Monday, October 28, 2013

The past week

The week that just ended was one where I was off call; however, I worked for the first two days and then proceeded on leave for the next three days. On day 3 and 4, I stayed in Al Muwayh; on day 5, I went to Ta'if and stayed at my usual hotel for the next two nights before returning to Al Muwayh on Saturday evening. This was one holiday when I did nothing particularly engaging, other than sleeping long hours, surfing the net and enjoying my meals at the Indian restaurants nearby. 

My younger daughter Hannah has gone on what is fashionably known as an "industrial visit" from her college. I have been speaking daily to her, and she is apparently having a lot of fun, but no real lessons in anything. In fact, according to her, the tour guides who are accompanying them show them stuff that is appropriate to be shown to school kids! Thus, there is a gap in the knowledge that they are getting. Of course, on the entertainment front, they are having a gala time of it. I think she is expected to return after some more days. 

Nishrin and Inas are on a house-cleaning spree now that Diwali is around the corner. To those of my readers who are not aware of what Diwali is, it is a "festival of lights" (and bursting of millions of rupees worth of fireworks) that commemorates an important event described in the great Hindu epic Ramayan. Apparently, when Ram entered Ayodhya after his 14-year long exile (when he lived an ascetic life in the forest), the people of Ayodhya lit up the whole city with hand made "diyas". Eventually, Ram was coronated and became the King of Ayodhya.  Although traditionally, this is a Hindu festival, it is now a part of Indian culture and people of all religions join their Hindu brethren in celebrating it. Diwali is an occasion when people clean their homes, make sweets and delicacies to eat, buy and wear new clothes, jewellery and accessories, burst fireworks, adorn their homes with "rangoli", "toran", lights and other traditional decorations, visit their friends and relatives, and generally enjoy themselves. Since the past two years, I have/will be missed/missing this great festival. However, inshallah, I should be back in India before Diwali 2014.

While India and Pakistan continue to engage in skirmishes at various points along the "line of control", in Saudi Arabia as well as in other countries where the people from these two countries have emigrated to work, people of these two nations behave in the most friendly manner. The events at the border between the two countries seem not to affect us where we stay. Some of my best friends here are of Pakistani origin. To give you an example, let me mention my car-mechanic friend Mr. Shabbir Choudhary. He is a Pakistani and has his workshop in Ta'if. I went to him during my visit to this city this week; he is a large, effusive man and talks through his heart. On previous occasions, he has surprised me with his friendly approach as well as his hearty hospitality. This time, though, we could not go out for dinner as he was very busy with his own and his clients' pending tasks. 

Meanwhile, just out of interest, I have begun taking oral lessons in the Filipino language! If I am able to reach a level where I can understand about 20-25% of the spoken language, I will be happy. 

In other news, I have completed my online learning courses on "Animal behaviour" and "Global Health" and in my last week of the course on "Vaccines". The next few courses I will be taking will be primers on "Diabetes", "Global Warming" and "Nanotechnology". By the time I complete those courses, it would be February or March 2014.

The last thing I wish to share is that my visit to India is now almost certain as I have received my vacation paper today. Inshallah, I should be in India around the 18th of November 2013.

That's all.

P.S. The women of Saudi Arabia are trying to get permission to drive cars in the Kingdom. They had planned a joint movement which was to be held on the 26th of October 2013, but they backed off because of the strict governmental directives asking them not to take the hasty step or they would be fined heavily or even arrested. In spite of this, about 50-60 women did take to the roads, and at least one such woman, an activist, was arrested and imprisoned for one night before being released.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

News In Brief: Car problems, Cakes and Chocolates and Walking for Health

Since I have become an occasional blogger on this site, I am going to share some news in brief. These may not be in chronological sequence, but please bear me out as I go about describing stuff that is happening in my life.

I have begun walking in right earnest. Every day for the last about 8 days, I have walked about 6 to 6.5 km at an average pace of 6 km/hr. I have walked a bit less than this only once in these 8 days, when my mood was not up to it. For several days now, an Egyptian friend of mine who works as an ER doctor in our hospital has been my walking companion. His name: Dr. Emaam Sayed. He has become health conscious just recently; he is about 42 years old, and is feeling the ill-effects of overweight. He is a nice, entertaining guy with a simple heart and a natural flair for comedy. I find that he slows me down, but it's okay, since, with him by my side, I am at least never bored to walk.

My village continues its steps of progress. A new bakery-cum-chocolate shop has now opened! It is a big chain that is HQ'ed in Riyadh. They make finger snacks, chocolates, decorative chocolate hampers, sweets and stuff like that. When I visited it today, there were three men, working to create hampers of biscuits and salted snacks. Each of them was from a different country - an Indian, a Pakistani and a Bangladeshi! I chatted with them for a while before leaving the shop. Here are a few pictures of the offerings of the shop:

To have such a hi-tech shop in Al Muwayh means a lot of things: the people here have more options to choose from, they can find a greater variety of snacks without having to go to Ta'if for such treats, and, of course, a higher family expenditure on the occasion of someone's birthday or on the arrival of a new kid in the family or at the time of a wedding. On the other hand, it will provide the females of the village with one more place to visit to kill the time when their husbands are away at work. 

An Indian-driven van banged into my car's front and broke the left side headlight and signal indicator light a few days ago. He claimed that it was not his fault as I had parked in a non-parking area. In fact, it was his fault, and several bystanders agreed with me being blame-free. However, the man seemed only to be a paid driver, and I let him go as I did not wish to aggravate matters. 

Just yesterday, however, I discovered to my utter dismay that someone had removed and pilfered my car's front number plate and the Toyota trademark sign. This is an unusual crime to happen to an old car like mine! I was dismayed. I went to the police station and registered a complaint regarding the same and was given a paper that will allow me to drive the car wherever I want to drive it to. A new set of front and rear number plates would be sent to the station after a month or two, and I am expected to then receive these and get them fitted to the car. If the same number stays on the car, well and good, otherwise, if they decide to cancel this number and allot me a new one, I have to pay registration fees, insurance etc. anew! Really, readers will agree with me that this car, which seemed to be a dream come true in the initial few months, has proved to be an expensive and troublesome purchase for me ... and I regret this purchase that I made last year from my outgoing friend Dr. Narendra.

Next month, if things go all right, I should be in India on my annual vacation. Let us see what happens. I am eagerly awaiting it, not withstanding the fact that India is certainly in a mess on all fronts, be it the economical one, the one on social security, on honesty, on superstitious stuff, on religious harmony, on politics, on crime and criminals, on terrorism, on Pakistan or China policy matters, on relations with each other, on national integrity, etc. The only hope that keeps Indians alive and smiling is that they will be able to bring Narendra Modi in as the next Prime Minister of India ... and that he will wave his magic wand and all will be right with India. 

If wishes were horses ....

Thanks for reading ... do leave your comments. Have a nice day.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Dr. Yasser returns and I go on a short holiday

Approximately a week after the Saudi National Day, on the next Sunday, to be precise, Dr. Yasser, my pediatric colleague returned to work after his annual holiday. The same evening, I proceeded on a week's leave. Unlike the previous occasions, though, I did not immediately proceed to Ta'if, but relaxed in my house for a few days; the reason was that I wasn't flush with spare money this month, and wanted to save if I could. On Tuesday morning, however, I proceeded to Ta'if. The agenda was to visit the Ta'if Health Directorate, also known as the Muderiya, where I was to enquire about Dr. Narendra's pending moneys, and to visit Chaudhary Shabbir, the car mechanic who is also my friend now, to settle his previous bill and to get my car checked for any pending problems. 

This would be my first long drive after my car had suffered a breakdown during my Riyadh trip and the aftermath of the same where my car, after returning to Al Muwayh, again failed to start properly and kept jerking, and one thing having led to another, I had to call Mr. Shabbir to Al Muwayh one fine evening and replace my car's Delco, a.k.a. the distributor, a.k.a. the "dynamo" in Saudi Arabia. (I missed telling this story, but it was actually at midnight that Shabbir came with Mr. Nadeem, and they sat through half the night and repaired my car, replacing my broken delco with a working, second-hand one that they had brought with them from Ta'if.)

In the event, the trip was uneventful, and after checking in at the Ahla Saif hotel, I went to the Muderiya to enquire about Dr. Narendra's pending salary. The journey proved to be futile, as the people in charge of this department could not unravel the mystery behind this long delay. Not only that, they made me go to other offices, and in one such office, a rather officious looking middle-aged gentleman brooded over a large folder, turning more than 200 pages, looking for some paper that could unlock the payment. At the end of his laborious search, nothing was found. The officer in charge then told me he would personally look into the problem and see what could be done. Thus, I parted. After this, I went to Chaudhry Shabbir, but he was extremely busy that morning, and I had to return to the hotel for a day that was otherwise empty. I had my lunch at the Asian restaurant, of course. 

It was in the evening that I had a surprise call from our E.R. resident Dr. Mohammad Abd'Jawad. He was on his final mission to Ta'if to make some purchases ... he is due to exit next week. He informed me that he was in the same hotel where I was, that he had booked a room, and that he would be in Ta'if for the next few days, and could we meet? Ha ha. Of course, we could! I just had to walk across the floor and go and meet him in a room on the same floor. We went out together for an Indian dinner.  I must say that he seemed to enjoy the meal. We decided to go out for an Egyptian meal the next day!

The next morning, I hit the road to go to Ta'if University where I went to the office of the Saudi Council for Health Specialities (SCFHS) to file for a refund of the money that I paid TWICE  to obtain the same certificate of Good Standing (that I later submitted to the online application of the Dubai Health Authority (DHA). There was a form that I had to fill, and submit it with the original of the payment I had made to the Saudi Council earlier through the bank. I had a tough time locating the office, though, as the Ta'if University is spread out over a large area. Ultimately, I discovered that it was inside the College of Pharmacy. During my visit, I also visited the college cafetaria, where I partook of a cup of tea and a chicken sandwich (in Saudi Arabia, a roll is called a sandwich). 

I was considerably delayed, and Dr. Mohammad and I could not meet for lunch. We did meet in the evening, though. My car was already with Mr. Shabbir, and Mohammad and I went out on foot, with him stopping in various shops to purchase stuff from bags, to clothes, to other things such as gifts for the children in his extended family. We had dinner at the Vitamin Palace, an eatery on Abu Bakkar Siddiq road. The meal consisted of two sandwiches and a juice each. The Egyptian meal would have to wait for the next day.

Which is exactly what we did: the next afternoon, we visited a place on Abu Bakkar Street: this shop, called the Faroula restaurant, is well-known for its authentic Egyptian food. 

Dr. Mohammad and self in the hospital

The food turned out to be quite different from the various things I have eaten so far, and that includes Egyptian meals eaten by me at various doctors' homes during the various parties and Iftaars that I have attended in the past. 

Dr. Mohammad left for Al Muwayh the same evening, and I stayed on for one more night, savouring my off days for the first time in a long time. It was on Friday evening that I returned to Al Muwayh. And that brings me to the end of this rather lengthy post.

P. S. The car repairs cost another SR 1000 (this included the charges for the delco that the mechanic had replaced the other day when he came to Al Muwayh specially for me with his colleague).

P. P. S. I bought a new rice cooker and also bought a few new Tee-shirts on this trip, as also many eatables and food from the Asian restaurant before returning to Al Muwayh.

Writing in after a long time: The Saudi National Day

A week has passed since I last posted in this blog, and the reason is that nothing really eventful is happening, However, I must mention that we had the Saudi National Day celebrations on 23rd September. This day is observed as a holiday all over the country. It commemorates the unification of the various tribes into one nation by the first king of the country Ibn Saud in 1932. This year, our hospital celebrated the event in a big way with decorations and a lot of festivities. The immense decorations were funded by the government, and the elegant displays were made by the highly talented Filipino nursing staff assisted by the other nurses, workers, helpers and all the rest. Larger decorations were put into place by the male staff of the maintenance company. 

Within a few days, the hospital began to look like a new bride! The main colours used in the decorations were green and white, the only two colours on the Saudi Arabian National flag. There were festoons, balloons, strings, confetti, posters, curtains, ceiling decor, boards, and much more, all adorned in the two national colours. In spite of such sparse use of colours, the hospital shone like a new tourist attraction or like an art installation! Here are some frames of this decor for you to enjoy:

The central entrance lobby

The corridor going to the E.R.

An interesting decoration

A close-up of the central lobby ceiling

Another interesting balloon assembly

One of the internal lobbies within the hospital

That's me with the decorations
 The piece de resistance was, however, the special decoration just inside the main gate of the hospital. A Saudi traditional home milieu was created here, with cushions laid out on a carpet, vessels containing dates, other traditional foods, models of a full Saudi family with the father, mother, and two children, a wall decorated with colourful wall decorations, and more. On the other side, there was a model of a futuristic Al Muwayh, with a mall and many new buildings, as also a mud and brick traditional house, a Bedouin tent with camels, and a back-drop of photographs depicting some historical views of old Riyadh and other places within the Kingdom. Take a look:

A traditional Saudi home

More of the same

Food servings

The side-table with a pair of binoculars, perfumes, threads, and a perfumer

The futuristic Al Muwayh with a mall

A mud and brick traditional house

A model of the Holy Kaaba

The textured ceiling

On the National Day, the entire hospital wore a festive look. However, it was at about half past nine that important dignitaries came to visit the hospital and broke bread with the administrative staff. They took a round of the hospital, admired the decor, sat on the home decoration that is shown above, and stayed there to partake of tea and dates. After this, they were all taken to lunch in the kitchen.

The V.I.P.s of Al Muwayh, including the Prince (second from left)

The Prince of Al Muwayh with the Hosp. Director and Asst. Director

We were all invited too, and served a delicious buffet of traditional Saudi Arabian dishes; one of them was a wheat and mixed grain porridge much like our khichda or harissa; another was a sort of large chapati dipped in honey; a third was a mixed vegetable curry; there were others that I could only partly understand, but, yes, there was chicken too. The serviettes were all steel, and the plates and stuff we got was all green, and disposable. 

Saturday, October 05, 2013

My Second Trip to Riyadh - V

I must apologise for the delay in posting this installment of my Riyadh trip. A few things happened along the way, and left me with no time to update my blog. So, here goes: 

The new day began early, as I wished to reach the conference venue well in time. I left Mufaddal's house at about 15 minutes past eight, and reached the conference venue within the next 20-odd minutes. However, the first sessions had already started. I rushed in to join the session on acute neurological problems. As the morning wore on, I moved to other sessions, including those on genetic disorders and epilepsies. During my visit to the poster section, I had the occasion to meet Dr. Tajul Ari from Malaysia. He and I have interacted on FB and I admire his knowledge and enterprise. He is originally from Hyderabad, and is presently working in Malaysia in the Kuala Lumpur General Hospital as a Pediatric Neurologist with special interest in movement disorders. He presented 2 posters in this year's conference. It was a pleasure to meet him. I wanted to spend more time with him to get some tips on how to clear part III of MRCPCH (he is one), but as luck would have it, I was unable to do so. 

I had also met a few other new people, including a few doctors from India (one of them a female speaker from NIMHANS, and the other, an adult neurologist from Aurangabad, with a 100-bedded neuro hospital in his city). I also met Dr. Farooq, a specialist Pediatrician who had come from the Eastern province (Hafr' batan) - and he and I hit it off well together. 

Lunch was as interesting as the previous day's offering. So were the snacks that accompanied the different snack breaks. The scientific fare was absorbing. At the end of the day, I received my "Attendance" certificate. After this, I went back to Mufaddal's home. In the evening, I went to the car garage and collected my car; the Syrian mechanic who owned the garage charged me SR 750/= I also requested his Indian assistant Rizwan to fix a few other minor issues, which he did. He also helped me to buy a hydraulic jack at a nearby retail store. 

Later, we (i.e. Mufaddal and I)  went to Khayyam restaurant where we had an interesting dinner. I cannot remember the name of the place, but the food was reasonable and not very expensive.

The next day saw us visiting a restaurant to eat pani-puri; I also had one Punjabi samosa which, unfortunately, wasn't so good; and parcelled some stuff to take back with me to Al Muwayh when I returned. All day long, I stayed in, except foa few visits to a nearby STC showroom where I purchased an unlimited STC sim card for r  In the evening, we went to Lulu's hypermarket, where, after some shopping, we ate at Darbar restaurant - the unique Mughlai joint, where the food was finger-licking good.

It was on the next morning at a little after 6 a.m. that I left Riyadh and made the return trip to Al Muwayh, reaching my home just a little after half past twelve in the afternoon. Thus, this highly interesting Riyadh trip had ended. 

Thank you for reading.