UK

What it means to become British

I’m not sure where to start. So much is happening in my life these days.

Yesterday, for example, I pledged allegiance to Queen Elizabeth II.

As if pledging allegiance to a single human being, a non-elected monarch at that, wasn’t enough, to become a British citizen I also had to pledge allegiance to Charles.

Charles?? Seriously??

I had to pledge allegiance to all of Elizabeth’s successors and heirs. No matter how horrible or evil they might turn out?? Some of you might like that Meghan Markle, but I’m keeping a close eye on that one and her progeny.

Am I the only person who sees something terribly wrong about all this?

Not that I didn’t do it. I did it. I pledged my allegiance. And, as I explained to my personal trainer this morning in the midst of all my moaning and groaning—because of the heavy lifting but more because I was explaining the process of becoming a British citizen to my now fellow Brit—my word is my honor. I mean honour. (more…)

Giving context to loneliness

I don’t know where to start. But I’m afraid this is going to be a messed up, emotional blog post. I wouldn’t be sharing these thoughts if I hadn’t come to the conclusion that I’m not alone even though I feel very very alone. I’m sharing in case this makes someone out there feel a little bit better. I’m sharing because sharing helps me work through my own thoughts, even though I worry that it makes me appear desperate and needy, which I sort of am anyways. But I’m going to stop giving a fuck about what other people might think of me for a little bit. I need to write.

It’s hard to sum up what an issue really is. It’s difficult to give problems, lots of them, that all come with personal and social contexts, a title that other people will understand.

But let’s call this one loneliness.

It’s a desperate loneliness. It’s the kind of loneliness that probably puts people off you. That’s how desperate it is.

It’s a loneliness that often expresses itself as: Oh, how I wish I had a friend I could call up and say, “Meet you at the movies at 6pm tonight?” But that’s not really it. That’s not the source of the loneliness. The story of the loneliness is so much more complex. (more…)

West Highland Way: A Spur of the Moment Challenge

Distance: 96.5 miles

Elevation gain: about 3,500 meters

Difficulty: Depends on your fitness, how much you’re carrying, and how many days you

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Rannuch Moor, which we walked across on day four, was my favorite part of our journey.

do it in. I’m moderately fit (these days I run three days a week, have two one-hour sessions a week of weight training at the gym, and go to two boxing classes a week). I found walking around 30 to 35 kilometers for each of our five days on the Way while carrying a 12kg backpack very challenging but, in the end, doable. I’d recommend training specifically for the walk by doing long hikes while load-carrying several weeks beforehand.

Start: Milngavie, Scotland

End: Fort William, Scotland

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Tom, my personal trainer, asked me sometime in December if my husband Colin and I had plans to do anything interesting over Christmas.

“Yes! We’ve decided to walk the West Highland Way,” I responded enthusiastically.

“Why would anyone do that?” he asked, partially in jest.

“I don’t know. It’s just something to do. It’s just a walk,” I said. “Anyone can walk.” Ha! Little did I know what was to come.

“And whose idea was this?” I’m sure he was expecting the answer to be me. But this time it wasn’t me coming up with the crazy ideas.

“Colin. He asked me towards the end of November if I’d like to walk the West Highland Way over Christmas. I asked him what’s that? He said it was a 96-mile walk over five days. I said, ‘Ok.’”

“Rosie and I never have those kinds of conversations,” Tom joked. Tom, by the way, is a really badass personal trainer. But he likes to make fun of me and all the crazy challenges I keep coming up with for myself.

But that really was how our West Highland Way walk came about. It was a spur of the moment suggestion from my husband at the end of November. I said yes. And that was that.

Had I known what we were up against, I might have put in a bit more training in preparation for it. (more…)

Winter mountaineering: A new hobby for the list

Call it hiking, hill walking, or trekking, almost anyone can do it with a bit of fitness and

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On top of Stob Dearg in Glencoe, Scotland

some simple gear (hiking boots, gaiters, trekking poles, water proofs, layers, and a backpack). Depending on where you are hiking, you can do it on your own by following a clear trail, hire a guide, or use your navigation skills to get from one place to another. I’ve been doing it for several years now. I’ve done lots of hill walking in the UK, I’ve climbed the mountains of Sinai in Egypt, hiked in America’s Smoky Mountains, climbed and summited Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, walked the full distance of the Inca Trail and did the Santa Cruz trek in Peru, walked between the seaside villages of the Cinque Terre in Italy, and attempted (but failed) to summit Mont Blanc in France and Aconcagua in Argentina.

It was on that last trip that my tent buddy Victoria mentioned an amazing Scottish winter mountaineering course she had taken a few months earlier. I had taken a short course in using crampons several years ago before I climbed Mont Blanc. But I felt maybe it was time to refresh those skills and to get some of the technical skills needed to climb in the UK in winters; something I’ve mostly avoided when there has been snow and ice.

I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I wanted to know if winter mountaineering was for me.

Let’s just say it was EPIC.  (more…)

The “little” things that breed terrorists

It’s Eid. Today is the first of three days of celebration following an arduous month of fasting from sunrise to sunset. No food or fluids are ingested between those times.

Muslims love Ramadan. It’s a month of self-discipline, which is difficult. But it’s also traditionally a month when families and friends gather in the evenings around the table to share food. It’s also a month of spirituality, prayers and re-connecting with God.

Muslims love Ramadan, but we’re also happy when Eid arrives and we can get back to our creature comforts and normal daily routines.

During Eid, families get together. Friends stop by for biscuits and tea. Children receive gifts and money in-hand. Fun outings are organized. But before all that is the congregational Eid prayer.

I haven’t been going to mosques for years, with only a few exceptions. (more…)

Smashing the UK national three-peak challenge

Ever since I was a little girl…

…is NOT where the story of this next grand adventure begins.

In fact, I can think of only one grand adventure of mine (which happened not to be sport or activity related) that originated in my childhood. I’m constantly coming up with new dreams and new ideas for adventures.

This story actually starts here:

I'm not sure which mountain this was taken on. The backgrounds in our pictures on all three summits are almost identical. Let's just say it was bleak.

I’m not sure which mountain this was taken on. The backgrounds in our pictures on all three summits are almost identical. Let’s just say it was bleak.

Ever since about four years ago when I first heard of the UK’s national three-peaks challenge, I’ve wanted to give it a go.

I have no idea who thought of this idea or when. I’m not even going to look it up to tell you about it because to me, that part is irrelevant. The national three-peaks challenge is about hiking up the three highest mountains in Scotland, England and Wales in a period of 24 hours.

It’s not an official race. There are no official times. There aren’t marshals or registration forms. There’s no one to announce you’ve accomplished the task. There are no certificates at the end or event T-shirts. There isn’t a specific day to do it, although I hear throngs of people choose to do it on June 21, the longest day of the year.

You just go out and do it.

I’ve been nagging my husband ever since I heard of this being “a thing” that we go and do it ourselves. He had already done it twice. He wasn’t enthusiastic in any way to do it a third time. I couldn’t understand why. My husband is huge on physical activities and challenges. But after four years of nagging and an opportune relatively free summer, he obliged.

He put together a team of five. It’s better to have a few people with you because the challenge involves an incredible amount of driving. Only days before our set date, two of the five pulled out, leaving us with a small team of three: me, my husband, and one of his work colleagues who also, it just so happens, was our third team member on our grand cycle from London to Paris in three days only three years ago.

I knew the national three-peaks challenge would be challenging. It wouldn’t be called a challenge otherwise. (more…)

The Contradictions of What It Is to Be an Arab Living Abroad

We have a single word in Arabic for what it is to reside in a country other than one’s own. In English, expatriation might be the word that is used. I can’t say I’ve ever heard any of my non-Arab friends living abroad using “expatriation” to describe their state of being. We hear people refer to expats all the time. But that’s pretty much it in my experience. In Arabic, the word we use is “ghorbah”. If I were to look for a single word in English to translate it to, it would be “estrangement”. We Arabs use this term ALL THE TIME.

Ghorbah implies a state of being away from one’s roots. It’s a negative term that describes the hole that is left in our very hearts when we live away from our home countries. It means we will forever be strangers wherever we are in the world unless we are where we were born. It’s the antithesis of belonging.

I’m not sure what it is. We complain about our home countries incessantly. Let’s be honest, we have a lot that is worthy of complaining. People in our countries talk about moving abroad ALL THE TIME. They want a better life for themselves and their children. They’re sick of the backwardness. They’re fed up with the corruption. They can no longer tolerate the regime. Yet the second we set foot in that other country, we begin complaining about our “ghorbah” or estrangement from home. We start romanticizing everything we left behind. Well, almost everything. And we nitpick at our new countries of residence and detail everything that’s wrong about them.

It must be in the genes. We all do it. Maybe it’s a sickness we take with us from our home countries. Or perhaps we’ve been conditioned into thinking that our countries are the greatest that ever existed even when we’re running away from the very thought of them. (more…)

Cycling 100 miles and 11,000 feet elevation: I did it!

I did it! I cycled 103 miles (166 kilometers) over killer hills with a total elevation gain of 11,000 feet (3353 meters). That’s more than half the height of Kilimajaro (Africa’s highest mountain) in a single day!

An official event picture during one of yesterday's climbs.

An official event picture during one of yesterday’s climbs.

As much as I hate running, I absolutely love cycling. But I don’t love it so much that I’d do as my husband does and cycle to work every day, taking an extra long route for the extra training. Nor do I love it so much that I’d focus all my attention on cycling training; going out, like I see the cycling guys here in the UK do, three days a week with Saturday or Sunday completely set aside for a very long ride. I can’t train for the sake of training. I train so I can do stuff.

That’s why I go to the gym. It’s why I run (sometimes). It’s why I’m now working on my swimming. And it’s why I cycle. I want to be able to do cool stuff and enjoy myself. And the cool stuff I want to do requires training.

That means I’ll probably never excel at any of these things. But I don’t care. Compared to runners, swimmers, and cyclists, my abilities are less than average. I’ve gotten myself up to the level that I can participate in some of the same events they do, but I do them much more slowly. But I don’t give a shit because I can do them too!

Yesterday was such an awesome day. I enjoyed every single bit of it.

The Hoy 100 is a cycling event organized by Evans Cycles in the UK together with Sir Chris Hoy, the most decorated Olympic cyclist of all time. He was there! I saw him! (more…)

The NHS: Don’t Call Us, We’ll Call You

When you start wondering whether it’s better to be treated in Egypt rather than in the UK, it might be time for the British healthcare system to undergo a revolution.

At the end of last month, a Guardian link appeared in my Facebook feed that immediately touched a nerve. In an article titled “The doctor won’t see you now”, Victoria Coren Mitchell wrote about her difficulties in gaining access to her GP.

As a newcomer to the UK, I have had my own, admittedly different, issues with getting the kind of medical attention I believe I need when I need it. I made a comment to that effect on the Guardian’s Facebook post of Mitchell’s article and was taken aback by some of the responses I received from readers. “You still got time change your mind and go back to where you came from,” was one type of comment. A couple of others told me that GPs knew better than me whether I need a referral to a consultant. My comment was about my complete and utter inability to get a referral from my GPs to see a consultant about a condition I had they were unable to treat.

Although very frustrating for me, the condition I was talking about was a chronic skin condition I have had for years. I had seen several doctors over the years in Egypt, where I’m from, who were also unable to properly diagnose and treat me. My misplaced optimism that I might finally resolve the issue by visiting a British doctor is not the biggest of deals. I’ve had the condition for years. I can continue to live with it if I must. Or the next time I’m in Egypt I can easily schedule an appointment with another top-notch dermatologist and hope I might get somewhere.

I convinced myself that because my condition was not urgent or life threatening, it was all right if it was not treated. I had made three different visits about my condition to three different GPs in my local surgery to no avail. All three refused to refer me to a consultant until I tried their suggested treatment, none of which worked, and I completely gave up going a fourth time. Because of this experience and another, I no longer visit the GP with anything that I think can be delayed or ignored; a dangerous thing for anyone to decide. Despite all this, I still believed that getting access to the right doctors in the UK would not be an issue with more serious conditions.

That is until my British-born-and-bred husband, a Caucasian Scot (according to the comments made to me by some Brits on Facebook, this distinction seems to be important), fell off a horse and broke his collarbone while we were on holiday in Egypt. (more…)

My Friends Are My Country

I sit in front of my laptop, sometimes for hours, fidgeting between my blog, Facebook, Twitter, and my e-mail account, looking for any sort of interaction, mainly from people I know, although I’m always more than happy to receive interaction from complete strangers as well.

I really miss my friends. I’ve been away from Egypt since last November. It wasn’t as if I regularly saw my friends while I was in Egypt. But I could if I wanted to. Cairo’s traffic had made getting from my home to any other point in the city a grueling task that I began to avoid at all costs. I was almost turning into a hermit. Me: the woman who cannot be held down by a whole continent.

I miss getting late night phone calls and growling in anger at the inappropriateness of the time but then putting on my happy voice and responding, “Alooo?”

I miss my friends nagging me to go meet them at a coffee shop or at one of their homes. I’d decline, they would nag more, I’d decline again because I was NOT going out in that horrendous traffic, they would insist, and then my resolve would weaken and I would put on my strong face to brave the Cairo traffic. That’s how much my friends mean to me. That is what I would do for them. (It’s A LOT. Have you seen what Cairo’s traffic is like?)

I’ve discovered I’m absolutely horrible at making new friends at this age. I’ve lost the talent. I feel like I would be forcing myself on people so I don’t even try. Everyone already has their close-knit circle of friends at my age anyway.

But it’s not only that. I struggle to find things I have in common with people here. (more…)