May 8, 2012

Hints to Ladies, 1846 | Walking Through Egypt

Hints to Ladies, 1846
Harriet Martineau


As the very disagreeable subject of the vermin which abound peculiarly in Egypt, lice, it is right to say a few words. After every effort to the contrary, I am compelled to believe that they are not always, nor usually, caught from the people about one: but they appear of their own accord in one’s clothes, if worn an hour too long. I do not recommend a discontinuance of flannel clothing in Egypt.

I think it quite as much wanted there as anywhere else. But it must be carefully watched. The best way is to keep two articles in wear, for alternate days, one on, the other hanging up at the cabin window, if there is an inner cabin. The crew wash for the traveller; and he should be particular about having it done according to his own notions, and not theirs, about how often it should be. This extreme care about cleanliness is the only possible precaution, I believe: and it does not always avail; but it keeps down the evil to an endurable point. As far as our experience went, it was only within the limits of Egypt that the annoyance occurred at all. Fleas and bugs are met with: but not worse than at bad French and Italian inns.

The traveller should carry half a dozen gimlets, stuck into a cork, and daily at hand. They serve as a bolt to doors which have no fastening, as pins to anything he wants to fasten or keep open, as pegs to hang clothes, or watch, or thermometer upon; as a convenience in more ways than could be supposed beforehand. Two or three squares of Mackintosh cloth are a great comfort, for keeping bedding dry, and for ablution, and for holding one’s clothes in bathing. By substituting them for carpets, also, in Nile boats, there is a relief from danger or vermin.

As for dress, the first consideration, both for gentlemen and ladies is to have every possible article, made of material that can be washed: gloves, among the rest. Cotton or thread gloves are of no use, unless of the stoutest kind. The hands are almost as much burned with these as with none. Woodstock gloves (which bear washing well) are good, though, of course, they do not look very handsome. Brown Holland is the best material for ladies’ dresses; and nothing looks better, if set off with a little trimming of ribbon, which can be put on and taken off in a few minutes. Round straw hats, with a broad brim, such as may be had at Cairo for four or five shillings, are the best head-covering. A double ribbon, which bears turning when faded, will last a long time, and looks better than a more flimsy kind. There can hardly be too large a stock of thick-soled shoes and boots. The rocks of the Desert cut up presently all but the stoutest shoes: and there are no more to be had. Caps and frills, of lace or muslin are not to be thought of, as they cannot be ‘got up’, unless by the wearer’s own hands. Habit-shirts of Irish linen or thick muslin will do; and, instead of caps, the tarboosh, when within the cabin or tent, is the most convenient, and certainly the most becoming headgear; and the little cotton cap worn under it washed without trouble. Fan and goggles, goggles of black woven wire, are indispensable.

No lady who values her peace on the journey, or desires any freedom of mind or movement, will take a maid. What can a poor English girl do who must dispense with home-comforts, and endure hardships that she never dreamed of, without the intellectual enjoyments which in her mistress compensate (if they do compensate) for the inconveniences of Eastern travel? If her mistress has any foresight, or any compassion, she will leave her at home. If not, she must make up her mind to ill-humour or tears, to the spectacle of wrath or despondency, all the way. If she will have her maid, let her, at all events, have the girl taught to ride, and to ride well: or she may have much to answer for. To begin to ride at her years is bad enough, even at home, where they may be a choice of horses, and the rides are only moderate in length. What is a poor creature to do who is put upon a chance horse, ass, or camel, day by day, for rides of eight hours’ long, for weeks together? The fatigue and distress so caused are terrible to witness, as I can testify, though we were happily warned in time, and went unencumbered by English servants altogether.

When travel in Egypt became well organized, particularly after steamships could bring people from Europe quickly and easily, a good trade grew up in hiring out large comfortable sailing boats, dahabiyas.

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