I experienced hands on the generous side of the Saudi people by having the chance to interact with many families through my work. At the hospital a patient would have their own private rooms and the average length of stay would be 8 days. A nurse typically works around 12 hours a day, on average 4-5 days a week. Also the system in Saudi is that a certain nurse is assigned to specific patients only (usually 2-4/shift) and the nurse therefore get lots of one on one time with their designated patients.
At first it was a strange system for me as a western nurse used to having the responsibility of up to 35 patients at a given shift. Then I saw the good side to it, getting to really know your patients and following their progress and treatment. This way their outcome will be better because the nurses can observe the patients closely and report changes to the doctors.
I know some nurses who worked in Saudi or even the very same ward would not agree with me and might say Saudis are rude and arrogant. I think this has to do with personality and attitude. My approach is always open-minded and I would greet patients with a smile and “salaam aleikum”. Even though I was not a Muslim at first, I thought it was polite and respectful to their culture and always generated a positive response.
We have a saying in Finland:
“Niin metsä vastaa kuin sinne huudetaan”
Which translates to something like “the forest will answer you in the same way as you shout into it” meaning basically that if you speak nicely you will spoken back to nicely, or on the other hand if you speak to someone with disrespect, you can’t expect them to treat you with respect. Some expat nurses would always complain about how the Saudis are so rude. Perhaps a look into the mirror could solve this problem!
So that saying is what I like to go by. I think learning Arabic made a huge difference in communicating with the patients as well. They realized how much I respected them by making an effort to learn their language in order to be able to communicate better.
I would say in general, every patient of mine would offer something during their course of stay. Regardless of their background. The poorest sometimes were the most generous. It was touching how they would offer me from what little they had. I would of course refuse but they would literally stuff things in my pockets!
Typically people would give me chocolates, sweets or pastries they had in the room brought in by relatives or friends. On night shifts I would often be asked to join for some Arabic coffee, tea and dates. Some patients would give me juices, laban or water bottles. Basically anything they had to offer, they would give it. I would even be offered a plate of the food they were eating “to go” when I apologized I did not have time for dinner with them.
Many families would ask if I knew about Islam or wanted to learn about it. I would say I was interested and next time I saw them they would have a package ready for me full of booklets, small Quran’s, prayer beads and the sorts. A beautiful Quran was given to by one of my favorite patients, an old Bedouin couple. It has both Arabic and English side by side, no distracting brackets and a brief explanation of the historical background of the events.
On occasions I received more elaborate gifts like jewellery, perfumes, bags and watches. A princess once bought me the same evening dress I saw her daughter wearing in her room during Eid time. I had admired how beautiful it was and she had sent someone to pick one up from the designer. Needles to say I was overwhelmed!
Generosity was extended to invitations as well, I have been invited to weddings and once to a royal wedding (sadly I couldn’t attend because I was abroad at the time) to family dinners, farms and coffee shops. I only had a chance to go to a few but it was well worth it and the hospitality was abundant.
I think the most amazing act of generosity happened once with another princess patient. She asked me if I needed more books on Islam in my own language. I said I had never really found any books in Finnish but would love to have some. She had me write down what my language was and said would see what she could do. The next time I came to work, must have been the day after, she gave me a whole boxful of books about Islam in Finnish! There was eight different books and of each five copies so I could give to friends and family. To this day I don’t get how she was able to obtain books in Finnish language in such a short time, in Saudi-Arabia!