Journal: On Nasser Lake Ferry
This article is taken from a notebook journal entry.
Time: 7:00am Saturday, September 26, 2009
Location: Sitting on the top deck of the ferry from Wadi Halfa to Aswan
Last night I slept on the top deck of the ferry. The weather was great and stars were amazing. Orion was on our starboard side. I had some of the most meaningful conversations with two new friends, Moamer and Amjad…both Sudanese. Moamer is actually of Moroccan Jewish descent, but said “When the Mehdi came to Sudan, they told us to convert or die, so my family became Muslim.” We had an amazing, wonder–filled conversation last night as we looked at the stars and asked questions like, “why Did God create humans?” as we looked at the stars and considered how infinitely small yet significant we are.
It is Sabbath and I will once again be in a difficult situation when we land in Aswan today. I don’t think the Egyptian officers will be too understanding of my Sabbath convictions and allow me to pay for my visa later. I thought I could take care of it in Halfa, but the Egyptian embassy was closed for Jummah.
I am realizing too much has already happened to catch up. The last couple of days, however, deserve special mention, so I’m going to bounce around, chronologically.
Thursday night, after we finally arrived after dark in Abri, I was tired, hungry and thirsty. I felt very alone as people completely ignored me when I arrived…I felt like they saw me as a piece of cargo to be unloaded. They’d say “hey German” pantomiming like I’m retarded, and I’d say “I have a name. It’s Nooradeen.” No response. Not one person greeted me…though I said “Assalam aleykoum” several times. At one point, I guess I had enough, because I told one guy: “Look, I just arrived here. I’m a guest and tired and thirsty, but not one person has greeted me.” He just shrugged. Fitting.
Now imagine what happens next.
I drop off my things at the town’s only lokunda and race off to grab some water before the little shops closed. The call to prayer went off, and I felt compelled to go instead to the masjid and pray.
I arrive, and while washing, a guy named Zakariya (from Saudi) gave me a hearty greeting. I was so thankful, I told him so. I enter the prayer hall. Immediately I notice men that appear distinctly Pakistani with very long beards and even longer faces. The obvious occurred as I was out of place. I satisfied their first burning questions (Where are you from? Are you Muslim? What on Earth are you doing here?) before prayer. After prayer, I got up to leave (Having been in similar situations before, I knew the inevitable and was not up for an all–nighter.) and the man next to me insisted I sit for “three minutes only” while another began reading from Hadith. I complied. Sure enough, it was only a short read and I greeted them and got up to leave.
But I knew it wouldn’t be that easy. They caught me at the door and we began talking again. It’s necessary to mention just the appearance of these guys would scare most non–Muslims to death. The guy with whom I spoke at the door had absolutely the most fantastic beard I have ever seen. It extended to his navel and was just turning gray with tinges of henna. At one point, I told him what I thought of his beard and he ceremoniously kissed my forehead.
They were here for dowah (calling people to Islam, or submission to God), but having spent eight months in a tiny village in northern Sudan, the obvious question is, to what are they calling the Muslims in this area? This is the land that harbored one notable international character, and most people would probably be quick to jump to assumptions. But the fact is, assumptions are often wrong no matter how conclusive the clues. And even now I avoid judging them.
Despite many pleas to stay and sleep in the masjid with them, I decided to leave. They offered everything I wanted at that point: Food, water, rest, deep conversation, and most important, friendship. I knew finding any transport to Halfa in the morning would be hard (Jummah) and my main focus was to catch the Friday ferry. However, I told them I would come to pray with them for the 5:00 am prayer, insha allah. And I meant it.
Be it an accident or divine providence, the call never sounded, though I was awake and praying in my outdoor bed at the lokunda.