Here There and Everywhere

Expat wanderer

Babayaga by Toby Barlow

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You know how books come your way in coincidental ways? Amazon.com had told me I needed to read Babayaga, so I ordered it. I’ve always loved mythologies, I devoured them like candy when I was young, always looking for more. Babayagas are very old, and exist under many names in most cultures – elderly women who usually deal with concoctions, often medicinal, who live alone. In the west, they were often called witches, in the Slavic countries, babayaga, and it seems to me there is an old woman used to scare children in the Gulf, too. It seems to be a cross-cultural phenomenon.

Here is what Wikipedia has to say about Babayaga:

Baba Yaga is a witch (or one of a trio of sisters of the same name) in Slavic folklore, who appears as a deformed and/or ferocious-looking elderly woman. She flies around in a mortar and wields a pestle. She dwells deep in the forest, in a hut usually described as standing on chicken legs, with a fence decorated with human skulls. Baba Yaga may help or hinder those that encounter or seek her out, and may play a maternal role. She has associations with forest wildlife. Sometimes she frightens a hero (e.g. by promising to eat him), but helps him if he is courageous. According to Vladimir Propp’s folktale morphology, Baba Yaga commonly appears as a donor, a villain, or something altogether ambiguous. In many fairy tales she kidnaps and eats children, usually after roasting them in her oven).

Andreas Johns identifies Baba Yaga as “one of the most memorable and distinctive figures in eastern European folklore,” and observes that she is “enigmatic” and often exhibits “striking ambiguity.”[1] Johns summarizes her as “a many-faceted figure, capable of inspiring researchers to see her as a cloud, moon, Death, Winter, snake, bird, pelican or earth goddess, totemic matriarchal ancestress, female initiator, phallic mother, or archetypal image”.[2]

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Barlow’s BabaYaga includes all the backstory, inserted here and there, the Russian purges, revolts, revolutions, the wars, the mud, the snows, following the troops, and several different Babayaga, while focusing one one, the beautiful and mesmerizing Zoya, who lives in a magical post World War II Paris. She in unforgettable – unless, of course, she has woven a spell to muddy your mind and make you forget.

What I love about this book is that if it were true, you would still think it is fiction. If every single thing happened just as Barlow wrote it, you would never believe it. LOL! A wicked sour old babayaga turns a police detective investigating a murder into a flea; he finds it a novel experience and manages to make things come right even as a flea.

A young American man, Will, loving living in Paris, works for an ad agency and also for THE Agency in the heady days of post war Paris, where the rules are not yet in place and lines are fuzzy. Falls for a witch with a long history of loving and killing men, but that’s life. Is it better to love and lose than never to have loved? What if your love is a gorgeous babayaga who helps you live life with a vibrance and intensity you have never experienced?

There is a long, intricate, time-appropriate adventure/spy/industrial-scientific plot which I am not sure I entirely followed, with murders and shootouts and the Paris jazz and club scene, and it didn’t matter one whit whether I could follow the plot line or not, it was a wild ride of a novel and a lot of fun. :-)

January 18, 2014 Posted by | Arts & Handicrafts, Beauty, Birds, Books, Crime, Cross Cultural, Cultural, Detective/Mystery, Living Conditions, Local Lore, Paris | Leave a comment

Study Shows Muslim Nations Differ on How Women Should Dress

Digg started sending me articles, I don’t know why, but every now and then something turns up truly interesting. This is a Pew Research Center Study found in Slate Online Magazine:

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Charted: How People in Seven Muslim Countries Believe Women Should Dress

By Joshua Keating

As the chart above, created by the Pew Research Center, goes, there’s quite a bit of variation over what constitutes proper dress for women in the Islamic world. The data for the chart come from the Middle Eastern Values Survey conducted by the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research. (Several hundred people comprising what the researchers describe as a nationally representative sample in terms of education, religion, and social class were polled in each country. The gender breakdown was close to 50–50 in each of them.)

As you’ll see, the majority overall said that a woman should completely cover her hair but not her face. The majority in conservative Saudi Arabia favored the face-covering niqab, while relatively liberal Lebanon and Turkey had the highest support for no covering at all. (Hijabs are still prohibited for women in a number of jobs in Turkey.)

Overall, Tunisia had the highest number of respondents (56 percent) saying it is “up to a woman to dress whichever way she wants.” Only 14 percent of Egyptians agreed. Interestingly, given that it has the most stringent legal dress codes of any country sampled, 47 percent of Saudis said women should be able to dress how they wish.

January 10, 2014 Posted by | Cross Cultural, Cultural, ExPat Life, Family Issues, Saudi Arabia, Social Issues, Tunisia, Turkey, Values, Women's Issues | , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“We Are All Children of One Heavenly Father”

I am not Catholic, and I like this Pope. I like his humility. I like his down-to-earth behavior. I believe he will bring more people to belief than those who revel in the pomposities of an exalted role. I like it that he believes we are all children of the same God.


VATICAN CITY (AP) — Pope Francis, laying out his hopes Wednesday for the just-begun year, urged people to work for a world where everyone accepts each other’s differences and where enemies recognize that they are brothers.

“We are all children of one heavenly father, we belong to the same human family and we share a common destiny,” Francis said, speaking from his studio window overlooking St. Peter’s Square, jammed with tens of thousands of faithful, tourists and Romans.

“This brings a responsibility for each to work so that the world becomes a community of brothers who respect each other, accept each other in one’s diversity, and takes care of one another,” the pope said.

Setting aside his prepared text for a moment, he expressed impatience with violence in the world. “What is happening in the heart of man? What is happening in the heart of humanity?” Francis asked. “It’s time to stop.”

He told the crowd this reflection was inspired by letter he received from a man — “maybe one of you” — who lamented that there are “so many tragedies and wars in the world.”

“I, too, believe that it will be good for us to stop ourselves in this path of violence and search for peace,” Francis said.

January 1, 2014 Posted by | Character, Communication, Community, Cross Cultural, Cultural, Faith, Living Conditions | , | Leave a comment

A TCK Wedding (Third Culture Kids)

Several years ago, back in my earlier blogging years, a Kuwaiti friend, Amer al Hilaliya wrote a wonderful post: I Am a Third Culture Kid, Are You? He never anticipated the result – comment after comment, some short, some a little bitter, some longer and insightful. The Third Culture Kids know who they are, and are eager to share their insights and experiences – but mostly with other Third Culture Kids, who understand.

Others . . . don’t get it.

This weekend, we went to a wonderful Third Culture Kids wedding. It wasn’t billed that way, but it was so thoroughly that way that I couldn’t stop seeing it. It doesn’t hurt that we are reading the seminal work on Third Culture Kids by David C. Pollock and Ruth E Van Renken called, yep, you guessed it, Third Culture Kids.

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It’s almost like reading a whole new book. It has all the Third Culture Kids stories, but has expanded to include third culture kids cousins, like the adult third culture kids, ATCKs (those who have lived a goodly share of their lives in a non-native culture), cross culture adoptees, cross cultural marriages, etc. One of the points they make is that being third culture kids cuts across a lot of boundaries and makes for odd – odd by normal standards – friendships. Once again, across the boundaries – countries, old, young – friendships are determined by a commonality in experiences outside the native culture. It is a fascinating read.

People don’t think of how LONG Florida is, tip to tip, but from Pensacola to Fort Myers is a fuuur piece, as they say, even if it is on an inside curve. Thank God it wasn’t Key West! We thought it would be an eight hour drive, and it turned into thirteen, with heavy traffic from Lake City to Ft Myer.

The wedding was sweet, simple and heart felt. Both sets of parents had done significant missionary work in foreign countries, and the kids were definitely third culture kids. The groom would speak Turkish in his sotto voce asides to his best man, who grew up with him on the streets of Ankara. The bride’s brother read all the greetings and best wishes to the bride from her friends in Hungary – and he read them all in Hungarian.

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Just as the ceremony started, along came a pirate ship! Some things, you just can’t plan, they just happen.

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They all told family stories, and one of them stuck in our hearts because it reflects our own experiences growing up in the Moslem world. The groom, as a young man, came home flustered because a woman on the metro, as he was coming home, noticed he was not wearing an undershirt under his T-shirt, and assumed he was a homeless child. She started talking with all the other passengers, and they marched him off the train to the souks, where they insisted on buying him an undershirt (who knew that you were not properly dressed in Turkey unless you were wearing a sleeveless undershirt?) and also a sweater, to keep him warm on the streets. All this, in spite of the fact that this homeless boy spoke excellent Turkish and kept telling them he had a home! No! No undershirt, he has to be homeless.

Few people in America know the kindnesses we experience living in the Moslem world. It may not always make sense to us – in Tunis, we always wondered if we were getting the annual Eid platter of lamb and couscous showed up because we were thought to be poor or because we were strangers? There has always been a sweetness and generosity to our Moslem neighbors that humbled us. Because of the layering upon layering of these kindnesses, we see Islam, and the Middle East, differently from most of our American friends who have never lived among Moslems. Maybe if we all knew one another a little better, we would have less cause to fear one another, and maybe without all that fear, we could manage a little less hatred.

What is a wedding without babies and children to remind us of the Circle of Life (which AdventureMan calls The Circle of Death). This little one speaks English and Turkish already, and loved the sugar white sands of Ft. Myers Beach and the little seashells, just her size.

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As more and more people cross borders, for work, for play, for marriage, for education, as we live in ‘alien’ cultures and learn other ways of thinking, maybe we are growing into an entire world with a larger viewpoint?

December 30, 2013 Posted by | Circle of Life and Death, Community, Cross Cultural, Cultural, ExPat Life, Faith, Family Issues, Friends & Friendship, Interconnected, Living Conditions, Marriage, Relationships, Road Trips, Travel | 4 Comments

Kuwait: Operation Hope Keeps on Giving

Brava, Sheryl Mairza, brava for the good work you are doing that makes so much difference in so many lives. May God bless the work of your hands! From the Kuwait Times:

Spreading cheer in the land

Sheryll Mairza

Operation Hope, an NGO established by Sheryll Mairza, is touching people’s lives throughout the world. A grassroots humanitarian outreach that is motivated by compassion to alleviate suffering in Kuwait, Operation Hope serves those in the greatest of need through the support of the local and international community. Since 2005, more than 50,000 bags of winter clothing have been distributed to impoverished workers in Kuwait.

Operation Hope is now slowly reaching out to people around the world through organizations and individuals. After the recent typhoon in the Philippines, Operation Hope contributed relief goods for the affected areas.

“For the Philippines, we contributed some of our collected goods when we were approached by organizations and individuals to help them in their relief efforts. We have a lot of gently used clothes ready to be sold, but we gave it to third party organizations that shipped it to typhoon victims in Philippines,” Mairza said.

Another instance where Operation Hope reached out to people of other countries was through a proxy. Mairza said a Gambian woman who wanted to stock her library with books had her wish fulfilled. “We were approached by a woman from Gambia who had started a drive to fill her local library with books so she could help boost the literacy rate of adults there. We have an abundance of books here, so we helped her and shipped the books to Gambia,” she said.

According to Mairza, Operation Hope has a very limited budget and people to do international relief efforts, but through third party organizations, they can reach people on the other sides of the world. “We cooperate with people in areas where need arises. If people there want to start volunteering work similar to Operation Hope, they can do so. I allow the use of Operation Hope’s plans,” she mentioned. “I don’t personally want to go to different places to set up Operation Hope. If volunteers like to spread it in other countries and set up their own NGOs, they can take my blueprint and apply it there. They can be founders of Operation Hope for example in Malaysia, Indonesia or Philippines. I will be happy to share the formula I used to set up this NGO,” she said.

Creative Ways

Mairza admitted Operation Hope was affected by the global financial crisis of 2008, which saw a great decline of support from donors. “When it became evident that support was dwindling, we came up with more creative ways to keep the funds flowing. We started Christmas bazaars and sold used clothes and kitchenware to raised funds. With the support of locals and expats, we opened a boutique inside a compound of my in-laws’ house to sell gently used household items.

The need is great and extended beyond winter, so we organized more frequent bazaars. A vast place in my in-laws’ property in Rumaithiya was utilized to display the products. We received so many donations – from toys to clothes to household things – that we didn’t know where to put them; even the embassy shelters had no place to store all of it, so I thought of selling these items,” Mairza said. “With the help of the British Society of Kuwait, we renovated the facility and opened it on January 12, 2012. We are generating income from it and we distribute it in the form of tickets for the repatriation of runaway maids. We also regularly send toiletries and sanitary products for women in the shelters of the Ethiopia, Nepal, Philippines and Sri Lanka embassies,” she explained.

A few months ago, according to Mairza, an Ethiopian woman fell from the third floor of her employer’s house, and her leg was amputated. “Operation Hope provided her with a prosthetic leg, and we helped her rehabilitation,” she noted.

Asked on how he she was able to monitor and control the flow of donations to Operation Hope, she said, “We don’t keep a substantial amount of money in the bank. Whatever we get we give it right away to the needy. We need donations to flow regularly to carry out the work at Operation Hope. We are also lucky to have the support of a woman from the Behbehani family, who has a heart of gold. She is always ready to contribute; always ready to support us financially and emotionally and with words of encouragement. She is a shining star, and one of the Kuwaitis who have been contributing to our cause. This woman calls us and asks what else she can contribute. She is very passionate about helping and serving others

Charity Work
The need for a charity work is great according to Mairza. Apart from individuals and organizations, she is also thankful for the support given to her by educational institutions in Kuwait. “I get phenomenal support from schools. They are very helpful and volunteer time and effort to collect things,” she added.

Mairza dreams a time will come when Operation Hope is no longer needed. “I know this dream is very idealistic, that the gap between the haves and have-nots will narrow,” she said. Realistically, her vision is to continue moving forward to raise the younger generation to be aware of realities and look beyond their personal goals and ambitions.

“I want them to see the persons to their left and right, because at the end of the day, we are brothers and sisters. We come from different places, but we are all brothers and sisters. We need to continue to strive to support and help one another,” she mentioned.

In May 2013, she was presented with $10,000, an award she received for inspiring women of the GCC, sponsored by Philadelphia cheese. “It was a very amazing award which I used to add to our winter program. It was a huge blessing for us,” she concluded.

By Ben Garcia

December 26, 2013 Posted by | Biography, Character, Charity, Community, Cross Cultural, Cultural, ExPat Life, Kuwait, Living Conditions | , | Leave a comment

The Church Remembers John of Damascus

Today the church remembers John of Damascus, our good friend who once was the American Consul in Damascus is visiting with us, and we mourn the loss of peace and security in Damascus, and Syria, and the heartless loss of so many lives, the destruction of beautiful Homs, and so many other villages, named and unnamed, and the use of nerve gas on Syrian people.

I love it that he is most often shown wearing a keffiye

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The Liturgical Calendar: The Church Remembers

Today the church remembers John of Damascus, Priest, c. 760.

The son of an important official in the court of the Muslim Caliph of Damascus, John had an easy rapport with the Muslims among whom he was reared, and readily succeeded to his father’s office in the Caliph’s court. Later, he abandoned the wealth and comfort of the fashionable life of Damascus and joined a religious community in Palestine.

As he lived the rigorous life of a monk in the stark wilderness near the Dead Sea, his own strong personality began to emerge. He soon distinguished himself as a theologian and scholar. His chief published work extant is The Fount of Knowledge. He is recognized as a “Doctor of the Universal Church.”

However, John of Damascus is most widely remembered for his contributions to Christian worship. He wrote many fine hymns, including two Easter ones that are still popular today: “Come ye faithful raise the strain…” and “The Day of Resurrection, earth tell it out abroad!” He effectively defended the doctrine of the Real Presence in the Eucharist, the veneration of the Lord’s Mother, and use of icons. He became involved in an international religio-political struggle called the “Icononclastic Controversy” which reached violent proportions and shook the Byzantine world. His life was saved in this controversy by his powerful Muslim friends.

We give thanks for John and for all those who have upheld the truth of our faith and the glory of our worship. Amen.

December 4, 2013 Posted by | Advent, Biography, Character, Cross Cultural, ExPat Life, Faith, Lectionary Readings | , | Leave a comment

Seen in Pensacola

The truck in front of me (on Davis in Pensacola) looked like a working truck, but it was this sign that caught my eye.

 

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November 27, 2013 Posted by | Cross Cultural, ExPat Life, Pensacola | 6 Comments

“if You Can’t Prevent Rape, You Enjoy It”: Ranjit Sinha

The Chief of India’s Central Bureau of Investigation said this! Was he snorting cocaine in a drunken stupor? Of course he is apologizing, but his careless remark demonstrates the sentiments buried deep in his culture’s heart – it’s only women. Not worth much, not like us men.  Outrageous.

 

Ranjit Sinha

 

NEW DELHI (AP) — India’s top police official apologized Wednesday for saying, “If you can’t prevent rape, you enjoy it,” a remark that has outraged women across the country.

Central Bureau of Investigation chief Ranjit Sinha made the remark Tuesday during a conference about illegal sports betting and the need to legalize gambling. The CBI, the country’s premier investigative agency, is India’s equivalent of the FBI.

Sinha said at the conference that if the state could not stop gambling, it could at least make some revenue by legalizing it.

“If you cannot enforce the ban on betting, it is like saying, ‘If you can’t prevent rape, you enjoy it,’” he said.

The remarks have caused outrage across India, which in the past year has been roiled by widespread protests following the fatal gang rape of a 23-year-old woman on a bus in New Delhi.

On Wednesday, Sinha said that his comments had been taken out of context and misinterpreted, and that he was sorry if he had caused hurt.

Angry activists, however, called for his resignation.

Communist Party of India (Marxist) leader Brinda Karat said Sinha’s comments were offensive to women everywhere.

“It is sickening that a man who is in charge of several rape investigations should use such an analogy,” Karat told reporters. “He should be prosecuted for degrading and insulting women.”

The New Delhi attack on the young woman last December caused nationwide outrage and forced the government to change rape laws and create fast-track courts for rape cases. New laws introduced after the attack make stalking, voyeurism and sexual harassment a crime. They also provide for the death penalty for repeat offenders or for rape attacks that lead to the victim’s death.

November 13, 2013 Posted by | Bureaucracy, Character, Civility, Community, Crime, Cross Cultural, Cultural, Customer Service, India, Interconnected, Language, Law and Order, Leadership, Living Conditions, Political Issues, Social Issues, Work Related Issues | 3 Comments

“Great is Your Faith!”

Jesus only commented positively on a person’s faith three times, and two of those times the supplicant was not Jewish, but other, in this case, a Canaanite woman. All she cared about was her daughter. He even says no, he won’t help her, he is there for the Jews. As she persists, as she argues with Jesus and makes her case, he relents, he feels enormous compassion for this woman in her plight, and as he heals her daughter, he makes this extraordinary statement calling attention to her belief. No legalistic requirements, he just heals.

 

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Matthew 15:21-28

 

21 Jesus left that place and went away to the district of Tyre and Sidon.22Just then a Canaanite woman from that region came out and started shouting, ‘Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.’ 23But he did not answer her at all. And his disciples came and urged him, saying, ‘Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.’ 24He answered, ‘I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.’ 25But she came and knelt before him, saying, ‘Lord, help me.’ 26He answered, ‘It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.’ 27She said, ‘Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.’ 28Then Jesus answered her, ‘Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.’ And her daughter was healed instantly.

November 12, 2013 Posted by | Character, Charity, Cross Cultural, Cultural, Faith, Family Issues, Lectionary Readings, Spiritual | , , | Leave a comment

Clean or Unclean?

This is one of my favorite readings in the Lectionary. People often ask where it is that Jesus declared all foods “clean” and this is one of the scriptures. To me, it is the why of it that makes it interesting – and convicting. There is enough in my heart to make me unclean without worrying about food rules.

 

Matthew 15:1-20

 

15  Then Pharisees and scribes came to Jesus from Jerusalem and said,‘Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands before they eat.’ He answered them, ‘And why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition?For God said,* “Honour your father and your mother,” and, “Whoever speaks evil of father or mother must surely die.” But you say that whoever tells father or mother, “Whatever support you might have had from me is given to God”,* then that person need not honour the father.* So, for the sake of your tradition, you make void the word* of God. 7You hypocrites! Isaiah prophesied rightly about you when he said: 
8 “This people honours me with their lips,
   but their hearts are far from me; 
9 in vain do they worship me,
   teaching human precepts as doctrines.” ’

10  Then he called the crowd to him and said to them, ‘Listen and understand: 11 it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles.’ 12 Then the disciples approached and said to him, ‘Do you know that the Pharisees took offence when they heard what you said?’ 13 He answered, ‘Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be uprooted. 14 Let them alone; they are blind guides of the blind.* And if one blind person guides another, both will fall into a pit.’ 15 But Peter said to him, ‘Explain this parable to us.’ 16 Then he said, ‘Are you also still without understanding?17 Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth enters the stomach, and goes out into the sewer? 18 But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this is what defiles. 19 For out of the heart come evil intentions, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander. 20 These are what defile a person, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile.’

November 11, 2013 Posted by | Character, Cross Cultural, Cultural, Faith, Food, Lectionary Readings, Spiritual | Leave a comment

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