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.

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!

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!

Photographing the Bedouin of Sinai

Selmy

Meet someone I now here in Dahab, called Selmy. Very photogenic, isn't he?

I've been putting together a collection of Bedouin portraits, as their elegance, style and grace really comes across in the photographs.

If you would like to see some of my other Sinai Bedouin portraits, you can find them here.

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!

 

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!