The Bazaar

One of my fondest memories of living in Karachi, Pakistan when I was little was going to the bazaar, or market, with my grandmother. She’d go almost every morning and on weekends I’d tag along. I loved everything about it. The sights, the sounds, the smells… well, most of them. The streets would be lined on either sides with stalls made of just a big slab of wood on wheels, with a pole at each corner and sheets of brightly colored cloth attached on top for shade. Fruit and vegetables were piled as high as possible and I always stared at them, trying to make the tower of produce topple over via telekinesis. I was a weird kid. My grandmother and I were regulars so the sellerschili would greet us and give me a handful of cherries, some lychee or a piece of sugarcane. Back in the early 90s, the city was a much safer, friendlier place. The air was filled with the sounds of sellers and shoppers yelling at each other, haggling over prices, chickens clucking from their cages, and Indian music blasting from the lone music store in the market, right next to the dairy shop. If you’ve ever smelled raw, unpasteurized milk and yogurt that’s been sitting in a large container in the heat, you know it isn’t pleasant. 

As we got closer to the center, where the butchers were, the smells would get a little stronger, the sights a little more… gruesome. A couple of stalls sold goat meat, which I never cared for much. Too gamey. Goat heads lined the tables, the eyes glazed and staring at you blankly, the tongues lolling out of mouths gaping wide open. The headless carcasses hung by hooks from ceilings, flies buzzing about. There would be plenty of hawks, or vultures, or buzzards, I could never tell what they were. They’d often circle these particular stalls or be perched on telephone poles nearby, hoping at least one of the men would get careless for a second and turn their backs.

A fisherman sat on the ground with large straw baskets full of fish that displayed iridescent colors when the sunlight touched their silvery skin. The same fisherman had one of his hands chopped off 10 years later on that very spot by a rioter, when it became too dangerous to step outside even when the sun was shining.

I remember this butcher, a big, burly man with shoulder-length unruly hair and a handlebar mustache, in his blood soaked apron. He would greet my grandmother respectfully and give me a kind smile, while turning the meat grinder. Every now and then he’d cut off and toss pieces of fat, skin or, if he was feeling generous, meat to the three-legged, black-and-white stray cat that wandered the street, searching for scraps. My grandmother didn’t approve of me touching stray animals but even she would smile when the cat would rub against my legs to get my attention.

I would stand very close to the cages containing the chickens, staring at them while they stared back at me, and I’d pretend I was in a staring contest with them. Then came the part I didn’t like very much: one of the butchers would deftly grab a chicken, expertly slide the knife through the jugular and toss the chicken into the barrel to allow it to bleed out and calm down. And you could hear the chicken cluck and thrash around wildly in the barrel before losing consciousness.

Sometimes I wonder to myself if watching all this butchering from an early age has desensitized me a little where seeing flesh cut open and blood doesn’t bother me anymore.

Eventually I entered adolescence and my grandmother discouraged me from going to the market with her. But when I close my eyes, I can still hear the shouts of the shopkeepers. I can feel the warm air, thick with humidity. I can still smell the sweet fragrance of the sugar canes being juiced. I can still hear the chickens clucking madly. I can almost taste the amazing halwa puri sold by one of the stalls, a taste that no one has been able to recreate here in the US. I can still hear small glasses used for drinking chai clinking together or against tables, as men, young and old, sat together for brief moments of relaxation before returning back to their stalls. I can still feel the soft fur of the cat on my ankles. I can still hear the Indian music blasting from the music store with the dairy shop on one side and the arcade on the other, where Pacman, Super Mario Bros, and Donkey Kong were the only games available but that didn’t stop the arcade from being packed with boys. I can still see the colorful rickshaws swerving expertly between other vehicles, people and even between a few cows.

When I close my eyes, I can still picture the Karachi that once was. The Karachi of my childhood.

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Surviving L&D in Nursing School

As I stood next to the nurse, holding onto one of the patient’s feet and helping her bring her leg closer to her body, facilitating her to push, I looked everywhere but the actual point of interest.

This was not what I had expected.

Back in high school I watched a lot of episodes from A Baby Story on TLC and it was always such an amazingly emotional experience. The mom cried, the dad cried, the grandparents cried (for the record, I don’t think I’d be okay with my in-laws watching me try to push a creature out of my hoo-ha), the jaded doctors and nurses shed the occasional tear, and by the end of the episode the bowl in my hand was a soggy combination of frosted flakes and tears.

Going into nursing school, L&D was always a specialty I was interested in. What could be more beautiful and magical than bringing a new life into the world, right? And who doesn’t love babies? I’ve had a couple of rotations that I’ve loved such as the ER and the OR so far. Although, I wonder if the ER is really for me. If restraining a mentally unstable patient who is flailing his arms and legs wildly, trying to connect a wayward fist with your face in an effort to knock you out makes you feel alive, then maybe you should step back and reevaluate a few things in your life. Or you could just be a closet adrenaline junkie.

And it’s not like I haven’t seen blood and guts (literally) before. In the OR, I watched as the surgeon cut open a patient’s abdomen and removed a section of the patient’s intestines. I watched in fascination as another surgeon performed a bunionectomy, and carved off a portion of a patient’s foot like carving a turkey, tiny pieces of bone flying off in every direction, and I never even flinched. So I thought I could handle something as natural as childbirth.

“Push.” The nurse counted to ten and then told the patient to relax for a bit. She turned to me. “The baby is crowning. Would you like to see?”

Nope, nope, nope, nope, nope, nope, nope, nope…

“Sure…” Except I didn’t really want to. This was not like A Baby Story at all. This was frightening. The patient, a teenager herself, had already had her epidural, so it wasn’t like she was screaming bloody murder. At least not like the lady in the next room, who had decided to forgo the epidural and whose screams were scaring the shit out of me.

And there it was. The baby’s head. Hair covered in tons of mucus and blood. I felt the bile rise up in my throat and for an irrational moment I thought that if I looked too long I might go blind, kind of like how staring at Medusa’s head turned you into stone.

“Wow,” I began feebly. “That’s…” I couldn’t finish.

At that point, the nurse called the doctor, the first assist, and another nurse for the delivery. I watched as the first assist set up all the tools needed and I cringed when I saw the forceps.

“Can you take a picture of all of us?”

I turned around to see the father giving me his phone. Up until this point, he was sitting in a corner playing on his Nintendo DS. I could breeze through a few hours of Super Mario Bros on my siblings’ DS, no problem. But if I was going to have a baby in the next hour, I’d leave the DS at home. This kind of gives you an idea about how young this couple really was.

“Sure. After the baby is born, right?”

“No, I mean right now. while she’s trying to deliver.”

“Oh. Sure.”

As I fiddled around with the zoom feature on the phone, I had a monologue going on in my head.

Am I supposed to take the picture with her cookie all exposed and a living creature tearing her apart? Should I even keep that in the picture? Do they even WANT me to keep it in there? Do they want me to focus on it? Screw it, I’ll just take it and then they can crop it out later if they want.

So I took some pictures, trying to keep out of the way of the doctor and nurses, feeling like a pervert for some reason while I clicked away.

The doctor told her to put more effort into her push. I stood there with my back against the wall. The nurse told me later that I was standing with my ankles crossed, like I had to pee. And that all the color had drained from my face. I distinctly remember the doctor briefly glancing back toward me and asking me if I was okay or if I was going to pass out. To my credit, I didn’t feel faint or woozy. Just totally shocked.

Childbirth was not pretty. I was not ready for that amount of blood and… other stuff. Our instructor recommended that we wear goggles but I stifled a snort and thought there was no way, I’d be laughed out of the room by everyone. Might as well bring a raincoat while I’m at it. Besides, I didn’t think there’d be any splashing… until the doctor turned around and the front of his gown was covered with blood.

Push-Push

But as horrified as I felt, all of that melted in an instant when I heard the baby cry for the first time. I was rooted to the spot, completely mesmerized by this bundle of miracles, so fragile and so resilient at the same time. I think at that point I became painfully aware of my own biological clock and the need to pass on my DNA, which is funny because I don’t really have a particularly strong desire to have children. I think my ovaries may have started to hurt a little, too…

“Where the fuck is my Sprite and fruit cup? I told you to have it ready after the baby’s here! Why can’t you do anything right?”

Aaaaaaaaaand just like that, the magical moment was over. The guy scrambled out of the room to fetch his girlfriend her victuals. And I excused myself to get back to my instructor.

I’m not ruling out L&D as my go-to specialty, I still think it’s pretty awesome. And I’m sure I could eventually get over women howling in pain and my surroundings looking like a recent crime scene.

I think.