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The End of the Flaneur

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The Let’s Go Flaneuring series is at an end.

I hope this isn’t the end of the flaneur. I hope we all go out into the world with our eyes wide open to see and experience and take notice of our neighborhoods, of the small details that make our streets and corners unique. But, it is the end of the Let’s Go Flaneuring series.

The series started October 7, 2014. October 7! Every single Tuesday for five months we took a walk through obscure and through well-known neighborhoods.

We’ve been to DjiboutiIndia, Ireland, Mexico, Haiti, the Eternal Spring City, Kansas, Illinois, Tanzania, the United Arab Emirates, Oregon, Cambodia, Guatemala, Chad, Boliva, Russia, Nicaragua, Kenya, Qatar, back to Tanzania, California, and even airplanes.

Thank you everyone for participating and for reading along. One of my favorite things of hosting a guest post series is the connections that result and the opportunity to share the words and worlds of people I enjoy and respect.

I’d love to host another guest series but currently have zero ideas. I’ll let you know in coming weeks if something sparks in my mind.

If you have an idea for a series you’d like to participate in or read your way through, leave a comment and help me brainstorm!

By |March 17th, 2015|Categories: flaneuring|Tags: |3 Comments

Let’s Go Flaneuring in Kenya

Today’s Flaneuring post is by Heidi Thulin who lives and works in Nairobi, Kenya (and happens to be from Minnesota too!)

It is evening by the time I’m hanging up my last load of laundry, but I’m not concerned. For months now, the air has been hot and dry, and with this wind blowing through our palm fronds, I know these towels will be foldable in no time.

This is the beginning of our third year in this Nairobi house. We came to this country with only ten suitcases to our name and furnished this house from scratch. No wedding registry this time around, and as a result, we live minimally. A few cozy couches in the living room, enough dishes to host a dinner party, and a handful of postcards and family photos to decorate the walls.

We feel comfortable here, content.

But I remember my surprise when we first pulled into the driveway and saw the fifteen-foot wall topped with razor wire that ran alongside our house. It was daunting and unfriendly, a cement cage. A city of four million people, many of whom live below the poverty line, lends itself to dramatic security measures.

The longer we lived here, though, the more that wall became part of the scenery. We planted vines at the bottom of it and watched the leafy fingers crawl upwards. We enjoyed the privacy it offered. And because every other house, office, and high-rise in the city had similar walls, its presence settled into the realm of normal.

On the other side of our wall is a forest full of tropical plants, acacia trees, and thorny shrubs. Not too many people here can say they live so close to the wilderness, so we count ourselves among the lucky.Wall1

A vast variety of birds live in that forest, and several of them frequent our yard. Weaver birds collecting long strands of banana leaf for their nests, mousebirds making a chattering racket in our bougainvillea bushes, and fire finches stealing grains of rice from our dog’s food dish.

Monkeys live in those tall trees too, and about once a month, a troop of fifty vervets trot along our rooftops, causing dogs to howl in their direction, children to scream in delight, and mamas to close their kitchen doors.Vervets

This place is alive.

My dog’s ears perk up as I reach to clip another clothespin, and then I hear it too: the rumbling growl of our Land Rover coming down the road. As Ginger bounces and barks, I fish out the keys and open the front gate for my husband.

He drives the truck into the driveway, and in the instant after he turns off the engine, there is an alarming silence. Until I swing the gate closed with a rattling bang.

It took awhile, but I’ve gotten used to the high walls and the bars on our windows. They no longer feel like a prison, but more like an embrace, one that welcomes us inside and holds the two of us snugly in our tiny piece of land.

They say home is where the heart is, and as long as our little family is tucked within these walls and razor wire, it’s safe to say that this place is ours.

heidi thulin1Heidi Thulin is a staff writer for a media team in Nairobi, Kenya, and she blogs at thulinsinafrica.com. She and her videographer husband greatly enjoy traveling together, tossing ideas around with their creative team, and catching glimpses of the everyday lives and work of their fellow expatriates. She loves her Saturday mornings filled with a good book, a cup of hot chai (with plenty of sugar), and the company of her Kenyan mutt.

Let’s Go Flaneuring in Qatar

Today’s Flaneuring post comes from Qatar, by Betsy Riley. I’ve only been in the Qatar airport but have heard the country is comparable to Djibouti regarding the heat so I feel an affinity with Betsy. Plus, she wears Asics. Me too. And, I got my “Bake Chocolate Chip Cookies in Your Car” recipe from a blog out of Qatar, so yeah, the heat is real.

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My foot falls heavy on asphalt, stirring up a sand drift trying to form along the walking path’s edge. Even in this city of concrete block villas, latticework aluminum skyscrapers, and roundabouts bursting with color-coordinated petunias, the desert refuses to be brushed aside.

That rubble and dust haunts at the edge, it slips in poorly constructed windowpanes and scurries under doorjambs. Street sweepers help the onslaught – once I witnessed a backhoe removing sand by the bucketful from a road – but in the end one must resign herself to this fact: There will be sand in my pockets.

I hesitate to walk for leisure in my part of the city. What our corner of Doha lacks in sidewalks, it makes up for in sewer excavation projects. For that reason, I have driven five minutes up the road to a designated exercise path. Away from the popcorn man, burnt caramel and salt steaming from his open stall. Beyond the sprawling schoolyards, their whitewashed walls towering above me. Past Arabic signs directing the way to funerals and weddings, the two times in a man’s life a tent is erected in his honor.

Having parked my car, I head eastward, my back to our village within the metropolis. A skeleton of one such wedding tent gapes open at my right. Gold-gilded chairs are stacked in a jumble; hastily rolled red carpets are heaped outside the enormous metal frame. I imagine the men who gathered there last weekend, the coffee that was poured and poured and poured again, the sheikhs who sat in honor, the succulent lamb meat falling off the bone and scooped up by the right hands of guests.

I step out of my daydream and finally face the desert, that friend I sometimes mistake as foe. There is a light breeze; dust drapes like gauze over the sun. I smell nothing. No familiar agarwood incense hanging heavy, no simmering stews spiced with cardamom and cinnamon escaping from outdoor kitchens. The smell is neither foul nor pleasant. It smells of what we came from.

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Shrubs dotting the horizon appeared shriveled and dying at a distance, but when I stop now to finger them they are robust, all hardy leaves feathering along a spine in chaotic patterns. These bushes are the fit ones who have survived this harshest of climates. They are the heroes here, in their faded, heat-ready clothing.

The path broadens and divides into two: a stretch of rubber pavement on one side, a bicycle path on the other. A man in exercise clothes met me earlier with an awkward nod. Two expats cycle past without acknowledging me. Though I strain to guess nationalities from their banter, a truck of potable water rumbles by and ruins my fun.

It is just me now, my Asics padding on this path paved with old rubber tires. I hear my own heavy breathing. A prop plane arcs overhead. A loud diesel engine guns up the incline every minute or two. Otherwise, silence. My heart rate quickens. My senses settle in to enjoy the company of the desert.

Betsy Riley lives and works in Doha, Qatar, her home of five years which she affectionately calls “the land of sheikhs, shisha and shish tawouk.”

By |March 3rd, 2015|Categories: flaneuring|Tags: , , |6 Comments

Let’s Go Flaneuring in Tanzania

Today’s Flaneuring post is by Amanda, taking us through Tanzania.

A New Kind of Normal

The majestic Mount Kilimanjaro looks over me, appearing so giant and crisp in the early morning it looks like a cardboard cut-out God plopped near this small, dusty town. As I meander through the market watching carefully where I place each step on the uneven terrain, I barely notice the layer of dirt that covers my feet. I pick through heaps of shoes and clothes as the owner of the stall sits atop her loot, having a casual conversation with me in Swahili. Driving down the road it’s nearly second nature to swerve for potholes, pedestrians, bicyclists, motorcycles, busses goats and cows. Driving three cars wide on a two lane road is not uncommon, nor is stopping along my route to buy bananas for six cents each from a Mama that’s carrying them on her head. My three year old son asks anxiously, “Can I pay the worker?!” when we pull into the petrol station. He hands the money through his open window and says, “Naomba reciti tafadhali.” And I think to myself, “I never thought this would be my ‘normal’.”

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Nearly two years ago we followed God’s prompting and moved our family of three from our cozy two-story home in Charlotte, North Carolina to a concrete-floored ranch home Moshi, Tanzania. No longer do we flip the TV on and watch the news or catch a show that we’ve DVRed in the evenings. We don’t have a thermostat to keep our house at a consistent, comfortable temperature. We don’t microwave our leftovers, and we don’t wash our dishes with hot water.

VillageMarket5Our new normal is dirt-covered feet all. The. Time. It’s smiling Tanzanian faces, greetings that often last longer than the actual conversation, and chai (that’s tea) offered to us everywhere we go. Our new normal is our three year old being in a preschool with 22 other students, and being the only American among children from five different countries. It’s eating banana stew, pilau, chapati and dengu for lunch – oh and rice. Lots and lots of rice. Normal is hearing a huge THUD in the middle of the night, and knowing it was just a coconut falling off our tree. It’s open windows, dusty floors, always barefoot, mosquito nets and simple living.

This beautiful country is home for us now. Everywhere we go people smile and greet us – even strangers. The Tanzanians are so extremely kind and hospitable, it’s hard not to fall in love with this place. We don’t have a TV, we only have hot water in the shower, and when the power goes off we are rarely surprised. We wash our feet every day at least once, we filter our water before we drink it, and we pasteurize our milk (which comes straight from the neighbor’s cow). We splurge on items like seedless grapes or strawberries when they occasionally appear in the store – paying $5 or more for one small pack – a special treat for sure. We’re used to never having a bag of crisps (potato chips) taste exactly the same, because they’re all made and packaged by hand- and oh so tasty! We wash and re-use our Ziplock bags – precious items brought from the states and unattainable here. We dry our clothes on a rack in our living room or on the line in the yard.

We are surrounded by a great community of ex-pats and nationals and have close friends from a half-dozen different countries. We barely blink an eye when we hear the mosque calling out prayers over the (very) loud speaker several times a day. When our son wants to make a new friend he often asks, “What language do you speak?” When the cacophony of guard dogs and street dogs gets going each night, we’re annoyed, but it’s still normal.

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When a stranger hears our son speaking Swahili, and tells his friend that one day the “mzungu” (white person) will speak Swahili as well as an “mbongo” (African)…

When I get lost in a worship song in a village church, singing in Swahili and raising my hands toward the tin roof…

When I look to the sky as the sun dips behind the trees, after bringing the laundry in from the clothes line, and I see that majestic mountain looking over me…

I’m reminded of what home really is: being right in the middle of God’s plan for our lives.

And it makes it even more clear to me, this is our normal.

usAmanda is a wife, a mother, a photog, a teacher, a friend, a mentor, granola-liking, Trader Joe’s missing, outdoor loving, camping-in-a-tent, beach bumming, small group leading, hurting for Africa, 30-something. I’m transplanted from Charlotte, NC living in Moshi, Tanzania bringing a little Jesus-love to Africa getting my feet dirty and wearing skirts even though I don’t love to… And while those things don’t define me, they do describe me a bit – what does define me is my never ending, sometimes lacking, pursuit of the Creator of Life. That’s right, above all else, I’m a Jesus-following, child of God. You can find her on Facebook, Instagram, and her blog.

By |February 24th, 2015|Categories: flaneuring|Tags: , |7 Comments

Let’s Go Flaneuring on Airplanes

Today’s Let’s Go Flaneuring post is by Shannon Malia and covers all kinds of territory as she walks us through the journey of air travel with kids.

We glide through security, as graciously as a five-part family with carry-ons and a stroller can, because it is second nature. Because it is what we do.

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We travel.

My toddler girl waddles through the metal detector then stands with her feet spread and arms extended, unprompted. The guard laughs and waves his wand around her miniature body just to humor her. But she is all seriousness because this is what we do.

My preschooler stands on tip-toe at the immigration desk, making the face he knows is pictured in his passport. Little clown, it’s a smirk, and he’s mastered it. My kindergartener shoulders her backpack along with both her siblings’ so we can move along faster. If I am a second slow, she’ll also get behind the stroller to push her little sister. She’s better at this than I am.

In late December, we take our last flight of 2014. To write a clever tweet, my husband counts all the connections we’ve made with our kids in the past year then turns to me with an expression wild: “Seventeen!” I drag my attention away from my girls, who are examining the safety card, to ask him what he means.

“The kids took 17 flights this year!” Wow. This is what we do. This is how we roll from Hawaii to Korea to the Philippines to Oregon to California to Texas to Thailand and back and forth and then some.

I shake my head, grinning. We spend more time in the air than many people spend vacationing in a year. So what has this done to me, to my family? I let my eyes and memory wander around the cabin while keeping an ear bent to the little voices “reading” to me.

Here we are, crammed into a small space with hundreds of other travelers–the only thing in common being our destination. Still, there are several types of airplane personalities.

The business person

They stuff their seat pockets with newspapers, spend hours on their laptops typing, and always look refined–even after 13 hours in flight! They appear to be pushing a deadline, so our kids know they can steal a little smile but not an armrest.

The sleeper

Even in mid-day, they can snooze their way from taxi to touchdown. Blessed!

The tourist

Usually–hopefully–these people are happy! They are either going with anticipation on their faces and packed in their large carry-on tote bags (towels, swimsuits, beach reads) or they are returning with their faces tanned and their same tote bags filled with duty-free souvenirs.

The zoner

With earphones attached from start to finish, they don’t look anyone in the face, don’t say a word, and don’t seem to be present at all. They have entered “the zone” and will endure the plane ride as a senseless passage from one stage of life to the next.

The talker

Maybe it’s their coping mechanism for flying, but these people can talk for the entire plane ride. When seated next to a zoner or business person, the one can feign sleep to gain quiet. However, if two talkers sit side-by-side, there is no end in flight.

The halmoni

Now, this is a Korean word (meaning “grandma”), but she is present in all cultures. She is the nurturing older woman who tilts her head to the side and stares lovingly at children. She offers to carry babies and gives plenty of advice in whatever language she speaks. (We love these women!)

Then there is us: The family

How do people see us? How do we see people? How do we see ourselves?

People see us.

People probably grimace when they sit near us, thinking they won’t get any rest on board. People probably wish my children were older or less talkative or not a risk of spilled soda.

But people also probably admire them for traveling young, for being so far from what must be their home country, for being brave and cute and curious.

We see people.

We see people in a hurry to go nowhere. They rush on board so they can sit down for a longer amount of time. They race to the bathroom so they can hurry back to their seats to sit down for another long amount of time. They fight to get off the plane first too, elbowing and squeezing and rush-rush-rushing to get to the same baggage claim that we all end up waiting at later on.

We see people irritable and impatient–with each other, with the flight attendants, with their seats, with themselves.

But we also see people who value time, who value interaction, who value opportunity. These are the people who make the flight attendants smile. They read or sleep or work or talk or zone out–but they do it with an attitude of thankfulness. The airplane ride is time and space–even constricted and out-of-their-control–to invest in themselves and others. These are the people who glance at me and my young children with a glint of encouragement in their eyes and whisper a word of praise to our efforts. Even without words, they speak life into the cabin full of caught-together misfits.

We want to be these people too. Even though our destination is the reason we get on board, it is not the only thing that matters. The journey is also important. The journey is also part of our lives, and we don’t want to waste it being rushed or irritable. We see each plane ride as a chance at uninterrupted family time when we get to whisper stories to each other, make crazy art with crayons and stickers, share animated films, play on the ipad, eat ridiculous amounts of snacks, and smile at strangers.

So when we board and settle in, our kids climb up into their seats with the anticipation of enjoying the flight, not begrudging it. They listen to the safety talk (yes, we make them every time), eat their meals, take walks up and down the aisles, watch cartoons, look through the in-flight magazines, play finger games, read, color, and maybe take a nap. And my husband and I? We expect to be–and therefore enjoy–engaging our kids the entire time. We nap when they nap, play when they play, eat when they eat. And as we synchronize ourselves in our five puny cubicles of personal space, our hearts realign and ready us for our next on-ground adventure together.

Each of those 17 planes last year may have flown somewhere different, but every plane ride looked the same to us. So, in a sense, it is another home for us–another place of familiarity and routine. We board, we journey, we land, we journey. Our lives don’t pause when we’re sky-high. In fact, it’s there that we’re trapped into realizing what we really think is important.

 

headshot2Shannon Malia Heil lives in Seoul, but “home” is wherever she is together with her husband and three kids. As a team, they battle jet lag at least four times a year, sample street food, and swim whenever possible. You can read more of their overseas journey on her blog about living cross-culturally, At Home Abroad, or follow her writing via Facebook, Google+, Pinterest, or Twitter.

 

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