Here There and Everywhere

Expat wanderer

Dauphin Island: Fort Gaines

Imagine you are a retired military man who likes birds and butterflies and gardens and photography and military history . . .

Now, imagine you can find all of the above on one island. Dauphin Island is a paradise for AdventureMan.

Imagine you are a woman who loves road trips, beautiful beaches, taking pictures, taking walks, beautiful scenery, especially beaches and wading birds . . .

And that is also all on the same island.

We can’t wait to go back to Dauphin Island. Birding season is just kicking up again, after the heat of the summer and the threat of hurricane season. The birds migrating south have their final rest on Dauphin Island, before heading out across the big Gulf of Mexico to warmer climates for the winter.

And there’s an old fort, too!

These forts were built to protect the American southern coast from a variety of enemies, including at one time, our fellow Americans. They are built solidly, with great big cannons.

So what is the fort defending against now?

There is another way to get to Dauphin Island from Pensacola, if you get there at the right time and there isn’t much of a line, because this little ferry can’t take a lot of cars. It goes to Fort Morgan, still in Alabama, but across Mobile Bay:

AdventureMan says the forts are built in the style influenced by Marc René, marquis de Montalembert, who is said to want to do for defense what Vauban had done for the attack.

September 25, 2012 Posted by | Adventure, Arts & Handicrafts, Building, Cultural, ExPat Life, Living Conditions, Road Trips, Safety, Travel | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Shar’a Kaharabaa Today

One of our favorite places in Doha was Shar’a Kaharabaa, Electricity Street. Bombay Silk was there. the old Beirut restaurant was there and several very good and reasonable tailors worked there. All good quilters knew the Mumtaz Tailor, who had every notion in the world, and good prices, and knew where everything could be found in the chaos of his shop. You could always find parking.

I dared to take a look at Sharia Kharabaa this morning, and I shouldn’t have. It’s that bare spot middle left. Al Rayyan, at the top of the photo, leads to the Souk al Waqif. One day, the old picturesque Sharia Kharabaa is supposed to be a grand walk way to the Souq.

August 20, 2012 Posted by | Adventure, Arts & Handicrafts, Beauty, Building, Bureaucracy, Character, Community, Cultural, Doha, ExPat Life, Living Conditions, Qatar, Random Musings | 2 Comments

The 700 Years Tour at Mesa Verde

Early early in the morning we are up and ready to grab a bite of breakfast at the Far View Lodge and to take the 700 years tour. When we called for reservations at the Far View Lodge, the desk clerk asked if we would like to sign up for the 700 Years of Culture tour, and since Sparkle had told us that the tours fill up early, we signed up.

The light in Mesa Verde is beautiful at eight in the morning, and we were shocked when thirty-something people around our age (I guess we are all out exploring America!) got on the bus. Somehow, for $45, I had thought it would be a tour of five to seven people. I didn’t think so many people would pay so much for a tour!

The guide, Dave, and the bus driver, Leiter, were both local men, living in Cortez, men who double as guides a couple days a week to liven up their retirement. Dave’s depth of knowledge and investigative spirit was impressive; clearly he has a passion for the Ancestral Puebloans, and reads everything he can get his hands on. He has read all the latest studies and speculation, and as a farming man, he had some of his own down-to-earth speculations which he shared with us. It was all good stuff.

First, we went to look at early pit dwellings:

And then we headed off to visit some of the more and less famous cliff dwellings:

Does this remind you of anything? (Hint: see previous post)

Look at the terrain – so similar to other places where similar dwellings have evolved . . . (Hint Hint: Les Eyzies de Tayak) There are cliff dwellings in almost every conceivable concavity.

From pit dwellings to small family dwellings, to multiple family dwellings, small villages . . .

This is the Cliff Palace, a multiple family dwelling:

And then, the old legend goes, they just disappeared . . . or did they? Dave, the guide, tells us that the Apaches and Navajos won’t come any where near the Mesa, that the mesa is full of old spirits, not their spirits. The Hopi, however, a little further South, have no fear; the customs and dwellings of the Ancient Puebloans are familiar to them.

It’s kind of like conspiracy theories. We all love a good scary story.

“And then, they all just disappeared!”

But Dave thinks they didn’t disappear, that maybe they just moved on. Maybe too many years of drought, or maybe the soil they were farming gave out. Maybe they heard life was easier a few miles down the road and just picked up and moved a little on down the road . . . which seems to me to be a more logical, if less romantic, possibility.

Anyway, one of the things I really liked was that these ancient peoples, whoever they were, built their dwellings in locations and styles similar to the pre-France people of . . .umm . . . err. . . France.

I need to add a footnote here. This doesn’t happen to everybody, but it happened to me. Once I got to Grand Canyon, activities that I normally do without batting an eye began to be harder. I am a walker and a hiker, but any time I had to hike uphill in the Grand Canyon, I was huffing and puffing like a geezer. “Oh no! Oh no!” I was thinking to myself, “I must have some terrible respiratory condition! I’m suddenly getting old!”

Not so. As it turns out, I am just sensitive to high altitude. I should have known. I drove through Colorado once, and my eyes turned bright red, tiny little capillaries in my eyes burst.

At 8000 feet, in Mesa Verde, I could function, but sometimes found myself huffing and puffing. As soon as we descended a couple thousand feet, I was fine. Leiter, the bus driver, told me that many athletic teams train at high altitude so that when they perform, at a lower altitude, they will exceed themselves. It is such a relief to be able to move fast now, and not puff. I always took it for granted before. Not now.

May 9, 2012 Posted by | Adventure, Aging, Arts & Handicrafts, Beauty, Building, Community, Cultural, ExPat Life, France, Living Conditions, Road Trips, Travel | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Terrorism at the Mall of America

I’ve been listening to a very painful report on National Public Radio, Under Suspicion at the Mall of America, a report about counter-terrorism measures being taken at the Mall of America, a huge mall, in Minnesota. One reason I’ve always wanted to go there is that I think I remember it having a huge, huge swim area, with lots of water slides and wave machines, and it just looked like a lot of fun. When I look at the mall map, I don’t see any pool area. You know malls – they change, and it’s been years. It was probably a liability issue.

So this is the ten year anniversary of 9/11, an event so awful most of us barely want to think about it. There are some things that just go so deep, you could get lost in the horror of it all. Officials are warning of the possibility of anniversary acts of terrorism, and Mall of America has always felt itself to be a vulnerable symbol, due to its name.

This is a lengthy report of “suspicious” incidents at Mall of America. They make me want to cry. You can read the report, but if you listen to the audio (you just click on the audio symbol) it is a richer, more detailed report. Listen – and weep.

Under Suspicion at the Mall of America

Below is an excerpt:

A Missing Cellphone

Yet look what happened when Najam Qureshi’s father came under suspicion at the Mall of America.

Najam Qureshi was born in Pakistan, but he’s been a U.S. citizen since he was a teenager. Today, he manages computer systems for a major company near Minneapolis. He and his family live on a pretty suburban street.

Najam Qureshi’s father came under suspicion at the Mall of America after leaving his cellphone in the food court.

In January 2007, an FBI agent showed up on his doorstep. It turned out that a few weeks before, Qureshi’s father had left his cellphone on a table in the Mall of America’s food court. When the mall’s counterterrorism unit saw the unattended phone, plus someone else’s cooler and stroller, guards cordoned off the area. Qureshi’s father wandered back, looking for his phone, and the RAM unit interrogated him and then reported him to the Bloomington police. In turn, the police reported the incident to the FBI. The documents we obtained show that the mall’s reports went to state and federal law enforcement, in roughly half the cases. The incident with Qureshi’s father led the FBI to want to question Qureshi himself, in his own home.

“He asked me if I knew anybody in Afghanistan. And that was kind of like, what?! And, then he asked me if I had any friends in Pakistan,” Qureshi says.

The FBI also asked him if he knew anybody that would try to hurt the U.S. government, according to Qureshi.

“My reaction in my mind, was, ‘How dare this guy in my house, come in and say this,’ ” he recalls.

But mall officials stand by their program of identifying suspicious people.

“You’re talking about a handful of people that are complaining, out of the 750 million plus that have been through these doors since 1992,” Bausch says. “And we apologize if it, you know, if it caused them any inconvenience, I mean we really do.”

“Unfortunately the world has changed,” says Bausch. “We assume you’d want your family and friends to be safe if they are in the building. And we simply noticed something that we didn’t think was right.”

A commander with the Bloomington police said these reports would be kept on file for decades. When Qureshi found out that the 11-page report reading “suspicious person” would be kept that long, his eyes filled with tears.

“It shattered an image of the U.S. that I had, fundamentally. I don’t know, especially when I saw some of these reports. It’s definitely bothersome, how small things can just, you know, trickle up that quickly, and all of a sudden you’re labeled. And once you’re labeled, you’re basically messed up, right?”

September 7, 2011 Posted by | Building, Bureaucracy, Counter-terrorism, Cross Cultural, ExPat Life, Living Conditions | Leave a comment

Red Robin – YUMMMMM

“I think I need a hamburger,” I said to AdventureMan as we were tucking in to bed. I can’t even remember the last time I had a hamburger, but I think it was in April, 2010, at the Red Robin in Pensacola.

Red Robin . . . YUMMM. One of the best ad campaigns in history, in my mind. Pure repetition, a little humor to re-inforce the memory, all positive. Anywhere you go in America, you can say “Red Robin” and someone will say “Yummm.”

I have a personal relationship with Red Robin. When I was a student at the University of Washington, long, long ago, the Red Robin was very near the university, near enough we could walk, even, and even though it was a bar, they weren’t very strict about carding people, and oh, they had the best burgers. It was pure comfort food. They also had a wonderful deck, so on the rare and beautiful spring days when final exams were coming and we just needed to blow off some steam, the Red Robin was one of the places we headed.

It wasn’t like the Red Robin chain. It was the original, and it was a little seedy. Here is what the original Red Robin looked like:

Yep. . . a little stoned.

Here is what he looks like now, he cleaned up good, LOL!

There were old wood floors, not the shiny kind of good wood floor, but the old fashioned cheap kind, sort of spongy when you walked on them, and usually covered with stuff that had been spilled. No, not exactly your family kind of place, it was a college student kind of place.

So for my once-in-more-than-a-year hamburger, we went to Red Robin.

Compare that to the original:

And here was my peppercorn burger:

It was YUMMMMM. Now, I won’t need another burger until September 2012 or so. 🙂

Sadly, as I was looking for some photos of the original Red Robin, I learned that they closed down the original on March 21, 2010. So sad, but I suspect it just didn’t suit the image of the new, family oriented Red Robins, more than 400 of them around the USA. But they still serve a good burger.

July 5, 2011 Posted by | Aging, Building, Cultural, Eating Out, Entertainment, Food, Generational, Health Issues, Living Conditions, Local Lore, Seattle | | 4 Comments

Islamic Architecture from YouTube

I still get e-mail from I Love and even though I no longer live in Qatar, I love their e-mails, I love hearing about what is going on in Doha socially and culturally, and I love this fresh, enthusiastic group of people who promote having fun and learning more about Qatar.

In today’s e-mail was a reference to this lovely video collection by Mballan which I recommend you watch when you have a few peaceful moments to enjoy it – he – or she – has found some magnificent sights, and the collection is beautiful. I only wish more of the selections were identified; I could recognize several, but far from all. Enjoy . . .

May 30, 2011 Posted by | Arts & Handicrafts, Beauty, Building, Community, Doha, Entertainment, Qatar | 1 Comment

Kuwait National Seismic Network

I don’t know why I am suddenly getting a lot of hits on an old post I wrote when we had an earthquake in Kuwait, and discovered that Kuwait was vulnerable. Somehow, we thought Kuwait was a low risk earthquake area. I thought about it a lot, on the 10th floor of my tower in Fintas, as I watched how other tall buildings were being constructed. 😦

If you need information on earthquakes and / or tsunamis in Kuwait, here is the best place to start: click the blue type

Kuwait National Seismic Network

March 25, 2011 Posted by | Blogging, Building, Bureaucracy, ExPat Life, Kuwait, Living Conditions, Local Lore | 6 Comments

“Why Are Barns Painted Red?”

This is what I love about long road trips with AdventureMan. We have hours together in the car, and you just never know where the conversations will go.

We saw a lot of barns. Most of them are red.

“Why are barns red?” AdventureMan asked. “Like we just accept that barns are red, when we are kids and we are told to draw a barn, we reach for the red crayon, why is that? Why red?”

So we looked it up at the next wireless stop and found the answer on Wiki answers:

Centuries ago, European farmers would seal the wood on their barns with an oil, often linseed oil — a tawny-colored oil derived from the seed of the flax plant. They would paint their barns with a linseed-oil mixture, often consisting of additions such as milk and lime. The combination produced a long-lasting paint that dried and hardened quickly. (Today, linseed oil is sold in most home-improvement stores as a wood sealant).

Now, where does the red come from?

In historically accurate terms, “barn red” is not the bright, fire-engine red that we often see today, but more of a burnt-orange red.

Farmers added ferrous oxide, otherwise known as rust, to the oil mixture. Rust was plentiful on farms and is a poison to many fungi, including mold and moss, which were known to grown on barns. These fungi would trap moisture in the wood, increasing decay.

Regardless of how the farmer tinted his paint, having a red barn became a fashionable thing. They were a sharp contrast to the traditional white farmhouse.

As European settlers crossed over to America, they brought with them the tradition of red barns. In the mid to late 1800s, as paints began to be produced with chemical pigments, red paint was the most inexpensive to buy. Red was the color of favor until whitewash became cheaper, at which point white barns began to spring up.

Today, the color of barns can vary, often depending on how the barns are used.

My dad and grandpa have been farmers their entire lives and they used to tease us kids that the barn was red because it was the most noticeable when the snow was falling sideways and you could barely see because of the sleet and hail.

September 4, 2010 Posted by | Arts & Handicrafts, Building, color, Cultural, ExPat Life, Living Conditions, Local Lore, Marriage, Relationships, Technical Issue, Travel | 3 Comments

Rainbow to the Rescue in Pensacola

This post is about an amazing blessing. You won’t think it is a blessing at first, you will think it borders on disaster, but stop. Think about it.

Late this afternoon, our contractor friend was in putting bars in the guest suite that people can use to help navigate around, help lift themselves off the toilet, etc. We were busy looking for a stud for the shower bars when it started raining.

“That’s raining pretty hard.” he said.

“It rains like that all the time,” I said blithely.

But it really was coming down, and it wasn’t just for a few minutes, it poured, and it kept pouring. The lightning was really close and we heard a loud CRACK! and then BANG and the power transformer on the post near my house was hit, but my power must come from somewhere else because, by the Grace of God, we didn’t lose power.

“Oh no! This has never happened before!” I exclaimed as I saw water seeping in the guest suite where we were working. (This has been cleaned up a little bit for this family blog.)

I thought it was coming in under the French doors, but when I grabbed the old towels for soaking up purposes, I saw that there was more . . . coming from under the walls! Horrors! I was almost stopped still in my tracks – there aren’t enough towels in Pensacola to handle the amount of water seeping in!

“This is a task for Rainbow!” my contractor said, and ran for his truck, to exchange it for his Rainbow truck (he is both a contractor and a Rainbow franchise operator).

While Dave was gone, his assistant, Bobby, used their wet vac to get as much water up as he could, dumping the full tank several times out the window as we struggled. Finally, the rain slowed, and we could mop up the remaining wetness. He started a fan.

Dave came back with the big Rainbow truck and an intimidating amount of equipment. Now I will go into a parenthetical gripe about men and their toys. The biggest part of me is incredibly grateful to have this resourceful man who helps us with our construction and renovation needs, and then is there, like Superman, to the rescue, when disaster strikes. Another part of me wishes he didn’t have that excited gleam in his eye. My problem is his challenge – he loves the adrenalin.

Honestly, it’s only a small part, and mostly it’s because I wish I didn’t have any problem at all. Dave has a meter that shows where water is still sitting in the grout between the tiles, and how it has soaked the baseboards and begun to creep up the sheet rock. He explains how in Florida, where the humidity is so high, the sheet rock can’t always dry out fast enough to avoid mold formation, and that even though it eventually may dry on its own, the mold can survive until the next moisture hits. Oh aarrgh!

Hours later, we have huge fans running, and we have dry air in oscilations being wafted into our walls to insure they dry thoroughly, but not too much. We have machines taking readings. Our insurance company says we are doing all the right things and the adjuster will come by on Monday or Tuesday.

This was supposed to be a quiet Saturday night. If it had been a normal quiet Saturday night, we might have been upstairs, watching some TV, listening to the lightening and not worrying too much about it. We would have gotten up in the morning and gone to church. We might not have even known our guest suite was flooded for days!

So honestly, I feel blessed. I am blessed that if this disaster had to happen, I had people with me who knew exactly what to do, and did it.

As they left, the Gulf Power people were out fixing the exploding power transformer, and I thought how many heroes there are on this earth, people who do their job under the worst circumstances, people who leave their families to serve because there are jobs that must be done.

God bless you, all of you, health workers, police, firemen, electricians, plumbers, emergency services, soldiers and sailors and airmen – all who sacrifice and serve. May you sleep well at night, and may God bless you and your families who support you.

I had a disaster, but I was surrounded by every resource I needed to deal with it. Thanks be to God.

If you have a disaster, and you live in the greater Pensacola area, I can recommend:

Rainbow International Restoration Services
David Murphy
O: 850-994-4411
Cell: 850-281-0232

August 7, 2010 Posted by | Adventure, Building, Bureaucracy, Character, Customer Service, ExPat Life, Florida, Home Improvements, Living Conditions, Pensacola, Renovations, Work Related Issues | 6 Comments

Kuwait or Qatar or Pensacola?

Showering after my water-aerobics class, I could hear voices discussing a local political-social situation. A benefits agency has groups of families working in it, and they know all the tricks. They know how to insure more of their own family members hired, and they know how to help all their family members (and friends) take advantage of all the entitlements.

Expats abroad call it nepotism, and scorn it as a third-world corruption. In truth, it happens everywhere.

There is an ongoing schism taking place in Qatar and Kuwait, countries that have been gracious and welcoming to me. The nationals of Kuwait and Qatar control citizenship carefully. The citizen base is about 20% of the population, on a good day. The rest of the population are people who are in Kuwait and Qatar to work. Most there to work can never hope for citizenship. For many, the poverty in their home country is so brutal that no matter how hard the working conditions, at least it is a salary, and they can send something home so that, literally, their families can eat. They dream – like we do – of educating their children so that they will have a better, more secure life.

Here is the problem. When 80% of the population is NON-Kuwaiti, or NON-Qatari, your country starts to change. One way in which things have changes is that in a very short time, the highways have gone from very quiet to gridlock, due to a dramatic increase in drivers and cars. In Qatar, the situation is made worse by nationalization of the taxi service, resulting in so few taxis that hotels now use private limo services, because finding a taxi at peak times is near to impossible.

That’s one issue. The second issue is language. Imagine your elderly parents going into shops to buy something – in their own country – and the clerks don’t speak their language. As they are stumbling and bewildered, some noisy “workers” walk in, state their needs, are understood, conduct their business and exit before you even get served. This is happening in Kuwait and in Qatar; everyone is speaking English. In a country where the workers are Indian, Nepalese, Philipino, Saudi, Yemani, Omani, Lebanese, Syrian, French, Dutch, English, Australian, South African, American (and about thirty or forty others) the common language has evolved to be English, not Arabic.

How do you think you would feel if it were happening here? If the great majority of cars on the road were not “us” but “guests” in our country? If the clerks in stores couldn’t understand what you want, because although they are in your country, they don’t speak your language?

Another problem is what to do with the huge, disproportionate number of geographically single males brought in to work as builders, cleaners, heavy equipment operators, dishwashers, drivers, security guards and other fairly low-paid positions? In Kuwait and in Qatar, non-married sex is strictly forbidden, even holding hands in public is considered an affront to morality. These men are banned from malls where families might gather, and from other public places. Their existence is grim, and they often find themselves unpaid, or paid far less than they were promised for their labor.

Last, but not least, this very modest Gulf culture has people – foreign guest workers – parading themselves on their streets in various states of undress. Think about it – that’s how we look to them. We have no shame. We bare our faces. We flaunt the glory of our uncovered hair. Sometimes a shawl might drop and a glimpse of bare arm or even a hint of cleavage might shock the modest eyes of a believer.

In Pensacola, there are also fundamentalists who wear long skirts, long sleeves, and determinedly modest clothing. I wonder what these believers think about the skimpy clothing on the beaches, or in the malls?

Coming home has been a real eye opener. It was easy for me to be critical of things I saw in Qatar and in Kuwait. Coming home, we joke all the time about “Kuwaiti drivers” here in the US, but the real joke is – they sure look a lot like us.

Last week, we saw a man here make a U-turn right in the middle of the road, and rock as he tried to regain control of his truck, and almost blast right through a red light he didn’t see. The back of his truck was down, and items loose in the truck bed were heading toward the highway – fortunately he figured that out, and last we saw, he had stopped to fix his rear door. Maybe he wasn’t sober. Maybe he had had an argument with his wife or boss or someone and was not paying close attention to his driving. All I know is that we have seen a goodly number of inattentive drivers here, too.

When a bureaucracy gets corrupted, when the rules are not applied equally to all, when select groups get favored treatment – here in Pensacola, at the immigration department in Kuwait or in the traffic department in Qatar – everyone suffers. It’s a political problem, a social problem, and a systemic problem. God willing, if we are truly evolving as a species, we will find a way to create truly fair and transparent systems which will work as they are ideally intended to work.

It’s on us. We have to make it happen. We have to want it badly enough to make it happen, even making sacrifices for the greater good.

I don’t have any answers. I don’t know how to make us better people that we are, how to make ourselves make the right choices. I do know this – whether it is a tiny village in Germany, or an eagle’s aerie in Kuwait, or the lush life of Doha – we are all more alike, and share more similarities and problems, than we are different. If we could only learn to see through one another’s eyes, maybe we could find ways to resolve our differences and learn to cooperate.

May 26, 2010 Posted by | Adventure, Building, Bureaucracy, Character, Community, Cross Cultural, Doha, ExPat Life, Financial Issues, Germany, Interconnected, Kuwait, Living Conditions, Local Lore, Pensacola, Political Issues, Qatar, Social Issues | Leave a comment