Massawa, Eritrea

Friday Wednesday, March 27, 1929

I was awakened before six by derricks and men raising cain on our hatch. I saw we were in the harbor at Massawa, but was too sleepy to get up until a troop of negroes flooded the fore-deck and began to unload and load the ship. Eritrea is a typical tropical colony, belonging to Italy. The mountains back from the town rise one above the other. They are very picturesque and beautiful, just like a painting. We hunted down the station where I asked the agent when the train left for—we knew not where, just any place in those mountains. The answer was in worse French than the question. “Le treno” wasn’t leaving until the following day, which did us no good.

Massawa is a small town on a small but good bay. The boat docks alongside a quay. This was piled high with sacks of salt, sand, or something. Scores of blacks, mere skeletons, carried boxes and sacks weighing as much as 150 lbs. on their backs. Tall, lanky black jobs wandered all over the low deck of the ship. They would sit and watch us eat our rolls and coffee, and when we tossed them bread and rolls and grandly said imshi with a flourish of the arm, they left us, eating this dry bread.

The main drag is along the harbor where darkies push big wagons heavily loaded, singing a chant. I suspect they were suggesting that Mohammed push the cart for them, for those who had mules or horses to work for them sang nothing. This road is lined on its side from the harbor with low brick buildings having the cloistered sidewalks as a protection from the sun. An imposing bank of white plaster reposes in a sort of large square. In front of this a group of children were squatting on the ground braiding each other’s hair. It was shaved off except in the back. They would braid and curl this long part in many dangling doo-funnies. The governor’s residence was on a jut of land into the bay. Back from the harbor is the native section and the bazaar. Plenty of flies, a whole street of tailors with their sewing machines lined up in the street, half-naked native children roaming the streets, half-naked men, mere skeletons; women nursing babies and bare-breasted women picking up grains of corn or wheat near a grain market. A road separates one arm of the bay from another. A long caravan of camels was passing over this stretch. One could look down into the shallow, clear water on either side and see corals, small fish looking like swordfish, zebra-striped fish, rays, crabs, shells, white and silvery fish and some that were brilliant blue or green. It was like an aquarium. All swam in the shallow water near the road where you could see them perfectly, even larger fish.

Farther on was another section of town. In it were many coconut and banana trees on which the fruit was beginning to ripen. Native women walked along the road, their baby in a cloth wrapping on their back. Many of the men had huge feet and the large toes spread out like a duck’s. Water carriers would come down the road carrying two jars of H2O hanging from the ends of a long pole across the back of their shoulders. Many natives wore a ribbon or leather band about the arm of leg to ward off the evil eye. Some of the women have their hair done up in an interesting fashion. Practically all of the head is shaved except along the front where the hair is allowed to grow long. Then it is put up in several long braids, each very thin. One bunch of these runs from the forehead back to the back of the head right in the middle. Then another bunch goes around each side of the head just above the ear to the back. Two natives came down the street with three monkeys.

We walk on through town and along another road separating two arms of the bay, toward a native village a mile distant from the city. Before reaching there though, we cut off along the shore of the bay and, quite a distance from the road, went in swimming to wash off and get our clothes clean too. It must have been all of a hundred even with a breeze and we were plenty burned when we finally returned to the Romolo. As the bay is full of sharks, we only went out to our knees in the warm water. Along the beach where natives had been bleaching salt, we saw a half-dozen or more large shark heads and one of a huge turtle.

Mort and I got some quinine after a long search for a pharmacy, then spent the evening sewing and packing a box to send home. The loading went on till early in the morning—about 4 AM. The night was so warm I was tempted to sleep without a shirt. Frank was feeling bum. The day was a big success for Frank and I had haircuts. Mine was a wow. The first in ten weeks, and I made up for lost time. Had it lopped off until it was only a little over an inch long. Now I look no less than a convict. Tonight two of my sailor friends sure tried hard to treat me to some beer, but I declined. They are good boys, from Spazuzza or some such place in Italy. I discovered that I had lost my scarab. Must mean bad luck according to the Luxor hotel proprietor. Well, I cut my foot on a shell and then broke a bottle of some liquid they are shipping as deck cargo today.

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