Thursday, 24 January 2013

Rings of Every Kind; or, Navigating Long-Distance Emotion

It’s a very long way from Ponui to Riyadh.

Ponui is a small island, found just off the coast of Auckland. There, contacting overseas family often involves trekking up a hill to get the right kind of coverage. It is quite literally a long distance call. And then, when the family you’re calling lives in Riyadh, there’s the additional challenge of timing a call so that both parties are awake.

The view from a Ponui Island hill.
 Our call from came through at 9.30pm last night, 7.30am New Zealand time. It was exciting news that needed immediate sharing. We listened, saw the ring, shared the joy and, dare I say, one of us had to reach for a tissue or two. At the end of the year there’ll be a wedding, and in the meantime all the excitement of planning and organizing. Families will be galvanized into action, ready to help with the important details of who, where, when and how.

Among all the conversational excitement and happiness however, was a small nagging, “I wish I could be there with you too,” feeling.  I wanted to be able to give my daughter a hug, laugh and even share the tissue box.

Living in Riyadh is an experience, like none other. I don't like my black abaya and I don’t like being told to cover up by muttawa patrolling the city malls. Life is restrictive, but somehow, I have learned to be content. I’ve learned to play Pollyanna’s glad game, always looking for something good in every situation. 

Most of the time it works. But there are still occasions like last night, when family seems desperately far away and the sense of isolation becomes almost too intense to bear. Then I have to think instead of all that I have to be grateful for.

Here’s what I came up with this morning.

1.  I love Riyadh’s perfect winter days and early morning walks around the compound. My iPod and I make a good pair. I plug myself into something special and know that 3 rounds of the compound later I will have walked about 6km and finished today’s podcast. 

2.  There’s no lush green Ponui landscape here. But the desert does have its own stark beauty. This is a perfect time of year to climb into our 4 wheel drive and head out of Riyadh, past the escarpment, towards the red sands. The desert floor used to be an ancient seabed, so it is rich in prehistoric sea life. Searching, finding and identifying fossils is every bit as addictive as walking along a sandy New Zealand beach and picking up sea shells.

3.  And finally, I’m glad for the love of my family and home. I’m excited about new beginnings and celebrations. And I know that home’s only a flight away and that my hug will keep until I get there.