Monday, June 30, 2008


Imagine the hoovering!

I recently spent four days in Dahab, where I saw a goat jump off a hotel balcony.

Our party included two windsurfing enthusiasts, and much time was spent at a resort called Gannet Sina which offers high winds and large numbers of British people. Being in their chattering midst was like standing at a bus stop in Croydon during a gale, but only hotter. While Cairo is full of foreigners, they all seem to have American accents and I rarely run into British people. I had forgotten just how irritating the British accent can be en masse, and how odd their/our (do I do it? probably) obsession with turning the delivery of basic information into an alleged comedy routine.


Nasal British windsurfing instructor wants to tell a group of people to meet at the windsurfing boards area at their earliest convenience.

He says:

“Yo chaps and chapettes [sniggers, pause for laughter which never comes]. If you’re ready to get going it would be great if you could mosey on down [pause for laughter which never comes] to the boards so we can rock and roll [claps hands together. Gives thumbs up sign. Someone coughs uncomfortably].

Is it the influence of American culture?

While in the cafe I also saw two British people struggling out with their windsurfing paraphernalia. One asked the other ‘ready?’ to which the other – rather than saying ‘yes’ - replied ‘let’s do it’, but with the intonation of a man from Surrey asking for a rawl plug. He then knocked a bin over with his sail.

While sustaining third degree burns I watched novice windsurfers attempt to do beach starts, which, in theory, is when windsurfers step onto the back of their board gracefully while clutching their sails and wait for the wind to propel them away. Alas in practice I was reminded of cattle being herded onto the back of lorries.

My own attempt at windsurfing was also reminiscent of bovine animals being herded through shallow rivers and is best not dwelt on. It involved bruised knees and a near miss with a Russian who looked like a member of Tatu. ‘Don’t worry. I was beginner, too’ she told me breathily as she cruised past and I fell in.

This was the peak of the holiday’s excitement, apart from the kamikaze goat (which jumped because it was startled but seemed quite unaffected by its sudden plummet 20 metres earthwards. Unlike me).

This holiday was about switching off, and while not recumbent on a beach with the entire expatriate community of Surrey reading the autobiography of Slash out of cycling short legends Guns n Roses, I lay recumbent in one of Dahab’s many beachfront joints stroking cats. While these outfits are all much of a muchness, we frequently dined in the irritatingly-named ‘Funny Mummy’ because it offers good food. I am given to understand that its owner, ‘Jimmy’, is something of a Dahab legend, or is in the process of attempting to carve out this role for himself. He constantly sports a white cowboy hat and seems to want to appear like a cheerful cad. While I was paying the bill one evening I overheard him and three associates talking to two Eton-types with turned up polo neck collars and plummy accents. Jimmy was going on about ‘his third leg’in an odd Delta/Cockney accent.

Like every beach town I have ever been to (Brighton, Blackpool) there is something a bit sinister and sad about Dahab and I was glad to escape to the paradisiacal shores of Beer Sweer, about an hour away from Dahab and its insistent waiters.

Beer Sweer is Bedouin country, and we were received by a Bedouin man wearing silver cufflinks in his galabeyya and wraparound black sunglasses. Needless to say, he looked pretty fly. About 30 seconds after we arrived he offered us Hashish, beer, co-ed (wink wink) rooms and lunch, in that order. We partook of the lunch, which was excellent but so loaded with samna balady that it ensured immediate unconsciousness.

Before we passed out Bedouin man told us a little about his life, and began his monologue with “while I was on the run from the army” for which I envied him greatly. Rather than endure the purgatory of the Egyptian army for a year he had apparently gone AWOL until he was 30 and then had his dad pay a fine and that was that.

Warming to his theme he then told us about the good old days when smuggling in stuff from Jordan was a piece of cake, before everything got serious after the Taba bombings.

We asked him whether he’d been affected by the some 3,000 incidents of arbitrary detention which had occurred during the authorities “investigation” of the bombings. He clammed up a bit, before telling us that no he hadn’t, and that the Sinai tribes had helped find the perpetrators…etc.

He had his own reasons to lament the bombings: they have driven away his main customer base – Israelis. All the signs in the camp are in Hebrew – not Hebrew and Arabic, or Hebrew and English, just Hebrew – and the Sudanese and Bedouin staff in the camp all spoke Hebrew to the only other guest there, an Israeli. It was slightly unnerving.

We then asked him how life as a Bedouin in Sinai was different under Egyptian rule compared to the Israeli occupation. Influenced perhaps by his audience, he made sure to underline his love for Egyptians, before preceding to point out the major differences between the two regimes. Apparently, the Israelis treated Sinai dwellers fairly, as long as they didn’t involve themselves in politics - and that things got nasty if they did. Egyptian policing he says consists of giving anyone arrested a ‘7atet deen 3al2a’ [one hell of a smack] until the unfortunate individual confesses to a crime which both he and the police know he is not responsible for. Fancy that!

Business seems to be going well for Bedouin man and his cufflinks despite the drop in Israeli tourism. He told us that he is in the process of building a new camp. Construction is progressing well, and bathrooms were the first thing he made sure got finished first because, he told us, he understands the importance of a toilet. This gave me hope for the conveniences in the camp we were in since an abdominal evacuation had suddenly imposed itself on the agenda.

Alas I discovered that in keeping with the general theme of the place even the toilets were keeping it real with what is delicately and euphemistically known as a ‘7ammam balady’ - in other words a hole in the ground full of other people’s shit. Which, incidentally, is how I like to describe Croydon to the uninitiated.


Worthy Oriental Gentleman said...

This is absolutely brilliant, chapette. Thank you. You've made my day.

ramy said...

whatever startled the goat?
you know, i mean this in the nicest way, bedouins remind me of camels. they have this very far away look when they talk to you and something about the way they hold themselves.

E. Cobbe said...

Goodness. Of everything else we Americans are responsible for, I hope the abuse of the English language by said English isn't one of them.

Lovely post. I enjoy your blog very much.