Confessions of an Academic Pseudo-Giraffe
The Tastier Nile Special

This is no time to get hyped up on big waves, even if there are no quakes involved. Perhaps we should have picked a different occasion. Anyway, this past weekend, after a day and a half of New Year relaxation at the Kingfisher Hotel in Jinja, we had our first true rafting experience on the Nile. There were seven of us: three who had experience and four novices. Having worked as a rafting guide before, our friend Ian was qualified to lead us along without much outside help – and also qualified enough to find all the nasty waves along the eleven rapids we tackled. These stretches of fast white water included a few rapids of grade five, i.e. the highest standard allowed for mortals like us. Grade six, Ian said, would be Niagara. I have to say that was a thought that came to mind when the wall of roaring water suddenly towered in front of us at the G-Spot, the first grade five, a second before it capsized our raft.

All along, we travelled 27 kilometres of the river, which took us the whole day because the rapids were separated by a few long pools. I involuntarily swam four times, including the two places where the whole raft turned over. The first one was pretty bad, since I didn’t know what to expect yet. You’re simply thrown overboard like a glove, and then there is nothing but white booming matter and a sense of sinking for a long time. All you can do is curl up in your life jacket and try to relax until you can breath again, I was told after the first two deep dives. Prior to that, I did just the opposite, struggling against the violence of the currents as hard as I could to push my head above the surface. I drank much more of the Nile than I was planning to. The sports I have the most experience of are all based on self-knowledge and gradual development, on learning how your body responds to various stimuli and deliberately provoking those responses to improve its performance. Testing the body’s limits and knowing where they are. I don’t doubt that there is a big element of that in white water rafting too, but the moment you lose contact with the raft, the principle turns upside down. Control, technique, and physical capacity are all thrown overboard and about with you. It turns into a random game of pinball that natural forces play on you with their eyes closed (the metaphysical underpinnings remind me of Stephen Crane’s wonderful short story ”The Open Boat”).

But this is only to say that rafting has a certain element incongruous with my understanding of sport – it is not to undermine its value as adventure. I had a wonderful time in spite (or because) of the scratches and bruises and little sunburns that appeared on northern skin despite our manic use of mad amounts of sunscreen in every spare moment. And it was definitely good to get a whole day of outdoor recreation even if only a tiny amount of the motion involved was generated by my own musculature.

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