Monday, 28 July 2008

Day 31: Hotel

We're in a hotel. The Hadhramaut Hotel. I feel as excited as a little kid on Christmas day.

The day started out with us leaving Tarim an hour later than planned, squished together like sardines in a crowded bus. As usual, we failed the test in patience, complaining about how the men's bus was so much emptier, and about how women always got the short end of the stick. So after a bit more moaning about the heat, the drive, the crowded bus, the niqab etc, we settled in for a couple of hours of sleep.

The further away we got from Tarim, the stranger the landscape became. I'd gotten so used to seeing humongous mountains and palm tree-covered valleys that the bare, flat, rocky landscape was somewhat strange and felt too exposed.

We made a pit stop to have breakfast (eggs that were somewhere between scrambled and omelet-y and tea with milk) and use the bathroom (I have literally been scarred with my experience with the hole in the floor, I think I'm going to have nightmares about it from now on, no joke).

We then continued on our journey, passing time (not killing it!) by playing 20Q and this strange game called Picnic. We then went back up the two lane road built into the humongous mountain I talked about in the very beginning of this blog. Only this time I was fully awake and in more awe of creation than ever before.

Right before I came on the Dowra I had just come back from a conference in Norway, where every single mountain and fjord was literally covered with trees, to an inch. So to see that and then these majestic rocky mountains just fills you with wonder.

At the bottom of the mountain is a small valley filled with houses. It must be incredible to wake up every day and see mountains in every direction you look and palm-tree-filled valleys on either side—definitely a big difference from waking up and seeing high rise buildings and paved streets, as far away from nature as we could possibly be.

Eventually, after a seven hour trip on the bus with airplane economy size seats (and I thought six in a car was hard), we reached Makalla/ Al-Rayyan. The sight of the coast on the horizon rejuvenated us all (and let me tell you, wild goats cruising on the beach look so out of place!), as did the beautiful weather, which was enough to revive anyone's spirits.

An hour later, we checked in.

Subhan Allah the (mostly) ascetic lifestyle we've been living in for the past month made us appreciate all the little things we take for granted and that I know we'll go back to taking for granted once we go back home (I know I've said that more than once, but it's true).

I've stayed at Burj al-Arab in Dubai, and yet I think I was happier entering this hotel room than I was entering that seven-star hotel. And you know why?
  • It has real, live beds! (said to the tone of "a real, live boy!" Pinocchio-style) With bouncy mattresses and not the hard-as-a-rock ones we've been sleeping on. With comforters!

  • It has a real, live air conditioner! I don't think I've mentioned this before, but the air conditioners in Tarim are 'desert' ones that work with water and need a window or door open. Don't really understand the mechanics but they're really loud and although the air that's emitted is cool, it's just not the same as a 'real' AC. (Kind of like the difference between a bottle of water from a cool room versus a bottle of water from the fridge).

  • We have a shower! Where we can control the temperature and don't need to hold up the shower head because there's a place to hang it on!
  • No hole in the wall! i.e. No insects!

And so on and so forth. All the things you expect to find in a hotel room: soap, shampoo, a private fridge, a mirror hanging in the bathroom and a full length one in the bedroom, a wardrobe, chairs, curtains, little lava-lamp-looking lamps and a TV all filled us with glee because apart from the soap and shampoo, we'd been living without them for a month. And because it was so unexpected (last year all the Dowra sisters slept in one big room in a house so I was honestly picturing us in shacks on the beach), it makes it all the better. I feel like I'm on holiday!

And because we're coming here from a much less comfortable life, to us this is heaven. I was just thinking that if I'd come here straight from the airport, I wouldn't have thought that this two star hotel (ok, three star at best) was anything special, and in fact I would have probably only noticed the things it lacked.

But now, you can tell that the hotel made us all as happy as little kids. Still can't believe my roomate S. (and only because I'm nice I'm not publishing your name!) prank called me.

What makes me happiest is that the hotel is literally 'on' the seafront. And although the sea smells a bit like the kitchen of a seafood restaurant, the view outside the window is of the sea, and you can hear the waves crashing outside, which more than makes up for the smell.

Ever since I was a kid the summer holidays for me = beach. As soon as school was out, my entire family piled into a car and headed out for the North Coast for at least a month, waking up just before 'asr and going to sleep after fajr, eating mangoes and spending all day in the sea.

But last year was my first year working, and I spent my entire vacation time in the Rihla. This year, I took a leave of absence to attend the Dowra, and I have to go right back to work the second I land back in Egypt. Which means I haven't sayeft (literally 'summered') in two years. So the sound of the waves crashing onto the big black rocks soothes me a whole lot.

But I do envy the men, because of course as women we can't go swimming in the pool, scuba diving or swimming in the sea. A lot of the men (from the Dowra) just jumped straight into the pool when they arrived—one of them was even wearing his trunks under his galabeya!

But whatever, right now I am more than content to sit and watch the waves crashing on the shore and the sporadic lightning strikes.

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