Here There and Everywhere

Expat wanderer

Check Writing Nostalgia: No More Slack

Honestly, it’s been a long time since it has mattered, but not so long that I don’t remember. When I was a young Army wife, I always knew I could write a check two days before pay day because it took at least that long for the check to clear.

What was funny, was that when we would leave our post in Amman, Jordan to visit classmates at the embassy in Damascus, we could go shopping in the souks, and checks we would write for gold, or carpets, or beautiful copper pots would clear days before the checks we would write at the embassy for cash. They must have had couriers; my guess is that the checks went by car to Beirut and then were combined with other checks and flown to the USA. Those checks cleared very quickly!

This morning as I was doing some banking, as I checked in to my bank, the first thing I saw was this notification:

We have already seen this at several of the businesses where we write checks; they run the check through and hand it back to us and the money is gone from our account almost instantaneously.

It used to drive AdventureMan crazy. I handled the month-to-month expenses. He would ask how much we had left, and I would say something like “Oh, six hundred twenty two dollars, plus the invisible thousand.” In his mind, the “invisible thousand” was sloppy financial practice. In my mind, it protected me against unexpected emergencies and overdrawing the account. It was worth it to me. We kept track of our checks (oh this sounds so old-fashioned now when I tell you about it, so quaint, so archaic) in a registry, where every time we wrote a check we wrote down the check number, the amount, who it was to, and on those accounts which charged by check, the check charge. At the end of the month, the bank would send you a paper statement, and you had to go through all your returned checks to see if there were any that hadn’t cleared, then subtract those from your total, and your total needed to match the bank’s total. On occasion, I would spend hours trying to find where I might have made a mistake. Mostly, it came out right.

Now, I do most of it online, and the bank keeps a running total for me. All I have to do is log on, and those totals are there, and up to date. I guess they are about to get up-to-dater.

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September 5, 2017 Posted by | Bureaucracy, Cultural, Customer Service, ExPat Life, Financial Issues | 2 Comments

No Trips To Damascus This Week

AdventureMan and I are currently on an austerity program.

When we say that, we laugh. God blesses us abundantly. We have food to eat, we have a good roof over our head, “two cats in the yard” to quote Neil Young, life is good. We’ve had a full season of unexpected and thoroughly normal repairs, however, including replacing an air conditioning system (expensive) and replacing an irrigation system (expensive) and in our other house, replacing a roof and it’s supports in our other house (expensive.) We have “enough.” We are blessed.

We’ve always had a policy of living below our means, supporting the church, investing and saving, and it has served us well. Even in retirement, we are loathe to touch our savings, even though the savings are for our retirement. We don’t know how long we’re going to live, or what kind of health care system we are going to have, so we keep all those little nuts in case winter is coming :-).

Meanwhile, I wanted to go to Mobile for lunch to day at 7 Spices Mediterranean Grill, one of the most delicious places in this part of the world to eat, and when AdventureMan and I counted out our money, we found that we could – just. AdventureMan looked at me and said “How about we go in August, and I’ll take you over to the beach to eat today” and I said “OK” and he said “No Trips to Damascus this week.”

When we lived in Amman, Jordan, our favorite trip was up to Damascus. It was only about 3 1/2 hours, longer if there was a line at the border, or is someone wanted to screw with us, as they sometimes liked to do with embassy people. We had friends in Damascus; we stayed with them, they knew all the best restaurants, and all the best places in the souks. Damascus was still very French, so I could do just fine there, and it was also Arabic, so AdventureMan could also do just fine.

We were young, we didn’t have a lot of money, but Iranians were fleeing Iran, stopping in Damascus to sell their carpets, and carpet buying was our avid hobby. For all of us, we all loved the beauty of the carpets, and their stories. We learned quickly to buy the carpet, not the story. The carpet sellers knew us all by name, and the foreign population was so small that they took our checks and those checks would go over the border to Lebanon and were cashed quicker than our checks cashed at the embassy. The carpet souks, the gold souks, and the copper souks all welcomed us, and shopping was a leisurely thing, you’d sit and drink a little tea, the shopkeeper would tell you how business was going, and you’d swap stories as you haggled over whatever it was you were purchasing.

Or not. One of my friends, a very funny woman, took a carpet home on approval – it was done all the time. Every time I would visit her, the carpet vendor would remind her she needed to pay for it or bring it back, and they would negotiate. She was a shrewd woman, a devilish bargainer, and the vendor wouldn’t meet her price. At the end of her two year tour, after having the carpet in her house almost the entire time, she returned it because they couldn’t agree on a price! She was a legend in the embassy community.

The 7 Spices restaurant has food that seems very Syrian, and has tapestries with scenes from Damascus on the walls. Sigh. No trips to Damascus this week.

(The photos are from our last trip to Damascus in 2007. Sigh. Ten years ago. Yes, I am feeling nostalgic.)

July 16, 2017 Posted by | Adventure, Arts & Handicrafts, Beauty, Cross Cultural, Cultural, Customer Service, ExPat Life, Family Issues, Financial Issues, Interconnected, Living Conditions, Quality of Life Issues, Road Trips, Travel | , , , , | Leave a comment

What to Tell Your Senator About Health Care

God bless the League of Women Voters! They register new voters, and they keep a sharp eye on issues, and how they will effect us, the people. They do their homework, and they share what they learn with others. Today I received a notification about telling our US Senators how we feel about health care, and that we want protection for the poor, those with pre-existing conditions, and for women.

Remember – the promise was that any replacement was going to be even better, and cheaper, and that all would have access. The bill passed by the house penalizes women, the poor, the elderly and those with pre-existing conditions.

The League shares words we can use:

 

LWV FLORIDA SUGGESTED LETTER TEMPLATES

Dear Senator ____, I join many Americans to oppose the Senate from adopting a health care bill that was not good enough for the Congress that passed it and not good enough for Congressional staffers who work for Congress as the newly passed bill, American Health Care Act (AHCA) exempts these two groups of people from its coverage. They get to keep Obamacare for themselves while they force an inadequate product on the rest of us.

Perhaps Congress gave itself preferential treatment because it wanted the better, broader, and less expensive health care overage that Obamacare or the Affordable Care Act (ACA) provided.

Perhaps Congress and their staffers did not want to be threatened by the new bill’s potential for skyrocketing costs for pre-existing conditions, and for the elderly who are often on fixed incomes.

Perhaps Congress wanted to shield themselves from the new bill’s threat that their state may seek a waiver and choose not to keep costs for pre-existing conditions within the reach of most Americans.

Or, perhaps Congress and their staffers did not want to be part of the 14 million Americans who would lose insurance in 2018 due to President Trump’s new health care bill.

I know my__________ who has diabetes, high blood pressure, or cancer and these family members and friends will suffer dire consequences and may not survive if their health insurance or Medicaid is taken away.

Bottom line, if the newly passed AHCA is not good enough for Congress, then it is not good enough for me and other Americans. Vote no on the new health care bill.
I usually paraphrase a little, but these are really good guidelines. So now, get busy.
Remember Resistbot, too – text Resist to 50409.

May 19, 2017 Posted by | Aging, Bureaucracy, Family Issues, Financial Issues, Florida, Health Issues, Living Conditions, Political Issues, Women's Issues | | Leave a comment

“Yes Ma’am, That Was For a Bus Ticket to Mexico”

“We see it all the time.”

As long as we lived overseas, AdventureMan and I never had a problem with our credit cards. I used ATM’s all over Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Kuwait to make cash withdrawals when I needed what my Mom calls “jingle money,” you know, walking-around money for lunch out, for fabrics in the souks, for whatever we needed cash for. It was easy, and it must have been safe. We never once had a problem.

 

nsa-spy-cartoon-2

Now, we’ve had to change our numbers several times.

This one was particularly odd, though. I got a second notice on a card I call my “hurricane” card. When you live in Florida, massive calamity can happen literally overnight. You may have to suddenly evacuate to a strange city and need funds for emergency housing, and housing the pets. No running to the bank for a withdrawal when an area has been destroyed by a tornado; it can take months for infrastructure to be back up and running normally.

The charge was made just after we returned from traveling, so my first instinct was to check my wallet, and the card was not there. Oddly, while it was my account, it was AdventureMan’s card, which has a different number. He assures me he never made the change. I believe him; I find both cards safely tucked away, unused, in a safe place.

I call the bank. I explain that we had been traveling, but neither of us think we made this charge, the only charge on this card, the card we not only never use, but don’t even keep in our wallets. The bank lady takes a look and laughs and says “Oh yes. That was a bus ticket to Mexico. We’ve seen that before.”

Long story short, this kind of fraud has become so routine that they have routine practices that go immediately into effect to protect us, to protect their other customers and to restore our hurricane card.

But when she said it was for a bus ticket to Mexico, I burst out laughing, and all my anxiety disappeared in a heartbeat. No. I did not charge a bus ticket to Mexico, and neither did AdventureMan.

It’s just so odd, to me. These are cards that have never even been in our wallets. They never leave their safe place. How was someone able to use them?

December 8, 2016 Posted by | Adventure, Bureaucracy, Crime, Customer Service, Doha, ExPat Life, Financial Issues, fraud, Kuwait, Law and Order, Living Conditions, Saudi Arabia, Scams, Survival, Travel | , , | Leave a comment

“They’ve Got a Bit of Swagger Now”

I am sitting and drinking coffee with my friend who comes in and helps me keep my house clean, and we are sipping silently, still stunned by the unexpected win of Donald Trump.

 

“We have more police rolling through my neighborhood now,” she begins, and then takes it in a direction I never anticipated, “They have their windows half down, so we can see them, see their faces, and they look at us and they don’t smile.”

I take that in.

 

“Sort of like ‘I’ve got my eye on you?’ ” I ask.

 

“Sort of like ‘We OWN you now’ ‘, she responded. “They’ve got a bit of swagger now.”

 

She owns her own house. She works several jobs to keep her youngest son in a good Christian private school. Her children, some grown, are solid members of their communities, good sons, good daughters. It’s up to her to put food on the table, pay the property taxes, and keep up with all of life’s normal expenses. She works really hard.

 

“What do you worry about the most?” I ask her.

 

“I’m trying to figure our what I am going to do about health care,” she responds. “You know that’s the first thing that is going to go away.”

 

Health care. One of the most basic needs for all people. Blood pressure medication. Emergency care. I remember. I saw it all when I worked with the homeless and working poor; medical care was often sacrificed in the interest of more immediate needs, like keeping the car running so you could get to your job.

 

I wanted to ask if she worried about her son, 6 feet tall and 12 years old – and African American. I didn’t ask. She really told me that when she started talking about the police rolling through her neighborhood, staring. Yes, she worries. He’s a good boy, and if you are in the wrong place at the wrong time, it doesn’t matter.

 

We are comfortable in our silences, but she breaks the silence, as if she read my mind, and says “You know who I worry about? I worry about all the gays and trans-gender people, now. Will they roll back the gay marriage laws? Will the transgender people not be protected?”

 

I think of the celebration, just over a year ago, when gay rights were guaranteed. I think of Roe v Wade, when our reproductive rights became our own private concern. I think of the movement towards enhanced training for police forces, so that the innocent won’t be killed in a moment of fear perceived confrontation. I think of all we have to lose. There are no answers; we are going to have a tough time ahead.

November 11, 2016 Posted by | Bureaucracy, Character, Circle of Life and Death, Civility, Community, Cultural, Family Issues, Financial Issues, Health Issues, Interconnected, Law and Order, Living Conditions, Pensacola, Political Issues, Privacy, Quality of Life Issues, Social Issues, Women's Issues, Work Related Issues | Leave a comment

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

Abortion Online

First, I need to tell you that I believe abortion is wrong. I believe the death penalty is wrong. Because I am a believer, I believe our lives are in God’s hands.

And.

And I also believe that every woman who faces an unwanted pregnancy has to make that decision for herself. It is not for me to decide how YOU live your life. There are circumstances when even a believer has to make a difficult decision, like a soldier facing killing on the battlefield, or a president with his finger on the nuclear trigger. People have to make unhappy decisions.

Here is an organization that gives women those options:

Abortion Without Borders


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When RA1 found out she was pregnant, she had two options: Have a baby she did not want or risk her life and face prison. 

RA, who was born and raised in Dubai, lives with her husband and two children in Egypt, where abortion is illegal, except to save a woman’s life. Women who voluntarily induce abortions face criminal charges and up to three years in prison.

“I already had a girl and a boy, so the best of both worlds,” says RA. “It’s not easy raising kids in Egypt — financially, culturally and psychologically — and I didn’t want another baby.”

RA found doctors who could help, but they either advised against abortion, insisted on surgery or were illegal “under the staircase” doctors — notorious for abusing their power over women

Instead, she scoured the internet for alternatives and found articles discussing the use of methotrexate, normally used to abort pregnancies that occur outside of the womb, a complication known as an ectopic pregnancy.

RA’s pregnancy was healthy, but out of desperation, she took the methotrexate.

“It was a huge risk, but I felt so helpless, like I couldn’t even control my own body,” she says. “I cried for days. I hated the situation I was in.” 

The methotrexate failed. RA went back to the internet in search of help. Eventually, she came across Women on Web, an online-only abortion service that conducts free web-based medical consultations and mails eligible women pills for medical abortions. It saved her life.

Since it was founded by Dutch physician Rebecca Gomperts in 2005, more than 200,000 women from 140 countries have completed Women on Web’s online consultation, and approximately 50,000 women have performed medical abortions at home. Women on Web’s helpdesk answers 10,000 emails daily in 17 languages, and the website attracts almost one million unique monthly visitors.

But before Women on Web became a safe harbor, it was a rogue vessel on the open ocean.

(This is a long informative article. You can read the whole article HERE.)

October 5, 2016 Posted by | Bureaucracy, Circle of Life and Death, ExPat Life, Family Issues, Financial Issues, Kuwait, Living Conditions, Middle East, Pakistan, Political Issues, Privacy, Qatar, Quality of Life Issues, Social Issues, Values, Women's Issues | , | 4 Comments

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?

lrgDL004

“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

“My Mother Poisoned My Food!”

I’ve been disappointed recently, most of the scammers don’t go to the trouble to be believable. You know, the President of Wells Fargo writes me an e-mail about my account that has several mis-spellings, or my nephew who has been arrested and needs help desperately uses really bad grammar.

This scammer, however, has gone to some trouble to be interesting, if not believable.

Hello My Beloved, this is Ms Naomi Solomon from Estonia writing from hospital here in Ivory Coast; therefore this email is very urgent to attend. I want you to know that I’m dying here in this hospital right now which i don’t know if i will see some few days to come.
My Beloved, i was informed by my doctor that i got poisoned and it affected my liver and i can only live for some days. The reason why i contacted you today is because i know that my step mother wanted to kill me and take my inheritance from my late Father. I have a little adopted child named Andrew C. Brown that i adopted in this Country when my late Father was alive and $3.5 million Dollars i inherited from my late father. My step mother and her children they are after Andrew right now because they found out that Andrew was aware of the poison, and because i handed the documents of the fund over to him the day my step Mother poisoned my food, for that reason they do not want Andrew to expose them, so they are doing everything possible to kill him.

My Beloved, please i want you to help him out of this country with the money, he is the only one taking good care of me here in this hospital right now and even this email you are reading now he is the one helping me out. I want you to get back to me so that he will give you the documents of the fund and he will direct you to a well known lawyer that i have appointed, the lawyer will assist you to change the documents of the fund to your name to enable the bank transfer the money to you..
This is the favor i need when you have gotten the fund:

(1) Keep 20% of the money for Andrew until he finish his studies to become a man as he has been there for me as my lovely Son and i promised to support him in life to become a medical Doctor because he always desire for it with the scholarship he had won so far. I want you to take him along with you to your country and establish him as your son.
(2) Give 20% of the money to handicap people and charity organization. The remaining 60% should be yours for your help to Andrew.
Note; This should be a code between you and my son Andrew in this transaction “Hospital” any mail from him, the Lawyer he will direct you to, without this code “Hospital” is not from the Andrew, the Lawyer or myself as i don’t know what will happen to me in the next few hours.

Finally, write me back so that Andrew will send you his pictures to be sure of whom you are dealing with. Andrew is 14years now, therefore guide him. And if i don’t hear from you i will look for another person or any organization.
May Almighty God bless you and use you to accomplish my wish. Pray for me always.

Ms Naomi Solomon

May 13, 2016 Posted by | Crime, Cultural, Financial Issues, Nigeria, Scams | , , | 2 Comments

York Street in Duncan, on Vancouver Island

We are here! We are on Vancouver Island, en route to Campbell River! We are happy, we have exited customs, we are on the right road and everything goes smoothly. We get to the road that will take us up to Campbell River, and realize we are hungry. In Duncan, we spot the York Street Diner, and we know it is right for us. I don’t know how we know, I only know that we know.  Maybe because it doesn’t look like all the chains.

YorkStExterior

 

Inside, the owner has decorated with Kenyan giraffes, carved African masks and assorted items collected from travels. We feel right at home 🙂

 

I order a Reuben and a side Ceasar. I have to take half the sandwich with me, it is so huge, so much food.

ReubenCeaser

We know we are in Canada

DuncanYorkStreet

AdventureMan has a turkey cranberry salad with onion rings.

TurkeySandwich

 

Everything is delicious.

We are not entirely comfortable. One reason is a big reason, our phones aren’t working. There is no Verizon service available. We never even considered the possibility. Second, we haven’t seen a bank or a place to change our money to Canadian dollars, so we enter the modern world and use our credit cards. We never use credit cards in restaurants, we always pay cash, but until we find a bank – open – we will have to make do as modern people do.

Our waitress is most kind, and helpful; she even draws a map to show us how to get to the nearest bank.

May 11, 2016 Posted by | Adventure, Community, Cross Cultural, Customer Service, Eating Out, ExPat Life, Financial Issues, iPhone, Quality of Life Issues | , , , , | Leave a comment