Fresh Fish

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. :-)

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."

Ras Mohamed Safari

Approaching the camp

Last Saturday I went to Ras Mohamed National Park, South Sinai with a group of friends. It's very close to Sharm El Sheikh (although once there you would never know it) and the scenery is breathtaking. We spent the day drinking tea, eating food cooked on the fire, and exploring, plus there was a lot of time to chat, and generally escape the outside world for a while.

Later on there was something very magical about sitting around that same fire under a vast carpet of the stars and a half moon. The night skies of Sinai have to be seen to be believed.

This shot was taken when we arrived, and the reason I like it is because I think there's something timeless in its quality. It was the moment we walked over a hill and found our friends' camp.

You can view more photographs from the day here.