Ethiopia's River of Magic and Mystery
Sacred, mysterious, powerful, the Blue Nile has carved a deep channel through human history. From its source in the wild Ethiopian highlands, this river passes through some of the most untamed country on Earth as it rushes toward its desert rendezvous with the White Nile in Sudan. More than one adventurer has perished in the Blue Nile Corge, whose hazards range from raging rapids to menacing crocodiles to armed bandits.
This is a delightful and well-paced account of a National Geographic team's successful 1999 journey by raft down the length of the Blue Nile – one of the two rivers of the upper Nile River – from its source in Ethiopia to the Sudan border. Science magazine correspondent Morell (Ancestral Passions), whose crew was the first to descend the Nile in a single, unbroken trip, had taught school in Ethiopia during the 1970s, and she combines her love of the country with a remarkably balanced account of the Blue Nile's history. She perceptively probes the intricacies of Ethiopian culture (“Secrets, intrigues, plots and counterplots riddle every social circle, and you soon learn to not necessarily believe everything you are told"), ancient history (“For their part, the Ethiopian emperors weren't above using the Blue Nile as a weapon… to turn Egypt into a desert“) and politics. But Morell is most sensitive, and enlightening, on matters of race and gender. As she observes, race "was just something you had to accept: as a white person in Ethiopia, you were – and are – a spectacle.“ But she also acknowledges “how ill-prepared we were for meeting men of progress along the Blue Nile," expecting "bandits and spear-throwers, not paramedics who listened to the Ethiopian equivalent of the BBC.“ This is a loving and insightful description of a culture and region that has been mostly off-limits to Westerners. 16 pages of color photos.