Thank a pilot – and other tidbits from my life as a pilot’s wife

On March 14, our Canadian Prime Minister made the announcement that all Canadians currently abroad should return to Canada. Immediately. If you’re abroad, it is time to come home.

That night, I stood in my driveway and kissed my husband good-bye. He was off to Cuba.

“Drive safe, fly safe; I love you”: the last thing I always want Ken to hear before he departs.

It was one of the most paradoxical experiences in my life: in my professional life, I was helping students return from international experiences to Canadian soil, as quickly as possible. But in my personal life, I was watching my husband leave the Canadian border. Canadians needed to return home; pilots needed to fly them there.

Just after Ken flew me (and 500 other people) from JFK to AUH in the A380

I literally cried a few days later watching the Canadian press conference when, atop all of the many skilled workers thanked, Chrystia Freeland was the first politician (at least that I heard) to finally thank the pilots and crew.

Crying because I was alone on my couch hearing those words while Ken was once again in the air, ushering more Canadians home from Costa Rica.

Crying because I fear that in this time of globalization, when we so easily jump onto planes and think nothing of it, we forget what an amazing feat it truly is that we can literally fly on top of the clouds.

I was once on a flight from Nairobi back to Abu Dhabi, and the woman beside me became clearly worried – the turbulence was hard to ignore, and she was shaking. “Don’t worry – my husband is flying us,” I let her know. And she did calm down. Because it reminded her that we weren’t in some tube in the air, subject to the forces of the nature. Instead, we were in a carrier operated by real individuals who have dedicated countless years to building enough experience and proficiency to safely operate the flight.

I’ve learned a lot being a pilot’s wife.
Some things are little trivia tidbits – like, flight radar doesn’t always work over all locales, so don’t freak out if you don’t see the plane on Flight Radar…

like, you actually should be turning off your cell phone before take-off, thank you very much…

But I’ve learned much more impactful things.

I’ve learned that flying is the safest method of transport in the world, not just because you’re avoiding traffic, but because of the rigorous training that pilots continue to undergo throughout their careers (simulator exams every 6 months, for example).

I’ve learned that pilots are exceedingly proficient in areas that we might not even realize (meteorology, mathematics, social skills as you work together with new teammates each flight under what could be stressful circumstances).

I am frequently reminded of the brilliance of my husband, who is trained to think soundly, critically, and under pressure amidst the most challenging of circumstances…all to ensure that we, you, your loved ones, anyone that enters his aircraft, can get home safely.

And now that most of us are home safely, now that many pilots and crew are also home safely when they desperately just want to be in the air…

Now that we are here, I hope in this waiting period, that all of us learn to appreciate this aviation industry that is so often taken for granted. Or, let’s be honest, complained about.

Because if you’ve ever entered an airplane and gotten to your destination safely, you’ve a pilot to thank.

Because if you’ve ever been delayed due to weather or operations, you’ve also a pilot to thank – for putting safety first. My husband always like to say, “if I don’t want to go, you don’t want to be going either”.

This is a travel blog. And the fact is that the majority of these places I’ve travelled to, that I’ve shared experiences about … I’ve gotten to these destinations by plane.

When I boarded that Air Canada flight to Heathrow en route to Accra so many years ago, for my first ever international experience, it was pilots who got me there safely.

When I went to my honeymoon, my friend’s wedding, my trips, my consulting work, my conferences…it was pilots who got me there safely.

We are so focussed on the destination that we often forget that our journey actually begins when we board the aircraft and put our trust in its operators.

I write this, yes to boast about my Ken, but most importantly to share what I think has been missed recently in news media – air travel IS safe. Airplanes have always been built to carry people for hours on end without sharing air and germs (otherwise, we’d always have viruses after exiting a plane with 200 other people).

And in the future as you get on that seat and travel to your destination – because we all will again – think about those pilots in command, using their knowledge and experience and skills to get you there safely.

We will all fly again. And when we do, I hope we are all just a little more grateful for the experience.

Dream, Plan, and Go: surprisingly, a must read now, despite the perceived inability to “go” anywhere

Sometimes we open the next chapter in our life’s book and find ourselves on the other side of the world. But sometimes the next chapter allows us the gift of turning back a few pages and rediscovering something new in the words of our life.  Rachel McMillan, Dream, Plan, and Go, p. 129

Of all the poignant reflections in McMillan’s newest book, “Dream, Plan, and Go’, this was the most meaningful to me.

Travel is such an important and defining part of who I am. So many of the chapters in this book resonated with me, provided me with both new bucket-list adventures (Vienna, Brussels, St. John’s…), but also had me thinking differently about places I’ve visited, and even my whole personal approach to travel. McMillan reminds us to savour a lunch alone, enjoy moments with foreigners without the need for a new Facebook friend, to look up and really take in architecture.

I loved all of this.

But her points about finding adventure and travel in our everyday lives, in our neighbouring surroundings, was surprisingly fresh for a travel book, and particularly beautiful in our current circumstances.

We literally can’t travel in the conventional way right now. Travel to distant places, necessitating an airplane or 2, just isn’t possible.

In the meantime, this book reminds us, reminds me, to cherish the everyday, and to find new adventures in places currently easily accessible.

For example, in her chapter “The Sensory Adventure”, McMillan takes you everywhere from Little Italy in Toronto to Global Village in Dubai to the French Quarter in New Orleans. But the point isn’t to hop on the next flight to the UAE, rather her point is that  “part of the experience of travel – near or far – is immersing ourselves in sights, tastes, and sounds” (p. 177) – something that doesn’t necessitate borders opening.

Literally in that moment, I stopped reading, and put my book down…

I listened to the birds singing around me. I felt the softness of the wind and warmth of the sunshine. I smelled the freshness of our newly cut grass. I was just in that moment. On my own sensory adventure.

Many of us have the time to do this right now. We have the time to walk slowly through our neighbourhood, discovering and reawakening our senses. We have the time to slow down and pay attention.

I will admit, I was excited to read this book so that I could begin planning my next adventure overseas. In my personal life, I am an avid sojourner, blessed to be married to a pilot who equally shares my passion for new adventures. In my professional life, I assist students embarking on experiential learning opportunities internationally. Many points in this book I’ll utilize in the pre-travel preparatory courses I teach: notions like practicing humility, making the most of accidental circumstances (like a delayed flight connection), understanding local context, keeping pieces of a place with you as you return).

This book is also packed with very practical tips and tricks for staying healthy and safe – especially important as this is written to promote solo travel for women. I especially appreciated the author’s candidness, recounting her own scarier adventures to teach valuable lessons, and share practical safety tips, to her readers.

So, yes, I knew that this book would be important to me for personal and professional travel reasons. (as an aside, air travels remains the safest transportation method in the world, COVID-19 and all – post-pandemic won’t change my love for travel by air, and it certainly shouldn’t deter you!)

What I didn’t expect was that this travel book would be so timely and important in these current circumstances, when we literally can’t travel thanks to COVID-19.

McMillan is astute enough to know that not everyone has the time nor the budgetary resources to jump on a plane and head to Prague. In fact, much of her book encourages that it doesn’t so much matter where you go, but that you do go.

Whether it’s to a nearby park or your town’s museum…or somewhere across the world.

But regardless of one’s financial or personal circumstances, none of us are heading off on cross-border adventures at the moment. Most of us are at home, just trying to get through this pandemic. Many are watching their savings disappear, their dreams evaporate, and life turn into this repetitive experience that in many ways seems like a never-ending nightmare.

This books gives the glimmer of hope we all need. The motivation to make each day count. To treat ourselves to the adventures that we still can have.

The books ends with the author revealing that her “greatest hope in writing this” is that a woman reads it and then she will “dream, plan, and go.” Thank you, McMillan, for reminding us that we can still do all 3 of those things right now.

I finish writing this entry in a notebook, laid out on  a blanket, under a tree, phone out of earshot. I’m keenly aware of the birds, the squirrels, the chipmunks, the sweet smells of flowers. And in this little adventure I am on, by myself, amidst this pandemic, in my own backyard,  I’m reminded that life is full of adventures, whatever the moment, whatever the resources, and whatever the circumstances. Whatever the pandemic.

In sum – go buy this book. And read it!

Dream, Plan, and Go, by Rachel McMillan, is available anywhere where books are sold. It is also available as an audio-book, and has a wonderful accompanying journal that provides additional tips and tricks for travel and a great space for all your dreaming, planning, and going.  I bought my book from an independent local bookstore offering curbside pickup.

Staying in Shape to Travel

Among the many things I love and admire about my husband, one is that Ken takes every opportunity to go running when he lands in a new place. Just last week, he easily covered 10+ kms touring around Reykjavik by jogging about, stopping at times to take pics and enjoy his surroundings…

I felt a lot like Ken today as I was able to take in so much of the beautiful Parliament area of Ottawa on a picture perfect day. I am here for a conference, so I don’t have a lot of time to sightsee, but by combining my workout with my viewing, I saw some incredibly beautiful sites – ones that never cease to make me proud to be Canadian.

With getting used to my commute and starting a new job, I’ve spent the last couple of months figuring out the best way to maintain work-life balance and ensure that exercise remains a priority. I’ll admit that I really wasn’t all that active in April, my first month of work. But, today, June 18th, I am so so grateful that I solely got myself back to my fitness level for many reasons…but today it’s because my perfect sightseeing slash run was all thanks to the work I’ve put in keeping active.

We all have so many reasons not to exercise…but if my husband can fly across timezones, enter an unknown city, and still make the energy (make not find, because exercise is a choice) to exercise, then I can certainly accommodate movement despite my long commute.

and then … when you’re biking in Xian, China …

Or hiking along the Hong Kong Coast…

Or snowshoeing along the Bruce Trail, Canada…

Or climbing Table Mountain, South Africa…

Or climbing the Great Wall of China practically alone because no one else was willing to climb alllllllll the steps ….

Or running around Singapore with less than 48 hours…

You’re note thinking about being out of breath. Or quitting. You’re just enjoying the sites. And able to push because you can!

There are so many things I admire about Ken, but one is his diligence in staying active, in a profession where he has every possible excuse to not exercise. This motivates me to be a better active version of myself!

So…tip for the day… be fit enough to be able to experience travel. (And by “fit” I mean fit for you – whatever that means given your body and health status. For me, I can run, I can bike, so I do …)

In sum – let’s be more like Ken … stay active and experience more!!!

(IronMan, Barcelona)

I don’t know what to write, so here are some Orangeville pics…

This week I’ve been missing my friends and my UAE life…a lot! On Sunday, Ken and I video called some friends and it was WONDERFUL to see faces, hear voices, and reminisce.

Today I’m desperately wanting to go running or biking, but it’s chilly and windy .:: I teared this morning missing the pool and the beach.

But I have a TON to be grateful for, and so given that I am not quite sure what to write, I will share pics of my beautiful town, Orangeville. It was YouTube videos and a bit of internet research that caused us to stumble across this beautiful town, but we are grateful to live in such a vibrant and beautiful little community. I bike 5 minutes and I’m in rural Ontario. I walk 5 minutes and I’m downtown partaking in the life of the Main Street town, including the blues and jazz festival just last weekend.

Voilà …

Skipping through Airport Security

Yesterday was an amazing day. It was my very first flight on Ken’s airplane with his new airline! There are few things that make me burst with pride as much as when I’m sitting on an airplane, surrounded by passengers with all their varying stories, knowing that Ken is the one operating the plane and safely getting them to their destination. It’s also awesome to have your husband literally flying you (in this case, to Ottawa)!

I’ve been on his flights before, but this was my first with this airline, so I was very excited. I was also wanting to make sure I was there in time. If you’re anything like me, it’s when you feel most rushed, that you can feel most nervous or out of sorts.

So there I was, standing in the security line waiting my turn, feeling a bit nervous about getting to the gate (not because I was actually late, but more because I was so excited that it was Ken’s flight…)

The fact that I got to go to Ottawa was a bonus. Amazing city. Here is the Eternal Flame at Parliament.

And that’s when I took a deep breath and went into “travel mode”, knowing that this was the time I needed to take this component of airport travel in stride, going through the steps with ease. When we aren’t at ease, that’s when, at least for me, we risk losing something, forgetting something or, *aghast*, holding up the line.

So here is my mental checklist for skipping through the security line (not skipping ahead, but feeling like I am joyfully and easily going through)…

1) Before I even get into that security line, I try to take off all that clothing that I’ll have to take off anyways and place it somewhere so I’m not feeling like I’m holding a million things. I ALWAYS want a hand for holding my passport and boarding pass safely, so eliminating other bulk will only help me get through with ease. So I’ll put my coat in my luggage, my scarf in my purse, trying to eliminate holding everything.

2) When you’re packing, it’s always a great idea to already place your carry-on liquids in a plastic bag. I put them in an easy-to-access zipped pocket of my suitcase, or my purse/backpack, so that it’s a quick retrieval. But if, like me yesterday, you didn’t have a chance to do this when you packed, at the airport take a second before you get in the actual security line to sort out the liquids. There’s usually a table near the beginning of security with extra bags just for this very purpose! Yesterday I had a nice little chat with the security personnel while doing this.

By the way, if the line is quite long and you don’t have time beforehand to do all of this, slowly manage these tasks while standing in security. But be sure you go slowly so as to keep all your valuables on your person.

3) Do a body scan to see what else you might need to take off: watch, jewellery, boots? Take them off while you’re going through (and remember next time to wear slip-on shoes and no metal so you maybe don’t have to do this step!)

4) Watch how the line is operating. Before you get to the front of the line, get to know what’s being asked at this particular place. Sometimes everyone takes shoes off; sometimes it’s only boots and heels. Sometimes you place everything in a bin; sometimes it’s only small valuables. Make a mental note. This is especially important if you’re in a situation where you don’t speak the language.

5) Keep your ID with you! I don’t like to be separated from my passport. Unless you’re told otherwise, most of the time you can place it in your pocket or your hand and walk through the body scan.

6) When your things come through, look for your valuables first. For example, don’t start grabbing your belt until you’ve seen your phone. Yesterday I had to get the special check. Politely to the woman, I asked if I could just ensure my phone was under my bag as I couldn’t see it. Remember that your ID and boarding pass are essentials – always know where these are!

And at last you’re through and you can go find your gate then sit and relax. Don’t forget a book! Happy travelling 🙂

How to Quickly Feel At Home in New Surroundings

If we are travelling short-term, part of the fun of the adventure is being immersed in a completely different environment. We don’t mind that we don’t feel at home; in fact, we might relish that feeling! Case in point, last week as I sat around a pool in Cuba with my Caribbean-themed drinks, I was well-aware that I wasn’t at home – the purpose of the trip was the escape!

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Exhibits A: not at home and okay with it!!!

But when we are travelling for longer periods of time – maybe for an overseas study abroad program, or maybe because we are expats “between homes” – I have found that it’s really important to have items that quickly make you feel at home in new surroundings, so that you can have some sense of familiarity despite the complete newness. This also helps overcome culture shock, because you are able to mentally and emotionally adapt more easily, by feeling more at ease.

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The process of leaving the UAE and returning to Canada involved a lot of emigration and immigration steps…which had us staying in fifteen different beds within 3.5 months. The feeling of homelessness and moving back and forth between places was tiring. We just wanted to have a home!

This candle, to my left, was a saving grace! Whenever we entered a new place, I would put this within view of our new surroundings. The city, the country, the community, the surroundings changed…but this little candle was a constant, and instantly made me/us feel more at home!

Another constant in my travels is this guy….

IMG_8140My luscious memory foam pillow. I took this idea from Ken who, as a pilot, sleeps in countless number of beds in any given month. When you’re integrating into new surroundings, it can be very hard to fall asleep (or stay asleep)! Having a familiar feeling with a pillow, or a blanket, really helps to more quickly feel at home. If this doesn’t resonate with you as something that would make you feel at home, think of something else that might have the same physical-emotional attachment. It’s worth bringing in your luggage if it will help you integrate faster.

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My eye mask is another one of those travel essentials for me. It’s not just about blocking light. In fact, even if a room is pitch black, if it’s a new room to me, I’ll wear my eye mask to instantly feel more at home.

When you’re packing for a longer trip, my suggestion is to ensure you pack some things that make you feel at home. Maybe it’s an object, or a sleep essential, a favourite book or picture, or maybe an outfit that instantly makes you feel “at home”. Sometimes all we need is a little something that makes us feel at home, even if the term “home” is a little less clear…

As I look around my living room, from where I’m writing this, I am surrounded by things that across two oceans, between two completely different regions. Our lives were completely uprooted and completely changed moving from a community surrounded by desert and heat to a community surrounded by farmland and cold, but having special objects make this place feel more familiar. And yes, activities and making friends and becoming integrated are essential steps, but that very first night, when you get off that plane or bus or train, a special object brings immediacy!

Home might be where the heart is, but little objects to remind us of what “home” looks like, can really help the process!

 

 

 

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!

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!)

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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