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!

Breaking a World Record with 10KSA

December 12, 201d5

The big day. Finally. So much planning and preparation and stress… but I think we’re ready to break a world record!!!

I was so excited to start this day and bring awareness to the women of Saudi and empower them… and help them break a world record!

I checked into Princess Noura University Sports Complex by 0800 with all my First Aid Team… A team of nurses and doctors from the university hospital would be joining us later in the day.

The day started out gorgeous (ended beautifully also!). The winter sun was out… warming us gently as the temperature wasn’t much above 10 degrees.

First thing, we signed in, got our 10KSA sweaters… and then went to the First Aid center and attempted to organize first aid supplies… which we didn’t have and wouldn’t have for hours yet until the University Hospital opened up and our physician and her team of nurses would bring them. I was seriously stressing that we wouldn’t get the first aid supplies and I was praying we wouldn’t have any emergencies before supplies arrived, and hopefully no emergencies at all! but with 10,000+ women scheduled to arrive, it seemed unlikely that would we end the day without any issues.

Mid-morning we put all our planning on hold to meet together with all the other volunteers (at least 2000 women!!) for an beautiful message from our fearless leader Princess Reema. So excited to start the event and start seeing people come around!)

Much of the morning and early afternoon was spent just wandering around the facility before the event actually started… checking out all the displays and booths and the various areas. There an Awareness Zone (where all the booths on health and wellness were set up), Nutrition (all the food… some of it was seriously gourmet!!!), Active (basically a full on gym set up with yoga center, spin class, zumba/dance classes, and active wear/food products, etc!), and finally the Fun Zone where Luxury Events had set up a photobooth, a carnival, clothes/artsy things to purchase, as well as a beautiful group painting women could participate in… it was lovely.

My favorite place was the Active Zone… the decoration was incredibly well done. And there was constantly music and laughter coming from within the zone as women participated in the various fitness classes…

At one point late in the afternoon when I actually had time to walk around and enjoy everything, the sun was setting over the Active zone and the sun shining through all the gauze and streamers and wooden supports… it was gorgeous!

I spent the whole day, from 0800 to nearly 2400 rapidly walking from one end of the sports complex to the other. Our main First Aid center was in the sports complex building at the far end, and completely at the other end of the complex was the Stadium where we had our main first aid outpost.

Finally… the most important part of the event… the highlight of the whole day.. the formation of the Worlds Largest Human Health Awareness ribbon. Around 7pm, women started lining up to be counted to go into the stadium to form the ribbon. Hundreds of volunteers had been recruited and trained to help with ribbon formation… they’d been scurrying around for hours getting organized… but trying to organize roughly 10,000 women is a monumental task! But they did so well!! The first aid volunteers joined all the women in the stadium, helping the other volunteers get the women organized in the ribbon, as well as being accessible in case of emergency.

There was beautiful inspirational music playing and the 10KSA theme song…

All the women were given pink tarha’s to wear to cover their heads… the Tarhas were beautiful with gorgeous Saudi themed prints on the ends… and the pink was a gorgeous fuschia color!!

I joined the ribbon also just before the final count… standing there with hopefully 10,000 women, united in anticipation… united in the uniqueness of our position in Saudi Arabia and the significance of this day and this moment for women… united in support of one another to raise awareness for a disease that devastates us all in some way… filled with hope…

Finally, the most inspirational moment of the day… the representative from Guiness World Records went on stage and presented Princess Reema and the women of Saudi Arabia with… the new world record!!!! 8,264 participants… the worlds largest human health awareness ribbon. And it was all women. All women living in Saudi Arabia… at this moment crushing the stereotype of a country known for its repression of women… a country filled with so many of the strongest and most ambitious and dedicated and inspirational women I’ve ever met.

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To be part of that moment… standing there with 8,264 women celebrating our strength and celebrating women coming together to empower each other and raise awareness about a horrific disease that impacts every single one of us in some way. My heart was so full. These women are incredible. And I am so blessed to have been a part of this day… and to see into their lives in this country…

Of all the opportuniities I’ve had in Saudi Arabia and the amazing experiences… this one is by far the best. I’ll never forget how it felt to stand there with all those women… I’ll never forget the beautiful women who organized the event and how they inspired me with their courage and strength… We are blessed. Truely blessed.

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Volunteering with 10KSA: Breast Cancer Awareness

October is Breast Cancer Awareness month.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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!!

 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!!!

 

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!!!!

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…