Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi, President

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26 October 2007

No Frontiers

No Frontiers

By Hoda Nassef

Having just celebrated the 25th Anniversary of Sinai Liberation Day, I took a trip to Taba on that event. Taba! Beautiful pristine Taba, thank God, still not marred by pollution nor recent enemy attacks.

“Communication, communions, communities”… I lazily mumbled to myself, and felt intoxicated with the cool breeze lulling me. The view was breathtaking. Sitting on the sixth-floor balcony of the luxurious hotel, I could see the hills in the distance on the other side of the Gulf of Aqaba across the Red Sea. The sapphire water sparked like iridescent sequined silk, changing its hues with the breeze.

I must have dozed off, for when I gazed again across the sea, night had fallen like a fluffy blue velvet blanket, but on the other side of the sea, the hills were no longer clearly defined. Instead, lights twinkled all along the shores. From where I still sat, I could see Eilat nearby to my left, Jordan in the center, and Saudi Arabia along a big stretch, to the right. I waved, to no on in particular, feeling a bit silly. No one could see me of course. Besides, it was by then dark. Wouldn’t it be wonderful, I thought, as Man must have thought from the beginning of Time, if Earth had no boundaries? A world of no frontiers: One Big Community. That would be the ultimate nirvana: no frontiers. Or, would we all invent new reasons for war, and fight to live in the choice spots of the world?

Next morning I walked along the beach, and noticed several seals emerging from the sea, flapping their shiny big fins over the pebbles and soft sand. Suddenly, one seal spoke Japanese, another spoke English, a third gesticulated and punctuated his nods in Urdu and two other “seals” spoke in Italian and French simultaneously, while the sixth said something in German. The seventh seal, which seemed to be the leader, said “yalla beena”, and they all laughed. He was the Egyptian diving instructor.

Approaching them, I noticed that they all had one thing in common: their passion for diving. Next on the list was their love for Sinai’s incomparable reefs and pristine marine beauty. Added to that, was their love for a more casual lifestyle. Not surprisingly, many weekend tourists returned for longer vacations, and some have even made Egypt their permanent home. Most of the divers like to explore new diving venues and go out of their way to discover new spots of pleasure, even if it meant taking a camel ride or jeep to unknown destinations. But, Taba was famous, particularly for its backdrop of rocky mountains, its landscape, its coral reefs and variety of species of fish in multi-colours, the transparent aquamarine water, and last but not least, the relevant diving sports.

Many of the divers (Egyptians as well as foreigners) had changed their occupations, or even their whole lifestyle, in order to go diving. Also, many who began diving as a hobby, turned their hobby into a diving career, and have become diving instructors themselves. Surprisingly, all who left their former jobs, careers, and even homeland, admitted that they were financially better off before, but were much happier now. As one put it: “You really have to love diving in order to choose diving all year round, or becoming a diving instructor as a career and lifestyle.”

The only problem is that there are already too many diving centers in Sinai, especially in Sharm El-Sheikh, so competition is fierce and one really has to acquire a good reputation to establish a diving center and keep the locals and tourists returning.

Another seasoned diver in her “seal” outfit, with all the diving gear strapped around her, was a British lady well past her prime, and her pretty face had turned into softly etched bronze leather. She told me that her first visit to Egypt was in 1992. At the end of that same year, she ventured to dapple a bit in the water and with the hotel’s diving instructor she tried for the first time “snorkeling”, and the basics of diving, and discovered that she enjoyed it very much. The following year, she resigned from her well-paid job in England where she worked as a “computer architectural designer”, bade farewell to her family, friends, and country, and returned to Sharm El-Sheikh where she stayed for six months, learnt how to dive professionally and then became a diving instructor herself. She then settled in Taba for its pristine shores, the sun, the relaxed and friendly atmosphere!

Beside her, the Italian companion said that he first came to Egypt in 1994 while he was working for a travel agency, as a tour leader. He immediately left his job and has been diving professionally ever since. He started out in Hurghada as a “dive master”, then a “diving instructor” and is now the “manager” of his own diving center. He said he began diving in Italy since he was a child. After college, he also dived in various parts of the world, depending on his where the travel agency took him. He has remained in Sharm El-Sheikh remained there ever since.

Without hesitation, he said that he preferred the Red Sea because of its beautiful reefs, crystal-clear visibility and warmer waters throughout the year. Ninety per cent of the diving clientele are foreigners, except during the Egyptian “eids” (feasts), he added, and said that the number of daily divers depend on the size of the diving centers, which usually accommodate and train from five to fifteen persons per session. In his opinion, Ras Mohamed is the best place for diving, followed by Sharm El-Sheikh, then Dahab and Nuweiba. Although he loves his life in Sharm El-Sheikh, he remarked that Sharm El-Sheikh is getting to be a bit too expensive, even for him! “But,” he admitted, “there are still lots of work opportunities for foreigners and foreign investment, due to the continuous influx of tourist developments that are flourishing and expanding everywhere, along the coastlines, and even throughout the remote areas across Sinai.”

A third diver claimed that the colours in the ‘underwater world’ are the thing he loves best. He also loves to see the reefs, the variety of fish, especially the crown fish, and … believe it or not, the sharks! He isn’t really afraid of sharks, he said, and added that if you don’t stare at a shark face-to-face and don’t move, they just go away. Sharks attack only if they think you are planning to attack them. Sharks, he added, can be seen particularly in the months of July and August, near the shores of the protected park of Ras Mohamed and Tiran.

Without exception, all the divers said that the diving centers are like homes to them and they all agreed they feel like one family, albeit their different nationalities, race and religion. Lots of new divers show up consistently during the summer. The permanent ones are those who remain throughout the winter, then throughout the year. Although most tourists come for vacations only, some of them take diving courses and if they are good at it, they eventually earn diving certificates after the course, then become instructors themselves, and consequently stay on. They don’t have much time, or energy, for other hobbies, unless they are deep-sea underwater photographers as well. But, that’s another story!

The deep-sea life is a “world without frontiers”… However, you have to be a fish or a fossil – or a diver – to enjoy this unique utopia!

H.N.

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