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.


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.


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


Yesterday was October 6…

Yesterday was the 6th of October which is a national holiday here to commemorate the day, 6th October 1973, that Egyptian military forces made a brilliant tactical attack across from the West bank of the Suez Canal against the Israeli forces holding the East. (For anybody interested there is comprehensive information on Wikipedia.) It was Yom Kippur for the Jewish people and Ramadan for Muslims so the Israelis were probably somewhat complacent about any possibilty of attack from the Egyptian forces. The Egyptians planned and executed their attack audaciously with rubber dingies, smoke screens, water cannons to blast sand defences and artilliary supplied from Russia that destroyed many Israeli tanks. Syria was also attacking across the Golan Heights to the north at the same time and initially the Israelis were routed.

However after some days, the Israeli army mobilsed their civilian based troops to mount a counter attack on both fronts. Despite general El Shazly’s advice Sadat had also ordered most of the Egyptian force to cross the canal to the east leaving no rear guard. In the Sinai desert there was a massive tank battle and after the intense battle of the Chinese Farm, the Israelis were able to break through the centre of the Egyptian troops and crossed the canal into Africa. With little or defence from the Egyptians who were all on the east bank, the Israelis advanced to within a about 100km of the Egyptian capital Cairo. Both sides aquitted themelves with valour and determination but like most wars, the outcome termed success is dubious.

At this point politics and diplomacy took over and the Israelis retreated to the east bank of Suez and set up lines 16 kilometres into the Sinai with a UN buffer zone. The Suez canal again came under Egyptian administration with its significant revenue. The remainder of Sinai did not return to Egyptian rule until after the Camp David Accords in 1978: I think it was not until 1982, that the last Israeli settlers were forced to return behind the Gaza-Taba border.

While the Egyptian people do celebrate a distinctive and brilliant battle on the 6th of October it appears they are not encouraged to learn about the following days, the descision of Anwar Sadat against his generals nor about Israel crossing to within 100km of Cairo and the subsequent diplomatic action. They are also not told about the 1967 debacle that was planned by Egypt, Syria and Jordan mobilising troups to menace fronts with Israel, the blockading the Gulf of Aqaba at the Straits ot Tiran to all Israeli ships despite being told this would be considered an act of war in international waters. Israel decided the best form of offence was attack and anihilated the Egyptian aircraft before they could get off the ground then pushed into Sinai as far as the Suez and took over the West Bank of the Jordan river, thereby extending the misfortune of the already beleaguered Palestinian people.

I personally don’t want to take sides because I live on planet earth and last I time I saw a picture taken from space, earth was round – it doesn’t have sides. I don’t profess to be an expert but I am interested in shades of truth, one reason being Egypt is the country in which I currently reside. (Might have to leave after publishing this blog) However yesterday I commented on a photo . It was on a closed facebook group for local news and discussion. The previous comments made by Egyptians implied that Egypt were great and total victors of the short war by their grand martyrs and military efforts whereas Israel is a country that doesn’t exist. I have to admit I am tired of what I percieve to be this misguided patriotsim and commented “RIP all those who died on both sides”….

…well I could have started 6th October Battle II. Words rained down in irrelevant accusing fashion. I appreciate the fact that they attempted English as I don’t read Arabic so overlook and spelling, grammar, etc
“Sorry L, RIP 4 the martyrs of Egypt only …. The other side was an occupiar Enemy & without The historic victory of the War Sinai wouldn’t return back to the homeland”
“L the other side will rest in hell ,and any body think to stole our land will rest in hell this is only what we can offer ”
And when I asked if they knew what happened in 1967 as alead up to 6 October.
“i know very well , My history , the problem is with who create a fake History , only the homeless who do that ”
“. i say it again it is my history , no need for research , especially when i can here pull shitt says for example isreal won in 1973 , if you want research i can post a decoumentry done by israli themselves telling you what happened , im still young dont yet suffering from Alzheimer”
“by the way what was in 1967 was not a war ,war mean 2 army against each other ,what happened in 1967 was occupation that why we call it ‘naksah'”
From there the debate, if it could be called that declined into a diatribe that I must be suffering ahlzeimers, a coma, deafness, shame, embarrassment, comments concerning my reproductive capabilities, my age… even trying to justify their attacks…
“Thx J 4 being neutral …. but if u notice in the whole post she insist to bother us ….. we are peacful people All wars fought imposed on us …..We did not start the war never ……Who should be blamed …. when u always have right so u are stronger”

My reply “mmmm well here’s my peace offering … how about I agree with everything M and K say? You are absolutely correct in all your postings. You are peaceful people who have never started a war, only those imposed on you, you are never to blame. You never try to turn a debate into a personal attack on anyone who debates with you, that they are suffering a coma, ahlzeimers, deafness, shame and so long and thanks for all the fish. I’m off to the galaxy of my dreams.” I’ll never make diplomat and I do admit I did make some sarcastic comments… I know, I know. Lowest form of wit…

This is part of a problem for Egypt and maybe other societies. Generally they don’t have the skills to debate, the will to be introspective, to question history so it doesn’t repeat. They have never been taught to question the world around them, they believe all the propaganda.

What is also notable is that all these were Egyptian men who tried to comment in this manner (no pun intended). They tried to turn debate on historical events into hysterical events by trying to attack me personnally. Egyptian men regularly try to do this to women, bully and criticise. I am not being an over sensitive feminist here, I couldn’t give rat’s what they think of me. But their lack of respect for womens’ intellect among other things, is palpable.

I despair even more that this country can pull itself up by its shoestrings, especialy not sometime soon. I fervently hope God does bless Egypt because that is where they put their faith as well as in their masculine military might.

No electricity, no water, no fuss – la la land

WARNING!!!! There are a lot of ‘Noes’ in this post – ‘la’ actually means ‘no’ in Arabic hence the name of this blog la la land. And you thought it was something to do with the craziness of living here! Well that too; lalaland because I felt from the time I got here, I was always being told ‘No. No you can’t do that/ we don’t have that/ it’s not working’ and I always thought the answer was crazy.

No electricity. The electricity was off again this morning. It was off yesterday morning as well. What on earth is that dam across the Nile for? It goes off at the same time and it is never off when the mosque is about to blast out the muezzin. If it is off at those times, you know it is unplanned. There is never any warning that this is going to happen; like a note in the post that the power will be stopped from this to that time. This could be, amongst other reasons  because there is no post. Well not exactly no post, but no mailboxes on houses, no house numbers and in fact in most cases no street names.

No electricity means the house is very quiet, the fans cease to pretend they are actually making anything colder, the A/C stops whirring, the fridge doesn’t groan and complain from heat exhaustion, the water pump doesn’t grind away getting less efficient each pump and the halogen lamp in the light doesn’t hum.  So the only sound is the window shutters jumping in gusty breeze. And the cats still whining to be fed!

No electricity means no electric shocks off my metal cased laptop, or playing games that someone else get s the shock if they touch me while I am touching my laptop. It means no occasional burning smell when the wiring in the fuse box overheats and disintergrates the connection wiring  to the fuses. Guess those fuses didn’t work. In this apartment the fuse for the A/C has started tripping all the time…

Over the years I discovered the cost can vary for no obvious reason from 30Le to 200Le per month. The first place had no meter of its own – the power came via the next door neighbour who was a very nice expat swiss woman who had lived in Egypt for years. On my final account for that place I owed 300Le for 2 months. I was shocked as my initial payments had been 30-40… apparently someone had tapped into her supply and was stealing electriicy but she couldn’t prove it. I had to pay. Well actually the landlord owed me bond money so I said to take it off that and pay the neighbour. It took me 3 months to get the bond money back and when I met the neighbour on the street, she was stiill waiting for the electricity money 6 months later.

The account is not in the leasees name. That takes megga effort like resident visas, bank accounts, etc etc. Don’t ask, the answer is ‘No’ So accounts are in the landlord’s name which can be good and bad. He might be liable but he can kick me out if I don’t pay.

Each month the meter reader who speaks only Arabic knocks at the gate to come and read the meter. A week later someone comes knocking at the gate with an account (in Arabic too which is fair enough) to pay immediately. Hopefully you have enough in your wallet or he will have to come back. If you are away, as I frequently was when working in diving, the accounts just stack up. I think I paid 3 at one time which was fair enough. One place I refused to pay because I had only been there a week and it wasn’t my account. The power was cut off the next day without warning. The landlord fixed that up

So today no electricity. I can still havea cup of tea because the stove is gas fueled. Russian Earl Grey would you believe; I didn’t know Earl Grey was Russian! Well of course he wasn’t. It’s just that the Russian nouveau riche have pretentions of English aristocracy so the marketing people coined a new name for the tea and because lots of Russians come to Egypt the supermarket sells Russian Earl Grey tea. Makes sense, sort of. Not as good as Twinnings in my opinion but expats can’t be choosers.

The most pressing problem of having no eletricity is that there is no running water which means no showers and no refilling the toilet cistern. Well actually there is no water in the cistern as the other day the hose started leaking so I was turning it off after flushing the toilet. The hoses here are always springing leaks because the water is desalinated sea water but the salt content is still high. Despite this the plumbers still use metal wire covered hoses. Smart way of self perpeturating work because they break down all the time.

When you rent a house they will tell you “It has Government water”. Government water? What they mean is there are pipes direct from the town supply into the holding tank outside somewhere. Thes tanks are usually between 2-4 cubic meters and Government water will be directed into these tanks once maybe twice a week. No water 24/7 in our desert surroundings: that luxury is only for the Nile and delta dwellers.

What they don’t tell you is “If you are lucky. Very lucky”. The first house did get weekly supply and I only ran out if someone came to stay. Another said they had paid for government water but neglected to tell me other dwellers in the street had illegally connected their pipes so the government had disconnected the whole street. Another I got  water in the first week but never again, as others further upstream from delivery had fixed pumps to their supply to augment the usual trickle and took all the water before it reached my rental house.

The only time I had continual supply was from a permanent well but as that house as quite close to the sea so the water was quite salty. Dahab is an oasis. The palms have flourished naturally here for thousands of years drawing water from the underground reservoirs. The bedouin who lived here before even back to Nabatean times would have found relatively fresh water to drink. A geologist told me more and more wells would lead to more seepage inland from the sea making them progressively more salty.

I look in wonder at all the new buildings being erected when I know there is currently not the infrastructure to supply the houses already here.

So with no water supply by pipe the alternative is to buy water by the cubic meter delivered by leaking tankers that prowl the streets.My current contact is very good, delivers usually within an hour of my phone call and charges the going rate of 15 Le/m. It has taken me 4 years to find this driver.  Previously I have had to wait hours if not days for delivery. Which reminds me I have lost his number on the SIM card when I lost my phone….

So what does one do for water if there is no electricity or the tank has got so low that the pump will no longer work? Time honored bucket in the well (or tank in this case). You grab the nearest goat, kill it, skin it, tan it…. No 🙂 More about goats another time. You tie a rope of some description to a bucket without a hole and you drop it in the tank and haul out the water a bucket at a time. A bucket to flush the toilet, a bucket to have a shower, a bucket to wash your hair, even a bucket to hand wash your clothes. If you are clever/lazy you stand in a bowl to have a cooling showe (more about getting wet to cool than wash), rinse some underwear then use the water to flush the toilet. A bucket of water can go a long way.

Yet you know the weirdest thing? Egyptians don’t use plugs in the basins and sinks. They wash under running taps! Dishes the lot! They live in a desert and waste water like nothing else! Nile inhabitants, which is the majority of the population don’t place any value on water conservation. I now use a plastic bowl in the sink – it means I can run water down the side if I have to or even pretend I have 2 sinks…

Well the electricity is back on. Time to have shower, do the dishes, wash the floor, hand wash some undies, scrub the walls… no rest for the wicked.