Noi6 means "the 6 of us" in Romanian.

We are five, you are the sixth one.

We thank you for joining us in our trip around the world...

Thursday, November 22, 2012


Sabaah el her! (sub-ah-L-hair)

"You speak Arabic? Are you Egyptian?" No, I just like to use my limited knowledge and greet people in their language. Ioan and I, both have a darker skin, Mihai is sporting a beard, most of our skin is covered, our men walk in front, we, the feminine side, follow them, yes, we could be Egyptian. We’re not Muslims, but we could be Coptic Christians, or some other religion that doesn’t require  a woman to cover her head. “Tourist” cries from our behavior, but maybe we’re long time emigrated Egyptians, visiting our country. Sometimes I wonder, do we really have this plasticity to fit different countries or is just a way of the locals to brush our ego?

Good morning from the Sinai Peninsula! We’re here to rest, to dive into oblivion, to do nothing, to forget there is a world outside!

We eat, read and sleep. For the first activity we are required to leave the room and seek victuals. In the morning we have a very rich breakfast, with tables laden with trays containing pies, croissants, fruits, cheese and ham, a heaven for a Westerner, and things like hummus, tahini, cheese pastries, beans,  an Egyptian breakfast.

But in the evening we have to brave the streets. We are “aggressed” by vendors, shouting their wares, enticed by a quick look toward their store. They speak Russian, German and English, in this order, and they can barter very well in any language. “Towels for 2 euros!” stops in their tracks a Russian family. They start looking at them, touching the material, talking between themselves, and all the while, the Egyptian kept talking, how good, how nice, if they buy more he’ll give them a discount, what colors do they want? The Russians are not impressed, they have their plans. Further on we see other Russians (beside being dressed like going for a party or for the beach at 7 pm, talking in their recognizable language, they walk like they own the place and they’re doing you a favor allowing you to be in their presence, in the same time, on the same road) trying some shoes. There is no excitement in their behavior, no spark in their eyes, it looks more like a duty, to buy something, to spend some money and to have something to show for this activity. They don’t look like they need another pair of shoes, or to match it with an outfit, I think they are trying to have a good time and the only thing that they know is shopping, and even this is not fun anymore.

Other tourists are walking the street, in search for fun, but there is not much to do here beside shopping, eating and going to the beach. I look at what I think is a huge mistake in the publicity department: every garbage pail in this touristic town has painted on it “McDonald’s I’m loving it!” (do I need to explain it?). The shops have the same touristic stuff, clothes, blings, objects that look ethnic, but once in a home, they require a space and regular dusting, one never having enough time to enjoy the memories sparked by a glimpse of the object. I am still happy with my decision of not buying things.

But I got carried away...I was talking about food. We try a restaurant: ten dollars for a kebab, times five, followed by a whole in the budget and the risk of still being hungry at the end. This is the cheapest thing! So we change course to a supermarket where, at the hot food section, the vendor gives us generous portions to taste, and we buy something like a sausage filled with rice, herbs and minced meat and some patties made with chicken liver (our favorites).

One afternoon we decide to make the effort to go to the private beach that comes with our hotel. We have a business card to show it to the guard, the paraphernalia for a beach trip...Claustrophobia! It is chair next to another chair, the majority empty, some with towels and some with people. Fortunately the umbrellas are closed, leaving a little bit of space. Next to our cordoned off private beach is another one, with the same arrangement, only different chairs and towels. The few people, maybe ten adults and as many children, seem to occupy all the space. The little gulf is partitioned in slices through floating pontoons made of linking squares. We follow one of them to escape the “crowds”, only to find a group of men enjoying the free waters. I don’t feel like showing any skin, seeing that the Muslim women sport swimming pants and dresses, plus abaya, but the children have no problems and jump in the warm water.

This experience, plus the noisy hotel (there is no fun in being awaken by an hysterical child at 4 o’clock in the morning because he doesn’t want to go to sleep) makes us change the decorum. We pack our bags, pile in a car to the bus station, there we find out that the bus is indefinitely late (it has to come in a convoy from Cairo), we take a private taxi and we arrive at Jasmine hotel in Dahab. It looks more like a house squished between its neighbors.

Mihai and Tito, the manager.

While the rooms are being prepared, we wait on the terrace drinking fresh juice, reading and from time to time glancing at the sea. There is no beach, only rocks, sea weeds, starfish, and practical cats, prowling for an easy meal. There are almost no tourists, there is an easy feeling.

Algae, cat, sea, mountains of Saudi Arabia, sky.

At the check in we have a inkling that Tito has something to hide, he talks loudly, he moves way too much, has large gestures, and he keeps assuring us that everything is going to be alright. Plus we have a CVU (his pronunciation for sea view). The rooms, freshly painted, the fumes trapped by the closed window, are on the cramped style, but hey, it’s an upgrade. We actually booked a five bedroom, so the fact that we get two rooms with AC, fridge and the CVU is an upgrade! “Where is the pool?” asks Mihai.
“I don’t know and I don’t care.” I say, “When was the last time you used the pool from the hotel?” So we snuggle in our separate rooms, looking through the wall wide window at the gorgeous lights of the sunset.

This is not the sunset, but it's much more rare: it is raining cats, and dogs, and hail!
Our life at Jasmine is quiet and enjoyable. The meals are tasty, freshly made from real eggplants, pepper, potatoes, yoghurt and eggs. The people are friendly, they smile and provide us with the cat-gun (a water spray) so we can eat without a begging chorus of mangy cats.

Flat bread, baba-ganoush, hummus, tahini, fresh vegetable, mmmmmmm.

Eating at candle light, sheltered by cut out plastic water bottles. The blond boy is Phillipe, a Swiss, and he has a way of flying toward us in a Superman way. The cat-gun didn't work on him!
Unfortunately the fragile thing called trust is shattered by that persistent question in Mihai’s head “Where is the pool?” There is no pool at this hotel, it doesn’t need one, because it has the CVU. The hotel that has the pool, the one where we made the reservation, it is called Yasmina and it is 1 mile away, white and noisy, with staff that shuffles its flip-flops. The rooms have more space, but they are shabby and come with mosquitos, dripping faucets and a smelly fridge. I don’t want to move, but I have to, I can’t stay and condone this kind of behavior, sidetracking people from their reservation on, when they don’t work with that system.

At 8 am. This place will stir alive around 11 am and it will be in full swing around 10 pm.

Just outside the touristic side of Dahab
Beside the better internet, there is one more good thing, for me at least: we’re right next to the mosque! While at Jasmine, our first hotel, I would hear above the waves, that far off voice, low, longing, whispering “Allah u Akbar!” the notes of the prayer call following each other, repeating themselves, reminding me that I can pray too. Now that we live next door, I can hear it at five o’clock in the morning.

While in Dahab we make a day trip to St. Catherine Monastery, on Mount Sinai. We pass at least three control points, just one actually looking in our passports. One line is blocked by tire destructing devices. The soldiers are young, the guns seem older than them. There are succulents growing in make shift pots, around the shack and on the blocked line. Rocks are arranged in between them, lending the desert with a homey feeling. Yes, man sanctifies the place!

The desert is rocky, brown, running camels crossing its paths. We see shabby houses surrounded by cars: bedouin homes. At some point we are required to stop the car: a car is flipped on the ground, 15-20 armed men, not soldiers, are trying to right it. I see a man with a navy blue turban, fierce eyes, shouting. Fear pokes me, I keep my head down while I try to steal glances, I’m the only woman (the girls are lying down on the seats and listen to their ipods). But nothing happens, we are told to move on and arrive with no other events at the monastery.

This kind of mosaics guard the entrance in any town.
It looks more like a fortress, high walls with just a low door.

The wooden enclosures were the only entrance in the monastery until modern times. 

The garden of the monastery, an oasis of green.
The entrance is an enlarged tunnel with stairs that lead to a narrow courtyard. We walk against a current of tourists to see the Burning Bush (it is said that Moses saw a bush burning but the fire didn’t consume it; after that, he heard God). It was transplanted inside the walls in the 11th century and it is fenced in, because people take its leaves as a souvenir.

The one on the right side of the picture is the Burning Bush.

Mosaic of Moses taking of his sandals.

Mosaic of St. Catherine (Agia Ecaterina)
There is a museum with treasures: oldest icons in the world (Christianity had an 57 years iconoclast period, in which icons were destroyed, perceived as idols; fortunately they didn’t destroy these ones), books, religious objects, some of them sent by rulers of my country in the 15th century.

The rule is simple: no photo. “Just ask!” says a voice in my head. The guardian tells me to ask for the priest’s blessing. He looks at me for some time and then “Just two photos.” I am in a museum with so many things, which one to choose, to keep its memory in my heart and in a picture? I am literally overwhelmed, tears sprang, running down my face, onto the heads of my children and my husband’s hands who are there hugging me and helping me to calm down my emotions. These are my dearest:

The icon of Christ Pantocrator (Omnipotent). The stern expression on the right side represents Christ in his role as Judge, while the left side bears the serene expression of Christ the Savior.

This icon represents the ladder to paradise of St. John Climacus, an allegory of the difficult path a Christian should follow to attain moral perfection. As they climb, rung by rung, they are attacked by devils, symbolic of sins and temptations, to make them fall.
We also visit the church, quiet, with so many beautiful icons and mosaics, with doors from Justinian’s times (6th century). On the ceiling there are stars and a cut out crescent, from the times when they tried to transform it into a mosque. They never did, because it was not aligned correctly with Mecca.

The church with its bell tower, behind it, in white, the minaret and the mosque.

Only a glimpse of old doors, hundreds of icons, candelabras with ostrich eggs, mosaics.
For this special time we are thankful to Calin, Adina and their children Ana and Matei, who believed in us, sponsored our trip, and already started a new way of living, so they can follow their dream.

On the short road from the monastery to the car on the sides are people selling alabaster bowls or eggs, patterned rocks, pyramids. They are asking for derisory prices one dollar an egg, a shiny deep milky blue egg. I don’t like to think that they are working hard and sell their work cheap, when in States I would have to pay twenty times more. We’re not buying so a boy starts asking for baksheesh, for a small bribe. “Are you a Muslim or a Christian”
“A Muslim.”
“Does Mohamed teaches you to beg?”
“Then I am not giving you money.” He doesn’t have an answer for me, he walks trying to understand but soon he gives up, there are some Russian ladies who at his pestering, offer him some chocolates.

We start driving back to Dahab, only to stop at the last checking point: we are the first in line for a convoy. And we wait patiently, flies buzzing around us, for the cars and buses to come together. There is no military or police car in front of us, no walkie talkie to coordinate everybody, to transport in a group. Just the time, one o’clock, and empty road.

We didn’t know it, but it was the best time in Egypt!

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