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

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.