So we went to the rhododendron gardens with an Iraqi couple. The sun was shining. We wandered round for a while. Here are some photos:

Even though it was getting a little late in the season, there were still plenty of blooms, although it was probably even better two weeks earlier.

So I’ve lived in Portland a long time (total), and yet this was my first visit to the Crystal Springs Rhododendron Gardens. I knew where they were; we used to live not that far away. But for some reason, I never went. Rhodies aren’t my favorite flower, and that probably prejudiced me. But of course, there’s so much more. Lakes and ponds and waterfalls (this is Oregon; we don’t lack water), not to mention bridges and decorative trees and lots of birds, from geese to songbirds spiraling high into the sky.

I really enjoy the couple we were with. They’re older–both mid-70s–but they have a great sense of adventure and style. They are unabashedly enthusiastic about their new home. “We wish we had come here years ago!” they told us. They’ve admitted they were afraid to come. Huge movie enthusiasts, they learned of American culture from Hollywood, and they pictured us as a land where everyone is packing heat, a place where one must pay attention walking down a sidewalk in case of car chases spreading over the curb, cities where buildings explode daily, in slow motion. They didn’t know what to expect!

I actually kind of love this. There’s so much misinformation going both ways between Americans and Arabs. Americans see a woman wearing a headscarf walking down their suburban street and they’re afraid she might spontaneously explode. Arabs are afraid to come here because they worry that life will reflect our movies, that we’re violent and dangerous or that their kids will turn into super-obnoxious brats who never listen to their parents. (Although, that’s really a case of the pot calling the kettle black…just sayin’)

Afterwards they insisted on taking us for a late lunch. They insisted on paying. Donn tried to sneak the waitress some cash, but they caught him out and scolded the waitress–they’d already told her they were paying! She was amused.

When they were younger, they traveled all over, took long car trips from Iraq to Europe, camped out and drove round France and Germany and Italy. They collected souvenirs from their trips, all of which they had to leave behind. But they don’t complain; instead they buy things at Goodwill and garage sales and proudly show me their new finds with each visit.

We sat outside and ate sandwiches and pickles, and they looked around at the trees lining the street. “It’s so clean here,” they said, and I laughed. We were just coming off several days of rain. “That’s because we are constantly washing it,” I joked. They talked of days-on-end of sandstorms, how their son in Iraq tells them on skype of how bad things are. I’m sure they miss him, but they smile at me, happy to be here, to be enjoying another new adventure.