Godless harlots of the world unite
Reading The Sacred And Profane Love Machine with a temperature of 104
Originally uploaded by joellaflickr.
Another photo from the joella archive... I am just turned 23, and as sick as I've ever been. My Significant Ex and I were in Kota Bharu, Malaysia, and I woke up with a temperature. Which rose, and rose, and rose, until it hit 104 degrees. I nearly popped the thermometer. We were fortunate enough to be staying in the lovely, family-run Town Guest House, and the landlady reassured us that temperatures of this magnitude were nothing to worry about in this latitude. She bathed my armpits and forehead in iced water, my SE managed to find the only bottle of Ribena in the country, and I tried to manage my panic by reading Iris Murdoch. Some books work when you're feverish, and this was one of them.
Malaysia is fairly ethnically diverse, but is predominantly Muslim, and Kota Bharu felt more Muslim than other places. I think there was some rule in the hospital that Muslim women could only be examined by Muslim doctors, so every Chinese / Indian / other medical student in the place came by my bed on a regular basis. I was a grade A exhibit.
They thought I might have dengue fever, one of the symptoms of which is a rash on the chest. Every morning, a steady stream of young men would whisk the curtains round my bed and ask me to open my pyjama top. There's no rash, I would say, your colleague checked just recently, but they would want to just make sure. Still no rash, I would say to the next one. Trust me, I've seen my breasts this morning, they are as spot-free as they were yesterday. But, you know, be my guest.
In the afternoon, it was visiting time. As the hour approached, the woman in the bed opposite would put her headscarf on. Her husband would come and see her, and my SE would come and see me. A couple of days in, her husband beckoned my SE over, and muttered something into his ear.
What did he say? I asked. Er, said my SE, he said 'tell your wife she is exposing herself'. Apparently, he could see my pants.
Mad? I was livid. So, I said (but quietly), half you lot want me to get my tits out, and the other half object to me wearing a *hospital-issue* sarong in a *hospital bed*. SORT IT OUT. And while I think about it, this is a women's ward. You are visiting. If you don't like it, don't fucking look, all right? My legs, my choice. Oh, and I'm not his wife. Oh, and I speak English my very own self, you can talk to me directly if you've got anything to say.
I think, said my SE, it would be more politic if I just brought you some trousers in. And bless him, he did. Some purple tie-dye trousers. The next night, I waved my purple legs in the air with impunity. But I still think they had it all fucked up.
And bugger me sideways if some of them still don't. What a revolting man. I wonder if he'd join the non-Muslim breast examination queue in a parallel universe.
But in the interests of balance (I was once a journalist you know) I should highlight that misogynist madness lurks in the corners of other major world religions. Hey, says the Archbishop of Mozambique, those wanton Europeans are infecting condoms with HIV "in order to finish quickly the African people". To any of the African people reading this I say A: it is literally not possible to do this, so the Archbishop is a chump, and B: you will be finished far quicker if you listen to nutjobs like him than by using any number of condoms. Put it this way, I used them for years, and I'm still here.
Oh, and I did get better. This one was taken the night before I left hospital, when they'd taken the drip out. I walked out onto the balcony (the ward was kind of open to the air, with slatted walls) as the sun went down that night, listened to Suzanne Vega's 99.9 F on my Walkman, and thought about heat and blood.