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Tour #2: 1990-1995




1996-2000: Let's Do It Right This Time....

    After coming home to Halifax in 1988,  I decided to head out west to Banff and work there for awhile before deciding seriously what to do next. I inquired on who and where to contact the agency that was responsible for recruiting people for the King Faisal Specialist Hospital and Research Center. Back then, the recruiter was Hospital Corporation International, part of Hospital Corporation America, which was located in Nashville, Tennessee. Again, those long, warm summer days of Riyadh became quite appealing again, as well as the prospect of playing softball twice a year. More importantly, I knew the laboratory at the King Faisal was big and up to date, and the salary was quite good. I sent my resume off to Nashville. About three weeks later the phone rings very early one Sunday morning around 5 A.M. The Hematology supervisor and Lab Manager were on the phone and proceeded to do my 'interview' right then and there. Still half asleep, I managed to answer their questions well enough because the following week, I received a phone call from Nashville informing me my application had been approved. Arriving in the mail was the same ton of paperwork that had to be filled out, but it was a little easier the second time around. I sent off all the completed documents and my new passport on to Nashville, and about three weeks later, I received the plane ticket for Riyadh in the mail. However, this time, I would be attending a two day orientation in Nashville before flying off to JFK in New York, and then picking up the Saudia flight to Riyadh. Flying to Nashville was a nice bonus. Once I arrived there, I met up with the other 11 members of the group that would be flying out the next day. A new group of people usually came out of Nashville every month or so. The orientation that HCI gave us on living and working in Saudi Arabia was quite thorough. Since I had been before, it was not much new for me. After the day long orientation, the group met together for a big meal at the hotel restaurant. We did not have much time to look around, we did make it for some late afternoon shopping. The members of the group become your first friends that you make before heading off to Riyadh. Once you get there and get into your own departments, you make new friends, but the group usually stays pretty close for a while. In fact, my family and I are still in contact with a very nice couple we met back in 1990 who were in our Nashville group. We all decided to crash out early because we knew that the flight the next day would be very long, and the thought of going through the hell of immigration and baggage checking was in the backs of our minds. But, it was nice leaving all together.

After the long journey, we landed later in Riyadh after stopping in Jeddah to let people off the flight. While the airline service has vastly improved now compared to back then, flying on Saudia always proved to be an event. Unscheduled stops on long flights for re-fueling, or stopping  because there was a Prince or Princess on the flight who wanted to stop in Paris or London to 'pick up a few things' was always a possibility. The flights were never on time and they always seemed to leave late. The service is much better now, but alas, the cold beer is still absent from the refreshment carts.

Immigration and customs was as expected, taking almost two hours to get through. Again, in the long lines beside us at passport control were the people from India, Afghanistan, Bangladesh,  Pakistan and Sri Lanka, all looking like they could use about three good meals. They had meager possessions, and they looked at us as if we came from a different world, and I guess, we did. I'll never forget those dark eyes hidden behind tense faces as they stared at me, watching my every move. What were they thinking?

Finally through passport control and onto the dreaded baggage check. I didn't bring as much stuff with me this time, and I was ready. While I was waiting, in another line next to me, Passport officials were rummaging through the luggage of a person from the Philippines. There goes his bible, there goes a T-shirt with a picture of a women's face on the front of it: RRRIIPPP and tossed in the garbage. There goes his entertainment magazine he must have brought from home, tossed in the can as well. Shoes were checked as well. Man oh man, what an ordeal this is. I went through with less apprehension and was finished quite quickly. (Baggage checking is less of strain now as X-ray machines are being used on some flights to check bags instead of airing out your underwear for everyone to see).

The group, looking quite tired and haggard, gathered together, not saying much. The KFSH & RC human resources person found us and we quickly loaded our stuff in the courtesy bus. Since the hospital is located downtown, we had to endure the weekend night traffic. Boy, what fun, those horns really come in handy. We were dropped off at our housing. The single male housing was located about 20 minutes from the hospital, we were dropped off first. The married housing was located across the street from the hospital at MCV and single female housing was located on the hospital grounds. The single male housing was pretty good with a large weight room and pool. Across the busy street was a large shopping mall, and Pizza Hut was beside our compound as well. 

Next morning we took the hospital bus to the hospital and re-grouped at Human resources. Another day and a half of orientation and it was off to our separate departments. The laboratory was exactly what I expected and I knew I had made the right decision to return to Riyadh.

About a month later, I was sitting by the pool drinking terrible home made wine that still had a yeasty taste with some other guys from the compound, when our neighbor came over and told us the Iraq had invaded Kuwait. (See my page on the Gulf War for a description of this interesting part of my second tour.)

Again, I got into the routine of the work, made new friends and played softball again, and the war didn't last too long, things were fine. During the first thee years of my second tour, I took some memorable vacations to Bangkok, Thailand, Cyprus and Israel, and to the Philippines. 

In 1993 I met my future wife.  She was also working in the laboratory in specimen processing. We started 'dating' which proved to be mostly talking on the phone and meeting for lunch at the hospital restaurant. It was kind of okay to be seen with women while on the hospital grounds. Going outside the hospital grounds was another matter. Luckily for us, my wife's sister and husband were also working at the hospital, so we could all meet together in their house for meals and small parties. We decided to marry in the Philippines at her home town. 

  Now, you simply cannot return to Riyadh with a new wife and go on as if nothing happened. That would be too simple and nice. We had to get our marriage contract authenticated and verified by various Philippine government agencies which took about 4 days. I had to return alone to Riyadh to work, and also begin the process and paperwork to apply for a visa for my wife to come back to Riyadh. This took a lot of patience dealing with the hospital passport office, but like all things in Saudi Arabia, finally, I received the visa and my wife joined me a few months later. 

We stayed in Riyadh another couple of years, in that time, we had to go through more paperwork for my wife, this time with the Canadian Embassy. We applied for her Landed Immigrant Visa, received excellent help and cooperation from the embassy, and about 9 months later, we received her landed immigrant visa. 

Once we got the visa, we had to land in Canada within one year or lose the precious document. We decided to leave in 1995 and try our luck out in B.C.

While we were in Canada, our first child was born in Chilliwack. On the job front, as all tech's in Canada know, the middle 1990's were not good time for hospital workers, especially in our field. Health care in Canada was undergoing major down sizing and restructuring. Hospitals were closing, and jobs were scarce. I was able to work as a casual tech and things were fine in the summer and fall. However, once the crunch of winter came in February and March, shifts were hard to get.  I decided to phone up my old supervisor in Riyadh at the King Faisal and see if I could come back. He said it wouldn't be a problem which was good news. The bad news was that I would have to go to Riyadh initially by myself, and apply for that special dependent visa for my wife and daughter later after I finished my probation. If I had been a medical doctor, or taking some sort of managerial job, I could have brought my my and daughter with me. 

We decided that my wife and daughter would go to  the Philippines and stay with her family while the visa papers were in process. Again, second time around was easier, but the wait was the same. 

This began our third, and final tour of Saudi Arabia.

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Copyright 2001 Mario J. Hemens
Last modified: September 02, 2001