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…

3 States, 2 Provinces. Roadtrip!!!

Just an itty bitty roadtrip. A last minute decision.

Destination: Montana! To visit a favorite aunt and cousins!!

3pm Wednesday afternoon… I decided I was definitely going. (Sister dearest had the wee one early so I could take off without worrying I’d miss the big “birth”day!) Got my car ready all by myself… I checked my oil… independently (yes this is a big deal for me!)… topped up my washer fluid… checked my coolant levels and gave my tires a good kick to make sure they were the right pressure… and at 5pm I set off… Spokane was my goal for the night.

The border guard asked me why I was going all that way on my own. Well… one pretty legit reason… I haven’t driven in a year… and I LOVE to drive… especially at relatively fast and crazy speeds…I need to make up for all that lost time in Saudi Arabia when I couldn’t drive!

Plus… I love to drive and sing my heart out in the car with my music just cranked… it’s generally a private mini dance party in my car… And… It’s fantastic thinking time!!! (Which can be a good or bad thing… depending on ones mood and all the stuff one has to process and think about!)

I probably thought just WAY too much about what I was gonna do about Saudi. Should I stay or should I go? I want to go but I love my family and especially adore my two nieces… how am I ever ever going to leave them again?!!! By the time I got to Spokane… I had absolutely no clue anymore what I was going to do anymore!!!

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But… a good glass of wine at the hotel bar always makes everything better 🙂

The next morning… I got up an walked around downtown Spokane which for the record is a really quaint little city!!! Found an amazing coffee shop with a “To Kill a Mocking Bird” theme… bought a new book to read and sat there sipping a latte in absolute peace and relaxation because I had nowhere to be in a hurry.

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IMG_2742Around noon, I left Spokane… to drive through the mountains of Idaho… and up the winding roads of Montanas national parks to Columbia Falls area where an old friend was vacationing with his family (forgot about time change so I ended up being an hour later than planned. Ooops).

Had din dins and a really great catch up with them… and then when it was dark… decided that it would be a good time to leave and drive through twisty mountain roads, super sketchy towns on the reserve… and across the jumping deer filled prairies. (Probably not the most brilliant idea I’ve ever had.) But, I made it safely to my aunt’s house by midnight… the 3 hour darkness drive wasn’t so bad!

The next 4 days were filled with cousin time… an afternoon on the lake… watched a big storm roll in and then roll past while we sat on the dock enjoying a drink and the bit of rain that fell while we waited for it to pass… and then we put in the boat in the water (with the help of some helpful fishermen)… and we just cruised and relaxed on the gently rocking boat… soaked up sun… and then attempted to get the boat back on the trailer… without the assistance of any men… we did it. Crookedly. But it worked 🙂

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Went to Great Falls… wandered the mall… might have found a shop with a ridiculous cat mask that I tried on… watched Vacation which was hilarious… and stuffed ourselves with sushi.

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Oh and my cousins dog had puppies. 7 wriggly little sweet things!!!! IMG_2826IMG_2831

Nothing crazy. Played with the adorable little monster who is my cousins little boy… Enjoyed some great coffee and wine and an amazing pork roast!! It was such a lovely time!!

I haven’t really chatted or hung out with these cousins in a good 2 years and I’ve missed them!!!!! My favourite night with them was definitely the night we soaked in the hot tub, watching the sun set over the gorgeous bit of river running beside my aunt’s place… boys, music, tequila, life, religion talk in the hot tub. It was so awesome! I love these wonderful women!!!! So blessed to call them family!!

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IMG_2899And then… when Monday morning rolled around… it was raining… and I left Montana… this time heading up into Alberta to drive through Canada vs the USA for the drive back home to the Fraser Valley.

I stopped in Lethbridge to say hi to more friends, and then spent the night at my aunt and uncle’s house in  Picture Butte. I also haven’t seen them in ages. And they’re really relatively close to my age… only maybe 8-10 years older… so it was really great to sit and chat with them… played a highly entertaining “farming game” and honestly just thoroughly enjoyed the evening!

Next morning… baby visit to my cousin who happened to give birth to an adorable wee girl on the same time my sister gave birth to my second niece!

IMG_2931And then… off to Calgary! One of my favorite cities in Canada!! So happy that one of my dearest friends from my previous job happened to be there that week so we met up and had a brilliant walk along the bow river with her precious little bubba… so wonderful to catch up with her. She’s always an absolute darling!!!!!

IMG_2941 IMG_2935 And finally, later that afternoon, I rocked out of Calgary… and zoom zoomed myself home… knocking a good 1.5hours off the 9 hours it should have taken me!! 😀 Even with a brief stop in Banff National Park to take in this absolutely stunning view!!! Is there anyplace in the world more gorgeous than in the Rocky Mountains?!!

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So… roughly 3000km, 6 days… probably 6 tanks of gas too (and prices are definitely NOT like Saudi oil prices here)… zero speeding tickets (although I definitely deserved a few!!!)… I completed my whirlwind roatrip.

It’s probably a little mind boggling for people living outside of North America to imagine what it’s like. But honestly… the gorgeous scenery along the way. It’s amazing!! I kind of wish I’d not done quite so much night driving… but then I would have been stuck in traffic all the time and the frustration of that would have significantly detracted from the beauty of the drive!!!

But it’s amazing thinking time. I needed it.

And it’s so free. For a western woman living in Saudi Arabia for a year. A woman who has been driving for 10 years… nearly every day. It’s been hard. And so I appreciate the ability to freely drive 3000 km like never before!!!!!

And… getting to visit so many family members that I haven’t seen in far too long… definitely the best part of the whole trip!!!

The End… or is it?

July 26, 2015

I sat in King Khalid International Airport… for the last time?! Noooooo….

After days of not working… waiting for Ramadan, Eid and everything to finish so I could sort out the last of my paperwork… I finally was ready to go. The stress of the last couple months has been incredible… worrying about when and if I would actually be able to leave and go home. And then once all the paperwork was complete, the tears I shed while trying to find a flight and get the hospital to sign off on the ridiculous amount of money it was going to take to get me home…

But in the end it all worked out… like it always does. It just takes a little faith… or a lot!

I am beyond blessed to have spent a year in Saudi Arabia, working with some extremely wonderful nurses and patients. I’ve learned things and grown as a nurse, an individual… I’ve seen things that blew my mind and opened my eyes… I’ve had experiences I never dreamed I’d have.. It’s been a crazy, hectic, stunningly brilliant year.

Since I was stuck in Saudi Arabia for a good week + longer than planned, I had the priviledge of going to a good friend’s birthday party. It was probably the best night I’ve had in Saudi!!!! The vast majority of my closest friends all gathered together… Hawaiian themed… a DJ… and lights and laughter and sparkles and happiness. My heart was filled to bursting by the end of the night!!! (See pics in previous post).

Sometimes I just really can’t believe how lucky I’ve been here… the relationships I’ve built. They are going to be so special to me for the rest of my life. Without a doubt!! I know I’ve said it before… but nights like that night remind me of it again… the relationships we build here are so intense. The friendships you form last a lifetime. You meet people you have so much in common with… people who love adventure and travel and are experiencing this incredibly unique experience with you. Being away from family you really cling to these people… the good ones… the genuine ones… the fun ones… Someone you just met a few days ago could so quickly become one of the closest friends you’ve ever had!!

My last night in Saudi I could hardly sleep I was so excited/anxious/just generally ready to get going back home!!!

Sunday… my last day in Saudi… spent frantically rushing around the hospital grounds… cramming stuff into suitcases and boxes because I’m an epic procrastinator… but I got it all done. I even spent some time on my unit saying hello and goodbye to everyone. Pretty sure I hugged nearly the entire department. It was so good for my soul. All those hugs… all the love…. !! Then when Sunday evening came around and my driver arrived, I had actually been ready to leave for a good half an hour already!! I said goodbye to my flatmate… and my very first home away from home… and off I went to the airport.

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As I sat in the airport, I heard the last prayer call of the day over the speakers… resounding throughout the vast spaces of the terminal. It suddenly struck me that this would be the last prayer call I’d hear for a long time! As frustrating as it can be, planning my life around prayer time, making sure I’m not stuck at a mall during prayer, or showing up at a restaurant during prayer time when everything is closed, going for coffee at work only to find when I get to the coffee shop that it’s closed for half an hour for prayer… I really do love the sound of the prayer calls… the diligence and devotion of the Saudi Arabian people to their God and their religion…


So… I am incredibly sad to be leaving Saudi Arabia right now. I’ve fallen in love with Riyadh, with the people of Saudi, the culture, the country in general… and then the entire expat community… I love this place and the people!!!!

But… in 24 short hours I’ll be reuinted with my real family. And I am ecstatic!!!!!! It’s been such a long nearly 6 months away from them all. My niece is 2 now and she is SO grown up!!! I can’t wait to see her and hug her and play games with her… Go on dates with my baby brother… go to my brothers wedding and welcome a beautiful new sister into the family… spend time with my parents… I’ve missed chatting/arguing/debating with them… and especially… to be home with my sister when she has baby #2…!!! And then of course… all the outdoorsy stuff I don’t get to do in Saudi Arabia… like run by the river, go on long hikes in the mountains, rollerblade down the road, bike on the dike, wakeboard and spend days at the lake swimming and relaxing on the boat in the sunshine…  It’s going to be absolutely brilliant!!!!

Follow along as I spend some time at home… before signing a new contract and heading back to the sandpit to my Saudi family. Because I’m so not even close to being done with Saudi Arabia yet!!!!

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

Eid Mubarak

My sincerest apologies that this is a little late… I have a really bad habit of starting a post and leaving it in my draft box…

So I actually began this on the first day of Eid… And Eid is over now… But…

Eid Mubarak to all my Muslim friends around the world! I hope you had a blessed Ramadan and had a blessed Eid al-Fitr!  

It’s 3am in Riyadh right now and I’m wide awake, sitting in the blissful warmth outdoors, letting it bake into my bones… Listening to gentle water movements from the pool… And all I feel is gratefulness.

Earlier today I was so upset with Saudi Arabia… I felt like nothing was going right all day and all the little frustrations built up to a point where I was just raging!

But a couple hours later… A beautiful dinner with friends at a gorgeous gem of a hidden Riyadh restaurant… Several very intense games of mafia… A lot of laughter… And my mood completely reversed!

How much you enjoy life in Riyadh is absolutely all about the company you place yourself in and the people you surround yourself with. I am so blessed to have a multinational and multicultural group of friends who I’ve shared some incredible experiences with!!  Dinner conversations are stimulating and thought provoking… And filled with laughter and fun and completely trivial discussions as well! They open my mind to new ways of thinking… To new opinions and beliefs… They’ve helped me to grow as an individual in so many ways!

And as far as religion goes… Ramadan has officially come to an end. The last month has been filled with many discussions about Islam and the purpose of Ramadan… I’ve learned so much!!! For those of you who don’t know, I’ll include a couple links to sites with more information about Ramadan… but briefly: Ramadan is the 9th month of the lunar calender and a month of fasting for Muslims around the world. Ramadan begins on the first sighting of the new moon, and ends 30 days later with the next sighting of the crescent moon. So as you can imagine the crescent moon is hugely symbolic of Ramadan and Eid.

However, Ramadan is not just fasting, it is abstaining from smoking, sex, drinking and from anything excessive or inappropriate. Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset, about 17 hours depending on the time of year and the location one lives in. Pregnant women, the elderly and the very young and the sick are excused from fasting. As a nurse, especially an oncology nurse, we have to check with our patients to ensure they are not fasting. It is a difficult thing to tell them not to fast as we know how important it is for them. However, for patients going through chemotherapy, they’re very sick and need to eat to keep up their energy, and especially they need to drink a lot of water as chemotherapy is very toxic and needs to be flushed from the body!

The purpose of Ramadan and of fasting in general is to cleanse the soul and the mind, focus on God. Fasting (sawm) teaches spirituality, humility and patience. Spiritual rewards for fasting, especially during Ramadan are multiplied. Fasting and restraint from everyday enjoyment and curbing wicked intentions and cravings are considered to show obedience to God, and amend for past sins, and mistakes.

During Ramadan, Muslims request forgiveness from sins and pray for direction and guidance for the future, and try to cleanse themselves through self control, prayer, fasting and acts of faith and charity.

Fasting begins at sunrise and the last meal before fasting begins is called suhoor. The first meal that breaks the fast at sunset is called iftar. Prayers are called salet, and Muslims pray at least the 5 prayers a day if not more. Towards the end of Ramadan in Riyadh, the prayer call goes out much more frequently than usual and prayers last for much longer than usual also.

The mood here during Ramadan is special. Everyone is in vacation/holiday mode.  From friends who have fasted in other places in the world and are now here in Saudi fasting during Ramadan, they say it is actually much easier here than elsewhere. Muslim staff work reduced hours during Ramadan, making life easier for them! Working a 12 hour shift while fasting would not be easy! Especially as many people tend to spend a lot more time sleeping during the day, and are awake a lot more at night, so having to be awake all day to work would be additionally challenging. It is an entire month of the year when families spend a lot of additional time together visiting, sharing meals, etc.

While I did not fast during Ramadan, I had many friends who did, and I had the pleasure of breaking fast with them on more than one occasion… many hotels and restaurants here have large buffets for iftar… like the Ritz-Carlton and the Narcissus Hotel… I enjoyed a few of these meals with my Arabic/Muslim friends or with my Western friends…

Now it is the end of Ramadan, and the Eid celebrations had begun. The mood is so upbeat and happy in Riyadh and around the world. Seeing the Eid al-fitr live feed on snapchat was amazing… But even more than that… Being surrounded by people celebrating Eid… It’s wonderful!

Eid is basically a celebration, and Eid al-Fitr is a feast/festival to celebrate breaking of the fast. It is the first Eid of the year and occurs after Ramadan. The religious Eid is a single day that occurs on the conclusion of 29/30 days of fasting. Special Eid prayers are performed on the day of Eid. But the celebration continues for 3 days in most Arabic countries. Many charitable gifts and donations are given at this time. People celebrate with many dinners and special events with family and friends. It is a happy time of year… and I don’t mean this offensively at all but the it reminds me a lot of Christmas at home!

The city is decorated with hundreds of flags for Eid on all the overpasses on onramps… there are beautiful purple and green and white trees everywhere… lanterns and beautiful cresent moons everywhere for decoration…

And people everywhere wishing you “Eid Mubarak” which is the traditional greeting. Mubarak means blessed and Eid is celebration. So: blessed celebration!

People appreciate it so much when we say Eid Mubarak to them! My friend and I were going to the DQ on Friday afternoon and when we said Eid Mubarak to the guards at the entrance they were so happy and excited, saying Eid Mubarak sisters back to us!

So… I wish peace and happiness, grace and forgiveness to all my Muslim friends around the world, and all my friends actually!! This is a special time of year for Muslims… But it really is a time for peace and respect all around the world. It’s a time for us all to open our eyes and appreciate the different cultures and religions around us…

So Thankyou Saudi for giving me the experience to really experience Ramadan and Eid… For opening my eyes to this beautiful culture…  

Maasalama and More

July 16, 2015

I can’t believe I’m writing these words… my year in Saudi Arabia is nearly complete!!!! A little more than a year ago when I first signed up to come to Saudi, a year seemed like quite a long time and I hesitated to sign for two years… but this year has gone by so fast!!! My last day of work was July 12… a Sunday morning… a very relaxed day in the clinic as it was still Ramadan. I wasn’t on the schedule, so I begged to be able to work in the Oncology floor female treatment area with all my girlfriends. Thankfully the head nurse was very thoughtful and allowed me to.       We had hardly any patients throughout the shift so there was so much time to sit and relax and chit chat… and I’m pretty sure I took a million pictures with all my coworkers in the area… but I love having the photographic evidence of the memories created! I returned a day or two later for a meeting with my head nurse, only to find out that it was really just a “meeting” for them to give me a beautiful bouquet of Thankyou and goodbye flowers. So thoughtful! My first “goodbye” party was a birthday party for a friend… and I had to officially say goodbye to many friends that I wouldn’t be seeing the next weekend at my official goodbye party. One of my closest and dearest friends in Saudi Arabia was leaving on vacation for a week and would be missing my official goodbye party, so I had to say goodbye to her this night… it nearly broke my heart. I realized how many goodbyes I’d be saying over the course of the next few week… some would be permanent goodbyes as those friends would also be leaving saudi for good, and some of the goodbyes were only temporary as I’d be coming back and see them again. But still… there’s that bit of uncertainty as I don’t know for sure when I’m coming back… and what if things didn’t quite work out the way I wanted them too… scary thought!!!!! Anyways… it was honestly the loveliest night filled with laughter and music and good friends… like the majority of Saudi nights actually…                    The very next day was yet another goodbye party… Not for me… But for a few other friends who were leaving… Another pool party 😄 loving this summer weather for all the pool parties!!!     Another day another pool party… with my former colleagues in the Radiation Clinic… We sat out by the pool and had delicious lamb biryani rice… And spent as much time in the water cuz it was ridiculously hot out in the sun!!!    My second and semi-official maasalama party was actually a birthday party for a friend that we had planned ages in advance, because we needed to have something to look forward to. I might have hijacked the party a little and turned it into a maasalama for myself and Vivian, as well as a birthday party. About 50 people showed up for our party… and that’s not even half the good friends I’ve made in Saudi Arabia. Honestly… so blessed!!!!! I have many different friend groups here in Riyadh, and I don’t often hang out with the different groups at the same time, accept at maybe an embassy event… but it always amazes me how many of my friends know each other and how much they all mingle and enjoy meeting each other… It’s awesome!!                At one point I had to say goodbye to the lemons… The running lemons… The loveliest group of girls who I run with… When it’s not 4000 degrees outside!!! A couple of them are leaving and moving out of Saudi for good while I’m away… So it’s an official goodbye to them 😢 we had a great night out at Riyadh village compound one night… And then the famous Bastille day celebrations at the French embassy…

Honestly, m Honestly… My last couple weeks in Saudi were amazing… Thanks to the absolutely gorgeous people I’ve met in my year here!!!!! So…

Challenges, Decisions, Reflection…

July 15, 2015

After nearly a year in Saudi Arabia… it’s time for some reflection. For some serious thought about what to do next. Should I stay or should I go?

I love nursing… with everything that is in me… I can’t imagine what I’d be… or who I’d be if I wasn’t a nurse. I love the medical aspects and the science of nursing… the complexities of the human body and disease processes in the human body…

But mostly… the greatest reason why I went in to nursing was for people. To love people. To nurse them back to health… physical, mental, emotional health. To show them kindness and compassion when they’ve been dealt a heavy blow… a hard lot in life. To talk to them and get to know them and to understand their values and beliefs and how that impacts their illness experience and then to help them get through it!

“When I think about all the patients and their loved ones that I have worked with over the years,  I know most of them don’t remember me nor I them,  but I do know that I gave a little piece of myself  to each of them and they to me and those threads make up the beautiful tapestry that in my mind is my career in nursing.”     -Donna Wilk Cardillo

Working in Saudi Arabia challenges me as a nurse in infinitely more ways than I thought possible. I work with a patient population that rarely speaks the same language as me, a population that has a culture so different from my own, a religion with similarities but yet so many differences from my own.

The language barrier is one of the greatest challenges to me as a nurse. It stops me from being able to get to know my patients the way I’m used to… the way I want to! It stops me from being able to share information with them that could help them cope better with their disease and treatments. Showing kindness and compassion and loving people is something that can be done without words… but it is hard to do without words!!

So many days, I feel like I’m not nursing the way I love to, the way I should be. I’m not functioning in my full capacity. I’m just a fraction of myself as a nurse!

This is my greatest personal challenge.

But… I do my best to communicate caring and compassion… even without words!! In the words of Maya Angelou “They may forget your name but they will never forget how you made them feel.” It’s true. It doesn’t take words to make a patient feel comfortable and cared for!

Then comes the organizational challenges. Working in a hospital culture where nurses are not respected and valued the same way they are in the western world… especially in North American hospitals. Nurses are much further down in the medical hierarchy than doctors here in Saudi. We are not particularly valued. Our knowledge and input is rarely considered. We are pushed to not ask questions or consider all the options and potentially more beneficial scenarios for our patients. A doctor or a more senior staff members instructions should be taken and performed immediately without questioning it.

I was taught to provide rationale for everything I do. I was taught to question everything. Is this the right order, the right drug, the right surgery, the right treatment for my patient? The right course of action? If so… Why? What does the patient want? Is it going to potentially cause more harm for my patient? If so, does the risk outweigh the benefit? If not, what is a better option?

Here, incompleteness is a way of life. The culture is often reactive vs. proactive. There is little foresight. There is little holistic care. Quantity is often considered greater than quality. Relief of suffering has little value. Education is lacking. Education for doctors and nurses… for patients… significantly lacking! And the worst part… it doesn’t feel like many health care practitioners in this hospital even realize how much their education and skills are lacking!!

As a palliative care nurse at heart, this hurts me. I believe in holistic care. In caring for the whole person. Spiritual, mental, emotional, psychosocial distress make coping with any type of physical distress worse. We need to minister to all aspects of a person in order to ensure a successful transition through the disease process.

I believe in preventing problems before they get worse because I know what worse looks like… the very worst! Education helps with this. Education helps problems to be identified before they become particuarly problematic. Education helps people cope with problems by understanding the disease, their expected trajectory, the treatments and side effects and the best way to manage it all. Education helps doctors and nurses provide the best care for their patients and the information their patients need.

I belive in quality vs quantity always!! What is quantity if there is absolutely no quality?! Good quality often leads to a greater quantity anyways!!

Suffering does not necessarily make you stronger. How can you focus on God or Allah or on your family when you are out of your mind with blinding shards of hot white pain? Or when you can do nothing more than retch and vomit until blood vessels burst in your eyes and your abdominal muscles are distraught with discomfort from heaving? When each breath is the greatest challenge of your life and your only thought is how you can suck in the next one?

Yes it can make you more dependent on God or Allah… but it is far too often used as an excuse here to not provide appropriate analgesia or symptom management of any type… And that hurts my heart!

The challenges of life here… all the many little things that are so easy anywhere else in the world are just infinitely more challenging here… and having to fight for every little thing you need… it’s exhausting. It depletes your emotional reservoirs. As an expat, you need to know that you’re leaving at some point. Whether it is just a visit home for special events, or even just to be with family for a brief time of heartwarming solace. It makes it easier to deal with the hardships and challenges of Saudi life.

Not knowing for months and months when my next chance to leave would be made it very hard to cope with the frustrations of life in Saudi and I worry it was starting to turn me into a cynical, negative person.

I started this post on my dad’s birthday nearly a month ago… A day when I was reflecting on my family… wishing I could be home with them and especially my dad on his birthday… stressing about leave… I’d been facing a significant dilemma regarding leave. I needed leave to go home for my brothers wedding at the end of July. But it was to be right at the end of Ramadan during Eid when it is nearly impossible to get leave in my clinic due to the large amount of staff wanting off then. Also… it was to be right at the end of my contract so the only way I could get leave was to renew my contract.

I was so stressed trying to sort out what to do. I like to think I’m a relatively strong individual with pretty decent coping skills… but the last few weeks have really tested my strength and pushed me to my limits of what I can handle emotionally!!! All the cumulative challenges have made it hard for me to cope with life in Saudi Arabia. Add to that the uncertainty of not knowing whether or not I’ll be able to be with my family during a very important time in my family… and just being so far away from family during a stressful period in my life… it’s been hard. Very very hard. I thought about leaving. I thought about not signing a second year contract and leaving Saudi Arabia for good!

My leave was eventually granted… for which I was very grateful. But new issues arose…

So, I came to the decision that my best option would be to “pretend to leave”. I handed in my resignation. I will be taking terminal leave and making a final exit out of Saudi Arabia. But… with an exit/re-entry visa which will allow me to return if I want to, within the next 6 months.

I was ecstatic typing up that resignation email actually. I felt like a huge weight had been lifted off my shoulders. All the stress of the last couple months disappeared as thoughts of home, cuddles with my niece, hugs from my parents and siblings, days at the lake wakeboarding, hiking in the beautiful green forest, beautiful bottles of wine picked from the liquor store by me, motorbike rides with my dad and wine tours, my brothers wedding… and the best part, now being able to be home for the birth of my new niece or nephew. So many things I would have missed otherwise by only being able to be home for 3 weeks… I’ll now get to experience blissful, beautiful summertime weeks at home to relax and rejuvinate my soul…  surround myself with people I love more than anything in the world! People I miss every day while I’m away… People who, life here has taught me to appreciate so much more than I did before!.

It was very upsetting for my parents and for the rest of my family when I decided to move away from them and across the world to Saudi Arabia. I sincerely appreciate how supportive and understanding they’ve all been for the past year. And I know that they’re just as excited as me that I’m coming home potentially for good.

I may get home, go back to work, cuddle my new niece/nephew and decide that there’s no way I can come back to Saudi Arabia. There is a strong possibility that happen.

But, at the same time, I currently enjoy my life in Saudi Arabia ALOT. Like seriously ALOT!! My year is nearly up and it has been amazing beyond my most optimistic dreams. I’ve learned so much and had some phenomenal experiences here in Saudi and in my travels while I’ve been living in the Middle East. There are so many things I love about the people, the culture, the community, the religion, the desert, the weather, and especially the genuinely wonderful people I’ve met here in the expat community.

I’ve made some beautiful friendships here… with people just like me… people who love travel and adventure and experiencing the world and new cultures… people who understand the addiction to the expat life. And… I have plans for the next year here yet. A weekend in Sharm El-Sheikh with friends. Dubai for the Formula 1 races and the Rugby 7s. Talk of an India trip with one of my closest friends. A wedding in France and one in the UK. So much to do. And my travel list is SO far from complete. Plus, I originally came to Saudi Arabia to work at the King Abdullah Center for Oncology and Liver Disease. It hasn’t even opened yet. And I’d really like to be here when it does open. So I have a lot to do yet here in the Middle East. I’m really not done yet.

So… I’m aiming for 6-8 weeks at home… and then hope to return to Saudi Arabia, Inshallah. So… you haven’t seen the last of me yet!!!

Thank you to all of you who have supported me through this experience… championed and encouraged me… hugged me and loved me when I felt broken by the challenges of life here… and laughed and danced away not only the sadness and frustration with me, but also the sheer joy and pleasure that is life with people you love!!! I love you all more than I can ever express and my heart is so full from knowing you. I really really do hope that this is only a temporary goodbye!!!

Forever with love,

Annemarie