Vegetable Village

Hoi An is beautiful for its contrasts. The Old Town sophistication of Hoi An with its textiles and art and beautiful European influenced South East Asian port city architecture… in start comparison to the lush, green verdant farmland and simplicity of nature and a farming lifestyle in the surrounding countryside…

We loved our walks through the bustling but still quaint and quiet Old Town… but I loved to trade it in for cycling along narrow paths that divided lush green rice paddies… down quiet country lanes through small suburbs of Hoi An where homes often had vegetable gardens for “lawns”… encountering farmers walking their water buffalo down the paths… or cows munching grass along the roadside…

I had heard about a “vegetable village” just outside the town, so on our last day, we cycled through the farmland to Tra Que Vegetable Village. The village is rare in the sense that few, if any villages in Vietnam earn their income based primarily on vegetables… although it has become a tourism highlight now due to the quiet and peaceful setting where one can wander through fields of vegetables grown without any chemicals and only natural fertilizer from an algae found in the Tra Que village lagoon. The vegetables are beautifully fresh and there are many places one can take a cooking lesson and learn to make delicious, fresh Vietnamese dishes.

We wandered through rows of vegetables… bright green lettuce, herbs of all varieties, fluffy stemmed carrots… and eventually found a restaurant where we were served the simplest but most delicious food I’ve had in a very long time. We started with a lovely juice cocktail with cucumber and basil… Followed by fresh vegetable rolls that were so beautiful and bursting with herbs and slivers of tasty veggies… delicious deep fried spring rolls, and fresh shrimps wrapped with a few fresh herbs and dipped in a sweet chili sauce… It was a gorgeous way to showcase the village vegetables!

It was such a gorgeous way to spend our morning/afternoon… and a perfect last day in Hoi An!

Next up: A couple Spa/Beach days!!!

Volunteering with 10KSA: Breast Cancer Awareness

October is Breast Cancer Awareness month.

As I was leaving North America, Breast Cancer Awareness events were in full swing all over Canada and the USA. I was really hoping that somehow, I could initiate or participate in a some type of event or activity to raise awareness in Saudi Arabia and have a positive impact on women’s lives.

In my previous year in Saudi, I’d seen some of the devastation of breast cancer among the women of Saudi, and in my experience, it seemed to hit so many of them and at such a young age as well. (Maybe that’s just because I work in a large chemotherapy clinic so my exposure to women with breast cancer will be quite high given the volume of patients we see on a daily basis.)

However, the sad truth is that Saudi Arabia, like all countries in the world, has significantly high rates of breast cancer. Unfortunately, awareness is not as high as it is in the Western World. Many women go undiagnosed for years until the symptoms of advanced disease bring them into the hospital for treatment which ultimately results in reduced survival and less positive treatment outcomes, as well as increased pain and suffering.

Many women also lack the education and the awareness to monitor their health and perform monthly self exams to monitor their health, or the awareness that a mother or sister or auntie with breast cancer could indicate a significantly increased risk that they themselves might develop breast cancer. They’re not educated that lifestyle factors such as a sedentary lifestyle and poor eating habits and unhealthy body weights increase their risk of developing cancer in general but also breast cancer. Many women also lack the access to resources such as family physicians, or proper medical care to monitor their health, assess and diagnose also.

So, my wish actually came true. The opportunity to volunteer for a large breast cancer awareness event came my way only a week or so after returning to Saudi, through a friend of a friend, who was organizing and recruiting all the volunteers for the event.

The event was being developed by an organization called 10KSA, a subdivision of a greater organization called Alf Khair, started by Princess Reema bint Bandar. The goal of Alf Khair is to empower the women and youth of Saudi Arabia, and to make the people of Saudi Arabia, the best they can be, and the countries greatest natural resource. 10KSA is a holistic health initiative, and the primary focus is raising health awareness throughout Saudi and the world. This would be 10KSA’s first event and breast cancer was the focus.

The event itself would be held in December and the goal was not only to focus on breast cancer, but also holistic health in general. And the highlight of the day was to be the formation of the world’s largest human health awareness ribbon. The current world record was held by India, but 10KSA was hoping to break that record and get 10,000 women together to form the new largest ribbon. The event would also focus on various other ways to promote health and wellness also though.

As it was to be a very large event, thousands of volunteers were required to run the event. I was hoping I could do some education on breast cancer, but unfortunately those roles were taken by the various hospitals and organizations holding awareness booths at the event.

I ended up joining the team of first Aid volunteers, originally as just one of the volunteers, but as I wanted to get more and more involved in the activity, it escalated into then becoming head volunteer of the First Aid team and planning/coordinating the First Aid Plan for the event as well as train the First Aid volunteers.

I still wanted to do more… so my friend suggested I help recruit volunteers and do some of the orientation sessions for them also. So I got to meet so many amazing Saudi women through this. And it was so fun to tell them about the event and share my passion for this with them… because then they would also get really excited and happy about this opportunity… it was just so inspiring to see them all coming together!

Altogether I think we recruited well over 3000 volutunteers. My first aid group made up a very small portion of this, roughly 30 volunteers in total, plus the team of doctors and nurses from the university hospital.

The weeks and months leading up to the event were ridiculously busy. I was working full time as well as trying to participate as much as possible in training sessions and planning for the event. Many evenings were spent running off after work to an office somewhere to orientate the volunteers to the purpose of the organization and the event and determine their role at the event, as well as assisting with task specific training once the women had been selected for various roles. But I thrived on every minute of it and loved the opportunity to interact with Saudi women who were excited to volunteer and participate in this potentially historical event…

Until this point, my interactions with Saudi women had been restricted largely to work, but this was a huge opportunity to work with them outside of work… to inspire them and be inspired by them… to work together to create something amazing for the women of Saudi… to feel strong and empowered together… It was beautiful!

The planning and promotion of the event lasted for a couple months… with a woman flying to Australia in a small plane even carrying the 10KSA logo on her plane when she stopped briefly at the Riyadh airport. The symbolic 10KSA Wings of Hope could be found at various venues throughout Riyadh… including shopping centers… and even at King Faisal Specialist Hospital for a few days!

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There was even a theme song created for the event which went on to win an award at the California International Shorts Festival as the best music video!

As the day to the event grew closer, my days filled up with work and training volunteers, and mostly… figuring out how first aid was going to work at the event and developing the first aid training program for the first aid volunteers!

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I met Princess Reema, a beautiful person with a vision for the people and especially the women of her country… I was so inspired by her and her goals and commitment to raising awareness and empowering women!

In general, being a part of the event and all the planning was just an incredible experience. I met so many women who inspired me. And to be part of such a major event organized by women for women… my heart was so full and happy!!

And in the final days leading up to the event, I made many trips to Princess Noura University, the largest all-female university in the world, so large it even had it’s own train system inside, to the sports complex where the event would be held. There was so much organizing to do yet… determining how first aid services would be available throughout a venue that large was quite a challenge. I met with the emergency doctors at the Princess Noura University Hospital to plan how we would provide support throughout the venue the day of the event… Fortunately, we would have a couple of doctors and a team of nurses from the university hospital to offer support (and supplies!!!) the day of the event, as my first aid volunteers would really only be providing very basic care in case of any emergency.

It was really  amazing to see the sports complex transformed into a health and wellness event, with amazing displays including beautiful photographs from Saudi and artwork by Saudi women… and an incredible Active center for promoting fitness and active lifestyles…

And of course, the massive stadium where the ribbon formation would happen. Princess Reema went up in a big lift up over the field to see what the view would be like for the photographers who would be photographing this historical event…

And the last day before the event, all the head volunteers and main organizers and supporters of the event, me at the complex for a last run through… and an amazing family photo.. it was so incredible for me to be there, with all those women, women dedicated to making a change in Saudi… I felt so blessed!!IMG_5847And that’s about it… bring on the big day!!!

Freedom is a glass of wine

I’m not a fan of prohibition at all. Especially the prohibition of alcohol. And I’ve begun to equate alcohol with freedom. Freedom is a glass of wine… with friends… or family… or own my own!

I’m back in Saudi at the moment and all I really want is a glass of wine. A beautiful big full glass of red wine. Real red wine. From a bottle that I picked out  for myself at the shop… and then drove myself and my wine back home in my car…

Having a drink is more than just having a drink to me now. It means I’m free. It means I’m relaxed. It means I’m not in Saudi Arabia. It means I’m either on vacation. Or on a day or night off. It means I’m probably surrounded by family and friends. Or I’m on my own just enjoying a quiet night. That’s freedom to me. Freedom is a glass of wine. Or a bottle. Or a cool, refreshing G&T… or a good craft beer…

I probably sound like an alcoholic, but I’m not (and I’m not just in denial). Really. I just miss the simplicity of a lazy evening at home with a good book and a glass of good red wine. Or a beer on the patio in the late afternoon sunshine. I don’t get to do this stuff over here. I mean, not completely freely without any suggestion of repercussions.

I was so happy to be home during the end of summer and all the family BBQ’s and dinners we had… as well as being home for my aunt’s birthday party and hanging out with aunts, uncles and cousins… laughing a lot… drinking a lot of wine and whiskey… and dancing to a whole lot of country music… (country music never gets played in Saudi if you happen to be at an event where there is music and dancing!!) But now I really miss those family nights and events…

I love a night out with girlfriends… catching up… getting all the gossip… having a martini… and a lot of laughs over a shared bottle of wine. I get lots of girls nights in Saudi… but they don’t include a good martini 😥

Freedom is nipping out to the next city over in my car with all my favorite tunes blasting while I go to meet an old friend… who just happened to share 11 months with me in Saudi… someone who completely empathizes with me…

Freedom is a good night with one of my closest friends from high school and her Aussie husband… remembering good times back a few years ago when I went to visit them in Australia and we had the greatest night out in Sydney ever!!!! And now they’re living in North America instead of Australia, and I’m in Saudi… crazy how our lives change!!

Oh yeah… can’t forget… going out for dinner with a guy who is not my brother, or my father, or my husband, or my boyfriend either… just going out for dinner with an old guy friend. Having wine and beer and chatting for hours and hours about medicine – conventional and naturopathic… and generally just catching up on life… and no-one raises an eyebrow. There’s no fear that one might get caught by the muttawa (religious police). It’s just innocent and fun and free!

Anyways… that’s enough boozy talk now. I just really miss these days at home. I miss this freedom…

I love you, You love me

Back in August/September/October 2015

Family. I love my family. All of them. But my nieces hold a very special and very big place in my heart.

 

I absolutely loved every minute of the hours and hours of time I got to spend with them in the nearly 3 months i was home. A day felt incomplete if it didn’t include a stop at my sisters house for baby cuddles and big girl snuggles…

I spent a lot of time babysitting the two little girls so my sister could run errands/get out of the house. So i spent so many hours playing on the trampoline with the oldest of my nieces or running around outside… or just being goofy and silly at my sisters house… chasing her… adoring her…

Teaching her to play piano and then watching her show her “baby” how to play too…

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Taught her how to snapchat too and use the “filters”

How about this “selfie”??

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Walks through the greenhouse with her and my brothers and “gwampa”…

But one of my favourite memories was just sitting in the sunshine on the couch cuddling the wee one while she slept and singing with her big sister… “i love you, you love me, we’re a happy family. with a great big hug and a kiss from me to you, won’t you say you love me too?”

I definitely look back on those precious moments with the girls with so much love but also a significant sense of loss now that I’m back in Riyadh and so far away from them again!!

Anyways… before I get too much more homesick… enjoy the love 🙂

xx

Oregon Coast Part 1: Cannon Beach

Mid August 2015

Living on the west coast of North America, one of the most beautiful road trips I believe you can ever do, is to take the Pacific Coast Highway along the Oregon coast. It runs from northwest Washington, Seattle area or the Olympic Peninsula, all the way down through Oregon and California to the Baja Peninsula.

The drive is leisurely and tranquil, windy and hilly, with absolutely stunning ocean views at nearly every turn, and thick old growth forests. It is continuously shades of emerald and azure, with puffy white clouds and foaming waves, dark brown mud flats and soft brown and grey sands.

I went on this beautiful drive with my parents and youngest brother, 6 days of the most gorgeous coastal scenery I’ve ever experienced! The first day was a long drive from home to Cannon Beach, our first stop, in dad’s big truck pulling a camping trailer.


Our first day in Cannon Beach, we slept in, made bacon and eggs for breakfast, using dad’s special camping method which is to first fry the bacon, pour of the majority of the grease and then cook the eggs on top of the bacon in the pan. The result… delicious! The smell of bacon and coffee and pine trees and the crisp morning air… it smells like childhood memories!!!
I haven’t been camping like this in years!!  The smell of the gently sun warmed pine trees at dinner time after we settled into our campsite in Cannon Beach… BBQing food… delicious red wine… and a good book and even better company. Absolutely the most fantastic way to relax and enjoy family time!

Days in Cannon Beach consisted of wandering around the town sipping coffee from local shops… seaside towns are super cute!! I don’t even know how to describe it but they all have a distinct look… lots of raw woods, salt stained siding, pretty little dorm windows and portholes, colorful trim, brilliantly cheerful and vibrant flower pots and hanging baskets everywhere… American flags…

Coffee shops, restaurants spreading aromas of clam chowders and fishy deliciousness, candy shops for all the kiddos, souvenior shops, and… Cannon Beach Distillery! Dad and I had a 10am gin/whiskey/tequila tasting… great fun! What an excellent excuse for drinking so early in the morning! Serious buzz. Kept me warm on that windy beach!!!  Also… the prettiest little wine store I’ve ever seen… wrapped in vines and selling fabulous wines…

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Cannon Beach is particularly famous for Haystack Rock… a massive Rock set out a good half a km from the shoreline… way out at the waters edge when we went to check it out, but at some times in the year, nearly unreachable as the water surrounds it. It is a 235ft basalt rock sea stack, created by lava, claimed to be one of the tallest intertidal structures in the world that can be reached by foot at low tide, and is home to many birds such as turns and puffins, that turn the rock nearly white/brown on top, although at some times in the year the rock is covered with beautiful green mosses/grasses.

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My favourite part of the whole trip… hours and hours spent walking on the beach, building sandcastles or lighthouses with my little brother, running along the waters edge until the icy pacific ocean waters turned my toes numb and I had to walk up in the deep warm sand that gave my quads the workout of a lifetime!!

Tidepools are amazing… and between the Needles and Haystack rock are beautiful tide pools home to all sorts of brilliant sea creatures like starfish and anemones, crabs and small fish.

 

On our last morning in Cannon Beach, I had to get in a morning beach run, and spent a couple hours walking/running in the haze of sea spray and early morning fog that shrouded the beach. I ran for miles with a cluster of rocks in the distance as my goal. The haziness may have clouded my vision so that I didn’t realize it was so much further away than I thought it would be!! But it was stunningly beautiful. And there is no feeling more free than a crisp, brisk seaside stroll, listening to the waves roll in, the wind whistling in my ears sending sea gulls soaring gleefully through the air… it is so healing, so relaxing, so peaceful. I’d recommend it as a cure for any aching soul.

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The beach… the ocean… the freedom… the serenity. There really is nothing like it in the world!

I was pretty reluctant to leave Cannon Beach and carry on down the coast, because I didn’t think it could possibly get more beautiful than this! But it continues to be gorgeous… More to come!!

 

 

Blissful moments

The pure beautiful moments that exist at home…

My favourite vanilla bean blend coffee… it’s warm luscious aroma lighting up my mornings… welcoming me home like almost nothing else does. Soaking up the sunshine on the patio in my sweats and slippers acquired in some vacation spot during my year away… the sun rays saturate my skin and warm me to the bone (rather than baking me and turning me into a hot sweaty mess like the Saudi sun does!)… the light fresh clean, green morning air gently flipping my hair…

 Evening sunshine, a fresh gentle breeze, light rustling of leaves, the rumble of a passing motorbike… A crisp glass of sparkling white wine, it’s bubbles dancing and irridescent in their happiness… And well written book whose eloquence makes my imagination take flight and whisks me away to a small village outside Bombay. Shantaram. Man of peace or man of Gods peace. The book I’ve been meaning to read for months but just now at home, have to time savour each precious word!

And all of this with my family around me, pausing in my reading at times to join a vivid discussion… Or share a particularly impressive passage from my reading…

Homey. Cozy. Blissful. Calm. Happy. Peace.

Honeys, I’m Home!!

Home.

The feelings, the memories, the emotions that that word brings.

And I can finally say I’m home!

After a year of living this crazy, amazing, totally unique life in Saudi Arabia, I’m home!!! Potentially indefinitely. Although I still say I’m returning to Saudi.

Hugging my momma and little brother at the airport. Lunch on the way back. Wondering how we even begin to catch up and trying to get back to normal.

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IMG_4516The fresh, green, clean air as I walked out of the airport… smelling of the evergreen trees and ocean… and only a small amount of dust and car exhaust.

The sunshine that warms but doesn’t melt you… So that a morning cup of coffee with this view and that sun… is quite possibly one of the best experiences that let me know I’m really home again!

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My niece calling Ammiee… Where Ammiee while I tried to nap off some of the jetlag… running to me and giving me a big hug… the little darling!! She’s just so excited she’s got someone else to go play ring-around-the-rosie on the trampoline with her!!!

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Getting to see how really pregnant my sister actually is… Due in a few weeks! FaceTime definitely doesn’t show that well enough!

And family. Just being around my family again. I really don’t have words to describe it.

Pool time.

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Good drinks.

IMG_4474-0 The green.

I just can’t get over the green. And it’s even a dry year at home!!! All the trees… the grass… the blue sky… The forested mountains… It’s almost completely opposite to Saudi. Saudi is brown and grey everywhere with bits of green and blue. British Columbia is green and blue everywhere with bits of brown and grey!!

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My favourite river paths… a late afternoon jog… Bumping into old friends along the way… And other acquaintances… I forget how much of a small town Chilliwack really is!!

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A little hike with my youngest brother… just smelling the forest and discovering things I’d never ever seen before… like all the little teapots hidden on Teapot hill… so cool!

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A morning jog through my country neighbourhood… Nothing but fresh air and farm smells everywhere…

IMG_4503 Followed by a solid bike ride along the river and through the forest with baby bro…

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And I love every minute of this. Being surrounded by the people I love most in the world. I just want to spend all my time at home with them and the thought of leaving them again crushes me. I don’t know if I’ll be able to do it again…