‘Down the Nile: Alone in a Fisherman’s Skiff’
In those days, she was an avid pavement skater, and after saying good-bye in front of her building she glided away on a pair of in-line skates. I watched her recede in the distance and disappear in the traffic and thought I had just glimpsed her at her happiest—alone and in motion.
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Mahoney has made a literary enterprise of traveling to places where a lone American woman is at least uncommon, if not alien. Like another solitary voyager, Paul Theroux, Mahoney is good literary company. Her persona on the page is an endlessly curious woman, intelligent, observant, unsentimental, honest about her own failings, and bracingly astringent.
In Mahoney traveled to Egypt, gazed at the Nile, and realized, "What I wanted, really, was not just to see the Nile River but to sit in the middle of it in my own boat, alone. This resulted in a good deal of frustration, many unfortunate encounters with Egyptian men, blistered hands, one deeply frightening incident, and an engaging new book, Down the Nile: Alone in a Fisherman's Skiff. Mahoney began rowing in the mids when she lived on an island off the coast of Maine.
After she bought a house in Providence, Rhode Island, she bought a boat and plied the waters of Narragansett Bay.
She writes in Down the Nile , "Rowing was a peaceful, meditative activity, and the constant movement—the inherent mobility—of the water was enthralling. Land was stationary and always belonged to somebody.
Water, on the other hand, was free. It moved and shifted and traveled. It was volatile, and when aroused it could be unforgiving. Often I row my boat into the middle of the bay, ship my oars, and sit back to see where the tide and the current will take me.
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I do this, I know, not because it's peaceful but because there's an edge to it—it can be peaceful, yes, but it is never truly relaxing. I do it because there's an element of surrender in the exercise, an active acknowledgment of how breathtakingly tiny and helpless I am in the greater scheme of things, a condition that I spend the rest of my day ignoring, denying, scorning, or forgetting. It is frightening yet also liberating to admit a force far larger than our own.
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Suffice it to say a lone Western woman rowing herself down the Nile is not a sight to which Egyptians are accustomed. Mahoney is forced to confront and navigate numerous cultural questions that are nearly as troubling as the crocodiles in the Nile. Toggle navigation.
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