Author: Expat Alien

TCK, Global Nomad, Expat, Traveler writing about what is and what has been

Trailing: A Memoir







There has been much discussion lately about the term “trailing spouse” and whether it is appropriate or even polite. It projects a sense of “other” rather than something that makes up a whole. I usually conger up a vision of a dog’s tail. Other terms being used are “accompanying partner”, “expat wife”, “support partner”. Expat Lingo says she had been called a ‘stakeholder at home’. I have used the term ‘world juggler’ before.

But in the end, whatever you call it, the trailing spouse is usually the support system, the glue that holds it all together. Sometimes the glue falls apart and life can be rough.

In Trailing: A Memoir by Kristin Louise Duncombe, things fall apart.  Kristin grew up all over the world so when she met her Argentine husband, the thought of moving overseas didn’t seem so strange. Although she did have her reservations about putting her career on hold, she didn’t have a passion about what she did and had not clearly defined what she wanted to do. Her husband, a doctor with Doctors Without Borders was passionate about what he did and had no questions about what he was going to do. She was in love. She married him and went to Kenya.

Being a TCK (Third Culture Kid) myself, I also thought following my husband overseas would be no problem. Even though you have lived in many places around the world, the child TCK and the Adult TCK have different experiences and challenges. I had no support system behind me as we just up and moved. Kristin had a small “family” of doctors but it did not help much since most of them were single and always on the road. Her husband was gone much of the time.

On the other hand, I think she showed remarkable resilience. She found herself some work at a Nairobi hospital helping teens and eventually found a position with USAID at the US Embassy. Unfortunately the Embassy was bombed and she lost her job but by that time her husband had taken a position in Uganda. After having a baby, she finds a job in a small village outside Kampala. She never sees her husband and the marriage starts to unravel.

I found myself identifying with this book on several levels. I had a difficult adjustment when I moved to Russia. My husband was a freelancer. There were no benefits or perks. As soon as I landed I was expected to find a job and help with financial support. If found jobs mainly doing clerical administrative work but I also fell into a writing position for the American Women’s Club and was able to improve my writing skills and help other expat women at the same time. I edited and produced a newsletter that helped to build a community.

Everybody has a different experience when they live overseas. I knew couples who were both professionals in their own right. I knew women who moved around the globe on their own and met their husband along the way. One woman was a very successful diplomat and her husband did his own thing in another country but was able to work remotely. Some people take the time to write books. There is always something to do. I found my way and started writing and wrote a memoir.

The current challenge for international organizations is to find the balance and provide options for accompanying partners. With today’s technology, there are much more possibilities available.

Kristin’s happy ending was her husband accepted a position in Paris and she managed to set up a successful counseling practice working with expat families who are trying to cope with life overseas. After having gone through the worst of it, she now had all the tools necessary to help others in similar situations.Trailing: A Memoir is well written and engaging. It makes me want to know more about her. It is available on



Celebrity Chef Dining in DC



It’s that time of year again. The tourists are here, the locals are here. All for a few pink trees.

We went out to dinner last night and ended up in a nightmare traffic jam. Where did all those people come from? We inched along Constitution Avenue like it was rush hour. The good thing was that we had already eaten so we weren’t rushed to get to the table.

We went to a restaurant owned by a “celebrity” chef. That means he was on TV. He was on Top Chef. But what we discovered was he really can cook. The menu was made up of “small” plates so we able to order several things and not leave stuffed. There were four of us. We started with two different salads which was enough for everybody and flatbread with pepperoni sauce (one of his Top Chef successes). The Caesar Salad had little cubes of fried cheese in it.

From there we split up and ordered

Charred Octopus, tomato mostarda, romaine, mint

Ravioli, ricotta, sausage, peppers

Potato Gnocchi, pork ragu, whipped ricotta, crispy rosemary

Pappardelle, wild mushroom, eggplant, fennel

The pappardelle was just what it says, no heavy sauce, just mushrooms, eggplant and fennel. Simple and delicious.

There were some interesting pizzas on the menu as well featuring things like brussels sprouts, lamb, and black truffles.

For dessert we opted for the Pumpkin Break Pudding with caramel sauce. What can I say? Doesn’t get any better than that.

If you are ever in town, probably for the cherry blossoms, stop by Graffiato on 6th street It’s worth the trip.

Books from Asia, Moscow and Turkey


I’m always interested in expat stories, expat memoirs, and third culture kid stories. I usually pick them up, get a few chapters in and set them aside. I don’t know what it is about them but they just don’t grab me. Maybe it’s the writing, maybe it’s the focus. Although I usually finish them at some point even if I just scan through them. Here are a few I read recently and liked.


The Sullivan Saga, Memoires of an Overseas Childhood by M.H. Sullivan, was an interesting story about a girl growing up in a Foreign Service family in Asia and Africa. In the TCK stories I can usually find some personal connection that keeps me going. The thing that grabbed me about this book was she started out talking about returning to the US for college and wondering if she was “American” enough. Her family was very different from mine but there were some similarities in the experiences she had. I could totally identify with the story about her father having to go into the bushes and take his pants off because he was being attached by army ants in Africa.



Lenin Lives Next Door, Marriage, Martinis, and Mayhem in Moscow by Jennifer Eremeeva is about a woman married to a Russian and her experiences living in Moscow for twenty years. She fell in love with Russia at 13 when she read “Nicholas and Alexandra” by Robert Massie. She studied Russian history and language and eventually ended up in Moscow running tours and hosting trade show delegations. A fellow tour guide introduced her to her future husband and she has been there ever since. Her book is all about the characters she meets along the way and the challenges of living in Moscow. It is very funny and some things are hard to believe since truth really is stranger than fiction. I could identify with a lot of what she talks about having lived in Moscow for nine years myself. And funnily enough I actually knew Jennifer when I lived there. I recommend it – it’s fun and fast paced.



Yesterday I picked up Perking the Pansies by Jack Scott. Yes, you can read it in a day. It is fast paced and light reading. Two married gay men from Britain decide to chuck everything, quit their jobs, sell their property and all their belongings and move to Turkey. Most people thought they were nuts. It is something many people dream of doing but would never actually do. They did it. The book covers their first year in Turkey. They were not completely prepared for what they were getting into and it seems they should have done some more research on the weather but they manage to keep a positive attitude and stick with it. After making some adjustments, and meeting some unpleasant expats, they eventually find their way and their own group of friends. It is a fun read.



The Burmese Coconut Tree


A friend of mine is married to a chef. He was recently invited to do a cooking presentation in Rangoon, Burma (Myanmar).  I would love to know what he is preparing for them. Perhaps it includes coconut.


The Origin of the Coconut

Many hundreds of years ago a raft with three people on it reached a city on the Burmese coast. The three strangers were taken before the king. In answer to the king’s questions, the strangers said that they had been set adrift on a raft on the orders of the king of their own country across the sea, because they were found guilty of certain crimes. One of the strangers was a thief, another a witch, and the third a mischief-maker who harmed people by his tittle-tattle.

The king gave a house and one thousand silver coins to the thief, and allowed him to settle in Burma. “He was a thief only because he was poor,” explained the king, “and now that he is no longer poor, he will make a good subject.” To the witch also the king gave a house and a thousand silver coins and allowed her to settle in Burma. “She bewitched people merely out of jealousy,” explained the king, “and she was jealous of others only because she was poor and unhappy. Now that she is rich, she will no longer be jealous of other people’s happiness.” But the king ordered the mischief-maker to be executed at once. “For,” said the king, “once a mischief-maker, always a mischief-maker.” So the mischief-maker was taken to the place of execution, and his head was cut off.

The next day one of the king’s officers passed by the place, and to his surprise he found the head of the mischief-maker rolling about on the ground. He was the more surprised when the head of the mischief-maker opened its mouth and said repeatedly, “Tell your king to come and kneel to me here. Otherwise I will come and knock off his head.” The officer ran back to the palace and reported the matter. But nobody believed him and the king was angry, thinking that the officer was trying to make fun of him. “Your Majesty can send another person along with me,” suggested the officer, “and he will surely bear me out.” So another officer was sent along with the first officer to the place of execution.

When they reached there, however, the head lay still and remained silent. The second officer made his repot, and the king in anger ordered the first officer to be excutied at once as a teller of lies. So the unfortunate officer was taken to the place of execution, and his head was cut off in the presence of his fellow officers. When the execution was over, the head of the mischief-maker opened its mouth and said, “Ha,ha, I can still make mischief by my tittle-tattle, although I am dead.” The officers, realizing that a gross injustice has been done to the dead officer, reported what they had seen and heard and the king was full of grief an remorse.

The king, realizing that the head of the mischief-maker would make further mischief by his tittle-tattle if it was to remain unburied, ordered that a deep pit be dug and the head buried inside it. His orders were obeyed and the head was duly buried. But the next morning, a strange tree was seen growing from the place where the head had been buried. The strange tree had even stranger fruit, for the latter resembled the head of the mischief-maker. The tree is the coconut tree. It was originally call ‘gon-bin’, which in Burmese means ‘Mischief-maker tree’, but during the course of centuries, the pronunciation of the name has deteriorated, and it is now called ‘on-bin’ or ‘coconut tree’. And, if you shake a coconut and then put it against your ear, you will hear a gurgling noise for, you see, although now a fruit, the head of the mischief-maker still wants to make tittle-tattle.



Maung Htin Aung was born on 18 May 1909. He was the great grandson of a military officer who fought in the first war against the British in 1826. There were two more wars against the British and eventually Burma was completely overtaken in 1885.

Maung Htin Aung was part of an aristocratic family and received a Bachelor of Laws from Cambridge Univiersity, a Bachelor of Civil Law from Oxford University, a Master of Laws from the University of London and doctorates in Anthropology and Literature from Trinity College, Dublin.

He wrote books on Burmese history and culture. The above is an excerpt from his book Selections from Burmese Folk-Tales published in 1952 by Oxford University Press.

A later edition: Burmese Folk Tales is available at


Burmese Coconut Rice

Serves 8

5 cups rice
3 coconuts
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1 tsp sugar
1/3 tsp salt
2 onions

Grate the flesh of 3 coconuts. Pour some hot water and squeeze the milk through thin muslin. Repeat till all the milk is extracted. Wash rice thoroughly. Put rice into pot. Add this milk until it stands ¾ inch above the rice. Peel, quarter and wash the onions. Add to the rice, oil, sugar, salt and onions. Stir till well mixed. Cook till the milk is evaporated and the rice tender.


Blogging and Chocolate Cake







“Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.”

I have been blogging for two years now. Seems like just yesterday. I started my blog to promote my book, Expat Alien. I didn’t know what I was doing or if anybody would even read it. What I found was a whole new world. There are millions of bloggers out there. I had no idea. People blog about everything. Some blog a lot, some not so much.


To mark the occasion I though I might find one of Julia Child’s cake recipes. It seemed appropriate since she was an expat. However her recipes tend to be three and four pages long and that is a lot of work. So here is my favorite chocolate cake recipe that I have made a million times. It comes from the Joy of Cooking 1975 edition.

And keep on blogging!


Cocoa Devil’s Food Cake

Two 9-inch round pans

Pre heat oven to 375 degrees F

Combine, beat until well blended, and set aside:

1 cup sugar

½ cup cocoa

½ cup buttermilk or yogurt

Beat until soft

½ cup butter

Add gradually and cream until light:

1 cup sifted sugar

Beat in, one at a time:

2 eggs

Beat in cocoa mixture.

Sift before measuring:

2 cups cake flour

Resift with:

1 tsp baking soda

½ tsp salt

Add the flour in 3 parts to the butter mixture, alternately with:

½ cup buttermilk or yogurt

1 tsp vanilla

Beat batter after each addition just until smooth.

Grease the pans and cook for 35 minutes in a 375 degree F oven.

When cooled, spread the cake with your favorite icing.



She Wore White Linen – Chapters 7-9

IMG_0474So I am working on a novel. I am publishing chapters here from time to time to keep me motivated and put me out there. Feel free to comment. It is obviously very rough.

Chapter 7

Good riddance to the old

Karen finally figured out the modem and managed to get onto the Internet.  First thing was to check email.  She did not have anything pressing, it was just habit.  There was a message from Josh.  She hesitated.  Did she want to deal with this right now?  She opened it.


I have just been to see Angela and she tells me you let your apartment go and stored your things with her.  Oh my god!!!  When were you going to tell me?  I guess you weren’t going to tell me because you got on a goddam plane to Africa and did not tell me.  What the hell is wrong with you?  I can’t believe you would just leave like that and not say anything.  I can’t believe anybody would do that.

I think you have some explaining to do.  What happened?  What went wrong?  I thought we were doing fine.  We did not fight.  We liked the same things.  I make enough money to support us.  I thought we were getting married.  Weren’t we getting married?  Shit!  How do I present this to my family and friends?

“Oh, yeah, Karen.  I remember her.  I guess she flew off to Africa and isn’t coming back.  Aren’t I an asshole!  Haha”

What the hell?



Yeah, it was pretty much what she expected.  Somehow men seemed to interpret things as being all about them.  He made enough money, he thought this and he thought that.  How did this make him look?  Funny, she did not recall him ever asking her to marry him.  He had assumed a lot of things and never really discussed anything.  She knew that.  Who cared what people thought?  She didn’t.  Yep, he was an asshole and she was a bitch.  Goodbye Josh.

She hit the delete button.

She needed some time to take care of herself and have some fun.  She felt okay about who she was.

She had grown up moving around a lot.  Her father dragged the family all over the globe.  She and her brother had been very close growing up.  Starting over in a new school and a new country could be challenging but having a brother made it easier.  She had one built in friend, anyway.  It had been difficult to say goodbye to people time and time again.  Most of her relationships ended in failure.  She had a hard time believing anything could be permanent.  It was hard to take somebody seriously enough to think they would not leave.  She always expected them to leave. And when they did not, she did.  Nothing was permanent.  Life was just one long string of encounters and places.  It did not seem odd to her at all.

“I need a cigarette.”

Ian still smoked so she started rummaging around his house looking for cigarettes.   She was trying to quit and was to the point where she only smoked in social situations, what the hell, she was on vacation.  There was an open pack sitting by his bed.  Now that was one relationship that would not go away on its own.

It was starting to get hot.  She turned on the fan and enjoyed a smoke.


Chapter 8

Women’s coffee circle

The next morning there were five women at coffee.  They all brought their kids so it was lucky the house was big and some of the nannies came too.  The children were corralled into the back yard to play.  The women sat in a circle on the front porch.  Cakes and cookies were laid out on the coffee table.  Nobody in the room was fat.  Karen wondered how that was possible watching them reaching for the rich treats.  She guessed they just sweat it all out.  Ian was right.  She was now used to the smell but the heat still bothered her.

The women introduced themselves and chit chatted about their households and groceries and recipes.  It was a small community and mostly they just had each other for entertainment.  Karen discovered that there was a Mah Jong group that met once a week, a bridge group that met once a month, a sewing group that met a couple of times a month, and cocktails at the club were a regular Friday event.  The club had a pool and a restaurant/bar with one big dining room that doubled as a ballroom.  Sometimes they brought in movies and showed them outside on a big screen.

Of course, gossip was a big part of the morning.  They wanted to know all about her and her past and her future and if she had any insights into her brother.  They all liked him but thought he was a little aloof.  Karen knew he had never tolerated gossip and rarely shared more of himself than necessary until he knew somebody really well.  A defense mechanism he had developed at an early age.

Somebody mentioned Alex, and her ears perked up.  That gossip she was interested in!  He arrived only six months ago and they did not know him very well but there was all kinds of speculation flying around.  Apparently he had just come off a bad marriage and wanted time to himself.  He just up and quit his lucrative job in London to lose himself in the African bush.  He was friendly and flirty but never dated anybody.  They all thought he was gorgeous and lusted after him as only married women can.  Karen absorbed it all but didn’t ask questions.  She did not want them to think she was interested.


Chapter 9

Travel up north

Ian came home that night and said he had arranged to take a couple of days off.  He wanted to spend some time with her and show her some sights.  He had worked for some time up in the north where the Sahara desert starts.  The area was predominantly Muslim and one Chief he had a particularly good relationship with had invited him to attend a traditional festival.

Once or twice a year, military chiefs of the area pledged their allegiance to the Emir, their religious and traditional leader, in a great military parade showing off their skills on horseback and otherwise.  It was supposed to be quite an event.  It would take them most of the day to get there so they needed to leave very early the next morning.  They would stay with a friend in one of the larger towns nearby.  Karen went to pack.

They left at five the next morning.  Ian had borrowed a driver from work so they did not have to worry about navigating and driving on the sketchy roads.  They packed sandwiches and water and Karen slept most of the morning.  It was a long and dusty drive but a good way to see the country.  They drove through small villages where children ran along side the car and waved yelling “white man” in their native tongue.  Their clothes matched the colorful vegetation along the way.  As they got closer to their destination, the area became more arid and much less colorful.  The women were covered and wore black.  The ground was dry.  It was 6 pm when they arrived at Ian’s friend’s house.  They had a simple dinner and Karen fell into bed exhausted.

The next day they got up early again and drove about two hours to their destination.  The day began with prayers outside the town.  This was followed by a parade of horsemen, camels, donkeys, and men on foot passing into the square in front of the Emir’s palace where each village had their assigned place.  They all wore blue robes in satin and silk, some highly embroidered in gold and silver thread.  The horses had fancy tassels, bridles, blankets, and stirrups.  Some riders wore chain mail.  The Emir arrived last and stood in front of the palace to receive his homage.  The show began with horses racing across the square and abruptly stopping in front of the Emir with swords raised to salute him.  Afterwards men moved forward in a sea of blue to bend and touch their foreheads to the ground.  The day ended when the Emir and the chiefs entered the palace for drumming, singing and dancing.

Karen took lots of pictures and made notes so she could write about it.  This was the kind of thing she wanted to report.


Equality for women is progress for all


“Countries with more gender equality have better economic growth. Companies with more women leaders perform better. Peace agreements that include women are more durable. Parliaments with more women enact more legislation on key social issues such as health, education, anti-discrimination and child support. The evidence is clear: equality for women means progress for all.”

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon




The United Nations theme for 2014 International Women’s Day is “Equality for women is progress for all”.

In 1908 15,000 women marched in New York City to demand better working conditions, more pay, and the right to vote. This was the birth of the woman’s movement. In 1911 more than a million women marched throughout Europe to end discrimination. On March 25th of that year 123 female garment workers aged 16 to 23 died in a fire in New York City. Many fell or jumped to their deaths to escape the fire. The doors were locked. Most of them were Italian and Jewish immigrants. The outcome was legislation mandating better working conditions.


The first Women’s Day was held in 1911 and in 1914 March 8th became the official International Women’s Day.  In 1917 the women of Russia staged a protest for “Bread and Peace” in response to the death of over 2 million Russian soldiers. They protested for four days until the Czar abdicated and the provisional government granted them the right to vote. Their protest started on March 8th.

Over the years the movement grew and today 27 countries around the world celebrated March 8th as an official holiday. Women in the 1970’s again rose and fought for women’s rights and equality. In the West much was accomplished and women entered the workforce and gained more equality and legislative rights.

However, there is still considerable inequality. Women do not have equal rights or equal pay. Many women around the world are still dealing with forced marriages, slavery and horrible working conditions. In 2012, 257 people died in a textile factory in Pakistan. It is suspected the doors were locked.

In Russia March 8th is a big deal. Women receive flowers and small presents. Families gather for celebrations. Everybody has the day off work. It is nice.

But it is also a time to reflect on how much more there is to do. Look out for your sisters, mothers, daughters and friends.

Happy Women’s Day!

Expat Gertrude Stein

Gertrude Stein-996e11046cc60620a5e89c3a4491d5222249be35-s6-c30






I discovered Gertrude Stein my senior year in high school when I was taking an Art History class. I was told to write a paper on something to do with art and I couldn’t think of anything so my teacher gave me a book called “Matisse, Picasso and Gertrude Stein with Two Shorter Stories” by Gertrude Stein. I think I wrote my paper on Picasso but what grabbed my interest was Gertrude. I was hooked. I had never read anything like it. I asked my teacher why they didn’t tell us about her in English class. I was informed not everybody appreciated Gertrude.


Pablo Picasso, Portrait of Gertrude Stein, 1906, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. When someone commented that Stein didn’t look like her portrait, Picasso replied, “She will.” Stein wrote “If I Told Him: A Completed Portrait of Picasso” in response to the painting.

Gertrude was born 140 years ago on February 3, in Allegheny, Pennsylvania. Her father and her uncle owned a textile business with stores in Pittsburgh and Baltimore, Maryland. The brothers did not get along so in 1875 her father took the family to live in Vienna, Austria. Thus began Gertrude’s travels. Three years later they moved to Paris and lived there for five years. They spent 1879 with relatives in Baltimore where Gertrude learned English after speaking first German and then French.

The family moved to Oakland, California in 1880. Gertrude’s mother, Amelia died eight years later of cancer. Gertrude was 14. Two years later her father died and she returned to Baltimore to live with an aunt. She went on to study philosophy and English at Radcliff College and ended up back in Baltimore studying medicine at Johns Hopkins. She spent her summers traveling around Europe with her brother, Leo. By 1903, she was failing her classes and her scandalous lesbian love affair ended badly. She moved to Paris and did not return to America for 30 years.

Gertrude and Leo collected art and became friends with many artists of the day. Leo started to paint and Gertrude wrote. They held Saturday night salons in their home to meet and promote artists and writers. In 1906 Picasso painted her portrait and gave it to her. Her portrait of Picasso was published about twenty years later.


She wrote The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas in 1933. This was her first “mainstream” piece and it was a bestseller. She was fifty-nine years old. Enjoying her new-found fame, she embarked on a lecture series across America, her first time back since moving to France.

“When I was in America for the first time travelled pretty much all the time in an airplane and when I looked at the earth I saw all the lines of cubism made at a time when not any painter had ever gone up in an airplane. I saw there on the earth the mingling lines of Picasso, coming and going, developing and destroying themselves. I saw the simple solution of Braque, I saw the wandering lines of Masson, yes I saw and once more I knew that a creator is contemporary, he understands what is contemporary when the contemporaries do not yet know it…” –Picasso

I admit it can be difficult to read some of her work. She writes long sentences without any punctuation and repeats herself endlessly. In Lectures in America she writes:

I began to get enormously interested in hearing how everybody said the same thing over and over again with infinite variations but over and over again until finally if you listened with great intensity you could hear it rise and fall and tell all that there was inside them, not so much by the actual words they said or the thoughts they had but the movement of their thoughts and words endlessly the same and endlessly different.  – Lectures in America

She returned to France and moved to the country during World War II living a low profile simple life. In 1946 she was diagnosed with colon cancer and died on the operating table. She left her writings to Yale University, her Picasso portrait to the New York Metropolitan Museum, and everything else to her lifelong companion, Alice B Toklas. She was buried at Pere Lachaise cemetery in Paris with a tombstone designed by Francis Rose. Her birthplace was misspelled “Allfghany” and her date of death was two days off.

I think her writings are wonderful pieces of art and I enjoy reading them albeit in short bursts. She had a wonderful sense of humor, said what she thought and lived life to the fullest.


In an essay for Life Magazine in 1945 she wrote:

When General Osborne came to see me just after the victory, he asked me what I thought should be done to educate the Germans. I said there is only one thing to be done and that is to teach them disobedience, as long as they are obedient so long sooner or later they will be ordered about by a bad man and there will be trouble. Teach them disobedience, I said, make every German child know that it is its duty at least once a day to do its good deed and not believe something its father or its teacher tells them, confuse their minds, get their minds confused and perhaps then they will be disobedient and the world will be at peace. The obedient peoples go to war, disobedient people like peace, that is the reason that Italy did not really become a good Axis, the people were not obedient enough, …

General Osborn shook his head sadly, you’ll never make the heads of an army understand that.

– Off We All Went to See Germany

You can listen to Gertrude Stein reading from her work online.


- Original post at: Baltimore Post Examiner

She Wore White Linen – Chap 4-6

IMG_04744. The neighbor comes to visit

Karen woke up late the next morning, not sure at first where she was or what day it was.  After lying in bed for a while she realized she had made the jump to her future and should probably get on with it.  She got up, pulled on a pair of jeans and a tee shirt and headed to the kitchen in search of coffee.  There was a note on the table from Ian.

“Off to work, help yourself to whatever, will be home around five.”

After some digging around she was able to find some coffee and bread to make toast.  At least there was electricity.

Ian told her they often had rolling blackouts because the infrastructure could not meet the demands of a growing country overloaded with people.

She turned on her computer and started making notes.

What to do with the rest of my life:

Write a best seller

Become a field reporter in Africa

Write travelogues

Join the Foreign Legion

Get to know Alex

 “Knock Knock!! Are you up yet?”

It was Sara from next door.

Karen jumped up to greet her, happy for the interruption.

“Yes, I just got up.  I was so tired, I slept late.  Who is this?”

“This is Greg.  He is two and terrible.”

“Hi Greg.  Come in.  Can I get you some coffee or something else?”

“No thanks, we just had a snack.  We are on our way to a play date but I wanted to stop in and see if you were interested in going to Women’s Coffee Morning tomorrow.  You could meet some people and get out for a bit.”

“Sure, I would love to, what time?”

“Why don’t you come over to my house around nine and we can leave from there?”

“Sounds great, see you then.”


IMG_04745. Cholera outbreak

Ian was, in fact, not a spy.  He was a Foreign Service Officer who mostly did program management.  It was not a glamorous exciting job but he liked it.  He spent much of his time running around meeting people, introducing people to each other, and trying to build relationships.  This particular morning he was about 40 miles away meeting with a village Chief outside his house under a shady tree.  Naked children were running about and most of the villagers were squatting or standing around having a look at the pale-faced visitors.

On this day the topic was water.  Cholera had started showing up around coastal West Africa and Ian’s job was to try to educate people in order to contain it.    Cholera was transmitted through contaminated water, food and human waste.  Most places in the area did not have running water or toilet facilities.  People used open fields or open drains, streams, and waterways for sewage.    The symptoms of cholera were diarrhea, vomiting, leg cramps, and in turn dehydration.  It was often fatal if not treated.   Treatment could be as simple as replacing lost fluids with a mixture of boiled water, salt, and sugar.

Ian and his team were there to tell the Chief that, in order to avoid an outbreak in his village, they needed to boil their water before drinking it, wash their hands with soap after defecating and before eating, peel or cook their food before eating, and dig holes for outhouses.  In this way they could have a more sanitary environment and people would not get sick.

It was tough going.  Nobody was sick, yet.  What was the motivation?

He would have to go back many times and work with smaller groups.  Eventually he would get through to them, or at least to some of them.  He had done it before.  He just had to be creative about it.  He thought Alex might be able to help and made a note to discuss it next time they met.


IMG_04746. What Alex left behind

Alex taught journalism at the local university and had been involved in PR campaigns all over the world.  He went to Africa on a two year contract hoping to do some good instead of promoting toothpaste and mouthwash.  He was 33 years old and recently divorced so he had another motive to get away from it all.  He caught his wife in the middle of a torrid affair with a colleague of his.  Ugh.  He still cringed every time he thought of it.

He was a highly successful PR man for one of the biggest agencies in London.  He was working on a campaign that would bring in a lot of money for his client and wanted to be focused and do a good job.   Therefore he had not been aware of what was going on in the rest of his life.  He worked long hours and had meetings on the weekends.  He knew he had been neglecting his wife but she had not nagged him lately so he figured everything was all right.

He was out for a drink with a client on a Friday night and it hadn’t gone so well.  The client was not happy about the latest ideas being thrown around and wanted Alex to come up with some new ones.  Alex was getting tired of his prima donna client who was never satisfied.  He just wanted to go home and relax for once and catch up on his personal life.

It was still fairly early so he decided to pick up some pastries for breakfast so he and his wife could have a lie in the next morning with coffee in bed.  As he was leaving the bakery, he noticed it was a starry night and the moon was full.  He smiled to himself, things were looking up already.

As he entered his flat, he immediately knew something was wrong.  There was a smell or a sound that alerted him.  He called out, “Julie, you there?”

He heard them in the bedroom, scrambling around.  He ran and entered the room.  They were both grabbing their clothes, trying to make themselves presentable.  It wasn’t possible.  They were beyond being presentable.  He was in shock.

“Julie?  What is going on?  Matt, that is my WIFE!  What the hell is going on?”

“Sorry, Alex.  Took me by surprise.  It just happened.  Sorry.”


“You are never around, I was lonely.  Then I met Matt at the market and we just clicked.  I felt alive for the first time in a long time.  I am leaving you Alex.”


“Sorry, Alex.”

Alex felt as though he would faint, he made it to the bathroom just in time to catch the vomit in the toilet.  He lay down on the bathroom floor and closed his eyes.  How did his life get so screwed up?