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Many Streams, One River

Five million years ago, 2 streams originating from Ethiopia and Uganda, the Blue Nile and White Nile began to flow northwards to the great sea that geologists call the Tethys (today's Mediterranean Sea). The streams converged at Khartoun in the Sudan and continued to flow northwards as a single river. From Khartoum the Nile is interrupted by a series of rapids. These cataracts continue over 1,800 km to Aswan in Southern Egypt where the river enters the Nile Valley.

The Nile hollowed out its bed in the immense plateau of desert limestone and sandstone. Then over the course of thousands of years, it deposited alluvium at the bottom of the narrow valley, forming arable ground.

Five million years ago,

  my two halves descended


    from the heavens to bring 

      life to the void below. I set 

        out alone to pave the way for

          one of the greatest civilizations

            that would walk this planet. Unlike 

              the rest, I would head upwards,

                and I forged my own path despite 

                  the rock placed in my way~~~~~ 

                    I move in rhythm.  Contrary to most 

                      I am at my prime when the lands

                      are the hottest.  I come forth in 

                    full force, bursting forth on the

                  dry land bringing life and fertility.  

                The people would come to me 

              and worship me--for without 

            me there would be nothing...  

          They  would  study  my 

        behavior and look to the


      skys to learn of my ways. I


    would be their lifeblood, their


  supreme protector~~~~~~~~

But beware my wrath.  As easily 

as I bring forth life, I can take it

  away.  Upset my rhythm and you 

    upset more than just me.  For my

      actions go beyond me, they touch 

        the land and all its beings. Through- 

          out the ages, I will continue to flow 

            to my rhythm, always headed up, 

          and bring life and life's challenges 

      to all who come to seek refuge by my side

  ~~For I am the Nile and Egypt is my child.~~

The Greek traveler and writer, Herodotus, described Egypt as "the gift of the Nile"; and a gift it was. How else could this dry desert land with so little rainfall sustain such enormous empires over thousands of years? Every year, between July and October, the annual flood of the Nile brings needed water to the arid desert. When the water retreats after the flood, what is left behind is a layer of fertile silt. All of Egypt's cultivable land owed its existence to the Nile and its actions. Thousands of years ago people flocked to the riverside to set up settlements along the Nile Valley, and the lower Nile Delta in the north. This fertility, centered around a passageway for trade and communication, paved the way for the beginnings of vast empires and advanced cultures.

The Nile's behavior was carefully studied and the celestial signs accompanying its annual flood were observed and recorded. The sacred river has always incited admiration by the breadth and contemplative majesty of its flow, and records find it inextricably linked with mythology. The ancient Egyptians worshiped the annual flood of the Nile as the god Hapy who symbolized abundance and fertility. Its periodic rise and fall are associated with the myth of Osiris who is the god of the underworld and fertility. Osiris represents the divine principle of perpetual return, of death and rebirth, as symbolized by the annual cycle of vegetation that the Nile brings.

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larger view
We World Trekkers meet people whose families have relied on the great Nile for thousands of years.
Egypt is the work of the Nile. It can be a lush oasis during its flood or a barren wasteland if it fails to rise; causing much hardship and great famine. Historians have found references to famine in Upper Egypt around the time of the collapse of the Sixth Dynasty, which was apparently linked to low levels of the Nile. But the Nile's wrath is unpredictable, ancient graffiti at Semna which dates from the Middle Kingdom records several years in which there were abnormally high Nile flood levels. The Temple of Amun at Karnak has reference to its flooding as well. This erratic behavior has had a profound effect on the stability and self-sufficiency of Egypt throughout the ages. It permeates every aspect of Egypt's existence from its food production to weather to transportation and communication.

Vocabulary Box

cataracts - a furious rush of water; deluge
alluvium - sediment materials from a river
inextricably - hopelessly entangled

We're excited to be here in Egypt and to be learning about the longest river on this planet (4266 miles!). It's longer than the longest section of the US, from the East Coast to the West Coast! Throughout our next six weeks here we will be following the path of the Nile, tracing the ancient civilizations that had established huge kingdoms and temples up and down its shores. Stay tuned to learn more about the mysteries of this great river.


p.s. - Please e-mail me at


The Team - Memphis: The Ancient Capital of Egypt
Abeja - Introducing Egypt's Living Dead
Jasmine - One Step at a Time: Egypt's First Pyramid
Monica - Learning How To "Walk Like An Egyptian..."
The Team - Poltics as Usual in Algeria
The Team - U.S.-Libya: A History of Tense Relations
Making a Difference - Just Do It
Making a Difference - The Parthenon

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