Saturday, August 1, 2009

Gaining an understanding of Egyptian Time

Our dinner with Captain Hamada and Ali was wonderful. There is seemingly always a breeze on the Nile. We sailed around Elephantine Island (no elephants), and up the Nile. We had agreed on a 3 hour sail including a fish dinner, but as we have come to realize, Egyptian time is usually multiplied by 3 to arrive at English time. The wind was strong, and other feluccas were being told to go to the shore. Captain Hamada told us that one of his felucca colleagues (Captain Chill) had capsized, and that was why the Nile Police were out and about. He however was not worried, and was very skillful in navigating the wind, and he pretended that he couldn't hear the warning of the other boats, so we pushed on. We sailed for about 4 hours, capturing another beautiful sunset from the water. We even went under a bridge, which is quite a feat--the sails needed to be taken in, and the mast angled to fit under.

We had fun chatting with the Captain, and trying to chat with Ali, who is 15, but works harder than many adults I know. He is very shy. We told him that, but "shy" in Arabic means tea, so I think he was confused. He did make us lots of good tea though.

The fish were gutted, de-scaled, and cooked with the heads on. Hamada was the chef of the evening while Ali took over as captain. It was the best fish and rice I've ever tasted. We learned that the fish was called "Balti", and we think it is the kind of fish, not the word for fish. We ate by candle light. A 1.5 liter plastic bottle was cut in half, and water put in the bottom. The cap was cut and a candle was inserted into the top of the bottle, so when the top of the bottle was inverted, it rested on the weighted bottom half, and protected the candle from the wind. It is a marvellous way to reuse the bottles. We ate with our hands, tea glasses and dishes were washed in the Nile (there is quite a process--as we later learned), and there was a constant need to wipe the boat down of any dirt or crumbs, sand or water.

Having already ducked the Nile Police we felt like we were being a bit sneaky, but we didn't realize that captains were not supposed to sail after dark with tourists. Hamada said that at this point we weren't really tourists, we were being Egyptians. We laughed and played games together after the meal. It was here that we were introduced to "Nubian Magic", a string game. I used my knitting yarn to show the guys how to play "Cats cradle". Then we played a game that I learned at camp where everyone is on the ground in a circle with arms overlapping and each person takes a turn to tap the ground, passing the tap around the circle. It was a relaxing time in the cool breeze, and I think we all were hoping that we could just stay there longer. We had the invite to get our stuff from the hotel and have a sleep over, but we decided that we needed to use a proper bathroom and headed back to the horrible Memnon hotel. Clare navigated the boat on the way back, including steering us skillfully between several cruise ships to reach the mooring. We said our goodbyes, partly sad to think that the next day we'd be off on one of those gigantic boats, who look so dirty and noisy in comparison to the "Flower 2" with a patchy sail, chipping paint, and bedecked in flags from the Chelsea football club, and several from Jamaica.

We hopped straight into bed at 1AM, thus concluding our 9 hours of a 3 hour cruise, and confirming the mathematical equation of

3 x Egyptian Time = English Time

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