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Diary entry by Gertrude Bell

Reference code
Bell, Gertrude Margaret Lowthian
Creation Date
Extent and medium
1 entry, paper

32.86426598, 37.07695041

Tues 21. [21 February 1905] We got off soon after 8, Habib on his
best mule, Mikhail and I with Ghishghash, Fa'is and Ahmed. We were
presently joined by 3 more, one of whom Khittab had travelled with
Oppenheim and was one on the Beni Nassur, very nice too. We rode
down the hill for an hour, passing first ploughland, belonging to
Ghishghash and then barer slopes with a few flocks of sheep - also
Druze - herded by Arabs. Then we got into a shallow valley in which
there was a tiny encampment and flocks quarrying their dinner among
the stones. All these Arabs are the Ghiath who are a very poor tribe.
They pass the winter in the Safah [Safa] and come up to the slopes of
the Druze hills in the summer and in return for permission to pasture
there, herd the Druze flocks. An hour of the valley and we came out
onto the Safah itself. It is not quite flat, but nearly so, with long low
swellings that take an hour or more to cross and while you are in the
depression the whole world is hidden but the stones immediately
before you. It is almost impossible to judge distances but you may
take it for granted that everything is a very long way off. The whole
ground is covered thickly with black stones, not very big, 6 in to 2 ft or
so, and they are all more or less smooth and edgeless as if they had
been water worn. They lie on a yellow earth like sand but hard and a
few plants grow between them, mostly hamad and shih and bejeiney.
Also a white flowering rather oniony bulb and I saw a very tiny
geranium occasionally and the leaves of the tulip - not the curly
leaves. There are narrow paths worn by hundreds of generations of
feet and only wide enough for one to pass - you soon become
conscious of the difference when you leave them and get out onto the
natural stony ground. The air dazzled above the black rocks though it
was not hot, there was even rather a cold air. We followed a shallow
valley called the Ghadir el Gharz and after 2 hours' riding we met one
called Kelb Ullah who greeted us with effusion for he was well known
to my shuyukh. He told us that there was water in the Ghadir a little
further on and Arab tents north of the Kantarah. We got to the water in
another hour, soon after one, and lunched there. Camels and goats
were drinking at it. Then we went over to the Kantarah which isn't a
place at all but just a heap of stones on a bit of rising ground. No
tents. We rode and rode going first north and then west and came to
another high signal place - still no tents. On some of these places you
see a regular pathway, stoneless leading up, by which in the days of
fear the Arabs creep up on their stomachs and hiding behind the pile
of stones look out for enemies. The Safah is swept by Ghazus in the
summer, the raiders have to make for the very few places in which
there is water and so must the ghiath though they are necessarily
extremely dangerous. At last about an hour before sunset Khittab
caught sight of the smoke of tents far away to the NW. We had to go a
good bit back, indeed we had ridden round in a semicircle. We got
there before dark, after 9 hours' ride. The camels and goats were
coming in over the stones. The little tents looked very miserable and
desolate in that great desolation. We separated, Ghishghash, my
servants and I going to the tent of a Sheikh called 'Akl where we were
made welcome by his sons, Muhammad and Hamdan Muhammad
officiated, the fire was lighted of scrub and camel dung - it smoked
abominably, an acrid bitter smoke - and coffee made. Muhammad
had a dark thin face and shining teeth. He was clothed mostly in white
cotton. He was skilful in the song of the mihbash. Our dinner
consisted of shirak and dibis, then I rolled myself up in 2 rugs with my
saddle for pillow and went to sleep. Ghishghash woke me by his
continual talking. They talked for hours I woke again in the middle of
the night and saw them all sleeping round the cold hearth, the moon
shining in and the mares standing peacefully by the tent pole.
Outside some camels were clumping among the stones. The fleas
were awful. I slept till dawn - it was pretty cold.

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