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Down the Nile: alone in a fisherman’s skiff by Rosemary Mahoney []



I liked this independent, determined woman. In the late 1990s, Mahoney, an American writer and experienced recreational rower, got the idea of rowing herself down the Nile.  This is not allowed and virtually never done — tourists always travel on cruise boats or feluccas (small sailboats piloted by their owners). When she set out to buy a small rowboat in Egypt, she was met with disbelief.  Women, even western women, did not travel alone. To a fisherman, rowing was work, so why would she want to do it herself?  Felucca captains and boat owners assumed a woman couldn’t know how to row. Eventually she succeeds in her adventure, and it’s both more and less than expected but always fascinating.

Mahoney is empathetic and eloquent. She engages in conversations with Egyptian men and women she meets, learning a great deal about cultural differences, rampant poverty, and the restricted status of women. She quotes extensively from 19th-century European travelers, notably Florence Nightingale and Gustave Flaubert, and gives a selective history of tourism in the region (including colonialism and theft of artifacts) which puts the present-day in context.  So much has changed and so much is the same.  In particular, her descriptions of the river and its natural environment — the wildlife, vegetation, water and sky — are poetic and timeless.

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