The Kia ora coo-ee : the magazine for the ANZACS in the Middle East, 1918
Going to Jericho
"Go to Jericho". One often hears that expression, but how many who use it know what a journey through the wilderness to Jericho really means? With a woman friend, I once made the jaunt, and here is my traveller's tale.
Down in the fertile plains of Jericho, a very interesting tribe lives, and pastures numerous flocks and herds on land that was once covered by the suburbs of the great cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. The Dead Sea now covers these biblical "Cities of the plain". We were warned before starting not to go through the "Valley of Robbers", which lies between Bethlehem and the Dead Sea, but we were not afraid of these "robbers", inasmuch as we must have been personally acquainted with several. Our first afternoon's journey, three hours out from Bethlehem, brought us to Mar Saba, or Saint Saba, in the heart of this biblical wilderness, where dwelt a small company of monks. Their abode was not a monastery, but a group of tiny one-room cells, scattered about just anywhere, the whole lot enclosed by a wall. Nothing female is ever allowed to enter this monastery's enclosure, therefore, we had to spend the night in a tower outside, where Russian women pilgrims were in the habit of staying. Just one lonely old Greek priest kept this ancient tower, the entrance to which was an opening high up in the side. A long ladder led up to it.
The priest of the tower warned us very urgently against taking the route through the "Valley of Robbers," but we were willing to risk an attack by "our friends", the Arabs, especially as we carried nothing that was worth stealing, and so pursued our way, starting at about 5 a.m. We carried no money with us, the donkey boy had a few piastres with which to buy barley for the donkey, and that was all. We had been riding only about two hours when we beheld a large company of people coming from another direction, also towards the dread Valley. Eighty or ninety stalwart Bedawin composed the party. They no sooner came near enough to recognise as than we were overcome with joyful greetings and salutations. It was a body of men of the Ta-ameri tribe, old friends of ours, on their way to Amman, to build the Mecca railroad. They inqu ired by which road we were going; it proved to be their route as well, and we had an impregnable escort right through the dangerous Valley down to the Dead Sea.
When safely out of the Valley, we sat down and had breakfast with our Arab friends, for they would not leave us until we were beyond the dangerous district. We rode past a place called Nebbi Mousa, supposed by the people there to be the spot where Moses was buried, and so came to the Dead Sea in the late afternoon. Nebbi Mousa is a shrine, and the scene of many pilgrimages. Once a year, at about Easter time, crowds of people from Jerusalem, Hebron, Nablus, and neighbouring villages ride down on camels to this place. They are led by Dervishes, who perform ghastly religious acts of self torture, drive skewers through their cheeks, cut themselves with knives, and often throw themselves on the ground, to be walked over by the horses and camels, all the time calling on Allah, Mohammed and Moses. But we went on our peaceful way that time, undisturbed by such Scenes, and next day reached the Arab tribes samped outside Jericho. I was at once asked to to and see a sick boy, the only son of his widowed mother. The boy had fever, so I prepared a dose of the old time fever mixture; but it was
When, at last, our. Jordan visit was over; and we were preparing to leave for home, a shepherd boy came up, and asked if we were the people who had visited the camp at Jericho a few days before, and given a sick boy medicine. "Yes", we said, "how is he?" "Perfectly well" answered the boy. "His mother prays for you all the time, and everybody in the camp wants you to come back and give them all some of that medicine". Here was a predicament. However, back we had to go. As we neared the camp they crowded out to meet us, and we were practically mobbed by a shouting, jostling, but good natured mob, begging us for some of the marvellous medicine. We asked why they wanted medicine when they were all perfectly well. They said: "We may get ill, and you've never been here before, and may never come again, so what's to happen to us? We'll take your medicine as a precaution".
We dismounted, and divided all our little store of household remedies into doses for everybody. In a few moments, however, it became impossible to work, for the Crowds were making a terrible row. We told them that they must
keep quiet. The men said they would settle things for us; it was the women who were, making all the noise. They provided themselves with sticks, and rushed about flourishing them over the women's heads, shouding to them to "shut up", and incidentally making far more noise than ever the women had made. It was a jovial Bedlam for a while, until the native woman, my companion, started telling them stories. The effect was miraculous, and thence forward quiet reigned. We had Epsom salts, quinine, arrowroot, and such like remedies. The arrowroot we gave to the children, and the rest was distributed among the adults indiscriminately. Everywhere we went, after that, we were followed by somebody asking for medecine, or plasters for sores.