Saturday, January 25, 2014

Status quo ... but some winds of change ...

During my India vacations, I have been reading a bit about the social advancement of Saudi Arabia. Knowledge of how it was made by King Abdul Aziz Al Saud has enabled me to understand its tumultous origins; how the king went about uniting the various tribes that moved criss-cross across its surface, how the king finally established a Kingdom named after his family, how his descendants have carried the torch forward, not withstanding many set-backs such as the untimely death of one of the kings, the problems the Kingdom has faced with Shiite countries like Iran, the issues of illiteracy, superstition, backwardness, poverty (until oil was discovered in the middle of the 20th century) and so on.

The main issue is the contradiction between the royalty that wants moderation in normal society and the religious leaders which wants to maintain status quo with a very strict interpretation of Islam that forbids so many things that people from most other countries consider normal, such as driving by women, useful employment by women in the normal society, etc. 

At the same time, this interpretation also allows Saudi Arabia to maintain the holy shrines of Makkah and Medinah, and to allow the country to prosper as it is doing in the comity of nations. Human rights, which have been very bad until the last few decades, are improving. Women are educating, graduating, working in the "allowed" professions such as nursing, teaching, medicine, etc. and female children are now being accepted much more than they were in the past. No longer are men as chauvinistic or cruel to their women as they used to be in the past. The Kingdom has, through its "nitaqat" program, enabled many unemployed youth to get jobs in preference to expatriates. This has meant that many illegal expatriates were asked to leave. However, those expatriates who are legal continue to enjoy the same privileges that they used to earlier.

An I. T. university campus in Jeddah allows women within to avoid wearing the abaya as long as they dress modestly, even allows them to drive a car within the premises. It is not a big thing, but it is a beginning. There is a royal couple that follows the Western ethos completely in all its dealings (See these videos - 1 and 2). In their palace, women may dress as they please, and the Princess herself dresses in the modern Western attire and keeps her hair free. Both the Prince (Waleed) and the Princess (Ameerah) want to welcome modern customs of society in Saudi Arabia ... but lack support from the majority of the vocal Saudis. as they fear the "mutawwa"s or the "Religious Police".

As one travels from the bigger cities to the towns, and to the villages - strictures seem to be greater; most of the religious and social observances are routinely followed by the people on their own, without the presence of the mutawwas. This self-discipline is something that tells me that change will take generations to come ... I mean, it will take generations to percolate down to the masses.

That's it for now.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Four days and already feeling so much difference

It's been four days since I returned to Al Muwayh and joined my duties. Ta'if, at least, is bearable, as it is a city, after all, and although one does not get all that one wishes for, one can at least while away the time going for a walk, eating at new places, or simply visiting the mall. Here, in Al Muwayh, time does not pass; it plods, slowly, as morning turns to afternoon, afternoon to evening, and evening to night. It doesn't help that it is very chilly outside - even the hospital temperature is preferable to the outdoors, although the former is centrally cooled with large machines. 

All those whom I gave a free gift to - the nurses and the helpers, really - appreciated my choice of dangling ear-rings brought from the shops of Mumbai. The main reason for this is that these have an ethnic design specific to India, and they don't get such stuff in their own country, or the neighbourhood, or in Saudi Arabia. I also gave a few doctors some selective hadiya, but that's about it ... one can't get carried away by gifting to all and sundry. For the record, no doctor has ever brought anything for me when they returned from their own vacations. Nurses have, though. 

I was invited, along with some other doctors, by Dr. Emaam Sayed for lunch a few days ago. His wife is a very talented cook. There was the usual fare of broasted chicken and rice, molokhia soup, a sort of tawa chicken, and then there were a few surprise dishes like the Egyptian "kucheri", which looks like masoor pulao of our country, and a "gravy" to add to kucheri, which was vinegar spiced with some herbs and a little chilli. Also, there were a few other starters such as a sort of fried thin slices of chicken, and what seemed to be veggie rolls. After dinner, we were served a dessert of what appeared to be pudding topped with shavings of chocolate ice cream and then, tea. All in all, a very nice meal.

In fact, Dr. Emaam had asked me to get spectacles made for his daughter Noor, his wife and himself ... from India, and on the whole, he was very pleased with the results. I made a total of 5 pairs of glasses ... all for less than the price of just 2-3 such pairs in Saudi Arabia. 

Yesterday, I finally shed my ennui to make my first food here ... I made a cauliflower-potato mix that I had today, for lunch ... it has come out very good. I do miss the endless snacking that I used to indulge in in India, but - to be honest - this is better, since it may help me lose weight and make me fitter.  

Dr. Yasser is due to join on Sunday as he is currently on leave from the job. One of our senior nurses, Sr. Armina, left the Kingdom for good. So did Dr. Jumaa, our ortho specialist. He has been replaced by Dr. Zohair, who comes from Palestine, but with a Russian passport (since Palestine is not yet a recognised nation on the international scene). All the others are where they were. Intriguingly, one of the Filipina nurses is on vacation, but has not chosen to go to her homeland and is staying here in Al Muwayh ... when I asked someone why, I was told that she wants to save money to make her house in the Philippines. Strangely, it does make sense, since we end up spending so much money taking gifts to our relatives ... and, also, the Ministry gives us back half of the air-ticket fees if we don't ask for a ticket to our own country. 

Since the last time I reported on the winds of change blowing in Al Muwayh, the progress wheel has ground to a halt. No new shops or enterprises have come up, and the existing new ones aren't thriving much either. It looks like a false start to me. 

And that is where I will end for now. Please do join the conversation by leaving behind your valuable comments in the blog ... thank you.

P.S. This is my 250th post on this blog.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Back in Saudi Arabia after a fulfilling vacation

Yes, indeed, I had a great holiday this time. The main reason was that unlike the first year, I went for a full vacation this time. In effect, therefore, I went for nearly two months! This allowed me to do several new things such as organising a birding trip to Goa, taking out my medico friends for dinner, organising a get-together of several doctors who were instrumental in the management of my parents' various illnesses, making possible a holiday to Malaysia and Singapore with my family, purchasing a new two-wheeler and using it to do my multifarious tasks, etc. I was able to clean out a lot of junk from my own belongings, free-cycle much of that stuff, or even sell it online, look after our newly acquired investment flat in Goregaon (E) (though a lot still needs to be done), and also coordinate repairs and renovations inside my home at Mazgaon.

I reached KSA at Jeddah on the night between Friday, 17th Jan. and Saturday, 18th Jan. Taking a taxi from there to Ta'if, I took a room in a hotel and stayed overnight there until Sunday morning. I slept for a long time on Saturday. Also relaxed, had a good time watching stuff on the TV and downloading some material on my laptop. On Sunday morning, I went to the Muderiya (the Health Directorate) and completed the formalities related to my return to the Kingdom. After this, I got a lift from one of the Al Muwayh doctors (Dr. Effat) in whose car and company I returned to Al Muwayh and my home on Sunday evening. 

I hired two men to completely clean my house, then settled in to rest for the night. I would resume my duty on the next morning, i.e. Monday morning. Thus, I am now ready to begin my duties ...