Tag Archives: love

Lists, old and new

I have been quiet, shedding layers of time and memory and feeling rather retrospective. Memory is on my mind. Perhaps it is because we are touching the cusp of a big 20 year anniversary: 20 years ago this week Handsome and I started our journey together in Egypt. It started in Dahab, took a long bus journey to Cairo followed by an 18 hour train trip to Aswan and then onto a Feluca ( sail boat ride on the Nile.) Many planes, trains, automobiles, donkeys, snow sleds, jeeps and rickshaws later and here we are in a funny circle: back to the Arabian Sands. I was 22 and had no idea where my life would take me but we shared a love of adventure and we both embraced the new. If we were to write a bucket list back then it would have included a lot of travel, children, exciting jobs ( his an intrepid journalist and mine a writer and a drama therapist) a sejour in Italy, a parachute or two and some rather romantic notions. Well things often work out differently once life throws you a hoop or two and 20 years later we have done many things not even dreamed up on a bucket list and made a few new lists too.

I once had the good fortune to teach a highly talented girl, hungry for life and on the brink of many a success. She writes a lovely blog and recently wrote her bucket list. These are the dreams of a 19 year old girl, a young lady of fortune, talent and opportunity. Reading this list I was transported back in time to my own eyes-wide-open -with-wonder moments and I remember when I was 19 I longed for a magic crystal ball to tell me what my future would be and if it would all be okay. In the end it all turns out…as it does, whether we tick off our list or make new ones.

Here then is her list. I am awed by her choices, her dreams and the charm of her wishes.  Can you remember yours? Is it very different now?

BUCKET LIST:

  1. Go to Venice- not only for Carnivale ( which is a must!) but to learn, to be inspired and to write.
  2. See the Northern Lights
  3. Go to Australia
  4. Decorate my very own apartment
  5. Celebrate each Carnival around the world
  6. Ride the Orient Express train through Europe
  7. Publish a best selling novel 😉
  8. Live in an apartment with my sister
  9. Get my British Citizenship
  10. Become fluent in a second language and then become fluent in a third language
  11. Learn how to play an instrument
  12. Meet my favourite author
  13. Create one work of art of which I am proud
  14. Do a night dive and a wreck dive
  15. Travel in Space
  16. Make a profit at a casino
  17. Sleep under the stars ( ignore the mosquitoes, the discomfort and all the monsters obviously hiding in the shadows.)
  18. Go on a road trip
  19. See my favourite musician perform live
  20. Found a charitable organization
  21. Travel to Antarctica and see the penguins
  22. Sponsor an endangered animal and travel to wherever it is in the world to meet it
  23. Sing Karaoke in front of a crowd and not be ashamed
  24. Make a positive difference; in one person’s life, in many people’s lives, in a town or a country or the world
  25. Be remembered for something great

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Filed under How old am I?

Red and white all over

I have seen patriotism, I have seen national pride and I have seen flag waving. The Royal Wedding in England, July Fourth, Canada Day or Bastille Day, St Jean in Quebec; I have experienced them all. But there is something just a little bit different about National Day here in Bahrain and I am not sure I can pin point what it is. Perhaps it is the meshing of love for a country with unflagging love for a King, or maybe it is the unfailing and unquestioning pride in this small land at a time when it is feeling bruised and vulnerable. Perhaps it might be the linking of national pride with religion so that the three tong image of King-Quran-flag makes for some very impressive symbolism.

Yesterday at school I heard the national anthem sung twice. I saw videos of the King in full military regalia, I saw old film clips of tanks and salutes, pearl divers and oil pipe lines. I heard poetry in Arabic and the King’s name said over and over again with a love normally reserved for close family. I tasted food that tasted of Cardamon and rose. I saw a blur of red and white as flags were waved with unceasing passion.

And I saw all forms of national dress from 3 year old boys, proud in their mini Thobe, fidgeting with long head dress, to tiny girls wearing sparkling Jalabiya. The Jalabiya is gorgeous traditional dress worn by women and comes in many forms; long, short, brocade or sequinned, flowing with swaths of silk and chiffon. Normally they come in the colours of jewels or flowers; emerald, ruby, fuchsia, lime or shimmering pearl.  I was loaned one by a student and flowed around in it all day, by the end of which I had discovered by new found personal style. I felt part princess and part Endora and decided that I would need to pop off to the Souq to purchase one of my very own.

 

 

 

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Kampala and the sisterhood

Kampala. I love it green, and raining, the water mirrors the day. We are slowly coming to an end, a term is ending and a break is nigh. We are hopping on a jet plane and heading to Bahrain to explore and see and find and learn. We will find a house, a school, maybe a job. We will start the slow move from one life to another as we imagine where we’ll be next year. No rain, just dry, no green, just desert, no children carrying water and majestic woman wearing bananas atop their heads, something new and different instead.

The Parrots and Hammerheads call to one another in the tree outside my window and I wonder what the sounds of the future will be. Will a call to prayer take over the bird calls?

I had a night or two recently that were different, one an evening of French folk, chic with their perfectly placed scarf, chain or glasses, the kisses and laughter better in French. There was good taste in the air with language and culture tying threads around the crowd.

Another a night of girls; talking, musing, wondering, hoping. I was the oldest, the only one married, the one who was meant to have some wisdom tucked between the folds of experience. We talked by candlelight of choice, hope and compromise and I sensed real friendship, the kind girls have whether they are 13 or 32.

And I thought of my sisterhood and how I miss it. One or two nights a year is not enough. Then I thought of all the wonderful women I have fallen in love with and then had to leave. I could never survive the highs and lows without the women. I build walls around my heart and say “no more!” And then I do it all again, the love, the wistful nights wishing we could all live happily in a commune of wine and candlelight.

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Give you my sweet soul dreams

 

There is some music that follows you through different chapters. Or some music that when you hear it is sharply poignant of a particular time.

Recently I have been listening to one of my favorite all time albums, Goodbye Jumbo by World Party. It takes me back to a time, to a place soft with the taste of regret wrapped in hope and now it is following me again, like a warm hand keeping me safe.

 

I have had a strange time of it lately, too strange to wrap words around and yet too strange to write about anything else. There are times in life when everything changes, or tilts, and life and the way you see things is never the same again. The older you get, the more moments like this you have and yet they are so very few. Giving birth, losing a parent, having an accident, these are events that somehow shift you internally and leave things unbalanced for a time, as if the pinball machine has tilted and is not yet right.  And I wonder as I walk the aisles of the grocery store, how many other people who appear normal on the outside have tiny fissures cracking on the inside. But through it all comes a taste of change, of the chrysalis unravelling and something new being born.

 

And so my sweet soul dreams follow me in the car, tipping over sloping hills, catching the golden light as it bounces on the lush green. Kampala is sexy green at the moment, fertile and fecund land, mulched earth and dripping wet gigantic leaves. Everything is sprouting, growing and changing.

 

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A very cross day in a room full of ping pong balls.

Get ready because I am going to have a full on TEACHER MOAN. Now normally I love my job, really I do. In fact I think I am rather good at it and I have an excellent rapport with teenagers. Most days it all works. But when it is bad it is really awful and today was one of those days. Teenage boys are like pingpong balls. They cannot sit still for very long and even in the middle of a test they can suddenly jump up and knock over a chair or run to me with a hopeless question. So once the test is over, there is nothing else that can be achieved for the rest of the class. My job is simply to contain them until the bell goes and pity the poor girls. I had one young chap today who decided to put his bag on the floor under his desk and rest his pretty head down until the bell went. Clever, I thought, as it was hard to see him under there and when I did finally spot him I was ready to lose it.

One of the spelling words today was Ballistic and I was close to giving them an actual definition. They didn’t like me and I sure as hell didn’t like them. A thin, blue eyed boy who has a little “Another Country” about him; he is very beautiful in a way that is not appreciated by girls now but will be much later; decided to argue with me over whether or not he had correctly answered a question. The answer he had given was stunningly brilliant. Something that displayed such intelligence that could suitably fit into higher education, but in showing off his extraordinary ability to infer religious hyprocrisy in Romeo and Juliet, he had not actually answered the question. He flounced off with a melodramatic turn of his head and said “ Don’t cross me Ms Chesler.”

He then wrote a note on the top of his paper that read “ I cannot lie. So I cannot say I am wrong. But I also cannot say that you are right either.”

I value this boy’s intelligence I wish he would ask further questions instead of just assuming he is right and knows it all.  I need someone out there to save me from the more parochial of topics. I always teach to the higher level and expect the others to catch up. But there are days when this backfires like a giant slap on the face. My test was hard but they still should have done better. Now I know that the majority of boys, all throughout my classes had been thinking about breasts. Maybe, most practically, even about mine.

I stomped into the car at the end of the day and sat crossly all the way home.  I hate it when it doesn’t work.

I teach 6 classes and I am amazed at how each group holds their own shape and character. Each class has between 17 and 21 students. One class is wild. The kids have huge personalities and are the sports stars of the grade. They are very vibrant and passionate, often turning between tears and fury in a day. This class was recently, by all the other exhausted teachers, given a Merit book to encourage some new and calmer behavior. Once they received 50 merits, they would be given a free dress day. This wild class also happens to be my form room and on a wednesday when I have them for a double in the afternoon I always get a headache. Today they got their 50 merits. It only took them close to 3 weeks! So a crazy free dress is ahead.

There is another class that is my clever class.  It is as if someone poured the greatest concentration of brains into one room. That is it. I love them am so sad that the majority will be leaving next year for boarding school. Trooper is in that class. ( Yes, maybe I should write about teaching my own daughter at some point.)

A school is like a mini world. It is a microcosm of politics and love stories and gossip and drama. There is heartbreak and joy, sadness and jest all under one roof and often in one day. Today was a hard one and my patience wore thin. Sometimes I need to remember that they are so so young and not so wise.

Best moment of the day. Repeating this line to my Year 8 ( Grade 7 class ) and they just loved it. The little romantics.

“I mean, that my heart unto yours in knit,

So that but one heart we can make of it.”

( Midsummer’s Night Dream.)

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Losing my Boda Boda virginity, heros and Interpol.

My husband is my hero. He gets out of bed before us and Birkenstock raised high above his head, he searches the bathrooms for roaches. As soon as I hear the crunch, I know I am safe. Then we all get up, peel away the mosquito nets and get ready to start our day. He also searches the apartment before we enter, checking if it is roach safe. This, in my mind, is the definition of love.

 

Today I went to the police station to complete my security check. This is to ensure that I am safe to teach children and that I have no murky criminal past. All the new teachers squeezed into the school bus with some trepidation, fearing that this might take some time. I quickly discovered that Ugandans have a somewhat different sense of time and efficiency than the Trinis. It is a welcome change. However the experience was not without its particular version of charm.

When we arrived we first parked on a football pitch where lots of sweet children came running up to look at the white people. Then we realized we were in the police training center and got back into the bus to climb further up the hill. Once we parked, yet again, we had some difficulty locating the correct building. They all looked pretty shabby, and rather non-police-like but what did I know? We were finally directed to a creaky staircase than ran outside next to a collection of mud huts with people washing clothes and children chasing a tire. I thought that maybe this was police housing, but I never found out. Once inside we followed the signs for Interpol which were hand written and stuck beside arrows all along the hall way. I was dying to take a photo but didn’t want to get into any trouble with the Uganda authorities. Not yet, anyway.

Once we found the correct room we were asked to fill out a few forms, hand in some photos, pay 12,000 shillings ( $6) and write a letter stating that we were of good moral standing. Then we were fingerprinted, each finger twice but the thumbs only once. I was directed to a bathroom that resembled a Turkish prison ( in my imagination) to wash our hands with a bar of blue soap.

 

That was it! Done. Back in the bus and back to school before schedule. We find out on Friday if Interpol has anything on us.

 

The afternoon was spent furniture and appliance shopping downtown. We are moving out of the cockroach palace into a new two bedroom house in a few days and we need to buy essential items such as beds and a fridge. Everything has to be paid for in cash so it takes some time to withdraw all the funds. The fridges here are small, the ovens are also mini and are attached to a gas tank, the beds are fitted with firm foam mattresses. It was an unusual but very friendly shopping experience but the best part was the journey home. This is when I lost my Boda virginity. A Boda Boda is a motorcyle and they are all over the streets, being the easiest and cheapest form of transport. My eldest daughter who I will from this point forth call Trooper ( in contrast to her younger sister who we shall call Princess) climbed onto the Boda between her dad and the driver. I got my very own Boda.  (Princess was not with us, thank God!) Without helmets and with my stomach in my mouth we set off. “Be careful This is my first time!” I yelled into the driver’s ear.

 

It was thrilling, a little scary, but we all arrived safe and sound. Two Bodas. Three passengers. Cost 3500 shillings. ($1.75). A bargain and a cheaper thrill than a roller coaster.

 

 

Now I am writing this in the dark. There is a power strike brought on by a ferocious rain storm. I am dripping, my jeans are dripping, but at least I am no longer dusty.

 

Photos will be forthcoming but will take patience and some high speed internet.

 

 



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Pearls

 

I am in Barbados, a quiet and gorgeous island, with sea a moving turquoise, sometimes pale, sometimes darker, the beach a white so soft that it looks like a cliche. There really are places this beautiful. It is a lovely place to be sad. Leaving Trinidad was so hard, it was like wrenching my self away from a beautiful friend. I believe that my heart has grown to accommodate all the people that now have to fit in. Looking into the eyes of my students and having to say goodbye was heartbreaking. 

 

I felt a great deal of love on my last day or two. I heard and read things about me that were sometimes surprising in their generosity, but mainly pleasing that my philosophy of life should have seeped out and infected others. I was told that I look at life as a thing of beauty. When that view is compromised a crack appears and it is most distressing, but I never lose hope.

 

Maybe I do look at life through rosy sunglasses. I do, in fact have a lovely pair bought in New York. Buying them was a fun moment spent with my mother on 5th Avenue. Instead of that being a mundane activity, it was indeed a real pleasure. Life is like a pearl necklace. Each pearl is a perfect moment of pleasure. And I don’t just mean sexual pleasure although in this theory lots of sex helps, this is a moment of pleasure spent enjoying the perfect chat with friends, a moment of magic in a classroom, a story read before bed, a novel, a magnificent work of art, a beach, the best mango, the touch of velvet, the excellent photo, the joke that makes you laugh, the look of a sleepy girl in the morning, the weight of a soft dog on my bed…the list goes on. Pearls are not handed to us. We need to go out and seek them and even more than that, notice them. There might be some bits of the necklace that are mere string, barren and sad, but pearls are there right in front of you waiting to be strung on that necklace and worn.

 

Looking at the beach today, listening to my girls laugh and heal after their sad goodbyes, I felt real joy. 

 

 

orchid2+

 

 

 

Taken at Orchid World, Barbados.

 



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Where does the love go?

We have found a home for dear sweet Zola. She is going to our housekeeper who knows and loves her. The parting will not be sweet nor easy. Knowing we only have 2 weeks left with her is a rather strange feeling, somewhat like knowing the moment of someone’s upcoming death. I look into my dog’s liquid brown eyes and I ask myself “ What will I do with all the love?” The love doesn’t stop when we go away. I cannot box it up and send it along with her bed and bowl. The love will remain.

These last few weeks have been an intense love affair between us. Rather than pull back and protect myself, as would be the safer option, I am constantly rubbing her head, tickling her belly and staring into those eyes. As I read  one hand hangs down absent mindedly rubbing her neck, her warm chin, her back. She is the softest being I have ever touched, Now I can kiss her nose and feel the softness of her neck when I feel the love. What will I do with all this love when she goes?

 

 

those eyes

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Eulogy

My grandmother, Joan Beer, died today. She was 90 years old. It is hard to imagine that she is no longer in this world. Here are some memories of Granny.

 

It starts when I am three and I jumped into her suitcase in South Africa wanting to leave with her. She had given me a doll called Cherry who came outfitted with an entire hand knitted set of clothes. I hated her because she wasn’t blond. She is now one of my treasures possessions.

Her house at 109. Watching the hedgehogs in the garden after dark, eating Wiener schnitzel and filling up on chocolate buttons.

Then summers at Blandings playing in the enormous wading pool or Wendy house. Driving around London listening to Abba, playing air hostess with her box of scarves and gloves that she always kept by the door. Buying dress up clothes and assorted fun things at Woolworths and WH Smiths on the Broadway.

Eating more chocolate buttons.

A trip to Bourmouth on holiday when I was 9 was when Granny and Grandad bought the house at Corfe. Wonderful memories at Corfe were soon to follow. Running in the garden, visiting the miniature village, playing in the mini house, having tea parties, eating chocolate buttons.
It was Granny who took me shopping before I started boarding school. Helped me buy all the toiletries and got me ready before she dropped me off for the first time at my new boarding school.

I could always talk to her. She was a happy confidant and loved a good gossip. She was the one who saved me when I accidentally left one expensive black leather boot in a hotel room in Russia. She bought me a new pair and promised to never tell my Mother.

She walked me and a friend around Carnaby Street on a weekend home from school because we were so excited to see it.
But she was strict. She could laugh and giggle like no one but she was very strict. If I crossed a line or upset her I knew it.
Then my sister and I grew up and she made it her mission to ensure that her granddaughters had smooth soft skin, handing us bottles of Dior and Clarins lotions and potions whenever we saw her.
Lunches at Harrods became a firm tradition. First in the fancy room with the piano and later at the terrace with the wonderful smoked salmon sandwiches.

Granny loved being a great grandmother and great she was. I always told her that she was the matriarch of the family and she loved that. She loved to see all four girls at once. Hiding treats in the garden and watching them all run about was the greatest joy for her. She would even make a fairy tea party in the garden and spoil them with little cakes, goodies and wonderful clothes from Paris. She taught them to knit and was always working on some sweater or cardigan for them. They grew faster than she knitted, however. When she stayed with us in Burford she loved being woken up by all four girls, sharing her morning biscuit with them. And how she loved her little great grandson, Sammy. His big hugs! She always looked at him with a special expression of awe and wonder. How could such a special boy exist?

And always chocolate buttons. Before I would leave to return to Canada she would give me bags of buttons for my suitcase.
However far away I was, there was a strong bond. We would chat on the phone and her and my eldest would write to each other. At times she was lonely and cross and would never hide that. She needed to vent a little.
She just loved to go out and have fun. Whether to the ballet, out to dinner…but the visit to Buckingham Palace topped them all. I remember her squeezing my arm and saying “isn’t this fun!” She also said “oh I am happy I lived to see this!”

My Gran was simply the best Gran in the world. She could spoil us, laugh with us, chat away and yet when we were small be strict too. I always knew she loved me. There was never a doubt in my mind that she got huge joy from being a grandparent and great grandparent. Nothing pleased her more that seeing all the children run in her beautiful garden.
She was never an old lady. In fact she always had an elegance about her. She refused to be old or let herself go. The ladies at the Dior counter knew her as well as the people at her local gourmet grocery store.
I can’t imagine a world without her. She had a huge personality and was a large presence in all our lives. I am so grateful that my children got to know their Granny Joan. She made an impression on them that can never be wiped away.
We will all continue to love her.

 

IMG_9638

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The longest goodbye

When I was 9 my family moved from Hong Kong to Japan. I wasn’t particularly upset about moving to a new country other than two wholly devastating events. I had to bid farewell to both my best friend and my dog. My parents decided that leaving him behind would be the best thing, considering that Tokyo was a concrete jungle bereft of green parks and places for a long-eared basset hound to run free.
I can still recall the tears. My friend I could talk to on the phone, perhaps even see again but my dog, keeper of my secrets, lover of my bed? No. It was goodbye forever.

Now as we embark upon the Great Departure from Trinidad I look at my two daughters, 9 and 12 and see history repeating itself.
We have a gorgeous dog; brown eyed, long in the ear, soft to the touch. We brought her with us from Canada and wept as we watched her endure the 4 months wait in Montreal, the long flight and the 1 month in quarantine before she finally arrived. She is named Zola and we call her our bear. We spend many a moment staring at her in awe. She is sweetness incarnate.

Yet we have decided to leave our beloved dog behind. She will not be joining us in Africa. This decision is based upon many factors, mainly practicality and the quality of life for our dog. The logistics of shipping a dog from Trinidad to Kampala are horrific, but can be overcome despite expense, time, and discomfort for the dog. But once in Uganda we have no idea if our apartment allows dogs, who would watch her when we leave to travel and explore, nor how she could endure the 6 month quarantine that would be demanded of her when we leave and try to bring her back. It goes without saying that the nomadic lifestyle we have unwittingly adopted is wholly unsuited to dog ownership. It is hard enough to drag a whole family across two continents, let alone an innocent and sweet unwilling pet.

Practicalities and rational thought aside, this whole affair is breaking my heart. 31 years after the fact I am reliving the terrible farewell I bid to the first dog I loved. Here I am doing it again. I cannot say the words out loud “she is just a dog”. She is not “just” anything. I have raised her from a pup, cleaned up all of her bodily secretions, trained her, loved her, and slept with her. The bond between her and the family is one that travels deep.

We are all silently dealing with this in our own way. We awake sad and slightly shocked; we look at her, touch her and stare into her eyes as if for the last time. The next 4 weeks will be the longest goodbye.
Last night she slept beside my youngest, curled beside her head like a pillow. At night she likes to visit us, one by one in our beds, a quick check to ensure her pack is in place.

Will her heart break like ours?

 

windswept-puppy

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