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
spotted a large dead fish floating on the surface of the water twenty feet upstream. “Rose,” he said, “I will bring the boat near so you can catch the fish.” “Catch the fish?” I said, somewhat alarmed. “With what?” “Hands.” Amr was such a serious person and so apparently confident and in command in his milieu that against my own inclinations I found it impossible not to go along with his strange wish. I leaned over the gunwale, and as the fish rounded the bow of the boat I made a grab for its
eating it without her. I wanted to ask Amr where his mother was but sensed that the mother was a subject better left undiscussed. I explained to Amr that I had come to tell him that my friend Madeleine in Cairo had agreed to join us in order to make our trip to Edfu possible. She would arrive by train the day after next. Amr looked delighted and raised his water glass at me in a toast. “So we can celebrate,” he said. We clinked our glasses and decided that we would leave Aswan in three days.
He seemed to have materialized out of the bushes, as Egyptian men often seemed to do. Just when you think you might finally be alone in Egypt, a lurking gallabiya appears amid the phragmites, a white flash of teeth, a blinking golden brown eye. The man stared curiously at me, swaying in his stark white gown, crushing an aloe plant under his bare feet. His grin was enormous. In his hand was a pair of rubber flip-flops. “Bititkallim Araby?” he said. I said, “Shwaya,” though in truth my Arabic was
obvious.” “How is it obvious?” “You dress careful. I can’t see what you look like except your face. You got pride. You got nice face too. You looks like bird. But lot of them, lady, believe me lot of them is prostitutes.” The boy was not stupid, just crude and a blabbermouth. I asked him if he knew what the word prostitute meant. He gave a proud little shrug to indicate that the question was too easy for someone whose English was as good as his. “Yeah. Of course. Prostitute mean somebody who
by every fisherman in Egypt. My disguise was working. I marveled at how easy it had been. Having recovered from my initial shock and surprise that I had found my own boat and been able to row out of Luxor in it, I was able to think now, to reflect on what I was doing. Dress in white, wrap a shirt around your head, tuck your hair up, use a local boat, and nobody would notice you were a white woman floating down the Nile through Egypt. It seemed preposterous, but I was so unexpected in this place