Friday, July 9, 2010

The Journey in Her Own Words

In 1926, Everdene and Garry DeJong traveled from the U.S. to Kuwait to take up their new positions as missionaries for the Dutch Reformed Church. I recently found this letter written from Kuwait to friends in the U.S., 6 1/2 months after their departure. The letter was typed on thin (onionskin?) paper, with handwritten corrections and a few handwritten notes. It tells of their adventures while travelling, as well as some of their impressions upon reaching their new home....

Kuwait, Persian Gulf,
March the fifth, 1927
3: A.M. Arabic
8:30 A.M. English
In Mil. 11:30 P.M.

Dear Christies;

We surely were glad to get the letter Annette wrote on January the sixteenth, on this week's boat. I was wondering what in the world had happened to you all. Here we've been here four months and not a word from the merry crowd at 717 47th. I [sic] was a relief to hear at last. But what [sic] the matter with the other two members of the triumvirate? I surely hope your basket ball experiences have not rendered you incapable of penning a few words to us out here so far away from civilization. At least I'm sending our address with this letter again and emphasizing it so you'll never forget it again. It is Kuwait, Persian Gulf, Via Bombay. Memorize it. It's a good place. [Note: This address is also handwritten along both the right and left margins of the first page, as well as along the left margin of the third/last page.

We've been hoping that every mail boat would bring us a letter from you folks, and here at last it comes. Of course it is unnecessary to say that we were glad to get that letter and hope you will be following it with others.

Annette suggested I tell you "all about it". There are several reasons why I cannot do just that. The first is that we have neither enough paper or typewriting ribbons. The second is that your eyes would be wearied before you got one half way through. But I'll make a beginning and I hope you'll forgive my use of the typewriter. My handwriting has degenerated even since we left the Milwaukee docks at the end of August.

Our address is Kuwait, Persian Gulf, Via Bombay.

We did have a wonderful trip. We hope you received the cards we dropped you along the way as well as the letter we wrote from the Andania. The Atlantic gave us a rather severe rocking but none of us suffered from "mal de mer" so we were happy. After ten days we finally saw the "stern and rock bound coasts" of England. They were beautiful. The entire southern part of England is perfectly beautiful, the little plots of ground of all kinds of shapes and sizes, surrounded by high hedges, the wooded hills and sheep dotted vallies [sic], the quaint double chimneyed and red roofed buildings. London surely lacks the bustle and high buildings of our modern American cities, but it is full of historically interesting things. We flew over to Amsterdam. Our first experience in the airplane. It was really thrilling too, we can tell you. The engines roared terrifically, and every little while we entered an air pocket and suddenly fell several feet, made on the average about 100 miles an hour, and kept an average altitude of 1500 feet. The Netherlands was very picturesque as it lay down below us, the long arms of water reaching into the land, the tall poplar trees, the red tile-roofed building the windmills [sic], the cattle and the canals. It was a treat to see it. We were disappointed that we saw so few typically Dutch costumes. It was all English and American clothes. Amsterdam is a very modern city. We stopped at the Hague, saw the wonderful Peace Palace, and went on South.

We spent many hours in the Art Galleries in the Netherlands and in Brussels. We were sorry we did not have more time there.

And then came Paris. What a wonderful city it is, - Paris of the broad Boulevards, Paris of the Place de la Concorde, Paris of the Arc de Triomple [sic], Paris of the wonderful Cathedrals. We didn't spend any time shopping, but the women surely wore their clothes with style. Of course there were many exceptions. Took a trip out to the war zones. Acres upon acres of soil cannot be cultivated, town upon town has not yet been rebuilt. Whole forests of trees stand naked stripped of all the leaves and of most of their branches. Beautiful cathedrals ruined.

We sailed from Marseilles on the Champollion. Had a lovely trip on the Mediterranean, passing between Sicily and the toe of Italy (that toe looked rather formidable with its high rocks) and passing by Crete to Alexandria. The Mediterranean surely made us think of Caesar and Hannibal and Paul. Made us want to study history again. At Alexandria we saw our first desert and our first desert camels, and the Nile. It's a truly Oriental city but like almost all the rest of the Port cities has adopted a great deal of Western civilization, cars and hotels and broad

[End of first page]

streets. Of course the market streets are anything but broad, and anything but clean.

From Beirut we went up into the Lebanons to spent a few days where it was cooler. We hope to go again some day. It's a wonderful place. And then we went down into Palestine too. That trip into Palestine, the twelve days we spent there were the best of the entire trip. Jerusalem looked anything but golden, with it's [sic] dirty streets and dirty people. The many rival churches built over the "sacred spots" were anything but inspirational with four churches bitterly fighting for the supremacy in each one. But the Mount of Olives was there, the Garden of Gethsemane was there, the Beautiful Gate was there, Bethlehem, Hebron, Jericho, Dead Sea, the Jordan Nazareth [sic], Cana, Bethany, the the [sic] Sea of Galilee and Capernaum. We do appreciate the privilege we have had in walking over that country and of being there. It's a little country, but a wonderful one. We do appreciate the Bible more now, and the manhood of the Master also. We [sic] walked over the mountainous roads, suffered from the heat and cold even as we do, was hungry. We appreciate especially the many references to water that we find in the Book for water is an extremely rare and precious thing in Palestine.

From Beirut we took our three day cross-desert trip to Baghdad, via Cadillac. The desert truly is an awful and awesome thing. It's tremendous. We are happy that we did not have to make it by camel back. Baghdad, the city of the Caliphs and the Arabian Nites has become rather modern too. They even sell evening clothes.

Thence on to Busra by train and on to Kuwait by motor, having been on our way just two months. We were very happy too, to get settled in our new Arab house. It is far from what we would call real class at home, but it is very comfortable. The roof is made of matting and mud. When we were first here is [sic] rained through one nite [sic] and all our furniture was covered with salt water. We rinsed everything off in sweet water which has to be brought over a hundred miles from Busra by boat, and dried things in the sun. We hope the springs of our chairs are none the worse but-- At least they look alrite [sic] and they are still comfortable. We have more mud on the roof so we hope it will not rain through again.

The floor is of cement, very uneven, --in fact one almost has to walk uphill in places. We have them covered with a brilliant red and green matting. The walls are plastered badly, but one fortunate thing about them is that we may drive nails into them to hang our pictures on. We do not have to worry about scratching our highly polished floor either. What's the use of polished floor and delicately tinted walls anyhow. We just as healthy [sic] as we've ever been.

The rooms are built along two sides of a sand courtyard, with a salt water well in the middle of it. The ground is too salty to permit of plants or flowers growing. The other two sides of the courtyard are surrounded by high stone and mud walls. The picture I am enclosing was taken at our front gate. The little doorway in which my husband ! is standing is the needles' eye referred to in the New Testament. How do you like Garry's new moustache? Isn't he classy? [The photo was not with the letter any more.]

Kuwait, a city of tawny mud walls, of sand streets, overarched by a dazzling blue sky is situated on an arm of the Persian Gulf. The Gulf and the mountains on the other side are beautiful - always changing color. The sunsets are perfect. Those two things we appreciate very much because there is so little color here. There are very few trees in Kuwait, only a few more than a dozen. The desert is treeless, the walls of the city, and the sand are very monotonous. So we fill our homes with all the color we can find. That why [sic] we have a brilliant red and green matting. Kuwait is a typically Oriental town. There are so few that are untouched by Western ideas, and K. is even beginning to be touched. There are a few Fords in the city, and they sing Singer machine and Chiclets. But for the rest, the men are dressed in their tan bishts and the women go around in their black abbas. It's an Arab city. Many of the folks are friendly to the Mission but many of them would not deign to look at an unbeliever. Sometimes their curiosity gets the best of their religious principle for they will turn to look at us after we are passed, wondering what kind of people we are anyway, especially we women that we will go around unveiled.

[End of second page]

We've had all kinds of first experiences. We've had our first ride on camel back. Really it is an awful thing to be lifted by the ungainly beast ten feet into the air. He pretty nearly throws one off in four directions before he gets you to the top of his long legs. And it is no more safe when the beast goes humping and bumping along. We were in constant fear of being thrown off. Of course we smiled down at the people below, but I know my smile was of the frozen variety. [Next sentence is handwritten in.] The camel groaned when he lifted Garry. Do you blame him?

We've eaten our first grasshoppers too. According to directions we pulled off the wings, and the legs and the heads by the roots and the rest, --oh how it crunched between our teeth. The Arabs consider them a great delicacy. Try them some day. Let LeRoy catch some of these big fat grasshoppers, throw them alive into boiling salt water, and then eat them. We hope not to have to indulge too often.

We've had our first donkey picnic out in the desert too. It was great spot [sic]. I rode Habbee bitee, meaning "the dear little one," and Garry rode Shaytaan, "the devil". We got along famously.

We've eaten other Arab food too, - it's indiscribable [sic] in it [sic] flavor of rosewater. I'm beginning to like their bitter coffee fortunately. It is frightfully strong and bitter though.

Yesterday we had another Arab feast out in the desert. Our host was a man who like Hortense had only two teeth. He made a good host for all that even if both of his teeth pointed north. There were immense platters of rice in the middle of round mats spread on the floor. On the top of the heaps of rice were whole roasted chickens and in the chickens were whole boiled eggs. Then around the platter were dishes and dishes of different kinds of stews, different kinds of dates, preserved tomatoes, etc, etc. They served huge bowls of goat buttermilk with pieces of butter floating in it. Everyone who liked buttermilk drank out of all the bowls. What matter if the butter bumped into their noses? Things tasted very good, although I would not care to have the Arab type of food for a regular diet.

Yes, this missionary work in Arabia is a tremendous job. It's as big and as hard a job as there is anywhere in the world. In other mission fields they are beginning to accept Christ. Here it is different. There are only a few converts to show for the lives and years of work here. But they will come some day.

We can do nothing until we know the language. It surely is a difficult language, but fascinating. Over thirty ways of forming the plural, and fifteen different Conjugations beside the regular ones. "Josie" means "my husband," "Rummel" is the Arabic word for sand. Good Dutch isn't it. When we were entertained by the Sheikh, at his catle we got him to say good morning in Dutch and he did it beautifully.

A Mohammedan country is a very sad place. But saddest of all the sights I have ever seen is one which we see many times every day, a Mohammedan woman completely veiled, and swathed in a long black abba. To be nothing more than the mere slave and plaything of a man who has usually two or three other wives, to have more children dead that [sic] alive, to be compelled to live behind closed doors all your life (The better class women are never allowed out) --how sad it is only the veiled woman herself knows. But we have many friends among them and some of them are so very charming and sweet in spite of it all. I've so completely fallen in love with two of them. When I mentioned their going to the States for a visit sometime they said, "That would be impossible. We are entombed here."

Garry has some very good friends among the young men. What a keen bright eyed young bunch they are.

How we would love to walk through the streets of Milwaukee again, see all the bright window displays, see the bright colored clothes and the happy faces etc. Oh, yes I know they are not all happy. But at least we'd see faces.

We like Kuwait very much. It becomes a little lonesome on such days as Thanksgiving and Christmas and Easter, but we're enjoying our language study and our contacts with the people very much. The Arabs have good stuff in them. But they were born Mohammedans and it's a tremendously hard thing to break the hold that it has on them.

But I'll have to close. Thanks Annette for writing, and Grace and Ruth, please remember that we're dying to hear from you, and remember that a little foolishness now and then is good for [the rest is handwritten] the best of men.

Love to you all, - Everdene

Handwritten notes along the edges of the letter:
On the top of the first page: "Oh, for a dipped cone!"
Along the margins three times, as noted above: "Our address is "Kuwait, Persian Gulf, Via Bombay."
In the lefthand margin of the third (and last) page: "Yes, Annette, - the horses are beauties and so are the Persian Rugs."

No comments:

Post a Comment