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pfit

In the summer of 2014, I started taking my health seriously. I went to a health Spa in the remote town of Piestany, in Slovakia. To get my eating habits sorted, treat my ever painful Achilles tendons, hip and lower back pain. After spending a month focusing on myself with no distractions, I came back rejuvenated, healthy, centered, positive and ready to take on my new administrative roll by the horns. For the first few months of the academic year, I was still on point, until the stress and negativity that surrounded me at work got the better of me and I let myself go. I reverted back to my old ways of numbing the pain to be able to cope. Comforting myself the only way I knew how to, by eating food, the more of it, the better. I put back on all the weight I had lost. By April, I had reached an all-time low. I was depressed and generally unhappy. I was desperate and in need of a dramatic change. I honestly didn’t believe I would make it to June. It became increasingly difficult every day to find a silver lining, to motivate me to get up and do my best. Unlike last year, I felt like I had fallen into a deep dark pit. I had lost hope of climbing back out. I honestly felt limp and defeated I had no fight left in me. This is something, I still find very difficult to admit and say out loud, because I have never been a quitter and have always gotten back up, but this time, I just wanted to stay down. I had, had the stuffing knocked out of me and my core was shaken, I didn’t have the will power or feisty fire to stand back up and dust myself off, again.

After teaching Summer School to third, fourth and fifth graders, I was ready to get on a plane and get as far away from my teaching life, my country, family and friends, (at least I thought I was). I needed to be on my own, to have an adventure and revive the fading inner warrior from within. Of all the countries I have visited and trips that I had been on, on my own, I was exceptionally nervous and terrified. It was as though my subconscious new, that this trip, was one that would be life changing. The feeling of fear stayed with me right until I landed in Thailand and was safely in my hotel room. The day I arrived in Bangkok, I had to kick myself out of my hotel room. Otherwise I would have just cocooned myself in the room until it was time to go to my next destination, Phuket. I was actually scared of leaving my room and had no desire to discover or explore, which was very out of character for me. On my first night, I took baby steps. I walked around the immediate neighborhood of where I was staying for just a couple of hours. The next morning I still felt uneasy about going on a guided tour that I had booked. A part of me wanted to just stay and watch the world go by from my hotel window. When I was on a tour of the Floating Market, sat in a boat in the murky water, watching the boats gently collide with one another and stall keepers literally reeling in passerby’s, I was beside myself with laughter, watching the disorganized chaos. In some bizarre way, it reminded me of Cairo traffic, but on water. When I got off the boat, I started to feel a bit more like me. I walked around the market on foot, taking pictures, haggling with sales people for good prices and just enjoying the chance to interact with people and their culture. I especially liked helping a group of students on a school trip, who were instructed to talk to tourists to practice their English whilst filling out a questionnaire.

By my third day, a chunk of my self-confidence had returned and I was enjoying walking the streets of Bangkok, taking in the sights, the markets, buying souvenirs and interacting with the people I could feel my old self slowly climbing back up and out of the dark Abbys.

On July 26th I landed on the island of Phuket, I had booked myself into a “spa” for a 21 day cleanse. I can’t begin to tell you how much I was looking forward to some pampering and relaxation. As the taxi began to slow down and I peered out of the window, I saw a luxurious hotel on my left hand side, a satisfied smile crept across my face, but the taxi didn’t turn in to the hotel drive way, it kept going further up the road and turned right up into another driveway. A place that looked like a sports center or a boot camp. My expression changed within a fraction of a second and the reality of the situation began to dawn on me. It wasn’t a spa, it was a fitness retreat! A fully equipped place with two boxing rings, punching bags, padded exercise floor, kettle bells, dumb bells, gym, TRX bands, various other equipment  and a multipurpose exercise room. The only phrase that kept playing on a loop in my head was “Oh Shit, What have I done!”  I reluctantly got out of the taxi and made my way to the office to check in.

The description I had read on one of the booking sites, fell short of describing PhuketFit as a fitness retreat. They described it as a spa, where pampering and relaxation was the main focus. So, instead of seeing people wrapped in towel robes and slippers, they were all in sports attire and dripping in sweat! (I was very grateful no one could hear the colorful language that was going on in my head)

The staff were very accommodating, friendly, polite, cheerful and calm. They explained that in the morning I would meet the detox consultant, get weighed in and would be given my daily routines. I was given the schedule of the workout classes, shown the facilities and once I checked in I was shown to my room. The room on the grounds was spacious and clean. The bed was large but the mattress was too hard to my liking. I, personally couldn’t get comfortable and got little to no sleep my first night there. Luckily there was retractable sofa in the room, I made that my bed for the remainder of the stay, it was the most comfortable, but it was much better than the bed.

On the morning of the first day I meet the head consultant, Oiy to learn more about my program. Oiy is a lovely woman, who is very welcoming and helpful. She explained that every morning, to start my day, I would mix myself a detox drink, composed of apple cider vinegar, psyillium powder, magnesium and water, along with 6 supplement pills.  At 9am, I would have a green smoothie for breakfast. 10:00am fresh coconut juice (I took great pleasure watching the ladies hack the tops off the baby coconuts), from 1-3pm lunch (salad, like non I had ever tried before) was served, 2-2:30pm coconut juice and a second dose of the detox drink. At 4pm was the liver flush drink, (which should be drank as quickly as possible, it’s very garlicy and it tastes like salad dressing), and from 6-9pm dinner (soup + salad)

All of my meals during my stay were prepared and served in the detox house. The food I ate for the entire duration of my stay was raw vegetables. I didn’t have any grain, dairy, oils/fats or animal protein in my 20 day stay, (Luckily, I love most vegetables). I was asked if there were some things I was allergic to or didn’t like, so they could accommodate me. Since I was, doing the 21 day cleanse, a scheduled daily massage was included in the package, as well as the choice of going to the sauna every day. (I didn’t know that the steam in the sauna not only cleared your pours, helped with respiratory the system, but it also helps boost metabolism).

The detox house is a cute little house on stilts, just up the hill from where the fitness facilities are. The house has a small pool, garden and veranda to sit out on. It’s also where the massages are given. There’s also an endless supply of fresh ginger cinnamon tea, (which I soon became very fond of and have learned to make at home). In this house, I met some of the most inspiring people, I have ever come across. They aren’t celebrities or billionaires they are just regular people like you or me, but with fascinating and humbling stories. Sitting on the sofa, listening to each person tell their tale of how they found their way to PhuketFit, I quickly learned that we should never be too quick to judge people. We are all fighting our inner demons to become better and healthier individuals. People’s appearances don’t always reflect what is going on, on the inside.

For the first two days I wasn’t very social, I was still disappointed that I hadn’t checked into a luxurious spa, so I kept to myself a bit. I also didn’t do any of the workouts, I needed to allow my body some time to adjust to the change in calorie intake and for the drained feeling to subside.

By day 3, I had given myself numerous pep talks and had finally made a conscious decision to stop behaving like the spoilt brats I despise, and suck it up and just make the best of the situation. As a true believer in fate, I had chosen to accept that I was meant to be there for a reason, and that no amount of beating myself up would change anything. I made more of an effort to socialize and initiate conversations. I attended Pilates and Yoga, to get some exercise and went to the sauna, to give my metabolism a boost.

One of the first people I met at PhuketFit was a very warm and friendly Australian woman of Greek origin, who made an effort to make me feel included. She introduced me to many if not all the people who were staying at the retreat. When she would see me passing by or sat alone, she always gave me a warm greeting or asked me to join. If it hadn’t been for her extending her hand of friendship, I don’t think I would have settled in as well as I did. People from all corners of the globe were there, Singapore, Philippines, Australia, Kuwait, Dubai, India, New York, England, Ireland, Venezuela, Switzerland, Sudan and South Africa we could have started up our own United Nations!

As the days went on the bond between the long term attendees grew stronger and so did my self-esteem. I could feel all the negativity that I had been harboring for the past few months shed with each passing day. I could feel my body rejuvenating with all the fresh vegetables I ate at meal times. My mind was clearing and my thoughts were not drowned by doubt and fear. With every yoga and Pilates class I could feel my strength returning my core becoming more engaged with the different forms of exercise. At the end of my second week I could feel the flexibility and elasticity returning to my joints and limbs.

The journey up until this point had not been easy at all. At times it was grueling with the muscle pain, the exhaustion and wanting to just quit because it was so damn hard pushing my limits and trying to let go of all the layers of protection that I had piled on for so many years to numb me from feeling hurt, feeling unworthy or rejected. Letting go and trusting the staff was the hardest thing of all. If it hadn’t been for the staff’s understanding and their encouragement “It is never too late, to get back in shape”, would be a phrase repeated by Kim, the TRX instructor, “take it one small step at a time, but the important thing is to take the first step and keep going.” as well as other participant’s motivation, I don’t think I would have survived those three weeks.

Another difficult experience was saying goodbye to the people you had seen day in and day out. When their time had come to an end, watching them leave was hard. Why, you might ask? Well, when you are in a small community, and you see the same people every day, eat with them, workout with them, share experiences, celebrate loss of kilos, encourage them to keep going even when they have not lost anything, they become your surrogate family away from home. You also know that there is a high possibility that your paths may never cross again, but they have taken a piece of you with them, wherever they go. I guess that is how a platoon of soldiers feel about one another. This rang true for me with a handful of people I met there. The handful of people that I am referring to, are spread across the world and although we keep in touch from time to time, I owe a lot of my success at PhuketFit to them.

By the third week, I decided to go full throttle I did as many workout classes as I could. I would push myself to do between two to five hours a day. I would force myself out of bed for the 7-8:30am Mai Thai class, after my green smoothie I would have a short rest before heading to Zumba or Pilates, Tabata and going for a walks and yoga.

On the morning of my final day at PhuketFit, I bade farewell to all the staff and left them with some parting gifts to thank them for helping me on my journey and to remember me by. I also met with Oiy, the detox supervisor again to see the progress I had made over the last few weeks. Her parting words to me were “Our Princess is no longer stressed, the light is back in your eyes and you are ready to go back.” (Princess was the name I earned, for being one of the very few (crazy) people to sign up for the 21 day cleans)

She had known from the moment I arrived…

Later that afternoon, I stood at the foot of the steep hill that had knocked the wind out of me the week before. It was a hot sunny day and the humidity was high, but I had made up my mind, “Go hard, before I go home”. With water in my backpack and the music from my ipod secured in my ears, I tackled the winding hill.  Cheeks crimson red, sweat dripping from my brow and staining my t-shirt, a passerby, took pity on me and offered me a ride to the top. I graciously declined putting my hands together and bowing my head, “Kap Kum Ka” (Thank you in Thai) and trudged my way upwards, one step at a time. Once I reached the top, I felt as though I had not only tackled, but defeated a giant. I bought last minute souvenirs for family and friends, took pictures of the beautiful view from the top and slowly made my way back down the hill, to spend some time with friends, before I had to pack 3 weeks of my life into one suite case.

The morning of my departure, I stood in the drive way of PhuketFit and the feeling I had when I had first driven up at the beginning of my stay, was not the same feeling I left with. I actually wished I could take the place and everyone who worked there back with me to ensure my transition back into my everyday life. I knew without them, there was no safety net and it would not be an easy. I had to rely on what I had seen and learned in my time there and keep pushing forward through the obstacles that life would continue to throw at me.

As I made my way to the airport driving past the sites that had grown so familiar to me, watching the people going about their business, it suddenly struck me, that  not only had
I found myself again at PhuketFit, but I had learned to like and care about myself too.

I don’t know when I will go back, but I do hope it is soon. I miss the staff, the food, the ambiance, the small Greek café around the corner, the kind lady and her family who do the laundry and ironing, nature, culture and the people.

It’s been two months since I’ve been back, it has been very hard, trying to keep and maintain a healthy diet. When you’re at PhketFit, you don’t need to worry about preparing meals, it’s done for you. When you’re working full time and have deadlines, meetings and paperwork to keep up with, it’s very easy to slip back into old habits. In Egypt, aside from soccer our second national sport is socializing while eating out. When I meet up with friends in a café or restaurant, I feel like I’ve walked into the lion’s den. I guess an alcoholic feels the same way if they set foot into a bar. I am very wary of what I choose on the menu, I usually stick to vegetarian dishes or salads. I was able to make it to 90 days without eating any desserts. When I did try a piece of a cup cake, I didn’t enjoy it and gave the rest away. I still have no desire for fried food; I prefer fresh fruit, vegetables and grilled chicken over most things on the menu. The area I am finding the most difficulty is setting aside time for me, to workout. I have recently found a yoga center not too far from my house, which I tried last week and I think I will join regularly, to help strengthen my core and keep my Zen state of mind.

So, as you can see the journey may have begun in PhuketFit, but it is continuing here, at home.

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Cahel Pech Maya site

Cahel Pech Maya site

After a long absence I am back at the keyboards writing again. So much has happened over the past few months in Egypt and in my personal life that I am not sure where I should pick up from or what I should write about. I have just returned after a month-long journey to Central America and the East Coast of the U.S for my annual summer get away, perhaps I should begin there?

As you can imagine the daily stress of living in Cairo and very close to the new demonstrating stomping and chanting grounds of El Itahadeya (Presidential Palace Area), had taken a toll on my attitude and perspective on many things, I felt trapped with the road blocks and constant possibility of violence. I was very torn about going away on my pre-booked summer adventure. I wanted to be here for June 30th and to be with my parents to see history in the making first hand (again), while the other little voice inside my head said,” You have been here since the very start and as a result you have many strands of grey hair, you need to get away. While you are abroad be the diplomat that Egypt needs. Show them what Egyptians are really like and explain to them our current bind and most importantly ENJOY YOURSELF.”

On June 21st with butterflies in my stomach, my journey across the globe began. My destination for the first two weeks of the journey was Belize, a small tropical country, formally known as British Honduras that shares the borders with Guatemala and Mexico and home to many ancient Maya sites.

You might be asking yourself what possessed me to trek all the way over there, when I could just hop over to Europe. Well, I had received an e-mail from a colleague of mine, who is an archeologist and had previously worked there before making a career change on an excavation site and he asked if any staff members or students would be interested in going to take part in a project to excavate part of a Maya city/ruin that a friend of his has been working on, along with a large number of carefully selected High School Students from North Carolina and other parts of the United States. I had always wanted to go to Latin America and this looked like the closest I’d get to it, so I leaped at the opportunity. I signed up and paid for the trip long before June 30th had been announced.

Before leaving we (staff and two students from the Egyptian delegation) as well as those in the U.S had reading assignments that needed to be read to give us background knowledge on the Maya and what the site we were working at might hold clues to. As I read I became more interested in the ancient civilization and looked for similarities and differences between the Mayas and the Ancient Egyptians. They were both very advanced in the sense that they were able to do complicated mathematical calculations, develop a calendar, build fascinating architecture, and cultivate. They both had gods they believed in, but the Ancient Egyptians loved their gods and gave the impression of being less hostile than the Maya, who seemed to be more aggressive and fearful of their gods. (I read up on as much as I could and watched a few YouTube documentaries to get me up to speed, I felt like I was back in school cramming for a final)

After flying over 3 continents (Africa, Europe and North America), 3 cities (Cairo, London and Newark) exhausted, sleep deprived and hungry, we had finally made it to Belize. The heat is the first thing that hits you, the second is the beautiful lush green landscape that surrounds you, the third is the spirit of the people. The people reminded me of the Egyptians that I had grown to love after I had moved to Egypt, friendly, hospitable, helpful, with a witty sense of humor.

After a meal, brief introduction to the large party of staff and students that we would in the days ahead bond with and work closely with, a much-needed shower and good night’s sleep my Maya adventure began! Clear headed and more alert than the previous night I reintroduced myself the following morning to the staff that I would be working with and right off the bat, we hit it off and a mutual respect and interest in each other’s culture was ignited in addition to our passion for adventure.

Our first and second day was spent touring the site of Cahal Pech (place of ticks), is located in San Ignacio. This site is where we would be working on uncovering the extension of the already excavated wall. Looking at the mound of dirt that we had to work through made me realize that this is going to take a lot of physically labor and energy on my/our part. Reality sunk in when the units were being divided up and these people were serious about the task ahead of them. I just couldn’t fathom how they expected to uncover a wall, with fallen rocks, huge mounds of dirt and large tree roots in the way with a brush. Surely this would take forever! No wonder ancient cities remain hidden and undiscovered! (DUH!)

On the third day, once all the units and the teams of volunteer archeologists had been divided and I was handed a pick axe and trowel not a dainty little brush like I had anticipated. That is when the romantic notion of archeology evaporated from my mind, (cinema/TV really does rot the mind). This was not going to be easy and this isn’t a task for glamour girls, fashionistas, mama’s boys or wimps. This was going to take energy, sweet, determination and collaboration! To get myself psyched for two weeks of digging and getting down and dirty in the unit were two mottos; ‘Go Hard, or Go Home’ and “The Only Easy Day Was Yesterday”.

The first day of digging I thought I was going to collapse from exhaustion and heat. In all sincerity, I NOW have nothing but admiration and respect for archeologists that work so hard to uncover ancient ruins to reunite us with our history and lost culture. I also have to show my admiration to the 60+ students who joined the project to volunteer to uncover ruins in a foreign land and to my team, ‘The Silverbacks’, the six strapping high school lads that I had the pleasure of working alongside were inspiring and incredible to watch, they seemed to have some synced rhythm that they worked to, in my eyes they had well and truly earned the staff’s name of ‘The Dream Team’. The first part of the day there would be little talking, we were on automatic pilot and just chipping, digging, shoveling, sifting through dirt to an unheard beat as well as hauling and sifting dirt and rocks out of the unit. After lunch time the boys turned into a bunch of comedians while we continued to work our way through the never-ending mound of dirt. They would be talking in different accents, poking fun at each other, asking one another questions, playing harmless pranks or singing along to Henry’s music selection. (Henry, Kieon and Marlin, were Belizean boys, who worked on the site with us. Some of the strongest, well-mannered and disciplined guys I have met in a while)

While digging the unit with these five guys for two weeks you can begin to understand how bonds are formed with troops in the trenches. They are with each other day in and day out and to pass the time and to keep each other motivated they talk to one another and exchange stories. Being the outsider and new to the posy, I had to step up to the plate and earn their respect. I had to prove that I was up to the challenge and able to keep up with them, as well as share stories and teach them a few Arabic phrases 😉 As the days went on I have to be honest, I thought I was in some kind of boot camp or Olympic training program. I was using muscle and strength I didn’t even know I had!

When quitting time came, we were all dirty, sweaty, hot and tired. If I still had reserve energy I would grab a nice ice-cold drink from everyone’s favorite person at Cahal Pech, Oscar, the resident bar tender and check messages from my family, notification and reports on twitter and facebook, then head to my room to shower off the dirt. If I didn’t have the energy I would go straight for the shower and have a quick cat nap before venturing into the hang out area/lobby where everyone congregated for free social time. The students would go change quickly and cool off in the pool, get sodas and grab a snack to keep them going until dinner time.

During the working day, the down time after digging and meal times, is when I noticed that if you stand back and look at the scene of people you really don’t see any differences between them, they all look the same. It’s only when we choose to take a closer look with our social magnifying glass do we notice the differences. We all may come from different parts of the world, speak different languages, have different skin tones, have different religious affiliations or nationalities, but in all honesty we all more or less behave in the same manner and want the same things out of life. It just puzzles me why there are groups of people who are hell-bent on making us out to be more superior than the other when we all conceived the same way and started our lives off in diapers. It’s baffling if you really sit and think about it. I took an interest in watching how our students adapted to their new environment and how they interacted with everyone. For the most part, they both represented Egypt well.

The members of staff that I spoke to were well-traveled people and experts in various fields (geology, author, an expert in ancient hieroglyphs, forensic archeologist, artist, teachers, parents and business people). I wasn’t made to feel like some alien or outsider like I have been in the past when I have been to other places. We would hold intellectual conversations and ask each other questions about each other’s fields and experiences. This trip turned out not only to be for us learning about The Maya, but a cultural exchange. It turns out some of the students had been to Egypt on family vacations, while others had heard about it in the news and didn’t quite understand what had and was taking place in Egypt. So, the students and myself individually answered numerous questions related to politics, religion, culture and a great many other things in the two weeks we were there. By the end of the trip, I think those we spoke with had a better understanding of what was going on Egypt and expressed sincere hope that things would get better because from having read about our ancient civilization and having met us and other Egyptians they would really like the chance to come and visit someday, (I hope that things stabilize here so that they can come and see Egypt for themselves).

In the time that we were there my unit found what was presumed to be the base of a stela (statue) and part of a fallen stela as well as many pieces of pottery, quartz,chert and the white plastered well-preserved Maya floor. By the end of our two weeks the hill that we had been presented with no longer looked the same. The entire crew had moved, shoveled and sifted through countless buckets and wheel barrows full of dirt, (the animated movie Antz, kept coming to mind when I saw what we had accomplished). We had all found the various levels of floor, we found the base and remains of the wall as well as stairs. We were a bit disheartened that we didn’t find anything as significant as human remains, an undamaged artifact or piece of precious jade. The project leader and his staff assured us that our work was important and that we did assist in uncovering a missing piece to the Maya puzzle and that we should be proud of ourselves. I can’t speak for everyone else, but I was darn proud of what we had done.

The First weekend we were there we ventured across the border to Guatemala and our group toured the island of Flores and the ancient Maya city of Tikal. The last weekend we went to the ATM caves and spent our last few days at an eco-lodge in Pook’s Hill (those will be in other blog entries).

When the two weeks were up, I still couldn’t believe how much I had learned, seen and done in such a short time. I was stunned at how I had overcome so many things that I thought I would not be able to do and the fact that I had crossed off a few things from my bucket list of things I want to do. My last night at Cahal Pech, I was also sad to have to leave and say goodbye to so many amazing people who I had met on this journey. I will carry most of the people I encountered in my memory for a very long time, but it was the students and the teachers that I think have made an everlasting impression. Their spirit and desire to learn and see the project through has been awe-inspiring. The fact that many of the students have been returning for the past two or more years is impressive. I sincerely would love to go back next summer and volunteer again along with more students from Egypt. If we could somehow convince them to come, they might have a new-found appreciation for their own heritage and the amount of work that goes into uncover and preserving our history as well as creating a new generation of Egyptologists, my deepest wish is to help bridge the gap between cultures to eradicate misconceptions as well as prejudice and have our students act as young diplomats representing the real Egypt that isn’t shown or seen on TV.

I will be posting more about my trip in greater detail in the days and weeks ahead. This might have been one of the most physically challenging things I have ever had to do in my life, but by George it was definitely one of the most memorable and exciting things I may have ever done yet! Stepping out of ones comfort zone to experience something and somewhere new can be very rewarding and enriching! I am grateful to have had the opportunity !