Here There and Everywhere

Expat wanderer

Barcelona to Abu Dhabi and a Day in Haifa We Didn’t Expect

We had scheduled a full-day trip to the Golan Heights today, sort of a sentimental journey for our curiosity. We often visited a site in Jordan, Umm Qais, overlooking the Golan Heights from the east. We thought it would be fun to see it from the west side.

After our trip to Acre, we decided the last thing we wanted to do was to spend a full day on a bus with largely unmasked people who were coughing and sneezing, and it was not a location that mattered a lot to us, so we canceled.

We felt really good about our decision. I slept well and I got up early and had the laundry room all to myself, got a load started, then went up to the Horizons Lounge to have some hot coffee and watch the other passengers depart.

I put the clothes in the dryer and went back to the cabin where AdventureMan is awake and ready for breakfast. He is coughing and sneezing a little now, too, and we both drink pots of mint tea at breakfast. 

I grab the rest of the laundry as it finishes drying, we quickly fold and put away and head for our happy place on board, the spa. Most of the passengers seem not to be early risers, so when we go, before we start our day’s activities, we have it all to ourselves. My old turquoise swimsuit balloons when the jets of air hit, but no one is there to see and I will toss the suit when we start packing for our return and will never miss it. I hang on to old swimsuits just for this purpose, to get rid of them and not have to worry about transporting a damp suit. This time, hmmmm, I actually wish I had brought a newer suit that’s not saggy! I tell myself it’s OK, no one else is around this early in the morning, but – I live in fear.

After our spa time, we take our time getting ready to catch the shuttle for Haifa. The crew emergency drill begins, and we head for debarkation and wait for the shuttle. I meet a couple from near Bruges, Belgium. He is 59, and had a stroke. He has all his facilities; hears and understands but cannot communicate except by facial and hand expressions. His wife tends to him in his wheelchair and is taking him into town for the day. We have a great conversation; I am reading a book from a series right now about Bruges during the commercial explosion of the late 1400s as Bruges and the Netherlands led the way in international trading. 

The Shuttle drops us off in front of a hotel just by the main street through the Colony.

We explore the old German Colony of Haifa, and look for the Arab Market, which we discover is not open on Sundays because most of the Arabs are Christian. I do find pistachios, for which I have been searching, in one Arab quick shop which is open. They take Euros, and the nuts are very inexpensive.

Look at these wonderful old trees!

This large cathedral is St. Elias, in the center of the Arab Quarter, where everything is closed because it is Sunday.

We find a restaurant, the Gardens, for lunch and have a delicious lunch with freshly baked bread and cheese, lemon mint iced drinks, and a baked eggplant dish with tahini, finishing with Arabic coffee. We were definitely in our happy place.

The bread is still too hot to touch, full of a salty cheese, fresh out of the oven. We can hardly wait.

As we sat there, a photographer was preparing foods and photographing them for the tablet menus they are using to show their very international clientele what the dishes look like. A hungry cat and her adolescent offspring wandered the restaurant looking for handouts, and avoiding dangerous feet. 

My eye is caught by the patterned fabric they are using on the table 😊.

After lunch, we caught the shuttle back to the ship, went through the facial recognition process, and put our goods through the inspection machine, very TSA like, to get back on board. We also had to turn our passports back in as they will need them to get our Egyptian visas for the upcoming Suez transit and visit to Sfaga and Luxor.

As we boarded the bus, we talked with a New Hampshire couple who had been visiting with old friends overnight and had so much to tell us about their very different way of life but similar challenges, with children fighting old expectations and grandchildren underfoot. She also shared a cracker made with all kinds of seeds that was delicious. I’d love the recipe.

We got back at ship around 2:30. 

We took a snooze. That’s what cruises are all about, sleeping, eating, (for some, a lot of drinking) and a little bit of touring. Many passengers took long day tours to Jerusalem or Masada or the Dead Sea and are not back yet, so we made a last-minute decision to go to tea at 4:00 while there isn’t such a crowd. Great decision. Very low attendance, most tours were not back, and our friends Ed and Alan were there. We chatted with them, had some tea, listened to a string quartet, and spotted a submarine monitoring the harbor. Yes, really.

I can’t believe what I think I am seeing:

We stroll along the walking deck. I had thought this would be a place full of runners, but runners are few, and most of us are walking at various paces. We go back to our cabin and read. Time to read is such a wonderful luxury.

We love ordering dinner in our cabin. Ashok brought the fois en croute with a reduced port sauce AdventureMan loves so much, and a French Onion soup. I had Thai soup and some chicken. It was quiet and so private – and so wonderful. Another luxury – privacy!

We split a Creme Brulee for dessert. Ashok wants us each to have one, but I have diabetes, and AdventureMan helps me stay on track by splitting desserts with me.

We hear groups of our passengers returning, and we watch another cruise ship depart:

It’s Sunday. On some cruise ships, they have religious services, but not on the Oceania Nautica. At one point, AdventureMan asked me about this man named Bill, who has a group that meets every single night in a part of the restaurant. I explain to him about Friends of Bill W and the meeting for recovering alcoholics, and how glad I am to see that like-minded people can meet and strengthen one another on a ship where every day the cruise director tells us to “Grab a drink and make a friend.” I wish there were an Episcopalian group.

I feel great during the day, but when I lie down at night I get all stuffy and it sticks in my throat. I wonder if it is the cleaning supplies they use? I am constantly waking up, and have fevered dreams, although I have no fever. Finally, around three in the morning, I applied a hot towel to my sinuses and moved to sleep on the little couch, so I would be more upright. It was the right thing to do – I slept until seven thirty in the morning.

January 26, 2023 Posted by | Adventure, Cultural, Eating Out, Entertainment, Food, Living Conditions, Restaurant, Stranger in a Strange Land, sunrise series, Travel | , , , | Leave a comment

At Sea: We Need to Talk About Ashok

Those of you who know AdventureMan and I personally know that we are relentlessly self-reliant. With all our years of moving and living in a variety of countries, we have needed to be, but in truth, we are wired that way. You will laugh when I say I am uncomfortable even introducing this topic.

Our beautiful room comes with a butler.

It has been an awkward dance, but Ashok, our butler, is a pro at assessing people and working with their preferences. We don’t need a lot of service, and he has found ways to make himself useful to us anyway. Discovering I like Ginger Beer, he scoured the bars, alerted his contacts, and made sure our little refrigerator was well stocked with AdventureMan’s Coca Cola, and my Ginger Beer. He was always polite and pleasant.

The night we had decided to have dinner on the balcony after our day in Taormina and had saved parts of our sandwiches from lunch, we also found a generous tray of hors d’oeuvres waiting for us when we arrived late back to the ship. We had to admit, it was really nice, he had intuited well what we might like.

When we got tired of dressing for dinner and asked to have dinner in our room (part of the perks), he served us with elegance and grace, and made it so much fun that we indulged every few nights.

When AdventureMan wanted his laundry done professionally, Ashok made sure it came back very quickly.

In spite of our self-reliance, Ashok learned how to make himself invaluable to us. And, in truth, we really liked him, and loved our discussions with him. We were impressed with his resourcefulness, and his delight in making things happen. He seemed to delight in delighting us.

We are at sea for two days, en route from Messina to Haifa, Israel.

I was wide awake by five, so I got up quietly and dressed, grabbed my computer, found a cup of coffee at Barista’s, and headed up to Horizon’s, the forward observation lounge to check e-mails. Over 300 e-mails, horrors! I spent a while just deleting, then responding to the few requiring attention – requests from Air France for rating how I liked my flights, and a couple e-mails from friends. Most of the time, in this large lounge, it was just me and one or two others. I did get a nice photo of the sun coming up; it looks a lot like the day before.

When I headed back to our cabin, AdventureMan was just getting up, so we went together to breakfast where I am so delighted to find marinated herring and smoked salmon, two of my favorite things in the world. (It’s my Swedish blood talking.) AdventureMan finds herring abhorrent, and so does the Indonesian lady dishing it up; when I say a bright cheery “thank you!” her response was meant to be a smile, but it was a little twisted by disgust. I also had my virtuous oatmeal, with virtuous fresh blueberries – so much temptation, but my blood sugar is well within normal and I want to keep it there.

After breakfast I introduced AdventureMan to a new thrill – the spa pool at the front of the ship. It is just below the Horizons Lounge, and we had noticed that if you enter the pool by the stairs, you are visible to the people in the lounge. It doesn’t bother AdventureMan, but I figured out how to enter from the side, so as to remain unseen. The spa is very warm to hot, and can be made to bubble, so we had a wonderful twenty minutes in the hot tub in the fresh air, then we headed back to our room.

This early morning trip to the spa, having it all to ourselves, became another guilty pleasure. So lovely, so indulgent.

This quiet sea day, I napped a lot. I meant to read. I meant to update this journal. I napped. I don’t even feel guilty, it felt so good. 

Our cabin as all shades of grayish green, sea colors. The walls look almost gray, but there are streaks of green in the wall paper. The upholstered headboard is a very pale shade of sea-green. The furniture and pillows a little bit darker shade of green, and the two pashmina throws to keep us warm are almost an exact match to the furniture. It’s all very soothing.

There is a little “couch,” really more of a love-seat, where I can fall asleep very easily.

Space is smartly allocated so that there is plenty of closet space, with doors that open so you can see everything, and enough hangers. (Enough hangers! I didn’t have to ask for more!) There are enough drawers to stow things in neatly. The bathroom has two upper-side cupboards, and two lower cupboards with shelves, too. There is more cupboard space in the bathroom than we need; we can keep everything in cupboards, out of sight. (This is a first.)

The ship is very silent. We don’t hear the motors, or the anchors dropping or lifting. We feel little sways and jerks now and then. At one point the weather changed briefly, we had rain. At night the ship swayed enough to cause some to have problems with balance, but it wasn’t much. We can feel the boat rock side to side, just a little, now and then. It is like being a baby again, held against your Mama as she walks about, feeling safe and secure. I napped a lot.

Dinner this night at sea was an Italian Market special, and we ate once again in the casual restaurant but dressed up a little. As it was a little cold and windy, we ate inside instead of at our usual table on the back terrace. It was one of my favorite meals – grilled Italian vegetables (mostly eggplant and peppers) and a big bowl of an Italian kind of Bouillabaisse, a fish stew, and it was wonderful. 

In the restaurant, I could overhear a conversation I longed to join, two tables away, about Amor Towles and A Gentleman in Moscow. I tried to see who the people were, an assortment of six, but I am not sure I would recognize them again. Another woman, seated nearby, was very blonde with a bright red pashmina wrapped around her shoulders – I’ve always envied that drama, and know it isn’t really my style.

Even though I napped a lot during the day, I slept well this night for the first time since Barcelona.

We slept fairly well through the night, awakening around five but getting back to sleep again for another day at sea. Nice breakfast on the Terrace (my virtuous oatmeal, this time with fresh raspberries), followed by another early visit to the spa, where at that early hour, we have it all to ourselves. We were out in time to get ready for the Veteran’s Day/ Remembrance Day Ceremony at 9:15 in the Nautica Lounge. It was simple, short and sweet.

We were back at the Nautica Lounge just a short while later for another enrichment lecture on the Knights Hospitaler and Knights Templar, which helps put everything in context for our upcoming trip to Acre while we stop in Haifa. 

We nap and read through the quiet afternoon as we pass south of Crete and Greece, never seeing a speck of land. Tonight is dinner at Toscana, the ship’s specialty Italian restaurant; we have dinner reservations at seven. We know a waiter who works there, Buti, and he has been waiting for us to come see him. 

The problem, for us, is that by late afternoon we are already closing down. We’ve always been this way, but when we were younger, we really didn’t know it. We dress, I wear the one little black dress I have brought for special evenings, with a red scarf, my own toast to a little drama. When we get to Toscana, there is a line, the restaurant isn’t open yet so we go into the library. Shortly, the Jewish Shabbat began, and we left to give them privacy, got in the line, and very shortly got in and asked to be seated in Buti’s section.

Buti treated us like gold. We felt so special. When I ordered, he insisted I add a small dish of pasta, angel hair aglio oglio, and when he brought it, it was perfect. He also brought a small bowl of sambol oelek sauce, which I know from Kuwait and Qatar, spicy hot peppers in a little vinegar, absolutely divine. I also had Veal Marsala, and AdventureMan had a Caprese Salad and Linguini Cioppiono. Altogether, it was a lovely meal. All around us people were laughing and talking, a single man at the next table was reading Saul Bellow, and as nice as it all was, it was slowly elegant and we got restless. We skipped dessert, which is a really good thing, because my blood sugar was 123 the next day, which gave me a good wake-up call. 

I loved the sambol oelek, and I loved the angel hair pasta. It’s hard for me to be gracious after five at night. When we got home, we were exhausted. Everyone is so kind, wanting to make us feel so special, and I just feel tired and happy to be back in my room getting ready for bed.

January 25, 2023 Posted by | Adventure, Civility, Cooking, Cultural, Customer Service, Education, Geography / Maps, Health Issues, Living Conditions, Quality of Life Issues, Restaurant, Stranger in a Strange Land, Travel | , | Leave a comment

We Sail Away on Oceania’s Nautica

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Take a Wife With You

Our church has daily readings, called The Lectionary, and the one I read also features Saints of the Church, people who have served in faithfulness. Today’s reading had an impact on me for several reasons. I was immediately caught by the fact he was assigned, and told to take a wife with him, at which point he immediately proposed to a woman he thought suitable who accepted. So interesting, and so different from the way “courtships” are conducted these days. (With more reading in Wikipedia, I discovered his education was funded by donors, he was trained as a blacksmith and he actually had a fiancee, and she was the one who married him and went with him to Moose Bay. She worked with the women.)

The union was fruitful. John Horden and his wife were able to accomplish great things among the Cree and Inuit, learning their language, preaching in their tongue. It sounds like more than the preaching, his life and his love of his parishoners attracted converts to the faith.

JOHN HORDEN

MISSIONARY BISHOP IN CANADA, 1893
 John Horden (1828 – January 12, 1893) was the first Anglican Bishop of Moosonee, Canada.

On May 10, 1851, he received a letter from Church Missionary Society, informing him that the bishop of Rupert’s Land had made a request for a schoolmaster at Moose Factory, in northern Ontario, and that he had been appointed to fill the position. They also told him to prepare to leave within a month, and indicated that they desired he marry and take his wife out to assist him in his missionary work. Although he was less than enthused about the appointment, he immediately prepared for his new position. He contacted the woman of his choice, a young lady who herself had missionary inclinations, and she agreed to marry him. On June 8, 1851, they set sail for Canada. Horden spent much of his time on the trip by continuing his studies of the Greek Testament and beginning the study of the Cree language.

He went among the natives, writing down new words as he heard them and, after eight month’s effort, was able to preach to the natives without an interpreter. He was ordained a priest during this period. Soon Horden had prepared a prayer book, a hymnal, and translations of the Gospels in the Cree language.

Then in 1865, Horden and his family, which now included five children that he and his wife had had in Canada, sailed back to England so that his children could be educated. Upon Horden’s return to England, he found he was very well-known throughout the British Isles, and became a popular and sought-after speaker. In 1867, Horden returned with his wife to James’ Bay.

In the autumn of 1872, Horden received a message to return to England to be consecrated as a bishop, and on December 15, 1872, he and two others were ordained in a ceremony involving eight other bishops, including Bishop Anderson, who had first ordained Horden 20 years earlier.

He continued to serve as bishop of his huge territory, making pastoral visits to as many parts of his huge diocese as possible, despite his having a serious problem with rheumatism. In his later years, he also worked diligently to finish his translation of the Bible into the Cree language.

December 15, 2022 Posted by | Adventure, ExPat Life, Faith, Lectionary Readings, Stranger in a Strange Land, Women's Issues | Leave a comment

Living off My Fat: Adaptation

It probably all started growing up in Alaska, where my mother would measure us in July to order our snowsuits as soon as the new catalogs came out. We lived where ships didn’t come in the winter, so supplies for the winter needed to be ordered – and received – before the ships could no longer navigate the channel.

Then came our life in Germany, where we lived by what my sister called “Commissary rules.” Her one word of advice as a newlywed leaving Germany, while I was staying, was “When you see something in the Commissary or PX you think you MIGHT need, buy it.” Definitely a no-regrets philosophy.

When we were sent to live in Tunisia, in the late 1970’s, we were instructed to take everything we might need for the next two years. Some things – chocolate chips – we learned to live without. We adapted to new foods, new ways of doing things. One of the great treats was the fresh, gorgeous, silky olive oil; I would take my jar to the little olive oil vendor at the nearby souk and he would weigh my jar, fill it, subtract the weight of the jar and charge me for the oil, which made everything taste French.

I did have a two-year supply of shoes for a growing toddler, also clothing for him in graduated sizes, and two years of age-appropriate books I could pull out of the closet. We were able to mail-order through the embassy pouch, and my mother was able to mail me little extras. One year, when I was running the Christmas bazaar, she was able to find red and green Christmas fabrics in July, at a discount, and mail them to us for our crafting. It was such a luxury!

In Qatar, I was always bringing back duffels with quilting rulers and rotary cutters for my quilting friends. In Kuwait, it was books for my book club and American sugar for a friend who liked to bake. Kuwait had sugar, but more coarse, and American sugar melts more quickly for a finer result. Who knew?

There are items from the past I still have in abundance – dental floss, women’s underwear, shoes – and staples I buy but no longer use in the quantities I once did because we no longer live a life where we entertain a lot nor prepare for unexpected people on temporary duty who need a meal and an exchange of currency. I am trying to bring down my supplies of artichoke hearts and pimentos, beans and rice, canned tomatoes, chutney, Tupperware and hand soap.

My Little Free Library, one of the best birthday gifts ever, helps me keep my books from overflowing.

We are happy, these days, to be living with less. We are still caught by surprise by rolls of baking parchment we are still using from Kuwait, dental floss leftover from our years in Tunis and an excess of Christmas decorations we still need to pare down. We try to go easy on ourselves. “Ah,” we sigh, “it’s a process.” God grant that we live long enough to use up all those supplies we bought “just in case.”

July 5, 2022 Posted by | Adventure, Aging, Alaska, Arts & Handicrafts, Biography, Christmas, Circle of Life and Death, Cultural, ExPat Life, Family Issues, Financial Issues, Germany, Kuwait, Living Conditions, Qatar, Quality of Life Issues, Shopping, Stranger in a Strange Land, Travel, Tunisia | Leave a comment

Insh’allah

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

James 4: 13-17

Boasting About Tomorrow

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pensacola: Florida Man

Today, as we were en route to pick up lunch, we were stopped at a stop light. We had been stopped there for about 45 seconds, the light was very red.

Suddenly, on our left, an SUV came rushing up and without even slowing down, much less stopping, he blasted through that very red light.

I’ve given up cursing for Lent. In the surprise and the shock of the adrenalin jolt, out popped “WTF??”

There is a character in Florida so common that he has his own meme: Florida Man. Florida Man Runs Naked Down the Interstate. Florida Man Kills Stranger With a Hammer While High on Meth. Florida Man Hit Man on Highway and Calls it In as a Deer. Oops, not that one, wrong state. But you get the picture. Generally, Florida Man thinks the rules don’t apply to him.

I had a run-in with Florida Man once, when we lived in the Tampa/St. Pete area, except Florida Man was a woman who was really PO’d with me when our two lines of cars were zippering to get on the interstate and when I zippered, even though she was honking at me in her big truck, she got infuriated that I didn’t defer, and she chased me up the highway, trying to cut me off, coming really close to hitting me. I left the highway rather than take a chance with a lunatic who was also likely carrying a gun.

Even for Florida Man, running a very very red red light at high speed without even slowing down is exceptional. And then, maybe 10 seconds later, a large Pensacola police SUV with lights and siren rolling, went zooming through the same red light, followed by another PPD vehicle.

This was worth a good ten minutes of discussion. We don’t think the police caught him (or her) as the car was going SO fast, and changing into the left lane, I am guessing the driver, just out of sight, turned left and evaded a confrontation.

AdventureMan observed that evading the police these days is a very temporary thing; clearly they were chasing this car even before he zoomed through the red light. They know the car, they’ve probably run the license, at the very least they have him on film. Two cars were chasing him; running the red light was probably just icing on the cake. So we are running the probabilities; I am saying if I know I am guilty of something, probably something serious, and the police are about to arrest me, running a red light might be a percentage play if it keeps me free another hour or day or month or two. Maybe it’s worth the risk to run that light, and likely this is not a person who is giving a lot of thought to the welfare of others.

How fragile life is. On a quiet, calm Sunday, just making a quick trip to pick up some take-out, anything can happen.

February 28, 2021 Posted by | Adventure, Circle of Life and Death, Civility, Crime, Cultural, Florida, Law and Order, Living Conditions, Pensacola, Random Musings, Stranger in a Strange Land | Leave a comment

Florida Breaks All Records for COVID Cases

First, to those of you who know me and are far away, we are well.

My Mother died of COVID in Seattle, in April. It was a shock. Although she was 96, she was mentally fit, very sharp, and her mother lived to 104. We all expected Mom to break her Mom’s record.

We don’t live in the biggest hot-spot, the Miami/Dade County area far to the south and east of Pensacola. No, we are in the eighth worst hit part of Florida, and part of the 18 greatest concerns for COVID according to the study out yesterday.

No one I know here has gotten sick. Almost everyone I know has the luxury of staying home, working from home, not needing to interface with the public unnecessarily. It is stunning, however, to think that one person in ten in this area has or  has had the virus.

These graphs are not from the Florida Department of Health website. The person hired to design that website designed a great, comprehensive website to transparently share information. She was fired. She says she was fired for not agreeing to manipulate the information to make things look not so bad in Florida. Our governor is a total toady to President Trump, who is doing nothing to provide leadership to our country in fighting this pandemic, not providing comfort to those who suffer from it.

 

 

These snapshots are from her new website, which has much more accurate presentations of the situation in Florida than the official site. She, and others, gather information which may be obscure, but is available to the public, and publishes it. Her website is Florida Covid Action. She is a hero.

I live in a county where I have friends who support Trump and believe that the Democrats are over-hyping the problems for political reasons, so that Trump will lose his bid for re-election. They also believe masks are unnecessary. They don’t see any reason to socially distance. They perceive restrictions on their behavior as violations of their First Amendment rights.

So Trump has mandated our schools to open as normal – that means in August. The schools must offer an in-school option, which has many teachers frightened and/or furious. They also offer a remote school-day option, 6 hours in front of a computer, and an independent option, where a student completes a curriculum on his or her own. Those who attend school will not be required to mask or to social distance.

My grandchildren are 7 and 10. Their parents face having to choose the least bad of the three proposals. Parents all around the state are debating what to do. Many parents work, and child care is almost impossible to find and very costly. Many parents will have to send their children to school or leave them unattended and unsupervised at home.

The pediatric cases are for my county, Escambia County. The highest rate of transmission is among those 15 – 24. They’ve closed the bars, but the rate remains high, and rising. The rate of transmission among children is also rising.

I am outraged. We have handled this contagion worse that a third world country. We know masks work. We know social distancing, plus masks, plus conscientious hand-washing can flatten this curve, bring the number of cases down, and expect a rational re-opening. Nothing we have done, especially in Florida, has been rational. God help us. Lord, have mercy on us.

July 18, 2020 Posted by | Bureaucracy, Civility, Community, Cultural, Florida, Health Issues, Hygiene, Interconnected, Leadership, Living Conditions, Political Issues, Quality of Life Issues, Safety, Social Issues, Stranger in a Strange Land, Transparency, Values | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Departing Pensacola for Bordeax and Nothing Goes Smoothly

OK. I am NOT a control freak. I roll with whatever comes along, well, sort of.

 

I am a planner. I strategize. I research. I seek alternatives. I check with my husband, to insure that the trip will please him, too. I choose the exact flights, and then I choose the seats. Hmm. When I say it like this, I sound like I am a control-freak, but  . . . as a strategist, I realize I am not in control of all the variables. I plan, and then so often, I have to be flexible.

 

The night before we are to leave Pensacola for the Bordeaux, a wildly windy tropical storm in forecast to blow in right around the time our flight is due to take off. I talk to my husband, I call the airlines. They COULD change our flights, but they can’t, they aren’t allowed to, the flights were booked by Viking, our cruise line, and they are not allowed to change anything. My husband knows me well. He drives me to the airport (nearby) and I try to sweet-talk the desk agent to change us to an earlier flight. I am close to success, I can feel it, but as she tries and tries, without success, my hopes fade. She makes a call, and gives me the same information – that she can’t change the flights because they were booked by Viking. But, she says, if we show up the next day for the earlier flight, we are likely to get on.

My husband is a good sport. The next day, we go to the airport early. Actually, it worked out well, our son was able to drive us and we got to have a good chat with him before he dropped us off. We went up to the desk and the clerk said she couldn’t change our flights. Aarrgh.

It wasn’t that bad. We checked in, got rid of our bags, went through security. We had lunch at the airport and it wasn’t bad. I can’t remember what we had, but I remember having a conversation about how it wasn’t bad for airport food.

Our flight boarded quickly, thanks to a flight attendant with a hilarious sense of humor who patiently, endlessly directed passengers entering the plane to put their large bags overhead, wheels in first, and their smaller bags tucked under the seat in front, and please, please, take what you might need out of your bag before stowing it so that other passengers might not be delayed in boarding. The delivery was perfect, utterly hilarious, and the passengers did what he said.

As we were departing, the storm was moving in, and we were warned that there would be about 15 minutes of turbulence as we avoided the clouds. It was bumpy but not bad.

When we got to Atlanta, we headed for our Paris flight, and it looked like 600 people waiting to get on in different lines – all on the same flight. We found the right line, which was moving slowly. It took us about 40 minutes to actually get on the flight and get to our seats. This was a plane with an upstairs and a downstairs; we were on the upper deck. We turned to the left, and there was business class.

It was the biggest business class section I have ever seen. It was also a little chaotic. There was one thing I really liked, and that is that toward the front, where the toilets were, there was a little lounge kind of place where you could stretch and walk around and not have to worry about being in anyone’s way. You could look out windows and take your time, which was really nice.

This was the Airbus 380, “the biggest airplane in the world.” There was a compartment next to my seat where I could stow all my gear, as well as in the luggage section overhead. Having all that space was nice.

The meal service was not smooth. It felt like maybe there had been some last minute changes and people were trying to deal with some changes. Finally, however, all that was past, and the lights dimmed and most people went to sleep. The seats went flat, and the mechanisms were very quiet. You could get a good night’s sleep.

Overall, given my choice, I will never fly a plane that big again. Even in business class, you feel like cattle. The cabin crew did their best, but they had a lot to do, a lot of people to look after, and they seemed stressed and overworked.

We dreaded Charles de Gaulle; transiting CDG is always a nightmare, but for some reason, early this Saturday morning, it went smoothly. We headed for our gate and tried to pick out which of our fellow passengers waiting for the flight were Americans, and who might be on our ship, the Viking Forseti, with us. We were right about a few, and wrong about others.

Across the aisle from me, on the flight to Bordeaux, was an American going on a bike trip, chatting with a man who lives just outside Bordeaux. The man who lives in Bordeaux was groaning that since Bordeaux has been modernized, with great public transportation and public spaces, other French people are retiring and moving to the Bordeaux area, “snapping up properties at ridiculous prices,” causing taxes and prices to rise. “The newcomers are ruining Bordeaux,” he added, “Bordeaux is being gentrified! We can’t afford to live there anymore! Every thing is changing!”

Bordeaux is not a large airport, our landing went smoothly, soon we had our baggage and were loading up onto a Viking bus. I am guessing that Viking may be a part of the gentrification, paying for expensive, accessible mooring positions, buying and maintaining their own bus fleet rather than chartering, and supplying their ships in bulk with all the advantages that bulk purchasing might bring. As we were leaving the airport, I saw something very strange;

It was at a different hall from the one we came into, and we think it might be one of the budget airlines. The line stretched out several hundred meters, and only inched along. We hoped that we would not face a similar fate upon departure. (As it turned out, our departure had its own, radically different anomalies.)

December 15, 2019 Posted by | Adventure, France, Paris, Stranger in a Strange Land, Travel | , , , | Leave a comment