Sunday, October 28, 2012

Away from the daily routine

Cultural live in Hurghada is a bit dreary. There are lots of bars, cafes, restaurants, night clubs, beach clubs and discos.

That’s not enough for more ambitious minds. There is no theatre, no classical music, no ambitious cinema, no reading and so on.

Yet now are feast days (Eid el Adha) and there are exceptions.

El Gouna
I was in the Marina in El Gouna, where live bands play music, comedians cause you laughing and artists thrill with their skills. In El Gouna, the crème of the Egyptian’s society romps about (tourists from all over the world as well, of course) and it did me extremely good to see neat, civilised, well-dressed people. I couldn’t get off my eyes from an elderly man with huge old-fashioned glasses and a horrible hairpiece. Where have I seen him before? When a young man had a photo taken shaking hands with the elderly man, I asked my colleague, who this was. Moufid Fawzy, a TV presenter, interviewer and journalist, who had his own TV show that was critical towards the old regime. And this here, pointing to an elegant gentleman, is a famous Egyptian actor… I smiled and somehow felt good and cosy, a bit like at the Côte d’Azur in summer. The smart yachts some meters behind us and an immaculate starlit sky intensified this feeling.

Sahl Hasheesh
This is another wonderful place outside of Hurghada, where I’ve recently been to a festival. The exceptional thing there is the setting: the event takes place in a captivating oriental building with water gardens, sea view and an astonishing starlit sky.

Mohamed Mounir live
Was it the most beautiful experience? Yesterday, Mohamed Mounir - the “king”, as Egyptians call him – gave a concert in Makadi Bay, about 25 km outside of Hurghada. When I got to know it, I wanted to attend by all means; I love Mohamed Mounir’s voice. He has a special status with Egyptians: he is aware of his responsibility as a famous and popular star and his songs deal with all the present problems, call for temperance, patience and solidarity. His music neatly combines traditional Egyptian instruments and rhythms with Jazz, Reggae and African rhythms. In addition to that comes his strange voice singing in Arabic and Nubian.

I went with low expectations and was all the more surprised: there was security; there were ambulances, a fire engine, chemical toilets and food booths. The parking ushers made big efforts and most of the cars were parked correctly. The stage décor, light- and stage-show and cameras were as it is supposed to be at big concerts. Remarkable? Somehow yes, since I’ve seen only little quality in Hurghada up to now.

Again, the setting was exceptional: a huge sandy place, lightly sloping towards the stage, outside a holiday resort a bit uphill, starlit sky, an almost full bright moon and a cool breeze.
Yes, it was the most beautiful experience I’ve had since I settled down in this country three and a half years ago: for two hours I forgot daily life and enjoyed the music, fireworks and the peaceful ambiance…

And shortly before the end of the concert we quickly went to the car to avoid the upcoming traffic jam.

Albeit, I stayed away of the crowd and that was good; as I got to know today, unfortunately, there were again harassments.

El Gouna, Sahl Hasheesh and Makadi Bay have lots in common: they are groomed, expensive and far away from Hurghada – being without car. I was invited by friends and colleagues and I joyfully accepted.

Away from daily life – it did me extremely good and I’m still dreaming…

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Cool Man

As I do so frequently, I’m standing at the roadside, waiting for a microbus. As usual, a taxi stops although I haven’t given any sign. I let the driver understand, that I don’t want to take a taxi.

But hej, what’s that… there’s great music resounding from the car! No Qur’an recitation, no Arabic pop music... it’s: Gipsy Kings and Reggae. I smile and tell him, that his music is great.

I should come in only because of the music; he is on his way home anyway, it’s the end of his shift. No, I don’t want to and give him the sign for: no money. He insits, but I refuse.

Soon later, I get on one of my beloved microbuses, get off in the banking district, settle my business and 15 minutes later, I’m standing once more, as I do so frequently, at the roadside… waiting for a microbus.

Yet, who stops again in front of me? The same taxi driver with the same cool music! He is smiling and says that this is destiny. I agree and get on the taxi. We have a nice chat about music and Hurghada’s taxi-mafia and lough a lot. Reda speaks English rather well, his grey hair is done in a ponytail and on top of it he wears a baseball cap. Before I get out at the Marina, I take his telephone number for the next time. This time, my ride was for free.

This also is Hurghada!

Saturday, October 13, 2012

On the road to El Quesir

The sun is rising from the sea, the air is still fresh and streets are empty. We are cycling… out of Hurghada, up to the checkpoint and passing by the well-known junctions: Makadi, Soma Bay, and Safaga.

Since I’ve never been to Safaga, we drive through the long-drawn-out village and what belongs to it. Our saddle has become a cinema chair to watch the scenery: vegetable stalls and shops, in front of which men dressed in kaftans stand, walk, read the newspaper and women dressed in black balancing their shopping on their head, alternate with typical local coffee shops, run down schools and buildings. Garbage is everywhere and I remember Egyptians being excited about how clean Hurghada was. Europeans judge differently though.

We continue cycling. The streets lead us up and down across the foothills of the Red Sea Mountains. Its usually golden-yellow colour has changed into a grey-black since we let Safaga behind us. Like a dark grey stripe, the asphalt strap lays unrolled in front of us for many kilometres and gets lost somewhere in the shimmery horizon. The ascents offer us variations and motivation: after having reached the peak with the tail wind, we pedal even stronger and plummet down eagerly in order to cross the next well in a dash and to climb the next ascent with less effort. The street is ours alone since we left Safaga.
“Isn’t it a bit dangerous?” was a justified question by friends whom I told about our plan. No, it isn’t because a) I don’t go alone, b) we leave early in the morning and c) we have an escort vehicle.

Emad, our driver, goes along with us in a caring way: he stops at open spots, supplies us with cold water, takes pictures and unmistakably enjoys the air condition and the high-quality Hi-Fi of my cycling mate’s car.

Still cycling. The grey-black mountains have withdrawn; the well-known golden-yellow colour dominates. The scenery is monotonous: no hills, only gentle elevations. It is very hot and although I keep on drinking water, I never have to relief myself (which was not a good indication as I had to learn three weeks later). I eat an apple, some date biscuits, some nuts. I can’t eat a lot whereas my mate is continuously busy with eating.

The air is glistening in the heat. I can’t stop looking around, I take in the view of this strange, captivating scenery, which it still is for me although having lived here for more than three years. My eyes wander towards the sparkling sea and I discover… cyclists?... people on two wheels?... mountain bikes?... I fear having a hallucination or seeing a fata morgana. I call attention to Michael and yes, he sees them as well, they are real. We stop, shout and wave. They come towards us: mountain bikers from a hotel nearby biking with their guide. We are far more excited about seeing other bikers than they are. We don’t meet like-minded people as easily but contrarily are rather exotic in and around Hurghada.

A short while later, the road merges into one lane only and the asphalt strap follows close to the sea and the fine sandy beach. Now and there people enjoy themselves with a bath in the sea. We continue cycling towards our destination and come closer to a transhipment point for phosphate. A huge phosphate cloud cloaks us. A cargo vessel is being loaded with phosphate and lorries loaded with the precious dust start their journey to Cairo. I imagine the conditions under which the workers do their labour here and that sooner or later, they all end up with a black lung.


It’s getting hotter, sweat and dust sticks on the face, on arms and legs. We continue cycling silently, every one of us being busy with his/her thoughts, impressions and sufferings. A short exchange of words cheers us up. Mountains and hills become more varied and I feel again this longing for mountain biking in the Red Sea Mountains one day in the future.

We pass by the mining company which means: 15 km to go till El Quesir! I send a sms to the General Manager of the Hotel Mövenpick to announce our arrival. Shortly afterwards, we arrive at the hotel entrance and let Emad take another picture from us.  Tired but proud and full of joy we stow away our bicycles and after a shower, mingle unobtrusively with the hotel guests. Moving between shower, beach, bathing, eating and swimming pool is almost a bit tiring - we want to enjoy the beautiful hotel facility ;). Thank you Mr. Mehdy.
At dusk, we get on the car and go home with plenty of exhilarating impressions and heavy legs, with above us a beautiful desert sky full of stars.

It is thanks to Michael that I could undertake this journey. At present, this trip is not recommendable for a single woman, yet together, further trips are possible. For me, this signifies a new quality of life.

Key data: 130km, 4 hours cycling, tons of water

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Satire, critics or provocation?

A bit late, but here is the translation of my blog of 14 September 2012.

Once again, the Islamic world is upset about so-called critics against Prophet Mohamed. I’d rather reject the whole play as ridiculous, were there not casualties to be deplored and serious manifestations against Western institutions to be expected.

The video that is pretended to be the trigger for the protests is primitive, stupid and ridiculous. I watched for a couple of minutes but then stopped because I didn’t want to spend my time with so much goofiness. Meanwhile, YouTube has blocked it in Egypt; it cannot be watched here anymore.

It is disgusting. How can Egypt’s government (!) call for protests? The Muslim Brothers did so (for me, they are identic with the government); however, they withdrew the call for protests… yet too late, the damage has already been done. The expression of sympathy by the Prime Minister of the most populous Arabic country and strategic partner of the USA about the death of the American Ambassador in Libya followed only two days later. Stupidity or strategy?

The video in question was neither satire nor critics, but directed to provoke. Of course, the Islamists responded as if they had been waiting for it. Or not? Strangely enough, it started on the 11 September. It’s a game: one is lying in wait for his “enemy”, calls him names, the other one reacts disproportionally to get his revenge. And the game goes from pillar to post until there is blood instead of words.

And people do not realise that they are being manipulated by their “religious leaders”. They are not able to conceive it, because it’s always the huge mass of poor and illiterate that goes to the streets to protest. Mingle a few thugs whose job it is to throw stones and Molotov cocktails, to burn flags, to storm foreign premises and to use violence against “infidels”. Some do everything for a handful of banknotes, others for an afterlife in paradise. Somebody told me recently: “The prospect, to have plenty of food and ten virgins in paradise, is convincing enough for a suicide bomber. He doesn’t have anything to loose on earth but everything to win in afterlife.

As long as the majority of the Arab population has no access to decent education and has to live in poverty, as long this incited hate will never come to an end and there will never be peace among different religions. Among this class of population, religion is far too mighty and people comply with it blindly. Those on the top and those who are responsible, make use of this for their own profit. Religion equals power – nothing else.

From this point of view, Egypt has reached the Middle Age (at the point, where Europe and the Catholic Church were). “The Muslim Brothers are first and foremost businessmen” replied my interlocutor. I agree. Some days ago, the Washington Institute published a “Who is Who” among the Muslim Brothers on their website. A quick look proves: they are all top qualified cadre, most of them having studied in the USA (what irony), hold a chair at a University or are successful businessmen. They are well cross-linked amongst each other, often additionally by marriage. Business and power. They hide behind the curtain of religion; and nobody sees it. Almost.
This won’t change soon in the Arab countries. It needs more than to topple one or two dictators. A provocative cartoon, a ridiculous video, a critical book… they are enough to set the Arab world on fire and to disbalance the political stability between West and Orient.