On Going to the Doctor in Egypt


Someone told me that I have shaved off about five years of my life by virtue of living in Egypt for 9 months… I believe it!   It’s not surprising considering that Egypt is a developing country… On the one hand it makes me sad, on the other hand I’m sort of just like “oh, well, we all have to dies sometime.”

Unfortunately, I also feel for the people I see on the tram and in the street that are quite ignorant/misinformed about what constitutes healthy eating and hygiene.  I wonder if the issue is different in Cairo, that is, it seems here, from our unofficial sampling of the Egyptian youth we meet who are affiliated with our program, that bathing every day and more importantly brushing one’s teeth everyday is not considered neccessary or the standard.

It’s something I realized about being here a while back, but I was a bit surprised to see that even many most of the upper class Egyptians we know here in Alexandria adhere to this way of thinking as well.  I don’t know what to make of it.  it’s just really different from any other place I’ve been before. It might have something to do with the fact that many of these kids are from villages around Alexandria originally?   I’m just surprised because while I totally understand not using “western” products (tooth brushes and paste, shampoo and conditioner, deoderant etc.) I don’t understand why people from what I see and smell are also not using traditional grooming methods either…

In Morocco, my host family was lower middle class, and so they took a bath once a week at the public bath.  If you’ve ever been you know that bathing in a public bath house is not  a 15 minute affair.  No its a 3-4 hour event.  I have only been one time in my life and after leaving there, I felt the cleanest I have ever felt in my entire life.  It took three days before I even began to feel like I should take a bath! ha, ha… seriously that public baths with it’s dead skin scraping and pore cleansing saunas are definitely the secret to Moroccan people’s beautiful skin.  As for hair and skin products, my host family used traditional stuff the bought from the souq some green goop for shampoo conditioner (they all had beautiful shiny hair)  and some other things that they rubbed on their skin after the bath.

In Yemen people went to public baths as well.  They also had a perponderance of miswak (chewing sticks, people use them in lieu of brushing their teeth, I’ve never tried it, but know that people say the results are pretty darn good, clean teeth and fresh breath all from a natural tree/root/whatever it is)….

So yes, what I see and smell Egyptians doing confuses me.

I tried to explain to my language partner today the importance of brushing one’s teeth daily, ideally twice daily but at least once everyday… she was not convinced!  ha, ha….and as for bathing, people have been surprised that the Americans students in general particularly the women bath every day…

At any rate, this poor personal hygiene (at least in some circles) coupled with the trash that is literally everywhere (people throw trash wherever they feel like it… out car windows, on the floor while walking by, out the tram window as it rolls down the street, everywhere) and even the dumpsters are ravaged by stray cats and trash ravagers (i.e. people who go through trash an take the recyclables out of it), and that covering one’s mouth when coughs/sneezes is also not a widespread phenomenon… and forget about washing one’s hands with soap (which is unfortunately an underused strategy in the States as well)….  all of this makes for the ideal environment to catch something.

stomach wise I have been fortunate, sick a few times but nothing too bad…. but I did catch something or perhaps I’ve had it for a while.  I was in denial about it as I hate doctors and hospitals….

a few months back a classmate caught a fungus in her foot she told me her symptoms and a while after that I started to think that maybe I had the same thing… gross!  but I wasn’t sure, and thought that perhaps it was all in my head, that is until a few days ago when the skin on my hand started peeling, which is not a huge deal….

The problem it was also reddish and itching.  That is not normal!…. I went to the doctor and the entire experience probably took about an hour, including walking to an returning from there!

The doctor himself wasn’t sure what the hell I had, so he prescribed anti-fungal, anti-bacterial and anti-allergy medication…. weird but a few days later and I feel a little better… Alhamdullilah.

the cost of the visit and medication (a list of 5 things mind you) came to about 30 bucks!  some people pay for just a copay…

Medication, even name-brand ones are so much cheaper here… I pay 4-6 dollars for something that back home would cost at least 10 bucks in copay fees… Needless to say GAzelle is pleased with what she’s seen of the medical field here.

On the other hand I know that I’m privileged as heck.  I went to a private hospital that gave me a meeting with the doctor even though I was a walk-in and people who had appointments were waiting in the waiting room.  The medications while cheap to me, are beyond the reach of a significant portion of the population…

It’s such a hard thing to deal with… the rich get richer… and the poor get sicker… sigh.

This post is long and somewhat jumbled, but I guess I’m just wondering how a place like this exists.  How can someone who owns a company, has a college degree or even masters (or in particular a degree in the medical field) not know that you should not just brush your teeth when they feel dirty or every other day….. but rather brushing your teeth every day is healthy?

how do they not know that greasy oily foods are terrible for your health and lead to obesity and diaebetes?

that smoking kills you (actually this is on the cigarette packs, but no one seems to care)….

These are the things that weigh on my mind when I ride the tram and smell some well dressed, decked out Egyptian woman’s morning breath, or can tell that she hasn’t bathed in a few days … or when I see a father puffing cigarette smoke into his child’s face… or hear my roommate fire up the oil in the frying pan like she does every night for dinner…. or when someone coughs all over me and I remember that a good chunk of the population is infected with hepatitis!   Rabna yasturna!

Is public health/hygiene a class issue?  I used to think it was, but in the context of this place I am not sure.


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