Mary Wade Griscom (1866- )
"A Medical Motor Trip Through Persia"
in Asia, The American Magazine on the Orient,
by the American Asiatic Association.
Vol. 21 (March), pp. 233-240, 1921.
THE AMERICAN MAGAZINE ON THE ORIENT
The Lady of the Stars
A Medical Motor Trip Through Persia
Wild Men of Borneo at Bay
The Wolf at China's Door
Price 35 Cents
. . .
A MEDICAL MOTOR TRIP THROUGH PERSIA
By MARY W. GRISCOM
IN October, 1918, when I was teaching in the Medical School for Women in Canton, I learned of the desperate need for instructors in the Medical School for Women that had just been opened in Vellore, south India. For every doctor that returned from war work, two or more had to go to the front. The arrival of a new doctor at the Canton School made it possible for me to go to India at once. I boarded a ship carrying as first class passengers 620 Manchurian mules, the finest breed in the world. They had been bought by the British government for service in Mesopotamia, but they had to be taken first to Karachi, in northwest India, to learn the English language. It is said that one of the reasons the Allies were delayed in reaching Peking in 1900 was the fact that the mules did not understand English and the Chinese refused to drive the foreign devils' carts. There were mules on deck and between decks and the eighteen human passengers were permitted to occupy only the space that could not be reserved for mule apartments de luxe. When the steamer docked after a fifteen days' voyage from Hongkong, our four-footed companions disappeared in a wild stampede in the fine white dust of Karachi.
At Bombay the flags were flying gaily from all masts in the harbor; everybody was holidaying with parades and firecrackers. The Armistice had just been signed, and there was no reason for me to go to south India. So I went instead to Allahabad to visit friends and wait for the next thing. There is always a next thing in the Orient for a physician, foot-loose and carrying hand-baggage. Almost immediately came a telegram from one of the American-Persian Relief Commission: "Can you go at once to Teheran? Woman doctor needed."
I had from five that afternoon until eleven the next morning to get ready. I had no idea what I should meet in the way of climate or emergencies in Persia, and the opinion of Allahabad was divided on these important questions. In order to be prepared for anything I packed into my light suitcase a few thin clothes, a jersey suit, a heavier suit and a coat. My bedding consisted of two steamer-rugs and four sheets wrapped in Chinese oilcloth to keep off vermin. Of course I did not forget my typewriter and plenty of ribbons. My food-basket, which I had carried on all my frontier trips in China, was of wicker, two feet long, with an enamel compartment in the middle for tea, coffee and medical supplies. In the basket I kept a tin of meat and another of biscuits, and whenever possible I laid in fresh provisions for several days – bread, marmalade, cheese and fruit. An attitude of indifference toward butter, sugar and milk simplified the ration problem considerably. Thus prepared, I returned to Bombay, where I added to my outfit a sweater and high rubber boots – an afterthought that proved most valuable in the classic mud of Mesopotamia.
Dr. Wilfred M. Post, who had sent the telegram, was waiting in Bombay. The other members of the American-Persian Relief Commission, who had preceded him by way of the Atlantic and went directly to Teheran from Bagdad in ten cars, were President Harry Pratt Judson of the University of Chicago, Dr. Wilber E. Post of Chicago and Professor and Mrs. A. V. W. Jackson of Columbia University. In the party that had crossed the Pacific were Dr. Joseph W. Cook of the American Hospital at Teheran and Mr. E. W. McDowell, a missionary among the Gelus, a mountain-tribe of southwestern Persia.
Dr. Post and I sailed at once from Bombay to Basra with our 150 tons of medical and hospital supplies, six trucks and a touring-car. After an uneventful trip of eight days we reached the Straits of Ormuz, the entrance to the Persian Gulf. Along the shore stretched the low desert mountains. That first evening in the Persian Gulf was marvelous. The lights and the haze, the purple shadows cast on the water by the mountains, the new moon tracking across the phosphorescent sea, every jellyfish shining out in the clear, wonderful blue, made one feel as if all the enchanted tales of Sindbad and his island must be really true. The rock islands in the middle of the Straits are Persian, and those on the south side, Arabian. Near the head of the Gulf, just outside the Shat el Arab we saw the hulks of four or five old Turkish ships that had been sunk in the current to prevent the British from getting up the Tigris. The objective of the Turks and Germans was the wells of the British-Persian Oil Company.
When we entered the Shat el Arab, the British embarkation officers came on board and ordered all the passengers to leave the steamer. The only other woman passenger – who was on her way to join her husband, an engineer at Mesopotamia – and I were taken to the great British base hospital of 1500 beds at Marghile. They brought us through the "Mespot" mud in a lorrie around Hyde Park Corner and Pall Mall, across Trafalgar Square and down Piccadilly Row, names given to the roads in the camp by the homesick boys. At the Sisters' Mess I was lodged in a compartment in a mud hut, furnished with a camp-bed and a small oil-stove. It was not a very efficient shelter, for the windows would not shut and all the air in the world blew in over the half partitions. The large, common dining-room boasted a fireplace and was decorated with Turkey-red covers and "Forty Thieves' jars", which the nurses had bought as souvenirs of Mesopotamia and the Arabian Nights. Every Sunday the officers came to tea and they reciprocated by inviting the nurses to tea occasionally at the Alexandra Club in Basra. The wounded men, English and Indians, were accommodated in mud huts and tents, each holding eighteen or twenty beds.
We stayed at Marghile ten days, while Dr. Post superintended the unloading of our freight from the steamer into barges that were to take it up the Tigris to Bagdad. Ten boxes of clothing sent to the Persian missionaries by their friends had been stolen on the way out. We had started out with 1000 cases of tinned milk, but now there were only 900 cases. Turkish prisoners, common thieves and others along the route had helped themselves liberally to the Persian Relief supplies. We had 100 sewing-machines, needles, shears and reels of cotton. About 700 bales of old blankets had been brought from India for the refugees of west Persia. Our five 1500-pound trucks we were obliged to exchange for nine 500-pound open vans, because the heavier trucks might tear up the road to Teheran, which had just been repaired by the British. Our seven chauffeurs, three Sikhs and four Mahommedans, had attended the school in Bombay where disabled Indian soldiers were given vocational training.
Capt. W. G. de Courcy THE MOSQUE OF THE BLUE DOME, BAGDAD The Gardens of Bagdad Came Down to the Tigris. Behind Them, Domes and Minarets Gleamed in the Sun.
At last the barges were loaded, and we puffed out of Basra one December afternoon on Paddle Steamer 50. We were on the Tigris, rich in historical and religious lore, and we were to learn much of the new history that was being added to its ancient records. That night we came through the muddy waters of the Shat el Arab, with its continuous fringe of date plantations and its numerous tiny islands, and we passed the junction of the Tigris and Euphrates, supposed to be the site of the Garden of Eden, where the Moslems have built a mosque. Perhaps it was too dark for us to see the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, but the Moslems carry their sons around this very tree three times that they may acquire wisdom.
Paddle Steamer 50 burned oil and was built with a paddle on each side so that one wheel could be instantly reversed if the boat had to be turned quickly. It was a small boat, drawing only six feet of water; so there was no hold. All the freight was carried in the flat-bottomed, sixteen-foot barges attached to the steamer. In the fore part of the boat were three staterooms on each side of a dark passage where we ate our oatmeal, eggs and coarse, gray bread. I was thankful it was dark; for, if I had seen the food, I certainly could not have eaten it. Two of the staterooms were occupied by a young British lieutenant, who was carrying the money to pay the Expeditionary Forces throughout Mesopotamia. The boy was sent everywhere in charge of the treasury because he never touched liquor and could be trusted. In the stern were the crew and engines. On the forward deck above were officers' rooms and smoking-room and a wide deck covered with an awning. Back of that two hundred Tommies slept and ate and sang songs. In the very stern of the boat, curtained off by a piece of canvas sail, a Persian lady, wife of a Persian consul returning from India, had her exclusive apartment with her servants. Between the Tommies and the curtained-off Persian lady our seven chauffeurs were lodged.
In the deep, swift current of the narrows, the barges hit the banks, and the up-steamers had to stop in a bend of the river for the down-steamers to pass. We wound slowly past Arab villages consisting of a few huddled tents of black goat's-hair and circular, high-walled enclosures for cattle. Kufas, circular boats of split bamboo, waterproofed with bitumen, were pushed precariously from one bank to the other, with their cargoes of villagers and live stock. Whole families were gathered on the banks, pulling out small roots of licorice, which were stacked like rail fences. We were so close to the intimate life of the shore that we could see the Arabs lounging on the wooden benches outside the coffee-houses, drinking their coffee, and, if we had understood their dialect, we should have overheard the village gossip.
We tied up at villages at night, but we were not permitted to land. Beyond Amara we saw the trenches and no-man's-land, barbed wire entanglements and the graves of fallen soldiers marked with wooden crosses..
At Kut el Amara Dr. Post decided to proceed by train to Bagdad to arrange for billets at the hotel, while I remained on the steamer in charge of freight and chauffeurs. From Kut we made slow progress, because we had to wind miles back on our track in the great bends of the river. I saw more camels than I thought existed in the whole world – thousands and thousands of them pasturing peacefully while they waited to be gathered into caravans for a trip across the desert. Persian wild-cats sauntered out of the jungle, gazing at us indifferently. Jackals in large numbers lurked near the ruins of Ctesiphon. The storks were as decorative as the painted storks on old gold screens. The only jarring note was that almost all the roofs of the houses had been blown off or burned off during the war.
Every one on the steamer was eager to reach Bagdad before Christmas. The captain, who had the same impulse, docked us on Christmas Eve at the quarantine station for Bagdad.
Glorious sunshine and Christmas morning in Bagdad! Dr. Post and Mr. Robinson came for me and the seven chauffeurs and our bedding and personal luggage in the Red Cross launch. The domes and minarets on both sides of the Tigris were brilliant in the dazzling sunlight. Gardens extended down to the river banks and over the walls drooped showers of golden oranges.
The landing-place presented a formidable, mud-banked front. We scrambled over three boats, gingerly walked around another, precariously clinging to the edge of the roof, went up some slippery steps, waded across a mud lane (fortunately I wore rubber boots), climbed more flights of steep, narrow steps leading to the courtyard of a merchant's khan, and then, after ploughing through several alleys, at last reached the hotel.
I immediately gathered my laundry together. When might I have it? A deprecatory shrug of the shoulders. "I am a Chaldean Christian. I keep Christmas three days." The Chaldean Christian, who was the cleanest servant in the hotel, wore a red and yellow striped coat over dirty white trousers. His Christmas lasted three days, but my one touch of holiday atmosphere was an invitation to join the Y.M.C.A. men at their Christmas dinner and accompany them to a "Tommies" concert.
Capt. W. G. de Courcy A MODERN HOSPITAL-BOAT ON THE TIGRIS The Past Few Years Have Added New History to the Ancient Records of the Tigris. The Armies That Have Struggled in "Mespot" Mud and Relief Agencies Sent from the West Have Awakened Age-Drowsy Lands.
The Hotel Maude, ten rupees a day, had in pre-war times been a German caravanserai. Before that, as the Russian Consulate, it was celebrated for its lavish hospitality under the régime of the American wife of the Consul-General. Now it was run by "two Bagdaddies who had learned how in America". So I was told on the boat. The place was crowded with officers on leave and I was the only woman in the hotel. I was assigned to a dark little room entirely without ventilation and had to supply my own bedding and a mattress to cover the rough boards of the bed. The furniture was much like that accumulated in a second-hand store in the United States, only more dilapidated and worn. The napkins were exchanged from table to table, day in and day out. For breakfast we were served fried fish, eggs and coffee; luncheon consisted of boiled fish, a cup of beef stock, and sweet oranges; dinner, of soup, usually some good meat with beets and carrots, pudding and Turkish coffee. At luncheon we might sit down with one of the leading men of Armenia on his way to Paris with the latest word from Baku; at dinner, with the head of the Assyrian army, who would discuss the Patriarch of the Nestorian Church. And always the conversation would wind up with, "What is America going to do?" I longed for the newest as well as the most ancient books of reference, to see if I could attain a clear and unprejudiced comprehension of the many conflicting and confusing interests.
But there was little time for reading or sightseeing or anything else, except getting our medical supplies packed and away to the four corners of Persia. We spent a month in Bagdad, from Christmas to January 26, sorting out the supplies and trying to distribute them justly to the hospitals at Tabriz, Resht, Urmia, Meshed, Teheran, Kasvin and Hamadan. Each one had to contain an instrument case, drugs, surgical supplies, silk, needles, alcohol, pills of all sorts and varieties, tablets, gauze and cotton. The boxes for donkey-transport could weigh fifty pounds; those for camel caravan, eighty. Cotton or gauze was first packed around the boxes, which were then wrapped in bitumen paper to keep them waterproof, and lastly in burlap. The directions were written in green paint on every layer. We worked in an old khan built around an open court. On the veranda inside the court slept our seven chauffeurs. I worked all day in the rain and cold, swimming in mud, and although I shortened my dress to the top of my high rubber boots, even the hem of my skirt was caked with the mud for which Bagdad is famous. After the medical and surgical supplies were packed, there were still waiting for distribution the several hundred bales of partly worn army blankets, milk, sewing-machines, thimbles and shears, and one hundred cases of needles and thread (for the most part in 10, 12, 16 and 20 instead of the more popular sewing-sizes). Four husky Arab coolies, draped in rags and blankets, carried and shifted heavy loads quietly and patiently, moving things in and out of the court. One day when everything was going wrong and my Arab helpers and the seven chauffeurs had all disappeared, I complained to one of the young men attached to the Commission. He drew himself up and said proudly: "I do not know why you are not satisfied with me. Everybody seems perfectly satisfied with me, and in truth I may say I am perfectly satisfied with myself."
At last the supplies were packed for transportation and we were ready to leave Bagdad with its precious mud, its wide New Street, made by the British, and its wonderful bazars, with mud booths displaying rugs, silks, embroideries, goldwork and silverwork.
Capt. W. G. de Courcy ARMENIAN REFUGEES FROM WEST PERSIA Many Such Refugees Had Gathered in Teheran. In the Dispensary, Poor Armenians, Beggars, Members of Persian Ministers' Families and Relatives of the Shah All Rubbed Elbows.
During the latter part of the stay in Bagdad, it transpired that a plan was on foot for the woman doctor of the expedition to be the camp cook. Several of the older members of our party were strongly opposed to the idea and said it would be impossible for a woman to cook in a military camp in the East. It was argued back and forth for days; but I refused to budge from my position – that I had joined the Commission to do medical work and not cooking. Then it was suggested as a compromise that we should engage a cook who could also help with the cars. This I knew to be impracticable, because a combination cook and chauffeur would never condescend to touch a pot or pan. I was finally put in charge of the commissary, and engaged Naghi, a pleasant-faced Persian boy, who had been cook and valet for a British officer in India. He spoke broken Hindustani and still more broken English. Teek was his expression for anything that was good, and to him it signified superlative approval. He could cook very well and skilfully manipulated our tinned soups, vegetables, meats and jams, but even Naghi did not know how to utilize the desiccated coconut, which in some happy land of kitchen ranges might have been converted into cakes and pies.
On January 26 I left on the little donkey-train for Bakuba, thirty miles from Bagdad on the Diala River, where the British had collected 50,000 refugees, principally Syrians and Persians. I was to spend the night with the ladies at the refugee camp and the rest of the party were to follow the next morning with the nine vans and the one touring-car. My two hostesses shared a tent that was divided into a sitting-room furnished with camp-chairs, chest, oil-stove and a rug or two on the mud floor, and a bedroom with two army cots and a small wash-stand. They never ventured outside their tents at night without finding some wretched mother with a sick child, wailing and asking for help. Bakuba, with its canteen, bakery, machine-shop and hospitals, was a bustling tent-city. Every refugee had to deliver his cow, goat, horse, donkey, camel or other live stock to the British authorities, who kept the animals in a stockade woven of branches and twigs. When the owner left the camp, he presented his receipt, good for one camel or one cow, as the case might be, but he had no surety of being reunited with the pet animal that had shared his misfortunes.
Mrs. Mary E. Shedd, a missionary from Urmia, supervised the woman's industrial section. The principal occupation was making comfortables. Tons of filthy, matted goat's-hair had been turned over to the refugee commissioners by the British. The men washed and combed it, and the women spun it. Miss Marie Gillespie, also a missionary in Persia, kept house for a family that varied from its normal four, Mrs. Shedd, Mr. Allen, Mr. Smith and herself, to an unknown number, depending on whatever wanderer strayed within the gates. Miss Gillespie depended almost entirely on British rations, the mainstay of which was bully beef, bread and chlorinated water, with occasionally nuts, oatmeal and mutton.
When we left Bakuba, Miss Gillespie gave us three stone jars of mutton, which had been cooked Persian fashion and covered with fat so it would keep indefinitely. Hardly had we crossed the Diala River when two of the cars collided and we returned to the camp to repair a radiator. Poor Miss Gillespie had to stretch a meal for three so that it would fill ten hungry mouths. Once more we dashed through mud puddles as big as lagoons and after dark reached Sheraban, where we arranged the cars in a square to improvise a bivouac for the night. Near by was a demobilized camp, consisting of three British officers and an Indian company. The M. O. of the camp courteously invited the other doctor and me to dinner with the officers and insisted on giving me, the only woman in the party, his tent for the night. I was warned to take care of my things, for the colonel had just had all his personal belongings stolen by Kurds, who had crept in under his tent. The next morning at half past six, after a Spartan breakfast of cocoa and dry bread, we started across the open country with the rising sun flooding the plains of Mesopotamia.
Near East Relief FUGITIVES BOUND FOR THE BAKUBA CAMP, NEAR BAGDAD With Its Canteen, Bakery, Machine-Shop and Hospitals, Bakuba Was a Bustling City, of 50,000 Inhabitants, Armenians, Syrians and Persians. The Chief Industry of the Metropolis Was Making Comforters.
We were traveling on the one good road through Persia, the macadamized military road that had been constructed by the Russians and put in magnificent repair by the British over a stretch of 640 miles. We were riding across the plains toward ranges peaked with snow and covered with purple cobblestones, which, against the green slopes, mellowed the mountains into a purple gray. The watch towers and ruined walls reminded me of north China. We passed the Persian boundary and drove into Kasr-i-Shirin, where we saw the ruins of the aqueduct and the sculptured fragments of the palace built for the favorite lady of an early king. At Pai tak, from an altitude of one thousand feet we rose, in twenty minutes, up a sheer precipice to fifty-five hundred feet at Karind. All along the route were encampments of Indian troops.
It was night before we made the descent from Karind to Kermanshah. The simple and warm hospitality of the Presbyterian Mission seemed very inviting after a long, cold day filled with punctures and other minor mishaps. After we had dined and thawed out a bit, Mr. F. M. Stead, the head of the Mission, asked me if I did not want to see his family. When I expressed polite interest, he took me to a building at the back of the compound and opened a door into a great bare room with a kursi (a low, flat table about one and a half feet high) in the center, completely enveloped by a huge blanket. The room appeared to be empty, but suddenly Mr. Stead spoke authoritatively in a strange tongue. Instantly from all sides of the table coal-black ruffled heads emerged. The thirty little Armenians and Syrians – orphan girls – were sleepy and somewhat frightened; for, it transpired, they had been forbidden to keep their heads under the blanket because of the fumes from the charcoal brazier. In the next room were little Kurd refugees sleeping in the same fashion, and in the third room were the boys. Mr. Stead asked for our laundry. He had to keep the orphans busy. When I looked out into the Persian garden the next morning, I saw a dreary row of orphans at the pool, each dragging a garment up and down in the cold water. On one side was a pile of dirty clothes; on the other, a pile that had been dipped. They were returned to us, rough-dried.
Later I was told how Mr. Stead had acquired his sixty-three orphans. He had been working at the refugee camp at Karind. One Sunday, after the service held for the refugees, Mr. Stead, much distressed by the plight of the orphans, told Miss M. L. Cowden, temporarily working at the camp, that he would like to have them taken to his wife at Kermanshah. Suddenly he said, after a hasty glance at the neglected babies, "They must have clean clothes to wear. I'll go down to the bazar to get cloth and you have them ready by Thursday" – all with a serene disregard of dressmaking problems. Miss Cowden refused to be defeated. She had never made a child's dress but she plunged boldly into the cloth, cutting dresses for children ranging in age from three months to fourteen years, and giving them, as they fell one by one from her shears, to the refugee women to be sewed. They may not have been Parisian triumphs, but they were ready by Tuesday afternoon. On Tuesday morning she coal-oiled the hair of all the children. Wednesday morning she had the large Persian pool heated. At one end of the pool the children, stripped of their vermin-filled rags, were thoroughly soaped and, when they emerged on the other side, they were wiped and clad in their new clothes. On Thursday morning Miss Cowden started for Kermanshah with five refugee women to assist her. She and the attendants were each astride a donkey, all the larger children had donkeys, and the tiniest orphans were placed in panniers, one or two on each side of a donkey. It was a five days' journey from Karind to Kermanshah by animal caravan, and for five days this undaunted American teacher fed the orphans three times a day, tucked them into bed at night and got them all on their donkeys in the morning. She brought them all through to Kermanshah without serious mishap. Almost immediately, Miss Cowden had to return to Hamadan to her teaching and Mrs. Stead took charge of the orphans.
But she, too, soon went off on a furlough, and Mr. Stead was left alone with his sixty-three little Kurds, Armenians and Syrians and with the responsibility of their physical and spiritual welfare. The orphans continued to be coal-oiled every Friday, and bathed and given a clean dress, dingy gray from the frequent boilings, on Saturday. The four older girls alternated, two and two about, in cooking for Mr. Stead and the orphans and teaching a little school started for the children. In the morning they were given a mixture of coarse cereal and bread, at noon, stewed pumpkin and soup, at night, more bread. My last glimpse of the orphans was in the classroom, where they were receiving instruction in catechism from the fourteen-year-old novices.
Near East Relief HOMELESS WANDERERS ASKING SHELTER AND FOOD Among the Destitute Were Countless Orphans, Homeless and Parentless as a Result of Typhus and Starvation. A Missionary in Kermanshah Had Adopted Sixty-Three Little Armenians, Syrians and Kurds.
As we wound up the slopes and looked back on Kermanshah, it seemed scarcely a town, but rather clusters of trees and irregularities in the mud. Little mud houses, a mud citadel, a colorless bazar – that was Kermanshah. It does not even deserve its reputation for rugs, for the fine rugs, commonly called Kermanshah, are made in Kerman, in southeast Persia. At noon we ate luncheon in the shadow of Behistun, two thousand feet above the plain where Darius encamped with his army. I could look down on tents of scarlet and gold, elephants, camels and warriors with flashing swords, but the vision did not endure; down the dirt road were our nine dingy Ford cars creeping up with medical supplies. That night we had a good mess and camp at Kangawar; the next night we slept in an old khan. The fortunes of war and of travel in Persia are akin.
Hamadan is another venerable city of monuments and inscriptions – where Esther and Mordecai lie buried and Avicenna, one of the fathers of medicine, has his tomb. While we waited here for our cars to be repaired, a telegram arrived, requesting us to hurry to Teheran. It was decided that Dr. Post, our mechanic, two of the Indian drivers and I should go on with the three available cars, while the rest of the party waited for repairs and gasoline.
The weather was very threatening, and the most dangerous stretch of the journey – Aveh Pass – was ahead of us. At two thousand feet, it was said, we would see the ghosts of all the cars that had been wrecked in the attempt. The Tommy in the khan at the foot of the pass warned us, "If you don't go over now, you won't get over for a week." Already the snow was banked in high drifts on one side of the road, which was too narrow for cars to pass each other. We toiled up in clouds of snow and could not see even our own cars ahead of us. Two of the cars ran into snow banks and had to be dug out. But we made the ill-starred hairpin curve without mishap and came down the steep descent over a little bridge to Aveh on the north side of the Pass. Here we camped out in an abandoned khan, where I slept in a little cave-room.
The next morning we left Aveh in a snow-storm, and half an hour later we were down in the valley, enjoying spring sunshine. At Kasvin, a British petrol-base, we were lodged in empty wards of the military hospital. Our provisions had almost given out by this time, and we were reduced to Persian stone-bread. So far as I know, only the coconut and the bamboo serve more purposes than the flaps of Persian bread, which are about two feet long, one foot wide and a quarter of an inch thick. If it is raining, the Persians use them on their heads as umbrellas; and if it is sunny, as parasols; in winter, they wrap the flaps around their shoulders. If they do not need them for protection they roll them up and carry them under their arms. In the hospitals they spread them out on empty beds to dry.
The wide, well-traveled road from Kasvin led straight to the capital of Persia. We passed numerous caravans of the beautiful brown camels of the north, small wagons with four horses abreast, and Persian merchants astride mules, with their long robes almost touching the ground. The ever-present mountains were patched with brown, red and pink and little streaks of white, melting snow – all the soft colors and patterns of Persian rugs. At last we turned a sharp bend and came into full view of the snow-covered peak of Demavend, rising 18,500 feet above Teheran. After twenty-six days of travel from Bagdad we entered Teheran in the waning afternoon through one of the tiled gates, an approach worthy of an emperor.
I stayed for ten days at the American Girls' School at Teheran, and later moved out to the American Hospital, where the permanently stationed regular doctor was assisted by a doctor and a nurse, both refugees from west Persia. We learned that we had arrived a year late for relief work. I started a dispensary in town. Dr. Post reopened the men's hospital. The women's hospital had been maintained during all the years of the war by Dr. Mary J. Smith, who had spent thirty years in Teheran.
The Commission arranged for the distribution of their supplies. Although the need for urgent relief was practically over, there were still in Teheran many Armenian refugees from Persia and countless orphans, who had been left destitute when whole families had been swept away by typhus and starvation during the preceding years of the war. The Commission initiated some industrial work and planned to found an asylum for the orphan children. By visiting the bakers and butchers to find out which of their regular customers had stopped buying, our investigators tried to reach the most destitute families.
The refugee doctor and nurse departed by caravan for Tabriz and Dr. Smith and I kept house alone and ran the hospital and dispensary. At the dispensary I saw from fifteen to thirty patients, two or three times a week. Poor Armenians, beggars, members of Persian ministers' families and relatives of the Shah all rubbed elbows in the waiting-room. The majority of them had eye-diseases demanding operation. Persian ladies of high degree never expected to be seen ahead of the others. They took it as a matter of course that they were to be examined in their turn. Timidly the Persian women would lift the chudder, or black horse-hair veil, covering the face. They were as curious to meet the woman doctor as I was to meet them. A man physician, of course, they would not see at all. Several appointments were made with me at the hospital for the grandmother of the Shah; but they were never kept. One day the regal equipage and richly uniformed outriders and half of all officialdom were drawn up in glittering array in front of the hospital – but no grandmother. I went down the steps to meet royalty more than half way and I saw on the last step, huddled up in a corner, a tiny, appealing woman in black, about sixty years of age. The blank wall of the hospital had evidently appalled the little grandmother.
Among my patients at the dispensary was a small boy with a charming and impudent face. He wore the sleeves and part of the back of a coat and enough of a pair of loose trousers to hitch up with both hands occasionally. When I asked him his age he said, "Who knows?" When I asked him where he lived, he said, "Anywhere." At every question he simply shrugged his shoulders, unclasped his hands and repeated, "Who knows?" The nurse thought he was five. One of the patients guessed eight. But I insisted that so much philosophy could not have been developed under ten and, since he had his twelve-year molars, I put him down at that age. He refused to remain in any permanent shelter and preferred to live like a little gipsy. He had contracted typhus on the street and recovered on the street. One of the members of the Commission had referred him to me because of some ugly sores on his head. He improved steadily under the treatment but begged me to give him the medicine instead of making him come to the dispensary. But I knew he would gamble the medicine away and insisted that he come for a dressing every other day. At the Persian New Year, when it was already growing warm, he appeared with a heavy felt cap, a new coat and an overcoat, which he said his employer had given him; for he boasted of being a laboring-man. His pay was a quarter of a cent a day and his food, a flap of bread. When his head was cured and the bandages were removed, he lamented loudly and rushed off, dragging back by the hand the member of the Commission who had brought him to me and begging tearfully and eloquently to have his beautiful bandages again. Day after day he returned and begged for his bandage. Finally I learned that in the intervals between working in the tobacco-shop for a quarter of a cent a day, he had lucrative employment as a beggar and the bandage gave him pathetic distinction.
One day, a great-aunt of the Shah sent a note to the dispensary, asking me to visit her daughter, who was ill. Her messenger conducted my Armenian nurse, who acted as interpreter, and me through the garden, with its fruit-trees and decorative shrubs and marble pool, into the women's quarter. A servant ceremoniously arranged two green velvet armchairs in the exact center of the room for the mother and me. Soon all the women of the household gathered around us, for a visit from a foreign woman doctor was a most entertaining diversion in the monotonous domestic routine. The patient entered dramatically at the proper moment and sank into a luxurious pile of brocaded cushions beside the kursi, which was covered with white velvet stenciled in black. A samovar of hot water was carried in, and two servants brought a silver basin and poured out the water from a slender silver urn for me to wash my hands. Then the patient lay down on the kursi that I might examine her, and all her attendants crowded around her and excitedly and vociferously urged her to be brave and not to worry, until such a pandemonium was raised that I could not hear the interpreter or my own voice. When they quieted down and I found it possible to proceed with the examination, I was offered the silver basin again, escorted in state to a green velvet chair and served with tea and sweet cakes, while I discussed the case. I decided that an operation was necessary. A few days later an operating-table was brought into the house. In a large reception-room, the floor of which was covered with the most beautiful rugs I had ever seen, the operation was performed. The doctor who had arranged for me to visit the Persian lady was asked whether I would rather have a fee or a carpet, and it was decided that I would prefer a carpet. A few days later, when I called on the patient, she told me that she had sent her agent to the bazar to buy me a carpet and he had returned with word that there was no carpet in all the bazar honorable enough for the lady doctor. So she invited me to select from her palace any rug that pleased me. My protestations were futile. I had to wander through the great rooms, followed by a procession composed of the ladies of the household, the attendants and servants, and find an honorable carpet. I examined them all and selected a lovely Kurdistan rug with an old-rose background and green border. This was promptly rolled up by the servants and carried to the patient, who said that I must have been accustomed to fine carpets all my life, for I had chosen the rarest rug in her possession. I was much embarrassed and tried to refuse the too princely gift, but she insisted that I must have it – and I carried off to America my most exquisite memory of Persia.
Capt. W. G. de Courcy KARIND ON THE PERSIAN ROAD There Is Only One Good Road in Persia – a Military Highway 640 Miles Long, Built by the Russians and Put in Repair by the British. It Rises Up a Steep Precipice to an Altitude of 5500 Feet at Karind.
On the Persian New Year, which comes about March 22, I waked up to find the ground blue with violets. The sun was shining and the air was fragrant with the perfume from the pink and white flowers of the almond-trees. After this, it was a succession of apricot, peach, wisteria and lilac, bursting into bloom. Before I left Teheran, the walls were covered with deep yellow roses and the pomegranates had broken out of their golden-brown buds into rich red flower. The gardens that had been so bleak through the winter months were transformed into the enchanted gardens of Persian romance.
During the New Year's festivities, Dr. Smith said she had just received a Persian lamb as a present and I waited for her to appear in her new coat. But the Persian lamb, roasted whole, came to the table, kneeling and stuffed with rice, nuts and raisins. Meat, vegetable and dessert in one, it seemed at that moment the best thing in all Persia. Occasionally we had an egg for breakfast instead of rice boiled in mutton fat, which came from the bazar in a goatskin. Butter was four dollars a pound. White flour and coffee Teheran had not seen since the beginning of the war. We could get sugar, which came in large, dirty cones and had to be crushed. A bowl of soup and Armenian bread was our usual supper. Sometimes we were able to buy native green vegetables, but fruit was usually very scarce. At the New Year, however, especially on Fruit Night, donkeys carrying large baskets filled with oranges, lemons, apples and pomegranates were driven through the streets. Our boy, Naghi, had on this night, according to the custom, presented me with a pyramid of these fruits, bearing in gold-paper letters the Persian words for "good wishes", and at the same time he mentioned casually his need of a new coat, which he said would be an appropriate New Year's gift from me.
We paid our New Year's calls at the homes of high officials. Everywhere rice-cakes, pistachio-nuts, roasted hazel-nuts, almonds and seeds were served with the tea. The husband at one palace was one of thirty sons of his father, who had had thirty wives, each of whom had borne one son and several daughters. Among the visitors were several stately old princesses, each of whom took a few meditative pulls at the silver water-pipe filled with tobacco and charcoal, as it was passed from one to the other. The ladies were all adorned with ropes of pearls, pendants and rings and brooches of huge emeralds and diamonds. The dimly lighted reception-room scintillated with precious stones. Tea was poured from a silver service into delicate porcelain cups. Then the silver tea-service was carried out and replaced by a gold one. This time we were given Sevres cups. One of the ladies-in-waiting slipped away and returned with a beautiful fan-shaped box of hammered silver. From this our hostess took four tiny silk-gauze bags, which she presented to the foreign visitors. In each were silver and gold coins of the realm – the ancient and ceremonial New Year's gift. We terminated our very gay holiday by attending the opening of Parliament, which is celebrated also at the New Year, principally as a social event to which Persian gentlemen travel for two weeks by canvas-covered post-wagon. Here we had the final tea and sweetmeats, and then we returned with a sigh of relief to our own simple household.
Very shortly after this I offered my resignation to the Commission. I had come to Teheran in the expectation of assisting with medical relief, but I was giving all my time to consultations. The real need was in west Persia, in the devastated districts surrounding Urmia, but travel was closed in this direction, because of the Kurdish massacres. When I resigned from the Commission at the end of March, I offered to continue the dispensary and hospital work until I could make arrangements to leave. Two months later, I started off blithely in company with the wife of the Scotch doctor stationed at Teheran, to face the uncertainties and hardships of the journey out by way of Enzeli and the Caspian Sea.