Here There and Everywhere

Expat wanderer

No, No, I Won’t Let Go!

AdventureMan and I make a great team. He is making sure the outside and the garage sparkle, and I am taking care of the inside, except for his office and his personal clothing. He likes to manage those himself, and I can’t blame him.

There are mornings I can barely face another day of packing, and then I remember Fort Leavenworth, when my riding boots arrived, packed without wrapping, in a box with my evening dresses. There was a part of me that felt outraged, dishonored. Who would do such a thing? And another part that empathized with the worker at the end of a long day, packing for a privileged woman who had riding boots, and evening gowns, and saying “what the hell.”

I learned a good lesson. If it matters to you, pack it yourself. If you can’t pack it yourself, have a special crate built for it.

We were so young, but we saved our money and bought a bird cage from Monsieur Samouda, in Sidi bou Said, Tunisia, and had a crate built for it. We’ve had it for forty years now with many moves and no damage.

I have packed a lot of boxes in my life.

I’m finding that there are some things I can part with easily. And then some things I can’t let go.

 

We met and spent our early married years in Germany. This was our wedding candle, lo, those many years ago. I had to stop burning it on our anniversaries when it started to collapse. It still makes me smile. I can’t let go.

My Mother and Father were in the Wednesday night bowling league in Germany, and they were very good bowlers. They were also on the admin board of the league, and were in charge of the prizes, which they often won. Texting back and forth with my sisters today, I learned that they served on that committee to insure that each of the daughters received an identical crystal cookie tree, which my Mother won each year in the final tournament. Post-war Germany was a wonderland for Americans who lived there. I’m not ready to let this go. One sister let hers go long ago, the other is using hers to hold her jewelry.

I know I should let this pot go – I think it is a fish poacher – and I can’t. We bought it in the Souk al Hammadiyya in Damascus. I can tell I have cooked in it once or twice in the forty years I have owned it, not enough to make it valuable for its utility. The reason I can’t let it go is because of the artistry of the handle. Not even that it looks so beautiful, but the bird handle fits perfectly in your hand. It feels GOOD. I’ve never had any pot or pan that had such a sensuously lovely handle. Someone who made this handle really knew what he was doing, and created it with heart.

When my husband came home today, the first thing that happened when he saw the pot was that he reached for the handle, and then asked “are you thinking of parting with this?” I said “No, I can’t.”

I wish you could put your hand on this bird handle. It’s that special.

We have a family message thread with my son and his wife, who are moving to a larger home as we move to a smaller home. I often take photos and say “would you like this?” maybe with an explanation, and they say yes or no.

This time, AdventureMan texted back immediately: “Not the Kuwait Teapot from the Blue Elephant!” and I immediately packed it to take with us. When we first got to Kuwait, he planned to take me out for Valentine’s dinner, not realizing that it was one of the hugest date nights of the year in Kuwait. On Valentine’s Day, he called everywhere looking for reservations, but there were none to be had.

Being American, we like to eat earlier than Kuwaiti people, so I suggested we dress and go to the Blue Elephant, a favorite restaurant at the Hilton Hotel on the beach, where we were known. When we got there, there were only a few other couples.

“So go in there and beg,” I suggested with a grin, “Tell them we will eat quickly and be out in an hour.” I think he did exactly that. I don’t know what he said, maybe a little money changed hands, but very soon we were ushered to a table, and reminded that we needed to be out by eight, when the table was reserved.

We had a lovely dinner, at the end of which he bought me the little elephant teapot. What I love is that I am not the only one who can’t let go.  🙂

 

 

May 11, 2020 Posted by | Aging, Arts & Handicrafts, Beauty, Cultural, Eating Out, ExPat Life, Family Issues, Germany, Kuwait, Marriage, Moving, Quality of Life Issues, Survival, Tunisia | , , , | Leave a comment

We’re Still Married

AdventureMan and I are risk-takers. We set a goal. We identify the resources. We make a plan. Well, he makes his plan and I make mine. We are both strong willed, and under risk-taking, we set ourselves up occasionally, for conflict. Under “we’re still married,” we are pretty good at talking through the disagreements.

Two places we shine: travel and moves.

A lot has happened since I last wrote.

First, what I call “the great pause.” On March 13, I went to the YMCA, swam a mile, did a water aerobics class, and said good-bye. As little as I like to think about it, AdventureMan and I are in the vulnerable category. He has had a cough for over a month, and I know it is time to shelter-in-place. When I get home, I tell AdventureMan the plan. To my great surprise (which tells me he really was sick) he agreed, and he went straight to bed and slept all day, and then all night, and then a good part of the next day.

He was not so good about staying at home, but it is the beginning of gardening season, and his only trips were to Home Depot for mulch, and more mulch, and plant food, etc.

I quilted, at first, something I have longed for the time to do. I tried a new style, more modern and graphic. The first is called Corona Pandemic and the second is Corona vaccine.

 

 

They are just quilt tops for now; I have not yet quilted them. I found, with all my social responsibilities cancelled, my life quieter, it was very zen, very meditative, being able to quilt satisfied my heart, gave me time to think.

My mother called, from Seattle, and mentioned she needed masks for her medical appointments. I dropped the quilting and started mask making, making three immediately for her and mailing them off. The mail was slow. She called the day of her appointment; the masks had not arrived. It was a moot point, as the facility nurse had begged her not to go, there was too much opportunity for contagion, and my mother cancelled her appointment. We had a great conversation.

She never got the masks.

Late that same afternoon, she suddenly got tired, so tired she needed help going to bed. Shortly, she started throwing up. Just after midnight, an ambulance took her to a local hospital where she was given a corona virus test and sent to a hospital in downtown Seattle where they treat corona virus. Her test came back positive.

She was in Seattle. She was given hydroxychloroquin. She was given a second medicine in testing when her immune system raged into overdrive against the virus, destroying her own organs. She got the very best, most innovative treatment available in the world, and still, the virus won. In the end, she refused intubation and a ventilator – her pragmatic doctor said it probably wouldn’t have saved her anyway – and she requested hospice. This was evidently a first, as they had no hospice relationship in place for covid patients, and had to figure it out. They did, and my mother passed away in peace, and in no pain.

The earth fell away from beneath my feet. It’s a terrible thing to lose a mother. I’m the oldest, and while my relationship with my mother was complicated, she was always my mother. Now, I am so thankful for the seclusion, so thankful not to have to be around people because I can’t count on myself to be me. There are times I just fragment and fall apart, apropos of the smallest thing, a thought like “I need to call Mom and tell her about . . . such and such . . . ” and even before I complete the thought I am in tears, because I can never call her again.

I am not comfortable with my own melodrama. I prefer not to fall apart in public. I thank God for this period of shelter-in-place and social distancing, for the protection it gives me against my own vulnerability, my own fragility. And it gives me space to see these frailties in myself, and learn to live with them. One friend wrote in a condolence note not to worry if this death resounds throughout the rest of my life, that when you lose a mother, you never get over it. While it sounds negative, I found it comforting to know how totally normal it is to feel so lost.

I found comfort and solace in my mask making. I made hundreds of masks. I kept jiggering the patterns until I got one I like, where I could insert a nose-piece without breaking all my sewing machine needles. It gave me time to grieve, and it gave focus to my time.

 

Yesterday, I gave away the last six masks. I have nearly two hundred more in the making, and I am hastening about my current project so that I might have time to finish the newest series. As a quilter, I hate waste. I have fabrics from years back that I love and hate to part with, and the masks are cut 9″ x 15″ so I have lots of wonderful fabrics I can use and know they will live a useful life. One series of masks is from an old cotton souk dress which I wore out; it is soft and well used, but I couldn’t throw it away. It will now live on in ten new masks.

“What new project?” you ask.

My Mother’s death spurred me to look for a house to downsize. It is part of the plan we made when we moved here. We are aging, and healthy, but we have seen how that can change at any time, and I found a wonderful house which we did not buy. Then my son texted us that he and his wife were going to look at a house, and long story short, they contracted to buy that house and wondered if we would like to buy their house.

Would I?  I love that house! AdventureMan and I bought that house once before, to use as a retirement house, but then we sold it to our son and his wife.

They both have very busy lives, and very significant jobs during normal times. This pause has given time for new ways of thinking, and we are trying to get a move done before the world moves on and we lose this window of opportunity. Under the best of circumstances, a move is disruptive. Under normal circumstances, a move would be nearly impossible, in terms of having time. Right now – it is possible.

It is all happening very fast.

We haven’t done a move in ten years – the only other place I have lived for more than ten years is Alaska, where I was born. I am so thankful for this time, for the fact that we are still healthy enough to organize, to pack boxes, to plan actually for two moves, as we are sending furniture to the new house of our son and his wife; they will have more room and we will have significantly less.

AdventureMan says ruefully “When you are living in a big house, there is no incentive to downsize.” He is so right. I wake up in the wee small hours of the morning and obsess  over where things will go. The majority of our boxes are books we are not ready to part with and my quilting supplies. I have some irrelevant but beautiful items I am not ready to part with – our wedding china, which is beautiful, and French, and AdventureMan’s set of German glasses, water and red wine. We have used our china for family dinners, but not so often, and I remember using our crystal maybe six times in the ten years we have lived here. I could give them up. I’m not ready.

Today we were packing up children’s books to give away. I had thought four boxes, and AdventureMan was not ready to give up so many. We ended up giving up two boxes of books, and . . . we are still married. AdventureMan and I do particularly well in two stressful situations, travel and moving. We’re still married.

I keep thinking of my Mom. She might be disappointed I am giving up the big house while I am still young and healthy, but I am not so sure. I remember visiting her in Seattle and often going to look at condos and townhouses when she was my age. She said it was her and Dad, but I always thought it was so my husband and I would buy something in Seattle. Even after we bought a house in Seattle, though, when I would return to Seattle, we would go looking.

Mom always loved a view of the water. In our new house, we have some view of the bayou, where in late afternoon, the sun shimmers off the water. I look out and think “Mom will love this.”

This is my Mom, better days, sitting by the harbor in Edmonds, WA.

 

May 1, 2020 Posted by | Aging, Biography, Circle of Life and Death, Family Issues, Generational, Living Conditions, Marriage, Moving, Pensacola, Quality of Life Issues, Relationships, Spiritual | 2 Comments

What True Love Looks Like After Forty Six Years of Marriage

Yesterday I had a quilt I really want to finish before our upcoming trip, so I loaded up the bobbins, threaded the machine, closed my door (Ragnar comes running as soon as he hears the sewing machine and loves to eat thread, lethal obsession for a cat, it gets twisted and ties up their guts) and cranked up The Best of Buddy Holly ad the Crickets.

 

 

When you quilt, you have to be in The Flow. If you are angry, or anxious, or even too pressured, your work doesn’t flow. Buddy Holly – wow. He FLOWS. Sometimes it is Gounod’s Mass for Saint Cecelia, sometimes it is Rolling Stones, sometimes it is Basque Christmas Carols – your personal tastes can have different needs at different times.

 

AdventureMan came home after doing his workout at the Y, and running his errands, and knocked loudly at the door, so I would hear him over the hum of the machine and my friend Buddy Holly and my own singing right along with him, and when he came it, it was Peggy Sue, and my often shy, formal, reticent husband started dancing. Yes. I stopped quilting, and I joined him. It was short, and lively, and oh, we laughed. You have to take advantage of the moment 🙂

 

That’s what love looks like after forty six years of marriage.

October 4, 2019 Posted by | Aging, Arts & Handicrafts, Family Issues, Humor, Marriage, Music | , | 2 Comments

Entering Yellowstone National Park – A Day of Thrills

You know I am a map lady, and a navigator. Being a map lady is really helpful when you discover that in spite of the fact that you downloaded all the relevant maps (you thought) into your smart phone, there are times the smart phone won’t show you the next section of the map in the detail you need. This is our plan for today, with a side trip up to Norris Geyser Basin, which I really want to see.

We love our car. We rented from Enterprise, and when we got there, they gave us a little SUV, not unlike our own cars back home, and it was plenty of room, very comfortable, and all wheel drive. Our only tiny criticism of this car is that the turning radius is not that of a Rav4. We are spoiled. We love being able to turn on a dime.

There is one other little thing. You know there is a thing, in Seattle and in Montana . . . a thing about Californians. When the Californians leave California because housing prices and taxes are too high, they move to Seattle and to Montana, and then the housing prices start going higher in those places and the Californians get the blame.

For example, when we got to the South 9th Bistro, in Bozeman, we weren’t sure it was OK to park where we parked, so we asked the head waitress if it was OK. She said it was, and I said “well, our rental has a California plate,” and she gasped, then said “I think you’ll be OK,” and we both laughed. The point is, if you have a California plate, you need to be a little more careful. It’s just the way it is.

We didn’t hurry to hit the road this morning, as it is only a short drive to our next overnight, and we are feeling relaxed.

Marriages are funny. You don’t know what you don’t know when you get married. I thought every family travelled like my family, i.e. you get up really early and hit the road and drive a few hours and then stop for breakfast at some rest stop along the autobahn, then you get back in the car and drive more hours until the next meal or Dad has to gas up the car and then you drive more until you get “there.”

My husband was all about stopping all the time to enjoy a view or stretch or have a soda, and by the end of the day were often weren’t “there” yet and had to keep driving, making us both cross. Sometimes we were barely speaking by the end of the day.

After much soul searching, we slowly through the years adopted new, better practices. Now our phrase is “Shorter Days, Longer Stays.” It seems to be working.

We headed straight back to Feed for breakfast. It was phenomenal. AdventureMan had biscuits and gravy with a hit of eggs on top and the best fried potatoes ever. I had an omelette, and grilled toast. Total Wow.

 

Leaving Bozeman, we followed Highway 191 down to the West Entrance of Yellowstone, and before we even reached the entrance to the park, the great adventure began.

This was sheer good luck. I had my camera ready to take a photo as we drove by and just by chance caught a group of white water kayakers and rafters on their own grand adventure.

 

Not long later, we had to stop. There were bison on the road, with bison babies (probably called calfs) and they were huge, and not the least bit interested in us.

 

 

There was quite a line at the West Entrance – it was the Friday of Memorial Day Weekend. I imagine the lines only get worse as the season goes forward.  We headed for the Artist Paintpots, and were heartsick when we saw the parking lot full and people parking outside the parking lot all over the place, and buses and people rushing as if they might never get another chance to see the paint pots. We really wanted to see them too, but we were spending several days in the park, and we knew we had time.

We headed on to Norris Geyser Basin, which for me, was one of the highlights of the day. First, there weren’t a lot of people, and most of the people there were hiking the much shorter Porcelain Basin, while we were hiking the Back Basin. It was mostly all boardwalk, with a considerable number of stairs near Steamboat Geyser and some woody trails coming back. In between are some of the most desolate, eerie, and fascinating natural wonders I have ever seen.

Steamboat Geyser was the most fun. We must have spent 45 minutes there, while the geyser spurted and gurgled and growled and totally teased us into believing it was going to erupt full scale, but it never did. We were told we were lucky to see it so active, but it reminded us of Africa were the tourists are constantly told how lucky they are, that this is a very rare sighting. You get a little skeptical after a while. I already felt lucky enough, watching boiling hot water bubbling out of the earth.

Here is something I took very seriously.

 

It’s hard to show you how spectacular this scenery is with a static photo. Please imagine the steam coming sizzling hot out of the ground and drifting up. Imagine acres of steam coming out of the ground.

 

Emerald Spring

 

Steamboat Geyser

 

 

 

 

 

Look at those colors! Bacteria that thrive in the unimaginable hot temperatures create rainbow like colors, some all reds and oranges and yellows, some all greens and blues and purples, all, for people who are addicted to color, irresistible.

 

 

Below is the Porcelain Basin walk, much shorter.

 

 

 

 

We left en route to the Old Faithful area, trying one more time to get into Artist’s Paintpots, but the parking, it is hard to believe, was even worse! We continued on.

We found a one way side road along the Firehole River, which was a lot of fun. We always love the side roads.

The Firehole River is wild. It is pounding hard as the mountain snow cover melts, but it is also fed by the natural hot springs along its bank. In warmer times of the year, people are actually allowed to swim in this river, but you have to be careful. You can be comfortable and then suddenly find yourself in very hot water (not just a figure of speech.)

Our last stop before getting to the Old Faithful Inn was the Black Sand Basin, and Spouter Geyser.

 

 

Spouter Geyser

One really nice thing about our National Parks – at just about every stop, there are restrooms. Some are more primitive that others, some are long drops, but most are fairly clean and supplied.

June 22, 2019 Posted by | Adventure, Beauty, Environment, Geography / Maps, Marriage, Road Trips, Travel | , , , , | Leave a comment

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?

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“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

The Trip Process

We are usually two trips out. By that, I mean that while we are getting close to one trip, we are usually planning the next trip. It just works out that way, and it gives us something to look forward to even when one trip is over . . . there is always the next trip.

While we were still planning our three week trip to the American Southwest and California Coast last March – April, AdventureMan shouted from his office to mine “Why do I keep getting these brochures from Viking Cruises?” I was shaking with laughter. “Because I signed you up!” I replied.

We are getting older. We tire more easily. It’s just the way life goes, and we need to focus on how we can continue doing what we love. We need to explore other strategies, other ways of doing things. So we decided to look at cruises to Istanbul and beyond, and after two hours of looking around, ended up choosing a Smithsonian trip to Spain and Morocco. For us, it is totally normal. We toss ideas back and forth, and all of a sudden, something will click.

AdventureMan was on the phone, booking the sea and land cruise within two hours of the start of the conversation. We knew we wanted a balcony and we also knew that flying business class would help us adjust to the jet lag involved, so we could hit the ground running.

And yes, we already have our next trip booked 🙂

November 13, 2015 Posted by | Adventure, ExPat Life, Experiment, Family Issues, Marriage, Quality of Life Issues, Travel | , , , | 2 Comments

“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

Lazy Saturday Morning

No, no, I didn’t sleep in. But I slept well. Tired yesterday after a killer combination of water aerobics and a meeting held at my house (prep, execution, clean-up) I was ready for bed earlier than usual, but Zakat was ready to party, and was exploring surfaces where he could play his favorite game called “knock things off.” I am heartless. I said no, a couple times, distracted him (briefly) after which he went right back to partying. Finally, I put him out of the room and closed the door.

Zakat is a sweet little cat, the sweetest of all the cats we have had. He doesn’t complain, just goes about his business elsewhere, and when he sees me in the morning, he is eager to love.

I slept wonderfully. I sleep better now than I ever slept when I was younger. I used to worry about things, wake up in the middle of the night and try to solve problems. I’ve gotten a lot better about letting things go.

Although I can sleep in, I slept so well that I was awake and ready to go at my regular time, and Zakat’s tummy doesn’t know it’s Saturday.

AdventureMan rolls out of bed; we are not in a hurry to get started. We are meeting up with a family group tonight for dinner, but we have nothing pressing until then. AdventureMan thinks he might plant a Limelight sage in a shadier corner of the garden, and I might do some quilting – or I might not.

When we retired, we had no idea how busy and compelling life would be, with our grandchildren and family, our church, our pursuits, our activities, and our friends. The weeks fly by, happy weeks, and we are all the happier for having a lazy Saturday.

July 11, 2015 Posted by | Aging, Cultural, Family Issues, Living Conditions, Marriage, Pets, Quality of Life Issues, Relationships, Zakat | Leave a comment

Female ISIL Recruits Surprised and Disappointed

They sign up for Hunger Games and get domestic drudgery and uber-control:

From Associated Press via Huffpost

PARIS (AP) — When three British schoolgirls trundled across the Syrian border; when a pregnant 14-year-old ran away from her Alpine home for the second time; when a sheltered girl from the south of France booked her first trip abroad — they were going to a place of no return.

Only two of the approximately 600 Western girls and young women who have joined extremists in Syria are known to have made it out of the war zone. By comparison, as many as 30 percent of the male foreign fighters have left or are on their way out, according to figures from European governments that monitor the returns.

In interviews, court documents and public records, The Associated Press has compiled a detailed picture of European girls and young women who join extremists such as the Islamic State group — a decision that is far more final than most may realize.

The girls are married off almost immediately, either in Turkey or just after crossing into Syria. With an estimated 20,000 foreign fighters — among them 5,000 Europeans — in Syria, there is no shortage of men looking for wives. That number is expected to double by the end of the year. Once among the jihadis, the women are not permitted to travel without a male chaperone or a group of other women and must remain fully covered outside, according to material published by Islamic State and researchers who follow the group. Otherwise, they risk a lashing or worse.

European women who blog about their lives under Islamic State tend to be chipper about the experience, but reading between the lines of an e-book of travel advice shows a life that will be radically circumscribed, with limited electricity, lack of even the most basic medicine, and practically no autonomy. Women do not fight, researchers say, despite the Hunger Games-like promises of recruiters.

“The lives of those teenage girls are very much controlled,” said Sara Khan, a British Muslim whose group Inspire campaigns against the dangers of extremist recruiters. “I don’t think that discussion ever comes up. It’s so romanticized, the idea of this utopia. I don’t even think those young girls have necessarily considered that there’s no way back now.”

The two exceptions to the rule of no return are perhaps most revealing in the very paucity of details about their journey — driving home how murky life is behind the Islamic State curtain.

Sterlina Petalo is a Dutch teenager who converted to Islam, and came to be known by the name Aicha. She traveled to Syria in 2014 to marry a Dutch jihadi fighter there and managed to return months later — apparently making her way to the border with Turkey, where her mother reportedly picked her up and brought her back to the Netherlands. Back home, she was immediately arrested on suspicion of joining a terror organization.

Her family, lawyers and prosecutors refuse to discuss the case. She was released from custody last November and has not been formally charged.

The second woman known to have made it out of the grip of Islamic State reconsidered after just a few weeks. The 25-year-old Briton, whom police have not named, had taken her toddler son all the way to Raqqa, the group’s stronghold, when she decided she had made a mistake and called home. She made her way back into Turkey and her father met her there. How she was able to travel the 250 kilometers (150 miles) from Raqqa to the Turkish border city of Gaziantep is not clear. Back in Britain, she was detained and is now free on bail pending formal charges.

Without knowing how the two escaped, it is difficult to say whether other girls and women could follow their path out of Syria, said Joana Cook, a researcher at King’s College London who studies the links between women and jihad.

“There are clearly many human smugglers working within Syria right now, helping Syrian civilians escape the violence, and I wonder if there is a similar, perhaps even growing market, for those trying to escape after joining ISIL,” Cook told The Associated Press in an email, using one of the acronyms for the Islamic State group. “There is great disillusionment for many who have traveled to Syria to join ISIL and you’ll find many stories of those who went abroad noting ‘this isn’t what we signed up for.'”

The question is whether the girls understood from the beginning how limited their choices would be once they crossed the frontier.

The case of a 15-year-old Avignon girl exemplifies such doubts. The girl hid her second Facebook account and Islamic veil from her moderate Muslim family, thereby managing to join a jihadi network, according to the family’s lawyer. Once within a unit of the al-Qaida offshoot Nusra Front, she was not permitted to leave, according to her brother, who went into Syria to fetch her and was turned away by the extremists. A French boy who joined the group around the same time was allowed to go home.

“I think they understand the premise of that, but not that they understand it in reality,” said Melanie Smith, another researcher at King’s College ICSR.

The networks that bring the women into Syria are increasingly organized around the extremists’ dream of building a nation of multinational jihadis, meaning European girls are particularly prized. Each new Facebook post, each new cheerleading Twitter account — and they pop up by the hour — helps them subvert government efforts to prevent young people from radicalizing and leaving.

The doggedness of jihadi methods for recruiting girls can be seen in the case of Amelia, a 14-year-old girl from France’s Alpine Isere region.

Amelia was first contacted on Facebook by a French fighter on Jan. 14, 2014 and within a month agreed to go to Syria and marry the man, who identified himself as “Tony Toxiko.” After she was turned back by airport border police in Lyon on her first attempt, “Tony Toxiko” persuaded another French adolescent girl to join him in Syria.

Amelia, meanwhile, ran away from home to Belgium, where an imam performed a religious ceremony that wed her to a different man, an Algerian jihadi. She returned to France homesick and pregnant, just long enough to speak to investigators building a case against a middleman who helped her run away. This winter, Amelia managed to deceive her family and left again — making it to Syria with the Algerian fighter, who is more than twice her age.

“It’s particularly difficult for these families. For them, radicalization is happening on the Internet and outside the family sphere,” said Sebastien Pietrasanta, a French lawmaker working on a program to de-radicalize young people. “For a girl of 14, I believe we can clearly save her from herself and save her from these barbarians.”

A French journalist got dangerously close to jihadi recruitment methods by creating a fake Facebook account that attracted a marriage proposal from a fighter in Syria.

Under the pseudonym Melodie, the journalist shared a video on the account, almost immediately getting a message from a man identified as Bilel, who asked how she’d liked the montage of him showing off in a 4X4 and with his weapons.

“I passed myself off as a 20-something, not stupid but a little lost, who suddenly found a huge response from a man in Syria,” said the journalist, who wrote a book “In the Skin of a Jihadist” under a pseudonym.

Bilel’s doubts about her began to grow as her reluctance to join him became clear. She ended up getting threats that she said would likely frighten a bewildered young woman into submission. As it was, the journalist, who never met Bilal in person, remains under constant police protection a year later.

“We’ll find you, we have the best operators here, you don’t know what you’re getting into, you’re messing with a terrorist group, you and your family will pay,” the woman said, recounting the litany of threats she received after returning to France. “If they were speaking to a 20-year-old, it would be very hard for her.”

___

Associated Press writer Mike Corder in Amsterdam contributed.

May 28, 2015 Posted by | Adventure, Bureaucracy, Community, Cultural, ExPat Life, Faith, Family Issues, Generational, Living Conditions, Marriage, Mating Behavior, Middle East, Political Issues, Social Issues, Women's Issues | , , | Leave a comment

Point Cabrillo Lighthouse, Another Great Hike

There is a huge problem with the Cabrillo Lighthouse hike, and it is obvious from the very beginning. It is only a half mile, and it is downhill all the way.

What’s the problem, you might ask?

Well, if it is downhill all the way getting there, then coming back, it will be a half mile all . . . . What? You fill in the blank.

But it is another gorgeous day on the California sea coast, and it is a glorious day for a hike, even uphill.

00PointCabrilloLighthouse

00PtCabrilloLighthouse

There is a wonderful story about a man who came to take the lighthouse keeper position, but he wasn’t married and only married keepers were allowed to live in the lighthouse keeper’s house. So a local girl – maybe the daughter of the previous lighthouse keeper – volunteered to marry him, and they stayed married the rest of their lives.

00PtCabrilloLighthouseLight

00PtCabrilloGorge

I love using natural means to bioengineer against erosion loss:

00PtCabrilloBioengineeredErosionControl

And, on the way back, yes, uphill all the way, we come across some very calm deer, not worried in the slightest by the steady trickle of visitors on the nearby path:
00PtCabrilloDeer

April 30, 2015 Posted by | Adventure, Beauty, Cultural, Exercise, Living Conditions, Marriage, Mating Behavior, Road Trips, Travel | , | Leave a comment