The Zouz is here!
After 3 ½ month apart, my wife (Zouz is my nickname for her) and I are finally together again in Gouna. We last saw each other at Nice airport in mid September. Then she returned to Kanafeh Land, that is to say, the only country in the world where its president’s fake coif resembles the Middle Eastern dish known in Egyptian dialect as konafa.
I went to Cairo by bus on Thursday, and then walked from the bus stop in Abdel Moneim Ryad Square in downtown Cairo to the Nile corniche. This is easier said than done and is not for the faint-hearted as you essentially have to walk into head on 3 lane traffic, twice. There are no crosswalks, but it easier if you realize there is a light that controls traffic under the October 6 bridge, which does allow for a mad dash across the southbound traffic. You really have to have Cairo in your blood to accomplish this, and I do not recommend it for the casual tourist going to Egypt, certainly not one my age, but then again, I have walked around this part of the world since I was a boy.
I then walked a short distance to where the old steel Abu-el-Ela bridge used to stand. I crossed the bridge that replaced it, over a Nile that was strewn with floating litter, and took a short cut side street called Aziz Abaza, past the new Metro stop construction at the foot of Mahammad Mazhar St., past all the soldiers with machine guns guarding the various embassies, past Au Temps Jadis, past the layers of memory that I walk through whenever I am in Zamalek, and within no time at all I was in my father’s old apartment.
It was lovely seeking my uncle, who is something of a saint, and also my aunt who was there for the stay, but frankly I was glad to get out of Cairo on Saturday morning, for all the usual reasons: the noise of the Nile boats at night, the filth, the tension, the overcrowding, the potholes, the motorbikes zooming by you at night with their headlights off, as you try to dodge them sideswiping you in the poorly-lit streets. You have to avoid stepping on the broken down sidewalks that can break your ankle with a sudden, uneven steepness of pitch. Instead, you must slither past double and triple parked cars, nonchalantly of course, like Cairenes do, with the constant sound of approaching night traffic behind you, and barely room for a car to squeeze past without hitting you, as if this is the most normal thing in the world, even if naas fil shari’ shabeehen el zombies, that is to say, people in the street walking toward you, and vying for the same slither of street space, look like zombies, as the Cairokee song goes.
In Zamalek, much as I still have a fondness for it, but would never live there today, I sensed I was in the land of the twilight of the dinosaurs, overlording it over the teeming masses. I was twice approached by young boys begging for money. Never happened to me before in Zamalek. The song I just referred is this one; it captures perfectly how young Cairenes must view the remnants of the aging class of the over privileged currently maskeen el balad, or holding the reigns of power in Egypt.
On Saturday, I took at taxi in front the Indian ambassador’s residence to the airport (none I hailed would run the meter, or addad, so I negotiated in Arabic a 100LE fare, + carta, or entrance fee, which was 6 pounds Egyptian), checked in, then waited for my wife to arrive on Egyptair from New York, and the plane was actually early. I was worried that Zouz would not come, because of the Helouan terrorist incident on Thursday, but the Zouz had not been watching CNN that day, thank the Gods.
It was really great to have the AHLAN service meet my wife in the Domestic Departures section of Cairo International. They whisked her via electric cart through to a VIP lounge, where she saw what looked like a movie star, then they took care of her passport visa stamping details, and then, after a minor hitch (due to my deciding to wait for her at the security gate, instead of on the upstairs departure area, as previously agreed: I did not know Ahlan had access to some secret passageway that allowed them to bypass having to first exiting the International arrivals security area and come back back in through the domestic security area; nor did I know my wife had been able to get a boarding pass for the Hurghada leg of journey: so was sure if I hung around the check in area that I would see her).
But after some frantic calls on the mobile — which kept shutting itself off for no reason — in which I lost my temper, as I frequently did when I became angry at “underlings” for screwing things up in the telco firm where I once worked, I finally saw my Zouz again, after so many months.
We flew on Egyptair to Hurghada (the plane was an hour late), then phoned ABC taxi (which was cheap, but late) and motored off to Gouna, at last. Memo to anyone using ABC: they use private cars (not marked TAXI), they can take quite some time to get to you, and you must be fluent in Arabic to use this service. If you check all those boxes, you will more than half the usual fare to go to El Gouna.
Arriving in Gouna: horrors!
There was a huge line of cars waiting at the main gate to get in. It was the New Year’s Weekend, and ALL of Gouna was about to turn into party town, which I had been warned about.
We finally go to the villa, and I gave her the tour: Zouz absolutely loved it!
But we had no bottled water or food, so we took the bus that runs past the villa to downtown Gouna, and went to Zomba, where we had delicious foul and ta’ameyya with eggplant sandwiches, some fantastic hummus, and her favorite desert, Om Ali, which they made from scratch for us, but alas was missing pistachios. Delicious, though!
After buying water and other supplies from a supermarket, we took the bus back to the villa, and went to sleep sawa-sawa in the living room, with the TV on… only to be woken at 3am by the sound of party revelers.
The house next door had obviously been rented to some Cairenes, and the sound of their loud voices in Arabic and of course the thump thump of “party” music that the baladi, nouveau riche Egyptians so love to hear.
No worries; this was not the tiny apartment in Abu Tig marina where I had stayed for the past, and been subjected to this nonsense unrelentingly for 3 months.
This was a great big villa, with thick walls, and a large Epicurean walled garden, and so my wife simply repaired to one to the bedrooms on the other side of the house. The thick walls insulated her from the noise, and she promptly went back to sleep, while I decided to write this post before again retiring.
Tomorrow, we shall go to 7th Star for croissants and American coffee and probably run into some old friends of mine.
But tonight, I am happier than have I’ve been since I set foot in Gouna, alone, in mid September. Life is good again, and is finally as it should be.
The Zouz is here!