Friday, 21 August 2009

Local life unveiled

This week, a root canal I'd had done earlier this year started to play up. Those of you who've had one too will know that not only are they tremendously painful, they're also tremendously expensive. And although we have good health insurance provided out here, it only covers emergency dental care, unfortunately.

So with this in mind, I set about seeing a dentist on the state healthcare system here, which is free. Despite this, it's not a very popular choice with expats here. This has nothing to do with the quality of the care provided (great dentists, excellent equipment and hygiene) but more to do with the slightly chaotic way you get appointments. For example, our local dentist will only give you an appointment if you turn up at either 7am or 3pm. Then you have to wait an hour until they open with lots of abaya-clad women (the services are segregated by sex here) and then race to the desk to get in line so that you can be allocated one of the 30 appointments they have going! Then, once you get an appointment, if might be for several hours hence - therefore you have to go home and come back again. Joy!

Anyhow, I managed to achieve all of this (always an experience), and make a new friend in the process. One of the loveliest things about exploring the state system here is the opportunity to meet local women, something you don't generally get to do in normal everyday life here. It's not that we don't see them about, of course we do, but we just don't get to talk to them usually. There's a huge social divide betwen expats and locals here, sadly.

So, I was standing in the queue for the dentist reading a book, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, by Steig Larsson. All of a sudden a girl standing next to me, who had her face uncovered (usually a sign of an unmarried woman) said "Is that a novel? Wow. Tell me what it's about". So I tried to explain the plot of this complex, violent novel without making it sound like it was either! Tricky, to say the least.

It turned out she was 17, and about to leave school and head to university to train as a doctor. She told me she needed to pass a proficiency test for English before she could start her training, and wanted to chat to me. She asked if I was married, and I showed her the wedding picture I carry around in my wallet, to which she replied "SO cute! Oh, take that away or I'll steal him!" Not what you expect to hear from a local girl here, but so wonderful to hear her sound so normal. I'm not sure what I expected, but I suppose it wasn't that.

I asked her if she had read many English books. It turned out she was a big Harry Potter fan. She asked me if I thought Daniel Radcliffe was attractive. I said I thought he was too thin - and she said "Do you think he would look better if he was fat?!! You're crazy!!" Lost in translation, I think...

Then rather unexpectedly she said "Why is it that men are always in charge in the world? It's not fair". I explained with some pride that the UK had a female monarch, and she looked pleased. Since we were in public we didn't go any further into her views on this, but I can guess what they are.

Then, just before I got called for the dentist, she asked for my phone number. She said she wanted to learn to speak "just like me". I said sure, no problem, and offered to meet her for coffee to teach her some more English. She then looked sad and said she couldn't do that, because of her culture. I understand of course (I expect her father might not be happy with her meeting a western woman in public) but I did find it very sad. Still, perhaps I'll be getting a call from her one of these days.


  1. What a great story, and I really hope your new friend is somehow able to meet you. I think she would benefit so much from the relationship. . . and I'm sure it would be nice for you as well. :-D

  2. I'm fascinated by the middle-eastern culture. You seem very confident in your daily activities. Do you ever feel like you need to worry about your safety?

  3. No, actually never! Oddly enough, it's much safer here than it is in the UK. There's next to no crime (some would say that's because the penalties are higher!) People leave their cars running outside shops while they go for groceries, and leave their houses unlocked routinely. I never feel at all unsafe.

    I DO get stared at, though, all the time. As a tall western woman I'm a bit of a novelty, and the locals don't feel that staring is rude, in the way it would be in the Western world. I've just learned to accept it and try to ignore it.

  4. It is amazing that people live so differently. I simply cannot imagine a life like that. It's great that she was able to meet you and make a potential friend. :)

  5. You must be the star at cocktail parties. You're living in a great place for interesting stories.




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