Friday, December 16, 2011

Working in Dahab, Egypt


Unfortunately Gaffa and I had to cut our Dahab experience short due to personal reasons, which did come at a time where there was no work in Dahab anyway. So it may have been a blessing in disguise? Either way, we were sad to leave the sun shinning in Dahab and come back to the cold and wet England. But it will be great to spend the holiday season with Gaffa’s family, and here’s hoping for my first ever WHITE Christmas!!

Back in England...
Before I left Dahab I started writing a post about working there…. Here it is below:  

What does one do for a crust in a place where the sun shines 99.9% of the time, amazing marine life fill the crystal clear blue waters and there are more dive centres than you can poke a stick at? Scuba Instructor, of course! That’s what Gaffa and I came to Dahab for, to work as instructors and live the Dahab lifestyle.

The morning after we arrived in Dahab back in August, we took a rather expensive taxi into the main town of Dahab to find work. We walking around and went into every single dive centre that we could find, introduced ourselves, telling them we were expecting to live here for a while and wanted some work. We had some CVs printed out, but most of the dive centres just wanted your local mobile number, what languages you can speak and what you can teach! Out the door went out three-page CV, complete with cheesy photos of ourselves, and off we went to find a couple of local sim cards. We made smaller business card type CV’s, with only our names, numbers and our PADI numbers on it - that was enough. The responses we got initially from most of the dive centres were, “Yeah we’ll take your details and call you if we get extra work. But it’s been pretty quiet lately. ..”

Over the past few years in Egypt, there has been an organisation created called CDWS (Chamber of Diving and Water Sports) to control and monitor the dive centres and instructors/divemasters that work in Egypt. All Instructors and DMs needed a CDWS card to be able to teach and guide at the different dive sites around Egypt. All they had to do was take a test, pay some money and they would get the card valid for a year. But since we arrived in Dahab, the CDWS were not issuing any more cards, and we were stuck without a CDWS card, making it hard for dive centres to give us work, as we weren’t able to dive at certain sites without it. Some dives centres were able to get around it, but it wasn’t looking too good for us. And to add the effect of the Revolution on tourism in Egypt, the streets of Dahab were looking abit like a ghost town, compared to last year where September was bustling with tourists left, right and centre.

Desert Divers Dive Centre
Luckily the morning we were moving from the Hilton into Dahab Dorms, we got a call from Desert Divers to start an Open Water Course. Gaffa was starting his Tec Instructor Development Course in a couple of days, so he couldn’t do it, so he passed it onto me to teach. YAY, my first Open Water students! One of my first students was so comfortable in the water, he went on to do his Advanced Open Water with me, AND he was just recently certified as a Dive Master!! Not by me, but I’m sure he’ll always remember who started him off into the diving world! Hehe

students demonstrating alternate air source use
After that first Open Water and Advanced Course, I continued to do some more Open Water and Advanced Courses with Desert Divers. They were right in the heart of main Dahab, with an easy entry into the water right in front of their dive centre, and a short trolley ride down to the Lighthouse.  However, their main instructor was on holidays and due to come back to Dahab full time – so less work for Gaffa and me at Desert Divers. We did however manage to help out on an overnight Camel Dive Safari to Ras Abu Galoum with them, which was one of the best trips. The diving there was AMAZING!

So we had to expand our horizons and find some more work at other dive centres. We went around to all the dive centres again, letting them know we were still here and still looking for work. At times we’d go into certain dive centres every day, looking a bit desperate in my opinion– begging for work! But hey, that’s what it took to get the cash rolling in slowly. Work was rather quite sporadic; sometimes you’d be working for a couple of week’s straight, whereas the next week you’d have nothing going on.

I got a last minute call from another dive centre further away from town – Fantasea. I was asked to finish off an Open Water student who was having trouble with mask clearing. He had started off with a male Egyptian instructor, and the dive centre manager thought he needed some feminine tuition, from someone with a bit more patience – ME! It took me the next 3 days to get him through to Scuba Diver, but he got there. I had to start from the beginning, and work slowly with him on the surface to get him comfortable with breathing, and then comfortable with the water being in his mask and around his nose. Then I had to reiterate the fact, NOT to breathe in through your nose, otherwise you’ll inhale a whole lot of salt water – not a pretty feeling! But we got there in the end, all smiles.

It’s not uncommon for this to happen with students when they first start to learn to scuba dive. Breathing underwater is something new and unusual for people. And having to change your breathing patterns is hard, especially for something that you do every second of the day, without thinking. If you normally breathe in and our through your nose you need to learn to breathe in and our through your mouth only with scuba. You only use your nose to breathe out of to eaqualise and clear your mask.

Back at Desert Divers I completed a few more Open Water and Advanced Courses, all just 1 pax at a time. The one-on-one teaching was good for both me and the student. It allowed me to really fine tune my teaching skills, and also allowed the student to get more personalised attention, that would make them into a great diver. I would however, like to gain a bit more experience with more than 1 student courses, to improve my skills of maintaining contact underwater, dealing with multiple students at a time and experiencing the differences and challenges that multi pax courses can give.

The confined sessions for Open Water Courses were done either in the shallows of Bannerfish Bay or the Lighthouse confined areas. Then the open water dives were done at the Lighthouse, Bannerfish Bay, and if the student was lucky, Dive 3 and/or 4 would be at another local dive site.

For Advanced Open Water Courses, I started getting into a routine of doing: PPB – Peak Performance Buoyancy, Navigation, and Night dives on the first day. Then on the second day I would spend at the Canyon and Blue Hole completing the Deep and Naturalist dives. I’ve completed the El Bells to Blue Hole dive as a Drift dive once, but only because the students did not do a Night dive, and did Naturalist on the first day instead. However, I don’t believe it’s a drift dive. Yes you go in at one place and get out at a different place, but I’ve never experienced a strong enough current there, to ‘drift’ along without fining.

My Open Water/Advanced Student with his sister
The majority of courses here are instructor lead – ie. There is little e-learning going on, and it’s all watching the DVD or reading the book. I did however have one student that I taught Open Water & Advanced to, that did e-learning for his Open Water course. He arrived with his print-out showing he had completed all knowledge and exams. Which meant after a quick review, we were able to get in the water straight away! This was without a doubt, the easiest OW course that I’ve taught so far. I don’t know if it was because of my student’s intellectual level (he was a computer programmer) or the fact that he did e-learning or whatever, but he was a true natural in the water. The majority of OW students, when you take them to open water, they have some trouble with their buoyancy. Which is fine because even today I am working on fine tuning my own buoyancy. But this one student got in the water, and was horizontal from the moment we descended!

horizontal buoyancy in the water
Work was getting less and less for us during the end of October, but we heard through the grapevine that one of the dive centres was looking for a manager, so Gaffa was given a chance to manage a new dive centre that had just opened up earlier this year – Sea Dancer Dive Centre 2 at The Acacia Hotel. There was already a Sea Dancer Dive Centre 1 in the main part of Dahab that was really successful, so the owner opened up a second one. While Gaffa started managing, I scored a day’s work at the Sea Dancer 1 guiding a couple of divers. I also had a call from Poseidon Divers (which I had turned down work from numerous times previously because I was already working). But this time I was free! They had a girl coming in for Scuba Diver. I went there in the morning and even went to the hotel she was supposedly staying at to meet her… but she never showed up. So that course got axed.

Gaffa got a call from Dahab Divers for an Open Water Course but passed the work onto me. It ended up being one Open Water student and another student joining on as an Open Water Referral. The referral student wanted to complete his open water dives as soon as possible, so he could start Advanced, but the Open Water student was here for a week or so, and wanted a nice long relaxing course. Usual Open Water Courses took 2-3 days to complete, this one took 4 days.

The Southern Oasis
After this, I was asked to become a permanent/exclusive instructor for only Sea Dancer at Acacia. I did a day’s guiding with 4 Egyptians from Cairo visiting Dahab. I took them down to the Southern Oasis, to dive sites that I’d done only once before – on my second dive every in Dahab! But thankfully the dive sites here in Dahab are simple, easy shore entries, and a reef wall on the left/right side. So a simple straight line out to maximum depth, then turn around half way and shallow up to return to exit at the same place you went in. I think the Islands is the only dive site where you have potential to get lost if you have not dived it more than a few times.

My next task at SDDCA was to assist a Dutch instructor on an Open Water Course. There were two Dutch students, and also a Dutch Dive Master in training. So there were 3 professionals looking after 2 students, great ratios!

Next I taught a student that was upgrading to Open Water and then onto Advanced Open Water. This student however was a special case. He had been certified with PADI as a Basic Scuba Diver…back in 1981! Which is before I was born! Nowadays, this course does not exist. So Gaffa had to call the PADI office in Bristol, England and ask what the equivalent of this course was and what we had to do to allow him to complete his Advanced Course. We had to complete a scuba review, and then open water dives 3 and 4 from the Open Water Course, then he was a certified Open Water Student, and he also went on to complete his Advanced Open Water Course. This student had completed more than 200 dives since 1986 and was a very competent diver. But PADI had to ensure that he knew all the required skills and safety precautions as a diver, and to ensure the quality of PADI standards were upheld. It was good for him to learn the improved standards of scuba diving that had changed since 1981.

I then completed another Scuba Diver Course and also did some guiding. The water temperature had dropped a few degrees in a couple of months. When we first arrived in August the water was 27-28 degrees, and then in November it dropped down to 23 degrees, and then down to 22 degrees at the beginning of December. It was getting COLD in Dahab!! (maybe we did leave just at the right time?!) I don’t think I could have handled the cold water temperatures any longer!! Haha.

Sea Dancer Dive Centre at Acacia Hotel
On my dry days, I helped Gaffa manage the dive centre. The dive centre had all new equipment, which was awesome compared to some of the other dive centres in Dahab which had gear that was worn out and you weren’t sure when the last service was... The Sea Dancer dive centres were two of the few dive centres that use electronic means for recording their customers and their daily diving. The majority of the other dive centres just used paper. Every dive centre had a similar layout though. They had numbered lockers that would fit a milk crate in it, for all your gear. The rinse tanks were large tiled baths, and an area where you’d hang your gear with wooden coat hangers for your BCD’s and wetsuits. There were wooden pegs for your boots to dry, and the rest of your gear would be put in your locker at the end of the day. There was a large white board, with the locker numbers and the name of the diver on it. Next to each locker number it showed what number rental equipment each diver had, so they didn’t get mixed up with other diver’s gear. 

rinse tanks and space to hang your wetsuits

space to hang your BCDs and boots

brand new dive equipment at Sea Dancer

whiteboard showing equipment and locker numbers for divers
lockers to store your dive equipment
Working as a scuba instructor in Dahab is a great opportunity. It's not really work when you're having fun! The dive sites are easy to learn and the salt content in the Red Sea is 40%, but you get use to the saltiness pretty quick. The marine life is amazing and there's so many different dives you can do. Gaffa and I will definitely be going back to Dahab as we have some unfinished business there! =) 

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