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.

 

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.

 

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.

 

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.

 

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 the day.

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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.

leaving america

Tarawa

 

 

I woke up around 5am today (despite a lot of noise from the Captain’s Inn, see gallery), and went outside to look at the sunrise. A cool breeze, or tarawa in Arabic, was blowing in from the sea.

 

I passed a boat flying the Stars and Stripes along the way; a reminder of where I don’t want to be, despite missing my wife like hell.

 

My mission today was to use some ingenuity to get the pic needed for my visa extension form. There is no photo service in Gouna. In Egypt, there is an expression that goes: itsarraf, which means deal with it and come up with a creative solution.

 

First I tried the yellow submarine, but they couldn’t help.

 

So I went to a place called Alam, which means pen. The place sells writing materials and performs photocopying services.

 

Though not a photo service store per se, the guy there today saved the day.  He took a pic of me on his smartphone, then printed 3 rows of 3 different sizes (which conform to the various Egyptian passport and visa official dimensions) on a sheet of photographic paper, which he then cropped to produce 3 sets of pics.

 

That did it! Cost? 35 LE, or about 2 dollars.

 

So now I can go to Hurghada again tomorrow with my form (which I have filled out), 2 photocopies of my passport, and my soora shakhseya (ID pic), or soora shamseyya (sun picture, both mean the same thing in Arabic).

 

I wrote down on my form that I wanted a 6-month visa extension; not sure if they allow that, but you won’t get it if you don’t ask for it.

 

Meanwhile I may have found the perfect new digs:  beautiful flat, top floor, in Abu Tig marina also, but hidden behind the buildings that face the sea. It’s a half the price of the villa on West Golf, and is exactly what I had in mind when I came here: a Buck Mulligan writer’s garret, with an unimpeded view of the sea, and dirt cheap to rent.

 

I get access to a private entrance to a rooftop terrace, which has grand views of the Red Sea and the mountains in the back. I also get deck chairs, a shaded pergola for reading, and a BBQ for cookouts. The place itself has a spacious bedroom, all the modern conveniences, a real shower (with a glass door), living room, and kitchen.

 

The supermarket is conveniently located around  the corner. The new digs are also two steps and a jump away from the Seventh Star, where I can nip down to pick up 2 freshly made croissants every morning to have with my breakfast.  At 20LE (~ $1 US), that is a bargain.

 

Tomorrow, I have to take the dreaded bus back to Hurghada (my poor back dreads it), and get the visa extension ordeal out of the way.  I probably have to go again on Wednesday to pick up the passport, and on Thursday I am going to Cairo, where I have a bunch of things to do.

 

And at 9am next Monday, I shall be back in Gouna and will view the flat. If it all works out, I should be moved in by mid next month.

 

I’m an early riser.

 

Who knows?

 

This may actually happen.

leaving america