Saturday, February 2, 2013

My 95/5 Principle

Back in high school, when I worked at Two Rivers Wildlife Park, it became very clear to me that the people you're surrounded with dictate 95% of the enjoyment you get out of any situation.  Part of my job there was to take in roadkill and cut it up so that the cougars, lynx, and bobcats had some meat to eat.  It wasn't just my job, the other people I worked with at the park did it with me.  A miserable job in many ways, especially when the corpse had been out in the sun just long enough before being picked up to become ripe and rank.  It could have been a job that I hated, but it wasn't.  And it wasn't because I managed to get a handy-dandy noseplug.  And it wasn't because I found learning the anatomy of the animals I was butchering interesting.  It was because the people I worked with at the park were fun and positive.  We managed to put a happy spin on the task at hand by having great conversations and just plain enjoying each others company.  So, as a result of the people that surrounded me while butchering smelly and decaying roadkill, the task was 95% enjoyable, and 5% miserable.

I've also been in situations where everything about the circumstances was amazing.  The physical surroundings were superb, the food was amazing, the day was sunny, the opportunities for greatness was abundant, but the people that I was experiencing all this with were miserable company.  These experiences were 95% crappy, and 5% awesome.

As a human being, no matter how introverted or extroverted you may be, the people that surround you play a huge role in your enjoyment of life.  Your attitude plays a big role in this as well, yes.  But what I've found is that, no matter how positive your attitude, the people around you will eventually wear you down, drain your energy, and zap you of your stores of positivity if they hold negative energy in some way or another.  And, if they are positive and happy people, they will lift you up and carry you to places of joy that you never thought possible.  This is exactly what I've experienced in the past two weeks of living in Saudi Arabia.

As you read in my previous blog entry, "Day One - And So It Begins," I met Michel and Johnny.  The two most incredibly kind and generous men I've ever had the pleasure to call friends (comparable only to Dad and my "West Coast Dad," Ken).  As a wonderful spin-off to meeting them I was introduced to a slew of Lebanese and Syrian expats (with a touch of American mixed in there) that live in my compound.  People like Sabrina, a sweet and gentle dietician who makes you smile the moment she walks into a room no matter what your mood and who is giving me daily reminders to practice my Arabic; like Walid, with whom I've met my match (and then some) in the realm of philosophy, realism, and outdoor adventure (although, I will admit, he's a tad more extreme on the physical/outdoor adventure side of things than I may ever be); like Dany, who can charm (almost) any girl with a flash of his smile and who has become my chocolate-fix savior;  like Mofeed (please excuse me if I destroyed the spelling of your name) who introduced me to a side of Saudi Arabia that I never expected existed and who has revealed to me that I won't be leading an overly conservative life in Arabia after all if he has anything to do with it (yes, I've found my "party-happy" friend); like Alli who is my North American ally in promoting the use of English amongst our Arabic speaking friends and who has become the treasured female entity that balances out the testosterone-filled spaces that constitute my new home; and like Rab who is determined to introduce me to any fellow (and oh so elusive) Canadian that he may be able to find at his workplace or in the compound in order to help me feel more at home. 

It is because of these people that I had shoulders to cry on (or at least to vent to) when I thought I was going to strangle someone, possibly myself, due to the effects of jet-lag.  They are the ones who explain to me that the slow-motion way of life is the norm and tell me to not get my knickers in a knot.  They remind me that chilling out and letting life flow as it will is the optimal way of living, especially here in Saudi Arabia.  They are the people who assure me that they too had been in my situation(s) and that it gets better.  They are the people who explain to me the different cultural aspects of the Saudi people and how best to adapt my Canadian sensibilities to their exotic attitudes.  They show me that what I'm experiencing is not a crazy and confusing dream, but is in fact the reality of my life and that I need to open my eyes and welcome it in as the amazing adventure that it most definitely is.

Most importantly, my new Lebanese and Syrian friends (consider yourself automatically included in this group, Alli), have welcomed me into their world with wide open arms and have graciously included me in any and all of their social activities.  They've helped me feel normal in this abnormal space (at least it has the potential to feel abnormal for me) and managed to show me that everyday living including laundry, grocery shopping, sipping coffee in a comfy armchair, good days at work, bad days at work, and the odd barbecue does happen around here.  They are my social medicine when I need to be uplifted and need my positive energy to be recharged.

So, yes, many aspects of living in Saudi Arabia could make life miserable.  Many aspects of moving oh so far away from home and the people and places I love could make life incredibly miserable.  Many aspects of taking on a job that very few people can ever say they've done (and therefore cause me to have very few people to coach me on how to handle it's challenges) could make life very miserable.  Instead, I have people who surround me that are allowing my life in this strange country to be 95% awesome, and 5% challenging.

Thank you, my dearest fellow expats.  My gratitude to all that you do is immeasurable.

In Joy,


  1. Bonnie - first of all I must say I'm amazed at your writing - it's incredible in today's world when a lot of young people don't know the first thing about proper grammar, punctuation and spelling (I think Mommy Burke is guiding you along there, lol). I'm so happy to see that you've made some fast friends (not that I ever doubted that you would). Again, most of us are in awe that you have even taken on this "adventure" and are cheering you from afar. I can only try to imagine how different things are there, both environmentally and culturally. Just remember that this is not forever - it is only for a short time - and you will have the most amazing stories to tell your grandchildren :). Just take this experience for all it's worth - the good with the bad! Enjoy the "ride"! Sending lots of hugs from Cape Breton (where it's friggin' cold, snowy and windy!) Looking forward to your updates. May need to send you an email as I'm curious about a few things. Take care honey!! Love ya!

    Auntie Deb

  2. Hi Sweetheart-Sorry it took me so long to be in touch.I've been immensely enjoying catching up on your blog today.As I was reading I was thinking "She has to write and publish at least one book in her busy lifetime" then I read Deb's comment about you becoming an author.Great minds think alike. As I'm reading your blog I feel as if I'm beside you in Riyadh sharing your experience first hand.Then I hear the wind and see the 30 cm of snow falling outside the window and I'm transported back to reality.Having that ability to transport a reader to a different place and time is a sign (as you know) of a very talented author. I am SO pleased that you are settling in and meeting such great friends. You are definitely carrying on your amazing ability to bring more awesome people into your life.Are you trying to break a record for the most Facebook friends -or perhaps the most read blog ? I also love how I can detect that Cape Breton grown sense of humour in your writings. I'm sure your new friends are enjoying that as well -nothing like that dry ( and at times crude) sense of humour !
    At work yesterday a lady from New Waterford saw my name tag and made the connection between us (I know-only in Cape Breton). She read about your journey to Saudi Arabia in the Community Press and said " I can't believe her parents would let her go over there " to which I replied " You obviously don't know Bonnie"! I told her of your strong-willed and adventurous personality dating back to your toddler years and that your employers have a vested interest in your health and safety.I also told her how much your Mom admires and supports your out-going and free-spirited attitude. She left with a different understanding of your adventure (although the customers who had to wait 15 minutes longer for their prescriptions weren't as impressed).
    Bonnie-I'm sure there are moments that you question this decision to uproot your life and take on this monumental undertaking. Take it from someone older-and SOMETIMES wiser-that when all is said and done it was one of the best decisions you have ever made. I am so envious that you have the opportunity to not just travel to this amazing part of the world but to actually be a part of their unique culture. When you were describing donning your abaya to go to the grocery store I thought " That's so awesome that she gets to do that"! (I wasn't nearly as enthusiastic at the prospect of not being allowed to talk at the grocery store-just sayin'-cause that's not me any more than it is you).
    Better let you go-you have much more exciting things to do . I realize I don't have to tell you this but keep having fun, play safe and enjoy this wonderful new world that has opened up for you . Tell your new friends that your Cape Breton family thanks them for making you feel so welcome SO far away from home. They sound like " salt of the earth" people -although that's the kind of people someone of your calibre attracts .I look forward to your next entry-keep up the amazing writing . Love always Aunt Shelley. XXX. OOO

    P.S. The pharmacist in me wants to know what the 3 Rx's were that the doctor prescribed for your cold.


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