Stuck in the Middle East With You

IMG_3557I’ve been back from the Middle East for almost three weeks and I’m still not sure I’m over the jetlag. Yesterday was the first time I’ve slept till seven since…well, pretty much since leaving, and I’ve only just gotten to the point where staying up past nine doesn’t feel like a chore. The last day of my trip I awoke at 4:30am in Dubai; by the time I fell asleep in Toronto the following (?) evening I’d been awake for 46-1/2 straight hours (I can’t sleep on planes, which is arguably the worst trait for a recruiter to possess other than the inability to deal effectively with jetlag). But you don’t want to hear me complain about being tired: you want to know what I did. Your wish is my command: here are nineteen highlights of my first-ever trip to Asia!

  1. The first meal in Saudi Arabia, which blew an entire day’s per diem but came with five courses each more delicious than the one before.
  2. Visiting KAUST, a university/city that was built from scratch six years ago in the Saudi Arabian desert and boasts the third-biggest endowment of any university on earth (Harvard, Yale, KAUST). We ate lunch in a yacht club at a marina overlooking the Red Sea. That was surreal.
  3. Flying Saudi Airlines, which not only featured a prayer before takeoff (a first for me) but a camera in the nose of the aircraft that afforded us the pilot’s perspective on our landing in Amman.
  4. Having a beer in Amman. I seldom drink, but dammit, if you tell me I can’t drink for four days I’ll be sprinting to a bar as soon as I’m able (this, sadly, is pretty much exactly what happened).
  5. Visiting Mount Nebo, which we wedged in between school visits in Amman. Bono once referred to “Where the Streets Have No Name” as the U2 song where it’s “like God suddenly walks through the room.” That’s kind of how I felt on Mount Nebo, from whose summit we overlooked the Dead Sea, Jerricho, Jerusalem, and Bethlehem.
  6. Getting left behind on Mount Nebo. Yup, this happened, and it was hilarious.
  7. The meal we at Haret Jdoudna, where the hummus was so good it almost made me cry.
  8. Staying at a hotel whose fitness centre included a squash court and a complimentary juice bar. Can’t wait to see you again in a couple months, Four Seasons Amman! (I’m going back to the Middle East for three weeks in late January. My life’s weird sometimes.)
  9. Catching up with my friend Jennie in Doha, then having her sit in with me at the Study in Canada fair at the College of the North Atlantic. Afterwards she drove me back to my hotel; I didn’t know it at the time, but in doing so she saved me from a bus ride in which the driver got so lost he ended up in the middle of the desert.
  10. Flying the Dreamliner from Doha to Kuwait City. That flight was also the first time I’ve ever seen someone carrying a falcon onto an airplane (true story).
  11. Going for a 1k run along the Persian Gulf, the first time I’d run that far since reinjuring my knee last October. It nearly killed me, but it was an important first step. Or steps, as it were. Many tentative steps.
  12. Discovering Caribou Coffee in Kuwait–and then discovering that Caribou Coffee takes great care of stray wallets. (Also of note: Tim Hortons is everywhere in the Middle East, which is good news to anyone who still confuses “Tim Hortons” with “good coffee.”)
  13. The Kuwaiti visa process was not a highlight. I’m mentioning it here because it was such an insane experience I kind of never want to forget it. Pro tip to those travelling to Kuwait: book your visas through your hotel and save yourselves hours–literally, hours–of hassle.
  14. Neither was the weather. I like heat; I don’t like desert heat. Call me crazy, especially in light of current temperatures here in Calgary, but I really do like the cold sometimes.
  15. Time off in Abu Dhabi, which allowed us to visit the spectacular Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque. Pictures don’t do it justice.
  16. Seeing Dubai for the first time. It’s an impressive sight.
  17. Having high tea at the Burj Al Arab. This wasn’t something I planned on doing. I did give brief thought to actually staying at the Burj Al Arab for one night until I found out it’d cost me over $2,000. High tea wasn’t that expensive; it wasn’t cheap, either, but the experience was worth it and the food was delectable.
  18. Meeting a whole new road family.
  19. Leaving the Middle East for a long weekend in Toronto with Sam, which included her best friend’s wedding, a Bob Dylan concert, and several 4am wake-ups. Did I mention I don’t do well with jetlag?

I’ll be back in the Middle East in late January, retreading some of the same roads, visiting a couple new ones, and taking actual vacation afterwards. After all that’s happened the past couple years it was nice getting back out there. Atop Mount Nebo, as I overlooked some of the holiest places on earth, I thanked God for getting me back to this place in my life. Now if only He could help me sleep we’d be all set.

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