Once a year I get to troll the internet looking for cakes. It is so much fun. I had no idea there is so much creativity out there, so much daring. I found a wedding cake that is tilted! Something in me loved it, loved the spirit of a woman who would marry knowing life is often off-kilter and messy.
I love white roses, so this year I have sent some to myself:
Come on by, have some virtual cake with me to celebrate seven years of blogging:
And here, an elegant combination of cake and white roses:
Seven years ago in Kuwait, I started blogging. There was a wild blogging scene in Kuwait, a lively community. Blogs were candid, and many were substantial, dealing (carefully) with political and economic issues in Kuwait. I remember reading and learning, and finally gathering up my courage to write my very first entry, and it has been a recurring theme, cross-cultural communication. I learned so much from my life in the Middle East, Tunisia, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Kuwait. I made the most amazing friends. It changed my life and my perceptions utterly.
Of the three Kuwait female bloggers who inspired me to start blogging, Jewaira has gone private, 1001 Nights is a good friend, a mother, and an author 🙂 and Desert Girl is still going strong. Mark, at 2:48 a.m. is also still going strong, so strong that he has been able to leave his full time employment and operate on a consultant basis.
Of course, as any blogger will, I sometimes think of quitting. There are days I find myself with nothing to say, nothing in my life so interesting that I think it is worth sharing, not even a news story worth noting. So I’ve had to ask myself why I continue.
I do it for myself. When I started, I had a reason and that reason still stands. I forget things. This isn’t age-related, it’s busy-life busy-world related; we forget the details.
My Mother saved all my letters from Tunisia. I remember reading them and laughing because at three, my son’s best friend in his day school was a boy he called Cutlet. I know his real name is Khalid, but Cutlet was as close as this little American boy in a French-Tunisian school could get. I had totally forgotten, until I read the letter. So my primary reason for continuing to blog is documentary – just plain record keeping, like an old fashioned diary. Noting things in my daily life or the life around me.
Even now, sometimes I see a post written long ago, usually one of our Africa trips, Botswana, Namibia, Tanzania, Zanzibar, Zambia – will start getting a rush of stats. It thrills my heart. It makes it all worthwhile, knowing something I have put out there is helping others, even years later. Perhaps one day, I will quit blogging, but leave the blog up, with these informational articles.
My stats make no sense at all, one of my biggest stat gainers this year was a news article I tossed off about the prank on the South Korean pilot names after the plane crash landed in San Francisco. It just made me giggle, and I couldn’t resist printing it. It ended up with a life of its own, as many entries do – and you just never know. Someone pins an image and you get a million (ok hyperbole here) hits you never expected.
In the end, I believe that those who keep blogging do it because as Martin Luther once said, “I cannot other.” We do it because something within needs to be expressed, even if it is just some kind of daily record. I know it’s why I blog.
When we were there last summer, we were staying in the old Tena Tena Camp, and we begged to be allowed to see the new camp, but it was still under construction. Today the Robin Pope Camps sent out this new video starring the new Tena Tena Camp, located close by the old camp, but all new and sparkling:
If you ever have an opportunity to visit Zambia, Tena Tena is a must-visit 🙂
While most of my time has been spent joyfully grandmama-ing, I was feeling increasing anxiety about one thing. I am flying back to Doha to pack, and then I am flying back to Pensacola to close on the house, and wait for AdventureMan to join me, and then all our furniture and household goods that have been in storage a lifetime – twelve years – will arrive.
Oh oh. Where do we sleep until our bed arrives? We COULD invade our dear son and his sweet wife once again, but don’t you think enough is enough? Would you want your parents and in-laws living with you, week after week, with all our well-intentioned advice, and stories about our son when he was young?
No? LLOOLLL, me neither!
So yesterday, I took an afternoon to myself.
First, I had learned that the Pensacola Quilter’s Guild was having their bienniel (once every TWO years) show this weekend, Friday and Saturday. There is little that can take this adoring grandmama away from her most adorable brand-new grandson, but I will admit it – a quilt show – that is beyond temptation. I had to go, even just for an hour. I went, joined the guild, hurried through the exhibit, which was GLORIOUS! and then I went furniture shopping.
Furniture shopping is not what it used to be. I have some lovely furniture in storage, but not a huge amount of it. Some of it we sent off with Law and Order Man when he went off to law school and needed some basics. Some of it is just outdated – like televisions from the 90’s! I figured I would just look for the basics – bed, mattress and table and chair. We will have a place to sit when we are not sleeping, and we can buy the TV’s together, later, with our son’s help. We need the help of the high-tech-savvy to get us up to speed on what we will be needing, phones, TV’s, cable connections, phone plans, internet connections, oh, it is as bad as buying a new car!
When we were still in the military, we found a dining room table and chairs, gorgeous, at an auction, for $169. We found marble topped antique oak nightstands, gorgeous, at the flea market in Metz, and paid $60 for the pair. We found a gorgeous buffet/credenza in a used furniture shop in Leavenworth, KS for $50 + $10 for delivery, all these are furniture pieces we still treasure. I am telling you this so you will understand what sticker shock I get when I go to look at new furniture.
I am quick and clear about what I want and need, but the prices require me to summon all the courage I can summon when I go to write the checks. I am good at saving. Letting that money go is so HARD. It took me the entire afternoon to find pieces I knew would work for us.
It was on sale. I love it because, with the inlay, it sort of reminds me of the Middle East, of Damascus:
I also bought mattresses. It was difficult, too, because I don’t like these pillow tops. We like a good, firm bed, and I like to sleep cool, I can’t get to sleep if I am too warm, and these pillow tops are too warm. It took me a long time to find a good, firm mattress set for the bed.
Then I went looking for a table and chairs for the family room/ casual dining area. I knew what I wanted. My long-time Chinese friend told me the best table for families is the round table, no one sits at the head, everyone is equal. My sister Big Diamond (Little Diamond’s and Sporty Diamond’s Mom) has a HUGE, gorgeous round table, and I have seen how people love to gather there. So I knew I wanted a round table that would be inviting and comfortable, but not so grand as my sister’s. I have been looking online, checking out a lot of models. When I found one here in Pensacola, at a reasonable price, I was hooked. It is light teak – light in color, heavy in weight. OOps. Then she reminded me I would need chairs. Aaarrgh.
There weren’t any other customers in the shop at the time, so we took our time. As I learned from you, my Middle Eastern friends, we dickered a little, comfortably and amiably – and she gave me a discount, and free delivery.
The chairs are amazing. You would not believe wood could feel so comfortable. The table and chairs together remind me so much of all our times camping and in lodges in Africa, in Zanzibar, in Zambia, in Botswana, where the furniture is both comfortable and well made. But I almost choked, writing the check. Some things are just worth buying new; sturdy, comfortable furniture is one of them.
It has a spa tub and a walk in shower. 🙂
Last but not least, I found some farewell gifts for friends I have had in Doha for a long long time, and a bolt of muslin for a friend who knows I am coming back with suitcases almost empty. 🙂 It was a long day, and a fruitful day, and I am resting easier knowing all these little details are coming together.
Today, however, my son and his wife are taking me to the kinds of places I LOVE buying furniture! The Waterfront Mission Store and Loaves and Fishes! Wooo HOOOOO!
See, it’s my challenge, I make up the rules, and wow. I am so glad I did. The first challenge came because I truly could not find a decent sunset photo, and you showed me they exist, and you showed me they could be totally WOW.
The second challenge, Sand and Surf, is because I love Sand and Surf, and I am so glad I cannot compete (it’s my contest, remember? Like it would be dirty pool for me to compete, and how would you know if I won fair and square, or if I used wasta with myself?
So just to encourage you, I am going to show some of my favorite sand and surf photos, but now that I have seen yours, I know that these are not particularly good, I just like them. YOU can do better. It’s OK with me. 🙂
Have a great weekend, Kuwait.
You still have time to get your photos in. The contest will close this coming Saturday, and the poll will go up, insh’allah, the same day. (Are you thinking of ideas for the next one? I am! 🙂 )
This is another one of those books I picked up on the last day of my last travels in the US. I had been through the Barnes and Noble nearby several times, picked this up and looked at is at least a dozen times, then put it down, just not that interested. On the last day, who knows why, I bought it and stuck it in my outer pocket of my suitcase. Maybe it was the only thing I could see that would fit, I don’t know. I had rejected it so many times before.
It hasn’t even been on my night stand, the books I really really intend to read. It has been on a shelf of books I will read someday when I don’t have anything else to do. Every now and then, it caught my eye. The Zanzibar Chest was on the same shelf. . . and that turned out to be a pretty good book. So recently, after I had read some books I had to read but were a little dry, and a couple books I wanted to read which were a little light, I grabbed Water for Elephants.
That was day before yesterday. I couldn’t put it down. I had a whole list of things to get done yesterday, but once I started Water for Elephants, I was lost, totally immersed in the tawdry world of circuses, bound in the magic of the illusion and performances, mesmerized by what goes on behind the scenes to make the spectacular possible.
The main character loses his parents in a totally unnecessary car accident just as he is about to take his final exams in Veterinary Science, at Cornell University. (You might think I am throwing in too much useless detail here, but it matters.) Stunned by the triple loss of both his parents, and the discovery that they had hocked everything to the bank to fund his education, he blanks on his exams and hits the road, ending up with a second rate circus.
What is so amazing about this author is that once you start reading, you are THERE.
The above mentioned Zanzibar Chest keeps you hooked by it’s painfullness, but for both AdventureMan and myself, we never liked the author, we found him a little full of himself. It doesn’t take away from the Zanzibar Chest being a worthy read, and unforgettable read.
Water for Elephants, on the other hand, has a hero you love to love. In a world of strict boundaries, a heirarchical social structure, he manages to cross all the boundaries. He truly loves the animals, and in one scene, that love just radiates, emanates, it illuminates the book from the inside, and makes you feel light and crazy with that same sort of love, love of the whole of creation. Jakob is loyal to his friends, and loyal even to his enemies, he is sacrificial in his loyalty, and, in the end, he is vastly and abundantly rewarded for his good character.
There is something for everyone, just like a circus. Like a circus, too, it has illusions, it distracts with one hand while the trick is performed with another, there is sensuality, there is sexuality, there are photos from old circuses. There are things which could offend just about every sensibility; there is kindness, there is cruelty, justice and injustice and cosmic justice. Sometimes you just have to suspend judgement and go with the read. This is one of those books.
I would say this is one of the finest reading experiences I have had for a long time. Brava, Sara Gruen. Worth every penny.
I’ve told AdventureMan as soon as he finishes The Zanzibar Chest, he has to start Water for Elephants. I can hardly wait. It’s that good.
You can find Water for Elephants in paperback at Amazon.com for $8.37 + shipping.
Our trip started at the Grumeti River Camp and continued on the the Serengeti Tent Camps. We have filled our eyes and ears with the sights and sounds of the Great Migration, and have had the thrills of elephants, giraffes, lions, hyenas, alligators and vultures in addition. Now it is time to head north, to the Klein’s Wilderness Camp, located near Klein’s Wilderness Lodge.
The “airport” at Serengeti, from where we are flying, is a busy little place with one open-to-the-air little cafe and a toilet down a path with two stalls. It’s the bring-your-own paper kind of place, but it’s nice there is that convenience. The landing strip itself is just a cleared piece of ground where the little two engine planes land and take off.
Our flight is larger than most we have taken, maybe 20-something people, most on the way home or to Zanzibar. First, they are dropping us off at Kleins, a short flight away. The landing field at Klein’s has a little antelope running across it when we get there, so the pilot circles and lands on the lush green landing strip. There is no one there. We wait, it is inevitable that a car come roaring around the curve any moment now, but no car comes. The pilot comes on the microphone and asks who the passengers are for Klein’s, and we raise our hands.
“I can’t leave you here,” he says.
We totally understand. There are lions around. This is a wild country.
“I have to take you to Arusha with us,” he says, “and I will bring you back on the next flight.”
I am not entirely unhappy. In the tiny little airport in Arusha, I found a vendor who is selling Masai textiles and raw gems at very good prices. He is Moslem, and astounded that I speak some Arabic. When I come back to his shop, he is delighted to see me again. (or maybe I paid too much the first time, ya think?)
I pick up a few more momentos, and head back for the airline departure desk, where there is a very loud argument going on over the telephone about who is to blame about our not being picked up at Klein’s Wilderness Camp. The Camp says the airlines never told them. The airlines say they did. It’s on our itinerary, which we have had for months, and we landed exactly when they said we would, but in Africa, you have to stay flexible, flight schedules change depending on where customers need to be dropped off. It doesn’t pay to get angry or aggressive, you learn to just go with the flow. Things will work out.
A short time later, the pilot takes us to the plane for the flight back, and whoa! We fly right over an active volcano!
This time, when we get to Klein’s, a car is waiting and the arguement between Klein’s and the airlines continues. On the way to Klein’s, we are told that they were never told when we would be arriving.
Don’t you hate it when people refuse to take any responsibility? The airlines treated us so well, the pilot said he didn’t think it was their fault but he went out of his way to make sure we felt well taken care of. This is the only time at CCAfrica that we felt the camp was not well managed, and part of that feeling came from this continual message of “it’s not our fault.” We later learned that the previous camp manager had just been fired and a new manager was starting, and there was a lot of work going on to try to get the camp back on track.
This was another beautiful location, we were high up and could see forever.
Sometimes, in the mornings, or in the late afternoon, the migrating antelope came through the camp. We could sit outside and just watch them file past.
Most of our days in this camp, we would leave early in the morning, have lunch with us so we would stop somewhere in the park, and not get back until late at night. These are the vehicles we travelled in, stopped for a break
Some of the roads were barely there, were pitted, or rutted, or were raw rock:
We spent hours watching the zebra herds, and the shy antelope:
“How can you spend hours watching zebra?” you might ask. Every zebra is different. It’s particularly fun watching female zebra with their young. When they are born, the momma zebra insures that her little baby zebra sees only her coat for the first important hours of it’s life, so that the baby can recognize the momma zebra’s own unique markings:
But there were other thrills as well. The nice thing about travelling in a very small group (most of the time just AdventureMan and I and the guide) was that you can ask them to stop while you photograph a beautiful purple flower:
And if you see a leopard, you can just sit and watch him as long as you like:
We rarely ran into others from the camps, but this Masai was accompanying another group:
Among the thrills in this more northern camp were also the glorious birds. This is one of our favorites, a Lilac Breasted Roller:
I’m not sure what this bird is, probably a common starling. His fluorescent coloring attracted my eye. AdventureMan says that the fluorescent coloring happens a lot in birds which eat excrement, but he is not sure that is true, just what he thinks he remembers:
We love travelling with CCAfrica. They specialize in eco-tourism, like the Robin Pope Safari Camps we travel with in Zambia. Our all time favorite safari with them was The Hemingway, a 14 day safari through Botswana, starting in Zimbabwe at Victoria Falls, heading south to Chobe and Moremi, Savute, the Okavango and then flying into the Kalahari. It was an all-time thrill. If January is a little slow for you and you want to read about the Hemingway Safari you can click on that blue type and it will take you to the first entry – of thirteen! I wrote it up back when I was first blogging, sort of as a discipline for myself to get it all down in writing. There aren’t a lot of photos – I wasn’t digital then – but it is a very thorough description of a trip-of-a-lifetime safari.
Even though they don’t seem to offer this particular safari anymore, CCAfrica will tailor any safari you want to your specifications. What we loved about the Hemingway was that so much of it was under canvas, so we would be sleeping right out among the animals – and listening all night.
A warning – none of these safaris are for people who HATE getting up early. The game is active in early early morning and late afternoon, so most camps get you up at 5:30 – 6:00 so you can grab a quick cup of coffee and bite to eat and then run for the jeeps/vehicles that will take you out to see the game. It can be very cold on an early morning game run, but oh – the thrills! It is SO worth it! You come back late morning, have your mid-day meal, which in these camps is always amazing, and then you have quiet time in the heat of the afternoon, when you can catch up on those zzZZZZZZZzzzzz’s you missed out on in the early morning. You wake up refreshed, ready for afternoon tea and your afternoon/evening game drive. They feed you and feed you – but we never gain weight on these trips, maybe because you are rocking around over the rough roads all day.
And, when the trip is over, and you are ready for a few days of sloth and luxury before you return to the real world, there is no better spot for transitioning than the CCAfrica private island hideaway of Mnemba, a place we dream about on a cloudy dark day in Kuwait:
That is Mnemba island in the background, viewed from the beach in Zanzibar. You take a boat to get there, and when you land, you land barefoot. You never put your shoes on the entire time you are there. It is beautiful, secluded, luxurious and infinitely private. You can have all your meals in your own banda, if you wish. They have their own marine reserve, a dive shop, snorkeling equipment and it is all included. They even have internet. 🙂
View from our Mnemba banda:
Every year, thousands and thousands of animals roam the African plains, following the water. Huge herds of zebra, gnu, and antelopes make a grand tour, mindless of international borders. “Wouldn’t that be a sight to see?” Adventure Man and I asked each other, and decided “Yes!”
One of our favorite outfitters, CCAfricxa (for Conservation Corps Africa) offers special tented camps following the great migration, and we really enjoy travelling with them, so we book into several of the camps, and at the end, book ourselves into another of our favorite places, the CCAfrica lodge on Mnemba Island with more photos of Mnemba and Zanzibar here.
The trip was off to a great start when we got to Grumeti Camp. The colors of Grumeti are red and purple; we go to our cabin to clean up and then we have lunch outside, down near a bog full of hippos, who grunt from time to time. This is our bed in the Grumeti Lodge:
Two days at Grumeti, and oh what fun from the very beginning. We see huge herds of Gnu. Here is what a Gnu sounds like:
Gnu: Hunnh? Hunnh? Hunnh? Hunnh?
It never varies.
Gnu: Hunnh? Hunnh? Hunnh? Hunnh? Hunnh?
There are thousands of them. They know where they are going, and sometimes they go single file and sometimes they go in great bunches. We did get to see gnu (plural) crossing a stream, but the alligator wasn’t anywhere near and I think he had recently eaten:
The Great Migration also includes huge herds of zebra, and the males are constantly trying to keep the females from roaming off. So zebras will all be quietly munching grass and then one male will go heee-hawing around trying to keep other young virile zebras from making off with his females until one day he gets too old and the younger zebras can steal his women, errr, zebra-females.
Thousands of zebra everywhere. . . these ones are drinking while not 100 feet away, a lion is resting. He looks like he has feasted recently, and is not too interested in the remaining thirsty zebra – not right now, anyway.
Next chapter: We go to the CCAfrica tented camps to follow the great migration.
Magical Droplets asked for shots of Zanzibar, one of our very favorite places to relax.
So near, who would think this tropical paradise would be so close? Most flights from here go through Dubai or Abu Dhabi to Dar as-Salaam, but sometimes you can find a flight that goes Muscat – Zanzibar direct. So you get to go to two really cool places instead of just one.
If Oman is fusion Arabian, influenced by Africa and India, than Zanzibar is fusion African, with heavy Arabian, Indian and British influences. We stay at the Zanzibar Serena, only because we never seem to be able to get into Emerson and Green’s, a very funky hotel, every room different (and nice and large) and where you try to be for sundowners on the roof. It’s tradition.
To get away from everything, we stay at Mnemba Island, which has only one hotel on the whole island, run by CCAfrica. You have your own bungalow, which is as big as a small house, and all the privacy in the world. You can even have all your meals in your bungalow – your butler brings them. They do daily diving trips, and they have their own marine reserve with more fish than I have ever seen in one place, even an aquarium. The food is fresh and fabulous. You are treated as a cherished house guest. They tell you when you land that you will not need your shoes the entire time on the island, and you won’t believe them (the first time) but it’s true! The weather stays in the high 80’s (F) year round.
CCAfrica specializes in maintaining a low ecological profile while providing all this luxury. The bungalow is full of locally crafted goods, and the small gift shop is full of locally produced soaps, papers, textiles, crafted items. . .It isn’t easy to get reservations, as it is a great favorite with post-safari travellers and with honeymooners.
For us, the greatest luxury of all is privacy. Mnemba Island is paradise. Ahhhhhh. . . .Zanzibar . . .