The Joys of Peeing In The Sand!
Offroading, Ramadan and The Kardashians
Hi :) and apologies for my radio silence this last week, I’ve been away in Egypt and my plan was to write from there, but our schedule ended up being so jam-packed that there just wasn’t the time, and when I might have stolen some, I was horizontal, desperately needing to recharge my batteries. I managed to squeeze out two reels on Instagram but that was about it. The rest of the time I was soaking up time with friends, alongside the rich history and culture of Egypt that as always when we travel to a culture different to our own, had some great challenges and lessons in store....
We went out to stay with my best friend and her family in Cairo. She and her husband are teachers on the international circuit. These days he’s a School Director, ‘in admin’ as he humbly puts it; and she’s a ridiculously talented drama teacher/theatre-maker and about to be a Cairo University lecturer - I know, I’m impressed by them too!
During the weeks ahead of our visit, Siobhan was sending me ideas of things we could do – pyramids, museums, camping in the desert, all sorts. It sounded
exhausting exhilarating and fantastic. ‘Yes!’ I said to each suggestion, ‘Book it! Book it!’ and so she did.
The week before we flew out, she sent me our itinerary and as requested, had booked everything!
Day 1: Local orientation / Khan Kaili souks / Old Cairo
Day 2: Egyptian Museum, Zamalek, Cairo Tower
Day 3: Pyramids, Sphinx, Museum of Ancient Civilisation then sunset in a Felucca on the Nile
Day 4: ROADTRIP IN THE DESERT! Valley of the Whales, sandboarding, offroading and overnight camping under the stars
Day 5: MORE ROADTRIP! Sunset breakfast, pack up camp, find Watermelon Valley and Ancient Greek trading centre. Head to El Dikka Lodge in Tunis village, pottery class and walk around the pottery village
Day 6: Head back to Cairo, out for last night rooftop dinner looking across city
Day 7: Any last minute bits before 12.30 taxi to airport
Now I don’t know about you, but I looked at that schedule and was instantly taken by how exciting it looked. I was tired before we even got on the plane but knew that as soon as we hit Cairo, the sheer excitement of seeing friends and being in such a unique city with an itinerary like this, would give us the boost of energy we needed – which it did!
But, in that list, there was one little word that I scooted over. Offroading.
I saw it alongside sandboarding (which I thought sounded great) and immediately thought to myself ‘I won’t say anything now, but I think I’ll sit that one out.’
I assumed that we would rock up somewhere in the desert, at some touristy spot, to do activities like sandboarding, offroading etc. I guessed that we would choose what we wanted, pay for an hour or so, hire boards, or get in a 4x4 and do some loony sand dune driving etc. Easy to sit that out, I thought, like holding the coats at Thorpe Park. But when our two 4x4s rocked up in Cairo to collect us, loaded with tents and food (and boards which I didn’t see yet), I didn’t notice the ‘rally driver’ stickers on the side, so I didn’t twig what was ahead.
We drove for nearly two hours, out of busy Cairo and into the desert. I came to Cairo back in 1995 and spent the entire time petrified by the driving. There were very few lines on the road, what looked like zero direction for anyone, and in the midst of it, pedestrians launched themselves into fast, beeping, weaving, oncoming traffic in order to cross from one side to the other. It looked like suicide central to me. This time around, having travelled more since then and learned that everywhere has its own rules, I decided to trust the locals and just look out of the side windows (if all else fails, pretend it’s a game!) It was visiting Siobhan when they lived in Uzbekistan that helped with this. The driving out there was similar and she explained to me that the rule was to watch your front. As long as you’re watching your front, and everyone else is watching theirs, it works – and by all accounts it did. Now in Cairo, the stakes were upped as pedestrians were thrown in the mix. ‘Just step confidently out into the road and keep going’ she said, with 4 lanes of traffic heading toward us. She shouted above the beeping and road noise, ‘walk and cross and walk and cross and walk and cross’ and so we did. It was hair raising to say the least, but it worked. The cars just wound and bent around us and each other, tolerance, room for everyone. I came to the conclusion that all the beeping is just saying ‘I’m here’ and ‘watch your back’.
Life lesson: there is room for everyone!
Can you imagine doing that in the UK? (Please don’t try!) Once we passed through the military checkpoint and approached the desert road, Siobhan’s husband turned around and said ‘I was really shocked the first time we did this, the driver just hung a right and careered off the road and across into the sand….’ ‘Thank goodness we won’t be doing that!’ I thought to myself. Ten minutes later …..yep, you guessed it.
No sign posts, no signal, not even an upturned bucket in the road that said ‘desert this way’, nothing that made any sense to me whatsoever. The two 4x4s we were travelling in just careered off the road and shot across the desert. There was no road ahead, just yellow sand for as far as the eye could see.
Can’t go round it, can’t go over it, got to go through it…. (didn’t we say this last time?)
It was at this point that I realised. Shit. I can’t sit out the offroading – it’s the whole trip!!! And so for the next few hours, we bound across the desert, raced up sand dunes and down the other side, slid and spun on the sand, drove sideways along steep banks of sand and even made it up a vertical dune which I thought was surely the end of us.
I don’t mind saying here that I’m not an adrenalin junkie, in fact I think I’m probably more like a control freak - I don’t do speed unless I’m behind the wheel and I absolutely hate heights. This challenged my biggest fears so I held on for dear life. When my daughter started to squeal with excitement, I jabbed her in the side saying ‘Don’t egg him on!’ to which she replied ‘Oh come on Mum, it’s fun! What’s the worst that could happen?!’
‘UH, WE COULD ALL DIE?!!’
… is what I wanted to say, but I knew that might put a damper on her youthful
ignorance exuberance. She was loving every moment, so I shut my mouth and kept my fear to myself, in fact at times, (thank goodness for travel sickness tablets!) I was even able to enjoy the ride!
Like in Cairo though, I had to choose to give up the need to control or know the outcome. The only option was to be in the moment. I couldn’t even film it as we were bouncing around so much. Our driver did this for a living, he explained that he grew up in the desert, and that you never drive when the sun is directly above you as the shadows disappear; that they can’t navigate by topography because it changes every day, so instead they navigate by the sun, shadows, and experience. The desert takes days to drive through so there are very few landmarks along the way. I decided my only option was to trust his experience and his vehicle, they could hardly drop me off and come back later - which is what I did years ago in a Police helicopter when doing an interview for BBC radio. We were flying over the south downs and I was so unwell that they dumped me on the ground and flew off in search of the stolen vehicles we had been sweeping around looking for. Not the same. AT all!
Suffice to say, the desert trip was incredible, even hunting for a sheltered spot to dig a hole, and make your own toilet proved to have its hilarious moments - announcing you’re ‘off for a wander’ is one of the greatest equalisers in life. We ate under the stars and camped right out in the open, with desert wolves not far away too. On our last night when we sat in our glad-rags in a lovely restaurant in Cairo, overlooking the city and recounting our best bits, I surprised myself when I said ‘I think mine was the offroading’.
Life lesson: do the things that scare you!!
It’s so cliched isn’t it? But at the same time, so true! If we are careful ALL the time, we miss out on the exhilaration of adventure and risk, how else can we live a fulfilled life? On our long journey back to Cairo, we discussed life choices and university etc. We have four children between us, three of whom are all in the process of choosing what to do next. So we pulled out the Baz Luhrmann graduation song ‘WEAR SUNSCREEN’:
It’s one of those pieces that is good to go back to time and time again, if you’ve not heard it, please click the link and listen, and if you have, listen again, you’ll thank me. I love all the lyrics for different reasons but the one I often come back to is this:
The race is long, and in the end it’s only with yourself.
There is nothing to prove, no one to beat. The journey is ours, and ours alone. With that in mind, we are also coming to the end of Holy month which gets celebrated by different religions throughout the world in different ways. They include Ramadan, Passover, Eid, and in the Christian calendar (and the retail one too) there is Easter.
It was Ramadan while we were in Egypt, 30 days of fasting from sunrise until sundown. Both of our drivers and our guide were fasting. The rule is that nothing passes the lips, no food, no water, no cigarettes etc. They did it with no complaints, and were happy to talk with us about it too. One of the greetings during Ramadan is ‘Ramadan Mubarak’ which translates into ‘Happy Ramadan’. It’s not only a time of discipline and sacrifice, but come sunset, it’s a time of joy and celebration. Having grown up in the Christian church, I had only ever heard critical comments about this Muslim tradition which made me unsure, and reticent to ask. But seeing Siobhan chat away to the drivers, asking how Ramadan is going and seeing them willing to share challenged me. The driver said ‘Have you tried it? Even for just one day?’ Siobhan replied, ‘Ooh no, I’d not thought about it – maybe I will! And then I will tell you!’
‘No!’ He said ‘No, you must tell no one. You must do it for yourself!’ It’s a challenge for you, it’s personal.’
I was sitting in the back of the taxi and listening to this conversation. I thought his response was profound and challenging. These days we jump to share our achievements and triumphs, deeply entrenched in the world of show and tell. I grew up in a church where you would often hear loud exultations of ‘hallelujah’ and ‘praise the lord’ which I often found jarring and thought were perhaps just for show. Does that make me judgemental? Possibly. I prefer the purity in doing it for yourself, without the need for acknowledgement or a pat on the back, or the gathering of ‘likes’. It clears muddied waters and perhaps becomes the ultimate guide in navigating our way through life, as Baz said:
The race is long, and in the end it’s only with yourself.
(So good I had to type it twice!) Doing things for show forces us into a world of comparison, the thief of joy. I’m not suggesting we isolate ourselves, we need one another, and we thrive on connection. But our purpose and pleasure comes from recognising where we connect, and making sure we do it at all levels: with our inner selves (spiritual), with intimate circles of friends and family (personal), and then those beyond (public).
I have found that social media has the power to rob me of some of my moments so I need to choose carefully when to have my phone out, and when to keep it in my pocket. If I’m busy connecting with the internet, I run the risk of missing connection with life. As in all things, it’s about finding the balance of all three.
Public/wider circles such as work associates etc
Seeing the Muslim Egyptians fast and celebrate during Ramadan reminded me of the joy in personal sacrifice and spiritual connection, and seeing the many mummies in the museums reminded me of just how short our time on earth is, yet how impactful that time can be. Staying present and pure in our motivations to do the things we do, has become more of a skill than ever before, and guarding those things is vital to living our richest lives. Besides, how can we be women what whistle, if we’re just following the crowd?!
We went to the cinema last night and there was an ad for the new Kardashian series - I can honestly tell you that I could walk past any of them in the street and not know who they are. Apparently, they are very entertaining, but I can’t help but feel that they are part of the world that has been constructed around us that leads us away from experiencing our own lives. Instead, we have created a world where we are content to watch everyone else’s. It’s robbery.
Real thrills come from real adventures, life lessons come from life failures, and living a fulfilled life comes from being present along the way.
It is good for us to take risks, to wear no make-up and to dig holes in the sand to use as a toilet. Perhaps not every day, but as a reminder of our humanity, so we can disrobe ourselves of our shiny climate controlled comforts, and truly connect with the world around us. Real life happens when we do!
…phew, that was a long one wasn’t it? Time for a lie down? No! Go and enjoy the sunshine :) …if you have any... ours keeps peeping in and out from behind the clouds. Thank you for subscribing, do have a browse through Substack, there are some great writers on here who you will love dropping into your inbox! I’ll suggest a few for you next week, now go and listen to Baz!
Have a great week, love first