“Neferti brooded over what should happen in the land and considered the condition of the east, when the Asiatics raid and terrorize those at the harvest, taking away the pairs of cows from under the plows. A foreign bird will breed in the Delta’s marshes, a nest shall be made for it in the neighborhood. All good things have disappeared; and there lays the country pray to destitution because of these Asiatics who pervade the land. Foes have risen in the east, Asiatics will enter Egypt. Fortresses will fall; for watchfulness will fail those defending them. A guard will say: ‘I shall go to rest, although it is my duty to remain wakeful!’ In the darkness of the night, they will raise the stairs, storm the forts, and cross the barracks, while the people are fast asleep. Wild animals will descend upon Egypt from their homes in the desert, and drink from the water of Egypt’s river. And since no one will stand up to drive them away, they will rest and refresh themselves on the river’s banks.”_From the prophecy of Neferti, circa 3000 BCE.
– 1 –
Behold The Egyptian! Wearing the fins and holding the colorful floating ball. Some supernatural attractiveness shines in their appearance, him and his boyfriend, as they wade into the water – as if the gods have chosen them out of all things, them alone and no other, to glitter under the sun. An encompassing happiness will reign now in their play, surrounded by such sparkling peace that, for so long, has stirred in the Bedouins that semi-instinctive emotion; a mixture of jealousy and curiosity.
Thus and in a totally spontaneous manner, the group of Bedouin boys wade into the water toward them, until they become close, feeling as if they are penetrating something. And the Egyptian boys also, they notice the approach of the Bedouins; it is apparent from their glimpses at them, and intentional ignoring of their coming. There is a feeling of blatant condescension, tyrannical power, and deeply rooted individualism, in such intentional ignoring. The sight of them as they swim away, pushing their nicks high above the water, gives an impression that these Egyptians at least think that they have already vanquished life! Yet it does not to the least restrain the ruling desire that drives the Bedouins to them; on the contrary, for there seems to be now a remarkable feeling of excitement:
– 2 –
Bedouin boys often come here in that very spot. It is the point where the ancient torrent bed meets with the gulf of Aqaba where it pours its water. Although it seldom rains in Sinai, a winter will always come in which a massive rainfall occurs. Then at the heights of the mountain something happens that seems to be even more miraculous than that which had befallen the prophet of the Hebrews! The mountain dissolves its accumulating waters into a massive torrential flow that digs out the trees from their roots, as it falls down to the mountain’s foot through the valleys in fleeting moments. Then it flows toward the sea with its own tremendous propelling force crossing vast distances, which came to be known as the “torrents passage region”, carrying with it all that was destined to exist in the range of that region without any mercy or remorse.
At last a lot of the refuse and waste of Bedouin life in the valleys, such as plastic bottles and canned food, find its way to the sea, along with what remains of the bodies of dead camels and their great skeletons. Branches of trees and, even entire small trees with their roots, end up floating on the surface of the sea, shivering, as if deeply shocked by whatever that just struck them, and nervously anxious of their new fate, after having been living with their eyes closed, in grounded wisdom, in the deep silence of the mountains, as if they were eternity itself. And the myriad stones that have been inhabiting the sunny peaks of the mountains for thousands of thousands of years, become now and in few moments permanent settlers of the deep dark bottom of the sea.
Oh what a picture! and what cruelty! But it is the wisdom of nature, the wisdom of all life: for as the stones roll down with the flow of the water here, volcanoes there throw other stones from the depth of the Earth to the heights, and the world remains even! And as the trees collapse and fall into the sea, life comes back to the dry land by the passage of the water; and here now awakens the silt of the valleys from its deep slumber, announcing the birth of a new plant for every bird and every reptile, and new shadow for every travelling camel and Bedouin.
Finally the flow of the water ceases gradually after the sky stops pouring, which may take one or two more days. Where the torrent flows into the sea, marine life becomes disturbed by the contamination of the water, so the fish run away to seek its prey elysewhere, and so run the fishermen after them. The torrent leaves behind it several ponds, the size of some of which may be not inconsiderable. Yet all of them evaporate completely and quickly under the striking sun of Sinai, exposing a thick layer of silt that at last finds rest here after having been carried away from the valleys by the torrent. The silt drinks so much water in the process and settles very much near the wet shoreline, so it remains soft and supple until another rainy winter comes and pour fresh water onto it once more.
* * *
Many Bedouins follow in the footsteps of the torrent, tracking the remains that it leaves behind here and there. Women covered in their characteristic Bedouin black dress, concealed completely except for the eyes and upper portion of the nose; they come searching in meticulous carefulness and uncompromising methodology. The extreme stooping of their backs and scaliness of their noses shows how many years have passed on them under the sun, as they walked in search, carrying over their bent backs whatever they find useful. They are the neglected, derelict poor Bedouin women, for whom social solidarity finds not the way.
Men appear also, and well-off men. They come in their pickup trucks as if they were mounting mechanical camels! Indeed they do compare their trucks with camels; in their characteristic Bedouin feminine humor, they proclaim their distilled collective wisdom over the benefits and disadvantages of each: “A car is but a camel that runs faster, without leaving a mark on the driver’s ass as it runs! It also sings to you the songs of your preferred Saudi or Egyptian singers, as soon as you feed it with the right cassette tape! Yet it always asks you for more fuel, whereas a camel finds its own way to food and drink.” And in that spirit, they descend to the torrent bed on their mechanical camels that sing to the Bedouin beat, and load them with the exceptional and superb ribs of Acacia trees, which finally begin to understand what horror has befallen them, and what new fate now awaits them.
Bedouin children benefit from the torrent also, but in their own special way. Children’s main aim is the sea, and the unrestricted free play to which it gives way. Here, gravity itself can be resisted, which is perhaps the source of enjoyment in swimming. That ability to move horizontally, forward and backward, and in any direction; plunging downwards then emerging upwards. It is a kind of flying, especially considering that the sea is always encompassed by the sky. Should one stretches himself afloat on his back over the surface, and let go of his eyesight to the extended blue of the sky, he may then really forget, even if only momentarily, that something is carrying him, or that something else at all exists, apart from the sky and he. Falling down becomes a light matter, even enjoyable in itself as an event through which one finally manages to betray nature. And in so doing, one at last becomes struck by shock and defeat, when once upon miscalculation, free-falling leads to a powerful collision, either with the water surface or the nearby bottom underneath it, evoking in one’s heart a profound feeling of the immutability of existence and its unilateral rules. Then comes all the splashing and sprinkling, which are other means through which we exercise our wanton resistance to nature. For the sea is for us the opposite of the land, and nothing is easier than to split the water and to push and force it to thrust toward where we please. This, is the main feature of the sea, this is its idea: “Come! Let us rise above all gravity and all rigidity! Let us vanquish the earth!” That’s how we come to the sea.
But only the torrent affords Bedouin boys with the possibility of such sea-coming. For few are those beaches in Sinai which banks are not inhabited by a dense coral reef, around which no swimming may be possible. But what can stand in the face of the torrent? Through out the years and around the area where it pours into the sea, it had succeeded in tearing the reef apart and pushing its shreds into the depth, leaving non of its trace and nothing in its place apart from a smooth sand slope. (Good grief! Even ‘Set’ did not act with absolutely everything as if it were Osiris!)
Then here is the gathering spot, to which Bedouin boys come from their homes all around the area. They take off all their clothes, I repeat, they strip off completely naked, then toss themselves!
– 3 –
That won’t be the only venerable service with which the torrent affords the boys, there is more! After the kids have had enough of the water and sufficiently moisturized their skins, regaining all the freshness that they lose during their long trip to the torrent bed that they cross by walking under the striking sun; they get out of the water in their nakedness and head straight to the vast silt layer that the torrent had brought here, few steps away from the shore. Then they extract from it small pieces of elastic and supple mud, one piece after another, until at last a thick mass of it forms between their hands.
A single boy, or two conspirators, will always get out of the water first, and should others notice it, they will follow them out at once; for it is exceedingly important -at that point- to get to the mud source as early as possible. Those who continue to wander in the joyful wanton world of the splashy water, woe to them! For they will become awakened from their dream-world by the effect of a flying horde of little mud-balls that stick to the body, falling upon them from all directions, and causing considerable pain!
It has become clear by now what will the boys do with the thick masses of mud that they have gathered; they use them as a “strategic stockpile”, from which they extract smaller pieces, in the context of one of the most famous Bedouin games (if we may merely call it a game), which is, “Mud War!”
The dreamy ones get out of the water-world at once, no escape and no other options for them now, and in the maximum possible speed, they shall thrust themselves unto the silt floor. Before they finally get there, the conspirators will have struck every part of their bodies with tens of stinging mud-balls. Now begins the moment of rampant excitement that knows no limits to what could happen, signaling the very beginning of the game, or rather, the “war”, officially, as soon as the dreamy victims return to avenge themselves with their own mud stockpiles.
The battle started now, and there is shown on the boys’ faces a mixture of happiness and excitement, although utter chaos seem to dominate the scene now. For after their dark brown bodies were flowing smoothly along with blue of the waves, and the picture looked as if a pleasant breeze was playing with a studded scarf; now the stage has become extremely violent, as they run here and there with their little pointy organs dangling between their legs. Non gives thought to action, for there are neither rules of engagement nor limits to the harm with which one could inflict the other. And since the battleground is but an open beach, there is no way of hiding or maneuvering, and no options of self-defense other than to attack, attack, and attack!
Thus, utter anarchy takes over the place, and each attempts to inflict the other with the maximum possible degree of harm, while himself avoid the maximum possible degree of pain; yes, the pain caused by the constant raining of stinging mud-balls which, after just a short while from the onset of battle, becomes excruciatingly hurtful. Eyes become reddened, noses bleed, and mud penetrates the mouths, yet battling does not cease for a moment. Some groan, some fall, some even cry – let them be! No one will stop; no one can afford the cost of being the first to stop! The beginner who once envisioned a genius idea with which to improve the conditions of the game, and so with an optimistic heart filled with hope for an end to the continual suffering, left his mud stockpile beneath him, emerged from the position of prostration, and raised both his arms asking everyone to stop; well, indeed, he may have effectively succeeded in catching the immediate aggressive attention of everyone! But ever after that day, the poor lad turned into a most fierce mud-war fighter who knows no mercy for any one, and never finds repose in the coming of any idea to his mind! But that aside, in truth his idea was really not genius at all, not even new; for each time the experienced group was split into two battling teams, it always happened that one of them would immediately and easily vanquish the other, leaving the winners as much frustrated as are the losers! This was nothing to compare with the sum of excitation and madness that descends upon the earth, when the clashes are more violent, the risk higher, and the loss graver; then, and only then, it almost feels like a real war!
And apart from that, the split into two teams would put an end to individual excellence, the kind of which that no Bedouin fails to cherish in himself. And truly, there are among the mud fighters those who emerge from battle each time with a new record of the devastating strikes that were hurled at the eyes, or those successfully delivered unto the interior of the mouth. And there are those who always manage to track down whomever aim at them and punish them mercilessly, such as to rain them continuously until they fall down to their feet pronouncing repentance and vowing never to target them again and so they remain immune from harm. And even the little ones, they are by experience considered by all to be as much dangerous as the earth snake that lies in wait; for due to their shortness and smallness, it is very difficult to hit them, and for the same reason, they specialize in hunting down the penis and testicles, causing their victims to groan and scream in pain as they roll on the ground. Thus, not all are equally endowed in skill or shrewdness, and many a secret passes from the grasp of all those innocent, spontaneous, and maddened beginners; those are the ones who usually make fatal mistakes from the very beginning of battle. For example, they usually gather a big and huge mass of mud, thinking that by so doing they will exceed their foes in weaponry and ammunition. While the experienced fighters know well that mud is heavy, and that a big mass of it will prevent ease of motion and exhaust the muscles, and that to avoid such a hindrance, it is always preferable to return to the silt floor to reload. And truly, should a fighter fails in providing for himself the means of attack and retreat, pursuit and flight, then he is dead no matter what! And as the beginners struggle to keep the heavy mud mass in their possession, or while they are looking for it after having been slipped, again, from their exhausted arms, the experts rain them with painful hurls mercilessly.
At last the sun descends behind the mountains. The kids wash themselves in the sea and cleanse from their bodies all signs of the bloody battle that just passed. The sun goes down as they go up, back to their homes in smaller groups and in different directions, carrying with them a blissful feeling of contentment and satisfaction with the day.
– 4 –
So strange how could just one word make such a powerful impact on the Egyptian boys! It is fairly obvious by now that there has been evoked a lot of confusion and distress, and, at that point, the Bedouin boys have also entered into a mode of nervous waiting. It seems that it was not only the nudity that constituted all the elements of culture-shock for the Egyptians, but also, the imperative form of the verb and the utter pithiness; a speech which seemed to belong to those whose self-confidence is unbound, and who possess a certain threatening power that hints at aggression. Whereas in truth, innocent were the Bedouin boys of all these impressions; for neither are they endowed with such self-confidence nor do they possess such threatening power, and it was nothing other than their own customary way of talking that they have inherited from their fathers, and their fathers from their grandfathers.
At that point, the Egyptian boy who did not have the floating ball, started swimming away, as if silently hinting at his friend to follow suit. But he did this as if it was not an immediate spontaneous reaction, certainly inspired by fear and disgust of the coming of the Bedouins, and aiming at avoiding them completely by running away! He did it as if he was not really a part of the event at all, as if he was just for about to swim away from these rabble anyways and from the beginning, and regardless of whether they had something to say or not! Such royal escape, was indeed artistically fascinating!
His friend, however, and although he could have escaped in the same way, seems to have felt a certain responsibility upon himself to stand his ground and face the situation, especially given that the invitation to play -which was not really recognized as an invitation- was directed with a pointing to the colorful floating ball that he held. Yet it also seems that he was not the kind of person who prefers escape to confrontation, which was clearly shown in how he did not care at all for the performance of his friend, who was still arrogantly swimming away even though he knew no one was following him, and that his performance has borne no fruit, and that he has become alone, and away from the stage of action where his performance could be of any meaning or influence. But it is extremely embarrassing, when no body pays attention to the majestic swimming of the king! And it becomes even more embarrassing, when the king has to swim back knowing that no one will pay him no mind still! But what can he do apart from returning to support his friend? Had he pondered the matter before acting he would have spared himself the burden of both swimming and embarrassment! Yet now again he finds nothing in himself apart from being spontaneous and impulsive for the second time; although no body is watching him, and although he knows it; he suddenly stands up in the water as if like an awakened lion, turns the upper part of his body by 180 degrees, and directs a penetrating look toward the scene -which is in the exact opposite direction of that in which he was swimming- as if he suddenly realised that his friend was not following his lead all that time, and that he stands there still facing the immanent danger alone. Here he goes, impersonating again: he curls his eyebrows and manifests a look of responsible worry, plunges into the water and battles with waves, and no sooner than a couple of seconds later the hero-savior loses his vital force to the tire and exhaustion of swimming back and forth!
Meanwhile his friend will have gotten rid of all signs of confusion and fear, and no longer cares for the nudity of the Bedouins. Not more than few seconds have passed since the Bedouin released his invitation -or command from the Egyptian perspective- pointing to the colorful floating ball. Here, the Egyptian boy noticed that in the confusing moments which followed, the ball has slipped from his hands. He forgets about everything and hesitates not to seize it once more, so he lightly leaps behind it to take hold of it. This momentary dropping of the serious issue at hand, along with the sudden bodily movement which inspires motion also in the spirit, seem to have awakened in the innocent and fresh intuition of the lad a realisation or understanding that, there was no danger or threat at all in the coming of the Bedouins, as if he truly realised, that all that has passed thus far was nothing but a cultural misunderstanding, and that the Bedouins have come to join them in peace. Thus, at last the boy felt an inclination to accept the invitation, turning a blind eye to the fact that by so doing he would be according to his culture, obeying a command. Was his new disposition, however much unconsciously, motivated by the desire to avoid what could possibly happen in case he rejects the Bedouins? Maybe! For first impressions tend to last, and cultural differences may also include behavioural differences! And indeed, as the boy leaps behind the ball, the Bedouin’s desire for play intensifies, so he gets closer by one more step and repeats his same terse statement, “play”, with more urgency and less patience. The Egyptian boy feels nothing but aggression and threatening once more.
All these feelings and impressions pass fleetingly as if one is in a dream. The Egyptian boy knew at last, that this time he will have to say something, or do something, as soon as he takes possession of his ball once more. After all, Bedouins have waited far too long, and the enduring silence has rendered them ever more nervous and embarrassed.
But the unexpected, happens – and the tiny hand fails in taking hold of the slippery ball. At that moment the vexed and exhausted champion finally arrives to the scene at the climax of impersonation, determined to conceal his disgraceful and artificial performances by more excessive and false ones. He emerges from the water with an attitude of preparedness, even encouragement, to engage in the fiercest and most violent of battles, although the glitter of nakedness terrifies him at the heart. The variables of the situation change quickly, silence and waiting have lasted far too long, and the authentic Bedouin patience, at last comes to its vanishing point.
And there flows the colorful floating ball, faring with the waves slowly, imperceptively to the sorrow of its owner; and as it is for about to become at an equal distance from everyone, there prevails in the scene a certain ambiance of maddened alertness, and prompt readiness, to pounce.
Link to the Original Arabic of this work.