Here There and Everywhere

Expat wanderer

Intlxpatr Celebrates 15 Years of Blogging

How could I miss my own blogaversary?

Fifteen Years! Whoda thunk it?

Remember when we all got started? 2005? 2006? I was reading blogs like Waiter Rant, Jewaira’s Boutique, Hilaliyya, Fonzi – and the lively Kuwait blogging scene inspired me to take a chance.

I’m not a big risk taker. My style is more uner-the-radar. The Kuwait bloggers welcomed me in, provided lively and stimulating feedback, we encouraged one another and we never looked back.

All these years later, I’m astonished to find I am still blogging. I remember a lengthy conversation in one of the comments sections about why we blog. I am still convinced that we blog because . . . that is what we are wired to do. We cannot other.

For those with more exotic tastes

So really, I have an excuse for missing the exact day – September 6th – of my blog’s beginning.

I’ve been traveling. I bought a new computer, and you know those steep learning curves . . . I learned that when you buy a new computer, you no longer have compatible card readers with which to upload your photographs. If I’ve taken a photo with my iPhone, I can AirDrop it to my photo files, but anything taken with a camera to a SanDisk is just (pardon my language) SOL.

I also discovered that my good friends at Amazon don’t always tell me the truth about compatibility, so even though I bought an Apple gizmo that promised me to work with my new computer, it did not; it never even had the possibility. Go figure.

As a hint to what is coming, instead of Champagne, or Vouvray, or Sancerre, or a fine Bordeaux, this year we are going to have some refreshing, delicious Flathead Cherry Juice.

Thank you for coming by, thank you for your faithfulness and support these fifteen years and thank you for your encouragement. Thank you for reading, and for commenting, whether online or behind the scenes. Thank you for following. You, and our conversations, are what keep me going. Many thanks.

September 10, 2021 Posted by | Blogging, Community, Cross Cultural, Cultural, Doha, ExPat Life, Florida, France, Kuwait | | 1 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

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.

AdChoices
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

Best Birthday Ever

A few years ago, I hit a number and I felt like my life was over. Rationally, I knew I was doing fine, but just the sound of the number hit me hard. I remember feeling the same way when I hit 50, and I thought it was going to be terrible, but that very day I went to pick up my photos for my Saudi pass and my photograph was fabulous.

OK, you know, here goes that rationality thing again. The RULES in Saudi Arabia say you are forbidden to retouch photos. The photographer just stood there with a big grin as I looked at photos of me with all signs of aging totally removed. Inside, my heart was dancing. My head knew it wasn’t really how I looked, but my heart danced.

In spite of the heartache of my Mother dying of COVID, this has turned out to be a sweet year. I had some stellar moments, dancing-heart moments. I love our new/old house, as you can guess from all the sunsets I post. Now, my son and AdventureMan installed a Little Free Library for me to care for, and another dream has come true, and my heart dances for joy. My family was together, my grandchildren helped fill the Little Free Library, and we all had cake and ice cream together, masked most of the time.

I’ve always loved libraries, and the first job I ever had, at six years old, was checking out books at the little library in Alaska. The clerk had failed to show up; the librarian was busy with a big time-sensitive book order and I volunteered. She showed me what to do. So easy a six year old could do it, and I had a ball.

I avoided book clubs until I ended up so many years in the Middle East. A group of women I knew and trusted asked me to form a book club, and I reluctantly turned them down because I didn’t want that responsibility. Very gently, they kept inviting me to start a book club and finally, I asked “Why me?”

“You’re the only one who can bring in the books we want to read,” they told me.

I learned so much from these women, and the book club was a huge blessing, a window into the way a lot of women think who are from different countries and different cultures from me. I learned how HUGE it is when ideas can be examined, and discussed openly, even when one must speak indirectly. I learned again and again how many mistaken assumptions I had made, how narrowly I saw the world. Books matter. Ideas matter. Sharing books and ideas challenge our narrow views and give us broader understanding of our complex world, and our fellow human beings.

Tonight AdventureMan is making Pasta Carbonara, which I should never eat, but once or twice a year, I do. It’s not like AdventureMan loves Pasta Carbonara; he makes it for me because I love it. Some of those excess calories come off as I dance and dance for joy.

The year I thought my life was over, some amazing things happened. I’m not going to get all excited, like this is going to be the best year ever, but I am so grateful, I feel so blessed, to have some dreams I know I dreamed come true, and some unexpected dreams I didn’t know I was dreaming also come true.

“In my life, I’ve loved them all.”

February 7, 2021 Posted by | Aging, Arts & Handicrafts, Biography, Books, Community, Cooking, Cultural, Exercise, Food, Interconnected, Kuwait, Living Conditions, Marriage, Quality of Life Issues, Relationships | | Leave a comment

No, No, I Won’t Let Go!

AdventureMan and I make a great team. He is making sure the outside and the garage sparkle, and I am taking care of the inside, except for his office and his personal clothing. He likes to manage those himself, and I can’t blame him.

There are mornings I can barely face another day of packing, and then I remember Fort Leavenworth, when my riding boots arrived, packed without wrapping, in a box with my evening dresses. There was a part of me that felt outraged, dishonored. Who would do such a thing? And another part that empathized with the worker at the end of a long day, packing for a privileged woman who had riding boots, and evening gowns, and saying “what the hell.”

I learned a good lesson. If it matters to you, pack it yourself. If you can’t pack it yourself, have a special crate built for it.

We were so young, but we saved our money and bought a bird cage from Monsieur Samouda, in Sidi bou Said, Tunisia, and had a crate built for it. We’ve had it for forty years now with many moves and no damage.

I have packed a lot of boxes in my life.

I’m finding that there are some things I can part with easily. And then some things I can’t let go.

 

We met and spent our early married years in Germany. This was our wedding candle, lo, those many years ago. I had to stop burning it on our anniversaries when it started to collapse. It still makes me smile. I can’t let go.

My Mother and Father were in the Wednesday night bowling league in Germany, and they were very good bowlers. They were also on the admin board of the league, and were in charge of the prizes, which they often won. Texting back and forth with my sisters today, I learned that they served on that committee to insure that each of the daughters received an identical crystal cookie tree, which my Mother won each year in the final tournament. Post-war Germany was a wonderland for Americans who lived there. I’m not ready to let this go. One sister let hers go long ago, the other is using hers to hold her jewelry.

I know I should let this pot go – I think it is a fish poacher – and I can’t. We bought it in the Souk al Hammadiyya in Damascus. I can tell I have cooked in it once or twice in the forty years I have owned it, not enough to make it valuable for its utility. The reason I can’t let it go is because of the artistry of the handle. Not even that it looks so beautiful, but the bird handle fits perfectly in your hand. It feels GOOD. I’ve never had any pot or pan that had such a sensuously lovely handle. Someone who made this handle really knew what he was doing, and created it with heart.

When my husband came home today, the first thing that happened when he saw the pot was that he reached for the handle, and then asked “are you thinking of parting with this?” I said “No, I can’t.”

I wish you could put your hand on this bird handle. It’s that special.

We have a family message thread with my son and his wife, who are moving to a larger home as we move to a smaller home. I often take photos and say “would you like this?” maybe with an explanation, and they say yes or no.

This time, AdventureMan texted back immediately: “Not the Kuwait Teapot from the Blue Elephant!” and I immediately packed it to take with us. When we first got to Kuwait, he planned to take me out for Valentine’s dinner, not realizing that it was one of the hugest date nights of the year in Kuwait. On Valentine’s Day, he called everywhere looking for reservations, but there were none to be had.

Being American, we like to eat earlier than Kuwaiti people, so I suggested we dress and go to the Blue Elephant, a favorite restaurant at the Hilton Hotel on the beach, where we were known. When we got there, there were only a few other couples.

“So go in there and beg,” I suggested with a grin, “Tell them we will eat quickly and be out in an hour.” I think he did exactly that. I don’t know what he said, maybe a little money changed hands, but very soon we were ushered to a table, and reminded that we needed to be out by eight, when the table was reserved.

We had a lovely dinner, at the end of which he bought me the little elephant teapot. What I love is that I am not the only one who can’t let go.  🙂

 

 

May 11, 2020 Posted by | Aging, Arts & Handicrafts, Beauty, Cultural, Eating Out, ExPat Life, Family Issues, Germany, Kuwait, Marriage, Moving, Quality of Life Issues, Survival, Tunisia | , , , | Leave a comment

Who Knew? Intlxpatr Turns 12 Years Old

Welcome! Grab a flute, come on in and mingle.

 

Who knew, when I held my breath and posted my first post in September of 2006, that I would still be blogging – with the same blog (!) – twelve years later.

I miss my life. It’s hard to remember that it wasn’t perfect, and it wasn’t. When I started blogging in Kuwait, I was once again going up against the steep learning curve of starting over in a new place, discovering where to buy groceries (milk and dairy at the local Co-op, fresh vegetables at a huge vegetable market to the south of Fintas, western staples – a luxury – at the Sultan Center. I bought what I needed, most of the time, but occasionally, a price would be so shockingly out of line that I couldn’t bring myself to do it – like a package of chocolate chip cookies that you just cut and bake for something like $15 when I could make them from scratch by myself. But I digress.

Blogging was new and fresh, and I loved reading the thoughts of other bloggers. I learned so much, and I learned to think differently. Their thoughts were not my thoughts, and I got a very clear view of my own cultural blinders.

I also met some wonderful Kuwaitis. It was a world I loved, a world of ideas and discussions. It was fun. I quickly felt at home in Kuwait; I felt I was gaining perspective from many minds, and it helped me form a more complex picture. I laugh to think it will never be a complete picture; you know how even people you’ve known for a long time can surprise you?

AventureMan told me today I had surprised him. He was talking about how good we are at doing our homework for trips, and how we “roll with the punches.” In my very direct way, I said “No we don’t! We gripe with the punches.”

First I got a stunned silence, then the guffaw of laughter, and then we were both laughing. I love it that I can still catch him by surprise.

So welcome to the celebration of 12 years sharing lives, sharing ideas, sharing our common humanity. This year, in addition to the beautiful cakes I have so much fun enjoying in virtual world, I have added cupcakes, in honor of a five year old granddaughter who has a great eye.

 

 

 

Please stay as long as you’d like . . .

September 5, 2018 Posted by | Adventure, Arts & Handicrafts, Blogging, Civility, Community, Cross Cultural, ExPat Life, Interconnected, Kuwait, Pensacola, Shopping | 10 Comments

Life is Complicated: Maintaining Balance

It’s been an odd new year. It started with loss and grief, and quiet introspection. Once the season ended, we were caught in the whirl of daily life, amplified by our son’s need for an ACL fix, which has totally immobilized him for a couple weeks and which requires we all pitch in to help keep life going smoothly.

And, I had a major birthday.

The last major birthday I had like this one was when I turned 35 and realized that I hadn’t accomplished my major dreams. I cried all day. People kept stopping by, bringing gifts and cards, and I just kept crying That year, I started graduate school, and never looked back. I was a military wife at an overseas post, with duties to my husband, my community, my church and my job, and I piled on evening classes and all the attendant work of research and studying on top, and I had never been happier. Going back to school was like flying. I loved my studies, and on the days I felt overwhelmed, I would realize that grad school was the only thing I could resign from and I would choose to go forward. My studies were my reward for good behavior in all the other areas of my life.

“What? You didn’t love being a mother?” I hear you asking. We had an oddly shaped room in our quarters, long and narrow. My desk was at the far end, and next to it was my son’s desk. We would do homework together. I adored my son. I would take him to karate lessons, iron his acolyte robes, be there when he got home from school; he enriched my life. But what made my spirit fly was my studies.

Yesterday, things were relatively quiet and I started a project I usually start in January, cleaning out. We haven’t moved in nearly eight years. I tend to be pretty good at cleaning out and passing along or throwing out, but when you are settled, you don’t do so as conscientiously as when you live with a weight allowance. My weight allowance always heavily favored our items collected from foreign postings, and everything else was expendable. Now, the expendable is taking up space, and I want to clear out that which only burdens me and ties me down, and make way for whatever is coming.

En route, I came across a large packet of printed out letters from my earlier lives, one entry in particular, 5 pages describing our arrival in Kuwait. Oh! There are so many things I have already forgotten, so I read it through, and then passed it along to AdventureMan, and listened to him laugh as he hit the funny parts. I owe my Mother a great gratitude for having saved all those letters, for which, having gone through several computers since I wrote them, I have no records. Those were pre-FaceBook times, when we still sent out group e-mails, which then got forward on. Now, we have less time – or we take less time – to write at length about what is going on in our lives.

I made room for my growing collection of religious-oriented books. I have a shelf for them. I have my spiritual disciplines, like doing the Daily Lectionary, but for additional readings, books were scattered here and there. If I am going to get serious about reading them, I have to have them where I know where they are, and I can retrieve them easily. They don’t call it “discipline” for no reason.

When I was a nomad, life’s busier moments were balanced by the enormous quiet of being in a new location. There were the logistical challenges of deliveries, moving out / moving in, looking for the good grocery stores, the cleaners who could do your nicer clothes without ruining them, getting new visas, driver’s licenses, memberships, etc. but in general, life could be very quiet for up to six months. I always found those quiet times, before new friendships, meetings, commitments, etc. very nourishing to my spirit.

I’ve never been so settled. There are times when my spirit rebels against the sameness of it all. There are times when I miss being around people who don’t always use deodorant and who smell sweaty; it takes me back to riding the strassenbahn (street car) in high school in Heidelberg, or to Africa and our adventures there. There are times I catch a whiff of Desert Rose, and feel an urgent upwelling of nostalgia for walking down a Gulf Arab avenue, or through a mall, and how it was the men who smelled so good. There are times I would kill for real flatbread, fresh out of the oven, or for a Tunisian “brik,” done in pure olive oil, or for the simplest French dish, moules frites, mussels in a simple wine sauce with fries.

I do love Pensacola. I have friends here. I’ve always been lucky that way; people take me in and take me behind the scenes. I hear the old stories of how Pensacola used to be, and I hear the new stories, that corruption is never hidden enough to go undiscovered. People in Pensacola, like people everywhere, know things, and I am honored that they share these insights with me. I have found religious community here. I have found meaningful work.

I have a son of whom I am enormously proud. I love and admire his wife. And I have two of the smartest, funniest grand-children on earth, with whom I love spending time.

(Did you know that the use of “whom” is generational?)

It is a sodden, rainy day in Pensacola. AdventureMan is on the couch, here in my office, snoozing as I write. We are on our way to church, then I have a meeting before coming home to do my studies for my class this week. As it says in our Episcopalian Forward Day-byDay: Oh God, Give me strength to live another day. Let me not turn coward before its difficulties or prove recreant to its duties: let me not lose faith in other people   . . .

On on.

February 11, 2018 Posted by | Aging, Blogging, Books, Circle of Life and Death, Community, Cross Cultural, ExPat Life, Faith, Kuwait, Living Conditions, Parenting, Pensacola, Quality of Life Issues, Random Musings | Leave a comment

Ramadan Kareem 2017

What can be bad about devoting 40 days to thinking about God, thinking about his holiness, his compassion, his generosity, his mercy? What can be bad about fasting in his honor, renewing personal attention to family and close friends, to reading the word of God? Ramadan was my favorite time when I lived in Qatar and Kuwait, full of amazing surprises and grace. May your Ramadan be blessed, my friends, with unexpected abundance and joy.

May 26, 2017 Posted by | Kuwait, Qatar, Ramadan | 2 Comments

The Best Road Trip Ever

“So when are you going to write up our trip,” AdventureMan asks, lolling on my office day-bed on a lazy Friday morning. He’s heading out to do a thankless, endless job – weeding. Meanwhile, we are catching up and making plans.

“I read your trip reviews and I think ‘what a fun woman! I’d love to travel with her!’ and then I realize I was on the trip, too! I was with you!”

We’ve been back a couple weeks now, but this is Ending Time, you know, the end of the school year, a semi-closing down of the church year, lots of events and goings-on. On the day of my last class, a class in religious history, I came home and did what I have done ever since I hit university. Before I took exams, I cleaned my space. I need order and structure and clean to focus on my exams. Old habits die hard; now I can do a little quilting, but first . . . clean my office space! Out with the old! Space for the books! Organize those scraps! It all takes time, but I am seeing the end of the tunnel, and I need to write up this trip.

It was the best trip ever. Oh, did I already say that?

Shorter Days, Longer Stays

After all these years of trip planning, we’ve had to come to some compromises. AdventureMan wasn’t raised getting up at “the crap of dawn” as he calls it, hitting the road, stopping for a quick breakfast, hitting the road, bat-out-of-hell on the road until we reach the destination. No, that is not for him. Nor (sigh) is it for me. Ageing has caused me some real re-evaluation on travel style. We decided on “Shorter days, longer stays.”

The first day of our trip was sheer joy. Our flight didn’t leave until nine in the morning, not like six in the morning when we are headed for Seattle. We boarded a local hop to Atlanta, transferred to a bigger flight to Denver, where Little Diamond lives with her two little diamond sparklers, her twins, whom I have hungered to cuddle. Our flight attendant asked all the DaVita travelers to raise their hands – it was almost everyone on the flight, headed to a big conference, party atmosphere.

On landing, I got a message that our car was waiting; we went straight there, got a Denver map, headed for our hotel, a very odd Fairfield Inn in a great location, just off a major highway, where we checked in and called Little Diamond, who was there in about fifteen minutes. Oh, what joy! We’ve missed Little Diamond! All those years she would come stay with us, in Doha, in Kuwait, in Germany. There were times she would come and we would leave her in charge, and now, here she is, a professor, an expert, a grown woman with delightful little children of her own.

We did what we always do – we hit the Target. It’s what we always did when she came into town, too, we are a peculiar family with particular tastes. AdventureMan and I needed to stock up on water and car snacks for our upcoming road trip, and some sunscreen, which came in handy later on. Well, when she would come into town, we hit the Sultan Center, or the Lulu, depending on where we were living, but same idea – to be comfortable traveling, it helps to have some of your favorite things around.

We had so much catching up to do, and then – where to go for dinner? It’s always good to know a local, Little Diamond had some great suggestions, and we had one of the best meals on our trip at True Food, in the Cherry Park area.

True Food was really interesting, fabulous menu with unique and tasty offerings, very good wines, and uniformly beautiful wait staff. I know, it’s an odd thing to say, but it’s as if there were a template that included looking clean and well-groomed kind of beautiful, natural beauty. The food was the same, natural ingredients, put together with imagination and flair. And maybe seasoned by our joyfulness at all being together, we “killed the fatted fig.”

 

Actually, while all our appetizers were a variety of vegetables, I had salmon, and it was marvelous, served on quinoa on a bed of . . . parsnips? It was perfect.

We had time after dinner with the kids; in the interest of protecting their privacy I will forego posting their photos, in addition to the fact that, at three, they are moving so fast it is hard to capture them clearly in the evening light.  🙂 We left Little Diamond and the little little diamonds with big smiles on our faces, knowing we would see them again at the end of our trip.

The night at the Fairfield Inn was quiet and peaceful, even though we were near a busy highway. The cooler temperatures helped us sleep, in spite of the noisy plastic covers they are using to cover their mattress. The mattresses are really good, but the plastic covers makes them “sleep hot” and they also crackle. It’s a small thing, but it affects our sleep. We are up at an early hour and hit the road after a quick breakfast.

May 26, 2017 Posted by | Adventure, Aging, Blogging, Doha, Eating Out, ExPat Life, Family Issues, Hotels, Kuwait, Photos, Privacy, Qatar, Quality of Life Issues, Relationships, Restaurant, Road Trips, Travel | 2 Comments

Grieving for Damascus

“This is a place I would love to retire,” I once told AdventureMan, as we wandered the streets. “It has all the things I love. Beautiful architecture and a rich history. It’s on a river. It gets cold in the winter. You can walk to local stores.”

Today, with great sadness, I read that Damascus is now rated the #1 Most Unlivable City in the World, beating out Douala, Cameroon; Harare, Zimbabwe; Karachi, Pakistan; Algiers, Algeria; Dhaka, Bangladesh; Lagos, Nigeria; and Tripoli, Libya. This is what the report summarized about Damascus:

Damascus has forgotten more than your city will likely ever know-and it has been a battleground for almost its entire existence. The City of Jasmine is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and, according to The Economist Intelligence Unit, the least livable city in the world-for good reason. More than 13 million Syrians require humanitarian aid, 6.5 million have been displaced, and almost half a million have been killed on all sides of the conflict there-government soldiers, opposition soldiers, and civilians. It’s scores are predictably abysmal, with a 15 (out of 100) for stability at the bottom end and a mere 43.3 for culture and environment at the top end.

This is a city which has been at the crossroads of civilization about as long as civilization has been around. This is a city which was refined, and tolerant, a city which was once full of caravans carrying spices, silks and riches to the West.

We were last there in 2007, and we are so glad we went when we did. Damascus was revitalizing, building up a tourism business with grand hotels, and lovely, intimate boutique hotels.

We stayed at the Talisman. We grieve for the fine people we met there, and for all the losses they have suffered.

AdventureMan said “why don’t you do a photo-share, like you did with Doha?” At first, I didn’t want to, but then, I looked at the photos – and once again, I was smitten. I pray for a miracle for Syria, for new, enlightened, tolerant leadership and opportunities for the good Syrian people. For renewed vigor in churches and mosques and synagogues there. (The Talisman is in the old Jewish quarter, where the Greek Orthodox also have their headquarters.)

This is the majlis – sitting area – at the Talisman.

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A restaurant nearby the Talisman:

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Breakfast at the Talisman:

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The historical nearby Bab, or gate:

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A nearby Tabak and the friendly operator:

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Streetside bakery:

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A courtyard restaurant, with lovely dishes. And note the Christmas tree; Christmas decorations and greenery everywhere!

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A Christian Shop near Bab Thoma:

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Interior at Umayyad Mosque, all are welcome and abayas provided. You leave your shoes at the door. This is the rear of the Tomb of John the Baptist:

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Naranj, our favorite restaurant. I understand branches of Naranj have opened in Gulf Countries, Qatar, Kuwait, as wealthier Syrians take their money out of Syria and wait for more peaceful times. I am betting they will return to Syria as soon as they can.

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Inside Naranj

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A merchant in the Souk al Hamidiyya

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A courtyard restaurant set up for Christmas dinners:

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I’ve never met a Syrian who wasn’t educated and working hard to make a good life for his/her family. We wonder if we will ever be able to visit Syria again in our lifetime?

For more photos of Damascus, you can visit my 2007 posts, Walking Old Damascus, by clicking here.

 

January 18, 2017 Posted by | Adventure, Arts & Handicrafts, Beauty, Cultural, Doha, Eating Out, ExPat Life, Faith, Interconnected, Kuwait, Leadership, Living Conditions, Photos, Political Issues, Restaurant, Travel | , | 4 Comments