Monday, December 28, 2009

Christmas, 2009

Kids playing at the cottage...Alex and Logan playing a warcraft game while Chase, in the background plays Lincoln logs...low tech meets high tech. Note the generational clothing gap...Chase and Logan have NO socks on and check out the red striped slipper socks Heidi has on.

Alex and Heidi were the God parents to Layne Kathleen, here pictured with her parents, Kristin, our oldest holding Layne with Pat, our son in law right next to them. Addison, the older sister and Owen the older brother are seen below. Baptism was at St. Jude's in Dewitt with a huge luncheon at Pat's mom, Betty's house in St. Johns, Michigan.

December 28, 2009

The end of the year quickly approaches. I haven't had a chance to write, but after flying into Detroit from Dushanbe, we headed up to the cottage. Kristin and her three kids came up, and the newest addition to the family, Layne Kathleen is gorgeous. A tiny, tiny quiet baby. She left, Lois visited and then Heidi, Chris and their kids came up. We had Christmas at Heidi and Chris' house in Davison on Christmas Eve and then, a quiet Christmas day at home in Caseville...just Alex, Richard and me.

We went down to Lansing yesterday for Layne's baptism at St. Jude's in Dewitt and then to Betty McNamara's huge farmhouse for a luncheon. We came home last night in a snowstorm and there is much much more a blowing today. NO company. Have seen Dave and Barb Vizard...Barb worked with Lois and me at The Flint Journal and I think Lois will again come up tomorrow for a day or so.

Not much going on...but we are in Caseville. Everyone except me has been out with grandpa ice fishing...had plenty of that years ago. I have been baking and cooking like crazy and enjoying it very much.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you all.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Try to check this bathroom out. The toilet sits right against the shower. Whole deal is about 3x3 ft. And the smell emanating from this room is ugly. It could be a sulfur smell...but I think not.
And I have been reminded of Alex's cataloguing of all the bathrooms and their flush mechanisms throughout the Netherlands these past two weeks. I know which places have almost clean or almost normal toilets. Most are squat over the hole types but today I used a really, really disgusting one at a media company. It was so smelly and wet and filthy that I almost slipped and fell on my butt and today, I had a suit on. My shoes slipped out from under me as I did my duty....really really really nasty. Had to laugh and Nigina, the Embassy contact and I just laughed...she couldn't believe I used it. Had to GO!
And did I mention, the hotel has a gym and supposedly a bar? NO bar but there is a gym but one cannot find it and I just heard about it last day here. Basic but would have been nice.
The bed is a queen sized one...very nice except the duvet is a single with a queen bedspread. So, all night, one is fighting with the duvet trying to keep covered and the bedspread is a shiny gold thing that moves on its own. It is slippery so the nighttime antics would be worthy of a movie...Drew and I wondered what one does if two people have to sleep in one bed here? Maybe they give two duvets??
I have very much enjoyed the international flavor at this hotel...everyone here is from some other country. This morning at breakfast there was a woman from the Czech Republic, a man from India, an Iranian-American; an man from London; a guy from Germany and me....quite an interesting group to form a conversation.
Not much else to say...had fun paying my hotel bill. I was paid my travel advance in Euros and the hotel didn't have change. So, I paid partly in Euros and in dollars and then changed my Somoni into dollars. Fortunately, Drew had dollars so he took 500 Euros and gave me dollars so I could pay everything...couldn't have withdrawn enough from the ATM in one day to pay the bill which was very reasonable...only $80 per night. Next time, I want to go to a hotel that has real internet access. I have the feeling we are using some sort of dial is soooo slow.
Going home in the early morning. See many of you soon.

Sunday, December 13, 2009


This lady sold me some Tajik goods yesterday at the indoor market. The bag on the counter was mine and into that bag, I placed my camera to keep it dry. Horrid rain yesterday. And then, I forgot I put the damn camera in the bag and thought I lost it and was very, very upset. You see, the camera is just a thing but what was special is that this woman got out her abacus to "ring up" my sales. She quickly calculated what I owed and though I have seen an abacus before, I had never seen one used.
Today, Drew and I walked into town for lunch and then we walked over to the green market where all the fresh fruits, veggies and nuts are sold. Way cool. Of course, we were going to lunch so I didn't take the camera and am hoping to go back tomorrow. And tonight, I went out with a guy from the Asian Development Bank and a man who is working with the World Health Organization. We went to a Mexican, Italian, Ecuadorian restaurant...the menu was very, very unusual and it had everything from hummus and chips. to Arroz con pollo and burritos. Very tasty food but a tad different.
In contrast to yesterday, the weather was a bit warmer and sunny all day. Glorious. Worked some on my report with Drew...waiting on a revise from him so I can continue writing. Early morning meetings and not sure what all is on the agenda.
Richard and Alex and the doggies are on their way to Atlanta and then tomorrow on to Michigan so we can all be together for Christmas. Cannot wait.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

More Tajikistan

Forgot to mention my trip to Hissar yesterday...I spelled the town incorrectly, first of all. And secondly, Uzbekistan has cut off all power and electricity to this country so folks are going without any power for days on end and the winter has not turned really ugly yet but it is cold and wet. The government has a power plant about 50% completed but haven't finished it. Nothing like going to an office which is totally without heat and lights. Been experiencing that.

Uzbek wine is pretty darned good. And Richard would be happy to know you can get it for $4 per bottle here. Whodathunk it that old Russian countries make wine??

I am reading Cautiva, a book written by Clara Rojas, a Colombian woman held as a FARC prisoner in Colombia along with Ingrid Betancourt. Reading it in Spanish and trying to stay somewhat on top of that language in my spare time.

Dying to eat some of these pastries I see in all the coffee shops. So far, I have resisted. Very few places have brewed coffee...they use Nescafe. YUK. Tea is the preferred drink here and I must admit, I have had some yummy chai tea.

China is close by so much of the stuff on sale here came from China. We discussed buying some racks for the selling of newspapers and they would be bought and shipped from Shanghai, not Moscow. Interesting.

The cleaning crew here at the hotel scrub the rug runners and room rugs each day with a scrub brush on their hands and knees. I got back early from shopping today and the woman was cleaning my floor with a toothbrush. Took her an clue when she started but an hour after I sat down, she was done.



Today was a dreary rainy day, cold and nasty. Nigina from the Embassy picked me up and took me shopping and I bought a few gifts. While visiting the Bazaar, I took a neat picture of a woman staffing her booth who used an abacus to count up what I owed her. I left that booth and went to another one a floor down, buying a few more things. I left my camera there and it is now gone and I just bought it in Africa. Stupid. So, my nifty picture is gone and so is my cool camera for dummies which was a wonderful point and shoot.

Went to lunch at a Tajik restaurant with Drew. We had shaslik, both mutton and beef and some sort of a Tajik play on empanadas with very flaky pastry. Good food and the meet was served with a plum sauce which was both sweet and tart at the same time. We walked into town to try to find my camera and then back in the rain.

The other photo I wanted to get was the photo of the young stylish women in contrast to the older velvet clad group. I will see if someone at the Embassy will lend me one for a few days. Started my report draft and gave that to Drew to see what he thinks about organization, content etc. and am staying in tonight...reading, working and having cheese, crackers and wine in my room.

Missing Christmas a lot. Won't be gone like this in December again. Oh, and I talked finally with Kristin and she updated me on Layne's jaundice. Sounds like she will be fine but the baby won't wake up to eat so is losing weight which worries everyone. But good to hear her voice. Heidi has been keeping me updated a that helps with the long distance worrying.


Friday, December 11, 2009

HIrot, Tajikistan

Today I took a little side trip to see what a town, Tajik style looked and felt like. The streets were packed with cars and people. Note the flowered dresses on the women. Older women wear velvet/velvet like dresses...this is their every day winter wear. I will take some photos of the young women...the contrast is amazing.

And below is just another street scene taken right after prayers at the Mosque were finished.

Hirot, Tajikistan

At the Bazaar I found this small meat shop. Now this is cold weather but imagine this in an open air market with the wind and dirt blowing. Everyone buys their meat this way.

When I entered the Bazaar, we quickly saw the newspaper sales Babushkas and one old lady waved at me...I had talked with her yesterday and she was the one I took wearing a Babushka and inserting on the floor. She remembered me, which isn't hard. There are NO grey haired people here. She introduced me to her friend and my translator thought it very funny that I had made a friend so quickly.

I took the short trip out to a small town, Hirot, about 30 minutes outside of Dushanbe so I could see what towns look like and where we might consider placing sales outlets for the newspapers. I ended up getting out of the car so I could walk the streets, which were packed with men who had just gotten out of their prayers at the Mosque.

I entered the Bazaar which you see here...filled with all kinds of piles of edibles. To the far left are huge bowls of nuts of every kind, cookies, candies and more. I had been to Bazaars before but never one as comprehensive as this and with such an assortment of goods. I bought some almonds covered in a sugar coating which are delicious and which I will take home for Christmas.

Thursday, December 10, 2009


This old lady is a Babushka and she sits on the cold floor or squats inserting her papers every week. Back breaking work.
This guy below was at the distribution center very early this morning. We could not tell that he did anything except look very Russian. Arms were folded forever and his warm cap, typically Russian appeared to keep him warm. Our translator had not arrived but I thought this guy very expressive so with sign language, asked if I could take his photo. He was good with that but then

followed me around watching what I did and where I went.

This lady is known as a "Babushka" a street sales person. Notice the folks sitting on the stone floor inserting and organizing their papers to take out into the rainy, snowy day. NO tables...she is young and many of the Babushkas are in their late 70s and 80s.

This system begins around 4 a.m. every Thursday. There is no daily paper here in this country...only weeklies.

Dushanbe, winter

It rained all night last night and I woke up to a rainy snow. I woke up at 3:18 a.m. hearing men's voices and then dozed off. At 4:41 a.m. I heard a beeping and then my TV came on. I hadn't had it on in two days but there was BBC discussing the war in Afghanistan!! All done with sleeping so got up. We had to meet our driver at 6:30 a.m. to go see the Tajik distribution system which is seriously broken.
Again, the distributors are hand inserting section on the floors of a stone building which has NO heat.
It almost seems criminal that these old ladies, known as "Babushkas" are on the floor working so hard and for so little. It is the system, but was sad, nonetheless. I found lots of folks to talk with although our translator did not arrive on time. So, much to see and much to learn but no way to communicate.
Last night we ate at a Uighur restaurant. The Uighur people are Muslim Chinese who are being exterminated by the Chinese government. Best food I have ever eaten. The dishes had pomengranites for decoration and flavor. Had a bean salad that is the best ever. Tonight was dinner in a Georgian restaurant...that would be Georgia, part of the former Soviet Union. Again, great food. Tomorrow's lunch will be Ukranian.
Met with interesting people today...a company called Boom that distributes sim cards and cell phones and thinks they would be a good monopoly distribution company for all of the newspapers. Bright, interesting people...not very understanding of newspapers and their timeliness but that could change.
Photos coming...impossible to upload in the evening. At 5 a.m. this morning, the speed was super and I could manage quite a bit of work quite quickly. Overload in the evening, apparently. More coming. Oh, cold all day. Wore jeans and boots to the distribution center and had my scarf and gloves on even while in the Nigoh Ad Director's office sitting next to a space heater. This wet cold weather permeates everything.
Missing Christmas and the season...cold or not, this isn't Christmas.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009


This photo is of one of the presidential palaces. Like Iraq under the old Saddam days, the president has several palaces and dachas. They are a huge waste of money at the expense of a poor people but with corruption, all things can be done.
This city is very interesting in many ways. The streets are wide and the city was planned with an eye to green space and walk ways. Nothing has been done in forever in terms of maintainance and last night as we walked to dinner in the dark night, we had to look for missing man hole covers and holes in the roadways. Today, I had a meeting with a distributor in a building that had wrecked furniture, water stained walls, no heat and metal chairs. Within about 20 minutes I was numb...our translator stood up after about a half hour because the metal chair literally was causing pain in his rear end.

The buildings are pretty much all old Soviet era construction but there are some huge McMansions which are incredible. In SW Florida there are plenty of mulit-million dollar homes but they typically are tasteful. These are extravagant, decorative and clearly an expression, in your face, of huge money. Most say, a result of corruption.

Many here have gold teeth and when I asked about this, I was told this is a sign of affluence and pride. These cost more than porcelain and you can show your worth and your family's worth by the number of gold teeth you have.

Today, we ate at a Uighur restaurant. This group is a Chinese Muslim people which is being eradicated by the Chinese government and there is a fairly large number of these folks who have moved here to escape oppression. I am learning that oppression has many faces and is relative.
We interviewed an incredibly interesting man today. Shafir owns his own NGO dedicated to studying democracy and he had a very comprehensive understanding of the media and its role in creating democracy in a country with serious language issues. I mentioned before that there is no Tajik dictionary. He said, there is NO common Tajik language and because it is such an old language, it has no newer technical words to express or explain the 20th or 21st century. So, people and the press use language from other countries with no explanation and the rural citizens and many educated people just have no clue what is being talked about. And because there is no real written Tajik grammar written or taught, journalists can and do make up grammar, definitions and structure in such a way that the common man/woman cannot understand.
And when we came out of a meeting, there were several boys playing together and I asked Nigina, our Embassy contact, if today was a holiday and no school? She indicated that kids just don't go. The schools are so bad, why attend?
Drew took me to an inside "mall" while we were waiting for our driver and I think I will go back on Saturday with Nigina. Lots of Tajik workmanship and needlework. Lots of Chinese crapola also.
More later...hungry.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Tuesday, continued

I am hoping this next photo shows up....I saw this older woman, one of hundreds out sweeping leaves and dirt in the streets. I am told that this type of work is part of the old Soviet program where there is no unemployment...everyone works at something. These folks make next to nothing but work a good 8 hours a day. Look at her broom!! Handmade and it is cold.

Today we interviewed a few of the bigger independent kiosk newspaper sales people. We went to meet Igor but he wasn't there but his mother was working the stand. As Drew and I approached, she quickly held up the Tajik Times, the only English language newspaper here. Now it is full of plagiarized "news" but then, that is not seen only in this publication. The old lady was lovely and answered our questions nicely and she had to have been 75-80 years old. Today was cold...very cold and although she was bundled up, we got to her at 4:30 in the afternoon and she said she started at 8 a.m. I felt badly for her...Igor arrived to pick up money from mom and he also helped answer our questions though he thought it amusing that we would like to help him make more money.

Oh, for lunch I ate a pastry, not a sweet, that is also Russian. No one I was with knew its name but it was round and had a yogurt tasting inside and you put a cream sauce on top of it. The meal I ate in the cafeteria down the street from one of the research company cost $1.50. I had the pastry, buckwheat and chicken. Very tasty and the buckwheat kinda looked and tasted like bulgur. Not sure if they are the same or not.

The office I went to this afternoon to meet the Soviet era research woman to learn more about her company was on the sixth floor of an old "disgusting" building which I learned was filled with apartments one can buy for about $100,000 plus monthly fees for maintainance which had not occured in maybe 20 years. We went in and the elevators, thankfully, did not work. We had to walk up six flights in the dark with old steps that were not even and were definitely NOT checked by OSHA. Coming down was better but darker. Drew said to pack a flashlight when I come back.

I definitely would pack differently for a return visit. I had no clue. Shoes are the big issue for me...I wear sandals and tennis shoes and the closed toed shoes I brought are fine for a short walk but I cannot do a mile or two walking in these. They hurt and I hate to whine.

Tajikistan, Tuesday

So, I logged on to blogspot after work and all of my templates and the blog and changed to Russian. That was a tad upsetting because I couldn't even figure out which button led to changing the language. I asked the reception man for assistance after dinner. Got back, logged on and I am back to English.

This photo is of Rudaki, the poet I mentioned yesterday. He is quite famous and the plaza named after him is quite gorgeous.
Drew and I went out to a Turkish fast food restaurant which wasn't fast food but both of us ate a salad and main dish, with bread and water for $10.00. Amazing.

Today was interesting...I have started interviewing research companies and we met an angry aggressive woman who I was told was very much into the old Soviet style of doing business. Made me look like a shrinking violet.

The good news is we walked to dinner and then we had a meeting at a local coffee shop this morning which we walked to. So, feeling like I am getting around a bit after 8 hours of meetings. I am getting back to the room quite pooped. Still haven't eaten Tajik food but we have plans to hit a restaurant soon.

I am enjoying the mix of cultures here. It is fun to watch what is often called the "Uzbek hooker" dress style; next to very western wear of jeans, sweater and scarf; next to the long velvet dresses and tops which are incredibly colorful, don't match and are worn by women with their hair covered. It is the mix, side by side that I enjoy so much.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Tajikistan, day 3

While walking Sunday, I visited Rudaki Plaza which is on Rudaki, one of the largest thoroughfares here in Dushanbe. Radaki was a Tajik poet and folks here are very proud of his influence on their culture. The parks and walkways are truly generous and wonderful...large in the sense of the old Russian influence.

And I will also try to upload a photo of an old lady sweeping the street of leaves. I was told the reason so many women are in the streets working as sweepers and selling papers is a hold over from Soviet days when full employment was critical. Everyone works or tries to even if they make little to no money. This is woman's work.

Yesterday was very long and tiring but a good day. Good meetings. Met interesting and interested people. We have a new translator...his name, in short is Ganja and we laughed at this significance. Ganj has just returned from Moscow where he was working. Much back and forth still with Russia.

Met a media owner yesterday who is in danger of being shut down by the government because he criticized them. He has been warned and there are laws that indicate citizens and media cannot be critical of the government or its representatives. Makes conducting true journalism very difficult indeed.

Ate lunch at the Embassy and had "lasagna" which was made with phyllo dough and chicken. Tasty but not expected. Dinner with Drew, my contact here and we went to an Indian restaurant. Good food. Strange ambiance. Chinese chic??

Apparently photos are not coming this early morning. I cannot get hotmail and photos are not uploading nor am I connecting to Blogger.

Oh, an interesting thing is that all offices are hotter than hell, when the heat is on. And then, folks bring in space heaters to warm things up. The driver has the heat on full blast in the car and the windows in front don't open up. Air is an issue at times. I am not liking the cold weather but at least you can add clothing. When we get in these tight offices, with five adults, some of whom have not bathed in awhile...makes it a bit difficult to breathe. Oh and everyone is sick here...just a matter of time before I get whatever IT is.

Sunday, December 6, 2009 2

This photo of a news stand was taken in the Riga airport. What is difficult to see is that the newspapers to the left are folded in half or there are two or three to each level. Very poor merchandising. However, this is better than what I have seen so far in Dushanbe. I have been here almost a day and a half and only seen one sales location and that was in a supermarket. Nothing being sold on the street.
I am sitting here typing away and listening to Christmas music I brought with me. Today was sunny and bright, cool but not cold. Very lovely and so, I took a walk before my lunch meeting. I left at 10 a.m. after visiting with two guys over breakfast who work for the Asian Development Bank, similar to the World Bank. Anyway, I walked for an hour and then decided to come back so I could clean up before lunch. An hour out, an hour back.
HA. I got lost and then, very scared. I, the world traveller, left the room with no contact information and no one speaks English so I couldn't ask for directions, though, Lord knows, I tried. I finally asked three cab drivers and the third, who also did not understand me, took my hand and walked to shops to ask for an English speaker. We finally found one who didn't know the Mercury Hotel but he was able to call someone else who did and was able to direct my cab driver. I paid 10 Somoni, which included a tip to this guy. About $3.00 and he was all smiles and so was I. Truly I have been blessed...people always have horrid travel stories of robberies, muggings, theft and worse. I keep meeting honest, hard working, caring people. And for that, I am thankful.

Saturday, December 5, 2009


I am doing tiny segments to try to avoid issues....blogspot is not working well here. My understanding from talks yesterday is that this country is in chaos in every sense of the way. They just got over a civil war, which I don't think I ever heard of but which was full of strife. There have been small bombings here of the sort to disrupt not to kill.

Several indicated this country was in better shape during the Soviet era. Better schools, economy, more open, cosmopolitan, better roads, better economy. Each person I met yesterday indicated that their best and brightest have left the country, which is an issue for the media. Consumers of media, especially hard news are the better educated and connected. Those still here, apparently have plans to leave.

For example, today, Tajik is the international and local language mandated by the government. There is no Tajik dictionary and few Tajik books or newspapers. Teachers weren't trained in Tajik so the teaching of it is pretty poor, or so I hear. Government documents take many people to write and review because of the language issue.

Most all of the leaves are off the trees and it is very chilly here. They had their first snow last Friday. I love how the trees lean in and cover the street.

More Tajikistan

The best news this early morning in Dushanbe is that our sixth grandchild, Layne Kathleen was born to Kristin and Pat McNamara yesterday. Both mom and baby are doing well.

And today, after about 10 hours of sleep, I feel human. Had to take some sleeping meds to get that rest, but it was sorely needed.

The money here is Somoni, named after a 9th century hero who you can see here in all his glory in Somoni Plaza.

Journalists Beware!

This is a bathroom that I saw at a media company today. Similar to those in Iraq, but filthy, smelly, no toilet paper, and the hole is about 3 inches in diameter.

Buildings are old Soviet style, huge, concrete and cold. No heat or little heat.

The conditions here are horrid...journalists make about $200 per month but the papers are all weekly.

Journalists beware!!

Charlie Crist, Governor

Walking through the Tampa airport on my way to Tajikistan, I saw a face I recognized. Gov. Crist was sitting all by himself and I introduced myself and asked if he would like some company. He indicated that would be good...his flight was delayed. So, we sat and talked about Obama's health care plan and other issues. Another guy came up and told him good luck on his senatorial campaign. Very accessible.

Handsome guy and very personable. Note the huge number of vacant one was near him and the Tampa airport was very busy. It seems the FAA dropped in for a surprise visit and was shutting down flights and benching planes so there was quite a mess occuring.

Dushanbe, Tajikistan

I am staying here at the Mercury Hotel in Dushanbe. Several things make this place noteworthy. First is that after hitting the bed at 6 a.m. for a couple hours of sleep, I got up, without any sleep to use the toilet. NO toilet paper. Shower and bathroom are about three feet by three feet...very close. Very clean. Soap is about 1 inch by 1 inch and is slightly unusual in that it doesn't move smoothly when wet. Bought a bar of real soap at the store today.
And I have never stayed in a hotel that had a complete computer in the room. The bell cap appeared hurt that I pulled my laptop out. English is not spoken here very much at all. And I now have about six words of Russian and none of Tajik. Issues. Spent the day meeting with media owners and Nigina, a Tajik who works at the U.S. Embassy was my translator. Very nice young lady.
Nigina took me to a supermarket so I could see how newspapers are sold and presented there but also so I could buy something for dinner a banana and a tangerine and some Cabernet from Moldova! Bought a second bottle from Uzbekistan. The Moldovan cabernet, which cost 23 somoni, about $6.00 is way better than the two buck chuck we get at Trader Joe's store in Atlanta.
Oh, another civility in the room is that there is a complete set of silverware, teapot, tea bags and a cork screw. I travel with one, but having it handy is very nice indeed.
Going to try to publish this much...issues uploading photos for some reason. More coming.

Friday, December 4, 2009


So, blogspot knows I am in a Balkan state...all of my instructions have changed to, I assume, Latvian. Who knows. Hoping this shows up normally for all of you. I am sitting in a wheel chair, next to a baggage window at the Riga airport. Seems there are no electrical outlets for computer hook ups. The airport is old and until an hour ago was completely empty. About 40 windows for ticket takers but only two women working. NO people in this place. I tried to rest on a bench but was so cold, I had to get up and walk laps. One old guy just laughed at me. I had my gloves, hat and scarf on along with my sweater and coat.

It was completely dark here in Riga at 3 p.m. I asked a guy about going out in a cab to see the city because of my long layover. He said it wouldn't be safe with my briefcase and didn't. Within the hour, I understood his lights around and pitch black in the mid-afternoon.

On my flight from Frankfurt to Riga, there were about 80% men on the flight. What was very weird is that my row and the two in front of me and behind me were filled with Spanish speaking men who had Latvian cheat sheets with Spanish translations. I got to speak Spanish and had a good time. NO sleep. Never doing this again....I should have gone and found a hotel and slept for six hours and paid for a day. Who cares.

On Lufthansa, we had lunch. Ham and cheese half sandwich with German cardboard bread and their baked goods are soooo yummy. Not sure what happened but pretty awful. Had a moment's temptation for a glass of wine, but nothing worse than exhaustion and alcohol. Passed.

My friend, Norberto and his wife, Sonia from Tegucigalpa just welcomed the birth of their new son, Lorenzo. Lorenzo was born here in the US and Norberto's mom won the election for VP of the country along with President Pepe Lobo.

And Kristin called to let me know that her baby is going to be born this coming Saturday and I won't be home for the birth after all. They will be fine and cannot wait to get home to see them all.

Took a picture of a newspaper rack...very unusual. When I get to Dushanbe, I will upload a few photos.

Thursday, December 3, 2009


Funny, for days it is, "I am going" and then comes the angst ridden, "I am leaving" and sinking feeling of saying "goodbye" to all my friends and family. I am always torn....looking ahead and then looking back. What is new and what is old and the feelings tied to each side of the coin.

Part of the travelling fun is listening to folks who have to Google where I am going and hearing what they see and learn from paper and web. Hoping I can add some flavor to everyone's vicarious international travel. Photos and details will be forthcoming. This is a two day will be incommunicado. Last night on some travel channel program, there was a segment on Riga, Lativia where I will stay for six hours. Am thinking I may just try to leave the airport and go see something if anything will be open. Lots of castle like buildings, palaces and museums apparently. Who woulda thought that????

Love to all of you.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009


Heard today that there is a Hash Harrier group in Dushanbe like there was in Tegucigalpa. So, I will try to connect with this group and go for a walk/hike and see what I can see. While packing, I realized the last time I had seen some of my clothing was when I was in Bogota. Chilly there and today, the weather is around 35 for a high and below zero at night. Going to be cold. Even found a pair of jeans with long legs that fit. Most of my pants are capris these days. Had some good memories though as I pulled out a number of black outfits to pack.

Half way through today, Richard asked about his list for Michigan. So, I started one for him so he would know what to take, pack and prepare. Just what I need...planning for him also. Heard from Drew and I am feeling a bit more prepared with what may happen at the airport and if it doesn't, what the fall back plan should be. When going to a new country, I find I am a bit nervous to see what it will be. Once having gone through the process, I am very comfortable.

Heard from Uganda today and am talking with them in early January about another visit and should be going back to Cartagena, I hope, in February. Miss folks in Cartagena a lot. Really wish I could move there but sooooo far from family and friends. NOT possible...if only I had my life to redo. Wonder what parts of it I would change.

I will be outta touch for about two days but you can catch me here or on Facebook or both.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009 I come!

I leave in a day and a half for this country. Am packing, wrapping Christmas gifts and baking. Lots to do to get ready. My big worry is that it will be very cold there and it has been years since I needed "big girl" clothing for cold weather!!

Looking forward to this new culture and just received an email from a friend of a friend who works in Dushanbe. So, will get to network. My visa has to be extended so also working on that and just reconnected with an old friend, Tom Bunch, from CSCMA, a circulation organization I used to be an officer in when I worked in Flint. My project will be circulation related in Tajikistan so looking for materials for myself and for Michelle who will be again going to Hong Kong to work with the South China Morning Post.

Look here for photos and updates as I wander just north of Afghanistan and near SW China.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Almost Thanksgiving...but I am giving thanks every day

I announced that I would be working in Tajikistan in December and my talented friend, Ed McGraw sent this guy to demonstrate exactly how I will create a co-op distribution system for the Tajik media companies! It would appear that I will need a fleet of these guys to get the job done.
I am looking forward to visiting this part of the world but the timing is very, very poor. Today and yesterday were spent baking bread to take to Atlanta for Thanksgiving with Richard's mom, sister and brothers who are flying in for a family visit. Mom is now 93 and Annie and I will cook for our men folk who, most likely, will be watching football.
So, I get home from Atlanta and leave for two weeks of work on the other side of the world and then am left off at midnight at the Detroit airport and then I begin Christmas. We are looking forward to the birth and baptism of our sixth grandchild and lots of laughs with the kids. Just hoping that everything gets to Michigan with Richard and Alex and that I also make it back on time. Kristin was told to keep her legs closed tightly!!
Somehow, I have to get spiced nuts made and distributed to family and friends before I leave Florida after Thanksgiving. Friends in the neighborhood and at The News-Press have delivered last year's containers to be refilled this year and have sent notes reminding me of my holiday responsibilities. Much to do and little time to get it done it!!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Not wandering!

I am totally stressed that I have been to no foreign country in about six weeks now. Am shortly off to Tajikistan to work there for two weeks and this will be my first foray into that part of the Tajikistan and check it out. Photos and updates will be forthcoming.

I was awakened, well, made to get up at 6:45 a.m. (I know, late for me!) because I received a phone call from Dushanbe in Tajikistan. I had been lazily lying next to Chica thinking about the day and what needed to be done. I needed a letter from them so I can apply for my Tajik it.

Recently, I have been working for the US Census Bureau in Punta Gorda, about 15 miles from our home here in N. Fort Myers. This week, for the first time ever in my life, I am working an 11:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. shift and I am just reminded that I know myself...I am, and always will be a morning person. I don't like having to think in the evening...that is time to relax and sip a nice glass of red wine.

With Richard hunting, Alex and I are sharing a car which is a tad difficult but we are working it out and he has really stepped up to help around the house, which is greatly appreciated.

More later.

Monday, November 2, 2009

November...and the beginning of winter.

Fall has arrived here in Ft. Myers....hotter than hell although we hear that the rest of the country is experiencing the advent of winter. I woke up to this sight this morning...well, I looked out at 7 a.m. and saw this. The dogs had been out earlier, daylight occured and here we are. A flock of birds, pecking and clacking away in our front yard.

I am working for the US census bureau which is tedious and tiresome to say the least. I was told today that government workers don't ask for more work...they wait until they are told by their boss what to do and when to do it! And this, from a 20 year old who cannot organize paper on his desk. We were to have busy phones today with people calling in to register for testing at various sites we set up last week. I suggested that we could schedule people if only we had a list of all the test sites, dates and times. Novel. I am not a good candidate for government work.

And then, I am talking with someone in Tajikistan about working there for a couple of weeks in December. Hoping that all works out and was told that I will be interviewing for some work in Afghanistan some time this week. Hope so.

Alex went to Tally today to see if he could get his probation cancelled. The DA decided was early and not half way through his probation but he had his hopes up. He did very well travelling by car by himself both ways. Momma was worried but he did well.

Richard is hunting but it doesn't sound like he is killing as much as usual...going into deer hunting in another week so hope that goes well for him.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Later in October

These folks are throwbacks to the 70's but are also known as Bob and Vicki our neighbors and hosts of the annual neighborhood Halloween party which was held last night. We had a ball and celebrated the evening with ribald conversation, drinking, eating and karaoke which was a laugh a minute.

Alex and I went to the party together...Richard is up north hunting ducks and geese. Alex went as Pancho and I was a very fat prisoner. Bought an XL prison costume and easily, Richard and I could have gotten in the costume together.

Barack Obama was at the party and this is important because I am the only "liberal" on our street. The rest are true blue Republicans!!

Nothing much else is going on here...every day is the same. I now know why Richard can and does read so many books. Am fighting boredom every day. My house is cleaner than it has been in ages and even hate that.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Too much of a good thing....

I was whining to a good friend who used to work with me at The Flint Journal about how horridly bored I am at home. Ed suggested I might want to go back to Africa, which I would love and then sent this to me. He is incredibly talented and, did I mention, somewhat warped in terms of his sense of humor. Loved this though.
Not much has been going on though I am putting my resume in for consulting work wherever in this world I am needed or wanted. And in the meantime, I am volunteering for Hope Hospice which is sad and yet, gratifying. Today, I took Chica, our chihuahua to pet therapy training and she can now accompany me when I go to visit people at assisted living facilities or in their homes.
The pet therapy instructor said I was more tense than Chica. I was concerned that one of the elderly people, who are not totally lucid might yank her or pull her and she might react badly. Chica was perfect and even let one older lady give her kisses...she kissed Josephine right back but I was concerned because she was pulled a bit by her collar toward the lady. Chica did fine...mommy was stressed but I am sure I will ease up.
Passed a remarkably boring 59th birthday. Didn't do anything much except read, cook and visit Hospice patients. Hoping for a work adventure soon.

Monday, October 5, 2009


Sorry, when I am home, I find there is nothing much to add. Looking for consulting jobs is taking up some time and then, trying to get Christmas gifts wrapped. Not much else going on. Had a garage sale last Saturday and will have another one next week....trying to weed out the house so IF we decide to sell, we can.

Just got the word that the new grandbaby will be baptized on December 27 so hope she gets here by then. Alex, the appointed godfather is quite excited. Cannot wait to get up north.

Last week, I went to Hope Hospice volunteer training and go for round two tomorrow. Figured that if I am going to be home, I may as well give back to the community.

Lots going on around the world...hearing quite a bit from friends in Honduras. Civil Liberties have been suspended, food shortages, media houses closed down and protests and violence in the street. Miss my friends there. Miss knowing what is really happening and wishing there was a way to make a difference in some way.


Sunday, September 20, 2009

Christmas is coming!!

I couldn't resist...took a picture of Richard in one of his favorite places...he likes to take quick naps on the sofa with the dogs...Chica is next to him and cover his head to drown out noises. I kid him all the time...if I need a nap, I go get in bed, go through the settling in routine and finally, if the Gods decide, go to sleep. God says, "not today," then there is no nap.
And then today, I was wrapping Christmas gifts to get ready to send north with Richard when he leaves for hunting in mid-October. I was wrapping a particularly annoying gift for one of my young grandson's, and our chihuahua, Paco was going wild sniffing it, making noises at it and trying to turn it over. Now, these "annoying" gifts usually make noise, but in this case, not only does it make noise, it is made out of animal parts and animal hair. After it was wrapped, we put it in the garage and then, Paco sniffed the table, floor, bag the item came in and wouldn't give up on the scent. I keep telling Richard this dog could be a hunting dog...but he thinks the ducks would be bigger than Paco so it couldn't work.

Oh, decided that Chase would get the annoying gift this year, because Kristin and Pat are expecting a baby at Christmas and that will be a different kind of annoying so they won't be needing for Owen to have an annoying gift. And they say I don't think about them!!
Had our friends, Betsy and Neil over for dinner the other night and made a sweet potato, pear and pork dish. The pork was horrid...the rest, including the eggplant mint soup was was the chocolate cake!! Miss cooking a lot, although as I was washing all of the filthy wine and water glasses hanging in the hutch in the dining room, I realized anew that I miss Juanita, our helper at our apartment in Tegucigalpa.

Monday, September 14, 2009


Well, I am home and doing not too much which is driving me nuts. Have just reconnected with an old friend from Lansing days who lives in Cinci so will be sharing a long distance glass of wine with her tonight and catching up on the last few years of our lives apart.

My big issue right now is that my brand new camera which I bought in Uganda has gone missing. I was planning on uploading a photo of Richard that I took which epitomizes his/our life here at home. Alex and I went to the mall yesterday and we saw a man selling the tiniest white chihuahua I have ever seen for only $100. Wish I had bought her...been thinking of her non-stop but we really don't need another doggie.

Started wrapping Christmas gifts last night...want to have a bunch all done so Richard can take them up to Michigan when he goes hunting mid-October. Just found out that Kristin finally delivered Barry and Eve's last year Christmas gifts to them in August. Nothing like year round Christmas!! Love it so much.

More when I find the damn camera!!

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Islas de Rosario

Read of many men in their speedo suits hanging out most of the day in the water. A serious party was enjoyed and several were a bit over the top by the time the boats headed back to the mainland.

Something very unusual was this group of folks...they weren't all from Brazil, but many were. And there were about 20 Colombians included but you cannot see them. What was unusual was, these folks stood in the crystal clear water, in about 90 degree heat for maybe six hours, chatting and drinking beer at a horrific rate. Gloria says this is very common down here....don't remember this happening anywhere I have been before. People get in, talk, laugh, swim or play and then get out...not this group!

Today, I went on a trip to the islands. Boat trip took about an hour and we stopped by a small fort and a lighthouse on the way. Loved it all...the boat was a 45 footer and we had very smooth water going and they gunned it coming back so lots of bouncing around. Pictures tell it all....

This is a fort at the mouth of the bay going in towards Cartagena. First line of defense in the old days. Much much smaller than the fort in Cartagena, but gorgeous. Used to serve as a prison as well.

One of the things we discussed today was how different Colombians are about their body image...amazing things folks wear here that no one would try in the U.S. unless, of course, they were maybe blind. Check this photo out....there were at least 30 men in speedo swimming suits and they were not German. Most should not have been wearing them, but all seemed very comfortable in their skin and so did their lady friends.
More coming!

Saturday, September 5, 2009

New Experiences

This is a typical beach photo here in Cartagena. Note the two young people to the left who are hugging. Serious PDA goes on here which is so different than what one sees in other areas of Latin America.
Today, I went out to Pedro Luis' finca which I had visited a couple of months ago during the dry season. What was all brown is now verdant and replete with flowers. His cousin has a ginger farm next door and the plants are flowering...way beautiful. Now what was "new" was we took his ATV around the finca and like most men, his toys are his babies. We raced over the hills, the ruts, the old foundations of buildings and while totally scared to death, it was very very exciting. Needed to pee afterwards but very fun.

We had lunch and I met his wife, Marta, a lovely woman working for a mining company here that is based in Birmingham, Alabama. Forget its name but another guest was a man, Mark, who reminded me how truly blessed I am. He just went through a divorce in the last few months and has custody of his children and lives here. Three months ago, his third and oldest child died of swine flu. He explained that due to her disabilities, she went quickly and he teared up as he watched his two gorgeous daughters play in the pool.

And then, I was in Bogota for meetings these past two days and I was able to touch base with a good friend and have dinner with Claudia. Sadly, there was no time to see her family or visit with others. The meetings were very special because with marketing executives from Cali, Medellin, Bucaramanga and of course, Gloria and I were the Cartagena representatives. The woman co-ordinating the meeting is also a friend that I made during my Fellowship here in 2006. So, I felt very much at home with "my family."

In the background, as I write this and sip a good Chilean red wine, is the Colombia/Ecuador soccer game. one would believe it but I went for a longish walk after the finca lunch and found that almost every breathing Colombian man was sitting anywhere on the street in front of specially set up TVs and drinking Aguila, a local beer. Everyone is having a ball and what is doubly interesting is that Placido Domingo is here in concert in the historic district. I am just imagining the having to escort wives and lovers to the concert which will begin before the game ends. Although with tickets starting at around $200 and up to $500, not too many of these folks will be conflicted.

Tomorrow, I am off to the Rosario Islands...not sure which I will visit but we leave on a boat of some sort at 7:30 a.m. Should be very fun and while I was planning to go alone, Gloria, as a surprise, arranged to go along with me. She is the marketing director here at El Universal. So, will post some photos later tomorrow and then, Monday, Labor Day, I am on my way home.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Bogota tomorrow!

I am so very fortunate that I get to go to Bogota for a group marketing meeting with a few folks from Cali, Medellin, Bucaramanga and Barranquilla. These newspapers I worked with when I had my fellowship here in 2006. So, I get to reconnect and of course, I will have a chance to see my good friend, Claudia who works with Andiarios. Sadly, this is a quick overnight trip with two full days of meetings but at least I can reconnect, in person with a few friends. Love going home!!

The days have been full but very fulfilling. We have sold a banner ad online (first) and also, it looks like possibly another ad for the Hard Rock Cafe here in Cartagena. We mark all of these first with celebrations which is very appropriate. Created our first example of an audience sales piece...trying to actually sell audience and results rather than ads, space and discounts. Changing the culture is not easy.

More to come...have a wake up call for 4 a.m. Flight to Bogota is 6 a.m. and Gloria, the marketing director is NOT a morning person. Rather than her picking me to the airport in a taxi. She might be running late...nope, she WILL be running late.

Tried to call both girls one picked up. Going to try Richard and Alex right now. Night.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Sunday....walking and enjoying

Can you imagine playing soccer next to this incredible fortress wall every Sunday? What is missing is the sea air, the wind, the heat and the sun to get the full picture. Each visit, there is some team or other playing here...and they vary. Some have uniforms like these guys. Other times, it is clearly a pick up game with homemade goals and no nets. No matter who is is deadly serious with men screaming, families cheering their men on and with "coaches" on the sidelines waving their arms and shouting obscenities. It never fails that some mother is telling the guys to remember that there are youth around and today it is the Lord's Day!!

While on my grandma trip with Kenz this summer, she shot photos of us together everywhere. So, to prove I was here near the sea in Cartagena, I took a photo of myself. Pretty damned ugly!!

Not so sure what happened with the photos but there is a door photo that is difficult to get the perspective on. Doors here in the old city are quite unusual. A super coffee table book would be to take photos of them all and compile them. Without exception, including the door to FNPI where I visitied my friend, Jaime Abello this past week, is no more than say five feet high. So one must duck into the doorway or get your head smacked seriously. Sorry these are out of order.

Walked all along the seawall between the old fort above...cannot begin to tell you how special it is to be immersed in the history here. The U.S. is such a young country.


The church where I went to mass this morning. I thoroughly enjoyed saying "paz" or peace and shaking hands. Various people made an effort to leave their aisle to come over and shake my hand and even give me a kiss...cheek to cheek. I felt very, very welcome and there was not one other person in this huge church who looked like this gringa!!

This is a typical street in the historic center. This was around 9:30 a.m. and no one was out and about selling. Generally sales people are lined up selling purses, clothing, shirts and trinkets of all sorts as you pass.

Well, yesterday was horrid. After my half day of Saturday work at the paper, it began pouring. Within 20 minutes, roadways were flooded and it continued til late in the day. Held prisoner in a hotel without balconies and without an open air, roofed restaurant. Nothing worse than having to stay in all day. Anyway, today was spectacular...walked the beach at 7 a.m., came in and had breakfast and then after cleaning up, walked to the old historic area, went to mass where I had a "moment" and then, eventually, I came back to the hotel.

My "moment" occured during mass....I went in to the Basilica and, of course, the church is hundreds of years old and gorgeous. While I could understand the words and the mass, I didn't have the responses to say in Spanish so was a bit lost. At one point, I swear, the Virgin Mary floated down and gave me a hug. Those who know me well, know I am not that terribly spiritual but I just had a moment when I truly was surrounded by the grace of God. I cried. Crying writing this...the warmth and the feeling of home was so pronounced.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Caught up!

I mentioned a few days ago that I am staying at another hotel. The good news about this place is that it is in town so I can walk the beach at night, walk to restaurants and to shops. The bad just doesn't feel like home. It is a HOTEL, five stars, very lovely and very cold.

My view from the 19th floor...quite spectacular. And here is a Cartagena sunset....que bueno, no??


I am terrifically behind...before coming to Cartagena, Colombia a few days ago, I was able to spend several days at the cottage with the girls, their kids and my son in law...other one, Chris, was working!!

Here are Addison, Chase and Owen playing in the front yard. Below is a photo of the "girls." My friend, Lois to the left, Heidi next to her and the one with the unusual expression is my older daughter who is very definitely pregnant!! The cutie behind them is my grandaughter, McKenzie who spent a week travelling with me around the upper and lower peninsula of Michigan just before the cottage days.

Check out Kristin's expression and how alike Heidi and her daughter are. Lois thought we all were a tad nutso.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009


So, I arrived in steamy Cartagena to find that that my world has been turned upside down. I am not staying at Las Americas where I stayed in 2006 and every visit since then. I have "friends" there and the staff all know me and we joke together and I look forward to teaching English classes and getting my Spanish corrected.

I am, instead, staying at the Hotel Almirante on the 19th floor in a five star hotel which is just gorgeous. The hotel faces the beach and we had the most picture perfect sunset tonight. I couldn't open the window, though if I sign a waiver and assure folks I won't take a dive, someone will come with a special tool and pry the window open for me. Now, I hate heights and wouldn't be leaning out of the window anyway. What is super about this place is that it is near the city center so I can walk to stores and to restaurants. Tonight, I found a supermarket and went and bought some wine, water and coffee....I DO drink a lot!!

So far, all is good. Was great to see the staff at the newspaper and get settled in. Tomorrow will be a full day with systems, news and advertising and the next day, I will be focusing on Human Resources....much to be done there. My head is tired...up at 4:30 a.m. and I haven't heard Spanish in keeping up was a tad difficult today. It will be much better tomorrow. Going to bed early tomorrow.


Saturday, August 22, 2009

Nothing much to share....

I have been home a few days from Michigan where I had a few last warm days with the girls and their families and my friend, Lois. Had a ball and even had time for dinner with friends on Sand Point. Since getting home, I have been trying to slowly clean things up and eliminate piles from around the house. Thinking we would like to put this house up for sale when season rolls around and to that end, am having a realtor come over Monday to share how we can best get the house put right for selling.

And also trying to get ready for my trip back to Cartagena. Had my first dream in Spanish last night...I generally switch when I am getting ready to go and while I am there. Very disconcerting the first time but made me wake up and smile. The good news is...we are getting low on Colombian coffee so clearly time to visit.

Paco has a serious issue...appears he somehow got into some caustic substance and his eye is in horrid shape. He is taking meds and eyedrops but he just sits and cries. Hoping he will mend soon...he goes back to the vet on Tuesday. Chica is trying to console and love him with snuggles but he quietly gets up and moves away from her.

My good friends, Cortneigh and Matt have just had their first child...Sebastian arrived early, early this morning. This couple I lived with and I worked with Matt on our Honduras project. Cannot wait to see the photos.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

More with Kenz

The colors of a Michigan summer!!

Another wonderful lighthouse...liked the windows and this was near Ft. Michilimackinac. The view from the top out over the straits and the Mackinaw Bridge in the shimmering sunlight was spectacular. We could not have asked for a more gorgeous day. Kenz shot this photo of the flowers nearby...I never miss flowers in Florida until I get to Michigan in the summer and see the glorious colors.

The UP continues

Kenz climbed to the top of this rock climbing wall and as I told the woman sitting next to me...this was a girl who less than 10 months ago could not walk and had issues crawling. She also did a zip line and we hiked a good way today. Had a ball. Hit three different lighthouses and am beginning to understand why my friend, Dianne likes them so much.

It was a warm sunny day and we made it an outdoor day which was fun. We spent about four hours within 10 miles of St. Ignace and then, drove on down 23 and we are spending the night in Alpena...nothing here.

Monday, August 10, 2009

More UP

Rapids from the Lower Falls...we loved seeing the falls and the speed with which the water cascaded over the rocks. Gorgeous. Scary and ever so interesting.
And, Kenz being McKenzie!! We had a great time doing nothing, seeing everything and enjoying it all together.

Tahquamenon Falls

Today was an outdoor day...sunny and warm. We walked all along the upper and lower falls and walked a variety of trails. We did have rain but not until we had settled into our hotel room in St. Ignace where we will launch our trip to Mackinaw Island and Mackinaw City over the next couple of days. The scenery was spectacular, which is wonderful because there was NOTHING in site for hours. All we saw were trees. Still have not seen a deer and I love seeing them!
We have been eating breakfast at our hotels, eating lunch out and then eating dinner in our room. Tonight's dinner: yogurt, nacho chips, string cheese, soda, red wine (only for me) and fruit. We are feeling a bit frugal but also enjoying lunches, we had a "special" at the Lower Falls...had a chili hotdog, cole slaw and a root beer float which was the biggest float I have ever seen. Kenz finished hers...I did not.