Saturday, June 23, 2012

Back Home

If you have read even a minority of posts in this blog, you’ll see that I favour writing about my high-functioning awkwardness. You may have also noticed that there number of posts I’ve made over the time I’ve been writing has diminished linearly, to the point that it’s been over a year since I last posted.

I haven't finished my time overseas, though. Theses days I live in Saudi Arabia, teaching English as I did in Russia and Slovakia. Given how drastically different Saudi Arabia is from either New Zealand or Russia, you would expect that I would have plenty to write about from my typical, awkward perspective: the kind of perspective that had me confused buying bus tickets, repeatedly failing at basic household chores, and preemptively striking out with women

And there probably is lot to write about. The problem is that I have become desensitised to being confused. Where once I found food that I couldn’t identify fascinating and blog-worthy, these days I’ve taken to eating whatever is available without noticing how familiar it is; when I begin talking to someone, my default assumption is now that, even if I understand the language they’re speaking, I probably won’t have a clue what the hell they’re going on about; I’m perpetually under the assumption that, no matter what I set out to do, it will take longer than Iimagine.

But now I am back in New Zealand, at least for a few weeks. And here, in a country I hardly left for the first 23 years of my life, I am reconnecting with a lost sense of awkwardness.

Before I return to Saudi Arabia, I have to get a new visa from here in New Zealand. Saudi has a large number of migrant workers -- over 30% of the population, by some counts -- and all of them need a health check before they can get their visa. The trouble is, this health check is one-size-fits-all: Anyone coming from the developed world is still required to undergo the same checks as a migrant worker from rural Bangladesh. My docotor’s response to seeing the list of checks than needed to be carried out was one of bemusement. “I suppose you can probably get all of these tests done here in New Zealand.” He said. “But there are parasites here that you could only have if you lived in Sub-Saharan Africa.”

Handing me three forms -- one a list of blood tests to be carried out, one for urine tests and a third for tests to be performed on a stool sample -- and two small, clear containers with lids that screwed on as firmly as I would hope, my doctor sent me along to the nearby medical testing lab. I soon found myself sitting in a small, windowless room, cluttered with shelves, cupboards, tubes and vials, with my arm extended in front of me, offering up the thin, delicate skin on the inside of my elbow. A uniformed lab technician unceremoniously thrust a long, thin needle into the pronounced vein in the centre of the elbow, and quickly but meticulously drew five vials of blood.

“As for the urine and feces samples,” he said. “If you can’t give them now, you can just come back tomorrow with them.”

I considered this for a moment. “I’ll have to do that for the stool sample, but I’m sure I could give you a urine sample now.”

“OK. The bathroom’s there, and you can just leave the sample on this tray,” he pointed, “when you’re finished.”

Then, at the reception desk. “Do you still need to give us any more samples?” said the receptionist.

“Yes. Of course, I gave a blood sample, and I was able to produce a urine sample on demand.”

“That’s good.”

“But I’ll still have to come back tomorrow with the stool sample.”

“That’s fine. Just be sure to take note of when you do it. And, if you bring it in first thing tomorrow morning, we can get it off to the lab straight away; that way you can get your results in just a couple of days.”

“Well,” I say, grinning. “Here’s hoping I have a bowel movement this evening”

There was a moment of tumble-weed silence, long enough for me to consider what I had just said to a complete stranger. The receptionist looked down at some papers on her desk and pretended to read what ever happened to be in front of her, as if to say I’m going to pretend that you didn’t say that. I looked down at my shoes, as if to reply I appreciate it.

Soon, I’ll be back in a country where people can’t understand the odd things I say. And I’m OK with that.