LIFE IN TRIPOLI
The glory of the Lebanon - A missionary home - Coffee and poisons -The fellahin - Geology in Syria - Sketches - My first sermon - A furlough.
AS will have been seen, my personal connection with the mission did not begin until nearly the end of the second period of the mission's history. Before and after the annual meeting already spoken of, I visited several stations in Mount Lebanon - Bhamdoun, Ain Zehalteh, Deir el Komr and Abeih. In Ain Zehalteh I heard my colleague, Mr. Lyons, preach his first Arabic sermon, and then took my first meal in a
Syrian home, that of Mr. Khalil Maghubghub, the teacher. As I had never seen the thin Arab bread called "markoak," which is baked in round sheets about fifteen or eighteen inches in diameter, I took a loaf and spread it on my lap supposing it to be a napkin. On my asking Mr. Lyons why they had no bread, he replied with a smile, "Because they eat their napkins!" I exclaimed, and the teacher on hearing of my mistake joined us in a hearty laugh. On every visit since that time to Ain Zehalteh during these fifty-three years, I am reminded of my eating my napkin.
On April 23, 1856, we went up by French steamer to Tripoli, the station to which I had been appointed by the mission as a colleague of Mr. Lyons. We were accompanied as far as Tripoli by the Aikens, Mr. Wilson and Mr. Calhoun who were en route for Hums. Mrs. Wilson was already in Hums.
I was soon domesticated with Mr. and Mrs. Lyons in Tripoli. That city had a reputation for the aristocratic pride of its people, both Moslems and Greek Christians. Mr. Wilson and Mr. Foote had made many warm friends there. Only one man, Mr. Antonius Yanni, whose father was a Greek from the Island of Miconos, had become an open Protestant. As American viceconsul he was obliged to be courteous to Americans, much against his religious prejudices, but by degrees, read the Bible with Mr. Wilson from beginning to end, and came into gospel light and liberty. He used to tell with much amusement of the horror with which he received a religious tract from Dr. Thomson in the Meena, and then, holding it at arm's length, ran a mile and a half to his home in Tripoli and burned it in the kitchen. He then went to the priest and confessed his sin. The priest fined him three piastres (twelve cents) for having received the tract, and forgave him, but then bethinking himself, asked, "What was the name of the tract?" Yanni replied, "Asheat A Ahad," a selection of Psalms to be read Sunday evening. "Ah," said the priest, "those were the Psalms of King David, and to burn them was a great sin." So Yanni paid three piastres more and went away much perplexed at the logic of the priest.
As the summer drew on, the heat increased, and we walked out at evening through the shady walks among the orange orchards, enjoyed the luscious apricots and plums and often gathered shells along the seashore, to send home to our friends. I studied Arabic about six hours daily, with three teachers Abu Selim of the Meena, the Port of Tripoli, who had taught Mr. Calhoun in 1841, Nicola Monsur, and Elias Saadeh, a young Greek, who, after years, came out boldly as a preacher of the pure Gospel. The scenery of the plain of Tripoli with its luxuriant gardens is beautiful. But the crowning glory of the scene is that goodly mountain, Lebanon. It rises in the distance, range upon range, at its base bordered with gardens and orchards, with here and there a stone-walled village, hardly distinguishable at this distance from the white rock of the mountain ridges, while further up is bleak, rocky desolation. Towards the southeast, the highest range recedes, sweeping eastward in a majestic curve, and returning again towards the southwest, thus embracing in an amphitheatre of grand dimensions, the famous valley of the "Cedars of Lebanon," while to the north of this valley, and almost due east from the city, the summit of Jebel Makmel sits enthroned above all in snowy magnificence. Here the range of Lebanon proper terminates and towards the northeast you see the immense precipice, where that mountain abruptly sinks to a level, and sweeps away to lose its identity among the shapeless hills and undulating plains, which extend to the Orontes, and border the , entrance of Hamath." You may gaze at the scene for hours and days and not be weary. You may view it at sunrise, when the sun bursts forth in all its glory from the snowy summits, revealing peak after peak and valley after valley, dissolving the mists, reflecting the rays of the monarch of heaven from the sheets of ice which encircle the brow of this monarch of earth, and throwing long spectral shadows down the dark ravines; or at evening when the last rays of the setting sun array the clouds in crimson and purple and gold, and then the rugged forms of the mountain peaks, bathed in a flood of mellow light, seem to lose their sternness gradually fading from view in a halo of indescribable glory; or at midnight, when the full moon beams down so serenely and brightly through the transparent Syrian air, that you can almost forget the absence of the sun, and the tall cliffs stand out clear and cold, and awfully silent, overwhelming the mind with a new sense of the presence of Him who made the heaven and the earth, and the everlasting mountains, and before whose glory even the "glory of Lebanon" shall be a thing of naught; and though this be oft repeated, you will not be too weary to wonder, or too indifferent to praise. Here you become conscious of that indescribable something in mountain scenery which exalts, and at the same time humbles the spirit, and the earnest wish begins to burn within your soul, that it may be yours to live and die beneath the shadow of Mount Lebanon.
My first duty was language study. We had no good dictionaries. My principal one was Freytag's quarto Lexicon in four volumes, the meanings all given in Latin, and studying Arabic with such helps was a weariness to the flesh. We had also little reading primers, and reading-books, with the geography and arithmetic published at the American Press. The chief difficulty was obtaining suitable teachers. My first teacher was Abu Selim Diab, who was recommended by Dr. Van Dyck as having been the teacher of Mr. Calhoun in Lebanon, in 1845. He knew no grammar and taught me more blunders than I was aware of at the time, but his chief excellence was story-telling, in which he used correct Arabic. When it became necessary to study grammar, we secured Sheikh Owad, a fanatical and conceited Moslem, who loathed the necessity of teaching the sacred Arabic grammar to a foreign, "infidel."
The mission at that time had no definite rules for Arabic study and no examinations of new missionaries, so that each new recruit was obliged to stumble along as best he could. Some missionaries for this reason acquired habits of false pronunciation which adhered to them all their lives. One of my chief advantages in acquiring the colloquial was almost daily association with Mr. Yanni who was the most voluble and rapid talker I have met in the East. Once able to understand him, I could understand everybody. I began Arabic writing with Abu Selim, and during my six months' visit to America the following year I kept up Arabic correspondence with him. But it should be stated that an Arabic letter in those days consisted of three parts: a long, flowery, poetical introduction covering one-third of the page, a similar conclusion covering the last third, and a brief letter in the middle. Important business, however, was written in a postscript diagonally across the right hand bottom of the page, and this was the part generally read by the receiver. Ever since, I have written my Arabic letters myself. A missionary who cannot himself write a letter in the vernacular is greatly crippled and embarrassed in his work.
The boards of missions now, having learned by experience, insist upon a definite course of language study and rigid examinations, failing in which the new missionary is expected to resign.
The houses occupied by the missionaries in those days were the old-fashioned native houses in the cities and mountain villages. The roofs generally leaked and the walls were soaked by the winter rains, so that the walls were often discoloured by greenish fungus. In the mountain villages the houses were dark, with heavy earthen roofs, mud floors and few windows. Glass windows were almost unknown when I came to Syria. The first labour of a missionary in occupying a mountain house was to have openings made in the stone walls, and window frames and sash brought up from the cities on the plain. These facts seem almost incredible to the modern Syrian dwellers in the cities and the better villages of the Lebanon range, where the houses are rapidly becoming thoroughly Europeanized, dry, airy and comfortable.
My first home in Tripoli was homely enough. For a year before my marriage and for six months after it, I enjoyed the hospitality of my dear colleagues, Mr. and Mrs. Lyons. But in the fall of 1858 we hired a house which stood near the site of the present Greek Church. Only a few rods to the south of this house was the Massaad house where Mr. Wilson had lived before, and where my brother lived afterwards. Between the two was a ruined Moslem wely (or tomb) surmounted by a mossgrown dome and overgrown with brambles and stunted fig trees - the haunt of snakes. In 1855 Mr. Wilson caught in a box rat-trap a snake five feet long, and after my brother took the house, his wife, on going to her room one evening, saw a huge serpent hissing on the iron bars of the open window.
Our house consisted of two rooms on the ground floor, opening into a vegetable garden, and two rooms on the roof of a neighbour's house, reached by a flight of thirty stone steps, with a kitchen and servant's room under the stairs. One of the rooms on the ground floor, a long, low, narrow, rakish affair, had been used as a stable, and it required days of work to shovel out and wash out the accumulated filth. The broken stone floor was mended up, rat-holes filled with stone and mortar, two windows cut in opposite walls, the walls whitewashed, poison applied to the woodwork, long strips of white cotton cloth nailed to the blackened and half-rotten ceiling, and our parlour became the admiration of the boys and young men who crowded in on stormy winter nights to warm themselves by the cook-stove in the lower end of the room. To reach our bedroom we crossed a paved yard, sheltered by umbrellas when it rained, then up a covered staircase and across a flat, uncovered roof. The following fall we removed to the Tromb house on which three new rooms had been built of the porous sandstone, plastered on the outside with white mortar. After the first hard rain in November, these walls absorbed water like a sponge, and the inside walls were soon coated with mould of many colours, yet we wintered there, and bore the discomforts as best we could.
My second summer in Duma, in 1858, my wife and I spent in the house of a Greek priest, Soleyman. It was an antique mountain house, consisting of two long parallel room, separated by a wall of kowar (woven reeds plastered with clay, and divided into sections or bins, holding wheat, barley, cut straw, and various household stores). This wall extended only three-fourths of the household height of the ceiling. No other house was obtainable at that time. The floors, as usual in those days, were of clay, which was washed over weekly by the women and rubbed down with a smooth pebble, thus killing the flees and renewing the surface. Over this were spread mats which were a protection. As the peasants leave their shoes at the door, and use no chairs or tables, the floors did good service. But our chairs and tables soon broke through the crust of clay, to the dismay of the priest's wife, who was a very patient, hard-working woman. [Since those days the village has been completely transformed. Emigrants to North and South America have returned enriched and have built beautiful homes, with tiled roofs, glass fronts and marble floors, vying with city houses. Indeed this holds true of the Lebanon villages for a hundred miles along the mountain range. Everywhere the people say, "This was done with American money."]
The only roads in those days were caravan tracks and bridlepaths. The first wheeled vehicle known in Syria was in 1861, and that on the French diligence road to Damascus, the only carriage road in Syria until about 1865 a little branch road was built to Baabda, the winter seat of the Lebanon government. Since that time roads have gradually been built. The carriage road to Sidon was not finished till 1902 and the completion of the one to Tripoli is now (1909) in the near future' For twenty years a road has been surveyed from Sidon to Judaideh. Successive kaimakams have taxed the people grievously for building this road. After building a few hundred rods the kaimakam would be removed to another district, carrying the road funds in his pocket. Similar jobbery and robbery were carried on for many years by the governors of Latakia and Hamath who reported to the government progress in taxing the people and building the road which has never yet been completed.
There was one institution in Tripoli, which still exists in many cities in Syria, which was a source of stupefying wonder to the average small boy. I refer to the vice-consulates of the European Powers. France and England were represented by foreigners, but Russia, Austria, Italy, the United States, Belgium, Denmark and Switzerland, by Oriental Greeks and Catholics. In the simple life of those old days, "to be a vice-consul was greater than to be a king." On feast days, especially the Turkish official holidays, they marched with stately tread through the narrow streets, preceded by armed, gaily caparisoned Moslem kavasses or janizaries, with their tall silver-headed staves rattling on the pavement, the pompous dragoman or interpreter in the rear, a fringe of small boys all around, like the American boys following the elephant. The ordinary Moslems looked on with bitter disdain, but they were careful to keep silent lest they draw on themselves the wrath of czar, emperor or king. Feast days were innumerable. In the Greek Church the people are obliged to refrain from work for about fifty holy days in addition to Sundays, so that the working men lose one-sixth of their working days. To make the round of calls needed on a first-class feast day, either Moslem or Christian, was a strenuous business. In those days to refuse coffee or sweets was to imply that you feared poisoning, and twenty coffee cups of black Arabic coffee were a peril to the health. The old way of getting rid of an obnoxious pasha or condemned criminal or secret enemy was to put corrosive sublimate in coffee, and I have been often warned in going to a certain place to avoid drinking coffee. Once in Hasbeiya, when visiting at the house of good Deacon Kozta, the Turkish kaimakam called. He was a new governor, and every honour was shown him. Coffee was made as a matter of course. But Kozta, in order to relieve any suspicion on the part of His Excellency, brought in the coffee himself, in a little tin boiler on a tray. The tiny cups were on the tray, inverted. He took a cup, turned it over and over, to show that nothing was in it, and drank it himself. Then taking the same cup he filled it from the boiler and handed it to the governor, who drank it cheerfully. Ordinarily, sugar was not used, partly because in those days it was rare, and partly because it resembled the white powdered poisons.
Only quite recently Dr. Mary P. Eddy was warned not to drink coffee in a certain bigoted Maronite district, lest harm befall her, but that old custom is rapidly going into disuse. Since the chemical laboratory of the Syrian Protestant College was established, the rulers of Mount Lebanon have frequently had analyses made of the stomachs of men dying suddenly, and poisons have been detected and the culprits punished, so that it was no longer easy to poison men through a cup of coffee. Coffee is the national beverage of the Arab race and indeed of the whole Eastern world, and the coffee-house is an orderly, quiet place, only broken in upon by the voice of the professional hakawati, or talk maker, who reads or recites, with violent gesticulations, the glory of Antar the Arab Hercules, or some other ancient lay. In those early days, drunkenness was confined to Oriental Christians and Nusairiyeh. The Moslems, as a rule, were total abstainers, and -this fact, in spite of their other vices, has tended to maintain their virile vigour as a race. But European civilization has brought in its train the fashion of drink, and many Mohammedans high and low have yielded to its fascination. The ruling pashas provide their guests with champagne and costly beverages, and the lower classes of Moslems vie with Greeks and Catholics and Armenians in drinking that poisonous liquor known as arack, distilled from barley or grapes, which crazes the brain, and is already responsible for three-fourths of the crime of the Turkish Empire. When I came to Beirut in 1856, there was one grog-shop kept by an Ionian Greek. The pasha closed it, but the Greek consul opened It as being under the protection of a Christian power. The bark I came in from Boston to Smyrna had a cargo of New England rum. Commerce of this kind has done its best to ruin the people of Turkey, as it is now decimating the tribes of Africa. The strong ground for temperance taken by American missionaries in Turkey has given them great influence among the Mohammedans, and the drinking habits of certain European Christians have proved to be a serious stumbling-block.
In July, 1856, we removed from Tripoli to Duma, a Greek village of the Northern Lebanon Mountains. It is about 2,600 feet above the sea, with beetling cliffs rising around it on the cast, south and west, while the mountainside slopes down to the north into the deep ravine of Nahr el Jowz, beyond which another range rises between the ravine and the plain of Tripoli and the Koora. Mr. Lyons and I leased the house of Simaan Abden Noor Abu Ibrahim, for ten dollars for the summer. I made a mountain bedstead before leaving Tripoli, as I brought out a kit of carpenter's tools, and it only broke down once or twice during the summer. The floors of the two-roomed house were of mud, rubbed smooth with a round stone, and under the mud were reeds and stones and often the legs of bedsteads and chairs would pierce through the floor to the dismay of the occupant. Mr. and Mrs. Lyons curtained off one-half of their large room with an American flag for a bedroom. The other half served as parlour, dining-room and servant girl's room. My big room with a window was divided into my bedroom, the storeroom and cook's room. As Mr. Lyons' room had no window, a special contract was made with the owner to put in a glass window. This required the tearing down some twelve feet of the thick stonewall, which was three feet thick. The roofs were of huge logs covered with large stones, thorns and earth. Owing to the building of fires for heating and cooking for many years on flat round stone moukadies or hearths on the floor, with no chimneys, the smoke had covered the ceiling with a densely black shining coat of soot, which was claimed to have a preservative effect on the wood. The effect on the eyes of the people, of sitting in a dense cloud of wood and tobacco smoke for hours, every winter, day and night, could be seen in the almost universality of eye diseases. We took our teachers with us and I used to go to the grove of snobar pines cast of the village, and study in the sweet resinous air of the grove.
Every feast day the house was crowded from morning till night with those hardy peasants and ironmongers. High up in the southern cliffs were the mesabik, or iron smelting furnaces or kilns, where iron ore was abundant and the forests were cut down for fuel. The rough little pigs were then brought down to the village and reheated on charcoal fires, and hammered out into plates for making horseshoes and nails. The iron was exceedingly malleable and the Duma Greek smiths supplied all Northern Syria with horseshoes and nails. Their industry was admirable and we could hear the ring of their anvils all night long as they took turns at the hammer.
But in a few years the forests were gone, the furnace fires went out, and the smiths bought Swede's iron in Beirut and Tripoli in bars, bent them by heat and brought them on mules to the village. The Arab. horse and mule shoe is a plate of iron covering the entire foot, a very useful plan on these rocky roads. The sanitary arrangements of the village, as in all Lebanon villages at that time, were simply shocking. And the orchards and gardens around it were unspeakably vile. We had to teach our landlord over again, what Mr. Wilson. had taught him three years before, and our insistence on decency and cleanliness seemed to him quite a piece of Franjy folly. Years later, when Rustem Pasha, an Italian by birth, became governor of Lebanon, he made a great sensation by ordering every house in Lebanon to provide a decent outhouse, but he enforced the rule, to the great benefit of the people. He once made a tour in Caele-Syria, visiting some twelve or fifteen villages, and there was not in one of them an outhouse, except in one house in Tulya.
One of the eccentric characters of Duma was Hajj lbrahim, the Egyptian doctor, the impersonation of conceited ignorance. Nothing surprised him. He had heard it all before. We told him of Robinson Crusoe, and loaned him the Arabic translation of the book. [This had been printed in Malta] Yes, he heard of Crusoe when he was with the army of Ibrahim Pasha, in Yemen. He doctored by bleeding and giving various decoctions to the poor peasants. An old man eighty-five years old was dying of physical exhaustion. The Hajj bled him in both wrists, until he expired. I was sent for, as I lived near by. Seeing the old man actually expiring, I asked the Hajj what he had done. "I bled him in the right arm for belghum (phlegm) and in the left for dem (blood) and the only trouble is that I did not take quite enough blood." As it was too late to protest, I kept silence. One day in the summer of 1858, the Hajj called in his usual pompous and affable style and requested the gift of some "journalat" or American newspapers. Supposing that he wished them for wrapping-paper, we gave him some copies of the New York Weekly Tribune, for which he expressed great gratitude. Some three weeks after, he came again, effusive with thanks, and said he could not express his obligation to us, and insisted that we go with him to his vineyard and eat fresh grapes and figs. On passing his house, he obliged us to go in and take a cup of Arab coffee. As we entered, he repeated his thanks for the papers so earnestly that we asked what use he had made of them. "Look here," said he, and he led us to an earthen five gallon jar in the corner of the room, in which he had dissolved the papers into a pulp and, adding olive oil, had fed them to his patients, and, said he, "The medicine works like a charm, nothing like it, I thank you with all my heart." We looked on solemnly, and then after coffee was served, went to his vineyard, where be loaded us down with fruit.
Years after, in November, 1864, I was a guest of Mr. W. E. Dodge in New York, just after the reelection of Abraham Lincoln, and the Republican glorification dinner was at the Metropolitan Hotel. Mr. Dodge took me as his guest, and in the waiting-room he introduced me to Horace Greeley, editor of the New York Tribune. I told him the above incident, and of the powerful medical efficacy of the Tribune. He shook with laughter and at length he inquired, "Do tell me, how did it act? Was it a cathartic or an emetic?" I was unable to answer, but judging from the vigorous health of the Dumaites, it must have been a tonic.
The simple-minded fellahin of Duma were in some respects a puzzle to me. Not one of the villagers had ever been educated. The priest could read and write but the people never had a chance to learn. One feast day, Mr. Lyons and I told the crowd gathered in our house of the cannibals who eat B'ni Adam (man), and that they had killed and eaten a missionary, a Khowaja. Instead of looking sad, they all burst into uproarious laughter, and one of them, named Ghuntoos, pulled off his tarboosh, threw it on the ground and roaring with laughter exclaimed, "And did they eat the signora (the lady) too ? " It is difficult to give a psychological explanation of such conduct.
That first summer in Lebanon was a continued delight. Arabic study, magnificent scenery, intensely interesting geological strata and fossil remains, meeting with the people, and trying to express myself and to understand their salutations and stories, the priests and monks, the muleteers, the donkeys and camels and flocks of sheep, the simple, sturdy life of the peasants and their unbounded hospitality, their readiness to argue and discuss, and to hear the European news, their pride in their rocky terraces, the result of the industry of ages, their Abrahamic plows and threshingfloors and bread making, their great acuteness and at the same time extraordinary credulity, their religious views and their stock arguments against other sects than their own, gave one constant themes for study and a longing desire to do them good. Duma is on a mountain slope surrounded by high cliffs of cretaceous limestone, full of interesting fossil shells. It was a pleasure to me to collect these fossils and send them to America.
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