Posts Tagged ‘hospitals’

When eight o’clock rolls around in the evening, the Walrus King holds court. After dinner and the 3asha prayer, the men are released from their families to descend on the spit-and-sawdust coffeeshops across the street. Clouds of molasses-soaked tobacco smoke billow up, and the clatter of backgammon counters and dominoes rattle through the street. And there sits Mahmoud, taking in the air on his broken cafe chair, walrus-moustachioed and big-bellied in his gray shirt, sipping quarts of Turkish coffee one chipped demitasse at a time.

Each night, Walid, the kebab chef of The Basha on the corner opposite his shop, sends a dinner of kofta sandwiches and a vinegar-dressed salad to him on a battered tin platter, and the King dines on a tiny square stool that is both desk and checkout counter to his little grocery. The cafes down the street — with their retired men in long, dirty galabiyyas and immaculate white turbans — send their waiters to him for smaller notes, and Ali, whose smile is sugar-rotted, makes a pass at the shop’s corner every hour or so to check if Mahmoud’s cup is full or empty. Little boys from the surrounding neighborhood run to him when they pick up a twenty-five piaster note, eager for a paper-wrapped honey sweet or a little gold-wrapped chocolate biscuit.

He is joined every night by a number of others who, at one time or another, shout across the street for Ali to bring another chair. They loiter in front of the shop like street punks: standing, shuffling their feet, staring at nothing in particular, smoking cigarettes — Petrus, the retired electrician; Hussein, the bald, jean-jacketed oil engineer; Abu Hamid, who always reminding me his son works at a CVS in Pennsylvania and that I should visit him when I went back to the US; and Hamada, who taught sociology at the College of Arts, but has since consigned himself to swearing and hollering after girls about a fourth his age. To me they are the “bashawat” — the Pashas — and they had their hands on the crossroad-pulse of Sporting al-Kobra. They could tell you who was fighting with who, which girl was in love with which boy, what what’s-his-face’s son was up to these days, what looked suspicious — and they could spot in a moment if you were drunk — because for some reason or another, although they all prayed together at the tiny mosque a few doors down, they all had a youthful familiarity with Sheikh Ali’s bar downtown. And in the center of all the bustle and laughter and swearing and cigarette smoke was Mahmoud the Walrus King, who smiled quietly under his bristle-brush mustache and asked you if you were eating enough and made suggestions of what to try your hand at cooking. He was a perpetual friend, but his mind was never far from food.

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I’ve probably written more about Mahmoud Selim than any other person in Egypt — if not on this blog, than as a general rule. A swarthy, salt-and-peppered haired walrus of a man, he waddles around his Teba Street ba2aal with all the imperialism of a benign dictator of a small country. And that country is a little corner grocery no bigger than my bedroom, stocked with cans and dry goods and eggs and bottles of sharabat (a very, very, baladi syrup of rose and strawberry that you mix with water and ice and — sometimes — milk for toasts at weddings). In fact, I’ve a theory that, like Lee Chong’s famous grocery on Cannery Row, everything can be had in Mahmoud’s little shop.

This past Sunday, Mahmoud suffered what has been described to me as a stroke: apparently, one of the boys at Fifo’s Instruments across the street were shouting after him, and when he didn’t respond, they went across the street to see why he was upset with them; it turns out he was unconscious. Most people on the street assumed that he was napping in his chair as he was wont to do.

Today, I visited him at the College of Medicine’s Hospital in Azarita and he is alive, but still far from well; he is unable to move his right side and cannot speak.

Keep him in your prayers, readers. Pray for the King of Teba Street.


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Hear my oink of doom, Masr.

Hear my oink of doom, Masr.

I thought that sounded a little more dramatic.

11:30 PM and my official Middlebury source (Khalid) walks into my room and tells me that the men’s dormitories of Alexandria University have had their first confirmed case of swine flu. The student in question is a member of the Flagship Program (unnamed).

In response to this, the men’s dorms have been closed and its residents quarantined — including a number of students from the Middlebury (my ertswhile) program; Khalid tells me they’re working on getting food to them until it all blows over — the university is apparently arranging tests, and all classes for the Middlebury and Flagship programs have been canceled until further notice. Most universities throughout Egypt have been closed since Ramadan due to widespread fear of outbreaks; see the article on Bikya Masr here. Response to this is mixed; some say it’s warranted (not me), other say it’s a huge mismanagement of resources and that universities might have “prepared” (though I’m fuzzy as to how) for potential outbreaks during the summer holidays — in fact, many object to the weeks-long delay of classes past the end of Ramadan. Latest word is that classes in Alexandria are not scheduled to begin until sometime around the 12 of October.

This, fortunately, does not affect my penny-paying teaching job in Sidi Bishr (thank God), though it does throw monkey wrenches into finding a better teaching post at a more reputable school.

Swine Flu has attained the status of mythic panic-like threat in Egypt, as elsewhere; people are so tired of hearing about it that it becomes the source of endless mockery. Some I’ve talked to are convinced that it actually doesn’t exist. I’m also a fan of how seriously the officials at the airport took the “medical screening”: I waltzed by men in haz-med suits and breathing apparatuses, shrugging my shoulders. To say nothing of the recent pig slaughters (a misconception of swine flu’s origins).

Sporting (the club that I live almost next door to) has become the epicenter of the outbreaks of swine flu in Alex– with over 55 confirmed cases thus far. And with the way most gyms look in this country, I’m not entirely surprised.

Wishing you *two* healths (sahtayn!), dear readers. More as the story develops.

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Last night, Sarah called up and told me that the nurses had put some pressure on her to go down to the municipal courthouse to mitigate Sa’id’s sentence. Apparently, he gets three to seven years maximum for assaulting a foreigner– three to seven years in an Egyptian prison, which is a fate I wish on no one. Depictions of the treatment of prisoners (The Yacoubian Building, Heyna Maysara) can put one off to the excesses of Oriental “justice.” That in mind, Sarah and Katie have been having doubts. Three to seven years is a long, long time, and the man did get his guts rearranged twice.

That said, the officers of the court apparently wanted a confirmation of statement, so Sarah, Tom, and I piled into a taxi around 9 PM and headed to the Manshaya courthouse. It’s an old neo-classical remnant — lots of columns, cast-iron balstruades, galleries of arcades — that looks like a decaying bit of Paris that washed up on our little outcropping of Africa. Checkered marble floors in black and white, scratched and dirty; winged white marble staircases so scratched and old it looked as if the marble were tipping forward– the edges were so worn from a centuries’ scuffle of hard, formal shoes that they looked ready to break off at any moment. Garbage lined the corridors — dark, tar-coated passageways with chipping paint lit by a succession of naked light bulbs from the ceiling — and groups of people huddled in corners (leathery women in gaudy patterns, hairy-handed policemen in ragged white uniforms and cracked black leather boots, lawyers in threadbare soutanes), staring (I imagine) at three foreigners (and Sarah’s blazing red hair especially) marching down to the municipal offices of Bab al-Sharq, the district where the incident took place. Yet the way they punctuated the corridors (we climbed up a maze of stairs and turned down switchback corners) at the corners, it seemed like they had just finished whispering something secret, and had been discovered — that for a moment, we had intruded on something private that had taken place between whispers, and were unwelcome. Fingers pointed the way, and mumbled salaams.

A polished lawyer type with wiry glasses checked over sheafs of notebook paper, all written in an indecipherable hand. Nothing was typed on his desk. After initial confusion over the incidents in question (the lawyer thought Sarah was Katie) we narrated things as they happened; I say we because this was my first simultaneous translation — Sarah talking to me while I translated for the lawyer, Tom catching my back if I didn’t get something. The man seemed surprised that we were concerned about Sa’id, and wished to think over his sentence. He said it was up to us whether he went free or was put in prison for however long.

To my mind, this almost makes the situation even harder than it was. The purpose of an impartial justice system is to enforce the rules of a society, both so that no one is endangered and that no one is to blame; that is why vengeance — although it resembles justice and even possibly achieves equalization of the status quo — is not actual justice. And perhaps this is why the victim of any crime is not given an actual say in the punishment of the criminal. He or she remains apart, because then the burden of punishment falls on the victim. By his or her edict — his or her determination — the criminal is punished, and I wonder if anyone is so just (or at least honestly confident enough in their sense of justice) to measure out the smallest punishment for the smallest crime. Because then the burden falls on you as the cause of someone else’s despair — someone else’s pain. And pain is the reason you brought the criminal before Justice to begin with.

I know that the American justice system is flawed, but at least it avoids that.

Right now, I hate Egypt because it puts contradictory pressures on the girls involved; to my mind, they are quite just in letting the man lie where he is, and yet at the same time, quite just in letting him go. But both situations perpetuate two very different evils; by letting him go, it means going soft on crime — by not letting him go, you potentially ruin a man’s life.

The girls have four days to think it over.

I seriously welcome opinions on this subject.

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A few days ago, Sarah and I had to take Katie (Brits downstairs, check out Sarah’s blog here) to the hospital for serious stomach pains that didn’t quite fit the profile of ordinary “entry” digestive diseases, nor food poisoning. We checked her in to the university hospital (which was the same hospital that Andrea checked into two years ago after her accident), where hours later, they determined she had appendicitis. Seeing as Katie has no Arabic, it came as a complete surprise to her when, hours later (when Tom and I were visiting), that we told her that we had to leave because she needed to be prepped for her operation.

“Yeah. Wait, you didn’t hear about this before?”

We left and came back later– Katie looks good and is really trooping it out. I will never forget the arabic word for appendix now — za’ida (الزائدة), (incidentally, a linguistically amusing word, as it comes from the root for “excess,” or “extra”).

In the midst of all this, there was Sa’id. Initially a very helpful orderly on the floor Katie checked into, he turned out to be an exemplar of my previous post on harassment. After Sarah had left the hospital, she later how he  told me he wanted to take a few pictures of her and then tried to kiss her hand– which she brushed off as being the usual creepiness. However, when she returned the next day, Katie brought up how she had caught him taking pictures of her with his phone (post-op), and trying to kiss her. They promptly informed the head nurse, who brought in the head of the hospital and a few others, and proceeded the beat the daylights out of Sa’id in front of her. They later brought him back with a number of police officers (and a translator) who beat him up a second time while they took down her statement.

This is not what was expected– naturally, Katie said she cried and told them to stop, but the translator’s response was, “People like him are not human.”

My sympathies are with Katie, and Tom seems to believe unquestioningly that such actions were warranted (Read Tom’s thoughts and colorful narrative here). In the final analysis, I think so too, but there is something in me that is made uncomfortable by beating a man into a pulp in retribution. I myself have wanted to kick the tar out of shabaab when they’ve belittled women. So why the discomfort?

What is the “appropriate” punishment for something like this? When we (I, expats, foreigners) get enraged by sexual or any kind of harassment, how would we turn the tables?  We want to be left alone. We want nothing to have happened in the first place; we wish for the status quo of living and letting others live — the real moral atrocity in harassment I think is that it removes that, it takes away someone’s dignity and makes them into something inhuman and provokes them into an animal-like state of defense. We snap, we are provoked to violence — to swearing, and the desire for vengeance. It’s horrifically ironic that, by response, the victim becomes the reality of what the criminal would have her be.

Rather, we want a moral victory — in which the perpetrator is shamed into  betterment, if just on the level of not bothering anyone — not retribution, blood payment for the single act that has been done to us. Deep down inside, I think we want to change the things in the society that make it acceptable for something like that to be birthed into the world. No one who has ever been harassed has simply stated that they want it to stop to just them. We want the man to be held up in front of the masses, act and identities revealed, and some great Voice to say: “This is dishonorable and such acts are disgraceful, and you must take responsibility for them, because they are of you and among you.”

And silently, each person in the crowd will turn their backs and walk away, shamed by the presence of something they allowed to grow in their midst.


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