The Edge of the World

March 2016

Back in Riyadh again…

The Edge of the World… one of the major “tourist”attractions near Riyadh… a must see for any expat in Saudi Arabia. Check out Blue Abaya’s Guide to the Edge of the World as well… http://www.blueabaya.com/2012/08/guide-to-edge-of-world.html

Not too far outside Riyadh, the Tuwaiq escarpment drops away to nothing but hazy desert for miles and miles as far as one can see. The cliffs are magnificent and terrifying… but so breathtakingly beautiful.

We rode out across the desert in strong, sturdy 4×4 vehicles… across soft sand and rocky desert… through a small flat plain with scrabbly bushes and many camels…

…Up steep hills to the top of the escarpment.

The world just seemed to drop away. It did really seem like the “Edge of the World!”

In the bright sunlight, (thank goodness for the cool breeze!),  we climbed up loose rock covered hills, and down another steep rocky hill and over to a narrow point, protruding far above the desert floor below…

Heart pounding I stepped out onto the mandatory precipice for a quick photo… hoping the unruly wind wouldn’t suddenly push against me, as I felt quite feeble and insignificant so high up there on that rocky ledge…

A friend climbed up to a small cave at the top of an even higher rock formation… and dropped his sunglasses. We watched them free fall for what seemed like hours until they disappeared from view and smashed at the bottom of the cliff…

Ummm yeah… now I’ll definitely be even more cautious around that edge!!! :/

It was absolutely worth the bit of anxiety climbing over the rocks and standing on those rock Ledges… the view was just so stunning…

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So, If you’re not living in Saudi Arabia or have never had the chance to live in Saudi Arabia… I hope you do get the chance to go and visit this beautiful country  and experience its culture and unique natural beauty for yourself someday!

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…

Running (in) Riyadh

I think I’ve run more in Riyadh than I’ve ever run in my life.

Year 1 was good for me. But not that good. I joined a running club, but missed the majority of the Friday morning races as my Thursday nights were usually busy and a little too entertainment filled for me to get up early on a Friday morning and run. However… Did manage to win the 10km race series in my category as somehow they were the only races I actually made it to!

Year 2 in Saudi… I was determined to run more and party less. And it started off really well. (And I’m proud to say that 5 months later… its better than ever!) I’ve only missed a few Friday morning runs and one was due to Christmas, the other 3 Fridays I missed I was out of the country.

My first race back was a 10mile race (of which I only ran half) but it was a fundraiser for an awareness project I’d become involved in shortly after arriving back in Riyadh called 10KSA… an organization devoted to promoting health and wellness in Saudi and around the world. Our first event was to be a breast cancer awareness event, and part of that was collaborating with a running group in Riyadh to raise money and gain support for the organization and event.

We ran at a venue I’d never run at before… there were more hills than usual… and steeper… but the view from the top of the hills over the farm was incredible! It was a good distance outside the city with a great mix of date palm forest and hilly/rugged/rocky terrain to run through… making it really great scenery to pass the time!

And… the best part was reconnecting with friends from the running group/making new friends… I love the social aspect of it and talking times/training plans, etc with people who share similar passions and goals when it comes to running and fitness. And although the club has some intensely competitive members, there are people there who are not nearly so fit but yet push themselves to finish even some very challenging runs, not just the short runs! And everyone is so supportive of each other too.

One day… a month or so after I returned to Saudi, there was a significant rainstorm and there was a lot of water hanging around in the low areas… We went for a run one morning to the DQ around the wadi… but found out quite quickly that getting down into the date palm forest on our usual trail would be a challenge as it was all flooded!! We all ended up getting a little muddy… but to be honest… it was pretty cool because it’s rarely damp/muddy in Riyadh, just dry and dusty! And… we found a poor little turtle on a dry spot of the road… so we put him back in the mud to find his way to a little pond…

I forgot how much I love waking up early on a Friday morning to run in the fresh fall/winter air (which in Riyadh is a cool 10ish degrees, maybe slightly more…) to run, and get a good endorphin high first thing in the morning… to feel productive and accomplished and good about myself… and to get outside in nature too rather than being sluggish indoors all day like I would otherwise…

Over the last few months in Riyadh, I’ve had a variety of amazing runs throughout Riyadh… sometimes races at compounds… sometimes in the Diplomatic Quarters (most often actually!). There have been rainy runs… foggy morning runs… a lot of sunny runs (like the time I got sunburnt in November??!!)… trail runs or road runs… and super fresh clean and green runs after recent rainfalls that turn the DQ into a big of a green/flowery paradise actually… a lovely contrast to the drab/dusty brown scene it usually is…

When I think back, I’ve just had so many runs with so many good people! Especially my regular running crew, the running lemons. Unfortunately over the last year or so we’ve lost valuable team members as they moved out of Saudi and on to new adventures… but we’ve also gained some new lemons…. and I gained a new and fabulous training partner/running buddy/amazing friend… and… showed some new friends the great trails through the DQ!

So… I love a good run thats me… solo… thinking life through… but even more… I love the people in my running community and in running communities around the world!!

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

 Conflicted

This post has been sitting in my draft box for a long time… and I think it’s about time I shared it.

All my life I’ve generally had very clearly defined goals and dreams and hopes… I’ve always known what I wanted to do next in my life. Until I spent a year in Saudi Arabia, and then returned home for a few months… and then had to decide what I was going to do next. And then I realized that for the first time in my life, I didn’t have a clear plan or real goals on what I wanted to do next in life.

I didn’t feel like I’d finished the last chapter in my life… but I wasn’t sure I wanted to continue that chapter anyways?!

The first time I planned to leave Canada… my family… my home… and go to Saudi Arabia, I was desperately in need of a change, a getaway, an adventure. It was my first time living away from home and family… and I was so excited to see what the opportunity would bring me!! Leaving them the first time was difficult, but I had so much to look forward to that it wasn’t nearly as hard as I thought.

When I came back home on leave last February, I was just so happy to see them all… and I loved every minute of being home. With the exception of the times I cried just thinking of leaving them all again. It was much harder leaving that second time. Knowing exactly what I was going back to… not filled with quite as much excitement knowing some of the difficulties I’d have to deal with back in Saudi. And knowing exactly what I was leaving behind.

Well now, I’m home again. I’ve been home for a good month. And I’ve just been clinging onto my family for dear life. My niece has grown up to a vivacious little 2 year old who lights up my life with her laughter and chatter… I hug her and think of how I don’t know if I can even imagine being separated from her again. I snuggle my new niece and she’s such a tiny precious little bundle… and I think of how she’ll be a whole year old by the time I’d return again to Canada, and how I’ll miss the entire baby phase of her life and it devastating!

My sister and I were so close the year, and especially the summer before I moved to Saudi for the first time. But now… having been gone a year… she’s busy with her home and kids and life in general… and I feel things have changed. With all my family actually. And especially with my friends. Their lives all carry on and move on while I’m gone… nothing stays the same. They’ve changed. I’ve changed. Or maybe they’ve not changed that much it’s just me that’s changed so much??  Some things are exactly the same but so much is different… or my perspective on it is different.

And that makes staying harder. I just feel lost a lot of days… not sure where I fit in, or what my role is, or what I’m even going to do anymore.

Fortunately, I’m not the only one who felt that way on returning home! One of my colleagues from home who moved to Saudi Arabia for a year also, and returned only a few weeks after me, was feeling very much the same way when she returned. There’s something about travel and having a completely incomparable, indescribable experience like living in Saudi Arabia that changes you in ways that other people will never understand… that makes assimilating back into life in North America, in our home communities, with the people we love more than anything… very difficult!

People ask about our experiences and want to know what life is like there, but it’s so completely foreign that they start to fade and glaze over before you’ve gotten more than a minute or two into the “general speech” you give everyone who asks. The have no way to relate to it at all. They can’t even begin to imagine why we even lived there in the first place or why I’d want to go back to it. I talk about my frustrations but they seem so simple, but yet they’re so complex. I talk about the fun and the parties, but again it’s completely foreign to them.

So now, there’s this entire year of my life that is so important to me, that’s changed me so much as a person, that no one at home understands. And that’s a difficult thing. So how do I fit back into normal life now?!!

Do I want to fit back into normal life or do I want to return to my Saudi life?

I think of my friends in Saudi and all the amazing experiences I had in that first year. Unique experiences. Incredibly positive experiences… and incredibly negative experiences… and a whole lot of crazy in between. With people who understand what it’s like. And I think of all the things I’d planned to do yet… and I feel that I’m not done. I’ll always feel like I left something unfinished there. I didn’t even say goodbye to everyone. Not like I meant it anyways. It was just a goodbye see you in month or two sort of thing!!!

But then I think of how much more I love my family and hate to leave them. And I’m so conflicted. I just really really don’t know what to do.

Travel? Adventure? Carry on crazy awesome life experience? Advance my career? Expand my incredible international community of friends and connections?

OR…

Family? Home? Mountains? Rivers? Oceans? Green lush gorgeousness? Active outdoorsy beautiful natural life? Freedom? A glass of wine every evening? Surround myself with the people I care most about in the whole world? The things in life that really matter at the end of the day?

It could be said that I’m having a lot of that in Saudi as well… and that some of those things could keep til I return to Canada… but we never know when our time is up or whether we will get a chance to return right? Nothing in life is certain or forever…

What to do now??

October 21, 2015

I made my decision. In a moment of weakness on a nightshift, my new contract offer had come in days before and had just been sitting in my inbox while I attempted to make a decision… and while I was tired and my defences were down, I made the leap and signed the papers. So on October 21st, 2015 I left home and headed back to the sandbox. Crazy fact is that I signed for 2 years instead of just one this time around. Don’t know exactly what I was thinking… but we’ll see how this scenario plays out.

My family didn’t think I’d actually make it on the plane to head back to Saudi… I didn’t think I would either. So I got the hospital to include a 24hr stop in Minneapolis so I could visit my best friend. That way I’d actually manage to get on the plane!

But… I strongly felt that Saudi was calling me to come back. At the time I didn’t know what it was yet… but something was calling me. There was a reason I needed to return to Saudi Arabia. A reason greater than travel and life experience and my international community of friends.

And as I write this bit… I now know what that reason was… and it’s amazing and I can’t wait to share it so I’m mad updating the blog! Stay tuuuuunnned!!!

 

Fall Days… So Idyllic

I love typical fall days. I don’t care if they’re over-instagrammed or over hash-tagged or considered “typical white girl” activites and such… I love the gentle bite the air has in the fall… the crispy leaves that crackle when I walk on them… all the vivid colours on display… watching the leaves change color… the sky more blue than usual… the misty mornings… walks by the river with a girlfriend while we drink a pumpkin-spice latte from Starbucks and our boots crunch through the leaves… or… apple picking at the Apple Barn with my sister and nieces.

I didn’t get fall last year as I was living in Saudi Arabia throughout the entire fall of 2014. And fall in Saudi Arabia reminds me of spring at home. Really. It’s bizarre. It cools down. The air is fresher. And everything blooms!!! There’s fresh flowers blooming everywhere and the gardeners plant petunias and pansy’s and marigolds and verbena and all the flowers my daddy sells in the springtime at home!! The grass is new and bright green and the trees grow new leaves… That’s nothing like fall at home!

So I really appreciated having extra time at home during the fall this year! And I did every typical fall activity I could!!!

A river walk in the sunshine with Pumpkin-spice lattes with a good friend from nursing school…

Word & Deed baseball tournament… I helped babysit the kids with my sister (hand/eye coordination when it comes to a ball and bat is absolutely shit! :S) But we helped cheer on everyone we love!

And one of my favourite days of the whole time I was home… a trip to the Apple Barn with my sister and nieces to take the girls apple picking! The Apple Barn is actually an apple orchard, petting zoo, pumpkin patch, and playground for kiddos… it’s a lot of fun with little ones!!!

We started our visit to the orchard with a hay wagon ride through the orchard…

We spent a little time apple picking (but it’s so much more convenient to go pick up a bag or three of apples from the apple barn shop than pick them all… plus my niece wasn’t terribly interested in picking apples.)

She was a lot more keen to bounce around on the kangaroo cushion (as were my sister and I :P)

We stopped at the petting zoo to see the bunnies and goats and even a donkey and a turkey!!

Climbed on the pumpkin truck… and the old red tractor… sipping on apple cider slushies. I really can’t think of a more idyllic way to spend a random mid-week fall day!

There’s one more fall day that was really special to me… but that was the day before I moved to Saudi Arabia… so I’ll save that for another post…

Looking back now… I’m sitting here on my couch in Saudi Arabia thinking… and wondering… why am I back in Saudi Arabia and not with these people I love more than anything in the world?? But I had a purpose… a reason for returning… and that’s coming up in a post soon…

So that’s all for right now…

A.

Climbing Mountains

Sometime in September 2015

Hiking… seriously the most significantly challenging workout out there! Well… maybe an exaggeration. But nothing tests your heart strength and health and your endurance like a proper hike!

I’d done a couple little hikes with my little brother and my sisters… but they don’t really count as a proper hike. Get’s your heart rate up no doubt, but we were hiking Teapot hill… which is definitely uphill but there’s only one significantly steep hill that gets your heart freaking out. It’s a lovely 45minute walk/hike that gets out you outdoors in nature and in the forest though. And it’s a nice start to a weekend morning.. followed by breakfast somewhere.. like Cookie’s grill! My sisters and I did that one morning and it was great!!

After nearly 2.5 months of vacationing with not nearly as much intensely physical activity as I’d hoped… my heart and the rest of me, was a little out of shape.

I learned this when I hiked Elk Mountain with my aunt and uncle one day. For the first time in a very long time, I nearly felt like vomiting while doing physical exercise!!! I was short of breath and huffing and puffing like the big bad wolf (accept I’m not so big and bad although I sure had the huffing and puffing down pat) after only a few minutes into the hike. By the time we’d been hiking at a pretty decent pace and up a rather significant incline for about 20-30 minutes I was just praying we were nearly at the top because my vision was starting to blur and I thought my chest was going to explode my heart was beating so fast… and then the nausea started… and I seriously regretted the weeks of slothing on the couch at my moms house or my sisters house!!

Of course, this is slightly dramatized… but it was pretty miserable for a bit. Worse for that fact that my aunt and uncle were kicking my butt… and they’ve got a couple years on me… we won’t say how many cuz it doesn’t matter cuz they’re probably one of the fittest couples I know!

Anyways… as miserable as hiking can be when you’re not in particularly good shape… I know why people love it. The views. The views are absolutely worth the pain and suffering you go through to get the view. And obviously if one stays fit enough and hikes more regularly… it’s not so painful and the payoff is just incredible!!! Not just physical health like heart health, increased endurance and strength, but also better mental and emotional health because the mountains and forests are absolutely so serene and peaceful and calming… and who doesn’t love a good endorphin rush??!!!

So now lets talk about the view… actually let me just show you some pictures!

IMG_1034IMG_1030IMG_1055(Cultus lake in the background in the picture directly above… the cloest lake to my home for watersports 🙂 )

The hike to the first major lookout point took about 45minutes to an hour… it was intense but the view from that lookout was breathtaking! (literally I was breathless. hahahaha).

It was a bit of a cool and misty start that day… but it warmed up quickly when we were out of the tree cover and out in the open sunlight… it was early fall and leaves were starting to change colours…especially the berry bushes on the side of the tree whose leaves turned the most beautiful burgundy red colour! The sky was so blue with just a little haze in the distance. We could see the rivers running through the valley below and layers and mountains shielding the valley…

We decided to carry on though through a little meadow and then over the ridge-line that led to another mountain peak and lookout. That ridge-line was amazing as it was so much more open and the view was gorgeous the whole way! As much as I love the serenity of walking through the trees… it’s amazing to be out in the open with a view too!

It was such a beautiful day…. I wish I had time to repeat it… but my time at home was coming to an end and within a week or two I’d be headed back to the desert. My one major regret: not spending more time hiking while I was home! Oh well.. something to look forward to when I get back home I guess!!! And I love spending the time with my aunt and uncle… they’re amazing people and what better way to spend a day with family?!!