- Sailing a felucca down the Nile River
Apr 05 2016
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Oct 16 2014
Sailing a felucca down the Nile River
Aswan, Egypt March 2001
I’m not going to tell you about it the way that I remember it. The details seem to shift and merge together, like the hazy edges of the setting sun.
But I remember..
...I remember the way that it felt.
The water was cool sometimes, a hand drifting lazily over the rail of the ship, rising only inches above the river. Sometimes the water was warm, the desert air under the cold starry sky teasing lightly over my skin, and my feet soaking in the lapping waves at the shore. And I can still feel the hot and muggy air in the back of my throat, the high noon sun glaring over the soft ripples of the current.
This was Egypt. This was the Nile River. This was the great splendor of history and culture that the world had to offer. This was my time. This was my place. I had freedom like the first sip of a dark, full-bodied wine. An experience exclusive to me, my life and all the world had as a gift. I didn’t just read about it in books, or look at iconographic images on the internet, or become swept away by the carefully structured scenes of a movie. No. I was there. I was living my dream. I was sailing down the Nile.
Our felucca was a shallow ship with a single mast lifting to the heavens. I loved the shape of that sail, and the way it soared into the breeze. All strange, foreign angles balanced by the gleaming white curve of the wind filling the canvas. We relaxed, ate, and slept all together on the ship. It felt so solid and well-made. Everything had a place. Everything was coiled and stowed and mended with care.
And my felucca boys. Oh the wonder of Egypt! They welcomed all of us aboard their vessel for our 3 day cruise so graciously. But me in particular they took a great liking too. And they fascinated me. Their life and the ship, the culture they came from, the history of how they got to be there, I soaked it all in. Captain Zach and his First Mate AbDulla Theta El Ulla. They were lovely. They were gentlemen. They offered me a taste of Egypt’s most exquisite dish.
At the bow of the ship was a small captain’s cabin. Inside were a colorful array of shells and cloth and flowers, and little what-nots that every boy has inside a place he likes to call home. They were 15. I learned about their life and their dreams for the future. I wanted to stay forever, but Captain Zach told me, “No, no forever. Just for your time. This is your time.” Our captain was very well spoken, but AbDulla didn’t speak any English, but it never seemed communication was a problem.
Because of my friendship with the Captain and First Mate, I was allowed to take a turn sailing the ship. I followed the zig-zag patterns of the other ships. I took half a day at the tiller, AbDulla giving me the signal when to swing the ship over to the other side. They called me Captain Kat. I was so proud.
Back and forth, back and forth, tacking this way and that. Each curve of the river holding a new horizon. Sandy cliffs, dry scrub grasses, and then suddenly around a bend, Green. Vivid green fields worked by men in loose linen tunics. They raised their sun-browned arms in greeting as we drifted past. At night, with the ship rocking gently beneath me, it seemed as if I could touch the milky way, and when I did, I knew it would part for my fingers like the waters of the Nile gliding along our prow. There were breath-taking, rouged hazy sunsets, dipping wavering into the horizon, lost in the blue-grey obscurity of twilight.
A hot African sun overhead, the lazy sighs and shifting of bodies in the stillness. The day passing by like the sloping sandy dunes. A gaze across the waters. The total body sensation of jumping in. People behind me laughing and shouting. I look back on it now and realize it was probably very dangerous, who knows what was lurking in those green, silty waters. None of that crossed my head at the time. I was young and invincible and I was not going to journey all the way to Egypt and sail down the Nile without immersing my body in the water. The felucca boys waved me back to the boat and hauled me back over the side. “No more. Not again.” That’s what they told me. Then they smiled and made me a hot cup of that wonderful Egyptian coffee: grainy, raw and invigorating, and I was full of life.
One night we drew the ship up on to the shore. Two other feluccas were traveling with us and we all got out and had a bonfire in the sand. It quickly turned into an acoustic jam session, then a drum circle, and then we were all laughing and singing and dancing around and through the blazing fire like mad wild things. We were high on life and our connection to each other, sharing that experience, being that part of each other’s lives.
At the end, the felucca boys begged me to stay, to sail with them back up to Aswan. Captain Zach asked for a kiss, but I gave it to AbDulla instead. I don’t know why. A soft smooch on the cheek, and then I turned away and we parted ways forever. But I will never forget them.
And even though I don’t remember every curve of that river, I remember..
...I remember like I’m still reaching over the white, sun-faded rail, a soft smile on my face, and my fingertips grazing the smooth surface of the Nile.