|hassan el kebir
|919259. Sun Jun 24, 2012 10:39 am
|I thought you might like to hear about my extremely reluctant trip to the dentist...
Mohamed has been busy with one thing or another so for the last week or so hasn’t been answering his phone. Yesterday, I had to go to the factory so this was the first chance I’d had to tell him that I extremely reluctantly and fairly urgently needed to go to a dentist. I had chomped down on something hard in my marmite sandwich and broken a front tooth. We had hardly greeted each other when the factory doors burst open and a crowd of Egyptians poured in. Amidst the gaggle of Egyptians greeting each other so noisily was Abdul R, the bank manager.
Everybody having greeted everybody else we settled down to the serious business of drinking chai and smoking. I showed Mohamed my dental problem and he admitted that he needed to go to the dentist, too. Abdul R interrupted our ramblings; he has a young relative who was a dentist, he would be able to solve our problems that very evening and, even better, Abdul promised us, it would all be done painlessly. I wasn’t entirely convinced by his reassurance but, then again, I would rather spend the rest of my days immersed in a bucket of spiders than pay a visit to a dentist.
As I left the factory a couple of hours later, Mohamed told me to be ready at half past seven, he would collect me then. At a quarter to seven, I was sitting, in a smart, clean gallabaya, as ready as I could be. I decided another spliff would be a good idea. I had only got as far as putting the tobacco into the mixing bowl when my phone rang; it was Mohamed, he would be with me in two minutes. I gave up rolling the joint and locked the doors and generally got myself ready. I stood on the doorstep waiting for the car to turn up.
Ten minutes later, I was wishing I’d finished rolling that joint but figured that if I tried to do that then Mohamed would be sure to turn up. I stood on the doorstep, like a lemon. Five minutes later, I was still standing there and considering the same notion. No, he would be sure to turn up if I started rolling. Another five minutes, ‘sod it’ I thought and went back inside to roll the joint. Mohamed arrived. It was probably just as well I was so stoned, already.
We drove to Luxor, I was feeling sicker and sicker with apprehension the closer we got to town. Mohamed decided we ought to go and collect Abdul R to make sure we were treated sufficiently gently so off we set, going into a part of Luxor I hadn’t yet seen.
Like so many people in this country, Abdul R has a second job; he owns a tailoring shop where he makes curtains. We pulled up outside his shop and wandered in, I was introduced to Abdul R’s son and various grandchildren then I was sat on a stool and asked if I would like a cup of chai. Never being one to refuse a drink, I accepted the kind offer so someone was detailed to go and make the esteemed guests a cuppa. Abdul and Mohamed had a little chat whilst I sat and looked along the rows of materials on display and tried not to think about what might be happening to me in the very near future.
Mohamed burst into an ear-splitting guffaw and turned to translate the news Abdul R had just given him. It would seem the dentist hadn’t yet arrived at his clinic as his mother was having problems with her gentleman-friend so he had gone round to sort him out. They gentleman-friend had obviously not seen ‘Marathon Man’ or he’d know not to piss off a dentist. I can’t say the news really helped my nerves, though.
So, we sat around for ten minutes or so, I was brought a thimble of coffee which isn’t really the same as a mug of chai but never mind. Mohamed disappeared around to the back of the shop to roll some smokes, I approved of this, I was in desperate need of some calming medication of some sort or the other. Having rolled, we sat and smoked and giggled like three schoolgirls. Mohamed’s laugh was getting louder and slightly nervous; I was exceptionally pleased to see he didn’t really like dentists, either. Abdul R didn’t really give a stuff one way or the other, he was far more gainfully employed, playing with a plastic dinosaur. He was quite disappointed when his granddaughter came and reclaimed it from him. I like my bank manager.
Finally, come the hour, we slowly, ever so reluctantly gathered ourselves together so we could go to meet our doom.
Abdul R’s son has just bought a new car so he and Mohamed had to have a quick chat about that before we set off. I stood and smoked a cigarette whilst they discussed all the finer points of this motoring marvel. Hooray, we’re making a move….oh no, Mohamed and Abdul R’s son were going to swap cars for the drive to the dentist which meant more time wasted whilst they faffed about getting themselves comfortable in their new cars. Finally, not thankfully, we set off.
As we approached one of the main junctions going into Luxor town Mohamed steered the car to the side of the road and parked. He wanted a sandwich; did I want one, too? Apart from the fact that I was feeling so dreadfully sick with nerves I wouldn’t have been able to keep anything down it really didn’t seem a particularly polite thing to do before visiting the mouth doctor. You may have to be a sadistic bastard to want to be a dentist but still, there’s no need to make the poor sod have to fight his way through gobbets of semi-masticated bread lodged between your teeth while he whistle ‘son, be a dentist, from the Little Shop of Horrors. I made do with a can of sprite.
Whist Mohamed chewed I was staring blankly up the road, vaguely watching life pass by. A wedding party passed in a deafening cacophony of car and motorbike horns. My eyes followed them up the road leading to the Grand Memphis Hotel, its name illuminated in flashing red lights. It would have been almost impressive if the display had been working properly; several of the letters were not being lit giving the hotel the new name of the ‘rand mem his hote’. I wondered what the ‘oom servic’ might consist of, would the rooms have an ‘ini ba’ or a ‘rouser pres’?
Sandwich finished and off we set again. A couple of minutes of unnecessarily aggressive driving and Mohamed parked again. ‘we need to go down there’ he said, waving an arm in the general direction of over there. I followed him across the road, managing successfully to not get run over and hobbled, as quickly as I could, after my long-legged chum.
He stopped in front of a drab, concrete building and announced that we had arrived. I looked up at the stairs and groaned, the one major problem I have with my arthritis is that I have great difficulty getting up and down stairs, it is absolute agony after only a couple of steps. Thankfully, the dentist was on the first floor so I managed to haul myself up the stairs in an almost respectable time. I staggered into the waiting room and collapsed, wheezing, onto a bench, it was probably the most uncomfortable bench I have ever tried to sit on, the plank of wood at the back hit me right in the centre of my spine, the one spot that is never ever free of pain. I was not a happy Hassan.
Mohamed and I sat at opposite sides of the room and grinned greenly, nervously, at each other. It didn’t help matters that the bloody dentist still hadn’t turned up. I guessed he was still busy removing his mother’s gentleman-friend’s teeth without the aid of anesthetic. We went back out onto the landing for a nerve calming cigarette.
‘Do you want to stay?’ Mohamed asked me. It was obvious what my answer really was but, having come this far I wasn’t going to back down now, not at this late stage. Mohamed didn’t look too happy with my response. ‘We’ll be far better off going to a dentist in Cairo.’ He informed me. ‘And,’ he continued, ‘he hasn’t even got an x-ray machine here.’
As far as I could tell, there were two possible ways of interpreting my friend’s sudden desire to go to Cairo; 1) it could be that my friend is more shit-scared of the dentist than I am or 2) that my natural good looks, of which he is so jealous, will stay impaired for another couple of weeks whilst we try to get ourselves organized and gives him something to laugh at me about. I think I know which option I’ll go for. I have decided that I shall also have to treat my current dental handicap as a comedic tool rather than consider it an abhorrence and an embarrassment.
Oh well, I can combine a trip to the dentist with my camera buying/pyramid visiting trip. That’ll be something exciting to look forward to.
So, back down the stairs and into the correct cars; Abdul’s son very sensibly buggered off home and we, I hoped, were going back to ours.
Round the back streets of Luxor town, zig-zag through little alleyways, I was totally disorientated, I had no idea what was up and what was down. At last, we turned into an alleyway that I recognized, Mohamed came to a halt and let me out then went and parked the car. I stared up at the house and groaned a groan that came from the very centre of my already very frazzled being. We were at our favouritest holy man, Menem’s, house; that meant millions of stairs to climb, the last time I had done it, it had taken me almost half an hour to get down the stairs. I decided, much as I like Menem, it would be far more sensible if I stayed downstairs in their madrassa where his brother, Abdullah, would most likely be. It does have to be said that our deep respect and affection for Menem has nothing to do with his piety but everything to do with the amount he smokes and the bugger never even goes cross-eyed.
I walked through the door to find about twenty men praying so sidled along the wall to ensure I wouldn’t get in their way and made it to a bench at the back of the room. Menem must have been out as Mohamed followed me into the room a couple of minutes later. The men finished praying so we all greeted each other, kissing or shaking hands as protocol demanded. I still find it quite amazing how many people around here seem to know me now and how completely they have accepted me; it’s really rather nice.
Once we were all comfortably seated on the benches and cups of chai, glasses of juice and bottles of water passed around, we settled back for a chat. Well, the Egyptians did that, I sat back and smiled my toothless smile. The saga of our abortive trip to the dentist was recounted, tales of pain and mutilation at the hands of the local dentists were recalled, it was agreed, with lots of wincing, that it was far, far more sensible for me to go to Cairo to be treated. They ran out of humorous tooth stories to tell so settled back to discussing more mundane, everyday matters.
I wasn’t really listening to what anybody was saying; I knew they’d be having a religious discussion of some sort or another, I realized I was being spoken to. There are times when you can really go off people, I felt as though I had just had my bollocks put in a mangle. I had been asked who I thought ought to win the election. I tried to smile what I hoped would be interpreted as a smile of great consideration and inside knowledge as I frantically tried to figure out the most politically acceptable way of telling them my thoughts on the subject. In the end I just decided that we’d all known each other long enough that I’d just tell them the truth.
I explained why I thought Shafiq out to have the job and they sat there listening politely to all I had to say. There was no jumping up and down nor shouted rants from my audience, instead a measured debate followed, thankfully, with various people giving me translations as we went along. It was fascinating listening to them weighing up the pros and cons of each person but, in the end, coming to the conclusion that whoever wins, it will be the wrong one.
By eleven thirty most of the guys had drifted off home and Mohamed and I were both yawning so we said good night to Abdullah and the couple of remaining chaps and made our weary, toothless, way back to the west bank. By and large, I quite enjoy an evening jaunt to Luxor.
I am starting to get a slight insight into why people think I’m eccentric, my life really isn’t what you’d call ‘normal’, is it?