El takeef ne3ma

Posted on July 25, 2006


My dad says this all the time as soon as he sets foot in our apartment in Kuwait.“Yaaahhhh…el takeef ne3ma ya wlad,” (air-conditioning is a blessing, kids). And never have I heeded his words as much as now, having just returned home from Basata, to revel in paved floors and soothing cooled air. Basata, or “Simplicity” is a supposed ecolodge on the Red Sea in Sinai. It became apparent to me as time went on that “ecolodge” is what they now call ghetto beach shacks, of the kind that taxi drivers presumably take their families to in the summer, only without the fat dowagers with the requisite pot of ma7shy under the umbrella. Masyaf baladi neik. I know not in what way they managed to convince people that this was trendy bohemianism. Everything I had gathered from my friends who had been before convinced me that this was not the place for me, but at such short notice it was the best we could do to show my cousin P around. We corralled another cousin, F, into coming as well.
Of course, the trip started off with the usual ill omen of me leaving behind my entire handbag at home. We only discovered this when we had reached the bus station and the bus was about to depart. In the bag, along with two books procured especially for the purpose and my mp3 player, was my passport – the only piece of Egyptian ID I have. Indeed, without the bag I had no identification of any sort. The Tweet, anticipating the boring regularity with which I lose things and forget them, had thoughtfully kept all our money with her, as well as makeup, deodorant, toothpaste, razors and hair products. National holidays in the Sinai, however, are not occasions for forgetting identification, as these are precisely the conditions under which Egyptian terrorists prefer to operate. Cousin F, who is a worrier, immediately began to stress out, but such is my long experience with my forgetfulness and general idiocy that I have developed a compensating skill for dealing with officials of every stripe and nationality which has met with striking success. Of course, this skill only works if one is young and female. It worked admirably this time, too. The border officers were pleasantly flirtatious as usual, both ways.
So we set off. It soon became clear that we were not leaving Cairo, but instead were being taken to the headquarters of East Delta Travel. Apparently, there was something wrong with the bus, and we hung out at the sublimely filthy company yard for around an hour while flocks of men discussed the best way to fix the problem. While this was going on, I befriended a foreign chick (the only other female who didn’t see anything wrong with getting off the bus to join the man horde at midnight) and went off with her to explore the bathroom facilities. No more need be said about that, I guess.
Eventually a guy came along and installed another dynamo and changed the flat tire (I don’t know how both of those managed to happen at once). They actually had to drive another bus up to our bus so they could use its headlights for light to work with. One of the things that puzzles me mightily about Egypt is why any establishment never has the tools for the performing of the very function that establishment provides. A service yard that services night buses: why would they have torches? That’s just western decadence, ya ragel!
So we set off (now with working air-conditioning), and I only came to when we got to Basata, some six hours later. Actually, the driver practically flew along the way, which led me to sink deeper into sleep as I figured that if we were to fall into a ravine or flip over on a hairpin bend, I would want to be asleep for that. We got off the bus and made our way towards the collection of huts on the beach. There we were greeted by a belligerent old man who told us to go sit in the main hut. After many, many hours, we were allowed to “check in” to our hut.
To make a long story short, I did not have a good time. The entire place consisted of bamboo huts furnished with mattress and Bedouin rugs, one main hut with tables, cushions, and a rudimentary kitchen, and a couple of bathroom/shower huts. That is, quite literally, it. The sea was beautiful, clear and spanned shades of blue I’d forgotten existed, the mountains were gorgeous, and the night sky was practically a prayer. But guess what? So is every stretch of beach in the goddamn Sinai. To enjoy these treats, I see no reason to have to trudge through acres of sand in pitch darkness with a flashlight to get to a bathroom. The sea would have been just as beautiful if I had had, say, a chaise longue. My friend W said she had hoped that “the magic might seep into my prosaic, materialistic, unbelieving bones” but I see no reason why the magic couldn’t seep in while I enjoyed the fruits of man’s invention. That, and I don’t see why that makes me either materialistic or prosaic – I just don’t buy into every hippie bullshit trend there is, like SOME people. As my aunt pointed out today, el aganeb bey7ebbo el wasakha di (foreigners like this sort of dirtiness). I don’t even mind not having TV, phones, the internet. A book is all I need to amuse myself for days. But when I come to sleep, I expect to sleep on sheets, in less than subtropical temperatures. The nights in that hut were so torpid that my sister and I awoke several times to cry out in torment. We had delirious, heated nightmares. There was not even a window, for the love of God. And at one point, we were asleep when two snarling, fighting cats just rolled sreeching into our hut through the curtained door. My sister woke up with such a bloodcurdling scream that anyone would have through she was being disemboweled. If they’re going to keep fucking pet cats, can they not also keep fucking pet doors? Is there any worse way of waking up than by vicious snarls erupting right next to you? Fuckers.
When I go on vacation, I expect it to be nicer than my regular life. I don’t expect to have to grocery shop beforehand, and then slave over a hot stove. I don’t expect to have to wash my own dishes. That’s not a vacation, that’s my life. And now I’m expected to pay to do all these tasks in the ante-room of hell? You know what’s fucking baseet? Room motherfucking service. You pick up a phone, and food comes to you. You know what else is fucking “simple”? Light fucking bulbs. And most of all, the most fucking baseet thing there is walking out of an actual room, into an actual adjoining bathroom.
At Basata, you can pay to have them cook dinner for you, but only fish or vegetarian (and there’s no choice, either). So we had the fish, and had to run, stomachs bubbling, to the bath“room”. Not just mine, but the hardy Egyptian stomachs of F and the Tweet suffered. Then they showed a movie about coral, in German. Leaving aside the German, am I the only person who realizes that, in fact, movies are about moving things? How do you make a movie about coral? You just watch it sit there, quietly in the sea, for a couple hours?
We tried to pay monopoly, but it was too hot to move the counters and bid and whatnot. We wanted to go on safari, but it transpired that the safari was in the daytime. The fuck? It’s criminal negligence to make people ride through the desert on a camel for eight or nine hours in the scorching July sun. It might even be manslaughter. We feared for our lives, so we didn’t go. There was also a motorboat which we wanted to go on, but we were told that it belonged to an NGO that used it to catch illegal fisherman. The very amusement any vacationers need, I fancy. Boats they can’t ride.
Well, I hope P had a good time. He’s too polite for us to tell, but I complained so much that I pissed off the other three. Don’t think I’ll go again – when I told a friend of mine this, he told me that the heat was why he didn’t go to Basata anymore, and went to Ras Shitan instead. He casually added, though, that the toilets there were Arabic ones. All I can say is: ?!!!??! I should pay money to pee while crouching over a shit-spattered porcelain hole? I should thank God every day, it seems, that I only shit once a week, if this is what fellow Egyptian yuppies think is fun. What happened to hotels with bars? And hygiene? And being served by others?
I think Basata might have been fun if we’d taken a sick amount of drugs and liquor. This has been confirmed by everyone else who went. It does, however, present the very serious, and rare, advantage of allowing males and females to check into the same hut. This is probably enough to make people go there, as long as they go in the spring or fall, and take a veritable laboratory of intoxicants.

Posted in: Egypt, humour, travel