Saturday, September 21, 2013

My second trip to Riyadh - I

I had pre-registered for the 12th Asia-Oceanic Congress on Child Neurology on the 1st of this month. This was done after coordination with the powers at T'aif who agreed to provide a replacement for me when I would go to Riyadh for the Congress. After getting a positive response with Dr. Abdul Qadir, who is the second in command of the office that handles such affairs, I took permission from the hospital's medical director (also a locum doctor, Dr. Amr Hilal) and then registered for the Congress by paying USD 300 by credit card online. 

When the time came to go, however, the T'aif directorate had been unable to arrange for a proper replacement, and it looked as if I would have to forego my registration amount and stay on in Al Muwayh. In fact, this problem got accentuated to the extent that until the afternoon of Sunday (when the conference was due to start), there was no replacement to come to relieve me. Then, I discovered that the Missan Hospital had two pediatricians currently on duty. I spoke to my Asst. Hospital Director Mr. Yasser Odayany and Dr. Amr to try and get one of those doctors to replace me. As it transpired, they were able to get the go-ahead. However, my plans to leave on Sunday evening did not materialise as the driver who was supposed to go to Missan to fetch the doctor simply refused to obey the Director and insisted that he could not go that day but would go the next morning. In the end, that is what happened. 

The replacement doctor arrived at a little after 4:00 p.m. on Monday, and I was thus able to leave only on Monday evening. In the process, I missed the first day of the conference. In fact, something really bad happened to me on Monday.

Let me go back to the days when I had visited Al Bahah and Abha. On that visit too, I had had a car break-down while climbing the hilly regions of the Al Baha territory. At that time, the problem had developed in my fuel pump and I had been able to wait and then re-start my car and proceed further. This time, it was a simple act of negligence on my part that led to a huge disaster. Before starting, I was unable to take the car to a mechanic for a thorough check-up. However, the main error I made was that I did not fill the radiator and the additional reservoir with coolant or water. 

The journey was uneventful for the first 275 km, and I was breezing along with a six-hour time-frame to reach Riyadh by a little after midnight. I had already called my cousin Mufaddal Pacha, whose guest I was to be during my stay in Riyadh. He had SMSed me his address and had asked me to call him when I reached near his house. 

At about 275 km, my car started jerking. I had just filled petrol about 50 km before. I called my car mechanic Mr. Shabbir (who stays and works in T'aif). He listened to me and then opined that it was most probably some grit in the petrol which was causing the jerks. He asked me to stay in the 3rd or 4th gear and continue at a steady pace, and assured me that the jerks would disappear.

However, instead of this happening, a new problem started emerging. My car would not accelerate, despite going into the 4th or 5th gears. I was able to go to about 70-80 kmph in the lower gears, but at the higher levels, the car was unable to go beyond 60-65 kmph. I carried on in the lower gears, praying silently that no further problems would ensue, and stopped at a diner for dinner. 

After dinner, as I proceeded ahead, the problem persisted. I was about 202 km away from Riyadh. I had just passed a city, and the next town was 25 km ahead. (I know all this because a board on the highway proclaimed all these details.) It was pitch black, the time was 1:00 a.m. and there were no signs of civilisation around. At this point, my car battery failed while the car was moving and I had just about sufficient time to turn the wheel in and take the car to the side before it stopped completely. 

It was desolate. A car or truck came around once every few minutes. I turned on the blinking lights and tried to re-start the engine. Repeatedly. However, there was no response. I then called the mechanic again. He listened to me patiently and then informed me that the most probable problem was that the car's dynamo had failed. He also informed me with a heavy heart that there was no way the car could start, and it was best I abandoned it and went on to Riyadh by seeking a lift, or arrange for a tow-truck to take the car to Riyadh.

I called up the transport police on 996 and he provided me with a number; I called this person, but he forwarded me on to another person. The second guy agreed and he came after about 45 minutes from a nearby town. He was a young boy of about 23, and he knew his job well. The deal was struck at a hefty SR 600, and he then loaded the car on to his truck and we set off for Riyadh, reaching there at a little after half past three in the morning. He brought the car to a garage of a Syrian friend of his, and we parked the car inside the garage. Thereafter, the tow-truck owner left me at a traffic signal with my luggage. From there, I took a taxi and reached Mufaddal's place at day-break. 

More in my next post. Thanks for reading.

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