Diary of an ex-Downtowner

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“Everything happens for a reason”, I recalled this quote while heading to Wadi El- Gemal with great expectations and non- stop day dreaming…



It all happened out of a sudden! One day my husband came back from work, to find me sitting on the couch, smoking a cigarette and my luggage next to me. With a smile I told him I'm leaving, I don’t know where, I don’t know why, but all what I told him was "I'm heading off to the desert do you want to come with me?”

Week 1: The arrival

Slept as a baby, woke up to the sunrise with a huge smile of victory on my face. Took a quick shower, had my cup of tea with milk, and there I am in the car next to my husband heading to a totally new, mysterious life style. The Road to Wadi- El- Gemal will take about eight hours, during which I kept day dreaming of my resurrection! That’s what I call living in Wadi El- Gemal!

Driving all the way down along the Red Sea, deep south to Marsa Allam, I kept recalling my ex- life, and all my disappointment and my cheerful times, trying to erase every bad memory, smelling the fresh air, making bright pictures in my mind of my future and secretly telling my self I will do it!

We passed by Ain El- Sokhna with its concrete so called sea view hotels and chalets. We passed by Hurghada, Zaafarana, El- Qusier, Marsa Allam, and then 45 Km we were right infront of Fustat Wadi El- Gemal.

Driving along the unpaved 7km route to the Wadi, I felt butterflies in my stomach; I was so excited yet anxious.

Once we arrived everybody welcomed us with a friendly smile. We were heading to our new home in Wadi El- Gemal, and there it was.

A 4 x 4 m, white tent, with 2 small mattresses and a small rounded wooden table with a few white candles and a box of matches. No electricity, no private bathroom, no mobile network, no Internet, no mirror. Literally nothing of all what I thought were things that I couldn’t live without. Yet we felt really grateful and looked at each other smiling and wondering how hard it would be living as a human again.

I spent the first couple of days, exploring around, losing my way in the dark, bumping into people, and getting used to sleeping early and waking up with the sunrise without being bothered by the morning flies who keep buzzing good mornings in my ears every morning, And of course preparing my handmade silver jewelry for the up coming event.

Week 2: The Festival

Today is different, I recognize different human voices, the air smells different, I put my head out of my tent and I found people moving around, new tents with people trying to set them up, I can here my favorite song "Honey Honey" playing somewhere, the cars going fast making huge clouds of dust, and I could smell the positive vibes in the air, well today is the first day of Characters of Egypt Festival 2010.

In a small booth, a quiet lady, with cushions around her and a small round wooden table with a fire orange cover and carefully set pieces of handmade silver jewelry, a couple of my friends came to say hi and check out my pieces.

While everybody was moving around absorbed by the beauty of nature or the exotic dancers of the different tribes of Egypt, you will find a small boy, called Hassouna, sitting in the shade on a carpet, holding a wooden handle, crushing small Ethiopian coffee beans, with ginger and waiting for the water on the burning wood to boil. Many people pass by him and some of them want to try this exotic coffee that the Bashareya and Ababda tribes call "Gabana".

3 days passed as quickly as never before, then suddenly everybody is gone, the silence is back, and its just me and Karim and couple of attendees who got excited and decided to spend a few more days exploring the desert.

Week 3: The ancient emerald mine

Today I decided to leave the daily quiet routine that I started to get used to, and found myself riding in a double cabinet Toyota with 6 other people going down a huge hill and heading to “Wadi- Skeit".

We kept driving for some time, all of us were so quiet, listening to the music of the desert and watching the huge rock mountain chains that were accompanying us from both sides, thinking about that ancient emerald mine and what exciting adventure I put myself into. Suddenly I saw an Arabian Ghazal and called everybody to look at it, it was my first time to see a deer and it was jumping from rock to rock in an obvious fitness. This day I also saw a fox, a wild rabbit and a donkey.

Before sunset, we chose a place to set our fire and prepare our dinner. Hassouna, lit the fire and then 30 minutes later the food was ready.

By the time we reached the emerald mine it was dark already, yet we were able to see the ruins of an ancient roman temple that was carved inside one of the Rock Mountains, that’s dedicated to the god of mines. Around the temples I saw the houses of the miners that were carved in the rock mounts as well. On the way back to Wadi El- Gemal, we were all exhausted; after 13 hours in Wadi- Skeit, moving around, taking photos, singing, going up and down huge sand dunes. Each of us had his own share of adrenaline so we all fell asleep and woke up by the time we reached our new home Wadi El- Gemal.

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