The Wanderlust Gene

Some people have it and some people don’t. I am definitely one of those people who do. Someone once told me I had hot feet for travelling and that is the best way I can describe it too. I am inspired to write this post by a good friend of mine who recently moved away. She went through a major life event that changed her life and she decided to move from here (Bahrain) to an organic farm in South America which seems almost like a communal village. She is working and living and just being there. Her husband is still here and she is healing with her young daughter there for an indefinite amount of time. She is one of the coolest people I’ve met, she has adventures abound and has lived and travelled all over the world. When we get together I think we both enjoy reliving our past adventures and talking about what will hopefully be our next ones. Both of us definitely have the wanderlust gene. As do many expats that I’ve met. It takes a special type of person to move to different countries and live and experience different cultures. But someone with the wanderlust gene craves their next adventure and can’t be still for too long. 

Travelling is like the biggest high for me, the biggest adrenaline rush, I get excited just thinking of and planning future travels. When I haven’t been travelling for awhile I feel suffocated, tied down and unhappy. I think a lot of people with the wanderlust gene do. There’s a part of me sometimes who wishes, especially on those really difficult really hard and complicated days out here, I was”normal” living the typical middle class lifestyle in Canada, working our jobs, having a home, doing the weekend trips of camping, hiking, skiing etc and the yearly trips to mexico, or the US etc. And then I think it’s totally not me, or us (Chris and maybe even the girls) for that matter, we would die of boredom. We are definitely the type of people that need more. I honestly thought I would calm down once I got married and had children but now it’s taken a new twist and instead of exploring the world myself or with Chris I want to show my kids the world and adventure with them. I have so many ideas at times it is overwhelming. For this summer alone I’ve mapped out four different trips. I’m not sure which ones we will take or what we will end up doing but I love how the world feels like it is at our fingertips and each trip I have planned makes me feel so excited and so alive. Even when Chris and I talk about retiring it is with an element of adventuring and travelling. We can’t really decide on a place to lay roots nor do we really want to, we talk about buying a yacht and traveling the world. Or maybe buying a few places in the world and using it as a jumping board for travelling the region like Thailand for instance and Canada and spending a few months in each place. I think wandering and travelling has become a part of who we are, activated for me definitely when I went on my first solo (without family) trip to Greece with some fellow Uni students. I realized how huge the world is and how much of it there is to explore and learn about. How many amazing people there are to meet and help and how much there is to learn. Maybe one day I will settle down but for now I will enjoy wandering the world with Chris and my girls 

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When Home Isn’t Home

Living overseas we try to come back to Canada at least once a year. Pre kids it was easier to make it home a couple of times a year but now with young kids the thought of shlepping across the world for at least 24 hours (or 39 like last year when our plane was delayed) is a bit nightmarish at best so we make the effort to come home only during the summer. Kids are off from school and it is hot as hades out here anyways. It is always fun to see our family and friends of course but also to breath in the fresh air, do the activities we can’t do out here, share the experiences we had as kids with our girls and just live a simpler life for a bit. Our families are always so excited to see us and are so accommodating. They try to do as much as possible with us as we do with them because we know our time is limited. Our situation has changed slightly in that now the girls are in school so we need to plan around their holidays plus the girls and I are living in Bahrain so we now have some extra expenses. In order to keep up with our financial goals we can only make one international trip a year. Whereas prior to moving to Bahrain when we were living in Saudi we took two, one family holiday and then our annual trip to Canada plus usually travelling around the GCC as well. 

Last year was the first year we did not take a family holiday and we really felt it last summer. While going home is amazing it is not exactly a holiday, as many of you expats will relate to. It is a mad race to see as many people as possible, do as many “Canadian” things as we can and stock up on as much as we can because here in the Middle East products from your home country are pretty hard to come by if not impossible. When we flew back from Canada last year we were all exhausted and did not feel replenished to tackle another year out here. Chris and I had many discussions about why we felt this way and we came to the conclusion that we started off the trip with a 39hour trip but had actually been awake for 54 hours! Then we (well I) dealt with jet lagged children having wonky sleeping times and pitching massive fits because of said jet lag. We tried to do way too much, going places every day to see people and do things. We then flew across Canada and stayed for 2 days with my mom where then Chris and I flew to Mexico and then him home. Once I got back to the kids they were still flipped right upside down with the constant travelling, new environments, new houses, new foods, new smells basically all new sensory experiences as well as mommy and daddy being gone, well mainly mommy. At the end of the summer I then faced a trip across the world with these two little munchkins on my own. While they are fantastic little travelers at this point, it is still really really hard and draining, keeping them both happy and entertained, switching planes with two sleeping kids and our overheard luggage in the middle of the night, keeping them both safe as well as our stuff. Using and taking kids to the bathroom in an airplane toilet with 3 people is always an adventure 😬 or good luck to me in being able to eat a meal at all.  As my friend so simply put it, while it is home to us it isn’t to them and there couldn’t be more truth to that. Canada is not known as home to my girls, Bahrain now is and Saudi as our second home. I can’t reiterate this enough but EV-ERY-THING is different out here then there. The clothes people wear, the food, the smells, the weather, the people’s behaviour in general, the sounds, the language and let’s face it they are out of their comfort zone. While kids are pretty resilient I saw first hand last summer that it was too much, too intense for them and they were stressed. Even after coming back here it took them awhile to decompress. We all, including the kids really missed having a family holiday. We are out here too to experience different cultures and travelling to different countries. I absolutely love travelling with the girls and showing them the world. Each trip we take with them has been getting easier and easier and it is really incredible to show them how big the world is, show them different experiences and see the world through their eyes. So this year we made the difficult decision to not come back to Canada this summer. While it makes me sad that we won’t see Canada and most of our family this summer I know it is the best decision for us right now. We’ve been looking at doing a 3 week trip somewhere closer to us, like Bali, Singapore, Malaysia or some combination of those countries. Chris and I absolutely love travelling Asia, the people, food and culture as well as the extreme friendliness towards children makes it a fantastic spot to visit. And we’ve welcomed any family members or friends to join us if they’d like 😉 we are now enjoying our first family holiday this year in Dubai and are really looking forward to doing so many fun things here, eating delicious food and visits some friends but mainly reconnecting and we are excited to see what this summer will bring ✈️

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Exposed

This last month has been really crazy for us. Zoey has been having some tummy troubles so our pedi suggested we put her on an elimination diet. Celiac runs in chris’ family so the doctor suggested cutting gluten and also dairy out of her diet. I’ve heard of so many people cutting gluten out of their diet but I had no real idea how tricky it would be, especially for a 3 year old who is used to eating pretty much everything and for being here in Bahrain. The search and experimenting began with new flours, cereals, breads and pastas as well as going through all of our ingredients at home to ensure there was no gluten in them, spices, sauces etc. Then the amount of trying so many different recipes, some were a hit and some were so not. And finally the amount of research that was required, trying to educate myself as much as possible about gluten insensitivity, what is it, what causes it, the symptoms, what vitamins and minerals are lacking when you cut gluten out of your diet and ensuring you supplement with the right kinds of foods, what is leaky gut and how to heal and seal your gut. Also what tests the doctor wants to do and what is necessary, what are they looking for and the list went on and on. It was really overwhelming and eye opening. We’ve made some big changes in our diet, more so incorporating more pulses and varied veggies in our diets and generally cutting back our intake of gluten and cooking more with varied flours. Zoey is back on a gluten diet now and we will see her pedi in the new year to discuss options but from everything I’ve read and observed the last month I’m sure she has some sort of gluten insensitivity, whether it’s celiac I don’t think so but I do think she’s on the spectrum. 

So this whole experience really got me thinking about what our kids are exposed to. We do our best to fill their bodies with healthy foods and as parents we research what we are giving to our kids, proper water, vaccines, medications etc. There’s just so much information out there it’s hard to wade through what is fact, what is opinion and what we simply don’t have enough information on yet to make a clear cut decision. It also got me thinking to what we can’t control like people our kids meet at school, what they see in the media and men’s and women’s roles and how our kids are perceiving this. More specifically how women are sexualized. I love that our girls have such a wide range of friends from all different cultures, I think this is so imperative to teach them about equality and acceptance. I love that the majority of kids my girls are exposed to thus far have very conservative backgrounds so makeup, typical girl clothing we see in western culture and boyfriends are not even in their realm or vocabulary yet. They focus on running around, playing their made up games, climbing trees and swing sets, exploring and just being kids. But then as I was getting ready to go out one evening I had my makeup done up and a tight dress on and my 3 year old says wow mummy your face looks so pretty and your body looks so nice. What?? How and where did my 3 year old learn that. I don’t necessarily think it’s a bad thing if it’s followed up with messages about how girls are smart, athletic, strong, clever, builders, dare Devils etc too. Which Chris and I are always doing and not focusing on looks and looking pretty as the more important attributes. I was speaking with a friend a while back and we both agreed that we as parents these days are blessed to have a wealth of information at our disposable and literally at our fingertips. But it is also somewhat a curse, all the information we need to wade through, analyze and in the end make the best decision for our families is a super overload. Thankfully as we gear up for Christmas Zoey is able to have gluten again so we don’t have to skimp on our holiday baking and can use flours we are used to 🎄🎅🏼

Flying kites on our compound

Scooter our elf came to visit for the month

Decorating the house and watching Christmas movies

Making gingerbread houses


At the Ritz for the Christmas tree lighting

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Upheaval

During spring break we went back to Saudi Arabia to spend time with Chris. In the middle of our stay Chris received an email stating there was going to be an emergency meeting held in the morning and everyone was to attend. We had been hearing rumours for a while now that the project was not going to be renewed and massive layoffs were going to happen so we figured this was it. Chris and I were pretty nervous and did not sleep much that night. I sent Chris off the next day telling him to give me immediate updates as soon as he knew anything. He called to tell me they had been told there were going to be some pretty massive layoffs and everyone would find out in the next 24 hours who was being laid off and who was safe. It was a stressful day hearing from friends whose husbands had been laid off and waiting to see if Chris would get called in as well. Thoughts ran through our mind as to what we were going to do, what our next plan of action would be. Things get tricky because if you don’t have a job you can’t get a visa to stay in Saudi or Bahrain. So then what do we do about where we can live, school for Carmen etc. We made it through over the next couple of days and were safe but heard the rest of the project would be laid off in June. At least we could maybe plan a bit more, the girls and I could go back to Canada for the summer as Carmen’s school would be pretty much done and we could potentially look elsewhere in the world. It was a sad and scary week for many whose time in Jubail was coming to an end and not by choice. The company told the husbands if they had kids they could stay and finish off the year but that would be 3 months of potentially no work for the husbands. Some husbands were told their skill sets were needed in Riyadh so that was promising while others were just going to pack it in in a month and head home to see what they could get there and still others were going to sit and wait until the end of the school year together as a family. We were grateful we were ok but so saddened by how things had panned out for others. I knew as I left Jubail after those two weeks that big changes were going to come to the compound. 

We came back to Jubail again for half term in May. It was going to be a bittersweet visit as this was probably the last time we were going to see some of our friends, friends that the girls have known for a long time. The compound had changed,and I noticed the change right away. The compound was like a ghost town, I took the girls swimming every day and it was rare to see other people out. After school we could usually see and hear kids playing and running around but not anymore. Luckily my girls best pals lived straight across the hall from us and so they saw each other every day and didn’t notice anything was different. I noticed people to be much more closed and the compound much less of a community than it was before. Moms were either stressed and lonely because their husbands were working elsewhere and they and the kids were set to leave in June not sure of what their next steps would be in terms of what country they would be living in come September let alone what school their kids would be attending, they were lonely because there were so few people on the compounds and most left had chosen to keep to themselves or the husbands were sitting at home with their wives both stressed because no options were coming up for alternate work while the kids were finishing school.  I left the compound with a heavy heart knowing that the compound and community I used to know was no longer there and the people I had known and we had developed a relationship with were leaving or had already left and we probably wouldn’t see each other again or at least not for a long time. 

Forward to June, contract for  the job has been renewed, even more money has been allotted then before and most people who were laid off are being asked if they want to come back. Talk about a roller coaster of emotions. I’m pleased for so many of these families and am pleased for us that we can stay put for the near future. Our life is not ideal, being split through the week and Chris only coming to us on the weekends but who’s life ever is. Another situation would open up a new set of problems. For now we are pleased, we are grateful for a job and grateful we see Chris minimum every 5 days for the weekend plus holidays, and long weekends we can take every so often. 

I know this happens all over the world especially now with the economy the way it is. In 2008 we were laid off and it was an extremely scary feeling not being in Canada and having some sort of social net. Being overseas especially somewhere like the Middle East means being extremely smart about preparing for the unknown and for the tough times that could be ahead. You can be kicked out of your house and the country without much notice and there’s no such things as food banks, welfare and shelters over here. Being a team with your spouse is paramount in these situations and being on the same page. We feel lucky that this is the case with us, we are together on this adventure and journey 100% 

Last few days with their besties, their dad was able to secure another job in another GCC country

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Ramadan

It’s Ramadan now, the first one I’ve spent in the Middle East for 5 years now! The Middle East is quite strict on Ramadan etiquette and Bahrain is no exception. The basic rules are no eating, drinking, smoking, chewing gum in public until sunset (iftar). No playing loud music, singing or dancing at all. Both women and men should dress a little more modestly with their shoulders and knees covered. Children, people who are special needs, pregnant and breastfeeding women and women who are on their monthly cycles are exempt from the eating and drinking rules. Anyone else, the rules are punishable with a hefty fine and even jail time. Most stores have alternate timings, like they are closed the majority of the day but open around iftar and stay open late into the night. Most big shopping malls are open until midnight or 1am. Restaurants except those in hotels are all closed during the day but some deliver and most also have extended hours as well as massive iftar buffets. Iftar is when Muslims break their fast, usually with dates and then they pray and then they have their meal. Suhur occurs in the early morning before sunrise and is the last meal eaten before the fasting begins and more prayers are prayed. Ramadan is a time of reflection, prayers and being a better person. 

This year has been definitely the most interesting Ramadan I’ve spent in the Middle East. I know quite a few Muslims and so have been able to ask as many questions about Ramadan and their practices during this time as well as engaging in some activities as well. I find Ramadan to be quite similar to a mixture between Lent and Advent in Christianity. They sometimes have a countdown calendar for children during Ramadan until Eid (the week of celebrations after Ramadan). A good deed and a little treat for every day. The fasting reminds me a bit of lent when we give up a certain food (s) until Easter. And generally just being a better person, a more productive member of society and being thankful for our blessings. 

The girls are at a good age where we can talk about these things and how different religions celebrate different holidays. They, especially Carmen have heard a lot about Ramadan because she has many Muslim friends at school and the school is also very decorated for Ramadan. This week for Zoey’s playgroup we had some moms who are practicing Muslims and celebrating Ramadan talk a little about Ramadan. One lady is from South Africa, one from the UK and two others from Algeria. It was interesting to talk about the similarities and differences between the different countries and generally just find out more about this special time of year. Then the kids made countdown calendars, lanterns and decorated bags to fill and give to people who are less unfortunate. I also got an excellent idea from a friend to make a “Alhumdilillah Tree” or a Thank God tree. Each night during Ramadan my girls write one thing they are thankful for on the leaf and stick it on the tree. I love hearing what they are thankful for (Disney characters, Daniel tiger, daddy, mummy, each other and various family members) but it’s also such a lovely opportunity to express our gratitude for everything that we have. This Ramadan has actually been enjoyable thus far, I’ve loved finding out more about this special time of year from my Muslim friends and even hearing about the Haj pilgrimage one friend took a few years back. The only thing I’m really struggling with is not drinking my morning coffee on the way to school 😜 


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An Overly Complicated Life

Funny enough, I thought when Carmen started school I would have more time. With just one child, I envisioned baking and cooking so much more, being all prepared, crafting more with the kids (even though we do a lot) etc etc. Truth be told our lives are like a whirlwind dictated by school drop offs and pickups, Zoey’s extracurricular activities during school times (playgroups, play dates, CO-OP preschool and gymnastics), preparing for the early mornings and packing for school. The days, the weeks and months fly by and I literally feel like I can’t catch my breath. As soon as we have a day off on the weekend or for school I’m so excited to take the girls somewhere or just hang out at home with them and spend quality time together or just with Carmen. We are still loving Bahrain and all there is to do. We still have to be vigilant due to the protests in certain areas here but they are usually minor, do not involve us and are segregated to certain areas of the city, also known as red zones. In short, the Shia majority population are protesting to gain more political freedom and equality from the Sunni led government. The protests are mostly “peaceful”, tire fires, knocked over garbage bins but can sometimes escalate to molatov cocktails being thrown and tear gas. As long as you stay out of the red zones you are pretty much ok.

A few weeks ago Chris and I were hanging out, smoking shisha and having a drink outside, petting the neighbourhood cats a mama and her kitten when I mentioned how much the kids would like a kitten and how we should get one. Chris looked at me and said are you kidding. He and I have both said how we are barely balancing two households in different countries and all the things that entails (paperwork, paperwork, paperwork) for visas, residents permits, licenses etc. For example one of the things we need to do and keep track of is the girls and I have to drive across the border to Saudi to change our Bahraini visas every 90 days, it’s a long process and one that we have to be on top of so we don’t get in trouble. Chris needed to renew his passport which has taken a long four weeks. So for four weeks we have been separated with Chris in Saudi and myself and the girls in Bahrain. It has sucked but was necessary. I have had to borrow chris’ car while mine is in Saudi getting paperwork renewed which allows me to drive it in Bahrain, as it was purchased in Saudi. Anyone who lives in the Middle East knows submitting paperwork is a never ending confusing process of being told it was submitted to the wrong person and to go to this place, this was forgotten on the form even though they never asked for it initially, language barriers and the constant echo of “inshallah”. Chris’ response to a kitten was adding one more thing to our already overly complicated lives could topple our precariously balanced tower of cards. I agreed. While living out in the Middle East has its advantages and for the girls and I living separately in Bahrain, everything is just a little more complicated!

Heres some things we’ve been up to: both girls are in gymnastics, Zoey had a trial for swimming and will start next term, we went to a wedding, Zoey started her play school COOP, we have been to several beaches and are discovering new restaurants

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Decisions, Decisions

We had some tough decisions to make over the summer and we finally made a decision and carried through with it. We’ve moved to Bahrain!!! The girls and I left for summer at the end of May not sure where exactly we would be coming back to. The day after we left there was a suicide bomb in a Mosque in a town called Qatif about half an hour from where our compound is located. Chris and I were a little on edge but thought we would wait and see what would happen. Exactly a week later another suicide bomb occurred in Dharan, an hour away from us. I got the call from the husband that day, he was on his way to Bahrain to get us a place and what were my requests. The middle of the following week I was informed that Carmen had been accepted into the school we had applied to in Bahrain so we were happy we now had schooling options.  Everything moved very quickly and it was a bit of a shock, still is actually. Moving to Bahrain was not our first choice, we would have preferred to stay together a s a family but so far things have been working out really well. Chris has been able to come out every weekend and to be here for Carmen’s first few days of school. We have just started a week holiday and we will be in Saudi for Carmen’s break in October. It actually hasn’t been too different for the girls because during the week they are usually in bed by the time he gets home from work anyways so not much different being here or there for them.

Our life here has been drastically different. Being mobile again is fantastic. Having the opportunity to drive Carmen to and from school and drop her off right to her class has been great. Her school is huge with loads of people dropping their kids off in the morning so it’s quite the drive to school but the girls have handled the early mornings and long days really well. I much prefer anyways to start the day early and have the kids in bed and sleeping by 730 so that I have time to myself in the evenings, that’s been really nice. The kids have also handled the move and all the changes really well. I think being an expat you learn to be extremely easygoing and adaptable to many situations. The kids were excited to choose their bedroom in the new house, they have ideas on how they’d like to decorate it and are loving their new garden. Going to the grocery store whenever I’d like, going for coffee, brunches and lunches and shopping at the mall all in a free and more liberal environment has been so lovely. Having the girls in extracurricular activities and the various options available like festivals, plays and concerts for them has been so enjoyable.  Carmen is in ballet and swimming and loving it. School for the most part has gone pretty well. Carmen had a few wobbles last week but her teacher sat in the hall with us until Carmen felt comfortable enough to enter the class. Her teacher is truly wonderful, and the cool thing is she’s Canadian too. The curriculum is quite intense for kindergarten but Carmen seems to be doing fine and is really thriving and excelling in what she’s doing and what they’re learning. We will continue to watch and see how she handles this year.  Arabic is one of the classes she is doing three times a week and she has picked up so much so far. It’s really amazing to see and hear! Zoey is in ballet once a week and I’ve taken her to one playgroup so far at a gymnastics club which she’s really liked.

Bahrain is a very easy place to live. The driving is relatively simple, unlike Doha and especially Dubai where the traffic is really intense and missing your turnoff results in driving forever to find a uturn. The people are really friendly and it’s very “small village” atmosphere where everyone is very friendly and laidback for the most part. As the weather gets cooler I’m excited to take advantage of the local fisherman and farmers selling their catch and produce of the day. The expat community is huge so meeting people is easy and most everyone is eager to speak to everyone else and welcome you. This is one of the things I absolutely love about being in the Middle East, everyone is so incredibly friendly.

The main downfall of our move is that we have to cutdown on our travelling. We’ve decided to cancel our trip to Jordan over the Eid this year and we are not sure what next year will look like. The only for sure is that we will be going to Canada in the summer. But all in all the tradeoffs are worth it and both Chris and I are a lot more at ease sending our little lady to school. We are really looking forward to celebrating all the holidays in Bahrain and exploring and enjoying more of this cool country. Thanks to all those who kept us in your thoughts, it was really nice and reassuring to receive your PM’s 💗

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