Sunday, November 03, 2013

Looking back at Two Years in S.A. - some thoughts.

I have now completed two years in the Kingdom as per the Arabic dates; if one wishes to follow the Gregorian calendar, then, well, I have about a fortnight to go before I cross the two-year milestone. I have seen a fair bit of this side of the world, and a lot more remains to be seen. I do not yet know if it will be possible for me to visit all the places in the kingdom. It has been a roller-coaster ride, and the big highs have been the steady, high income, the freedom to live in the way you want, the relatively easy work and the pilgrimages to Mecca and Madina. How can I forget that it was after coming here that I got more time at hand to study, to brood, to walk, to travel, to cook, to make new friends, etc. 

I had big lows too: staying away from a very charming family has taken its toll on both sides; while I miss them completely, the daughters have tasted a father-free life and my wife, a husband-less one; it is up to her, and not me, to comment if that has been a boon or not; regardless, their freedom has created some tensions, as the 100% female family there has no male control - I firmly believe that males can defuse the mental stresses that occur between females much more effectively than other females can; on the contrary, other females may even INCREASE that stress to higher levels! The other big low has been the loss of my father. Of course, nothing can stop Death, and I know that, but even so, I hold my absence responsible to some extent for his very acute deterioration over the last four months of his existence on Earth. If I had been there (and he really missed me, for he kept beckoning me to come back when I chatted with him on Skype), perhaps ... but who knows what Fate has destined for anyone?

Most of the time I have spent in Saudi Arabia has been one that has given me a lot of pleasure; the expats who live in Al Muwayh are from various countries, and talking with them, breaking bread with them, and going places with them has sensitized me to the lives others live; working closely with these people of different nationalities makes you understand how they live, what their values are, what their culture is all about, how they view BIG issues like religion, morality, Life, Death, etc. To summarise:

Arabs (Egyptians, Syrians, Sudanese, Palestinians, Tunisians, etc.) are very keen about Islam. Over 99% of those I have met are Sunnis and lay a lot of stress on the Qur'an, the Hadiths and the Sunnah of Prophet Mohammad (P.B.U.H.). They pray on time, eat mostly bland food with an overdose of the non-vegetarian stuff, love to drive cars, usually have 3+ kids, and some among them look down upon Asians (read Indians, Pakistanis and Sri Lankans). A large number of them are loyal to their wife (all of them have just one, unlike some Saudis who often marry more than one woman) and enjoy themselves in the Kingdom. They, being Arabs, mould well with Saudi society and customs and do not generally want to leave their jobs unless they have some peripheral problems such as when their children grow to school age and there is no proper schooling in Al Muwayh, for example. They love to chat in their own language and will often ignore me even when I am in the same room with them. Barring a few good doctors, most will not bother to translate the conversation they are having. They take their time to make friends, but when they do, they become very good pals. I must mention here that I have grown very pally with a few of these worthy doctors. 

Filipinas (Philippines), mostly nurses, but also engineers and other skilled and semi-skilled staff, are a totally different breed of people. Caring and nurturance is like second nature to the women staff, be they nurses or cleaners. Short in height but tall in "stature" Filipina nurses are ambitious, hard-working and meticulous; besides, most of them are talented in skills like decorations, craft, cooking and so on. They live a joyous life, spending hard-earned money or frivolous stuff like costume jewellery, cosmetics, hand-bags, shoes, dresses and the like with abandon. It is a surprise to me how they spend so much and save so little, considering that most of them are here to make a future for themselves. I am friends with almost ALL the Filipinas in my hospital. I try to help them when they need my help; in return, they smile a lot, get food sometimes for me, and help me whenever I need it. Most of them are married, with children, though some, especially Muslim Filipina nurses, aren't married. It is a different culture from the one that we see in South Asia. They marry late, only after achieving their financial targets. There is no such thing as an arranged marriage. Females must find their own life-partners through social meetings, dating and the like. In this respect, they resemble the Western culture. The nurses and the helpers live apart, but help each other, and do not differentiate between each other in most respects. 

This leaves me with fellow Indians (from various parts of the country), the lone Pakistani doctor and the few Sri Lankans. There is hardly any cultural divide between the people from India and those from the other two south Asian countries, though clear differences exist in language, cuisine and dress. The lone Pakistani is Dr. Niaz, a gynecologist-obstetrician, and we have shared our living quarters for a part of 2012. Other than him, I have met several Pakistanis, and my relations with them have been in the range of cordial to friendly. Not one of them has had problems with me, or I with them. I eat Pakistani food when I pretend to be eating Indian food, for they are the only ones who have restaurants in my village. 

The Sri Lankans are cleaners too, and a few are technical chaps working in the hospital as electronics technicians, plumbers, etc. My interaction with them has been very pleasant too and I have no regrets when I have called upon them to fix my water leak or set up my TV set, etc. 

This brings me to the end of my brief observations on the expats. In my next post, I will expand further on the indigent people of the Kingdom. Until then, bye.

Do leave your comments. Thank you.

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