Well I've been based in Dahab, Egypt for almost two weeks now and thought it was about time I updated you on my life here. You can read about the background to my trip here and here.
I won't deny I was a little nervous when I arrived just four weeks after the anti-government protests began in Egypt's major cities followed by the inevitable departure of President Mubarak. What would I find when I arrived? Would technology work for me and my web consultancy business? Would I be safe? Would Dahab be the same chilled out, friendly and picturesque town that I knew?
Having allowed a settling in period, I can now answer these questions honestly. I have discovered exactly the same Dahab, but with far fewer tourists than would normally be here. The people are positive, all businesses have remained open, the weather is still amazing and the local beaches are even more beautiful without hoards of tourists clamouring for sun loungers. Perhaps I'm experiencing the Dahab of 20 years ago, which isn't necessarily a bad thing.
I've spoken to Egyptians, Bedouins and tourists about their views on the situation here and they are all hopeful that holiday makers will return to Egypt very soon. The signs are already there - hotels are an increased number of bookings for April and May, Germany has now relaunched flights to Egypt, and even since I arrived I have noticed the town is getting busier. There's a very upbeat atmosphere here now that the local residents feel they have reclaimed their country and their right to have a voice. In their eyes it's worth suffering financially for a few months or even a year if it means that they have freedom for the first time in their lives.
When I met a United Nations worker based in Cairo the other day and he told me that the city is cleaner than it's ever been, as residents are empowering themselves to take care of it. Dahab has also organised clean up days where volunteers clear up rubbish from the streets, armed with a pair of rubber gloves and heavy duty bin bags. When I got involved last week I met some schoolchildren who were so enthusiastic about the job ahead - picking up cigarette ends, broken glass, plastic, animal bones and all sorts of other unwanted waste - that they would barely take a break to drink the water that passing drivers were handing out.
Technology here is fantastic. I have my Macbook and an internet dongle with a better signal than the UK at times. I use Skype to talk to my clients, colleagues and friends, and there's wireless internet in most public cafes and restaurants for me to make use of. If I don't have my laptop with me my iPhone comes in very useful when replying to emails. I would say that the transition has been pretty seamless all in all and I would hope that my clients agree.
It was important to establish a routine when I arrived here in Dahab, so I spend most of my time working from either the hotel beach cafe or my room (depending on if my Macbook needs to charge up!), with the occasional break to walk along the seafront, go horseriding, have a swim or just catch up with people over a Bedouin tea. Evenings are spent having meals out, visiting friends' houses or just sitting at a sandwich bar in the Lighthouse area which is the equivalent of the Queen Vic or the "Caff" in Eastenders. Life in this area really is like a soap opera, with new dramas and gossip to hear about every day at Popeye's.
I've met some lovely people here, and have been welcomed into Egyptian homes for food and tea many a time. There's obviously a language barrier, but luckily I taught myself basic Arabic before I arrived so I can converse to a certain extent with non-English speakers and sign language comes in very handy! Television is probably one of the most important pieces of technology to Egyptian families, so much of their time is spent watching soaps, comedies and romantic movies (both Egyptian and Indian) which all helps me learn the language a little more.
And the high points of my trip so far? There have been so many it would be difficult to say, but here are a few:
- Breakfast time is always a high point as I sit on the beach with my laptop, catch up on emails and look out to sea. I won't take that for granted while I'm here and it's a joy every morning. The owner of the hotel jokingly offered to set me up with a desk, printer and landline when he saw my makeshift "office"!
- Horseriding at sunrise, sunset, in the mountains and on the beaches. I hadn't sat in a saddle properly for 25 years but I'm now even able to gallop. That makes me happy!
- Helping to clean the streets around the local school and being invited back to the home of the children I met to drink tea and eat handfuls of sesame seeds with their grandmother.
- Being invited to the home of another Egyptian family with numerous beautiful children, a kind and gentle father and a loud, gregarious, very charismatic mother. One of her boys, 6 year old Islam, was mesmerised by my iPhone and particularly the Angry Birds and More Toast games. A very good friend of mine has now posted her old iPhone to Dahab especially for him. Fingers crossed it actually gets here...
- Being "adopted" by a stray dog that I named Hendricks. She was about a year old, cute as a button and followed me everywhere for three or four days. I found out today that she's been hit by a car, but I'll always remember her very fondly.
- Watching hours of martial arts clips, Jean-Claude Van Damme fights and epic Indian movies on my laptop in a rustic stable with two young Egyptians, surrounded by horses, donkeys, cats and dogs. There was a biblical feel to the place, punctuated with the sounds of punching and kicking that made the whole situation extremely amusing!
- Teaching two little Bedouin girls to sing "Gingangoolee" by the fire. These girls have to grow up very quickly and are very business-savvy when they sell their jewellery to tourists. It was nice to see them acting more their age for once, giggling, fighting over who was going to sing to me first, and then cuddling up to me when they got cold. One word of warning; if you buy these girls an ice cream, milkshake or juice be prepared for all their friends to seek you out the next day for more of the same...
- And my food high point? Grilled calamari. It's fresh from the sea each day and is definitely my latest addiction.
I'm only half way through my trip as I write this, so I'll be updating you further with new stories but I hope you've enjoyed reading my update. I also hope that it may influence you to take a holiday to Egypt in the near future. The people here are waiting for you with open hearts and a lot of trinkets to sell! ;-)
To see more of my photos click on the links below:
Places I would recommend:
If you need a driver to collect you from the airport or show you around Dahab, call Hassan Fathy on +20 1246 74416.
If you would like to ride a horse on the beaches or in the mountains with a reliable instructor, you can call Chiko on +20 1272 69217 or +20 1289 57913.