Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Mountains and Heart in Saudi Arabia

While packing up to move here to Saudi Arabia I had been doing a bit of research and chatting with people on some forums.  During this time I heard about snow that fell in the north of the country, where there are mountains.  Yes, mountains, and snow, in the desert.  You can bet your blog reading tuckus that I had been aiming to get there ever since.  Luckily for me I am a patient person and also luckily for me I'm aware of the "thoughts become things" way of living life.  So, eventually, my thought became a thing and here I am writing about my trek to the mountains in this crazy desert that is my temporary home.

The mountains are not close to Riyadh.  They're about 600 kilometres away near a small city called Ha'il.  Traveling 600 kilometres through the desert may seem boring to some, daunting to others.  For me, it's an adventure.  Better yet, I LOVE roadtrips.  Also, being a woman in Saudi Arabia and not allowed to drive myself wherever I want to go, when I'm offered the chance to go on a roadtrip, I go.  Anything for a sense of freedom and the chance to sit in the front seat of a car.  It didn't hurt that the company in said car afforded a guaranteed infinite number of laughs and pleasantries as well.   

On the trip north there was nothing overly exciting to note considering that we started our drive after work in the dark.  I may not have been able to see anything, but I could certainly feel a shift in energy as we left the city.  The tension of the city slipped away as we moved farther and farther from it.  I'm not sure if many of you are sensitive to the way a city can make a "country-girl" like myself feel.  It's like being slightly squeezed or contained within some strange confines.  Yet, I'm not quite realizing that it's happening because I'm within it for so long that I get used to it even though something always feels off.  Then, as I leave the city the pressure releases and I feel a quiet sense of peace and freedom that I forgot I was capable of feeling.  It felt so good to be leaving the city.  It felt familiar and it made me feel at home in the desert.

When we arrived in Ha'il I continued to feel a sense of familiarity.  Ha'il is like a small metropolis and it reminded me of a city not far from my home in BC called Prince George.  There is nothing there to attract those who like big fancy cities, but it has everything you need along with a taste of country-life-back-woods attitude.  We arrived at about midnight and finding a place to camp in an unfamiliar area in the dark is hard enough in Canada; try doing it in Saudi Arabia (not recommended).  So, we stayed in a hotel the first night.  Keep in mind that being a single woman and traveling within a small, very conservative, Muslim city in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is a pretty big no-no religious-law-wise.  The safest way to do it is to travel with a married couple (or two) which is what I did.  If I was to show up at the hotel on my own I am not quite sure what would have happened.  Being a Westerner, even though I am a woman, would have given me some lee-way, but I'm still not sure if I would have been allowed to stay there alone, without a legal male companion (i.e. father, brother, or husband).  I am pretty sure authorities would have been called to question me, regardless, and it's likely that my employer would have been contacted since, technically, he's sponsoring me and is responsible for my whereabouts and activities in this country.

Things managed to be kosher with me staying at the hotel but, upon leaving the hotel, our group was still greeted by the police.  When you think of it, though, it makes sense; it is odd for Westerners to be traipsing around rural KSA.  So, it's actually not uncommon for hotel managers to call police.  The great thing is that it has nothing to do with us being suspicious.  It has everything to do, however, with keeping us safe.  Apparently they are a little paranoid about the well-being of tourists since, a little under a decade ago, there was an unfortunate "wrong-place-wrong-time" incident with some Europeans coming across some locals that were involved in activities they would prefer to not have repeated to the authorities.  I'll leave it at that, but ever since then the Saudi police keep an eye on traveling "outsiders" as a "safety outreach program" so to speak.

Our group arrived at the mountains safe and sound and the police parked nearby while we had fun exploring and playing with ropes on the rock face.  While there we met with some friendly expats that are living in Ha'il.  They extended their friendliness into an invitation for us all to join them back at their compound for some food and continued fun.  We had hoped for an outdoor barbecue but, as odd as this sounds for the desert in November, the weather didn't cooperate.  It rained.  A lot.  With lightening and thunder and all the goodness that rain provides.  Ha'il was really feeling like home; back-country city, mountains, outdoor fun, friendly and welcoming people, and rain.  The rain definitely did not dampen our evening festivities.  It simply brought us inside to good food, great conversation, a lot of laughs, and some friendships that I hope will continue long after our departure from Ha'il.

The next day entailed our group traveling together with our new friends to the sand dunes for some sand-boarding.  Some of the group were a tad speedier at getting up in the morning than others (*cough* including me *cough*) and so they headed off to the dunes first while my group lagged behind.  Unfortunately, using coordinates and gps in KSA doesn't always turn out to be the best thing for navigation.  Somewhere along the way we missed a side road not indicated on the gps device.  So, we missed the opportunity to see some of the largest dunes in the Kingdom.  I'm not concerned.  I have a pretty good feeling I'll be getting back to Ha'il sooner than later.

Since there was no sand-boarding to be had, we headed off back to Riyadh earlier than intended, giving me the chance to see the desert route back to Riyadh in daylight.  It was fantastic!  The desert may be dry, but it certainly isn't dull.  There are beautiful, smooth dunes shaped into domes, some with edges and lips carved into them by the wind creating curving lines and swirls in a never-ending mass of beige.  We saw people parked on the side of the road every few kilometres to have a picnic or with their beautiful rugs laid out to pray upon.  We saw camel herds lumbering across the expanse heading towards a rare patch of desert bushes.  We saw oases, some man-made others natural, along with random patches of grass on irrigated land, Wadis (small valleys) with skinny running rivers, and roads that were cut right through dunes and rock.  It was beautiful, and sometimes haunting, how a land mass that is so dry and seemingly inhabitable could contain so much possibility for life and energy.

The drive was interesting and made even more so by the fact that we almost ran out of gas.  It didn't occur to anyone in the group that there wouldn't be a gas station outside of Ha'il for hundreds of kilometres, so why would there be a need to fill up while in the city?  Again, being a single female in Saudi Arabia had me a little concerned about being stranded on the side of a desert highway.  I was, however, assured that there would not be an issue and, instead, managed to give my companions a good giggle about my "stress-factor" concerning the lack of gas issue.  I did believe that being without gas would be only an issue of inconvenience once I recalled a story that one of our new Ha'il friends had told me.  He explained in the story that Saudis bestow immense hospitality upon people who are in need.  Some foreigners feel it is a requirement of their religion, most believe that Saudis really are just genuinely friendly people.  I like to believe that the latter is the truth.  Regardless, it was comforting to know that, if we had have run out of gas, there was much certainty that we would have been completely fine.

Instead of running out of gas we came across a town just off of the highway where vehicle sustenance would be found, as well as a super sketchy bathroom (I'll let the picture do the explaining).  I loved stopping in at this small town, even if it was just for a few minutes.  It gave me another opportunity to see Saudi Arabia in a different light.  It made this country feel like a humble place with a true sense of simplicity that you cannot find in the hustle and bustle and tension of the city.  It showed me that the Kingdom has a quiet, peaceful, down-home side to it.  It caused me to realize that I hadn't given Saudi Arabia a chance to be a regular country, in my mind, that has a heart with a beat all of it's own; a heart that lies in the rural desert.  Or, maybe I just feel this way because that is where my heart is most drawn to.  Either way, being deep in the desert and feeling this heart, I found that I can feel even more at ease living here in Arabia.

In Joy,

Monday, November 11, 2013

The Feel-Good-In-Saudi Equation

I'm beginning to feel more at ease here in Riyadh.  Thank F&*k!

Please excuse my vulgarity, but I really can't explain how difficult it has been to not feel truly like myself for the past nine months.  I have no idea what it's like to be pregnant (and I don't intend to ever know), but I'm going to equate nine months in Saudi Arabia to my version of being pregnant.  Out of my being has dropped a huge weight of overwhelmedness (that's not a word, but it works so much better than any other word I could think of).  I'm finally feeling like Bonnie again.  I can feel the confusion that I've felt for this place fade and I have more clarity of mind now.  I am understanding Saudi more and rolling with the punches that it still, fairly often, delivers.

There are a few things that I now realize got me over the hump.  I, honestly, didn't even notice that there was such a big hump to get over.  I was just confused and overwhelmed for so long that I wasn't even sensing that that isn't the norm for me.  I have moved a lot since leaving home after high school and I had come to notice that it would take me three months to get used to a place and six months to feel like I knew it well and was comfortable there.  So, my rule of thumb for a move was always to not judge a place until I've lived there for three months and to patiently wait for the six month mark to pass for things to feel more settled and easy.  Saudi Arabia completely threw that system off.  I guess I had come to a point where I just figured I would always feel a bit dazed about this place and my life here.  I believed that Riyadh was just a stopover into the life I have always intended to have back in Canada. 

I had an undercurrent of sadness about life in Riyadh being more of a waiting game than an experience.  I was accepting it, but it didn't sit well with me.  I had no idea what to do about it, however, and so I was just riding this random wave of Arabia, hoping to keep my head above water when things were more confusing and difficult than usual.  In many ways I was doing okay to enjoy the upswings and good times here in this sandy city, but nothing I had been involved with felt like it resonated with my soul.  There were no experiences in this city that really jived with my truest self.  Except for the few deep friendships I have developed here that lighten my heavy heart, I just figured I would have to wait to get home to Canada to experience the heart-soaring feelings that I know life can offer.

Ah, but that all seems to be in the past now.  Apparently I don't have to wait to get home to Canada.  I've finally found a way to live in Saudi that fits, and a group of people here that I am discovering I jive with.  The best part is that I honestly didn't think people like "me" existed here.   Luckily, I was wrong and there does exist people in Saudi who love to explore nature, experience the rush of outdoor sports, understand the happiness that comes from moving our bodies, and like to develop and hone their skills in whatever activity makes them happiest.  Essentially, I have found friends who climb.  These people "get" that being outside heals a sad spirit and enlivens an already upbeat psyche.  They understand the value of waking up early to venture off to a place that encourages scraped knees, bruised arms, sore muscles, and adrenaline rushes.  These people value healthy bodies and even healthier minds.  They recognize the true satisfaction you get from that first swig of beer after a long day of playing in the outdoors. Plain and simple, these people are my taste of home and they're kind enough to bring me along on their fun adventures in this sandy Middle Eastern playground.

Oh yes, the people I've come to surround myself with and the fun adventures they have taken me on have played a huge role in helping me to dust off the mental cobwebs that built up during my nine months in Saudi.  But, they weren't the only factor in helping me to find the real Bonnie again.  While back home during the summer I was able to see things that factored into my well-being that were lacking in Riyadh.  The food I was eating was a huge one.  My diet changed when I came to Saudi.  Please don't let me lead you to think that the food here is bad.  Oh no, Arabic food is amazing and actually healthy in many ways.  So good, in fact, that my boobs, belly, and thighs held onto it, nice and tight.  But, it just is not the type of food that helps me to feel good.  I am the all-natural, organic, no grains, sustainably-produced kind of eater (or as my friend, Melissa, likes to call me, a hippy).  I like to know that my food was made with love and with health and well-being in mind.  I want food stored in glass jars, not plastic.  I want food that was made within the region that I live in.  I want food that was produced in a way that makes me feel good about purchasing it as well as eating it.  So, when I was home I developed a "Bonnie's Wellness Plan" and changing the way I ate in Saudi was at the top of the list.  I stocked up on all natural peanut and almond butters, mate tea, chia seeds, and British Columbian honey and stuffed them in my suitcase to take back to the sandbox.  I copied what seemed like one hundred recipes from my lovely friend, Megan's, paleolithic diet cookbook.  I learned how to make my own almond flour (by the way, it's ridiculously easy).  I came back to Riyadh and found soy milk to drink instead of the cow's milk that just seems to stay drinkable for way longer than any milk should.  I bought cart fulls of vegetables and fruit and nuts and started cooking with my heart rather than ordering food from the restaurants that pay their employees wages that cannot possibly fuel a happy working environment.  And it's been helping.  A lot.  For one thing, the weight I've gained since moving here is dropping off (along with the weight I gained in Paris, but that was weight well worth gaining so it doesn't count).  The act of eating consciously makes me feel good.  Actively taking care of my health and well-being through preparing my own food is a display of respect for myself and reminds me that I'm worth the effort.

Putting effort into "Bonnie's Wellness Plan" has also instilled a motivation in me to get way more stoked about my physical health as well.  Being outside and moving and experiencing adrenaline rushes is fantastic, but here in Riyadh I only get out of the city to climb on the odd weekend and am able to climb indoors regularly only once per week.  It's great, but it certainly isn't what my body is used to.  Sure, I had stagnant times back home, but they only happened a week or two here and there in between daily training sessions with my horse, daily bike rides in summer, regular hikes and runs with friends mixed in with snowboarding sessions on weekends in the winter.  Having activities like that to do with friends means that I didn't have to consciously think about "working out" and building strength and endurance.  In my mind I was just having a lot of fun while moving my body.  Here in Riyadh it's a whole other story.  If I don't put some effort into it, this body o'mine will turn into a flab'o jell'o.  That isn't really my biggest concern, however.  What really pushes me to stay fit is the unhappy part of my not-so-physically-active past that has a tendency to rear it's ugly head when I'm not out and about moving my body.  I was reminded of this just a few weeks ago when I experienced five days straight of major anxiety that could not be explained.  I had the tight chest, belly full of butterflies, tensed neck muscles, and zero concentration typical of an anxiety attack and no amount of reasoning with myself would get rid of it.  That is until I remembered that I hadn't come close to even breaking a sweat in about three weeks.  Two days of having sweat drip off my chin while Shaun T shouted "DIG DEEPER" at me from the computer screen solved that problem (note to Shaun T... if your Insanity workout doesn't equate to me rockin' massive full days of snowboarding when I'm home in December, I will SO be expecting a refund).  With all that being said, staying conscious about strengthening and challenging my body on a regular basis is a must, not just to have a tight ass, but mainly because my mental stability needs it.

So there you have it, folks.  By having like-minded people who let me tag-along on their adventures plus food that makes me feel good inside and out, add to that some serious commitment to working up a major sweat on a daily basis and you've got a Bonnie that feels like she can actually make life in Saudi Arabia be a positive and fun experience and not just a stopover into the awesomeness that waits for me back home.

In Joy,

Sunday, November 10, 2013

It's Not The Easiest Thing, Living Here

In a few past blog posts I mentioned that I would talk about why living in Saudi Arabia, especially the conservative city of Riyadh, is not the easiest thing to do.  I've actually been meaning to write about this for a while, but I have a major aversion to writing about negative stuff when I feel like I can't put a positive spin on it.  Something about putting a negative vibe out in the world just makes me shudder.  Words have vibrations after all.  Also, I didn't quite feel like I had a good enough grasp on this place to be able to describe what I was having difficulty with to any degree of understanding or detail.  I'm at a point now where I'm seeing the good alongside the not-so-good of Riyadh and I'm also feeling the fogginess of my transition period begin to lift, so here goes another blog entry, just for you, my curious friends and family and random readers.

Difficulty #1 - SLOW:
Everything is slow here.  And, if it's not slow then it just doesn't happen on time because of the rampant inefficiency of the place.  Also, most things that do get done aren't done correctly until the third try.  I have heard many theories as to why things happen slowly and are done inefficiently here.  The main theory is that there's a laziness factor amongst Saudis and the other nationalities that work here.  I don't like to generalize because I think that there are many awesome workers around here.  I believe there's something more to it that I would only be able to figure out if I was working amongst these people.  The bottom line is, if I need anything official done, like a travel visa or a mail order, I can be guaranteed that it will not be completed when I expect it to be.  It will, however, miraculously happen when the pressure is on and it MUST be done.  But, only if it is REALLY needed.  There is a saying here that has the acroynm "IBM."  When you ask a Saudi person to do something the first thing they say is, "Insha'Allah" (if Allah wills it).  This could mean yes, or it could mean no.  And the most frustrating part of it is you can never tell which one it is.  Never.  When what you asked for hasn't been done when it was expected and you ask the Saudi person again they will say, "Boukra" (tomorrow).  When tomorrow comes and it still hasn't been done the Saudi person will say, "Ma'lesh" (Nevermind; take it easy; no worries - in this context it basically means it's probably not going to happen any time soon, if ever.).
Positive spin:
This is a really good way to gain a sense of zen.  Bottom line is, you get taught pretty quickly here that you have very little control over how things get done, when they get done, and that there is no guarantee of them actually getting done.  You just submit a request and hope for the best.  What this does is teach you to sit back and let the Universe handle the rest.  If it is supposed to happen it will happen.  You learn that you won't die if something doesn't get completed within a certain time frame.  Sometimes you even recognize that the time frame within which something gets done is actually better than when you were hoping it to be completed.  And, if you don't relax and let things happen when they will you'll turn into a ball of stress and poor health.  That's not my scene.  I choose the zen route and I'm grateful for the intense practice that I get here.  Luckily, now that I'm making connections with "official" people, I'm starting to gain a sense of the ins and outs of things and am able to have things completed a little more quickly.  Not because I'm manipulating the system, but simply because there are more efficient routes that I wasn't originally aware of.

Difficulty #2 - Lack of Standards:
This kind of relates to Difficulty #1, and it is the lack of customer service here.  I often get the feeling that nobody in the service industry in Saudi Arabia really cares about the needs of the customer.  I know this isn't true and I know that there are places and workers who have standards of service and workmanship that they proudly stand behind.  I just have to look REALLY hard for them.  Luckily my friend, Munira, has an amazing repertoire of knowledge as to where these stores and people are so I'm doing okay in that department.  Before I met Munira, however, I was often appalled at how nobody really cared to help me get what I needed when I was paying them money.  I walked away from a number of purchases simply because I felt I was being treated poorly.  I've also gotten very angry, a few times, with some people who were in a position of power (security guards at my compound) who were being very unreasonable with me.  I felt terrible for getting worked up enough to get angry at someone.  I am the last person to even consider raising my voice in any circumstance and I pride myself in knowing when to stop talking and breathe when the pressure and frustration is high.  Therefore, this is a good example of how exasperating people who work in the service industry and/or public realm here can be.
Positive Spin:
I'm learning how to advocate for myself here.  I've experienced two extremes on how to handle situations where I could be "played"; one extreme where I am my typical polite Canadian self and allowing people to take advantage of the fact that I will let things slide simply to avoid confrontation; to the other extreme where I am riled up to the point of anger and using force and influence to get what I want (Westerners are often given more respect than other nationalities here and it is something that can be taken advantage of).  I'm coming to find a good balance now where I can be assertive while using warmth and kindness paired with strength and knowledge to stand up for myself and get what I am warranted.  I am coming to know the subtle ways of arguing my point while allowing others to feel like they are heard and understood.  I'm also learning when it is worthwhile to actually just let something go.

Difficulty #3 - Prayer Times:
Running errands isn't a simple task of getting into a car and heading to the grocery store or mall.  Saudi Arabia has times when everything is shut down for Muslims to practice their prayers.  I'm all for giving people the chance to practice their religion, so I don't begrudge them this at all.  I think it's great that they don't have to worry about leaving their post to go pray.  But I can't deny the fact that it is uber inconvenient for me that at approximately 12:00, 3:30, 6:00, and 8:00 everyday all stores and restaurants are shut down for 20-30 minutes.  This means that I have to calculate the best time to head off to go shopping and rush through a purchase if I want to finish up at a store before prayer is called.  I've had many times where my shopping trip was extended by a good 30-45 minutes simply because I miscalculated how long it would take for me to finish up.  Many times I've also been locked IN at either a restaurant or a grocery store because I decided I was done and ready to go during the period of prayer (restaurants and grocery stores don't kick you out the way other retail establishments do...they simply allow you to remain inside to continue shopping or eating while the clerks and waiters go off to pray).
Positive Spin:
I love the call to prayer or Adhan.  It's so ethereal and beautiful to hear the Muezzin sing out the announcement that it's time for the Muslims to close up shop and get themselves situated for praying.  You can hear it wherever you go because it's announced over loudspeaker throughout the city and in all buildings.  Here's a cool recording of it I found on YouTube:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UlLaUCAQlQQ

Difficulty #4 - Not Allowed to Drive:
 I'm not the type of girl to spout feminist debate and rant about the inequality of women, but not being allowed to drive?  In the 21st century??  Come ON!!  I knew this was something I would be dealing with when I moved here.  I figured I would just roll with it, and I have done so.  The thing is, the longer I stay here the more not being able to drive irks me and wears on my patience.  It really is incredibly hard for me to not have the freedom to just get up and go whenever I want.  I am an extremely independent person and, while I have amazing male friends who are generous with offers to drive me to get groceries and do other chores, it kills me to have to rely on them.  I can get drivers, which helps in the independence department, but they need to be scheduled.  If I don't plan far enough ahead there's a good chance I won't be able to get one.  If I can get a driver, many of them have no idea where I want to go either because they can't speak English very well or they simply have no clue how to get to the place I am aiming to go to.  So, a simple desire to just get something done, for example, like a picture custom framed, turns into a big mess because I'm not sure of an actual place to go get this done and my driver has no clue what I mean by the word "frame."  Along with this, some drivers scare the crap out of me.  The driving here, in general, is scary.  Add to that a driver who has no sense of what defensive driving is and seems to think that weaving in and out of traffic is the best way to get somewhere and you've got a girl who's almost in tears wishing that she could just drive her own frickin' car.  Going back to the many drivers who never know where the place is that I want to go; I would gladly tell them how to get there but I don't typically know either.  If I could drive my own car, however, I would happily go exploring the city and get familiar with the place.  A friend once said to me that she has been here for over a year and still doesn't feel any connection to the city.  She said that, when she leaves her compound, she feels like a visitor to Riyadh.  I've been here for over nine months now and I completely agree with her.  I know that there are some amazing places to see here, right in the city, and I have no way to truly get to know them.  It's not like this city is walking/biking/public transit friendly.  The only way to really explore Riyadh is to drive around and I can guarantee you that, unless I have my own private driver, I am not going to be able to do this.  Bottom line, the not-being-allowed-to-drive situation makes me sad.  I live in such an exotic and interesting place and I am likely never going to get to know it the way it deserves to be known.
Positive Spin:
This is a hard one for me to put a positive spin on.  Probably because the sores created by being prevented from driving are always so raw for me.  One thing it does is make me more organized when it comes to what I need to do and when I need to do it.  When my fridge is almost empty, I schedule a good two hours for a trip to the grocery store and stick to that schedule.  When I have supplies for therapy at work to buy, I research where I have to go to get them before I even call a driver (which means, yet again, relying on someone else to help me because the stores here have crap for websites).  And, when it comes down to it, I am learning to simply take many deep breaths and recognize that I may just not get things done that don't desperately need to be done.  This, essentially, means that if it isn't getting groceries, buying therapy materials, or getting to the indoor climbing wall then it probably won't happen.

Difficulty #5 - Language Barrier:
Oh my gawd, I am so ridiculously bad at learning a second language.  Combine that with the fact that almost everyone here can speak at least a little bit of English and are always wanting opportunities to practice and you have one horrible Arabic learner.  Plain and simple, I'm a lazy English-language speaker.  I am not proud of this.  Yet, this fact still does not motivate me to learn Arabic.  I will admit that, even though I have learned how to say left, right, straight, and stop in Arabic I can't for the life of me remember what those words are right now.  And these are words that I need to direct my drivers (see Difficulty #4 above)!  I am well aware that I make life more difficult for myself here because of my lack of Arabic language knowledge.  I really can't give any insight as to why I am still not motivated to work harder at learning Arabic.  The simple fact of the matter is, I just have no desire right now to put the energy into this task.  If anyone has any tips on how to get my ass in gear in this department, please feel free to share them in the comments below.
Positive Spin:
I have very quiet and peaceful drives to and from work because my drivers speak basically no English.  When they do try to speak to me in English and I try to speak to them in Arabic it often turns into a hilarious mess and we get a good giggle from it.  And, for some odd reason, when I do try to speak Arabic the people I'm speaking to absolutely love that I try and seem to find me endearing because of it.  Then, forgivingly, they break into speaking English with me to put me out of my misery.

Difficulty #6 - Friendliness Being Taken the Wrong Way:
I'm a friendly person.  I like to smile and make the people around me comfortable.  I am not someone who gets her way through being forceful or blunt.  "You catch more flies with honey" is my motto.  This has gotten me into some uncomfortable situations with men who have been assigned to help me with various tasks at work and who also happen to be single.  For me, simple conversation and small talk that occurs amongst business tasks is just that, simple conversation and small talk.  I've come to realize that, for a single man in Saudi Arabia who does not live on a compound, this type of interaction indicates that I must be aiming to marry him.  For example, mentioning that I love animals and talking about my past equine endeavors when a particular single man asked about the picture of my horse on my computer screen turned into me receiving about 20 pictures via text of this man's family farm's animal residents.  Later, after watching a movie in which an actress reminded him of me, I received a YouTube link to the theme love song to that movie.  I've also had a driver call me outside work hours to tell me, in extremely broken English, where he lives in case I care to visit.  These are just a few examples of the uncomfortable and mainly amusing situations that I've found myself in as a result of being friendly to the men here.
Positive Spin:
This has forced me to recognize a cultural divide and to shift my perspectives rather than to simply get annoyed.  There was nothing creepy about these men.  The movie-theme-texter was, and still is, a great person to work with and very reliable.  He simply isn't used to dealing with women.  A friend of mine explained that these guys live in apartment buildings that only house single men.  They are only allowed in the "singles" sections of restaurants where no women are allowed.  Men are not allowed to talk to women in public unless the women are their sister or mother or daughter.  They, essentially, can only ever associate with other single men.  And, if they happen to be living in Saudi Arabia but aren't Saudi, they may not even have the opportunity for a marriage to be arranged for them.  So, when they get the chance to talk to a woman and she's single their brains shift into a gear that resembles a thirteen year old boy who went to a boy's only boarding school all his young life and suddenly is given a chance to study with a girl.  These men have no clue what to do and how to read signals.  I, of course, forgive them this and have learned to be more clear and precise and less "friendly" when I work with them.  I've also become an expert in dealing with the awkward let-down, even though some of my friends seem to think I'm still too friendly in these circumstances.  Regardless, it has made for some funny and innocent stories. 

Difficulty #7 - The Caste System:
I have a really hard time with this one.  In this country it seems that the only way to get respect here is to come from an affluent country and to have an embassy that will back you up when you're in a bind.  Equality for all is certainly not an aspect of the mentality of the typical Saudi Arabian (keep in mind that there are many Saudi Arabians that are respectful and kind to all people no matter where they come from).  I have worked amongst some amazing and capable women and have dealt with some very sweet and helpful men from countries like the Philippines, India, Pakistan, Sudan, Egypt, as well as others.  These people, more often than not, get paid much less than a westerner would get paid in the same job, get placed in housing that is far below the standard that a westerner is placed in, work hours much longer than a westerner would ever be expected to work, and are manipulated in ways that a westerner would never ever experience.  It kills me that I get weekends to do as I please while the people I know from these countries are lucky to get one day to themselves every 10 days and then still have to get written permission from their "sponsors" in order to leave their apartment building.  This is just one small example of how much better I have it here compared to the people I know from less affluent countries.
Positive Spin:
I am so utterly aware of how lucky I am to be from Canada.  The gratitude I have for the opportunities that I have been given just simply for being born in Canada is immense.  I am also so glad that living in Saudi Arabia has opened my eyes to the ridiculous acts against human rights that occur in this world.  I know that I still don't even know the half of it.  Knowing what I do know, however, makes me want to help in ways that I am capable of doing so.  I'm still learning and beginning to recognize where I can play a part in this huge issue of inequality.  In time, I know I'll figure out what I can do that gels the best with my abilities.

On that super bummer, yet interesting, note I will end my list of "Difficulties in Saudi Arabia."  I'd like to say that this list is comprehensive.  It isn't.  I could go on, but I fear doing so would put me on a road to depression that I really would like to avoid experiencing.  All in all, this place is an amazing learning experience and I know that personal evolution is happening at a rate that I can't even come close to comprehending at this point in time.  I've come to learn that, if you want to grow and become a better person, challenge yourself and place yourself outside your comfort zone.  I am definitely doing that by living in Saudi Arabia. 

In Joy,