Page images
PDF
EPUB

CHAPTER XIII

The Gyps at Home

THE

HE Egyptians are a very polite people. Here is one

of the fine flowers of Egyptian politeness. A wellknown English athlete lived at Ramleh. Every year, when the Alexandria sports were coming on, he used to train on the road between Ramleh and Alexandria. One day when he was sprinting along, an antiquated native, on an old screw of a donkey, fell off in his flurry and obsequiousness, and begged the master to “take his donkey if he was in such a hurry.” This is worthy of an illustration by Lance Thackeray in a future “Light Side of Egypt": he is inimitable in his donkey-pieces.

But if the Egyptians are polite, they can also be sticklers about etiquette. There was an Italian named Noseda (whom the English called Nosy) living in Alexandria, who made his living by giving lessons on the guitar. He played very badly; but this did not matter, because it made it easier for the people he was teaching to reach his standard. One day a friend asked Nosy if he would like to give lessons to a princess in a harem. Nosy was highly delighted, and put on his cleanest collar, and went to the Palace. After waiting for two hours in the selamik, interviewing several servants who passed, he was ultimately shown into an inner chamber, where he waited another two hours, interviewing more servants. After many protests, the chief eunuch came to him, and said that he had come to receive the lesson and would give it himself to the Princess later on.

The Egyptian soldier, in his anxiety to be polite, salutes all sorts of civilians, whom he takes for officers in plain clothes.

They always used to mistake Cromwell Rhodes for General Lane. One day, when R. was riding his bicycle past the barracks, the guard turned out and blew their bugles so loudly that he fell off his machine,

It was inevitable that there should be a whole category of jokes about swearing and the big dam at Assuan. One classic occasion must be recorded, when the new president of the railways, a Scotchman who had graduated on golfcourses, was taken to see the Assuan Dam, and the native engine-driver (they tried natives sometimes for the job in those days) was so anxious, that he drove the train too far, and it carried away the buffers at the end of the line and ploughed its way into the sand, and very nearly into the Nile. The big dam of Assuan was quite eclipsed on that occasion. This same functionary thought he would like to do his work at the S. Stefano Hotel at Ramleh, near Alexandria, when the summer came on. It did not make much difference to his work, and it made a great deal of difference to him. Everybody came to call on him, of course, and he started out to return the calls. He had a cavasse on the box, who was supposed to talk English properly and to know where every one lived; but he knew as much about one as he did about the other. The roads are very narrow round Ramleh, and the turns are always at right angles, and the cavasse always took the wrong turn, and they kept on meeting camals laden with scaffolding poles for some job the president had ordered. The camels being of an inquiring turn of mind, kept on turning round to look at him: they made their observations much too frequently for the safety of his head. When he had gone into the wrong house three or four times, and met six lots of camels, the president's language became so disturbed that the cavasse suggested, with the single ray of intelligence that he had displayed that afternoon, “Sir, I think that we had better go home.”

In one of the public offices in Cairo they had a notice up: "Glass windows not to be broken, except by permission given in writing." The translation had gone wrong; that was all.

Speaking about zambeels. Many years ago a man obtained a concession to supply the Government with all these baskets which they needed for a year. He gave the Minister a very large bakshish-a thousand pounds-for the concession. Un. fortunately, the Minister was recalled to Constantinople immediately afterwards. His successor was not at all pleased that each zambeel, which was worth a penny halfpenny, should cost the Government two shillings, while he got nothing out of it. If he had received the thousand pounds he would have thought it an eminently proper proceeding, and would have taken pains to satisfy the concessionaire so as to get a larger bakshish next time. But as it did not, he took no notice of the concession, but sent for the concessionaire to get his squeeze too. The concessionaire could not pay a second bakshish, so the concession fell through. He sat tight for many years; he did not exercise the concession; he made no effort to get money from the Government; he just waited his opportunity. Finally a lawyer in Medinet Fayum bought the concession from him for a hundred pounds and brought a lawsuit against the Government. He won his case, and the Government had to pay him £60,000, for they had bought hundreds and thousands of baskets, and had to pay him the difference of Is. 104d. on each. Then the original concessionaire brought an action against the lawyer to get some of the money, so there was a triangular contest in the courts.

There are certain formalities to be observed about lawsuits in Egypt which we do not have here, and one of them is the squaring the magistrate's clerk, especially if he happens to be a Copt, though any Egyptian would do. Cromwell Rhodes had a lawsuit. He had the greatest possible trouble in getting it brought to the notice of the magistrates, It was always being classé sans suite-our sine die. The clerk, who was a well-wisher to R., would say : “ Your case, it put on one side from the intervention of some interested party to the chef-de-parquet." The native client says to the clerk: “ Make me the pleasure not to carry that case in the courts”; and as you are not the native's equal in this kind of game,

you on your side have to go straight to the magistrate (or the Minister, if you have the luck to know him) and ask him to get the case heard. R. went to the chef-de-parquet in this way. The chief was distinctly impressed; he asked him his name, and his father's name, and then gave an example of his friendliness which rather appalled R. by paying him the compliment of asking him where he got his clothes made, because he wished to have some made exactly like them. R. answered hastily that they were ready-made, and determined to let the case slide. One does not want an Egyptian doublema ka in the flesh.

In the old days one had to be very careful about mudirs or provincial governors : they had been brought up in a school of thought which made them do things of which the English disapproved. A mudir who had been very polite to Cromwell Rhodes while he was constructing the line to the south, came to Cairo. The Rhodeses introduced him to everybody, and he enjoyed a blaze of popularity till he was suddenly sent to prison.

It was discovered that he had helped a young man to force his aged parents to sign away their property to him, and had shared the property.

One day Cromwell Rhodes's blacksmith was receiving instructions from him on the platform of a railway station. Being an Egyptian, the smith was talking very volubly. A friend seeing him on such good terms with the great man asked him to intercede with R. to give him a post. The blacksmith did not care enough for the friend, so he turned round to him and said: “It is no use; the engineer cannot understand a word of Arabic."

“Tell him in England," said the friend.

“ But I don't understand a word of English,” replied the blacksmith.

The friend could not quite understand how they were talking so glibly if neither of them could understand what the other was saying ; but he had no repartee ready, so he

went away

The station-master at Zagazig, Osman Bey, was sent, when a boy, to England, to be trained as a lawyer. When he

well.

arrived back in Cairo, he naturally applied to be made a judge at once. But there was no vacancy, so they sent him to lay the telegraph wires in the Suez desert.

Camel-riding appeared to suit him so well that they made him a station-master.

Natives are not always responsible for the comedy of errors on the Egyptian railways. In 1882, for example, just after Tel-el-Kebir, the troops at Rosetta capitulated and came up to Kafr-cd-Dewar, which is quite close to Alexandria. Cromwell Rhodes got a horse and rode out to see the performance. When he arrived, there was a train-load of British troops in the station and a frantic commanding-officer trying to get the engine-driver to back out or draw ahead. As R. was English, the officer asked him to speak to the engine-driver, who did not appear to understand any known language. He suggested that R. should try him in Greek or Armenian. He did, and in various other minor languages as

After trying them all, he found that the engine-driver spoke excellent French, being, in fact, a Frenchman.

One day at Ramleh a lot of native women gathered round Agenoria, feeling her clothes and asking how much they cost, and so on, as usual. One very poor one had a baby. “What a nice little thing it is,” said Agenoria, who was tired of pricing her clothes. "Take it ; it's yours," said the mother ; and she meant it. She was not aware that Agenoria had no children, or that baby would never have returned home. The Egyptians who did know were always trying to provide her with an adoptive family.

His family is the Egyptian's trump card when he wants bakshish and there is no reason why he should ask for it. An Egyptian came to Agenoria saying: “Have pity on my family, most of my children are orphans !" And another came to Agenoria's husband saying: "Sir, I want my pay raised; I have a large and insupportable family."

One day Agenoria got a letter from a Berberine whom she had engaged to come in and work every day in the garden. He signed it at the bottom of the first page and went on as if nothing had happened : “Mam, I am very sorry I could not

« PreviousContinue »