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Monday, 30 May 2011

The One With All the Saudi Myths!

Well I figured it was about time I actually wrote just about Saudi. About the people, the culture, the country. And about the preconceptions that many Westerners face when thinking of this country.

So I came here as a white, non-Muslim female. Was I worried??

Oh yes!

Was I right to be?


When we first made our decision to start traveling it was quite late on in the academic year, so jobs weren't in abundance for Jason. However one place I said I would not consider going to was Saudi. Guess what? One of his best job offers was for Saudi!

I had a mangled mess of preconceptions about Saudi, mainly from the media. It was full of terrorists, women were degraded, there was no chance of any resemblance of a normal life over here!! They had only just discovered cars!

Oh how wrong can one person be!

Let's start with the terrorist issue shall we. Before I begin, I must say that Saudi has a very strict zero tolerance to terrorism!! This is a serious issue that is affecting people all over the world. We all live in fear. And so do the Saudis. There seems to be a blanket theory in the West that all Muslims must be terrorists because all we see is the extremists 'using' the Koran to exploit their cause. But all we hear is they have done what they have done in the name of Allah.

Now I am as guilty as the next when it comes to prejudice, as ashamed as I am to admit it. I came here with no true knowledge of Islam and the fear that it could be Islam that was at fault for the wars around the world. But I had a duty to educate myself. If I was planning on living in an Islamic country for at least two years. If I had formed these prejudmental ideas then I had to justify them, or be willing to be proved wrong.

So I did.

I have asked questions, embraced the answers and made up my own mind. Now I am not about to convert to Islam, I was raised predominantly Christian, but if I was ever to consider myself Christian then I have to be prepared to embrace all cultures. My neighbour, who has pretty much been my teacher, has patiently answered the questions I put her, ranging from the deep, intellectually challenging, to resembling those that would be asked by a 6 year old!! But my dear Farah has accepted my challenges, my concerns and my queries. A perfect example of a good Muslim and may Allah always bless her.

So what were my questions?

Well one of the first was obviously regarding the terrorists. What are they using from the Koran to justify what they do? Surely there must be something in there? Surely not all these people can be wrong? In short they can be. Anything can be manipulated to justify a means. Any words can be twisted and interpreted to however the reader wants to read them. My words on here could be churned up and twisted into whatever you want them to mean. I am just trusting you as my readers to simply read my words and understand me. Basically these people are using a piece of writing that is read and adorned by millions to create fear.

My lesson - not all Muslims are terrorists, in fact a true Muslim is not a terrorist, they would not use their religion to insight fear and hatred in others. We all should learn from that, the less we all judge the less power these people will have and the more chance we have to fight for a better cause, to eventually have a perfect, peaceful world. In reality that is what we all want, we all have a common goal and we can only get there together.

I have asked a lot of questions about the Koran. I came here really having absolutely no idea and in reality even now my knowledge is very limited. The Koran was written by the last Prophet, Muhammad, this is not to say Jesus didn't exist, the Koran acknowledges Jesus, just not as the son of God, as a prophet and Muhammad was the last of the prophets.

So what's the deal with all the wives?

Well the prophet married several women to make a point, to teach people. Firstly he had a rule - all of these women would be treated equally and no wife should shed a tear over another, they should all feel equally loved and respected. He wanted to rid the preconceptions of the woman that people should marry, that just because a woman was divorced or widowed, or old or young that they shouldn't have judgment passed on them for that. He married several women, a widow, who was his first marriage, a divorcee, a slave, a non Muslim, a prisoner of war, a young attractive woman. He proved the point that he could provide love and warmth equally to these women regardless of the preconceptions people may have had of them. So really when it is put in those terms it makes perfect sense. A Muslim man can still now marry more than one woman, but he too must treat them equally.

The basic idea of the Koran is not dissimilar to other religious texts. It promotes peace and respect to all mankind. The problem is because it has been so publicly abused we fear it, because we have no real understanding of it we judge it.

Another thing that I was told before I came here was that I would see women beaten and raped in the streets! Well let me inform you I haven't even seen a woman scolded in public let alone any of the above! I am not even sure where that idea even came from and my only way to defend it is to say ludicrous! Now I am not by any stretch saying that these things never happen, I cannot say that. But let's put it in perspective. How many cases can you think about that were in the British press just this year and last about women being murdered at the hands of their partners?? Unfortunately there were many, and they were only the ones that made it to print! It happens, it happens ALL over the world. It doesn't happen in the UK simply because they are British, it doesn't happen in the US because they are American - it happens because unfortunately there are evil people everywhere. What I am saying is it isn't a cultural thing. It is an unfortunate flaw of mankind. So let me assure you, IF it happens here it happens in the same context and level of extremity than it does all over the world.

So the women cover up.

Even the westerners!

Some people have a real issue with the abaya, for me not so much. It doesn't particularly bother me to wear it. There are some days it is a little too hot for comfort, but I made the decision to come here and I knew the rules before I arrived so who am I to complain. I also wear a head scarf when needed. When we are in the souq or an area that isn't frequented by expats I wear it no problem. And it is always in my bag ready. But the ladies here cover their faces too. When we first arrived I found it a little daunting if I am honest. I found it difficult as I am used to looking at people's faces, as I am sure we all are, to form our views and feelings of a person. But when you only have the eyes to look at it is harder. But in turn it makes you look deeper. And in a way it is nice not to be there judging a person on their looks and fashion choices, because let's be honest we are all guilty of that!

It was once explained to me that if you had the most precious gem in the world would you flaunt it? Or would you keep it protected and covered? This how they see their women. They are a precious gem. It's kind of romantic when you think about it that way.

There is a lot of debate as to why women cover up, even within the Islamic community. It is understood that it is not a religious requirement, more a cultural one. Muslim are required to dress modestly and while covering the face may seem extreme to some it is a long standing tradition for others. It also gives a sense of privacy for some.

If you are a man coming to Saudi then a little respect is required in this matter. Jason who obviously works with Muslim women in the school has tried very hard to respect their privacy. For example when the ladies are in the staff room eating their lunch they obviously remove their veils. Obviously they don't expect him not to come in to make a coffee or collect his memos etc, but on the flip side Jason doesn't expect them to remain covered up 'just in case' a man walks in. So if he does go in he simply makes it known that he is entering and lowers his head. They know him well enough to know that he will respect them and not look. It is no hassle for Jason and puts them at ease.

The other preconception of Saudi is that women have no rights. Whilst this may have been true years back, this is rapidly changing. You would be surprised as to how much power a Saudi woman has in her house!! There is a good education system progressing here now, with women employment on the rise. Things are changing and will continue to change. Maybe one day women will drive here, who knows?! The royal family here love and respect their people. If a person has a problem or a need in a province then they can go to see their prince for assistance. This can be from livestock, to money, to education. The prince will meet with their people and help them. They are happy to make changes. I saw an interview with a prince (afraid I can't remember his province) and he was very forthright with the need for change, for the need to open up to the rest of the world, to create understanding and compassion, to encourage women to move forward. But he also acknowledged that change cannot be forced and it cannot move too quickly. It takes time and understanding. The changes have to come at the right time for the Saudi people who live here, they need to be happy. After all it is their country.

So if you come here, become aware. Learn about the culture and religion. Understand the people. Have respect for the country that is paying you your salary. You are a guest in their country, it is a privilege not a right. In reality I have learned very little in the grand scheme of things, but I HAVE learned, I have tried and what little knowledge I have gained I intend to take a long way. What we see and hear about the Middle East from the outside isn't entirely true. Our main problem is fear, because these people are different to us, they live their lives differently, but it doesn't make it wrong. And it doesn't make it scary. It just means we need to educate ourselves, which really can never be a bad thing. Let go of all the preconceptions you may have previously had and wipe the slate clean and start from the beginning, you will learn a lot more that way and meet some wonderful people. That's what I did and I have been truly blessed.

Sunday, 29 May 2011

The One Where We Were Preparing To Leave

So the time is nearing for us to leave the Kingdom.


Well, there are many reasons for our decision to leave, but ultimately it is for us. We want to travel to as many countries as possible, to see and experience everything we can, that isn't possible if you stay in one place! Jason has a promotion in the next school and I also have a job, leading to more money which will help tremendously.

So where to?

Qatar. Here there will be a lot more freedom, I can drive there, no abaya, the odd glass of wine - all selling points in our decision! The school we are going to looks great - for Jason from a career point of view but also for the kids. They are far more equipped, with extra curricular activities, school trips etc etc. These are the things I have missed most about where we are right now. I want our children to have the best possible opportunities we can give them, and yes traveling the world is giving them an amazing insight into life, but there are other things they need. Things that they would get if we were to be in the UK. And I am hoping this next place will give them that.

So how??

With military precision!!!! We took the job offer back in February. That now seems like a million miles away from where we are now. In between it all we have had a lot of setbacks!

Firstly the car - we took the car out on a lease-hire, with the understanding we could return the car at any point. And now this may bare some truth, it is not the whole truth! We CAN return the car, but with a penalty of 50,000 SAR (approx 8000 gbp!) That is on top of all the payments already made! Bearing in mind we have only had the car just under a year, that is one heck of a hire price by any means! So after many arguments with the bank, to no avail, we have been rescued. We are now able to buy the car outright and export it to Qatar. So another job!!

Buying the car - hats a lot of paperwork and takes about 2 weeks of changing the ownership etc. But with that all now done it is just the export papers which we shall collect the day before we export as once the plates have been changed you only have 72 hours to get it out of the country!

So getting the car out of the country. Well some people do ship their cars, but we have decided to drive, that way we can pack most of our things into the car and take it all at the same time. So Wednesday morning me and Jason are to embark on our 14 hour drive across the border to Qatar. We will get to see the school we are going to as well as the new country and perhaps even have a beer!!!!!

The logistics of packing is somewhat hectic! I have had to pack the things we are taking to Qatar, the things we are taking to the UK in the summer, as well as organise the things we are selling and the things that are staying! My head is a constant mash of lists at the moment! But by Saturday most of those lists can be diminished as a huge portion of this stuff will be done - just got to survive that long!

Paperwork, paperwork, paperwork!!!! Everything is about paperwork! Jason's end of contract - which includes signatures from all hospital departments, sorting out his final pay - which is easier said than done and has taken some serious persuasion! Exit visas for our trip and then final exit visas to leave. Juggling money, to make sure we have enough for the summer and enough to take to Qatar, to make sure we have enough for bills over the summer and enough to pay bills here before we leave.

More lists are appearing in my battered brain by the second!

The key is to keep calm! HA! I'm not so good at that, but this is a lesson, this is teaching me that I can't hurry things and that things will inevitably work out as long as we follow the path and in 5 weeks we will be sat in my Dad's garden drinking beer and eating a bacon sandwich! And by that point all my lists will have disappeared, they would have been checked and crossed off and all this little time consuming jobs will be done and what will be will be!

However before all that we have a party to have! The customary Ma'salama party. Only ours with a slight twist, a street party, a Mardi Gras! A culmination of many cultures all rolled into one! Middle Eastern, Mexican, South African, British!

It is hard work, but there is fun to be had in between, and all the hard work is worth it, just look at what we are doing. Look at what we are seeing and experiencing! We would have the same level of stress in the UK, just for different reasons and only grey clouds and rain to look at outside. Here are stresses have a purpose, they take us somewhere and the sun is always shining!

Qatar - brace yourselves - The Lloyd Family are on their way!

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

The One Where Grace Went to the ER!

So this may seem a strange kind of blog update, and even though last night was truly awful for us, especially Grace, I actually learned a lot. It was a night that really I should want to forget, but the lessons I learned I want to remember!

Now, I am incredibly blessed. My children have always been very healthy, never in hospital, never really sick, they haven't even had chickenpox!

So yesterday Grace was complaining about a pain in her tummy. On her right lower side. Just where the appendix is. So thankfully we have a good friend and pediatrician next door, so off we go! With Grace being little, it is hard to tell for sure whether it was appendicitis or not. So a phone call later and the on call surgeon from the hospital was at our house checking her over.

He was pretty convinced that it could be too.

So off to the ER.

The worst bit has to be the blood tests. 4 years old is that age, that is too old to cuddle the cry away and too young to explain reason too. And for Grace this was especially bad, this is the girl who will use a box of plasters on the smallest of cuts! Needless to say the cannula was somewhat traumatic, for all involved, including poor Joey who was gallantly trying to be the protective big brother! So an IV drip later and a little bit of sleep for Grace, the pediatric surgeon arrives. Grace is not the most angelic of children to be woken up, and pain or not she will not be your friend if you wake her.

After 40 minutes of unbelievable patience from the doctor we ascertain that the pain is much worse. By this point we are all pretty convinced it is appendicitis. Whilst worrying about the surgery etc Jason very thoughtfully asked about the scar. With her being a girl he didn't want there to be an issue for her later in life. What a Daddy - I am a girl and I hadn't even thought of that!

By this point poor Joey was exhausted and being in the ER room filled with poorly babies and his poorly little sister, it was time he went home to sleep, this could be an all nighter! Without question people were there for us. Erika stayed with Joey at ours without any question or pause, from one mother to another, words cannot explain how valuable, relieving and comforting that was! We had phone calls from friends to check on us and Grace and visits too. A moment like this makes you see how wonderful ones friends are. We are very blessed.

We were sent for a scan, thankfully it wasn't showing anything at this stage. So Jason took Joey home to Erika whilst we had an X Ray. This did show something up. An obstruction of the bowel.

By this point Grace was hysterical, from tiredness, fear and pain. She just wanted to be left alone. But we couldn't do that. The Dr examined her and decided on an enema. Now the examination was hard enough to get her to forgive, Lord knows what she is going to think of this. The nurse came in, a little under prepared, thankfully another nurse came in to help. Enema is done. And a very unforgiving little Grace hysterical that me, her mommy, could have let that happen. But I had to, for her own good. She was in agony and if this is what the problem is then surely it is better than surgery?

A few minutes later and we soon realised we had landed in hell.

Now this coming from the mother who used to chomp on laxatives like sweets, I KNOW what pain she was feeling. Vomiting, sweating, cramps, excruciating pain, it was starting to take affect.

Now I won't go into too much detail here, but on my own I dealt with this with paper towels and gloves (only to be asked later by the nurse why I hadn't taken her to the bathroom??!!! I mean seriously at 31 I wouldn't have made it to the loo, let alone a 4 year old!) During this chaos and upset there was a Saudi lady a foot or so away from me with a little baby. This could not have been pleasant for her to see either. But during it, she kept saying 'Sister...OK' and even though her face was covered I could see her eyes and I could see the empathy and support she was giving me. We didn't need words. We are both mothers. That language is international. In between me trying to get paper towels she was guarding her baby and mine. Sister, I thank you, you don't know it but you gave me strength and helped me through, God bless you!

So perfect man timing, Jason arrives as all of this is over. The sheets are changed and Grace is beyond exhaustion and sleeping.

After about an hour we asked if the Dr was coming back round, we were told we would be there for the night. We figured if this was still going to end in surgery we would all be better prepared if we got some rest. We asked if it was safe to take her home and bring her back the second anything changed. We are just praying that it was an obstruction and this can be the end of it.

After speaking to the surgeon, we agreed that it was safe to bring her home, so we did, on the condition she came back first thing anything changed.

Finally climbing into bed at about 4am, my eyes were heavy, but there was no way I would sleep fully. One eye open watching my baby girl.

Jason spoke to his boss, who kindly let him go in late so that he could also rest. About 9am I was up with Joey and a little while later, Jason and a little time after that Grace.

She looks rough, poor thing.


She is in no where near as much pain as she was last night.

Thank God, we don't have to go back in, not yet at least.

Now it isn't to say it isn't appendicitis, the next few days will tell us for sure, but I am pretty sure now it isn't. Although I am surprised at an obstruction, this girl is regular as clockwork and eats so much fruit and vegetables and has never had this problem before as a child.

But that's by the by - I am just thankful she is OK.

What a scare. Kids are good at that, turning their parents into a trembling bowl of jelly! But it often takes a scare of your own to make you realise a few things.

What did I learn?

A Lot!

I learned that these parents who sit and watch their children desperately ill fighting for their lives are amazingly strong. I think I realised last night I would actually be a bit crap at dealing with that kind of thing. It is hard when your child is getting upset and will not consider reason about basic health care like a canula, and it is hard not to feel like disciplining them, but obviously you can't, you have to try to understand what is going on in their head. It is hard not to let your emotions take over, the worry, the panic. Even with a simple procedure like an appendectomy, I was scared stiff. What if she reacts to the anesthetic? What if there are complications? etc etc Bless all those parents who do find that strength and my thoughts are always with them!

I learned that the bond between a brother and sister is such a beautiful thing. Joey wouldn't let us take Grace and Grace wouldn't go without Joey. Sufficed to say that we're back to reenacting World War 2 today, but that's kids!

I learned who my friends are. The people who went out of their way to help us, talk to us, reassure us and look after us was overwhelming! Narien, who loves her sleep, was insistent that we call and wake her as soon as we knew anything. Now if you know Narien you will realise the grandeur of this! :-) Doctors who knew Jason from work were all coming in to see everything was OK. Farah and Imran came into the hospital to check on us all. Erika was there unquestionably to take care of Joey. To you all, you are my friends and I am honored!

I learned from the Saudi lady, that wherever we come from we are all the same. She was there for me. We hardly had a single word in common language between us. But during her own battle with her baby, she was there. The look in eyes is something I will hold onto forever, the International Language of Mothers!

I learned it is bloomin' scary having a sick child overseas!

I learned that the trivial things don't matter. Only earlier that day was I stressed about leaving here and the obstacles we are facing. But at that moment when I feared things were serious, those things just didn't matter anymore. I should remember that and build myself around it.

Most of all I learned about love. I realised how much my family means to me. We all get used to taking it for granted. But for the first time I was scared. I was scared for my family, I was scared for my little Grace. Sometimes we all need a little reminder of this. And I have had mine in a huge dose!

Now what we went through may seem trivial to some, but remember what a person goes through is not comparable to another, it is what is emotionally paramount to that person, and should never be judged by another.

We are lucky, I know, like I have said our children are never ill, we have never had a situation like this as parents, and we are undoubtedly blessed for that and because of that it is more important that we learn from this experience.

I have learned now, I don't ever want to have another night like that, and God willing we won't.

My family, you are perfection with all your imperfections and I love you, stay safe and well and I will always be here for you.


Sunday, 1 May 2011

The One Where We Went To The Beach Again!

After the perfection of the last trip to the Red Sea we decided we wanted to do it again, this time to share the experience.

We had suggested a few weeks back about another trip and decided on this last weekend to do it. Our friends Erika and William would come with us. Having another two adults, especially one being male, I felt much more at ease about staying over the night.

After a few hiccups with the planning, we finally got the car packed by midnight on Wednesday.

This last week or so has been somewhat emotionally draining on us all, and I know I have been really struggling, so maybe this will help to give us some head space for at least 2 days.

We left the compound at about 8am on Thursday, all ram packed into the car with every provision possibly needed for the journey and the beach.

We headed through Abha to the mountain road - getting a little lost on the way! :-) The car was filled with happy noise of excitement, until we reached the mountains. The silence that fell over the car was somewhat ore inspiring. It is almost impossible not to be moved by the views that hit you once on that road. Nobody really spoke for a while, all taking in their own moments from the same thing we could all see. The cameras, of course, came out to capture these moments to relive at a later date.

As we continued down the mountain, the energy returned, sharing stories, anecdotes and laughter, Somewhat reminding me of a high school road trip, just in slightly more mature and responsible style - due to our ages and the two small children in the back!

Once we had arrived at the bottom of the mountains Erika was recognising where we were, as she had once been to this beach for a sandwich (that is a whole other story in it's own right!) She remembered a mosque that she had seen, colourful and bright, not like mosques she had seen before. So our resident David Bailey was very specific about having a photo of this as well as a camel and a road sign - although not just any road sign - one with Mekkah and Medina on! Which became the source of our entertainment for a while! However, I must add here, that the efforts are well worth it as Erika has a great eye for photography and some of the best pictures of the weekend came from her, so we mustn't mock!

Photos snapped, we arrive in Al Birk, knowing it would be a while before making food on the beach we got some food from one of the many food places you will see around Saudi, and off to the beach we went!

This time we came completely off the road, hoping to give us a little more privacy and not have so many visits from the border police. Thus making it a while before we found a perfect spot, one with little weed in the water, enough space for our camp and no rubbish! OK, so it is a little difficult to find a spot here with NO rubbish, but a little less than some areas! During this we found flamingos and pelicans - a marvelous site in the wild. Although the flamingos did confuse Joey to thinking that we were in fact in Africa!

So we have our spot!

Our own little space!

A little slice of paradise here in Saudi!

After getting the car stuck in the sand, we began emptying the car! Firstly get the kids some shade, so table and umbrella up, whilst the wind breaks go up, for our privacy! Within half an hour the camp was ready, kids were basted in sun cream and in the sea! Minutes later so were me and Erika!

Everyone had a little splash and then served by our 'waiter', Jason, we sat and ate watermelon in the sea too! A given for any paradisaical experience!

Jason had the fire going and cooked our fish for dinner - brought not caught unfortunately! But delicious all the same! With full bellies, we had a little more time in the sea and put up the tents before sunset.

Speaking of the sunset, well this time it wasn't so hazy so it was really clear. Looked like the sun was melting into the sea, everyone appreciated this moment equally, in their own way.

With the kids starting to get a little tired and grumpy, I got them washed and into bed - well the car - but bed all the same. We made their marshmallows and oreos and they ate them in the car whilst watching a movie - giving us adults a little time to calm! Or so you would think, this mommy was like a jack in the box - up and down until they finally fell asleep! Once peace had descended we carried on with the mandatory shisha around the campfire.

During a little paddle in the shallows, I finally managed to point out some bio-luminescence plankton to Erika, I am sure she thought I was mad at first trying to show her little flashes of light in the water, but once they are found you can see them in abundance - our own little light display on the darkest of nights with no moon and a billion stars above!

Bedtime brought some fun - William had fallen asleep on the sand, only to awake with a crab trying to eat him, to which I am sure the crab came back with his friends later in the night to carry Erika away in her tent! The car was HOT, so the AC went on a few times to cool me and the kids down. It was thankfully pretty uneventful, with only one moment of me watching a car in the distance with a little apprehension as to how close it was coming!

So 5.30 am, the heat woke me once again, I sat watching a somewhat ambitious fiddler crab trying to get a huge plastic pot into his hole. I am yet to work out his purpose, as I imagine there is no nutritional value in a plastic pot! As I looked across at the mountains I could see where the sun would rise. Whilst trying to find my camera, I woke Joey, who was incredibly calm and quiet and I knew he would allow me to experience this moment. Just as I was considering waking Erika to see this, I saw her pop out of her tent. This was something I knew she wouldn't want to miss!

The peace and tranquility of this moment can never be put into words, I suggest you try and experience it, it brought such a sense of calm. Erika and me were experiencing the same moment, yet without words, without contact, without comparison. And even though the moment was shared, the personal moment would have been so different. A real example of human kind at it's most complex.

After taking some pictures I thought I would put the kettle on and me, Erika and Joey could sit in our moment with a cup of tea and enjoy the quiet.

Errrr, No!

The border police have found us!

They certainly pick their moments!

Whilst commando crawling across the sand to get to the car to my abaya, I ask Joey to wake his daddy - but remember Joey it is early so daddy may be grumpy - " Daddy, Daddy wake up - the police are here!" - OK, so that will surely wake him!

So a bleary eyed Jason crawls out of his tent and deals with the situation whilst I get an abaya to Erika, who is currently hiding in the sea!

So now everyone is up.

We have a nice cup of tea and get in the sea before 8am. Wow, what a feeling. Jason drives into town to get some breakfast, of course daal and curry, and some beers! Non alcoholic, of course.

By 9am, we are sat by the ocean eating our food and enjoying the moment!

We had planned to stay until about 2pm, but within an hour of having breakfast, the heat was too much for us, it would have spoiled what had been a perfect weekend, so thankfully Erika had the insight to say lets cook the chicken back home!

Thank goodness, at this point I am sat in the car with the AC on, thinking it was just me suffering from the heat!

So without a word we had everything packed and kids cleaned and in the car within less than an hour. We all felt the heat and realised that speaking would actually waste valuable energy.

In the car, AC on full, and off to the shops for some ice cold drinks, anything to lower our body temperature, by this point it was 43 degrees!

The journey back was more quiet and reflective than the arriving journey. We spoke a little about our time, but mostly we sat peacefully with our thoughts and eventually had some sleep.

Reaching the top of the mountain, we were back to reality, not with a hard bump, with more of a feeling of calm. It was OK to be back, aside from anything else we all needed a bath to wash off the salt and sand!

The car unpacked, we dispersed to our respective villas to a wash down to return to ours to finish off the weekend with some dinner.

Upon our return, the temperature had dropped to 27 degrees and the sky looked like something from Armageddon! Rain, thunder, lightening! And my favourite kind of clouds, the bubble cloud, which I hadn't seen here for some time and had only described them to Erika earlier!

Cleaned, full bellies, kids in bed, we sat down to reflect on our time and watch some TV before bed ourselves.

What a wonderful weekend.





And just what we needed.

It highlighted to me once again the power of friendship. The strong bonds you can make with a person in the situation we are in. Traveling the world and being away from what is the norm you find a new part of yourself and you share that with the people around you. You find your true self, so the people around get to see the real you, the peaceful you, the happy you. This is what creates the strong bonds of friendship. And the friendships that I had reaffirmed to me over this weekend were strengthened by this experience. A mutual, full understanding of each other.

The sealing of a friendship that will inevitably last forever.

I thank you for the moments, the laughs, the company and the pictures. But most of all the memories and the friendship.