El Gouna situated along the Red-Sea only 22 km North of Hurghada has evolved into an exclusive hub, where vacationers need their seasonal dosages of complete relaxation. It provides a zest for great dives and an ideal place for those seeking a fresh start away from the Cairean stress, traffic and of course polluted skies.
I for one had developed a chronic cough in Cairo; naturally I blamed it on my cigarettes or the immense residue of sulfur emitted by our big city. My family and friends suggested that I was in dire need of a holiday.
I traveled to El Gouna also known as “Orascom Town. I felt rather calm here; with its golden beaches and children scurrying all over the place, I deemed it a resort at first rather than a live-in community.
Like most visitors, I was baffled by its intense infra-structure; I noticed how they have created all sorts of commutes, which transport you everywhere for a standard fee of only LE 5. In my mind, I was thinking about the fluctuating taxi fees in Cairo that range between LE 10 or more depending on your initial destination.
Needless to say, it was quite convenient for me to call a taxi or the tuk tuk from a landline in El Gouna and actually have the driver pick me up in the next five minutes. Whereas, in Cairo I do recall all the times I have tried to reach the yellow cab by phone and not once did it arrive on time, of course this is a direct result of our soaring unpredictable traffic.
Like a full-fledged tourist, I began my journey by dining everywhere and mingling with all sorts of people. I felt a bit of nostalgia while I walked through El Gouna s “Centerville. The town s center is actually called Tamr Henna, and it is indeed a miniature version of Tahrir Square. It had its shop keepers; who sold Koshary, spices and oriental food. “El Mogamaa was no where in sight, but I did spot corporate offices that dealt with all sorts of miscellaneous duties, such as rent payments, water and electricity bills and manages the city’s commercial sector.
What baffled me was the fact I spotted The American University in Cairo’s Center situated beside El Gouna s new Library and it left me feeling wistful for the old campus in Cairo. I inferred whether it was actually operational and I was told by the residents that they had enrolled in English programs to help enhance their English, so as to develop a better understanding with foreign residents.
Back in Cairo, Zamalek is quite an extraordinary focal point for people in quest of cultural activities, or socialites wanting to be seen with their entourages, making guest appearances at functions or events. El Gouna also has its “Zamalakites, but it is digressed in a different manner. I once managed to have breakfast at the marina, which is an ideal place for all socialites. It is an elegant peer that parades a spectrum of boats from the smallest to the most colossal yacht you have ever seen. I noticed how the type and size of a boat really determines the stamina of the elite “Gounie, very typical of all the times I sat at high tables in Cairo, hearing people discuss the latest car models and newest hot spots.
As I passed by El Gouna School, the buildings seemed to resonate a still of calmness as the kids did not have to worry about crossing a busy intersection. The children seemed less hyper active in comparison to all the times I tried to park my car beside a school gate in Cairo. But when I asked a few if they were happy to be in such a clean and quiet environment, they all yelled, telling me that they miss Cairo, its noise and the diversity of hang out spots.
After four days in El Gouna, I noticed that I no longer coughed and I was slowly regaining my energy and my face looked a lot healthier. I was fortunate to actually mingle with a lot of residents here; all had their different tales of how they came about moving to El Gouna or running a business here. I spoke to restaurant managers, bus drivers, teachers, nurses, concessionaires, divers, etc. All shared the enthusiasm of starting anew in a city that has not become a complex metropolitan.
I met star crossed lovers with a bit of serendipity all knowing, that they would get married and raise their kids here. I was fortunate, to actually get invited to a real Gouna wedding, which was held at a pool with a sea view. They had managed to assemble a Nubian orchestra and the lovely couple where a mainstream of Egyptian and German Blood.
In the onset of the wedding s belt out tunes, a sad realization quickly surfaced; there are no low-key weddings in Cairo. Today, all weddings in Cairo seem to be a celebration of love with the additional auxiliaries of size, wealth and invitees.
I am elated with joy to actually walk in a place where I am not anticipating harassment and hearing obscenities is quite rare. People go to work in semi casual clothes. Managers, in comparison to Cairo, want their employees to have beachy attire rather than the orthodox suit and tie – but no flip flops during office hours, which are, like Cairo, from 9 am to 6 pm.
Going back to my first day here, I will never forget one dialogue I had with an open minded, well-educated Egyptian. I had asked her the rhetorical question: “How long have you stayed in El Gouna? She started off by saying that she had a lot of tensions in Cairo, family issues and a divorce to deal with, so she came to El Gouna to actually get some time off, and it’s been 10 years ever since. She is happily married now and runs a very well-known restaurant in El Gouna.
Like any person, I started to job hunt and told myself that if I were lucky to land a job that could help sustain me here, I too would stay.
On discussing a possible move to El Gouna with my family, they were puzzled on how I nonchalantly decided at once to leave Cairo, my home of 10 years, for a beach resort. I tried convincing them, that it is not a beach resort but a miniature version of Cairo if it still had 15,000 people living in it.
It has been three months and a half now, and I am truly happy within this small community that has enticed me with a rare warmth of security and wholeness. In comparison to Cairo, I hardly drive. I only use my legs, and the shuttle bus or tuk tuk if I am fatigued or going to a faraway place.
It’s a five-minute walk to work everyday from my studio apartment as opposed to the two-hour traffic I had experienced while living in Nasr City and working in Tahrir. After work, I take a stroll into town and then I eat at my favorite place, which is in front of the beach.
I do miss Cairo sometimes and its unique social fabric but I like being able to see the stars at night. And what a wonder it is to actually believe people when they tell you, I ll meet you in 5 minutes.