DAHAB, Egypt – 19 June 2018: There comes a time in one’s life when the path ahead gets blurry, especially if your age ranges from late twenties to early thirties; it feels as if you’re stranded; you don’t remember where you are coming from and you kind of lost track of where you’re going.
Questions like “Am I leading life or is life leading me?”spin over and over in my mind as similar days go by, like a handful of dust in an oblivion’s hand.
With this question in mind, and in a modest attempt to protest time’s autocracy, I travelled to Dahab, in South Sinai with the sole purpose of finding a getaway far from the hustle and chaos of everyday Cairo. My friend Yasmeen and I took the bus after midnight from Abdel Monem Ryad square as we braced ourselves for a long road trip - due to security checks on the way. Yes, the trip was long, but I kind of enjoyed the road listening to Um Kolthoum’s “Hazehi Leilaty” (This is My Night) and since I couldn’t recall the last time I’ve seen the sunrise, the morning’s breeze was refreshing as sunrays gained strength bit by bit turning our quiet ambiance into gold.
“This is promising!” I said smiling to Yasmeen.
After a 12-hour trip, we finally arrived. Being greeted by the bluest sea you could set eyes on dissipated all sense of exhaustion; we even embarked on our program immediately, and instead of sleeping, we took a stride in the gangway or “Elmamsha”, where we enjoyed a peaceful walk by the sea, and a soothing sunset.
A beach in Dabab - Photo provided by Rabab Fathy
This is my night, the one that stood between a forgone past and a future that has not begun; this is the dream of my life.
Love has become you; wishes are you.
So with passion, pour into my glass.
For soon love will change its home and our nest, his birds shall forsake.
And a place which was once home will see us as we see it now: a wasteland
A cafe in Dahab - Photo provided by Rabab Fathy
Listening to Um Kolthoum on my mobile, we continued walking between restaurants and colorful wooden two-storey cafes which are designed to resonate the past while directly overlooking the sea: people could’ve just taken a swim jumping from there.
Cafes overlooking the sea - Photo provided by Rabab Fathy
The first night there quickly passed.
The next morning, Shaaban - the driver assigned by the tourism company that booked our trip - was waiting for us.
Yameen Elshabeeny, Shabaan the driver and Rabab Fathy - Photo provided by Rabab Fathy
“Fahlawi”, or “shrewd” was my first impression about him the day before, he is a know- it-all kind of guy. To save time, effort and probably petrol, he combined two other clients with us in the car yesterday; they were staying in a nearby hotel. And today, probably to save time, effort and petrol again, he gathered the four of us once again – later we would thank him for this – and drove us the Blue Hole diving site.
The Blue Hole
Dahab is very famous for this place despite being notorious for many divers losing their lives trying to discover its secrets. On the site, there is an honorable wall that carries the names of the late divers.
Since Yasmeen is not much of a swimmer and since it was my first time in the Red Sea, I preferred trying snorkeling over diving. It was also my first time to snorkel so it was a bit of a struggle at the beginning, I could not breathe, I almost felt like drowning at one point but I was far too determined to give up. Firmly I put on the mask and snorkel again and dipped my head in the water.
A whole new world opened in front of my eyes, I felt like I was in a three dimension colorful underwater garden, full of bright and yet again colorful reefs and sea creatures which were going on with their lives undisturbed by the few curious swimmers. A school of blue fish welcomed me by swimming right next to my face, I immediately raised my head laughing out of fear of them touching me and then sunk again.
I started breathing through the snorkel, and I was forced to organize my breathing. Listening to my deep breath; in and out, in and out, , peace and serenity found their ways to my heart. And then, all of a sudden, I heard nothing. It was absolute silence. I let go. I let go of all control over my body, arms and legs stretched, I let the water stir me in the direction it preferred. If someone was watching me from above, they probably would have thought I was dead.
“Hello there dear” I heard a faint voice within me saying before it disappeared again.
In the deep silence of the blue, I have found traces of my old self, the one I’m looking for but can’t seem to find. I think I’ve lost it – I presume like many of you – along the way, with every goodbye, heartbreak, betrayal and loss ..
I got out of water with a deep sense of gratitude.
A while later, the four of us – Yasmeen, myself and the two clients - were taken by boat to Abo Galum and then by a car to the Blue Lagoon Beach. Both are must see attractions in Dahab for snorkeling and swimming.
Our day had come to an end, but our night was still young. We decided to experience a cultural Bedouin night in Twailat
The sky was filled with so many stars that I couldn’t help but keep looking upward. A guy with a telescope named Ahmed explained to us the movement of the stars, the difference between planets and stars, and how Jupiter for example doesn’t twinkle unlike stars. He pointed to different constellations in the sky, opening yet a whole new world in front of my eyes.
Shabaan had a little time before he went to the next client, so he started chatting with us about his life. Bedouin songs played while he talked about “elrezq” or breadwinning and how he believes what goes around comes around, and how he, the uneducated, made sure his siblings got a good education in the belief that helping them will eventually bring onto him God’s blessings, even though he is not as pious as he wants to be.
“So he is a fahlawy but “ibn bald” (a gentleman) with a good heart,” I thought to myself trying to remember the last time I was engaged in a conversation like that. That was me many moons ago, a good listener.
Yet again I found another trail to my old self. There under the stars.
Before leaving, I took a walk up the mountain to stargaze – yes you read it right, I’m one of those dreamy people – and I played “Hazehi Leilaty” once again:
Life shall seek us for amusement and then of us would make fun.
Another night went by, and on the next morning, Shabaan was waiting for us in front of our hotel. Guess what! In order to save time, effort and petrol , he gathered us once again with two clients, who turned out to be two nice gentlemen in their mid twenties. Ahmed Nagi and Mohamed Shabaan came all the way from Cairo to get away from the hectic daily life. Just like us.
The two are friends since kindergarten, a fact they were very proud of and a fact that warmed both Yasmeen’s heart and mine. It always feels nice to meet people who are able to take care of one another and share the same passion about making a relationship work. Masha’allah!
Off we went to the three pools, another great place for snorkeling, but instead Yasmeen and I decided to take a beach buggy ride to Wadi Gnai, a little oasis in Dahab. It was my first time riding a beach buggy, and I confess I was a bit afraid especially after losing control at the beginning.
Rabab and Yasmeen on beach buggies in Dahab - Photo provided by Rabab Fathy
But a 9-year-old boy named Talal rode with me, and there was something about him. Despite being really young, he was kind, a kindness extenuated by his youthful ignorance. Young as he is, he took care of me, old as I am: he wanted to make sure I had a good time.
Rabab Fathy with Talal - Photo provided by Rabab Fathy
We sang together as we drove next to huge overlapped yellow, green and brown mountains:
Life shall seek us for amusement and then of us would make fun, so come let me love you a little bit more now.
Then Yasmeen fell from her vehicle.
For a moment, my heart skipped a beat, but thank God, she was able to move her body quickly and got out with minor injuries. It was a good laugh afterwards.
“Sou’ ‘ala mahlak, terouh l’ahlak.” “Drive slowly to return to your family,” Talal said after continuing our ride. Indeed, the fast pace of life makes us forget where we ultimately want to go, safe and sound.
“I’m touched.” I heard a steady voice within me say. It was the voice of my old self again, as it was gaining the confidence to pop up amidst the stillness.
We reached our destination in Wadi Gnai. The place felt like a dream. It was desert, mountains and green palm trees. We were told that each of these trees belong to the forefathers of the Bedouin tribes that still live there and carry their names, reflecting pride in their roots and long family line.
Serene nature of Wadi Gnai - Photo provided by Rabab Fathy
“The world forgetting, by the world forgot.” The words of Alexander Pope orbited in my head as I stood there mesmerized by the beauty of my calm surrounding.
Wadi Gnai in Dahab - Photo provided by Rabab Fathy
We went back to the three pools where we were united with Nagy and Shabaan who spent their day in the sea. We chatted about our lives and what we do. Despite the age difference, us in our early thirties, them mid twenties, we reached out.
A beach in Dahab - Photo provided by Rabab Fathy
And I guess we did so partly because Dahab is a very good destination for the like-minded. People whom you don’t need to explain things to, you sort of get along with even if you’re strangers who happen to be out of all the places on earth in the same exact place and time. And so we did.
Our journey was coming to an end. We bid Nagy and Shabaan farewell as they left one day ahead, promising to keep in touch to capitalize on the coincidental path crossing.
Like the habit of good times, our trip ended soon, too soon to find an answer for my question, and although I can’t promise you would either, I did find something far more important: I’ve met myself, the self life has managed to distance me from, and I’ve found the path that I shall follow.