Frantically, I dug through the bathroom supplies. I came across medicine bottles, tissue boxes, a blood-pressure cuff, thermometers, soap, an old tube of Desitin (Do you think I can toss that? My youngest is five.), Dora-the-Explorer and Angry-Bird Band-Aids. I held an empty box in front of me and shook it upside down, hoping against hope, but I could not find the thing I needed the most…feminine hygiene products.
Seriously, how could I let this happen? I had been living overseas for over eight years, and I always had been prepared for this. Do you realize what this meant? I was going to have to find out how and where to purchase them in a little village in north-eastern Afghanistan! I sighed. Even after all these years, I still felt like I could not really function and take care of myself here like I do in America.
I remembered that one day when I was in a pharmacy I had seen a stack of boxes containing these items along a wall. I decided to take my young daughter with me as a soothing distraction. I knew that all the shopkeepers and pharmacists would be men, and that they would find it highly amusing to be asked for something like this by a foreign woman.
This was something I never understood about this country. If you need to buy a bra or underwear, you buy it from…a male shopkeeper. Not such a big deal in America, but in this country most women cover themselves from head to toe and interact on a daily basis only with their male relatives. Even showing your face can be taboo in the most extreme parts of the country—and we have to buy lingerie from men?
I asked my daughter Emily if she would like to go for a walk, and as we trotted along my brain cycled back through language school, for the word that I would need. I do not remember ever learning this term…onion, carrot, pad…nope, I had not learned it.
We entered a little pharmacy near our house; it was not the one I had seen them in, but I had the idea that perhaps all the pharmacies might have them. A boy of ten was behind the counter. I was not about to explain to him what I needed! I looked around the shop, hoping beyond hope that my eyes would come across the necessary item.
The ten-year-old boy stared at me, and I stared blankly back. I was not seeing what I needed. I made the decision to buy something else. Worm medicine! We were all due to take some next month. I decided to just get it now, so I purchased worm medicine for the whole family instead, fully realizing the irony that I was not embarrassed to buy worm medicine. In America, I would die if someone saw me having to buy it for myself and my family, but it is part of ongoing life here. We exited the store, dewormer in hand.
“Emily, let’s walk a little further.” I decided to return to the pharmacy in which I had originally seen them. Fifteen minutes later, after we had trudged up a steep, muddy hill and crossed a busy street, we entered the pharmacy. I looked longingly. They were not there. Stacks and stacks of diapers were there instead. I remembered that once, when I was going through the airport, the woman security guard checking my bag had told me she was “sick” and had asked if she could have several of my son’s diapers.
Hmmm…no. I just need to ask; I can do this. The man behind the counter at least was the age where he would have a wife—but I did not know the word. Language or the lack of it can be a constant bane! I decided to do what I always did if I do not know a word. I would describe what I needed.
This was going to be tricky.
“I need a diaper for women,” I blurted out, as I pointed to the stack of diapers.
He laughed—like I knew he would. Well, I probably would have laughed too, had I not been the one saying it.
“Kotex?” he replied. I wanted to smack him. I hated it when I struggled and struggled for a word and then finally stumbled upon the fact the English word sufficed.
“Yes” I mumbled. There were now several men in the shop all staring at me.
“We don’t have any,” he replied. “Maybe, next week, we’ll get some.”
Trying to contain myself, I asked, “Do you know where another pharmacy is?” He replied that I should try around the corner.
Unsuccessful, I left the shop. I was not so distressed though, because now I had a word. Words can be empowering. I found the pharmacy around the corner; two teenage boys sat behind the counter. I could not back down now; this was getting ridiculous.
“Do you have any Kotex?” I confidently asked.
They giggled. Then one replied, “Yes.” Oh, joy, was I finally going to be successful?
“Do you want ones with wings?” he proceeded to question me. Why, oh why, does everything have to be behind the counter in this country? No browsing or picking or choosing.
“It doesn’t matter” I mumbled. “How much?”
Then I panicked. Did I spend too much on worm medicine? 20 afs (50 cents) for the package of the ones with wings, 10 afs (20 cents) for the ones without. I bought several packages—I did not want to have to do this again for a while! Money was exchanged, and my purchases were popped into a see-through bag. I also bought some gum for my daughter, who had no idea what this was all about, and we headed out the door.
Success, in a foreign land!
Question to consider: We know you have one. What is your “discreet adventure?”