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.
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!
“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.
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.
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
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
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” 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. :-)