The Nile said to the crocodile, ‘I can live without you but you cannot live without me.’ Nubian proverb.
“The Nile”, says Strabo, in his “Geography”, Book17 (63B.C.), “is nine hundred or a thousand stadia distant towards the west from the Arabian Gulf, and is similar in shape to the letter N written reversed for after flowing, from Meroë towards the north about two thousand seven hundred stadia, it turns back towards the south and the winter sunset about three thousand seven hundred stadia. ……… Two rivers empty into it, which flow from some lakes on the east and enclose the island Meroê (an ancient city on the east bank of the Nile approximately 200 km north-east of Khartoum). One of these rivers, which flows on the eastern side of the island, is called Astaboras and the other is called Astapus, though some call it Astasobas and say that another river, which flows from some lakes in the south, is the Astapus and that this river forms almost all the straight part of the body of the Nile, and that it is filled by the summer rains.”
Which was about right. The measure is vaguely correct, from Qena north of Luxor, to Bur Safajah on the Red Sea, the distance is c225 Km or 1425 Stadia of 157.5m. Of its two sources, the Blue Nile flows from Lake Tana in the highlights of Ethiopia, while the White Nile flows from the Mountains of the Moon, today known as the Rwenzori Mountains, and Lake Victoria in Uganda, and crosses deserts, lakes and swamps before it reaches Egypt. In its transit, the Blue Nile takes decomposed basalt, rich alluvial soil and silts and converts what would otherwise have been a complete desert into a rich agricultural area. It was that that made Greek historian Herodotus, as early as the 4th century B.C., to say that Egypt was a gift of the Nile, and the British of the 19th century to made Egypt’s interests their own.
Twigger calls his Nile Red, not just for the blood spilled into it but also for the red blooms of dinoflagellates, when population explodes and fill the water so thick that no light can get through. The locals call this, red tide. The red was the land of the desert and the water of the Nile. Red is the colour of revolution, radical politics, change – or the aspiration to change. The river changes, is never the same yet is always the same. To follow the answer about the Nile follow the red.”
Nile fascinated the minds of explorers for centuries, from David Livingstone and Henry Stanley to John Hanning Speke and Sir Richard Burton. Historically, says Twigger, Nile is the most significant river in the word, it “connects everything to everything”. Pharaohs and conquerors, explorers and archaeologists, warlords and engineers. From Saladin, who during the 1170s, began expanding his power from Egypt, and his fights against the Crusaders and the Assassins, Twigger travel us to the modern period, to the construction of the Suez Canal and the Aswan high dam.
“One suspect, reviewing the history of the Red Nile, that history is not made by parliaments, committees, companies – it is made, rightly or wrongly, by determined individuals or small groups of determined individuals. ” They all wanted to tame the Nile.
From Ibn al- Haytham, the scientist and polymath who really laid out what we now call scientific method and the first person who wanted and actually wrote about building a dam in the Nile in 1011 to the Egyptian of Greek origin, Adrian Daminos, an agronomist by training, who in 1912 came up with the idea of adding a hydroelectric station to the 1902 dam at Aswan. Egypt gained a hydropower system and a source of reliable water benefited the farmers downstream and millions of people who live along the river, but “it had no benefit at all for the 100.000 Nubians who lost a homeland that has been theirs since pharaonic times”.
The Red Nile is a book of stories, gruesome, adventurous, humorous, fascinating stories. Stories of people who risked everything and lived their lives to the fullest.
The Nile attracted stories. It was the river of stories in the age of stories and mythology. Then as man moved into the scientific age, Nile became the river to measured and mapped. “But whereas stories lead men to the source” says Twigger, “maps and measurement make him bolder. They temp him with the promise of control.” “…… Stories connect. Stories lead to understanding. Measurement can lead to better stories of a scientific kind, but usually it tends to fuel fantasies of control. Control is acting before you have full understanding”. But like surfing, which is not about controlling but about riding the waves, human control fantasies needs to be brought into alignment with the giant forces of nature, instead of “attempting to deadlock them and wrestle them to the ground. Control lead to a backlash, unforeseen circumstances, unsustainability.”
…… “It is not easy to be in alignment with nature. But we need to be”, says Twigger. “When our control fantasies have all faded, become stories of disaster instead of inspiration, our children will turn to other stories that promise a more positive return. The only ‘everyone wins’ stories out there will be those whose surfing will be the paradigm, not the fistfight with mother nature.”
*Image Credit: @NASA. The Nile delta as seen by the International Space Station on October 28. 2010.