May 8, 2012

Tracking, 1873 | Arrangements for Traveling up the Nile

Tracking, 1873
Amelia Edwards

The good wind continued to blow all that night; but fell at sunrise, precisely when we were about to start. The river now stretched away before us, smooth as glass, and there was nothing for it, said Reis Hassan, but tracking. We had heard of tracking often enough since coming to Egypt, but without having any definite idea of the process. Coming on deck, however, before breakfast, we found nine of our poor fellows harnessed to a rope like barge-horses, towing the huge boat against the current. Seven of the M.B.’s crew similarly harnessed, followed at a few yard’s distance. The two ropes met and crossed and dipped into the water together. Already our last night’s mooring-place was out of sight, and the Pyramid of Ouenephes stood up amid its lesser brethren on the edge of the desert, as if bidding us good-bye. But the sight of the trackers jarred, somehow, with the placid beauty of the picture. We got used to it, as one gets used to everything in time; but it looked like slaves’ work, and shocked our English notions disagreeably.

Thus the morning passes. We sit on deck writing letters; reading; watching the sunny river-side pictures that glide by at foot’s pace and are so long in sight. Palm- groves, sandbanks, patches of fuzzy-headed dura and fields of some yellow- flowering herb, succeed each other. A boy plods along the bank, leading a camel. They go slowly; but they soon leave us behind. A native boat meets us, floating down side-wise with the current. A girl comes to the water’s edge with a great empty jar on her head, and waits to fill it till the trackers have gone by. The pigeon-towers of a mud-village peep above a clump of lebbek trees, a quarter of a mile inland. Here a solitary brown man, with only a felt skull-cap on his head and a slip of a scanty tunic fastened about his loins, works a shaduf, stooping and rising, stooping and rising, with the regularity of a pendulum. It is the same machine which we shall see by and by depicted in the tombs at Thebes; and the man is so evidently an ancient Egyptian, that we find ourselves wondering how he escaped being mummified four or five thousand years ago.

By and by, a little breeze springs up. The men drop the rope and jump on board the big sail is set the breeze freshens and, away we go again, as merrily as the day we left Cairo.


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