Living with intent, social engagement, learning, growing, giving
After 6 glorious weeks together with my family and no international travel, I have returned to the Middle East. This year my children have moved from their early childhood school to a normal public school. It’s hard for my husband and I to watch them slowly integrating and making friends and we cringe at the institutional aspects of the school. However, it seems that the teachers are dedicated and picking up on the gaps in the capacities of our children so it seems to be good.
We attended the ‘welcome to the school year’ picnic and while sitting, eating and chatting with friends a teenager playing cricket next to me slugged the ball and hit me in the eye and nose. I thought that I would lose my eyesight but after going to the hospital each day for 3 days, I was given the all clear and marvelled at the ability of the cornea to heal so quickly. The public health system in Australia is excellent! My nose was fractured and the pain was an ever-present companion for about 8 days but now my eyesight is normal and my nose doesn’t hurt any more!
I stopped in Perth for a day on the way to the Middle East so that I could meet with clients. The main meeting was cancelled while I was crossing Australia but fortunately I had set up two peripheral meetings to leverage the travel. I met with a delightful Central American client with whom I’ve been working on and off for two years. She managed, at the last minute, to assemble the important people and some interesting discussions ensued that will hopefully lead to more work. She took me to lunch afterwards and we connected like old friends. She used to work for a big service company in business development and so she understood what my travel schedule is like and commiserated and stressed the need to train other staff to do what I do so that I can spend more time at home with my family. We are around the same age and have children of similar ages and it was lovely to be understood.
Everything is going well on my project here in Saudi Arabia and it’s lovely to spend time again with my team, who welcomed me as if I had not left. We laugh together during the day at work and have nice lunches within the expat camp but that is the extent of interactions due to the restrictions on mixing between men and women. In the evenings it’s quiet and lonely but this time I’m staying at an international hotel so I’ve been able to use room service for dinner and breakfast is included at an amazing buffet. When I arrived at 0430 on Wednesday the receptionist upgraded me to a suite which is incredible and would normally cost about $500 a night. I’m getting a special rate through a university collaboration that I’ve helped to establish.
On Wednesday I saw at work a past-client from Australia and I marvelled at the ease with which we entered into comfortable conversation. It’s true that it can be easier to interact with people who have grown up in a similar setting to oneself and I can understand why expats tend to congregate with each other. However, I feel that to limit oneself to ones brethren means to miss out on rich and diverse interactions and that is why I always seek to interact with those around me, wherever I am in the world.
The driving habits of the Arabs around me (I’m not allowed to drive because I’m a woman) have not improved. I continue to see drivers turning across 4 lanes of traffic simply to avoid queuing, drivers swerving in and out of lanes, overtaking on the shoulder, and it’s common to pass 2 traffic accidents on the trip from work to my hotel. My heart leapt into my mouth on Thursday when a driver passed within 5 cm of my door, while travelling at over 80km/h. It’s easy to see then why this region has the worst traffic incident rate in the world. I chuckled to myself when I read this passage, about a division of 400-500 troops marching from Hasa to Riyad, in the fascinating book: Personal Narrative of a Year’s Journey through Central and Eastern Arabia (1862-1863) by William Gifford Palgrave.
Like true Arabs, they marched with a noble contempt of order and discipline: walking, galloping, ambling, singing, shouting, alone or in bands, as fancy led.
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