Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Day 13, Monday, 28th November 2011

The new week began with the arrival of rations in our house at Mukhattat-ul-Visam. I wish to inform the readers that I had witnessed a rather coarse exchange of words between the supervisor of the house and the other two doctors who stay with me yesterday evening. As the exchange took place in Arabic, I had to rely on Raid's version of what that exchange had been all about. He told me that the supervisor had told the two doctors in no uncertain terms that their free stay had to end within the next 2 days, as they had already been allotted their work - the hospital they would work in etc, and so, it was up to them to find an alternative accommodation - and leave this place. Indirectly, he also indicated to Raid that I would also have to move on, as my work location had also been fixed. 

In the context of this conversation, Drs. Raid and Sophy had already indicated to me that they had shortlisted one or two homes which they were planning to take on rent and hence, shift out. I was, therefore, surprised when the weekly rations were unloaded and piled up in the refrigerator exactly as in the weeks earlier. The natural question was - who were these rations for? I laughed to myself at this, but kept my counsel and went about with my daily chores. After breakfast, I called up Dr. Shehab, the Medical Director of the Al-Muwayh hospital. He told me that I should expect the driver today, as the hospital ambulance had already left for Ta'if with a referral patient. 

I packed almost all of my luggage, leaving only about ten or eleven items such as the tooth brush, the soaps, the towel (and so on) still outside. When the driver hadn't called up until  about 1:00 p.m., I called up Dr. Shehab once again. He must have called up the driver, because after about ten minutes, the driver contacted me and asked me to go to Ta'if city near Panda store with my luggage. I told him that was not possible to do, because I had at least 5 pieces of luggage weighing over 75 kg and it would be necessary for him to bring the ambulance to the place where I was currently staying. In fact, he relented only after I had called up Dr. Shehab once again and asked him to advise the doctor to come to Mukhattat-ul-Visam. 

Accordingly, I packed everything I had left outside, and arranged to shift all the pieces of luggage towards the exit. The ambulance had already arrived, and the driver was waiting impatiently with one of his friends. He never offered to pick up any piece of luggage. It was thanks to the Sri Lankan cleaning staff of mine that we could finally manage to load the ambulance with all my luggage. A sister from the Al Muweh Hospital, sister Cielo, was in the ambulance. She had accompanied a patient who was now safely at the King Faisal Hospital. She and I acquainted ourselves with each other as the ambulance returned to Panda for some more work. It seemed that a few more nurses were to join in. In the meantime, both, the driver and his friend, suddenly disappeared. When I asked Cielo (pronounced Shey-lo) where they had gone, she pointed to a restaurant just opposite where the ambulance was parked and said that the two had gone inside to have lunch. 

I, too, went into the same place, and ordered lunch for myself. The half plate of browned rice with a potato gravy, a small wati of chilly and a Pepsi can - all together costing just SR 5.00!

After the lunch, the vehicle moved on, and stopped at two places to pick up two nurses, viz. Sister Shehnu and Sister Tasleem-Fatema. We got a move on at half past three, and the driver then zoomed off towards Al Muwayh. It might seem incredible, but between the two of them in the front cabin, they covered the distance of over 190 km in just over an hour! We sailed into the Al-Muweh General Hospital (AMGH) at around half past four.

A new chapter was about to begin in my life as I climbed down from the rear cabin of the ambulance. I went in to the Emergency Room (ER), where one of the drivers was waiting to inform about my arrival to the Mudeer in charge of the ER. Presently, I was being introduced to everyone from the resident doctors in the ER, to the nurses, to the cleaning staff, to the admin guys who were sitting with the ER Mudeer. The welcome was genuine, but the equation soon spoiled when it became clear that I wasn’t going to be taken to a prepared room very soon.

The minutes turned into long pauses and those, into hours. So, while the Mudeer made calls to the powers-that-be, I languished in the reception area, meeting the various doctors, smiling at patients, speaking to the nurses, and so on. I was experiencing a strong sense of déjà vu about the way this wait for an appropriate accommodation was stretching.  So far, the two constructive suggestions that had come from the mudeer were to explore the doctors’ rooms on the first floor,or to consider using one of the male ward double-occupancy rooms till the next opportunity for an available room was made.

The rooms on the first floor were not well-appointed. As far as the second option was concerned, it was a non-starter, even though the room that they showed me looked quite decent and had a well-appointed bathroom and toilet and two beds that looked inviting. 

I went back down to the Mudeer’s office and requested him to please try something else. In the meantime, I finally called up Dr. Shehab. He heard me out, and then said that he would come down as soon as possible (he stays near the hospital, but outside it).

Eventually, he took me to a 2-storey building just behind the hospital, but within its compound; this, I learned later, also houses the main hospital administrative Mudeer's office. On the ground floor of the wing I was taken to, there were about 9-10 separate rooms, of which he led me towards and opened the door to room No. 8. It was a decent room with 2 beds, a cup-board and a separate door toilet. However, it had no other conveniences - ergo, no refrigerator, no TV, no washing  mac … but it sufficed, and I agreed. The hospital helpers and cleaners gave the room a little brush and mop while I returned to the hospital to have my dinner (served free, courtesy of the cafeteria supervisor, an Egyptian named Mahmoud Zaid). It consisted of hygienically packed salad, one Khubbus, a lot of rice and a delicious chouli bhaji. A bottle of water is a part of the meal, as is a fruit (an apple this time).

After the dinner, I returned to the room, and arranged for the delivery of my luggage from the hospital (where it had been taken to the first floor initially) to this room. I retired to bed around 11:30 p.m. And, thus ended yet another eventful day.

P.S. I signed on their muster to make my entry into the hospital official. 

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Days 11 and 12: Saturday, 26th and Sunday, 27th November, 2011

I am combining these two days as they almost replicate each other in the sense that nothing exciting happened on either of these days. 

The next two days saw me awaiting the vehicle that would come from Al Muwayh Hospital and take me to their place. It happened this way, actually: in the morning, after a cuppa shaai (tea with sugar but without milk), I called up Dr. Shehab, the medical director of the Al Muweh Hospital. I told him that as promised to him on Tuesday afternoon, I was now back after my visit to Jeddah and the Umrah. Could he, therefore, please arrange to send a car or some vehicle to Ta’if to pick me up and take me to his place?

Dr. Shehab promised that he would inform the ambulance driver, who would call me back to confirm his arrival in Ta’if either today evening or tomorrow morning. This suited me fine. My other two house mates had already gone to work, and I was feeling bored of just sitting around and doing nothing. I cooked some potato bhaji and had it with bread for lunch. Dr. Raid called me in the afternoon to check if I had cooked anything. I told him I had made rice and potatoes.

On his return from work, Raid tasted and liked the potatoes enough to have some for his lunch. In the evening, I made a trip to Panda at Ta’if’s Heart Mall. This is a huge supermarket within an even larger mall. The mall is located adjacent to Ta’if Tower or Ta’if Burj (the tallest building in Ta’if). My target was to find a decent place to sit and surf the net from. I found some seating chairs and a glass-top table that suited me just fine. I used a thin paper magazine that I had among all the stuff in my laptop bag to run the optical mouse. Surfing was too good, and I managed to call my family with Action voip, and also chatted with them using Skype. In addition, I wrote three new blog entries and posted them all.

After I had had my fill of the internet, I packed up and went upstairs to the food court and took out an order of rice with tandoori chicken from a food store whose name I could not decipher as it was in Arabic. The cost: SR 17. I took this back with me to my house, and had the food in the kitchen.

On the next day, too, I called up Dr. Shehab, who again made me a promise to expedite the process of my shift to Al Muwayh. His ambulance did not turn up today either. I spent the day doing this and that, and went back to Panda for some more internet surfing, and returned to spend the night at my house in Mukhattat-ul-Visam. Before going to sleep, I resolved to call up Dr. Shehab tomorrow and finalise my departure from my current address as soon as possible. There was nothing more to do, and I turned in by midnight.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Life in Saudi Arabia ... some observations - Part I

I am going to divert a little bit and share with you some of the experiences I have had over the past ten days … stuff that is too inconsequential to include in a diary, but which adds to the sense of what Saudi Arabia is all about. I will highlight most of the things I have seen and experienced in a sort of bulleted list, and will try, whenever possible, to provide the readers with additional input in the form of thoughts, ideas and suggestions of my fertile mind. I may also digress to compare what I saw with the way similarities or differences exist in respect of the same things in India.

  • ·        The Saudi Arabian air hostesses were dressed elegantly, with a dupatta going around their neck and over their heads, over which they wore a semi-Gandhi cap that looked pretty, actually. The male stewards were young, polite and spoke broken English, but were adept at what they did, namely serving their passengers.
  • ·        The aircraft was a large, international airline with a total of 11 seats per row, (3 + 5 + 3), and it was a bit cramped in the economy section. My co-passengers were a worker with some level of English on my left, and a completely illiterate young fellow on my right. The latter was obviously on his first overseas journey, so intimidated was he. He simply looked around to see what the others did with their food etc., before imitating them.
  • ·        The arrivals section of Riyadh airport is quite well-organised - and then you reach "Immigration". Here, there are huge crowds, and I saw Asians waiting for as long as six or eight hours in a queue to get themselves photographed, fingerprinted and so on. There were skirmishes, but they never escalated because the cops and airport staff were everywhere, and they kept the people on a tight leash. I tried to speak to some of these people to explain to them that I had a connecting flight after a few hours,  and it was only after repeated requests from me and several others like me that the airport staff created a separate queue for us and began to take us for our check as a priority. I cleared my own self just a few minutes before eight p.m. My next goals were to take my luggage and to proceed to the domestic terminal to catch my Riyadh to Ta’if flight, scheduled for departure at 9:35 p.m.
  • ·        Most of our luggage had been cast off the carousels, and I had a tough time searching for the three pieces of luggage that I had sent into the cargo section at New Delhi. After locating these, it was another task to load it all on to a single trolley along with the two pieces of luggage that I had in my hand - the overnighter and the laptop bag.
  • ·        The box of tablets and medications was taken away by the customs guys for a thorough check, and it was after nearly 20 minutes that they brought it back, saying there was no problem and I was free to take it with me.
  • ·        At the domestic terminal, I stood in the wrong check-in crew for almost ten minutes before I was guided to the right one, which was nearly 100 meters away on the opposite side.
  • ·       The flight to Ta’if was in time. I had about half an hour to spend at the waiting area, and I bought myself a bottle of water for SR 2 before settling into an available chair in the waiting area.
  • ·        The problems I faced after getting off at Ta’if are part of the main blog, but it is only later that I learned that the “Airport Health Post” is not an office but an ambulance that is parked outside the airport. I should have reached that ambulance and presented the occupants with my documents, instead of doing all the silly things I did. However, it is because of those silly things that I spent some nice afternoons and evenings in the Children’s Hospital, a place where I saw not only a good load of patients but also met and got help from several doctors and others. It is also the place where I got shelter for a night and a day, something that is not so easy in a foreign country where you know hardly any people and hardly any of the language they speak.

  • ·        At this place, I began to assimilate information about the ways of the people of this country. The personal observations, combined with input from Drs. Sophy and Raid (from Egypt and Syria respectively), led me to understand the Arabs in general, and Saudis in particular, bit by bit, much as a builder creates an edifice brick by brick.
  • ·       The house was very well furnished. It was wall-papered all over, and its floors were tiled with floral or geometrical motifs. The ceilings had cornices, mouldings and elegant floral designs that gave them a sort of beauty one sees in older, heritage structures. The living room had sofas in a very good state of repair and a large LCD wall-mounted LG TV. The set top box listed over 500 channels, and showed nearly all the free to air channels. The channels that I saw, for the most part, had content in English, either exclusively or for the most part, including BBC World, Al Jazeera International, Dubai One, MBC 2 and MBC Action. CNN was not available. All the popular Hindi and linguistic channels  are available only on subscription. This included Zee, SONY, Setmax, Colors, NDTV etc.
  • ·        My room had two beds, both with two mattresses each. I kept both my suitcases on one of the beds and slept in the other. A long side-table with a bank of drawers helped me to organise the stuff that I brought outside my big bags for daily living, such as the soaps, cosmetics, etc. I think I must have hardly removed 10% of my luggage over the entire 8 days or so of my stay here.
  • ·        I washed  my clothes manually, as there was no washing machine, and I had to buy an iron as there was none at the house. The electrical appliances work on a different type of connection here, and one has to plug in a three -pointed plug into a two-holed adapter which then goes into a two-holed wall socket. This is the norm all over this country, so I had to buy a few of these adapters for myself. The kitchen has a microwave, a tea and coffee maker and a cooking range that works beautifully. As Sophy cooked, I observed, and over the eight days, I have picked up tips on how to cook in an oven. It should serve me well.
  • ·        Hot water through large storage water heaters was available, both in the bathroom and in the kitchen. As the days progressed, winter brought in even more cold temperatures, and it was a delight to be able to wash hands with hot water, or to heat the water to even higher temperatures before going in for a bath.

In the next part, I will discuss more about these things …

Day 10, Friday, 25th November, 2011

The last day I spent at my cousin Juzer’s place was remarkable in two respects. In the morning, Juzer took me out for lunch to a place called “India Gate”, a Hyderabadi-run restaurant, where he ordered a veg thali for me, and roti and palak paneer for himself. I ordered some masala fried surmai as well, a dish that was cooked nicely and was quite tasty. We also had curd with the food. The thali was utterly enjoyable, except that  the sambar was not too authentic. There was a mixed vegetable, dal, sambar, rasam, a green leafy vegetable based beans curry, rotis and rice on my thali. The palak paneer that Juzer had was also very well prepared.

After lunch, Juzer took me on a long drive around the coast-line of Jeddah, and it was only at around half past five that we returned to his house. Jeddah is one of the older cities of Saudi Arabia, and Juzer informs me that it was built by the then ruler of the Kingdom in a modernistic way to rival the big cities of Europe. The modernism shows itself in the way the buildings along the coast are constructed. At every turn-around or major traffic junction one sees huge, elegantly designed and constructed sculptures, with abstract motifs, and the use of metal, discarded rig or ship parts, cement and concrete, and other material. Here are some pictures that I took, through the car’s windshield in some cases, of these beautiful sights.

Once home, I prayed the Maghrib salah, and linked to Mumbai to see Nishrin, Inas, Hannah and Manish (with a cap on his head) on the thaal to celebrate the thaal-nu-varas and the new Hijri year 1433 eve. They had come to the tail end of the thaal, and were all chomping away at what I think were tandoori chicken legs. I called Juzer to the computer so that Nishrin etc. could wish him and thank him for the hospitality he and his family had bestowed on me, and for the new Hijri year.

The call having ended, Juzer beckoned me to their own thaal, in which they had served a total of 26 dishes. Almost half of these were fruit and dry fruit, and in addition, they had a chicken curry, a piece of fish, lachko of two kinds (one with gur and the other with sugar), and several other items. We ate modestly as I had had a big lunch just a few hours ago, and Juzer’s family, too, had eaten a late lunch at home.

Immediately after dinner, I prepared to pack and leave to return to Ta’if. Juzer and his family were to go to Memuna’s father’s house to wish them and to join them on their thaal. Accordingly, all four of us climbed into his car, and within ten minutes, I had unloaded my bags and got off at the local taxi stand.

I was immediately bundled into an empty taxi by the over-zealous driver, and I chose to sit in the front passenger seat. It was a long and interminable wait for the remaining three passengers, complicated by the fact that this driver had a companion driver with his own car who was partnering him in the entire exercise. Thus, the next two passengers were made to sit in the other fellow’s car, then one in mine, then one in the other car and so on. It was nearly 8:30 p.m. before our car was filled, and our driver kept trying to get the remaining customer for his friend’s car. The four of us - one Pakistani, two Indians and myself - kept urging him to start, but it was only after another 5-10 minutes that he actually did. Moving ahead at a slow pace to allow his friend to catch up, our driver kept driving me nuts. He would often leave both hands off the steering to call up his friend, and would keep at this almost till the end of the journey. On a particularly straight stretch, his speed went up to 160 kmph! At 120 kmph, he was easily able to drive just to the right of the central barricades, and he would often do this with both hands off the steering wheel! At one place, he stopped at a petrol pump to allegedly fill petrol and offer namaz, but actually, it was to call up his jodidaar and figure out where he might  be. At this place, he took the charges of SR 50 from each of us. 

After starting from this place, he turned the car around and began driving BACK to Jeddah, while talking to his partner all the while, and all the four of us began to sweat under our collars. My co-passengers, who are older in this country and wiser in the ways of the Saudis warned me not to say or protest as he had already taken our money and was free to “bundle us out of his car” if we angered him. I therefore chose to keep my own counsel, but was seething inside. After about 10-15 km., the driver turned the car back around, and we started to go back towards Ta’if.

We had nearly reached Ta’if, when he met his partner standing by the side of the road opposite a restaurant, and here, he simply got out of the taxi, removed the key from the ignition and walked out to talk with the friend. They crossed the road and went into the restaurant without the courtesy of even informing us that we should wait for them to return. I have not seen such arrogance in any taxi driver in India, and I was indignant but helpless in the face of what looked to me to be insurmountable odds. Presently, he returned, and after a little posturing and burping from him, we were on our way. He asked us where each of us wanted to be dropped, and when I mentioned that I wished to be deposited at Mukhattat ul Visam, he demanded an additional amount of SR 10 from me. I had no choice but to agree, as I would have paid nearly the same amount if he were to drop me at Abbas.

He dropped me first, and then he was off with the rest of my co-passengers, at about half past eleven. A journey that should have taken from 7:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. had taken me four hours and a lot of mental stress. However, I was safely back in my house, and that seemed to me to be the most important thing.

Juzer called me from time to time during the journey, and I kept updating him. I gave him a call after reaching home to tell him of my safe arrival, and to thank him once again for his help and guidance along the way. 

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Day 9, Thursday, 24th November, 2011

Today was the BIG DAY. I was ready for the drive to Mecca for performance of the Umrah by half past eight, but Memunabhabhi took ill, and eventually, we left a little after noon. Our first destination was the mosque or Miqaat near Ta'if (yes, Ta'if), where it is obligatory to change into the Ehraam clothes, and to then drive back to reach Mecca. In the event, we actually wore the ehraam from Jeddah, and proceeded to the miqaat where we performed the Dhuhr prayers. Abi Talib had a slight sore throat and was braving the journey rather well, I must say. We had already had a heavy breakfast before leaving, and went in for snacks on the way to Mecca.

Juzer is a good driver, and we reached without any untoward event by around 3:30 p.m. The Umrah begins with taking 7 rounds (tawwafs) around the Kaaba; after this, you need to walk seven lengths of a passage that connects two points, Safa and Marwah. Modern developments have made these two "walks" quite comfortable, but in olden times, the passage from Safa to Marwah (both hills) was quite tough as one had to walk through the desert. Right opposite the Haram sharif, there are a string of five-star hotels, where one can even stay for a day or so if one has come from some other part of the Kingdom to perform the Umrah. For the people of my faith, there is also a separate centre where one can request for a person to accompany you as a guide for your Umrah. As Juzer and Memuna are well-versed with the routines, I did the Umrah under their personal guidance, and I must say that they guided me well and thoroughly. 

It was Abi Talib who recited all the duas loudly for Juzer and me to listen to, and that was like - so wonderful that it took away almost all the hardship from the walk. I thank Allah and Juzer and his family for their excellent guidance. May they reap the rewards in the hereafter.

We joined the congregation in the Asr and Maghrib prayers, and then completed the Umrah. We also did the Ishaa prayers with them. We finished at around half past nine and travelled back to Jeddah, reaching there by approximately 11:00 p.m. Today, we carried home food from a fast food chain that is very popular all over Saudi Arabia for its excellent quality and quantity combined with quite reasonable prices. This chain is NOT McDonalds or KFC or Burger King or any of the famous American or similar labels. It is unique to KSA and is called Al-Baik. We ordered stuff that could feed twice as many people as us, and in the night, back at Juzer's home, we could indeed not complete more than haf of the ordered food.

All in all, a very satisfying day. Here are a few more pictures of the pilgrimage and a few photos of my own tonsuring.

 This is me in front of the Kaaba.
 These are my cousin Juzer and his wife Memuna.
 Here I am waiting for the barber to remove my hair.
This is my tonsuring in progress.
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Saturday, November 26, 2011

Day 8, Wednesday, 23rd November, 2011

As I write this down, I am reminded of a famous statement that sometimes, events take you in their grip, and things turn out unexpectedly different from what you had imagined them to be. A week ago, if someone had told me that life would deliver a very pleasant surprise before long, especially after the problems I had in the first two days of my sojourn in this kingdom, I would have probably kicked him or told him to buzz off. And yet, this is exactly what was happening to me! I had told several of my friends and relatives back in India that I would try and do Umrah from Ta'if as soon as possible, but many of my contacts who have information about such things had told me that this would have to wait till  my posting was confirmed. I had therefore revised my target to ONE MONTH instead of "as soon as possible" (mentally I had earmarked it to less than 10 days after my landing in Ta'if).

The decision to visit Jeddah was taken yesterday, and I was on my way before noon. Taking with me my overnight bag and my laptop bag, I reached the taxi stand at Ta'if by noon. The price was finalised at SR 40. We (that is my co-passengers and I) had to give our Iqamas and/or passports for the driver to generate a transit letter from the authorities. He came back after quite a long time, but not before I had started worrying about my passport. He came back and told us all that he was hiking the charge to SR 50 as one of his seats was going empty (the one next to me in the last row of our SUV). We all protested, but had to relent to his wishes as he is supreme in his own country and most of my co-passengers were expats from South Asian countries like India, Pakistan and Bangla Desh.

I reached Jeddah by 2.00 p.m or a little later, and Juzer came and picked me up in his Toyota Camry Executive. Juzer's car is lovely, and here is a picture of him sitting in his car. 

We reached his home within half an hour, and after I had unloaded my luggage and refreshed myself in their well-appointed bathroom, Memunabhabhi and Abi Talib welcomed me to their home and asked me to join them for lunch. In a word, the lunch was fully satisfying and like manna from heaven for someone who was surviving on dry pieces of broast chicken and the rolls and frankies I had brought from India. After lunch, I rested for a while (they arranged to have a mattress and various other stuff for me in their large hall, and I was given freedom to turn on or turn off the A/C, to charge my mobile or laptop, and to do whatever I needed to do. 

In the evening, we went for dinner to a place called Cafe Zahara, where the meal consisted of Nahari Gosht (which I skipped as it was a beef preparation), a chicken item whose name I forget, and large rotis (Tamiz) that are served as complimentary accompaniments to diners. Juzer also ordered Laban (curd) in bottles (like buttermilk, only less tangy or tasty). The dinner was a grand success, and after this, Juzer took us back home, but he and I went back out to see some of the sights of Jeddah by night.

Indeed, Jeddah's locales are very, very beautiful to see, especially a building with a facade that serves as a giant advertisement screen by night, a large gushing fount of water by the seaside that is lit up and sprays water all around to give an almost poetic effect, some very lovely shore-line structures and promenades that we walked up and down to, and large 5-star hotels that look nice when illuminated. 

We returned after an hour or so, and I spent the rest of the evening using the fast speed internet that Juzer's home had. He helped connect my computer to his home-net (he uses a router, and has a connection that boasts of speeds up to 8 Mbps (and actually delivers more than 1 Mbps when downloading something off the net). I downloaded some movies and a few medical books. It was nearly after 2.00 a.m. that I went off to sleep. 

Tomorrow, inshallah, we would travel to Makkah for Umrah.

Day 7, Tuesday, 22nd November 2011

By the time it was ten a.m., I had started wondering if I should call up the mudeer at Muwayh or wait for his call. At about half past the hour, I received a call from the local Mudeer at Muwayh, a certain Dr. Shehab. He confirmed my identity and spoke to me in English. He told me he would inform the car/ambulance driver, who would call me in advance before coming to pick me up. 

I went about my normal activities through the morning, but by the time it was early evening, I was almost certain that the driver wasn't going to call me that day. A little worried but pragmatic, I decided to wait till the next morning before calling up Dr. Shehab again.

It was at that time  that my cousin Juzer Kagalwala called me up. He had been in touch with me earlier and wanted to know what had transpired with me at the Muderiya, as he was keen to come to Ta'if and take me to Jeddah to his place for a visit. I told him the facts as they were, and assured him that I would, as soon as possible, call him back and tell him how the visit could be arranged. I was thinking that maybe I could go to Muwayh the next day, and then seek the mudeer's permission to go to Jeddah on Thursday. This, however, seemed like a silly thing to do, as Muwayh is a further 200 km farther from Ta'if, and would therefore be over 400 km from Jeddah. Juzer also told me that he and his family were planning to do Umrah on Thursday, so if I could be made available, I could join in and complete the Umrah with him.

Thinking about all this emboldened me to call up Dr. Shehab and seek his permission to join on Saturday next instead of right away. I told him about my intention to visit my cousin in Jeddah as well as about my intention to do an Umrah if feasible. He agreed  readily, and I was thus freed from his schedule. I called up Juzer again and he suggested that I come directly to Jeddah in a taxi or a government bus if available. I began to make preparations to go to Jeddah, and as per Juzer's arrangements, also to perform the umrah.

By nightfall, my stuff was ready and packed in two bags for the next day's departure. Worries about whether my plans would come to fruition or be laid aside prevented me from getting sleep after I had gone to bed. However, sleep did come and with it, dreams of achieving my ambitions in the days to come.

Day 6, Monday, 21st November 2011

As I write this, I realise that I am 5 days behind in the blog. The chief reason for this is that the place where I am located in Ta'if has very poor coverage for my connection from STC. I have to either go out of the house and sit on the steps of a shop that is closed and is located on the main road in my house locality, or go to Ta'if city where I can sit comfortably and surf the net. This is what I am doing now. I am in a supermarket called "Panda" where, on the ground floor, there are several chairs and a few tables that people sit and relax in. It helps that there is no one to question me or ask me what I am doing. Today, I am going to write about my sixth day on Saudi soil.

I had been told by the pathology guys at King Faisal hospital that I should go back there on Monday for the reports of the various tests done on me a few days earlier. I spoke with Raid as he has joined the department of physical rehabilitation at the very same place. He guided me about where to go etc, but I did most of this myself. I called at his department but he was not in at that time, having gone to some bank to open his account or something. Hence, I managed to run from one place to the other, getting reports, signatures and stamps on my documents till I had everything ready for the next step, which was to go to the Muderiya again. I glanced at the reports to make sure that there was no abnormal finding in any of them, and breathed a sigh of relief. Just before leaving, I met Raid in his department. After this, I caught a taxi and went to the Directorate of Health or the Muderiya. 

At this place, I was met by a clerical person, who helped me go through the next several steps. I was told that I was being posted at a place called "Muwayh" or "Muoya", which is located on the main road to Riyadh. I tried to convince them to post me in Ta'if but there was no let-up either by the clerks or the main doctor there, Dr. Ashref. He and I conversed for about 2-3 minutes, but he told me not to worry as his information showed that Muwayh was not all that undeveloped and that I should see it first before complaining about this. I retreated, and went back to the clerk and signed some documents and what looked to me like a contract. I went back to Dr. Ashref, who then telephoned the mudeer of the hospital in Muwayh and informed him about me. He told me that the mudeer would contact me in 24 hours, and that I could expect him to send a car within a day to take me to my work location, viz. Muwayh. After this, he printed out some letter which was meant to be for the Mudeer of the hospital in Muwayh and handed it over to me.

This done, I went back to my house in the suburbs, and in the evening, I did 5-6 rounds of the locality with Raid. All in all, a nice day. In the night, I packed some of the things I had all around in the room, and prepared to embark on a new journey the next day.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Day 5, Sunday, 20th November 2011

Today, for the first time, I had an almost uneventful day. I spent it doing all the usual things, such as visiting Ta'if city for purchase of provisions*, calling home from the calling cabins, eating food at the Thara restaurant, and using the net from an open garden just opposite the Gazzaz mall at Abbas square. The bright spot in today's events was that I was finally able to get cash in my hands through the transfer effected yesterday by my unnamed friend. He got the recipient's name changed to that of Dr. Mohd. Zahid, whom I have thanked earlier in this blog for his friendly attitude. When the transfer did get credited in the Samba Bank branch near Abbas square, I called up Dr. Zahid, and he very kindly came to the bank, where he had to first open a new account, and then sign on the voucher to accept the cash sent by my friend. Zahid came very soon, and the money was in my hands thereafter.

Other than these few things, I spent a lot of time writing the entries of the blog which you see on this page or have seen earlier on this blog.

Nothing else to write about. Tomorrow, I go to collect my test reports at the King Faisal Hospital, and hopefully, to the Muderiya for final contract and posting.

*The provisions included the purchase of different kinds of lentils for preparing dal, the quintessential Indian dish, three plastic containers for storing these lentils, one small packet of cummin seeds and a container for the same, a new tooth-paste, an electric iron (Philips brand, without steam), and some other stuff that I perceived to be needed in the house.             

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Day 4, Saturday, 19th Nov. 2011: Visit to the Muderiya and Tests

Today, the process of my assimilation into the Saudi health-care system began with earnest. After I woke up, I had a quick cup of tea, and a small piece of bread with it. I proceeded to hire a dabbab to go to the Muderiya Saha, or the Health Directorate of the Ministry of Health, Saudi Arabia. The ride was comfortable, with Dr. Raid in company, as he was called there to submit his investigation reports and to get further directions on his posting. I submitted my passport and the large file I had brought from my agent's office in New Delhi. One of the clerical workers there processed these papers, made several photo-copies, and also demanded the original degree certificates, which, unfortunately I hadn't brought with me, though they were with me at home. I think it was because of something Raid said, because he overlooked this mistake of mine and simply filed away the photocopies of the various certificates after making me sign that I had received back the originals.

He then prepared a sheet of tests and gave it to me and asked me to proceed to King Faisal Hospital for doing the tests. Before that, I had to photocopy some more documents, and then, I was entering the King Faisal Hospital, with Dr. Raid accompanying me. We parted inside, and while he went to get his reports, I went in to get my tests done. First, I went in for the pathology tests including the viral antigen detection tests, then to radiology for an X-ray of the chest, and finally, a urine test for detection of Narcotic substances (this was done in a different building, about 200 meters away). After all these tests were done, Raid and I met again. He said he had his reports and he had to go to the Muderiya again to submit his results. We parted, and I returned to Ta'if, where I spent the afternoon doing much the same things I did on Day 3, and I advise my readers to check out the entry previous to this. At the same time, I also went to the STC office on Shubra Road to buy a internet connect USB called the Quick Net for 100 SR. The young, rather obese man at the counter was unable to tell me how much pre-charged the card was in terms of GB of surfing per validity. According to him, it was a 2 GB device valid for one month. I later discovered that it was, in fact, a 5 GB device. 

I had a lunch of two Kerala parathas with a mixed veg. curry at the Thara, and visited the calling cabins for a call to India, and a call to a friend in the Gulf to co-ordinate the transfer of funds from his account to me via Western Union Money Transfer (WUMT). He agreed immediately and said that the transfer would be effected the same evening, so would I please check in the evening.

Happy to have received a positive response from him, I roamed around the area, visiting the Children's Hospital too and relating the news to Dr. Zahid. In the evening, after the call came from my would-be benefactor, I went to the Enjaz WUMT and asked to be allowed to withdraw the cash. They checked my passport and said I would have to go to the Samba Bank "Quick Cash" office nearby. When I reached the latter, I was clearly told that the bank would not release the cash to me as I did not have a work permit (Iqama). The only option, he said, was to change the name of the beneficiary to that of a person who was also in Saudi Arabia, and who had an Iqama. It would have to be someone I could trust. When I called my benefactor and told him the turn events had taken, he told me he would go back to the bank's office the next day and see what had to be done.

Dejected, and a little worried, I surfed the net for some time outside the office of STC, and went back to my accommodation around half past nine p.m. 

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Day 3, Friday 18th November 2011

Dear Reader, the hectic nature of the first two days was changing as I gradually settled into a routine at the new accommodation provided to me by the Ministry. This place is an upcoming suburb of Ta'if and is called Mukhattat ul Visam. To reach this place from the city centre, one has to hire a taxi or a "dabbab" which is a 2-seater pick-up that eats very little petrol and is cheaper to hire compared to a taxi. The drivers of taxi-cars usually demand SR 15 (khamshtaast), while ashara (SR 10) will be sufficient for the dabbab owners. The ride takes nearly 15-18 minutes, and as you emerge from the city, the vehicles pick up speed and cross the 100 kmph line. I noticed that once the vehicle speed goes above 120 kmph, a distinct repetitive alarm starts playing beep-beep-beep. The drivers simply ignore this and continue speeding past the safety limits.

Over the next three days, I went to Ta'if centre repeatedly, sometimes to visit the children's hospital, sometimes to go to the Keralan restaurant called "Thara Restaurant", sometimes to use the land-line cabin calling centre to make calls back home, and at least two times, to simply find a comfortable location to sit and surf the internet, since the signal back at my temporary accommodation was virtually absent.

On the 4th or 5th day of my stay, I cannot recall exactly when, I went to Ta'if to receive money sent to me by a friend for my personal use. I can say with confidence that it is because of his largesse that I am sitting comfortably and writing this blog, otherwise, I do not know how I would have managed my finances, considering that I would have to eat on my own expenses, I would have to buy a new mobile phone, a new SIM card, an internet data card and so on. 

At Mukhattat ul Visam, the house was a large structure with 2 floors. The ground floor had about 6 rooms for doctors and two for house managers. There was a common large hall with a wall-mounted LCD TV, and a nice, big kitchen with a cooking range-cum-oven, a microwave, a tea and coffee water heater, and so on. My two doctor neighbors were a Dr. Raid Masarra from Damascus, Syria, and Dr. Sophy from near Alexandria, Egypt. While Raid is a specialist in the field of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, Sophy is a resident in the children's hospital in Ta'if. While I made friends with both the doctors, I gelled better with Raid since he speaks good English and is a good conversationalist. On the other hand, what I really admire about Sophy is that he cooks fresh food every evening after returning from work, and he is a die-hard Muslim who prays fervently - all the namaazs and at night in his room. 

Raid and I also went for evening walks after Maghreb every day while I was here in my temporary house. These walks and the conversations we had during them allowed us to get to know each other better and I am thankful to him for being the initiator of this activity,

The house is managed by a Saudi security who occupies his own room on the floor. This room is considerably larger than our rooms and has a separate corridor with an attached bathroom. However, it also has a large table with administrative stuff that blocks at least 20% of the floor space. These security guys were on rotational duty every 24 hours. 

Today, I went to Ta'if in the morning, and went straight to the Children's Hospital, where I met Dr. Zahid, a Pakistani resident. He and I vibed well, and he even lent me SR 500 for my emergency needs. He is a simple, intelligent and caring person, and I will mention him again in this blog. I also had occasion to meet a few other specialists, including Dr. Sophie, an Egyptian, who was carping a lot about the long hours of duty and so on, Dr. Mahmood , who I mentioned earlier too, and a Dr. Absar, whom I met only for a few minutes. 

The ER is almost constantly busy with a stream of patients, many of them suffering from sore throats and nasal congestion, much like my private practice profile in Mumbai. On an average, about 8-10 admissions take place every day. The IPCU (the intensive pediatric care unit) has about a dozen beds, most of them full with really critical patients, with some being on artificial ventilation for weeks (they have a tracheostomy done for their breathing pipes to go in). I was not guided to the Neonatal ICU, as this area is out of bounds for the regular residents. 

In the afternoon, I went to the Keralan area to make calls, then visited the mobile market nearby to purchase a new Nokia 1016 mobile (this is a very simple mobile that is similar to the ones I used nearly a decade ago). However, it is fully functional as a mobile. It has no bluetooth, no infra-red, no camera, no internet, and no other functions. There is a radio, but I could not catch any FM channels in Ta'if (:-)). I had enquired with the STC shop located in the same market for the price of a replacement SIM, but the price quoted was SR 50 if I wanted my old number. Hence, I abandoned the idea of getting that card and I purchased a Mobily card for SR 20. It came with a surprising recharge advantage of 2 times the amount, with SR 20 for only Saudi calls and SR 20 for any calls, including Saudi and international calls. I consider this as the first good thing to have happened to me from the Saudi point of view, although the doctors I met at Children's Hospital can be called as the harbingers of the first good things to have happened to me since I landed in this country. That, and the accommodation I was at now. 

Later, I also re-visited the STC outlet to buy a STC net connect USB, but was told to return the next day as their systems were down. I returned to my digs by 8:00 p.m. In the night, I borrowed Dr. Raid's Mobily Net-connect device to surf the net and to do a skype chat with Hannah and Inas. It was an emotional experience I will never forget, and I was moved to tears thereafter, and there is no further event to write about. Tomorrow, though, would be an eventful day, as I would be visiting the Directorate of Health Services and starting the official process of my appointment as a specialist pediatrician in Saudi Arabia.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Day 2, Thursday, 17th November, 2011

Today was a day when I had to try and search for better accommodation, and also figure out how  to manage without the two most valuable assets: cash and language. I had about SR 65 in my pocket and a mediocre vocabulary consisting of 3 words, viz. Salam-wa-alekum, Shukran and Alhamdolillah … but, as it turns out, it was just sufficient to manage conversations with the people inside the Children’s Hospital and most of the places I visited through the day outside. The night supervisor Sayed Faisal had left for the day, and I was without a clue as to where to do my daily ablutions for the day. There was, in one corner of the hospital a sort of toilet, where I finally managed my routine. I went back to the room where I had spent the night, had a breakfast provided by the morning manager, and then went back to him to seek help for accommodation. After some time, they asked me to pack all my bags into a pickup, and the driver and a security person eventually took me to “Soudha Zenobia” a place where they used to host doctors, nurses and anyone else with a MOH posting till they get their final posting venue and accommodations.

Unfortunately, the place was locked shut, and despite all the three of us banging on the door and shouting again and again, no one came to open the door of the edifice.

We returned to the hospital, and I put my bags and so on back in the drivers’ room. I went for the Dhuhr (afternoon) prayer in the mosque within the hospital, and I would also go for the Asr prayers later in the afternoon. Lunch was also sent to me and I took it with thanks and ate up most of it. I sat in the ER (Emergency room-cum-general OPD which is busy throughout the day and for more than half the night) and chatted with the doctors on duty, and also visited the NICU and PICU on the second floor. I had the privilege of using the bathroom on this floor within the doctors’ duty room apartment. I had also stored some of the eatables in the refrigerator here. I visited the local area around the hospital, including the Keralaite store owner Suleman, who owns a general store just opposite the back exit of the hospital. He gave me valuable tips, and guided me about the Kerala-shop owners located near Abbas square just 3-4 hundred meters away. I had used my mobile for calls to home and so on, and so, I recharged the card for another SR 20 from out of the funds given to me by Dr. Aftab (SR 50) and Dr. Zahid (SR 500). Both of them happen to be Pakistani doctors. While Dr. Aftab and I continued to talk on the phone, he and I did not warm much to each other, and I did not meet him as the next two days were off for him. However, Dr. Zahid and I vibed well with each other, and he proved to be a very kind and open-hearted person over the next few days.

Later, I went to Abbas square, and called home from one of the Saudi-owned calling cabin centre. While a call from my cell to India costs SR 2.00 per minute, call from the landline costs only 50 halala (1 SR = 100 halala) per minute!  When I returned from there back to the hospital, Abdul Gani, a Saudi driver was waiting for me with a lot of distress. He explained to me that there were going to be two drivers who would sleep in the drivers’ room, and so, I would have to leave that room and seek accommodation elsewhere. I was panicky, and went to the manager to resolve the issue. He (a certain Mr. Yousaf) started dialling on his phone and went on for nearly 20 minutes before reporting to me that there was no accommodation available for me. I was contemplating about what to do, and to seek permission to sleep in the doctors’ room on the second floor I went back to the manager, but he said he had no right or authority to grant me my wish.

Then there came a saviour in the form of an ER nurse who made calls and informed me that she had spoken to a friend and was told that the Mudeer (Sr. supervisor) of King Abdul Aziz Hospital would arrange the accommodation. She then explained everything to the driver, and after my bags etc. were loaded, we set off to meet the mudeer. The hospital is quite far, but we reached in about 15-20 minutes, and after the driver went in and spoke to the mudeer, I was called in and my request for an accommodation was approved. We went back to the pickup, and I was driven a long distance to a place known as Mukhattat-ul-Visaam.

This place is about 20 km from Abbas square, and maybe 15 km away from the King Abdul Aziz hospital. Asking people on the way, we finally located a 2-storey building that was our final destination. The door was opened by a well-dressed man in his early thirties. He introduced himself as a doctor, and after shaking hands with him, I took my luggage inside and the driver drove away. The entrance passage went in to a floor design that had four doors, two by the sides and two in front. The door to the right front room opened into a hall where there sat a second doctor. I was made to feel welcome by these two doctors. After a little while, I was told that a house manager would come and would assign one of the rooms within the house for me.

Just about this time, I suddenly noticed that my mobile phone was not with me. Panicking again, I started looking around the house and went outside where the pickup had been parked. It wasn’t there! The doctor who had opened the door to us some ½ an hour ago had noted down the cell no. of the driver and he immediately called up the driver, only to be told that he hadn’t found the phone. We tried calling up my number, but it gave a message that the phone was “closed”.   I had just lost my mobile and my SIM card and had no inkling about what to do about this huge loss.

Dejected, I went into my room once the manager turned up and opened one of them for me and waved his hands with a flourish, as if to say that he was being very generous in assigning this room to me.

Undoubtedly, the room was well-furnished and a large one at that, almost 350 sq. ft. in size. The kitchen looked a bit dirty, but had a fridge, a gas range with a conventional oven, a microwave oven and a smattering of some utensils and rations. In fact, the ministry sends a week of rations, even more than needed, on every Monday. This includes a large can of whole milk powder, two bottles of coffee powder, boxes of tea-bags, large quantities of raw, frozen chicken, fish and lamb meat, huge quantities of rice, 50-60 ½ liter bottles of water, cooking oil, salt and a dry masala powder for the house. As I had not had any dinner today, I ate one of the chicken rolls and a few pieces of the egg-mehsub I had brought from India. I sat with the doctors for some time before turning in for the night. Thus ended a very eventful second day on Saudi Arabian soil.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              

Day 1: Wednesday, 16th November 2011 - Part B

If my readers have got the impression that after reaching T'aif, everything else went smoothly and I was in bed within a few hours, I am sorry to disappoint you. The problems started as soon as de-planed and reached the airport lounge. The local time was about 11.15 p.m. and the airport looked quite deserted barring the people who had come in the same plane as I and who were mostly locals. There was a nice signboard at the airport that said: Dear Sir/Madam, If you are a worker for the Ministry of Health, we welcome you to T'aif. Kindly contact the Airport Health Post for arranging your transport on 02 .... etc (the tel. no.). I was thrilled to see this notice and immediately dialled the no, but there was no reply. This happened again and again, and I gave up trying. I asked around for the said health post, but never found out where it was or whether it was open or staffed. I then came out of the airport, and approached the taxi stand. The first thing that came to my mind was to go to the Muderiyah Sahat (Health directorate), but I learned that this would be closed not only at this time, but also for the next TWO DAYS! The next thought was to go to the Children's Hospital in the city and see the local manager of the hospital and ask HIM to give me temporary digs for the night.

With this aim in mind, I re-approached the taxi drivers who started haggling with me about the price of the journey from the airport to the Children's Hospital (known as Mustasfa Al -Atfal). His demand was 80 SR, and I bargained with him for 60, which he finally agreed after I showed him that I had nothing more than 75 SR with me. This also required intervention from a Pakistani man who was minding the airport parking lot.

We set off by midnight and reached the destination within 20-25 minutes, I unloaded all my luggage at the entrance and went in to the emergency OPD where there was a Pakistani doctor, one Dr. Aftab, on duty. I introduced myself, and after his advice, I managed to bring all my luggage inside into the wide corridor outside the OPD. Inside, there was an additional Egyptian doctor inside whom I also met.

Dr. Aftab took me to see the manager of the hospital (the muraghib), a Syed Faisal (Sayed or Syed here means "Mr" and carries no caste connotation. He greeted me cordially and listened while I told him the circumstances that had brought me to his domain for the night. Presently, he began to call up various hospitals to see if a room could be found. After almost one hour, he could not get me any accommodation. Dr. Aftab suggested that I sleep in the resident doctors' sleeping rooms, but the mugharib denied me permission for the same, claiming that he had no powers to allow me to go upstairs on the second floor.

Eventually, he accommodated me in a room with a working AC and lights, two sparse beds and a ramshackle cupboard ... but no wash basin or toilet. This was the room in which ambulance drivers rested between trips. I felt bad but I had no choice, so I accepted his offer and, with the help of the local ward-boys, I shifted my luggage into that room. The manager offered me tea, and was nice to me, all things considered.

And so, the day ended and I went off to sleep.

Friday, November 18, 2011

First post: Day 1, Wednesday, 16th November, 2011 - Part A

My family and I parted at the entrance of the Indira Gandhi International airport at New Delhi after much emotional discussion. Nishrin, Hannah and I were all crying, with Inas also moved almost to tears. A lot of indignation was expressed: Hannah was very vocal in criticism, while Inas was, as usual, down to a few harsh words. There were some personal issues that could have been resolved there and then and I would not go as planned, but in the end, reality prevailed and I decided to go. I said my goodbyes, hugged everyone for the last time, and walked in with my luggage.

Disaster struck within a few minutes of my interacting with one Gurpreet Kaur at the check-in counter of Saudi Arabian Airlines. The first thing was that there were barely 15-20 minutes left for me to reach the final queue, and hence, I would have to hurry to avoid being left out. The next thing was that my luggage weighed a grand total of 77 kg! It was deemed to be 27 kg overweight, and I was told to pay 395 X 27 = 10665 plus 10.3 % extra, for a total of 11763 INR … or leave the entire books carton back. The problem could have been overcome if I had more time and had been able to withdraw cash from an ATM nearby; but, as readers may have already guessed, neither of the two options were available to me. Also, I was travelling without an active mobile phone, as I was planning to buy a local SIM card as soon as I alighted at Riyadh. I could not carry my own instrument either as all the phone nos on it were needed by Nishrin who would be keeping it with her at the parlour, and because most of the numbers were stored on the phone memory and NOT on the SIM card.

Having no way to contact my family, although they were just outside the passenger hall, I had no option but to pay the full amount and then carry the luggage inside as soon as possible. I had no cash to buy Riyals, as almost all the money I had to buy them with was gone. Thus, I would have just 100 SR while boarding the aircraft half an hour later. An employee from the check-in desk accompanied me to the security check to enable me to jump the other queued passengers as my flight was ready to take off. Eventually, I was past the security check and going as fast as possible to the terminal from where the aircraft would take off. Here, there was a lot of crowd already as this was an international flight with nearly 500 passengers. They checked each handbag manually, and also repeated a body search. After this, we were allowed to proceed. By the time I had found my seat in the rear section in the central aisles (56), it was obvious that the aircraft had already passed its time to depart. In the event, instead of starting at half past one, we left ND at 2.45 p.m.

In the next few hours, I faced yet another shock when I realised that on my agent’s ticket, the departure timing was in IST, but the arrival timing to Riyadh (King Fahad Int. Airport) was mentioned in Saudi timings! Thus, what I had thought to be a 2 hr 15 min flight turned out to be a 4 hr 45 minute flight! To be fair, the hosts, charming youth from King Abdulla’s kingdom were quite efficient and a couple of them even smiled from time to time.

The on-board entertainment consisted of several channels, including some movies on the Hindi channel, lots of Hollywood movies edited for content (even bestsellers like the final Harry Potter and latest hits like Super 8 and so on), Hindi songs, children’s channel with Kung Fu Panda and Lion King, games, plane Camera, and Islamic channel with guidance on Hajj and Umrah in Urdu, and also several shorts on Quran and Islam. There were many more. However, the charm was spoilt by the computer hanging up several times and by the flight-related announcements which disrupted the program on view. Flight crew served a meal, lunch, with Indian taste – I had the mutton non-veg meal which was very nice. Tea was served with the meal and on demand too.

We reached Riyadh at 4.45 p.m. Saudi time. The airport was good, but I think the Delhi airport is much better than this one. At several places, the airport looks old and jaded. The real surprise, however, was that as soon as the passengers disembarked, they started running to the next post, which was the immigration area. I got my third shock of the evening when I saw the huge crowd of mostly Asians, including Indians, Pakistanis, Chinese and so on, standing in long winded queues before the 5 or 6 immigration counters.

 Although it was not even 5 p.m., and my connecting flight was more than 4 ½ hours away, I soon realised, after inspecting the situation and the almost creeping queue, that I would definitely miss the connecting flight if I stood with the others in the queue. In addition to the language problem which was insurmountable, there was also the need to be tactical, polite, persistent and show some anxiety to the several people I spoke to. Some were the men who sat at the immigration counters (but they simply brushed me off with a slightly louder than normal and haughty response to “go back”. Others were flight crew and at least one airport manager. Once the airport guys realised that I was not the only one who had a connecting flight; there were at least 15-20 others. They soon organised a separate queue for us, and we were taken in ahead of the hundreds of others awaiting their turn. It was at about 7.15 p.m. that I was let in into the customs area. Another wait occurred there as they asked first to see, and then, to actually take the entire medicine box to some other place to verify that the medicines were indeed the ones that they purported to be.

Once they were satisfied, they returned the box to me and after putting it back into the bag, I proceeded further to the domestic terminal at 8 p.m. On the way, I picked up a STC SIM card for SR 25 and then went in. I reached my departure terminal within 20 minutes of going through the baggage check-in and was able to rest for about 13-15 minutes. During this time, I started my mobile and called home to give the number and tidings of my safe arrival in T'aif. The flight itself was unremarkable. We reached T'aif, partaking of a mini meal with mixed grill chicken and kheema kababs. After having these and a cup of tea the hostess took away the trays and all in the short time available to them (the flight takes just one hour and fifteen minutes).

More in the next post ...