Travels in Arabia, by John Lewis Burckhardt

Medina.

THE caravan alighted in a large court-yard in the suburb, where the loads were deposited; and all the travellers who had come with it immediately dispersed in quest of lodgings. With the help of a Mezowar, a professional class of men, similar to the delyls at Mekka, I procured, after some trouble, a good apartment in the principal market-street of the town, about fifty yards from the great mosque. I transported my baggage to those lodgings, where I was called upon by the Mezowar to visit the mosque and the holy tomb of Mohammed; it being a law here, as at Mekka, that a traveller arriving in the town must fulfil this duty, before he undertakes the most trifling business.

The ceremonies are here much easier and shorter than at Mekka, as will be presently seen. In a quarter of an hour I had gone through them, when I was at liberty to return home to arrange my domestic affairs. My Mezowar assisted me in the purchase of all necessary provisions, which were not obtained without difficulty; Tousoun Pasha, the governor of the town, having, by his inconsiderate measures, frightened away the Bedouins and camel-drivers, who used to bring in provisions. Flour and butter, however, those prime articles in an Eastern kitchen, were to be had before sunset, though not found in the public market; but it was three days before I could procure any coal, the want of which was sensibly felt at this cold season of the year. Hearing that Yahya Efendi, the physician of Tousoun Pasha, the same person who in July last had taken my bill upon Djidda, was here. I paid him a visit next day, and showed him a letter received at Mekka, before I had left that town, from my Cairo banker, mentioning the payment of the bill, no news of which had yet reached Yahya himself. Much as this gentleman’s acquaintance had been of service to me on that occasion, a good deal took place now to detract from it. At a visit which he paid me soon after, he happened to see my small stock of medicines, the same that I had in my Nubian journey, during which it never was touched, some emetics and purges only having been used whilst I staid at Djidda and Mekka; I had therefore half a pound of good bark in my medicine sack, untouched. Several persons of the Pasha’s court were at this time ill of fevers; Tousoun Pasha himself was in an indifferent state of health, and his physician had few medicines fit for such cases. He begged of me the bark, which I gave him, as I was then in good health, and thought myself already in the vicinity of Egypt, where I hoped to arrive in about two months. I owed him, moreover, some obligations, and was glad to testify my gratitude. Two days after I had cause to repent of my liberality; for I was attacked by a fever, which soon took a very serious turn. As it was intermittent, I wished to take bark; but when I asked the physician for some of it, he assured me that he had already distributed the last dram, and he brought me, instead of it, some of the powder of the Gentiana, which had lost all its virtue from age. My fever thus increased, accompanied by daily and repeated vomiting, and profuse sweats, being for the whole first month quotidian. The emetics I took proved of no service; and after having from want of bark gone through the course of medicines I thought applicable to the case, and being very seldom favoured with a visit from my friend Yahya Effendi, I left my disease to nature. After the first month, there was an interval of a week’s repose, of which had I been able to profit by taking bark, my disorder would, no doubt, have been overcome; but it had abated only to return with greater violence, and now became a tertian fever, while the vomiting still continued, accompanied by occasional faintings, and ended in a total prostration of strength. I was now unable to rise from my carpet, without the assistance of my slave, a poor fellow, who by habit and nature was more fitted to take care of a camel, than to nurse his drooping master.

I had by this time lost all hope of returning to Egypt, and had prepared myself for dying here. Despondency had seized me, from an apprehension that, if the news of my death should arrive in England, my whole Hedjaz journey would, perhaps, be condemned as the unauthorised act of an imprudent, or at least over-zealous missionary; and I had neither books, nor any society, to divert my mind from such reflections: one book only was in my possession, a pocket edition of Milton, which Captain Boag, at Djidda, had kindly permitted me to take from his cabin-library, and this I must admit was now worth a whole shelf full of others. The mistress of my lodgings, an old infirm woman, by birth an Egyptian, who during my stay took up her quarters in an upper story, from which she could speak to me without being seen, as it opened into my own room below, used to converse with me for half an hour every evening; and my cicerone, or Mezowar, paid me occasional visits, in order, as I strongly suspected, to seize upon part of my baggage in case of my death. Yahya Effendi left the town in the month of March, with the army of Tousoun Pasha, which marched against the Wababys.

About the beginning of April, the returning warmth of the spring put a stop to my illness; but it was nearly a fortnight before I could venture to walk out, and every breeze made me dread a return of the fever. The bad climate of the town, its detestable water, and the great number of diseases now prevalent, made me extremely desirous to leave Medina. My original intention was, to remain here, at most, one month, then to take some Bedouin guides, and with them to cross the Desert to Akaba, at the extremity of the Red Sea, in a straight direction, from whence I might easily have found my way to Cairo. In this route I wished to visit Hedjer, on the Syrian Hadj road, where I expected to find some remains of the remotest antiquity, that had not been described by any other traveller, while the interior of the country might have offered many other objects of research and curiosity. It was, however, utterly impossible for me to perform this journey in my convalescent state; nor had I any hopes of recovering, in two months, strength sufficient for a journey of such fatigue. To wait so long, continually exposed to suffer again from the climate, was highly unadvisable; and I panted for a change of air, being convinced that, without it, my fever would soon return. With these feelings I abandoned the long-projected design of my journey, and now determined on going to Yembo, on the sea-coast, and from thence to embark for Egypt; a decision in some degree rendered necessary by the state of my purse, which a long stay at Medina had greatly reduced. When I found myself strong enough to mount a camel, I looked out for some conveyance to Yembo, and contracted with a Bedouin, who, together with his companions, forming a small caravan, started for that place on the 1st of April, within six days of three months after my arrival at Medina, eight weeks of which time I had been confined to my couch. My remarks on Medina are but scanty; with good health, I should have added to them: but as this town is totally unknown to Europeans, they may contain some acceptable information. The plan of the town was made by me during the first days of my stay; and I can vouch for the correctness of its outlines; but I had not the same leisure to trace it in all its details, as I had that of Mekka.

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Last updated Wednesday, March 12, 2014 at 13:31