I remember the color of the sky on that lazy afternoon years ago. It was a battle of the palette: hues of pinks with splatters of violet and the unrelenting but struggling yellow of the sun refusing to fade away after a long, bright day. In the far distance, proclaiming its lasts rites, the defeated swollen orange began to sink into the Nile marking the end of that day. The air was heavy with the scents of the streets, which, on a late afternoon in Luxor, meant an intoxicating mix of spices, roasted pistachios, and Ful Mudammas, an Egyptian fava bean stew set simmering for hours in tall pots to be scooped out and served with olive oil, lime juice, and pita bread. We boarded our Felucca, a traditional Egyptian sailboat, with high hopes for a memorable sunset journey on the Nile. Our captain was Ahmed (we learned his name through the jovial cheering of his fellow Felucca boaters) and though his wavy black hair and thick eyelashes obstructed my view from his leery black eyes, I knew he was glaring at us suspiciously. After all, we were young college students and we weren’t married, he just seemed to know that. Still, times were tough, he had the boat, and we were tourists paying American dollars, so he would comply with our request for a ride. It didn’t mean he had to like it. We sat in his rickety boat and began our Nile adventure.
“Please to sit apart,” he ordered, interrupting my boyfriend’s intent to wrap his arm around my shoulder and bring me closer to him for the duration of this intended romantic moment together.Ahmed’s request was followed by two blank stares trying to figure out why we weren’t granted our postcard moment in Egypt.
“PLEASE TO SIT APART”, he mustered in his most forceful English, the sweat starting to trickle down the side of his forehead. There was no negotiating with this man, and, given that we had long left the river bank and lay floating at the mercy of our very conservative skipper, we had no choice but to comply. And so, the sun sunk below the mysteries of Egypt as my beloved and I sat apart. We drifted aimlessly down the Nile and our tour guide (who was much more relaxed now that no sin was in motion) began to spew out an array of historical facts about the murky waters we were traveling on and the great sites of Luxor where grand kings and queens lay in the majestic remnants of Egypt. His English flowed a bit smoother now that he was repeating his usual lexicon of facts, but the accent was still quite thick so I closed my eyes to better focus on what he was saying. As my eyes sealed shut, my sense of smell was assaulted by culinary aromas brewing in the hot Egyptian sun immediately distracting me of all archeological facts. Coriander. Cumin. Zaatar. They were all there, intertwined with the memory of King Tut’s reign and the chaos of the streets that awaited us beyond our Felucca. When our ride was over, our guide forced a smile towards us and extended a hand to help me out.
“Thank you for your visiting to Egypt” he mustered, his gaze locking on mine, distrustful of my light blue eyes, an anomaly in Egypt. My boyfriend and I disembarked and defiantly held hands, no doubt dry land gave way to our life of sin. I felt like turning to Ahmed and assuring him, “I will marry this man, and we will have beautiful children and be very, very happy”, but I got more pleasure in leaving that question unanswered for him. Instead, I turned towards the smell of chaos and food and hand-in-hand with my partner in crime proclaimed, “lets eat!”
The air was still warm as night arrived and we found our way up to the rooftop of a tiny building where an even smaller restaurant was housed. There, as the day cried its last goodbye and the awe-inspiring show of stars began, we ate a wonderful meal of Shakshouka, held hands, and even kissed under the Egyptian moon.
2 onions, chopped
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 green pepper, chopped
1 red pepper, chopped
1 hot fresh chili pepper, seeded and thinly sliced
4 tomatoes, peeled and chopped
1 8-ounce can of tomato sauce
1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped
Salt and pepper
Drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil
Fry the onions in the oil until golden, about 5 minutes on medium-high heat. Add the peppers and fry until they are soft, 3-5 minutes. Add the chili pepper, tomatoes and tomato sauce and simmer for ten minutes on low heat. Add parsley, salt and pepper and cook one more minute. Crack the eggs open on top and cook, 3 – 4 minutes more, until they are set. Drizzle with olive oil, serve hot with pita bread.