December 4, 2009

Down the Nile - Rosemary Mahoney

It is interesting to note that in the past couple of years, I have been reading more books in the "memoir" genre, whereas before, I would have never picked up this kind of book. I first discovered this genre when I was living overseas, when I would read any book that came my way and couldn't afford to be discriminating, fiction or non-fiction. I think that I came back to Canada having read every John Grisham novel ever written (and plots are all blurred together in my mind now); but I also discovered new books and authors that I enjoyed and probably wouldn't have read had I stayed at home. And I also discovered the allure of the memoir. The ability to see the world as someone else sees it; and to experience things vicariously that I will probably never experience.

In 1999, Rosemary Mahoney, a single American woman, went to Egypt wanting to procure a rowboat (of the local fishing boat variety) in order to row down the Nile from Aswan to Qena. The bigger struggle wasn't the rowing itself, but rather trying to make it understood that she wanted to row herself, and be alone, in a culture where women do not row and tourists are protected, whether they want to be protected or not.

I completely understand why she felt drawn to the challenge. Two years before this trip, she had been on a Nile cruise, and observing the river from the cruise ship, she noted, "With a score of middle-aged Spaniards sun-bathing on the deck behind me, I leaned against the ship's railing and watched, entranced, as the Nile slipped by. The wide river and its green banks looked old and placid, inscrutable and inviting, and yet it was all as distant and inaccessible to me as it had always been. Unable to leave the ship, with its planed itinerary and guided tours, I realized I might as well be watching this wonder from behind a glass wall. What I wanted, really, was not just to see the Nile River but to sit in the middle of it in my own boat, alone."

Rosemary Mahoney was used to rowing herself places, living on the water in Maine. I feel the same way about waterways as she does, but my preferred mode of transportation is a canoe. I am planning a solo overnight canoe trip for next summer, and most people that I have told my plan to think that I am crazy. But the water calls out to me and my paddle and my canoe (affectionately named Zig Zag), and the thought of being alone on the water with the shore slipping slowly by will get me through this cold winter.

So I found this book to be very readable, and I kept cheering her on in her quest to row down the Nile. And even though the actual rowing takes up much less than half the book, it was fun to read about someone else's fascination with water travel. My one quibble with the book is that it seems to end very abruptly. She arrives in Qena, ties her boat up at the dock, and gets a taxi to the train station to board a train to Cairo. There is no reflection on what she learned from the experience, how she grew from the experience, what memories she will take home from the experience. But a good read nonetheless!


John Mutford said...

Sounds fascinating. Maybe there'll be a part two, with reflections.

I agree with you about being alone. I prefer rowing alone. Bike riding, too actually. Very meditative times for me.

John Mutford said...

Merry Christmas Kate!

Kate said...

Thank you! And to you too.