Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 43.djvu/661

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THE PILGRIM PATH OF CHOLERA.

man can carry it more than one stage, and whether or not it starts again from the place where he deposits the infection depends on the sanitary conditions of the locality and the customs of the people. There is but little doubt that the danger caused by the Mecca pilgrimage to the health of Europe depends largely on the fact that from the recklessness of the people and the absence of adequate sanitary arrangements in the district, Mecca has become a great central fair for the exchange and distribution of the cholera infection.

In 1886 thirty thousand pilgrims died of cholera at Mecca. Nor can we wonder. Everything seems to be done to destroy their tone and their resisting power; everything seems to be arranged to spread the disease when the infection is once planted amid the host of pilgrims.

From seventy to a hundred thousand seems to be the ordinary average number of those who visit Mecca during the festival, and who are present at Mount Arafat on the 9th of Zu'l Hijjah. They come from every quarter of the compass—inland by caravan from Syria and Persia, Turkey and Afghanistan; by sea from Red Sea ports; from Africa, across the whole width of which many of the weary pilgrims have walked; and from every part of the world where the standard of Islam has been raised. With no provision for decency or comfort they camp around or crowd into lodgings in the sacred city. They make excursions, clamber up the mountains, spend hours in the blazing sun, are sickened with rotting smells arising from the thousands of animals which are sacrificed; crush and stifle in the Ka'ba; and, finally, as if they had not already run sufficient risk of catching every possible complaint, they drink the water of Zem Zem. This is the well from which Hagar is said to have drawn water for her son Ishmael, and the drinking of the water is a most holy rite. The supply, however, is not as great as could be desired for so large a crowd of pilgrims, and the manner of dealing with it at the well goes far to explain the intensity of the poison and the fearful mortality which attends any outbreak of cholera among the Meccan pilgrims. At a given period the pilgrims stand naked in turn at the place appointed; a bucket of water is poured over each man; he drinks what he can of it, and the rest falls back into the holy well. The water from this well has been analyzed by Dr. Frankland, F. R. S., of the Royal College of Science, London, who describes it as fearfully polluted with abominable contaminations. Imagine, then, one single member of this enormous crowd to be suffering from the early stage of cholera; to be struggling, as struggle he would with his last strength, to get through the holy rite, and to be allowing the choleraic discharges with which his body would be soiled to be washed back into this foul well.