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.

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."

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.

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.

 

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!

Taking Pictures of Yourself

Kirsty, Chris and the kids

Yesterday I spent a great afternoon on the beach in Dahab with my friends Kirsteen and Chris. We were joined by many of the Bedouin children who roam the promenade every day and I took quite a few shots. But this is my favourite by far... when the gang decided to take a self-portrait. Have you ever seen such shiny happy people?

Love it! :-)

Hot Wheels and Bedouin Girls

Shadea and Khadija

So yesterday I popped along to Marine Garden Camp to watch another glorious Dahab sunset and bumped into two of my favourite Bedouin girls - Shadea and Khadija. They're achingly cool and often make me feel like their grandmother. And they never fail to make me laugh, whatever type of day I'm having.

They've both received gifts from their foreign friends - a skateboard and roller blades. So we decided to do a little photo shoot to commemmorate the occasion. Avril Lavigne eat your heart out!

 

My Old Wood and Doorknob Art Piece

bemused carpenters with my wood art

making the piece

sanding the edges

the final artwork

Yesterday I decided to create a some wall art for my flat, based on an old piece of blue wood I found in the road here in Dahab and seven Middle Eastern style doorknobs.

One has the words "Hamdullah" or "thanks for everything we receive from God" and another is inscribed simply with "Allah".

I kind of like that philosophy for my new home.

The carpenters didn't understand the concept of using old wood rather than new until one of them came to my flat to put up the completed piece. He then loved it and wanted me to make more!

A fun evening... :-)

Picture Of The Day

Mondi and Leo

Happy New Year to you all! I wish you a wonderful 2013 full of promise, health and happiness.

One of my resolutions is to update this blog with a picture a day, so here's the first. My friend Mondi in Dahab, South Sinai and his beloved kitten Leo.

Mondi owns a safari business here in Dahab, South Sinai called Nomad Safari and he also has a little fruit and vegetable shop where he spends most of his time. Leo has proved to be a trusty little assistant!