Tuesday, April 28, 2009


Although I don't usually complain (except to myself) for the past 18 months a compressed disk in my back has left me in degrees of pain from discomfort to Oh-my- God-I-can-barely-move. Complaining bores others, bores me and reminds me of the problem. I've been told that surgery has less than a 50% chance of improving it. So I pretend it isn't there.

Yesterday was a more uncomfortable day than usual. I concentrated on finishing editing the Galleys to Murder at Caleb's Landing, making fool (a Syrian bean dish for lunch) and treating myself to a call to Mighty Mom. I was wondering what it would be like to feel normal again.

This morning I woke and something didn't feel right. No pain. Nothing. Rien. Nada.
It took me a few minutes to be aware of what was right...

I don't know how long it will last, but it is a cause for celebration. Not only that today is my Coke day, so off to Marro with Julia of the twenty pages, a good lunch and a Coke.

Life does not get better than this.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

pack rats vs. throwers

I'm a person that keeps almost nothing and have been destined to live with pack rats all my life. I suspect my ex-husband still has his Nehru jacket and maybe the duck costume that he used in a dance recital at three.

Saying that, I admit I have often replaced things I threw out to discover I needed them.

My present housemate is a pack rat (one of the nice things about living with a pack rat is that they have things that I have thrown out and need). With a bee in her bonnet she decided today was the day she would begin to cut down on stuff. The first thing she found was a hotel freeby shower cap.

She doesn't use them.

I do.

Thus her first attempt was destroyed.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

The guilty party...

I lost my internet connection and my housemate and I were trying to get it back.
"I know this is the right code," she kept saying.
We tried it upper case.
We tried other possible codes
Meanwhile Munchkin was purring on the bed.
I looked at my laptop.
The wifi on button had been turned off.
Then I remembered the cat walking across the keyboard. She must have shut it off.
We tried the code.
The internet connected.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Buying Beads Damascus 1 of 4

In the souk, tiny stalls sell everything and we needed to stop to buy beads so my hostess could add them to things she was making. She explained to me how you developed relationships with the souk owners and how one man wouldn't sell her a red pillow because he knew what else she had bought and it wouldn't go together. Souk owners who know their customers well will also call when they have something special.
Many of these souks have been handed down for generations within the same family, but with the latest generations the sons have been sent off to get MBAs to maximize the business without losing the touch of the bazaar.
The Damascus souk goes back centuries. This time I noticed that the roof had been replaced. Previously it still bore the bullet holes from the French occupation.
Watching the man carefully weigh out the beads, I asked if I could take photo and he was more than happy to pose for his good customer.

Scenes from the old town Damascus 2 of 4

Seed shops: In the old town there are wonderful seed shops where the seeds and nuts are laid out to taste prior to making a selection or rather selections. I brought honme roasted smoked pistacho nuts, but there is not one that isn't wonderful.

A car is reflected in the window of a restaurant which advertises its meals on the on outside.

The doors in the old town are beautifully carved.

Making Bread: The dough is flattened like pizza dough, put on the cushion, and the man holding the cushion by a cloth handle slaps it into the wall of the oven where it cooks for just a few seconds.

Decorations Damascus 3 of 4

This was a visit of decorations. Friends and family came together to make the decorations for a baptism and above my hostess and niece decorate for Easter. The child at eight is trilingual in Arabic, French and English although she is a bit timid about using anything but Arabic.

Daily Life Damascus 4 of 4

If you look closely in the bottom right hand corner there is a pair of nesting birds. My hostess says each year the nest is occupied. I took the photo from her balcony holding the camera at an angle to catch the wide sill where she has plants that shelter the future family.

The parts of a Damascus stay I enjoy the most are the daily life. Whether it is breakfast of olives, tabuli, veggies, cheeses, pita, tea or sitting around eating seeds and sipping hot maté through silver straws, nibbling seeds and chatting with neighbours most of whom I've met before, it is the time with people that make these trips so worthwhile.
It is the special dinner with Riaz (spelled 100% wrong) while a peach fluffy kitten meowed at my feet. (I did share)some of the seasoned meat in pita and cut into strips. He is one of those people I say have peelability, that no matter how long you know them you find new depths.
We ate near the tower where St. Paul escaped, and Riaz filled me in on the excavations that had been done since my last trip and told how they city was now using the old Roman piping system they'd found under the many layers that have accumulated over the centuries. Only later did I find out that he and my other friends used to patronize the owner when he had a restaurant in a different part of the city.
I'd met him years before on an earlier trip when he arranged a tour around the country for me. Then on a second trip he helped me visit all the scenes for a future novel going into places in the old city I would never have discovered on my own and told of the history that will make wonderful details in the book. And he visited Geneva and both my housemate and I rated him a five star guest. Our time was limited because he was going out with a group but somehow he managed to show up at the Turkish Air gate for a quick goodbye hug. The next time I see him I want to ask how he got by the multi check points, the paperwork etc. Or maybe I will just wonder.
And I got good quality time with Yara. I first met her at Christmas 1999, which we call the Christmas of the ARAs. We had Llara and Yara the whole period and short stops with Sara and Tara. Nothing like a one-on-one talk in a coffee shop before going back to her house. She has become a wonderful young woman and teaches in Thailand so to have her there was a bonus.
Of course I had a second meal. That day I ended up being invited to five meals while I saw other people from previous visits.
And I met a new friend of my hostess, an artist. We wondered in the old town down an alley to his atelier where he had just bought the spinach, cheese, and thyme pies that were still hot as we talked about the creative processes used in writing and painting.
Then there was a huge family/friends party at a restaurant complete with a singer who sang French, American and Arabic songs. He was a big man with a gray ponytail held with an elastic and a dimple. Some of the people I met for the first time were surprised I liked Arabic music, saying most foreigners don't, but I do enjoy it even if I didn't recognize the songs the same way I know Joe Dassin's or Frank Sinatra's.
And there was the trip up the mountain with Osama, another person I'd met in Geneva who was hometo visit his family.
And of course my host family, the family of my former neighbour who make me almost feel as if I am a family member-I am still not allowed to wash dishes but I can take them to the kitchen and I can restore the couches from beds in the morning so there is progres. We've done things together in Geneva and Damascus in the visits in both directions. If there is a limit to their warmth, I have yet to discover it.
And lastly...if I ever build a new bathroom, I will install the Damascean toilet system with the hose for washing bodily parts just utilized then patted dry with minimum use of toilet paper deposited in a special container. Maybe I won't go so far as the special container and will stick with the flush system, but I do like the hose idea.

Saturday, April 04, 2009

A woman is saving to buy cardboard for her roof

Several years ago I asked people to give to my favourite charities in place of giving me presents for several reasons:

1. I try and keep possessions to a few treasured items.
2. I lack space
3. I feel I am extraordinarily wealthy in terms of possessions compared to most of the world.
4. My friends go crazy trying to figure out what to give me.
5. Others need help far more than I need gifts no matter how creative or thoughtful.

Fast forward to a walk I took today through my village. At the place where people throw away trash a man was tearing up cardboard that filled the back of his Mercedes.

I thought back to a story I had just written about a World Council of Credit Unions Matching pilot savings programs in Mexico where people put a few coins in the credit union regularly for six months. At the end of the period the savings are matched by donations. One of the women in the program is saving to buy cardboard to patch her roof. What a contrast and I told him about it. He probably thought I was crazy.

So I am asking anyone who intends to give me a gift this year for any reason, don't. Instead give me something that will make me far happier and help someone go to the dentist, buy a sewing machine to start a business, buy uniforms so their children can go to school. That would mean more to me than anything else I can think of. Here's more about the program.

MatchSavings.org is a campaign of World Council of Credit Unions (WOCCU), a non-profit organization to support the growing international movement of credit unions and other financial cooperatives. WOCCU established MatchSavings.org in October 2008 to help educate people living in poverty about the benefits of saving and to provide them an incentive to get started. Your gifts help match the savings of an individual in a remote community who has never before had a savings account.

During this launch phase, WOCCU is working with one partner credit union, Caja Yanga, in the state of Veracruz, Mexico. Caja Yanga sends employees into rural communities to introduce the credit union and the financial services it offers. The communities rarely have a financial institution of their own, so the credit union's visit is the first opportunity people have to open a savings account and access loans and insurance at affordable rates. Caja Yanga offers them the opportunity to open a six-month matched savings account to get started, which is where you come in.

When you make a gift through MatchSavings.org, your contribution is transferred to Caja Yanga to match the deposits of individual savers like those you meet on MatchSavings.org. The savers decide from the start what their savings goals are: improve housing, finance education, expand their microbusiness or pay medical bills. They commit to depositing a set amount when the credit union staff member visits the community each month in order to receive a match on the principal amount they save. After faithfully saving for six months, the individual may withdraw the savings plus interest and receive your match.

Yanga credit union in Córdoba, Mexico. Caja Yanga is situated in the coffee and sugarcane growing region of Veracruz state in southeastern Mexico. The credit union was established in 1988 and serves more than 40,000 members from rural, mountainous areas of Veracruz.

As part of a WOCCU program supported by the Mexican government's Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock, Rural Development, Fishing and Food (SAGARPA) through its Proyecto de Asistencia Técnica al Microfinanciamiento Rural (PATMIR) project, Caja Yanga is one of 55 credit unions in Mexico to bring its services—by motorcycle, boat or by foot—directly to poor people living in hard-to-reach, marginalized communities. The credit union is oftentimes the only affordable place people can start a savings account or take out a loan in these communities.

MatchSavings.org | save for change

Join us in the grassroots effort to alleviate poverty through saving. Match a poor person's first savings account for housing, microbusiness, health or education.
MatchSavings.org | save for change


Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Julia and Rose, this is for you

And of course anyone else who wants to read it.

After almost five years in Geneva, I FINALLY decided to decorate my room. Mighty Mom, you saw the old one, so you can see the changes. Mainly I wanted to get the tapestry of the women with the dog that Llara embroided and the painting my grandmother painted (she never had an art lesson) plus the tapestry shown earlier on this blog up on the walls.
I mean you can't rush these things.
And we all know I am colour neurotic. And Rose, I was able to make all the selections in under 45 minutes so I didn't have to spend must time shopping. Whew...it wasn't my no-buy year alone that kept me from redoing the room. It was the dislike of shopping in general. But once I started I couldn't stop until I had everything I wanted.

Almost everything on the walls had pinks and blues. My favourite colour is dusty rose, so when I spotted the duvet covers within the first few minutes of entry into Manora, the rest was easy. I found the drapes within another ten minues although they weren't readily visible.
Then finding the sheers was easy.
A quick tour around the Manora household area and I found the tiny little roses to sew on the bottom two patterns of the sheers. The tassels match the roses on the sheers and in the duvet covers. But the thing I love most is the huge sticker of the flower in place of a headboard.
For a moment I was tempted to buy these huge candles that picked up the colour of the drapes and have a fine line exactly the colour of the tassels for the top of the book case. (Llara here is where you roll your eyes) BUT I priced them and what I wanted was over 300 CHF. I compromised with just one tiny one next to the alarm clock.
Besides I have two models of buidlings that the sons of this house made on top of the bookcase. Both of them occupied this room at different times, and I kinda like the continuity of having them represented in my room.
Now that my Changing Rooms moment is over, I am really enjoying the colours. Dusty rose makes my eyes happy.