Category Archives: Travel

Homes Sweet Homes

Eden is hosting the Gimme Shelter carnival. Go on over to see the other people’s shelters and maybe add your own.

Here are highlights from the places I’ve lived.

Family of origin. Sheri, Tami and I shared a basement bedroom during my school years. We didn’t feel squished or deprived of daylight — it just was where we lived. It was a happy place. My sisters and I laughed and created and fought and teased and bonded tightly in a suburb outside of Denver.

College. My roommate and I held a surfing party one night and broke all sorts of rules. As well as a couple of ironing boards used for surfing. In Kansas.

Japan. I had to take off my shoes at the door. It was a teensy apaaato (apartment) with only one room (of three) that was heated in the winter or cooled in the summer, which were equally brutal in central Japan. It was the room where I slept and read, bundled up under the heated kotatsu table during the winter or splaying myself in front of the a/c during the summer.

Condo. I got a mortgage on my own for a 2 BR condo in a west Denver suburb. I lived here when I met Roger, and after we married it was the first place where we cohabited.

Syria. We sold the condo, our cars and most of our stuff, and stored or gave away the rest. We moved to Syria for two years and lived in a spacious flat with polished stone floors, a wraparound balcony, and an oil-burning boiler/hot water heater. We turned it on only just prior to using hot water, and left it off the rest of the time.  We had to have the tank refilled on occasion, and that was very expensive. I loved our coffee-in-the-morning rituals there. And watching Tim Russert on Meet the Press on Sunday evenings on NBC Europe. Oh, and toilet paper was not flushable.

Victorian. When we returned from Syria, Roger and I bought our first home together, an 1891 Victorian in Denver proper that had one bathroom and no closets. It housed well all the old-world souvenirs we brought home from our travels. This was the place we brought Tessa and Reed home to as newborns. It was where we erected all sorts of kid-proof gates and pushed plastic prongs into electrical outlets. It’s the setting for hours and hours of home movies of the first bath, first crawl, first food, first step, first birthday, first time on a bicycle. However, by the time both children were potty trained, it was clear we either needed to add a bathroom or move to suburbia.

Full circle. We now live 2 miles from the home I grew up in, where my parents still live. We’re on a cul-de-sac, a space where the kids can free-range safely, much the way I did as a kid. Tessa and Reed have their own rooms, which they switch occasionally. Here they laugh and create and fight and tease and bond tightly.

And we have 3 bathrooms. My slice of heaven.

To enter your own Gimme Shelter post, visit the awesome Eden.

Context and culture: When 8 year olds weave carpets

While browsing for carpets in Aleppo’s souk a month after our arrival in Syria, Roger and I became ensnared in the lair of  an enthusiastic carpet salesman. We had made known that we had no intention of buying, yet our protests only made the smiles, words and tea flow more readily.

“THIS carpet,” said our proud host as he threw yet another rug on top of the already foot-high pile of rejected rugs, “represents the happiness motif.”

Admittedly, this carpet was a cut above the others, and I could feel my interest rise for the first time. The design was intricate, the fabric was a shiny and luxurious blend of silk and wool, and the weave was finer than anything we’d been shown. I was ready to nibble as he delivered his spiel de resistánce.

“Madame has a good eye. This carpet was woven from the fingers of an eight-year-old girl. It took her ten months to make this to support her family, and you can have it in your living room, no?”

I felt sick and indignant. An eight year old girl! Haram (shame)!

Eight year-olds should be free of the burden of supporting families — in fact at that age, THEY should be fully supported. Eight year-olds should be going to school and learning skills to help them break out of such a poverty cycle. Eight year-olds should be playing and carefree and protected from such responsibility by the adults around them. Eight year-olds shouldn’t be exploited just to make handicrafts for tourists who want a souvenir to go with their sofa.

I didn’t closely examine all these “shoulds” at the time, and for a number of reasons we didn’t buy a carpet that day. Only later, after living in Syria for awhile, did I revisit my feelings of revulsion and judgment.

Sometime in the last century, societies in fully developed countries reached an unprecedented general level of affluence. Much of what we now call “rights” we used to call “privileges.” We demand the right to education and lose sight of the privilege it once was. We expect childhood to be a stage of life exempt from earning expectations, and we demand that children should be free from worry and from the dependence of their caretakers, survival issues never entering their protected world. This is our ideal, and even though it’s not always the reality, it is the expectation.

But people in undeveloped or developing countries (or in the margins in our own) may not yet be able to hold the same expectations. A mouth to feed must be matched by hands that contribute. Everyone who is able must pitch in at least in a general way, such as bringing home the bacon (or lamb) or frying it up in a pan. Specialization of labor occurs when a member of the group can, through talent or physical attribute, enter a more lucrative outside market, like carpet weaving.

It’s very practical. Tourists have money, tourists want fine carpets. Eight-year olds make fine carpets, the proceeds of which can provide for a family.

Was I too tough in my judgment initially? Did I go all “ugly American,” showing the superiority for how WE do things and disdain for how THEY do things?

Was I too lenient upon later reflection? The practicality defense opens up all sorts of wormy cans, such as prostitution, child and otherwise.

How do you look at another culture without allowing your own culture’s lens to distort your view? Is there a true north when it comes to a cultural moral compass?

(This post is in response my dry spell. Thanks so much, y’all, for coming up with some good suggestions.)