Feeling Excited to be an Expat in Saudi Arabia, Witnessing Historical Change

It seems every day I tune into social media there is a new announcement being made that reflects the extraordinary changes underfoot in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

On October 1, 2017 I was incredulous as I read in several articles, including Arabnews.com and Riyadhconnect.com, that King Salman issued a decree allowing Saudi women to drive. To the uninformed reader this decree may not sound earth-shattering, but Saudi Arabia has remained, until now, the only country in the world where it is illegal for women to drive.

 

The next day Blue Abaya posted that Ford Middle East was gifting a mustang to Sahar Nassif, a Saudi woman who has spent years campaigning for equal rights. In the past, Sahar was arrested for driving around Jeddah and when the proclamation was made by King Salman she rejoiced, saying she was going to purchase a yellow and black Mustang to celebrate. Ford got wind of the story and chose to gift her with the car of her dreams.

In related news, the Saudi Princess Nourah University is planning to establish a women’s driving school and the Ministry says the legal driving age for women will be 18 years. The ruling allowing women to drive is expected to become law by June of 2018, but many enthusiastic Saudi women are already getting behind the wheel to practice in preparation.

Saudi Princess Nourah University to establish a women driving school

Apparently, the seeds of change were planted even earlier. According to Gulf Insider, back in June of this year King Salman ordered that women no longer need a man’s permission to travel, study, or make complaints. As Maha Akeel, a women’s rights campaigner, suggests the move is a step in the right direction, opening the entire discussion on the guardian system for debate.

The decision to allow women these new freedoms seems part of a plan to include more women in the workforce to help diversify the country’s economy. The trend towards what is often referred to as “Saudi-isation” began as early as 2011, and has resulted in a grand 78-page document authorized by King Salman Bin Abdul-Aziz Al-Saud, KSA Vision 2030.

Saudi Arabia’s National Transformation Program encompasses a huge mandate for change. Goals include efficient planning within government agencies and global investments, not to mention becoming the epicentre of trade and the gateway to the world. There are plans for growth through diversification of resources. More jobs, education and skills- building opportunities for citizens are being created. There is a push to strengthen the National Identity, develop tourism, improve living and working conditions for expats, and even increase household spending on culture and entertainment.

 

 

Towards the goal of entertainment spending, another shattering announcement was made on October 2.  According to expatwoman.com, Cinemas are Returning to Saudi Arabia. I never knew they were once in existence, but upon reading the article I discovered that there were cinemas before 1980. Personally, I am thrilled at the prospect of adding going out to the movies to our current small list of entertainment possibilities and hope the decision opens the door for more opportunities here in Riyadh.

I read about these changes in the news, but I’m even more encouraged by the observations I’ve made in the short time since I moved here in May of 2015. I have witnessed the increase of women in the workforce first-hand, seeing more and more female cashiers at the major shopping centres. I have noticed each time I fly back to Riyadh from abroad more women in the airport who are dressing in fashionable abayas. They are pushing convention, adding colour and bling and even opting for fitted over the typical ‘tented’ attire.

Further updates on emirateswoman.com revealed, “Hot on the heels of news that Saudi Arabia will soon start issuing driving licenses to women, the kingdom has appointed its first female spokeswoman. Fatimah Baeshen was announced as a spokesperson for the Saudi embassy in Washington, US, on Wednesday, a day after King Salman issued a royal decree to lift the driving ban on women. Saudi national Baeshen celebrated the announcement of her new role, saying she was ‘proud to serve’ her country.”

I still find going out into the city challenging, but every time I do it feels like more Saudi men and women alike are welcoming me. I’m not postulating that everyone here supports change and welcomes new ideas, but there does seem to be a growing sense of globalism. The incentive may have begun as an economic response to the oil crisis, but it has evolved. Many progressive-thinking Saudis, including those in positions of authority, recognize that their future success involves growth, and growth demands respectful partnerships within global frameworks.

As a woman who stands for equality and liberty for all people, it is exciting to see that positive change is not just a dream. It is becoming a reality, throughout the world. Don’t believe in the negativity of the naysayers who claim that the world is destroying itself. Don’t accept that the terrorists and the corrupt and greedy politicians and corporations are the rule. There is a global rising. There is a New Earth, just beyond the horizon.

So yeah, I’m feeling excited to be an expat in Saudi Arabia, witnessing historical change.

 

Feeling Curious, Wondering How Shifting from Me to We Might Impact Humanity

My last blog was about learning to trust in the truth of my authentic self. Now I’m switching gears, making a total one eighty. Because my awareness of my own truth has drawn me into exploring how my purpose contributes to the big picture of human destiny.

I refuse to buy into the doom and gloom predictions of the naysayers who claim that humankind is not evolving. Frustrated with current challenges, it is all too easy to become nostalgic for the good old days. In my opinion, going backwards is never the way forward. We need to learn from history while at the same time forging ahead into a bright new future.

According to Rabbi Jonathon Sacks, the key to facing the future is to move from focusing on self to considering others. In his Ted talk, “How We Can Face the Future Without Fear, Sacks addresses three components of this shift: relationship, identity and responsibility.

 

When we get to know people who are not like us we grow in our understanding of what it means to be human. Sacks believes in the power of sharing our stories, extolling the view that a strong identity of ourselves as part of a community is what allows us to not feel threatened by the ideas and values of others. He urges us to take responsibility, quoting powerfully, “We, the people.”

The far-right dreams of a golden age that never existed and the far-left dreams of a utopia that will never be; a divided society misses out on the powerful opportunity to work together towards creating a reality that most likely lies somewhere in-between.

While sitting in the modest and excessively air-conditioned lounge in the Panama City airport, Mister and I had the pleasure of making just such an acquaintance; with an “other.” The fellow in question struck up a conversation with us that was incredibly interesting. An American hailing originally from conservative Vermont, currently living in liberal San Diego, and sharing our passion for Panama, his ideas defied stereotypes of Americans, particularly in this age of Trump leadership and divided politics.

The American was also a scientist and globalist. He shared informed opinions on a wide range of topics, from new experiments involving correcting diseased DNA to the lack of integrity, among other qualities, demonstrated by President Trump. Listening to his enthusiastic vision of a future where resources are shared globally, I couldn’t help but wonder if the current state of political corruption might be the catalyst that has people from all nations join forces to create a better future.

What constitutes a better future is a matter of opinion, but viewing Robert Waldinger’s Ted Talk, “What Makes a Good Life?” leads us in the same direction, from me to us. In a 75- year study of adult development conducted by Harvard University the conclusion they reached was that good quality, close relationships keep us happier and healthier.  It wasn’t money, fame, hard-work, or education. It wasn’t success of self, but success in sustaining strong connections with others.

 

The Truth Inside of You is an inspiring news feed I follow and recently I viewed two great posts. The first featured a Denmark advertisement for diversity that demonstrated the power of dismantling our labels to discover what we all have in common and then work together to achieve.

 

 

The second post documented how a boy’s perception of his father changed when he learned how much his father sacrificed of himself to make a difference in the lives of sick children. Putting the happiness of others before his own brought a richness to his father’s life that his son never appreciated until after his father passed away, which unfortunately is so often the case. We take for granted the relationships we have until we lose them.

 

Chatting with my daughter the other night, our conversation typically dynamic and philosophical, she casually mentioned that Craig Kielburger, a Canadian social activist, humanitarian and inspirational speaker, was on the same plane as her. I couldn’t help but be present to the synchronicity and excitedly told her that I was currently writing a blog about exactly what Craig and his brother, Marc, stand for.

Craig and Marc Kielburger are cofounders of a social enterprise that includes the We Movement, We Charity, Me to We, and We Day. Beginning at the age of twelve, these men were drawn to change the world by empowering kids to help kids. They set about investing in young people internationally and through their leadership have grown their not for profit organization into a vast global enterprise. Their message is that every person’s contribution is an impact that leaves a legacy.

https://www.metowe.com/speakers-bureau/craig-kielburger/

One of the inspirational visionaries that Craig and Marc give credit to is Oprah. Regardless of your opinion of her, there can be no doubt as to the impact she has made on the world through her works, charities, and enlightened journalism. In a powerful speech on Goalcast, Oprah furthers this idea of legacy, stating powerfully that “your legacy is every life you’ve touched.”

 

When I wrote about trying to discover my dharma, I postulated how my mandate to create meaningful relationships by encouraging and supporting others might be my purpose. It would seem that my legacy just might be exactly that – every life I’ve touched.

Some of us, like Oprah and the Kielburger brothers, touch millions of people with their vision, inspiring people all over the globe. Others, like myself, touch only a few. The number doesn’t really matter. We all have a different path to follow. We must trust in our journey and move our focus from ourselves to others. We, the people, can work together to achieve a common goal of a happier, healthier, future for all of us.

So yeah, I’m feeling curious, wondering how shifting from me to we might impact humanity

 

Feeling Aware, Learning to Trust in the Truth of My Authentic Self

In the age of the internet, google, and social media, we are increasingly bombarded with self-help advice on how to do everything and even how to be. We are told what to eat and not eat, how to raise our children, how to dress, what our personality is, how to succeed, how to exercise, how to be happy. The list is endless and it can be confusing.

Scrolling through Facebook for a few minutes, I was inundated. Pop-up ads and articles abounded. Dryer sheets that cause hormone imbalance.  Pro-vaccination versus anti-vaccination rhetoric. Current diet trends. The 36 habits that will make you a millionaire. How to exercise for your body type. How to attract and keep a man.

In my observation, there is no one path that suits everyone. The best advice, in my opinion, is no advice. Instead of trying to propagate right action, our efforts as parents, teachers and mentors need to encourage people to learn how to trust their own intuition.

As Jennifer Lopez stated in her speech on Goalcast, “Nobody knows what’s inside you. Only you know what you can accomplish and what you’re capable of… your gut, your dreams and your desires.”

Are we born with this innate knowledge, or is it something we need to be taught? According to Toltec wisdom, we are born knowing. Toltec wisdom arises from the essential unity of truth, embracing a spiritual way of life. In their book, The Fifth Agreement, Don Miguel and Don Jose Ruiz share the magic of the agreements and how practicing them can help you to recover your authentic self. The result of practising the fifth agreement is the complete acceptance of yourself and everybody else, just as they are.

As little children, we are free, without self-consciousness or self-judgment. We speak the truth because we live in the truth. Then we are taught all the symbols and stories of society and we start to judge ourselves as not good enough. We learn to deny what we perceive; the truth of our own greatness.

Education is imperative and information needs to be transmitted, but without judgement. We have a responsibility to teach our children language and skills, stories and history. But we must also teach them that they are the creators of their own belief system and corresponding reality. We must assure them of their uniqueness. We must express to them the power of the word, in thought and intent, because you become who you believe you are.

Anthropologists, psychologists, philosophers and scientists alike have postulated that we live in a common reality. I watched a Ted Talk by anthropologist Wade Davis who stated that “all people share a common experience.” In, “How to see past your own perspective and find truth,” Michael Patrick Lynch referred to a common reality and gave three tools to determine truth: 1. Believe that there is a truth; 2. Dare to know through understanding; 3. Adopt humility.

 

Isaac Lidsky, in his talk on “What Reality are you Creating for Yourself?” also speaks of a virtual reality. He posits that what we see as reality is unique and personal and is masterfully constructed by your own brain. You can choose to see through the fiction of the collective story through awareness. You can be taught and learn with practice how to create a reality that is empowering, that brings about change, and most of all, that brings you deep happiness as you fulfil your highest purpose.

 

Brene Brown is a psychologist who speaks of the power of stories, and particularly the power of owning our own stories. To abandon the social story of who you are and embrace your individual story, you must believe that you are special. You must learn to listen to your intuition and trust it.

Several years ago, my story of who I was, my reality, was shattered. I had a breakdown that forced me to re-examine the evidence. I meditated and prayed and engaged in intense psychotherapy. I thought deeply about my truth and created an authenticity outline. I learned to let go of the stories that were holding me back and I learned to embrace my true self.

Recently I have been struggling to process events from the past, and then in a moment of synchronicity I experienced enlightened thought where the past and present collided. The readings, prayers, wisdom, and faith that were coming into my awareness in my present were the key to my healing from the past. I understood that the past is over and that the light of my spirit is as alive and vibrant as it always was.

While struggling to process past trauma, I have also been challenged with my weight. I have been feeling unhappy about it. When a good friend of mine whom I respect and trust suggested the ketogenic diet, I was drawn to consider going on it. Then I recognized that it is only another belief system. It isn’t right or wrong. It is not the truth, it is an idea. If I approach the knowledge with skepticism, I can see it for what it is – an option.

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I am confident the ketogenic diet works for some people. So does the End Diabetes diet, which is a completely opposite approach. It’s all about our beliefs. When I felt the happiest, most vital, alive and free in my life, when I was at a weight that felt perfect for me, it was on Vancouver Island. It was after I left a controlling, unhappy marriage and lived in freedom for the first time in many years.

When I had the freedom to choose whatever I wanted, to create my own reality, I chose to make good decisions that felt right for me. I exercised a lot, especially jazzed to have found a passion in the practice of yoga. I spent tons of time outdoors in the abundant nature of the island. I ate delicious food and drank gorgeous wine, as I liked. And the weight literally fell off. And it stayed off for a long time. I thought I’d arrived, that I’d figured out the happiness diet.

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Then I got Lyme’s disease. I suffered for two and half years with chronic pain, fatigue, and weakness. At one point, I had to crawl up the stairs, not strong enough to stand. Stairs were the most challenging, the Lyme spirochetes having burrowed into the connective tissue in my knees. I put on almost fifteen pounds.

Despite my illness and my pain, I was ridiculously happy. I was head over heels in love with Mister. I was confused. My happiness diet theory was clearly flawed. I have been so tempted, so many times, to diet again, feeling judged by others as less than. But I resisted, choosing to focus on my health and my intense healing regimen.

When I could start exercising again, and especially after I was healed from Lyme’s, I thought the weight would magically fall off again. But it didn’t. I went on Fuhrman’s End Diabetes diet, ostensibly not to lose weight, but to improve my blood sugar. In the twelve weeks of being diligent I didn’t lose a single pound. Mister did. But my body could not let the weight go.

As I was sharing this story with Mister, he looked at me with his loving eyes, and I knew that none of it mattered. Whether I lost the weight, stayed the same, or gained more, I’d still be me. And me is good enough, exactly as I am in this moment. I don’t need to be constantly driven to be better, look better, live longer, be healthier. I can relax and choose in each precious, blessed moment of my life to be who and what I want to be.

Our power and happiness is in our choices. It is in the acceptance and love of ourselves and all others. That’s where everything begins.

Light-heartedly I laughed at myself and Mister joined in, saying, “Ain’t nobody gonna tell my Baby what to do!” He held my hand and kissed me tenderly, affirming I am perfect, just as I am. In that moment, I knew, in the depths of my heart, that I am going to be okay.

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I’m still a warrior, aware of the stories and searching for my truth. I respect myself and I respect what others have to say. I listen to the stories, the ads and the advice, but I listen through the filter of my awareness. I will not disrespect other people’s points of view and I won’t allow anyone to disrespect mine. I love myself. I will be a part of the change in the world by changing my own.

So yeah, I’m feeling aware, learning to trust in the truth of my authentic self.

Feeling Compelled; Wanting to Recover the Feminine from the Bonds of a Patriarchal Society

I’ve been feeling with intensity the rising global energy of women who are tired of being subjugated, belittled, or treated as ‘less than’ in any way. It resonates deep inside me, within the legacy of my own inheritance of the cycle of abuse, as well as in the experiences of women from other cultures, with other experiences, all over the world.

The bondage is pervasive and complex. It is woven into the fabric of women’s stories about our bodies, our minds, our emotions and our souls.

Women are dictated to by men on how to treat their bodies. In some cultures, women are viewed as prizes or trophies, to be displayed or hidden. In others, we are viewed as objects to be used as seen fit by the men who desire us. And often it begins when we are girls.

Waking Times featured an article, What Rampant Cyber Pornography is Doing to Adolescents by Christina Sarich. She talks about the dangers of “wacked social norms about sex” that are prevalent on the internet. Sarich claims there are “pedophilia dark-net websites … child trafficking… (and) extreme sexual behavior.” Boys view these pornographic images and build unhealthy ideas and expectations about what women want.

It is a socially accepted myth that when a woman says no, she means yes, or at least maybe. According to Sarich, “Doctors are now reporting … girls as young as eleven to thirteen years old showing up with incontinence and ripped up anal and vaginal tissue due to being forcibly entered.”

http://www.wakingtimes.com/2017/07/18/rampant-cyber-pornography-adolescents/

 

Research found one fifth of girls to have suffered violence or intimidation and that one in five boys demonstrates extremely negative attitudes towards women. I believe the numbers are much higher, that the tools of blame and guilt and persecution keep many girls from reporting.

Margaret Atwood, known for her futuristic writing, including the bestselling novel The Handmaid’s Tale, speaks out about a woman’s right to control her own body on the issue of abortion. She talks about how, when governments, like those in Texas, adopt anti-abortion legislation, they force women into a lifetime of servitude and debt. She talks about the real expenses of prenatal care, health insurance and in-hospital delivery, not to mention the costs of caring for and providing for a baby into adulthood. Atwood goes so far as to suggest that governments that enforce such legislation should foot the bill.

http://qklnk.co/WvUARY

While the argument of the financial burden of forced parenthood is a viable concern, there are also emotional and mental ramifications that anti-abortionists fail to consider. There are women who get pregnant who are unable to provide loving, stable homes to their children. Women who are suffering from mental illnesses, addiction, and poor self-esteem. Women whose role models were parents who abused them. Forcing these women to have their babies perpetuates cycles of dysfunction. A baby born into a home where they are not wanted is likely going to experience attachment disorders, making them at risk to develop serious psychological and social challenges as adults.

Let me be clear; I’m not pro-abortion. I’m pro-choice. We cannot, as a society, determine what is the right decision for everyone. Every woman who becomes impregnated has a different story; a different set of values, different supports, education, income, and health.

When a woman is raped, her choice is taken from her. To take away her choice on how to deal with a resulting pregnancy further traumatizes and punishes her. Some women are raped within the supposed sacrament of marriage. There is no singular solution, but forcing women to have babies that are the result of rape is, in my opinion, barbaric and cruel.

For women who do choose motherhood, it is increasingly challenging to feel positive about the necessary changes that occur to our bodies. Our society’s view of sexy is limited to the physical attributes of young, slim-as-models, pre-motherhood women. All outcomes of motherhood are deemed unattractive, needing to be fixed, eliminated and annihilated.

In an emotionally impacting video featured on Allure, titled Dispelling Beauty Myths, Alexa Wilding shares her personal story. She talks about the wad of flesh she was left with after post-pregnancy muscle diastasis. The obstetrician recommended that she undergo a Mummy Makeover, which is essentially a process involving a tummy tuck, boob lift, and liposuction to erase all physical evidence of her transformation from maidenhood to motherhood.

Cultural messages of guilt, blame, and shame are all emotions inflicted upon women. They are held responsible for the abuses inflicted upon them, for being too pretty, too bubbly, too naïve, too weak, too sensitive. The list goes on.

We read in the news about women in India who have acid poured on their faces for the shame they place on their families by being raped. We read about women in Africa who are genitally mutilated in a custom that is upheld as cultural, but is really a sadistic form of control and manipulation. Women in Afghanistan are oppressed by being denied the right to education. Women in North America and Europe are objectified as sex objects, their exposed cleavage and ass used to sell everything from beer to cars.

I spoke personally to an Imam in Bahrain who stated that women need to cover themselves with abayas and burkas because they are too sexually arousing for men. I spoke to a taxi driver in Toronto who self-righteously claimed to cherish his wife as his most precious belonging, justifying the limits on her social behaviour and restrictions of her dress because of her value as his possession.

I challenge these beliefs. I suggest that all people, men or women, are responsible for their own behaviours and cannot blame anyone but themselves for what they do. I know men who have greater expectations for themselves, who have control over their sexual and physical desires. It can be done. Blaming a woman for being raped, ever, is ludicrous and unacceptable. Placing restrictions on women because of a perceived inability of men to control themselves is demeaning to both sexes.

So, how do we move forward? My daughter, Scarlet, is wondering the same thing. Like me, she doesn’t have all the answers. But she knows, “it’s going to take a transformation… that she needs to participate in the conversation … (and) be a part of the movement.”

Holly Truhlar, in her post The Environmental Movement Has Failed, believes that as a society we have a problem with long-term engagement. She posits that we are not emotionally resourced to deal with experiences “that will break our hearts and bring us to our knees if we feel them.” She goes on to say that we are living in a traumatized society suffering from intergenerational wounding in a system set up to divide and exploit, oppress and abuse. She, like Scarlet, believes we need to have the conversation. We need to engage in “an emotional and spiritual revolution requiring us to expand into the largest sense of Self that we can.”

http://www.hollytruhlar.com/environmental-movement-failed/

I believe that the heart and power of a transformational movement begins with girls; the women of the future. And I’m not the only one. G-Day Fundraising is a growing celebration of the spirit of girls. Its aim is to support and guide girls in as many communities as possible to discover their power and become champions of the future.

Humankind would evolve towards reaching its highest expression if all abusive behaviour could be stopped. Right now. It is a worthwhile goal, but the reality is that we live in a society where many people don’t get the help and support they need, and so these cycles continue. What we can do, right now, is empower children to speak up. We can teach them appropriate boundaries. We can tell them to honour their bodies and that they can say no. We can trust them. We can give them back their voices, helping them to find the language they need to express their feelings. There is a global rising. We won’t keep quiet.

So yeah, I’m feeling compelled; wanting to recover the feminine from the bonds of a patriarchal society.

Feeling Abundance, Appreciating Travel Experiences in Art, History, Food & Wine

In my first two blogs relating to me and Mister’s Grand Ramadan Adventure of 2017 I wrote about my experiences feeling love and connection with family and friends. I’m switching gears now, to share the explorations of our senses as we viewed, listened, felt, smelled and tasted our way from Winnipeg to Rome and along the Western Mediterranean.

529 Wellington, a posh and trendy restaurant in an up-scale water-front neighborhood of Winnipeg, Canada, was our first indulgence in fine cuisine, a belated birthday gift from Greg and Julie. I was impressed as soon as we drove up, the restaurant housed in a renovated turn-of-the-century mansion. From the luxurious draperies to the ornate chandeliers to the dark wood paneling throughout, the ambience was rich and inviting. Even on a Tuesday night it was packed and the noise was a bit jarring at first, but soon we settled into our cozy corner.

We ordered a bottle of bold, peppery shiraz from the Barossa Valley in Australia that paired smashingly with my prosciutto wrapped scallops, not to mention the melt-in-your-mouth beef tenderloin rated Canadian Prime distinction shipped in all the way from High River, Alberta. The four of us shared side dishes of asparagus and mushrooms and ate, sipped and talked our way to dessert. Mister and I shared the chocolate cheesecake which was divinely decadent; rich, creamy and dense. It was over-the-top and Mister and I felt grateful for his parent’s generosity.

 

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529 Wellington

 

We celebrated our dear friend Anne Marie’s birthday two-fold, beginning with a musical production, Strictly Ballroom, in the Princess of Wales Theatre located on King Street in the heart of Toronto’s entertainment district. Incorporating traditional and contemporary design, the theatre can seat 2000 guests and after collecting our tickets from the box office we took our seats in the centre orchestra section.

Strictly Ballroom originally opened in Australia and featured a cast that mostly hailed from London. It began with a rather cliché opening of ballroom dancers engaged in petty competitiveness. As the story progressed and featured elements of modern choreography I appreciated the talent even if the plot and characters felt flat and predictable. Only after the play, in conversation with Anne Marie, did I discover the subtle nuances that had originally eluded me. It was no Kinky Boots or Les Miserables, but a worthwhile performance nonetheless.

We took a cab back to Anne Marie’s and drank champagne and told stories and shared photos from her Breakfast at Tiffany’s themed birthday bash in February. We caught another cab to take us to George, located in an old red brick building on the corner of Queen and Church. We chose to be seated in the courtyard patio, nestled in a corner partitioned for privacy with green bushes twinkling with lights and a tranquil fountain.

Our sommelier arrived to inquire about our drink preferences and we ordered a bottle of sparkling prosecco from Nova Scotia that Anne Marie was familiar with. It was dry, crisp, light and refreshing, a perfect way to toast and begin the evenings festivities. We all decided to indulge in the five course wine pairings and over several hours we were served spectacular food and wine with impeccable timing and service.

Chef Lorenzo Loseto created a bold epicurean adventure for us featuring local food artisans and global wine producers. After an amuse bouche of crisp, bright pea shoots with citrus we were brought a selection of first course cold appetizers paired with barely pink rose. The second course featured a warm appetizer of sweetbreads with rich Foie Gras and a complex red pinot noir. Third course was lamb rib chop served with scalloped potato and asparagus and yet another smooth, bold red. A supreme selection of Quebec cheeses was served next with a dry ice wine. Last, but never least, was dessert, a gluten free chocolate torte with a layer of cheesecake and a smattering of raspberries paired with an outrageously thick and decadent port.

Throughout the meal the conversation was lively, with Anne Marie entertaining us with a multitude of stories about her adventures at home and abroad. It was an amazing experience and by the end we all agreed, we were stuffed, literally and metaphorically, with food, wine and connection.

 

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George

 

Rome was an explosion of art, history, architecture and ruins. As we drove along the freeway from the airport to the centre of town where we were renting a condo we noticed the shift. The streets turned to narrow and cobbled, lined with old brick and stone buildings and peppered with tall umbrella and thin cedar trees. The Italian flavour for romance and passion was palpable and my spirit was soaring as I took it all in.

The food and wine in Rome were an experience all on their own. From cheap wine and cheese selected at our local Coop market to upscale restaurants, we feasted on Caprese salads featuring creamy buffalo mozzarellas, sharp pecorinos, fresh pastas, and I even discovered an amazing gluten free pizza.

An unexpected delight was when we stumbled upon an elegant restaurant just a short three-minute walk from our apartment, adjacent to the French Embassy, called Camponeschi. The well-dressed waiter, a man of senior years and expertise, treated us to exceptional service, proclaiming as he pointed to include all of us, “Mama, Papa and the kids!” A talented guitarist strummed and sang soulfully in English, Italian and Portuguese. We drank luscious bold and smooth Italian red wine and ate delicate grilled seabass and robust cheese and a decadent soufflé smothered in dark chocolate sauce.

Our final night in Rome had us walking to the trendy Eitch Hotel on recommendation and it did not disappoint. A museum hotel, the rooftop patio where we enjoyed pre-dinner cocktails overlooked grand fountains in the square below and the sun dazzled in the early evening sky, lending a pristine quality to the white and glass elegance of the décor.

 

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Roof-top bar at Eitch Hotel

 

The restaurant featured private dining rooms with windows open to the beauty and bustle of the plaza below. We drank deep purple Amarone and toasted Susie’s graduation and dined on aromatic chef-inspired dishes.

 

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Kevin, me, Mister & Susie in the restaurant @ Eitch

 

The attractions in Rome were as plentiful and over-the-top as the food and wine. Our first day featured a whirl-wind tour of Vatican City, including the museum, the Sistine Chapel and St. Peter’s  Square. The hall of maps was an eye-dropper for all four of us, dazzling in its contrasts of simplicity and complexity. Floor to ceiling paintings and tapestries were featured throughout the museum. It would be impossible to choose a favourite, although the deep colour and demonic expressions in the paintings by Botticelli captured my imagination. The Sistine Chapel was magnificent in all its glory and St. Peter’s was surely the most magnificent chapel I’ve ever seen.

 

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me & Mister outside Vatican City

 

Day two had the four of us venturing out for a walking tour of Rome that included the Pantheon, the Trevi Fountain, the Spanish Steps and the Villa Borghese Gardens. Designed by Italian architect Nicola Salvi, the Trevi Fountain is considered the most beautiful in the world and Mister and I agreed it impacted us with its pristine ivory baroque sculptures surrounded by turquoise waters.

 

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Mister & Me, Trevi Fountain

 

The Colosseum, Forum, Circus Maximus and Palazzo di Venezia were the subjects of our third day’s outing. We walked the ancient steps in the 35 Celsius heat and humidity, taking photos, refilling our water bottles and seeking shade whenever possible. The Colosseum was truly remarkable in it’s size and preservation and we all felt like we could feel the energy where spectators viewed gladiatorial contests, executions, animal hunt re-enactments and Christians being devoured by lions.

 

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Mister & Me; Colosseum

 

All I’d known previously of the magnificence of Rome I’d read in books like Colleen McCollough’s Caesar or Dan Brown’s Angels and Demons. To experience in the flesh, with all my senses, was a gift I will treasure forever, and already my heart and spirit are calling me back.

Monday was check-out and after an hour-long transfer to the Port Terminal Mister and I boarded the Celebrity Reflection cruise ship destined for an eleven-day Western Mediterranean adventure. From the moment we were welcomed with a glass of sparkling prosecco, to the moment we left it was life-expanding and amazingly epic.

 

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Mister & Me on deck

 

When our ship docked in Ville Franche, the gateway to the French Riviera, we took a taxi to Monte Carlo, driving past medieval style villas, mansions and castles all nestled into the craggy rocks and rolling hillside that lined the road curving to follow the beautiful beaches along the coast. The infamous Grand Casino did not disappoint in its grandeur, the gold-gilded ceiling a spectacular architectural design. Intoxicatingly elegant, we were entranced as we entered the main gaming hall where no photos were allowed. There was only one black jack table, the minimum bet 25 EUR. We sat down to play, losing the small amount we’d allocated for entertainment quite quickly, but not before two high rollers joined us, cashing in a 10,000 EUR chip and proceeding to bet stacks of 600 a play without blinking an eye.

 

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Mister & Me in Monte Carlo

 

In Barcelona, we had booked a Wine and Tapas Tour, which was an interesting walk but short on the wine and tapas. We couldn’t complain, however, because the tour ended in an outstanding Flamenco Dance performance that blew both Mister and I away. The venue was an intimate theatre in the Gothic quarter, a work of art in its own right. We had front row seats and the performance featured an amazing spectacle of talent and passion. The singing, dancing and music had my soul ignited, tears on my face and goosebumps on my arms.

Gibraltar was an unexpected surprise. Valerie, a fantastic Brit from Manchester, was our tour guide for the Upper Rock Cable Car and Walking Tour. She had a fabulous sense of humour and was a natural story-teller. We rode up in the cable car, 412 metres in six minutes, to the top of the rock where we witnessed incredible views.

 

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Gibraltar

 

Macaque monkeys were in abundance, scrambling along the rocks, playfully engaging with one another, and I agreed with Valerie that you could fall in love with the adorable babies.

 

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Macaque baby monkey with her mother

 

We toured St. Michael’s Cave where ancient stalagmites and stalactites were wonders to behold. We walked through St. George’s tunnels, built during the Great Siege of the late 1700’s when France and Spain tried unsuccessfully to capture Gibraltar from the British.

 

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St. Michael’s Cave

 

Mister and I had a delightful time on-board as well. The food and wine were spectacular, especially at our favourite restaurant, Murano, which featured elegant French cuisine, including sharp and creamy cheeses and melt-in-your-mouth chateaubriand. We indulged in the delicious coffee and baked goods, including an impressive selection of gluten free offerings, at El Bacio. And we spent many hours in Cellar Masters tasting a variety of different wines, culminating in an Unforgettable Italian Reds tasting the last day when we were at sea.

 

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Mister in Cellar Masters

 

We worked out at the Fitness Centre, including a yoga studio, both with exceptional views from floor to ceiling windows. We spotted dolphins joyfully frolicking in the ships wake. We played our luck at the black jack tables in Fortunes Casino. We took in a theatre production called Broken Strings. Throughout it all, we were treated to exceptional service from everyone.

So yeah, I’m feeling abundance, appreciating travel experiences in art, history, food & wine.

 

Feeling Connected, Celebrating Life and Sharing Stories with Family and Friends

The Grand Ramadan Adventure Mister and I began on May 25 turned out to be such an incredibly epic experience, I’ve decided I need to continue the saga divided into two more blogs. As I sifted through the scrawling notes of my journal and realized I had written 55 pages about our cruise alone, I knew I had some serious paring down to do.

 

In part one I wrote about feeling certain of the depth, breadth and intensity of my love for my family, and that theme continued to the very end of our five- week journey from Vancouver Island back to Riyadh in steps across Canada and including a stop-over in Rome.

 

We flew out of Victoria airport on May 31, our destination Calgary. We were staying at my brother and sister-in-law’s home and I was looking forward to catching up. Doug and Laura had to work and Matthew had school but we still managed to make time in the evenings for deep discussions as well as some family fun, playing games and watching one of the Pirate movies. We had planned a dinner party that included my sister but her boyfriend gifted her with surprise tickets to the Faith Hill concert. We met up with a dear friend of mine from the days when I lived in Calgary and it was wonderful to hear her sounding full of positivity. Then on Saturday morning it was time to go with big bear hugs and traditional nose kisses goodbye.

 

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Calgary Peeps

 

Winnipeg was our next stop, home to Mister’s Mom and Dad. One of Mister’s brother’s lives just outside the city and another brother in Brandon made the drive with his large family to join in the fun. The highlight of our trip was a family backyard barbeque and pool party. It was a treat to witness how much the kids had grown and changed since our last visit and to catch up. My Aunt Linda and Uncle Ned hosted a family dinner too, and it was a wonderful opportunity to connect with my dad’s side of the family. We engaged in a variety of activities with Mom and Dad: pickle ball, lawn bowling, cribbage, and a scenic city walk. We exchanged stories of our lives in Saudi Arabia and our families lives in Winnipeg and of the good ole days as the long Canadian prairie summer days stretched into the night.

 

 

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Pool fun at the Family Party

 

 

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Connection with Ned, Linda & Ryan

 

 

While in Winnipeg a powerful opportunity for appreciation was gifted to me in the unlikeliest of situations. I had booked an appointment with an Aesthetician who turned out to be a native of Brazil. I couldn’t help but wonder how someone from Rio de Janeiro ended up Winnipeg. She shared with me that there is a high level of corruption, crime, materialism and pollution in her country so she and her husband researched for a safe place to live and determined that Canada was the place to go. They chose Winnipeg because they didn’t want to live in a big city, as well as for the affordable standard of living. When I asked her how she managed the cold winters, she replied it was only weather, you just had to dress for it and get involved in winter activities. It was a gratifying experience to hear such a positive perspective on my home and native land.

Our next, and final destination in Canada, was Toronto, where our youngest daughter lives, as well as our very close friend, Anne Marie. Kara greeted us with a huge welcome at the airport and after big hugs hello we climbed into a taxi and talked all the way to our Airbnb rental in the heart of the city. Over the next five days we got into deep philosophical discussions on the nature of being human and shared stories of our challenges and successes. We celebrated her 22nd birthday with her boyfriend Stu, a quiet affair of home-cooked Thai red curry followed by a spirited game of Catan.

For Anne Marie’s birthday celebration, we did it up in style, taking in a musical production and indulging in a five-course meal including wine pairing. I’ll write more about our culinary and cultural adventures in my next blog. We were fortunate to squeeze in a very brief catch-up with our good friends Lyne and Eric over lunch, feeling grateful for the effort they put forth into creating and keeping up connections.

We managed to balance out the excessive eating and drinking with a couple of work-outs at the condo’s gym, as well as a breath-taking 2- hour city walk that challenged our bodies and cleared our minds. It was beyond rewarding to bask in the positive energy of our peeps. I took pride in my daughter, who is rocking it, using a variety of skills and techniques she has learned, creating a life that makes her feel happier and taking steps toward discovering her purpose.

 

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In Toronto with Kara and Anne Marie

 

Mid-June we flew from Toronto to Rome where we were meeting up with my son, Kevin, and his girlfriend Susie. It was a spectacular setting for the four of us to get to know one another more intimately and there was a peaceful flow to our interactions. We found ourselves delving into deep discussions on many an occasion, sharing our views on topics like Brexit, Global communication, environmentalism, equality, and education, to name a few. After a day of touring around Rome we would settle into what we affectionately called the opium bed in our cozy apartment, pouring glasses of red wine and sharing our thoughts and feelings about what we had experienced. Evenings found us situated in one of the plethora of restaurants nestled in our little neighborhood, eating amazing Italian food, drinking gorgeous Italian wine, and telling more stories. We celebrated Susie’s graduation from Cambridge with toasts and sentimental expressions of gratitude. I noticed the many ways my son and I are the same, how we share common values, passions, and ideas and I felt full of bliss for the gift our deep communion over the four days of our Roman exploration.

 

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Me & Mister with Kevin and Susie at Eitch Hotel, Rome

 

Our Ramadan adventure concluded with grandeur as we boarded the Celebrity Reflection Cruise ship destined for an eleven day tour of the Western Mediterranean. After the abundant connection we shared with family and friends we were ready to immerse ourselves in reconnecting with one another. But before I share the magic of that experience, I want to share another unexpected opportunity that manifested.

I never imagined that I would be so impacted by one of the service providers on our cruise, but I was. Paulino, our stateroom attendant, was a constant beam of light and positivity every single day aboard the ship. He was always smiling, and his smile was huge, genuine, and contagious. The first day Paulino welcomed us, shaking our hands enthusiastically in greeting. He went above and beyond his duties, even attempting to repair Mister’s broken-down shaver. He spotted a butterfly on our balcony and informed us with delight that it was a sign of good luck. Paulino took attention to every detail for our comfort and kept our room meticulously clean. The day I dressed up in my red ball gown he saw us as we left our cabin and broke out in singing Lady in Red. He shared lovingly about his family back home without complaint of the hardship of being away, only gratitude for his opportunity to provide for them. On our last night we saw him and bid him farewell and told him how amazing our cruise experience had been and he said thank you but he was merely a cleaner. I assured him with frank honesty that he was so much more than that. I told him how much we appreciated his infectious, positive energy and the outstanding job he did of taking care of us. Tears formed in the corner of his eyes as he took both of our hands in his and thanked us.

 

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Elegant Chic @ Murano Restaurant on Celebrity Reflection

 

I said that my experience of the cruise ship with Mister was magical, and that was no exaggeration. I found myself time and time again feeling like Cinderella, over-joyed, over-the-top and over-the-moon. Every day we took time to express our thanks for the experience and our appreciation of one another. We fell into flow right away, engaging in deep, meaningful conversations, dreaming and imagining our lives together. We had the ability to share openly when we experienced sticky feelings and not take it personally or with judgment. We shifted gears calmly when things didn’t go according to plan. From holding hands as we walked along the decks to kissing as the sun set, we engaged in the art of intimacy, loving and accepting one another for who we are. One day as we sat contently on our balcony over-looking the beautiful blue sea Mister looked over at me and said, “Whether we are here on this ship, in Canada with family, in Rome or in Riyadh, it’s all beautiful because we are together.” I guess that pretty much sums it all up.

 

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Me & Mister in Monte Carlo

 

So yeah, I’m feeling connected, celebrating life and sharing stories with family and friends.

 

Feeling Certain of the Depth, Breadth and Intensity of my Love for my Family

Ramadan began on May 25, marking the beginning of a whirlwind five week adventure for me and Mister. We caught the red eye out of Riyadh to our connecting flight at London Heathrow, then on to Victoria via Vancouver. It took over thirty hours, crossing ten time zones. Despite exhaustion, the pristine beauty of Vancouver Island invigorated my soul and the lure of connecting and sharing stories with family had me tapping into a third or fourth wind.

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My mother, two daughters, son-in-law and grandson all live on Vancouver Island. I knew it was going to be a challenge to be with each of them in authentic communication within four and a half days, but I was committed. Inspired by Elizabeth Lesser’s Ted Talk, Say Your Truths, which I referenced in a previous blog, I vowed to create space for deep time or sacred awe to manifest. And it did.

We engaged in the usual traditions of preparing and sharing food together while engaging in deep discussions.

Re-connecting with my grandson was a gift to be cherished, from that first moment I peeked into his room and he shyly regarded me for all of a minute before crying out in delight, “Grandma!” and that final heart-wrenching kiss goodbye.

We established our motto, “party every day,” belting it out in an off-key version of The Black Eyed Peas, repeating the chorus frequently throughout our visit.

Our first day Mister and I took Em with us into Victoria where we picked up my mom (nana) and drove to Willows Beach. All the adults were enamoured with Em and we traipsed after him as he navigated the playground equipment with confidence. We ate ice cream and drew pictures in the sand with old driftwood sticks. We ate crispy-gooey-greasy pizza and engaged our imaginations in play. Mister pushed my Mom on the swing and me and Em on the merry-go-round. We dizzy-walked and fake crashed into the soft green grass. I felt present to expansive possibilities and the innocence of his loving young heart.

Driving back home we sang songs and told stories, Mister sharing a smash-up impersonation of Foghorn Leghorn, a character from the Looney Tunes of our youth and me giving my Southern accent version of Goldilocks and the Three Bears. Em revealed with the frank honesty of young children that my story was horrible because it was too scary. He loved Mister’s Foghorn vignette and kept asking him to tell it again.

The next day Mister and I took Em on a walk down by Fisherman’s Wharf in scenic Cowichan Bay. We spotted fish and looked for sea lions, holding hands and seeing the beauty and wonder of the world through Em’s eyes. We had a pirate pool party in their backyard and I relished the freedom to be childish.

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Whether he was busy being a boy, playing and chattering non-stop or snuggled up to me while I read him his bedtime stories, Em’s soft spirit spoke to me. My time with Em brought me back to my purpose, which as Mister identified, is simply to love.

I didn’t create as many opportunities to connect deeply with my Mom as I would have liked. However, it was a gift to witness her youthful, spirited energy as she interacted with Em. During one of our family dinners Mom shared a little of her Ancestry Circle. I felt honoured that she expressed her vulnerability. The day before we left she invited us to lunch at her place and while  I was in a bit of a muddle that day I gave her a big hug goodbye, managing to stay fully present, if only for a few moments.

Scarlet was at a workshop when I first arrived. When she got back early Sunday afternoon I was thrilled and ran to the door to wrap my arms around her. Tamara supported us in our desire to create one-on-one connection, looking after Em. Scarlet drove us to Mill Bay, to a part of the ocean we used to walk together when I lived nearby. We walked along the waters edge sipping our coffees and releasing all of our heaviness, baggage and updates.

When we reached a craggy boulder overlooking the ocean we spread out her yoga mat and settled into the space, holding hands and sitting in spiritual silence. Scarlet led us into deep and sacred communion. We were in deep time and the hours melted into moments where watches don’t exist and our heartbeats marked the passage of time. I felt like I was glowing, acknowledging the grace and gift from God that is my angel daughter.

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My time with Tamara was not as plentiful as I would have liked. I felt grateful for the time we shared together in Goa. We did manage to engage in a few open and honest conversations. I was able to hold and behold her.

On our last evening, after Em was all tucked into bed and the dinner dishes were tidied away, me, Scarlet and Tamara participated in a spiritual bonding ceremony, sharing our vulnerable hearts in deep connection with one another. I experienced some stickiness, but both my girls responded in their own individual ways to support me. My heart was filled with fiery hot pride of the strong women that my girls have become. At the same time, I was present to the approaching end of my visit and my heart was drenched in the tears of goodbyes.

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So yeah, I left Vancouver Island feeling a lot of things, but certain of the depth, breadth and intensity of my love for my family.

Feeling Inspired to Follow My Dreams

I admit that I enjoy scrolling through posts on Facebook. It’s something I take a few minutes to engage in each day, mostly over morning coffee and before tucking into bed. I appreciate the opportunity to stay informed and connected, and for the most part I feel disciplined to keep my time spent on social media within reasonable limits.

I came upon a video featured on Goalcast last week. It was brief but impacting. Taraji P. Hanson, a successful actress most recently known for her performance in Hidden Figures, shared a little bit of her story.

When Taraji became pregnant in college, the naysayers said she would never finish. But she did. She walked across the stage and collected her diploma with her son on her hip. When she announced that the was moving to California at the age of 26 to pursue her dream of acting, the naysayers said she was crazy, that she was too old to start up in that business. But she went, and now she is an accomplished actress. In her own words, at age 46, she is “just getting started.”

 

Taraji’s message is that your happiness is up to you. She encouraged me on my own happiness journey to follow my dreams. And she reminded me of my own inner courage. I decided that perhaps sharing my story could inspire others too.

Like Taraji, I became pregnant when I was young. Only I wasn’t in college. I was in my final year of high school. The naysayers told me I would never succeed if I kept my baby, that I would become a welfare dropout. They were wrong. Birthing my angel inspired me even more to be my best and reach for my dreams. How she changed my life is its own story, but I will share here the poem I wrote during my pregnancy.

 

Teenage Pregnancy

The sadness is the hardest part to bear. It sucks to hear we don’t want her at our school and she is a bad example. As I ride the bus to my new school, the one for girls like me, the old ladies across the aisle offer up their condemning stares. I hide my naked fingers beneath me. I cast my gaze downward and dream.

No joyful announcements slipped ceremoniously into mailbox slots. I’m told to hush, when all I want to do is blast away on my golden trumpet. As a pregnant teenager I’m required to take apart my trumpet and tuck it away in its velvet-lined case. I am not supposed to be happy about this. My feelings are supposed to be about shame. My happiness is not allowed to have its name.

I ask myself “why?” I don’t understand why my age and marital status are the only defining labels of my worth. Is the miracle of this conception less than any other? Is it not possible for me to be an excellent mother?

Before (and my life will now and forever be defined by before and after) I was drifting aimlessly, like a leaf being blown about by a playful wind. Now I have this baby growing inside me and a destiny that seems to embody the meaning and purpose of my existence.

I save my joy for the quiet moments alone in my room. I whisper to my little one, you are so wanted and I can’t wait to meet you.” I close my eyes and dream of counting ten tiny toes. I accept the sadness, but I don’t let it define my experience. For now, I keep the secret of my boundless joy between me and my precious unborn baby girl or boy.

 

I finished high school, walking across the stage to collect my diploma six months pregnant. I birthed my daughter in October of that year and brought her home from the hospital to my parents home. When I turned eighteen the following spring we moved into our first apartment together. I completed a year of college, then went onto University. I applied for and received student loans and grants. With the support of many, especially my parents, I earned my Bachelor of Education degree while raising my little girl as a single mom.

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After graduating in 1988 I went on to enjoy a successful and varied career as a teacher. I taught in public and private sectors. I taught kindergarten through grade nine. I taught in typical and special needs settings. I worked full time and part time. I loved teaching and the opportunities it gave me to engage with my students as well as devote myself to my family, which always came first. I married and had two more beautiful children. I was, and am, blessed with so much.

Still, there have been hard times. It would be dishonest and a disservice to brush over those. I struggled when diagnosed with Type I Diabetes and Hypothyroidism. I had challenges in my first marriage. I battled with depression. In 2011 my marriage fell apart. My children were adults and I was ready for a new chapter. That is also its own story, currently in the process of being written, titled Darkness to Dawn.

Now, in 2017, I’m still feeling full of optimism. I’m 51 and no longer teaching. I’ve always loved writing and now I’m dreaming of becoming a published writer. I’ll never give up dreaming. I know that fulfilling dreams takes hard work. So, I write every day. I send out agent queries every week, prepared for rejection, hopeful for affirmation. I remind myself, without comparing my aptitude with hers, that J, K. Rowling received 100 rejections before Harry Potter became a reality.

So yeah, I’m feeling inspired to follow my dreams.

 

Feeling Expansive; Hoping to Bring Down the Walls of the Ghetto Mentality

I wasn’t feeling inspired to write a fresh blog this week, life being pretty much same old, same old of late. Then before one of my friend Carol’s yoga classes three of us got to talking about how sometimes in our small community, instead of coming together and supporting one another, people, especially women, will ridicule and condemn one another. We speculated as to the reasons why. We identified the common suspects of jealousy, spite and a negative outlook. Lynn described it as a ghetto mentality, and my muse was inspired.

Ghetto mentality is used here as a slang term associated with people who, unhappy with their own situation in life, blame others. It refers to the behaviour of people in a community who feel they are disadvantaged and the way to overcome their feelings of injustice is to bring down those they perceive as advantaged. They usually compare what they have to what their neighbours have.  It is related to a perceived scarcity of goods, money, attention, status or other measures of self-worth or success.

I’ve written in other contexts about this kind of mentality in broader settings; Brexit and Trump are examples. Trump campaigned to make America great again, blaming current problems in the USA on other countries, other races, other political ideologies and other religions. Deflecting onto “the other.” Brexit blamed the EU for their economic challenges and immigration issues. This lack of taking responsibility is not only unhealthy, it isn’t helpful. In my opinion, the only way to make change is by empowering yourself, whether as an individual or society.

I’ve made a commitment to focusing on positive emotions and energy in my blog posts so I will move on to tackling how to bring down the walls of this ghetto mentality.

One possibility is to foster cooperation and collaboration rather than competition and separation. Barbara Gray defines collaboration as “a process through which parties who see different aspects of a problem can constructively explore their differences and search for solutions that go beyond their own limited vision of what is possible.” Furthermore, Scott London attests that “collaborative efforts tend to be loosely structured, highly adaptive, and inherently creative.” Sounds like a positive framework.

His Holiness Pope Francis makes a compelling argument for collaboration in his Ted Talk: Why the Only Future Building Includes Everyone. Michael Green also gives a brilliant presentation on How We Can Make the World a Better Place by 2030. And it’s worth mentioning the Venus Project again, as it is an organization working towards an alternative vision of the future based on shared resources and equality.

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Perhaps just tuning into Ted Talks once in awhile instead of watching the news or a sitcom on television could be a powerful tool in expanding your own mind-set. And while media can be inspiring, attempting to step away from all media and technology and getting involved in events in your community is a great way to feel engaged. It doesn’t always have to be serious. It could be taking in a spoken word or acoustic evening at a local pub/coffee house. It could be going to a festival for music, health, or spirituality. It could be inviting your neighbour over for coffee or a glass of wine and making a connection over conversation.

Story-telling can be a powerful way to invoke change because stories move us. That is part of my mission in writing musings of an emotional creature. In her Ted Talk If a Story Moves You, Act on It, Sisonke Msimang claims that stories can heal rifts and bridge divides because they make us care. They show us the bigger picture. Yet without action, stories don’t create change. You need to act on the emotions that ignite and inspire you. That’s where a lot of us get stuck.

 

Joining a group of like-minded people has the potential to offer support and volume to your voice. You can get involved in local branches of international organizations such as Amnesty International, World Health Organization, or various NGO’s.

If you are a feminist, you might want to check out http://www.globalsisterhood.com.

In Saudi Arabia, the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology, or KAUST is focusing on creating and nurturing talent and the Center for Creative Leadership (CCL) is prepared to meet the challenges of a rapidly changing world. “Around the world the image of the authoritarian hero-leader is being challenged, and the Middle East is no exception,” says David Altman, CCL EMEA’s Executive VP & Managing Director – See more at: http://www.iedp.com/articles/creating-collaborative-leadership-in-saudi-arabia/#sthash.aykg1x32.dpuf

In Canada, there are a plethora of organizations, depending on your passion. If you are an environmentalist you can get involved in Friends of the Earth. If science and health are where your skill set lies, LEADS promotes collaborating in research and development. These are only two examples to inspire you to google organizations based on your own interests.

In direct contrast, sometimes it can be powerful to befriend a person from a group that you are in opposition to. I watched a short clip on Now This where four people were asked to participate in a collaboration to build a bar together. Each of them was affiliated with a label; there was a sexist, a feminist, a transgender and a climate-change denier. They didn’t inform each other of their labels. As they worked on their project they talked. They were given several questions to discuss and during the conversation they built a rapport. Then their labels were revealed. They were given a choice, to discuss their differences over a Heineken at the bar they just built together, or leave. They chose to talk.

 

Making a friend with a person in a group whose ideology isn’t in alignment with yours breaks down barriers. As you get to know the representative from the group as an individual, you often discover you have more in common with them than the things you disagree on. You can then agree to disagree while working together, in harmony, to make the world a better place. Ted is at the forefront once again, with a great talk by Elizabeth Lesser titled:  Take “the other” to Lunch.

 

If you are interested in breaking down the walls of the ghetto mentality and are feeling stuck about how to act on it, here’s a summary of the suggestions put forth in this blog. Collaborate. Listen to and tell stories. Join a group of like-minded individuals. Befriend “the other.”

So yeah, I’m feeling expansive; hoping to bring down the walls of the ghetto mentality.

Feeling Hopeful; Digging for Light in the Darkness with my Daughter in Goa, India

A few weeks ago I received a message from my daughter, asking me if I would consider coming to spend time with her in Goa, to hold and behold her. She had been living at an ashram and had decided to leave earlier than intended due to difficult experiences with her teacher. That is her story to tell. My story is about how my heart called me to be with her. I said yes.

 

 

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My daughter, Tamara Dawn

 

Stepping for the first time onto an Air India vessel was like stepping backwards in time several decades. Thin, faded retro carpet. Stained, damaged, upholstery. I took comfort in the silver lining that I was seated at the front of economy (extra leg-room) and the plane wasn’t booked to capacity (extra two empty seats beside me). My smoky-screened personal entertainment system was dysfunctional; with no power what-so-ever, but the cheery attendant happily moved me to the vacant seat directly adjacent on the opposite window.

I watched the movie Arrival, an interesting feature based in the future. It addressed the current movement of fear-based policy and politics that have humankind cocooning into their separateness, building walls around their countries, making choices from fear, misunderstanding, mistrust, and ineffective communication. The message of the movie was that for the planet to survive it is imperative that people focus their energy on building a global community.

I peered out my window as I approached the massive, sprawling city of Mumbai; a combination of the usual city spires and domestic architecture, as well as a heart-wrenching number of horrific slums, the aluminum structures propped precariously against one another in row upon row of human degradation. Tears flowed down my cheeks at the inhumanity of it all.

I’d worn my abaya throughout the flight, taking some solace of comfort in it’s protection. I felt vulnerable, a woman travelling alone in a patriarchal social milieu. But the heat and humidity were radiating in the arrivals terminal and so I removed my abaya and slid it into my carry-on. I quickly realized that in Indian culture women generally dress more conservatively than Canadian women. Clad in colourful, gauzy saris, they would never show their shoulders in public as I was, although curiously, they weren’t averse to having their tummies or mid-backs revealed. Interesting to observe, the nuances of culture.

I had six hours to wait in the Mumbai airport before boarding an even sketchier plane to Goa. As I boarded I couldn’t help but think of Airplane Disaster episodes I’d watched with Mister, where the investigations led to discoveries of faulty old parts in old planes. I pushed the negative thoughts from my mind, settled into my shabby seat, cranky with lack of sleep and intense air conditioning blasting down on me, to doze in and out until landing just over an hour later.

I collected my bag from the luggage carousel in the tiny airport and found my way outside the terminal where I spotted my beautiful daughter waiting for me, looking like a contrasting vision of vulnerability and fire. The hot wind blew a welcoming kiss across my skin and I felt alive with the hum of India as I embraced my daughter tenderly, ready to shower her with all the force of my motherly love.

It was dark, so all I could discern of Goa was the coloured twinkly lights and the smell of curry and waste and the sound of horns beeping, dogs barking, and chickens squawking as our taxi driver navigated the narrow dusty roads to Tamara’s apartment. We each carried one of my cases up the narrow winding steps, through the creaky iron gates. It was past midnight and as we’d connected on the hour and half drive, we flopped into bed, the fan purring above us.

Suddenly, it stopped. The fan died. The heat fell on us like a heavy wool blanket, suffocating and thick. Sleepily, Tamara informed me, yes, the power goes out sometimes. What to do? I thought perhaps I couldn’t breathe. I managed somehow to stay calm and keep breathing and when the fan started up briefly I lit up with joyful enthusiasm, pulling the sifted air deeply into my lungs, only to have it stop again as suddenly as it began. I fell asleep, despite myself, and awoke much later to discover the fan back on and felt the kind of gratitude only absence can induce.

Waking to a new day, I was present to my mission of loving, supporting, and being there for my daughter. We went about the task of preparing food and talked easily together, as well as with her roommate. Then we gathered our bags and left with the intention of viewing retreat options in the vicinity. Tamara had rented a scooter, and while she drove quite skillfully, I was tense with the lack of helmets and the crowded narrow roads and the hazards of wild dogs and cows appearing out of nowhere to dart dangerously across our path.

Our first stop was a quaint little set-up of white canvas casitas situated right on the beach. In hindsight, I wish I would have just trusted Tamara and said yes, but I was still unfamiliar with India, still transitioning, and I wasn’t ready to make a commitment without checking out a few more options. We decided to walk along the quiet little stretch of beach that sparkled in the sun just steps from the resort. We plunked ourselves down in the hot sand to let the sun soak it’s healing magic into our skin. Worried about my possessions, I declined joining Tamara for a dip in the salty blue-gray waters of the Indian ocean, preferring instead to sit in peaceful solitude.

 

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Tamara enjoying the Indian ocean in Goa

 

 

We talked and walked to a café and ordered mint lemonade and talked some more. We processed together some of the darkness that she experienced at the Ashram, remembering even in that space to also dig for, and acknowledge the light.  I urged her to allow herself to heal from her experience before taking on the responsibility of holding the Guru accountable. It felt like flow and it felt like love and it felt like it was good enough.

Later, we found a restaurant on a different patch of beach where the ocean lapped lazily in ebb and flow along the silky shoreline. We ordered traditional vegetarian Indian cuisine; eggplant and spinach and paneer in flavourful curries with rice and naan. We held hands, then drove back to her apartment, having somehow forgotten in our ebb and flow of connection to look for a retreat. I also forgot my commitment to be supportive and leave behind my own agenda. I allowed myself to be distracted by discomfort and put that into her space. I’m sorry.

The next morning, we hopped back onto her scooter to go investigate retreat options, as originally planned. We viewed the hotel Lalita, Goa’s apparent 5-star facility, but it was booked to capacity. We checked out a whimsical property called Dreamcatcher, but it didn’t have air conditioning. We ended up realizing the first place we’d looked at the day before, Blue Moon, was the perfect compromise and we recognized it was the sanctuary for healing we had been searching for all along.

Our healing journey expanded. Tamara knew of an establishment nearby that offered authentic Ayurvedic massage. I found myself drifting in and out of time and felt gratitude for the gift of deep pressure on my aching muscles. I hoped that Tamara’s body would receive the strength of our Indian masseuse’s talents too. Namascar.

We ate lunch together in an open-air café, drinking chai tea, which I would become slightly addicted to over the next few days. I savoured the crispy rice flour crepe stuffed with spicy mashed potatoes and a grated beet and carrot salad with peanut dressing. Then we gathered our belongings from her apartment and loaded them into a Tuk-tuk taxi to make the short journey to Blue Moon.

Situated at the edge of the forest, where the river and the ocean converge, sits a semi-circle of white canvas tent-style casitas each with a name of a planet, Neelchamp, or Blue Moon as I prefer to call it. With a bit of persistence in our negotiations with Sunil, a very friendly and accommodating member of the staff with excellent English, we booked the Venus, an air conditioned unit with a back-up fan powered by solar energy. The seven huts encircle the modest but attractive restaurant overlooking the ocean, where we consumed most of our meals over the next few days.

 

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Blue Moon, Goa

 

 

We deposited our bags inside our tent. Tamara left to spend some time meditating and practicing asanas by the beach while I indulged in a large glass of Italian red wine and a bottle of icy cold water on our porch, writing in my journal as the cool breeze from the ocean caressed me. Suddenly I felt a tiny pinprick of concern and I decided to go and look for her. I found Tamara sitting cross-legged on the beach, lightly dusted in sand; she was glowing and looked grounded in her centre. I looked in her eyes, smiled broadly, and said simply, Hello … welcome back.

 

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Me writing on our porch

 

 

 

We went for dinner at the restaurant, Earth. Sunil brought us the remainder of the bottle he had opened for me earlier; Tamara commenting leave it to you to find a good wine in India. I ordered Mariana Trench followed by bananas soaked in rum with ice-cream. The tastes and textures tantalized my tongue and I was finally at home in the vibrant, organic experience of India. In that moment, everything in my world felt exactly as it should be, or, rather, even more perfect than I could have hoped for or imagined.

We spent the next few days drenched in rest, relaxation and rejuvenation. We moved in and out of easy flow and challenging stickiness as we processed emotions in the present that triggered memories from the ashes of the past. At one point, watching three crows and a crab, the mysteries of the Universe seemed so simple and my muse was inspired to write a poem; something I hadn’t done in awhile.

At my favourite time of day, the time in-between day and night when the sun and moon converge in the sky and the air embodies a surreal quality, we took our yoga mats to the place where the ocean sand is greeted by a wall of forest. We practiced yoga asanas together, Tamara leading us in a tantric series with a gentle invitation to honour our bodies and relax into each posture with intention. At times, I found myself distracted by the barking of approaching dogs or the scuttling of crabs in the sand or Indian women walking by with their children, their bangles dangling merrily. I felt playful and patient, grounded and light.

 

Tamara on the beach in Goa

Tamara Dawn; namaste

 

 

The sun set on the drama and emotion, offering new beginnings, our relationship as complicated and as simple as the Universe. I prayed, as my brief time with my daughter came to an end, that she would find a way to integrate the lessons while being gentle and loving and supportive to herself inside of her vulnerability. I prayed for the insights she gained to be manifested and multiplied by the multitudes of people faced with similar situations, where vast spiritual teaching is corrupted and misused by Gurus and other people in positions of power. I prayed for my own courage, to let my daughter find her own way, remembering my purpose is to love.

So yeah, I’m feeling hopeful; digging for light in the darkness with my daughter in Goa, India.