THE RED RUGS OF TARSUS
HALF WAY THROUGH THE FIRST YEAR
Written by Helen Davenport Gibbons and originally published in 1917
December 2nd, Nineteen-Eight
My first married birthday! I am twenty-six years old. It is twenty-six weeks since The Day. I have been counting up the different places at which we stopped on the way from New York to Tarsus. This is the twenty-sixth abode we have occupied in the twenty-six weeks. Isn’t that a coincidence? You are smiling and saying that it is just like honeymooners to notice it at all.
Wish you could sit beside me near our big log fire in the bedroom. The fireplace is made of solid stone, and in it we burn whole logs. When the wind is blowing a certain direction, puffs come down the chimney and the smoke nearly chokes me. It is good for us that this is only an occasional happening. Herbert insists solemnly that the smoke of a wood fire is good for the eyes. Even with his eyes smarting and half-shut, I can see him twinkle and know that he is teasing.
I am training myself to look after every little detail in the care of our rooms. In the morning I put all “ingoodorder.” Chips are picked up and thrown into the woodbox. Tumblers and mirror polished, every corner dusted. No meals for me to think about: for the mission family eats in the college dining-room.
Each of the three young couples in this house has what Mother Christie calls a house boy. That means a student who is making his own way. Ours is a Greek about sixteen years old, whose tuition we pay. He gives us two hours’ work each day. Socrates makes our fires, puts the saddles on our horses, brings water, and goes to the market to fetch oranges (of which I eat an inordinate number). A fire is made under a huge kettle, like my grandmother’s apple-butter boiler, and hot water is obtained in this way for our baths. If we want a bath at night, Socrates starts the fire at supper-time, and brings us the water during the little recess he has between two evening study hours. He keeps my bottle of alcohol filled with the pure grape spirits people make here. I get an oke at a time (a quart is about four cups, isn’t it? Well, an oke is about five). I have a basket for big Jaffa oranges and another for mandarines.
Socrates interprets well when we go shopping. He is certainly a handy boy. We help him with his lessons sometimes. When he cleaned our room the first Saturday, he asked me “to arrange all those funny pretty things,” pointing to silver toilet articles, “just the way you want them kept.” When it was done, he spent a long time walking slowly around the place. He memorized my arrangement, and has not slipped up a single Saturday since. When we take a horseback ride Saturday morning, part of the fun of that ride is the thought that when we get back to our rooms, they will have been beautifully cleaned and everything will look just right for Sunday.
On the outside wall of our bedroom, directly behind the head of our bed, and covering the entire space between two windows, is a very large red and blue kileem. On the floor are square blue rugs, just the shade to make Herbert imagine my eyes are not green. On one side Mrs. Christie has had two cedar wardrobes built in, and between them are a whole lot of drawers, up to dressing-table height. Back of the door, leading from the bedroom to the study, is a table where I have the First Aid outfit Dr. Oliver Smith gave me for my wedding gift.
Socrates confided in me that he wants to be a doctor. He comes from a Greek village in the heart of the silver mine district of the Taurus. His father and mother died during an epidemic. He tells me that he knew, young as he was, that if there had been a doctor in his village, his parents might not have died; and that he had determined then to be a doctor, so that other little boys might not lose their parents.
Doctor Christie told the boys in Chapel one morning that when they got hurt they could come to me for bandaging. Herbert teases me about the miles and miles of bandages in my professional-looking japanned tin box. There is a wonderful case of medicine. Those I do not know how to use I have put away up high on a shelf in case I might sometime lend them to the doctor. The things I know how to use are kept in first-class order by Socrates. I bought a little white enameled basin or two to be used when I make dressings. For six weeks I have been taking care of an ugly open sore on the leg of one of my students. It is a case of cotton poisoning. These people get cotton poisoning by contact with the plant at picking-time. I never heard of it before, but I used my head, cleaned the sore with camphenol, and have dressed it with camphenol-soaked bandages twice every day. I was rewarded after a week in seeing the wound surrounded by a ring of nice clean flesh. The infected part has been diminishing in size, and within the past few days is completely covered with a layer of new skin. I am proud of this: for the boy could not walk very well when he first came to me.
Last Sunday Melanchthon, a kid of fourteen, nearly amputated his finger in the bread-cutter. I fixed it up with adhesive tape stitches placed all around the cut, until the doctor could get back from some distant village to sew it. Thank Heaven, Melanchthon can still wiggle his finger joint. When Socrates took him back to the dormitory after I had dressed his finger that first day, the little fellow asked if he could go to see the lady again. Socrates explained that the lady had said he must return on the morrow for another dressing. Melanchthon was pleased. He did want to see the pretty room again. He wondered if Sultan Abdul Hamid had anything so fine in Yildiz Kiosk.
Eflaton (Armenian for Plato), a nearsighted chap in my Sub-Freshman class, was working with a bunch of boys at the corner of the yard, where a wee bit of wall is being built. Some day there may be money to put the wall all around the college property. It grows almost imperceptibly as gifts for that purpose come in. They are few, alas! Just a tiny corner is finished. The boys were piling stone, and Eflaton had the ill-luck to get two fingers of his right hand badly crushed. Again the doctor was far away, and I did my best. Today, when I had finished Eflaton’s dressing, he looked up at me with those dreamy eyes of his and announced, “Mrs. Gibbons, you are a angel!” When I protested that I was not “a angel,” he agreed with me. Because, said he, “You are better than that: you are a angel mother.” Oh, these honey-tongued Orientals! They beat the Irish.
The trip planned by Henri Imer and Herbert to Namroun has not yet come off. They intended to leave towards the end of the last week of October, returning the following Tuesday. Wives were to take their classes. Before the bad weather set in, we were anxious to have Henri take for us a lot of photographs of the acropolis and castle there. All plans were made to go. But political news prevented their leaving. The action of Bulgaria and Austria has raised a ferment throughout Turkey, especially in these parts, where there are many Armenian Christians. A reactionary movement is feared. The Armenians fear that the Mohammedans distrust their loyalty.
The fasting month of Ramazan ended on October twenty-fifth, and the following Monday the great Bairam (feast) began. Lower-class Mohammedans generally get gloriously drunk in towns on this day. Occidental Turkophiles write of and praise Moslems as being the original White Ribboners. Perhaps many are, but not town Turks, who consume quantities of raki, the strongest fire-water man ever invented. During this Bairam the Armenians were fearing a massacre. The Constitution has lifted the prohibition of owning firearms. We hear the Armenians have been buying in large quantities. We did not ourselves anticipate trouble. But one never knows in this country. It was best for Henri and Herbert not to go.
I am soon for bed. We must be up by six. At least I suppose it is six. The way they tell time here makes me dizzy. So many hours since sunrise, they say. Or, so many hours since sunset. The precise minute for doing any given thing must be worked out the way they make a time-table at the sea-shore, to show you when to take your swim. The mischief of it is, of course, that the time-table varies each day. The night we arrived in Tarsus, after our weeks of camping in the Taurus, we rode our tired horses under the arch of the college gate at ten P.M. The silly clock in a tower near by was striking four.
I am not sure whether the East or the West knows the philosophical way to tell time. Perhaps Western reckoning tends to be too precise, and Greenwich time is contrary to nature. Anyhow, the Eastern way would make an efficiency expert’s work-schedule look like a cinema film run by a greenhorn. Perhaps these Eastern peoples who dream dreams and feed their souls on starlight must map out their day by the going of the sun.