Live and let live

gouna egypot

View on my back porch this icy cold morning

I’ve been in Gouna for 4 1/2 months, or 137 days.  My rental lease in the villa I’m in expires in 6 weeks, which is when the owner is returning for the Easter holidays. My 6 month Egyptian visa expires on April 17th.  So… what to do?  Should I stay, or should I go?

I went to bed last night at my usual hour, around 10ish, sleeping on the comfortably hard (good for my neck and back) sofa in the living room.  I made the mistake of keeping the TV on CNN, and was awoken in the middle of the night by what I thought was a nightmare. It was only the grating voice of the orange shill bragging about his grotesque, self-clapping rendition of the State of DisUnion that his probably illegitimate presidency (see, Mueller) is sowing.

That sealed the deal.  I’m now going to do my best to stay on at a new let till mid-April.

Now Egypt is by no means perfect, and El Gouna is full of warts (as I have detailed in previous posts), but going back to Florida is something I should probably delay as much as is feasible, before the weather here turns hot.

So I’ve arranged to go see a rental property at noon today (UPDATE: the rental agent called at 11:45 AM; the scope-out’s been delayed to maybe tomorrow. Yes, it’s Egypt). This new place is allegedly near the Sheraton, thus far closer to the sea, but I don’t know what that means in terms of traffic and noise and privacy.

Meanwhile, things continue to go well here.

I am a little concerned that I am losing weight too fast, as my skin is starting to feel like an empty big suit. But I am doing situps and pushups and stretching by the pool, and also going for daily hour long walks to try to increase the muscle tone in my legs and keep the calorie deficit going, as I relentlessly continue the push for fakir thinhood.

I’m now eating once a day at Zomba’s, usually 2 small pita sandwiches, one felafel (with lots of tahina sauce!), the other fool medames (fried in olive oil with a quartered tomato), both of which are served on a bed of chopped lettuce.

I usually wash the sandwiches down with a glass of freshly-squeezed orange juice and pretty much eat the exact same thing every day.

Not only is this meal plan dirt cheap (it costs about $2-3 dollars, with tip), but it supplies me enough protein and vitamins I need to stay the course on my plan to lose 65 lbs in a year, and be a size 34 waist by late summer.

I’ve already gone from size 42-44 to a size 38, so real progress is being made.  I have pictures of myself when I first came here; the comparison is encouraging, though not so dramatic as to be unduly startling.

It was also a good idea to get a radical haircut last week.  My scalp is in much better condition now from the afternoon seances in the sun in my villa turret.

So all in all, things are going well.  It is still bitterly cold here at night (especially considering the wind chill factor), and it is sad to hear the waiters at Zomba’s lament their fate, but there is nothing I can do about that personally other than be sympathetic, or, now and then, give them productive, actionable ideas on how to try to find jobs overseas — advice that has in fact gone unheeded.

I have settled into a very ordinary, uneventful routine, keeping to myself, not interacting too much with anybody except the bus drivers and waiters and the occasional tourist (usually Brits) whom I run into a Zomba’s.

This is just how I like it; though living this way would have been unthinkable when I lived in Manhattan in my mid 30s.

When I came here,  I had very high blood pressure, and even had blackish purple marks on my face (above my left eyebrow) and on both elbows. This was from residual Graves’ Disease, which I contracted in 2010 from the unrelenting stress of living in cracker country for a decade.

I also had open sores on my knuckles, which my dermatologist diagnosed as some kind of rare knuckle pad disorder. This was also caused by stress.

Well all these symptoms of stress are now gone, thank God.  I still have Graves’ Ophthalmopathy (Thyroid Eye Disease) in my left eye, which causes it to be misaligned when I am tired or read too much, but my hope is that one day that, too, will be a thing of the past.

I’ll post pics of the new place tomorrow, or later this week.

I’ll grab it if the let’s anywhere near half suitable, as I have no desire whatsoever to hastily return to the land of smugly venomous, racist right-wing white geezers, which is a fair description for the kinds of people who live where my house is in FLA.

So let’s review.

2016 ended with my having several operations to correct my severe eye problems (I was almost blind without thick glasses).  Now I can do most things, including reading normal print, without glasses.

I was clinically obese; now I’m not.

I was terrified, as an Arab-American, at the possible ramifications of a Trump presidency and thus decided to leave the country before the yellow Star of David IDs and internment camp roundups began for American citizens of my ethnicity.

Despite having to call the police to quell threatening neighbors, I was able to leave the country by September 2017 without ending up in the cooler.

I have no pressing desire to go back home, as I am happier here than at any time in the 16 nightmare years I was trapped in the Sunshine State.

Ironic how the version of America that I decided to do everything in my power to escape from is exactly where many young Egyptians would like to move, if they could.

I’ll end with this.

Last night I was coming back from dinner at Zomba’s, and decided to pick up a jar of peanuts at the Ebaid supermarket. I was a tad hungry, so opened the jar in the bus as I waited for it to leave.

The bus driver noticed this, so I offered him some. He loved the peanuts, and asked what they were and where I had bought them, so I told him, and then gave him another handful.

mr peanut

Vintage Americana, in its full glory

Now peanuts are called foul sudani in Arabic, and this guy was a Sai’di, which is a region in Upper Egypt where many Gouna, almost Sudanese-looking workers come from.

I wondered how it is was possible that this young bus driver had never eaten foul sudani, before I realized that expat tourists like me have no real idea whatsoever what life is truly like for the common Egyptians who make Gouna function.

So maybe in the future when I get annoyed at certain local behaviors, I should adopt more of a live and let live attitude — I bet you that would probably make the eye thing get better in a jiffy, as I bask in the empty nobility of obliquely self-congratulatory liberal false guilt.

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Limbo Rock

gouna

Today I woke and found this in front of the gate to my villa in Gouna, Egypt.

It was a rather loud American machine, but I reckon they have to constantly pack the red clay sand that makes up many of the roads in this resort, as only the main roads are paved, and even then, sketchily.

gouna

Yesterday’s post in this travel diary listed 15 things that you should keep in mind if you are an American my age who is thinking of leaving America and doing the expat thing on the cheap by renting a villa for the winter in Africa.

It probably came across as a bit of a Gouna takedown, although I would argue it is a realistic take borne out of long experience; but I also said I would list the positives about living here.

gouna fly

Fly offed earlier today at the villa. What’s not to love?

So here goes.

There are lotsa things I miss about living in my house in Florida.

My wife is there, and I miss her a lot.  I also miss the rest of my family in America; they do not live in Florida, but are (obviously) much closer there than here.

What I miss about Florida is the proximity to so much reasonably pristine subtropical natural beauty, not just along the Atlantic coast, but also inland, in  places such as the Loxahatchtee River.

jupiter florida

Canoe at Loxahatchee River, around Jupiter, Florida. Bring a piece in case of gators, though.

This may seem trivial, but I also like being able to buy things like Listerine (the version with alcohol), which I view as crucial to gum and throat hygiene, and is a product you cannot find in Egypt for probably religious reasons.

Listerine

Primo Publix version of Listerine in the middle, getting low low low, with the inferior, zero-alcohol, Italian-made-version Egyptian import up front

And if truth be told, I do miss getting those magnificent Eggplant Parm and Meatball Parm subs at Salerno Pizza. Yes, all that heart-attack-city caloric munificence, but also the great not-oversalted-tomato-sauce pizzas from Brooklyn Joe’s (with at least 3 toppings) did cause me gain a lot of weight, but hey, you only go round once,

salerno pizzaSo what do I like about being here in Gouna (outside of the beloved Sandy, of course)?

Well, it’s complicated.

I grew up in Egypt, but that was a long time ago, and the country has dramatically changed since then, so it’s not like I’ve gone back to the “old country” to relive the good old days, which now are more like the residual stench of a bellyfish that expired sometime around the time of a long dead dictator.

Rather, it is the simplistic idea that you are always more comfortable inside in your country of origin, despite the prisons and collective hangings, particularly if you have not done as well as you thought you would have in your adopted one.

So you come here (or anywhere for that matter where you might have grown up), and you feel comfortable in a way that is hard to describe:  mirtah fi baladuh in the Arabic phrase that comes to mind, which means relaxed in your own country., but which really means to be in tune with some concocted, yet deliciously contrapuntal illusion that of course never existed in the reality of when you lived there.

But the truth is, Egypt (or whatever your country of origin may be) is my country in name only:  for I have spent a lifetime in the US, and you do not dismiss half a century of living someplace, just like that, as if you were throwing salt over your shoulder, before plunging the dagger.

jeffreys decadence

This is the one to read, if you’re into Byzantium and Cavafy and all that

I’m going to enjoy the time I have left here, despite all the challenges I’ve outlined in previous posts, and work on the three essential but fairly innocuous positives that I have been able to establish here in Gouna:

  1. Being able to get fit and finally lose a lot of weight, but gradually, so I don’t have have to sweat about disgusting sagging rolls of skin;
  2. Being able to detox from the US mentally  over a period of six months, far away from the vile right-wing noise machine;
  3. Being able to enjoy slowly reading, in the shade under a desert’s cloudless, cobalt blue sky, various fictional as well as non fiction books (including the Jeffreys’ one, pictured above, which I intend to reread several times, and gaze meaningfully at the nearby mauve Eastern Desert mountains, after each culturally high register paragraph), many of which have something to do with Egypt or the immigrant experience or the post-9/11 literary response in general, without having to “deal” (if that is not too uncharitable a term) with the many distractions that are part and parcel of living in conjugal tight quarters in FLA.

In the end, I shall always be in limbo between different cultures, enjoying the best that each have to offer, but I no longer feel compelled to have to choose between them, whatever that really means, and however ambiguous it may sound.

leaving america

 

Gouna winterlude

gouna villa

The solution to the icy winds and cold floors. Note the blanket serving as windbreaker, the fly swatter, and Sandy’s dish in the corner

Thinking about renting a villa during the winter in Gouna, Egypt, on the Red Sea?

If you are going for a holiday weekend, Gouna is an ideal place to drop in from Hurghada, stay at a high-end hotel (with everything included), and perhaps go clubbing in Abu Tig marina if you’re looking to party.

The brick flooring here — which is only one of two places in the house that has it — retains  heat, and doesn’t suck up the warmth off your bare feet. This was a key discovery!

However, if you are older than, say, 60 years old, and are looking to escape Europe’s winters, and are desirous of peace and quiet, there are quite a few things you need to keep in mind when renting a villa long term.

gouna egypt cat

Sandy loves the new perch area, but after lunch, she morosely went to the stitching area to pine after the Mama (ie, my wife, who is back in the US). Note the freezing marble flooring and the spores under the outside dining table.

Here is a list of 15 “features” of Gouna living that are based on my personal experience of living here for the last 5 months.

  1.  The Cold. Gouna is quite chilly in the winter.  Between December and March, nightime temperatures will average in the hi 40s and low 50s.  Be sure to bring warm layers of clothes, or you will probably get pneumonia from the icy winds, if you go out at night to a restaurant, and, later, don’t have access to many warm blankets at home. The idea of going for a nice swim on the beach is unrealistic during this period, and snorkeling and of course diving will be very uncomfortable even with heavy suits.
  2.  Marble — the somber stone of tombs and prayer. Many villas in Gouna have marble flooring.  While this material is perfect for the long, hot summer months, it is a hypothermia disaster if you are renting a villa during the winter, and the place’s all marble flooring and stone cold countertops.  You will have to wear socks and slippers at all times, and probably purchase rugs (make sure they do not slip underfoot) to prevent your feet from freezing.
  3. No indoor heating or building insulation.  You will have to buy a space heater of some sort.  A small one will cost you around 40 US dollars, but electricity is expensive in Gouna, so your rental costs might spiral out of control from your utilities bill.
  4. The wind in Gouna is almost constant.  In the winter it blows in icily from the West (that is to say, the desert), but also from the North.  The desert winds will usually keep the pestering flies at bay, if you’e sitting, under a blanket of course, on the back porch, but they will also most likely penetrate your villa rental quite easily, as carpentry standards for door and window fittings in Gouna are generally inferior.  You will not only be quite cold at night, but will find that you need to sweep all the floors in your house daily to get rid of all the sand. Moreover, those shoddy window and door fittings will provide multiple entry points for the gratingly thriving colony of mosquitoes that will make your evenings miserable — unless you are prepared to take extreme measures (sleeping under hanging bedroom skeeter nets is just the start of it, which may not even be available to you in your rental) to rid your villa of these disease-laden pests, or at least keep them off you most of the time.
  5. Showers are a pip.  By American upper-middle-class standards, Gouna bathrooms are tiny.  Central heating seems to be unknown in Egypt (the AC units in each room that supposedly turn into heaters usually don’t), and you will not have a boiler outside or in the garage that dispenses hot water throughout the house.  In some villas, there is not even hot water in the kitchen.  The water for your shower will be provided by individual heaters that will hang on the wall of each bathroom.  This is extremely inefficient, as it means that, if you have several bathrooms, you will have to heat water for each one separately. Moreover, the shower spaces themselves will tend to be quite small (by, say, Florida upscale master bathroom standards), and the showerheads will be handheld.  This may be convenient in some cases, but if you will be plum out of luck if you prefer a fixed showerhead that provides an ample stream of hot water that has sufficient pressure to keep you from feeling extremely cold when you are showering in a frigid, marble-floored bathroom in the winter.
  6. No solar technology.  Gouna has plenty of sunshine on most days (which are quite short in winter), but I have yet to see any houses that have solar panel installations. Usage of this technology would go a long way to reducing your electric bill, and also keep the house and pool warm during the winter.
  7. Unless it is heated (which will be very expensive), your lovely pool be unusable — except to seals and polar bears — during your winter stay in Gouna.  Despite this, you will have to pay for a pool person — unless you happen to agree beforehand with the owner or rental agent to empty out the pool, which may not be something they would want to do — who has to come every day to remove the sand and various debris that the constant high wind brings into the pool (as well as skim off the delightful mosquito larvae). This pool guy will take up to an hour to clean the pool every day, and will often have both friends and a smartphone, so be prepared to have uninvited strangers in your back porch every day, day in, day out, unless you are prepared to have a word with someone who more likely than not does not speak a word of English.  If you value privacy, and do not wish to converse in halting Arabic with people you do not know, this can be a major turnoff.
  8. Watering the plants.  The concept of automated irrigation systems seems to be unknown in Gouna, except for the golf courses.  As a result, your villa stay will also feature a daily morning or afternoon visit by a gardener guy who will also have a smartphone and friends.  Again, if you value privacy, you may consider these constant unannounced visits to be a major minus.
  9. Neighbors. I will be very blunt here. Egyptians are an extremely loud people.  They cannot seem to do without loud music, loud conversations on their phones, loud screaming children, noisy cars and loud motorcycles.  During the winter months, many villa owners rent out for the holidays or weekends.  Be prepared to live next to a constantly revolving cadre of vacationers who will not care one iota if the noise they are making — whether in the middle of the night or early in the morning — disturbs you.  This is a severe problem in Gouna, and security is often called in these situations.  But if you do not want to have to constantly deal with calling security due to loud neighbors, you should probably think twice about renting a villa in Gouna, especially if it is located in a area where there is a lot construction (beware of this big time) or demo work being done (usually apartment renovations).
  10. Food.  The fare served at most Gouna restaurants ranges from the mundane to the atrocious — but at three times the price of similar fare in Hurghada or Cairo.  Moreover, make sure you have plenty of Immodium, as it is guaranteed that you will get severe diarrhea at some point during your stay. If you wish to cook your own food, it will be very tedious after a while to constantly go to the very small supermarkets (remember:  you will not have a car) that offer a limited variety of often strange food products of inferior quality. (keep in mind that you may also not be able to make sense of the labeling)  And be prepared to pay twice or three times the price for an imported product that you would find back home.  Your best bet will be to buy chicken breasts from the local butcher shop, if you want meat now and then. It is reasonably priced, but only compared to the same fare in a restaurant in Gouna.
  11. No automatic dishwashers.  If you cook at home, you will soon grow very tired of constantly having to wash all your dishes by hand in a tiny kitchen sink.  Dishwashers are a technology that also seems unknown in Gouna, even in the back kitchens of large restaurants.
  12. Side loading washing machines.  Your Gouna villa will most likely have a European style side loading washing machine.  Americans generally prefer top loading as they are more convenient (particularly if you have back problems) and generally can accommodate more laundry.  You might also have some trouble deciphering the at times quite mysterious settings that will all be in Centigrade readings.
  13. No clothes dryers.  Yes the sun shines daily, so you can dry your stuff outside, but the constant wind more likely than not will blow over those flimsy metal racks that are used here to hang laundry (setting up a laundry line may means having to drill the hooks into the house, which the owners would frown upon).  This means that the clothes you just washed will be covered in sand after the rack falls to the ground from the wind. And if that does not happen, your clothes when dry will turn out to be stiff and wrinkled, unlike how they would dry in an automatic dryer.
  14. Glass stovetop ovens.  There are some people who swear by these things; I am not one of them.  As someone who loves to cook, I prefer that much greater degree of flexibility and control that gas cooking provides. Moreover, they are dangerous (the surface can be quite hot, and you might not notice the tiny H indicator) and quite difficult to keep clean.
  15. Finally, if you rent a villa in Gouna, you will be totally dependent on the tuc tucs and the bus service, unless you walk everywhere, which is good in terms of physical fitness, but a pain in the butt if you have to brave icy winds at night for 30 minutes to get to downtown Gouna, just because you’ve run out of TP.  The bus service is often a complete shambles, due to faulty doors or engine break down, and can be quite unreliable:  not only do the drivers not adhere to a schedule, but sometimes will change their routes on a whimsy, and you can be left waiting at a stop for an hour, not realizing the bus driver decided to take a short cut.  As for the tourist-harassing tuc tucs, they are extremely noisy, throw off lots of oil/gas mix pollution, uncomfortable to get into, have no suspension system to speak of (same with the buses, so be prepared to suffer if you have a bad back), and quite dangerous (you can fall out of one quite easily, or bang your head getting in, and the young drivers often tailgate or engage in races, while talking on their phones and/or smoking). As an aside, smoking is a very big problem in Gouna, not just with bus and tuc tuc drivers, but in restaurants, where you’re often forced to sit in some undesirable inside room to get away from all the cancer stick patrons, who are in abundance in Gouna, as in most of Egypt.

So…. does this mean than living in Gouna is all negative?  Not at all, even though you should not come here expecting much by way of culture (few here seem to read books, and it remains to be seen if there’ll be a repeat of the expensive dud that was last year’s highly touted inaugural Film Festival), you can still come here, sit in the sun as it warms up your arthritic bones, kick back, put on them earbuds, and listen to Dylan sing Winterlude, as the Gouna cat who decides to adopt you does the Suzy snoozies beside you. Could life be any grander?

The point of this post is to make readers (particularly American expats, who would not necessarily come to a third-world country to speculate in real estate — as do many Brit and European villa owners — but simply want a break from the All-Orange-Clown, all-the-time circus routine in the States) of this blog aware of what to expect if you are thinking about renting a villa in Gouna LONG TERM — as opposed to coming for a long weekend of partying and snorkeling and kitesurfing.

In a future post, I will cover some of the positives that I have found from living in Gouna for an extended period. Stay tuned!

 

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