Here There and Everywhere

Expat wanderer

No Trips To Damascus This Week

AdventureMan and I are currently on an austerity program.

When we say that, we laugh. God blesses us abundantly. We have food to eat, we have a good roof over our head, “two cats in the yard” to quote Neil Young, life is good. We’ve had a full season of unexpected and thoroughly normal repairs, however, including replacing an air conditioning system (expensive) and replacing an irrigation system (expensive) and in our other house, replacing a roof and it’s supports in our other house (expensive.) We have “enough.” We are blessed.

We’ve always had a policy of living below our means, supporting the church, investing and saving, and it has served us well. Even in retirement, we are loathe to touch our savings, even though the savings are for our retirement. We don’t know how long we’re going to live, or what kind of health care system we are going to have, so we keep all those little nuts in case winter is coming :-).

Meanwhile, I wanted to go to Mobile for lunch to day at 7 Spices Mediterranean Grill, one of the most delicious places in this part of the world to eat, and when AdventureMan and I counted out our money, we found that we could – just. AdventureMan looked at me and said “How about we go in August, and I’ll take you over to the beach to eat today” and I said “OK” and he said “No Trips to Damascus this week.”

When we lived in Amman, Jordan, our favorite trip was up to Damascus. It was only about 3 1/2 hours, longer if there was a line at the border, or is someone wanted to screw with us, as they sometimes liked to do with embassy people. We had friends in Damascus; we stayed with them, they knew all the best restaurants, and all the best places in the souks. Damascus was still very French, so I could do just fine there, and it was also Arabic, so AdventureMan could also do just fine.

We were young, we didn’t have a lot of money, but Iranians were fleeing Iran, stopping in Damascus to sell their carpets, and carpet buying was our avid hobby. For all of us, we all loved the beauty of the carpets, and their stories. We learned quickly to buy the carpet, not the story. The carpet sellers knew us all by name, and the foreign population was so small that they took our checks and those checks would go over the border to Lebanon and were cashed quicker than our checks cashed at the embassy. The carpet souks, the gold souks, and the copper souks all welcomed us, and shopping was a leisurely thing, you’d sit and drink a little tea, the shopkeeper would tell you how business was going, and you’d swap stories as you haggled over whatever it was you were purchasing.

Or not. One of my friends, a very funny woman, took a carpet home on approval – it was done all the time. Every time I would visit her, the carpet vendor would remind her she needed to pay for it or bring it back, and they would negotiate. She was a shrewd woman, a devilish bargainer, and the vendor wouldn’t meet her price. At the end of her two year tour, after having the carpet in her house almost the entire time, she returned it because they couldn’t agree on a price! She was a legend in the embassy community.

The 7 Spices restaurant has food that seems very Syrian, and has tapestries with scenes from Damascus on the walls. Sigh. No trips to Damascus this week.

(The photos are from our last trip to Damascus in 2007. Sigh. Ten years ago. Yes, I am feeling nostalgic.)

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July 16, 2017 Posted by | Adventure, Arts & Handicrafts, Beauty, Cross Cultural, Cultural, Customer Service, ExPat Life, Family Issues, Financial Issues, Interconnected, Living Conditions, Quality of Life Issues, Road Trips, Travel | , , , , | Leave a comment

In the Wadi

A lovely quiet Saturday morning; the cats let me sleep in a little bit, I rise relaxed and happy to feed them and to read The Lectionary before my day gets fully underway.

The Old Testament story is David and Goliath.

 

1 Samuel 17:31-49

31 When the words that David spoke were heard, they repeated them before Saul; and he sent for him. 32David said to Saul, ‘Let no one’s heart fail because of him; your servant will go and fight with this Philistine.’33Saul said to David, ‘You are not able to go against this Philistine to fight with him; for you are just a boy, and he has been a warrior from his youth.’ 34But David said to Saul, ‘Your servant used to keep sheep for his father; and whenever a lion or a bear came, and took a lamb from the flock, 35I went after it and struck it down, rescuing the lamb from its mouth; and if it turned against me, I would catch it by the jaw, strike it down, and kill it. 36Your servant has killed both lions and bears; and this uncircumcised Philistine shall be like one of them, since he has defied the armies of the living God.’ 37David said, ‘The Lord, who saved me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear, will save me from the hand of this Philistine.’ So Saul said to David, ‘Go, and may the Lord be with you!’

38 Saul clothed David with his armour; he put a bronze helmet on his head and clothed him with a coat of mail. 39David strapped Saul’s sword over the armour, and he tried in vain to walk, for he was not used to them. Then David said to Saul, ‘I cannot walk with these; for I am not used to them.’ So David removed them. 40Then he took his staff in his hand, and chose five smooth stones from the wadi, and put them in his shepherd’s bag, in the pouch; his sling was in his hand, and he drew near to the Philistine.

41 The Philistine came on and drew near to David, with his shield-bearer in front of him. 42When the Philistine looked and saw David, he disdained him, for he was only a youth, ruddy and handsome in appearance. 43The Philistine said to David, ‘Am I a dog, that you come to me with sticks?’ And the Philistine cursed David by his gods. 44The Philistine said to David, ‘Come to me, and I will give your flesh to the birds of the air and to the wild animals of the field.’ 45But David said to the Philistine, ‘You come to me with sword and spear and javelin; but I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied.46This very day the Lord will deliver you into my hand, and I will strike you down and cut off your head; and I will give the dead bodies of the Philistine army this very day to the birds of the air and to the wild animals of the earth, so that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel,47and that all this assembly may know that the Lord does not save by sword and spear; for the battle is the Lord’s and he will give you into our hand.’

48 When the Philistine drew nearer to meet David, David ran quickly towards the battle line to meet the Philistine. 49David put his hand in his bag, took out a stone, slung it, and struck the Philistine on his forehead; the stone sank into his forehead, and he fell face down on the ground.

 

So it’s an interesting story, and, as it turns out, plausible. When we lived in Tunis and in Amman, we often saw young men with slings, and they were amazingly proficient.

What caught my eye in this reading was that David picked up five smooth stones from the wadi, and that one work brought back so many associations. We often camped, in Tunis, and in Jordan, and from time to time we set up camp in a wadi. It always made me nervous, thinking that a sudden, unexpected, unseasonal, and, frankly, totally unlikely storm could come along and wash us to a tragic death. That kind of timidity came with motherhood, and an understanding of how little control I had as a mother, protecting children from all the possible ways children can be injured, sometimes fatally. Lucky for me (she says wryly) she was always outvoted by the testosterone in the family, and the dearth of likely camping spots.

In Tunisia, the Tunisia before Tunisia became developed, we would drive around to old ruins, Roman, pre-Roman, ancient ruins, and camp. There were no toilets, no showers. We had a Volkswagon bus. From time to time when nature called, I would turn to AdventureMan and say “I need a wadi.”

He knew what I meant. He would find a bridge over a wadi in a seemingly deserted place, and I would jump out, pee quickly, and run for the bus. I always wore a wrap skirt or a jean skirt, so much quicker.

“Why the hurry?” you might ask.

We learned, from the very beginning, that no matter how deserted a place might appear, that within two minutes of stopping curious children would begin to show up. Mostly they were just interested that something different was happening, sometimes they wanted “bonbon.” We always  carried a package of hard candy; anything else would melt in the heat, in these days before Volkswagen buses had air conditioning.

 

As for showering – we didn’t. At least most of the time, we didn’t. One time, one December, just after Christmas, there was a desert festival in Douz, and we went on a week-long camping trip. We camped in an oasis / field just outside of Douz, and right next to the Bedouin campers, who would come to sit with us around the campfire. During the day, there were parades of camels, and at night, huge bonfires and poetry contests.

The desert nights were cold, so bitterly cold I’ve never been colder, not even in Alaska. I zipped two sleeping bags together and had my son in mine with me; the cold was so intense it robbed the heat right out of our bodies, and I could protect him with mine. AdventureMan said it was the only time in his life that he considered peeing in his sleeping bag rather than leaving it’s small protection to walk outside the camp (he braved the walk!)

When the festival ended, we drove across the Chott al Jerid, a great salt flat, huge and empty, and then up into the mountains. I think we headed to Al Mitlawi, and from there, followed a crude map to a waterfall, near which we camped. On New Year’s Eve day, we got up early and headed to the waterfall, which we had all to ourselves, for a shower. It’s one of the most amazing memories I have, showering under that waterfall in a dry and arid part of the world. It was so early, and so remote, no children showed up. 🙂

Update: As I am reading the news, I see that in May the U.S. Department of State issued a travel warning for Tunisia, specifically the southeastern and mountainous parts, because of terrorism.

July 15, 2017 Posted by | Adventure, Africa, Beauty, Cultural, ExPat Life, Family Issues, Geography / Maps, GoogleEarth, Lectionary Readings, Living Conditions, Local Lore, Road Trips, Travel, Tunisia | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Sweet Land of Liberty: Religious Rights and Jury Duty

 

Every now and then, God, in his infinite mercy, sends an abundance of blessings, covers us with blessings. In a time in which I have found myself uncharacteristically  depressed and anxious about the path our country is taking, for one brief moment, the last few days, all depression has lifted and all anxieties have calmed.

One source of anxiety has been a personal matter, a family matter, and that has resolved itself graciously, happily, with a great feeling of relief and gratitude.

For Sunday, July 2nd, our priest had prepared us for a new set of studies, kicked off by an examination of Democracy and Religion. There were rules – 1) Be nice (that’s what they say in the South for ‘be civil’) and 2) Try to see the issue through the eyes of someone with whom you disagree.

The church hall was set up with twenty-four chairs. A half hour before he was due to start, people started pouring in, and we started pulling out more chairs, and more chairs and more chairs. He actually started off early with a reflection on our Old Testament reading, the story of Abraham and the almost-sacrifice of Isaac. (My Moslem friends correct me; they tell me it was Isaac. Let’s just agree that it was Abraham and a son, and perhaps the details will come clear on the other side of the great divide.) More people arrived, more chairs put out until we were out of chairs. Toward the end of the discussion on Religious rights and Democracy, I did a quick count of chairs and people standing and figured we had over ninety people – and one of the best Sunday School classes ever.

Our priest took a Socratic approach, asking questions, bringing in current topics. In these times of divided opinions, there was, surprisingly, a lot of laughter. My favorite moment was when we were discussing limits on religious freedoms, and things that there are laws against – live animal sacrifices, bigamy, sale of alcohol on Sunday before 11 a.m. – then one of the lawyers added “How about serving liquor to minors without checking IDs every Sunday?” That got a big laugh. It’s what we do; we use real wine in the communion cup, it’s Anglican / Episcopalian tradition. And yep, even young children get to take a sip. Oops.

As divided as we are, as it turns out, we have a lot in common. It takes a lot of courage to open up such a topic to the congregation. We all behaved. I think we all came away thinking we need more of this.

The very next day, yesterday, I was at the County Courthouse for my first ever call to jury duty. Well, this was my first ever call where I actually was living in the United States and able to show up. While we lived overseas, I would have to get on my VOIP late at night when the Clerk’s office opened and tell them I was living in (Germany. Kuwait. Qatar. Saudi Arabia. Jordan. Tunis. Take your pick.)

Jury duty is an exercise in tedium. At one point when the large selection pool left a courtroom, one of the potential jurors was going “Baaaa baaaaa baaaaa; we are all like sheep.” You park in one place and get on a trolley to the courthouse, you line up to enter the courthouse, you gather in a room and you wait to be called. You get instructions, you watch instructive videos, you get pep talks on your civic duty.

I had my eyes opened in a lot of ways. First, that I would guess more than two hundred people showed up, and this was a Monday between the weekend and the Fourth of July holiday. Many had to take time off from work to show up. We were supposed to be in “business’ dress, but this is Florida, and I guess ‘business dress’ is a matter of interpretation.

Groups would be called to go before judges for jury selection. There were many cases, so almost all of us were a part of one group or another. From my group, juries were being chosen for three trials, so they asked a lot of questions up front that would pertain to all three trials, then the lawyers for the prosecution and the lawyers for the defense would ask questions.

The questions surprised me. They named the witnesses, and the defendants were there in the courtroom; they asked if anyone knew the defendant or any of the witnesses. They asked about our prejudices for or against law enforcement officials, and could we overcome our prejudice to listen to the evidence fairly. They asked about our own court experiences, and they asked about our convictions for drug use, and other things. Many of my pool had served many times on juries and knew how things went. Many were reluctant, yet, there they were. Serving. Doing their duty.

Here is what really surprised me – at least in Florida, the defendant, who is sitting there through all the questioning, gets a say in who will be on his jury. I had no idea! We don’t see a lot of jury selection on TV (although the lady sitting next to me said I need to watch a show called Bull, where jury selection is what the show is about.)

None of the defendants wanted me, and I can understand why. They want people on the juries to truly be as close to their peers as possible, people who can identify with being arrested, maybe even convicted of a crime. They want people who might give them the benefit of the reasonable doubt.

How often have you been arrested? My son, who has been a part of the system, once told me that there are Americans who never have a brush with The Law, other than maybe a traffic ticket or a DWI. Now and then, I ask my friends. None has ever been inside a jail, but these days, a friend or two has a child who has become involved with heavy drug use, and has spent some heart-breaking time in the system.

It was a long day, full of tedium. I thought about the judge, and the lawyers, who go through this day after day, asking the same questions, looking out at groups full of people who maybe don’t even want to be there, going through the process to insure that our system is as fair as possible, day after day, month after month. I had no idea that the wheel of justice ground so finely, so relentlessly, on and on. I had no idea what stoic determination it takes to be a part of that system, and trying to make sure that while the state makes the case, the defendants rights are protected.

I’ve lived, as you know, in countries where justice prevails – occasionally. I remember living in one country, which was peaceful, and thinking to myself that they were educating a lot of people for positions they will never be able to fill, because they are not in the elite.

We have all seen, in every country, that those with the money to buy the best legal protection can often escape the consequences of their crime, but there is hope, for me,  even in making them stand trial.

I had no idea how proud I would feel at the end of the day, being a part of this huge effort, seeing how many of my fellow citizens, at great sacrifice to themselves, showed up. I had no idea what an education it would be for me. I had no idea how often those who least want to serve are those chosen to serve – and they persist. They show up.

I was in a room with maybe two hundred people from all walks of life. We were really just numbers, there to fill a systemic need. Some may even be, like me, a little cynical about how much justice our system really delivers . . . and we show up.

One of the defense lawyers yesterday asked us “Do you know what we are here about today?” and while we were all thinking about the charges, she answered “we are here about this man’s liberty. We’ll be deciding where he will spend his time in the next weeks, and months and years. We’ll be deciding his liberty.”

I’m glad I showed up.

Happy Fourth of July 🙂

 

July 4, 2017 Posted by | Adventure, Aging, Bureaucracy, Character, Civility, Community, Cross Cultural, ExPat Life, Law and Order, Living Conditions, Pensacola, Quality of Life Issues, Social Issues, Stranger in a Strange Land, Transparency | , , , , | Leave a comment