Monday, June 2, 2014

Kayaking the Nile

When I was younger, I was obsessed with Egypt.  I wanted to be an archaeologist and spend my days in the hot sun working near the banks of the Nile, finding mummified cats and perfume bottles.  The discovery of King Tut’s tomb was the single most exciting thing to happen to me at age 12. 

This weekend I went to the source of the Nile in Jinja, Uganda.  From the famous waters of Lake Victoria, the Nile starts its path in Uganda and flows all the way down Africa.  The Nile river can be as spiritual as the Ganges but can also be brutal, crashing down waterfalls and forming grade 5 rapids.  At the Ganges, I said a prayer, closed my eyes, and let my oil scented rose petals join the slow flow.  At the Nile, I said a prayer and got into a kayak to join some of the rapids. 

The Mouth of the Nile

My kayak was a two person kayak and I sat with Sean—a friend visiting from Malawi.  There were 8 of us, including Kiira, my dear friend from graduate school who is now working in Cambodia.  Kiira and I always meet in the strangest places, last time we met we traveled around Shanghai together.  (

When we started to see the waterfalls and rapids ahead of us we expressed our terror to our guide: Colin, our instructor from Ireland.  He basically just told us to shut up and get on the water.   Sean and I made a good team.  We were swift and sure of ourselves and approached the first rapid laughing.  We were told to not stop paddling even when the rapid was all around us.  Physics and stuff.  The waves rose taller than my head and I was no longer in the Nile but in the Pacific Ocean navigating a storm.

I saw a wave grow over us and I knew.  It crashed down and threw me into the water.  Sean went with our kayak across the river and I flew with my paddle the other way.  My life jacket popped me up but every time I sucked in for a breath a wave crashed over me and filled my mouth.  Choking and gasping, I scrambled for air.  Trying all the while to hold onto my paddle, because even in my terror I was concerned to lose it and to have to pay for damages. 

But then I hit a wall of water.  My paddle went in the other direction.  And I was sucked down spinning violently.  I got stuck in a whirlpool.  Sucking me down lower and deeper even the life vest had no effect. 

I had not taken a breath so there was no air in my lungs.  Just water.  I was under water for 9 seconds.  No profound thoughts went through my head.  No thoughts of regret, no flashes of a storyboard life.  Just “I don’t like this, I don’t like this, I don’t like this, I don’t like this.” 

Good to know.

Then the whirlpool popped me up choking and gasping and still very much not liking this.  Colin (my future husband) was above me reaching out his hand.  “Hold on, grab the back of my kayak!” My eyes were bloodshot, snot was pouring out of my nose, and my stomach was bloated with water.  But I batted my eyelashes and held on tight.

I got myself safely back into my kayak and made it down the reset of the rapids without incident. 

Kayaking the Nile was the single most fun event of my life.

And I’m a little more fearless now. A little more appreciative.  A little more baller.