Sunday, December 28, 2014

India on my mind

And so it goes: the bags are gradually filling up. I am allowed to carry 2 suit-cases of maximum 23 kg each, but already one is bursting at the seams. The second one is currently empty, but will get filled pretty quickly with books. Books of all kinds, since I am appearing for the MRCPCH exams from India, so I will be studying a lot in the final fortnight before the exams, which are on the 18th of January in Ahmedabad. I am now in the last few days, and will reach India a few hours into the new year. Hopefully. 

The news from all over the world continues to be so disappointing. No end in sight to the Syrian war. A third Malaysian origin plane goes missing. Saudi Arabia will post a deficit budget for the first time in many years, thanks to the slowing down of the petroleum-driven economy. The prospective Dubai employer has not agreed to revise my salary upwards, in spite of my request to do so. In the end, if no other offers are forthcoming, I will accept the offer from D M Healthcare and will probably apply for exit after I return to Saudi after my vacation. But nothing is sure for the time-being. Only time will tell.

My family back in Mumbai has been "warned" to give me a good welcome. They are reluctant, as I will probably reach home only late in the night (of the 31st)  - or, if you wish to see it another way, just at the onset of the new year. The first few weeks are going to be all about studies, but later, let me see where we go with the fun and the pleasure. 

Back here, Al Muwayh stays the same as always. A few new structures are getting erected, mostly Ground + 1 buildings which have space for 2-4 shops on the ground floor, and a few rooms for rent on the first floor. However, the buildings are made over several years, since the owners do not pay the workers consistently to create the full structure in a short space of time. My room-mate and colleague Dr. Mohd. Afzal is a picture of piety and simplicity. His co-operation and generally good behaviour has been inspiring to me. I have also learned from him how not to be "food-centered" as I usually am. He is happy to cook one dish every 3-4 days and have the same item for both lunch and dinner all the days till the vessel has been emptied! It is something I can never, ever do. 

I am now off any diets, and have put on the 2-3 kg that I had lost during my GM diet days in the previous few months. I am putting in about 3-5 hours of study each day now. My Skype sessions are now not as regular as before since the sense of urgency is missing from among my Skype group members who are NOT appearing with me in January.

Saw a few interesting movies last week. PK, starring Amir Khan, was average in the story, but was lifted to a little above average only thanks to the awesome acting by the Khan. The other movie I saw, The Interview, is a Hollywood movie that was in the news because its release around Christmas was blocked by hackers from North Korea, the country that is ridiculed in the movie.

That's all for now. Thanks for reading. I will next write after 3-4 days, and it will be from India.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Gradually entering the oncoming vacation mode

As I posted on my social page, I am shortly leaving KSA for a vacation. However, it is not just a vacation. I will also be appearing for my final MRCPCH exams from Ahmedabad. I am slowly shifting into the preparation mode for the vacation. I have stopped cooking food, as my refrigerator still has a lot of food that I have prepared earlier, or purchased ready-made from Taif. I am now in the process of emptying all those containers of previously stocked food items. I am amazed at my own ability to keep stocking the fridge with food: there are items that I parcelled from Taif; there are left-overs of food cooked by me; there's even food from India that I had brought back with me in end-of-June (stuff like kababs and cutlets which I have preserved in the freezer compartment - this stuff can stay without spoiling for even longer!); and finally, there are things which cannot be readily called "food" - it includes biscuits, chocolates, puffs, toast, assorted kinds of breads and roti, and what not.

So, I have decided to take some of the unique food items I bought here back with me to India. Thus, I will carry some breakfast cereals, some confectionery, some ready-to-eat low-cal food bars, ready to pop microwave friendly popcorn, and so on. I am not saying what impact these things will have on the home minister or my two daughters, but, as they say, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. So, I guess, I have to wait and see.

My car got repaired, and I went to Taif and brought it back on Sunday. Actually, a medical rep from an infant milk formula company obliged me by coming to pick me up from Al Muwayh; he took me in his car all the way to Taif, where he dropped me at the garage of Mr. Nadeem, the mechanic who looks after my car. Nadeem stuck a bill of nearly 1200 Saudi Riyals on me, but I had no option other than to pay it in full. So I did. And came back the same evening to Al Muwayh.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Day 1128: A week after my last post: More car trouble.

As I related in my last post, I was able to repair my car's suspension locally, and was, thereafter, driving the car as usual in Al Muwayh. On Thursday, I took a day off to drive to Taif to get my car's wheel alignment corrected as there was a slight wobble and lack of balancing between the left-sided and the right-sided front wheels. Having left my house at a little after noon, I was brought to a halt about 19 km away when my car's ignition simply switched itself off and the car slowed down to a stop.

I had, by then, driven the car outside the highway on to the lip of the road. I tried to turn the ignition on, and when the key turned, I could sense that the ignition motor was purring perfectly. However, the engine never throbbed into submission. I then opened the hood, but, naive that I am, I could not understand the problem. I shut down the hood and began calling for help, mostly to the car electrician and then the car mechanic, but it soon became apparent that quick help would not be forthcoming. Then, to my surprise, Dr. Moataz, who was also travelling to Taif (with his family in his own car) stopped a little ahead on seeing me, and reversed his car to help me. He discovered immediately that the problem was that the timer device that controls the engine had broken (he showed me the ruptured cover and the broken spring inside the device), and that this would need the car to be towed or winched to the mechanic. He provided me with the telephone number of a Sudanese gentleman who lives in Al Muwayh and operates a winch car. I got in touch with this guy, a Mr. Abdul Wahab. He made me wait so long that when a passing winch car approached me and agreed to take me to Taif, I readily agreed. The rate he was quoting me was also more attractive. While Mr. Wahab had asked for SR 400, this Pakistani man, a Mr. Bashir Khan, agreed to take me to my Taif mechanic for just SR 250. 

As he was loading my car on to his winch, the Sudanese turned up. He was shocked that I had decided to abandon him. I felt sheepish and offered to pay him some money for his trouble, but, clearly piqued, he refused payment and went away disgruntled. To cut a long story short, I felt very bad about my own behaviour, and wondered if what I had done was the right thing. I did call him, actually, when the Pakistani man and I had reached an agreement on the rate and I had asked him to start hauling my car above his vehicle, but the Sudanese said he was only 5 minutes away from where I had said my car was. Hence, this problem could not be averted. 

I arrived at Nadeem's Garage at about 5.15 p.m. The car was off-loaded. Nadeem and his friend took a look at the problem, and agreed that the problem was indeed the timer. Their verdict was that they would be able to learn the actual damage only when they opened the engine, and this would be done only on Friday evening as Thursday evening and Friday morning were their off-days! I was stunned because I was unprepared to stay in Taif. I decided then to go back to Al Muwayh by the state-run bus service (SAPTCO's naklil jamaai), and to return to Taif when the car had been repaired. 

I then went to Tahweel-al-Rajhi to transfer some of my money, and some of Dr. Afzal's too, to India. From there, I went to the SAPTCO stand, where I got a 8.00 p.m. bus to travel to Al Muwayh. I contacted Dr. Tahir Mir, who has just purchased a beautiful second-hand Toyota Corolla Automatic 2012, to come to the rest place that is located 20 km before Al Muwayh, and where all buses bound for Riyadh and beyond always stop for a meal, and pick me up. After coordinating with him, he came over at half past nine, and drove me back to my home in Al Muwayh. Dr. Afzal had also come with him, and the journey back was quite uneventful.

In the end, I lost one whole day to a completely unforeseen incident. And could not even study for an hour as a result.

That's all for now. Take care, and keep visiting the blog for more news. Do leave your comments here. Thank you.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Accepted for the January exam and received final letter (MRCPCH)

Ten days have passed since I last posted something useful. Now, I must share the captioned news with you all. Yesterday, I received my final notice that I have to sit in the final installment of the MRCPCH exams on the 18th of January 2015. This means that I have just over a month to go. I feel totally lost. True, I have been studying these past several months, but the thing hit me with full force only yesterday evening when I realised that it was finally on! I mean - really on. No more just thinking that one day I will sit for the exam. I AM REALLY GOING TO SIT IN THAT EXAM.

My tickets to Ahmedabad are already booked. I will proceed to India on the evening of the 31st of December, and will be in a taxi in Mumbai when the year changes from 2014 to 2015. Most likely, I will reach home after midnight - more likely, after one a.m. Twelve days later, I will fly to Ahmedabad, and stay in a hotel for nearly a week before the exam date. On the 18th evening, once the exam is over, I will be a social butterfly for the next few weeks, before taking my family on a holiday within India. Those who are reading this and are from Mumbai, please do get in touch with me after the 19th of January and we can then meet for a social "intercourse".

Let me quickly update you on things that are happening with me here in the Kingdom. Last week, as I was returning to Al Muwayh from Taif (I had gone there for 2 days to attend a mini-conference related to the theme of Patient Safety), my front right wheel of the Hyundai Accent probably hit some stone or something and the tyre burst. I had to change the tyre with the stepney (this was my first attempt to do so, and it took me well over 45 minutes to do so); even then, the wheel did not sit properly, and I realised that my shock-absorber had broken on that side. I had to call for a winch operator, who charged me a whopping SR 225 to haul my car over his vehicle all the way to a mechanic's garage in Al Muwayh. The next day, I ordered a new shock absorber from Taif through my colleague Dr. Moataz Talat, who had gone to Taif for his own work; he brought it from there, and by the later part of the evening, the mechanic (a very nice Syrian) returned the car to me. 

In other news, I have been studying at least 2-3 hours every day, mostly with my friends on Skype. I now feel that my knowledge base is really expanding and I am looking forward to doing well in the January exams. I am now in the refrigerator cleaning mode. I have stopped cooking. I fish out the stuff that occupies all the space inside and am heating it and eating it! I guess the stored food in the lower and the freezer compartments may easily last me for over a week more. 

That's it for now. Do use the comments area to leave behind some words of encouragement! Thank you.

Thursday, December 04, 2014

What posts are the most read? A social experiment

I was looking today at the list of my posts and I made an interesting discovery. If one uses certain key-words that are relevant to more people across the globe, but specifically the U.S. of A., then the posts fetch the most eye-balls. In turn, this may also be translated into more readers clicking the Google advertisements on the page, and this might mean more revenues for Google, for the companies whose ads are clicked on, and eventually, for me, as I am the one who owns the territory the ads are displayed on! 

The long and short of it is this: nobody but close friends care to read my blog. The key words "studies", "MRCPCH", "Arabia", "Al Muwayh" and "Life in general" fail to excite any but the most perseverant and non-selective admirer of me and my writings. But look at what happened when I wrote about the GM diet! Suddenly, the eyeballs jumped up. A couple of readers even choose to PLUS those posts! 

Hmm. So this is how the cookie crumbles. I must pay more attention to the key words. I am going to experiment here, dear readers. I am putting a few key words here and will see how many people read this post, or at least visit it. Please ignore the key words if you are my friend. To those who come here to see what this is all about, please, this is just a social experiment. Forgive me. Thanks.

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Writing this early morning 12.40 a.m. on 02/12/2014

Yesterday was the 1st of December. Let me tell you about this day. Globally, the 1st of December is observed as the World AIDS Awareness Day. This was therefore done in our hospital as well. Sr. Maria Anna Li Barasi is a seasoned nurse and in charge of the awareness program. She worked hard the previous week to organise an awareness desk near the main entrance of the hospital; she disseminated folded red ribbons to all the doctors, nurses and other workers to be worn on their coats/lapels; she also gave out information booklets to patients, their relatives and health-care workers. 

We had an opportunity to click pictures with our colleagues; this enabled many among us to bond better with our friends. Alas, there was no party or any sign of it, since this was a working day. The OPD ran light, giving us greater opportunities to socialise with each other. 

As December is already under way, I am now awakening to the responsibility of studying more. My exam (the final installment of the Membership of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (MRCPCH) U.K.) will be as per schedule around the end of the third week of January 2015 in Ahmedabad, Gujarat, India. This means there are just over 45 days left for the exam! I have yet to receive intimation on the venue of the exam, but I have already booked my onward journey a full 6 days in advance, so that I get to adjust to the city and to perhaps meet other candidates and do last minute face-to-face revision with them.

The certificate that I will hopefully earn will give me the chance to flaunt a "UK acquired" qualification - nothing more. Had I been a few decades younger, I could have used it to migrate to the UK, and join their National Health Service (nhs.co.uk). In the current situation, MRCPCH helps resident doctors in Saudi Arabia to get re-classified as registrars; in the UAE, it helps to get slightly higher salaries when you apply for a job. For those who are already specialists, the certificate means little more in terms of re-classification or increase in salary, but I have to try to excel in the license exam the next time if I need to be re-classified. This won't depend on my MRCPCH, but on what my percent score is when I re-attempt their license exam (a computer-based test conducted by Prometric). In India, it gives a slight edge over Indian doctors with their MDs or DNBs, but not much. It might, at my age, help me to get a fellowship in the UK or Canada or Australia to study a specific sub-speciality in Paediatrics, but I think it might be a bit late for me to do that. 

However, the way I see it is that I have used my spare time here in the Kingdom fruitfully. I have read a lot of Paediatrics in the last three years. And they do say that knowledge is never wasted. Knowledge is power, after all. In addition, it will help enhance my image among my friends, family, acquaintances and others. Especially, it will show my colleagues from other countries that Indians are worth their salt! This applies to Saudis, Egyptians, Sudanese, Syrians, Pakistanis and my fellow-Indians as well. 

My room-mate Dr. Afzal is already an admirer of my courage and strength of purpose. He believes strongly that I cannot but succeed in the exams, since, according to him, I already have a good grasp of the subject. However, I choose to stay grounded. An exam is an exam, and one never knows when things might go wrong! The passing grade for this exam is over 85%, so it is not at all a cake-walk. 

I am keeping my fingers crossed, as they say, and hoping that my first attempt is also my last - because appearing for the final installment of the MRCPCH exam is an expensive matter. This year, I have sent nearly 130000 Indian rupees as my exam fees. In addition, I spent more than 100000 to do two courses - one in India and one here in Jeddah. Add to this the several books I have purchased, travel fees to India when I went there in June to attend a course, travel to Jeddah for the September 2014 course ... and other miscellaneous expenses, and you will see that it is certainly not easy for everyone to raise enough funds to give the exam. 

Hence, I need your prayers, dear readers. Thank you for reading and for your good wishes.