Here There and Everywhere

Expat wanderer

At Sea On U.S. Election Day

It is wonderful to be at sea in the turmoil of this year’s election. No one is talking about it onboard. What a relief.

We are told there are passengers from 39 nations on board, and crew from more nations. The entire day, we hear not a word about the American election.

The demographic is very much our age group. If anything, we are younger than most. Hard to say, but we see some very old but still adventuresome travelers, which gives us hope for our own future travels.

We were wide awake before seven. I got up and went to get some coffee. We can have it delivered to the room, but on these relaxed days at sea, we don’t like to commit to a time and it is just as easy to go get my own cup at the dedicated coffee bar. Actually, coffee is available in many places on the ship, and the smell of coffee early in the morning wafts everywhere.

We had decided to try The Grand Dining Room for breakfast, wanting to be less formal in a very formal environment.

The waiters are all white-jacketed and very pleasant. The menu is lovely – the tastiest item was smoked salmon with cream and capers and white onion, a great way to start the day. AdventureMan shared with me. The fruit platters were large enough for two; I cut most of mine into small pieces to stir into my virtuous oatmeal. Don’t you think smoked salmon is virtuous too? I think I prefer virtuous tasty smoked salmon to virtuous oatmeal. 

I am not complaining. I eat oatmeal every day at home. As a diabetic, it is great for keeping my blood sugar levels down. The Nautica had really nice oatmeal. And oatmeal just pales in comparison to all the lovely choices available for breakfast, all the beautiful pastries, croissants, breakfast breads, all the lovely foods with a lot of fats and sugars. Yes, even on a cruise, I pay attention. I will try not to whine again.

After breakfast, I grabbed some of my hotter weather clothes to iron – the compression bags puts some serious wrinkles into linen clothing.

The laundry room is much smaller than it appears on the ship map, but the iron was hot and efficient, and there were other passengers doing small loads of washing and drying. It is handy that it is all free. There is a laundry on board, and although we have laundry service I prefer doing my own laundry. We have a line in the shower where we can hang items we have hand laundered in the sink, and we found little detergent slips on Amazon that are very compact and efficient for hand laundry.

Then we walked the walking track, windy, invigorating; we have a lovely sunny day, warm enough but sometimes the wind was so strong it blew me into AdventureMan. I am happy we packed some of our cool-weather gear; when we are at sea, it can be windy and chilly. We checked out the gym, where AdventureMan found mats available for stretching as I look eagerly at the outside spa overlooking the bow of the ship. Heaven!

Back in the room, AdventureMan naps as we wait for the eleven o-clock enrichment lecture on the Origins of the First Crusade, in preparation for our time in Sicily and Israel. I am excited we will be going to Acre, the old Crusader stronghold, the day we arrive there.

 The lecture was well attended, probably four hundred or so passengers.

And then off we went to lunch at The Terrace restaurant.

We have found a table we love; sheltered by a small wall but still with a good view out over the aft of the ship. The Terrace is the ship’s buffet restaurant, except that it is not like a buffet where you dish up your own portions. There are very pleasant wait-staff every few feet who put food on your plate. You can say “a very small portion, please” or “could I have a little more of that?” and they will give you exactly what you wish. Don’t you love having choices?

It all feels so indulgent.

After lunch, I read while AdventureMan attended an afternoon lecture on How Man Learned to Navigate by the Stars, which he said turns out to be very complicated. Here is the truth, I will admit it, I needed a nap. I am not yet fully adapted to the time change. The little couch is a perfect size for me, and there is a soft sea-green throw I can cover up with and I am out like a light.

Dinner this night is at the Polo Grill, and, sadly, while these reservations are greatly coveted, by dinner time I don’t care. I don’t much want to dress up; I wish they would just deliver the dinner to the room, but this is part of the Oceania experience and so we dress and go up for dinner. The code is “country-club casual.” There are many interpretations of what that might mean. Here is ours.

I had a shrimp cocktail, tomato salad, and lobster, AdventureMan had the Lobster Bisque, Fois Gras en Croute, and the lobster, and we split a Creme Brûlée. The Creme Brûlée was very good.

It is a lovely kind of evening, and we enjoyed ourselves because we do this so rarely. The night is sweet and warm, the moon is full, and we can’t resist a lap or two around the walking track before we go to sleep.

January 20, 2023 Posted by | Adventure, Aging, Beauty, Bureaucracy, Community, Cultural, Customer Service, Diet / Weight Loss, Eating Out, Food, Health Issues, Living Conditions, Political Issues, Quality of Life Issues, Travel | , , | Leave a comment

We Sail Away on Oceania’s Nautica

AdventureMan made a good call. It feels like forever since we have gotten up without an alarm, and had time to take time. We got up, dressed, made sure our bags to be picked up and transported to the Nautica were ready to go, and headed down to breakfast. At a nearby table, I spotted two men who had also sat near us the day before. I noticed them because they were kind to each other, and seemed to have really good conversations. Sometimes you just have a feeling.

Our 10:45 departure actually took place at close to 11. We had been ushered to a separate lounge downstairs, as other cruisers – maybe from other ships, too – were all sitting in the lobby and there were no seats. We got to the bus and and Alan and Ed, whom we had seen at breakfast, were sitting behind us. We had a nice chat – they are long-time Oceania cruisers. About our age, they have been many places, including Swaziland, and are on the ship all the way to South Africa, more than 30 days. They also both use the same camera I am using. It was a fun conversation, and we ended up running into them often, and always had good visits.

The boarding process was smooth and unhurried We checked in to our muster station, which was the Nautica’s main lounge.

We decided to find a shady spot by the pool while we waited for our staterooms to be ready.

They called our level around 12:30 and I got a nice surprise when we got to our suite – it is larger than I expected. It has more storage than I expected. It has larger closets and more hangers than I expected The bathroom, while small, has a lot of storage.

It has lovely shades of sea green, a dining room table with two comfy chairs, a small couch with coffee table, and a comfy, firm bed with good linens. The balcony is large, with comfy reclining wicker furniture. 

You probably wonder why I am showing you these details. Everyone had different priorities, and this will be a long trip. We put a little extra money into a larger room so we would be able to move around without annoying each other. We know we will be spending a lot of time in this room. So to enter, and to find that it is lovely and spacious matters to us. We can breathe in this room.

We put away clothes and make ourselves at home, then go for lunch at Waves, a casual restaurant near the pool where I had salmon – not that great – and AdventureMan had an ahi tuna sandwich, which he said was pretty good. My salmon was overcooked and dry.

We explored, then headed back to the cabin for some quiet time around four. 

The library had all the newest best sellers and great travel and reference books about the places we would see.

These signs below are everywhere. At first, it can be hard knowing which way is foreward and which is aft, and whether you are on port or starboard, but the signs keep you informed. One of the crewmembers told us when we come off the stairs to look for the telephone; our cabin is on that side.

Below is Bhuti, one of the first people we met on board. He would always go out of his way to make sure we had the things we liked, including an Indonesian sauce called Sambol. He treated us like honored guests. I think the staff must have entered information in computers everyone could check, information about the passengers, because everywhere we went, people knew what we liked. It was actually kind of fun to be taken care of so hospitably.

As we left the cabin, we met Miguel, our next-door neighbor. Miguel and Maria are very quiet. They had only a day in Barcelona but had hired a private guide who took them everywhere. Miguel’s face lit up as he told us about their adventures during that day. We learned also that they met when they were sixteen, and married in their early twenties, and you could see, after all these years, how devoted they were to one another. Whenever we met up, we would have great conversations. It’s amazing to me that the people we liked the best on the trip were people we met at the very beginning. Running into them and having these animated discussions made the ship feel like a village.

The ship was due to depart at 6:00, so we went out to the highest deck to watch.

Finally, we decided to go eat, at the Terraces restaurant, where we found a seat out on the aft terrace, lovely, uncrowded, warm, and not windy, and we could watch Barcelona recede into the distance as we sailed away. The ship had left while we were in transition to the restaurant and we didn’t even feel it. 

We wanted to eat light; we are both still getting used to the time change, so I looked for the pumpkin soup and finally asked a server who was standing by a big black cauldron – full of pumpkin soup. There was a platter of paella, too, so I had a small amount of that. Sitting outside watching the lights of Barcelona grow smaller in the warm evening with the full moon was delightful. 

After dinner we came back to the cabin and I figured out how to work the internet. We can only use one electronic device at a time. I meant to update this journal but found nearly 400 emails I needed to delete and eleven to which I needed to respond. Meanwhile, AdventureMan, exhausted, fell asleep, so I decided to read for a while until I was sleepy – I’m having trouble getting to sleep. It will get better.

The ship is amazingly quiet. We don’t hear the engines. We didn’t even know when the ship pulled away from the dock, it was so smooth. The ship doesn’t rock, at least not much. The corridors are quiet. The dining rooms are full of people, but conversations are quiet. There are no children on this ship. It looks to me like we are right at the median of the age on board. There are much older folk, and then there are some in their fifties. There are a few with mobility issues.

January 18, 2023 Posted by | Adventure, Bureaucracy, Food, Living Conditions, Quality of Life Issues, Restaurant, Stranger in a Strange Land, Travel | , | Leave a comment

Ignoring the Law

I still get ads and info from Qatar sources. Living in Doha was such a vivid experience; experiencing the life of a country going from a sleepy little village to a mecca of skyscrapers was an astounding experience.

Qatar was full of contradictions, and the treatment of domestic workers, all imported from mostly Asian countries, was abysmal. While some few families treated their servants well, most did not. Contracts were not honored. Few had any time-off, most were on call 24 hours a day.

So this new law from the Ministry of Labor is . . . interesting. I find myself cynically wondering if this legislation will have any impact on how Qataris treat their servants, or if it is just national window dressing?

Not to be hitting unfairly on Qatar, it brings to mind the Florida Sunshine Laws. Florida passed some truly progressive laws suggesting that citizens of Florida had a right to know what their elected officials were doing, and how they made their decisions. I know – amazing stuff, even in a democracy. Florida took a lot of pride in those laws, and for many years, those laws were, to a great extent, observed and enforced.

Fast forward to Florida in the times of COVID and there is not a mention of the Florida Sunshine Laws. Some of the Sunshine Laws have been amended, to protect Law Enforcement and court officials. Most of the Sunshine Laws are now just ignored.

How does this manifest? How about the governor telling the Health Department not to publish health statistics, and telling them not to count people from out-of-state who come here and catch COVID. How about not allowing them to collect all the statistics, just every other week? How about not publishing the transmission rate on a daily or even weekly basis?

How about concealing how Universities recruit and select college presidents?

Publishing laws that look good on paper is one thing. Writing the laws so that they have teeth, and can be enforced, is another. Having a police force on the city and county level which will enforce laws as written is another. Having courts that will support the enforcement of the laws as written is another.

Having an independent legislature is another critical factor, we have to ask if the intention is for them to represent our will as citizens or if they exist to rubber-stamp gubernatorial stage-craft?

One of my friends at church mentioned yesterday that the state of Florida now has a holiday, Juneteenth, the explanation for which is not legally allowed to be taught in Florida schools, where any acknowledgment of the history and damages of enslavement might make young white school children uncomfortable.

When people behave badly towards one another, whether in Qatar or in the USA, maybe feeling uncomfortable is appropriate.

June 20, 2022 Posted by | Bureaucracy, Character, Civility, Community, Cultural, ExPat Life, Florida, fraud, Law and Order, Leadership, Political Issues, Qatar, Quality of Life Issues, Social Issues | Leave a comment

Chasing Petroglyphs: White Mountain, Eden and the Pilot Butte Ponies

Route for May 22, 2022

This morning, we slept in. Well, 0830 is sleeping in for us, it’s 9:30 in Pensacola and we are up and ready to hit the day. It is a quiet Sunday morning. We have a quick breakfast at the Outlaw Inn, and head out with our friend Google Maps to find White Mountain, and our first petroglyphs of the trip.

It’s an easy drive, just turn right outside the Outlaw Inn and then turn right onto a pretty good County Road. It’s a dirt road, but well maintained. Then we turn onto another county road, a road less travelled. And then Google tells us we’ve missed our exit to White Mountain. What?? There was not a sign of an exit! Not a road sign, not a track, not a visible indicator of a way. We back up. We get out. Oh. There. Faint tire marks turning off the road. AdventureMan goes further on foot to make sure the road continues.

The tracks are more visible once you are actually out in the field. We have an AWD vehicle, we have experience – so we decide to continue on the track. We continue for about half a mile, and the ground is softer. We have visions of being rescued, elderly, dehydrated, because we’ve bogged down out of sight of any road . . . we turn back and decide to follow the county road.

We are so glad we do. Just a couple miles further, we see signs for White Mountain Petroglyphs, and then come to a legitimate turn-off, a marked turn-off. Part way to White Mountain we see those tracks join the road, and we are glad we are not still out there in the field, worried about getting stuck in the sand, no shovels, no cardboard, nothing to help us free ourselves.

Although remote, there is a parking lot, a long-drop toilet, and a clear trail to the base of the mountain, and a clear trail – straight up.

Although Rock Springs is not as high up as Denver, we are still adjusting to the altitude and the dryness of the air. It is still cold, we are glad of it, because the hike heats us up and we take it at a comfortable pace because the air is so dry and our lips and faces are chapping.

Totally worth the hike. While these are not the best-preserved petroglyphs we’ve ever seen, they are original and intriguing. There is also a lot of modern-day petrographic activity of the high school demographic.

Elk

Bear Eating Deer?

The standard rule with petroglyphs (carved into rock) and petrographs (drawn onto rock) is NO TOUCHING. No rubbing, no outlining with chalk, nothing which might degrade the incision or erode the lines. Someone has used chalk, probably a guide, to help viewers understand what they are seeing. If you know anything about petroglyphs, you know that we can speculate, we can ask modern-day First Nation people, and in the end, it is all speculation. Are they celebrating a triumphal hunt? Are they imploring the spirits to be available for the hunt? Are these incised bear claws a tribute to the bear’s strength? A brag about a bear-clan strength? We can only guess.

Is this a birth petroglyh? Is it celebrating a real event or is it a metaphor? So many questions!

An idea of hands? Bear claws?

Impressive. Deep bear claw impressions – how long did it take to make these?

The zigzag – is that for long life? A direction to go for game?

Some are really hard to see on the rock faces, depending on the light and angle

View from White Mountain of Boars Tusk and Killpecker Sand Dunes, the largest living sand dunes in the USA

Boars Tusk is the remnant of an ancient volcano thrust 400 feed above the plain; an instantly recognizable landmark for hikers (and people looking for White Mountain.)

Boars Tusk with Killpecker Sand Dunes in background

We are pumped. We’ve spent a couple hours traipsing around the mountain, seeking out these obscure petroglyphs, trying to decipher what they were meant to communicate. Bottom line – we don’t know, but we are exhilarated and delighted to have found this site.

The county road loops back around to the main road to Farson, and we know that just short of Farson is the Sweet Water Smoke, a barbecue restaurant we’d like to try. We are famished. Hiking and cold fresh air will do that to you!

We find Sweet Water Smoke and are delighted. It is small, and four of the five tables are taken, which leaves one for us. The entire time we were there, people were coming and going, take out orders rolling out the door, this place is humming with activity.

And no wonder! This is not ordinary barbecue! Their cole slaw is Sriracha cole slaw. They offer roasted brussel sprouts as a side, along with more traditional baked beans, macaroni and cheese, etc. I was just blown away to find roasted brussel sprouts as a side in a small Wyoming town. We remember one time traveling through Wyoming when we felt desperate for vegetables and were told to go to this “wonderful restaurant with a salad bar.” The steak was delicious. The salad bar had potato salad, cottage cheese, jello salad, and macaroni salad.

Sweet Water Smoke changes out two additional entrees every week and features a goat-cheese cheesecake with chocolate ganache. Who could resist?

There is a route we want to follow next, the Pilot Butte Road, which is supposed to be challenging, but I think they may have improved the road since we read the warnings because it was easy with our AWD. Having said that, we passed another group busy changing a tire; the road was dirt and gravel and some potholes. Not what we would consider challenging, but a road where we took care.

We were looking for the herds of wild ponies.

Petrified log alongside the guide sign

No wild horses in sight, but some mind-blowing expanses of scenery along the track. There were inescapable signs of wild horses, piles and piles of signs of wild horses, but we never saw a single wild horse.

Pilot Butte, after which the trail is named

In front of us is a valley where Interstate 80, the old Lincoln Highway, runs. It is also where the Pony Express trail ran before the coast-to-coast railroad took over prompt mail delivery. It makes me sad to see that prompt delivery of mail is no longer a priority for the US Mail system. Here also ran several of the migratory trails as America moved westward. What courage and initiative it took – blasting away hills, bridging canyons and rivers, tunneling through mountains and building across swamps – feats of imagination and engineering. We are in awe of the minds that solved these problems.

June 11, 2022 Posted by | Adventure, Aging, Arts & Handicrafts, Beauty, Building, Bureaucracy, Cultural, Geography / Maps, Restaurant, Road Trips, Survival, Travel | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Going Postal

We have a great insurance company who sent us this notice this morning:

USAA is a government-friendly organization, providing insurance to people associated with the military. They have a first-class reputation.

It is a sad day when even government-friendly conservative organizations have to take notice of the disgusting failure of our current postal leadership.

As we were growing up, living in Alaska and in foreign countries, we had opportunities to compare our system to others. Americans put a priority on getting the mail delivered in a timely manner and at a reasonable cost. Other nations admired our efficiency, and our emphasis on the public service our postal system provided to the American people.

We need to get back to these very public-service-oriented values. The postal system is worth subsidizing to provide valuable services to citizens of the United States of America.

December 13, 2021 Posted by | Bureaucracy, Character, Civility, Community, Cultural, Customer Service, ExPat Life, Financial Issues, Interconnected, Leadership, Living Conditions, Political Issues, Quality of Life Issues, Social Issues, Values, Work Related Issues | Leave a comment

Out in the Great Wide Open: Montana and Wyoming Day 1

Our first major trip since the beginning of COVID had an ambiguous start. AdventureMan and I over prepare, we always do. So the day before we are scheduled to leave for Montana, Wyoming and Idaho, we are actually pretty relaxed. We are all packed – actually packed, and then re-evaluated when the weather suddenly turned from the high 90’s to much lower, and we scrambled to add some cold weather gear to the mix. We are enjoying some down time when AdventureMan calls from his office to mine – “Hey, we just got a letter from Viking you need to look at.”

AdventureMan is a big picture kind of guy. He gets right away that our trip in May 2022 is being cancelled. I capture the details – that we either apply the money we have paid in full to a future trip or we call immediately to tell them we want a full refund. This is the second time we have had this particular trip cancel and we look at each other and agree that two cancellations are enough.

There is an incentive to putting the money forward – a 10% reduction in the cost of the trip. We already have another trip booked with them, but for less money, so we wanted to keep it clean. We needed to call right away, because the deadline was during the middle of this trip which we are about to take, and our lack of internet connections in the remote locations we seek could prevent us from getting our refund. AdventureMan got right on it, the representative answered, encouraged us to book the trip again (we declined) and worked it out so that our refund will arrive shortly.

Crisis averted. Don’t you hate it when things happen at the last minute?

The following morning we were up at 0345 and Patrick, our taxi driver, arrived exactly on the dot of 4:15. For me, it was a scramble. Morning feeding of the two indoor cats and the one outdoor cat is my responsibility, plus getting dressed. I scrambled. I was finished just in time, we got to the airport, checked in and went through security. No problems, except I forgot I had my Fitbit on and had to be searched. 

One other problem. For this trip I had really tried to manage with a carry on bag, which preparing for two weeks is problematic. I had really thought things through, had clothes with multiple purposes, got it all in the one bag and my purse – and then they wouldn’t let me take the bag on board, they valet’ed it. I have a large handbag, large enough for my computer and meds and rental car paperwork, so all was well, but it was annoying to follow all the rules and then not to be able to take it with me. We call this a first world problem – in the greater scheme of things, it was small stuff. 

Our first flight was to Charlotte, and there was some passenger having a problem about wearing the masks over both mouth and nose, and about whether the female flight attendant had the authority to require full coverage. No problem, they had a big male flight safety monitor who explained his choices to him – cover, or get off the flight. 

The Federal Aviation Administration has had more than 4200 reports of unruly passengers since the beginning of 2021. More than 3000 of these reports were due to refusals to wear masks, in spite of clear guidance from every airline that this is a mandate. 

We were close to where the flight attendants were chatting during take-off, laughing that a man would refuse to believe a woman had the authority to instruct him to wear a mask. Welcome to 2021. 

In Charlotte, we had just enough time to stop at the Farmer’s Market and pick us sandwiches and chips for the next leg of the flight. There were huge lines at all the other places, for Biscuits and Eggs, for McDonalds, for Starbucks. The second flight also departed on time. We don’t take these blessings for granted.

We arrived in Bozeman on time, 50 degrees F. outside and raining. We were delighted. There have been forest fires sending waves of particulate matter towards Bozeman for weeks, and now the winds have shifted, and the rain has helped tamp down the pollution. Again, we feel blessed.

AdventureMan had to wait for his bag so I went to pick up the rental car. Things got weird. Not in a hard way, just in an unusual way. There was no one at my rental agency’s counter, but there was a sign to check in with another rental agency. There was no line, so I checked in. The guy offered me an upgrade for a pittance to a Rav4, a car we really like anyway. Then he handed me the keys and told me how to return it when we were done. 

“Wait!” I said. “Don’t we have to sign a rental contract and talk about filling the tank and stuff?”

“Our printer isn’t working,” he stated, and I didn’t believe him for a heartbeat. “I can send you an e-mail copy if you wish” and yes, I so wished. I had my own copy of the initial agreement, but it was for a different kind of car. I’m glad I had it with me because the entire two weeks we drove this rental car, I never received a copy of the new rental agreement. A couple hours after I returned the car, I received the updated rental agreement. 

But the car was a beautiful turquoise blue, and close enough to the cars we drive to be easy, even better than AdventureMan’s 2010 version. It was an easy drive to our hotel, the Spring Hill Inn, which had our room waiting for us, a large, serene and quiet room, close to everything. Then off to the nearby Walmart, our usual Bozeman outfitter, for what we call car foods, and insect repellant (which we never had to use) and other small items of convenience.

There is a lot of construction going on in Bozeman, and we are told by many we talk with that the problem is trying to find an affordable place to live in Bozeman. Outside our window, we can see new housing going up, and we can also see the solution the construction workers have found to deal with the housing affordability problem.

We parked downtown when we found a place that looked wonderful and had a smoker out front, but it turned out to be a fine food purveyor, not a restaurant. We asked her for a recommendation, and she said ‘You have to go to the Rocking R” so we did. The Rocking R is actually a bar, a great cowboy bar, and the restaurant is called Hail Mary. We both had elk burgers – hey, we’re in Bozeman – and they were delicious. I think mine was called something like the Outlaw, and my beer was a Maverick Mary; it tasted good and because I don’t drink much, half a beer and I was buzzed. I also had roasted shaved brussel sprouts to salve my conscience. We had a great time. We are happy just to be back in Bozeman. 

We had time to take a walk along the main street – woo hooo, lots of fun stores, a rug store for AdventureMan and a book store for me. 

We couldn’t ask for a better first day. No delays, no negative events. Hardest part of the day was trying to keep myself awake until 8 p.m.

September 12, 2021 Posted by | Adventure, Bureaucracy, Civility, Cultural, Eating Out, Financial Issues, Geography / Maps, Hotels, Law and Order, Living Conditions, Restaurant, sunrise series, Travel | , | Leave a comment

Before the Blog: Arrival in Kuwait

After three years in Doha, AdventureMan transferred to Kuwait to take on a new position. I followed, spending a couple months dealing with a variety of authorities to get permission to take my cat, known as the Qatari cat in the blog, his real name was Pete.

When our Morgaine died, AdventureMan said “No more cats!” but six months later, on a plane back from our son’s wedding, I told him I needed a cat. He worked long, hard hours, and loved what he was doing. I loved that he loved what he was doing, and I was lonely in our huge house, just me, rattling around like a little pea in a big pod. Because he loves me, he agreed, and as soon as we got back to Doha, I went to the vet and found Pete. I brought him home. Pete didn’t love me to start with – he loved AdventureMan. When AdventureMan would leave for work, Pete would howl in anguish. Slowly, slowly while he came to find me an acceptable substitute, he always loved AdventureMan the best.

So I was trying to do everything I could to guarantee Pete would travel with us to Kuwait. Travel was complicated by an outbreak of Bird Flu. While it didn’t affect people traveling on Qatar Air with falcons (birds!) it seemed to complicate travel for cats. AdventureMan came back a few days ahead and I told him of my frustration – I had a veterinary certificate, I had been assured by the airlines that Pete would travel with us but every person gave me a different answer. He got involved, and the day before we travelled, he got a firm “yes.”

We’ve lived in the MIddle East for years. We know “yes” isn’t always yes. We got to the airport early, to check in, to make sure everything went smoothly. It didn’t. The woman at the check-in desk said “No,” Pete couldn’t travel because of the bird flu. I said “we have him on the reservation!” and the woman said “He’s just a cat. Don’t you know they have many cats in Kuwait?” AdventureMan got involved, invoked the name of the high poohbah he had dealt with and got permission from. After many a phone call, and almost at the very last minute, Pete was allowed to fly.

Magic Kingdom

I use this image of Magic Kingdom because flying into Kuwait from Doha was flying into a whole new world. You might think all Gulf Arab countries are alike, but you would be very wrong. Kuwait and Qatar have many interrelationships, many of the same families, but the culture was very different.

AdventureMan had reserved a limo – not what you are thinking. Not a big fancy car, but a sort of beat-up big car that could handle all our luggage and the cat, and would be waiting for us. Coming into Kuwait, getting a residence visa, getting to the limo was easy. What happened next was unexpected, and part of why we chose this kind of life.

The beloved Emir of Kuwait had died, and we arrived on the day of the coronation of his son. Important people from all over the Gulf and from many other countries were attending this event. It didn’t affect our arrival at the Kuwait Airport, because there is a special VIP terminal for important people. Getting out of the airport, however, was unbelievably complicated as cavalcade after cavalcade of important people stopped traffic so they could be rushed to the events surrounding the coronation. Just as we were about to turn onto the road to Fintas, where we were to live, we were cut off by a big sand-colored official SUV with six men hanging on the outside in desert fatigue uniforms carrying automatic rifles. These were not friendly looking guys, in fact it was a little bit terrifying.

And this was part of the magic of Kuwait, the contrasts and the unpredictability. First rule, you never never mess with the police (and there seemed to be several different kinds of police.)

When I had flown to Kuwait to look at housing, they showed me one apartment and many many villas. The villas were huge, two or three had their own indoor swimming pools, two had elevators. I chose the apartment, which had more square footage than the house we live in now.

I loved living in this eyrie, with it’s huge view over the Arab Gulf.

Kuwait City is center in the distance.
Moon Over Family Park in Fintas

Scenes in Al Fintas

Scaffolding

AdventureMan would never go out on our balcony. We would watch other high rises going up and know that the concrete was poured at night, but it was still very hot, the concrete often had more sand than was good, and many of these buildings are built at sea level. Like the collapsing buildings in Miami, we often had salt water in our underground parking garage. I had thought I could care for the apartment on my own, but the seals on the windows could not keep out the sand, and every day the tile floors were gritty with it. I couldn’t keep up. I was lucky to find a wonderful woman to help me; she also helped me understand many of the realities for expat-labor in Kuwait.

High rise going up next door; elevators not in yet so laborers are taken up in this raft by a crane.

Some of the labor practices were horrifying. Kuwait and very modern laws and standards. Kuwait also has a system called “Wasta” which sort of translates to “who you know/who has influence” and depending on your “wasta” the standards may or may not have been maintained. Also, the fine, ever-present air-born sand creates engineering and maintenance difficulties that we can barely imagine.

Creating a Fish Trap

We came to admire the laborers very much. They had a hard life. Most were sending everything they could back to families in their own countries, mostly to feed their families and to educate their children. Some were badly treated, some did not have jobs. You get used to thinking in a different way. We had regular beggers, men who waited outside our favorite restaurants knowing we would give them our bag full of food on our way back to the car. There were, of course, scammers, but most who asked for food or money were grateful, in a dignified way, for anything we could share. These men are building a fish trap – there is a way in, but no way out. It was fascinating to watch it being built.

In the late 1960’s, early 1970’s, Kuwait monitored their best male students, and sent these young men to study in different countries. Many went to the US and UK, and being young men, found themselves the kind of adventerous wives who would dare to marry a dashing foreigner and go to live with them in their country. (That is a topic for a whole other blog entry!)

I was fortunate to be friends with many of these women, who in turn introduced me to Kuwaiti women. These were all very fine women, a lot of fun, educated and skilled and sophisticated. It thrilled my heart to be an aging woman who still had so much to learn, and was blessed with these spirited mentors.

Below is a refrigerated water supply tower, put on the street by a generous and religious person to bless those who do not have access to cool water. You see them everywhere. I hope our country never becomes so desertified that we need to install these. I always loved that they are so joyful, so exuberantly creative. They are not only functional, they came in many different sizes, styles and shapes, and they always made me smile. This is what I call giving cheerfully!

Water tower

Kuwait was often beautiful. Below is a window called meshrabiyya, it provides light; it also provides privacy for the viewer. Many buildings in Kuwait incorporate homages to earlier architectural traditions.

Meshrabiyya window

“Regrets, I have a few . . . ” Mostly I don’t wear a lot of jewelry, mostly just earrings I pick up on my travels. My son was getting married; I offered to help the bride with bridesmaids gifts and a Kuwaiti woman guided me to the old gold souk where a jeweler made these necklaces for me, raw emeralds and pearls. I did not get one for myself. I wish I had! You could find real treasures, original and nothing less than 18K and real gems. The workmanship was exquisite.

One of the great joys for us was the Magreb (sunset) call to prayer. Everywhere in Kuwait there were mosques on almost every block. At sunset, each would have a call to prayer. They started seconds apart, so there was a sort of lovely cacaphony of sound, voices raised praising God and reminding everyone to worship and praise. We would watch the light change as the sun set and listen to this marvelous sound.

Mosque

So many mosques! So like Pensacola! Some were small and simple, some larger and ornate and a few gigantic mosques. I think of Kuwait early in the morning when one church, I think the downtown Presbyterian church, has a carillon concert. It’s not the call to prayer, but it’s the same idea, calling our hearts to be thankful for our creation.

And now, my favorite haunt in Kuwait, the Mubarakiyya. Mubarak is blessing, and the Mubarakiyya was a blessing to me. This is where we would go for the best dates (the dates you eat, and entire street of date vendors), cottons and fabrics for our stitching and clothing (no Macy’s in Kuwait), and for some of the best eating in Kuwait. The stalls and kitchens were miniscule, most had outdoor seating, and the food was FRESH. Our friend Mohammed said that the reason the tea was so good (the large brass pot sitting on a heater at our table) was that they never washed the pot, so it had an aged tannin flavor, LOL. We would eat Kuwaiti shrimp, mezze, and oh, the freshly baked bread. We would take our visiting experts to this souk, a place they might never otherwise experience, and thrill their hearts with the sights and sounds and smells.

Main entry Mubarakiyya
One of the date stalls
Souk foods
This store cracked me up with it’s giant model

I didn’t always have a great view, and driving home one night alone in the middle of a sandstorm is one of lifes most adrenalin filled moments. You can’t see, and you can’t breathe.

I will end this with a big smile. Near the Kuwaiti airport was a store that sold electric palm trees. AdventureMan told me that he’s always wanted one and threatened to buy one to bring back and put in our yard in Edmonds, or Pensacola. Horrified, I just let it slide, and it never happened . . .

August 12, 2021 Posted by | Adventure, Arts & Handicrafts, Beauty, Building, Bureaucracy, Cross Cultural, Cultural, Eating Out, ExPat Life, Friends & Friendship, Interconnected, Kuwait, Law and Order, Living Conditions, Moving, Qatteri Cat, Travel | Leave a comment

Tales from Before the Blog

Tonight we were eating Indian food, and talking about some of the truly great Indian restaurants where we had eaten in Doha. Our two favorite had separate veg and meat sections, and one, The Garden, even had them on two separate floors. The other, the Welcome, was a wonderful place, a place I would never dare to take my mother but a place we often went with friends. Once, we took another couple we liked, and we started with chots and dosas, and then ordered entrees. When the bill came, AdventureMan picked up and the other man objected – but only momentarily; AdventureMan showed him the total bill was 44 Qatari Dinar – somewhere around ten dollars.

Both The Welcome restaurant and the Garden were torn down to make way for a grand new walking street going down to the Souq al Waqif. We never saw prices like that again, or that kind of Indian-comfort-food-at-low-prices.

In these times, people still rode camels while racing.

One story led to another.

“Take Her! Take Her!”

AdventureMan preceded me to Doha; I stayed behind and packed out, found new renters for our apartment, sold my car and arranged for my diabetic cat to fly with me to Doha.

When I got to Doha, I showed the veterinary papers showing Morgaine had the veterinary papers in order, but, as it turned out, I had not requested permission from the Qatar Department of Animal Health to bring in my cat, so I would have to leave her until I got permission. I discussed this politely with the customs official, a young soldier, and then I started pulling out my packets of syringes and vials of insulin, and I explained to him that she needed X amount of insulin injected at such and such a time, two times a day.

He looked at me in utter horror and said “Take her! Take her!” and I didn’t wait a single second but got everything back in my bag and walked out as fast as I could with my unpermitted cat. Things were easier then; there were always men with carts eager to take all your bags, so all I had to do was grab the cat and run.

Old Sharia Kharamaa / Electricity Street

“She’ll Have to Sign a Waiver”

No sooner had I arrived in Doha than a car showed up at my villa, a car I hadn’t requested nor chosen, but I guess the car I was meant to have. I had to learn to think in a whole new way. It was a really good thing I had the car because Operation Enduring Freedom was breaking out, and I knew I might not see my husband again for a while. He took an hour off the day after I arrived to show me where two grocery stores were; the one near us for the basics, and the French Carrefour, across town, but worth the drive.

But the company was horrified I wasn’t leaving. “We’ll pay your passage!” they said. “You can go anywhere! You don’t want to stay here, war is breaking out.”

I had just gotten to Doha. I was settling in. I had my abaya and scarf from our time in Saudi Arabia, and I knew the way to the airport; I could walk if I had to. My niece, Little Diamond, was coming to stay with me. We both spoke some Arabic, she spoke more than I did. I wasn’t afraid, and I didn’t want to leave.

“She’ll have to sign a waiver,” they told AdventureMan. I signed the waiver.

Dhows in the Center of Doha/ Carrefour in the background

There were some dangers. While the USA and allies were gearing up to help the Kuwaitis take back Kuwait from the Iraqis, not everyone was on board. We learned to alter our body language, to walk and speak quietly, not to draw any attention to ourselves. We did our shopping calmly and efficiently. Even so, on occasion there was an occasional shop clerk who might ignore me and refuse to wait on me, but those occasions were rare, and the occasions of great hospitality from local citizens were many.

I always asked permission before I would take a photo

The day the war started, my sweet cat died. She had problems breathing early in the day, so I took her to the vet. Going to the Vet in Doha was not like any going-to-the-vet I’ve ever experienced before; you go, you sign in, you sit, if there is a chair left, and you wait your turn. It doesn’t matter how sick your animal is. It was chaos. Many people got very emotional and wanted to be taken out of turn. When I got to see the vet, who was always very kind, he gave her a shot and said “Now she will feel better.” I told him I thought she was close to the end, and he said maybe or maybe not. I took her home.

About three hours later she came and lay next to me quietly and I knew she was saying goodbye. She started gasping again, so I put her n her cage and drove as quickly as I could to the vet, but it was Friday afternoon, the day everything closes for mid-day prayer, he was closed, and could not be reached. By the time I got home, she was dead.

So the war is starting, my cat has died and I am not in a rational place. AdventureMan called and my niece talked to him. I think she told him the cat had died and I thought there was a chance it might just be a fit and she might come back to life, which was true. AdventureMan came home, I don’t know how he did it, but he did, and we drove out to the desert and buried our cat. He brought me back home and went back to the base and I didn’t see him for a while, except on television; as the CNN reporter stood in front of a sign at the press center on base, my husband sauntered behind him and gave me a wave. We still laugh about how he took a break to bury our cat just when war was about to break out, but managed to get back in time for the opening. He showed up when it mattered.

Welcome to Doha.

August 1, 2021 Posted by | Adventure, Biography, Bureaucracy, Circle of Life and Death, Cross Cultural, Doha, ExPat Life, Family Issues, Living Conditions, Moving, Political Issues, Qatar, Restaurant, Stranger in a Strange Land | 4 Comments

Rest in Peace, Donald Rumsfeld

You can admire a man without agreeing with him. Donald Rumsfeld gave me one of my favorite quotes:

Reports that say that something hasn’t happened are always interesting to me, because as we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns—the ones we don’t know we don’t know. And if one looks throughout the history of our country and other free countries, it is the latter category that tends to be the difficult ones.

I always thought he said “it is the latter category that bites us in the butt,” but maybe that was the unofficial version.

June 30, 2021 Posted by | Bureaucracy, Character, Counter-terrorism, Cultural, ExPat Life, Political Issues | | Leave a comment

Trump Impeached Second Time

January 13, 2021 Posted by | Bureaucracy, Character, Counter-terrorism, Cultural, Political Issues, Quality of Life Issues | , | Leave a comment