Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Unborn

We were on our way back to our station when we noticed a commotion at the other side of the highway, immediately as the people noticed us they came waving and yelling towards us. Fhad then slowly parked the ambulance near them. There we saw a woman lying on the hot asphalt road, I rushed to her and assessed the woman's condition but unfortunately her head was badly injured by an 18 wheeler trailer truck, she was dead.

We were about to cover the woman’s body with a white paper blanket when I noticed a movement on her abdomen so I examined her and noticed that she was eight to nine months pregnant and her unborn child was still moving and alive. I called the attention of my team and told them that I will open the woman’s abdomen to at least try to save the dead woman’s baby.

I then opened my bag and started to put on my latex gloves when Tariq an EMT got near me and said wait, he went on and said “mumkin fi mushkila” (we might have problems) I suddenly stopped and told him to get permission from the central. He then radioed the central and unfortunately they didn’t permit us to save the child. I was so frustrated to know that I couldn’t do anything.

We covered the dead woman’s body and radioed the morgue to pick her up.

Friday, December 10, 2010


It was my last duty before my first annual vacation, I was excited to end the day so I can finish packing my bags and fly home

My team Fahd the driver, Tariq an EMT and me (nurse) played “keram” the whole morning until after their noon prayers when our OIC yelled “Alif wahd” (A-1) go! We were the A-1 team, in a split second we were rushing to the ambulance. As we rolled out of the station the usual piercing sound of siren hovered on top of us, then the radio screamed “no siren, don’t rush”. We looked at each other as Tariq hinted that it might be another boring 3 hour escort on bikers but it couldn’t be, our “location call” was a mosque.

On our way to the mosque a barricade of fully armed soldiers blocked our path and inspected the ambulance, in a while they allowed us to pass through. It was then that we became aware that people was rushing towards the mosque, I said to myself that this might be something worth to see. I was about to ask Tariq but I was taken aback by their giggling while motioning their hands chopping on their nape Fahd looked at me and said, “fi gus el ras”. (somebody’s head will be cut) Suddenly I became silent and nervous.

The crowd suddenly turned heavy as we approached the mosque, people was everywhere until we reached a clearing. At the center of the clearing were police cars Fahd slowly rolled the ambulance aside. We stayed inside the ambulance as everybody was still cooling themselves inside the air conditioned vehicles.

After awhile a white pick-up truck emerged and stopped just in front of the police cars, as if a general turned up everyone stepped out of and stood to welcome the man. Next a huge man with dark skin alighted from the pick-up truck, he was clearly more than six feet tall. The man then approached the policeman beside me, as if two are good friends they shook hands and exchanged greetings then after, he also offered his hand to all of us. It was only then that I notice his left hand carrying something that appeared to be a sword in a casing. That was the time I realized that I actually shook hands with an executioner.

Suddenly a gray van stopped in front of us, the back door swung open and policemen stepped out as they slowly guided out a blindfolded man. His arms and hands securely tied from the back, his body appeared rigid and frail he looked pale and sick. I wanted to walk out of the place but I knew I shouldn’t, it was like I felt that I could only hide behind my Ray Ban. While the gray van drove out they steered the blindfolded man and made him kneel just 20 feet in front of us. After that a loud voice from a megaphone spoke, as I couldn’t understand what he was saying I looked around and noticed that people was everywhere around us, from the building windows, on the fence, on the roof, they surrounded us from afar. It felt like we were in a roman arena, the blindfolded man waiting for the lions to be released.

The executioner pulled out his heavy sword and keenly inspected the blades then he grasped the handle and paced himself back and forth beside his truck, his face wore an eerie grin that exposed his yellowish teeth, from his looks he enjoyed what he do. Then he walked towards the kneeling man, the megaphone continued but spoke on a different tune, obviously it was some verses. As the man reached the kneeling man I knew it was the time and didn’t want to see it, I closed my eyes and waited for the death blow, sensing that nothing happened I slowly opened my eyes and saw him circling the kneeling man his sword pointing downward swinging it with every stride, his eyes was nailed to the mans neck, like an eagle circling his prey.

Suddenly the executioner lifted his sword then swished his heavy blade down through the side of the frail mans nape, in one motion the body fell on its side, his head dropped and rolled a couple of times until it stopped facing me. Suddenly my body trembled as I felt the ground beneath me shook, I felt numbed I couldn’t even close my eyes, beside me I overheard Fahd yell “Aiwa !”(Yes!) in my heart I cried No! It was the sound of the cheering crowd that brought my senses back, it was then that I noticed that blood was slowly creeping under the decapitated body.

The crowd was still loud when a man wearing a hospital gown moved towards the headless body, he slowly grasped its wrist, to find pulse obviously there was none so he stood up and rose his hands signaling that the man was dead.

Then the grey van drove in again, five men stepped out and laid the headless body on a stretcher one of them picked up its head and dumped it between the mans legs, they then drove away with the body. The crowd was already silent and thinning when two men pushing a wheelbarrow filled with yellow desert sand approached the pool of blood, they then quickly covered the pool of blood with dessert sand, after that one of them lit a cigarette and waited. He was just half his cigarette when he flicked it on the sand, then the other man swept the sand into a stainless dust pan, no trace of blood was left on the asphalt, the thirsty desert sand absorbed the still fresh blood. Then the executioner walked towards us, I didn’t want to shake hands with him again so I quickly turned back to the ambulance and grabbed my bottled water.

After a day I flew home not knowing that what I saw would take away half the joy of my vacation.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Jailed, Flogged and Deported

Flogging in Pakistan

I first met Ed in the agency that sent us to Saudi Arabia. He was seated beside me in my initial flight to the Middle East.

The first year in the hospital was fine. Ed worked with ease until a letter from his girlfriend informed him that she is scheduled to leave for the USA in one month’s time.

Immediately Ed approached our “mudir” (manager) and begged for permission to fly home. Sadly, the manager pointed out that his contract was for two years and only after that time, can he go back to the Philippines. Upset, Ed stormed out and went straight to the telephone booth where he dialed for a connection for more than an hour. Frustrated, he hammered the phone and promptly walked towards the hospital. Sensing trouble, I followed him.

Inside the hospital Ed walked straight into the manager’s office. After a few minutes shouts were heard then a crashing sound followed. People ran towards the office and as we were about to reach for the doorknob it opened and Ed walked out towards our flat and into his room.

Policemen arrived and the manager talked with them, then they went to Ed’s room. As they got out I saw Ed, his hands cuffed, he looked at me and bowed his head. I tried to get near but the policemen circled him.

The next day news came out that Ed was jailed and will be flogged. His sentence: seven days in jail plus ten floggings.

After my duty, I immediately brought clothes, food and water for Ed. His eyes red and hair uncombed he walked towards me and stopped, between us was a wall of steel bars. Ed knew of his sentence and continued that he will also be deported.

At the end of the seven day prison term, Ed was brought to the marketplace, still handcuffed he was made to stand where many could see him. Then a policeman read a paper informing the people of the details on Ed’s verdict.

Then a policeman holding a stick alighted from the van. The stick was as big as my little finger and about one and a half feet long. The man twisted it to straighten a curve revealing that it was flexible. Without a word he went directly to Ed and quickly flogged him lightly on the back, so quick the ten supposed to be lashes appeared as slight pats and was over in two seconds. The humiliation is probably much more painful than the actual flogging.

Immediately after, Ed was sent to his room and was told to prepare for his flight. Ed was deported and perhaps arrived home just in time to see his girlfriend.

I never saw Ed since then.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Charcoaled Bird

As I arrive for work, I was surprised to find all the teams present in the ambulance station. Following the familiar greetings I was told that there will be “good food for lunch”.

After their noon prayer, a bonfire was lit and carpets were laid circling the fire, there we sat comfortably as teas were served and freshly baked “khubz” (native bread) were passed, then dusty bricks from the nearby construction was given out. Shaken and confused, I held the khubz and the brick on each hand and thought of “the good food for lunch”.

Jaber our ever-reliable help positioned a large platter beside the fire, two men each carrying a large sack followed and poured the contents into the platter revealing a horrible mountain of headless gray-feathered birds. One after the other, Jaber carefully tossed the birds into the fire causing it to release a reeking smoke, I looked at the assembly but nobody complained.

Then with a meter long stick Jaber probed the flames and poked out the charred birds settling it just outside the fire, in no time large clusters of smoking black gourmet surrounded the flame. Just as the last bird got dug out I have decided not to stand up for a serving.

Jaber closely examined the stick and held it firmly, stood straight and started to circle the fire. With the tip of the stick Jaber positioned a charred bird and one by one he swiped the gourmet towards the assembly, with steady precision it rolled and rested beside the bricks in front of us.

In an instant a bunch of weird smoking black things was served in front of me. Not knowing what to do, I tried to observe the group as they all grabbed a piece of the hot gourmet. Holding the charcoaled bird by the tip of their fingers they tapped it on the brick cracking the charred feathers. Using both hands they wiped off the birds surface revealing the meat the size of a large poultry egg.

Their hands blackened they held the meat with both hands and munched on it, occasionally pulling off some bones they grinded up to the guts. The lips blackened with charcoal and sand they took a piece of “khubz” (native bread) and wiped it off, then continued to eat the stained bread. On that sight I froze and watched with awe.

Shaking my head I nervously passed my servings and waited for negative comments, surprisingly they accepted and continued to feast. Relaxed and revived I started to eat the “khubz” (native bread) when unexpectedly our team leader rolled a charcoaled bird towards me and said “lazim khol wahid” (you should eat one). I suddenly stopped and realized that eventually I will have to experience the taste of “the good food for lunch”.

I took the still smoking gourmet and noticed the burnt claws, quickly I looked at the fire and hoped the glare will remove the impression off my mind. I dribbled the hot gourmet onto the brick, it loosened the charred feathers so I wiped off the grime with my hands and slowly it revealed the bloated belly of the shady meat now visibly of a bird.

Priming myself for the first bite I cleared my throat held my breath then holding the “good food” with both hands I drew the meat towards my mouth. The meat touching my lips I took courage to defy the instinct to draw back then with a heavy snap I ripped off part of the bird.

With a good portion of meat in my mouth the mixture of sand and crushed charred feathers offered an annoying texture that roughed my mouth and tongue. I bravely chewed the “good food” as the salty taste of the char surfaced then a terrible gall flavor ensued, to kill the taste I stopped and forced myself to swallow.

Still bothered by the terrible aftertaste I noticed my hands dripping while holding the awful “good food”, then I saw the bloated belly oozing with bubbly murky oily juice. Quickly, I dropped the dripping meat on the brick pondering on how to flee.

Without hesitation I stood up, picked the kettle of already cold tea and said “ana kalas” (I am done) then walked straight to kitchen where I promptly gargled and wash. Then with the freshly boiled tea I returned to the group, though the aftertaste still strong I sat myself comfortably and sipped tea.

Wrecked Homes

It was on my early months in the Middle East when I first heard the phrase “ya kareb beitak”, a term casually delivered by some Arabs. Curious to learn, I asked an Egyptian doctor what it meant. He laughed at my asking and said “ya kareb beitak” means, "may your home be wrecked". I was stunned the short phrase is actually a terrible curse.

A friend we fondly called Engineer Doc was a cheerful man, an engineer by profession and “albolario” (quack doctor) because of his cure-it-all coconut oil liniment. His ever-smiling face and easy humor made the “barkada” (gang) constantly lively.

We were one happy group until, an associate broke the news, Doc was unable to work because of problems.

Inside a packed car one question was raised “anong nagyari? (what happened?), someone at the back seat replied “pare “natorotot” si Doc” (his wife left him for another man). Then there was silence.

Doc’s room was closed one of us knocked and called his name, a sad but firm voice replied that it is not locked. As we entered we saw Doc lighting a Marlboro took a deep puff and sat on the carpet beside him an ashtray full of cigarette butts. His face bore lines of sadness in contrast with the usual cheerful aura, the eyes visibly swollen because of tears.

Doc finally broke the silence “pare wala na si misis, sumama sa iba”, he continued “kumpare ko pa naman siya hayup siya” (my wife has gone with another man, he was my comrade ). We were all silenced none of us could advice on something we haven’t experienced. I asked him what his plan, Doc flatly answered “bahala na” (God knows).

After three days I was surprised by Doc’s early visit, he told me that his employer gave him a month and he is on his way to the airport. We shook hands as I lightly tapped his shoulders.

That was the last time I saw Doc. He was one of the many Filipinos caught by the terrible curse “ya kareb beitak”.

Friday, March 27, 2009

“Romeo” in the Heart of a Bedouin Girl

The unusual noise of bedouins stirred the generally uncomplicated ER. There a man decorated with fragrant leaves brought with him his four wives and a daughter.

Demanding that he need a doctor for his teenaged daughter, my Egyptian friend and I led the group inside a room. Immediately the man narrated that lately his daughter has been acting strange, she would stare blankly on the fields and forget everything about her animal flock. The man continued and said that his daughter is certainly in love.

Firmly, the man demanded an X-ray be done on his daughter’s heart to see the picture of the man that makes the girl act differently. He added that the girls head be X-rayed too. Dr. Ezzat wisely gave in to the man’s request and ordered that the girl be X-rayed.

The result came in and immediately Dr. Ezzat clipped the x-ray film in the viewer and invited the man to see for himself. The man squinted and carefully examined the film, not contented he called his wives so they could also scrutinize for themselves. They all tried to look for a face in the shades and shadows on the film. At last they agreed that their daughter is not hiding a “Romeo” in her heart.

Dr Ezzat however told them that it is not a “Romeo” that is making their child act peculiar, in fact it is a simple case of pneumonia. Medicines were prescribed and the man thanked Dr Ezzat with a tight hug and a kiss on both cheek.

He stood up and walked away chanting a tune, his wives and daughter followed in line.