Dow: Calling the Hogs off the coast of Iran

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Many people do not realize how close the Iranian coast is to Kuwait. One can actually see this not-so-friendly country on a clear day while swimming and floating in the warm gulf waters at one of the few public beaches near the fish hatchery in Kuwait. (At least this is what my French friends told me, but I was not going to swim in that direction to check it out.)

During our two years in Kuwait, we had Friday and Saturday free, and we actually had some very enjoyable excursions such as camel racing, visiting a stud farm for Arabian horses, a picnic in the desert, and an occasional jaunt in one of Kuwait’s symbolic skiffs, the dhow.

We were invited to an evening sail with the president of our university and several other faculty members.  It was a moment of freedom from the strict dress and behavior protocols of the university and from a bit of a guarded life in general … not oppressive, but one did not want to cross the line. The president, an American, mentioned that he had studied at the University of Arkansas. 

I spontaneously said, “Oh, don’t you miss those football games?” 

“Yes,” he replied, “those were good years.” 

That life seemed so remote.

We were in the bottom level of the barge, just enjoying the gentle rocking of a calm sea, and I, who had previously been so studious and professional, had the instant brainstorm (after all we were in international waters) to demonstrate my cheerleading ability so he could call the hogs. 

I leaned over low at the waist (in my abaya but no burqa — you can’t call the hogs in a burqa), shook my hands low to the floor of the craft while emitting “Whooo Pigs!”

I then yelled as I rose full stature, pulling my right arm back, hand in a fist at the waist just like the cheerleaders. I completed the call by raising my right arm overhead saying “Soo-ee.” 

Then I did the fatal leap with an enthusiastic “Razorbacks!” — still with my fist high. However, in all this ruckus I had forgotten how tight the quarters are beneath deck. Actually, I had forgotten my prim and proper etiquette in the Middle East. As I jumped, “It was spectacular,” the president’s wife declared, as my knuckles hit the solid wood ceiling of the hold with a crack.

I was instantly brought back to reality and my good senses, and fortunately, the crew had some ice for my aching hand. My hand swelled and I vowed that would be my last cheer.

The problem was back to teaching the next Sunday (Sunday is our Monday morning in Kuwait). My students (all Kuwaiti or Afghan, Saudi, and perhaps one of Iranian descent) were allegedly fluent in English, but I found that the best way of explaining was to outline on the blackboard. I came to class with my hand all wrapped, making writing an impossibility. 

I never missed class, as this was one of the things I was trying to teach by example. I couldn’t mention the “hogs,” since this animal is taboo in Muslim countries, so I had to think fast.

I told my students that it is a good practice to learn dictation in English. I asked who might have legible handwriting and several volunteered. For the remainder of the semester, long after my hand healed, they enjoyed taking turns outlining my notes on the board; and most likely they remembered the content better than our previous teaching method of my tedious law lectures.

Marie Dow has been sashaying between Little Rock, Arkansas, Avon, and Missouri for many years, mainly chasing music, good snow and fine living. She recently taught at Gulf University for Science and Technology in Kuwait.