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.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              

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