Letters

20 March 1900

From/To: Gertrude Bell to her father, Sir Hugh Bell

[20 March 1900] From my tent. Tues 20. Ayun Musa ['Ain Musa]. My dearest Father. Oh would that you were here! It's too delicious and amusing. But you shall have a day to day diary and keep my letter, for I write more fully to you than in my diary. Well. I left Jerusalem [(El Quds esh Sherif, Yerushalayim)] yesterday soon after 9, having seen my cook at 7 and arranged that he should go off as soon as he could get the mules ready. (His name is Hanna - sounds familiar doesn't it! but that H is such as you have never heard.) I rode down to Jerusalem alone - the road was full of tourists, caravans of donkeys carrying tents for Cook and Bedouin escorts. I made friends as I went along, and rode with first one Bedouin and then another, all of them exaggerating the dangers I was about to run with the hope of being taken with me into Moab. Half way down, I met my guide from Salt, east of Jordan, coming up to meet me. His name is Tarif, he is a servant of the clergyman in Salt and a Christian therefore, and a perfect dear. We rode along together some time, but he was on a tired horse, so I left him to come on slowly and hurried down into Jericho where I arrived with a Bedouin at 1 - famished. I went to the Jordan hotel and while I was seeing to my horse, appeared Kremer, the Austrian painter and welcomed me with open arms. He sat with me while I lunched and then took me up to his room to see his work which is awfully good. When I tell you that he is the founder of the Secessionists in Vienna [Wien], you will realize that his exhibition is the one you and I would always fly to see! He is very modern, but oh so good! I've always thought that the bare Jordan valley was unpaintable, but I am beginning to think I'm wrong. We then proceeded to the Mudir's for I wanted to find out the truth of the tales I had been told about Moab, but he was out. By this time Tarif and Hanna had arrived and reported the tents to be 1´ hours behind, which seemed to make camping at the Jordan impossible that night. Anyhow, an attendant, Kremer and I walked up to Elisha's Well through fields and over Spina Christi hedges. It was almost tropically hot and heavenly. All Jericho was scented with orange blossom and the fields were sheets of white and gold, the gold being yellow daisies. It was most enjoyable. I came in about 5 to find that my tents had just arrived with my 2 muleteers, Ali and Mohammed, but Tarif opined that it was too late to go down to Jordan so I determined to pass that night in Jericho and make an early start - to Kremer's delight! At this moment appeared the Mudir and we 3 had a very comic tea together. The conversation was conducted in 4 tongues - English to the hotel servants, French to my 2 guests, but a French which I had to put into German for Kremer and into Arabic for the Mudir as they were both very shaky in that tongue. The Mudir was very full of a carriage he had just bought with 4 wheels, but no horses! (Yet it was not a motor car!) When he heard my plans, nothing would suit him but that he should come to Madeba [Madaba] with me and see about my guide to Mashetta [Qasr el Mushatta] (of all these more anon, inshallah) and rather to my embarrassment he bustled off to see about a horse for himself. I need not have troubled myself as you will see later. Kremer and I then went to see a great encampment of Cook's and on down wonderful fields full of yellow daisies and a single scarlet ranunculus, most exquisite, of which we gathered a lot to send to Nina. The hotel was full of tourists and I made friends with a charming English clergyman and his pretty daughter - I don't even know his name. He was an old dear and hurried up to light my candles when I went to bed! Kremer and I dined together at a little table (so you see we had quite a pleasant time!) and I went to bed very early, a peerless wonderful night. This morning I got up at 5 and at 6 was all ready, having sent on my mules and Hanna to the Jordan bridge. I knocked up the Mudir and he appeared vowing he was going with me to Ayun Musa, I begged him not to trouble and he said he wd come as far as the bridge and send a guide to Madeba to make the necessary arrangements for me, and on my still further urging him, he turned back half way, at the slime pits, and left me his servant Ismael which was just what I wanted. I think he never had the slightest intention of coming! We parted with many expressions of the deepest friendship and many wishes from me that God wd increase his good. The morning was divine, hot as Persia and with the delicious fresh dawn feeling even in that low valley. We got over the bridge, though I Bellieve we payed an exhorbitant toll - Hanna thought so, at any rate and very indignant. As it only came to 3 frcs all told I didn't care. The river valley is wide on the other side and was full of tamarisks in full white flower, willows in the newest of leaf, there were almost no slime pits and when we reached the level of the Ghor [El Ghor] (that is the Jordan plain) behold the wilderness had blossomed like the rose. It was the most unforgettable sight - sheets and sheets of varied and exquisite colour - purple, white, yellow and the brightest blue (this was a thistly sort of plant which I don't know) and fields of scarlet ranunculus. 9/10ths of them I didn't know, but there was the yellow daisy, the sweet scented mauve wild stock, a great splendid sort of dark purple onion, the white garlic and purple mallow and higher up a tiny blue iris and red anemones and a charming pink thing like a linum. We were now joined by a cheerful couple, from Bethlehem [(Beit Lahm)], a portly fair man in white with a yellow keffiyeh (that's the thing they wear round their heads bound by ropes of camel hair and falling over the shoulders) and a fair beard, riding a very small donkey and a thinner and darker man walking. The fat one looked like a portly burgher. He asked me if I were a Christian and said he was, praise be to God! I replied piously that it was from God. So we all journeyed on together through the wilderness of flowers and every now and then the silent but amiable Ismael got off to pick me a new variety of plant, while the other enlivened the way by stalking wood pigeons, but the pigeons were far too wily and they let off their breech loaders in vain and stood waist deep in flowers watching the birds flying cheerfully away - with a "May their house be destroyed!" from my Christian friend. A little higher up we came to great patches of corn sown by the Adwan Bedouins - Arabs we call them east of Jordan, they being the Arabs par excellence, just as we call their black tents houses, there being no others. Tarif told me that the rainfall was not enough for the corn but that there was enought water to irrigate all the Ghor - but then goodbye to the flowers! All this time I had not, since the bridge, met a single soul; now we saw a group of black tents far away on a little hill covered with white tombs - Tell Kufrein [Kafrein] it is called - and here the barley was in ear and, in the midst of the great stretches of it, little watch towers of branches had been built and a man stood on each to drive away birds, pig and people. One was playing a pipe as we passed - it was, much more Arcadian than Arcadia. We had now reached the bottom of the foothills, the Hemra they are called, and leaving the Ghor behind us, we began to mount - not without many a look behind at the flowery plain and the slime pits and the hills of Judea. We crossed a stream flowing down the Wady Hesban [Hisban] (which is the Heshbon of the fish pools in the Song on Songs) at a place called Akweh - that's what it is called but there is no place there, only a circular enclosure of dolmens and menhirs (which I didn't see because it was buried in flowers). The country is full of them. Chemosh, the Moabite god, is supposed to have been worshipped at them. It was so wet here that we rode on to a place where there were a few thorn trees peopled by immense crowds of nesting[?] birds - they sieze on any litle bush for there are so few and the Arabs come and burn the bush and catch and cook the birds all in one! There was a grave near by, very old said Tarif, and the place was called after its owner - Salih. Sualih, in Arabic Arabic. To say that it was a garden of flowers would give you no idea of what it was like. Here we lunched and the mules caught us up and passed us, and we rested an hour and started again uphill at 12.45. Our road was too exquisite, the flowers - but I fear I am becoming tedious! On top of the first shoulder we came to spreading corn fields. The plan is this - the "Arabs" sow one place this year and go and live somewhere else lest their animals should eat the growing corn; next year this lies fallow and the fallow of the year before is sown. Over the second shoulder we got onto a stretch of rolling hills and here we parted with Ismail, who went straight on to Madeba (with 10 francs from me in his pocket) and we descended the valley to Ayun Musa, a collection of beautiful springs with an Arab camp pitched above them. I found the loveliest iris I have yet seen - big and sweet scented and so dark purple that the hanging down petals are almost black. It decorates my tent now. Half an hour later my camp was pitched a little lower down on a lovely grassy plateau looking up to the waterfall of Ayun Musa and down, down across the Ghor and the mountains of Judea. They, however, were soon swallowed up in a hot mist which filled the Ghor, while a beautiful scarlet sunset stretched up to the zenith. We got in at 3.30 and were soon surrounded by Arabs who sold us a hen and some excellent sour milk, laban it is called. While we bargained the women and children wandered round and eat grass, just like goats. The women are unveiled. They wear a blue cotton gown 6 yards long which is gathered up and bound round their heads and their waists and falls to their feet. Their faces, from the mouth downwards are tattoed with indigo and their hair hangs down in two long plaits on either side. Our horses and mules were hobled [sic] and groomed, Hanna brought me an excellent cup of tea and at 6 a good dinner consisting of soup made of rice and olive oil (very good!) an Irish stew and raisins from Salt, an offering from Tarif. My camp lies just under Pisgah [Pisga]. Isn't is a joke being able to talk Arabic! We saw a great flock of storks today (the Father of Luck, Tarif calls them) and an eagle. I am now amongst the Bellka Arabs but these particular people are the Ghanimat, which Hanna explains as Father of Flocks.



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