Let’s Go Flaneuring in Illinois

Today’s Flaneuring post takes us through Evanston, Illinois with Lisa Applegate. Former expatriate, trying to resettle, wrestling with motherhood and roles and growth. I love this descriptive, gentle, international essay.

Ben, aka Peter Pan, dons his beloved green cap with red feather. I am, of course, Captain Hook. We chase each other, sticks as swords, up the jungle gym ladder and down the slide. This autumn day is unusually warm and the lake quite calm, the waves lazily rolling over a nearby beach. But the mist is creeping through the trees, graying out their spicy-colored leaves, as if to remind us of what we are trying to ignore: Winter is coming.

lisa applegate

The mist softens the sharp angles of Northwestern University’s newest buildings to the north. Looking south, I can just barely see the outline of Chicago’s skyscrapers, the Hancock Tower most prominent on the Lake Michigan side of the city. I remember seeing those skyscrapers for the first time as we inched along the clogged Kennedy Expressway, my excitement at finally moving to a Big City. Those first few months, I even thrilled over sidewalks.

Nine years later, it is hard for me to observe my town — this small neighbor to the north — without nostalgia. That’s partly because I do with Ben what I once did with his older brother, Luc, now 8. But also, our family may be moving again, pulled by new jobs and aging parents. Like someone with a few months left to live, I study my town with fresh affection, tinged with longing for what may end.

My husband and I broke ties with our small Appalachian city at a time when our friends were signing mortgages and buying cribs. We moved to Durban, South Africa to volunteer with an NGO. We explored city streets and rural townships, we were robbed, we made lifelong friends, and we regularly walked along the warm Indian Ocean. But an actual paying job in Chicago called my husband at the same time my maternal urges called me, so we returned to the States.

As a pregnant, unemployed, sudden Mid-westerner with family twelve hours away, my excitement over the Big City quickly waned. The diversity I so enjoyed as an expat was not as fascinating in my own country. In South Africa, I had squeezed my body into rickety combie buses to travel; in Chicago, I felt too overwhelmed to decide which “L” stop I needed.

Eventually we moved two miles north, to the neighboring town of Evanston. Now, as I look at the million-dollar lake-front homes — ornate Victorians and imposing Colonials — I remember feeling embarrassed at my white flight, my craving for an elementary school within walking distance and a toy-ladened back yard.

We don’t live here by the lake — no one I know does — but if we head a mile west, we’d be in my neighborhood of two-flats, bungalows, and rental units. Summer begins when los paleteros pedal through selling ice cream; it ends with the sound of R&B music from our block party. This is a great biking town, and if I headed north to downtown Evanston, I’d find hip restaurants with names like “Union” interspersed between old veterans like Williams Shoes. At the edge of the shopping district stands the church that housed a play group, my first connection to other mothers. Over time, as we watched our babies roll and reach, we opened up: How can I go back to work? What can I do about my husband? And for me: Why am I angry all the time? That church basement is where I found a therapist who named my depression, long simmering but fueled by the isolation of motherhood.

lisa applegate

From that church, I could bike a mile in any direction and point out a woman who helped me find my footing. One friend fed me lunch and inspired me to try cooking more than Mac and Cheese. Another friend designed our backyard garden and talked me through every developmental stage (of my kids and of me). A third friend helped me see beyond my front porch, to a community that is a smaller version of the diverse city I had once craved.

With a jab of his sword, Ben brings me back to Neverland by the lake. The wind is biting now; it’s time bike home and pull out the “winter coats/hats/gloves” box. I think about Peter Pan, how he didn’t want to grow up for fear of what others would make him do. When I arrived in Chicagoland, I was afraid to grow up for fear of not knowing what to do.

Evanston helped me grow up. I endured some fierce battles in my own head, and discovered what foundations I needed in order to fly. I must believe that I’ll carry that with me, no matter what land we settle in next.


lisa applegateLisa Applegate is a freelance journalist and creative nonfiction writer who dreams of sitting still long enough to meditate and running fast enough to be a women’s soccer star. You can find her at lisapplegatefreelance.com or Twitter:@ApplegateWrites.





By |December 30th, 2014|Categories: Uncategorized|2 Comments

Let’s Go Flaneuring in Dodoma, Tanzania

Today’s Flaneuring post comes from Dodoma, Tanzania. Let’s take a walk with Tamie Davis.

I step out of my back door for my evening walk. It’s a circuit of the university where we live and work. There’s no fence around the university but recently huge thickets of thorns have been placed at every possible exit except for the main gate. We don’t expect rain for another month so there’s plenty of material for this makeshift boundary, though the splashes of orange, pink and purple hibiscus mean it’s not as brown as you might expect. I greet the four guards casually sitting at the gate chatting with a woman selling mangoes. There’s something of an exodus of students at this time of day as well, on their way to their hostels for the night, or leaving their campus accommodation to get some food.

I follow a girl in bright green skinny jeans, walking arm in arm with her friend in a flowing floral dress with matching veils. As we leave the university premises, I pick up my pace. Past the shipping containers converted into stationery shops where you can print and photocopy. Past the mini-stores selling soap, chewing gum, water, matches, toothpaste and phone credit. Past the bajajis waiting in the shade. Past the raucous secondary school girls in their bottle green skirts and jumpers, one group calling out the line of a song and the others answering.

I head up the incline towards the top of the university and it’s like a different world. I overtake two shriveled old women trudging along carrying huge loads on their heads, their kangas faded and limp and their ears pierced with the holes of the Gogo tribe. I return their calls with a respectful greeting. I’m overtaken by a lad on a bike, empty containers strapped on either side as he cycles to get water from a well. On the other side of the road a group of four children are herding goats into a building for the night. They point me out to one another and then one of them calls out in English, ‘Good morning!’


Their house is nondescript home-made brick but as I come back down the other side of the university, I start to see some new houses, watermelon pink or lime green, water tanks visible above the line of their imposing fences. There is often a mama out the front of one house, packing up her fruit stall and looking rather flustered by her crying baby. A little further is a row of cafes serving chips and fried bananas. There’s a baby there too, wearing a frilly dress and in her father’s arms, and I know I’m heading back towards the world of the university.

There are students arriving at the café. They dust off the plastic chairs before sitting, because everything in Dodoma is permanently covered in dust and without kangas to wrap around them or sit on, they’re worried their clothes will get dirty. It’s not just the fact that they’re eating out that gives them away as students. It’s the crispness of their clothes, and their self-consciousness. Even in groups, they know people are watching them. Their eyes flicker to each other, as if they’re not quite confident in this setting. They’ve made the decision to come to university, but I wonder if the top part of the university’s surroundings feels more familiar to them.

The irony of all this of course, is that my eyes are also darting around, though for a slightly different reason. I’m drinking everything in. We’ve been here two years and I’m hyper-aware that there is much I don’t understand. For all I have seen and learnt and been influenced by my environment, it’s still foreign. A walk is never just a walk; I am constantly taking in information, trying to sort and categorise it, as we westerners are so wont to do.

As I’ve made a circuit of the boundary of the university, I’ve thought of myself as passing from one world into another and back again. But that’s an artificial distinction because the tension between the two worlds is embodied in the students themselves. It’s in their hearts as well as on the streets. This isn’t about contrasting two worlds so much as it is about connecting them. The students aren’t an island of modernity in Tanzania: they are Tanzania, with all its contradictions and uncertainty and energy.

Tamie Davis is an Aussie living in Dodoma, Tanzania with her husband and 2.5 year old son. She thinks out loud at meetjesusatuni.com.


Let’s Go Flaneuring in Dubai, United Arab Emirates

Today’s Flaneuring post comes from Dubai. Cynthia Bressoud takes us from her skyscraper apartment to the oceanside. There are about four more posts on the flaneuring schedule and if you are interested in contributing, I’d love to hear from you.

The light frame around the blackout curtains begins to go from artificial to natural soft foggy light.  The dull fan like sound, the traffic, begins to rachet up the volume.  I live 30 floors up above the 12 lane highway that cuts a vertical seam through the heart of Dubai.  I peer down on this seam watching the smaller than matchbox cars whizz, zoom, and dart.  Seems an unusual percentage of white cars…  makes sense, in the desert.

The rising sun is now reflecting on the glass of the buildings across the road.  The bits of sea, visible from my window begin to color up, from steel gray to deep blue, reflecting the always blue sky…always.  A cloud is an occasion for a picture post on instagram!

My view rivals any New York City view, with some of the tallest residential towers in the world and also bits of the sea.  I always wanted a sea view.  I had pictured a Maine coast type view, but who’s complaining.

My neighborhood is a  collection of glass and steel skyscrapers set in clusters of three.  These clusters huddle around man-made lakes. The sight of water in the desert is refreshing, but, don’t look too close.

One of the lakes has been filled in and turned into a park, offering green grass and some shade trees.  On my early morning walk, it is quiet.  The grounds keepers are up, clipping bushes, watering plants, cleaning the scum from the “lakes”.  The security guy on his segway, looks bored.  A few dog walkers, runners.  It is relatively quiet, as much as can be so close to 12 lanes of whizzing traffic.  The lower two levels of each building house the retail space.  Grocery stores,  hair “saloons”, cafes, restaurants with names like Canadian 2 for 1 pizza (no 2 for 1 pizzas, it is just a name), Four Guys, and Pizza Delice, no,  that is not a typo.  From Italian, to Vietnamese, Thai, Chinese, Indian, Lebanese.  Hundreds of places for dining and takeout pleasure!!

A multicultural neighborhood, filled with colorful faces, colorful clothing, colorful languages.  I love that.

When the sun goes down, everyone comes out.  Runners, walkers, kids on bikes, grown-ups on bikes.  Crowds at the cafes.  Kids at the playgrounds.  More dog walkers.  The evening is cooler, no scorching sun to drive you indoors. The lights from the towers reflects on the lakes, sparkling pretty.

I used to balk at any outside activity at temperatures above 85, now, that temperature seems cooler.  They said it would happen…getting so used to hot…and I mean HOT…Temps above 110 and more humid than I have ever felt.  Like walking through soup.  Soup straight off the stove…getting used to that makes any temp below 90 seem cool.  Well, cooler…and I am not sure getting used to it is true, maybe just tolerate it better.  Not.  The weather is changing, they say the wind and dust storms are a clue.  A far cry from red leaves raining down through the crisp cold air.  Sometimes though the occasional towel from the laundry on the balcony 30 floors up floats on the wind like leaves from a tree!
This morning I walked to the beach.  I have never lived this close to the sea.  I cross the 12-lane seam on the metro bridge, and wind my way through more tall buildings to get to the beach.  The beach is peaceful, the aqua water laps quietly on the sand.  Scattered shells and an occasional blue jellyfish have washed up on the beach.  The bustling neighborhood is behind me.  There is calm here.  A vacation-like feeling…I live here.  Nice!  The contrast of cultures is stark, bikini wearing and Abaya clad women, enjoying the beach together.
My neighborhood is just a tiny facet in this jewel in the desert called Dubai.   Well not really tiny,  There are 23 buildings with more than 40 floors in the Marina across the road, and many smaller.  My neighborhood has 72 towers.  Then of course there is THE tallest building in the WORLD…the Burj Kalifa. The spire kissing the sky.  But that is another neighborhood.


cindy bressoudWhen the last daughter was married off, Cindy and her husband started their adventure, moving from a small town in New Hampshire, to Dubai nearly a year ago.  She loves to sew, quilt, walk and swim and cycle.  You can read more about this big city/cross-cultural life on her blog A New Spring, found at www.bumblebeeandsophie.com

Yes, We Know It Is Christmas In Africa

christmas in africa

This Christmas season you may have heard the song “Do They Know Its Christmas?” Originally written by Bob Geldof in 1984 to raise money for Ethiopian famine relief, the song has recently been revived to raise money to fight Ebola in west Africa.

The song came with original lines like: Tonight thank God its them instead of you and where nothing ever grows and no rain or river flows. These have been replaced to be, in Geldof and Band-Aid 30’s hopes, less offensive or ignorant. There are now lines like there is death in every tear and the Christmas bells that ring there are the clanging chimes of doom.

The song cannot escape the original condescension and racism it espoused (in my opinion, these new lyrics are not a whole lot better). It was then and is now based on ignorance, racism, and a white savior mentality. It promotes an ‘us’ versus ‘them’ idea and does nothing to promote honest understanding, true compassion, or empathy. It sets up Africa as a monolithic mysterious place where everyone is poor and helpless, unaware, and in need of saving.

What I really want to say is that: Yes, we know it is Christmas in Africa.

People in Africa know it is Christmas because there are Christians in Africa and they know and celebrate the story of Jesus’ birth.

Out of every four Christians in the world, one of them lives in Africa. 24% of the world’s Christians live in Africa, which means there are over half a billion Christians on the continent. Of the top 10 countries with the world’s largest Christian population, three of them are in Africa.

Even, wait for it, wait for it…even in Muslim Africa, people know it is Christmas.

Here in Djibouti, a country with a 94% Muslim population, there are Christmas trees for sale, Santa Claus chocolates in grocery stores, Christmas carols played over the sound system in stores, Christmas programs performed by children at school. There are vacation days from work, advertising campaigns urging people to purchase the perfect gift for loved ones. There are glittering lights on lampposts downtown and a real, life-size gingerbread house at the five-star Kempinski Hotel.

These people know it is Christmas. And though I’m not Djiboutian, for now as an expatriate into my second decade in Djibouti, I’m one of them. We know it is Christmas.

One of my best Somali friends, a devout Muslim, gives me Christmas gifts. One year it was an 8×10 framed photo of my infant daughter. Another year, another Somali friend who is also a devout Muslim, pretended to be Santa Claus and delivered new material to be sewn into covers for my local-style cushions. My kids invite Muslim friends to our house to sit on Santa’s lap and tell him what they want and their parents laugh and take photos. On Christmas Day we bring part of our feast to our Muslim neighbors.

Just like they do on their Muslim feasts. Every Eid holiday we receive plates filled with grilled goat and rice dyed green, pink, and blue. Every Eid holiday our friends wish us a happy holiday and they wish us a happy holiday again on Christmas.

This is not ISIS, Muslims killing Christians. It isn’t Band-Aid 30, rich white westerners saving a dark continent filled with nameless poor and ignorant heathen. It is real people in real relationship, respecting and honoring each other across differences.

This is Christmas in Africa. Okay, actually, it is Christmas in Djibouti. But I’ve also celebrated Christmas in Kenya and have friends who celebrate in Burundi and in Somalia and in Ethiopia, Nigeria, Congo…This is a global holiday and whether or not we believe in Jesus, we are all wishing for peace on earth, for freedom for the captive, justice for the oppressed, healing from disease.

Raising money to fight disease is an excellent thing. Diarrhea kills more people than ebola. Thousands and thousands more. I wonder who will sing a song about diarrhea? Or about worms, which keep more children out of school than almost any other issue across the developing world. And how about using local artists, engaging with local initiatives, or being accurate in the stories we tell and the songs we sing? Here are some suggestions for how we can maybe do a little bit better:

What is wrong with Band-Aid 30’s song

Africans respond to Geldof’s song

How to think about Ebola in Africa

Where is Band-Aid 30’s money going? Hard to say.

Donate instead to Doctor’s Without Borders, like Adele did.

An Anti-Love Song to Ebola by African artists

*image via pixabay

Let’s Go Flaneuring in Portland, Oregon

Today’s Flaneuring post takes us through Portland, Oregon with Alexis Putnam. While she walks and takes note, she goes through all the senses so we can enjoy the neighborhood with her, reminiscing now that December has struck with a vengeance, about Halloween and crunchy leaves.

I go walking at night. In early October it is not yet cold, and everything is dusty and overgrown – the result of a long, dry summer.


I think, “Welcome to Portland, Oregon.” Home of unusual donut flavors and flocks of food carts, light-rail trains and bicycles, ironic mustaches and fancy espresso – we are literate, educated, hippie or hipster depending on the generation, communally oriented but fiercely independent, elitist with a scruffy beard, mostly white and continually gentrifying, progressive, hypocritical, environmentally sustainable, fond of bacon and craft beer. Portlandia, a television show comprised of comic sketches detailing the absurdities of our micro-cultures, is, at times, startlingly accurate.

But my particular neighborhood is less trendy, less remarkable. Less suitable for a show on cable TV. A few blocks east is a seedy strip of convenience stores, pawn shops, medical marijuana dispensaries, used car lots. It’s an area known for prostitution and human trafficking and meth addicts on bicycles recklessly crossing traffic. To the north sits a large park and busy community center with expansive windows and a pool. Sometimes there is free lunch at the park in the summer, and in general, it is equally convenient for families with small kids in need of a playground and homeless wanderers in need of a tree to lie under. Toward the west, a comfortable middle class poverty commingles with casual, moderate wealth. There’s enough elbow room for eccentricities to settle in next to cliches and convention.

I see Halloween decorations cropping up under streetlights, and the remnants of summer glory wilting in the gardens – basil, green beans, tomatillos, grapes, lavender, peppers, kale. Though it’s dark, I know the lawns I pass are brown, and the tall, tall black trees are actually evergreen. I see shadows of rusty clotheslines, ghostly blue solar powered LED garden lights, greenish fluorescent bulbs in porch lights, and red plastic toys scattered behind low fences. Oaks, maples and birches swell huge overhead with bright orange and yellow leaves.

Tomorrow is garbage day, and rows of identical waste bins stand guard, four to a house: huge green and blue roll carts for yard waste/compost and recycling, modest green cans for trash, small yellow boxes for glass.

A raccoon family scurries across the road a few blocks ahead. A cat slinks by, regarding me suspiciously. But the crows and squirrels that dominate the neighborhood during daylight are absent, sleeping who knows where.

I feel leaves crumple and slide beneath my feet, while acorns and maple whirligigs pop and crunch. I run my fingers along a low section of gritty steel cyclone fencing – ping!ping!ping! and then reach up to grasp at an impressive crop of banana leaves. They are smooth like thick, cool vinyl.

I eat “locally” as a general philosophy (local being within 50, 100, 1000 miles?), but in this season of harvest, my neighborhood is truly a horn of plenty. My kids love to find things to munch on, so on morning walks we forage hawthorn berries and rose hips, rosemary sprigs, red clover, wild growing mint, and plums and blackberries in alleyways. Generous neighbors have offered cherry tomatoes, raspberries, chard, nasturtium flowers. Beyond these fresh offerings, should one need sustenance, on the corner there is a small family-owned bakery, and a dive bar my husband and I have patronized exactly once.

I hear snippets of conversation leaking out of doors and windows, and restless dogs behind hedges. The urgent voice of a TV advertiser floats through venetian blinds, and productive hens squawk and chatter from someone’s backyard as they settle in to roost for the evening. Most people seem to be eating dinner and slowing down before bed. A siren slices through the general hush, and I stiffen. Several weeks ago a man was fatally shot in his own home, while being robbed – just a few blocks away. They said it was the 19th homicide of the year in Portland. I don’t know if that is good or bad.

I smell patchouli and mold and tropical air from dryer vents – warm and wet and sweet. I bend to sniff a rose – there are so many still in bloom! But the scent of dying foliage hints at coming decay. Cigarette and pot smoke drifts fragrantly across my path from time to time, and I cross a busier road, breathing in exhaust from cars, trucks, motorcycles.

I sense the rains coming to wash much of this away: mild, endless, gray and wet, lasting 7 or 8 months. When I round the corner, my unremarkable house is waiting, tucked under a mammoth southern pine tree. I am home.

Alexis lives in Portland, OR with her family and enjoys candy, naps, and vacations. She occasionally blogs at: www.minedlikeadiamond.com

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