To those of you who were born and raised in the desert, and for whom the desert beckons, please excuse my bafflement. Please don't confuse my confusion with disrespect. You see, I ache to escape the desert. And yet I am so very grateful for the 'opportunities for escape' the desert has given me. The desert is truly a blessing in disguise to me.
The fact is, I come from a world of spring blossom pinks, summer grass greens, autumn leaf amber and gold, and winter snow white. And after all these years, I still fail to be enchanted by desert sand beige and gold. For me, the ups and downs of the birth and death of the seasons is a quarterly re-awakening, and one I miss dearly living in the ME.
When we get a chance to escape the beige and gold, we normally head to a cooler climate, in the hopes of breathing in cool, fresh air that will reinvigorate our bodies, souls and minds. Normally, we take a break from the desert every three months or so; it helps keep the sandy blues at bay.
This time, we stayed in the desert for seven months, without escaping. But on January 1, we boarded our gritty selves onto a freedom bird and made our way to a country that is the polar opposite of Qatar. We landed in Switzerland, the land of punctuality and efficiency. The land of cool, crisp, fresh air. The land of physical activity and healthy (in the abundant sense, not the calorie-restrictive sense) eating. The immediate sense of physical and spiritual renewal was like a re-birth.
We walked for hours in old Zurich, ate warm wintery soup seated outdoors at a downtown café under a woolen blanket while warming our hands on a cup of gluwein, took a tram to the zoo and went skating.
After a few days, we went to the CoOp to buy bread rolls, ham, and a small bottle of red wine to enjoy as a picnic on the train ride to one of the highest inhabited villages in the Alps. We hopped from train to train, rushing with our backpacks tied tight to make the 6 minute seamless transfer on the timeliest transport system in the world. I complained of the weight on my shoulders a bit until I saw what had to be an eighty-year-old man heft a pack three times the size of mine onto his shoulders with nary a grunt.
We drank tons of water, hoping to temper the transition from humid desert sea level to 1700m in the dry mountains. Despite this, we'll still be subject to nightly nosebleeds, sinus attacks, orbital swelling, lethargy, and HAFS (high altitude flatulence syndrome, I kid you not), as our bodies struggle to acclimatize to the change in pressure and altitude.
We arrived a bit too early to get the keys to our flat, the same one we've been renting for the last five years. But we have the routine down pat now, and headed to the ski rental shop, where they've got all our info, and the only update we needed to give them was the few inches Kiddo had grown over the last year and the few lbs we'd added on. All our data updated, the shop owners - smelling slightly of stale cigarettes, last night's kirsch schnapps and firewood - kitted us out for the next two weeks of skiing escape.
We just had time to drop in to the ski school to book ski lessons for the week and enjoy a quick gluwein at the bottom of the slopes before collecting the keys to the flat and settling in for the next two weeks. Bliss.
The last five days have been like a re-birth. Thigh muscles burning as we re-awaken them to a sport they only get to enjoy once a year. Sinuses clearing painfully as cold, dry, fresh air clears out a half-year's worth of dust. Cheeks rosy and full from the cold air and wholesome meals. Hearts light, with nothing to worry about but making it down the mountain and getting better at it every time.
I have been doing a six km hike up and down the mountain every day. The scenes I get to see are beyond breathtaking. I've been reading Steven King's novel,"Dr. Sleep", unencumbered by thoughts of "isn't there something else I should be doing?" It's the sequel to "The Shining", and oddly enough, the resort town in which we live has a majestic abandoned hotel. Creepy cool.
Kiddo was in her first race yesterday and came in a respectable 11th out of 18; not bad for a kid who traipses through sand during the 50 weeks a year she's not skiing. It earned her a blue star pin from the Swiss ski school and a lifetime of confidence. By the end of next week, she will most likely earn her red princess ski badge. We will be there cheering her on, so proud of her and so happy to see her so happy; rosy-cheeked and smiling despite the crashes and the bruises. So happy to see her breathing in gulps of fresh air, pushing herself physically and emotionally, and LOVING it.
And though I'm slightly shy to admit how insanely proud I am of it, I can't help but boast at having earned my own red ski princess badge yesterday. I started skiing four years ago. At the time, I could barely stand on my skis; after four years, at the age of 43, I can do short turns, slalom, ski backwards, tuck and turn at high speed, and get down that damned mountain! I'm still scared as shit, but I have conquered the mountain, gosh blast it!
A 43-year-old doesn't normally earn badges, mind you, but my instructor happens to be a village patron, former manager of the ski school, former member of the Swiss ski team, founder and honorary president of one of the biggest amateur ski races in Switzerland, ... Oh, and did I mention he's like 68 years old? He is amazing, so very, very amazing. And patient, to deal with the likes of me! And he managed to get me a badge, so he's sooooo OK in my books!
I have Qatar to thank for that badge; I can't forget that. Because despite the lows I may sometimes feel, missing my homeland, my culture, my family, I have to remember these golden opportunities that Qatar has given me.
I mean, for goodness sakes! To be in the Swiss alps, learning how to ski, under the instruction of a former Swiss ski champ. Could I ever have even dreamt it so good?
I am blessed. And though the beige and gold may bring me down, it's also brought me up. As much as I may want to escape it, I have to admit it allows me escapes I would have never dreamed possible.