Archives For expat

https://blog.internations.org/2017/07/the-greatest-reasons-to-love-life-abroad/

Thanks to Internations. org – it was fun!

Bonnie and Clyde

July 17, 2017 — 1 Comment

Bonnie.jpgClyde.jpg

As requested – I introduce Bonnie and Clyde!

Along Came Clyde

July 14, 2017 — 7 Comments

Dejected and rejected strays have always found us. And so it was on the 29th December 2016 that Bonnie appeared. A harried waiter shooed a bundle of matted fur from an establishment on the Boardwalk in St Croix and as his booted foot moved I shouted, “Leave it, I’ll take it.” The ‘it’ concerned was a black kitten, so emaciated we couldn’t tell its sex. Carrying it home was like holding a bag of chewed chicken bones. Closer inspection found it’s gums and tongue to be white, it’s last vestige of energy gone in a final scurry from terror and pain.

A night spent with it sleeping on my chest was a night of sad shuddering breaths. But as morning tickled the hills pink and mauve it rallied and a frantic rush to the vet, an immediate blood transfusion and a number of nights in the clinic found it beginning to thrive.

Bonnie is deaf. Now, I don’t know if you’ve tried but training a deaf cat is tricky. She does not hear the crash and tinkle of broken glass or crockery. She does not hear the panicked shouts of “don’t” as she crouches ready to pounce on some imagined intruder flitting across her line of vision – a shadow maybe traversing a coffee table laden with glasses. But the purrs and kneading make up for the mounting breakages.

We joked that a dog would be a good companion – something to look out for her.

Then along came Clyde – our Trinidadian pot hound – though he almost didn’t make the flight. All entirely my fault. A miscommunication, a missed email and a near total fiasco. It was 2:30pm on a Friday afternoon, the day before I was due to travel to America – a day sandwiched between a public holiday on Thursday and another on Monday. Fortunately that island nation at the bottom of the Caribbean chain pulled out the stops – helped by the unwavering fortitude of my daughter behind the wheel of a car in Port of Spain’s notorious traffic.

In despair at gridlocked vehicles ahead I leapt from the car and made my jagged way along two city blocks, down a side street and burst into the Department of Agriculture. My breathing akin to bagpipes being primed, my hair plastered in grey and purple streaks to my neck and with sweat pouring down my face, I waved TT$5 in the receptionists face – words were hard to come by. To her credit she did not shy away from the mad woman babbling at her about a chop needed from Trinidad’s chief vet in order to get an export licence for a puppy from a trash heap in Cedros.

In remarkable short order the stamp was obtained and with groveling thanks I ran out to Kate and my granddaughters waiting in the car. There followed a mad dash down the freeway to the next government office where the actual licence could be obtained, normally in two to three days.

A stern, uniformed woman of East Indian descent looked me up and down from her perch behind a desk guarding entrance to the inner sanctum, and shook her head.

“Your shoulders are bare. You cannot enter a government building dressed in this way.”

Said shoulders slumped.

“And your feet. You do not have enclosed shoes.”

Begging, and I think with a glimmer of tears, I garbled an explanation, assuring her I meant no disrespect and that everything that could be my fault, was my fault. Her features softened and breaking into a crooked tooth grin and taking my hand, she said,

“Come. I will take you.”

Apologising profusely for my lack of correct attire to the disinterested young man tugging idly at his wispy beard, I felt my heart sink. And then he too smiled.

“You have the chop?” He asked, taking the papers from my damp hand. “Sit. It will take time.”

Twenty minutes later I was out the door. 24 hours later Clyde and I were on the plane with a glass of wine. Well, me anyway.

Global Entry allows a saunter through immigration with barely a missed step. At Customs I was told to wait for my suitcase to be delivered, when baggage, canine and I would be escorted to animal control.

I waited. And some more. Two cats and a dog, a yappy little thing, who came after us were ushered away with their owners and luggage. And then the dreaded words. Your suitcase does not seem to be here. Go through, then report it to the airline. Clyde and I were by this time eager to find some grass, and we scurried along to a woman standing sentry, her tan uniform bursting at the seams.

“Medical papers. Rabies certificate.”

After wishing her a good morning – it was 5am – I explained the latter was not needed as the animal in question was under three months and Trinidad and Tobago was a rabies free country.

“Every dog coming to the US must have a rabies certificate. It is on the CDC website.”

In the politest possible manner I disagreed, feeling beholden to point out Trinidad had been rabies free since 1917, which was more than could be said for Texas.

Her pink talons jabbing the air near my face, her voice strident, I was informed the puppy could not enter the US and would be returned from whence he came, on the next flight.

Calmly I told her he was already in the country – don’t play semantics with a writer – and that I would like to speak to her supervisor. A muted conversation took place between the taloned one and a pleasant-looking woman, presumably her superior, and we were waved through with the words, “I misspoke. You can go.”

The lost luggage ground staff were equally unhelpful, refusing to believe my explanation given over Clyde’s keening, that Customs had my baggage tags. About to lose my final shred of civility, we were all saved by an apologetic skycap hauling my case.

At least he had a smile. And Clyde was welcomed to America.

The Day That Was!

June 14, 2017 — 1 Comment

The monsoon season has made itself felt on and off all day and the frog song and cricket chorale are in full voice. They are the sounds of my childhood and transport me back to Africa and Asia. Tonight though I am in Trinidad. I am revelling in the symphony that surrounds me, interspersed with the occasional car being driven as if it is the circuit at Le Mans and not a narrow road meandering through Cascade, Port of Spain,

It has been a long day. It started at 5:30 with a warm little body snuggling up to me. My granddaughter likes her morning snuggles. We have reached an accord. I will cuddle but will not budge from bed until 6, when her little tummy sounds the alarm for breakfast. Who needs reveille? My other granddaughter meanwhile was glued to the iPad watching Jessie, a fairly innocuous program about a Texan nanny, a butler, and various children of different ethnicities all living in a penthouse in New York. I have yet to figure out where the parents are.

Which brings me to my granddaughter’s mother. My daughter, Kate. She is in London finessing the art of pole fitness in preparation for teaching it, along with classical ballet and Pilates – once her residency status is confirmed. Hopefully a rubber stamp as she is married to a Trinidadian. I am therefore helping out with the children so my son-in-law can earn a daily crust.

But I was telling you about my long day.

Not only am I responsible for two little beings. Getting them to school and nursery, along with packed lunches, water bottles, homework for one and any other seemingly extraneous necessity by 8 each morning, I am also playing Gigi to two dogs, a cat and a goldfish. I managed to kill the other goldfish, though in my defense little Johnny did not look well when I arrived.

Now I love animals and am a firm believer in children growing up with them. Responsibility and respect is taught, not to mention the sheer joy of pets. I was prepared for two grandchildren, one dog, one cat and two goldfish. The puppy was an unintended addition. Kate is a soft touch for waifs and strays – and days before my arrival they found an orphan pot hound on a trash heap at Cedros, in the south of the island. He was injured, riddled with worms and starving. She would not be my daughter had she left him to die.

The puppy, of indeterminate parenthood, is sweet natured. Their elderly Staffordshire is a dear and loving dog with humans and, strangely, the family cat, but any other dog, or gecko, or balloon, or kite is an anathema to his doggy psyche. This being the case, two days of a newly energetic and irritating puppy was enough to make him snap. Fortunately Buddy did not go for the jugular but rather a firm bite to the belly, puncturing the puppy’s little abdomen.

A tearful daughter on the phone before I left Houston, and she left Port of Spain, and I  found myself calming her down with the words, “I’ll take him. He can come and live in Houston with Bonnie.” I should add here that Bonnie is a deaf kitten I rescued from certain drowning off the Boardwalk in St Croix.

In order to keep the peace, and the vet’s bills to a minimum, we – my long-suffering son-in-law, the children and I – have had to come up with a system of separation. One dog in, one dog out. One dog in the loo, one in the kitchen. Meal times are tricky. Both dogs love cat food and loiter with intent if they have managed to avoid capture and / or expulsion, whenever the cat, Jax, tries to eat his kibble. Meanwhile Lilly swims in solitary circles waiting for fish fodder.

By 7 am this morning, I had brokered a peace treaty between feuding granddaughters, cleaned up the cat’s vomit and the puppy’s poo from the welcome mat. I did mention it is the monsoon season and this puppy from the rubbish dump, in a matter of weeks, has rejected rough living and will not perform his ablutions in the rain.

The school run was accomplished with little fuss, both girls loving their respective places of learning and, as I waited for the gate securing me from the perils of Port of Spain to click shut, I decided I had earned a cup of coffee on the verandah.

It is my favourite spot in my daughter’s house – it’s where I’m sitting now – and as I sank into a chair with my steaming café au lait and the last of the brownies, I patted myself on the proverbial shoulder at a morning managed.

I phoned a friend. Our conversation was though abruptly cut off and the reason for the vomitting cat became clear. The other half of the ingested fledgling was clenched, vise-like, between the puppy’s needle-sharp teeth. Refusing to play ‘pull ‘with poor mangled creature, I tossed a squeaky toy and distracted Clyde long enough to retrieve the remains.

Twelve hours after this last incident, I am enjoying a large bourbon and water, listening to the timbre of the tropics and thinking how lucky I am. Between bodily functions and dead birds, we have painted plant pots, played pairs, flipped omelettes for supper and read The Little Mermaid.

It has been a long day, but messy details aside, a truly lovely day!

There is a strident section of US society vehemently against abortion. They tend to be right leaning, conservative Christians. This piece though is not so much about the splutterings of people denouncing the right for women to choose whether to have a baby or not, no matter what the circumstances of conception. It is about those same people shaming teenage girls who have become pregnant.

To have or not to have a baby. Either choice is brave. More often than not the boy man involved has negligible responsibility for the outcome of their actions. His life will continue uninterrupted. But for the young woman it is a decision that will impact the rest of her life, regardless of which decision she makes.

There are of course many of those against abortion who do not fall into the category of sanctimonious prig. Who support their daughters, their nieces, their young congregants through a confused and difficult time. Who respond to a perceived shame, which can taunt and haunt the girl, with calm kindness. Who offer practical as well as spiritual guidance. I might not agree with their stance on abortion but I admire their compassion, resilience and continued beliefs.

No, my contempt is reserved for those, of any faith, who condemn a girl whether pregnant through carelessness or callousness, who decides to keep the baby then is rejected by those very same so-called believers. Adults who turn their back, who refuse to accept any responsibility for the situation. And many of these people, whether individually or through institutions and churches, do have a responsibility. I rarely advocate others taking the blame for circumstances in which we might find ourselves. But in instances like this, blame can almost certainly be spread around.

What has riled me into writing? It is the report in the New York Times about a young woman of 18 not allowed to graduate from her Christian academy with her peers, because she is pregnant. She has also been ejected from her role on the student council. She is being supported by her parents, one of whom was on the school board but has since resigned in disgust at their stand. She is also being supported by the anti-abortion group, Students for Life, whose president was quoted as saying, “There has got to be a way to treat a young woman who becomes pregnant in a graceful and loving way.”

I was curious about the syllabus of the Heritage Academy, the school in question, and so tried a number of times to get an answer to a simple question. “Does your school teach sex education?” An answer was not forthcoming and my calls and messages have not been returned, which can only lead me to believe the response would have been ‘no’.

The Heritage Academy website proudly trumpets, “Our intent is to honor Christ in every facet of our program.” They demand a signed pledge from parents to that very effect and, here’s the kicker, “….to resolve problems in accord with Scriptural principles (Matthew 18:15), avoiding gossip and contentiousness (Ephesians 4:31; Proverbs 17:14), to be forgiving (Colossians 3:13)….”

I had to look that up and in my bible it reads, “Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also (do) ye.”

When will the communities who espouse such rigid strictures – that of ignorance and abstinence – and enmesh their children and charges in them, learn the world is not black and white? To recognize hypocrisy is an ugly and futile endeavour. There are no winners. Least of all the young women who might find themselves pregnant, and often alone and ostracized by the very people who are meant to be nurturing them.

Students of Heritage Academy also have to sign a pledge. It is a high-minded document – I have no idea if it is legally binding – which demands “guarding my mind against immorality, impurity, rebellion, selfishness, carnality and violence”. Do students entering in lower grades even know what half those words mean?

Demanding abstinence or, as some coyly call it, chastity, is an ineffective, idealistic form of birth control. It is a fact of teenage life – hormones rage. Missteps and mistakes are sometimes made. They are though less likely to be made if comprehensive sex education is given at the appropriate times, in the appropriate manner and to both boys and girls.

We all have a right to our own opinions, but if that view blinds us into turning our backs on pregnant girls, then shame on us all. As always there is a truth to axioms. It takes a village to raise a child.

It takes two to make a baby, it should take at least two to teach it to tango.

I Am Not Your Friend!

May 15, 2017 — 1 Comment

I did the recycle run yesterday. It involves a 15 minute drive up the freeway before reaching the outer limits of my comfort zone – I’m a Downtown kind of woman! Heading north on Main Street I passed Ebenezer United Methodist Church, whose billboard proclaimed “A Mother is Your First Best and Forever Friend”. It reminded me it was Mother’s Day in America.

I do not wish to take on the UMC or any other religious entity but I can’t quite swallow the sentiment. I am not my daughter or my son’s best friend. I never have been, nor will I ever be. I am their mother.

I am the woman who loves them unconditionally. Who will fight for them till the end of my sentient life. I know their faults – as they, as adults, know mine. I will disagree with them, and sometimes I will tell them. Sometimes I will sit back, as I have done all their lives, and allow them to make mistakes – often with my heart in my mouth. But we learn from those errors of judgement – whether on a climbing frame, with a college course or with the boy/girl friend. We have to trust our children, no matter how young, or old.

I loved my mother but she was not my best friend. I did not tell her everything – dear God, if I had it might well have sent her to an early grave. My withholding of all the facts kept her alive until she was 92. That does not imply I led, or lead, a secretive life – rather that I chose judiciously what to share.

In the same manner, I do not want to know every detail of my children’s lives. I am happy to be shielded from some of their missteps. To learn of them years later, often over a glass of wine when their sentence might start, “Do you remember when I did / fell / jumped ……?” I shake my head and say “No, you didn’t tell me that. Thank you!”

So who are our best friends, if not our mothers?

As I age I find myself glancing at the obituary pages – now cloyingly called in the Houston Chronicle, ‘Life Tributes’. Sometimes a name or a face jumps up at me and I read the announcement. In America they can run to many column inches. Every relation is listed. No British reserve here. But what strikes me often is when someone has written the deceased was the best friend of his/her spouse. And again I struggle.

I adore my husband – I have done for nearly 40 years, but he is not my best friend. He is my lover. I can understand when a husband and wife die within days or weeks of each other. There is an intangible thread that links two people after a long marriage or relationship. Serious and important issues are always discussed. But do I tell him everything? Absolutely not. That reticence is sometimes for his peace of mind, sometimes for mine. He never asks me the price of a pair of impossible-to-walk-in shoes I have bought, though he and I both know I will never wear them. Unless asked point blank I rarely disclose how much the latest vet’s bill has been. He would never demur on any cost for our pets but it might irk him, so what would be gained? I am equally sure he does not tell me everything, and for that I am grateful.

I would though tell my ‘best’ friend. Whether it is indignation over something, or fear, or pride or happiness. Over coffee. Over wine or if truly joyful or desperately worried, over the phone – sometimes in tears. A friend is a safe escape valve with whom one can vent, so, if necessary, a matter can later be discussed calmly with a spouse.

A friend listens to our wildest rants, to our closest fears, and keeps our deepest secrets – most of which do see the light of day, but long after any fallout or dismay can be felt. They see us at our worst, and still care. Close as they are, they are better able to forget seeing us ugly with bloodshot eyes from a crying jag because haemorrhoids are making life hell, or kids are driving us demented with rage or worry. They are better able to listen, sometimes advise, when a child or spouse is about do something utterly insane or inane.

I have a friend who tells me when I am being unreasonable – and I take it, but I wouldn’t from my spouse. Or my children. She sits on my shoulder, every now and then, as I am about to let rip with a viciousness more often than not wholly unjustified. She accepts my foibles without having to live with them. We tell our best friend things that are too awful to voice – our deepest fears, but which sometimes need a voice so we are able to move past them without embroiling those we love most in the world.

If there were ‘a day’ for friends I would celebrate the joy of having special friends around the world who have made my life so much easier, calmer, more fun with their non-judgmental acceptance of me, and honesty with me.

But as I reflect on Mother’s Day, I rejoice in having had the privilege of having children. I take great pleasure in the fact they both have special friends – but I am not her.

At the End of the Day

April 23, 2017 — 2 Comments

Clouds drifted through the sinking rays shimmering through palm fronds and across the bay. A magical end to an interesting day. I was sitting at the corner of a long bar at a pink hotel, my elbows resting on the brass rail held to the counter by ornate elephant heads. It was crowded and from the murmur around me I gleaned a plane load of tourists had recently arrived.

We like visitors on St Croix. Mostly. If they enjoy and respect this beguiling island which has so much to offer. We like them to help prop up the economy. Buy rum. Buy the famous hook bracelet, or the many variations thereof. Revel in the ever-changing colours of the sea as it filters through aquamarine, turquoise, lapis lazuli and occasionally grey when a storm scurries in from Africa. Hike the rain forest or down to the tide pools. Ride the beaches. Immerse themselves in the history of what was the Danish West Indies a hundred years ago.

People are friendly here. No conversation starts without a good morning, a good afternoon, and once the sun goes down – even if it has only just dipped – a good night.
And that was why I was so surprised. I have sat at many bars around the world. When traveling alone it is by far the most interesting place for conversations and the barman, if experienced, keeps an eye out for his solo female patrons.

It was busy but barmen are used to that. If they are good they acknowledge the person waiting – it is the polite thing to do and defuses any possible irritation. Not a nod came my way. I continued to wait and watched, piqued, the two white men dance around each other like mating praying mantis. Arms reaching and cocktails shaking. I listened to the patter of one, an aging Lothario, as he placed a chocolatey concoction in front of an older woman – a grandmother sitting with her granddaughters.

“A Bushwhacker, dear. It’s an adult MacDonald’s shake!”

His manner was unctuous and I expected him to wring his hands any moment, Uriah Heep style. Friends know how much I loathe being called ‘dear’ by anyone, particularly in a restaurant or bar, and even more so by those much younger. Familiarity really does breed contempt for me, though it did not appear to irk the customer. Fortunately I was served by the other barman, harried and not being particularly helped by his older cohort, he did apologise for the delay and promptly poured my wine.

My acquaintances arrived – we met at the VI Literary Festival and I had agreed to join them for a sundowner at their hotel. To some we may have appeared a motley crew: a white woman with an English accent – me; an African American writer from the mainland with numerous books and accolades to her name; a black man from Antigua known throughout the Caribbean for his calypsos; and a swarthy, though attractive, young man originally from Leamington Spa, England but sounding American, and who is a respected editor and publisher from New York.

I turned my barstool as more drinks were ordered and we formed a tight group. Banter and laughter were interrupted as a hotel guest, a white man of retirement age, pushed past us. With not a word of apology to our young companion whose rum he split, not once but twice, the tourist leant against me and signaled the barman.

Edging away, and about to admonish this rudeness, I caught the eye of my Middle Eastern-looking companion with an Arabic name, who shook his head. I learnt later that there had been a similar incident with the same man at the breakfast bar that morning, where words had been exchanged. I also learnt this erudite professional was regularly hauled out of lines and subjected to unpleasant grillings in airless little rooms at airports around the world.

The jostling of an ignorant man led to a discussion about the assumptions we all make. My writer acquaintance, invited to St Croix to be a speaker by the VI Literary Festival, commented on the whiteness of the pink establishment in which she was a guest. The Antiguan shrugged it off with a flashing, toothy laugh and the words, “Tourists are like that everywhere.” Perhaps lyrics will be borne from our conversation.

I wonder, as I sit at my desk and these new friends fly back to their homes, what sort of impression they have of this island I love. I hope it is positive because the pink hotel and its guests, were not a good indication of the friendliness of St Croix.

And I wonder why some people travel if they are unable to be polite and pleasant to fellow travellers, and I can only presume their hosts. But, at the end of the day, maybe I’m the one now making assumptions.