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Call to Prayer

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Sir Richard F. Burton
Volume Two; Chapter 23: The Damascus Caravan


The Damascus Caravan was to set out on the 27th Zu’l Ka’adah. I had intended to stay at Al-Madinah till the last moment, and to accompany the Kafilat al-Tayyarah, or the “Flying Caravan”, which usually leaves on the 2nd Zu’l Hijjah.
Suddenly arose the rumour that there would be no Tayyarah, and that all pilgrims must proceed with the Damascus Caravan or await the Rakb. This is a Dromedary Caravan, in which each person carries only his saddlebags. It usually descends by the road called Al-Khabt, and makes Meccah on the fifth day.
Early on the morning of the next day, Shaykh Hamid returned hurriedly from the bazaar, exclaiming, “You must make ready at once, Effendi! – there will be no Tayyarah – all Hajis start to-morrow – Allah will make it easy to you! – Have you your water-skins in order? – You are to travel down the Darb al-Sharki, where you will not see water for three days!
Poor Hamid looked horror-struck as he concluded this fearful announcement, which filled me with joy. Burckhardt had visited and had described the Darb al-Sultani, the road along the coast. But no European had as yet travelled down by Harun al-Rashid’s and the Lady Zubaydah’s celebrated route through the Nijd Desert.
Not a moment, however, was to be lost: we expected to start early the next morning. The boy Mohammed went forth, and bought for eighty piastres a Shugduf, which lasted us throughout the pilgrimage, and for fifteen piastres a Shibriyah or cot to be occupied by Shaykh Nur, who did not relish sleeping on boxes.
Meanwhile, Shaykh Nur and I, having inspected the water-skins, found that the rats had made considerable rents in two of them. There being no workman procurable at this time for gold, I sat down to patch the damaged articles; whilst Nur was sent to lay in supplies for fourteen days. The journey is calculated at eleven days; but provisions are apt to spoil, and the Badawi camel-men expect to be fed. Besides which, pilferers abound. By my companion’s advice I took wheat-flour, rice, turmeric, onions, dates, unleavened bread of two kinds, cheese, limes, tobacco, sugar, tea and coffee.
In the afternoon, Omar Effendi and others dropped in to take leave. They found me in the midst of preparations, sewing sacks, fitting up a pipe, patching water bags and packing medicines.
Towards evening-time the Barr al-Manakhah became a scene of exceeding confusion. The town of tents lay upon the ground. Camels were being laden, and were roaring under the weight of litters and cots, boxes and baggage. Horses and mules galloped about. Every now and then a random shot excited all into the belief that the departure gun had sounded. At times we heard a volley from the robbers’ hills, which elicited a general groan, for the pilgrims were still, to use their own phrase, “between fear and hope”. Then would sound the loud “Jhin-Jhin” of the camels’ bells, as the stately animals paced away with some grandee’s gilt and emblazoned litter, the sharp plaint of the dromedary, and the loud neighing of excited steeds.