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

Peaceful Desert Storm

Let the race begin - I am with Muzeina.

Racetime

When there is a combination of Bedouins, racing camels, speeding vehicles, sandy wadis, desert mountains and a forecast for thunder storms you have recipe for excitement and chaos. For the past fifty or more years in midwinter, upper Wadi Zalaga in central South Sinai becomes a twenty-seven kilometre racetrack for camels representing the south eastern Muzeina and north eastern Tarabin Bedouin tribes.

En route to central South Sinai

En route to central South Sinai

My second trip to the race started midday prior from Dahab on the shores of the Gulf of Aqaba,.My companions were a  mixture of foreign guests and Bedouins travelling in moderately comfortable Toyota Landcruisers towards the central desert highlands of St Katherine.

Over the years I have made numerous forays into this desert and it has never ceased to positively affect and uplift my spirit; full of light and delight it is no surprise biblical tales emanate from the Sinai. However again ominous grey clouds stretched theatrically across the vista as I recalled last year’s sleet with almost freezing overnight temperatures. I felt mentally and physically prepared however I was not so sure about some of my travelling companions in their lighter beach clothes.

On route our Bedouin organiser, Mahmoud pointed out the small rocky ravine where he had been born some thirty years before in a beit shar, ‘house of hair’ tent made from hand woven fabric of goat, camel or sheep wool. He added proudly that most women now chose hospital to deliver.

Riding to the race.

No camel transport – ride to the race

Reaching rocky rolling highlands about 1000m altitude we turned off the tarsealed road on to a rocky and sandy track which would take us to the head of Wadi Zalaga (wadi translates to valley). This is where the real fun began as Mahmoud, friend Clair and I transferred to his open Jeep. Part of the track is literally solid sandstone, the track visible only by tyres etching a white trail through the oxidised yellowed rock, testing new and old suspensions alike.

We dropped down off rocky outcrops to golden sands at the upper reaches of Wadi Zalaga as the sun lowered below the blue grey clouds delineating the skyline with golden light and long shadows.

“Everybody out and collect firewood!” For desert newcomers this sounded ridiculous as there are no trees, only scrubby sparse bushes that look like nothing to burn however we were soon out gathering.

“Nothing green!” they admonished. Again surprised looks as nothing looked green but what they meant was nothing still growing, just desiccated wood lying on the sand.  The men found remains of old bushes poking from small sandy hillocks and by digging around these with hands and the ubiquitous Bedouin “whatever else is available” revealed half a meter of reasonably thick dry branches. These they kicked and hacked loose adding to the pile stuffed in the back of the Jeep.

Golden minutes.

Golden minutes.

In the fading light we searched for a suitable campsite. ‘Campsite’ had led guests to imagine an organised camping area with maybe even toilets. The reality was any topographical site that sheltered us from the elements as much as possible. Every Bedouin group likes privacy too, so it is only polite to be at least a hundred metres from the nearest group and definitely not in line of sight; a residual tradition from living in wide open isolated areas perhaps.

A clear sandy area was chosen to pitch the beit shar.

A suitable clear sandy area was chosen to pitch the beit shar.

A perfect spot was chosen tucked away from the main wadi, sheltered and private. The beit shar was given pride of place in the small sandy hollow beneath a sentinel of rocks. It had definitely seen better days, almost double lined with patches of plastic sacking. Mahmoud remarked “This is probably the one I was born in”… thirty years ago. Poles were a mixture of planks and straight branches transported on the back of the pick-ups; tent pegs were any large rocks that could be moved into position and wrapped with guy ropes. I took my small tent, pitching it on the only other relatively flat smooth ground that I could find about twenty metres away from the beit shar yet close to the vehicles.

???????????????????????????????Within half an hour we had a cosy three sided shelter with fires blazing, inside for warmth, outside for cooking. The small twigs and resinous branches proved very effective fuel, burning surprisingly hot and long. As a mixed group of a dozen guests none of us knew everybody so we quietly gathered more firewood, gazed at the fading golden light, took photos and let the desert quiet entrance us.

Not like the Bedouin. They never stop talking when they are together and this was no exception. There were about ten Bedouin men with us – drivers, young teenage boys and other members of Mahmoud’s family – no women. Bedouin women do not come these events; they would not be permitted by their men folk and probably have no interest in coming.

In camp, the men do all cooking and huge pots of food were prepared as night fell. It was dark by 6.30pm as we sat around camp fires, lying on thick synthetic blankets that serve modern Bedouins as sleeping bags. In all seasons, they can be found covered from head to toe by these blankets; the only hint a person underneath is the shoes placed at his feet.

Warming the body and soul.

Warming the body and soul.

Most guests had bought their favourite tipple and cigarettes of various plant substances were smoked; drugs of choice. Huddled around the fires we watched lebbe bread being prepared. Dough was kneaded in a shallow metal basin then flattened on a large platter to a thickness about 1.5cm. With fire embers pushed sideways, it was placed carefully on the ashes, the embers scraped back over and left to bake. Ready in about fifteen minutes the loaf was lifted out, tapped gently to remove any sand and ash, then broken by hand into serving size chunks; Lebbe – crusty, dense and delicious.

Desert solitude, good for the soul.

Desert solitude, good for the soul.

It had been quite some hours since we had eaten anything more than a handful of snacks so the plates heaped with chicken, potatoes, mixed vegetables, rice, tahina,  tomato cucumber salad were gratefully devoured. Anywhere in the world there is nothing like eating al fresco.

“Was that lightning?” a guest asked. With low cloud cover it was not immediately obvious if we had just glimpsed the lights of late arrivals. Crashes of thunder confirmed it, “10 miles away…17 miles away…right overhead!”

It was already late evening when the first drops of rain fell so I decided to make a dash for my tent; I had a sense of possible impending chaos with city bred foreigners and laissez-faire Bedouin grappling with the elements. By the time I was tucked up inside it was raining heavily. I slept fitfully from fear that I had pitched the tent too close to runoff from the rocky walls but I decided there was no point moving unless I had to.

Steam drying clothes over the smoking fire.

Steam drying clothes over the smoking fire.

Morning revealed that water had been flowing about one and half metres from my tent; not deep enough to be dangerous but it would have made things very uncomfortable. Two extra tents had been pitched on a slope, one with a gaping hole in the side.  The beit shar had leaked and water seeped down the sandy area it had been pitched on; it was not smoothed clear by accident. A fly had been rigged between two pickups and the young boys emerged smiling from piles of blankets. Guests and other Bedouin had taken refuge in any vehicle they could find space.

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A bright day dawns on Wadi Zalaga

No one complains about rain in the desert so we joked with each other while steam drying clothes over the smoking fire. Personal tales of disrupted sleep were regaled, “You kicked me in the head”, “I slept OK except for the steering wheel against my temples” and “My feet kept sliding out the bottom of the tent”. Damp blankets were laid out on the slopes to dry in the weak sun. A soggy, sandy headscarf was picked off the ground. “Does this belong to one of the men?” A Bedouin replied, “No way a Bedouin would ever drop and forget his head schaal.” Turned out it belonged to one of the women guests.

Baking farisheer - team work.

Baking farisheer – team work.

Breakfast was quickly prepared – feta cheese, fool (fava beans mashed with tahina and spices), halawa (sweet sesame seed fudge) and jam served with the remains of the lebbe and freshly cooked farisheer bread. Farisheer is my favourite bread in the whole wide world! (not stated lightly considering how much I love bread). I could never understand why the Lord’s Prayer says “Give us this day our daily bread” until I tasted farisheer. It is made from fist sized balls of dough that are worked by hand into thin large ‘pizza’ rounds then placed on a ‘upside-down-wok’ (or the lid of a forty-four gallon drum) over an open fire. The dough blisters and chars slightly taking on a chewy texture and distinct flavour.

The race was ‘scheduled’ – scheduled being a difficult concept for Bedouin – to start between 7.30 – 8.30am because, being Friday, everything should have been completed by midday Islamic prayer. We clambered into vehicles and drove up wadi passing vehicles and blanketed camels heading to the blue start flags.

On the way to the start.

On the way to the start.

???????????????????????????????Contrary to popular belief camels store fat not water in their humps, so humps are almost nonexistent on racing camels, their tight abdominal muscles tucking up their flanks like greyhounds. I was told even their water intake is limited during training yet I doubt that is advantageous, but on race day, most likely. The small utilitarian saddles with no colourful trappings or fringes are fitted across their loins, double girths around their bellies, some with cruppers and breast straps. The saddles are padded in such a way so that jockeys wedge their bent legs between so as not to be bounced off.

Unlike track racing in some parts of the Middle East where the camels run without human jockeys because of alleged and proven human rights abuse, these camels are proudly ridden by young tribal boys, mostly aged between 8 -12 years, tiny and tough. They wear no colours, no helmets or protective gear and the only distinguishing marks are dark blue markings painted on their camels’ necks.

???????????????????????????????As the highly strung and prized thoroughbreds they are, some camels were cool, calm and collected others feisty and eager to get going. With their jockeys perched at the back and only one long rein attached to the halter that has a metal plate and chain under the chin, some camels do not heed much direction control. I saw one determined camel break away from the group dragging his handler, with jockey on board about fifty metres before they could stop and turn him back to the start.

???????????????????????????????A hundred plus vehicles gathered around the flags and across the wadi revving engines in anticipation, not leaving much space for the animals. The event is as much about skilful driving; in front, beside, in the middle and behind the racing camels for the entire race, avoiding rocks, ruts, camels and other vehicles. One might think the event is sponsored by Toyota; their vehicles far outnumber the Jeeps, Nissans and occasional Isuzu.

Before long all were off, full speed ahead choosing their own line down the wadi. It would take just over an hour for the first camel to finish.

I was at the back of Mahmoud’s open Jeep waiting about two hundred metres down wadi. I wedged my right foot against the tow bar so with my left hand clinging to the top frame I could swing free with my right hand to take photographs with my small Canon S110. I wasn’t game to handle an SLR and enjoy the race at the same time. It is an ill wind that blows no good; the rain meant there was no dust, just a few mud clods. On drier years one only gets glimpses of camels through the choking dust clouds.

Also in back were Sulieman and Mahmoud’s brother Firaj who kept up a constant stream of directions about where and how Mahmoud should drive. I do not know if he paid any attention but I can attest to his driving skills despite it being the first time he had driven in the race.

???????????????????????????????Before many kilometres the camels were well strung out, some racing on the left, some on the right, others veered off track completely. I do not know if there was much forethought or strategic race planning or whether it was just go all out for as long as one could. Most of the camels were cruising in their long legged pace – legs on either side moving in unison, not a trot where legs move diagonally. Some were in a gallop which looked energy sapping and more difficult for the jockeys to ride.

??????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????Firaj had won the race for Muzeina as a ten year old about twenty-five years ago and I am sure he relived the entire race over every bump and sand hill as we sped along. As a foreign spectator most of the excitement is in the vehicle ride – hanging on for dear life as vehicles raced and overtook within metres and vice versa. By the end I joked that I was probably one centimetre shorter from a compacted spine.

Whereas Bedouins perched nonchalantly on the back of pickups, three abreast in perfect balance. Dressed for the chilly air, head schalls de rigueur – mostly red and white check but there were a few other colour combinations all tied or draped according to individual choice. Most wore traditional jelabeya, the ground length shirt styled garment, mostly white but some in grey, brown or black. Some, like Mahmoud had western jeans and tops and some even overalls that looked suitable for arctic temperatures.

Traditional winter coveralls looked like a cross between large overcoats and open capes, some ancient tattered fine woven wool with a thick lining of lambskin where nowadays it is often synthetic fur.

???????????????????????????????After last year’s dispute as to which acacia tree had been the finish line, this year a white line had been marked across the wadi. After twenty-seven gruelling kilometres on heavy sand it was impressive to see two camels still within racing distance of each other, foaming at the mouth, racing neck and neck, both representing Muzeina. A thrilling finish watched from the natural terrace lined with Bedouins who did not partake in the vehicle rally.

The race won, both boys dismounted quickly into surrounding supporters and were whisked to the presentation area. There was no dais, no pomp and ceremony, no weigh in – just Bedouins and the few foreigners crowding in a circle, those in the forefront crouching down on their haunches. I am envious of how they can do this for long periods without developing painful hips and knees. Short speeches in English and Arabic were made, congratulating the winners, the participants and the supporters.

There had been some doubt as to whether the race would take place this year, 2014 because of an ongoing land dispute between the tribes that threatened to escalate into violence. It is traditional for Bedouins to celebrate by firing rifles but this year firearms were noticeable by their absence, only a few random shots fired. It is a tribute to tribal wisdom and ability that customary Bedouin are best able to police themselves without any interference from outside security forces.

The camels were seemingly quickly forgotten however the winner’s value would have increased for sure. They were probably happier away from the gathered melee, recovering their breath and heading off for a well earned rest, food and water.

I did overhear a remark from a Dahab visitor, not a local tribal member, that “We should organise this a lot better”.  Without knowing exactly what he was alluding to, I suspect he envisages formal advertising and more tourists but I think this would be a pity. We were there as a welcomed guests, not as a tourists expecting display for our benefit and I would not want it any other way. No whinging about the sleeping arrangements, the rain or cold. I appreciate the cultural authenticity of the event: it is about Bedouins, their culture, their traditions and their pride.

The return journey was time to catch up on sleep, to stare out the window at spectacular desert vistas, for quiet contemplation. It had been a full and satisfying twenty-four hours that left impressions far greater than time actually spent. In fact I will think about it all year and hope I get another opportunity to be a guest at the Wadi Zalaga camel race, in sha allah.

the end of a dog’s tail…

Just to give a bit of an update and closure, in sha allah – God willing, on the LP story… things got worse before they got better at this end. This story continued via ‘Hamid because no one really wants to know about a woman’s involvement, especially not a foreign woman. Despite me being the instigator of these problems, I get to walk scot free. (Now isn’t that an interesting expression! – my Dad was a Scot so must follow that up…)

 

So from my previous post, the restaurant guys still had ‘Hamid’s wallet with his ID card and other papers, plus they had accepted the money for the dog LP. The butcher (apparent uncle of aforesaid guys) had returned from Cairo well pissed to find the dogone dog gone. I am not sure he understood where LP had been spirited away to, because he asked for him back. I can only reiterate FAT CHANCE.

 

 I suspect that ‘Hamid had used a bit of bedouin intimidation tactics to get the young men to let him take the dog, stopping short of turning up with an AK47 of course. But I am fairly sure the young men let him take LP albeit maybe under some duress. However the following day, it was alleged that ‘Hamid had broken into the back of the restaurant the previous evening, stolen the dog and dropped his wallet. It didn’t make sense to me considering they were alerted to the fact we wanted him so had him under guard, and the whole episode from ‘Hamid leaving the house and returning with the dog, minus his wallet took about an hour including the toing and froing over money.

 

They reported the alleged theft to the police. Police are everywhere here but as a tourist you won’t notice. There are a few wearing uniform but many wear plain clothes, usually oversized short sleeved button up shirts – the main giveaway is the large bulge under their armpit where they pack their not insignificant guns. Occasionally a barrel peaks out the bottom of the shirt hem as they saunter along keeping an eye on the general populace.

 

There are two departments for police in Egypt – the General Security Forces and the wait for it – The Tourism and Antiquities Police. I am not sure of the differences of the two, but I do know if you are a tourist and you contact the wrong police you will be sent to the TaAP – this includes theft, rape etc. By the time you locate the correct contact the perpetrator is usually long gone.

 

‘Hamid was picked-up by the appropriate police who took him to the appropriate police station. (As an aside, this has the worst toilet in the world even when compared to Trainspotting’s “Worst toilet in Scotland”! – I saw it once and never again) He spent quite some hours there being interrogated. Aside from the theft, the butcher had apparently not said he wanted xxxLe for feeding LP – there had been some mistake, there was an extra xxxxLe owing! So it was a case of bring the dog back or pay the money.

 

Well ‘Hamid of course did not have that amount of money on him, surprise, surprise and there was obviously nothing left in his wallet so the end result was… guess what!… ‘Hamid was forced to sign one of those infamous “cheques”. This was actually an IOU, made out to the butcher which the police held along with the wallet and ID. A further catch was this IOU was not for the actual amount reportedly “owing”, but TWICE the amount. It was tacitly understood this double amount would not actually have to be paid, UNLESS ‘Hamid caused more problems – just a bit of insurance to cover extra hassle. “Get you one way or another!” as the song said.

 

Hamid was released late that night – the police do most of their investigating, interrogating, shifting prisoners around in the dark hours of the night here. This was not the movies.

 

I suggested that perhaps it was time for me to talk to the police since I was the one behind actually taking the dog and had some of the facts about it like that my friend had LP’s passport, his microchip number and papers to export him.

‘Hamid just said “They are not really interested in all that Linda. They won’t want to have anything to do with you.”  He was right, I knew this from previous experience.

“What happens if you don’t get the money?”

“I go to jail.”

“You go to jail! Just like that? No court, no investigation? Nothing?” I tried to sound surprised and failed.

“It’s not about the dog now – it’s about the “cheque” for the money I owe.” How clever is that! “They will first take me to jail in Nuweiba, then El Tur. In El Tur it is out of police hands and the case will go to court where I will have to stay in jail until my case is heard. If I can’t pay I could go to jail for 3 years.”

“So how long do you have to come up with the money?”

“5pm tomorrow. Today” It was the early hours of the morning.

 

He was not looking forward to going to jail because of a dog! A street dog at that, albeit a special one – often derrogatively described here as “baladi” which translates to “from the country” but really means “cheap mongrel off the street”. Egyptians are real snobs at heart and prefer their supposed status pedigree animals, looking down their noses on us baladi dog owners. But when I see what they try to pass as pedigree, I always think of the emperors new clothes.

 

I reflected the situation.  ‘Hamid had caused me problems in the past and in light of those I could have just said “You deal with it! I’ve had enough.” But I did ask him to help me and while his tactics were different to mine, they were successful – mine weren’t. I am a peace time kid, well spoilt but there are times when “please and thank you” don’t cut it; ‘Hamid didn’t back down from conflict. I reminded myself of my own mantra – “There are no rules, only consequences”. Mission accomplished – dog in Europe. Now deal with the consequences.

 

From my previous post, you will know that I had emptied my coffers –  completely – de nada – so I was again between a rock and hard place. Sometimes living here I feel like a sack of grain that keeps getting passed through a crushing mill. Each time the rollers set a little bit closer – guess it will only be the kernel left soon. All heart. I knew my friend was sending some money but this would take days, weeks even – so 5pm – 12 hours required something else.

 

‘Hamid and I stress over it almost the whole of the next day. I think we were both in denial that this could happen over a dog! I question everything, accuse ‘Hamid of being an idiot for the choices he made, and I generally behaved quite badly but fact was, I felt guilty. In the end I plucked up huge amount of courage (I hate asking for help especially where money is concerned) to telephone and ask a friend if I could borrow xxxxLe for  a short period. Bless them they agreed without much explanation. Some relief!

 

‘Hamid went to the police and told them they would have the money by 6.30 instead of the stipulated 5pm. They reluctantly agreed. My friend called to say the money machines in the area were not functioning (all 3 of them!)so no money ‘til after 8. ‘Hamid was panicking as he knew the prisoner transport truck goes from Dahab about then and the police would have liked him on it.

 

I pay xxxLe to keep the police on hold.  ‘Hamid calls the police head honcho to ensure he knew that ‘Hamid had given some of the money to an officer stationed close by – no such thing as written receipts here. Just after 8pm I get the remainder and ‘Hamid goes off to pay at the police station with a bedouin friend as witness. It is again after midnight when I get the news he has his wallet and papers back.

 

Again – right down to the wire! I see pictures of LP and my friend in Europe and they both look so happy. It was worth it. I read the other day “Whoever said money can’t buy happiness has never bought a horse” …or a sent a dog to a better life.

 

 

 

 

a dogs tale – ‘Poor little thing!’ said Alice, in a coaxing tone, and she tried hard to whistle to it…

I am beside myself. I write on my Facebook status that I am “having kittens” because the dog that my friend wants with her in Holland, has over the past year been living around a restaurant and butcher here in Dahab (what dog wouldn’t!). Now the dog is meant to be in a taxi with me on the way to Sharm el Sheikh airport by 11.30pm tonight for a flight booked at 4am but the guys at the restaurant have refused to let me take him… I have about 4 hours left to get this sorted!

My fb friends online offer me all sorts of advice from ‘grabbing and running away with him’ to ‘getting a bedouin with an AK47’. Humorous but perhaps not so helpful if I want to continue living in Dahab.

I have been trying to avoid this situation for days, hoping that I could find Lucky Puppy in the early hours of the morning when not too many people are about. This meant going out at 1am or 5am and other times to no avail. I have promised my friend KP that I will get this dog, LP, on a flight to Europe on the early hours of July 8 – tomorrow morning. I have to take him in a taxi leaving at 11.30 pm tonight to be sure of making these connections – time is fast running out and I am up against a rock and a hard place.

In the afternoon I finally decided I had to look more openly for him so ‘Hamid went to the restaurant where he often hung out and asked on my behalf. I was told to speak to “a russian woman called S” – she would “tell me where he is”. Both ‘Hamid and I spoke to S and I explained what I wanted to do. We had a brief discussion, she intimated that she did not consider LP to be her dog- he was a street dog, so if I wanted to take him, she would not stop me. Great! Now I just had to find him. This was about 2pm and very hot so LP was probably sleeping in the shade somewhere. Unlucky finding Lucky Puppy.

Early this evening I again went on my own and found LP lying just inside a restaurant where he often hangs out. The young guys there told me I had to speak to S if I wanted to take him.
“I already have spoken to her. She is OK about it.” They kept insisting I had to speak to her again. She had said to them “the dog was not to go anywhere”.
“OK. Where does she live? I will go speak to her again.” It was close by so I went but she was not there. Someone phoned her for me. I  spoke to her and the message I again got from her was “well he is a street dog so if I want him you can take him”.
I went back to the restaurant. “S says it is OK with her.”
“No, no. We have to speak to S.”
“Well if you feel like this, why didn’t you just come with me?! I don’t have her number. You phone her!” Blank looks. “Well come with me and you can get her number and talk to her.”
They speak to S on the phone and seem to agree that she says it is OK if I take LP. We return to the restaurant. LP by this time is locked out the back so they open the door and LP bounds out all excited at being free again. This enthusiasm is not a good look for what I am about to do but I put my dog’s collar on him anyway. The men start getting agitated and one phones “his uncle” the butcher who has been feeding LP “kilos of meat”. One holds LP by the collar while on the phone. This is not encouraging.
“My uncle says he can’t go anywhere. LP stays here. You can talk about it when he gets back”
“What do you mean talk about it when he gets back? Where is he?”
“In Cairo.” FFS  Why ‘are they’ always ‘in Cairo’ when one needs something? What is so attractive about Cairo except traffic and hoards! ?What now?!
I start trying to argue with them. “I can’t wait, LP is booked on a flight to Europe this evening.” I am also aware that my friend KP has made a 10 hour road trip to Germany to collect this dog. She is already waiting…
“He is our dog. We have been looking after him for years.”
“Yes, I can understand how you feel. But if he is your dog why don’t you keep him off the streets. Why didn’t you get help when he has been fighting and cut his eye?” I know I am on shaky ground here – my dogs roam the streets on occasions without ill effect and the dog is well fed.
A bedouin enters stage left, “What is going on here?”
“She wants to take LP.”
The bedouin tells me, “You know LP is my dog.”
I know he has claim to him because LP was born in or around his camp at the back of this restaurant and grew up there. “Yes, I know he was born in your camp. But my friend KP, you might know her, she loved this dog from the beginning. He always hung out with her at he dive centre. She wants to take him to Europe to live with her,” I plead. I probably look like a crazy dog lady but the truth is I prefer cats. And horses.
He shrugs, obviously thinking it over and says “Well let her take the dog.” He walks off stage right, leaving me to it. I watch as one of the guys takes the collar off LP and I stand there, not knowing what to do or where to go next. I decide to leave it at that point and try to find ‘Hamid to see if he can/will help. I walk off stressed and dejected.
So what am I fighting for?

My friend KP lived in Dahab with her daughter and son for a number of years. During this time a puppy was born and KP fell in love with Puppy. She lived in a small two bedroom apartment with a small garden with her two children and up to 5 cats. I say up to 5 cats because, cats being what they are, come and go but essentially they all lived together in happiness and harmony. Puppy was born a street dog and he loved his freedom on the street but he also loved KP so he would often forsake his freedom to stay in the garden with KP and her family. He was never coerced to stay and he never wore a collar. And so this continued over a number of years.

Time came KP had to make a decision about continuing to live in Dahab in the style she loved, despite its challenges and difficulties, or to return to Europe to offer her children more comprehensive education and different life opportunities. After much deliberation, with mixed feelings and uncertainties, she decided to return to Europe. She had little money, no job lined up and no private living so she had to leave all her beloved animals behind. I took one of the cats but the others remained in the area and took their chances with new tenants – all neutered I might add. KP knew that ‘Puppy’ – now grown into ‘Lucky’, would easily find food and already had his territory marked out along the beach and street.

Over the next months KP gradually rebuilt her life – rented an apartment, found a job or two, established her children at school, dated some men and made the most of her life back in “the West”. But she never forgot her time in Dahab and lamented her loss of contact with Lucky Puppy. Her facebook page depicts many photos of her and LP – hugging, hanging out, swimming, eating and enjoying life together. He became an obsession to her and she kept thinking of ways she could take him to live with her and her children. She fretted that when living on the street he would come to harm, either from traffic or fighting with other dogs or heaven forbid, death by poisoning which is relatively common here.

LP meanwhile, made the most of any opportunity and advantage that came his way. It just so happened that in his territory was a butcher and a number of restaurants. LP made friends with everybody, not the least the butcher who was kind to him and fed him much meat. KP asked me to look out for LP so, while I kept my distance, I would see him begging for scraps of meat or lying on the steps digesting his full tummy. He was in no way unhappy or neglected and had a very good life as a street dog.

Over the next two years KP visited Dahab often. Every time she came, LP would leave his territory and camp where ever she was staying, standing outside like a sentinal, hanging out to spend time with his beloved KP. He was the happiest dog in Dahab during these times – he trotted proudly in front when KP went walking  and looked so joyful and content – I can only describe it as love.  LP loved KP more than meat and to say this about a dog is high praise indeed.

KP finally gave in to her obsession and decided to prepare LP to make the journey to Europe. This required time and planning – LP had to get a microchip inserted under his skin. These are not always available in Egypt. LP had to get his own canine passport, his blood had to show active antibodies to rabies infections. This requires two vaccinations against rabies over a period of months and a followup blood test that has to be tested in Europe. He would need to fly with an animal friendly airline, an approved crate and government release papers…

In the meantime LP is living fine but I was taking him off periodically for injections – the butcher is aware of this but I suspect not entirely happy. He does like the dog but when I discussed KP wanting to take LP to Europe he talked of the amount of money he has spent feeding him. I said she will pay him something – she will discuss this. Perhaps the butcher cannot own up to the fact that he likes the dog which is why he talked of money. I try not to think about it, as ‘like’ does not compare to ‘love’ – KP and LP is a love story.

LP was also an entire male which means whenever a bitch came on heat, he disappeared for days or even weeks at a time following his instincts to impregnate her given the chance. This also means he was fighting to be alpha male all the time and subsequently suffered a large gash under his right eye. When I saw the gash, I was horrified – it was about two cm ripped into his lower eyelid and swollen to an ugly mess. He was lucky not to lose an eye. It was too late to make any sort of stitches but I took him the vet to get an antibiotic injection. The vet recognised him and told me “a russian woman” , the aforementioned ‘S’, had already had him attended to so I returned him to the street. Over the weeks his eyelid healed remarkably well, sans stitches.

The last time KP came to Dahab she decided to have him neutered and take the final blood test to be checked in Europe. The subject of neutering male animals in Egypt is a hot topic. Ask any male here and they will tell you it is haram – ie against the Koran’s teachings. However the local vet is muslim woman (el hamd el allah) and she says she cannot find anywhere in the Koran that supports this view. My opinion is, that men the world over, always personify the minor operation and cannot bear the thought of neutering male animals; whenever it is mentioned they cross their legs, look around wildly like a caged cat and plead “Oh, but he won’t be able to have fun!” Grow up men! Women the world over have been having full hysterectomies for years for health reasons and they still have fun. I am not advocating a return to eunuchs guarding hareems or castrati for singing (banned in 1903) but keep it in perspective! This from a country where they circumcise boy children and perform clitoridectomies on girls!” Yet neutering a dog or other male animals is supposedly haram! Get over it. The animals do.

Anyway LP was quietly neutered to quell his street fighting urges and is none the worse for it that I can see (our dogs as well). KP took his prepared blood to Europe which subsequently showed enough rabies anti bodies. KP could begin the final step to take LP to start a different life with a loving family in Europe. She was fully expecting to have to make another journey to Dahab to collect him but circumstances led to someone else offering to be flight parent to accompany him from Sharm el Sheikh to Germany. LP would just have to be delivered to the airport 2 hours prior to the scheduled flight time. KP asked me and I agreed to help.

So this is why I am on fb trying to get ideas and inspiration from my friends online – some of whom have already taken dogs from Egypt to Europe.
‘Hamid finally walks in the door. “They won’t let me take the dog!” I blurt out the happenings of the previous hours.
“Stay here. I will go and talk to them.”
“Shall I come with you?” I am relieved when he says, “No. You can’t help with these guys.” I am relieved. I am a coward.
I sit here and wait and watch sands through the hour glass, smoking and fretting, updating KP on the state of affairs, feeling stressed and upset. ‘Wait’ is a time bomb.
‘Hamid arrives back. I am too scared to ask.
‘They want money. xxxLe’
Silence. I am almost totally without money from some previous expenses and not sure what I can do….KP has been a very good friend to me and I know she loves this dog. I know this dog loves KP more than he likes the restaurant guys, even if I do feel a little sorry for them. If KP was here he would just walk away from them without a second glance. I have seen it happen many times despite what they say.
“OK. I still have some money in the bank. I will go to the money machine and get it. Tell them that they can have xxxLe and I will find a way to pay then tomorrow. They can have my passport as security.”
Hamid says “No. Don’t give them your passport. I will talk to them now while you get the money.”
I get the money and sit outside on the steps waiting for him to return. It is always a beautiful night here but I am too agitated to notice. It is 10.50pm when I hear a pick up stop in the dark and hear ‘Hamid’s voice. I am overjoyed to realise he has LP on the back of the pickup truck. OMG! He has the dog! He has the dog! How did he do it?
“Oh, you have him! You are amazing. Thank you. Thank you!”
‘Hamid ignores my praise, “Grab him. Don’t let him go. If he gets away he will run.” I help get LP down from the pick up. He is obviously very stressed. It is probably the first time he has ever been in a vehicle. Oh LP, if only you knew. This is just the start of your adventure. In a few hours you will be flying high in the sky on the way to your love. How can I explain this to a dog?

I hold the collar very firmly but not unkindly. I had prepared for this by suggesting ‘Hamid make a slip lead around his neck because LP has a short neck and thick fur. He has escaped from me before when I was walking him to the vets. We cajole him up the steps into the apartment where my cats threaten to make a meal of him. I lock our two dogs on the balcony and take LP in the bedroom to rest in the a/c. He looks totally bemused but resigned as he lies on the cool tiles.
“How did you get him without the money?”
“I left my wallet with ID. They wanted me to sign a ‘cheque’, but I didn’t.”
“Oh please don’t so that! You promised you would never sign one of those again. Here take this money and tell them we will pay the rest tomorrow.” There is this crazy system for IOUs here where they sign for a monstrous amount like 10,000Le even if a small amount is owed. This guarantees the police will get involved if the borrower defaults but it also means you have to trust the lender to stick to the original amount. As far as I can see, it always turns to custard.
So LP here we are! You are here! I can’t believe it. I update my fb, saying LP is chilling in the a/c. The car arrives and LP is reluctant to get back in a vehicle – a saloon with a covered back seat but ‘Hamid shoves him in as I quickly climb in the other door, grabbing LP from diving straight through. I breathe. It is exactly 11.30pm.

On the drive to Sharm LP is very hot, hanging his tongue out, slobbering all over my skirt as he sits across my knee. I don’t care. I just hug him trying to reassure him that all will be fine. He is a fine dog and he will have a very happy life playing on grass, chasing cats and birds, sleeping inside if it is cold, even playing in snow when the time comes. I tell him he has the perfect coat for playing in snow. He will be loved by KP and her daughter and other friends. I am almost crying from relief.

I was told to wait in Terminal 1 to meet his flight parents at 12.45. We are 10 minutes early. As we walk in some personel guy asks “Where are you going with the dog? Are you taking him on a flight? He needs a crate”… They have to have something to say! Well actually I was hoping to sit him next to the pilot. Do you think that would be Ok?  Sarcasm, the lowest form of wit. I am tired. “I’m waiting for someone to take him.” LP and I sit here on the metal seats watching the security police and cleaners watch us as they walk past. In places like this, at this hour no one seems to have much to do except watch and wait.

It is just after 1.00am when LP’s flight parents run in. They had given me the wrong terminal so they will walk LP over to Terminal 2. At first LP hesitates, he has come to trust me on our short car journey but within a few seconds he decides to trot beside them off into the dark. I suddenly feel very tired and just a little emotional. I doze of on the way back to Dahab.

In the morning I work early and return home to organise the final xxxLe for the restaurant guys so ‘Hamid can get his ID and wallet back. I check my fb and see a photo of a happy family that includes LP and another where he is posing on such green green grass. I think the story is over and ‘They lived happily ever after.’

But this is Egypt. The story is never over. ‘Hamid comes back many hours later, very agitated and stressed. The restaurant guys took the money and told ‘Hamid to wait while they bought his wallet. But it seems the restaurant guys have had second thoughts about letting LP go. After a short while they say they won’t give him his wallet or the money – they now say they found it out the back where he must have broken in to steal the dog.  He has to bring the dog back. Fat chance of that boys!  They say ‘Hamid has to speak to the butcher when he comes back from Cairo before they will give him his ID and wallet….
All ‘Hamid could say was, “Thank God I didn’t give them a ‘cheque’.” … to be continued