LETTERS FROM PALESTINE
22 March 2005
I just got back from Egypt with two friends, Anna from
Amsterdam and Dan from England. We had a great and
beautiful and exhausting and sometimes weird time.
Even the weird parts were pretty funny, though.
We left Jerusalem at 5:30 a.m. on March 9, arrived in
Dahab, Egypt (on the Sinai on a beach on a branch of
the Red Sea), by late afternoon, and spent the rest of
that day finding a good place to do our Rescue Diver
course (Anna's idea). Rescue Diver is the third PADI
course after Open Water and Advanced.
We did an Emergency First Response course all the next
day (with a guy named Francois who had an
outrrrrageous French accent) and then Rescue Diver
manual homework after that.
The next three days
involved diving 9-5 with a tall Dutch guy (who
constantly had to act out fake problems that we had to
fix - doing a Rescue Diver course makes the instructor
look like the worst divemaster ever) followed by more
EFR stuff, homework, and exams. It was exhausting,
but good stuff to know, and it kept us from thinking
about anything but diving and horrible (but only
Once we did
navigation drills on an early morning
about 35 feet underwater out past
the Tota restaurant (the restaurants and dive centers
are surreally close to the beaches, reefs, and
lagoons, at least for a place I can afford). At one point Anna
didn't realize how close I was to her and turned
around and kicked one of my fingers with her flippers.
She was facing the other way and totally oblivious to
the inconsequential injury she had caused me. The
early morning in cold water had made me irritable, and
I threw my regulator out of my mouth and said, "OW!"
Being 35 feet underwater, my yell didn't carry very
far; it just kind of bubbled out, leaving me
momentarily confused. Then came the rather
embarassing recollection that I was underwater and I
actually needed the piece of equipment I'd just tossed
away in order to breathe. D'oh! I sheepishly
recovered it and put it back in my mouth and went on,
hoping the instructor hadn't noticed.
I heard reports of another diver who got nitrogen
narcosis at depth and started feeling bad for
all the fish because they didn't have any air to
breathe. He took his regulator out and offered it to
several passing fish.
The final drills involved us sitting in the Club Red
Dive Center drinking coffee until our divemaster ran
in saying he'd lost his dive buddy, and then we had to
put our gear together and put it on and jump in the
water and do a search and recover and rescue, start to
finish. We had to pretend to ask people to call for
emergency medical services and get the oxygen ready,
which caused some confusion when one guy took us
seriously and kind of freaked out. That's the problem
with courses like this; every now and then you're not
quite sure whether it's a drill or a real emergency.
Anyway, now we're rescue divers, supposedly qualified
to drag unconscious divers up out of the water, across
the surface, and up to the beach or boat, all the
while giving rescue breaths, and then do CPR (if
necessary - doing CPR when it's not necessary can
actually kill someone). The search and recovery
drills were also fun. Most likely I'll never use my
new skills, as few divers I'd ever dive with would let
their air run out or go deeper than they're trained
for, and diving injuries are very rare compared to,
e.g., tennis injuries. But it was still a rewarding
"Rescue Divers" sounds kind of like a bad comic book,
and we'd just finished watching lots of self-important
videos with bad actors pretending to be Emergency
Responders. So after we got our licenses in Emergency
First Response and Rescue Diving, sometimes when we
were walking around Dahab (a very un-serious place),
we pretended like we were superheroes. If anyone
tripped or stubbed their toe or coughed or something,
we'd look at each other and say, "Rescue Divers!"
Then we'd go up to them (either actually or just
pretend to) and say, "Hello! I'm Diver Pam, and this
is Diver Anne. We're Emergency Responders. Can we
help you?" (That's approximately what we were trained
to say as EFRs.)
We had an annoying call sign: A fist followed by the
"OK" sign. A closed fist underwater means "danger".
Our annoying motto: "Rescue Divers! When there's
danger... we make it OK." We were just being campy
and ridiculous, making fun of ourselves and PADI's
self-important but pretty relaxed courses (especially
in a place like Dahab). No one seemed to mind us too
We only had one day in Dahab of total relaxation,
after the rescue course was finished, during which we
slept 'til noon, ate, went on a walk, ate again, and
hung out as usual in the Tota's back garden under the
stars around the fire on cushions. Palm trees, stars,
flowers, cushions, red wine, and the occasional
interesting passer-by were our nightly companions.
The next day we did two more dives, at the Canyon and
Bells & Blue Hole. They both had very cool descents
through narrow rocky shafts, visibility was excellent,
and drifting along the coral wall on the way to the
Blue Hole, there were millions of little gold fish
against a background of deep blue, and some bigger
fish and the amazing corals.
We met a very cool American woman
named Alison, a librarian for National Geographic,
during the dives that day. We hung out with her and a sleepy
kitten and a Jordanian banker that night
in the back garden of Tota. Good times.
The pictures are from her.
The Blue Hole rest area ~ That's me in the wetsuit
I went through Jordan in order to get a three-month
visa at the bridge. (They only give one-month visas
at the southern crossing.) I followed the same route
as last year - Dahab to Nuweiba to Aqaba to Amman.
Last year it was all new and exciting and
intimidating, and now it's just comfortable and
I spent St. Patrick's Day on the long bus from Aqaba
to Amman. On Friday I visited Jerash, some incredible
Roman/Byzantine ruins in the north of Jordan.
Northern Jordan is so blindingly green and gorgeous in
the spring. The bus ride there and back was the best
Going back through the border at King Hussein/Allenby
Bridge, Israeli security called me out and a short
border guard girl said, "Give me your passport." I
did. She said roughly, accusatorily, "Now give me
your other passport."
I don't have another passport, and I said so. "Are
you sure?" she asked.
"Oh, you mean THAT other passport. Sorry, let me get
it for you."
Actually I said that yes, I was quite sure that I
didn't have another passport. She didn't press
further. Her ridiculous jig was already up.
The next guard, a scary-looking man, said, "Why did
you try to cross into Israel from the northern
crossing a week ago?"
I said, "Er, I didn't try to cross into Israel from
the northern crossing a week ago." I was in Egypt a
"Are you sure?"
They only held me two hours, and they gave me a
three-month visa. Sweet. It's good to be back.
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