The Shiekh’s Wife and the camel’s milk

In her culture Shiekh Zayid’s wife, Fatima, will be remembered as the mother of the sons she bore.  I remember her by a set of small gold bangles in my jewelry box.  I remember her because once when I was eight or nine,  I was  allowed to serve her coffee from my brand new Arab coffee pot and she favoured a little girl by not stopping at the customary three demi-tasse cups, but  by drinking more.

Mostly, though, I remember her because of the camel’s milk.

In the early sixties my parents went to work in the United Arab Emirates, at a fledgling hospital at the Buraimi Oasis.  These days when we think of the U.A.E.  we think of Dubai, of indoor skiing, world class shopping, luxury hotels, robots riding racing camels. In those days oil exploration was beginning but the money was a mere smear trickle.

They were there at the invitation of the ruling shiekh,  Shiekh Zayid, and Mom, as a new nurse, was taken to pay a courtesy call on his wife, Fatima. As they visited she had a bowl of warm frothy camel’s milk brought in, and one of the women picked up a cone of sugar to stir through it.  Mom gulped inwardly. She would have had difficulty with warm sweet cow’s milk alone.  However when presented with a glass, she smiled, accepted, and drained it.  Either she forgot, or hadn’t been instructed, that  in that culture draining a glass or cleaning your plate signals that you are not satisfied.  She was promptly presented with a second glass.

A few years later, with language study under her belt, she was the senior staff member introducing a new nurse on a courtesy call.

Fatima turned to her and said, “Do you remember when you first came?  I made you drink two glasses of camel’s milk, and you didn’t like it.”


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