The Start Of an End I
The Start of an End posts will answer some of the questions I have been receiving from readers. Mainly; “How did you leave Saudi?” It will also eventually tie into one of the most critical events that lead to my abandoning of medicine. An event I will be grilled on again in less than two weeks from now, so stay tuned.
May the 1st of 2003 marks the day I got off the plane and set foot on Canadian soil to stay. I landed in Nova Scotia after 20+ hours of frenzied travel and prolonged airport transit times.
My last few days in Saudi Arabia were nothing less than dramatic…
It was a ceaseless conflict between myself, my brother and his wife and it dragged on for 6 or so months.They both had laid down the law that I would never leave Saudi or see Canada in this life time. They had ceased my passport in a final thundering attempt to rip away the only dream and purpose I had worked so hard for.
Through my father, who just wanted me out of his life, and with much persuasion I managed to regain my passport along with the final O.K to leave. I energetically finished up all the essential paperwork to exit the country safely and come to Canada legally on a work permit. I had managed to secure a scholarship position to commence my specialty training that was funded by the Saudi government. A rare opportunity indeed…
This was it!
I was weeks away from achieving the one thing I thought I could never accomplish; to leave the Kingdom of wretchedness for a very long time. All those days I spent in my room acting out what I would wear during my travels and who I would meet. All those castles I had built in the sky; everything was about to materialize.
My bags were packed weeks ahead of time, my medical books and furniture had been shipped through sea ahead of me to arrive sometime close to when I would be there.
My hotel was booked for my stay while I got my apartment ready. The concept of living on my own made me giddy with excitement. For once in my life I spied a glimpse of the silver lining behind the clouds that people spoke of. I had been waiting too long for this and now that it’s here nothing was getting in my way.
Then, about two days before my flight, I would fall ill. This was one of the most debilitating febrile illnesses I would ever have the misfortune of encountering and funny enough one that would serve as a right of passage for me. At that time, the world was being ravaged by the SARS epidemic. People were being quarantined everywhere in airports all around the world.
The countdown to my departure had already begun when father suddenly turned into a compassionate being who was concerned about my current state of health.
The day I was scheduled to leave my temperature shot up to 40 degrees C which was consistent with SARS. I was toxic, my eyes were swollen and my throat felt like it was being corroded by acid. Every joint in me was weakened by this pernicious virus. I ached in agony as my body failed me on the one single day that I have been waiting for my entire life.
I remember laying on my bed crying as father stood in front of me telling me that he could not allow me to travel in this state and that I should cancel my flight. These were words I did not want to hear and an outcome that I was unwilling to accept. His words echoed through me as I drifted in and out of consciousness.
I was scheduled for a 1:00 a.m departure and there was no way I was missing this. I knew what I had to do and so by 11 pm I got out of bed, got dressed, took my flu meds and called my driver to pack up the car with my suitcases because I was heading to the airport to catch my flight.
Father came down with his wife to see what was going on and I managed to convince him that I was feeling better. We said our goodbyes at the front gate of the house. He hugged me tight as I teared up with turbulent emotions fully knowing that this was going to be the last time I would ever see him and the last I would ever see of that house.
The house of horrors…
I got in the car, the car drove away and I never looked back. I was detaching myself, once again, from my physical body.
Out of pure obligation, my brother accompanied me to the airport. He was cold and silent throughout the entire process as was I. He checked me in and cleared me at the security gate by presenting the yellow permission slip from my male guardian allowing me to exit the country. Then he stood there behind the metal gates watching me walk away.
When I approached the terminal’s escalator, he waved goodbye to me and I nodded my head in recognition that this was indeed a goodbye. As I went up the escalators, my brother slowly disappeared from my vision and with every step I took forward towards my boarding gate I felt a shackle break off me.
I found an empty seat at gate G27 (the gate to my freedom) and sat there with my Kleenex box, gently sighed then closed my eyes to rest.
Oh how I longed for this day…
But never would I have foreseen myself to be so banefully ill and sidelined from reveling in last few hours I would spend on Saudi ground.
I took off my abaya and found my way to the bathroom; I was coughing hard and didn’t want to freak people out. In the bathroom there was a South Asian woman who had just finished washing up as I was walking in and hacking terribly. She panicked and dashed out of the washroom mumbling something about SARS. I walked around the sink and looked in the mirror to barely recognize myself. My eyes were red and swollen, my skin pale and jaundiced, my lips so dry they were cracking and bleeding. This was scary…
I fixed my hair and touched up my make up, in an attempt to look somewhat normal, then left the washroom just in time for my flight’s boarding call. I sat far away from people waiting for the majority, who were mainly South Asian mixed with some Europeans, to board. Once they did I approached the gate, showed them my I.D and letter of permission to travel alone then boarded the flight.
On the plane, I had the window seat which was next to a middle-aged man whom I didn’t say a complete word to the entire flight. My flight path was from Riyadh to London, Heathrow, which would take about 7 hours and then I would transit in London for 8 hours to catch a connecting flight from London To St. John’s N.F.(another 6 hrs.) There I would transit for 45 minutes then fly to Halifax, my destination.
This was only my second time traveling completely alone; I had never traveled this sick before so the scenarios of me getting quarantined at Heathrow and what I would do if that happened played in my head relentlessly.
They wouldn’t send me back would they?
The flight was equally long as it was burdensome on my system which was engaged in a brutal war.It was sad that in this monumental transition of my life, a Kleenex box would be my only companion.
I was only able to stomach the soup on the flight’s menu which I took small sips of as time passed by ever so slowly. I was also unable to rest but the man seated next to me however had no such problem as he both slept and snored through half of the flight.
We finally landed in London at around 8 am and though I was captivated to be there, my physical state continued to further decline. Thus far,no one had approached me about my illness.
End of Part I