Feeling Expansive Inside the Gift of My Growing Gratitude Practice.

Yesterday was Canadian Thanksgiving, a holiday tradition we Canucks celebrate every second Monday in October. My first thought upon rising was of the crazy, chaotic Thanksgiving meals that were a part of my old life. I felt grateful that I’m no longer caught up in that pressure and pretense, of how things look and the stress of trying to be perfect. I’m so happy to be living my life of authentic simplicity.

Thanksgiving in our villa on Salwa, 2018

What I do miss about holiday celebrations is my family and friends back home. Love is the greatest gift of all, but with Covid travel restrictions, I haven’t left Riyadh once in 2020. I take comfort in the knowledge that they are all engaged in their own traditions. I can trust in the process of life, that everything is occurring as it should. I may not be with them in our physical forms, but they are in my heart and my spirit, always.

I find myself going deeper into my awareness of what an incredible gift my life is. How blessed I am. I won the love lottery when I found Mister, and everything else is extra. I’m so full up with joy inside our love, there is no space for complaining or wanting more. I accept, with gratitude, what I have. I cherish the flow of a relationship built on open and honest communication and the trust that builds. Every day I appreciate being loved for exactly who I am and for loving him as he is, without judgment or criticism. It isn’t something I have to work at or compromise to feel. After almost nine years together, I still find myself thinking, pinch me, I’m dreaming.

As it is, there are so many layers of gratitude piled on top of the foundation we’ve built together. Big and small; there’s no need to measure. My heart expands every day Lola is still with me. How she still gets so excited to chase her ball for treats every morning and follows me around everywhere I go in our villa. It expands when I look out the office window as I write, greeted by the vision of green leaves and red flowers in the desert. It lights up when I’m at the kitchen sink, preparing gorgeous food, and I see our beautiful palm tree, home to all kinds of bird species who chirp merrily, cozy in their nests built inside strong fronds. I appreciate our space.

I’m over the moon with gratitude for the home Mister and I built together in Panama. I miss it. This year of no travel because of covid has been hard on that front too. But how lovely to have a place to miss? And to be able to relax in the knowledge it is being well cared for by our property management team. We will return, of this I am certain. Having things to look forward to, I’m realizing, is yet another aspect of a daily gratitude practice. 

This year, my gratitude cup is overflowing for the shifts in my dream-to-be-a-writer journey. I’m thankful for the serendipity that started with a chance conversation on the shopping bus with my friend Danielle. I told her I’d finished my first rough draft of my manuscript for The Healing and she shared her family friend’s contact information. Anne O’Connell, of O/C Publishing liked my query sample and we began a partnership. Having her as a mentor has been a huge gift. I’ve grown so much as a writer and regardless of the outcome, I’m proud of what I’ve created.

The plan is to launch The Healing in April of 2021, with the dream of a cross-Canada book tour. But with things as they are with covid, I may need to shift gears. I’m okay with whatever manifests, though, because I trust in the process of life. And I’m often wrong about timings. One thing I know, it will happen, sometime in the future.

I’m excited about my life. I’m jazzed about my future. I feel incredibly fortunate and full of hope. Even with all my challenges, of estranged relationships, my health and of course, covid. I wouldn’t want to change a thing, because I know that even the things that bring me the most grief are the lessons my soul needs to learn.

Whether you celebrate Thanksgiving as a holiday or feel gratitude as a daily practice, whether you go big with huge social gatherings or small, with a few people you love, I encourage you to embrace being thankful. Turn your perspective to others, count your blessings and lift your spirits doing whatever it is in this life that lights you up.

From our home to yours, Happy Thanksgiving

To quote from one of my favourites, Max Ehrmann’s Desiderata: “Go placidly amid the noise and haste… Speak your truth quietly and clearly… Be yourself… Nurture strength of spirit… With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world.”

So yeah, I’m feeling expansive inside the gift of my growing gratitude practice.

Feeling Fed Up with Negative News, Inspired to Share Uplifting Life Lessons

I sat down at my computer to write a blog after receiving some positive feedback from a reader. Liz wrote, “I’ve just discovered your blog and have been loving the opportunity to see expat life in Salwa through your eyes.” Her comment had me leaning towards writing another ex-pat piece, perhaps an update on life here in the time of Covid. But to be honest, life here is pretty much ‘same old’ and I’m feeling tired of Covid.

I turned on the television and watched a few segments on BBC and CNN, hoping to find something in the latest headlines to ignite my muse, but it was just more of the same repeated stories covering Covid, racial tensions, the US election in November, Trump’s latest hair-brained tweet…

I felt deflated, ready to abandon my task and return to the flow of writing my next novel. But a voice inside encouraged me not to give up. Seemingly out of nowhere, I recalled how enthusiastic I felt after reading and studying The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho with my good friend Carol. The seed of inspiration was planted.

For those of you not familiar with this little gem of a novel, The Alchemist is a simple text packed full of wisdom and life lessons, as told through the life adventures of the main character, Santiago. For the purpose of this platform, I’ve chosen a few of my favourites lines to elaborate upon.

Everyone seems to have a clear idea of how other people should live their lives, but none about their own. 

This feels for me like one of the huge issues around social media. People use social media platforms to lecture others on the right way to be. The right thoughts, beliefs, routines, habits, political affiliations, diet, way to be in relationship, way to support their cause… the list is endless. And if you dare disagree, you are at best un-liked and at worst, personally attacked.

A good example is the silence is violence slogan that is a popular off-shoot of the Black Lives Matter protests. I’m not a protester. I choose to express my opinions through storytelling and conversation. But that by no means is an indicator that I don’t support racial equality. I am an advocate for equality on all levels; gender, sexuality, ethnicity, religion. I demonstrate that value through my actions and words, in how I treat others. Gandhi protested through the medium of silence and is revered worldwide as an example. Silence isn’t violence. You get to choose how to live your own life and how to speak your truth.

The language of love is the purest language of the world. (paraphrased)

Storytelling and conversations might be positive mediums to demonstrate support, but the language of love is even more potent. I can use my privilege of being born in a free country, to loving parents, with free, quality education and boundless opportunities to shine my light and be a force of loving support to others. The language of love is pure because it isn’t diluted with miscommunications fraught inside language and culture. It’s something you feel, and in feeling, you know it in your heart to be truth.

True love never keeps you from pursuing your dreams or becoming your authentic self. It never judges or criticizes. Love is the motivation that pushes us to strive and striving makes us better. As each of us improves ourselves, the world becomes a better place. As Gandhi so famously said, “Be the change you wish to see the world.” Be love, and you will never be misunderstood. You won’t have to convince anyone of your good intentions if you be the love that exists inside you.

People live their lives for the future, but the answers are in the present, if you pay attention. 

Mister has said often, how you live your life in the present becomes your future. If you delay your goals, if you don’t make time for what matters in the now, it will never come to be. So many people put all their energy into their work to reach a goal of success and ignore their family and friends in the process. When they arrive at their goal, they find they are alone and miserable, without anyone to witness them in their achievement. 

Others put off opportunities for self-growth and education for some distant point in the future. They avoid the discomfort of challenges and procrastinate. Every step you take now leads to your future, whether you can see it or not. The challenge is to discover that optimal balance of pushing yourself to be your best while accepting your limitations with grace. It isn’t easy, but the secret is to create a healthy routine of hard work, rest and connection with loved ones in the now; in each new moment, every day.

I love Oprah’s wisdom, that your life is whispering to you, if you just pay attention. If you don’t pay attention, the whisper turns into a shout. It gets louder and louder until it erupts into a crisis. The practice of mindfulness, of being aware of, and listening to your intuition, can lessen the drama. Feel your feelings and act on them. Even the little things matter. The small decisions add up to create your life and the person that you become.

When you make a decision that aligns with your heart, you feel at peace.

Mister and I came to this realization a while back. We recognized that when we were struggling between several choices, the decisions that had us feeling light had positive consequences, while the decisions that felt heavy manifested negativity. We use this simple measuring technique all the time when weighing a difficult decision, and it has never steered us in the wrong direction. 

To bring this point into focus, I’ll share a few examples. When I was out of work and spending my savings, I was worried I would blow it all away if I didn’t accept a job offer. My fear had me choose a teaching position that didn’t feel good. The work environment felt heavy. The work load felt heavy. The learning curve felt heavy. But I didn’t trust in life and I took the job and the stress ended up creating serious health problems for me.

More recently, I was struggling with the decision of whether I should travel to the UK for an opportunity for holistic treatment. My medical doctor here on Salwa had told me there was nothing more he could do for me. It seemed ludicrous at first, to invest so much time and money towards my wellness, but doing nothing felt heavy. Mister encouraged me to go, and the treatment I received from Carole Windross at her Body Clinic was phenomenal. I left the UK and returned home bubbling over with joy and optimism.

The fear of suffering is worse than the suffering itself.

I believe this fundamental principle is operating in many facets of our lives, and at present, the negative news around Covid has created extreme fear. That fear is manifesting in a myriad of ways, including anger and intolerance towards anyone who doesn’t follow the same guidelines around how to best manage the risk of contagion. It’s crazy for anyone to think they know the right way, if there ever is such a thing. The virus is new. Even the medical and scientific community continually change their advice. 

Different countries have vastly differing protocols, from a zero-tolerance eradication point of view in Australia to a do nothing, herd immunity perspective in Sweden. In Canada, the attitudes differ province to province, but the main theology lies somewhere in the middle, with a goal of reducing cases but also opening the economy by encouraging mask wearing and social distancing. All are only choices with no proof as to their efficacy. To hurl insults at one another for disagreeing is disrespectful and unhelpful.

Most people see the world as threatening and so it becomes so.

This life lesson speaks to the power of your belief system. In Louise Hay’s self-help book, You Can Heal Your Life, she goes so far as to postulate that everything in your life is a manifestation of your thoughts. I’m not convinced that everything that comes into my life is by my own power, but I agree that your thoughts influence your actions and in the law of attraction. To quote Henry Ford: Whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re right.

Sometimes we wish certain things didn’t happen, not realizing how each event is connected to the next. It’s impossible to have only good experiences in your life, but it is possible to transform the difficult experiences by learning from them. It isn’t always about goals and outcomes, although having clear goals helps to keep us on track with our intentions. The process, the things we experience along the way that we didn’t anticipate, bring opportunities for self-growth too.

A great podcast to check out is Not Your Average Operator. Mike, Raf, and Paul, along with some of their guests, discuss a huge range of issues, but one of my favourite episodes was Episode #10: Limiting Self Beliefs. Together they came up with an extensive list of ways to overcome limiting beliefs, including looking at the bigger picture, surrounding yourself with a tribe of supportive peers and mentors, and learning how to be comfortable with discomfort.

Everything that happens once can never happen again, but everything that happens twice will surely happen a third time. (Old Arab proverb) 

If this proverb is true, I suppose we should all be preparing for a third world pandemic. In 1918 there was the Spanish flu, and now, in 2020, we have Covid-19. Will it be another hundred years or is it just around the corner? None of us know the future, but to me, this proverb speaks to the importance of recognizing patterns in your life and preparing for them. That doesn’t mean obsessing. It goes back to awareness, of paying attention to the lessons that keep coming up for you in your life and doing the work they are guiding you to engage in, to become the person you are meant to be and reach your highest purpose. 

So yeah, I’m feeling fed up with negative news, inspired to share uplifting life lessons.

*Note to my readers: musingsofanemotionalcreature.com website will soon be under construction. It is about to be transformed to an author website, in anticipation of the launch of my novel, The Healing, in partnership with O/C Publishing in April 2021.

**Blogs will still be composed and posted under a sub-heading in the new format.

Feeling Prepared for Change, Ready to Create a New Way of Living, Post Covid-19.

Ever since the Corona virus pandemic hit world news in early January, we entered a period of uncertainty and chaos that has turned everyone’s world upside down. People all over the globe are being affected in different ways. For some, restrictions feel like an uncomfortable affront to their personal freedom. Some see parallels to dystopian novels and feel threatened, that it’s all a government conspiracy. On the other end of the spectrum are those who can’t deny the reality, who have lost loved ones or are sick themselves with the disease. In-between are views that reflect economic hardship, political affiliations and mental health challenges, amongst a myriad of other causes and concerns. Today, I’m sharing my experience.

 

March 12: What’s on my mind, heavy, is the corona virus pandemic. It’s almost unbelievable how widespread it has become. I’m feeling vulnerable, having a chronic illness. I feel the distance from my family across the globe as flights are banned in and out of Saudi Arabia. Feeling the heaviness and the weight of uncertainty.

 

April 04: Plugging along in isolation, a new 24-hour curfew has been imposed on the city of Riyadh. Every day feels like the one before. Real life Ground-hog day.

 

Since writing those entries, I’ve had time to reflect, to go inward and sit in silence. I realize there are multitudes of issues that have been exposed in the light of the corona virus spot light.

 

Healthcare inadequacies have been revealed worldwide. Budget cuts have many hospitals unable to cope with basic needs of beds for patients, proper protective equipment for healthcare workers and equipment like ventilators. We’ve seen in Canada the destitution in care homes for the elderly, being operated under disgusting, un-hygienic conditions. Elsewhere in the world, we’ve witnessed the inhumanity of people unable to access proper care, including not being admitted to hospital due to over-crowding or a lack of free, government-provided healthcare.

 

It hit home, when a close friend of mine who lives on our compound contracted the virus.

June 07: Raimo tested positive and was taken to hospital. I’m devastated.

He waited ten hours in the hospital lobby for a room. At one point, a hospital administrator told him he wasn’t going to be admitted. As it was, doctors on our compound pulled some strings.

Days later, when Raimo was discharged, we delivered him some food.

June 11: Raimo sat on his front step, us more than six feet away, at the end of his driveway. It felt horrible, being unable to hug him, after all he’d been through. His head lowered, shoulders slumped, he cried as he told us of his experience. There was no air conditioning, based on a theory of heat killing the virus, and it was 44 degrees Celsius. His bed linens were drenched in his sweat, as he fought fever, low blood oxygen and an infection in his lungs. He described health care workers, dressed in protective gear; too-large plastic gloves, masks and shields in the searing heat, working tirelessly, for hours on end. He lay amongst the sick and dying as he received life-giving oxygen and IV antibiotics, while others, less fortunate, were turned away.

June 13: The worker from our compound who was sent to hospital in critical condition passed away last night. I feel such deep, deep sadness at the tragedy and the loss to his family.

 

Less dramatic, but perhaps as impactful, schools here have been closed since the beginning of March, and in much of the world it is the same. As a teacher, I know the importance of the educational system, and how dramatically these closures affect students, especially those who are vulnerable and at risk already. It’s clear that moving forward, changes need to be made. Class sizes need to be reduced. Technology needs to be available to all students, including low-income, to promote more learning from home and distance opportunities. We need to do better for our children. They are the future.

 

In the workplace, we’ve seen how unsanitary, inhumane conditions in factories, especially meat-packing plants, have led to deadly outbreaks. People need space. The practice of packing everyone into tight quarters to save money needs to change. Factory farming needs to be dismantled altogether.

Looking to the future, companies need to create more work from home options, which would not only create space for physical distancing, but reduce the impact of pollution and the environmental impact of daily commuting to and from work in vehicles with single occupants.

There needs to be access to free public transportation in big cities and more money invested in alternatives like cycling. Since Covid-19, we’ve been staying home to stay safe, and the improvement in air quality and pollution levels are already significant.

 

The question I hear spoke most often lately is “When will things get back to normal?”

I feel that returning to where we were before is a choice to go backwards. I’d like to see us move forward. Based on where things are now, things aren’t going to change much any time soon. Back in March there were 126, 380 cases and 4, 634 deaths worldwide. By early July, those numbers rose to 10,984,798 and 524,039 respectively. In the USA, Brazil, Russia and India there is still a clear rise in cases, even while others, like Canada, New Zealand and Australia, have flattened the curve. It seems to me we have to figure out how to make changes despite this virus.

            June 14: Covid, covid, covid… but is anybody listening? It would seem that in our age of constant social media and 24/7 news we’ve lost our attention spans. Countries are opening up despite growing case numbers. Protestors are marching shoulder-to-shoulder in the street, social distancing all but forgotten.”

 

The human mind is creative. There are possibilities, solutions and positive outcomes. I’ve heard of businesses making changes, like restaurants converting to drive-throughs and new on-line retail options, to name only a few.

April 25: Feeling present to the silver linings of Covid-19 isolation and lockdown. I’m developing patience. My spiritual practice is blossoming. I feel more centred and at peace, more grounded and fully in the present moment than I have in a long time.

Mister and I are committed to wearing masks and gloves when we go into the city. On compound, we maintain two metres distance while walking the dog, getting exercise, or using the facilities. We’ve embraced staying home, with date nights imagined at our favourite restaurants abroad and hours of FaceTime chats. I’m feeling more connected. I even finished writing my book.

It isn’t easy, transitioning to this new way of living, but it isn’t over until it’s over.

 

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Date night in our back garden

 

Life is simpler these days, but sometimes it is the simple things in life that bring the most joy. I’m hoping for changes that have us working as a global community, to be preventative instead of reactive, to do better.

 

So yeah, I’m feeling prepared for change, ready to create a new way of living, post Covid-19.

 

 

 

Feeling Grateful on Canadian Thanksgiving for the Gift of Every Moment

In Canada we’ve been celebrating Thanksgiving on the second Monday in October, expressing gratitude for the harvest and other blessings, since 1879. Typically, traditions involve family feasts with a roasted turkey as the main attraction, as well as an abundance of other dishes such as mashed potatoes, gravy and stuffing and ending with pumpkin pie and whipped cream.

As a self-proclaimed Foodie and a person who loves to cook, I look forward to this autumnal festival. I also appreciate the opportunity to express gratitude for the many blessings that have been bestowed upon me.

As an ex-pat living in Saudi Arabia, I have participated in large pot-luck dinners with our friends in the Canadian community and have hosted more intimate dinners as well. This year Mister and I decided to tone down on the preparations and focus on the gratitude, creating a romantic Thanksgiving dinner for just the two of us. We toasted our love and appreciation for one another, which for us is the greatest gift of all.

 

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Canadian Thanksgiving in our villa 2017

 

Counting your blessings and making space to acknowledge gratitude can be a rewarding experience that turns your perspective outward, onto others. It has to the potential to lift your spirits and have you feeling the grace of God at work in the world.

I use gratitude as a tool for discerning what my goals, values and intentions are and I create vision boards as a visual inspiration. I discovered this powerful ritual when I first watched The Secret, back in 2007, and have been making vision boards as part of my positivity practice ever since.

 

 

 

My vision board is a visual representation that shows clearly what matters most in my life. It reflects how much I value family, friends, and relationships, especially my partnership with Mister. It also focuses on my passion for writing and my goals of moving to Panama, learning to speak Spanish, and opening a restaurant. Interestingly, the word gratitude is featured prominently.

 

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my current  vision board

 

I’m a writer and a keeper of journals and I’ve been using the Sacred Journey Daily Journal for your Soul by Cheryl Thiele for many years now. Expressing gratitude is a part of each month’s exercises, along with affirmations, opportunities and goals.

I’ve seen people posting gratitude challenges on social media and how those challenges have the power to lift them up, creating feelings of joy and happiness.

There are several Ted Talks on the theme of gratitude. In his presentation, “Want to be happy? Be Grateful,”David Steindl-Rast posits that choosing to live a life of gratitude has the power to change the world. He argues that living in awareness that each moment is a gift is the opportunity and key to our happiness. He also suggests that even our greatest difficulties have the opportunity for us to experience gratitude by learning something through the challenge of overcoming them. His method for living gratefully is: stop (or at least slow down), look (open your heart) and go (take action).

 

 

There are also a multitude of books on the subject of gratitude. Words of Gratitude for Mind, Body, and Soul by Robert Emmons and Joanna Hill, A Simple Act of Gratitude: How Learning to Say Thank you Changed my Life by John Kralik and Gratitude by Oliver Sacks, are a few I’ve discovered. Google books about gratitude and you’ll be sure to find something that intrigues you.

You Tube has a long list of songs about gratitude including Kelly Clarkson’s Thankful, Celine Dion’s Thank You and Alanis Morissette’s gritty version, Thank U, my personal favouriteTake a listen and see what resonates with you in your list of things to be grateful for.

Actions speak louder than words, or so they say. For me, the most powerful experience of how gratitude has the ability to transform has been in witnessing how Mister engages with everyone he meets. Whether he is speaking to loved ones or with perfect strangers, he thanks them for their every effort. He thanks me, every single day, for everything, big or small that I do, never taking even the smallest thing for granted. His actions inspire me to be more mindful and I find myself emulating his example of expressing gratitude more often.

Ghandi urged us to be the change we want to see in the world. I believe that practicing gratitude daily, in every moment, is one way of being the change.

So yeah, I’m feeling grateful on Canadian Thanksgiving for the gift of every moment.

Feeling Blissfully in the Flow, In Panama with my Mister

After departing Victoria and a brief lay-over in Toronto, Mister and I were heading to Panama on Air Canada Rouge, a stripped-down airline service where everything from alcohol to food to movies is not only limited, but costly. We’d flown with them before, though, and knew the drill, so at least I had purchased a gluten free sandwich at a kiosk prior to boarding. We also had an iPad, fully charged, with the Air Canada App installed and a splitter so we could enjoy watching a movie together.

Lucky for us it wasn’t a full plane and the extra seat in our row remained vacant when the boarding completed announcement was made. What would have been a cramped and uncomfortable space became bearable. We settled in, watched a well-done documentary titled There’s No Free Lunch, rested and read and soon we were landing.

Peering out the tiny window, my gaze was drawn to the sun peeking out of the clouds and illuminating the impressive coastline dotted with shiny skyscrapers and the sparkling ocean. I could see the forest spreading out in all directions from the city, shade upon shade of green, and I felt excited that I was about to get reacquainted with Panama. I love Panama.

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Panama City Harbour

 

We were staying the first three days in the city, at a condo in the Amador Causeway we’d rented from our friends at Patty’s Casitas. Patty and her husband Rudy greeted us warmly at the buildings entrance and helped us load our massive amount of luggage onto the lift.

The condo was beautifully appointed and pristinely clean, just like the units we’d rented from them in the past in Casco Viejo. They’d left a complimentary bottle of wine so we opened it and toasted our arrival over a glass.

After unpacking our things and freshening up we walked over to a local restaurant Patty had recommended, La Fabrica. We were able to communicate sufficiently to our Spanish speaking server and I ordered the Salmon Marrakesh that was full of flavour and textures. The ambience was friendly, welcoming and relaxing and as we sat under the canopy of a star-filled night we felt content.

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La Fabrica

Our first day started early as we were being picked up by a driver arranged by our lawyer who was taking us to apply for our cedulas, the national identity cards in Panama. We met two Australians in the line-up and engaged in interesting conversations on topics from politics and economics to humanity and health, making the two and half hours fly by quickly.

After our business was taken care of we decided to celebrate our success over lunch at one of our favourite restaurants in the city, La Fragatta. The architecture and interior design created the experience of being on a high-end cruise ship. The well-dressed waiter, who spoke not a word of English, greeted us with professionalism and warmth and directed us to a cozy booth.

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La Fragatta

Mister took the liberty of ordering us a bottle of Catena Malbec, una botella vino tinto por favor. We glanced at the menu, but we were both eying two of the appetizers we’d chosen at our last visit. The cheese plate featured a variety of sharp, tangy cheeses, including a luxurious manchego that was my favourite. The grilled vegetable platter consisted of a variety of delicious delicacies, seasoned and cooked to perfection.

Friday turned out to be Fabulous Friday, as Friday’s often are. We slept in. We took a long stroll along the causeway. We shopped for window coverings, a phenomenal experience with the expertise of Susana at Nostalgia Designs. We refreshed over a light lunch at Paul’s and then did some more house shopping, buying a gorgeous gray leather sectional and stunning floor-length mirror.

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Mister & Me on the Amador Causeway

Back at our condo we indulged in Happy Hour, which turned into happy, happy hour. Feeling like cats and canaries and the day wasn’t even over!

Fabulous Friday concluded with a taxi ride into Casco Viejo for a romantic dinner at Grapes. We walked into a cozy space with inviting décor. The tables were dark wood with chairs upholstered in crème leather. The side wall featured an impressive wooden built-in wine fridge. Black chandeliers of intricate design hung from the ceiling, and although not to my taste, suited the space.

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Me & Mister outside Grapes, with a view of downtown Panama

Our server was pleasant and very professional. When he informed us the bottle of wine we’d requested was out of stock, he suggested an alternative, much more expensive Argentinian Malbec. It was one of those wines where the first sip is alluring but with each taste grows more and more pleasing on the palate.

We decided to go all in with three courses. I started with the corvina ceviche, a local favourite dish, whilst Mister savored the trio of tacos. For our mains I chose the stuffed chicken breast in a curry mint sauce that was phenomenal. Mister ordered a filet of beef which he reported to be masterfully seasoned and cooked to perfection. For dessert I had the house made crème caramel which danced silkily over my tongue and Mister chose the chocolate brownie. Throughout the two-hour experience we engaged in fluid conversation, easily moving from light to deep topics and I felt blissfully in the flow.

We’d planned to take Saturday off, but then we received a call from our builder. He was requesting we make a trip into Tech and House, our appliance store. I was feeling a little frustrated, but when we arrived to discover the air conditioning at the shop was down and I had a low blood sugar, a little became a little bit more. It hit the ceiling, though, when an accident on the bridge had traffic backed up in every direction downtown and what should have been a ten- minute taxi ride home became two hours.

The next day we packed up and checked out of our casita. Rudy was driving us to Coronado to view our home for the first time since we left in February. It is difficult to describe how it felt, but I’ll try.

Upon entering the house, Mister and I were both impressed right away with how magnificent our floor tiles looked. Stepping into the office immediately to the left, it was barren, with no murphy bed, desk, or bookshelf installed, as requested. Apparently, their carpenter had been unwell.

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Living & Dining Room of our House

We next viewed the bathroom off the office. The large matte tiles were gorgeous and complemented beautifully by the shiny small black mosaic tiles. The granite and sink both looked amazing. But the window was mounted over the sink instead of the toilet, leaving no space for a vanity mirror. The tempered shower glass doors were not installed and the toilet was taped over; plumbing not yet available.

In the kitchen the cabinets looked gorgeous but there were no knobs or handles. The wine fridge and dishwasher were too tall (even though we’d sent the dimensions long before), requiring them to take off the granite counter. Finally, the fridge wasn’t installed because the builder informed us it was also too large for the space provided.

Appliances became an issue once again when we viewed the laundry room, which quite frankly looked horrible. One could barely open the washer and dryer because the hall was so narrow. The walk-in closet was the final disappointment, resembling more of a cave or dungeon.

We went outside and were pleased to discover the completed pool filled with clear, clean water. As a few flies buzzed around me in the heat, I couldn’t help but feel disheartened. I was realizing that there was no way we were going to be able to move in to our home in three days with the amount of work still to be done and I could only hope the condo we’d rented for three days at Coronado Bay would be available for seven more.

Feeling our mixed feelings, we drove to the rental, relieved when the owner assured us that we could have the unit for the duration of our visit. We were even more thrilled when we found out that because it was low season and late in the day, it was only going to cost us $900 for ten days for a one- bedroom, two- bathroom condo right on the beach.

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View from our condo balcony

We didn’t have the energy to cook ourselves dinner so we walked over to our favourite restaurant in Coronado, Luna Rosa. The atmosphere was inviting, and the food was, as always, fabulous. It was one of many more to come in following days, and I felt grateful.

Over the next seven days our schedules were filled with meetings with the builders. They were generous in accommodating us and together we came up with creative solutions to the challenges we’d identified.

There was more shopping in the city, a few good work-outs and yoga practices. All of our packages that we’d ordered from Amazon and Wayfair were stacked in the garage and it was like Christmas as we unpacked and revealed the items we’d purchased. Everything from our dishes to wine glasses looked amazing.

Mister and I shared quality time together, taking advantage of the rooftop pool and ocean access that our rental provided. We ate great food and drank beautiful wine.

As the trip came to an end, I found myself in the same frame of mind I’d been in Canada – grateful to be taking on life’s challenges together as team. Bien equipo. I know in my heart that our home will be perfect when it is all done and that we will both love living in our space, in our happy place; Coronado, Panama.

So yeah, I’m feeling blissfully in the flow, in Panama with my Mister.

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 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 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.

https://www.ted.com/talks

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 Fortunate for Healthcare in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

When I moved from Canada to Saudi Arabia I never imagined that the quality of health services would be at a similar standard, let alone superior. Unfortunately, the lack of health care professionals combined with increasing government cuts to health care budgets in Canada has impacted access and delivery dramatically. In Saudi Arabia, on the other hand, it appears that both financing and trained health professionals are in abundance.

 

I have two chronic autoimmune diseases, diagnosed in my twenties. The first disease, Type I Diabetes Mellitus, is usually juvenile onset, but may occur at any age. It occurs when the body’s own immune system destroys the insulin-producing cells of the pancreas. The second, Hypothyroid disease, is a condition in which the thyroid gland is considered underactive. I had no known relatives with Diabetes, and although Hypothyroidism runs in my family, I wasn’t aware of it at the time.

 

Diabetes treatment

 

Having a chronic illness like Type I Diabetes is manageable. There is no cure, nor is it easy to try and mimic what the pancreas does automatically, but insulin therapy is available. To manage it well requires diligence and hard work. The support of health care professionals, particularly a skilled and knowledgeable endocrinologist, can be very helpful.

 

I’d like to say I’ve had amazing support from the health care system as a Canadian, but that would be a lie. I happen to be one of the fortunate people who, when initially diagnosed, had health care coverage from both my husband’s employer and my own that rendered my insulin, test strips, and other diabetes supplies free. Other people aren’t so lucky.

 

When, for other health reasons, I had to stop working, I had to pay for all my prescriptions until I reached a deductible of $2500. I managed, using money I’d saved over the years.  I’ve met other people less fortunate who don’t fare so well. They end up choosing not to test regularly because they don’t have coverage and with each test strip valuing at a dollar, testing frequently can soon become a financial burden.

 

The biggest challenge for me has been in receiving supportive care. When I moved to Victoria from Calgary, it was almost impossible to find a general practitioner, whom you need to see first to procure a referral to any specialist. There was only one doctor accepting new patients, and once I met her and had to endure her patronizing, unprofessional attitude, it became clear why she had vacancies. I had no other choice. She made the referral to an endocrinologist and it took over four months just to book an initial consultation.

 

At the time, I was having considerable difficulty achieving what has been determined to be a healthy range of blood sugar, or A1C. Upon reviewing my health journal, the endocrinologist in question made a few suggestions to alter my regimen and dosage of insulin shots. There was no discussion involving diet or exercise what-so-ever. None. Lucky for me I have the self motivation and initiative to research nutritional recommendations on my own, but the information available is highly diverse and often conflicting. I felt alone, confused and unsupported.

 

I have felt chastised for my lack of achieving blood sugars within goal instead of helped to improve them. Some doctors referred to me as noncompliant, which confused me more. After all, who is to benefit from good control and who is to suffer the complications if not me? I have battled on with my own unwavering determination, pretty much on my own.

 

In December of 2012 I started to suffer from a range of debilitating symptoms. I was teaching in a new position that was very stressful, which I’m certain contributed to the problem. I fainted during yoga and proceeded to have various vasovagal episodes. I had an infection in my knee that required intravenous antibiotics followed by an oral dosage, for a total of three weeks. I started to experience chronic fatigue and generalized weakness. Holding my arm above my head to write on the chalkboard became impossible and writing up report cards on my computer caused deep pain in my hands.

 

I made an appointment with my general practitioner, the one I described earlier. She intimated that it was all in my head, that I was a hypochondriac. When the blood tests revealed high levels of cortisol, she suggested I might be developing another autoimmune disease, perhaps lupus. And when she informed me the referral to a rheumatologist would take four months, she told me it was just as well because I would only be put on a regimen of extreme pain killers for the rest of my life anyway. She completely missed the result indicating I had a urinary tract infection and it was left untreated for over two weeks.

 

Within a few weeks, I had to go from teaching full time to part time and a few weeks after that I had to, somewhat stubbornly, resign. At this point, I decided I had to take matters into my own hands. Since there wasn’t an alternative western doctor in Victoria to choose from, I took it upon a recommendation to seek help from a doctor in Nanaimo who practices integrated, functional and alternative medicine at his clinic. It was tedious driving the two hours each way, once a week, for IV infusion treatments for high levels of mercury and lead in my bloodstream, but at least I was finally hopeful.

 

My challenges persisted. Eventually I was diagnosed with Lyme’s disease. Even that diagnosis was fraught with difficult to determine blood testing and medical doctrine in BC suggesting that chronic Lyme’s disease did not exist at best, and if it did, there was certainly no cure. It took determination and a miracle, but I ended up in the care of a doctor who practices Homeopathic and Naturopathic medicine. After two and a half years of intense and expensive treatment, not covered by health care, I am cured of Lyme’s disease. I’ve started taking my life back, living each day with greater vitality and overwhelming gratitude.

 

http://topdocumentaryfilms.com/under-our-skin/

 

Which brings me back to my current feelings of being fortunate.  Before arriving in Saudi Arabia, I was required to undergo a thorough, in-depth medical, including a battery of tests and forms. Upon arrival, I had to have another medical, in Riyadh, before being issued residency. My Mister introduced me to the Medical Clinic on our compound right away, and the level of service ever since I arrived has been nothing short of exemplary.

 

A few months back Mister and I were packing up to leave on holiday when I started having spasms in my leg. The clinic was closed and we were leaving in a few hours. I couldn’t imagine having to endure the long flights with the pain I was in. Mister called the emergency line and the nurse on call agreed to come by and have a look. He came to our home and examined me, then gave me a shot of magnesium to relax the muscle, along with several pain medications and a detailed prescription of how to follow a successful pain management regimen. It made our trip doable and I was beyond grateful.

 

Earlier that year I developed a severe pain in my tooth. It was a Friday, the religious day when the dentist and medical centre are both closed. But again, the nurse on call met us at the clinic and gave me some temporary pain medication. I called my dentist at Smile Dental and could get in immediately. Upon examining me it was clear I needed a root canal. I had to follow a week of antibiotic therapy for the infection, and right away I was scheduled for the procedure. My dentist, a pleasant and professional Saudi woman, did an amazing job and I was thrilled with the result.

 

 

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Smile Design professionals

 

 

When I need to make an appointment to see one of the two doctors practicing at our clinic it usually takes a day or two to get in to see them. If I have an issue that requires a specialist, they make a referral, and the appointment is scheduled within a week or two. All my supplies are free, either given to me at our clinic, or purchased at a pharmacy in Riyadh and then reimbursed directly to Mister’s pay. I have seen a gynecologist from Greece, an ophthalmologist from Jordan, and I’m going to see an endocrinologist from the UK in a few weeks.

 

What really blew me away was the access to diagnostics. I’ve been having difficulty with pain in my neck and shoulder, including numbness in my right arm, for several months now. When I asked my doctor if I could be referred to a Chiropractor, she agreed, but suggested I get an MRI first to properly diagnose the situation. I was stunned. I called Kingdom hospital and was given an appointment for the next week. And so I had my first MRI and the results were emailed to me the next day. Meanwhile, back in Canada, people like my mom and mother-in-law are waiting four to six months to receive an MRI for chronic and painful conditions.

 

 

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MRI @ Kingdom Hospital Radiology Department, Riyadh

 

 

I don’t know enough about the politics and regulations of each country to quote cold, hard, facts. I can only speak of my experiences, then and now. I guess what has impacted me most, besides the superior service, is the feeling of being treated with respect. The medical community here assumes I am doing my best and that I want to be as healthy as I can. They support me in achieving my health goals without being authoritarian. We work together, as a team, to review my observations and discuss possible treatment. The care I have received has been thorough and my concerns have never once been dismissed.

 

So yeah, I’m feeling fortunate for the health care I am receiving in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

Feeling a Sense of Belonging as an Expat living in Saudi Arabia

 

I arrived in Riyadh on May 21, 2015 and yet this feeling of belonging has only begun to manifest over the last few months. Anyone who knows me understands I am slow to transition. I’m not certain what event or combination of events led me to feeling like I belong in this community on Salwa compound. I didn’t even realize it was missing until I felt it.

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They say that home is where your heart is. Yet my heart has ties and bonds in so many places, with so many people. Since falling in love with Mister I’ve claimed that I could live anywhere in the world and be happy, if I was with him. That still holds true, but even an amazing relationship doesn’t replace all the other connections that create balance and a meaningful existence.

 

When Mister asked me how I felt about moving from Canada I had mixed feelings. I was anxious about leaving my children and grandson, my Mom and the rest of my family. I was uncertain about living in a foreign country, especially in the middle east, of which I knew little about other than from media and novels like Not Without My Daughter and Ten Thousand Splendid Suns. I had misgivings about wearing an abaya and not being able to drive. But the opportunities for growth and adventure, not to mention financial security for our up-coming retirement, were more compelling than my fears and I said yes. We agreed to give it a go and when asked what our long-term plan is, we simply say, “as long as we’re happy.”

 

So, I came, with few expectations and an open mind, never once imagining I would end up having so many fulfilling experiences nor meeting so many amazing people from so many different cultures. Here on the compound of Salwa I have met people from the UK, Australia, South Africa, Germany, Nicaragua, Kenya, and Poland. I’ve interacted with service providers from Nepal, India, Sri Lanka and the Philippines. I’ve met the odd Saudi Arabian too, but due to restrictions around the public conduct of women, that hasn’t been as easy.

 

 

Since everyone on Salwa are expats living in a foreign country, we can relate to one another and offer support. Most of the people I have had the opportunity to meet are positive, and I consider myself fortunate to have acquaintances from a broad spectrum. Some have likened the experience of living on Salwa to living in a fish bowl. Granted, it is a small community and when you work and play with the same people, it can get a bit too familiar at times. For me, the positives far out-weigh the negatives and I’ve come to view my life on Salwa as my sanctuary.

 

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Entertaining friends in our garden

Salwa feels like a sanctuary for many reasons. In the almost two years since I’ve lived here I still feel uncomfortable in the world outside the walls of our compound. When I need a service or product in the city, which is typically once a week, the first challenge to overcome is how to get there. As I’ve mentioned, women aren’t allowed to drive here, so if my Mister is at work, I must arrange a driver. Drivers are in a competitive business, and many times I have had my driver call to cancel or rearrange at the last minute. For a hard-core planner, such as myself, this alone can be challenging.

 

Driver arrangements secured, the next challenge is navigating the traffic of Riyadh to arrive at my destination safely. I have vented about this before in earlier posts, so suffice to say that the combination of being in a big city with drivers who are distracted and self-focused creates mayhem in one form or another on a regular basis. I often find my heart in my throat, or in my stomach. As my friend Rhonda so wisely advised, it’s best not to look. Going on adventures into the city with friends is a highly advisable distraction.

 

Clad in an abaya, I feel like an imposter. I have also berated this aspect of living in a Muslim country, but it bears repeating. The abaya is a tripping hazard. When a scarf is adorned as well, you lose part of your peripheral vision, and when you already suffer from coordination issues, it can cause one to bump into things. When it is hot, which is most of the time, or when I am having a hot flash, which is a great deal of the time, the abaya feels like the weight of the world draped over my shoulders.

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The physical constraints of the abaya, however, pale in comparison to the emotional discomfort. To say I feel like an imposter may sound like I’m being a drama queen, but the truth of the matter is, I’m not Muslim, and to adorn myself in a garment that is part of that religion and culture feels hypocritical. Furthermore, I am a liberal and feminist thinker, believing in the equality of all human beings. I don’t have the knowledge to make an informed comment, but when I see an entire family out and about and all the men and children are dressed in designer fashions whilst the women are kept covered in drab abayas, it feels oppressive.

 

Driver and abaya aside, there are still a multitude of challenges once arriving at the destination. There are prayer times, language barriers, and products that are unfamiliar with ingredients listed in foreign languages. With food allergies, this can be a big problem. I have had occasion when shopping for groceries and prayer starts and the produce weighing stations close and the cashiers close and I have all my items, including perishables, but have to wait the half an hour until prayer is over. I have had occasions when I’ve arrived at a store to find the blinds pulled, the shop closed from noon to four. It is a first world problem, I admit, but frustrating none the less.

 

Enough of the bickering and complaining, though, and back to the developing sense of belonging…

 

I failed to mention Canada when listing all the countries whose natives populate our fair compound. It has amazed me how leaving your country of origin can inspire such patriotic feelings of love and appreciation. Canada truly is a country to be proud of and my fellow Canadians have provided huge support.

 

Me and Mister joined the Canadian Community of Riyadh, which offers members opportunities for socializing in a myriad of interesting ways. We had a wonderful time dressing up in Gangster attire for the casino night, then getting all decked out in ball gowns and tuxedos for the Red and White ball hosted at the British Embassy. The Canadian Embassy has been under construction since our arrival. Volunteers work countless hours and monies raised by such functions go towards supporting worthwhile causes, such as families of soldiers who have sacrificed their lives fighting for freedom and humanitarian causes.

 

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Red & White Ball with Matt & Elizabeth Kingsman

A less formal but equally engaging organization has been the ladies known affectionately as the Canadian Chicks. Someone with far more technical skills than I created a handy What’s App for us to communicate get togethers, ideas, frustrations and celebrations. It has been a great way to stay informed and connected and I appreciate being a part of such a vibrant and positive group of women.

 

My fellow Canadians are not the only people who I’ve come to grow fond of here of Salwa. Many women are here supporting husbands who work for BAE systems and are unable or choose not to work, but are incredibly enterprising and creative. I have dabbled in a variety of clubs that offer a diverse array of opportunities, including Crafty Ladies and Book Club. There is a huge array of fitness classes on offer by people with talent and training and I have enjoyed practicing yoga and belly dancing.  And there are many casual get togethers too; ladies meeting up for a walk around the compound, for lunch at the Kingpin restaurant, for coffee at Costa, or to lounge by one of the many community pools.

 

On top of these incredible opportunities in our community are the deep and meaningful friendships that have blossomed. I have bonded with several women here whom I trust completely and would do anything for. I share openly with them my fears and my dreams, and I hope they feel the same ability to share their hearts with me. They’ve had my back and supported me through the tough times, the times when the differences felt overwhelming and the fishbowl too constrictive. The times when events in my personal life felt too challenging to bear alone and I needed a friend to lean on.

 

I blogged about the experience I had in Bahrain, of feeling a growing sense of belonging to a human collective. At the that time, I had thought that feeling couldn’t possibly manifest here in Riyadh. Then, a few weeks ago, a small miracle of hope was given to me in the most unlikely and unanticipated circumstance. I was in line at the grocery counter in Carrefour, when a little girl, likely around one year old, in the aisle beside me caught my attention. Her joy and innocence were infectious, and soon myself as well as the two Saudi women scanning and packing my groceries were enraptured, cooing and smiling away. It was a brief and beautiful moment, where our differences dissolved. There were no religions or cultures or languages, only the sisterhood of women, of mothers. We all felt it, and we smiled genuinely at one another in recognition of what unites us; our emotions and our love of our families.

 

So yeah, I’m feeling a sense of belonging as an Expat living in the community of Saudi Arabia.