Nabq

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 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. ;-)