Tuesday 13 August 2013

Miss Mary Arnold - Missionary at Kerak

Image: T. Durley, 1910, Lethaby of Moab; a record of missionary adventure, peril, and toil, Marshall Brothers, London: 190.
In the 1880s and 90s an intrepid British missionary called Willian Lethaby took up residence at Kerak in what is now west central Jordan. The indigenous population was mixed Muslim and Christian but fairly uniformly lawless, preying on each other and on any travellers passing by. Lethaby and his wife lived a hard life and suffered a great deal there from neighbours who often could be aggressive and even violent. Some of the burden of their efforts to proselytise and provide basic health care and education was shared when they were joined by Miss Mary Arnold. She appears in books of the time as a robust character and well-able to deal with the harsh neighbours and environment. One of the reports she sent back to Britain concerns a journey she made from Kerak to Jerusalem. In it she explains that because of feuding between beduin north of Kerak, she travelled south, down from the plateau to the valley south of the Dead Sea then north through Hebron to Jerusalem. The description makes it clear she was following the old Roman road known as the Zoar Ascent. This is the route I followed on the ‘walk’ organised by Prof. Haim Ben-David last year (blog post) and readers might like to read Mary Arnold’s account (see below). Of interest, too, is that when the missionaries were all forced to leave Kerak in 1894, it was said that she returned to her family in Western Australia. In the 1890s, the population of WA was small and the numbers who belonged to the Weslyan Methodist Church must have been tiny. A remarkable woman indeed.

LETTER FROM MISS ARNOLD extract from A. Forder (1902) With the Arabs in Tent and Town, an account of missionary work, life and experiences in Moab and Edom and the first missionary journey into Arabia from the north, 3rd ed., London, Marshall Brothers: 16-25.
"August 15th, 1893.
"To Major General Haig,
"Dear Sir,
"Knowing you take such interest in all our movements and work both in and out of Kerak, I thought you would also be interested in my last journey from our mountain  home to the Holy City; and more especially so, as you yourself have also been over part of the road by which I came, viz:- through the Ghor Es-Safeah and Hebron.
"The road through Mojib and Medeba being just then closed on account of fighting between the Anazi and Beni Succor, we made arrangements for me to go with some Hebron merchants who trade between Kerak and Hebron. Not knowing them very well, we thought it wiser to take one Greek Christian man with whom I had travelled before. We were to have started at midnight on Friday, July 14th, but my man (Saleh) did not come for me until 3.30 a.m. Saturday. We were fairly off by 4 o'clock, and well out of Kerak by sunrise. We did not take the road you and Mrs. Lethaby took four years ago; but went due south through El-Mota and Khanazera, because, on their way to Kerak, these Hebron men had been attacked by robbers, and had one of their mules shot dead. They (our men) had only five guns (native made), and the robbers five Martini-Henri's. They kept up the firing on both sides for three hours; so no wonder they did not want to return by the same road.
"We reached Khanazera at noon or a little after, but did not stay, except to refill our water skins. But I must not forget to tell you that at El-Mota, where is an encampment of Keraki—the Seriri—I saw that poor ' Attowy ' boy Ede, who was in our school a short time; the one who lost his foot from a snake bite. He recognised me at once, and a broad smile spread over his black but intelligent face. With true Bedoui instinct, the poor child can't be happy for any length of time in a city, but longs for perfect freedom of tent life. I expect he will come back to us again some time. But to continue: our caravan consisted of twenty men, about forty donkeys and mules, one horse, and 500 sheep and goats. As it turned out, it was very foolish to try and take sheep through the Ghor in the middle of July.
"The first day  we did very well. Just after passing Khanazera, Saleh's mule began to kick, threw him off, and continued kicking, until there was nothing left on its back. Soon after this, we stopped for about half an hour to rest and take some refreshment. We made tea, and I was not the only one who was glad of a cup. This was just before the actual descent into the Ghor Es-Safeah began. We sat on one little green patch of ground, where was a little brackish water oozing out of the mountain side, and where there were thousands of hornets quite as thirsty as ourselves evidently. There were a few rank reeds growing, over which Saleh threw our abbas (cloaks), and made a little tent to shelter me from the sun. Soon the sheep caught us up, and on we went. We could not ride far, as the steep descent began. I rode until my mule fell down, when I managed to quietly slide off on to a big boulder of rock just near. After that, in mercy to the poor creature, I was obliged to walk. It was dreadfully hot, and I could not hold up a sunshade and scramble down these mountains, for the descent was worse than that of Mojib. But if it was trying to me, it was very much worse for the poor sheep and donkeys. The latter kept falling under their loads. After about four hours of this steep descent we came to a small table-land half way down, and the sun having set, we camped. We were too tired even to make tea; but after eating a little bread and chocolate and drinking a cup of goat's milk, I lay down on my lahaf (a quilt stuffed with sheep's wool) with saddlebags for a pillow not much softer than Jacob's stone—and tried to sleep; but, alas! the heat was too great. Not a breath of air was stirring. After twisting and turning about for some time I managed to get a few hours' sleep.
"By 3.30 the next morning, we were on the move again; and the air was delightful until the sun rose. I cannot pretend to describe the scenery. It was not beautiful or lovely, but grand and over-aweing. The rocks as a rule were of red sandstone, worn into all imaginable and sometimes weird shapes and forms by the action of sun and weather. I could almost talk to those grand old mountains. How sadly I wanted to ask them how long they had stood there alone in their solitary grandeur. In some places they were beautifully veined with a lighter or darker shade, and now and then one would suddenly find oneself at the foot of or entrance to some apparently fairy or ghostly castle or stronghold. Some rocks looked for all the world like immense tables with beautifully and delicately turned legs. I could but exclaim with David, 'Oh Lord! how wonderful are Thy works!' Could a human mind ever devise such awful grandeur as this, and yet such terrible solitude? Down, down, down! The Dead Sea looked so near, and yet we kept skirting round and round ever freshly appearing mountains.
"At last though, we really did reach the plain, and were immediately met by a dozen or so of half-dressed, black-looking Ghowarina. At once, when they saw me they said I was a 'Consul,' and were very much surprised to hear me say in Arabic that I was no Consul, but only a schoolmistress from Kerak. Here we re-mounted, and rode along with these well-mounted rag-bags (for the poor things were wretchedly clothed) for about another hour. All that hour they were trying to quarrel with our men (who would not quarrel), to take by force some of their loads. But our Sheikh, whose name was Abd-as-Salam (the Servant of Peace), joked with them, and told them he was not only of a peaceable name, but also of a peaceable mind, and did not intend to quarrel. They took one sheep and killed it, upon which our men made no comment. Then two or three of the raggedest of them rode up to me (they looked so ridiculous mounted on beautiful mares), and asked for 'baksheesh.' I said, 'From where, my brothers, should I have baksheesh, coming from Kerak?' at which they grinned and fell back.
" Here we came to fresh water, of which the poor animals had not tasted since leaving Khanazera. The stream was narrow and rapid. The poor sheep rushed headlong into it, and the others pushing on from behind, fifteen were washed away and drowned before the shepherds could get to them. About an hour after noon we came to the Ghowarina encampment where we found another Hebron merchant with a bush shed for his shop. He received us very kindly, and it was much cooler in his shed than in the tents. I was very tired, and I need not say, in a bath of perspiration. They put my lahaf down and in a very short lime brought us a bowl of beautiful grapes and some thin wafer bread baked on an iron pan over the fire. This, with a cup of tea afterwards, in which all joined, was very refreshing. Then I lay down, and covering my face with the muslin on my hat, in spite of the unbroken babel of voices, I slept. After about two hours, it suddenly occurred to my man to clear all the people out, in order that the 'Sitt' might sleep! Of course, the sudden cessation of noise awoke me.
"By 3.30 p.m. we were all up and off again. We made straight for the Dead Sea, about half way between the root of the Lesan and the southern coast. Here it was a great stretch of dry sand, with the exception of, at intervals, three streams of salt water running pretty swiftly from north to south; for at the south end we could see a considerable area of sea; and yet I should think dry land stretched some three or four miles on either side of us. First, however, we had to cross a stream I was going to say,—it was not water, but bog,—the nastiest filthiest stuff you could imagine. I drew in my mule until I saw how my fellows fared. The men caught hold of my animal's head, and proceeded — as I thought—to lead it through; but when they got ankle deep they threw the rope up to me, and let him go. Just at that moment, what lively and vivid visions I had of finding myself quietly landed in the middle of that bog! However, the men shouted, and I vigorously poked my mull and held on through all his flounderings, till we finally emerged safe and sound on the other bank. Some of the donkeys collapsed in the middle, and then the shouting and lifting and pulling were most vigorous. It was quite exciting to stand and watch them. The third and last stream of salt water we crossed was considerably above the mule's knees, and the western bank steep and slippery. Many of the donkeys slipped right back into the water; and it took some time to get them all across. But, the sheep and goats, poor things,—they were tired out, and the shepherds had to stand in a string across the stream, and pass them over from one to the other. Otherwise they would have been washed away, as it was deep for them and pretty swift.
"We got across the actual bed of the Dead Sea in a couple of hours and then cut straight inland. About 8 p.m. we had ascended to a small plateau, where we camped for our third night. During this day's journey about six or eight sheep and goats had died from the heat. One beautifully fat, full-grown sheep was done up and could not go on, so they killed it, and we had it for supper. It was piteous to look at several of the loaded animals, and one or two well-grown kids, which were fagged out. They lay over the load almost like dead things, now and then bleating faintly.
"I must tell you how they cooked our supper of mutton. First they built an oven of stones, and then lighted a fire inside. When the stones were very hot, they took away the fire, put the meat in and closed down the oven with stones and earth to keep the heat in. After about two hours of baking, the meat is done. As I did not want to wait for my supper and sleep to such a late hour, one of the men took the liver, kidneys, and sweetbread, and putting it on the ramrod of his gun, frizzled it over the fire for me. It was very nice. Here, too, we were able to get from a fountain about half-a-mile from our camping ground good cold water, which was a rare treat. A little of the water we had brought from the other side of the Ghor was left, and they were going to pour it away when I asked for it to wash my hands and face. They were so amused that I should think a wash in a cupful of water so precious, and more especially so at my soap, towel, and comb.
"During that day I had noticed that one of the young Hebron men, who had often been to us in Kerak for medicine, had his head tied up as they do for headache, and that he did not look well, so when we camped, I told my man to ask him if he would like some medicine. He was very grateful, and swallowed it down obediently. The next day he was very much better.
"By 2 a.m. (this was Tuesday) we were off again by starlight. In about an hour we came to a most remarkable defile called the Wady In-Nakhbar. It was so narrow at first—and for some time—that we could only go in single file. The cliffs rose up sheer on either side to a height of, I should think, from 100 to 200 feet, white like chalk. In many places we could scarcely hear the tread of the animals—it might have been a caravan of camels, for the noiseless way in which we plodded along and by starlight. In other places the ground sounded hollow and unreal Just at sunrise we had descended again to the level of the sea, within a short distance of Jebel Usdum; but instead of going between it and the sea we turned sharp off up to the 'Zewire-el- foke,' right away up to Masada. There the ruins are most remarkable, as you know, rising up so sheer from the top of that little mountain, and commanding the whole of the valley right down to the Dead Sea. There we camped for the three hottest hours of the day. The water there is simply what is caught in the rains. While the men were down below filling the skins, and we were waiting for them with as much patience as thirst and heat under the noonday sun would allow, I tried to sleep a little, but it was too hot.
"By noon we were off again. In a couple of hours or so, we reached some very good water-springs, an hour or an hour and a half south of Hebron, after passing through Karmel and Ziph. Here we unloaded, had a good drink, made some 'damper,' ate, drank again, loaded up, and jogged on to Hebron, which we reached about 5.30 p.m. Abd es-Salam took me straight to his house in the heart of the city (near to the Cave of Machpelah), where I slept. They of course were Moslems, but exceedingly kind, and gave me a beautifully clean, native bed on the floor. Next morning I did not wake until late, and as soon as possible, asked Abd es-Salam to let his son go with me to Mr. and Mrs. Murray's house. This he did, and no sooner did Mr. and Mrs. Murray know who I was than they received me like their own sister, and would insist upon getting breakfast for me and keeping me there. In the afternoon we all went up together to the Mildmay ladies. There, too, all were very kind. That night I slept at Mrs. Murray's. Oh, how refreshing it is to meet and hold converse with such holy children of our Master! Mrs. Murray was a great blessing to my soul. Their presence in Hebron ought to be more widely known, as they are entirely dependent upon what their Heavenly Father sends them. Truly God chooses the weak things of this world to confound the wise.
"The next day (Thursday) I stayed with the Mildmay ladies until 10 p.m., when once again my men came for me, as we had arranged to ride on to Jerusalem in the night for the sake of coolness. This we did, reaching Jerusalem at sunrise, Friday morning; and Mrs. Reardon's Welcome Home of Rest at 5.30 a.m., Friday, the 21st of July.
Sincerely yours,
Mary Arnold.

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