Tacitus in Gouna


Five days left in El Gouna — Egypt’s version of the Costa Smeralda, minus the white sand — then I leave. Plenty of time to enjoy the gorgeous weather, swim in the lagoon you see in the pic above, and watch Real Madrid play their two matches this week.

There isn’t going to be another Sunday for me in Egypt for a long time; maybe never.

Last night Abu Tig marina was packed with the entitled children of the rapacious plebes who wrenched Egypt from the hands of its old aristocracy and became the new moneyed class.

The girls, especially, were going all out, some in skimpy outfits and bare thighs, some in in more conservative dress, some alone, some with their boyfriends of the moment.

Many had expensive smartphones (the S9 and S9+ is being marketed in a booth by the water in Abu Tig marina) in hand, and they stared ahead, as if in another world,  as they floated by, speaking in what I have repeatedly described as AUC English, that odd mixture of American slang and malapropisms, all inflected with a heavy Egyptian accent, that passes for nouveau riche sophistication.

“But inta where?”

“I have been chillin’ for hours fil hitta di.”

“Okay I will meet you at there.”

This is what they want, to meet, to be seen, to dress provocatively, to show they are part of the gilded tribal elite in Gouna, with Daddy’s new but dusty beemer parked in the lot behind the marina.

Daddy’s car is parked here

The privileged young men with the man buns and muscled up chests watch them, deciding, which one, while other young men, some equally handsome but poor, waiters who toil at places like Bartenders, watch them also, but discreetly, for they know these gazelles are off-limits, that this is the honey pot they can never touch, because they didn’t happen to also have a rich daddy.

Some older foreign women, sitting with their rent boy boyfriends in tow, drink glasses of Egyptian white wine at the burger joints and trattorias in the marina.

Everybody is watching everybody else and the CCTV cameras and security people are watching them all.

Soon, the searchlights go up, crisscrossing the sky as if there is a war going on, and the planes are coming to rain hellfire.

Everyone is excited at being there on Easter weekend.  Dark skinned Egyptian fathers — how swarthy Egypt has become since the Turko-Egyptian aristocracy faded away! —  sit at double and triple joined tables at 7th Star, all of them smoking, barking into their smartphones with the kind of guttural Arabic that betrays their baladi (or bee’a, another word for low-class) origins, now washed and rinsed with the new money they made in Cairo or London or who knows where.

Amusingly, one pack of cigarettes on the table is not enough for these outwardly confident pseudo bashas; two elba’s (boxes of smokes) are stacked by the ashtray, and the phone always sha-ghall (slang for being worked), as they talk loudly on their sexy nexys, even as the wife sits there like a mummy, and they are attended to by servile waiters, all to show they are in fact The Big Swinging Dicks of El Gouna.

Amidst all this sits a lone, middle-aged German professor.  He does not care about any of this.  He knows some of the history behind it, but he is not here for that.  He is here to be in the bubble that is El Gouna, far away from the reality of his own problems.  He is booked for a week in a nice room at the Steigenberger, but he comes to the marina to get away from what he calls “all those fucking middle-aged Germans” to have a drink at places that he thinks (mistakenly) serve authentic Absolut in their Bloody Marys.

He coughs repeatedly, for he, too, smokes incessantly.

From time to time, he thinks about the University students he teaches.  He is an educated man. He has written and defended a PhD thesis on the German parliament during WW1. He is a full professor, now, with health insurance, retirement plans, and a well paying career.

He texts his young girlfriend who is in Germany.  She is not Gerrman.  She is twenty years younger, and has the allure of Middle Eastern duskiness.  He has bought her a present; a couple of beaded bracelets that he overpaid for in Dowtown Gouna.

I sit with him for a few minutes, as I have met him twice before in the marina.

We talk about things: Toni Kroos, at first, then more serious subjects.

He tells me that many of his students are Syrian refugees.  They are dirt poor, and get an allowance of 300 euros a month from the German government.  They live in refugee barracks or camps.  They have to take German language instruction, but have trouble with it, and it is difficult for them to follow the professor in the classroom.

Before coming to Gouna, the professor was teaching them about Tacitus.  Now I think there is much about the life and times and writings of Tacitus that is relevant to the plight of Syrian refugees, but the professor does not seem to have found a way to engage them in the subject.

Perhaps it’s because of the nerve gas, or the decimation of their families, and the horrifying experience of being a civil war refugee. Of what interest is Tacitus to them?

The professor mentions the van attack that took place in Muenster a few hours before, and then he confesses that he gives passing grades to the Syrians, even though their work is far inferior to that of the German students in his class.

Is it not fair to my Germans students, but what can I do?  They are refugees.  Without a diploma, how will they survive, but at any rate, when I go back, I shall be teaching them about the Crusades, and that is a subject they will no doubt find more interesting than Tacitus, he says.

I look around me at the elite airheads sashaying around Abut Tig marina, not one of whom is likely to have heard of Tacitus or ever thought about what can be learned from the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.

But maybe there will be a Syrian student who will, and one day grow up to write with Tacitus-like rhetorical eloquence and insight into what is going on in the Middle East today.

Then again, maybe not.

Maybe as first generation Syrian immigrants, all they can hope for is to be taxi drivers and manual laborers, as Aleppo and Damascus go up in flames, and the girls of Abu Tig marina flaunt their privileged bodies in what is their little playground where breaking the norms is not only possible but part of the draw.

leaving america