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  • Liz Totton

Zippers, Buttons or Plain? Part ٢


The room was a little like this.


I easily found the X-ray waiting room. It was not as you would expect if you were comparing it to a western equivalent, but I am learning not to do that. It looked almost like a children’s classroom with small chairs, all taken. It was standing room only. There were LOTS and LOTS more ladies who looked this time more pissed off than tired in this room. Yes, even the tired people appeared to eventually tire of waiting too. In the middle of the room sat a tiny woman behind tiny desk stacked with papers as tall as her head. I added mine the top of the pile. She neatly filed my paperwork to its proper position: the bottom. With a motion of the hand, she instructed me to sit. I found a small sliver of wall, and I stood there—for what felt like a very long time.

There were four doors hand-lettered “X-Ray” in marker. Every now and then, someone went in or out of the doors in some state of undress. At this point, most everyone was getting restless. The ladies doubled up in seats were grumbling for elbowroom as were those pressed up against the wall like me.  Many were getting up and down and asking the little lady at the desk” “when will I be seen?”, “how long will this take?” et al. The American ladies stormed in from the other room finally guns ablazin’ (metaphorically, of course) looking as though they were going to lose it. I think they had taken all they could take of the waiting room where people come to wait and wait and wait without an end in sight. They pointed at watches, asked if they could pay to be taken sooner and raised their voices at her. She threw her hands up in the air multiple times. She looked like she wanted to walk off the job, and I would not blame her if she did.  Because they were so pushy though, they got a little further than their predecessors. The tiny lady asked their names. She slowly fingered through the pile and found all of their paperwork and marked them just a little by pulling them forward from the rest. She calmly asked them to take a seat. She got up and went into one of the doors. She came out with a radiologist. Her eyes were aghast when she looked around. One hand on her hip and one raised to her forehead, she closed her eyes took a deep breath, said something to the tiny lady and went back into her room with a swift close of the door.

Angry masses


We all watched wondering what would happen, and this did not look good for us: the waiting masses. Lots of heads feel down and shook, eyes turned to watches and phones: everyone was resigned to hours of waiting. I wouldn’t have been surprised if she put up a sign at that moment that said, “CLOSED” and went home. But, she didn’t. About 10 minutes later, a nurse popped in the room and called about 30 names. I heard the Americans’ names and they all lined up with smiles on their faces. Something was happening. She called more names. She was flipping through her paperwork—almost at the end—when she called me: “TOOT-in, Eleeezebet?” It was almost my name—close enough. She called me! I jumped up a little giddy at the prospect of being just about done.

The X-ray nurse pulled us into the next room. She looked at all of us up and down, up and down. She then said. “Make lines. Make three lines. You with zippers, stand here.” Everyone looked down at their shirts and pants attempting to categorize their outfit. Everyone looked a little perplexed about the specifics of this order. She seemed to realize that we did not understand. She pulled one of the American girls aside. She pointed at a zippered sweater that she was wearing. “Zipper shirts. Stand here” starting a new line behind one of the Americans. About 6 women in hoodies and such lined up behind her. “Buttons Stand here.” We had this down now. About 12 women formed a button line. “Plain shirt. Stand here.” Those of us wearing T-shirts (including the two “plain” Americans) ordered ourselves into a line. She asked “Zippers and Buttons” to follow another nurse and to go that way. The Americans looked quizzically at one another but went–what else could you do? Plain people were to follow the original nurse downstairs. None of us knew why we were separated or where we were going, but we did know that we were a little closer to being done. And so, we followed.

In the line going downstairs, I noticed a logo of my daughters’ school on one of the American’s T-shirts and realized that these two teachers taught there and that they were actually quite nice. They had just been here a while and, surprisingly, you never even begin to comprehend what’s going on here in Abu Dhabi. It’s always a new, over-the-top or just plain absurd experience. We talked as we followed the other plain gals. Ahmed, my driver, waved at me. Joanna asked if that was my husband. “Oh God no!” I grimaced. “He’s my driver. Smokes like a chimney.” They shook their heads with a collective “Yuck!” It’s funny how many Americans flatly rejects this habit, and yet it’s so common here. She’s young and single and probably thought he was kind of cute until she heard that. He was too far away for her to smell him. We got downstairs, and the nurse told us to sit, and she disappeared. Zippers and Buttons were seated in another area of the large room segregated from the plain ladies. The teachers all waved at one another all wondering why they were where they were.

We chatted and chatted about the school and Abu Dhabi while we waited. Eventually the plain ladies were re-united with their friend “Zippers.” It seems the original idea was that we should be segregated by our apparel. There were very few changing rooms so the idea was that zippers and buttons might need extra time and changing rooms were limited. While easy plain T-shirts gals could just take off their bras and stand there. No problem, right? “Plains” were NOT allowed to use the changing room. Eh gads! I am a little too old to walk around braless, let alone engage in casual conversation whilst they swung all around–I am an animated talker. There was, again, a line to get the X-Ray that was not so much of a line, but more of a cattle rustle into a very small door.

While we were chatting away about the school and life in Abu Dhabi, we soon realized that all sorts of ladies: zippered, buttoned and plain were going in and out, and there we were waiting to be called in. Here again I learned, no one ever calls your name here–you just bust your way past people. The more pushy the heifer, the quicker she got into for her X-ray–end of story! So, Joanna stepped into action! She grabbed my arm and told me to follow her. Of course, I did. I already knew I was not very good at this no line thing. The door opened to the X-Ray room and Joanna, her teacher friend and I pushed past a crowd of people into another small room full of waiting women, again, in various states of undress. Their zippered friend popped out of another small changing room zipping her zipper. She told them that she would wait outside for them. She was done.

My lungs looked kind of like this.


The nurse who lined us up told us to take off our bras and put them on a shelf filled with bras in the room. I was wearing a very thin, but thankfully opaque, tee shirt. Joanna was wearing a sports bra and was allowed to remain in it. Note to self: wear a sports bra on visa renewal two years from now. I am bound to forget that though, aren’t I? The door to the X-ray room was ajar. It would not fully close as hard as we tried with each X-ray “BUZZZZZ.” Was this safe? Were all those rays leaching out into the small, commando waiting room and infecting us all? I did not want to think about that. Joanna put her back to the door to try to keep it closed. I finally took my bra off and put it on the shelf. I held myself in and up as I, rather self-consciously, chatted more amongst the ladies, then one by one we were actually called and released. Joanna was first. She and I said a terse goodbye saying we would no doubt see lots of each other at school, and we have a number of times since that day. Then it was my turn. An older female radiologist was alone in the room. The room was, let’s say, not very modern. She did speak English very well. She looked me up and down and asked if I was pregnant. I said “Oh no! No baby. I already have two, and that’s enough” with probably a little too much overt disdain at the thought of having another baby. She smiled a knowing smile. She knew. When you are done, you are done. She sized me up and found the appropriate smock for me to wear. She pressed me up against an very ancient looking X-ray machine. She hustled back into her little “protected” area (it wasn’t really) and snapped my shot. She stared at my reading for a while and walked back over to me. “You have very clean lungs. You are healthy woman.” She was looking for TB, which I knew I did not have. I did expect to see a cloud of gray smoke as I peered onto my X-ray. I didn’t. I guess you need much more exposure to secondary smoke to be truly damaged. She sent me back out into the tiny room filled with braless ladies all of whom were clutching the chests, talking or silently looking down holding themselves in place, tired looking or ecstatic looking, knowing they were almost done. I slid my bra back on under my shirt in that small room crowded with ladies hanging loose. My hair was a mess. I reeked of smoke, and I did not care…

I was done! I think I passed. Despite the tobacco car, my lungs were clean enough to get into this fine country. I was surprised. I skipped out of that place searching the throngs of people for Ahmed. I found him and darted over towards; just happy enough to see him. I was ready to go! I waved to a zippered person still waiting around for something or someone. Sucker! [I was friendlier with the plain gals]. I was done. Ahmed leisurely strolled out the door and toward the car. I just wanted to be back home in my hotel. I nearly ran to his car, but then I remembered the smell and went about the walk at a more leisurely pace beside him.


I could smell cigarette smoke in my hair and nostrils for two days after that medical evaluation. I felt sick the rest of the day—fortunately there was not much left of it. I had to take a nap in the late afternoon,

#AbuDhabi #Immigration #UAE #XRay

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