Footprints in the Sand

So apparently I will have a chance to mark off a huge goal on my Bucket List: Run an international marathon! Of all places, Saudi was the last place I thought to get this done. By living outside of a compound, it’s an extreme rarity to see a woman 1) running, 2) in an abaya, and 3) in the heat. My whole blog was meant to sum up my struggles adjusting to these restrictions.

In the States, I ran daily with an outstanding group of ladies from “Black Girls Run”, a nationwide movement of long distance runners that has added quite a bit of color to a sport that was predominantly white. When I first joined, 2 years ago, I could barely run 3 minutes without getting totally winded. In elementary, I absolutely dreaded that timed, 1 mile test we were required to do in P.E., and almost always came in last. However, today, it’s an addiction to beat my PR, run extreme distances, and rack up on medals! With one marathon under my belt, I hope to one day qualify for Boston, complete an ultra, and team up in a Ragnar Relay.

 

Before arriving in Saudi I asked my recruiter about the ease of running in this country. “Oh… it’s no problem! Many people run. They have plenty of parks. It’s just like any other modern city!” .. So I packed my running shoes, hydration belt, energy chews, and every runner’s favorite: Body Glide.

For the 1st few weeks, I just observed my surroundings. Not only did women not run, but I barely saw them rush for anything! Nothing  (literally) moved fast in this country, except for impatient drivers. No one even walked around outside for fresh air. People caught cabs to cross the street. There were gyms every two blocks, but none that catered to women. I later found out that the few womens’ “gyms” (more like spas), cost $150-200 per month. Very cruel joke this recruiter played on me..

 

So on Month 2, I made my first big purchase, a commercial treadmill. Although, I was happy to have some sort of real movement, it did kill the excitement and stamina I had for running. So much to the extent that, when I vacationed in the US this summer, I went from being a marathoner to barely making it 10 minutes. It’s as depressing as having an injury that hinders you from doing the sport you love.

Therefore, my goal for the next 5 months is to get back into the shape that I was pre-Saudi. This past Saturday started my marathon training…mostly by treadmill! I know you’re wondering “How in the world will you practice 20 milers on the ‘dread’mill?”. Well, I may have found one outlet. This past weekend, I …ran… outside! Although pricey in terms of transport, and quite inconvenient, the Diplomatic Quarters is heaven-sent. The DQ is a city of embassies, international schools, parks, and are ‘free-zones’ where most of the cultural Saudi laws do not apply. Therefore, I wasted little time shedding my abaya and hijab; finally being able to be out in my run-gear!

 

I really didn’t have a plan, not even a place to put my stuff. But after scoping out the area and making sure I wasn’t in a restricted zone, I walked a few dead end paths through boulders and sand, until I found a distinct path. For once in my lifetime of running, I could care less about my run/walk ratio, mileage, or pace. It was so unearthly silent out that I didn’t even want to ruin it with music. Perhaps the silence would have alarmed some, but it was such a peaceful escape that it almost felt Godly. The only sounds I welcomed were the rare songs of birds and the occasional “Hello” of another runner escaping his treadmill. Two hours later, I climbed up as high as I could on a boulder, while eating my energy chews and watching the sunset. I got to use my hydration belt and my Body Glide. Not because any of this stuff was needed, but because it’s as good a time as any. Right in the middle of a dry rocky ravine, was a random cluster palm dates. The contrast was oddly beautiful and kept me for another 30 minutes. As my ride called out from a distance and echoed my name, I made my final 10-minute jog to the car. This time it was effortless ..

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Top Ten Books that make you go “Hmmm..”

Being an avid reader, I always make time to find a good book. This is especially the case here in Saudi, where a lot of my time is idle. Here’s my top ten book reviews, in no particular order.

"The Kite Runner"

* “The Kite Runner” By: Khaled Hosseini

This is one of my all-time faves! Don’t let the title bore you. For that reason, I had this book on my shelf for years without opening it. All I knew of Afghanistan was war, terrorism, and poverty. So to see the start of this book portray Kabul as a beautiful ancient city, with wealthy sectors, and children who enjoy familiar activities, was an unexpected touch. This story is about a motherless young boy, named Amir, who struggles with his high social status and desire for his father’s affection and approval. He grows up with Hassan, his incredibly loyal servant boy. Just as most kids who are quick to make friends, they form a close relationship. So close, that Hassan’s 1st word was his boy-master’s name. However, this unique bond is challenged due to their tribal differences, jealousy, and a conspired separation. This book takes you through the family’s sudden decent during the war, Amir’s betrayal to his best friend, and their experiences escaping Kabul. This book gives a good mix of personal and political events, that makes it a page-turner with underlying Afghan history.

* “A Thousand Splendid Suns” By: Khaled Hosseini

After reading “The Kite Runner”, Hosseini was the author at the top of my radar. His 2nd book, “A Thousand Splendid Suns”, is a story of 3 generations of Afghan women, during the reign of the Taliban. One who is forced into a young marriage after the death of her mother. One who is orphaned due to war. And one who lives an isolated life because of an unsupported pregnancy. It’s easy to think that this would be a story of weak, quieted women, behind veils. However, these three have shown me that women, in general, no matter where in the world we are… we are fighters for love, freedom, and power. Their lives become intertwined for an unforgettable ending.

* “Left To Tell” By: Immaculee Ilibigiza

Immaculee was a student in Rwanda, who grew up in a highly respected family. The scenery of Mugabe and Lake Kivu is so vividly described that you imagine a vacation getaway, instead of the massacre that had transformed the country. Into her teenage years, Immaculee was quite naïve of the prejudices existing between the Hutu and Tutsi tribes of Rwanda. This alluring country was suddenly turned upside down by the Rwandan genocides, that led to over a million Tutsi deaths. Being an educated woman from a prominent Tutsi family, Immaculee was at the top of the “Wanted” list. After being split up from her family, a Hutu preacher took the risk of hiding her and 7 other women in a 4×3 bathroom, for 91 days. Every 12 hours they took turns sitting down in the cramped space. With only a toilet and a shower stall, flushing or running water was a risk of being caught, as they could hear the killers outside the window hunting for them. She struggled with hatred for the Hutu killers, until she found her only relief, through prayer. During these 3 months, is when Immaculee finds God; not by pleading for her life, but instead by learning to forgive her enemies. She was left to tell her story of survival.

* “Eat, Pray, Love”, By: Elizabeth Gilbert

Out of all of the books that I have read, I cannot find a more likeable character than “Liz”. She’s a recent divorcee, who realizes that she doesn’t want to waste away anymore time in depression and dwelling on the past. She unearths her old fun and carefree personality, frank humor, and wild curiosity as she decides to randomly hop a flight and find herself. Like most daydreamers, Liz takes in every event with all senses, and the dialogue of the story reflects a lot of her quirky thoughts. First she travels to Italy (to enjoy pleasure). Here she learns what it’s like to purposely lose track of time, enjoy food, and let loose. Then she goes to live in a monastery in India (to study the art of devotion). She learns to simply meditate until she finds healing from previous relationships. And lastly, in Indonesia, she builds unexpected relationships, where she learns to love again. This book is more for the open-minded, wannabe travelers, with big imaginations. The movie sucks in comparison, so read 1st. The quotes in this book are outstanding. You will highlight every page!

Two favorite quotes (so hard to narrow it down!)

People think a soul mate is your perfect fit, and that’s what everyone wants. But a true soul mate is a mirror, the person who shows you everything that is holding you back, the person who brings you to your own attention so you can change your life.”

You need to learn how to select your thoughts just the same way you select your clothes every day. This is a power you can cultivate. If you want to control things in your life so bad, work on the mind. That’s the only thing you should be trying to control.”
Elizabeth Gilbert,
Eat, Pray, Love

4 Hour Workweek”, By: Tim Ferriss

24 hours in a day, just doesn’t feel like enough time to work 2 jobs, cook, clean, plus squeeze in a workout. Lately it seems like everyone’s been working themselves to complete exhaustion, but not really having much to show for it. That is why I picked up this book! This book teaches you how to be smart with you time, work less, while making more money. It gives tips on how to convince your boss to let you work from home, how to put timed blocks on your computer so you don’t waste hours on social networks and email, how to give instructions to avoid back-and-forth questioning from employees, and also tells you how to afford “mini-retirements” throughout your career. It not only deals with work advice, but also how to get discounted airfare and free international housing. It advises on how to outsource even the simplest tasks, such as making and canceling appointments, so to free up time for larger tasks. And also how to afford random vacations and still make money while away. In summary, this book is definitely not a waste of time!

*“First They Killed My Father”, By: Loung Ung

Loung is a 5 year old girl, who lived in a middle class family, in Cambodia. Being of this status brought pride to the family, until the takeover of the Khmer Rouge, Pol Pot’s ruling party. The Khmers were of lower class, and sought to exterminate all Cambodians who were intellectuals. Luong tells of her and her family’s experiences during the Khmer Rouge genocides that killed over 1 million people through execution. The family spent days fleeing the city by foot, and faced months of starvation. After eventually being split up to increase their chances of survival, young Luong was made into child soldiers so to have a “better” life. This one will put a lump in your throat, to think of a child who has seen and gone through so much!

*“How to Win Friends and Influence People”, By: Dale Carnegie

This New York Times bestseller is helpful for everyone; whether you are shy, a sales person, or someone who often gives presentations. It teaches you how to receive positive responses when you talk to others. You will learn what exactly people want to hear and why we are wired that way. I first picked up this book thinking that it would give a lot of common sense tips. There are simple principles, such as, “Principle No 1: Don’t Criticize, Condemn or Complain”, “Principle No 2: Fulfill Others’ Desires to Feel Important”, and “Principle No 3: You Cannot Influence People by Telling Them What You Want”. However, these are things that I almost constantly need to be reminded of. So this book isn’t one of those ‘one-time’ reads, which makes me feel like I really got my money’s worth.

Abraham’s Well”, By: Sharon Ewell Foster

I first picked up this book years after my grandfather once told me that I had a great aunt that walked the “Trail of Tears”. At the time, he never went into detail, and I never asked for more. So when I read a synopsis on this book, about the Black Cherokees of North Carolina, I had to buy it! The main character, Armentia, is a young girl born on the edge of slavery while trying to still identify with her Cherokee side. This book has blunt details of the 1,000 mile forced movement of Cherokees from N.C. to Oklahoma and the difference of treatment between full-blood and half-blood Cherokees.. details that you’ll rarely find in textbooks. There are little sections of the story that drag, but be reassured that it will pick up again!

48 Laws of Power”, By: Robert Greene

I’m actually not anywhere near finished with this book. I started and left it in the States, due to its large size. But found a pocket-size copy here, last week. But the fact that it’s made it on my list this early on, should tell you that it’s an interesting read. This book may be a little controversial to some, only because it teaches you how to get ahead of the game, even if you have to step on someone else to get there. By the way, this book is written in the point of view of rulers and great leaders of the sciences. It quotes a lot from Machiavelli, who wrote the famous political piece “The Prince”, which advises on how to takeover kingdoms. So, I’d only advise people who already have high ethical standards to read this one. My reason for reading it: it gives an interesting touch on history and ties to modern day, it’s beautifully and uniquely written …. and most of all, to be less naïve of the conniving tactics some people take to get ahead, especially if it’s against me.

Bible for Dummies”, By: For Dummies series

I am far from being a wiz at my Biblical knowledge of “who did what, where, and why”. Many parts of the Bible can be up to interpretation. And this part, I actually do enjoy. However, there are parts where I’d like some nice hard facts; like, “What are the rules of Biblical war?”, “What was the exact route of the exodus out of Egypt?”.. This book goes deeper into the historical account of the Bible stories we learned as a child, gives explanation to Hebrew words, summarizes a text in modern-day language, and gives interesting geographical tidbits. It gives it’s own interpretation of some accounts, such as the presumed location of Sodom and Gomorrah. It is thought to be near the Dead Sea, which explains a lot about the fate of Lot’s wife. “The salt content of the Dead Sea is about 30%, making it impossible for anything to live in it (hence, the name). Yet, because of this high salt content, salt deposits appear all along its banks. Therefore, one walking through this region would notice a lot of “pillars of salt”. Jordan has never really been on my list of places to visit, but facts like these keeps my travel list growing!

**** What’s your favorite read?? Any suggestions on what I should check out next?****