Our felucca tacked across the river Nile
to Aswan from Kitchener’s Island –
with its well watered botanical gardens
and its straight boulevards of tall palm trees –
gifted to Lord Kitchener of Khartoum,
pre Great War, as Egypt’s Consul-General.
As we approached the east bank, out of nowhere
it seemed, a boy appeared along side us
in a small zinc bath paddling with his hands
and singing, “‘Michael, row the boat ashore!
Hallelujah!'” – the old slave song learned then turned,
with chuzpah and courage, back to enterprise.
“Please give him anything but money,”
urged our Egyptologist guide, alumnus
of Cairo and Yale. “We must not become a
nation of supplicants.” A fellow tourist
gave him a packet of paper handkerchiefs,
another some sweets. The rest of us
had nothing but money. “Shukran!” he called,
and waved graciously encompassing us all.
He paddled off. “‘Boastin’ talk will sink your soul!'”
I thought, cheeky beggar – ‘Your Country Needs You’!