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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 69

Good Water Drinkers

Good Water Drinkers.

The Somali women work very hard; the fact is they do all the most laborious work. Quite a crowd of them gather at the Arab Gate every morning to rush out as soon as it is opened. They go out to the mainland for bundles of wood. The loads they bring would astonish a stranger. They carry the bundle on the small of the back, on which they have a page 38 soft pad, of the improver stamp of the present day. They travel several miles out, then from the Arab Gate to town, another few miles. When they reach the Arab Gate with their loads they usually take a rest, and when relieved of the load they cannot stand straight for a considerable time. Some would call at the bungalow of the European on duty there for a drink of water. It was impossible to respond to every call, as will be shown further on, for it would take several pauney-whallas (water-carriers) all their time to keep up the supply.

One afternoon, not long before closing time (sun-set), a diminutive, withered old creature came to the door salaaming for a drink. The chatty was nearly full at the time, so I thought I would see how much she would drink, and I told her to satisfy her thirst. This pleased her, and she started. I was leaning on a stretcher reading, but could readily count the number of pints she would despatch. I had often watched one drink six or seven, but then they had not permission as this one had to take her fill. She went on, and when the number reached ten I left off reading and gazed with as much astonishment as she put forth efforts to use up all my water. Before she took a spell thirteen pints had disappeared, and I concluded that she had used nearly all, and went over to see, but there was still a fair quantity left, and I told her to wire in, which she readily did, and four more pints went out of sight, making in all 17 pints. Well, I thought to myself, I've been and done a fine thing for myself; there'll be an inquest over this, and when I say I allowed her to drink 17 pints of water they'll blame me for her death, and I vowed if I got safely over this that I would limit them to six pints in future.

While I was thus cogitating and giving myself unnecessary anxiety, she salaamed me and walked off. It was fortunate she was not encumbered with corsets or other tight laced apparel. Her shrivelled appearance would suggest her to be about 150 years old. The men never do that sort of work, they seem to be above it. They usually attend to the Europeans as cooks, boot-blacks, scrubbers, &c. They look on the aged women as only fit for hard work; for the young folks, I find that some of our young race are not adverse to this sort of thing either, having no objection whatever to see their parents do all the work if they will. Many parents I feel sure will agree with this remark. Fancy one small person putting 17 pints of water out of sight.

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I once put myself into a similar predicament. I went to the doctor for a dose of medicine, and I thought he gave me an emetic, so I went and procured a camp kettle full of warm water, and went to a sly place to drink some of it, to bring back the dose. I got about half way through the water, then tried to bring it up; but it wouldn't move. On I went and finished the water; then poked my finger as far as I could down my throat. That was no use. Then I procured a long straw; but the result was the same—I was compelled to slacken out. However, I told no one what had occurred, as I did not care to let my chums see what an ass I had made of myself. Some concluded that I was developing rapidly into a dropsical patient, and that there would be a funeral in the company in a day or two; but there wasn't, at least not on my account.