Friday, December 26, 2008

Tuning into MuchMusic, Florence

So you want a closer sample of Italian life. A real “taste” of Italy, if you will. Your wish is to be granted more easily than you think. Chocolate. Simply take a bar of chocolate (preferably dark), and melt it, chop it, grate it…then add it to just about anything – presto, you have instant Italian fare. The pastries were the most obvious, of course…whether it was dark Italian chocolate nestled in the core of a flakey, buttery croissant (still warm from the baker’s oven), little curls of chocolate spilling out of your morning cornflakes box (yep – you actually buy it that way!), or little shards of dark deliciousness stirred in with the exquisitely creamy vanilla yogourt for your afternoon pick-me-up. Perhaps you may wish to indulge in a small espresso-sized “Italian hot chocolate” at your favourite corner cafe….why such an indulgence? Hot chocolate in Italy is just that – a cup of melted chocolate, perhaps mixed with a few drops of cream (just enough to haughtily insinuate that it is worthy of the liquid serving receptacle as opposed to a knife and fork).

Oh, and let’s not forget the Italians’ version of peanut butter….Nutella. Nutella is a spreadable chocolate that can be used more or less anywhere you would use peanut butter (though I would not recommend it with jam…). For those of you who are not familiar with this indulgent delight, it is the same chocolate that graces the soft centre of a Ferrero Rocher chocolate. Most commonly in Rome and Florence, it could be found smeared in generous amounts over hot Belgian-style waffles being cooked on sizzling buttered irons by street vendors. During the enjoyment of this delicacy, the consumer may be forced to assume a “pike stance” (standing with hips bent at 90 degrees) as the Nutella, made runny by the heat of the fresh waffle, develops an affinity for clean shirt fronts (trust me – I know). Other common Nutella uses include sandwiches, or for the “no frills”/skip-the-middleman approach, a large spoon is a notably effective vessel for the direct tub-to-mouth technique (this particular method is tried and true…).

For the record, I was not able to get through the above paragraph without a trip to the kitchen for a slice of chocolate. Ok, maybe 3.

Perhaps one of my favourite experiences, was something that many of you may take for granted:

On our first, day in Florence, Mum and I were strolling through the streets in the early morning, watching the historic centre of the city wake up. The scooters and the ubiquitous tiny energy efficient smart cars and three wheelers bounced by, their intended straight-line trajectories made choppy by the ancient, uneven cobbles their tires were reluctantly forced to negotiate. It was still fairly early and as we sat there, the shutters on the windows of the old stone buildings yawned into the beams of the sleepily rising sun as they were pushed open by the morning light-seekers. The smell of fresh coffee seeped out of every crevice as early risers sought to nullify their morning lethargy with a shot or two of thick, hot espresso. There was a stone ledge, slightly set back from the sidewalk, and as we strolled by, I impulsively plunked myself down on it, watching the scene unfold in front of me. After 10 mins, I could see that Mum was raring to go again, while I on the other hand, was feeling as though the warmth of the sun had fused me to the spot for the time being. Thus, I sent Mum down the street for 30 mins to burn off some energy, and as I watched her patter off, I realized that this was the first time in 4.5 months that I was aware of being completely inconspicuous and invisible to everything and everyone around me. I sat on my perch in the middle of the steadily increasing hustle and bustle, and no one paid an ounce of attention to me, or glanced at me twice, and there was no one forced to protectively “watch over me” in the background while I pretended I was alone. The only honks were the pre-pubescent, high octave toots of the smart cars as they squeaked their disapproval at the scooters swerving between them. It was bliss. I could have sat there all day, but I think Mum may have exploded if she hadn’t had an outlet on which to expend her (enviable!) seemingly never-ending energy! (Love you Mum!)

One of the things I find the hardest about living in Saudi is the lack of music. English music is considered “haram” (forbidden) in Saudi, and even traditional Arabic music is only found in certain situations. In the rare instance that a live performance is put on, it is only open to viewing for men. There is no music in the malls, or floating out of open car windows. Having been brought up in a very musical family, and having a sister who is an incredibly accomplished and talented musician, I have cultivated a deep love and dependence on music, with a special place in my heart for classical orchestral. One of my hopes while in Italy was to attend at least one performance. Unfortunately, we missed a performance by the Rome Symphony Orchestra by one day as we were traveling to Florence, and a performance by the Florence Orchestra by one day as we were traveling to Rome. Luckily, after a tip from our wonderful B&B host Giovanni, we found out about a choral concert that evening in Florence’s oldest church. The church was tucked away down a narrow alleyway, off of one of the streets in the historical centre. We forgot about the unforgiving rigidness of the old wooden pews we were perched on as the 16-member choir sung a capella, their voices dancing off the curving stone arches supporting the intricately painted cathedral dome ceiling.

The highlight of the night for me, however, was on our walk over to the concert. As we crossed one of the many open “piazzas” we became aware of the smoothly bowed strains of a violin being played. Open eared, we were lured towards the source of the beautiful sound, and soon found ourselves in the then-empty archways of the famed and majestic Ufizzi Gallery, where just that day, we had elbowed our way through the mosh pit of tourists for a chance to see original Devincis, Michelangelos, and Raphaels (well WELL worth it…).

The young man playing was lost in his music, swaying as his fingers danced and slid over the regal neck of the instrument, which seemed merely an extension of his body as opposed to a foreign object nestled under his chin. The familiar rush of emotion I get when listening to good classical music (for those who don’t know me well, I am a loyal Vancouver Symphony Orchestra groupie) was so intense from 4 month+ repression, that I actually started crying. I pulled the hood of my jacket up over my head, and sank onto a nearby stone ledge, tears streaming down my face, and soaked my body and my soul in the waves of melody swirling around that ancient, empty pillared piazza. I sat there for 10 mins before Mum gently nudged me out of my reverie to say we were going to be late for the choir concert. After dropping a few euros into the young man’s open violin case, I reluctantly followed Mum down the road, the tendrils of the musician’s song growing quieter as they gently curled in the air around us for several blocks.

I have now been back in the Kingdom for 2 weeks, and am very much enjoying a change of pace while working nights. The workload is much more manageable, and I now actually have the time to really get to know my co-workers. Last night, after we had finished our nightly routines, the five of us sat down to a wonderful Christmas dinner we had all contributed to. Our fare was an eclectic mix of Iranian, Sweedish, Canadian hippie, and Philipino influences, and under the circumstances, I can’t think of anywhere else I would rather have spend Christmas than with my “Saudi family” on E-1. Thanks ladies!

Hope all of you in the other hemisphere are all having a wonderful holiday

Miss you, love you


Thursday, December 18, 2008

The Politics of Leather

Buon giorno

I am back in the desert following my little excursion to Italia. I would go back in a heartbeat, though upon my return, I would not be without 2 things; a better command of the language, and my bike. It is no coincidence that there was flooding around Florence and Rome during our stay - I am quite sure that I left oceans of drool on the gorgeous Tuscan hills as I bike-lessly watched them roll by from the bus window. I will be back, and I will leave no turn virgin to the touch of my Bontragers (those are tires for you non-bike obsessed folks).

The language on the other hand will involve the avoidance and prevention of such dire situations as the following: Tall, dark and gorgeous Italian man approaches tall Canadian woman silently appreciating the beauty of the winding and cobbled Tuscan streets. TD&G releases a string of Italian into the electric airspace between them with perfect eyebrows raised in question. CW unfortunately has not even learned to say “I don’t speak Italian” in Italian, and is reduced to an awkward and apologetic “no Italian” as she turned the color of Mama’s arrabiata sauce. TD&G painfully attempted again, with palpable awkwardness, as CW wondered if she could somehow mime out “let’s just drink wine and stare into each others’ eyes”… alas, all CW could muster was a lame shrug and a smile, which, in good sport was mirrored by TD&G as he gave a small wave and walked away, looking back once to smile again. Advice to my female friends: DO NOT go to Italy without at least learning the essential phrases for basic survival such as “I would love to have a glass of wine with you”, “a tour of the city would be grand”, “I prefer red to white”, and “yes, you can pick me up at 8pm”.

It is no coincidence that Italy is shaped like a boot. This is a frank geographical prelude to “you-are-going-to-spend-a-ton-of-cash-on-fine-Italian-goods-if-you-come-here”. I willingly submitted to this stark reality which faced me immediately upon disembarking from the plane, as I was greeted by Prada, Gucci, and Dolce & Gabbana in the airport lobby.
In Florence, the street vendors peddled their goods in the shadows of the stunning Duomo, and filled every corner of the Piazza Republica with the smell of fine Italian leather. There is something important you need to know if buying a pair of Italian leather gloves (for the record, I am now the proud owner of 2 pairs…): Gloves are a very personal thing, and should not be tried on unless the buyer has unquestionable intent of purchasing. My first experience involved innocently picking up a pair of gloves off the display (just to test out the sizing) to admire how the soft, brown leather hid my knobby knuckles and made my long awkward fingers look rather sophisticated. I was just turning around to show Mum, when the other glove was swiped from my hand, and a tug on the tips of my gloved fingers violently unmasked my gnarly hands to a scathing vendor who was loudly voicing his disgust in Italian (here I was happy I did not know the language!). I was so taken aback as I had no idea what offence I had committed – I made a quick exit from the booth with the man yelling at me in broken, sarcastic English/Italian. Everyone stared as I stumbled down the uneven cobbled walkway, eager to escape the hostile onslaught I had somehow provoked…

Mum and I decided that he was just biased against English speakers, and decided to try our luck with a sweet little old lady at a glove booth at the opposite end of the market. She didn’t speak a word of English, so I politely pointed at the pair of gloves I wished to try on, and she pulled out my size from the overflowing, chipped wooden drawers under the display. They fit perfectly, but unfortunately, she did not have the exact color I was looking for. As I tried to communicate this to her and thank her for her time, the once cute little wisps of white hair at her temples suddenly seemed to curl into hissing snakes as she unexpectedly morphed into Ms Hide (typo fully intended)…she furiously made a “V” with her middle and index finger and stabbed the air uncomfortably close to my eyes, then jabbed her crooked, arthritic thumb at the display. Once again, I was the victim to a verbal assailment of unwarranted intensity which caused heads to turn for half a block in each direction. As I once more slunk off with Mum in tow (Mum wide eyed and laughing as one can only be following such a situation), I mustered up my last bit of pride and meekly approached a short, robust man at a booth tucked back from the others who was patiently tolerant of my ignorant feats (whatever they were), as 5 minutes later, I was walking away admiring my 2 pairs of brand new gloves. Unfortunately, Medusa’s booth was on the way back to our B&B from downtown, and while she may have been old, those years of smoking, pastry eating and wine drinking had in no way chipped away at her hippocampus, as every time we walked by her, she scathingly shot daggers at us from under the loose folds of her eyelids. I made sure my newly gloved hands were always unobstructed from view as we passed by.

Ok, a couple more stories to share, but I will save them for next week…as per usual, I have made an epic novel out of one story.



Saturday, November 29, 2008

Mona goes to IKEA

Would the Mona Lisa still be the Mona Lisa if the curators at the Louvre decided to save a buck or two and put her in an IKEA special? Of course she would…but only to those astute enough to appreciate and identify that it is still Mona batting her eyelashes through the somewhat distorted plastic “GULD ALNARP” (only $7.99 CAD) overlay. However, I think few would disagree with me if I were to say that for the most part, Mona would lose much of her mystique if bordered by cheap pine…

That is not to say that there aren’t other frames in which our Lady would look equally as alluring. Each frame brings attention to a different feature within the portrait which may not have been noticed before. None of the frames are necessarily better or worse…just simply “different”. Of course, according to human nature, it is inevitable that one will prefer some frames over others as different frames accentuate the features which strike each individual personally…however, despite having chosen a favourite, are you still able to see the beauty in the way the other frames feature Mona? Can you impartially appreciate how someone else may find a completely different border beautiful even if you don’t?

Ok ok… those of you who know me are aware of my ongoing obsession with analogies and metaphors, so I will get to the point…

When I first started nursing in Riyadh, and up until very recently, I was continually coming home frustrated and dissatisfied with my days at work. I felt that my practice was being hugely compromised by the limits being set by the system within which I was working, and consequently, the care I was delivering was immeasurably inferior to that which I had been giving at home. This is no wonder, as I have recently realized that I had been looking at the picture of my current situation framed with a border meant to accentuate the things important to the Canadian eye. Viewed through what I now understand was an extremely ethnocentric lens, the picture I was looking at was grey and vexatious. Over the last couple of weeks, I have started to experiment with different frames, which are starting to bring out the complex beauty in that exact same picture which I had not very long ago found so austere. As I learn more and more about culture and tradition, I can now see that, what is best for patients in Canada, is not necessarily best for patients in Saudi, (though there is a moderate amount of cross-over that has proven beneficial).

Though my Canadian frame still feels more comfortable I can see now that it is just not right for this picture. Thus, I have put it up in storage, for use again 8 months down the road (but who’s counting?). The longer my Saudi frame nestles comfortably around the borders of that same picture, I am enthralled with the newly uncovered intricate details to which I had been so blind before…

In conclusion to my lengthy metaphorical musings, I will say that I think that developing a keen eye for re-framing situations over which we have no control could prove extremely beneficial…try on a few different ones, do your best to examine each in an impartial manner, and you may be surprised at how your outlook on a situation can be transformed.

I will leave you with a story that many of you will find amusing…I want to be extremely transparent about the fact that there is another side of the coin to the rather heartwarming story of the Baba in “This One” (see Oct 17th entry).

I have learned the hard lesson of how to tell the difference between a hard headed traditional Saudi man whose respect needs to be slowly gained over time, and a Saudi man who is just generally not a very nice person (and believe me, I have encountered both in recent weeks). Once again, those of you who know me are aware that being extremely passionate about the addictions and concurrent disorders population I work with at home, I have a fairly high tolerance for letting things “roll off” of me. That threshold was recently crossed. Unfortunately for both myself AND the patient, it was on an extremely busy day where my nerves were slowly fraying, on day 6 out of 9 (with two single days off), and when I was just getting over an illness. I was more reactive than I would normally have been, and al I have to say is that he was not simply a "traditional Saudi man whose respect could be gained over time"…without going into too much detail in order to maintain patient confidentiality, there is now one patient who has banned me from taking care of him, and I think that is better off for both of us... Two steps forward, one step back…

For those of you who are interested in reading further, I have recently met an extremely dynamic and inspirational woman who writes a wonderfully transparent and commendably impartial blog about her experiences as an former American diplomat, now married to a Saudi and living in the Kingdom. I would encourage you all to check out her blog at (Mrs A. Bedu, I hope you don’t mind me posting the link!). She is also notably more vigilant than me in terms of regular updates to the site...!

I am off to Italy in 4 days, so inshallah (with God’s willing), my next entry will be typed one handed as my other hand will be occupied by a large wine glass filled with a good Chianti….


Saturday, November 1, 2008

The Paper Bag Princess

Finally – a day off…read “A” day off. Have been running around like a schizophrenic hunting the CIA lately, and there is no lag in sight until the beginning of December. The marvelous news is that on the 4th of December at 0120, I will be granted a 12 day long honeymoon with my Canadian passport (which is kept by security and I have to go through multiple lines of defense to gain access to) to ITALY. Not only that, my dear Mama Mac is flying in from T.O. to meet me for the length of the sojourn. Together we will join forces in the ogling of hot Italian men and the consumption of copious quantities of really really good red wine…I mean…in the studious appreciation of Roman culture and architechture…heh

The story today goes back to mine and Bec’s Oct 18th trip to the “Princess Sooq”:

We had heard rumours of this place – a flea market of sorts, where princesses ditch all their old clothing and fancy dresses, and common folk can come and pick through the discards. Legend had it that one could quickly acquire an entire new wardrobe for SR 50 (roughly $15 CAD). Bec and I decided we were going to find out if this fabled upscale Arabian Goodwill actually existed. We hired ourselves a hala (taxi service from the hospital) who assured us he knew where it was, and set off in a direction we had not yet been, brimming with visions of a vintage Eden. The brimming excitement slowly bubbled over into a flood of horror as our cabbie turned off the main road and began weaving his way down back alleyways, dodging piles of rubbish rotting in the clogged gutters. We were doomed. We were being taken to the underground chop chop (see blog entry Aug 22) storage space and had no doubt been slotted for execution for shopping scarf-less in the Kingdom Mall last week. We watched a mangy 3-legged cat, macerated skin sliding over its protruding ribs as it zig-zagged its way down the uneven stained pavement (narrowly escaping becoming a 3-legged and TAILLESS cat thanks to our cab). We passed several rusty hinged open doors which left no further doubt in our minds as to what the archaic “Saudi style” toilet consists of…luckily we did not have the chance to see a demonstration of how one was to use it…

Then, all of a sudden, we came to an open area, and our cabbie glanced into the rearview mirror and grunted “here”. We looked out the window at the mounds of garbage…no wait…those are…clothes? Bec and I looked at each other. Then back out at the cess pool of no doubt once vibrant fabrics, now browned by…well, let’s not think about by what. We paid the cabbie to wait for us RIGHT HERE for an hour, and I stepped out into a puddle of what I am still telling myself was a wee oil spill.
The next hour was quite possibly the most amazing shopping experience I have ever had…once we got over the fact that we would likely have to do some time in the autoclave upon our return to the hospital, we realized that this excursion needed not one hour, but 3 or 4! As we dug through the absolutely over the top beaded and detailed custom made princess dresses, and the mounds of old bags, scarves and casual wear, we gained insight into the culture of female Saudis we could never have gotten from observing the ubiquitous black flowing floor length cover-all abayas gliding around the city.

Treasures found? Oh yes indeed. Several dresses (SR 10 each – about 3.00 CAD), one of which I had altered (for SR 20), and wore to a super fancy black tie ball in the Ambassador’s Gardens at the British Embassy (see above picture). Also, a brand new Fendi purse for SR 5 (about 1.50 CAD), as well as a Pierre Cardin bag, also for SR 5.

Hope everyone had a good Halloween. Also, if anyone has been to Italy and has any suggestions as to “must-sees”, I would love to hear from you. Our tentative plan is to spend a few days in Rome, then head to Tuscany/Florence for the remainder of the 12 days, with possibly a little excursion up to Piedmont if time allows. Mum has informed me that Sicily is out of the question, so I will have to put that off until next time…


Your Paper-bag Princess


Friday, October 17, 2008

"This one"

I want to start today with a little lesson about Islam. We are all familiar with the expression “mecca”, for example as in “Tofino is a surfing mecca”…but do you know where the expression comes from?

“Makkah” or “Mecca” is actually a city on the Western coast of Saudi Arabia which is the centre of Islamic religion. Makkah is “the holy city” at the centre of which lies the “Kabba”. The Kabba is a large cube-like structure (see centre of the depressed portion of the plaza on the far side of the above image), and from what I understand, is thought to be in line with the centre of Heaven. Five times a day, thousands of pilgrims (every one of those tiny white dots in the image is a person!) make their way into the gates and form commendably organized concentric circles around the Kabba to pray to Allah (God). I want to emphasize at this point that Muslims do not pray TO the Kabba – the Kabba is simply the marker for the central point of Heaven, and is thus the most logical place to pray to Allah (any of my Muslim friends reading this, please feel free to add-in or correct me in the comments at the bottom!). No matter where a Muslim may be in the world, whenever they pray, they pray in the direction of the Kabba. In the hospital here, each room has an arrow on the ceiling indicating in which direction the Kabba lies. I watched the evening prayer in Makkah on TV (non-Muslims are not permitted into the Holy City) during Ramadan, and it was one of the most mesmerizing, beautiful experiences I have EVER seen. Thousands of people moving at exactly the same time, the chanting of the Qur’an (kind of like the Bible for Muslims) by the Imam (kind of like a priest, but not really) while it is all going on.

Now back to the point of the lesson: Makkah is the central place for Islam – people with the same passion drawn to the same place to share it and experience the exponential intensity of the large number of others around them there for the same reason. Thus, the next time you hear the expression “mecca” in English, you can think about the much deeper meaning actually attached to it!

And now, a story. This is something that happened just yesterday. Here’s the background:

The patient is a long termer who has been on our ward since I started. He is quite possibly one of the surliest men I have EVER met. From the start, he had it out for me. Before I could speak Arabic, he didn’t even want me in the room, and would wave me away like a mosquito with an impatient flick of his wrist every time I entered. The only time I ever got any acknowledgement was when he wanted something, in which case he would snap his fingers, and point at the desired object without looking at me…and of course he always wanted it faster than I could bring it to him, so a string of Arabic was forcefully unleashed into the airspace between us. Of course, the fact that I had no idea what he was saying served only to compound the "mushkala" (problem), and simply gave him an excuse (not that he really needed one) to be even more annoyed...Ok ok, so maybe my humming and my constant broken English/Arabic chatter whenever I went in didn’t help matters, but that is beside the point…

His son, who is in his room pretty much around the clock is a little more personable, but also speaks only Arabic. As my own grasp on the language has improved improved, Baba’s (“Baba” is the Arabic word for “father”, and can also be used to refer to an older man) disdain slowly morphed to a sort of low-level tolerance, and though I was still studiously ignored, at least the “go away” waves were reduced to a minimum.

Yesterday, I went into Baba’s room and was going about my business (yes, humming some Bob Marley, and proudly stumbling over my latest Arabic words to a very un-captive audience), when all of a sudden, Baba’s son blurted out “this one!”. I stopped in my tracks at this rare attempt to communicate, thinking that I must have done something SUPER “haram” (forbidden) if he was going to the extent of using the language so openly abhorred by his father. Baba himself was sitting in his usual position on his bed, slouched forward, towel over his head, corners of his mouth downturned, with eyes so caustic, I’m surprised the paint wasn’t peeling off the wall he was glaring at.

I started to go through all the possibilities of what “this one” could be in reference to: The pills? Change the bed? The IV? The son, then smiled (also very rare), then paused, and said my name (which I had no idea he even knew) followed by a string of Arabic which included “momareda” (nurse), “kooloo” (all), “kwayes” (good), and something about “Baba saying”, and then repeated “this one” and pointed at me. Suddenly it dawned on me what he was trying to say, and I think I still have a bruise on my chin from where my jaw dropped on the floor. I looked at Baba, and just for a split second, he looked in my direction, gave a curt, surly nod, and returned to melting the wall. Apparently, somewhere along the way, I had crossed the threshold into the realm of approval with this man who I had been so sure vehemently resented the fact that we shared the same breathing air. As I had no words in my vocabulary to express that he had just made my day (which is probably just as well), I simply nodded back, smiling slightly, and said “shukkran, Baba” (thank you), and continued about my work – but a barrier had been broken down. Despite his surliness, Baba was utterly compliant for the rest of the day, even going as far as muttering “mafe mushkala” (no problem) when I accidentally spilled a few drops of saline on his arm while flushing his IV – a situation which, 3 weeks ago, may very well have elicited apocalyptic Richter scale-tipping roars.

Small steps, my friends, small steps.


Thursday, October 9, 2008

Who are you?

I know I said that this next blog post would be about my trip into the desert, but am going to hold that story for a bit and reflect instead on a something I have been thinking a lot about lately. Though this issue has been on my mind for a while, an incident the other day ripped open a curtain on a window which allowed me to see landscapes I was not aware existed. As I cannot tell you exactly what happened for reasons which will become obvious, I will relate instead the parameters of the situation in as specifically non-specific a manner possible.

I want to talk about identity.

You are plunged alone into the middle of a new culture, country and environment. You don’t know anyone and they don’t know you. No one is able to speak to your strengths or view your weaknesses with endearment (because I know you all find my over-analytical views endearing…right?). No one knows what you’ve done, or what you stand for. All you are is a physical body with a name who is supposed to be competent to carry out a job. How do you create an impression? What will that impression be, and is it consistent with who you see yourself to be? Bear in mind that the challenge of creating a good first impression is compounded by the judgment of your actions from many different cultural frames of reference, none of which you are too familiar with. How will your identity change in this situation, or will it? You no longer have your past experiences to hide behind. No one from the Philipines cares you were a sponsored elite cyclist back home. No one from the general Saudi population accedes work done with IV drug users, especially in a harm reduction capacity (“haram kateer” – highly forbidden!). All you have from these past experiences are the core lessons you learned, and the values which were created or modified in the process.

We too often define ourselves by what we have done, and forget, or worse, fail to discover who we ARE. Too much, we emphasize “accomplishment” itself as a single event, an endpoint, and forget to reflect on WHY we did it, what we learned from it, and how we can apply this information in different capacities to future situations. Failure to achieve a set goal is seen as a negative, because we cannot “add the attained goal to our list” and are thus left to make empty excuses to ourselves and others as to why we can’t say “I did that”…yet what we have really failed at it to see the process as an extremely rich resource in experience gained. It is what we choose to take from these situations, despite our disappointment that makes us who we are.

What do you say when someone asks you who you are? Do you tend to urgently list off a list of your personal and career accomplishments early on in a “getting to know you” conversation? Do you sit back, listen, process and respond to what the other person has to say, let THEM ask YOU the questions, and let your “true self” come through slowly in your choice of response? Are your “listable” experiences events which occurred as a result of your intrinsic pursuing of what truly interests you and gives you pleasure? Or are they just one more thing to put on your “list” whose length is directly proportional to the recognition you believe you are owed from those with whom you share that list?

Do you care more about being able to say you did it, or can you see the importance in talking about what you learned from it either directly or indirectly, even if the actual event is not mentioned?

I want to make perfectly clear that I am just as guilty of many of the abovementioned behaviours as the next person, but it is something that I am aware of and working on every day.

Now picture yourself in a situation where you are working hard to establish a good, carefully calculated first impression on your new community. You know you have been doing well so far, but you have also seen how quickly an impression can turn, and are doing your best to merge at a matching speed, with plenty of shoulder checking. You have learned how to roll with and absorb the many small challenges you face while trying to assimilate into your new environment, and though you have had to bite your tongue a few times, you know that ultimately, it is only your own loss of control which has been compromised in most situations (ie, “their” way is not better or worse…just “different”).

Then, suddenly, someone is asking you to do something that is so completely against everything you believe in, and that you believe you stand for, it becomes “un-absorbable”. You refuse outright (with what you think is a very strong, valid argument). You are asked to comply several more times. You stand your ground. You can literally see the otherwise demure, unassuming impression you have worked so hard to build, evaporating in the rising heat. You can also see that the challengers know you are right despite them pushing you the other way – the “easier” way (a fact which, unfortunately, does not actually make your immediate situation any better).

Ok, let’s talk about me. In the end (as I am sure you figured out that this hypothetical non-specific situation pertains directly to yours truly), I am very very happy to say that I stood my ground, advocacy muscles rippling, and truly stood up for what I believed in. Most importantly, given the chance to go back and make that decision again, I would not have changed a thing.

Lesson learned:
Part of self discovery, getting to know your TRUE self, is being placed in a situation where all EXTRINSIC frames of reference defining “you” as YOU are absent, and subsequently making a decision opposing ALL external pressures, based only on the strength of your own moral intrinsic belief that you are RIGHT.

I will end with an analogy because you all know how much I LOVE analogies…

Some areas of personal boundaries are like lycra – Easily supports large changes in conformity, but still keeps things within the same general shape

Other areas of personal boundaries are like jeans - Stiff at first, but after being worn a few times, they stretch out comfortably, and you pretty much forget how stiff and hard to get into they were when you first got them.

Still other areas are like a suit of armour – No stretch or give. Instead, rigid and indestructible, custom made to fit you exactly because you know the dimensions will never change. You also know beyond the shadow of a doubt that it will protect what is inside of it against any attempted extrinsic insult, be it physical, psychological, or moral.

Thanks for listening
Love to all (and congratulations if you actually made it this far in the post!)


Thursday, September 25, 2008

Spare a square?

Well, it’s been a while! I had every intention of writing weekly, but sometimes it goes by so fast, I feel the week is like a rug that is being snapped out from under my feet!
Regardless, the benefit to you is that I now have several interesting and laughable (though not necessarily at the time!) events to share. For this week, I will start with my first KSA bike race:

Many of you have probably seen most of the pictures already posted on Facebook, so I will only re-post a couple here. We arrived at the race course – a site far outside the city and away – at 6:30am. There were already people in the parking lot when we arrived. Equipment varied widely from brand sleek new Trek Madones, to old school fuschia colored Brikos, to TT helmets with mirrored motocross goggles (which were perpetually lopsided).

I have a message to anyone who has ever arrived at a Spring Series Race, sighted the blue Porta-crappers and launched into a self righteous tirade of self-pity. You know the expression about the grass being greener on the other side? Well, having now hopped that fence, I can reveal to you that the greener grass is a hallucination brought on by the self centered Western illusion that every toilet should flush, that every stream should be delivered with bulls eye accuracy to the centre of the hole, and that one should never have to view the unwanted roughage of someone else’s intestines. I have included a picture of the facilities at the race start (above). Please, don’t waste your energy trying to imagine there is anything more luxurious on the inside than would appear from the exterior. The only thing missing in the picture is the steady stream of Filipino and Western men proudly yielding their rolls of toilet paper they so resourcefully remembered to bring with them. Anyone remember a toilet seat? A shovel to dig a hole? Did I use the facilities? Absolutely not. The only further piece of information I will reveal to you in order for you to better fine tune your imagination to my experience is that I had eaten a moderately large bowl of Weetabix, Cornflakes, All-Bran and Museli for breakfast.

The race was a 16km TT, and in keeping with one of my teammates pledges to avoid race reports on his blog, I will spare you the finer (boring) details of the course and my feelings during the race. The only thing different about the race here was that you had to dodge the occasional camel turd (like baseball sized rocks, and deadly if they clump in your chain), and in my oxygen deprived state, I had to be sure to avoid drinking if there was a car going by due to Ramadan (outlined in last blog). I was also amazed at the number of people who showed up – about 50 starters! Competitors were mostly Filipino, although a moderate number of Westerners as well (4 women including myself). I have also included a picture of the parking lot scene and a shot of part of the course (above). I knew only 2 people when I first arrived, but quickly met many others – I am happy to report that the camaraderie amongst cyclists in KSA is much the same as that in Canada, possibly even tighter as the community is so much smaller. It was almost a little disconcerting how many people already knew who I was and that I had just ordered a new bike from Bahrain…! Regardless, it was just really great to meet some people outside of King Faisal Hospital, talk about something other than nursing, and learn about where other expats are working in Riyadh.

By the way, the results for the race are posted at www.riyadhwheelerscom for anyone who cares.
Got another great story about a desert adventure (I have included one pic as a taster), but I will save it for next week - and I promise it will only be a week this time!

Thanks for all the emails, wall writings, Skypes, etc. It is so great to feel so connected with everyone back home! I am trying to reply to as many as I can in a relatively timely manner, and I must apologize that sometimes I take a while to get back. I have also been known to forget, so feel free to send me a nasty reminder if you don't hear from me and I will remedy the situation
Love Fi

Saturday, September 13, 2008

A quick clarification to ease uneasy minds

I seem to have caused a bit of an uproar regarding my last post. I feel the need to clarify several things to put everyone at ease:

1) The cycling group is all expats

2) We were really and truly out in the middle of nowhere - I am talking outside the city, away from everything, down a bunch of dirt side roads on a dead end road with nothing on it. We were in no way close to anyone who would take offense in any way to our activities.

3) On occasion, there has been incidents where there has been an "encounter" with authorities, and generally the women are just told to cover up (ie put on leg covers).

4) I am not going to wear the jersey again without covering up the logo (teehee).

I would never purposely do anything to insult Saudi culture, which, in most cases I have great respect for (and the cases I don't I know my place and keep my mouth shut). I am so sorry if I in any way impressed the contrary on anyone.


Tuesday, September 9, 2008

In the doghouse

I know you have all been waiting for a story about my first language blunder. First, I must give you a quick bit of background:

Today, we are going to learn about dogs in Islam (“Islam” is the proper way to refer to the religion practiced by Muslims. You can also say “Muslim culture”. Never say “Muslimism”). There are no dogs in Saudi Arabia. Though the Qu’ran (holy book containing the words of the Prophet Muhammed…kinda like the bible, but not really) emphasizes kindness to all animals, dogs are considered “dirty” in Muslim culture. Touching a dog voids “wudu” or the washing of one’s self with water prior to each of the 5 daily prayers (salah).

Since I have started working on the ward, I have immersed myself in learning the Arabic language. Throughout my day, I write down all the new words I learn, and every night, I practice what I have learned that day. I am proud to say that I can now ask any Arab if they have moved their bowels today, yesterday, or the day before yesterday, whether they have had any diarrhea, whether or not they are constipated, and if they would like any medication to assist in whatever dysfunctional bowel pattern they may be experiencing. Unfortunately this wealth of knowledge does not transfer well to communication with general public (e.g. at shopping malls, with cab drivers, etc). I should also make clear that while I can get a basic point across, I generally speak either in very short sentences with devastatingly poor grammar, or in single words punctuated with animated gesticulations to get my point across (the latter method was not always well received before I learned all my bowel-related Arabic).

Last week, my proud new word was “kolb” which means “heart”. The “K” sound in Arabic is quite soft, and to a Westerner’s ears can almost be mistaken for a “G”. That day, I was happily doing my morning assessments in my patients’ rooms, and when it came time to use my newly acquired vocabulary, I would point at their chest and say “kolb?” as in “can I listen to your heart?”. By the third patient (though I was telling myself that it was a cultural thing that I was no doubt misinterpreting), I could not shake the feeling that I was getting a little bit of hostility. It wasn’t until later on that day when I was practicing my Arabic with one of my Lebanese co-workers that I realized my embarrassing blunder. Apparently, I had been pronouncing my “K” sound TOO softly, and it was coming out as a fairly audible “G”. While “kolb” means “heart”, unfortunately “golb” means “dog”…in case there was any doubt as to whom I was referring when I uttered the insult, I must remind you that I was pointing at my patients’ chest while saying it. As an aside, I also found out later that pointing at someone in any capacity in the Muslim culture is also insulting. Penalty box for the Canuck, eh?

Next we are going to have a quick lesson about Ramadan. Ramadan is an annual month long dawn to dusk fast, the purpose being religious cleansing, learning sacrifice, self restraint, and humility. Eating and drinking is permitted from dusk to dawn only. There is increased time for prayer, and the general feel of life in Riyadh is even more conservative than usual. Mobs of Mutawa (religious police) are on every street corner forcing even Western women to cover up completely, and there are serious consequences for interactions between single men and women. Though foreigners are not expected to fast, we are expected to respect it, and we cannot eat or drink in public.

I will now mischievously report to you that 9 days into the holy month of Ramadan, I have ended my 2-month “fast”. Bike fast, that is. I had not been on a road bike since my mildly demoralizing experience July 18th at the Tour de Gastown. I was actually quite happy to be off the bike for the first month, but the feeling quickly abated and I have been dying to get out ever since I found out about the bike club in Riyadh. I have ordered myself a brand new bike (a Trek Madone 4.7 WSD for those of you who care) from Bahrain, and I have a loaner bike for the month of September from my Irish friend who is back home getting married (thanks, Em!).


Sunday, August 31, 2008

Rice and Beans

Last week was a bit of a down week for me. They told us in our general orientation that we would experience exactly that, right around this time, after the initial excitement and chaos of arrival started to subside. Of course, this statement was promptly pooh-poohed by yours truly. Homesickness is for the weak. Well, I was certainly forced to eat those words last week. Unfortunately, they were vomited back up into the porcelain bowl in the unit bathroom my first day of work.

***Saudi Lesson Learned # 1129: “Fresh” fish in Saudi is dependent on your frame of reference. When you walk into the “fresh” fish section at the grocery store and it smells the trash bin behind Save-On Meats on a hot summer day, the fish is probably not that fresh. Attempts to use this fish to satiate a craving for your Uncle’s famous West Coast BBQ wild salmon is like mixing
up a cup of instant coffee when you are craving JJ Bean…wait a sec…oh right. I do that as well.***

Yes, I certainly know how to make a fantastic first impression. Following a night spent with alternating orfices acquainting themselves with the toilet bowl, I woke up at 6am, peeled myself off the bathroom floor, rubbed the tile imprints off the side of my face, and applied a dab of concealer to the bags under my eyes. Sick days are for the weak. I fumbled into my crisp new white uniform, and queasily shuffled the 15 min walk in the 40C morning heat to start my first official day at work.

I met my preceptor (who is an absolutely lovely Finnish woman), and we promptly set off down the hall to the first room. Just as I was being introduced to the patient as the “new” nurse, my saliva glands started seeping, and the flickering fluorescent “fresh fish” sign from the grocery store invasively emblazoned itself in my mind. My gurgling stomach bile screamed “THIS FISH AIN’T FRESH”. I dropped my papers, stumbled out of the room and ran down the hall to the loo. I emerged several minutes later, face the colour of a stick of chewed spearmint gum. As we had not yet gotten to that part of the orientation, I first had to explain to my head nurse who I was, and then that I had to go home. Yep, great first impression I left that day.

The next afternoon, following the sub-death coma sleep I had sunken into for the previous 24hrs, the next day I decided that I should probably do a bit of grocery shopping (this time strictly adhering to Saudi Lesson Learned #1129). I moseyed around for a bit, filling my cart with rice and beans (safe for my stomach, but unfortunate for those around me afterwards). I was waiting in line for the checkout when all of a sudden, I felt something catch my heel. I turned around and came face to face with an irate one-shoed old man yelling at the top of his lungs in Arabic at me. Apparently my total moo-moo abaya wasn’t hiding enough of my “femaleness” and the distraction had caused him to trip over me and lose his sandal. Though I have no idea what he was saying (probably just as well), it was CLEARLY my fault. Sorry, sir – pardon my XX chromosome. He walked off in a huff, and I went home feeling more homesick than ever…

Anyhow, this week I am feeling much better, but I want to say that I really do miss everyone back in Canada. Being in the Middle East is super awesome, and I am so so happy I decided to come here, but it has also made me realize and fully appreciate (because of course I already knew this!) how super amazingly lucky I am to have all of you in my life. Miss you and love you all

Mafe al kher (goodnight)


Friday, August 22, 2008

Chop chop

Destination: Riyadh

Equipment: hair dryer, electrical outlet, dark coloured long sleeved shirt, dark coloured long pants

1) Put on long clothing. May also add scarf either around neck or head for extra authenticity, however head cover is not generally expected of Western expats.

2) Insert plug into wall. Hold hair dryer 1-1.5 feet away from your face. Do not turn it on just yet.

3) Close your eyes. Envision reddish, sandy dirt beneath your feet, date trees scattered around you (aside: date trees look like palm trees with grape-like bunches of yellow, oblong fruit growing from where we are used to seeing coconuts), men in white, long sleeved ground-length robes (“thob”), and women in long black abayas and face veils (“niquab”). The buildings around you are all unique: Complex modern architecture comprised mostly of mirrored glass, bearing both English and Arabic signage. The modern masterpieces like the “Kingdom Tower” (think giant mirrored bottle-opener) are starkly contrasted by a few remaining crumbly-walled traditional clay brick low rises nestled in the back alleyways. Scattered regularly like cacti in a desert landscape, the mosque towers (“minarets” – they look like bishop chess pieces) spike up over the roof-tops . There is a group of young boys laughing and kicking around a soccer ball in a nearby dusty field. The air is slightly hazy, and the sun is steady.
Suddenly, the breeze picks up…you are thankful momentarily, as you wait for the cooling effect to hit your sweat-drenched skin…then you remember that is it 48C, and you are forced to turn your head away from the heinous torch blast that is singeing your eyelashes.

4) turn on hair dryer on highest heat setting (ensuring it is pointed directly into your face) and hold for 15 sec, or until nose hairs burn dry and eyelashes shrivel.

5) don’t you feel like you were right here next to me?

Variation: Find a sauna. Repeat steps 1-5 inside sauna. This promises a much more accurate simulation.

You will all be happy to learn that 2 days ago, I finally bought a new abaya. It is being custom made with long sleeves and long body, but sans “moo-moo” waistline. It has a beautiful dark brown swirly design on the bottom of each sleeve, and on the back. There are a few little amber-coloured stones embedded in the brown swirly bits. This is all being done for 200 SAR (about $50!), and I pick it up Tuesday. Now...let me tell you about where I bought it:
One of the senior nurses took myself and another orientee under her wing, and drove us (well, her driver drove us) out to the “Dhera” Ladies’ souq (aside: a “souq” is kind of like a flea market where there are many different and extremely pushy vendors selling various goods for super cheap, cash only. The buyer generally bargains with the vendor for the best price. I am not very good at this yet.).

Once we were all shopped out (actually, once we were just tired of getting harassed), we left the souq, and sat outside in a huge outdoor plaza where a group of about 15 young boys were hanging out riding bikes, playing soccer, and joking around (remember when North American kids used to do that before computers and video games came along?). We laughed as the boys tried out their English skills on us with impish grins….”Hello!”….”Welcome!”…”I love you!”.

As I looked around the plaza, I turned to our co-worker/tour guide and inquired if there was any particular purpose to this plaza (Mum, you might not want to read this part!). She lifted an eyebrow, and replied in a hushed tone…”it’s ‘Chop-chop’”. In response to the blank look on my face, she offered a blunt elaboration: “ This is where they decapitate people convicted of drug crime, murder, adultery, etc”. All of a sudden the cement blocks in the centre of the plaza upon which we were comfortably perched seemed a whole lot less cozy. My response was a brief comment which Allah would have viewed with deep discountenance…as an afterthought, I asked her incredulously “how long ago did they stop doing THAT?!”. She eyed me in amusement: “They haven’t”.

Here are couple of pictures from the "social gathering" at the Australian Embassy a couple of weeks ago. The picture of us in our abayas is just as we are getting there. I think it goes without saying that the other pictures are later on in the night, following copious sampling of some of Australia's finest wares...

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Getting a date in Saudi

As-salamu-alay-kum (hello)…or…assalamuale-kuum (also hello)…or…assale-mu-ale-kum (also hello)…

Yes, just to throw a little more confusion into the pot, it just so happens that Arabic is a “phonetic” language. This means that things are spelled as they are heard - no right or wrong. Wouldn’t that have been dreamy back in grade 6 when you were hit with that spelling quiz covering “rough, drought, and through”?

This week has been spent mostly tying up loose ends (and replacing ill fitting clothing) in terms of acquiring ID badge, medical clearance to work, internet, gym pass, etc. I have learned that in Saudi, one should never expect to get something done upon first visit to said errand destination. It takes at least 3 visits, with three separate and increasingly prodigious (and often somewhat contradicting) explanations from those working the front desk positions as to why one must come back tomorrow. Once one is able to breathe through the sphincter-clamping, aneurysm-inducing rise in blood pressure brought on by this loss of control us North American women are so used to having (yes, yes, ok – and perhaps over exercising at times), one may actually find that it is a good opportunity to get to know some locals.

I was on my 4th visit to the “Employee Social Club” trying to gain access into the gym that was directly below me in my building. After a quick chat with the man at the front desk, I was told that I would have to come back in an hour. They had to look into things, as the computers had been on the fritz all afternoon, and sometimes the online applications get lost (yesterday I had been told that the online system was totally reliable, and no, I couldn’t apply in person). Anyhow, just before leaving, I was offered a small flexible branch full of little yellow fruit-like appendages. It was explained that they were raw dates, and that I should try one. I knew that dates were a symbol of Saudi welcome (though I had never seen or heard of raw dates), so I graciously accepted, and popped one into my mouth. I assumed the giggles which ensued were in response to the look on my face as I tried to think of something constructive to say about the sweet chalky grossness encroaching upon my offended palate. I was encouraged to eat another. With effort, I pulled back the corners of my mouth in what I hope passed for a smile, and compliantly choked back one more. Then, in his thick accent, one of the men grinned impishly and piped up “do not eat too many as they will keep you up”. A round of gut splitting laughter, punctuated by strings of Arabic that I thought perhaps best I didn’t understand. A little flustered, I smiled uncertainly and thanked him. I assured him that I would avoid nighttime nibbling and eat them in the morning instead of my morning coffee. Another round of laughter, and a few little waves goodbye. I left feeling rather like a champ - I had really broken through a barrier and been accepted and respected by these men.

Epilogue: I later found out from someone much more versed in Saudi culture that raw dates are considered an aphrodisiac. Ha.

The other story I will tack on to this post is of our shopping trip to Riyadh’s newest super-mall. The shopping here is utterly ridiculous. Imagine, all the same stores with REGULAR priced items at HALF the price of those in Canada. Then the sales come…50% off…75% off…seriously - I was giggling like a kid with a whoopee cushion at her parents fancy dinner party. The crazy thing is, you are not allowed to try anything on! No fitting rooms. It is completely forbidden for women to uncover in public, even behind closed doors in a mall fitting room (all the stores have great exchange policies so you can bring things back if your guesstimate was off…).

Anyhow, we arrived on our nightly ladies shopping bus (provided by the hospital as women are not allowed to drive in KSA) and tittered into La Senza (ha). We strung along past the thongs, and bust into the bra section (ha - sorry, I can’t stop it). So…have you ever been checking out a little red lacy number, turned inquisitively to the saleslady, chest thrust out for assessment, only to find that the “saleslady” is actually a hairy little Persian man (who just so happens to be “little” enough that he is face to boob to your thrust out, expectant chest)? Well, ladies and gents, unfortunately up until 3 days ago, I too could say NO. As it so happens, women don’t work sales jobs in the Kingdom, so it is men running EVERY store in ALL the malls. Now. In a country where sex is COMPLETELY taboo, and women are expected to be completely covered up at ALL times, does it not seem odd that men are working shops selling g-strings and teddies (that’s teddy BARES…ha…ok ok, I’ll stop).

Heading to a party at the Australian consulate tomorrow night. The word “bar” WAS on the invitation. Should be a gonger. Stay tuned for details next week.

Tesbahh Ala-Khair (Goodnight)


Thursday, August 7, 2008

I found my abaya. Well, 2/3 of it, anyway.

I can't believe it has been a week since I touched down in Riyadh. Thanks so much for all your kind words of encouragement!

Today will be a quick post as I am studying for my final exam for my UBC psych course. I can't go into too much detail as I become quickly embittered at the thought of all my new friends shopping their hearts out (aside: thurs/fri is weekend here) while I am stuck in the prion- refrigerated morgue-like confinement of my dark little apartment, studying erectile dysfunction and dissociative somatoform disorders (aside: abnormal psych).

Nursing orientation in Saudi Arabia has proven thus far to be only marginally less boring than that in BC...this is a direct result of the amusing accents, political incorrectness, and direct translations from the presenter's native language to english. For example, during a fire and safety presentation, the thickly accented Philipino fire officer told us how to use a fire extinguisher to save our "fat ugly husbands". Ha. This presentation was secondary only to the flat monotony of the housing officer who gave a thoroughly un-rousing hour long presentation showing pictures of every single hospital hospital residence (there are about 15, and they all look pretty much exactly the same!). The absurdity of just how drab it was, coupled by his limited English (and thus ability to elaborate or describe in detail) tipped the scales and consequently resulted in absolute hilarity. The presentation went something like this: "here is a picture of the living room...a of building". This was repeated for each residence, with a long pause on each picture so we could admire the archaic paisley on the mis-matched love seats...

So, have you ever gone into a store on Robson street and confidently purchased an expensive pair of jeans that were way too small? Think Miss Sixty flood pants. Then, you put on your little sister's long sleeved shirt (which comes to mid-forearm), have a look at your reflection in the mirror, and think...DAMN I am hot. Of course you haven't. I could say the same up until about 3 days ago when I learned that the abaya I was wearing was meant for someone about 5'0". I thought the sleeves were supposed to be mid forearm, and the fact that the hemline touched mid-shin allowed my fashionable Oqoquo black pants to be admired from underneath. My fashion blunder became the centre of hilarity on the orientation bus (aside: there are about 30 orientees, including several hot Jordanian and Lebanese male nurses), and was quickly compounded as my friend from Dallas, TX (a fellow tall lady) loudly assured me that I could go out and buy a "Moo-moo" sized abaya (so it is long), and have it tailored for a very good price. Thanks, y'all.

Back to erectile dysfunctions. More to come in a few days.

Love Y'all


Saturday, August 2, 2008

Where's my abaya?!

Well, I made it.

My journey started at 4:30am on Wed July 30th and mercifully ended at 11:00pm on Thurs July 31st following 8 hrs of stopovers, 3 soggy, processed airplane meals, 19hrs of sub-prime seating in economy class, 2 wailing kids, 1 rickety, rusty winged plane, and several incidents of cultural taboo.

Upon arrival to the Riyadh airport, I did my best to stay as low key as possible…then I remembered that I was a 5’11” single white woman with no abaya (aside – the black cover-up/veil dress that Saudi women wear) and absolutely no knowledge of arabic. As I stood in the international customs line across from a hoard of 20+ Saudi men, I feigned nonchalance (and failed miserably as my starkly naked ears burned scarlet) at the 20 pairs of dark brown eyes boring into every square inch of my uncovered skin.

I needed to escape. The bathroom. I walked with controlled urgence towards the doorway crowned by a bunch of dots and squiggly lines, translated underneath in English – “toilets”. Praise be to Allah. Get me out of here. Thankfully the English translations were written under all Arabic signs to date. I had just enough time to formulate this comforting observation before I realized that no track record was perfect…my stomach dropped as I faced 2 separate doors with what appeared to be slightly different squiggly lines and no English bail-out. I desperately looked for a clue in the squiggles…a skirt? How about some squiggly breasts? Well, I had a 50/50 chance, so I ducked into the door on the left. Let’s just say it’s a good thing I didn’t buy a lottery ticket that day. I very near lost a whole lot more than a bit of urine into the bowl as I watched the hem of a white robe sweep by outside the stall door (aside – the Saudi national dress for men is a white robe with a white/red checkered head cover). I waited until I heard his stall door close, then hauled ass back into the main airport.

I was met by one nursing representative (Nerissa) and a driver to accompany me to my new digs. We wove through thick thurs night traffic (aside – Saudi weekends are thurs/fri), past the Kingdom Tower (think giant can-opener), and dozens of shopping malls the size of cruise ships. When Nerissa got out for a few minutes to show another new arrival to her apt, the driver and I had a short conversation. He knew 6 words of English: “beautiful”, “single?”, “how old”, and “call me”. Conveniently enough, he could also adeptly print his name and phone number in perfect English characters. Apparently (he actually got this across quite clearly), he was going to take me to Dubai and Bahrain on my vacation. Right, dude. Allah would love that one.
The rest of the evening was relatively uneventful – met my roomie briefly (her name is Tonia, she is from New York, but currently living in Atlanta). I crawled into my stiffly starched sheets tattooed with the hospital logo, and slept until 11am the next morning!