Thursday, April 26, 2012

How-To guide: how to spend an interesting day in a desert

During my conversation with a dear pediatric colleague in India, he asked me how I passed the time, given that the Kingdom has hardly any entertainment channels or social do's or other activities to calm the restive mind. This blog entry is a result of my rumination in the past few hours over the question asked by my friend. 

Back in India, life was so fast that the above question never occurred to any of us to ask or answer! Here, in this simple Bedouin place called Al Muwayh, this is the first question that occurs to an inquisitive outsider - once he knows the limitations of this place. As it did to my friend. I mulled over the answer, and the simple reply that rose to my lips was: keeping in touch with your friends and family. This is the ONE activity most ex-patriates are engaged in throughout the Kingdom. Towards satisfying this end, people buy smart phones, VOIP cards, download software to talk cheap to India, surf the net and spend endless hours on GTalk, Yahoo Chat or the ever-growing Facebook, etc. The Saudi Arabians earn a neat amount of money through these and similar other activities, and I am sure they are not complaining. Several large organisations offer access to free Wireless within their office premises, and many hospitals within the Kingdom do, too. Unfortunately, Al Muwayh Hospital where I work is not one of them. 

To be sure, it has a Wireless, but it is password protected, and no one will tell you what the Password is. Hence, all the staff at my hospital from doctors down to ward boys and general helpers are forever buying internet cards and phone cards to be in touch with  their kith and kin overseas. In fact, for the female employees (nurses and female helpers), the cards are happily provided by one of the cafeteria servicemen, who probably boosts his own income by purchasing these cards in bulk at a discount and re-sells them at the MRP in the cafeteria.

I usually call my family every single day. In addition, I make a few calls each day to talk to my other contacts, whether in India or elsewhere. VOIP calls to India cost only 75p per minute, or Rs. 2.25 for three minutes. When one is properly connected to the net, the quality of the calls is as good as with a normal telephone call, as many of my readers whom I have called will attest to. Each day, therefore, I spend about an hour making calls. 

In addition to this, I walk about 5-6 km per day on at least 5-6 days of a week, whether I am on-call or off-call. I undertake these brisk walks at a pace of about 6.5-6.8 km/hr, and hence, I spend a solid hour walking. Including the warm-up, cool-down and the tea ritual in a local shop that follows my walk, this activity shaves off another 1.5 hours each day.

Doing all my internet activities such as reading upwards of 50 mails per day, writing this blog, visiting some fitness sites, logging into my investment website and tweaking my investments, visiting my bank accounts, answering health related questions on a few interactive health-query sites like this one, and viewing  a few videos on Youtube or Facebook - etc. take up another 2-4 hours daily.

When I cook, I spend another hour or so with this. Transportation to the hospital and back twice a day (once in morning/afternoon, and once in the afternoon/evening) take up another hour, and eating and other activities of daily living take up a few more. Sleep takes up seven hours or a few more on the weekends, and the rest I spend loafing around the locality, meeting people, sitting and chatting with like-minded people, and so on. 

I do play some games and read a book (currently, I read about 500 words per day from the evergreen book "The Lord of the Rings" a book that I missed reading in my youth) on my smartphone - the Samsung Galaxy Ace S5830, and I also read a real book (am reading "The Taking", a horror + sci-fi book by Dean Koontz) - these take up another 45-60 minutes each day. 

And, oh yes, I also see downloaded movies; I have over a hundred movies between my laptop and my external Hard Disk, and I keep downloading movies whenever I get free access to the net, for example, when I am in a hotel in Ta'if or something like that. 

When I study, as I did for the Saudi Council exams, I cut down on some of the above activities. Now that I am not studying, my hands are full and I am almost at the stage where I can proudly say that I am not bored of life, and that I am doing so many interesting things each day!

Thank you for reading this entry. Perhaps it touched your heart, and perhaps it did not. Whatever it is, do comment below and I will be obliged. 

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