Saturday, 17 May 2014

Summer Holidays (aka Studying for Exams) in Jeddah!

Back in the sunshine (with lots of reading in tow)...
I can’t believe that four whole months have passed by since I was last in Jeddah. Since my visit in December, I returned to Toronto, finished all my PhD coursework (generally working 12 hours a day and temporarily nearly blinding my poor, exhausted eyes in the process—that’s what I get to taking two Victorian Literature classes among others in one term!), and started studying for my comprehensive exams which take place at the end of the summer. I’ll accordingly be spending my summer reading literally #allthebooks (a favourite hashtag on Instagram and Facebook these days!). My exams are in two parts: from the Old English Beowulf to the end of the Renaissance period (1660), and then from the Restoration (referring to the restoration of King Charles II to the English throne after the English Civil War) to the present time.
Compreshensive Exams #readALLthebooks!
That’s a whole lot of reading (and a lot of books to lug in my weight-restricted luggage back to Saudi!), but now that I’m over my jet lag and knee deep in it, it’s bringing back nice childhood memories. I remember how, every summer, my parents used to try to get me outside of my bedroom at the cottage, but I’d refuse, perfectly content to remain snuggled up in bed all day with a good book—or, really, an entire series of books, because, really, one book is never enough!

Starting with the Old English Beowulf

Now that I’m an adult, I seem to have made a career of reading and academia, and, for those who know me well—especially my parents who now see that there indeed IS a purpose to my staying indoors reading, reading, reading—it is not surprising!

Jeddah: Home Sweet Home
I’m now back in Jeddah for two months. I arrived on May 2nd, and will stay until the end of June, which is great, because it was a longggg four months without DH, though we both made excellent productive use of our time apart with our intensive studies! It’s taken some adjustment being back here and getting used to having someone other than Oreo, my dear feline friend, around, but it’s a nice change of pace to have DH come home from work at the end of the day and keep me company. I also finally have a reason to cook! Living alone, it’s hard to justify spending time slaving away at the stove, especially with my hectic school schedule, but having him with me gives me an incentive to tap into my culinary creativity!

My usual company: Oreo and his Sheep friend!

Finally signs of spring in Toronto (April 2014)

An Afternoon by the Red Sea

Today, the end of my second weekend back in Jeddah, DH had to go into work in the afternoon while I got in some study time. Once he got home, we decided to head out to the Red Sea for a nice walk along the Corniche. Of course it felt like 40 degrees Celsius outside, but I’m so very happy to be back in the HEAT, and rather enjoyed basking in the sun (well, I suppose “basking” is a bit of a figurative description since I didn’t show any skin—I even covered my face because so many people were staring at this white western girl walking quickly along…with niqab, I blend in a bit more!), but you get the idea! NO MORE WINTER!!!! It was a long and horrible Toronto winter, and the frigid weather was probably the most difficult adjustments since my move back from Saudi, but I survived.

We walked along the beautiful pathways alongside the Red Sea, pictured here:
Middle Corniche, Al Hamra, Jeddah
Corniche Walkway, Jeddah
...And then took a water / hydration break on some benches in the shade before heading over to Sushi Yoshi for some delicious sushi for dinner! Yum! We had a nice view of the King Fahd Fountain from the restaurant, and enjoyed the time out.
Sushi Yoshi!
Overall, it’s wonderful being back in Jeddah, and it really feels like I never left. Home is where the heart is, and mine is most definitely here!

PS: Readers, if you have anything you'd like me to blog about, or any questions about  Saudi / Jeddah, leave a comment below and I'll happily indulge you in my next post inshallah! :)
Beautiful Jeddah Sunset this Evening
The King Fahd Fountain, Jeddah
Ahh, warm, sunny Jeddah!

Monday, 23 December 2013

Home Sweet Home: Jeddah!

Jeddah So Far!
Although it’s dreadful being away from DH for months at a time, it is nice to have a warm place to come for vacations! J I’ve been back in Jeddah for a week now, and it’s been a really nice visit so far. Jeddah still feels like home—wherever DH is home is! I was so happy to see him at the airport, but, of course, since it’s Saudi Arabia, a hello hug and kiss had to wait until we were home!
Toronto Snowstorm: December 14th, 2013
Toronto's Weather before I left. Brrr!!!!!!
When I flew out of Toronto, a big storm was brewing, and my flight escaped in the nick of time! I hope all my friends and family at home are staying safe—the power has been out in Toronto and the GTA for over a day in some places, and many people are being advised to stay indoors because of dangerous, icy road conditions. I hope for all of you that the weather improves and, for those without power, you get heat and electricity back as soon as possible!
Toronto Ice Storm
Toronto Ice Storm
(Okay, now I feel bad for pointing this out...) In contrast to the Toronto ice storm (see here:, the weather in Jeddah has been lovely—around 28-30 degrees and humid, and the evenings are nice and warm. That said, I still do wish I could walk outside, but it’s not really a “normal” thing to do here for the most part. The majority of people drive wherever they’re going—even if it’s only a 2 minute walk away!
Jeddah sunrise on my drive home from the airport 
My Welcome Home Gift from DH!
When I first moved to Jeddah in 2011, one evening I decided to venture out on my own (one of those lovely newlywed arguments compelled me to defiantly leave the house on my own in the evening lol), and needless to say—even with my face covered—I got a lot of stares and honks. Sigh!
Old City Gate
Beautiful Jeddah Sunset!
That said, the malls are a good alternative for a place to go walking, although there’s always the drawback of being tempted to spend too much money when all I want to do is go for a walk!!! A new mall opened not far from our house. It’s called Al-Salaam Mall, and, now that the majority of stores are open, it’s one of the largest in Jeddah. It even has my favourite Canadian store, Dynamite, which recently came to Saudi Arabia. Now I can buy my favourite brand TAX FREE!! Woo hoo!

Last evening, DH had to work late (until 10pm), and he dropped me off at the mall so I could get out and shop! He wasn’t sure that I’d be able to fill so many hours shopping, but in this new mall, I barely made it through half of one of three floors!! Inshallah I’ll go back soon!
Dynamite is Finally in Jeddah!
Al-Salaam Mall Jeddah
Dynamite (2) 
Perhaps the most exciting thing I finally got to experience since I arrived last week is getting to meet my first camel friends! Before moving here, I told DH that I MUST get to see some camels, and though we’ve seen some from a far distance on highway drives, until last week, I had yet to see any up close.

DH and I were driving along a road in our neighbourhood the other day, and low and behold, there were two small camels in the back of someone’s pick up truck! DH got out of the car and asked the camel guy if we could pet them and take some photos, and he agreed. Here are some photos:
Camels in Jeddah!
We think that the man may be selling the camels, because why would they randomly be in the city? Also, we’ve driven by twice since then and both times saw different camels. I hope they’re not food!!!

Road Trip!
This past weekend, we took a road trip to Mecca. We stayed in a hotel in the famous Clock Tower, and relaxed (i.e. I slept too much as I was still adjusting to the 8 hour time change!) I got to check out some shops, and bought my sister a cool scarf from the souk part of the shopping area. There were lots of great deals, as well as overpriced abayas and other things to lure tourists in, I guess!
Beautiful fountain in Mecca
The Famous Clock Tower 
Masjd al Haram
Another view of the fountain
Leaving Mecca...
Since Umrah (pilgrimage) visas are open to just GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) nations until, I think, January, Mecca was a lot quieter than usual. We’re hoping to go back once more before I leave.

Catching Up!
I’m also excited that I’ve been catching up with friends after 5 months away. I’m especially thrilled to go back to the university where I used to work to see some past students and colleagues. That place still feels like home to me, and I am looking forward to seeing everyone again! J

Sometimes I get really nostalgic for life here—as hectic and fast paced as it was, and as much as I would get so frustrated with little things – or not so little – like, as a woman, not being allowed to drive, not getting out for walks outdoors, and the insanely long hours I worked at two jobs for most of last year. Alhamdulillah, though, it was worth it for the amazing people I met here, and I would definitely consider moving back here or somewhere in the Middle East after I finish my PhD.

The job market in Canada and the US – at least in academia and for tenure-track positions—is so depressing to think about, and it excites me to know there are lots of other countries that appreciate my education and would gladly hire me with a great salary at the end of my 5 years of my doctorate degree. All the blood, sweat and tears I'm putting in now don't have to be in vain! Only time will tell what will happen, though, and there’s always a (small) chance I will get a tenure track job closer to home (I’ll try, Mom!).

A friend (thanks, B.M.!) posted this (above) on Facebook this morning, and it really struck me: “You must go on adventures to find out where you belong.” Moving to Saudi Arabia has opened a whole new world for me, and I appreciate all the lessons I’ve learned –and often challenging experiences I’ve had—over the past couple of years. I now know so much more about the world beyond the suburb where I grew up, and Toronto, the city where I’ve spent years living. 

I’ve always been quite open-minded, and moving abroad has made me even more so. Most of all, living here has helped me to see the literally endless possibilities for the future! Even if we don’t find our perfect jobs in Canada (i.e. for me, tenure!), DH and I can create the life we want in an exciting new environment. J

Hope to update you all with more adventures soon! Until then, stay warm and have a happy holiday!

Sunday, 24 November 2013

Back to the Desert: A New Jeddah?

Saudi Arabia: a time of exciting change
It’s been some time since I’ve written, and I suppose there are a number of reasons for my absence from the blog world. When I moved back to Toronto this past July, I wondered whether I would continue with the blog; it’s about Saudi Arabia, after all, and since I’m no longer officially living there, I wasn’t sure whether I’d have much to say.

Good news, though! Any doubts I may have had about the relevance of Pink Jeddah Sunset have been eradicated! Obliterated! Blown away! In the few short months since I left Jeddah, many interesting, provocative, and exciting developments and been made in Saudi, and in Canada-Saudi relations, and I hope that I will find time over the semester break (in December) to write about these!

Al Hamra District Beach Area, Jeddah
Here are a few of the *big* events and exciting developments that I consider particularly notable:

(1)    Saudi Arabia has released Canadians from horrendously long visa wait times—it now takes only 10 days as opposed to 45+ to receive a visa. (When I first applied for my visa, I waited over 70 days once I’d submitted my completed application)
Preview from the Saudi Arabian Consulate Visa Page: Good News!

(2)     There is now a direct flight from Toronto to Jeddah via Saudi Arabian airlines! (Horray for easier future visits to see DH!)
Jeddah to Toronto, Direct!

(3)    Many women took to the streets—behind the wheel!—on October 23, 2013

Driving in Saudi
There are all exciting things that I will write more on soon inshallah!

Life: too few hours in a day!
The main reason I have unfortunately not kept up (on the blog) with the interesting stories above is—first and foremost—school. The first year of my doctoral program is comprised of coursework, and that, along with other responsibilities, is making my days (and nights!) particularly hectic. I’m keeping a barely-there balance of readings, teaching assistant duties (marking two sets of 70 essays among other tasks this semester), my own seminar presentations, upcoming final papers, and an Old English exam to top it all off! It’s truly been a whirlwind few months, and for the most part I’m very thankful for the busyness.

And then it’s quiet...for a second.
The rare moments that I have an hour to myself—away from books, stress, and life drama—I feel a bit empty and miss DH so very much. I last saw him in early July, and, as he pointed out the other day, this is the longest we’ve been apart since getting married in the summer of 2011.
Having lived apart in 2009 for two and a half years, and then again in 2011 for four months while I waited for my Saudi visa, DH and I are no strangers to long-distance love.  We knew what we were getting into, and that keeping busy is crucial. By nature, we’re both masters at doing so!
Jeddah: Can't wait!

The countdown is on!
While DH and I are both keeping busy, I’m counting down the days until I can return to warm, beautiful, sunny Jeddah (a city for which I am truly so very nostalgic) and see my love! I’m also eager to see my former colleagues and students, and, of course, my wonderful friends who will be there when I visit for a few weeks next month!

I promise that I’ll write more from Jeddah in a few short weeks! Can’t wait to tell you all about my “reverse reverse culture shock” that will no doubt afflict me in some manner... (Reverse culture shock—even after being back in Canada since July—is a topic in and of itself!)

Until then, As-salam alaykum sالسلام عليكم and ma-salaam مع السلامة to you all!


...and try to stay warm, fellow snow and cold-afflicted Canadians!!!!
Toronto Weather Last Night. BRR!

Monday, 2 September 2013

New Beginnings

Toronto: It's Really Home (almost)
I can't believe I've been moved into my place in Toronto for a month now! Yesterday was September first, and after two years out of school, I'm thrilled to be returning to student life for a PhD at the University of Toronto! Once DH is back here with me--inshallah in a year or so--it will REALLY feel like home again :)
West-facing view from my balcony. 
My sister came and visited for most of last week, and we had a fun last week of summer shopping, going to the movies, Starbucks dates, baking, and enjoying the *hot* weather. Yep--Toronto feels HOT to me rather than cold like when I first moved back in the middle of a July heatwave! I guess my body has adapted to the weather here. Let's just see what fall and winter do to me though!
Cineplex Movies!

Starbucks love!

Welcome to the Department of English!
Last week, I had my first official meeting with the Associate Director of my department for course advising. I am really excited at the great selection of courses being offered in my field--early modern and restoration drama--and can't wait to hit the books!
U of T: Varsity Stadium
I spent a couple of weeks fine tuning my funding applications for next year's competition (U of T's graduate students must apply annually for prestigious external awards; these look excellent on a CV, and don't hurt the bank, either!). I am pretty content with my dissertation proposal--for now! I'm always coming up with new twists and turns on my project, and it's an exciting thing to see my ideas evolve over the years (I worked on a more condensed version of my proposed PhD dissertation during my master's degree in 2010).

I've been really and truly enjoying the freedom that comes with living in Canada, and so close to the subway / public transit. In fact, my building is literally ten steps from a subway station, and it's super easy to get around. I can walk to 98% of the places I need to go, and if I want to get anywhere really fast, transit is at my doorstep.

There's also SO much to do here, especially during the summer. I went with a friend to see The Taming of the Shrew in High Park a couple of weeks ago, and the Canadian National Exhibition was on throughout the past couple of weeks, too, culminating in this weekend's airshow with the Snowbirds--from my balcony, I could see the beautiful planes flying in perfect formation! (photo below)
The Snowbirds at the 2013 CNE!

Shakespeare in High Park
More Shakespeare: The Taming of the Shrew
TTC Subway: Clean and Convenient!
As much as I often tried to "argue" that Saudi Arabia wasn't necessarily limiting--especially for women--Toronto is a completely different world! As a woman, I wasn't permitted drive in Saudi Arabia, and that was a BIG deal. If a woman can't drive in Toronto, it barely has any implications--there are many, many reliable and fast options from the subway, buses, streetcars, commuter trains, etc, etc. In Saudi, though--or at least in Jeddah--there is no transit system to speak of (sure, there are random buses that take male workers from their construction sites to their lodging, but not anything a WOMAN can rely on!), and this is particularly constraining for the country's female population.

Where I lived and worked, I was constantly surrounded by a juxtaposition of people: girls and women from Jeddah / Saudi Arabia's wealthiest families who had their own BMWs (many girls did!), with drivers to boot...and, on the other hand, extreme poverty at every stoplight with women (often carrying babies) begging for money. While not every student had the luxury of her own driver, probably close to 75% of the girls in my university had their own drivers. By contrast, the Saudi / Arab women in my neighbourhood often relied on their sons, husbands and brothers to take them around. Others--whose husbands permitted it--took taxis...which, yes, I ventured out to do myself a number of times, but is not the most comfortable or pampering experience! Toronto's subways are a MUCH cleaner and fresher, not to mention more convenient, experience than a Jeddah cab!!!
Sunset in Jeddah
All of this said, I am looking forward to my trip to Jeddah in December. Of course I can't wait to see DH, but I'm also interested to see how I'll react to the very different world after having been immersed back in Toronto for, by then, six months!

Reverse Culture Shock?
When I was at U of T last week, I stopped in to say hello to the director of my graduate program, Dr. "M". I'd spoken to her over the phone a few times with questions about funding, courses, and the program when I was still in Jeddah, and she was interested to see how I've been settling back in here. I hadn't thought much about "reverse culture shock," but I suppose I've experienced--and am still going through--a bit of it.
Don't forget your abaya!!
Most notably, I often feel "naked" leaving my house without my abaya! Two years of wearing one and a head scarf definitely make covering almost second nature! When my sister was visiting, we went to Toni and Guy for haircuts. In Saudi, hair salons are, of course, segregated, so when you enter, there's an attendant who takes your abaya and gives you a number before she helps you into the salon coat. Needless to say, upon leaving Toni and Guy the other day, I was a bit kerfuffled when I paid, and then started looking around for my abaya! I felt I was missing something important without my covering! I quickly realized that, yes, my sweater and pants were all that I'd entered the salon wearing, and I wasn't missing anything (apart from an umbrella!) upon leaving.
I mentioned to Dr. "M" that surprisingly the most intense culture shock I've experienced was when I went to Kuwait in March 2012 to visit a friend. As soon as I stepped out of the airport, I was completely taken aback by all the WOMEN driving by!!! I suppose that since Kuwait is only an hour and a half flight from Jeddah that I hadn't braced myself for ANY difference. But Kuwait and Saudi are most definitely different (as someone told me before I decided to move to Saudi, warning me that I couldn't visit Kuwait and assume Saudi would be the same...or even similar).

When I arrived with my friend to her apartment, I was even more taken aback when, upon entering the elevator, she struck up conversation with a male neighbour! I literally (silently) panicked, wondering what would come of such mixed-gendered communication--and in public to boot! Again, I suppose that since Kuwait is in such close proximity to Saudi, I hadn't been expecting that this more "Western" girl / guy communication would be tolerated there.
Elevator talk?
Men, men, men!
After two weeks in Toronto, I had an experience where I was suddenly hit with how far I'd been kept from the opposite sex all that time abroad (apart from DH, of course!). I worked with all women, socialized with only women, volunteered with women, taught women in the university all day, and covered and kept a distance from everyone else.

When my friend L's boyfriend texted me a couple of weeks ago, I was accordingly surprised. A guy texting me?? What was he up to? (In Saudi, if a GUY texts or calls a woman and it's not business related, something is DEFINITELY up. It could only end in TROUBLE!) Well, it ended up that L's boyfriend, who works for the University of Toronto, was calling with an awesome opportunity for me to be involved with the "Boundless" campaign. U of T has been running this movement to raise $2 billion for the university's expansion and better graduate and research funding. "J," I'll call him, was asking whether I'd be free to be interviewed on camera for the campaign. What a neat opportunity! I said yes, and gave him more information about my program and the university's generous funding, and his boss okay-ed my participation.
The U of T "Boundless" Campaign
Filming on campus!
It was a great afternoon being filmed, and I felt like a celebrity in front of the camera, although afterwards, after only one hour of filming, I vowed that I never EVER want to be an actress! I have a new-found respect for the hard and tedious work that celebrity actors and actresses do all day filming. (NB: Another interesting thing? Feeling REALLY shy about taking pictures with PEOPLE in them! In Saudi, it's a big no-no if you don't want to offend people--especially women! So, my apologies for no "action" shots of the filming.)

The point of this story--which has kind of turned into a tangent--is that that afternoon, I was working with all men. It felt so incredibly odd! The cameraman was a guy, as were the directors, the lighting crew, the sound technician, and the others on set. I grew up with four brothers before my sister was born, and it kind of reminded me of that. But still, I couldn't escape the thought that in Saudi Arabia, this probably wouldn't fly! There, there would likely be women trained in most of these positions, setting the cameras and lighting up, etc, etc... Or else the women involved (definitely not just ONE woman alone with all these men!) would be covered in their abayas and hijabs. Again, I felt a bit naked wearing "only" my blazer and pants.
Settling Back In
Despite all these differences, I feel more or less settled back into my old life here in Toronto. My cat, Oreo, is now back with me; he stayed with my mom's aunt for a year. It's nice to have my little fur ball around again, especially in DH's absence.
Oreo--could you grab me that book, please?
I'm looking forward to orientation meetings this week, and to meeting my new PhD colleagues in my department. It should be a whirlwind week coming up, and before I know it, I'll be back to the usual work, work, work! Though this week has been nice and quiet--I definitely needed the down time after TWO big, stressful moves--from Saudi to my parents' and then the suburbs to Toronto--working hard is what I love, especially when it's academics!

Here's to a new beginning, which is what the wonderful autumn is all about!

PS: I just noticed that the blog now has over 10, 000 hits!!! THANK YOU to all my family, friends and loyal readers for your support for and interest in my adventures! :)
The University of Toronto: Convocation Hall & the CN Tower