The peaceful Middle East

I’m not really in the mood to write — I knew there would be days like this during NaBloPoMo. I could attribute my burnout to the grey skies and strong winds outside, signs of the storms to come. My lack of desire to write could be because of what is going on in the world: the attacks on Paris and Beruit  by ISIL weigh heavy on my mind. I am also upset to only now learn about an attack on a Kenyan university that happened in April.  Why hadn’t I heard of it until now, thanks to a friend’s Facebook post? I suppose I could blame it on the fact of timing: I was days away from leaving Oman to return back to the US. Or maybe it was because an attack by Islamist militant group al-Shabab that killed 147 African students doesn’t matter as much, in the eyes of the press, as an attack on the French. I do know that back in April, there was no Facebook option to place a black, red and green background behind profile pictures.  Today, I see several of my friends place a soft blue, white, and red-stripe pattern onto their images. My thoughts are with all lives lost.

So much violence, it’s hard not to view the Middle East as one big source of violence. But that was not my experience. Oman was, and is, a very peaceful nation. In honor of the lives lost and those who live in peace, I share a few pictures of the beauty that is there; I purposefully feature places of worship. Peace and beauty in the Middle East exists, and always will. I hope people don’t forget that.

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An abandoned mosque outside Rustaq, Oman

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A mosque in a small village en route to Jebel Shams

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Prayer in the Grand Mosque, Muscat, Oman

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Ode to orange

Looking around my newly-decorated living room, I am appreciative of all the orange. Coupled with the gold and browns, it really looks like autumn in here. The leaves I have tread in from outside on my walks from the bus add to the hominess and seasonal vibe. I used to hate orange – the color of the itchy polyester uniforms we had to wear in high school to signal we had a game that day. I was a proud athlete, but remember feeling insecure because I looked horrible in bright pumpkin (though who among us white kids looked good in it?), and nothing really matched on the bottom. I hated to go to class feeling ugly, but I did all in the name of school pride.

My generalized aversion to orange that arose from seeing it only as a wardrobe color continued for decades, until a few years ago it welcomed me as a fine choice for a publication on Youth Empowerment and Participation in Mental Health Care I was responsible for in my last job. Actually, I wasn’t the one who suggested the palette; instead it was a braver colleague who I admired and had deep affection for who showed a genuine enthusiasm for the color. Her design genius brought forth the beauty of orange.

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The publication that changed my mind about orange

Slowly, orange won my favor as I realized how much it could change and adapt in its warmth. I prefer the reddish and more burnt varieties, reminiscent of fire and Gerber daisies. My carpet, a throw pillow from Vietnam depicting a lotus in full bloom (the symbol of enlightenment), and a painting by a friend all show off its strengths in my home. So does the bright stripe hand-woven down the center of a brown Omani area rug that leads into the kitchen. Even a wilting tiger lily on the dining table brightens up the room. I just realized, as I was posting this, that the rich sunset picture of my blog fits the theme. I shall do my best to welcome the season of darkness with the support of orange, welcoming the blues and greens back when the sky and gardens are ready to return again.

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A Buddhist monk, originally from New Zealand, wears a traditional orange robe in his new home in Cambodia.

A writing retreat

Trigger warning: Some acquaintance rape references in a research context.

Yesterday we were fortunate to arrive before sunset. The sky wasn’t completely greyed over – an anomaly for the Oregon Coast in November. We drive to the beach and walk along the low-tide waves as the sky turns from pink to orange to red to dark. The clouds turn the sky into an abstract painting. Both of us fall in love with the dead trees that enhance the scene.

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Dusk in Oceanside, Oregon

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I love dead trees.

Driving back to the house we rented for this escape, we discuss the plan for the next day – how to turn a mass of data into something that matters. How to convey the idea that when young people grapple with a scenario about sex and alcohol and popularity, that the word “rape” is relevant, yet barely reaches awareness. How “victim blaming” ideology still plagues our culture. Objectives for the next day set, we take our minds off of the work and indulge in a hot tub soak. Conversation turns to the data again; we are optimistic about our goals. Sleep comes easily that night.

The next morning brings the expected Pacific Northwestern rain and ten hours of work. The fire burned all day, filling the storming outdoors with piney smoke. We analyzed, deconstructed, reconstructed, and finalized an analysis plan. Wrote, deconstructed, and reconstructed again. A better plan. Writing was slow, but steady. It feels good, even though the material is heart breaking.

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This fire made everything better.

We finally take a break from reading difficult phrases uttered by youth: “Well I think she put herself in that situation first of all, and if she didn’t want that to happen, then she should’ve said, ‘No.’” and “how she could have prevented it” to cook a Thai meal. Onions, summer squash, baby bok choy, red peppers and tomatoes in a curry sauce. I over-cook the rice noodles but it still tastes good. The break from the sadness and frustration over the youth voices feels good, but it’s time to go back.

We notice flaws in the analysis, and begin again. A few more hours of struggle. The hot tub waits patiently. Finally, we put the computers, printouts, and pens away and soak out all the difficult thoughts. We talk about our dreams and fears. A couple of stars shine through the black cloud cover. The rain is light and cool.

Tomorrow we will dive into the work again for a few more hours. It won’t be as completed as we had hoped, but we’ll continue to make sense of something that shouldn’t exist in the first place.

Horsing around

I got off the bus several stops early to make my way back home. It was a great day for a walk; the sun was still out, the leaves changing. It smelled like fall.

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I can see and smell fall better when I walk home.

And in addition to the walk, I had another motive for getting off early. I wanted to gather some of the chestnuts that have fallen from many trees here, take them home, and roast them. I remember the chestnut vendors being everywhere in NYC – they were one of the signs that winter was coming. Here, the primary sign is rain and it wasn’t due for another couple of days, but was expected to be heavy over the weekend. So, in anticipation of ringing in the long winter season here, went gathering. This wasn’t quite an unprecedented quest, as over the summer I often purposively walked by neighborhood fig trees which were full of over-ripe fruit falling to the ground. Figs are one of my favorites and it broke my heart and offended my taste buds to see such wonderful fruit go to waste. Anything that was soft, fragrant, and reachable in those parking-strip trees became mine. I figured I was just helping keep the sidewalks clean.

In contrast to my fig saving project, I had no idea what a “good chestnut” was. Were the darker, shinier ones the way to go, or should I be favoring the reddish ones with just a little bit of give to the shell? I tried to remember what the ones in NYC looked like when I was a kid, but I couldn’t actually remember ever eating them there. I just recalled the smell of burned richness and salt. I settled on a mix of the two, leaning toward darker ones because that’s what they looked like while still in their prickly shell so therefore those should be fresher.

That weekend the rains came heavier than usual. My basement flooded and Saturday ended up being spent not on creating a last-minute Halloween costume for a party on the other side of town, but on vacuuming up water and looking for the sources of entrance to see if I could prevent more from pouring in. I’m thankful that a good friend spent the afternoon helping me clean up, instead of doing one of a million other things that would have been more enjoyable.

Satisfied that the water mess was contained as much as possible, we returned upstairs and considered the chestnut project – he had accompanied me on one of my fig-rescuing missions (pun!) and so it seemed fitting he was along for the chestnut experiment. It seemed like an excellent way to pass some time while being able to carefully monitor what was going on downstairs. It was getting dark, and I had a bowl of Almond Joys and York Peppermint Patties by the door. No goblins, witches, Elsas, Minions, or Star Wars characters dared the rain to claim them. I’m not sure there would have been any if the weather were nice.

We looked up the basics on how to roast chestnuts, which is a pretty easy process:

My recipe for roasted chestnuts, which is a composite of several from the interwebs:

  1. Score the chestnuts with an “X” on their rounded sides for easy peeling later.
  2. Soak in warm water for a minute or so to create moisture for steam.
  3. Roll them around a bit in olive oil and salt.
  4. Lay flat on some tin foil, then tent the foil for more steam making.
  5. Put in a 350-degree oven for about half an hour – until the “X” starts to peel back a bit and the nut feels tender.
  6. Let them cool a bit, but peel them before they get too cool – apparently the peeling becomes even more of a hassle if they aren’t still warm.
  7. Enjoy yummy, sweet, nut flesh.

We got to step #5 when we thought something was wrong. The nuts weren’t really peeling back and the flesh was more mealy and brittle. We tasted one and it was super bitter. So I Googled “bitter chestnuts” and learned that what we roasted wasn’t the real thing, but its poisonous cousin the horse chestnut (http://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/before-you-roast-that-chestnut-make-sure-its-safe-to-snack-on/). We didn’t eat enough to make ourselves sick (honestly, I don’t know anyone who could – these things tasted horrible), and threw the remaining oily offenders into the trash. So much for that idea.

I now know that this is a horse chestnut.

I now know that this is a horse chestnut.

All in all, it was a good day. Things happened, and we fixed them as best we could; something went wrong, and it made for a good laugh (since, you know, no one really was poisoned).

The next day we went to a fancy grocery store and bought actual chestnuts and roasted them using the instructions above. We added a little berbere spice to them as well, as we had visited an Ethiopian Market earlier that day.

They were delicious.

Today I am grateful for the times when I can laugh at my mistakes and even enjoy them.

A Day Late…

It’s National Blog Posting Month (NaBloPoMo for those who embrace silly catchy phrases). My friend over at Toysmith reminded me of this, and I am going to try to play along too. One blog post a day — and I already missed one. Oops. This is going to give me a chance to get back into writing, fill in some travel gaps, write up what little I remember from various karaoke excursions, and keep me thriving in Oregon during the dark months.

I hate this time of year. The dang clock change that makes me want to turn in at 5pm and deny the rest of the world. This time last year, I was in Oman still getting used to my students and the idea of teaching English. The weather was turning perfect — oceans the temperature of bathwater, evenings with a slight breeze perfect for sitting on the roof and watching the world go by. The sand in the air created the most magnificent sunsets.

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An Omani sunset in late October

The year before that I was in Toronto, a place thus far that fills the role of “My favorite city.” There was hockey everywhere and the leaves were turning beautiful colors. In the neighborhood where I was staying, people took their Halloween decorations seriously.

A horrible picture of a really cool Halloween setup in Toronto.

A horrible picture of a really cool Halloween setup in Toronto.

And now I am back in Portland, Oregon. I will be searching for its good at the beginning of the worst time of year here. The summer is gone, as are the farmers’ markets. We were fortunate enough to and extra month of fall before the rains came, but now the darkness of being so far north begins. My goal is to find beauty in its sadness, and remember that the lushness of this state depends on this time. I can use the early sunsets to make more time for writing and sitting — two things I have been doing very little of lately and I miss that time with myself.

I follow a blog whose name I can’t recall that posts a gratitude moment at the end of each post (I will credit if and when I find it). I liked that idea and so I plan to do the same.

Today I am grateful for the beginning of the holiday season. I am looking forward to it this year — even though I did absolutely nothing for Halloween.