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The End of the Flaneur

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The Let’s Go Flaneuring series is at an end.

I hope this isn’t the end of the flaneur. I hope we all go out into the world with our eyes wide open to see and experience and take notice of our neighborhoods, of the small details that make our streets and corners unique. But, it is the end of the Let’s Go Flaneuring series.

The series started October 7, 2014. October 7! Every single Tuesday for five months we took a walk through obscure and through well-known neighborhoods.

We’ve been to DjiboutiIndia, Ireland, Mexico, Haiti, the Eternal Spring City, Kansas, Illinois, Tanzania, the United Arab Emirates, Oregon, Cambodia, Guatemala, Chad, Boliva, Russia, Nicaragua, Kenya, Qatar, back to Tanzania, California, and even airplanes.

Thank you everyone for participating and for reading along. One of my favorite things of hosting a guest post series is the connections that result and the opportunity to share the words and worlds of people I enjoy and respect.

I’d love to host another guest series but currently have zero ideas. I’ll let you know in coming weeks if something sparks in my mind.

If you have an idea for a series you’d like to participate in or read your way through, leave a comment and help me brainstorm!

By |March 17th, 2015|Categories: flaneuring|Tags: |3 Comments

Let’s Go Flaneuring in Kenya

Today’s Flaneuring post is by Heidi Thulin who lives and works in Nairobi, Kenya (and happens to be from Minnesota too!)

It is evening by the time I’m hanging up my last load of laundry, but I’m not concerned. For months now, the air has been hot and dry, and with this wind blowing through our palm fronds, I know these towels will be foldable in no time.

This is the beginning of our third year in this Nairobi house. We came to this country with only ten suitcases to our name and furnished this house from scratch. No wedding registry this time around, and as a result, we live minimally. A few cozy couches in the living room, enough dishes to host a dinner party, and a handful of postcards and family photos to decorate the walls.

We feel comfortable here, content.

But I remember my surprise when we first pulled into the driveway and saw the fifteen-foot wall topped with razor wire that ran alongside our house. It was daunting and unfriendly, a cement cage. A city of four million people, many of whom live below the poverty line, lends itself to dramatic security measures.

The longer we lived here, though, the more that wall became part of the scenery. We planted vines at the bottom of it and watched the leafy fingers crawl upwards. We enjoyed the privacy it offered. And because every other house, office, and high-rise in the city had similar walls, its presence settled into the realm of normal.

On the other side of our wall is a forest full of tropical plants, acacia trees, and thorny shrubs. Not too many people here can say they live so close to the wilderness, so we count ourselves among the lucky.Wall1

A vast variety of birds live in that forest, and several of them frequent our yard. Weaver birds collecting long strands of banana leaf for their nests, mousebirds making a chattering racket in our bougainvillea bushes, and fire finches stealing grains of rice from our dog’s food dish.

Monkeys live in those tall trees too, and about once a month, a troop of fifty vervets trot along our rooftops, causing dogs to howl in their direction, children to scream in delight, and mamas to close their kitchen doors.Vervets

This place is alive.

My dog’s ears perk up as I reach to clip another clothespin, and then I hear it too: the rumbling growl of our Land Rover coming down the road. As Ginger bounces and barks, I fish out the keys and open the front gate for my husband.

He drives the truck into the driveway, and in the instant after he turns off the engine, there is an alarming silence. Until I swing the gate closed with a rattling bang.

It took awhile, but I’ve gotten used to the high walls and the bars on our windows. They no longer feel like a prison, but more like an embrace, one that welcomes us inside and holds the two of us snugly in our tiny piece of land.

They say home is where the heart is, and as long as our little family is tucked within these walls and razor wire, it’s safe to say that this place is ours.

heidi thulin1Heidi Thulin is a staff writer for a media team in Nairobi, Kenya, and she blogs at thulinsinafrica.com. She and her videographer husband greatly enjoy traveling together, tossing ideas around with their creative team, and catching glimpses of the everyday lives and work of their fellow expatriates. She loves her Saturday mornings filled with a good book, a cup of hot chai (with plenty of sugar), and the company of her Kenyan mutt.

Let’s Go Flaneuring in Chad

Today’s Flaneuring post is by JoAnna and she takes us on a walk to the post office in her town in Chad.

Mail comes to our town of Sarh, Chad, once a week. And once a week the kids and I will take a walk hoping for a magazine, a letter, or even a package! We start in a scramble for hats, headscarves, sunglasses, shoes. Our guard’s wife smiles and nods as we leave. We have no language in common, and although she understands an increasing amount of French, she doesn’t speak it. In addition to my basic French, I can meet and greet in Arabic and the local tribal language, but she is from another town, so that doesn’t help much.

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Out the gate, turn left. Two little girls are perched on the step outside their gate. They smile shyly and whisper, “Nasara!” (foreigner) Somedays, I feign surprise, look around, and ask, “Really?!!! Where?!!” but today we greet them and smile. Once again I am struck by the fact that at three and four, they are better at keeping their headscarves adjusted than I am, even though I’ve been living here since before they were born.

The cloudless blue sky makes me think the choking smoke that floated into town last night from the burning sugar fields was a dream – except for the fact that I’m still coughing. The dirt road is dry and dusty but the crossroads is overtaken by a huge mud puddle. The neighbors have drilled a well, and are selling water. “Push-Push” carts filled with jeri-cans line up to be filled with water and off they go, making a trail down the street of little splashes and leaks. The hole in the wall (literally a hole in the wall, yes) shop at the corner sells foil sachets of tomato paste, canned peas, and fried cakes. Past the neighborhood mosque. The leafy mango trees outside the mosque offer a respite from the already hot sun, and there is always someone sitting, standing, talking there.

We come to a large field, and the local school is out in full force. Teenagers show up in school uniform on bikes, or in clusters of chatter and giggles, change into knee-length shorts and T-shirts (I don’t see it happening, but it does….!) and follow instructions. Warm-ups, jogging, playing football. An old jungle gym and swing set stand abandoned, the swings gone, surrounded by weeds. As we come onto a larger street, we meet bikes and motorcycles piled high with vegetables, headed to market. Several women in rainbow colored dresses walk gracefully with huge basins of tomatoes balanced on their heads, and I know they’ve crossed the river with that load, on a little dugout pirogue. When there are hippos in the river, the price of tomatoes goes up because no one wants to risk their life crossing. A woman passes us, veiled and clad head to toe in black, except for her yellow plastic flip-flops which kick up a cloud of dust with each step. A student sings a song I recognize from church, as he joins his group in the field.

Finally we come to a large roundabout, and paved road. The children balance on the curb while trying to keep up. A puppy wants to follow us, but we scare him off. We take a shortcut behind town hall, walk through a vacant lot back to the main road, and cross to the post office. As we enter its cool shady darkness, the only customers, we’re greeted politely. The door to the Post Office boxes has been locked for months, so I tell the man our box number and he goes to check if there is any mail. Relics from another age, the rotary phone on the desk and the 4 foot high metal floor fan are covered in dust and obviously haven’t been used lately. Power’s out, and it’s not “hot season” anyway, with the high “only” in the mid 90’s, (35 C.) It’s a lucky day, the kids have magazines, and each one has something to carry.

The children want to walk home by the river, but I promise that adventure for another day. Outside the front of the town hall, they laugh as always at the hippo and crocodile carved into logs… once painted neatly, I am sure, but now faded and disintegrating. Fitting mascots for a town between two rivers. Back onto the dirt road, past the field, now clear of students, the boys race for the monkey bars and dance on the top, while little sister tries her hardest just to climb up. We walk quickly back home, ready for cold water, and a peek at the magazines before schoolwork demands our attention. I’m bracing myself for the onslaught of knock-knock jokes, and demands for cute crafty recipes full of ingredients we can’t get here. Welcome home. Enjoy your mail!

JoAnna lives in southern Chad, where she homeschools her four children, sweats a lot, and is taken aback by her daughter’s love of goat intestine stew.  When she finds spare time, she reads, sews, tries new recipes, and misses the beach.  The best thing about living in Chad for her is seeing people blossom when they begin to see God’s awesome plans for them.

Let’s Go Flaneuring in Cochabamba, Bolivia

Today’s Flaneuring post is by Dana Holzer and she walks us through Cochabamba, Bolivia. I just like saying that name, Cochabamba. Cochabamba.

Ah Cochabamba, Bolivia…we Montanans love you. A sprawling city of one million, where many languages are spoken in the roiling hot days and cool nights. You are hemmed in by Mt. Tunari’s peak of 17,000 feet and flanked by the largest Cristo statue in the world. Visitors quickly learn that in town the altitude is high enough and the sun strong enough that you’d better lather up with sunscreen and carry extra store-bought water.

cochabambaOur little neighborhood surrounds Parque Lincoln. Most weekends, photographers, wedding parties, folkloric dancers, semi pro video crews, and families with pets descend to the park to spend time together and to share a picnic meal. The many palm trees erupt in permanent firework shaped poofs, and the shrubs surrounding the historic fountains are trimmed to look like various animals: pigs, turkeys and ducks.

Our apartment building is a lofty white and orange stucco building with two friendly doormen, Edgar and Wenceslas. Each day we spend time talking with them while waiting for a taxi, or simply to get fútbal scores. Edgar has a quick smile and speaks Quechua and Spanish, whereas Wenceslas speaks Aymara and Spanish. When my kids have special holidays at their Bolivian school and dress up in traditional costumes, Edgar requests to have his photo taken with our family. Then he sheepishly asks for a copy to show his parents, with whom he lives. The doormen have difficult jobs, assuring security for the building which means hours of boredom, working 24 shifts in a teeny tiny room with no bed for the night. We bring fruit and baked goods to help them pass the time.

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Across the street there is an old formidable brick wall enclosing our neighbor Hector’s farm. He grows lemons, fruit bearing cactuses, and his roosters are my son’s alarm clock. Hector’s wife sells a local specialty, Humintas (hot corn sweet pastries), fresh peach juice and Cokes on the weekends just outside their gate. The refrescos are poured into small clear plastic bags and tied around a straw to drink.

Sounds are important in our neighborhood. The gas truck delivering propane announces its coming with a loud clanging steel rod striking a round metal disc. A high pitched whistle signifies the knife sharpener is on his way. It’s a sound like no other; it begins as a shrill high note, then melodically tumbles down the octave. These men look as though they’ve emerged from the hills 100 years ago in their woolen vests and tire soled sandals.

The school building on our street is the site for 3 separate schools, including night school for adults. Thankfully it rarely rains in Cochabamba, because the roof leaks down onto the students. To notify the neighborhood of the upcoming school year a loud speaker blasts information for three days. A PA system is used on a daily fruit truck lumbering up and down the streets. These drivers sound violent as they shout out, “Manda, manda manda mandarinaaaaaá! The last “a” sound slides up five notes higher. The sounds are curiously like a very bad recording of a Muslim call to prayer.

Other treasures in our neighborhood include bustling fruit and veggie stand at a speedy rotunda underneath a sprawling giant tree. The two main women staffing the tienda work from 7 am to 7 pm. Giant avocados, passion fruit, potatoes, tumbo fruit and slices off of a giant pumpkin (the size of a small St. Bernard) are all for sale. Fresh, cheap and open every day.

Down the hill is our church, cobbled out of a rambling housing complex. The stucco walls are mustard yellow, and a thatched roof of woven leaves sneak in dust, dirt and rain. It’s said of Cochabamba that the air is so full of flying soil, that an airplane slams the dirt before it hits the ground.

cochabamba2Many Latin American people are known for extraverted gregariousness. Bolivians are much more reserved, which is not to say they aren’t warm. Kissing on the cheek or air next to the cheek happens perhaps 50+ times a day to greet friends, my dentist, my kids’ teachers, a new acquaintance. Sometimes when we meet new people, my kids are petted or stroked just like a cat. They are praised for their command of Spanish, and I am given the encouragement (also sometimes 50+ times a day) “poco a poco”, meaning little by little, you too will learn.

Women endearingly called cholitas are often seen outside, walking to and from their daily work. In the past they were only counted as house help and were routinely discriminated against. They have thick double braids to their waists and wear gorgeous velvet, knee length skirts with perhaps one hundred folds lengthwise in the dark fabric. Their broad straw hats are a stiff, woven white with plastic flowers on the brim. A heavy brocade cropped blouse is worn under a colorful blanket of sharp turquoise and fuchsia, tied around the shoulders. They literally carry the next generation on their backs. These beautiful women are like strong, silent sentries guarding modern people from forgetting their roots.

Dana W.M. Holzer is a Montanan who loves living in Cochabamba, Bolivia with her husband and two children. Working with a missions organization, Dana also writes for Montana Parent Magazine and for their family blog, Big Sky, Big World. Follow their (mis)adventures at Big Sky Big World.

Let’s Go Flaneuring in Novosibirsk, Russia

More flaneuring posts, hurrah! Today’s flaneur, Michele Womble, takes us through Novosibirsk, Russia. I love the shivering cold, the images. This is a beautiful flaneuring essay. Enjoy.

(The first days of November in Novosibirsk, Russia – Siberia)

The snow’s been falling for days with fierceness determination, but this morning it has gentled and is drifting softly, soothing and comforting, apologizing for its early eagerness, asking forgiveness. Our apartment buildings are built around a courtyard, and the trees within it have all taken advantage of the snow’s change of heart and adorned themselves with white scarves, caps and shawls. Even the wind is caressing tenderly today, tolerating their vanity, letting them keep their frills, touching my cheeks lightly, cold – but not so very cold yet. 18 F.   Next week it’ll drop to −30F.

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I’m headed to a nearby shop to buy cream. It’s less than a five minute walk, but I’ve decided to go the long way. As I trudge up the hill leading out of the courtyard and to the street, my steps crunch and squeak – the snow resisting under my feet. If I turn right I’ll come to the remnants of a private neighborhood with four or five small log houses. Smoke from their coal fires tickles my nose and mingles with the crisp freshness of the air. I remember when there were many houses there, but in the last several years they’ve given way to multi-dwelling (and multi-level) buildings.

I turn left. Cars and buses and trolleybuses crowd each other and jockey for position on the road. Old soviet style buildings mingle with newer Russian buildings along the streets, while men and women who lived during the Soviet era hurry down the sidewalk beside young adults for whom the Soviet era was something you studied in school and stories told by your parents.   At regular intervals steps lead up from the sidewalk to a landing before shop doors. Other staircases lead down to shops in the cellars. As a rule, stores are entered from the street side, while flats on the floors above are accessed by stairwells from courtyards behind the buildings. When I first moved here 20 years ago, shops were small and simple with a limited variety of products.   Now we have 5 (or more?) large malls, several IMAX theaters, an IKEA, and the first McDonalds opened last summer. (I haven’t been to it, but it’s fun that we now have one.)

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A blue and white trolleybus pulls up to the bus stop and the doors creak open.   Exiting passengers exchange places with those who have been patiently waiting, (or not so patiently, there is a little pushing and bumping) and the bus sighs and moves on.

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I turn another corner into a smaller street lined with kiosks. Some of them are closed for the winter. In the summer there are also stands with bright canopies, selling various fruits and vegetables. It’s too cold for them now, and fruits and vegetables are not as plentiful or as various.   In the kiosks, cashiers retreat behind closed windows, warming themselves until a customer raps on the glass to get their attention.

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A black and white magpie lands on a crate of oranges in front of one large kiosk. The kiosk window flies open and a woman with a gray wool sweater and gray wool shawl over her head bangs a plastic tray on the side under the window. He lifts, circles, and lands close by. She leans further out the window, pulls her gray wool shawl more tightly over her head and bangs again. The banging follows me as I move down the street.

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Two middle-aged men in fur hats stand behind a narrow table set up beside the sidewalk. Fresh unpackaged meat covers the table. A young man passes by me going in the opposite direction, snow shovel carelessly flung over his shoulder. I pause to take a picture of a flock of pigeons fluffed up and huddled near each other to keep warm. They notice that I have noticed them; the whirr of wings alerts me as more pigeons descend, all moving toward me quickly now – most on foot, some flying.   I turn and move farther down the street.

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I have come the round about way to the small shop where I’ll buy cream, and I pull open the heavy door and go in.

michelewombleMichele Womble lives in Novosibirsk, Russia (Siberia) with her husband and 2 teenage children. You can find her 2 albums, A Few Small Fish and The Calling of a Priest, on amazon, and iTunes. Visit her at brokenbreadandsmallfish.com, michelewomble.com, her facebook page or youtube channel.