6 Reasons I Love Dahab

The Daily Mail recently ran an article about my photography, which instigated a question I found interesting: "Why would a woman move to Egypt in this day and age?"

I’ve lived in Dahab, South Sinai for almost 4 years now. And if I had £1 for every time I’ve been asked why I choose to live in this remote part of Egypt as a (previously single) British woman I would have quite a lot of spare change by now.

It’s difficult to pinpoint every reason, so I’ve tried to summarise them into 6 sections.

1. Live

mohamed-fish

This might be a tiny little town, but life here is extremely unpredictable. Once I leave my garden gate and walk onto the street, I never know what to expect. Within the next hour I might be rescuing a goat trapped in a dish rack (this happened yesterday), admiring the fish that little Mohamed has just caught, at a last minute beach BBQ with my UK friends, or chatting to a taxi driver and discovering that male camels go quite literally crazy when they're on heat.

There’s no such thing as “popping to the shops here”. Expect a mini adventure/education - if you have something productive to do, stay in your house or hotel until it’s done!

2. Love

kids-under-the-door

“Come as a guest, leave as a friend.” You’ll find this statement printed in many of the hotels and restaurants here, and it isn’t just a cheap throwaway comment to keep tourists happy. As most people who’ve visited Dahab will know, the kindness and generosity of the locals is quite something and they’ll always remember you long after you leave.

The ability to have a tab in the local shops and be trusted to pay another day. Random strangers taking rubbish bags out of my hand as I walk down the street, taking them in their car and saving me the journey to the nearest tip. Lunch or dinner invitations almost every day of the week. Being almost forced into the car if someone I know passes by ("you really want to WALK?!"). The local Bedouin children leaving bracelets, fresh bread and even an English style teacup and saucer outside my front door. These are just a few of the things that make me feel very secure and cared for here.  

There are also lots of projects to get involved in if you’re that way inclined. Voluntary teaching, beach clean ups, assisting at the various local festivals or annual children’s circus, helping to neuter or rescue stray dogs and cats. The list is endless.

3. Laugh

ramadan-allie-atik

The people here are the epitomy of happiness. I’ve travelled to many other parts of the Middle East, and nowhere have I witnessed this level of “smile factor” on an hourly basis. I’m talking laughter and banter almost everywhere I go. The Egyptians and Bedouin have an infectious sense of fun and humour that just can’t be replicated.

My friend Ahmed who owns Forsha’s Egyptian Kitchen always has the biggest grin on his face, whatever he’s going through, and his motto is “never give up”. I think that summarises the mentality here - appreciate what you have and stay positive.

Earlier this year a talented group of people made the Dahab version of Pharrell Williams “Happy” – if you watch it you'll get an idea of what I’m talking about.

4. Breathe

sunrise-dahab-love

It’s always been impossible for me to take my surroundings here for granted. The Red Sea, mountains and desert that envelope this tiny coastal town are majestic. They change colour throughout the day and the sunrises and sunsets are the most beautiful I’ve witnessed.

You can see the mountains of Saudi Arabia and sometimes they turn a vibrant shade of pinky orange that’s indescribable. Combine this with the clarity of the light, an ocean that’s sometimes millpond still, awash with delicate pastel shades, and rippling with the movements of jumping fish or little wooden boats, and it has to be seen to be believed.

5. Feed Your Soul

sinai-love-heart

Many people have commented that Dahab is a very spiritual place. I would have to agree. I firmly believe that there’s something here that makes magic happen. It’s an ideal place to take a step back from your normal life and look at the world through very different eyes and a new perspective.

I’ve also experienced a lot of strange moments where events seem to come into play to reveal an answer I’ve been searching for, connect me with someone who will become important in my life, or simply cheer me up on one of those days when I badly need it. Serendipity is common in Dahab.

6. Little Words, Big Meanings

praying-in-the-desert

Inshallah

This is a word that I use constantly in Dahab, which means “God willing”. The context is if I’m making plans to meet someone or do something, I always have to say “Inshallah” at the end of the sentence. So “see you tomorrow inshallah”, “OK Mr Plumber I’ll see you at 10am tomorrow inshallah”, or “my friend arrives from the UK on Thursday inshallah”.

Believe me, if I don’t use the word I’ll swiftly be picked up on it by whoever I’m talking to. And I love this. It means that nothing can be taken for granted in life – if God plans it, it will happen. But perhaps he’ll have other ideas, in which case we should accept them. It’s a beautiful belief that I am certain is the reason that most people here are so serene. They put their trust entirely in God, through good and bad times.  

Hamdullah

“Hamdullah” is used in almost every conversation I have with the local Egyptians and Bedouin. It translates as “all praise and thanks to God”. Whatever happens, God must be acknowledged for it. This means that even if someone asks how you are, you must include “Hamdullah” in your reply – in other words, “I’m alive and walking these streets. Thank you God.”

It goes against the Western way of replying with something along the lines of “fine”, or "my boyfriend just dumped me", or “well actually I’ve had a really bad day and my sore throat makes me think I’m coming down with a pretty heavy cold”. But I love that. Dahab is overflows with gratitude and such a positive outlook on life.

I hope you’ve enjoyed my article and perhaps it’s inspired you to come and visit. If it has, I’d be happy to answer any questions you have about life here. See you soon inshallah. :-)

A Timely Interview With The App Whisperer

Ibrahim and the Shipwreck in Nabq, South Sinai

I arrived in Dahab, South Sinai last night to find that an interview had been published about my street photography, with a large emphasis on Egypt and the Middle East.

You can read the article on The App Whisperer website, which is one of the leading providers of all mobile app news. It specialises in mobile photography and mobile art, particularly iPhoneography.

My good friend Cara Gellardo Weil contacted me about it a few weeks ago, and I was so happy to be given the opportunity to be featured. I've read many interviews with photographers I admire from afar, so it's a real honour to be included.

But more than that, the timing couldn't have been more perfect. Syria (where my late mother was born and raised) and Egypt (where I have been based for almost three years) are going through extremely turbulent times, so anything I can do to highlight the beauty of these countries and their people means a lot to me.

I've enjoyed my photographic journey of South Sinai. While I'm back here I intend to carry on documenting the amazing people and breathtaking scenery I come across on a daily basis. Please subscribe to my blog (top right of this page) to get email updates as soon as I add new content, and keep Egypt and Syria in your prayers. I hope a few of you decide to visit Dahab soon.

To buy a book of my late mother Hayfa's delicious Syrian recipes put together by my sister Jenny Sowerby, please visit the Taste of Freedom website. All proceeds go to the British Red Cross Syria Crisis Appeal.

If you're like to find out more about how you can help a Bedouin kindergarten school here in Dahab that's very close to my heart, please apply to join the Facebook group.

 

Returning to South Sinai

Montage of Bedouin portraits

As I write this, I'm preparing to return to Dahab. I'll be flying in just a few hours' time, and this is the first time I've experienced bittersweet feelings about my trip.

Dahab has been my second home for almost three years now, and I've met some of the most inspirational people I could have imagined there. South Sinai also sparked my passion for photography and iPhoneography, largely due to the breathtaking scenery, and because those I meet are so open to having their picture taken. In fact most of them embrace it.

Despite the current uprising across Egypt, Dahab remains very much "business as usual", so I have no fears about my safety or what to expect when I get back. But what I do worry about is how the current political situation has affected my friends and their businesses over there.

If anyone reading this entry is thinking about taking a trip to the Red Sea area, Foreign Office advice is that you'd be safe to do so. If you need any help or advice just let me know as I'd love to explain the many reasons why now would be an interesting time to join us.

Gone to the Dogs

Allie and DoraMe and Dora

Charlie the BoxerCharlie

Stevie and BellaBella and Stevie

I thought I'd write a short and sweet little entry to let you know I've discovered a real love of all things dog.

My sister Jenny has a Fox Terrier called Dora. Since she started wearing a neckerchief I seem to have formed an attachment to her far more than ever before. She loves her morning lie ins, makes funny little noises to remind us she wants attention, and I'm pretty sure she has a higher IQ than me. But then that's not hard... ;-)

Add to this that I've been spending quite a lot of time in London with two Boxers - Bella and Charlie. Real characters and a breed that I can't step on accidentally while cooking or cleaning. They snore, sleep and mooch around in such a loveable way that I've decided when I have the time and space for a dog it will be a Boxer for sure.

If it's a dog's life, I'm in.

Bedouin Bread, Good Olive Oil and Za'atar.

Bedouin bread, olive oil and za'atar

After a day at Lagoona Beach in Dahab, a friend and I were invited for tea at a Bedouin home. I've known the family for a couple of years now, and they're fantastic. Always so hospitable, generous and welcoming.

As soon as we arrived we were offered tea, then perspired gently by the fire in the 40 degree heat chatting about what we'd all been up to in our broken Arabic and English. Somehow we always manage to communicate despite the language barrier.

After that the woman started to make Bedouin bread, a simple mix of wholemeal flour, water and salt cooked in two ways. One variety is very thin and flat (like a large wrap or tortilla), cooked over a special black heated dome, and the other is a thicker version, almost like a pizza base, cooked in the ground in the ashes of the fire. 

While my friend Annemarie did most of the breadmaking duties as she wanted to learn the techniques involved, the kids proudly showed me around their garden. It was bursting with lemon, guava and fig trees, herbs, and plants. Freshly washed colourful blankets were drying in the boughs of the trees, and the washing line had fish (they also often catch octopus) drying in the sun ready for the next meal.

Once the bread was ready, we all sat in a circle and ate it with organic South Sinai olive oil and za'atar (supplied from Palestine by another friend, Mary). Za'atar is a wonderful mix of toasted sesame seeds, dried thyme, sumac and sea salt and it's very popular in the Middle East although oddly not widely available here in Egypt. The bread was broken into chunks, and we dipped each piece into the oil first and then the za'atar.

If you're looking for inspiration for your next dinner party or barbecue, you should really try this delicious combination out. There are ways and means of making the bread using a more western style kitchen or garden as it's quick and easy. The key is to be creative with the equipment you have.

I'll write a separate post with a Bedouin bread recipe, but for now I'll leave you to salivate a little... ;-)

 

 

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Bedouin

Ramadan and Ayesh wait outside the fish shop

The other day my friends Ramadan, Ayesh, Saif, Kirsteen and Annemarie decided to go on safari to Nabq, a nature reserve about an hour from here.

Part of the trip would include food, cooked fresh on the beach, so Ramadan pre-ordered the fish.

In true Dahab style, when we turned at up at the fishmonger's he'd gone AWOL. So we waited. And waited. The occasional neighbour would pass by and speak in hurried, dramatic tones about where the man might have disappeared off to, but generally there was an atmosphere of a resigned calm that's common here. No rush, shwaya shwaya (slow, easy). Inshallah (God willing) he'd be back soon and we could go on our merry way.

In the Western world this inconvenience would have been received with a whole lot of impatience. Doesn't the fishmonger know we're busy people? Does he think we have all the time in the world to hang around by the padlocked door while he pops out for a Pret A Manger smoked salmon sandwich or decides to Turtle Wax his car? There'd soon be a long queue outside the shop, with much tapping of feet, furious texting to convey that timings have been delayed and envious stares at the person lucky enough to be at the front of the line.

Not in Dahab. Ramadan and Ayesh sat outside on the porch, lit up a cigarette, and chatted to another Bedouin who was also waiting for his fish order. He'd even brought his bag of fresh bread ready for lunch.

I say "sat", but really it's more of a crouch, or a perch perhaps. Sitting on their heels, knees bent, so only their feet are touching the ground. It's the way many Bedouin like to position themselves when they're stopping temporarily and know they'll be moving again soon. It's also viewed as being the best position when eating, as the stomach is slightly constricted, which means less food will be consumed. A lesson perhaps I should learn from!

I've been told that the Bedouin first learn to sit like this when they're young kids. It's the position they assume when they first use a hole-in-the-floor toilet or find a quiet area behind a mountain.

In the Middle East, this position is very useful. It's not comfortable to sit in the desert on hot sand with sharp stones or the possibility of ants, and chairs obviously aren't available. 

This Bedouin crouch isn't the easiest pose to assume to be honest - I've tried many a time and it hurts like hell after a few minutes. Perhaps if I practice hard enough I'll master it one day.

After around half an hour the fish man arrived, we picked up our haul and ventured back in the Toyota Hilux, Nabq bound. Mafeesh mushkella (no problem).

The Unbearable Lightness of Fishing

Bedouin boys fishing in Dahab, South Sinai

"The charm of fishing is that it is the pursuit of what is elusive but attainable, a perpetual series of occasions for hope."  John Buchan

"Fishing is much more than fish. It is the great occasion when we may return to the fine simplicity of our forefathers."  Herbert Hoover

 

I left a meeting this morning, and as I walked along the beach towards Eel Garden, I spotted these Bedouin boys happily catching fish with plastic water bottles and some nylon cord.

For some reason, the Czech novel "The Unbearable Lightness of Being", by Milan Kundera, sprang to mind. The story's premise is that each person has only one life to live, and that which occurs in life occurs only once and never again — thus the “lightness” of being.

Watching the children of Dahab never ceases to fascinate me. Their joyful innocence and outdoor lifestyle is a joy to witness, and I know that one day when they have wives and kids of their own and the responsibilities that come with that, they'll look back on their youth and remember those carefree days on the beach.

I think this snapshot in time illustrates a true "lightness of being". As Leo Tolstoy once wrote: "If you want to be happy, be."

The Kids Are Alright

Ahmed, a small Bedouin boy, in Nabq

There's a standing joke amongst many of my friends and even the taxi drivers in Dahab that each and every single child here knows me. I think it's largely due to my Children Of Dahab book which I published about 18 months ago.

Perhaps the older generations have passed on wise advice to their siblings. "See that woman with the funny sunglasses on and long dark hair? Her name's Aliya, and she'll buy you chocolate and mango juice if you let her take your photograph."

Everywhere I go I hear kids shouting "Aliya, Aliya!" behind me, then smile as I listen to their scampering bare feet as they catch up, hold my hand and chatter away about their day.

So imagine my surprise when I took a day trip to Nabq at the weekend with some good friends. The beach is a protected area about an hour from Dahab. Just getting there takes a 4 x 4 and some stamina if your driver fancies himself as a potential Formula One superstar. It's isolated, stunning. A place to explore, think and put life into perspective away from all the hustle and bustle of the small tourist town I live in.

We arrived, bones a little shaken, and wandered down to a lagoon next to thick mangroves and a spectacular shipwreck. The water was as still as a millpond, silent and a beautiful multi-layered, shimmering turquoise that would be hard to recreate in any painting.

As I watched one tiny figure in his mask, snorkel and flippers and wondered where he'd come from, he swam towards me, stood up and shouted "Aliya!".

On closer interrogation it turned out his name was Ahmed, he was from Dahab, and I once bought him a chocolate bar in the local Ghazala Supermarket. This was possibly about 3 or 4 months ago.

My friends were crying with laughter, and I was speechless. Perhaps it's true that every child in Dahab really does know me?

Health & Safety Notice: No teeth were harmed during the writing of this article... I always advise the kids to clean them twice a day and have even been known to buy them toothbrushes and toothpaste. ;-)

 

Abdallah and his Magic Peugeot

 

Abdallah the Plumber and his Peugeot

Abdallah's the best plumber in Dahab and he has a car I would like to own one day. In fact I've begged him many a time to either give or sell it to me.

It's a beaten up gold Peugeot which has a kind of magic to it. The lack of power steering was enough to tone up my bingo wings the few times I've driven it from Asala to Mashraba.

Abdallah's rarely seen without a smile on his face and he seems to be able to achieve the impossible, by speaking to me in a fast mix of Arabic and English which I can somehow decipher every time. To be honest he'd be as good an Arabic teacher as a Plumber if he set his mind to it.

The Hoffman Process: 8 Days That Gave Me Back My Vision

hoffman-process-live-love-laugh-tanker.jpg

The fact that I haven't updated my blog for almost 5 months isn't because of being busy or lazy. It was more of a case of losing my focus. Ironic, considering that my website is called Allie's Eye.

I can't really pin down what led my spirit to break so spectacularly. Perhaps it was a combination of my father enduring and surviving two heart attacks, watching my 29 year old sister bravely fight and thankfully beat bowel cancer, followed shortly by ovarian cancer claiming the life of my beloved mother. Losing a baby, job redundancy, setting up my own business during a recession, separation from my husband, choosing to live in a very small town in a country (Dahab, South Sinai, Egypt) where enjoying a "normal" relationship is difficult to say the least. I think all of those milestones played no small part in what I now consider to be a breakdown in some shape or form.

I didn't take time off work or start locking myself at home, slowly rocking backwards and forwards, muttering to myself. it was far more insidious than that. Most people on the outside would never have guessed anything was wrong in fact as I can play the game well. Sociable, fun loving, eccentric, moustache obsessed, globe trotting Allie was the same as ever. Although my family and friends, particularly in the UK, didn't hear from me so much. My excuse? Because I was "busy" with work, outings, life. I made no real effort to get in touch, so communication tended to be very one-sided.

Inside I was hurting. In fact at times I felt as though I was dying. I no longer took real pleasure in my life, despite living in a beautiful part of Egypt with some of the world's most positive and happy people, spectacular beaches, deserts and mountains. What drew me to Dahab ended up being ignored and replaced with staying at home most of the time with the occasional outing to see friends. I've always taken great pleasure in the Bedouin children here, who used to make me smile every day of the week. But now I even started to avoid them. I felt as though the more I went out, the more likely the real me would somehow be exposed. I needed to wallow in my own misery. At times I actually felt truly desperate, and perhaps this was the catalyst for what came next.

In May my amazing 92 year old grandmother, Hilda was very sick, so I flew back to the UK earlier than planned to help look after her. I clearly remember driving away from Dahab and feeling as though I was going into the lion's den. My family and friends would see me and the game would be up. They knew me too well to not notice that I was a complete mess in so many ways.

As I went through yet more emotions watching my grandmother deteriorate badly for a few days, I made a decision to book the Hoffman Process. I'd heard about the course a few years ago, as I know two people who completed it and I'm still astounded by the changes I see in the way they live their lives. The thing is, I never thought I'd need to do it one day too, but by this point I was psychologically hurtling a cosmic black Ferrari at 200 miles an hour towards a huge brick wall.

I'll let you do your own research into what the Process is, and the theories behind it but one course graduate is spot on when she says, "Hoffman is about a New Start. This beautifully researched and ingenious process allows you to discover the painful baggage that has weighed you down and supports you into letting it go.”

Another thing that convinced me is that the course is recognised by well respected psychologists. For example this article by Oliver James in the Observer suggests that the government should fund it over and and above cognitive behavioural therapy. You can find more news, press articles and research here.

After I'd completed my 6 hours of heavy but very enlightening pre-course work (usually in Hilda's kitchen in the early hours of the morning before she awoke), I was raring to go. Old wounds had been opened. Scabs had been picked. I was wide open to my emotions, and it wasn't a pleasant feeling.

The thought of bashing pillows with wiffle bats until my fingers bled didn't particularly appeal to me, but anything was better than where I was at that particular point in my life.

After a week of locking myself away first at Hilda's and then at my Dad's, where I had to find old photographs and momentos of my childhood to take with me, I did a stopover with my sister again to say goodbye. She gave me one of my mother's old diaries, the warmest of hugs, and then sent me on my way to Florence House, Seaford, Sussex at sunrise on a beautiful, warm Good Friday. My heart fluttered as I drove down the M4 watching that fiery red ball rising above the trees and hills, but I already had a sense of calm. For once in my life I was doing something positive, for myself and nobody else.

And it's here that my journey really began. On arrival, I had to surrender my trusty iPhone and Mac to the Hoffman team and spend the next 8 days with 23 complete strangers. Anyone who knows me well will realise that for this workaholic who usually has her phone practically glued to her ears or hands, this was no mean feat.

My nickname on the Hoffman Process was "Smiling Caretaker". In other words, I'd learnt to always care for others with a smile on my face, ignoring whatever I was going through in my own life. I'd learnt to hide my emotions and ignore my real needs. That worked for as long as I could remember, but what led me to book the course was the inability to do it any more. I didn't love myself, I felt unlovable, and I didn't have the energy to caretake anymore. So who was I?

Again, I won't go into detail as to what the Hoffman Process entailed. There's enough information across the internet for you to research and I would never want to give away some of the shock tactics that make the course so effective. But what I will tell you is that I've never sobbed so uncontrollably or laughed from my heart so much in my entire life. The techniques that the tutors use are tried, tested and effective. They brought me to my lowest ebb, and then gradually built me back up again. Think of stripping a dead and rusty classic car, then rebuilding it piece by piece with shiny new parts, a complete oil change and a brand new 1000 horsepower engine.

Learning to deal with the patterns I'd developed over 40 years was a revelation. I finally realised exactly how much damage I'd been doing to myself without even knowing it, and I gave my spirit a voice. She sounded wonderful.

The people who attended the Process with me were a joy to get to know, and I count each and every one of them as a very close friend. Due to the nature of the course, we didn't sit there chatting about our jobs or favourite holiday destinations. We were encouraged to talk about our feelings, worries, hopes and dreams. We opened up to each other in a way that I'd never really encountered. And that creates a very strong bond that is hard to describe. Since graduating we've constantly been in touch via our Google Group, Skype and email, checking up on each other and opening up about how we're getting on in our normal, day to day life.

And now? It's been almost 3 months and I've noticed the difference. This isn't a quick fix - it takes time and a lot of hard work to use the tools that I'm equipped with to make those changes permanently. But on my return to Dahab, I've re-introduced myself to the things that make me happy. I'm connecting and re-connecting with friends on a very different level, taking joy in photography again, and my web consultancy business is thriving. Yes I'm still caretaking but I choose the people I want to help very carefully. I'm allowing myself more time to sit and be quiet, to think. Sometimes it was all too easy to keep busy and surround myself with white noise to block out what my heart was trying to tell me. That's a hard habit to break, but I'm getting there.

As for my family and friends in the UK, I appreciate them more than ever. I know that there was a time when they were concerned for me and wanted me to move back to England to live a "normal" life. I had become very selfish in my depression and I neglected those I loved badly. Those days are over.

The Process isn't cheap by any means, but in my opinion if you're willing to pay the same amount for a new gas boiler, then isn't fixing your head just as crucial if not more? Staged payments and bursaries are available too.

Who knows what the future holds for me now. But what I do believe is that I'm in control of my own destiny and that the Hoffman Process will help me follow the right path. Or the right path for me, anyway. That includes (a) being mindful, so appreciating everything I have in my life, and (b) keeping this blog updated far more often... ;-)

A Hoffman friend sent me a great link a few weeks ago, which you might enjoy: 22 Things Happy People Do Differently.

If you've found this article interesting and would like more information, please feel free to contact me by email or go straight to the official Hoffman website to arrange an informal chat with one of their fantastic advisors.

Bedouin Arts And Crafts In South Sinai

Bedouin embroidery

The Bedouin women of Sinai make the most wonderful handicrafts. Galabaya (traditional long dresses), scarves, bags, and cushion covers to mention just a few. They're usually made of black material and then intricately hand stitched, using the brightest colours of cotton you can imagine. Almost neon. It tends to be the older generations who still have the knowledge to embroider in this way, so sadly it could be a dying art.

My dream is to completely fill my house with these colourful pieces. They cheer up the cloudiest day and provide instant sunshine - the Prozac of soft furnishings perhaps?

Keep an eye out when you visit and make sure you buy these gifts for your family and friends. You'll be supporting a very important industry for the Bedouin women, children and families.

Cake And Coffee Heaven at Chez Karim

Karim holding his chocolate and coconut cake

I'm a regular visitor to Marine Garden Camp in Dahab, and while I'm there I often visit Karim and his dog, Action, at the Chez Karim coffee shop next door.

Why? Obviously to catch up on our news. He also makes the best fresh coffee this side of Italy, and almost every day he bakes a new cake and loves to experiment with different recipes, flavours and textures. From chocolate and coconut to peanut butter and banana, cheese and spinach to sweet potato and carrot, no stone, vegetable or combination is left unturned in his quest to find the perfect mix.

I'm pretty lucky, as in return for taking the odd snap for him, I get to sample his creations for free! Karim also makes some delicious fresh juices and milkshakes, mango, strawberry and banana being my particular favourite.

 

Ras Mohamed Safari

Approaching the camp

Last Saturday I went to Ras Mohamed National Park, South Sinai with a group of friends. It's very close to Sharm El Sheikh (although once there you would never know it) and the scenery is breathtaking. We spent the day drinking tea, eating food cooked on the fire, and exploring, plus there was a lot of time to chat, and generally escape the outside world for a while.

Later on there was something very magical about sitting around that same fire under a vast carpet of the stars and a half moon. The night skies of Sinai have to be seen to be believed.

This shot was taken when we arrived, and the reason I like it is because I think there's something timeless in its quality. It was the moment we walked over a hill and found our friends' camp.

You can view more photographs from the day here.

The Magical Cat Beard

I mentioned in my last post that I'd taken a cat to the vet here in Dahab the other night. Her name is Tracey.

She belongs to a Bedouin man called Mohamed Soliman at a really lovely little backpackers hotel called Marine Garden Camp. It's right on a beautiful beach, and full of character, as well as several stray dogs and cats. Tracey's named after my good friend here Tracey Searle, and she lives a full outdoor life playing with the other animals, sleeping by the sea and generally being cute.

To make sure she stays that way, I took her to to be neutered. Quite an experience, here in Dahab. You take the cat in, leave it for one hour, then take it home heavily anaesthetised, and in a state that most pet owners would never want to witness.

From there, Tracey has been spending her time in my flat recovering. It's been a rocky road, with vomiting sessions, a crash course in litter training and this has been the first time I've had to administer an injection. All character building!

She's on the mend now and sitting on my lap as I type. Hence becoming a Magical Beard Cat just a few minutes ago... ;}>

 

Getting Juicy With Freshly Squeezed Pomegranates

man squeezing pomegranates

Last night my friend Tracey and I paid a visit to Asalah, which is the main hub of fruit shops, supermarkets, home and electrical stores plus all manner of little places to eat and drink in Dahab. It's such a lively place and I love going there at least once a week for a mooch. We were there on an evening visit to the vet, but that's a whole different story I will regale you with another time.

After dropping off the cat (with feelings of incredible guilt - yes you've guessed the operation it was about to have), we decided to grab some pomegranate juice, and I took a few shots to show you how amazing this stuff is. Egyptian pomegranates are so succulent, sweet and reasonably priced that you could eat a couple a day and I often have it in my morning porridge with a little black seed honey and some almonds. Great for your immune system!

If you ever visit Dahab, make sure you try this juice, or another firm favourite here - a freshly pressed sugar cane drink, with lime to cut the sweetness. Delicious and so refreshing in the sweltering summer!

pomegranates cut in half

two glasses of pomegranate juice

Captain Fawcett Conquers South Sinai

Two Bedouin men and a Captain Fawcett t-shirt

This is one of my favourite photographs to date, I would say. The Bedouin men here are called Hamed and Mansur, and they loved the Captain Fawcett's Moustache Wax t-shirt I asked them to pose with in Wadi Zalaga, South Sinai, Egypt. Stiff upper lips have never looked so exotic!

How To Catch And Kill An Octopus

Girls and octopus

Well my resolution to upload a picture a day hasn't gone too well, mainly due to a hectic schedule over the past few days! Must try harder and I will... ;-)

Yesterday I had an amazing Bedouin breakfast at the home of a lovely family I'm friends with, and then we went to the beach to enjoy some winter sunshine.

The two girls pictured here caught an octopus. In case you don't know, they're picked up with a stick from the sea, speared through the head and then bashed hard against a rock around 40 to 70 times to tenderise them ready for cooking and eating.

Today I went back to the house for lunch. Octopus cooked with rice, onion, and tomato, served with fresh salad from their garden of bounty. A true delicacy and highly addictive! If you've never tried it, don't be put off by the tentacles... 

Wadi Zalaga Camel Race, South Sinai

Today I was lucky enough to attend a major camel race here in South Sinai. Two Bedouin tribes compete by placing young boys on their finest camels and racing them through Wadi Zalaga for around 45 minutes.

Meanwhile the 1,000 or so spectators, who are made up of the Muzeina and Taraben tribes, tourists and ex-pats living in Sinai follow at high speed alongside and behind them in their various modes of transport. You can barely see the camels for dust, sand and vehicles ranging from vintage jeeps to top of the range Land Cruisers and Hummers.

Prize money is donated by the spectators, who give as much or as little as they can afford, and the young jockeys are also given gifts and cash at the end of the race when they gather for their photo call. This year's winning tribe were the Muzeina, who are mainly based in Sharm El Sheikh, Dahab and Nuweiba.

Most people camp in the wadi the night before in freezing conditions, and the general background noise throughout the event is the firing of assault rifles into the sky. This isn't frightening by any means - it's just a way the Bedouin celebrate their important events and weddings, and believe me it has to be seen and heard to be believed.

I took this shot when I was just about to leave, and even stopped my car to ask permission to take it. To me, this man represents everything I respect about the Bedouin. Grace, dignity, beauty and pride in a world that is changing so rapidly around them.

Throughout the day I was mesmerised by the sight of these amazing tribes, in traditional dress, crouched on car roofs, leaning precariously out of windows or sitting casually in the passenger and driver seats looking out at the desert environment they know, love and embrace as often as they can when time allows. They may be taking photographs with their iPads and transporting themselves in Toyota Hilux trucks more than on camels these days, but I sincerely hope the most important elements of their lives will never change.

Tourism in Sinai is suffering thanks to the news you read every day about Egypt and both the Bedouin and Egyptians in South Sinai rely heavily on us for their income. So please do try and visit this incredible area if you can, and make it soon. Contact me if you would like any advise or assistance with your trip - I'd be happy to help!

Seafood Delight at Castle Zaman

seafood at Castle Zaman

I've been working from home today, building a website for the Sheikh Ali Resort in Dahab, South Sinai.

One of their pages is about a place called Castle Zaman in Nuweiba, or perhaps I should call it a paradise. Editing my shots made me crave one of their seafood platters! As you can see it's not exactly your average fish and chip dinner. The castle also has a pool, sauna and a view of the Red Sea and surrounding mountains that is hard to beat.

If you're in the area on holiday please make sure you pay both Castle Zaman and the Sheikh Ali Resort a visit, as both are beautifully decadent in a very simple way.