IN FELUCcA with OSAMA
Once again the "Violet" is sailing smoothly, like in a dream, suspended on the ancient Sacred River. Few other boats are moving lazily on the shivering surface, rippling under the breath of a vigorous breeze ... Far another swelling sail stands, white and sharp on the immense golden sand dunes. These convex titans of golden dust seem to dip willingly their protruding hips into the dark waters, fresh and vital.
And it is precisely there, where the powerful elemental forces are meeting, that the miracle occurs: the red-hot fire of "raml", the sand overheated by the sun, meets the cold rushing waters, that seem eager to get far away from the grabbing of the dam. There they join, interpenetrating and almost playing with their powerful energies. Here they intimately know eachother, and give off the vegetation, the green ... giving new life and hope to the borders of the austere landscape.
While our little white boat, the silent Violet, sails softly across the dark waters moving with the wind at her back, on the west bank a caravan of camels takes tourists to the Nubian "standard" village. Their long shadows sprawled lazily down the sandy cliffs, seeming almost tired of being attached to the bodies of animals... Around our boat eddies and swirls alternate, seething, but Usama says he knows them "by heart", and he never gets wrong. As in an hyperrealist painting, some women, dressed in blue and yellow, linger in an inlet, washing clothes in the cold water that flows in the great Nile.
A posperous young girl, coming out of the village, is trying to find some cool to soothe hot weather. She ventures with her legs in the water, still wearing the dress: the mother (or mother-in-law) black cloaked, is next and do not lose sight a second ... you never know! crisp, clear picture of children running, small Nubians dark and shiny, with frizzy hair and light smiles ... they look at us, watching us ... playing ball near the shore or venture with microscopic craft boats alongside the felucca, greeting us with joy and singing songs.
During the trip to the island of Sehel our host Usama proves to be very talkative, and tells us about his life, his new boat: he has recently taken a motor one. He ordered it at Esna because there they build it soon, at most in two months, while in other cities it can take much more. It will be called "Violet", as the little felucca that hosts us; his is a name to which Usama is very tied up: he confirms us that all boats should have a female name: as women, even the boats need to be guided gently, but with a steady hand (and meanwhile Usama smiles slyly with his contagious and bright smile Nubian).
This time we landed on the island on the western side, while to the east there is a dock for the visitors of the "Famine Stele". Once on the ground, instead of making us see the usual Nubian village "prefabricated" for tourists, he accompanies us by a friend of his: Maha. She is part of the Nubian village of Sehel, and has a home, close to the mosque and the village school. His son runs in the space in front of the house playing ball with his little friends.
It does not take very much and already Gabriele befriends him, the Nubians are hospitable and so soon the boy accompanies Gabriel to visit his village.
Maha is a young woman with intense eyes and a charming smile: it is separated from her husband and lives alone with her son. We read in his eyes a deep sadness, a dark restlessness because there was something wrong in her marriage, then ... solitude: now she no longer trusts ... would not repeat the same mistake again. Osama tells us, then, that she feels wasted without a real job and a family ... but that's another story. Despite everything, his smile is alive and sincere: Maha is a strong woman, of great character, and also intelligent, his happiness will come back, we are sure! Hospitable and kind, Maha speaks good English and entertains us showing a small crocodile alive coming from deep waters of Lake Nasser, a few kilometers beyond the High Dam. Osama is smart with her, he feels that she is very nice, but neither of them have plans to try to put up a relation (it must be said, to be fair, that Osama is an unrepentant bachelor and does not want to get fixed partners).
In the end, we exchanged greetings, but a piece of our heart remained there, in Sehel.
In a second exit, this time with the motor boat of a friend of his (the new one will arrive next week) Osama brings us to the "beach", a place where tourists and locals come to swim: the water is cool and clean, and is continually renewed for runoff from the High Dam. T go there is required a motor boat because you have to go even further upstream, on "Barbar", almost in the rapids area, and with the felucca ride is prohibitive.
On the "beach" the souvenir sellers are waiting: they sow all their things by stuffing in the sand, as small plantations ... is a unique spectacle, but are not at all pushy, and after a few words they go away and leave us alone.
When we arrive there are already some tourists who take a bath, but few are swimming far from shore. This time also Usama does chat anymore and everyone goes and have a cooling and relaxing bath.
The current is very strong and you can not fool around, despite being good swimmers (we come from a seaside town) we're all on guard .... Just two or three meters away from the shore, and the mighty hand of the Nile grabs us and pulls us faster downstream ... we can also swim at most of our speed, but the bank seems to stop, do not move ... ... barely we keep our initial position.
The gigantic dunes, the mass of bubbling water: nothing strange that the ancient Egyptians would place in Elephantine the secret springs of the Nile !! The nature is spectacular here, and the perception of light and shadow and the real sounds of the world around really make we think about the cosmogenic magic, about the creator demiurge...
Leaving the Sacred River we climb up the dunes, Usama laughs and takes us for fools ... never seen people in bathing suits running around the desert dunes ... !!! but it is a fairy tale. We dry in a few seconds: the wind is like a hot and rustling hair dryer and soon we are dry, with a pleasant feeling of refreshment. Yes... the wind ... Aswan is known for its hot, dry climate and optimum wind for the felucca. The hot season, according to Usama, is the best for sailing in and around Elephantine.
In fact "Qubbet el Hawwa", "The Wind Dome", is the name of the higher rise above the western shore of the Nile, a few kilometers downstream, on the ridge of which are carved the famous "Tombs of the Nobles" (which we visited in past trips). Another interesting thing fleetingly seen during navigation is the Mausoleum of the Aga Khan. One of these times we'll have a short visit there, for now we are content to see it from the boat.
The outward journey is direct, and so simple that Usama does hold the rudder to Gabriel; for the return, instead, although the current in favor, we are forced to tack to the strong headwind and go and turn from one bank to the other, while Usama hums a Nubian song.
We also pass near the old medieval mill, still in good condition and indeed it is an interesting structure.
Much of a fairytale afternoon, and it is only the beginning ... next time, with the motor boat, Usama has mentioned the idea of bringing us to Kom Ombo "by motor-boat" a whole day of sailing, with Nubian lunch cooked (by him) on the shore at the right time!
I can understand why Usama defines his world "my paradise"! His life: a teacher of history and geography, who lives on the island of Elephantine, which at 15.30 each afternoon is free, and in summer has its holidays, with the sister who looks after his house and his belongings with a felucca all his own ... with this scenario before his eyes morning and evening...
Far from the thoughts, far from the chaos, only a slight galabeyya on our body and the wind that caresses us with gentle force: soaking a hand every now and then in the cold body of the sacred Nile, letting rest your eyes on the green shores, walking barefoot on the hot dunes... breathing deeply the energetic dry air of Aswan, made luminous and transparent by the god Ra ... contemplating a slow procession of camels, the long shadows stretched out on the amber sand.
Every color, every smell, every sound blends in full beauty of creation, and the nature bursts strogly in your mind and in your soul. We are brought back to the intuition of an atavistic existence, when the world was at the beginning of time. These images and feelings come home with us, every time; they form a cool oasis in our hearts, and, when everyday life is harder or too gray, they let us to fish them out.
As ibis fish creatures in the Nile, with patience and aiming accurately: so we fish out memories, and scenes come to life, leaping in the foreground, in total awareness.
Here, once recalled, these memories stand, relaxing in silence, like a precious drop of golden oil, calming the ripples of restless thoughts and appeasing the fury of emotions ... Then, finally: the silence, your secrets eyes half-close scanning the infinite horizon, and peace spreads, broken only by the hot wind whisper that repeats slowly to your heart:
Aswan ... Aswan ..