Here There and Everywhere

Expat wanderer

What Do You Pack?

One day I want to go through my life and figure out how many miles I have flown altogether. I am guessing it’s a bundle. When I was in university alone, we flew back and forth every year, sometimes twice, from the US to Germany.

With all these flights, I’ve made a few rules for myself.

1. Always carry extra underwear and something to sleep in, and mascara.
One time I was stranded in a strange city, with my very young son, unexpectedly. We were given a voucher for a hotel I didn’t know, and a meal voucher. I didn’t have anything with me – no make up, nothing to sleep in, and I didn’t want to sleep in my clothes, no spare underwear. I felt so vulnerable, so unprepared. Guys won’t understand about the necessity of mascara, but we are naked without it.

2. Pack lightly, except underwear.
In your normal life, don’t you have favorites? Clothes you grab because you feel comfortable in them, and you look good in them? Pack those clothes. If you think you might be going out, pack a pretty scarf. (I learned that from British women, who, even trekking in the bush in Africa, have their beautiful pearl earrings and a nice scarf, and even worn with safari clothes, makes you look good in the evening.) If you hardly ever wear it in your normal life, you probably won’t wear it on this trip. (There are some exceptions to this rule, based on cultural sensitivities.)
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3. Keep your laptop, camera and good jewelry with you. Passport, favorite credit card, and driver’s license, ditto. Have at least one good book, and if you do crosswords or Sudoku, have them with you, too, to pass the time when your flight is delayed.

4. Figure out the minimum number of shoes you will need, and pack only clothes that go with those shoes. One pair has to be comfortable hiking shoes, even if they are not beautiful.

5. If you have to pack something valuable, be sure it is deeply buried, and like inside something else.

6. You can buy pretty boxes that keep breakables protected so you don’t have to carry them with you. You can wrap the breakables in your dirty laundry. And you can always use a pretty box to store things in or to give a present in.

7. If you plan to come back with more than you go with, pack a suitcase inside a suitcase. Then you have double the space for your return. You can also pack a cloth carrying bag that carries a LOT and call it your carry-on.

8. Always have at least one 1-quart plastic bag with you, with the new airline regulations. Two or three are better – and always pack any creme or liquid in at least one plastic bag.

9. If it’s going to be cold, have layers, and especially have 1 pair of thick socks that can also be worn if you have to walk a ways to the toilet and/or can be worn to keep your toesies warm when you sleep.

10. When worse comes to worse, you can buy another suitcase at TJ Maxx, or Ross’s Dress for Less, etc. for a very low price. This may work in other countries, too, but I don’t know the sources for a last-minute suitcase in other countries.

What are your rules? Any horrible experience you want to share? What will you not travel without?

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January 31, 2007 Posted by | Adventure, ExPat Life, Living Conditions, Travel, Uncategorized | 11 Comments

“I’m A Third Culture Kid, Are You?”

Most of those who read my blog are not Kuwaiti, and it is for you that I am writing this post. So many of you who read me are also “Third Culture Kids.” My blogging friend Amer just wrote a post by the above title, and whoa! The responses will blow you away! Please go to I am a Third Culture Kid, Are You? and check in with your story – where you came from and where you are today.

And how being a third culture kid has affected your life. This is one of the best blog entries I have read.

The book from which the term Third Culture Kids comes from is mentioned in an earlier blog entry of mine, Chicken Nuggets and Big Macs and is by David C. Pollock and Ruth E. Van Reken. You can find it at Amazon.com. If you are a third culture kid, you might want to buy two or three – you will keep giving them away. The book is that good.

January 30, 2007 Posted by | Blogging, Books, Cross Cultural, ExPat Life, Family Issues, Relationships, Social Issues | 14 Comments

Please Be Careful Out There

In Seattle, rain is common. Just a little rain, like today, is no big deal. In Seattle, we don’t have air full of sand, and then just a little rain, so it’s a whole new ball game.

I didn’t think it would be dangerous out driving today. I had two meetings; I had no idea I would see so many accidents. This one scares me. I hope the people got to the hospital OK.

Please, friends, be careful out there today. Get home safely.

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January 30, 2007 Posted by | Adventure, ExPat Life, Family Issues, Health Issues, Kuwait, Living Conditions, Lumix, Photos, Weather | 5 Comments

Pacific Northwest Day

Brrrr. .. .. Weather Underground: Kuwait tells me it’s 54 F / 12 C out this morning, but from my window all I can see is a lot of fog, whitecaps on the waves, and a steady cool breeze blowing. Am in in Kuwait? Or am I back in Seattle? This is a very Seattle kind of day.

A friend and I went to lunch yesterday, sat outside in a beautiful garden area eating mezze and grill . . . the weather was perfect. Warm, sunny, without being hot. It’s such joy to be able to eat outside, in the fresh air. Later in the day, I needed a jacket, and this morning . . . well, maybe the sun will burn some of the fog off and we will have another gorgeous day.

I turned the air conditioning off back in November – I want to see how long we can go before we have to turn it back on again. I want a beautiful LOOOOONNNGGG Spring.

High expected of 68 F / 20 C – yep, that’s spring, sometimes even summer, in Seattle.

Mom called last night – she says Seattle is very very cold this winter, lots of snow, and very very cold. She has gone back to her exercise classes now, to get stronger for some trips she has coming up. She tries to keep busy. She misses my dad.

January 30, 2007 Posted by | Eating Out, ExPat Life, Kuwait, Living Conditions, Seattle, Weather | 3 Comments

Bush Commits One Additional Troop to Afghanistan

Remember The Onion? (dying laughing) Remember, folks, The Onion is purely satire, not true, just screamingly funny.
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WASHINGTON, DC—In an effort to display his administration’s willingness to fight on all fronts in the War on Terror, President Bush said at a press conference Monday that American ground forces in Afghanistan will be aided by the immediate deployment of Marine Pfc. Tim Ekenberg of Camp Lejeune, NC.

“I want the American people to know that I have not forgotten that our battle for freedom began in Afghanistan, rooting out the extremists of al-Qaeda and the Taliban,” Bush said. “Today, I am ordering the deployment of the 325th Marine Expeditionary Brigade, Private Tim Ekenberg, to the embattled Kandahar region.”

“We will take whatever measures necessary to win,” Bush added. “Isn’t that right, Tim?”

Ekenberg is scheduled to arrive in Afghanistan on Friday. His duties include providing full military support for the still-tenuous democratic government, resolving potential conflicts between rival warlords, gathering intelligence for his superiors, delivering humanitarian relief to millions of Afghan citizens displaced by factional warfare, and maintaining a high level of personal physical fitness.

Ekenberg’s most vital assignment, however, will be to patrol approximately 1,200 square miles of volatile territory on the Afghan–Pakistani border and conduct search-and-destroy missions on the estimated 40,000 caves where U.S. intelligence sources believe Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaeda operatives could be hiding.

The top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, 2nd Lt. Jon Pinard, said that Ekenberg will be a valuable addition to his existing military assets.

“Our Marines are the best-equipped and best-trained in the world, and I have it on good authority that Tim is an especially well-trained Marine,” Pinard said. “We have requested that he receive full logistical support while deployed in this theater. We’ve been told that his body armor will be arriving within six months of his reporting for duty, budget permitting.”

“We welcome the 325th and have plenty of work for him over here,” he added.

The troop surge also seemed to boost morale among the thousands of servicemen and -women already on the ground in Afghanistan, who said they hoped Ekenberg would relieve some of the psychological pressures of being outnumbered by unknown and unidentifiable combatants in a foreign land far from home.

“I can’t tell you how great it will be to have someone riding with me in the APC,” said Lance Cpl. Amy Patterson, the 117th Light Armored Division, referring to her M113 armored personnel carrier. “We were beginning to think America had forgotten about us. I’m glad to see I was wrong.”

While reception of Bush’s announcement was generally positive, a small number of Republicans accused the president of shifting much-needed funding away from active forces in Iraq, particularly the 11,000-member 212th Army Communications and Dietary Services Brigade, now stationed outside Tikrit.

Some prominent Democrats have expressed cautious support of Ekenberg’s deployment. Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) applauded the Bush administration for “at least meeting [our] demands 1/20,000th of the way.”

“This is where we should have been sending troops all along,” Clinton said. “It’s a promising sign that the president is finally willing to unleash on Afghanistan the full force and military might of the United States Marine Corps Private Tim Ekenberg.”

Although the 325th is forbidden from disclosing specific details of the upcoming assignment, his father spoke to reporters from the brigade’s childhood home in North Carolina shortly after Bush’s announcement.

“Even if you disagree with our commander in chief, I ask that your prayers go out to Tim and that we continue to remember the sacrifices that are being made out there,” Dean Ekenberg said. “Please, support our troop.”

January 29, 2007 Posted by | Joke, Lies, Middle East, News, Political Issues | 5 Comments

The Pearl in Doha

We’ve been watching the creation of a whole new living area in Doha, the Pearl. Like the palm tree in Bahrain, and similar creations in the UAE, the islands are being created with materials from destroyed buildings, and landfill.

In Qatar, it will be one of two areas where non-Qatteris can buy property, the other being the West Bay Lagoon, near where The Pearl is also being created by the Al Fardan Group.

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Sorry for the poor photo quality, but it’s taken through the airplane window. Aargh. It’s interesting seeing where the channels are being dredged for the private boat docks.

January 28, 2007 Posted by | Doha, Geography / Maps, Middle East, Political Issues, Social Issues, Uncategorized | 17 Comments

Germany’s culture of shopping slowly changing

Little Diamond forwarded this to me from the Chicago Tribune. The battle to extend shopping hours in Germany has been going on for years. As the hours increase, the annual birthday celebrations described in the preceding blog entry will pass into “olden day traditions.”

By Tom Hundley
BERLIN – Unlike America, Germany has not yet adopted the shop-till-you-drop lifestyle, but things are starting to change.

Even in bustling cities like Berlin and Frankfurt, retailers used to roll up the sidewalks at 6:30 p.m. On weekends, Germans had to scramble to get their shopping done by 2 p.m. on Saturday. Sunday shopping was strictly verboten.

But a long battle over longer store hours is slowly being won by retailers who believe that more hours mean more money in the cash register. They are opposed by Germany’s powerful trade unions whose leaders say workers’ rights must be protected.

The gradual loosening of strict rules governing store hours also reflects a larger battle to loosen up a German economy that suffers from sluggish growth and 9.6 percent unemployment. Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government says it is eager for reform, but it has decided to leave the issue of store hours to local governments.

These days, the Galeria Kaufhof, a newly renovated department store in the heart of the former East Berlin’s shopping district, is crowded with customers until 10 p.m.

“Seven years ago we started a small revolution here in Berlin when we said we are opening on Sundays,” said Detlef Steffens, the store manager.

“We discovered a loophole: according to the law, you could open on Sunday if you were selling souvenirs, so we put stickers that said `souvenirs’ on all the merchandise,” he said.

“We were sued by other store owners. But that started an avalanche.”

Steffens’ store took its case to Germany’s federal constitutional court. The court rejected its arguments but said the particulars of Sunday shopping hours should be regulated by local authorities.

The Berlin city government decided to allow stores to open on six Sundays a year. Last year, it extended the number to 10, plus three extra Sundays during the World Cup soccer tournament.

Last November, Berlin threw caution to the wind and adopted a modified version of America’s 24/7 consumer ethos. Call it 24/6 – non-stop shopping for six days of the week and 10 Sundays.

The Galeria has opted to stay open until 8 p.m. Monday through Wednesday and until 10 p.m. Thursday through Saturday. The extra hours have increased revenue and enabled the store to hire 50 more employees, for a total of 1,080.

Steffens says his employees have generally been supportive of the longer hours.

“It’s an East-West thing,” he said, referring to the lingering psychological divide that still separates Germans who grew up in prosperous West Germany from those who experienced communist East Germany.

Almost all of Steffens’ employees are from the East. Those from the West, he said, are more likely to resist changes proposed by management.

“The trade unions are not so different from East to West, but worker councils in the East are more realistic. Here there’s more of a collective mentality: We are one team; it means our jobs,” he said.

Cornelia Hass, a spokeswoman for Ver.di, a large trade union that represents service employees, says the union’s position is that “everyone should have the liberty to work (non-traditional hours), but nobody has to work these hours.”

Hass disputes the argument that more hours mean more revenue and more jobs.

“People don’t buy more just because they can do it 24 hours a day. You can only spend the euro in your pocket once,” she said.

While acknowledging that store hours have to reflect people’s changing lifestyles, she said Germany already has “more square meters of shopping opportunity per consumer than Europe or the United States” and that fierce competition among retailers was forcing them to trim personnel.

There’s also a quality-of-life issue.

“I really believe that Sunday is the day when everyone who doesn’t need to work, shouldn’t work,” Hass said. “Society needs to lay back for one day, to find time for friends and family.” She also noted that of the 3 million retail workers represented by Ver.di, 80 percent were women, and most had families.

“They need their Sundays,” she said.

The union is supporting three retail workers who have filed a lawsuit challenging Berlin’s new Sunday opening hours.

But most of Germany’s 16 federal states appear to be following Berlin’s example and extending store hours.

Some small merchants are worried, fearing that extended hours by large retailers will force them to attempt the same.

“It’s a problem for us,” said Michael Turberg, who owns a Berlin toy store famous for model trains.

“We are rather specialized and we need staff of high quality. When you are open longer, you need more staff of high quality. It’s not easy to find staff, and it’s not easy to pay them.”

That’s not a problem for Mohamed Wehbe and his family. Immigrants from Lebanon, they run a small shop that sells snacks, groceries, cigarettes and newspapers. It’s open 365 days a year.

When they started their business a few years ago, and kept it open until midnight, they got a polite letter from Berlin authorities advising them to observe the legal opening hours.

“We didn’t know about such laws,” said Wehbe.

Under the new law, the shop is open from 6 a.m. until midnight.

For Wehbe and many other immigrant entrepreneurs, there are scarcely enough hours in a day for earning money.

“This summer,” he said, “we’re going 24/7.”

January 28, 2007 Posted by | Cross Cultural, Customer Service, ExPat Life, Family Issues, Generational, Germany, Living Conditions, News, Shopping, Social Issues | Leave a comment

A Special Birthday in Germany

Birthdays aren’t my favorite days, and in spite of that, I’ve had some really good ones. The best birthday I can remember, ever, came as a gift of sharing that totally blew me away.

I was living in a small German village. Little by little, I mastered enough German to be able to interact with the villagers, who were very kind to me. They included my husband and I in the village events, including private birthday parties, which in Germany, are a BIG deal.

Birthdays are YOUR day. Every woman in the village brings a cake – or two. Competition to provide the fanciest, most lucious cake is keen. The cakes are not overly sweet, but are incredibly full of fresh cream. And of course, it is rude not to try a little of everyone’s cakes . . . all eyes are all watching.

The two women in the village who took care of me were my landlady and her mother-in-law, who lived in a house just across the courtyard. My landlady sang in the village choir, which performed at a variety of locations throughout the year – festivals, local events, schools – and at 50th birthday parties. The 50th Birthday Party was very special. The whole choir would sing JUST for the birthday girl.

It was a very small village. Everyone knew everyone. Some people didn’t speak because their grandmother didn’t speak to someone else’s grandmother. People carried grudges for a long time. Memories were long, and tongues were longer. My landlady’s protection was very valuable to me, an outsider in the village, who might, from time to time, violate customs without even knowing about it.

My husband and I were leaving Germany, after four years in the village. It was around this time of the year, the cold cold of winter in Germany. One evening my landlady came down and asked us to come to her birthday party the next night – our birthdays are only two days apart, and we had often celebrated together. We were delighted for the invitation, as we knew the choir would be seranading our landlady.

There was a lovely catered sit-down dinner. Everyone was in dress-up clothing, and the wine and beer were flowing. We knew it would be our last dinner in the village, and we felt so honored to be included.

And then the choir arrived. The choir master made a speech to our landlady, congratulating her on her special birthday and giving her a long list of good wishes. And then he turned to us, and said that tonight our landlady was sharing her birthday with me, and they would sing two songs for us on our departure.

This was her special day. Her 50th birthday is the day the whole village would honor her. It only happens once in your lifetime. And she shared it with me.

The choir sang “The Gypsy Wanderers”, and truly, it was appropriate for my husband and I, departing for our next life in Doha. From the first notes, I cried. I’ve never minded my vagabond life, but for that brief moment, I regretted not having the kind of deep roots that kept me anchored in one place. I would never have a village singing for my 50th birthday; I had never earned that honor. And my landlady gave it to me, simply, without fanfare, sharing the honors she had earned day by day, living in the village. She gave it expecting nothing in return for it, sheerly for the joy of sharing.

January 27, 2007 Posted by | Cross Cultural, ExPat Life, Family Issues, Friends & Friendship, Germany, Living Conditions, Relationships, Spiritual, Uncategorized | 2 Comments

A Tale of Two Cities: Kuwait and Doha

Departing Kuwait was chaos. The gates down which you walk straight into the plane seem to be non-operational, and the teeming hoardes are shipped out to the planes in buses. At gates 22-23, security was clearing people for flights to Dubai, Muskat, China and Doha, all at the same time.

People would crowd toward to gate, only to be told “Not Now! Not Now! Now is Muskat!” “Now is Doha!” “over there is China!” but as some people spoke neither English nor Arabic, there was mass confusion. Planes, unable to depart on time because passengers had not been boarded, were only steps from the airport, but still, passengers were boarded onto buses and taken out. Sheer chaos.

Arrival in Doha was smooth, if quirky. In Doha, if your baggage is marked Priority or Business, it comes off the plane last. Not just this time, but the entire time I lived in Doha, this uniqueness was the rule rather than the exception.

Doha has the Miss America entrance just like Kuwait, and fortunately my friends were there to greet me and whisk me away. But in Doha, unlike Kuwait, the exit is chaos. Private cars are waiting for arrivals, taxis, limos, and a thousand laborors stand dazed at the exit, waiting to be told what to do. Threading our way through the chaos, we race for the car and exit, making our way into the city where we meet our husbands for dinner.

It was a very short trip, but I have a few more Doha photos to share with you. The Doha skyline is changing dramatically. Here is the new Museum of Islamic Art, due to open shortly – notice anything?

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This is the new Qatar Center for the Presentation of Islam building – it includes a mosque, library, coffee shop and meeting rooms (the one on the left):

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This is the first we have seen of dhows being built in the old way in Doha:

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Last, the continually changing Corniche skyline:
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January 27, 2007 Posted by | Arts & Handicrafts, Cross Cultural, Customer Service, Doha, ExPat Life, Lumix, Photos, Qatar, Social Issues | 7 Comments

Qatar Air Doha 1st Class Lounge

This is the jacuzzi for wearied women travellers . . .

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Bring it ONNNNNN!

This is where you sleep if you have a couple hours to kill:

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And this is where you eat – and the food is YUMMY:

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You check in seated at a desk, then go through customs to the duty-free and the excalator upstairs. At the top of the stairs you are directed to the left for Business or the Right to the First Class Lounge.

From the moment you walk in, the atmosphere in the First Class Lounge is soothing and spa like. Sheets of cascading water down glass walls, ethereal soft music, and all watery colors. Easy to fall asleep, and it’s OK, because they come and get you, personally, when you need to board for your flight. Amazing. Kinda the ultimate.

Naaahhhh, I don’t travel first class all the time. Had to get someplace, weren’t any other tickets available. Enjoyed it all the way.

January 26, 2007 Posted by | Adventure, Cross Cultural, Customer Service, Doha, Eating Out, ExPat Life, Living Conditions, Lumix, Middle East, Photos, Qatar, Travel, Women's Issues | 9 Comments