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….