Ramadan in Riyadh

By Roger Watson | 06/12/2017

Author teaches night classes—from 10 p.m. to 1 a.m.

Photo of bridge with Connecting continents text

ABOARD TRAIN BETWEEN LONDON AND HULL, United Kingdom—I have just returned from Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, where I experienced Ramadan, the Muslim holy month, for the first time in the Middle East. It was unusual to be invited during Ramadan—quite a privilege, in some ways, as this is a spiritual time for Muslims, and most non-Muslims leave to take a holiday. For me, with the very short working days and long nights associated with Ramadan, life essentially got turned upside down during my time in Riyadh. During Ramadan, eating and drinking are completely forbidden to Muslims during hours of daylight. Mercifully, days are short in the Middle East during that time. (Spare a thought for our Muslim colleagues in the upper reaches of the Northern Hemisphere).

Roger WatsonFasting is only during the day and, frankly, a considerable amount of eating goes on from the evening meal—iftar—until dawn. Work also goes on during those hours, and I had my first experience of teaching from 10 p.m. to 1 a.m. Thus, I needed coffee to stay awake without the subsequent benefit of alcohol to help me sleep. I was not obliged to fast, but if I wanted breakfast I had to order it before dawn. So, I got into a routine of pocketing a few items at iftar—fruit and yogurt—and depositing them in my fridge. Although eating and drinking are forbidden in front of Muslims during Ramadan, my friends and colleagues were helpful in providing me with water and opportunities to drink it at meetings. One day, I delivered a four-hour workshop and had to be excused several times to take a few sips. By the end of the day, because of the dust in the air and the fierce air-conditioning—the outside temperature was 55 degrees Celsius (131 degrees Fahrenheit)—I was croaking like a frog.

Ramadan in Riyadh

The ‘Godfather’
I was in The Kingdom at the invitation of Mansour Saleh Alyami, PhD, RN, director general for training at the Saudi Ministry of Health and a former PhD student of mine. The ministry is currently upgrading the educational level of a vast range and number of health technicians—including nurses—who are not presently able to practice safely. The next step is to upgrade the equally vast numbers (tens of thousands) of diploma-educated nurses to degree level. It was wonderful to see Mansour in his “empire,” with four floors of a ministry building under his command and an office that would not shame a prime minister. Well respected by his colleagues, he is a man of impeccable manners who ensured that his personal assistant, through whom my arrangements had been made, was found and taken to meet me. A nice touch in a country where hierarchy and upward respect are prominent with little reciprocation. I am touched that he refers to me, and did so publicly, as his “Godfather.”

Roger Watson with Jonas CruzI had a very pleasant dinner with an old friend, Mustafa Bodrick, PhD, RN, who is a former PhD student of Hester Klopper, PhD, RN, past president of the Honor Society of Nursing, Sigma Theta Tau International. Mustafa is now the first nursing adviser appointed to the Saudi Commission for Health Specialities. A man of incredible erudition and learning, his life story is fascinating. A Roman Catholic and a Muslim, we toasted, in light of recent events, world peace with a fine, nonalcoholic Tempranillo.

I also had the privilege of meeting a new and much younger friend, Jonas Cruz, PhD, RN, who works at a university three hours outside Riyadh. We have been corresponding about research, and when I told him I was coming to Riyadh, he arranged to drive up and have dinner with me.

These are tense days in the UK, and that tension was reflected in the Middle East. I woke on the first full day of my visit to the news that Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Egypt, and the United Arab Emirates had severed diplomatic ties with Qatar.

This train journey from London to Hull takes me home for one night. I then return to the airport and board for Hong Kong.

Roger Watson, PhD, RN, FRCP Edin, FRCN, FAAN, professor of nursing at the University of Hull in the United Kingdom and a frequent visitor to Australia and China, where he has visiting positions, is editor-in-chief of Journal of Advanced Nursing and editor of Nursing Open. Click here to access Blogger-resident entries posted before 2017 in Watson’s former blog “Hanging smart.” 


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