Monday 31 January 2011

Pharaonic Fables

Old Map of Egypt

Khan el  Khalilli Market

Cairo shop and horses

Giza splendour

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

Egyptian desert

Another desert view

And again...

View of Cairo

A friend with her own dive site drawing for the debriefing
It's hard to know where to start. Are we surprised by what is happening in Egypt?

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. 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 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!

Good Luck!


Anonymous said...

I spent Christmas and New Year 2008/9 there - a couple of days in Cairo, a week on the Nile and a week in Sharm (it is artificial - I was told that it started out as an Israeli base of some sort during the occupation of Sinai). I thought it was a lovely country and the people were generally very nice too - though the constant hassling to buy things got a bit much sometimes.
It was clear from numerous comments made various guides over the two and half weeks we were there that President Mubarak was not universally popular and that many Egyptians thought that there was a lot that could be improved in their country. I have been watching with great interest, and sadness for those who have been killed. It is a country with an amazing history and I hope it reaches a solution that gives it a great future too. I would certainly want to go back some time.

The bike shed said...

Thanks for sharing your experiences about Egypt.

It's astonishing really, but the truth is I know almost nothing about Egyptian politics and its issues. Of coure know something about the 'arabic situation' but it is paltry, and probably ill informed. Most of the UK will be in this position.

So I can only hope it will be resolved, for the best possible outcome and with the minimum of personal grief - what that is precisely, I have no idea.

Hadriana's Treasures said...

Alienne and Mark,

Thank you so much for commenting. I was in two minds whether to write anything at all. I did not want to seem as if we are uncaring. Far from that. I just hope everything works out for them. I suppose I am/we are frightened that Egypt is in for a hard time whether Mubarak stays in power or not...

Alienne - Very glad you had a good time. Thanks for telling me about Sharm. It's a big regret of mine that I never got to see it. Nigel knows it well but I never caught the ferry seemed to work sporadically...maybe another time.

Mark - I've tried to give a flavour of my experiences but I have written them quickly and feel I have not done them justice. I felt fine there and have some fantastic Egyptian friends. They all treated me very well - no matter what their background. Even after the 09/11 attacks when there was tension around. Nothing happened at all.

I've heard more things than I've seen things. I'm very well aware that the tourist resorts were a million miles away from real Egyptian life although I glimpsed it in Cairo and Luxor. I had wanted to get to Alexandria as well. That'll have to be another time.

Many of the people working in the resorts will have their families in Cairo, Luxor and other cities. It's worrying for sure.

Life is pretty brutal and in its raw at times. I was incredibly aware of how it is all packaged up for our delectation (as tourists). Having said that Egypt has received massive subsidies from abroad and that money has not flowed downwards. We understand completely why this is all happening. Higher food prices (worldwide) adds fuel to the flames.

Maggie May said...

It is horrifying to see the problems that are currently happening in Egypt.
Lets hope it can all be resolved peacefully. As for the treasures in the Museums... lets hope that they survive this revolution. They have survived for thousands of years and now seem to be in jeapardy. Gulp!
Maggie X

Nuts in May

Hadriana's Treasures said...

Hello Maggie,

Yes...the situation seems to be changing every minute. I am listening to the eight o'clock news this morning and it looks as if Mubarak is on his way out. The army seems to be in control.

As long as power can be passed over without incident...then a candidate is accepted by the people. The question is - who will that candidate be? Which party will take over? I just hope that the Egyptian people win out in the near future. They need some hope.

Fingers crossed that the Egyptian Museum of Antiquities in Cairo survives as well. It houses many, many treasures. We all wait with bated breath!

Nota Bene said...

Absolutely fascinating post...thank you - you have a better insight into Egypt than most of us...your time there sound idyllic

Hadriana's Treasures said...

NB: Thank you for saying that! Yes we had a great time there and I still think that the Egyptians are amongst the most hospitable people I have ever met.

All our fingers and toes are crossed that this all works out for them! :)

the fly in the web said...

We've been trying to keep up with what is happening in Egypt by watching the box...and how interesting it is to flick channels!
To listen to Fox News you would think that the protesters were terrorists!
Mr. Fly visited Egypt several times, we went together only twice, but we found that the people we met..on and off the tourist trail...very eager to talk about politics, daily life, etc..and I could quite agree with their fury that the U.S. propped up the Mubarak regime which was squeezing the pips out of the people.
That was a super, heartfelt post and it took me back to the streets of Egypt.
The hassling to buy stuff never bothered me...all it took was a 'no thanks' and a smile to stop it, and the other side of that was that you could ask one of the touts if you wanted something in particular and he would take you to the right shop.
I have a feeling that the Egyptian people are going to be sold down the river again in this so called 'compromise' solution...but I do hope not.

Hadriana's Treasures said...

Thanks Fly for your thoughts and comments. I agree with you wholeheartedly.

I know I am always making excuses for not blogging as much but feel I am flagging....I'm fine but a lot of people I know are ill at the mo'. Must be that time of year and the weather!

PS: "Project Merlin" announcing today that the banks will be lending to small businesses. We shall see. The proof of the pudding is in the eating. Come to think of it there were/are some marvellous rice puddings sold in Egypt. . . eshta!!! Yum!!!
Hope you and Mr. Fly are well! :)