National Geographic : 1914 Jan
HERE AND THERE IN NORTHERN AFRICA us enjoy life while we live" is their motto. They are hard workers and nothing daunts them. They remain under the water as long as the human frame can stand the pressure. Instead of being pulled up, as divers usually are, they inflate their rubber div ing suits by letting the air accumulate instead of escaping and rise to the sur face with great rapidity, almost shooting out of the water. This sudden change in atmospheric pressure often causes pa ralysis and apoplexy, so that on most of the boats there are at least half a dozen crippled divers recovering from this kind of paralysis. The Greek government in days gone by tried to render aid by sending over two well-equipped hospital ships, but the owners of the diving boats resented this interference and hoisted the Turkish flag, thus preventing the hospital ships from being of service. After two years of fruitless effort on the part of the govern ment, the effort was given up. THE SPONGE DIVERS AT PLAY On Sundays and legal holidays the divers, dressed in their holiday clothes, enjoy life as best they can in the little town of Tripoli, where theaters and even cinematographs are unknown. One of their favorite pastimes is to hire Berber horses and race at full tilt up and down the desert just outside the walls of Trip oli, a harmless pleasure and most amus ing to onlookers, for they are poor riders and usually fall off. At night they go to some native house, where, in the patio, or large rectangular courtyard, brilliantly illuminated with in candescent lights, they sit about long tables and drink coffee or beer. Six or eight blind musicians play weird strains in a minor key, while man after man gets up and dances a pas seul. The steps are indescribable, but always graceful. They rarely become intoxicated, and toward midnight they go home. THE SPONGE INDUSTRY The sponges are dried, cleaned, and sent to France and England, where they bring good prices. An ordinary sponge takes about five years to grow and costs from 8 to 20 francs ($I.60 to $4). The Biological Laboratory at Sfax, on the coast of Tunisia, is making a study of the diseases and artificial propagation of sponges, as their ruthless destruction over the coast of northern Africa bids fair to exterminate this industry in a very few years. Great progress has been made in these investigations. It was my good fortune to be in Trip oli while the Turkish and French com missioners were settling the boundary question between Tripoli and Tunisia, and they enabled me to take some de lightful excursions with them to various oases in Tripolitania. The different consulates were on friendly terms with each other, and all vied in lavishing hospitality upon us. Three days in the week were holidays, Friday being the equivalent of our Sun day for the Mohammedans, Saturday the Jewish Sabbath, and Sunday the Chris tian Day of Rest. In the evening, after dinner, we would often stroll down and take a cup of Turkish coffee at a cafe overlooking the bay, while the waves rolled in at our feet and the stars shown like electric lights in a blue-black sky. The Oriental town about us seemed asleep, but the distant beating of tom-toms and the shrill notes of bagpipes, or flageolets, that occasion ally reached our ears showed that some where a fete was taking place. The souks, or bazars, of Tripoli are not remarkable, but are interesting never theless. The souks of the silversmiths are composed entirely of Jews. One never sees an Arab silversmith or black smith. THE EFECT OF THE HALLEY COMET ON JEWS AND ARABS Rain water is the only drinking water used and is kept in huge cisterns built under the houses. During the passing of the Halley comet the Jews of Tripoli were afraid of dying and took refuge in their great cisterns, which they had pumped dry for the purpose. Twenty-four hours having elapsed, they came out of their hiding places to find the world the same as before.