Thursday, April 12, 2012

Day 148, Wednesday, 11th April, 2012: Mecca: Exam, Umrah

Dear Readers,

Let me say that I have been amiss in updating my blog for nearly a fortnight, and the main reason for this was that I was busy studying for my upcoming Council examination. Reading for an exam, that too in the new format of "Multiple Choice Questions" (MCQ) can be a tough thing for someone like me who has studied more than 2.5 decades ago (my last exams were in 1986). To be honest, when I came to Saudi Arabia in November last year, at no stage of the selection or final approval stage was I told that I would have to appear for an exam which would decide my future after the end of the first contract period. Not just this, I was not even prepared mentally or financially for these examinations. As my regular readers will remember, the fiasco that happened after my exit from Delhi had left me with just 15 Riyals in my pocket when I landed at the Children's Hospital on the dark night of 16th November2011. Over the next 1 month, I borrowed cash like crazy. Of the various moneys, at least SR 600 were paid to register my application for the Saudi Council for Health Specialities. Thereafter, I paid SR 350 to M/S Prometric as exam fees. Lastly, I was given the examination center at Mecca, which incurred me a loss of two days plus nearly SR 750/= in various expenses. 

Fortunately, though, I cleared the examination. The location was about 5 km away from the Kaaba (Haram) on Nuzha Street at the Al Khalij Education and Training Centre. I had gone yesterday evening and located the place where the Prometric test centre was housed. This enabled me to go to the examination centre very easily today. I arrived at about half past eleven and was admitted to the Computer room within the next five minutes by the manager, a Kerala person by the name of Mr. Rafeeq Madathil. The format of the exam was simple: I had to answer 70 MCQ's on the computer screen within 120 minutes. I had solved at least 2000 MCQs in the last 1 1/2 months, and was feeling a little nervous, but also confident that I would pass the exam with flying colours. In the event, I completed the questionnaire with about 60 minutes to spare. As soon as I finished the questions, I was given an opportunity to review all the answers, which I did in the next 10 minutes. I was done then, and as soon as I ended the exam, a screen popped up with the result: I had PASSED!

I left the exam centre at half past one, and walking out, I saw a nice eatery called "Iskander Kebap". This is the Turkish way of writing Sikander Kebab. The restaurant is located just outside the exam centre. I ate a plate of two lamb mince seekh kababs, a thin leaved Roti, two varieties of rice, Pepsi and water. My bill was SR 18/= only. Thereafter, I hired a taxi and arrived back at the Holy Mosque. My taxi driver agreed to return to fetch me after some time, so I returned to the hotel, took a bath and completed my ablutions. Then, I changed into the Ehram, and called up the taxi driver. He could not come, but he was kind to send his friend who took me to the Mecca mikaat (Mikaat or Taanim) for me to perform the namaaz before the umrah. He brought me back to the Haram, and I began my Umrah at about 4:15 p.m.

This Umrah was a little less emotive than the previous two that I did, but it was tiring, and by the time I had finished the 7 circumambulations (tawafs) around the Kaaba and the seven full-length walks from Safa-Marwah and back, my legs felt like jelly. I walked to a quiet spot inside the mosque but outside the central circle where people keep doing the tawafs. Here, I simply plopped down to await the time when Maghrib prayers would be due. Resting my legs here for almost half an hour, I felt a lot better. I completed the prayers at about seven o'clock, then went to a barber's shop to trim my scalp hair ( I did not go for a full tonsure this time). Returning from this, I went back to my hotel room to take a bath and change into mufty. 

Next, I took a taxi to Shaara Seettin, a big road that goes off at right angles to Nuzha road. Here, my aim was to visit the Zarir Bookstore in Souk al-Hizaz. I was looking for the OB-GY Pretest for Dr. Sadia, one of the two Pakistani residents working with us in Al Muweh. She is due to appear for the exam on the 16th of this month. Alas, this book was out of stock, and I had to return to the Haram after spending more than 45 minutes of my time, and SR 35 on cab fares. I tried to locate any other bookstore within Mecca by calling on friends but it was a futile attempt, and I could not get the book for Dr. Sadia. 

I returned to my hotel room for the last time today, and sat down to write this entry. Here it is, and I hope you enjoyed reading about the experience. 

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