INDIA 75: Travel Log of Steel Vendor

Posted by Kacie Emmerson

November 22, 2022

Seventy-five years ago, the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth began their first foreign mission. To celebrate our presence in India, we will follow the journey of our Pioneer Sisters. Over the next year, you will read the story of how six SCNs traveled from Nazareth, Kentucky, to set up a hospital and serve those in need in one of the poorest regions of a newly independent India. 

Read Part 1 | Read Part 2| Read Part 3| Read Part 4| Read Part 5| Read Part 6 | Read Part 7

Our story continues, Sister Lawrencetta continues to update the Congregation about the Sisters’ travel to India in 1947 and the interesting sights and people encountered along the way.

SS. Steel Vendor
In route
Nov. 12, 1947

Dear Mother and Sisters,

I hope that you have received the first and second parts of the travelogue mailed from Baltimore and Fort Said; and now for the third part.
On October 29 after breakfast , we went on deck to watch for the rock of Gibraltar and on the south we passed Tangier and Ceuta in Morocco. It was when we were about here that some large fish jumped up out of the water on several succeeding waves and gave us a good act. The next day the sea was quite rough, rocking us back and forth. On the south, the Atlas Mountains were visible. We passed Algiers and Cape Bon. Near the latter place are the ruins of Carthago, where Hannibal was born. Later in the day we passed south of the islands of Pantelleria and Malta. On November 1, it rained a little in the afternoon – the first that we had since leaving the States.

Sunday, November 2, was beautifully clear and bright. We observed Recollection Day as far as we could. Father Birney gave us a talk in our stateroom. The next day we were privileged to have three Masses, so we felt very happy. Four or five members of the crew are Catholics, so on Sundays, Father has Mass two floors beneath our deck, so as to give all a chance to attend.

November 3 about 8:30 a.m. we sighted Fort Said, Egypt. This day a new American flag is flying on the rear of the ship, the Merchant Marine flag on the bow and the ship’s code flags on the mast near the Captain’s quarters. As you near and leave each large city a pilot comes on the ship and takes you in and out. It is interesting to watch the tug boat with a motor boat behind, bring the pilot and then he comes up the rope ladder on the side. Just as soon as we came into port a number of small boats with natives selling their wares crowded around and remained until we left. Large department stores and public buildings were right on the water front. There are four Catholic Churches here, but only one American. In the harbor, we saw several ships that had been sunk during the war. Only the masts and smoke stacks were above the water. After about four hours stop, we took on another pilot and started through the Suez Canal. This one changed in the middle of the Canal and another took us the rest of the way.

In 1854 Mohammed Said, Viceroy of Egypt, granted concession to Ferdinand de Lesseps to build the Canal. It was completed in 1869. It is 87 ½ miles long and 60 to 100 meters wide. The total cost to build was L 18,000,000. A railroad and two highways run parallel with the canal on the right side. Government houses are stationed about every five miles. Many ships pass through the canal each day. Since there is only room for one way passage in some parts, we had to draw to the side twice and be tied there to let six ships pass. On the left side of the canal just after entering it, were miles of salt beds and then later a sandy desert. When about halfway through, we passed a prison cmap, where there were many German and Polish prisoners.

Early the next morning, we anchored in Suez Bay at the end of the canal. Here the natives came again to sell their wares, although there were not as many this time. Nearby was the city of Suez and Port Taufik and in another direction the Wells of Moses. On the morning of November 5. We left Sieza Bau about 6″ 15 amd started down the Gi;f toward the Red Sea. On the right side for many miles there were high cliffs and then later the Arabian desert; on the left, the country of Sinai. Later in the afternoon, we saw Mt. Sinai, where God gave the commandments to Moses. As we sailed down the Red Sea, we thought of the mighty wall that must have been formed when the waters divided to let the Jewish people pass through and we could easily picture how nothing could be left of Pharaoh’s army when the waters came together.

It was along here that the temperature began to mount higher and higher. The passengers and members of the crew put on their shorts and other thin clothing. We were glad that we had a little more to cover us, to keep off the sunburn, as one of the passengers had a very severe case of sunburn. We have been very fortunate in having a very good breeze almost every day, after the first one, when we noticed the heat most. Being on the water, you can usually get a breeze somewhere. The heat has been similar to what we had last August.

On Friday morning, November 7, about 8:15, we anchored in the outer harbor of Jeddah, in Saudi Arabia. The Arabian language is one of consonants, so whether you spell the above name with “e” or “i” it makes no difference. Friday, being a holiday for the Arabs, nothing was done towards unloading the ship. Then, also, to get service here, you must have a priority. Fortunately, some of our cargo was for the Minister of Finance and some for Aliraza, the second richest man in this country, so we had attention before some others, who were ahead of us. It was this port that we left 1700 tons (long tons, 2240 lbs.) of sugar and forty autos, including sedans, station wagons, trucks, buses, tanks and two motor launches. Some of the above were boxed and some not. This was the first stop for unloading cargo, so we were anxious to see in the holds of the ship. When the covers were taken off, at first we saw nothing but sugar; when this was disposed of, the flooring was taken up and underneath were a number of buses, which were taken up by the big cranes and put over the side of the ship into a big barge; then this flooring was taken up and the third floor down were the boxed motor cars, trucks and station wagons. All these boxed cars and the sugar were taken to shore in small sail boats. One of the big boxed trucks, that they had trouble getting on the sail boat, slipped over the side and went to the bottom – seventy or eighty feet down. Three bags of sugar also went to the bottom and many, many others were broken open and lost. Often the workers would gather whatever they could in their hands and eat it. The men who load and unload the cargo of the ship are called stevedores; each port has its own group.

The Arabs have many primitive ways and are not anxious to change. In Jeddah there are no railroads and no electricity, except what is privately owned. Many Mohammedans from the countries about come here each year to go to Macon for their big feast, which lasts about fifteen days. Macon is sixty miles for Jeddah. Some make the trip by camel – twenty hours ride – and some by bus – two hours ride. Many save for a whole lifetime to make one trip to Macon. We arrived in the harbor just after the feast was over and saw the pilgrims being taken in sail boats to the passenger ships to return to their countries. There were so many boarding the steamers they looked like flies. Before we left the harbor they returned for a second load.

The Arabs wear a long white gown which reaches to the ankles. Even the workers wear these, although some of them are not so long. Around the head, they wear a cloth, which the workers twist around like a turban but the higher class call it the “Ecole” and wear it in a loose fashion fall down over the shoulders. This is held on by a bandeau, a rope like cord placed on the crown of the head. The loose tunic worn by the higher class is called a “misola” The one we saw was made of camels hair and trimmed in gold braid. They wear sandals on the feet and when working, often taken those off and work in their bare feet. We reamined here a whole week and left the following Friday at 4:00 p.m.

While in Jeddah, we advanced the time an hour. Here the Arabs observe suntime. When the sun sets, it is always six o’clock.

On Sunday morning, November 16, we passed beautiful mountain ranges on the African side and at 10:30 anchored in the harbor of Djibouti, in French Somaliland It was here that we left the seventy-five tons of “soap” under the armed guard of the native police. This was silver that had been sent from Ethiopia to the U.S. to be made into silver money. I know the Captain and the First Mate felt much relieved when this had been delivered to the proper authorities. From where we were on the ship, the boxes, containing the precious cargo, looked about the size of a twenty-five pound prune box. Some broke open before getting them out of the hold. When all the money had been tallied, I heard there was only one piece missing, whereas when the silver was taken to the U.S. there were four boxes lost. Djibouti is a real tropical city. We did not get off the ship but enjoyed the breeze on the water. Since our first two days on the Red Sea, we have had a very good breeze and have not noticed the heat. At least, it has not been excessive. We left here that evening about eleven.

It is taking us almost five days to make the trip across the Arabian Sea and we hope to reach Bombay this evening, November 21, the Feast of the Presentation of Our Blessed Mother. She has had a special interest in us all along the way; we left Nazareth and the United States on her feast days and now we are arriving in India on another of her feasts. The next big one will be December 8 and we hope to be in Mikameh by that time. Twice during the last five days we have advanced the time an hour and then last night, thirty minutes, so we are now on India standard time, which is eleven and a half hours ahead of Kentucky time. The same time is observed all over India. From the radio operator, we learned that the Steel Executive is just four days behind us, but we do not know how many stops they will have to make before reaching Bombay. The cargo that we have for this port will take about four days to unload. So, maybe we will see our Sisters there. We only hope that they will not reach Calcutta ahead of us. After leaving that port, there will be stops to make at Colombo, Madras and then Calcutta.

Our caps, especially those that were stiff enough, have held up very well. While crossing the Altantic, we often used our rain caps while on the deck. These helped to protect our caps from the wind and dampness, but since we have entered the tropical regions, they are too hot. While we docked in one of the ports, the second mate, who is a Catholic from New York, called us to the Captain’s quarters and explained all the different instruments. There was the radar, by which they can see and locate how far way different ships and objects are – some eight and ten miles; then a large instrument which registered smoke in any of the holds – used to prevent fires; the gyro compass and many other instruments. The next issue will contain more about the land of our new mission, in which I know you are all vitally interested. Sister Elise, of the Medical Missionaries, gave us the address of the Franciscan Sisters of Mary on Malabar Hill in Bombay, and the Little Sisters of the Poor in Calcutta, where we could spend the night if necessary. My companions join me in sending love.

Devotedly in Christ,

Sister Lawrencetta

Continue the Journey

1 Comment

  1. Maria Courey (Regina)

    So interesting. Thanks for sharing!


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