Hidden Smiles ...

I know I rant a lot; oftentimes my page is drowned in a sea of seeming negativity.  I tell myself that writing about the bad helps me appreciate the good.  Some days I actually convince myself this is true.

I had lots of frustration to let out today.  But the buildup to that negativity started a few months back.  It all began with a referral to a local hospital for some fairly routine tests ...

I brought the referral from my doctor to the hospital booking counter.  A lovely young lady smiled, took the referral sheet from me and entered all my information into the hospital information system.  She thanked me.  ''Halas'' (done), she said.  ''Shukran'' (thank you), I answered.  And waited for her to hand me back the form.  ''Mumkin?'' (May I?), I finally asked, reaching to retrieve the form.  ''La'' (No), she answered.  ''We keep the form here, Madame.''

''Are you sure?'' I asked.  ''I thought I would need to present it when I come for my appointment.''

''La, we have it in the system.  We will keep it here for when you come.  Mafi mushkala (No problem).''  She smiled.  And addressed the lady waiting behind me.  Dismissed...

I didn't have it in me to argue, but just to be on the safe side, I asked her to let me take a picture of the form with my i-phone so I would remember the details (and 'just in case').

I received a call from the hospital a week later telling me my appointment had to be rescheduled to a later date.  ''Mafi muskala'', I answered.  This is to be expected in Doha.  Nothing ever goes exactly to plan.

So I showed up for my appointment.  The lovely young lady at the reception counter smiled and asked me for my referral form.  Of course she did.

''You all kept it last time I was here.  That's why I TOOK A PICTURE OF IT!''  I smugly pulled out my i-phone to show her.

She scanned the electronic image of the form.  She looked at me the way you'd look at a petulant child and smiled sadly.  ''But Madame, this referral is only good for one month, and it's been more than that.''


''Sorry, Madame, the computer will not allow me to enter your information.''

So it is that I traipsed back to the clinic next door to get a new referral form, and finally managed to get my tests done.

The doctor told me I would have to come for a follow-up in two weeks.  As I was booking my follow-up, I asked what paperwork I would have to bring.  ''Oh, nothing Madame, just the original referral sheet and your National I.D. card.  Follow-up is free.''  The receptionist smiled widely, likely the result of an intense 2-day customer service training session.

Fast-forward to tonight.  I show up with my original referral form.  The receptionist who takes it has a perma-grin stamped on her face.  ''Oh, Madame, I'm sorry, but you need a NEW referral for follow-up.''

''*(%?#*$(((##&!@$&!!!''  ''Of course you do'' I say.  ''Just let me go get it at the clinic next door.  I'll be right back.''  I know the routine.  My heels click purposefully back down the hall, down the elevator, through the lobby, across the street, up the clinic steps next door, to the clinic reception, back down the clinic stairs, across the street, back across the hospital lobby, and into the elevator.  

I step in with two ladies in full traditional garb, i.e. abaya and niqab.  The larger, older woman is staring blatantly at me as she speaks loudly to the younger woman in Arabic.  Her eyes are curious, and full of life.  As the elevator starts to rise, she says to me in faltering English ''Heloo''.


I catch her out before the words fully escape her mouth.  ''As-salamu Alaikum'' (Peace be upon you).  This is the standard greeting here in the Middle East, akin to ''hi'' or ''hello'' in the West.

And though the smile on her lips remains hidden, the smile in her eyes radiates.

''Wa 'alaikum al-salaam'' (And upon you be peace).  And she turns to her companion in a flurry of excited Arabic chatter, most of which is lost on me, though I'm quite certain I catch a ''zaina'' and a few ''helwa'' in there, both of which can mean 'lovely' or 'beautiful'.  Her eyes never stop smiling.  I can actually ''hear'' her smiling.

And she makes my day.  I experience a rare instance of actual joy at ''feeling'' someone truly smile.  Even if for the most part, the smile is hidden.

It takes such a small act on my part to make her happy.  And it takes so little on her part to make me happy.

And as the elevator doors open to let me out on my floor, I can't help but smile wide.  All the way back to the reception desk where I started.  And my smile grows wider with every click of my heels.

And it stays.