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.

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