We had been in the villa for three weeks and had settled into a routine. We had some basic appliances which didn’t work well but served their purpose at that time. A used washer was finally purchased which was a relief because with a family of 6 comes a stack of laundry. Washing laundry in the bathtub, ringing it out and climbing the stairs with a wet, heavy basket of clothes to be hung on the roof, was not working for me! The boys had been in school for a week and although they didn’t like it, things seemed to be going o.k. It was like walking a tightrope, trying to live in this new place with no comforts from home, keeping two toddlers occupied with nothing much to do, cooking on a limited stove, while helping the boys with hours of penmanship lessons. In the back of my mind still looming was the fact that I was 8 months pregnant and needed to find a doctor and hospital for delivery!
An American lady, who later became a close friend, came to visit me. She had one daughter and was pregnant. Her husband was from Syria and she also lived outside in a villa. She was a breath of fresh air and a comfort in my solitude. We laughed and joked and talked about home as we sat on the blue plastic chairs. She told me things would get better and also told me there was a Safeway in Riyadh, with peanut butter, loaf bread, cheese and most Western products. I knew that this would be off limits to me as he had told me in the beginning, we were living in Saudi and must adapt and live accordingly. But it was nice to know this was a possibility! She also told me where to go to see a doctor and invited me to come and see her some day. This visit gave me a ray of hope and helped me to recharge.
I finally had to address the issue of finding a doctor. Before I had moved to this place I had high hopes for my delivery in Saudi. My mother begged me to stay and deliver my baby in the States, not in a foreign country away from family, but I thought she was just worrying over nothing. I can still see her face in the NY airport, crying and looking older than her years! She was a hospital administrator well ahead of her time as a woman in the business world, beautiful and vibrant, but at that moment in anticipation of the goodbyes she looked old,fragile and scared! My mother had been my role model and best friend before I entered into this relationship. We shared most things and laughed and joked! Remembering her at that time not wanting to let go, her face an ashen grey, tears streaming, I had never seen her this way!
One day soon after my friend’s visit I gathered the girls and headed downstairs to Um Abdullah’s house. As always, she graciously welcomed me and lead me to the sitting room where she offered me tea and fruit. She brought her phone and handed it to me with a smile on her face. I held the tattered piece of paper with the hospital number scratched on it. I dialed the phone and waited for someone to answer. A male voice answered the phone saying something in Arabic and when I asked for the OBGYN department he hung up. I called repeatedly and each time I was transferred or I heard a dial tone. Um Abdullah looked at me with questioning eyes, but I could not explain something so difficult with my kindergarten Arabic. So, I gave her my greetings and headed back upstairs.
A few days later I went to the hospital. I had never been to a doctor’s office in a hospital so it was new to me. I stood at the counter as people walked past and were checked in for their appointments. Again it was as if I were invisible to all those around me. I finally said “hello yes, can you help me, can I see Dr. Laila?” The lady at the counter didn’t look up but finally acknowledged me, She told me simply, “NO” I didn’t understand this system or what I was doing wrong. Every where I went I felt quite invisible and out of place. He stepped up and spoke to the woman behind the counter in Arabic and she then made some type of appointment. I sat in the waiting room for women while he sat in the men’s room. An hour later the nurse came out,Madam Leen?
I followed the nurse down the hall and into a room where she weighed me, took my blood pressure and chatted briefly. She was a pleasant Filipino lady who asked me if I was American. And that was the glimmer of hope that would stay with me through all medical encounters the rest of my time in Saudi! She touched my hand, smiled and looked into my eyes. She told me her brother lived in California and asked about my family. After a few minutes a lady in a white lab coat entered the room. She looked sharply at the nurse and said something in Arabic which sent her off down the hall. I assumed this was the doctor although she did not introduce herself or inquire about my name. She sat behind a standard, brown desk and opened my file.Investigations?? she said abruptly! I tried to place a smile on my face and asked her what she wanted. She didn’t even glance at me but repeated in a dull monotone voice,“your investigations!” I was tired, nervous and could not imagine what that meant. I looked at her trying to grasp at any small grain of compassion in her face, she repeated again,“I need your medical investigations!” It then occurred to me that she needed my files from my OB in the states. I told her I did not have them with me. She stood up and left the room and that is the last time I saw her until my water started leaking and I entered the hospital 3 weeks later.
Average street in Saudi Arabia