Journeys in Persia and Kurdistan, by Isabella Bird

Letter ii

Baghdad is too well known from the careful descriptions given of it by Eastern travellers to justify me in lingering upon it in detail, and I will only record a few impressions, which are decidedly couleur de rose, for the weather is splendid, making locomotion a pleasure, and the rough, irregular roadways which at other seasons are deep in foul and choking dust, or in mud and pestilential slime, are now firm and not remarkably dirty.

A little earlier than this the richer inhabitants, who have warstled through the summer in their dim and latticed serdabs, emerge and pitch their tents in the plains of Ctesiphon, where the men find a stimulating amusement in hunting the boar, but it is now the “season” in the city, the liveliest and busiest time of the year. The cholera, which is believed to have claimed 6000 victims, has departed, and the wailing of the women, which scarcely ceased day or night for a month, is silent. The Jewish troubles, which apparently rose out of the indignation of the Moslems at the burial within the gates, contrary to a strict edict on the subject, of a Rabbi who died of cholera, have subsided, and the motley populations and their yet more motley creeds are for the time at peace.

In the daytime there is a roar or hum of business, mingled with braying of asses, squeals of belligerent horses, yells of camel-drivers and muleteers, beating of drums, shouts of beggars, hoarse-toned ejaculations of fakirs, ear-splitting snatches of discordant music, and in short a chorus of sounds unfamiliar to Western ears, but the nights are so still that the swirl of the Tigris as it hurries past is distinctly heard. Only the long melancholy call to prayer, or the wail of women over the dead, or the barking of dogs, breaks the silence which at sunset falls as a pall over Baghdad.

Under the blue sunny sky the river view is very fine. The river itself is imposing from its breadth and volume, and in the gorgeous sunsets, with a sky of crimson flame, and the fronds of the dark date palms mirrored in its reddened waters, it looks really beautiful. The city is stately enough as far as the general coup-d’oeil of the river front goes, and its river façade agreeably surprises me. The Tigris, besides being what may be called the main street, divides Baghdad into two unequal parts, and though the city on the left bank has almost a monopoly of picturesque and somewhat stately irregularity in the houses of fair height, whose lattices and oriel windows overhang the stream from an environment of orange gardens, the dark date groves dignify the meaner buildings of the right bank. The rush of a great river is in itself attractive, and from the roof of this house the view is fascinating, with the ceaseless movements of hundreds of boats and kufas, the constant traffic of men, horses, asses, and caravans across the great bridge of boats, and the long lines of buildings which with more or less picturesqueness line the great waterway.

Without the wearisomeness of sight-seeing there is much to be seen in Baghdad, and though much that would be novel to a new-comer from the West is familiar to me after two years of Eastern travel, there is a great deal that is really interesting. The kufas accumulating at their landing, freighted with the products of the Upper Tigris, the transpontine city, in which country produce takes the foremost place; the tramway to Kazimain constructed during the brief valiship of Midhat Pasha, on which the last journey of the day is always performed at a gallop, coûte que coûte; the caravans of asses, each one with a huge fish, the “Fish of Tobias,” hanging across its back; the strings of the same humble animal, carrying skins of water from the river throughout the city; the tombs, the mosques, the churches, the great caravans of mules and camels, almost monopolising the narrow roadways, Arabs and Osmanlis on showy horses, Persians, Turks, Arabs, Jews, Armenians, Chaldæans, in all the variety of their picturesque national costumes, to which the niggardly clothing of a chance European acts as an ungraceful foil; Persian dead, usually swaddled, making their last journey on mule or horseback to the holy ground at Kerbela, and the occasional march of horse or foot through the thronged bazars, are among the hourly sights of a city on which European influence is scarcely if at all perceptible.

Turkish statistics must be received with caution, and the population of Baghdad may not reach 120,000 souls, but it has obviously recovered wonderfully from the effects of war, plague, inundation, and famine, and looks busy and fairly prosperous, so much so indeed that the account given of its misery and decay in Mr. Baillie Fraser’s charming Travels in Kurdistan reads like a story of the last century. If nothing remains of the glories of the city of the Caliphs, it is certainly for Turkey a busy, growing, and passably wealthy nineteenth-century capital. It is said to have a hundred mosques, twenty-six minarets, and fifteen domes, but I have not counted them!

Its bazars, which many people regard as the finest in the East outside of Stamboul, are of enormous extent and very great variety. Many are of brick, with well-built domed roofs, and sides arcaded both above and below, and are wide and airy. Some are of wood, all are covered, and admit light scantily, only from the roof. Those which supply the poorer classes are apt to be ruinous and squalid —“ramshackle,” to say the truth, with an air of decay about them, and their roofs are merely rough timber, roughly thatched with reeds or date tree fronds. Of splendour there is none anywhere, and of cleanliness there are few traces. The old, narrow, and filthy bazars in which the gold and silversmiths ply their trade are of all the most interesting. The trades have their separate localities, and the buyer who is in search of cotton goods, silk stuffs, carpets, cotton yarn, gold and silver thread, ready-made clothing, weapons, saddlery, rope, fruit, meat, grain, fish, jewellery, muslins, copper pots, etc., has a whole alley of contiguous shops devoted to the sale of the same article to choose from.

At any hour of daylight at this season progress through the bazars is slow. They are crowded, and almost entirely with men. It is only the poorer women who market for themselves, and in twos and threes, at certain hours of the day. In a whole afternoon, among thousands of men, I saw only five women, tall, shapeless, badly-made-up bundles, carried mysteriously along, rather by high, loose, canary-yellow leather boots than by feet. The face is covered with a thick black gauze mask, or cloth, and the head and remainder of the form with a dark blue or black sheet, which is clutched by the hand below the nose. The walk is one of tottering decrepitude. All the business transacted in the bazars is a matter of bargaining, and as Arabs shout at the top of their voices, and buyers and sellers are equally keen, the roar is tremendous.

Great cafés, as in Cairo, occur frequently. In the larger ones from a hundred to two hundred men are seen lounging at one time on the broad matted seats, shouting, chaffering, drinking coffee or sharbat and smoking chibouks or kalians. Negro attendants supply their wants. These cafés are the clubs of Baghdad. Whatever of public opinion exists in a country where the recognised use of words is to “conceal thought,” is formed in them. They are centres of business likewise, and much of the noise is due to bargaining, and they are also manufactories of rumours, scandals, and fanaticism. The great caravanserais, such as the magnificent Khan Othman, are also resorts of merchants for the display and sale of their goods.

Europeans never make purchases in the bazars. They either have the goods from which they wish to make a choice brought to their houses, or their servants bargain for them, getting a commission both from buyer and seller.

The splendour of the East, if it exists at all, is not to be seen in the bazars. The jewelled daggers, the cloth of silver and gold, the diaphanous silk tissues, the brocaded silks, the rich embroideries, the damascened sword blades, the finer carpets, the inlaid armour, the cunning work in brass and inlaid bronze, and all the articles of vertu and bric-à-brac of real or spurious value, are carefully concealed by their owners, and are carried for display, with much secrecy and mystery, to the houses of their ordinary customers, and to such European strangers as are reported to be willing to be victimised.

Trade in Baghdad is regarded by Europeans and large capitalists as growing annually more depressed and unsatisfactory, but this is not the view of the small traders, chiefly Jews and Christians, who start with a capital of £5 or upwards, and by buying some cheap lot in Bombay — gay handkerchiefs, perfumery, shoes, socks, buttons, tin boxes with mirror lids, scissors, pocket-knives, toys, and the like — bid fair to make small fortunes. The amount of perfumery and rubbish piled in these ramshackle shops is wonderful. The trader who picks up a desert Arab for a customer and sells him a knife, or a mirror box, or a packet of candles is likely to attract to himself a large trade, for when once the unmastered pastoral hordes of Al Jazīra, Trak, and Stramīya see such objects, the desire of possession is aroused, and the refuse of Manchester and Birmingham will find its way into every tent in the desert.

The best bazars are the least crowded, though once in them it is difficult to move, and the strings of asses laden with skins of water are a great nuisance. The foot-passenger is also liable at any moment to be ridden down by horsemen, or squeezed into a jelly by the passage of caravans.

It is in the meat, vegetable, cotton, oil, grain, fruit, and fish bazars that the throngs are busiest and noisiest, and though cucumbers, the great joy of the Turkish palate, are over, vegetables “of sorts” are abundant, and the slant, broken sunbeams fall on pyramids of fruit, and glorify the warm colouring of melons, apples, and pomegranates.

A melon of 10 lbs. weight can be got for a penny, a sheep for five or six shillings, and fish for something like a farthing per pound, that is the “Fish of Tobias,” the monster of the Tigris waters, which is largely eaten by the poor. Poultry and game are also very cheap, and the absolute necessaries of life, such as broken wheat for porridge, oil, flour, and cheese, cost little.

Cook-shops abound, but their viands are not tempting, and the bazars are pervaded by a pungent odour of hot sesamum oil and rancid fat, frying being a usual mode of cooking in these restaurants. An impassive Turk, silently smoking, sits cross-legged on a platform at each Turkish shop door. He shows his goods as if he had no interest in them, and whether he sells or not seems a matter of indifference, so that he can return to his pipe. It is not to him that the overpowering din is owing, but to the agitated eagerness of the other nationalities.

The charm of the bazars lies in the variety of race and costume and in the splendid physique of the greater number of the men. The European looks “nowhere.” The natural look of a Moslem is one of hauteur, but no words can describe the scorn and lofty Pharisaism which sit on the faces of the Seyyids, the descendants of Mohammed, whose hands and even garments are kissed reverently as they pass through the crowd; or the wrathful melancholy mixed with pride which gives a fierceness to the dignified bearing of the magnificent beings who glide through the streets, their white turbans or shawl head-gear, their gracefully flowing robes, their richly embroidered under-vests, their Kashmir girdles, their inlaid pistols, their silver-hilted dirks, and the predominance of red throughout their clothing aiding the general effect. Yet most of these grand creatures, with their lofty looks and regal stride, would be accessible to a bribe, and would not despise even a perquisite. These are the mollahs, the scribes, the traders, and the merchants of the city.

The Bedouin and the city Arabs dress differently, and are among the marked features of the streets. The under-dress is a very coarse shirt of unbleached homespun cotton, rarely clean, over which the Sheikhs and richer men wear a robe of striped silk or cotton with a Kashmir girdle of a shawl pattern in red on a white ground. The poor wear shirts of coarse hair or cotton, without a robe. The invariable feature of Arab dress is the abba— a long cloak, sleeveless, but with holes through which to pass the arms, and capable of many adaptations. It conceals all superabundance and deficiency of attire, and while it has the dignity of the toga by day it has the utility of a blanket by night. The better-class abba is very hard, being made of closely-woven worsted, in broad brown and white or black and white perpendicular stripes. The poorest abba is of coarse brown worsted, and even of goat’s-hair. I saw many men who were destitute of any clothing but tattered abbas tied round their waists by frayed hair ropes. The abba is the distinctive national costume of the Arabs. The head-gear is not the turban but a shawl of very thick silk woven in irregular stripes of yellow and red, with long cords and tassels depending, made of the twisted woof. This handsome square is doubled triangularly, the double end hangs down the back, and the others over the shoulders. A loosely-twisted rope of camel’s-hair is wound several times round the crown of the head. When the weather is cold, being like all Orientals very sensitive in their heads, they bring one side of the shawl over the whole of the face but the eyes, and tuck it in, in great cold only exposing one eye, and in great heat also. Most Moslems shave the head, but the Arabs let their hair grow very long, and wear it in a number of long plaits, and these elf-locks mixed up with the long coloured tassels of the kiffiyeh, and the dark glittering eyes looking out from under the yellow silk, give them an appearance of extreme wildness, aided by the long guns which they carry and their long desert stride.

The Arab moves as if he were the ruler of the country, though the grip of the Osmanli may be closing on him. His eyes are deeply set under shaggy eyebrows, his nose is high and sharp, he is long and thin, his profile suggests a bird of prey, and his demeanour a fierce independence.

The Arab women go about the streets unveiled, and with the abba covering their very poor clothing, but it is not clutched closely enough to conceal the extraordinary tattooing which the Bedouin women everywhere regard as ornamental. There are artists in Baghdad who make their living by this mode of decorating the person, and vie with each other in the elaboration of their patterns. I saw several women tattooed with two wreaths of blue flowers on their bosoms linked by a blue chain, palm fronds on the throat, stars on the brow and chin, and bands round the wrists and ankles. These disfigurements, and large gold or silver filigree buttons placed outside one nostril by means of a wire passed through it, worn by married women, are much admired. When these women sell country produce in the markets, they cover their heads with the ordinary chadar.

The streets are narrow, and the walls, which are built of fire-burned bricks, are high. Windows to the streets are common, and the oriel windows, with their warm brown lattices projecting over the roadways at irregular heights, are strikingly picturesque. Not less so are latticework galleries, which are often thrown across the street to connect the two houses of wealthy residents, and the sitting-rooms with oriel windows, which likewise bridge the roadways. Solid doorways with iron-clasped and iron-studded doors give an impression of security, and suggest comfort and to some extent home life, and sprays of orange trees, hanging over walls, and fronds of date palms give an aspect of pleasantness to the courtyards.

The best parts of the city, where the great bazars, large dwelling-houses, and most of the mosques are, is surrounded by a labyrinth of alleys, fringing off into streets growing meaner till they cease altogether among open spaces, given up to holes, heaps, rubbish, the slaughter of animals, and in some favoured spots to the production of vegetables. Then come the walls, which are of kiln-burned bricks, and have towers intended for guns at intervals. The wastes within the walls have every element of decay and meanness, the wastes without, where the desert sands sweep up to the very foot of the fortifications, have many elements of grandeur.

Baghdad is altogether built of chrome-yellow kiln-dried bricks. There are about twenty-five kilns, chiefly in the hands of Jews and Christians in the wastes outside the city, but the demand exceeds the supply, not for building only, but for the perpetual patchings which houses, paths, and walls are always requiring, owing to the absorption of moisture in the winter.

Bricks at the kilns sell for 36s. per thousand twelve inches square, and 18s. per thousand seven inches square. They are carried from the kilns on donkeys, small beasts, each taking ten large or twenty-five small bricks.

Unskilled labour is abundant. Men can be engaged at 9d. a day, and boys for 5d.

This afternoon, in the glory of a sunset which reddened the yellow waste up to the distant horizon, a caravan of mules, mostly in single file, approached the city. Each carried two or four white bales slung on his sides, or two or more long boxes, consisting of planks roped rather than nailed together. This is the fashion in which thousands of Persian Moslems (Shiahs or “Sectaries”) have been conveyed for ages for final burial at Kerbela, the holiest place of the Shiahs, an easy journey from Baghdad, where rest the ashes of Ali, regarded as scarcely second to Mohammed, and of Houssein and Hassan his sons, whose “martyrdom” is annually commemorated by a Passion Play which is acted in every town and village in Persia. To make a pilgrimage to Kerbela, or to rest finally in its holy dust, or both, constitutes the ambition of every Shiah. The Sunnis, or “Orthodox,” who hate the Shiahs, are so far kept in check that these doleful caravans are not exposed to any worse molestation than the shouts and ridicule of street Arabs.

The mode of carrying the dead is not reverent. The katirgis, who contract for the removal, hurry the bodies along as goods, and pile them in the yards of the caravanserais at night, and the mournful journey is performed, oftener than not, without the presence of relations, each body being ticketed with the name once borne by its owner. Some have been exhumed and are merely skeletons, others are in various stages of decomposition, and some are of the newly dead.6

Outside the walls predatory Arabs render the roads unsafe for solitary travellers, and at times for feeble caravans; but things in this respect are better than they were.

Visits to the Armenian and Chaldæan Churches, to the Mosque of Abdel Kader, with its courts thronged by Afghan pilgrims, and to the Jewish quarter, have been very interesting. There are said to be 30,000 Jews here, and while a large proportion of them are in poverty, on the whole they are an influential nationality, and some of them are very rich.

Through the liberality of Sir Albert Sassoon a Jewish High School has been opened, where an admirable education is given. I was extremely pleased with it, and with the director, who speaks French fluently, and with the proficiency in French of the elder students. He describes their earnestness and energetic application as being most remarkable.

The French Carmelite monks have a large, solid “Mission Church” or Cathedral with a fine peal of bells, and a very prosperous school attached, in which are boys belonging to all the many creeds professed in Baghdad. The sisters of St. Joseph have a school for girls, which Turkish children are not slow to avail themselves of. The sisters find a remarkable unhandiness among the women. Few, if any, among them have any idea of cutting out or repairing, and rich and poor are equally incapable of employing their fingers usefully.

The people here are so used to the sight of Europeans that it is quite easy for foreign ladies to walk in this quarter only attended by a servant, and I have accompanied Mrs. Sutton on visits to several Armenian houses. The Armenians are in many cases wealthy, as their admirably-designed and well-built houses testify. The Christian population is estimated at 5000, and its wealth and energy give it greater importance than its numbers warrant. One of the houses which we visited was truly beautiful and in very good taste, the solidity of the stone and brickwork, the finish of the wood, and the beauty of the designs and their execution in hammered iron being quite remarkable. The lofty roofs and cornices are elaborately worked in plaster, and this is completely concealed by hundreds or thousands of mirrors set so as to resemble facets, so that roof and cornices flash like diamonds. This is a Persian style of decoration, and is extremely effective in large handsome rooms. Superb carpets and divans and tea tables inlaid with mother-of-pearl furnish the reception and smoking rooms, and the bedrooms and nurseries over which we were taken were simply arranged with French bedsteads and curtains of Nottingham mosquito net. As in other Eastern houses, there were no traces of occupation, no morning room or den sacred to litter; neither was there anything to look at — the opposite extreme from our overloaded drawing-rooms — or any library. Cigarettes and black coffee in minute porcelain cups, in gold filigree receptacles, were presented on each occasion, and the kind and courteous intention was very pleasing.

The visits which I paid with Dr. Sutton were very different. He has worked as a medical missionary here for some years, and his unaffected benevolence and quiet attention to all suffering persons, without distinction of race or creed, and his recent extraordinary labours by night and day among the cholera-smitten people, have won for him general esteem and confidence, and he is even allowed to enter Moslem houses and prescribe for the women in some cases.

The dispensary, in which there is not half enough accommodation, is very largely attended by people of all creeds, and even Moslem women, though exclusively of the poorer classes, avail themselves of it. Yesterday, when I was there, the comfortable seats of the cheerful matted waiting-room were all occupied by Armenian and Chaldæan women, unveiled and speaking quite freely to Dr. Sutton; while a few Moslem women, masked rather than veiled, and enveloped in black sheets, cowered on the floor and scarcely let their voices be heard even in a tremulous whisper.

I am always sorry to see any encroachment made by Christian teachers on national customs where they are not contrary to morality, and willingly leave to Eastern women the pardah and the veil, but still there is a wholesomeness about the unveiled, rosy, comely, frank faces of these Christian women. But — and it is a decided but — though the women were comely, and though some of the Armenian girls are beautiful, every one has one or more flattish depressions on her face — scars in fact — the size of a large date stone. Nearly the whole population is thus disfigured. So universal is it among the fair-skinned Armenian girls, that so far from being regarded as a blemish, it is viewed as a token of good health, and it is said that a young man would hesitate to ask for the hand of a girl in marriage if she had not a “date mark” on her face.

These “date boils,” or “Baghdad boils,” as they are sometimes called, are not slow in attacking European strangers, and few, if any, escape during their residence here. As no cause can reasonably be assigned for them, so no cure has been found. Various remedies, including cauterisation, have been tried, but without success, and it is now thought wisest to do nothing more than keep them dry and clean, and let them run their natural course, which lasts about a year. Happily they are not so painful as ordinary boils. The malady appears at first as a white point, not larger than a pin’s head, and remains thus for about three months. Then the flesh swells, becomes red and hard and suppurates, and underneath a rough crust which is formed is corroded and eaten away as by vitriol. On some strangers the fatal point appears within a few days of their arrival.

In two years in the East I have not seen any European welcomed so cordially as Dr. Sutton into Moslem homes. The Hakīm, exhibiting in “quiet continuance in well-doing” the legible and easily-recognised higher fruits of Christianity, while refraining from harsh and irreverent onslaughts on the creeds of those whose sufferings he mitigates, is everywhere blessed.7

To my thinking, no one follows in the Master’s footprints so closely as the medical missionary, and on no agency for alleviating human suffering can one look with more unqualified satisfaction. The medical mission is the outcome of the living teachings of our faith. I have now visited such missions in many parts of the world, and never saw one which was not healing, helping, blessing; softening prejudice, diminishing suffering, making an end of many of the cruelties which proceed from ignorance, restoring sight to the blind, limbs to the crippled, health to the sick, telling, in every work of love and of consecrated skill, of the infinite compassion of Him who came “not to destroy men’s lives, but to save them.”

In one house Dr. Sutton was welcome because he had saved a woman’s life, in another because a blind youth had received his sight, and so on. Among our visits was one to a poor Moslem family in a very poor quarter. No matter how poor the people are, their rooms stand back from the street, and open on yards more or less mean. It is a misnomer to call this dwelling a house, or to write that it opens, for it is merely an arched recess which can never be shut!

In a hole in the middle of an uneven earthen floor there was a fire of tamarisk root and animal fuel, giving off a stinging smoke. On this the broken wheat porridge for supper was being cooked in a copper pot, supported on three rusty cannon-balls. An earthenware basin, a wooden spoon, a long knife, a goat-skin of water, a mallet, a long hen-coop, which had served as the bed for the wife when she was ill, some ugly hens, a clay jar full of grain, two heaps of brick rubbish, and some wadded quilts, which had taken on the prevailing gray-brown colour, were the plenishings of the arch.

Poverty brings one blessing in Turkey — the poor man is of necessity a monogamist. Wretched though the place was, it had the air of home, and the smoky hole in the floor was a fireside. The wife was unveiled and joined in the conversation, the husband was helping her to cook the supper, and the children were sitting round or scrambling over their parents’ knees. All looked as happy as people in their class anywhere. It is good to have ocular demonstration that such homes exist in Turkey. God be thanked for them! The man, a fine frank-looking Turk, welcomed Dr. Sutton jovially. He had saved the wife’s life and was received as their best friend. Who indeed but the medical missionary would care for such as them and give them of his skill “without money and without price”? The hearty laugh of this Turk was good to hear, his wife smiled cordially, and the boys laughed like their father. The eldest, a nice, bright fellow of nine, taught in the mosque school, was proud to show how well he could read Arabic, and read part of a chapter from St. John’s Gospel, his parents looking on with wonder and admiration.

Among the Christian families we called on were those of the dispenser and catechist — people with very small salaries but comfortable homes. These families were living in a house furnished like those of the rich Armenians, but on a very simple scale, the floor and daïs covered with Persian carpets, the divan with Turkish woollen stuff, and there were in addition a chair or two, and silk cushions on the floor. In one room there were an intelligent elderly woman, a beautiful girl of seventeen, married a few days ago, and wearing her bridal ornaments, with her husband; another man and his wife, and two bright, ruddy-cheeked boys who spoke six languages. All had “date marks” on their faces. After a year among Moslems and Hindus, it was startling to find men and women sitting together, the women unveiled, and taking their share in the conversation merrily and happily. Even the young bride took the initiative in talking to Dr. Sutton.

Of course the Christian women cover their faces in the streets, but the covering is of different material and arrangement, and is really magnificent, being of very rich, stiff, corded silk-self-coloured usually — black, heliotrope, or dark blue, with a contrasting colour woven in deep vandykes upon a white ground as a border. The silk is superb, really capable of standing on end with richness. Such a sheet costs about £5. The ambition of every woman is to possess one, and to gratify it she even denies herself in the necessaries of life.

The upper classes of both Moslem and Christian women are rarely seen on foot in the streets except on certain days, as when they visit the churches and the mosques and burial-grounds. Nevertheless they go about a great deal to visit each other, riding on white asses, which are also used by mollahs and rich elderly merchants. All asses have their nostrils slit to improve their wind. A good white ass of long pedigree, over thirteen hands high, costs as much as £50. As they are groomed till they look as white as snow, and are caparisoned with red leather trappings embroidered with gold thread and silks, and as a rider on a white ass is usually preceded by runners who shout and brandish sticks to clear the way, this animal always suggests position, or at least wealth.

Women of the upper classes mounted on these asses usually go to pay afternoon visits in companies, with mounted eunuchs and attendants, and men to clear the way. They ride astride with short stirrups, but the rider is represented only by a shapeless blue bundle, out of which protrude two yellow boots. Blacks of the purest negro type frequently attend on women, and indeed consequence is shown by the possession of a number of them.

Of the Georgian and Circassian belles of the harams, a single lustrous eye with its brilliancy enhanced by the use of kohl is all that one sees. At the bottom of the scale are the Arab women and the unsecluded women of the lower orders generally, who are of necessity drudges, and are old hags before they are twenty, except in the few cases in which they do not become mothers, when the good looks which many of them possess in extreme youth last a little longer. If one’s memories of Baghdad women were only of those to be seen in the streets, they would be of leathery, wrinkled faces, prematurely old, figures which have lost all shape, and henna-stained hands crinkled and deformed by toil.

Baghdad is busy and noisy with traffic. Great quantities of British goods pass through it to Persia, avoiding by doing so the horrible rock ladders between Bushire and Isfahan. The water transit from England and India, only involving the inconvenience of transhipment at Basrah, makes Baghdad practically into a seaport, with something of the bustle and vivacity of a seaport, and caravans numbering from 20,000 to 26,000 laden mules are employed in the carriage of goods to and from the Persian cities. A duty of one per cent is levied on goods in transit to Persia.8

The trade of Baghdad is not to be despised. The principal articles which were imported from Europe amounted in 1889 to a value of £621,140, and from India to £239,940, while the exports from Baghdad to Europe and America were valued in the same year at £469,200, and to India by British India Company steamers only at £35,150. In looking through the Consular list of exports, it is interesting to notice that 13,400 cwts. of gum of the value of £70,000 were exported in 1889. Neither the Indian postage stamps nor ours should suffer from the partial failure of the Soudan supply.

Liquorice roots to the value of £7800 were exported in 1888, almost solely to America, to be used in the preparation of quid tobacco and “fancy drinks”!

The gall nuts which grow in profusion on the dwarf oaks which cover many hillsides, were exported last year to the value of £35,000, to be used chiefly in the production of ink, so closely is commerce binding countries one to the other.

Two English firms have concessions for pressing wool and making it into bales suitable for shipment. There are five principal English firms here, three French, and six Turkish, not including the small fry. There are five foreign Consulates.

The carriage of goods is one of the most important of Persian and Turkish industries, and the breeding of mules and the manufacture of caravan equipments give extensive employment; but one shudders to think of the amount of suffering involved in sore backs and wounds, and of exhausted and over-weighted animals lying down forlornly to die, having their eyes picked out before death.

The mercury was at 37° at breakfast-time this morning. Fuel is scarce and dear, some of the rooms are without fireplaces, and these good people study, write, and work cheerfully in this temperature in open rooms, untouched by the early sun.

The preparations for tomorrow’s journey are nearly complete. Three mules have been engaged for the baggage — one for Hadji, and a saddle mule for myself; stores, a revolver, and a mangel or brazier have been bought; a permit to travel has been obtained, and my hosts, with the most thoughtful kindness, have facilitated all the arrangements. I have bought two mule yekdans, which are tall, narrow leather trunks on strong iron frames, with stout straps to buckle over the top of the pack saddle. On the whole I find that it is best to adopt as far as possible the travelling equipments of the country in which one travels. The muleteers and servants understand them better, and if any thing goes wrong, or wears out, it can be repaired or replaced. I have given away en route nearly all the things I brought from England, and have reduced my camp furniture to a folding bed and a chair. I shall start with three novelties — a fellow-traveller,9 a saddle mule, and an untried saddle.

It is expected that the journey will be a very severe one, owing to the exceptionally heavy snowfall reported from the Zagros mountains and the Persian plateau. The Persian post has arrived several days late. I. L. B.

6 I heard that the Shah had prohibited this “Dead March” to Kerbela, on account of the many risks to the public health involved in it, but nearly a year later, in Persian Kurdistan, I met, besides thousands of living pilgrims, a large caravan of the dead.

7 Six months later a Bakhtiari chief, a bigoted Moslem, said to me at the conclusion of an earnest plea for European medical advice, “Yes, Jesus was a great prophet; send us a Hakīm in His likeness,” and doubtless the nearer that likeness is the greater is the success.

8 The entire trade of Baghdad is estimated at about £2,500,000, of which the Persian transit trade is nearly a quarter. The Persian imports and exports through Baghdad are classified thus: Manufactured goods, including Manchester piece goods, and continental woollens and cottons, 7000 to 8000 loads. Indian manufactures, 1000 loads. Loaf sugar, chiefly from Marseilles, 6000 loads. Drugs, pepper, coffee, tea, other sugars, indigo, cochineal, copper, and spelter, 7000 loads. The Persian exports for despatch by sea include wool, opium, cotton, carpets, gum, and dried fruits, and for local consumption, among others, tobacco, roghan (clarified butter), and dried and fresh fruits, with a probable bulk of from 12,000 to 15,000 loads.

9 I had given up the idea of travelling in Persia, and was preparing to leave India for England, when an officer, with whom I was then unacquainted, and who was about to proceed to Tihran on business, kindly offered me his escort. The journey turned out one of extreme hardship and difficulty, and had it not been for his kindness and efficient help I do not think that I should have accomplished it.

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:52