|Old Map of Egypt|
|Khan el Khalilli Market|
|Cairo shop and horses|
|Nigel with the compressor team - Hurghada harbour|
|Roman Treasure at Cairo Museum|
|I'm transfixed by King Tut's Sarcophagus|
|Again we can't get enough of more Roman treasure|
|View of Cairo|
|A friend with her own dive site drawing for the debriefing|
I've recounted before that Mr.H. (Nigel) left his job at the Barbican and decided to follow his passion for scuba diving in the Red Sea. So as I entered the City and all that entailed he left those shores...we joke that our paths crossed (highly unlikely) when I was 16. My parents had borrowed a flat in the Barbican for a short holiday in London. He was House Manager at that time. At any event we did not meet. So off he went scuba diving in the early 1990's in Hurghada in the Red Sea...
He never meant to stay there. He started just by taking groups out to Hurghada. He was then asked to help work with a dive centre. Then another and another. He stayed. He dived. He became owner/manager of Easy Divers dive centre with a Dutch partner. The years rolled by. He enjoyed the lifestyle. He was/is an extremely good BSAC (British Sub-Aqua Club) scuba diving instructor. He became "embedded". Everyone knew him as "Mr. Nigel". He learned dockside Arabic. He was a good employer. He treated locals and non-locals alike. He paid well. Egypt liked him and he liked Egypt.
I cropped up in 2000 when I learned to dive. I've already documented how it all came about. (See over at our Adventures in Diving Red Sea - side bar.)
I came on holiday. Liked it. Loved it. Left the City (didn't really need much persuasion. I had never meant to stay that long there anyway. I'd always thought I'd go and live in Spain and teach English. Besides they were making too much money in the City in 2000...but let's not go there.....).
Nigel had always preferred Hurghada to Sharm el Sheikh. Sharm is across the water on the Sinai peninsula. As far as I know it is a completely fabricated tourist resort. It was probably a simple fishing village at one time. Hurghada started out as a fishing village and has grown and grown and grown. It was more like the real Egypt. Nigel preferred that. I preferred that...
He lived in a fairly run down area of Hurghada. He preferred to shop in local shops. Nigel was genuinely well known and liked. There will be some who will still remember him. For years afterwards he could roll into a taxi at the airport and every taxi driver would turn around and say "Ayyy! Mr. Nigel! Akeed!" ("Mr. Nigel...For sure!")
Nigel organised a staff house (a block of flats owned by Mr. Lotfy) where all his staff could rent a flat if they wanted to. From memory we paid for that. I don't think we charged the staff for their lodging...Mr. Lotfy and his family would often invite us in for tea.
Everyone would also treat us with respect and courtesy. Yes...in the downtown market...there would usually be hawkers and so on but if they called out...all you'd have to say back would be "La shukran!" "No thank you!" They wouldn't hassle. Yes there would be two fares for locals and non-locals. Fair enough. Nigel knew his way around and showed me the way as well. If he talked in Arabic he usually got the local rate..in taxis, shops, buses et cetera.
We went to see Cairo with some very good friends. We travelled the country with them. It reminds me of the times when there used to be the armed escort for bus convoys...following the Luxor terrorist atrocity in 1998. The buses (filled with foreign tourists) would be escorted by the police so that no harm could come to them. After a few years they stopped doing this. The threat was perceived to have gone. Nigel was one of the few dive centre owners to keep his doors open after the Luxor attack. He remained optimistic about the tourist industry. He knew things would recover.
Yes...there is massive poverty in Egypt. What I saw in Cairo didn't shock me but it made me think hard about the privileged life I have always led. We may be a few pounds short in the old bank account at times but we can still feed, heat and clothe ourselves. Cairo resembles a Dickensian London to this day. Slums abound.
Nigel also used to say that he was amazed by the compressor boys/men. He said that they had had to get used to being time travellers...they saw foreigners cavorting on beaches, flashing money around...then they would go back to their families in the cities and out in the desert...who would have nothing. Their wages fed the entire family. They were a lifeline.
Corruption exists. For sure. Nigel got arrested by the police for not having a work permit for eight years prior to the time he was arrested (he was on holiday in Egypt at the time of his arrest and not working!) and was locked up for 36 hours. Luckily he had a good lawyer and was released. Most dive centres don't bother with getting their staff work permits as they are time consuming and costly to get. Nigel always did. Nigel always played by the book or at least tried to....although (perversely) that could get him in more trouble at times!
I very much enjoyed my time there. It was fun being around the dive centres. Meeting people - all nationalities and Egyptians alike. Popping in and out of restaurants, cafes, bars, hotels. Going swimming at the Hilton Plaza every day. I knew I was lucky, lucky, lucky.
Ultimately I knew that as a woman I could not stay there. Despite the openness of society..the male way of life still rules there. Maybe it is different for a well educated Egyptian woman. I started to learn, speak and write Arabic. I knew I could never speak it fluently without living with a family. Resort life would not teach me Cairean Arabic. For a while I toyed with the idea of living in Cairo. There are some fascinating second hand book markets. It truly is an amazing place. We lived a good life in Hurghada. Even when I met Nigel I could tell that he was missing England. He dreamed of English pubs, the greenness, the countryside...we knew we would not be staying for ever. I do treasure my time there though. It taught me a good many things. It opened my eyes. Even though I had travelled extensively in Europe - the smells, the ambience, the people, the pace of life completely swept me away. It taught me that the Egyptians are just like us. Quite often we are told differently. Rubbish. People are the same everywhere.
Nearby back at the Hurghada flat there were half finished buildings everywhere. People would build extra floors when they had the money. A group of Egyptians lived in the foundations of one of blocks of apartments amongst the dirt, packaging, discarded discards, the detritus of life. I always said hello when I passed them...when I was on my way to catching the bus or walking the dogs. There was one tall Egyptian man who was always happy, always looked dignified in his flowing galabeya and turban. I now wish that I'd taken a photograph of him. He seems representative to me of how happy Egypt was and can be.
We always suspected that the system might crash and now we are sadly seeing this happen. We left in 2003 when I was pregnant with our eldest. I was very sorry to leave Egypt. We both were. Had we stayed I could easily have become immersed in Pharaonic Fables and become not Hadriana but Hatshetsup. Nigel could have stayed looking after the dive centre and carried on with his HEPCA (Hurghada Environmental Protection Conservation Association) work. Nevertheless all things do pass and come to pass.
I/we hope to every God that the situation in Egypt resolves itself happily and peacefully for all concerned!