Peace, Russia and Priorities


After a day of: peer support training (new team), physio, news surfing, watching the Canadian police forces quell the protest in Ottawa (Day 2 of this), a drive by the sea, an afternoon nap…and a week full of activities including partying in the desert with colleagues, binge-watching Couples Therapy on BBC iPlayer (omgggggg – amazing therapist Dr. Orna Goralnik and I want to be a clinical psychologist and psychoanalyst now), ‘staff appreciation’ note dropping (it was Random Acts of Kindness Week at our school), and road-trippin’ in search of new t-shirts and Chinese food at PF Chang (stories for another day, maybe…if I get around to it), a little contemplation:

Thoughts on a ‘Sunday’ (Saturday) night in Saudi Arabia

I think the weather is starting to turn. Cold nights appear to be leaving us here in Saudi. It’s me and the cats, my feet up on the back of the sofa, a book in hand, ‘Sunday night’ quiet.

I want to start weight training again, but I injured my shoulder shoveling my mother’s drive in December, which is why I no longer live in a snow-filled country. I am not allowed to do anything upper body. Cardio hasn’t been calling me so much, but that’s the alternative, so I’ll take it and start tomorrow (I tell myself again). Maybe I’ll walk by the sea or head to the gym and step on a treadmill again.

My shoulder’s progress … incremental. The physiotherapist said I have three more sessions, so I’ve had 15, and she expects another 9 at least. I’m starting to sleep on that shoulder, but not for long. It’s surreal how long this is taking to heal. Who knew? The silver lining of an injury is that it slows you down to do and think about other things.

On Russia’s potential invasion of the Ukraine

There’s a slight breeze in this city tonight. It’s beautiful, peaceful.

I am thinking about the risk of Russia invading the Ukraine, birthplace of my maternal grandmother, and the warnings going out about the impact of that on ALL of the world. I speculate wildly. We’ll feel it at the pump. Where else? How else? Will this be contained? How contained? What will be the ramifications for Europe? Will global political insecurity will occupy all nations, and what does that mean regarding economics and other priorities? I don’t know. But this feels personal, somehow. Inconvenient, right before I’m getting ready to buy my first home in the UK in a year or two or three.

Here’s where I wish I had studied history in university, or taken more interest in this in high school. I did love the story of Nicholas and Alexandra, and the mysterious mystic-monk-wanderer Rasputin who might very well have awakened in me my first interests in the esoteric and wandering. But I barely remember the details of the story. It was fascinating, however, and our social studies teacher used this film (on Amazon) to teach it and whatever historical lessons were relevant to us then in the late Seventies. Hint: the story ends badly for the leaders of Russia. They are executed by the socialist bolsheviks in a revolution to emancipate the country from aristocracy. It might be time to watch this film again.

Memories of a visit to Georgia, a former state of the Soviet Union

Years ago – I think it was 2007 – right before I left Saudi Arabia after my first stint here of many years – I visited friends in Tbilisi, Georgia. Russia invaded that nation months later. I don’t know the outcome of it, actually. My focus fades in and out on these issues. I’m far more attuned to the movements closer to home. But I remember the unremarkable starkness of the journey to the birthplace of Stalin – Gori, Georgia – and the oddness of that being a place for tourists to venture to. Birthplace of a dictator. We don’t erase such info off the map, so that we can learn from this. That is the point.

A few introductions were made in Tbilisi – ‘the world’s most bohemian city‘ – to a social worker and a priest who ran a children’s shelter for homeless children who needed to be off the streets in Tbilisi. before they were arrested. To be caught fighting in that city then and probably still today meant a 10-year prison sentence to be served in dire circumstances. American expat wives in that country organized food, blankets, etc., for those in detention.

Why would children fight in the streets after running away from abusive homes and whatnot? Their circumstances were, I imagined, heavily affected by the consumption of alcohol. We drank shots of vodka over our conversations at 10 a.m., in fact! My reading showed me that the picture is worse…intergenerational. And immigrants are also part of this complex picture – read this. These children fought and fight for their lives. Worse, they become the abusers in a system that takes the youngest and puts them on the front lines of gang work, at the greatest risk to protect themselves. It’s a pecking order that says something about the nature of humans and the way they exercise the little power we have in situations of duress.

I remember meeting one of the Arab-American women, I think, or a very fashionable lady at one of the fundraisers for the charity. She shook my hand, greeted me warmly, looked at my tummy and asked me, “When are you due?” as if I were pregnant.

I answered, bluntly. “Uh, no. Just fat.”

“Oh!” she said, embarrassed, and ran away fast. Makes me laugh today, sort of. Not so funny, really. I’m still struggling to get the weight off (ie. change my ways) and keep it off.

I had a lot of empathy for Georgians after Russia invaded, though I did not follow that story through to the end, perhaps because I knew it was better for me to emotionally dial down from the concerns of war after experiencing some degree of PTSD following Israel’s invasion of Lebanon in 2006 and my experience of making my way out through Syria back to Saudi.

I’ve learned over the past 15 years to magnify and demagnify my focus, as well as put things in perspective as to what I can and cannot do, ie. what is in my circle of influence vs. concern in order to keep my state of mind healthy. I don’t always get it right. The Canadian skirmishes with protesters and government and police truly concern me and have activated my ‘desire to know’ how this is going to play out.. I’ve never wondered before now with such confusion what kind of world we live in. I read an article today that stated the pandemic is the largest crisis of in a generation. No kidding. Multiple generations are touched by this.

I had a fair bit of curiosity about Georgians and their history, as I walked past a protest on the steps of some government office. My friend who was hosting me and I avoided the fracas and watched from across the street. This was an ordinary day. Oh, was it? I didn’t need to speak the language to know what people were saying. Someone wanted improved rights and freedoms, a better quality of life, to be heard. I, on the other hand, was a visitor, and my awareness of the place was being filtered by the beautiful and interesting experiences lined up for me by my friend whose husband worked in the country.

I felt strange excitement and nervousness when we went to see Olga Smirnova perform Swan Lake with the State Ballet of Georgia at the Georgian National Theatre. My friend told me the President of Georgia was in the house, in the blackened box at the back of the room, watching the performance. Out there, behind us, was his security detail, invisible to the uninformed eye.

Bohemian was right. Walking through the city, I turned a corner and saw a painter with his easel up in the middle of a street, painting the horizon of that spectacular city. Time stopped right there. I walked into a tiny orthodox chapel on the top of a hill in Tbilisi. Inside, two ladies wept tears over something that aggrieved them terribly. That seemed to define the entire dark scene of both the chapel and the nation, if only in the shadows. Everyone, I noticed, too, on the streets of Georgia and in the jazz cafe I went to later at night wore black. The look was stylish and austere. As a lover of black fashion, I admired and wondered about the symbology and embodiment of this. And what was Russia’s influence in this country exactly?

To watch the men dance at a restaurant one night with the incredible fire and deep drop sure-footedness, I thought: this is as close to Russia as I’ll come. Okay, I came a bit closer when I walked through the markets past the bearded ladies selling pig heads and feet. I left Georgia with the instrument one of the band members played in the restaurant, paying him something like $100 USD for his tiny stringed instrument. He’d buy himself another one, and probably have change left over with what I gave him.

Russia remains a mystery to me.

I have worked with a Russian colleague, who is lovely and who once talked with me of swapping kefir grains. And in 2019 I trained in dramatherapy in London with a Russian yoga teacher who was incredibly strong, fun, kind and flexible – with the physical steeliness of a Russian ballet dancer. She offered to have me visit her home when I eventually make my way in that direction. I look forward to the day.

Travel shatters the simplistic illusions we have about the world. Equally, it can reinforce them and our fantasies, biases and xenophobia.

On Priorities

I want and need to write…more. I seriously want to write a book. My ADHD (unofficial self-diagnosis) brain does not know how to focus this.

Time to clear the decks of distraction.

But I signed up for an Adolescent Psychology course. I haven’t told many, just a few friends, a few colleagues – one of whom told his wife – she takes more courses than anybody – and my mother who seems indifferent. That would mean she is supportive. No resistance there.

This is probably because I wore both my parents’ capacity to worry down with my adventurous money-depleting pursuits. I did explain to my father before he died that this would be a good career path for me going into my ‘third act’ as Jane Fonda calls it, and I’m nowhere there yet, at just 54. My dad gave me his blessing and encouragement to pursue my ongoing studies in psychotherapy and psychology, recognizing at the end of his life, perhaps, that there is a balance to be struck between material and immaterial needs and pleasures.

I’m feeling the march of time and had a conversation recently with one of my administrators who told me that “at this point in life what I know is this: I would be running towards the thing I want the most”. I signed up for another intensive course that night. The course starts March 1st.

All the more reason for me to slow down, whenever humanly possible, then. Life is about to get messier.

Cat Play

Midnight. The ‘kids’ are scooting around the apartment, my Qalby hissing at Baghwan who is trying to jump her bones. I’m going to let her fend for herself for a bit, but no doubt this will last minutes before I throw him out. He’s woken up after an early evening nap with me. Yes, here he comes, muttering and scooting around like trouble, with his back arched and his tail down but for the base of it, which is elevated. Weirdo. He’s now jumping up and down and over the camel stool, repeatedly, clearly itching to get out. I want him in. Look at me: dictator cat lady. I shall decide your freedom, cats.

Meanwhile, I’m watching Qalby (Arabic for ‘My heart’) sit beside me, by the open window, wishing she could get past the screen. This morning, I spotted her with her ears down, lowering her whole body and contorting like a statue. It turned out, a white cat was outside on the patio table, by the dish of water I’d left out there this weekend. Qalby was on high alert for a cat fight, completely freaked out, and together we sat and watched through glass the white cat as she dozed and shifted her hind legs. Eventually, she stretched and opened her eyes and looked right at me. Brazen. Game over. I scared her away.

Meditation – Finding Peace

I am going to meditate tonight and use tuning into sound as a way to attune to the peaceful, beautiful sounds of the sea just a few hundred meters from my house and the breeze that is blowing the leaves gently on the palms and lemon and banana trees (that don’t produce at present) off my patio.

Peace starts with the self. It’s an ongoing dance with nature…and the nature of things. We will never stop the ebb and flow of conflict around us, but we can slow down and put those things in perspective, balancing the inner with the outer worlds we find ourselves in.

Start with sound, be with what is, notice, let go of judgement.

Notice that the effort to contain your thoughts is similar to the effort of trying to contain contasting ideas in life, circumstances, and potential conflict. The interesting paradox is that once you stop trying to control, the more you can relax. The moment we release life to unfold, the more we can stop trying to deny nature the inevitable. May there be peace as people come to their senses, literally.

Be with yourself. Then write and tell me how that feels (you can message me on Instagram).

Featured photo: shot at Adjdan Walk in Al Khobar, Saudi Arabia where the bikers meet to have tea.



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