Thursday, December 27, 2012

A week-end Update

The year 2012 is on the verge of ending in a few days. 21st December, the date of apocalypse came and went without the end of the world as we know it, and everyone was, albeit secretly, relieved that the Mayan prophecy had not come true. I was watching the clock quite eagerly as the time in Saudi Arabia neared 4.46 p.m., the equivalent of 11.11 a.m. GMT (London), the time at which the final disaster was to annihilate planet Earth.

In the event, the big non-event proved to be a damp squid. After this, my spirits improved too. I have been enjoying myself greatly since then, and have either been trying to cook new stuff, or watching programs and news on the TV. Most evenings, I go for my walks, and sometimes, I even see serials and films on my laptop. 

Last week, I watched, with increasing anger, the story of the 23 year old Delhi-based physiotherapist who was gang raped in a bus as she was returning home from work. The spontaneous response of people of all ages, especially youth, was, by turns, gratifying, alarming, energising, disruptive, and finally, gratifying again. These reactions occurred, respectively, when the response began, when it swelled to huge numbers, when it began to unnerve the Delhi law makers and politicians, when it turned violent, and when it finally led to some solid actions by the administration. The drama unfolded hourly, with newer and fresher events; it was heart warming to see men and women marching on the streets of New Delhi, but not just there ---- also in Mumbai, Kolkata, Bengaluru, Chennai, Lucknow, Jammu, Varanasi, and so on. When the Delhi police retaliated on the third day of the protests with repeated rounds of lathi-charge (caning), tear-gas shelling and firing of water cannons, I cried within. The response was totally uncalled for, although one can perhaps defend their action when one knows that a section of the protesters turned violent and started rampaging and throwing stones on the police, injuring many of them.

By the fourth morning, that is by Tuesday, the situation had improved, but even as I write this on Thursday, 27th December 2012, protesters are marching in New Delhi. Usually, I watch Times Now channel, but sometimes, I switch to Zee News to see what is happening, and the scenes in both the channels were nearly the same. However, Times Now is a much better channel, both visually and in content. Its executive editor is a very sharp, brazen but disciplined and articulate man (Abhinav). A recorded version of its evening telecasts is shown in Saudi Arabia after 2-3 hours (the actual time difference being approximately equal to the difference in the time zones, which is 2.5 hours. Among its varied programs, the late evening telecast in the form of "Newshour" is very interesting indeed. This is because the chief editor coordinates and chairs a panel discussion where several people relevant to the topic under discussion are invited and drilled till they speak the truth. 

What else is happening? Nothing much, as internet access has worsened in the last few months in Al Muwayh. I have been forced to wean myself from net-surfing, or to search for free Wi-fi hotspots wherever possible. Thus, I am seen less often on Facebook and elsewhere, and this has already provoked many comments from my friends. To all my readers, I ask to please bear with my situation. I am fine, thanks. If you wish, you may email me and I will definitely answer all your questions/doubts/queries.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

A fortnight has passed

Since I wrote my last post, a fortnight has gone by. I got a substitute doctor to work in my place and therefore, I managed to escape from my hospital for about 4 - 5 days. You probably already read about  that in my previous post. During the last fortnight, I have been rather busy with my work at the hospital, or walking in the garden, or solving questions for my future exam in May 2013, or sleeping. I usually try to watch at least one episode of either "Castle" or "Grey's Anatomy" (I am watching old episodes from Season 2 of both the serials ... thanks to my daughter Inas, who has uploaded these to my laptop during my last vacation in May/June 2012). While "Castle" is an out and out crime detection serial, it provides useful life lessons on how to bring up a teenager, and provides unexpected but welcome comic relief when the two main actors (Rick Castle and Beckett) spar with each other as they go about solving murder cases. 

"Grey's Anatomy", on the other hand, appeals to me as it is about medicine ... surgery, actually, as the story revolves around Meredith Grey, a surgical intern at SGH (Seattle General Hospital), and her four colleagues. Christina (a Japanese American) plays the parallel lead role. Both of them are great actors, as are the other lead players, the surgical resident Bailey, the two visiting surgeons, Drs. Sheperd and Burk, and other supporting cast. 

In other news, I keep trying new food items, but I have yet to finish with the stuff I brought back from Ta'if - included among these are the delectable Mutton Biryani, a rather non-spicy Chicken Chilli, and Mutton masala. Also, I am going through my own cooked dishes like the dal, the lady fingers, the kheema and the now cooked black-eyed beans (chola). I can say that I am really enjoying myself. On the anvil in the next few days is a salad that I am planning to make with yellow, red and green peppers, lettuce and tomatoes, a noodle dish with real spring onions, and perhaps a fish curry.

TV watching has been taking up some of my time. Over the last few days, it's been an overdose of Times Now channel, with its round the clock reporting of the gang-rape case that occurred in New Delhi last week. All six men have been arrested. The victim is a physiotherapy intern, now battling for life in Safdarjung Hospital. She has undergone a near total intestinal resection on account of extensive gangrene and has a gastrostomy and a duodenostomy in place. Her only chance of return to normal life will be with an intestinal transplant, something that may have to be done abroad. Supporting her are thousands of normal Indian citizens, mostly women, who have come out on the roads with morchas, candle-marches, storming of the Rashtrapati Bhavan, the C|M's residence, the hospital, and so on. Protest marches are being held in more than 20 cities all over India, including Jammu, Bangalore, Delhi, Lucknow, Varanasi, Kolkata, Mumbai, Patna, etc. There is a demand to mete out the strictest possible punishment to the perpetrators ... viz. the death sentence. News is mostly confined to this story. The only other story that held the nation's attention was the assembly election in Gujarat. Narendra Modi has been re-elected for the fifth consecutive term, and is now eyeing the seat of PM-designate of the BJP for the forthcoming elections in 2014. Let us see what happens there.

On the family front, Hannah has some huge plans for the coming months. She wants to join some UK-university courses, wants to be a worker for some huge project for the United Nations, wants to be an intern at some company, and what not. Inas continues, albeit a little dissatisfied, at the Juice Salon. Nishrin is, as usual, a harried person, what with the house, the children and her work. It appears that my absence from the house has taken the most out of her, and although she is managing, she sure isn't happy that she has to bear so much burden, and is clearly tired of it all.

Mom continues to be confined to the house, and will remain to be there till mid-February, after which she can leave the house and be among the others in society. She is putting up a brave front indeed, and is sure to feel worse as the days pass and the feeling of being alone sinks in. 

That's about it for now ... 

P.S. My colleague is due to return by the end of next week ... what a relief! 

Friday, December 21, 2012

Taking a much-needed break: Wed 5th December to Monday 10th December 2012

As I have mentioned in an earlier post, my co-pediatrician went on his annual vacation in the days immediately following my return from Hajj. Since then, I have been working all alone without any break. I knew I could seek relief from my duties for a few days, and the hospital administration would need to give me substitutional relief by appointing a locum doctor in my place; such a locum doctor would have to come from any of the other hospitals in the Ta'if region. Dr. Shehabeldin went out on a limb for me, but could not get a replacement for me from ANY of the other places. I was getting frustrated. Eventually, he sent a request to the Muderiya to arrange a locum doctor from Ta'if, most likely from the Children's Hospital in Ta'if. 

The substitute doctor arrived at about half past three on Wednesday 5th December 2012 (21st Muharram 1434 H.) Having explained everything I could about the in-patients and showing him around the hospital, I finally left the hospital to start my five-day leave. I decided to stay in Al Muwayh that evening, winding up my other tasks and relaxing. 

On the next morning, I travelled to Ta'if with Dr. Alaa Ashwah, the E.N.T. surgeon. He had his own work here, He was kind enough to leave me as close to my hotel as possible. Later, I joined him in Panda and browsed the mall with him until after the dhuhr prayers. He also took me to a food mall called the "Riya", where I purchased some salted, baked biscuits and a pineapple fruit tart (which, by the way, was very nice!) After this, he dropped me near the mall and proceeded back to Al Muwayh. I handed him some of my purchases, to keep in the boot of his car - I promised him that I would retrieve my stuff when I returned to Al Muwayh.

I returned to my hotel where I relaxed, prayed, downloaded movies and did similar stuff. In the evening, I went to the "tahweel al Rajhi" to transfer some money to India, then went to the Mobile market to buy a Samsung S3 phone and then back to the hotel to retire for the day. I ate my dinner at the Indian restaurant below my hotel (as usual). 

On Friday, I purchased a "Pehla" TV pack from a shop on Khalid bin Walid street, visited King Faisal hospital to meet my friend Dr. Asadullah (the surgeon who has always helped me in the past), and got my contacts and other data transferred from my old Samsung Ace to the new Samsung Galaxy S3 with the help of an Egyptian Mr. Ahmed, who has a small shop in the mobile market. I ate breakfast at the Thara restaurant but the next two meals in the Indian restaurant. 

On Saturday, I went to the Muderiya, retrieved my passport, which I have decided to keep with me (they have recently permitted this for all expatriates who work in the medical sector) and then went back to my hotel. I also recovered my new Iqama from our hospital's liaison officer Mr. Ali, who met me near Gazzaz mall after the Ishaa prayers to hand it over to me. Barring this one job, I relaxed the whole day. Then, early morning on Sunday, I went to Jeddah. The reason: I wanted to visit the office of the  Ministry of Foreign Affairs (vazarat kharjiyyah) to submit the form I had filled for my family's upcoming visit to the Kingdom. I had filled this form online, then downloaded and printed out a copy. Along with the form, I had also brought with me, my marriage certificate, birth-certificates of both my daughters, the copies of all our passports, and a copy of my new Iqama and a letter from the Muderiya showing my current occupation, salary, etc. (the so-called Taarif Maali). I took an early morning taxi from right opposite my hotel, reached Jeddah at about 8:00 A.M., and reached the MOFA in a new taxi in the next seven or eight minutes. A very orderly queue of people was in place, all controlled by just a few policemen. At about 15 minutes past 8:00 A.M., the offices opened, and the queue began to move forward. After entering the complex, we had to surrender all our mobiles/laptops to a policemen who put all the cell phones in small cul-de-sacs, and handed a numbered token to the visitor. The queue inside led to a third policeman, who asked for the original Iqama to confirm our identity, and thence, admitted us to the inside room where a bank-like token system took me to a window within about 40 minutes, and I submitted my form and the supporting documents to the Saudi man inside.

By half past nine I had finished my work. I left Jeddah soon thereafter, and reached Ta'if at about half past one. By three p.m., I checked out of the hotel, and taking the usual bus of SAPTCO, I was back at Al Muwayh at around  half past eight p.m. in the evening. 

I resumed work the next morning.

Monday, December 03, 2012

How the last month has passed

My visit to India was rather short, and followed immediately after my exams at Jeddah. I stayed in Mumbai for just over a week, and was back in Al Muwayh just 4 days before my departure for Hajj, i. e. around the 21st October. After the completion of Hajj, my co-Pediatrician Dr. Yasser immediately proceeded on leave ... and eventually went to Egypt on his annual holiday. Since then, therefore, I have been totally alone. As I write this, I have been working alone for over 4 weeks, and managing both, the out-patient department as well as the calls and emergencies. It's never been hectic, but the OPD has seen a constant flow of patients with cough and cold ... almost 15-20 patients daily. This can perhaps be attributed to the change in climate: winter has set in, and how. Just three days ago, it rained torrentially, and following this, the next few days were marked by strong winds and extremely low temperatures. It was only today that the temperatures became a little more comfortable and allowed me to go on my evening walk. 

The last month saw me experimenting, purchasing, and generally enjoying myself. As my first year in the Kingdom neared completion, I began to spend some money on my own comforts: of course, my Indian colleague Dr. Narendra exited last month, and I ended up buying his car (a 1993 model Toyota Corolla, white), his mixer-grinder (Maharaja), his vacuum cleaner and his double blanket. I also received a few freebies from him, including some utensils, a bed with a cot (that needed a little welding) and so on. I also bought a micro-wave oven (Samsung), and recently, a carpet for my study room. With these purchases, my life is a lot easier, especially w.r.t. the purchase of the car, because of which my commuting within the village has become so comfortable. Not just that, I am now able to go to the garden more easily to do my walking. 

The experimentation mostly occurred with my cooking: in the past month, I made several new dishes and items, such as Adai dosa (a Tamilian recipe) with the accompanying potato bhaji, chutney and sambar; veg. hakka noodles; a dry chicken dish that turned out absolutely delicious; potato wada; cauliflower bhajiya; strawberry milk shake; chutney/boiled egg/chicken/kheema sandwiches; etc. The unique thing about my experimentation occurred when a Chennai-based anesthetist doctor joined me for dinner. He (Dr. Bala, from Mizan) was in Al Muwayh on substitution duty. He helped me make the dosa, and also rated my cooking thus: 8 for the dosa, 6 for the sambar, 0 for the chutney and  7 for the potato bhaji. The ratings have emboldened me further, and I plan to continue experimenting with my cooking. 

In addition to the above, I also purchased a new 21" television set. I am now able to watch over 350 channels on Nilesat; unfortunately, over 330 of these channels are in Arabic and I cannot understand them! I am therefore limited to watching the English language news channels (BBC, CNN, Al Jazeera International and France 24), Zee Aflam (the Hindi movies channel), English movies on MBC 2 and MBC Action, and a few others. In any case, this has been a welcome change from my continuous net surfing and watching of English serials and movies on my laptop. My net surfing has also reduced as a result of the TV viewing.

Yesterday, with the start of December, I have also started studying for the next phase of my exams - I am planning to appear for Part 2 of MRCPCH in May 2013, Inshallah. I even purchased an online examination resource package from Pastest, one of the best learning websites. I have already begun to solve questions from this site.

A few other things also happened: in addition to Dr. Narendra, our Egyptian radiologist, who had just completed a year in Al Muwayh also went back to Egypt; our Pakistani resident Dr. Sadiya (whom I have mentioned earlier in my Hajj posts) has also decided to leave after just one year; two new residents from Sudan and a new Orthopedic surgeon from Tunisia have joined - the last one being Dr. Mohammed Hattab, with whom I have become quite friendly; there have been some exits and some new entrants among nurses as well; in fact, four Indian nurses left in the last three or four months, in addition to a few Filipinos; Al Muwayh keeps growing, with new buildings coming up in several places; I have applied for the renewal of my Iqama (the residence permit that all non-Saudis have to keep with them); we are planning to come out with a monthly newsletter for the staff of the Hospital, and I have been appointed as its executive editor; since the Hajj pilgrimage, I have become absolutely punctual in praying all the namaaz (except the morning one, where I keep defaulting as I cannot wake up at 5 a.m.); I have begun writing my child-care book again, with the intention of completing the second edition as soon as possible; my website http://drtaherforkids.com has now gone public and my child-care book is now available for sale through the site; and finally, I have started learning pencil-shading in my drawing books.

I have been in regular touch with my family and my mom; all are fine; my mom is still in iddat, and will remain so till mid-February; Inas continues to work in Juice; Hannah is enjoying herself even as I write this; Nishrin is busy with her work at the salon, in much the same way as before; shortly, my Mumbai home will start undergoing some needed renovation work; and, my family is considering buying a car for local commuting and I have suggested that they buy a second-hand car from Maruti True Value at Phoenix Mills (Sai Service Ltd.).

That's about it for now. 

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Hajj 2012 - 5

MAKKAH/MINA: Day 4 of our journey/11thof Dhul-Hajj month of the Islamic calendar:

On this day, and the following day, the aim of the pilgrim is to –
  a) continue praying as much as possible
  b) visit Jamarat after the afternoon salah (namaaz) and throw stones not just at the large devil, but also at the other two devils; in fact, one starts from the “little devil” and progresses from there towards the large devil.
 c) one has to go to the Holy Mosque and do a Tawaaf-al-Vida (a Farewell ritual) on the last day before one leaves Makkah.
 d) One has to go to Mina after Maghrib to stay there for part of the night, as we did on day 3.

In fact, because of the relatively free mornings, we could get proper sleep. As before, we ate little food and drank even less milk so as to avoid the need to visit the loo often. I did manage to eat some food, though, and especially relished fried chicken with rice, the way Arabs eat chicken. As the food was purchased from a neighbouring eatery, it was fresh when hauled to my room, and I shared it with a few of the other room-mates. After the Dhuhr prayers, we went to the Jamarat to stone the three devils; Each devil had to be stoned seven times … which means we would need exactly 21 stones to do the deed on three devils; I carried the requisite amount of stones in my belt pouch, and marveled when I discovered that I had, in fact, brought the right number of stones, and had not lost any on the way! The walk to Jamarat and the walk back to our room took up more than a few hours, and the crowds were much larger today. In fact, when we reached the 2nd floor of the Jamarat building, we had to wait for about half an hour while the police arranged everything for the rites to be performed. The adhaan (call to prayers) occurred while we waited, and it was about 15 minutes after this that the barricades were opened and the pilgrims surged inside to reach the row of devils that they (i.e., we) were to stone today. After this was done, we returned to our rooms to pray the Asr’ and the Maghrib and Ishaa prayers. At about 9:00 p.m., we set off for Mina to spend the next several hours there. This time, Faisal brought his entire family – i.e. his wife Dr. Naheed, their two children, and Dr. Naheed’s mother, who was also with us. I had purchased a foldable mat (S.R. 10/=), which I now used to lie down for the evening/night when we had selected a spot. Dr. Sadia, one of the residents who is at Al Muwayh hospital was also with us, and hence we were a fairly large group.

Tonight, though, the crowds were huge, and we had to really hunt for a good place in which to relax. Our successful location of a nice spot turned out to be a not-so-nice one after all as a police van landed within 15 minutes and started blowing all the on-board horns and sirens. In tandem with them, foot-soldiers began to ask everyone to get up and take themselves elsewhere. We got up, moved a little way off, and waited for the police car and the troops to move before returning to the spot where we had lain a few minutes earlier. This kind of ritual was repeated once, but we managed to remain at the same spot for a few more sessions of prayer. In between, a Saudi guy came and handed over a pizza pack to Dr. Naheed. We all partook some of the pizza and found it hot and fresh. I also visited the Al Baik outlet (to buy some chicken) , but returned as the queues were very, very long.

At about half past two, we left Mina and returned to our hotel in Makkah.

MAKKAH/MINA: Day 5 of our journey/12thof Dhul-Hajj month of the Islamic calendar:

Today was to be the last day of our stay in Makkah, and hence, a visit to the Holy Mosque to perform the final farewell circumambulations was compulsory. Late in the morning, I left with some of my friends to the Jamarat to stone the devils for the last time. Readers will re-collect that I had collected 49 stones from Muzdalifah on the second night; I had already used 7 on the 10th of the month to stone the big devil, and another 21 to stone all the three devils on the 4th afternoon, i.e. yesterday. I now had exactly 21 stones to throw, 7 at each of the three devils. The ritual took less time than it had taken on the previous day, but it was basically a repeat of the experience we had already had.

In the evening, I went back to the Holy Mosque to perform the final circumambulation of the Kaaba. This time, the crowds were really HUGE, so I decided to do the circuit from the 2nd floor of the surrounding mosque structure; this, in fact, is the terrace of the structure, and it was a pleasant experience to walk around. From the top, one can look down upon the crowds going around the Kaaba. The walk is much longer than the one that one can take from the ground floor, but as the crowds are less, one can perform the circuit much faster. One has to be careful here, though, as all those who use wheel-chairs or are brought on wheel-chairs (the old, the infirm and the challenged) use this terrace area for their circumambulation.

After this ritual, we left, met each other outside, and walked to where our bus was waiting to take us back to our village.. On the way, we had tea/snacks at some of the stalls that were lined up. Here, we met Dr. Gofran, one of the residents I work with at the hospital. He was with his wife and his two children, both of whom were really cute, Presently, after a walk of over 2 km, we reached the place where our bus was parked. We finally left at about eight thirty p.m. The return journey was not as slow as the arrival journey had been.

It was at about half past one in the morning that we finally touched Al Muwayh, and another half hour before I reached my home and went to sleep, almost immediately.

Officially, I was now Haji Taher Yunus Kagalwala.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Tuesday, 9th October, 2012: Gave my MRCPCH Part 1 exams

Due to a busy month, I skipped publishing this post at the right time.

As the title says, I gave my Part 1 A and B papers for MRCPCH (Membership of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health today, at the King Abdulaziz University's examination center (building No. 29, next to the Football stadium), located within it. The experience was humbling. As expected, the question papers only looked simple. Each part had 75 questions, and lasted 2.5 hours. 

I answered as best as I could, and was also able to stick to the correct time schedule. I allowed myself at least ten minutes at the end for revision of my answers. In the end, the format for the exam was simple. In between the two papers, we got a lunch reprieve of about 45 minutes. The organisers gave us a chicken burger each and supplied us with tea twice and unlimited bottles of water.

I had the chance of meeting three of my friends from the Facebook study group that I was a part of. These three, Drs. Alaa Mahmoud (from Khartoum, Sudan), Shreen Ahmed (an Egyptian) and Shaima Lofty (also from Egypt) are working in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia as doctors. It was a happy meeting indeed. We exchanged good lucks etc. before the exam, but did not get any more occasions to meet up.

After both the exams were over, I got a surprise when a car stopped near me to give me a lift back into town ... the driver was none other than the supervisor for both the papers in my room! He was gracious enough to take me into the town center, from where I managed to go to my cousin Juzer's place for the night.

The next morning, I would go back to Ta'if to pick up my passport in preparation for my journey to India.

Hajj 2012 - 4

MINA: Day 3 of our journey/10thof Dhul-Hajj month of the Islamic Calendar:

In reality, we returned to our hotel room in Makkah and snatched a little sleep before dawn. After the Fajr prayers, we proceeded to go to Mina, which is about 2 km away. Just ahead of Mina is the “Jamarat” or the place where the three “devils” are located. Before I describe this, let me say that stoning of the three devils is a ritual more to remember and praise Allah than to actually denounce the devils.

The route to Jamarat goes through a tunnel that is over a kilometer long. This tunnel was full of devotees right in the morning; only police and emergency vehicles are allowed to pass (and some motorcycles, which had one Saudi and one pilgrim … a private arrangement where the Saudi earns some quick bucks). We also saw several guys with wheel-chairs for hire; they ferried the willing pilgrims to Mina for 50 Saudi Riyals. However, theirs is an illegal enterprise, and we frequently saw the police blocking them and asking the pilgrims to “disembark”. However, the thing I wish to say is … the road to Mina, and beyond, to the Jamarat, is easily traversed as you are walking with hundreds of others. We went past the tunnel, and via a busy but narrow road, we finally reached Mina. 

A view of Mina with cloth tents in the distance
This is a town that sports thousands of tents, where Hajj pilgrims must stay for at least two nights, the 11th and the 12th of Dhul-Hajj month (more on this later). Past the bustling town of Mina, one reaches a huge building complex that has the huge stone columns that represent the three devils. 

The pilgrims proceeding towards the Jamarat
The four-storey complex is reached from different directions, and all the upper floors are centrally air-conditioned. The “devils” are tall columns of stone that start at the ground floor and are identical in shape and size through all the upper floors. You pass the “small” devil first, then the middle one and finally the “large” one. Today, the ritual required one to just stone the large devil. Hence, we went past the first two columns and launched seven stones, one after the other, reciting “Allah-o-Akbar” with each throw of a stone, at the stone column before us.

Throwing stones at the "large" devil
This ritual hardly took five minutes. Thereafter, if one can, one must “sacrifice” an animal. I had pre-arranged for the sacrifice to be done in Mumbai through my family, so there was nothing to be done here. However, some of my colleagues went to designated counters and paid a pre-set amount of Riyals (450 per person, I think) to register their sacrifice. Thus, the pilgrim himself/herself does not actually knife the animal. It is done by the Saudi governmental agency, and the meat is distributed among the needy people in several countries where deprived people stay (usually among Muslims).

After the sacrifice, the males among us went to shave our heads, but found the salons full. Eventually, we returned to the hotel, prayed the afternoon salah, and went to the barber nearby and got tonsured by about 4:00 p.m.

Leaving the Jamarat and proceeding towards the Holy Mosque
Once this is done, you may remove the special two-piece garment that you had to compulsorily wear for the previous two and a half days (the ehram). This done (I changed into a tee-shirt and a pair of loose trousers), I went to the Holy Mosque to perform the second set of seven circumambulations … this is the Tawaaf-e-ziyarat, and it is mandatory to perform this.

This done, I then proceeded with some of my colleagues, to go back to Mina to spend the night. This ritual is also one of the mandatory ones. Spending the night at Mina and praying through it is a requirement that must be fulfilled or a sacrifice has to be done in lieu of it. My partner for this venture was Dr. Naheed’s husband, Mr. Faisal. We reached Mina at a little later than 10 p.m. The roads were full of several illegal pilgrims like us who had brought with them cheap plastic floor-spreads and various other types of material on which to sit or sleep. As we had none of these things, we picked up some old water-bottle cartons, opened them up to make a “mat” for ourselves, and found a place on the road where we would stay for as long as possible.

It wasn’t easy, as the police came again and again and forced the people to get up and leave. A police jeep with the worst possible sirens would arrive, and the man within would use a loud-speaker to ask people to get up. Along with this jeep, there would descend on the crowd several young and brash policemen (probably in their late teens or early twenties) and they would wake up sleeping pilgrims or stir those already awake and ask them to leave. I decided to argue with one of these with rationality: where do they expect the thousands of us to go. When he replied that there were tents where we could go, I reminded him that the tents were for those who had come legally, and in any case, there was no place in Mina to set up tents for so many others! Also, I questioned their basic step of trying to clear a road that, in any case, was out of bounds for all vehicles! He seemed to understand my broken Arabic, and after a few more futile attempts, the police left.

Faisal and I stayed until about 1:00 a.m., then we left to return to our hotel back in Makkah. Soon, I went to sleep till about half past one. After this, we got up, dusted ourselves, and walked back to the hotel to await the morning of the 11th day of Dhul Hajj.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Hajj 2012 - 3

ARAFAH continued.

There is a requirement to stay and pray in Arafah till the sun sets on the 9thday of the month of Dhul-Hajj, so everyone must come to spend his/her day here. Prayers recited here are believed to be “always” heard by Allah, so people pray very fervently at this location. I discovered, during the morning, that although we were in the shade of a tree, it gets very hot indeed, and it is almost impossible to stay within the tent! I therefore meandered about, here and there, trying to locate any of our other doctor colleagues, from whom Dr. Measser and I had parted the previous night. I finally found them all under a communal shade proferred by a large, billowing plastic sheet, sitting on rather comfortable carpets amidst the buses parked around them exactly where we had got off the bus yesterday night. It transpired that Sk. Jamal and his men had actually organized this way of spending the day! Most of the entourage were lazing under the shade, and some were actually sleeping!

At that moment, a thought went through my mind: had I NOT brought my own little tent, I would have stuck around with these people rather than follow my friend and his family … and what a nice thing that might have been. In the event, I decided to stay with the others for the rest of the afternoon, and even enjoyed a small nap. At half-past four, I woke up, went to where my tent lay, and with a little help from Dr, Measser, I disassembled my tent, folded it into its cover, and took his leave to join with the rest of my co-passengers. Dr. Measser, too, came within the next half an hour. We prayed the Asr’ prayers, and then, the “camp” was broken, and we gradually returned to the confines of our bus for the next phase of the journey.

Like it or not, the general exodus of thousands of vehicles meant only one thing: although we were ready to leave at half past five, our bus started its journey only after half past seven! We covered the short 5-6 km distance from Arafah to the next place on our itinerary, MUZDALIFAH in about six hours.

MUZDALIFAH: Day 2 of the journey/9th of Dhul-Hajj month of the Islamic Calendar:

General view of people resting at Muzdalifah
 It is at Muzdalifah, among the sands of the desert, that we have to spend the night of this particular day, praying and sleeping. Also, it is from here that one needs to collect, rather carefully, about 49 stones for a future ritual of Hajj, the traditional stoning of the three Satans at Mina (read about this later). The stones must be collected at Muzdalifah; one may collect either 49 stones, or 70 stones - and one may collect a few morein case one loses some during the next few days. The stones must not be very big and not very small either. The first restriction is imposed to prevent injuring others who are also present at the stoning; the next one is imposed to enable one to throw the stone properly from a distance of between 3-10 meters. Hence, the size must be about half a cm in diameter. No more, and no less.

We reached Muzdalifah at about mid-night, and as at Arafah, I found myself a place amongst the thousands of other people to lie down for the night. I decided against using the tent, but slept on my sleeping bag that I had also carried with me.
It was at about half past three that our group decided to start the return journey from here to the next phase of our journey, viz. going to MINA. This – our early departure – was a bit unusual, since books mention that one must stay at Muzdalifah till the dawn, pray the morning prayers and then proceed to Mina. However, the Islamic scholars among us opined that it was okay to proceed after a few hours’ stay.

Hence, we moved on.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Hajj 2012 - 2

MAKKAH: Day 1 of the Journey/8th of Dhul-Haj of the Islamic calendar:

After disembarking from the bus, we reached the bus stand, where there was a bus that was loading passengers. We all failed to reach the doors and, presently, it departed. We waited in the heat for another ten minutes, and a second bus came by. In the mad rush for seats, a few among us got in, while the rest, especially those with families, got left behind. After a long journey that went through almost half of the city of Makkah, the bus unloaded all its passengers, including yours truly, at the last stop, which was about half to one kilometer from the Holy Mosque. My friends moved away ... one of them was with his parents and went off directly to the Holy Mosque; the other was with his friend, and ran off to the same place. I was all alone. I had no idea how long I would have to wait before the others arrived, and I was getting frantic when no one had come after a two hour wait by the road-side.

I was in regular touch with the other doctors whom I had left behind, and at about half past twelve, one of them informed me that Sk. Jamal, the tour operator, had finally sorted out the problem with the police, and that they would all be proceeding shortly directly to the hotel where we were to be lodged for the next few days.

I then caught a cab and went to the hotel, where everyone else was just arriving/settling down. This hotel, grandiosely called the Salman Plaza Hotel, was just a building with sub-standard rooms ... the kind that you saw in your salad days! They had allocated one room of about 220 sq. ft. for 11 males! Each of us would get to sleep on a half-width Chinese mattress, with the rest of the space being used to keep our bags and shoes/slippers. The A/C worked okay, as did the fan. The room had a small (read cramped) toilet-cum-bath. I chose my "bed" and lay down almost immediately.

My co-passengers were all as tired as I was; one of my friends brought some food, and invited me to share it with him, which I did. We prayed the Dhuhr prayers, and then went to the Holy Mosque to perform the ARRIVAL circumambulation (7 rounds around the Holy Kaa'ba). I continued after this to also complete 7 lengthwise walks between Safaa and Marwah. This perambulation is about 3/4ths of a km each direction, so we walk about 5.2 km during this ritual of 7-lengths, praying all the time. The word for this is "saai". Performing the saai is one of the most necessary tasks during the Hajj. One can either do it on the first day of arrival, as I did it, or later, when we would return to Makkah to perform the FAREWELL  circumambulation.

Late in the evening, I returned to the room, and packed my bags for the next step of our journey: this part of the journey would take us to a place known as Arafah. As per the ritual, we would need to spend the entire next day at this place.

Hajj consists of several rituals; some of these are compulsary and CANNOT  be skipped at any cost; some are mandatory, but may be skipped under extremely extenuating circumstances; however, one has to perform an animal sacrifice to propitiate Allah for this; and finally, some rituals are neither compulsary nor mandatory and may be skipped.

As per the original sheet of itinerary issued to us, we were to spend the night at a place called MINA and go to Arafah early the next morning; however, our delayed arrival in Makkah yesterday put paid to the original plan, and we decided to proceed forthwith to Arafah. This was possible only because the ritualistic night at Mina was neither compulsary nor mandatory.

Thus, we arrived, tired and harried, at Arafah on the first night itself. It took our driver over an hour to reach the parking area. We disembarked with our luggage, and, almost immediately, my friend Dr. Measser, with his wife and mother, and I, all alone, went off to search for an appropriate place to pitch our tents for the night. The spot we located was on the edge of a large open space laid with medium-to-large sized pebbles; at the edge, the surfaces were cemented nicely, and there was no cobbliness of the ground. I had purchased a foldable tent last week from Ta'if.  (I hadn't gone personally, but had ordered it through a colleague who had gone to Ta'if for a visit.) I have never, ever used a plastic tent before, and it was with the help of my friend Dr. Measser that I learned to, and managed to pitch my tent in the proper way.

Our tents were pitched next to each other, and it was quite late at night that we settled in to take a much needed nap.

ARAFAH: Day 2 of the journey/9th Dhul-Haj of the Islamic calendar:

The problem with Arafah is that everyone, including all the legal people, sleep in tents. so that all the people need to use public toilets periodically. The best advice I could offer here is one that my advisors gave me: eat as little food and drink as little water as possible so that you DON'T have to go to the loo! This is what I did, and I am glad for this, as it would have taken me over an hour awaiting my turn to visit the loo.

Thus, night ended, and a new day began at Arafah.

Hajj 2012 - 1

I began working for the Ministry of Health of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia last year in mid-November. At that time, I perceived myself to be a moderate Muslim, not too much into religion, a sort of average person. About four days after my entry there, I went to Makkah to perform my first Umraah ... a sort of prelude to the Hajj, the once-in-a-year annual pilgrimage performed by millions of devout Muslims from all over the world. The experience I had at my first Umraah made me a stronger Muslim than I had been earlier. During my first eleven months, I performed the Umraah three more times, each time hoping to return for the Hajj in October 2012.

What prevented me from actually considering this was the fact that my co-pediatrician was first in line to go for Hajj as he had joined before me. Then, due to some personal reasons, he opted out at the eleventh hour, and I suddenly realised that I could, after all, go for Hajj.

Unlike pilgrims who are brought from overseas to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, I had only 5 days in which to complete the rituals that make up the official visit to Hajj. These five days are the “core days” of Hajj. In fact, overseas pilgrims, including those from India, come much before the actual date for the performance of the Hajj, and spend their money and time doing whatever suits their temperament. Once the dates for Hajj have passed, most tourists often hang on forever … or at least a week more. No such luxury for me.

I was going to Hajj with several of the doctors from my hospital along with their family members (in some cases). We were a contingent of 20+ with children and old persons in addition to the six or seven of us, the doctors. Arrangements had been made with a travel organizer by the name of Sk. Jamal for his bus to pick us all up from the village, and to bring us all back at the end of the pilgrimage.

Thus it was that on the eve of 23rd October, all of us gathered at the pre-agreed rendezvous to board our bus. It was a 19-seater small bus, and there were already about 12 people inside. The bus had come from Riyadh, and had passengers who had already boarded it from there.

We were all sort of wondering how the organiser planned to accommodate twenty other people in the 8-10 remaining seats, when the driver announced that there were foldable seats attached to each of the rows of seats that would unfold in the aisle ... thereby opening 10 extra seats!

We gave our luggage to the driver who now stood atop the bus, adjusting our luggage in the carrier at the top. By around half past nine, we set off. This journey would count among one of my most unique journeys. While I was unprepared for the troubles we would all soon face, I was totally surprised by the overall result of this trip. More of this follows.

A trip to Makkah normally takes about three hours, give or take. The actual distance from my village to it is about 290 km. This night, though, we took over ten hours to reach Makkah, and over 16 hours to finally reach the hotel rooms where we would all be staying. I would tell you all the sordid details, but suffice it to know that our agent had arranged the whole trip DIFFERENTLY ... that is, there was no payment made to the Government of Saudi Arabia for performance of a legal journey. We were performing Hajj at a very low cost ... the cost would include the transportation to Makkah and the return from it, and the 11-persons-per-room stay in a hotel in Makkah. Food, internal travelling, comforts etc. were EXCLUDED. Of course, the organiser's huge profit margin was INCLUDED in the 1800 Saudi Riyals per person package!

As we were not official pilgrims, the police stopped our bus at many places. At one spot, we were immediately directed to the opposite side and asked to return to Ta'if, the city from which we had just left; we tried to re-negotiate this barricade, and failed again. Then, in a burst of creativity, one of my co-passengers simply shifted one of the barricades aside and we drove past it, out of sight of the police! Ahead, as night deepened, most of us went off to sleep. The bus plodded on, inch by inch, as it neared Makkah. At the break of dawn, the driver woke us all and asked us to get off the bus, while he tried to get the bus past yet another police barricade. We got off, and walked past the lingering police with hundreds of other pilgrims in a similar predicament. Finding some flat, even ground on the side of the road, we all plopped there to await the bus that would come to pick us up. It was another two hours before it did. In the meantime, night turned into day and the sun climbed up, changing the weather from a balmy, warm one into an uncomfortable, hot one.

We got back inside our bus as it came around, and after a tiring, slow run of another few hours, we reached the third, and as it turned out, the final police outpost about 20 km before Makkah. This spot was, in fact, a huge parking lot or "sharaaya", and the unforgiving policemen here brought our journey to a complete halt as they refused to allow the bus to proceed ahead.

We all got off, unloaded our baggages, and trudged towards the public bus stand. We were all told to reach Makkah, now a mere 20 km away, by public buses.

... to be continued.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Preparations for the Hajj

In about 48 hours from the time of writing this, which is post-Ishaa prayers on Sunday, the 21st of October 2012, my pilgrimage to Hajj will begin. I am gearing up for the same, both physically and spiritually. The physical preparations will involve the purchase of the items necessary for the pilgrimage such as perfume-free soaps, open slippers, a sleeping bag, a small tent (if available), prayer books, a copy of the Qur^an, and so on. I must also remember to purchase items of food that are hygienically packed and non-perishable over the succeeding four or five days. I have been watching You Tube videos on how to perform Hajj, as well as reading the Mansak or the book that I had bought in Mumbai earlier this year. 

As my pilgrimage will be with my doctor colleagues and some of their families, I will perhaps not be able to visit the Faiz of our community. I am sure Allah will forgive me for this and my Hajj pilgrimage will be accepted by Him. As I have already performed the Umrah on several occasions in the past, my Hajj will be only the Hajj, without the Umrah. At the same time, I will not be going to Medina either. 

Inshallah, everything will go well. 

Friday, October 19, 2012

A hectic journey later ... back in the Kingdom

As I approach the completion of one year in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, I wonder what actually made me decide to come here ... whatever it was, I am going to say it's been a very, very eventful year so far ... the highs being my being able to perform Umrahs for myself and for dad, my niyyat (intention) to perform Haj this year, my trip to Medina, my augmented financial condition and my being able to give examinations for part 1 of the MRCPCH. The lows are few, but, of course, the most significant being my having to stay away from my family, my having to stay away from the fun and excitement of Mumbai and my being unable to do so many of the things I took for granted in India. So far, I am managing most of my personal needs fairly well, though there have been days when being alone has depressed me. I have days when I just don't feel like cooking, or washing clothes, or stuff like that. Then, rationalism takes over and I do what I have to do.

I really miss being able to choose to eat at a decent restaurant or order food home ... I miss the excitement and flurry that accompanied my private practice .... and I miss being able to meet and network with hundreds of people from all walks of life. I also miss my outings to parks and other places to do a bit of Nature watching and bird-watching. I miss photography. I miss the TV ... but that last fact can, and will, be rectified in the days to come. I sincerely hope so. 

Yesterday, I left home at about half past ten Indian time. Nishrin came to leave me to the airport. We parted at about half past twelve. This was an Air India flight via Kozhikode to Jeddah. Check-in was swift, and although my luggage was over 30 kg (it was 39 kg including my small bag, which I would have otherwise taken in the flight as cabin baggage), it was accepted without any additional charges. 

Most of my flight inmates were Muslims in ehraam proceeding to Jeddah for the performance of Hajj. However, there were at least 30-35 of us in the front section of the airplane who were going to the destination for other purposes, such as for work. We were segregated in the flight in the front section, and also allowed to deplane first and receive our luggage etc, before the Hajj people. In between, the flight halted at Kozhikode to deplane and emplane some passengers. Meals were served twice - lunch and dinner.  I was able to watch some movies this time, including 10000 B.C., Guddi and Message In A Bottle (the last one based on a novel by Nicholas Sparks).

After arrival in Jeddah, I had some minutes of anxiety when my luggage did not come through till the very end of the cycle; thereafter, I got into a private cab from outside the airport, and finally changed to a taxi to take me to Ta'if. However, both the journeys cost me much more than they do  usually: SR 80 and SR 100 respectively. I reached the hotel in Ta'if at a little after 1:00 A.M. Saudi time ... which means at half past three in the morning by Indian time! Thus, I had been travelling for nearly 17 hours. I went to sleep shortly thereafter.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Preparing to return to Al Muwayh

By the time my friends read this, it will be the morning of Thursday, 18th October, 2012 ... and I would be getting ready to leave my home and proceed to the Chatrapati Shivaji International Airport for my return flight to Jeddah with Air India, the Nation's carrier. 

The last week has been extremely busy; visiting distant relatives,  receiving friends and others at home, and winding up several things related to my own household as well as my parents took up lots of time. Mom has adjusted to her new life without the support of her husband and my father, Mr. Yunus Kagalwala, who died about 8 days ago.

Most of my relatives and neighbours shared their anguish with me genuinely: they called up/came in person/sent their wishes through others. Several people also wished me good luck in advance for the Haj that I am going to perform next week after my return to the Kingdom.
It was a pleasure to meet my family. Nishrin is looking better but complaining that she cannot sometimes cope with the burden of doing so many things in the world ... working at the parlour, looking after the home, arranging the tiffin box for Inas, who leaves for work at half past eight a.m., and so many other thousands of tasks that she performs with aplomb.

Inas works at Juice salon at Colaba (at Wodehouse road). She has to do a lot of models before she can be accepted as a Juinor Hair stylist.

Hannah is appearing for her end-of first semester exams. She would complete this by tomorrow, i.e. at the same time as my departure from India.

Nishrin is busy with her salon as well as before, and is looking forward to an even more challenging time in the festival season that is upon us in India.

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

Monday, October 08, 2012

A part of my family is gone: My Father, Yunus S. Kagalwala

Yunus Salehbhoy Kagalwala (20/05/1934 to 6/10/2012)

Over twenty-four hours have passed since the passing away of my father Mr. Yunus S. Kagalwala. A life-time of memories is impossible to capture in a blog post, and for the past several hours, images of him as a parent flash before my inner eye. I have mixed feelings for him, for he was a terror as a father to young children. He often resorted to corporal punishment to make my brother and me toe the line. He was singularly unfortunate in financial matters, and hence, even as a teenager, I was able to understand his angst. I still remember him handing us a single 10 paisa coin every day as we (my brother Kaizar and I) set off for school, ostensibly to purchase our bus tickets. In reality, I used to walk the entire stretch to school (about a km and a half) and use the money to buy stuff that is normally proscribed and hence, much sought after, e.g. jiragoli, spinning toys, black and white zebra golis, saunf embellished with colourful coverings of sugar, etc.

Dad (left) with his youngest brother Idris ... an old picture.
His was a method of discipline that brooked no nonsense, but mostly, I steered clear of his hands, as I was more into indoors, reading, studying, etc. Moreover, I was not a very picky eater, and ate whatever was made. My mother passed away when I was about 11 years old, and my dad re-married a cousin sister of my mom, Shirin Savliwala, and it is she who brought us up for the last 40 plus years. Considering the circumstances, my dad and she did a great job of making me a qualified Pediatrician, and settling both my younger brothers after getting them properly educated. For this I will be ever grateful, and would like to appreciate his steadfastness in making us what we are today. 

Over the years, he mellowed and began to be a little less belligerent and more compromising in his attitudes, but he continued to enjoy life - his hobbies being addiction to radio music in the pre-television days, and then, the idiot box - with its countless forms of musical, sport and news-related entertainment. Besides all this, was his love for the written word. He preserved old newspapers as if they were treasure, and it was only in the last few months after he became seriously ill that he gave up on these, and gave us a chance to throw away these - some of them as old as from the late 1940s. I guess I have some of his habit in me, as I do tend to preserve interesting cuttings from printed matter. Also, he used to sketch very well, and write too. I have come across his scrap book in which there were several hand-drawings and essays on diverse topics such as "If I were the Prime Minister ..." to "Autobiography of ..." etc. I guess I got his sketching and writing genes too!

My dad's tastes were simple, but he enjoyed travelling. In the year 2011, at my initiation, our entire family went to Alibaug for two days, and, at least for me, these were the best two days of our family for as long as I can remember. We were present in full, i.e. my parents, all three of us brothers and our entire families. Photos of this outing can be seen on my Facebook profile (Taher Kagalwala). Earlier, I don't think we went out much, but I have pleasant memories of us going to a couple of places, viz. Mahad, and Mahableshwar. While the Mahableshwar trip was in the eighties, the Mahad trip was in the nineties, and he had a great time at both these places. 

My only regret will be that I could not send him for Umrah or Hajj due to the lack of opportunities and also because he was not too keen to go. In the end, I performed Umrah for him (i.e. in his name) a few months ago, and prayed to Allah to send him the blessings for the same.

I will miss him, and for sure, my mom will. May his soul rest in peace till the Day of Judgement, and may Allah grant him a place in Heaven thereafter. Amen.

Saturday, October 06, 2012

Dad expired today evening, Saturday, 6th October, 2012

My father passed away at home today evening at around Maghrib time. May Allah grant him Jannah and give Peace to his soul.

Friday, October 05, 2012

Attended a party at the home of Dr. Yasser

Dr. Yasser Mahmoud Al-Shibiny is my paediatrician colleague at the Al Muwayh General Hospital. His wife and he were blessed with a son, Abdul Rehman a few months ago. He celebrated the "haquiqa" of his son by inviting all the doctors and some others at his residence on the evening of Thursday, 4th October 2012. He stays at the extreme Northern end of the town. I went with my DSLR camera (at his request) with Dr. Narendra. Everyone had a very good time. We all met and blessed his son, who was unmindful of the several people who kissed his forehead. Dr. Yasser was beaming with pride and was effusive and very cordial to each one of us. 

After tea, we were all served the traditional lamb + rice mandi, i.e. the rice tray is topped with a generous helping from the sacrificed goat and presented covered by aluminium foil. We all had a good meal. The meat was tender, but, as with the traditions of Arab food, it was almost bland. However, to be honest, I liked it. A can of Pepsi helped put the food in!

There was unlimited black tea and kahwa, the herbal hot tea that is a traditional drink of Saudi Arabia (and perhaps the other Arab countries as well). I used to hate the taste of kahwa, but I must say that the taste has gradually grown on me, and I now like to have it. 

Dr. Amr' Hilal had brought his own Canon 1000D camera, and was also busy taking pictures. We all had a good time. I requested Dr. Narendra to leave at about half past ten, and he obliged. I was back home within the next few minutes, having spent a happy two and a half hours ... not studying.

Thursday, October 04, 2012

Looking ahead: Day 313: Thursday, 4th October, 2012

As I write this on my 46th weekend since I came to Saudi Arabia, I am overwhelmed by mixed emotions. While the Kingdom has presented me with difficulties during the first few months, there has been a smooth passage thereafter, with many pleasant surprises that have made me a changed person. As in any other country, people of Saudi Arabia are a mixed lot with a few bad apples here and there. However, on the whole, the fear of Allah makes the average Saudi a God-fearing honest person with no malice in his heart, and no deliberate intention of running afoul of you or harming you just because you are not of his country. 

Let me relate one experience to you. While on duty at Zalm a few months ago, I had purchased an internet card from a Saudi's shop for SR 130. I was prescient in taking his telephone number at that time, though he was reluctant to share it because he felt I would not need it as the card was genuine and there would be no problem. 

Unfortunately, the card proved to be a dud. It did not start at all, and I realised that I would have to call that gentleman and request for a replacement. When I went to his shop the next evening, it was closed. I then called him. It was a Thursday evening, and he recognised me and told me to visit him on Saturday as he was at T'aif. He said his brother would be at the shop and would look into the matter. The problem was that I would be leaving Zalm on Saturday morning and there was no way for me to meet him or visit his shop on the day in question. He then asked me to bring the card with me to T'aif, where he would meet me and help me out.

As I was going to T'aif within the next three days, I was heartened by his reassurance. In T'aif, though, I kept calling him but he never replied. I remember thinking that I would have to forget the money and just take it in my stride.

A week later, I tried calling him again, and this time, he not only replied, but he asked me once again if I was sure that the card did not work. When I assured him that it indeed did not, he asked me to SMS him my Bank account number, and promised that he would put SR 130 in my bank account directly as a full and final refund. I promptly sent him the SMS, but did not receive the money for the next 2 weeks.

Then, I had an opportunity to go to Zalm once again last but previous week. In the evening, I went to his shop (it was a Monday), and, to my utter shock, the shop was closed! I called him, not really expecting a reply, but he answered on the fourth ring and asked me where I was. When I told him that I was near his shop, he asked me to go and meet him at another spot in the village (specifically, on the road to the mosque ... the road being opposite the Cooking Gas supply station). I walked to where the latter location was and looked around but could not see him. I then called him, and he responded by waving his hands above his head from the road opposite. I went to him. He did not ask me for the old card or any other proof, but simply handed me SR 130 in cash as a full and final refund, saying sorry and requesting me to visit his shop again in the future.

The other incidents are mundane, but, on the whole, I am very satisfied with the majority of people that I have met in the Kingdom. I have heard of there being crooked people in large cities like Jeddah etc., but I have no personal experience of their "skills".

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Into the final week

As I write this on the eve of Wednesday, 3rd October 2012, I must share that I am into the final week of my preparation for the MRCPCH exams part 1. I am appearing on the 9th of this month at Jeddah. Studying was going great until a few days back, but now, I guess I am slipping into a state of extreme boredom. I have certainly a lot left to read, but with no time to read so much, I am sort of resigned to my fate. I am part of a study group on FB. We are eight members, of whom six are females and two, males. The members are from Egypt (5), Sudan (2) and India (self, one).  The group has done great revision work in the last three months, and I am really proud of this. As a result of the hard work we have all put in, I hope that Lady Luck smiles on me, and all the rest of us, on the D-day, and we all  clear the exams. 

The last week was eventful. Saturday began the week with a team of people descending on the hospital from the Muderiya Saahaa (Ministry of Health) office of T'aif. The day was hectic as well, because there was a huge stream of patients both in the OPD as well as the Emergency Area (the tawaari). I expect that a lot of things may change in the coming weeks ...in fact, I saw a few new nurses yesterday ... and this is a welcome change. 

I kept studying in the home, but also took out the time to do the normal household chores. Cooking, ironing the clothes, running the washing machine, sweeping the carpets, etc. do take up a lot of time, but there is no alternative to these activities, other than postponing them as much as possible, or hiring outside help. Both these options are not viable, the first, because if you postpone them, they keep piling up ... and what will you eat once the foodstuffs get over; the second, because in a small place like Al Muwayh, it is not possible to easily locate trustworthy and unselfish people who will do your job for you.

On Monday evening, I went and bought myself a brand new, small-size Samsung Microwave Oven for SR 320/= It was a pleasure to start using it the same night by heating chapatis and vegetable made earlier. I think this was the first time I spent money for purchase of something tangible ... otherwise, I keep spending money on eatables and travel.

Dr. Yasser, my co-pediatrician has invited me (and all the other doctors) to attend the "haquiqa" of his newborn baby on Thursday, 4th October 2012 (i.e. tomorrow) after Ishaa. Hope I can go with Dr. Narendra. 

Dr. Amr' is arranging the entire Haj thing with a tour organiser and mostly we (i.e. all the doctors from the hospital) will be going with someone who has a cheaper itinerary ... expect to shell out about SR 1800 to provide for 5 days' stay, travel etc. Food will not be included in the package. I wish that my Haj desire is granted by Allah this year.

Dr. Shehaab has been interacting with the Hospital director in connection with a favourable evaluation for me, and I am happy to inform you all that this may, in fact, materialise. There may be some hurdles yet, but I think I might end up with an "excellent" evaluation, meaning a slight salary increment for me for the next year.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

The last fortnight

In the last fourteen days, a lot happened that I can write about, and much more that I cannot so easily write about. One of the things that happened pretty early on is that there was a request for a pediatrician from Raniya, a place that is located about 350 km away from Al Muwayh. I was once again asked to go there, but I refused because I have to study for my examinations that are scheduled for next month. He was reluctant on account of the fact that he has his family with him in Al Muwayh, but I argued that I had already gone for such duties four times in the last two or three months, whereas he hadn't gone even once. Thus, Dr. Yasser went to Raniya, while I did all the work here in Al Muwayh. The duties were not as bad as in the previous months, and it allowed me time to study.

My reading is mostly online. The books I read for a short while when I am in the hospital. As I did not get any response from Onexaminations.com, I decided to buy a month's subscription from another student portal called 123doc.com. This cost me UK pounds 49.95. Anyways, the portal has great questions, and I hope to be able to do as many as possible in the time remaining. As I write this, I have covered more than 400 questions out of their bank of over 2500. The comments and teaching notes are better than the ones on the previous portal that I was using, so I am happy. Our study group on Facebook is very active now, and we share at least 10-20 questions everyday, although not all the members are equally active as a few of us, including me. We cover different topics each day, and we do a joint sharing exercise on Friday evenings. This Friday, i.e. a few days ago, we covered three different systems, viz. Development, ENT and Dermatology. The interactions were good, and it seems that almost all of us are in the same state of preparation. Inshallah, we will all clear the exams.

On Wednesday evening (four days ago), I went to T'aif with the pharmacy technician Mr. Mohammad. He dropped me near Panda, and I went by dabbab to Ahla-Saif Hotel, where I have also stayed on the last two occasions. Mr. Ahmed, the Egyptian manager recognised me immediately, and on my request, allotted me the same room as on the last two occasions. I used the two nights to enjoy myself, not studying much. I downloaded several movies with the help of the free wireless connection that the hotel offers to all its guests. On the morning of Thursday, I went to Al Rajhi Bank's Money Transfer to send some cash to India. Also, I visited the T'aif Zoo ... known in Arabic as the Hadeeqat-al-haiwaan.

My dinner on Wednesday was at the Asian Restaurant located just below my hotel; on Thursday afternoon, I had a meal that was a hotch potch of snacks at the zoo and some at a local eatery. On Thursday evening, I visited Rayaan Broast, a restaurant suggested to me by my Indian colleague at Al Muwayh (Dr. Narendra). This place is located on Tareeq Janoub, the road that goes left from Shaara Shaher, and is also the route to go to Al Bahaa. There was a sizeable crowd, and I ordered and ate a mutton shawarma sandwich (it was delicious), and ordered a chicken broast to take back to Al Muwayh. It is waiting for my attention in my fridge at Al Muwayh as I write this from my room in Zalm (wait, I am getting ahead of my story).

On Friday, I mostly rested in my room, and left to return to Al Muwayh after Asr' prayers. I went by SAPTCO, the state bus transport, as usual. I arrived in Al Muwayh around 8:00 p.m., and later that night, participated in the Friday night revision session on my study group in Facebook.

Then, yesterday evening, I received instructions to go to Zalm for a night and a day to cover for the absence of their lone pediatrician who had to go to T'aif urgently. The medical director of Zalm, Dr. Talal was returning from T'aif by car, and he personally picked me up at half past eleven p.m. from outside my house and brought me to Zalm. 

Today morning, we had a conversation that explained why he had to bring me urgently. It seems that the pediatrician here had to leave urgently, and there was no time for the director to arrange a proper reliever through the central office (the Muderiya) as he usually does. 

Duty today was light, and I relaxed for most of the day. That's it for now.