Here There and Everywhere

Expat wanderer

“Someone Puts it in a Box and Sends it To You!”

I relished having a day off from my volunteer job. A sudden cold front moved in; the daily temperatures are still in the nineties, but the early morning temperature was in the low seventies, and will be going lower. I started the day, once again, with a big smile.

There are obligations I have each morning; the expects to be fed and he has an inner timepiece that is amazingly accurate. Unfortunately, it doesn’t understand “days off” so I have to get up at my normal time to feed him, give him his medications, grab a cup of coffee and head for my scripture readings.

My computer has become increasingly buggy, but today, it won’t charge. Sure enough, there is a tiny puncture – a bite – along its slender length. Just one, but one is enough to keep my machine from charging.

It’s not the only thing. Just yesterday, I found my settings changed; the time was set for somewhere in China, the date was goofy, it was just weird.

I was headed for the nearby base, so I called my friend who has taken a spill and can’t get around and asked if she needed anything from the commissary. She didn’t sound like herself. I asked what was up, and she told me she had to have her faithful kitty of 17 years put to sleep; it was time. We both wept. I stopped by later, after grocery shopping and buying a new, tiny, svelte MacBook Air, and we wept some more. The vet had thanked her for making the decision, and said her bloodworm had shown she was in misery in so many ways. She was a great kitty. My friend said she wishes it were so easy for human beings, that we could just humanely end it, and we wept some more.

When I met up with AdventureMan, he could see I was shaken and we talked over a good Bento Box lunch at Ichiban. He, too, said he would prefer to end his life to lingering on in suffering. His plan (I laugh and tell him he doesn’t ALWAYS get his way, which comes as a huge shock to him) is that he will go first, but that if he doesn’t, he thinks he will not last long without me.

It’s probably true. We have become greatly intertwined these forty three years.

And we talked of Zakat, who has now been well, totally well, for four whole weeks. His fur is full and gorgeous, his eyes are clear, he hasn’t lost any teeth, and he plays like a kitten. We know it is the antibiotics, and that it can’t last forever, but we will celebrate as long as it does last, that there are medications and God’s mercy to allow him a sweet life off the streets – while it lasts.

And then the tedium of transferring all my data from one computer to the other.

We are caring for our grandson, now a full kindergartener, who attends a school nearby. We pick him up, we bring him home. AdventureMan takes him to parks and museums, I take him shopping and on errands. He is so much fun, and we love hearing his stories.

He came in Friday with a necklace with red hearts. “I got it from the treasure box!” he told me.

“What did you do?” I asked. “What was it that you did that you got to take something from the treasure box?”

He looked at me with his big blue eyes and his expressive face and said “I have NO idea!”

We were laughing so hard we could barely stand. The day before, he had told us that no, his mommy and daddy had not bought his backpack. He explained that they let him choose a backpack online, and click on it. “Then someone puts it in a box and sends it to you!” It was a huge surprise to him that Mommy and Daddy had indeed paid for it.

License plate seen in Pensacola:

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August 26, 2015 Posted by | Aging, Biography, Character, Circle of Life and Death, Community, Cultural, Family Issues, Friends & Friendship, Generational, Interconnected, Living Conditions, Marriage, Quality of Life Issues, Shopping, Zakat | 2 Comments

Praying for Ruaha

Today in the Anglican Cycle of Prayer, we pray for the Diocese of Ruaha, in Tanzania.

We have such happy memories of exploring the Ruaha, and Selous. Many people visit the more famous sites in northern Tanzania, but fewer go to the more remote south. Wonderful people, we learned so much there.

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July 27, 2015 Posted by | Africa, Community, Cross Cultural, ExPat Life, Faith, Friends & Friendship, Geography / Maps, Interconnected, Tanzania, Travel | , , | Leave a comment

AdventureMan Wept

Long ago, and far away, in the exotic Kuwait City, I started this blog, holy smokes, almost nine years ago in September. I met so many wonderful people, some of whom I’ve even become friends with in person. Others I still keep up with, in a comment here or there (LOL, Here There and Everywhere) or in a backnote, or on FaceBook.

Several months ago, I contacted one blogger, Aafke, whose very honest and very artistic blog I admired. We often commented back and forth in those days. I wrote about how outraged I was at a veterinary tech in Doha who told me my cat was the demon cat from hell, and I raged at how scared he must have been to have behaved so badly. Like, if you work with animals, you should know that! If you treat them roughly, they will respond! (Oops! I still get worked up revisiting it!)

Aafke loved the story, and did a painting, our sweet Pete as the demon cat from hell. There were some things I loved about it – moody purple background, a great representation of Pete. It sort of hurt my feelings that she painted him with horns and a forked tail, not my sweet Pete.

But as the months went by after Pete’s sudden and unexpected death following an operation that succeeded in its goals, but killed Pete, I thought about that painting so I wrote to Aafke, and asked if I could buy it. I thought it would make a good present for AdventureMan, for Father’s Day. She responded quickly, said she thought she knew where it was, and in the mean time, she also painted another, a really lush, beautiful portrait of a cat we dearly loved. She wouldn’t let me buy it, it was a gift.

So the paintings arrived, and I had them framed. They are small, exactly what I wanted. We don’t want a shrine; we want a sweet reminder. When I gave the beautiful one to AdventureMan, he wept. Aafke truly captured the sweetness of Pete. He hung it on his office wall, where he could see it from his desk.

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When he came into my office, he laughed. I have my painting just behind my chair where I write these posts. “You’ve got the devil cat looking over your shoulder!” he crowed with laughter!

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Yes! I do! We all have our sweet side, and our devilish side 🙂 Pete was no angel. He loved to escape, and he was fast. We loved him, warts and all, and this portrait makes me smile every time I see it.

Thank you, Aafke, for your beautiful heart that captures the nature of those we love.

July 5, 2015 Posted by | Arts & Handicrafts, Beauty, Blogging, Circle of Life and Death, Community, Cultural, Doha, ExPat Life, Friends & Friendship, Kuwait, Pets, Qatteri Cat | , | 6 Comments

“Just Kill them All!!”

We were in the kitchen at the church, setting out some refreshments, when I told my friend I was expecting houseguests from Saudi Arabia.

My friend, who is educated, and, most times, level headed, said with exasperation “I can’t believe you are doing that! They are destroying everything, beheading people, raping and selling off women! Just kill them all!”

I was dumbstruck.

Who are we? We are in a church, where our leader told us to love God, and to love one another. He told us to love our enemy. And, just as one crazed fanatic shooting up a bible study does not make all South Carolinians hateful racists, neither does ISIS and Al Shebab make all Muslims fanatic killers. She knows this.

“I’m so shocked that you would say that, I don’t even know where to start,” I said, numbly.

“Why is it we make so many allowances and excuses for their behavior and they get different rules, but they don’t make any allowances, just kill all those who do not agree with their beliefs!” she responded.

You can’t really have a discussion with someone when they are worked up, and I didn’t even try. It’s been weeks now, and every time I think of this discussion, I get a pit in my stomach. I am guessing that she, my good friend, is expressing her frustration with me for my positive views toward Muslims and Islam. I struggle with whether it is to speak or not to speak, knowing my views are very different from the majority around me.

One of the most influential books I have read was Rick Warren’s The Purpose Driven Life, where he begins with the premise that God creates us each uniquely, individually, no two of us the same, and that we have a reason for our unique creation. From the life I’ve been given, I can only assume part of my purpose was to have all my assumptions challenged, to observe and to learn to think differently, and that, returning to my own culture, it is to gently share what I have learned, that we are more alike than unalike, and that we worship the same God.

I know I must continue to share what I know, and I pray for the courage to do so effectively, gently, not alienating people I care about.

June 25, 2015 Posted by | Cultural, ExPat Life, Friends & Friendship, Living Conditions, Political Issues, Quality of Life Issues, Social Issues | 4 Comments

As Others See Us . . .

“Oh that the wee wee giftie gi’e us, to see ourselves as others see us,” goes an old Scottish proverb which has haunted me my many years of living overseas.

This recent visit by our Saudi friends was one of those times, and yesterday as I was doing laundry, I thought of all the particular ways we do things, and why, and thought about how very difficult it is to be a house guest in a strange culture because on top of the profound cultural differences, there are also family cultures.

I remember visiting my parents, as an adult, and my mother carefully explaining how they do things, and why, and we would try very carefully to do what they were doing, but I often felt I was failing in some unknown way, to meet the standards.

Like us, when we do laundry, I have three drying racks, and I use my dryer only a few minutes with some of AdventureMan’s shirts, tumble drying them to remove wrinkles, then we pull them out and let them finish drying on hangers. I also dry AdventureMan’s towels; he thinks that the ones that are dried on the racks are hard and stiff and he doesn’t like the feel of them on his skin. Just about everything else dries on the racks or on hangers. It’s a result of years of living in Germany, and other places where we had utility bills, and the dryer is a huge electricity hog.

When we lived in a small village in Germany, I remember my landlady bringing my utility bill; her face was white. She said (in essence) “how can this be? You are a wasteful American and I am a frugal German and your electricity bill is half of mine!” (no, she didn’t say wasteful, but that was sort of the gist) but she had a clothes dryer that was going all the time, and I did not. I also had a very small little refrigerator, and she had a larger one. Old habits die hard; I still hang most of my clothes to dry.

We are careful with water use, as water becomes more dear, we try to conserve, so we don’t let water run, we turn it off. We must look very peculiar and very particular to our house guests.

I really only told them the basics – here are these things, here are those, this is the way this operates – more than that would have been overwhelming. Probably they were overwhelmed with the little I did share! Being a houseguest is overwhelming, too!

And I think of my youngest sister, who took me in for weeks at a time through many of the years we spent overseas, clearing out a bedroom and bathroom for my exclusive use, letting me come and go as my schedule dictated, but still, an intruder and an interruption on her own family life, God bless her. I remember one time being in the kitchen with her son, asking him if he knew where his mother kept the emergency emery board, and he looked totally dumbstruck, and said he didn’t know.

“It’s probably here,” I said, opening a drawer and pulling out the emery board. Our mother always kept an emery board in that drawer; I keep a spare emery board in that drawer, and it just seemed likely my sister would, too. I still love the look on his face as I pulled it out. “How did you know??” he asked, and I just laughed.

I wonder what tales our house guests will tell of us, and our strange ways?

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On their last day with us, I showed the 10 year old how to make Bird in a Basket, which he loved. It’s so simple, bread with a circle cut out, butter, an egg and a skillet – even a ten year old could do it. What was even better was that he loved it and was going to go home and show his Mama how to do it. One tiny piece of American culture may grow and thrive in Saudi Arabia.

June 21, 2015 Posted by | Communication, Cross Cultural, Cultural, Environment, ExPat Life, Family Issues, Friends & Friendship, Germany, Interconnected, Living Conditions, Quality of Life Issues, Relationships, Saudi Arabia | 2 Comments

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

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

“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