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July 10, 2014

RONN MOTT: That Old Man River

I was surprised to learn the people in Cairo are now taking water taxis to avoid the traffic, the confusion and the dangers that are appearing on Cairo, Egypt’s, streets. I mean, I was surprised the people in Cairo, these native Egyptians, were surprised they could take a water taxi and get to where they wanted to go using the Nile River as a highway. So, for the Egyptians living in Cairo, everything old is brand new again.

For the ancient people who settled along the banks of the Nile, it was the only green spot in all of Egypt. And it was the bread basket to the ancient world. Egyptian wheat fed the Roman Empire and Egyptian cotton was considered the very best that money could buy. Their entire civilization existed, and flourished, because of the efforts of the Egyptian farmers and water from the ever-present Nile. 

I was reading an article on the Nile in USA Today, which has become one of the more popular national papers, and some things get washed away in history’s overlay of people, places and things. If you lived in Cairo, how in the world could you not remember how important the Nile River is, not just to Cairo, but the entire nation of Egypt? Ninety percent of the entire population of Egypt lives along the Nile, and that number, or more, lives within two to three miles of it in the city of Cairo. So, if you really had to get to someplace in Cairo, using the waterway makes a whole lot of sense. 

Imagine floating down the Nile just like Caesar and Cleopatra, or one of the men whose boats were taking an obelisk to a temple alongside the Nile. Every army that ever existed in this part of the world had to use the Nile River. And now, the people of Cairo are rediscovering what all their ancestors knew thousands and thousands of years ago.

I’ve been down the Mississippi and the Ohio on one of the famous Mississippi paddle-wheelers. And with the exception of very large cities, the River looks amazingly like it did to the first Anglo settlers poling down the river on very large raft-like boats. They also were used to move farm products, whiskey (a very important cash crop), and other items for use in the settling of these American frontier outposts. 

I suppose with the growth of Cairo, compared to the way it looked a few thousand years ago, it would almost be possible to forget the river and how much it meant to the country. We have some rivers that are surrounded by urban sprawl but we are, after this fourth of July, only 280 years-old. The civilization that lined both sides of the Nile is easily 3,000 years old, and since the Aswan Dam was built in southern Egypt, just a little north of the Sudan, the yearly reminder of extremely difficult floods has ended. So I can see how the people tied to other work and businesses could have forgotten what the Nile has meant to Egypt.

I do think it would be nice to float down the Nile, passing places where this Pharaoh or that Pharaoh won great battles … to watch the Pyramids float by and, ultimately, end up in the Mediterranean Sea. I suppose one of the next things we’ll be able to read about will be traffic jams of motorized water taxis, and the Egyptians will then, instead of being surprised about water taxis, be complaining about them. You know, too many, too noisy and in too big of a hurry.

As a reader of history, I was glad to see that the old river the Pharaohs, Moses, Ceasar and Cleopatra all knew well is again being used by people to get around. It really is a small thing, but for this writer who loves history, it was good to read about how human beings who are in a hurry have found a way to get around by using that old Nile River. Cleopatra is somewhere smiling about that on this very day.

Ronn Mott, a longtime radio personality in Terre Haute, writes commentaries for the Tribune-Star. His pieces are published online Tuesday and Thursday on, and in the print and online editions on Saturday.

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