TheFace: Latifa Al-Ajaji, Saudi pathologist

TheFace: Latifa Al-Ajaji, Saudi pathologist
TheFace: Latifa Al-Ajaji, Saudi pathologist

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Jeddah - Yasmine El Tohamy - 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 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 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.

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