Gaining residency in the Kingdom is a fairly extensive process, filled with an incredible amount of paperwork, medical examinations, and various random expenditures. For myself, most of this arduous and time consuming process was taken care of back in the States, but there are several key elements to being granted residency that can only be taken care of once you arrive in country.
The first involves obtaining your Iqama, which is a small driver’s license like identification card that basically states you have the legal right to live and work within the Kingdom. The card itself is inexpensive to procure, and aside from being mandatory for all non-Saudi residents within the country, it happens to be the only way you can obtain a multiple entry visa in your passport (which, subsequently, is the only way you can keep your passport on your person and not in possession of your employer). The second involves experiencing rapid medical processing through a Ministry of Health approved hospital.
It should be noted at this point that in order to even gain entrance into the Kingdom, I underwent a mandatory battery of laboratory tests and medical evaluations filled out to exact specifications and processed through the Royal Embassy in Washington D.C. This was so critical to being allowed permission to enter the country that I ended up doing the entire process twice.
That said, it came as a quite a surprise when I was informed shortly after getting to work last Tuesday that I would be going to a hospital immediately after school was finished to get the necessary medical exam. The man who I was walking into the building with, a young twenty something Brit who happens to be an Associate Professor of French at a college in northern Saudi but was somehow hired as a substitute teacher for the 5th grade and kept on as a helping hand for a few days, casually fluffed it off as something I “shouldn’t bugger on about,” that it “really would only take a minute” and that I’d be “right to go” after everything was said and done.
Now, any sensible person who has even the slightest idea of what I was going through during my short stay in the Kingdom would have sensed that something was amiss, and that it certainly couldn’t be as simple or straightforward as a quick trip to the clinic down the street. Seeing as I was ankle deep in the crisis that is my current situation, I took what he said earnestly and went on with my day.
As school ended, we (myself, my roommate, and another female teacher) were told that the other teachers needed to be dropped off at their compounds and when the bus returned, Ali, our driver, would take us to our evaluations. Someone, however, forgot to mention this to Ali, and after an hour wait he was called and told to come pick us up. Shortly thereafter we were on our way to a hospital called Astoon, which, unbeknownst to us, is located at the edge of the compound in which we all reside. We arrived shortly after 5pm, walked inside the main lobby up to the receptionist, and were greeted with a collective sneer from literally every person in the room. The female teacher in our group had forgotten her abaya, the traditional long black gown that is mandatory for all women regardless of nationality or religion, and was now about as offensive to Saudi society as Margaret Thatcher naked on a cold day. Adding to our problem was the fact that this particular hospital only processes Iqama medical evaluations through appointments, which we didn’t have.
Back in the car, after a lengthy one-sided phone conversation with our Superintendent, Ali slammed it into gear and went tearing off in a direction opposite our compound. When asked where we were going now, he replied, “She say finish job, so I take you to 24 hour hospital.” What he was really implying was that we were going to go to an emergency room, and by emergency room he really meant any hospital in the tri-city area that was open past 6pm. After stopping at two more hospitals, we finally arrived at what looked to be a fairly lavish hotel. This was the main Indian hospital in the city of Khobar. This was not where we would be receiving our medical exams. After checking in with the receptionist, we snaked our way through the building, past the green marble fountains and bronze elevators, down a narrow darkly lit hallway, and came out through a side entrance into a waiting room lined with multicolored plastic lawn chairs in every state of disarray. This was the 24 hour Free Clinic operated via subsidy by the Government of Bangladesh, and this was where we were to be evaluated.
After the clerk at the counter copied our passports and we each handed over 200 riyals (mostly an ‘incentive’ for the doctor to process our forms), we were ushered into a side room to wait to get our physicals. After 20 minutes I was next in line, and once inside the doctor’s office I was moved to an exam table, and given a 20 second heart/lung/liver test and then ushered to the X-ray room. Fully clothed, a technician took my chest x-ray, then moved me to yet another room to have my blood drawn. After asking the male nurse to change his latex gloves (they were stained with dried blood) he pulled out a syringe, which was still sealed in the packaging, and proceeded to draw an indiscriminant amount of blood. He took off the needle, opened two test tubes, and squirted in enough to fill them, then threw the still half full syringe in the wastebasket. Then he handed me a baggy, and said slightly chuckling in broken English, “big cup number one, small cup number two” and showed me to the bathroom. As unprepared as I was to now have to provide these samples, my desire to remove myself from this situation sped the process along, and even though there was nothing but a toilet in this bathroom, I did what I had to do. And by nothing but a toilet, I mean exactly that; no sink, no faucet, no toilet seat, no toilet paper, no paper towels; nothing.
Four hours after beginning this little adventure, I finally arrived home, took a shower, and went to bed. The next day, after letting my students outside for their morning break, the Brit came over and asked me how my medical exam went. I shot him a look, he smirked a little and said, “You didn’t know you had to make in a cup, did you? Saudi’s full of fun little surprises…”