“Felucca man, you want boat? Half hour, here—” the man rasped and gestured down a gangway as my friend Clark and I strolled along the Nile in central Cairo. He was about the fifth person to encourage us to take a boat ride, and of course it’s something we intend to do, for how can you come to Cairo and not ride a felucca? But we weren’t ready then, we just wanted to walk, take in the sights and sounds of the legendary river before heading off to dinner.
Cairo’s traffic roared by, then slowed to a crawl, all accompanied by the blares, beeps, honks, and screeches of a thousand car horns and the periodic wail of music from the boats moored to the riverbank. Even in February the sun had the intensity to scorch my face; traffic fumes reminded me that despite the breeze off the water this is a congested, challenging city.
Cups lined up atop the river wall in rainbow colors with straws protruding marked a beverage seller’s stall. Another post a short distance away was a tea shop, glasses at the ready. Just the sight of them made me aware that I was thirsty, but that would have to wait.
A little farther on a round-faced man with a gap between his teeth sprawled in a plastic chair near a gangway. He caught my eye and gave me a smile that said, “Isn’t it a grand day to be alive?” while also giving a half-hearted, playful gesture toward his boat, acknowledging in his manner that this was not the time for us to go sailing, nor time for him to take out his boat. He was having too much fun sitting and watching the world go by, as we were having too much fun walking and doing the same. I exchanged smiles with him, then we moved along.
“Hello, hello,” I said with a wave and a smile as we passed.
He smiled again, waved in return. “Welcome, welcome,” he answered, and we continued on our way, caught up in the symphony of car horns, beginning to understand that they had a language of their own.