Michael Divine

Dinner and tea arrived (a step or two down from the Lufthansa’s dinner on the plane which was salmon and wine) and then the portly fellow came by and turned our beds down. I collapsed to reading for a while and then drifted to sleep. I think Violet graded papers. She had brought all of her student’s final exams with her which they’d just turned in the day before we left. Sometimes I joke that my ball and chain has a ball and chain (but ball and chain #1 is entirely said in jest. Ball and chain #2… not so much).

I awoke sometime around 4am as the train passed through the dark of the wee hours. Eventually Violet and Jimmy were up as well. Eventually the dawn broke and we could get a daylight glimpse of this country. It’s always a treat seeing a new country for the first time – they all have their nuances, their flavors, and their color schemes. And they always, away from the familiarity of home, have a taste of the exotic. Now everything was tinged pink by the sliver of sun breaking on the horizon, lighting the cold blue sky.

We passed a thousand unfinished buildings – red brick shells with rebar sticking out of the top. This is common everywhere – from Mexico to Egypt to Asia – once you finish off your house you have higher taxes to pay so it’s best to just leave it unfinished. Besides, who knows when you’ll have more rooms to fill – cousins, brothers, children, etc.

We passed small huts made of mud brick with small fires burning in them tended by small children maybe making tea for the family.

We passed water buffalo trundling through ditches led by dark-skinned robed women who were dusted pink by the dawn. We passed men, in their long caftan robes, their backs bent, picking at small plots of land with small spades. Their plot was part of a patchwork quilt of hand hewn farms – nothing like the vast symmetry of the factory farms of Middle America. The slightly askew lines of all of the plots that spread out before us – and out from the Nile – seem to be more honest.

It all spreads out from the Nile, fed by that vast and meandering river. Without the Nile, they say, there would be no Egypt. And without Egypt, well…

The flooding of the Nile and the layers of rich soil that it left in it’s wake is what first inspired humans to plant seeds and settle down to farming along the fertile areas that spread out from it’s banks. Unfortunately, the flooding of Nile, like all things of nature, ebbed and flowed. Some years there was more water, some there was less. This led to a bureaucratic order which governed the farming seasons and as well as religious systems basing themselves on fertility systems, priests and governing bodies. The river height was measured and from there, the governances learned when to tax, when to save, when it would be prosperous. Since there was an inevitable down time to the farming periods, the farmers were employed by the Pharaohs and priests to build great monuments to power, ego, the gods. The Pharaoh in turn paid them and protected them from invaders and, if the gods were happy, then the crops were abundant. One has to wonder if we could all have just gotten along if Governments never interjected themselves between us – creating nationalism which feeds egos and butts up against the nationalism of others. Would we all be bound under one ruler or would we have worked things out?

Mosques and minarets punctuated the skyline. I love their designs and patterns. I think they will always stimulate a sense of the exotic in the Western mind which is raised on steeples and such. The minarets are like beautiful needles, pointing to the heavens. Or they are simply phalluses, dominating symbols of a rather patriachical religion. We learned a lot about Islam and the Muslim world along the way and around every turn where I might have said at one moment ‘well, that part isn’t so bad’ – there’d be another line that would just make me feel backwards… Sigh… The extreme form of any religion is ultimately unhealthy and backwards, be it Judaism, Christianity, Muslimism… I would be interested to see what Taoist Extremists would be like though… Just really, really chill, man.

Pages: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23

Read More: