Goodbye, Egypt

gouna

The ghosts of Abu Tig marina

Tomorrow is my last full day in the dusty resort town of El Gouna, Egypt, which is on the Red Sea.

By the time I leave on Saturday, I will have spent a total of 6 months and 28 days here. Long time, but soon I will be a ghost, and the few people whom I did meet and befriend will forget about me quick enough. In no time at all, it will be as if I was never here.

I leave knowing that I met some really nice people, and also hooked up for probably one last time with old acquaintances and family.

One old friend in particular was incredibly generous in paying for a service to guide my wife around at Cairo airport when she came to visit in January. I do not forget things like that.

I came here to escape an America that had elected an abomination as President of the United States. With all the insults he and members of his party were hurling at Americans of my ethnicity, I no longer felt safe to live there.

And so I went to Nice, France, for a few weeks, then came here. I ended up staying in an apartment in Abu Tig marina, then 2 different and quite lovely villas. When I arrived, it was really hot, then it got really cold, now the weather is perfect. Along the way, I was adopted by a cat whom my wife named Sandy.

My main objective coming here was to determine if Gouna would be a suitable place to retire on a modest income.  A secondary one was to lose weight:  I had contracted an illness a few years ago, and the medicine I was given to treat it caused my weight to balloon.

I have come to the conclusion that, for a variety of reasons, Gouna is indeed a lovely place to visit, but… unsuitable for any extended period of time.

There are things here that do get under your skin, so to speak:  the mosquitoes, the flies, the noise in certain parts of Gouna, the annoying tuc tucs, the ubiquitous cigarette smoking, the endless construction, unstable internet connectivity, the workmen who regularly intrude on your rental property while chattering on their phones, the various cliques, especially the entitled ones, and the blistering heat.

It can be quite isolating here to be by yourself for a long period of time.

There is very little to do, unless you’re rich, and have a boat that you can take out for spins to the nearby islands; the beaches on the mainland are quite drab.

Of course there are events, such as squash (which I used to play in my teens) tournaments, music (I was actually once in a rock band) festivals, and kite surfing championships.

There is also tennis and diving and snorkeling in what remains of the reef, the inevitable “desert safaris” that you can take in a rented ATV, horse riding, playing golf, and there are also the bar nightclubs where people go to party — but none of these things hold any interest to me whatsoever, as I am not in my 20s or 30s: I have reached an age where I no longer have as much time left to waste on what I consider largely superficial endeavors.

At a certain point I advertised in a local paper the idea of a book club that would take place at the Gouna library.  There was no interest whatsoever. Gouna is not a place where people are particularly interested in culture (except for the film festival); this is not why they are here:  they come here for the reasons that most people go to high-end resort getaways, which do not include joining book clubs.

I am happy to report that I was able to lose quite a bit weight.  When I return to Florida next week, after spending a few days in NYC, I shall continue with my weight loss program, but will begin to focus on strengthening my muscles and doing cardio workouts on my bicycle to increase my stamina.

I have tried to not lose the weight too quickly, as I did not want my skin to start sagging.

gouna

so long, fat clothes

But I have managed to go from size 44″ waistline to a size 36 in 7 months. Not bad. As a result, I am donating to charity some of the clothes I brought with me. I’m also leaving the electric heater I purchased in Gouna, as well as the famous self-supporting mosinet, a pair of sneakers, a belt, and a few other items– none of which I shall ever need again. I like travelling light, especially after I injured my back when I arrived here, from carrying an overstuffed suitcase, and couldn’t sleep right for a month.

When I return to Florida, I hope that the humidity will restore the elasticity of my skin which has completely dried out in this desert climate, causing lines to appear on my face which were not there before.

That aside, I have a very long trip ahead of me on Saturday.  The plane to Cairo leaves at 5:30am so I have to leave this villa at 3:30am to get to the airport by taxi.  My smartphone just died again, so I cannot use it as an alarm, but I was able to add an alarm clock extension to my Chromebook browser, and it works great.

I was supposed to take the 10am flight from Cairo to JFK, but that has now been delayed to 1PM. This means I will getting back to NY in the evening instead of mid afternoon as I had planned. I will also have a six-hour wait at Cairo airport, prior to taking a very long trip across the Atlantic in economy class.

By the way, on Monday, I plan to catch Jon Hamm in Beirut at the Loew’s theatre on 68th and Broadway. It will be a distinct pleasure to be passing through my old neighborhood, in the city I will always love — but it’s too bad the M104 bus doesn’t stop by Grand Central anymore.

One last thing, I have written quite frequently in this blog since my arrival, but this is the final post I shall be writing while in Egypt.

I have tried to scrupulously record my daily experiences. I ended up writing quite an astonishing amount of material (for me), which I hope to be able to transform into a work of fiction that deals more directly with some of the things I have observed or imagined but not written about in this blog.

All in all, coming to Gouna for an extended period was a worthwhile experience. Inevitably there were a few disappointments along the way, but I am glad to be returning to my home country — despite the absolute chaos in America right now — after such a long sojourn, and once again be with wife and family.

Goodbye, Egypt:  I wish you all the best.

leaving america

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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.

leaving america