Kristine wanders

The musings of a wanderer......

Category: Random Musings (page 1 of 4)

What a year…

Is 2020 over already? Shit has been crazy and I’d like to move on to better times!! I’ve missed you guys. It’s been a while since I wrote- I just couldn’t seem to find the motivation to sit down and put some thoughts to words. It’s definitely not that I haven’t had the time, because…let’s be honest…a lot of us have more time now that we ever used to. I think just with all the stress I was feeling so emotionally drained and I just couldn’t get myself to this point. Until today…

So let me catch you all up on what’s been going on since I last wrote. As you know, I tore the meniscus in my knee back in December while traveling in France. It was a bummer of a trip, but as with everything, it could always have been worse. It took literally months for it to heal. I was off work a lot, and then on pretty restricted duty once I returned. The first three weeks after the injury I had to wear a full leg immobilizer, and then gradually was increasing my activity. Then the other knee started to play up since it was bearing most of my weight for such a long time. It was a long few months. Finally, now it is much better. I’m aiming to walk a few times a day to get Moshen (our Saudi rescue pup) out of the house. For short walks it’s fine, but for longer walks I’m still wearing the brace as I’m terrified of re-injuring it.

So I was off work a while. Way back in Nov/Dec I had already decided that I no longer wanted to work where I was working. While my manager was super understanding about my knee injury and very accommodating, I just didn’t want to continue to work for the organization. I’d long said I would stay in Saudi as long as the positives outweighed the negatives and there was a flip. I love nursing, but I just didn’t want to do it anymore where I was. I could quite happily continue to live in Saudi, I just couldn’t mentally do the job anymore. So my last day of work was the beginning of February.

Now pre-Corona, my plans were to spend some time traveling in Saudi Arabia, spend some more time with Jay and then at the beginning of April, I would move back to Canada with Moshen. For financial reasons Jay would stay in Saudi and we’d figure it out. So in February I visited Jizan and the Farasan Islands, which are in the southwest of Saudi Arabia, about 50km from the Yemen border. I’ll definitely be blogging about this over the next few weeks (possibly months). Mid February my bestie Jen from the US, flew to visit me here in Saudi. Now this was a bit of a dream trip. In all the years I’ve lived in Saudi I never thought I’d be able to have a visitor. So when Saudi announced the implementation of tourist visas last fall, she and I immediately started planning a trip.

Now what better way to tour a country that has only recently opened to tourism and relatively recently allowed women to drive, than an all-girls road trip in Saudi Arabia?! So that’s exactly what we did! One of my dear friends from work who I refer to as my Saudi little sister drove with me to Jeddah. We spent one night on the way in the mountain town of Al Bahah so we could visit the historical village of Dhee Ayn, and then I dropped her at the airport to fly back to Riyadh, just as Jen landed from the US. In total, I drove about 5500km in Saudi. I’ll be blogging about this as well, but for now just know that we drove Jeddah- Al Ula, Al Ula- Tabuk, Tabuk- Haql, Haql-Jeddah, and then Jeddah- Riyadh, with many stops in between. I loved having Jen here and showing her a bit of my Saudi life.

So that was February. Then the Covid-19 situation seemed to slowly take off. The beginning of March Jay and I had planned to take a final weekend away before I left and I had talked of visiting Sudan with my kiwi friend. International travel seemed highly risky so we quickly scrapped both those plans. A guide from the Hail region had invited me to Hail and so my kiwi sidekick and I flew up to Hail for a night, and then we spend another night in the city of Sakaka before flying back to Riyadh. That flight back to Riyadh was a little stressful as it started to become evident that maybe airports and airplanes were the last place a person would really want to be. Shortly after the country closed schools, Umrah pilgrim visas and tourist visas were suspended. And then shortly there after the list of international countries that were no longer allowed to fly into Saudi lengthened, and a 72hr warning was given before flights closed off entirely.

During this time information was not totally clear. We were told that certain countries were restricted and that they wouldn’t allow flights from those countries to fly in, however; you could still purchase tickets online, and the departures and arrivals website for King Khalid airport still showed these flights as leaving. I was highly stressed as to whether to immediately book a flight and leave Moshen with Jay, or wait it out. I think I almost gave myself an ulcer those few days. It’s hard in an unprecedented time like this to not be overcome by total fear. I really wanted to look at the situation with the knowledge that we had available and not make a knee-jerk decision. The facts were: I had medical insurance in Saudi, I had a safe place to stay, I’ve got pretty decent savings, Jay and Moshen are here, I had a flight booked to return to Canada April 5th.

At that point I made the decision to sit tight, and wait it out. Initially, we were told that the flight ban would be for 2 weeks. At present time it is indefinite. After international flights were banned the country quickly followed by banning domestic transportation as well. Currently, you can’t travel from one region of Saudi Arabia to another. We are on a 24hr curfew here in Riyadh and only allowed to travel within one’s neighbourhood during the hours of 0600-1500 for food, pharmacy or gas. There are police checkpoints on the roads and violators can face a 10,000SAR ($2600USD) fine for breaking curfew.

My flight was canceled. April 5th came and went. As the weeks progress I’m still in a sort of limbo. The US and UK governments arranged for repatriation flights for their citizens. I was in contact with my embassy and they are aware that I am still here. My visa is valid until May 11th, but the Saudi government has announced the extension of visas for an additional 3 months in light of the current world circumstances. The Canadian embassy did email me regarding some possible flight options for this week. There was the possibility of 3 flights, but honestly as I read the email my gut reaction was not one of excitement. I am apprehensive about traveling now, and it is difficult to leave a situation where I am relatively safe to risk exposure from travel. So here were the flight options, and why I’ve declined to travel:

Flight 1 was to New York, Flight 2 to the UK, and Flight 3 was to Frankfurt and then onward to Toronto. The UK and New York seem much too risky to transit through right now, I’m also worried that things are changing very quickly and neither of those locations are anywhere I would want to risk being stuck. I also worried a bit that even with proof of travel to Canada that I might run into issues or be prevented from boarding a flight as I’ve read other travelers having issues flying back to Canada via the US. The option via Frankfurt would require me to board another 2-3 domestic flights in Canada to get to my final destination of Kelowna BC. With domestic flights being cut this was likely going to be an additional 24hrs of travel inclusive of a 16hr layover in Toronto which would end up being like 42hrs of travel from Riyadh. So again, because I am not in an unsafe situation I am still just going to stay put. I have a seat on a Lufthansa flight May 18th that will arrive into Vancouver, so we will see if that flight goes. I spoke with the Canadian embassy yesterday and they will keep us informed as other flight options become available. These are not government repatriation flights, but just options presented from airlines who are flying on that particular day. I have not heard of any embassy repatriation flights from the Middle East and I can easily understand what a difficult undertaking this is for any government to get citizens back. I am also in a bit of a weird spot as I was moving back to Canada, so I do not have a place to return to in the way of my own apartment, so staying put is the lesser unknown.

Financially it is cheaper for me to wait things out in Saudi where I’m really only responsible for paying for food. I had intended to get a job as a nurse back in Kelowna, but there’s very few positions to apply for and from what I have heard they are not actively hiring at this time. As with hospitals around the world, elective surgeries and procedures have been canceled and this has affected the inpatient census as beds have been emptied to prepare for the expected Covid-19 patients that have not yet come (and maybe on account of social distancing and luck may not come.) So this was also a factor in me not feeling the desperate need to get on a flight. I will need to arrange a 2 week Airbnb as I don’t want to risk self-isolating at my mom’s place and putting her at risk. I will also need to expand my job search and possibly look at moving to someplace I had not really considered as I don’t want to drain my savings and the longer I am in Canada unemployed the quicker those savings will deplete.

So that’s where I’m at. I’m trying to keep busy, but sometimes the days feel very long. Like there’s so much time each day, but I’m not really using it in very productive ways. I feel very distracted and sometimes I will catch myself thinking that this must surely be a dream, and then I remember that no, it’s not a dream at all, and that life as we used to know it has changed so much. It’s quite honestly hard to comprehend. I do however, hold great hope in the medical professionals around the world finding a treatment plan or a vaccine. Until then we must be still. I hope you are all staying inside and staying safe. For those of you on the front line I thank you for your bravery in these desperate times. I can only try to imagine what you are faced with, but I know it must be overwhelming. The world has never needed you so much as right now. Blessings to all….

My Guide to Solo Travel

I tend to get asked a lot of questions related to solo travel, so I thought I’d write a guide to how I solo travel. I wouldn’t say I’m an expert on solo travel, but I have traveled quite a bit on my own. Earlier this month I visited Liechtenstein my 82th country, and my 35th solo adventure. I’ve come a long way since my early days of travel.

I can vividly remember how scared I was on my first solo trip. I spent a week in Portugal and for some reason it didn’t dawn on me until I was on the airplane that I was flying to a non- English speaking country. Obviously I knew they spoke Portuguese, but like it didn’t register. I was also still pretty new to travel in general and didn’t yet know that English is literally spoken to some degree everywhere. If you are a native English speaker like me, then it’s best to accept that we are privileged. We will never fully understand the trials of travel like those of people whom English is not their first language. People are always telling me how brave I am to travel alone, but the truly brave ones are those whose mother tongue is anything but English.

So here’s how I go about deciding where my next trip will be. Once I have leave from work approved I can start the planning process. I often have a top 10 list in my head of places I want to go. That list is compiled of recommendations from other travelers, some cool picture I saw on Instagram, a video some vlogger made and posted to Facebook, or just somewhere off the beaten path place I’ve always been curious about. I’m also very focused that there are only a few countries left in Europe that I haven’t visited, so I’m always trying to fit those in. My current list is Singapore, Laos, the Faroe Islands, Sudan, San Sebastian-Spain, Greenland, Iran, Pakistan, the Seychelles, Madagascar, and Socotra Island in Yemen. Obviously Iran and Yemen are not great ideas right now so they are ruled out. Then I get on google and do a quick visa search to see which places I need a visa for and how complicated it is, and what the weather is like at that time of year. I’m not a very good hot/humid weather traveler, and I try to avoid monsoon season. I also tend to rule out Europe or anywhere touristy during peak season- I’m much more of a shoulder season traveler and prefer the spring or fall vs summer where kids are out of school and line ups for any touristy sites are ridiculous. Then I hit up Kayak and look at airfare.

Generally, I want to travel somewhere that has only one connection, that leaves sometime after midnight (so I can work day shift that day and immediately fly out) and has less that 12hrs of travel time. This rules out several places on my list. Then it really comes down to price and what flight schedule works best, and I’ll have a quick look on Booking.com just to make sure accommodations aren’t too expensive. Then I just book the damn ticket. Of note: I just use Kayak as a reference for flight prices but I only book either directly with the airline or with Expedia. The reason for this is that a few years ago when I went to Morocco I booked direct with Kayak and a couple days after booking they messaged me and were like “oh your flights were never confirmed and the price went up like $300.” And the customer service was shitty so that was the first and only time I ever booked through them, or any of the other websites they use like Vayama. Often this whole flight booking process happens in the course of an afternoon or evening, and I’ll call my parents and say “oh hi, so in xxx month I’m going to blah blah blah.”

In my older years I tend to be a slower traveler and don’t want to move cities/hotels every day. I prefer to stay 2-4nights in a place. I like down time and don’t care to pack a million things into my itinerary so I’m busy from breakfast until late at night. In my younger years I could travel like that. Now I want to see a few things but then also sit in a cafe or wine bar and read and just relax. So after booking airfare I’ll look at where I’m going to stay. I’ll often have a quick look at Booking or Airbnb to see what’s available and then use Tripadvisor and read some reviews of recent solo travelers to see what they had to say. I prefer to stay somewhere really central. I don’t want to waste a ton of time on public transportation to get into the city center and I want to be close to restaurants and bars in easy walking distance. For me food and wine are a big part of travel and I love going out to eat in nice restaurants. If I’m really tired or staying somewhere sketchy then I’ll stay in and order room service- otherwise I want to go out and eat local food.

After the hotel or Airbnb is booked I start planning what I want to see. I generally search to see if there is a “free walking tour” and will make sure to do that on my first or second day in a new place. “Free walking tours” are a godsend. While not technically free (the guides get paid off tips) I find that it’s a great way to see the main tourist sites of a city, learn about the history, and meet other travelers if I’m feeling social. All for a $10 tip. These types of tours also give me an idea of what I might want to go back to see, and give me a general lay of the city since I’m navigationally challenged. I highly recommend them.

I’ll then google restaurants and wine bars. I will often try and eat at a fancy restaurant each trip- I’m a huge fan of tasting menus since I will literally try anything once and tasting menus often have expertly paired wine menus. There’s nothing I love more than someone pairing food and wine together for me! I will also research if there are any art exhibits going on while I’m traveling and add those to my list. I’ll usually search “top 10 things to see in such and such” and make a list of the interesting ones and the hours. It’s good to note that Monday’s most museums are closed and in parts of Europe Sunday’s stores are closed so take this into account when planning your itinerary.

Because I’m into kinda weird things I will research if there are any abandoned places nearby that you can visit. While I like to do touristy things I also like to do things that are a little off the beaten path. I love the stories associated with why building were abandoned and I love to see the architecture from those forgotten times. I’m big into urban art and graffiti and will google which parts of the city are known for those and plan those into my visit. Things like this are often coined “dark tourism” and they are becoming very popular- to the point that there are now walking graffiti tours and tours that visit abandoned places.

I then take the list of all the things I might want to see along with the hotel or Airbnb that I’ll be staying at and I put them into google maps and save the locations. That way it’s very easy to see where things are in relation to where I’m staying, and the map works when I’m offline, and I never feel like I can get lost. You can also download offline maps from maps.me or other apps so you’ll always have one with you. I never used to get a data plan and just largely relied on wifi (which is most everywhere) but the last year or so I started getting a data plan while I’m traveling solo- it’s just nice from a safety standpoint. And so I can look things up on the fly. And post insta stories as needed.

Earlier this year I wrote a post (vent) about solo female travel and you can read that here. I wanted to share a few quick safety tips that have helped me over the years. I always carry a door stop in my bag. This was a tip that I read about somewhere years ago and it gives me a little extra security. Basically if I’m staying anywhere shady I will use that from the inside of my room to give me an extra sense of protection- granted I realize someone could still bang the door down but it gives me a little extra peace of mind. You can buy door stops online that have an alarm so if the door was pushed open an alarm would ring out and hopefully deter anyone from further pushing in. I also carry only cross-shoulder purses because they are more difficult to steal. Pacsafe makes some great ones and I’ve owned several over the years- they have special locks so you could lock your bag to a chair to prevent it from being stolen at a cafe and they are slash proof so someone can’t just cut the strap and run off with your bag. I also prefer a bag with a good inner zipper and and fold-over top piece. My current bag is this one because I wanted something stylish, but also roomy enough to fit my iPad into. I love it.

In terms of personal safety- I do go out at night when I’m traveling solo, but just not very late. I tend to go for dinner earlier say 6-7pm and am usually back to my hotel by 9pm. While I do visit wine bars I don’t tend to go to clubs or anything super late unless I’m staying in a hostel (which rarely happens) and a group of other travelers are going out. If you are someone who likes some nightlife and you are traveling solo I would recommend booking an Airbnb Experience. They now have them in lots of cities and you could join one that is a pub crawl and have the extra safety of a group. When I’m in a taxi solo I always have my address entered into google maps to make sure I’m going the right way. In Uzbekistan I got into a taxi to go meet my guide and his friends for drinks and the taxi driver started driving me literally out of town. I showed him where I needed to go on the map and it turns out there was another place with a similar name so he was in fact not kidnapping me. But better to be safe than sorry. You can also take a picture of the taxi license plate and send it to a family member or friend for extra safety. Once in India I was in the back of a rickshaw in Delhi and I got a really creepy vibe from the driver so I pretended that my phone rang and had this loud conversation (with no one) about how I was at such and such street and would arrive in 10min.

I also tend to lock my passport up if I have the options and split my money and credit cards between a couple spots so in the event I was robbed they wouldn’t get everything. Back in the days that I carried a nice camera I would always have a couple SD cards and I would switch them out so that if the camera was stolen I wouldn’t lose all the pictures. Once in Japan I had a new camera and accidentally re-formated the memory card and erased all my photos near the end of the trip. That was in 2006 and I still haven’t fully recovered.

So that’s how I go about planning a trip (solo or otherwise) and a few of my years proven travel tips. I’ve got loads of updates coming soon, and my yearly top 10 travel destinations post is coming out next week!

Happiest of Holidays

The Red String of Fate

About a month ago I was doing some research about different myths and I came across this old Asian myth which is specific to the Chinese and Japanese. They believe that at birth the gods tie a red invisible sting around your pinky finger (or ankle depending on the legend) and the end of that string is attached to your soulmate. I actually really hate the word soulmate but for this post it seems the easiest word to use. Also I don’t think the word soulmate pertains just to romantic relationships.  Anyways, according to this myth you are destined to meet this person in your lifetime regardless of place, time or circumstances. They say the string may tangle and stretch but it can never break. I read this and just loved the idea. Because most of us have at some point met someone who it felt like you were destined to meet. Someone who marks a point in your life when you identify things as before that person and after. A notch in time.

There are similar theories throughout history and in many different religions. Ancient Greek mythology believes that Zeus split humans into two separate pieces so you were destined to search for your other half. There are Hindu beliefs involving twin flames who are destined to unite and then continue reuniting in subsequent lives. In Judaism it is believed that you are destined to meet your soulmate and that your soulmate is determined 40 days before a child is born. Of all of these I like the story of the red string the most, but for me I think there are multiple strings tied to multiple people. I’ve always felt like we are so interconnected that I can easily imagine this network of strings all tangled and moving. These strings connecting you to people of great importance in your life. One to a soulmate (or multiple soulmates if that’s what you believe) others tied to people who will impact your life in a variety of ways.

Since walking the Camino de Santiago last fall I’ve had the blessing of meeting several people who have had a big impact on my life. Some of them were brief encounters that came at just the right time. We’ve all experienced the meeting of a person that initially seems insignificant but then inspires something in us whether that be a decision, a passion,  or opens us up to something we otherwise wouldn’t. Over the course of my career as a nurse I’ve had many such interactions with patients or their families. Moments were it felt like our paths were meant to cross- where the connections feels so genuine and strong like it was preordained that I would care for them. Over the last year I’ve also met two people for whom I now can’t imagine never having met. One of them is Kiwi. I refer to her as my platonic soulmate but I actually think the phrase kindred spirit is more fitting. She came into my life prior to a major heartbreak and kept me afloat.  We have a bond that will go on for years even though we are from opposite sides of the world. I can imagine us with greying hair, laughing over completely childish things and her taking kissy lipped selfies of us. The other one is a person who I felt a bond with that I’d never experienced before. He is easily one of the most genuine connections I’ve had with a guy, but things were complicated.  Saying goodbye to him was a gut wrenching experience and even though months have passed for me my feelings are just the same- unchanged despite the distance and silence between us. It feels like my heart skips a beat every time I see a guy wearing a ball cap and a flannel shirt, even though I know it’s not him. I’m still trying to work out the lesson I’m supposed to learn or why exactly it is that our paths crossed. Maybe it was to teach me that these types of connections are possible and not to settle for anything less.

Since reading the myth of the Red String of Fate I like to imagine multiple strings attached to me that are attached to people out there in the world. Some of them I met briefly, some are my dearest friends, some I have yet to meet. It’s a comforting thought. The thought that even though I have literally no idea what I’m doing with my life that it’s ok because I’m connected to my people. That they will come into my life as they are meant to when they are supposed to.

Anyways enough of my babble. I promised last week to update you about what my upcoming plans are. Well I’ll be here in Saudi Arabia until at least February when my contract ends. I had planned to leave at some point in the fall as I wanted to walk another Camino, but while my foot injury is better it’s not good enough for me to consider walking another 700km on it just yet. In October I’m traveling to Helsinki Finland and then making my way to Estonia and to Latvia and then Lithuania and eventually to Berlin where I’m spending a few nights catching up with my second cousin. In November I’m planning on traveling back to Canada for a week or so and then to Seattle to catch up with old friends and spend Yankee Thanksgiving with my bestie and her family. In December I’ll have to decide whether I’ll re-contract here in Saudi for another year, or extend my contract a few months to avoid North American winter. I’m sure there will be a few weekend getaways thrown in just to keep me busy.

Also in case you missed it- last month I did a podcast about my travel adventures/misadventures and you can listen to it here. Happy travels…..

 

Thoughts on Dreams

I was recently asked “what is your dream?” And it really got me thinking. My initial gut response was to answer “to meet an amazing partner and be a mother,” but that felt like a bit of a heavy response to the wide eyed teenager who was asking. So instead I paused and took a second before responding “well actually, I’m kinda already living my dream.” Don’t get me wrong, sometimes, living in Saudi is more of a nightmare type of dream than one where I’m skipping through a field of flowers while the wind blows through my hair and the smell of lavender lingers in the air. But what I really meant was that I’m not much of an “in 10 years I’ll do this…..” type of person. I’m more of the school of thought that if I want to do something or I have a dream and I’m healthy and able, I’ll do it now. That probably comes off as cheeky and filled with privilege, and some of you reading this are probably thinking “must be nice to have those type of options.” For me though,  it all comes down to choices. Originally, I came to Saudi Arabia with bucket loads of debt based off of years of frivolous materialistic living. I’ve lived on my own since I was 18. I had student loans from nursing school and a propensity towards new flashy cars and I lived off the thrill of putting things on a credit card where they would stay until future Kristine finally had to deal with them. And deal with them I did. It came down to either filing for bankruptcy or moving to Saudi Arabia to sort out my finances.  I chose to move to Saudi to sort things out. This probably was one of the best decisions I ever made. I was able to eventually become debt free, I learned a huge life lesson, and I currently get super stressed if I don’t pay my credit card off immediately. As many of you probably know, that type of financial stress weighs you down and can feel near impossible to pull yourself out of. But it was my choices that got my into that whole mess and it would be my choices that got me out of it.

My own personal choices allow me to travel wherever I would like. I do spend a decent amount of money on travel, but I rarely shop. I don’t buy fancy shoes or designer clothes. But those choices that allow me to travel also mean I don’t have a home base, and I have essentially nothing to my name except a storage unit that I dread eventually having to deal with. I literally have none of the possessions society believes a woman in her late 30’s should. No car. No house or apartment. No husband. No children. Some of these I am ok with, some of them I long for, but just aren’t a possibility right now. This nomadic lifestyle and independence that I love and have chosen are often incompatible with the side of me that would like to have a home base and someone to come home to. I choose to live in Saudi even though I’m sure this has put a strain on many of my relationships and possibly contributed to the reason for my perpetual singleness. That’s not to say that there aren’t dating options here, but most of the ones I’ve met haven’t been good, or like my most recent love disaster had me falling for a completely amazing but totally unavailable man. And now truth be told my heart just isn’t quite ready to meet someone new.

I guess the whole point of this post is that it’s good to have dreams, but for me living a full life is essentially a way of living your dreams as best you can in the now. I don’t really have much control over when I meet Mr Right, and while I could pursue having a baby alone right now I’m just not in that head space. But I can control whether I want to learn a second language, bicycle in the vineyards in France, or go on an African safari. I can choose these things by choosing not to pay for cable TV, or have a collection of purses, or put off buying a new iPhone. I tend to view things in terms of well that such and such thing is a plane ticket, and I’m way less inclined to spend my money on it. The other reason I don’t put off doing things is that as a nurse I often see people who have saved or worked hard their entire lives with plans to start living when they retire, or to take that dream trip in 5 years time. Then they or their partner’s health fails and they don’t get that chance. Instead I prefer to live my life in the present, basing my decisions off the here and now since tomorrow is never a guarantee. I’m reminded of this every time I fly as that’s the only real time I truly contemplate death. My fear of flying results in me spending a large portion of the flight convinced engine one is likely going to fail. When this happens I remind myself even if I were to die today I’ve lived a life. I haven’t just merely existed. I’ve done almost everything I’ve wanted to in my life up until this point. At least the things I have control of anyways.

So let me ask you….“what is your dream?”

Tribute to my Pops…..

Last month was Mother’s Day and I wrote a post for my Mom, so with Father’s Day this weekend it’s long overdue that I wrote a tribute to my Pops as well. My Dad responds to a variety of names, but mostly I call him Pops or Daddio, if he’s acting especially hip. In fact several of my friends refer to him as Pops as well. Pops and I have a unique bond- I would reckon we are tighter than your average father/daughter combos. I mean we did walk across a country together after all. We are close, and yet we are really quite different. Pops has a type A personality- he is a hard worker which means that he is an incredibly loyal employee and will work long hours to get the job done. He likes routine. He is financially responsible and careful with his money. He is the kind of guy who would cut his neighbours lawn when he knows they’ve injured their back, or visit someone in a nursing home even when the person will for sure not remember. He is reliable and hard working.

Over the years we have had several adventures. Many many moons ago I decided to move from Philadelphia to Phoenix Arizona. In December. So Pops flew out and we road tripped down the eastern coast of the U.S. and then across the south for a week in this ridiculous sports car that I used to own. We (me) drove long hours staying in motels along the way. Stopping off at Cracker Barrels to eat and rent audio books, and taking in the scenery. Two of my favourite memories from this trip where going to return my cable box the day before we were to leave and a couple girls jay-walking across the street.  I probably could’ve stopped but I didn’t and one of them yelled “I’m gonna whoop yo ass.” Another time we stopped in Alabama or Louisiana and we asked a lady at a cashier somewhere how far the next state line was and she replied in a very southern accent “Golly. I never been that far before.” Both those lines we still quote to each other every now and then and laugh.

In 2009 I really wanted to visit Scotland so I invited Pops to come with me and he jumped on the opportunity to visit the place where our “people” immigrated from. I think we spent about 10 days traveling around the country. It was a great adventure and we even got to meet the Clan chief of our Scottish ancestors. We rented a car. Because I am a little (more often than not) scared driving with Pops it was agree (I made the executive decision) that I would be the sole driver. I told Pops that I couldn’t read a map in the car while it is moving (which is true because I get bad motion sickness) and he seemed cool with it. Plus I had already once mostly successfully (minus a few scratches) driven on the opposite side of the road, so clearly I was the most experienced choice out of the two of us. So after a couple days in Edinburgh we rented a car. Flash forward like 3 hours later and we are driving through the stunning Scottish Highlands. The scenery is gorgeous. We are having a nice time. We approach a narrow bridge. At the same time as we drive onto the bridge so does a rather large truck coming the other direction. In hind sight I could’ve stopped. But I’ve never had cat like reflexes at the best of times. So I moved over to the left as much as I could. Pops let out a heart stopping scream at about the same time as the passenger mirror collided with the bridge. I pulled over on the other side of the bridge and the mirror was literally holding on by a thread and Pops composed himself and pulled it off and we put it in the trunk where it stayed for the rest of the trip. We both just kinda looked at each other like “well that happened.” I know he was dying to say more but you can’t really scold an adult child can you? The rest of the trip Pops would reference things like “well I would be able to see that if I had a side mirror” and such and we would laugh. That trip was really quite fun. One night I booked us to stay in a room on top of a local pub. They had a band and Pops and I drank with the locals and Pops chatted up the band and we had a great time. We also visited a Scotch festival, saw sooo many castles and visited the actual homestead area where our people immigrated from. It was awesome.

 

 

 

 

 

 

As many of you know this past fall I invited Pops to walk the Camino de Santiago with me- something that had long been on my bucket list. He very quicky said yes and we started planning. Together we walked 700km across Spain over about 5 weeks. We shared a room every night for those 5 weeks. I like to think that I push Pops out of his comfort zone (which I purposely do because I want him to have new experiences.) The great thing is that he just goes along with things most of the time. It was wonderful to travel with him and see things through his eyes. To watch him interact with a vast variety of people, to see him forming friendships and having new experiences. I want those things for him. After all it’s stuff like that, that life’s made of. Also Pops is down to take selfies anytime. Sunrise selfie. Action shot selfie. Night selfie. He’s on board for all of them! I have a few really special memories from that trip. One was early on in the walk where we stayed in a small town. It was Pops first experience with staying in a mixed dorm room with bunk beds. We were in a room with probably 6-7 bunks and Pops and another fellow were the only men. Both Pops and I had bottom bunks and there was a young lady on the bunk above Pops. In the morning we woke early so we could get to the top of a ridge in time to see the sunrise. While packing up our things Pops tried to pack his sleep  sheet into its bag but it wouldn’t quite fit. Turns out the gal above him had washed her panties and they had fallen onto Pops bunk and he had mistaken them for the bag. Sooooo funny the look on his face when he realized what happened. I still laugh about that one. Anther great memory was when Pops left his prescription sunglasses in a church but we didn’t realize it until we got to our hotel in the next town. I jumped into action and got us a taxi which took us back to the town only to find out that the church was closed and the priest didn’t live in that town and the church wouldn’t open until 10am the following morning well after we would already be on the road. The taxi driver didn’t speak English but I was able to convey via uber basic Spanish and sign language that Pops couldn’t see without his spectacles and the driver drove us to the convent where the Priest lived. Here’s the thing: I’m a huge believer that most people are good hearted and I like to see how a situation plays out. Anyways the Priest wasn’t home, but the taxi driver stopped a local guy on the sidewalk who had the Priest’s phone number and called him. Later that evening Pops was driven back to the town where the Priest had unlocked the church and the sunglasses were reunited! My other favourite memory was getting day drunk with Pops when we completed our Camino which happened to coincide with his birthday. You guys know I’m a fan of getting a buzz on while the sun is up. Turns out Pops is as well. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So Pops here’s to you on Father’s Day. Thanks for the adventures of the past and I look forward to the new ones we will make. The offer still stands- I’d love to show you around the Middle East if you ever feel up to it!

Ramadan

Last weekend while I was away in Switzerland, marked the beginning of the Muslim holiday of Ramadan. So Ramadan Mubarak (a Blessed Ramadan) to my Muslim readers and fellow ex-pats in the Middle East. I know people back home have some basic understanding about what Ramadan is, but I thought I’d take a little bit of time and tell you more about it, and what it’s like to live in a Muslim country as a non-Muslim during Ramadan.

First off, Ramadan takes place during the 9th month of the Islamic Hijri calendar. This calendar is about 10-11 days shorter than the Gregorian calendar so Ramadan shifts forward by nearly half a month from the preceding year. Fasting during Ramadan is one of the five pillars of Islam, along with believing in only one God, praying 5 times a day, giving to charity and making pilgrimage to Mecca. This year Ramadan started on May 27th and will likely end on June 24th or 25th depending on how visible the moon is. For the entire month Muslims will fast from the morning prayer (dawn) until sunset. Here in Saudi this is from around 4am until 6:30ish pm. Children, the elderly, those traveling, people who are sick and in the hospital, diabetics, and women who are pregnant, or breastfeeding or menstrating are exempt from having to fast. In addition to fasting Muslims are also to abstain from gossiping, smoking, daytime intimacy and sex, and really anything that would make their fasting efforts less noble. Fasting basically means no food, drink (including water) or chewing gum or candies.

So what’s it like during Ramadan for non-Muslims? Well it’s a whole lot quieter during the daytime that’s for sure. Grocery stores are open in the day but restaurants are all closed. No lunch time McDonald’s drive-thru or delivery. Starbucks is closed. Most things open after sunset and stay open until late into the night. At sunset Muslims break their fast with dates and Arabic coffee. This breaking of the fast is called Iftar and throughout the Middle East there are Iftar buffets which is basically like a dinner buffet. Here in Riyadh Iftar buffets are often very lavish and often on the pricey side between 200-400 riyals ($50-100 U.S.) Next week I’m going to the Iftar at the Ritz Carlton with a group of friends which I imagine will be well worth the splurge.

For non-Muslims it’s advised to not drink or eat in public or chew gum. If you’re going to eat and drink than just be sneaky about it. The hospital I work at has a cafeteria and restaurant that are open for us to eat at, but the main public coffee shops and restaurants are closed during the day. I’m working night shift for the entire month so for me this isn’t a problem. Muslim hospital staff are not required to work the full amount of hours as they would during the rest of the year. They can chose between working 6 hour shifts, or chose to work night shift instead. Clinics and such are open but on shorter hours so usually 9am-3:30pm or so. Saudi culture (especially during the summer) tends to stay up late into the night and sleep during the day because of the heat. This is especially so during Ramadan. Working night shift is actually like working day shift as the patients are awake the entire night often going to sleep around 5-6am and sleeping most of the day. Medications often have to be re-timed around this sleep schedule especially if they are food related and the patient is fasting. Sometimes patients who are in the hospital will want to fast and will decline things like IV fluids which would interfere with their fast- I have found that to be pretty rare though.

Ramadan ends with the sighting of the new moon in Mecca, or after 30 full days of fasting if the new moon isn’t visible because of clouds. The new month is kicked off with the celebration of Eid al-Fitr in which the fasting is broken. I will be away for about 10 days later this month as I’ll be traveling solo to Azerbaijan and Georgia. Azerbaijan is a Muslim country but everything I’ve read says restaurants and coffee shops will be open for non-Muslims and Georgia is a mix of Muslim and Orthodox Christians so traveling during Ramadan shouldn’t be an issue.

So to those of you who are celebrating Ramadan I wish you all a Blessed Ramadan and may your prayers be answered!

Tribute to My Mom…..

In honour of Mother’s Day being this weekend I thought I’d write a tribute to my mom and write about a few of the things I’ve learned from her over the years.  Since I was young I’ve had more of a friendship with my mom than the typical parent child relationship. My friends would often comment how they wished they could be so open with their own mothers. She instilled in me an openness and an honesty to a point where I never felt like I had to hide things or couldn’t be open with my thoughts and feelings. This hugely spilled over into my relationships with others also. Those of you who know me know that I tend to be an open book- I’ve never really put much worry into whether people might judge my decisions or not. So I’ve always chosen to be open because I long ago stopped trying to live for other peoples expectations.

My mom taught me that nothing was out of my reach. And reach I have. Across the globe I’ve stretched my legs and opened my heart to a world of opportunities I could not have dreamed up as a child. And she has faithfully supported every one of them, even when they might not have been her first choice for me. She has been my cheerleader. Always in my corner. Always ready to take my side against whomever perpetrated a wrong against me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

She taught me to have an artistic eye. She is an artist,  a trait I sadly did not inherit. But I did inherit an eye and appreciation for the arts. My only artistic outlet is a love of photography. Playing with lights, shadows and reflections in my pictures. I’ve always loved how the world looks through the lens of a camera.

My mom taught me to be bold. Not just with decisions but with colours and accessories. She herself sports a hair colour that is a fiery orange hue and I’m surprised that she has yet to colour it purple after her most favourite colour. I too have a love of bold colours. Hot pink and emerald green would be my two top contenders and I’ve got a pretty distinct assortment of funky rings and earrings and bracelets that I’ve collected from my travels to jazz up an otherwise mainstream sense of style.

 

 

 

 

 

 

She taught me to have empathy for humanity. That the world was wide and vast, as are the people in it. She always had pictures of adopted children she was supporting clipped up on our fridge long before I knew exactly where Cambodia or Bangladesh were on a map. She taught me that people are interconnected regardless of the distance between them. She taught me to view the world in a global view and not just in terms of those who look like me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

So mom here’s to you for instilling in me so many lessons that allowed me to spread my wings and truly see the world and for standing behind every crazy decision I’ve ever made. And for continuing to support those same crazy decisions of the future……..Love you mama xxx

Goodbyes

One would think that if there is anything I would be an expert in at this point in my life it should be saying goodbyes and packing. And yet I’m total shit at both. I spend my 20’s bouncing between the states of North Carolina, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Arizona, California and Washington. My car loaded to the brim as I would drive cross country to whichever city held my next adventure. Many of these states I yo-yo’d in between, setting up a life in San Francisco and San Diego a couple times, and in Seattle several more times. Since I first left Canada in 2002 I’ve moved at least 26 times. I’m saying at least because my memory isn’t super sharp, and I’m sure there’s one or two moves I may have forgotten. So much packing and unpacking. This is of course spread between Canada, the U.S. and Saudi Arabia. Each assignment brought with it a new set of friends and a new set of adventures. And a new set of goodbyes.

The expat world is similarly as transient as the world of travel nursing. People come into your life and you form intense bonds over a short period of time and then either you leave, or they leave, or both. It’s the nature of the life style, because especially in Saudi, no one stays forever. Some goodbyes are easy because the world is sprinkled with assholes. Some are gut wrenchingly hard. Sometimes these goodbyes take a long time to get over. The void that’s left takes a while to fill. It’s a blessing and a curse. To allow people to deeply touch you in ways you don’t initially realize, and then have to part ways with them. That the world can feel both so small and enormous at the same time. But such is life. And if I’ve learned one thing it’s that love is infinite. It goes beyond goodbyes. It lives in the spaces in between those goodbyes.

So here’s to those of you who have deeply touched my life. I do so hope that our paths cross again. See you someplace down the road……

“The reason it hurts so much to separate is because our souls are connected. Maybe they always have been and will be.

Maybe we’ve lived a thousand lives before this one and in each if them we’ve found each other.

And maybe each time, we’ve been forced apart by the same reasons.

That means that this goodbye is both a goodbye for the past ten thousand years

and a prelude for what will come”

From the book The Notebook by Nicholas Sparks.

 

 

A Saudi Update…..

Well. Where has the time gone? I’ve been a very bad blogger as of late. I arrived back on Saudi Arabian soil on the 2nd of February and its been a whirlwind of embassy parties, overcoming jetlag, catching up with old friends over dinners out, and settling back into my old job. This past weekend was the first set of days off where I finally feel like I’ve gotten caught up on sleep. In fact it felt so strange having a day of downtime that the very unfamiliar feeling of being a little lonely crept in, which is not an emotion I’m very well acquainted with. While my body desperately needed some downtime my mind wasn’t quite on board. Thankfully, that uneasy feeling quickly passed!

So what have I been up to since my return? I arrived late on a Wednesday night to my housing unit. When I left Saudi I was in single housing, but this time I’m in a different building sharing with an American girl who arrived a few months ago. I spent the following day running around with my lovely driver Joseph who is a  very dear person here in Saudi for me. We had to visit 3 different stores in order to get my internet reinstated which was priority numero uno for me, and then did a little grocery shopping. Then it was nap time because jet lag is the worst. That first weekend passed with a night out at the American embassy with friends and then a party in the Diplomatic Quarters. One surprising thing about life in Saudi Arabia is that the social scene is anything but dull. The next week involved updating my medical, reopening my bank account, getting a photo shoot for my hospital ID, getting sized for our super sexy white scrubs  and various other work related things. I started work back on my unit. The following weekend was pretty much a repeat of that first weekend.

 

 

 

 

 

 

My Arabian return happened to coincide with the Janadriyah festival. This festival is a yearly event in February that is one of my most favourite things to do here. It’s a huge cultural festival with arts, food and local dancers (males only). It’s similar to a county fair in the U.S. minus the rides and beer garden, and where everyone is dressed in traditional Arabian attire. So it’s basically a sea of black and white as far as the eye can see. It has a very jovial feel and the local Saudis are super friendly and it’s a very merry time. I love it a lot and so I dragged a couple girls from work with me. The really great thing about the festival for me is that taking pictures is allowed. Obviously, this means being careful about taking pictures of women, but nobody seems to mind!

Adjusting back to life in Saudi hasn’t been too terribly hard. I’m very familiar with how things work here, and the cultural differences are less jarring the more one is exposed to them. I’m lucky enough to have several friends that are still here which also makes things easier. It is weird for me being here without my kiwi sidekick though- I think I underestimated just how much I relied on her before. Work is work. It was strange returning after having over 5 months off, but after a handful of orientation shifts things fell back into place. I’m still working on a VIP floor that looks after members of the Saudi royal family and other important people. The patient population has definitely changed since I first arrived here in 2010- the patients are much sicker than they were back then, and while our patients do end up staying in the hospital much longer than they would back home (often by personal choice) gone are the days of people admitting themselves to the hospital over a hangnail or sprained ankle (true story).

So that’s pretty much the latest. By some complete stroke of luck I’ve managed to get a ticket to the Irish embassy for St Pats. That might be a bigger deal than that one time I had my birthday party at the Canadian embassy a couple years ago!! So this upcoming weekend is filled with celebrating with the Irish, steak night with the Americans and of course work.  As always I’ve got a long to-do list of things I want to do here including seeing the horse races which end at they end of this month. There’s also an upcoming camel beauty competition but it’s rumored to only be for males attendees. Oh how males get to have all the fun in this country! I also want to plan a couple overnight trips to other parts of Saudi Arabia before the weather gets too hot. Last weekend there was a food festival at the French embassy that showcased local foods from France, Belgium, Cameroon, the Ivory Coast, and few others that I can’t recall off the top of my head. It was one of those events where you could easily forget that you were even in Saudi Arabia. A couple weekends ago I met up with a walking group and we walked the 12km track around the Diplomatic Quarter which had me reminiscing my Camino walking days from this past fall. So apart from embassy gigs there’s still a ton of things to keep ex-pats busy in Saudi Arabia. The important thing is to be motivated enough to take part!

 

 

 

 

 

 

I promise to do my best to get back into a blogging routine. I still have so much to write about from Pops and my Camino experience, and my winter in Paris, Amsterdam and Iceland. I’m trying to find a better balance between being social and also needing time alone to write and reflect. Thanks for being patient with me!

Merry Christmas

I just wanted to take a moment and wish you all a Merry Christmas and the happiest of holidays from the cold weather of Canada. I know that this time of year can be full of happiness and excitement, full of memories from the past and hopes for the future as the new year quickly approaches. It can equally be difficult. Many people are facing the holidays alone, or having financial problems, or dealing with the many forms that loss takes. I think it’s important to approach this time of year with kindness. Kindness for mankind, but also for yourself.  Be patient with others. Be gentle with yourselves. Take the time to rest. Do the things that nurture your spirit. Be compassionate. Practice self compassion.

As someone who has a spent a couple lonely Christmases in the desert of Saudi Arabia I can offer a few ideas to make the season more pleasant for expats living abroad. Decorate. Surprisingly you can get some “holiday” decorations in Saudi. Well as long as you don’t say the “C” word (Christmas) you can find things at many of the local stores. I can remember IKEA having some interesting winter holiday themed items last year. Get your party on. Many of the compounds will have some type of holiday party. The past 2 years I was able to have a full home cooked turkey meal, with real Christmas decorations and music. I almost forgot I wasn’t home. Almost. Gift exchange. I’m a big fan of presents (who isn’t) so I found it was fun to organize a gift swap as it makes for a merry gathering. But most importantly don’t be alone. My first Christmas in Saudi back in 2010 I was miserable. It was my first Christmas away from home and I was so homesick. I had to work, and since it’s not being a holiday in Saudi it was just a regular day. I cried off and on that whole shift, and I had a hard time even chatting with my family back home. After work I just wanted to go home and be sad, but thankfully, my Czech roommate dragged me out to a Christmas dinner at a nearby compound and I had the nicest of times. So surround yourself with people and you won’t be as homesick over the holidays. Hopefully those of you that are away from home over the holidays will find these tips helpful.

My Christmas wish for you this year is that your year will be filled with Joy and Peace. That you will love and be loved. That you will bask in the simple pleasures that we so often overlook. That you will have clarity into what you want out of life. That you will go forth with a heart full of gratitude and compassion.

Merry Merry Christmas.

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