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This is the day we are leaving for Cairo, and this is the first day of summer saving time. You can imagine the confusion with getting the time right for the flights etc. but eventually things sort themselves out. I have two from the group on the same flight, which is at 7 pm, so we decided to go spend the day at the Old Cataract Hotel. This was an excellent decision. The hotel is beautiful. The famous verandah overlooking the gardens and the Nile as well as the pool, is breathtaking. Though it is a bit warm, yet we decided to sit out.
As usual I went crazy taking pictures of all this beauty. We decided to have a snack right there and I ordered a salmon club sandwich and a beer. It really was exactly what the doctor had ordered. The ambience was great, the service first class and the food and drink excellent.

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Shortly we were joined by yet another member of our group who is returning tomorrow by train. After a bit the heat was getting to me so I moved into the air conditioned lounge to cool off and work on my articles. After a bit they came in to tell me they were going off to the Nubian Museum which is just up the road from the Cataract. I opted not to go because on describing how to get there the concierge said it was slightly uphill. I have had enough climbing in the heat yesterday so I declined joining them. Ten minutes later they were back, practically crawling in wiped out by the heat, they found the museum closed. Was I glad I did not go.
I am still processing all that I have been through these past three days, not only the onslaught of culture, but mostly the getting to know new people I have met. The writing course was also very full and quite intense.
The group attending that course was a cross-section of Egypt’s society. Most of the young women were veiled, though there were a couple of exceptions. Then there were two more young women who were totally sportive in their dress and attitude, less restricted and more open, then a couple of young men, though both have scruffy beards, they were not the religious type at all. The instructor, an Englishwoman who has been living in Egypt for the past four years was the driving force behind the whole project.
The course itself was a bit of a threat to me as I have not attempted to write fiction and only know what it is like to write about my own experience. So I was having a bit of a difficult time trying to adapt to the new genre. But the instructor is very good and has a thorough curriculum that very deliberately, and systematically steeps you into the genre without you even realizing it. The method of giving us specific writing exercises, like writing a two hundred word piece about a specific character of our choice, then in the voice of someone else,then describing them, then in the first and third person, and once in the second person, all sort of exercises in style, the use of the different language tricks, the use of adjectives, verbs and nouns. Somehow, after all that, with all the exercises, with all the pointers and critiques, I, at least, came away with a wealth of experience, and I hope a beneficial effect on my style. I am now more aware of certain ways of putting things, have become more conscious of words and how best to use them.
Another thing hinted at but not quite learned yet, at least for me, is how to write concisely and be succinct. I don’t seem able to curb my flow of words, but will try as some situations could really benefit from a tighter sort of dialogue.
The social interaction was something else as well. I was by far the oldest person in that group, they were all very respectful and quite helpful, which amused me no end. I really enjoyed that. It was do liberating. Like I could do no wrong. Really funny, but I was enjoying it too much to burst their bubble.
It is unfortunate that I could not get to know all of them well. Four of the women stuck mainly together as their friendship went back to school, so they seem to all have a history together and were a tight group. They did not seem to interact much with the rest of the group, which is really a shame because I think they would have benefited more had they loosened up a bit and got to know more about a different point of view. Three of them were veiled, and from the one limited exchange I had with one of them I was a bit taken aback by the rigidity of her thinking process, her inability to even concede that there could be a different point of view. Very disappointing in one so young. But it takes all kinds to make up the world.
Another of those young women, definitely NOT veiled, was a character on her own. She flitted along on a haze of continuous inspiration. Each word she said she lived through and acted out in body and mind. Any conversation you have with her turns into a monologue, all about herself one way or another, be it her likes or dislikes, her inspirations, her soul, the birds she likes and everything is very lyrical, very poetic. . Although most of the time most of us could not tell what she was talking about, she did it so beautifully and with such child-like innocence, we all just watched and smiled. I think it was mostly a group protective thing.
The group dynamics were very interesting. There were those who were friends before joining and those who became friends after joining. There were those who came in as complete strangers, not knowing anybody beforehand, like me, and those who had taken a few courses previously with that same instructor. But the interesting part was seeing how bit by bit we started coalescing into a whole, despite the individuals, the couples and the groups within that group.
What I liked about the interaction was the way we all looked out for each other. When someone was late we all stuck together, when someone had a weakness we automatically came together to give support or help. We closed ranks against any entity that was outside the group, no matter what other internal dynamics might occur.
It was a study in human nature, the child adopting a surrogate mother, the loner trying their best to blend in, the couples giving themselves distance to mingle with the rest. And all getting together as a group during any of the outings, encouraging one another’s literary attempts during class, applauding good efforts and commiserating with the not so good.
This is indeed a rich tapestry with abundant material for future characters. Incidentally, I feel that this is my final release out of my mental comfort zone. I am now challenged, excited and eager to explore all possibilities. I do not even have this initial fear of failure. It no longer intimidates me that I might fail. If I do, I change direction and find something I can be good at. This experiment has resulted in a far bigger gain than I ever imagined, it showed me that failure, even at something that I love and cling to, would not be the end of life, but might, just might, be a new beginning.

 

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16 May 2014

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