Tag Archives: Sisterhood

Wrapping friends up into a soft soft ball.

Reading the FT yesterday morning, as I am wont to do on my Saturdays, I read this article by Susie Boyt, a columnist I follow closely and enjoy immensely. There are people we read in the press that we falsely believe we know by virtue of reading their online persona each week. But I feel certain if Susie and I met for tea at Fortnum’s’ we’d have plenty to talk about. The staff would be tapping their heels and waiting by the doors to close and we’d still be chatting about the length of dresses, fluffy cakes, life changing books and the essence of what makes a good friend.

Today she writes about friendship and her words rang a true bell. I am one of those people for whom friends are on the A list, the cake rather than the icing. Friends for me sit in the very centre of my life rather than dancing around the periphery. One of the tragedies of an expat existence is that you are always far from friends, dear ones, with whom you would like a daily existence, a regular phone chat, a weekly coffee rather than a day or two every year or two.

The hardship of being so far from friends in one thing but the other sadness wells from the fact of having to say goodbye to new and wonderful friendships so frequently. With each move, I say “No.” I will not join my heart to another, I will not fall in love with a new friend, I will not get too close. And then, because we are human, we do. And then comes another goodbye. But with each move there are less goodbyes, once bitten twice shy. I am wary of too much love, these days.

This summer I will be going home to Canada after a break of two years. I will be, once again, with my sisterhood, but I am carving up time into portions to spend with them. Is this the way to live friendship?  Have a choice? They have all got their lives, they are busy and here I fly in, swoop down into their lives from my life far away and demand time with them, while I can only afford a day or two.

Like oil and water the true friends float up to the surface and make each moment one to cherish. But I keep collecting these wonderful friends and if I were to make a friendship map of the world they would be scattered like chicken pox scars on a child’s back.

I have had friends leave me, like a scorned lover and it hurts as much as ending a love affair would. There are 5 times in my life that I have been dropped like hot coal into the fire, and each time it is because I have inadvertently hurt someone too sensitive to have perspective. I argue with myself that these were never true friends, that I was mistaken, had it wrong, all along. If they would end our friendship over a silly slight, what were they to me? Still it hurts, because I never knew.

We collect people as we go through our chapters, and the more moves we make the more we collect, carefully, wrap in the softest of memories and carry in our pockets. Sometimes I long for my white picket fence and my friend round the corner, always there, living with me my days and me with hers.

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Dreaming of my tribe.

I have a very small family. Outside of our little unit there are only 18 people in the whole world to whom I am related. (And some of those are through marriage.) Of those 18 I only see 6 on a regular basis and out of that 6 there will only be one who will visit me in Uganda.  So my family is a broken, estranged one that spans three continents. It is for that reason that I tend to adopt my friends as my family. Friends you can choose, friends can become sisters and brothers with no politics and friendship is usually a beautiful thing, while family is often not. My children have borrowed cousins in places where no family exists and this includes Uganda where they have become very close to a couple of kids, children of friends, and therefore family friends. I have moved too much and each time I shed a skin and become more vulnerable to the pain of separation. I am not inclined to become close to too many people here, especially knowing how transient the community here tends to be. I am still incredibly attached to my sisterhood back home in Montreal, yet I will not be going there this summer and there is always a danger that the ropes that bind us may fray, over time and distance.

Families in Uganda are so close that they often live together; if one family member has more money and better housing than others he is obliged to invite them to live with him. People are shocked when they hear how far we are from our families, it is a custom that we have, the moving away, that just does not exist here on the same scale. Those that move to Kampala will return to the village often, that is far more important than any vacation that could be taken away from family.

My good friends are my family and I treat them as such. I am a loyal and demanding friend but I work hard to stay in touch and I give as good as I hope to get. There are people in Brisbane, Denver, Trinidad, Montreal, London, Burma, Cyprus, New York, and Paris and I dream of casting a web to draw them all in, to a place where we can remember where we came from.

I miss my friends. All the exceptional people I have shared chunks of life with, that I can’t see now. Yes, facebook helps, and I even got to see some dear friends on a CBS clip on the internet today, but it is not the same as that evening when you are sitting, legs tucked, children in basement, wine in hand, laughing like there is no better place to be.

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A bit like a hippo.

This is NOT a pity party so don’t come with any Kleenex or sympathy. It’s just that now and again I like to set aside my very sunny disposition and famous positivism and wallow.

Like a Hippo wallows in the murky muddy water, except for me the water is Kampala and the murky-ness is the things I live without.

Yes it is a GIGANTIC adventure and yes, it is AFRICA and I will get to see a lion but may I please, just for a moment mourn the loss of my washing machine? You see, I am a little bit Trooper and a little bit Princess myself. I like to think that most of the time I am more Trooper than Princess but every so often I look around my self and I feel those Princessy tendencies rising to the surface, like a Hippo in her murky bath.

Many moons ago, in what seems like another life but was actually only 3 months ago, I had a dishwasher, microwave, washing machine, Cuisinart Magimix, Osterizer, and a gorgeous espresso machine. I also had my beloved girl, friends, a TV, the best housekeeper/cook a person could wish for and Cassandra. I had all my furniture and possessions, including paintings, photographs and mementos that reminded me from whence I came; I had wireless internet, a job I loved and a beautiful home. I had a car with a CD player and air-conditioning, a glistening mall and a beach just 30 minutes away.

We arrived here with 7 suitcases and shipped some boxes filled with essentials so basically our life has become somewhat sparse. In time we will have curtains and furniture, we will rebuild the home we left behind but some things will never be the same.

Each night we hand wash our dinner saucepans and plates with cold water (only the showers are fitted with water heaters) all our clothes are hand washed (ok, but not by me), our kitchen is minimal. Living the simple life does make you think. We take for granted so many of our mod-cons, so much of what keeps us ticking each day. It is only when they are taken away that we realize how lucky we were.

But I miss nothing as much as I miss my friends.

Ok. Wallow over.

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Jolly England before the Skies of Africa

Oh jolly England. Only not so jolly all the time. Yes the weather was a rare spectacular breed of sunny and yes I went to a spa, and watched cousins love and laugh but London was too crowded, too expensive and simply too much. As I prepare to leave for Uganda tomorrow I reflect on this crazy summer of living out of suitcases and hopping from house to house and I know that I need to fix the summer habit of being a part time  nomad. Tomorrow I will leave the crazy materialistic first world behind and embark on a new undiscovered adventure. 3limes will be there all the way, once we find the internet and dust off our culture shock. 

 

London was Pimms outside in the sun, black swans and large tourists squeezed onto red buses. London was special sister time and fabulous food. London was loud with pockets of tranquility amidst the sparkling white of a tennis club ( where I played no tennis at all, just drank the Pimms.) England was also a crazy journey to scatter my Granny’s ashes and plant a rose bush on private land without being caught, Peter Pan dancing in the air and a walk on a very English beach. There were also amazing reunions with old friends.

 

Here below are some photographic snippits of the past 10 days. Enjoy as the next photos will be a most different breed of exotic.

 

I will see you in Africa.

 

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MSN and the art of letting go.

Kids don’t communicate by talking any more. They MSN. Sometimes whole romantic relationships go on this way and when they see each other they are almost awkward. It is like a relationship with a pen pal. But it is not the same as a telephone relationship. Then you hear voice inflexion, emotion, and mutual laughter. A dialogue that is verbal is different from texting.

They can be lost in their MSN world for hours, talking to perhaps 4 people at once, back and forth. Sometimes they even pretend to be someone they’re not so that they can deceptivley find out if someone “likes them.”
I brought this up at dinner the other evening. My sweet eldest had no idea that impersonating someone for your own gains was wrong. She simply didn’t see it like that since “everyone did it.” I asked her how she’d feel and she immediatly widened her eyes and realized what it meant.

It is fine line. Teaching awareness, self confidence, self esteem, and empathy is hard. Mostly you need to teach by example ( and that is not always easy) and often you need to just point it out.

If my daughter relaxes by spending most of sunday on MSN, in the pouring rain, after a busy week, with all her possessions in boxes and her room in ruins, is it a bad thing? Better or worse than a day in front of Hannah Montana and other Disney kack?

Parents need to let go and hold on all at once. Let go too much and you not only lose the control but the dialogue too. Hold on too tight and they harbour more secrets than usual. MSN is here to stay. I cannot forbid it nor ban it. I can control the hours spent on it but I cannot prevent either of my girls from communicating the way all her friends do. I hear that if you miss a night of MSN banter, you miss a lot and arrive at school a little out of the loop. Being a teen is hard enough, we don’t need to make it harder.

But still.
I pause for thought and wonder if my internet free childhood was that much better?

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The day we fell in the ocean.

I don’t think I have ever written about that day we all fell in the ocean. 

 

It was a perfect day, not a cloud in the sky, the wind, a sailors dream. Imagine the scene. 4 adults, no kids. They had been shoved into a house together with a couple of babysitters and a lot of glitter glue. We had a boat, a 25 foot sail boat, small but sweet, and free. We had an ocean, a clear sky, a cute boat and barely anyone who knew how to sail. Cassandra and I saw the opportunity a mile away. And we saw the look on the husbands faces as we lugged on board champagne, paper cups, gourmet sandwiches, a camera and smiles ready for fun. 

“What do you think this is?” one of the husbands said as his hands grew raw from pulling ropes and fixing up the sail.

 

We just sat there and tried to look pretty as maidens as hunky men got the vessel sea worthy. Once aboard things were looking great. The sails flapped in the wind, the sea tilted ever so thrillingly towards us, the windswept hair looked a mess but felt great. Eventually sandwiches were eaten, champagne was sipped and life was good. This was my very first time on a sailboat that didn’t have a captain and I didn’t have a clue how to sail. I still don’t. D, our good friend and sometime sailor seemed to have a sort of clue, which helped us head in the right direction. Us girls sat on the rim of the boat, feet trailing in the sea and laughed, happily. I clicked away, taking pictures. When we saw a huge fish leap up from the great depths I quickly pulled my feet out of the water, imagining that whatever was chasing that fish was pretty big. I did not want my toes to become bait. Oh, how silly I was, imagining that was the worst that could happen.

 

D thought he would be nice, helpful and congenial and handed over the reigns of the steerage to my lucky husband who had never touched a sail boat, let alone steered one before. Somehow we tacked, which was meant to mean that we all hurl ourselves to the other side, carefully avoiding the boom. I think, in fact, that  was the one thing we had actually practiced, responding mighty fast to the word, TACK.

 

Well, this time there was no word, just a strange sensation of suddenly going from very dry and happy to very wet and worried. It was so rapid a transformation that I was amazed that my sunglasses remained on my head and my camera in my hand.

 

We realized, very quickly that all four of us were in the water, that we had no life jackets (who needs a life jacket when you have champagne?) and that the boat was slowly but surely drifting away from us.

 

Well, I peed immediately. I needed to go anyway and the shock just helped it along. Then I looked around and noticed that we were far from shore, maybe a mile, looked really far, but strangely way too close to the Alcoa aluminum bauxite plant. So my choice seemed clear.  Cancer or sharks. Luckily, while I was imagining the worst of my two deaths, D was swimming like mad towards the renegade boat. D is a fast swimmer and an oil man. He is a great husband, father and hero as you will soon find out, but more than any of that, D is a surfer. I think he only had to imagine some giant surfboard getting away from him and he was there. It took him 4 times to bring the boat around. He pulled one sail down, to make it slow down ( I had no idea) and kept swinging the boat round to pick us up. It was hard and windy and tricky, but he finally did it. One by one we climbed aboard.

“Cool, let’s do that again!” Said D. 

“No. let’s not.” Said Cassandra.

“Oh. Fuck. My camera.” Said I

“Any champagne left in that bottle?” Said husband.

 

For the record, salt water damages the inside of lovely little canon cameras. 

 

I bought my brand new camera with Mastercard.

 

Price of the boat $0. Price of the camera. $600. Price of a day on a boat with good friends? Priceless.

 

 


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Filed under Family Stuff, Might be funny, Sisterhood, Trinidad & Tobago

Little Miss, Sunshine and Scrabble

 

Sometimes you just got to do what you got to do. Luckily with good friends you can, most of the time. Yesterday, enjoying a tense and competitive game of scrabble, that I lost by the way, (and the following might be the reason why), I became distracted by a sun chair lying next to the pool at my friend, Cassandra’s house. We were outdoors, but in the shade, and I could feel the chair beckoning me. So once I had played, and knew I had at least 10 minutes (they are so slow, they make up put down such big words!) , I said “excuse me” and I hopped right over to that chair and turned my face to stare at the sun.  

“That is unsociable!” My handsome husband reprimanded me.

“I know but I can’t help it, I am a sunflower!”

Muffed laughter heard in the background. 

They were either laughing at my wit and succinct summing up of my character or they were laughing at me, and finding me decidedly potty.

Either way, this is what I am.

 

I seriously feel like my petals open up in the sun. I don’t know if I can ever live in a cold country again. Luckily Uganda will be hot so we don’t have to worry about this now.

Little Miss can continue to set aside her manners, be rude to her friends, and turn her face to the sun.

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A cosmopolitan life

You know you are in trouble when you order a Cosmo and 10 minutes later you see your waiter carrying cranberry juice from the bar next door. A few more minutes pass and there he is again this time carrying martini glasses. We sat there giggling wondering what else he would need to fetch from next door.  Perhaps we should save him the trouble and actually move to the next bar.  25 minutes after ordering our drinks our waiter sheepishly approaches and quietly says

“I am so sorry but our martini glasses have a dysfunction.”

“Really?” we say, suppressing laughter. “What shall we do?”

“Well, can I suggest that I bring them in wine glasses?”

We sighed with apparent despair. “Ohhh. Alright then. But the glasses are the best bit!”

He didn’t quite grasp the concept of a group of girls ordering drinks because they liked the glasses. He apparently had no idea that most of the fun of a Cosmo was the martini glass.

A Martini glass holds within its shape a whisper of promise. Of nights full of romance and sophistication; of nights when we can imagine ourselves wearing white, heels sharp and hair all a gloss. It is not just a glass. It is the moment when we can forget for a moment the drudgery of the morning, crawling under the table on all floors to scrape scrambled eggs off the carpet. It is a sharp contrast to the tumbler of water or juice we chug down between carpools and a far cry from the warm tea we drink at night all cozy in pajamas. No, the Martini glass represents another life where we can pretend just for one night that we are someone different. That is why we love the Martini glass, with the drink carefully prepared, shaken, not stirred.

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When he finally delivered the drinks he told us that “no one will even know! People will just think you are drinking pink wine!” He seemed very proud of his reasoning.

But that was the exact reason we wanted the glasses. Who drinks bright pink wine?

Anyway the Cosmos were delicious.

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Playing in a fishbowl

I live in a fishbowl. 

Our sun room (indoor porch) has three walls of windows and we live on a corner. We can spy on our neighbours, the joggers, the dog walkers, the teens, the skateboarders, the soccer players, but they can also all spy on us.

 

 

 

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We spend many Sunday afternoons drinking wine and playing scrabble. It is a beautiful room to “lime” away an afternoon. It is the reason we rented the house.

Last Sunday in the middle of a scrabble game, I stared at the rain and looked outside. I realized I had fallen off my short lived scrabble throne. There was a time when Cassandra and I were the same level. We would always play within 5 points of each other. It was an addiction. I remember saying that it would be short lived. At one point one of us, probably her, would zoom ahead and take over. Sure enough and thanks to many hours spent on scrabble.com she has now turned into The Scrabble Maven.


 

 

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It is not a case of me winning occasionally or even coming second in a game of 4, but how many points will I lose by. How embarrassing will it be?  Suddenly the fishbowl is revealing scary secrets. I am the English Teacher losing at Scrabble.

For awhile I was getting good. Words I could never see were suddenly there! I was great with the laddering and the 3 letter words, all strategic and clever. I knew all my KA and QI and ZA words. Problem was practice. I told her “ either I give up work or you give up scrabble.com. I cannot keep up with you!” It was making me feel stupid and was just not much fun. Finally with the 62 point word “SEQUEL” I felt my crown slowly slip off my head. How could our friendship survive?

 

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I think we might need to find something else to do in the fishbowl.

 

 

 

 


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A memory in the sun

October 11th was the birthday of a person who changed my life.  We are no longer in regular contact but we still know where we are, we are still aware of the outline of each other’s lives. I met her on her birthday, October 11th 1989. We were sitting at the Bloomsbury theatre café at University College London and it was the start of an amazing friendship. When we graduated we decided to travel together for 6 months and spent many long nights pouring over maps and books planning our adventures. We set off for Egypt together on the 16th of January 1992 and spent the next 6 months travelling through Egypt, Israel, India, Bangkok and the States. She was with me when I met my husband on a beach in Dahab. In fact it was her who spotted and liked him first. It is a testament to our friendship that she forgave me and even came to our wedding.

We endured India together through the glory and the filth. We read books and talked about them endlessly. We sheltered from the heat in book shops and fancy hotels, sipping iced coffees in a haven high above the streets.  We shared tiny rooms together and made the famous deal: Cockroaches we leave in the morning, Rats we leave tonight. We tried as much spicy food as possible, she won and I got sick, we explored Bangkok, met travelers, survived 19 hour bus journeys and walks through villages in the pitch dark.

Our friendship was forged long before the trip. We wrote countless essays together, studied for finals, explored all the museums of London. Once we saw a film, “The Comfort Of Strangers” that we loved so much that we immediately walked from the Cinema to a book shop, bought the book and sat in a pub all night reading the books ‘till they were finished.  We discovered Ingmar Bergman  and Truffault, Surrealist film and beautiful photography. Together we experienced London in a way I have never been able to since. We talked and drank red wine all night, tried on hundreds of pairs of jeans, and ate tons of pasta. We obsessed about men and our future.

Now she lives in Paris with her daughter, who is 6 months older than mine. When she called to tell me she was pregnant and we talked names, it turns out we had both picked the same name. Since her daughter was born first she kept the name and we found the perfect name for our little girl. She and I have not seen each other for nearly 8 years but we talk once a year and I know that we live in each other’s hearts.

She was 40 last Saturday and I can’t believe 19 years have passed since that day we met. I can’t believe I can even say that I met someone 19 years ago when I still feel like I am the young girl in that café a life time ago. Since that day I have got married, had two children, returned to school, become a photographer and teacher, and lived in France, Winnipeg, Montreal and Trinidad. Our lives that intersected at such a crucial moment have taken different tangents. When I think of her I see a glow of sunshine shining through a maze of blond hair, perfect legs walking up the steps ahead of me, the cigarette in her hand, the strawberries on the beach.

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