We hopped off the bus, shaking away the 10 hour ride and the rush of our work in Cairo. We blinked our eyes as at the bright blue sky, sparkling sea, and desert, which stretched into mountains and dunes everywhere the sea was not.
Two days earlier, when I mentioned to Susannah, a coworker at St. Andrews, that Dahab–a popular Sinai destination–was more touristy than I imagined, she invited me to come to her favorite camp along the Red Sea. It’s quiet and peaceful, she promised. I already talked to the owner, Hani, and reserved two huts.
Eid, the feast and celebration, which follows Ramadan, the Islamic month of fasting, is a common time to break from work, reflect and often travel.
Now somewhere between Taba and Nuweiba, a mere 17 kilometers from Saudi Arabia, we walk along an empty desert road, looking for old tires marking the entrance to Hani’s Moonlight Camp. The occasional passing car seems dually jarring and foolishly trivial in the context of the desert.
Steph, our legal director at RLAP and Aos, a surgeon in Iraq, current RLAP’s psychosocial expert, filled the other two spots. I didn’t expect it to be like this, said Stephanie.
What did you expect? I asked.
I don’t know, but I’ve never seen a sea with no trees at all. Nothing but desert.
Aos, a former surgeon in Iraq and the head of our psychosocial department, smiled broadly. A veteran of the tourist haven Sharm-El Sheik, peace accompanied with the perfect aqua sea was new to him.
Moonlight camp, as promised, greeted us with tires by the road and a fading sign. Bags tossed aside, sitting under the reed roof of the common area, sipping welcome tea and eating breakfast, Hani, the owner, came to greet us. After breakfast we swam and fell asleep on the beach.
The meaning of time, the rush of the city and the urgency of our lives slowed. We were here. The time was solely ours. We had nowhere else to go, no internet was in reach, my cell phone rang-unanswered in m sandy straw hut.
We spent our days swimming, sleeping, eating, reading, studying Arabic, playing tawla/backgammon (Steph and Aos) and talking with each other, other guests and Hani.
There were about 20 other guests at the camp, ranging from Germans, Palestinians and Israelis. Sometime late in the afternoon Hani tracked us down and asked us what we wanted him to cook for our dinner. The last two night everyone at the camp ate together, sitting on the floor at low tables. Both nights the dish of choice was makhluba. A delicious array of rice, chicken spices and vegetables.
After dinner we relaxed around a fire on the beach. We drank sweet tea, told stories, asked questions and gnawed on hard figs, Hani swore were from Iraq.I fell asleep under the stars. The stars were prolific and more brilliant than I’ve seen since visiting Siwa, an oasis near Libya, last year.
Anti mobsuta? (Are you happy?) Hani would ask us, coming to chime in our discussion or join in a game of tawla.
Friends. A peaceful beach. A book and Arabic flash-cards. Food and a place to sleep. I was glad I forgot my iPod.
Ana mobsuta, ehna mubsuteen (I am happy, we are happy).
Simple, meaningful, often brushed over by the things we expect ourselves to want, busy schedules and commitments.
Antu mobsuteen? What will make you happy?