1.4: Egypt - Talking about the future
The first night in Dahab, with 110 kilometres in my legs, shaken from the contrasts between the desert and the crowded village, still in shock from the first full realisation that we were now really on the road, while Bram was sleeping, I did the first full length interview for Agence Future.
I did not know I was going to when I walked onto the quiet part of the beach to sit under a palm tree and look at the stars. It would have been a totally tacky postcard kind of moment if it hadn't been for a scratch in the soundtrack of the rhythm of the waves: "Hélloo! Welcome!"
The Egyptian man who had addressed me turned out to speak good English and after I answered some of his questions, I asked him if he would mind if I turned the table and asked him some questions instead. He obliged and after some introductory remarks on Egypt, his studies, his time in the army and how he ended up in Dahab, he told me about his only wish for the future.
Hussein had arrived in Dahab two years ago, without money "not one Guinea". It had taken him 21 days to find his first job. Although he had studied commerce in Cairo, he had worked on building sites and in restaurants. Now he was the manager of the camp by the beach I had strolled onto.
He was saving money to continue work on the flat he is building in his home village which he'll need when his future happens, that is, when he gets married "I cannot talk about the country, it is the big men making politics. I cannot talk about the world, I can only talk about my own life. About me I can tell you the truth. For me, for my life, I wish for the future for one thing, only one thing: love."
He talked about the role of his future wife, how she would bear his children and how she would share his needs and his interests. He claimed to be prepared to marry a Christian or a Jewish woman if love dictated it. He talked about religion and the development of the Sinai. For one hour and a half this man spoke about a future he felt he could not take me to "because your life is different, the way of the European is not the same."
We had to spend an extra day in Dahab for banking. Bram's encounter with a turtle during his afternoon snorkel and our conversation with Said, the young Bedouin who worked at the Divers Lodge, made up for all the hassle.
I had lost the cover of my seat when I hitched the ride into Dahab and was sewing together two pieces of foam from one of the many cushions at the beach restaurants and my summer dress for a cover, when Saïd said: "That's what my mother does."
Saïd went on to explain all about his family and their expectations for him and the Bedouin tradition. The previous night his manager had talked about the changes in Dahab and the deterioration of the coral reef.
Saïd said: "If you would have come here ten years ago, you would only have seen Bedouins, you would have seen palm trees, you would have seen the beach and the sea, just like in a picture. We used to come here with our goats, there would be fish in the sea and dates on the trees for the Bedouins. We had everything we need. In the mind we had nothing."
A broad smile, one off those beautiful flashes with his eyes. "I tell you, really, we had nothing in the mind." I must admit I cannot imagine, but I think I know what he means.
Saïd explained what it was like when things started to change "Then they started to move the palm trees around. You could go to sleep somewhere and wake up the following morning wondering where you were." Saïd pictures the changes in his life sharply, for the future he foresees more of the same. Had we seen all the new buildings on the way to the Blue Hole? Did we realise how much more coral and how many more turtles there used to be? "They're not coming back you know."
Saïd knows and he's preparing, going to school, working and clocking hours to become a diving instructor. While tourism is and will be Saïd's main source of income he criticises many of its consequences for his people. Not only have the palm trees been moved around so that Egyptian and multinational hotel managers and shopkeepers can attract ever more foreigners to their businesses but the tourists have imported drugs.
The Bedouin have always smoked cannabis, the desert variety that does not grow to be very potent and is part of the community's culture. Old age pensioners can be seen to light up before breakfast, young men have a quiet smoke after a day's work.
But Westerners coming to Dahab to party brought in new drugs and you can get anything here today: cocaine, LSD, ecstasy, crack and heroine. As usual it are the poorest layers of the population where the effects of these Western drugs are felt the most.
Saïd tells us: "There was only grass, but in the last five years poor Bedouines have become addicted to heroine. They start and they cannot stop, then they go out to steal, not just from the tourists but from anyone who has anything." The lodge's manager explains that her daughter's gold was stolen from her home. She knows it was one of the local addicts "because he was hungry, he did not just steal the gold and our camera but stopped to eat from the mango in the fruit basket."
Read more on Agence Future's adventures in Egypt: