Friday, June 19, 2009

Day 2 - Turkey v. Germany

It was day one of a three day felucca sail down the Nile. We were heading north out of Aswan, Egypt, toward Luxor with eight other travellers and a crew of three Nubian boatmen. Ahmed, our constantly-stoned-on-hashish 'driver', steered the boat slowly from one bank to the other as we were carried upriver by the surprisingly strong current. A persistent headwind slowed our efforts and we were not making very good time. Luckily, we were not in a hurry. I had my portable guitar along for the trip and serenaded the group for hours with some sweet little finger-picked melodies.

Once the hot afternoon sun got a little lower and the temperature started to decline, the group began to get some energy. We considered a jump into the river. Our fixer (the guy who had all the knowledge and took care of us in this territory) Mohammed tossed a one inch thick rope off the boat deck and tied one end to a hook on the gunnel. He said that if we wanted to jump in for a dip, we would have to hold onto the rope whilst in the water. He didn't want to lose any of us to the current. Rumors swirled abound on the dangers of swimming in the Nile. I started to lean back toward playing my guitar when I heard of the parasites that crawl up the hole in your penis. Undaunted, EZ (my wife-to-be and beloved) motivated me back into the fold by declaring that if we all jumped in at the same time, it would be fine. How I don't know, but it sounded good at the time. Six of us held hands and counted to three. Splash! It was freezing, believe it or not. We all navigated ourselves to the rope and got pulled through the water with relative ease. We whooped and hollered in the freezing cold water, arousing the attention of some cows on the river bank. We had one scary moment when two of the ladies lost hold of the rope, but we got them back and onto the boat safely. With one hand on the rope, I had the other swirling around my genitals so as to deter any penis-hole invaders. I only stayed in for about 10 minutes, as this was not a relaxing swim, rather, it was simply something to say I did. I swam in the Nile, so there. Second, a goal for me during this one-year away was to break down my "hedges" and hesitations. To take risks in the unfamiliar or daunting.

Once back on the boat, and after a light dinner, EZ and I went to the bow to dry by the setting sun. She was lamenting the fact that she was not able to watch HER beloved, Turkey, face off against Germany in the EURO 2008 football semi-final. We had been able to catch all of their matches in the tournament to date, Turkey had some very exciting results, and it was a touch too bad that we couldn't be there to witness the semis on TV. But whatever, look where we were, watching the sunset behind the green banks of the Nile.

However, word spread quickly around the boat that EZ was probably going to miss the match and Mohammed quickly made it his mission to see that didn't happen. An hour or so went by until Mohammed approached the group and asked us if we still wanted to see the match. His inquiry was met with a resounding, "YES!". Ahmed steered the felucca gently to a rest on the bank of the Nile. It was now pitch dark and the way ahead was completely deserted. We put on some head lamps, grabbed a couple cases of Sakara beer for the road, and followed Mohammed into the darkness.

We climbed up the river bank and came upon a field of sand and dried shit. I kept the headlamp pointed down so as not to step on anything controversial. The group stuck together. Suddenly, what sounded like about 2 dozen wild dogs, began to bark and howl in our direction. The sound was so deafening, they could have been right beside us, but, I couldn't see anything past the light. Just noise. We picked up the pace and gradually the wail of the dogs began to wane and the field of sand began to change into some irrigated farmland. We found a garden path that lead us to a dead end; a irrigation channel filled with ten millennia of feces and garbage, that eventually flowed into the Nile behind us. Not deterred, Mohammed led us about one hundred yards to the right, where there was a log that bridged across the channel. I hate crossing over water balancing on a log. My centre of gravity is too high, I have no balance or coordination, and this was my second hedge to overcome in one day. By the time I finished thinking (that's the problem. If I didn't think so much and just did it, I'd be fine), EZ was already across the 15-foot "bridge" and urging me on. I wasn't going to walk across. I just couldn't. Visions of falling in permeated my mind. Walking across a log would have to wait for another day. So, I straddled it. I put both my hands in front and "bum hopped" safely across the log. Though I became a momentary subject of ridicule, at least I made it across dry, which is more than I can say for some of us. One of the girls accidently dropped her flashlight as she was taking her final steps onto the other side. John, one of the guys, tried to lean out and catch it before it went in the water. Slip!! He caught the light, but tumbled into the drink. He held out his arm frantically and I dragged him back onto dry land. He instantly took off his shirt and tried to shake all the jeebies out. Who knows what got on him, but I do know that he is still alive and well in his homeland of Australia.

Once we were all across the channel we could make out a road in the distance. We trudged through the spiky bushes and powdery sand, and were met at the road by three 5-year old kids. There was no home, nothing in sight, so I don't know where they came from, but, there they were, ready to play. So, we played, and waited for about 10 minutes, until Mohammed hailed down the first truck he saw. The back cab was packed with Nubians. Mohammed talked to the driver, pointed at us, and almost instantly, the locals piled high onto the top of the covered truck and the 8 of us were ushered into the back. We all sat in disbelief as the truck sped up and slowed down along the dark dirt road, and the passengers hopped on and off the roof above us; each surprised at the payload of eight chubby westerners in the back. 15 minutes later, we pulled up to our stop and hopped out of the cab. We shook hands with our driver and Mohammed led us into the local hangout. This place, nestled on the outskirts of a tiny Nubian village held the TV that broadcasted the match.

Arriving late, we missed the first few minutes of the game, but still managed to find some seats in what could best be described as an open-air gentlemen's tea house. A twelve inch tube-television blasted the game. EZ and the three other ladies were the only women in the whole place. We were surrounded by old men smoking shisha pipes, guys my age, eyes glued to the game, and some old timers in the back playing Egyptian Tavla (kind of like backgammon). The place was packed and I had one of those "one world" moments. You know those IBM or Olympic commercials that show people from all over the world, from the sports bars in America to a Masai hut in the Serenghetti, coming together to enjoy the same thing on TV? That's what this felt like. It was a good feeling to see that even in the most remote parts of the planet people still, at the heart of it, are having the same party with their good friends. The party is always the same, all over the world, albeit it's a little quieter in America. These Nubians in a remote village in central Egypt, lived and died with every shot in a match between Turkey and Germany. Once a group of them found out that EZ was Turkish, they cheered even harder for an Anatolian victory. The match, which in the end was won by the Germans, became almost secondary. It was the journey there and the revelation of sameness that made the memory.

The ride home was easier, partly because we knew what to expect. Mohammed even managed to find a proper bridge over the irrigation channel, which delighted John to no end. But not really.

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