Monday, December 5, 2011

Saudi Hospitality

I experienced hands on the generous side of the Saudi people by having the chance to interact with many families through my work. At the hospital a patient would have their own private rooms and the average length of stay would be 8 days. A nurse typically works around 12 hours a day, on average 4-5 days a week. Also the system in Saudi is that a certain nurse is assigned to specific patients only (usually 2-4/shift) and the nurse therefore get lots of one on one time with their designated patients.

At first it was a strange system for me as a western nurse used to having the responsibility of up to 35 patients at a given shift. Then I saw the good side to it, getting to really know your patients and following their progress and treatment. This way their outcome will be better because the nurses can observe the patients closely and report changes to the doctors.

So having this close contact with the Saudi families gave me the chance to experience this amazing side to their culture which is hospitality and kindness to strangers.

I know some nurses who worked in Saudi or even the very same ward would not agree with me and might say Saudis are rude and arrogant. I think this has to do with personality and attitude. My approach is always open-minded and I would greet patients with a smile and "salaam aleikum". Even though I was not a Muslim at first, I thought it was polite and respectful to their culture and always generated a positive response.

We have a saying in Finland:
"Niin metsรค vastaa kuin sinne huudetaan"
Which translates to something like "the forest will answer you in the same way as you shout into it" meaning basically that if you speak nicely you will spoken back to nicely, or on the other hand if you speak to someone with disrespect, you can't expect them to treat you with respect. Some expat nurses would always complain about how the Saudis are so rude. Perhaps a look into the mirror could solve this problem!

So that saying is what I like to go by. I think learning Arabic made a huge difference in communicating with the patients as well. They realized how much I respected them by making an effort to learn their language in order to be able to communicate better.

I would say in general, every patient of mine would offer something during their course of stay. Regardless of their background. The poorest sometimes were the most generous. It was touching how they would offer me from what little they had. I would of course refuse but they would literally stuff things in my pockets!

Typically people would give me chocolates, sweets or pastries they had in the room brought in by relatives or friends. On night shifts I would often be asked to join for some Arabic coffee, tea and dates. Some patients would give me juices, laban or water bottles. Basically anything they had to offer, they would give it. I would even be offered a plate of the food they were eating "to go" when I apologized I did not have time for dinner with them.

Many families would ask if I knew about Islam or wanted to learn about it. I would say I was interested and next time I saw them they would have a package ready for me full of booklets, small Qurans, prayer beads and the sorts. The best Quran I have was given to me by one of my favorite patients, an old Bedouin couple.It has both Arabic and English side by side, no distracting brackets and a brief explanation of the historical background of the events.

On occasions I received more elaborate gifts like jewelry, perfumes, bags and watches. A princess once bought me the same evening dress I saw her daughter wearing in her room during Eid time. I had admired how beautiful it was and she had sent someone to pick one up from the designer. Needles to say I was overwhelmed!

Generosity was extended to invitations as well, I have been invited to weddings and once to a royal wedding (sadly I couldn't attend because I was abroad at the time) to family dinners, farms and coffee shops. I only had a chance to go to a few but it was well worth it and the hospitality was abundant.

I think the most amazing act of generosity happened once with another princess patient. She asked me if I needed more books on Islam in my own language. I said I had never really found any books in Finnish but would love to have some. She had me write down what my language was and said would see what she could do. The next time I came to work, must have been the day after, she gave me a whole bagful of books about Islam in Finnish! There was eight different books and of each five copies so I could give to friends and family. To this day I don't get how she was able to obtain books in Finnish language in such a short time, in Saudi-Arabia!

18 comments:

Soile said...

Yet another interesting post!

You can do the poll by going to "design", then "add gadget" and choose "poll". Easy.

And my little project, it's not going so well, same "setback" again as last summer. Still hopefull though, but if it doesn't work out, I'll be back in Saudi for sure :-)

Anonymous said...

This was a great post. I really like exploring different cultures and I currently can't travel, so when I read your posts it’s as if I was living through your experiences :).

Also, please keep up the posts no matter what people/that girl you refereed to in your other post, say. The fact of the mater is some are going to love you and some are not. I think your posts are positive and fair in general so please continue to share.

Best,
EvilEyeLola

Hussain said...

Your post reflects the true and ground level reality of culture of Islam - To love and share..

Stephi said...

Salam! You would not believe how your Finnish proverb was perfect for me in a situation I am trying to mediate between two dear friends (a couple). Not to mention I am Finn and so I was excited to pass on something of my heritage (although I didn't know about it until today).

I have always found that it is easier to live when you win the hearts and minds of those around you. The journey to doing so can be so rewarding!

Felicia said...

Many people choose to see the negatives, but this story highlights the positives of the Saudi culture and experience as an expat here. Loved it :)

From my experience here there are, like you mentioned, nurses who take the initiative to make the experience pleasant and then there are many who treat you coldly and even sometimes rudely if they suspect you are Saudi.

Shireen Baig said...

I have been in Saudi as a toddler but since then i haven't been back there. My mom worked as a nurse there for about 6 years and even she had shared a similar experiences out of many from her side how once one of her patients was going out and they were so kind that the woman didn't have anything to offer her to show her gratefulness, so she took the gold locket she had around her neck to give it to my mom.

I agree how sometimes only the bad side gets publicized and I myself was pleasantly surprised when during an encounter with a saudi girl she was so kind in her speech without any ''your a strange i hate you'' attitude. :)

Laylah said...

Soile-Sorry to hear about the project not working out, hopefully it will be a success soon!

Laylah said...

EvilEyeLola-thanks for the comment! I'm glad to hear my posts take you on a "virtual trip" to Saudi-Arabia :)
I will keep posting! All the positive comments raised my spirits!

Laylah said...

Hussein-thanks for the comment and welcome to my blog! Yes I agree this is what true Islam is, unfortunately it's not seen as much in the everyday life, but it does exist!

Laylah said...

Stephi-I'm so glad that the proverb helped, it's really common among Finns to refer to it.
And Happy Independence Day to you!!

Laylah said...

Felicia-thank you, glad you liked it! An expats experience here has a lot to do with their own attitude as well, and seeing just the negative and hating all Saudis will guarantee a miserable existence here :)

Laylah said...

Shireen Baig-thank you for the comment and welcome to my blog :) Glad you and your mother had also experienced this wonderful side to the Saudi culture!

Anonymous said...

Love the Blog! I agree with ure comments about being nice in order for people to be nice back...but also Arabs will tend to be much nicer to people who look a certain way...especially if they are from the West and have an interest in Islam and the culture.

Ure blog about polygamy is absolutely right to the point..thanks for sharing..couldn't agree more.

Hope

Laylah said...

Hope-Hi there and welcome to my blog!Thanks for the comment, you're right there might be some truth to the way you look thingy..BUT I think the most important thing is the way you act :)

Well I'm really glad you agree with the polygamy post, gives me HOPE for women :D

Anonymous said...

Laylah,
Salaams dear. One question, is it not against professional ethics to take such extraordinary gifts? Just thinking a loud is all, I would think it would be unethical, no?
Wa Salaam,
Sakina

Laylah said...

Sakina- We should not accept gifts as medical proffesionals you're right. But there's also the point to consider that not accepting them would be really offensive. Think if i refused the Islamic materials or the evening gown she had gone through all that trouble to get, for example..I do always tell them we are not supposed to accept, but they insist and literally stuff pockets with things :) In Finland it would be a different thing all together.

Anonymous said...

Dear Laylah,

I am actually an Indian male; ran into your blog trying to assess the situation for ladies before my wife travels to saudi. I can understand the islamic tradition of wearing the abaya and have recommended my wife to be more open minded about the religion. But What I am just not able to digest is, the way saudis treat expats; more so the Asians. ISnt it against Islam to project oneself as superior and even worse, make an excuse to be arrogant & harsh.? Islam as I understand promotes peace more than any other religion in the world. However, I dont see a sense of compassion / respect for the other here. I do see a lot of people accusing expats of taking away their jobs. But do they really believe their way of work ( extreme laziness) will keep their fabulous kingdom stable?

Unknown said...

Thanks Laylah for this fantastic blog. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. The "Saudi Hospitality" entry makes me laugh...because I could so relate to the ward "gathering" event. When my Lebanese husband got admitted into the hospital in Singapore, we had a Sushi and Cake Party LOL!! My Poor husband could not eat any due to liquid only diet restriction due to esophagus hernia. Nevertheless, it must have speed up his recovery seeing those food makes him wanna heal faster. LOL! Great blog! Love it! :)

Singapore Girl ;)