This picture contains some of my favorite memories of Egypt. The picture encapsulates three things.
First, there’s the newly discovered Arabic proverb, “Coffee cannot be drunk too quickly.“
On practical level, Turkish coffee is the norm over there. This means that you need to slow down to drink it, otherwise you’re just gonna get a mouthful of caffeinated sludge in your mouth. You gotta give the warm liquid a chance for the sludge to sink to the bottom of the cup. Sipping it is the only way to go. No slamming shots here.
The proverbs also implies that drinking coffee is both something meant to do leisurely, and is also done socially. That is why there are two little cups painted in the picture.
The second idea is the atmosphere in which I painted this illumination.
The picture holds all those hours spent lazing on the breezy deck looking at the Egypt passing by while painting and holding leisurely conversation with new friends.
The proverb was also a topic of discussion on our trip down the Nile.
The Arabic writing was done in calligraphy by our guide, Ramadan. I did the English translation.
The third element was a witnessing a unique coffee ritual.
On our first night along the Nile we camped out on the felucca, anchored next to a dune. All was quiet and secluded, so tranquil and still. Anxious to explore, a few of us climbed up the huge hill of sand, and found a primitive hut surrounded by scrub, something of a garden, and through the palms, you could see a village in the distance. A perfect snapshot of Egypt.
But it got better. The sun had set, airbrushing all with soft purple hues.
To the far right of the hut, overlooking our boat, was a primitive pen made with reeds. Cocoa puff-like droppings generously sprinkled the sand therein. Bleeting and shouts were heard and soon rugged sheep swarmed into the fragile pen, swatted by two young boys.
An Arab in worn robes hailed us from the near the hut and met me and one of the Nubian crew members, Gentle Jack in a aside from the sheep on a clean patch of sand.
We exchanged our salaams.
And while Jack, whose portrait appears in preceding post, talked to the man for me, the elder of the boys came up with a large satchel. He pulled out a threadbare carpet and unrolled it on the sand.
The younger boy dragged over a large limb of dry flaky driftwood and started breaking into little pieces. He dug a little hole in the sand near the rug and put into it the dried pieces of wood and started a small fire.
Meanwhile, the other boy pulled more out of his beat-up satchel.
Kneeling on the carpet , before the fire, the boy took out a leather bag containing white coffee beans, followed by a mortar and pestle, then a little pan in which to roast the beans, and finally the essential piece of Arabic coffee making… The copper carafe.
The fire, now lit, brought a warm glow and illuminated the darkening dusk. I looked up and noticed many of the stars had already appeared in competition with the warming little fire.
Thinking of connections to Wind, Sand, and Stars and The Little Prince, both by the author and pilot Anton St. Exupèry? I sure was!
The nomad shepherd, through his broken teeth and graying beard, thin and brown, asked if we would like to stay for coffee. Jack translated.
Mesmerized by the authenticy, the glow of desert hospitality, fire, stars, and fresh roasted ground coffee, while overlooking the sleeping Nile, I said “Nam! Shukran!” -“Yes, thank-you!”
At that moment the dinner bell from the ship rang. Ramadan and the captain, beckoned to us to come down.
“After dinner!” Jack assured our eager nomad and his attentive boys as we stood to go. We shuffled down the dune, balanced on the plank and hopped onto the boat.
I never did return for coffee.
A conversation during dinner with our captain made me think it would be better not to.
Though coffee was not shared, a gem was.
The primitive coffee ritual, combined with the firelight under the twinkling stars, looking out over the Nile was an incredible experience.
The glowing magic is born again on similar evenings when the firelight glows under the stars and the coffee beans are prepped for guests back home.
This picture was given to Ramadan as a gift of gratitude for his friendship and as a remembrance of our deep theological conversations we had under the stars and along the Nile, very much in spirit with this quote.
Is this something you would love to have hanging in your house, maybe over your coffee bar?
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