Friday, 7 June 2013

Hajj Doctors and Pilgrimage in the Old Days

Hajj 1960s

I was going through 3 red boxes of old B/W photographs of the Hajj pilgrimage, belonging to my late grandfather, who served as a Hajj doctor/Hajj surgeon. The B/W photos were processed by Photo El Shark, Ahmad Mohamed Bakader, Mecca, Al Riad, Al Kharaj. P.O. Box 404, P.O. Box 309. The photographic paper used was GEVAERT. The boxes hav some pencil scribblings of names of places or event. It is quite easy to follow his serial photographs and match them to the hajj rites. The living conditions and transportation back then are a far cry from what we have today (sheer luxury). It is his sheer courage to serve as a hajj doctor not only once but numerous times, that I feel it is worth that I write and speak about him. In doing so, he had contributed greatly to our Ummah.
My grandfather is Dr Che Lah by his Malay name but at the back of one of his many Hajj photographs, his name is written in Jawi script as "Doktor Abdullah". This means his full name is possibly Dr Abdullah bin Md Joonos and his call name is Dr Che Lah. A common Penang name prefix is Che or Che'. However, he had used his call name for his schooling and work certificates. People also knew him as Dr Che Lah. I have not been able to trace his Malay wedding certificate to see his full Malay name. His Latin name is Augustine on his English wedding certificate of 1931. Joonos is the Dutch spelling for the Jawi spelling for Yunus. Joonos is pronounced as Yunus. His family could have arrived in Malaya from Hyderabad during the Dutch colonial era. His ancestors could have worked for the Dutch colonial office in Penang or nearby northern states - either Kedah or Perak. Malay names were spelled as the Dutch would spell their names. He was Indian-Malay by heritage and not Dutch, not that I know of. He was very tall, some say about 6 feet. His first wife was a Dutch Burgher. His second wife was a Chinese whom he brought on 5 of his 9 hajj trips as a hajj doctor.

Dr Che Lah bin Md Joonos Al-Haj, P.J.K.
Head of the Malayan/Malaysian Medical Missions in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

I looked at all the photographs and covers of the 3 boxes to see if I could find a date or get any hint of the date - unfortunately there was no date noted on any of the boxes. However, there was one photo which had my Chinese grandmother and her two children, a son and her adopted Chinese daughter. I tried to gauge the year by the Chinese girl's age - she is a year younger than me. She was born in 1959 and she was standing as a little girl in the family photograph. I gather that she would be about 4 or 5 years old. That would make it 1959 + 4 = 1963 or 1964. So the photos were of the early 1960s. That's the best I can get for the date. 

Anyway, I read somewhere that when the Hajj steamer sailed from Penang to Jeddah, it did not go straight there. The steamer would make one or more stops at the ports along the way, mainly to replenish food supply and water. One of the transit ports was Adan (Eden or Aden). Then the steamer continued its journey till it reached Jeddah. It took 16 days to sail from Penang to Jeddah. What happened in Jeddah? This is still a big mystery.

Haji Zul Tiger posted in my Facebook an article on Balad. What is Balad? Balad is a city in Jeddah. It seems that the pilgrims would stay a day or two or three at Balad in Jeddah before they moved to Madinah by overland route. I can't make out from the photos whether it was Balad, Madinah or other.  In the photos, the medical team stayed at a brick hotel with several of their packed stuffs still remained tied. They went to market; a buffalo farm, a poultry farm and the general marketplace. They were surrounded by traders who tried to sell them stuff including hagar, the Arab headgear and tasbih or rosary. One picture showed an old car on the beach as they picnicked by the seaside in Jeddah. I gather the medical team had spent some days in Balad or Jeddah before moving on.

Then they were photographed near some vans. They were probably negotiating a transport to travel from Balad to Madinah by road. There should be someone in the medical team who spoke Arabic in order for them to negotiate a price to hire transport to go to Madinah.

I counted the number of Malaysians in the photographs to estimate the size of the advanced medical team. There were 2 doctors (Dr Che Lah and a Dr Who), 3 nurses (Rabiah served as a pharmacist, the bigger lady's name is unknown, and one other nurse is Nik Zaleha), an elderly medical lab microbiologist and a few others were assistants. Altogether, there were 19 staff in the advanced medical team but not all were photographed at the same time (sometimes there were only 4, 7, 8 or 12 persons). There could be less or more than 19 persons because some of the people in the photographs might not be part of the advanced medical team but accompanied the team. They were probably related to the medical team members and took the opportunity to perform the hajj, or they could speak, read and write Arabic, or were ustaz and ustazah. There must be a reason for why they were travelling and performing the hajj with the medical team.

Malaysian Medical Mission early 1960s
The men in the Malaysian medical team. One of them is Haji Omar (as marked on one tin on the floor in the lab room).
Visiting a date farm. Man at far right is wearing ihram.
Dr Who?
Dr Who? (same man as above)

Rabiah was a nurse and dispenser (pharmacist)
Nurse who?, bidan?
Nik Zaleha and Rabiah, Malaysian hajj nurses
Pak Cik who?
Man who? Is this Dr Abbas?
Man who? Microbiologist? IMR or Penang?

The medical team arrived in Madinah on Day 20, after 16 days of sailing and 3 days in Balad and one day travelling. They made visitations inside and outside of Masjid Nabawi and Madinah (ziarah dalam and ziarah luar). From the photographs, the interior of Masjid Nabawi was crude. The exterior of Masjid Nabawi was acceptable.

One of the staff of the Malaysian Medical Mission (leftmost) outside Masjid Nabawi in Madinah with Saudi officials.

The medical team were photographed at various places as part of their ziarah luar Madinah. They visited a small fort or masjid, Makam Syuhada Uhud at Mount Uhud, and a few unidentified places or buildings.

Rugged terrain

After they stayed in Madinah, when the Hajj season approached, the medical team moved to Makkah. The ladies in the medical team had adorned black ihram (Hajj garments) which were cloaks with hoods. They looked stylish with their selendang showing a turf of hair above their foreheads.


Malaysian hajj nurses

The photos showed an old Masjidil Haram. The marble wall tiles were fixed as we have them today. The floor outside Masjidil Haram was not covered with marble floor tiles but was sand or earth and was dusty. There were many structures surrounding the Kaabah which cluttered the space near Kaabah. There were two staircases (one for each gender) to go down to the zamzam water wells. They are closed and cemented today (2013).

Masjidil Haram in the early 1960s

In Makkah, the medical team organised and set up the doctors quarters, the nurses quarters and a simple clinic. The corridor was narrow and rooms were very small. The doors were also small and near to each other. Patients sat on chairs and waited in the long narrow corridor. The doctor's table was covered in a velvet table cover and on top was displayed a stethoscope, a BP set and two other equipment. One of the doctors (junior) attended to an elderly man. One photo showed a nurse (bidan) attending to an elderly female patient. The younger nurse served as a dispenser or pharmacist.
Hajj medicine brought by the Malaysian medical team
The conditions in the ward and clinic were clean. There was no air cooler or air conditioner in sight except one air cooler at the doctor's bedside. Sunshine lit the spaces in the rooms. There were oil lamps and fans on the table and floor. Carpets covered the brick floor. Suitcases were piled up neatly and pushed against the wall. The room conditions were neat.

In Mina, the Malaysian hospital was a brick building perched on the hillside of a rocky mountain. There were tents scattered on the plains below.

Hospital Malaysia

Reports of conditions during the Hajj and health outcomes of the Hajj were reported in the local newspapers upon return to Malaya/Malaysia.

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