Here There and Everywhere

Expat wanderer

Anne Enright: The Gathering

What is it with my problem with Man Booker Award winners? The last one I remember is White Tiger, which we read in our Kuwait book group, and I hated. Actually, it was the main character I hated . . . and possibly that is what is happening with me and The Gathering, now that I think about it.

We meet Veronica, Irish, from a large Irish family, as she learns of the death of her brother Liam. Through claiming the body, preparing for the funeral, the funeral and the aftermath, we are there with Veronica as she whines and complains, as she disparages her family members while ignoring her own husband and family, and she drinks too much. She gets up at noon, and stays up all night, avoiding her husband. Her language is frightful, and her sexual episodes are crude and explicit . . . offensive, but maybe it is the utter distraught nature of a woman in the throes of the deepest grief?

Slowly, slowly, the story unfolds. For me, I was never sure what was truth and what was imagination, in terms of the story. Were the children abused, molested, neglected? Or are these the creative imaginings of a troubled woman? There seems to be a thread of insanity in the family – can we trust that she is a reliable narrator?

As little as I liked the main character – hmmmm, that seems to be a problem I am having a lot right now, or at least I’ve had a run of main characters I don’t like very well – I finished this book. I’m glad I read it so that I can talk about it if it comes up in a discussion, but it did not inspire or elevate me in any way, and I didn’t even feel a lot of compassion for the narrator.

September 21, 2011 Posted by | Aging, Books, Character, Community, Cultural, Family Issues, Fiction, Interconnected, Ireland, Living Conditions, Marriage, Mating Behavior, Relationships | 5 Comments

Changes in the Air

“It’s still hot,” I said as we were coming out of the movie, “but can you feel a change in the air? Even though it’s hot, the air is changing, the light is changing – you can feel hints that Fall is coming . . . ”

We had just been to see “The Help,” and if you haven’t seen it yet, you need to make plans to see it soon. It is a really good movie, which will make you laugh, and cry, and remember that it wasn’t so long ago in our country when it took place. (You can read my review of the unforgettable book here.)

The movie is a serious movie, and at the same time, I loved the attention to detail – the hair, the fashions, the manners – all very 50’s, even though it is the 1960’s in Jackson, Mississippi.

I remember reading this book in Qatar, just after I had moved back there from Kuwait. The Kuwait book club also read White Tiger and Half of a Yellow Sun, all of which had domestic service as at least part of the theme. It’s another one of those cultural things we all have in common – how do we treat the people who work for us? How do they see us? Who is raising our children and teaching them values?

In the Gulf, there are horror stories in the papers of servants who never receive their wages, or who work 16 hours a day, sun-up to sun-down, with never a day off. The families who take good care of their servants never make the papers, but I have seen good and caring relationships, lasting many years, between employers and employees. We’re glad we saw this movie, which sticks closely to the book. For a fuller experience – read the book.

Meanwhile, the temperature early this morning was below 69° F, which means that my tomatoes will begin setting once again and we may have a good crop coming before the cold sets in. I noticed, to my horror, I have a decent crop of weeds trying to establish themselves while it is too hot for me to go out and do battle with them. Some of my tomatoes actually continued producing even during the hottest days of the summer; I’m going to have to plant more of those next year. The golden pear and the red pear tomatoes are producing merrily; the bigger tomatoes have stopped – I hope temporarily.

August 16, 2011 Posted by | Books, Character, Civility, Community, Cross Cultural, Cultural, Doha, ExPat Life, Family Issues, Fiction, Friends & Friendship, Gardens, Generational, Interconnected, Kuwait, Living Conditions, Pensacola, Qatar, Random Musings, Social Issues, Work Related Issues | Leave a comment

The Help by Kathryn Stockett

The Help

In my book club last year, one of the themes that continued to arise as we read books from many cultures was how we are perceived by the people we hire to help us in our homes. In The White Tiger, a Man Booker Award Winner, the main character lucks into a job working for a family as a driver. We see the people for whom he works from the inside, their sweet acts and all their flaws. We see how callous they can be, and, ultimately, how the driver takes his revenge and becomes his own boss. (Not one of my favorite books, but then again, I’m still thinking about it a year later, so there is something to be said for it.)

In Half of a Yellow Sun we saw an entirely different relationship (in a book I totally loved, BTW) between employer and employee, but it shared with White Tiger the aspect of employer as seen from the eyes of an employee inside the house who sees the family and all its interactions intimately.

The Help, a surprise best seller, does the same to 1960’s era Mississippi. A recent graduate from Ole Miss (University of Mississippi) starts interviewing the maids from local households, any maid that will talk to her. At first, no one will talk with her, but after traumatizing racial clashes, one by one, they share their stories. Just interviewing the maids, just the maids sharing their stories, is enough to bring on serious consequences.

First, the book is riveting. I have a million things I really REALLY need to be doing, and I can’t stop reading. There is something about peeking into your neighbors house, seeing how they behave when they think no one is looking, that appeals to the voyeur in each of us.

Second, these women are taking serious risks. I am on the edge of my chair with each reading, hoping nothing bad happens to them.

Third, there is something that makes you squirm, it is the old “wee giftie” that shows us the worst in ourselves as others might see us; our own hypocrisies, our condescensions, our patronizing acts, how cruel our charitable acts can appear through the eyes of others, and how callous we are in the end towards those who take care of us every day.

It has rocketed onto the best seller list, now the #6 best selling book on Amazon.

If your book club is looking for a book to read that will get you talking and keep you talking for a long time, this is one of the best.

If you have hired help in the house, I double-dog-dare-you to read this book. (OOps, sometimes the little Alaska girl in me pops back out!) Fair warning, though, once you start, you won’t want to put it down.

October 8, 2009 Posted by | Adventure, Books, Bureaucracy, Character, Civility, Community, Cross Cultural, Customer Service, Family Issues, Interconnected, Living Conditions, Relationships, Social Issues, Women's Issues | 7 Comments

Wrapping up the Year in New Orleans

I bet you think we are going to write about a grand adventure partying in New Orleans, crowded with people eager to watch the Sugar Bowl, parades, grand times. I could – but our visit was a little different.

AdventureMan and I DID have a grand adventure – taking the 6 year old and 3 year old grandchildren to New Orleans for three days. We were a little aghast at the enormity of our undertaking, but AdventureMan did a little investigating, and found a wonderful solution – The Audubon Nature Institute has an annual family membership which gets you into the New Orleans zoo, the Aquarium, the Butterfly Garden and the Insectarium, and invited to special events, for a year.

Even better, the cost of the year-long family membership is so reasonable that our first trip to the zoo paid off the entire membership. The next day, the children voted that we visit the zoo again, and the third day we visited the aquarium. We can go back all year, walk in through the membership gate (that is a great feature, beats standing in line for tickets) and get a membership discount in the gift shop. This is a real deal. You can find it at Audubon Nature Institute, you can join online and print out your temporary membership card. What a great value for the money.


New Orleans – and Pensacola – had an unseasonably warm Christmas, and when we arrived in New Orleans, it was 75° F. and the zoo was packed. Fortunately, one family was leaving and we found a good parking spot. Parenthetically, the three year old was a total trooper, doing her 10,000 steps with no complaints. We had lunch with the flamingos at one of the zoo food stops.
We think the zoo has one of the most beautiful carousels we have ever seen. Tickets cost $1 and are worth every penny. This is a treat for children and their parents 🙂
Two days, two trips to the zoo. It was fun, and plenty to occupy the kids for more than a couple days.
There are all kinds of enrichment centers and activities.
We stayed at the Westin, which we discovered atop a high end shopping mall and offices when we had to rush to New Orleans to replace a missing passport at the last minute before one of our trips overseas. It is not where we stay when it is just the two of us, but it is a perfect place to stay with children who are going to the aquarium (next door) and the insectarium. It is also a very short drive to the zoo. Parking is $30 per day, and relatively secure. We looked over the city and the river, and had a very spacious room for two adults and two children.
We were also able to find some great places which welcomed children and provided fairly healthy food.
A short walk from the hotel was Felipe’s, a taqueria, which we liked so well that we ate there two nights. Everything was freshly made, the kids loved the food (they had quesadillas and black beans), I had a taco salad made with pork al pastor, AdventureMan had tamales, tostada and a tortilla soup. We all split two flans. It was casual, the food was tasty and fresh and we were comfortable being their with kids.
Across the street from  Zito’s, where we take our Middle Eastern treasures to be shined up and sealed, is the Wakin’ Bakin’, where we had plates full of eggs and toast and fabulous biscuits, bowls of fresh fruit and good coffee.  They make their own croissants, and other wonderful goodies, and it’s all good.
We introduced the grands to Ethiopian food at the Cafe Abyssinia, 3511 Magazine Street, close to the zoo and on the way back to the French Quarter. They loved the Ethiopian tea, and the injera, which they thought were pancakes. Not so fond yet of the Doro Wat or the veg entrees, but we have time . . . .  🙂
Last but not least, as the weather turned chilly overnight, we snuggled into the Jackson Brewery, on Decatur, close to the Westin and close to the Aquarium and the river park walk. We started with beignets, which were a big hit, and orange juice. The brewery actually had good fresh options and the children loved the space and ambience.
Version 2
Entrance to Jackson Brewery from Decatur Street:
We had such a good time, we think it might have to become a Christmas vacation tradition. In the meanwhile, we also enjoyed turning them back over to their parents and enjoying hours of silence. 🙂 Happy New Year!

December 31, 2016 Posted by | Adventure, Aging, Arts & Handicrafts, Beauty, Birds, Cultural, Eating Out, Entertainment, ExPat Life, Experiment, Family Issues, Holiday, Hotels, Living Conditions, Relationships, Road Trips, Travel, Weather | , , , | 2 Comments

Leaving Nsefu for Chongwe; The Most Exciting Moment of our Trip

Early, early the next morning we heard a crashing and crunching – sounds we can easily identify as elephant. At first we continue sleeping, our only morning for sleeping in, but I can’t resist, I have to get up, and lo! The elephant is between our cabin and the next, obliviously chomping and breaking and tearing the tree for an early breakfast. 

I decide to get up and get dressed so I can get the iPad charged before the generator goes off at 10, but I can’t go out until the elephant has departed, and she heads in the direction of the lodge, which is where I need to be. Deb Tuttle, the walking guide, walks with me once we see the elephant walk a little further down the valley, I’m able to get the iPad charging and grab a cup of coffee so to be able to say farewell to some of the guests whom we will not see again. 

Sunrise over Nsefu:

Travel agents heading out on a Robin Pope Walking Safari:

Making Toast is the favorite job in the winter, close to the hot coals:

It is so nice to be able to pack in daylight! My iPad is at 100%; I have finished The Paris Wife and am starting Wolf Hall, which also holds my attention. While carrying books is bulky, this constant underlying awareness of needing to recharge camera batteries and iPad is also a deterrence. I find I am less desperate about the camera batteries, I always carry at least one back-up so I always have a charged spare, but when the iPad goes, it has to be recharged before we can use it again.

A couple of the travel agents who didn’t know each other had to bunk together in Nsefu. I don’t feel sorry for them; they get to come free. It seems to me, though, is hard to come on these trips as a single person and not feel the odd one out when the game drives go out. They say it is no problem, but I’ve been the odd one on trips to Kawazaa, etc., when AdventureMan wanted to do some activity and I wanted to do something else. It is possible, anything is possible, but sometimes it is just a little awkward. Sometimes people are nice; sometimes they are not so happy to have someone else with them. We are finding that the best of all worlds is to come with your own little traveling group. 

The first time we came as a small group was with our son and his wife. We were able to do game drives with people who share our preferences, have people to talk to at dinner if everyone else has their group, etc. We like meeting up with other people, and at the same time, it gives you more confidence to have a group with you, if the other people are all absorbed in one another, or not great company.

The most difficult people are those who don’t understand that this is not a predictable experience – that’s why it is an adventure. There is no guarantee that the lion will crawl over the lip of the riverbank just in front of your car. There is no guarantee you will find the same great, shaggy maned lion at the salt pans that the other guests found the day before. There are NO guarantees, and so you have to treasure all the moments, great and small, and if you are blessed with an extraordinary experience, you celebrate, but honestly, just being here is cause for celebration. Those whose noses get out of joint because you might have seen something they haven’t aren’t a lot of fun to be around. We had one experience when a group that had been friendly to us got all sour and disgruntled because we had seen the lions at the salt pan and they had not. Hey! The lion don’t always show up! The leopard are elusive. This experience is one that totally has to be lived in the moment.

You have to love the smell of the campfire in the morning, and be willing to sacrifice your one morning of sleeping in to spot the elephant chomping outside your bathroom wall. You have to love the little elephant shrew as much as the elephant. There are some drives that are just quiet. It’s like you can’t expect Christmas every day, and if it were Christmas every day, it wouldn’t be special any more.

Just before Holly arrives to open up the Bend Over Store (LOL, it’s a trunk full of goodies) we are blessed with one last elephant crossing! Two days earlier, the elephant were crossing back and forth like a street in New York, then yesterday – not an elephant! It was so unearthly quiet! Today, groups are massing once again, and crossing. We love watching the baby elephants as they learn how it is done.

Drinking; getting ready to cross:

Mom, wait!

On the way to Mfuwe airport, we see Eland – we’ve been looking and looking for these large elk-like ungulates, they are shy and elusive, but Jonah spots them off in the distance, a parting gift from Nsefu.

We have an all-too-brief mad dash through Tribal Textiles, where we ‘invest’ in tablewares, cushion covers and deco for children’s rooms. AdventureMan befriends one of the Tribal Textile cats while I am busy shopping. I have cleared out my backpack so I would have space to put my purchases. 🙂

We have a full flight from Mfuwe to Lusaka, and not a lot of time to spare before our next flight.  Smooth flight to Lusaka, just minutes to pick up luggage and transfer to next ProFlight flight, this one is not even on the departure board, only eight passengers, our party of four and a German family from Bavaria. At the very last minute another man comes running, running to catch the plane, we are all busy chatting, it is already a family. They are en route to Chiawa.

It’s a short flight, but here comes the most exciting moment in our day. The pilot is looking at a cheat sheet and the suddenly the plane is saying loudly “Pull Up! Pull Up!Terrain! Terrain!”

The pilots are looking confused and annoyed, one still looking at the instruction sheet, a mountain is rising in front of us, the plane is banking and the loud voice keeps saying “Pull up! Pull up! Terrain!”

I thought I had a movie of all this. I remember making a movie, thinking that if these are my last moments, I will record what happened and try to store the iPad in a place where it might be safely found. Of course, as it turns out, we landed safely and . . . somehow, I don’t have the movie. I must have shut it off too quickly and it didn’t save; I was in a hurry – just in case those were my last moments. I have to admit I am disappointed not to have it to share with you.

Waiting at the airstrip is Victor, our guide, and we rode with him and Chris, who turns out to be one of the owners of Chongwe, to the Chongwe River Camp.

(This is a waterbuck we passed on our way into camp, and again on our way out of camp the next morning; so so sad, part of the circle of life and death, but as we departed Chongwe, his bloated body was in the same field; they suspect he was bitten by a snake and died.)

Arrival is lovely, we are greeted at a tall stand, so we are not climbing in and out of the Land Cruiser, we walk right out onto this stand and down the steps. Flossie greets us and then they tell us that we have been upgraded and put in the family suite.

The Family Suite . . . As soon as we see it, we remember. We had totally forgotten . . . we loved our cabins at Chongwe, we were delighted with all the amenities, and we also remember our first boat trip riding by a place that looked like a fantasy from 1001 Nights, a tented living room and dining room, with carpets and nice furniture and linen tablecloths and gleaming candles – it was so lovely. We remember, it was the family suites.  And now, the family suite was ours!

We were a little dazed by our good fortune, we couldn’t believe this lovely place was ours. Our butler, Steve, offered us drinks, Flossie, the camp hostess showed us to our bedroom/bathroom/dressing areas and explained how everything worked, where the electrical outlets and switches were, how the double shower works, where the bath oils were for the claw-footed bathtub, gave us the white cotton pique robes and the fluffy thick Turkish Towels.

This is our sleeping area:

This is our dressing area:

This is the view from our tent toward where the Chongwe River meets the Zambezi River:

This is our bathroom, with a two-person shower and claw-foot tub 🙂

And this is the desk area, also where we can charge our batteries and electronics:

This is our dining room:

The Family Room:

This is the view out over our swimming pool to the Chongwe and Zambezi Rivers, and the hippo pods:

There are woven mats and kelim carpets, and we feel at home, if home can be a huge octagonal tent with an indoor / outdoor feel.  Victor comes back, pulling up in a boat next to our swimming pool,to take us for a sundowners up the Chongwe and then back down into the Zambezi.

And Victor has fishing equipment with him for the fishing enthusiast in our party. He is able to cast to his heart’s content with a rod and reel trying to hook a Tiger Fish (catch and release) but no luck.

We see lots of animals coming down to drink at dusk, just across the Chongwe:

Our first Chongwe sunset:

Dusk settles on the Zambezi:

After sundowners, we head back and go to our luxurious tents to clean up, then reassemble around the fire to have a glass of wine before dinner.

The ultimate luxury is privacy. We have met such lovely people in the camps, and still, I am who I am, it is hard for me to exert myself to be charming every night at the end of a long day. I do fine at breakfast around a campfire. I manage at lunch, although after an early start and a long game drive, I am usually eager for a quick snooze. But by night, at the end of the game drive, all I want is comfort food, quick, like tomato soup and a cheese sandwich, not so much chit chat and good night, see you all in the morning when I am more chipper.

I recognize there are people who do well later in the day. I recognize that there is this thing called civilized behavior. I do have manners, I know what is important, and  . . . yet . . . late in the day, I have the nature of a curmudgeon. I need some quiet. AdventureMan and our friends are out having a great conversation in our living room area, I can hear them, I delight that they are having such a great conversation, and I really, really need to be in here, writing up my notes. By the grace of God, they understand me and have compassion on me. I am able to join them a little later, and we have a lovely laughter-filled dinner in our private dining room and then off to bed – we have a full day tomorrow in Chongwe!

The butler, Steve, does wonderful napkins:

We did nothing to deserve this beautiful upgrade. We loved the spacious tents we had the last time we were in Chongwe River Camp, but this . . . this is a totally unexpected, undeserved blessing, it just fell in our laps, and we are so appreciative. We feel so cherished, so blessed, so beautifully taken care of. We go to sleep with the sound of hippos . . . . .ZZZzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz . . . . . .

June 26, 2012 Posted by | Adventure, Africa, Arts & Handicrafts, Beauty, Books, Circle of Life and Death, Civility, Cultural, Customer Service, ExPat Life, Living Conditions, Relationships, Shopping, sunrise series, Sunsets, Travel, Zambia | , , , , , | 2 Comments