Chapter 9: Nellie in the Middle East

Wednesday: Nellie has crossed the Atlantic and met Jules Verne in France. But, as she is coming out of the telegraph office in Brindisi, Italy, she hears the sound of a ship's whistle as it pulls away!

Nellie and the guard raced through the streets of Brindisi, until they came to a bend in the street from which they could see the port, and a ship pulling away from the dock as its whistle blew.

But it was a different ship, headed for Alexandria, Egypt. They relaxed and walked the rest of the way to their ship, which was still getting ready to leave.

This trip so far had been about schedules and not about people or countries. The first week had been spent looking at the waves of the Atlantic. Then, she had seen very little of England, and, of France, only Jules Verne's home. Mostly, she had been hurrying to make the next connection, traveling at night, or peering through sooty train windows and seeing very little at all.

For the rest of her trip, Nellie's biggest problem would not be things that happened before she was ready, but things that happened long after she wanted them to. But at least she would get to see some of the people and places on this globe she was racing around.

The ship from Brindisi to Colombo had a rude crew and bad food, but stopped at some very interesting ports.

The first was Port Said, where Nellie noticed the other passengers getting canes or parasols, to keep the beggars from bothering them. She refused to take one, she said, because she thought "that a stick beats more ugliness into a person than it ever beats out."

A crowd of men in small boats came out to where their ship was anchored, crowding around and arguing over who would get to row the passengers to shore.

They pulled at passengers as they climbed down the ladder, and Nellie wrote that she understood the sticks now, but still felt sorry for the poor men who were only struggling to make a living.

When they got halfway from the ship to the beach, the boatmen stopped and demanded to be paid. One of the Arabs told Nellie they had learned that, if they waited until the English passengers were safe on shore, they would get a beating and no money.

Some of the tourists took rides on donkeys, but Nellie had seen burros in Mexico. She got away from the tourist area and walked through the parts of Port Said where tourists didn't usually go, "feasting my eyes on what were to me peculiarities of a peculiar people."

In this part of town, she didn't need a stick. The people were going on about their normal lives, and she saw women in veils, fishermen men capturing a crocodile and firewood being carried on a string of camels.

After this stop, the ship entered the Suez Canal, and had to go very slowly. Although the canal was only 30 years old, waves from ships passing through too quickly had already washed in enough sand to reduce it from 325 feet to only 195 feet wide.

At night, the ship was able to keep going because it had an electric light to show the way; other ships had to stop for fear of running aground.

As they moved through the darkness, Nellie could see the fires of nomad camps on the canal banks, and the dark outlines of people, tents and camels. During the day, she watched them live their daily lives on the side of the great canal.

The ship stopped in Ismailia, and again in the Bay of Suez, and local people came on board with souvenirs to sell or to perform tricks for the tourists, in hopes of tips.

Nellie was chosen to hold a scarf for a magician, and later told her fellow passengers he had performed an old trick that she knew very well. One man became angry that she hadn't said so at the time, but Nellie just replied that she wanted to see the magician make some money.

At the southern tip of the Red Sea, they stopped at Aden, where Nellie saw "perfect, bronze-like women, with a graceful drapery of thin silk wound around the waist, falling to the knees, and a corner taken up the back and brought across the bust." She admired their bright bracelets, chains and nose studs, but not their stretched earlobes.

The ship, which was headed for Australia, next stopped at Colombo, where Nellie was to get off and catch a different ship to Hong Kong. She let the other passengers take the steam launch in to shore while she rode in a small, swift catamaran. She already had a room at the hotel before they were even on the dock!

In Colombo, Nellie bought jewelry, rode in rickshaws, visited temples, went to a play with a friend who could translate for her and saw snake charmers and other street performers. She visited the city of Kandy, at the center of the island.

Ceylon was beautiful, but, for five days, Nellie itched for the ship to come that would get her moving again, until her frustration made her realize how foolish and bad-tempered she must seem to others.

"I thought how little anyone could realize what this delay meant to me, and the mental picture of a forlorn little self creeping back to New York ten days behind time, with a shamed look on her face and afraid to hear her name spoken, made me laugh outright."

But she wasn't sorry when her next ship finally left port, bound for Hong Kong.

Friday: Racing for the Record!

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