We return from Sekhmet’s Shrine in Karnak for a last evening on the Moon Goddess. Before dinner, several of us go to the upper deck to enjoy the cooler air, the stunning Monet colours of the evening sky. The events, the palette of emotion I have experienced since this morning, swirl within me. I have a longing so intense it must be visible to pour it all out in words. I wonder if I might speak with Jean, if she would understand if I said it all to her. But I see her deep in conversation with another woman in our group.
I choose a deck chair with a view of the western sky, lean back, invite the evening’s beauty to be my companion. From a mosque on the eastern shore behind me, I hear the call of the muezzin, followed by the deep resonant chanting of evening prayer. I lie still, my eyes filled with the colours of the sunset as the earth rolls eastwards, away from Ra.
With the suddenness of magic, Egyptian magic, I am no longer alone. Imaginary or imaginal, the presence I have summoned by my longing is with me, sitting at the end of the deck chair, waiting, ready to listen. At such moments, there is no point in trying to understand what is happening. Forster’s wisdom applies: “Do we find happiness so often that we can afford to throw it off the box when it happens to sit there?”
Simply, fully, gladly, I unfold the whole story in an inner dialogue. I sit with my eyes closed, still seeing the rose swirl of the evening sky, still hearing the melodious chanting from the mosque. During these sacred moments I speak all that is in my heart, feeling heard, being understood, being known. Warmly, gently, the time passes in a half-awake state. As easily at it began, it ends with an invitation to return at any time to this presence.
In full darkness, we depart the Moon Goddess, board a bus for the airport. Hours of waiting follow: frustration, flight delays. It is nearly two o’clock in the morning by the time we find our rooms in a hotel that might have flown straight out from a tale of the Arabian Nights. We have arrived at Sharm el Sheikh on the Red Sea.
Sharm El Sheikh, called “The Peace City” in honour of the many peace conferences that have taken place there, is located on the tip of the Sinai Peninsula. It is a cosmopolitan Red Sea resort city, with red mountains, thirty-five miles of white sandy beaches, blue sea and coral gardens. Diving is the primary activity, for divers at all levels of skill, including none whatever.
It is only with the light of morning that we see the wonders of the place. It’s like waking up in paradise. Flowers flow from every stone archway, spilling in pale blues, in warm pinks above our heads, and at our feet everywhere we walk. As we make our way to breakfast, clusters of palm trees wave in the morning air, and beyond it all the glistening sun-kissed sea awaits.
We have a whole day here, a day out of time, without schedule or gatherings. A day to recover energy after journeys both mythical and actual. After breakfast, I am drawn to the sea’s edge, where I find Valarie. Under the shade of the palm trees, we talk, not about Egypt, not about goddesses and temples and pyramids, but about our lives, our families. Valarie’s mother is becoming frail; my own mother has recently died. We find storylines that intersect. It is comforting.
I return to my room, change into swimwear, meet Denise just returning from an underwater adventure, willing to loan me her mask and flippers.
I have never dived. Descending from the small pier, I have difficulty breathing underwater through the mask. But at my first glimpse of the magic that awaits me I am determined to stay. The coral is magnificent, treacherous. We’ve been warned not to get close to the razor sharp edges of this underwater flower garden. I gaze at clusters of white, red, pink coral, watch fish swim past in impossible shades of blue and green and red. I can hardly grasp that so much beauty exists only metres below the surface.
Afterwards, I shower to wash away the stickiness of salt, change into fresh clothing, and hurry to the amphitheatre where I settle onto the stone bench near others of our group. As waiters move among us offering red wine, Tchaikovsky’s music fills the night air. We watch a DVD of a 1989 performance by the Bolshoi Ballet of “The Sleeping Beauty” on a gigantic screen. A fairy tale. A love story that ends happily. The perfect antidote to an overdose of Egyptian mythology, and the not-so- subtle warnings of a goddess about my allurement to tragic romance. I take it all in, in a state of bliss.
Valarie, Denise and others of our group find an outdoor cafe and enjoy char-broiled calamari.
I fall asleep that night, restored by beauty and joy.
(excerpt from Called to Egypt on the Back of the Wind Anne Kathleen McLaughlin,
Borealis Press, Ottawa, Canada, 2013 http://borealispress.com)