Friday, October 17, 2008
I want to start today with a little lesson about Islam. We are all familiar with the expression “mecca”, for example as in “Tofino is a surfing mecca”…but do you know where the expression comes from?
“Makkah” or “Mecca” is actually a city on the Western coast of Saudi Arabia which is the centre of Islamic religion. Makkah is “the holy city” at the centre of which lies the “Kabba”. The Kabba is a large cube-like structure (see centre of the depressed portion of the plaza on the far side of the above image), and from what I understand, is thought to be in line with the centre of Heaven. Five times a day, thousands of pilgrims (every one of those tiny white dots in the image is a person!) make their way into the gates and form commendably organized concentric circles around the Kabba to pray to Allah (God). I want to emphasize at this point that Muslims do not pray TO the Kabba – the Kabba is simply the marker for the central point of Heaven, and is thus the most logical place to pray to Allah (any of my Muslim friends reading this, please feel free to add-in or correct me in the comments at the bottom!). No matter where a Muslim may be in the world, whenever they pray, they pray in the direction of the Kabba. In the hospital here, each room has an arrow on the ceiling indicating in which direction the Kabba lies. I watched the evening prayer in Makkah on TV (non-Muslims are not permitted into the Holy City) during Ramadan, and it was one of the most mesmerizing, beautiful experiences I have EVER seen. Thousands of people moving at exactly the same time, the chanting of the Qur’an (kind of like the Bible for Muslims) by the Imam (kind of like a priest, but not really) while it is all going on.
Now back to the point of the lesson: Makkah is the central place for Islam – people with the same passion drawn to the same place to share it and experience the exponential intensity of the large number of others around them there for the same reason. Thus, the next time you hear the expression “mecca” in English, you can think about the much deeper meaning actually attached to it!
And now, a story. This is something that happened just yesterday. Here’s the background:
The patient is a long termer who has been on our ward since I started. He is quite possibly one of the surliest men I have EVER met. From the start, he had it out for me. Before I could speak Arabic, he didn’t even want me in the room, and would wave me away like a mosquito with an impatient flick of his wrist every time I entered. The only time I ever got any acknowledgement was when he wanted something, in which case he would snap his fingers, and point at the desired object without looking at me…and of course he always wanted it faster than I could bring it to him, so a string of Arabic was forcefully unleashed into the airspace between us. Of course, the fact that I had no idea what he was saying served only to compound the "mushkala" (problem), and simply gave him an excuse (not that he really needed one) to be even more annoyed...Ok ok, so maybe my humming and my constant broken English/Arabic chatter whenever I went in didn’t help matters, but that is beside the point…
His son, who is in his room pretty much around the clock is a little more personable, but also speaks only Arabic. As my own grasp on the language has improved improved, Baba’s (“Baba” is the Arabic word for “father”, and can also be used to refer to an older man) disdain slowly morphed to a sort of low-level tolerance, and though I was still studiously ignored, at least the “go away” waves were reduced to a minimum.
Yesterday, I went into Baba’s room and was going about my business (yes, humming some Bob Marley, and proudly stumbling over my latest Arabic words to a very un-captive audience), when all of a sudden, Baba’s son blurted out “this one!”. I stopped in my tracks at this rare attempt to communicate, thinking that I must have done something SUPER “haram” (forbidden) if he was going to the extent of using the language so openly abhorred by his father. Baba himself was sitting in his usual position on his bed, slouched forward, towel over his head, corners of his mouth downturned, with eyes so caustic, I’m surprised the paint wasn’t peeling off the wall he was glaring at.
I started to go through all the possibilities of what “this one” could be in reference to: The pills? Change the bed? The IV? The son, then smiled (also very rare), then paused, and said my name (which I had no idea he even knew) followed by a string of Arabic which included “momareda” (nurse), “kooloo” (all), “kwayes” (good), and something about “Baba saying”, and then repeated “this one” and pointed at me. Suddenly it dawned on me what he was trying to say, and I think I still have a bruise on my chin from where my jaw dropped on the floor. I looked at Baba, and just for a split second, he looked in my direction, gave a curt, surly nod, and returned to melting the wall. Apparently, somewhere along the way, I had crossed the threshold into the realm of approval with this man who I had been so sure vehemently resented the fact that we shared the same breathing air. As I had no words in my vocabulary to express that he had just made my day (which is probably just as well), I simply nodded back, smiling slightly, and said “shukkran, Baba” (thank you), and continued about my work – but a barrier had been broken down. Despite his surliness, Baba was utterly compliant for the rest of the day, even going as far as muttering “mafe mushkala” (no problem) when I accidentally spilled a few drops of saline on his arm while flushing his IV – a situation which, 3 weeks ago, may very well have elicited apocalyptic Richter scale-tipping roars.
Small steps, my friends, small steps.