As the World Falls Down

A legend died earlier this week. This comes as no surprise, as legends — no matter how great – are still mortal. Like everyone else, they die. It may be the only time it feels like we can relate to such greatness. What’s remarkable about David Bowie’s death is that it happened peacefully and secretly. For eighteen months, the man knew he had cancer and chose to keep that fact quiet. Remarkably, so did everyone else close to him who also knew his condition. In these times of rumors, internet gossip, and major incentives to provide news, no one strayed from Bowie’s trust. It was only when he was gone that the public knew the truth and began to mourn. Each and every person that knew – from loved ones to medical providers – remained silent about the fact that a musical icon was dying. This strong and unanimous act resonates with respect for the man’s wishes and the man himself. And now the world grieves as they reflect on how much this artist and his music impacted their lives.

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Planet earth is blue and there’s nothing I can do

When I was in Oman, Sultan Qaboos was nowhere to be seen. The country knew he was in Germany because of his poor health, but otherwise an entire nation remained ignorant. What was wrong with their leader? Was he going to heal? Was he already gone? Six months went by without an appearance. Oman stayed positive but uninformed. Then, November 15, 2015, three days before his birthday/National Day, the Sultan made a television appearance letting his people know he was OK, but needed more time in Germany. The country erupted with pride, excitement, and relief. Four months later, the Sultan surprised everyone by stepping off an airplane onto the soil of his land. He was back and the nature of his illness was never discussed. Complete secrecy from his providers, the medical facility in Germany, and his advisors.

I knew a relative of the Sultan’s doctor. When this person saw the Sultan step off the airplane, it was only then that they knew their brother was back home. This doctor kept all secrets from his family to the point where they had no idea he was returning after being gone for ten months. Only the television coverage let them know. The Sultan’s secret and the man himself were granted the respect of privacy. My friend could not know the truth, because so few were permitted such knowledge. And immediate family members of the Sultan’s doctor were Omanis, nothing more. My friend was hurt by the secrecy, yet she understood why it had to be.

I wonder how many of Bowie’s friends experienced similar pain. Who knew of his cancer, and who was treated like the rest of us – left to learn of his illness only through death. A death that appeared so sudden yet was far from it. Secrets held tightly during a year and a half of suffering and creation. Bowie living long enough to create one last masterpiece for all of us – friends, family, the rest of us. Most equal in ignorance.

RIP Sultan Bowie. Thank you for shaping our lives. And thanks to those who remained silent and honored the man in the best way possible – by letting him live out his last eighteen months as he wished and letting us grieve only when it was time.

 

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

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.

The culture of sport

I first tried to understand cricket in the early 90s, after graduating from college. I was one of the managers of the intramural department at my alma mater, and a bunch of us who worked there decided to figure out how cricket worked. The World Cup was broadcast on ESPN2 at some ungodly hour when all other sports were off the air, so it gained our attention. Beers in hand, we would gather round a small screen in a dorm room (it took me a while to break free from my ties there) and watch. And wonder. We were all sports fans and also referees, familiar with the most obscure rules of soccer, flag football, basketball, and even baseball – cricket’s alleged relative – yet still we could not figure out what the hell was going on. It didn’t stop us from watching though. Every night, we would sit in front of the television for a few hours and excitedly share some theory as to why a player did or didn’t run, or hit the ball, or do something. We never figured out when it was another batter’s or the other team’s turn. Instead, we would watch every night until it was time to sleep. I don’t remember rooting or following specific teams. I don’t remember any specific matchups. That time was about getting together and trying to understand the game. We were determined, but unsuccessful.

Over twenty years later (ACK!), and I am touring New Zealand’s South Island. My time there was particularly lonely, only partially by design. I went there to reflect, but learned that there is only so long I can do that; I am simply not meant to travel alone. By the time I hit Dunedin, I was in need of company and superficial thought. Not knowing a soul, I did what I tend to do when alone on the road; I found a local bar and wandered in. When possible, I try to find a sports bar, because it seems acceptable to grab a beer and watch the game on one’s own. For some reason it seems a lot less pathetic than watching a sitcom rerun by yourself while drinking in a public place.

The sport of choice that night was cricket – The Black Caps were hosting Team India (the Men in Blue) and it was apparent that this was a big matchup. Perfect. I ordered a Kilkenny poured just right and settled in among the many glued to the screen. My understanding of the game had not miraculously improved through maturity, so I was just as lost as I had been in that dorm room. This time, however, I was in a room full of people who had the answers. During breaks I started to ask about the basic rules. My gender and accent pretty much pegged me as a novice and several men seemed to take not just joy, but pride in explaining what the hell was going on. I learned that runs happen when the two players made it from one wicket to the other. Over the barrier meant six runs; hitting it meant four. I knew that one team batted completely before the next team got their turn. I walked back to my hotel room buzzed and happy at watching a sport among sports fans. The game had ended in a tie, which seemed to please the crowd.

About a year later Oman becomes my next destination that includes cricket lessons. My new friends include a Kiwi and a Pakistani, and it’s another World Cup year, so cricket is in the air. I enthusiastically agree to watch matches with them whenever I can, which usually requires getting up at some horribly early hour and stumbling over to the Pakistani’s flat since he was the one who shelled out for a large-screen TV and paid the streaming fee for all the games. We set up camping chairs in his common room to accommodate the six of us (an Italian and two additional Americans make up the complete crew). Our host lessens the pain of the hour by making amazing omelets seasoned with masala and ginger, served with Nescafé’. Dave brings his mosquito racket, dubbed the Mosquito Killing Machine (or MKM-48), as the little bug bastards have a way of inviting themselves as well. On teaching days we stay as long as we can until it’s time for our first classes. On weekends, Dave and I bring bloody Mary fixings and we stay the full 6-8 hours of the match; the Kiwi brings beer. There are no ties in this tournament.

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Pakistani omelet and the Black Caps

 

I ask tons of questions in the beginning as I watch the matches. We witness India, South Africa, and West Indies fall to Pakistan, Australia, and New Zealand. Then the Black Caps take out Pakistan and Oceania comprises the final; the fact that they are co-hosting this tournament adds to the drama. While watching the games I learn the strategies; I can differentiate between good and bad pitches; I begin to understand terms like angler, boundary, Yorker, bail, and over. I can even string the terms together, “He hit a Yorker over the boundary to end the over,” and actually know what I’m talking about. Australia ends up winning the Cup, much to the dismay of my Kiwi friend and the rest of us who cheered the Black Caps on unanimously, especially once Pakistan lost in the semis. Given that both teams lost to Oz during the tournament, I see Australia as the eleven to root against forever.

I am a sports fan. This part of me has provided the opportunity to connect with people in and from different places, and has introduced me to cultural aspects of a place that I wouldn’t have normally witnessed. Very little brings a group of people together the way a sporting event does. The beer helps, too.

Slow down, you move too fast

I took the bus for the first time since coming back to Portland. It made the city feel more like home again. I like the idea of sitting down, staring out the window, and letting someone else deal with the traffic. Yes, it takes more time than driving, but in some ways that’s good. The bus has helped me feel less rushed about things. If I miss one, I need to wait for the next. If it’s late, I wait until it arrives. I have no control over its exact timing. I can plan a schedule, even look up real-time arrivals using TriMet’s website or texting center. But overall, the timing of the bus and when it takes me where I need to go is out of my hands. It’s a freeing sensation that I welcome in my usual tendencies to stress about stuff. Taking the bus is one small step towards learning what I can and can’t control, and my responses to such situations.

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At a nifty bus station in New Zealand. I think Wellington.

 

I also use bus time to do nothing. Sometimes I message friends or listen to NPR, but usually I am just spacing out or people-watching. The pace of the United States is so much faster than anywhere else I have traveled (I have never been to Japan so there may be some places more hectic than my home country) and riding the bus slows me down. In Korea, it was more common to see people drinking their coffee at a table than taking it to go. In the hotter climates of Vietnam, Cambodia, and Oman, things literally come to a stand-still in the middle of the afternoon as shops close in the heat of the sun. In New Zealand and Australia, the cashiers always seem to take the time to really say hello, and no one behind you in line seems to mind. While the times and specifics may vary, each culture seems to have a break built into people’s daily routines. Even Toronto, Canada – a major Western city – didn’t seem as rushed as it does here.

I don’t see America’s fast-paced lifestyle as a good thing, at least not for me. I benefit much more from a slower way of life; I feel better, I’m more creative, and I’m generally happier. I believe I’ve somewhat of an empath (just like Deanna Troi!); if I am surrounded by people who are stressed, I tend to feel the same way. Living a slower life for the last year and a half has really helped me in many ways. I just hope that I am able to recall this way of being and know there are other ways to live, even though I am rooted in a culture that doesn’t seem to value this. Looks like I am going to have to build in my own break times. I’m thinking tea. Pretty much every country sits down for tea except the US.

But for now, there’s the bus. I may be the only person around expressing gratitude when I wait for it.