May 10, 2012

Life at Thebes, 1850 | Luxor - Walking Through Egypt

Life at Thebes, 1850
Florence Nightingale

Thebes
11 February Dear People,
Do you want to know how we pass our days? We rise up early in the morning, and are breakfasted perhaps by eight o’clock. Then we cross the water in the “sandal , which is a small “dingee”, to western Thebes; the asses rush into the water to meet us or the crew carry us ashore: we mount the asses, and with a great multitude for in Egypt every attendant has his ass, and every ass his attendant we repair (preceded by a tall man with a spear, his wild turban coming undone in the wind), like a small army, to a tomb; the tomb instantly fills we suffocate for two or three hours, the guides having, besides, lighted fires and torches therein. When nature can sustain no more, we rush out, and goollehs, bread and dates are laid upon a stone. Those who have strength then begin again, till dark; those who have not, lie on stones in the valley.

Then begins the delightful ride home, the quiet, the silence (except that no Arab is ever silent the donkey men and the guides talk without one moment’s interruption, if it is ten miles or if it is one, the whole way home), the sunset tints, the goats coming home, the women spinning at the head, the gamous (the great Nile buffalo) crossing the little branches of the Nile in large herds on their way home, two little children perhaps riding on the neck of the largest, a stray jackal coming out, and the Pair looking golden in the western sunlight; the evening picture is all beautiful. Our asses enter the river and slide us into the sandal, and home we come to the little fleet of European boats moored under the colonnades of Luxor, which really from the river are almost beautiful.

We dine, and after dinner, when we are all hung up by the tails, like the chameleons, pretending to be dead, and waiting for half-past seven, or at latest eight, to bury us, lo! a dreadful plash of oars, or Paolo puts in his head, with an abominable grin at our mute misery, and says “the Hungarian count!” or “the German professor!” and so on. Mr. B immediately retires to his own room, whence he is generally heard to snore. We unwillingly, but nobly, sacrifice ourselves to our duty, sit up (in brown Holland dressing gowns we are sure to have on, having been much too tired to dress), and talk; but we never give one drop of tea, which has greatly limited these visitations, for, in our street, the doors stand always open, and the people have nothing to do but to spend their evenings on board each other’s boat. One night, and one night only, we were got out. Capt. , good-natured man, came himself in his sandal, and positively carried us off; and one day the ’s dined with us, and with all the devotion of Arab hospitality which distinguished us, we killed was it not beautiful of us? no, not our horse, we had none, but our dog, for dinner. I think I told you of our dog a turkey, “as big as donkey”, as Paolo said. Oh what a loss was there, how he used to walk majestically up and down the beach in front of the boat, which he believed it his duty to guard, bastinadoing the chickens when they made a noise. He killed two cocks the day he died. No man could get him into a coop (the crew were afraid to go near him), yet he never strayed. No dog ever ventured near our boat while he lived; the moment he was dead, the hungry Luxor dogs used to come on board every night, till Mustafa, like Cuddie’s lady, greeted them with boiling water; and after his death, we never could keep a quail a single night, though our numerous acquaintances kept us well in quails, for our four cats had parties every night, and bared the larder: and we killed him!

As soon as our guests were gone, sometimes before, we went to bed. Don’t think us grown quite savage and uncivilised. It is very hard to be all day by the deathbed of the greatest of your race, and to come home and talk about quails of London.

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