Maternity visit to my Arab friend



It’s Friday morning  (the Sunday in the Arab world) almost six o’clock when my phone rings. On the mobile screen, I read the name of Salsabyl, my dear local friend. ‘Habibti (darling), come over, my little one is born.’ Her words sound tired and sluggish. In the background I hear voices of women. ‘Now?’ I ask sleepily. ‘Yes now!’ Her voice is soft but persuasive. She wants me to come NOW.
While I politely try to explain that it isn’t usual in my culture to visit the mother and her newborn immediately after birth, she puts the phone down. But as I hit the pillows again, I receive a text message: ‘Cu soon, XS’. Half an hour later I am in the car.

maternity visit to my Arab friend

I walk into the hospital carrying a gift basket decorated with a bunch of shiny balloons as the locals do. As I reach for the elevators I am brutally stopped by a Filipino receptionist who’s cheeks are covered under a thick layer of whitening cream. She points at a piece of paper on the reception desk.  I look at her with surprise.  ‘Balloons are not allowed’, she replies irritably  with her best unfriendly look and nods at a dustbin in the corner. If I want to visit my friend I have to throw the balloons or leave the gift basket behind.

Normally I don’t argue with people that do their job. But the unsympathetic attitude of this employee evokes a sense of childlike mischief in me. I politely ask for a pair of scissors. And then, slowly but certainly, I stab it into the balloons while I watch the white mask of the receptionist  fracture with every popping sound that echo’s loudly through the empty hall.