Dubai airport: cultures collide

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Cross Cultural / Cross cultural ministry / Tanzania / Traveling

In 2015 my husband and I spent about a month in Tanzania, including transit via Dubai, UAE, and Nairobi, Kenya. I am publishing today and in the following days parts of my travel journal which I think provide an interesting look at other worlds that coexist with my Western one in Northern California.

The sea of non-western humanity is remarkable to me. Many women in burkas, some of them in their formless anonymity also beasts of burden. A woman just walked by in this ultra modern airport in traditional hijab, barefoot, carrying her flip-flops in one hand and balancing an enormous stuffed plastic bag on her head with the other hand. Clearly, she felt more comfortable bearing this load with her feet firmly planted instead of in the squishy instability of flip-flops.

A small boy in a white gown walks on the outside of the moving sidewalk, his hand in his father’s who has chosen to ride a brief way. They chat nonchalantly.

A group of Maasai women in matching red/black outfits ambles by, strikingly beautiful, like tall young trees. One of them is comfortably wrapped in a Maasai blanket over her outfit. Maybe they are a traveling sports or debate team? Yes, Kenya Pipeline Volleyball team.

Hijab-clad woman with backpack and violin in case.
Paul, a French patisserie, has the longest line of any restaurant.
There is a children’s area with carpeted seats in front of a big screen Disney movie. Apparently, all children speak Disney. It is flanked by a popular Starbucks and a Winston smoking room, sealed and full.



Our flight is 2 hours late leaving Dubai, so we arrive Nairobi during rush hour=1 1/2 hour drive from the airport to our hotel. On the plus side, we get to see giraffes in an area near the airport. I wonder how they have managed to incorporate the airport noise into their reality?

Nairobi is a place I’ve always wanted to visit, especially to see Karen Blixen’s home and museum from Out of Africa. Another time. Tomorrow, on to Kilimanjaro to meet our safari guide as well as a young missionary family I befriended online and am taking a large suitcase of supplies to.


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Christmas / Cross Cultural / Singapore / Time

My house looks like a big party went down, the blessing of lots of family members willing to come and stay awhile.  But all good things do come to an end, and this is it. And someone gets to put things to rights, and that is mostly me.

This morning, the first morning after everyone has left, there is tired Christmas deco, some of it just barely hanging on, fragrant pine needles that seem to have sifted everywhere, and balls of tissue and paper still lurking in corners. The 8 children and 7 extra adults that have spent most of the week here have also meant lots of food prep and eating, there are dishes and food crumbs galore.  I feel like I would like to stop cooking and doing dishes for about a month. My husband playfully asked me before we went to bed last night, “What’s for breakfast?” He got a pillow thrown to the head.

So this morning I am thinking  of Aminah, my Malay amah (helper) in Singapore some years back, a wise woman in all ways.  The summer we moved there with our 2, 4 and 6 year old children, our container arrived from the States about 8 weeks after we did. (How we survived the 8 weeks is another story.) The movers said they had to unpack everything themselves in order for any breakage to be covered by insurance. So all the contents of all the boxes: toys, dishes, kitchen stuff, clothes, books, bedding, everything we guessed we might need in our new life on the other side of the planet (and actually far more than we did need) was spread over every surface in my equatorial house. Even the mosquitoes and cicaks (geckos) were a bit intimidated. I actually wept it was so overwhelming. And amazingly, today I found this picture I took of one of the rooms.  Four year old Allison was “helping”.

Singapore movers arrive 8-82But Aminah patted my shoulder. “Slowly, slowly,” she said. And then she began to help bring order, slowly, slowly.  It took days, but we did it. And I always think of this simple advice, free of frustration, to proceed slowly, slowly, and at some point it will be done.

I gave my youngest son a print for Christmas by the artist Ruth Chou Simons ( of the Latin motto “Festina Lente”, make haste slowly. This classical adage has been used through the years by people as diverse as Roman emperors to Shakespeare.  It is an oxymoron, a contradiction in terms, which I love the idea of because I think we are such contradictory creatures. As you hurry, slow down.

Festina Lente SM.jpg

Architectural students in Sarajevo, Bosnia have built an intriguing structure in front of the Academy of Fine Arts that they call the Festina Lente Bridge. The looped gateway from one direction to another across the bridge provides a pause in the journey.

Festina Lente by Adnan Alagić, Bojan Kanlić and Amila HrustićFestina Lente by Adnan Alagić, Bojan Kanlić and Amila Hrustić

Today and always, I want to move through my life slowly, slowly. I don’t want to rush, to miss things, to miss my own life because I am in such a hurry to accomplish, finish, move on to something else.  I want to pursue peace. And this, the last day of 2015,  seems like a good time to think on these things.

The Lord gives strength to his people; the Lord blesses his people with peace. Psalm 29:11

The Lunch that Ate the Day

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Cross Cultural / Food / Grandparenting / Traveling

Monday in Paris was a very French day, at least the eating part. The children were tired, so Allie let them rest all morning. We met one of Allie’s students, Paula, and her husband Dave for lunch around 12:30 at Chez Gladines, a Basque restaurant in our little village of Butte aux Cailles that they wanted to try. All of these places are tiny, so moving 8 of us into a table with an infant is quite a production. Then we spent awhile trying to figure out the menu, and checking out other patrons’ food to see what looked good. Food was finally ordered and received, (lots of deep fried potato slices, ham, duck, cheese and salads) plates traded, more wine brought, children got dessert, adults got cafe, and lot of talking and laughing later, we left at 3 pm. According to Allie this is a typical French lunch. I am not sure when these folks work, but this may help explain why the cafes are full of people eating dinner at 10 pm on weeknights. IMG_3068IMG_3069

With our goal as Notre Dame’s tower, we made our way across the city until we were ambushed by the bouquinistes (booksellers along the Seine), which really are quite picturesque and fascinating. Stan and I looked longingly across the river at Notre Dame as the minutes ticked by with Allie and kids in full shopping mode with books galore, plus vintage posters, magazines, and newspaper pages.

At 4:30 we reached the line to the tower which had closed 15 minutes before. On our way to the other line to get into the Cathedral we took pictures, fed pigeons, and lost and found Daylen (age 9) a couple of times.

Inside is awesome, one of the few times in life that word is appropriate. While the rest of us wandered around, Allie fed Lani. Churches are great places to nurse babies: quiet, good seating, semi-dark, and everyone minding their own business.IMG_2228
Time for another cafe stop, which is pretty much the only place you get to use the bathroom in Paris. Mulled wine, cafe creme, hot chocolate, gateau and sandwiches for the kids fortified us for the trek to Sacre Coeur.
We loved the funicular ride up the hill and wonderful views up there. The church is made of travertine marble and absolutely glows on its hilltop perch. The interior is equally beautiful with dozens of huge gorgeous mosaics.




Afterwards we headed down the hill on foot through Montmartre. This is usually very busy, but now it is well after 8 pm, so the tourists are gone and it’s pretty quiet. Allie and I manage to find a place just closing that still has hot mulled wine to go. The alcohol content is very low.


We are on a quest to find the Moulin Rouge at the bottom of the hill, Emma has a recent crush on the movie. Pics are taken from a distance since it is now pretty much a Las Vegas type show with plenty of inappropriateness for children, and actually adults too.

Beyond exhausted, we make our way back home, and Allie, Stan and kids head up to their place. I have not eaten since lunch, so I cross the street to the local creperie and order one to take home to my little apartment for a late dinner. I am ordering and frequently conversing all in French this trip, and so proud of myself. C’est bon!

Music, Medieval Castles and Noel

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Christmas / Traveling

Left about 11 am with the sun shining and dry feet, though bundled to the hilt against the close to freezing winds, and made it to St Sulpice in time for the end of mass and the magnificent organ concert. The music was particularly uplifting given the grandeur of the surroundings and the memory of what happened last weekend. We were all spellbound by the soaring and triumphant music.

Found a tiny cafe which was willing to accommodate all of us for a lovely lunch of champignons gratin, a duck dish, and soup. Delicieux! We took our time like good French people do, then headed out to a medieval castle right on the eastern edge of Paris originally built as a hunting lodge, Chateaux Vincennes. Lots of interesting history here (with two historians for parents, these kids are doomed), a beautiful (other) Sainte Chappelle and amazing “keep”.


Lani is remarkably flexible through all this, snug in her stroller most of the time, napping when she needs to, and we stop from time to time for Allie to feed her.

What a baby!

Back into the center of Paris on the Champs Elysee for the Christmas market (Les Villages de Noel) which cannot be adequately explained: lights, food, things to buy, lots of people. Amazing. We had a blast, including three of us on the trampolines! (Stan, Lani and I declined). We had vin chaud (hot mulled wine), sausages, crepes with Nutella, waffles with cookie butter, hot chocolate, macaroons, and candy. Yes, we are celebrating!

This last picture is blurry due to bad lighting and my lack of skill, but I thought the government building lit like a flag typified the spirit of the French people who seem undaunted and brave. Vive La France!

Paris on a whim

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Grandparenting / Traveling

The short story is that I got conscripted with a couple of weeks’ notice to escort two of my grandchildren (Emma, 13 and Daylen 9) to Paris where their parents are teaching in a study abroad program for a month.  The kids were to spend the last week of November with them in Paris, but my daughter discovered at the last minute that they could not travel alone. Alas, the duties of a Nana!

I have in recent years on suggestion by  son Jonathan been using Day One to travel journal. Thought I’d just include my journaling here in my blog.

We arrived in Paris without incident on Saturday morning, November 21 though a bit of worry on my part about close connections in Toronto, baggage, etc. Got a lovely Uber driver right away for a mere 50 E right to Allie and Stan’s door.
After checking their place out, (6th-floor walk-up)Stan and I walked down the street to meet Ben my Airbnb host. Lift out of order here too (!), so more walking to the 4th floor. He is so nice, and I am very happy in my wee abode.

After much ado and putting together of clothing etc, we set out with the 3 kids: 1 in stroller and 2 jet lagged, and 1 jet lagged Nana to go to Sainte Chappelle. I got a bit accosted on the Metro, a man I sat near was apparently harrassing me for money, quite drunk. I told him politely I did not speak French and could not understand him, and this seemed to inflame his anger. A man nearby came to my rescue telling him to stop yelling! Then Allie pulled me into another seat.
The weather was close to freezing, raining hard, and windy. Perfect to knock out that jet lag! I soon had very wet feet, which I kept the rest of the day. 😦
When three adults, two kids and a large raincoat covered stroller blew in the door of the tiny security office for Sainte Chappelle, cold and wet to the bone, the kind man took one look at us, and ushered me and the three children straight through with a smile…..“ Not terroriste, not terroriste!” Haha, we loved it.
Ste Chappelle is worth as many visits as you can get in a lifetime. It never fails to awe completely. Its beauty was lost only on Daylen, who found an ancient bench and promptly went to sleep sitting up.
Afterward we headed to a nearby cafe for chocolat chaud and ended up with a croque monsieur and some escargots! We are surely in Paris.

What I learned in September

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I am reading a book by Emily P. Freeman called Simply Tuesday.  Emily has a blog,, that I also read and she has suggested it is a good thing to STOP every once in while and think about what you are learning.  Such a good idea, I am finally doing it.  I  like Emily and feel like she is a friend and a real person, maybe that’s what the “P” stands for.

So here’s the small and large things from September:

  1. To release fear and self-pity. I learn this weekly, daily, hourly. But this month it struck me while singing, “Let go my soul and trust in him, the waves and wind still know his name.”  All the things I fear for and worry about are in his hands.  Simple as that.
  2. It’s OK to be a detail person.  I am a noticer and sometimes feel that burden.  Carolyn Watts in Hearing the Heartbeat said,  “Our hearts are made to need details-that’s why God tells us so often to remember. “
  3. That I like salad with only olive oil, but preferably a really good one. There is a local oil from olives that grow near my house that is delicious and grassy. And I have to admit it pleases me that I can drive by the olive trees regularly.  It is called Ascolano, by Lodi Olive Oil.
  4. That I benefit from doing yoga more often.  I have been going 2-3 times a week in September rather than my usual 2-3 times a month, and it is therapeutic to my aging body. Sometimes I mentally resist and silently mock the persistent “yoga speak” of some of my instructors, but then it’s a good time to practice my forbearance, and sense of humor.  Namaste.
  5.  That sunsets are a gift.  They serve no useful purpose, and are pure beauty and grace, like the Giver.

The view from the top

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From high on this hill,  the town of Kigoma, Tanzania looks idyllic and beautiful.  I can see the calm blue lake, shining in the sun, adorable little boats beginning to make their way out into the water for their nightly fishing expedition.  The abundant rain has caused everything to grow with glowing greenness, covering the hill below.  In fact, most of the buildings below my perch are covered, disguising the fact that many of them don’t have roofs since the owners ran out of money before they finished construction.

From here I can’t see the deeply rutted mud roads or the dirty children wandering around alone. The little shack-like dukas where small piles of fruit and sundries are sold to keep body and soul together are hidden.  The garbage, the beggars, the plaintive faces, none of them are visible from here.

What is still with me even on top of this hill is my sense of helplessness in the face of the knowledge of these massive needs of every kind.  The few little chips I have made in this mountain of desperation seem pointless.

The thought of leaving is compelling, just to be away from this oppressive weight.  The knowledge that there are thousands of places in the world like this, and millions of souls with longing begins to crush my soul too.

But I would rather find a way to live with this tension, seeing the realities, doing what I can, appreciating beauty when it is given, and putting all at the feet of Jesus so I am not paralyzed. What kind of a world would it be if we did nothing because we cannot do everything?

Religion that is pure and genuine in the sight of God the Father will show itself by such things as visiting orphans and widows in their distress …  James 1:27  JB Phillips translation

Lani’s birthday

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Today is the birthday of my tenth grandchild, my seventh granddaughter.  But we are waiting for the party to begin and have not met little Lani yet. She is already deeply loved here on Earth by doting parents, a brother and sister, grandparents on both sides and many other friends and family.

She has been woven in secret mystery inside her mother, my own eldest daughter, by a God who loves her deeply too. We are asking Him for a safe delivery, and that Lani would enjoy perfect health.

But we don’t know her yet.  We don’t know what she looks like in spite of 3D ultrasounds, and much conjecture on everyone’s part as to who she will take after.  We don’t know what her temperament will be either.  Last night we discussed all the varieties of persons in our growing family so far.  As a baby, will she need constant attention or be relatively mellow?  We all relived our past experiences with our babies, and enjoyed the planning and wondering.

Preparing the last few days we have washed and folded, cooked and canned, rested and massaged the weary mama. And today the object and purpose of all this activity will make her much anticipated appearance.

And she will be unlike anyone we have ever known because she will be herself.  Lani. 

Mother Wise

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A friend of mine had a baby boy recently, her first. Although she seems young, she is 25, the same age I was when my first baby was born. She is a woman who had some hard times in her teens and began to love Jesus for all she was worth.

When the baby was a few weeks old, she and her husband led our church body in worship through music. They are both very talented musicians, and I always love being led by them.

As I watched and worshiped with them, I could see changes in her. I saw a beautiful face that had deepened in its wisdom. She had been through the refining fire of pregnancy, birth and early motherhood, and I could see something different. Fatigue, no doubt about it. That surely comes with the territory for both parents. But sacrifice, worry, pain on another’s behalf, putting one’s own needs aside in this total and primal way, it can change a person.  What I saw as she sang and lifted her arms to the God who gave all, was a woman who had stepped to the other side of growing up.

Raising my own children, one of my themes was that I wanted them to be “grown up” when they were adults. Not just older in their bodies, but grown up in their hearts, minds, and character, things which are certainly not a given. This is a process, of course, maturity comes in gradual bits as we let God have his way with us. And though we never quite arrive at that distant station, if we give ourselves up, progress can be made.

My friend is calm, humble, open, outward, because now there is someone for whom she would lay down her life in an instant. Moving oneself permanently off of center stage makes a person different in outlook and sometimes that is visible on the visage if one has eyes to see.

Cultural Re-entry and Whole Foods

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Cross Cultural

The day after I arrived in the US from nearly a month in Tanzania, I was helping my 3-year-old twin granddaughters brush their teeth before bed.  My daughter said, “Wait a minute, let me get my phone, they use an app.”  Sure enough, the little darlings get to choose a colorful character to brush their teeth along with accompanied by catchy music and a timer.  This is not really shocking, it is fun, right?  But a few days ago I was teaching young children how to make a toothbrush out of a small stick.  This was not news to the children, they said (in Swahili), “Of course!”

Stick toothbrush

Whole Foods

The next day we went to Whole Foods to get a few things for dinner. I have been to Whole Foods before, but not after recently experiencing the chaos and challenge of an African market.

At Whole Foods, I was dazzled by the variety of food, products, and people. Not only are there multiple choices for every item, there is a diversity of humankind at this store in Brooklyn, NY that had me staring.  I realized the only diversity in our African town was provided by me and some of my co-workers. Otherwise, everyone looked much the same, and completely opposite from us.

Whole Foods 1

As I followed my daughter around the store, one of the twins in my cart, I thought, “Heaven will be like this, with every tribe and every nation.”  Really even right down to the abundance and variety of foods and other products, because I believe Heaven will be a place of plenty, minus the Whole Foods prices.

When you travel back and forth between worlds, there has to be a period of cognitive dissonance as you assimilate all the realities. The struggle for me is to make it less of a judgment and more just internally incorporating the differences that co-exist in time and space. My life in Africa was such a contrast that I find myself looking at my U.S. life as one of self-indulgent uselessness. Yesterday I went to Target and Starbucks, both bastions of Western life. Is that wrong?

I need to live responsibly and with contentment wherever I am, rather in plenty or in want.  But I don’t want to lose the tension of the struggle. I have been given the privilege of experiencing some of the complexity that is life on Earth.  I want to treasure those times and let them make me richer in love and more compassionate.

While I’m drinking Starbucks.