Here There and Everywhere

Expat wanderer

News Fatigue

I had a group of women delegates from a variety of countries, some were elected officials, all were active in their countries. It was a fast-paced visit, with many meetings at colleges, with groups and with activists, and by the third day, we knew each other well.

At lunch, as I often do, I asked them what surprised them most about their time in this country.

“The news!” the representative from Australia said, without hesitation. “Your news is so exciting! In our country we have news, but nothing so exciting as in your country. Sometimes we don’t even pay any attention, because nothing that exciting is happening. Here, something is happening all the time, and you get glued to your television.”

The others chimed in, stating similar opinions. They talked about how the election had affected women in their own countries, how the shock resonated still.

AdventureMan and I just got back from two weeks visiting a wonderful part of our country, the four corners, Colorado, Utah, Arizona and New Mexico. Much of the time, we had no service on our phones and woeful wifi in our rooms. We were unconnected. It was, frankly, wonderful.

This current president likes attention. He creates drama. Other presidents get down to the hard work of leading and working their agenda through congress, he attempts to unite a diverse population behind him. This president does what he pleases, and says what he will, with no regard for his position. He claims to be a very smart man, and yet he has a pattern of saying very stupid things, and behaving in a disorderly manner. It’s like watching a disaster about to happen. It’s riveting, but you reach a point where you say “enough!” We were relieved to be disconnected.

And now we are back for the busiest and most event-filled news week so far. Arrgh.

(I will write up the trip as soon as I can upload my photos. My computer says I don’t have enough space to store all the photos I took, so we are working a solution . . . )

Yesterday, we saw this bumper sticker:  Elect a clown, expect a circus.

This is America. I am legally allowed to say these things about our leader. 🙂

May 19, 2017 Posted by | Adventure, Character, Cross Cultural, Entertainment, ExPat Life, Gulf Coast Citizen Diplomacy Council, Interconnected, Leadership, Living Conditions, News, Political Issues, Quality of Life Issues, Rants, Road Trips, Social Issues, Stranger in a Strange Land, Women's Issues | , | Leave a comment

The Arizona Sonora Desert Museum and the Tonto National Forest

There is nothing so lovely as the American Southwest in the Spring. This is a glorious day, and we are on our way to an amazing park, the Arizona Sonoran Desert Museum, with is a huge indoor and outdoor park and museum. It is one of the best stops on our trip.

TucsonSedona

There is a huge parking lot, and we got there around the time it opens. We were still in the third row away, but the rows go on and on forever, and we wondered why so much parking? As we left, we understood. We had been there about three or four hours, and the parking lot was filling up fast, buses, travelers from every state and many nations, coming to this beautifully thought-through museum.

ArizonaSonoraDesertMuseum

One of the things we are picking up on is that everywhere we go, there are people our age, physically fit, volunteering. We saw this at the Benson – Rio Grande Valley Park in Texas, where I thought they were the happiest volunteers I had ever seen, and then again, at Tombstone, AZ, participating as characters in the daily dramas. People our age are living their dreams, and we met a lot of really happy people, working for various parks and volunteer agencies.

I volunteer in several areas, and one of my favorite is with the Gulf Coast Citizen Diplomacy Council. The Department of State sends delegates here to meet with counterparts in specialized areas – environment, juvenile justice, fair election processes, women entrepreneurs – it can be anything. You never know what comes next, which I love. Another part of it that I love is introducing our foreign delegates to the volunteer experience, whether it be dishing out hot meals for the homeless or packaging food for the food bank. For most, it is a new experience, and the idea of giving your time voluntarily to work to help others is a revelation. They are so often surprised at how good it feels.

This is what we are coming across again and again. At this museum, there is a volunteer passing out maps, and others selling entrance tickets. There are volunteer rangers, volunteer guides, and volunteers answering questions. They are happy, they are fit and tanned (LOL, yes, this is Arizona!) and they work for free. They are doing what they want to be doing. It is a joyful experience to find all these happy volunteers, and to benefit from their expertise. It is a joy to us; I feel so proud and humble to be a part of this kind of community.

This museum is so first rate. These are the bronze sculptures at the entry:

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Museum entrance:

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There are all kinds of walking trails, and every exhibit is also reachable by wheelchair.

Grounds-map 2014-5

The museum cactus display is gorgeous along the wonderful walking paths:

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They have a wildlife display with all kinds of snakes and frogs. This is a poisonous frog:

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AdventureMan and I separate; he has a mission, he wants to see the Butterfly garden and what is planted there. I take a few trails, and then head for the gift shop. I also have an agenda 🙂

In the wonderful gift shop, where I found unique and really fun gifts for grandchildren, grand-nieces and grand-nephews, I also saw two of Mary Doria Russel’s books about this area, about the legendary Doc Holliday and Wyatt Earp. There were also books and puzzles about bugs and desert creatures, and wonderful edibles, hot sauces, salsas, BBQ rubs. Great gifts.

00MaryDoriaRusselBooks

It is a wonderful visit, but even this early in the season, by noon, it is getting very warm. We decide to head on for Sedona, and because we are not so fond of big city traffic, we skirt Phoenix and stop for lunch at one of our favorite places, Whole Foods. What a treat!

00LunchatWholeFoodsOutsidePhoenix

We wanted to take the scenic route to Sedona, so we went through the Tonto National Forest. At the beginning, I started laughing and said to AdventureMan, “It’s a Saguaro Forest!” Later, the Saguaros stopped, and small scrubby pines began, and then taller pines, and taller, thicker pines until we were in a truly dark forest with a lot of trees. Driving was a lot of twisting and turning on this road, and we were glad when we headed out towards Sedons.

00TontoNationalForest

We knew we were getting close when we saw the beginning of the famous red rocks. This is the view from our hotel balcony:

00BeginningSedonaRedRockformations

April 20, 2015 Posted by | Adventure, Beauty, Community, Customer Service, Eating Out, ExPat Life, Fitness / FitBit, Generational, Geography / Maps, Gulf Coast Citizen Diplomacy Council, Hotels, Interconnected, Living Conditions, Quality of Life Issues, Road Trips, Shopping, Travel | , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Best Group Ever!

Sometimes, out of nowhere, comes a wallop, even a good wallop. Yesterday came such a startling change. The itinerary looked ordinary, do-able, nothing inspirational, but all get-the-job-done.

My group had a great weekend. They got to sleep, they got to walk on the beach, they got to eat a great meal or two. They had fabulous weather, a chance to chill and to integrate all the information we are piling on them, and a chance to walk away for a little while. They love Pensacola. Who wouldn’t, when the weather hits around 70° and the beach is white and the sky is blue?

First, we hit our volunteer experience, working at Manna to sort donations, making sure all the items were within acceptable expiration dates. At first, I wasn’t sure this group was going to “get” volunteering, but in a very short time, they were all focused and working hard, and working efficiently. As they sorted, other volunteers drove up in SUV’s, in big cars, in vans and we all helped unload. By the end of their experience, the warehouse manager said “You have processed enough food for over 1,000 people!” and complimented them. They glowed. None of them are from countries with a tradition of volunteerism, and this was a new – and thrilling – experience for them. It always gives me a thrill to see that light go on, to see oneself as part of something larger, organic, to see how connected we all are and to love being a part of something good, sharing. It thrilled my heart.

We ate lunch together downtown, and talked about events going on in each country, about the weekend, about their experiences. We bought coffee – oh! the universal need for caffein! – and headed on to our next appointment, which featured environmental issues and complex ways governments interact to combat the problems and enforce the regulations. It was a tough slog. These relationships are so complex that most of us don’t even think about it. These delegates have work to do; they are here to solve problems in their own countries, and they are persistent and dogged about getting solutions that they can apply in their own bureaucracies. It is a delight to see people so committed to solving problems that seem . . . almost unsolvable.

It is also inspiring, to me, to learn so much about Pensacola, in this job. When I was working on my Masters, I studied heroism, among other things. What I am loving about these office and field visits is that my education continues, and I see heroes at every level of bureaucracy, holding back the evil forces of laziness, corruption, and cronyism. And, sustaining my initial findings about heroes, heroines and heroism, they don’t even see themselves as heroes. They say, as all heroes do, “I am/was just doing my job.” They think anybody would do it. (They are wrong.)

At our very last appointment, I was thinking I would probably cut the day short. The speaker had given out information, the delegates had bags to pack, and all of a sudden, a spark, and an explosion! The good kind!

One delegate could not believe the head of this agency could maintain an important list with integrity. He kept drilling down on the structure, the details of how things worked (all the delegates were keen on the details of how the structures of organizations and bureaucracies worked to accomplish their missions) and where there were openings for corruption.

She was explaining how her employees were constantly trained, and how the agency was monitored to ensure fairness and an adherence to procedure. The delegates, all from countries where bureaucracies function differently, kept pressing her. Is there never anyone taken out of turn? Never?

“If I did that, I would lose my job,” she replied.

What followed was one of the most exciting hours of discussion I have ever experienced, as delegates from five different countries frankly compared their own challenges and experiences, and with great intensity tried to figure out how bureaucracies could function without corruption.

We tried to explain that we, also, are not immune from corruption, and cronyism, but that the combination of training and monitoring helps keep agencies within the boundaries, as best it can. Transparency doesn’t come overnight; we are still trying to achieve it.

As I listened, I could not stop grinning. These are young leaders, and the leaders of tomorrow. They admire what they see in our country. They want to bring trust into their own governments, but how do you create trust? How do you build trust? How do you maintain trust?

I don’t know those answers. And yet the process is working; the discussion was so inspiring, so heartfelt, and they had built enough trust in one another to share their challenges, without having to maintain that artificial facade that lack-of-trust builds.

Their liaison said “You will each have to find your own path; it won’t look exactly like the US path because it has to be a fit with your own culture.”

When I left the group, I told them “You are the best group I have worked with, ever.” There is a part of me that wanted to be a part of that discussion, because they were still deep in that discussion as we parted. My role had ended; I had done what I do.

And today, I am still grinning. I love this job, I love the people it brings me into contact with, international and local. I feel so blessed.

February 10, 2015 Posted by | Africa, Character, Civility, Community, Counter-terrorism, Cross Cultural, ExPat Life, Gulf Coast Citizen Diplomacy Council, Interconnected, Living Conditions, Nigeria, Pensacola, Political Issues, Quality of Life Issues, Relationships, Social Issues, Tanzania, Values | , , , | 3 Comments

Best Birthday Ever!

Who knew that growing older could have so many joys? I sure didn’t. I dreaded growing old, leaving a life of adventures behind. I had NO idea.

photo-16

I recently had a birthday. On my birthday, I had a new group in town, and I was taking them around to their appointments. It’s always hard, the first day, connecting with a group who has been together for a while, but the structure carries it, and the day went smoothly.

When my itinerary and biographies were delivered, I also got a birthday gift from the best boss, ever. I’ve been with them as a volunteer for almost five years now, and they gave me a silver name tag – beautiful! with a magnetic back, so it doesn’t ruin my silk blouses. They also gave me a box of my own business cards, even though I am “just” a volunteer.

The biggest gift, though, was the gift of their trust.

In my innermost mind, I sometimes hear voices. These voices are harsh. They say things like this:

“What do YOU know about government and politics and how they work?”

“Who do you think you are?”

“What makes you think you’re so special?”

These are the malicious voices that will make me cower in fear, will make me turn down opportunities, voices that make me doubt myself.

My boss asked me in December to take this particular group. I’ve taken several groups before, often enough that it’s not a big deal, but this time had a twist – she would be out of town, so would her deputy; I would be “it.”

I heard the voices. I hesitated, but only briefly. They trust me to do a good job, in their eyes, I can do it. In my most rational mind, I know better than to listen to those voices that would tear me down and undermine my confidence, and it really helps to have the trust of those with whom I work on a regular basis to counter those voices who would have me keep my head down, stay in my place. I am in my place. I am doing what I was created to do.

So it was more than the beautiful silver name-tag and the cards, it was the expression of trust that I would handle any problems that came up (I did) and that trust was a wonderful confirmation of who I am and of what I am capable.

We had a very good day, this group and I. When I got home, there was a huge bouquet of white roses waiting for me; my sweet husband knows what I love. I was over the moon, and he said “I really really wanted to throw in a red rose or two because I love them, but I know YOU love white roses” and that was the second wonderful gift of the day, that he would buy me beautiful roses, the kind I like, not the kind he though I should like. 🙂

He also took me out for Chinese take-out, not his favorite thing, but one of my favorite comfort food kind of things, and it turned out to be surprisingly good, especially for Pensacola where we all bemoan the lack of really really good Chinese food. Every dish was really good, exceeding our expectations.

Then, we got a call from our son and his family, off on their own grand adventure, and my little just-five-year-old grandson sang to me “Happy Birthday to you,” and totally made my day.

The next night we went to Seville Quarter and had this wonderful steak they serve, on top of a crusted mashed potato-garlic-cheese combination, with a fabulous sauce that reminded us of France, and grilled asparagus. Still my birthday 🙂

BDSeville

There are things that matter, and things that don’t. I suspect I will hear those harsh voices as long as I live, and I thank God for all the countering experiences and voices which have shown those demeaning voices to be false – and meaningless. Living my life in the best way I know – that is a gift. Being surrounded by those who value me and encourage me and love me and who lift me when I stumble and say “You CAN do it!” That’s a gift. Having a sweet family who love me genuinely, and value me – that is a gift. Having work to do that is worth doing – that is a gift. Having a husband who cares what I like, who encourages and supports me and makes me laugh – I am so blessed.

February 10, 2015 Posted by | Adventure, Aging, Arts & Handicrafts, Beauty, Biography, Character, Circle of Life and Death, Community, Cultural, Eating Out, ExPat Life, Family Issues, Friends & Friendship, Gulf Coast Citizen Diplomacy Council, Interconnected, Living Conditions, Marriage, Pensacola, Quality of Life Issues, Restaurant, Work Related Issues | | 5 Comments

“You’re Not From Around Here”

“Did she just say what I thought she said? my co-leader asked me, and I laughed.

“You mean ‘You’re not from around here?'” I said, which was not exactly what she had said but was exactly what she meant. He laughed.

“Exactly!” he said, and he laughed.

She had not used those exact words, but, uncomfortable with some of the questions our diplomats were asking, and clearly over her head, she had turned to me and asked me how long I’d been here, and dismissing me, told the group she had been here all her life, etc. I hadn’t been arguing with her. I hadn’t said a word. I was just the nearest dog to kick, someone on whom she could vent her frustration.

It’s so human. I’ve never lived anywhere that I didn’t hear some version of it, rarely to my face, usually about others, but it’s a fall-back position and it is present in every culture.

I told him about my many moves – 31 – and my cat theory. When you bring a new cat into a house with cats, you shut the new cat in a room (with food and litter, you know, cat things) until the other cats get used to the smell. Then you allow the new cat among the old cats for a short time and put it away again. You do this for a couple days, and then allow the cat to be among the other cats with you present to see how it goes. Sometimes it takes a while for the new cat to be accepted. Sometimes a cat just fits right in.

I told him I do the same thing, when I get to a new place I just quietly show up, in church, in a new group or two, and stay quiet. I watch who sits with whom, I listen to what they say. Sometimes one time with a group is enough, and I know it’s never going to be a good fit and I don’t go back. Other groups, I just keep showing up but I stay quiet . . you know, letting them get used to my “smell,” LOL.

Most of the time, I fit right in. It doesn’t take that long. Every now and then I run into a cat who doesn’t appreciate my presence, and I have to make a decision. Usually it is a bully-cat who can sniff our my independence and irreverence in spite of my deferential behavior; sometimes I will stick around, sometimes I back away. You’re not going to change a bully-cat, and I am not one for a cat-fight. The bully-cats often do themselves in and implode.

This woman was busy imploding.

My generally enthusiastic group was quiet when they got back on the bus, and I let them be. I really didn’t want to deal with this meeting, either.

The next day, we all talked. I asked what they had learned from the meeting and one diplomat, the most outspoken, said “Learned nothing! She talked and talked and talked (she was doing that hand thing that means a person is talking and talking) and she never answered a single question!”

A second diplomat laughed and said “Like a diplomat, only we are better at it” and everyone laughed.

August 28, 2014 Posted by | Character, Civility, Cross Cultural, Cultural, ExPat Life, Florida, Gulf Coast Citizen Diplomacy Council, Interconnected, Moving, Pensacola, Political Issues, Transparency, Work Related Issues | 7 Comments

A Surprise From Kuwait

I had a really super group of diplomats in town this week, really smart people dealing with serious topics – arms control, human rights, freedom of the press, immigration – and the appointments were fabulous. They were greeted at Baskervile-Donovan by a German speaker, coffee and cakes, and the presentation was a clear outline on corporate fund raisers, goals, and candidate selection.

We had a few extra minutes before our next appointment, and as we were just next door to Joe Patti’s, I took them there for a peek into life for “real” Pensacolians. Of course, they loved Joe Patti’s.

While I was there, my phone rang and it was a stranger, telling me she had a package for me from a friend in Kuwait. When could she bring it by?

You know how sometimes it’s hard to think? My mind was full with my delegation, but I set a time – and I was at Joe Pattis, so I quickly bought some cookies to serve and headed out for our next appointment.

When I said goodbye to the delegation for the last time and headed home, I put the coffee on and prepared for my Kuwait guests. They arrived and we had a wonderful visit, a friend in common and lots to talk about. And oh my, the packet my friend sent, full of fabrics from the Kuwait souks, a care package for my quilting addiction:

00KuwaitFabric

Even better – and it feels so wonderful to have a friend who understands me so well – look at the bag she sent them in! It is SO adorable! It is something I would have bought in a heartbeat, so unique, so special! My heart is dancing with ideas for a new quilt!

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Thank you, Hayfa 🙂 for a real treat, both the fabrics and the friend you sent to carry the package 🙂

August 23, 2014 Posted by | Arts & Handicrafts, Community, Cross Cultural, ExPat Life, Friends & Friendship, Gulf Coast Citizen Diplomacy Council, Interconnected, Kuwait, Living Conditions, Pensacola, Quality of Life Issues, Relationships, Shopping | 2 Comments

Pensacola Tough @ Grafitti Bridge

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On my way home from a great Algerian pastry treat at SoGourmet, I passed Grafitti Bridge. Grafitti Bridge is one of Pensacola’s quirks. Every month – sometimes every week, even sometimes daily – the bridge is repainted. Sometimes it is that BubbleGum pink of Breast Cancer Awareness, with names of the fallen and names of survivors, sometimes it is Gay Pride, sometimes it is who loves who, or who is a first class jerk, sometimes it is Class of TwoThousandWhatever – it can be whatever someone feels passionate enough about to buy the paint and make it happen. No one gets too bent out of shape about it. Occasionally profanity will show up, but very shortly someone else will spray paint out the offensive word, or, which I love, alter it to have an entirely new meaning.

 

As I drove past today, I saw a lightning storm, well done, I couldn’t imagine how they had captured what it was like seeing so many strikes at once, and then I saw “Pensacola Tough.” By that time, I was through the bridge, so I had to circle and go back. I had to park, and take a closer look. And then I had to photograph it, and post it here.

00PensacolaTough

Pensacola Tough. Pensacola got an award as the Toughest City in the USA, based on a criteria that measured percentage of felons in the population (it’s OK, it keeps us humble), sports heros, the number of military personnel, violent crime statistics, etc. It isn’t an award cities run for.

And yet, as the raging water abates, tales of heroism and helpfulness abound. While there have been bands of looters at an apartment complex housing the low-income workers in Pensacola, there have also been bands of volunteers scouring the county, helping clean out houses, pull out sodden carpeting, moving soaked furniture to the curbs for pickup, pulling out drywall and ceilings to prevent black mold. In today’s Pensacola News Journal, there is a story of a man who worked just above where the Escambia County Jail exploded and fell through the floor, breaking legs, ribs and assorted bones. He was paralyzed. His co-worker, also hurt, saw him with his head under water and pulled his head out, and held his head out for over an hour while waiting for help to arrive. She got tired, but the alternative was letting him die. She didn’t let go.

Pensacola Tough.

 

“When Things Get Rough . . . We’re Pensacola Tough.

You gotta love this place

May 5, 2014 Posted by | Arts & Handicrafts, Beauty, Civility, Communication, Community, Cultural, ExPat Life, Free Speech, Gulf Coast Citizen Diplomacy Council, Interconnected, Living Conditions, Local Lore, Pensacola, Values, Weather | Leave a comment

Heroes At The Dinner Table

“That’s Jollaf rice!” the Nigerian journalist  said, a note of delight in her voice. She is famous for her passion and persistence drawing attention to the environmental issues in the Niger delta related to oil extraction and production. I told her that here in the Gulf, it’s called Jambalaya, but we all agreed that it very likely had African roots. She delighted my heart; she had three helpings.

When we have visitors from foreign countries, I try to serve foods they can identify – grilled vegetables, a chicken dish, several salads, a dessert. This time, because we had no Moslems, we used a real Cajun sausage in the jambalaya (pork), and jumbo shrimp.

The award-winning Finnish environmentalist has his own online website and a goal of planting 100 million trees by 1017. He is well on his way, visiting and planting trees in new countries every week. He also has his own band and has a CD out with Finnish music.

 

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Our South African guest manages a large rhino reserve, protecting the rhinos from those who would kill them for their horns, thinking it renews sexual energy. Poor rhinos! He was quiet, but an acute observer, and the highlight of the evening was as he sang the haunting South African national anthem, Nkosi Sikelel’, with the Finnish guest. They did not sing all 11 verses (!) in all the different languages; just one verse, it was very moving:

 

Our own sweet environmentalist was with us. We think our son and his wife are super heroes; they fight for justice and a clean environment. This evening, our son stayed at home with the grandchildren and his wife, who works with clean water, was able to join and talk shop over dinner with her counterparts from other parts of the world.

 

It isn’t so easy anymore to get these dinners on the table, off the table, dessert served, etc. I used to be able to do these easily, for more than 20 people, but I also had help, LOL! But these dinners give us so much joy that I can’t imagine giving them up any time soon.

April 29, 2014 Posted by | Africa, Arts & Handicrafts, Character, Community, Cross Cultural, Cultural, Entertainment, Environment, ExPat Life, Food, Friends & Friendship, Gulf Coast Citizen Diplomacy Council, Nigeria, Pensacola, Social Issues, Values, Work Related Issues | , | Leave a comment

Empowerment

I’m working with a group, one of whose goals is empowerment. They are all from the same country, but not the same parts of the country, nor the same ethnicities, but they all get along well with one another and the group does fine. I admire each of them, and even better, I like these women.

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Here’s the LOL, empowered people have ideas and opinions. We have a format to adhere to, and empowered people come up with other ideas and alternatives. Here’s the problem: other ideas and alternatives, especially good ones, mean a lot of extra focus, it creates more work for facilitators and program managers. Sometimes you need permissions, sometimes you need transportation arrangements, and always, you need to assure a delegate’s safety. All this on top of the changes that will have to be made because of this unusual weather.

First, yesterday as I met the group, I had to apologize for the weather – usually mild, sunny Pensacola was having a howling storm; sheets of water being blown by a raging wind, tree limbs falling, the sky grim and dark and grey the entire day. In the midst of this, I was with one delegate on a tour of the Port of Pensacola, where it was like being in the middle of a huge storm at sea, with squalls. The man giving the tour carried on, they had a great discussion while the wind howled around us and at times the rain fell so hard on the tin roof that we couldn’t hear one another.

00DelegateWindstorm (Those lines you see coming in through the door are wind blown rain. The drops on the camera lens – ditto)

Here is what I truly admire about this group, all their empowerment is for the good, their suggestions are making this visit even more productive and helping them exceed their goals. Their alternatives were doable, and will be accomplished. I can also tell you that at the end of a day dealing with a lot of good ideas and changes, my brain is happily fried. Guess the LOL is on me.

March 29, 2014 Posted by | Adventure, Afghanistan, Bureaucracy, Character, Community, Cross Cultural, Customer Service, ExPat Life, Gulf Coast Citizen Diplomacy Council, Interconnected, Leadership, Pensacola, Political Issues, Social Issues, Women's Issues | , , | Leave a comment