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.


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.


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 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.


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.


Let’s Go Flaneuring in Northern California

Today Let’s Go Flaneuring post is by Holly Newman and takes us through the vineyards in Woodbridge, North California.

The morning sun begins to peek through the fog to reveal the acres of  dormant grapevines growing on the street next to mine.  I love the winter quietness that fog brings, it makes me want to wrap the day around me like a cozy sweater. Most people dread the arrival of the “tule fog” and the hazardous driving that comes with it. Seems like a good excuse to stay home by the fire if at all possible.

Woodbridge is a prime wine grape growing region, but at this time of year, the rows upon rows of spectral winter vines appear quite dead.  It seems impossible that anything is alive inside this gnarled exterior.  For me they are a reminder of God’s equally steady and mysterious working within me, bringing life in due time.  I love watching for the first buds in spring,  an annual miracle.


“The Crush” is in early fall when the grapes are harvested by immense lighted machines which ply the neighborhood streets at all hours, picking the grapes at the precisely right moment of sweetness.  A few weeks later, I love to walk or drive through the vineyards when they are pungent with the fermentation of the grapes missed or dropped by the harvesters.

I enjoy taking my grandchildren to the nearby park, full of young parents with rambunctious children.  Mine fit right in!  Sometimes I notice a group of Pakistani women meeting together in the park too, with the commonality of mothers everywhere seeking friendship and a place for their children to play in the sunshine.  These women are a visible reminder of the changing richness of our culture here in Northern California.

Our small village sprouts from one corner of the bustling metropolis of Lodi, population 60,000, though in truth Woodbridge predates Lodi.  Apparently back in the day, a decision was made to put the train station in Lodi, forever dooming Woodbridge to its diminutive size.  Today the village boasts several good restaurants, the original toll bridge that Mr. Wood built over the Mokelumne River, and the aforementioned fields of grapes. Our wonderful soil and climate also support walnuts and Bing cherries, to our delight.

Our lives and moves have taken us to Dallas, Palo Alto, Boise, Los Angeles, and a considerable stint in Singapore. This town of General Mills workers, hi tech farmers, larger than average families, and great dedication to kids’ sports, seems like an idyllic throwback sometimes. A friend who lives in a more sophisticated university city nearby refers to ours as “the Midwest”, though we are in Northern California. I have little experience with the midwest, but this is the smallest town we’ve ever lived in. It’s rare to go somewhere without seeing someone you know, but it’s also nice not to know everyone you see.

From my backyard, I look out over huge live oaks which mark the path down to the Mokelumne River.  They are draped with wild grape vines fit for Tarzan, and elderberry bushes growing at their base.  In August I pick the tiny berries to make jam, a messy and painstaking but rewarding project.  One of my greatest treats, and indeed the very reason we bought this house, is this expanse of wilderness just beyond our backyard.  It reminds me of the “woods” of my childhood in the Deep South, and I have planted honeysuckle and dogwood to further the similarity.  It is a place of peace, contentment and thankfulness.

JH-7339Imperfect follower of Jesus, wife to the greatest guy in the world, Mom to five wonderful grown children, and happy Nana to their ten littles. Having grown up in Atlanta, I keep a love for all things Southern. I became an amateur cultural anthropologist during a significant time living in SE Asia and still get to travel the world on mission and for fun with my sweetheart.  I love asking questions, cooking for my family, helping women breastfeed, walking in the woods, eating biscuits, and having deep conversations about things that matter. On my wishlist are reading more, playing the piano, painting watercolor scenes, figuring out my awesome camera, and writing to soothe my soul. Find Holly on Facebook and Instagram: @hhnewmanmom or her blog: A Handful of Quietness

Let’s Go Flaneuring in Antigua, Guatemala

Today’s Let’s Go Flaneuring post is by Michelle Acker and takes us through Antigua, Guatamala.

Most afternoons before the sun starts to fade I put my daughter in our oversized stroller and push her up the hill from our house. We walk through two metal gates to get to the street. She waves at the white dog that always sits by the corner looking for scraps of food. We pass a woman balancing a basket on her head. She greets us, “Buenas Tardes” and then pauses to smile at my daughter. Babies are universal conversation starters. She asks, how old she is and then comments, “Esta bien grande” I smile, knowing from personal experience, that to be called “big” is a compliment. In my head I have learned to translate “big” into “tall.”

My daughter’s head bounces along and I am reminded why I never see anyone else pushing a stroller on these roads. Babies are carried in wonderfully woven wraps on women’s backs and hips and held close while on motorcycles or bicycles.

I remember once driving home, I stopped to talk to neighbor who was in the park. I waved out the window and she asked where my daughter was. I rolled down the back window to show her. She gasped. You leave the baby back there, BY HERSELF? I nodded. Carseats are virtually non-existent in most of the developing world (or majority world, according to this npr article).

When we get to the main road we stop by the local bakery. No one waits in line here. You kind of just huddle toward the front and call out what you want. The woman hands me a plastic bag with an assortment of sweet breads. It costs about fifty cents. Guatemalans are serious about their pan dulce. Every afternoon fresh bread is delivered in large baskets to bakeries around town. It’s something you buy every day, just enough for that day. No one buys bread for the week. Or bread to freeze. It is, in the most simplest sense, daily bread.

Never before have I understood the significance of a prayer I grew up repeating, “Lord, give us this day our daily bread.” But, Guatemalan’s live that prayer every day.

We make it to the central plaza, where the orange church façade is a standing reminder of the Spanish influence and conquest decades ago.  From the hillsides checkered with corn and coffee crops, comes a horse and his owner.  Both of them carrying corn stalks piled up tall. They walk in unison past the internet café on the corner. Three girls in plaid skirts and white polos sit on a bench near the park, giggling, looking at their cell phones. I imagine probably sharing text messages and watching videos on Facebook, things teenage girls do everywhere.

My daughter interrupts my thoughts, “Agua! Agua?” She points.  Yes, there’s the water sweetie.

Right behind the schoolgirls is the pila, the public washing bin, where woman scrub clothes the same way same way their mothers and grandmothers have done for generations. I am struck by the juxtaposition, the new and the old, in the same place.

We stop and get some fruit from Doña Marta. “Just pineapple and watermelon today?” Yes, I tell her. Just pineapple and watermelon. She’s a savvy businesswoman and always tries to sell me more than what I ask for.

The brightly painted school bus, blows its’ horn and the ayudante calls out, “Antigua, ‘tigua.” The bus engine starts up and exhausts spews out from behind. I turn the stroller and try not to breathe in the fumes. A few guys hop up on the back of the bus and hang on to the ladder as it begins to move. I watch as a motorcycle wizzes by carrying a family of 4, all nuzzled together on one seat. No one is wearing a helmet.


We wait to cross the street as a small pickup drives by, cylinders of gas rattle in the back as the megaphone shouts, “Zeta Gaaaaaas.” The church bells chime. Mass is about to start.

I glace down to check on my daughter. Her little feet dangling over the edge of the stroller. I sigh. These noises and sights and smells are still new to me. I have had to learn what they are and how things work.

But I realize what’s often still foreign to me, will be familiar to my daughter.

We start to walk home past the elementary school and the one pay phone in town. We pass the local ice cream shop on our way. My daughter is still young enough to not notice if I am licking an ice cream cone, and she is not. I intend to take advantage of that fact for as long as I can. I ask for a single scoop of “Espresso Fudge” which when pronounced with a Spanish accent sounds something like “ae-sspray-sso foodge.”

I notice they’ve added white bars across the entire counter. I ask the woman what happened. She reaches for a cone and explains that they were robbed last week by a man on a bicycle. Ironic she says. I am now behind bars, but the robber roams free. I nod, empathetically and fight off the fear inside. I tell myself there are plenty of wonderful things about living here, but I make a mental note to watch out for men on bicycles.

As we walk down the bumpy road toward our house, I remember we need some printer paper. I am now regretting bringing our stroller because it won’t fit in the doorway.  I unbuckle my little girl and hold her on my hip while looking for my cash. I tell the gal behind the counter that I would like 100 pieces of paper. There is no such thing as a ream of paper, you by paper by the piece. She tries not to stare at me aghast. No one buys 100 pieces of paper at once. You buy daily paper, like daily bread. Guatemalans don’t operate in land of excess or abundance, but necessity. You only buy what you need.

We round the corner, past the cornstalk walls and cement houses as the sun dips behind the purple volcanoes. My feet our dusty and I am pretty sure the bread I bought is being squished by the watermelon in the basket below the stroller. My 100 sheets of paper are gently stacked on top of the stroller. I thank the guard holding a gun as he opens the big metal gate for us. I see my husband’s truck parked in front of our house. My heart and hands relax. I hear my daughter’s voice, “Dah-da! Dah-da!”

It is in this town where I met the man I would later marry. I became a wife and a mother in this place. And it is now here, where I now call home, a country different from the one on my passport, but perhaps equally a part of my heritage now.

. . .

Michelle is a born and raised California girl who now calls Guatemala home. She and her husband work in community development and are committed to raise a bilingual & bicultural daughter who currently says things like “mas beans.” Michelle writes about motherhood, marriage and life in between two cultures and countries atsimplycomplicated.me. You can find her on facebook | twitterinstgram.

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
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