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The Kia ora coo-ee : the magazine for the ANZACS in the Middle East, 1918

The Luck of Achmed

page 13

The Luck of Achmed.

The great War had been in progress for over three years, but the inhabitants of the goat-hair bivouac camp, alongside a Jewish Colony, a few miles south of Jaffa, continued their scant existence with sublime indifference. The "Engleese" were still at Gaza, but the only incidents which reminded the Bedouin of their existence were the occasional appearances aver the district of long-distance bombing 'planes displaying the tricolour rings.

Achmed was one of these camp dwellers, a Galabi—they are a somewhat superior type to the Bedouin Arab. He was about thirty years old, more or less industrious, and a good husband to his one wife. To outside appearance, too, he was honest. As a means of keeping body and soul together, he toiled in the gardens of the Jews—whenever he considered necessary. As a diversion to his ordinary labours, he sometimes piloted the donkeys of Moussa Machmud, from whom the Jews hired these beasts of burden by the day.

It was on returning to his boss's camp at twilight one day that, by a kind stroke of Fate, he caught a glimpse of Fatima. as she sat busily spinning goat-hair into cloth. Achmed was almost overwhelmed with emotion., Fatima was the beautiful daughter of the esteemed Moussa Machmud, who owned seven camels and many donkeys and goats; she was adorable. Kadra, Achmed's wife, was becoming ungainly. From this day Achmed had but one ambition. He put more zest into his labours, for were they not for Fatima! He was but poor and must toil hard, for no doubt Moussa would desire to make a good bargain with his daughter.

The "Engleese" had captured Gaza and were advancing northwards—so the Jews had said—but these camp-dwellers remained indifferent. What was it to them, so long as they were not interfered with? One morning, however, the neighbours were aroused by the booming of guns and rattle of machine guns. There was bustle and activity everywhere, the very atmosphere seemed to be intensified. The Galabis began to take a more lively interest in the soldiers. They knew what this betokened, and viewed the situation with some misgiving. The Turks began to fall back towards Jaffa, and the noise of battle grew closer and closer. Columns of Turks passed along the main roads and stragglers scattered over the hills. Presently the "Engleese" came ia sight. Achmed was weilding his mattock in the orchard as he saw them come up. They were big, brown men, wearing large, soft hats, and mounted on fine, upstanding horses. They swung along at a gallop after the retreating foe.

Jaffa fell'; and shortly afterward these horsemen came back and camped round the Jewish Colony. Next day Achmed wandered round timidly, endeavouring to learn their habits and customs. They were rather susceptible to eggs and oranges. It did not take long for the business instincts of Achmed to assert themselves and the following morning found him travelling round the camps with his wife, Kadra, trailing behind, a basket of oranges on her head.

Money simply rolled in, and Achmed prophesied a very prosperous time ahead. That night, as he lay awake in the moonlight, he thought of one thing only. Now was the golden opportunity to realise his dream of many moons. It was possible that, if his present prosperity continued, Fatima might become his own. He was not disappointed in this—he coined money with the oranges. Ah! was this not better than toiling in the garden under a taskmaster? Achmed became a different man, there was a new sparkle in his eye.

After some time of continued success in the orange trade, Acbmed reviewed his financial position, and the result was highly pleasing. He determined now boldly to approach Moussa Machmud and ask for the hand of his daughter, Fatima. After a couple of hours of bargaining they came to an agreement satisfactory to both. For a certain sum, and on a certain date, Fatima was to become Achmed's wife. At sunset the event was heralded by the continuous yodelling of his wife and his female relatives, all of whom took it as a matter of course and custom. A couple of Billjims from the camp nearby, thinking that there was a murder, or, at least, a brawl, strolled up and made enquiries. Achmed explained to them that he was about to take unto himself anew wife, and that on the following night the festivities were to commence.

On the great night some of the Billjims went up and watched the proceedings, which consisted of dancing, chanting, etc., by the light of a manure and brushwood fire. Achmed explained that there was to be a big "fantasia" on the morrow and all would be welcome. A slush lamp was rigged up with a kerosene tin, and preparations were made for the evening. The lamp attracted a big audience of natives and Billjims. Achmed, as host, had arranged a good programme and there was dancing, chanting and sword play (with sticks) to the accomplishment of tom toms, reed flutes and clapping of hands. The soldiers were inspired to action, and boxing, club swinging, singing and dancing
"The beautiful daughter of Moussa Machmud".

"The beautiful daughter of Moussa Machmud".

highly amused a delighted audience. It was clear that Achmed was very "mapsoot" as he beamingly handed round coffee and oranges. The night concluded successfully, and a strong bond of friendship was formed between Achmed and the Billjims.

Next morning Achmed explained to us, very solemnly and carefully, that in the evening the final ceremony was to take place, and no Christians could enter into, or view, the proceedings.

Evening came round and his wishes were respected, the "askarries" contenting themselves with listening to the shrill notes of the reed flutes, the regular beating of the tom-toms, and the high crescendos and low mutterings of the natives chanting.

Achmed was round as usual in the morning. Questioned as to the success of the ceremony, he turned round, and with a smile of triumph, pointed to two figures who were advancing with baskets of oranges on their heads. "The young one—the one in white", he explained, "that is her." With this he turned away, and passed on with his old familiar cry, "Orangez, five for one— orangez", carrying on with "business as usual".