Down the Nile: Alone in a Fisherman's Skiff
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When Rosemary Mahoney, in 1998, took a solo trip down the Nile in a seven-foot rowboat, she discovered modern Egypt for herself. As a rower, she faced crocodiles and testy river currents; as a female, she confronted deeply-held beliefs about foreign women while cautiously remaining open to genuine friendship; and, as a traveler, she experienced events that ranged from the humorous to the hair-raising--including an encounter that began as one of the most frightening of her life and ended as an edifying and chastening lesson in human nature and cultural misunderstanding. Whether she's meeting Nubians and Egyptians, or finding connections to Westerners who traveled up the Nile in earlier times--Florence Nightingale and Gustave Flaubert among them--Mahoney's informed curiosity about the world never ceases to captivate the reader.
"A pilgrimage about pilgrims and holy places that is not only enlightening but also very funny." -Paul Theroux (on The Singular Pilgrim)
"Mahoney is a wonderfully effective catalytic agent: she goes to Ireland and just makes the country happen around her." -Jonathan Raban (on Whoredom in Kimmage)
"Mahoney, who has been rowing for 10 year, brilliantly juxtaposes an account of her own palm-blistering hours on the Nile....with the diary entries of two Victorian travelers-Gustave Flaubert and
I climbed into the boat, and while Amr untied the lead the other felucca captains twitched their gowns and looked on in uncharacteristic silence, taking their cue as much from the unexpectedness of the situation as from Amr’s polite gravity. I told Amr that I would row around Elephantine Island and return in an hour or so. “As you wish,” he said, with no trace of mockery, worry, or doubt. I pushed off from the dock and began to haul the boat upstream. The oars were immensely heavy, with thick.
Location in Egypt make this river any more forbidding, inaccessible, or unrowable than any other? A year passed, and my fantasy failed to fade. I found myself spending afternoons in my local library, pawing through books about Egypt and the Nile, studying photographs, gathering information about the river and about others who had traveled on it. Millions of people — including thousands of foreigners — had traveled on the Nile, among them the obvious centuries of Egyptian fishermen, farmers, and.
Horrified by this particular spot, calling it “one mountain of broken pottery, fragments of red granite, sand, and mounds . . . Such a world as might have been turned out of the Caldron of Macbeth’s Weird Sisters,” a description still dead-accurate a hundred and fifty years later. Yet accurate too were the observations of Amelia Edwards and Edmé-François Jomard, a member of Napoleon’s 1798 expedition, both of whom had ventured beyond the southern tip of the island and had been as delighted as I.
Invasive weed that had appeared on the Nile some hundred years ago and had proliferated to the point of infestation. Beyond the beach, tiny sand dunes made the vista uneven; ripples of heat rose up from the hot hollows between them. There was beach grass here and the dried brown stubble of reeds, a few thornbushes and furry acacias. Several hundred yards to the west, the line of palm trees began, and far beyond them I saw a faint string of gray smoke lifting into the air, smoke from what was.
Frightened and beset enough, I can become infuriated, and my fury fuels an almost supernatural determination and strength. I had no intention of letting Mahmoud frighten me further, no intention of letting him control me. “Get out of my boat,” I said in English. He hesitated. I raised my hand between us and waved at him. “Out. Out. Get out now. I’m going. I don’t want you to help me.” To my surprise Mahmoud stood up and stepped gracefully back into his own boat. My boat was partially wedged.