Let’s Go Flaneuring in Qatar

Today’s Flaneuring post comes from Qatar, by Betsy Riley. I’ve only been in the Qatar airport but have heard the country is comparable to Djibouti regarding the heat so I feel an affinity with Betsy. Plus, she wears Asics. Me too. And, I got my “Bake Chocolate Chip Cookies in Your Car” recipe from a blog out of Qatar, so yeah, the heat is real.

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My foot falls heavy on asphalt, stirring up a sand drift trying to form along the walking path’s edge. Even in this city of concrete block villas, latticework aluminum skyscrapers, and roundabouts bursting with color-coordinated petunias, the desert refuses to be brushed aside.

That rubble and dust haunts at the edge, it slips in poorly constructed windowpanes and scurries under doorjambs. Street sweepers help the onslaught – once I witnessed a backhoe removing sand by the bucketful from a road – but in the end one must resign herself to this fact: There will be sand in my pockets.

I hesitate to walk for leisure in my part of the city. What our corner of Doha lacks in sidewalks, it makes up for in sewer excavation projects. For that reason, I have driven five minutes up the road to a designated exercise path. Away from the popcorn man, burnt caramel and salt steaming from his open stall. Beyond the sprawling schoolyards, their whitewashed walls towering above me. Past Arabic signs directing the way to funerals and weddings, the two times in a man’s life a tent is erected in his honor.

Having parked my car, I head eastward, my back to our village within the metropolis. A skeleton of one such wedding tent gapes open at my right. Gold-gilded chairs are stacked in a jumble; hastily rolled red carpets are heaped outside the enormous metal frame. I imagine the men who gathered there last weekend, the coffee that was poured and poured and poured again, the sheikhs who sat in honor, the succulent lamb meat falling off the bone and scooped up by the right hands of guests.

I step out of my daydream and finally face the desert, that friend I sometimes mistake as foe. There is a light breeze; dust drapes like gauze over the sun. I smell nothing. No familiar agarwood incense hanging heavy, no simmering stews spiced with cardamom and cinnamon escaping from outdoor kitchens. The smell is neither foul nor pleasant. It smells of what we came from.

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Shrubs dotting the horizon appeared shriveled and dying at a distance, but when I stop now to finger them they are robust, all hardy leaves feathering along a spine in chaotic patterns. These bushes are the fit ones who have survived this harshest of climates. They are the heroes here, in their faded, heat-ready clothing.

The path broadens and divides into two: a stretch of rubber pavement on one side, a bicycle path on the other. A man in exercise clothes met me earlier with an awkward nod. Two expats cycle past without acknowledging me. Though I strain to guess nationalities from their banter, a truck of potable water rumbles by and ruins my fun.

It is just me now, my Asics padding on this path paved with old rubber tires. I hear my own heavy breathing. A prop plane arcs overhead. A loud diesel engine guns up the incline every minute or two. Otherwise, silence. My heart rate quickens. My senses settle in to enjoy the company of the desert.

Betsy Riley lives and works in Doha, Qatar, her home of five years which she affectionately calls “the land of sheikhs, shisha and shish tawouk.”

Urban Djibouti

A few weeks ago I showed you a few photos of Djiboutian life in rural areas. Here are just a few pictures of life in the city. I love how this has become my normal, things that might seem exotic to outsiders but are really just life. Like how snow and oak trees and robins feel exotic to people who didn’t grow up in Minnesota. Just life. Everywhere is just life. Exotic is for the ‘other,’ for looking in from the outside. It is an immense privilege to be able to look at such vastly different places and see neither as exotic. Endlessly interesting, sure. But in the end, just life.

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 This is our city, the place that has adopted us and to which we are constantly adapting.

The Bookshelf: Erik Larson

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I spent the last week in Kenya. My husband had work meetings, my youngest had school vacation, so we decided to visit our boarding school kids for the first time as a whole family. We watched the JV soccer game, helped with homework, played epic soccer and basketball games, and ate meals all five of us together at one table. It was fantastic.

We also spent a lot of time on the airplane, in airports, and in taxis stuck in traffic. So I got to read quite a bit. I finished one book by Erik Larson, started another, and downloaded the third, which I have already read but want to read again. Reading Erik Larson feels like getting a history lesson but not like any history lessons I ever had at school. Fascinating, and character and story driven, rich with minute details that bring an age long-lost back to life.

The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America

This is narrative nonfiction at its best. Larson captures a city and a nation at a pivotal point in its character and physical development. His account of the World’s Fair and a murder mystery are captivating.

 

 

 

Isaac’s Storm: A Man, a Time, and the Deadliest Hurricane in History

Weather becomes an actual character in this book. I love how Larson is able to so vividly capture a place and time in history. He focuses on one character while diving into side stories and then they are all swept up together as the storm comes crashing down.

 

 

 

In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin

Just started this one so can’t say much. But what a great title, right?

 

 

 

 

Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania

Not released yet. March 10, 2015. I’m already on the list when it comes out.

 

 

 

 

 

What I’m Reading This Week

Spare Parts: Four Undocumented Teenagers, One Ugly Robot, and the Battle for the American Dream

Love this look at the academic struggle and triumphs of kids of whom the world expects nothing. Reminded me of Djibouti’s Girls Run 2 team.

 

 

Requiem (Delirium Trilogy)

Finally got the last book in this trilogy from the library queue and just started it this week. Update: finished it on the airplane. Seriously skimmed, as I was just trying to keep up with my teens. Entertaining, interesting premise – love is a disease that people must be cured of.

Any other Erik Larson fans?

What are you reading?

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Brain Child: Let the Children Play

Quick link: Let the Children Play

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Peter Gray says, “…playing is learning. At play, children learn the most important of life’s lessons, the ones that cannot be taught in school. To learn these lessons well, children need lots of play — lots and lots of it, without interference from adults.”

I used to play in a field and while I’m sure at some point there were adults present, I don’t remember them. Ever. Now, most kids either don’t play outside or if they do, they are highly supervised. What has happened to letting kids play?

Click here to read Let the Children Play

Let’s Go Flaneuring in Tanzania

Today’s Flaneuring post is by Amanda, taking us through Tanzania.

A New Kind of Normal

The majestic Mount Kilimanjaro looks over me, appearing so giant and crisp in the early morning it looks like a cardboard cut-out God plopped near this small, dusty town. As I meander through the market watching carefully where I place each step on the uneven terrain, I barely notice the layer of dirt that covers my feet. I pick through heaps of shoes and clothes as the owner of the stall sits atop her loot, having a casual conversation with me in Swahili. Driving down the road it’s nearly second nature to swerve for potholes, pedestrians, bicyclists, motorcycles, busses goats and cows. Driving three cars wide on a two lane road is not uncommon, nor is stopping along my route to buy bananas for six cents each from a Mama that’s carrying them on her head. My three year old son asks anxiously, “Can I pay the worker?!” when we pull into the petrol station. He hands the money through his open window and says, “Naomba reciti tafadhali.” And I think to myself, “I never thought this would be my ‘normal’.”

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Nearly two years ago we followed God’s prompting and moved our family of three from our cozy two-story home in Charlotte, North Carolina to a concrete-floored ranch home Moshi, Tanzania. No longer do we flip the TV on and watch the news or catch a show that we’ve DVRed in the evenings. We don’t have a thermostat to keep our house at a consistent, comfortable temperature. We don’t microwave our leftovers, and we don’t wash our dishes with hot water.

VillageMarket5Our new normal is dirt-covered feet all. The. Time. It’s smiling Tanzanian faces, greetings that often last longer than the actual conversation, and chai (that’s tea) offered to us everywhere we go. Our new normal is our three year old being in a preschool with 22 other students, and being the only American among children from five different countries. It’s eating banana stew, pilau, chapati and dengu for lunch – oh and rice. Lots and lots of rice. Normal is hearing a huge THUD in the middle of the night, and knowing it was just a coconut falling off our tree. It’s open windows, dusty floors, always barefoot, mosquito nets and simple living.

This beautiful country is home for us now. Everywhere we go people smile and greet us – even strangers. The Tanzanians are so extremely kind and hospitable, it’s hard not to fall in love with this place. We don’t have a TV, we only have hot water in the shower, and when the power goes off we are rarely surprised. We wash our feet every day at least once, we filter our water before we drink it, and we pasteurize our milk (which comes straight from the neighbor’s cow). We splurge on items like seedless grapes or strawberries when they occasionally appear in the store – paying $5 or more for one small pack – a special treat for sure. We’re used to never having a bag of crisps (potato chips) taste exactly the same, because they’re all made and packaged by hand- and oh so tasty! We wash and re-use our Ziplock bags – precious items brought from the states and unattainable here. We dry our clothes on a rack in our living room or on the line in the yard.

We are surrounded by a great community of ex-pats and nationals and have close friends from a half-dozen different countries. We barely blink an eye when we hear the mosque calling out prayers over the (very) loud speaker several times a day. When our son wants to make a new friend he often asks, “What language do you speak?” When the cacophony of guard dogs and street dogs gets going each night, we’re annoyed, but it’s still normal.

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When a stranger hears our son speaking Swahili, and tells his friend that one day the “mzungu” (white person) will speak Swahili as well as an “mbongo” (African)…

When I get lost in a worship song in a village church, singing in Swahili and raising my hands toward the tin roof…

When I look to the sky as the sun dips behind the trees, after bringing the laundry in from the clothes line, and I see that majestic mountain looking over me…

I’m reminded of what home really is: being right in the middle of God’s plan for our lives.

And it makes it even more clear to me, this is our normal.

usAmanda is a wife, a mother, a photog, a teacher, a friend, a mentor, granola-liking, Trader Joe’s missing, outdoor loving, camping-in-a-tent, beach bumming, small group leading, hurting for Africa, 30-something. I’m transplanted from Charlotte, NC living in Moshi, Tanzania bringing a little Jesus-love to Africa getting my feet dirty and wearing skirts even though I don’t love to… And while those things don’t define me, they do describe me a bit – what does define me is my never ending, sometimes lacking, pursuit of the Creator of Life. That’s right, above all else, I’m a Jesus-following, child of God. You can find her on Facebook, Instagram, and her blog.