Here There and Everywhere

Expat wanderer

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

Reset – and Lent

We bought our house – again – last year, shortly after my Mom died. Something about death gets our attention, doesn’t it, and can serve as an impetus to get us moving. Buying this house, which I have always loved, is one of the best things we have ever done.

We are great planners. We make lists, we make budgets, we make plans and divide those plans into actions, so we get it done. And yet – when you make the best plans, you don’t always have all the information, so some decisions have to be revisited. After living here for six months, we are making some serious changes (already planned) and not making some we thought we would make. Our daughter-in-law pointed out that some changes have unintended consequences, and we love that concept.

We know, from having made these changes at our bigger house, that having a metal roof and a tankless water heater combine for great energy savings. I don’t know the science, but metal roofs reflect sunlight away, the ridges in the roof bring in cooler air, and tankless heaters mean you are not spending on keeping water heated when you don’t have a need for it.

We intended to put in a full garage and storage area, but learned that what we have actually works pretty well, and that is where the unintended consequences come in. Florida land tends to be sandy, and can wash away. You change the drainage pattern, and things happen. For right now, we’ll forego that change; down the road we can always re-visit.

I wanted minimal coverage on our big windows looking out on the Bayou; in arranging for that I had to empty out my china cabinet and another decorative cabinet. “Good,” I thought, “a chance to rethink and put things away smarter.” As it turned out, I changed a couple little things but not much. Most things are working. Now I have to see how the windows will work, if the minimal covering will be right for us or if we will need to add some kind of screening against the summer sun or some kind of privacy protector. Resets are not such a bad thing.

So with Lent starting comes another possibility for Reset. I’ve always loved Lent and Advent, times to slow down, to turn away from the messages of our culture, from our world, and focus on greater truths. You’d think with the COVID restrictions, life would be isolated enough, but we find ways, don’t we, of distracting ourselves? Lent gives us a chance to examine our choices and move closer to being the people we were created to be.

I’ve found a wonderful book by a man I love reading, Richard Rohr. I took a theology seminar for four years; I learned a lot about my religion, my church and its beliefs within that religion, and the greater history which brought us to where we are. At the end of the four years, my theology had greatly simplified back to the earliest teachings I received, God is Love. Richard Rohr believes God is Love, that God loves us, that we are his creation and that everything that exists, exists because God created it. I can’t wait to see where this journey takes us.

February 15, 2021 Posted by | Aging, Beauty, Cultural, Faith, Family Issues, Home Improvements, Lent, Living Conditions, Money Management, Moving, Quality of Life Issues, Renovations, Spiritual, Values | Leave a comment

It’s Personal: Quality of Life

In this endless year of 2020, among all the other changes, life gave us a chance to make another move. My Mother’s death of COVID in April brought a restlessness, and a need to divest ourselves of the sorts of detritus which can accumulate if you live for ten years in one place, which we have never done before. I wanted a smaller house, and I wanted a view of the water, particularly the Bayou. Finding a small house on the Bayou is like searching for a unicorn.

But, the perfect house came available. It was a house we had owned before, and sold, and were able to buy back. The transactions were complicated, and we currently live in our smaller house and have a larger house on the market.

Getting rid of stuff was hard and easy. Some stuff we just tossed. Some we directed to people who might make use of it. Nine boxes full of wonderful finds from the Middle East went to my niece, who is a Professor of Middle East Studies; her children particularly love the clock with the call to prayer.

Every night, we can watch the sun setting across the Bayou from our choice of eight different windows, and a porch. I can lose hours watching the light shift on the Bayou, or a storm blow in from across the waters. I can thrill to the boats passing by, or putting out lines to catch a fish or two, and the dive of the pelican thrills my heart.

“Are you happy here?” AdventureMan asks me frequently, because he knows I am. He can see it in my smile. We both have offices with views out over the water. It reminds me very much of our eagle’s nest in Kuwait, where we could see for miles out over the Arabian Gulf, watch the batteels and dhows, watch families picnic and float around the Gulf in the park across the street, or the occasional horrific car crashes which happened in our front yard. Houseguests were spellbound by the endlessly beautiful and surprising views from our tenth floor tower.

And now, I have the same, a fitness track, a Bayou, a nightly sunset, squirrels, pelicans, hurricanes, an endless source of entertainment.

As I work on my masks, I watch the sun glint off the long needles of the pine tree my husband believes is too close to the house. I don’t want him to chop this one down; not only do I have this lovely play of light on dark, but also in the early morning, the smell of pine pitch makes the air seem fresh and maybe a little cooler.

We find we actually like living in less space. The house is arranged beautifully, with open public areas and a door that closes off the family bedrooms and offices. Quality of life is in the details that delight the heart.

October 12, 2020 Posted by | Aging, Beauty, Circle of Life and Death, Cultural, Family Issues, Living Conditions, Moving, Quality of Life Issues, Sunsets | Leave a comment

Stall

Yesterday we got word that our move will be delayed by three or four weeks. It’s a technicality, not a major issue.

We are surrounded by boxes.

Several years ago, we were in a similar position, or even worse. We had packed everything, AdventureMan had gone ahead to the next post, and the contract he was managing had a protest, which meant that everything had to stop while all the parts were examined to see if the contract had been awarded fairly.

These things can take time. We were stalled, and awaiting an outcome. I left the boxes packed for six or seven months, then needed to unpack a couple of them for things I couldn’t live without – quilting books.

And then, suddenly, with little warning, the log jam broke, my husband left in a hurry, and we quickly moved, a year later than we intended.

It helps me keep my perspective 🙂

There have been days in this process where I have hated to get up in the morning, knowing I had to tackle the laundry room storage cabinets, or the kitchen, or taking things off the walls and packing them up. Now, we are close to really, really ready, and once again, life is going, at least for a short time, into pause.

I know our great Creator is in charge. I know not to flutter, not to tizz, just to relax and go with the flow. It is easy to say, harder to do.

I think mask-making calls.

May 19, 2020 Posted by | Arts & Handicrafts, Family Issues, Moving | Leave a comment

Maskmaker, Maskmaker, Make Me a Mask

When I headed to the YMCA on Wednesday, it was with a heavy heart. I have loved the reservation only swimming; I have actually felt fairly safe with so few people, and the respect for protecting one another through keeping safe boundaries. Already rumors are abounding that the Governor is about to move rapidly forward with his “evidence based phase-in” headed toward the new normal, and will open gyms.

The same day, I received my word that my sister, who was very sick this winter and was told over and over by her doctor that it was only severe bronchitis, has tested positive for the corona virus antibodies. She had it all along. She kept asking. They told her no.

That, along with my mother’s death from the virus, makes me cautious. We come from long-lived people. We are no match for this virus.

So I headed into the Y knowing that once the gym gets back into full swing, I may have to withdraw until I am certain the virus has diminished in our area, and that the “evidence” is supported by full transparency of the medical examiner’s reports (currently being censored / withheld by executive decision of the very governor who is telling us we will go forward making decisions on these unavailable statistics, nationally reported to be underreported in the state of Florida.)

Excuse me, but WTF??

So I wear my mask into the Y, but I take it off to swim, all that chlorine and I feel safe enough. One of the lifeguards gasps and says “I LOVE your mask! Did you make it?” and I told her I did, that I had made about 150 and given them all away.

“Would you make me one just like it?” she asked.

The mask is made from some fabric I found in the souks in Tunis, when we lived there forty years ago. It is a deep sea blue, and purple, with some black and white for drama, with Berber jewelry motifs, triangles with five pendants, crescents, hands of Fatima. I bought ten yards of the fabric when I saw it, and have used it through the years in projects and quilts, a little here and a little there. I loved it that she had the same immediate emotional response to the fabric that I had.

“I don’t know if I have any of that fabric cut for masks,” I told her honestly, “but I will look.”

I swam my mile and headed home, feeling lighter. I had my tasks outlined for the day, but I am nearing a point where I can’t go further – I’ve already packed items we need, like that spare tube of toothpaste, and my vitamin C serum. I got a little carried away with the packing . . .

So I scurried the rest of the morning, full of energy, and in the afternoon I rewarded myself by allowing myself to go back to mask-making, a place I haven’t been for nearly a month. Masks aren’t hard; I figured out a way I like to do them, and I really like to do them, I like the process, and I love working with the fabrics. Even better, my young friend asking me to make her a mask just like mine breathed new life and hope into my spirit; I was able to finish about fifteen masks and offer them to other staff members and life guards when I went in this morning. As I was working with them, I found just one piece of the fabric she loved, that I love, and it was enough to make her a mask, just like mine.

People around here are more reluctant to wear masks than people in places like Seattle. When I walked in with a selection of masks in lovely fabrics, people were delighted to be able to choose something that pleased them. One lady, when I offered, didn’t hesitate, she said “Oh, I know exactly what I want, I can see it!” and chose a dark blue batik with turquoise stars. Another woman chose a Florentine style ivory print with cranberry and green, and gilt highlights. It was fun for me to see them choose, and I can only hope they will like them well enough to wear them as we work to protect one another from this lurking virus.

May 15, 2020 Posted by | Aging, Arts & Handicrafts, Circle of Life and Death, color, Community, Cultural, ExPat Life, Health Issues, Living Conditions, Moving, Quality of Life Issues, Tunisia, YMCA | 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

Confronting My Demons

I was showing the handy man a place under my sink which had flooded a while back and needs repair. It looks worse than it is, but it still needs fixing.

“Got enough dish detergent?” he asked with a twinkle in his eye.

I had hoped he hadn’t noticed. I had been pulling things out from under the sink so he could better see the damage. I hadn’t realized how many bottles of Dawn I had, it was embarrassing. I counted as I packed them away for the move. Nine bottles.

I am really uncomfortable about it, and I know where it comes from.

Growing up in Alaska, things would disappear. I remember my mother measuring us around August and ordering snowsuits. I remember her saying that the last boat would come in and after that it would be too late. People down the road had a cellar where every carrot, every potato, every home-canned tin of salmon or halibut would be toted up on a blackboard to get them through the long winter.

Later, when I married, I had a short overlap in Heidelberg with one of my sisters, whose one word of advice was “When you see something come in to the commissary or the PX and you think you might need it, buy it.”

Living in my early married years in Tunisia and Jordan, I always had to have plenty of some things with me – shoes in graduated sizes for my growing, American footed little son (yes, shoes vary by country, and German shoes are too wide for me, and French shoes are just right), books bought ahead to encourage his love of reading, chocolate chips because they just weren’t available, underwear that fit, things like that which impacted on quality of life.

It became a habit.

Every now and then as I go through the pantry, throwing out expired foods, I get a laugh. One year it might be an excess of mustard, another year I have a load of chicken broth, another year pickle relish, and always, a good supply of chocolate chips. Old habits die hard.

So now it comes to downsizing. I have too much of so many things. I have too many clothes, some from twenty or thirty years ago which I still wear. Too many swimsuits, because when they go on sale, I stock up. Too many towels (but some old ones I keep in case of hurricane, or flooding), too many sheets. We have too many books, and I am getting rid of bags and boxes full, too many fabrics (I got rid of a lot at the beginning of the year, before I even knew I was moving). As I pack boxes, I can hear the Afghani mover at my Kuwait apartment overlooking the Arab Gulf who said “Madame, you have too many things.”

He was right, and his words have echoed through the years, “you have too many things.”

Too many fabrics, too many threads, too many books, too much furniture, too much art. I haven’t even tackled the kitchen yet. I have beautiful brass trimmed copper pots and pans I bought in Damascus forty years ago, how can I give them up? Who will give them a good home? Who will love them just for being beautiful, and hand made?

I have old French things, from the antique fairs and flea markets, lovingly gathered through the years – old copper bedwarmers, a French cavalry trumpet, old tin milk containers. I won’t have space for all these old friends who have brought me so much pleasure, just by their existence, all these years.

My newest strategy is when I have a problem getting rid of something, I will move it. I expect this will be a continuing process, that in our new smaller digs I will look at things differently, more callously, and that necessity will give me some necessary ruthlessness.

Anyone need an extra Christmas tree . . . ?

May 10, 2020 Posted by | Aging, Alaska, Arts & Handicrafts, Beauty, Biography, ExPat Life, Living Conditions, Moving, Quality of Life Issues | | Leave a comment

New Normal at the YMCA

“You think it’s safe?” my good friend asked me, not hiding her concern. “It’s not too soon?”

“It might be,” I replied, “And I really NEED to swim.”

There is a new system for the new normal, I discovered as I arrived a little early for my reservation. Yes, reservations open two days in advance for a 45 minute swim in the lap pool. Today, when I walked in, past the blue lines marked on the floor to keep us six feet apart, there was a man waiting at the door with a little thermal gun-like object which he pressed close to my forehead (I was holding my mask in my hand, LOL), before I could get through to the membership card kiosk. Chatted briefly with a friend who recently lost her husband (old age, not Covid) and then headed for the main desk, to check in for my reservation.

She pointed out the new entry for the pool, a door I had never seen anyone use before, and when I got into the pool area, I was greeted with more information on the new way things were being done. I dropped my bag, marked my lane with my equipment, and showered.

Even though I arrived early, there were two swimmers there before me, and it was still fifteen minutes before the reserved time – no one waited. We all went right to swimming.

 

I felt so blessed. This morning, as I opened my shades, the huge Flower Moon was setting over toward the west, the sky was clear and it was glorious. Now, in my favorite lane, as I swam toward the far end of the pool I swam into shimmering sunlight, and then back into the darker area, back and forth. My first lap was a little rocky, I lost my breath. It’s been two months since I last swam. With the extra 15 minutes, I might come close to my mile, a goal I had reached earlier this year only after months of build-up.

Slowly, the rhythm returned, and I was going back and forth, in and out of the sunlight, and building speed. Around eight, an old swimming comrade arrived and signaled to ask if it was OK if we share a lane. He is always considerate, and sensitive to boundaries, and I was happy to be sharing with him.

Six swimmers in four lanes, and two women exercising in the nearby exercise pool – eight people total, sharing this wonderful, clean, sunny space. What luxury. I felt safe.

I came so close! I came within one lap of completing my mile. It was 8:45 and while no one was pushing me out, everyone else was leaving, so good little lamb that I am, I left too, so the crew can do whatever it is they need to do before the next swimmers arrive, for the 9:00 slot. I didn’t go into the changing room, just dried as best I could and wrapped a Zambian kikoy around me for the drive home, using my towel to protect the seat of the car.

This is not me, this is a photo I found online to show how kikoy can be worn to get one quickly and modestly home rather than having to dry off and change.

I thought I would be tired, exercising hard after two months of no swimming, but no! I had energy! I tackled the linen closet, organized medical kit, linens, boxes of supplies for the upcoming move, and boxed up excess for people who might need them.

May 8, 2020 Posted by | Africa, Civility, Community, Cultural, Customer Service, Exercise, Fitness / FitBit, Health Issues, Hygiene, Living Conditions, Moving, Quality of Life Issues, Safety, Social Issues, Survival, YMCA | , | Leave a comment

We’re Still Married

AdventureMan and I are risk-takers. We set a goal. We identify the resources. We make a plan. Well, he makes his plan and I make mine. We are both strong willed, and under risk-taking, we set ourselves up occasionally, for conflict. Under “we’re still married,” we are pretty good at talking through the disagreements.

Two places we shine: travel and moves.

A lot has happened since I last wrote.

First, what I call “the great pause.” On March 13, I went to the YMCA, swam a mile, did a water aerobics class, and said good-bye. As little as I like to think about it, AdventureMan and I are in the vulnerable category. He has had a cough for over a month, and I know it is time to shelter-in-place. When I get home, I tell AdventureMan the plan. To my great surprise (which tells me he really was sick) he agreed, and he went straight to bed and slept all day, and then all night, and then a good part of the next day.

He was not so good about staying at home, but it is the beginning of gardening season, and his only trips were to Home Depot for mulch, and more mulch, and plant food, etc.

I quilted, at first, something I have longed for the time to do. I tried a new style, more modern and graphic. The first is called Corona Pandemic and the second is Corona vaccine.

 

 

They are just quilt tops for now; I have not yet quilted them. I found, with all my social responsibilities cancelled, my life quieter, it was very zen, very meditative, being able to quilt satisfied my heart, gave me time to think.

My mother called, from Seattle, and mentioned she needed masks for her medical appointments. I dropped the quilting and started mask making, making three immediately for her and mailing them off. The mail was slow. She called the day of her appointment; the masks had not arrived. It was a moot point, as the facility nurse had begged her not to go, there was too much opportunity for contagion, and my mother cancelled her appointment. We had a great conversation.

She never got the masks.

Late that same afternoon, she suddenly got tired, so tired she needed help going to bed. Shortly, she started throwing up. Just after midnight, an ambulance took her to a local hospital where she was given a corona virus test and sent to a hospital in downtown Seattle where they treat corona virus. Her test came back positive.

She was in Seattle. She was given hydroxychloroquin. She was given a second medicine in testing when her immune system raged into overdrive against the virus, destroying her own organs. She got the very best, most innovative treatment available in the world, and still, the virus won. In the end, she refused intubation and a ventilator – her pragmatic doctor said it probably wouldn’t have saved her anyway – and she requested hospice. This was evidently a first, as they had no hospice relationship in place for covid patients, and had to figure it out. They did, and my mother passed away in peace, and in no pain.

The earth fell away from beneath my feet. It’s a terrible thing to lose a mother. I’m the oldest, and while my relationship with my mother was complicated, she was always my mother. Now, I am so thankful for the seclusion, so thankful not to have to be around people because I can’t count on myself to be me. There are times I just fragment and fall apart, apropos of the smallest thing, a thought like “I need to call Mom and tell her about . . . such and such . . . ” and even before I complete the thought I am in tears, because I can never call her again.

I am not comfortable with my own melodrama. I prefer not to fall apart in public. I thank God for this period of shelter-in-place and social distancing, for the protection it gives me against my own vulnerability, my own fragility. And it gives me space to see these frailties in myself, and learn to live with them. One friend wrote in a condolence note not to worry if this death resounds throughout the rest of my life, that when you lose a mother, you never get over it. While it sounds negative, I found it comforting to know how totally normal it is to feel so lost.

I found comfort and solace in my mask making. I made hundreds of masks. I kept jiggering the patterns until I got one I like, where I could insert a nose-piece without breaking all my sewing machine needles. It gave me time to grieve, and it gave focus to my time.

 

Yesterday, I gave away the last six masks. I have nearly two hundred more in the making, and I am hastening about my current project so that I might have time to finish the newest series. As a quilter, I hate waste. I have fabrics from years back that I love and hate to part with, and the masks are cut 9″ x 15″ so I have lots of wonderful fabrics I can use and know they will live a useful life. One series of masks is from an old cotton souk dress which I wore out; it is soft and well used, but I couldn’t throw it away. It will now live on in ten new masks.

“What new project?” you ask.

My Mother’s death spurred me to look for a house to downsize. It is part of the plan we made when we moved here. We are aging, and healthy, but we have seen how that can change at any time, and I found a wonderful house which we did not buy. Then my son texted us that he and his wife were going to look at a house, and long story short, they contracted to buy that house and wondered if we would like to buy their house.

Would I?  I love that house! AdventureMan and I bought that house once before, to use as a retirement house, but then we sold it to our son and his wife.

They both have very busy lives, and very significant jobs during normal times. This pause has given time for new ways of thinking, and we are trying to get a move done before the world moves on and we lose this window of opportunity. Under the best of circumstances, a move is disruptive. Under normal circumstances, a move would be nearly impossible, in terms of having time. Right now – it is possible.

It is all happening very fast.

We haven’t done a move in ten years – the only other place I have lived for more than ten years is Alaska, where I was born. I am so thankful for this time, for the fact that we are still healthy enough to organize, to pack boxes, to plan actually for two moves, as we are sending furniture to the new house of our son and his wife; they will have more room and we will have significantly less.

AdventureMan says ruefully “When you are living in a big house, there is no incentive to downsize.” He is so right. I wake up in the wee small hours of the morning and obsess  over where things will go. The majority of our boxes are books we are not ready to part with and my quilting supplies. I have some irrelevant but beautiful items I am not ready to part with – our wedding china, which is beautiful, and French, and AdventureMan’s set of German glasses, water and red wine. We have used our china for family dinners, but not so often, and I remember using our crystal maybe six times in the ten years we have lived here. I could give them up. I’m not ready.

Today we were packing up children’s books to give away. I had thought four boxes, and AdventureMan was not ready to give up so many. We ended up giving up two boxes of books, and . . . we are still married. AdventureMan and I do particularly well in two stressful situations, travel and moving. We’re still married.

I keep thinking of my Mom. She might be disappointed I am giving up the big house while I am still young and healthy, but I am not so sure. I remember visiting her in Seattle and often going to look at condos and townhouses when she was my age. She said it was her and Dad, but I always thought it was so my husband and I would buy something in Seattle. Even after we bought a house in Seattle, though, when I would return to Seattle, we would go looking.

Mom always loved a view of the water. In our new house, we have some view of the bayou, where in late afternoon, the sun shimmers off the water. I look out and think “Mom will love this.”

This is my Mom, better days, sitting by the harbor in Edmonds, WA.

 

May 1, 2020 Posted by | Aging, Biography, Circle of Life and Death, Family Issues, Generational, Living Conditions, Marriage, Moving, Pensacola, Quality of Life Issues, Relationships, Spiritual | 2 Comments