Here There and Everywhere

Expat wanderer

“You Can’t Send Money to the Sudan”

I totally get it. My bank is trying to protect me. I am “elderly” and I am sitting in the bank officer’s office asking to wire money to my friend in South Sudan.

“I need to talk with somebody,” she says and comes back with a man. I manage, barely, to keep from rolling my eyes.

“You know,” he tells me sternly, “We are forbidden to send money to the Sudan. It’s on the prohibited list.”

“Yes,” I say brightly, “The Sudan is on the prohibited list. The South Sudan, and entirely different country, is not.”

They want to make sure I know what I am doing. They tell me true stories of people here in Pensacola sending money to scam artists. Thousands of dollars. How do I know this person?

I explain he was a State Department International Visitor on their IVLP program, that he has attended church with me, is a renowned journalist, that he has dined in my home. They are looking at me with pity.

“This isn’t thousands of dollars,” I tell them. “This is school tuition, he only asks for help this one time to keep his daughters in school. The South Sudan is going through tumultuous times.”

“I know this person,” I re-assure them. “I believe I am sending money to my friend,” I tell them. “I can afford this risk; I can afford to lose this money,” I tell them.

I have to also tell this to the international wire-banking account manager who they get on the line. We go over it all again. I sign all the papers.

A couple hours later, I get a call asking if I am really sure. What are the names of the daughters? I look up our correspondence and provide the names. The bank information is in Juba, where my friend lives, not Nigeria, not anywhere other than where my friend lives.

In only two days, my friend notifies me that the funds have arrived, and he is profoundly grateful.

A week later, my bank calls me again, concerned as to whether the funds made it to my friend, and how I felt about the experience. They are still concerned. I assure them the funds have reached my friend, he has contacted me, thanked me. I do not tell them my friend continues to raise his voice at a time when the government is transitioning, and he is trying to be a voice of reason and civility.

There is a part of me that totally understands the banks need to protect their customers, and how gullible I might appear to them. And there is a part of me that despairs at our fear of the stranger, at our fear of being taken, and at our ignorance, not even knowing that there is a Sudan, and that there is a new country called the South Sudan.

Four times in my life I have been asked to help with school expenses, in tough times, to people we know in four different countries. Four times my husband and I have wired money to people who only want to give their children a chance at a better life. We have always been thanked, We have never been asked again.

I met a woman whose theory was that none of the money that came her way was hers, that it was God’s money and she was merely the steward; it passed through her hands on the way to where God wants it to go. It helps me with requests like this, from people I know. It helps me with the homeless on the streets of Pensacola, knowing I am to freely, freely give, and God will see that it gets where it needs to go.

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July 25, 2019 Posted by | Aging, Bureaucracy, Character, Charity, Cultural, Customer Service, Financial Issues, Interconnected, Money Management, Social Issues, South Sudan | Leave a comment

“Do You Have a Heartbeat?”

This morning in Pensacola the temperature was a cool 71 degrees F. and the humidity was low. It makes all the difference in the world.

“How’s your day?” I asked my friend in the pool at the YMCA, and she grimaced. “I’m off to a bad start,” she said, “I hung my suit and towel and shoes on the line outside, and after the rain last night, everything was soaked this morning.

(We really needed the rain, and we got a soaker of a storm. Today, everything is blossoming in our yard and happy, moonflowers, African Irises, Ginger, plumbago, roses – they respond to a good soaking by blooming in delight.)

I grinned at her. “Did you wake up this morning? Do you have a heartbeat? Are you breathing? Are you here at the YMCA?” I was heartless, and persistent. She laughed.

I talked about the countries I’ve lived in; how in my first African country, Tunisia, back in the day, people competed for our garbage. My cleaning lady asked permission to take glass jars with lids, to take tuna cans. She asked that I give her any clothes I didn’t want. In the Middle East, there were restaurants where people waited near parked cars to beg for the leftovers we carried. Anything. Anything would do.

Some people didn’t have a towel, much less a swim suit, or shoes to hang on a line.

We live in the midst of plenty. Even Tunisia, when we went back twenty five years later, didn’t have the poverty we saw when we lived there. We didn’t see clubbed feet, we didn’t see hunched backs, we didn’t see crossed eyes. The little villa we had lived in had a second floor. There were signs everywhere of prosperity. We didn’t see any beggars, not one.

When I get all wrapped around the axel about the state of civility in my country, about our abuses at the border, about our increasing bureaucratic hardness-of-heart toward the least of these, I need to stop and take a deep breath and spend time acknowledging how very blessed we are. It gives me strength to go on fighting.

July 24, 2019 Posted by | Africa, Aging, Beauty, Biography, Bureaucracy, Character, Charity, Civility, Community, Cultural, Exercise, Gardens, Interconnected, Living Conditions, Middle East, Pensacola, Political Issues, Quality of Life Issues, Social Issues, Spiritual, Tunisia | Leave a comment

You Gotta Love the Mormons

I am not Mormon. Yes, I say good things about the Mormons, and that is because the Mormon people I know are smart, savvy, and hard working. They make time in their life in a structured way, to take care of those around them. They feed the poor, they welcome the stranger, they clothe the naked, they visit the prisoner, they take care of the widow and the orphans – all the things we are told are important to do in order to show the world our love for God and our love for one another. The Mormons have made a science of it, including teaching and learning foreign languages, and sending their young out into the world to spread the word, but also giving them an opportunity to develop a broader perspective, another point of view, living in a foreign country.

AdventureMan and I have a food-truck-turned-settled restaurant we have recently found and love, Taqueria El Asador, on North Davis in a Shell station. You’ll know it by the cars parked all around it as people get to know just how good the food is. My favorite is a burrito Campechano, and AdventureMan loves the Pollo Platter.

It’s outdoors. Mostly we take out. While I was waiting for our order, I saw this among all the ads looking for people to frame, do masonry, or to clean:

We are surrounded by immigrants. Many of the workers are in paint stained clothing, many are in overalls, many in scrubs from the nearby hospital and clinics. The prices are reasonable, and it’s lunchtime. This “ad” is in Spanish, offering free English lessons to those who want to learn English, and how else are you going to get ahead, to fit into your new home, get a better job? The Mormon church is giving exactly the kind of hand-up that will help them find the better life for themselves and their families, and it is offering this tool for free.

Someone more cynical might think they are just trying to convert more Mormons, but anyone who is in the helping business knows that helping doesn’t mean you will get an anticipated response. I would be willing to bet, however, that the kindness doesn’t end there, that the Mormon church has structures in place to help the English learners with clothing, maybe with better jobs, maybe with people who can explain customs, take them to interviews, explain benefits, etc. I would be willing to bet that it isn’t the services offered, but the pure kindness behind those offers that can change hearts. I may not be Mormon, but I can admire the way they do God’s work.

December 30, 2017 Posted by | Charity, Civility, Community, Cross Cultural, Cultural, Eating Out, ExPat Life, Faith, Food, Interconnected, Language, Living Conditions, Pensacola, Quality of Life Issues, Restaurant, Work Related Issues | , | 2 Comments

Peaceful Transfer of Power: It’s What We Do

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President Obama acted with his customary graciousness, quick to invite the new President-Elect to the White House to discuss the transition. Once the election is over, we do the right thing. It doesn’t matter what your feelings are, or the words spoken in the heat of the election, the vote has been taken, and the winner becomes President. We pride ourselves in an orderly transition.

It is not, however, a mandate, no matter how many times the Republicans say it. In most states where Trump won, it was by one tenth of one percent – or less. He lost the popular vote; Hillary Clinton won that by about 200,000 votes. So while more people voted for Hillary overall (this has happened before, with the George Bush v Al Gore election), Trump won the electoral college. No one expected this, not even Trump supporters. A mandate requires a substantial victory. This was a squeaky victory.

But a victory. On. On. Those of us who did not support Trump have a lot of work to do in the following months, shoring up agencies who support immigrants, reproductive rights, gender issues, regulations of air quality, water quality, food quality and restraint of corrupt financial practices by banks and lending organizations. We will need to truly be Stronger Together to combat the onslaught against the common citizen.

November 11, 2016 Posted by | Bureaucracy, Character, Charity, Civility, Community, Cross Cultural, Family Issues, Financial Issues, Health Issues, Interconnected, Living Conditions, Political Issues, Quality of Life Issues, Social Issues | , | Leave a comment

Cross Culture at the Y: Hawaiian Heart

For a year now, I have taken this class next to Leilani, who stands just a little shallower in the pool than I. Today, as we were warming up, one topic led to another. We were talking about getting rid of “things” and she told me a niece had asked for her lighthouse collection, and how was she going to mail them all to her, some of them were almost two feet high?

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“Easy-peasy,” I said, “You know those storage tubs people buy at Target? You can use bubble wrap and ship them in those containers. They give fragile items a lot of protection.”

Leilani laughed and said how funny it was she didn’t know that because her husband had been a postman after his retirement from the military.

“Nice!” I said. “Two pensions!”

“Not really,” she said, “The day he retired he came home and handed me divorce papers. He’d been planning this for a long time. ”

“Another girl?” I asked.

“No,” she laughed sadly, “He was greedy. He said ‘You’ll never see a penny of my money.”

“I hope you got a good lawyer” I said.

“I did.” She didn’t look happy. “I had raised the four children, so I got parts of both pensions AND alimony. I don’t need a lot. I was happy.”

I asked if he had been the kind of man who had planned to walk out on her and leave her with nothing, if he had also been mean and stingy during their marriage, and if a part of her found peace when he left. She said because of the four children she would never have left him, but that yes, her life was better when he was no longer there.

“Money doesn’t make a person happy,” she said. “Things don’t make a person happy. You know he went and got a beautiful luxury apartment, and died just a few years later. He had emphysema from smoking all the time. No one to help him. So I went there every day, took him a meal because he couldn’t do for himself. I sat with him at night. I was there when he took his final breath.”

“And you know what he would do while I was out of the room? He would take out his money and count it. It never brought him any happiness.”

My pool friend is one of the sweetest hearted women I have ever met. In all this time, she has never said a bad word about her husband, and she was there by his side as he died. There is no bitterness in her, no anger; she didn’t resent him, she let all those feelings go and did the kind thing for a dying man.

I call this cross-cultural, because she is Hawaiian, and I have seen this kind of serenity in my Hawaiian friends and acquaintances. They are willing to let go of grudges, they are willing to move on. They have generous hearts. I feel like I learned something from her today.

June 30, 2016 Posted by | Aging, Character, Charity, Circle of Life and Death, Civility, Cross Cultural, Faith, Family Issues, Financial Issues, Marriage, Quality of Life Issues | , | Leave a comment

“Through You and In Spite of You”

Just a small post on a reading from Father Richard Rohr in today’s e-mail. It gives me great hope:

 

In the journey of prayer, as you sink into the mystery of God’s perfect love, you realize that you’re nothing in the presence of God’s goodness and greatness, and that God is working through you in spite of you.

 

LOL, it’s the “in spite of you” that gives me hope 🙂

May 24, 2016 Posted by | Character, Charity, Faith, Values | Leave a comment

Expendables; Pray for Paris

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I have to take a break from my trip stories to express an opinion.

We are The People of the Book. Suicide is not an option. The most precious gift we are given, of the many gifts, is the gift of life. One of the most heinous crimes against God / Allah is to shed innocent blood.

A callous theocracy sends “inspired” martyrs, testosterone-hopped-up jihadists to kill themselves, and to take as many victims as they can with them.

By what stretch can they claim to do God’s will? Where is the submission to the word of God? Where is the peaceful Islam of the Prophet Mohammed?

November 14, 2015 Posted by | Character, Charity, Circle of Life and Death, Civility, Counter-terrorism, Crime, Cultural, ExPat Life, Faith, Law and Order, Leadership, Paris | , , , | 1 Comment

Bureaucracy With a Heart

Did I tell you we’ve been stationed with two embassies, and at the second, I worked as a Foreign Service Officer? I know how busy and how harried the diplomats are, and I know how beleaguered the consular offices are with requests for visas and tourists who have lost their passports. They see it every day.

I lost my passport. My bad. Totally on me. I can’t expect anyone to feel obligated to help me out, but fortunately, there are mechanisms in place to expedite. You have to pay extra, but it’s worth it when you have a trip booked.

I told you about our run to New Orleans to submit paperwork and my delight to learn I would have a new passport soon.

I told you about the phone call telling me they needed a RECENT photo, not the same one that was on my last (never used, bright shiny new never used) passport.

I’ve been on edge all day. I’m away this weekend on a religious retreat, and I wasn’t feeling very religious. I was feeling nervous. I wonder if my passport reached New Orleans, or did it fall somewhere between the cracks? I wonder if Fridays are even work days at the passport center? What if it doesn’t get there and I don’t even know?

A short time ago, I got a phone call, from the same bureaucrat who called me about the photo. She was just calling to tell me that the passport is ready and will go out expedited this afternoon. She knew I would be concerned, and just wanted me not to worry.

I almost cried in gratitude. Who thinks of compassion when dealing with a bureaucracy? It was pure grace.

In the lifetime of our nation, we have elected some real doozies in high public office. Presidents, Senators, Representatives, Governors – some real characters. I don’t worry too much when lunatics run for high office, I thank God we have a solid bureaucracy, rarely corrupted; a bureaucracy that keeps plugging along when things get crazy. And thank God for this one particular officer who had a heart to reassure me that my passport is on the way. God bless her mightily.

October 16, 2015 Posted by | Adventure, Bureaucracy, Character, Charity, Civility, Cultural, Customer Service, ExPat Life, Faith, Living Conditions, Pensacola, Quality of Life Issues, Technical Issue | , | 2 Comments

Who Is My Neighbor?

We just finished our year in EfM, Education for Ministry, and the overall theme was a multi-cultural world, where we confront our own assumptions and prejudices. It has been a grand journey.

We have friends, friends whose son is our son’s best friend for lo, these many years, and they know how to be good neighbors. They are the soul of hospitality. They take in immigrants, fresh-off-the-boat, and teach them how to survive, help them find furniture, apartments, and a living. They welcome visitors, and care for them and their children. They are helpful. They do all this because it is the right thing to do, and they do it tirelessly. I am in awe of these friends; they are the essence of the Good Samaritan.

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This is Vincent Van Gogh’s painting of The Good Samaritan

THURSDAY, May 21 (from Forward Day by Day)

Luke 10:29 And who is my neighbor?

This beloved parable is about more than being kind to our neighbor. It’s about the grace that is shared and the miracle that is manifested each time we help each other, and each time we allow ourselves to be helped. Both of the main characters in this story, the man who is beaten and left for dead and the man who rescues him and has him cared for, had to humble themselves in order to be in relationship.
Mutual distrust and mutual prejudice could have cost the injured man his life, either by the Samaritan refusing to stop, or in the injured man refusing help from such a suspicious source. Jesus asks us to look past the natural lines of religious creed, racial and ethnic identities, socioeconomic status, and all the other words we use to separate “us” from “them,” and to see his face in the man in the ditch. Jesus is asking us to look up and see his face in the man who is saving someone who cannot save himself.

We are invited to see the face of Jesus on each of these men—to realize that when we reach out in love or when we are being helped, Jesus is always present. Are you willing to be humbled in that way? Who or what can you help, today? Who or what can help you?

PRAY for the Diocese of North West Australia (Western Australia, Australia)

Ps 105:1-22 * 105:23-45; Ezekiel 18:1-4, 19-32; Hebrews 7:18-28; Luke 10:25-37

When I think of the Good Samaritan, I think too of a very pregnant friend, pregnant with triplets, a Jewish woman working in Qatar, whose car broke down. In this day of cell phones, she called her husband for help, but in the time she waited for him to arrive with help, many many Qatari men and families stopped to offer assistance, insisted on giving her bottles of cold water, stopped and waited with her until her husband came and she was safe. They saw a stranger in distress, and they didn’t hesitate, they stopped. Good neighbors 🙂

May 21, 2015 Posted by | Arts & Handicrafts, Biography, Character, Charity, Civility, Community, Counter-terrorism, Cross Cultural, ExPat Life, Lectionary Readings, Living Conditions, Qatar, Quality of Life Issues, Spiritual, Values | , , | Leave a comment

“Oh! I Like His Face!”

It’s taken us a long time to get over the loss of our sweet Qatari Cat, sweet Pete. He was so special to us. For one thing, he was pretty. For another, he had some very winning ways. So many reasons to love that sweet cat and to regret his loss.

On our trip, we agreed that we are still not over Pete, and at the same time, it is time to bring another cat into our lives.

I had one in mind.

I have a friend. She has a ministry; she rescues abandoned animals, particularly cats. She tends to their wounds, she has them neutered, she gets them shots. She gives them boundless love, and teaches them to love and trust again.

She had put a photo of a cat on FaceBook. It was before our trip, and I couldn’t see adopting a cat and then putting him into a cat hotel, so I didn’t do anything. But my friend called while I was traveling, and I asked her during our conversation if that orange cat had found a home, and she said no.

So when we got back, we unpacked, we did laundry, we started to get back to our normal lives.

And we adopted Zakat.

Our friend brought him over. He was small, he was scrawny, he had a clipped ear, which I learned means he’s been taken from the streets and neutered, and . . . he had a huge circular scar around his face. He loved my friend, but AdventureMan and I totally freaked him out, and he ran into the cat room and hid (we have a lot of great hiding places.)

A couple days later, our grandson was staying overnight, with his Explorer’s tool (it has a flashlight, compass, magnifying glass, mirror, thermometer and whistle) and asked if he could see the cat. He’s a good boy, and he has three cats at home, so we took him to Zakat’s cupboard, and opened. Zakat didn’t run, and our grandson shone his flashlight and exclaimed softly in delight “Oh, I like his face! He has a sweet face!”

He didn’t even see the scars. All he could see was the sweetness of this cat. And I thought what a blessing grandchildren are, to help us see with the eyes of Jesus, to see sweetness where other see only scars.

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Zakat has now discovered he is safe with us, and follows us around like a little shadow. He loves to sit in AdventureMan’s office with him, he loves to curl up with me while I am reading. He is fresh, and funny, and a sweet hearted little cat.

Zakat means tithe or alms in Arabic, but the truth is, we just love the double entendre, and love saying “Where’s Zakat?” We must be five years old, it takes so little to make us laugh.

May 7, 2015 Posted by | Biography, Charity, Family Issues, Friends & Friendship, Generational, Home Improvements, Interconnected, Pets, Qatteri Cat, Quality of Life Issues, Relationships, Zakat | 10 Comments