Now...where was I? Oh yes...about a month after I arrived in Bahrain I woke up with an intense ear ache. I had spent a considerable amount of my childhood suffering from very serious ear aches and so this was nothing new but this was the first one in a very long time. My husband was at work so my SIL and her 13 year old daughter took me to the local clinic.
For anyone that has never been to a clinic in the middle east, let me describe it somewhat. (at least the one in the area we lived in at that time) It was a very long building with a maternity section to the immediate right of the entrance doors...and a long hall with doctors offices going down the left side. Right in front were the reception desks and chairs to wait your turn. For some reason the air conditioning is turned up to sub zero temperatures...so if your in the clinic for any length of time...you have to get up and go outside in the searing heat just to thaw out. (no lie, I did this many times over the years) There are, of course, the requisite crying babies, the multitude of flies hanging out, and the long wait for your turn.
All though eventually this particular clinic would get renovated and upgraded, back then it had a very third world feel about it. By this I mean it seemed sorely under equipped, not much offered in terms of medications (panadol was/is given for absolutely everything), and doctors never spent more than 5 min with you if given half the chance. Not to mention they never bothered to actually look up at you in a focused way so you felt they even took in the fact that you were male or female. Half the time he/she would start writing before I even answered a question posed to me. I always wondered if mind reading was one of the skills taught in Bahrain's medical college.
Anyhow, all that would eventually be par for the course, but during my very first visit I knew none of that. I had a horrible ear ache and wanted pain relief ASAP. When it was my turn to go in the doctor's office the niece came in with me (usually a family member does...or even the whole darn family) in order to translate if needed. We sat down and the doctor started speaking in Arabic first but then switched to English at my request. When I told him what was wrong he quickly set about looking in my ears and asking questions pertaining to my ear. All very professional and appropriate...right?...but then (you knew it was coming right) when he started to prescribe some anti-biotics and pain killers I quickly mentioned that I was pregnant because, while not knowing a whole lot about what medications can affect your pregnancy, I knew some could. I wanted him to know so he could adjust accordingly.
As soon as I mentioned my pregnancy his whole demeanor changed. Up until that point he had been rather staid and uninterested in me...just enough to deal with my problem and that was it. Suddenly he stood up and asked the niece to leave the room as he needed to examine me. She hesitated but he fairly hustled her out of the room and closed the door behind him. Up until that point in my life the only "intimate" sort of examination I had ever under gone by a doctor was during my entrance exam into the military. The doctors checked everything...and I mean EVERYTHING!! I had my first pap smear during that examination and I clearly remember the doctor calling for a nurse to come in, though there hadn't been one with us before then. I found out later that, to avoid malpractice or accusations of impropriety, a doctor will always have a nurse standing by during these sort of examinations...so everything is on the up and up. (no hanky panky) As a tangent I might mention that giving a teenage girl a pap smear without warning or explanation is almost an assault on her body as far as I'm concerned.
Anyhow, before I knew it I was stretched out on a table and he was lifting my shirt up. Now here was an ENT doctor, who I presume focused his training on body parts found from the neck up, lifting my shirt to examine me from the neck down. I didn't understand why he felt he needed to examine me at all. I was there for an earache and not pre natal care...and yet I was in a foreign country and maybe they do things different here. It's not like I had a whole lot of experience being pregnant to judge whether or not this was appropriate....but it sure as hell didn't FEEL appropriate. I very much wanted to question the purpose of this exam but my tongue was glued to the roof of my mouth and my heart was trying to get up there as well.
I assumed he wanted better access to my abdomen so when my shirt kept rising up and over my breasts I was shocked. What the hell was he checking for now? I reached up to pull my shirt back down as an automatic reaction but he tsked me and raised my shirt again. I bit my tongue and laid there apprehensively. This was a doctor after all and he knew better than me about medical procedures etc...not because I didn't understand the WHY of what he was doing didn't mean there wasn't a reason.
In no time at all he had exposed both of my breasts and was giving me a breast "exam"...which amounted to little more than a very thorough massage on his part. I have since learned how to do a breast exam of course and nothing he did that day even came close to resembling one. It was also the longest breast "exam" I have ever undergone since. I might point out that he never once touched my abdomen.
After I was declared "healthy" he pulled my shirt down and went back to his desk and finished writing up the prescription and saw me out the door. My husband's niece was standing right outside and had a nervous look about her. She seemed relieved to see me emerge and quickly looked back and forth between the doctor and I. Of course eventually I would learn that men and women just do NOT spend alone time together...even if one of them is a doctor. She knew me being alone in there with the doctor could cause a great deal of trouble for me but also, due to her age and gender, felt she couldn't refuse the doctor when he asked her to leave. So she stood outside the door counting the seconds until I came out. (she told me all of this much later when her English improved as did our relationship)
Hours later when my husband came home I told him about the doctor appointment and what had gone on. I also described the breast exam and almost before the story was out of my mouth my husband was firing questions at me. What did he do? Was my niece in there with you? and of course....Why did you let him? In the next instant he was out the door.
An hour later he came back thundering and slamming doors. According to him this is what happened. He went back to the clinic and stormed into the doctor's office ready to defend my honor...or so I'm told. Actually, in the Arab world, the man's honor is the only one that counts...and all the women that "belong" to him fall under that sense of honor and anything that happens to "his females" equals happening to him. My husband went down to there to confront the breast exam that "he" was forced to endure. Hard to explain but there it is.
Of course the doctor had no idea who he was and who his wife was until he said the magic words...American woman. How many American women do you think sat in his office that day much less let him feel them up? Obviously the doctor knew he had crossed the line with me and with his culture but apparently figured I wasn't a Bahraini...and I was American...so probably wouldn't mind or object. He forgot to consider how his fellow Arab/Bahraini brothers react when their women are dishonored. Once again, according to my husband, he went after the doctor who ran around the desk and out the door and down the hall with my husband in hot pursuit. After having a foot race down the hall past all the shocked onlookers I'm assuming...he caught the doctor down by the reception desk and preceded to give him an ass kicking. Security came running and tried to break it up but when they discovered what the good doctor had been up to they stood back and let the ass kicking commence (according to husband...who knows). End result? Doc was eventually asked to go practice somewhere else, husbands honor was vindicated and I was left to ponder this new incite into this possessive/jealous male oriented culture....with my two healthy breasts to keep me company.
Of course writing about this incident reminds me of another one that happened not too long afterwards. My husband took me to the local market in Manama, Bahrain's capital and main city. The traditional souk, of Bab al Bahrain, is mostly made up for walking shoppers as the streets are very narrow and the parking is impossible. People generally park away from the souk and just walk all around it with their bags etc then make their way back to their cars... hoping they can remember where they parked.
When we arrived in the afternoon and began our shopping, the streets were full of Bahraini's and non Bahraini's crowding the sidewalks and spilling into the streets forcing what few cars had braved the throng to inch along. I was enthralled by this new shopping experience....row upon row of shops...all selling pretty much the same thing as far as I could see...with a different shop thrown in just to keep you interested. There were spice shops with product displayed outside on the sidewalk. Towers of colored spice mounds were colorful and intricately designed. It's a wonder the slight breeze didn't blow it all away. Luggage and toys had to be stepped around...pots and pans, brooms and dustpans....and the ever present racks of clothing that had styles I had never seen before...and some of the worst English spelling on them I had ever seen. There were things I had never seen before so was in a constant dialogue with my husband wanting everything explained. We spent about two hours in the souk, just buying a few things, but it was very exciting to me just to take it all in. Such a different sort of shopping experience.
It was then I realized the sidewalks and streets were thinning out somewhat. We weren't quite bumping into people left and right and most of the "thobes" and "abayas" (Bahraini men and women) had gone. There were still a few stragglers but mostly what remained were groups of Hindi and Pakistani men and the like. Very few women remained at this point because Mahgrib adhan had gone so everyone was leaving for home or the mosque to pray. (I'm assuming) I would not be exaggerating at this point to say that in my immediate area I was not only the only female present, but one that stuck out like a sore thumb.
My husband said we needed to go so began making our way back to the entrance of the souk and to the car. Just before we reached the entrance I felt something that took a few more steps on my part to fully understand. Someone had just grabbed my butt and squeezed it. For a second I thought it had been my husband but quickly pushed that thought away as I knew he would never do such a thing in public....so I guessed it had to be someone else obviously. Still not believing what I felt had actually happened I looked back over my shoulder to scan the immediate area....and just a few yards down the street was a man looking back over his shoulder at ME....and smiling. Now up to that point I would have just brushed off the incident as my imagination or a mistaken "bump" (though I knew it was more than that)...but the smile on his face completely blew me away. It was one of the first incidents (along with the doctor) in which I would come to realize that men in the middle east cannot keep their hands to themselves. I don't give a shit what they say about the culture protecting women and treating them better than the Big Bad West etc...but believe me....I have never ever in my life had my body assaulted in so many ways as while walking through a souk, standing in line, passing a man for whatever reason...you come to expect it almost. A slight brush up, a probing finger, or a out right cop. I won't say you ever get use to it...but you do come to expect it.
His smile pissed me off...almost telling me...yeah I felt your butt...so what are you going to do about it? I'm also going to make the claim here that because I'm NOT an Arab woman...men there seem to think I'm quite open and willing to be felt up and won't care too much to make a big deal about it afterwards. I might point out that I have shown a great many of them that they are wrong in this belief. However, at that moment the only thing I could think of to do was tell my husband....
He stopped so quickly I nearly ran into the back of him as I had slowed down while looking over my shoulder. He quickly turned around and yelled at me to point the guy out to him. Well there was no need really as the guilty party might as well of had an arrow over his head pointing downwards....the guy had gone stock still staring at my husband with an ashen look on his face. Apparently it was then he realized I was with a Bahraini...and he knew as well as anyone what was coming next. This man was not a Bahraini btw...if I had to guess I would say a Hindi...but not sure. Anyhow, for about 2 seconds they were staring at each other...and in the next the guy had turned and bolted down the street with my husband close behind.
I was shocked not expecting such a quick turn of events...watching them weave through what remained of the pedestrians and hearing my husband bellowing at him to stop. I looked around and noticed now I definitely was the only female remaining...and the sun was quickly disappearing over the horizon. It was getting dark and I was alone in an unfamiliar place...no idea where the car was and afraid to move anyhow even if I did. All I could see were curious groups of men looking at me and hear the fading voice of my husband in the distance. The irony of the fact that he was leaving me alone among a crowd of men as the sun went down while he chased down another one hit home to me. I wanted to laugh but really didn't feel like it just then.
If I had to guess I would say I stood there in the middle of the street doing a pretty damn good impression of a woman turned to stone for at least 20 min before husband came back...with the terrified ass grabber being dragged along by his torn shirt. A small crowd of men were close behind. My husband was sweating and breathing hard...shouting at the man with every step...the man was begging and crying (I assume...didn't understand his verbal language but his body language was universal) and the crowd of men were shouting and raising their fists. Only later I would learn that they were actually pissed off at my husband...not the man he was dragging as I had assumed. Turns out they were from his country and were showing solidarity by coming to his defense...though I noticed none of them actually did more than shout and show anger.
My husband dragged him right up in front of me and began shouting at me...asking me what I wanted done with him. Did I want his ass kicked...did I want him arrested...did I want him killed? The man was trying to reach out and touch my feet and kept up his begging...I realized he was saying sorry over and over again...but it was coming out as "sowwy"...and he had tears and snot running down his face. I was still shocked, afraid at the violence I was seeing...and so scared after being left alone for so long...that I just wanted to get out of there. My husband screamed again asking me what did I want him to do with the man....
"Just let him goooooo!!!" I screamed back. My husband yelled at the man to apologize...which he did with even more earnest...and shook him by the shirt like he was a rag doll. My husband yelled at me if I accepted his apology or did I want more. I quickly said I accepted it and it was then my husband shoved the guy away who then sprawled in the street...and the group of men quickly surrounded him. I thought they were going to start beating him too but they picked him up and helped him leave...all the while shouting back at my husband as he continued shouting at the man.
He turned and stalked off for the car and I was left to quick step behind him to keep up. He barely said a word to me and I got the feeling I was guilty of something too. As we sat in silence in the car on the way home he fumed...his anger was palatable and I could feel the heat radiating off of him. I sat in silence believing a single word from me would cause an explosion of sorts. When we arrived home he stomped upstairs not even bothering to wait for me...I quietly followed behind not knowing what to expect.
It was the first time what I wore outside was put up to questioning. Apparently my jeans and tshirts were causing too much trouble...while I was not asked to wear the abaya at this time...it was the start of a campaign in which the ultimate goal was to get me in it. If only I knew then what I know now....giving in to keep the peace is tantamount to giving up...but more on that later.