Here There and Everywhere

Expat wanderer

The Paradox of Cool

Months ago, after yet another trip out West, a friend asked me if Portland was as “hip” as its reputation. I didn’t know what to say. Yes, Portland is hip.

I’ve been thinking about “hip” and “cool” ever since.

I know what cool is to me. I’ve seen it. Cool was the Episcopal and Anglican priests I met serving overseas; Tunis, Jordan, Doha, and Kuwait – priests who lived their faiths with joy and confidence, and priests who also loved their Moslem brothers and sisters.

In my own neighborhood, cool is the two retired civil servants who love to cook, and who organize a weekly dinner for the homeless, also providing to the best of their ability for other needs; toiletries, clothing, insect repellent, water to go, toys for the homeless children. They are committed to their work, and their joy in what they do attracts others who serve with them. In their own quiet way, they have created acceptance for their same-sex marriage, just by being exactly who they are: people who care about others.

Cool was ambassadors in the foreign countries in which we served, those accused of going a little bit native, those who were open to learning other ways of thinking and valuing cultures in addition to the one they represented, those who were less concerned with dignity than with creating understanding and brotherhood between our cultures.

Cool was the Kuwaiti bloggers who initiated me into the art and craft, and who often led the way with their courageous evaluations of their own society and societal follies. I learned so much from them. And from Kuwaiti quilters, who welcomed fellow crafters from many traditions, and created space for us to learn from one another.

The paradox of cool, to me, is that it comes to those who do not seek it. The paradox of cool is that if you want to be it, you exclude yourself from it. Cool comes from within, from knowing who you are, from an inner clarity as to what your purpose of existence might be, and from a willingness to risk and to explore.

So I would like to ask – how do YOU define cool? Who do you think is cool? Help me widen my perspective.

May 12, 2022 Posted by | Cross Cultural, Relationships, Adventure, Blogging, Community, Character, Interconnected, Charity, Values, Civility, Faith, Quality of Life Issues | Leave a comment

Intlxpatr Goes Back In Time

We were on our way to gymnastics class, which involves driving over a long bridge, through a congested beach town and down a state double-lane highway, and my grand-daughter, age 8, is utterly caught up in reading a book to me, a book called Crush. It is about junior high, and although she is in 3rd grade, she is always interested in what the older kids are doing.

This book has an advanced vocabulary, so I am loving hearing her reading it out loud. At one point, she comes to a word that the teacher has blocked out, and she asks me what that word might be. The word is “kickass” which does not offend me, especially as it is applied to a girl whom I would definitely describe as kickass. It’s a compliment.

(When I was little, my Mom would send me to the library alone, with a basket of books. Around 10 years old, I had devoured most of the children’s section and started in on the adult section – especially science fiction and psychology. The librarian called my Mom and asked if I was allowed in the big people’s books and God bless her, my Mom just laughed and said “if she wants to read it, let her read it. She can read anything she chooses.” God bless you, Mom, for the gift in having faith in me, and in the free flow of ideas, and in my judgment.)

So I am not concerned about an adult word. She often asks me about words she hears on the playground, and we talk about what she thinks it means and what I think it means. I am outraged at the policies being developed in Florida to impede discussions in the classroom, but in my experience there is nothing that makes a book – or an idea – more attractive than having it BANNED.

When my son started reading, I made it a point to read the books he was reading so I could have some idea where his mind was going. I bought the four-volume set of the books my granddaughter was reading, and read them through (they are comic style, so easily read, each in under an hour).

The books are Awkward, Brave, Crush and Diary by Svetlana Chmakova.

Junior High is a lot like childbirth – as you get past it, you forget the pain. These books are so REAL. As I read Awkward and Brave, I was right back in the middle of all that turmoil. We forget! At that age, they are learning the painful lessons of being different, being rejected, suffering bullying, learning accountability, learning how to make a friend and to be a friend, learning how to deal with authority, learning so many things! And many of the situations are very uncomfortable, even as a grown-up. We all know what it’s like to be on the outside, looking in.

The saving grace of these wonderful books is the message that an act of kindness makes all the difference. That you can find a group that shares your interests. That the kind of friend you want is the friend that saves you a place at the lunch table, and maybe even shares tastes of their lunch.

The second set of books I discovered was the Friends series, by Shannon Hale. Once again, we are treated to the real nature of friendships, that there are cliques and pecking orders and false friends. There are betrayals and secrets and ganging up. Learning to be a friend depends first on figuring out who WE are; it gives us the confidence to discern. These books are all about learning about who we are and discerning who our real friends are.

In my life, with all my moves, I’ve been so lucky, I’ve always found some really good friends, and some will be reading this right now, friends even from far back in my childhood, my high school days, university and various places we’ve been stationed. Some friendships are based on common interests. For me, the best friendships are based on ground-level communications, where we open our hearts and share our realities, and hold one another up when we feel we may be about to falter. Some friends are always going to be there for you when you hit bottom, and are essential in the recovery process.

Today I got an e-mail about how continuous learning builds neuroplasticity, and neuroplasticity seems to be a defense against Altzheimer’s, even if you have a plaque build-up in your brain. I’ll take whatever learning I can get, and these books that take me back to the immediacy of middle school. I’d forgotten how much we learned there. I think I built a new synapse or two re-experiencing the horrors of that age, and I am thankful to the enthusiastic reading of my little granddaughter for an unexpected educational journey.

May 6, 2022 Posted by | Aging, Books, Character, Civility, Community, Friends & Friendship, Interconnected, Parenting, Quality of Life Issues, Relationships, Values | Leave a comment

NATO and Balalaikas

I could hear AdventureMan laughing as he read his book, and he called out to me “You’ve got to hear this!”

He’s reading an old Philip Kerr novel, Greeks Bearing Gifts, and he has come across this quote that is only funny in a gallows humor sort of way, considering current events in the Ukraine.

“Listen!” he begins to read:

Garlopis put the car in gear and we moved off smoothly. After a while he pressed a switch to operate the car’s electric window.

“Electric windows. Isn’t it wonderful? You look at a car like this and you think of America, and the future. When Americans talk about the American dream it’s not a dream about the past. That’s the difference between the American dream and a British one, a French one, or a Greek one. Ours is a dream that’s always about the past; and theirs is a dream that’s always about the future. A better tomorrow. Not only that, but I sincerely believe they’re prepared to guarantee that future for us all, by force of arms. Without NATO, we’d all be playing balalaikas.”

The story starts in 1957. It came out in 2018. It could not be more timely.

I’m having a hard time with this invasion, this invasion of the Ukraine to “defend the Fatherland.” Ukrainians say they are NOT Russians, the same way Iranians say they are not Arabs. They voted to be an independent country around the same time the Soviet Union collapsed. I heard the Ukrainian President say that “the Russian bear was going to have a very hard time digesting the Ukrainian porcupine.” I am praying that the Russian bear backs off in dismay, and respects the porcupine’s boundaries from now on.

February 25, 2022 Posted by | Books, ExPat Life, Interconnected, News, Political Issues | , , | Leave a comment

Insh’allah

One of today’s readings in the Lectionary always brings a smile to my face. I can hear my teacher at the Qatar Center for the Presentation of Islam (where I was studying Arabic in Doha, Qatar) saying to me “don’t you know your own book? It tells you never to say you are going to do something without adding Insh’allah (God willing) because we never know even what the next minute will bring.”

James 4: 13-17

Boasting About Tomorrow

13 Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” 14 Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. 15 Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” 16 As it is, you boast in your arrogant schemes. All such boasting is evil. 17 If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them.

It’s a perfect reading for the last day of a troubled year, preparing for a year in which we have no idea what joys or troubles are in store for us.

Today, I look back with gratitude to that whole period in my life where I lived in the Middle East and was forced to confront my own ignorance. I was not only ignorant about my Muslim neighbors, I was equally ignorant about my own religion. My years among the Muslims motivated me to learn more about what I believed, and why.

This month, my religious mentor died. She had an enormous influence on my life, on bringing me to where I am today. When I returned to the United States, understanding how little I knew about my own religion, I enrolled in a four-year seminar in theology through an Episcopal Church program called Education for Ministry. It was life-changing. The first-year students read Old Testament, the second-year students read New Testament, the third-year students read Diarmaid MacCulloch’s book Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years, and the fourth-year students read a variety of theological perspectives.

(MacCulloch’s book is thick and intimidating – and surprised us all with how much fun it was to read.)

My mentor was a skilled counselor and guide; she led us through all-year discussions of our weekly readings, so in the four-year program, we not only were reading our own year but giving input on the other’s readings. The discussions were lively and provocative. Slowly, even without realizing it, the students bonded closely with one another. We learned a very important lesson – how to disagree with people, especially when you felt strongly about an issue, and remain respectful.

It has served me well, living as I do in another alien culture. Although I was raised in a hunting culture (Alaska), when I lived there people kept their weapons locked away when not in use. There was no open-carry. As kids, we were lined up at school and given vaccinations, which we accepted as being necessary for our own well-being and the well-being of the community. I don’t believe we had a single black person in town, but we had the original inhabitants, Inuit, Haida, Tlingket and we all went to school together peaceably. My father worked for the government, he served. Service to country is a tradition in my family. I am aghast at elected officials who mistake staging political drama for good governance. I struggle to achieve civil discourse about issues about which I feel strongly.

And so I am thankful for all the years living among others; among the vanquished in Germany, among the desert people of Tunisia, and among the people of Abraham’s other son, Ishmael. Their patience with me taught me so much about myself, and that even my strongly-held convictions may not be nuanced enough to capture what passes for truth. It serves me well to this day, and, I hope, will continue to humble me as we enter this coming new year, Insh’allah.

December 31, 2021 Posted by | Alaska, Biography, Books, Civility, Community, Cross Cultural, Doha, Education, ExPat Life, Faith, Interconnected, Quality of Life Issues, Relationships, Spiritual, Stranger in a Strange Land | , , | 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

Leaving Bozeman, Day 14

AdventureMan hates my phone alarm, which is a tune called “Twinkle.” He always says it reminds him of hotel mornings when we have to get up at what he calls “The Cr#p of Dawn.” This was one of those mornings, we need to be up, get to the airport, turn in the car, check in two hours in advance, etc. 

Don’t you love this Mama Bear’s big claws?

It all goes smoothly. We drop our keys in the drop box, still a little nervous that we never received a contract for the upgraded vehicle. By the time we reached Dallas, I had a confirmation of the car rental return and a copy of the contract. Go figure.

The airline people were not at the airport two hours before the flight. Oh well. We checked in and had time for breakfast at the Copper Horse before boarding for our flight. In Dallas, we found a BBQ take-out and ate in the waiting room. 

We arrived safely back in Pensacola, on time, and there were zero taxis and about six sets of people in front of us. We never do this, but we called our son and asked if he would pick us up. He arrived, fully masked, welcomed us back, and drove us home. That night, he texted that he and our grandson both tested positive for COVID and the family would be quarantined, They live just blocks from us, so we were able to see them, to bring groceries or whatever they might need. They were tired and achey, but never got very very sick. 

I just took a break; AdventureMan asked me how the trip report was coming and I said I was finishing up and I was astonished at how much COVID had been an influence on this trip. From the start, when Viking cancelled our planned cruise in May, to the end, with hotels and restaurants struggling to find staffing, COVID had played a major role. We need to be paying attention. Things are changing. We are going to need to do things differently. We need to start figuring out those strategies now.

September 16, 2021 Posted by | Adventure, Climate Change, Counter-terrorism, Cross Cultural, Customer Service, Eating Out, Interconnected, Living Conditions, Pensacola, Public Art, Quality of Life Issues, Road Trips, Safety, Travel, Wildlife | , | 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

Seek the Welfare of the City

Jeremiah 29:1,4-7

29These are the words of the letter that the prophet Jeremiah sent from Jerusalem to the remaining elders among the exiles, and to the priests, the prophets, and all the people, whom Nebuchadnezzar had taken into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon. 4Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: 5Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce. 6Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. 7But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare. 

We are about to embark on a trip, and as I read the Lectionary readings this morning, I found a verse I found comforting in my life as a nomad, the verse above.

We kept ending up in the Middle East. I wasn’t unhappy about it, but I did wonder why. I trust God has a plan for each one of us; even late in life, however, mine appeared fuzzy, if not opaque. What was the purpose?

The verse above comforted me; I didn’t need to know my purpose, I just needed to live my life, and to pray for the people in the places we were posted. When you pray for people, you find yourself mixed in their lives, they become more real, more understandable. The exiles found themselves in an alien environment, and the Lord tells them to marry, build houses, plant gardens, live normal lives AND to seek the welfare of the alien country and the alien people among which they find themselves. It resonates in my soul.

March 26, 2021 Posted by | Adventure, Aging, Biography, Community, Cross Cultural, ExPat Life, Faith, Interconnected, Lectionary Readings, Quality of Life Issues, Spiritual | Leave a comment

The Covid Conversation

It’s been an interesting week. Last week, there was no swimming. It was a welcome break in terms of sleep; no alarm, being lazy (LOL, being lazy is sleeping until 0600 instead of 0530) taking a walk now and then when I needed movement . . .

It was also handy because at my annual skin scan, my adorable dermatologist wrinkled her brow as she looked at me through her magic magnifier and said “Oh! we need to take care of THAT!” and THAT was prominently on my cheek.

(A brief aside because I cannot resist – when I was shown to the exam room, the tech asked if I wanted a gown and I said yes, and then, not being a smart-mouth but because I wanted to understand, I asked “What is the alternative? Like I stand here naked? Do people do that?” Sometimes I really am a stranger in my own land, and maybe I’ve missed some growing lack of self-consciousness? The tech laughed and said “No, there are people who will NOT take their clothes off!” I tried to comprehend that and totally failed. “So what’s the point of a skin scan?” I asked, “How can they be examined?” The tech said “We pull at their clothes a little and look underneath, but yeh, it’s not complete.” Totally boggled my mind.)

I have never been so happy about masking in my life. Having a big crispy spot about the size of a quarter on my cheek makes me feel like a teen-ager again, like every eye will be fixed on my boo-boo.

With my mask covering my big blotch, I got my second COVID vaccination. Yes, I might be suggestible, and then again, I am not a big baby, but my arm was sore almost immediately. By evening, I had chills so bad I was taking hot baths to feel warm enough. I had a headache just between my two eyes, and I was SO tired. The next day, I felt the same. Finally, the second night, I took an Aleve and slept wonderfully. The next morning, I was fine.

So I really needed the week off from swimming. One funny thing about the COVID vaccination, and again, who knows, it may be in my mind, but all of a sudden I have a sharp sense of smell again. It comes from my father’s side of the family, some of us have it and some of us don’t, but I think it had faded, and right now, it is noticeably back again, and oh, what joy it brings me.

So all the health drama is over now, I am back at swimming, and we continue to have work done to make our house safer and more energy efficient. A roof inspector, seeing our stack of photo albums (labeled Botswana, Namibia, Zambia, etc.) asked us if we had ever been to Alaska, and that started a great conversation, one we are hearing over and over as more people get vaccinated.

“We’ve decided we don’t want to wait any longer. We don’t know how many good years we have left. We are going to travel now, while we can,” he said.

He and his wife want to see Alaska. They want to see France. We had a great conversation, and I sent him some information by e-mail.

COVID has had its gifts, and awareness is one of them. Couple after couple have told us the same thing, this feeling of urgency to do it now, while we can.

We have four trips booked. One, a passage from Japan through Kamchatka and the Aleutians and the Alaskan Gulf, we’ve had booked for over a year. Another is a trip which COVID cancelled, but we want to do it and have scheduled it again. Another is coming up soon, a trip with our family to New Orleans, where we will continue to socially distance in a VRBO near Magazine, near the Audubon Zoo, near the Saint Charles trolley and several of our favorite restaurants with our family, and one back out to Yellowstone and Glacier, staying in cabins, mostly with kitchens. We’re good with take-out; in fact we’ve grown to really like it.

Ahwahnee Hotel, Yosemite

It’s not a hardship for us. We are introverts. We travel quietly. We stop and observe. I take photos. At night, I write reviews and research possibilities for the next day’s route. Part of the fun I have in life is finding really fun places to stay, some of which, like El Tovar at the Grand Canyon, or Ahwahnee in Yosemite, (LOL, “Yo! Semite!”) have to book far in advance, like sometimes a year out or more. Right now, several of the most popular cruises are already booked in 2021 and 2022 by people a lot like us, yearning to be back out on the road.

El Tovar Hotel, Grand Canyon

People in Florida are concerned about another wave of COVID following Spring Break. I am thinking here we are, all eager to get back on the road, us restless Boomers, and we’ve forgotten the pounding compelling imperatives of youth – meeting, mating, maybe even committing. But that’s another conversation . . .

March 13, 2021 Posted by | Adventure, Aging, Circle of Life and Death, Cultural, ExPat Life, Family Issues, Fitness / FitBit, Health Issues, Interconnected, Living Conditions, Quality of Life Issues, Relationships, Road Trips, Travel | , , , | Leave a comment

Exploiting Foreign Labor: Qatar and Kuwait

Living in Qatar and Kuwait was a life-changing experience. We loved the stimulation of living in an environment where little was as we expected it to be. The sights, sounds and colors were stronger, attention-getting, and learning to think in different ways kept us alive and young in ways we never anticipated.

There were also challenges. While as white Americans, we were high in the pecking order, we also realized we were high in a secondary category; there were the nationals, and there were all the others. We qualified, along with all the other imported labor, as others. We lived a great life, and we never forgot that we were “the other.” We were blessed with friends whose families had been living there long before our own country was even imagined. It gave a new perspective to our lives.

On the downside was the treatment of labor. Here are a couple of my own photos:

Traditional scaffolding

High rise window washers

Working on a new building, these laborers are more than 12 stories up. There is no elevator, and this is their solution to accessing a location without climbing 12 stories in the 115 degree F. heat.

That breaks my heart is the statement that all these deaths are within the expected range. The laborers are treated with callous indifference. Most came hoping to provide their families with a better life, they lived in squalor and sent most of their salary beyond meager subsistence, back to their home countries. The employers held all the cards. They had a choice – take this terrible risk or go home.

I found this on AOL News and it said it was from Yahoo News.

Report: More than 6,500 migrant workers have died during Qatar’s World Cup prep

JASON OWENSFebruary 24, 2021, 11:34 PM

More than 6,500 migrant workers have died in Qatar amid the nation’s preparation to host the 2022 World Cup, The Guardian reports.

The report cites government data from the home nation of migrant workers including India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. The data have been compiled since Qatar was awarded the World Cup in 2010, working out to an average of 12 deaths per week, according to the report.

FIFA awarded the World Cup to Qatar despite widespread concerns over human rights violations and treatment of migrant workers that have only been exacerbated since. Amnesty International has documented conditions of workers being “exploited” and “subjected to forced labor.”

“They can’t change jobs, they can’t leave the country, and they often wait months to get paid,” a report from the human rights organization states.

According to The Guardian, 2,711 workers from India, 1,641 from Nepal, 1,018 from Bangledesh, 824 from Pakistan and 557 from Sri Lanka have died working in Qatar since 2010. The Guardian estimates that the actual death toll of migrant workers is “considerably higher” since the data it cites is limited to the listed countries.

The nation with a population of less than 3 million is depending on 2 million migrant workers to build its labor force. The Philippines and Kenya are among other nations to send migrant workers to Qatar, according to the report.

The listed causes of death include electrocution, blunt injuries due to a fall from height and suicide. Most of the deaths are listed as “natural” while citing heart or respiratory failure.

Daytime temperatures in Qatar can approach 120 degrees during the summer. Normally played in the summer, Qatar’s World Cup will be held in November and December because of the oppressive heat.

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Workers walk towards the construction site of the Lusail stadium which will be build for the upcoming 2022 Fifa soccer World Cup during a stadium tour in Doha, Qatar, December 20, 2019.  REUTERS/Kai Pfaffenbach
Workers walk towards the construction site of the Lusail stadium which will be build for the upcoming 2022 Fifa soccer World Cup during a stadium tour in Doha, Qatar, December 20, 2019. REUTERS/Kai Pfaffenbach

Nick McGeehan of labor rights organization FairSquare Projects told The Guardian that World Cup construction accounts for much of the death toll

“A very significant proportion of the migrant workers who have died since 2011 were only in the country because Qatar won the right to host the World Cup,” he said.

Qatar has built or is building seven new stadiums in addition to significant infrastructure upgrades including roadways, hotels and an airport in preparation to host the World Cup. The opening and closing matches will be held at Lusail Iconic Stadium in Lusail, a city being built from the ground up ahead of the World Cup.

Qatar: Death toll within ‘expected range’

Qatar’s government didn’t dispute The Guardian’s findings and characterized the death toll as “expected” in a statement to publication.

“The mortality rate among these communities is within the expected range for the size and demographics of the population,” the statement read. “However, every lost life is a tragedy, and no effort is spared in trying to prevent every death in our country.”

FIFA also provided a statement to The Guardian.

“With the very stringent health and safety measures on site … the frequency of accidents on Fifa World Cup construction sites has been low when compared to other major construction projects around the world,” the statement reads, per The Guardian.

FIFA did not provide The Guardian with data to back up its claim.

According to Amnesty International, migrant workers seek employment in Qatar to escape poverty and unemployment at home. It describes dirty living conditions with eight workers living in a single room one they arrive. Workers are sometimes promised one salary only to be to be provided a lower wage once they arrive.

The group spoke to workers who paid anywhere from $500 to $4,300 in recruitment fees to agents that leave them in debt before they begin working in Qatar.

February 25, 2021 Posted by | Building, Circle of Life and Death, Cultural, ExPat Life, Financial Issues, Health Issues, Interconnected, Kuwait, Living Conditions, Qatar, Quality of Life Issues, Values, Work Related Issues | Leave a comment