Friday, December 31, 2010


Happy New Year to all of you. 
Out with the old and in with the new!

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

An Unusual Christmas Story (Part 8)

  Preparations for Christmas were in full swing. The ladies held a bake and share. There were socials amongst friends. Shopping. Decorating. Cleaning.. And this was in Saudi Arabia where it was most unlikely, right?
  Hubby was released from the hospital on December 19th but would remain in their care as outpatient. Once his valuables were retrieved from the security we would have some cash to repay those who loaned us funds. We would have a bit more cash to shop for some gifts for our hosts. But hubby was not well enough at first to even climb three flights of stairs . Once he was back with us he cheered up and his health improved steadily. I walked with him several times each day. By December 22nd he wanted an outing to a mall so it was arranged for us. A babysitter would stay with the kids. The driver headed to the place where I had seen the KFC. He wanted to see it. He purchased a treat to bring to Buddy. As we headed back, a huge down pour broke out. Flash flooding! Within minutes the roads looked like streams and cars were stalling all over the place. I was getting worried. We were in a raised vehicle that managed to move through the water to a place where the driver could stop and wait a bit for the water to run off. It was so unexpected. We made it back safely. The KFC was a hit and Buddy shared it with his sister.        
   We spent time planning how we would move on from here once hubby was well enough. I was afraid of the next phase of our travels because of what had happened. It was tough for me not to show my fear but I had to be brave. It was good to see he was trying to move forward. The doctor had warned me that there would be times of depression. It was a part of dealing with the blow he had just experienced. Humour was best for him now. I tried hard to keep the mood swings in a positive direction. And I had help.
    Everyone was now in the final stages of their Christmas preparations. It was December 24th when a strange announcement came over the intercom system.
"Please prepare for an upcoming sand storm. Close all windows and doors securely and make sure everyone is indoors. We are cancelling all activities at the community centre as of now. The storm is scheduled to hit within 30 minutes."
I had never experienced anything like this and felt a bit tense as I closed and locked our windows and door. The TV was switched on. A kids Christmas show was being piped, keeping many kids, mine too, in the compound busy while their parents finished up their chores. Soon a strong wind howled around us. It became very dark. At noon it was like midnight!! This lasted for at least 45 minutes. When daylight returned the wind subsided. It was quick but what surprised me was the awful damage it left behind. Everything indoors was coated with a layer of very fine sand. Outside everything was covered in a deeper layer of sand. The swimming pool became one huge and dangerous mud puddle! Instantly there was tons of cleaning ahead. It seemed so unfair. But no one showed they were really upset by it. They were focused on enjoying their Christmas as much as possible. They were miles away from their homes too (some were flying home for a short break). We spent our eve wrapping some little gifts for our hosts and their families.
   December 25th we were to join the host family for dinner. Doug's colleague who had to remain on the site during the holidays would also be there. Our invitation was for 4 p.m. Till then I was busy organizing and cleaning our borrowed items for return. At the latest doctor visit we were told it was safe to travel. Hubby, though weak, was stable so we booked our flight out of Jedda. We were given December 26th. It was difficult to get seats at this time of year and we were glad to be accommodated. The airline issued us complimentary tickets since we had none. Only ticketed travellers would be issued a boarding pass. Our unplanned stopover was nearing an end. And it culminated with a lovely Christmas with Nan, Doug, family and friend . It was a true celebration. There was so much joy and thankfulness. Our lives had become very touched by and for one another. Respect and admiration in abundance. The turkey, the tree, some carols, the toasts, the little useful gifts, the laughter, all genuine. Unusual because of our situation.
  Now there's a part of our experience I've saved for the end because of it's uniqueness but it had happened earlier. Through Doug and the ambassador I was asked to get the bill for hubby's hospital stay. The Embassy offered to pay on our behalf since it was likely to be a lot of dollars. Then we would repay them in Canada. My instructions were to obtain a statement just before hubby's release. I did this. I went to the same desk that had issued letters for our extended visas. I waited.  Almost two hours later a doctor who spoke English and a hospital staff member came to me with what I had dreaded. I was prepared for a huge amount, intensive care being the most costly. And they seemed a bit beside themselves as they gave me the information verbally.
" There will be no charge."
"How come?"
" You and your family are guests of our King."

Monday, December 27, 2010

An Unusual Christmas Story (Part 7)

   The stroll over to Nan's in the warm sun felt comforting. It was new for me to be surrounded by palm trees in December but it was pleasant and for the moment I felt protected and safe. At times I was missing the kids and hubby. As I reached Nan's house I realized how little I remembered from my first visit. There's was a single two story house with a front entry into the main living/dining area comfortably furnished. Except for their personal items, the pieces belonged to the company, Bell. Employes used it while stationed there. Many came and went over the period of the contract Bell had. The Saudi's wanted a fibre optic system to go with their new space satellite. For Bell employees it was an opportunity to work abroad with travel perks. But most did not like the placement and requested to go back within months. Nan and Doug and a few toughed it out for several years. They gained status and developed a great relationship with the ambassador.
    As I entered I saw Buddy and one of Nan's boys sitting on the carpet busy playing with lego. He smiled and went on playing. I was happy for him. Nan's boys went to a private school. One was home, not feeling well. The other would be home after 3. That's when the driver returned with him. Drivers were an important part of the community setup since the ladies always required an escort, something I was beginning to get used to. Nan and I talked a bit about my experience. Soon Doug arrived to drive me to the hospital. He wanted to come along to find out details about hubby's health. Our visit was brief but pleasant. Hubby was responding to the treatment and was past the first critical hurdle. He could be on the ward soon. But so far he was very weak. Walking a few steps from bed to chair was an achievement. For me it was difficult to get information from the staff. Their rules and language barriers frustrated me. Each visit left me wondering, a feeling that I disliked. I also disliked the security searches though they were a bit less intrusive now.
   Once back at the house it was decided I should be given some cash for the shopping shuttle the following morning. But for the evening I was to continue to rest free of the kids. I asked how the little ones were doing. Reassured I went to the apartment, turned on the TV and was surprised to be watching Canadian programming, Christmas specials for kids. I watched a bit but I knew I was still very exhausted. I tucked myself into bed, not really missing hubby or the kids. I was asleep almost as soon as my head hit the pillow.
   Again I slept until noon. I had missed the shuttle. I called Nan to apologize. She was so patient with me. Her own routine was being disrupted. It was just before Christmas but she just dealt with it so well. She decided that I would be taken out after the hospital visit. She would come along with Doug and they would do their shopping too. That evening, when the all kids were fed, I would be reunited with them for our first night together in the apartment. I was feeling excited.
  While shopping I picked up some of the foods they loved, surprised to find so many imported  things at the supermarket. I had to be careful to stay within my budget, allowing cheese slices and cookies as treats. While at the mall I noticed a KFC. Odd I thought. But not for long. I soon became aware that Jedda was full of foreign workers from many countries. Western style commercialism was evident and it was flourishing. Construction of malls, hotels, factories, hospitals, roads, homes was visible all around. One strange sight was two vacant high rise apartment buildings. They had been built for the lower class locals who refused to move in because they did not want to uses common elevators. It was thought to be problematic for the women and their children to be mixing with non family members in such close proximity. They must have found a solution in later years because condos are now fashionable.
   As evening approached I was happy. At last I felt ready to greet my kids and carry on. Each had been so well cared for and directed into a routine, one that exists throughout the compound, one that would be good for us too.  Each came with loaned clothing and some toys and was helped into their transition into the apartment.  I was handed the schedule of activities for daycare, swimming, shopping and the TV.  It was in the format of a bulletin that was published weekly by volunteers. Anyone could add their bit. I thanked the community for all their assistance. I followed the schedule. Being busy was important. It helped the healing process. It was Christmas time and that helped too. there was an air of excitement in the community.
   On December 14th hubby was put on the ward in bed C. He had access to a phone and better visiting hours. Buddy was given permission for a very brief visit  on the 15th but only once and it was a special favour. Who knew that they would bend rules?? Will this good fortune continue??

Thursday, December 23, 2010

An Unusual Christmas Story (Part6)

  I woke up to the ring of the telephone. Before answering it I glanced at the clock radio. It was 8:32 a.m. and I noticed Buddy was keeping my toddler busy at the desk with nothing on. "Ugh" I thought. Wonder if our clothes have dried? And then I answered the phone. It was an unfamiliar male voice asking me if I was Mrs. H.K? My heart sank as I speculated that this was the dreaded call that hubby was not okay. Instead the person identified himself as the clerk to our ambassador in Riyadh. He asked me if I would be able to take a call from the ambassador within the next half hour. My response was yes. I took the clothes from the bathroom and proceeded to get us dressed. Everything was still damp but it had to do. I put the baby back into the playpen with her juice just as the phone rang. I was a bit nervous because I had absolutely no idea what how to deal with a dignitary. I picked up the phone.
  "Hello, this is Mrs. K. To whom am I speaking?"
It was him. He asked me how I was and began to apologize for having no idea about my situation. He said he would speak with his staff in Jedda to ensure that in future they contact him with the details of any Canadian making an effort to get help at the Jedda office. Then he told me that I would be contacted within the hour by another gentleman who was in a position to assist my family. His name was Mr. M. He said he would keep in touch with Mr. M to ensure all worked out for us. I thanked him. I felt heard at last.
  While we were eating our breakfast the phone rang again. It was Mr. M. He knew were I was staying and said the he and his wife would be there shortly. Then his wife spoke to me to reassure me they had a place for us. They knew things had been very tough for me. I thanked her for coming to our aid.  Quickly I  began to pack whatever toys we had with us. In less than twenty minutes the lobby rang to ask if they were permitted to send A Mr. and Mrs. M up to the room!! Without hesitation I said yes. I had no idea where I was headed but I was going. My hosts were Canadians so I hoped for the best an then came a knock at our door.
   I opened it. Except to introduce themselves by their first names they came right in, asked who was who and said they were ready to take us right away if it was okay. Definitely. So they each took a child and handbags. I carried the baby in her Snuggly. We headed for the lobby. At the reception, the airline had already informed the management that I was transferring into the care of someone through the Embassy. And they were given my new address by Mr. M.And then he loaded us into their car.
   Nan told me that we were heading to the Bell Canada compound where they were stationed with their family, two sons. Doug was the head of the operation and was well connected with the local authorities, customs and issues. Wow! Had someone read my mind?? My hope was answered.
   It was very warm and our damp clothes were dried by the time we reached the gate, the security entrance to this compound. We drove down a road that led into what looked like a small subdivision. There were single bungalows, townhouses and several three story apartment buildings all surrounded by lovely landscaping. There were special covered car ports for those who had one and there was a minivan bus for those who did not. I had never seen anything like this. I saw ladies walking around freely in western dress. I smiled. It must be a safe place.
  Doug dropped Nan and us off in front of their bungalow. He joined us briefly before heading back to his office and assured us he would be back by 3:30p.m. Then I could visit hubby.
   Nan took over. After two calls to her friends, they arrived. And as I sat on the couch marvelling at the Christmas cookies they had brought, they began to talk It seems they had preplanned this event for me.  Everyone was told I needed time out to restore my strength. They had decided for that the next two days, Buddy would stay at Nan's to be with her boys, my toddler would stay with a neighbour who had a playmate the same age and baby would go to the friend who had baby things. I would be set up in a one apartment that had just been vacated and was available for two weeks. I agreed and I removed baby from the Snuggly and handed her over.
  Nan took me along with a few snack foods to my temporary place. The apartment was on the third floor. It was nice, a pullout sofa in the living room and a dining area next to it, both right by a small but well equipped kitchenette. The bathroom was next to small bedroom furnished with a wardrobe and a double bed, a night table at it's side. All areas had ceiling fans and AC. Though it was winter for the locals, the daytime temperature reached 25C, cold for the locals who wore winter sweaters, but balmy and nice for us. Nan showed me where to find the phone. Their system resembled the kind you find in hotels. One can dial house to house by an extension system. She gave me theirs and told me to rest now. She would be back later. I not to worry about the kids. Here it was standard practice for ladies to help each other out every day and in my case an added two nights. She smiled, handed me a key and left.
   It was December 9th. We had left on the 3rd. It had been a very crazy few days and now I had a moment of real me time. I turned on the TV and tried to relax. In no time I found myself crawling int bed.  It was dark when I awoke. I walked out to the kitchen and saw that there was a small casserole on the counter and salad and fruit in the fridge. On the sofa were several outfits of clothes in my size. There was even a bathing suit so there must be a pool.  I called Nan to thank her for all the charity and hospitality. After nibbling a bit on some of the goodies, I showered and changed into fresh clothes. It felt so good. Though I had planned to stroll over to Nan's I made my way back to bed. I slept and slept till I heard the phone rang. Nan wondered if I was ready for some lunch since I had slept right through breakfast. Yes was my response. For now I didn't want their help to end. I felt so very grateful.
But this story does not end here.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

An Unusual Christmas Story (Part 5)

  The airport in Jedda was getting busy at this time, late afternoon.  I was just one of many. But I was stuck on a bench almost motionless with fear . It seemed to be getting harder as I became weaker. The lack of sleep, the strange diet and the stress were grabbing hold of me. I continued sitting because it was the only thing I could. I was forbidden to budge on the bench. My mind would wonder off as I envisioned my kids with no mother and hardly a father at this time. I thought of the airline staff who knew that I was here since they had sent their driver.  I imagined that they would search for me at some point. I hoped that the driver might be looking for me and then I wondered if he was taking care of the kids and how?? Why I had been singled out to face all this? I guessed that many people hit the "Why me?" button when stuck and I was very stuck! Time passed slowly.
  I noticed a steady flow of airline staff, personal from various carriers, passing by the desk of the uniformed man detaining me.  I watched as they either dropped off or picked up their passport at a counter behind him. A partition prevented me from seeing who was helping them. I kept hoping that the person might appear from behind that wall and see me. Perhaps then I could get help? But that never happened. I thought I should attempt to pray.  I bowed my head and tried to concentrate.
   "Mrs.K? Mrs. K is that you?"
Was I hearing things? What an odd sensation to hear my name.
I had to look up to verify whether I was just imaging hearing this.
  "Mrs.K, it's really you. Why are you here? How's your husband? And the little ones?"
I gazed up in disbelief. A pilot was talking towards me but I couldn't yet recognize him. He walked over to my side and I gazed up at him still afraid to move. I had seen that face. I looked at the uniformed guard with his rifle wondering what would happen now. He turned to talk to the pilot.
  "You know this woman?' he questioned.
  "Of course. I was forced to make an emergency landing because her husband became very ill on my fight the other day. He was accepted at King Fahd Hospital so we off loaded him and his family here. This is Mrs. K.  What's she doing here?  Some paper work?"
  Now I was getting excited. Hope at last. What are the chances of the pilot just happening to be passing by several days later to save another life!, this time mine? It seemed so miraculous! Now I felt a new wave of energy. Full of life, the weakness was gone. Some more words were exchanged. The person behind the partition appeared. Now he got involved. He took my paper from the doctor, read it and disappeared.  I thanked the pilot for asking about my family and he moved on. Had he known what had just happened? His presence here had freed me. I kept quiet and waited. I did not want to anger or humiliate the guard lest he change his mind. Freedom had to be my main priority now.
   After some time the paper work was completed and I free to leave. It had been a tough few hours but I was more than ready to be back with the kids. As I walked to the door I noticed from a large wall clock that my visiting time at the hospital was over. Just as well I thought to myself. Hubby was in great care and did not need to see me so stressed. Tomorrow would be soon enough. As I got outside I looked for the car. It did not seem to be where it had been.Was I in the right place? Now a new panic flooded over me. I'm free but my kids are gone and I have no driver which means I'm stuck. I walked around a bit looking here and there. All the cars were white and all the drivers were dressed alike. How would I find them? Stunned by this problem,I walked back to the entrance. That's when I heard,
  "Mommy! Over here!"
It was Buddy. He was walking behind me. Our driver and the car were right along his side. Can imagine my sense of relief? Here's what happened. The driver had had to move to long term parking since I was gone too long. He had instructed other drivers near the entrance to keep a lookout for me and contact him when they spotted me so he could fetch me. Seems they have their own way of networking to help each other. How helpful he was. He had fed and entertained all three for an entire afternoon and they were smiling.
  We headed back to the hotel. I was so exhausted. I needed more help. Once more I phoned the airline office and begged them to get through to the Canadian Embassy. My hope was to be linked up with any Canadians here who were working for Bell. My problem was I could not get the need across to the male(a local, with poor English skills) secretary who was manning the Jedda branch office. The Embassy was located in Riyadh and I did not have their number.
   It was evening, time for some food and baths. We had to freshen our clothes so I hand-washed our garments and hung them up to dry. Buddy and I used extra bedlinen to cover ourselves. The little ones were wrapped in bath towels. I hoped the warmth in the place would allow our stuff to dry over night. Truly over tired I hoped this night we could be in sync and  sleeping at the same time. Buddy and the baby did just that but my toddler was hyper. I spent most of the night entertaining her so the other two could sleep. Finally around four a.m. she dozed off. Me too! But at six the baby was up again. As I leaned over to pick her up out of the playpen I almost fell in on top of her.  I discovered I hardly had the strength to pick her up. I realized I was not very well. I had reached the point of  total over exhaustion. The situation was becoming dangerous. I had little energy left to care for the little one so I placed her in the Snuggly carrier and gave her a bottle.  I drifted off with her snuggled against my chest.

Monday, December 20, 2010

An Unusual Christmas Story (Part 4)

   The driver pulled into a large parking lot. With the kids at my side he guided me to the entrance and then said that he and the kids would be right there when I got back from the visit."Really?" I wondered but my need to see hubby was so strong that I was willing to trust this man. Faith??
   Inside the entrance there was very strict security. First I was body searched. Then my purse was examined. Finally my ID was verified and only then was the question asked, "Name of patient?"  I answered. Some record checking took place before I heard,
"You will be escorted to the intensive care unit."
It was warm outside and I was feeing hot now. After climbing up three stories we arrived at several sets of doors, all well guarded. The guide took me through the door to the left. We entered a small room full of shelves stocked with gowns. I put one on along with some slippers and was requested to wait. Now it was getting stressful. The kids were outside somewhere and I was in here entitled to an hour's visitation that was being reduced by the minute. Through a speaker system I was told that some doctors were making their rounds so I'd have to continue to be patient. Inside I think I wanted to scream but on the outside I sat down on a stool. I began to silently pray.
  When my turn came I was led through another set of security guarded doors and then led to hubby. He lay motionless on a state of the art hospital bed and was plugged into many gadgets all flashing and some beeping. A staff of five was attending to him 27/7 for now. I walked over to him and took his hand into mine briefly because I was told not to. Apparently I could set off something. Scared, I complied. He did not recognize me. He did not even know I was there so after asking how he was doing I quietly exited. My tears were now flowing freely and I needed to get out of there. He was alive but barely!!
   I headed out the way I came in and the driver and kids were waiting to receive me. What a relief! As we strolled to the car I saw a few women in their burkas and wondered when I would get one. While the driver was taking us back to the hotel he began to talk. He must have sensed my anxiety. He told me I had lovely kids. I thanked him. Then he told me that just two weeks earlier he had backed up his car and accidentally killed his two year old son. Now I was sad for him. It must be ever so difficult for him to watch my kids. And I thought my life was tough.
   He asked if I had heard from the airline. He had heard that my baggage had gone on to the final destination. Well now I knew that!  Panic..?? No money , no clothes, no diapers, not much help. I asked him if the airline could please send me some diapers and he said he would try to get that done. If only I had some cash. That would have eased the situation a lot. Then the driver could just buy what I needed and I could compensate him. Later the airline called to confirm my wish. I was asked if the Canadian Embassy had been called. No was my reply. That's when they gave me a number to call. I dialed it but there was no response. I would try again later.
   It was dark now and I figured we should sleep a bit. My three year old and Buddy were glad to comply but not the baby. She was fussy. The change in milk was creating tummy trouble. I rocked her and softly sang her favourite tunes. I was so tired. Finally she dozed off as did I. However, my toddler was awake in no time. Seems much needed sleep was not to be.
   This madness (visitation to hubby, no change of clothes, no real TV, strange food, calls getting no response) continued on and on. And added to that was the fact that our visas were only good for three days. In Saudi Arabia one does not travel without correct documentation. That could lead to a 'go to jail directly'. It became the job of the airline driver to take us to to the airport to the office where a renewal could be issued. But only after I had received a certificate from the doctor stating that it was necessary for us to stay with hubby while he recovered. That took place on Saturday, December 8th. By now hubby was able to talk. All seemed more hopeful.
     I had accepted that the driver would stay with my kids and attend to their needs  so when he dropped me off at the visa office and he told me that I could find him in the car park when I was done seemed simple and agreeable. But it was not. Perhaps it was my western clothing , though they covered me from neck to ankle? I stood out. One airport official was not in a good mood. As I approached the visa renewal counter with my document he rudely told me to keep my paper and sit down on the bench behind me. I did. I waited a while and stood up. So did he. I asked what the problem was since there was no line up. And then I heard these words that  'shot' through me and stunned me!
" You are not Mrs. K. You are someone else. You arrived last night on the SAS flight from Sweden. I believe you are here on a spy mission! Sit down!"
  Waving my paper I pleaded with, "No way!! Check your records. You have my Canadian passport". He shifted and pointed to his rifle. I dropped silently back onto the bench. There were no tears. I could not cry. And I remained there motionless for several hours. Many thoughts went through my head. At one point I tried to get my driver licence from my purse but that made him point the weapon at me before I could succeed. I was shocked. How could this happen? And no one seemed to question his motive.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

An Unusual Christmas Story (Part 3)

   The telephone rang. It was someone from the airline to inform me that hubby was now in intensive critical care. Visiting hours were limited to one hour and that was between four and five p.m. A driver would be by to take me. The kids would have to be watched by the driver so they would need to be ready too. My head was spining. Ready?
  Did any of you notice me mention anything about changing our clothing? Even the diaper changes had been minimized because the supply was going down. There were plenty in our checked baggage. But I had no idea where that was. I decided to call the airline number and see if someone knew where I'd get my luggage. After several call to various attendants it was decided that they would call me back when they had the answer. In the meantime the driver was coming to pick us up for tea with the top airline executive who claimed he wanted to make sure we were okay. It was ten a.m. and we would be picked up at noon.
  I freshened up by taking a very quick shower and then I helped the little ones with their baths. Buddy took his own shower. We had to reuse our clothed as there was nothing to change into. I hoped that would soon change.
  I ordered some beverages and sandwiches and turned on the TV. There was nothing much on. Most of it was in foreign languages so I turned it off and got out the kiddy tape recorder. I  put in the Burl Ives tape, Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer. It kept the kids quiet for a bit as I fed the baby some hotel milk in her bottle. I had run out of my formula prepared ones. Later I filled a bottle with some watered down apple juice. We had lots of bottled water and we used it. A sign in the washroom clearly stated the tap water was not to be consumed. Now we were ready so I decided to take the kids outside for some fresh air.
  In the lobby I saw that I was being watched. At first I thought it might be because Buddy has Down syndrome, though his features are more normal than some. But that did not seem to be the case. Then I presumed it might be the Snuggly baby carrier, a novelty because not many women were using them. But that didn't seem to be it either. As we reached the front exit a hotel staff member stopped us from stepping outside. I was stunned as I was informed that I was being protected from the authorities. A woman I needed to be covered in a burka before I could be in public . It was the law. I could only go out dressed in my western clothes with a male adult at my side. Well that could be remedied.  I would buy a burka at the hotel shop. I figured I could handle wearing one if it meant I could get outside.
    Purchasing of one ought to be straight forward but it wasn't. The hotel shops are privately owned and I could not charge a purchase to my room. My CIBC visa card was not accepted. They only honoured certain brands from major international banks (in 1985). Traveler cheques required a passport. Mine was at the airport. Well there must be a way I thought. I went back into the lobby to the hotel main desk and asked them to give me some credit in cash. Not possible. Cash for a Traveller cheque? After some discussion it was concluded it is not allowed. No one would bend the rules to help a woman and her kids. I wondered if those rules were different for men? I felt abandoned since they knew of my dilemma. No help was in my reach. So we strolled around inside the hotel. I decided to get some help later when I met up with the dude who was having us for tea.
   Back in our room we waited for the driver. Just after one p.m. we got a call from hotel staff that our driver had arrived but would be delayed because it was time for prayers. Around two he came to our door to escort us to the car. At last we were outside. It was warm and sunny. There were tall palm trees all around,even some grass but only around big properties that were not right at the side of the road. Jedda, a city where many buildings were under construction. I began to talk to the driver to ask about this growth and he talked about the foreign investors that the royals had allowed. I recalled that Bell Canada had huge contracts in Saudi Arabia.
   We arrived at airline headquarters. The office of the gentleman who invited us was very elaborately decorated and furnished. We were seated and the formalities began. Trays of sweets and drinks arrived and we were encouraged to enjoy them. Conversation was just polite chit chat. What was I doing here I wondered? And what was next?
   The driver took us to the King Fahd Hospital for the four p.m. visit.

Friday, December 17, 2010

An Unusual Christmas Story (Part 2)

 Small children cramped on a plane find it hard to stay still and quiet so the next little while I was busy offering them juice and snacks. Then I took them to the washroom to freshen them up. I wondered how I would carry on all by myself but vowed to myself that I must be brave and strong.
  The captain payed me a visit to inquire how I was and to informed me of his plan, prior to announcing it to the other passengers. He wanted to be sure I was okay with it.  He opted to land in Jedda, Saudi Arabia because he knew that there was a very new modern hospital with the latest intensive care facilities. And I was in agreement. So I prepared for the landing.
  Soon we were descending. The plane taxied to a halt. The hatch in the first class was to be our point of exit. A mobile elevator was lined up to it. Hubby was moved onto a stretcher and rolled into the lift and we escorted him with all our cabin bags in tow. The exit went smoothly. From the ground I glanced up at the huge aircraft that I was leaving behind and wondered when I would fly again. The ground transit rolled toward the terminal.  In the darkness of the night a veil of discomfort was unravelling itself over me.
  Things quickly changed in the holding area. Hubby was wheeled away through some automatic doors while I was left standing there all alone with three kids!! And I realized then that the strollers had remained on the plane. Thank goodness for the Snuggly carrier. Free to run, my three year old ADHD toddler did just that for some time. We were all alone so there was no one to disturb. She really needed to move.  Buddy was quiet. He sensed my dilemma. And he acted very responsibly.
  We remained in that holding area for several hours. No one came to talk to me, to let me know what was going on. The kids kept me busy and that was actually good for me. Eventually we were allowed through the automatic doors. I was not able to spot hubby anywhere. I made several attempts to inquire about him but was ignored. Buddy finally asked where his dad was and he got a reply. Dad was in the infirmary next door. Okay,  the first hurdle of being a woman in this muslim country was spotted; no communication with local men. The staff here was all male.
   Airline ground staff arrived to assist us. We had landed at an airport that was closed for the night to general traffic so there was only a skeleton staff to maintain the basic operations. People were awakened at their homes to come to this place to assist us. Hubby was to be transferred to the KIng Fahd Hospital as soon as our temporary visas were issued. Our passports were rendered to the airport administration and would remain with them until our departure. That was a standard practice in this country for all travellers in transit.
   An airline driver came to take us in a private airline vehicle. We were to follow the ambulance and meet up at the hospital. The driver knew some English so I asked him where we would be staying. He said the airline had arranged for us to reside in the same hotel as their staff.  Our ride from the airport was pretty much like that in any city at night. It was warm here so we did not need our winter jackets.
  At the hospital the driver stayed with the kids. To get into the building I had to clear a security check similar to that at airports.  After a body search someone looked at the temporary visa and permitted my entry into the room where hubby lay motionless on a stretcher in a holding area with a curtain slightly drawn. He was the only one in the triage area that didn't look modern or very new. No doctor just a male nurse was there. I was asked to remove hubby's valuables and bring them to a secure holding station where he could collect them upon discharge. I complied. When I was ready to leave I gave sleeping hubby a kiss. As I left him there I wondered if he would survive. Tears came and I strolled off to the car. I had landed in a very foreign environment. My level of anxiety was rising. I  was becoming extremely tired. Perhaps I was in shock?
  We pulled into the driveway of a beautiful Le Meridian Hotel. Inside a large Christmas tree  full of ornaments and lovely poinsettias decorated the main lobby. The familiar sight gave me some reassurance that I was in a place that knew a bit about our culture. The driver helped us and stayed with us until we were settled in our room, a junior studio with a king bed and a separate living area.  A playpen, that served as a cot as well, was brought for our littlest one. Now we were set. We had a place to rest. The driver left a phone number and said the airline would continue to keep me updated about hubby. I thanked him. Exhausted, I just wanted some rest. But my kids were not sleepy. They had dozed in the car and were ready for some fun so I decided to order some food to get them more settled. They didn't like the taste of the foreign bread, milk and juice. But they were more calm and  asleep shortly thereafter.
  Before I could put my own head on a pillow, I had to call hubby's brother to let him know what had happened. I dialed his number and tried to figure out what to say as the phone rang.
  "Hello. It's Heidi. We've been delayed," I said.
 "Yes we know. We were told at the airport the flight is delayed because of a sick passenger."
 "Yes," I replied," that the sick passenger is your brother."
There was a pause and then a quavering voice asked,
 "Is he okay? What happened?"
 "Heart attack," I answered.
 "Oh my. Where are you now? Where is he?"
 "We're in Jedda. I'm at Le Meridian Hotel and he's at King Fahd Hospital.  I'll call back when I know more about his condition and what will happen next." I heard his quiet sobs. We parted.
  This situation was grave.  I'd done my very best and I was on my own but I was not sobbing. I desperately needed some sleep. It had been hours since I had some. Soon I drifted off for an hour or so before the little one began to cry.  As I rocked her, I saw a lovely pink sky through the window. A new day had begun. It was December 5th. and we were miles away from our planned destination.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

An Unusual Christmas Story (Part 1)

  In 1985, when our youngest was only eight months old, our middle one three and Buddy twelve, we hit a very low point as a family. All seemed to be going very well.  A new baby, a new house and even a new car but then my hubby's dad suffered a stroke late in November. His mom asked if we could come for a visit as it was his dad's wish. We arranged to fly to see him in early December since it was near the Christmas holiday time and I could take a short leave along with the holiday break. But fate had a different plan for us, one that shook my very foundation almost to it's breaking point.
  Our destination to his father's home was miles from Toronto. We would have to fly to New York, then New York to Frankfurt, then Cairo to Karachi where we'd change planes again to our final destination. With two little ones we knew we needed to pack lots of goodies. Then there were the gifts for his six siblings and their families. We had a total of seven huge suitcases, two strollers and four cabin bags to manage and the kids. The smallest one I carried in a Snuggly carrier freeing my hands. The other two we tried to hang onto as best as we could. La Guardia Airport to JFK was the first struggle away after leaving home. Using the shuttle bus system, we had to transfer all our luggage manually along with us. And we made it just in time for pre- boarding.
 Our trans Atlantic crossing went as well as could be expected. Hubby entertained Buddy and I kept the girls relatively calm and quiet but had little time for myself. In Frankfurt we had some time to stretch our legs. As we strolled  about the kids were happy to see the Christmas decorations. But I noticed hubby looked a bit stressed. A smoker, he  took the opportunity to puff on his pipe as smoking had not yet been banned.  We bought some snacks and reboarded.
   Now we were heading for Cairo. Hubby dozed a bit. So did the rest of us but as we descended to Cairo hubby was not looking well at all. Cairo was a stop over where one remained on the plane. We sat and waited but something was not right with hubby. He was short of breath and anxious looking. An alarm in my brain went off. Having experienced my dad die of a heart attack at forty-two when I was sixteen, there was a fear it could happen to my hubby now forty-five. Very concerned, I asked the steward if we could have hubby checked. He was very helpful and had an airline doctor sent onto the plane to examine hubby. He was given a shot of valium for reducing his apparent stress. He was deemed fit to continue the flight and seemed calmer when the plane taxied for take off.
 As the plane climbed steeply upwards hubby's face grew strained. He tried hard to deal with his unwell feeling. About forty minutes into the flight he was definitely loosing his ability to cope. Severe pain in his legs had set in and he had trouble catching his breath. We were all seated together in the centre of the jet, making it convenient to help each other. I asked Buddy to play with his sister and climbed out of my spot to make my way to the galley where the staff was preparing refreshments. They recognized me and I tried to imagined their thoughts,
 "Yup it's her again. What does she need now?"
But they were very busy, hardly even noticing me and that was most disturbing. I began to feel fear. No make that terror as I stammered out the words that hubby was much worse and would need further help. Might one find out if there is a doctor on board who could be of some assistance? Perhaps the look on my face gave my plea some credibility because one staff member quickly headed to hubby's seat and returned moments later instructing me to remain calm and return to my own seat as they took further action. They'd help as quickly as possible bearing in mind that the other passengers also needed to be attended to.
 On my way I heard the announcement one occasionally hears on a flight, 
 " If there's a medical doctor on board who is able to give us some assistance would he or she please contact our staff."
Now I realized how invaluable those words might be for someone. Barely seated, a staff member arrived with a doctor who decided that hubby had to be moved. He had begun to moan and that could be upsetting to other passengers. His pain had worsened. With help he was located closer to the front of the plane where seats were cleared. He could be stretched out on his back. Another doctor with his stethoscope out was heading towards hubby. And then another doctor appeared beside me. He questioned me about his earlier episode. With him I went to see to hubby who continued to worsen. I was feeling so helpless. However, the doctors were all attending to this patient very professionally. Again back in my seat, I watched another doctor pass by me. He had a medical bag in his arms. So many doctors. That was reassuring.
Eventually one of them came and told me that the heart specialist had given hubby some nitrroglycerin and a mild pain analgesic. All  the doctors concluded that hubby had had a myo infarction and needed immediate hospital care. They had conveyed their finding to the captain who began the process of finding a hospital in a city and country that would allow him landing permission for the emergency and disembarking for the patient and the family. Three cities in two counties were in close range. It would take a bit of time to get the final permission. A heart specialist was attending hubby. Now we had to have some faith.
 Holding my three little ones close to me, tears rolling quietly down my cheeks, I began to pray. And I thought of my mom who had been in this situation at the same age. I prayed that I be stronger for my children. Of course I prayed for hubby and his family who were awaiting his arrival.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010


I lived in the BEACH district of Toronto. It was the first neighbourhood I was introduced to as a young immigrant child. In the mid '50's my dad would sometimes treat us to a meal away from home. We would walk along the boardwalk to get to this place, Garden Gate on Queen Street. If you want to see a picture of it just type 'goof' into wikipedia. It's nickname was created from a sign that says 'Good Food'. Really! And it's still there today.
This is for the poetry bus at Kat Mortensen blog.

The Goof
Garden Gate for pie, Garden Gate for pie,
If I can't get there I think I'm gonna cry.
Take away my Audi , take away my tie,
But don't take away my Garden Gate pie.

Garden Gate foo yung, Garden Gate foo yung. 
If I don't get some I'll bite upon my tongue.
Take away my cottage, take away my song,
But don't take away my Garden Gate foo yung.

Garden Gate chow mein, Garden Gate chow mein,
If I can't get some I'm gonna be a pain.
Take away my chalet, take away my train,
But don't take away my Garden Gate chow mein.

I used the pattern from Dennis Lee's 'Alligator Pie'  poems.

Sunday, December 5, 2010


October 1954. Marianne in Toronto. We had just arrived to be reunited with our parents.
December 5th, 1988
On this day my mom took her last breath after trying to battle a cancer that invaded her lung and then her liver. She has been gone for a long time yet her memory lives on in my heart.