Monday, November 21, 2011

Day 1: Wednesday, 16th November 2011 - Part B

If my readers have got the impression that after reaching T'aif, everything else went smoothly and I was in bed within a few hours, I am sorry to disappoint you. The problems started as soon as de-planed and reached the airport lounge. The local time was about 11.15 p.m. and the airport looked quite deserted barring the people who had come in the same plane as I and who were mostly locals. There was a nice signboard at the airport that said: Dear Sir/Madam, If you are a worker for the Ministry of Health, we welcome you to T'aif. Kindly contact the Airport Health Post for arranging your transport on 02 .... etc (the tel. no.). I was thrilled to see this notice and immediately dialled the no, but there was no reply. This happened again and again, and I gave up trying. I asked around for the said health post, but never found out where it was or whether it was open or staffed. I then came out of the airport, and approached the taxi stand. The first thing that came to my mind was to go to the Muderiyah Sahat (Health directorate), but I learned that this would be closed not only at this time, but also for the next TWO DAYS! The next thought was to go to the Children's Hospital in the city and see the local manager of the hospital and ask HIM to give me temporary digs for the night.

With this aim in mind, I re-approached the taxi drivers who started haggling with me about the price of the journey from the airport to the Children's Hospital (known as Mustasfa Al -Atfal). His demand was 80 SR, and I bargained with him for 60, which he finally agreed after I showed him that I had nothing more than 75 SR with me. This also required intervention from a Pakistani man who was minding the airport parking lot.

We set off by midnight and reached the destination within 20-25 minutes, I unloaded all my luggage at the entrance and went in to the emergency OPD where there was a Pakistani doctor, one Dr. Aftab, on duty. I introduced myself, and after his advice, I managed to bring all my luggage inside into the wide corridor outside the OPD. Inside, there was an additional Egyptian doctor inside whom I also met.

Dr. Aftab took me to see the manager of the hospital (the muraghib), a Syed Faisal (Sayed or Syed here means "Mr" and carries no caste connotation. He greeted me cordially and listened while I told him the circumstances that had brought me to his domain for the night. Presently, he began to call up various hospitals to see if a room could be found. After almost one hour, he could not get me any accommodation. Dr. Aftab suggested that I sleep in the resident doctors' sleeping rooms, but the mugharib denied me permission for the same, claiming that he had no powers to allow me to go upstairs on the second floor.

Eventually, he accommodated me in a room with a working AC and lights, two sparse beds and a ramshackle cupboard ... but no wash basin or toilet. This was the room in which ambulance drivers rested between trips. I felt bad but I had no choice, so I accepted his offer and, with the help of the local ward-boys, I shifted my luggage into that room. The manager offered me tea, and was nice to me, all things considered.

And so, the day ended and I went off to sleep.

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