Thursday, May 20, 2010

Day 5: Absurdist Tragicomedy

"I don't where the sunbeam ends and the starlight begins, it's all a mystery."
"I don't know how man decides what's right for his own life, it's all a mystery."

It may be tragic or comic, but it's no doubt absurd for a 52 year old man to begin a blog post with lyrics from the Flaming Lips Fight Test. (Just click on the link to hear the song. While you're there, go ahead and listen to She Don't Use Jelly, too)

Doesn't my eye look yummy? So off to the health clinic I went. The results? I quickly filled out a one page form. I saw a (female Muslim) doctor within about 5 minutes. (I'm not sure why I feel compelled to report the doctor's religion and gender, but I do.) I was out the door, prescriptions in hand, in 15. There was no charge. Zilch. Zero.

This was socialized medicine. "Qatar now has a public health service providing free or very low cost health care for its nationals, and it's important to note that these services are also available to expatriates." This site also notes that "eye infections are common". Ok, ok, I'm not saying that all socialized medicine works well, and it's clear that in Qatar it works better to handle routine treatment than specialized care; Qataris do fly elsewhere for specialized treatment.

This was civilized medicine. Of course, it does help that the country is awash in oil money. But it does seem pretty reasonable to me that ordinary medical care is provided to all residents.

I did have to pay for the prescriptions: about $20, which can be covered by private health insurance.

I also taught my final class of the week (classes run Sunday-Thursday here). Every Thursday we are going to watch films (slacker alert); today we watched an episode from "Ethics in America," a series produced about 15 years ago. Each episode contains a Socratic discussion, with the moderator posing tough questions to prominent officials (e.g., Jeanne Kirkpatrick -- former Georgetown professor! -- was the President. Newt Gingrich and Rudy Giuliani were both in their younger, and much more sensible, days). The focus was on "trust".

Afterwards we had our own Socratic dialogue. I said: "I have to trust you; you have to trust me. So what would you do if you found out that one of your classmates was cheating by having someone else write their papers?"

Student question: What is my relationship with the cheater?

My answer: Well, I'm going to assume you're not going to tell on a close friend or relative, so let's say it's just a classmate. Let's also say that you can report this to me anonymously by leaving a note in my mailbox. Now, what would you do?"

The class voted 12-1 that they would not report the cheating.


Their explanations: It's not my job. I don't want to be a snitch. Who's really hurt? And so forth.

More wows from me. (Disclosure: similar questions have produced similar answers from my US students.)

I know it may be trite to repeat the quote that "all it takes for evil to prevail is for good people to do nothing" but that is definitely my depressing conclusion. Damn. But I wonder what I would do in that situation....

My blogs grow heavy, I fear.

Back to absurdist tragicomedy. That's the description of the play "Rosencrantz and Gilderstern are Dead," which I hope to see tomorrow night. R&G are two minor, confused characters -- I can relate! -- from Hamlet. To buy the tickets, I have to visit the Bellagio Mall, which has canals, with gondoliers, running through it: the ceiling is painted blue with puffy white clouds. Venice comes to the Gulf!

Random facts: My students' names are Noor, Abdullah, Hassan, Nouf, Jumana, Abdulrahman, Hissa, Maryam, Haya, Fatima, Fatima, Ghehad, Manal, and Saran.

More: My blood pressure was 110/80 and my pulse was 64. Immortality no doubt awaits.

So we're watching the movie and a very handsome and very buff guy enters and sits. He is wearing a tight black t-shirt and is jacked. I have no idea who he is but, hey, we're watching in the student lounge, so it could be just about anybody. During the discussion, another student says something like "Why don't you ask Hassan?"

It's Hassan, one of my students! In every other class, he has been wearing a full white robe and white headdress. I didn't recognize him out of uniform. I did want to ask him...

"What is it, casual Thursday for Muslims?"


  1. About 90 percent of the people you named I met in Iraq ... coincidence? Hmmmmm.

  2. Well, those are (I think) the Chris, Elizabeth, Caitlin, Jacob, etc. of the middle east....