“It's been sunny and peaceful…here at our home in Egypt”
When Editor Richard Way met Jenny Cooper in Egypt last December, there were no signs that something monumental was about to unfold there. Jenny and husband Dave remained in the country throughout the events that led to the downfall of Mubarak, so we asked them what it's been like living at a resort by the Red Sea during this historic period.
What were your initial thoughts when the trouble initially broke out in Cairo?
It was rumoured that Facebook and Twitter weren't working and initially those rumours seemed unfounded… then the Internet just stopped working!
With no Internet and TV news channels broadcasting the events in Cairo and other cities further north, it was hard to know what to think. It was almost surreal being here in El Gouna, a private resort just north of Hurghada. We had no curfew, no troubles, nothing seemed any different except the mood. Some tourists continued to arrive – you could find them walking around, looking a little bewildered, almost as though they couldn't believe they were in Egypt!
Over the following days El Gouna emptied out as holidaymakers returned home, although some British tourists continued to arrive. Late January/early February is usually quiet here and many residents took the opportunity to visit family and friends as well as to reassure any worried relatives that everything here was perfectly okay!
Did you and Dave consider leaving Egypt at any point?
With no Internet and limited mobile networks, it would have been difficult to book a flight out, let alone one that would accept the dog! And in any case, there was no reason to leave – it was calm, warm, sunny and very, very peaceful.
What noticeable effects have you seen around El Gouna?
The real difference here is that there are now so few people compared to before 25th January. It is very quiet.
Hotel and shop workers have been hardest hit. Hopefully their business will pick up when tourists return, however there weren't many flights coming to Hurghada at the time of writing (end of February).
To help out, residents are trying to spread their custom around to as many local businesses as possible. The community spirit has been very strong. On the plus side, when walking the dog we've noticed that because there are fewer people around the wildlife has become more abundant than usual.
El Gouna is a haven for bird life and being quiet has made the birds more noticeable. I've seen hoopoes and a pied kingfisher in the wild for the first time, the kestrels are nesting on the rooftops and there are swallows everywhere. So from a wildlife enthusiast, it's actually a fantastic time to be here.
That said, I hope people will start visiting again in the spring as the resort is looking beautiful.
Has the situation forced you to change your lifestyle at all? Have stopped going out and about so much or stopped doing things you usually do?
Initially I spent a lot more time watching TV news channels. I walked everywhere to save petrol and limited my use of phone credit and cash. After a few days some cashpoints started working intermittently again for limited withdrawals. When this happened word spread fast but queues were never very long and, actually they became a great place for a chat.
I bought the English language Egyptian newspaper every day and read it from cover to cover – the local store made sure the papers always got through. I've started eating out more frequently than normal to support the bars and restaurants.
From your experience, what is the general consensus about the future of Egypt?
Many of my Egyptian friends were already in Cairo before 25th January and as they come back it has been incredible talking to them about their experiences and their feelings.
On a personal level and in the media, the general consensus of the Egyptian people is that Egypt is their country now! Their combined efforts achieved something I never would have believed to be possible.
I have always felt safe here and have no reason to expect that feeling to change – if anything, the people are working harder now that they feel the country has been returned to them. I have watched history unfold and been privileged to share experiences with my friends and now want to be here to see the country move forward in this exciting new era.