Tuesday, Jan 9

The Work Begins--My Anxiety Mounts
Having been in Jerusalem now for 48 hours, I cannot imagine a more productive yet emotionally draining two days. We saw a few children in a clinic my first evening here and then scheduled operations for three children for the next two days. There are two more children set to arrive from Gaza today who need surgical care and inshallah (God willing) we will be able to do their operations before Friday.

The difficulties for Palestinians--in regards to travel permits and identification card requirements--are overwhelming. Children arrive for their operations without their parents, but rather with friends of the family or grandparents. They come with anyone who has a permit to travel--the important thing is just to get to us. Some families took nearly seven hours to travel a mere 100 km yesterday to see us. The time delays are not due to road conditions, but all the checkpoints. We decided to admit these children to the hospital in fear of their inability to travel on their designated operative day.

We completed our first operation this morning, and I was perhaps the most frightened I have ever been in all my years of training and practice. To perform delicate procedures on these helpless children in a land where I don't speak the language, am not used to the equipment, and must work with people whom I have never met before is a daunting task. The welcoming nature of the local caregivers is so very kind that I feel embarrassed at times in the manner in which they treat us "foreigners."

Alhumdulillah (thank God) the case went well. But I am all the more anxious in anticipation of several cases that have yet to come. The differences in medical technology and standards of care are challenging me to find new ways of making sure that we provide the safest and most complete surgical care possible.

My First Prayers at Masjid Al-Aqsa
I have been blessed to visit and pray at Masjid Al-Aqsa as well as within the Dome of the Rock. The area of "Old Jerusalem" is indeed an amazing place, as the four quarters are all confined within an approximate 10-15 square kilometer area. The holiest of places for all three monotheistic religions are in this tiny area, and there is no denying the amazing variety of people, cultures, customs, and religious principles that can be found here.

I found an elderly person at Al-Aqsa who was so very helpful in describing to me the details of the mosque. The symbolism in the Dome of the Rock was very interesting in terms of the number of arches and pillars throughout the structure. To see the Ayatul Kursi (a passage from the Qur’an) carved into the dome itself was breathtaking.

I was able to do my midday prayer in Al-Aqsa, and this will surely be a highlight of the trip. I am sure that doing Salat-ul-Juma (Friday prayers) in this mosque will be quite overwhelming.

Sunday, Jan. 7

I have arrived safely in Jerusalem. I was detained for five hours at the airport in Tel Aviv and was asked every question you can imagine. I guess one should expect this for a Muslim with Indian heritage who is a born American and is flying through Israel to work in Palestine for two weeks while carrying medical equipment and toys.

I am sure they had a hard time processing all of those variables. I was prepared in my mind for this and although it was very tiring I wasn't too bothered. I saw the Dome of the Rock on my drive into Jerusalem. More soon.

Friday, Jan. 5

Why Volunteer?
For a lot of personal reasons, I felt that this was a good time for me to do volunteer work. I figure that if I want to make this an ongoing part of my life, then now is the time to establish set of volunteer experiences that I can then carry out for the rest of my professional career.

I found the Palestinian Children’s Relief Fund on the American College of Surgeons website, which has a link for global volunteerism. Though I looked online at many other volunteer opportunities, that specific link led me to PCRF.

This group is dedicated to providing treatment and training to specialists that isn’t readily available in the Middle East. Their mission is to provide free care to sick or injured youth who can’t be treated locally or can’t travel to other hospitals. What was great for me was that they were very flexible in terms of timing, and they had a need for someone with my particular skills.

Why Jerusalem?
I have a few objectives in going to Jerusalem: First I really wanted to do volunteer work--to give back, and to learn and gain personally from the experience. Anytime you remove yourself from your normal environment, you gain perspective. You see how others live; you see the challenges that others face; you see the hardships that others have to deal with it. It makes you take things less for granted. It changes what frustrates you and what excites you in life.

Jerusalem is in a region of the world that I’m very interested in. Religiously speaking, it’s a chance for me to visit Masjid Al-Aqsa, which is the third most important mosque to Muslims. Most Muslims aren’t able to fulfill the desire to see this mosque because it takes so much effort to get to the Haram Sharif (Grand Mosque) in Mecca and Masjid Al-Nabuwi (The Prophet’s Mosque) in Medina for Hajj. There’s often no time or money left to visit Al-Aqsa.

So this volunteer experience will help me achieve this personal goal of visiting Al-Aqsa, as well as seeing the other holy sites in Jerusalem. I really want to get a feel of this holy land that is so important to Muslims, Jews, and Christians. It’s amazing to think that within walking distance, there is Al-Aqsa, the Wailing Wall, and what many people believe is the final resting place of Jesus.

There’s no doubt that we’re reaching a climax of religious uncertainty and conflict in this world. And this location is perhaps the focal point of much of the unrest that is occurring. So it may be a bit altruistic, but I think it’s going to be very interesting to visit this very small area of the world to just gain some personal viewpoints as to how the people live there.

To be able to actually say “I’ve been there, I’ve seen some things. This is my perspective.”--that is what I personally hope to gain.

My Fears and Expectations
I don’t expect to have a spiritual epiphany. I don’t think two weeks in Jerusalem will sway me from where my spirituality is right now. I think it will allow me to be able to speak in a more educated fashion about the politics and beliefs of the region. I don’t think this trip will redefine what kind of a Muslim I am, but we’ll see.

A lot of the abilities that we have as physicians in this country are not just based on inherent knowledge and skills, but it also is based on the climate and the technology and the environment that we work in. So it’ll be a very good challenge for me to have to rely on my core skill set to work in a region where some of the things I take for granted on an every-day basis aren’t available to me.

And let’s be honest. I am afraid a bit as well. This is a volatile region and things happen there all the time. I worry that something will happen when I’m out doing some sightseeing or conducting clinics in other parts of the region. But I’m not letting fear stop me from trying to help a group of people who have a real need.

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