Last Wednesday a swell rolled into town and Mohamed sent me a text letting me know which beach I should go surf. When the final bell at school sounded, I was halfway up the fire escape changing clothes (a bad decision-just in case you are wondering). By the time I reached the balcony all that was missing were my board shorts. I grabbed my board, scrawled Ana a note, and made my way towards the gate. Once outside the compound, hailing a cab proved to be challenging. Most drivers looked at me then at my board and kept driving. One of my students yelled at me from across the road asking where I was going. I told her “Shidi Basher” (the neighborhood where the beach is). She told me that's where she lives and offered to have her driver take me there since it was on the way. I politely refused and she told me how she can't stand to see people wait for a cab and insisted that I go with her and her friend. How could I say no? I practiced my Arabic with the driver while the girls chatted in the back trying to figure out their evening and college plans. I was dropped off and that was when, metaphorically speaking, the spaceship landed.
When I emerged from the car, a) I was wearing shorts (look everyone, I'm a foreigner) and b)I was in possession of a puffy silver bag. If you have been reading my blog you might have already gathered that Egyptians are a curious people. If something is out of the ordinary, expect to have every eye in the joint checking you out. I over estimated my drop-off point by a mile, which meant towing a huge bulky bag along the busy, hot, and humid Corniche. I made the mistake by pausing to check out the waves along the way, this attracted swarms of salesmen who tried to persuade me to come to their beach.
The deal about the beaches here are that some are public while other are private and since I don’t read Arabic, I am unable to distinguish between the two, but it quickly becomes clear when someone wants your business. Once you pay the general entrance fee you can upgrade by adding a towel, inner tube, table, chairs, umbrella, snacks, drinks, etc. to your tab. Going to the beach is a family and social event and most customers spare no expense.
I decided on a beach and entered with one of the solicitors and was immediately greeted by his sales team who guided me to my spot on the sand. They were ready sell me all the upgrades and quickly became dumbfounded that all I wanted was an area to lay my bag and towel on. A discussion ensued amongst them, if I had to guess, it had to do with what they were going to charge me. The spokesman of the bunch, meaning the one who knew how to say “20 pounds” in English was in charge of collecting my fee. I replied “lac!” (no!) and showed them that I only had a 5 pound bill on me. Disappointed, they huddled around and discussed their options further. Now all the beachgoers were starting to get involved. At this point, I was ready to leave as I gathered my things and started to walk away. The guy gently pulled me back and took my 5 pound note and definitively stated “no umbrella” and “no chair.” And just like that the situation was resolved as the group dissipated back towards the entrance.
6:30 am view of the road and beach
Since I still had everyone’s undivided attention, it was time to change into my rash guard which meant taking off my shirt. For those of you who have seen me without my shirt you understand why I’m nicknamed “Chewbobca” and why there is usually a team of researchers trying to throw a net on me when I emerge from the water. As far as tattoos are concerned, they are a rarity in this part of the world; you could say that I was “exotic” that afternoon. Next, I put on my socks and fins and for the less-than-eventful grand finale I unzipped my bag producing a lime green body board. After attaching the board’s leash to my bicep I walked a couple of meters into the warm waters of the Med.
While I was attempting to catch waves and collecting jelly fish stings, I started to hear the sounds of someone blowing a whistle getting closer. I eventually turned around and saw what looked like a lifeguard pointing at me yelling “heneck” (go over there lit. over there). Of course, a blowing whistle, a foreigner with strange looking objects never attracts any attention right? No nets this time when I came out of the water, but still plenty of eyes. I packed up my items and walked about another mile down the beach meeting and talking to several kids along the way who wanted to practice and show off their English.
On the cab ride home, I managed to dump plenty of sand on the back seat in addition to having a small conversation in Arabic with the driver. At one point while waiting in traffic he asked if I was a Christian while he showed me his Coptic cross tattoo. I responded “Catholic.” Somehow it was fitting that I ended up in his cab.