Red Sea

Immigration and complicated relationships with “home”

I don’t think anyone who hasn’t been in the same position realizes just how much people give img_2541up to immigrate to another country. Sometimes, perhaps always, even immigrants take years before they realize how much they’ve given up.

People immigrate for so many different reasons. Some immigrate for a better education for themselves or for their children. Others immigrate for economic reasons. Others leave their countries as a result of political conflict, insecurity or war. Yet others may just need a new beginning.

Whatever the reason, I’m willing to guess there’s a certain amount of trauma involved in uprooting oneself to try to settle down somewhere that could be significantly different from what one has known.

I know I have been traumatized by the circumstances in Egypt post-revolution and by my decision to leave and try to settle in the UK.

It’s now been five years since I’ve started going back and forth between the two countries and two-and-a-half since I officially started settling in the UK. Only a few weeks ago my husband said something about one day settling down in Egypt again. My response was visceral: “I never ever ever want to live in that country again.”

After spending last month in Egypt, I think my relationship with my country may slowly be on the mend. (more…)

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Hammerheads!

There’s a certain high involved for us city dwellers in seeing wildlife in their natural habitats. It is addictive. Once you’ve achieved your first high, you keep going back for it again and again.

The ten-hour bus trip from Cairo to Marsa Alam, a ridiculously small town on the Red Sea in the deep south of Egypt, was

Dive boats moored at Daedalus Reef in the southern Red Sea.

Dive boats moored at Daedalus Reef in the southern Red Sea.

boring, but it passed. I managed a couple of hours of restless sleep and then slept for an additional three hours on the boat when we arrived.

Day 1 of diving at the dive site of Shaab Marsa Alam the following morning was uneventful and not very interesting. It was a necessary day, though, of check diving. We needed to make sure our gear was in order for the more adventurous diving we were to undertake the following two days. (more…)

Egypt’s Tourism is Under Threat

Egypt is one of the most beautiful countries in the world. I don’t say that because I’m Egyptian. I say that with the eye of a person who has traveled the world far and wide and has seen what the world – and Egypt – has to offer.

Northern Sinai

Put Cairo aside for a bit. The minute you step outside of Cairo, our country’s beautiful landscape will put you into a trance. If you travel up north, you’ll ride through our lusciously green Delta region, with the countless Nile tributaries feeding farmland as far as the eye can see. Travel further north, and you’ll reach the Mediterranean Sea and its quaint towns scattered along it. Alexandria is a jewel. It comes with centuries-worth of history and shines with its typical Mediterranean culture.

Travel south from Cairo along the Nile Valley and you’ll pass through rural southern towns known for their hospitality, strong accents, and great food. The further south you go, the bluer and the clearer the Nile waters get. Travel even further south and you will be stunned by 4000 years-worth of history and some of the most important antiquities mankind has to provide.

Travel west and you will venture into the Western Desert, with its never-ending sand dunes and scattered oases. And travel east and you will travel through the Eastern Desert to reach the Red Sea, with some of the best dive sites in the whole world.

And then there’s Cairo. Egyptians call it Masr – or simply Egypt – because it is everything that Egypt represents from history, to culture, to a gathering place of people and cultures, to chaos, to beauty and grandeur, to ugliness and pettiness.

Al-Azhar University in Old Cairo

Egyptians say that Egypt is the Mother of the World – umm addunya – and we truly believe it is. Egyptians also say that if you drink from the Nile River once, you will return to it. And definitely for most Egyptians, that’s true. Our attachment to our country is very strong no matter how strongly we criticize it. And most Egyptians who leave the country do eventually return, if even to be buried in its belly.

As a country, we have so much to offer to tourists. As a people, we’ve failed tourists miserably. (more…)

Travelblog: Mother and Sons Diving Team

I’m a proud, proud mother. If motherhood pride had a smell, you could make a perfume of it and name it Mama Nadia.

Mama and her two boys

Today, my 10-year old and 12-year-old sons got their open water PADI certification. This means they are licensed to dive in waters as deep as 15 meters until they are 15. After that, their little bodies will have grown enough to be able to handle deeper waters.

We spent the Easter holiday in training in Hurghada in the Red Sea. The boys turned out to be absolute naturals at diving (in their mother’s totally unbiased eyes anyways).

(more…)

Nadia the Flying Fish

Photo credit: Tarek Awad

For as long as I can remember, I’ve had that flying dream some of us get when we’re sleeping. In these dreams I’m able to will myself off the ground while in the upright position, levitate, and fly wherever I want. I’ve had this dream for so long that I’m almost convinced I should at least be able to levitate if I put my mind to it. I’ve just had so much practice at it up till now!

This past week I got the closest I’ll probably ever get to know what it must feel like to fly.

The List 

I have a rather long list of things I want to do in my life. Scuba diving was added to that list after an amazing snorkeling experience I had at Ras Muhammad in the Red Sea in Egypt.

No matter how many pictures and documentaries you will see about marine life, they come nowhere near to what it’s like when you see it with your own two eyes. Snorkeling brought me closer to that than I had ever been before.

So diving went on the list. And it stayed there for perhaps three years.

About a month ago I decided I needed to do something about that particular list entry. I live in Egypt, for goodness sake, where there are some of the best coral reefs in the world – and the best diving. I can hop on a bus or a plane whenever I want and get on with my business. So I did.

I hopped on a plane and went to Hurghada, a popular sea resort on the Western limb of the Red Sea.

Learning to dive

Tarek Awad was my PADI diving instructor. The first day of the course was spent watching several videos that went over diving basics. It turns out there’s much to know before you throw yourself in the sea with an oxygen tank on your back! After the videos, we went to the hotel pool and tried out what I had just learned in theory.

I was quite surprised at how heavy the equipment actually was. And there are weights involved! It turns out it isn’t easy to keep oneself down underwater. You need to weigh yourself down. The pool exercises went quite well and gave me confidence that my open-water dives should be successful.

Hurghada was freezing cold (for an Egyptian) for the first two days I was there. I was concerned I’d kill myself with pneumonia by jumping into the water. Tarek told me the wet suit would keep me warm. It did. So did the water. It can be strangely warm down there when it’s cold up above.

Jumping into the water for the first time with all the heavy equipment on my back and the awkward fins on my feet was scary. I had no idea what to expect. But I

Photo credit: Tarek Awad

 immediately floated upwards after the jump. The wetsuit and regulator vest (BCD) are designed to keep you afloat. To submerge, you need weights. In addition to all the equipment I had about 10 kg of weights on me. You also need to empty air out of your BCD vest. Once I did that I was underwater breathing oxygen from the tank. Tarek made sure to put me into a meditative state from the start. We reached the bottom, sat on our knees, faced each other, and Tarek signaled for me to concentrate and just breathe in and out, in and out. He closed his eyes while doing this to add a sense of calm to the ritual. I followed suit. It worked. After an initial sense of semi-panic of being underwater, breathing only from my mouth, and completely dependent on a tank for air, I calmed down and went into meditating mode.

We swam 400 meters to the coral reefs. I found I needed to focus hard on gaining the ability to stay at the same depth, go deeper, or get higher. Hovering also required a lot of work. And all this is done by controlling the amount of air in your BCD vest and in your lungs. By filling your lungs up with air, you can raise yourself and by emptying them you can go deeper. Without this skill, I first had a tendency to crash into the sea floor every now and then or to start floating towards the surface against my will. With a little practice, I managed to swim around and hover over the coral reefs to watch the fish swim in and out.

I successfully completed four amazing dives on this trip.

The Red Sea Planet

Photo credit: Tarek Awad

It was another world down there. I felt as if I were discovering a world I hardly imagined could exist. It felt like visiting another planet.

One thing I’ve learned is that if you live in Egypt and you haven’t dived, you have only seen a very small portion of Egypt.

I have not yet learned the names of all the corals and fish I swam with last weekend. I hope to. They are all worth getting to know properly.

But among the things that most amazed me were, for example, the expanse of sea grass we swam over that was dancing back and forth, back and forth with the waves above it.  We also swam over about 100 meters of small sand mounds, which, I was later told, are the homes of sea crabs.  Every now and again a whirlwind of sand would appear above the top of a mound and then go calm again.

While hovering above one reef, Tarek pointed out something under it. I couldn’t see it. He gently pushed at it and out came an octopus! I think this was one of the most exciting things I saw down there. A frickin’ octopus in the actual sea! I’ve seen all types of fish and marine life in aquariums and documentaries. But seeing them just a few feet from your nose is absolutely amazing. This octopus was a rather shy fellow. He swam out from under the coral to avoid being pushed by Tarek, his color immediately turned from that of the coral it was hiding under – brown – to the exact color of the sand it was now swimming on. And it quickly eased itself back under another part of the coral to avoid being bothered again.

For two days we swam among the fish. Some of them seemed not to even notice we were there. Others seemed to look at us out of the corner of their eyes, curious as to

Photo credit: Tarek Awad

 whom we were. There was so much life down there! And so much peace. There were fish as huge as Tarek and I. And others as small and thin as a shoe lace. And everything was so colorful and magical.

How not to panic

On our third dive, Tarek asked me to do our swimming pool exercises on the sea floor. Sitting on our knees again, I was to take the air piece out of my mouth, throw it away, find it again, put it in my mouth and breathe. I did this successfully. Next, I was to pretend I ran out of air and I needed to use Tarek’s alternative air source. After watching him do this once, it was my turn. I breathed out the air in my lungs while my own air piece was out of my mouth too quickly. I fumbled with Tarek’s alternative air source. And I panicked. I breathed in seawater. I quickly fumbled for my own air piece and put it in my mouth, ready to cry and spurt up to the surface. Tarek insisted that I calm down and just breathe. I shook my head and pointed the surface, signaling I wanted to go back up. He shook his head calmly and signaled for me to breathe in and out, in and out. I did. I coughed for awhile, getting the seawater out of my lungs, but I eventually calmed down as I rhythmically breathed.

The next exercise was the filling your mask with water exercise. I decidedly do not like this exercise one bit. The seawater stings your eyes and surrounds your nose. It is a most uncomfortable feeling and took quite an effort from beginner me to focus on the breathing and not on the fact that I could easily breathe in water again at any moment. But I succeeded. The exercises were over and we could go back to the fun again.

I LOVED the hovering. I just ADORED the hovering. Once I got the hang of controlling the amount of air in my lungs and in my vest it was so much fun keeping a short distance between me and the corals without crashing into them.

And after an amazing weekend, I am now an officially certified open-water diver! Next on my list is the advanced course so I can dive to even greater depths! And I hope not to keep this one on my list for more than a couple of months. Join me!