« PreviousContinue »
Judging by what I saw of the Egyptian soldiers, no one would think that they did not take to their job kindly when they got accustomed to it. They looked contented enough, and they certainly looked very fine soldiers, powerful, enduring, and well-set-up. But I have been told that they nurse a grievance at being compelled to become such fine people, instead of remaining fellahin without shoes, grubbing in the mud left by the inundation, with little more mind than the buffaloes and the camels and the donkeys with which they work.
So many men are taken by conscription for the army every year—two or three thousand, I think, out of a population of nearly twelve millions. There are several pleas for exemption besides physical defects, such as being the only son of a widow, or a fikee, that is, a religious student. Sardonic people say that the exemption of a fikee from military duties supplies El-Azhar, the great Mohammedan University, with most of the Egyptians among its ten thousand students; and any one who can muster up the £20 of the badalia can buy exemption. So hated was the military service in the old days that men would blind themselves in one eye, or cut off their trigger-finger, or destroy their constitution with noxious drugs, so as to be rejected by the doctor. There was even a stereotyped way of blinding themselves by the juice of the gigantic spurge, which we call Dead Sea fruit. Service meant five years with the colours, and it might mean five years afterwards with the police. An excellent Bill is about to be passed-it may be passed ere these words are printed—to make the second five years (of service in the police) optional, recruits being secured by the excellence of the pay. Those who do not shirk their military service will then, on the completion of their term, receive £20, the sum they would have paid if they had shirked it. The exemption money paid by shirkers is to be devoted to this purpose. It is to be hoped that the Egyptian will then wish to serve his country.
HOW WOMEN CARRY THEIR CHILDREN IN UPPER EGYPT.
Women in a street in Luxor on the Day of the Conscription.
DONKEY-BOYS AT THE GATES OF KARNAK,
Behind is the great pylon of Karnak.
Of the Humours of Egyptian Donkey-boys
DONKEY-1OYS AT THE GATES OF
On the left in Joseph, on the right is one of the planrlic TOOPIs of the Atlan Mollied Tolice on a beautiful white Arub.
Belis tie Mreat Pylon of
LIKE the Egyptian donkey-boy. He is intelligent, and
he does not try and do you in the eye more than other cabmen.
The donkey-boy is the cabman of the country. Roads in Egypt are cockneys; they seldom go out of sight of city walls. If you strike the right gate of the town there may be a cemetery to get through before you are in the desert; but, roughly speaking, the Egyptian town has its face to the Nile and its back to the desert; and if you cannot take a boat or a train to your destination, you must take a donkey.
Donkey-boys have their wiles. The tariff is written up plainly at the donkey-stand so much for the whole day; but the donkey-boy maintains that this tariff was made for natives who jog quietly along, not for foreigners who gallop about sight-seeing. For them they have devised a convention of bakshish which doubles the fare, and certain recognised extortions, like the big price for taking donkeys across the Nile. Still, if there are three or four people, and they make their contract with one boy beforehand, it is not impossible to keep the extras within limits. A contract in advance they must make, or the whole ride will be a series of bakshish traps.
Even when the contract is made they are not out of the wood. The foreigner contracts for special donkeys and special donkey-boys. The donkeys which are brought to him are broken-down or bad-tempered beasts, which no one will hire, driven by gamins from the gutter. The first time I went to Luxor I was charmed with the
speed and docility of No. 17. I bespoke him for the next day. No. 17 boy came, but not No. 17 donkey. At first he said it was No. 17 donkey; but the No. 17 I had ordered was a big, sleek donkey of a beautiful mauve colour, clean-shaven, and covered with patterns—the dandy of Luxor-a donkey upon whose personal appearance its owner lavished much more care than he did upon his own. The duplicate No. 17 which arrived was a woolly grey donkey, a disorderly stallion named Horace Greeley, giving to braying at the top of his voice and pursuing better-half donkeys.
I pointed out that his hair had grown an inch in the night. He then said that No. 17 donkey was hired out to the same gentleman by the month, but that yesterday the gentleman had been at Cairo. The donkey was on the stand, he declared, only for that day. Neither of the other two donkeys we had ordered had been brought. I asked if they too were hired by the month by people who went to Cairo (a journey of fifteen hours) for the day.
"No," he said ; "these two were the actual donkeys which had been ordered."
This was either a lie or they had changed their colour in the night.
"Very well," I said, "the contract is off. I will go and choose my own donkeys from the stand.”
He was terror-stricken : there is no esprit de corps among donkey-boys. He knew that any of them would contract against him for the day, and perhaps secure our patronage for the whole time that we were at Luxor.
“Wait here for a little," he entreated -he almost wailed. “ I will go and see if that gentleman has come back from Cairo."
I knew that I had won, so I generously consented, and in a second he was flying on Horace (protesting at the top of his bray) to the stables, from which he returned in a quarter of an hour with the three donkeys originally ordered. They were all ready for us, he explained, and the other boys (who did not speak English) had just made a mistake and brought the wrong donkeys.