October 21, 2019

Why Egypt Doesn’t Speak English


By Toyin Akinosho

You’d wonder why, in spite of a throng of visitors from all over the world, touring the country’s spectacular historic sites and stunning coastal resorts all over the year, the man in the street of Cairo or Sharm El Sheikh or Alexandria or Al Harguda would not speak English. You wonder how the visitors navigate the contours of poor communication with everyone from the hotel receptionist to the waiter in the restaurant to the ubiquitous policeman to the traders in those labyrinthine alleyways of commerce. You wonder how Egyptian ministers speak so well at conferences and articulate the country’s positions, and yet the vast population of the people stutter when you ask simple questions. The most compelling answer came, not from any of those unfailingly amiable Egyptian engineers you typically meet in the networking lobbies of the world economic forum or a gathering of oil and gas professionals; no, not from the sleek PR types you meet on  the twenty somethingth floor of Cairo’s office towers. No, the most compelling answer came from a jobless dropout waiting out at a café in Sharm El Sheikh’s Nama Bay. “The Egyptian educational system allocates only four hours a month for instruction in English language in public schools”, says Ahmed, who prefers to be called Tiger. “The teachers themselves don’t understand the language in-depth and their pay is so low they take out their frustration on the kids, rather than teach”. Tiger, 29, says that most of those in his generation who happen to be speaking (he stutters real bad) English either learn it by speaking with tourists all the time or by attending elite private schools, which are available only to the very rich.

The Gated Resort Or The Party Ambience

If you really want to own a piece of the Red Sea, even if for just a while, and live it up like the ravishing beauties that feature on those CNN commercials on Egypt’s tourism potentials, then go to any of the gated resorts on Sharm El Sheikh, that are deliberately cut away from the rest of this charming city of excess. If you want a feel of smart shopping malls, exquisite cafes, a rambunctious nightlife that’s smack in your face, then take up residence in one of those hotels that line the Nama Bay, which is Sharm’s official clubland. Either way, there’s enough view and sight and smell and vista, even for a day’s stay. At the Continental Garden Reef Resort, the first surprise is the discovery of how much of the awesome bounty of nature is yours alone. You could easily climb over  the terrace adjoining your room, which is itself quite expansive, and drop into the clean blue waters or you can just stand and gaze as far as the eye can see. And yet there will be none of the other occupants of the hotel in sight, evening or daytime. Every level of this hotel feels like a rambling imperial court and you can be forgiven for expecting one of those characters in Moses, the movie, to sneak up on you . All of this is for 150 American dollars, or less than 20,000 naira, per night, less than half of what you pay for a standard room in either Eko Holiday Inn or The Hilton in Abuja. Your ownership of space extends to breakfast, served in a large dining room with an adjoining balcony which itself adjoins a terrace that sits right on the sea. When last did you experience tiny songbirds swooping around you, staring at you and taking flight?

….A Different Life On Nama Bay

The first time visitor to Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt’s sun drenched holiday city on the red sea, ringed by the fabled Mount Sinai, might wonder what life is like outside a gated resort, after two nights exploring its ample grounds. What, exactly lurks behind those smart shops and screaming signs you see as the taxi speeds to the resort? What would life be like if you don’t stay at the Continental Garden Reef Resort, or Sheraton Sharm, or Savoy or Sofitel, all of who have cornered the sea to themselves?. How would life be on Sharm El Sheikh if you don’t have to telephone a taxi just because you want to visit the Egyptian Divers Club on Nama Bay, or go to a cafe “in town” ? When you change residence from a resort in an exclusive part of Sharm, to a regular hotel on Nama Bay, you are located right at the epicentre of activity. Down the street is a series of bars with the floor seating setting that remind outgoing middle aged Lagosians of Nefertiti, the upscale Egyptian restaurant located near Caban Bamboo on Ikorodu Road in the mid 70s. The Nama Bay walkway hosts three night clubs, three dancing bars, the Sharm Museum -from where Arab music comes out loudly even at 3am-and an uncountable number of chic hangouts. Your room still gets a view of the sea, but you suddenly find that it’s a crowded view. The Helnan Marina hotel, which charges 180 American dollars for a standard room, offers tastier meals than Continental Garden Reef and provides DJ music on a terrace (this is a city of terraces) on Wednesday night. Hotels on Nama Bay are the preferred choice of a younger, hip crowd, whereas retired types tend to congregate in resorts. But there’s a feeling that you are right in the same place you’re coming from. If the standard feature of Nigeria’s best hotels is the feeling of crowdedness you get at Lagos Sheraton, Abuja Hilton and Eko Hotel, why travel 4,000 km away just to replicate the experience?

Between Sharm’s Paccha and Hard Rock Café

Hard Rock Café is a restaurant, bar and night club that’s well known in the major cities of Europe and a few select cities in Africa, including Cape Town and Cairo. So it often comes well recommended and gets a good mention in Lonely Planet and other standard travel guides. Paccha, on the contrary, sounds essentially Mediterranean. It certainly doesn’t look like it has built the sort of franchise for which Hard Rock is credited. But in Egypt’s red sea Riveria, named Sharm El Sheikh, where the two of them are the preferred discotheques, and are sited quite close to each other, Hard Rock Café struggles to get the crowd that’s left over from Paccha. On Wednesday morning last week, people were queuing to pay the 145 Egyptian pounds, or roughly 3,200 naira that Paccha charges per person, whereas the gate area was quite relaxed at Hard Rock Café, which was charging 100 Egyptian pounds. The ticket, in each case, comes with drinks, though Paccha’s gate fee offers two beers to Hard Rock’s one beer. If you think that may be the reason for the crowd preference for Paccha, take a closer look. Paccha has a large, airy interior and the seatings are on raised level to the dance floor. What’s more, a number of drop dead gorgeous girls take turns to dance to the boxed music on Paccha’s large stage and there’s a swimming pool tucked away out of sight of the dance/bar area, as well as other places not quite obvious to the incurious eye.

Compiled By staff of Festac News Press Agency

The collection was published in The Guardian of Lagos, in 2009.

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