This week, Nadia El-Awady talks diving, 'Khawaga' husbands, and underwater weddings.
Colin, my khawaga husband from Scotland, put on the red and white checkered head dress and held it in place with a circular black 'igal. He had already donned a long, flowing Nubiangalabiya given to him by Sheikh Yehia. We held each other’s hands and jumped into the water.
As we descended, we slowly saw an arc of about fifteen people calmly seated on the sandy bottom; about 10 meters deep.
We settled on the bottom in front of them. Sheikh Yehia joined us. He was also dressed in a checkered head dress and a long flowing galabiya. He held up a white slate with writing on it. He showed it to the group of people and to Colin. Colin made the underwater hand sign for OK. I am showed a similar slate. I look at the 30 be-goggled eyes in front of me. I point to me, point to Colin, and swing my cupped hand back and forth; the Egyptian hand signal of “what do you think?” Fifteen OK hand signs flash back at me. I shrug my shoulders and give Sheikh Yehia the OK hand signal.
I can’t stop giggling. No one can hear me, but my shoulders don’t stop shaking from laughter. This was seriously fun! My makeshift bride’s veil and wedding dress, made from a cheap tulle bought in downtown Cairo and sewed together by the tailor beneath my home in Haram St., flow behind me in the gentle current. They are held in place on my body with an elastic strap and held downwards by little rocks sewed into the hems. Sheikh Yehia shows us a couple more slates. We give the right hand signals. Bubbles come out of Ahmad Mustafa’s mouth as he leaves the arc and swims towards us. He hands a cheap plastic turquoise colored ring to Colin and another to me. Colin and I put them on each other’s fingers. We are instructed to kiss. We remove the regulators from our mouths, the device that is giving us air so we can breathe, and exchange a kiss that is very literally quite wet. I continue to giggle. I hug my son Mohammed, my best friend Arwa, my dear friend Ola, and a few other people I can’t recognise in their diving gear. Colin passes around handshakes to everyone.
Colin and I are thus officially married: underwater by a Nubian diver dude in the presence of 15 members of our families and friends, all of whom, with the exception of two, have never dived before. Fishes of all colours and sizes were witnesses to the event. Another 10 people watched while snorkeling, while the remaining 15 participants in our wedding stayed safe and dry on the boat.
Scuba diving is serious fun. I’ve known this since I first started diving some three years ago. I enjoy it so immensely that I decided that I wanted to have a fun underwater wedding with the fishes.
For the past three years I’ve told people that if they haven’t seen Egypt underwater they haven’t seen half of Egypt’s treasures.
Egypt’s Red Sea has some of the top dive sites in the world. Just a few days ago I went diving in the south of Egypt for the first time. Our boat left from the port of Hamata, the last Egyptian port and third to last Egyptian town before the border with Sudan. It took twelve hours to get there by bus and it was worth every second of it. In five days, I did 14 dives. While diving in the St. John’s area, I saw am amazing variety of corals and marine life. In Zabargad in particular, I recall seeing the different shades of purples and greens and beiges and thinking: I want a dress in that colour, and that colour, and that colour.
During one of the dives, three of us separated from the larger group with the permission of our guide. We were all doing our dive master course under his tutelage and he trusted we would be safe. We swam out into the blue, keeping the coral reef at our backs, and floated quietly, hoping to catch sight of a passing shark. Yes. Divers actively seek out sharks. We love them. But sharks don’t seem to love us back. A diver friend of mine explained it this way: “Imagine you’re a shark going about your business and suddenly you come across a large number of huge and strange looking creatures with fire (bubbles) coming out of their mouths.” Sharks are frickin’ scared shitless by divers most of the time. Nevertheless, we keep searching for them. And my friends and I, now experienced at recognising the wiggly movement and white underbelly of a shark from ten to fifteen meters away, found two white-tipped reef sharks. Neither stayed anywhere near us for long. It was exciting nonetheless. After any dive where there is a possibility of spotting sharks, divers get back to the boat and boast: “I saw a white tip!” “I saw a hammerhead!” “We were this close to an oceanic shark!” We boast and we let whoever did not see a shark during the dive feel as badly as possible about it because we were in that position the dive before. Divers really know how to rub it in. It’s one of our favorite pastimes.
Two of the most amazing dives I’ve ever done were also in the St John’s area: Um Khararim and Claude. Both dives involve swimming through a complex network of caves. In Um Khararim the caves are narrow and in most places an average-sized diver barely fits through. In Claude the caves are spacious and regal, almost like swimming through an underwater cathedral. Both dives need to be led by a guide who knows how to get around in them. Many of the caves have dead-ends and if you spend too much time searching for the way out you could run out of air.
If you live in Egypt and you aren’t yet a diver, you need to get your act together and start learning to dive. You are missing out on too much. People travel from all over the world to visit our dive sites. Most dive sites are within a few short hours of a drive from Cairo.
To dive, you need certification. In Egypt, two types of diving licenses are available: CMAS andPADI. My personal preference is PADI, but Egyptian divers will get into long debates about the benefits of doing one or the other. In reality, it doesn’t really matter. Just get certified to dive. Almost any sea-side resort in Egypt will have a large number of diving centers to choose from. It takes about three days of training to get the first level of certification and another four days of training to get the next level of certification. With PADI if you have an Advanced Open Water certificate – the second level – you’ll be able to do almost any kind of diving available in the Red Sea. While you’re on holiday in Hurghada, Sharm El-Sheikh, or Dahab, consider visiting the nearest dive center (usually in your hotel) and asking about training.
I’m currently working on my dive master certificate. This is the fourth level of certification with PADI. I have no big and lofty reasons for going this far in my training other than the fact that I want to be able to call myself your master. When I was explaining to Colin why I was considering taking the course, all I could think of was, “I want to be able to say, ‘Hi. I’m Nadia. I’m a dive master.’”
For those of you in Cairo, there are a few instructors who hold training courses that begin here in a local swimming pool where you go through the theoretical parts of the training and the confined water exercises. You end your training by going on a short diving trip to continue the remainder of your exercises in the sea. A typical beginners training course costs something in the range of 2500 LE.
Whether you want to get diving certification or you want to be informed of dive trips for you to join, I can personally recommend a few groups that I’ve dealt with myself:
Advanced Divers is a diving group led by Tarek Abdelmoneim. Tarek trains divers and organizes diving trips year-round. Most of my diving trips have been with Tarek and I’ve truly enjoyed every single one of them. His years of experience as an instructor and in Egypt make him a reference for anyone getting into the sport.
Diving Group is run by Ahmed Tawfik. Ahmed is organizing a PADI Open Water course that starts this Friday, September 7 in Madinat Nasr. I highly recommend you take this as your opportunity to learn to dive. I’ll be assisting. Get in touch with Ahmed on his Facebook group and ask him for details. He also organizes diving trips. For the more experienced divers, he’s organizing a trip to Brothers Islands in early October.
Adventure Plus is led by the very cool Rami Azab, Mohamed Nabil Hayek, and Mohamed Sakr. If you are young and funky, this is the group you want to dive with. These dudes also provide training and organize diving trips year-round.
If you’re ever in Sharm, I recommend you get in touch with Sheikh Yehia, who organized my underwater wedding. He runs Sinai Scuba and is my favorite go-to guy for Sharm diving (and wedding ceremonies).
And if you are in Hurghada and want to learn to dive, Tarek Awad is the man to find. Tarek was my PADI instructor for my Open Water, Advanced Open Water, and Rescue Diver certificates. He also trained my two young sons, who both have Junior Open Water certification. Super-sweet, calm, and collected, Tarek makes the training one that is relaxing and enjoyable. Tarek is fluent in Arabic, English, Russian and German. He can practically train anyone in their native language.