Ask any Egyptian what the Nile River means to his people, and he will surely tell you that it is Life. For millennia, its waters, silt, and nutrients have nourished the lush farmlands that line its banks. The abundance of fish still provides a vital food source for Egyptians. Man has harnessed the power of the mighty river as a renewable energy source. And still now, as in ancient times, the Nile is a major transportation thoroughfare, connecting one community to the next, ferrying people, goods, materials, technology, and information. Rick and I wanted to experience what it was like to be on this proud and vital river. Seizing an opportunity to ride a felucca, or traditional Egyptian sailboat, Rick, our friend Tarek, and I boarded the good ship “Blue Sky” for a casual outing on the Nile.
We left the shores of Luxor about an hour before sunset. It had been a brutally hot day, and it was only now beginning to feel tolerable. A barefoot, slender and jovial man named Mahmoud was our captain, and his first mate was a teenager who barely cracked a smile but worked hard to please his boss and his passengers.
Our last nine days of research and scouting to prep for two upcoming TV shows on Egypt had been intense–physically demanding and mentally exhausting. We did twice as much as what would typically be done in that amount of time. The overstimulation of dramatic ancient sites, cacophonic voices constantly overlapping in a language and in decibel levels I was unaccustomed to, the relentless bombardment of historical and cultural information, and the visual flurry of everyday life were pushing me to the verge of sensory overload and breakdown. Yet somehow, being on the water instantly helped me find an even keel.
The Nile flows from south to north. As our sail swelled in the wind, we sped southward. Being late in the day, most other feluccas were headed downriver, back to their docks in Luxor, leaving us nearly alone on this wide waterway. While Luxor is nowhere near as hectic as Cairo, it is certainly more boisterous than its neighboring villages, and that became wholly apparent, even from a distance, as we sailed farther and farther south.
The scenery and sounds changed, morphing from the bold to the blissful. Endless buildings lacking personality gave way to endless palm trees and lush reeds. Motorboats became virtually extinct while fishermen in rowboats peppered the shorelines, hoping for one last bite before day’s end. The honking horns of cars evaporated into the distance, and the songs of birds became a temporary soundtrack for a supple afternoon on the water.
Every now and again, one of us would comment on how beautiful everything was, but mostly we stayed quiet, as if it were a sin in such a setting to break a solemn vow of silence . In that stillness, my senses became more acute: colors seemed more vivid, sounds became more distinct and individualized, and scents were suddenly crisper. As the sun set, the sky put on a spectacular show, silhouetting the shoreline scenery and bathing the desert and riverside oases in golds, pinks, oranges, and purples. I reflected on the experiences of the last nine days–all that we had seen, all that we had learned, all that we had experienced. Gratitude filled my heart and I felt my tensions dissolve into the Nile, carried northward, downriver, far, far away.
Sharing this moment with my life and travel partner, I stood on the prow of the felucca, gazing from one shore to the other across cerulean waters. Jubilant birds soared above proud palm trees. Layered calls to prayer echoed from four different villages. The warm desert breeze caressed my sun-kissed cheeks. I was more consciously aware than ever before in my life that I was in the presence of God. He was there with me, of course, as He always is: in the ripples of the water, in the reeds that swayed slowly along the shore, in the flight of the birds, in the changing colors of the sky, in the wind that filled the sail, in the voices that sang his praise, in the tears that were now streaming down my face, and in everything around me and within me. I had never felt so completely a part of Creation than in that singular moment.
It was there, on the Nile, that I came to truly understand that God–no matter if you call him God, Yaweh, Allah, Heavenly Father, the Creator, the Divine, the Supreme Being, Mother Nature, or even nothing at all–is a part of everything and everything is a part of Him. And because we are all part of the same creation, we are all connected. We are all equally precious. We are all divine.