Look at this picture. What do you see?
If you guessed the Gouna Downtown shuffle, you win.
For the rest of you, here’s an explanation.
Every day, buses bring tourists from the hotels around and in Hurghada for an excursion to El Gouna.
This is a daily ritual at the San Siro restaurant in Downtown Gouna, where you will hear Mr. Big Pants manager negotiating over the phone very loudly all the dissa-kounts that he is prepared to cut with all the touts who hustle these clueless, geezer day trippers to El Gouna.
It’s always the same thing.
The bus arrives. The troop of old Germans or Russians or whatever marches to the San Siro. They are led by one and sometimes two guides who speak broken German but mostly loud aggressive Arabic to each other.
The tourist guides take the old Germans to a big table. Some sit with them; others opt to sit at their own tables.
The tourist guide touts then give the business end of the jaunt in Arabic to the waiter. They speak in rapid fire cadences, usually Sa’idee Arabic, because that is where most of the touts who work in Gouna come from.
The touts all think about one thing.
How to get their cut off the old German mark.
At some point the tourist guide gets up and talks, very loudly I might add, in guttural Arabic to the owner of the place about that famous El Gouna expression: Zabatni (which means to “adjust me”).
And the old German just sits there, suffering in silence.
Still the old tourist sits there, while his wife has popped into the loo, wondering what the hell he’s doing there? Who are all these loud young Egyptians? Why are they all screaming at each other? When am I going home again? Can I cancel Aswan?
The touts and the waiters and the owners and the bus drivers carry on shouting almost at the top of their lungs as if this is some ongoing military operation. The pseudo precision is comical. We’re staying here for only 15 more minutes. They have ordered this, and my cut is that. Bring me water. Give me another cigarette. Then we go. Now. Osiris group! We go now. Now! Osiris! Yalla beena.
But a real military operation is going on around Egypt, in the Sinai and elsewhere, but no one talks about that. Does the old German even know about it?
Instead, it is all about zabatni, zabatni, zabatni.
The Ouroboros is an ancient Egyptian symbol.
It can signify renewal, or autosarcophagy.
Think about making a fortune off the Fear Index, or ruling a country through crooked ballots.
The serpent eating its own tail.
Or think, instead, if that makes no sense, about the guy who quit a decent salaried job at Mövenpick because after two or five or ten years he wasn’t promoted always the same thing everywhere no promotion so he thought he’d get a more promising position somewhere else one with opportunity for advancement and then when he showed up for work there the manager told him the job has already been filled sorry but nothing was put in writing because these things sometimes happen.
So now he sleeps in a nasty cramped apartment with four others guys in the non tourist area of downtown not the nice villa area not the nice apartments in West Golf no not there but instead by the International School in one of those dowdy buildings with the gypsum peeling off the roof because now he is reduced after his good Mövenpick yob to working as a waiter which is not a tragedy except he never would have left that good job and he smiles at the old mark who has no inkling as to any of this and is instead thinking about Bavaria as the waiter wonders how long this can go on and seethes as he forces himself to say guten Morgen and hel-lo, hel-lo, hel-lo in a glad welcoming voice as a fresh troop procession of weary old Germans approaches the restaurant.
Which is it?
Eternal renewal, or death?
Me, I never think about such things.
I chill and pretend none of this is happening.
I am living life as it should be lived.
I float in an improvised Marianas Trench, far away, yet so close, just above the seafloor garbage.
The empty buses are full of ghosts, and I’m going to sit here and do nothing about it.
Just like you.