Thomas Cosmades



Dr. Daniel Morrison Benonia Thom

(1844 Aberdeenshire, Scotland—1915 Sivas, Turkey)

    Pictures from the past of an American girl in Turkey

Nellie Elona Thom Freyer (1876-1953)


My home was in the interior of Turkey in the time of Sultan Abdul Hamid. By horseback it was some weeks’ journey from either the Mediterranean or Black Sea. I was quite alone in my childhood, for as a child I was not allowed to associate with the natives of the country for fear I would learn things that were not good for me, so without this amusement I felt very lonely far from my own country which I knew to be very different.

 I lived with my father and mother and little sister in a large compound, sur­rounded by a high stone wall, in which two were other houses beside our own. Ours was a two-story building of stone having barred windows, the lower story of which consisted of kitchen, dining room, storerooms, and servants’ quar­ters. The second floor had the bedrooms and living rooms which were set back so as to give us a terrace extending from the front of the second story and cov­ering the kitchen and one of the store-rooms on the first floor, toward the south overlooking the great Mesopota­mian plain and the city to the east. To the north leading to the Black Sea, were hills which in time became known as the Taurus Mountains.

 A staircase of stone led to my father’s study where he received the sick, or at times callers from the city. These latter were for the most part officials and im­portant businessmen who would come to chat with the American physician. They felt more at home with him than with the preachers as they could sit playing with their string of beads, and smoking their cigarettes or water pipes. For refreshment they were always served small cups of Turkish coffee or tea sweetened with sugar and flavored with cardamom seed. I, as my father’s older daughter, would sit on his knee and thus learn Arabic and Turkish as the men talked to one another. 

The interior of the house had arched ceilings laid out by the stonecutter with a small twig and made to fit so that the keystone always fell into place with no difficulty. The walls were whitewashed and hung with pictures from the Homeland. The floors of stone were cov­ered with matting and then Turkish rugs, while divans and chairs completed the furniture. In winter a sheet-iron stove would be set up in each room to warm the place on cold, snow-filled days. I recall how we laughed one eve­ning when father carrying a shovel of live coals to the stove, tripped and fell, scattering these bits of charcoal which we quickly gathered.

 My bedroom and the guest room were toward the mountains to the north. Here lay the road leading to the plain and at times caravans of camels would spend the night there. This was a fasci­nating sight, for we could watch the cameleers feed their animals. They would make huge balls of grain and mash to be tossed into the mouths of the grumbling camels and swallowed by them, to be brought up and masticated later on. In order to make the camels kneel so as to be fed, unloaded or loaded, the cameleers would have to strike them on their necks, and amid terrific protestations the camels would obey.

 To return to the house… The roofs were level having been filled in over the arch with rubble and clay to make them so. These roofs had to be rolled with heavy stone rollers after every rain to pack down the clay. We enjoyed hearing the rumble of the roller as the servants walked back and forth, making the clay good and hard. When snows would come this had to be shoveled off with large wooden shovels and piled into heaps in the yard in front of the house. These piles became our play piles down which we would slide, though they were not high; but better than nothing when we had so little to play with. The storms would beat against the house in its ex­posed position and the lightning would play about; but we children felt pretty secure.

 On summer nights, till we moved to our summer home, we would sleep in beds covered with mos­quito netting on the ter­race and watch the wonderful constel­lations of stars overhead. We learned about the Great Dipper, Orion’s Belt, Cassiopeia’s’ Chair and the great Milky Way with its myriads of glistening stars. Or nearer our home we would watch the natives of the city out on their large wooden family beds where whole families slept on the roofs of their houses after having their evening meal out there.  They would visit and sing and listen to the bleating of the goats, the neighing of horses or the barking of dogs, as they got busy fighting the intru­sions of groups of other dogs from other parts of the city who came seeking re­fuse, they being the scavengers of the city. . How good their food smelled to us who loved onions, garlic, and spices af­ter having to eat the plain American food served up to us by our parents! Or we would look out on the great plain where for miles we would see great fires burning, these having been lighted by the Arabs to get ash for their soap. There being no trees, these having been cut down to avoid the Sultan’s tax on trees, the fire would run along for miles making the grass into ash, with no hin­drance and not causing any harm to the Arab settlements scattered all over the plain. It was weird in the darkness. To the north lay the mountains among which was the summer resort to which our family would go to escape the terri­fic heat of the city summer as there were no rains to cool the air, and noth­ing to wash away the stenches of the city.

 Our yard, surrounded by the high wall mentioned above, had a number of sad-looking trees with a circular path around them. When we could not go outside for a ride, we would ride our donkeys, or horses when we grew older, around and around the yard, or play in a lower yard where there were a few caves. Over the wall lived the warlike Koords (Kurds) who made their liv­ing plundering caravans or stealing from the herds or gardens that lay north of the city. I would ride my horse with another little American girl; and, accompanied by the hostler without whom I was never allowed to leave the compound. My horse was a beautiful Arab, not very large, the gift of an Arab chief who sold it to my father at a low price because of services my father as a physician had rendered him. The horse was red with a white star on his fore­head. When I was too little to ride this horse I had a beautiful white donkey and I rode around and around the yard in the center of which were a few scrag­gly trees on which grew small fruits which tasted wonderful to me, but to this day I don’t know what they were. At the lower part of the yard were some caves and two big trees which carried fairyland to me; but just beyond them and over a high wall, were the Moham­medan Koords whom I had been taught to fear as they were the robbers of the city, getting their living from robbing caravans and travelers or going into the country and stealing. These wore their swords and daggers stuck in their broad belts made of yards and yards of silk thus making pockets in which they kept their purses, daggers and tobacco, while guns were slung over their shoulders. 

Our bathroom was a joy to us children, for here was a huge bathtub of tin at the end of which stood a high jar filled with cold water while a small stove heated the room and water used for bathing. The water was steaming hot and we enjoyed turning the spigot of cold water to get a cool shower after the hot plunge in the tub. 

Beside the storerooms on the first floor, we had a deep well where our food was lowered in a basket by a rope and kept cool, and where we had a huge bin of wheat from which, from time to time, some was drawn and taken to the mill to be ground into flour or into breakfast food by two women grinding it between the Biblical two stones, as they would sit on the floor.

 Our laundry was done by a woman in an outhouse, where to heat the water she had a fire built on the floor. Here she would sit on her feet or a very low stool and wash in a lower copper tub, coated with tin, rubbing the clothes with her hands, or beating them out on a stone with a wooden paddle, if they were too dirty. The wood for the wash­ing was brought from the mountains on the backs of donkeys or women, and dumped in the yard, later to be chopped up for use.

As we were not allowed to play with the native children for fear we would learn things which were not good for us, our amusements consisted of reading when we were not having lessons with my mother or father who taught us till I came to this country for my education, or of lessons in Arabic reading. Among the books which were my constant companions were Scott, Dickens, Char­les Reade, Tennyson, Shakespeare, Milton, and even Chaucer and Spencer. Our magazine to which we looked for­ward with much pleasure was St. Nicholas and well do I remember the story of Juan and Juanita. We had fairy stories and the Arabian Nights. My studying, till I was fifteen years of age when I came to America for my final education, was done at home and my parents were my teachers. Often when I was quite little I would go to my father’s study next to the sitting room, and sit­ting on his lap listen to the Arabic and Turkish languages spoken by the men callers as they would sit on the lounge, twirling their strings of beads which they always carried with them, drink their Turkish coffee or very sweet, cardamom-flavored tea and discuss religion and the doings of the neighborhood. Politics in the time of Abdul Hamid was forbidden. You wonder why there were no trees other than the fruit trees, and this was because the Sultan had taxed every tree and the money would go to his pocket. To avoid paying this the na­tives cut down the trees and all that was left were scrub oak trees, quite stunted which were cut down in the mountains and hauled on the backs of women or donkeys to the city for fire­wood.

 Sundays were fully occupied with relig­ious teaching and attending church. Our morning service in the city came an hour after sunrise, the only way in which the congregation would know when the service began as many of them had no clocks or watches, so that at times we went to church shortly after six in the morning and then back to breakfast and learning verses from the Bible. This training I have never ne­glected as the beautiful, majestic parts of the Bible remain with me. If the mail would arrive on a Sunday we were not allowed to look at it though it came but once a week and was over a month old when it arrived. Our parents had been brought up very strictly and we were made to follow in their footsteps. 

At church we sat in the front row right under the Syrian preacher’s eye, and all we could see were the little children who sat on the floor of the lower broad plat­form below his watchful eye, or the women, who sat on the floor, or if older, in seats to our right in an alcove of the church. These women and girls wore cotton or silk ‘Sharfas’ consisting of yards of material gathered at the waist and tied, one half being drawn up over the head to cover it, and the other half covering the skirts of the women. Back of us sat the men and young high school boys.

 We had to behave all the time and never look behind us. It was wonderful train­ing for us in Arabic, to learn the lan­guage at its best both reading and being spoken to. The hymns were translations of our American church hymns.

 After we had our noon meal at home, around three in the afternoon (about 2½ hours before sunset), we would file back to church for Sunday school where even at my young age, I suppos­edly taught a Sunday School Class. Our evenings were spent in our station meeting, mainly singing of hymns where we learned all the verses of every song. 

On week days, if our servant could not go with us, we would ride our donkeys and then when older, our horses, round and round the yard in the center of which were a few gnarled, sickly-looking trees; but as we knew no better, they looked pretty good to us.  Or if our ser­vant could go with us we would ride away from the city and toward the mountains to the north to a place called “The Notch” where the Sultan’s highway had been cut through some rock. Here we found a beautiful valley filled with large anemones of all colors and other flowers, like lilies of the valley, iris and other flowers. Briar roses were growing on walls border­ing the road, while along the road itself were gardens of flowering almond trees, wal­nuts, filberts, apricot and cherry trees, or fig trees, or here and there vineyards of wonderful grapes and fields of wa­termelons. We learned to ride horseback well and when cantering or galloping, sometimes we would meet a herd of donkeys which invariably would get in our way. My horse would leap over any donkey in our way and go on. I never fell off as I had a good horn on my side-saddle with which I hung on.

 We knew when it was time to turn home, for when the sun would reach a certain height we knew it would be just about an hour before sunset. At sunset, and at home again we would hear the Muezzin call his call to prayer from his minaret, then the devout Mohammedans would wash their hands, feet and faces, spread their little rugs and turn­ing their faces to Mecca In the south would say their prayers to God. The Muezzin would call: “God is the Great­est and Mohammed is His messenger; gather for prayers.” Then having said their prayers they would turn their heads first to the right and then to the left looking over the shoulder and greeting the good and the bad angel who watches over them for good or evil.

 Sometimes we would go with my mother to call on officials’ wives or well-to-do families; this however, is another story.

 At one time a young American who had come out to get experience in Turkey used to play ball with us and I became quite an expert ball-thrower. 

Of course at times we had our station dinners, in one of the other two houses where the other Americans lived, and these were great times for us children as the food in the other house tasted so much better than our own! Then the older ones would line up with us and would simulate playing the drum, fiddle and other instruments and we would all sing to this ‘music’.

 Our dear parents tried to make up to us what we were missing, as they knew it; but to us it was the ultimate of pleas­ure.




Father, mother, sister and I are off for a trip. The load animals are herded in the yard prior to being loaded, and the mu­leteers are separating the various arti­cles; tents and tent poles; the food and cooking utensils; the charcoal and wa­ter bottles; a heterogeneous collection for any emergency; the bedsteads, and bedding; mosquito nets and lunch packages. These are packed In enor­mous bags on either side of the load animals — horses, mules and donkeys, then the bags are covered with quilts and tied down to make broad, soft backs on which to ride.

 We children are put into nice, uphol­stered boxes which have an extension for our feet if we wish to lie down in the box while riding. These boxes are slung on the back of a sure-footed mule, and we can look out of the sides where curtains, to protect us from the hot sun or the rain, flap In the breeze or are tied back, giving us a view of the country as we ride along. 

Soon all is ready, my father on his own beautiful horse, and mother on hers. She is wearing a large hat with a veil to protect her from the sun and wind. The head muleteer straddles his donkey and the caravan starts while bells, hung on the necks of the animals tinkle and clang and white shells interspersed with blue lapis beads, and ornaments to ward off the evil eye, shine in the sun­light.

Through the great gate of the yard we pass and wind down narrow streets of the city where dogs bark a farewell, and children run out to see the excitement.

 Over rocks and along a narrow road we go following our leader down the great monotonous plain, which stretches for miles ahead of us.

 Noon comes and we dismount to stretch our legs, have our lunch while sitting on rocks here and there as the animals graze on what they can find. Another four hours and we reach a village of mud huts, where children, chickens, goats and dogs mingled to welcome us, the dogs setting up a terrific barking.

 As it now began to rain we decided to be the guests of the head man of the vil­lage, and unloading our bedsteads, we help the servants set them up at once, In order to escape fleas, etc., which were everywhere.

 Our room is a cave where the animals of the head man are kept. Our place of rest is a platform at the end of this cave, with only one window of about two feet square for light and air. Here we set up our beds and have our food. The noises of the night consisted of horses blowing, and stamping, and goats warming themselves at our one window because of the cold and rain. They kept shutting out what little air there was and com­pelling us to spend the night shoving the animals away from the window with an umbrella. The room, through which we had to pass to reach the outside, was filled with men of the village enjoy­ing the evening smoking and discussing the foreigners who were there for the night.

 Now after some days of travel, we came to a river and camped, after setting up our tents. During the night a downpour caused the rivulets of the hill to flow through our tents and to carry our small shoes away with it. To warm us, a charcoal brazier was set up and the charcoal lighted but because of the wet the carbon was not entirely purified and the result was terrific headaches the next morning. However, when we awak­ened the sun was shining and we were soon put to rights in the fresh air.

 A night on the great plain… Our tent is pitched; the animals are hobbled; the guards holding their guns are sitting around a small fire built on the ground. Here and there we hear the snort of a horse, or the sneeze of another, while a shot is fired far in the distance. The sky is sparkling with bright stars in every direction; the light breeze bends and fills the sides of our tent as we lie lis­tening to the various sounds of the night, punctuated by the wail of a coy­ote.

 Again, we are wending our way over the Taurus Mountains with our caravan. Far in the distance one sees the snow-covered peaks which never seem to get closer, but remain in the blue haze of distance. About us, as we follow along a rushing stream, are beautiful flowers of all colors. We feel the cold­ness of the mountains but the bright sunshine dissipates this as the day wears on. Soon we must ford a stream which has become a river, and to find the ford, a muleteer folds his baggy trousers far up around his hips and wades in leading his horse by a rope. We soon follow, some on horseback with the water to the haunches of the horse, while we children remain in our box carryall and just miss the water.




The city was built on the side of a low mountain at the northern edge of the Mesopotamian Plain. One row of stone and mud houses was built above an­other, the streets being the dividing line. Every house was surrounded by a high wall. The houses themselves were either one or two story houses, sometimes whitewashed—the better ones using the lower story for stables and storerooms and the upper for living quarters. As one would look up at the city from be­low he would see stone buildings with Gothic-shaped windows for the most part, all of which would be iron-barred, the roofs flat, and the whole place void of trees, unless in the yard of one of the several mosques, with minarets pointing to the sky.

 Topping all of this was a flat surface on which still stood the ruins of an ancient castle called the ‘Woman’s Castle’. Legend has it that when the city was attacked by the armies of the Persians, Romans or others one woman with her soldiers held out against them for months.

 From our vantage place on summer evenings, before going to our summer resort, we children would watch the families on the roofs of the city, sitting on their huge family bedsteads of wood, having their evening meal, the ‘to us’ fragrant smells being wafted to us by the breezes, then hearing the singing and strumming of their musical instruments as the men would sit and smoke, talk­ing over the day’s doings.

 The city was divided into sections such as the Mohammedan, the Catholic, or Protestant, or Koord section. The latter was just below our compound, and the men got their living by raiding caravans on the roads north or south, or what­ever they could find. They were always armed with swords, scimitars, daggers and guns. The smaller weapons were carried in the folds of their huge sashes while their guns were slung over their shoulders. This was our city and how we longed to get to our own American cities where we had heard there were so many interesting things for us as children.

 At sunset we would hear the Muezzin call the faithful to prayers as he walked around the parapet of the minaret, holding his hands to the sides of his head and calling “Allah—hu—akbar wa Mohammed, ra—sool Allah”—”God is greatest and Mohammed is His messen­ger” ‘Come to prayer’”. 




There is much activity among the housewives in the city of Mardin for the coming winter. Wood is brought and stored in the storerooms for their fires and charcoal. Wheat is brought, washed and boiled in huge kettles, then laid out on sheets on the roofs to dry, and be stored to be ground into cracked wheat (bulgur) and made into all kinds of dishes later on. Wheat is one of the mainstays of the native much more than is rice which is imported and more expensive. Vegeta­bles such as onions, eggplant, green peppers and hot peppers, are dried and strung on string and hung from the rafters, or dried and stored in huge earthen vats. Rugs and bedding are washed and made ready for later use. Huge sheep tails are cut up and boiled down with the liquid fat stored for cooking and the ‘silly’ (‘kirkirdak’ in Turkish) saved to eat with bread. Some grapes are made into raisins. From other grapes a heavy syrup is prepared in a big pot. Walnuts and blanched almonds are strung on long thick strings, about three or four feet in length.  They are dipped in the thick boiling grape syrup three times having dried overnight between each dipping. When thor­oughly dried these long sausage-like syrup-covered nuts are dipped in corn starch and stored in vats. Another product of the grapes, called “busteek”(Arabic word –‘pestil’ in Turkish) is the thick syrup spread out in sheets on huge, flat pans, after spices such as cinnamon and kindred spices have been mixed with it. The sheets are al­lowed to dry, then either rolled or folded and stored for winter use. The seeds of melons of all kinds are dried, toasted and stored.

 Wool is spun into thread, with a long-sticked top or by a wheel worked by a foot leaving two hands to handle and card the wool. Clothes are made of hand-woven cloth and embroidered elaborately for the wedding chest.

 Tomatoes are boiled down to a pulp (salsa) for later cooking. Grape leaves of the Thompson grape are packed in brine. Black olives are put into brine and processed. The heads and other parts of sheep are packed, after being cooked, for future use while the stomachs and intestines are cleaned in ash and stuffed with wheat, dried mint and spices for immediate use. 




In the heat of summer when the filth and stench of the city became danger­ous to us children our families would take us to our summer resort, called “Rocky Rest,” a broad valley topped with high rocks on this side and at the far side. From a distance as we approached it on horseback we could see the gray rocks rising some 60 feet high and per­pendicular, with tall poplar and fruit trees in front lending a color of green to the otherwise drab appearance of the place. 

After riding some two hours we climbed a narrow stony path to our objective. Here in front of the high rocks and resting on a rocky shelf was our house with only a space of about three feet for a path above a precipice to the lower part of the garden. 

The house itself consisted of two rooms in a low stony building with a lower shallow room for the kitchen with its cave in the back used as a storeroom. The front of the house had a terrace covered with bundles of branches of dry scrub oak laid on a crude frame so as to keep out the heat of the sun and shade our room. In this house of two rooms lived our two American families. The room itself was divided off into bed­rooms and living room by huge curtains strung on wire so as to be slid back and forth to form one or more rooms. The view from our veranda or terrace was across the shallow valley to two huge rocks called the ‘Men’ and ‘Bishop’s Mitre’ (liturgical headdress) for they did look very strangely like them. Some mornings we would watch the sunlight creep over them and down the hillside toward our side of the val­ley. This was fascinating.

 To return to our side, the rock on which our house was built had a deep crack in the middle from which came a constant stream of cold water while on either side of this main stream were smaller ones, the water of which was directed by stone troughs to the main trough. Here under a stone wall forming a tunnel were kept fruits brought in by the native women in the early mornings when the fruit was covered with dew and cold. Here were figs, both white and black with the honey dripping from them, mulberries white and black, or black­berries which we enjoyed on our clab­bered milk, or at times melons and grapes, plums and apricots.

 The water from this rock was im­pounded in a large basin, which when filled was used by the native men for swimming and when needed, was let out by the large wooden plug covered with rags, being pulled from the hole at the bottom and the water directed from one terrace to another by troughs of earth.

 One of the interesting places on the hill­side was a large walnut tree where we children would climb into its branches and have our maid tell us fairy stories in Arabic. These she would invariably begin with the stock phrase “Kan wa ma kan, ala Allah tikian” meaning whether It really occurred or not, it is up to God; but to us children they were all most real and fascinating.

 The stables for our horses consisted of a terrace by the pool and covered with branches of the scrub oak to shade them. We would mount our saddled horses, ride up to the plateau beyond our valley and ride for miles in the rough country. After some time we would come to a stream sheltered by popular trees, and here watch the big dragonflies in green color, fly lazily over the water.

 One time we were thrilled to see a cara­van of camels going up back of our house on their way north to gather the bundles of licorice root to be taken to the Black Sea to be shipped abroad. The thought came to me that it would be an experience to ride a camel, and I had the servant ask the cameleer if this could be done. He consented readily and I was delighted till I learned that he had it in his mind to carry me off for ransom. He was soon dissuaded from this however by the servant scaring him with dire consequences by the American Government, should he at­tempt it. I never cared to ride a camel again.

 Sometimes when the heat would be­come so intense that we felt we could stand it no longer, my mother would have the men bring huge jars of water from the pond and throw it on the floor of our room to cool it. As the heat was intense the water would disappear very soon but for the time being, it gave us a little coolness.

 No rain came all through the summer months. The highlight of the week would be when we would see father coming on a Saturday afternoon, a white speck in the far distance, as he rode his white horse and drew closer and closer to us. He always had his saddlebags filled with good things from the markets of the city for us. After living at Rocky Rest for two months, we were glad to get back to our more spacious home in the city.





When I was about six years old it was decided that our family should spend the winter in Mosul across the plain from Mardin, some ten days’ journey.

 When I wakened, I saw our yard full of load animals, gathered to be packed with our belongings. The muleteers were milling about sorting the loads and packing the bags, for we had to carry everything with us from tents and their poles, to bedding, food, cots and cloth­ing.

 Our mother and father rode on their own horses on saddles while the ser­vants rode on the pack animals on top of the baggage made comfortable by being tied to the animal’s backs and made flat with quilts. We children had a place all our own on the back of a particularly sure-footed horse. This place consisted of two boxes elongated with added small boxes for our feet, up­holstered inside and covered with little canopies of cloth with curtains on the sides to keep the heat and sun off. To us this was lovely as the horse jogged along led by one of the muleteers riding his little donkey. A donkey ridden by the head muleteer would always lead the caravan.

 We wended our way though the city and then out of the eastern gate and down a path to the plain. Here we saw Arabs watching their flocks as they grazed along the plain which was free to all.

 After having stopped for our lunch which consisted of delicious sandwiches with olives, nuts and raisins, we went on till sunset when the muleteers stopped, unloaded the animals and let them roll in the grass while they put up the tents with much noise and confu­sion. These tents were white and to us children, very large with curtains in the center to make two rooms inside. Our wooden cots were set up at once and our cook prepared the chicken and rice for our dinner.

 The animals were hobbled and allowed to wander, not too far to get their evening meal, or have their bags of fodder hung to their heads. Certain of the men were our sentinels to watch that none of the animals were stolen by the Arabs. These would sit by their fire and talk in low tones while the rest of us slept. 

Daylight would mean the breaking of camp and that to us was very interest­ing, to see the huge tents brought down, the poles pulled out and reloaded. Soon we came to the ruins of an ancient town which was called Dara, presumably one of the cities of Darius or some other an­cient king. We could see among the ru­ins the stones worn down by chariot wheels where grooves were still visible.

 After some ten days we came to the city of Mosul, a walled city where trading with the Arabs of the plain was carried on, where the great Tigris river famous in an­cient times, still flowed, and was crossed by a bridge set on inflated goat skins. To me it was rather a dizzy mat­ter to cross its swaying road.

 The house where we were to live was a three-storied building with a high wall and great gate. The Inside looked dark and gloomy, so built to keep out the extreme heat. Looking from our third floor to the main yard below it seemed that we were looking into a dungeon.

 Some friends had given me as a parting gift, a bag of yellow dried peas, toasted and salted. They were a favorite with me and when my mother hung the bag on the wall above my bed I had the urge to have “just one more”, till in the morning when questioned by my mother about the nearly empty bag, I could not for the life of me tell how so many had disap­peared!

 A little experience which stands out in my mind was being taken by a little Syrian girl friend to a nearby church where the priest wanted to give me his bless­ing by making the sign of the cross on my forehead with holy water. Thinking it was indelible ink with which I was going to be tattooed I fled back home and never ventured out of the yard again!

I can still smell the pickled turnips sold in the market place, and see the carrots and huge watermelons, while their par­ticular brands of cake stands out clearly. These were like bears’ claws filled with crushed dates and flavored with spices, a delicious cake to me, called “Kleecha".




A young army official was to be married to the daughter of the governor, and my mother and I were invited as special guests since my father was their physi­cian and my mother had helped make the dress for the bride.

 We arrived at the bride’s house having gone there on horseback, dismounted and removed our veils. We were then escorted to the “Haremlik” -- in Turkish, a room where the harem was kept, but here more loosely translated as women’s quarters of the house -- where in a large room we saw other guests sitting on di­vans along the wall, having removed their shoes at the entrance, and having been seated according to their rank on the divans. The young girls and women were seated on the floor on cushions on the rugs.

 All were being entertained by women beating tambourines, and singing and clapping to the accompaniment of which the young girls were invited to dance. For refreshments they were served roasted melon seeds and candy while many of them smoked their ciga­rettes.

 My mother and I were given chairs to sit on and the bride was brought in and seated near us. She was in a beautiful velvet dress. Her head was covered with a thin veil through which we could see her face, and saw that she had been enhanced with stars and crescents of silver and gold pasted to her cheeks to keep off the evil eye of any jealous per­son. Her hands were dyed in henna fig­ures having been made on them by first being tied in patterns with rags and threads so that white parts would ap­pear when the rags were removed. During all this time of entertainment she sat silent and with bent head. We dared not comment favorably about the bride lest we cast the evil eye upon her.

 After cups of Turkish coffee were served it became time to take the bride to the bridegroom’s house. We went ahead to see her brought to the house. She was mounted on a horse and in front of her was carried the bride’s tree, a huge wax tree in the shape of a fir tree, with birds and other ornaments of wax on it. We went to the roof of the house so that we could look down on the bridal party. Soon we heard them coming, the women calling out a “Helbel” showing happiness.

 When the bride arrived, and was helped from her horse, the groom hurried out of the door of the yard, grabbed her by the arm and hustled her to her room, where he left her, he himself going away hurriedly to the men’s quarters. 

We found her seated on a chair near the upper part of the room, and we fol­lowed. Soon however the stove in the room began to smoke badly and we all had to leave, but not the poor bride who had to endure the smoke and say nothing as it would have been a bad omen to have her removed. The mar­riage ceremony, we were told, was per­formed by the Mullah or Mohammedan priest in some way. This we did not see.

 In some of the interior villages, the groom does not see the face of the bride till she has borne him a child. She is the servant for the mother-in-law, and has to stand at the foot of the in-laws’ bed, which is made up on the floor, till they have gone to sleep, when she can retire. They remove neither their clothes nor their headdress, day or night till they go to the bath once a week or once in two weeks.

 The richer the bride, the heavier the headdress, this being ornamented with the bride’s dowry of gold coins and ear coverings of pearls and precious stones together with chains of coins. This is the property of the bride and cannot be taken from her.

 Should she displease her husband he can divorce her by pronouncing three times, “I divorce you.” She then returns to her father’s house with her dowry.

 I have heard it said that during egg-plant time the husband has no rea­son to divorce his wife as she can cook this vegetable in forty different ways. To reach a husband’s heart in Turkey is very truly through the stomach.

 Before the wedding, the bride, having been spoken for through a go-between who is well-paid for her work, is taken by the groom’s relatives to the public bath where she is given a bath and has her hair, hands and feet decorated. This is the time they look her over to see that she has no blemishes.

 As soon as a girl reaches adolescence, she is sought in marriage and must be mar­ried before she is out of her teens or be­comes an old maid and a disgrace to her family.

 The more sons she has the better, for they are the ones who will look after her in old age, while the daughter is mar­ried and belongs to the groom’s family.

 In the olden days the Mohammedans could marry as many wives as they could support, but seldom did I hear of more than three to a man.




From time to time we had to make jour­neys across the country and this was what we children enjoyed immensely.

 When the day arrived for us to leave Mardin, the caravan hired by my father would come to our yard with some 10 or 15 horses, mules and donkeys. Our paraphernalia would be collected and sorted so that the things could be packed to advantage on the load ani­mals. The servants sat on loads made smooth on top by their bedding tied on securely. Other animals carried our huge tents with their center poles and canvas, while my parents rode their own horses on saddles of their own, and we children had a lovely little house on either side of a sure-footed horse. This house for each of us consisted of a packing box upholstered inside and hung with curtains which could be rolled up or let down in case of rain or too much sun. For our feet was a little extension where we could stretch out for a nap as the horse jogged along, the loads squeaking as the horses walked, wearing heavy bells tied to their necks and jangling their various tones. The whole caravan was led by the head mu­leteer riding his donkey, he being so tall that often his feet barely escaped the ground from the low animal. Fancy a line of horses attached from one to the next by a rope.

 In the heat of the day we would dis­mount and have a snack of food often consisting of bread and raisins and walnuts, or some fruit. Then after eight hours of riding we would reach our nights’ lay-off, having gone about 25 miles.

 The tents would be pitched, the animals allowed to roil in the field and then be tethered for the night while we slept being guarded by some of the servants carrying their guns and sitting by the charcoal fires, talking in low tones. Early the next morning at the break of dawn our tents were folded, all packed and we were off again. This was usually when we went by plain to some place. We would meet groups of Arabs and their herds of camels or sheep. Their black tents sat around the large center tent holding the chief of the tribe.

 If we were to go through the mountains we relied on the hospitality of the village chiefs to give us a place to sleep. We were always announced by the barking of dogs from the villages. The roads were often simply paths over the mountains, here and there through snows and then down to the valleys covered with beautiful flowers, while streams of mountain water would at times become rather dangerous to cross. We would have to wait till the head man would find the ford for us and we would cross, terrified at the rushing water about us. Some villagers’ homes were only beehives of mud with only the entry and a hole in the top to let the smoke out. Around the sides of this “hive” were huge mud bins holding their food of dried wheat and vegetables.

 Crossing the Euphrates in the early dawn was a very interesting experience. The rocks seemed to shelter ghosts in the dim light but the scow was waiting at the river’s edge with its rowers to ferry us across. This time we rode the old ‘covered wagon’ which with its horses, was loaded into the bottom of the scow while we sat on a high plat­form at one end, trying to keep out of the way of the frightened horses with their whinnying and prancing, as the men poled us downstream to the other side.

 Here we found a caravansary consisting of a high-walled yard around which were two-storied rooms, the lower hav­ing the servants and loads while the upper had the travelers. These rooms consisted of a bare, often times, mud floor, with a small window through which no one could crawl, and having only a little shelf in a corner where one could set up a candle for light. Our beds were set up at once by the servants so that we would escape the vermin left by other travelers. Here in particular was a gathering of all nations, mainly Mo­hammedans going or coming from their pilgrimage to Mecca. The noise of the people busy with their various jobs of settling for the night, or squabbling, the horses being fed and the smell of cook­ing all helped to pass the time.

 At one place where we had to spend Sunday, it had been raining hard all day and as the village was full of travel­ers all we could have was a stable in the chief’s house. This was an inner room, rather long, where the animals were brought while we had a higher platform of mud where we had to set up our cots. The only window to the stable and at one end above us about a foot square and because of the rain was constantly covered by a poor goat trying to get shelter from the rain, and warmth from the room. Our group had to spend most of the night taking turns poking the goat with an umbrella to allow air to come to us while the dogs which sig­naled our coming, continued to bark at other late travelers.  At another time, we had a tent which was supposed to be set in a lovely spot on a hillside, but rain came down in torrents that night and formed a lively stream right though the middle of our tent, carrying our shoes and stockings with it, At this time my father was sleeping in a palanquin which had been locked on the outside so that he could not get out to help us in the confusion. The next morning all was calm and se­rene in the bright sunlight.

 The wagon in which we traveled was at times springless and filled with our bedding to sit on while for our backs our trunks were used as a backrest. The animals, as were those of the cara­vans, wore large blue beads to ward off the evil eye.

 At one spot we thought we spied mountain brigands and to frighten them away, as we had no guns, we beat on our dinner pails and made all the noise we could. At one place near the Taurus Mountains we found people living in houses built in the caves of the moun­tainside.

 We passed through gardens rich in fruit and nut-bearing trees, grape vineyards, olive trees, and with streams of water feeding these gardens. The houses were for the most part built of mud and one-story high. The women were all working while the men sat around smoking their nargilés (water-pipes) and chatting, playing with their strings of beads of amber or other materials.

 At times we went over high moun­tains—the roads being just paths worn by the animals which had passed that way for years. As we crossed the mountains we would go through fields of snow and look down into valleys cov­ered with beautiful flowers.

 At one of these mud villages my father found that I had typhoid fever and as I was nearing the crisis of the fever he could do nothing but stop there. There was no ice, no means of cleanliness other than what we had for our trip; but the night of the crisis was passed and I got better, so much so that father hired what was called a phaeton in which I lay on one seat facing the driver while father and mother (I do not know what they did with my little sister) rode with their backs to the driver. The natives said the reason why I improved was that God took father’s beautiful Arab horse which he had been riding instead of me, as it died that night. We still wonder what the cause of its death was; but it satisfied the natives as the real reason why I got well, not father’s treatment of me to the best of his ability with the few medicines he had on the trip.

 My first sight of the Black Sea where we finally arrived was a wonder to me as we looked down from the hill on which we were, to a beautiful expanse of sparkling BLUE, not black as I sup­posed, water.

 From here we went in a Russian steamer to Constantinople. I recall the heavy damask curtains covering our bunks in a little stateroom where we could hardly turn around. the washing facilities was a wash bowl over which was a metal container, I think fastened to the wall, in which was some cold water that we could get by turning the spigot. Our meals were served on a long table in the dining room, and we had real Russian food which tasted very peculiar to me.

 After several days on the Black Sea we came in sight of the beautiful city of Constantinople with its sparkling mina­rets and domes of the numerous mosques. After disembarking we found that the city was not as “beautiful” as we thought. We were met by friends who took us across the long wooden Galata Bridge to their home. I remember the crowds of people of all nationalities on this bridge; I remember the huge mound of delicious pink or red rice on the table, and remember how I dropped the wash bowl of a cherished set on the wash table and how terrible I felt about this as my mother did not know how she could replace these precious pieces of crockery. Though we searched the United States for replacement, I do not think my mother was able to find any.

 As this is the end of the Turkish part of my experiences I would suggest that you too take this trip and see how things are now after sixty years of change.

 Nellie Elona Thom Freyer













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