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Diary entry by Gertrude Bell

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Gertrude Bell
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Sun 26. [26 February 1905] We were warned against the desert road
on account of robbers but in the morning we heard of a legendary
party of soldiers who were said to have gone on to Damascus
[Dimashq (Esh Sham, Damas)] and we accordingly summoned up
courage to go too! We never saw them and I don't believe they
existed, but the desert was full of black tents and perfectly safe. This
little incident is however very characteristic of Damascus. It is the last
and greatest outpost of law and order. Beyond it no writ runs. Hassan
Agha came to fetch me to see an inscription. There is one in his
house very imperfect - I drank tea there and he was most hospitable -
and another in the wall of a house, outside, very fine, both Greek. The
mules got off about 7.30 and I at 8. The road does not run straight to
the little village in the hills, but to the left of it between the 2 villages.
We caught up the mules and went by the Tell Abu Shajarah down to
the Pharpar reaching the tiny Circassian village of Nejha about 12.15.
Half an hour from there the gardens of Damascus begin - they were
still quite leafless and the fruit trees not in flower. We got to the
Bawabet Allah at 3 - it takes half an hour to ride along the Meidan. So
to the house of Mr Richards to get my letters, but he was out and I cd
not have them, and to the hotel at 4 - not Pietro's Hotel Victoria, he
was full, but next door, Grand Hotel d'Orient, M. Kaoum, a delightful
place with a courtyard and orange trees. They made me very
comfortable. I had a great bath and was told when I was dressed that
some one wanted to see me. It was Selim Beg Thabit an agreeable
cavalier des dames who had been charged by Nazim Pasha,
apparently to look after me. He has 2 houses at Beirut [Beyrouth] and
a property at Shtaura near Zahleh [Zahle[?]]. At dinner came an
immense packet of letters and papers. Selim told me of the
assassination of Serge. The Pios[?], whom I met at Beirut are here.
My journey has excited interest and consternation. The Vali had 3
telegrams a day while I was at Salkhad and was in a terrible state of
mind lest I should go to Kasr el Azrak [Qasr el Azraq] and come to
harm. I am therefore quite the celebrity. \n\nAdditional notes on the
Jebel ed Druze [Duruz, Jabal ad]. NB in the early spring it is
impossible to get mutton, all the sheep being in the plains. Chickens
are to be found and they are good. Eggs sometimes a difficulty.
Water always bad. Corn for the horses seldom to be had. I found it at
Umm er Ruman, there was none at Salkhad and I had to send to the
SE two or 3 hours to the village of which Mustafa el Atrash is sheikh,
Imtain [Imtan[?]]. I got enough there for all the rest of my journey, but I
had to carry it. At Sweida [As Suwayda'] I shd of course have found it.
The Druzes are always at odds with the Arabs, except the Ghiath and
the Jebulieh. I think they cd scarcely furnish an escort to Ethreh[?]
unless I went with the big salt caravans. On the other hand the govt.
was at war with the Ghiath by reason of their having robbed the
Baghdad mail - the Druzes were accused of complicity - but with the
Druzes I cd go with safety into the Safah [Safa]. The state of things in
the mountain is better than 5 years ago; it looks more like a settled
peace. There are only some 200 Turkish soldiers all told; the rest are
Druze zaptiehs under the Turkish kaimakam. They like joining the
force I think because they get a small pay and a uniform, and for the
sherif, but they cd certainly not be depended on in case of war with the
govt. But the Druzes are setting up steam mills - eg Salkhad and
there are a few more - and showing signs of establishing themselves
to peaceful pursuits. Abu Tellal of Shahba is the most important
sheikh at present. The Atrash at Sweida is rich; he has about £5000 a
year. Nasib is not well off, about £1000 - so said Fa'is al Nassar. The
govt. dislike of English people there is still very great, but within limits
they allow tourists especially if they are not English. The Druzes don't
talk more against the govt than do the Turks - Yusef Beg began at
once about the need of reforms but I did not take up the question. But
the Druze love of independence and determination to have it is as
great as ever. They go their own way and say nothing to the Turkish
officials, specially as regards their dealings with the Arabs. They cut
the telegraph wires and go ahead.

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