How to Cope with Changing Climates

Ken and I had this joke living in the UAE where we’d wake up and ask, “what will the weather be like today?” Then, same as always, we’d open the curtain and say, “oh look – there’s sun today!” When I first moved to the UAE, I couldn’t help but find it amazing that you could plan a beach day and KNOW that pretty much, save for the very few weeks of the year with rain and/or fog and/or sand storms, it was going to be predictable weather. Coming from Canada where many a beach day has been cancelled due to rain/hail/random weather changes, this was amazing to me!

Yes, the summer in the Middle East was challenging with 45+ heat and extreme humidity…but it was expected and it was predictable. And one thing was assured – there would always be sunshine! A typical day…

Perfectly beautiful with the ever-present sunshine…

IMG_1858 2Followed by the most beautiful sunsets. On our very last day in the UAE, I went with some friends to the beach; after doing a few last errands in Abu Dhabi, Ken joined me and we spent our afternoon at beautiful Yas Island Beach along the Arabian Gulf:

Though I’ve spent other times overseas for extended periods of time, this was the first time that I returned to Canada in winter! And the more you’re away (this was my longest time away from Canada by far), the more your body adjusts to your new climate.

I didn’t realize what a toll the lack of sunshine and ability to be free outdoors would take on my body. Because we left the very end of the UAE summer to enter the very start of Canadian winter, overnight we went from +35 to -5. It was HARD! It still is, though getting easier. Instead of my daily “uniform” consisting of a sundress and flip-flops, now I was bundling myself up and bracing for the elements…

 on the left is me dressed for -24 weather; on the right is one of my very few runs before I chickened out and realized that I wouldn’t be an outdoor runner this winter

I didn’t realize just how hard it would be coming back to freezing temperatures and grey (and by grey, I mean that November made a record this winter for the most number of grey days in my area!)

The change impacted me not just physically, but also mentally and emotionally.

a bit of a contrast in temperatures and activities…

Looking back on the last five months, especially as the sun is poking its head out now and we’ve had a few days with above zero temperatures, here is what I’ve learned…

How to Cope with Changing Climates:

  1. Recognize that a change in climate does impact you physically, mentally, and emotionally. It’s okay to feel off.
  2. Anytime you see that sun…get outside! Take advantage of the ability to get some Vitamin D when you can.
  3. Try to exercise and eat well. It’s hard, especially if you’re coming into cold as I was and you just want to curl up. I always feel better on days I exercise (though it’s a lot easier to stay in your warm bed!!!)
  4. Remember to dress for the elements. It sounds silly, but it’s easy to forget to wear the extra layers (or vice versa if you’re going to a hotter climate to bring lighter clothing). Make sure you’re prepared.
  5. Do something that makes you smile every day. Maybe it’s reading a great book or taking up a new hobby.
  6. Don’t keep looking at pictures of what you’re missing. In some ways, the easy access to our photo albums on smart phones is now a bit of a curse. Looking at pictures of the glorious Abu Dhabi beach while it was -25 and grey outside did nothing for my positive mental state. Things improved when I “banned” my phone.
  7. Be honest with yourself and others. It’s okay to admit you’re struggling. It is REAL!!!!

If you’re going through something similar, I wish you all the best in your adaptation! Feel free to share in the comments any strategies you’ve found that worked for you!

Advertisements

Respecting Sacred Places, Objects, and Observances

I learned yesterday that a certain world leader was autographing Bibles. Personally, I disagree with these actions, but I also recognize that he was asked to autograph these Bibles, meaning that he is not the only one whose behaviour stands to question (though, to me, it does really question someone’s character when they feel that they can sign a copy of a Holy Book, but I digress….!)

Nonetheless, it got me thinking of how important a topic “respecting sacred places” truly is. And respecting  becomes so crucial because when we are travelling, even around our own communities, we often encounter places, objects, and observances that might not be sacred to us. Our duty as experiential travellers is to respect these, regardless of our personal belief system.

IMG_4017
A beautiful church in downtown Orangeville, Canada

To be respectful, one must learn what is respectful to that particular belief system. This involves research (possibly reading or asking). It’s respectful to go out of your way to find out how to behave/how to dress/how to act.

I was absolutely perturbed when visiting the Sistine Chapel in Rome – despite the consistent reminders to be QUIET given that this was a sacred space, tourists continued to talk and make noise. I did not understand the lack of respect for this space, and urge all travellers to be more aware. It was an enchanting space that just felt holy…but it lacked the serenity that it should have been afforded, because of those disrespecting the code of conduct for walking through.

sistine chapel
The Sistine Chapel – picture courtesy http://www.museivaticani.va/content/museivaticani/en/collezioni/musei/cappella-sistina.html, where you can buy tickets – including early morning ones, which I wish we had purchased so we didn’t have the troves of tourists!

It is difficult to describe the beauty of the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi. The mosque welcomes visitors of all religions and beliefs; it is so welcoming, that visitors have access to a dress area before entering, where free abayas (women’s dress) and kandoras (men’s dress) are available if a visitor’s outfit does not meet the dress code required for entry to a mosque. Regardless of one’s beliefs, adhering to the code of conduct during one’s visit (like not touching others and keeping hair covered) is respectful. This is a sacred space.

IMG_9247IMG_6599IMG_5461

we always took visitors to the Grand Mosque. This was during our amazing visit with my Tante Annette.

At the Sistine Chapel and the Grand Mosque, the rules for being respectful are very evident – big signs are there to remind you how to act appropriately.

But at times, a bit of research may be required. For example, the soles of your feet should not face Buddha. I did not learn this from a guide or a sign when visiting temples; rather, I had to do the requisite homework to learn appropriate behaviour when visiting these sacred spaces. You can see I am also wearing a long skirt and my shoulders are covered. This is a requirement, but a good rule of thumb is to err on the side of modest dress if you are unsure. I’d rather be wearing a long skirt unnecessarily. I also always bring a scarf with me – it can easily be wrapped around one’s shoulders, head, or both!

in Bangkok, Thailand

Sometimes you might not be able to simply do a google search for the best practices. For example, in China we found it extremely helpful to have a local guide who could not only explain the history and cultural relevance, but ensure that our actions were appropriate for the location.

-4489808081993274611_IMG_0504.JPG

in Xian, China

Living in the UAE, Ramadan was a very special month. Everything was at a slower pace as many people would fast between sunrise and sunset – which includes drinking water, by the way. Many places, including where I worked, had enclosed rooms set aside so that those not fasting would have a place to eat and drink, without being in view of adherents (similarly, malls and hotels had closed off areas for dining). I’ll admit, it could be challenging at times. As the strong desert heat beats down on you at the noon hour, sometimes you just really feel like a drink. And as someone who consistently drinks while lecturing, I was very mindful of my lack of water or tea permitted during classes.

But it was respectful to honour those fasting and refrain from eating and drinking in front of them. It was the appropriate thing to do. It not only respected those fasting, but it also showed respect for the rules of the country in which I was living, and its religion.

IMG_8359.JPG

near Al Wathba Camel Race Track, Abu Dhabi, UAE

Something that is sacred to someone might not be sacred to you. These could be observances, like Ramadan or Good Friday or Yom Kippur. Or objects, like a Holy Book or an indigenous medicinal pouch. Or places, like a church, a mosque, a temple, a pagoda… It could even be a place, like a mountain top or a river.

Travelling is a beautiful privilege. To enter someone’s community is a beautiful privilege. Part of experiential travel is to respect the sacred, to learn what is sacred, and to learn how to act appropriately.

Ask. Research. Observe.

Encountering Local Women (Happy International Women’s Day!)

Happy International Women’s Day! However you are celebrating, make sure you are grateful for the strong and courageous women in your life. Today I think of the many fearless women I count as family, friends, and known women in my circle. I’m grateful for my incredible mother’s influence on my sister and I, in addition to the influence of my amazing Tantes, including my beautiful Tante Annette.

But today, especially and particularly if you are a woman, I want to encourage you in your experiential travels to look for opportunities when travelling to meet and interact with local women.

Cultural Centres are a great way to meet local women and ask questions about their culture. The Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding is a MUST VISIT if you’re ever in Dubai. We took all of our visitors.

I have in the past had to assess my travelling tactics and realize that I was often having more interactions with men on the street rather than seeking out women for guidance or exchanges.

Women are often on the margins in society. This can be for a variety of reasons. Firstly, in a country where there are both local dialects and English as a “trade” language, English might be spoken by way less women than men owing to the educational disparity (I have encountered this on many occasions in the Global South, for example, in Tanzania where English is not the main language of instruction until secondary school, leaving out the many of women who do not enter this level of education).

In other cultures, women are not as visible in the streets because they are more likely to be at home taking care of the family than involved in business. I say this in a very neutral tone, because there are sometimes very practical reasons for this. Case in point: right now where I’m living the weather is literally freezing; yesterday I woke up to -15. It is RARE!!!!! to find a new mother roaming the streets these days (obviously – she’s at home keeping her baby warm).

Ken and I LOVE taking cooking classes when travelling, which is usually a great opportunity to learn from local women. On the left, we are in Morocco; the right is in Thailand.

What we risk as female travellers is having interactions mainly with men, and not getting to know the women of the culture. It also means we are missing out on what is sometimes the safer option for a conversation. And just getting to know our gender while travelling.

Because women are more vulnerable and marginalized, it does mean that women are more likely to be working in the domestic sphere than the business sphere. This can be in part due to societal expectations and/or due to educational opportunities.

Joining women’s sporting communities is an amazing way to meet local women! In Abu Dhabi, I was part of SRTT/MRTT (Sisters/Moms Run This Town). On the left, I am sporting the team gear and volunteering with other team members at the Abu Dhabi Pink Run. In the middle, I am sporting my Tri-Belles Abu Dhabi tri-suit; I was privileged to be a part of the only women’s triathlon club in the Middle East. On the right, I’m swimming as part of a three women relay team for the 2018 ITU Abu Dhabi.

But what it means is that as women we should seek out the local women when travelling.  Try to find out their stories. See if there are opportunities for interaction. My suggestions (which by the way are great for both men and women, because while men shouldn’t be “seeking out local women” in that sense, it is great for men to get to know women of the culture and their way of life. My husband has appreciated some of the below examples as much as I have!)

94a364b9-2019-4fbb-bcfa-85ed71be31ab
Ken and I at transition around 6 am, the morning of the 2018 Barcelona Ironman Championships. We were there participating alongside a whole host of Tri-Belles Abu Dhabi! And with our amazing teammate, Renne!
  1. cooking classes: Because women are linked to the domestic sphere, they are often the ones teaching/leading cooking classes for tourists.
  2. homestays: If you can find a homestay, this is a great opportunity to stay in a home, and thus enter into a sphere that is often influenced by the women in the house.
  3. cultural centres: Often communities have cultural centres which usually have women as part of the team teaching and delivering.
  4. sports: Depending on how long you are staying, choose a sport option specifically for women. For example, a yoga class run by a woman is something that can be done during a short trip. Joining a women’s fitness club (e.g. running, soccer, triathlon) can be awesome for getting to know local women.

Whatever you do, and however long your trip, seek out interactions with other females. As women, we should always be looking for ways to interact with each other and support each other!

Crying Over a Garbage Bag (on missing home)

First off, let’s be clear, I wasn’t actually crying. It was more tearing. But given that English is crazy and you might have read “tearing” to be that I was cutting something up (especially since crying over a garbage bag might be considered a bit absurd), I wrote “crying”.

Secondly, please note, I knew this would be coming. Since January when we moved in and started unpacking our big shipment we brought from across the seas, I noted my garbage bag collection dwindling. I foreshadowed that one day I would be in this position.

What garbage bag might you ask. This one…IMG_8866So now you’re probably thinking – aaaah –  she is crying because she is missing something IN the garbage bag.

No, no. I was tearing (as in seven minutes ago when I was up in the washroom) literally over THIS BAG. Not the contents. But the bag.

You see, it’s my last one. My last bag from the UAE. My last bag with the Arabic, the last bag with the checkmark from the Emirates authority. The last bag made in the UAE. The next time I get out a garbage bag, it will be from here, from Canada.

You see, there are still these little tangible reminders throughout our house that we just moved back. There’s these little indications that we so recently shopped in an Arabic setting, where our products were more likely to come from Saudi Arabia than US, where products were more likely to be called “falcon” than something “beaver.”

 

 

 

When you move back from a distant place, these little reminders can get to you. They cause you to stop and smile and tear, and remember what once was in the not so distant past. It isn’t the garbage bag, it’s picturing the shelves of the baqala (both the name of the grocery store, and the word for ‘grocery store’ in Arabic). It’s remembering asking where the bags were, and having to correct my Canadian accent to be understood. It’s recalling the journey to the store, and the initial moments when I first arrived of figuring out where one would even acquire garbage bags. It’s realizing that sooner or later Arabic products are going to disappear from my home – and with it, a feeling of what home once was.

 

 

 

These two camels were handmade in Dubai, and extraordinarily gifted to me by my friend Stef before she left the UAE to move back to her home country, the USA. I love both, but it strikes me as a funny indication of human nature that the camel on the left – draped in the Canadian flag – was the camel we more prominently featured in our living room when we lived in the UAE.

Now that we are back in Canada, it’s the camel on the right that sits proudly on our table in the living room, a consistent reminder of a place that has become so much a part of me/us. This camel isn’t the flag, but features many common pictures that you’d see throughout the UAE.

The UAE will forever be in my heart and my mind. I know that I changed because of it. So much of my “reverse culture shock” is because five years later, life has changed. I’ve changed. I look at Canada differently, because I spent so much time in a different culture, such that it became home and a way of life. I miss so many things about the UAE.

IMG_2505This picture is also proudly displayed on the same table as the UAE camel. It’s taken in the “Empty Quarter”, the expansive desert that stretches for miles from the UAE into Saudi Arabia.

The desert was part of my life in the UAE. Wherever you travelled, whether one minute or an hour, you couldn’t help but see the desert – it surrounded you. I am noticing that I have way less dusting to do in Canada – the ever-present desert sand is no longer existent in my home (as an aside, we are still finding sand in bags and shoes and other items we shipped back). The desert was our favourite place to go – a landscape for dune bashing, campfires and cookouts, and camping.

My very first time spent overseas was in Ghana during my third year of undergrad. I remember when I was leaving the country after nine months sitting in the plane heading back to Toronto (via London) and being overcome with this extraordinary sense of raw emotion – a mix of sadness and loneliness and emptiness – that tomorrow I couldn’t just wake up and go find fufu or fresh mango. That I would no longer see the market women I so regularly encountered. Yes, I was so excited to get home, but a part of me and my sense of home was staying behind.

As Ken and I work work through our reintegration process, both together and individually, I am trying to stay mindful of the changes we’re facing, thinking through this journey, and taking thoughtful solace in the underlying emotions attached to little things, like crying over a garbage bag. If you’re in a similar situation, regardless of the length you were away, remember – it’s okay. It’s an odd thing to miss home whilst being home.

And it’s okay to cry over a garbage bag.AD desert

Overusing “awesome”: how traveling made me question my vernacular

The word “awesome” literally means to be full of awe. Look at the word- “some” and “awe”. When you feel something is awesome, it means it left you awestruck. It was overwhelming. It created a sense of awe within you: you stood there, not quite believing it.

Here are some ways that I have used the term:

1 – A friend and I decide on the time to meet for lunch. My response – “awesome, I’ll be there.”

2 – I have a pretty good workout. My description – “what an awesome workout”.

3 – I’ve even used the word “awesome” to describe a worksheet I’m about to give my students.

At least in North American vernacular, this is how we use awesome.

So, yes, language changes and the dictionary does evolve. But here is the problem:

How do I describe what I’m feeling when I am here…

It was in this very spot, at a guesthouse directly across from the Pyramids, that I realized how cheaply I throw around language.

How do you possibly describe the feeling experienced when standing in front of the Pyramids when you use “awesome” and “incredible” and “amazing” for activities that are in your daily life?

I returned from Egypt determined to correct these habits. Determine to not use language so cheaply. But as time passes, old habits die hard, and here I am again…

Exploring Petra, and at a complete loss for words.

After Petra, we had the AWESOME opportunity to travel to Bethany, along the River Jordan, where Jesus was baptized by John, and then to Mt Nebo.

These experiences, without a doubt, were awesome. Mindblowingly, extraordinarily, unprecedently, absolutely awesome.

I want to be the person who is careful with my words. I want to think before I speak. I want to choose my vocabulary well and intentioned.

In a world where a quick text message or email or tweet is sent off without a second thought, grammar and spelling is beginning to suffer. But beyond the grammar, we have in many ways gotten away from thinking through the vocabulary we use. At least I have (you might not be part of this “we”, and I applaud you).

This afternoon, my husband and I went snowshoeing along the Bruce Trail here in Ontario, Canada. The weather was delightful for this. The snow was eerily perfect. As my mom would say, it was glistening with diamonds. There was so much untouched fresh snow. The only prints we saw were from one other snowshoer and a deer.

The experience, and the beauty, was awesome.

Making plans with a friend is nice.

Having a successful workout is great.

Handing out a worksheet to my class is clever.

But I want to save words like “awesome” for things that are, well, awesome.

And going to a place like Egypt, where you see graffiti from the 1800s and realize that this isn’t that long ago given where you’re standing,,, that is, truly, undoubtedly, awesome!

The Reality of Reverse Culture Shock

There’s something slightly odd about being in a place that’s so familiar, and yet feeling so unfamiliar. Indeed, I spent some holidays returning to Canada; but there’s something that feels different this time. I imagine a mixture of things being so absolute and the reintegration process that makes dealing with Canadian administration and regulations a necessity.

I knew reverse culture shock would happen. I’ve studied it. I’ve lectured on it. I’ve advised returning study abroad students on the idea. I’ve even dealt with it myself, particularly after my times living in Africa. But for some reason I hadn’t truly conceptualized how challenging this time round would be. I’ll admit that I assumed my knowledge that reverse culture shock would occur made me feel a bit invincible – that somehow my knowledge would lead to it passing over me. Or maybe that I would simply present myself with an interesting case study.

desert
Our very last night in the desert, at the Fossil Dunes, Abu Dhabi

What I didn’t expect is the odd cloud that seems to hang over my days, both metaphorically and (part of the problem) literally. Without structure, without a place to call home, without sunshine…

And I know a large part of this is that we are in such limbo right now – living out of suitcases, between homes, not knowing where we will be planting new roots.

But it’s also feeling a little lost. In five years, I’ve changed, but the country has also changed. I perceive things with a new lens, having experienced something completely different. Whereas I expected an easy transitional process, some administrative challenges demonstrate regulations in Canada that were either unknown to me or I just took them for granted before. Every day it gets colder and darker, and I miss the time when ‘turning colder’ meant improved beach weather, not the need for more layers. And returning back means you slip back to relationships and settings of the past, yet things have changed on both sides of the equation.

mosque
My last time at the beautiful Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque

I feel fortunate that right now I have this unique opportunity to look at Canada as an outsider who still perfectly understands the culture. One day that will pass. One day everything with be normalized. One day I’ll no longer notice the call to prayer’s absence or the lack of “inshallah” or “yaani”. One day I won’t notice the beauty of people greeting each other on Canadian running paths, or notice the abundance of grass.

One day reverse culture shock will be a distant memory and I’ll be settled. But for now I am grateful to have at least a small glimpse into the challenges and feelings of those who immigrate to my beautiful home country. My hope is that with this experience I can learn to better empathize.

If it isn’t written on the internet, did it happen?

It’s been a long time. I know. I look at that last publication date and I think of all the amazing experiences I’ve had since. We travelled through Asia, to Jordan, to South Korea for the Olympics…

I saw great sites like the Taj Mahal, Anghor Wat, the Great Wall of China…

I was a swimmer in the half-ironman in Barcelona…

I swam with sharks…

But I just didn’t “feel” like blogging. No, more than feelings, I realized that my attempts to blog were outshining living in the moment.

How odd that as an “experiential travel” writer, I was realizing that my blog was turning into more of a travel blog in my mind, rather than a blog on lessons learned about experience.

But now I’ve had time to reflect, to think through what “experiential travel” means to me, and to participate in really travelling experientially – without the feeling of needing to chronicle everything via  this blog.

I realized that I needed to put away my smartphone and instead focus on my surroundings. There is nothing quite like personal journalling and photo journalism.

I am now excited to move forward with this blog, taking the many lessons that I’ve learned to improve experiential further.

Happy reading! Happy travels! Welcome back!