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