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Friday, May 29, 2009

A Rude Awakening...

Sitting on a bench on campus, doing some reading in the morning, and someone comes along to share wisdom. Happens every day? Not like this.
That someone was K., one of the AUB campus cleaning troops -I call them troops because the thought of how monumental the task of cleaning a university campus this large just baffles me.
So how to describe K.? The best way I can put it is to say that he reminded me of Abou Kamal from a while back. A bit younger, but the same expression, on a weary, yet friendly face that has seen so much, so many students, doctors, and professors passing by, most surely too proud to make eye contact, but a welcome few nodding in acknowledgment. The roughed up skin and the snow-white hair again spoke volumes on his behalf, like they did for Abou Kamal.
So as K. walked up to me, and after a friendly "Saba7o estez" ("Good morning sir") asked me it was OK for him to pick up a few spent paper cups left around my bench. "Of course" I replied, and with a few swift picker upper moves worthy of the seasoned veteran that he is, he had cleaned up the area. When he was done, he looked at me and went on a long tirade. He opened with: "oh yes, son, education will give you your life". And from there he went on to tell me his story. Here's what I can manage to translate for you.

I've seen K. around campus many many times, as -apparently- he's worked at AUB since years before I even graduated from high school. He comes from a poor family of 9 children (if I remember correctly), and he talked about how his father could barely afford their everyday expenses, let alone provide them with a proper education. K. was out of school at a very young age, and had gone away against his dad's will to try as he could to get decent jobs here and there. Cleaning, construction, he had done it all by the time he was 18. He had started out at a construction site near the Golf club at Ouzai. 
After a quick biography, K. ended his speech with words that I will not ruin in translation. I was looking at him, and I was lost for words. What do you say to something like that? For a split second, I imagined myself saying how much it sucked to still be a student at my age, or how bad we medical students had it, but this was a brief moment of imagination. Very brief. How inappropriate! I don't remember what I ended up saying, but it was nothing too meaningful, as I blathered out  some insipid philosophical statement about life and how there's always worse off people.
So there I was, thinking about how I (and we all do) had been taking everything for granted. All I ever did was whine about how hard it was to grow up, how bad it was that we had to study for our stupid exams, and it suddenly hit me that I had never really stopped to think about what a blessing it was to actually be learning. I mean I have always loved learning, and wouldn't have it any other way, but I had never thought about it under this light. The difference in perspectives between myself and poor K. at that moment struck me silly (I do NOT mean to say that I felt pity for K. or that I felt superior in any way so please don't misunderstand me). 
This conversation reminded me immediately how quickly and deeply we get cocooned in our entourage, our environment, our everyday silly worries, whatever these may be, in such a way to somehow completely forget about the more unfortunate, the less fortunate, and about what real problems other people may be worrying about, and how disproportionate, if that's a right word to use, these two worlds are. 

This has been a learning experience by itself. Talking to K. felt like a shot of wisdom and perspective on life from the least likely source, and I'm going to keep it, even if I know for a fact that next year (which starts in 2 weeks), I'm going to be whining about the difficulties of medical training, about how people drive like cattle in this country, or how I can't seem to find time to go out for drinks and dinner. But one thing's for certain, K. will be on my mind when I do and I'm sure the thought of it will slap some sense back into me.

This could not have happened at a more appropriate time, for reasons that I will not discuss, and this has made me think about the whole "it's a sign" or "it's meant to be" philosophy, which as I've commented on Posh's post (read it and you'll understand), I am completely against. Nothing has changed in that department, but it got me thinking.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

The Most Expensive Shawerma in Lebanon...

S. Told me about this place, and for hours before we even got close to that little corner of heaven, I was anticipating what it would be like. I know this is not new and that I haven't made a world-altering discovery, but it is the first time I've heard of it. 
It's called Shawerma 3al Fahem (Chargrilled Shawerma), and the name says it all... To the shawerma lovers who have not tried it yet, pack up and go right now I tell you!
It is right next to falafel Sahyoun on the street leading from Sodeco Square to Downtown beirut. 
So how was that sandwich? It was a costly one to say the least. This little taste of shawerma heaven, is gonna run you anywhere between 4,000 LBP and 80,000 LBP, plus a confiscated driver's licence... How?? 
Choose from the following items:

Item 1 -  The 50,000 LBP traffic ticket, if you're unfortunate enough (like I was) to be U-turning from the parallel street going the opposite way, and you somehow choose to make that illegal U-turn to save a few meters on your odometer, and a few precious moments of anticipation before you get there. Make sure you call that over-zealous cop, with his newly found preoccupation with our dear traffic system's proper functioning, greater good kind of stuff, and have him amicably fill out the paperwork and confiscate your driver's licence. He's sure to be there, in some wickedly strategic position, hunting for wrong-way outlaws!

Item 2 -  The 20,000 (is it more?) illegal LEGAL PARKING ticket: Now that you're done fighting with the officer that gave you the 50,000 LBP ticket, confiscated your licence, you have to find a parking spot. All you have to do is park right in front of the shawerma place. Now you have two options. Option A: to obtain item 2, all you have to do is park your car, shut your windows, lock your doors, and enjoy a happy shawerma meal. You will come back to find the item delivered. Option B: to avoid item two park your car, leave your windows open, and your blinkers on otherwise you will be smitten by the long arm of the law.

So ... for me it was item 1, plus 2 sandwiches (4,000 each, too small for just one to be enough!). Do the math. That's one expensive Shawerma place if you ask me! 

Worth every penny, but if you're not willing to pay this much, take the longer road, or don't drive there, and take care while parking! Cheers.

Thursday, May 21, 2009


Two guys in the gym...

Guy 1, with the heaviest Lebanese Americanized accent- "Yeah yeah man, I studied really well for this exam" so it's like.... akhou ekhta ya3ne!!!!
Guy 2 - "Jnoun"

hahaha gotta love it!

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The End of Med II - A Rough Start...

There could not have been a worse start to a summer vacation. Especially this one, supposedly a godsend toward the beginning of the end of the 7-year medical curriculum, a turning point in the way evertyhing is done. No more classes or stupid exams, only hospital clerkships and real healthcare work -if we can call it healthcare in this country, not really,  but I digress... A month's vacation after a year of hell. If I were to find a way to relate to you what this feels like, I'd tell you to imagine being held captive and tortured with electricity, razor blades, and dripping water for a whole year (because that's all that Med II turned out to be), and then instantly and with absolutely no idea of what's going on, being released on a sandy beach on an insanely sunny day, favorite drink in hand, and then somehow having all the relief, the abatement of torture, and the solace one should find in overcoming such an enormous obstacle, somehow wane and wither in your disbelief-stricken face. Somehow, and quicker than I could realize, something got lost, something just didn't feel right, a few things happened that were not supposed to, more than one thing, actually, and that turned the whole experience inside out. I don't feel it anymore, and I feel that all the hype, the expectations, the hope and anticipation that led up to that Friday when it all ended, have all been turned inside out and their bad parts exposed. Much less excitement now, much less expected.
If I have learned one thing from all this, it's that some realizations stop you in your tracks, like when you realize that you have a bad case of the stockholm syndrome, while others seem to get you going, if only for a little while before they atrociously live up to their time-proven tendency to turn back and bite your hand when least expected, so be ready. 

Be ready... It's time I learned that, but this hit me like a truck going 1000 miles an hour.

Monday, May 4, 2009

"Quelque chose de pas très propre" . . .

"Quelque chose de pas très propre" -translation: "something that's not so clean"- said A. with a trembling, worried voice over the phone. It took me a few seconds to realize what on earth she was talking about. And I still had to ask her, I wanted to hear it.  "You know what I'm talking about", she uttered in a shy, now reserved voice. 
So that's what they're calling it now? She caught me off guard, I have to admit. I had heard all kinds of nicknames, from the shiest "haideke" (the other one) to the boldest "el marad" (the disease), but never had I heard about cancer being called "something not so clean". It came as a shock; I have known A. all my life. In fact I grew up under her watchful eyes, ate her wonderful cooking, and she tucked me in countless times, I watched her get sicker and sicker over the last 15 years of my life. Fighting asthma, diabetes, repeated hernias, age that's getting older and older, A. looks weary, as she barely stands, 70 years old, and a mere few steps away from giving up on living in a body so spent. We talked many times of her diseases, and I reassured her as much as I could, listened to her complaints and resignation to a disease-laden life, but I had never heard her talk about that 'unclean bastard' before in my life. An awakening? Fine, call it that. It hit me like a truck, that's all I know. 
Lately A. has been calling me regularly to report what her doctors have been  telling her. She has more faith in her grandson and future doctor, I guess. All the tests she'd been getting done, the results and what they meant. Her recent worry has been a chronic anemia, her hematocrit having dropped to the low 20's. She and her doctors have not been able to treat it effectively despite supplements and diet considerations. This means that there has to be a loss of blood somewhere. Gastro intestinal tract bleeding is a prime suspect in these cases, and the doctors ordered an endoscopy.
-A: "I am scared, R., really scared of the results"
-R. "What results ya A.? what are you talking about? You haven't done anything yet!" 
-A: "That there may be something not so clean in there my boy"
-A: "You know what I'm talking about"

A. is on more medications than I could count on 2 hands and 2 feet, I don't even know what conditions they're supposed to treat and control. The first time she talked to me about her intractable anemia, I thought "bleeding ulcer"; all these meds can't be doing her stomache or intestines any good. I have to say I never even thought about cancer. Denial? I don't think so. But may be... No, surely not...