Sunday,19 May, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1397, (7 - 20 June 2018)
Sunday,19 May, 2019
Issue 1397, (7 - 20 June 2018)

Ahram Weekly

The view from the Nile

Mai Samih takes a Nile cruise in Cairo



The Nile has always been the lifeline of all Egyptians, and inevitably the Ancient Egyptians celebrated it as it was of the greatest significance for them. The modern Egyptians, on other hand, have tended to take to the Nile only during certain feasts and other more limited celebrations.

Yet, there are all kinds of boats in which people from all walks of life can enjoy a Nile cruise, from traditional small feluccas to f ive-star versions that have become trendy among the upper classes in recent years and are particularly busy in Ramadan when they serve Iftar and Sohour meals.

The small felucca boats anchored near the bridges in Cairo are available to all, and their prices are suitable for even those with the tightest budgets.

One of these boats is based in Manial in Giza and goes from the Abbas Bridge to the Gamaa Bridge and back again. The journey is not long, but it is enjoyable, and beautiful views can be had from the boat as the waves hit it just before dusk. The Gamaa Bridge can barely be seen in the foggy light of the disappearing sun, leaving a silvery blue colour behind it covering the sky, the bridge and the River Nile. The whole scene resembles a painting. As the water of the River Nile washes away at the boat, the sight seems to wash away any negative energy a passenger may have.

“Egypt is so beautiful,” said one young woman from Yemen taking the trip who spoke on condition of anonymity. “It is the first time I have taken a boat on the Nile. I really enjoyed it. I only wish that the journey was longer and that the music was not so loud,” she said.

Nourhan Mohamed from Giza who comes with her family to take a ride every now and then agreed. “I come here for a change from time to time. I wish the music in the boats was lower so we could enjoy the peace and quiet more, however. I also wish the boats were smaller so that we could have more privacy.”

As the boats pass the cafés or restaurants on the banks of the Nile, they make a loud noise like tuk-tuks, or three-wheelers, on the roads. Some complain that they are a noisy means of transportation, but they are essential safety valves for many in search of cheap and cheerful boat trips. The crew members are friendly and attentive, and they will try to solve any problems a passenger may have. The boats are large and can take 50 people or more. They are not first class, but passengers may feel that the crew and other passengers are family and friends and not strangers.

Ali Mohassab, 49, has been a boatman on the Nile from his early childhood. He works in Manial and is responsible for his extended family of four brothers and their children. He compares the job today to what it was in the past. “Everything was cheaper then, and there were more people taking boats. Fewer people take them today,” he said. Boatmen now routinely go on two rounds, while in the past they used to go on five because there were more passengers. “In the past we could buy fuel for only LE30. Now it costs LE150,” he adds.

photos: Mai Samih

A boat ride is only LE10, a very affordable price for many. “Most of the passengers are ordinary people like us. I don’t think a wealthy person would take our boat. I think they would prefer a yacht or a five-star boat for a Nile Cruise,” Mohassab said. “Our customers are the same as they were in the past, but they have fewer financial resources than they had before. Everything is a matter of money now. If a customer had more money, he would take more than one round in the boat. Now people barely take boat trips at all,” he added.

“Children sometimes cry so their parents will let them take a boat, but because they can’t afford it they don’t let them,” he said, adding that the prices of the tickets were the same during festivals and feasts.

Sometimes they had more customers and sometimes none at all, Mohassab said. “Throughout the whole winter season we have no trips since people do not take boats in cold weather. We do not work in the mornings or the afternoons. We only work just before dusk and in the evenings,” he said. “The feasts are the only time we have many customers. Friday is the day people take the boats most, less so from Saturday to Thursday. We make ends meet with the blessings of God,” he said.

The boats are supervised by the Ministry of Transportation. “All the boats have to be licensed by the River Transport Authority. The licence includes the boat and the crew working on it, like the chief, the boatman and the mechanic. All three have to have licences to work on a boat, and the transport police will check that documents are up to date and that three members of staff are present,” Mohassab said.

“Fines can be LE500 and could reach LE1,000 if a crew member is not there. If the music is too loud, they can go from LE1,000 to LE20,000,” Mohassab said. “I think the only solution is to decrease the amount of the fines.”

“We also rent the harbouring place by the month. For the boat, we pay fees like the ones people pay for driving licences. We also pay taxes and insurance. We pay each member of staff per day and pay insurance of LE200 per month. If there are three members of staff, we pay a total of LE600 every month. This is not to mention the taxes, licences, the annual or periodical maintenance of the boats, and spare parts. The problem is that anything that used to cost LE1 now costs LE15,” he said.

The boatmen depend on their day-to-day income to feed their families without support from any external sources, Mohassab said. “If 20 people took the boat, the tickets would come to LE200, and we could pay the crew, the fuel, the taxes, the insurance and the maintenance of the boat out of them. There is no such thing as a fixed income. It all depends on how many people want to take the boat,” Mohassab said.

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