Respite, and history, along the Nile. Residents claim the river and a leisurely way to travel as they row through Cairo.

The Nile birthed Egyptian civilization thousands of years ago, its silty waters bestowing agriculture riches that built an empire, and still sustains it.

Cairo residents might have coffee at a loathing restaurant or board a felluca for an hour long cruise. Nile water flows from their taps and grows their food. But mornings on the river are the closest most of the rowers have ever come to the body of water itself.

Sunset is when the Nile blinks to life in Cairo, the party boats twinkling like Las Vegas, the couples on the Qasr el-Ni bridge lingering in the breeze, the river side cafes clinking with commerce long past most cities' bedtimes.

By 6.a.m. when the rest have gone home, the rowers come out to a Cairo few others know : no traffic., no crowds, little chaos. Even the birds are audible this time of morning, when the city's battalions of car horns offer only groggy competition and winter fog pales the five-star-hotels along the shore.

In the boat, the aor blades smear and scrape the river like knives over cream cheese, Rhythm replaces thought : Dip the aors. Push with legs. Pull back. Repeat.

''Being on the water in the early morning, where you don't think of anything but following the person in front of you - it takes you out of the city,'' said Abeer Aly, 34, who founded the Nile Dragons Academy, a rowing school in central Cairo. ''A lot of people think about their problems in a shower, I think about mine during rowing.''

These days Ms. Aly's problems do noy include a lack of business. Just a few years after opening the school in 2013, she had a waiting list hundreds of people long. There are so many Cairenes interest in Amateur rowing that haf a dozen water sports centers offer classes up and down the river front. 

'' When people hear I'm rowing, they're like, ''Rowing? Where?'' said Nadine Abaza, 43, who began rowing three months ago at ScullinBlades, a rowing school near her home in Maadi, a well-to-do Cairo suburb. ''You see it driving over the Nile, but you don't think of it as something you can do.''

FOR most Cairenes, the river without which their country would not exist has become mere scenery. Assuming it can be seen.

A riverfront  promenade, the corniche, once allowed drivers to travel from Cairo's southern reaches all the way to its northern sprawl without interrupting their river view. 

But in much of central Cairo, private clubs and restaurants built over the last four decades at river's edge or parked permanently on stationary barges have hidden the Nile from all those who can pay. Many prime spots are owned by the organizations belonging to the military, the police and the judiciary.

Granted, there are other reasons to stay away from a river that collects sewage, garbage and other pollutants for miles before it flows, greenish-brown and intermittently pungent, into Cairo.

The rowers share the water not only with police boats, fishermen and ferries, but also the occasional archipelago of litter - at least once - a dead cow.

''If we existed for many thousands of years because of it,'' said Amir Gohar. an urban and landscape planner who has studied Egyptian relationship to the Nile, ''now we're trashing it we're ignoring it.''

The World Students Society thanks author Vivian Yee.


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