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The desperate need of the Egyptian peasant for fuel has something to do with his ill success in fighting the bollworm. Egypt has no forests, and the farmer depends to a great extent upon dried cotton stalks for fuel. The hoarding of cotton stalks for fuel carries infected bolls over from one season to another.
Making bricks without straw is a simple operation as compared to making fires for cooking without fuel. One observes the household economy of the Egyptian peasant reduced to its lowest terms in the attempt to prepare a meal of green corn in the ear over a mosquito smudge of two or three smoking cotton stalks.
THE TRAGEDY OF THE EGYPTIAN PEASANT WOMEN
And the Egyptian women, in these rustic huts improvised of Nile mud, how little we know about them! What is going on in their minds, these sad-eyed, dumb, driven creatures, whose erect bearing and delicately chiseled features would mark them as distinguished among any people of the earth? I have never seen one smile, nor gesticulate, nor fly into a temper.
Have these meek, humble women ever heard of their proud golden queen, Cleopatra? I doubt it. Not one in twenty can read or write. To them life brings nothing unexpected, nothing that can be hoped for beyond what has gone before.
Five thousand years ago labored here, through the brief space of their fruitless. lives, similar men and women, performing exactly the same tasks-dull, unimaginative, uninstructive lives.
The Arabians have a precious, overworked word, malea'ash, second only in importance to their blessed word, baksheesh, which can be variously interpreted "What is the use?" "It is Fate." "Why struggle?" "Never mind." "It is Destiny." The Egyptian woman's philosophy of life is one of resignation"malea'ash." It is Destiny.
It is doubtful whether all the laborsaving machinery ever invented has lightened the toil of a single human being. Modern inventions increase the capacity for production and enable more people to live, but just as many people as before live laboriously and painfully. The women
who work in the clothing sweatshops of New York or London, with their improved sewing machines, have a productive capacity tenfold that of the old needleworkers, yet I doubt if they labor one whit less than the nameless needlewoman in Thomas Hood's "Song of the Shirt."
It has been remarked that modern irrigation and the cultivation of long-staple cotton has enabled two people to live in the Nile Valley where only one could exist before; but it is doubtful whether the modern Egyptian lives better or more comfortably than did his forefathers in the time of the Pharaohs.
One feels rebuked for a life of comfort or happiness in the presence of dull, commonplace lives given over to treadmill labor which brings nothing but the bare satisfaction of animal necessities. "In this ill-regulated world," remarks George Sand, "all happiness seems a theft, since so often we cannot enjoy our peace and security except to the detriment of our fellow creatures."
Perhaps these illiterate people, who are without public diversion or amusements, will some day have a new heaven and a new earth opened to them through music, the universal language, or through motion pictures, which constitute the only legible writing for the illiterate.
Motion pictures have already found a vogue in some of Egypt's larger cities. American films predominate. The figure of the dare-devil desperado shooting up a Western mining camp thrills the Egyptian, who is as simple and as unaffected in his mentality as a child.
The writer saw in Cairo a film which depicted an American cowboy rescuing a babe that had been cast upon the waters when a prairie schooner capsized in fording a mountain stream. The job was accomplished by a clever bit of lariat work. Of course, the hero was rewarded by the bestowal of the heart and hand of the infant's beautiful aunt, who theretofore had rejected his addresses. The screen picture of the babe securely riding the flood in a water-tight cradle invoked historic reminiscences. Nothing less than the motif of Moses in the bullrushes, which, having worked its way around the world, had returned in new form to surprise and delight the Egyptians!
If one is a bit skeptical about Moses and the bullrushes, all he has to do is to drive out to the suburbs of south Cairo, where any guide, licensed or otherwise, will be pleased to show him the exact spot where the bullrushes grew on the banks of the Nile and where the infant Moses was found.
WEARING JEWELRY IS THE NATIVE
It is hardly fair to remark that the native Egyptian woman has no public amusements. Certainly she has one pleasure, namely, the diversion of wearing jewelry. To her jewelry represents the ultimate power of applied wealth. There are more jewelry shops in Cairo than in any other city of its size in the world.
There are reasons outside of vanity why popular taste runs to jewelry. Mohammedan law forbids lending money at interest. The countryman is suspicious of banks. There are no industrial undertakings to attract investment. Consequently, savings are either buried in the earth or invested in jewelry (see p. 283).
Land has always been favored for investment, but the price of agricultural lands has now been bid up above sound investment levels.
It is not uncommon to find an Egyptian heiress carrying her entire fortune displayed in the form of anklets, bracelets. and of rich festoons which, when strung from neck and shoulder, descend in opulent strings upon the person. The poorer countrywoman, of course, must content herself with imitation stuff.
As an Italian poet has termed the Adriatic, with its age-long strifes, that "Bitter Sea," so one of the foremost of living British novelists speaks of the Mediterranean as a "Tired Sea." Hard by its shores have dwelt old peoples, exhausted peoples, dead empires, leaving only relics. behind of their bygone greatness, like the fossil remains of the huge extinct animals that encumber the halls of our naturalhistory museums-mighty saurians that in their day rejoiced noisily in their fruitless lives.
The Mediterranean shores are littered with the fossil remains of swollen successes, of booms that have waxed and waned-Carthage, Tyre, Nineveh, Syracuse, Troy.
In Egypt the symbolic figure is the man who sits. The shopkeeper sits, the opera singer sits. Business is not done in an office, but sitting in a café. The city man appears to get into his best business stride, so to speak, sitting still (see page 282).
A NATION OF SITTERS
By what they call the ontological proof, the medieval schoolmen reasoned that a thing had to be because of the absolute. need for it in the cosmic scheme. Thus the multitude of sitters in Egypt ontologically calls for the presence of a multitude of settees. The logic is flawless, for it turns out that the settee is the most indispensable, the most popular, and the most widely distributed article of household furniture in all the land of the Nile.
A dragoman named Mohammed, who operates a curb, after a manner of speaking, inasmuch as his business office in Cairo consists of sitting space on the edge of the sidewalk hard by the entrance to the Continental Hotel, took us out one afternoon to view the sights of the city. On the way to Saladin's Citadel, we passed a powerful-looking man sitting dreamily upon a wayside ledge of rock.
"Who is he? What is he doing there?" it was asked.
"My gentlemans," explained the dragoman, "the man is holy, he does no work, but sits where you see.'
"Perhaps," we observed, "he is too heavy for light work and too light for heavy work; but could he not obtain some soft job, such as assistant keeper of the canary bird seed in the Sultanic Gardens?"
"Excellency, the posts in the government service are not for all; besides, as I have said, the man is holy; he does no work; he sits where you see.
Further explanation the dragoman either would or could not vouchsafe.
This holy man who sat through life, what was he seeking to realize? What was he trying to settle? I wish we had some clue.
The man appeared to be a symbol of his race of a people who have sat through the centuries. What has been in their minds? How have they lived? How have they come through?
They have seen the great empires of the Greeks and Romans fall to pieces; Nineveh and Tyre wiped out, Carthage
destroyed, the Jews dispersed, Babylon become a geographical name.
These sitting people have been overrun by invaders through all the space of re corded time. The Shepherd Kings, Libyan, Ethiopian, Assyrian rulers, have had their way with them. Greeks, Romans, Arabs, French, Turks, straight through to the British occupation, have tried their conquering hand on Egypt.
What has been the result? The Egyptian sits through the storm. He later bobs up as much an Egyptian as he ever was, and occupying the favored position of being able to pass post-mortem estimates upon his late conquerors.
The enduring quality of the man who sits! The typical, the symbolic, ancient stone figures are those of huge sitting men-the Colossi of Memnon, the giant figures in front of the rock-hewn temple of Abu-Simbel-there they have sat, with hands upon their knees, staring calmly and, it seems, with a faint trace of amusement into the void (see page 286).
There they sit, "smiling at grief," smiling at decay, inscrutable, time-defying sitters, with whom a thousand years are as one day and one day as a thousand years— sitting figures over whom the centuries pass and leave no mark.
It is safe to wager that these figures have a fairish longevity ahead of them and will be sitting unchanged when our chaste Dianas, balancing on one foot from some ambitious eminence, shall have toppled out of plumb.
IN A WORLD OF CHANGE THE NILE
And so it is on the human side. In a universe of flux and change, one of the unchanging things is the human laborer in the valley of the Nile.
Here is a people that for five thousand years has never lost its homogeneity. Here is the undigested human atom-the halfnaked peasant, with his ox-drawn wooden plow, his primitive threshing floor, sowing seed, lifting water, sweating in the sun, attacking the soil with the invincible industry of an insect.
It is hard for the traveler who follows the beaten paths to get away from the idea that Egypt is an outworn country, a land of dead hopes, a land of memories rather than a land with a future. About the
These Bisharins, one of the native races of Nubia, are slender, remarkably well featured, and lithe and delicate of limb. They have a luxuriant growth of hair, in which it is fashionable for men and boys to stick a wooden skewer. Women plaster their hair with a concoction of castor oil and mud. In dynastic times in Egypt, the crown prince was known as the Prince of Nubia, just as the heir apparent to the British throne is designated "Prince of Wales." To-day Nubia has no definite limits and is little more than a geographical expression. Vaguely, the term is applied to the region lying between Aswan and the confluence of the White and the Blue Nile (see map, page 272).
CHILDREN OF THE
Elmendorf from Galloway SUDAN
To the south of Egypt stretch the vast reaches of the Sudan and some of its black millions have seeped up into the land of the Pharaohs. Among these people children are often married at 12 or 14 years of age.
first thing a tourist does on arrival in Cairo is to drive out to Giza, on the edge of the Libyan Desert, to see the Pyramids and the Sphinx. Is there a scene of greater desolation in all the world? The Pyramids themselves are colossal sepulchers. As far as the eye can reach unfolds a panorama of dead cities, one necropolis after another stretching away endlessly to the south.
On the edge of the sun-scorched sands lie all that is left of myriads of men who have loved, hated, toiled, hungered, feasted, and who, having ended their life wrestle on this planet, were brought here.
The despotic King Cheops reared here the most massive tomb that the world has yet seen, a stupendous safe-deposit vault for the preservation of his own precious corpse. The tomb having been rifled of its contents, where is the dust of Cheops to-day? Who knows? Who cares? The weak, the mighty, the obscure, the illustrious, all find their common level in the dust.
The worldly hope men set their hearts upon Turns ashes, or it pros
pers; and anon,
Like snow upon the des
ert's dusty face, Lighting a little hour or two, is gone.
Malea'ash seems writ large upon these relics of outworn splendor and despotic power. Shifting sands carried heedlessly hither and thither by the desert winds; human dust at one's feet; the very atmosphere hazy with dust; dust everywhere endless, tantalizing dust.
The desert crowds to the very gate of
the thousand-mile garden strip. In a fiveminute walk one passes from sun-drenched barren sands to shimmering water, waving palm trees, growths of maize and sugar cane as rank and luxuriant as the vegetation of a tropical jungle. On the human side, fullness of life everywhere; myriads of strong, eager, half-naked toilers laboring in the sun. Moist, fecund, flowering Mother Earth steaming in the sunshine; death, dust, and the desert on either side.
Wonderful has been the place in human history of this narrow green strip of the earth's surface; wonderful it remains today-the Land of Egypt.