#5: Mountain life (1892)

"The common people of the country lived in deep poverty and often in great fear. Dinner one Sunday evening in a mountain village home comes vividly to mind. It had been a heart-warming day with those dear and simple friends of the congregation with whom we celebrated the Lord's supper, and we were invited to the leading deacon's home for the evening meal. It was a log house with just one large room over the barn and stable where they stored their tools, animals, and supplies. There was a fire smoldering on a broad hearth or fireplace consisting of flat stones in the center of the room. It was the custom for the family to sleep at night flat on the floor, with or without bedding, ringed around the heated stones and embers, with their feet toward the fire. Some, but by no means all, of the smoke escaped by a huge, square hood or chimney rising toward and above the roof. The table was about a foot high, round, and a yard or so across. We sat cross-legged on the floor and had to sit close to make room for all, with our right shoulder toward the table whereon were just three articles of food. The staple was corn bread, johnny cake, which is good at its best, but in this case was baked of cornmeal very gritty from the mill stones that ground it; half-burned on one side and half-raw on the other; then there was a dish of soured milk, much thinned with water to make it go around, from which we dipped with wooden spoons; and there were green pepper pickles. There was nothing else to eat on the table. And that was the best meal of the week, in one of the best houses of the village, and with guests present whom they wished to treat with their best available hospitality.

Leaving that village one morning I was told in advance that they lived in danger of Georgian neighbors, Mohammedans who had settled in the region as immigrants from Russia. So three of the Armenian young men would escort me beyond the danger line several miles down the mountain side. For the protection of their lives and cattle and property some of their young men were each provided with a Russian rifle which must not be seen by officials for that would involve them in danger with the government, and so we should start in the small hours of the night. My hosts provided me a horse to ride, while my three guards walked, Indian file, one ahead and two behind me. The man ahead wore white cotton pants, but so dark was the night and so dense was the forest through which we threaded our way that I could not even see the white pants moving at my horse's head along those mountain pathways with their frequent precipitous descents and small streams.


Another time I was riding alone with a Circassian, and in the talk of man to man in such companionship, asked him a bit about his occupation and his affairs. "Sometimes I get a traveller to escort, like you", he replied, "and then I take him, but my regular business is smuggling tobacco. Every man in our village has a regular job, some are smugglers, some are farmers, and some are thieves". I asked him about his chance of getting caught, and he promptly said, "There are two kinds of smugglers; one kind gets caught and one kind doesn't get caught", and he added a pious expression of gratitude to the good Lord that he never had been put to shame yet. We knew very well that the mounted police of Anatolia were largely recruited from among the robbers and smugglers of the mountain roads. One of the most effective ways of securing official employment, and who knows what promotion later, was to acquire the reputation of a daring hold-up man on the mountains."

NEXT: Ugly incidents (1893)