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Khattab, Abdul Latief (fl. 1904–5), Egyptian tour guide
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Circular letter by Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence

Continues her account of her visit to Egypt.



3rd Letter

Nov. 13th 1904. Monday.

How strange to think that we have been barely 6 days in this country! Every day one seems to live a life time in interest & happiness. So much to see, so much to learn. That first morning in Cairo—the excitement & ever new delight of the Bazaars, the glory of colour, the interest everywhere. We very soon entered into the fun of bargaining. It is a game—carried on with laughter & good humour on both sides—no one is angry or displeased whether the wares are accepted or not (they always are accepted) and everybody is pleased. We were very pleased with our own bargaining: I bought a dress length of very pretty washing silk for 15 shillings—and another lovely delicate silk for 18 shillings—and several other things with which I am delighted: a string of prayer beads of cut amber & antique silver is the most beautiful, although a ring with a green mecca stone, set with a dozen little sunset-purple opals I would not lose for many times over the sum I paid for it. It is a Mascot ring I am sure. The first moment I saw it, I knew it was meant for me to bring good luck: Marie picked out a very pretty blue scareb† & asked how much. “Oh nothing—you take it if you like it.” Meanwhile all the beautiful things in the shop are spread out before you & you sit, drinking coffee, or making an occasional snap shot, laughing & talking—& enjoying the moving panorama. A visit to the perfume bazaar is delightful to all the senses at once—the booths are lined with lovely Turkey rugs—every little booth, a scheme of colour & a joy to the eyes. You choose your man, & sit down on the rugs, & he gives you samples of all his perfumes—touching your arm, your hand with a little glass stopper with a pad of cotton wool—then you choose violet, banana, attar of roses, or what you will & you choose your bottle. I bought sandalwood & amber. It was great fun examining all the bottles to make sure that they gave room for the perfumes—the seller enjoys it as much as you—& he seems all the better pleased that you don’t mean to be cheated. I could spend days in the bazaars, they are so fascinating. And yet in the evening it was good to get out to the calm & quiet of the Pyramids, & to catch our first sight of them glowing against a sky of amber & gold. The road from Cairo to Mena stretches for 5 miles & is a long avenue of beautiful acacia trees. The Nile water still floods both sides of the road, it seemed like crossing a long straight bridge over a lake of liquid light. This is the most beautiful hotel I have ever seen—it is a perfect work of art—perfect from design to the merest detail: quite the very best style: the spirit of the whole management too is very harmonious and happy—so that from the first moment we settle down & feel quite at home.

The next morning—Wednesday—we are up early & out under the shadow of the 2nd pyramid. The wind is cool & we need our coats—though in the sun, it is hot. So far however we have never felt the heat unpleasantly—the weather is like a very fresh clear day in early June. We have taken letters & books—but we might as well have left them at home. Very soon we have the Arab boys about us, showing us treasures & bringing us letters from their former clients now in England. Very proud of these letters they are, & they like to hear them read aloud. The Fast of Ramadan has begun, for 1 month religion forbids the Arab to eat, or drink, or smoke from sunrise to sunset: they must look to Allah & pray five times a day. They tell us Allah helps them so that they feel no hunger & no thirst. Allah makes them strong & takes all desire away. In the city it is easy to forget Allah, & many there do not keep the fast at all, but here in the desert, Allah is so near that you cannot forget, but you want to pray, & to live a good life. Meanwhile, Hetty has sent word to her Arab Shekh Abdul Enani Khattab that she is here & presently he is seen striding over the desert, he sees us & begins to run, salutes her & us with the right hand touching his brow, his lips & heart in token of submission, devotion & truth—& the Eastern Good Morning—“Naharak saiid Embarak” (“May the Light shine upon thee—may thy day be blessed”.) His face is lighted up with joy & he becomes from that moment our servant, carries our things & follows us, & is ready to render with eagerness any possible service. Josephine Plunkett (Hetty’s sister) joins us with her three children & we spend the day together—send to the hotel for a lunch basket, & return about 4 o’clock to have tea in the Verandah. Then we see Josephine drive off in the dogcart—& meanwhile Abdul has got our camels waiting & we have our first experience of mounting & riding a camel. It has been described often, but it was very funny: the camel kneels down & then one takes ones seat, the beast groaning & swearing horribly—he then gets up & quickly strides along—it is (to me) a comfortable & easy motion. I felt quite happy both when the camel was walking or running—& the others were quite happy & easy too. The sun had already set when we reached the Sphinx, and the sky & desert were rosy with the wonderful afterglow. No tourists were about. We dismounted, and we watched in silence that wonderful monument, hewn out of the desert rock six thousand years ago: looked in silence until there seemed a stir in the colossal figure, until a soul dawned in those wonderful eyes & held us fascinated as if by a spell. The Arabs, who with a kind of instinctive perception had left us alone, now joined us & we soon found that we had each a servant, only too ready to talk & entertain us. It grew dark. I could not see Marie or Hetty—they were each the centre of a separate little group: within call; and when, all too soon we were warned by the hour that [we] must must† return to the hotel, we mounted our camels & rode back under the stars, with a delicious night wind in our faces.

Now follows day after day with something in each of repetition, and yet full of ever new & ever changing aspects of delight. Evening by evening finds us by the Sphinx. Sometimes listening to a story or a song—no one in sight except sometimes a few silent black figures squatting in the sand or sometimes a passing camel—our two Arabs ready to do anything to please us. Here we sat one evening, while all the hills & all the desert glowed rosy & then purple, Marie lying on the sand wrapped in a Shekh’s black cloak, & the other two wrapped in our thick coats—listening to stories fascinated and amused. No description can give the charm of that atmosphere or of that moment. One might come to Egypt a dozen times again & miss it. One {1} Sunday morning we were up early to see the sunrise—but for once, the sun failed us & a sharp patter of rain made us take refuge in the temple.

Wednesday. Nov. 16th.

The last day of our stay at the Pyramids. Arrangements have been going on all this time & our dear little houseboat, which is to be our home for the next four weeks is nearly ready. We are looking forward to a new life & a new experience with great delight. We seem to start with everything perfect. “Enani,” and “Latief” & “Ali” for our servants—men devoted to Hetty, & all ready to vie with each other to please us—everything very comfortable—a boat big enough for a party twice our number & yet not too big to move quickly before the wind.

All letters can be sent to Cooks Office Cairo—as we keep in continual touch with that office all the way—& letters will duly reach us with small delay.

Think of us, dear Friends for the next month in our little dahabeyah “Bolbol”—flying the English flag, & gliding up stream through all the changing lights of day & night.

Thursday. Nov. 17th.

Farewell to Mena House Hotel! We leave with feelings of goodwill to all. Never was there a more delightfully managed hotel—waiters, servants and all the officials ready to help & serve in every way—everything refined & gracious & free from any sense of commercialism. It is a great pleasure to think that we are coming back. And our dragoman the Shekh Enani is waiting, attired in his most gorgeous array—tussore silk robe, flowing blue coat, with purple silk lining—new shoes of the brightest yellow, new turban & sash of richly coloured silk, & prayer beads of white moonstones. And the boat is waiting—and our first lunch is ready. Josephine Plunkett & her boy & the baby are coming to lunch. Everything is deliciously cooked & served, a bottle is champagne is opened, healths are drunk, all is gay. Who cares that there is scarcely any wind, & what there is of it blows from South instead of from North. Are there not plenty of things to be done in Cairo? We all start of[f] after lunch and spend an afternoon in the very most dreadfully quick way, any time can be spent—shopping in Cairo. Home, that is The Bolbol—for the sunset, & for dinner—turkish coffee on deck, & then a Fantaseheh by the crew. The crew proper numbers 8, cook, waiter & 2 servants makes 12, not counting the Shekh or ourselves. A little open fire of wood is burning on the lower deck, one lamp is hung above, & the men sing round in a circle, chanting, & beating the tom-tom, & the cymbals—or clapping with their hands—till one after another is moved to take the floor & gives a native dance—Nubian, Ethiopian, Abyssinian, Soudanese. The sight is grotesque, & fascinating beyond words. How one longs for the pencil of a Mortimer Memphis. Moonlight, & lapping of the water, the cry of a water bird, the faint breath of night, make a charm that keeps one from sleep for very delight—then—heaven let loose, & the dawn, & the great sun, & the best omelette I have ever tasted, almost converting me to omelettes—& still no favouring wind. Another day in Cairo, a call on Josephine—purchase of a filter, flags & various little things. Another sunset, another merry evening, more new dances—& sleep. Another glorious dawn—& another day without wind. We write a French letter for Enani to his last—what shall I call them, patients?—children?—the people with whom he travelled for 8 months—they were believers in spirits—& oh what stories Enani tells & how we laugh. We ask them to send some spirits quickly to blow the boat up the river; Mussi the waiter comes in & hears something about it & almost falls on the floor with fright—if the spirits come he goes! At last he believes that we are joking. We had better go & see the Museum at Cairo. The things we have not seen would make a long list: but one or two very last purchases—we must first make curtains to replace the half tumbled ones in the boat, Japanese lanterns—a guitar, which we hire for 2 months—which they insist on our taking away without paying—“it will do when you come back”—& lo & behold the time has gone & we are due back at the boat for lunch.

A little breeze in the afternoon brings all the little boats out on the other side—oh so pretty—with crossed sails like two wings—but the breeze soon dies away. We write our letters as well as we can for the distraction of the eye—such a silvery sunny sky & river—the sun sets—the gun goes from the citadel—the arabs may take their first bit of food & drink for the day. An audible “grace” goes up at the welcome sound—wonderful the patience & endurance & good spirits, of these people during the last & trying fast:

Goodbye to our friends. Goodnight. We are going to pay another call on the Sphinx tonight. Think of us all as we think of you. God bless you all.


Some of the dates in this letter are clearly incorrect. For instance, the date at the beginning of the letter, 13 November, was a Sunday and not a Monday. A few alterations have been made to the punctuation of the original, which is erratic and often indistinct.

{1} Probably a slip for ‘on’.

† Sic.

Letter from Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence to F. W. Pethick-Lawrence

Mena House Hotel (Cairo).—Continues her account of her visit to Egypt.



Mena House Hotel. Nov. 12. 04 {1}.

Oh dear Man & husband of mine. The letter from you that I am longing for, will come tomorrow, but not before my greeting to you will have gone forth. This is my second Sunday evening away from you. I wonder where you are today & what you are doing & thinking of? It is sweet to think that the further days bring me from you, the nearer they bring you to me—as the Porpoise said to Alice, “The further off from England, the nearer ’tis to France.” {2} I am longing for you to come. Today for the first time I begin to accept my new surroundings with a little less of that surprise which is the joy of first acquaintance—but one gains more than one loses as that first acquaintance becomes a more familiar friendship. We were up at 5.30 this morning walking to the Sphinx to see the sunrise. The morning was cloudy & a sharp shower of rain drove us to take refuge in the Temple. The two Bedawin brothers, Abdul Enani & Abdul Latief Khattab, were with us of course—and they amused us while we were waiting, with story & song. We have been every day to the Sphinx, 3 times at sunset & today at sunrise—and every time we have been alone except for the Arabs. We are so early, no tourists are here yet. The Arabs tell delightful stories. Enani’s story the night before last was too delicious—I must get him to tell it over again to you. It was about a man who fell in love with a lovely little girl—“his head go all giddy & he get a pain in his stomach” (but I must not spoil it). Latif his brother is too sweetly & deliciously funny for words. Last evening we simply doubled up with uncontrollable laughter—till he said quite grieved, “You spoil my story.” He was telling us about a man who lived in the village who married one bea[u]tiful girl, and presently “he shift that one, & many another, he shift her & many another—beautiful girl—he shift her & many another—the fourth was a bad wife—he like to shift her, but he is afraid.” Abdul Latif thinks one wife is enough—one good wife. He made sure that he got a good one. “But you didn’t see her, Abdul, how could you know?” “Oh yes, I see her.” “How did you manage that, Abdul?” “Oh I manage that easy. I am the devil.” If I could paint the childlike innocence of the man’s expression! It was at this point he besought us not to spoil the story! There are such pictures, & so many funny delightful things I want to tell you. We are learning Arabic quite fast: and never had teachers such obvious delight in teaching. And never have I known such gracious willing service always eager & waiting—always ready. “Shepherd” in his palmiest days does not touch it.

I engaged Abdul Enani Khattab yesterday to take a Dahabeyah for us, which we had seen the day before. It has 2 single cabins & 1 double cabin—a little deck, a big upper deck, dining room & ‘domestic offices.’ I contracted with him, to pay him a fixed sum per day. I will enclose the copy of contract. He has just returned from an engagement of 8 months with a gentleman & his wife who paid him £5 a day & sometimes under specified conditions £8 a day, exclusive of wine & spirits & railway expenses—inclusive of all beside. I saw the contract. They gave him a beautiful gold watch with his name & theirs engraved & a book of amateur photos of the tour as a parting present, also splendid testimonials. I said I could not pay that money. He suggested £4. 10. per day for the 3 persons. I thought £1 per person per day was enough to pay. We finally agreed on £3. 10. for 3 persons per day. I don’t think that is a bad or unfair contract for either side. When I asked the Manager of the hotel to take charge of valuables while we were away, he said we need have no fear, as with Enani we should be absolutely safe from any trouble with any of the Arabs en route—he & his brothers & relations are attached to the hotel. The Manager says it is quite unnecessary to speak to Lord Cromer about it. Hetty suggested we should tell Lady Cromer when I call tomorrow, the name of the Dahabiyeh & the places of call—as the Shekhs of every village would, at a word from headquarters, become special guards: I shall speak to her about it anyway. I shall also see the Consul. A doctor at Cairo, I forget his name (it is Dr Murison) {3}, an old friend of Hetty’s, interviewed Enani & told him if the ladies were ill, they were to telegraph to him at once & he would come to them! So you see we have taken every reasonable step & every possible precaution—for though we all instinctively trust our Bedawin Shekh & feel very safe under his care, yet I wanted to be able to tell you that responsible people on the spot were prepared to vouch for his honesty & capacity as a dragoman. The Brother Abdul Latif has come coaxing to me several times; “I want to go with you, you ask my Brother Enani—he will do everything you want—you ask him.” I said this morning, “Well, but Abdul I cannot pay you any money. I am paying quite enough.” “I don’t want you to give me money. I want to go with you to keep you. I want to go for the fun!” After that, what can I do but speak to Enani: though I don’t see how there is going to be any room! Now I do so want you if possible, when you come, to stay 5 or 6 weeks—because then we can have 2 weeks with you in the Dahabeyah, & 3 weeks camping & caravanning back—& you ought to have 2 or 3 days with the Sphinx to finish up. You see if all goes well, & if Allah wills, we are going to have the very lov[e]liest time we have ever had in our lives—quite unique—& such as in all probability we shall never have again. And we can’t bear to have any little bit of it without you having at least a share in the experience. The contract includes 7 or 8 weeks—it was the very shortest I could make—to make the necessary arrangements worth while.


Copy of Contract, between Mrs Lawrence & Party & Abdul Enani Khattab.

We sign that we engage with the dragoman Enani Khattab a journey in dahabeyeh from Cairo to Luxor for £3. 10. per day for 3 persons. All the expenses of the journey as well as all the food & breakfast, lunch, tea & dinner are to paid by Enani except wine & spirits.

The boatmen undertake to pull the boat with the towing rope if there is not enough wind.

When we leave the boat at Luxor, we take the train to Assouan {4}; the expenses on the railway will be at our charge—also the railway tickets of Enani, cook & waiter. When we leave the boat the contract for the caravan will be £4 a day for £4† persons for 21 days; dromadaries, tents, food, cuisine, servants, etc., are all paid for by Enani.

Assouan to Ouasta {5} we take the train at our own expense. From Ouasta through the Fayoum {6} to Mena, we take luggage camels & caravan at Enani’s expense. The contract to date from Nov. 17. 1904.

Signed & sealed,
E. P. L(awrence).
H. L(awes).
M. L. P(ethick).
A. E. K(hattab). {7}

That is rather a lovely programme, isn’t it? I fancy there are not many people who visit Egypt for 10 weeks get as much into it & out of it. I think this caravan life is just what you want—there is so much to do, & oh so much to learn—& all you do & all you learn is saturated in sunshine! But the spirit of hurry & rush would spoil it all. They have a proverb here—“El agela minesh shaitan.” (Haste is from the devil.) I want the sense of leisure to steal into your life & take possession of it. I am quite sure that after these years of close, arduous & absorbing work, 8 or 9 weeks of absolute leisure would be time well invested—& would yield you rich returns. I know what January is—a month of low ebb in everything. I believe you could be well spared—how I wish you could get a good man to take charge while you are away—but you have tried that, I know. Well, you must do just what you feel is for the best—if we have to shorten our time a little, “ma’laish”! “Malaish” is like that Russian word that Bismarck had engraved on his ring. It means “It signifies nothing” or “Nothing matters”! & is the spirit of the life in the desert. It makes everything go with a laugh.

My own darling Laddie, I hope that you are well & happy & that everything is going well. You are always in my heart. I often think how eager you were that I should come here—how you went & took those tickets & sent us off in the very right time. You knew I should love the East—you always said so. I did not know or imagine half the fascination of it. I have never felt anything a bit like it. There is something in my blood that responds to it all: the Arab people seem less foreign to me than the majority of the people of my own race—and we have a language in common—which is gradually extending! The Europeans out here look at them quite differently—they hold them in great disdain & order them about—and trust an Arab!—no, they would not dream of it! The visitors here illustrate the great gulf between East & West—they are totally different & a complete want of understanding separates them. But Hetty—I don’t know where she gets it from—can do anything she likes with these Arabs who know her—they simply worship her. She is like a little queen amongst them. You should have seen Enani laugh when she told him we must all have our baths every day in the desert. “Where is the water to come from, Sit? the camels drink only once a week!” “Where the water is to come from I know not; that is your business, Abdul Enani. You must get it.” The talk between them in Arabic sounds like one long happy chuckle: Naharach seid Embarak. (Light shine on thee, may thy day be blessed.)

Dearest, ever yours,

Monday morning. Just had your darling letter. Oh but it makes me want you awful bad. Enani very happy today—has got a much bigger & better dayabeyeh—just going off to look at it now.

In haste,


A few alterations have been made to the punctuation of the original.

{1} The day of the month is incorrect, since the letter is said to have been written on a Sunday evening and the 12th was a Saturday. Moreover, the abortive excursion to the Sphinx to watch the sun rise is mentioned in PETH 7/149 as having taken place on Sunday morning. It was probably the present letter that Marie described Emmeline writing in her own letter of the 13th (PETH 7/164).

{2} A quotation, of course, from the Mock Turtle’s song in the tenth chapter of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland; but these words were in fact uttered by the whiting.

{3} The words in brackets were interlined later.

{4} Aswân.

{5} El Wasta.

{6} El Faiyûm.

{7} The letters in brackets were added later in pencil.

† Sic.

Letter from Marie Pethick to F. W. Pethick-Lawrence

Mena House Hotel, Cairo.—Describes her activities with Emmeline and Hetty Lawes in Egypt. Is keen for him to join them.



Mena House.
Pyramids Cairo.

13. November 1904.

My dear old Fred. Do’ee hurry up & join us out here—and arrange to stay a long long time. We are having one of Emmeline’s own special times—everything as perfect as it can possibly be. Hetty makes an ideal courier—gives me a most delightful introduction to her beloved Bedowin sheikhs & we are going to become genuine Arabians before we have done. Emmeline & I are both very keen on learning the language as quickly as possible as we are missing so much every hour we do not understand it. By the time you come out we shall hope to speak quite fluently. We are all longing show you our charming daharbejeh & to introduce you to Enani & Latif—the dragomen. They are most patient & attentive in teaching us Arabic & are quite as keen as we are on our getting to know it. You ought to have been with us last night as we were watching the sunset afterglow by the side of the Sphynx—no other Europeans anywhere near—a few cloaked figures to be seen every here & there. I was wrapped up in a Sheikh’s cloak & he was singing Arabian songs to us & telling us about the manners & customs of his people. This was Abdul Latif Khattab—the brother of our special dragoman, Abdul Enani. He was begging Emmeline this morning that she should ask Enani if he could come with us on the daharbeyah. He didn’t want any money at all—only he wanted to help us & teach us Arabic. It would be very delightful if he came as well as Enani. Enani tells most wonderful stories but Latif sings these weird Arabic chants.

We have been busy this afternoon developing films—some have been most successful. We want to get them printed & ready to send home as soon as possible.

Emmeline is looking fine—so well & happy—I have never seen her looking better. Am longing for you to see her. Am sure we shall none of us ever want to settle down in England again. Every day is crammed full of interest—& such variety. The time flies & yet this week has held more than any other week in our life I should say. It is almost impossible to believe that it was only five days ago we got off the boat.

I see Emmeline is writing you pages & pages—with a full account of the program I expect. Shan’t we have a glorious time in the caravan—pitching our tents by the way. Am longing for your to join us but I don’t want so much of our time to have gone. I do so hope you will get a splendid man to take on your Echo so that you will not be obliged to hurry home.

Much love to you from us all—

Always your loving sis
Marie W A {1}


A few alterations have been made to the punctuation of the original.

{1} The reading and significance of these letters are unclear.