Village on the Nile: A Travel Memoir of Upper Egypt

Village on the Nile: A Travel Memoir of Upper Egypt
: Kenneth Cline
: 160
: Non Fiction : General
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In the summer of 1983, while on a journalism fellowship, author Kenneth Cline spent two months in the village of al-Biirat in Upper Egypt. The visit began well but didn’t stay that way for long.

He could not have chosen a more evocative location to observe the transition from old to new. Local farmers lived within the shadow of Pharaonic Age monuments and still watered their fields with ancient irrigation tools, such as the shaduf and sakia. However, the experience soon evolved beyond travel book cliches as the author struggled to function in a culture very different from his own.

To write about Egyptian village life, Cline needed to cultivate friendships with the real people who lived there. He found awkward misunderstandings abounding as he grappled with some tricky rituals of social interaction, a problem compounded by the language barrier. A mistake in contributing the appropriate amount to a wedding celebration nearly sundered a vital relationship and brought his project to ruin. Lesson learned: money is often the proverbial elephant in the room in this culture — unacknowledged but vitally important. Cline also had to walk a tightrope trying to make friends among both the Muslims and Christians living in the village without taking sides in the ancient quarrels between them.

The author emerged at the end with some captivating portraits of the personalities he encountered and the very modern problems they dealt with in their daily lives. And the lessons Cline learned about social interaction in an Arab culture, while often painful for him at the time, can now provide helpful insight for anyone planning to visit Egypt today.

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