About Me

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Author of Safari Jema, A Journey of Love and Adventure from Casablanca to Cape Town http://tinyurl.com/owdwvrp I write about travel and adventure from my home in California and from Africa. I've sailed a catamaran from California to Hawaii, trekked in the Himalayas, worked as a construction manager on a bridge project in Zambia, hiked 500 miles of the Camino de Santiago, (http://bootsbedouinsandabridge.blogspot.com/) and traveled in over 100 countries and all seven continents. Indie Book Award Winner for Best Memoir of 2012, New York Book Festival Honorable Mention for Non-Fiction, San Francisco Book Festival Honorable Mention for Non-Fiction, Travelers Tales Solas Award for Best Travel Writing Honorable Mention for My Gambian Husband. Indie Book Award Finalist - Best Travel Book 2013. BOTYA Honorable Mention 2013 - Travel Essay. Member of The Explorers Club since 2013 You can follow my current 2013-2014 expedition across Africa, this time in a 1973 Land Rover Series III 109 on http://teresaokane.blogspot.com/ and on facebook https://www.facebook.com/safarijema

Monday, June 14, 2010

Clean! Very Clean!

Santiago to Brussels to the Gulf of Aqaba on the Red Sea. Isn’t that how everyone gets to Egypt from Spain? If you are like Scott and get giddy over cheap airfare, you do.

We didn’t have the national delicacy during our 2-day layover in Belgium - French fries doused in mayonnaise - but we did see the movie Robin Hood at a theater where we paid $40 for 2 tickets and a bag of sweet popcorn. Oh, and a euro to use the toilet. BBC News reported that Brits were giving the movie a unanimous thumbs down because Russell Crowe’s accent sounded “too Irish” and “not Nottingham-ish t’all”, but we thought he sounded merry enough and we thoroughly enjoyed the movie. The toilet however, was not worth the euro.

Finally in Africa

We met the overland truck that will transport us along the Nile for 9 weeks in Dahab, Egypt.

Dahab is where travelers on a budget and Europeans on package holidays come to dive the crystal clear waters of the Red Sea. What’s special about diving in Egypt compared to diving, say, the Great Barrier Reef? Well for one thing, when you come up for air on the Red Sea there are usually camels and Bedouins staring back at you from shore. The other thing that makes it so special is that it is an absolutely incredible diving experience. At a place called the Blue Hole where obsessed people wearing nothing but a monfin,a large mermaid’s tail on their feet and facemasks ignore the aquarium around them and try to set records for how deep they can free dive without dying, we saw fish, coral, and clams of all sizes in every color of the rainbow within 12 feet of the surface. Scott saw an octopus on the hunt and I saw a lone seahorse with a flaccid tail. The memorial dedicated to people who die every year while trying to get to the bottom of the abyss that is the Blue Hole is located at the take out point. Might it not be more useful at the entry point? On shore near a herd of camels a persistent Bedouin man wrapped and re-wrapped my head in a scarf in an effort to make me look good in it. After each time he would stand back and regard me with a dissatisfied frown while shaking his head and sighing. The only time he seemed moderately satisfied was when he wrapped the scarf in such a way that it covered everything but my eyes. He wanted 20 Egyptian Pounds for it, $4, which I almost paid until a little girl selling bracelets made from colored string walked up and whispered, “Don’t pay more than 10.”

The seafront in Dahab is lined with restaurants decorated to evoke dining in a Bedouin tent. The sandy floors are covered with a mosaic of bright carpets and huge pillows to lounge on. It’s the only spot in Dahab where you can get a wisp of a offshore breeze so it’s THE place to be between dives. With your drink or smoothie comes mezze (tahini, baba ganoush, hummus) served with freshly baked, puffy pita bread, enough to call lunch or dinner.

One block off the waterfront we found all the shops and services a holiday seeker would desire including what we needed most, a tailor and a barber. On an alleyway next to our guesthouse, a tailor replaced a zipper on our money belt and repaired a hole in an immodest location on Scott’s shorts for only $3. The barber was located on a nearby street near the sea. Akmed seemed to be doing such a good job on Scott’s hair that I asked if there was anyone around to cut mine too and a barber named Mohammed suddenly appeared by my side. It just so happens that Muslim men have given my the two best haircuts in my life; one in Pakistan, the other in Sydney, Australia so I felt pretty confident that Mohammed of Dahab would do a fine job as well. After offering me tea (“Yes, please”) and a cigarette (“No thanks”) he trimmed my hair practically strand by strand. After 20 minutes I said, “I like it. Shukran, thank you,” and started to get up.

“Not finished!” said Mohammed raising the headrest and reclining the chair in one rapid movement. He reached for a jar of powder and spool of thread.

“What? Wait. What is that? What are you doing?” I asked.

“Bebe!” he answered. “Bebe very good!” He smiled broadly and exclaimed, “You will be clean, very clean!” Quicker than I could say, “What the heck is bebe?” my eyebrows received the first “threading” of their lives. Next to me, Scott was getting threaded too! Akmed worked his threads near Scott’s side burns, in and around his ears, up his nose, and on his eyebrows too. “Ouch! Ouch!” a stunned Scott said wincing each time a hair was plucked. I still don’t understand how threading works exactly. It looks so complicated. The thread seems to begin in the barber’s mouth. Two (or four??) strands of string meet at an individual eyebrow hair then with a quick tug of the barber’s head, hairs are plucked out one after another.

Stepping back Mohammed observed my eyebrows with the same scowl of dissatisfaction as the Bedouin head wrapper and resumed shaping the old fashioned way- with scissors. He worked on them for what I thought was longer than necessary, until I said, “I think that’s enough. You don’t want to make them too perfect you know! Yuk yuk.” He muttered something in Arabic, which by the look on his face translated, “That would take a magician.” Then he put down the scissors and started to dab circles of powder at the places on my face I refer to as my Ingrid Bergman areas. Ingrid Bergman was famous for looking radiant in photos. Photographers loved shooting her because her skin appeared absolutely flawless on film. Several years ago I read a biography that revealed that the secret to Ingrid’s luminosity. A substantial amount of downy peach fuzz covered her face. Apparently the hair caught and held any natural or artificial light around her and made her glow. Ever since I read that I have embraced the Ingrid Bergman areas on my own face. Still, no close ups, please. Anyway, Mohammed never heard of Ingrid Bergman and seemed to see no benefit at all to peach fuzz.

“Whoa!” I said, “What are you doing?” I put my hand up to stop the powder puff in mid air.

“It’s ok. It’s ok. I’m going to make you clean! Very clean!” said Mohammed reaching for the thread.

“Oh no, please don’t do that.”

“Why not?” Mohammed asked with puzzlement. I remember my mother’s warning when I was twelve and wanted to start shaving my legs, “Once you start that business you can never quit.”

I looked at Mohammed and said, “If I let you do bebe then you’ll have to move in with me and do this bebe thing on me for the rest of my life. No thank you! No bebe for me.”

Then Akmed got in on the act. He stopped fussing over Scott and leaned over me studying my face as if it was under a magnifying glass. He stood back and said seriously, “Why you don’t want bebe? It will make you very clean! All women, all men in Egypt get bebe.” He leaned towards me again and ran his hand over my face from chin to forehead just as a sculptor with a piece of rough marble would.

He was beginning to rub my fur the wrong way but I believed what he said about people in Egypt regularly getting bebe. I flashed on the day we arrived when I saw someone in the airport with the most substantial mustache I’ve ever seen on a woman. She must have been away from her bebe groomer for longer than she expected. I repeated more emphatically looking from Mohammed to Akmed, “No. I definitely do not want bebe.”

“Inshallah,” Mohammed mumbled, saying a short prayer to Allah with obvious frustration. He reluctantly put the powder and thread aside, returned the chair to its full and upright position and began wetting my hair with water from a spray bottle. When it was evenly damp he opened a wide mouth jar of something labeled “Mink Conditioner.” But the subtitle intrigued me more, “With Garlic!” It said in excited bold lettering. Mohammed took a liberal scoop of it with his hand and began spreading it slowly through my hair.

“What’s that?” I asked.

“It’s ok. Not bebe. Ok. Ok.” He could tell I was getting nervous. He parted my hair down the middle and combed it slick to my head. He parted my bangs in the middle too and curled the ends ever so slightly inward so that they pointed towards the bridge of my nose. When I looked in the mirror I saw Alfalfa from the Our Gang series staring back at me. Scott took one glance at me and said to Akmed in a slightly panicky voice, “That’s enough. I think you can stop cutting my hair now.” He’d already had a head, neck, and shoulder massage, threading, shearing on the bottom half of his head and Akmed had been snipping away at the top of his head with scissors for some time. Unfortunately Scott should have asked Akmed to stop 10 minutes earlier or just let him finish the job. The style Scott has going now can best be described as a cross between a jarhead and a groomed poodle. He looks like he is wearing a too small furry blond scull cap atop his head.

As we walked back to our guesthouse I looked at Scott and said, “Well, Fifi, at least you look clean… Very clean!”

Scott looked into the Bedouin restaurant we were passing. “Is it too early for dinner? The aroma from the garlic in your hair is making me hungry.”
Scott and Tris
On the Red Sea, Egypt

1 comment:

  1. Greetings from Santa Clara and the Contreras family! My heart runneth over with laughter, amazement, tears & wonderment at the tales that you tell. Your insights remind me that once we pause the noise of our busy life (cell phone/laptop/tv/responsibilities/to-do lists), we return to thoughts of childhood, love, family, gratitude and faith...the true ground beneath our feet. It's a beautiful California evening with gentle north wind and clear skies, low 80s. We are back from Grand Canyon and Las Vegas and amazed by the friendly people and easy conversation we found at each turn. Both felt like different worlds. We wish you well during your travels.