22 April 2014

"Goodbye, Farewell & Amen"

Well kids, time to close this chapter.  It's been a ride & I am exhausted!  I don't think it's hit the mega media (yet,) but this Corona Virus (MERS-CoV) mess has given us a run for our Riyal.  Some of you may not be surprised to see me finally in paper (psych) scrubs...so here you go!  At least it's a change from the white :)  Hopefully I won't be bringing home any unwanted souvenirs!

I'm off to Sri Lanka tonight...one last undoubtedly entertaining flight on Saudia - it cracks me up every time!  Remind me to share some stories :)

Thanks for reading & for you support this year - I can't wait to see all of you!

18 April 2014

Count Down!

Only TWO More Shifts - Al Humdulillah!!

I was thinking about this (pathetic) blog the other day. . . although I am glad I stopped complaining so much about work, I've realized it looks like all I've done is go on vacation & see cool stuff!  True enough, but jeez these past many weeks have been tough to get through.  No matter, the light is quickly getting brighter!  TWO MORE!

For this episode (is that right? A blog episode??)  I will not regress to complaining - it wears me out & makes me feel like a terrible person.  Besides, we do enough of it around here daily - it's like a hobby for people in the Kingdom.  Basically, I'm over it & looking forward to GREENER pastures :)

Weekend trips?  There have been a few...we had a nice time in Taif last month (oops, February!)  Taif is less than 200 km away - including the "heathen route."  (Non-Muslims have to take a different, detoured road to avoid going through Mecca.)  No kidding.  Anyway, it was a great change of environment - mountainous & Seriously Cold - 45F/8C!  We rode the cable car, saw where they distill rose flower petals to make perfume, & attempted to taste camel milk...except we forgot about it in the car - doh! We explored a neat private museum & went to the zoo...I was reluctant to go to the zoo, but was mildly entertained by some of the exhibits:  "Cow"..."Ducks"..."Dog"..."Horse"...of course there were camels & an elephant too.

Five of us also went to Riyadh for a weekend to check out Janadriyah. It's an annual Cultural & Heritage Festival that was actually quite well done.  There were Mutawa (Religious Police) everywhere, "Cover your hair!" but it was refreshing to see an effort to educate & preserve important cultural aspects of Arabian life.  If you go, try not to cause a scandal like this guy did last year :)


The trip south to Abha a few wks ago was nice - also cooler with a few surrounding hills. Unfortunately it was still off-season so we couldn't get to the Hanging Village, but the 3 of us didn't really care.  We were happy to get out of the compound & break up the stretch towards home (My friend Ria is leaving in May too.)

What else can I share...oh, I think folks must have been tired of me complaining about my hair - I hadn't cut it in 10 months & it was driving me crazy.  I never got around to making an apt, so my friend Dorothy offered to trim the nasty dead bits off - Excellent!  She did a wonderful job - a perfect inch or so, out by the pool so we didn't even have a mess to clean up.  Later that afternoon, with 20 min to kill before tennis, I was putting my hair back when I noticed a small piece that was shoya (a little) longer than the rest...

You've all seen it, the scene in the movie where someone is being chased & they need to change their identity.  Picture that chick in the Bourne movie, or Harrison Ford in "The Fugitive."  They are in an obscure, filthy bathroom grabbing their hair & haphazardly chopping chunks of of it off into the sink.  Well, I don't have as much facial hair as Harrison Ford & my sink is a little cleaner, but there I was....forcing my big blue plastic Ikea scissors through handful after handful of hair.  Ha!  Fun & frightening at the same time!  I soon had visions of the 6th grader who knows she can get her bangs just a bit straighter...a little more here, a little more there...Nelson!  Step away from the scissors!!  So much for that perfect inch.  Thank Allah I can still pull it up in a pony :)

What comes next many are beginning to ask?  Well, I am looking for a deep breath & a wee break from dysfunction...which I hope to find in Sri Lanka.  The ever-allusive epiphany would be a nice bonus...maybe the Buddhists can help?  If not, I'm more than satisfied with my Plan B.  I'm headed home to enjoy summer in the Northwest - Yeah Rain! :)  I'd love to work at Emanuel again - at least per diem...& then reassess life in the Fall.  One mustn't speculate too far into the future :)

I better get packing!  I will TRY to throw up one last blog post before I bid the Kingdom farewell...nsha'allah.  I hope everyone is doing well & I look forward to all your hugs...& beer! :)

PS: I don't think it matters what type of wheels the trolley has...but be careful!! :)

13 February 2014


...it appears that I am failing at this "Blog Attempt."  Predictable if you ask me, but I do apologize to those who had grander expectations.  Instead of trying to compensate with a large chunk of boring blabber, I will provide a few snipits in the spirit of, "better than nothing!"  :)

Morocco was Fantabulous 

              & Lanzarote was a Sweet Bonus!

I could go on & on about the neat mosques, delicious tagines, colorful souks and incredible sunsets (& a sunrise!)  I could tell you about the stinky tanneries in Fez, our crazy driver Hassan & his magic spray can, Julie's cantankerous camel or all the cool Riads we stayed in.  I could tell you about Annett's blush-inducing boy at the wine tasting, but she would kill me...so instead we could discuss her snail encounter - much better in than out huh Net? :)  (Anyone else want to give me flak about not blogging?? Hee, hee!)  I could describe the cracked volcanic landscape of Lanzarote, the prickly cacti & their unique way of growing bazillion year old grape vines.  We could debate why camel lips are more interesting than their toes & why henna doesn't stick to everyone's skin the same...but really, all I want to do is share how much my friends love me:

That's right, packed with care & hand carried across the ocean! :)  In all honesty, the biggest treat & the best part of this vacation was seeing & spending time with two dear friends.  And yes, the rumors are true, I cried like a baby reading the card everyone signed for my birthday - what a softy!  I do miss you all!  Thank you Annett & Julie for sharing not only your beer (& chips & cereal & g-bars) but for saving your $$ and vacation days to fly 1/2 way around the world to hang out with me!  I had a wonderfully memorable time & can't wait for our next adventure!

Now it's back to the grind...and increasing temperature - someone needs to tell the weatherman it's still February, ie: WIN-TER!!  Considering the snow & arctic blasts at home, I will (again) refrain from complaining.  Besides, 85F/30C is still quite tolerable :)

Thoughts also turn towards the rapid passage of time.  It's hard to believe 9 months have come & gone.  Well and good except my boss now wants to know if I'll be extending my contract for another year.  Oh, life's dilemmas!  Unfortunately my Moroccan epiphany was elusive and I've continued to avoid the topic for many weeks now..."The Meeting" is scheduled for Sunday.  I appreciate, in advance, your vibes of strength.  One, to scoff at any monetary bonuses that are offered (next to the reminders of the fantastic travel opportunities) and Two, to resist the urge to fully divulge the reasons why  it's not worth my cells & sanity to stay  :)

That's right, the tentative plan, barring a lottery-sized raise & a little chip I can insert to allow immediate Arabic fluency, will put me back in the PNW some time in May!  Of course, the #1 reason for coming home will be so I can stop writing this silly blog!!  For now, stay tuned if you'd like...I will try to squeeze out a few more entries :)



19 December 2013

Madain Saleh

Can I complain about work again?  No?  I suppose I've met my annual quota.
Think Nursing Home.  Yugk.

Moving on then...a few weeks ago a handful of us popped up to Madain Saleh for a look at the old city & tombs built into the rock.  For those who may be familiar with Petra, it was created by the same group of Nabeteans, but on a smaller scale.  The landscape was not dissimilar to the American Southwest.  Let me rewind, "popped up" is not an appropriate description.  Ten of us piled in a minivan for a 9 hour trek on Thursday, we saw some amazing things on Friday (ate some Great food & had a real shower) and piled back in the van for the 9 hr drive home Saturday.  The spiciest part of the trip was an encounter with a local camel dude who thought we were trespassing.  Our driver stopped to ask him directions & he tried to grab the keys out of the ignition.  He wanted to get the authorities involved but let us go when he realized we were a bunch of women...he was not a happy herder.  We also horrified our driver by insisting we were going to pee on the side of the road.  Of course it was much nicer than the other nasty options we experienced along the way.  Needless to say, he only allowed us to do it once :)  Good trip, always nice to get out of town...but wait for the direct flight!

Oh, the weather!  So Fantastic!!  I've never considered 80-85 degrees "cool"...but it's so pleasant!  It even rained once - VERY exciting.


Yes, I had to capture it on film.  Notice the sky is still blue.  It didn't last long :(

I hope I don't turn into one of those crazy ladies who wears a hoody in September.

OK, I will complain about ONE thing.  Saudi Arabia is giving me gray hair!  I don't mind the pesky little crooked ones that stick up - very pluckable.  Its the sly, smooth ones that blend right in that are causing me angst.  You just catch a little glitter in the mirror & then spend the next 10 min trying to find it.  Ug, lame.  Maybe the gray hair will make me wiser...nsha'allah!  No, no photo here.

That is all.  I hope you are having a Wonderful holiday season - my brain & body have NO idea it's winter!  I work Christmas but am off to Morocco on the 27th...only 8 days and 5 more shifts!!  Yeah!
Take care ya'll ~

07 November 2013

Dubai & Abu Dhabi

I'm not sure what ya'll did this past weekend...but 3 of us jetted off to Dubai for a little change of scenery...and a few beverages!  Our generous hostess was a former colleague of Sioux's who is now working in the Emirates.  We kept the debauchery to a reasonable level...and packed quite a few activities into 3 days.  Thao fortunately had some extra Halloween costumes so we could properly attend her friend's house party Thursday night.  Afterwards we headed to the Westin's bar party near the beach & mingled with other freaksters.  Sioux had on this skimpy taxi outfit with a patch saying, "Free Rides" and I had a 1/2 angel, 1/2 devil getup complete with horns & a halo...a fitting choice for the crazy polarity in this odd country.  Needless to say, our little group got plenty of attention.  The next day we drove to Abu Dhabi where Thao had scored free Formula One tickets...combined with free Jay-Z concert tickets.  Ha!  I'm still chuckling.  I'm not sure what the race-car hype is all about & the rap concert was...pretty hilarious!  I will never forget my nice, proper English friend Katy bobbing her head and swearing right along with Jay-Z!  The next day we admired some of the crazy, futuristic architecture in Dubai & took our compulsory snaps of the Burj Khalifa - the tallest building in the world.  I swear these Middle Eastern countries are having a pissing contest trying to see who can top who with the highest this and widest that...incredible use of resources, but don't get me started.  Although this was certainly an atypical vacation for me, I have to admit good fun was had :)

Arabic, Wahbah Crater...Thank You!

To be clear, it is entirely possible to live & work in The Kingdom without more than a handful of key Arabic phrases.  At a minimum, you could even get by with 1 word - Nsha'allah - which means, "God Willing."  It is used profusely - and appropriately - in almost EVERY conversation, regardless of how brief.  Once in your vocabulary, this word will probably never leave it.  So, whatever possessed me to take a proper, structured Arabic class is beyond me.  Glutton for punishment I guess!  For those of you who are aware of my relationship with "the French lady,"...well, you are probably sympathizing with my Arabic teacher already.

I still have no desire to learn or comprehend the (literally!) backwards squiggles & dots that somehow coalesce into a functional language, but it is proving beneficial to sputter out a few more phrases to my patients.  Most laugh & love the attempt, some are clearly not impressed and continue to ramble on & on despite my blank stare.  Then there are a few that demand an Arabic-speaking nurse - surprisingly only a few!

Because we are learning phonetically, challenged spellers can be pleased as we spell words however we want and are not wrong :)  Instead of Standard Arabic, we are focusing on the dialect most commonly spoken here in Jeddah - a fab decision since we are working with the general public.  Despite being from Egypt, and speaking his own dialect, our instructor is Fantastic & incredibly patient.  We are 7 (semi) stubborn nurses: 2 Americans, a Canadian, a Kiwi, a Brit & 2 South Africans.  The S. Africans have a slight advantage as Afrikaans also uses the back of your throat lugi-hawking sound.  It will continue to be interesting... nsha'allah I can at least learn some basics.  Although I won't need to know how to order a beer in this country, knowing the word for bathroom is handy in any language!  (Hammam, if you ever need it :))

Wahbah Crater

The same handful of gals joined a larger group trip to spend the night in the desert.  All-in-all not super exciting, but I figured a trip to the desert is compulsory while in the Middle East.  Somehow a 5 hr bus trip turned into 7...making multiple U-turns in the middle of the desert at night was slightly disconcerting, but eventually the driver figured it out.  Luckily gas is cheap.  How cheap?  Are you ready for this?  Petrol here is 25 Halalas/Liter.  There are 100 Halalas in a Riyal, 3.75 Riyals in $1 US.  There are 3.8 liters in a gallon...which I will round up to 4.  Math has never been my thing, but I think that's about 27 cents/gallon!!

Anyway, I digress.  We finally made it to our destination and crashed for a few hrs in a flimsy sleeping bag on large carpets under one big open tent.  We got up early to beat the heat (make an attempt anyway) and hiked down into the crater.  Whether formed by a meteorite or an underground steam explosion, it was pretty neat to see.  It was nice to know the desert wasn't ALL flat sand & tumble weeds for miles & miles.  Once we hiked back up it was Hot-Hot (as opposed to just HOT) and tootling around on old lava by the camp was even Hot-ER, so we just simmered under the tent until it was time to eat & sleep.  We slept under the stars that night...you can imagine how Amazing the view was far, far away from any light pollution.

Hugemongous Thank You's to those who have added postcards to my fridge door & an extra hug to the Boisvert's for the Fantastic care package - I almost did a cartwheel in the hallway, but remembered my abaya & thought better of it :)  The sticky ghosts are on my mirror, the mustaches are going to prove Awesome, and the puzzle will help me practice my new Saudi-appropriate cuss words!  Thank You!!

Oh!  A few ppl have asked about Hajj, the annual pilgrimage to Mecca.  Muslims can travel to Mecca at any time, but if they go during this particular week they get bonus points :)  [I intend no disrespect with that description, just breaking it down...and I'm secretly jealous since non-Muslims cannot even enter the city!]  For us, banks, businesses, the administrative part of the hospital (including clinics) shut down for 10 days...the ER was, for the most part, nice & quiet...and now we are paying for it!  Busy, busy!

10 October 2013

Oh Vacation...

How sweet thou art!  I was hoping to write soon after returning, before the freshness fizzled out…but we all know how efficiently work-life sucks us back in.  Oh well, my trip is still recent enough to continue enjoying its ripples…

Before I get to the highlights, I’ll say a quick word about the airport in Istanbul (which I perused 4 times in 2 weeks.)  What a wonderful convergence of people, languages & cultures!  Initially I was a little embarrassed for them, but it was truly nice to see folks waltzing about in their tight tank tops & short-shorts.  And, OMG, some of them were even holding hands & communicating with their significant others!!  I know, Crazy!  I was only briefly traumatized and resisted the urge to give them more clothing to cover up.  All jokes aside, I look forward to checking out the rest of Istanbul sometime soon…

Next quick stop – Madrid:
Keep in mind I was about 32 hrs awake (including a 12 hr shift) by the time my feet hit non-Saudi soil.  I had a six hr layover so I zombied into town.  Since I had gotten my skin-shock over with in Turkey, my first thought was how nice it was to hear a more familiar foreign language.  Despite the Spaniard’s funny lisp & extra verb tense, it was comforting to my ears.  I loved the old waiter who served me my 1st beer.  He let me stutter Spanish to him & didn’t make me feel like a complete buffoon – even when I said, “Shukran” instead of, “Gracias” – oops! J

The main attractions…

Gorgeous!  The friend I went to visit lives in Porto, which is where we spent most of our time.  Pictures fail at expressing the beauty & feel of the city.  A river from the mnts runs through town, shops and houses sit on the hillside, folks fish from the street & hang their colorful laundry out their windows to dry and, obviously, much of the architecture is older than America can remember.  Bakeries create little desserts that are almost too cute to eat, every restaurant serves Bacalhau (cod) and people everywhere, despite their current economic challenges, were beyond friendly.  Porto is known not only for port wine, but also for being the largest producer of cork in the world.  Since the trend for plugging wine bottles has diversified to other materials and the demand for cork has dropped, they are now making many other items – hats, shoes, bags, wallets – with the impermeable, buoyant, fire resistant stuff.  Tourists, including this one, ate it up!  Not only did we see the sights of Porto & hang with Diana’s adorable, non-English speaking family, but we hit up a port tour at a winery that was founded in 1692, took the train down to Aveiro & rode free bikes around the cute little town & drove up north to see an old castle.  Super Good Times complete with frequent, deep, appreciative breaths – Ah, the world really is continuing to go ‘round & function as we know it! J

Diana's Mom, Dad, G-ma & Uncle
I have found my new dream car!  I will have a Lada – definitely one built in the 70s or 80s!  Before you google it & laugh, be sure to check out the very practical 4-wheel drive version (Lada Niva.)  Of course mine will have sturdy tires & a rack…green please.  Most important, they look Awesome!!  Also slightly relevant, they can be easily fixed from Russia to Western Europe & everywhere in between.  Anyway, Kyrgyzstan you say?  Yes!  It’s SE of Kazakhstan, west of China, they speak Russian (& Kyrgyz of course) and have incredibly stunning mountains!  Good friends who used to live across the street from me in Portland are there doing a stint with MSF.  We had grand plans for borrowing their friend’s car & venturing out to see Lake Issyk Kul, traversing the mnt range to Naryn and then bopping down to check out Osh & the world’s largest walnut forest before returning to Bishkek.  Oh, the best laid plans! 

We packed up the minivan and excitedly headed towards the lake.  There were a few sputs, spurts, squeaks & other minor complaints from our trusty “Super Caravan” in route, but we were not to be dissuaded.  The gas leak we noticed under the car had slowed from a dibble to a drip…and stopped completely if we parked the car just right.  We also decided the plastic bag wrapped around the hose was normal enough.  (Keep in mind two of us have lived in the African bush & the 3rd has us both beat with crazy travel experiences.)  We spent the night in a fantastic Yurt Camp right on the lake surrounded by snow-capped peaks.  You would never guess this was probably the birthplace of the plague.  The air was fresh & cool – insert more refreshing deep breaths – and I even wore jeans & a fleece!  Day 2 found us optimistic and off to a wonderful start.  Despite our confidence (ie; denial) that all was well, we started formulating Plans B, C & D just in case the minivan refused to get us up and over the mnts.  The day progressed – complete with frequent roadside stops for reassessment, speculation & a bonus stop for apple picking.  At one point we had a repair shop take a look…the mechanic reassured us the car wouldn’t explode, but he declined to guarantee it wasn’t going to completely crap out & leave us stranded.  We carried on.  As our heroic driver was getting leg cramps trying to stay in the sweet spot – somewhere around 35 mph (60 k/h) – we began to accept the fact that this hunk of metal just wasn’t going to cooperate.  Our extremely resilient travel buddy – who happens to be 2 ½ – seemed to agree, it was time to head home.  For the record, I continue to be impressed with how well this young man tolerated our adventure – his capacity for reading (and re-reading) books is astonishing, and most adults would’ve complained more than he did.  We also figured it might not be the best plan to take his 35-wk pregnant mother over 4,000 meters…although a little pre-term labor would’ve really spiced things up!  We planned to abandon the vehicle in Karakol – where we stayed in a nice little B&B – but luck was in our favor.  The owner of the car came out from Bishkek, found s’one to tinker a bit more & we successfully made it back safe & sound the next day.  If only we’d had a Lada…

Yurt Camp
Inside the Yurt
Me n Aziz

While in Bishkek we also toured a felting co-op where they felted carpets, shoes, scarves & small toys – very cool!  We also spent an afternoon on an Amazing hike in Ala-Archa Gorge (I think?!) – if crossing bottomless bridges, fording glacial streams & being surrounded by breath-taking mountains doesn’t recharge your batteries…you’ve got some issues.  It was just what this soul needed.  My holiday cumulated with a serene evening sharing food, wine and stories with great company.  I crashed on the couch for a few hrs before heading to the airport for my reluctant journey back to Jeddah.

Bottomless Bridge

Freeeezing Stream

It felt a bit strange to be returning from vacation to a place that doesn’t really feel like “home”…but here I am!  Back to heat, humidity & the glorious frustrations of work J  Honestly, it was a Wonderful two weeks and, as we all know, without a touch of stress at home, vacations would lose some luster.  I want to again thank my hosts/tour guides/friends!!  Thank you for sharing your homes, meals, energy & time – I am such a fortunate gal!  Nsh’allah I will be able to offer the same hospitality one day...