National Geographic : 1946 Dec
Ali Goes to the Clinic BY HERNDON AND MARY HUDSON LI EL HUSSEIN lives in the village of El Jadeed,* Syria, a single row of strag gling mud huts on the east bank of the Euphrates, fifteen miles below Deir ez Zor. Having heard of the new American hospital in the city, he has decided to seek help there, for he has been sick for years. Ali has no donkey or money to hire one, so he starts out afoot one morning before dawn with others from his village. Some of his fellow travelers are guiding and thumping diminutive donkeys which stagger under loads of wheat or corn; others carry inverted chickens, or a few eggs tied up in a ragful of straw. Each woman carries a burden in her cloak, the two ends of which are drawn up over the shoulders and knotted across the forehead, forming a sack on her back. The burden usually consists of a baby, who often has to share its nest with a bushel of straw for sale. Some women, in addition, have black pots balanced on their heads; these are destined for the booths of the whiteners. Everyone is barefoot, the men with loose cotton robes that reach the ankles, the women with dark-blue dresses that modestly cover their feet and trail in the dust. There is little conversation as the party shuffles along in the heat. Toward mid morning they finally reach the new bridge. It offers free passage over the Euphrates, in happy contrast to the old and expensive ferry, with its cursing boatmen so ready to cuff the awkward Bedouin. Lost Sheep Just across the bridge is the hospital to which Ali is bound, and he soon finds his way to the clinic door. There are many people already in the waiting room, but it seems quiet. He salutes the company with a bold "Marhaba" (Hello). But when he settles down against the wall he realizes that every one is listening to a voice reading. The story is of one who had many sheep (ah, fortunate man!) and lost one (evil for tune, by Allah!). Of course he searched far for it until he found it in a wadi (gully), and, returning, he bade the rest of the village to rejoice with him (of course, for a sheep is worth a gold pound; more if a female and bearing young). "And that," says the speaker, "is what God is like; His love seeks us out, though we stray far." Presently someone beckons, and, gathering his sheepskin cloak about him, Ali follows along to the examination room, whispering "B'ism'illah" (In the name of Allah) as he enters. "Marhaba," he says again, and the doctor replies, "Marhabtein" (Double hello) as he indicates a stool for him to sit on. But sitting on anything higher than the floor is a new experience, and Ali is also at a loss to know what to do with the staff he carries. Finally he drops it with a crash on the floor as he gingerly lowers himself onto the stool. The doctor asks such irrelevant questions as how many children he has, and the state of his wife's health. Ali replies that he has no children. "No children? Not even girls?" "Oh, I have a daughter." "How old?" "She is still nursing, and with her mother. Your pardon for mentioning these unworthy females in your presence. May God-His name be blest and exalted-lengthen your years." "A Pain Here" The question, "What is your trouble?" evokes the reply, "That is what I have come to you to discover." But when pressed for in formation Ali mutters, "God have mercy upon your father," bunches his fingers to claim at tention, and; emboldened, tells his story. "May God lengthen your forearm; do not be angered with me if I speak of unworthy things! I have-far be it from you, O son of my brother-a pain here," and he solemnly lays his hand on his stomach. His story finally ended, Ali obediently re moves his headcloth and rope coil, dumps them in a corner with his 25-pound furwah (sheepskin cloak with the wool inside), and steps forth in a cotton "nightgown" once white but now covered by many a telltale spot left by the denizens of his sheepskin. His head-a stranger to soap and comb, with hair unkempt except where braided locks fall from his temples-is uncovered only because he realizes the extraordinary demands of the occasion. Saying, "May he who looks upon your face see only good," and whispering a sibilant "Name of God," Ali mounts the examining table by first planting a leathery and dusty foot in the center of the white sheet. He next slips off a belt which carries a curved and sheathed knife and removes one or two * Literally, new town.