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,


  1. So ~ finally the labour pains are stopping and a new, positive Bonnie is emerging. Well done. Not that life will be a slice of "almond floured cake" but at least you have now carved out a beautiful, still a bit bumpy road to follow. You are going to be fine. Seeing pictures of you climbing and carving ~ what the hell was that anyway ~ squash is uplifting at best. New friends to light your way ~ You're gonna do this!!!

  2. You saw a big pumpkin in those pictures. We managed to find one the day after Halloween. I did, however, carve a butternut squash on Halloween and forgot to post the picture. It looked pretty rad.
    Thanks for the happy vibes, Sue!


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