Monday, January 05, 2009

Wednesday 19th May 1943

Things look black today. it is very hot and my head aches. I'm having menthol inhalations and medicine, for my cough; not doing much good yet, though.

Washed out the canteen last night, for this mornings inspection. Lucky I did, for there was a lot of linen work today and I didn't reach the canteen until about 9:30 a.m., half an hour before the Major's Inspection. I'd watered the garden and weeded it yesterday, but his only comment was that the flowers wanted stakes – they're bushy sort of flowers – and the soil on the beds needed arranging in a different sort of way. The catalogue of books is finished now and the only reason for my work in the canteen is the old, familiar Army bullshit.

How do they expect me to get better when every seventh day is made so ghastly?
Today I feel I shall never get better, either in my nerves or my bloody bronchial tubes.

A few minutes after I wrote the preceding gloomy words, the afternoon monotony was roughly broken – and for me, happily. I ceased wondering if there would be time to do the tasks in the canteen garden before dinner; and forgot the heat, flies and my listlessness. “Corporal, can you speak Arabic?” called the Sister. “A scwire!” I grinned. “Well, come up here, there's a spot of bother, here...”

A dignified old Jewish countryman had entered the ward. Partly by dumb charades, I managed to gather that a patient of this hospital had been in the groves and had molested an Arab girl – tearing her dress, lifting her skirts and putting his arms around her. The Staff Sgt. was summoned. “You'd better stick around,” he said to me – heaven knows why, for my Arabic only runs to 150 words or so.

Eventually we proceeded around the wards – the Staff, the Jew, the girl and I. Why, she was only a mite, a bare-footed Bedouin child! “Ed deesh sanna, he?” I asked the old gentleman. “Tessa enus sana, yimkin ashra,” he said. Ten years old! I felt furious! The little thing went round all the wards, sometimes whimpering a bit at the sight of so many men, but walking in a very erect and dignified manner, like all Arab women.

She didn't recognise anyone; it wasn't very surprising as the wards were almost empty. So they're coming back later on. In spite of it being such an unpleasant occasion, the old Jew remained quite dignified and polite. The incident has made me feel much better.


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