Tuesday, February 28, 2012

A planned break in the offing

As I write this on the evening of Tuesday, 28th February 2012, I am making preparations to go to Ta'if, and onward to Jeddah with Dr. Narendra Punjwani, the orthopedic surgeon from Surat who is working with me in the hospital. He is planning to take us to Ta'if by car, from where we will go onward to Jeddah by the government bus. I am fairly excited about this, as I am about all the holidays that I have taken so far since coming to the Kingdom. I plan on visiting a medical book shop to pick up a few books for the purpose of studying for the Saudi Council examinations. I may also visit a Canon store to look at telephoto lenses, and go out for dinner on both days, viz. Wednesday and Thursday with Dr. Narendra to some nice Indian restaurant. On the way back, I am planning to meet Dr. Asadullah at Ta'if and receive my medical indemnity insurance papers that he has kept with him ... inshallah, all the tasks will go off as planned. My companion intends to do some shopping in readiness for his exit from Saudi Arabia later this year ... so, all in all, we will have a good time, of that I am sure. 

Today was a simple, uncomplicated day, with just 3 patients for me to see in the OPD! For breakfast, I made a chicken hamburger, for lunch, and for dinner (which I haven't had as yet), I had/will be having my dal-gosht. I also made Kheema which I will store in the refrigerator for use when I return on Friday evening. So, as they say, things are planned ... let's see how things turn out for me for the next few days. 

I spoke to Nishrin, who is currently busy setting up her renovated beauty salon, and she seems to be confident that things will turn out just fine. I intend to see the new place on Skype on Thursday evening if all goes right. She is planning to start her work from Friday, 2nd March, 2012 ... just a day before my 53rd birthday. Here's wishing her luck and success in this venture. That's it for now ... 

Meandering a bit ...

Dear Reader, 

Please indulge me for a short time while I meander a little here and a little there. As I was unable to post regularly through the past seven days, I made mental notes to not forget certain things. It is with that intention that I am writing this post.

To begin, let me share a few Arabic words and comment upon them. There are three similar sounding words in frequent use: Tahweel, Tahmeel and Tahleel. Tahweel refers to "transfer"; for example, you can use the word in the context of money transfer, in the context of transfer of a patient from our hospital to a bigger one, and so on. Tahmeel is simply another word for a suppository - a bullet-like soft nosed, long object that can be inserted  into the child's rectum; it is loaded with medication that the child needs to be given. Finally, Tahleel means the act of submitting blood/urine/stools or other biological samples for laboratory testing. 

I have frequently substituted one word for the other in the OPD in front of Saudi parents; the net result is usually amused looks on the face of the already stressed parent(s).

My long walks to the Al Muweh garden have enabled me to see things and events which most employees of the hospital never get to see: I am talking about teenagers playing vigorous football on the special astroturf ground; about the resident birds in the garden - the hordes of warblers, several Siberian stone-chats, the common Hoopoe (which I saw just yesterday, and also today) ... it looks brilliant when in flight; about the spiritual atmosphere that pervades the locality especially as Maghrib time approaches - the teens leave the garden and drive away, several trucks leave the highway just behind the garden and stop outside the small mosque and the men - the drivers and their assistants spill out and walk towards the toilets and the wudhu area (rows of taps with sprinkler attachments set before a row of seats on which the men sit to perform the ablutions), and then proceed to enter the mosque in time to pray the salah; about the small tea and snack shop and its regular stream of customers (I am one such customer who has at least a cup of tea every day, and a kheema roll or a falafel sandwich on almost 70% of the evenings); and of several such things and events that are too many to list here.

I wanted to write about the kind of food that is available in the various food stalls here in Al Muweh. To sum it up in a line: not much is available, except for khubs sandwiches, falafel, dal, puris (stuffed with kheema), egg preparations like omelette  and scrambled egg, kheema, cheese and/or butter and/or cream sandwiches, etc. Most cooks are Bangladeshis and they aren't very particular about food hygiene or standard hygiene levels. However, they are far better than the hawkers you regularly deal with in, say, Mumbai, India! The items are cheap, most costing less than SR 2.00, though we have outlets where they are SR 3.00 or SR 4.00 in price. Soft drinks in cans cost SR 1.50 and other small drinks or milk-shake or curd bottles are generally SR 1.00 for 200 ml. One can fill oneself up in less than SR 10.00 on an average meal.

I am currently awaiting instructions from the Ministry on the date of my appearance for the Saudi council examinations; once I clear those, I will start the process for getting my car driver's license and for the purchase of a car. I am already insured against medical malpractice, thanks to the help extended to me by Dr. Asadullah and the executive at the Al Ahlia Insurance company based in Ta'if.

That's all for now ....

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Day 103, Sunday 26th February 2012

Seven days have gone by without my adding anything to this blog. The fault is not entirely mine; the problem that gripped my laptop 2 weeks ago came to haunt me once again at the beginning of the last week. My laptop was back with the engineer for 2 days, and required some careful handling for the next 1-2 days; as a result, I lost interest in returning to the blog, and remained "incommunicado" for the remaining three days. It is not that there was nothing to write about. Last Monday, a team of administrators came from Ta'if to supervise the work in the hospital, and we were told to stay in our positions till they departed. We had a drill of Code Blue on the same day: the code refers to the announcement of a disaster and the possible arrival of many injured or sick patients. A team from Ta'if had come down with a "fire in the ICU" scenario, which they played out in the emergency department with cooperation from some of the subordinate staff who posed as patients. Several criticisms of the drill were related to the hospital staff, and I don't think we should say that we passed the enactment of the drill with flying colours. 

The emergency days for me were modest, but there were quite a few admissions from the OPD, thanks to the ever-vigilant Dr. Yasser who singled out at least three or four patients for me to admit into the wards. On Wednesday, I had eight indoor patients, 3 with diarrhoea, 4 with bronchial infections and one with pneumonia. Over the remaining three or four days, they all went home, and as I write this today, there are no patients under my care in the ward.

On Thursday and Friday, I was on call, and had very few calls to go to the hospital to see patients, but I did go for the routine ward rounds on each of the days. I faced some inertia while going for the evening walks, but I did walk here and there to complete at least 45 minutes of walking everyday. I cooked dal-gosht on Thursday and potato bhaji on Friday. I also made a nice boiled egg burger on Friday, one each for myself and my room-mate Dr. Shahid, the surgeon.

Due to fears that my internet connection was about to expire, I did not use the prepaid Mobily modem connector much on those two weekend days, as a result of which, I turned to using Actionvoip (an internet based Voice Over Internet Protocol network) with my Samsung Mobile when it got connected to Wireless internet located within the premised of the computer repair shop just outside the lane where Dr. Shahid and I stay. 

The weather fluctuated from extreme cold to mild cold by Thursday, and went to warm and somewhat hot by Friday. When the cool turned to warm, doctors shed their sweaters and pullovers, and most of us went to the hospital in casual but formal attire. However, it was on Saturday that the weather God pulled a fast one on us. A sandstorm came in by half past ten in the morning and kept building up in ferocity till we could see nothing but swirling dust clouds all over the town. There were no incoming patients, no outgoing people, and a sort of torpor set in among those present inside the hospital, since we were all helpless before the fury of Mother Nature. While returning from the hospital home, I was travelling in Dr. Shahid's car and managed to take some quick photos of the desolation around us and the swirling clouds of dust. Here they are:

It was not until 7:00 p.m. that the wind and the sand subsided, but by then, we were already within our homes.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Day 96, Sunday, 19th February 2012

Getting up to the present with this post. Dear Readers, I am grateful to all of you for being with me on this journey that began with a simple resolve to do something different with my life with an eye on improving my family's future and satisfying my innate desire to travel. I believe I am on the right track, and you, my faithful companions, are proof of this. I had one of my readers seek me out on GTalk last week when I did not appear on Facebook for at least 5 days without a forwarding of any new post. She asked me if anything wrong had happened and why I wasn't posting anything. I thanked her for her concern, of course, adding that nothing really had happened except for my laptop taking a long break. Somewhat propitiously, I was, at the very time she began her chat with me from Mumbai, India, writing the post for Day 89. I finished the post and immediately copied the address of that page and sent her the link so that she would realise that I am very serious about blogging on this site!

As I write this, Sunday is almost coming to an end in Al Muweh. I had a quiet day until lunch hour, and then, within the next hour, three patients got admitted to the wards. All of them had a respiratory infection; this is not too surprising, as the general level of hygiene among the locals is not at all satisfactory. Babies are put on cow's milk from birth itself; as readers probably already know, use of foreign protein, in this case cow's milk, can cause allergies of the skin, respiratory tract problems and frank infections. In addition, this feeding is often done with unsterile or unhygienically stored and administered feeding bottles. What else can one expect?

Today, in the evening, I cooked duck curry once more. After today's use, I still have two medium size pieces of duck, which I will use in the near future. Today's duck curry gets 6.5/10 points. The onions hadn't got completely homogenised, and the spiciness index was wanting. Anyways, I had it tonight with rice (khichdi), and I enjoyed it. Dr. Shahid also had a small portion. 

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Day 95, Saturday, 18th February 2012

Today, I received a very early morning SMS on my mobile. The time was forty-five minutes past 3 a.m. The sender was my bank, and the not-too-disturbing SMS was "An amount of _________ credited to your account". 

It was my salary. Imagine the nerve of the Saudians! They deposit amount in your account in the deep of the night! :-) This, then, was my first direct account-credited salary, and I gave a silent whoop of joy before returning to sleep. The rest of the day pales before such exciting news in comparison, but, to be honest, I had a very silent first day of the ER duty. There was one admission, but that's it. No further calls and no night calls. 

I spoke to my family in the evening (here, it is evening, but it is almost half past nine or more in India, so I thank my family members for taking my calls and for speaking with me at such a late hour.). I am making plans to visit India either in late May or early June as a split holiday. In fact, only yesterday, in response to my earlier post on monotony, one of my readers suggested that I do this to relieve the boredom. I pointed out to him that I had already started thinking in that direction, and my call to my family merely helped solidify that thought into probable course of action. Thanks, Dr. Muhbeen. 

My alu-palak turned out to be more delicious than I had thought, and I invite readers to "taste" it with these words. It looked a healthy spinachy green, it had the right "saag-like" consistency, the alus in it were the right shade of cream, and the overall preparation tasted divine, both with chapatis and rice. There's lots more ... so if anyone from Al Muweh or Saudi Arabia is reading this, come over and have it with me.

My evening jogs are becoming better and better. I am now able to jog for a continuous 30-35 minutes, or about 2.5 km. In addition, I also do some amount of stretching exercises and about 1/2 an hour of brisk walking. All in all, I guess I am doing just about enough to keep myself active and in good shape and good metabolic status. May Allah grant me these bounties for a long time to come. 

Days 93 and 94, the Thursday-Friday Weekend, 16th and 17th Feb. 2012

I have received many forms of positive encouragement from you, my dear readers. Someone had once predicted that as life settled down for me, there would be less and less material to write about and, eventually, I would get tired of the whole thing. There was some truth in that, and I see this now. After completing over three months in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, I have got used to "monotony". In this country, monotony expresses itself in many ways. For example, over 60% of pediatric patients attending the OPD have the same complaints: fever, cough and a running nose. Most of the babies are bottle fed. The patients all have lots of siblings - brothers and sisters. Almost 80% of the cars in Al Muweh are white. More than 90% of houses are cream, ochre or light brown. Almost all the supermarkets sell the same brands of bread, biscuits, chocolates, chips and similar stuff. This monotony, to an extent, can be comforting, especially if one's life is unsettled and so on, but after a certain period, it can be a kind of silent suffering from which we would like deliverance. 

I think I am passing through that phase now. I am getting utterly bored to see the same old things again and again. I want some variety and look far and wide to see it. For example, I think it was on this Thursday that I went on a long walk past the garden that I normally frequent every day for my walk. I kept walking ahead till I reached the end of the town. Ahead, I encountered a patch of ground - a large one, at that - covered with artificial green that looked very aesthetic indeed. On my left was the transmission plant of the Saudi Electric company as well as their Customer Service center, and beyond that, some plant and building where, presumably, refuse was brought in to be recycled or processed.

At the end of this foray, I turned around and walked back the way I had come; on the green, I stopped to breathe in and took some interesting photos. I also just stood there for about 5 minutes, watching the vehicles on the adjacent highway (Jeddah-Riyadh). 

The last photo truly looks beautiful, doesn't it?

I cooked alu-palak and fish curry for the weekend. On Thursday afternoon, Dr. Narendra invited Dr. Shahid and me to his place for lunch. He made chicken curry and a simplified chicken biryani for us - both of which were delicious. Hats off to his talent for the chicken curry!

Days 91, Tuesday, 14th and 92, Wednesday, 15th February, 2012

Before I go ahead with the descriptions of the two days captioned in the title, I would like my readers to read the summary of the entire three months' experience that I put in my just completed previous post. This will give you, dear readers, a bird's eye view of the entire experience I have had since I left India. I would also like you all to visit the other pages on this blog, which are of photographs of the Al Muweh Garden, some buildings, homes and other inanimate things I have "touched", and photos of people I have befriended here in this city. There is a post that described the send-off party we had to bid adieu to the Hospital Director Al Raad Saad Haarty.

Okay, so Tuesday was celebrated as the St. Valentine's day in most parts of the world, though, in Saudi Arabia, and in Al Muweh, especially, one would never know about it or its significance or its observation. I heard from some people that in India, 12th Feb is celebrated as "hug" day and the 13th as "kiss" day! How innovative and at the same time ridiculous can the present generation get. 

This was my OPD week, and I could have gone out and even taken leave to go to Ta'if etc. but did not do so as I would end up spending a lot of money, and that too, without any legitimate reason for going. Helping me to take this decision were Drs. Narendra and Shahid (although the latter had not yet landed here till the coming Thursday evening). Mostly, therefore, I did all the routine things that I do here in the Kingdom.

I am happy to report that I went back to my walking schedule within days of returning from my trip to Jeddah and Mecca. Gradually, I have added jogging to my repertoire, and as I write this, I am able to jog for at least 40-45 minutes continuously. In addition to my walk to and from the garden, I am therefore exercising for about 1.25 hours daily, which, in my own humble opinion, is pretty good, since I am able to almost reach my target heart rate. 

On Wednesday, I did not go back to the hospital after lunch and thus, began my weekend a little early.

That's about it for now ... do return to read more entries. Thank you. 

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Day 90, Monday, 13th February, 2012_A summary

As I write this post on the eve of Saturday, I realise that this entry marks the completion of three months of my stay in Saudi Arabia. Actually, I landed in Ta'if on the night of 16th November, so the 3 months technically completed on the 16th, but this is, after all, the 90th day, right? The journey so far has been a mixed one; in a nut-shell, I reached Ta'if and had no clue as to where I should go next; I parasitise the Children's Hospital for 2 nights and 2 mornings, after which I am taken to another place called the Mukhkhattul Visam to stay for the next week; during my transfer, I lose my mobile phone; I then go to Jeddah to spend the next 2-3 days with my cousin Juzer Kagalwala and his family. With them, I perform the Umrah at Mecca and come back to Ta'if. On day 9, I am driven to Al Muweh, where I am posted as the new Pediatric specialist. I am allotted a small room in the building behind the hospital, where I stay for about 3 days. After this, I am contacted by Dr. Shahid, the surgeon in our hospital, who is proceeding on leave; he invites me to his house via Dr. Narendra, and I visit his place and decide to move in as his room partner.

He leaves, and I move into his place with my luggage, and gradually settle in. There are several problems, like financial constraints, getting adjusted to a new place, new routine, new colleagues and a new way of working that calls for an overhaul of one's old way of life. I cannot adjust to the Saudi cuisine, and often eat less as I haven't got down to proper cooking and Al Muweh has no significant eating places, except for a few cafeterias run by Bengali cooks; these are not quite clean and have no proper menu, just snacks and a few items like dal and roti. Gradually, I begin to cook; also, I discover a few restaurants including a Pakistani restaurant and a Kerala one, both on my side of the highway behind my house. 

The work at the Hospital is, to be charitable, routine and devoid of any major challenges to a Pediatrician. Most of the times, when there is anything worrying about the patient, we shift him/her to Ta'if - a "referral" in technical terms. By "we" I mean my colleague Dr. Yasser Mahmoud and myself. We take weekly turns to manage the OPD and the Emergency duties. Thus, when I am in the OPD, Dr. Yasser looks after all emergency calls, newborn visits and admitted patients except those that I had admitted under my care the previous week when I was on the Emergency call ... and vice versa.

I gradually befriend the Saudi staff, forward applications for the Iqama and the Saudi Council for Examinations and Accreditation, for "badal tahsees" (furniture allowance - only given in the first year) and "badal sakan" (house-rent allowance), and so on. For this purpose, I take loans from several friends and meet the obligations for all the above tasks and for a decent subsistence. I also get to know the nurses (mostly Filipinos, but a few, very efficient Indians too), the other doctors (specialists and residents both - a majority of them are Egyptians, followed by Sudanese, Syrians, Pakistanis and Indians), the subordinate staff (such as cleaners, sweepers, canteen personnel, etc) and various useful people outside the hospital such as Niyaz, for example, who runs a repair shop for white goods, but also doubles up as a source for providing plumbers, electricians, masons, carpenters, etc.

I try and spend as less money as possible, but a few unavoidable big expenses include the Internet connection (quite costly in the Kingdom), food and purchase of items, small and medium, such as a water/tea maker, some utensils, a pressure cooker, wheat flour to make chapatis, and, not so surprisingly, water, which is not available for free anywhere, not even in the hospital. 

A month passes, and then, before I know it, the second does too. Sometime during the second month, Dr. Niaz, a Gynecology specialist of Pakistani origin, moves into my house as a partner. I get my Iqama, open an account with the Al Rajhi Bank (the only bank available in Al Muweh), go to Ta'if, register some bank accounts for transfer of my money to India, and also visit the Muderiya to request for cash salary for the first few months of my stay in the Kingdom. To my pleasant surprise, the cashier hands me a bearer cheque, which I encash in the local NCB bank. Suddenly, on 24th Rajab, I am rich! I also register my bank account no with the respective department for the direct credit of my salary from the next month onwards. I decide, on an urge from some quarter, to go for another trip to Jeddah and perform Umrah on my own. These I do, and this second Umrah is performed by me all alone, with the guidance of notes and a book, plus some genuine emotional input. At Jeddah, I stay with Juzer and his family again, and I also buy a new mobile, the Samsung Ace S5830. Back in Al Muweh, I re-adjust into my previous routine, while Niaz goes to Pakistan for a vacation.

Over the last several days, I experience a major problem with my laptop, and am rendered helpless without it. I give it to Mr Adil Ansari, an Indian computer engineer who works at the Mobily store (Mobily is a major telecom service provider in the Kingdom) just outside the lane which leads at the back to my house. He and I struggle with the laptop, and after nearly 5 days, I am back at work, although, as I write this, some problems still persist with the laptop. 

Dr. Shahid returns and we move on to the present. As I write this, I receive my this month's salary in the account. This brings me up to date on the last three months in Saudi Arabia. I hope you liked the encapsulated version. I kept forgetting important things as I wrote all this, and had to frequently go back and add those things where they were needed.

The day itself was unremarkable, but I remembered to call up home and wish all the three beauties of my family a happy St. Valentine's day. 

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Days 88, Saturday and 89, Sunday, 11th and 12th February 2012

The start of a new week, and I was still feeling down because of the computer troubles I had faced in the last few days. Dr. Tariq Khan joined us once again this week as the fill-in surgeon for Dr. Shahid, my room-mate and the surgeon from India who is likely to join back this week. Dr. Tariq is a very colourful person who minces no words when he talks about all and sundry. Blessed (perhaps that is not the right word) by the gift of an earthy language that uses all forms of words, legal, slang, non-vegetarian and so on, he can carry the house on his rather immense body frame without stopping even to breathe. His is a world of past shenanigans and present conquests, of stories from the wild to stories of the indescribable, of uncurbed emotions and unlimited imagination, of achievements that are breathtaking and sagas that are inspiring. 

In a word, Dr. Tariq Khan is ... fascinating. Over the week, I had occasion to listen to him for hours, and I see in him a soul that can stir people. He befriends everyone easily. He has a great sense of humour. He is, doubtless, a great surgeon. A behemoth of a person, his weaknesses are mostly weaknesses of the flesh, and I can understand him perfectly, since I am, at least in that respect, more or less like him. 

We ate out at the Pakistani restaurant on the other side of the highway today, and over the week, I would spend much more time with him, but that is for later posts. 

The working week saw me examining 16 patients today in the OPD. I was off call, so there was no pressure on me otherwise. I called up my wife and kids tonight and wished them a happy St. Valentine's day for the next morning. I also posted a similar status message on FB. I watched Ek Main Aur Ek Tu today in the night. Starring Imran Khan and Kareena Kapoor in the main roles, this movie is just above average, but it is watchable. There aren't many hummable songs. The story is believable. I would rate this 3.5 stars out of 5.

Not much else to report. I did not get the time or be in a mood to post entries to my blog, but I did go to the net to read my mail and do the other routine stuff. The Fn problems are solved but the touch pad continues not to perform according to its specifications.    

On Sunday, there wasn't anything much to share with you, dear reader. I did, however, call my parents and talked to them for a while. And, Dr. Narendra and Dr. Tariq came to my place for dinner. I served them the pasta, curry masala, dal and rice with khubz. Their honest appraisal was less than complimentary. We took some photos of the dinner meet. Tariq has a Nex 5 Sony DSLR which he had brought with him. It looks great and shoots superb pictures. Here are some of the photos we took that night:

That's if for now ... will be writing a new post soon. Keep reading and commenting. Thank you.

Day 87, Friday, 10th February 2012

Computer troubles, Day 2: This seems like an apt sub-heading to the almost continuous agony that I have been facing due to the crashing of my laptop yesterday. Over the day, I cooked a little food, and went for a short walk, but for most of the rest of the day, I was with Adil Ansari, the computer guy, to fix my laptop. I had stayed awake most of the night yesterday to download and install some essential software after Adil had restored the Windows by installing a new Home Premium version late yesterday night.

It seemed on this morning that the computer was finally okay and that there would be no further trouble from it. I went back to the computer shop to tweak some of the minor hassles and he (Adil) asked me to leave the laptop with him and return after a few hours. When I went back, he had just finished uploading some of the missing drivers and was going through the process of a restart. However, the unexpected happened: the computer went past the start-up "Please wait" section and then loaded the Acer Recovery Management Tool. This tool asked me if I wished to do "System Restore" or to go back to the "Image" of the disc created by me in the past. I wanted to do neither as my laptop had already loaded with a newly installed Windows. Adil and I struggled with this for a long time.

Eventually, we decided that we had to let the laptop win. I had checked in the morning, and all my desktop files, images etc. had been preserved in a new folder called "Windows.old" within the main drive. I had hoped to take all the data from there and restore them to a non-Windows drive on my hard disk. Now, since the computer wouldn't boot at all, we had to face the very real risk of losing all that data since we would HAVE to format the C drive. I took a deep breath and told the engineer to go ahead and format the disk. This done, I re-checked the C drive of the newly installed Windows. The windows.old directory was there, and all the folders within it under the sub-folder "Administrator\user\, but the folders were all empty. I had, within the space of 24 hours, lost hundreds of photos, the data from my Indian mobile stored on Nokia suite, all financial data of the last four years (purchases and sales of shares and mutual funds, credit card statements and IT statements .... and much more), video clips of old Hindi movie songs, and lots of other stuff which I cannot even remember. In their place was an empty shell that nearly made me cry. 

I can perhaps get back the songs, the financial data (from the websites) and even the telephone numbers of my old mobile when I visit India later this year, but I have lost hundreds of photos of my stay here in Saudi Arabia. I had kept them, sadly, on the desktop, which falls under the C drive. 

So, was there anything at all to redeem the bleak scenario? Yes, not one, but several things: Firstly, many video songs were also present on a flash drive that I had used to transfer these songs to Dr. Narendra's laptop; secondly, I had been meticulous in storing all the set-ups of the programs downloaded by me yesterday night into the E drive, so I could now re-install these programs without additional trouble; thirdly, I had uploaded many of my Saudi photos into this blog, so I had not lost all the photos - I can download these photos from the blog whenever I want to; I can always get the phone numbers from my family in India; and lastly, at least now my laptop was free from viruses or malware!

These thoughts relieved my depression to a large extent. However, some problems still remained: my touch-pad was not functioning well - although its tap function was working, its scroll function wasn't; the Fn + Fx keys were malfunctioning, so that I could not easily start the wireless or Bluetooth, could not manipulate volume of the speakers and so on (this was, however, rectified by Adil through the day and over the next few days); and, of course, this was no longer a laptop with an Acer Welcome screen, an Acer Screensaver and so on. Even the Microsoft Office I now had was a 2007 version, since Adil did not have the 2010 version. Furthermore, it was not the same as the legal copy I had at home with a legal key. So, there. 

I did most of my routine tasks as usual and there is nothing more to write about. I paid Adil for his services (SR 70) but I don't regret paying him because he has, over the next few days, given me several concessions and helped me a lot.

Day 86, Thursday, 9th February 2012

First of all, my sincere apologies to you, dear readers, for the inordinate delay in posting my recent entries. On this day, my own mistake caused my laptop to crash. My computer engineer thinks that this happened because I must have deleted an important system file while running "Regseeker", a registry cleaner, on Wednesday evening. The laptop just would not start. Initially, I thought nothing much of it and continued to go through the "shutdown-restart" routine by pressing down on the power button - first, to shut down, and then, to restart it. I tried pressing F8 during this process several times, and used options like "SafeMode", "Last Known Good Configuration", etc., but there was no relief. Next, I went to options to Repair, running the Memory Diagnostic Tool, and "System Restore", but these caused even more problems. Tired, I approached Adil Ansari, an Indian computer engineer who manages a mobile-computer shop just outside the lane where I live. We tried, over the next few hours, all the previous options and also tried to run the Acer Recovery Management Tool found within
the Acer folder on my computer in the Programs directory of the C drive of the computer. This prompted us that it would restore the backup image of the disc that was taken when the laptop was configured at the very beginning (i.e. at the time of its purchase), so we aborted it. Later, I went back to my room to sleep off the depressing circumstances, and thus, the day ended.

I have this advice to render to my friends: don't tinker with the files unless you are damn sure of what you are doing; and if you are planning to install a registry cleaner, do NOT, I repeat, do NOT choose Regseeker. I may be over-reacting, and this is natural, since that was the program that caused all the anguish and trouble to me. I will tell you more about these in the next entry, since this is a chronological blog.

Additionally, today was as busy as the rest of the emergency days. I had three visits to the hospital, and I managed the work quite well, I think. I cooked a few dishes ... dal, and the Bohri way of making curry with coconut milk and the special curry masala ... I made it with duck. Also made chapatis. I hope to cook more stuff tomorrow.

That's all.

P.S. The Arabic word for completely spoiled or out of order is kharbaan. That is where my laptop was on Thursday night. :-(

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

A quick update

For the last 5 days,  I am struggling with my laptop, and hence unable to blog. Please excuse this delay.

Thursday, February 09, 2012

Days 81-85, the entire working week

As stated by me in my previous entry, the week that was was a horrible one for two reasons: my co-Pediatrician Dr. Yasser worked only on Saturday, and then went on leave, so I was alone; and two, the weather changed suddenly for the worse (it became much more cold), so that children came in huge numbers with respiratory illnesses, both to the OPD and to the ER. On any of these five days, I had at least 8 patients in the ward and up to three calls in the night. 

I had barely any time to explore the net, or check out my favourite web-sites or email, let alone time to publish the blog entries. On last Monday, I had to refer three patients to the larger Children's Hospital in Ta'if. This irked the residents since I had insisted that one of them accompany each of the patients in the ambulance.

In between, I managed to cook simple food, and I had to do this, as I had been away the last weekend and there was no ready food. The pakora kadhi satiated me for two meals and a breakfast (which I had with brown, whole wheat bread). I also made do with a few meals at one of the local eateries, and at least two lunches in the hospital cafeteria. I could not leave the hospital premises for lunch at home (something that I usually do as I go home with Dr. Narendra in his car), so I brought fruits, slices of buttered bread or something similar to have in the afternoon.

In the evenings, I continued my routine of walking and jogging on at least 3 of the five days. The other two days - I was busy on one of them, and plain lethargic and not in the mood on the second. I "skyped" with the family on two or three days, making up to them with a call to one of my daughters or Nishrin on the remaining days.

The work-centred week made me realise that things can change, and change rapidly, in this country. The cold wave that came in did so quite fast, and brought with it a wave of illnesses that made work so heavy. Just as suddenly, though, the intensity of work declined on Tuesday evening, and by Wednesday, the OPD and ER work had reduced considerably, the wards emptied out, and I had, finally on the Wednesday, not a single night call. 

Of course, my on-call continues through the week-end, but, if the trend is anything to go by, I should have an easy weekend.

On Wednesday evening, I prepared Dal, chopped and fried onions, marinaded some chicken and made a light mixed vegetable. I would make chicken, rice and may be some more food over the weekend ... lets see.

Day 80, Friday, 3rd February, 2012

Over the last six days, I have had one of the most busy emergency on-call weeks since I landed here in Saudi Arabia. Readers, I am sorry that I was unable to update the blog for these six days. I have had several calls to go to the hospital, some of them in the darkest hours of the night (before dawn), and this has caused a fair amount of tiredness and a sleep deficit that I will try to compensate for during today and tomorrow, the weekend days. I think the spurt in work was due to the sudden reversal of weather from pleasant and cool to a biting cold with gusts of wind that made children acutely ill, most of them coming with a sore throat or episodes of wheezing (like the wheeze of an asthmatic older child). Quite a few of them needed to be hospitalised to make them recover early.

Okay, so having cleared that from your mind, let me proceed to tell you about my last day of the last week. As you may have already read, I was in Jeddah, and on Friday, I had to return to my place in Al Muweh. My cousin Juzer and I had visited the SAPTCO (Saudi Arabian Public Transport Co.) bus stand on Thursday evening itself and we had already purchased a ticket for a morning bus to Riyadh (which would drop me off at Al Muweh). 

Thus it was that on Friday, I finished all my personal tasks by nine a.m. and got ready to leave Juzer's house. Being a weekend, Juzer and his family were still sleeping when I decided to leave. I had to inform him that I was going, so I gently called out to him across the door of the hall into the living room and beyond. He was still in his pajamas, and I offered to go alone, but he said he would come with me to leave me at the bus stand. So nice of him! We hurriedly left the house by half past nine. (The bus was due for a 10:00 a.m. departure, so there was no time for me to drink tea or have a breakfast.)

Once inside the bus, I went out to buy a cup of tea and also some snacks in lieu of the breakfast. We set off exactly at six (and I was one of the last passengers to board, having arrived at just six minutes before it started on its journey).

The journey itself was quiet and without any excitement. We bypassed Mecca, halted at Ta'if, and finally at the restaurant just before Muweh. The entire trip consumed nearly 7 hours (including the almost 1 1/2 hours used up by the two breaks). I finally landed at the SAPTCO stand behind Al Muweh at 4:50 p.m. During the journey, I did not have a full lunch since the only food available at Ta'if was rolls and chips at the snack stand. Although a full lunch was available at the last halt near Al Muweh, it was nothing but broast chicken with rice - not one of my favourites. Also, it did not make sense to have it here as I would be reaching hone fairly soon. During the trip, I watched "The Untouchables" - a 1987 Hollywood movie I had downloaded in Jeddah - on my laptop. This is one of my all-time favourites, and I remember watching it three times when it was first released in India. It is based on true events of the rise and rise of the Chicago Mafia of the 1920s and 1930s, but it is a fictionalised account of how it was finally controlled by a team of policemen that worked night and day to capture the kingpin of the Mafia (Al Capone). Do see it ... I do not want to be a spoiler by revealing any more. It is crisp, taut and full of unexpected turns. Check it out here. I also slept, listened to music, explored my new mobile, and did this and that during the long journey.

After getting off at the Al Muweh bus stand, I walked home, unpacked, ran the washing machine to full capacity to wash all of my journey clothes, ran it once again to wash the ehram clothes, and cooked some basic food for the night. 

Nothing more to add here, so I will end this entry. Thanks for reading.

Sunday, February 05, 2012

Day 79, Thursday, 2nd February 2012: Jeddah

Dear Reader, 

By the time you read this, I will have crossed 5000 views of my blog ... an achievement for which I must thank all of you from the bottom of my heart. It has been an exciting and adventurous journey for me, and one from which I am slowly but surely emerging victorious in more ways than one: not only have I performed Umrah twice in just over 2 months, I have received salary for 2 months, I have sent money to my family, I have experimented with cooking on an unbelievable scale, I am feeling healthier on account of a regular walk-jog routine, I have made so many acquaintances from Saudi Arabia, Egypt, India and the Philippines, I have been birding (although I am not satisfied with the level of birding) and lastly, and importantly, I am adjusting myself to a welcome situation where my short-tempered fast life is changing into a more peaceful one with time for prayer, reflection and rumination.

 In a conversation with my daughter Hannah, I was trying to settle a domestic misunderstanding between her, Inas and their mother (my wife) Nishrin. I asked her to learn to be a little less fretful and more meditative and calm, and told her how I was feeling the change in me occurring because I was in a slow-paced small town. She agreed that I sounded less anxious and more at peace with myself. This change in attribute may be something that lasts with me even when I return to India, or, then again, it might not, but as of now, I am basking in the glory of the change. My advice to you, dear readers, is to reflect upon your life thus far, and to consider slowing down a bit and taking out the time to exercise, pray, meditate and reflect and so on. If you do some of these things religiously (pun intended), you won't need to join a gymnasium or do 1000 push-ups or go on starvation diets. The change will come from within, and it will transform you for ever.

My second morning in Jeddah started off early, because Memuna was to conduct a 5-hour religious class in her house for children. As the class would be held in the hall, I moved my luggage etc to the inside living room. Juzer planned to take me out for a ride by 11 a.m. When he left the house at around 10 a.m., he told me he would come back to pick me up before 11. In the event, some work held him up, so that I informed him that I would go to the seashore near Hotel Hilton alone for the time being - and to be in touch with him thereafter. Thus, I left the house at about 11 a.m., walked to the main road and then hired a cab to take me to the seashore (near Hilton) on Corniche. The drive was fairly long, lasted for about 15 minutes and cost SR 15. 

I arrived at the destination, and then strolled about for a long time before walking up to the observation pier to watch fishermen (and a lone fisher-woman, all dressed in the traditional abaya) doing their thing. One or two of them had really professional fishing rods, and it was a pleasure to watch them bait the hook, twirl their bodies and cast the line and then wait patiently while reeling the line in to catch a fish. One of the gentlemen actually caught a long snout fish (I will search for its name and add it her when I can) which he then threw over the tiles and waited while it died.  I also entertained myself watching some species of sea birds like gulls and so on. I did take pictures and videos with my new phone, but, barring a few, most of the pictures aren't as detailed as I would have liked them to be.  

In between, I had a snack of curled fried potato chips (see photo) along with tea. By 1.20 p.m., I received a call again from Juzer. He had just finished his work, and asked me if I would please come back on my own. It was a SR 15 taxi again, back to where Juzer and his family lived. For lunch we had bottle gourd, some other stuff and so on. I rested for a while after lunch. 

We went for dinner to a restaurant called "The Golden Palace", a Chinese eatery. It was my treat, and we had wontons for starters, soup, a chicken and a lamb dish and finally, noodles to complete the experience. It was a good dinner with generous portions of the foods that were served. 

Returning from there, we retired for the day, and I went to sleep by half past ten or eleven.

Day 78, Wednesday 1st February, 2012: Mecca -> Jeddah

It was a great feeling to wake up inside a hotel room, although we are talking here about a small, nondescript place here. This was not the room I went to sleep in ... and thereby hangs a tale: after I wrote yesterday's entry, I surfed the net a bit, then went off to sleep. However, I could not fall asleep instantly, and it was at around half past twelve that I heard footsteps outside and a couple of knocks on my door. I ignored these knocks, and for a few more minutes, everything was quiet. After this illusory pause, there was more insistent knocking and I got up to open the door, a bit annoyed and apprehensive. It was the man who had allotted my room earlier yesterday afternoon. He was accompanied by his "assistant". He explained, rather sheepishly, I think, that he had just admitted a large Saudi family into the three accompanying rooms and wanted my room too as the family was big and there were women too. He offered to shift me to the fourth floor - and into a larger room. I tried to refuse but he kept pleading and I was left with no choice but to assent. Between his assistant and him, I took my belongings on to the top floor and into the definitely larger room and spent the rest of my night here.

Okay, so I was up and about by approximately half past eight o'clock. I took a bath and went out of the room. Going back to the Haram, I went inside and did 7 more tawwafs. Praying to Allah for success in my endeavours, I felt better than I had since I had stepped on Saudi soil 2 1/2 months ago. After this, I roamed around the local area for some time. I visited the mall inside Al Safwa towers. From here, I picked up a box of dry fruits that I would gift Juzer Kagalwala, my cousin, when I reached his home in Jeddah later in the day. This mall was even bigger than the bin Dawood that I went to yesterday, but I did not have the luxury of time, so I left by noon. For lunch, I had trifles. By half past one, I was back in my room and packing my luggage for the check-out. 

Eventually, I checked out at 01:40 p.m., and went off to search for the taxi stand that would take passengers to Jeddah. Initially, I came across the high-priced stand which had taxi drivers who took single passengers, and the average price quoted here was SR 75. I shunned these and finally located the low-cost share-a-cab stand where the average price quoted was SR 15 per passenger. I finally took a cab with a Saudi driver who spoke English. He was an interesting man indeed. Claiming to be a Masters in English from Sussex, England, the driver kept entertaining me and another Indian co-passenger (who also understood English) with various stories. Indeed, because of his pleasing banter, the road to Jeddah turned out to seem too small. 

Approaching Bab-Mecca, the place where we would get off, I called up Juzer. He asked me to take a cab to Tareek Medina and get off at the Shola store. The ride took about 15 minutes and the local cabbie charged me SR 15 for it. When I got off at my stated destination, I had to wait for a mere two minutes before Juzer arrived in his car and escorted me to his house nearby. Abi Talib was also with him in the car as his school and all other schools had been given a half-day off. The reason: rainfall had been predicted for the evening! Juzer, too, had wound up for the day, and was available for the evening.

Memuna (Mrs. Juzer Kagalwala), as gracious as before, served lunch and we all ate in silence. Thereafter, I sat down to connect my laptop with Juzer's home network. I initiated downloads of some movies ... a task that would go on for the next few days and allow me to download almost 8 full length feature films. 

Later, in the evening, Juzer took me to Zarir Bookstore to purchase my new mobile phone. I bought a Samsung Galaxy Ace S5830 for SR 949/= (the salesman gave me a SR 50 discount on the list price of SR 999/= upon my insistent request). This is a beautiful phone that costs about INR 12500/=, and almost the same price in India. I must thank Inas' friend Manish for his help in choosing which phone to go for, but I must also thank Dr. Muhbeen who cautioned me against buying a very costly mobile which would serve no additional purpose, and besides, as he pointed out in a friendly way, I have an easy propensity to lose mobile phones. So, here goes: Thank you, Manish and Muhbeen.

In the night, for dinner, we had - guess what - chicken biryani, cooked lovingly and fantastically by Memuna. It was something I had not eaten in the last 2 1/2 months, and I really enjoyed eating it with the mutton soup that she had made to go along with. 

Thus ended the second day of my "vacation". 

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Day 77, Tuesday, 31st January, 2012: On to a brief outing

Today, on the last day of January, which, incidentally, is also Nishrin's birthday (her first one when I am not with her in person), I set off on a 3 1/2 day outing. I had already applied for a day's leave for Wednesday, 1st February 2012, but I had to put a fresh paper before the medical director for the early departure today. Dr. Niaz had arranged for a car to take us both to Ta'if, where he had to visit the Muderiya to collect his passport (he is flying to Pakistan within the next 36 hours), while I wanted to return the monies I had borrowed from a few doctors working at the Children's Hospital here, and also, to transfer some money to my NRI account from my balance in the Al Rajhi bank. Thus, after Niaz had completed his work at the Muderiya, the car driver took us to Shubra street, where I did the money transfer and went to the Children's Hospital to hand over the money to two doctors I had taken the money from. After this, I was also supposed to go to the Al Ahlia Insurance company to submit an application for my medical malpractice insurance, but I could not do this as Dr. Niaz suddenly dropped a bombshell: he had to drop his idea of going today for the Umrah and rush to Jeddah as his flight was for today evening from Jeddah.

He wanted to leave immediately, and I had no option but to go with him, as, otherwise, he would leave in the car and I would have to make independent arrangements to travel to Mecca etc. Thus, we left within a few minutes and he dropped me at the Mikaat (the place where I would tie my Ehram, pray at the mosque and go onward to Mecca to perform the Umrah). From here, I was on my own.

After the prayers and other formalities were done, I took a paid lift from a cab that was also going to Mecca and arrived at the Haram sharif around half past three in the afternoon. I left my luggage (the bag and a small handbag with my shoes) inside a paid locker (SR 10 for two hours) and then entered the Haram sharif. I performed the Umrah with true devotion, and did Tawwafs in my own name, as well as one each for Dad, Mom, Marhoom Mother, Nishrin, Inas, Hannah, Kaizar and his family, Murtuza and his family, all my neighbours from all the three places of my life-time (Bharmal House, Tankiwala Bldg and Meena Apartment), all the people who are my friends, all my patients, all my extended family, all my subordinates (people who have worked at my home, in my clinic, in Nishrin's parlour, my own and my children's teachers  in school and college, and an unnamed tawwaf for all the others who I missed naming in the previous tawwafs. I got immense satisfaction doing all these tawwafs. I cried many times as I remembered my entire life and the people who have moulded me in different ways through my life. After this, I began the walk of the Safa-Marwa, did the Maghrib prayers, and left the Haram at about 6:45 p.m. I picked up my luggage from the locker.

I went down the road past the Bin Dawood mall and, with the help of a Bangladeshi, searched for and moved into a small, non-nondescript hotel room for the night, paying SR 60 for the same. After a bath, I went down and walked back to the Haram to join the congregation for the Ishaa prayers. Thereafter, I went inside the bin-Dawood mall. It is a huge mall with four storeys. There are several eateries and ice-cream outlets, two full storeys of clothes shops, and several other shops too. I had a vegetarian fresh, hand-made pizza and tea (SR 15 + 2). When I left the mall, I saw something interesting: a lot of dark skinned women had laid out their wares outside the mall. They appeared to be Sudanese, and they were selling purses, trinkets, peanuts, pillow cases, and several other things. As I moved down the road, I encountered many more similar women going to join their other compatriots, with loads of stuff slung on their backs. It reminded me of the hawkers who descend on Mohammad Ali Road after 7:30 p.m. every single day in Mumbai. The thing is that all of them, every single one of them were black women ... not a single man was seen.

I returned to the hotel room by 10:00 p.m., sat watching a movie on Zee Aflam (Main Prem Ki Diwani Hoon) and wrote this blog entry as well as the previous one, browsed my mails and surfed Facebook before deciding to go to bed by midnight.

P.S. I did remember to call Nishrin to wish her a Happy Birthday. The family was planning to go to Gaylord Restaurant (at Churchgate) for dinner. 

Day 76, Monday, 30th January, 2012

Dear Readers,

Two and a half months have passed since I came to Saudi Arabia to meet my immediate and medium-term objectives: to earn more money, to perform Umrah, and if possible, Haj, and to study and appear for the MRCPCH examinations ... and qualify as a member of the Royal College of Pediatrics and Child Health, U.K. 

Those of you who have been reading this blog regularly must already know that I have performed the Umrah within a week of my arrival in this country. The earnings have also begun, and I plan to transfer the first tranche of my earnings to India within a day or two. As for the last objective, I have been reading, though not substantially as of now. I may appear for the first part of the exams in October 2012 when I visit India for my first year-end vacation. This will depend also on whether I clear the Saudi Council exam which will give me the necessary accreditation to practice in this country. 

Today, there was a general sense of lethargy in the hospital as most of the Saudis came in late on account of the party the previous night (read my entry for day 75). The doctors, however, were on time, and we had a relatively light day in the OPD. 

Dr. Niaz Qureshi, the Pakistani OB-GY doctor, who is also my room-mate, is planning to leave tomorrow for his month-long vacation to his homeland in Multan, Pakistan. I have decided to go with him to Ta'if, then onward to Mecca to perform Umrah, and then, onward to Jeddah, from where he would fly off to Pakistan and I would go to Juzer's house to spend a few days with his family. I also intend to buy a mobile phone for myself (sorry, Dr. Muhbeen, but I have to do this). 

I prepared for the departure in the evening, purchasing things I needed, packing my small bag, and so on. I am so looking forward to the next day.

Signing off for now.