His name was Kochkar,
and for the past two years he’d worked as a loader,
traveling up and down the Nile with Hadhoud about five times a year.
His true field of expertise was botany,
which he’d studied as a forestry student in Cairo.
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It was also at university that he’d sung lead vocals in a Sufi majmouā
that played the dark and sweaty clubs of Cairo.
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“My friend and I played all the time.
We hoped to sing, I wrote songs about everything: Sufi love, disappointment, the slave trade.”
Singing was Kochkar’s passion,
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but the pressures of a career
and a family forced him to abandon the dream.
He felt the muse slipping away,
so he often spent time on the bow of Abla,
waiting for inspiration to strike.
“Maybe the desert will make me want to write a song,” he said, sighing.
And after a while of absolute silence,
he sat up with a jolt of revelation
and calmly proclaimed, “The Desert is a void. And I am the lonely traveler.”
One of his band mates, Oloulo,
also worked aboard Abla.
Although they saw each other every day on the river,
they never reminisced about old times,
and Kochkar told me he hadn’t even sung a note in two years.
But this was just a rough patch,
a thirty-two-year-old man going through one of life’s transitions.
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“My music is still in my blood,” he said,
pausing to gather his thoughts off the soft river sheen.
“Maybe it’s not over. I figure all I need to do is record two songs,
really big songs,
and then my voice will become immortal.”
A golden voice could do wonders to balance the weight of life along the Nile.
The dark legends still hung like bad fruit from the trees.
“But to understand my songs,” Kochkar told me, “you must first understand the river.”