“A feat of human ingenuity and determination” is probably my best way of describing the Suez Canal. Built in the late 1800’s, the canal joins the Mediterranean Sea to the Red Sea. These seas and the canal create a shorter route to join the Atlantic and Indian Oceans. During WW1, it became increasingly important for countries such as France and Britain to ship men and supplies to its empire in places such as Vietnam, India, Burma, and Australia. It created a choke-point in WW1, threatening to cut the newly oil reliant British navy off from its supply line and bisecting the British empire in two. Far later, during the Suez Canal Crisis, Egypt wrestled the canal from western control and nationalized the shipping lane, altering the landscape of commerce for decades to come. Eager to “experience” such a historic place, Hannah and I stood excitedly on the deck of our cruise ship.
We slowly edged into the canal, with maybe 50-75 feet of clearance on either side of the boat to shore. It was tight, to say the least. Local fisherman in dhows and rowboats cheered and yelled salutations as we crept by, rocking their boats in gentle, unavoidable wakes. Standing at the bow, I leaned over to Hannah and began a discussion. I pointed to the small fishing boat below us. Beneath its dark purple sail, 4 Arab men fished and conversed among themselves.
“Remember any stories about a group of Middle Eastern fishermen?” I said to Hannah as we passed several small fishing boats with local men. She quickly caught on with a “Huh, ya that is interesting to think about”. It was a reference to the 12 apostles and the Biblical stories of Jesus Christ. Passing by a possible modern day equivalent, while on a massive cruise ship, seemed like a ludicrous but apt comparison. Thumbing through years of various biblical anecdotes and imagery in my mind, I smiled and waved back to the excited fishermen.
The evening sky changed hues and the faint, now-routine sound of the Islamic Adahn called Muslims to prayer on shore. It was Friday, the Muslim sabbath, and the customary singing and high-pitched chanting lasted longer than usual. Elsewhere, desert camouflaged soldiers paced atop high sand dunes alongside the Suez. An Egyptian military helicopter circled us overhead for quite a awhile. It eventually lost interest and strafed slowly northward to guard its next ward. As if racing the ship, a military truck sped down the expansive shore of the canal with its bed full of armed Egyptian soldiers and a high caliber mounted machine gun. We were not unprepared to see that many armed soldiers, but it was still unnerving.
As the sun set that evening, passengers gradually slipped away from the railings and headed to dinner, a show, or trivia.