Life of a Rooster

Memoirs of a psychiatrist, journalist and educator

Of Pumps and Raw Eggs

on November 28, 2013

double happiness

It seems that one of the functions of an embassy is to officiate weddings. For, while we were in Ankara, yet another staff member got married. This time, it was an older bachelor by the last name of Bian.

Chinese employees have the custom of calling other co-workers “Old Smith” or “Old Jones” to express familiarity and friendliness. Therefore, you’d hear them say, “Hey, Lao Chang!” or “How’s it going, Lao Lee!”  But with a surname like Bian, you couldn’t do that.

You see, Bian also means “ease”, or “relief”, as in “to relieve oneself of bladder pressure”. So when the relief involves bladder tension, it’s called Small Relief, and when it involves rectal tension, it’s called Big Relief. It follows that calling someone Old Relief was bound to lead to problems. The solution? Everyone decided that they should call him not “Lao Bian” but “Bian Lao”, which translates roughly as “Relief The Elder”. Much better.

So then, Bian Lao was getting married to an old maid, and all the staff celebrated the event. I presume that the ceremony took place officially in the embassy, but this time we were not flower girls nor invited even. But we got to go to the newly weds’ apartment for the “Riot of the New Room”. Traditionally, the newlyweds’ bedroom is termed the Hole Room or the New Room. (Sorry, I don’t mean to be gross, but there you go, that is what it is termed.) And traditionally, after bowing to the Heaven and the Earth, to the parents and to each other, the bride and groom would be led to the New Room. Then the guests, usually close relatives and friends, would invade the room and raise a raucous riot of lewd jokes and pranks.

Witnessing a bunch of adults acting like naughty kids out of control is quite a sight for children. My usually stern and venerable father laughed and joked as loudly as all the others. At one point, they pulled out the bride’s high heeled shoe, filled it with wine, and made the groom drink it. Then someone hung a string over the chandelier and tied an apple to it. They asked the bride and groom to take a bite while the joker would tug and pull on the string.

Eventually someone noticed us children peeking in from the door, and shooed us away. Just as well, since we were getting really sleepy and tired.

Papa, obviously, could be jovial too. So far, I only knew him as the greatest playmate on earth, but one who could turn in a second into the most patriarchal of disciplinarians, as in the case of the chocolate and the shoe horn. He was inflexible once he laid a rule.

One day, as we were home for lunch break, I suddenly remembered I was to bring a boiled egg for our “Lecon de Choses” –Lesson of Things. Which meant Natural Science or Biology. Of course, this happened just as we were getting ready to board the car to go back to school. Papa immediately started rattling off his routine about my lack of responsibility, while Mama hurried to the kitchen to boil the egg. Trying to look unperturbed, I weathered Papa’s threats to drive off while pleading with Mama to boil faster. To which she would reply that this was as fast as it was going to boil. Finally, we both surrendered to Papa’s threats, and Mama fished the egg out of the water and wrapped it in a handkerchief. I ran to the car. Later, in school, our Maitresse, Mme Konyali, finally announced we were to pull out our eggs. I proudly unwrapped my egg. Now, she said, we were to knock them and peel them. Before I could figure out how, my egg rolled down my desk — our desks had sloping tops — and crashed onto the floor, in a magnificent mess of runny white and sunny yellow sprinkled with shell bits. The maitresse was not amused. “You were supposed to boil it, Fawzia! Don’t you understand what boiling is?” Students, like children, were to be seen and not heard. I was not to answer. Just listen. How could I explain that I personally did witness my mother boiling it?

broken egg

Winter arrived. Papa told us to be careful. He had heard that Turkish winters are harsh. Snow could pile up so high that small children could get buried in it. One morning we ran late for school. We jumped into the car (yet another second-hand Cadillac), but Papa just idled the engine without driving off. We tried to hold our panic in for a while then dared pipe a half question about why we were not leaving. Papa thundered back that it was our fault for being late. Did we not know that engines need to warm up before running? So we waited, stressed by our lateness and Papa’s temper. Finally we made it to school but alas, the bell had rung and the yard was empty. I headed to my classroom with my heart in my shoes, which I dragged along. I dreaded knocking at the door but finally had to do so. I walked in, head low, towards Mme Konyali’s desk.

That day was also the first day that our new ambassador’s son was to attend school, and he was to be in my class! I was really happy that another Chinese student was joining us in the French Embassy School and longed to show off my seniority.

But instead of showing off any school pride, I was told to go stand in the corner and face the wall.

Somehow, in my early life, all these little moments of pride never quite worked out the way I wanted them too. I always ended up being the trouble maker or was unjustly punished. And, little by little, through these vicissitudes, my shyness grew. Every month, my report card remarked, “Excellent student, but too shy.”



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