Saturday, June 29, 2013

An extended weekend: a pleasant surprise, a requiem for Thursdays and some 'Geek Talk'. Seriously!

As I write this on a quiet Saturday morning, I want to share with you all this bit of news: in keeping with the pressures of a global economy that works in full swing on Thursdays (at least), the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia finally made the move to shift its weekend from Thursday + Friday to Friday + Saturday. This is the transition weekend, and we got three days off from the OPD grind! Thus, this post is a requiem for Thursdays, which will no longer be part of the Saudi weekend, and welcome to Saturdays, when we can, with the rest of the world, relax in our homes - as I am doing right now, and watch weekend specials on the television channels - which I plan to do today, or simply sleep it off till the next morning - which, of course, I will do as the evening shadows lengthen.

Yesterday, I busied myself with preparing a Powerpoint presentation on Neonatal examination, something that I wish to lecture the residents and nurses in the hospital on. The problem was that Office 2007 (which I have installed through a local computer dealer) stores the presentation as a .pptx, a format that Office 2010 (of which a trial version only is installed on my new laptop) does not recognise. Thus, after opening, creating and storing the presentation, when I tried to re-open it, I got the message: "This app can't run on your PC. Contact the application provider for details and help".

Ha ha. So, I sat to think: when I go to Office 2007 and open the presentation, it opens nicely, thank you. But when I try to open the presentation from its icon directly, the default app that runs is Powerpoint 2010, and it does not open the presentation because it does not recognise the .pptx format. I then decided to make a copy of the presentation and stored it in a non-Windows drive. Then, I right-clicked on the file and selected "Rename" from the context menu. Now, I have configured my files to always show the extensions, so the name of the extension is also visible. I then simply removed the "x" at the end of the extension "pptx" and saved the file. A dialogue box opened warning me that if I changed the file extension, the file might become unusable. However, I felt bewitched right then, and lo! The icon of the file changed to show that it was now a PPT file, and when I clicked on it, it opened correctly with Powerpoint 2010! That's a tweak readers might like to remember when they find themselves in a similar spot.

Just so you know that I remember we are on the life in Saudi Arabia blog and not a tech savvy write-up, let me return to my humdrum life back here. A three-day on-call holiday can be a killer, make no bones about this. Two of those three days have already passed, but the third day, a Saturday, no less, is upon me, and I am hoping it turns out to be an eventful one ... but not very taxing on the professional front. Yesterday evening, I walked in the garden - after a long time - and did only 2.5 km before feeling tired. Even so, it is a start, and I hope to keep up the habit.

I have a window of opportunity to sit for the final part of the MRCPCH examinations this November in Jeddah ... guys, what do you think? Should I sit or appear next year? 

Thanks for reading. Have a great weekend.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Every day something new :-(

Readers are sure to wonder why I put that sad emoticon next to the title of this entry. Dear readers, I am going to tell you in a moment. But first, I must share some very important bit of news. In fact, this is a once-in-a-lifetime change that is occurring in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia: their weekend is now changed from Thursday-Friday to Friday-Saturday with immediate effect. This means that we will now enjoy weekly offs on Friday and Saturday. This is in keeping with banking on-off days in the rest of the Arab World, and the need to synchronise their business days with neighboring as well as globally relevant countries.

As a direct consequence of this, we will have an extended weekend this time, with three days of off for specialists and senior staff. The OPD will resume, not on Saturday, but on Sunday!

Okay, so we had yet another barbecue session yesterday, i.e. on Tuesday evening. This time, the tab was on me, as I was treating a few doctors on my clearing the Part 2 MRCPCH examinations. I purchased two sealed packets of chicken drumsticks and marinated them with salt and black pepper (this gives just a mild pungency to the dish - that is just enough for the Arab palate); I also prepared a salad with cucumber, tomatoes, olive oil and lettuce leaves (finely chopped). This time, since I was the host, I also brought water, a packet of plastic plates (disposable), tissue paper and Arabian bread (khubbs). Dr. Measser brought with him some more serving items, tea, some wood for the barbecue (I had also taken some wood with me) and assorted items like some cutlery, his barbecue instruments (see one of those things in action in my previous barbecue posts).

Let me now come to the title of this entry. The unnerving event of the day was that after I had returned from the hospital after work, I was called back to the hospital by the resident to see a patient. When I left my house to walk to the car, I discovered, to my utter horror, that someone or the other had broken the rear windshield of my car! I kept staring at the damage, unable to believe that someone would like to attack such an old car. 

I attended to the patient, then went to the police station and registered a complaint against persons unknown for damaging my windshield. Thereafter, I went to a car repairs shop - the guy there usually fixes sun-control films over cars. I asked him if he had a sheet of plastic that could be put on the rear window to prevent unforeseen repeat violence on my car and unforced entry. He said he did; accordingly, after my acquiescence on the monetary transaction (SR 50), he attached a large plastic to occlude my rear window. This should be okay for the time being, as I would be visiting T'aif in a few days, when I could get a new glass fitted into the car. 

Thus, as I stated in the title, everyday something new in the Kingdom.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Milestones crossed: Thanks viewers/visitors and dear readers

With this entry, my blog has crossed 200 entries and 15000 blog-views. The blog saw its highest levels of popularity within the first month of its launch, and has, since then, had a healthy growth of readership and comments. In between, we have had phases when I did not write even for a month or two, but, on the whole, I have kept at this diary, and my readers have kept returning to read and comment on my writings. I have, in the past, mentioned many of my regular readers by name. Some of my earlier readers have retreated, and I have gotten myself some new readers, and so, the show goes on.

My readers must have seen a distinct change in my writings ... in my perception of the position I was/am in ... in my attitude towards the things going on in the Kingdom, and in my response to such things that are happening around me. Earlier, both my desperation and my response to unfavourable events was strident, uncontrolled and sometimes ungentlemanly; but now, my response is measured, controlled and at times filled with pleasant awe at the good things that keep happening to me despite the sometimes weird circumstances.

It has been very gratifying for me to have cleared the first two of the three stages of examinations towards qualifying as a Member of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (M.R.C.P.C.H.). This is considered to be one of the toughest examinations among all the disciplines of the Royal Colleges in the U.K., and I have been truly fortunate in having passed both the first and the second parts at the first attempt each time. Inshallah, I will hope that the same thing happens to me when I go for the final part of the exams next year. 

Thank you all for the support you have given me so far. I am overwhelmed by the love you have showered upon me, for the prayers you have offered up for me and for the respect you have shown me through your regular visits, your cogent remarks and comments and your responses on Facebook.

That is all for now. 

Saturday, June 22, 2013

The Nitaqat program and its repercussions

Saudi Arabia has, since the past three months, launched the Nitaqat program. Under this program, it is attempting to remove from its soil those who are from outside the country and staying here without legal permits or proper sponsorship. It is believed that they took this step to overcome the almost 12% unemployment among their own youth. Expatriates from many countries like India, Pakistan, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bangla Desh, Philippines, Yemen, Egypt, Syria and so on are likely to be affected if they do not have legal permit to stay here. The Kingdom has given until 3rd of July to illegal expats to either regularise themselves or leave the country. Ostensibly, the whole exercise has been planned to quell any unforeseen protests by the youth of SA (similar to the protests that were carried out during the Arab spring of 2012 in many Arab countries).

There is hectic activity in all the embassies as they are trying to cope with the exodus of those who wish to leave SA. On the other hand, they are also organising employment fairs (mela) where they bring in employers to select if they wish to sponsor talented workers who would otherwise have to leave the country within the next 10 days or so.

The impact of this movement is likely to be very high on the people who are working here, some of them illegally. For the poor people from the countries mentioned above, SA is like a gold mine, as they can never hope to make that much money elsewhere or in their own home countries.

It is also a moot point as to whether Saudis will be willing to do the menial tasks that Asian expats are best at, such as sweeping, cleaning, driving, etc. Thus, the next two weeks will decide what really transpires. Already, business houses have requested the government to extend the deadline, as they feel that a period of 3 months was not sufficient to re-organise their businesses. Date-palm growers have already complained that their crop will decay on the trees if their workers leave en masse, as this is the harvesting season for the date crop (Ref. Arab News, 20th June 2013, visit this site).

Friday, June 21, 2013

In Ta'if on the weekend

I drove to Ta'if on Wednesday afternoon in the company of our hospital's radiologist Dr. Ali Helil. He has actually joined recently, but we have grown to like each other professionally because he is pro-active and sometimes goes beyond the requisitioned test to reach a diagnosis, as he did for one of my patients. Although I had asked for a screening test, he went beyond that, and did some more investigation to reach a diagnosis.

Knowing Dr. Ali is fun, as he is very vocal about everything. If he wishes to praise his own prowess, he will do it with elan. If he came across a bungling man, he will lose no chance to speak against that man. Hailing from Egypt, Dr. Ali is married to a Filipino physiotherapst who works in Ta'if in a private hospital known as the Al Ameen Hospital. They have a 9-year old son and a six-month old daughter between them. They live in a residential area of the Salamah district, about 8-10 minutes' driving from Gazzaz/

On the evening of my arrival, Dr. Ali offered me to stay at his house in a spare room, but I was feeling a little embarrassed to share the house with his family, so I politely declined and went to my usual hotel, Ahle Saif. I have usually booked a room here for SR 80, but I had to shell out a lot more on account of this being the vacation period (SR 140 per night). I had dinner that day and the next day's lunch at Dr. Ali's house. His hospitality is so good that it becomes a little disconcerting at times. I met his wife Mrs. Evelyn Amaro on the second day, and must say that the two of them clearly vibe very well with each other.

On the morning of Wednesday, I completed my task of obtaining my Certificate of Good standing from the Saudi Council of Health Specialities. I need this certificate to apply for jobs outside SA, should the need arise for me to move elsewhere. I also escorted Dr. Ali to the Muderiya for some work he had undertaken on behalf of some of his friends in Al Muwayh. We took lunch at his home and I even rested at his house after lunch. In the evening, we went to Shahar street where I purchased a new STC Connect device to use on my laptop at home.

Through the entire two days of my interaction with Dr. Ali, I was privileged to meet his 6-month old daughter Reenad. She is an extremely happy-go-lucky kid who keeps smiling all the time, and when tickled in the ribs, will chortle with a gay abandon. I took some pictures of her too, and am sharing a few with you.

Reenad closing her eyes on use of flash

Reenad with me while her dad clicks this picture

Okay, so once again I bungled up with my passwords ... this time, at a crucial moment when I wanted to check my result for the exam that I recently gave, the Part 2 of the MRCPCH. I visited the site on Wednesday evening, and after some attempts at proper logging (which did not happen), the site blocked me!

On Wednesday night, I slept fitfully, worried about my result. Day dawned, and I was up at seven o'clock. Considering that I was on a holiday, this was most unusual, but it relates my state of mind better than anything else. I had to wait until almost eleven o'clock before calling the MRCPCH London office by phone (although I had already dropped a line to them by email). They quickly unblocked me, but as I was out, and had to get some repairs done on my car, as well as visit Panda for some purchases, it was nearly one p.m. when I returned to my room, logged into the MRCPCH website (http://www.rcpch.ac.uk) and, muttering a million prayers, navigated to the "Exam results" button ... to find that I HAD PASSED!

Relief and joy washed over me as I called up Nishrin, then my kids, then my mom, then some others like Dr. Yasser, a couple of friends and so on. My family was delirious with joy, as I was. After some time, I called up Dr. Ali to inform him that as per his invite, I was leaving my room to go to his house for lunch. He had made an Egyptian dish called Fattah, and also Camel's hooves soup to have. The lunch was pretty heavy. I relaxed with him until half past three, then left to return to my room to rest until sundown.

In the evening, I ventured out, bought a few things for my house in Al Muwayh, had a chicken pizza at Osaimi Burger (the outlet is on Abu-Bakker Siddiq road, and I have had tea and even food on several other occasions before). The pizza was great. I could barely finish it! The accompanying Pepsi helped push it down. but I foresee some gastric upheavals tonight as I write this.

As expected, I woke up with stomach upset within an hour of falling asleep, beseiged by pain in the stomach area, along with a nausea so overpowering I had to rush to the toilet to induce a vomit. Howver, it didn't end there. The pain and discomfort only worsened over the next two hours. I  knew I needed to vomit it all out, so I kept returning to the loo to evacuate my gastric contents. There were huge gobs of cheese that kept coming out, and I retched and I retched. Finally, at half past two, I went out to search for a chemist. (Such shops are usually shut in the kingdom after midnight, and one has to rely on the emergency rooms of hospitals to seek any form of treatment or prescription.) Luckily, I chanced upon an open UNITED PHARMA outlet, and purchased a liquid antacid from there. I went back to my room, and over the next half an hour, I kept vomiting and ingesting more and more antacid, but there was no relief. 

I tried to contact some of the doctors in Ta'if that I know, but no one picked up their phone. In desperation, at about 4:00 a.m., I drove to King Faisal Hospital, and requested a few tablets of Omeprazole or Pantoprazole (both highly effective acid-secretion preventers), but none was available in the ER Pharmacy. Eventually, I got a few tablets of Ranitidine. With this, I returned to my room, swallowed one, and then, after consulting my own physician in India (Dr. Shabbir Baldiwala), one more. This led to some relief and I continued to lie in bed till noon the next morning. Sleep was intermittent, but enough came to recuperate my body.

I skipped breakfast as well as lunch. In the afternoon, I went down and ate half a banana and drank one bottle of liquid curd. With this in my tummy (no longer burning), I went back to sleep for a few more hours in the afternoon. When I woke up, it was nearly half past four. I packed my things, and called up Dr. Ali to ask him if he would be returning with me, but he did not pick up the phone. Hence, I left, returning to Al Muwayh at a little after seven p.m. The adventure, or should I say, the misadventure, had come to a close.

Monday, June 17, 2013

What do people from India know about Saudi Arabia?

Over the months that I have been here, I have come to realise the following:

When I first came to the Kingdom, I knew next to nothing about this country except that it paid a good salary to doctors; that it was a monarchy; that it was an Islamic nation with Islamic justice in line with the recommendations of the Quran and the Shariah; and that it was mostly a desert nation, the main highlights being the cities of Makkah and Madinah, where I would perhaps seek salvation.

I think this is the sum and substance of what most Muslims and non-Muslims know about this country. It is no big surprise since the feedback they get from the people who have been there and either worked here or performed the pilgrimages to Makkah and Madinah - is mostly along the same lines. 

When I started posting on www.ghumakkar.com, most readers who commented were awed by the details that I was sharing with them. They looked at the photos of the huge malls, the fantastic roads and the beautiful desertscapes with wonder. Some even recommended my posts because they could finally see for themselves that Saudi Arabia was a well-developed country. 

The impression I get after reading those reactions is that yes, they have really learned something new about Saudi Arabia, but no, they won't be going there soon if they can help it! The reason is that most non-Muslims cannot reconcile with the idea of a nation where there is a curb on religious freedom for non-Muslims; with the fact that there are no temples, churches or gurudwaras (or any other place of worship) for them; and with the fear that Islamic justice might mean that they may be dealt very harshly for any crime - firstly because they committed such a "crime" and secondly because, as a non-Muslim, they could not expect a shred of mercy towards them.

To be honest, it took me nearly six to eight months to shed my own prejudices, and even now, they aren't all gone, However, I am at peace with working here ... I no longer feel squeamish to assert something if I am right; I do not tremble when I see a policeman approaching me with me in the car; I laugh openly at Saudi jokes; and I continue to practice my religion the way I want to, without fear that they will catch me if, for example, I break some rules of the salat or something like that. After reaching this level of comfort, I feel confident that I would not have any problems with their laws as long as I stayed informed about these well in time ... and preferably in advance of the oncoming contact with the authorities!

I would suggest to my readers to read more about this country, and to explore it on Google Images, on Google Earth, and similar other media sites. I would also suggest reading a bit more on Wikipedia. This may expel some of your misconceptions and make you appreciate this country better. 

Of course it has many more bridges to cross, and there is some discrimination and so on ... but look at your own nations, friends. Do you see perfection ANYWHERE? 

Sunday, June 16, 2013

A meeting with Dr. Muzaffar Shakeel; yet another barbecue.

Dear Readers,

Thank you all for being my regular readers. I am encouraged greatly by your visits to create a page for my blog on Facebook. You can find the page HERE. The last few days have been eventful. For some months now, I have been in touch with Dr. Muzaffar Shakeel. He is a Hyderabadi Indian staying at Abha in Saudi Arabia with his family. Armed with the medical degree, he has also cleared the Diploma in Health Administration from the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (page). The good doctor's wife is working in Saudi Arabia, and he is being a good spouse, parent and so on to his family. However, as he told me when I met him, he does intend to work in the capacity of Hospital Admin, once he has completed some additional qualifications.

So, how did this first meeting of two internet pals come about? Dr. Shakeel is a ghumakkar (traveller) just like me and decided to take a solo car trip of more than 1200 km from Abha to Riyadh.
Dr. Shakeel at my house
He was in touch with me before doing so, and he started out on Friday, the 14th of June early in the morning. Travelling for the first time on uncharted roads, he finally made it to Al Muwayh in the evening. I offered him my home to rest overnight before proceeding further, and he accepted most graciously. Accordingly, we spent Friday night at my place. I took him on a "tour" of Al Muwayh, and he was pleasantly surprised to discover that this is not a small, nondescript village (as he had believed it to be) but almost a small town. For dinner, we had thawed food from the freezer (my Mumbai-parcelled kheema-pateyvaliya) with roti.

During the course of the evening, he shared many pictures of interesting places from within the Kingdom that he has visited. It was my turn to be surprised by sights of lakes, flowers and greenery, rains and verdant hills, farms and meadows, etc. from the southern areas of Saudi Arabia. We finally slept after mid-night.

He left for his onward journey the next morning, while I went for my duty.

Saturday evening saw me joining Drs. Measser, Mohamad Abd'Jawad and Moataz Talaat for a barbecue session at the garden. 

Dr. Mohamad Abd' Jawad

Dr. Moataz Talaat

Barbecue session in full progress

Thorough fun

Our cute uninvited guest

The guest jumps for a morsel
 It was the ideal windy and balmy evening for having a great time. The chicken also turned out perfect. (Usually, it is Dr. Measser's mother and wife who marinade and dress the chicken for our barbecue sessions, and this time was no different). The difference was that unlike on the previous occasions, Dr. Sheshtawy was absent, and Drs. Mohamad and Moataz were new members of the crew. Dr. Measser not only brought the chicken, he also brought with him water, a stove to make tea, plates and spoons, and various other paraphernalia to make the evening memorable. Dr. Mohamad brought the soft drinks, while I took with me freshly cooked rice, some more plates and water and stuff that is too inconsequential (but necessary) to mention here. 

As my blog readers are aware, this was the third barbecue session I have participated in, and I am happy to report that this was perhaps the best one in terms of the climate we enjoyed, the final taste of the chicken, and the fun we all had. Thank you, Dr. Measser (and your family), for making our experience so memorable.

That's it for now.  Hope you enjoyed this entry!

Friday, June 14, 2013

Modern Saudi Arabia and the challenges it faces.

It's been over two and a half months since I returned from India after a relatively relaxed holiday in March/April. This time around, although I did not go on any long vacation on account of my younger daughter's final exams for the second semester, I did manage to take my family out to Matheran, a lovely hill station near Mumbai. My regular readers might have already seen the post relating to this that I posted in April.

In the last two months, what has changed is my appreciation of this country that I am working in. There are problems, of course, but which nation does not have problems? Look at India ... our problems seem insurmountable, and yet, we find that despite the poverty, the corruption, the misrule of all the incumbent governments in the states and at the Center, and so on, we all seem to be progressing on the financial front. Our GDP this year is at a low of about 5 % (projected), but even this is better than more than 4/5ths of the world's countries!

Saudi Arabia is blessed with Islam, but what is its blessing could also be seen as its bane. As Islam is founded on the principles of the inviolate nature of the Holy Qur'an, the teachings of Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) and the guidance of the scholars, the government of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is obliged to follow the Islamic way of life, and also the principles of justice as guided by the Holy book and the precepts of the prophet. This has led to an altered perception in the Western nations' collective thought. Even those who live in India perceive the Kingdom as a rigid nation that is unwilling to advance with the times. 

Nothing could be further from the truth. True, oil has brought tremendous wealth to the Kingdom. True, too, that the twin pilgrimages of Makkah and Madinah bring a lot of prestige and money to the rulers of this nation. However, had the nation persisted totally with a blinkered-eye view of a punishing, unforgiving Islam, it would have remained backward with respect to economic and social development. The truth is that Saudi Arabia has prospered and developed in all dimensions. 

Even the perception that there is no social development is incorrect. If one sees the country in the last years of the twentieth century and what has happened in the last twelve or thirteen years of the present century, there has been all-round change. Educational levels are rising, women are now attending university, there is increasing licence for women to join jobs in more and more professions, children are sent abroad for Western education, and so on. These are monumental changes. Recently, the government has taken cognisance of the fact that over 200000 Saudis are without a job, and over a million expatriates are working without a legal permit in their kingdom. They have thus initiated the "Nitaqat" movement which will enable unemployed Saudi men and women to seek guaranteed employment in various occupations. At the same time, the illegal expatriates will either be asked to return to their native countries or be legalised by paying some money to the Ministry of Labour.

If you go through "Arab News", an English daily that is brought out in the Kingdom, you can read progressive opinions from educated Saudi men and women who are advocating social transformation while remaining within the broad framework of Islam. 

What was built in 1400 years of Islam cannot be undone in a decade or two, But things are evolving fast. The present monarch is a benevolent person who the average Saudis are fond of. The future heirs of the throne are Western-educated, more forward thinking and are awaiting the role they are likely to play when they ascend the throne. The religious police is, for the time being, very potent, but I predict that over the next 10-15 years, their hold over the people and the rulers is likely to slip. They will have to see the writing on the wall and accommodate modern thought as long as this does not violate Islam.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Staying in Missan - Days 2 to 7 (June 2 to June 7, 2013)

Readers of my blog must have already read the last post before this, where I described the circumstances surrounding my going to Missan as well as my arrival and the first evening spent in the room inside the Male Ward. In this post, I am going to describe how my next six days went ... and at the end of week, how I returned to Al Muwayh.

Each day was like any previous (or following) day. What changed were the faces I saw, the people I met, and the experiences I accumulated. On the second day evening, I encountered a child who had accidentally ingested an unknown but potentially dangerous quantity of a skin lotion; we gave him the goods, and he emerged unscathed. On the third morning, I discovered that unlike other locations I have worked at (including Al Muwayh), Missan hospital has established an unique and very robust morning conference, where the Medical Director convenes a meeting of all the specialists in a specially designated "conference room" and turn by turn, the specialists present the cases seen by them the previous day. I also met many new doctors and nurses, both in the ER and in the OPDs. Some of them I have stored in my brain as casual contacts, and a few, I grew slightly more close to, so that I can perhaps be good friends with them, should I need to go to Missan again in the future.

One of these was Sister Aimee, who was on night duty in the male ward on my second night. She and I hit it off rather well, and I learned something of what she calls the "Law of Attraction". Don't get me wrong ... it has nothing to do with attraction between people in the way you think; rather, it has to do with an unique policy everyone should adopt ... believe in your own self, and think positively, because, if you do so, the universe conspires to bring that which you truly desire, to you. I was reminded of Paulo Coelho's book which deals with some of the same things (The Alchemist). The next night, she prompted me to watch a 90 minute documentary on the very same topic, and I was almost convinced that the philosophy seemed workable. I resolved to start acting more positively from then on.

I tried for the first few days to liven my stay by connecting the room TV set (which only showed one channel - the Kaaba channel) to my set-top box, but in spite of numerous efforts to get the thing going, I was unable to fix the problem. I resigned myself to shutting off the TV altogether.

The lack of a good internet signal was extremely frustrating, and the search for a site with a better signal ultimately took me outside on the road, where they have made a pedestrian bridge to cross the road. It is not in use, and I climbed up this till I was fairly above the road. To my utter surprise, when I tried to link my laptop from there, the connection was established rather easily, and I completed all my "internet based work" here before returning to my room. Over the next few days, I would return to this location repeatedly, but always after Maghrib prayers, to surf the net. However, it became increasingly more cold out in the dark, and I was therefore forced to look for alternative solutions. It was then that I discovered that many of the nurses had WiFi in their rooms in the hostel within, and it would be possible to sit in the hospital grounds and access this WiFi, provided I knew the password. It was on the penultimate day that I received the password from one of the nurses (Sister Nursia from the D.R. or the "delivery room"), and I was able to do some amount of surfing as a result of that. 

To tell you the truth, I also went twice in the week to Dr. Bala's house, and we had dinner together. Those two evenings, I used his internet connection to surf the net and do my work. On the first occasion, we ate leftovers of food from his refrigerator, and on the second occasion (Thursday 6th June), Dr. Bala prepared sada dosa with chutney and sambar, and this was delightful to eat. In fact, we had a third outing together to a local Sudani/Yemeni restaurant, where we ordered chicken and rice. While one of the chickens was a simple tandoori preparation, the other was cooked over a row of hot stones kept astride the fire that burned from below. We rounded off the meal with a cold drink.

The flow of patients was very, very poor, and this made the passage of time very slow indeed. However, it was my good fortune to meet four very nice ER doctors ... they kept up the conversation with me and helped me pass the time. These doctors were Drs. Akil (the ER head, a Pakistani), Shafi (a M.D. Gen. Med. from Bihar, India, who is working here in the Kingdom as a ER doctor), Eftikhar (a Sudani young woman who is here since the past eight months) and Erama (also a young, Sudani woman who is here since a year). Over the four or five days that we interacted, I think I gelled well with all of them, and also a few more doctors such as Dr. Shadi (a Syrian ER doc who is a friend of Dr. Measser from Al Muwayh), Dr. Shahaar ( who works across the road in Missan's Dialysis center) and Dr. Lubna (ALSO a Sudani ER doc). 

From among the specialists, I began to get acquainted with most of them, but I guess I was relatively closest to Dr. Bala. His colleague Dr. Ummu-Salma also seemed to be a happy-go-lucky individual, as also Dr. Ghulam Reshi (Kashmiri Indian) from Medicine and Dr. Ghulam (Radiologist and sonologist from Pakistan). 

Among the nurses, it was my observation that as this hospital is an old set-up, many of the nurses here are relatively senior in age and experience, but there is young blood too. There is a system here where the pediatric nurse is the one solely responsible for the pediatric work. She not only works in the OPD, she also attends the pediatric rounds with the consultant, helps stabilise and if needed, resuscitate the newborn in the delivery room, helps vaccinate the babies and also maintains records of all kinds - not just for local storage, but also for submission to the Ministry. My peds nurse was Sister Eleonor. She was with me all the six days. With over 18 years under her belt in Missan, you can see she was good at her work. 

During my stay here, I also went out and up a road that ascended behind the hospital. I think that was on my last day, a Friday. I took photos of the scenery around me and of the hospital below, and I am taking the liberty to post some of the pictures right here: do feel free to comment on the photos if needed.

A hill in the distance

The hospital seen from behind and above it

A close-up of the view above

Cactuses on the hill's ledges

A nice flowering plant

Nice inflorescence, isn't it?

A beautiful compostion of rocks and grass
On Saturday morning, my replacement arrived by nine, a benign, sixty year old Egyptian pediatrician from a place called Qariyah, and it was almost another hour and a half before a driver arrived to take me back to Ta'if. I was taken to the MOH car garage, where my driver coordinated with the director to put me on a SUV to take me to Al Muwayh, but this took another hour, so that it was 2:30 p.m. when I started on the return journey, armed with all my luggage, and about 9-10 water bottles, collected over the past seven days. I arrived at my house at half past six. 

It was the culmination of an extra-ordinary week.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Trip to Missan: a new place, and what an experience! Day 1

A day after my return to Al Muwayh after my five day stint in Ta'if, my medical director informed me that I was being sent to a place called MISSAN. This small village, located 100-120 km south of Ta'if, is one of the southernmost places administered by the Ta'if Health directorate. I was going there because the pediatrician over there was either away or not available. My duty would be for the WHOLE week, from Saturday, 1st June to Friday, 7th June 2013.

I was understandably peeved, as I had just unpacked my bag just a day before, and here I was being asked to get ready once again to leave my house. However, I had already been intimated about this duty a month ago. so I had to agree. I went back home to pack my bag. This time, I decided to take with me my water boiler (for tea), some packets of biscuits, a box of cereal (Kellogg's Special), tea bags etc. and also my cable TV receiver. I wasn't sure what facilities would be available there, and what would not, hence the overkill!

Missan, with a population less than half of Al Muwayh, promised to be an utterly boring place, and I was not very hopeful that I would be able to access the net either. Also, it is almost 350 km away from Al Muwayh, and I wasn't going to offer to take my car there. I told my medical director to send a hospital vehicle to my place within an hour, when I would be ready to leave. Thus it was that the driver came over to my place at half past eleven. He informed me that he would only leave me till Ta'if, where he would co-ordinate with a person from Missan, who was waiting at Ta'if to take me to his village in the south. Well, that was a sensible arrangement, wasn't it? Who was I to complain?

Accordingly, we completed the first leg of the journey in under 2 hours, and then, we were met by one Mr. Abdul Aziz, who is the Head of Nutrition services in Missan General Hospital. An employee of the MOH, Abdul Aziz lives in Ta'if and goes to Missan periodically to meet his job requirements. He turned out to be a young, dynamic person. When I suggested that we have a meal before proceeding further, he readily agreed, and we had a typical Arabian meal of rice and dry chicken with a side order of cooked okra in a nearby Bukhari restaurant. He footed the entire bill in spite of my protestations not to do so.

The second leg of the journey is about 130 km if you access the eastern approach, and about 100 km if you take the western, alternate route to Missan. Abdul Aziz took the first option. The road starts winding up the mountain sides and narrows down to just one lane on both sides. However, the road quality remains excellent as you drive up and down the curves and the narrows. What does enthrall you, however, is the complete change from a barren desert environment into a cooler, greener one with rows of trees, farms and grass ... did you just ask if I really wrote that? Yes, well, I did. And here are some pictures to prove it.

My glum demeanour had already transformed into that of an eager, excited person, who is seeing something for the first time! And it was like that. I have never before seen that much greenery in the kingdom. So, here I was, being driven past green farms, trees, herds of sheep feeding on the grass and such other sights.

I reached the portals of the Hospital at a little after 2:30 p.m. I was acquainted with the Hospital director, the Medical Director and one of the senior nurses. The nurse took me around the place, showing me the wards, the OPD, the delivery room, the ER and the OR. I realised that this hospital is an old one. because it resembles the hospital I had been posted to earlier this year - the one at Khurma. However, I rather liked this set up because the hospital is built like a square block rather than the long structure that we have in Al Muwayh.

The rest of the day passed without any active incident. I met the various doctors in the OPD as well as the ER, met many of the nurses here, some of whom are Indians. In particular, I would like to mention Dr. Bala and Dr, Ummu-Salma, both anaesthetists from India, Drs. Eftikhar, Akil and Sahar, all ER doctors, all from Sudan, Sisters Jocey, Aimee, Virginia, George, Mercita ... from the Philippines and India (Jocey) and others. The M.D. Dr. Qaiser, is a Kashmiri doctor. Over the coming days, I would meet many more doctors as I went about my work, but the first impression I had was rather nice. The subordinate staff helped me set up my "room" ... one of the in-patient rooms in the Male Ward that has been given up permanently for doctors who come to Missan as substitutes for the Pediatrician. It is then that I discovered that their Egyptian pediatrician actually passed away a few months ago, and different doctors from various places have been substituting for him since then. 

The room was a patient room, yes, but it had all the facilities one would look for, including a hot water geyser, a TV, working A/C, 2 beds, a small but adequate almirah, and so on. There was no ventilation, and this was causing some stuffiness, so I "borrowed" a table fan from the Nurses counter in the Female ward. The bath drainage was choked and I had a tough time with this, as, by the end of the bath, I was standing in ankle deep water.

My first hospital meal was today's dinner. It was the typical hospital meal with rice, khubz and a big piece of chicken and a side dish of some overcooked vegetable. There was a sugar-free china grass dessert (the only dessert they seem to make, since I had it over 10 times over the next 13 meals), a fruit and a chopped salad. 

After dinner, I spent time chatting with Sr. Jocey, who was in the \male ward. Thereafter, I returned to my room and discovered to my horror that the Mobily internet signal was NON-EXISTENT in the room. I went out with the laptop, but the signal never improved, no matter in which part of the hospital I went, and I was forced to gnash my teeth and retire hurt to my room, where I glumly saw a few episodes of Grey's Anatomy Season 8 before going to sleep.

Monday, June 03, 2013

It was a week that I was looking forward to, as I would be able to relax once again after a week of work in Al Muwayh. Dr. Yasser has been very cooperative of late, and he immediately signed my leave form. The only problem was that he wanted me back in Al Muwayh on Wednesday night as he wanted to go to Ta'if on Thursday morning.

I decided to make the best of the next few days. I left for Ta'if in the afternoon, reaching there on Monday evening. I took my usual room in Hotel Ahle Saif, which, as my readers might already know, is located right above the Asian restaurant in Aziziya area of Ta'if. It also has free, fast wireless for its guests. It is in close proximity to a Kerala restaurant known as the Thara restaurant, and is right opposite the Makkah/Jeddah taxi stand. It is close to Tahweel-Al-Rajhi, the service counter of the Al Rajhi bank which caters to thousands of non-Saudi men and women who wish to transfer money to their families in their home countries. It is also close to Babariya area (where you can purchase fresh meat and fish), Shubra (with all its myriad collections of shops that sell food, clothes, shoes, etc.), Abu Baker Siddiq St. (with its Vitamin Palace, electronics shops, clothes shops and what not). To top it all, the managers there know me well, and charge me a very reasonable lodging rate.

In the night, I ate dinner (mince meat with roti) at the Asian restaurant. Back in the hotel, I spent time blogging, playing Criminal Case on FB, facebooking, downloading some movies, and surfing the net). Slept late.

I went to the Muderiya the next morning, and by early afternoon, I was in possession of the muqafa of Dr. Narendra. I finally wired him the money by evening. A fruitfully spent day. However, some knots are still left to be untangled. Let's see how we can retrieve some more of his money from the Ministry of Health. In the evening, I met up with Dr. Asadullah who is a friend, and hails from Pakistan. He took me to a car mechanic by the name of Choudhary Shabbir, who organised and repaired some of the glaring problems in my car. He also offered to take Dr. Asad and me to a new place to eat. Our original plan was to eat Chinese food, but when we reached the place where the restaurant is located, we discovered that it was closed for renovation.

The change of plan then took us to "Kababjee" a Saudi-owned, Turkish managed place on Shahar St. The photos below are from there. As you can see, this place makes no bones about the fact that they sell meat. Raw skinned carcasses of goats adorn the display windows! 
Dr. Asadullah

Self with the companions enjoying a mixed tandoori platter with rice

The main sign-board of the Kababjee restaurant

Those are goat/lamb carcasses hanging in the display

The interior with tables on one side and the serving area on the other.

Mr Shabir Choudhary, whose treat it was
What we ordered was a rice and mixed platter of kababs for four. However, the quantity was too much, and we could only finish half of the food served on the plate. As a side dish, we ordered some mince-mutton samosas, and these were very delicious. Service was great, and the food arrived piping hot. Of the platter, the chicken seekh and the lamb seekh were both fantastic. The tandoori chicken pieces and the mutton pieces were average.

The next morning, I relaxed, visiting Panda (Ta'if's Heart Mall) and enjoyed window shopping, eating snacks at Al Baik, etc. In the afternoon, Dr. Yasser called up to inform me that his plan to go to Ta'if on Thursday had been cancelled and therefore I was free to stay longer if need be. I was overjoyed, as I had originally planned to go to Jeddah on Thursday to meet my cousin Juzer and get back my car documents which were lying with him.
Accordingly, I went to Jeddah on Thursday afternoon, reaching Juzer's place very late at around half-past eight. En route, my front right tyre burst after colliding with a kerb, and two men, probably Pakistanis, helped me to change the wheel with the stepney. After collecting my documents from Juzer's place, I decided to brave it out and drove the same night back to Ta'if.

Both my journeys - to Jeddah and back - were via Hada and the mountain route, which is something that some of my colleagues in Al Muwayh had told me not to try as it might be "difficult". On the contrary, I realised that if I kept to the speed limit that was actually displayed, I was able to go very easily. The return journey, which I had thought would be more difficult as night had fallen, turned out to be event-free too. I reached Ta'if at about midnight.

My last day was spent sleeping in the morning, then going down for breakfast, and finally, eating my lunch at the Asian restaurant and picking up some parcels of food to take back to Al Muwayh. However, there was one more assignment to do: after Asr', I went to Maard street and got my stepney replaced with a new tyre, thus undoing last night's damage in toto.

My drive back to Al Muwayh was accomplished without any further trouble and I reached home at 9:00 p.m. on Friday night.