A Dweller in Mesopotamia by Donald Maxwell

By Donald Maxwell

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But by Khora Creek and in the lower reaches of the river at Basra, these old-world ships, with their quaint lines and steep, naked masts, are more in keeping with our recollections of Sinbad the Sailor, or perhaps of the days of the Merchant Venturers of our own Elizabethan days. It is to be supposed that the type of ship that has survived in the East to the present day, like the mahaila and the goufa, is very much unchanged like everything else, and tells us faithfully what sort of ships there were in these waters some two thousand years ago or more.

In every important agricultural centre are to be found irrigation officers—the first-fruits of British occupation. There was only one subject of conversation in Mesopotamia in the winter of 1918-1919, and that was the chances of getting back home. There was very little to do at Basra except watch steamers load up with the more fortunate candidates for demobilization and give them a send-off. Brown had no difficulty in getting three weeks' leave to accompany me in some of my expeditions to gather up such fragments as remained of naval subjects on the rivers.

She was in charge of a sergeant of the Inland Water Transport, with an Indian pilot and miscellaneous crew, and my adventurous cruise called to mind both the travels of Ulysses and the Hunting of the Snark. The sergeant could not speak Hindustani and the pilot could not speak a word of English. Mistakes of the most frantic nature were common, especially when we were being whirled round and round by the stream at a difficult corner. In the midst of controversy unrelieved by any glimmer of understanding on the part of anybody present we would slide gracefully into a state of rest on a mudbank or bump violently against the shore.

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