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The Picnic Along The River Nile
By Michael Russell

"Don't forget the salads", shouts Rob. Obviously top priority in my husband's mind. Not so long ago a picnic consisted of egg sandwiches, or tomato and cheese and a few bags of crisps. If you were lucky you might find someone had thrown in the odd scotch egg and some pork pie. Now our weekly picnics have developed into a competition for which all the wives are intent on producing some spectacular dish which would grace a dinner party table. Surely a picnic is supposed to relaxed and carefree?

Rob dashes into the kitchen and packs my home made salads, (potato and Mediterranean), coleslaw and fruit salad along with wine, beer and soft drinks into a 'cool box'. "We'll be late", he says, "hurry up". "Rob, where's Susie ?" "In the garden, I'll give her a shout". Susie, our daughter, is six and lives for these picnics. She's already wearing her lifejacket as she rushes in from the garden, dancing about in anticipation.

Rob finally loads everything into the Jeep and locks up the house. He treats every outing with military precision. Once we're in the jeep he produces what can only be described as a check list. When he's satisfied we're all present and correct he starts the engine and drives the short distance to the river where our friends are waiting.

Susie and I climb on the catamaran which has twin hulls and makes me feel safer. Rob and a friend jump into their sailing dingy and set sail immediately. The others decide which dingy they'll take. Mike's sailing the catamaran and waits for them so we can all leave together.

I'm not keen on sailing, particularly along the River Nile but our picnics are an institution. I'll be happy when we reach the island in the middle of the river where we always picnic. We're not too far away now, almost at Crocodile Island where Rob and his friends sometimes go shooting. Each time we pass it I shudder. Rob and his friend, Neil, are well ahead of us. They can't wait to see if the pit which Jeff and Pete are digging is ready. They left at six this morning to prepare the pit and the fire because we roast a whole sheep which takes hours.

Susie decides to make her presence

felt. She calls to Mike who's sailing along steadily. "Uncle Mike, Uncle Mike, tip it over, tip it over !" My eyes lock with Mike's. "Don't you dare! She's a little Madam. She knows I hate sailing". I turn to Susie who's giggling. "And you, Susie, ought to know better than to ask Uncle Mike to tilt the boat. Just because Daddy tips it over doesn't mean Uncle Mike will. He's got more sense". She snuggles up to me. "Well, I'm sailing back with Daddy. It's more fun". She jumps up and I watch her scramble across the boat, my heart in my mouth, terrified she'll fall into the river. She turns around, displaying a cheeky grin and waves to our friends in the other boats. A few more minutes and we'll be there.

Mike expertly steers the catamaran to the island. All the women are wearing bikinis and smother themselves in sun cream. The men have already erected a couple of tents for those who want some shade. Rob walks over to us. "Come and have a look at the barbeque, Jan. The sheep's already on the spit. Susie, that's enough sun cream. We're going to have a look at the barbeque. Hold my hand." We trudge through the sand and watch Neil basting the sheep. He's using the sheep's tail attached to a stick which he dips in olive oil and lemon juice to baste it. Pete's turning the spit so the sheep will cook evenly. We all have a go at turning the spit for a while. That way it means one person isn't doing all the work. It's only half past ten and we've the whole day ahead of us. As I take a quick dip in the river I try to forget about the crocodiles and the deadly bacteria which thrive in its waters.

The men are drinking beer while I swallow gallons of Coke. I must have the cleanest stomach in the Sudan. Susie plays with the other children while we adults stretch out and sunbathe, each of us sporting tans in various shades of mahogany!! Suddenly it's mid afternoon and the sheep is ready. The men take their turn to carve while we produce the 'goodies' we've prepared at home. Each of us is starving and we devour the food in record time. We send the children to rest in the shade of the tents but they never stop chattering and giggling.

Unbelievably, it's time to return. The sun sets early in the tropics so we never stay later than five p.m. Before long everything is packed up and we're ready to leave. Susie stays behind with Rob while he makes sure the fire is out, fills the barbeque pit with sand and clears up any left over rubbish. I again climb on the catamaran, which Mike's sailing, along with several of our friends. We arrive back first and they drop me off at home.

Two hours later I'm wondering why Rob and Susie haven't come home. What in God's name can have happened to them? It's dark now. They should have been back long ago. Maybe the boat's capsized or maybe the crocodiles.... Don't even think about it. Susie's only six. She must be terrified. The phone's out of order and I can't call anyone for help. Please God, let them be safe. Please let me see them again. If You'll just answer this one prayer I promise never to ask for another thing. My God! it's eight o'clock. I'll have a stiff drink. Better not, I might get drunk. I can't sit here in the kitchen all night. Why not? I realise I'm losing it because I'm hearing voices. They're getting nearer. Terrified, I glance round the kitchen and watch the door open. Two tired but smiling faces pop round the door. By now I'm sobbing. "Have you any idea what I've gone through?" Rob puts his arms round me. "I know it sounds ridiculous but we were becalmed. There wasn't a breath of wind. We had no choice but to sit tight until the wind blew up again". Susie interrupts. "It was so exciting Mummy. Daddy found some chocolate and drinks in the cool box. I can't wait for next week's picnic!!"


Michael Russell Your Independent guide to Travel

 
 
     
 
 
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