May 8, 2012

At Home on the Nile, 1849 | Walking Through Egypt

At Home on the Nile, 1849
Florence Nightingale


9 December: We shall have been on board a week tomorrow, and are now thoroughly settled in our house, all our gimlets up, our divans out, our Turkish slippers (mezd) provided, and everything on its own hook, as befits such close quarters. Now, if you ask me how I like the dahabieh life, I must say I am no dahabieh bird, no divan incumbent. I do long to be wandering about the desert by myself, poking my nose into all the villages and running hither and thither, and making acquaintances ou bon me semble. 1 long to be riding on my ass across the plain, I rejoice when the wind is foul, and I can get ashore. They call me ‘the wild ass of the wilderness, snuffing up the wind,’ because I am so fond of getting away.

I dearly love our dahabieh as my home, but if it is to stay in it the whole day, as we are fain to do when the wind is fair, that is not my way at all. However, I must tell you what walks I have had. This morning I went ashore with one of the crew at sunrise: it was cold, as cold as an English morning in October, and there was even a touch of hoar frost. But when I got under the shelter of the palm trees it was warmer. We went inland to a village, the situation of which was marked to us by its fringe of palms. Whenever you see these, you are sure of finding houses. We met a woman leading out her flock to water at a pool left by the inundation of the Nile, her black goats and white sheep. A little further on, we came to a brick-field, mud bricks laid out to bake in the sun, and full of chopped straw to make them adhere. It made one think of Rebekah and the Hebrews’ task, at every turn. Then we walked round the village. But no European can have the least idea of the misery of an African village; if he has not seen it, no description brings it home. I saw a door about three feet high, of a mud hut, and peeping in, saw in the darkness nothing but a white-homed sheep, and white hen. But something else was moving, and presently crawled out four human beings, three women and a child; they made a miserable pretence of veiling their faces before my Efreet. The only reason why they had not their camel with them was because he could not get in; next door was a maize enclosure, which differed from the first only by being cleaner, and having no roof. I looked over, and saw him. My Efreet is so careful of me that he won’t let anybody come near me. If they do, he utters some dreadful form of words, which I don’t understand, and they instantly fall back.

All the houses in the village were exactly like this, the mud walls very thick, nearly three feet. There appeared to me to be only one den inside, but I did not go in because I had promised not. Some little things were setting out to fetch water from the Nile, each with his amphora on the head, each with a rag which scarcely descended over the body, but shrouded the head (the Arab always covers his head). The dogs, who are like foxes, descended from the roofs at sight of me and my Efreet, but, awed by a similar charm, fell back.

The village, which seemed a considerable place, with a governor and a governor’s house, possessed a khan. I peeped in. Strings of camels lay round the walls a few inner cells behind them, roofless and floorless, showed tokens of travellers. But I was afraid of a commotion: so I veiled my face and passed on. A tray covered with the Turkish thimblefuls of coffee (which we also drink) was coming out the only refinement the Arab possesses. In every village you see a coffee-house; generally a roofless cabin built of maize stalks, with mud benches around the inside, but always the thimblefuls of coffee, made, not like ours, but pounded, boiled for a moment, and poured off directly and drunk black. You cannot drink our coffee in this climate with impunity; it is too heating. We walked round the village, the huts all tumbled together up and down, as animals build their nests, without regularity or plan. The pigeons seemed better lodged: they had round mud cones provided for them, taller than the houses, stuck full of pots at the top for them to build in, and sticks for them to perch on. There was not much curiosity about me, though they (the Arabs, not the pigeons) could never have seen a European woman before; but they looked on with the same interest which the dogs did, no more. By the time I came back and overtook the daha- bieh, which had been tracked meanwhile for some distance (there was little wind, and that was south), the sun was high, but it was still too cold to breakfast on deck, as we have done once.

After breakfast we all five went ashore together for the first time. Paola and Mr. B. took their guns to shoot us our dinner and soon killed seven quails. We meanwhile wandered about in a desert place, or sat under what shelter we could find beneath a tuft of grass (the grasses grow as high as reeds), for the sun had by this time risen with a burning heat. A troop of mounted police, fine looking fellows, rode past us, turbaned and trousered, with guns and pistols.

It is rather tiresome always to have an Efreet with one on land, which I am never allowed to go without, and to be dogged by him everywhere, but it is a most courteous Efreet, and almost too afraid of my coming to harm. It will not let me even climb the dyke without helping me.

All my work since I came on board has been making the pennant (the flag and name of every boat are obliged to be registered at Cairo) blue bunting with swallow tails, a Latin red cross upon it, and ITAP0ENOnH [Parthenope, her sister’s name and the name of their boat] in white tape. It was hoisted this morning at the yardarm, and looks beautiful. It has taken all my tape and a vast amount of stitches, but it will be the finest pennant on the river, and my petticoats will joyfully acknowledge the tribute to sisterly affection, for sisterly affection in tape in Lower Egypt, let me observe, is worth having. The Union Jack flies at the stem, Mr. B.’s colours half-way up the rigging, all made by ourselves. For two days we had no wind, and tracked or rowed or pushed all day. On the third day the north wind rose and we stood away for Benisouef.

0 comments:

Post a Comment

Hi, If you found any copyright content in Ancient Egypt blog please don't hesitant to send an email : ancientegyptblog@gmail.com and will delete within 24 Hours

ShareThis

Follow us

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...