Journal: Sunday 24 November 1996
I was sad. This was my last day in Egypt. I had been in the country for two weeks and it felt like months. Time in Egypt has a strange quality, the days rush by in a flurry of activity but seem at the same time to stretch on for eternity. I could not imagine leaving behind these endlessly bright sunny days (well – apart from the rain) and going back to a cold, wet, English winter and to work. I sat by the edge of the river looking across to the West Bank, a scene which will forever be etched in my heart, and thought about this trip. I had so enjoyed the cruise, lazy days watching the timeless countryside as we drifted by, interspersed with exciting visits to the Nile temples between Luxor and Aswan. I had learned a lot. This time I had known more about the monuments I was seeing, I could remember at least some of the names of the powerful gods and kings who once populated this land and I could recognise some of the recurring themes of architecture and hieroglyphic writing. I had been introduced to the god Seth and his violent storms, to Isis, Sekhmet and all their families. I had witnessed the horrors that storms in Egypt can bring with the sinking of the cruise boat at Esna. I had watched the rising waters of the Nile, still a red-brown muddy torrent the colour of blood. I had sailed peacefully a couple of times in a felucca on the river. They say that anyone who drinks Nile water will always return. Well, the closest I came was to cup my hands and wash my face in it, but maybe I drank it too, as the purified tap water must originally come from the Nile.
Most of all, this trip introduced me to the marvellous Egyptian people, always full of kindness and generosity and I had made several friends, who I would miss when I got home. I would miss the beautiful sound of the Arabic language, a few more words of which I had learned. I would miss the chattering children who magically appeared wherever we went, shouting ‘Hello, what’s your name?’ ‘Where you from?’. I would even miss the touts and felucca guys on Luxor or Aswan Corniche, with their twinkling eyes shouting, ‘Very beautiful, I love your smile, come for a sail on my boat?. I tried to imagine these felucca captains standing on the sea-front at home trying the same line of patter with the tourists. It made me laugh.
I had finished my packing and said goodbye to my hotel room at the Isis which had been a superbly comfortable home for the past week. I wished I could take the balcony home with me so that I could continue to wake up at dawn to a view of the Theban Hills and the sonorous sound of the early morning muzzein’s call to prayer from minarets all across town. It was time for my airport pick-up. What made it worse was that I was leaving, but my two friends who had come a week later, were staying on. I hated Luxor departure lounge which had not been modernised at that time. The waiting was endless on the rows of hard red plastic chairs, hundreds of tourists enclosed in the hall like cattle with no fresh air. I could see that the sun was setting but could not be out there to bid it goodnight. The plane was late and I knew that I had to spend the night at Gatwick Airport at the other end before I could continue my journey on to Cornwall next day. I wondered why we who love Egypt put ourselves through this. But I knew the answer – that every second of my trip had been worth it – and I knew I would do it again.