In Down the Nile: Alone in a Fisherman's Skiff, Rosemary Mahoney describes traveling solo as a woman through Egypt.
You've written so much about Ireland and the Irish. This seems to be a departure for you. How was writing this different?
This book covers a much shorter period than my other books. The trip was just three weeks, so the story is more concentrated. I spent more time alone, by necessity, being on the river. I had more time to reflect. And I was more nervous on this trip. My other trips were unusual, but never seemed this risky.
Did you learn anything new about yourself during your trip?
The one thing I didn't set out to show, but learned, is that we now tend to look at an Arab guy and wonder: how is he going to harm me? There are a group of radical Islamists who would harm us, that's a fact, but the majority of the Arabs I've met are just like us. The natural disposition of Egyptians is to be friendly and trusting of visitors, but often it's the visitors who are afraid and have a prejudice. What I realized is that I had all this stuff in my head, and I was wrong. I was the one that was defensive and somewhat aggressive.
Why travel in a rowboat?
When you go alone into nature, you don't have anyone distracting you. If I float alone down the Hudson River, in some ways, it's like being in a foreign country. Powerboats are fun, but being in a boat when there is no engine roaring—sailing or rowing—there is something beautiful about that.
A large part of the story involves your dilemma trying to purchase a boat. Had you expected this?
I knew it would be risky to try to travel alone, but I hadn't expected it to be so difficult to get someone to sell me a boat. Foreigners are not supposed to be alone on the river, and for a woman to be asking these Egyptian guys if I could buy or even use their boat for a few minutes, it was like I was asking them to fly off on a flying carpet. They may have thought I was a little crazy.
And what were your interactions with Egyptian men like?
I had people say to me they would be afraid to go to a place like that with guys chasing after them. You are much less afraid than angry. It just becomes wearing, and it's one of the unfortunate things about Egypt.