Sunday, January 04, 2009

Thursday 15th April 1943

Now that the others are gone, Howe and I go tramping through the citrus groves and along the tracks. A “two-some” is not so good as a “three-some” but Howe is good company; further more, he speaks excellent Arabic. On our second outing – this evenig – we encountered an Arab youth whom I've often seen before; he is always appearing in the groves. We walked along with him, along a narrow path between the trees. As we went, he pointed out the various kinds of citrus, in different stages of ripeness – lemons, grapefruits, Jaffas, Valencias. The Jaffas were being picked, and lay in heaps along the way. He talked to Howe all the time. I listened and was pleased to hear many words I understood. Occasionally I would understand the sense of a whole sentence! For three years in the Middle East I learnt only about a dozen, perhaps 20, words of Arabic – Maalesh, Qwise and all the old favourites of soldiers. In the last two months, since knowing Hamad, my knowledge has increased considerably. I now know 123 words! Keteer mokh!

While I was pondering and listening, the path grew more wandering and devious. Then the youth stopped, where the path forked, and suggested we should call in for coffee at his village, as we were nearly there. “Hornack – ballad,” he said pointing; and sure enough we were damn near a village, judging by the noise (children, dogs and chickens making the deuce of a din) although we could see nothing through the thick, low trees. So we went on with the youth – apparently these groves belonged to his father.

After a very few steps,we climbed over a fence and found ourselves in the village street – mass urchins crying “Saida!... Baksheesh,” and several grave, tattered men saying “Morh-haba” as they passed. No one seemed surprised or annoyed at seeing two Englishmen in the special uniforms of the mental hospitals, roaming into the village. It was not the cold reception one would receive in a Jewish colony.

The boy took us to a dirty looking shanty, outside which three men were praising Allah (it was about sunset time). Inside were many men, squatting around a wood fire. On the fire was a coffee pot. There was no chimney; the fire was in the middle of the floor. We were invited to enter. “La!” exclaimed Howe in alarm, “Dakham!” Many faces grinned at us through the smoke and there were more greetings. This was a sort of cafe or meeting house, I guess. Coffee – the strong, bitter variety – was given us in tiny cups. A tall, stately, very dignified and superior man appeared and spoke to Howe in friendly manner. He, I learnt later, was the Muktah, head man of the village.

We did not stay long as it was getting late. Another Arab guided us homeward by another route. In the dusk, he hurried on into the deeps of the grove, carrying a bottle a-dangle in his left hand. He left us at his small shanty in the middle of the trees, and hurrying on, we just reached the ward in time for roll call.
Interesting excursion. It made a change.

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