I love having chats with customers at Sunrise Lodge, but there’s one question that I get asked so routinely, the answer now must sound scripted. I’m asked virtually daily how on earth I’ve come to live and work here, and how I find it.
My journey to Egypt actually started in Cape Town in 2005. I had finished university and had travelled to South Africa for my best friend’s wedding, hundreds of miles away in Pietermaritzburg. I stole an opportunity to nick off to the country’s capital and promptly fell in love. Not just with the city, not just with the people and the African soul, but with travel. The office job back home was just not going to cut it anymore; I wanted travel adventures but I had zero cash. Not just zero, but less than that. I was emerging from a student budget into an entry level salary, and believe it or not that equated to less spare cash per month, and absolutely none to be able to save for even a European mini-break.
After whinging and whining to a friend, I was pointed to the jobs section of a travel magazine, and after a sleepless night of job applications, a long train ride out of the city into the country, a successful interview, a notice period and a training week, I was flying out to Egypt to begin my new job as an adventure tour leader. We had a week of “orientation” in Cairo (although anyone who knows Cairo understands why a) I used inverted commas and b) a week barely touches orientation in Cairo…) and a month of training tours, and then we were set free, with only the shackles of 18 tourists and a hectic itinerary ranging between one and three weeks.
The trips took us from the Great Pyramids of Giza to the top of Mt Sinai. We hit the north coast at Alexandria, the oases by the Libyan borders to the west, the southernmost temples within reach of Sudan and the Sinai peninsula, bordering with Israel and Gaza in the east. And we did it over and over again. Getting to know each little bit of Egypt, the people, the food, the culture, the sights, the sounds, the smells, it wasn’t just unforgettable. It was life changing. It embedded itself in my inner being. I tried to leave, and I couldn’t. I left, and I came back.
Six years on I now have a small guesthouse in the Red Sea coastal town of Dahab and a growing travel company called The Curious Camel Company. It’s a bit of an odd reality living here, but I often try to think of somewhere else I would rather be and I fail. Nothing (yet) compares to living in the sunshine at the bottom of the mountains on the edge of the sea, with Egyptians and Bedouins and a unique community of expats.
Another question I’m routinely asked, but not by holidayers but rather by my inner voice is “Why aren’t you bored?” I’ve lived in cities my whole life. I spent my pre-Egypt life going to music concerts almost daily, browsing music shops, getting muddy at festivals, reading, going to the movies, and just wandering around London streets when I had nothing better to do. The main area of Dahab is around the length of my childhood street. There is no cinema. There is no shopping centre. There are no music shops (besides the ones that just sell pirated CDs (mainly Shakirah and Eminem) and DVDs (terrible copies filmed in the cinemas), and there’s only a fairly poor excuse for a bookshop. I’ve never lived anywhere that there are only a handful of choices of bars for an evening drink. I’ve never lived anywhere that I can walk from one end of the town to the other in a matter of minutes. I’ve never lived anywhere that I am guaranteed to see everyone I know most days, whether I want to or not.
This year in Egypt has been especially incredible – I never thought I would witness the excitement of the overthrow of a comfortable dictator and see a country begin to reform itself from the bottom to the top. It has been fascinating to see the turbulence and the changes the country has gone through so far, and the impact that that has had on the rest of the world. Seeing British students protest with signs saying “Walk like an Egyptian” made my heart swell with pride. It’s the journey from here on, into and beyond the first truly democratic elections this country has seen, that makes me glad beyond glad that I have made this my home and feel something of Egypt running through my veins.