Travel Skills

I have been traveling intermittently since I was two, and I like to think I’m pretty good at it.

I got especially good at it after my five week trip to India in college. I went with a group of nine people through an organisation that arranges trips like that one, and before we left, said organisation gave us a list of things to pack. This was in the early ’90’s, so let’s acknowledge that luggage technology was not as advanced as it is now. As far as I’m aware, the fact that my American Tourister suitcase (which had been purchased for me as a high school graduation present and sported my then-favourite-colour, “Dusty Rose”) had a pair of disproportionately tiny wheels, and a handle for dragging it on them, was a relative novelty and considered quite an asset. Unfortunately, it was hard-sided and already weighed plenty when there was nothing in it. The up side was that I guess if we ran into any ill-behaved simians in the jungles of the subcontinent, they wouldn’t be able to break into it. (We did see some monkeys in the trees, but they left our luggage alone. We didn’t see the tigers we were looking for at all.)

After I packed every item on the Recommended Items to Pack list, however (including a travel iron, because I had a travel iron and had never had a reason to travel with it before–and still didn’t, let’s be honest), the suitcase weighed so much that it crushed the wheel bearings and the wheels never rolled again. Which was a problem when trying to rush with eight other people across the length and breadth, as well as up and down the stairs, of a New Delhi train station in an attempt to get to the Indian state of Maharashtra. We ended up in Mumbai (when it was still called Bombay) at the end of the trip, and I guess, if the more recent commercial is any indication, even a soft-sided American Tourister suitcase would’ve sufficed. Bummer.

Anyway, after that I decided to up my travel game, which proved to be a good thing when I moved to London and spent the next five and a half years gallivanting around Europe. One of the things that I learned pretty early on was the importance of informing myself on the upcoming weather of whatever location I was headed for. I developed certain techniques for packing light, no matter the weather, but since cold weather clothes are usually bulkier than warm weather ones, it was important for the success of all the rest of my travel hacks that I have some idea what sort of meteorological state I was about to enter. It used to be trickier to find this out; often I had to make a phone call to a person living in my destination, particularly during the days when I couldn’t afford an internet connection that actually allowed me to search the internet, but only one that allowed me to quickly send and receive emails. But I was always able to find out the information I needed to know. Now it’s so much easier.

All this to say that I really have no excuse for the fact that I’ve been wearing the same sweatshirt and jeans, and borrowing TheBro’s socks, for the last five days. My first day as a non-employee of My Old Church, I got on a plane bright and early to spend a few days with The BroFam. The BroFam lives in a northerly state which is known for cold winters, but since last year New England’s winter lasted about three months longer than theirs and it was hot there when my Paul and I visited them around this same time, and this year New England got more snow than anyone else in the country including Alaska, I guess I just figured I’d be wearing shorts the whole time. I mean, I did figure that. It’s what I packed. It’s been downright hot in New England lately, and in spite of the fact I had a brief glimmer of a thought, as I dragged my soft-sided suitcase with functioning wheels out of its spot in the closet, that maybe I should check the weather, I … didn’t. The only reason I have a sweatshirt and a pair of jeans with me at all is that I find airplanes chilly.

As with most Jenn Stories (of which this is a quintessential one), please feel free to consider this a public service announcement, meaning: Check the weather before you travel. You’re welcome.

I guess if I had traveled here this coming weekend, I would've been okay ...

I guess if I had traveled here this coming weekend, I would’ve been okay …


Hollywood of the East

Whatever Wednesday – Our Fair City

By which I don’t mean Bollywood. Not that far East.

Just when my family was beginning to suspect a member of our ranks had singlehandedly discouraged Our Fair City’s burgeoning future as a film set (a story that is not mine to tell, more’s the pity, because it’s a good one), it turns out that this guy is wandering around this week in the woods where my Paul and I went on our second hike-date:


I would credit this photo in a link, but I ripped it from my coach’s Facebook wall, and I don’t know where she got it.

Presumably this means that Ken Watanabe is also here. For some reason my high school gym teacher’s husband has accompanied these guys out there. I have yet to learn why. It is a little bizarre to me that they chose to depict a Japanese forest by filming in the middle of a New England one, but we can go with it.

I felt more compelled to go star-searching back when Christian Bale and Bradley Cooper (and Amy Adams and Jennifer Lawrence) were hanging out in Our Fair City proper for the filming of American Hustle–even though I didn’t–when my friend Starbecca was making them lattes and stuff. (She didn’t meet them–just their lackeys.) But I’m enamoured with the idea that more and more movies are being shot in Our Fair County. And McConaughey’s fine. Just today he rose further in my estimation when the rumour surfaced that he had visited Ocean State Job Lot. This is my Paul’s and my favourite store. We go shopping for household miscellany there on Saturdays and pretend that’s a date, too.

So . . . maybe in Mr McConaughey’s case, the draw isn’t Our Fair City and its surrounds, but my Paul’s and my Fair Date Spots. Come on, Matt. We called ’em first.

It’s a Jungle Out There

Family Friday – Back Yard, Part 2 – Plants

It turns out that turtles aren’t the only ones who like hugelkulturs.

These baby cucumbers are much bigger now . . .

These baby cucumbers are much bigger now . . . even though the snapping turtle dug them up after she couldn’t access her original spot, and before this one got fenced off, too.

I don’t really have much else to say about that, but the Blue Hubbard Squashes definitely do:

I guess it was feeling a little squashed . . .

I guess it was feeling a little squashed . . .

Or there’s always this Rainy Independence Day angle:

What's that? You don't see the big deal?

What’s that? You don’t see the big deal?

This, I feel, makes my point a little more clearly . . . regardless of the raindrops.

This, I feel, makes my point a little more clearly . . . regardless of the raindrops.

Magic Carpets

Memory Monday – Turkey, Part 3

The young carpet seller into whose shop I somewhat reluctantly ducked was, in fact, a carpet seller, and he really did only seem to want to offer me tea. I sat in a chair and drank the apple tea and he asked me about America and England and my family and why I was in Istanbul. I asked him about him and his family, too. He was about to go for his two year military service and he had some family in the United States and maybe he would go visit them sometime. I told him he could explain to me about carpets if he wanted, and as long as he understood I wasn’t actually going to buy one. So he told me.

photo by Jennwith2ns 2002

We became penpals for years after this, losing touch maybe 3 years ago (right around when I got married, incidentally, but I think at that point he might have met someone, too). Since I don’t exactly have his permission to post this photo, I have obscured his face. Thanks for the friendship, Senol!

After I said goodbye to my newfound friend, I went off to lunch. The problem with having lunch by yourself when you have stuff to think about, though, is that you end up thinking about it. I’ve always been an overthinker to begin with, and I was even worse in my 20’s and 30’s than I am now. Not having ever been a Normal Person, I don’t know this for sure, but I suspect that a Normal Person a) wouldn’t have accepted an offer to go to Taksim with a guy she didn’t know in the first place and b) if she had and then thought better of it, would simply have decided not to show up to the meet, and gotten on with her day. But not this chick. I tried, though. Really, I did.

After lunch, I went to the Grand Bazaar, but if I were already freaked out by being hollered after by people supposedly intent on selling me carpets or Turkish tea glasses, that place was enough to send me into an ever so mild state of PTSD. It’s a shame, really, because had I been accompanied by just one other person I knew and trusted, I would’ve loved a place like that. As it was, I probably blew through there faster than anyone else in the history of the bazaar, saw nothing but a blur of textiles and curious male faces, and took no pictures. Not even of the outside.

Like this picture. I didn't take this picture.

Like this picture. I didn’t take this picture.


Then I beelined back to the Hotel to try to journal myself into sanity. It didn’t work. I decided walking around some more might help. I went up to the park on the far side of the Blue Mosque and walked in it. Then I sat down on a bench and tried to breathe. Then a male voice said, “What are you doing?”

It was Mr. Married-to-an-American-Redhead. Given the tizzy into which I had launched myself, seeing him felt like seeing an old friend, almost a father figure. Almost comforting. One teeny tiny part of my brain sent me a warning signal, but the rest of my brain sighed with relief and then apparently shut off completely, as I let MtaAR sit down next to me and began to confide in him my troubles. Did he think it would be a good idea to go with some other, younger, carpet seller to Taksim that night?

He gently suggested that this might not be the best idea, because Turkish men, he gently suggested, believe that American women go to Turkey for the sex. I’m not sure if he was including himself in this generalisation, but seeing as he was already a self-confessed Turkish man with an American wife, he might have been speaking from experience. I’m not sure he could totally understand what was so upsetting to me about not keeping my word in this instance–and honestly, can you? But I had a code, and it–as well as Jesus, for goodness’ sake–told me to let my yes be yes and my no be no, and I just couldn’t stand the idea that I had said “yes” and was about to act out “no.”

Clearly he wasn’t going to get me off my mental roundabout this way, so after a bit he suggested, still gently, that maybe I would like to learn how to sell carpets. Maybe, when I moved back to America, I could be an importer. For some reason this seemed like a super-fantastic suggestion. Maybe, he said, I could come back to his own shop, which was in his home, and he could teach me what to do.

I don’t know if it was because in London I was used to visiting the homes of relative strangers from varying countries until they became friends, or because I had this idea that MtaAR’s American redheaded wife a) actually existed and b) would be home and not weirded out at all by his bringing home another American woman, or if–as, in hindsight, it has felt–there was some kind of spiritual ominousness going on (I definitely remember feeling in something of a fog from the time I sat on that bench), but I immediately agreed to this plan to MtaAR’s evident surprise, and we got up and began to make our way across the park.

To this day, I also don’t know if MtaAR’s conscience began to get the better of him, or if I wasn’t presenting enough of a challenge, or if his greed trumped his libido, or if he had, for a moment, really genuinely thought it would be a good idea to go into business with a naive American woman who couldn’t even make good decisions about bad decisions and then he changed his mind, but I do know as we made our way across the park, he first began to give me some outs. I didn’t take them. Even in a psycho-spiritual fog, evidently, I am stubborn and contrary, and the more he suggested I probably wouldn’t actually like selling carpets after all and I didn’t really have to go to his house, the more determined I was to do so. One might suppose this was his plan all along, except then, to his credit I guess? He said, “Now here’s something to learn about selling carpets. You have to be able to read people. See that couple over there? They are rich Americans and they will buy carpets. Watch.”

I looked where he was pointing. There was, indeed, a couple, probably in their mid-sixties, strolling through the park. I couldn’t tell for sure if they were Americans (and sometimes, my friends, you really can tell) nor even that they were rich, but I decided he could be right and I guessed I would find out. He walked up to them, told them he had invited me to view his carpets and wondered if they would like to come along, too. They looked at me quizzically, and the one thing I am absolutely certain of in all that mind-hazy day is that they really could have cared less about this guy and his carpets, but they had a funny feeling about my role in the whole thing, and so they went along to give me some back-up.

We followed MtaAR out of the park, away from the Mosque and Ayasofya, down one back alley, and another back alley, and another back alley, and I was merely interested. Not nervous, not having second thoughts, not even remembering that anyone had ever warned me about going down back alleys with anyone. I talked to the American couple. They were friendly but reserved. I probably told them I had been working for some churches in London. They probably thought I was under the mistaken impression I could convert this guy. And maybe I was, a little bit. Eventually we stopped at a tall corner building. There were some men outside. MtaAR spoke to them in Turkish and they opened the door and began bustling about–presumably to find us some carpets to view. As it happened, they probably didn’t really need to do anything. The entryway of the house was somewhat narrow with a staircase that climbed around the walls and had rooms opening off around it, going up and up for three or four storeys. There was a room to the back I could see through the open door across from us, where the sunlight was streaming in, but everywhere else was all dim with incandescent lighting and carpets. Carpets on the floors, carpets on the walls, probably carpets on the ceiling four storeys up. It was beautiful and impressive and fascinating . . . but after I got out of there I realised it was also intensely ominous. Those carpets would have muffled any sound–or anyone–ever made in that house. I looked around for the American redhead, but I didn’t see her. I didn’t see any little boys, either.

MtaAR led the American couple and me up the stairs one flight and showed us into a room, also entirely lined with carpets. His lackeys brought in a pile of carpets. MtaAR went through a long schpiel telling us about his carpets, how you could tell a good quality carpet, how you could tell his were good quality carpets. It dawned on me that I had learned all of this at a Persian carpet emporium with nine companions in India, nine summers before. I wasn’t learning anything, not really, about getting into this business myself. The American couple didn’t seem impressed, either. MtaAR told us he would go out of the room so we could decide which carpets we wanted to buy. I guessed he probably couldn’t really overtly coach me in the business when he was actively trying to sell to these two.

As soon as he left the room, the couple turned to me. How did I know this guy? How was it I was with him by myself until they came along? Was I planning on this turning into a date?

What?? No! He had a wife and two kids . . . I thought . . . I didn’t know . . .

MtaAR came back in to see what the couple had decided. They had decided they were not buying carpets that day. They had decided to go back to tour the city. I could leave with them if I wanted . . . or I could stay here for a while . . .

No, no, I said. I would go with them. I went with them. We stepped out into the sunshine and suddenly I snapped out of whatever little spell I had been under all afternoon. I stared at the American couple. I thanked them profusely. “You’re going to be okay now, right?” they asked. Yes, I assured them. I would be all right. I think I probably wanted to stick close to them for the rest of the evening, and maybe even until I headed down to Izmir the next day, but that didn’t seem to be an option. Maybe they were angels–or maybe they were just a sternly kind retired American couple who didn’t want to see ill befall a younger compatriot, but who also didn’t want me tagging along on the rest of their holiday. Either way, this experience alone convinces me that there is a God and that that God is merciful–even to wayward blunderers like this one. Either way, I never saw that American couple, or MtaAR, again.

I never saw Taksim, either.

 (At Izmir later that week, actually.) Carpets being created.

Not Taksim.





A Backyard Called Bountiful

Family Friday – Backyard, Part 1: Pe(s)ts

Since we’re all about series posts around here these days, here’s another set.

It’s a rainy Independence Day here in this corner of the USA, and we had a small cookout with my parents last night, so here at the Cottage, there isn’t much to distinguish today from a Saturday. This morning before the rain started, I spent a little time, as I do every Saturday, trying to create order out of the chaos inside the house, and Paul spent some time as he does pretty much every day, trying to create order from the chaos outside.

Every year, there are lots of projects, and lots of pests, and lots of plants that do really well, while lots of other plants don’t do so well. This year, though, it seems like there’s just more of all those things. More, and also . . . bigger? Our first year of marriage, we had some sort of blight on some of the vegetables, and leaf-cutter ants and chipmunks. Last year we had the ants and the chipmunks, but also these crows that got the biggest kick out of stabbing the tomatoes with their beaks, flinging them across the yard, and leaving them there. Oh, and the ducks. The neighbours have ducks. The ducks liked to come up from the pond into the yard, waddling and quacking and snapping the heads off the marigolds which we planted because they’re pretty but also to keep other pests out of the garden.

This year, along with all those other jokers, plus some medium-sized brown perching bird which may or may not be some sort of thrush and which may or may not be an asset, the rabbit that hung around all last year has actually been engaging in the garden raids (which for some reason it refrained from last year), such that we have no broccoli–even though we did, for a minute–and all the kale outside of containers has also completely disappeared. That rabbit likes his cruciferous vegetables, apparently.

He appears to like pallet fences less.

He appears to like pallet fences less.

None of the animals seem to feel overly threatened by either Shemp or Oscar, although they might by Shemp if he were given freer run of the yard. On the other hand, the dogs seem to think that these are more of their own pet-siblings, who just happen to live outdoors. Maybe they outdoor animals think that, too. We should probably start naming them.

The bear is also back, but we stopped putting seeds in the bird feeder at the beginning of last season (which, by the way, still felt like the middle of the season before), so I, at least, haven’t seen her. Instead, the latest and most dramatic garden invasion has come from Mama Turtle.

My Paul’s pet garden project this summer has been experiments with the hugelkulturan idea he’s been researching at Mother Earth News and Youtube.

The first one

Layers of composting goodness

Apparently Mama Turtle thinks this is a good experiment.

She, on the other hand, was not exactly a variable he was planning on.

She, on the other hand, was not exactly a variable he was planning on.

My Paul didn’t really think there was room for both healthy squashes and a nest of snapping turtle eggs, so after three days of finding her digging up the plants at the same time every morning, and his scooping her out with a pitchfork, he got serious.

He got more serious than this later, but this was Phase 1.

Phase 1 of “Serious.”

After that, I saw Mama Turtle down the street–at rather an impressive distance, really–in a neighbour’s yard, but she was sure to be disappointed. They don’t have a hugelkultur. In her absence, a smaller, prettier painted turtle showed up, but she missed the, er, slat of opportunity, I guess.

She needs to work on those P90X3 side-planks . . .

A few P90X3 side-planks and she’d be set . . .

Three Men and a Crazy Lady

Memory Monday – Turkey, Part 2

The Concierge at the Hotel Sur was friendly but seemed a little bit bemused by the presence of this tall American who claimed to be from England, traveling all by herself, who had landed in his small lobby. He seemed even more taken aback when I asked if there were any safe places for me to walk around, as it was still early evening and light out, and if there was an inexpensive restaurant where I could get supper and not be bothered. Like the good Concierge he was, he had a satisfactory answer to both of these questions, but it dawned on me later that he might have been wondering why, if I really were as modest and concerned for my personal virtue as I seemed, I was visiting Turkey by myself in the first place.

I put my luggage in the really quite decent room which was to be mine for the next two nights, locked everything up tight, and sallied forth into the early evening sunshine. The area around the Blue Mosque was public and peopled and the mosque itself was breathtaking, so I walked up the hill and began to circumnavigate it.

The Blue Mosque

I made it around the first two sides with no issues, but as I rounded the corner of the third, a guy approached me. I mean, he walked right up to me, instead of calling out like the other vendors were doing. I don’t even remember what he said at first, but I have never been good at dissembling . . . or just telling people to beat it . . . so we ended up having quite a conversation there on the sidewalk, a bunch of other men looking on. He wanted to know if I wanted to buy a carpet. I said I would love to buy a carpet, but I didn’t actually have any money–I just wanted to see Istanbul. He could tell I was American. He was married to an American himself, he said. She was a redhead. They had two boys. He talked to me like this for a while. Then we said goodbye and he said to look him up if I changed my mind about a carpet. I laughed and said I would, and made my way to the restaurant the Concierge had recommended. It was a good restaurant. I had brought a book and so I sat there reading over my dinner and glancing up from time to time as the sun set over the Sea of Marmara. This vacation could be great. It was starting to get dark by the time I left, but seriously, it was only a five minute walk, and I was accustomed to tramping around East London by myself past 11 o’clock at night, so I wasn’t too worried.

The next day was as beautiful as the first. I had breakfast on the roof of the hotel and then set off to explore. I wanted to go into the Blue Mosque because it was impressive, and the Grand Bazaar because it was famous, but most of all I wanted to see Ayasofya because even then church history and theology fascinated me, and Ayasofya was linked to such an old part of it.

Ayasofia - the Basilica of Holy Wisdom

Ayasofya – the Basilica of Holy Wisdom and minarets

Some other young women tourists at the hotel were chatting to each other at breakfast about catching some of the night life in Taksim, and I wished I knew someone in Istanbul so I could go to places like Taksim and see some night life without becoming a casualty of it. As it was, I was probably going to be stuck in my hotel room reading a book. But never mind. It was a nice day. I sallied forth.

It was as I was leaving the Blue Mosque that things started to get a little strange. First of all, a man started following me. Did I want to buy a carpet? I gave him the same line I had given Married-to-an-American-Redhead the evening before, but this guy, lacking an American wife already evidently, was not to be put off so easily. After a little back and forth, he asked if he could take me to that cafe over there, see, with the tables outside, and buy me an orange juice?

I guess the fact that I was about to turn 30 and had never dated anyone, and also was getting ready to leave London, a city where I thought I would settle, and I was kind of angry about both things, I decided it was time for me to start taking some risks. Anyway, how risky is orange juice in broad daylight outside at 10 o’clock in the morning? We sat at that table drinking orange juice for a surprisingly long time. Orange Juice Guy (whose name I have since forgotten–Ercan, maybe) was a good conversationalist. He talked frankly about how he could tell I was different from other American girls, and how at first he had wanted to talk to me because he thought I was like the rest of them, but now he was glad he was talking to me because he could tell I was a really good and pure person, and he would want to protect me like his sister. In spite of the fact that I found this man insanely good-looking, I was comforted by this assertion. So comforted, in fact, that when he suggested we meet at this same spot again at 7 o’clock that night, so he could take me to Taksim, I agreed. Well? I had wanted to go to Taksim and hadn’t even mentioned it to anyone. Maybe this was the one way I could get there safely.

As a bonus, before he returned to his carpet-selling, Orange Juice Guy told me that it was a good idea for me to go see Ayasofya, of course, but I should really also see Yerebatan Sarayı, or the Basilica Cistern, this Byzantine underground waterway near the basilica. It was pretty dark down there, and I wasn’t entirely sure what I was seeing, because by that point the fact that I had just accepted the invitation of a Turkish man I did not know, to go to the nightlife capital of the Turkish capital was dawning on me in all its insanity. I looked around at the pillars in the dark, snapped some pictures, and then decided to try to calm down at Ayasofya.

photo by Jennwith2ns 2002

Everything in there looked upside down. Do those tears look like they’re going the right direction to you?

I’m not sure I calmed down exactly, but the Muslim/Christian mashup in that gorgeous, ancient building did distract me for at least half an hour.

photo by Jennwith2ns 2002

Soon my mind began racing again. I had just, maybe the week before, told someone–maybe only myself–that I thought that standing someone up was unconscionable, and now here I was, having committed to something I was now feeling by the minute was a worse and worse idea. I tromped out of the basilica grounds, back toward Hotel Sur and the restaurant. I was going to get my journal and write all this out. And it was lunch time. I had to go through the small bazaar. Vendors were calling after me. I ignored them. I was angry–mostly at myself, for having put myself into such a stupid and, as it seemed to me at the time, impossible, situation. I have a code, you know.

“Please, miss,” said a young man–a very young man, far too young to be interested me, I thought–coming out of one of the shops, “Would you like to learn about carpets? You don’t have to buy one. I just want to talk to you.” In fact, I would have been quite interested to learn about carpets, and I really did want to get inside one of those shops just to look, but by now I was suspicious of everyone and was sick to death of being hollered after, so I rounded on him and said, “NO!”

“Well, I’m sorry!” he snapped back. “I don’t want to do anything to you. I don’t even want to sell you a carpet. I just want to have a cup of tea together and talk!”

I was breaking my code all over the place. Not only had I made a commitment I could not possibly keep, but now I had just been rude to someone I didn’t know and who hadn’t done me any harm. “It’s just tea,” he said, showing me.

I sighed. “Oh all right,” I said, and went into the shop.

Destination: Turkey

Memory Monday

Looking at those photos from 2002 last week reminded me of a lot of things, including Turkey.

Even though I worked with an extremely diverse population in my home in East London, both India and Turkey had, in different ways, become countries and cultures of focus for me. Going to India in 1993 had been one step in the path of getting me to London, but in 2002 when I realised I’d be relocating back to the States, I still hadn’t been to Turkey.

I had become accustomed to traveling all around Europe at very low costs as a London resident, by visiting and staying with friends in these other countries, and by flying budget airlines. So, probably not long after I truly decided I was moving back across the Pond, I also decided I needed to take one more trip. I thought about Italy, but I didn’t know anyone in Italy, and besides, everybody goes to Italy. If I were going to make European trips ever again, from the United States instead of from the United Kingdom, it was far more likely that I’d make it to Italy than to Turkey. Besides, I knew a British couple living in Izmir at the time. So, I reckoned, I could probably stay with them. They reckoned so, as well.

What I hadn’t reckoned on was the fact that either I couldn’t get a flight to Izmir, or else I couldn’t afford one, so my British-Friends-in-Turkey recommended I fly into Istanbul and take a bus (coach) to their city, and then reverse the trip on the way back. This probably wouldn’t have been such a terrible idea, except that if I was going to be in Istanbul, I wanted to see Istanbul. I can’t really remember how it was I decided to bite the bullet and schedule myself two nights in a small hotel in the Old City at the beginning of the trip, and two more nights on the way back. I bought my tickets and booked the hotel, which I had discovered after some research on, and at the beginning of May 2002, just a few weeks before I left London forever as a resident, I left London temporarily as a tourist to Turkey.

Hotel Sur - I recommend it--at least as it was a decade ago.

Hotel Sur – I recommend it–at least as it was a decade ago.

“Be careful,” said my Turkish and Kurdish women friends. “You will love Turkey. But be careful of the men.” They said that last part a lot. “Be careful of Turkish men.”

“Don’t go down any alleys with anyone,” quipped . . . actually, I don’t remember who quipped that. But I know someone did. I remember the quip because please. Who actually goes down alleyways with someone they don’t know?

My British-Friends-in-Turkey told me what I had to do to get from my hotel to the bus on the second day and warned me about scam-artist cab drivers.

“Be careful,” said everybody.

Of course I was going to be careful. I wouldn’t go out after dark, and I don’t talk to men on the street anyway, so that wasn’t a concern. I was maybe a little naive, but I wasn’t stupid, and I was just nervous and yet determined enough, that probably, with God’s help, I was going to be just fine.

I’m going to say God’s help was the clincher, but I’m at more than 500 words, so you’re going to have to wait until next week to find out how the trip went.

Technically, this is still BEFORE dark. From the roof of my restaurant.

Technically, this is still BEFORE dark. From the roof of my restaurant.


Saturday Snippets

It’s awesome when you take three teenagers away for an overnight at camp on the first day of summer and at the end one of them says,

“I had fun. If summer ended today, I could say, ‘This summer I spent some time at a camp on a pond. I went kayaking and swimming and hiking–up the Biggest Mountain in the World.'”


View from the Biggest Mountain in the World (photo credit LS)

View from the Biggest Mountain in the World (photo credit LS)

Three Teenagers

Three Teenagers

Long Ago Farewells

Memory Monday

I ran into an old friend today . . . on Facebook, of course. I don’t even remember how we first met–probably the ESOL classes at my church in East London–but I do remember going to visit her quite a bit. She was a refugee with some pretty traumatic refugee experiences, and I wanted–and she wanted me to–write her story into a book, but then I left London and we never saw each other again–until today on Facebook. We hadn’t really known each other for more than five months when I flew away, so I didn’t expect her to remember me, but she said, “I have been searching the fb like mad for u but I couldn’t find u coz I couldn’t remember ur last name, I’m glad u found me.” Me, too!

Usually when I think of momentous years, I think of 2008. But actually, on 3 January 2002, I had an inexplicable freak-out about returning to London (where I had theretofore assumed I was going to settle for the rest of my life) and so even though I did return, the wheels were set in motion from that point onward for me to leave. I used to say that God told me to, and I still reckon He might have, but whether He did or didn’t, I don’t expect my choice surprised Him very much and things seem to be working out–at the moment, anyway.

Anyway, this made 2002 a pretty momentous year, too, because before I left London for good in May that year, I jumped into a bunch of new experiences kind of at the last minute, just in case. One of the things I did was find out that even though I didn’t have a work permit to work in the UK, I could volunteer as a teacher’s assistant at one of the local schools.

A Teddy Bear's Picnic with Year R/1

A Teddy Bear’s Picnic with Year R/1

I ended up helping out in about three different classrooms and it may have been the most fun thing I did the entire time I was in London, so it’s kind of surprising that alone didn’t make me stay. On the first day, I read stories to a group of cuties in Reception (Kindergarten). Javed wanted me to read Where the Wild Things Are. So I started reading it. We paused carefully at each page to look at the pictures.

Where the Wild Things Are - Maurice Sendak

Where the Wild Things Are – Maurice Sendak

“That one looks like you, Miss,” said Javed.

Not the most flattering comparison, but he wasn't exactly wrong.

Not the most flattering comparison, but he wasn’t exactly wrong.

The school was not a religious school, but it was a very religious school, all the same, because most of the kids were from religious families. Far and away the highest percentage of the kids were Muslim, but there was also a sizeable Sikh and Hindu population, and just a smattering of Christians. One thing I loved about British schools was that there were actually Religious Education (RE) classes, so the kids were learning about different faiths, and none of the teachers had to be afraid to talk about them. Sometimes the classes were a little tricky, though, when a given teacher was trying to teach about a faith that wasn’t his or her own. Like, you should’ve seen the day that one teacher placed another book on top of the Qu’ran when he was teaching about Islam . . .

But there was also the Year 4 teacher who was trying to teach the kids about Easter. It was Easter time, so I guess they were trying to be seasonal with their lesson plans. My guess is that this teacher might have fallen into the “spiritual but not religious” category, and so when of the children asked a question about some Easter specifics, she didn’t know how to answer. I was sitting in the corner trying to work on some remedial reading with an individual child, when Manvir, whose family I had been friends with for years, piped up. “Ask Jenn!” he said. (Everybody else called me “Miss.”) “She knows all about this stuff.” So, in a community school full of Muslims, Sikhs, Hindus, and a very few Christians, I talked about Jesus being God and coming to die for our sins and coming back to life again and the whole time I kept waiting for someone to get offended or for the teacher to tell me I had crossed a line, but nobody did, because it was RE, and in RE we talked about beliefs.

At the end of the year, one of the teachers had his class sing me a farewell song since I was leaving England, and all the children gave me hugs. I guess I didn’t know when I signed up to volunteer in school, that saying goodbye to a bunch of children–most of whom I hadn’t known before January–would be so difficult. It took me three years at least to get over London. I’m glad I’m where I am now, but I’m glad I was there, too. I’m glad that I kept making friends until I left. And I’m glad I had those five months at that school.

"Til We Have Faces" - I'm pretty sure most of these kids are in university or beyond, by this point, but just in case, I overexposed all our faces. You still get the idea.

“Til We Have Faces” – I’m pretty sure most of these kids are in university or beyond, by this point, but just in case, I overexposed all our faces. You still get the idea.

Our-Fair-City Wednesday

Wordy Wednesday

So I’ve decided to change Wednesday’s designation. Although Wordy Wednesday can cover a lot (like this post, which is slated to be pretty wordy), sometimes I want to write about Work, or Workouts, or Whatever, and I can’t save all of that for Saturday Snippets, partly because a lot of times they aren’t very snippety. Also because I’m kind of over Saturday Snippets. All those other things begin with W, too, just like words and writing, and Wwwwwednesday, so can we all agree that Whatever Wednesday is the new category? (Maybe someday I’ll start a separate website, the url of which is I don’t know what it will be a website of, exactly, though. Whatever, I guess.)

Anyway, another thing that begins with w is Our Fair City. No, I know the words our fair city don’t begin with wbut Our Fair City does . . . never mind. This post is going to blow any kind of cover I ever had with the identification of Our Fair City, but I still plan on calling it Our Fair City going forward. So you seventeen people who read this post? You will be the only ones in the know.

Our Fair City has been getting quite a bit of celebrity love lately, and this is partly because has an airport. It also has one airline which goes to and from our airport to one other destination. Before that it had one other airline that went from here to roughly the same destination, but they left, and so between the two airlines (and before the first one), no one was using the airport–except Hollywood. I’m not sure when Tom Hanks discovered it, but it doesn’t seem to have been in time for the filming of The Terminal. However, reputedly he loves filming there–most recently filming the beginning of Captain Philips in the departures and arrivals lane. (It’s the same lane.) We watched it without knowing this ahead of time and immediately recognised the location–although we also recognised that Hanks’ Vermont accent needed a little work.

Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz also shot scenes there for Knight and Day, and evidently Robert Downey, Jr., was there two years ago for a film that’s coming out this year. Recently, stars have actually been making forays out of the airport premises and creating other notable works in Our Fair City and its surrounds, but I think that might be fodder for another post, although I would just like to say: ChristianBaleBradleyCooperJenniferLawrenceAmyAdamsTomHanksFrancesMcDormandJerrySeinfeldAzizAnsari. Oh and George Clooney’s character in The Monuments Men? Was based on a past director of Our Fair City’s quite notable art museum (also a movie-maker’s dream, it turns out, but like I said–another story).

And then today when I was in Boondocks, New England instead of in Our Fair City, this landed at the airport:

photo credit Sally Dunham Mansoor

photo credit Sally Dunham Mansoor

President Obama was speaking at the Commencement ceremony of a local high school. Whatever one’s politics, it’s kind of interesting/historic to have the President come to a city most people have never heard of. Our Fair City: the alt-destination of celebrities everywhere. It’s about time someone realised we were cool.

(P.S. I’m so proud of myself. I got through an entirely name-dropping post without noting how much I hate name-dropping and how I’m going to do it anyway. Well . . . almost a whole post.)