Those phrase books
you buy when you go abroad do not include the things that really matter. My
Arabic one, for example, told me how to say, "I expect a lady/ gentleman.
Send her/him up to my room at once." And, "Can you give me something
for my ears?" And even, "The wind is from the east, from the west, from
the north, from the south." Things like that.
What I needed was
the Angler's Universal Dictionary and Phrase Book, which unfortunately does not
yet exist. This helps out with such essentials as: "Oh,
Mustapha/Olav/Miguel, why have you wrenched the handle from my 4/0 reel?"
And, "No, I do not wish to pay $5 extra for the shark bait." And,
"Why are the naval police preparing to arrest me?"
All three would
have saved a lot of trouble on my trip to Hurghada, on the Red Sea coast of
Egypt. Especially the last one, when a small, round sailor, owner of one of the
most malicious faces I have ever seen, danced up and down in a paroxysm of
rage, right there on the hotel jetty, inviting me by unmistakable gesture to
accompany him to his jeep, whereupon we could proceed to whatever was the
equivalent in the United Arab Republic of the county keep.
I stood firm in
the boat: I had my friends with me, of course. There was Ahmoud the skipper,
explaining to me in Arabic just where I had transgressed. His son, Mustapha the
reel-wrecker, was quietly engaged in snipping one of my wire leaders to see if
the snippers worked. Mr. Sabreez, who alone could have interpreted, had shot
below as soon as he saw the uniform and was refusing to come up. Only Rudi the
Nazi had practical advice. "Why don't you throw this filthy Arab into the
sea?" he said in a bored tone.
December on the
Red Sea: the surf creaming on the coral reefs and along the white beaches that
run endlessly south to the horn of Africa; puffball clouds drifting across to
the dark mountains that stand to the west, crested like brontosaurs. In the sea
itself, many game fish: barracuda, dolphin, kingfish, wahoo, sailfish, tuna,
few of which had seen a baited hook. A magnificent sport-fishing opportunity,
Well, yes, except
that within 24 hours of arriving, some deep-rooted instinct for farce had
caused me to surround myself with a set of assistants and friends that a social
psychologist would call an unsynchronized group and anybody else a fourth-rate
Skipper Jah Ahmoud
was said, variously, to be a millionaire, the ex-boatman of the late King
Farouk and to be 90 years old. On this part of the coast he was held in some
awe for having fathered, 12 months previously, yet another son. Ahmoud looked
after himself. Against the rigors of winter he wore an ancient British army
greatcoat, dyed blue, over his long pink nightshirt. Down in Hurghada the
daytime December temperature averages about 85�.
His son and No. 1
assistant, Mustapha, if born into a halfway privileged society, would have made
a skilled engineer. He had the right kind of passionate curiosity about how
things worked. On the Red Sea, however, he just wrecked reels.
There was Mr.
Sabreez—gentle, fearful, with liquid, cocker-spaniel eyes—who had announced
himself when I arrived at the hotel: "I am Mr. Sabreez, I am your
right-hand man, I am government photographer, have you got any color film?"
Mr. Sabreez was a Coptic Christian, exiled for some never specified reason from
Cairo. He wanted to go back to Cairo very much. A city boy, if ever I saw
Rudi the Nazi, on
the other hand, had found Munich a little dull after a spell as a Congo
mercenary and an extended stay in the Republic of South Africa. He had driven
down in his little VW through the Balkans, Turkey and Syria. So far he was
notable for his bodybuilding exercises on the hotel terrace and for his unique
ability to eat the fanged, monstrous, unidentifiable fish that had been served
up for dinner the previous night.