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. ;-)

 

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.

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... ;}>

 

Random Love Hearts

random love hearts on a coffee stain and hair band

Lately I have been finding random love hearts everywhere I look. The coffee stain above was so clearly a heart that had to do a double take! It has now been laminated to the kitchen table as I can't bear to wipe it off. Sometimes my hair band is heart shaped, or even my face serum when I squirt it onto my finger in the mornings.

I'll keep taking a record of these moments, and I'll enjoy knowing that someone, somewhere, is looking out for me...

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... :-)

The Largest Egg In The World?

a very large eggI'm back in the U.K. for a while and have been house sitting for some good friends of mine in Bath.

As they have two cats (Roo and Red) and three chickens (Angel, Winnie and Honey), one of my jobs is to make sure the animals are fed and watered, and given a little tlc every day.

Having never looked after chickens before, working out how to get them back into their coop every night has been a steep learning curve. I find two brooms (one in each hand) and some gentle verbal persuasion generally works a treat.

There's something very calming about the sound of contented chickens. A Facebook friend asked me if I ever hear them purr, and I actually believe I can.

Today I found 7 eggs in their nesting area, one of which is the biggest I have ever seen! I thought I'd take a snap to record the moment before I made a delicious scrambled egg lunch. It turned out to be a double yolker... ;-)