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

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“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

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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

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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

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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. :-)

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. ;-)

 

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

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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.