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Shamandura Generation    

a book by Claudio Di Manao,
a real portrait of Sharm el Sheikh diving community



NOTE: text on this page MAY NOT be printed, reproduced or republished on another webpage or website.


Text and drawings 2012 Copyright: Claudio Di Manao, CDM. All rights reserved.



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divemaster png by claudio di manao
Drawing: Claudio Di Manao




 

INTRODUCTION / DISCLAIMER


Maybe it’s the nitrogen that makes divers such a special lot and us in particular, professional dive guides and instructors, who are used to monstrous amounts of nitrogen in our bodies. Maybe it’s the desert climate, that for 9 months a year makes us feel we’re locked up inside a clothes dryer. Whatever the reason, the fact is that what happens in Sharm el Sheikh just doesn’t happen anywhere else in the world, or so they say. This is a story worth telling. Mind you, it’s not my fault. Everyone I know pushed me to do it.
I got myself into this predicament on a typical day, one of many, when I showed up at the dive centre with an alcohol breath and an uncertain step, my face clear evidence that I hadn’t slept much. My colleagues were curious. The lovers of gossip wanted to know “who” I was up with all night. I answered dryly that I was writing a book. I wasn’t exactly lying; let’s put it this way: I was doing first-hand research for a book that I didn’t yet know I would be writing. From then on, almost every day they all started asking me how my book was coming along, what I was writing about, if they were in my book and especially what I was writing about them. I always answered saying I needed more real life stories to add. Everyone became so insistent that I found myself forced to actually start writing. I did start, but had very little time.
I then left Sharm el Sheikh and having more free time on my hands, I started reconsidering this insane idea. They, meaning staff members and friends, kept at it by e-mail, by phone… Strange people, I thought. Maybe they really did deserve a book.

Diver warning: This book does not speak kindly of you, divers who make our lives miserable on board. This guide is a bit different. I do apologize for the long “non-diver” section.

Non-diver warning: A special section was created for you, so you too can understand something of this book.

Reader warning: All the material in this book is based on true stories, real people and places that (unfortunately) truly exist. Having no intention to respect the privacy of any of the characters in the book, I started writing using their real names. Then, the smartest of them paid good money, so I changed a few details (names, places and dates), just enough to make the characters unidentifiable to PADI, local authorities and their girlfriends. Steve, who didn’t pay a penny, is still Steve in the book. Sorry mate!

Disclaimer: We do not take any responsibility for possible break-ups, divorces, dismissals, or PADI inspections. A few obscure tales have been reported in first-person, including the name of the source, exactly as they had been told.

Enjoy your reading.

 PLACES AND PEOPLE 

We are talking of a small segment of desert that runs along one of the most beautiful seas of the world. The parched mountains, going from orange, ochre, red, beige and lilac to dark chocolate and all the way to olive green (depending on the slant of the sun, the season, the time of day, the viewpoint etc.) provide a natural setting that is not to be found elsewhere. It hardly ever rains here and this is a blessing, because when it does… it gets flooded.
The sea is the Red Sea, which is not red at all, but midnight blue and aquamarine and only on particularly ill-fated days, greenish. Due to an anomaly in space and time, Jacques Cousteau discovered the Red Sea before the Phoenicians. The Red Sea is a Cousteau trademark. Such an amazing sea and climate cannot but attract tourists and most of all members of a particular tourist subspecies known as: divers, subacqueos, plongeurs, buzos, tauchers, that we have the privilege and more often than not the obligation to take underwater. To everyone else we teach how to dive and if they’re really not up for it, we take them snorkelling, with mask, snorkel and fins, to discover fishes and corals while splashing about on the surface. If they’re not into that either, there are camel rides in the desert, jeep safaris, Saint Catherine Monastery, Mount Moses, casinos, Pacha, beach bumming and an endless series of bars; but at this point they’re not our business anymore.

The most commonly asked questions from tourists to dive guides and instructors are, in order:
1) Do you live here?
2) Where are you from?
3) How many dives do you have?
4) Do you actually like living here?
5) Do you think of doing this your whole life? (Advice and suggestions follow)

The answers to these questions usually create a sense of confusion in the inquirer. It is frankly quite difficult to find a dive guide who works in Sharm but lives in Cairo, or who takes the bus every day from Stockholm, round-trip of course. It is also a challenge to identify nationalities, since everyone working here has blondish hair and darkish skin because of the sun. It is finally just as complicated to distinguish people’s native tongue, due to contaminations with the language commonly spoken by Sharmers. But we will discuss this new unofficial language later on.

 The most commonly asked questions from diving instructors to tourists are:
1) Are you a diver?
2) Did you ever try diving?
3) Where are you going tomorrow, Tiran or Ras Mohammed?
4) Are you married?
5) What are you doing tonight? (Advice and suggestions follow)

Even if you’ll never believe it, in Sharm we work hard, really hard. We’re proud of this, because work, when it involves passion, becomes a double gratification. There’s no place for lazy bums here. They last so little that they go back to their home land terrified and start doing whatever it was they were doing before with a lot more interest and devotion. The population of dive guides and instructors can be over 1000, depending on the season, climate, slant of the sun, etc. This community includes English, Germans, French, Italians, Spanish, Belgians, Dutch, Norwegians, Danish, Swedes, Swiss, Finnish, Australians, Americans, Argentinians, Brazilians, New Zealanders, Canadians, Japanese, Russians and, obviously, a large number of Egyptians. This international microcosm created the new language of Sharmers: a mix of all the most commonly spoken languages with Arabic.
This new language has become the official language of taxi drivers, tour operators and carpet sellers. A classic example of this is, “This carbet meya meya, sehr gut! Only talateen Egyptian pound for you, Aleman!”
I’m sure you can imagine that at the root of many quarrels, delays and misunderstandings in Sharm el Sheikh is a tiny linguistic issue. To this we must add another factor: trivial cultural differences, that also result in a series of shortcomings and misinterpretations between foreigners and locals. These cultural differences are totally irrelevant as they are only limited to: conventions, mentality, customs, viewpoints, concept of time, behaviours, diet, clothes, shopping, social relations, relations between the sexes, work, money, preferences, opening hours of banks, shops and public offices. That’s all.
With regard to opening hours, which I must admit I haven’t fully understood yet, expect banks and shops to open and close several times a day, according to the hours of prayer. Don’t count on anything being open 24 hours, except for a few supermarkets and the sea.
Living in Sharm is, at any rate, very easy indeed. It just takes a little getting used to.

Most often than not, in Sharm el Sheikh you’ll feel like you’re on Candid Camera. From taxi drivers to skippers, from dive guides to bank opening hours, you will think you are the victim of TV hidden cameras, or of Murphy’s law. Keep in mind that in the most optimistic possibility, nothing will ever go as planned. So be positive, learn the rules of Egyptian conversation by heart and enjoy the sea, the colourful fishes, the colourful corals, the Egyptians and the even more colourful tourists and a touch of grey in the backroom of the local shops, just to rest your eyes a bit.
Get used to obstacles and frustrations, delays, absurdities and dust. There’s a lot of dust flying all over the place, making its way into your hair, your laptop, your shoes, your most intimate and hidden things. What can you expect? We are in the desert after all!
What kind of people can come here? All types. No exclusions (now that I think about it, I haven’t seen many citizens of Burkina Faso, but I’ll research the matter further). Tourists come to Sharm because their friends and travel agencies tell them to, while foreign residents end up here because friends and families, in the hope of getting rid of them, told them that finding a job is easy. While tourists come and go so quickly that it’s impossible to get a sense of their personal history, those who work in Sharm have a lot of time to tell everyone else their most fascinating and very personal stories. There’s no such thing as being born a diving instructor. The ones who become instructors at a young age, get tired of dealing with divers and fish in general and end up opening bars, restaurants, real estate agencies and online magazines.
Only the tough stay on. These are the ones who said no to something important: office, traffic, shop, cinema, mother, girlfriend, taxes, bailiff. These are the ones who one day told themselves, “At the end of a day’s work I haven’t seen a single barracuda, nor a soft coral, nor a mask clearing, I’ve had it!” These are the hard-core Sharmers. There’s no way of getting them back behind an office desk. Any other warnings?

Rinse vegetables thoroughly.
Never expect an appointment to be kept.
Don’t dive below 30 metres.
Taxi drivers are your worst enemies.
Beware of abrupt interference of space-time holes.

FOR NON DIVERS

One becomes a diving instructor, but is ‘pre-born’ a diver. Even if you don’t remember it, know that each and everyone of us was drowned in liquid for approximately the first nine months of our lives. Therefore, as PADI and Lao Tzu said, we are all bipeds ignorant of the fact that we are really fishes. Arm yourselves with perseverance and start remembering what you already know. A bit of water in your nose is no excuse. It’s only water.
This brief introduction does not replace a diving course. I’m just trying to make this book readable to those of you who are not familiar with tanks, regulators, fins, masks, etc.
Diving is easy and not dangerous. You must respect the rules and do the exercises, but most of all enjoy what there is to see underwater. Tanks are filled with air and they don’t explode unless you beat their neck with a hammer and regulators will always give you air underwater, unless you drag them in the sand for days, you damage them, sabotage them, or beat them with a heavy stick.




The BCD, or Buoyancy Control Device, is a jacket that you inflate/deflate in order to:
a) float,
b) sink,
c) none of the above.

You have to get used to it. Improper use of a BCD, as stated by manufacturers, can result in:
1 yo-yo effect,
2 uncontrolled ascents,
3 uncontrolled descents,
but also: traumas, injuries, diving diseases and irreversible damage to corals. A weight belt is necessary to bring you down; otherwise, when wearing a wetsuit and full equipment, you would float on the surface like a buoy, when the point of diving is to stay under the surface of the sea. How many weights you should put on your weight belt is constant topic of discussion on board between dive guides/instructors and divers. To know how deep you are, there is a depth gauge. To know how much air is left in your tank, there is a manometer. These two items, more precisely their reading and interpretation, are also frequent topics of discussion between the above-mentioned anthropological groups.
Nitrogen: please don’t start asking how this happens or doesn’t happen, nitrogen enters our tissues after each dive, depending on depth and duration of the dive. Full stop. Up until a certain level everything is fine, over that certain level you’re in for a tour of the hyperbaric chamber. If you shoot up like a balloon, same story. And what happens when they put you in the hyperbaric chamber? They recompress you. Why? Because it’s good for you. At depth, nitrogen has the effect of smoking a joint. This is not a good excuse to go deep (and this is another frequent topic of discussion).
To know how much nitrogen you have absorbed and therefore how long you can stay at a given depth, but also a lot of other important things, there are dive computers and tables. A dive computer takes care of this and lots more, including making strange noises and showing video games. You need a mask to be able to see properly underwater and learning to clear your mask is fundamental to becoming a diver. Mask clearing is the most dreaded exercise for both diving students and instructors. 
Wetsuit: it protects you from the cold.
Fins: if you don’t know what they are, this book is not for you.


CORALS
Whatever you’ve been told at home or at the travel agent’s, corals are alive. Whether alive or dead, you are not allowed to touch corals. Full stop. If I catch anyone, say your prayers and if I don’t catch you, a stonefish will. A stonefish looks like a dead clump of coral, but its sting is lethal.


FISHES
See the section on corals, same story.
N.B.: turtles, octopuses, shrimps, snails, molluscs and lobsters should not be molested, nor grilled, nor should you attempt riding on their backs, as they are all protected species. You are not. You’re only protected by your diving insurance and common sense, if you have them.

At this point, I bet you’re dying to become divers. Why not? It’s super cool! It’s full of colourful fishes! You’ll feel weightless! One day you could become instructors and have a life just like mine!
(If you answered ‘mmmhhh…?’ to all these statements, turn the page).
A diving course lasts approximately 4 days, 7-8 hours a day. There’s no difference with the diving courses you take back home, where you go 2 hours a week, for a month. Meshi? What do you do in a diving course?
You REGRESS. As fishes became amphibians and then mammals and then humans, to go back to being fishes you’ll have to go through a clumsy frog-like phase in the pool and then at sea. That’s life.
The first level is Open Water Diver, the second is Advanced, the third is Rescue and then we get into the jungle of acronyms of various diving agencies: PADI, BSAC, SSI, NAUI, etc. In this jungle, different names are used to say the same thing: a Divemaster is a Diveleader, a Divecon, or a 3 star, basically a dive guide. CMAS, FIAS, FIPSAS, EULF still use stars like hotels and ski schools. An instructor is more or less the same everywhere. You will hear a lot of talk about PADI.





PADI

In the beginning there was Chaos. There were people diving with strange hoses, metal boxes on their heads, cooking gas tanks they washed and filled at the gas station. There were naval or military diving courses, where people dived with spanners, shears, picks, welders and mines. Few of them ever came back. Then came Jacques Cousteau, with his sci-fi designed equipment, jealous of his secrets, of his dive tables and of the exact location of the Thistlegorm wreck, which he never revealed. Scuba diving existed, but it was groping in the dark, like Captain Nemo’s aquanauts if their helmet windscreen wipers had broken down.
And then there was PADI. It formed out of the Chaos, as a clump of light from plasmatic matter and said, “LET SCUBA DIVING BE RECREATIONAL”. And so it was.
The first day it created Standards and Procedures.
The second day it created the instructor manual.
The third day it created the modular course system and the Master Scuba Diver rating.
The fourth day it created the PADI Instructor.
The fifth day, the Quality Assurance Department.
…and since PADI is American and week-ends are sacred there, the sixth and seventh day, it took a break.

The first Course Director preached “positive reinforcement” and the learning pyramid structure. He preached the equality of mankind with regard to mask clearing and the right of any person of goodwill to become a diver. His word spread, reaching Tibet, Siberia and the fried chickens of Kentucky, circulating from Bangladesh to the Bismarck Archipelago; new schools and new followers originated everywhere.
Without PADI, we would be nothing. Without PADI, a whole lot of divers, instead of enjoying the fishes, ignorant of the sacred principles of recreation and buoyancy, would be scraping the bottom of the sea, holding bolts, ropes, spanners in their hands with blackened masks. Without PADI, there wouldn’t be as many divers. Without all those divers, no one would ever dream of paying us good money for lounging about all day amid boats and swimming pools and chatting with women on board. Without PADI, mark my words instructors and friends, you would all be working for free. And for those of you who do, you’re doing something wrong.
PADI has no limits for expansion: it conquered the world; it will aim at the stars. PADI will take over NASA and the first recreational astronaut course will be a PADI course.




THE ART OF EGYPTIAN CONVERSATION

(for experienced survivors only)

Mushkela’, ‘problem’ in Arabic, is the word that you will hear most often, followed by the second most commonly used word, ‘mafish’, ‘there isn’t, it’s over’ and then, ‘mafish mushkela’, ‘there is no problem’. Only when you hear the latter should you start seriously worrying, the rest is ordinary administration. In Egypt you will not encounter many people with a true passion for ball games or darts, very few will be busy playing beach volley or swimming. You will however see many boatmen playing backgammon; but don’t let this fool you: the game is only an excuse for conversing. While in Italy one of the chief activities is talking about food and cuisine, in the UK about the weather and weather forecasts, in Egypt people converse at work, at home, at the marketplace, or while smoking shisha. As soon as someone has something to say about, let’s say, the restaurant bill, or the shortest route to take in a taxi, the art of conversation is on. It is an art, a sport, a passion that brings together all social classes. It is a millenary tradition that follows precise rules.


DECALOGUE OF THE EGYPTIAN CONVERSATION

1) The point of Egyptian conversation is not reaching an objective, whether common or individual, nor reaching any agreement or compromise: the point of Egyptian conversation is the conversation in and for itself.
2) One can deduce from axiom 1 that the length of Egyptian conversation is not quantifiable in terms of time.
3) In mathematics, Egyptian conversation is comparable to two parallel lines that only meet at infinity, or, if you prefer, that never meet.
4) Egyptian conversation is played one against one or in couples, but never in odd numbers. If, for example, you are conversing with an Egyptian man and a friend of yours steps in to help you, the Egyptian man will never speak to your friend but only to you, unless someone else steps in to help him, thus forming natural couples of players. Vice versa, if you are conversing with an Egyptian man and another Egyptian man starts conversing with him (for example in a public office, in a supermarket, at the airport, etc.), the former will completely ignore you and start conversing with the other Egyptian man, for an undetermined length of time as seen in paragraph 2, only to start conversing with you again in the end, but not from the point you left off, from the very beginning.
5) Egyptian conversation is an exclusively male privilege. The woman at your side who tries conversing with an Egyptian man will be completely ignored and he will only converse with you.
6) Use of hands and moustaches in Egyptian conversation.
The use of hands and moustaches is vitally important: in Egyptian conversation the hands are kept open and continuously moved around in circles, with sudden turning of the palms upwards.
The aggressiveness of the player is not measured by the tone of voice, always loud, nor by the number of insults, but by the elevation of his forearms; the higher the forearms are raised, the more aggressive the player. N.B.: if the forearms are raised higher than the speaker’s moustaches, better let it go and make a run for it.
7) Being the owner of moustaches ensures a priori an advantage of 72 points in the conversation.
8) Being the owner of moustaches and of a gold bracelet ensures that mathematics and all the exact sciences become questionable, as expressed by the owner of these two assets. To make an example, if, calculator at hand, you question the bill to the owner of moustaches and of a gold bracelet, he will add up the total several times with pen and paper and in the end, among the different results, he will choose the one that suits him at best.
9) No jokes are admitted during the conversation. If someone cracks a joke, he will lose a point and start over.
10) No business conversation can start without involving tea or coffee.


BIBLIOGRAPHICAL AND HISTORICAL REMARKS

It is thanks to the new theories of Dr. H. D. Paccard about the interpretation of hieroglyphics and to his translation of the famous shaft named “The owl that doesn’t look like an owl, but nevertheless pretends to be sleeping on the drinker”, that it was possible to piece together the origins of Egyptian conversation, or at least to understand when this ludic form of behaviour called ‘conversation’ appeared in Egypt. With regard to this and to give credit to the scholar who was the first to reveal this theory, I would like to mention the article of Dr. J. Bradbury McIntosh, published on last year’s National Geographic Magazine. The theory on conversation met with great success in all academic circles, so much as it travelled outside the American borders and reached Russia, where Professor Isaac IvaneviƧ Popovniac used it as foundation for his “Theory of Elements of Conversation at the Origin of Middle Eastern Social Behaviour”. A very famous article followed on “Archaeology Today” in June of the same year, which I would like to mention here. Unfortunately, I cannot. I cannot because, as a result of that article, fanatics everywhere unleashed a series of threats and other things, not so nice to report here, which forced the famous magazine to withdraw all printed copies immediately and to apologize with everyone who was offended. The article is therefore not available anymore. There is another very interesting, brilliant article by Helmut Weinberger, though, which appeared on Le Figaro on the 22 of September of the same year, entitled “Attila and Gengis Khan as Antithetic Elements to Conversation”. His article didn’t have better luck, it was misinterpreted and the most fervent groups took turns ransacking the head office of Le Figaro. Professor Weinberger, though, had given a false address, as well as a false driving licence, credit card and e-mail address. He escaped the siege and was never found. To make up for it, the theory was subsequently re-elaborated, excluding any Hittite influences on the Egyptian conversation, but researching consistent elements as far back as in the game of chess in Ancient China. Scholars thus also attributed to Ancient Egypt the origins of the card game ‘whist’ and the last enlightening publication, which was never challenged by anyone, became “The Game of Whist and Bridge as Origins of the Art of Conversation and of Tavern Stories”, by Professor Alfred Stanley Calthrop Burgess, article that appeared here and there.




THE DUTY FREE STORE


The Duty Free store is probably the most precious institution in Sharm el Sheikh. In a country where imported alcohol costs ten times more than in its place of origin and where, exception made for beer and a few types of wine, no one would even dream of venturing into the perils of local production, survival drives us to countless stratagems and devices in order to satisfy our needs. One of them consists in asking the passports to tourists, to get our hands on the limited amount of alcohol that every foreigner has the right to purchase at the duty free shop, during their stay and at a reasonable price. This situation produced a special kind of business and a good dose of fawning, that in turn resulted in a very good service on board of diving boats. This is how the instructors who drank the most, became the nicest, most patient and professional. This practice also imposed a different social order. While in most of the planet the status of someone is determined by the car they own, the clothes they wear, the type of holidays they make, or the size of the house they live in, in Sharm el Sheikh the social order of a person is determined by the bottles of alcohol displayed on the bar. This has nothing to do with money, like in most civilized communities; the value of the bottles has everything to do with the person’s savoir-faire. Thus, whoever has the most bottles to display, will see his popularity rising. Whoever has a lot of alcohol, also has a lot of friends.



SHAMANDURA GENERATION - PART ONE







The rais, the captain of Amir Galal Abdallah II, was a stocky little man with a round face, covered in spiky greyish hairs of unequal length and gleaming and shrewd blue eyes. He had only three interests in life: the money of the lunches sold on board, making sure that no one would go inside the lower deck wet and making sure that no one would block the marine toilet with toilet paper. His primary source of happiness, in a nutshell, was yelling fowl words to other skippers and playing mean jokes on dive guides. He was always smiling, so that most people mistook him for a jolly and cunning old fellow. This was only because Arabic is a difficult language. His name was Farouk, he was taking me to the strait of Tiran and, oblivious to the evolution of local fashion, was still wearing pyjamas.
If someone had materialized himself in that precise spot and precise moment, that is in Gordon reef on a Thursday, without passing from the airport, the taxi ride, etc… without the basic introduction to a new and to say the least exotic country, he would have thought this was the place where lunatics go when they escape and disappear. As for me, I had heard for the first time of the strait of Tiran and of Gordon reef on that same bloody morning and, in spite of the crystal clear water and the shining sun, I couldn’t help feeling that something was really wrong. A certain number of tourists were strolling on the reef with their plastic ‘reef shoes’, as instructed by travel agencies; the water was swarming with potential self-murderers clutching rings, life jackets, or unfortunate passer-bys. On a nearby boat, a group of go-go dancers were shaking their bodies to the sound of merengue music and all around a multitude of skippers wearing turbans and sunglasses were making their way in the crowded waters beeping their horns full blast.
The entire crossing had been a disaster. An hour after leaving the jetty, I was still unable to tell how many people I had on board. Just like the mysterious small discs in the famous Borges nightmare, capable of multiplying and dividing themselves, defiant of every mathematical rule, the passengers I had been assigned were 25, then 21 and even 28. I also knew that I was supposed to go around and ask how many people wanted lunch, but when I had gone to tell the chef, he had started making strange hand gestures, as if counting; he couldn’t keep his hands still, so we had almost reached the dive site and I had not been able to make him understand at what time to serve lunch or the number of guests who were eating. The captain, who had ignored me during the whole navigation, was now yelling in Arabic. He was yelling at me and, following the fixed rule in effect at any given latitude, he kept repeating the same incomprehensible phrase in an increasingly loud voice, as though it had been a problem of decibels. I had no idea what he wanted, but whatever it was, it was urgent, because all around me people from other boats had also started yelling. They were making strange gestures, jumping about, hunching their shoulders, mimicking someone who was cold and was wearing a coat, or something heavy on his back.
I decided to figure it out by trial and error. I walked all over the boat, pointing to any object at hand: a ring, a pair of shoes, a life jacket, a saucepan. Only when I touched a diving tank there was a certain murmur of approval, followed by thanks to someone up above. Without question I wore my equipment and the deckhand pushed a putrid piece of rope in my hand, gesturing as if he were possessed. Everyone was chanting the same word, without pause, “…m..d..ra!” I felt incredibly stupid. During my entire career, nothing of the sort had ever happened to me. They were all pointing their index finger downward, in a way that could have meant a million different things. In the end, someone from a neighbouring boat yelled something in barely comprehensible English. They wanted me to tie that line somewhere underwater, no one explained precisely where. I candidly asked the reason for this. At this point, they became really furious and raising eyes and moustaches to the sky, they started whining as though something terrible was about to happen to the boat. Apparently, I was the chosen one who could prevent this impending disaster. For all I knew, the word they were chanting, “Shamandura! Shamandura!” was the name of the supermarket under McDonald’s in Naama Bay. I couldn’t take it anymore and I burst out, “Now, what the hell do you want from the supermarket!”
 I understood, but it was too late. The current was turning, pushing the line of boats against the reef; I should have fixed the line of the last boat on the bottom of the sea to avoid what… happened in an instant.
When I jumped in the water, there was nothing left to be done. There was a racket of engines; dozens of fenders squeaked. A few boats hit the reef; the stern-rails of others broke in the hurried attempt to escape, throwing dozens of snorkellers into a panic. No one was injured, but a great deal of people were so frightened that they said they wouldn’t to go out on a boat again. A crowd of people, equipped with reef shoes, found shelter by climbing on top of the reef, only to be forgotten there and rescued a couple of hours later by the last boats leaving Jackson reef.
It was my first day of work in the Red Sea: I was fired.
Before kicking me out, they made sure I understood the meaning of the word shamandura. It means mooring, but especially tying the boat on any given point on the bottom, whether a rusty metal ring, a sunken buoy, a piece of rotten line, or even a clump of coral (!). I discovered that this ‘not exactly healthy’ duty (it is not good for the body to go up and down between dives) was the true essence of the work of a dive guide in Sharm, as well as a reason of pride and respect. I later realized that a dive guide, to be respected here, had to, first and foremost, be a good connoisseur of knots and shamanduras, know where to find mooring spots or invent them and most of all, be the first at the shamandura. A true Red Sea dive guide is, before anything else, a shamandura-man, a challenger of nitrogen. There were many more days after this one, many more years, not all of them like this, but almost. No, I didn’t escape back to Europe like many do, I stayed, determined to learn where the shamanduras were, to become familiar with the reefs and the currents, the Arabic language and the crews. With time I did gain better knowledge of all these things, I increased my dive guide ranking and my normal nitrogen tolerance. But, well, with regard to learning Arabic…


Gianni did not have better luck. Like me, he had boasted great expertise of the dive sites, resulting from thorough research in all the bars of Naama Bay. On his first day of work, he was shipped off to Ras Mohammed, down at the very tip of Sinai, to be clear, the place that travel agents love to describe as the Gardens of Allah. He was sent there with the usual load of divers, snorkellers, good-for-nothing and ‘never seen the sea before’. The sea was a bit wavy, as usual, the sun was roasting and colourful fishes were swarming just under the surface of the water. There was not a cloud in sight; it would have been impossible to spot one, even if willing to pay Sterling Gold. The crew members were in a bad mood.

Text and drawings 2012 Copyright: Claudio Di Manao, CDM. All rights reserved.

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