El Gouna, developed by Samih Sawiris and Orascom Hotels and Development, is Hurghada's most popular resort, with a population ranging from 40 to 100 thousand. Lately, it’s been turning into a residential city, one that has its own facilities; from hospitals to schools to its first communal work place. El Gouna is Egypt’s most environmentally friendly city and is the recipient of the Global Human Settlements award, sponsored by the United Nations, amongst other awards.
Life in Cairo, however, is quite different because it’s a largely populated, busy city. According to Reuters, Cairo’s population has grown as high as 22.8 million, making it the most populated city in Africa, which ultimately has a negative effect on traffic and employment, among other factors. Because of this, some people weren’t enjoying living in the city and ended up making a big decision and moving closer to the sea.
Yasmine Tarek, a Pilates instructor and mother of three, decided to take the step and move away from Cairo to Hurghada. She talks about the reason behind the move saying, “Last year when my husband left his full time job and started his own business, we realized we didn’t have to stay in Cairo anymore. I was unhappy in Cairo and wanted to give my children a more nature-based childhood.”
Zeyad Afifi, who currently works in real estate, had a different scenario where he had a rough start in Cairo and couldn't find a job that would sustain his lifestyle. He took a break and visited El Gouna in 2014 for a holiday but ended up staying there for a month and a half. “Thanks to a friend, I started living at their place, which helped me a lot at the beginning of my journey,” he says. However, conditions got better until he eventually landed a job in real estate and started renting his own home.
For Mohamed Nabarawy, a Mechatronics graduate and husband, moving to El Gouna had a different purpose. “I had just finished the military service and started working for the family business in a plastic factory,” he says. At that point, he got married and was about to start a typical traditional life with his new wife in Cairo, but then changed his mind. He says, “I decided this wasn’t what I really wanted to do in life. I wanted to do something that helped the world we lived in, not damaged it. I joined the Technical University of Berlin campus El Gouna with renewable energy resources as my main focus.” The university offers education in the fields of energy engineering, urban development and water engineering. The American University of Cairo also offers education in El Gouna, in addition to South Valley University and several schools and nurseries between El Gouna and Hurghada.
Moving your life to a different city means a different home and possibly different job or career. Mariam Fishere, a psychologist and Nabarawy’s wife, talks about her version of the experience saying, “I looked up all the organizations in Gouna and applied to any jobs I found suitable. I also had a job in Cairo but I did not have to be there; it was done at a distance, so that worked for me.” Nabarawy also states that finding a home in Gouna isn’t difficult, saying, “The university offers dorms at very reasonable prices but since I preferred privacy, I went with brokers.” He says that there are also compound units available but they’re not much cheaper.
Most big decisions allow people to gain wonderful experiences, however, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t any consequences. In Tarek’s case, her husband had to finish some work in Cairo while she moved to Hurghada for a while with the kids until his return. She calls the move to Hurghada “a leap of faith” because she didn’t have savings or a job secured when she did it. Fishere’s difficulties were different as they came from leaving loved ones behind. “They always told me ‘You are in Egypt, why can’t you come to X or Y?’ which made me feel like I had two parallel lives,” she says. Afifi as well recalls the challenging attempts to find a job that could sustain him temporarily, eventually working as a waiter until he found a job better suited for his qualifications.
Moving away from the city, although you’re in the same country, is still a major adjustment with its own struggles, so is it worth the hassle? Tarek believes that life is a lot simpler in Gouna because there’s less traffic and you can accomplish a lot during your day. She talks about the change she sees in her children saying, “Entertaining the kids is basically for free! Their favorite thing now is having picnics on the beach. They are calmer than they were in Cairo and I can see their creativity is even starting to show better. Seeing my kids flourish and feeling my stress levels go down drastically have both been our biggest gains.”
Fishere also shares that there’s no comparison between El Gouna and Cairo because of their extremely different sizes. However, she says, “The most rewarding part was the peace it gave me and the time it saved me. I have a very hectic schedule, always, but, the difference was that I managed to do all the things I wanted, which gave me a great sense of both satisfaction and achievement.” Afifi talks about how he wishes he was born in El Gouna because it drastically changed his life, “I live stress-free, which is the most important thing to me. Moving here is not really for anyone; some people love the city life, others love the simpler life like Dahab. El Gouna is the right balance for me.” He recommends living in El Gouna for a month or two before making a final decision.
El Gouna is a fresh start for some, yet Nabarawy wants people to remember something important. “It’s not as easy as it sounds. It’s not as glamorous as a ‘weekend in Gouna.’ It’s real life here. It’s just a better quality of life,” he says.