Sunday, October 30, 2011

Glow, Little Glowworms

During our three-year stay in New Zealand, we traveled as much as work and school schedules allowed. One trip took us to the famed Waitomo Caves to see the resident glowworms.

The action of water on limestone formed the Waitomo Caves and, just like our own Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico, they have stalactites and stalagmites hanging from the ceiling and growing from the floor. The glowworms are the larval stage of a species of gnat. The gnats lay their eggs on the cave ceiling and the eggs hatch into larvae that grow to about two inches in length. The larvae develop long, sticky threads that drape down to catch insects to feed their hearty appetites. The glow of the glowworm attracts prey to its sticky lure. Scientists suggest that the glowworm can turn its light on and off at will.

Glow, Little Glowworms
We purchased our tickets at the kiosk and joined the queue at the entrance to the grotto. We stepped into one of a single-file row of flat-bottomed wooden boats, old and worn, bearing flakes of blue paint from long ago. As soon as all the passengers had taken their seats, the boats moved forward, the drifting pace determined by the river's current. Fred whispered that the Beatles visited here and sang one of their songs in the cave to enjoy the unique acoustics.

In silence, we floated into the dark mouth of the cave. The total darkness felt heavy and thick as if it had substance. As long as no one spoke, we could hear small watery sounds, the occasional dull thud as the boats bumped gently, and a suppressed nervous giggle from time to time. The air had a clean mineral smell, with a faint undertone of sulfur. Floating in black, who knew how much time passed? Too much, I thought. Have we hit the glowworms on a bad day? Are they on a hunger strike?

When our boats entered the grotto, my silly thoughts evaporated. Our heads tipped back, our mouths flew open in a unanimous, "Oooooo." The cave ceiling luminesced with a golden, pulsating radiance. A lacy drapery of light festooned in luxurious swags, forming a canopy that fluttered like feather boas in the breeze – Nature's astounding magic. ###

Voluntary Nomads is available in paperback at Amazon and Barnes and Noble and in all Ebook formats at Smashwords as well as in PDF at Outskirts Press

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Wellington's Secret Center

I like to think about cities from different angles, not just what they're famous for. Shortly after we moved to Wellington, New Zealand I got to see a part of the city unknown to most residents and visitors. You'll find the story in Part Four: New Zealand Yarns, Chapter 12, and here in today's excerpt.

Beautiful Wellington Harbor

Wellington's Secret Center

New Zealand's supermarkets in 1979, not super by US standards but more like the neighborhood grocery stores of 1950s America, had a narrow selection of brands I had to get to know. The meat market displayed the usual cuts plus some I did not want to know (blood sausage, for example). The greengrocer's shop became my regular hangout.

Tony Ng, the proprietor, and his wife, Christine, became my mentors. New Zealand born, both Tony and Christine came from Chinese heritage. Hearing the distinctive kiwi accent from their distinctly Asian faces surprised and fascinated me. Christine showed me the Chinese technique for roasting a whole chicken (plunge it into boiling water first for a few seconds to tighten the skin) and she taught me how to prepare dim sum.

Tony and Christine's shop, smaller than most produce sections in American supermarkets, displayed a bounty of fruits and vegetables. I learned that they stored more in the back room. Tony liked to keep a stash of favorites for each of his best customers. He had an uncanny ability to remember what his patrons liked and to predict their shopping patterns. He told me to ring (telephone) him if I had any special requests and he would try to find what I wanted at the wholesale market.

"How does that work, Tony? The wholesale market, I mean…"

"Have you seen my lorry – I go to the Wellington market once a week and fill it with fresh vegs. Speak up if you'd like to go with me."

 Tony's wink showed me he was joking, but I was serious. I had a couple of fleeting second thoughts when Tony told me to meet him at the shop at four o'clock in the morning on Thursday, but the early hour didn't make me change my mind.

In the pre-dawn darkness, Tony handed me a thermos of tea Christine had brewed for us. "Pour us a cuppa, there's a good girl."

As we roared along in the old truck, sipping strong, sweet, milky tea, I tuned in to Tony's love for his work. His enthusiasm opened my eyes to the magic of a city caught in the lull between nightlife and workaday, a mysterious combination of suspended animation and pent up energy pressing for release.

Tony parked his truck with several others in a shadowy car park at the rear of an enormous building. He held the warehouse door for me and I passed through into sensory overload. My poor eyes squinted shut against the brilliant overhead lights. My hands covered my ears against the shrill whistles, shouts and bangs. My nostrils tingled from the riot of pungent odors of fish, seafood, tealeaves, and spices. The vendors whistled and banged to attract attention to their wares, and the buyers shouted their bids above the racket. Tony pantomimed that I should roam around while he made his purchases. He hurried off to bid on the best and freshest of the day.

Even though I paid close attention, the bidding process remained a mystery. Like a foreign language, a flurry of gestures and jargon communicated clearly between vendor and buyer and left me bewildered. I wound my way among the stalls and absorbed the symphony of sounds and smells without trying to analyze what was going on.

I regained normal consciousness when Tony tapped my shoulder. "Sorry to tear you away from all this, but the party's over, by Jingoes."

In little more than an hour, Tony had completed his bargaining, made his purchases, and loaded the truck. As we stepped out of the glare into the twilight of early morning, I wondered why the crazy market appealed to me so much. I couldn't put it into words. As the kiwis might say, it was "simply brilliant" to peek inside a hidden part of city life and find its colorful and vibrant secret heart. ###

Find Voluntary Nomads  in paperback at Amazon and Barnes and Noble and in all eBook formats at Smashwords as well as in PDF at Outskirts Press

Next time -- an excerpt from Chapter 13

Monday, October 24, 2011


My nephew's five-year-old daughter spent several days in the hospital recently, reminding me of every parent's heartache when a child gets sick and my own distress when our daughter Tina fell ill in Cameroon at about the same age.

Today's excerpt "Quinsy" comes from Part Three: Cameroon Tales, Chapter 11.


After the wet season, we could enjoy afternoon barbeques again. At a cookout at the Grimstes' Tina left her group of playmates and slumped down beside me.

"Mommy, my head hurts."

My hand on Tina's forehead registered fever. I called to Fred and Dakota and we said our goodbyes to the other guests. Once home, I gave Tina a dose of Tylenol and tucked her in bed where she went straight to sleep.

In the morning I knew she had a serious illness. Not only did she have an unusually high fever and complained of headache and sore throat, she had also wet the bed. This is the girl who had slept dry since age two. I took her to the embassy medical unit.

The nurse, Barbara Koch, referred us to a British doctor downtown. Dr. F. palpated the swelling on Tina's neck and stated that the obscuring of her jaw line suggested mumps. She advised us to push fluids, encourage Tina to rest, give her Tylenol for pain, and wait for the disease to run its course.

Instead of getting better, Tina got worse. The fever rose. Tina stopped eating. She sipped water only if I begged her. I radioed Nurse Barbara, who called the Regional Medical Officer stationed in Lagos, Nigeria. He immediately booked a flight to Yaounde and examined Tina the next day. In Dr. R's opinion, Tina's illness was not the mumps. He diagnosed a peritonsillar abscess, an illness also known as quinsy. The doctor said that under normal circumstances he would recommend admitting Tina to the hospital, lancing the abscess, and initiating treatment with penicillin. Given the deplorable conditions of the local hospital, Dr R. suggested either a medevac (medical evacuation) to Army medical facilities in Frankfurt or forgo the lancing in favor of home treatment with antibiotics.

Fred and I couldn't approve of taking our sick child on a long plane trip from the tropics directly into winter in Germany, so we chose the home treatment. Tina's allergy to penicillin required an alternative antibiotic. Barbara volunteered to stay by Tina's bedside throughout the first night of treatment with a tracheotomy kit ready in case of allergic reaction to the penicillin substitute.

I lay awake that night, listening to Tina's every breath. In the morning, Barbara closed her trache kit and went to work as usual. Fred took Dakota to school and went on to his office. I continued my vigil with Tina. Dr. R. had instructed me to record her temperature every hour and get her to drink fluids as often as possible. He told me to take her to the Peace Corp lab every day for a blood test to monitor her white cell count.

Tina did not complain, but she didn't eat either. She survived for three weeks on sips of water and four or five tiny bites of yogurt a day. She lay on the couch and listened to the recorded book "Tina the Ballerina" over and over.

The antibiotic did work and her white count came back down to normal. The abscess disappeared and Tina's appetite returned. Months passed before she regained her health and her weight. Her knees stuck out like knobs on her matchstick legs, and her complexion held the pallor of sickness for weeks.

Before her recovery was quite complete, I wrapped our little ballerina in a blanket and carried her to the embassy Christmas party. She laughed for the first time in a month when she saw her slim Daddy dressed in a pillow-padded Santa suit, distributing gifts to all the embassy kids. She laughed again when I asked Joseph to pot a banana tree and bring it in the house. And she giggled while I sewed Christmas ornaments on the broad leaves of our unorthodox Christmas tree. I laughed with her, so happy to see her getting well.

We went all out for Tina's fifth birthday in January 1979. We invited the whole kindergarten class as well as our group of friends and their children. Tina chose a Winnie-the-Pooh theme and I drew a big picture of Eeyore for pin the tail on the donkey. While everyone else sang happy birthday, I silently sang a prayer of thanksgiving that our daughter had survived quinsy.

Voluntary Nomads: A Mother's Memories of Foreign Service Family Life is available in paperback at Amazon and Barnes and Noble as well as in eBook formats at Smashwords and in PDF at Outskirts Press

Next time: an excerpt from Part Four: New Zealand Yarns

Friday, October 21, 2011

Helping Joseph

When we hired Joseph Tazenou to create and maintain our yard and garden, we had no idea that our lives would intertwine as tightly as the loofah vines on the chainlink fence. Today's excerpt recalls a problem Joseph had and our attempts to help him solve it (from Part Three: Cameroon Tales, Chapter 10)

Joseph, Dakota, and Tina work in the garden

Helping Joseph
I thought he might have malaria. His glowing black skin had lost its luster and his face was drawn and gray. His robust and muscular body sagged now, weak and frail. Fred advised him to go to a doctor.

"Father, a medical doctor cannot help me, for I have a demon in my back. You don't believe me, but this is the truth. I know about modern psychology, but that is no help either. The boys I work with in the Ambassador's garden hate me because I come from Dschang and belong to a different tribe. To get rid of me they sprinkled a curse on the grass and it entered my body through the bottoms of my feet and lodged in my back. I cannot stand the pain. It will kill me if I don't go to my home village and have it removed by the medicine man."

Fred pulled out his wallet and gave Joseph bus fare to Dschang.

Three weeks later, Joseph returned, hale and hearty, his exorcism an apparent success. Fred interceded on his behalf and Joseph transferred to other duties for his part-time work at the ambassador's residence, guaranteed to be at a safe distance from the rival tribesmen and their toxic magic.

Fred and I discussed other ways to help Joseph improve his lot in life. We asked him if he would consider doing any kind of work other than gardening. He expressed an interest in office work, so we bought him a portable typewriter and paid for his enrollment in a typing class. Too bad the breadth of his fingers made typing impossible. He hit two keys with every stroke.

Joseph suggested that he might like to be an embassy driver, if only he had the chance to learn to drive. We sent him to a local driving school. 

License in hand, he invited Fred to go for a drive with him to demonstrate his skills. Fred borrowed a car from the motor pool and off they went. I thought it odd when they returned so soon, with Fred behind the wheel, his lips taut and grim. Joseph retreated to his room and Fred launched into the story of his near-death experience. Joseph drove as if he had never before been behind a steering wheel. His attention flitted everywhere but the road ahead. The car weaved and wandered, slowed and speeded in random surges. Fred made him stop and change places. We shared a rueful laugh about the quality of training at the local driving school and the futility of our attempts to help Joseph find a new career. ###

Voluntary Nomads is available in paperback at Amazon and Barnes and Noble as well as in all eBook formats at Smashwords and in PDF at Outskirts Press

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Two Little English Girls

I watched Voluntary Nomads climb to the top 35,000 on Amazon yesterday. I wonder what readers will think as they read about me, my family and our adventures. People that know us won't be surprised, but what about folks we've never met?

To tide you over until you get your copy, here's a piece from Chapter 9 in Part Three: Cameroon Tales. The action takes place in the little beach town of Kribi. While a special work assignment kept Fred glued to the emergency radio network in Yaounde, the kids and I flew to Kribi with the Simmerson brothers and the Rowan family to share a beach cottage for a week.

Beach Play

Two Little English Girls

Our rented cottage in the town of Kribi had the beach for a front yard. The three bedrooms held six mosquito-netted bunks each. We made our bed choices, unpacked our bags and stripped for beach action. A fisherman approached and Earl negotiated a good price for his catch of the day. I didn't know if all my companions spoke the truth, but every one of them professed ignorance of the time-honored art of fish cleaning. So the task fell to bigmouth me. Dakota helped, as much as a four year old can.
Next day, Kathy said she didn't mind watching the four kids so I could play tennis with the guys -- Ritchie and I against the Simmerson brothers (or The Blues Brothers, as I called them). Doug and Earl beat us beginners with their repertoire of drop shots, lobs, and backspin trickiness. We laughed as we replayed the match during our mile-long walk back to the beach house. We joked about whether the winners or the losers should pop the first ice-cold beers.
Kathy put her book down and slid her reading glasses to the top of her head. "Hi, how was tennis?"
"Terrific," I said. "How did the kids do?"
"No trouble at all. They paired off as usual. Dakota and Richard have been working on their sand fort the whole time." Kathy pointed at our two boys digging and tamping in the shade of a nearby coconut palm. "Justin and Tina are playing dress-up in the house."
I dropped my racquet and backpack on the porch and went inside to find the little ones. My voice echoed in the empty house. "Tina? Justin? Are you hiding? Come out, come out, wherever you are."
I expected to hear telltale giggles from under a bed or behind a closet door. Cold silence drove me outside to call for help. As the other adults did a thorough search of the house and yard, I questioned Dakota and Richard. They swore they hadn't seen the younger pair since breakfast.
Doug volunteered to stay with the boys while the rest of us split into two teams. Ritchie and Kathy went south on the main road, and Earl and I headed north. Earl spotted a woman at the front door of a house, sweeping the steps. He asked if she had seen two small white children.
"Oh, yes," she said, in French. "Two little white girls passed this way half an hour ago."
My heart flip-flopped with hope. Three-year-old Justin seemed all boy to me, but perhaps his golden curls made him more feminine in the eyes of a stranger. Or perhaps all whites looked the same to Africans. Earl and I forged on.
Around the next corner we saw a vendor selling fruits and vegetables from a wooden wheelbarrow. "Yes, I saw the English girls. The older one told me that they were going to meet their parents at the tennis courts. Are you the parents? Don't worry, all the neighborhood is watching out for them."
I realized we must have just missed them when we took a shortcut on the way back from the courts.
I ran the last quarter mile. Earl couldn't keep up. Granted, he had a bad knee, but still….
I found the "English girls" sitting in the shade beside the road, oblivious to the rest of the world, deep in their imagination game. Tina wore her favorite ankle-length muumuu, and curly-haired Justin portrayed delicate femininity in Tina's paisley sundress. Tina admitted that she instigated the whole plot, intending to surprise us. I forced myself to concentrate on the happy ending and avoided pondering on the grisly alternatives. ###

Voluntary Nomads is available at Amazon and Barnes and Noble as well as Smashwords and Outskirts Press

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Jungle Drums

Are you ready for another excerpt? We're on Chapter Eight now, which is the beginning of the section called Part Three: Cameroon Tales. The selection "Jungle Drums" describes first impressions of West Africa when we arrived there in 1977.


Jungle Drums

The following day, in living color and 3D, we had a striking introduction to 1977 Africa when our flight to Yaounde required a plane change at the international airport in Douala, Cameroon's largest city. The humid heat struck with full force.

"There's something wrong with this air," Dakota said, "I can't breathe it."

A monkey on the shoulder of a passer-by drew our attention to the riot of colors, odors, noises, and activity in the air terminal. Women wearing jewel-toned cotton print ankle-length gowns with matching head wraps swirled through the crowd of travelers dressed in drab neutral colors. Vendors sang their spiels like Sirens of the sea with rooster crows and monkey screeches in counterpoint. We four held hands and formed a tiny minority island in an ocean of inquisitive faces, all smiling with dazzling white teeth against purple-black skin. A few passersby tried to make conversation, but when we responded to their patois with puzzled expressions, they gave Dakota a pat on the head or ruffled Tina's hair and walked away. I knew I needed to dive into French lessons as soon as we checked in at Amembassy Yaounde.

My white knuckles showed what I thought of our chances of survival as our small plane bounced and skidded to a stop only a few feet from a steep drop into the jungle surrounding Yaounde's airport. An embassy official facilitated our passage through the formalities and a small group of embassy folks met us at the gate. Our entourage buffered us from the chaotic swarm of arrivals, departures, hucksters, and taxi hawkers. Our welcoming committee ushered us through pandemonium into the sanctuary of an embassy vehicle and swept us to our temporary quarters.

The cement block building squatted at the edge of a road that cut a narrow slice through the dense tangle of trees, undergrowth, and vines. Our apartment had that nobody-really-lives-here look. The smell made an indelible impression -- the tangy nose-crinkling mixture of propane, cleaning products, insect spray and overripe fruit. I followed the odor to the kitchen and pantry area where it intensified. I made a quick survey of the groceries provided by our sponsors. Good enough -- Cheerios with milk, a whole pineapple, and Kraft Macaroni and Cheese would keep us going until I could go shopping.

The welcoming committee flocked around Fred, babbling, while Dakota, Tina, and I inspected the rest of the apartment. Fred reported later that this group of "young turks" tried to enlist him in their war against the establishment. Fred decided to stall them until he had a chance to talk to the "old guard" and figure out how he could best stay out of the political struggles entirely.

Twilight descended as the young turks left. I served bowls of mac and cheese on the veranda. Trees, green fading to black, filled the view. Vines intertwined everywhere. Jungle reached to the horizon. A few pieces of macaroni fell from Tina's fork and we watched the ants discover the spill. Within minutes no evidence remained, not even a grease spot on the cement floor. No doubt Cameroon had a lot to teach us about the job of insects in the tropics.

A few twinkling lights appeared among the trees that showed only their outline against the darkening sky. And the drums began. The hairs on my arms stood up. I thrilled inside with a shivery feeling of anticipation. Real African jungle drums! I felt as excited as a six-year-old watching "King Solomon's Mines" for the first time. The drumming grew more intense and I half rose from my chair before I realized that the louder sounds came from rain pounding on tin roofs as a tropical storm approached. When the storm reached its peak and the rain crashed on our own tin roof, it roared as if a locomotive were thundering overhead.

After the brief squall passed, we listened to the magic of the jungle drums until we could no longer keep our eyes open. Four sleepyheads stumbled to bed and all four hit the pillow snoring.###

Voluntary Nomads is available at Amazon and Barnes and Noble as well as Outskirts Press and Smashwords

Thursday, October 13, 2011

As Promised

As promised -- to myself, my family and friends, and to you, dear readers -- this book is a done deal and available to all.

If you like to read paperbacks, the print version can be found at Amazon and at Barnes and Noble.

Or perhaps you've become a fan of e-reading? Smashwords has what you're looking for. After you click this link, scroll down to make your choice of format.

There's another option at Outskirts Press where you can order an eBook in PDF to read on your computer.

Take your pick, and, speaking of choices, here's an excerpt on that very topic:

Three weeks away and then back to reality, harsh reality. My friend Norma told me when she returned to Tehran after R&R she spent the first five days in the house with the drapes pulled shut, pretending she was not there. I thought she might be a little crazy until I had the same experience returning from our trip to Cyprus. Urban terrorism seemed to have escalated to a level beyond frightening. A U.S. Army colonel had been assassinated mere blocks from our home, revolutionaries and supporters of the Shah battled on the streets, and an embassy vehicle had been carjacked and one passenger killed. I felt mentally and emotionally unequipped to deal with the increased violence, but we had six months left in Tehran. I needed a better coping mechanism than closed drapes.
Fortunately, the arrival of the open assignments list came as a welcome distraction soon after we returned from Cyprus. Fred and I set upon the task of formulating a bid list. With several pages of openings in front of us, we looked at each other and shrugged. Where to begin? Eventually we developed a technique and continued to refine it over the years. We identified posts that had a school with an American curriculum and instruction in English. We placed a high priority on furnished quarters, since we had no furniture other than odds and ends in storage. The less-traveled places attracted both of us, so smaller posts got our attention. We liked the idea of hardship posts (offering a 10-15% pay benefit), as long as the hardship didn't include war.
I made a chart and we rated our choices. Fred submitted a bid list of ten to fifteen posts and then we faced a long, hard wait until the assignment telegram arrived several months later. Our first list included London, Vienna, Santo Domingo, Nairobi, Yaounde, Dakar, Manila, Brussels, Warsaw, and Accra. No one could tell us whether we could expect to be assigned to our first choice or any of the choices on our list. Assignments were made "for the good of the service." We didn't know what that meant either. ###

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Paperback Online

The print version of Voluntary Nomads is available on Amazon. Digital version to be released soon.

As you can see, I'm doing a happy dance to see Voluntary Nomads published! The e-book should be ready within ten days.

In case you're waiting for the digital version, here's an excerpt from Chapter 6 to keep you entertained:

   In an effort to pry me out of my end-of-Tehran-honeymoon funk, Fred suggested that we volunteer to make the non-pro courier run to Tabriz. The city of Tabriz, the fourth largest city in Iran and a commercial, industrial, and transportation center, had an American consular office that was a one-person outpost. For such a small operation, the embassy recruited volunteers to carry the diplomatic pouch, and designated them "non-pro couriers." Fred hadn't taken a turn because he didn't want to leave the rest of us home alone. After we made friends with the Goffs, though, a couple of months before the Caravanserai trip, we hatched a plan to trade off caring for each other's children occasionally. That gave us the option of evenings out, and, if all went well, an overnight trip. I called Norma for her approval and Fred requested the courier run to Tabriz.
   The trip involved flying to Tabriz, delivering the pouch, spending the night at a hotel, and returning to Tehran the next afternoon. I had a few moments of terror when I thought about the distance between my babies and me, but Norma Goff's unfaltering calm quieted my fears. Fred and I took off as excited as a bride and groom embarking on a real honeymoon.
   Couriers, even the non-pro, flew first class so they could get off the plane quickly and secure the pouches. First class status also enhanced our honeymoon atmosphere. Once we arrived in Tabriz, an official car met us at the air terminal and took us to the consular office where we delivered the pouch. Mr. Ex, the consular officer, suggested sightseeing possibilities and several restaurants that we might enjoy for our evening meal. He invited us to lunch at his home the following day.
   After checking into our hotel, we set out to see the city. We intended to take in all the sights recommended by Mr. Ex, but we spent most of the day wandering in the extensive covered bazaar, admiring the amazing variety of beautiful and precious things for sale. When we stopped at a tea stall for refreshments, a group of older men invited Fred to share their hookah (galyan in Farsi). As the smoke from flavored tobacco leaves burbled through the water pipe, I watched my husband blend into the exotic surroundings and become a romantic figure of mystery and intrigue. It's possible I enjoyed the experience more than he did, struggling as he was to stifle a coughing fit from the harshness of the tobacco.
   I don't remember what we ate that night, but I do remember our conversation at dinner. Try as we might to find another subject, we kept coming back to what was foremost on both our minds – yep, our kiddos. We spent the whole evening talking about them, how wonderful and clever they were, and how much we missed them.
   The next day we arrived at Ex's home unfashionably early, revealing our eagerness to get home. Ex waxed eloquent through the appetizer, soup, main course, salad, dessert and coffee. He showed off his broad knowledge of all things Iranian and demonstrated his fluency in Farsi. I sneaked peeks at my watch as time plodded on. Shortly after the last bite of dessert, time sped up as I realized we needed to leave for the airport soon. I mentioned the time to Ex, and he said, "Don't worry, my driver is ready and waiting, you won't miss your flight, if that's what you're thinking." He changed the subject to his favorite, carpets, and off he went on a never-ending monologue.
   As Ex droned on, I stopped sneaking peeks and began to make exaggerated time-checks. Finally, I stood up and made a direct request to leave for the airport. Fred looked surprised but didn't object. Ex's face showed his exasperation, but he did let us go. When we arrived at the airport, boarding had already completed and we had to scurry across the tarmac in order to make our flight with zero time to spare.
   Thirty-some years later, I'm still annoyed with Mr. Ex. When I heard that he had been taken hostage at the embassy during the long siege, I pondered the mysterious workings of karma. One of the popular inside stories of that time described Ex as a constant irritant to his captors. He allegedly harassed them with scathing insults and angered them with frequent escape attempts. We heard that the hostage takers hated him so much they stopped the prisoners' bus on the way to the release point, simply to give Ex one last beating.
   Back home in Tehran we reunited with our kids and learned that they had had their own excitement during our absence. After dinner the night before our return, Dakota went to the bathroom by himself. When Norma checked on him a few minutes later, she discovered he had locked the door and couldn't get out. He started to cry. Norma used her best powers of persuasion to get him to calm down. The old-fashioned locks used a large key, the type we used to call a skeleton key, and Norma convinced him to pull the key out of the lock and slide it under the door toward her. She could then unlock the door from her side and free the prisoner. The experience taught Dakota something about locks and keys and foreshadowed an adventure to come years later in another country. ###

   Find Voluntary Nomads on Amazon.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

He's Only a Little Boy

I'm running around the house waving my UPS tracking number. I can't be still even though I know the delivery won't happen until Tuesday afternoon. Can you guess what I'll be doing Tuesday night?

In case you're having a lazy Sunday with time to do a little reading, here's an excerpt from Chapter 5:

He's Only a Little Boy
Thanks to Fred's mom, Dakota and Tina had state-of-the-art snowsuits, perfect for Tehran's spectacular snow. When we wanted to play outdoors, I had to hurry to suit them up as quickly as I could. If I dawdled, the first one dressed got sweaty before the second zipper zipped. Bundled up in snowsuits, boots, mittens, hats, and hoods, they could barely walk and probably couldn't get up if they fell. I carried Tina and held Dakota's hand as we slip-slid down the steep half-flight of stairs leading from the balcony to our garden.

"Let's build a snow man." I packed a handful of snow into a ball and showed the kids how to roll it along to accumulate more snow.

"Wow. What a big ball you made. That can be the snowman's body."

We rolled a medium-sized ball for the torso and a smaller ball for the head. My chartreuse straw gardening hat sat on top. Dakota chose square blue Lego pieces for eyes and a green one for the nose. Tina picked out five small rectangular red pieces and I helped her form a smiling mouth.

I stepped back to admire our work. "Isn't that the best snowman in all the world? Hold on a second, I'm gonna run in the house and get the camera."

In less than two minutes I came back, ready to immortalize Mr. Snowman on film. But Mr. Snowman lay in a heap. Dakota held his red plastic baseball bat in a perfect home run follow-through, just the way I had taught him.

"I don't believe it! Young man, you better go to your room and think about what you have just done." Vapor puffed out of my mouth with every word. I imagined steam pouring out of my nose and ears.
Two-year-old Tina tugged at my pants leg. I looked down at her earnest little face.

"But, Mommy," she spoke softly in a soothing and reasonable voice, "he's only a little boy." ###

Note: Although Dakota did not grow up to be either a baseball hall-of-famer or a professional snow-man-deconstructionist, Tina did become a counselor and is now the owner of a thriving private practice.

Next time - an excerpt from Chapter 6 and news about availability of Voluntary Nomads.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Good News, Bad News

Good News - I received an email saying, "Your book is published!"
Bad News - Voluntary Nomads isn't available yet.

Question - What exactly does "published" mean?

Oh well, between waiting for the UPS truck to deliver my copies and lurking at the Amazon and Barnes & Noble websites to see Voluntary Nomads listed there, I'll post excerpts.

Here's one from Part Two: Iran Odysseys, Chapter 4:


Nancy and Fred visit a caravanserai

October 1975

The October early morning chilly breeze penetrated my sweater and I bent down to secure the hood of Tina's cherry red windbreaker. Dakota, oblivious to the cold as usual, carried his jacket tucked in the crook of his left elbow. Our group of eight (my best friend Norma, her husband Tom, and their children Julie and Tommy plus Fred, Nancy, Dakota, and Tina) joined the other embassy folks lined up to board the small blue minibus and the full-sized red bus chartered to take us on an overnight adventure.

The driver of our bus and guide for the tour, a middle-aged balding man with an enormous bushy mustache, smiled and said his name, Rashidi, to each passenger as we boarded. He offered his hand to Dakota and as they shook hands, man-to-man, they became instant buddies.

Rashidi revved the engine and shifted into first gear with a grind and a jerk. We were on our way to a caravanserai in the desert – a historic Near East inn originally built to accommodate camel caravans on the famous trade route leading to Tehran.

Our first stop was the town of Rey (Shahr-e-Rey) where we watched the traditional carpet cleaning process. At the edge of the river, the rug cleaners spread fine Persian carpets flat on the smooth sandstone surface. Then they doused the carpets with buckets of water, followed by a sprinkling of ordinary powdered laundry detergent. The next step involved scraping the rugs with a long-handled tool that I could have sworn was a common garden hoe. The scraping action mixed water and detergent into foam and pushed the foam down into the fibers. After a few minutes of scraping, the workers tugged the carpets into the river to rinse them. This involved another vigorous scraping to force out the soapsuds. After dragging the carpets onto the riverbank once more, the workers attacked again, using their hoes to squeegee out the moisture. The last step left the rugs to air-dry on the sun-warmed sandstone.

Rashidi told us that some rug merchants were known to toss new carpets into the road and let passing traffic "age" them into "antiques." He said this with an enigmatic smile that made me wonder if he was kidding about this underhanded trick of the carpet trade.

Next time: "He's Only a Little Boy"

Saturday, October 1, 2011

The Egg

Iran 1975
Tina, Nancy, and Dakota

From Part Two: Iran Odysseys --

Our weekdays settled into a comfortable routine of work for Fred, pre-school for the kids, Farsi lessons and household chores for me. I looked forward to the weekends when we could take short trips to explore Tehran and the surrounding countryside. One sunny autumn day we escaped from the hubbub of the frenetic city and made our way out of town with no planned destination.
After an hour or so on a narrow, winding road Fred spotted a convenient place to pull over and park on the bank of a brook. Dakota and Tina scrambled out of the car and ran to the water's edge. They threw rocks and sticks into the stream and chased alongside the sticks that floated with the current. The four of us climbed the smooth gray boulders and rock-hopped back and forth like mountain goats. Playing in the fresh air and sunshine soothed our country-bred souls.
"All this exercise makes me hungry." I've always been one of those people who want to eat every two or three hours.
"Me too," agreed Fred. "Let's drive back to that little café we saw on the way up."
"Yay!" Dakota and Tina cheered and clapped their sandy hands.
The small mud-brick building crouched in the middle of a packed-earth yard. Faded blue paint peeled here and there on the scarred and gouged walls. Three square wooden tables with rusty folding chairs sat vacant in the yard. A rickety bicycle leaned against the wall. Five red hens, exactly like our Rhode Island Reds back home, pecked in the dirt, giving wide berth to a scruffy brown dog napping in the sun.
Hand in hand, we walked toward the building. A short, thin man wearing an apron came out and swung one arm wide with a slight bow. We chose a table and sat down. The waiter greeted us and we returned his greeting.
"Salaam aleikum."
"Wa aleikum salaam."
"Chehar chello kebab." I practiced my primitive Farsi and ordered a national favorite dish made of chunks of savory charcoal-roasted mutton, steaming buttery white rice, and bold raw onion. I didn't ask Dakota and Tina what they wanted because I knew. Since the first time they tried it, they never wanted anything at a restaurant but chello kebab.
The waiter returned to the building, presumably to the kitchen. Wisps of smoke drifted from the chimney. The kids played with their forks and tablespoons as we waited for our food.
With no warning a strange choreography began. The waiter ambled toward us carrying four drinks. As we turned to watch the waiter approach, one of the red hens fluttered up, hunkered down right in the middle of our table, and startled us with a confident cackle. Four pairs of eyes opened wider and wider. In one fluid motion the waiter served our drinks, shooed the hen away, and plucked up her glistening wet brown egg, slipping it into his wide apron pocket.
Dakota started to cry. Tina wrapped her arms around my neck.
"What's wrong, Bubba? Did the chicken scare you?" I asked.
"No! That man took my egg! I want my egg!"
I held back a laugh. To Dakota, this was a serious offense. He stuck to his own logic. The egg appeared on his table: therefore the egg was his. My explanation that the egg belonged to the restaurant because the chicken belonged to the restaurant did not appeal to him in the least.
Fred stood up to his full 5 feet 8 inches of Daddy-Hero height. He snapped to attention and executed a perfect military about-face and marched into the café. A few minutes later he returned with his hands behind his back.
"Which hand?" he asked Dakota.
Dakota knew how to retrieve a treat from Daddy. He tapped Fred's left elbow. Fred brought his left hand out and opened it.
"My egg!" A delighted boy forgot his tears.
"Which hand?" Fred asked Tina.
Tina tapped the other elbow.
"My egg!" She beamed at Fred and cradled her egg in both hands.

(Voluntary Nomads to be released November 2011)