Middle East Enders – Part 2 – Life amongst the Bedouins

Part 2 of expat-life in Dahab, Egypt. Life here can be anything from weird to frustrating to amazingly beautiful – but one thing is for sure: it is totally unpredictable and full of surprizes all the time.

In Dahab I live amongst the ram-shackle houses of the Bedouin community. It is fun and interesting getting to know my Bedouin neighbours and how they live. Here are a few snippets from my experiences here:

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DR JULIE: Whenever any of my neighbours get sick, the first port of call is Dr Julie. I am the unofficial GP here as I have a small bag of first aid supplies, (which makes me cheaper than a trip to the pharmacy). Mostly I get asked for painkillers, but I get asked advice for any manner of things too. If I dont know the answer, i’ll look it up on the internet or tell them to go to the doctor. The Bedouin women seem like going to the doctor. If it is “bad enough” they even go to Cairo to see a doctor. I secretly think it’s because it is a special outing for them away from the confines of the small community they are allowed to move in. I suspect most of their ailments are psychosomatic. Besides, the shopping is better in Cairo.

WEATHER GODDESS: I am not only the  unofficial“doctor” but also the unofficial weather guru in my neighbourhood – because I have access to “almighty intelligence” – the Internet! If there is ever a big black cloud looming anywhere around Dahab, this is always cause for unrest amongst the Bedouins. The Sinai is in a constant state of drought, although there are some water sources, the entire place is desert, inhabited only by a few hardy herbs, palms and acacia trees. So you would think the rain would be welcome. Well! Because the sun shines most of the 365 days of the year, when there is a downpour in Dahab, all hell breaks lose. This is because most of the Bedouin houses here are not watertight and have huge holes in their roofs so they all get flooded out. What should be a joyous time is often chaos. So, if those thick, black fluffy cumulus nimbus clouds make their way over the mountains to Dahab, and I should I step out onto my balcony to assess the situation, any Bedouins passing by stop in their tracks and ask me anxiously

“fi matar?” (is rain coming?). 

Having looked on the internet I make my reply:“Aiwa” (yes)

“Imta?” (when?) 

  “Sa’a talata inshallah” (3 o’clock, if it be Gods will).  Satisfied they scurry home to stretch sheets of plastic across their roofs.

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THE LOCAL KIDS: You have to get on the good side of the gang of little Bedouin kids round here or they can make your life hell. They learn impolite English phrases off each other like “gimme one pound” “gimme this” (pointing to things in your bag of groceries). Sometimes I get locked out of my apartment building because there is no key to the front gate. I have to carry a knife to jab in the door and push the lock open. If I don’t have a knife with me, I pay any of the kids .50 piastres to climb over the fence and open it. Since I am a potential source of income now, all the Bedouin kids “like” me and are keen to be on my good side. When they see me coming there is always a scramble to be the first to climb the fence. It’s getting very competitive and might get out of hand one day. Until then I will enjoy my status.

The Bedouin kids play on the street all day, and I mean ALL day, from 6.30am onwards you can find them screaming at each other outside. Forget sleeping in. They get dirty pretty quick in this dusty environment, they choose not to wear shoes and look like little ragamuffins. From the age of about 2-3 yrs they are allowed to play outside on the street, with the bigger ones supposedly looking after the little ones. All this freedom means they wild little beasties.

Zeinab is one of my little buddies. She is 5 years old and very cute and sees it as a special treat to be able to go into the “white woman’s” house and have something to eat or drink. When she has finished she always puts her plate/cup back and cleans her hands. Very impressive manners. If I am not looking she will grab my toothbrush and do her teeth too.  The other kids also want the privilege of coming into my house and have been very nice to me lately. However now Zeinab has started taking liberties in my flat. She opens the fridge and helps herself. This has to be stopped before the other kids find out and I have an invasion on my hands. She also comes by every day and knocks at the door wanting in (obviously to do a raid on the fridge). A raid on the fridge is usually followed by domination of the tv remote control. She now gets mad with me if I don’t let her in the house because I am busy. I think I have created a monster.

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Majid is a boy that lives next door to me, about 11 years old. I often catch him and other boys torturing the street dogs and cats that live around here. At one time there was a dog living in front of my house with 8 puppies and I caught Majid terrorizing them everyday, and every day I would have to tell him off. I don’t know why the kids here do this, but a lot of them seem to enjoy it as an evil past time.

Recently I saw Majid nailing together some old boards on the flat roof of his house. He seemed to be making a hut or “boys hideout”. Wanting to encourage him to do constructive things, I told him he was doing a good job and the hut looked great. Then he told me it was for keeping pigeons in. OK. Not uncommon round here. But wait for it: then he asked me if my cat liked to eat pigeons, because he would lock my cat in there with the pigeons for me! Gobsmacked. Once a little monkey, always a little monkey! A day later his destructive nature took over and he tore the hut down.

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One day the little girls collected some rubbish (and there is a LOT) that was laying around the streets – shampoo bottles, broken plates, cups, tins etc…and built an amazing “recycled kitchen”, complete with sand cakes!   I was so impressed. Check it out:

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They also had “concrete dolls” – bits of concrete wrapped in blankets…

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…oh, and we can’t forget the laptop…

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Didn’t I say life was full of surprizes here? The story will continue…

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