushing or aggravation. It is extremely bad manners to eat from any area of the platter other than that directly in front of you. No picking the choice bits. For guests, the hosts surreptitiously watch what you like and place extra pieces on your section of the platter so it never seems like you finish. 189   None of the food is strong flavoured and some cooks are obviously better than others but I enjoy the simple food. I tentatively try anything new because swallowing is obligatory but I certainly never go away hungry. Bedouin eat most things with the fingers of their right hand but I usually use a spoon to avoid looking completely inept at feeding myself otherwise Mohamed is tempted to put a bib on me. Last night there was a shallow dish of what looked like reddish coloured porridge. It was served with rayeb, the yoghurt drink that helps keep intestines happy. The dish, I later discovered is made with wheat kernels, was quite bland but not unpleasant. I preferred the Bedouin style vegetables directly in front of me with farisheer bread tucked around the bowl. The meat in the dish had a slightly kidney flavour which I didn’t feel like so I just ate the potatoes (Egypt has great tasting potatoes), peas, carrots, onions, etc cooked in a tomato based sauce. Next to me Mohamed ate some freshly grilled fish on a bed of rice.

Sunset over the pink granite mountians of Sinai

Sunset over the pink granite mountians of Sinai

As soon as anyone is finished they stand away from the platters and go to wash their hands and mouth out. I am always one of the last eating and Mohamed admonishes me if I finish too soon out of politeness. He says no one will notice if I am the last but I don’t believe him; they quietly notice everything, not that they would judge – they know how fast they eat! After iftar some of the men pray facing Mecca on the clean sand next to the rugs, while others relax smoking and drinking shai . Bedouin tea is made from a mixture of black tea and herbs, usually mint flavoured hbac or sage like marmareya. Last night some of the little girls who been eating next door with their mothers wandered through to see their dads. At about 3 or 4 years they are cute and cuddly. Mohamed gave me some coin to give to them, a custom to promote generosity and luck. I am not sure about that desired outcome though as sometimes I see it translate to expectancy and rudeness in the older children on the streets when dealing with tourists.

Date palms still tower over homes although less than before.

Date palms still tower over homes although less than before.

The fire flares a little, the tea is offered around, the stars are shining and the palms still swishing as most of the young men and boys slope off to do whatever young men and boys do. Cushions miraculously appeared for the remaining men to recline with their elbows resting on them. Topics of discussion ranged from politics to making a living in this difficult recession. I only got the gist of conversations but I was pleasantly surprised to hear Mohamed talking about supporting Egypt and local manufacturers; that afternoon we had had a discussion about buying local and not supporting the likes of Swiss Nestle! That company is in the process of buying access to water rights all over the world denying free access to locals. There is even a perfectly drinkable Sinacola but not many of the shops stock it. It was another happy evening outside under the Sinai night sky.

Lighthouse Bay, Dahab at sunset.

Lighthouse Bay, Dahab at sunset.

Going to the Dogs

If a nation is said to be “going to the dogs” it is envisioned that it is becoming less successful than it was in the past. In the case of Egypt if its treatment of dogs is indicative, it is not only going to the dogs, it is well on the way to hell.

House of Fluff rescued dogs - Rocky, Zuzu and Soskya

House of Fluff rescued dogs – Rocky, Zuzu and Soskya

In our small tourist town of Dahab, South Sinai on the stunningly beautiful shores of the Gulf of Aqaba, local Bedouin, mainland Egyptians, foreigners and a population of friendly streetwise dogs have been living in relative peace and harmony for many years. The presence of street animals seems to polarise people into lovers or haters and while I certainly belong to the lovers, my pragmatic streak ensures I believe that the animal population of both dogs and cats should not burgeon.

To this end many have supported a Trap, Neuter and Release programme, TNR, where dogs and cats are neutered and returned to the area they live in. By returning the non breeding animals they remain in their established territories and discourage other animals from intruding and breeding. Research shows that if 75% of the animals are neutered the population remains stable; people become familiar with the animals and everybody lives in harmony.

Temporary Clinic for TNR, Dahab run by Dahab Animal Welfare

Temporary Clinic for TNR, Dahab run by Dahab Animal Welfare

With many restaurants and caring humans these street animals in Dahab are healthy and well fed. They even have names and sometimes their own Facebook Page like Broken Cat of Dahab, who spent his last days in regal retirement at Blue Beach Club Hotel and Foxy of the Lighthouse, a pooch with a distinctive golden shaggy coat.

Eager street animals quietly awaiting their appointment with the vets.

Eager street animals quietly awaiting their appointment with the vets.

The TNR programmes themselves are run by local groups such as Dahab Animal Welfare and Janet’ Streetdogs in partnership with volunteer overseas veterinarians who come and spend two weeks on a six monthly basis to attend to the young or previously missed animals. At the beginning of this year Cogges Clinic from the United Kingdom decided to celebrate their 20 years in business by volunteering to spend two weeks in Dahab. It was a frantic but well organised effort that neutered 128 animals; this on top of other regular neuterings carried out by the busy local female Egyptian veterinarian, Dr Ameira.

Cogges vets working with local Dr Ameira and local student observing latest techniques.

Cogges vets working with local Dr Ameira and local student observing latest techniques.

The success of this programme has now been blown sky high with an orchestrated, unprecedented poisoning campaign that is currently being carried out by unknown persons in the holy week of Ramadan. It has been usual in the past for poison to be distributed on the streets at certain times, and these poisonings were one of the reasons the TNR programmes were introduced. Not many in a tourist town want to see dying dogs lying on the streets or beaches, most people abhorring the cruelty of the death. Poisoning is also totally indiscriminate and many pets have died from ingesting the poison while out running in unpopulated areas or even while on a leash!

Street dog victim of Strychnine poisoning.

Street dog victim of Strychnine poisoning.

Further investigation has revealed that Egypt’s current regime has just introduced a kill all street dogs campaign.  Photographs depicting dead dogs alongside Ahmed from Ismalia who describes “feels excited” on his Facebook status from bludgeoning 13 dogs to death along with his friends. Some more enlightened and forewarned districts of Cairo like Zamalek which fortunately for it, is an island on the Nile River and has an established TNR programme, are trying to opt out of the mass killings with notifications throughout the neighbourhood the neighbourhood and alerting the authorities.

D'fer - no longer able to run free withour a muzzle.

D’fer – no longer able to run free withour a muzzle.

The authorities in Dahab are also well aware of the TNR programme but it would seem renegade officials or locals or both, are choosing to completely ignore the residents’ wishes. This of course cannot be confirmed as all are denying any involvement and the poisonings are carried out under the stealth of darkness. The preferred method of destruction is poisoning, usually Strychnine which can easily be purchased by anybody.

293661_10150349543930815_6933405_n (1)“The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.” Mahatma Gandhi. Amnesty International reports a sharp increase in human rights abuse, thousands in detention, reports of torture and death since the ousting of the democratically elected Morsi, deposed in July 2013. According to WikiThawra, an initiative run by the Egyptian Centre for Economic and Social rights, at least 80 people died in custody over the past year and more than 40,000 people were detained or indicted between July 2013 and mid-May 2014. Maybe this campaign offers the population a vector to release their frustration resulting from 74% increases in fuel prices, and rising electricity prices and other goods and services. It remains to be seen what will happen.

If it was terrible under Mubarek, unbearable under Morsi, it is descending to unliveable under Sisi.

http://www.amnesty.org/en/news/egypt-anniversary-morsi-ousting-2014-07-02

 

Cheque Points

293661_10150349543930815_6933405_n (1)I went for another ‘Visa trip’ to negotiate the minefield of Egyptian security cheque points (this confirms British English has it over USA English) and obsolete British system Egyptian bureaucracy that allows me to live here in Dahab. Now this is complicated, so pay attention!

As foreigners we are lucky that we can get Visas that allow us to live here for years as pseudo tourists. Some of us work in small time jobs, earning a pittance like most Egyptians that allows us to rent an apartment and buy food and bring what is left of our foreign exchange to pump in to the bleeding Egyptian economy.

I had been to visit my son in Europe the previous month and leaving Egypt had invalidated my year visa that would have expired in six months. When I re-entered Egypt, I had to purchase the only visa that is issued at airports, a pretty hologram silver sticker which is stamped valid for 30 days and costs US$20. (Even the Egyptian government doesn’t trust its own money!) I had intended to leave again before this 30 day Visa expired but delayed my departure which meant I had two options; I could apply for another year Visa or be up for the 150Le fine for overstaying when departing Egypt.

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Clinging on for dear life in Dahab.

The fine is not exorbitant but as I planned to return to Egypt in a few months I would then have to purchase another 30 Day US$20 visa, and then apply for another six month /year Visa within those 30 days. Are you with me so far? We haven’t even left Dahab yet… “Complication and confusion are the weapons of corruption” (yours truly); they give power and money to those in the know. That’s why it pays, literally, to be ‘in-the-know’, closely followed by ‘in-the-zone’.

STOP HERE and don’t read this section if you want to avoid confusion. Skip to…

There is also another visa available to visitors who just want to come and lie on the beach in mainly Sharm el Shite oops, I mean Sharm-with-no-Charm – get it right! Sharm El Sheikh! The all-you-can-eat-and-drink-and-make-yourself-a-dick type without actually spending any money that will enter the Egyptian economy because some crony of the higher powers has managed to wangle it so money spent in a resort is immediately siphoned off into private pockets or foreign owned companies. The type who arrive, get a taxi to the resort, drive through the security guarded gates (another Egyptian oxymoron?), plonk themselves on a sun bed for a week, stuff themselves  at the resort restaurants because they are too scared of contracting food poisoning outside (that they are more likely to get from eating the rice on the hotel’s day after day buffet unless the hungry Russians eat it all first), get back in a taxi, drive to the airport, fly home with a tan saying they were in Egypt for a week.

For these types there is the South Sinai visa which costs nothing and allows the tourist to visit Sharm’, Dahab, Nuweiba and Saint Catherine’s Monastery area. However… should one of these types become a tourist, venture out of the resort and fall madly in love with Egypt within two weeks (it does happen) and decide to extend their stay, this visa does not allow a trip to El Tur, the small town which is the government administration centre for South Sinai, and where one needs to go to get a new visa!

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Indication of driving attitudes here – and this is a rental company!

This now tourist has to go back to the point of entry, usually Sharm’ to purchase the pretty 30 day all Egypt visa sticker, get it stamped, then within those 30 days go to El Tur. One friend with the South Sinai Visa just tried to wing it from Dahab to El Tur hoping he could just skip the pretty 30 day visa and get one for longer stay. It was easier times, so he made it through the check points but El Tur office was above bribes (or he didn’t offer enough) so he returned to Dahab, decided to overstay and pay a fine.

…after skipping, RESUME HERE.

Anyway I was on my final days before departure so was attempting to get it all done and tidied up before I left.  El Tur the government administration centre doesn’t have many foreigners visiting, other than those renewing visas or the occasional one who lands in the jail awaiting trial. I had originally planned to go on Wednesday but then realised it was the second day of the contentious voting for the “New Egyptian constitution”.

The passport office in El Tur is at the rear of the Police Station and had already suffered blown out windows from a bomb attack some months before so I guessed correctly that the office was closed on Election Day. I was also concerned that it might be closed on the Thursday just for good measure, as Friday and Saturday are Egyptian weekend. I was not concerned about bombs – unless standing next to security personnel.

“Thank Zucker” for Facebook, I was able to join four other women wanting to share transport to El Tur so we arranged to leave Thursday morning at 9am. This would allow us to call the passport office before leaving just to make sure it was open. It was. Clarify and confirm, clarify and confirm – the only way to survive in Egypt – then say in sha allah (God willing).

“I’m a good driver. I’m a good driver” Rainman

We travelled in a minivan, an official Dahab taxi – not a private car – driven by a Bedouin called Sabah who was a reliable and calm driver, el hamdol allah (thanks to God), not hooting the horn at every passing car or pedestrian like some nervous locals are inclined to do.

The trip to El Tur normally takes just over two hours. We negotiated three police check points with no problem between Dahab and Sharm’ but got stopped at the larger official looking check point on the west side of Sharm’ ; the one with the big ugly concrete monstrosity that stretches overhead that is probably meant to look like an impressive gateway but looks more like a bridge to nowhere.

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Priceless. Says it all really. Such honesty.

Of course there were no explanations when we had to pull over, just surly men standing around looking bored and suspicious. I counted more than 20 doing nothing in particular, sitting outside behind desks, in cars, leaning on walls staring at us five stranded women. I had to stop myself from physically snarling – the Fb quiz did say the dog I am most like is a pitbull.

A request to use a toilet was of course, rebuffed as I knew it would be: I just wanted to annoy them. It could also be some hours on a bare desert road at this rate, so best be prepared. We were told to go to the petrol station back across the roundabout, so three of us wandered over. We were given permission to use their toilet el hamdol allah but was told there was “No water”. Not sure what that was about though, as the tap ran water and the toilet flushed. On a scale for disgusting toilets in Egypt, I gave it a 5/10.

The petrol station over the roundabaout. I didn’t photograph the toilets but you get the picture.

On returning to the van we climbed in and Sabah did a 180o turn to park facing Dahab. For about a minute of long faces we thought maybe we would have to return to Dahab but then the police said something to Sabah and we did another 180o back to the direction of El Tur. Psychological torture maybe? We were on our way again about an hour late but still able to make the office providing there were no more holdups. Let’s not be too literal here.

Sabah muttered something about “Egyptians not good”, essentially expressing his dislike for Egyptian Security Personnel.  They had been trying to tell him he didn’t have the correct car to take tourists to El Tur but who knows? Egyptians are not allowed to drive their cars of different licence everywhere –there have to be special licence plates to do different things and go different places. For example, only certain cars are allowed to enter the Sharm’ town roads so if you get the wrong car from Dahab, you effectively have to get another car to enter Sharm’ or break the law or pay a fine or pay a bribe, or all of the above.

This used to be a small bank branch with policemen guarding outside. The branch has closed but the police still sit here.

We were stopped again at the cheque point just outside El Tur. Oh no! So close but yet so far… A young (looked early 20’s) policeman asked to see our passports. There were three “Katherine”s in the van and he mixed up the passports; we didn’t correct him. He also missed that one of them had an expired visa; we didn’t point it out. After lots of false smiles (on his and our parts) and leering (on his part), and probable desire for silver to cross his palm (unrequited), he allowed us to continue to El Tur.

The Police station was a hive of inactivity – just the usual police and military men hanging around looking for a war. The patriarchal inverse big guns, small penis syndrome – facetious yawn.

I have been applying for these Visas for six years and every time is a little different; part of the confusion technique. This time we had to have our names and passports registered at the outside gate; the extra security measure incorporated after the last bomb. When will it ever occur to these people to fix the problems that are encouraging these people to blow themselves and others up? Easier than trying to catch them when they are already past desperation; not rocket science really (she writes with tongue in cheek).

Let there be light in Sinai …

There is one polite happy lady who works in the passport office. She was sitting behind clean new windows, the previous ones having been blown out – saves on window cleaner I guess.  We all went to her window to get our forms. I was applying for a year visa of residence and a re-entry visa that would be valid if I left and returned within 6 months. You can only get the re-entry valid for the first six months of a year – outside that you have purchase a new re-entry before you leave or just go through the whole process I was going through…

The updated bureaucratic process now dictated that all passports would not be returned until after 1pm so with an hour to fill, Sahbah to dropped us in the souq shopping area. El Tur is not a tourist town so everything was authentically less expensive. I bought some shoes for M and we all had sandwiches for a lunch – tamaya and fool – cost me 2.5Le – about 25 pence; same food in local Dahab area would have been 5Le, tourist Dahab maybe 10le. Doesn’t seem much in foreign exchange, but convert this to percentage on all goods and you get the picture of the of a tourist town rip off; happens all over the world.

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… and peace in Dahab.

We returned to collect our waiting passports, paid our money – 152.5Le for visa with re-entry – and headed for home. The same young cop who had stopped us on the way into El Tur, stopped us again; at least this time all our visas were current. All the check points now have a mixture of police security and soldiers – most ‘packing’ as they say in the movies. If only they were ‘boys with toys actors’ but these real machines designed to kill humans in the hands of… shall we say, unworldly lads? We had to negotiate more than 14 check points to get to El Tur and Dahab return. Oh, I felt so much safer in the Sinai for that!