Saturday, 22 March 2008

Letter 13 - February 23, (1919)


Dear Family,-

We arrived here early yesterday afternoon. Our steamer was anchored in the harbour along with dozens of large boats of almost every nationality. I came ashore immediately with a govt. official in hope of arranging thru passage immediately. Palestine is still under military control and so permission to travel is in the hands of the staff officers. The best they could do was give us the necessary papers to this evening. So at six we leave for Kantara – an hour’s ride from there we travel overnight to Lod, which is half-way between Jaffa and Jerusalem, and we have wired to have an auto meet us to bring us to Jaffa, which will most likely be our headquarters.

This is my first taste of the Orient – and it leaves nothing to be desired. It is as warm in actuality as by reputation; there are swarms of lies, the atmosphere is dusty and of a peculiar odor.

The native costumes are most unique. They consist of nightgowns of any color usually in the last stages of decay, a large sash, a red turban without a tassel, and usually bare feet but never stockings. To them a bath is unknown.

Yesterday evening, after establishing ourselves at this hotel, we started walking somewhat timorously towards the center of town to cautiously examine this den of iniquity. Everything seemed dark, the stores were closed, there were few people out, and yet we had yet to see a woman of any description, native or otherwise, except at the hotel. Soon we heard a murmur of voices. Drawing nearer we saw a small crowd of soldiers, sailors, civilians and natives pushing at the entrance of a shabby building from which weird sounds of an antique piano were coming. I was in favour of going in but no one would accompany me. Finally I joined the crowd, approached the entrance, and found placarded at the door “Charlie Chaplin” in “A dog’s life” Cinema. And that, we were told, is the only bit of amusement remaining here since the war. We all retired early.

This morning we wandered thru the shops and got much needed haircuts. The Red Cross crowd are stopping at the other hotel and tonight they too will leave for Jerusalem. We happened upon them just as a native magician began to demonstrate his wares. We all seated ourselves with him in our midst and were given a half hour’s real entertainment. He made coins appear and disappear, he produced a little chick from under one of the officer’s shirts, he let one of the nurses hold one of her coins while he changed it into a lead piece from silver- altogether he was better than any vaudeville “artist” I’ve ever seen.

As we were waling back along the main street we came upon some odd looking creatures clothed in black –the native Arab women. They wear long black dresses, an heavy veils over their heads. A circular wooden affair about an inch in diameter is fastened from the veil over their heads extending to their noses. This is fastened to a face veil which allows only their eyes to be exposed. The only bit of adornment or color they wear are sandals and anklets. These latter are apparently the only means of identifying between the castes or classes.

This afternoon we took a short ride thru the native quarters. There are military police signs on every corner forbidding entrance to troops – and the M. P. is justified. Such dirty hovels, such filth, such positive human rotting I could never conceive of. At least it proves that a bath is a luxury, not an essential to life. The male population seems to spend its time in vile drink houses sitting around tables staring vacantly at the passer by or just sitting. The houses are sometimes three or four stories high and the whole never even twenty feet off the ground. A room is furnished with a lot of straw which serves the dual purpose of a floor covering and family bed. There is a dilapidated stove occasionally in the corner – and that’s al. Those dependent o the outside for food buy from vendors, who constantly push their carts up and down the narrow streets yelling at intervals and constantly handling their wares with dirty, repulsive fingers. They have round loaves of bread, dates, oranges and flat cakes something like our pancakes.

The native section abound with children. They seem to flourish in spite of never having their necks and ears washed. They sit in the middle of the little alley ways and sing and dance and cheerfully stick their fingers into each others’ mouths and throw sand and dirt at one another. No one seems to pay the slightest attention to even the smallest.

The money used here is complicated and usually bad. One must always pay the exact amount to stores and vendors for the change is bound to be worthless. At banks and public institutions the cashier drops every coin on a marble slab to demonstrate that it is not counterfeit. English money is used in conjunction with the Egyptian thus £1 = about £.975 Egyptian pounds and a shilling is as good as about 5 piestes.

Well, - tonight we leave -



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