Here There and Everywhere

Expat wanderer

Celebration at the Seville

“I think we ended up exactly where we were meant to be,” AdventureMan said as we drove away, and I love him for thinking that, and saying that. I think so, too.

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It’s been an amazing week.

I’m tempted to say, about so many of the subjects, “I don’t have a dog in that fight,” and yet, somehow, I do.

Our Supreme Court is been so greatly conservative that I had no hopes that so many decisions would come down on the side of what I consider human dignity.

We have great medical coverage, thanks to what is truly socialized medicine – life time medical care through career military service coupled with the medicare that United States citizens receive when we turn 65. So when people complain about “socialized medicine,” I just laugh and say I love my socialized medicine. It pays almost all my medical bills.

So why does it matter to me that others have affordable health care?

I worked with the homeless for a year, with homeless families. It was a program; we provided housing, some food, and counseling, and guided our residents into degree programs, assistance programs that would lead them to an ability to self-sustain.

What I learned, over and over, was stunning. Many women with children are one man away from homelessness. Women with children are exceedingly vulnerable. When a child gets sick, unless you are protected by family, the child cannot go to day care and Mama has to stay away from work to take care of them. Too many absences and that job disappears. No insurance, and the costs are those hugely exaggerated sums you see on your reconciliation sheets your insurance sends – what the cost is, what insurance pays, what your share is. IF you have insurance, your insurance company has negotiated the costs, and those costs are considerably less than if you don’t have insurance. The least able to pay are charged the most. Is that fair? I thank God for affordable care, so that all people have access to decent health care for themselves, and for their children.

It was teetering on the balance. Which way would the Supreme Court decide on this technicality? By the grace of God, the majority opinion was that law is tough enough to write and often mis-written and corrected before the ultimate wording is finalized. This was no exception; it needed refinement but the intent was clear. Affordable care is the law.

The poor and the minorities are not to be discriminated against in housing, either, the Supreme Court decided. Again, it’s not my fight, no one has ever discriminated against us, except for being military (and the implication was that military was riff raff). The significance here was that even if the discrimination was not clearly intentional, if it was discrimination, it was not allowed. It levels the field; makes life more fair for all of us.

And last. That people who want to marry will have the dignity of that right. That those people will have the same legal rights, rights that guarantee inheritance, rights that guarantee access to the partner that becomes hospitalized, rights to make legal decisions as a legal married couple. Again, AdventureMan and I, one man and one woman, are married, so we don’t have a dog in the fight – except that as human beings, we want the laws to be fair, and humane, and applicable to all. We have no say over how we are wired or who we love, and, as we see it, no right to restrict others from what we have chosen for ourselves.

We’ve had a great day. We went to early service, where Father Goldsborough spoke as a Southerner, and how his views have changed, and how he believes that if the Confederate flag is a cause of grief and horror to those whose family were once enslaved, that that flag should be retired. Yes, keep it as history, display it in museums, but not as a part of a public, governmental display. He is a courageous man.

And while I agree that it is time for the flag to be retired, the flag is just a symbol.

It is a kid that killed the bible study participants in South Carolina. It was a kid with a powerful GUN. So why are we not talking about gun control? I have the feeling that a lot of people are willing to pull down the Confederate flag in hopes that it will keep the attention off the fact that people with problems who have access to guns are the problem. Sure, you can kill with a knife, or a car, or a hundred other ways, but nothing beats a gun for killing efficiently, and no gun beats an automatic weapon for super efficient killing.

I headed straight for the commissary to do some weekly grocery shopping, while AdventureMan spent time in the garden. I got the groceries unloaded, and dinner started. AdventureMan came in and invited me to lunch at my favorite place, Five Sisters.

When we got to Five Sisters, every table was full and lines and groups of people were scattered around waiting. We headed to the Fish House for some fish and grits, but it was the same story. So we headed for Saville, where we found a parking place and while it was crowded, very crowded, we got a place in the Palace Bar, which we like anyway, and we liked that it was away from the music and we could talk.

After we ordered, I said “I think we are in the middle of a celebration,” and he agreed. We were surrounded by a very large group of guys about our age, but we had to guess they were gay, and they were all very celebratory. In fact, much of the restaurant was moving from table to table, hugging and exchanging greetings and congratulations.

The last time I remember feeling this way was in Alaska, last year, for The Celebration, where all the tribes gather to share culture and dances.

On our way out, I leaned over and said “Congratulations! We wish you happiness!” and they thanked us and we left.

Except, LOL, I had dropped my sunglasses, and we had to go back in. “Stop, stop!” our friends at the next table asked us, and thanked us again for our ‘kind words.’ But they needed to talk. It wasn’t about the right to get married, they explained, each jumping over the other in speech in eagerness to explain, “it is about legal rights in hospitals” said one “the right to be who we are” said another. These were men about my age, and they needed to be heard. I told them that I remember Juneau, Alaska, and I don’t remember any gay people. I said there must have been, but I never knew of any, and one man said “that was me! Imagine growing up knowing you are seriously different, that you like boys and not girls, and who do you talk to? There was NO-ONE!”

These guys had been married for varying amounts of time, but this weeks Supreme Court decision eliminated the anxiety that things could change, that a change in president could signal a cascade of change in state laws and the hard-won battles would have to be fought again. “The only person left in my family who would have the right to say whether to take me off life-support or not is a person who would likely say “pull the plug!” and my husband would have no say at all, before this decision!” one said, and the husband added “and she could keep me out of his hospital room, even though we’ve been married for years!”

I would have loved to hear more, but this was their celebration. It was like one huge wedding celebration, so much love, so much happiness, so much joy.

“I can be who I am!” one said to me, with such emotion. “I can be who I am!”

I almost cried with joy for him, for all of them. They have seen such change, from living their lives in hiding to being able to live legally, freely, as who they are. We were moved by their joy, moved beyond words. We felt so honored to have been able to share a little of their joy, even though – this isn’t our dog, this isn’t our fight, it isn’t our win.

Except, except that as human beings, maybe it all IS our dog, and is our fight. Maybe it is our win. Maybe, as Jesus says, we are all connected, we are all meant to love one another, and as weird as we are, as eccentric, as different, maybe we are all meant to love one another and to live in peace with one another. Maybe the dignity of every human being is relevant to my own . . .

It’s a heady thought for a celebratory Sunday.

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June 28, 2015 Posted by | Aging, Alaska, Character, Civility, Community, Cross Cultural, Cultural, ExPat Life, Faith, Family Issues, Interconnected, Living Conditions | 4 Comments

“Just Kill them All!!”

We were in the kitchen at the church, setting out some refreshments, when I told my friend I was expecting houseguests from Saudi Arabia.

My friend, who is educated, and, most times, level headed, said with exasperation “I can’t believe you are doing that! They are destroying everything, beheading people, raping and selling off women! Just kill them all!”

I was dumbstruck.

Who are we? We are in a church, where our leader told us to love God, and to love one another. He told us to love our enemy. And, just as one crazed fanatic shooting up a bible study does not make all South Carolinians hateful racists, neither does ISIS and Al Shebab make all Muslims fanatic killers. She knows this.

“I’m so shocked that you would say that, I don’t even know where to start,” I said, numbly.

“Why is it we make so many allowances and excuses for their behavior and they get different rules, but they don’t make any allowances, just kill all those who do not agree with their beliefs!” she responded.

You can’t really have a discussion with someone when they are worked up, and I didn’t even try. It’s been weeks now, and every time I think of this discussion, I get a pit in my stomach. I am guessing that she, my good friend, is expressing her frustration with me for my positive views toward Muslims and Islam. I struggle with whether it is to speak or not to speak, knowing my views are very different from the majority around me.

One of the most influential books I have read was Rick Warren’s The Purpose Driven Life, where he begins with the premise that God creates us each uniquely, individually, no two of us the same, and that we have a reason for our unique creation. From the life I’ve been given, I can only assume part of my purpose was to have all my assumptions challenged, to observe and to learn to think differently, and that, returning to my own culture, it is to gently share what I have learned, that we are more alike than unalike, and that we worship the same God.

I know I must continue to share what I know, and I pray for the courage to do so effectively, gently, not alienating people I care about.

June 25, 2015 Posted by | Cultural, ExPat Life, Friends & Friendship, Living Conditions, Political Issues, Quality of Life Issues, Social Issues | 4 Comments

As Others See Us . . .

“Oh that the wee wee giftie gi’e us, to see ourselves as others see us,” goes an old Scottish proverb which has haunted me my many years of living overseas.

This recent visit by our Saudi friends was one of those times, and yesterday as I was doing laundry, I thought of all the particular ways we do things, and why, and thought about how very difficult it is to be a house guest in a strange culture because on top of the profound cultural differences, there are also family cultures.

I remember visiting my parents, as an adult, and my mother carefully explaining how they do things, and why, and we would try very carefully to do what they were doing, but I often felt I was failing in some unknown way, to meet the standards.

Like us, when we do laundry, I have three drying racks, and I use my dryer only a few minutes with some of AdventureMan’s shirts, tumble drying them to remove wrinkles, then we pull them out and let them finish drying on hangers. I also dry AdventureMan’s towels; he thinks that the ones that are dried on the racks are hard and stiff and he doesn’t like the feel of them on his skin. Just about everything else dries on the racks or on hangers. It’s a result of years of living in Germany, and other places where we had utility bills, and the dryer is a huge electricity hog.

When we lived in a small village in Germany, I remember my landlady bringing my utility bill; her face was white. She said (in essence) “how can this be? You are a wasteful American and I am a frugal German and your electricity bill is half of mine!” (no, she didn’t say wasteful, but that was sort of the gist) but she had a clothes dryer that was going all the time, and I did not. I also had a very small little refrigerator, and she had a larger one. Old habits die hard; I still hang most of my clothes to dry.

We are careful with water use, as water becomes more dear, we try to conserve, so we don’t let water run, we turn it off. We must look very peculiar and very particular to our house guests.

I really only told them the basics – here are these things, here are those, this is the way this operates – more than that would have been overwhelming. Probably they were overwhelmed with the little I did share! Being a houseguest is overwhelming, too!

And I think of my youngest sister, who took me in for weeks at a time through many of the years we spent overseas, clearing out a bedroom and bathroom for my exclusive use, letting me come and go as my schedule dictated, but still, an intruder and an interruption on her own family life, God bless her. I remember one time being in the kitchen with her son, asking him if he knew where his mother kept the emergency emery board, and he looked totally dumbstruck, and said he didn’t know.

“It’s probably here,” I said, opening a drawer and pulling out the emery board. Our mother always kept an emery board in that drawer; I keep a spare emery board in that drawer, and it just seemed likely my sister would, too. I still love the look on his face as I pulled it out. “How did you know??” he asked, and I just laughed.

I wonder what tales our house guests will tell of us, and our strange ways?

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On their last day with us, I showed the 10 year old how to make Bird in a Basket, which he loved. It’s so simple, bread with a circle cut out, butter, an egg and a skillet – even a ten year old could do it. What was even better was that he loved it and was going to go home and show his Mama how to do it. One tiny piece of American culture may grow and thrive in Saudi Arabia.

June 21, 2015 Posted by | Communication, Cross Cultural, Cultural, Environment, ExPat Life, Family Issues, Friends & Friendship, Germany, Interconnected, Living Conditions, Quality of Life Issues, Relationships, Saudi Arabia | 2 Comments

Jurassic World Explosive Experience

We’ve been waiting for a free afternoon to see Jurassic World, and yesterday was it. We wanted to see it in 3D, although in retrospect, I am not so sure it makes that big a difference. It was LOUD. We are not hard of hearing, and at the beginning I had to cover my ears, it was so loud.

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And, for all the movies I have seen, this one had some twists I didn’t see coming. It was full of exciting moments, and, within its own context, believable. You have to believe that humans let greed overcome their good judgement. You have to believe genetic manipulation is possible. You have to believe that the minute someone says “this is totally safe” you’d better be looking for a life jacket and a way out. All this, I believe.

AdventureMan had some struggles with unexplained things, but I think they were good at covering their bases, if you paid attention when the scientists were talking. I had a really hard time believing velociraptors could be tamed in any way. Trained – maybe if they are bored enough, and the training follows their normal instinctive practices. Tamed? Ummm, I don’t think so.

I loved the homage paid to Jurassic Park. I always love it when the bad guys get their just desserts. I always wonder, if we get curious and clone/create a prehistoric animal, will we be able to foresee all the possible outcomes?

June 20, 2015 Posted by | Adventure, Birds, Character, Entertainment, Environment, Experiment, Family Issues, Fiction, Financial Issues, Movie, Safety | | 1 Comment

Ramadan Kareem and Pope Francis

“God bless the work of your hands!” was one of the Moslem sayings I most loved as I lived my daily life in various countries in the Middle East. So, Pope Francis, God bless the work of your hands yesterday in your encyclical saying we are all responsible for the price we pay for progress. You are a brave man, and you don’t hesitate to name corruption when you see it, and to do your best to correct us, and straighten the path of the Lord.

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“Everything is related, and we human beings are united as brothers and sisters on a wonderful pilgrimage, woven together by the love God has for each of his creatures and which also unites us in fond affection with brother sun, sister moon, brother river and mother earth,” he writes.

It is not entirely a happy message for me. One of the items he castigates is air conditioning, and as Pensacola hits the nineties every day, I hate to think of how I would live without air conditioning. I think I would turn into a slug, swinging in my hammock for hours every day reading a book. My house would be full of dirty dishes and dust. And I remember living in Tunis, and in Jordan, without air conditioning. We managed, by the grace of God.

Meanwhile, during the hottest months of the year, yesterday, our Moslem brothers and sisters began Ramadan, the holy month of fasting and personal purification. Imagine, going all day without water and without food, breaking the fast only as the sun goes down. I wonder if the Pope made his world-changing address on the eve of Ramadan on purpose, as he clearly made it to all mankind, not only to his Catholic followers.

Ramadan Kareem, my Moslem brothers and sisters, whom I cherish, and who taught me so much. May your fasting bring you great insights and purity of spirit.

June 18, 2015 Posted by | Character, Civility, Community, Cross Cultural, Cultural, Environment, Events, ExPat Life, Faith, Interconnected, Leadership, Living Conditions, Pensacola, Political Issues, Quality of Life Issues, Ramadan, Social Issues | 4 Comments

“Come Back Soon; I Have So Many Questions!”

We wanted our house guests to experience a truly Southern experience, so we took them to Sonny’s BBQ. It doesn’t get much more down-home than Sonny’s. We saw one of my friends from water aerobics, we saw another friend from church and our son’s boss, all sitting nearby.

We all ordered barbecued smoked chicken, and the 10 year old ordered french fries and french fries for his two “sides.” He got frustrated with the knife and fork – it does slow down eating chicken – so he pretty much stuck to the french fries. As my friend from water aerobics left, she came over and hugged AdventureMan, and kept her hand on his shoulder as she met our guests.

To make it all even more bizarre (I am trying to imagine this from the Saudi point of view), we have the car seats for our grandchildren in AdventureMan’s car, so we used my car to drive to the restaurant. I drove.

It was a lot for them to absorb.

As we were leaving, our favorite waitress caught my arm and said “Come back soon! I have so many questions!”

June 15, 2015 Posted by | Adventure, Civility, Cross Cultural, Cultural, Customer Service, Eating Out, ExPat Life, Food, Interconnected, Local Lore, Restaurant, Saudi Arabia, Travel | 2 Comments

When Cultures Collide

My house guest and I are sitting at my computer, looking at airfares.

“So what do I do?” he asked me.

“This is your decision to make,” I answered. “Only you know what is most important to you.”

“I am looking for a recommendation,” he tells me.

“If it were me, I would take that early flight. It is cheaper, and by leaving at six a.m. you know it is likely to leave on time and arrive on time. Also, I would have booked it about four months ago. It’s summer. The flights are flying full. There are no cheaper tickets left.”

“Month-es?” he asked incredulously. “Month-es?” he repeated.

We decided to wait and book later, after he had given it some thought. He didn’t like my recommendation; he didn’t like the earliness of the flight I recommended, and I had known he wouldn’t.

I think the idea of booking a flight four months in advance was a double-whammy.

June 15, 2015 Posted by | Adventure, Bureaucracy, Cross Cultural, Cultural, ExPat Life, Financial Issues, Relationships, Saudi Arabia, Travel | Leave a comment

Houseguests and Rabies and Wedding Anniversaries

We’ve had a lot of wedding anniversaries, AdventureMan and I. Some anniversaries we have sacrificed to national security, as AdventureMan would be called to go to the field, or head out on some exercise. There are a few which have been truly memorable. If you’ve been reading this blog for very long, you will know that the ones we remember are probably not those that include roses, or wine and a fine meal and a beautiful gift, although we have had those.

One, we remember because we ate at a very fine restaurant, very snooty, and the waiter made a big deal out of presenting us with chilled forks for our salad course. We could barely keep a straight face, it is so far from anything we would consider a priority.

Another, and we howl with laughter – now – was the wedding anniversary when we had just arrived in Germany from Saudi Arabia, and found a lovely apartment on the top floor of an old mansion in a village I loved. When we got back to the car, AdventureMan said “Did you notice it is not furnished?” and I said we can find what we need at the re-utilization office, which is alway selling off used furniture.

Indeed, two days later there was a huge sale at the re-utilization center and we bought a dining room set, living room chairs, three big cupboards for holding clothes and some lamps, etc – all for $53. We’ve always had great luck that way. I had a lot of fun re-upholstering the chairs, and the landlord threw in a bed for us.

But as we sat in the car, on our anniversary, I said “Now, you probably need to take me to the hospital so we can get my bite looked at.” A few hours before leaving Saudi Arabia, the cat I had been feeding bit me, hard, on the arm. It ws one of those bites where the incisors went deep. I’d have liked to ignore the bite, but rabies is an ugly way to die, and I sure didn’t want to stay in Saudi Arabia to be treated.

So we headed to the hospital, and the next few hours were excruciating. Then we went to a favorite old Mexican restaurant we had known from years before, and that was our anniversary, truly memorable. We still laugh; we remember finding that lovely old apartment, and then having to go to the emergency room.

As an aside, the landlord didn’t tell us he was trying to sell the mansion, and nine months later, we were looking again for an apartment. We became very good friends with the new owners, and are friends with them to this very day.

This wedding anniversary was a non-event, we had houseguests, and their customs and daily lives are so very different that celebrating a wedding anniversary would have been far outside their comfort zone. We had a friend from Saudi Arabia and his 10 year old son.

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We received an e-mail from them saying (I will paraphrase a little here) ‘we have reservations to come to Pensacola for 26 days and we want to stay with you.’ There was more, but that was the essence. AdventureMan looked at me and said “I think we need to do this” and I was glad, because I had been thinking the same thing.

I think I have told you about our friends who welcome the stranger, so I think God had been preparing us for this visit, and for us to do it.

How did it go? It was challenging. There were times we just wanted it to be over, and there were times our friends must have found us to be very disappointing. There were continual clashes in expectations, and there was a very large well of good will out of which we continually drew. There were uncomfortable moments regarding meals, and meal times, and getting up times, and where we would go. There were also some fabulous meals and some truly wonderful conversations.

I know they were sorry to go. I know they want to come back again for another visit. We have no regrets; we are glad we did this, and we are also glad to have our very normal American lives back. We like this man very much, and we know this visit was a challenge for him, too.

But as we are hollering back and forth, we are laughing, this is one of those anniversaries we will never forget, the year we had our Saudi house guests.

We are aging, AdventureMan and I. We are no longer truly nomadic, living out of our suitcases. We have everything we own in this one house, except our other house. We no longer have other furniture in storage, and we have trimmed down a lot on the load of things we have collected. Maybe the one thing we truly fear is becoming too settled, and this visit was a wonderful way to shake things up a little bit, to force us out of our comfortable routines, and to force us to see our lives through the eyes of others.

It has given us a lot to think about.

Happy Anniversary, AdventureMan 🙂

June 13, 2015 Posted by | Adventure, Aging, Character, Civility, Communication, Community, Cooking, Counter-terrorism, Cross Cultural, Cultural, ExPat Life, Experiment, Family Issues, Friends & Friendship, Interconnected, Living Conditions, Saudi Arabia | 6 Comments

A Harsh Ruler

Today’s Gospel reading from The Lectionary brings up so many questions! Jesus gives a parable, a story to help explain what he is saying, but what, exactly, is the parable saying?

Luke 19:11-27

11 As they were listening to this, he went on to tell a parable, because he was near Jerusalem, and because they supposed that the kingdom of God was to appear immediately. 12 So he said, ‘A nobleman went to a distant country to get royal power for himself and then return. 13 He summoned ten of his slaves, and gave them ten pounds,* and said to them, “Do business with these until I come back.” 14 But the citizens of his country hated him and sent a delegation after him, saying, “We do not want this man to rule over us.” 15 When he returned, having received royal power, he ordered these slaves, to whom he had given the money, to be summoned so that he might find out what they had gained by trading. 16 The first came forward and said, “Lord, your pound has made ten more pounds.” 17 He said to him, “Well done, good slave! Because you have been trustworthy in a very small thing, take charge of ten cities.” 18 Then the second came, saying, “Lord, your pound has made five pounds.” 19 He said to him, “And you, rule over five cities.” 20 Then the other came, saying, “Lord, here is your pound. I wrapped it up in a piece of cloth, 21 for I was afraid of you, because you are a harsh man; you take what you did not deposit, and reap what you did not sow.” 22 He said to him, “I will judge you by your own words, you wicked slave! You knew, did you, that I was a harsh man, taking what I did not deposit and reaping what I did not sow? 23 Why then did you not put my money into the bank? Then when I returned, I could have collected it with interest.” 24 He said to the bystanders, “Take the pound from him and give it to the one who has ten pounds.” 25 (And they said to him, “Lord, he has ten pounds!”) 26 “I tell you, to all those who have, more will be given; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. 27 But as for these enemies of mine who did not want me to be king over them—bring them here and slaughter them in my presence.” ’

We know, by his own words, this was a harsh man and we know many of his citizens – not slaves – did not want him to rule over them. Why did Jesus use this man to illustrate his point? What about the other seven slaves who were given the money; how did they invest or protect the money? When I look at this parable, I am not so sure I would want to be one who was given more to administer over; the master is harsh. Perhaps those who protected the talent and kept their heads down fared better in the long run under this harsh man’s rule? What if one had taken the money and used it to make the lives of the people better – provided medical care or built a safe-haven for abused women? I shudder to think what the harsh ruler might have done with a slave who used the funds for the good of the people.

June 10, 2015 Posted by | Bureaucracy, Cultural, Experiment, Financial Issues, Lectionary Readings, Living Conditions, Money Management, Poetry/Literature, Quality of Life Issues, Social Issues | Leave a comment

Catastrophic Fortune

“Oh no!” I cried at the end of our meal as I read my fortune cooky fortune.

It said:

You will soon be involved in many gatherings and parties.

AdventureMan just laughed. He knows me. I used to dread all the military socializing, and once he accused me of getting so sick I was hospitalized just to miss a yearly ball. No. No. Meetings, gatherings, parties – not my thing. This is a catastrophic fortune.

One year, our son got a fortune that said something like “all good things will come your way” and after that, he would never open another fortune cooky, he made a choice to just let that one really good one ride.

I don’t know that it works that way, in fact, I don’t know that Chinese fortune cookies are even Chinese. I don’t know that they have any predictive value at all. And yet . . . (she shudders) I think I will destroy this fortune now that I have told you about it. 🙂

June 7, 2015 Posted by | Cross Cultural, Cultural, Eating Out | , , | Leave a comment