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Diary entry by Gertrude Bell written for Charles Doughty-Wylie

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Bell, Gertrude Margaret Lowthian
Creation Date
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1 entry, paper

33.315241, 44.3660671

March 28. [28 March 1914] I have seen and heard a good deal. Not
from the Erskines! - we certainly are an odd nation; they have never
once invited me to the house. I have been there twice, on my own
initiative and as far as I am concerned, I think honour is satisfied and I
need go no more until I am asked. He does not get up till 12 and he is
found playing patiences in his room after lunch. He knows no
language, not even French and his mind is a complete blank as
regards Turkey in general and Turkish Arabia in particular. And this
is the man who we send here at the moment when that Baghdad Rly
on the one hand and our irrigation schemes on the other are passing
from schemes into realities. Good, please God! but I return to where I
began - we are an odd nation. Meantime I have made friends with the
manager of the Lynch Co, Mr Tod, and his charming little Italian wife. I
am going to stay with them when I return from my visit to Babylon. And
everyone else, native and foreign, has been exuberantly welcoming.
I spent a most interesting 2 hours today with my old friend the Naqib,
who is the greatest person in the world of religion here. I should like to
tell you also that he receives no woman but your very humble servant.
He is too holy to shake hands with me but in the spirit he fell upon my
neck and I was vastly amused, as ever, by his talk. Then I went on to
the house of another big family here, laymen this time (they have all
precipitated themselves to call, my friends) and was again received
in a way which warmed my heart. I'm quite right in my impression of
'Iraq - I hear it on every side. The country is entirely out of hand, the
reins of government were all dropped during the war (nor held very
firmly before) the roads are not safe, trade decadent, the whole thing
had gone to ruin. It is dreadful. And they all regret Nazim Pasha now,
all these people who hated him while he was here (for he was too
strong for them) they long to have King Stork back again. Then I
lunched with the Tods, bless them - oh Dick, I must tell you a heavenly
tale. There is a very rich merchant of Muhammerah whom they call
Hajji Rais al Tujar, Hajji chief of the Merchants. He went to Europe for
a journey and when he was about to return he thought and thought
what he should bring the Shaikh of Muhammerah as a present from
foreign parts. And this was what he hit on as the best and most
suitable that Europe could offer. He purchased 2 life size wax figures
of ladies, and had them clothed in evening dress of the latest fashion.
"Live women" he explained "would be too dear - and difficult to
obtain. But when I saw that these had hands of wood I had them
replaced by hands of wax at the cost of 250 francs a hand." So you
see they were complete! No not quite complete, for said Mr Wills
(who told me the story) "You ought to have had gramophones placed
inside them." "Khush fikr!" said the merchant, in regretful admiration
"a sweet thought." Isn't it heavenly? \n\nIn the afternoon Meissner
Pasha came to fetch me. I invited Mrs Tod to come too and went
across the Tigris in his motor boat (disembarking at the Hotel
Bagdadbahn!) and saw all that was to be seen. The palms nodded
over Tigris bank and on its swollen tide lay a flotilla of ancient boats,
their lateen sails furled, their shallow hold filled with wooden sleepers
straight from Hamburg. The steam cranes puffed and creaked, the
sleepers swung unsteadily over the muddy bank to be carried away
by ceaseless streams of ragged Arab, blue clad and ragged, who
ran like ants backwards and forwards, singing as they went. Down a
wide alley through the palm grove ran the rails and upon them stood
locomotives of the latest pattern, some completed, waiting for the
fires[?] to move off to railhead, others in varying stages of
reconstruction. The muddy waters of Tigris flood, the palms, the
ragged singing Arabs - these were the ancient East, and in their midst
stood the shining faultless engines, the blue eyed, close cropped
Germans, with quick decisive mood[?] and smart military bearing - the
soldiery of the West, come out to conquer and conquering, their
weapon science. Can you see it at all? I should like you to see it
through my eyes. Hospitals, we visited, store houses, the station
a-building, and everywhere reigned the same precision, the same
forethought - the ordered Western organization. But the difficulties!
they have to import everything. They cannot use the water without
straining it because it is salt, for lack of stone they must cast blocks of
concrete, for lack of sand (there is not even sand in Arabia, it seems!)
they must crush pebbles. "We have neither wood nor water" said
Meissner Pasha "stone nor sand nor wood." I dined with the
Meissners last night - she was the daughter of Abd al Hamid's
Armenian jeweller (a rich man as you may think) and was almost is
still, a very beautiful woman. It was an immense party. Meissner took
me in and on my other side sat Sevian Beg, head of the Regir[?].
here. He was in the same fort at Adana [(Seyhan, Ataniya)] and
spoke of you. Do you remember him. After dinner I talked to a
Turkish officer, general commanding the second division here, and
told him minutely what the Rashid were doing and how placed. I hope
he may take it to heart and not count too much on their help to recover
the Hasa from Ibn Sa'ud for they would prove a broken reed. The
Turks will never recover the Hasa, in my belief and had best waste no
efforts over it. Ibn Sa'ud turned them out without a shot fired, marched
the garrisons down to the coast and appropriated all their arms,
including some cannon. I think it not improbable that he will hand over
half the Hasa to the Shaikh of Kuwait [Al Kuwayt (Kuwait)] - a very
clever move it would be, for it then pass automatically under our
protection - the Turks may make their devil of it indeed. I have just
come in from dining with the German Consul. He is a dull dog - I have
known him long. He took me in, for my evil deeds, but on my other
side sat Mr Whitley, Jackson's head man. They have finished the
Hindiyyeh barrage [Hindiyah Barrage] and the water of the Euphrates
now flows gaily down the Hilleh [Hillah, Al] branch. The next
undertaking is to be the Habaniyyeh [Habbaniyah] overflow,
essential too, because heavy flood would sweep over the barrage
and flood the country above it I think. Jackson and Pearson are
bidding for the Contract, but Col. Erskine tells me (it is the only thing he
has told me) that there is a private agreement between them and it
does not matter which gets it. By the way Meissner - old fox, and
Oriental old fox, but mighty civil to me - talked to me of Col. Erskine:
"Nous etions tres rassurÈs" said he "quand nous avons vu le Colonel
Erskine. Car c'est evident que si vous auriez en l'intention de suivre
une politique agressive dans ce pays vous n'y aurez pas envoyÈ un
consul gÈnÈral qui ne connait ni pays ni langue." Double edged, isn't
it! \n\nAnd now I think I must end this tale. The mail goes on Tuesday
but I go to Babylon on Monday - which is the day after tomorrow - and
must deposit my letters at the Residency tomorrow. I do not wish you
to wait another week for news of me and my doings, therefore I shall
tear out the unwritten pages and let this book go. The rest of the story
of Baghdad, if there is any to tell, you shall have in a separate letter
before I leave for Damascus [Dimashq (Esh Shams, Damas)]. I
wonder if you are now at Adis Ababa [Adis Abeba]? I do not picture
the journey nor know how long it takes. \n\nIt's after midnight and I
must end. I have written to Louis Mallet and told him I may possibly
come to him in Constantinople [Istanbul] on my way home. I shall be
a week or less in Damascus first and then up by sea from Beyrout
[Beyrouth (Beirut)]. I might go and see the diggings at Carchemish
[Barak (Karkemis)] and I might go and see those at Sardis, but I don't
know. It will be as the fancy takes me and according to the energy
that remains in me. But it will England [sic] I suppose towards the end
of May - a week earlier, a week later it will all be soon enough.
\n\nGoodnight and goodbye in this book and for tonight. \n\nMr Tod
sends messages.

IIIF Manifest