Down the Nile; Alone in a Fisherman's Skiff, Rosemary Mahoney, Little Brown, Hatchett Book Group, 2007.
An independent, world savvy writer in her thirties, from Providence RI, loves to row. In Egypt on a writing assignment she gets the irresistible idea of rowing down the Nile. Two years later she is back, intent on rowing herself from Aswan to Qena. Restrictions about who and where to be on the river and difficulties finding a boat seem insurmountable, and she spends the hot days hanging about the wharfs, bearing up with men's brazen questions and requests. All Egyptian men are like this, she thinks, until she meets Amr, who captains a felucca for sightseeing tourists. Amr has a 7 foot skiff, and surprisingly tells Rose to take it out whenever she likes.
The oars are cumbersome, but she does enjoy rowing about Elephantine Island, still looking for a proper rowboat. When finally she confides in Amr about the real reason she wants a boat, he tries to warn her off--police restrictions; danger of a woman traveling alone, etc. Scenes at Amr's humble home on Elephantine Island (populated by Nubians, which Amr is) with his decrepit mother and resigned, fat sister are heartrending. Seeing Rose's determination, Amr says he will follow her in his felucca part way, to a more advantageous place to buy a fishing boat. They leave at 3:30 am to avoid police checks, Rose buys herself a dilapidated, whimsically painted boat, has adventures, and writes it all up beautifully.
p. 9-- . . . . I rowed on the Charles River in a carbuncled dinghy, while the elegant fours and eights speared by like airborne swans. I rowed on the Aegean Sea and on a pond in Oregon.
p. 121-- The river had a grass-green hue at this hour and felt supple and comfortable beneath me, like a down mattress. On the track that ran along the rubbly east bank at the foot of some sandy reddish cliffs, the train to Cairo clattered and whistled, stirring up a twister of dust behind it. Herons gargled in the bushes overhanging the river. Near noon the call to prayer began to emanate from beyond great stands of banana trees all along the banks; from this distance it was a melancholy lowing sound, warped occasionally by the idle wind. I stayed close to the west bank and rowed steadily while the sun crept higher in the sky. The current seemed to move faster the farther I got from Aswan. I was breathless with expectation, happiness, and anxiety.
p. 145-- . . . . He turned the little glass around and around in his fingers; the hand blown vessel was blue and flawed and full of air bubbles, a coarse, lopsided, hastily fabricated device found in every corner shop in Egypt, and beautiful--to me at least--precisely for its roughness.