Old Friends

Gouna Egypt

Old Friends

They started coming again last night.

Even though all the big Egyptian holidays are over, they still come on weekends, which here start a day early.

By tonight, Gouna will be full of them.

They drive down from Cairo, or take the GO buses, or other, more luxurious transportation.

Through the dusk and smog and checkpoints, they arrive in droves.

 

Now they can at last shed the shackles of Cairo and become party animals — or haiwanat el zeita, in common Arabic.

 

There was a a buzz late in the evening yesterday in Abu Tig, which has been sleepy all week; for there’s money to be made now.

Not so much from the Cairenes, for their tips are usually crap.

The real money is to be made from the aganib, the foreigners, who have also been arriving.

The drunken boat captains punching out their first mates along the dock.

The Inglizi couples with baladi North Country accents and heavy perfume to cover their Manchester pong, all here on a marvelous package deal and taking it all in.

The serious young Germans looking for a decent place to smoke hookahs and meet some local talent.

Even the viperous ones who linger, yet have little but contempt, underneath it all.

 

dowtown gouna mural

A mural in downtown Gouna

 

The haiwanat walk around the marina in clusters, eyes flashing, looking for action.

Let’s go to Aulola! — a pseudo Westernized Egyptian woman says in a fleshy accent.

She is with three men.

None of them care if anyone who lives here might be disturbed by loud talking in the street in the middle of the night.

Abu Tig to them is party town.

Where they can groove to mad beats, as if they were not in Egypt.

But they are here, in Masr; even here.

This derivative DJ shit  is not their music.

That is not their culture.

Theirs has become a gypsum culture, a layer of inauthentic plaster slapped over their uncertainties and pretensions.

Just think how megatron this sort of thing gets in places like Abu Dhabi.

Maybe mongrel dreams are the new global way of life, as the wind from the desert blows the sand dunes in ever closer.

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With me taking the pic, this is the first time since 1977 that 3 of the original Mass (a pioneering Egyptian band) were together in one place

But has it not always been so?

What is authentic Egyptian culture?

The Book of the Dead?

The crumbling minarets?

Using Life?

The vanished movies stars that are always on TV?

Egypt’s New Rich?

The language of the young fleeing the desperate villages along the Nile?

Culture, in a land where there is no more room for cultivation.

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Tarek Nour’s fabu house in Gouna !

And now at Aulola, the fleshy bodies move and ready themselves

Like the good haiwanat that they are

For more.

 

Today is Thursday.

I will spend the day by the water, reading my book.

My right knee aches a bit, perhaps from climbing the tower yesterday.

 

Today I will read my book, and do nothing else.

I don’t have to accomplish anything, or do anything, although I feel that getting the 6 month visa this week was a minor triumph.

 

Last night when Aulola started up with the groove beats, I walked to the place I am going to be renting next month.

As I had hoped, the fact that it’s nestled in a back alley protects it from the sound of the haiwanat vampires — the ones who do not seem to need sleep or at least the need to keep regular hours.

 

I don’t care.  Tonight will be bad, for already Club Doodoo, across the street from my current flat, is ramping up for a Thursday night of hell.

But I will manage; I am getting used to it.

Soon the nights will be too cold — already you can seem the haiwanat draping light sweaters over their shoulders when they do the Abu Tig crawl — and the much of the outside dawsha, or noise, will abate. Perhaps someday they will realize that the moon risen over an inky sea is all one needs for a night of wonder.

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What a lovely view!

But today, at this particular moment in my life, all I have to do is finish doing the weekly laundry — it is important to keep a routine, and not let things get untidy in the desert —  then go read a novel on a beach and swim in the Red Sea when I get too hot.

 

Not such a bad life.

Exactly what I had envisioned when I decided to leave America and its moronic orange emperor behind.

 

UPDATE:   I didn’t end up going to the beach.  Tarek and Mourad, two old friends showed up at my flat, and we all ended up going to Tarek’s house in Abydos for a few hours.

 

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The Last Time

gouna

Visa extension?

Done.

I now have an Egyptian visa extension that’s good till April ‘18.

Here’s how the day played out

7AM; Wednesday morning in Gouna. I have to AGAIN schlep to Hurghada to pick up my passport. Presumably my 6-month visa extension will be approved, and that will be the end of these forced treks to dreadful Hurghada. My back is killing me again, and I deeply resent this borderline state-approved arrogance toward the supposedly desired tourist.

The hijabi clerk told me yesterday (see previous post) to be back at 1PM today,  In the teeth of the heat of the day.  So I have to kill some time before taking the bus from Gouna at around, say, noon.  Plus I have to make sure I do all my business beforehand, for there are no bathrooms available to the public.  You basically have to hold it all in for 4 or 5 hours. Because of that, I will not drink anything (in the boiling desert heat, no less) during this long, forced march from hell.

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MEMO TO EGYPT’S RED SEA GOVERNOR

I wonder if it you would consider investing in the following:  

Build a new Visa Center in Hurghada  in a more central location, far away form the slums that surround the current Visa building.  Have signage in English around town indicating where it is.  Have air conditioning:  why make the tourists who comes here risk heat stroke to take care of a simple formality?

ALSO… Have clear signage inside the building as to what line to stand in, with clear instructions printed in large type on a sign that everyone can see. Don’t have garbage strewn about inside the building. Have an information desk manned by someone with manners who is fluent in several languages.  Enforce line waiting protocol (boors just cut the line now, and no one says anything about it). Have public bathrooms.  

Forbid taxi drivers parked outside from blocking the entrance to the building.  Have a cheap  or free photo taking booth available.  Ditch this ridiculous system of having to pass security over and over because the photocopying “facility” (it’s a girl in a booth in hijab who speaks no English, and you have to wait in line in the sun, as various officials cut in line while you stand there like an idiot) is OUTSIDE the building.  

Or better yet, have the visa staff make the copies; do not play games with tourists about the number of copies needed, or which pages in the passport need to be copied:  just do it for them, and spare them the hassle, and bake it into the cost of the visa. 

FINALLY… Above all, do not ask tourists about their religion in the application form. IT IS NOT YOUR BUSINESS. This is an outrageous question — what difference does it make what religion — or not (after all, many foreigners are agnostic or atheists) — someone is?  And never, NEVER allow some clerk to hassle a tourist like me with insolent questions about what country or religion his or her parents or grandparents came from.

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Well, that’s it for the unwanted suggestions rant.  I had some time to kill, so I climbed one of the towers behind Abu Tig marina and took some pics. It was not yet 9AM, and already the day was a scorcher. I was pursued by persistent biting flies, and returned drenched with sweat to my flat.

No way am I going to Cairo tomorrow. I’m going to need the whole weekend to recover. When is this bloody heat going to go away? At least I can take my easements in my AC cooled flat  and watch movies like Farid El Atrash in Afreeta Hanem.  What a sexy movie!

The actual trip was somewhat anticlimactic.

I took a tuc-tuc around 11am to the Hurghada bus stop.  Sat in the middle of the bus,  Big difference re bumpiness.  Arrived at the visa place around 12:45.  No one there.  I guess they told everyone to pick up their passports at 1pm.  Mine was sitting there behind the counter, face down.  A clerk gave it to me after I pointed at it.  No sign of the hijabi bitch.

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On the way back I just missed the service bus but took the GO bus which leaves from the same place.  Very hot, no AC, but much better suspension.  Bus was filled with school kids and Egyptians going to work in Gouna. It was a total zoo, with kids hanging out by the open back door (for ventilation) and one had his pass confiscated by the bus driver for that.

When I finally got to Downtown Gouna, I had lunch at Kan Zaman, an authentic Egyptian food restaurant, glassed in, AC, nice linens and silverware, and impeccable service.  I ordered mollokheyia, rice with sha’riya, and bamia.  Delicious!  And it only cost 5 dollars with tip.

My visa ordeal is over.

Next stop, on Tuesday,,,, Cairo!

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Ta’zeeb

 

In a manner of speaking, I‘m being tortured in Egypt by a stern, hijabi woman in the Visa Department. She is not young; but she isn’t old. She is not pretty; but she’s no dog. But she has it in for me. We talked for the second time in a week through a hole in a guichet glass partition, like the one you see in Adel Imam’s immortal Man only Lives Once.

 

She wants me to come to Hurghada to see her again tomorrow, the third time in a week.

 

I think she’s smitten, but I am wrong about many things.

 

Because of this obsessive stranger, I’ve become the Egyptian service worker who must commute daily on one of the two dilapidated buses that run between the two towns.  I know the suffering of my compatriots, now. The daily blue card humiliations, The bleak future facing most: getting older, and still not in control of one’s destiny. I have felt their anguish under the boiling sun. The future is getting bleaker by the tourist, whose quality in Gouna, some say, has degraded since 2011. What’s the use in trying?

 

Today I arrived at the Visa Dept in what is the South Bronx section of Hurghada with my forms all filled out, including the question about my religion. My ingeniously produced “sun pictures” (see previous post) were ready. The 575 LEs to pay for the 6-month extension was in my pocket. The photocopies of my passport too.  Everything was there, but for a local telephone number.  

 

But she took exception to that.

 

— No telephone number?

— No.  I am a tourist.  I do not have a phone in Egypt.

— Then you must see the commandant.

 

This is what happens to Americans today in Egypt.

No respect since Trump.

 

Dressed in a white uniform and sitting on a fake leather couch in a private office, he idly glanced at the form and asked me how my friends in Gouna got in touch with me.

I said they just call the operator and ask to be connected to my apartment number, which I’d listed on the form.

This satisfied the commandant, and he signed off on the No Phone problem.

 

So I went back to Hijabi Hannah and she pondered this for a second, then she said:

 

–What other nationality do you have?

— England.  I was born in England.  My mother is English, but I am American,

— And your father?

— My father?

— Yes. What nationality is he? Back. Back.

 

Now Hannah was being a real you-know-what. But I didn’t take the bait. I was slowly realizing that she was desperate to see me, again, and again, and still again. But I didn’t satisfy her lust to know more about me. I didn’t tell her about the history of Egypt from the time before she was born. I didn’t tell her my father was a patriot who left a bright future in Egypt because of a dictator. Instead, I said he was American, and left it at that,

–Come back tomorrow, she said abruptly. 1 o’clock.

— Can’t it be ready today?

— Commandant for that to explain emergency.

 

So I left the visa building without my American passport and meekly walked back to the bus stop. Good thing I had my EU/UK one with me as backup, or I would have had trouble getting past the checkpoint at the Gouna entrance.

 

To gird myself for the return trip, I bought two loaves of baladi bread fresh out of a large electric oven in a makeshift bakery that was being run out of what looked like a converted garage.  

These were not the small pita pockets of whole wheat bread, that I will only be able to obtain when I get to Cairo, but better than the Gouna supermarket stuff. 

Cost: 50 piastres a loaf (or rehkief, which means a pita pocket of bread), compared to 10LE for 1 small croissant at the Seventh Star in Abu Tig.  

What would the 7th Star Himself think about that, not to mention that a loaf costs a “shillin’’,” i.e, 5 piasters, through ta’mouin, or the Egyptian form of low-income subsidies?

So… I was destined to be with my downtrodden beebles yet another day. I would see. once again, the broken down wind turbines; experience the spine crushing speed bumps; enjoy the rickety bus seats; gaze at the piles of rubbish strewn along in the desert, or the abandoned seaside construction (half-built, to circumvent a land flipping law); and fry in the afternoon sun, as I trudged to the grim Visa Center, yet again, past crumbling buildings and red taxis aggressively pestering.

 

You are torturing me Egypt.

Why are you doing this to me?

This is the sort of thing the great Om Kalthoum used to warble about interminably.

The torture — or azzab, in Arabic, hence the title of this post, which is the indefinite present modality of the root word azb — of unrequited love.

 

Hell hath no fury like a hijabi scorned,

After all, I have never had an Egyptian girlfriend, and perhaps Hannah knew it or sensed it.

Even if they didn’t ask about that on the form.

She just knew it.

And it was driving her crazy.

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