Kristine wanders

The musings of a wanderer......

Category: Random Musings (page 2 of 4)

Goodbye Saudi…..

fullsizerender-21Well my 2 years here are coming to an end and it’s time to say Goodbye Saudi. At least for now. There are many things that I’m going to miss, so I thought I’d share a few of them with you….

  1. I will miss that things are never dull here. If you are a blond westerner (or really just a western woman in general) even the most simple things can end up turning into a complete spectacle. A trip to the grocery store might include your driver almost getting into no less than 5 accidents, a phone number handed to you in Arabic, getting locked inside the store because you forgot it was prayer time, and you feeling like you hit the jackpot because you came across your favorite brand of peanut butter, or tortilla chips which had been out of stock for months.
  2. You meet people of so many different nationalities every single day. I currently work with nurses from India, the Philippines, South Africa, Canada, the UK, USA, New Zealand, Malaysia, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Finland, Lebanon, and Pakistan. Just to name a few. My driver is from India. My favourite guy who bags my groceries is from Bangladesh. I love interacting with different cultures, especially if someone is from a country I’ve already visited. I think this is actually one of the things I will miss the most.
  3. People are for the most part very friendly. When you walk down the hospital corridor the housekeepers and dietary staff say hello. We are like a weird little family since most people are living far away from their families. People notice when I’ve been away on holiday and I notice when they’ve been away. When I work night shift and walk home on my break I usually cross paths with this same older male housekeeper. He always hands me a cold bottle of water and tells me to have a nice day. Another housekeeper and I have this running routine that when we see each other no matter how far away we are we both salute one another. He even clicks his heels which makes me laugh every time. We’ve probably done this back and forth at least 100 times. I will miss their smiling faces immensely. People have a way of getting inside your heart and whenever I think of these people I know I will smile. I’m smiling right now just writing this.
  4. My Abaya. Lets be honest. I have a love hate relationship with this unflattering costume. And yet weirdly I will miss it. Outside of Saudi Arabia I actually have to put some thought into what I’m wearing. I’m expected to show up to dinner wearing something a little nicer than yoga pants or PJ bottoms. Not here in Saudi though. If I’m going to an event where I can’t remove my abaya (which is basically everywhere outside of a compound or the Diplomatic Quarter) I’ve been know to wear PJ bottoms under my abaya and pair it with a cure pair of heels. Because, who the heck is going to know anyways!!
  5. The travel. Duh. This is actually the main thing I will miss. Saudi Arabia is so central it’s easy get to Europe, Africa and Asia. It’s a great travel hub and I love hearing about upcoming trips my coworkers have coming up. I could talk travel all day every day.

So what’s in store for future Kristine? Well this weekend I fly to Paris for a few nights to meet up with my Pops and we will make our way to the France/Spain border to start our walk to the Spanish city of Santiago some 800km away. Fingers crossed we finish the walk around the end of October. I will stay in Paris for a month and then take the train to Amsterdam for a week and then fly back to North America via Iceland. I’ll likely be in the US/Canada for a month or so. Then if there is a position open at my current hospital and the Saudi government hasn’t introduced the rumored 10% tax to expats I’ll return mid to late January. There have been some recent restrictions here in Saudi and basically any form of internet calling has been blocked. That means you can’t use Facetime, Skype, Whatsapp or Facebook messenger for calls. I’m unclear what the rational is behind this recent development as the 9million expat workers here rely on this type of communication to speak with their loved ones back home. Then there is this rumored tax…..initially a tax system was going to be implemented in 2018, but a recent email that’s been circulated amongst expats states that it will likely come into effect in the next few months. That coupled with the planned 6% tax on money being sent out of the country would essentially mean I would be making much less than I would in North America all while being require to work an extra 32 hrs a month. But again, most of this is rumors so I’m eagerly waiting to see how it all shakes down!

So assuming those things don’t happen and there is a job in an area I want to work in I’ll most likely be back in Saudi in January for another year of travel. But that will be my last year. I promise. I know I said that before……but I really mean it this time!! But of course there’s always the chance that I really like having an apartment in Paris for a month, and access to wine and decide that what I really want after all is to drop some roots and make a permanent move back to North America. Those of you who know me I’m sure are laughing out loud at the prospect of me wanting to settle down I’m sure, but honestly I have no idea what will happen after these 4 months of travel. One thing I’m certain of though is that I will have clarity after walking some 800km. This I’m sure of!! But for now I’m going to be Paris bound in less than 24 hrs. See you soon Pops! And for my Saudi peeps- I miss you already!!

 

Feeling Very Conflicted…

I’m currently in the midst of a trip to my 2 homes of Canada and Seattle, and while I’m super happy to be home, I’m also feeling very conflicted. You see this last month I’ve been processing a lot of emotions. My time in Saudi is coming to an end. And while a big part of me is ready to leave, there’s a part of me that feels like I have unfinished business there. There’s still a bunch of places in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia I would like to visit. Farasan Islands. Taif. Hail. I work with a great bunch of people at work, and for the most part I enjoy my job. Truth be told, it is by far the easiest nursing job I’ve ever had. Far easier than any bedside nursing jig I would get in Canada or the U.S.. Since I work on a VIP unit here in Saudi that’s not to say that dealing with VIP patients doesn’t present a whole world of other challenges to caring for this type of patient. But most days I really don’t mind it.

As I’ve already mentioned I will be leaving Saudi in mid September, flying to Paris to meet my dad and then together we will make our way to the village of St Jean Pied de Port which is on the French side of the Pyrenees mountain range. From here we will embark on a 40 day trek/walk to the Spanish city of Santiago de Compostela some 800km away. We are not camping, and will have a warmish place and a bed to lay our heads every night. We will be packing very light. This will be an incredible challenge for me as I’m only taking 2 pairs of clothes and a set of PJs. I’ve decided not to bring my nice camera with me which will be difficult as I love to take photos, but I just can’t justify carrying the extra weight. I am taking my iPad mini though as I want to have a way to blog on a regular basis about this journey. Once in Santiago we will make the decision to walk another 100km to the coastal town of Finisterre which was believed to be the edge of the world in the Medieval times and is still referred to as such by Pilgrims of the Camino de Santiago. I’ll then make my way to Paris where I’m planning on staying for a month. Then I’m toying with a couple weeks in the UK and then flying back to North America via a stopover in Iceland. Then comes the difficult part……

After Christmas I may keep traveling for another few months. Mexico is calling to me. As is Chiang Mai in Northern Thailand and Laos. But eventually, I will have to make some semi permanent decisions. So here’s the conflicted part……I literally have no idea what to do after that. This will horrify many of my friends and family alike, but the truth is I’m not leaning any one direction over another. I could go back to Saudi for another year. I could move back to Seattle. I could move to Vancouver. I could do any number of things, and this is the first time that my gut is letting me down. When I try and really think about it, or make a plan, because I know that’s what sane people should do (is have a life plan) I just get anxious. And mostly, that’s when I start to think about doing another year in Saudi because the job is easy, the money is decent, and if I stay another year there, I delay having to make any concrete real life decisions. Which I realize isn’t that healthy. Here’s what I do deep down know though- my days of being a bedside nurse are rapidly coming to an end. I’m becoming burnt out of nursing. The thought of returning to the stress that I left at my previous job in Seattle doesn’t interest me. Nor does the rotating day shift/night shift schedule I would have to work if I returned to bedside nursing in Canada. This I know for sure.

The other thing that I know deep deep down is that I want to set aside time just to be. I want a couple months to spent just reading, writing, and doing yoga. I’m sure to some people this sounds like a hugely selfish luxury. And mostly I’m ok with that because I learned a long time ago that I’m not living this one precious life of mine for anyone else, or to meet other people’s expectations. I’m ok with going against the grain. Doing the exact opposite of what society tells us we should be doing. This coming week marks my 20 year graduation from high school. 20 years. How the hell did that happen? I got an invite to the reunion, but it was too last minute for me to change my travel plans and make the trip to Calgary so I’m not going. But I did spend some time looking at (stalking) the Facebook profiles of my fellow classmates. Many of them that I haven’t thought of in well over a decade. While part of me would love to catch up, a big part of me realizes that I’m truly a minority amongst my peers. To be 37, unmarried, never married, living abroad and childless is by far the minority compared with my fellow high school grads. Sometimes I feel like I’m just adrift in the world- since besides having some belongings in storage I truly have nothing to my name. No house, no car, no home to come back to. And while sometimes when I process that it makes my scared or uneasy, more often then not I think of how fortunate I am. Looking back 20 years that young girl who graduated high school could never, ever have envisioned that she would end up spending 3 years of her life living in Saudi Arabia. That she would visit more than 50 countries, and have a deep yearning to see more. That she would become very comfortable with the uncomfortable. It makes me so very curious to see what the next 20 years will bring.

But enough about reminiscing about the past and talking about the future. The present day me is gearing up for this walk across Spain. Researching hiking poles, and rain ponchos and 3 in 1 shampoo/soap/conditioner. The present day me is soaking up this time being home with my friends and family, and thinking about what I can fit into the 2 months I have left in Saudi. I’m sure that 40 days spent walking across Spain will provide me with introspection and answers for the decisions I’ll need to make in the upcoming year. Or at least that’s what my gut is telling me……

 

Changing Plans……

The past 2 weeks have been a whirlwind of ever changing plans, so I thought I would update you about my latest ones. I had been planning on leaving Saudi Arabia in August to come back to Canada and the U.S. before flying to Europe in early September to walk the Camino de Santiago with my pops for 5-6 weeks depending on how fast our legs move. Then I was going to hang out in Europe and meet my best friend in November to go to Iran. But alas, somethings never go as planned…….

A couple weeks ago I was working with a Pakistani nurse and it was pay day and this nurse said to me how she was excited because it was her “double salary month.” And I was like “double salary month?? What the heck is that?” And she informed me that apparently per our contract we get a months salary as a bonus when we re-contract. Naturally I was skeptical because I re-contracted last year and got no such thing. Upon further investigation I learned that I was due to get the extra months salary as a bonus upon my contract completion. But here’s the kicker……you have to work until your final contract date. Leave even one day early and you  forfeit the entire thing.

This presented a huge problem for my as my contract end date isn’t until mid September. I was planning on leaving early to head home to Canada to get in some proper hiking and get supplies for pops and my hike, and to drop off my belongings. The Camino de Santiago is an old pilgrimage route that starts on the French border and goes 800km to the Spanish city of Santiago. For obvious weather related issues, it’s better for us to walk it earlier  as opposed to later in September. I will have some unused leave, so at present my last working day in Saudi will be September 14, which means likely around the 16th of September I’ll fly to Europe to stow whatever belongings I haven’t shipped and meet my pops in France to start our pilgrimage. This will likely take me until the end of October/beginning of November which means Iran has been bumped until the spring. I’m planning on staying in Europe until around Christmastime and am looking into house sitting gigs, but if nothing turns up I’ll likely rent an apartment for 6-8 weeks. My Europe plans are very lose at the moment. I’m currently thinking about basing myself in Paris, but that could very well change!

Since I won’t have a chance to go home in between finishing in Saudi and starting our walk I’ve decided to fly home for a visit at the end of June. I’ll be spending a week in Warsaw Poland solo in early June, coming back to Saudi to work for a week and then flying to Canada for 5 nights and Seattle for 10 or so. That way I can get hiking supplies like shoes, a sleeping bag, and a long list of other necessities, and get some actual hiking in. Since the daytime temps here in Saudi are already above 40C/100F it’s going to make training outside of the gym rather difficult, but I’ll do the best I can! For those of you not familiar with the Camino de Santiago I’ll be blogging more about it soon, rest assured!!

So that’s the latest in my life. I do have some rather unpleasant news about expat life in Saudi. Last week Facebook calling and video calling was blocked, which is a real bummer because that was the primary way I spoke with my mom as I find Skype not great here, and she doesn’t have an iPhone. There are many rumors going around that as of the 26th of this month all internet based calling apps will be blocked. Whatsapp calling is already blocked, but the rumored list includes Skype and FaceTime as well. I’m not exactly sure why they would want to alienate the literally millions of expat workers here who rely on these apps to communicate with their loved ones in their home countries. If this is true I’m especially glad I’ll be leaving in a few months as having to rely on paying to make calls from my cell phone is super pricey. To give you an example if I call the U.S. to speak to my bank and I’m on the phone for 15min it will easily cost me 40riyals which is close to $10 U.S. Saudi Arabia is facing an economic crisis so I’m sure this is just a crafty way to recoup money but it’s going to be especially difficult for so many of the nurses I work with who rely on daily video calls back to the Philippines or India to be able to see their young children.  I really hope that it’s all just rumor, or we find the loophole around it. Fingers crossed.

Anyways, that’s all for now. More to come!!

Nursing Vent

I wrote this post a while ago, but wasn’t sure as to whether I should post it seeing as my blog mostly pertains to travel. I rarely talk about work, although many of my readers are, like me, nurses. This past week was Nurses Week, and so in light of that I’ve decided to post it. To shine a light on what nurses actually do. You’ve been warned- cause this is a bit of a nursing vent. A while back someone asked me if I had the day off and I said “yes. I’m off today and tomorrow.” To which they replied “must be nice.” Even though that week I was working 60hours. Apparently my two days off were considered something of a luxury and not an actual deserved two days off. For years I’ve put up with comments like this. Almost every guy I’ve ever dated and several of my non-nursing friends have made cracks or comments about my work hours. Comments like “must be nice to have so many days off.” Or “well really you only work part-time.” Most of the time I just laugh it off, because it is true we do get more days off than the average person. But don’t kid yourself, nurses also work much longer hours than the average person does.

Back home on average nurses in Canada and the US work around a 36hr week. That’s considered full-time. In the US that’s usually three 12hr shifts which normally are actually 12.5hrs with a 30min meal break and a couple 15 min coffee breaks if you have luck on your side. Typically from the time I left for work and returned home I was gone 14-14.5hrs. In Canada typically it’s a rotating shift of two 12hr day shifts and then two 12hr nights shifts with four to five days off. Four or five days off you say- sounds like a dream right?! Well trust me it’s far from a dream. That flip flopping from nights back to days wreaks havoc on your body. Those first couple days off are a waste of time, and when you’re in the middle of that four day stretch you have very little time for yourself, a life, or your family. I actually dread thinking of going back to Canada and having to work that schedule again.

Here in Saudi I work a 44hr week which consists of two or three 12.5hr shifts one week and five the next, usually with an hour break. Personally, I far prefer 12hr shifts to 8hr ones because I couldn’t emotionally rally to come to work five days a week, every week. Nursing is both physically and emotionally draining. If you can image I literally spend my entire day getting people stuff. Pain medications, ice, IV fluids, whatever the doctor needs, nausea medications, towels ect. Over and over again. At any time I can be juggling (depending on where I’m working) between 3-5 acutely ill patients. Coordinating with their families, the physicians and the numerous procedures that are scheduled that day. I’m fitting in multiple medications and routes of medications, assisting patients with meals, assisting them to bath, rounding with doctors, correcting critical lab results, monitoring potential problems, and sometimes very literally trying to prevent a patient from dying. I’m on my feet for long hours. Having to fight with the limited supplies and resources that come with the job. And since shit always rolls down hill most things that go wrong in a hospital are blamed on the nurse, or fall on the nurse to do.  Lab didn’t come to draw labs- get the nurse to do it. Physical therapy isn’t available to ambulate a post-op- the nurse can do it. The doctor didn’t come when they said they would- blame the nurse.  Because here’s the other thing. A nurses role overlaps with many other professions, meaning that nurses can do large parts of other professions jobs, but they can’t do large parts of our job. I can draw labs off my patient if the lab isn’t available, ambulate my patient if physical therapy is too busy, give respiratory treatments if a respiratory therapist can’t come. We depend on the support services to help us do our job, but sometimes have to get by on our own.

Often when I’m taking care of one patient I’m mentally planning out what needs to be done for the other ones down the hall. Making a mental list in my head about what I need to remind the doctors to order and the labs I need to follow-up on. That I need to call about Room 2’s MRI, and that I need to call infectious disease to see about getting Room 8 off isolation, that it’s time to start Room 68’s feeding, and that Room 2 is going to call for her pain medications. That it’s time to do Room 62’s dressing. That I told the care assistant I’d meet her in Room 8 to turn her. And so on and so forth, day in and day out. Juggling tasks, and trying not to forget things. (Obviously these are just patient examples and not indicative of actual patients.)

But here’s the thing….for the most part I love being a nurse. I love helping people when they’re at their worst. I love being that shoulder to lean on. I love that each day is different and challenging. I love teaching patients about their illness, mentoring new nurses, and teaching new doctors about the role that nurses play in the healthcare system. I love it, but some days I’m drained. Emotionally from carrying other peoples burdens. My fellow nurses know the toll it takes to sit with a patient as they’re told that treatment has failed, and that there are no other options. To hold the hand of a relative as their loved one passes away. To be present. To bear witness to both the high points and low points of our patients lives. Nursing can also be physically draining from being on my feet for hours on end, from walking back and forth getting people things, and from lifting heavy patients up and down in bed. The point of this post was to bring light to what a nurse actually does, because I think that people who make comments like this are actually pretty clueless about what I and my fellow nurses do. We don’t just give our patients sponge baths and then kick back with our feet on the desk waiting for a doctor to tell us what to do. Working night shift and weekends kinda sucks if I’m being honest, but it’s part of the gig and so we do it because people aren’t only sick during business hours. They get sick in the middle of the night on Christmas Day and we are there to take care of them. It’s part of the job. We aren’t just working a “part-time job.”

So to my fellow nurses. Happy Nurses Week. Crack open a bottle of wine, and make sure to have a glass for me. You deserve it!!!

End. Vent.

Calculated Risk

IMG_1009It feels like the world is quickly becoming a scary place. The attacks in Paris and Istanbul and most recently in Brussels distort our perceptions of safety. They make us question our security. They add fuel to the political power of the Donald Trumps of the world who want to box us in and want us to feel that it is dangerous to leave one’s own country. That the safest thing to do is to isolate ourselves. To only mix with those who are the same as us; same language, religion, and culture. Makes us feel as though the other or that which is different from us is dangerous. For me however; travel has always been about taking calculated risk. I would never knowingly put myself in danger. Yet, I’m comfortable with being uncomfortable and am ok with changing plans last minute if need be.

Right before Arab Springs happened I traveled thru Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon. The months leading up to that trip my travel mate and I had discussed back up plans. The Middle East has a long history of instability, and I think it’s a good idea to have alternate plans in place in the event the security situation changes. Thankfully, we traveled by ground from Jordan into Syria and then into Lebanon without incident. 2 years ago I traveled to Bangladesh from Nepal. At that time the situation in Dhaka was unpredictable and my travel partner and I also had back up plans and tried to stay up to date on the security situation. We assessed the information that was available and took the calculated risk of going. Little did we know that we ended up flying in the night before a planned city wide strike and ended up on a self imposed “Lock down” in our hotel after getting information from our embassies telling us it was inadvisable to go out that day. But the following day (and the rest of our trip) was without incidence.

This month I was supposed to travel to Iran with my Yankee bestie. We booked the trip around Christmas, and at that time I had thought it would be super easy for me to get a Iranian visa as there was an Iranian embassy here in Riyadh. Notice how I said was. In early January there was a severing of diplomatic ties between Iran and Saudi and the embassy closed, as did the Iranian embassy in some of the neighbouring countries. This now made getting a visa much more difficult for me and would have involved a trip to Dubai or Abu Dhabi for me to try and apply. And seeing as my passport was issued to me here in Riyadh so basically I have a Canadian passport but the issuing authority says Riyadh, we weighed our options and decided to postpone the trip until later in the year when I’m not living in Saudi, and it will be easier for me to get a visa. Sometimes you take the risk, and sometimes you decide the risk might not be worth it.

This leads me to my upcoming trip. I’ve blogged before about how I really wanted to see the parts of Egypt that I’ve missed before I leave the Middle East. When we postponed the Iran trip I toyed around with going to Egypt for the 12 days I have off later this month. Then my mom decided to join me. After much thought and consideration, and weighing our options I decided that right now just isn’t the time. There are many parts of the Middle East that I feel are safe right now. I would recommend the UAE, Jordan, Oman, Bahrain as a few such places. Then there are other places where I feel like things could be brewing, or places that I don’t want to take the risk. I’m not saying not to go there, I’m just saying I’m a little more cautions when it comes to places like Egypt, Turkey or Lebanon. For me there’s a different undercurrent to these countries, and there has been recent terrorist activity. And obviously, I’m not meaning that those countries are entirely unsafe- the resort town of Sharm on the Sinai peninsula is still considered to be safe. Again it’s about taking calculated risk. For me, right now just isn’t the right time. So instead I’ll be meeting my mom in Munich and we’ll be taking the train to Austria, into Czech Republic then to Slovakia and back to Munich.

So even though there are travel advisories in effect for Europe, I don’t have any issue traveling there. Statistically I know that my odds of being a victim of a terrorist attack in Europe are far less than the likelihood of me being killed in a vehicular accident while living in Saudi Arabia. To be fair the likelihood of me being a victim of a terrorist attack in the Middle East is also much lower than my dying in a car accident on Saudi roads. But again, its all about taking calculated risks. Listening to your gut. Applying logic. Weighing the options.

For me though, avoiding travel altogether is never an option. I can’t listen to the Trumps of the world who want us isolated. Who want us to stick with our own kind. For me, humankind is my own kind and I can’t imagine a life that doesn’t include traveling and learning from people of different skin colour, who may speak a different language or practice a different religion. I’ve blogged pretty extensively about my love of traveling, and how travel makes me grow as a person, and ultimately has made me a better, more compassionate person. And so I will continue to travel while taking calculated risk. I sure hope you do as well…..

Solo Travel

I’ve just returned from a solo 11 day trip to Italy. It was awesome and I loved every minute of it. There’s no other way to describe how solo travel feels,  other than to say I felt free. And empowered. And brave at times. Each day was mine to do with it what I want. No one else to consider, only what I felt like doing, or eating, or whom I felt like interacting with. I was out there drifting in the world with only myself to answer to. Free and open to a world of possibilities.

While I’ve traveled quite a bit, most of my travels have included a travel partner.  I have traveled alone before though. To Portugal. To an ashram in India. To Malaysia and a yoga retreat in Bali. To Frankfurt to see the Christmas markets. These are some of my favourite travel memories. And truth be told I met some of the nicest and dearest people on these trips. A kind and funny Czech guy who I hope I cross paths with again soon. A quirky British girl who matches my inappropriate sense of humor and schemed with me on how to smuggle alcohol into our ashram.  A Spanish guy who just thinking about him makes me shake my head and laugh. A lovely woman from Montreal whom I know I’ll meet out in the world again. And most recently on this trip, I met the kindest family who adopted me in Rome and made sure I didn’t have to eat dinner alone and then also a couple from Texas whom I shared many laughs with. So even when I’m traveling solo I have found that I’m never really alone for very long if I don’t want to be.

Portugal- my 1st solo trip

With my lovely Ashram friends

 

 

 

 

 

 

Often when I’m traveling alone I meet people who tell me how brave they think it is, and then immediately say “but I could never do it.” And I always respond by saying “I reckon you could.” Because I firmly believe that if I can do it, then anyone can. I also think it’s especially important for a woman to see the world on her own. There is something so empowering about standing on your own 2 feet, and trusting in yourself, your smarts and your intuition.

Don’t get me wrong- it won’t always be easy, but I’m pretty sure it will be worth it. I’m a terrible researcher. I like to have an accommodation booked, but I’ve gotten really lazy about actually researching things. I cracked open my Lonely Planet guide maybe 2 days before I left for this trip. So sometimes that means I’m not as prepared as I wish I was. Hand in hand with this is the fact that I don’t speak a lick of Italian. Well besides Bonjourno, and Spaghetti, and Ciao. But as with most places almost everyone speaks English so you can get by just fine. Often when I travel with others I leave the navigating to them. I never hold the map, I never look up directions. I’m hopelessly directionally challenged . And yet when I travel solo I make it work. Sure sometimes (a lot of the time) I get lost. But I have found that people are for the most part helpful, and I never stay lost for very long. Every now and then I still make rookie travel mistakes like ordering something without checking to see how much it costs- apparently directly across the street from the Vatican Diet Coke costs 8 euros. For a can. Of Diet Coke. Facepalm. The one downside of solo travel is that if you plan on documenting your travels you need to get very good at taking selfies (or buy a dreaded selfie stick) or speak up and ask others to take photos with you. So often I have fewer photos of myself on solo trips than I would if I was traveling with a partner.

Getting the “selfie” down

Or just ask a fellow traveler to snap a pic

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If the thought of traveling alone abroad still seems too scary why not try a weekend away in a city you’ve always wanted to visit in your own country. Sign up for a yoga or meditation retreat- something that encourages being alone while still being around others. Or book into a group tour where you’ll be sure to meet others. I have found that when I’m alone I’m more open to meeting others, and it’s easier for others to approach me. So unless you are going to some truly isolating location, you will cross paths with other travelers.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that you should make solo travel a priority. I think it’s essential for your growth and development. You will never learn more about your strengths than you will when you are exploring a foreign city solo. You will most likely feel more independent than you have in your entire life. You will learn to listen to your intuition. You will learn to put your wants and needs and desires first. You will make travel memories that you will be proud of because they will be yours, and yours alone. You made them happen. You trusted yourself enough to go and know that you would just figure it out. So do yourself a huge favor and go.

Travel as a Woman

This blog post has been writing itself in my head for at least the last several months. Ultimately, it came to fruition partly related to a recent article written by a fellow travel blogger Gigi Griffis were she discussed her recent trip to Columbia and the numerous safety issues she faced while traveling there as a solo women. She received a lot of angry comments both on her blog and Facebook page from people who discounted her concerns and largely her feelings regarding her own safety. The other reason I’m writing this post is following a discussion I had with my Pops about what it’s like largely to be a woman traveling, but also to just live daily life as a woman. This was directly related to an incident that happened while I was in Barcelona last week. It made me realize that men in general (sorry to say) are pretty clueless as to what a woman puts up with on a daily basis, especially regarding the safety concerns that govern many aspects of our daily lives. Things we even as women don’t likely realize we do. Now I realize there are women out there that are less safety conscious than me, or who are fearless and for whom maybe these things don’t apply, but I imagine they are few and far between.

Women’s safety concerns can dictate where they park (always in a lit area, never next to a creepy child molester van). It dictates where they might choose to live, or what hours they may choose to work. As an example, my previous job in Kelowna the free staff parking lot was like a 10 min walk to a largely unlit parking lot that by the time I got off work in the winter hours was pitch black. So do you think I would park there? Hells no. I’m not risking my safety to park for free in some shady ass parking lot. And so I didn’t and I just paid. I have lived places where I didn’t exactly feel safe so I would literally do a “safety sweep” and check the closets and behind the couch and under the bed when I got home at night. Now I know you’re probably thinking I’m a crazy lunatic, but I reckon that easily half the women who read this and live alone perform some type of safety related action or routine when they get home at night. I’m also very aware of my surroundings when out at night regardless of where I am. I look people in the eye and would never wear headphones or be chatting on the phone if I was walking anywhere at all secluded. I feel like if I’m aware and alert I’m less of a target for someone to attack or rob me.

So how does this overlay into when we travel? Well being a blond westerner brings it’s own share of problems when traveling in much of the world where blond hair isn’t very common. Living in Saudi it’s pretty uncommon if I get thru a day without something strange or inappropriate happening. Just a quick walk down the main hospital corridor where I work can sometimes feel like I’m walking down a cat walk. I’m not saying this because I think I’m super hot, I’m just stating what actually takes place for me and many western women here. Men stare. Sometimes out of curiosity, sometimes in a creepy leering way. At least once a week someone takes my photos without my permission. Often this happens in one of my patients rooms and it’s awkward as fuck every time it happens. First, they never ask me if it’s ok to take the photo. Second, often the phone isn’t silenced so as the photos is taken the phone makes that shutter noise so they know that I know they’ve just taken my picture. Thirdly, if you’re going to take my bloody picture maybe you could give me a heads up?! At least let me look my best for whatever creepy reason it is that you needed to take that photo in the first place?! Then there are the inappropriate questions regarding whether I’m single and if I would like to have an Arabic husband. Ummm no. Then there are the instances where a man will look at you literally like you aren’t wearing clothes. Sometimes I will walk out of a patient’s room feeling like a need a shower because of the pervy aggressive looks I received. It should be noted that our work uniforms consist of super unsexy white scrubs. Mine are way too big and I literally resemble the marshmallow man from Ghostbusters. Seriously. Can you imagine if we were allowed to wear the flattering scrubs we wear back home. I feel like the local male population would quite literally die of heart attacks. The other thing that happens quite a bit is getting followed. Last month a creepy dude followed me around the grocery store and leered at me while I picked out my cucumbers in the produce section. As a woman here you will often get followed by cars with Saudi boys who are old enough to be your children. The same day of the infamous cucumber incident a Saudi guy pulled up next to the vehicle I was in and demanded my driver put down the back window so he could “get a look.” I told my driver to tell him to “get a life” instead.

Unfortunately, these incidents aren’t specific to Saudi. Last week in Barcelona my Kiwi mate and I were dressed up for dinner and walking in a crowded main square when men repeatedly blocked our way to try and chat us up. We would step around them and a little further up some new guys would try the same aggressive and unsuccessful move. Later that evening as we were walking back to our hotel 2 men crossed our paths and catcalled us about spending the night with them. We ignored them and crossed the street. They turned around and followed us. I’m still pissed about it. That they felt that it was ok to try and follow us late a night back to our hotel. I personally have zero tolerance for this type of behaviour and stopped to make it very clear that we knew what they were up to and that they had better keep it moving. Sadly, my Kiwi mate and I have been followed on the streets of Phnom Penh, and in Nicosia Cyprus a Nigerian guy kept following us after we repeatedly told him to leave us alone. To the point that I actually had to cause a public scene for him to leave. Super creepy. While in Kolkata India, my friend and I would joke that when we go back we will have shirts made with the Hindi text “STOP STARING”  written on the front because that week I experienced some of the most intense staring of my life. Then there were the numerous sexist and generally unpleasant experiences in Marrakesh Morocco. Being surrounded by groups of men in the main square. Having my path blocked in the Medina or my wrist grabbed on more than one occasion as a shopkeeper tried to drag me into their store. Then there are the local markets the world over. I think you would be hard pressed to find a female traveler that hasn’t been inappropriately touched or rubbed against while trying to purchase some cheap tourist trinkets. Just so I’m being clear by “touching” I mean being rubbed against or having one’s ass, breasts or crotch grabbed. Unfortunately, I have had all 3 happen more than once. But to be fair, this can happen to a woman without traveling abroad. I’m sure many of my female readers have been in a crowded bar or nightclub and had a similar experience.

Travel as a woman can be difficult in ways that men will never fully understand. Sometimes after an inappropriate encounter I try to visualize what my Pops or my brother would do or think if they had witnessed it. Or I try and think what the men would do if the person getting leered at or followed was their mother, daughter or sister. It wouldn’t be ok then would it?! So what does a lady do? How do you combat this type of behaviour when it happens a lot? Many of us modify the way we dress while traveling.  We try to make ourselves less visible. Loose casual clothing, nothing flashy. Cover your hair when it’s culturally appropriate to do so. In my opinion these alterations don’t really make any difference. If a man is going to stare at you then he’s going to stare at you regardless. I have tested this theory day in and day out living in Saudi. I get the same looks and attention whether my hair is covered or not. It’s still pretty obvious that I’m a westerner and therefore foreign looking. I think talking about it helps. Making men aware of what kind of behaviour is threatening and inappropriate. But here’s the thing, many men would welcome any type of attention from ladies so if the situation was reversed they likely wouldn’t be uncomfortable like we are. I have tried the “you stare at me and I’ll stare right back at you” game. Trust me. That never works. In fact in my experience it just makes the staring more aggressive and usually the creepy dude will take it as suggestion to come and have a closer look. Also when someone is full on perving at you it’s impossible to hold eye contact with them. I find it very threatening.  I’m not sure how we go about making it clear that men the world over need to modify their behaviour. Just because a woman looks foreign does not make it ok to aggressively stare at her. It is NOT ok to follow a woman. Especially when she has already made her disinterest clear. Especially if she is alone or it is late at night. It is NEVER ok to grab a women’s wrist or block her way. I guarantee that if she didn’t want to see want whatever stupid thing you were selling a second ago, she sure as hell won’t now that you’ve become physically aggressive with her.

Please don’t read this post and take it as a message that women shouldn’t travel because that is definitely not what I’m saying. I just think women have to be safe and smart. The main goal of this post was to draw attention to the many ways women can and are made to feel unsafe or uncomfortable. That maybe one guy who reads this will be with his buddy who will see a lady and say “she’s hot, lets follow her!” And the guy will turn to his friend and say “nah, lets go get a tea/coffee/beer instead.” To be clear I have traveled to over 40 countries now and I have met many, many lovely and kind men throughout my travels. Luckily, when I think back on visiting most countries the impression I had of it, and the memories I take with me are overwhelmingly of the positive things that happened to me and the positive interactions I had. And not the intense staring or back to back ass grabs I got in the market.

Safe travels ladies….

Happy Holidays aka Merry Christmas, and a Tribute to my Mom

This year Christmas was a weird one. Normally I’m super jazzed about Christmas. It’s always been my favourite holiday. This might have to do with the fact that I’m a December baby also. I mean if Jesus and I share the same birthday month I’m pretty sure that’s reason enough to be excited. Except, I wasn’t this year. I’m sure it had something to do with the fact that I was home earlier in the month and celebrated with friends and family then. I spent American Thanksgiving with my best friends extended family and let’s be honest, American Thanksgiving feels a whole lot like Christmas to me. There’s booze and turkey and everyone is in good spirits. Then I flew to Germany and visited the Christmas Market in Frankfurt. So it’s no wonder that by the time I got back to Saudi Arabia it felt like the holiday was over.

I was supposed to spend Christmas in Dubai. Supposed to, because as with many things in Saudi we were thrown a curve ball. I have blogged about the numerous absurd paperwork nightmares involved with living in Saudi. This one affected my Kiwi travel mate and so we were inadvertently grounded. Basically, to make a long long story short, to work as a nurse in Saudi you have to have this thing called Saudi Health Council which means they have checked your credentialing and you are actually a registered nurse in your home country. You then get a card which means you can work here- but really you’re actually working off your nursing license in your home country, but that’s another story. So anyways, she applied for this thing when we first arrived 15 months ago. Yep 15. MONTHS. So she never got the card. Instead she got a paper copy of the registration which is pretty much good to use as toilet paper because it’s meaningless with out the card. So she’s been to the office to request said card like a hundred times and the answer is always “inshallah this week.” (Because they only go to the main office where the cards are once a week). Or, “we have requested another card.” “Or come back tomorrow inshallah.” As a side note it’s a Christmas miracle no one was murdered in the making of this tale. So anyways said card never bloody shows up. Which would only just be annoying except that we had this trip to Dubai planned. And she needed to apply for a travel visa so we could leave the country. And to go to Dubai requires that you bring your passport and your Igama (Saudi residency card). And your Igama must be good for 3 months. Which hers wasn’t, so she needed to renew it before they would issue the travel visa. And to renew your Igama you need………drumroll………yep! You need your Saudi Health Council card. Shit. Double shit.

So the week before she went to the main office and was able to get something that would suffice and rushed back to the hospital to apply for her Igama, and they “rush” processed it. By rush I mean it actually took longer to come back then if they hadn’t “rushed” it. Of course. So like 2 days before we were supposed to go we pulled the plug on it because we knew we  would be more mad to have to cancel it the day before and we re-booked for February. Thankfully, we had other plans and were invited to parties on both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day so it wasn’t a total wash. Although it was super annoying.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again “Saudi is one huge lesson in patience.”

So stay in Saudi we did. And then a few other things happened leading up to Christmas. My brother’s girlfriend’s Dad was involved in an awful accident and is in the ICU. My Dad went to Mexico to spend the holidays with my aunt and ended up getting sick. And then my Opa passed away Christmas Eve. It’s so difficult being in Saudi when things are happening back home and the people you care about are sick, or having a difficult time. My Opa (Grandfather in German) was old, and I didn’t really have much of a relationship with him or my Oma. In fact, I can’t actually remember the last time I saw them. They always lived on the other side of the country and never really visited us. We would chat on the phone on birthdays or the major holidays and I would send postcards from my many trips. Then a few years ago they were moved to a nursing home as their minds and bodies started to fail. My Opa’s body more than mind and the opposite for my Oma. Last week he started to decline and my mom flew out to be there with him. And my heart aches for her. It’s never easy to be present with someone in their last moments. To see them struggle for breaths. To hear the noises they make. To resist every urge in you that makes you want to run away and instead be present. To not flee. To bear witness to a life that is transitioning. It’s a huge honour to be with someone as they take their final breath, but also an emotional burden. It’s hard enough to do this, let alone when you are alone on Christmas Eve. Mom- I’m so very proud of you and thankful that you were there with him. That his hands were one of the first you would feel at the beginning of your life, and your hand was the last one he held as his ended. It’s a true testament to your courage and kindness.

So, Happy Holidays and a late Merry Christmas.

 

Thoughts on Home……

Earlier this month I traveled back to Seattle, the place I think of as my adult home and up to Canada to where my family is. Both hold very strong emotional ties for me, and after having not visited either since last October this trip was long overdue. This was in fact the longest stretch of time I’ve been away from home. I had been counting down the days coming up to this trip the last few months. I was super homesick, and couldn’t wait to surround myself with those I love dearly and who love me in return.

My visit to Canada was so needed, and yet a little difficult at the same time. Lots had changed in the year I’d been away. Lives had changed. In the couple months surrounding me coming to Saudi my parents had decided to part ways. Each starting different lives in different addresses. The family home was sold. Granted I hadn’t lived in this home in like 15 years, but mentally it was the place I would go when and if everything fell apart. It was my safe haven. The place I knew I would be welcomed and cared for unconditionally. And it no longer exists for that purpose. I was immensely nervous how I would fit in. If there would be room for me. If I would feel out of place. As it turns out there was space, both physically and emotionally for me to fit back in to the mix. I shifted my time between my mom and pop’s places, and spent a night surrounded by family at my brother’s. I caught up with old friends, many who I’ve known my entire adult life. I treated my mom to an early Christmas present and we escaped to a luxury spa for the night where we drank wine overlooking the snowy hills that flowed into Okanagan Lake. It was a great week!

 

 

 

 

 

 

My time in Seattle was spent running what felt like a million errands and a majority of the time sitting on my best mate’s couch, wine in hand thankful to have some much needed catch-up time. I felt honoured that so many people went out of there way to carve out a slice of time in their busy lives to see me. Truly. Even now that I’ve been back a week my heart is huge and I’m so thankful to have so many great friends. Many I’ve known for years, some only in the last couple years I spent in Seattle. Thanks to modern technology I can easily keep in touch with them and connect whenever we find ourselves in the same geographical locale. It’s pretty awesome. So thank you- you all know who you are!! To those of you I missed- I promise to see you next time I’m in town….whenever that may be…..

So now that I’m back here in Saudi Arabia, I feel myself split in three pieces. The part of me that lives in Saudi and loves adventuring around the world.  A part of me that misses my old urban life in Seattle, where so many of my dear friends are. A place where any day of the week you can find a double happy hour, and there’s always something going on.  And then the part of me that will always call Canada home, regardless of the number of years I am away. I think Pascal Mercier sums it up perfectly with the following quote “We leave something of ourselves behind when we leave a place, we stay there, even though we go away. And there are things in us that we can find only by going back there.” Wouldn’t you agree?

 

Mixed Emotions

I’ve taken a bit of a break from blogging the last couple weeks. I’ve been angry. Things have been churning inside me for the last couple months as I attempted to make sense of the many numerous negative comments and shared images that have been flooding my Facebook news feed. Last month and the month before they mostly had to do with Canadian and American politics, and the European issue with what to do about the refugee crisis. Many status updates and shared links I read were straight-up racist, bigoted, and spoke to the narrow mindedness of people. I read them and let the comments stew inside me. You see I have mixed emotions. I see the world in a global view where every human being is equal. Maybe that sounds naive, but it’s how I interact with others. I am not better, nor am I less than you. I felt conflicted as one of the things that I deeply love about being Canadian is how multicultural Canada is. That to be “Canadian” does not mean you have white skin. We are a broad mix of colours and religions and backgrounds. In my opinion it’s what makes Canada so great. But, at the same time I also believe that if people want to come to Canada they have to follow our laws, learn to speak English and/or French, and that they have to be accepting of our beliefs and freedoms.

Many of the comments and shared links I read had to do with the shared idea that “We shouldn’t help refugees until we help our own people.” Our own people. Yet, this left me wondering if the people who share comments like that are in fact helping our own people. Are they going out of their way to help their neighbour, or the elderly, or that homeless war vet down the street as their message preaches. Are they? Sadly, I’m doubtful of this. Because I don’t even really think the issue is about helping. I think it’s about fear, and changing the imaginary “face” of how they see Canada.

This week Paris was the scene of a horrific terror attack. As was Beirut. And I’ve seen a huge increase in the awful comments about Muslims, and about closing borders, and about the unfairness of the attention the Paris attacks received as compared to Beirut or Baghdad. And again my emotions stewed. And I became more angry. Angry at the people who commit these attacks, but also at the people who lump all Muslims into one category. To paraphrase some of what I’ve read “A Muslim = A Terrorist.” What surprises me the most about these comments is that I’m pretty sure many of the people who post shit like this probably don’t actually know anyone who’s Muslim. Well I’ve met Muslims. Hundreds. Maybe even a thousand. Maybe more. Not only here in Saudi but back when I worked in the states. I’ve met Muslims from the Middle East and from Africa. Men and women. I’ve shared meals with them, and many, many laughs. Some of them have become very dear to me. None of them have tried to kill me. I’m fairly certain none of them are terrorists.

During my time living in Saudi Arabia and traveling in the Middle East I have met lovely Muslims. Don’t get me wrong, I have also met some awful people who also happen to be Muslim during my time here as well. But….. newsflash….. over the years I’ve met a ton of assholes from Canada and America. Some from the UK. Some from Europe. Arrogant selfish people who I would cringe when I found out that we shared the same type of passport. To lump all people into one category is absurd. It only makes sense to do so when your whole world view is so small it only accounts for your safe little western bubble. I guess that’s the end of my rant. There’s so much more I want to say but I’ll just end with a prayer. A prayer for lives lost, for homes and countries lost. A prayer to those who no longer feel safe. A prayer of tolerance and kindness for each other. A prayer for peace.

 

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