Saturday, August 29, 2009

Cultural Lessons from the Hospital

Just to clarify, I was helping out a friend who was in the ER. She is doing better now after staying overnight in the hospital and getting her appendix out the next morning.

In the hospital here:
1. You pay cash for any procedure before they will perform the procedure.
Thankfully, my friend knew this and stopped at an ATM and pulled out $2000 on the way to the ER.

2.You can bargain the hospital cashier how much you are willing to pay him!
At first, he told me that a surgery usually costs about $7,000. He was not looking at a computer or a paper, he just looked at the ceiling and then at me and said $7,000. I was shocked and made it apparent that I was not going to pay $7,000. He said that they just needed a deposit, because my friend was being admitted and the decision for surgery would be made the next morning. So he asked for $3,000. I knew I only had $2,000. (I was prepared to use my own money and ATM card if needed) I had already paid $300 for her catscan, so I only had $1,700 to offer him. Thankfully, he took my offer.
Like everyother place here, the cashier had to scan every $50 bill that I gave him. Through this process of scanning 30 $50 bills, we jokingly asked he had found bad bills before, and he said he had found 1 or 2. Well, you probably saw this coming, but the second to last bill I gave him was rejected. He tried many times but it would not go through! Thankfully, I had more bills to exchange for it.

3. After the ER staff were ready to admit her, I had to first pay the cashier, and the cashier is the one who looked for vacancies. Yes, he told me to wait, while he looked in the computer for vacancies! And then he asked which class I wanted. After checking with my friend, we got 1st class. So her room has a couch, a rocking chair, another chair, and a flat-screen tv.

4. My friend has a 3 month old baby. The hospital staff did not want the baby in the ER room. But we could not take the baby away, because she was still feeding her, so had to keep the baby in the ER room. Are there really less germs in the waiting room that the ER rooms?

Just wanted to share with you the cultural lessons I picked up on from the hospital here. I was very surprised to learn this, especially the first 3.

Friday, August 21, 2009

I have eaten more Ramen noodles in the time I have been here than in all my high school and college years combined!

Yes, the national brand of Ramen noodles is soo good here! And still cheap! I am a big fan.

I guess I am trying to make up for not posting for awhile. Ramen is really not the the topic for today, the real title is: Ramadan Moonwatching, and once again involves my language teacher educating me.

Yesterday in class, I asked her if Ramadan had started yet, it is hard to tell when it starts as you will see below. She was surprised that I wanted to know. I wanted to know for many reasons, the least of them being so I would know what was going on in my own neighborhood, and if I could serve her a drink of water or 7up. She explained that had not started yesterday, but probably was starting tomorrow. "What's this probably?" This very scheduled person thought to myself. She continued to explain, what I did know that the Sunnis and Shi'ites celebrate at different times, but it looks like this year they will be pretty close.

So at the end of the lesson, I asked if our next lesson would be the following day. She told me that it would depend on if Ramadan was annouced that night or not. Because if she was fasting, she would need to get into that schedule, and would not be available for class, and we could meet on Monday, which I understood. So that left me wondering, why does it have to be announced? Why is it so vague, and you have to wait on the others to announce when it starts?

I asked some friends, and then a little online digging and discovered:
There is a debate among the Muslim community on just how to calculate the beginning of the month of Ramadan (or indeed any month, but Ramadan takes on special importance). The traditional method, mentioned in the Qur'an and followed by the Prophet Muhammad, is to look to the sky and visibly sight the slight crescent moon (hilal) that marks the beginning of the month. If one sees the hilal at night, the next day is the first day of Ramadan and thus the first day of fasting. At the end of the month, when the community sights the hilal again, the Festival of Fast-Breaking ('Eid al-Fitr) begins.

Questions and debates have arisen around the following questions:

* What if people in one area sight the moon, but those in another area don't? Is it okay for them to start and end the fast on different days?
* Should we follow the moon-sighting in Saudi Arabia (or any other area of the world), or should we in our local community sight it ourselves?
* What if our location is overcast and cloudy, and the moon is not visible to us?
* Why do we even bother looking for the moon, when we can astronomically calculate when the new moon is born, and thus when the crescent should be visible? That eliminates human error, right?

Over the years, various scholars and communities have answered this question in different ways. The prevailing opinion is that one should commit to a local moon-sighting, i.e. begin and end Ramadan based on the sighting of the moon in your local vicinity. Astronomical calculations can help us predict when the moon should be visible, but Muslims still tend to follow the traditional method of looking at the sky themselves and physically "sighting" the moon. Thus, the exact day of the beginning of Ramadan is not generally known until the night before the fast begins, when the moon is actually sighted and confirmed.

My thought along the way, was that I took McWilliams Earth Science class, and we can know exactly when there is a full moon, but however we can't predict if we will be able to see the moon behind clouds or not. I was very surprised to know that the Muslims may use a local moon or the Saudi Moon to decide.

Oh, and it has been announced here:
The highest Sunni authority, announced that the holy fasting month of Ramadan begins on Saturday.
The start of the ninth and holiest month of the Muslim calendar is traditionally determined by the sighting of the new moon, often dividing rival Islamic countries and sects over the exact date.

Because it follows the lunar cycle, Ramadan comes 11 days earlier every year on the Gregorian calendar, bringing the fasting month this year in the summer.

During Ramadan, Muslims are required to abstain from food, drink and sex from dawn until dusk as life slips into a lower gear during the day. Activity peaks between "iftar," the breaking of the fast at sunset, and "suhur," the last meal of the day before sunrise.

I hope you found this at least half as interesting as I did!

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Fairouz continued

so after my language lesson today, I had to update you. My teacher wrote out the English translation for me of one verse of the song.

I thought I would share it with you: (this is how she wrote it)
By the latest days of summer, the young girl slowly, slowly went down to the village place (yard) (village called Mayss El Reem) and the carriage stopped.
We are late. We can do nothing, My lover. We are so late that we can't be on date. I wish if I could see you (with my eyes). The hell with the car, wether it works or not.

Okie, American, English:
On last day of summer, the teenage girl leisurely headed to the Mayss El Reem town square, when her car broke down. Oh no! She is late now, because she can't fix the car. She can't meet her boyfriend for her date! She so wants to see him. To heck with her car!

Also, she is tough! She made a whole lesson out one of the letters I have a hard time saying, the "Ayn." (You use the same muscles in the back of your mouth that you use when you gargle with this letter.) Trying to read the sentences that she wrote is like trying to say "peter piper picked a peck of pickled peppers" in a foreign language! But inshallah, after all the repetition I will finally pronounce the letter like an Arab!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009


I have a new language tutor who is amazing. One of my homework assignments, was to learn a song, by the infamous Fairouz. ( My roomate and I tried to come up with an American equivalent to Fairouz, but failed. She could be the Johnny Cash, Madonna, Sinatra all in one of the Middle East.

My teacher transcribed one of her songs for me, with blanks that I was supposed to fill in. I listened to the song at least a dozen times, and still could not read her writing and figure out where she was singing from. Can you imagine learning a new song in another language? Especially when they hold some words out longer than others!

Well, I finally cheated and got some help from a national speaker who informed me which parts were repeated and were the refrain! Which helped so much!

Next week, I get to do a Demke (dance) song! I like the Demke music because it is the closest to country music here, and the dance is very similar to country line dancing.
If would want to hear the song I learned this week, go to this link. Select the song: "Akher Ayam Al Syfya." And use the controls in the banner at the top of this page. Hope it works.

Oh, and in case you want to know what the song is about. She is sad that the summer is over, and uhh, well that is the most I have for now, something about how they can't drive their car to their favorite spot anymore now.