Here There and Everywhere

Expat wanderer

Gulf Coast Citizen Diplomacy Council

I have a friend from church; she is a woman I admire greatly. Older than I am, though not much, she participates in the Spartacus Program at the “Y”, she is good at running things, she is good at making phone calls and even sounds like she enjoys them, she enjoys social life and she sparkles.

She is always thinking.

“I think I know just the group for you!” she exclaimed as we were working on a project. “Have you heard about the Gulf Coast Citizen Diplomacy Council?”

No, no, I hadn’t heard about that. Having lived here six months now, there is a lot I don’t know.

She told me all about it and she was right. It is right up my alley. The Gulf Coast Citizen Diplomacy Council greets foreign visitors and performs a variety of services, escorting them to appointments, showing them the area, even taking them shopping or inviting them for a dinner in your private home, all in the name of hospitality and showing the best side of this beautiful part of the United States.

The Gulf Coast Citizen Diplomacy Council is a non-partisan, non-profit organization whose mission is to create and encourage collaboration between like-minded community stakeholders who value sharing the Central Gulf Coast with the rest of the world by:

° Facilitating professional and personal interaction for international leaders during official visits to the Central Gulf Coast

° Enhancing respect and communication through international exchanges and alliances
Forging cultural, educational, and business relationships with the global community through citizen diplomacy

° Promoting greater understanding of global affairs in our community through a balance of public events, educational activities, and the International Visitor Leadership Program

° Promoting the Central Gulf Coast as an important center of commerce, culture, and tourism

How cool is that? Even AdventureMan is excited about joining this club; we are so grateful for all the wonderful hospitality shown us through many years of adventures abroad. We feel grateful for an opportunity to be hosts in turn.

In this club I am not so alien. The club members are people who have a broad world view. I met other people who have lived or visited in Qatar or Kuwait, and other parts of the world where I have never been. Oh, what fun.

Many of the members are former military, and I found myself listening to a discussion of an upcoming meeting. As this is a community that parties hearty during Mardi Gras, I assumed it must be the name of a Krewe, a Mardi Gras social club, all these high-testosterone men were discussing camellias, must be a code word for some secret society, right?

Wrong. As it turns out, many people here, men and women, are passionate about gardening, and there is a club devoted to turning out perfect camellias, and they are having a show coming up in December. I learn new things ever day. 🙂

The Gulf Coast Citizen Diplomacy Council was only founded a short couple years ago, and has already won awards for its programs and hospitality. A truly impressive group. 🙂

November 20, 2010 Posted by | Adventure, Civility, Community, Cross Cultural, Entertainment, ExPat Life, Friends & Friendship, Interconnected, Kuwait, Leadership, Living Conditions, Pensacola, Qatar | 4 Comments

The Arizona Sonora Desert Museum and the Tonto National Forest

There is nothing so lovely as the American Southwest in the Spring. This is a glorious day, and we are on our way to an amazing park, the Arizona Sonoran Desert Museum, with is a huge indoor and outdoor park and museum. It is one of the best stops on our trip.


There is a huge parking lot, and we got there around the time it opens. We were still in the third row away, but the rows go on and on forever, and we wondered why so much parking? As we left, we understood. We had been there about three or four hours, and the parking lot was filling up fast, buses, travelers from every state and many nations, coming to this beautifully thought-through museum.


One of the things we are picking up on is that everywhere we go, there are people our age, physically fit, volunteering. We saw this at the Benson – Rio Grande Valley Park in Texas, where I thought they were the happiest volunteers I had ever seen, and then again, at Tombstone, AZ, participating as characters in the daily dramas. People our age are living their dreams, and we met a lot of really happy people, working for various parks and volunteer agencies.

I volunteer in several areas, and one of my favorite is with the Gulf Coast Citizen Diplomacy Council. The Department of State sends delegates here to meet with counterparts in specialized areas – environment, juvenile justice, fair election processes, women entrepreneurs – it can be anything. You never know what comes next, which I love. Another part of it that I love is introducing our foreign delegates to the volunteer experience, whether it be dishing out hot meals for the homeless or packaging food for the food bank. For most, it is a new experience, and the idea of giving your time voluntarily to work to help others is a revelation. They are so often surprised at how good it feels.

This is what we are coming across again and again. At this museum, there is a volunteer passing out maps, and others selling entrance tickets. There are volunteer rangers, volunteer guides, and volunteers answering questions. They are happy, they are fit and tanned (LOL, yes, this is Arizona!) and they work for free. They are doing what they want to be doing. It is a joyful experience to find all these happy volunteers, and to benefit from their expertise. It is a joy to us; I feel so proud and humble to be a part of this kind of community.

This museum is so first rate. These are the bronze sculptures at the entry:



Museum entrance:


There are all kinds of walking trails, and every exhibit is also reachable by wheelchair.

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The museum cactus display is gorgeous along the wonderful walking paths:


They have a wildlife display with all kinds of snakes and frogs. This is a poisonous frog:


AdventureMan and I separate; he has a mission, he wants to see the Butterfly garden and what is planted there. I take a few trails, and then head for the gift shop. I also have an agenda 🙂

In the wonderful gift shop, where I found unique and really fun gifts for grandchildren, grand-nieces and grand-nephews, I also saw two of Mary Doria Russel’s books about this area, about the legendary Doc Holliday and Wyatt Earp. There were also books and puzzles about bugs and desert creatures, and wonderful edibles, hot sauces, salsas, BBQ rubs. Great gifts.


It is a wonderful visit, but even this early in the season, by noon, it is getting very warm. We decide to head on for Sedona, and because we are not so fond of big city traffic, we skirt Phoenix and stop for lunch at one of our favorite places, Whole Foods. What a treat!


We wanted to take the scenic route to Sedona, so we went through the Tonto National Forest. At the beginning, I started laughing and said to AdventureMan, “It’s a Saguaro Forest!” Later, the Saguaros stopped, and small scrubby pines began, and then taller pines, and taller, thicker pines until we were in a truly dark forest with a lot of trees. Driving was a lot of twisting and turning on this road, and we were glad when we headed out towards Sedons.


We knew we were getting close when we saw the beginning of the famous red rocks. This is the view from our hotel balcony:


April 20, 2015 Posted by | Adventure, Beauty, Community, Customer Service, Eating Out, ExPat Life, Fitness / FitBit, Generational, Geography / Maps, Gulf Coast Citizen Diplomacy Council, Hotels, Interconnected, Living Conditions, Quality of Life Issues, Road Trips, Shopping, Travel | , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Amazing Women Visiting Pensacola

When I first came to Pensacola, a woman at our church who is very welcoming and kind to newcomers told me she “wanted to find just the right place for me to plug in.” A couple of her suggestions were not exactly what I wanted, but then she introduced me to Jena Melancon, the founder and director of the Gulf Coast Citizens Diplomacy Council, and I found my niche.

Jena is an amazing woman. She has created this organization. She has a data base of resources that allow her to tailor visits for foreign delegates so that they can meet the needs of their missions – Election Transparency, Entrepreneurship, Environmental Protection, Leading an NGO, Military and Civilian Community Cooperation, Domestic Violence, Creating Fair Policies, Programs for Enriching Disadvantaged Children – you name it, Jena can create a program that will enrich their understanding from an American perspective.

At the same time, Pensacolians who come into contact with the delegates sent by the Department of State find that their lives are also enriched. Many times they, too, learn something new and unexpected. Both groups benefit.

Jena also has a group in GCCDC that studies Great Decisions, and creates events throughout the year for membership participation. Members of the Gulf Coast Citizens Diplomacy Council can volunteer in Jena’s office, can host dinners for delegates and have some one-on-one time learning about customs in another part of the world, can sponsor a Pensacola child in an international exchange, can host teenagers here on an international exchange, or attend the famous Mint Julep party in Spring. Many in the GCCDC are also resources; the exchange of ideas bringing inspiration to both sides.

This week, I was honored to be able to work with a group of Women in Leadership, women from Chad, Iraq, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the Sudan. Each and every one of the women was a hero in her own right, making life better in their communities by stepping into leadership roles. Rehab, above, from the Sudan, works to empower women and to make the laws show greater equality in the treatment of men and women.


CPT Aseel is a police chief in Iraq.

Maki, from Chad, works to prohibit child marriages and female genital mutilation.

Mariam, from Saudi Arabia, is a high level journalist in the Saudi media industry, accepting honorary citizenship from the City of Pensacola city council chair Sherri Myers.

Wasfiya is a minister of parliament in Iraq.

Ola is the delegate from Jordan.

I was honored to spend three days of my life with these women, and with Jena, and with other inspirational women of Pensacola at the Women in Leadership conference at UWF.

Here is most of the group with Judy Bense, President Emeritus of UWF, at the closing of the Women in Leadership conference, 2020. Life can be amazing when so many women of talent and confidence gather together to inspire one another.

March 3, 2020 Posted by | Adventure, Character, Community, Cross Cultural, ExPat Life, Gulf Coast Citizen Diplomacy Council, Interconnected, Leadership, Political Issues, Social Issues, Women's Issues | , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Pensacola Tough @ Grafitti Bridge



On my way home from a great Algerian pastry treat at SoGourmet, I passed Grafitti Bridge. Grafitti Bridge is one of Pensacola’s quirks. Every month – sometimes every week, even sometimes daily – the bridge is repainted. Sometimes it is that BubbleGum pink of Breast Cancer Awareness, with names of the fallen and names of survivors, sometimes it is Gay Pride, sometimes it is who loves who, or who is a first class jerk, sometimes it is Class of TwoThousandWhatever – it can be whatever someone feels passionate enough about to buy the paint and make it happen. No one gets too bent out of shape about it. Occasionally profanity will show up, but very shortly someone else will spray paint out the offensive word, or, which I love, alter it to have an entirely new meaning.


As I drove past today, I saw a lightning storm, well done, I couldn’t imagine how they had captured what it was like seeing so many strikes at once, and then I saw “Pensacola Tough.” By that time, I was through the bridge, so I had to circle and go back. I had to park, and take a closer look. And then I had to photograph it, and post it here.


Pensacola Tough. Pensacola got an award as the Toughest City in the USA, based on a criteria that measured percentage of felons in the population (it’s OK, it keeps us humble), sports heros, the number of military personnel, violent crime statistics, etc. It isn’t an award cities run for.

And yet, as the raging water abates, tales of heroism and helpfulness abound. While there have been bands of looters at an apartment complex housing the low-income workers in Pensacola, there have also been bands of volunteers scouring the county, helping clean out houses, pull out sodden carpeting, moving soaked furniture to the curbs for pickup, pulling out drywall and ceilings to prevent black mold. In today’s Pensacola News Journal, there is a story of a man who worked just above where the Escambia County Jail exploded and fell through the floor, breaking legs, ribs and assorted bones. He was paralyzed. His co-worker, also hurt, saw him with his head under water and pulled his head out, and held his head out for over an hour while waiting for help to arrive. She got tired, but the alternative was letting him die. She didn’t let go.

Pensacola Tough.


“When Things Get Rough . . . We’re Pensacola Tough.

You gotta love this place

May 5, 2014 Posted by | Arts & Handicrafts, Beauty, Civility, Communication, Community, Cultural, ExPat Life, Free Speech, Gulf Coast Citizen Diplomacy Council, Interconnected, Living Conditions, Local Lore, Pensacola, Values, Weather | Leave a comment

Giving Birth to Gun in the South Sudan

This is the newest blog entry from my friend Manyang David Mayar in the South Sudan He visited Pensacola as part of an IVLP program with our Gulf Coast Citizens Diplomacy Council:

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Pregnant women fleeing the fighting in Jonglei state, South Sudan.
I was in the town of Bor when fighting broke out last month in South Sudan. I managed to escape the town despite being shot in the arm. But many other people had a far tougher time – people like Nyiel Magot, nine months pregnant and faced with the awful choice of staying in Bor’s hospital or fleeing into the bush.

Against her doctors’ advice, Nyiel decided to escape the immediate danger, and with her five children, took a narrow path out of town which was packed with people also heading to safety.

But, she told me, with every step she took, she grew weaker and more and more people overtook her.

“I was really tired and the pain became really unbearable,” Nyiel said. “I knew the time had come for me to give birth and I had to get out of Bor immediately to escape the attackers.”

Giving birth in the bush

Later that evening, the pain finally forced Nyiel to stop. Instead of a hospital ward, she found an abandoned grass-thatched house.

Luckily, there was a traditional birth attendant nearby who used her bare hands to help Nyiel deliver a healthy baby boy.

But the cold nights and hot days of December in South Sudan soon started to take their toll on the new born and reports of an imminent rebel attack forced Nyiel and her family to leave their hideout.

They walked for days until they crossed the River Nile and came to a large camp for displaced people in Awerial. And then her baby caught diarrhoea and started to vomit.

He was rushed to a hospital in Juba where, after days of treatment, he recovered.

A child of conflict

It was in the hospital in Juba that I met Nyiel and heard her story – and also learned the name of her little baby.

Nyiel had called him Matuor, the Dinka word for ‘gun’, because he was born amid gunfire.

As the conflict continues in South Sudan, I fear he won’t be the last baby born in the bush with such a name.

January 28, 2014 Posted by | Africa, Blogging, Circle of Life and Death, Community, Family Issues, Friends & Friendship, Interconnected, Living Conditions, Local Lore, South Sudan, Survival | Leave a comment

Seville’s Palace Cafe for Breakfast

We had a favorite place for breakfast, Adonna’s, but first they discontinued AdventureMan’s favorite – Biscuits and Gravy – and then they discontinued mine, which was Cinnamon Roll French Toast. What to do? Where to go? We go often to The Scenic Diner, but we wanted something different.

We checked out a few places but nothing felt right. Then we remembered the Palace Cafe at Seville, a place we had wanted to try for breakfast for quite a while.

They had a good crowd, but we were seated immediately and coffee and tea arrived within minutes. As we ordered, AdventureMan said “oh! We haven’t had beignets here; let’s have those!” and I applaud the waitress, who didn’t bat an eye, didn’t say a thing, not a single thing about all the times I have been there with GCCDC groups and ordered beignets for all the tables, because they are so good.

When they arrived, I told AdventureMan how often I had them before; I just couldn’t let him believe a lie. These beignets are like the ones we ate in New Orleans, a little like the lightest deep fried donut you ever ate. So much air, and powdered sugar – that can’t be all that bad for you, right? Right? Aren’t they beautiful?


I had the Palace eggs, which comes with grits or hash browns or fruit, and it was perfect:


AdventureMan had the breakfast croissant. He said it was a pretty good croissant – he still misses our breakfasts in France.

There were families there, children playing while the adults visited. There were adult groups, there were buddies. It was active without being noisy.

It was also one of the best breakfasts we have had in a long time. We love this place.

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October 24, 2013 Posted by | Building, Character, Eating Out, Food, Living Conditions, Restaurant | , , , | Leave a comment

Election Day Fun

No more same old, same old. Today, Pensacola had a group of up-and-coming leaders from twelve African countries in town studying Grassroots Democracy and the US Elections. There is nothing like questions from non-US citizens to keep you on your toes and even give you a good laugh as you try to explain the eccentricities of our electoral system. This group, brought to Pensacola by the Gulf Coast Citizens Diplomacy Council, asked some great, probing questions.

Their questions were thoughtful and open-ended. At the end of the session, one delegate from Uganda summarized his observation that although we are deeply polarized in this election, we have confidence in our civil servants and the bureaucracy. While the leaders at the top may change, and while policies MIGHT change, they have to go through processes to change. It’s not like one leader or the other comes in and overnight, everything is changed, everything is done a different way.

AdventureMan says he loves that we live in a country where power is transferred peacefully – no coup. No revolution. We might have ugly elections, but they are peaceful, and when one triumphs, thousands of people supporting the losing side are not killed.

Had not thought about it that way. 🙂

These visitors are in Pensacola at just the right time for them to observe our biggest election. They have questions about everything, from the signs in our front yards to voter fraud and deceptive wording on proposed amendments. They talked today with the Supervisor of Elections, with elected officials, and with normal, everyday citizens. Tonight they will attend some of the parties around town, as the votes are counted. It is a very special experience for us, to see ourselves as others might see us, as we hold our elections.

November 6, 2012 Posted by | Adventure, Africa, Bureaucracy, Civility, Community, Cross Cultural, Cultural, Florida, Political Issues | Leave a comment

Non-Profits: Something From Nothing

Here is what I love – people who get an idea, and make the world a better place because they have a vision and make a plan so that the vision can become a reality.

The Gulf Coast Citizens Diplomacy Council
I volunteer for the Gulf Coast Citizens Diplomacy Council. The one in Pensacola was started from nothing by a young woman with a vision, Gina Melancon Gissendanner. Her organization, her Board of Directors, her members and her resources deep within the Pensacola community have welcomed several hundred of the US Department of States International Visitor’s Leadership program delegates, bringing awareness – and dollars – to Pensacola.

When the visitors come into town, they have activities, tours and visits with professional counterparts that give them new strategies and resources to take back with them to their home countries. While here, they meet local people, shop in local stores and dine in local homes.

I love this program. From nothing, this young woman has created an organization with a far-reaching legacy. Thanks to her innovative and relevant programs, the international delegates leave here with happy memories of their time in Pensacola, and they go home and tell their friends and neighbors about their time here.

This weekend, we crossed paths with three more organizations, creating a better world, each in their own way.

The Master Gardeners

“You have to come to the sale at the County Extension Office!” our aqua aerobics friends told us. “It is so much fun, and they have Florida-hardy plants available at really good prices.”

OK! Finding ourselves awake and ready to hit the road early on a Saturday morning, we headed for the County Extension office, and the Master Gardener’s Sale. Now, I may get some of the details in this story wrong, but this is what I think I have been told. . . Several years ago, county extension offices (who answer questions about soil and growing things) found themselves deluged with questions, with too few people to answer them. They started a program – and I believe it is nation wide – training people in all aspects of growing things in the local area.

People who signed up for the training also signed up for a commitment to volunteer, and pass their knowledge along. Slowly, slowly, we have begun to know these people.

The sale was a lot of fun. While gardeners love a challenge, like growing flowers in Florida that aren’t supposed to grow here (like me, I am trying to grow bougainvillea, which isn’t really good at getting through cold winters, but maybe if I find the right protected spot, I can get it going and keep it going until it develops a deep root system and an ability to withstand the minimally cold winters we have in Pensacola) and they also love to share their knowledge.

There was an experienced, knowledgeable and enthusiastic Master gardener about every ten steps at the sale, and we could ask all the questions we ever wanted, and they just loved talking with us and giving all the answers. Free! There was no admission charged, the plants were reasonably prices (and many were very cool plants) and it was just a great place to pass a Saturday morning.

We’ve been told the Spring Sale is THE best sale – we can hardly wait.

When we left, AdventureMan said “Every one of them seemed so comfortable in their own skin.” I think he is right. I think working in the earth with your hands helps ground you. 🙂

The Master Gardeners are those people you find in Home Depot and Lowes, giving information on gardening in Florida, and at special booths at Arts Fests, in the schools, and working the beds at the County Extension office. They are volunteers. They do this work for the love of making the world a more beautiful place.

The Butterfly House

Our next stop was the Monarch Madness festival at the Panhandle Butterfly House in Navarre, where there was also an Arts Fest in progress. The volunteers at the Butterfly House all wore these terrific T-shirts with a caterpiller on the front and Monarch butterfly on the back. They had a great system, too, for getting a lot of people through the butterfly house in an organized and civil way, still giving people a lot of time to ask questions, and with lots of really cool activities for children to do, to help them understand the life cycle of these beautiful and short-lived creatures.

The Manna Food Pantries, Pensacola

I’m lucky. I work on a church committee where the chair brings in representatives from all the major charities in Pensacola to talk with us about what they do. The Manna Food Pantries is, in my humble opinion, a poster-child for how a non-profit should operate. Providing food for those who are hungry, for those going through tough times – and there are more than you might think – is truly part of God’s work for us here on earth. Manna Food Pantries collect and distribute food to the hungry. This morning, we had two Manna vans at the church and people were bringing in their full bags to donate.

It’s been a very tough year in Pensacola. The tough times just go on and on. You can prepare for tough times, save your money, gather your resources, but when tough times linger, sometimes those resources run dry. Manna has been faced with just such a time; resources are drying up, donations were down and the need is greater than ever. Manna hit the front page this week two days in a row, and is getting great coverage on radio, in the churches, in social groups – they are very very good at getting the message out, and the message is clear: We need your continued support, food, money, now more than ever.

They are brilliant at managing their volunteers, and many have been with them for years and years.

All these organizations are only able to exist because people believe in giving of their time and efforts in the hopes of making the world a little better, a little more beautiful, a little more peaceful, a little more hopeful – one person at a time.

Where are you going to put your efforts? What organizations do you support – and why?

October 10, 2011 Posted by | Arts & Handicrafts, Beauty, Character, Charity, Civility, Community, Cultural, Financial Issues, Food, Fund Raising, Gardens, Living Conditions, Local Lore, Pensacola, Social Issues | 1 Comment

Iraqi and American Students Dance in Pensacola

It’s been a busy week for the Gulf Coast Citizen’s Diplomacy Council, and its Executive Director, Jena Melancon Gissendanner as a group of Iraqi students in the U.S. Department of State’s International Youth Leadership Program arrived to stay with American host families, work, play and interact with American students, and participate in community activities.

At a special ceremony last night, participating students and host families were honored. Maren DeWeese, President of the Pensacola City Council presented Iraqi students honorary Pensacola citizen status. We got to see a video production that all the students were able to participate in creating, and, at the end, students told us in their own words how the week of interacting had changed their lives and perceptions.

One American teenager, DJ, told us that when it comes to cultures, adults may be different, but they had learned that teenagers have more in common than they have differences.

It made my heart sing. These young people will never forget the experience they have shared.

The evening ended with all the students demonstrating a Kurdish dance one of the students had taught them, Iraqis, Americans, guys and gals, all dancing this lively circle dance and loving every minute of their time together. You gotta love it.

Making a visit like this a success takes a lot of effort. So many people in Pensacola give of their time and energy and provide experiences for foreign visitors they would never otherwise have. The GCDC is an amazing organization; built on the commitment of citizens with a broad world vision. It makes us proud to be Pensacolians.

July 16, 2011 Posted by | Adventure, Character, Community, Cross Cultural, Cultural, Events, Friends & Friendship, Living Conditions, Pensacola, Relationships, Work Related Issues | Leave a comment