Monday, September 07, 2015

Escape from Alcatraz

Although the terms "KSA" and "Alcatraz" are not synonymous, the feeling is. The whole country has a culture that reeks of controls, of restrictions, of unforeseen demands, of untrammelled inhibitions and of hesitant progress. While expatriate males working in the Kingdom are free to move around almost anywhere, expat females are restricted to hostels or homes where ingress of males is prohibited.

During the nearly four years of my existence, I felt like a free bird caged in something big - so big, in fact, that one could not see its shape or walls! My passport stayed with the Office of the Directorate of Health Affairs in Taif. Whenever I had leave for a few days or more, I went to Taif, and even further, with one trip to Al Baha and Abha, two of the many provincial capitals of KSA south of Taif. Twice, I went to Riyadh, once, for a recreational trip, and on the other occasion, to appear for part 2 of the MRCPCH exams.

Even when I was cruising along the excellent roads in the Kingdom, my mind was diverted by thoughts of being found wrong somewhere or the other and getting caught. This is the refrain among all foreigners who work in the kingdom. Not just doctors or high-ranking people, but all classes of people and doing all kinds of work. This is, believe me, part reality and part perception - a perception created by the government through various forms of overt as well as subtle sign-posting. First of all, non-Arabic speaking people are already at a disadvantage because they don't know what is happening. Then, because they are unable to understand what they are being charged for, they are unable to give an explanation or wriggle out of a spot! Finally, to add insult to injury, at times, because of the frustration of being unable to defend oneself, they end up creating a scene, and added punishment is then conferred on them for their "inquiring", "oppositional" and "irritating" behaviour. 

These unfortunate thoughts vitiate the enjoyment one may get from earning more money. Rules are the same for Saudis and non-Saudis, but the implementation is totally different, except for the more serious offences. For example, in a road accident between two vehicles, the non-Saudi will be more often declared the guilty party; in a fist-cuff fight, the Saudi will declare himself to be the victim, and non-Saudi will be pronounced to be the aggressor. Hundreds of such examples may be given. In my village in Al Muwayh, several Saudis are known to be drug addicts and even alcoholics! Yet, they roam around scot-free. I was once charged for driving my car in the wrong direction (and it was just 15 meters), while children aged 10 and even 9 are often driving large MUVs without being apprehended, although the entire local police force is obviously aware of this regular flouting of the law. 

When it comes to healthcare administration, they have a Quality and Safety Department in every hospital in the Kingdom, but traditional thinking of holding doctors responsible for every medical error pervades the minds of all administrators and invigilators. They are quick to blame the health-care provider and penalise him/her with fines and such other stuff. I remember a case where even the nurse, who was merely following the doctors' orders, was fined for giving the correct medication, simply because she was on duty at that time. An old man who once fell in the ER was responsible for levying fines on all the ER nurses for "allowing" that fall to happen! And, we all know that such incidents are unavoidable in a complex system such as health-care.

This brings me to the end of this entry. Suffice it to say that there are glaring deficiencies in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, regardless of the fact that its government is employing possibly the largest work-force from all over the world.

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