Life plays such weird games with us.
Back in late 1996, when Syed Fasihuddin and I were in KSA. Fasih worked with Ministry of Health while I was working for the National Guards Health Affairs.
My best friend-colleague then was an Egyptian Gynecologist Nada. She was posted in Taif and I was in Makkah.
We met each other for a week, once a year when were posted in the Saudi Royal National Guards Hajj camp in Mina as frontline doctors for Hajjis including Saudi royalty, during Annual Haj Pilgrimage. Living together in a tent 24×7 for a week gave opportunity to know other colleagues who came from different cities as far as Riyadh from National Guard Family.
There were just a handful of us nonSaudi expats, as most doctors, due to the nature of the organization were Saudis.
As we got to know each other she shared how she had put her 4 years old daughter in Kindergarten in a Pakistani School in Taif. The little girl taught her mother Urdu and the typical kids-urdu-talk like “Katti-Dosti”, “Yeh meri dost hai”, “Tumko Urdu kaise aati hai?” “Merey ghar aaogi?”
Nada would humorously share all the Urdu she had learned from her little kiddo.
Such as the environment is in KSA, I found Nada, a gorgeous young woman, very bubbly, full of life, but naive and very protected and dependent for everything on her very sober, caring husband.
In the rest of the year we got busy in our respective works and talked to each other frequently on phone about our common interest ObGyn as we both were studying for MRCOG.
She once called to tell how her sister’s husband was suffering from liver failure (Bilharziasis-very common in Egypt) and they were planning to take him to Sheikh Zayed Hospital in Pakistan for liver transplant. I spoke to Fasih and he said he will explore to expedite their trip.
I sent her few messages but did not hear back for almost 6 months. I wondered why, and had worst fears about her brother in laws life.
One day I got a call from Nada. Before I could ask her about her brother in law she spoke, “Ilmana, I am devastated. My husband passed away in the hospital, after a very short mysterious, undiagnosed illness.”
I was badly shaken. “How could this happen to Nada? She has a 5 year old and a 7 year old. And she is so emotionally and physically dependent on her husband for everything.” Nada was 36 then.
I would cry with Fasih. He was extremely shaken too. And told me to keep talking to her.
I dont remember how many months Nada and I would both cry on both sides of the phone.
I was so scared for Nada. First year was horrible, I still remember very well.
Later she told me “I wanted to die too. But then i saw my little kids’ innocent faces.”
Very gradually Nada continued to gather herself and gain strength. She stayed in Taif due to a good job, though living alone as an expat woman in Saudi Arabia is not easy.
A decade passed.
In 2009 we moved to Canada. I so wanted Nada to come along too. But this woman who had by now carved her own strong personality had decided she will do MRCGPI and go back to work in Egypt when her son finished High School. And imagine for this, her examination centre fell in Karachi, in the times when Pakistan was struggling with frequent terror attacks. She called me to inform me. I was too paranoid too for a gorgeous foreigner woman travelling alone to Karachi. Despite her family’s concerns she chose to travel (ofc with pre-arrangements for her safety), took her exam and returned back safely in 3 days.
Fasih told me, “Be brave like your best friend.”
Now, she lives in Cairo, is working in University and with her kids grown up. And is reaching out to us from Cairo, Egypt telling me she knows exactly how hard it is. And to be brave.