Egypt

Writing about my encounter with an Irish druid last week reminded me of my experiences with Nubian sailors in Egypt. I’ll share them with you now.

(The experiences, that is, not the sailors.)

Some years ago, I went on holiday to Egypt with a group of friends. We started in Aswan, where we boarded a boat to Luxor.

We were walking along, heading for the boat, when suddenly I was swept up by a sailor who carried me off in his arms. My friend raced along behind shouting, “Where are you taking her?”

(I was too surprised to say anything!)

Unfortunately, the sailor’s English wasn’t equal to explaining, so we just hoped for the best.

I was duly carried onto our boat in some style.

From then on I hardly ever had to walk on and off the boat. As it was not unusual for us to have to walk across other boats to get to ours, it did make alighting and disembarking slightly easier.

The crew treated me with great care in other respects too. If we had to wait for our boat, I was never left standing. A seat of some kind would always be made available.

Then there was the buffet.

One night we had a buffet meal. I was walking round with my friend while she told me what foods were on offer so that I could choose what I wanted to eat. The waiters were appalled! How could she be so heartless as to make a blind lady actually walk round a buffet? They shooed her away, sat me at a table and proceeded to bring platefuls of food, far more than I could possibly eat.

One of our guides was a charming man who insisted on taking my hand and guiding me, even though I was always with someone from our group. He had a lovely sense of humour and, when we had to bend down to walk under the boat cables stretched across the path, he would say, “Now we play the limbo.”

I was intrigued by him as he had a very good guiding technique. It wasn’t until the last day that he told us that his brother was blind.

I was very touched by the kindness and thoughtfulness of all these people even if, at times, it was a mixed blessing. I’m not saying that I want this level of attention in my day-to-day life, or for railway staff to scoop me up in their arms to put me on the train to Paddington, but I was on holiday and prepared to accept the help in the spirit in which it was given.

By contrast, the people on duty at many of the historical sites completely failed to grasp that I couldn’t see, despite much sign language and miming, and were not at all happy about me touching carvings on pillars. For all that, I still loved walking round the temple at Karnak, visiting the Valley of the Kings and standing where priests had conducted rituals 3000 years ago.

Perhaps the most amusing episode was being courted by a bar owner in Luxor. As my friends and I sat drinking, he brought me various gifts: a napkin, a postcard of Luxor, and a plate of salad. Then he asked me to marry him. He explained that he had one wife already. I’m not sure if this was supposed to reassure me, but I politely declined his offer!