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Friday, 21 December 2012



Imagine this. You are thinking about next year's holiday and you feel you want to guarantee some sun and warm weather. After all, if you're from nothern Europe it's pretty cold and dark right now so the thought of sunshine is VERY appealing.

You check out the brochures and decide to come to Egypt.

You find a hotel you like the look of, the price is right and you think you know where the hotel is. After all it tells you in the brochure. Maybe you're in Hurghada, for example. You check out Hurghada on the internet and decide it's the sort of place you'd like to spend your time.

You go ahead and book. You wait. The day finally arrives for you to travel. You are exccited. The day travelling tires you out but you finally land at the destination airport, board the transfer coach and arrive at your hotel. The hotel is fine and lives up to all expectations. You felt the rush of heat from the tarmac when you got off the plane so the weather is also at least up to expectations if not beyond.

Your room is OK. It may not exactly match the picture in the brochure but there is certainly a room somewhere in the hotel that does. But you have a balcony with a nice view and the room is clean. You start to unpack then set off in search of the restaurant. You are very hungry.

The food is OK but not gourmet cuisine. Still what did you expect for a relatively cheap all-inclusive deal. You can at least find something along the buffet that you recognise or like the look of and it doesn't taste at all bad. You have dessert and then go in search of the "free" alcohol.

You find the bar and settle for a couple of hours before retiring to bed. It has been an exceptionally long day and you are exhausted.

The next day you wake late, have breakfast and determine to check out the local town. After all, you booked a hotel in Hurghada right (or Safaga or Quseir or Marsa Alam etc)?


This is where it all goes tits up (if you'll pardon the expression). When I was working as a Resort Rep (Tour Leader) in Hurghada one of the most frequent complaints was, "we booked this hotel because it's supposed to be in Hurghada but there's nothing here".

The guests were right, so how come?

In this case the hotel was a 20 minute drive from Hurghada town centre. It cost LE2 (about 0.25/£0.20) on the local microbus (quite an experience if you haven't been in Egypt or somewhere else similar before. Also check out a previous blog - it can be quite a difficult and intimidating experience if you don't speak Arabic and know exactly where you want to go) or LE30 (about 3.75/£3.00) in the local taxi. You are, of course, encouraged to take the hotel limousine service. Don't be taken in by the name - you will not get a big stretched white limmo. This is just a normal car with a driver. This will cost you about 10. Everything in the hotels is priced in Euros and the Euro is the currency of choice at the moment in Egypt. However, they will readily also take Sterling and US Dollars.

This particular hotel was right on a main road which made getting a bus or a taxi relatively easy. There is also some development around it, including a decent sized mall with some good shops, coffee outlets and restaurants which gives an opportunity to shop for those who don't want to risk the local transport. The mall is a 5 minute walk away from this hotel.

Not all the hotels are as lucky.

So, were the guests misled by the brochure listing the hotel as being in Hurghada?

I currently work at a dive centre based in the grounds of the Pensee Azur/Utopia Beach hotels. We have a house reef that is arguably the best in the entire Red Sea. First, here is the truth about the hotel.

The Pensee Azur/Utopia Beach complex is approximatley 20km from the nearest town - a small place of 50,000 inhabitants called El Quseir. The nearest airport is 40km to the south and is called Marsa Alam International Airport. In fact, the airport is just outside a small place called Port Ghalib which is a new, man-made town on the edge of the desert. The Pensee Azur/Utopia Beach is about 120km north of Marsa Alam city (it's a small place and anywhere else would be called a village or, at best, a town).

In the brochures this hotel is listed as the Pensee Azur, MARSA ALAM!!!!!

Every day on my way to work I pass a construction site where a new hotel is being built. The board outside the site advertises the development of the Novotel MARSA ALAM yet it's 2km or 3km further away from Marsa Alam than the Pensee.

In this area the hotels really are remote. For example, the nearest neighbours to the Pensee/Utopia complex are at least 5km away. The hotel is on a main road (the main route from the north to Marsa Alam passing through Hurghada, Safaga, El Quseir and Port Ghalib) but there is no bus or taxis service on this road. Across the road is only desert.

In Hurghada the company I worked for got away with their description because along the main highway there are signs saying "Welcome to Hurghada" placed about 15km north of the city and again about 30km to the south. As the hotel lies between these 2 signs there is a argument, albeit a specious one, that the hotel is, in fact, in Hurghada.

This is not the case with the Pensee. There are signs saying "Welcome to Quseir". One is placed about 30kn to the north and the other about 35km to the south. Using the same logic as above we could, then, say that the hotel is in El Quseir so how can it be described as being in Marsa Alam.

Here is another ruse the travel companies are using. If your flight lands at Marsa Alam International Airport then automatically the hotel served by these flights is designated as being in Marsa Alam. But, don't forget, the airport is already 80km north of Marsa Alam itself.

Are you being lied to?

Only you can decide if you believe this to be a case of misrepresentation in the brochure or simply a case of descriptive licence.

It's up to you.

Sunday, 16 December 2012

A Question of Eyebrows

To pluck or not to pluck, that is the question.....

I have always liked my thick eyebrows. When I was a teenager and we used a small brush with a block of mascara that we spat on before rubbing the brush along it to get enough black on the brush to colour our eyebrows and eyelashes, I used to put the mascara through my eyebrows to make them appear even darker and thicker. 

I was worried that having them plucked might result in something I didn't like very much. So, for 57  years I managed to avoid the experience.

Then, when I was working as a Tour Leader and living in a hotel the hairdresser made me an excellent offer of a day of real self-indulgence; haircut/colour, pedicure, manicure and eyebrow plucking using tweezers and something they do here with a twisted string to pull out  unwanted body hair. I was happy about everything EXCEPT the eyebrow bit. However, she was very persuasive and promised me I'd like the result so I let her go ahead. 

I cannot claim to have enjoyed the process. I found it EXTREMELY painful and any pain near my eyes and nose makes me sneeze so the whole event was not without its problems. However, she was right about the result.

I LOVED these eyebrows. She did a really good job. She managed to keep the same basic shape and length while clearing my eyelid making my eyes look bigger and doing wonders for my face. I made up my mind that I would let her do my eyebrows regularly. That was about 4 1/2 years ago.

However, soon after that I left the hotel because I left the travel company. I started work in a local dive centre and no longer had money for the luxury of eyebrow plucking. I promised to keep them in line myself but was so busy and physically tired after work each day that it never happened and after a while my eyebrows were almost back to their original glorious selves.

This positive experience had nonetheless changed my attitude towards the idea of having my brows plucked.

Then, about 4 years ago I became friends with a German lady who visits Egypt regularly at least twice a year. For a long time I did not know what her job was at home but then found out she is a hairdresser. When she visited Egypt last July and stayed with me in my flat she brought her hairdressing things with her and resolved to cut my hair for me. Working as a diver is very bad for the hair. It gets soaked in salt then dried in the scorching midday summer sun before being soaked once more in salt and dried out again. No matter how much it is washed and conditioned at the end of the day it still becomes brittle with lots of split ends. So, I let my friend cut my hair and I have to say it was excellent. I was very proud of my new style. She promised to come again and said that next time she would not only cut my hair but would do my eyebrows.


She came back about 3 weeks ago and once again stayed a few days with me in my flat. During this time she cut my hair again. She cut it shorter than last time but still managed to make it look fantastic.

Then came the eyebrows. She used a special tool to remove the excess hair (it seems the twisted cotton may be a particularly Egyptian thing) and I have to say it REALLY REALLY hurt. You cannot imagine the pain and it seemed like she would never stop. Even when I thought she had finished she found some more hair that needed to be plucked and started again. 

Sadly we did this in my living room where I did not have access to a mirror, otherwise I might have stopped here very early on. As it was I let her continue until she said she was finished.

Then, with a spring in my step and great expectations I hurried to the bathroom to have a look.

I was devastated!!!!!

My eyebrows are naturally long but she had shortened them my at least 1/4. There should be a smooth curve around my eye instead of which there were 2 straight lines at an angle as though the lashes went uphill from my nose to mid brow then downhill to a stubby end. She left all the thickness near the nose and almost no brow around the outer edge of my eye. She did not clear any hair from the underside of my eyebrow so the plucking had no effect on my eyelid therefore did nothing to make my eyes seem bigger or to open up my face. 


She could see I was upset and tried to use mascara (the modern kind like a felt tip pen) to replace the missing hair but that looked so false I thought it better to go without.

She wanted to take a photo of my new hairstyle but I refused because I couldn't bear to appear with such dreadful eyebrows. In the end I changed the hairstyle preferring to pull the ends forwards over my face (rather than back) in an attempt to hide the terrible spectre of my mangled eyebrows.

She tried to reassure me that they would grow back but it's been 3 weeks now and, although there has been some improvement, they are still not as they should be. I hope I don't have to wait too long for a return to normal.

I did discuss the technique and outcome with her, showing her photos of what it looked like last time and describing how it had been done. Her reply was that the way she had done my brows was the way she was taught in Germany. So, I guess the way they are done may be a cultural thing.

The moral of this story would, therefore, appear to be to only get my eyebrows done here in Egypt by an Egyptian hairdresser.

I have the photos below - judge for yourselves.

My untended eyebrows - a bit bushy I accept but I like them.
My plucked eyebrows first time around. I LOVED these
eyebrows and hoped to have the same thing again.
This by the Egyptian hairdresser.
Three weeks after the recent plucking. Too fat near the nose,
too thin at the ends and not left long enough. I feel like I have
a couple of slugs living at the top of my nose. I HATE these
eyebrows and hope they grow back soon. It's been 3 weeks
already and they're still not right.

Why Not Convert to Islam?

Well, I have been living in a Muslim country for just over 5 years now so why not convert? 

Here is my attempt to explain why. In the writing I sincerely hope I do not upset anyone out there. It is not my intention to denigrate or insult any religion. I am only stating my own personal opinions. So here goes.

When I first arrived in Egypt I was working as a Tour Leader (Resort Rep for those English people out there) and it was plain for everyone to see that my time in Egypt would be limited. In this context the subject of religion was rarely raised.

However, after I left the travel company and decided to settle here to work as a diving instructor suddenly a lot of people wanted to talk to me about religion and, in particular, about the wonders of Islam.

I was brought up a Christian in the Church of England. I went to Sunday School and later to bible classes. I belonged to Brownies and Guides - organisations back then having roots in Christian practices. When I was older I joined a bible study group. Then, for many years my involvement waned considerably and occasionally, when I felt guilty, I would accompany my mother to church on a Sunday. I also worked for some time for a Christian charity that has links in the Catholic church. During this time I was able to reflect more on my personal beliefs. I am still committed to the basic ethics of Christianity but I do not believe I need the hierarchy of a church to enable my faith. Rather, I believe my faith is a personal issue between me and God and it something that I can practice/follow without the clergy. I therefore now describe my religion as Protestant rather than Church of England.

With this background, when people were constantly asking me what religion I have and then started talking about Islam I bought a translation of the Koran which I read. I cannot say I have read the Koran. Let's be quite clear. My Muslim friends will correct me if I say that. They say you can only read the Koran (Qu'ran) in the original Arabic being the language in which is was dictated by the Angel of God to the Prophet Mohamed. They will say that any translation by definition may place a different emphasis on the words used or may even use a translation that has a very slightly different meaning from the original so cannot be rightly called Koran. I am OK with this. The translation I read was the one backed by the Al Azhar University in Cairo which is considered to be one of the most prestigious seats of Islam so I am happy that I have certainly understood the gist of the writing.

The Koran is quite clear that Muslims should accept the "people of the book" or what they call here in Egypt the "divine religions" meaning Jews and Christians. So why do I need to be converted.

As one man put it (he was the accountant in the first dive centre where I worked) he most certainly accepted my Christianity but after Mohamed everyone is supposed to be Muslim because only by converting to Islam will I be able to enter into paradise.

I have to say he was quite persistent in his attempts and spent long hours during breaks and periods of little work trying to get me to change my mind. The Koran makes it clear we are supposed to be able to choose so I wondered a little at his persistence. I later found out that many Muslims believe that if a person converts to Islam and during the conversion ceremony (in Egypt this takes place in Cairo at Al Azhar Mosque where converts are received into the community of Islam with their new Islamic name that they have chosen for themselves) mentions their name as the reason for or as being instrumental to that person's conversion then they are guaranteed entry into paradise no matter what course their life has taken or what acts they may have committed or omitted. So, there is a strong personal interest in having a convert who will say that you are the reason for this change of faith.

Since then 5 more people have tried to convert me. One was a man I worked for who went so far as to bring me back leaflets in English from the mosque each week with titles such as "The Light of Islam" or "A Glimpse of Islamic Faith" or "Islam Religion of Life" or "The Concept of God in Islam" or "The True Religion of God" and so on - all of which I read to add to my knowledge of Islam. I'm sure you get the picture.

Even today yet another man seems to be trying to convert me but he is much more subtle. I started having private Arabic lessons because I felt ashamed that after 5 years here I still don't speak the language. We meet 2 times a week and we focus on reading and writing as well as speaking. At first it was pretty basic but more recently we seem to be moving towards something more. Not long ago he gave me a short piece of reading called, in translation, "honest work". Sounds OK but very soon we are into religion and how religion encourages a work ethic and the work carried out by the various prophets, including both Jesus and Mohamed. Another piece was about water and how much of the earth's surface it covers which seemed to move seamlessly into  a piece about God's creation of the world and all that's in it.

I have asked many questions about the place of women in Islam and am always reassured that women are equal with men and are free and empowered by Islam. Looking around me that doesn't seem to be the case at all but the argument is that much of the way the society here is structured and the way women's lives may seem to be restricted when looking from the outside is (a) cultural and not religious and (b) a misconception. The men who speak to me take pains to tell me the women's lifestyle is their own choice.

Certainly there are a lot of similarities between Islam and Christianity. So, with so many similarities accompanied by freedom and empowerment for women why not convert?

Here is why:

Although Muslims believe in the virgin birth they do not believe that Jesus was the son of God. In fact the Koran specifically says that God was not begotten and did not beget. However, as a Christian I firmly believe in Jesus as the son of God and the saviour of the world.

Muslims do not believe in the crucifixion/death/burial/resurrection of Jesus. They believe he was sentenced to crucifixion but that another was crucified in his place. That God caused this other person to take on the image of Christ so the crowds would think it was Jesus. They believe that Jesus was taken into paradise but this was not a resurrection. As a Christian I believe wholeheartedly in the crucifixion/death/burial/resurrection so I have some problems with the Islamic take on this.

So, while I can agree that both religions do have a great deal in common these are very significant differences that I cannot see my way to abandon. That is why I will continue with my Christianity in spite of the best efforts of those around me to convert.

Thank you for reading and God bless you all.