at the Von Noshrilgram Foundation
The Middle East. Noon. Sun exploding directly overhead in a pale blue sky. Feel it, as if through a large magnifying glass hovering just over your head and shoulders. See a bustling market place, skinned animal limbs hanging, stacked jars of Omani honey, three goats in the back seat of a Mercedes Benz zipping past, leaning towers of cleansers and mounds of vegetables. Honking and haggling. It's all there. So is a white man, “too much white,” who stands with arms outstretched, shoes beginning to melt into the searing heat of the asphalt like cheese from a grilled sandwich as he glares at a map, slowly rotating it clockwise. He glances up, lost in the blur of heads and shoulders drifting past in all directions around him. His lips move silently. He estimates the total kilometers from his present location to his hometown, counting on his fingers. The map falls to the ground and is trampled…
Our Operation in the Middle East
What motivates one to embark on a life overseas? How does one benefit from being that ‘fish out of water’? Will we ever be the same once we’ve fully come to terms with this world’s charms and sorrows? And will these experiences alter us beyond recognition?...
I stand beside my large desk, in my air-conditioned office of the Von Noshrilgram Foundation, peering around the curtain into the world outside, that Middle East. Outside on a tree branch, on the limb of a skeleton of a tree, skinny birds chirp lethargically in the midday heat and wipe their brows, looking in through the sheets of glass as if to say “Hey brother, how’s it on the inside.” I feel a pang of guilt. I consider the Middle East Operation, it’s success. The loss...
As I am sure it is a textbook description, the doctor said it would hurt “just a little”, an understatement, or spoken like a veteran movie critic who just doesn’t have the heart to give away the really good ending. And because of this, I chose local anesthetic. On the day, the doctor used five needles to freeze the dermal layer, and, when he felt that he had been successful at this, began. It was “exploratory”, exploratory in the sense that the deeper he delved with his scalpel the more frequently he encountered the conscious part of me quick to announce with that rapid unicycle-like peddling motion of my legs and one arm and a Doctor Seussish flow of syllables in search of a sentence that I, Von Noshrilgram Jr. began here. Because it was “local”, I could hear everything in, as they say, virtual ‘surround sound’. The cutting and snipping and, at times, ripping. It sounded as though he was cutting fabric to make finger puppets, then giving up and shredding them, like a petulant child, into tiny unrecognizable bits. Also, it sounded like he was de-boning mutton with a dull knife so perhaps he was making his lunch at the same time. I heard it, all: the doctor’s multiple wet burps, the man in a rage screaming at the top of his lungs in the next room and my doctor’s consequent barely concealed chuckling, the nurse’s comments that the things the doctor wanted were not in the cabinet, “not this one either,” “the one over here?”, “I don’t know who stocked the shelves,” “the one over there?” and “check that cupboard then?”, and “no, not that one, that one.”
And so on...
It was like I was there.
I imagined my life at that moment existing on a VHS tape, and I rewound it noisily – our voices and the ambient sounds rising in pitch comically and presenting itself as a code to be deciphered by those who might care sometime in the future - just to the point where the nurse appeared in the doorway of the waiting room and announced my name, like a foreign capital he’d never been to and wasn’t much interested in visiting, as I read the paper. This time, however, I do not look up spirited and fearless, but watch him from the corner of my eye surreptitiously, watch him waiting for me too patiently, while the other future patients glance up. In this perfect universe I begin to whistle, then remember a dinner date and excuse myself, embarrassed, “Wrong day!” I shake everyone’s hand and leave with some aplomb. People wave.
While lying on the operating table with my left arm folded beneath my torso and therefore losing all the feeling it once had but gradually being filled with the sensation that little people were angrily hammering stakes into every inch of flesh to secure small pup tents, I attempted to escape to a more comforting place and thought of a pack of dogs two hundred yards away in a valley across the highway who had pursued me with jaws snapping while I ran for my life in a zigzaggy pattern just the week before. At that moment they were most probably resting beneath the one tree in the dry riverbed with their tongues hanging out, waiting. Outside on the road in the back of a pick-up truck several golden brown camels glanced out onto the town in a superior, bored manner and a nurse swung the operating room door open and announced, “Ding DONG! Anyone home!”
I jerked up to her surprise.
“Oh!” she said, looking to the doctor, “…Local?”
The doctor nodded.
Afterwards, a strange thing happened. The operation was over. I was in agony. My tumor, the size of an egg, floated to my surprise in the clear plastic container, looking out lonely. I felt the distance between us. Like an ex-girlfriend you still share some closeness with but know it can’t work out and you’ve both decided courageously to go your separate ways, yet… there you both are, both feeling vulnerable, both needing each other... somehow.
Maybe it was all me, but I felt a sadness permeating the room. I found myself wondering how it had all gone so terribly, terribly wrong. I wondered what I could have done differently. What I could have eaten, said, been. If I’d taken a different route, made a different life choice, would it all have still ended up this way? Then the doctor waved at me, cheerfully to get my attention, or perhaps to confirm for himself that he hadn’t accidentally severed some crucial nerve that rendered it impossible for me to form a new thought, and, seeing the blood on his hands, my blood, I passed out.
Three days later, I still feel the pain. It aches. I look out the window, trying to muster the strength to get back to work, to get back 'into the saddle', for the old me to return home.
A bird, one in particular, seems to be attempting to lock eyes with me. He glances to his companions. I look down at the palms of my two open hands impotently, as if one more hand might help… If I let a handful of birds in today, what precedent exactly would I be setting? I turn away completely, as many have before today. Out of my vision this bird drive heaves, a particle of sand stuck in its throat. Oblivious, for I’m pondering the Middle East Operation, I know a decision must be made. I feel my hand on the curtain and know what needs to be done. There are some chapters it’s best to simply leave behind. And there is, of course, the memory of Ivan Von Noshrilgram Sr, distinguished philosopher botanist, wild game hunter, exotic animal trainer, extinguished firewalker, linguist, writer and humanist lecturer, to perpetuate. I’m still me, darn it.
I’ll find my way.
Still, I wonder what my tumor’s doing right now...?
We would like to gratefully acknowledge the special assistance provided by the Middle East Division of The Ivan Von Noshrilgram Foundation Emergencies and Medical Preparedness Department (IVNF - EMPD) in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.
For more information, please contact: firstname.lastname@example.org