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

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Change in the air….

This last week there has been a definite change in the air. We are heading for winter. In fact here it we don’t really have 4 distinct seasons; summer morphs into winter without much demarkation. Water temperature change is gradual of course, from the 28/29oC of mid summer down to the 19/20oC of winter.

I have been sleeping with the luxury of air conditioning for the first time this summer. This is the first time I have had it in 5 summers and now I don’t know how I coped without it. (Well I do actually – by having a fan in my face 24/7 and waking up about 4 times a night to stand under the shower with its warm water, stand dripping wet in front of the fan to feel an imagined icy blast before laying a wet towel on the bed to sleep for a few hours before waking up to repeat the process. So much for needing 8 hours interrupted sleep. That habit has well and truly been broken, but that is another story…

At a previous house, which was exposed to the south, the concrete walls and ceramic floors would make it unbearably hot during the day. One day came home to find M lying in the living area (the bedroom was on the southern side even hotter) on a soaking wet towel laid over a small mattress. At his head and feet he had placed shallow metal cooking trays filled with water with fans blowing across these onto his body like mini air conditioners. He was covered head to tail with a wet towel and was taking a siesta. When I remarked that he was meant to be used to the heat, he is Bedouin, he replied “Modern Bedouin have air conditioning.” Fair enough. So now you often see (and hear) air conditioning units pumping way in the most humble looking of abodes.

So back to the changes of change. The air is noticeably more damp. The other morning I had an early ride so when I left the house before 7am the sand outside was positively wet, like it ad been rained on (which of course it hadn’t). My apartment is only about 100m from the sea but there are quite a few buildings now inbetween.

The dates are ripening on the palms. I didn’t know there were different coloured dates – surprising colours of gold, red and rich dark cherry-brown. I didn’t even like dates before I came here. In fact  I would eat them in a date scone, but sometimes I thought they just spoilt the scone. But here there are many different dates and tasting the rich fleshy sweet ones with skin that just slides off is divine.There is nothing like tasting food from the source in season.

They even make delicious drinks from dates, although often over sweetened for my taste. You can tell I am now a date convert! The horses love them too! Out riding I often let them pick up the windfalls so they look forward to riding by their favourite palm tree.

The horses have even started growing their winter coats. Detour has gone a shade darker and I can’t get a shine to his coat – but that probably has more to do with the fact that the stablehand, who has free rein again, is back to washing the horses with detergent that should be used for washing dishes. (But lets not go there today – I will just  lapse in to a depressing bitch session.)  Anyway the horses are growing winter coats which means they go from coats about 4 ml length to about 6 ml, except for Sandy the shetland. She still gets a thick pelt like coat – nothing like she would get if she was in ths Shetland Isles but thicker than any of the others here.

Winter means it will get cold enough to wear jeans and maybe shoes or boots. I think wore socks a few times last winter. My feet are so used to running free it feels really weird to have them enclosed in shoes. I feel like a toddler having to learn to walk again tripping over my toes and feeling every step. But then it feels all snuggly and warm and I pretend I am cold. Evenings at an open restaurant can of course be cold but the restaurants don’t want to lose customers so they burn braziers between the rows of seats or dig a bedouin style fire with circling stones to sit around. One restaurant has even made gas braziers fitted in  the top of large ceramic pots.

It is exciting to get different clothes out of the wardrobe. I will even get to wear jerseys and complain of how cold it is at15oC. We will sit inside for the Wednesday pub quiz instead of on the second floor deck.The days are still relatively warm unless there is a brisk breeze blowing down the Gulf (of Aqaba). These are the days you get photos of the tourist in shorts and T-shirt standing beside the local in hat and ski jacket.

But the clothes will still dry on the line and the sun will still shine. All good…