I’m about to begin my fourth week at the beautiful & sybaritic El Gouna Writers Residency, founded two years ago by a group of Egyptian writers and lovers of literature, God bless them. El Gouna is a luxury resort on the Red Sea built and designed by Orascom over the last 20 years; a totally created place with a slightly surreal, Disneyland-like feel. The town is still a work-in-progress, with big chunks of desert (from which they wrested all of this) still slated for development. There are six of us in residence. As pictured below: British author and journalist Nick Rankin; Filipino poet Victor Sugbo; British novelist Maggie Gee, who’s married to Nick; British/Sierra Leonean writer Kadiga Sesay; Syrian playwright Abdullah Alkafri; and myself. As with most artists colonies we work on our own during the day and get together every night for dinner plus random breakfasts, lunches and outings. It's a lovely group of people. Readers of my past blogs may recognize Nick and Maggie from Lavigny, another, very different sort of paradise where we were fortunate to spend three weeks. What a treat for me to be reunited with two of my favorite people.
The motto of El Gouna is "Life as it should be," and it's hard to disagree with that. We all feel ridiculously lucky to be here. Home is a brand new 4-star hotel called the Mosaique, on a quiet marina. We have two pools and a big blue sea in which to splash, as well as many charming shops & restaurants nearby. The hotel provides all our meals, and the staff spoil us rotten. Basically we live like pashas, without the plural marriages.
Photos: our happy band of six; the picturesque little marina near our hotel; Abdullah & me with El Gouna in the background; a local watering hole; Nick & Maggie, looking veddy dapper & British; sunset over an as-yet-undeveloped area
As with Cairo this place is under-populated because of the revolution, which has put a serious damper on tourism (something I forgot to mention in my last blog — I sailed through the Cairo Museum, which normally has long waits, and there were eerily few people at the pyramids and the big mosques). El Gouna too has a semi-deserted feel; this time last year they had 100% occupancy, whereas now I’d guess it’s no more than 30%. Egyptians are still coming on holiday, and we’ve seen quite a few retired British couples (recognizable by the massive quantities of lobster-red flesh on display by the pool — a vivid reminder to myself to wear sunscreen and not to sport a bikini in my 60s) as well as some other Europeans. Few Americans have discovered El Gouna, so I’m something of an anomaly here.
The weather is hot — temperatures range from the mid 80s to the high 90s — but the sea breezes keep the days tolerable, and the evenings are delicious. I’m slowly gaining some color. I wouldn’t call myself tan exactly, but at least I can no longer accurately be described as fish-belly-white.
I’m writing well and can feel myself recharging after my long red slog. I’m actually working on something funny — granted, it's dark funny, but still it's a welcome change from my grim right-wing dystopia. And it’s a short story, not a novel, told in the first person from a man’s POV, all of which I’m finding as almost as refreshing as a dip in the sea with Abdullah, who is my mostly companion here and a true kindred spirit. He is teaching me one word of Arabic a day. Among my newly acquired vocabulary: shokrun (thanks); halas (enough); saha! (bon appetit); azayak (how are you?); ta mom (good, thanks); islam-o (may God bless your hand - said to someone who brings you something especially nice, e.g., a hibiscus juice spiked with vodka and lemon, known as a Bedouin Madness).
Photos: the view from my balcony (yes, I'm pinching myself daily); a tok tok, my favorite form of local transport - think a bumper car, only hurtling along at 30+ mph without the safety belts; Abdullah and me risking life & limb in a tok tok; no burkas in the pool, please; life imitating art; me & my new habibi