Friday, January 15, 2010

Lady Doctor

I was going to the lady doctor. The doctor for ladies.

I grabbed a taxi and buried my nose in a Murakami novel while the driver, turning onto the corniche, slung us around every car in his path, honking and yelling and gesturing and nearly running us into another taxi that balanced un-tethered oriental rugs on its luggage rack. Even the Egyptian drivers were angry at my taxi driver. A ten minute ride was five - I saw the pink monstrosity of the Nile Badrawi hospital before I had gotten through two pages of the novel. The driver screeched across three lanes of traffic and braked next to a traffic cop on the road to the hospital. I got out and gave the guy 10LE, which was more than fair. As I walked away, I heard, "HEY!" in all its shining American rudeness. It was the taxi driver. Disdainfully, he held out my 10LE with one hand and gave me the thumb and first two fingers gesture I have come to know can mean many things here in Egypt. It can mean "Wait." It can mean "Settle down here everybody; there ain't no reason to fight." It can mean "Get the eff outta my way because I'm gonna keep driving whether you stop or not." One night I watched two men in a heated argument. They were standing on either side of a car, and they both made that gesture at each other, reaching over the roof, hands frozen in that position, until their knuckles touched. Their hands slightly shook as they held them there, as if someone had glued them together. Eventually they broke free, exhausted as if they had actually had a fight. That's one thing about this place. I am so sick of people asking me if I'm scared to be here, if I'm scared of the people. The way I've seen people fight here looks like West Side Story. Does that scare you? The only time you should be scared is when the Egyptians lose a soccer match and you happen to be staying in the embassy of the country that just beat them.

But back to my driver. "HEY!" he yelled. Then, "Xamas-taashar!" in Arabic. He wanted 15LE for a 5LE ride. I gave him the gesture right back and yelled, "WHAT? FOR FIVE MINUTES?" And I yelled some other things before walking away.

I entered the hospital, a maze. I had already been there three times, and I had never seen a foreigner in there. By and large, I was also the only woman wearing pants and wearing my hair free besides my doctor.

In a narrow hallway, I waited for the elevator that would take me to the tenth floor. As it came creeping down, three men and two women crammed themselves into the hallway. The elder woman backed her abeya-slung rear into my stomach, slowly pushing me against the gold, cylindrical, full ashtray. As is my custom in public when not being accosted by angry taxi drivers, I looked downward and sort of shrugged to myself and politely waited for her butt to depart from my gut. "Mafeesh mish queda" (no problem), I said when they all stepped ahead of me in a 3x3 elevator, which contained an old operator on a metal stool, and invited me to join them.

In the lady clinic, most of the women in the waiting room were accompanied by men, most were pregnant, and nearly everyone was in traditional dress. The family that had crammed me into the ashtray was there. A high percentage of women in niqab filled the place. A male doctor walked through the waiting room, smoking a pipe and gesturing for a pregnant woman to follow him. The chairs were blue and attached together as in an airport. An awards show in Arabic showed interviews with Arab celebrities wearing sparkling gowns and a ton of makeup. We were all rapt.

Another family was getting off the elevator as I left the clinic. A young man was holding a baby carrier, and I looked, but it was empty. He swung it toward me and said something I couldn't understand. Then I caught enough words and enough of his gestures to understand he was offering to impregnate me. Or, if we want to give him the benefit of the doubt, he might have been asking me if I was pregnant. I don't think he was. I shook my head at him while the women looked at the floor.

A

9 comments:

siobhan curious said...

This is beautiful. I hope the lady doctor appointment was routine and established your perfect healthiness.

Bryan said...

This was entertaining! I just wish you would have returned the taxi driver's finger gesture. Or you would have given it to the baby carrier guy. I always get a little thrill when I imagine you doing that to those guys.

Chantal said...

Wow, what amazing experiences you have! Is it considered strange to go places in Cairo without being escorted by a man?

American_in_Cairo said...

Actually, I did make that gesture to the driver. Good catch, Bryan.

Chantal, it's weird because it's not necessarily strange to lack an escort, particularly in the parts of town I live in and tend to hang out in. I know some of my students have experienced people telling them they should cover their hair or they should be at home where they belong, but I believe that pertains more to them being perceived as fellow citizens who should "know better." It helps that I do not understand much Arabic, of course, even though I feel guilty about ceasing my lessons. Whenever James is with me, though, I have different experiences than when I am by myself. Generally, it doesn't bother me as much as I have heard that other women feel bothered by it, and I think that is because I feel safe, safer than an Egyptian woman. Maybe that is naive of me, but, by far, Egyptian women face more harassment for being unescorted than foreign women (depending on perceived ethnicity, unfortunately). The Egyptian Center for Women's Rights did an interesting study about harrassment of women in Egypt a few years ago and found that women who were veiled were actually more likely to be sexually harassed than other women.

kate hopper said...

I'm mostly wondering how you can read in a taxi while it's swerving in and out of traffic. I'd be vomiting, which would get me more than angry gesture, I bet...

I want this as a memoir. I want a whole book of your thoughts and experiences!

American_in_Cairo said...

Kate, you're too nice. I can do lots of things here that I can't do at home, such as read while traveling in a car (it's the only way I can stay calm sometimes, by pretending I'm not actually, for instance, in a speeding bus that is inches away from a truckful of propane tanks).

Virgin In The Volcano said...

I want the whole memoir too. Your blog is terrific.

Ellen said...

Hey, Amanda: Thanks for your congrats. Cairo! Wow. Ah to be young again. I was gallivanting across the Middle East & Europe then too! Ellen

TareX said...

"The only time you should be scared is when the Egyptians lose a soccer match and you happen to be staying in the embassy of the country that just beat them."

I seriously lol-ed when I read that. SO TRUE!!