, pub-5063766797865882, DIRECT, f08c47fec0942fa0 The Dahabiya, 1873 | Walking Through Egypt ~ Ancient Egypt Facts

May 8, 2012

The Dahabiya, 1873 | Walking Through Egypt

The Dahabiya, 1873
Amelia Edwards

A dahabeeyah, at the first glance, is more like a civic or an Oxford University barge than anything in the shape of a boat with which we in England are familiar. It is shallow and flat-bottomed, and is adapted for either sail or rowing. It carries two masts: a big one near the prow, and a smaller one at the stern. The cabins are on deck, and occupy the after-part of the vessel; and the roof of the cabins forms the raised deck, or open-air drawing-room. This upper deck is reached from the lower deck by two little flights of steps, and is the exclusive territory of the passengers. The lower deck is the territory of the crew. A dahabeeyah is, in fact, not very unlike the Noah’s Ark of our childhood, with this difference the habitable part, instead of occupying the middle-part of the vessel, is all at one end, top-heavy and many-windowed; while the fore-deck is not more than six feet above the level of the water. The hold, however, is under the lower deck, and so counterbalances the weight at the other end. Not to multiply comparisons unnecessarily, I may say that a large dahabeeyah reminds one of old pictures of the Bucentaur, especially when the men are at their oars.

The kitchen which is a mere shed like a Dutch oven in shape, and contains only a charcoal stove and a row of stewpans stands between the big mast and the prow, removed as far as possible from the passengers’ cabins. In this position the cook is protected from a favourable wind by his shed; but in the case of a contrary wind he is screened by an awning. How, under even the most favourable circumstances, these men can serve up the elaborate dinners which are the pride of a Nile cook’s heart, is sufficiently wonderful; but how they achieve the same results when wind-storms and sand-storms are blowing, and every breath is laden with the fine grit of the desert, is little short of miraculous.

Thus far, all dahabeeyahs are alike. The cabin arrangements differ however, according to the size of the boat; and it must be remembered that in describing the Philae, I describe a dahabeeyah of the largest build her total length from stem to stem being just one hundred feet, and the width of her upper deck at the broadest part being little short of twenty.

Our floor being on a somewhat lower level than the men’s deck, we went down three steps to the entrance door, on each side of which there was an external cupboard, one serving as a storeroom and the other as a pantry. This door led into a passage out of which opened four sleeping-cabins, two on each side. These cabins measured about eight feet in length by four and a half in width, and contained a bed, a chair, a fixed washing-stand, a looking-glass against the wall, a shelf, a row of hooks, and under each bed two large drawers for clothes.

At the end of this little passage another door opened into the dining saloon a spacious, cheerful room, some twenty-three or twenty-four feet long, situate in the widest part of the boat, and lighted by four windows on each side and a skylight. The panelled wall and ceiling were painted in white picked out with gold; a cushioned divan covered with a smart woollen rep ran along one side; and a gay Brussels carpet adorned the floor. The dining-table stood in the centre of the room; and there was ample space for a piano, two little book-cases, and several chairs. The window-curtains and the portieres were of the same rep as the divan, the prevailing colours being scarlet and orange. Add a couple of mirrors in gilt frames; a vase of flowers on the table (for we were rarely without flowers of some sort even in Nubia, where our daily bouquet had to be made with a few bean blossoms and castor-oil berries); plenty of books; the gentlemen’s guns and sticks in one comer; and the hats of all the party hanging in the spaces between the windows; and it will be easy to realise the homely, habitable look of our general sitting-room.

Another door and passage, opening from the upper end of the saloon, led to three more sleeping rooms, two of which were single and one double; a bath-room; a tiny back staircase leading to the upper deck; and the stern cabin saloon. This last, following the form of the stern, was semicircular, lighted by eight windows, and surrounded by a divan. Under this, as under the saloon divans, there ran a row of deep drawers, which, being fairly divided, held our clothes, wine, and books. The entire length of the dahabeeyah being exactly a hundred feet, I take the cabin part to have occupied about fifty-six or fifty- seven feet and the lower deck to have measured the remaining forty-three feet.

For the crew there was no sleeping accommodation whatever, unless they chose to creep into the hold among the luggage and packing-cases. But this they never did. They just rolled themselves up at night, heads and all, in rough brown blankets, and lay about the lower deck like dogs.


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