Here There and Everywhere

Expat wanderer

Ramadan Kareem and Pope Francis

“God bless the work of your hands!” was one of the Moslem sayings I most loved as I lived my daily life in various countries in the Middle East. So, Pope Francis, God bless the work of your hands yesterday in your encyclical saying we are all responsible for the price we pay for progress. You are a brave man, and you don’t hesitate to name corruption when you see it, and to do your best to correct us, and straighten the path of the Lord.

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“Everything is related, and we human beings are united as brothers and sisters on a wonderful pilgrimage, woven together by the love God has for each of his creatures and which also unites us in fond affection with brother sun, sister moon, brother river and mother earth,” he writes.

It is not entirely a happy message for me. One of the items he castigates is air conditioning, and as Pensacola hits the nineties every day, I hate to think of how I would live without air conditioning. I think I would turn into a slug, swinging in my hammock for hours every day reading a book. My house would be full of dirty dishes and dust. And I remember living in Tunis, and in Jordan, without air conditioning. We managed, by the grace of God.

Meanwhile, during the hottest months of the year, yesterday, our Moslem brothers and sisters began Ramadan, the holy month of fasting and personal purification. Imagine, going all day without water and without food, breaking the fast only as the sun goes down. I wonder if the Pope made his world-changing address on the eve of Ramadan on purpose, as he clearly made it to all mankind, not only to his Catholic followers.

Ramadan Kareem, my Moslem brothers and sisters, whom I cherish, and who taught me so much. May your fasting bring you great insights and purity of spirit.

June 18, 2015 Posted by | Character, Civility, Community, Cross Cultural, Cultural, Environment, Events, ExPat Life, Faith, Interconnected, Leadership, Living Conditions, Pensacola, Political Issues, Quality of Life Issues, Ramadan, Social Issues | 4 Comments

“Come Back Soon; I Have So Many Questions!”

We wanted our house guests to experience a truly Southern experience, so we took them to Sonny’s BBQ. It doesn’t get much more down-home than Sonny’s. We saw one of my friends from water aerobics, we saw another friend from church and our son’s boss, all sitting nearby.

We all ordered barbecued smoked chicken, and the 10 year old ordered french fries and french fries for his two “sides.” He got frustrated with the knife and fork – it does slow down eating chicken – so he pretty much stuck to the french fries. As my friend from water aerobics left, she came over and hugged AdventureMan, and kept her hand on his shoulder as she met our guests.

To make it all even more bizarre (I am trying to imagine this from the Saudi point of view), we have the car seats for our grandchildren in AdventureMan’s car, so we used my car to drive to the restaurant. I drove.

It was a lot for them to absorb.

As we were leaving, our favorite waitress caught my arm and said “Come back soon! I have so many questions!”

June 15, 2015 Posted by | Adventure, Civility, Cross Cultural, Cultural, Customer Service, Eating Out, ExPat Life, Food, Interconnected, Local Lore, Restaurant, Saudi Arabia, Travel | 2 Comments

When Cultures Collide

My house guest and I are sitting at my computer, looking at airfares.

“So what do I do?” he asked me.

“This is your decision to make,” I answered. “Only you know what is most important to you.”

“I am looking for a recommendation,” he tells me.

“If it were me, I would take that early flight. It is cheaper, and by leaving at six a.m. you know it is likely to leave on time and arrive on time. Also, I would have booked it about four months ago. It’s summer. The flights are flying full. There are no cheaper tickets left.”

“Month-es?” he asked incredulously. “Month-es?” he repeated.

We decided to wait and book later, after he had given it some thought. He didn’t like my recommendation; he didn’t like the earliness of the flight I recommended, and I had known he wouldn’t.

I think the idea of booking a flight four months in advance was a double-whammy.

June 15, 2015 Posted by | Adventure, Bureaucracy, Cross Cultural, Cultural, ExPat Life, Financial Issues, Relationships, Saudi Arabia, Travel | Leave a comment

Houseguests and Rabies and Wedding Anniversaries

We’ve had a lot of wedding anniversaries, AdventureMan and I. Some anniversaries we have sacrificed to national security, as AdventureMan would be called to go to the field, or head out on some exercise. There are a few which have been truly memorable. If you’ve been reading this blog for very long, you will know that the ones we remember are probably not those that include roses, or wine and a fine meal and a beautiful gift, although we have had those.

One, we remember because we ate at a very fine restaurant, very snooty, and the waiter made a big deal out of presenting us with chilled forks for our salad course. We could barely keep a straight face, it is so far from anything we would consider a priority.

Another, and we howl with laughter – now – was the wedding anniversary when we had just arrived in Germany from Saudi Arabia, and found a lovely apartment on the top floor of an old mansion in a village I loved. When we got back to the car, AdventureMan said “Did you notice it is not furnished?” and I said we can find what we need at the re-utilization office, which is alway selling off used furniture.

Indeed, two days later there was a huge sale at the re-utilization center and we bought a dining room set, living room chairs, three big cupboards for holding clothes and some lamps, etc – all for $53. We’ve always had great luck that way. I had a lot of fun re-upholstering the chairs, and the landlord threw in a bed for us.

But as we sat in the car, on our anniversary, I said “Now, you probably need to take me to the hospital so we can get my bite looked at.” A few hours before leaving Saudi Arabia, the cat I had been feeding bit me, hard, on the arm. It ws one of those bites where the incisors went deep. I’d have liked to ignore the bite, but rabies is an ugly way to die, and I sure didn’t want to stay in Saudi Arabia to be treated.

So we headed to the hospital, and the next few hours were excruciating. Then we went to a favorite old Mexican restaurant we had known from years before, and that was our anniversary, truly memorable. We still laugh; we remember finding that lovely old apartment, and then having to go to the emergency room.

As an aside, the landlord didn’t tell us he was trying to sell the mansion, and nine months later, we were looking again for an apartment. We became very good friends with the new owners, and are friends with them to this very day.

This wedding anniversary was a non-event, we had houseguests, and their customs and daily lives are so very different that celebrating a wedding anniversary would have been far outside their comfort zone. We had a friend from Saudi Arabia and his 10 year old son.

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We received an e-mail from them saying (I will paraphrase a little here) ‘we have reservations to come to Pensacola for 26 days and we want to stay with you.’ There was more, but that was the essence. AdventureMan looked at me and said “I think we need to do this” and I was glad, because I had been thinking the same thing.

I think I have told you about our friends who welcome the stranger, so I think God had been preparing us for this visit, and for us to do it.

How did it go? It was challenging. There were times we just wanted it to be over, and there were times our friends must have found us to be very disappointing. There were continual clashes in expectations, and there was a very large well of good will out of which we continually drew. There were uncomfortable moments regarding meals, and meal times, and getting up times, and where we would go. There were also some fabulous meals and some truly wonderful conversations.

I know they were sorry to go. I know they want to come back again for another visit. We have no regrets; we are glad we did this, and we are also glad to have our very normal American lives back. We like this man very much, and we know this visit was a challenge for him, too.

But as we are hollering back and forth, we are laughing, this is one of those anniversaries we will never forget, the year we had our Saudi house guests.

We are aging, AdventureMan and I. We are no longer truly nomadic, living out of our suitcases. We have everything we own in this one house, except our other house. We no longer have other furniture in storage, and we have trimmed down a lot on the load of things we have collected. Maybe the one thing we truly fear is becoming too settled, and this visit was a wonderful way to shake things up a little bit, to force us out of our comfortable routines, and to force us to see our lives through the eyes of others.

It has given us a lot to think about.

Happy Anniversary, AdventureMan :-)

June 13, 2015 Posted by | Adventure, Aging, Character, Civility, Communication, Community, Cooking, Counter-terrorism, Cross Cultural, Cultural, ExPat Life, Experiment, Family Issues, Friends & Friendship, Interconnected, Living Conditions, Saudi Arabia | 6 Comments

Catastrophic Fortune

“Oh no!” I cried at the end of our meal as I read my fortune cooky fortune.

It said:

You will soon be involved in many gatherings and parties.

AdventureMan just laughed. He knows me. I used to dread all the military socializing, and once he accused me of getting so sick I was hospitalized just to miss a yearly ball. No. No. Meetings, gatherings, parties – not my thing. This is a catastrophic fortune.

One year, our son got a fortune that said something like “all good things will come your way” and after that, he would never open another fortune cooky, he made a choice to just let that one really good one ride.

I don’t know that it works that way, in fact, I don’t know that Chinese fortune cookies are even Chinese. I don’t know that they have any predictive value at all. And yet . . . (she shudders) I think I will destroy this fortune now that I have told you about it. :-)

June 7, 2015 Posted by | Cross Cultural, Cultural, Eating Out | , , | Leave a comment

Learn to Linger

One of the most painful criticisms I would hear of Americans as I lived overseas was that we were all happy, friendly people, but we didn’t really care about people. We didn’t maintain relationships. While painful, it was also, as I looked deeper, true. Our lives are fast-paced, and we move from place to place, person to person, job to job and rarely develop the deep relationships that come from building a long, deep friendship. Today’s lesson from Rick Warren talks about how we can do better in our relationships:

“All of you should be of one mind. Sympathize with each other. Love each other as brothers and sisters. Be tenderhearted, and keep a humble attitude.” (1 Peter 3:8 NIV)

You’re never going to live in harmony with your wife, your husband, your friends, or anybody else without empathy. You can’t have a team without being aware of what’s happening in each other’s lives. That’s why when people work together in an office, they may do work together, but they’re not a team unless they know what’s going on in each other’s lives.

Empathy is so important because it meets two of our deepest needs: the fundamental need to be understood and a deep need to have our feelings validated.

If you’re going to build a team of friends or at work or in your small group, you have to build empathy into the structure. So how do you become an empathetic person?

Slow down. Because our culture teaches us to move fast, we end up relationally skimming. That means you’re hitting the high points and missing all kinds of details in the lives of people you care about most. James 1:19 says, “Be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry” (NLT, second edition).

Ask questions. Proverbs 20:5 says, “A person’s thoughts are like water in a deep well, but someone with insight can draw them out” (GNT). Most people hold their emotions pretty close, and they don’t automatically share how they’re doing. “I’m fine” is the standard answer, but that doesn’t really tell you how they feel. If you ask, “””How are you doing?” and the other person says, “I’m fine,” here’s how you draw out a more telling response: Learn to ask the question twice. That’s how you develop empathy. Pause and say, “No. How are you really doing?” The other thing you do is learn to linger. That means don’t be afraid of silence. Just be in the moment, ask the question, and don’t be afraid to sit there and wait. Don’t immediately go into your agenda. Just listen and learn.

Show emotions. The Bible says in Romans 12:15, “Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep” (NASB). Empathy is more than saying, “I’m sorry you hurt.” It’s saying, “I hurt with you.” You’re willing to cry with them, and you’re willing to rejoice with them. There’s only one way you’re going to be that empathetic — stay filled up with God. If your tank gets low on God, you’re not going to be empathetic at all. You’ve got to stay filled up with God.

“All of you should be of one mind. Sympathize with each other. Love each other as brothers and sisters. Be tenderhearted, and keep a humble attitude” (1 Peter 3:8 NIV).

May 31, 2015 Posted by | Character, Civility, Communication, Community, Cross Cultural, Cultural, Friends & Friendship, Interconnected, Quality of Life Issues, Relationships, Spiritual, Values | Leave a comment

“Do All Americans Worship Idols?”

We have guests in town from another country who are living with Americans and visiting many others.

One of them asked her host “Do all Americans worship idols?” and the host was flummoxed.

We have been in private houses of the most religious Muslims, and their houses look very different from ours. They have nothing on the walls, except perhaps a picture of the Kaaba in Mecca, or a beautiful calligraphy in Arabic with one of the Surahs. To us, the houses look very plain, but they are being careful to observe carefully the word of the Lord.

We don’t consider the objects in our homes idols because we don’t worship them. When I read today’s Lectionary reading from Deuteronomy, I have to rethink what God might thing idols are.

Deuteronomy 4:15-24

15 Since you saw no form when the Lord spoke to you at Horeb out of the fire, take care and watch yourselves closely, 16 so that you do not act corruptly by making an idol for yourselves, in the form of any figure—the likeness of male or female, 17 the likeness of any animal that is on the earth, the likeness of any winged bird that flies in the air, 18 the likeness of anything that creeps on the ground, the likeness of any fish that is in the water under the earth. 19 And when you look up to the heavens and see the sun, the moon, and the stars, all the host of heaven, do not be led astray and bow down to them and serve them, things that the Lord your God has allotted to all the peoples everywhere under heaven. 20 But the Lord has taken you and brought you out of the iron-smelter, out of Egypt, to become a people of his very own possession, as you are now.

21 The Lord was angry with me because of you, and he vowed that I should not cross the Jordan and that I should not enter the good land that the Lord your God is giving for your possession. 22 For I am going to die in this land without crossing over the Jordan, but you are going to cross over to take possession of that good land. 23 So be careful not to forget the covenant that the Lord your God made with you, and not to make for yourselves an idol in the form of anything that the Lord your God has forbidden you. 24 For the Lord your God is a devouring fire, a jealous God.

May 26, 2015 Posted by | Cross Cultural, Cultural, ExPat Life, Faith, Friends & Friendship, Interconnected, Lectionary Readings, Saudi Arabia, Spiritual, Venice | | Leave a comment

“It’s Going to Be Painful!”

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A week after the wedding, I am talking with the mother-of-the-groom, my old friend and telling her she has inspired AdventureMan and I. A friend has contacted us, someone we like, but also someone from another culture. We’ve been friends for a while, but we don’t know him well.

He asked if he and his 10 year old son can come stay with us.

AdventureMan and I looked at each other. This is a man we like and admire, but the cultural differences are profound. We agreed that it is the right thing to do, and the thing we want to do.

So I’m telling my friend, whose home has been a revolving door informal hotel as long as I have known her. She knocks herself out helping people. Lives have changed because she and her husband “welcome the stranger.”

“We want to do it,” I told her, “but we know it is going to be painful.”

“It’s going to be painful!” she enthusiastically agreed. We laughed. This is the basis of our friendship, the ability to tell each other the worst things in our lives and to laugh about it. She knows I am an introvert, and love my peaceful quiet.

“It’s also going to be worth it.” She added, and I believe her.

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May 25, 2015 Posted by | Adventure, Civility, Cross Cultural, Cultural, ExPat Life, Family Issues, Friends & Friendship, Humor, Quality of Life Issues, Spiritual, Travel, Values | , | 5 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

Navajoland Diocese

Today the church prays for the Navajolands Diocese:

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April 17, 2015 Posted by | Cross Cultural, Geography / Maps, Lectionary Readings, Relationships | | Leave a comment

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