I've spent the last two days doing Afghan medicals - en masse I have been terrifying Afghan men with my femaleness and daring use of the stethoscope. It is mightily disconcerting to be perceived as intimidating or just generally odd. I'm not very big and certainly not particularly scary so it's hard when the reaction that is provoked is either of abject embarrassment or of outright fear. They don't say much but like small children giggle or hold themselves rigid. It's hard not to care about people who are so vulnerable. They say that expat women here are treated like a third race - neither male nor female in their eyes - and I am getting this strongly now. I feel so very alien; in my attitude, in my upbringing.
These patients are off to Malaysia to an Islamic teacher training course. The Afghan ladies are equally as perturbing, virtually Victorian in their attitude to undressing. For a medical which includes examination of the chest and heart I had to endure my ladies squatting miserably in the corner of the room, clutching their clothes to their chests - I all but felt like some kind of bully. It was with great sadness that I sat with a 26 year old who already has five children - we'd run a routine pregnancy test and unfortunately for her hers was positive. She was obviously distressed, crying silently: her trip, her chance to get out, was now in jeopardy but not only this, she would now lose her job teaching boys - apparently a pregnant women is not acceptable in this role. I didn't know what to say. Termination of pregnancy is illegal here. This poor woman did not want another child but she would have no choice. I felt bad for her, bad that both she and I were hoping that for her sake that the pregnancy, currently in it's early stages, wouldn't remain and she would be free.
So after an emotionally exhausting day I'm here at my desk with some spicy super noodles and a cuppa soup, it's not like I haven't eaten it was just that dinner was at 5.30 and now at 10pm I'm hungry (and possibly bored). I've added extra chilli to the brew so it's hardly surprising that I'm burning my mouth off, still it's probably better than random sex which would be easy to come by in this place. I'm thirty five years old and it's just me and packet food (just add boiling water), the saddest of meals when you feel like Bridget Jones: hot, wet chicken flavour crisps in a plastic cup. But enough of feeling sorry for myself; It's been a godsend to discover that chilli is a really good substitute for men. I get just about the same emotional response from a jar of good jalapenos as I have done from my last few dates so what the hell I'd rather eat chilli!