On my first trip to Saudi Arabia, I confess I was seriously nervous (though prematurely and certainly without good reason). My client, a large well known organization based in Jeddah, had arranged for their appointed driver to meet me at the airport. But before I met him I first had to pass through security, a normal process for locals and the frequent visitor but stressful for the novice who is unfamiliar with the country, its customs, laws and procedures. The entry forms were not familiar. I thought I had completed them correctly, but the attendant laughed when he reviewed my paperwork. I had chosen the incorrect declaration card and presented myself as a Muslim Inman (equivalent to a Christian Priest or Jewish Rabbi). He was gracious and patient, retrieved the correct form, completed it for me and had me sign it. Step one completed. I still had to retrieve my luggage and have it scrutinized.
The rules for what can be brought into the country are very strict. Even before our plane landed, we were advised by the Captain to remove specific items, if contained, before entering Saudi airspace. Certain magazines and pictures, alcohol, cameras and utensils, were all forbidden and severe penalties imposed if one breached the law. I broke out in a sweat. I had included a camera in my luggage bag, ignorant of its illegal possession. I had done this before. While visiting Singapore, after checking into the hotel, I began emptying the contents of my luggage and was stunned by the presence of chewing gum. Chewing gum is illegal in Singapore with severe punishment for bringing it into the country. Fortunately, my contraband was not detected. I immediately disposed of the potentially incriminating evidence.
I was asked to leave the security line. Two security guards escorted me to a private room. I was told to stand and wait for an inspector. Thirty minutes had expired. Still no one arrived. My anxiety increased but it was important I did not let it show. Any signs of nervousness may lead to perception of guilt. Another fifteen minutes passed. Finally, a very serious looking young man introduced himself. He asked where I was from and why I was visiting Saudi Arabia. My guests had advised me what to say in such circumstances. So I responded exactly as I was taught. There was silence, deathly silence. My paperwork was examined microscopically and repeatedly while glaring stares into my eyes were made to intimidate me. Finally, I was released, free to go, as it were. My camera was seemingly undetected.
A friendly face held a large white card with the name, “Mr. Hillier” printed in bold black letters on it. I confirmed who I was. He led me to his car. I gave a sigh a relief. I was finally on my way to the Hilton hotel. But there was a security check point to negotiate. My driver rolled down his window and a conversation in Arabic began which I did not fully understand. An complete interpretation though wasn’t really necessary for me. I could decipher that the driver did not have the correct paperwork in order to exit the airport and was instructed to take me back to the airport. He immediately contacted his company representative. I was instructed to hire a taxi to leave the airport while the driver attended to his error. I sat in the back of the cab while we approached security again. I was terrified the agent would notice me and think I was trying to exit the airport illegally. But my identity went undetected. I was once again free.
The entrance to the Hilton hotel was guarded by army personnel sitting in green camouflaged Jeeps equipped with large machine guns. I did not know this was normal protocol. The barrels of these intimidating guns were aimed at us as we drove to the main doors. I thought for a quick moment that I had been caught. My innovative plan to exit the airport was discovered.
This made be think of the time I was entering Dubai several years ago. There were two lines, one for those with perceived symptoms of the SARS virus and those without. Security personnel were diligently observing us to remove potential carriers. As I waited, I could not contain it any longer and delivered a noticeable cough. The woman in front of me turned around in grave concern. I knew I had to keep from any further coughing or I would be quarantined. I did not have SARS, just a prolonged cold. I manage to stay silent and exit the Dubai airport, my cough and cold undetected.
Check in to the hotel was quick and efficient. I quickly hung my clothes in the closet, dressed for bed, and attempted to prepare my mind for a well-deserved rest. Sleep though was difficult. I stayed awake waiting for the police to knock on my door to investigate the confusing incident at the airport.
After a few hours of unconsciousness, I was frightfully awakened by the sound of a blast. My mind immediately judged the noise to be that of an exploding bomb. But there was no commotion, so I believed I awoke from a bad dream. I settled again once more. Then another blast occurred. This time I knew I wasn’t hallucinating. I peered out my window. Some late night partiers were on the beach setting off fireworks. It was obvious; I had become paranoid of all of my perceived bad behaviours being detected.
We spend much time in queues waiting for events to unfold. Waiting is a tough process. Depending on the nature and severity of what you are waiting for your mind can play confusing tricks with reality. Positive expectations are mired in doubt and negativity.
My radiation treatments for cancer ended on September 23rd, 2016. I was told I had to wait for six weeks until November 3rd, for the results. The early weeks passed without too much worry. The key for emotional stability was to keep my mind busy. So I did. But as the days expired, the meeting with Doctor Catton grew closer. My day of reckoning had arrived. I was nervously awaiting my sentence, having been found guilty of developing cancer in January, 2010, almost seven years before. After completing the required registration forms and then checking in with the receptionist, I stood in the waiting area on floor 2B of Princess Margaret Hospital. It was 10:00am. I did not notice any other patients who might have travelled this journey with me. They were all new faces, people who I did not know but I could relate to because the challenge we all faced made us all relatives.
The main door to the treatment rooms opened. There was Min. She was a radiation therapist who had regularly, for thirty three weekdays attended to my program. I tried to obtain her attention, hoping she would notice me so I could say hello. Unfortunately, as she called for her next patient, my presence went undetected. I realized I probably would never see her or her colleagues again and was saddened I could not say thanks to them for the work they do to help us regain our health.
I heard my name called. “Mr. Hillier” the volunteer announced. I replied, “That’s me!” She accompanied me to the waiting room. Minutes seemed like hours. A nurse asked me a few questions about my post treatment exam. Then Doctor Catton entered the room. He carried a single piece of white paper. It was my exam results. With a big smile on his face, he declared “it’s undetectable”! My tests did not show any signs of cancer being present in my body. After seven years, seven interrelated surgeries and seven weeks of daily radiation, I was finally free. My sincere thanks are owed to Dr. Catton and Dr. Ling, his associate, for their expertise and empathetic care.
Many before me have been and many after me will be attacked by this nasty disease called cancer. But never let hope and faith become undetectable in your life. Without hope we perish. An absence of faith: in God’s interest in your life and sovereignty over your life; in your own self-worth; and in life’s eternal purpose; will surely drive you to a mental and emotional prison. You (and only you) can remove the chains of doubt.
Life Matters. You Matter. Never, never, NEVER, give up!