Here There and Everywhere

Expat wanderer

“It’s Not Enough to Say ‘Hang in There” says Pope Francis

From the Associated Press

VATICAN CITY (AP) — The Vatican will shelter two families of refugees who are “fleeing death” from war or hunger, Pope Francis announced Sunday as he called on Catholic parishes, convents and monasteries across Europe to do the same.

Francis cited Mother Teresa, the European-born nun who cared for the poorest in India, in making his appeal in remarks to pilgrims and tourists in St. Peter’s Square.

“Faced with the tragedy of tens of thousands of refugees who are fleeing death by war and by hunger, and who are on a path toward a hope for life, the Gospel calls us to be neighbors to the smallest and most abandoned, to give them concrete hope,” Francis said.

It’s not enough to say “Have courage, hang in there,” he added.

It’s not enough to say “Have courage, hang in there,” he added.

In Pensacola, we have several top level Syrian doctors. Syria has been a crossroads of civilization for longer than the United States has been in existence. We can benefit by welcoming the Syrians and the Iraqis and the Afghanis into our own communities.

September 6, 2015 Posted by | Community, Cultural, ExPat Life, Faith, Interconnected, Living Conditions, Moving, Travel | , , , , | Leave a comment

And The Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini

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I danced when I saw the Amazon box; rarely do I buy hardcover (hurts too much when they fall over if I fall asleep reading, too bulky to carry on planes) but this one I was on the waiting list for, mail it as soon as it is published! Khaled Housseini, author of Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns has a new runaway best-seller; thanks to him I’ve just spent three days in Afghanistan, Paris and Los Angeles.

As the book opens, I am big brother to a baby sister whose Mom died in childbirth, living in a remote village in Afghanistan. Life is tough, but through the eyes of these children, life is idyllic, even though food is scarce and winters are cold. We have a huge oak tree with a swing, we play with the other children, and we have each other. Our father’s new wife is kind enough, but is busy with her own children, and the drudgery of cooking, cleaning and making do in a very small, poor Afghan village.

Later, I am Pari, living in Paris with an alcoholic, self-absorbed mother, making a life for myself, but always with a nagging feeling of something just outside my peripheral vision, another life . . .

The tale is told through the eyes of many, and on the way to the end of the tale we meet a wide spectrum of humanity, suffer the ills of war, callousness and unintended cruelties. We find that the man with superficial charm also saves and changes the lives of many, we find a doctor who finds fulfillment serving in the poorly resourced hospitals of Afghanistan, and we feel the agonies of a dutiful daughter watching her father fade into the world of Alzheimer’s.

It’s a wonderful, wild ride, richly textured, and when it finishes, you are not ready for it to end.

June 21, 2013 Posted by | Adventure, Books, Bureaucracy, Character, Circle of Life and Death, Cross Cultural, Cultural, ExPat Life, Family Issues, Fiction, Living Conditions, Marriage, Mating Behavior, Paris, Political Issues, Relationships | | 4 Comments

Afghanistan: Such Laws Give Women Ideas . . .

Law Protecting Afghanistan Women Blocked By Conservatives

By KAY JOHNSON 05/18/13 08:03 AM ET EDT AP


KABUL, Afghanistan — Conservative religious lawmakers in Afghanistan blocked a law on Saturday that aims to protect women’s freedoms, with some arguing that parts of it violate Islamic principles or encourage women to have sex outside of marriage.

The failure highlights how tenuous women’s rights remain a dozen years after the ouster of the hard-line Taliban regime, whose strict interpretation of Islam kept Afghan women virtual prisoners in their homes.

Khalil Ahmad Shaheedzada, a conservative lawmaker for Herat province, said the legislation was withdrawn shortly after being introduced in parliament because of fierce opposition from religious parties who said parts of the law are un-Islamic.

“Whatever is against Islamic law, we don’t even need to speak about it,” Shaheedzada said.

The Law on Elimination of Violence Against Women has actually been in effect since 2009 by presidential decree. It is being brought before parliament now because lawmaker Fawzia Kofi, a women’s rights activist, wants to cement it with a parliamentary vote to prevent its reversal by any future president who might be tempted to repeal it to satisfy hard-line religious parties.

Among the law’s provisions are criminalizing child marriage and banning “baad,” the traditional practice of selling and buying women to settle disputes. It also criminalizes domestic violence and specifies that rape victims should not face criminal charges for fornication or adultery.

“We want to change this decree as a law and get the vote of parliamentarian for this law,” said Kofi, who is herself running for president in next year’s elections. “Unfortunately, there were some conservative elements who are opposing this law. What I am disappointed at is because there were also women who were opposing this law.”

Afghanistan’s parliament has more than 60 female lawmakers, mostly due to constitutional provisions reserving certain seats for women.

The child marriage ban and the idea of protecting female rape victims from prosecution were particularly heated subjects in Saturday’s parliamentary debate, said Nasirullah Sadiqizada Neli, a conservative lawmaker from Daykundi province.

Neli suggested that removing the custom – common in Afghanistan – of prosecuting raped women for adultery would lead to social chaos, with women freely engaging in extramarital sex safe in the knowledge they could claim rape if caught.

Lawmaker Shaheedzada also claimed that the law might encourage promiscuity among girls and women, saying it reflected Western values not applicable in Afghanistan.

“Even now in Afghanistan, women are running from their husbands. Girls are running from home,” Shaheedzada said. “Such laws give them these ideas.”

Freedoms for women are one of the most visible – and symbolic – changes in Afghanistan since 2001 U.S.-led campaign that toppled the Taliban regime. Aside from their support for al-Qaida leaders, the Taliban are probably most notorious for their harsh treatment of women under their severe interpretation of Islamic law.

For five years, the regime banned women from working and going to school, or even leaving home without a male relative. In public, all women were forced wear a head-to-toe burqa veil, which covers even the face with a mesh panel. Violators were publicly flogged or executed. Freeing women from such draconian laws lent a moral air to the Afghan war.

Since then, women’s freedoms have improved vastly, but Afghanistan remains a deeply conservative culture, especially in rural areas.


Associated Press writer Rahim Faiez contributed in Kabul.

May 18, 2013 Posted by | Bureaucracy, Cultural, Family Issues, Law and Order, Living Conditions, Mating Behavior, Relationships, Women's Issues | , , , , , | Leave a comment

In Xanadu: A Quest by William Dalrymple

This book was on my (huge) “Read Me” stack, and I picked it up for a change of pace. As I started reading, I wondered “how did this get there?” My first instinct was it was a recommendation from Little Diamond. As I was reading, however, I came across a segment that was what our priest had read in church around the Feast of the Epiphany about the birthplace of the wise men who came seeking the Christ Child after his birth. I wrote down the title and ordered it from (which has some copies used from 72 cents).


William Dalrymple wrote this book when he was a mere 22 years old. He and a travelling companion took off to trace Marco Polo’s journey from Jerusalem to Xanadu, where he was taking oil from the sanctuary lamp to Kubla Khan.

In a world where we have all been taught to be so careful, they take incredible risks. They travel on the cheap – staying in fleabag hotels, sometimes sleeping “rough”, i.e. out in the open. They travel any way they can – an occasional train, but more often a truck, a bus, whatever is going their way. One very long segment they travelled on top of a pile of coal.

They travel from Jerusalem up through Syria and into Turkey, then turn east and cross Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan to China. They have some amazing adventures, see some astounding scenery and because of their mode of travel, have a lot of time to talk with their travelling companions or people in the cities where they are staying.

I am blown away that an unmarried couple would cross Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan. I guess they told people they were married to share a room (they were on a budget) and they were only friends, not a couple, but what a risk. I am astonished that they were never asked to produce a marriage license or any proof of marriage when they stayed in hotels. I am astonished at the girls (one left in Lahore and another joined him, but these are girls who are friends, not anything more) would travel on the backs of trucks full of men, and never blink an eye.

The book is occasionally hilarious. Most of the hilarity results from foods they have to eat – sometimes it is the only food available – or from misunderstandings because of lack of a common language, or due to their frequent bouts of diarrhea, what I really liked about the author was that he was rarely pompous, and when he is funny, it is usually about some conversation he has had, or some mistake he has made.

One of my favorite parts of the book happens in Iran:

As we sat waiting for the bus to Tabriz, the next town on Marco Polo’s itinerary, we watched the mullahs speeding past in their sporty Renault 5s. Iran was proving far more complex than we had expected. A religious revolution in the twentieth century was a unique occurence, resulting in the first theocracy since the fall of the Dalai Lama in Tibet. Yet this revolution took place not in a poor banana republic, but in the richest and most sophisticated country in Asia. A group of clerics was trying to graft a mediaeval system of government and a pre-medieval way of thinking upon a country with a prosperous modern economy and a large and highly educated middle class. The posters in the bus station seemed to embody these contradictions. A frieze over the back wall of the shelter spoke out, in the name of Allah, against littering. On another wall two monumental pictures of the Ayatollah were capped with the inscriptions in both Persian and English:




We had expected anything of the Ayatollah. But hardly that he would turn out to be an enthusiastic ecologist.

The challenge of this journey is to follow as closely as possible the path Marco Polo took, but two segments of the journey go through off-limits areas. They find a way into one, to discover later it is an atomic testing area, and the second, at the very end, around Xanadu, they find receptive Chinese officers who take them to have a brief glimpse of the ruins of Xanadu while booting them out of the area. As they stand in Xanadu, they repeat a poem that every American child grows up with in English Literature:

In Zanadu did Kubla Khan
A stately pleasure-dome decree:
Where Alph, the sacred river, ran
Through caverns measureless to man
Down to a sunless sea.

So twice five miles of gertile ground
With walls and twoers were girdled round:
And there were gardens bright with sinuous rills.
Where blossom’d many an incense-bearing tree:
And here were forests ancient as the hills,
Enfolding sunny spots of greenery.

I liked this book. Dalrymple is a history major, and often quotes from historical – even obscure – texts to illuminate what he observes. I think I may look at a couple more he has written since.

March 9, 2009 Posted by | Adventure, Biography, Bureaucracy, Cross Cultural, Cultural, Geography / Maps, Humor, Iran, Living Conditions, Local Lore, Pakistan, Travel, Turkey | , | 7 Comments

Khadra and The Swallows of Kabul

While waiting for our luggage to be offloaded, we were passing time, visiting with our greeter / expediter, asking about his family, his life in Zambia.

“How does this work, travelling with your son and your daughter-in-law?” he asked us. “Do you like her?”

Nothing on earth could disguise the delight on our faces as we both said “Yes!” We truly adore her.

When our son was only seven years old, a Christian speaker passing through said that if you have children, it is likely that their mates have also been born, so to start praying now for the unknown mate your child would choose, and we did.

When our son called us from university, and told us there was someone he wanted us to meet at graduation, and graduation was still months away, we knew, we just knew, that this might be THE ONE.

We were so delighted when we met her, we liked her immediately. What parent isn’t happy to see his/her son/daughter happy, and choosing well?

“But!” our meeter/greeter added, “how do you like her family?”

And we laughed again! We love her family! Her father is smart and very funny, and her mother is kind and practical, and we all share the same values on family and friends and living our lives. She comes from a large rowdy family that gathers when they can, and so do we.

And YOU are thinking “what does all this have to do with The Swallows of Kabul?” but I am getting there.

On the trip, we all had books for our quiet time, and I could see EnviroGirl deeply engrossed in this book. When I asked her, she said she had gotten it from her father’s wife, a woman with whom I often talk books, and that she (EnviroGirl) was trying to finish it so that she could leave it with me.

And thank goodness that she did! I couldn’t put it down!

First, you think it is written by Yasmina Khadra, but that is a pseudonym. The real author, Mohammed Moulessehoul, was Algerian army officer, and he used the pseudonym to avoid having to submit the manuscript for approval by military authorities. That got my attention right away.

The book is about Taleban era Afghanistan, and starts out with utter hopelessness, describing the deterioration in life brought about by the arbitrary imposition of religious rule, as interpreted by men who have memorized the Qur’an, but have a poor understanding of what they have memorized. Women lead a dismal, limited life, at the mercy of men who treat them as detestable if they are seen in public, even totally cloaked.

His language is beautiful, poetic and compelling, even describing despair and desolation.

We meet two couples, Atiq, a jailer, and his wife, Musarrat, who risked her own life to save his life back when he was seriously wounded and left for dead, and Mohsen, former member of a moderately successful merchant family, married to the love of his life, Zunaira, who is beautiful, educated and from a wealthy background. These men love their wives, and have a strong, genuine connection to them. Their ability to maintain that connection, and to stay connected to their own values, withers in the dry, dusty context of fundamentalist rule.

Their lives and relationships have been changing gradually, increasingly limited and undignified under the stress of Taleban rule, and the novel follows a rapid spiral of deterioration and folly. The steady decline of their lives speeds when Mohsen makes a terrible impulsive decision, has to live with the consequences, and confesses to his wife.

Atiq, too, faces dismal consequences. Even though we know he is limited, he becomes a sympathetic character. His hardness of heart covers a genuine grief that his wife is dying, and he can do nothing to stop it, nor to alleviate her pain.

We all face hard times. In our family, when someone lashes out unjustly, we often ask “is it something I have done, or am I just the nearest dog to kick?” It always gets a laugh, and it puts things back in perspective, puts us on the same side. Sometimes we can’t always vent our frustrations against those people or events creating the frustration, so we take it out on those we love – and who love us. It’s not right, it’s not fair or just, but it is very human, and once you get that out on the table, it is easier to discuss the real issue.

When Zunaira ends up in jail, Atiq’s world is shattered as if by an earthquake – the earth moves under his feet, all his understanding of life is shaken.

“As he cleans up, he cautiously lifts his eyes to the roof beam looming over the cell like a bird of evil augury, and his gaze lingers on the anemic little lightbulb, growing steadily dimmer in its ceiling socket. Screwing his courage to the sticking point, he walks back to the lone occupied cell, and there, in the very middle of the cage, the magical vision: the prisoner has removed her burqa! She’s sitting cross-legged on the floor. Her elbows are on her knees, her hands are joined under her chin. She’s praying. Atiq is thunderstruck. Never before has he seen such splendor. With her godess’s profile, her long hair spread across her back, and her enormous eyes, like horizons, the condemned woman is beautiful beyond imagination. She’s like a dawn, gathering brightness in the heart of this poisonour, squalid, fatal dungeon.

Except for his wife’s, Atiq hasn’t seen a woman’s face for many years. He’s even learned to live without such sights. For him, women are only ghosts, voiceless, charmless ghosts that pass practically unnoticed along the streets; flocks of infirm swallows – blue, yellow, often faded, several seasons behind – that make a mournful sound when they come into the proximity of men.

And all at once, a veil falls and a miracle appears. Atiq can’t get over it. A complete, solid woman? A genuine tangible woman’s face, also complete, right here in front of him? He’s been cut off from such a forbidden sight for so long that he believed it had been banished even from people’s imaginations. . .

Atiq has a friend, Mirza, who thrives under Taleban rule, as a soldier, and also running illegal businesses highly profitable under the current regime. He encourages Atiq to abandon his cancer-striken wife, to get rid of her and to find a fresh, young wife. He offers Atiq shady business opportunities, and tells him a wise man bends with the wind. Ignorance and chaos benefit Mirza, and he has no wish to see the good old days return.

In spite of the bleakness, the desolation, the crushing arbitrariness and inhumanity, there is hope, love, and compassion in a thin, steady stream throughout the book.

Once I started reading, I had to finish. It was a great book for the long trip back to Kuwait, one I am eager to pass along to the next avid reader.

June 29, 2008 Posted by | Books, Bureaucracy, Community, Cross Cultural, ExPat Life, Family Issues, Interconnected, Law and Order, Leadership, Lies, Living Conditions, Marriage, Poetry/Literature, Political Issues, Relationships, Social Issues, Spiritual, Women's Issues | , , , | 5 Comments