Here There and Everywhere

Expat wanderer

“Is Your House Always This Clean?”

We had guests this week, visitors from overseas, and it was so much fun. One woman was full of questions. This was her first time out of her own country, and you know how it is when you are in a foreign culture, people think differently. Some of her questions bordered on impolite, according to our culture, but we could tell she was asking because she really was interested, and we didn’t let her questions bother us.

“No!” I laughed, “We cleaned because we had guests coming! My husband vacuumed and I washed all the floors!”

My daughter-in-law jumped in.

“Yes!” she laughed. “Yes, their house is always this clean!”

We all laughed.

“It’s just my husband and me,” I added, “it’s not that hard to keep it picked up and neat. We make extra effort when guests are coming.”

“Why do you do this?” she asked. “Why do you invite strangers into your home and give us dinner?”

“People have been so kind to us, in so many countries, in so many ways,” I began, “No matter how hard we try, we will never be able to repay all the kindness we have received. But we do our best.”

We were in my kitchen, which is not large, and I am trying to get dinner on the table. It is a simple, family dinner, a little chaotic, but with lots of dishes so the guests can find something they might like to eat.

“Do you clean yourself? You have no cook?” she asked.

“We clean. Both of us. We could hire help, but it is very expensive here,” I said, pulling the chicken out of the oven. “And we do our own cooking. My husband makes bread! He is very good at it.”

During the evening she continued asking questions, and now, several days later, we find ourselves thinking about the questions, and thinking . . . THIS is why we do it! We love these guests who come in with a different way of looking at things and their questions, which stimulate us to think in new ways, too, as we try to explain why we do things the way we do them.

I remember in Doha, the Philipina maids would ask me “how old are you?” because they couldn’t guess by looking at me. We never ask a woman how old they are once they are past maybe eighteen or twenty years old. We never ask how much money a husband – or wife – makes. It is culturally taboo, it just isn’t done. We never ask what kind of birth control someone is using. I am aware of these things because I have been asked, and it made me think about it.

But now I wonder what questions I have asked in foreign lands which shocked people, or made them uncomfortable?

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August 30, 2011 Posted by | Adventure, Communication, Cross Cultural, Cultural, ExPat Life, Friends & Friendship, Interconnected, Pensacola, Random Musings | 2 Comments

Eid Mubarak!

The great fast of Ramadan has ended, and AdventureMan and I wish our Muslim friends Eid Mubarak!

August 30, 2011 Posted by | Eid, Friends & Friendship | 6 Comments

Making My Doctor Happy

“You can cheat, you know,” my younger sister told me. “Just don’t eat meat for the week before your blood test.”

No, I didn’t know that! But I forgot, so I put off my appointment and blood test for another week, but I forgot again. Oh well. I took the test, cataloging all my mistakes (too much sugar, too much salt, too much meat, too much processed food) and went to my appointment with a sinking heart.

My doctor looked happy. He was kind of bouncing up and down with a big smile.

“Look at these readings!” he crowed! “We don’t often see turnarounds like this! Have you been exercising?”

“Yep! Three days a week!” I responded.

“Your blood pressure has dropped substantially.”

He is right. I am supposed to take it daily, and I’ve watched it fall back to where it was in my twenties.

“And your cholesterol dropped to 166! That’s 45 below your last reading!”

Holy cow! And I didn’t even cheat!

Even better, my triglycerides level has improved to optimal.

What surprises me is I haven’t had any side-effects, or not much. I had been concerned I would have a reaction, but I don’t feel any different, I don’t feel more health conscious or virtuous or like I’m being careful. It’s kind of amazing to me that small doses of medications can make such a difference.

I am switching my sources, however. The last refill I got (free) from the Navy Pharmacy disintegrated in the bottle. Maybe it’s the humidity in summer in Pensacola, but I ended up sort of estimating how much powder would equal a pill and licking it off my palm rather than go back there – again – and have to negotiate for a replacement. They make me feel like some kind of cheat or druggie when I ask to get a refill early because I am traveling. The last time, I had to show my airplane ticket to prove I was refilling early because I had to travel. (!) Is there a big black market for blood pressure medication???

I’m still dancing on air to have my readings come back so good . . . without cheating, LOL. 🙂

August 28, 2011 Posted by | Aging, Customer Service, Exercise, Health Issues, Living Conditions, Pensacola | 4 Comments

HIV Epidemic Emerging in Middle East and North Africa

Recently published on National Public Radio is a study showing that governments are quietly gathering statistics on the rising tide of HIV infections in the Middle East and North Africa, but they don’t want those statistics published:

HIV epidemics are emerging among men who have sex with men in the Middle East and North Africa, researchers say. It’s a region where HIV/AIDS isn’t well understood, or studied.

More than 5 percent of men who have sex with men are infected by HIV in countries including Egypt, Iran, Lebanon, Morocco, Sudan and Tunisia, according to a recent study in PLoS Medicine. In one group of men in Pakistan, the rate of infection was about 28 percent. (For reference, in 2008, rates of HIV infection among men who have sex with men in the U.S. ranged from 16 percent among white men up to 28 percent of black men, according to the CDC.)

Risky behavior, low condom use, injectable drug use and male sex workers are some of the factors that could cause HIV rates to rise in the region, the researchers say. On average, the men who have sex with men group had between four and 14 sexual partners within the past six months, with consistent condom use falling below 25 percent.

Lack of HIV surveillance and low access to treatment and prevention are a concern for researchers, who believe the window of opportunity to prevent the epidemic from spreading across the region is growing smaller.

Shots had a chance to speak with one of the study’s authors, Dr. Laith Abu-Raddad, assistant professor of public health at the Weill Cornell Medical College in Qatar, to discuss the challenges of researching such a taboo topic.

What made you decide to pursue this study?

There are some political and community leaders who believe that our region is not affected by the epidemic. While others, such as HIV activists, believe that men having sex with men behavior is hidden, so HIV data must be hidden. They have called it the “HIV epidemic behind the veil.” It occurred to me that these are very contrasting views, and the truth must be out there somewhere.

I started this work eight years ago, to get every piece of evidence that we have on HIV. Turns out that there are more data than we think. The regions are not hiding the data, it’s just a sensitive issue. These issues aren’t discussed like in the western media. But it doesn’t mean that the government isn’t dealing with it. Governments do have programs such as active non-government organizations, NGOs, working with groups that are infected.

What surprised you about the findings?

Certain countries did surprise us with the work they’ve done. In Iran, they target the population of drug users. When Iran discovered HIV among drug users, they created programs that offered drug users access to treatment, and gave them free clean needles and syringes.

Many governments don’t want to provide HIV treatment or counseling directly. They support NGOs financially and logistically to help treat communities affected. It’s a way for them to protect people without raising sensitive issues of sexual and drug use behaviors that are often controversial.

What challenges did you face while gathering evidence?

There were some governments that gave us their data on the condition that we didn’t publish it. They want to deal with this issue, but they see no reason to raise it to the public. There were governments who did not want to release data. I can’t tell you which countries, since we have long-standing relationships with them. But we managed to convince some of them that the data would be used purely for scientific research and not used against them by the media.

What do you hope to accomplish from this study?

To raise awareness among policy makers. Hopefully, governments will make changes to policy. Surprisingly, the No. 1 barrier is poor research capacity in this region. If we don’t have the scientific data, we can’t have effective policy. We need to have an effective surveillance program, so we can help prevent further HIV transmission.

This part of the world is seen as not addressing the epidemic. Countries like Iran, Morocco and Egypt are developing programs and working with NGOs. But other countries haven’t yet improved their services to the public. But we hope they will.

August 27, 2011 Posted by | Africa, Community, Cultural, ExPat Life, Family Issues, Health Issues, Statistics, Values | 1 Comment

Black Hole Eats Star

As you know, I am a great fan of astronomical events, and this one is simply amazing. You watch a star travel, and then it gets sucked into a black hole, as if it were a syrupy liquid. The black hole, spinning, starts shooting out radiation, towards Earth. I believe this is an animation, but cameras actually caught this event, which is flies in the face of previous expectations.

You can learn more about this and watch other science and sky related videos at the NASA Web Site

August 26, 2011 Posted by | Beauty, Interconnected, Technical Issue | , , | Leave a comment

Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand

Major Pettigrew's Last StandMajor Pettigrew’s Last Stand by Helen Simonson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I loved this book. It follows all the themes I love – how convention blinds us, how our cultural assumptions make us unconsciously snobbish and leads us to hideous behavior, it is very cultural and also very cross-cultural. Major Pettrigrew is widowed, and his grief has made him old. At the beginning of the book, his life seems very dull and grey. It lightens as his friendship sparks with Mrs. Ali, a widow who runs a small convenience market in his small English village. They both love reading (of course I love that part!) and they talk books, and sparks of warmth kindle.

This book is also very uncomfortable for me, as Roger has a grown son who bullies his father. The book isn’t just cross-cultural, it’s cross-generational, and I see glimpses of myself in the boorish behavior of his son toward his father.

There are some amusing scenes, some wickedly insightful village-interaction scenes, some painfully introspective moments, and some truly grand moments when everything becomes clear and a person acts. For me, there was an added bonus in that as I read Mrs. Ali’s words, I could hear them so clearly, and she spoke in the voice of a dear friend. I could picture her, because I could see the sweet smiling face of a dear friend. It was like having a great visit.

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August 25, 2011 Posted by | Books, Bureaucracy, Character, Civility, Cross Cultural, Cultural, ExPat Life, Family Issues, Fiction, Friends & Friendship, Living Conditions, Marriage, Mating Behavior, Relationships, Values | | Leave a comment

Phoenix: One Thing Leads to Another

In our lectionary readings for today, St. Paul talks about a bay in Crete, facing northwest and southwest, at the west end of Crete, called Phoenix Bay. I’m a bit of a geography nerd, but with the miracle of Google Maps, and the Internet, I found the bay, and even better, I found a hotel I would love to stay in.

It’s not a fancy hotel, and it’s not expensive. It appears simple and clean. But look at the location! Alone! You can’t even get to it by driving, you either drive to a village and take a ferry boat to the hotel, or you hike overland about half and hour to get there. It is ISOLATED! (I love isolated hotels!)

The hotel is calls itself the Old Phoenix Look at its setting:

What is so special about us?

The Old Phoenix can only be reached on foot or by boat. There is no sound of traffic and everything moves at a slow and laid-back pace.

The guests come here looking for peace so they are unlikely to be noisy themselves.

All our rooms have large balconies overlooking the Libyan sea.
Our food is simple, traditional Cretan fare, cooked daily from fresh local ingredients by the family.

Despite the quietness there is a whole range of things to do including lazing on the beach, snorkeling in some of the clearest waters in the Mediterranean, easy walks to serious hiking, canoeing and excursions by boat to the neighbouring villages.

Watching the two sea turtles (Caretta caretta) that have chosen to live in our bay since 2010 is also a nice addition to the quiet entertainment that I can be had during the day.

We have stayed in the general area before, and loved it. We were in our early 50’s, and we heard of a hike that was beautiful and challenging and unforgettable, and we knew we had to do it or we never would – 20 km, starting out hiking downhill, which sounds easy but after a couple kilometers you discover muscles and weaknesses you never knew you had. The only way we completed the hike was that there was no alternative. You had to keep going because there was only one way in and one way out.

At the end, we were almost dead from exhaustion, and the next day we could barely move. It’s one of the BEST things we have ever done. 🙂 The Old Phoenix is not far from this 20 kilometer gorge.

I would really love to find this hotel and stay there four or five days, it looks special. You don’t find a lot of hotels like this one, remote, family owned, small, quiet – and every room with a gorgeous view of the sea.

August 24, 2011 Posted by | Adventure, Beauty, Exercise, ExPat Life, Travel | , | 6 Comments

“We Have Lost Our Moral Compass”

There is something I need to confess, as I print my friend Amer’s most recent editorial from the Arab Times in Kuwait.

Amer is writing about the great loss of civility in Kuwait, a country where trade routes crossed, merchants ruled and differences were tolerated. While I lived in Kuwait, I was horrified at the flaunting of traffic rules and the reckless endangerment of the population because some people believed the laws did not apply to them.

Amer, with a few differences specific to Islam, your editorial, sadly, could be equally well applied many places in the United States today, where some people believe they should not have to patiently stand in line, or obey the traffic rules, or protect the quality of the food supplies or water sources that provide for the communities.

When we fail to restrain ourselves and our selfish greediness, we harm others – but we also harm ourselves. We damage the fabric of society that protects us from the chaos of anarchy. Well said, Amer.

We Have Lost Our Moral Compass
EVERY Ramadan we are inundated by articles and features highlighting the proper means of fasting, alms-giving, praying and other essential pillars of Islam. I am not going to do that.

Most citizens are decent, God-fearing individuals trying to improve their lot and the lives of their loved ones. I believe the Kuwaiti character in essence is one of integrity and generosity — we are a charitable people, evident by the Ramadan dinners we sponsor and the alms we pay (Zakat) — indeed we are almost always the first to rush in aid of others, local or internationally. We should be proud of this trait.

We are, however, far from perfect. Praying, fasting and spending alms on the needful are not enough to qualify us or other societies as superior Muslims.

Our Prophet (Peace Be Upon Him) stated, ‘The best amongst you are those who have the best manners and character.’

Recently, we have all been witness to a drastic deterioration in the way people treat one another and conduct their lives — a certain segment lack the proper traits, either due to absence of decent rearing, non-implementation of laws (which they view as ‘toothless’) or the gradual radicalism in society which encourages gender segregation, intolerance of foreigners and non-Islamic ideals and views.

Our society seems to have lost its moral compass; gaze around you, materialism and power is valued over integrity and honesty; harshness in tone is embraced, over humility and etiquette. An individual’s caliber is immaterial; what matters is how one can ‘benefit’ another, the extent of personal influence and how many laws one can break with impunity.

On the behavioral level, this is evident all around us, nothing is respected; people don’t wait their turn, they drive erratically, they walk into elevators without waiting for others to exit, they are rude to foreign workers, they disturb women in malls and public places, they cause a ruckus in movie theatres, road and traffic signs are ignored, municipality laws are ignored, smoking signs are ignored. The list goes on…

This personal methodology is poisoning society — we are all victims of and responsible for this collective, ethical Achilles’ heel.

Follow the law, pay your bills on time, stand in a queue, follow road signs and you’re regarded as a dimwit.

These days you get a taste of good manners when you travel to countries like the United States and the European Union where parents educate their children ‘not to point at others’, ‘scream’ and wait patiently for their turn in a queue, saying ‘please’ and ‘thank you.’
Even progressive GCC states such as the UAE — eager to attract foreigners and investment — do not tolerate any law breaking: speeding tickets affect the validity of your car license and insurance premiums; if unruly youths disturb or sexually harass women in public, security arrests them, shaves their heads, splashes their mugs in the papers, for example. People think twice before embarking on any moves which might offend the personal space or respect of others.

It’s the atmosphere of tolerance, openness and the implementation of laws that truly make an Islamic society, not the number of mosques built or how many foreigners converted to Islam. Where is Islam if society deems Expired Food Merchants and MPs and their ‘state benefactors’ — who dabble in tens of millions of corrupt money — for example, as ‘untouchables’?

People’s behavior forces one to ditch the law because the law is not really on one’s side, it’s not really being enforced — it’s an illusion. Additionally, we need to start embarking on ‘naming and shaming’ lawbreakers and criminals instead of shielding their identities from the public, who have a right to know.

The state apparatus — traditionally infatuated with forming committees, hosting seminars and running bloated campaigns — needs to execute them properly, namely by implementing a two-track initiative: On the one hand formulating an awareness campaign on ‘Islamic Moderation And Tolerance’ by highlighting the work of groundbreaking pioneers and world-renowned Moderate Islamic voices such as our very own Dr Naif Al-Mutawa (creator of the comic book series ‘The 99’) and Dr Reza Aslan, author of ‘No God But God,’ among other accomplished intellectual luminaries — so that younger generations may be able to benefit from their stimulating, refreshing views. Simultaneously, on the other track enforcing Civic and Constitutional Laws preaching freedom of speech, equality and appropriate justice — so individuals may learn to respect state laws and tolerate differing views – they need to realize grave repercussions are incoming, leading to imprisonment or worse, if they indulge in any lawbreaking or negative antisocial behavior. Ultimately, the State needs to step up to the plate and protect society, lest individuals take the law into their own hands and mob rule surfaces.

Islam without proper laws, justice for all and proper education is abridged, toothless — as a society we need to instill the values amongst ourselves and future generations, not just censure ‘external influences,’ the media or the West for our ills (many which are self created). Moreover, we need as a community to re-examine the way we conduct ourselves and treat others — to realize that no good can come from a society that obliquely persuades fraud, dishonesty and ill-treatment of others.

By: Amer Al-Hilal

August 23, 2011 Posted by | Bureaucracy, Character, Civility, Cross Cultural, Cultural, ExPat Life, Health Issues, Kuwait, Law and Order, Safety | 4 Comments

Health’s Angels

Seen at our local supermarket:

I love the cleverness of this play on words.

August 23, 2011 Posted by | Pensacola, Words, Work Related Issues | Leave a comment

20 Pounds of Diaper

In Pensacola, there is a wonderful fountain at the foot of Palofox, at the turnaround, and it is the perfect place for a toddler on a steamy day. They have all kinds of spurts of water coming up. The water changes height and force, so it is full of surprises for the young ones.

Scandalous, I know, that we just let him wear the diaper, but they get SOAKING wet!

There are also big fat pigeons and swift little sparrows to chase, and even a big egret out coaching the fishermen and women, hoping for a handout.

At the end, as we were getting ready to go, we changed the diaper and it weighed about 20 pounds, all water.

August 22, 2011 Posted by | Adventure, Beauty, Community, Entertainment, Exercise, Florida, Living Conditions, Pensacola, Photos | 4 Comments