Dahabiya

Map Egypt

Sophia Poole (1804–1891) was the sister of the Arabist Edward William Lane. She visited Egypt and wrote a book in three volumes about Egyptian women. It was meant to be a companion book for a book of her brother: Manners and Customs of Modern Egyptians, (1836).

 

Letter III, from Cairo

From The Englishwoman in Egypt, by Sophia Lane Poole, 1844

The boats of the Nile are admirably constructed for the navigation of that river. Their great triangular sails are managed with extraordinary facility, which is an advantage of the utmost importance; for the sudden and frequent gusts of wind to which they are subject, require that a sail should be taken in almost in a moment, or the vessel would most probably be overset. On many occasions one side of our boat was completely under water, but the men are so skilful that an accident seldom happens, unless travellers pursue the voyage during the night.

We ordered that our boat should not proceed at night, therefore we were three days on the Nile.

A custom which is always observed by the Arab boat-men at the commencement of a voyage much pleased me. As soon as the wind had filled our large sail, the Reyyis (or captain of the boat) exclaimed “El-Fat-'hah”. This is the title of the opening chapter of the Kur-'an (a short and simple prayer), which the Reyyis and all the crew repeated together in a low tone of voice. Would to Heaven that, in this respect, the example of the poor Muslim might be followed by our countrymen, that our entire dependence on the protecting providence of God might be universally acknowledged, and every journey, and every voyage, be sanctified by prayer.

On the first day we passed the town of Fooweh, where I could distinguish eleven mosques with their picturesque domes and minarets, and a few manufactories; the dwellings are miserable, but when viewed from a little distance the whole has a pleasing appearance, for the minarets are whitewashed, and the houses, for a town in Egypt, have been good. Numbers of women and girls belonging to this town were filling their pitchers on the bank as we passed; while others were washing clothes; which done, each proceeded to wash her hands, face, and feet, and immediately returned with her pitcher or bundle on her head. A piece of rag rolled in the form of a ring, and placed upon the head, served to secure the pitcher in its erect position; and I constantly saw, during our stay on the Mahmoodeeyeh, large and heavy pitchers carried by the women on their heads, without a hand upraised to keep them steady.