Open Sesame is a term used in the movie Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves. It was said to open the door of the cave in the desert in Saudi Arabia where Ali Baba and his band of thieves hid their treasure. But Saudi Arabia is a lot more than a desert with forty thieves and women with veils as May, a renal nurse from the Phillipines found out. I spoke with May about her one year spent in Saudi Arabia as a renal nurse.
Why did you decide to live and work in Saudi Arabia?
Saudi Arabia was looking for specialist renal nurses to come to their country to look after the large number of people who have renal issues. As Saudi Arabia is mostly desert and does not have much rain the locals are reliant on de-salinated water for their main source of drinking water. Having a lot of salt in the water has led to renal problems. Also, Saudi Arabia has some fantastic chocolate which can be bought by the kilogram. Many Saudis have indulged in the chocolate and this has caused a lot of diabetes – which have also led to renal issues. And one more thing, there is a high iron content in the water, believed to be caused by the oil in the ground. Thus, specialist renal nurses are sought from around the world to come and look after the people.
As renal problems are such an issue, there are also great opportunities to gain more experience and training in this specialist field of nursing.
What was it like nursing in Saudi Arabia?
Nursing in Saudi Arabia is a little different to nursing in other countries. There are cultural issues which you must be aware of. Most of these are explained in an orientation to you. However, there are many you learn while on the job. For instance, female doctors are only allowed to treat female patients, but male doctors can treat both male and females. However, male doctors are not allowed to have eye contact with females. “So don’t be offended if the doctor won’t look at you” says May who wondered why the doctor was looking at the wall while talking to a patient.
Also, prayers (Salah) are held six (6) times per day. All are half an hour with the last prayer before 6pm lasting for one hour. “Be prepared to be on the floor by yourself” says May as many of the staff head to prayers and non-Muslim staff are left on the floor to attend to the patients.
Did you need special qualifications to nurse in Saudi Arabia?
I am a qualified nurse in my country with a number of years in renal specialising. These were the qualifications and experience they were looking for to fill the positions available.
Did you need to know how to speak Arabic?
Knowing Arabic came in handy as many in Saudi Arabia don’t speak English. I started learning Arabic before I arrived as I thought it would help me, and it did. Plus there are many dialects of Arabic. People in the mountains speak a different dialect to those living in the capital of Riyadh but knowing some general Arabic is very helpful.
What was it like living in Saudi Arabia
Living in Saudi Arabia as a nurse was interesting. All the nurses lived in a house which was shared with other nurses. You mostly shared a bedroom with another single nurse. You were often matched with other nurses from your own country. We could wear what we wanted while in the house, however, as soon as we left the house we needed to be dressed in a full Abaya with Hijab – it was mandatory.
What is included in your contract?
My contract was for 12 months. During that time I received a wage, accommodation in a nurses house and a uniform (which only allowed our hands to be exposed). Once a month we were taken out such as riding ATVs in the desert. Had plenty of time to visit the many shopping malls. But I had to ensure I met all their criteria before I was offered any position.
What was the best part of living and working in Saudi Arabia?
There were a number of things I liked about living and working in Saudi Arabia. I thoroughly enjoyed getting to experience another culture. I enjoyed receiving a tax-free wage and I loved the local chocolate. Though my blood sugars didn’t!
Some cultural issues I discovered were that when you go to a supermarket, there are lines for men, women and families. Only married couples can stand together in the family queue and you must show your marriage certificate to prove it.
In regards to wearing the Abaya and Hijab, these weren’t an issue for me. However, I discovered the pink one I brought with me from the Phillipines was not acceptable. Only earthy colour tones of these garments were allowed to be worn. So I quickly bought a new one.
Dates are very popular in Saudi Arabia and it is said, the more dates you eat, the more likely you will be well blessed by the prophet Muhammed.
I also discovered the Saudi people like to be greeted every time you meet them. They really appreciate this and the more you do it the more they appreciate it. This often leads them to giving gifts – often gifts of food and jewellery.
Were you allowed to travel in Saudi Arabia?
There wasn’t much time to travel, though I did like to visit the many shopping malls. Once per month the administration team for the nurses took us to a new place to explore. May says “the best time was being taken to the mountains and allowed to ride ATVs with no shoes on or a helmet through the desert”.
About May: May was born in the Phillipines and comes from a family of nurses so it was likely she would also be a nurse. She is a special renal nurse and went to Saudi Arabia to experience the culture and to gain more knowledge of working as a renal nurse. Her base was in a hospital in Hail, a 2-hour flight from the capital of Riyadh. May worked for Diaverum in Saudi Arabia. She currently calls Melbourne home.
How can you live and work in Saudi Arabia?
Saudi Arabia does not have a reciprocal working holiday visa available with other countries. Those who go to Saudi Arabia to work will be there to work for a specific employer who will be sponsoring your work visa. So people who work in the oil industry, in healthcare, teaching and IT may be in luck. To find a position visit online job websites such as AlJazerra Jobs and Bayt and Gulf Talent. Or google the Internet and see what pops up.
I have travelled most of my life thanks to my dad who worked for an airline. I have travelled with my family, as a single person, in a couple and now with my own family. When I was single I went to the UK on a working holiday and was inspired to write ‘Live Work and Play in London and the UK‘. And I have specialised in providing working holidays, gap years and work and travel overseas information ever since. I continue to travel and currently call Melbourne home. Read more.