Sunday, January 16, 2011

Sisterhood of the mandatory blood test

In order to get a residence visa for the UAE, you have to go to an official clinic and have your blood drawn and an x-ray taken of your chest (please don't remind me of my most embarrassing moment, thanks). You have to do this for your initial residence visa and then every three years as you renew that visa.

Back in October, the university set up a bus to the official clinic for all the faculty spouses and dependents (over age 18) who needed either a brand-new residence visa, or a renewal of the visa. I hopped onto the bus with everyone else. Almost all the people there were complete strangers to me. I sat next to the one person I knew - a woman I'd met a week or two before at an orientation activity.

When we got to the clinic, we all got off the bus and went inside to wait in a series of lines, separated by gender. Conversation among the women proceeded in fits and starts. It began as that most awkward kind of chit-chat, the kind where the substance is nothing more than those surface-level getting-to-know-you questions and everyone kind of takes turns answering them.

Over the course of two hours, however, something happened: the conversation got deeper and more interesting. The women who were there for their three-year renewals imparted their general wisdom of Sharjah to us newbies. We talked about books (one woman was reading Eclipse for the first time, right there in line). Some of the women were separated from their just-grown children for the first time and spoke of trying to watch over them at college from such a great distance. We talked about schools and grocery stores and our houses and how those of us in the new housing blocks didn't have kitchen tables yet. That proved to be the biggest bonding point - finding out that you're not the only one crouching over your coffee table to eat dinner is a sweet moment.

We talked about our jobs or lack thereof, and our husbands' jobs, and what kinds of life situations we had left to come here, to Sharjah.

Then we all took turns getting poked with a needle. Later, for the x-rays, we had to strip to a state of (modest) semi-undress that would have been super awkward only an hour before but was now experienced in a rather jovial communal dignity.

When it was all over, we climbed back on the bus and headed back to where we started. But everything was different now. We were no longer strangers.

And you know what? It's been months since that day and every once in a while I run into one of those women on campus. Sometimes we remember each other immediately. Other times it takes one or the other of us saying, "oh yeah, I spent two hours in a government clinic with you!" to match the face to the memory. Maybe it was just my overwhelmed state at the start of our move here, but somehow these ladies' hold on me is peculiarly strong. And I can sense that many of them feel the same way. We became a sisterhood of sorts on that evening in October and though we may not purposefully get together to any degree, that kinship is not something that can easily be dissolved.

After all, I, for one, am looking forward to our reunion when we all go in to renew our residence visas in three years.


Crys said...

So what are they testing for?? I'm guessing AIDS and TB? I love how you made friends over blood test and x-rays :)

Nancy said...

I thought mandatory said maternity and I was confused for the whole post. But, I'm also glad that you bonded with table-less, needle-poked, half-stripped women.

It sounds like...a...blast...

Becky said...

This was a great peek into life where you are. Very enjoyable writing!

Merkley Jiating said...

Awww, precious! This was such a happy post. You are awesome, Bridget!

Liz Johnson said...

Awww. That does sound like fun! What an awesome way to bond with women, even if it involved nudity. :)


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