Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Experience and Freedom - Why Ask For Anything More?

My reason for moving to Saudi Arabia was mainly to pay off my student loans and credit card.  Paying for undergrad and grad school is an expensive venture.  And my loan payments were eating up a ton of my disposable income.  Okay, let's be honest.  They were eating up all of my disposable income, hence my credit card bill.  So, the thought of becoming debt free and using all the money I typically set aside for loan payments to buy the things I've always wanted was extremely appealing to me.  Now that I'm here in Saudi Arabia I'm actually paying off my loans.  It is an awesome experience.  There's nothing quite like the feeling of slapping a solid chunk of money on a loan, reducing it by 1/4 of what it was at one fell swoop.  But there's a realization that I'm coming to about the possibilities I will have for my life when I'm debt free.  Through discussions with my friends whom experience a debt free life themselves, as well as things I've been reading via recommendations from these friends, I'm recognizing that my life isn't going to gain a lot of abundance simply because I can buy more things.  There's more to life than "things."

I'm typically not a materialistic person.  I'm not necessarily a collector of "things" and certainly not someone who goes out looking for the best gadget or the newest design.  Geezus, now that I think of it, before moving to Riyadh I went approximately two years without buying new clothes (not counting the new bike shorts, wool t-shirts, and snowboarding pants that were a necessity for the sports I love).  Outside of buying paintings from my fav artist and friend, Ting Yuen, (I love surrounding myself in beauty), the things I bought were always required for something I loved to do.  I spend money on the activities I love that give me the experiences that I crave.  Why I got it in my head that more money meant I would buy more things is beyond me.

It's not things that I'm going to get out of being debt free.  And it's not even having money in the bank to buy stuff that I need in order to do the things I love; although that is something I'm looking forward to doing.  Being debt free is going to give me something more.  It's going to give me freedom.  As many of my friends and family know, I am not the type of person who can commit.  I've soul searched many-a-day-and-night and still can't comprehend the idea of getting married.  Children, not a chance (and believe me, I've thought long and hard about this one).  When someone invites me to a party that's five days away, I only say, "maybe" or, "I'll see how I feel."  I am well aware of the fact that change is the only constant in life.  I embrace change.  I love it, in fact.  I love flowing with change and seeing where it takes me.  I've never failed to be in love with the life that change brings to me, no matter how difficult the transition period may be.  So, committing to someone or something doesn't make a lot of sense to me.  Committing, to me, just means I'm putting myself into a position to resist change when it comes along.

When it comes to debt, I'm beginning to see it as a commitment.  It's a commitment to being required to do some sort of job in order to pay it off.  When the debt load is high, it's a great situation for making me feel handcuffed to a particular job that may pay well, but isn't necessarily what I love to do.  Or maybe it's a job that I loved at one time, but through the inevitable changeability of life, I developed new desires for new experiences in my career.  Or maybe it's a job that I still love, but I want to reduce my workload or modify the way I do my job.  Debt isn't very good at making it easy to take the risks that many life transitions require.  When opportunities arise and my heart's desire and my intuition start to guide me to new and wonderful life adventures I want the freedom to be able to do so.  Being debt free will allow this to happen.

Ah, but I must get back to that extra money that I will have in my pocket when I finish up here in KSA.  Because, with freedom from debt, I will be able to pay for some cool things if I so desire.  I LOVE being outdoors and physically active, seeing new countryside where I can do my favourite activities, and doing all this with friends who love the same things.  Having extra money available will allow me to purchase whatever it is that I require to experience the life that I love and give me more opportunities to share these experiences with friends (without the post-purchase-depression that I used to experience because, let's face it, I still did these things in the past... I just did it while adding more to my debt-load with my handy-dandy credit card).  Yes, the items that I purchase will often be expensive (my dream mountain bike is $7,500), and the places I go to have these experiences can be pricey too (hitting up Sunpeaks, Silver Star, and Whistler bike parks are not cheap ventures).  But what buying these things does for me is create the experiences that bring the feeling of physical and spiritual fulfillment and the feeling of true love that being around friends and like minded people bring into my life.

That's what is important, isn't it?  Feeling the love of others and being truly and honestly fulfilled by life in general.  I've had an inkling about this for a while now, but it really hit home when I read this article "How to Buy Happiness".  Essentially it says much of what I've been saying here, but backs it up with research.  Oh how I love when science and philosophy combine, and in such a beautiful way.  A talk on TED that I watched recently by Adam Baker called "Sell Your Crap. Pay Your Debt. Do What You Love." backed up my thoughts as well.  Almost to an exact degree actually.  Nothing quite like having your philosophical inklings being validated by someone who has already been there. (/high five to me!)

Yes, life is going to be good when I get back to the world that I love.  In the meantime, however, I've got to do some hard work.  Life is not so easy here in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.  I'll get into that more in an upcoming blog entry.  I have had a hard time transitioning to the idea of working in a place that can be so hard on the soul; especially when I had it so good back home in Canada.  Luckily, my friend Mark (or maybe it was his girlfriend, Krista) posted a quote on Facebook about a month ago that really hit home with me.  I can't remember the exact quote, but it basically said that in order to reap, you must sow.  Simple and to the point and something I already knew, but somehow forgot.  So, this is my time to sow.  I've been here for five months and, I will quickly admit, the number of hard times have been evened out with good times thanks to my Riyadh friends.  Knowing that I have a life of freedom and grand experiences ahead of me will make all of the sowing I do here in Riyadh well worth it.

In Joy,

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Animals. In Saudi Arabia. Enough said.

I am an animal lover.  The fact that, from the time I was able to think about what I wanted to do when I "grew up," I wanted to become a veterinarian is an indication of this (only to change my mind when, during undergrad, I lived with a girl who was in vet school and realized I would rather simply love animals than deal with all the things veterinarians deal with).  For me, though, my affinity for animals and the sense of peace and clarity that I receive when I'm with them is a greater indication of my love for them.  As a result, I've had an animal in my life ever since I can remember.

My family owned a big beautiful St. Bernard, Prince, when I was growing up.  But I was three years old when he came along, so I really didn't play a role in caring for him until it was about time for him to head off into doggie-heaven.  My first true animal-based responsibility was my horse, Gavalanche.  Then I moved away for university, Gav in tow, and got myself a cat, Smith.  Eventually I moved across the country (Gav having passed away by this time.  She was a sweet old girl who's time had come.), Smith in tow.  Through an act of kindness, I fostered a litter of kittens for the SPCA out of which another addition to my fur-family, Jared, came along.  Let's not forget that I bought myself a new horse, Diamond at this time as well.  Smith, soon after, sadly passed away from congestive heart failure.  And then a sweet orphaned kitten, Chai, came along.  I also received my dog, the lovely Angel, around that time.  Unfortunately, she was a scaredy-dog.  When frightened one day while staying at a friend's house, she ran away and I never saw her again.  This created space in my life for Matzu, the sweetest old pooch you could ever meet and who desperately needed a home.  Diamond soon became more suited to ranching life than the competitive world of horses that I wanted in on, so he moved to a friend's ranch.  Soon after, the loveliest of lovely horses, Sky, came to my home.  So, let's recap:  Prince (dog), Gavalanche (horse), Smith (cat), Jared (cat), Diamond (horse), Chai (cat), Angel (dog), Matzu (dog), Sky (horse).

I detail my fur-family history because it is pertinent to the present topic.  Essentially, animals are a part of my heart, soul, and as the previous paragraph has outlined, my outer existence in this world.  So, when I decided to move to Saudi Arabia and had to ask my kind friends to host my sweet furry loves while I'm away, I figured I would be taking a break from the animal world for a while.  I was okay with this.  I never had human children, but I certainly am not lacking in the experience of having huge responsibilities concerning the lives of other beings.  I was thinking it would be nice to have a break and experience actual complete and abundant freedom for a while.  Turns out, the Universe has other plans for me.

As was mentioned in one of my first blogs after arriving here in the Kingdom, I was greeted by a furry little purr-monster.  She happily slept over in my little compound-based apartment, but she only stuck around for that night.  Turns out she's one of many cats that live at my compound.  I've seen her
My welcoming party to the KSA
lounging about near my apartment building and at the compound pool a number of times, always happy to have a quick scratch behind the ears.  I figured that encountering random compound cats would be the extent of my animal adventures here.  Not so, especially when your apartment is a basement suite with a nice sized ledge in front of the window.  I had (and still have) ample visits from numerous cats sitting at my window, meowing away, while sitting at my table eating breakfast (or lunch, or dinner, or reading, or researching.... you get the idea).  I was determined to not let any of them in.  And in no way was I to be convinced to feed them.  My responsibility to animals was on a hiatus, and I was determined to have things remain that way.  Ah, but I underestimated one particular furry friend.  She knew exactly what she was doing, peeking through my window with the most gorgeous yellow eyes and soft white fur.  Patiently sitting there, not expecting much.  Happy to accept a quick neck rub through a slightly opened window screen when I simply could resist no longer.  Everyday she arrived, and everyday she managed to move a little closer into my apartment. 
Eventually, I gave in, and so arrived the unnamed cat into my life.  I didn't, however, feed her.  She is a seasoned compound cat, and she knows very well how to fend for herself (by seducing other compound-animal-lover residents I have no doubt).  For many moons she remained unnamed all the while sleeping at my feet and snuggling with me while I read and worked at home.  That is until my friend, Caroline stopped by and noticed the unnamed one lounging at the foot of my bed.  "Keeks!" She exclaimed.  Apparently the unnamed one was named after all.  Keeks had weasled her way into Caroline's heart when she first arrived at the compound as well, turning that non-cat-fanatic friend of mine into a cat lover.  Caroline even ended up adopting two compound kittens as a result of Keeks' interference in her "no cats for me" life plan.  Oh Keeks, you are a sly one.

While Keeks has been a definite animal presence in the five months that I've lived in Riyadh, she certainly hasn't been the only one.  Let me tell you a story about the day I arrived home from work to find my window left open.  I was sure I had closed it.  Oh, but maybe I only closed the screen and mistakenly left the pane open.  "Silly Keeks," I thought to myself.  "She must've pulled the screen open with her claws.  Such a smart girl." It wasn't long after, while sitting on my bed playing on my
computer,  I noticed an odd chirping sound.  Thinking it was a new bird that had arrived for the spring season I didn't pay much attention.  But then I started realizing that I had heard this sound before.  This was no bird chirping, this was kitten mewing.  "Aaaahhh, " I thought.  "A litter of kittens must be outside my window."  I got up to go look out the window, only to see from the corner
The kittens
Their temporary abode
of my eye, a fully adult cat hiding between my pile of empty luggage and my sofa.  Not a big deal, really, only for the fact that this cat was royally pissed and obviously a mama cat protecting her brood.  I managed to back away and then make loud noises to scare her out through my already opened window.  Keeks hadn't been the one to open the screen after all.  I locked the mama out and went on a little search to quickly find five tiny kittens huddled amongst my empty luggage.  Crap.  They were definitely only two weeks old at the most.  This was a responsibility I definitely did not want.  Quickly, I put the kittens in a little box lined with my gym towel and carefully placed them on the ground outside my window.  Hopefully, mama cat would come and get them or even use the box as her nesting site.  I was only partially lucky in this circumstance.  Mama cat did come along and get her kittens, but she left one behind.  I waited, and waited, and waited.  Even left my
apartment for a few hours to avoid the possibility that I was frightening mama with my presence.  I came home to find that the lone black kitten was still alone, in the box, outside my window.  Crap.  And so the avoidance of animal responsibilities was not going to continue.  With some quick internet research and a shout out to my other animal-loving friends at the compound I managed to get a recipe for a make-shift nutritional kitten supplement, a medicine dropper, and a fellow surrogate kitten
Polo (right) with his new buddy, Gamar
mother to feed the adorable little fur-ball while I was staying late at work.  Between Louise and I we managed to keep this little guy alive.  And thanks to my other animal-loving friend, Elise, Polo (as I like to call him) or Napolean (as everyone else calls him) got a new home with a new best kitten friend, Gamar.  Phew!  Polo turned out to be just a minor glitch in the no-animal-responsibilities-for-Bonnie project.

Yes, it became a project.  This avoidance of animals was obviously not going to be easy.  And it continued to be difficult.  Only a few weeks after finding a home for Polo, I had an interesting animal encounter at work.  Let me preface this story with some background information.  The family I work for is wonderful and absolutely loving.  They don't, however, have a penchant for understanding animals.  Much to the chagrin of the little sweetheart of a boy that I work with.  He is an animal lover through and through.  His family has a keen knowledge of this.  So, when his aunt arrived with two of
The ducklings' first night at my place
the cutest and fluffiest ducklings in her hands to give to my little student, I was anything but surprised.  And when I was informed that she hadn't thought to buy food or planned for an enclosure for them, I wasn't surprised either.  And so, with a deep breath and my eyes to the sky, I took the ducklings in my arms and began the arrangements to find food and a temporary "box" for these sweet yellow fluffballs.  It's a good thing they were adorable.  So, for seven days I was a surrogate duck mother.  I carried them from work to home, home to work, everyday with their swimming tub and their food in tow.  I have to admit, it was fun having them around.  There aren't many things cuter than two ducklings taking a bath in a wash basin.  But it was getting a little out of hand.  They would be growing out of everything I had for them soon, and they got smelly quickly if I was late
Most adorable bath takers, ever!
cleaning their enclosure.  So, the family made arrangements for the ducklings to head to a family member's garden where there was a pond and other ducks.  Phew!

You'd think that was enough animal exposure for the five months that I've been here.  But it wasn't.  These other animals in my life have been much more temporary, however.  They are also a definite no-no when it comes to having them on the compound.  Camels.  Oh, how I love camels.  Probably because they're so similar to horses.  And possibly because whenever I'm around them I'm out in the desert's version of the country, a.k.a. away from the city.  It doesn't matter what element of the experience causes this to happen, but what I know for sure is when I'm with a camel I feel at home again.  My first encounter with a camel was when Louise took me to her friend, Abdullah's uncle's camel farm.  He has camels that he milks.  Yes, people drink camel milk.  No, I haven't tried it. 
Faux-milking a camel
Could she be any cooler?
Unfortunately, the camels had already been milked that day.  Of course that doesn't mean that I had any qualms about asking for a demonstration on how they're milked anyway.  Abdullah's uncle did better than that.  He had me do a faux-milking of one of his camel cows.  It was one of the coolest things ever.  Not only did I get to meet a camel, but I also got to faux-milk her, which essentially just meant that I tugged on her utters/teats a few times.  Talk about getting intimate with an animal.  I could barely contain my excitement.  Camels really are the coolest.  They're the epitome of calm.  Even when they're not calm they still give off the sense that they're calm.  Maybe it's their hooded eyes, or their relaxed lips.  Maybe it's their lumbering and slow walk or their chin-up, holier-than-thou head posture.  Whatever it is, I can't help but think they've got life all figured out and they are living the ultimate zen.  That's probably why, whenever I'm around camels, while my friends are shouting at me saying, "Bonnie don't get so close." Or, "Bonnie, watch your hands, he's going to bite
Kissing "Bonnie the Camel"
you." Or, "Oh my Gawd, she's actually kissing it!" I don't pay attention, because I can sense when the camels are chill with me being around (and when they're not...I don't push my limits).  Maybe my comfort with them was a reason for Abdullah's uncle offering to name one of his baby camels after
me.  It could also have been my extreme excitement for being able to hug a camel.  Either way, I now have a camel in Saudi Arabia as a namesake.  Bonnie the Camel has one hump!

Can you say "love?"
 In Joy,

Having a chat with the papa camel.
Happiness is not the word to describe this moment....but it comes close