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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
A Journey in Disguise
By Sir Richard Francis Burton (1821–1890)
From ‘The Personal Narrative of a Pilgrimage to El Medinah and Meccah’

THE THOROUGHBRED wanderer’s idiosyncrasy I presume to be a composition of what phrenologists call “inhabitiveness” and “locality,” equally and largely developed. After a long and toilsome march, weary of the way, he drops into the nearest place of rest to become the most domestic of men. For a while he smokes the “pipe of permanence” with an infinite zest; he delights in various siestas during the day, relishing withal a long sleep at night; he enjoys dining at a fixed dinner hour, and wonders at the demoralization of the mind which cannot find means of excitement in chit-chat or small talk, in a novel or a newspaper. But soon the passive fit has passed away; again a paroxysm of ennui coming on by slow degrees, Viator loses appetite, he walks about his room all night, he yawns at conversations, and a book acts upon him as a narcotic. The man wants to wander, and he must do so or he shall die.  1
  After about a month most pleasantly spent at Alexandria, I perceived the approach of the enemy, and as nothing hampered my incomings and outgoings, I surrendered. The world was “all before me,” and there was pleasant excitement in plunging single-handed into its chilling depths. My Alexandrian Shaykh, whose heart fell victim to a new “jubbeh” which I had given in exchange for his tattered zaabut, offered me in consideration of a certain monthly stipend the affections of a brother and religious refreshment, proposing to send his wife back to her papa, and to accompany me in the capacity of private chaplain to the other side of Kaf. I politely accepted the “brüderschaft,” but many reasons induced me to decline his society and services. In the first place, he spoke the detestable Egyptian jargon. Secondly, it was but prudent to lose the “spoor” between Alexandria and Suez. And thirdly, my “brother” had shifting eyes (symptoms of fickleness), close together (indices of cunning); a flat-crowned head and large ill-fitting lips, signs which led me to think lightly of his honesty, firmness, and courage. Phrenology and physiognomy, be it observed, disappoint you often among civilized people, the proper action of whose brains and features is impeded by the external pressure of education, accident, example, habit, necessity, and what not. But they are tolerably safe guides when groping your way through the mind of man in his natural state, a being of impulse in that chrysalis stage of mental development which is rather instinct than reason. But before my departure there was much to be done.  2
  The land of the Pharaohs is becoming civilized, and unpleasantly so: nothing can be more uncomfortable than its present middle state between barbarism and the reverse. The prohibition against carrying arms is rigid as in Italy; all “violence” is violently denounced; and beheading being deemed cruel, the most atrocious crimes, as well as those small political offenses which in the days of the Mamelukes would have led to a beyship or a bowstring, receive fourfold punishment by deportation to Faizoghli, the local Cayenne. If you order your peasant to be flogged, his friends gather in threatening hundreds at your gates; when you curse your boatman, he complains to your consul; the dragomans afflict you with strange wild notions about honesty; a government order prevents you from using vituperative language to the “natives” in general; and the very donkey-boys are becoming cognizant of the right of man to remain unbastinadoed. Still the old leaven remains behind; here, as elsewhere in “morning-land,” you cannot hold your own without employing your fists. The passport system, now dying out of Europe, has sprung up, or rather revived, in Egypt with peculiar vigor. Its good effects claim for it our respect; still we cannot but lament its inconvenience. We, I mean real Easterns. As strangers—even those whose beards have whitened in the land—know absolutely nothing of what unfortunate natives must endure, I am tempted to subjoin a short sketch of my adventures in search of a Tezkireh at Alexandria.  3
  Through ignorance which might have cost me dear but for my friend Larking’s weight with the local authorities, I had neglected to provide myself with a passport in England; and it was not without difficulty, involving much unclean dressing and an unlimited expenditure of broken English, that I obtained from the consul at Alexandria a certificate declaring me to be an Indo-British subject named Abdullah, by profession a doctor, aged thirty, and not distinguished—at least so the frequent blanks seemed to denote—by any remarkable conformation of eyes, nose, or cheek. For this I disbursed a dollar. And here let me record the indignation with which I did it. That mighty Britain—the mistress of the seas—the ruler of one-sixth of mankind—should charge five shillings to pay for the shadow of her protecting wing! That I cannot speak my modernized “civis sum Romanus” without putting my hand into my pocket, in order that these officers of the Great Queen may not take too ruinously from a revenue of fifty-six millions! Oh the meanness of our magnificence! the littleness of our greatness!  4
  My new passport would not carry me without the Zabit or Police Magistrate’s counter-signature, said the consul. Next day I went to the Zabit, who referred me to the Muhafiz (Governor) of Alexandria, at whose gate I had the honor of squatting at least three hours, till a more compassionate clerk vouchsafed the information that the proper place to apply to was the Diwan Kharijiyeh (the Foreign Office). Thus a second day was utterly lost. On the morning of the third I started as directed for the place, which crowns the Headland of Figs. It is a huge and couthless shell of building in parallelogrammic form, containing all kinds of public offices in glorious confusion, looking with their glaring whitewashed faces upon a central court, where a few leafless wind-wrung trees seem struggling for the breath of life in an eternal atmosphere of clay, dust, and sun-blaze.  5
  The first person I addressed was a Kawwas or police officer, who, coiled comfortably up in a bit of shade fitting his person like a robe, was in full enjoyment of the Asiatic “Kaif.” Having presented the consular certificate and briefly stated the nature of my business, I ventured to inquire what was the right course to pursue for a visá.  6
  They have little respect for Dervishes, it appears, at Alexandria! “M’adri” (Don’t know), growled the man of authority, without moving anything but the quantity of tongue necessary for articulation.  7
  Now there are three ways of treating Asiatic officials,—by bribe, by bullying, or by bothering them with a dogged perseverance into attending to you and your concerns. The latter is the peculiar province of the poor; moreover, this time I resolved for other reasons to be patient. I repeated my question in almost the same words. “Ruh!” (Be off) was what I obtained for all reply. By this time the questioned went so far as to open his eyes. Still I stood twirling the paper in my hands, and looking very humble and very persevering, till a loud “Ruh ya Kalb!” (Go, O dog!) converted into a responsive curse the little speech I was preparing about the brotherhood of El-Islam and the mutual duties obligatory on true believers. I then turned away slowly and fiercely, for the next thing might have been a cut with the Kurbaj [bastinado], and by the hammer of Thor! British flesh and blood could never have stood that.  8
  After which satisfactory scene,—for satisfactory it was in one sense, proving the complete fitness of the Dervish’s dress,—I tried a dozen other promiscuous sources of information,—policemen, grooms, scribes, donkey-boys, and idlers in general. At length, wearied of patience, I offered a soldier some pinches of tobacco and promised him an Oriental sixpence if he would manage the business for me. The man was interested by the tobacco and the pence; he took my hand, and inquiring the while he went along, led me from place to place till, mounting a grand staircase, I stood in the presence of Abbas Effendi, the governor’s Naib or deputy.  9
  It was a little whey-faced black-bearded Turk, coiled up in the usual conglomerate posture upon a calico-covered divan, at the end of a long bare large-windowed room. Without deigning even to nod the head which hung over his shoulder with transcendent listlessness and affectation of pride, in answer to my salams and benedictions, he eyed me with wicked eyes and faintly ejaculated “Minent?” Then hearing that I was a Dervish and doctor,—he must be an Osmanli Voltairian, that little Turk,—the official snorted a contemptuous snort. He condescendingly added, however, that the proper source to seek was “Taht,” which, meaning simply “below,” conveyed rather imperfect information in a topographical point of view to a stranger. At length however my soldier guide found out that a room in the custom-house bore the honorable appellation of “Foreign Office.” Accordingly I went there, and after sitting at least a couple of hours at the bolted door in the noonday sun, was told, with a fury which made me think I had sinned, that the officer in whose charge the department was had been presented with an olive-branch in the morning, and consequently that business was not to be done that day. The angry-faced official communicated the intelligence to a large group of Anadolian, Caramanian, Bosniac, and Roumelian Turks,—sturdy, undersized, broad-shouldered, bare-legged, splay-footed, horny-fisted, dark-browed, honest-looking mountaineers, who were lounging about with long pistols and yataghans stuck in their broad sashes, head-gear composed of immense tarbooshes with proportionate turbans coiled round them, and two or three suits of substantial clothes—even at this season of the year—upon their shoulders.  10
  Like myself they had waited some hours, but they were not patient under disappointment: they bluntly told the angry official that he and his master were a pair of idlers, and the curses that rumbled and gurgled in their hairy throats as they strode towards the door sounded like the growling of wild beasts.  11
  Thus was another day truly Orientally lost. On the morrow however I obtained permission, in the character of Dr. Abdullah, to visit any part of Egypt I pleased, and to retain possession of my dagger and pistols.  12
  And now I must explain what induced me to take so much trouble about a passport. The home reader naturally inquires, Why not travel under your English name?  13
  For this reason. In the generality of barbarous countries you must either proceed, like Bruce, preserving the “dignity of manhood” and carrying matters with a high hand, or you must worm your way by timidity and subservience; in fact, by becoming an animal too contemptible for man to let or injure. But to pass through the Holy Land you must either be a born believer, or have become one; in the former case you may demean yourself as you please, in the latter a path is ready prepared for you. My spirit could not bend to own myself a Burma, a renegade—to be pointed at and shunned and catechized, an object of suspicion to the many and of contempt to all. Moreover, it would have obstructed the aim of my wanderings. The convert is always watched with Argus eyes, and men do not willingly give information to a “new Moslem,” especially a Frank: they suspect his conversion to be a feigned or a forced one, look upon him as a spy, and let him see as little of life as possible. Firmly as was my heart set upon traveling in Arabia, by Heaven! I would have given up the dear project rather than purchase a doubtful and partial success at such a price. Consequently I had no choice but to appear as a born believer, and part of my birthright in that respectable character was toil and trouble in obtaining a tezkirah.  14
  Then I had to provide myself with certain necessaries for the way. These were not numerous. The silver-mounted dressing-case is here supplied by a rag containing a miswak, a bit of soap, and a comb—wooden, for bone and tortoise-shell are not, religiously speaking, correct. Equally simple was my wardrobe: a change or two of clothing. The only article of canteen description was a zemzemiyah, a goatskin water-bag, which communicates to its contents, especially when new, a ferruginous aspect and a wholesome though hardly an attractive flavor of tanno-gelatine. This was a necessary; to drink out of a tumbler, possibly fresh from pig-eating lips, would have entailed a certain loss of reputation. For bedding and furniture I had a coarse Persian rug—which, besides being couch, acts as chair, table, and oratory,—a cotton-stuffed chintz-covered pillow, a blanket in case of cold, and a sheet, which does duty for tent and mosquito curtains in nights of heat. As shade is a convenience not always procurable, another necessary was a huge cotton umbrella of Eastern make, brightly yellow, suggesting the idea of an overgrown marigold. I had also a substantial housewife, the gift of a kind friend: it was a roll of canvas, carefully soiled, and garnished with needles and thread, cobblers’ wax, buttons, and other such articles. These things were most useful in lands where tailors abound not; besides which, the sight of a man darning his coat or patching his slippers teems with pleasing ideas of humility. A dagger, a brass inkstand and penholder stuck in the belt, and a mighty rosary, which on occasion might have been converted into a weapon of offense, completed my equipment. I must not omit to mention the proper method of carrying money, which in these lands should never be intrusted to box or bag. A common cotton purse secured in a breast pocket (for Egypt now abounds in that civilized animal the pickpocket) contained silver pieces and small change. My gold, of which I carried twenty-five sovereigns, and papers, were committed to a substantial leathern belt of Maghrabi manufacture, made to be strapped round the waist under the dress. This is the Asiatic method of concealing valuables, and a more civilized one than ours in the last century, when Roderick Random and his companion “sewed their money between the lining and the waistband of their breeches, except some loose silver for immediate expense on the road.” The great inconvenience of the belt is its weight, especially where dollars must be carried, as in Arabia, causing chafes and inconvenience at night. Moreover it can scarcely be called safe. In dangerous countries wary travelers will adopt surer precautions.  15
  A pair of common native khurjin or saddle-bags contained my wardrobe, the “bed,” readily rolled up into a bundle; and for a medicine chest I bought a pea-green box with red and yellow flowers, capable of standing falls from a camel twice a day.  16
  The next step was to find out when the local steamer would start for Cairo, and accordingly I betook myself to the Transit Office. No vessel was advertised; I was directed to call every evening till satisfied. At last the fortunate event took place: a “weekly departure,” which by-the-by had occurred once every fortnight or so, was in order for the next day. I hurried to the office, but did not reach it till past noon—the hour of idleness. A little dark gentleman, so formed and dressed as exactly to resemble a liver-and-tan bull-terrier, who with his heels on the table was dozing, cigar in mouth, over the last Galignani, positively refused after a time,—for at first he would not speak at all,—to let me take my passage till three in the afternoon. I inquired when the boat started, upon which he referred me, as I had spoken bad Italian, to the advertisement. I pleaded inability to read or write, whereupon he testily cried “Alle nove! alle nove!” (At nine! at nine!) Still appearing uncertain, I drove him out of his chair, when he rose with a curse and read “8 A.M.” An unhappy Eastern, depending upon what he said, would have been precisely one hour too late.  17
  Thus were we lapsing into the real good old Indian style of doing business. Thus Indicus orders his first clerk to execute some commission; the senior, having “work” upon his hands, sends a junior; the junior finds the sun hot, and passes on the word to a “peon”; the peon charges a porter with the errand; and the porter quietly sits or dozes in his place, trusting that fate will bring him out of the scrape, but firmly resolved, though the shattered globe fall, not to stir an inch.  18
  The reader, I must again express a hope, will pardon the egotism of these descriptions: my object is to show him how business is carried on in these hot countries—business generally. For had I, instead of being Abdullah the Dervish, been a rich native merchant, it would have been the same. How many complaints of similar treatment have I heard in different parts of the Eastern world! and how little can one realize them without having actually experienced the evil! For the future I shall never see a “nigger” squatting away half a dozen mortal hours in a broiling sun, patiently waiting for something or for some one, without a lively remembrance of my own cooling of the calces at the custom-house of Alexandria.  19
  At length, about the end of May, all was ready. Not without a feeling of regret I left my little room among the white myrtle blossoms and the oleander flowers. I kissed with humble ostentation my kind host’s hand in presence of his servants, bade adieu to my patients, who now amounted to about fifty, shaking hands with all meekly and with religious equality of attention, and, mounted in a “trap” which looked like a cross between a wheel-barrow and dog-cart, drawn by a kicking, jibbing, and biting mule, I set out for the steamer.  20

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