Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Los Angeles and Riyadh: The difference is there to see


Sabria S. Jawhar
I returned recently from my first trip to the United States to attend a conference in Pasadena, California, just outside of Los Angeles.


As with most first-timers to America, I found many of my preconceptions of the country wrong. One has a tendency to generalize and stereotype people only to find that they are just like the rest of us. Americans are friendly, open, frank and curious. They were interested in me and what I had to say.


Naturally, I behaved like a tourist when I found the time. I visited Universal Studios and got the tourist view of Hollywood. I strolled down Hollywood Boulevard and took in the street performers. And, of course, I went to Disneyland, wore my Minnie Mouse ears and enjoyed the rides.


It’s the nuances, however, of the country and how its citizens treat one another that really impressed me. How professionals, clerks and authorities engage each other while conducting business. How courtesy and respect is the rule of the day no matter what job a person performs.Does this translate simply into saying “please” and “thank you” when purchasing a pack of chewing gum at a convenience store?Yes, it does.


But it’s the larger picture that matters, such as a crisis or emergency. And this contrasts sharply with how Saudis go about the business of helping each other in time of need. This was brought home to me while I was having a late lunch with a colleague at a restaurant in a Los Angeles suburb.An 84-year-old woman had fallen on the floor. She hurt her back and was in extreme pain.



The restaurant staff without prompting from anyone immediately called for an ambulance and the local fire department’s paramedic team, which is similar to our Red Crescent, arrived within three minutes and treated the woman, taking her blood pressure, and asking many questions.The poor woman didn’t want to go to the hospital for treatment but the paramedics insisted and refused to take no for an answer.


In less than 10 minutes she was placed on a stretcher and rushed to the hospital. The paramedics were friendly, efficient and professional.They knew they disrupted our lunch with their presence, and stopped by our table for a friendly chat and a joke to make us comfortable before leaving.


The other patrons in the restaurant didn’t blink an eye over this little drama because it’s routine, but it certainly amazed me. I’ve seen these scenes in American movies and thought it was a Hollywood invention. But it turns out it’s the real thing.


The incident reminded me of a far more serious accident that occurred in Riyadh with much more tragic ending. Muhannad Abu Daiah is a true Saudi treasure. He is not well-known among the Saudi public, but he is responsible for 22 inventions in physics and robotics. He led a Saudi physics team in a world competition in South Korea in 2004 and won the championship. He created the first Arabic website on physics.


He is a rare breed who has earned international recognition for his work.Not long ago he was in involved a traffic accident and badly injured. Red Crescent was delayed in arriving. When the crew did arrive, they loaded him up in the ambulance, but passed several government hospitals to take him onto a private one.


Once at the private hospital, treatment was delayed six hours until his family could arrive and sign the papers. The surgery to repair his right leg took nine hours, but ultimately failed to fix the damage. His family paid SR80,000. Once the bill was settled, he was transferred to a specialist hospital, but was not admitted for 24 hours despite pleas from his family and several highly placed officials.


This poor fellow, who has done so much to enhance the prestige of Saudi Arabia in the international community with his fine work, was forced to have his leg amputated.So what happened here? What happened to our humanity and compassion?How is it that Saudi Arabia can donate $50 million to the victims of the earthquake in China but can’t find the will to treat a traffic accident victim with dignity.


The difference between the way Saudis treat the people in an emergency and how the Americans do it is that Americans have institutionalized – through policies, laws and common sense – a standard practice on how to treat people who are injured or in desperate need of treatment no matter their station in life.The old woman in the restaurant was nobody important except to her family and friends, yet the paramedics were kind by calling her “sweetie” and treated her as if she was the most important person on earth at the moment.


In Saudi Arabia, the hospital that was responsible for Muhannad Abu Daiah’s treatment treated him as if he were more trouble than he was worth because no one knew who he was – as if that should make a difference.We should keep in mind that hospital administrators, doctors, Red Crescent employees and even nurses represent our society and are viewed at varying levels as persons of authority.


They represent us and our government. Our perceptions of our government are based on the treatment we receive from these individuals. The paramedics who treated the old woman earned my respect that day. I can’t say the same for the people responsible for treating Muhannad Abu Daiah.


I know there are people out there who will view my opinions as being product of American brainwashing. Not so fast. I was there only a week. But I know what I saw. And if it came down to being treated during an emergency in a Los Angeles suburb or in Riyadh, well I think in this case the Americans would win out.

5 comments:

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Anonymous said...

SALAM MY SISTER,

I AM HAPPY TO HEAR THAT YOU ENJOYED YOUR VISIT IN CALIFORNIA. I HAVE RESIDED IN CALIFORNIA, AND MY SOON TO BE HUSBAND IS WORKING IN RIYADH RIGHT NOW. INSHA ALLAH, HE WILL BE COMING TO CALIFORNIA FOR THE FIRST TIME AFTER HE MAKES HAJJ THIS YEAR. I HOPE TO VISIT RIYADH ONE DAY AS WELL.

I HOPE THAT YOU RETURN TO AMERICA AND HAVE MANY ENJOYABLE VISITS!!!

AMINAH

Anonymous said...

If you think the health system in america is all fine and dandy you should watch the movie sicko

Anonymous said...

I don't know if Saudi is really that bad, but why do you write as if the efficient treatment would only happen in the U.S.? In many countries - including other Gulf countries - if someone collapsed, you could call the emergency number and the paramedics would come and take the person to the nearest hospital. (And that would normally be the nearest government hospital. Why did that ambulance pass them to get to a prvate hospital?) And they wouldn't wait hours for paperwork before they treated the patient, either.

It's so typical of some writers to see things so narrowly - i.e., Saudi bad, U.S. the best... often based on one incident, which may or may not be representative.

Los Angeles Criminal Lawyers said...

im really glad you enjoyed your stay here in California! Wonderful post!

Cheers,
Mic