TheFace: Latifa Al-Ajaji, Saudi pathologist

Latifa Al-Ajaji with her family. (AN photo/Ziyad Alarfaj)
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Updated 31 January 2020

TheFace: Latifa Al-Ajaji, Saudi pathologist

  • After 25 years of service with Saudi Aramco, I felt I had done my part and decided to take early retirement
  • So-called retirement gave me the time to pursue my twin passions of photography and Arabian heritage

I was born in Al-Ahsa and was the sixth child in a family of six girls and four boys.  The community I lived in valued our rich culture in all of its elements and instilled in me an appreciation for it at a very early age.

My father was educated in India and returned home to become a merchant and manage our family’s collection of date farms.

My mother was very young when I was born. She learned to read and write through home schooling but wanted to receive a certificate, so attended adult courses in the afternoon while my siblings and I went to school in the morning.

After I finished high school, I knew I wanted to pursue a career that involved helping people on a one-to-one basis but also provided an important service not available in Saudi Arabia.

After reviewing several options, I decided to start a degree in speech pathology and audiology. Although at the time it was rare for a girl from Al-Ahsa to leave home and venture abroad, I enrolled in a US university as part of a Saudi scholarship program and moved with the full support and blessing of my brothers and parents.

Adventures in my red Mustang notwithstanding, I achieved my bachelor’s degree followed by a master’s degree in speech pathology and audiology. To the best of my knowledge, I was the first Saudi and GCC national to earn a graduate degree in this field.

I subsequently moved back to Saudi Arabia and joined King Faisal University as a lecturer. In addition, I established the first speech pathology clinic in King Fahd Hospital in Alkhobar and a few years later transferred to the Saudi Aramco Medical Services hospital in Dhahran.

At that time, the hospital had only one speech pathologist, a US citizen who spoke very little Arabic. Given that the majority of the patients were Saudis, I was delighted to have the opportunity to make a valuable contribution from day one. The speech pathology unit grew during my tenure and had six professionals when I retired.

Briefly, a speech pathologist in an acute care hospital helps patients who have problems with bodily functions such as swallowing, speech and language. These problems may result from nervous system disorders, cleft lip or palate, strokes, head injuries, etc. Our patients have ranged from premature infants to the elderly.

My job was not easy. I faced all the challenges that any working mother can easily identify with. I treated many patients and never grew tired of seeing their tears of joy when they recognized the improvements in their conditions. I developed a good friendship with some of my former patients. Even though I have lost contact with others, I will never forget them.

Through all the joys and challenges in life, the Prophet Muhammad was my role model. I do my best to follow his teachings and come as close as I can to the high standards that he set for all.

After 25 years of service with Saudi Aramco, I felt I had done my part and decided to take early retirement. My children, two boys and two girls, are now living their own successful lives.

I have been an avid photographer for as long as I can remember. Birthdays, soccer games, and trips to the barber, my camera was always at my side. As a result, I now have an extensive visual documentation of family life throughout the past decades.

I would urge everyone to keep their pictures in a safe place and, for added peace of mind, in two separate locations. Trust me when I say these are and always will be priceless treasures.

So-called retirement gave me the time to pursue my twin passions of photography and Arabian heritage. Fortunately, my husband is also a keen photographer. We now travel across Saudi Arabia, from the smallest of villages to the highest of mountains, capturing images of our beautiful heritage and breathtaking landscape.

Our travels have included a visit to Marid Castle in Dumat Al-Jandal in the north of the country. The site dates back to the Nabataean era. Masjid Omar bin Al-Khattab is adjacent to the castle. Our visit to the rock art in Hail region (a UNESCO World Heritage Site) was just as fascinating.

Learning firsthand about the different cultures around the world is a wonderful bonus from my trips abroad. I always return with not only useful life lessons but also a greater appreciation of what we have.

I invite anyone to visit my Instagram account @laam.photography to view the images that I have captured during my domestic as well as international photography tours.

Even though I have visited many countries in a short period, my eyes still light up every time I learn of the many beautiful places and experiences that await me.

Looking back over the past years that have flown by, I have learned to appreciate all the blessings that Allah has bestowed upon my family and me. Looking forward, I feel I have only just begun.


Turning a new leaf: Saudi Arabia’s Jazan region ditches qat crops for coffee trees

The growth of the educational landscape in the region, in addition to the success of the coffee industry, are some factors that help the authorities combat qat abuse. (SPA/Supplied)
Updated 24 February 2020

Turning a new leaf: Saudi Arabia’s Jazan region ditches qat crops for coffee trees

  • The Khawlani coffee bean is being offered to UNESCO for inclusion on a heritage list

JAZAN: Efforts to draw the younger generation in the Kingdom’s Jazan region away from the harmful and addictive substance qat are succeeding, with even the crop being replaced by coffee trees to support the booming coffee business.
Qat, a plant that is native to the Horn of Africa and the Arabian Peninsula, is a stimulant that triggers excitement and alertness. But it can also cause anxiety, insomnia and aggravate pre-existing mental health conditions.
It grew in the Jazan region along with coffee trees. But the strength of the coffee industry, combined with an increased awareness about the harmful nature of qat, has led to its gradual disappearance.
The governor of Al-Dayer, Nayef bin Lebdah, said the people of Jazan were proud of the Khawlani coffee bean. He also said that coffee beans were much more economically beneficial than qat.
“All newly planted qat trees have been completely uprooted,” he told Arab News. “All the people have found that planting coffee beans is much more feasible and rewarding than qat. Attempts to smuggle qat have also dropped thanks to the security efforts along the border with Yemen. Add to that, young people themselves have concluded that their future will be in coffee beans.”
Teacher Yahiya Shareef Al-Maliki viewed qat as an “intruder’’ and said the coffee tree was the region’s indigenous product.
“In 1970, there were only four people who used to chew qat in the entire governorate,” he told Arab News. “It then started to become common among the people here in 1995 due to opening the borders that caused importing qat from abroad.”

FASTFACTS

• In 2014, people reconsidered coffee as an alternative crop and young people started to grow coffee beans with the help of unlimited support from the governorate.

• Some 50,000 seedlings were distributed and farmers began to restore the profession of their fathers.

• The governorate replanted more than 10,000 genuine Khawlani coffee seedlings and gave them to the farmers.

The increase in qat cultivation affected the planting of coffee beans, he added, but in 2014 people reconsidered coffee as an alternative crop and young people started to grow coffee beans with the help of unlimited support from the governorate. “Some 50,000 seedlings were distributed and farmers began to restore the profession of their fathers.”
People in Jazan used to waste their time and money on qat, he said. They would gather and chew qat for many hours, he added, hours that could have been spent working. But the growth of the educational landscape in the region, in addition to the success of the coffee industry, was a factor in combating qat abuse, as young people were able to access more opportunities and improve their prospects.
The Khawlani coffee bean is being offered to UNESCO for inclusion on a heritage list.
“The preparation of the file related to the skills and knowledge pertaining to the cultivation of Khawlani coffee in the Jazan region has been completed before presenting it to UNESCO,” the Kingdom’s Culture Minister Prince Badr bin Abdullah said. If listed, he added, it would be the Kingdom’s fourth intangible cultural heritage and eighth among the total heritage items included in the UNESCO heritage list.
Saudi columnist Hamood Abu Talib said the Jazan region was the only place the beans were grown. “This festival (Coffee Beans Festival), which is being held in collaboration with the governorate (of Jazan), the farmers themselves and Aramco, is an important national economic investment,” he told Arab News.
“Many countries’ economies, such as Brazil and Ethiopia depend mainly on this product — coffee. It needs professional marketing through the media to attract visitors from inside and outside the Kingdom. This is an essential strategic transformation.
“We know that the Faifa Mountains Development and Reconstruction Authority’s strategic goal was to uproot the harmful trees of qat and replace them with profitable crops that are beneficial to the farmers as well as the whole region. These were also intruding, invasive trees. We replanted more than 10,000 genuine Khawlani coffee seedlings and gave them to the farmers.”