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Letter from Gertrude Bell to her stepmother, Dame Florence Bell

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Reference code
Bell, Dame Florence Eveleen Eleanore
Bell, Gertrude Margaret Lowthian
Person(s) mentioned
Balfour, Frank
Creation Date
Extent and medium
1 letter plus envelope, paper

31.5826758, 44.6489614

Shinafiyah [Shinafiyah, Ash] March 13 Darling Mother. A word - I wish it could be more, but I find a steamer just going down river - to tell you that I'm having a very pleasant and very profitable journey. I motored to Kufah [Kufah, Al] where Capt. Balfour welcomed me with open arms. Next day I had a good morning with Shaikhs and got a lot of tribal stuff - I'm making the tribal map and compiling a sketch of tribal history - after which I lunched with my colleague of Najaf [Najaf, An] and spent a delightful afternoon with him. With that I motored the following day to Abu Sukhair [Abu Sukhayr] - charming place - where I also found a P.O. and did tribal history all the afternoon. Next day I rode out into the desert borders with a saiyid and marked down tribes - a most curious and interesting bit of country which I had long wanted to see and understand. It's just where all the drainage of Arabia - such as it is - flows into the Iraq. There was a good deal flowing for it rained like the devil and we spent 3 hours in a mud hovel waiting for it to clear, the world being impassable with sticky mud. However, the time wasn't wasted for I got all my host's history and belongings noted down. The whole of that desert edge is full of pre-Mohammadan remains - I wish I had time to explore and dig a bit. Yesterday I came down the exquisite western Euphrates channel - a vision of budding willows and fig trees among the palms - and stayed the night with a saiyid. He lodged me in a room with no windows and dressing this morning was a real problem. I couldn't even leave the door a crack open because the kind saiyid's view of the duties of host made it obligatory that he should sit immediately outside to be ready in case I wanted anything. What I really wanted was that he should go away bless him. And today I sailed down the next chunk of river, first through palm gardens and then through a wide lake which is just the very place where the Arabian watershed aforesaid comes in, and then over a curious sort of waterfall place, rapids - there was however so little water in it that we stuck for 3/4 of an hour. And so I arrived here. They offered to put me up in camp, but that's some way from the town and very inconvenient for my work so I put up a tent in the courtyard of a ruined Turkish serai which is in process of being rebuilt. The new rooms were without doors or windows when I arrived, but we've got them put in during the afternoon and I have a sitting room and a room for my servants - all mud but quite liveable. And at least there isn't a saiyid sitting outside my door.
My Samawah [Samawah, As] colleague whom I like very much has just come up on a job and I shall stay here till he's ready to go back - 2 or 3 days - and go down to Samawah with him by motor launch. After which I shall make my way as best maybe up the Hillah [Hillah, Al] channel of Euphrates so that I shall have managed to see a good deal of the country. Now I'm going to dine in camp. Your very affectionate Gertrude

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