x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

A woman in pain forgets Greer

Observing life Tahira Yaqoob knows what happens to feminist principles when independent women are left to lick their wounds.

I like to think of myself as a pretty independent woman. My teen years were spent devouring copies of Spare Rib and I can quote Naomi Wolf with the best of them. But inflict physical pain on me and all that feminist ideology goes flying out the window; I'm reduced to a whimpering wreck, as I discovered to my shame during a recent trip to Lulu island. Having struck out on my own, I set up camp under one of the shelters on the far side of the island, and escaped the summer heat with a dip in what must be one of the nicest spots in the UAE. It was a joy to leave behind the stresses of the city, a mere 20-minute boat ride away. So enjoyable, in fact, that I realised to my delight I had swum all the way to the breakwater for the first time.

Too late, I spotted lots of vicious-looking black crabs and unidentifiable creatures clinging to the boulders and spun around to swim back to shore. As I did so, I felt my foot scrape something ­underwater and an excruciating pain shot through my leg. I was too far from shore to yell for help. The only thing left was to float on my back, and my leg began spasming uncontrollably as I kicked my way back to shore. By the time I heaved myself onto the sand, I was a gibbering idiot with two evil fang-like black prongs stuck in my toe. I managed to flag down an island patrol car. The two kindly looking elderly men looked on sympathetically as I tried to explain my plight in pidgin Arabic, before simply proffering my foot as evidence. One of the men sucked his teeth in horror and shook his head. Was I an amputee possibility? I inquired in terror.

At any rate, it was important enough for him to summon an ambulance. Four medics turned up. Then two bus drivers stopped. Then more emergency services staff piled up. Finally there were 12 men gathered around staring at my foot, while the tears started to trickle and the fire in my toe still raged. The pain gradually started to subside and by the time I was whisked back to shore in an emergency speedboat, I was, truth be told, rather enjoying the attention.

By now, though, the prongs had embedded themselves into my foot and my rescuers insisted I go to hospital. There I faced more head-shaking and two doctors concluded a sea urchin had left its spikes in me. When one of them started hacking with a scalpel to try to remove the prongs - leaving me bawling like a baby as my foot gushed blood and doctors ran in from the next ward to see who was dying - there were nurses on hand to soothe and placate me. Bandaged up and comforted with painkillers, I was packed off home and left to lick my wounds.

And now even as I take comfort in Germaine Greer and Mary Wollstonecraft, I can't help but think, despite all my feminist principles, that the mark of a civilised society is how it treats a damsel in distress. @Email:tyaqoob@thenational.ae