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A DONKEY RIDE AROUND CAIRO
AFTER It was all arranged, and Nabul and Abdal were actually sure that they were to be hired, they were so happy that they did not know whether they were standing on their heads or heels.
"Well, mount your steed, George, and we will be off," said the tall gentleman, George's uncle, Mr. Benjamin Winthrop. Mr. Winthrop had already mounted Abdal's donkey, hunching up his knees so that his feet would not touch the ground, so George clambered up on Teddy Pasha's high red saddle and the little donkey started off at a lively trot without waiting for a tap from Nabul's stick. Away went the little party down the street, the two Egyptian boys running along, each by the side of his donkey, crying out so as to clear the road ahead, and every now and again giving the donkeys a gentle stroke with their sticks, not to make them go faster, but to guide them. They gave them first a tap on one side and then on the other, as they wanted them to go to the left or right.
"My! but they bounce you about," called out George to his uncle. It was the first time he had ever ridden a donkey and he was holding on for dear life for fear he would be shaken off.
"These Egyptian donkeys have got a funny sort of trot, but it's all right when you once get used to it," said Uncle Ben. "It's a bit rough at first, but just sit easy and you will soon swing into the motion."
So George tried to look, at least, as if he felt easy. Now they had left the new part of the city, frequented by the foreigners, behind them, and were entering the old city where only the natives live.
Here the streets are so narrow that often the roofs of houses nearly meet overhead, and they are so cluttered up that it is a wonder that any one can pass along. There were no sidewalks and everybody walked in the middle of the street. All the people who had any work to do seemed to be doing it in the middle of the street, Instead of in their houses.
The donkeys soon had to slacken their pace, for there was a perfect tangle of people and donkeys and little carts, and even a two-horse carriage tried to push through occasionally. This gave George a chance to breathe easier, and watch the process by which Nabul guided the Pasha through the crowd.
"Keep to the right, oh, my lord!" Nabul cried out to a richly dressed man who was crossing the street. "Look to the left of you, oh, my mother," he yelled to an old woman who was bending under a great basket of bread. Little Egyptian children usually call old women and men by some such respectful names as "Mother" or "Father" or "My Lord." They know well how to address their elders.
Presently there was a great hubbub and everybody made way for two tall, strong fellows dressed in white, with gaudy red and gold embroidered vests and red turbans, who came running down the street shouting as they went. Each carried a long white wand; behind them came a handsome carriage and pair.
"Make way for the syces and the carriage of the great Pasha," cried Nabul, and the little donkeys squeezed up against the side of the house, though even then there was barely room for the carriage to pass.
George wanted to know who syces were. Mustapha, who had accompanied the party, explained that they were the men servants who ran before the carriages of great personages to clear the way for them. They can run all day tie fast as horses can trot, and never get weary.
"Don't you ever get tired, either?" asked George of Nabul as he ran along beside him. The little Egyptian boy only laughed and shook his head It was funny, he thought, how all these strangers asked him the same question when he took them to ride. He thought nothing of running all day long by the side of his donkey. Egyptian children are a strong, hardy little race of people and never seem to know what it is to be tired. They live much in the open air and they sleep on a hard bed, all of which tends to make them healthy and strong.
"Now how on earth are we going to pass through here?" asked George, as they turned a corner and saw a long string of camels coming toward them. Across each camel were slung two great bulging sacks that nearly touched the houses on each side.
"Hi-yah! Hi-yah! Jannib ya hu!" (which meant, "Keep to the side, oh, you!") shrieked
Nabul and Abdal to the men who had the camels in charge. But the camels stalked along in the middle of the way, wagging their long necks and, of course, the donkeys had to stop, for there was no room to pass.
Such a clamour as set up! The donkey boys screamed at the camel drivers, and the camel men yelled back at them; while Mustapha sat on his donkey calling the camels and their owners all the names he could think of.
"One would think they were all going to break each other's heads, wouldn't you, Uncle Ben?" said George, beginning to get uneasy.
"It's only their way of settling a difficulty, they have no idea of doing harm to any one," answered Mr. Winthrop. And this was true enough. Egyptians are not as quarrelsome as they seem. Peace was restored shortly, and the camel drivers prodded their camels with their sticks until they squeezed up against one side of the street, leaving just room enough for the donkeys to get past. As it was, the last camel in the line nipped off George's cap and Nabul had to rescue it, but the boys only thought this a good joke.
Now they were trotting through a long covered way on either side of which were tiny shops or booths for the sale of all sorts of wares.
"The Bazaar! the Bazaar where you buy pretty things!" said Nabul, pointing to the little booths where the merchants sat surrounded by all sorts of merchandise, clothes to wear, furniture and dishes to use, and good things to eat.
"So these are what you call stores; they look more like boxes," exclaimed George. "Sha'n't we stop now, Uncle Ben, and look at some of the things?"
"Mustapha says we should go to the great mosque first, and visit the Bazaars after lunch," called back his uncle.
So on went the little donkeys, climbing up into the very oldest part of the city, called the Citadel. Here they clattered through an ancient gateway and soon found themselves in a dark, gloomy street. The little donkeys went slowly now, for it was a steep climb around and around with high walls on either side, until at last they came out at the very top on a sort of terrace, overlooking the city now far below, and there stood the great Mosque of Mohammed-Ali, with its great central dome and slender towers or minarets.
"Isn't it fine?" exclaimed George, as he slipped off the Pasha and stood looking up at the great building.
"Yes, but there are other mosques in Cairo that are much older," answered his uncle, "but this is the most interesting of all to see."
"Alabaster, all alabaster," said Nabul, laying his hand on the stone work near the great entrance.
"Much of the mosque is built of pure white alabaster," explained Mustapha, and indeed it is a fact that it is built of this fine white stone. It shows plainly what good taste these old Mohammedan builders had and what fine workmen they were.
"Can't we go inside?" asked George, starting at once for the door.
"Wait, the babouches," cried Nabul and Abdal together, catching George by the arm and pointing to a big pile of yellow slippers just inside the door. These slippers, or babouches, were in charge of an old man with a long white beard and a dirty gown, and he had as assistants two or three boys who squatted beside the pile of footwear. On seeing the approach of the visitors one of the boys picked out the smallest pair of babouches he could find and motioned to George to put them on over his shoes.
"What is that for?" asked George, bewildered.
"No one can enter a Mohammedan mosque with the shoes in which he walks the street," answered Mustapha. "We Mohammedans leave ours at the door, but for the strangers there are these slippers, or babouches, to be worn over their shoes so that the sacred carpets of the mosque may not be defiled."
George thought it very funny as he stuck his feet into the big, wobbly yellow slippers. Nabul simply shuffled out of his own little red slippers and left them in charge of the boys at the door, whose business it was to guard such footgear while their owners were inside. Meanwhile Abdal stayed behind to guard the donkeys.
They entered a great hall where were many graceful columns, but the place seemed bare, for there were no furnishings of any kind, except that the floor was covered with rich rugs, and from the ceiling hung hundreds of glittering lamps. On one side was a sort of pulpit at the top of a short flight of stairs. There were a number of people saying their prayers in the mosque. They would kneel and bow their heads to the floor and stand up and raise up their arms, all making the motions together. It made George think of the gymnastic exercises in his school at home.
"Nabul, I believe I have lost one of those precious old slippers," said George, suddenly looking down at his feet.
Nabul looked horrified when he saw George with only one slipper on.
"I find," he said, and hurried back the way they had come.
Mustapha turned around to see what was the matter, and waved his arms wildly and jabbered tit a string of words when George told him what had happened.
"What do you suppose they will do to me, Uncle Ben," laughed George, "put me in prison? It is not my fault the old slipper came off, it's as big as a boat anyhow."
"I know what would have happened not so very many years ago," answered his uncle. "We should probably all have been mobbed, if not killed, for it is only of recent years that people who are not Mohammedans have been allowed to come inside the mosques at all. There is nothing which shows the character and habits of the natives of Cairo better than by observing how their religion enters into their daily lives."
"It's a regular 'hunt the slipper game,"' said George, as he watched the little Egyptian looking carefully over the rugs.
Suddenly Nabul came running back with something in his clothes.
"Quick, I put him on," he whispered, slipping the missing babouche on George's foot, at the same time glancing around to see that no one was looking. No one was looking, and nothing happened, though George wondered if that would have been the case if he had been found with only one slipper.
At the door they dropped the babouches for good, and outside found Abdal playing games with some boys, and the donkeys fast asleep. They were soon waked up, and our party cantered back to the hotel for lunch, for as George said, "It's funny how seeing things makes you so hungry."
Mustapha told the boys to be back at two o'clock with their donkeys, but just now they were cantering off for their own midday meal. Nabul was in such high spirits that he must stop and buy some hot fried peppers and a pile of sticky sweet-cakes from the man who sat under a big red umbrella frying big red and green peppers in a pan of olive oil which stood on a small brazier of charcoal. It is the custom for the sellers of vegetables and cakes to cook them in the open air in order to attract trade by the odours and sweet smell of the cooking.
The man began to ladle out some of the hot greasy peppers. "More, more, 'tis not enough for a coin like that," cried the boy, throwing down a silver piece with a lofty air.
"Oho, thou eatest like a nobleman to-day," said the old man, peering at the coin. "Since when have the donkey boys become so rich?"
"There is a little American. lord at the big hotel, and I am to be his donkey boy," answered Nabul, as he and Abdal carefully divided the peppers between them.
"Umph, yes, for a ride through the Bazaar and back again like all these stranger folk," said the old man as he flung some more peppers in his pan.
The boys only laughed and went off to eat their lunch in company with their companions in the great square.
There were a lot of their comrades there and they hailed our little friends at once, eager to know all about the strangers to whom they had hired out their donkeys, but Nabul and Abdal kept a discreet silence, only hinting that the strangers were doubtless princes in their own country. Donkey boys love to brag, but they are apt to be a jealous lot and are on their guard against any interference from one another.
One by one the boys got tired of asking questions and dozed off curled up on the dusty ground; but the young Egyptians did not mind this; nor the heat, the sun was very hot even though it was in winter; nor the swarm of flies that buzzed around them. But little Nabul could not sleep, he sat there thinking of the little American, and wondering how long he would keep him for his donkey boy.
If he would hire him for a long time what a lot of money he would make, and what a lot of things he could buy with it. He would buy himself a new suit to wear on the last day of Ramadan, the Mohammedans' great religious fete, when everybody who possibly could put on new clothes of the finest stuffs and the brightest colours. He would buy a new saddle for Teddy Pasha, for his present one was looking the least bit shabby, and the scratch that it got from the rough sack on the camel's back that morning had not improved it in the least. The owner of a horse or donkey in Egypt will always dress up his steed as elaborately as his means will allow, and never, never, if it can be helped, will he drive him with a shabby saddle or bridle. Perhaps, even, there would be enough to buy new dresses for the little girls and a pair of silver bracelets for the mother, for all Egyptian women folk are very fond of jewelry. He would like to buy something, too, for the father, but before he knew it Nabul was fast asleep dreaming of untold riches, and only awoke with a jerk when Abdal reached over and shook him into wakefulness, for the sun told them it was time to be at work again.
George was hanging over the railing of the terrace of the hotel on the look-out for them as they came up, and waved his hat in the air when he caught sight of Teddy Pasha again. This time all started off towards the quarter of the big Bazaars. Here they found many tourists like themselves mounted on donkeys, for everybody who comes to Cairo must take a ride through the Bazaars where there are such curious and beautiful things for sale. All the tame, if one was not a mere tourist, and wanted to learn of the manners and customs of the people, these curious streets and squares of little shops were quite the best places in the city to observe how hundreds and thousands of folk gained their living in most strange ways.
It was funny to see the merchants run out and hail the passers-by, and beg them to look at their wares. One shopkeeper nearly lifted Uncle Ben off the donkey, much to George's amusement. Many of them were very polite, too, and offered visitors coffee when they took their seats on the stools in front of a shop.
The people in the Bazaar were almost as interesting as the shops themselves. There were the tall Egyptians of the towns and fellaheen from the country and Bedouin Arabs from the desert in their long, flowing white cloaks, and big black people from the Soudan in the far South. Everybody jabbered at once, but all spoke the same speech. It was curious how, looking so different, they were all practically of one race and religion. There were also numbers of Egyptian women all bundled up in black with white veils over their faces, for neither the Egyptian nor Arab women would ever think of allowing a strange man to see their faces.
George had a chance to become better acquainted with the boys while his uncle was making some purchases. He found that not only could they speak a little English, but some French and a few words of Italian, too. The little Egyptian donkey boys are remarkably quick to catch up a foreign language. Nabul told him how he had learned his funny broken English. He had first picked up words from the tourists who rode on his donkey, and Mustapha had taught him a good deal, for he spoke English very well.
Their own speech in Arabic sounds very strange when translated into our own tongue, as the Egyptians, and indeed all the races which speak Arabic, are very fond of using big words, arid they invariably express themselves in the most formal and dignified manner. In the evening Nabul had gone to the English school all one year, and really he had acquired so much English that he could chatter away as fast as the, little American, if not always so grammatically correct.
So by the time they had ridden through many ore quaint streets and the beautiful Esbekiyeh Gardens and were well on their way back the boys were good friends.
"Please do tell them now that we will take them for our donkey boys for all the time we are here, Uncle Ben," George whispered when they alighted once more at the hotel.
"They do seem to be good obliging little fellows, and as you are the one to be pleased, for you will do most of the riding, I will tell Mustapha to arrange it with them," said Mr. Winthrop.
So it was settled that the services of the two boys and their donkeys should be engaged for a month, with the understanding that they would be free to do business with other people if at any time they were not needed.
And weren't the little Egyptians delighted! They cried "Salaam, salaam, O gracious Effendi!" many times, which was their way of saying "Thank you, sir!" They strutted through the usual crowd of donkey boys hanging about, puffed up with pride; and were followed by the envious glances of the other boys, for it was not often one of their number fell in with such a piece of good luck.
And how happy they all were in Nabul's home when he rushed in with the news. The little sisters hugged him and the mother gave him an extra nice supper, and he went to sleep that night dreaming that he was a big, fine dragoman and that Teddy Pasha wore a great red turban and could talk English.
Every morning bright and early Nabul and Abdal with the donkeys, all looking as spick and span as possible, would be waiting in front of the hotel for the little "Effendi," as they called George Winthrop, and when Mr. Winthrop and George were ready away they would ride.
Big, fat Mustapha, jolting up and down on his own donkey, would lead the way, and showed them each day some of the many strange and curious things to be seen in and around the city, until finally George felt quite as much at home in Cairo as did his new found friends.
One day they hurried through lunch to go to see the "Whirling Dervishes," a queer lot of people, who spin around and around like a top, as fast as ever they can, until they are so tired they drop on the floor. They saw the "Howling Dervishes," too, men in gowns of many colours, with wild faces and long hair, whose bloodcurdling howls as they swayed themselves to and fro almost frightened George, who could not understand how people could possibly do such queer things as an act of worship. These are only two of the many sects of the Mohammedan religion.
One day they crossed over to the island in the river Nile, where Mustapha knocked at a gate which was opened by a man in a long green gown, and they found themselves in a garden among trees loaded with oranges and lemons. Here George crept behind the boys along the top of a wall to a spot where, so the story runs, the baby Moses was found asleep in his cradle in the bulrushes by a daughter of the Pharaoh. The Pharaohs were the ancient kings of Egypt. It was most interesting for George, who was surprised indeed to find this land of Mohammedanism had recollections also of his own Christian religion.
Another day they all rode out to a place named Heliopolis, where long ago there was a great city called the City of the Sun. Now only a tall granite obelisk stands there, and any little American can see its "twin," as George called it, if he or she will go to New York City and look at the big obelisk which stands in Central Park. Once upon a time several obelisks stood side by side at Heliopolis, but the Khedive, the ruler of Egypt, some years ago wanted to make a valuable present to the United States, so he gave them one of these obelisks, the same which today may be seen in New York City.
When they visited the great Museum Uncle Ben and George stood amazed before the great mummy cases and the petrified mummies themselves (many of them the old kings of Egypt), which have been buried for thousands of years, and only recently been brought to light. It is by preserving all these great finds, dug up from the soil often in the most unexpected places, that it has been possible to write the history of Egypt.
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