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Texts in English / Jordan 






A Gypsy woman in Towaneh, Petra, Jordan, 01/04/1900


Bell, Lady (ed.): The letters of Gertrude Bell. Harmondsworth, Penguin, 1939 (1927).



I paid a call on some Arab ladies and watched them making a sort of sour cream cheese in a cauldron over their fire. They gave me some when it was done, we all ate it with our fingers, and then they made me coffee, and we drank it out of the same cup, and it was quite good. It was very difficult to understand them for their vocabulary is perfectly different from mine; however, we got along by keeping to simple subjects ! These people are gipsies, some of them have just been dancing for me, round my camp fire. It was quite dark, with a tiny new moon, the fire of dry thorns flickered up - faded and flickered again and showed the circle of men crouching on the ground, their black and white cloaks wrapped round them and the woman in the middle dancing.


She looked as though she had stepped out of an Egyptian fresco. She wore a long red gown bound round her waist with a dark blue cloth, and falling open in front to show a redder petticoat below. Round her forehead was another dark blue cloth bound tightly and falling in long ends down her back, her chin was covered by a white cloth drawn up round her ears and falling in folds to her waist and her lower lips tattooed with indigo ! Her feet, in red leather shoes, scarcely moved but all her body danced and she swept a red handkerchief she held in one hand, round her head, and clasped her hands together in front of her impassive face. The men played a drum and a discordant fife and sang a monotonous song and clapped their hands and gradually she came nearer and nearer to me, twisting her slender body till she dropped down on the heap of brushwood at my feet, and kneeling, her body still danced and her arms swayed and twisted round the mask-like face. She got up, and retreated again slowly, with downcast eyes, invoking blessings upon me at intervals, till at last I called her and gave her a couple of besklihs.


Near Damascus is their home, and they are going back there from Mecca where they have been near the Prophet (thanks be to God !) and they have seen the holy city (God made it!) and they hope to reach Damascus in safety (if God please !). They talked Arabic to me, but to each other the gipsy tongue which sounded more like Turkish than anything else.