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Expat wanderer

Qatteri Cat vs. Easter Egg Tree

The Qatteri Cat’s favorite toy is a Sakura Express Bag:


But sometimes, when he needs exercise, we tease him. We put his white bear “baby” at the top of his scratching post:


And the Qatteri Cat HATES that! He can’t bear it! He says “That’s just not right!” and within 30 seconds, he attacks the bear and brings – or knocks – him back down (that white blur at the bottom of the photo is the bear):


Now, he thinks our Easter Egg Tree is his new toy. (Remember the debacle with the Christmas tree?) I am working with him on this, not to bat at the eggs. So far, not so good:


*Easter Egg trees have nothing to do with religion. Easter Eggs go a long way back and are related to Spring, to fertility, and probably to early pagan rituals. Same with bunny rabbits. In Germany, people used to put literally thousands of hand decorated eggs out on their trees as Easter approached, and we would walk around admiring everyone’s trees. It is more a cultural thing, not a religious thing.

March 18, 2007 Posted by | Arts & Handicrafts, Cross Cultural, Easter, ExPat Life, Family Issues, Germany, Holiday, Humor, Kuwait, Living Conditions, Lumix, Pets, Photos | 14 Comments

Even After All this Time – Latifi

A good book can make your blood race faster. A good book may even require underlines, turned page corners to mark the places you liked the best. A good book may compell you to tell others about it. Above all, a good book is a book you think about long after you have turned the last page.

Some of my best “good books” come to me through Little Diamond, my neice who lives in Beirut. We share a family culture, but even better, we share a wacky sense of humor. There are times we can’t even let our eyes meet in family gatherings, because we are thinking the same thing and can’t afford to laugh out loud.

She recommended this book to me more than three years ago, and I bought it immediately. And then it sat in my “read me soon” pile(s), languishing, unread, until early this year.

Oh, what a treat this book is! Once I picked it up, I could hardly put it down!


The book is autobiographical, and begins in pre-revolutionary Iran, where Afchineh Latifi’s father is a soldier. You see the early years of her life with her sweet, struggling parents, and you feel like you lived in their home with them, the images are so vivid.

As a military officer, though, her father is suspect once the revolutionaries come into power, and her family’s fortunes fail. Her father is arrested. As Latifi’s mother bravely goes from jail to jail, trying to find her husband, her daughters are often with her. Once she finds him, she brings him comfort items – shaving kit, washcloth, etc. so he can maintain a small amount of dignity while he is being beaten and imprisoned. Latifi’s mother was young when this book opens, maybe in her thirties, with two daughters and two sons, and I am totally blown away by the courage it took to persist as her husband was transferred from prison to prison, increasingly brutalized, and then, immediately after the last visit – shot. So immediately that the family heard the shots.

And then the real nightmare begine. The young mother and her family have no income, and her (now dead) husband’s mother claims her house, even though they bought her a house of her own while her husband was alive. Latifi’s Mom never gives up. She gets her daughters visitor’s visas to Austria and puts them in a convent school, and then gets them to America – again on visitor’s visas – where they are forced to camp – for years – with a relative. Literally, years. Their brave mother eventually manages to get herself and her sons out of Iran, and join them in the US.

Their mother is a pistol. She is brave in the face of obstacles that would deter most of us. She never gives up. I am in total awe of her commitment to the survival – and thriving – of her family.

I love this book for two reasons – the first being the strength and courage of this family, and the second being that they immigrated to America. You will hear a lot of Americans who say terrible things about immigrants, and how they take up scarce resources better meant for “real” Americans. Who are they kidding? We are ALL immigrants, in America, except for the Native Americans! This family, their will to succeed, is the story of us all, and what makes the country great. It is still a country where you can work hard, and succeed, and thrive. It’s an every day story in our country, but a story I never get tired of hearing.

Here are some excerpts from the book:

She looked at me as if I were an alien, which in fact I was. “Yes,” she said, “You get a library card and you can borrow as many books as you want.”

“And it doesn’t cost a thing?” I asked.

“Not a penny,” the woman said. “Unless you bring the books back late. Then we charge you a late fee.”

This was news to me. There were libraries in Tehran to be sure, but we had never frequented them. Mom would come home every two or three weeks with armsful of new books, and we would devour them hungrily. We were much too spoiled to share books with anyone.

The librarian processed my card on the spot. I couldn’t believe it. It felt like the biggest gift of my life. . . . . By the end of the summer I discovered a whole new world. Books. Words. Stories. I got in touch with my inner geek. Reading was not only exciting, it offered escape. When I was reading, my other life didn’t exist. There were days when I didn’t even think of Mom.

Her Mother was still in Iran at this time, and she and her sister are living with relatives who have loud arguments wondering how much longer they will be burdened with these girls. Finally, the two sisters find jobs, as well as going to school, and save every penny, and get an apartment where they live while putting themselves through university. And, one day, their mother and brothers arrive. Life changes. They all live together again.

“It’s almost Norouz,” she said. “Or have you forgotten?”

I had indeed forgotten. She was referring to the Persian New Year, which on the Gregorian calendar falls in late March. About two weeks before the start of Norouz, many Persians take part in something called ‘khane tekani,’ which literally means ‘shaking your house.’ You will see people painting their homes, washing their carpets, sweeping out their attics, cleaning their yards. One could say that it is a form of spring cleaning, but that is only a very small part of it. In Persian ‘no’ means new, and ‘rouz’ means day. The last Wednesday of the year is known as ‘chahar shanbeh suri.’ At dusk, with the cleaning over, people light small bonfires and sing traditional songs, and those who can manage it are urged to jump over flames. Fire, too, is seen as a cleansing, purifying agent: it burns away all the negative things in one’s life – the bad habits, the misfortune, the sorrows. It’s all about cleanliness: clean house, clean soul, new beginnings.

On the “new day” itself, people focus on family and friends, and for the next two weeks there will be much visiting back and forth. In each house, one finds a ‘sofreh eid,’ . . . Laid out on this garment, one will find the ‘Haft Seen’ (Seven S’s) comprised of seven items that begin with the letter S. These are ‘sabzeh’ or sprouts (representing rebirth); samanu, a pudding (for sweetness in life); ‘senjed,’ the sweet, dry fruit of the lotus tree (representing love); ‘serkeh’ or vinegar (for patience); ‘seer’ or garlic (for its medicinal qualities); ‘somaq’ or sumak berries (for the color of sunrise); and ‘seeb’ or red apples (symbols of health and beauty. In addition there are candles laid out on the ‘sofreh eid” one for each member of the household. The lit candles represent the goodness and warmth that enter life with the coming of spring.

(For the first time, this year we are invited to a new year’s celebration, and I thank God that I read this book just at the right time, so I will know even just a little of what this is all about. I am excited to see the ‘haft seen.’ )

Something else happened that November that I will never forget: Our family celebrated Thanksgiving for the first time. We loved the whole idea behind the celebration. It wasn’t about religion, and it wasn’t about gifts; it was about people sitting down to enjoy a meal together and acknowledging everything that they had to be thankful for. And we had a lot to be thankful for.

By the end of the book, all four children have graduated from university with professional degrees. This isn’t a spoiler. The book is about the sacrifice, the hard work and the commitment it took to get them there. Even After All This Time is an inspirational book, a book you won’t soon forget, and a book you will want to share with your friends.

Amazon offers it used from $4.67 and in hardcover around $25.

And Happy New Year to my Persian friends.

March 18, 2007 Posted by | Biography, Books, Cooking, Cross Cultural, ExPat Life, Family Issues, Financial Issues, Generational, Holiday, Iran, Living Conditions, Political Issues, Relationships, Social Issues, Spiritual, Thanksgiving, Uncategorized | 7 Comments

Bacteria Helpful, Not Harmful

You might think I am obsessed with bacteria, but I am not. I think we are overly fearful, and overly protective of ourselves. Washing hands frequently is proven to help prevent frequent colds, but disinfecting our work place, etc. on a daily basis is probably not so productive. This article says, essentially, that we can disinfect all we want; we carry the stuff with us.

Bacteria on our skin natural, so stop obsessing with the hygiene
March 17, 2007
FEAR of common bacteria stoked by incessant advertising of antimicrobial soaps and cleaners may be misplaced. Researchers say that while they have discovered nearly 200 different species of bacteria living on human skin, many of these have evolved along with us for so long that they should be considered part of us – and many are helpful rather than harmful.
Some of 182 species identified on the skin appeared to be permanently in residence, while others were temporary visitors, according to the researchers from New York University School of Medicine.
In research published recently in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Dr Martin Blaser and his colleagues took swabs from the forearms of six healthy people to study the bacterial populations in human skin – our largest organ.

“We identify about 182 species,” Blaser said in an interview. “And based on those numbers, we estimate there are probably at least 250 species in the skin.

“In comparison, a good zoo might have 100 species or 200 species. So we already know that there are as many different species in our skin, just on the forearm, as there are in a good zoo.”

Bacteria are single-celled micro-organisms believed to have been the first living things on Earth.

While some cause disease, bacteria also reside normally in our bodies, for example in the digestive tract, performing useful chores.

“Without good bacteria, the body could not survive,” added Dr Zhan Gao, a scientist in Blaser’s lab involved in the study.

The researchers noted that microbes in the body actually outnumber human cells 10-to-1.

“Our microbes are actually, in essence, a part of our body,” Blaser said. “We think that many of the normal organisms are protecting the skin. So that’s why I don’t think it’s a great idea to keep washing all the time because we’re basically washing off one of our defence layers,” Blaser added.

It has long been known that bacteria reside in the skin, but Blaser and his colleagues used a sophisticated molecular technique based on DNA to conduct a rigorous census.

The inhabitants proved to be more diverse than had been thought, with about 8 per cent of the species previously unknown, the researchers found.

Some bacteria seemed to be permanent residents of the skin, with four genera – Staphylococcus, Streptococcus, Propionibacteria and Corynebacteria – accounting for a bit more than half the population. Others were more transient.

In each person, the population of bacteria changed over time although a core set existed for each.

The volunteers included three men and three women, and the findings suggested the two sexes may differ in the bacteria they tote along.

The researchers previously had studied bacteria in the stomach and esophagus. With this research, they found that the insides of the body and the skin had major differences in bacterial populations.

“Microbes have been living in animals probably for a billion years. And the microbes that we have in our body are not accidental. They have evolved with us,” Blaser said.


This article is from The Australian: Health and I found it on Google News.

March 18, 2007 Posted by | ExPat Life, Health Issues, Hygiene, Living Conditions, News, Statistics, Uncategorized | 5 Comments