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  • Writer's pictureJoia

Today's rhaps is on ... The Proposal

Ferry on the Nile from Aswan to Wadi Halfa, photo, 1979

"You—me. Very good. Very good. You. Me. Very good."

I was in front of a Nubian god offering himself to me...well okay, a good-looking Sudanese guy was sitting on the bed across from me, proposing that we make babies. Together.

Maybe best if I go back a few days.

February of 1979 was Egypt, after a month in Greece. Though I lost the disposable camera with the Athens photos, we really were there in January. A train took us from Vienna through Yugoslavia, right after New Year's. We hadn't brought enough food for the journey, and our train compartment comrades shared roast chicken and boiled eggs with us. No European dining car, not on this train.

In Egypt we spent a couple weeks in Cairo before continuing south along the Nile. We'd bought a map at a busy sidewalk shop, one displaying big red dots for Alexandria, Cairo, Aswan...and Wadi Halfa, the first big city in Sudan. I'd been dreaming of the comfortable shower and sleep that would follow the two-day ferry ride from Aswan to Sudan, preceding the very long desert train to Khartoum.

There were hundreds of passengers on the two ferries, which had been tied together to double the deck room. Our allotted space in the crowd was just big enough for sleep at night, staring up at the stars. We made bunsen meals during the day—coffee, potatoes, cans of beans, whatever fit in the all-purpose blue tin cup. The only other foreigner on the ship was a German guy with a motorcycle. That bike took up more room then he did, already quite a sight with his hippie blond hair and a leather jacket. We spoke Russian so no one would know we were American. If they did hear English, we were Canadian.

The terrain was surreal as a distant planet, the blue of the sky and yellow hills fully reflected in the glassy waters of the Nile. The Soviet-built hydroelectric dam had widened the river to a broad lake stretching from Aswan south to the border with Sudan. We passed the temple of Abu Simbel, its gigantic statue gods sitting serene through the centuries.

Toward the end of the second day, everyone was preparing to land. We were leaning over the ship rail when a little building, small as an outhouse, came into view. "Hey there's Wadi Halfa!" we joked. A low voice behind us immediately responded, "No, that is the Port of Wadi Halfa."

Uh oh.

The big city from the map was indeed nearby, though far beneath us now at the bottom of the Nile. The entire city had been submerged by the dam years before, nevermind the old map we'd bought in Cairo. Instead of a Holiday Inn or remote Hilton in the desert town, two rows of mud-brick huts offered a single lodging near the train station.

I had to make a decision, quick, because if we didn't get on the train immediately, the next one came five days later. J. was fluish and fighting a fever, so I chose the latter.

Wadi Halfa's single hotel consisted of several one-story buildings around a courtyard fountain. Each room had several iron beds with straw mattresses, opening to a connected outdoor varanda. Our neighbor on one side was a Jordanian businessman, stuck at the border with three SUVs and hundreds of pairs of Bulgarian shoes. Smuggling shoes and cars in the desert! Every day I'd go out looking for food and end up with a banana or can of beans, while my clever entrepeneur neighbor sat there with boxes of airline liquor and cigarettes, fresh oranges and tomatoes...which he fortunately began to share with me, bemused by my lack of success in procuring life's necessities.

While my traveling companion slept off the fever, I'd sit outside on the porch mattress reading—that week it was Carl Sagan's Dragons of Eden. I learned how to swat flies while turning pages.

Our neighbors on the other side were several young Sudanese men, one of whom evidently quite bothered by the lack of marital noise coming from our room. (None of the walls reached the ceiling.) When J. was finally able to stand up, we were both invited into their room for the solemn proposal...mating with me would produce glorious children!

It took us a while to figure out the exact nature of the offer, but we managed to escape politely and hopefully save laughter to a culturally appropriate distance. Babies for me!

On the ferry to Wadi Halfa there'd been an old man who had looked at us with wise gentle knowing eyes. Nothing is new under the sun, his eyes seemed to smile.


As the prophet said,

"That which has been is what will be, That which is done is what will be done, And there is nothing new under the sun." Ecclesiastes 1:9

18 JANUARY 2023

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