10 Lessons from 19 Months of Shenanigan’s

It’s been 19 months since I moved to Saudi Arabia. 19 months of lessons and experiences.

Sara - Kingdom of Saudi Arabia

I have found life is always teaching us something – And sometimes we’re more open to learning than other times. I am going to share with you 10 Lessons I have learned from these past 19 months. While there have been many lessons and experiences and, inherently, I knew a lot of these things prior to these 19 months – I didn’t really get them until they were staring me right in the face.

1. The greatest gift one can have is freedom.  

Until one lives without freedom, I do not believe one can truly appreciate freedom of speech, freedom of choice, freedom of religion, freedom to pursue happiness, until one doesn’t have them. “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”  To someone who has never experienced freedom, or free will, or choice, it’s difficult to explain it to them. In the past 19 months, on several occasions, I found myself attempting to explain these concepts and more often than not it was akin to explaining the internet to an Amazon indigenous tribe member. It’s almost impossible. I am home, in Chicago on leave as I write this, and saying that I am grateful for the freedoms that have allowed me this in an understatement.

2. Do not underestimate the kindness of strangers.

Sri Lanka

I have learned that people, all across the world, are inherently kind. I have numerous tales of kindness shown to me while traveling, Yes, there are dangers and hardships out there and a few of the kindnesses I encountered were triggered by a prior act of meanness or maliciousness. But I am, without a doubt, certain that there is more kindness out there than anything. This topic could actually in itself be an entire post but I will limit it to just a few examples: There was a time on the Paris Metro where a couple of young gypsy girls pick-pocketed my wallet out of my shoulder bag, which was holding my passport as well (normally my passport would have been in the hotel safe but I had arrived in the wee hours of the morning and had not been able to check in to the hotel, therefore I was carrying all my “important” stuff.) And if it had not been for a fellow Metro rider who witnessed the pick-pocketing and who chased the girls down, passport, cash, and credit cards would have been gone. In Sri Lanka I had dropped my wallet and hadn’t realized it until an Arab woman was practically on top of me pushing the wallet back into my hands. In Istanbul a friend and I were scammed by one taxi driver only for me to be rescued by a different taxi driver when I was caught in traffic and nearly missed my flight. In Italy my sister and I were put up in a personal apartment when our hotel reservations were screwed up. There are examples of being invited to strangers homes for meals, being given rides when in need over and over, numerous times of having my bag carried on metros, having meals shared on planes and on trains, being invited to share electricity when my phone needed charging, having really close flights connections and having gate agents really care about me making my flight and at the same time fellow passengers knowing my connection was so close that I didn’t have time to get a bottle of water so they gave me theirs.

3. Luck favors the bold.

It’s okay to take risks. It’s okay to travel solo. It’s okay not to have a “plan”.  It’s okay to just step off the train, in an unknown city, and “see what happens.” It’s okay to take a plunge into the unknown. This is what I have learned; luck ALWAYS favors those that trust themselves, trust their wings, and trust their journey.

Sri Lanka

4. On the other side of fear lies the realm of possibility. 

This one goes hand-in-hand with Number 3. Take the risk. The point is not to become fearless. The point is to take the risk regardless of one’s fear.  Fear is a prison. Fear is what stops one in their tracks, stops one from entering their realm of possibility.

5. Don’t make friends with people just to have “a connection” or “an in.”

I have never been able to chat-people-up just for the sake of chatting. If I like you, I will talk to you. If I don’t, well, I most likely will try not to talk to you. And if I have to talk to you, you will probably know I do not like you. People know when they are being used, or at least they can sense it. These friendships always end up leaving one feeling shallow, leaving one feeling like an impostor. What I have learned, without a doubt, is that one can not obtain something genuine from disingenuous intentions or means.

6. The universe always provides.

This ties in with Number 5. There is no need to be disingenuous and make friends for the sake of getting something from them, for if you have faith in The Universe –  The Universe will provide for you. Every time.


7. It’s okay to burn bridges.

So this one kind of goes right along with Number 5 & 6. I have learned that, sometimes, one simply needs to walk away and burn that bridge. Some things need to be left behind you with no chance of walking back over to it. I have burned countless bridges in my time. Heck, I have blown up certain bridges with enough C4 to level a small city. But here is what I have learned; if one truly needs to get back or cross over, but you’ve burned or blown up that bridge, you will find another way to get across. And 9 times out of 10 this new crossing will open more doors and more paths than you ever imagined.

8. Make new  friends but never forget your “base.”

What I am saying here is that we all have those friends who are our “base.” Our go-to people. I have perhaps a handful. Some have been around before the dawn of time and some have come into my life fairly recently. The thing is, you know who they are, don’t neglect them and don’t forget about them. By all means make new friends (because you like them and you want to be friends) but always remember who has your back, unconditionally, at all hours of the day and night.

La Croix Valmer, France

9. People treat you how you allow them to treat you.

This lesson was not only reinforced while I’ve been in Saudi Arabia, it has been put to the test time and time again. It’s been put through the ringer so to say, and in the end while the theory and the lesson may be a bit battered and bruised and a walking-wounded lesson – It has been proven to be on point 10 out of 10 times in my case. If you stand firm, have confidence in your knowledge and your training, have confidence in knowing what is right and wrong, have the confidence to stand in your truth, have the belief that you are good enough to warrant respect, and if you can do all these things your presence alone will demand respect without having to ask for it. From anyone.

10. Great things and great lessons come from unexpected places and things.

Well. This speaks for itself. This one ties in with all of the above.




  1. Very important lessons learned! I agree that if you believe in yourself and are ready to take a risk for what you really want – you will most likely succeed. Also the fact that there’s always someone ready to help you out is so true! It makes traveling rewarding when you see how friendly strangers can be to you no matter where you go. And yes, number 1, something to be thankful for. As a Finnish woman for me it’s hard to imagine the life of women in so many other countries. For example in Egypt I hardly saw any women in the streets at all – everything was run by men. I would love to exchange thoughts with women from different cultures, see our similarities and also differences in the way we think.

  2. Great post Tahira. I have had kindness shown in places, for example in Tunisia, my first foreign holiday, we had our bags slashed. Luckily nothing was taken but this was after a couple of other incidences which put our faith in the locals at almost zero until a Tunisian man came to our rescue, took us to lunch and drove us to find our tour (which had left us stranded in the Medina). I will always remember that. x

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s