An open letter to my grown-up kids

Dearest Laila & Archie,

While you’re young and sweet, there are a few things I want to tell you that I’m afraid I might forget to mention when you’re older.  On the other hand, I may repeat them so often throughout your lives that you’ll find yourselves rolling your eyes all throughout this letter.  And if this letter finds you in the reclined chair of a shrink’s office, go ahead and have the bill sent to Daddy and me.


There are some things that I really hope you guys will remember about the life we’ve lived here.  Laila, we just moved to the 5th house we’ve lived in since you were born.  You’re only 3 1/2 years old, but you’ve been all over the place.  Hopefully, we’ll be in this place for a good while.  You’re such a little trooper, and I’m so glad our frequent moves haven’t made you into a basket case preschooler.  I hope you’ll remember the beautiful rose bushes in our yard and the way you asked every day to cut a few of them for our dining room table.  I hope you remember our house guard who spoils you with candy and lets you watch Bollywood films with him.  Also, if you picked up some of those mad Indian dance moves, you’ll be no worse for the wear.  Lord knows you won’t have learned anything that cool from your parents.

When you think about airports, I hope that you feel the excitement of an immanent adventure.  We’ve visited so many wonderful places, and I hope your memories go beyond just the photos we have to document them.  On the other hand, if you have any recollection of wild-eyed psycho mommy in a security line at the airport, this is a false memory that was implanted in your brain by aliens.  That never happened… and that British man with the ugly pink sweater had it coming.

A lot of people might ask you, now that you’re grown, what it was like to live in such a dangerous place while you were growing up.  My hope is that you don’t remember the dangers, but rather the joys of living surrounded by people who loved you.  We have friends from all over the world, and they enrich our lives with diversity and culture.  I hope that you have a deep appreciation for everything international and the things that others might consider weird and foreign.  I hope that you can look back at your childhood and know that the lives we had made a difference in the world.

I hope you remember how to live simply and how to solve problems third world style.  Every day there are so many obstacles and weird things that happen to keep our plans from progressing the way we had, well… planned.  Most days, you didn’t know that these things were happening, but sometimes when life just happened and there were demonstrations that kept us from getting to the other side of town or celebration so thick that the streets were impassable, we just had to improvise.  My hope is that you have learned to make the best out of any and every situation.

Thank you, my sweeties, for enriching our lives.  Even on the days when I’ve felt like giving you away to the nomads for the winter, you make the days brighter.

With much love,



Posted by on September 21, 2013 in Uncategorized


From Under the Blue

You see them in the news, but that’s about it.  You would be hard-pressed to find someone wearing one of these blue (or any other color) garments anywhere outside of Central Asia, although you may see some muslim ladies sporting the black abaya and full face covering in almost any major metropolis of the world.  Burqas are heavy, ugly, and not well-ventilated.  They are literally a headache.

If you were to ask a local family the reason for it, they would probably tell you it’s for protection.  It protects women from the stares of wandering eyes, which in turn protects the chastity of the women.  The truth is, if you don’t understand the very non-western view of honor and shame, you’ll never understand what the burqa is all about.  I’ll try to break it down.  The honor of families here is, to a large degree, wrapped up in the chastity of its women.  If a woman breeches her chastity, it puts a huge black mark on the family’s honor.  Chastity can be defined differently by different families and different regions.  For instance, one family may deem it acceptable for their daughter to attend classes with males, while another would never allow their daughter in the same room as any males aside from her father and brothers.  One girl may be scolded for being seen talking with a non-familial male, but this could be completely acceptable for others.  In any case, the family works hard to protect its honor, and that means working extra hard to protect the purity and chastity of the females.  When you hear about “honor killings,” this is a family going to extremes trying to protect its honor.  A woman has somehow breeched the boundaries of chastity, and in order to “restore the honor” of the family, they kill her.  Please hear me out here; this is an extreme.  I know many of my local friends find this practice to be abhorrent.  But it happens, so let’s not pretend.

The burqa is a cover which serves to protect a woman from the unthinkable.  The unthinkable.  These are the actions of a man who won’t control himself, a man who has become captive to his own selfish thoughts and then acts on them.  Rather than enforcing a device to make men control themselves, this society and many others have decided women will be the responsible parties for this problem of sexuality outside of what is deemed appropriate.  Another contributing factor to the burqa is the belief is that women have more demons taunting them than men, and they are therefore more susceptible to the temptations of sexual misconduct.

Call it inhumane or an object of misogyny.  Fine.  But I cannot deny the fact that some women really do want to wear burqas.  If someone would have told me this a couple years ago, I would have called them a liar or simply misinformed.  Now that I live here and wear one myself, I understand that ideology.  Women here realize how much of their family’s honor is bound up in their behavior.  Not just their virginity, but their un-taintedness is held in high esteem.  No one wants to bring shame to their family, and that is one of the biggest fears of most non-westerners. A lot of women here feel a very real sense of protection under their burqas, and taking it away from them would be stripping away their sense of protection and privacy.  On the other end of the spectrum, some women really do have a pure hatred for their burqas and would be glad to see them burn in a giant flame of fury.

Living here has presented a lot of tough questions.  One of the many for me was whether or not I would wear a burqa.  After months of deliberating, I realized how much I appreciated the anonymity it provided.  It’s true; plenty of men really do make ugly remarks at women, and especially at the fair-skinned ones.  Being under a burqa makes me a nobody in public.  While I don’t exactly relish that thought, at least I’m not getting my rear grabbed in the bazaar.  Truthfully, there are a lot of reasons I wear that thing.  I have some very conservative friends here, and when I’m covered up, they know I’m “safe.”  Meaning, I abide by a standard of dress and modesty that they value.  I want to show them that I love and care about them, and wearing a burqa affords me that opportunity.  It’s the least I can do, especially when I consider how much others have sacrificed to show me their love.  On the opposite end of the spectrum, I have local friends who hate the burqa and refuse to wear it.  To them, I know it seems I’ve succumbed to the people who are trying to oppress them.  Maybe they’re right.  And for some amount of time, I felt I shouldn’t wear it in order to support their kindling fire for justice and equality.  But that responsibility is theirs alone, and as a foreigner, there is little I can do to bring about that change.  They have to want it and fight for it themselves.

I write about the burqa because to many non-muslim westerners, it is one more reason to hate or pity people in this part of the world and muslims in general.  To understand the burqa, one must take the time to understand and appreciate our differences, of which there are many.  And that’s ok.  But before you make a judgment about the burqa, remember the woman under it.  She is a human being with feelings and opinions.  She, like you, wants to be loved and treated with respect.  She wants to honor her family, and donning a burqa may be a small part of the responsibility she carries to uphold it.


Posted by on December 13, 2011 in Uncategorized


Blame it on the onions


We’re moving again.  We all saw it coming, and for reasons beyond our control, it’s just what has to be done.  Granted, this is a much smaller scale deal than our last one.  Even so, it means saying some tough goodbyes.  And, if you know my feelings on packing, you know that this is never a happy time for me.  We’ve known about this move for the last several weeks, and I knew that we were on the brink of change.  But, up until last night, everything around me looked and felt the same.  I told my friend Jenny a few weeks back that I felt like I had a flood of tears dammed up by the fact that nothing had yet changed.

Yesterday, the change started.  We began packing, and we broke the news to some of our employees and friends.  I held it all together until I was cooking supper.  My sweet neighbor had just left, and I had a teary conversation with her about how much I was dreading this move, primarily because the distance would keep us from having our frequent tea dates and watching our kids play together.  I cut up the onions, and the tears began to trickle.  That’s not so weird, right?  But when I started cooking, the sobs poured out.  I couldn’t deny the inevitable anymore, and the boxes in the corner were tangible proof of yet another unwanted move.  The onions kicked a hole in my dam of denial.

Maybe I’ve just been too busy to deal with reality.  Yeah, that sounds better.  Either way, I’ve taken a few minutes to feel sorry for myself, and now I need to get on with life.  There’s a country full of people around me who need help, and I came here to do something about it.  And, if I made Levi do all of the packing again, he might pack me into a box, too.

So yes, we are moving again.  But hey, we’re prepared.  It helps when you haven’t actually finished unpacking from your last move.  I used to think that Levi had a freaky box hoarding problem.  Turns out, he was just planning ahead.  Love that guy…


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Posted by on May 20, 2013 in Uncategorized


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Reverse culture shock

Is there an award for the world’s worst blogger?  If so, I nominate me.  I don’t know what the award would be, but if it involved everyone throwing chocolate cupcakes at me, I’d be okay with that.  For those of you who actually check my blog every once in a while (thanks, Mom!), I apologize for being such a slacker.  I’m resolving to do better in 2013.


We came back in the U.S. for a bit because we were expecting baby #2.  Little Archie arrived on December 11 and has totally rocked it at being a baby.  He excels in all categories of newborn: sleeping, eating, and pooping.  What can I say??  He has exceptional genes.  Laila has warmed up quite well to him, but she’s mostly concerned that he doesn’t touch the iPad while she’s using it.  So far, it hasn’t been a problem.

Life back in the States has been an anomaly of sorts for us.  We landed in Atlanta so we could attend a friend’s wedding.  I have never spent much time in the deep south, and I guess I am what the south putridly refers to as a “Yankee.”  Don’t get me wrong, everyone was incredibly sweet and exercised that notorious southern hospitality.  I just don’t really understand Southern very well.  While I was getting a manicure, the beautician said the sentence “His daddy’s comin’ to get him this evenin’.” What I heard was “His daddy’s comin’ to give him a sandman.”  When we both realized that we weren’t understanding one another, she apologized for being “a hick,” which she wasn’t, and I apologized for not being able to speak my own language.  Laila turned into a complete psychopath when saw Wal-Mart for the first time (MOMMAY! There are toys EVERYWHERE!).  Levi couldn’t shake his middle eastern mentality and thought my huge pregnant belly gave us instant V.I.P. status and could expedite to the front of lines.  And every time I’m not getting my way, I find myself thinking “I wonder what kind of a bribe I’d need to pay to turn this around.”  I know, I know… it’s awful.  But we’re all getting better.

We are hoping to return home to the other side of the world by the end of next month.  I’m sure we will have spent just enough time in the U.S. to experience even more culture shock all over again.  I’m learning that no matter where we go, it will always take some adjusting.

Here are some pics of my awesome kids.



Posted by on January 23, 2013 in Uncategorized


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I hate packing.  Hate. It.  My husband is a total champ when it comes to this frequent routine of our lives, and it’s a good thing.  Here’s how it usually goes:  Levi persuades me to start packing with him.  We get going on it, and things are going just swimmingly.  After about 2 hours, I get upset at him or something ridiculous and nearly have a nervous breakdown.  At this point, Levi sees that I am useless and tells me to take a break.  He keeps packing, and by the time I’m recovered, he’s got the job almost done.  Great system, right?

You know what I hate more than packing?  Having someone ELSE pack for me.  Yeah, like someone… say, an afghan man, sweet and trustworthy as he may be, opening my bra & panty drawer and packing it all FOR me.  Someone taking my bed apart and seeing all the stupid crap that I couldn’t really find a place for in my house and realizing that I’m maybe in the habit of haphazardly tossing old magazines, language books, and unwanted gifts under the bed.  Part of the reason I have such breakdowns when packing is because I’m always convicted of what a materialist I am as I sort through my belongings.  I mean, how many shoes does one human being NEED?  Surely not more than 5 or 6 or 30 pair, right?  I would definitely rather do this dirty job of packing myself, but our current security restraints just won’t allow it.

I live in this land where people die of starvation and freeze to death in the winter, and I still manage to allow myself to accrue so much stuff.  It’s embarrassing enough for me to deal with it in front of God and my husband, but to have someone with so much less than I packing up that stuff for me… it’s beyond humiliating.  I know I have far fewer material possessions than the average westerner, but my life is different.  I don’t live by those standards anymore, and I feel that I’ve been called to a simpler way.  I guess the one good thing about moving all the time is that it does force me to look head on at my possessions and say “I don’t need you.”  Even if one of those trucks tips over and falls off a cliff (which is actually a very real possibility), I will be ok.  We’ve actually been living just fine with the stuff we packed for ourselves 4 months ago, which totals 2 large and and 2 small suitcases.

While I never want to be ungrateful for the things I have, I do always want to hold them with unclenched fists.  I want to have less so that I can give more.  I want simplicity so that my life isn’t complicated by a constant idea that I need more.  I came into this world with nothing, and I’m confident that I’ll leave it the same way.

Stuff, I’m coming for you.  And a lot of you won’t even make the cut past my front door.

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Posted by on September 3, 2012 in Uncategorized


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On house hunting in the Capitol

I’m not a home owner, so I really cannot relate to the headaches the folks go through when trying to  properly buy or sell a home.  However, we have lived in several different places in this country, and the ridiculousness of actually finding a house is so absurd that you have to just throw your head back and laugh… but it’s the kind of laughter that comes just to keep you from completely bursting into sad, pitiful, pathetic tears.  The sort of laughter that signifies you’re definitely teetering on the very last fiber of sanity left within you.

Your first step is to decide where you want to live in this crazy city.  Granted, some areas are safer than others, so you’ll need to do a bit of checking around to see what might suit you.  Once you’ve decided on a few places, you find a property dealer office in the area (or ask a local friend to take you to one) and tell him what you’re looking for.  Let’s say, 3 bedrooms, a yard, and anything around $1200 / month.  Sound expensive for the 3rd world?  You’re right.  Rent is outrageous in this overpopulated city.  The huge presence of contracting companies and U.S. gov’t funded NGOs has driven housing prices through the leaky mud roof.  So, the little fish with little NGOs like ourselves kind of get the stinky end of the stick and pay the same outrageous prices as the big fish who are making all the big bucks.  Anyway, after you’ve told the property dealer what you’re looking for, he’ll assure you he has a place that’s perfect for you.  You get in the car with him and he takes you to a giant 4 story mansion with 13 bedrooms for the low price of $8000 per month.  Before even entering the compound gate, it’s immediately obvious that this house will be far too big and expensive for your little family of four.  You explain again to the property dealer that you truly, honestly only want 3 bedrooms and rent lower than $1100 per month.  “Oh, well… I don’t actually have anything like that right now,” he tells you.  Great, thanks for wasting my time.  On to the next property dealer.  He tells you that he has 2 or 3 houses that might work.  The first one is lovely.  A small yard, nice layout, and peaceful neighborhood.  The other two won’t work for a family.  You investigate the neighborhood of the house you liked only to find out that there’s a very well organized terrorist group headquarters’ office just around the corner.  As much as you don’t mind those guys, your supervisor gives it a big “Nah Uh.”  Ok, back to the drawing board.  You go out again the next day to try with a new property dealer.  The first house is too big, the second is totally trashed and would probably take 3 months of repairs before it’s livable, and the third seems promising, but the property dealer, as always, has you waiting outside the house’s gate while he calls the landlord to ask him to bring a key over.  The landlord isn’t answering, which is also not uncommon.  You wait for 45 minutes while the property dealer calls the landlord’s sons, nephews, uncles, and brothers all in hopes to get someone to bring a key.  Finally, one of his nephews lets him know that the landlord actually went back to his home in Germany last week and he took the key with him.  So, no looking at that house today.  After weeks of this madness, you finally find it.  A great house with 4 out of the 10 things you’re needing in a house.  Sure, there’s no kitchen sink, the toilet is actually a squatty, and the yard needs some work, but those things are all fixable.  You negotiate a price with the landlord and work out the details of a contract.  The contract includes things like 1. Who will pay for damages if a bomb is thrown over the compound wall 2. Who will pay for the necessary repairs on the house (always the renter) 3. Penalties for early contract termination.  So, a little different from some terms of a contract in the West…


So the bathroom needs some work… no biggie!

After 3 weeks of non-stop searching, we finally settled on a place.  The repairs will begin soon, and we are hoping to be moved into our new little abode in about two weeks.  Yes, Laila and her baby brother will be sharing a room… that’s just how it’s going to have to be.  But, that room will be cute, fun, and unisexually attractive (is that a correct term for a kids’ room?… maybe “aesthetically appealing to both genders?”) if it kills me.  Pinterest and I will be getting cozy in the coming weeks, I’m sure.  Yes, we are paying more than double the rent that we paid in River City for a smaller house, but downsizing never hurt anyone, right?  I mean, who really NEEDS a couch AND two arm chairs?  By the way, anybody in the neighborhood want to buy an arm chair?  And maybe some cabinets?


Posted by on August 21, 2012 in Uncategorized


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Our Summer in Exile

I know, I really stink at this blogging thing.  I only get around to it every few months, but I can honestly say that we’ve had a few things going on this summer.

On May 2nd, we received word that Levi’s grandmother had passed away.  Knowing that this news was coming any day, we pulled out our suitcases that morning and purchased airline tickets to make the long journey back to the States for the funeral.  I packed our bags that morning not knowing that I would actually be packing for the entire summer.  I ran around the house like a maniac having no clue that those would be my last precious few hours in the home and city that we’d grown to love so deeply.  As far as the actual trip back the the States goes, it was great.  Laila travelled like an absolute pro on those 16 hour flights… although it probably did help that she had endless cartoons and candy at her fingertips.  The funeral was a beautiful celebration of Grandma’s life, and we were grateful to have the time to both grieve and celebrate the sweet 91 years she spent on this earth.

We were on our way back and in Dubai when we received word that our expat staff evacuated to the capitol.  They’d been told that there were some possible threats to them, and that it might be best for them to leave town for a bit.  We weren’t entirely sure how serious things were.  Once we actually joined them in the capitol, the situation only further deteriorated and we slowly began to learn the reality that our time in River City was over.  When that reality finally sank in, I cried like a colicky baby: frequently and without warning.  There was one day when I think I literally cried about every 10 minutes… okay, probably more like every 5 minutes.

The thought of my neighbors, not seeing them, and then calling them to tell them that I didn’t know when or if I would be back was excruciating.  We and our expat co-workers were advised to leave the country for a while and get some space from the situation so we could begin to think clearly about how to proceed.  We all hopped on more planes and headed to Thailand for a month.  It was good to get some space, but there was still a lot of decisions to be made.  Where would we live?  Should we shut down our NGO?  While a lot of those questions have now been answered, we are still living in all kinds of ambiguity.

The icing on our smoldering cake of chaos is that I am also 5 months pregnant.  But despite our current state of crazy, this really is a wonderful thing- we were actually trying to get pregnant and had planned to go back to the States to give birth late this fall.  As of right now, that’s still the plan.  Life feels completely up in the air right now, but somehow, I’ve gotten to a place where I’m okay with that.

Right now, it looks like we’ll be living in the capitol for at least the next year and a half.  Honestly, just knowing that much is a relief.  Levi and I love that overpopulated, polluted, loud city with all our hearts… it’s a far cry from the villagey life we’ve been living in River City, but it was the place where we fell in love with the country and realized that we wanted to commit our lives to helping this broken land heal.  We lived there for about a year and a half in 2008 and 2009, so going back with a toddler this time will definitely put a new spin on things.

As far as the summer goes, it’s been bittersweet.  We’ve spent time in Thailand, Iran, Bahrain & Dubai this summer.  We’ve gotten to do a lot of traveling, but the truth is, I would far rather have been living in the city that I’ve called home for the last 18 months.  When I reflect on the “perks” of this life, I realize that they do come at the expense of domestic stability.  In three years, we’ve lived in 4 different homes, and we’re about to move into (temporary) number 5, which will hopefully allow us to find a more permanent number 6.  On the other hand, I realize that the pain that we feel now is the sorrow of lost love.  And we really, really loved River City.  I don’t regret a single day there.  I loved the work that we did, and I love the neighbors who treated me like one of their own.  But the pain of leaving still brings me to tears.  If you think we are totally cuckoo for continuing to live like this, I’m sure there’s a well-organized club you could join… probably with hats, t-shirts and stationary.  But I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

Here are some photos of our summer:


Laila and me with my two beautiful sisters, Anna & Sally.


Hanging out with elephants in Phuket, Thailand


My little frequent flier waiting at some gate at some airport in some country. In her 2 1/2 years, she’s been on 59 different flights.

Laila sitting atop a bronze camel in Dubai.

In front of The Greek Shipwreck in Kish, Iran


Posted by on July 20, 2012 in Uncategorized


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If I ran away…

I’m not entirely sure where I’d go.  Really, running away would first require me to actually find my running shoes (I work out in bare feet) because there is way too much trash and probably cholera outside my door to just let my feet go bare.  However, the thickness of the callouses on my feet would probably save me. I really need a pedicure.  Anyway, if I could run away today, I’d probably run all the way to the capitol and somehow convince all of the armed guards at the Serena Hotel to let me in so I could get one of those awesome lemon zest facials.  It’s been years since I’ve been there, so I hope the spa is actually still running.  This could be one seriously disappointing run-away if I ran the whole way only to find that the spa is out of commission.  After the facial, I’d see if they could squeeze me in for a pedicure and grind off all the nastiness on the soles of my feet.  Once that’s over and my feet are shaped into feet again, I would mozy on over to their awesome little bakery where they sell those beautiful french pastries that taste just as good as they look. I would eat probably 2 or 3 of them, because they were always only like a dollar each.  Hey, I just dropped like $200 on my spa bill, so I’ve gotta be a financially responsible adult now.  I know, I know, I just left my husband and toddler daughter by themselves without notice so I could have a fantasy run-away to a swanky hotel… I’m probably not what you’d consider a responsible adult right now.  Oh, and I’d get the Twinings strawberry mango tea, too… which was always stupidly overpriced.  The Serena knows a lady’s weakness.  Then, I’d drop another $250 on a hotel room.  I would go up and sit in the perfectly clean tub in the lavender scented bathroom for as long as the water would stay hot.  After all, my legs are probably pretty sore from that run from River City, which went from sea level to more than 5000 feet and was something like 90 miles long (in this run-away fantasy, I’m also in Kenyan olympian runner shape).  By this point, I should probably call Levi and let him know I’m just having a short, imaginary overnight by myself and that I wasn’t kidnapped by the Taliban or Al Qaeda.  He’ll be relieved.

Actual me (not fantasy run-away me) at the Serena back in 2008.

I really do love my life here, but I can’t lie to you and say that every day is rosy posy perfect.  I have some pull-my-hair-out frustrating days.  Days when my patience is down to dental floss-width… and then that very realization reminds me that I forgot to brush Laila’s teeth today.  Days when I find myself yelling at my kid several decibels louder than the situation really calls for.  Days when the toot tree outside is making a huge mess and everyone is dragging those stupid little purple berries in on their shoes.  But that’s ok because the ants will just come inside and eat all of the remnants.  Yes, ants… all over my hallway.  Ants mixed in with the purple rug stains.

But, pretty soon, my neighbor will call out over our compound wall “Laila’s mom!  Are you there?!  Come chat!”  I love that part of my day.  People like her are the reason I love living here.  Levi will come home from work and I’ll be able to retreat to the kitchen for solitude and a cup of PG Tips, and I’ll gain back a little bit of the part of my mind that I lost this morning.  He’ll give me a back rub and a hug, and the world will be right again.

Don’t pity me.  This is just me having one of those days.  Tomorrow will be better.  It always is.  Unless I said that yesterday…


Posted by on April 30, 2012 in Uncategorized


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