Thursday, October 07, 2004

First rambling thoughts of the day after
The only thing I could think about was that M, one of Eldest’s oldest and best friends, was in Sinai with her father. She’d come over for our snorkeling equipment just the week before. Her father’s girlfriend is a travel agent, so I reckoned they wouldn’t be staying in one of the beachfront straw huts we used to stay in. They’d be in a hotel.

I didn’t dare to ring J, M’s mother, till about an hour later. ‘She walked through the door half an hour ago,’ J reported, breathlessly. ‘They went through Taba five hours ago. I hadn’t heard about the terrorist attack, M told me herself. It’s a good thing. I would have had a heart attack on the spot.’ I was relieved I hadn’t rung before.

It had aggravated me that people had ignored the warnings not to go before Rosh Hashanna. People had said it was all just a scare by hoteliers in Eilat, so people would come to them instead (not that Eilat wasn’t just as packed). But the reporters in the know are saying that this is not the attack they were warning about; that one was foiled.

People did keep clear of Sinai for about two or three years after September 2000. And then gradually, they started going again. It’s safer there than in Israel, they’d say.

It’s heaven there, you see. It’s hard to keep away. I miss it very much, but I haven’t been since August 2000.

We used to go with the girls for a few days at the end of August every year. It wasn’t the most popular time and was usually quite empty. The sea breeze made it pleasant, even in the summer heat. There is a lovely sea breeze along the coast of Sinai that somehow disappears like magic as you reach the bay of Eilat. The air stands in Eilat in August.

I used to be a bit nervous going, it was a long drive, with or without the girls, and the border crossing was never comfortable. But once in, there was this freedom. I’ve never experienced a holiday quite like Sinai. It really was heaven there.

We used to drive down to the Nuweiba area, to find the hut nearest the water, preferably in a Bedouin resort. They were more laid back, the Bedouin, and their places were usually quieter. The Egyptian places often had loud Western pop music blaring out all day. Mind you, the Egyptians we met were all lovely people, generous, warm; incredibly friendly.

Not very efficient though. Bish once went to look for some eye drops or ear drops, or something, in the so-called hospital in Nuweiba. ‘Not a place you go to, if you’re expecting to get treatment for anything’, was his verdict. It was, like, three rooms. He doubted there was a doctor.

We used to half-joke about our contingency plans. If anything happened that needed emergency attention, we would load the girls into the car and race to Taba like bats out of hell, praying all the way they’d let us through the Egyptian side of the border without the queue.

Israel is complaining that they didn’t let Israeli emergency services through fast enough last night. But that’s just the way the Egyptians are. Slow. They don’t mean any harm. They just take their time about everything.

They let the first Israeli ambulances in to Taba after about an hour. That’s really fast by Egyptian standards, in my experience, especially considering the historic sensitivities about sovereignty in the area.

You have to go to Egypt to realize what an amazing accomplishment Israel is. We maybe don’t compare very well to Europe and the US, but we’re very impressive compared to our immediate neighbors. This is quite incredible when you take into consideration that about fifty percent of the Jewish population in Israel is made up of natives of Middle Eastern countries and their descendants.

Nu. Anyway. I digress, and with good reason.

Anyone who has been to Sinai will understand my ramblings. It is hard to envision such a place amid the chaos of a terrorist attack. Heaven and hell all mixed up together. It doesn’t connect.