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Donn and Elliot were recently looking through old photos and he posted this one to facebook. Looking at it, I was unprepared for the flood of memories it produced. I had all the normal “my BABY is now a stinky hairy man!” emotions of a mother of a soon-to-be 17 year old male, but mostly I remembered the circumstances in which that photo was taken.

We’d just arrived in Mauritania. Elliot was 5. Colleagues met us at the airport—we’d been traveling 2 days at that point, and Ilsa was covered in airline food (she was barely 4, poor thing), and I still remember that hot dry air sucking the breath from my lungs as I stepped to the open plane door and went down the steps, and I wondered, “Can I do this? Am I going to make it?” It was only April, 10 p.m., the air filled with dust and smoke and still hotter than Portland usually gets in August.

None of our suitcases arrived with us. Colleagues met us at the airport, all smiles, sweeping the twins into their arms. They took us first to their house, where they fed us spaghetti, and then to the apartment where we’d stay while we looked for our own house. The apt had been rented by a single male who’d come for a year-long internship and would be leaving soon. He was the type of single male who is clean and neat and just does things a little differently than your typical woman, like lining the bedroom with wires to dry your clothes on. Since none of our luggage had come, we ran the washing machine (located in the kitchen) and it flooded the kitchen, the soapy water full of little dead bugs. We squee-geed it right out the back door onto the balcony, which seemed very strange to me. Who knew you did it like that? In my American kitchen, that was not how you cleaned the floor.

When our clothes were clean, we hung them round our bed (weird). We stirred briefly at the dawn call to prayer, unused as yet to the loudspeakers near our windows, then slept deeply till noon, when our new friend knocked at the door to take us to lunch. He’d brought us clothes to borrow from various people, including a family with small girls who live near us now in Oregon and are good friends, though at this point we hadn’t met them.

But our own clothes were bone dry, another mystery. How could they have dried in the NIGHT like that? It was a good introduction to the Sahara, where clothes hung on the line at 8 will be dry by 10.

We began to settle in, adjust. Donn and Dave spent a lot of time at the airport, where eventually most of our luggage showed up. We began to learn where we could buy what, and I realized that I could feed my family on what was available there. Every morning Donn would walk to a tiny storefront in a garage of a house nearby and buy bread, and we’d eat bread and jam and coffee for breakfast. The kids loved the mango juice in small bottles. We all hated the milk.

Donn and Elliot went to the market together on our 2nd or 3rd day, ostensibly to buy things for the house. They returned with a tea set, a large Senegalese drum, and a robe (dra:a) for Elliot. Not my idea of necessities, although that tea set got a lot of use. Elliot had a Coke and came home wearing his robe, saying “Salaam A’lauykoum, Mom!” as he walked in the door. We were so excited to be there, and so scared and overwhelmed at the same time. Mostly excited though. There’s nothing like your first overseas move.

Donn: (showing F online proof of the reason for his traffic ticket) See, here it shows that you didn’t stop at all for the red light. You just turned right without stopping.

F: But no cars were coming.

Donn: That’s not the point. You always have to stop for a red light.

F: (thinking) But this is my first ticket.

Donn: Well not all intersections have cameras.

F: So I just have to learn which intersections have cameras.

Donn: NO! You have to stop for a red light.

F: Which intersections have cameras?

Donn: Besides, if a cop sees you, he’ll pull you over and give you a ticket, whether or not there’s a camera.

F: So I have to be really careful and look.

Donn: NO! You have to stop for all red lights!

F: But if I’m really careful…

Donn: Just stop for red lights.


Me: (helping a young woman transfer from one community college to another. She has missed the deadline. I have ordered her transcript, applied online, created passwords and recorded her SSN, etc.) So, tomorrow we just need to call this number and see if they have room in the classes. They’re willing to let you in if the teachers agree.

L: Will you come with me?

Me: Well we just need to call. I can call but they might want to talk to you to get an idea of your English level. So we should be together. We need to call between 8 and 4. I can come over and we can call. What time is good?

L: Noon?

Me: Ok. Maybe a little earlier would be better. But I know you’re not up in the morning. (Aside: we have learned that, when visiting this family, it’s best not to show up before 2 p.m.)

L: You can come at 8, or 9, and I will get up and let you in.

Me: Ok. Why don’t we just do 11. You can still sleep in, but we’ll catch her before she goes to lunch.

Next Morning. I am late, because (long story) Donn is taking F to traffic court and we are sharing a car because my brother is in town (YAAY!) and has borrowed mine for the day. I knock on L’s family’s door at 11:15. No answer. All is still. I knock again. The third time produce’s L’s mother, in her nightgown, hastily adjusting her headscarf as she opens the door. “L?” I say. “Come in,” she says, waves me to a couch, and goes to L’s room.

I sit. She comes back, makes me tea, does her ablutions, prays towards Mecca. She brings her breakfast (bread dipped in date paste and cream) over to me on a tray and we both sit on the floor while she eats, since I’m not hungry. I sit some more.

L appears at noon.

I call, but the woman is at lunch. I leave a long message. “She may call us back at 12:30,” I say, so the 3 of us sit, the only ones awake in the house (there are 3 more asleep), in the drafty, spotless living room. We sit there till just after one, watching an Arabic cooking show on youtube, chatting occasionally about their neighbours (they recently moved), the school, the classes I’m going to give L if she doesn’t manage to get into summer term at the community college. No one calls us. Eventually I leave.

The woman never does call us back. I left her both our phone numbers, so she could choose who she wanted to talk to. Nothing. Which means she’s all set for fall, right?


M: I had something happen the other day. Some Jews came by with a Torah in a box to talk to me about their religion.

Me: Are you sure? Jews don’t usually go door-to-door.

M: I think so. They had a Torah in a box. They were from Syria and they spoke Arabic and they knew our names. They said, “Are you M?”

Me: Hmmmm. (It is niggling in my mind; I should be able to figure this out. It didn’t sound like Mormons. Have you already figured it out?)

M: They came in and I gave them tea.

Me: You don’t have to let them in. I know that is rude in your culture, but here, if someone you don’t know comes to your door, wanting you to buy something or wanting to convince you of something, you can just be polite and say “no thank you” and close the door. It is not rude.

M: Really?

Me: Yes.

M: They had papers for me. They wanted to talk about their religion.

Me: I’m really sure they were not Jewish.

M: They had a Torah.

Me: Oh I know–Jehovah’s Witnesses! That’s who they were!

(Did you figure it out?)

Although it’s commonly believed that newly-arrived immigrants or refugees will cluster together, this doesn’t always bear out. Take Harold and Maude, for instance. When they arrived, their caseworker put them in an enormous apartment complex where there were several other Iraqi families. Overall this was not just fine, but downright positive. They made some good friends. But one family in particular had a boy about the same age as their oldest. The two quickly, naturally, became friends, but Harold and Maude were not happy with the boy’s influence on their son, especially after he managed to get them both in trouble.  They decided to move as soon as their lease was up.  They found an apartment complex with few children and no other Iraqis, signed a new lease, and gave notice to the first apartment complex. We helped them move one rainy Saturday at the end of January, and I went back the following week to help them clean the old place.

“You know you won’t get your deposit back,” I told them. “No one does.” It’s actually quite common for families to move to a new apartment after their lease is up, usually either 6 months or a year. Their reasons differ; usually they are looking for cheaper rent, or they want to be closer to friends, or they have finally been given section 8 (subsidized housing). None of these families have ever gotten their deposits back; in fact, a few have accrued extra charges. One family got sent a bill for another $1000 after their child spilled tumeric on the carpet on moving day.

But I have never seen anyone clean like Maude. They moved the fridge, the washing machine, the stove, and scoured underneath them. They washed all the walls. They steam-cleaned the carpet. We picked up every single tiny piece of trash. The place was sparkling when we left that day, after a picnic lunch of fried chicken and jo-jos from Winco, proudly produced by Harold from the trunk of his car, bought several hours earlier. (No I didn’t get sick. People worry too much)

That particular apartment was a fine apartment, not like some I’ve seen refugees put into. (One friend recently lost heat for days, and her landlord never returned her calls. They finally fixed the heat themselves) But even though it was perfectly adequate, it’s obvious that the builders didn’t choose to use quality materials. The blind slats, the paint, the era of stove and washing machine made it clear. But that was okay, since they have to know that, right? You can’t put a family in an apartment for a year and not have some wear and tear. That’s why they charge $850/month for a two-bedroom apartment, to cover any damages.

But apparently the owners don’t want to have to spend even a penny of their gains. Because Maude didn’t get any of her deposit back. I went with her to the office, where a platinum blonde with dark eyebrows said defensively, “I walked through that one myself. There were stains on the counter so we had to spray, I remember.” I explained “stains” to Maude, but she was not impressed. “This is false, this is lies,” she said bitterly, reading the list of repairs, which conveniently happened to total the amount of the deposit.

I kind of agree with her. I’m sure they had to paint a couple of walls, maybe spray the counters like the woman said. But I am also sure that the large corporation which owns the complex could afford to do that with the money they made off the rent. Certainly they could afford it a lot better than a refugee family. The woman promised to look into it again and call back, but she didn’t.

It’s a small injustice in the larger scheme of things. Call it a moving-out fee instead of a deposit, and maybe that makes it easier. But it still makes me mad, because I saw the tears in the corner of Maude’s eyes that she tried to hide, and I know how badly that family needs the money. I see how hard her husband works at a job that only gives him 39 hours a week so they don’t have to pay benefits. I see how much they worry about their kids, how important things like education and good manners are to them. And I don’t see why even small injustices in the name of greed are acceptable, why we all shrug and say, “That’s just how it is in this imperfect world.”

Sometimes, you wish you had stayed out of the kitchen so you could eat in blissful ignorance.

I thought this Wednesday. After class, Bea announced that we were all staying for lunch at her place–that would be me, the teacher/driver, Maude and her 4 year old daughter, and Fiona. We were in the car when Bea announced it, and I realized that I had foolishly said “next time” on Monday, when she’d also invited me in.

I don’t know why, but I am always exhausted after class. It takes about an hour to pick up everybody, and then I teach for 2 hours, then everyone chats in the hall for at least half an hour, then another hour of driving. Total: 4 1/2 hours, and that’s not counting extra things that often come up. Not that long. But by that point, I just want to come home and chill for half an hour or so before I get going on something else.

But I had said, “Next time,” not meaning it, meaning “at some vague undetermined time when I have more energy.” And Bea had made dolma, which takes a while…I know because I have helped others make it. You mix rice and ground lamb and parsley and tomato paste and spices, and you roll and stuff grape leaves and onions and zucchini and peppers and tomatoes and put them all in a large pot and boil them for a while. So I looked around the car. Everyone agreed; we would eat at Bea’s. We stopped at a grocery store for her to run in and get a few items (i.e. 3 bags of stuff) and then went to her house. I was pushed onto a couch with Fiona, not allowed in the kitchen to help, which is unfair. Fiona is the oldest so she is supposed to sit and watch, but I am younger than Bea. I think it’s my status as teacher and giver of rides, not to mention American, that relegates me to the couch. Fiona prays; I watch Iraqi satellite TV. They are advertising a sort of American Idol type show that looks delightful! The 3 contestants, all young males, are hilarious to me. One has caterpillar eyebrows that move alarmingly; my favorite is heavy-set and wearing a grey and black suit and wailing away as he contorts his face. They flash the number and I’m tempted to vote, although I resist because I know it would be expensive.

After a while, though, I wander back to the kitchen. This is about 4 steps. Their apartment is small–two bedrooms, 3 adult children, I’m not quite sure how they do it. Bea and Maude are making salads. Maude is making one that I usually love–plain yogurt, grated cucumber, garlic, dried mint. (It’s like that Greek one called something that starts with T, and like the Indian riata or riada or whatever it is). I watch in dismay as she makes the salad using sour cream, full fat, instead of yogurt. Ouch! That is going to be rather hard on the waistline.

Bea is proudly showing off the panini-maker she found for $5 at Goodwill. My Iraqi friends love thrift stores, and are constantly parading before me a collection of candle-holders, figurines, and chunky china they have found. They are avidly looking forward to the start of garage sale season!

Bea has found that the panini-maker means her 17 year-old daughter, her youngest, finally has something she’ll eat after school. She cooks up lamb and parsley and onion and freezes it in small portions. Then she thaws a bit, spreads it on the bread, adds olives and cheese and spicy peppers, and melts it into a sandwich. She makes several for us to try and they are tasty. I mention that Elliot would also like it if I made him sandwiches after school and so later, I leave with a plateful of sandwiches for him to try. (And I am right. He eats the entire plateful after school that day, and still manages a hearty supper about 2 hours later.)

The salad, sadly, is delicious. Who knew straight sour cream could taste so good? I try to not eat too much. I fill up on the other salads, a little bread, and of course dolma and sandwiches. Everything is great. Afterwards, Maude suddenly remembers she has to be home by 2:36, when her kids get off the bus. It’s 2:10. “We need to leave right now then,” I say, but we haven’t had tea yet. We have tea. She and I drink quickly, casting agonizing looks at Fiona, who’s oblivious to the need for hurry and is chatting away, sipping her hot tea. We leave at 2:25 and I drive like the wind, which worries Maude a bit. We get back to her place only about 5 minutes late, and wave happily to her boys, who are waiting outside her apartment. She wants me to run more errands with her at that point, adding her boys to the mix, but I decline without regrets.

How to Get a Good Night’s Sleep:

1. Go to Mona’s about 5. Hang out. Eat a quba, just because.

2. Eat heartily at about 7:30. Eat more than you should, because they are just so insistent.

3. Have a mug of strong Iraqi tea (black tea with cardamon and sugar) about 8:30.

4. Have a cup of Turkish coffee at 10.

5. In bed by midnight!

Surprisingly, I did sleep well. Caffeine 24/7 is my motto, after all. I dreamed that I’d parked wrong and gotten our car towed AND forgotten Donn’s birthday, which I have never done because it’s only 3 days before mine. I don’t feel that stressed, but this is a real stress dream. He wouldn’t care if I forgot his birthday, but Donn would kill me if I got our car towed!

Sleep in General:

We stopped by Harold and Maude’s at about 1:30 on Saturday afternoon, unannounced. Harold was still in his pyjamas, so we averted our eyes but he wasn’t embarrassed and welcomed us in. They were very happy to see us. “We were going to call you this afternoon,” they told us, “but we were waiting till after 2 in case you were sleeping.”

Hemet is an interesting town. It feels caught in a time-warp, a slice of Americana vintage late 70s/early 80s. The signs, the people, all contribute to this impression. Let me put it this way: In Hemet, you can wear an ugly Christmas sweater without irony. In fact, a lot of people are, and they all want to hug you. Their earrings match their sweaters.

It’s a small town tucked into the hills and mountains that make up California’s eastern desert. It’s very hot and dry there–my skin is in recovery mode now that I’m back in Oregon. The days are very bright; the nights frigid, often below freezing. This results in you shivering in your cardigan because it was too silly to bring your big coat out earlier, when it was 70 degrees and hot in the sun.

People have decorated though. In yards filled with cacti and decorative white gravel, there are plastic trees and inflatable snowman. There was a deflated Santa nailed to a palm tree wound with bright lights; presumably he looked a bit less disturbing at night. The lights shine brightly in the desert night.

We spent Christmas Eve out and about. We went to a small Saturday market, where we sampled a local avocado/lime oil that was divine, and bought last-minute stocking stuffers for Donn’s mum and sister. (Cheap but cute earrings! Some for me too…it was cheaper to buy 3 pairs!) I took lots of pictures. Come with me, on a magical mystery tour…

We walked through the “Harvard district,” which is about a block long…

and is guarded by six skinny palms…

the only snow is painted on

but there are lots of decorations

Those are silk poinsettias. This does not make sense to me, since poinsettias grow out here.

one wonders how stiff the competition is…

We stopped by the theatre, which, sadly, is going out of business

and selling all their posters and old reels.


“I could be bounded in a nutshell and count myself the king of boundless space, were it not that I have bad dreams.”
Well that was Hamlet. I am not currently having bad dreams—in fact I’ve been sleeping great, when I can manage to find the time. Here are some snapshots of my life, spread out over several days because you don’t have time either. We’ll begin with…

I had the bright idea to take two families trick-or-treating for their first American Halloween. That is, to take the children of the two families. This involved finding costumes for everyone (and I have two very generous friends to thank for this—they got everyone set up), getting the costumes to everyone, getting everyone to my house, and other logistical nightmares.

Hasan, 8, is whining that he doesn’t want to go. He refuses to get dressed up. I make him come to my house (he can’t stay home by himself and his little sister is resplendent as Belle and his brother is ready to get candy) but tell him he can pass out candy to the other kids. Sure enough, after about 20 minutes of that, he is ready to go himself. He happens to be wearing camo pants and tshirt, so I figure that’s good enough—he’s a soldier, right? I think sometimes everything is just too new, too nonstop for these kids.

My neighbourhood is great for Halloween. I think they bus kids in for trick-or-treating, because although there are normally a lot of kids here, this was excessive. We bought massive amounts of candy (at 5 p.m. on Halloween because we are nothing if not hyper-organized) and still ran out. People go all out for decorations, enlisting family and friends to hide in the bushes and laugh creepily at small children, or dress as witches who cackle as they pass out candy. They drape cobwebs over bushes and hang cages of skeletons and ghosts from trees. There are fog machines, cauldrons filled with dry ice, elaborate costumes. My Iraqi friends love it. I take picture after picture of them posing with witches and mummies, adults admiring and children uncertain. (the pictures do not come out. I hate my camera) I mention to some people that these are my friends from Iraq, that this is their first American Halloween. Some people just smile and nod but a lot of people come through. “Welcome!” they smile. They give us extra candy. They pose happily with my friends.

It’s a bittersweet occasion. Aicha’s two children are the cutest Spiderman and Cinderella ever, but it’s her last night in Portland. She and family spend the night in our family room and we take them to the airport in the morning, where things are nightmarish. Maybe that’s where the bad dreams came in? (see intro quote) Although we have called twice and talked to two separate people to ascertain their luggage allowance, when we actually arrive everything has changed and no one can do anything about it. Two people on two different occasions said they could have 8 cases for 4 people, but the man at the counter, who can’t be bothered to even pretend he cares, informs us that it’s 4 cases only and $70 per case after that, and that we should have known that US Airways was going to use United and we should have called United, although that is nowhere on their tickets. But it’s obviously not United’s responsibility, right? He does his best to make us feel like idiots. I can only assume he is crashing from too much sugar the night before.  We have a fun few minutes frantically emptying cases and manage, by presenting 2 smaller cases as extra carry-ons and getting rid of some things they had planned to take with them, to avoid paying the airlines any extra money. The man eventually takes pity on us and comes to offer advice. It’s fine that each airline has their own standard, but if you are going to have the kind of relationship between companies where you switch tickets people have bought, you ought to honour the guidelines of the original airline. Don’t you think? Or am I just hopelessly old-fashioned?

Aicha and I cry. The children are oblivious. We wave them off, and later they call us to let us know they’ve arrived safely, which makes me feel even more like family.

We return home and I’m hopelessly late to ESL class but it’s okay, as all the women knew Aicha. I explain everything, several times. Maude, who has one of the higher levels in the class, takes it upon herself to explain to the others my story. It’s a long day and I return home in a haze of tiredness at about 7 p.m. (after lunch with one woman and homework tutoring with another) to make supper. We have an extra child for the week, one whose own mother usually feeds him at a normal American time, but he does well with our chaotic household, eating dinner at 9 p.m. with a good attitude. (Probably subdued through hunger, but he hid it well!)

No pictures, please!

Ilsa and her haul

a little unsure of the scary men…

As a blonde, I must admit to sometimes being lazy when it comes to certain grooming habits practiced more faithfully by my darker-haired friends. In a word, eyebrows. I never pluck them. They are scarcely visible as it is; why go through the pain? In spite of this, for the last few years I have been considering having them done. I eye other people’s, notice attractive shapes. Should I?

I was over at Mona’s the other day, helping her study for her upcoming final in an ESL class she’s taking at the local community college. The talk turned to her plans to open a restaurant and her life in Iraq, and she told me how she was also considering opening a salon. “I love to do hair, and henna, and eyebrows,” she told me, grabbed a spool of white thread and began somehow looping it back and forth. She offered to do my eyebrows. I muttered something about how it had been a while (I didn’t want to tell her it’s probably been about 20 years) and let her at it.

She sat me down in a kitchen chair, had me hold the skin taut. I closed my eyes. Mona was very fast and proficient and 5 minutes later, my eyebrows were cleaner than they’d been in years.

The threading is very strange and difficult to describe; I have had to search on youtube as words have failed me. It sort of whispers against my skin. The woman in the video says it doesn’t hurt—I wouldn’t go that far, but it doesn’t hurt very much.

Mona asked me how often I have to do my upper lip. I shrugged, raised my newly-shaped eyebrows. I have no hair on my upper lip, just a fuzz only discernible in strong light. Mona tells me she has to do hers at least twice a month. I don’t even shave my legs that often, I admit to her.

I glance at her forearms. Sure enough, they are hairless. I remember Mauritanian women offering to help me remove my own arm hair with their own special concoction—coke left in the sun until it’s a syrupy, sticky paste, smeared on the skin and then ripped off! Just the thought of doing this makes me curl into fetal position, whimpering. I share this thought with Mona, who laughs at me and tells me she does the same thing. Sigh.

Although Arab women seem to want to be as hairless as possible, the opposite is true for the men. Donn was once out with a friend and they spotted a man with a huge Saddam-Hussein mustache getting out of a Mercedes. “Women love a mustache like that,” the friend told Donn. “And you know what else they love? Hairy backs. Women really go for that!” “Are you sure?” said Donn, but his friend reassured him. “I think maybe American women are different,” said Donn, but the friend was not convinced.

And last week, Donn learned a new Arab proverb. “A man without a mustache is like an egg without salt.”

I must admit that I am fascinated with my new eyebrows. I am constantly quirking them at myself in mirrors. And, as soon as Ramadan is over, we’re going back for a henna party!

On a rare sunny May afternoon in Portland, I drove with the windows down, flipping through the stations on the radio. I was on my way to see the artist’s wife, whom I’ve decided to christen Eve since I’m tired of referring to her as the artist’s wife.

Eve isn’t young, and English isn’t coming easily to her. She is also, like many women of indeterminate age, set in her ways and not one to mete out grace. “Argh! I just can’t get it!” she says when she makes a mistake or forgets a word. She’ll hit her forehead, berate herself. And yet I’ve never had a student as dedicated as she is, bar none. She works ahead. She asks for more homework. Yet she often misses class; her days are also filled with doctor’s visits and dental work. She is losing most of her teeth, will soon have dentures but in the meantime, ashamed, wears a mask to cover her toothless grin.

Eve is 65. Her husband is 70. They have an interesting story that she has alluded to several times, although her English remains more of a barrier than an aid to conversation. She chose him, which isn’t typical for Arab marriages especially of her generation, and they come from very different backgrounds. They are in many ways an atypical couple, and I’m enjoying getting to know them.

I’ve invited them for dinner before but she has refused. I’m not sure why, but I think it is a form of shyness, even politeness. She’ll say odd things. “I’m not a good woman,” she told me, but I understand that she doesn’t mean exactly what she says. I think she means she’s not a good cook, but I’m not sure. She hints at problems in their marriage. I believe she needs a friend.

So, last week when Donn and I were both there and we weren’t really doing much English class, we invited them again. “Please?” I said to her. And she cried. “Look!” she said, pointing to her eyes. “I’m crying.” I don’t know why a simple invitation for dinner would make her cry, but at least this time she has agreed to come.

I’m also getting to know her daughter, who lives nearby with her husband. If I were to believe even half of what Eve tells me about her son-in-law, I would detest him, but I take it with a grain of salt. But her daughter, Daisy, seems fine with him. “But he needs a friend,” she tells me. “He doesn’t know any Americans.”

We should probably have invited all of them, but given Eve’s reaction, I think it’s best to go slow. Eve and the artist lived in Italy for 4 years when they were first married, and her Italian remains much better than her English. (I can often figure out the Italian word by relating it to French, so our conversations are sort of English-Arabic-Italian-French. What would we call such a language?) I’m making a lasagna, since she doesn’t currently have enough teeth for pizza. Green salad, bread. What else? Suggestions? Also, does anyone have an absolutely amazing recipe for lasagna? I hardly ever make it.

On Saturday, along with pretty much everyone else in Oregon, I decided to go to the tulip fields. Ok this isn’t entirely accurate. For weeks now, I’ve been telling Beka about them. “We will go in two cars,” I tell her. “One for all the men and one for all the women. We’ll take a picnic! You won’t believe your eyes—a whole field of flowers!” I gesture broadly. “Purple! Pink! Yellow! White! Red!” She smiles but I can tell she doesn’t picture it.

After several weeks of her being sick, or me having plans, not to mention how SOPPING WET our “spring” has been, finally Saturday was the day. We had reduced the two cars to one, and invited the artist’s wife, who cancelled at the last minute. So on the first bright hot sunny weekend in a very long time, Ilsa and I and Beka and Hana drove off.

We got onto the freeway and parked. Did I mention that everyone in all of Portland had decided that nothing would be better than to spend their rare and beautiful sunny afternoon polluting the air and driving at $4/gallon? Apparently. Traffic was horrific. Eventually the freeway cleared out, but about 3 miles before our exit I thought there was another accident. As I drove on and on, past stopped car after stopped car, I realized that no, it was just that All! These! Cars! were exiting to go see the tulips.

I executed a fine move, cutting right in at the last moment and proving that yes, I did learn some mad skillz during all those years driving in Morocco and Mauritania. No one even honked. We joined the long line of cars driving through Woodburn, and eventually made it out of town, although not before I had to cut back in to a long line of cars I had cut. (It was an honest mistake! I thought I was in the right lane, although I did wonder why it was so empty)

As we neared the tulip fields, we passed fields edged with multi-coloured blooms. “WOW!” exclaimed Beka. “Oh that’s nothing; just wait,” I told her.

We wandered around and admired the flowers and ate our picnic lunch and posed and took about a million pictures, which I will spare you. Just a few then…



I have to admit that there are few things more beautiful than the western Oregon countryside on a sunny April day. The earth was clothed in vivid greens and deep chocolate browns, with splashes of pink, purple and white on trees and bushes; the sky was piled with clouds in grey and white and deep deep blue. Beka has been unhappy here, stuck day after day in a maze of culture shock, in a drab apartment under drab grey skies throughout the long winter, and she gasped in amazement at the colourful world I was driving her through. “I love this,” she said as we passed an old farm with ancient oaks and thick grass. “What is the name here?”

It was the day before Easter. I still had to boil and decorate eggs, make hot cross buns (the second batch), make pastry for the strawberry-rhubarb crumble pie we were planning to share with friends next day. When I dropped them off, it was after 6:00 and I didn’t even go in for tea, just got out and kissed them goodbye, and raced home to put my tulips in water (I bought a bunch) and tell everyone to fend for themselves for supper. (My kids love it when I do this.)  Ilsa decorated her hands and legs with henna in celebration. I had the brilliant idea of decorating eggs in henna patterns, but it didn’t work as planned, so we decorated our eggs with food colouring and crayons, like we always did overseas. They were beautiful, but I didn’t photograph them. You can’t always be photographing. Now most of them are eaten.

April 2014
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