In a childhood coloring book, the devil has his arms around Christ and they stand at the top of a mountain. He offers him everything he can see..the world in his eyes. The human part of Christ is vulnerable, he had been fasting for forty days; the divine part of Christ is pretty intact. No, he says. I don't play like that. Angels soon come and bring him nourishment. The balance is restored.
On our writer's tour of Al-Gouna yesterday, this story flashed in my head. The town is owned by one family, they designed not only the fourteen resorts, but also the town and its contents including stores, farms, schools, recycling plants, etc. Some institutions and business are partnerships, others are subcontracted, others, outright ownership. In any case, if the family planned it, the business happened.
In the writer's orientation, we were taken to some highlights of the private town. Some illustrated the benefits of outright ownership--no one has to argue whether an organic farm, a recycling plant, or a fish farm are good for the economy. This family decided that while unusual in Egypt, we're going Green and so bottles are recycled into hangers, paper into shopping bags; ostriches and chickens are raised organically, the fish at the farm are living in intense sea water and are fed bread.
To be fair, the family, who is Coptic, built a Church and a Mosque. Boys in school uniforms kicked a futbol in the dirt. Living in this artificial town, they are learning 4-5 languages from the earliest year of their education.
It's a pretty world with terra cotta shades of buildings, arched architecture everywhere, pools glistening under the sun. It's a scrubby world where there is no constant watering, the desert is dusty and bare, flat, empty.
Ironically, at the hotel, bug spray is constantly applied to the restaurants, rooms and hallways. The ostrich's air is a bit less toxic.
We ended the day with a small cruise through the manmade lagoon. As we sailed along the banks, another image entered my intoxicated head. A favorite show from my youth, The Prisoner. Patrick McGoohan was an agent who wanted out. Instead of being able to retire from his job, he was abducted and put on a pretty little island from which he could never escape.His name was taken, he was called Number 6. This was his prison and he had to get out. But why would he want to? Everything is lovely, perfectly constructed. He could have all his needs met, he wanted for nothing. The pastel colors of the buildings were soothing, people we calm and cheery, life was tranquil.
It was the perfect show to feed my teenaged cynicism. I stopped trusting all things pretty and seemingly in place. Disruption became a goal.
In El-Gouna, life is tranquil, we have our needs and we can have anything we want if we call the desk. Gentlemen is sport coats arrive, manage it and disappear.
Part of this insidious plot was to create the perfect writing group. People who are different in many ways, but are so positive as people that we explore the unique qualities of each other, rather than resist them. After spending hours upon hours with the other four, with the workshop direct Emad (who is from the library), Nameen who also works there, and Hassam, the accountant turned driver, I didn't crave pulling away into my room and write like I am supposed to do, I wanted to plan more time and more contact.
That must be the work of that pesky devil, tempting me with everything my eyes can see, to derail me from my mission. That's a lot of effort: to create this pretty little town, sprinkle it with good purposes, and bring us together as a group, just to make me struggle harder to succeed on my writing mission.
Today the orientation continues--a winery, the school. Back with my lovely group! More hours of conversation and wit. Of the sun and the sea. What am I going to do? Help me number six.
Causes Elmaz Abinader Supports