Here There and Everywhere

Expat wanderer

“We Must Have Been Oblivious . . .”

My Mother and I are talking and she asks “How did you girls do it, coming home from university? Did we send you tickets, or money? I can’t remember, I just know it happened. You were so young! How did you manage?”

I laughed. “Mom, you sent us tickets to Philadelphia, and from there we took buses or shuttles to McGuire. (McGuire Air Force Base, the old home of the Military Air Transport command) At McGuire they would put a couple on this flight, a couple on that flight, until it reached some kind of critical mass and they had a hundred or so students waiting at McGuire, and then they would send us all out on one plane.”

When you’re young, it’s all an adventure. Even though we had terrorists then, too, the Red Brigade and the Baader Meinhof gang setting off bombs, taking hostages, etc. there wasn’t the same kind of anxiety about safety that exists now.

My parents sent tickets. When our last final was over, we packed our suitcases and headed to the airport, usually late at night to fly out space-A on one of the red-eyes to Philadelphia. We didn’t need a lot of sleep.

Airplanes were different then, too. My first year, I flew overnight sitting in a lounge, where people had seat belts, but not really seats. It was a curved sitting area with a table. Drinks were served all night, and people were smoking. All that mattered to us was to be headed in the right direction.

The plane would land and we would go to the USO or something – someone would point us to a bus or shuttle going to the air base, we would pile in, and upon arrival at the MAC terminal, we would sign in to the Space-Available list. We were like category zero – we had the very lowest travel priority.

And then – the fun began! You’d think it would be boring sitting in an airport waiting for a flight and you don’t even know that there will be a flight – but it wasn’t. This was a major gathering of Third Culture Kids, military kids, state department kids all headed to wherever home is this month, this year. It was like the biggest, most fun party anywhere. You’d see friends you hadn’t seen since their family moved, and you’d meet friends of friends headed to your own family post. There was always music, always talk about overseas adventures, and always an endless hearts game in one area and the serious bridge players in another.

You shared food. You shared rooms. You shared books. You shared transistor radios. You shared playing cards, and chess sets. You shared memories and made plans. You often napped on a pile of baggage (we were all post-finals, and exhausted.)

These friends would pop in and out of our lives the whole summer, it was all “when you come to Heidelberg/Stuttgart/Nuremberg/ Munich/Tripoli / Asmara (!), you can stay with us”. Our friends would usually arrive in town and call around dinner time and my parents always found a way to be sure there was enough for everyone, and an air mattress and clean sleeping bag for our vagabond friends.

Oh Mom. We had such fun.

“But where did you sleep? I know some times you were there for days, waiting for a flight.”

Oh yes. Sometimes, if we thought there was a plane leaving late at night, we just stayed in the terminal. Because my parents sent us some money, my sister and I would often go over early to the Transient Hotel and book a room, then head back to the terminal. If they closed the terminal, we’d take a bunch of people back with us, take the mattress off the beds and we could get eight young college women in one room.

 

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One time they told us around two that there would be no more flights for the day, so we left for the hotel room, got in our swim suits and hit the pool. I stayed a couple hours and then strolled back to the room; when I got there everyone was packing in a panic; a flight was going out and we had to be there in 30 minutes to get on it. I ran back to the pool to alert my sister and the others, ran back to the room carrying towels and shirts, packed in chaos, and we were in the airport and on that flight. I think my sister had her wet bathing suit on under her clothes, she packed so fast. They put us all on a troop carrier. A troop carrier is really fun, no isolated rows of seats going down the length of the plane, but four long webbed seat thingys, two facing two, the length of the plane. Let the party begin 🙂

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One time, there were over a hundred of us waiting, and they scheduled an extra flight, but it would only hold a certain number, so we had a lottery – and I lost. I was one of only two who didn’t make it on that plane. Somehow, though, after that first flight left, they put the remaining two of us on a plane to a military base in Spain, and from there we hopped another military plane to Germany, beating  (I don’t know how) the arrival of the first plane by half an hour.

You couldn’t do these things now. The world has changed; security takes priority. Parents hover to protect their children from very real threats. Our parents had the luxury of letting us fend for ourselves and figure out how to make it work. We made it work. We had fun. There is a whole group of those same people who gather on FaceBook, and meet up in Heidelberg, or Colorado, or Washington DC  for a reunion, or even a dinner or a holiday. We stay in touch.

You weren’t oblivious, Mom. It was a different time. But what great adventures we had and what memories your questions bring me!

August 1, 2016 Posted by | Adventure, Biography, Bureaucracy, Community, Cultural, ExPat Life, Family Issues, Friends & Friendship, Heritage, Living Conditions, Parenting, Random Musings, Safety, Travel | , , , , | 5 Comments

Monday is Homework Day

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This is not the life we expected – it is so much better. Before we retired, my husband asked me what we would do, and I said I knew what I would do, but I didn’t know what he would do; he would have to figure out what he wanted to do. But I was wrong. I didn’t know what I would be doing.

Life evolves. One decision leads to another, down paths you can’t foresee.

I had no idea I would love my grandchildren so much. I had no idea how much joy being close to our adult son and his wife would be, watching them mature, seeing them parent so lovingly and patiently. The other day, he spotted a photo of a time we were on our way to a German Military Ball; he said “How old were you in this photo?” and as we figured it out, we were almost exactly the age he is now. That was a moment of wonder to all of us. It helps us to remind ourselves that he no longer needs parenting, no more than we did at his age. He needs respect, and the support of a loving family that can mind their own business unless asked for input.

Doing kindergarten homework is mind-numbing. Q, who is a smart little boy, looked at me and said “when you do the same thing over and over, it is really boring.” He loves new words, so I said “when you do the same thing over and over again, that is called ‘repetitious’,” and he said “Yes, so it is repetitious and BORING.” We both laughed.

While it IS boring, what he is doing now is also crucial, mastering his numbers and how they work together, and his letters, and distinguishing “b”s from “d”s, and “g”s from “q”s and a lot of learning just requires that repetition to engrave it in your mind. He is learning to write, and he is adept at reading books above his level – but it all takes work.

We have some break activities. He can run laps around my first floor, running a circle which I make him change direction every now and then. He can jump on my running trampoline. He can play hide and seek with his Baba. We are working on jig-saw puzzles, and for fun, he gets to play one of Baba’s computer games requiring strategic thinking skills.

We still do our volunteering, our church activities, our house things. We have lunch out almost every day; we are free until after school.

While the homework is for the whole week, we have discovered that dragging it out is just that – a drag. Get it done! Just do it! We are learning to focus, and the work is not that hard. When we finish the homework, we have the rest of the week to play!

Today I was exploring online, looking for an old African recipe I have for African Gingerbread. This is a really old recipe; what I liked about it is that when you add the baking soda and molasses, it fizzes and bubbles. I looked in all my books, but in my never-ending quest to get rid of, get rid of, get rid of, not to burden myself with too many THINGS, I must have given away that particular book. But as I was looking for the recipe online, the only place I found it . . . was here. On my own blog! Old Fashioned Gingerbread. It makes me grin, thinking of how thrilled this five year old will be when we make old fashioned African gingerbread and it all starts fizzing. Woo HOOOO!

When the homework is done, the fun begins!

February 1, 2016 Posted by | Adventure, Africa, Cooking, Cultural, Education, ExPat Life, Family Issues, Language, Living Conditions, Parenting, Quality of Life Issues, Random Musings, Recipes, Relationships, Work Related Issues | 5 Comments

“You Can’t Talk to Me Like that, Stupid Bitch”

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. . . she said, and hung up on me.

I really hate telemarketers, and I hate them most of all when they call around six, when I start making dinner. They intrude. Most of the time, I just ignore the calls, let the machine screen them. This one had a location where one of our banks is, and I answered.

“I would like to speak with (Intlxpatr)” the caller said.

“To whom am I speaking?” I responded.

“Jennifer.” She told me, and went on to tell me that my warrantee on my car was running out and I could renew it now, through her.

“Jennifer, we sold that car two years ago!” I said, at which point she said “You can’t talk to me like that, you stupid bitch!” and hung up on me.

I laughed, which I often do when caught by surprise.

My houseguest, who had heard the whole thing because I was busy with meal prep and had it on speaker-phone, was aghast.

“What are you going to do?” she asked.

I had the number. I know who she is with. I knew I could report her.

I didn’t.

Who aspires to be a telemarketer? Who, as a small child, says “I want to grow up to make phone calls to people who don’t want to talk to me and who will treat me rudely?”

I figure Jennifer has talked to a rude person or two or ten. I imagine Jennifer doesn’t have a lot of options, and telemarketing is what she has to do to earn a living. My guess is that Jennifer has some difficulties with judgement and self-discipline. I don’t think I need to add any more to her plate; she sounds like she has had enough.

April 24, 2015 Posted by | Character, Civility, Communication, Customer Service, Friends & Friendship, Language, Pensacola, Random Musings | 5 Comments

Drilling Down

It’s my favorite time of the year, and there is just so much to do. Cooler temperatures give me energy! As I am making my morning coffee (as opposed to my mid-morning coffee, or my after-lunch coffee or that regrettable late afternoon coffee) I noticed a ray of sunshine coming in obliquely from a new direction, illuminating how dusty my lower cupboards had gotten. While the coffee brews, I grab the spray and paper towels and quickly wipe down the streaked, dusty doors, hoping no one else has noticed their grime. There are even a couple stray Pete-hairs, which make me sad. I still miss that sweet cat. I wonder where his spirit roams?

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It’s the time of year for cleaning-out and re-organizing, and when you are a quilter, you have a lot to re-organize. I have shelves and bins of fabrics, shelves of books and patterns, shelves of cut pieces and threads, shelves of quilts ready to be assembled. January is such a great month for getting rid of things that just bog me down and collect dust. There are a few things I am sentimental about, but for the most part, I love the free-ness of clearing out the expendable.

 

And, with all the juices of renewal flowing, AdventureMan and I are planning one of our wonderful road trips. I used to do all the planning; AdventureMan might give some input but for the most part, he was focused on his job and I took care of travel plans, reservations, funding, etc. Now he has more time, we call back and forth from office to office about hotel websites, Google Maps, travel time. I create the data base and print out the segments, he helps with things to do and see and hotels and side trips. At first, it was a real adjustment for me, having input, but now it’s made things a lot more fun.

 

I didn’t used to print out segments, not once I got my smart phone, but to our horror, we discovered there are still places in this great United States where (gasp!) there is no coverage! When you have to make tricky road connections, it helps to have directions, and a hand held map. I put together folders, and we can just throw pieces away as they are accomplished. Our trips are more like missions, but a lot more fun.

 

We don’t do bucket lists, or not so much, but we do try to scratch an itch. There are places I haven’t seen, experiences I haven’t had. We’re alike in that way, AdventureMan and I. We love our road trips, as much for the unexpected blessings as for the planned ones. At dinner last night, I told him that about the worst experience I could remember was finding myself in a camp on the Busanga Plains in Zambia; it was about a week too early, it was still soaked with the receding flooding, game was scarce and it was very very hot. Mosquitos were everywhere, and I was covered with bites. At the same time, I have had better, less memorable experiences. You have to have the odd bad experience to help you understand just how good some of the good ones have been.

I had to do this photo because these below $2/gallon gas prices are such an unexpected delight:

 

 

 

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And I had a moment when I thought my heart would stop as our nearly 5 year old “baby” stood up on the high bar at gymnastics!

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So January is rushing by.

January 27, 2015 Posted by | Adventure, Cultural, ExPat Life, Family Issues, Living Conditions, Qatteri Cat, Quality of Life Issues, Random Musings, Relationships, Road Trips, Travel, Weather | 5 Comments

From Yen to Compulsion

If you were to overhear conversations between AdventureMan and I, you would think we are whacko. It’s a funny thing about love; sometimes odd ducks can find one another and live happily ever after, or at least, have some really good times.

The other day we were on our way to lunch, and had no great preferences for going anywhere. We made a decision (and now I can’t even remember what it was, it was such a negligible decision) and AdventureMan said he kind of wanted to eat this, and I said his want was greater than my yen . . . . and off we went.

All the way to the restaurant, we were inserting words on a spectrum and debating now and then on their proper placement on the continuum. Like is a “yen” milder than a “want?” On the far end, does “obsession” precede “compulsion?” Is a compulsion truly related to a want at all, or does being driven to something take out the want-factor altogether? Yes, like I said, we are totally whacko, and thanks be to God, often whacko in the same direction, or we would drive one another totally crazy.

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(No. This is not us. This is just a photo I found online)

Here is our “want” line, from “yen” which we consider a very mild want, to compulsion, which drives out all other wants. We have probably left out some words you can think of, if you are a person who is still reading this far, please feel free to suggest amendments, or specific additions to make the line more flowing. You must defend your suggestion rigorously 🙂

yen – hankering -like – want – desire – crave – obsessing for – compulsion for

January 26, 2014 Posted by | Adventure, Communication, Language, Marriage, Random Musings, Relationships, Words | Leave a comment

“Mind Your Own Business”

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You can be married for a long time and still be surprised. 🙂

 

I was thinking about other cultures, and then I thought about growing up in Alaska. Alaska is one of those kind of end-of-the-line places. Maybe it’s changed, but except for the native Americans, most people had come from somewhere else. Very few were second generation.

 

People at end-of-the-line places often have backstories they don’t want to talk about – bad divorces, or worse – bad marriage –  no divorce, criminal records, or a million other situations they don’t want to talk about. From an early age, you learn not to ask. There were also a lot of laconic Scandinavians around; they talk about fishing and hunting but are seriously tongue-tied if asked a personal question. So again – you learn not to ask.

 

“Mind your own business,” I can remember my own mother saying, so I thought it was a rule. “Don’t be a Nosey-Parker.”

 

All my life I thought that was the rule. It was the way I was raised. Every now and then that curtain of pre-conceptions parts and a light gleams through. I was thinking about other cultures and it occurred to me to ask AdventureMan if he grew up with the same rule.

 

He just laughed.  He looked at me in utter amazement, and laughed.

 

“I grew up in a town of 3,000,” he laughed, “and some of those were relatives, aunts, uncles, grandparents, cousins – everyone knew everything!”

 

“There’s no such thing as ‘mind your own business’ when your entire life is known by every single person in town!”

 

He hooted with laughter at the very thought.

 

 

“Everyone knew everything!” he repeated.

 

It’s expat world right here in my own house. This is a whole new way of thinking about things. I’ve always thought personal privacy was sort of universal, but not so.

 

One of the many times we lived in Germany, we lived in a small village where people told us everything. It was amazing, a whole different world, being on the inside, but not really being a part of it all. People seemed to feel we needed to be filled-in. One family didn’t speak to another family in the village, and it was awkward, because there were only like 300 people in the village, but many years ago someone’s grandmother had a terrible disagreement with the other family’s grandmother and no one in the families speak to one another now, even though no one can remember the reason.

 

I’ve escaped a lot of that being an expat, not sticking around longer than five years max, not long enough to develop a reputation you can’t shake. 🙂 But it makes me wonder if things are looser these days, if you can grow and change and be allowed to outlive your mistakes in small places where everything is everyone’s business . . .

 

November 7, 2013 Posted by | Alaska, Civility, Communication, Community, Cross Cultural, Cultural, ExPat Life, Family Issues, Friends & Friendship, Marriage, Random Musings, Relationships, Social Issues | Leave a comment

Steamer Trunks

I saw this ad in a higher end magazine and felt a bolt of recognition pass through me . . . my Mom had a suitcase, probably from her Mom or grandmother, that looked like this. She stored special fabrics in it for later use. It always smelled like faraway places.

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Look at the space! You can pack everything neatly into drawers, you can hang your hanging clothes.

These were for ship travel, where someone would deliver your trunk to the ship and sometimes, even unpack it for you and store the trunk in the hold while you dined and supped your way across the Atlantic – maybe ten to fourteen days. There were no restrictions on numbers of bags, no restrictions on bag size.

Even as a child, going back and forth to university from Germany, we had BIG bags, huge bags we could stuff full. The two bag limit was 77 pounds, but it seems to me that the airline staff always looked the other way. I still get steamed every time I fly a “foreign” (i.e. not an airline I have privileges on) airline and have to pay a baggage fee for even one bag. Stuffed in like sardines, even in business class. Unspeakable food, tinier and tinier restrooms . . . People fighting for space in the overhead bins . . .

Oh my gosh; I am talking like an OLD person.

October 4, 2013 Posted by | Adventure, Aging, ExPat Life, Living Conditions, Random Musings, Travel | , | 2 Comments

Here Comes Karen

As I’ve watched Pensacola weather over the three years we have lived here, I have seen a hilarious co-incidence. If there is ever going to be a cold spell, or a lengthy rainy spell, it is going to hit for the weekend. It’s a pity, the beaches in Pensacola are at their most glorious in October, no tourists, just locals enjoying the God-given beauty of sun, sand and surf. The restaurants are accessible, you can find parking . . . and then the rain hits.

Long term forecasts for the summer were that while the rest of the USA would have record highs, we would have cooler, overcast skies. I don’t remember them mentioning record rains, that would rot the crops in the fields.

Last night, at an event, a friend said she and her closest 300 friends were going camping, but she had heard there might be something blowing in this weekend. Sure enough, when I checked WeatherUnderground this morning, there are bit warnings for Tropical Storm Karen to hit – you guessed it – on Saturday. Oh aarrgh.

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Batten down the hatches, matey. Oh wait, Talk-like-a-pirate-day was last week.

October 3, 2013 Posted by | ExPat Life, Living Conditions, Pensacola, Random Musings, Safety, Weather | Leave a comment

Name that Country: A Most Difficult Challenge

This morning, as I was praying for Panama – there is always a diocese listed in the daily lectionary to be prayed for somewhere in the world – I was thinking how I know where Panama is. When we are praying for Nigeria, there are names I haven’t heard of. I now Lagos, and Port Harcourt, but where is Abuja? Owerri? I go to GoogleEarth and look them up.

 

I struggle with how little the average American knows about geographical location. It’s just embarrassing. Through all the years I lived abroad, most of the time, unless it was Germany, people couldn’t quite place where I was living. Many had heard of Tunisia; we had troops there in World War II, and Saudi Arabia, because they had seen it often enough on the news, but the rest of the Arab Gulf, Jordan, Syria, North Africa – beyond them.

 

Then, on the first night of one of my grad classes, the professor handed us this map and gave us ten minutes to put in the appropriate country names. He did not, thanks be to God, ask us to put in capitals. Not a single one of us got them all, and this was a class full of nation-oriented people.

samerica

 

 

It was also on the final exam, three months later, and most of us got them all right – thanks to some fervent cramming and study groups.

 

Here are a couple more maps, in case you are feeling cocky. See if you can accurately fill in the name of each country:

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Bonne chance!

 

 

 

July 16, 2013 Posted by | Africa, Cultural, Education, Entertainment, ExPat Life, Experiment, Geography / Maps, Germany, GoogleEarth, Interconnected, Jordan, Lectionary Readings, Middle East, Pet Peeves, Random Musings, Travel, Tunisia | | Leave a comment

“It’s Just Like Living in Alaska, Mom . . . or Kuwait . . . “

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My Mom was concerned; the temperatures are approaching 90°F in Seattle, and most of Seattle does not bother with air conditioning. At night, the temperatures go down into the fifties, cooling everything off, but the day time highs can be more than a little uncomfortable.

“How do you manage?” she asks. “I see the temperatures in (nearby) Mobile are in the 90’s almost every day.”

“It’s not that hard; it’s like living in Alaska – or Kuwait,” I tell her. “When it gets cold in Alaska, you dress warmly, you turn on the heat, you stay inside, and when you need to go out, you get into your car in the heated garage, go in your heated car to a heated store, and you come back home. You don’t spend a lot of time outside.”

I do pretty much the same thing I did in Qatar and Kuwait. I get up and do my devotional readings, and on some days I go to my aqua-aerobics class. on other mornings I volunteer. If I need something, I stop at a store on the way home. Sometimes, I clean house, or do laundry. We often go out for lunch, from the air conditioned car to the air conditioned restaurant and back 🙂 In the afternoons, I quilt or I read, or I quilt and I read.

AdventureMan grew up in the South, he is comfortable with the heat and the humidity. He works out in his gardens; once the temperatures go over 80° I rarely even visit the gardens, maybe when October comes and the temperatures drop. Yesterday morning I looked out as the sun was rising over the gardens and all I could see was swarms of insects rising. I don’t think they were mosquitoes, they looked like little no-see-up kind of things, all speeding around in the rising sun. I don’t do insects, the same way I really don’t do heat and humidity.

The Qatari Cat loves the heat. Part of his daily routine is to eat, then to go into the garage and sleep on one of the cars. It’s like an oven in the garage; it must remind him of living on the streets of Qatar when he was just a tiny thing. He is no longer a tiny thing. When we have international guests over for dinner, they always ask to take photos of him; he has grown to be a very long, tall cat, kingly but gracious.

Yesterday morning, as I headed out, there was a hint of – well, it was not coolness, but it was just not blasting me with heat. It was a respite from the relentless heat. I don’t begin to think it was a hint of winter to come; the summer torment has really just begun and is unlikely to end before late October, but I treasure even a hint of “not a blast of heat.”

AdventureMan asks me if I miss Seattle. Not so much, really, traffic has gotten so bad there, but I miss the climate. I feel energized by the cool mornings, even rain doesn’t bother me. I love the sound of the wind whistling around, I love taking a walk along the waterfront after lunch or dinner. I don’t find it at all surprising that diabetes is associated highly with countries with hot climates; heat makes you lethargic, inactive, all the things that encourage sloth.

Torrential rains are forecasted for this 4th of July weekend; in Pensacola there is a possibility they will diminish just in time for the fireworks. Hmmm. Heat. Humidity. Mosquitoes . . . I love fireworks . . . weighing my options 🙂

July 3, 2013 Posted by | Alaska, Cross Cultural, Cultural, Exercise, ExPat Life, Health Issues, Kuwait, Living Conditions, Pensacola, Qatar, Qatteri Cat, Random Musings, Weather | Leave a comment