Saturday, December 31, 2011

Day 45, Friday, 30th December 2011

So, the month seems to be coming to an end, as also a very eventful year for me, for Mumbai, for India and perhaps for Asia and the world too. Back in Al Muweh, things are slow and I don't think anything has changed much in the last year, except that the hospital and the people living here have aged 1 year. As my friend Dr. Ravi Pandit informed me in a comment to an earlier post, prices here haven't altered much here either; almost 17 years ago, Saudi bread khubs used to cost 1/5th of a riyal or 20 halalas. It costs the same today as well. Prices of petrol, diesel and cooking gas remain at very low levels, and second hand cars are still available at the same rates as they were at that time. (This he hasn't told me, but I found this out myself!)

The second off day of my weekend was not unusual, but as I had foreseen, the man who was supposed to come to my place to cook food and make chapatis never turned up. In the event, after waiting for him until half past two in the afternoon, I started the work myself. I made two appams with pre-soaked rice made into a paste using the mixer, six dal-parathas from the left-over dal, and nine chapatis. After this gruelling task, I made mixed vegetables and chicken curry. The vegetables got partially burnt because I was busy chatting with my family at that time. However, all the food turned out nice, as I tasted most of it. 

There were a few emergency calls, but nothing extra-ordinary. The unusual thing is that one of the parents actually came to pick me up from my house to go to the hospital, and promised me that he would take me back to the house afterwards. And he did. This was cool, because I don't see such responsive and responsible men here very often.

I skipped my evening walk today, but did manage to walk here and there throughout the day. For example, the walk from my house to the hospital in the morning to see admitted patients, and another walk early in the evening to buy some stuff.

In the night, I watched "Pyaasa" a 1957 classic produced, directed and acted in, by Guru Dutt. Waheeda Rehman looked ravishing in her role as a street woman. She is one actress I have always loved watching since childhood. May she live a long life. As to the movie, it is immensely watchable thanks to its great songs and music. The story-line will not appeal to the present generation, but was appropriate for those times.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Day 44, Thursday, 29th December 2011

Unlike what I do at most weekends, I decided to split up this weekend into two posts. The reason I am doing this is that I do not want to make the post very lengthy. Okay, so basically this was the start of the two-day weekend, but by the time I was done, the day had already ended and Friday had begun.

Let me end your confusion, dear reader, by saying that this happened because the time when I went to see the  last patient in the hospital was at half past eleven. By the time I finished with the patient a new day had already begun (it was past midnight).

I had decided to call an Indian person who can cook and pay him some money to do the week's cooking for me, and he was to come today, but he called to say that he had a job today in an Indian restaurant, and he would visit me the next day. This made me think. I remembered that I had heard these part time jobs taken by Indians, Pakistanis and so on on a number of occasions; this was the main reason they all stuck on their jobs that paid nothing more than what they might have got in their own countries. The extra income they get by moonlighting or by doing odd jobs can often equal or even exceed their official incomes.

I had leftover vegetables with bread for lunch, and I fried some mutton samosas for today evening, and had them with slices of bread for dinner.

Calls to the hospital to see kids in tawari (ER) came twice; first, I was called around five p.m., and the next time, at half past eleven p.m. All in all, I saw nearly half a dozen children, of whom two got admitted, one needed it but went away after giving his "refusal of consent" signature.

Looking forward to the cook's arrival tomorrow so that I don't have a problem about food the next week.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Days 43, Wednesday, 28th December 2011

Dr. Yasser's absence from work is something I wrote about yesterday with equanimity, but today was quite another piece of cake. There had been 3 admissions in the wards, and, in addition, I did not wake up in time and reached the hospital a full 30 minutes after eight o'clock. I went to the OPD, but there were no patients yet. Hence, I kept my belongings on one side, and donning my apron, I went to the ward to see all the patients. There were 3 old patients as well, so it took me almost an hour to see all the six patients and complete the paper-work on them. In the meantime, the OPD sister Mauvi (Maria Rogelio from the Philippines) called me two or three times, saying that the OPD was filling up with patients and they were getting restless. I respectfully told her to make them wait as I was busy with indoor work. Accordingly, I reached the OPD at about 45 minutes past nine o'clock.

The OPD was hectic, and there were a few quarrelsome patients who made me very upset. I came on the verge of shouting at them, but kept my temper in control. Eventually, the tide of patients stemmed only a few minutes before noon, which is also the time we break for lunch and salaah.

There was a lot of additional activity in the hospital. A huge team of people from the Ministry of Health had come to the hospital to take a look at the condition of the place. Here, let me cue you in to the problem that the hospital has faced since inception in 2007. The walls in different areas keep developing cracks that seem not only unsightly but also dangerous, since they bring into question the safety of the hospital for its staff and for the patients. For example, there is a long vertical crack in the ER just outside the USG (ultrasound) room that goes inward to the ceiling of the said room. 

Hence the hectic activity that was taking place outside the OPD throughout the premises. I discovered that the cafeteria was also closed since it was busy hosting all the visitors. In similar fashion, most of the usual office staff were busy entertaining the MOH guests.

In the evening, I learned that the visitors had "okayed" the hospital and ordered urgent repairs to the various faulty areas.

In the evening, nothing out of the ordinary happened. I had dal and rice for dinner, whereas Dr. Niaz, my co-habitant had rice and chicken ordered from an Arab restaurant called "Zam zam" (it is quite a popular place, since its manager also delivers orders home or to the place where the customer wants it delivered - e.g. at the hospital by a doctor , nurse or any other employee).

I watched a full-length movie (Love Aaj Kal) before sleeping.

Day 42, Tuesday 27th December 2011

Experimenting with the preparation of food is something not many career minded individuals (read men) enjoy doing. I am probably cast in a different mould, since I do enjoy playing in the kitchen with new recipes and new modifications to tried and tested methods of making foods. Remember my telling you how I enjoyed a sweet dish with curd in an earlier post? In the same refrain, I like to play with new ingredients, innovative combinations of old ingredients and at times, to play with new ways of preparing old recipes. 

In this way, one can, by trial and error, make foods that one can enjoy eating. Here are some examples: cabbage parathas with left-over cabbage bhaaji; adding curd instead of tomatoes to a standard vegetable recipe; using dry coconut powder to garnish and add to the taste of a dish that normally does not accommodate this ingredient, e.g. mixed vegetable curry, and so on.

Why did I write about all this? Because I did some such stuff today as well. My day was somewhat routine otherwise, but there was one change: from today, for 2 days, my colleague Dr. Yasser went on leave, so I had to look after my on-call as well as sit in the OPD. This wasn't as bad as I had thought it might become, though I did have to run to the ER in between seeing patients in the OPD. More like an inconvenience than real struggle.

The pleasant surprise of today was a renewal of contact with my class friend Dr. RP, who has, I believe, now taken to reading my blog. Thank you, RP. 

Day 41, Monday 26th December 2011

Over the past 40 days of my being away from home, I have often spoken to both my daughters using a VOIP (Voice over Internet Protocol). You will be surprised to note that this costs me just 0.75 paise per minute ANYWHERE IN INDIA! Yes, I did say 75 paise. Which means that it is only 20% costlier than calls made from mobile phones WITHIN THE SAME NETWORK AND WITHIN THE SAME CITY/CIRCLE in India (usually 60 paise per minute)! All I had to do was to make an initial payment of 10 euros for 1000 minutes! That translates to Rs. 739 (inclusive of service charges) by credit card.

Readers will immediately point out that video chatting is free on Skype, GMail Google talk, Yahoo Messenger, etc. but VOIP allows you to call directly on someone's mobile even when they have no access to the internet or are not connected at that moment. 

I found the procedure so convenient, that over the days, I have called so many of my friends with this programme. And it has always been an immensely pleasant experience from my end, and invariably a surprise at their end, since they did not expect me to call them from out of India. Thank you all those who received my calls, and to those who haven't yet got a call from me, fret not, I will call you Inshallah as soon as possible.

I was posted as On-call this week, and today, I had a fairly easy day with just one or two admissions and just one call in the evening. I coordinated my evening walk with the attendance for this emergency call from the ER (Emergency Room) or tawaari

Apart from this one bit of news, nothing else to report, hence signing off. 

Oh yes, I had a long video chat with an internet buddy after a long time ... NS, are you reading this? Our chat turned into a mutual admiration society as he kept praising me for taking the decision to move to Saudi Arabia at *this* age (emphasis mine), and I kept praising him for his brilliant academic achievements and his possible metamorphosis into a billionaire.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Three months after my last post

So much has happened in my life in the last three months, that I am overwhelmed by some of what I have myself engineered, and some that Allah has chosen to apportion to me. As I had mentioned in my last post, I was selected to go to Saudi Arabia to work as a specialist Pediatrician way back in April 2011. Somehow or the other, the status of my selection did not change over nearly 7 months. It was only around mid-October that my appointment formalities were completed from the agent's end, and I was given a tentative 2-3 weeks to wind up my Mumbai affairs so that I could fly out by the first week of November. I requested the agent to give me some more time, and finally, he arranged for the ticket on 16th November.

Between 18th October and 16th November, I had to run from one place to another, sometimes to make new connections with others (e.g. opening an N.R.I. account) or to break existing relationships (e.g. resigning from all the hospitals, or calling up patients and informing them about my planned departure after a month). I also arranged for Dr. A.Basit Bhoira to visit my clinic in the mornings (he is a recent pediatrician attached to Saboo Siddiq and Dholkawala Hospitals) and Dr. Lakshmi (a new pediatrician who visits Masina) to see patients in the evenings. 

I bought two lap-tops, one for myself and the other for the family to keep at home. Also, I had to arrange nearly 60K to pay the agent, and as my ticket was from New Delhi, I had to arrange for my travel to New Delhi. Also, I urged my entire family to accompany me to Delhi and to see me off at the airport. Hence, an additional expenditure of Rs. 50K came into the picture (flight tickets for all 4 of us to Delhi and for the three of them (my wife and daughters) back to Mumbai, plus 1 night's stay in New Delhi (2 doubles)).  Thus, all in all, I spent nearly 1.8 lakhs before the planned departure. I did not have to buy any new pieces of luggage or clothes or any thing else. That was a blessing, since we had already spent so much money!

My farewells to the entire family on my father's side as well as both families on my mothers' side took the form of either meeting them all on a social occasion, or individual visits to Sakinafaiji in Pune and Zehrafaiji at Marol. In addition, I met Moizmama, and called up as many others as possible, including friends, doctors etc. 

My mother was quite apprehensive about my going to a foreign land and tried to dissuade me whenever possible. However, I convinced her that everything would turn out fine. Eventually, she compromised with me and asked me to keep in touch with dad and her from time to time. Of course, I said, and that was that. 

The other resistance had come from Nishrin, who was worried that she would not be able to manage the affairs and both my daughters single-handedly. I told her that the main purpose of my going was to earn some extra money and to provide an opportunity for her (and the kids) and me to live apart from each other and thus gain a measure of emotional, financial and social independence. A sort of "training", one might say, for us to live without each other should Allah snatch one of us away from the other during future life. (This last reason I did not vocalise openly, but you can see the wisdom behind it. So many husbands do not "independentise" their spouses, and this leads to immense difficulties for their spouses in the event of death or disability of the husband.)

For those who want to read a day-by-day account of the stay in Saudi, I recommend that you visit and read my other blog on this very topic. I make entries daily and I am sure some of the entries will interest you immensely. To visit this blog, click here

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Day 39, Saturday, 24th and Day 40, Sunday, 25th December, 2011

My first Christmas weekend away from home ... and the bigger tragedy is that what could have been a great weekend in India constitute the first two working days of the Saudi week! I started my on-call week from today; this means that I am more or less free to just sit around, doing nothing, from 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. in the hospital. It is only after the working day is over that I am on "duty" and can be called on to either help in the management of a sick child by telephone, or be asked to actually go to the hospital and see the patient in the ER.

Luckily for me, on Saturday, I had just a few phone calls and not a single call to go to the hospital to see a sick child. I spent the entire working day reading and surfing in a spare room while Dr. Yasser was busy seeing OPD patients. In the evening, I went for my usual evening walk, and stopped at the hospital on the way back to see if there were any pediatric patients to see; there weren't, and after chatting for some time with the residents on duty  (Drs. Magdi and Meassar), I returned home. Picked up a cucumber/potato peeler and a good kitchen knife. 

Also made Kheema today, and although the taste is all right, the mince did not unravel properly while cooking. I plan to eat the kheema with khichdi on Friday evening.

On Sunday, I was eagerly awaiting the arrival of Mr. Ali, the liaison officer who is supposed to deliver my Iqama. He did not turn up, however, and the iqama remains yet to arrive.

I also had an audience with the deputy mudeer of the hospital Mr. Ahmed Far through the agency of Dr. Shehab, where we put across a request for emergency funds for me. He gave a patient hearing to me, and later agreed to arrange for some money from his own funds. I am to meet him today (Sunday) after the Ishaa prayers. 

Before I sign off, let me wish all my readers a Merry Christmas.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

The Weekend: Thursday 22nd and Friday 23rd December 2011

As with the previous weekends, I decided to do something different this time as well. On Thursday, I chose to explore the area on the other side of the main Riyadh-Makkah highway. To do this, I had to discover the best way to reach the other side of the highway without danger to myself, as there is no legal crossing nearby. The one that I used was an under-surface bypass meant for vehicles. This is a road that dips below the highway and goes at an exact perpendicular to it. I walked to it and went in. This is a single lane road, and I was worried about what I would do in case a vehicle came by (from either direction). The under-surface road is used sparingly, and both sides of it and in the center of it are accumulated weeks of untouched sand that looks pristine and unpolluted. There was no gravel in the sand, and rolling it in the palm gave a feeling of smoothness just below the level of, say, glass, or satin.

I had chosen to do this exploration in the heat of the afternoon, and so, had started from home just after dhuhur. I was past the central under-pass with no vehicular traffic within half an hour, and on to the opposite side. Most of the  structures - a petrol pump, some garages, many spare-parts shops and a few of the restaurants - were closed and would re-open after Asr prayers. However, the scarce numbers of people gave me an opportunity to see the various edifices in detail. I located the government bus stand (SAPTCO) and a Kerala hotel on this side as well, although both were closed. After this reconnaisance, I also ventured out on to the side roads to see where there were breaks in the fences put up by the authorities, so that in the event of my wanting to cross the highway in future, I would do so easily and without having to walk a lot.

In the evening, I went out into the main road market after Maghrib prayers, and bought a few things, including  a 10 kg bag of whole wheat flour, which I planned to make chapatis out of on Friday. I also purchased a new set of earphones with a microphone. In addition to these things, I also cooked a few dishes on Thursday.

On Friday, I made a breakfast of a reconstituted Nestle veg-noodle soup with slices of bread, but I am sorry to share that this did not turn out to be a good combination. For lunch, Dr. Narendra invited me to his place, and I went there happily. He had made the most delicious chicken curry, which we had with Khubs. I had made chapatis at home today, but I had made only half a dozen, so I did not take them with me to his place to share with him. Maybe I will do  this when I visit his place the next time. You have probably already read and seen the accompanying photos of my chapati experiment. 

Sadly, I had eaten so much at lunch that I skipped dinner altogether, and made do with a flavoured glass of milk and a single small banana. 

I saw a few movies this weekend; on Thursday, I saw the balance of a Hindi movie that I had seen in part on Wednesday, and on Friday, I saw the legendary movie "Lawrence of Arabia". The movie was spellbinding, if a little slow, and it touched something in my heart. If you are reading this, do make it a point to get this movie and see it. Although it is very old, it has been restored digitally as late as in 1998, and it is a pleasure to see this movie.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Something new ...

To be honest, dear reader, I have never liked Saudi Arabian bread which is called khubs. I suspect it is made from a mixture of cereals, but its main ingredient is refined flour, or maida, something that I assiduously try to avoid as it is definitely not a healthy eating option. I had therefore endeavoured that I would try to see if I can get hold of chapatis. I searched for the ready version, but never found any supermarket (baqalaa) to have any. This weekend, therefore, I set out in search of whole wheat flour. There is just one flour mill, that too, run by a Sudanese, that grinds wheat in front of you and sells you a minimum of 3 kg wheat flour for SR 12. In contrast, ready-made whole wheat flour is available, but only in a 10 kg pack. I bought one for SR 13 yesterday evening, and resolved to start using it by today.

So, I made 7 chapatis ... and here is evidence:

One more page added

There you are ... this new page shows all the plants, birds and reptiles I have seen so far since I came to this country. Not a very plethoric exhibition, but I am going to add to this page from time to time. Do take a look!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

A new page has been added to my blog

I have added photographs of the various places that I made home in over the past one month; I have also included photos of the hospital I am currently working at. All these photos are on my new page. You can access the page from the button on the right hand side of the top end of my home page. It is titled "Photographs: Places". Thanks.

Days 35 and 36: Tuesday, 20th and Wednesday, 21st December, 2011

The movie "2012" would have us believe that with the passing of the 21st of December, 2011 (incidentally, the shortest day in a year according to science), we have just 365 days left to live. Whether or not this is going to happen, I still feel that we must all enjoy each and every day of our existence on this planet to the fullest possible extent; remember God, pray for the underprivileged, do some act of kindness ... and in the remaining day left to us, enjoy whatever we are doing, and do whatever we enjoy doing, in that order.

Within my family and friends, I see several people who live their lives doing more of one thing than the other: some live only remembering God; some keep doing their work without enjoying it; some indulge in acts that are far removed from kindness; some have the fountain of envy and jealousy in their hearts, rather than that of the milk of human kindness. These people are doomed, for they have not (yet) understood the meaning of existence as desired by God. They are not even striving to try to understand these things, and therein lies the tragedy. Their intellect knows that they are doing something wrong, and yet, they will not turn in another direction to improve themselves. I pity these people, and I pray to God to show them the Light of Knowledge and to lead them to the Path of Righteousness. 

The last two days of my presence in Saudi have been unimpressive. There were several kids in the OPD, of course, and I had fun seeing all of them. I get stymied by the questions thrown at me in Arabic, though, and sometimes, am unable to understand their concerns despite the presence of an Arabic speaking nurse or doctor who will unravel the queries for me and allow me to pass on my replies through their translational services. At times, this gets to a point where I figuratively throw in the towel and ask to call my colleague Dr. Yasser to take over the management of the case. I feel "impotent", yes, but there is no choice.

On Tuesday, I managed to 'skype' my family, and on Wednesday, I spoke to Nishrin for a while using VOIP. Nothing else of significance happened over both the days. I am now staring at the looming weekend that is upon me. I am off-call, and aware that I have to pass my next two days doing nothing of substance. Perhaps I will see one more movie on Thursday. (So far, I have seen more than 15 movies in the 35 days I have been in Saudi Arabia, and not only because I love watching movies, but also to kill time.)

Signing off for now ...

Monday, December 19, 2011

Days 33 and 34, Sunday, the 18th, and Monday, the 19th of December, 2011

Dear Readers,

It is time to take stock of my writing. I feel I have done quite well. I have had a lot of help from dedicated readers like you, who do not need a post on facebook to visit this blog, and from Facebook, where I keep plugging this blog the moment I have added an entry. Truly, in the digital age, it is quite easy to let others know what you are up to, if you are willing to take some trouble to write and let them know; also, it is easier to maintain relationships and friendships through the comments columns here. There are some of my regular readers whom I have never met in my entire life, and yet, I feel close to them because they write back so encouragingly. On the other hand, there are several of my regular readers who do not want to/like to/remember to comment, and yet, they pray for me silently, and I am equally grateful to them. 

Through the agency of this blog, I have also realised that it is possible to share stuff that we would otherwise, in the course of a normal one-to-one conversation, never talk about. It is possible to be public about private matters without taking or giving offense. It is possible to share one's innermost fears and ventilate these with hope of a therapeutic letting off of steam or fear. This is a great achievement of a blog, and I am really thankful for this medium of sharing as I feel greatly unburdened or relieved after writing about my concerns/fears/doubts ... even if there is no feedback or suggestion from you all. 

I have, through this blog, garnered some new friends too, and they have accepted me as I am - open, sincere, truthful and honest in my writing. It is not as if I wasn't open in my real life in India. I was, and I think, as a result, I rubbed several of my friends/colleagues and relatives too the wrong way. Now, as I sit several thousand miles away, I am metamorphosing into a calmer, more understanding person, with dividends of goodness and warmer relationships to collect in future from those who did not exactly like my way of working/behaving/talking etc.

In addition, I have learned to observe things more closely, and many of my entries are a result of this calm observation of people and events around me. The wealth of detail may seem trivial at times, but it is sure to enable me to be a better chronicler and writer. 

Okay, so coming to the last two days ... Sunday was a routine day. The silver lining was that my backache is finally going away. From a regimen of 3-4 tablets, I was able to come down to just two today. In the evening, I had to take help from Dr. Narendra to go to the local gas agency to change my empty cylinder and get a new one (SR 16/cylinder). 

On Monday, that is today, I crossed one more milestone in my march towards full acceptance in this country. I attended and cleared the Basic Life Support course (CPR) today, along with many other doctors and nurses. Clearing BLS is a requirement to practice in this country and it cost me SR 200 to take the course, but I am glad that I am finally done with that. I would have to take this course every 2 years to re-certify myself, and hence, I will have to take it again sometime in December 2013 or so. The re-certification cost would be SR 150 as per today's rates. The other thing I did today was to take the annual Influenza vaccine, which is given free by the administration to anyone who cares to take it or ask for it. This will be an annual feature, by the way. I thought this to be a prudent thing to do, as I keep seeing kids with respiratory symptoms.

I went to a local Kerala restaurant for dinner today after Ishaa prayers, and to tell you honestly, it was a great feeling to have Kerala style fish curry with a few slices of bread, followed by rice. I don't think I am going to skip this in future ... at least one such meal every week should get me over the blues for another four or five days. They not only served two fairly larges pieces of fish, they also supplied free gravy twice, so as to enable me to finish off the bread/rice. And, wallah, this meal cost me just SR 6.00 - including the cost of a bottle of water and a milk tea. Only the bread was mine.

That's all for now ... will return for more conversations with you in a day or so. Thank you for reading.

How life changes, one thing at a time, imperceptibly sometimes

Over the past one month, if there is one thing I have realised, it is this. Life change does not always occur as a cataclysmic event. Often, the changes creep up on you, and you suddenly realise that you have broken some BIG rules for reasons of convenience, comfort, regulation, need or compulsion. 

Let me list a few of these changes: back in India, I used to get up around half past seven, and then, only when Nishrin used to come into the bedroom with a cup of tea for me; here, I have to get up an hour earlier, as I have to reach the hospital by eight (in reality, the reporting time is half past seven, but everyone reaches by eight). In India, I never left the house without a full head bath; here, for the past week, the biting cold has inhibited me so much, that I just brush my teeth and scrub my face and leave for work; I take a bath in the evening, when the cold is less and the water that flows in the tap from the overhead tank is already warm. In India, I needed nothing other than a modest blanket in bed; here, I need a thick blanket, with the fan switched off, the window closed, a thick tee and a sweater over it, and full pajamas to be able to sleep. In India, I used to have hearty meals at home, or if not at home, outside, in a restaurant; here, there are limited options, and I hate the Saudi khubs, so I invent, compromise and get around difficulties to add fuel to my tummy. Yesterday, I had a breakfast of scrambled eggs, a lunch with rice and potato curry and a dinner with rice, french-beans and chicken gravy ... a luxury of three hearty meals, but most often, at least one, and quite possibly, two, of these are make-shift meals, with khubs and cheese spread with jam, farsan and tea, toast and tea, and so on substituting for well-defined meals.

In India, cosmetics were anathema to me; here, I have to apply Vaseline to my lips, back of hands and fingers, forearms, and heels to prevent these from cracking up. In India, if I needed to talk to someone, I had to just lift the phone or dial from my mobile; here, I have to first switch on my laptop, open Nokia suite to find the numbers (except those of my family, which I remember verbatim), then go online, wear a microphone and speaker set, start the Action VOIP program, and then enter the number in the box provided for the same, before hitting the "call" button. What a scene!

In India, I could, in my clinic, make a patient wait for some time in the reception while I was busy doing something else inside; here, the Saudis are so demanding and unforgiving, that if they are made to wait even for a minute, they become agitated; some have been known to go to the admin and complain about this ... about the doctor who makes them wait while he plays around with his stuff. My friend Dr. Narendra tells me  that compared to the patients in bigger cities or places like Aabha (a hill station nearby), the patients in Al Muweh are much better. In those places, they get so irritated that they have, on occasion, broken the laptop of the doctor or even physically abused or slapped him!

In India, the return journey from the clinic to home was punctuated by stops in front of hawkers, grocery, vegetable seller, friends one met accidentally on the road, and so on. Sometimes, road-side fights or other social events stopped one from progressing rapidly towards home; here, once you have found the person with a car you are going to go home with, there is no other option but to allow that person to deposit you in front of your house/lane/whichever point you want to get off at.

Yesterday, my gas cylinder finally emptied. I called up Dr. Narendra, who came with his car to my place. I had disconnected the cylinder from the pipe already, and brought it to just inside the main door. I lifted the cylinder and put it in the boot of Narendra's car. We drove to the gas dealer. The menial servant there removed the empty cylinder and put in a fresh one, stopping only to close the boot lid and collect the SR 16, which is the cost of a refill. Dr. N and I drove back to my house, where I underwent considerable trouble to bring the heavy cylinder out and take it up the 4-5 steps to my main door. After Dr. N left, I dragged the cylinder to the kitchen, re-fastened the knob to the pipe with a wrench and only then was I done with the job. In India, all this would have been an easy task: just call up the gas agency, which will send a man with the refill (albeit after a few days to a week), who will remove the empty and connect the refill himself. He will then issue a receipt, collect the cash and go away with a tip of maybe 2-3 rupees. 

See what I mean? There are a lot more things I want to write here, but let me leave it for a day when I have not much to relate to you about.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Day 32, Saturday, 17th December, 2011

The first day of my OPD on call went off quite smoothly. In fact, the silver lining is that my backache is also receding now, and I hope to be free from the problem of swallowing ibuprofen and muscle relaxants within a few days. I have already decided to stop the antibiotics that I was taking since the last 5 days for pharyngitis.

In other news, I took my lunch with me for the first time today, a slice of bread, some biscuits and about three pieces of fried fillets of fish. It was a lovely repast, compared to the food that I usually eat in the hospital kitchen. I had fried the fillets a few days ago, but having refrigerated them, they tasted great after thawing in my bag for nearly 6 hours.

Two days from now, I will be sitting for the Basic Life Support Course with 25 other people in Al Muweh Hospital. This course is compulsory to pass, and I have already paid SR 200 to register for it. I am reading their resource book, and it appears to be easy, but you know it is never like that, and I am surely going to have to pay attention to the teachers when I sit for the course on Monday afternoon.

Had a long, nice chat with wife and kids on Skype today evening. It sure was refreshing! I have resolved to call many people by using the Action VOIP application on my laptop tomorrow. This app allows me to talk to anywhere in India for just 0.73 paise per minute! If you are also looking to download some such app, go to this website.

Comparing a Saudi town to an Indian town

In the past one month of my stay in Al Muweh, which I have classified as a small town, I have come to realise the similarities between a typical North Indian village and Al Muweh, which, after thinking about it, gets re-classified into a village rather than a town. Let me explain how this change came about.

As my in-laws are from Punjab, I have been to the villages there; you will see similar pucca houses, wide roads, lots of cars and SUVs, dusty side roads, young boys huddled on the road sides with gossip, cigarettes and even traditional string toys, adolescents driving cars, a single main road with typical shops selling provisions, dhabas, tea stalls, welding shops, small supermarkets, vehicular service stations and petrol pumps.

As there are similarities, there are differences too, of course: the roads in India are not as well maintained, the children are not as well clad, the shops are more grungy and dirty, the houses are often just on the ground floor or with one additional floor (instead of the two or three floors seen here), the cars are old and often noisy (here the cars are often new and of different brands), the atmosphere is free and not punctuated by silences when everyone rushes to the mosques for namaaz, the street-lights are not as flashy, water is not scarce (which is the case here), the schools are not well maintained (here, they are clean, big and well-maintained), and the trees and birds are more plentiful (here, you see just acacia bushes and a few hardy plants, along with sparrows).

A few of the features resemble that of the villages of a deserty place like Rajasthan. As my friend Dr. Narendra tells me, the villages there are similarly barren, dusty, hot in the day-time and cold in the night-time, and people are prone to remain dirty and not take daily baths!

This realisation has refreshed me somewhat, and I look forward to discovering more similarities/differences in the place I live in, vis-a-vis Indian places. If you, dear reader, have some comments on this issue, do share them here. I intend to discuss the local people's attitudes too, but I have to tread softly on that one, right?

Friday, December 16, 2011

The Weekend: Thursday and Friday again!

So I have crossed a month, and into the second one of my stay here in Al Muweh. Let me tell you one thing: I had read somewhere on the net, before leaving India, that Saudis have placed a ban on blogging, and that one would have to seek permission from relevant authorities before running a blog. So far, though, I haven't been blocked, and this may be because I have never openly criticised or said anything negative about these people. Actually, when I wrote that the tribal beddus of this city are not very "literate", I did not mean "literate" in the clear sense of that word. They are literate, of course. What I meant is that they aren't wise to the ways of modernity from the stand-point of environmental consciousness, infant feeding, being humane and sharing, being a little lenient towards a visitor who is learning to adjust, and so on. 

Most of the doctors and nurses here are very understanding; I wasn't referring to them. I mean the local Saudis here; they will not slow their car to help you reach the hospital in the morning; they will not follow medical advice; they always seek to go home early, and often sign a DAMA (discharge against medical advice); things like this, and some more that I cannot openly discuss, is what gets my goat. Eventually, I will learn to side-step these hurdles, and I can say that I already am, but it isn't easy to strike a balance between two extremes of a situation. 

Let me exemplify: if I prescribe medications for a sick child and ask them to report back the next day, I am not doing enough, and the father will become argumentative; if I suggest that the kid get hospitalised, they will immediately make a long face, and even if they do agree to do so, they will want to go home in 24 hours! I mean, how can a child be sent home like that? And so, it comes to a DAMA. This is just one example. I can give many more. But, leave it.

My backache prevents me from being too mobile, although the weather on Thursday evening was pleasant enough for me to wander outside for an hour from half past eight to half past nine. I had a few calls, and a few admissions over the two days, but all in all, not too bad for a weekend on call. Tomorrow onwards, my colleague Dr. Yasser will be on call, and I will be free after the OPDs for the whole week.

Did I say Yippee? I guess I didn't ... and why would I? Killing time is the perennial problem here, whether one is on call or off it. I have uploaded nearly 35 movies on my computer before leaving India, and have already finished seeing more than half of them ... what will I do once I run out of these? LOL.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Days 28, Tuesday, 13th and 29, Wednesday, 14th December, 2011

I have finally crossed 2000 page views! It feels great to have testimonials from friends that I write well. One of them even suggested what I have been already dreaming of doing: to make a book out of this blog. He said this with obvious passion: You must get hold of a publisher (his words) and bring out a book on your experiences. I just might, my friend. However, it would have to wait for a few years, as I don't think I can do this while I am still here in this country. 

I am almost there, I think, and in a few days, I will have completed a month. It is a genuinely humbling moment in my checkered life: spending a month in the company of people you don't even know how to speak to, what to speak about, why to speak to and when to speak to. A place where one cannot find burgers, samosas, batata-wadas, rice and kadhi, Gujarati undhiyu, masala dosa, idlis, Hyderabadi biryani or the simple but powerful chapati. A place where patients begin their newborn babies' feeds on a bottle. Something that was so loathsome in India I used to shout at the mothers ... but have to adjust with over here. A milieu that is so deserty, so quiet, so lonesome and so unchanging, anyone could be forgiven for leaving this and running away for ever. A bureaucracy that thinks nothing of demanding more and more money from you, and even tells you that "you can borrow it from your friends" ... so far, I have shelled out more money in a month than I have - anywhere, anyplace: nearly SR 3000/= in fees, plus over SR 1500/= in living and maintenance expenses. Each Riyal is worth over Rs. 14/= today, so that 4500 comes to  INR 63000! Of course, I have borrowed these monies, and will need to borrow more, as things stand today.

Both my days have been routine. As I am on call, I keep getting night calls, and have advised the residents by phone so far. Two Cesarean deliveries on Wednesday, an unusual thing for a small town like Al Muweh. My throat pain and fever are better, but I am now suffering from pain in my flank and back muscles, most probably due to the biting cold here. Nothing else is new or different, and I have nothing else to add here. 

The weekend is upon us, and the next two days will be full of more of nothing to do. Ha ha.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Day 27, Monday, 12th December, 2011

I am still under the weather as I write this on Tuesday. Cefuroxime (an antibiotic) therapy is probably causing the side effects that I am experiencing such as drowsiness, weakness, abdominal pain and some amount of nausea and fullness of the stomach. I am contemplating a change of antibiotic if these issues do not go away in the next 24 hours or so. 

Monday was a day when I had hardly any work in the hospital, and for the most part, I was busy trying to locate the HR person who was supposed to generate a letter for me to send along with my other documents to Mr. Ali, our liaison officer, for him to make my residence/work permit (Iqama - there, you have that word again!).

Like on Sunday, I went to sleep for over 2 to 3 hours in the evening, getting up only after 7:45 p.m. to pray, eat and read a little before retiring again by 10:00 p.m. My energy level is greatly reduced, and if I did not have some ready food in the refrigerator, I don't know what I would have done or how I would have managed.  The week is over half done, and there are just 2 more days before Thursday comes again, with 2 days of complete off. I don't know whether that is a good thing or not, as the boredom gets to you more than the sense of a holiday. As I am on call, I cannot even leave Al Moya to go to, say, Ta'if to relieve myself of ennui. Be that as it may, I am definitely not looking forward to the leave; add to that the stress of having to cook 3-4 dishes again, and you will understand, dear reader, what it means to me to have those 2 off days. 

Nothing else to report here ... so I will just end this with a good-bye.

Some interesting thoughts

My random thoughts as I sit before this laptop and write/read/browse the internet:

  1. The single biggest obstacle to living in Saudi Arabia seems to be, at first, the ignorance of spoken Arabic. But it's not that. It is the absence of a social support network, and the challenge is to build it with the people around you, regardless of the language or social class block. If it's a language problem, let your status break the barriers; if it is a social class problem, let your language (shared with the working class Indians, Pakistanis, Bangladeshis etc) help you get around your tough situations. This is exactly what I am doing. Partly, I am cultivating friendships with Egyptian (Misri), Syrian and Sudanese doctors and Filipino Nurses (at least the latter know English) and partly, with the cleaners, shop-managers, repairers and servants in malls and other establishments here - and believe me, the ice is melting, and the relationships are thawing in the mild afternoon sun here in Al Muweh (pronounced as Mo-ya, not Mu-weh).
  2. Exploring a small town like Al Muweh does not give any rewards, as the more you explore, the more of the same types of houses and shops you see, with huge tracts of sandy desert in between. if you have seen 10%, you have seen 100% ... it's like that. Over 50% of the shops belong to one of the following categories: restaurant - more like a dhaba,  provisions - small shops to larger "2 or 3-door shops", welding shops (the Saudis are crazy about ornamental doors to their houses), car garages (often sponsored by Castrol), hardware-plumbing-stores, Mobile and similar stuff shops, clothes shops (often managed by Sudanese) and finally, carpet and upholstery shops (these are generally huge in size). Once you get these 7-8 categories out, there are a hundred other types of ikka-dukka shops like shops that sell gas, shops that bake khubs and sell them at a rate of 5 for just SR 1:00, shops that sell motor oils, petrol pumps, and so on. 
  3. Saudi children move all around the town in groups, playing with the currently fashionable toy (right now, it is a two-ball toy attached to strings which they swing from their hands and create sounds as the two balls hit each other). They may play with a football at times, or just hang around in the neighbourhood, or be seen driving their family cars or SUVs with  a gloating expression on their faces. The older ones will leave the streets at the time of prayer, but the under-7s will often continue to remain on the roads even when the muezzins are calling for the farad prayers at Maghreb or Ishaa.
  4. If you calculate the price of something you are buying in terms of Indian rupees, you will never buy anything! For example, a small galabund or muffler is SR 10, and Mobily's net connect modem is SR 180. You will be stopped dead in your tracks if you multiply those figures by 14 ... and yet, the prices are okay, Saudi currency-wise. 
I think I will end this here ... more thoughts when I write next. Thanks for reading these random thoughts. I am sure many of you are learning something, and many are wondering what I am writing all this for. I respect your comments and thoughts, so please add them here, even if you want to criticise me.

Thank you once again.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Day 26, Sunday, 11th December, 2011

Dear Reader, 

Thank you for your continued patronage of my blog. Your comments keep me going as no other stimulus can hope to do. I am still waiting for my own family members to read and comment on this blog. My dear reader Ashfaq has finally managed to append his name to the comment he posted on my previous day's entry, and I congratulate him for the same. Thank you, my friend. 

As I mentioned in my last entry, I wasn't feeling too well, and I slept fitfully through the night. When I woke up, my nose was still stuffy, and my throat had started hurting. Arriving at the hospital, I went up to Dr. Aala, the Egyptian ENT doctor, and he took a look at my throat. He told me that I had an edematous uvula, and I would have to start an antibiotic (Cefuroxime, first dose IV 1.5g) and an anti-inflammatory agent (first dose, diclofenac, IM and then, ibuprofen, oral). He also prescribed me a mouth wash, naphazolin + CPM nose drops (nasophen) and oral cefuroxime and ibuprofen. With all these medicines given to me by the pharmacy, I took permission from Dr. Shehab, the medical director, to leave the duty and go home. Dr. Yasser also complied with the request, and I was free to go home to rest. It was Dr. Narendra who took me home in his car.

In the evening, I went on Skype and had a long chat with Nishrin, Inas and Hannah. They had ordered food from Mama Mia, and were having it right in front of me. I really had a yearning for Chicken lollipops and their pizza, par kya karein .... so, I went out after Ishaa prayers. Purchased a few items from the malls, and then went back home after eating some snack items from a Bangladeshi restaurant. They included something like a baida roti, one piece of a batata wada imitation, and one piece of falafel tami. Back home, I took my tablets, but no formal meal, In the night, just had a cup of tea and an apple. And went to sleep after watching a part of "The Ten Commandments".

Okay, so before I sign off, let me say that I have had a very good experience today. Everyone - the ENT doctor, the general physician, the ENT person and Dr. Yasser have all been kind to me and allowed me to go home before noon. And no less gratitude to Dr. Shehab, who allowed me to go home without any paper work.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Day 25, Saturday, 10th December, 2011

I began to realise for the first time, today, that my stint in this country was about to complete a month. When this thought occurred to me first, the immediate next thought was ... what a long way I had come, and not just in terms of distance. Some of you readers have already been there, done that, and still others among you are dwelling far away from your motherland, so you can understand what I am passing through.

Do I miss India? Do I miss Mumbai? Mazgaon? My home? Of course I do. Let me make a list of the things that I miss most (after the most obvious things like family, parents, practice, etc.): a) Food: batata wada, punjabi samosa, 'gila' bhel, sev puri and pani puri, dosas, McDonald's Filet-O-Fish, Khichda, sabudana wada, b) Places: my clinic, Kalbadevi and its sights and sounds, my Bhendi bazaar and J.J. locality, Love Lane, Nariyal wadi, Dockyard Road and its kabab-lamba pav, V.T. and beyond, for all the things the business district is famous for - its stationery shops, big shops like Akbarallys and Globus and others, the Jehangir Art Gallery and the NGMA, the cinemas with their own world of movies, food and fun, the hustling and bustling crowds around Flora Fountain and the Gateway of India, the Horniman Circle, whose charm is totally different once one steps inside it and gets into a quiet and different world from the one just outside, the curio shops and stalls near the Museum, the sandwich outside Kapoor Lamp Co near Kala Ghoda, the indescribable charm of walking along Marine Drive ....c) People: the icecream seller at Shiv Cream center, who has a no-nonsense attitude right from 10 a.m. to 1.00 a.m., the various shop-keepers of Matharpakhady  Lane - the grocer, the vegetable vendors, the bhel-puriwala who sets up his shop after 9.00 p.m. outside Mazgaon Rest House (he, of the thin body but a resolved mind), the thick bearded guy who sits in his hardware shop next to the chinese food restaurant just before the Mazgaon Circle, the walkers and runners at the Mazgaon Hill, some of my neighbours whose friendship and company I used to treasure, the ubiquitous traffic policemen standing around the corner with their challan books, greedy expressions and wet palms, the BEST conductors who have stopped making their snap-snap noises as they now use an electronic machine to "print" tickets, the cabbies who continue to find ways to trap you and fleece you of your money, the doctors and nurses of Masina and Saifee Hospitals, the Dholkawala Maternity Home and Saboo Siddik Gen Hospital,  the patients who used to be loyal and invaluable to me, my receptionist and the various servants in my house and the clinic, the dozens of Medical Reps who used to visit me to ply their wares, and so many more ... d) Special events: My nature walks, my bird watching just outside my own house, my movie trips, my various day and night trips to bring back and leave Nishrin, Inas and Hannah to and from wherever they wished to come from/go to, my visits to my parents' home, my calls to cousins and friends, the calls I got from close friends and well-wishers, the various people and institutions I corresponded with, the trips I undertook to the BMC offices, the meetings with old friends from school or medical college (there was one of the latter meetings in late November, and boy, I missed it so much), and more ...

A large paragraph, and many of you may not even identify with more than half of what I have written, and yet, I am sure you can all identify with the universal pain and anguish that I felt as I wrote the above, and the continuing sadness as I recall my life back in India. 

Saturday morning blues ... when I wrote this to a chat-friend on Friday evening, she wrote back "Ha ha" ... and this is exactly what it is like, here in Saudi Arabia. Friday is the last day of the week, and Saturday here is the equivalent of Monday in the non-Islamic world. I experienced this in full force today as I got up late and also reached the hospital later than the usual time of between 7.50 and 8.00 a.m. The day also marked my first on-call day. As I wrote yesterday, I was apprehensive about how my on-calls would go, but, I am happy to say, that my first day went off well. There were no calls, and I was totally free during the evening. It was while I was returning from my evening walk that I began to feel a little chill. I thought it was due to the weather, but by the time dinner time came around, I knew that the chill I was experiencing was due to my own body responding adversely to some unknown insult ... and my suspicion turned to reality when, by midnight, I began to feel distinctly hot and my nose began to run. I tossed and turned throughout the night, and before the next day dawned, I was sure I had the 'flu. 

In between, I took out the time to go out and make a few purchases, a new Mobily Internet connect being one of these. I did not have the strength to go far from my house, and returned within 15 minutes or so of leaving the house. 

That's it. Please comment about this entry and let me know how well you adjusted after leaving your homeland (applies to those of my friends who have worked overseas in the past or are still doing so).

Days 23 and 24, Thursday, 8th and Friday, 9th December, 2011

A friend of mine had predicted a few weeks ago that after some weeks, life will set into a routine, and I may not find subjects or enough new things to write on this blog. Perhaps he was right, but I still think I have several new things to discuss, and I think that for at least another few months, there will be no dearth of topics to write about. 

My honeymoon period will be over from Saturday as I will begin my on-call week. I am a bit apprehensive, but also, there is an undercurrent of excitement, as I will, for the first time since coming to this place, nay, this country, be available to handle emergency calls. The apprehension is natural, because, a) I live almost 20-25 minutes away from the hospital (by walking, I mean), and since I have no car, I will have to do this whenever I am called to attend an emergency patient. I have decided to speak to the authorities about this and see if they can provide me with some form of transport to take me to and bring me from the hospital.  b) I have learnt a little about the way things operate here, but I am still a novice and am worried that I might make a mistake that may prove to be costly. c) I do not have my indemnity insurance ... and this will happen only after I get my Iqama, which, sadly, hasn't come yet. d) I will have a serious problem if there are more than a few calls, and especially if they are at night. Not only will my sleep be disrupted, I will also get tired and be unable to perform at peak efficiency the next morning. However, this last point worries me the least, as I have been used to late night calls even in India.

I was completely off for the weekend, and got down to serious cooking. I made, over the course of the first of the two off days, dal-gosht,  dry potatoes, and chicken masala; I also reconstituted a Knorr soup (hot and sour vegetable). I had already told Dr. Narendra that I would invite him for dinner, but I forgot to give him a confirmatory call today. As a result, he thought that the invite was off, and had his dinner in his own room. I apologised for my gaffe, and confirmed the invitation for Friday. He came on time, and we had a good time eating all the stuff, with fresh khubs and salad. He was fairly appreciative of my cooking and, at the end, agreed that we would try and make it to each others' place at least once a week for dinner. 

Apart from this, the two days proved to be quite unremarkable. At the time of writing this, my first on-call day is almost over, but I will get back to it when I enter the details for Saturday. 

That's it for now.

Friday, December 09, 2011

Day 22, Wednesday, 7th December, 2011: The Otaibis

I am, to be honest, overwhelmed by the love and attention showered on me by you, my dear readers, in response to my entry of the previous two days. I am convinced more than ever that I am not alone, and that your good wishes and prayers will see me through these difficult circumstances. Inshallah, I will emerge a better human being, a better Muslim, a better Indian, a better doctor, a better husband, a better son, brother, uncle, etc. and a better parent. 

Not a day passes by when I don't think about my life back in India. It is a very different life here, and when I think about it, not all of it is bad. I mean, one can't get the amenities that one usually takes for granted in Mumbai - over here - but also, one is free from the hectic pace, the pollution, and the humdrum existence that is  the bane of the urban Indian. I do have to wake up by six, yes, and I do have to report for work before eight, but once this is done, the work at the hospital is so slow and so less that one actually wishes there were more sick children in Al Moweh! 

Patients in this town are not very literate. Almost all Saudi women abhor breastfeeding, and this may, in part, be due to the fact that their social milieu is such that they cannot stop child-bearing even for a legitimate lactational contraception (for the non-medicos, this means that when a woman is lactating, she cannot conceive another child for a variable period of from 6-12 or more months, i.e., till she is still breastfeeding ... although this is not a fool-proof method of contraception). Also, the cosmetic side-effects of breastfeeding may be on the minds of the Saudi men, who, I am told, are very conscious of their spouse's physical attributes and do not desire that they "spoil" their innocent looks with a thing like breastfeeding, which is known to lead to the transformation of breast shapes into a more pendulous and large size, with darkening of the nipples and areolae. Thus, most mothers start bottle feeds from day 1 of the baby's life in this town, and perhaps all over the country. Indeed a sad state of affairs.

Natives of Al Muwayh and neighbouring towns are Bedouin Arabs (or baddus, as they are more commonly referred to), and many belong to one or the other tribes, though I have seen that most patients who come to me belong to the "Otaibi" tribe. This also becomes their surname, and hence, I can readily identify their tribe while recording the full names of their children. As a rule, although they are less literate than what we desire them to be, they are assertive, aggressive, and sometimes argumentative when it comes to listening to and agreeing to the doctor's advice. Most come in their own cars or pick-ups, and are impatient to be done with the consultation so that they can get back to their lives as soon as possible. Above all, they are all extremely mindful of timings of namaaz, and will, if still within the hospital, join the staff in the afternoon prayers.

In keeping with Muslim tradition, the mother of the child will rarely, if ever, directly speak to me, and if asked something specific, will look either at her male companion (either the father or the elder son or her brother, as the case may be) and reply to my query. Because I am still naive in Arabic, sometimes, they will gesticulate or speak with their actions to convey problems like abdominal pain, or watering from the nose, or eye discharge, etc. The situation can either become hilarious or tense, depending on their perception of my level of understanding, competence and ability to deliver the right remedy for their kid's illness. 

Their ignorance of medical stuff prevents them from realising that a cough and cold are simple illnesses, that they need not always ask for X-rays and blood tests for such simple illnesses, and that the child does not always even need anything more than a simple cough and cold remedy, and certainly not antibiotics. These, along with my language problem, sometimes leads to situations where the parents leave unsatisfied and/or seek out Dr. Yasser, my Egyptian pediatric colleague, for a second opinion or reinforcement of my plan of action.

There was nothing remarkable about today, except that, at the end of the working day, I forgot to bring back my NatGeo jacket back with me home ... a situation that could, and did, create problems with me over the next two days when it would be a holiday for me, and I would be unable to retrieve my jacket until Saturday morning. In the evening, I went out to purchase provisions, as I have tentatively invited Dr. Narendra to my place for dinner on Thursday. Also, I plan to do some serious cooking, with 3-4 dishes so that I do not have to worry about the food for the next week. 

That's it for now.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Saudi Food

I write this on the morning of the first day of the weekend here in Saudi Arabia. Actually, the "weekend" begins on Wednesday afternoon itself. The trickle of patients into the OPD dries up after the Dhuhr prayer, and Saudi staff has already disappeared from their posts by 2:00 p.m. The various departments run only due to the presence of Filipino, Egyptian, Indian or Syrian staff. 

In this edition of my blog, I wish to write a little about what passes for food in this country. Do not get the impression that the food is horrible or inedible; it is not. However, it is so different from the food I was used to in India that it is, at times, difficult to be able to enjoy it, regardless of whether it is tasty or otherwise.

Most Arabs (and that includes the other nations around Saudi) enjoy eating flesh. Beef is the lamb (lahaam) here, and chicken (dajjaj) is eaten with the skin on it when it is "broasted". My computer dictionary just made a red squiggle under that funny word, for it is not officially recognised as a portion of chicken that has been cleaned, marinaded with salt, lemon rinds and juice and a little "masala" powder for 4-6 hours, and then, placed in the oven and roasted at 200-250 degrees for about 1/2 an hour. Once done, it is totally dry. They will love to have chunks of it with each morsel of rice. Compared to our chicken preparations, this is so dry that one has to keep gulping water (moya, or ma-a) or juice with each morsel.

The bread here is known as khubs or khubbus or khubz. While one of these round, thick chapati-like breads may cost as much as a riyal in a mall, one can get up to 5 in a single purchase from one of the road-side bakeries in Al Moweh. There is a white version with a large proportion of refined flour, and a brown version, perhaps with whole wheat.

I have seen, in the hospital cafeteria, many Arabs, including doctors working here,eating khubz with apricot jam and/or white cheese ... for breakfast. Others have it with vegetables, main curries or whatever else.

Many road-side eateries serve food at astonishingly low rates (they are high if you see them in rupee terms, but okay if you compare them to the rates in restaurants owned by Saudis); thus, for example, I had a paratha, a 1 1/2 eggs omlette, a bottle of mineral water (600 ml) and a glass of milk tea for just 4 riyals. These dhaba-like places are usually run by Asians, who not only are the joints' cooks, but also waiters, managers, cashiers and so on.

I ate something unique on my flight to Saudi Arabia as part of the airline's in-flight meal: it was a plastic wrapped biscuit that had something brown inside it; it tasted sweet, but not overly so. It was crunchy, tasty and  unlike anything I had eaten before in all my nearly 52 years. Later, I learnt that the inside stuff was mashed dates, and this unique biscuit is known as "Mamoul". While it is available loose as packs of one mamoul each for SR 1, it is more economical  to buy a box of 16 mamouls for SR 10. One can have them on a SOS basis if one is not within reach of a complete meal or if one needs to have just a small "snack".

With limited options, these are the kinds of things I have been consuming since I came to Al Moweh. However, things are likely to change for the better, as I am beginning to cook from today.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Days 20 and 21,Monday, 5th and Tuesday, 6th December, 2011

While I struggle with my life in Saudi Arabia, I am sure that in India, a lot of people are involved with the death anniversary (Mahaparinirvan diwas) of Dr. B.A. Ambedkar, and some with the anniversary of the demolition of the Babri mosque.

In a lifetime, one can have such diverse and educative experiences, and yet, more than 90% of humanity prefers to operate within their own comfort zones, or worse, live in the past. This creates a world of “No change”, and yet, we see change all around us. This could be ascribed to the working of God, but I prefer to credit the remaining 10% of humanity which tries to step out of the ordinary and does something they are not used to. We may label them as “adventurers” or “experimenters” or whatever, but it is their endeavour that rejuvenates humanity from the droll existence of the majority.
My attempt to come to Saudi should be interpreted in this light, and not merely an act of defeat or escape from reality. I crave the indulgence of my readers when I say that I have a three-fold interest in leaving India to come to this country
  1.  To try and earn more money than I could ever manage to, in India
  2.  To create, for my family back in India, an environment that will enable them to enjoy independence with responsibility and
  3.  To try and appear for MRCPCH examinations and pass the three parts thereof so that I become an-U.K. certified pediatric person.
Bearing these in mind, I request you to judge me fairly and decide whether this is a good decision or not. My decision was hastened by the realisation that I would, with about three or four year’s stay in Saudi Arabia, be able to save enough to satisfy my desires to have a good amount of money to marry off both my daughters “in a fitting way”, (though some may accuse me of being a 'conformist', I do feel that society expects a doctor to marry his/her offspring in a manner that befits his/her status in the same society) and also, to be able to travel around the world without major financial constraints, something that I have always wanted to do.

Getting on to the topic of the blog entries for the two days mentioned in the title: well, these were routine days in the main; on Monday, the work had petered out a little, although I did see nearly a dozen patients in the OPD. I have a slow but reliable connection to the net from the pediatric OPD and I make full use of it whenever possible. I was able to write the blog entry for Sunday, surf Facebook and check my emails without much trouble. 

In the evening, I went out for a walk with Dr. Narendra Punjwani, who is a Surat-based Orthopedic surgeon working with me in Al Moweh. Getting to know Dr. Punjwani over Monday (when we went to some nearby shops to look for a few things I needed for the house) and Tuesday (when I went to his place for dinner and to spend time with him) was a pleasure. He is planning to leave Saudi next year. Fifty-nine years of age, Dr. Narendra has three offspring, and his family lives in India. His kitchen is well-stocked, as he returns to India twice a year and gets back spices etc. when he comes back to the Kingdom. He cooked rice and masoor for us. I did the "waghaar" and probably added more spices than what were needed. The dal came out a bit pungent, but we managed to clean out the vessel that the dal was stored in.

Afterward, we listened to and saw some videos of songs starring Dev Anand, and in our own way, we paid homage to this great Bollywood stalwart.

In other news, Dr. Narendra did not accompany me for the walk on Tuesday, because, according to him, Monday's walk had aggravated his back pain. As a result, I walked alone. In a way, that wasn't so bad, as I was able to dictate my own route and pace to myself without external interference or influence. 

Monday was Ashura for the Bohras, and I observed it by fasting for half a day. On Tuesday, I met the main director of the hospital (Mr. Raad Haart) momentarily for the first time. He seemed to be a cheerful and easy-going person. Let us hope that he is equally nice to me when I need his help to facilitate matters with the Muderiya in the days, months and years to come.

Another news that I want to share with the readers is that I have begun to pick up Arabic words and phrases while talking to patients. I have prepared a MS Word document and I keep adding words/phrases with their meanings to it from time to time. Initially, I used to think that the spoken Arabic is a crude, unpolished language more suited to nomads and tribal people, but slowly, its inherent beauty is becoming more and more apparent.

Monday, December 05, 2011

Day 19, Sunday, 4th December, 2011

Dear Reader,

As I write this, I must say that the most shocking news I read over the net yesterday pertained to the demise of the 88-year old Hindi movie actor, producer and director Mr. Dev Anand. The actor, who worked in Bollywood for nearly six and a half decades will be missed sorely by all of us who have seen him work as a hero right from the 50's down to the nineties. Although his later movies did not click at the box office, brand Dev Anand continues to entertain and enthrall the older and newer generations with his past nearly magical movies like Kala Pani, CID, Jewel Thief, Guide (an iconic film of Hindi cinema, certainly) and many others. During my youth, I really enjoyed his movies, and particularly, the songs, which were immensely enjoyable not just to listen to, but also to hum. I pay homage to this great man and pray that his soul rests in Eternal Peace. He is to be cremated tomorrow in London, and I will be there with him in spirit as he begins his celestial journey.

The third Sunday of my stay in Saudi Arabia was, in the main, quite unremarkable. I did something new, though: I went on a walk with Dr. Yasser, who has been doing this every single day for the past few months. He stays a little away from where I do, and in the evening, we met after the Maghrib prayers, and went for the walk down the main Riyadh - Ta'if Highway, around the Al Moweh Hospital, and back down the highway to our home, but after stopping at a mosque for the Isha prayer. I intend to do this every day, Inshallah.

For the last 3 days, I have been trying to upload a video that I created by joining some photos of the hospital and its environs using the Windows Live Movie Maker, but the net connection has never permitted me to finish the 41 MB upload that the movie needs. I will keep trying to do this,till I succeed.

That's it for now ...thanks for reading.