Here There and Everywhere

Expat wanderer

PGM: Proud Grandmama Moment

I took a wonderful photo at Easter, wonderful because I have the same exact photo at the same exact age of my son, holding up his Easter Egg exactly (or, oh pardon me, I can’t resist, eggsactly) the same way. There are just some little things that make a Grandmama’s (and Mama’s) heart sing 🙂


Because AdventureMan has worked so hard with him, little Q has been moved up to a more advanced class, and we are all excited about that. I know there are some who prefer to be the BEST in their group, but we always learn and achieve more when surrounded by people a little more accomplished and skilled than we are. We are happy he will be pushing himself to be a really GOOD swimmer!


When we pick Q up at school, all his little school friends say “Q – your BaBa is here!” LOL @ all these little kids speaking Arabic!


April 3, 2013 Posted by | Adventure, Aging, Easter, Exercise, ExPat Life, Family Issues, Friends & Friendship, Generational, Heritage, Humor, Language | Leave a comment

START with Sea of Poppies, by Amitav Ghosh

Screen shot 2013-03-03 at 11.11.46 AM

I recently wrote a book review on River of Smoke, by Amitav Ghosh, which held me spellbound, so riveting that I had to order Sea of Poppies, which is actually the first volume of the trilogy. I had heard a review of River of Smoke on NPR and although it was written as the second volume in a trilogy, it can be read as a stand-alond.

Yes. Yes, it can be read as a stand-alone, but it is so much easier, I can state with authority, if you read them in order. Once I started Sea of Poppies, I also discovered an extensive glossary in the back, several pages, a list of the words, annotated with suggested origins, and it adds so much color to an already brilliantly colored novel. Much of both novels uses words from many cultures, and words that have been formed by another culture’s understanding of the words (some hilarious). If you like Captain Jack Sparrow, you’re going to love the polyglot language spoken by ship’s crews from many nations trying to communicate with one another. It can be intimidating, but if you sort of say the words out loud the way they are written at the beginning, you begin to find the rhythm and the gist of the communication, just as if you were a new recruit to the sea-going vessels of the early 1800’s. I loved it because it captured the difficulties encountered trying to say the simplest things, and the clever ways people in all cultures manage to get around it, and make themselves understood.

Sea of Poppies starts in a small Indian village, with one of the very small poppy gardens, planted on an advance from an opium factory representative, thrust upon the small farmer, with the result that most small Indian farmers converted their entire allotment from subsistence foods to poppies. Ghosh walks us through an opium processing factory, which is a little like walking through the circles of hell. We meet many of the characters we will follow in River of Smoke, and learn how this diverse group bonded into one sort of super-family through their adventures – and misadventures – together.

It is an entirely engrossing work. Sea of Poppies was short listed for the Man Booker award, and was listed as a “Best Book of the Year” by the San Francisco Chronicle, Chicago Tribune, Washington Post and The Economist. The theme is the opium trade, leading to the Opium Wars, with China, and is a chilling indictment of how business interests manipulate a population’s perceptions of national interests to justify . . . well, just about anything, in the name of profit.

The theme is woven through human stories so interesting, so textured, so compelling, that you hardly realize you are reading history and learning about the trade, cultures, travel, clothing, traditions, religions, food, and motivations as you avidly turn the pages.

I can hardly wait for the third volume. Get started now, so you’ll be ready for it when it comes out!

March 3, 2013 Posted by | Adventure, Books, Bureaucracy, Character, Community, Cross Cultural, Cultural, ExPat Life, Financial Issues, Friends & Friendship, Gardens, Health Issues, India, Language, Living Conditions, Local Lore, Marriage, Mating Behavior, Political Issues, Social Issues, Travel, Women's Issues | , , , , | 2 Comments

Saudi Students Flock to US Universities

When I was student teaching in EFL/ESL, my Arab Gulf students often complained that they couldn’t go directly to US universities, that they had to take English classes first.

“How did you do on the TOEFL?” I would ask, and their response would be a combination of anger and sheepishness.

“They all think we are rich. They just want our money. They make us take classes we don’t need, just to make money on us,” they would bitterly complain.

Most of these guys could speak passable English. Their writing skills were almost non-existent. They weren’t ready for real universities, with standards and accountability. The very first thing – and this is cultural, not something that is “right” is being ON TIME.

We don’t even realize what a priority it is in our own culture to be where we are supposed to be at the time we are supposed to be there. To be habitually late is to be morally inferior in some undefined way, lazy, a slacker. It’s custom, it’s cultural, it’s not a universal. But if you’re going to go to school in the United States, you need to respect the need to be on time – especially for things like exams, boarding a flight, when a paper is due, paying a bill by the due date.

We all learn when we confront our own assumptions by knocking up against another culture. I learned a lot about my own erroneous assumptions living in Saudi Arabia. I hope they are learning as much here. I wish these students well. I hope some of the students are Saudi girls; I hope they are driving around Pensacola having a good old time.


Saudi students flood U.S. colleges for English lessons
Mary Beth Marklein, USA TODAY

FREDERICKSBURG, Va. — That University of South Carolina cap on Meshari Albishi’s head? Just for looks, he says. Its colors match the red of his vest, where a metallic pin displays flags for the United States and Saudi Arabia, his homeland.

For now, his allegiance is to the University of Mary Washington, which Albishi says “is like my second home.”

Technically, Albishi is not a student here, but he has made “a lot of friends,” and has access to the library, workout rooms and other campus facilities. The university has offered him admission, on one condition: Before he can enroll, he must complete a non-credit program, called English for Academic Purposes.

Albishi, 25, is one of thousands of international students arriving each year in the United States to study English as the first step toward a college degree. They come from all over the world, but Saudi Arabia, where the government has poured billions of dollars into a generous scholarship program, is driving the recent surge.

In just seven years, Saudi student enrollments have skyrocketed from 11,116 in 2006, to 71,026 last year, according to the Saudi Arabian Cultural Mission to the United States, the Virginia-based agency that administers the scholarship. Nearly all recipients (95%) start with language training, which can take anywhere from a month to a year or more, officials say.

The infusion of full-paying international students has been a boon for cash-strapped U.S. colleges.

For instance, Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo, which founded its Center for English Language and Culture for International Students 38 years ago, enrolled a record 267 international students last semester, nearly half from Saudi Arabia, says center director Diana Vreeland. The University of Dayton’s language center, established in 2006 with eight students, now enrolls 400.

The Saudi scholarship grew out of a meeting in 2005 between Crown Prince (now King) Abdullah, and President George W. Bush as a way to strengthen ties — and ease tensions — between the two countries in the wake of the 2001 terrorist attacks.

Saudi scholarship students can receive up to a five-year visa. The scholarship covers full tuition, housing and health benefits for students and family members. All that, plus round-trip tickets home once a year. After language training, business and engineering are the top fields of study.

When students are finished, “they come back with a collective experience that can help move the country forward,” says Mody Alkhalaf, the Saudi Arabian mission’s assistant attaché for cultural and social affairs.

Even so, the arrangement doesn’t sit well with skeptics, who argue for stricter visa policies. Fifteen of the 19 hijackers in the Sept. 11 attacks were from Saudi Arabia; and several had entered the USA with student visas.

In 2011, after a Saudi engineering student was charged in a failed plot to bomb U.S. targets, Investor’s Business Daily repeated its concern that a new initiative for Saudi students opened the door for terrorist attacks. “How many will overstay their visas and become sleeper agents?”

Programs for international students have recently come under greater federal scrutiny. In 2010, Congress tightened rules for English-language programs after an investigation found that a for-profit language school in Florida served as a front for the sale of fraudulent student visa applications. Last year, a federal report urged U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to strengthen oversight of the Homeland Security program that oversees compliance with a student-visa system. Recently, immigration officials have raised concerns that some colleges might be mishandling documentation for students accepted into an academic program on the condition that they first complete language studies.

Some schools mention only the academic degree program on federal forms, a practice that is “essentially defrauding the immigration requirements” and potentially “defeating the purpose” of a student tracking system, says Ernestine Fobbs, a spokeswoman for Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

ELS Educational Services, a for-profit company that operates the center housed at the University of Mary Washington, lists language study on its paperwork, says communications director John Nicholson, based in Princeton, N.J.

No language students have continued their academic studies at the University of Mary Washington. But officials say they value the diversity such students bring to campus. Last semester, Arabic studies professor Maysoon Al-Sayed Ahmad organized a regular coffee hour for Saudi and U.S. students. “I wanted American students to change their idea about what they think about the Arab people, so they can become friends,” she says.

Saudi students have similarly had their eyes opened. Until he arrived on campus, “I thought all (Americans) had guns,” says Abdullah Khalid Maghrabi, 19. He stayed indoors for a week before he thought it was safe to go outside. Now, he says, weather is a more pressing concern.

“I don’t know what to wear every morning. In my country, all the seasons are the same — it’s hot.”

January 15, 2013 Posted by | Community, Cross Cultural, Education, ExPat Life, Language, Saudi Arabia | 1 Comment

Tant de Brouillard – Foggy Morn in Pensacola

I learned a new word today, le brouillard, from a blogger who liked my Pensacola parade post. I always take a look to see, and this time, it was like taking a brief vacation to a place I love – the villages of France, and the morning market, or marche. His blog is My French Heaven, and he writes in French and English, good exercise for those of us who need to polish up our language skills. Warning: the photos on his blog are EXPLICIT. You will want to eat those oysters, vegetables and sweets right off the page.

He was waiting, this morning, for ‘le brouillard se dissipe’ and I smiled because on my way home from the early service this morning, I had to stop and take some photos of foggy Pensacola and the foggy bayou:



If, in the midst of this crazy time of the year, you can give yourself a small gift and a short virtual vacation, take a moment to have a cup of green tea and visit my friend Stephane at My French Heaven.

December 9, 2012 Posted by | Advent, Arts & Handicrafts, Beauty, Blogging, Community, Cooking, ExPat Life, Food, France, Language, Pensacola, Weather | 2 Comments

The End of Days

My good friend was visiting, and was late the first day of our visit, arriving breathless, and with her arms full of flowers.

“I am so sorry! I am late!” she apologized, “but I could not find a single florist!”

The truth is that she could arrive empty armed and I would love her as much. She doesn’t need to bring me anything, just her coming to see me is enough. It was a wonderful visit, full of laughter and shared moments, time with family and friends.

Florist shops have almost disappeared in Pensacola, and I suspect elsewhere, as hard times continue. Fresh cut flowers are such a luxury, and one of the first things to go when people start cutting back. Times are getting better, but slowly. Flowers are still a luxury. There are a couple shops I know still open, but not many.

Today’s reading is from Revelations, about the end of times, and set my mind adrift about the identity of Babylon (there are many ideas about this) and about God’s time. We may be in the end of times, I muse, but we don’t even know it because God’s time is so different from our earthly time. An instant can be a couple thousand years – we don’t know.

The author of Revelation uses symbolic language and can be a sort of Rohrshach test which tells more about the interpreter than the text interpreted.


Revelation 18:1-14


18After this I saw another angel coming down from heaven, having great authority; and the earth was made bright with his splendour.2He called out with a mighty voice,
‘Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great!
   It has become a dwelling-place of demons,
a haunt of every foul spirit,
   a haunt of every foul bird,
   a haunt of every foul and hateful beast.* 
3 For all the nations have drunk*
   of the wine of the wrath of her fornication,
and the kings of the earth have committed fornication with her,
   and the merchants of the earth have grown rich from the power* of her luxury.’

4 Then I heard another voice from heaven saying,
‘Come out of her, my people,
   so that you do not take part in her sins,
and so that you do not share in her plagues; 
5 for her sins are heaped high as heaven,
   and God has remembered her iniquities. 
6 Render to her as she herself has rendered,
   and repay her double for her deeds;
   mix a double draught for her in the cup she mixed. 
7 As she glorified herself and lived luxuriously,
   so give her a like measure of torment and grief.
Since in her heart she says,
   “I rule as a queen;
I am no widow,
   and I will never see grief”, 
8 therefore her plagues will come in a single day—
   pestilence and mourning and famine—
and she will be burned with fire;
   for mighty is the Lord God who judges her.’

9 And the kings of the earth, who committed fornication and lived in luxury with her, will weep and wail over her when they see the smoke of her burning; 10they will stand far off, in fear of her torment, and say,
‘Alas, alas, the great city,
   Babylon, the mighty city!
For in one hour your judgement has come.’

11 And the merchants of the earth weep and mourn for her, since no one buys their cargo any more, 12cargo of gold, silver, jewels and pearls, fine linen, purple, silk and scarlet, all kinds of scented wood, all articles of ivory, all articles of costly wood, bronze, iron, and marble, 13cinnamon, spice, incense, myrrh, frankincense, wine, olive oil, choice flour and wheat, cattle and sheep, horses and chariots, slaves—and human lives.* 
14 ‘The fruit for which your soul longed
   has gone from you,
and all your dainties and your splendour
   are lost to you,
   never to be found again!’

November 10, 2012 Posted by | Friends & Friendship, Language, Lectionary Readings, Living Conditions | Leave a comment

“I Want to See How they Handle the Israel Problem.”

AdventureMan zipped left across three lanes of traffic and into a parking lot.

“What are you doing?” I hollered, hanging on for dear life.

Jordan Valley restaurant has a new sign up, a big map of the Middle East, and I want to see how they handle the Israel problem,” he answered.

That explains everything. No, really, it does. We’ve been married for a long time, I know what he means.

“Very clever,” we both agreed.

September 24, 2012 Posted by | Communication, Community, Cross Cultural, Eating Out, ExPat Life, Food, Interconnected, Language, Middle East, Pensacola, Political Issues | 1 Comment

More From the Word Nerd: Tabby

This is from today’s A Word A Day, and I love it because it describes both cat, plain weave cloth and silk – and it stems from Arabic.

with Anu Garg



1. A domestic cat with a striped or brindled coat.
2. A domestic cat, especially a female one.
3. A spinster.
4. A spiteful or gossipy woman.
5. A fabric of plain weave.
6. A watered silk fabric.
7. A building material made of lime, oyster shells, and gravel.

For 1-6: From French tabis, from Medieval Latin attabi, from Arabic attabi, from al-Attabiya, a suburb of Baghdad, Iraq, where silk was made, from the name of Prince Attab. Cats got the name tabby after similarity of their coats to the cloth; the derivations of words for females are probably from shortening of the name Tabitha.
For 7: From Gullah tabi, ultimately from Spanish tapia (wall).

“I was playing whist with the tabbies when it occurred, and saw nothing of the whole matter.”
Charles James Lever; Jack Hinton, the Guardsman; 1857.

“Kay Sekimachi uses tabby and twill weaving to contrast black and beige linens.”
Stunning 30-year Retrospective at San Jose Museum of Quilts Textiles; Independent Coast Observer (California); Jan 4, 2008.

“Mayor Carl Smith suggested that tabby fence posts be used around the cemetery’s perimeter because the oyster-based concrete would better fit the island’s character.”
Jessica Johnson; Group Restoring Cemetery; The Post and Courier (South Carolina); Jan 21, 2010.

You can subscribe to A Word A Day by going to their website (you can click on it in my list of Links to the right of these blog entries). It is free, and it is amazing.

December 6, 2011 Posted by | Cultural, Language, Words | Leave a comment

Deb Roy: The Birth of a Word

Come back when you have some time – you’ll need about twenty minutes to watch this TED video about communication. I love this – but then you know I am a word nerd, and I love the way concepts are born and grow.

Computers have aided language analysis and taken it to lengths that were previously inconceivable. First, Deb Roy shows – with videos, graphs and cloud analysis – how his son learned to speak his first word.

He goes from there to what I would call “buzz analysis”, taking program content from cable television and correlating it to comments on public media – blogs, FaceBook, all kinds of public forums. The results are astonishing, and a great tool to understand the national psyche and how we think and process. This is amazing stuff.

December 6, 2011 Posted by | Adventure, Communication, Experiment, Interconnected, Language, Parenting, Social Issues, Words | Leave a comment

Getting Scripture Wrong

As you know, many Christians do readings daily; there are readings recommended for each day from the Old Testament, the New Testament and the Gospels. Technology makes life easier and easier, you can just go online to The Lectionary and it is all right there for you. They have all the readings, every day, and even have write-ups about the Saints days.

This scripture makes me nervous. I attend a bible study where they tell us exactly what to think. They are very clear in their doctrine. Because I need the self-discipline in my studies, and because I believe that they are mostly women like me, trying to serve God to the best of their abilities, I don’t argue a lot, I don’t say “no! that’s not what it says!” or cause a disturbance. I trust God lives in each of us, as the Holy Spirit, and figure the Holy Spirit will guide me through our studies.

In this scripture, the disciples who know Jesus the very best, the ones who travel with him and who listen to him every day are talking about bread when Jesus is talking about hypocrisy. It worries me. What else to we fail to see? What else do we mis-interpret?

Matthew 16:1-12

16:1 The Pharisees and Sadducees came, and to test Jesus they asked him to show them a sign from heaven. 2 He answered them, ‘When it is evening, you say, “It will be fair weather, for the sky is red.” 3 And in the morning, “It will be stormy today, for the sky is red and threatening.” You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times. 4 An evil and adulterous generation asks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah.’ Then he left them and went away.

5 When the disciples reached the other side, they had forgotten to bring any bread. 6 Jesus said to them, ‘Watch out, and beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.’ 7 They said to one another, ‘It is because we have brought no bread.’ 8 And becoming aware of it, Jesus said, ‘You of little faith, why are you talking about having no bread? 9 Do you still not perceive? Do you not remember the five loaves for the five thousand, and how many baskets you gathered? 10 Or the seven loaves for the four thousand, and how many baskets you gathered? 11 How could you fail to perceive that I was not speaking about bread? Beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees!’ 12 Then they understood that he had not told them to beware of the yeast of bread, but of the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees.

November 10, 2011 Posted by | Communication, Language, Spiritual, Words | Leave a comment

Babies and Bilingualism

Fascinating article from The New York Times on babies and language development:

Hearing Bilingual: How Babies Sort Out Language
Published: October 10, 2011

Once, experts feared that young children exposed to more than one language would suffer “language confusion,” which might delay their speech development. Today, parents often are urged to capitalize on that early knack for acquiring language. Upscale schools market themselves with promises of deep immersion in Spanish — or Mandarin — for everyone, starting in kindergarten or even before.

Yet while many parents recognize the utility of a second language, families bringing up children in non-English-speaking households, or trying to juggle two languages at home, are often desperate for information. And while the study of bilingual development has refuted those early fears about confusion and delay, there aren’t many research-based guidelines about the very early years and the best strategies for producing a happily bilingual child.

But there is more and more research to draw on, reaching back to infancy and even to the womb. As the relatively new science of bilingualism pushes back to the origins of speech and language, scientists are teasing out the earliest differences between brains exposed to one language and brains exposed to two.

Researchers have found ways to analyze infant behavior — where babies turn their gazes, how long they pay attention — to help figure out infant perceptions of sounds and words and languages, of what is familiar and what is unfamiliar to them. Now, analyzing the neurologic activity of babies’ brains as they hear language, and then comparing those early responses with the words that those children learn as they get older, is helping explain not just how the early brain listens to language, but how listening shapes the early brain.

Recently, researchers at the University of Washington used measures of electrical brain responses to compare so-called monolingual infants, from homes in which one language was spoken, to bilingual infants exposed to two languages. Of course, since the subjects of the study, adorable in their infant-size EEG caps, ranged from 6 months to 12 months of age, they weren’t producing many words in any language.

Still, the researchers found that at 6 months, the monolingual infants could discriminate between phonetic sounds, whether they were uttered in the language they were used to hearing or in another language not spoken in their homes. By 10 to 12 months, however, monolingual babies were no longer detecting sounds in the second language, only in the language they usually heard.

The researchers suggested that this represents a process of “neural commitment,” in which the infant brain wires itself to understand one language and its sounds.

In contrast, the bilingual infants followed a different developmental trajectory. At 6 to 9 months, they did not detect differences in phonetic sounds in either language, but when they were older — 10 to 12 months — they were able to discriminate sounds in both.

“What the study demonstrates is that the variability in bilingual babies’ experience keeps them open,” said Dr. Patricia Kuhl, co-director of the Institute for Learning and Brain Sciences at the University of Washington and one of the authors of the study. “They do not show the perceptual narrowing as soon as monolingual babies do. It’s another piece of evidence that what you experience shapes the brain.”

The learning of language — and the effects on the brain of the language we hear — may begin even earlier than 6 months of age.

Janet Werker, a professor of psychology at the University of British Columbia, studies how babies perceive language and how that shapes their learning. Even in the womb, she said, babies are exposed to the rhythms and sounds of language, and newborns have been shown to prefer languages rhythmically similar to the one they’ve heard during fetal development.

In one recent study, Dr. Werker and her collaborators showed that babies born to bilingual mothers not only prefer both of those languages over others — but are also able to register that the two languages are different.

In addition to this ability to use rhythmic sound to discriminate between languages, Dr. Werker has studied other strategies that infants use as they grow, showing how their brains use different kinds of perception to learn languages, and also to keep them separate.

In a study of older infants shown silent videotapes of adults speaking, 4-month-olds could distinguish different languages visually by watching mouth and facial motions and responded with interest when the language changed. By 8 months, though, the monolingual infants were no longer responding to the difference in languages in these silent movies, while the bilingual infants continued to be engaged.

“For a baby who’s growing up bilingual, it’s like, ‘Hey, this is important information,’ ” Dr. Werker said.

Over the past decade, Ellen Bialystok, a distinguished research professor of psychology at York University in Toronto, has shown that bilingual children develop crucial skills in addition to their double vocabularies, learning different ways to solve logic problems or to handle multitasking, skills that are often considered part of the brain’s so-called executive function.

These higher-level cognitive abilities are localized to the frontal and prefrontal cortex in the brain. “Overwhelmingly, children who are bilingual from early on have precocious development of executive function,” Dr. Bialystok said.

Dr. Kuhl calls bilingual babies “more cognitively flexible” than monolingual infants. Her research group is examining infant brains with an even newer imaging device, magnetoencephalography, or MEG, which combines an M.R.I. scan with a recording of magnetic field changes as the brain transmits information.

Dr. Kuhl describes the device as looking like a “hair dryer from Mars,” and she hopes that it will help explore the question of why babies learn language from people, but not from screens.

Previous research by her group showed that exposing English-language infants in Seattle to someone speaking to them in Mandarin helped those babies preserve the ability to discriminate Chinese language sounds, but when the same “dose” of Mandarin was delivered by a television program or an audiotape, the babies learned nothing.

“This special mapping that babies seem to do with language happens in a social setting,” Dr. Kuhl said. “They need to be face to face, interacting with other people. The brain is turned on in a unique way.”

October 17, 2011 Posted by | Adventure, Language | | Leave a comment