Isabella L. (Isabella Lucy) Bird.

Journeys in Persia and Kurdistan : including a summer in the Upper Karun region and a visit to the Nestorian rayahs (Volume 1) online

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as natives or living as Europeans is the more likely mode
of producing a salutary impression.

The Mission House here is a native building, its
walls and ceilings simply decorated with pale brown
arabesques on a white ground. There are a bedroom and
parlour, with an ante-room between giving access to both
from the courtyard, a storeroom, and a kitchen. Across


the court are servants' quarters and a guest-room for
natives. Above these, reached by an outside stair, are a
good room, occupied by Mr. Carless as study and bedroom,
and one small guest-room. Another stair leads to two
rooms above some of the girls' school premises, having
enclosed alcoves used as sleeping and dressing rooms.
These are occupied by two ladies. One room serves as
eating-room for the whole mission party, at present six
in number, and as drawing-room and workroom. Books,
a harmonium, Persian rugs on the floor, and just enough
furniture for use constitute' its " luxury."

There are two servants, both of course men, and all
the ladies do some housework. At present the only
horse is the dispensary horse, a beast of such rough and
uneven paces that it is a penance to ride him. The
food is abundant, well cooked, and very simple.

The life, all round, is a very busy one. Visitors are
never refused at any hour. The long flat mud roofs from
which one can see the gardens and the hills are used for
exercise, otherwise some of the party would never have
anything better than mud walls for their horizon, and
life in courtyards is rather depressing for Europeans. I
have told facts, and make no comments, and it must be

remembered that both Dr. Bruce and Miss V a lady

of rare devotion who has lately arrived, 1 are to a certain
extent " honorary " missionaries, and have the means, if
they had the desire, of surrounding themselves with

This is about the twenty-third mission circle with
which I have become acquainted during the last eight
months, and I see in nearly all the same difficulties,
many of them of a nature which we can hardly realise at

1 A few weeks later she died, her life sacrificed, I think, to over-study
of a difficult language, and the neglect of fresh air and exercise.


Women coming to the East as missionaries are by far
the greatest sufferers, especially if they are young, for
Eastern custom, which in their position cannot be defied
with advantage, limits free action and abridges all the
comforts of independence. Thus a woman cannot take
a walk or a ride or go to a house without a trusty
man-servant in attendance on her, and this is often
inconvenient, so she does not go out at all, contenting
herself with a walk on the roof or in the courtyard.

The wave of enthusiasm on which a lady leaves her
own country soon spends its force. The interest which
has centred round her for weeks or even months is left
behind. The enthusiastic addresses and farewell meetings,
t the journey " up the country " with its excitement and
novelties, and the cordial welcome from the mission circle
to which she is introduced, soon become things of the
past The circle, however kind, has its own interests and
work, and having provided her with a munshi, necessarily
goes on its own way more or less, and she is left to face
the fearful difficulties of languages with which ours has
no affinity, in a loneliness which is all the more severely
felt because she is usually, for a time at least, one
nominally of a family circle.

Unless she is a doctor or nurse she can do nothing
till she has learned the language, and the difficulty of
learning is increased by the loss of the flexible mind and
retentive memory which are the heritage of extreme youth.
The temptation is to "go at it" violently. Then come the
aching head, the loss of sleep, the general lassitude and
nervousness, and the self- questionings as to whether she
was right in leaving her fruitful work in England.

Then, instead of realising the truth of the phrases used
at home " multitudes flocking as the doves to their win-
dows" "fields white unto the harvest," etc. she finds
that the work instead of seeking her has to be made by


her most laboriously, and oftentimes the glowing hope
of telling of the Redeemer's love and death to throngs of
eager and receptive listeners is fulfilled in the drudgery
of teaching sewing and the rudiments of English during
the first year.

It is just this first year under which many women
succumb. Then how many of the failings and weak-
nesses of the larger world must be epitomised in a
mission group exposed, as Mr. Heyde of Kyelang feel-
ingly said, " to the lowering influence of daily contact
with a courteous and non-repulsive Heathenism and
Mohammedanism " ! Missionaries are not likely to possess,
as they certainly are the last to claim, superior sanctity,
and the new-comer, dreaming' of a circle in all respects
consecrated, finds herself among frictions, strong differ-
ences as to methods of working, not always gently ex-
pressed, and possible jealousies and criticisms, and an
exaggeration of the importance of trifles, natural where
large events are rare. A venerable American missionary in
Turkey said, " Believe me, the greatest trial of mission-
aries is missionaries."

The small group is frequently destitute of social re-
sources outside itself, it is cut off from friendly visits,
services, lectures, music, new books, news, and the many re-
creative influences which all men regard as innocent. The
life-work seems at times thrown away, the heat, the flies,
and the mosquitos are depressing and exhausting, and in
the case of young women, especially till they can use the
language colloquially, there is little if any outside move-
ment. Is it wonderful that supposed slights, tiffs, criti-
cisms which would be utterly brushed away if a good
walk in the open or a good gallop were possible, should
be brooded over till they attain a magnitude which
embitters and depresses life ?

A man constantly finds the first year or two very


trying till he has his tools the language at command,
and even men at times rub each other the wrong way, but
a man can take a good walk or a solitary gallop, or better
still, a week of itinerating among the villages. People
speak of the dangers and privations of missionary life. I
think that these are singularly over-estimated. But the
trials which I have alluded to, and which, with the hot
climates and insufficient exercise, undermine the health
of very many female missionaries, cannot be exaggerated,
and demand our deep sympathy.

I do not think that the ordinary pious woman, the
successful and patient worker in district visiting, Bible
classes, mothers' meetings, etc., is necessarily suited to be
a foreign missionary, but that a heart which is a well-
spring of human love, and a natural " enthusiasm of
humanity " are required, as well as love to the Master,
the last permeating and sanctifying the others, and giving

them a perennial freshness. Fancy G. G grumbling

and discontented and magnifying unpropitious trifles, when
her heart goes out to every Chinawoman she sees in a
perfect passion of love ! l

With the medical missionary, whether man or woman,
the case is different. The work seeks the worker even
before he is ready for it, claims him, pursues him, absorbs
him, and he is powerful to heal even where he is im-
potent to convert.

1 These sentences were written nearly a year ago, but many subsequent
visits to missions have only confirmed my strong view of the very trying
nature of at least the early period of a lady missionary's life in the East,
and of the constant failure of health which it produces ; of the great
necessity there is for mission boards to lay down some general rules of
hygiene, which shall include the duty of riding on horseback, for more
rigorous requirements of vigorous physique in those sent out, and above,
all, that the natural characteristics of those who are chosen to be "epistles
of Christ " in the East shall be such as will not only naturally and speci-
ally commend the Gospel, but will stand the wear and strain of difficult


I have been to the hospital to see a woman from the
Kuhrud mountains, who was brought here to undergo an
operation. She had spent all her living on native
physicians without result, and her husband has actually
sold his house to get money to give his wife a last chance
of recovery. Fifteen years ago this man nearly took Dr.
Bruce's life. Now, he says, " The fruits of Christianity
are good."

Daily the " labyrinth of alleys " becomes denser with
leafage, and the sun is hot enough to make the shade
very pleasant, while occasional showers keep the greenery
fresh. Indeed it is warm enough in my room to make
the cool draught from the bddylr very pleasant These
wind-towers are a feature of all Persian cities, breaking
the monotony of the flat roofs.

Letters can be sent once a week from Isfahan, and
there is another opportunity very safe and much taken
advantage of, the " Telegraph chapar," a British official
messenger, who rides up and down between Bush ire and
Tihran at stated intervals. The Persian post is a
wretched institution, partaking of the general corruption
of Persian officialism, and nowhere, unless reyuttnd, are
letters less safe than in Tihran. 1 I shall send this,
scrappy as it is, as I may not be here for another week's
mail I. L. B.

1 Nearly all my non-registered letters to England failed to reach their



JULFA, April 29.

EACH day has been completely filled up since I wrote,
and tliis is probably the last here. My dear old Cabul
tent, a shuldari, also Indian, and a servants' tent made
i here on a plan of my own, are pitched in one of the
compounds to exercise the servants in the art, and it
really looks like going after many delays.

A few festivities have broken the pleasant monotony
of life in this kindly and hospitable house dinner parties,
European and Armenian ; a picnic on the Kuh Sufi, from
which there is a very fine panoramic view of the vast
plain and its surrounding mountains, and of the immense
ruins of Isfahan and Julfa, with the shrunken remains of
both ; and a " church picnic."

From Kuh Sufi is seen how completely, and with a
sharp line of definition, the arid desert bounds the green
oasis of cultivated and irrigated gardens which surround
the city, and which are famous for the size and luscious-
ness of their fruit. From a confusion of ruinous or ragged
walls of mud, of ruined and modern houses standing com-
placently among heaps of rubbish, and from amidst a
greenery which redeems the scene, the blue tiled dome
of the Masjid-i-Shah, a few minarets, and the great dome
of the Medresseh, denuded of half its tiles, rise conspicu-
ously. Long lines of mud streets and caravanserais,
gaunt in their ruin, stretch into the desert, and the
VOL. I s


city once boasting of 650,000 inhabitants and a splendid
court survives with a population of less than 80,000 at
the highest estimate.

The " church picnic " was held in a scene of decay, but
260 people, with all the women but three in red, enlivened
it. It was in the grounds of the old palace of Haft
Dast, in which Fatteh AH Shah died, close to one of the
three remarkable bridges of Isfahan, the I'ul-i-Kaju.
These bridges are magnificent Their construction is
most peculiar, and their roadways being flat they are
almost unique in Persia,

The Pul-i-Kaju, though of brick, has stone piers of im-
mense size, which are arched over so as to form a level
causeway. On this massive structure the upper bridge is
built, comprising a double series of rooms at each pier
\\ ith doorways overlooking the river, and there are stair-
cases and rooms also in the upper piers.

The Chahar Bagh bridge is also quaint and magnificent,
with its thirty-three arches, some of them very large, its
corridors for foot passengers, and chambers above each
pier, each chamber having three openings to the river.
These bridges have a many-storied look, from their
innumerable windows at irregular altitudes, and form a
grand approach to the city.

As at first, so now at last the most impressive thing to
me about the Zainderud next to its bridges is the extent
to which rinsing, one of the processes of dyeing, is carried
on upon its shingle flats. Isfahan dyed fabrics are famous
and beautiful, heavy cottons of village make and un-
bleached cottons of Manchester make being brought here
to be dyed and printed.

There is quite a population of dyers, and now that
the river is fairly low, many of them have camped for
the season in little shelters of brushwood erected on the
gravel banks. For fully half -a- mile these banks are


covered with the rinsers of dyed and printed calicoes,
and with mighty heaps of their cottons. Hundreds of
pieces after the rinsing are laid closely together to dry,
indigo and turquoise blue, brown and purple madder,
Turkey red and saffron predominating, a vile aniline
colour showing itself here and there. Some of the
smaller dyers have their colour vats by the river, but
most of the cotton is brought from Isfahan, ready dyed,
on donkeys' backs, with the rinsers in attendance.

Along the channels among the shingle banks are rows
of old millstones, and during much of the day a rinser
stands in front of each up to his knees in water. His
methods are rough, and the cotton must be good which
tends his treatment. Taking in his hands a piece of
soaked half-wrung cotton, from fifteen to twenty yards long,
he folds it into five feet and bangs it on the millstone
with all his might, roaring a tuneless song all the time,
till he fails from fatigue. The noise is tremendous, and
there will be more yet, for the river is not nearly at its
lowest point. When the piece has had the water beaten
out of it a boy spreads it out on the gravel, and keeps it wet
by dashing water over it, and then the process of beating
is repeated. The coloured spray rising from each mill-
stone in the bright sunshine is very pretty. Each rinser
has his watchdog to guard the cottons on the bank, and
between the banging, splashing, and singing, the barking
of the dogs and the shouts of the hoys, it is a noisy
and cheery scene.

I have heard that certain unscrupulous English
makers were in the habit of sending "loaded" cottons
here, but that the calico printers have been a match for
them, for the calico printer weighs his cloth before he
buys it, washes and dries it, and then weighs it again.
A man must " get up very early " if he means to cheat a


The patterns and colours are beautiful. Quilts, " table-
cloths " (for use on the floor), and chadars are often things
of exquisite beauty. Indeed I have yielded to temptation,
and to gratify my own tastes have bought some beautiful
"table-cloths" for Bakhtiari women, printed chiefly in
indigo and brown madder on a white ground.

The temptations are great I really need many
things both for my own outfit and for presents to the
Bakhtiaris, and pedlars come every day and unpack their
tempting bundles in the small verandah. No Europeans
and no women of the upper classes can enjoy the delights
of shopping in Persia, consequently the pedlar is a
necessary institution.

Here they are of the humbler sort. They have
learned that it is useless to display rich Turkestan and
Feraghan carpets, gold and silver jewellery, inlaid arms,
stuffs worked with gold thread, or any of the things
which tempt the travelling Feringhi, so they bring all
sorts of common fabrics, printed cambrics, worthless
woollen stuffs, and the stout piece cottons and ex-
quisitely-printed cotton squares of Isfahan.

At almost any hour of the day a salaaming creature
squatting at the door is seen, caressing a big bundle,
which on seeing you he pats in a deprecating manner,
looks up appealingly, declares that he is your " sacrifice,"
and that with great trouble and loss he has got just
the thing the khanum wants. If you hesitate for one
moment the bundle is opened, and on his first visit he
invariably shows flaring Manchester cottons first ; but if
you look and profess disgust, he produces cottons printed
here, strokes them lovingly, and asks double their value
for them. You offer something about half. He recedes
and you advance till a compromise is arrived at represent-
ing the fair price.

But occasionally, as about a table-cloth, if they see


that you admire it very much but will not give the price
asked, they swear by Allah that they will not abate a
fraction, pack up their bundle, and move off in well-
simulated indignation, probably to return the next day
to offer the article on your own terms. Mrs. Bruce has
done the bargaining, and I have been only an amused
looker-on. I should prefer doing without things to the
worry and tedium of the process of buying them.

The higher class of pedlars, such as those who visit
the andaruns of the rich, go in couples, with a donkey or
servant to carry their bundles.

I mentioned that the Amir-i-Panj had called and had
asked me to visit his wifa I sent a message to say that
my entrance into Isfahan had been so disagreeable that
I should be afraid to pass through its gates again, to
which he replied that he would take care that I met
with no incivility. So an afternoon visit was arranged,
and he sent a splendid charger for me, one of the finest
horses I have seen in Persia, a horse for Mirza Yusuf,
and an escort of six cavalry soldiers, which was increased
to twelve at the city gate. The horse I rode answered
the description "a neck clothed with thunder," he
was perfectly gentle, but his gait was that of a creature
too proud to touch the earth. It was exhilarating to be
upon such an animal.

The cavalry men rode dashing animals, and wore
white Astrakan high caps, and the cortege quite filled
up the narrow alley where it waited, and as it passed
through the Chahar Bagh and the city gate, with much
prancing and clatter, no " tongue wagged " either of
dervish or urchin.

At the entrance to the Amir's house I was received
by an aide-de-camp and a number of soldier-servants, and
was " conducted " into a long room opening by many
windows upon a beautiful garden full of peach blossom,


violets, and irises; the table was covered with very pretty
confectionery, including piles of gaz, a favourite sweet-
meat, made of manna which is chiefly collected within
eighty miles of Isfahan. Coffee was served in little cups
in filigree gold receptacles, and then the Amir-i-Panj
appeared in a white uniform, with a white lambskin cap,
and asked " permission to have the honour of accom-
panying me to the andarun."

Persian politeness is great, and the Amir, though I
think he is a Turk and not a Persian, is not deficient in it.
Such phrases as " My house is purified by your presence,
I live a thousand years in this visit," etc., were freely used.

This man, who receives from all a very high char-
acter, and whom Moslems speak of as a "saint," is the
most interesting Moslem I have met In one sense a
thoroughly religious man, he practises all the virtues
which he knows, almsgiving to the extent of self-denial,
without distinction of creed, charity in word and deed,
truth, purity, and justice.

I had been much prepossessed in his favour not only
from Dr. Bruce's high opinion of him but by the un-
bouiided love and reverence which my interpreter has for
him. Mirza Yusuf marched on foot from Bushire to
Isfahan, without credentials, an alien, and penniless, and
this good man hearing of him took him into his house,
and treated him as a welcome guest till a friend of his, a
Moslem, a general in the Persian army, also good and
generous, took him to Tihran, where he remained as his
cuest for some mouths, and was introduced into the best


Persian society. From him I learned how beautiful and
pure a life may be even in a corrupt nation. When he
bowed to kiss the Amir's hand, with grateful affection in
his face, his " benefactor," as he always calls him, turned
to me and said, " He is to me as a dear son, God will be
with him."


The garden is well laid out, and will soon be full of
flowers. The Amir seemed to love them passionately.
He said that they gave rest and joy, and are " the fringes
of the garment of God." He could not cut them, he said,
"Their beauty is in their completeness from root to
petals, and cutting destroys it."

A curtained doorway in the high garden wall, where
the curtains were held aside by servants, leads into the
court of the andarun, where flowers again were in the
ascendant, and vines concealed the walls. The son, a
small boy, met us and kissed my hand. Mirza had told
me that he had never passed through this wall, and
had never seen the ladies, but when I proposed to leave
him outside, the Amir said he would be welcome, that he
wished for much conversation, and for his wife to hear
about the position and education of women in England.

The beautiful reception-room looked something like
home. The pure white walls and honeycombed ceiling
are touched and decorated with a pale shade of blue, and
the ground of the patterns of the rich carpets on the floor
is in the same delicate colour, which is repeated in the
brocaded stuffs with which the divans are covered. A
half-length portrait of the Amir in a sky-blue uniform,
with his breast covered with orders, harmonises with the
general " scheme " of colour. The takchahs in the walls
are utilised for vases and other objects in alabaster, jade,
and bronze. A tea-table covered with sweetmeats, a
tea equipage on the floor, and some chairs completed
the furnishing.

The Amir stood till his wife came in, and then asked
permission to sit down, placing Mirza, who discreetly
lowered his eyes when the lady entered, and never raised
them again, on the floor.

She is young, tall, and somewhat stout. She was
much rouged, and her eyes, to which the arts of the


toilet could add no additional beauty, were treated
with kohl, and the eyebrows artificially extended. She
wore fine gray socks, white skin-fitting tights, a black
satin skirt, or rather flounce, embroidered in gold, so
bouffant e with flounces of starched crinoline under it that
when she sat down it stood out straight, not even touch-
ing the chair. A chemise of spangled gauze, and a pale
blue gold-embroidered zouave jacket completed a costume
which is dress, not clothing. The somewhat startling
effect was toned down by a beautiful Constantinople silk
gauze veil, sprigged in pale pink and gold, absolutely
transparent, which draped her from head to foot.

I did not get away in less than two hours. The
Amir and Mirza, used to each other's modes of expression,
found no difficulties, and Mirza being a man of education
as well as intelligence, thought was conveyed as easily as
fact. The lady kept her fine eyes lowered except when
her husband spoke to her.

The chief topics were the education and position of
women in England, religion, politics, and the future of
Persia, and on all the Amir expressed himself with a
breadth and boldness which were astonishing. How far
the Amir has gone in the knowledge of the Christian
faith I cannot say, nor do I feel at liberty to repeat his
most interesting thoughts. A Sunni, a liberal, desiring
complete religious liberty, absolutely tolerant to the Babis,
grateful for the kindness shown to some of them by the
British Legation, and for the protection still given to them
at the C. M. S. house, admiring Dr. Bruce's persevering
work, and above all the Medical Mission, which he regards
as " the crown of beneficence " and " the true imitation of
the life of the Great Prophet, Jesus," all he said showed
a strongly religious nature, and a philosophical mind
much given to religious thought. " All true religions aim
at one thing," lie said, " to make the heart and life pure."


He asked a good deal about my travels, and special
objects of interest iu travelling, and was surprised when
I told him that I nearly always travel alone ; but after a
moment's pause he said, " I do not understand that you
were for a moment alone, for you had everywhere the

Online LibraryIsabella L. (Isabella Lucy) BirdJourneys in Persia and Kurdistan : including a summer in the Upper Karun region and a visit to the Nestorian rayahs (Volume 1) → online text (page 20 of 29)