the artist and the butcher: an ingrown toenail story.

The saga of the toe goes back a long time. (“Before any of us could even pick up a baseball.” Name that quote.) It started last year, in November, while we were in the States.

By the time we landed in Missouri, my big toe on my right foot was hurting, but I didn’t think much of it. Within a few weeks, my toenail was totally ingrown and obviously infected. Mr. Mostafa, along with my parents, tried to get me to go to a doctor in Missouri. I refused because of the expense, and I insisted that if it got a whole lot worse, I would go to the doctor when we got back to Riyadh. Mr. Mostafa and my mother ensured that my foot was perpetually soaking in a bucket of hot water and Epsom salt, and they tsk-tsked and commiserated about me: “I knew this would happen eventually. She cuts her toenails too short.” “I know, I try to tell her not to do that, but she never listens!”

I deny this, and with some plausibility. I really don’t believe that my toe issues (or, at least, my current bout with my toe issues) have anything to do with my podiatric grooming habits, because lately, I’ve been really trying not to cut my toenails freakishly short, as has generally been my wont (partly due to my desire to have an appropriate toenail canvas for Jamberry nails, which I discovered recently via my sister-in-law and am obsessed with. Miracle product, I say, and the one thing that has managed to entice me to give up nail biting for the long term, after years and years of relapses).

But I freely admit that I have been guilty of such an offense.

In general, I have a thing about keeping my nails short. I’ve been biting my nails (or fighting the temptation to bite my nails) ever since I had teeth in my mouth; there has always been something very satisfying to me about gnawing on my nails. (No, I have never had a toenail-biting habit, although my dad will still tell you about the time when I was three years old and he came into the bathroom to retrieve me from my perch on the toilet and he found me happily chewing on my toenails. It’s literally one of his favorite stories.) When I was a kid, my mom did anything to discourage me from nail-biting. She tried that stuff that’s supposed to burn the kid’s mouth when they nail-bite; I laughed and kept on chewin’. She bought me erasers and pencil grips and encouraged me to chew on them instead. I obliged, but I just worked them in to my regularly scheduled chewing routine, along with my nails.

When I was seven, desperate for me to stop biting my nails, she paid for me to have a set of acrylic nails put on. As these were the days before Toddlers & Tiaras, it must have looked so strange, a little seven-year-old whose feet couldn’t touch the floor, sitting in the manicurist’s chair, getting her acrylics put on. I loved my fancy long nails while I had them…but you know what I loved even more? When they started to pop off a few weeks later and I discovered that the nail beneath had grown soft and pliable, ripe for the chewin’.

But something finally did make me stop. And his name was Prince William.

I am not even kidding. At some point during my adolescence, I decided I was destined to marry Prince William, because duh. (Please remember that I am a nerd who grew up in a town of literally a few hundred people. Imagination was necessary to my survival.) One day I looked down at my fingernails and I imagined Prince William down on one knee in front of the Eiffel Tower, holding out an emerald-cut diamond solitaire engagement ring in the requisite Tiffany box…and I realized that if something didn’t change, that ring would have to be placed on a finger with a gnawed stub of a nail, and oh, my God, what would the Queen think? So I stopped biting my nails. Just like that. (Ironically enough, when Mr. Mostafa proposed to me, my nails were the last thing on my mind. In fact, I now can’t recall at all what my nails looked like on that day.)

But even as my fingernail-biting habit was kicked, my toenail-cutting ritual was solidified. One day, during the same school year, a classmate of mine ended up severely tearing her big toenail during some sort of lighthearted roughhousing outside during our lunch break. I sat next to her in geometry class, right after lunch, and I remember looking down at the injured toe peeking out of her sandal, her ripped toenail still bleeding, and thinking, “Oh, my God, my toenails will never, ever get long enough to let that happen to me.” Even now, the image of that torn nail is burned into my brain, and as a result, long toenails totally gross me out.

But as it turns out, an ingrown toenail from cutting a nail too short is just as painful, and probably more dangerous, than having a ripped toenail because it’s too long. Huh.

By the time we got back to Riyadh, my toe was the size of a golf ball, and Mr. Mostafa and I were both beginning to panic. He made me an appointment with a doctor and off we went.

The doctor was an older man, Egyptian, and all smiles. He could best be described as jolly. He asked me what was wrong. I told him. He came around to our side of the desk and glanced at my toe.

“Oh, yes,” he assured me. “I will give you antibiotics, and a pain medicine if you need it. After you finish the antibiotics, come back and we will do a surgery.”

“A surgery?” I asked nervously.

He nodded. “Yes, a surgery. Very easy surgery, no problem. Take the antibiotics first.”

I looked at Saleh, slightly panicked. “I’m breastfeeding,” I told the doctor. “I can’t take some medicines.”

“You are American?” the doctor asked.

“Yes,” I said, nodding.

He shuffled papers on his desk and began writing out a prescription. As he did so, he said, “I know a man from Egypt, he married American woman. She loved the food so much. She ate all the time, all the food. Like this.” He mimed the action of shoveling food into his mouth. “She got very fat,” he added.

I patted my stomach and said jokingly, “I have the same problem.”

The doctor’s eyes lit up as he laughed and said, “Yes! Yes, she was just like you!”

Well, thanks, Doc.

He wrote out a prescription for antibiotics and instructed me to take them for two weeks and then come back for the surgery, which he never was very specific about.

“I don’t know if I like that guy,” Mr. Mostafa said, as we walked out of the hospital. “He looks more like a butcher than a doctor.”

“Why do you say that?”

“I don’t know. Just a feeling. Like, he’s nice and everything. I’d buy meat from him for Eid, but I don’t want him cutting on your toe.”

“I don’t want him cutting on my toe, either.”

“So…we’ll wait and see if the antibiotics fix the problem, and if it does, we won’t go back to the doctor. Is that the plan?”

“Exactly,” I said.

So that’s what we did. I took the antibiotics and luckily, within another week or so, my toe was back to normal. It stayed normal for several months. Then, a few weeks ago, the toe began to hurt again. And it began to swell again. And before I knew it, I developed a hole in the top of my toe, where (icky overshare warning) the infection was oozing out.

“Um, Saleh?” I said one afternoon. “Remember how my toe got ingrown and we had to go to the doctor?”


“Well, it’s doing it again. But now there’s a hole in my toe.”

“Excuse me?”

“There’s a hole. In my toe.”

“I don’t think you’re supposed to have a hole in your toe.”

“Me, either. I didn’t have a hole in my toe last time. I don’t know if that’s good or bad, though. Like, I didn’t have a hole last time, so all the infection was trapped and my toe got all swollen and stuff. Now that I have a hole in my toe, all the infection and nastiness is coming out. So…like, does that mean it will heal faster because all the infection can come out instead of stewing in my toe? It seems to me like the hole is a good thing, but I don’t know.”

“Huh. Well, should we go back to the butcher or should we try to find a new doctor? Personally, I prefer that we go to a different doctor. But that’s just me. What do you think?”

“I think I don’t want to seek medical treatment from anyone you refer to as ‘the butcher.’”

“I don’t want you to, either!”

“Okay. Just go to the pharmacy and buy me a box of the same antibiotics that I took last time.” (Here in Saudi Arabia, pharmacists can sell antibiotics and certain other medications without having a prescription.)

“What kind did you have last time?”

“Uh…I don’t remember. Just ask the pharmacist for a course of antibiotics that are safe for breastfeeding mothers.”

“It was called omega-man-teen. Or something like that.”


“Yeah, I swear it was Omega-man-teen. Just Google it, honey. You’ll find it. Omega-man-teen.”

“Google doesn’t read minds, Saleh.”

“Yes, it does. Just put in the first three letters and it will tell you the rest!”

“I remember now. It was Augmentin. Not Omega-man-teen.”

“Yes, that’s it! Augmentin! I told you, just Google it!”

“I didn’t Google it, I remembered it!”

“But now that you remembered it, you can Google it and make sure it’s what we’re looking for!” He paused. “You know what, never mind. I think we need to go to the doctor. It’s a bad idea for you to just prescribe yourself antibiotics. But not the butcher. I’ll make an appointment for you with a different doctor.”

So the next day, we went back to the hospital, to the office of a different doctor, a Pakistani lady with whom I was very comfortable. She asked me many questions about my health and about the toe. She sat me on the examining table, put on examining gloves, and looked closely at the toe. She touched the toe. She nodded and explained exactly what she would do.

“We will give you antibiotics again,” she explained, “because I cannot do an operation while the toe is infected. After the infection is gone, I will do a very simple procedure in which I will inject your foot with a numbing medication; you won’t feel anything after that. Then I will take off about half the toenail.”

“Half the toenail?” I repeated fearfully.

“Yes,” she said. She went to her desk and retrieved a blue marker, and then drew a vertical line down the middle of my toenail. “Just this half. I will take it out, since this is the second time you have had this problem.”

I thanked her sincerely for her opinion and her thorough explanation, and I assured her that if the toe had not healed by the time I finished the antibiotics, then I would be back for the surgery. She agreed and handed me a prescription for antibiotics–Augmentin, of course.

I admit that at first, I thought, “Are you nuts, lady? You’re not taking off half my toenail! I need that toenail! Jamberry nails, man!” I thought the nail would be removed permanently. But I did some research, and it turns out that after a simple surgery like that, it does grow back. So I’m not as scared of the possibility of the surgery as I used to be.

But so far, my toe seems to have healed well, and I’m hoping that I don’t have to deal with this ingrown toenail issue again. But if I have to go back for a surgery, I’ll be returning to the doctor who drew the pretty blue line on my toenail. When it comes to doctors, I much prefer an artist over a butcher.

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anniversary number three.

This year, Mr. Mostafa’s and my third wedding anniversary fell on the third day of Eid Al-Fitr. A few days before the anniversary, Mr. Mostafa handed me a pink gift box and told me to open it. Inside was a folded piece of paper. I unfolded the paper and discovered that he had made a booking at the Four Seasons here in Riyadh, located in the Kingdom Tower.

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It was difficult for me to wait a few days to check into our room for some much-appreciated relaxation and room service. When I walked into the room, I jumped around (“like a monkey,” as Mr. Mostafa describes it…he says he knows I’m really happy about something when he sees me “jump like a monkey”), excited at everything. And there was so much to be excited about! Even though Lavender came with us, he had arranged for the room to be decorated all romantical (rose petals everywhere, man).

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The kid done good. But beyond that…the beautiful view! We were on the 40th floor.

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That’s the east side of Riyadh, by the way. We all thought the view was incredible.

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Then there was the huge, ridiculously comfy bed!

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Ooooh la la! Of course, since the room was also set up to host Miss Lavender, the romance was negated somewhat.

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There were actual roses, too! Not just petals!

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And magnificent chocolate cake.

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Lavender, however, found most appetizing the leg of the table with an ice bucket and a bottle of sparkling grape juice.

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We took turns taking baths (while the other person was on Lavender duty). I spent a whole lot of time reading in a bubble bath. Yesssss.

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We lounged around the room in fluffy, soft bathrobes.

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We ordered lots and lots of room service food.

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And we may have taken home a few of these adorable little jars of jam.

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We watched The Daily Show and The Colbert Report (two shows we don’t get on our TV at home). We took nice long naps in the big, comfy bed.

Like I said, Lavender was with us, so it wasn’t quite the interlude that it might have been sans kids, but you know what? We all had an awesome time. It was wonderful, and I wouldn’t have changed anything. Not for the world. I love every moment with this guy, and even more, I love the family that we’ve become. Namely, a family who loves to chill in the Four Seasons.

eid fun.

The Eid al-Fitr holiday, which celebrates the end of Ramadan, is actually a three-day public holiday here in Saudi Arabia. People exchange presents, visit extended family members, and enjoy Eid parties. Most places are closed on the first day of Eid, but shops and restaurants start to reopen on the second day.

Our Eid started off relatively low-key. We woke up for fajr, and then Mr. Mostafa went to the masjid for Eid prayers. Soon after he left, I started doing some random cleaning around the apartment while Lavender continued to sleep in bed. It was a calming morning–the sun was rising outside, and as much as I love Ramadan, I was thrilled that I would be heading downstairs in a few minutes to eat a big, yummy Eid breakfast with my in-laws, with no concern for fasting.

Suddenly, I heard Lavender screaming in the bedroom, and I sprinted to her. It looked like she was still sleeping, but tears were streaming down her face as she kicked and screamed like someone was attacking her. I’d read about night terrors before, but I’d never seen a child having one, and I panicked. I scooped her up and began to comfort her, although she continued to cry for a few minutes.

For the rest of the day, she was a bit fussy and a lot clingy. When we went downstairs to eat Eid breakfast and exchange presents, she got scared of one of her presents, a large Hello Kitty bouncy ball. For lunch, we went out to Copper Chandni for Indian food, and I think she had fun (luckily, she seems to enjoy Indian food as much as her parents do), but she was more demanding than usual. If she could talk, I’m sure her proclamations would have sounded something like, “Give me parathas now, minions!”

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In the evening, we got dressed up and went to Mr. Mostafa’s grandmother’s house to visit family members.

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Once we got there, Miss Lavender was uncharacteristically standoffish. She didn’t want anyone to hold her except for me or Baba; the only way she could be lured out of our laps was if someone was holding an iPhone with an interesting YouTube song playing (this song is currently among her favorites; it’s about a little boy trying to get the attention of his family members. She also enjoys pretty much anything on the Super Simple Songs channel, and she’s into some vintage Sesame Street as well, in both English and Arabic, foisted on her by her parents, both of whom were avid Sesame Street fans in their youths and respective languages). At one point, her auntie attempted to swing her in the air, an activity that usually leaves her shrieking with glee. This time, though, she burst into tears and screamed in terror.

She was just not havin’ it.

Things got better as Eid went on. After the little one demonstrated that she was in no mood for more family gatherings (we tried to tell her that everyone just wants to hold and play with her because she’s adorable, but alas, she did not seem receptive to our explanations), we decided that the three of us would go for a picnic in King Abdullah Park, which is lovely, full of grass, and has a very cool fountain show.

So, with the help of my mother-in-law, we packed a picnic, which included peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, cheese sandwiches, gahwa, tea, water, dates, and a couple of Kit Kats. Once we got to the super-crowded park, we staked out a section of the grass, spread out our picnic blanket, set up our picnic chairs (which sit directly on the ground and look kind of like this, and which we bought from a vendor outside the park), parked Lavender’s stroller next to our blanket, and relaxed. We broke out the finjals (disposable and shabby chic) and sipped gahwa while we chatted and observed the bustle around us.

Lavender, meanwhile, was conked out in her stroller, and she got in a good nap. So the whole family was relaxing, it seems.

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There was a huge stage set up in the park, as well, where traditional Saudi dances and songs were being performed by artists from all around Saudi Arabia. We sat behind the stage area, because it was incredibly crowded around the stage. But it was so nice to hear the music being played and the cheering going on behind us.

I broke out my new camera (I bid farewell to my DLSR a few weeks ago and I haven’t regretted it yet; a good compact camera is so much better for street photography, especially here in Saudi Arabia) and snapped some pictures of the families surrounding us on the grass, also picnicking and enjoying the Eid.

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King Abdullah Park is right next to the Faisal bin Fahad soccer (okay, okay, football) stadium, so our picnic spot also put us in an amazing location to watch the fireworks show that takes place at 11:15 each night of Eid, with the fireworks being shot off from the stadium. Lavender was awake by the time the fireworks started, and at first, she was upset by the noise. But she snuggled in my lap, I covered her ears with my hands, and within a few minutes, she was watching, amazed. I couldn’t take pictures of the fireworks because my hands were otherwise occupied, but we all had a great time, and our evening was so fantastic that Mr. Mostafa and I have decided that a picnic at King Abdullah Park on at least one night of Eid al-Fitr is now a Hunter-Mostafa family tradition.

Happy Eid to all!