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…

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…



The Last Week

July 26, 2015

My last week in Saudi Arabia was quite possibly the best week I’ve had so far in KSA!!!! Of course… I was off work all week so I just relaxed, finished up the last of my paperwork, packed up all my belongings and spent a fair bit of time shopping, relaxing poolside and hitting the gym during the day. Nights were filled with dinners and hanging out with friends… my Saudi family.

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My friend Amelia and I met up for dinner one night… at her apartment at the hospital. We realized when I came over that we’ve known each other for an entire year, but have never once been to each other’s apartments! Whenever we hang out, it tends to be outside of the hospital, never at our homes. And it was a beautiful night! We teamed up and cooked dinner… a full Canadian beef steak dinner!!! But the best part was sitting and chatting with her for hours outside of work…about mostly non-work related stuff!!! I’m going to miss these long talks with her and just hanging out with someone who understands me and my experiences here and just a lot of what drives me in life!! I’m blessed to have met her here and my life is going to be so empty in Saudi once she moves on!!

I hit the spa one day for a bit of relaxation… Al Manahil Center in the Diplomatic Quarters… not necessarily the best spa services I’ve had… definitely prefer Yibreen in terms of services… but the setting was beautiful! It’s quite a lot more open and airy inside than Yibreen… But also noiser and not quite as relaxing of a setting…

 So.. nights were spent playing games of Jenga, Mafi and Saboteur with friends… or shopping with friends… stuffing our faces with delicious food and deserts… macaroon sessions…

One night I went for dinner with a few girlfriends… and when we got back, one of the girls and I, who both happen to live in the same complex, but rarely see each other or hang out, for some completely nonsensical reason, ended up making cups of tea and going to sit outside on the roof. We ended up sitting there in the dark, looking over our city… for about 3 hours!! It was gorgeous! I love moments like that!! Thanks for the blissful evening Jess… always gonna treasure that one!!

And finally… my last weekend in Saudi Arabia for a while… an epic birthday party for one of my good friends! The place was lit up with disco lights… decked out with palms and lei’s to go with the Hawaiian theme… a little tropical music to start out the night. And the evening was filled amazing moments with a lot of my closest and dearest friends in Saudi!!! We danced the night away… laughing… sharing great conversation when we could find a quieter spot… and just blissful moments of happiness!! I absolutely adore these people I call friends and my heart is overflowing with love for them all!    IMG_2928And finally… for the last picture of the night… I have to quote Michael the birthday boy who originally posted this picture… with the caption “Turn up the love!” Mike’s birthday cake came out and we turned the love up!!!! With sparklers and cheers and hugs and happiness and a rousing DJ Magdy version of Happy Birthday!

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When the night ended and I had to say goodbye to everyone, I was absolutely crushed. I’m so happy to go home to my family… but not at all ready to say goodbye to these lovely people yet!!!The night didn’t end on the most positive of notes either as I was the last girl to go and all the abayas were gone!! Mine was missing… While it may not seem like a big deal to lose your abaya… it is!!! I’d have to walk from the compound to the taxi outside the compound in regular clothes… which happened to be a little shorts and a tank top… which is equivalent to being naked in public in Saudi… big mushkela!!!! Thankfully my friend had a large black Georgetown university blanket which he lent to me so I could wrap myself up and be fit to leave. Go figure… my last night out in Saudi… I lose my abaya. It happens to us all at some point I guess. Part of Saudi life…

And then my last epic dinner in Riyadh for a while… at Pampa Grill. I’d been wanting to try it out for a while so when a friend planned a birthday party there on my last night in Saudi, I was all in!!!!

It’s an amazing Argentinian restaurant located at the top of the Narcissus hotel in Riyadh, a gorgeous hotel by the way. The restaurant is outside on a terrace that overlooks the city… beautiful views!! With a pool in the center and the gorgeous views… a bit of Argentinian guitar music playing… you’d never ever guess that you were in the middle of Riyadh actually!!! The food was pretty fabulous and it was really really wonderful to spend my last night with friends!! Especially these girls… they’re the best. Seriously. 

  
  
  
  
 And finally… Sunday the 26th of July came around… I scrambled to pack all the rest of my belongings. Squash everything into my suitcases… and still go say goodbye to all my favorite people in the hospital yet. I felt so much love from everyone… I went around the unit to say goodbye on my last day and got hugs from absolutely everyone… my emotional reservoir was completely refilled from all that!!!

So when I left in the evening… it was on a peaceful note. I thought I’d be very teary and ridiculously emotional but I wasn’t. I think it would be harder if I knew I wasn’t coming back. But I know that hopefully, most likely, if everything goes according to plan, I’ll be back in 6-8 weeks… and I’ll be seeing everyone again. Now I get to look forward to seeing my family and focus on them for a while!!! So this temporary goodbye really isn’t so bad. I had a beautiful last week in Saudi Arabia to remind me how much I love it here and all the absolutely incredible people the people in my life here… so we part briefly on good terms.


Saying goodbye to my first ever home away from home. It’s kind of a big deal actually!! I’m gonna miss it!!!

Anyways… That’s it for now… More to come on my thoughts on a full year in Saudi and the future!!

Thanks for following!!!

xx

Bits n Pieces of Sandpit Shenanigans

So… I’m back home in Saudi… settling into the routine again. Missing my family. Working. Sneaking coffees in the morning at Dr. Cafe… Their caramel macchiato double espresso is AMAZING!!! Excellent morning kick!

image I had such bad jetlag for the first couple weeks after my return… exhausted and asleep by 6-7pm… and then wide awake at 3-4 am. After a few days like this, I decided I might as well be productive since I was awake so early… so I started hitting the gym. I never was a morning exerciser… but this jetlag has proved to be good for one thing… turning me into one of those crazy people who wake up earlier than necessary to get in a good workout before work! And it’s great!! I feel so much more energetic all day long!!

Plus I get to see some beautiful sunrises!!!!

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So, life in Saudi Arabia can get dull and depressing pretty quickly if you don’t have fun events to go to… or good people to hang out with. Fortunately for me, I have wonderful groups of friends here and my weekends are generally packed with multiple events, whether it be an embassy party, or a house party, or a compound party. And generally they’re nothing crazy, just a good chance to hang out with friends and maybe dance a little, eat some dinner, network and have a good time.

There’s regular weekend activities like hockey games on Friday afternoons… running clubs… triathlon clubs… salsa lessons… and a whole host of other activities to keep me occupied. (I don’t do all of the above… but I do do some of them…)

Like playing hockey with this great group of friends… a regular Friday afternoon… a bunch of Canadians and friends trying to cope with the lack of a proper hockey rink… The games are often highly competitive… but we don’t have rules… and we just play for fun… and it’s always a LOT of fun!!!

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Shortly after I returned to Saudi, I joined a bunch of friends for a 50s themed party… and also said goodbye to one of our good friends… a fellow Dutchie… the only other Dutchie I know in Riyadh actually. I am going to miss this guy and his hockey coaching skills… he always really pushed me to get in there and be more aggressive in our hockey games! Such a fun night though!!!! Laughter, good music and dancing… and just great friends all around!!!!

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Above: note the really cool light effects… due to yet another sandstorm!!

I feel rejuvinated and rested… but my soul feels the shock of working in Saudi Arabia so much more now than I did before!!! Some days it is so hard to work here in this hospital… I miss my job at home!!!!!! I miss the team of brilliant nurses and doctors, the whole interdisciplinary team actually, who absolutely love what they do and do it so well with such love and passion and compassion!!

But there are days in Saudi where I have some beautiful interaction with a patient or with my colleagues, and it fills my soul and reminds me that I have a mission here… and I really am right where I’m meant to be at the moment. Or we just laugh because I do something ridiculous… or something like that.

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(Staying safe during chemotherapy administration…)

A good way to prevent the homesickness is to constantly surround yourself with good people… which is what I did… as much as possible after returning to Saudi Arabia. Like with these lovely ladies… having a good time at a British Compound… obviously from the “British” phone booth…

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Brunch at the Ritz-Carlton with a few of my favorite ladies on a beautiful Saturday morning…

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Above: Glitzy Miu Miu sneakers on point… (retrieved them on my last trip home!!)

Rugby finals at Salwa with a bunch of the gals from Radiation Clinic… drinks in the sunshine… friendly rivalry… I should probably learn a bit more about how rugby works if I plan on going to watch the Rugby 7s in Dubai next November!!!!!

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imageimageimageimage(In the picture above… I was so excited to see petunias and plants everywhere actually at Salwa!!! Saudi Spring!!!! As the daughter of a greenhouse owner, and someone who has spent years of her life working in a greenhouse… it made me so happy to see these beautiful plants!!!)

Anyways… so in more bits and pieces… It rained a couple times in the spring… And when it did… it smells so bad. Like wet dog everywhere… and the smell of dust and dirt is so strong in the air. But if we got a good enough rain, the next day it would be pretty fresh! But… I’m not complaining because as a “wet coast” girl… I do love the rain and it’s one thing I really miss being away from home!!! I will never complain about excessive rain in British Columbia again!!!

imageAnd then… there was St. Patty’s day celebrations… which were nothing like St. Paddy’s day at all… aside from the bit of green that people wore… and maybe a few decorations… but no beer… and def no green beer… but it was an excuse to get together and have a good time!!

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So that’s just a bit of what I got up to while waiting to go on my next bit of leave… just typical weekends and Saudi days… #Riyadh life right?!

Honestly though… the days just fly by out here in a  blur of 44+ hour work weeks… trying to stay fit and healthy and maintain your sanity… and weekends that are always filled with parties and events and very little relaxation time. Because if you sit down and relax and don’t have anything to do… it’s very easy to get very homesick and fall into a bit of a funk quite quickly. So we stay busy and time flies!!!

 

First Diplomatic Quarters Walk About

October 11, 2014

Tonight, I went for my first walk about in the Diplomatic Quarters. I can’t believe I’ve been in Riyadh for well over a month… and living so close to these beautiful walking trails.

I knew they existed… but wasn’t sure exactly how to access them once in the Diplomatic Quarters. So… a friend invited myself and Vivian along to go for an evening walk in the DQ and to introduce us to the trails.

I should probably explain a bit about the DQ before I carry on further… The Diplomatic Quarters are basically like a little city/town inside the big city of Riyadh. It is were the vast majority of embassies are located as well as housing for embassy staff and some other priviledged individuals. I’ve also heard rumors that eventually there will be a hospital located inside the DQ also! It is quite a desirable place for many people to live, as it is a bit of a free zone… there are less restrictions. Men and women can socialize in public. Women aren’t required to wear abayas. There are some coffee shops and restaurants and a grocery store…  Even a Starbucks!!! Plenty of green space and parks. And it is all surrounded by a fairly high wall/barrier.  And along the perimeter of the DQ, the are a bunch of trails you can run… some are fairly flat… some are really quite hilly with treacherous dips and pot holes that are ideal for twisting an ankle… or for seriously strengthening your ankles and just generally improving your fitness!! Anyways… here’s a map… me and the DQ… pretty close… pretty awesome!!

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So… going  back to my first run/walk along the trails in the DQ. It was a beautiful balmy evening… not too hot… but very comfortable. Dark. Because the sun sets so early here now!!

We started out by Starbucks, and walked down the road… across an empty lot… and over another road to the beginning of a trail (not sure if I’ll ever find it again on my own)

Anyways. I was a really nice walk!!! Too dark to get many pictures of it all… but someday soon I’ll walk it in the daytime to give you a better idea of what it’s like!

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It’s also wonderful that this is a bit of a free zone so we can go abaya-less and not worry about getting in any sort of trouble… relatively speaking anyways.

We perched ourselves on the top of a rock wall that lines the barrier wall at one point… and has an beautiful view overlooking the city skyline and some princes home. Apparently.

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So… loved my first walk in the DQ!!! Great company… good to get outside in the “fresh” air…

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Since this post is written extremely retrospectively (it’s now the beginning of December)… I’ve actually joined a running group… a few girls… and we go run in the DQ several times a week along various paths… It’s absolutely a wonderful way to destress after a day at work… the fresh air is so good for us… and it’s great cardio running up and down the somewhat hilly terrain of the paths surrounding the DQ.  Plus the girls are absolutely wonderful and the encouragement and support we give each other as we go along is amazing!!!

Also… the temperatures are gorgeous now for running out-doors… I’m already dreading the day when it gets so hot that running outside is impossible… regardless of the time of day!

But… that’s a ways off yet!! Thankfully.

Anyways… More to come… a whole lot more!

Xo

Annemarie

Typical Girls Nights Out…

September 24, 2014

Marhaba…

I apologize for the lateness of these posts (It is already November as I’m writing this…) I’m struggling to get this blog completely up to date… but I think I’m making some headway…

On a side note… since it is November 15th as I write this… I’m listening to Spotify radio and it is amazing!!! I was finally able to download and activate my account… So I have good tunes while I blog! Yay!!!

Anyways… so this post is just another newsy-this-is-what-i-did-on-September-24-post…

Shopping… it’s a favorite past-time of almost all women anywhere in the world… but I think in Saudi women probably shop infinitely more than any other women in the world. For starters, there are huge shopping centers on nearly every corner… and then there’s really not that much that women can easily do here in Saudi, so they shop.

Sarah and I went to Kingdom Center to go shopping… nothing but beautiful shoes and handbags in mind…but as neither of us had had dinner yet and as it was nearly prayer time and all the shops would shut down… we decided to check out Elements at the Four Seasons Hotel (which is located in Kingdom Center) and have dinner while we waited for everything to open up again.

What we didn’t realize, is that Elements is a really really great buffet and we’d spend the entire evening eating and hanging out at the restaurant rather than getting much shopping done!!

Elements is an international cuisine buffet… it’s gorgeous and the food is amazing… especially the “puddings” as my aussie and kiwi friends say. (The desserts… as the rest of the world says…) We may have absolutely stuffed our faces on sushi, indian food, saudi food, salads, and fabulous deserts…

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So much absolutely delicious food, although my sweet tooth probably seriously favored the desert buffet!!

And check this out… beautiful flower arrangements and chandelier in the lobby of the restaurant. Beautiful… extravagant… amazing!!image

Anyways… After much food… many laughs and absolutely wonderful conversation, Sarah and I left the restaurant to go shopping for a little bit… but not before we sampled some delicious Saudi coffee and dates… and got a photo of the coffee guy in his traditional attire!!

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(May I just insert in here that I am so extremely happy to have made a friend like Sarah!! We’re both Canadian, both work in very similar fields of nursing and are extremely passionate about we do! We have similar life experiences that have led us to be here. And although we are hugely different in some cultural/religious aspects, we share so many similar values and beliefs… and I am so blessed to have made a friend like her… right from the beginning of my time here in Saudi! And to share all these new and exciting experiences with someone else who is also new and supremely enthusiastic about it all… it’s wonderful!)

So… carrying on… Kingdom Center has a ladies floor!! The best part about this shopping center for sure. It is on the top floor of the mall, staffed by only women, and only women are allowed on the 3rd floor! The shops all have dressing rooms… truly wonderful!!! And there are some fabulous shops… such as Saks Fifth Avenue and such…

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On the 2nd floor… there are a great number of wonderful shops also that I only dream of being able to actually afford to shop at… like Christian Louboutin, Chanel, etc…

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So for now I’ll just pose with a pair of Loubs that maybe someday, I’ll own… Inshallah.

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And that is the end of our wonderful evening of fabulous food and even more fantastic company…

So Masalama for now