Ilona Sābera – portfolio

blogging, journalism, semiotics, short stories


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A story of simplicity and fulfilment in Egypt’s South Sinai

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There is a remote place in Egypt’s beautiful Sinai peninsula that seems an example of symbiotic co-existence of nature’s simplicity and human innovation. Not without a reason it is called Basata in Arabic meaning both – happiness and simplicity.

Mountains, desert and the Red Sea are surrounding a dozen of bamboo huts and clay chalets. It is claimed as one of the best beaches in the world. The water next to the coast in summer is as warm as in your bathtub. While swimming or snorkeling next to a coral rife with enjoy a company of colourful fish and when stepping out of the water, be careful not to touch a sand coloured crab who is escaping from you and burring himself a hole. Basata camp is an ecolodge – a place where owners and guests are taking care of natural resources, using solar energy and recycling waste.

It is a family enterprise and a community built on mutual respect and trust. Located between Nuweiba and Taba in South Sinai and being almost 500km from Cairo, getting there is an adventure itself so only the most committed and determined come. It is a place to reconnect with the nature and reflect.

Basata story starts 30 years ago when a young civil engineer from Cairo Sherif El Ghamrawy decided to break his daily routine and define the real priorities in life – nature, health, happiness and self-fulfillment.

“I got into this circle as everyone does– going to work in the morning and coming back in the evening. What had happened?” he asks himself in a TEDx talk. “When I was a student, I had big dreams and priorities. Where did they go?” He stopped for a moment to reflect: “My priorities are: to be happy, to have a good health, to live in a good environment and breath fresh air, to have success and in the end to have some money.”

Sherif acknowledged that as a beginner engineer he had some money and had started to gain some reputation. However, he was not happy and was suffering from Cairo’s pollution. He defied all the expectations of a prescribed successful engineering carrier Egypt and decided to start his own project in Sinai. At that time time where there was only one hotel on the whole Red Sea area. “I took a decision to emigrate from Egypt (Cairo) to Egypt,” he says.

Taking this decision was the easiest part, the real struggle had yet to begin. It took four years of bureaucratic ping-pong with local and national authorities to get the license and all the paperwork done. With a bit of luck, he managed to get the approval when the new government has just been installed. But that was not the last step. With the outset of the building works, he started receiving threats from the local Bedouin leaders. He was still considered an outsider, ‘a stranger from Cairo’ wanting to bring tourists without considering the local sensibilities. In the end he managed to get an agreement with them as well and now he is proudly wearing a traditional Bedouin gown while chatting with his guests at dinner time in Basata. He has a great sense of empathy and always finds a common language.

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After a couple of years managing the camp, Sherif got married to a German women Maria Wuerfel who shared his dreams and priorities. The first four years of their married life, they lived in a bamboo hut on the beach, the last two of which – with their firstborn daughter. “They truly where the happiest years of my life,” says Sherif.

The first time I went to Basata I could not imagine such a place exists in an overcrowded, polluted and commercialized Egypt. But Sherif made me think of Egypt beyond Cairo and usual Red Sea tourist spots. I could feel the peace of Latvian forest there. Even Latvian Ambassador Iveta Šulca has visited Basata to discuss EU funding for Egypt’s development.

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Each time we are getting back to the camp, I am driven to reconsider my own choices and priorities. What is my daily routine? What do I need for a general feeling of happiness and self-fulfillment? After years of searching for the meaning I am now looking for peace and a stable ground under my feet.

I want to be able to create and feel appreciated. I want to express and challenge myself and believes and convictions of others in a meaningful discussion. I am eager to fulfill my ambitions and dreams. I want my ‘work’ to be an integral part of my personality. I want a balance between routine, restriction and creativity.

I want to feel close to the nature, of course. I want to walk on the streets undisturbed and be able to find an escape to a forest when I wish and need it. I want to have a garden and eat healthy.

I have been looking for the right country and place to have it all and hope I have found it now in UK. While part of me will stay forever in Egypt and Latvia, I have to admit nothing happens without compromises.

On the cliffs surrounding Basata.

On the cliffs surrounding Basata.

 

Waking up in a bamboo hut on the beach

Waking up in a bamboo hut on the beach


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Erased time

If one my previous reflection on political and social developments in Egypt followed Cairokee rhythm of music and lyrics, the soundtrack of this post will be Dalida. She an Italian Egyptian singer from 60-ties and 70-ties, longing for Egypt and the beauty of Alexandria.

Have you ever experienced a feeling when a certain period of time is erased from memory? When you return to a place that was once part of your well known routine and then all of a sudden the whole year spent away is shift-deleted? Continue reading


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How to fit in a different country? Communicate, get over disappointment and reinvent identity.

SONY DSCWhen Margarita from Happy Abroad, a website giving tips on living in a different country, asked me to write about Egypt, I could not decide where to start. After three years in the country and a marriage to an Egyptian, am I the right person to give general advice? Can I still retrieve the feeling when I first came here without any work, study or personal commitments? I must admit the more time passes, the more my eyes and mind get accustomed and it takes effort to remember what impressed or amazed me before. While the first year was the hardest, it was also the most intense experience. I want to focus in this post on internal struggles I had to overcome to fit in a new place, taking into account that each experience is deeply personal. I want to talk about psychological states and social factors I had to consider to live in balance and peace in Egypt. Continue reading


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Autobusa uzvara Ēģiptē: Gribas uzsprāgt

Publicēts Veto Magazine 33, pirmo daļu lasi ŠEIT, otro daļu ŠEIT.

Met pie malas intelektuāļu bariņus, izej uz ielas, tā tev pateiks taisnību.
Nekādas audzināšanas, nekādas izglītības, nekādas kārtības, nekādu likumu.
Pasaule griežas, kamēr nekustam ne no vietas un strīda karstumā sabļaustāmies korķa vidū.

سيبك من النخبة المثقفين،  هو الشارع هقوللك الحقيقة فين
مافيش تربية ومافيش تعليم، مافيش نظام و مافيش قوانين
العالم بيجري واحنا فى مترحنا، و بنتخانق فى عز الزحمة

Pēdējā albumā Cairokee nonākuši līdz atziņai, ka jebkas, kas pašlaik notiek Ēģiptē, tiek darīts pretēji, nekā tam būtu jānotiek – it kā vienkāršas lietas ir jāizcīna ar milzīgu piepūli. To var saukt par briedumu, kad atzīsti problēmas, necenties idealizēt, bet nekrīti arī depresijā. To novērtēja arī klausītāji, diska pirmo laidienu izpērkot trīs dienās un padarot ierakstu par reģiona līderi iTunes veikalā. Albumā iekļautajās dziesmās saklausāma Kairas ielu kņada, neizturamais karstums, gājēju un braucēju sastrēgums 20 miljonu pilsētā, ielu bērni, kas par vienu naudiņu pārdod papīra kabatlakatiņus, ēzelīši ar milzīgām atkritumu kravām līdzās miljonāru džipiem, foul un taameya (cūku pupu putriņa un falafels, ko parasti ēd brokastīs) pārdevēju ratiņi un pieczvaigžņu hoteļi Nīlas krastā. Tā ir ikdiena, ar kuru jāsadzīvo, jāprot izkarot sava vietā lielajā pūlī, lai netiktu samīts.

Arī es biju gatava mūžīgajai cīņai. Tiklīdz izgāju ārpus mājas, privātā telpa beidza eksistēt. Bija jāsamierinās ar to, ka nekad neizdosies iejukt pūlī. Tiku pamanīta, uzrunāta, izsekota, novērtēta un aprunāta, sliktākajā gadījumā necenzētu komentāru pavadīta. Tomēr biju izgājusi ārpus komforta zonas, un par to nebeidzu sevi slavēt. Izgāju no gaisa kondicionētās, sterilās darba biroja vides, kur nevalstisko organizāciju darboņi cenšas risināt globālas problēmas, bieži neprotot saskatīt tālāk par savu degungalu. Nolēmu, ka nebūšu baltrocīte – man jāzina, kas notiek ielās. Viegli izgrūstīju apkārtējos un iekāpu bremzējošā autobusā, pēc tam centos nenoģībt bezgaisa metro vagonā, izlauzu ceļu tirgus drūzmā, nokaulēju saldo apelsīnu cenu, izjaucot pārdevēja plānu un pierādot, ka nepiederu pie naivajiem (lasi – cērpjamajiem) ārzemniekiem un atsvaidzinājos ar glikozes devu svaigi spiestā cukurniedru sulā – tipiskais ēģiptiešu gardums, ja neskaita gāzēto dzērienu invāziju. Biju sevi pierādījusi. Continue reading


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Autoubua uzvara Ēģiptē: Svešais svešā valstī

Publicēts Veto Magazine 33, pirmo daļu lasi ŠEIT.

Izgāju un teicu, ka neatgriezīšos, ar asinīm rakstīju katrā ielā. Likām dzirdēt, tiem, kas neklausījās, un šķēršļi tika salauzti.

   نزلت وقلت انا مش راجع، وكتبت بدمي في كل شارع / سمعنا اللي ما كنش سامع،  واتكسرت كل الموانع

Ēģiptē viss sākās ar uzvaras reibumu, smaidīgām sejām un ideālistiskām nākotnes cerībām. Diktators tika aizvākts un tautas pašapziņa uzcelta “mēs esam stipri, mēs esam vareni” garā. Lai arī es ierados Kairā vairākus mēnešus pēc apvērsuma, Tahrīra laukumā joprojām izjutu tautas vienotību, atmiņas un smēlos iedvesmu. Dzīvokļa biedri pastāstīja, ka manā istabā trūkstot biezās segas, jo iepriekšējie iemītnieki esot segas nesuši uz Tahrīru tiem, kam tās vairāk vajadzīgas.

Jau pēc gada sekoja vilšanās par to, kā uz saukļiem par cieņu un taisnīgumu armija atbild ar iebiedēšanu un lieto spēku pret “savējiem”, jo tas ir vienīgais, ko viņi prot. Tas bija laiks, kad ēģiptieši apjauta, ka izcīnīt brīvību ir vieglāk nekā to noturēt. Tie, kas agrāk laukumā bija vienoti, nu sašķēlušies grupējumos un turas katrs pie savām interesēm. Tomēr Cairokee savās dziesmās aicina nepadoties un turēt stingru mugurkaulu, lai arī kas būtu jāpārcieš, nāks labāki laiki. Continue reading


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Autobusa uzvara Ēģiptē: Braucam pretējā virzienā

Publicēts Veto Magazine 33

Kad pirms pāris gadiem pārcēlos uz Ēģipti, man bija jāizvēlas – dzīvot dzīvi onlainā un komfortā aiz aizvērtiem aizkariem un slēgtām durvīm vai atmest sociālo slinkumu, iziet ielās un izcīnīt savu vietu sabiedrībā, rēķinoties ar nesenās revolūcijas sāpīgajām sekām.

“Runā, ka elektrību pa kluso atslēdz bijušais prezidents Mursi, kas pa slepeno pazemes eju izlavās no cietuma noteiktos laikos, nospiež lielo elektrības padeves slēdzi un smīnot mudīgi lien atpakaļ,” man mikriņā stāsta blakus sēdošā sieviete. Viņa gan pati tenkām netic, viņai vairāk rūp dēla liktenis, kurš, gadījies neīstajā vietā studentu demonstrāciju laikā fakultātē, jau piekto mēnesi atrodas pagaidu aizturēšanas izolatorā bez tiesas sprieduma. “Ņem tik vīru ciet un brauciet prom, labi te nebūs!” viņa, kāpjot laukā, sauc mums pakaļ. Kā lai viņai izskaidro, ka es šeit esmu no laba prāta? Ka man rūp netaisnības viņas valstī, lai gan pati nāku no iedomātās laimes zemes Eiropas?

Elektrība uz stundu divām pazūd pat piecas reizes dienā, daudzdzīvokļu māju augstākajos stāvos nav arī ūdens, jo tas tiek piegādāts ar motoru. Enerģijas krīze īpaši jūtama Kairas +40 grādu vasarā, kad gaisa kondicionieri darbojas uz pilnu jaudu, bet strāvas visiem nepietiek. Continue reading


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An infographic on 10 key findings of the Anna Lindh Report 2014

While working with the Anna Lindh Foundation in Alexandria, one of my challenges was creating an online publication for the Anna Lindh Report 2014. Published every three years, the Report combines a Gallup Public Opinion Poll on a sample of 13 000 people across Europe and Southern Eastern Mediterranean (SEM) region, including a wide range of analysis by a network of intercultural experts. It is a pioneering tool for knowledge on cross-cultural relations. Main topics discussed in the research are social change in the Euro-Med; differences and similarities in value systems; the religious factor in intercultural relations; human mobility; the role of culture in Mediterranean relations; intercultural citizenship; the Union for the Mediterranean and regional cooperation.

Such a variety of data and in depths analysis fits well in a printed publication. But what is the best way to present it online? After 10 key findings were defined by my colleagues working on the content, I opted for data visualisation. My choice was Infogr.am, a platform developed by a Latvian start-up allowing to create and share infographics easily. A snapshot of an infographic with some of the main data on mutual perceptions in the Euro-Med region is available below. Quotes and page numbers are added to point you to the full text of the Report .  An interactive version of the infographic on 10 Key Findings of the Anna Lind Report is on the Anna Lindh Foundation’s website.