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Archive for the ‘Abroad’ Category

What do you think about as you return from your holidays? As we drove away from the Channel Tunnel, heading back to the Vicarage, last week I was remembering (as always) a poem by Laurie Lee that I learnt by heart when I was at school:

Home From Abroad

Far-fetched with tales of other worlds and ways,
My skin well-oiled with wines of the Levant,
I set my face into a filial smile
To greet the pale, domestic kiss of Kent.

But shall I never learn? That gawky girl,
Recalled so primly in my foreign thoughts,
Becomes again the green-haired queen of love
Whose wanton form dilates as it delights.

Her rolling tidal landscape floods the eye
And drowns Chianti in a dusky stream;
he flower-flecked grasses swim with simple horses,
The hedges choke with roses fat as cream.

So do I breathe the hayblown airs of home,
And watch the sea-green elms drip birds and shadows,
And as the twilight nets the plunging sun
My heart’s keel slides to rest among the meadows.

Kent was certainly beautiful to look at. Our front drive not so much… (and more on this tomorrow too).

Rocky tells us this was originally left blocking the drive

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When people ask me what my job is these days, I usually say I’m a mother, or a full time clergy wife. And that I’m not paid to do either of these things! And since people like to pop people in pigeonholes, they are sometimes surprised to find out, usually at a much later date, that I used to design systems for mechanical equipment for water and sewage treatment.

Sometimes I want to tell people that I was a sh** engineer, but I wasn’t that bad really and also I tend not to swear if I can help it. I can still spot all the sewage works from a train window, though.

I quite enjoyed working in the water industry. I spent my UK career with consulting engineers, Mott MacDonald and then worked in Malaysia for the (then) new national wastewater (euphemism for sewage) company, Indah Water. After that, whilst we were still living in the Far East, I worked as a freelancer for Symonds Travers Morgan and French contractor Vivendi Water.

Anyway, today I thought I’d tell you a bit of my watery history,because today is Blog Action Day. Now, I’m not normally into memes and group bloggy things, but water is something I know a bit about. Actually, I probably know more about dirty water (another polite word for sewage). But the challenge is that about one in six people in our world don’t have access to clean drinking water. And often the reason that drinking water isn’t clean is because the wastewater hasn’t been cleaned up. And nobody ever thinks about the sewers. Do you know where your local sewage works is? Thought not.

So I don’t know what I’m urging you to do, because I looked at the petition on the Blog Action Day site and it was just asking the UN to do something they want to do anyway. And you couldn’t sign unless you had a US zipcode. I don’t really think that will help. But be thankful for your water. Pray for those without. Give to a charity that seeks to supply clean water. WaterAid comes to mind, or Tearfund. Oh, and wash your hands, cos today is also Global Handwashing Day.

 

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Well, obviously I don’t really hate foreign. Or I would be completely bonkers to be a Vicar’s Wife in our multi-cultural parish. I love foreign people, and I loved living and working in foreign lands (the Far East, for nearly six years). But moving somewhere new – and therefore foreign – is hard.

We didnt actually need this when we moved recently

We didn't actually need this when we moved recently

When the Vicar and I first moved to Malaysia (there’s foreign for you), we joined a church with links to Wycliffe Bible Translators. And one day a representative from that organisation came to teach the church about what life was like as a bible translator. The Vicar and I can now only remember one thing we learnt that day (it was a few years ago, mind). We learnt about culture shock, and adjusting to living in a new culture.

The Wycliffe chap told us that there is a common pattern to the experience of the ‘foreigner’ moving to a new culture to live and work:

  • Six to twelve months of ‘honeymoon’ – everything seems new and exciting, the people exotic and the differences to home fascinating.
  • After the honeymoon comes a time when the differences become annoying and hard to live with. This is the period the Vicar and I started calling ‘I Hate Foreign’.
  • And after a couple of years, the differences in culture don’t seem so great and you become adjusted. Your home is no longer ‘foreign’ but home.

So we’re nearly six months into parish life and I confess that I’ve been having a few ‘I Hate Foreign’ moments lately. Our new church is lovely and friendly, but we don’t know folk all that well. The school has been helpful and welcoming, but our old friends know us better.

I know this time will pass and that soon we’ll feel completely at home here. But in the meantime it’s a good reminder to us that our real home is in heaven and that Christians are

aliens and strangers in the world (1 Peter 2v11)

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Soon after we were married, the Curate and I spent some time living in South East Asia. A few months ago we enjoyed seeing friends from both Malaysia and Singapore.

Malaysian map

When Lawstudent came to visit us, we were excitedly reminiscing about our time in Kuala Lumpur, where we’d known him as he was growing up. We showed him a few of the books we’d bought and read when we were there. Our favourite was ‘Generation’ by Amir Muhammad, Kam Raslan and Sheryll Stothard (only available second-hand now, see this review for more details).

Lawstudent read the book whilst he was staying here, and was delighted and surprised by the witty insight into Malaysian life that he encountered on its pages.

‘I didn’t know that Malaysians could write this well’ he commented. ‘In fact, at home, my friends and I had a phrase for things that were a bit shoddy or hopeless. We’d say it was

local.

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I love the strong, sweet and spiced Indian drink known as masala chai – spiced tea. Usually I go round to my friend Starstudent’s. She makes great masala chai. I normally visit her and have two mugfuls of the delicious drink. I always visit in the morning.

Delicious but not for insomniacs

Delicious but not for insomniacs

You make masala chai by boiling your water in a pan with the teabags and some spices – cardamom, cinnamon and others according to your family tradition eg fennel, ginger, cloves. You boil it for a good while and then add a good helping of milk, sugar to taste and boil for a little longer. Then you strain and serve.

When we visited our friends the Kanns last night I drank two mugfuls, just as usual. Very tasty. But also very high in caffeine (because the teabags are so well boiled I guess).

So I was watching the ceiling at 2.30am. Grrr.

What was really annoying was that I’d done this before. When we lived in Singapore, the church we attended was a Tamil congregation and they served masala chai after the evening service. I had to limit myself to a single cup and couldn’t drink the coffee at all, or I couldn’t sleep. Wish I’d remembered that before I tanked myself up on the caffeine last night.

I wonder how it tastes made with de-caff teabags?

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Our newish ministry trainee, Gentle, had a friend from his home country of Ghana to stay over Christmas. Gentle and his friend very kindly babysat for the Curate and I whilst we went out to see the Queen performing in Snow White (she was dancing, no speaking part this year as she’s only a lowly Year 3).

I had made a cake that day and said that Gentle and his friend should help themselves and provided them with cake, plates and a knife. It was a double layer chocolate Victoria sponge with butter icing sandwich filling and topping. Yummy.

When we returned I realised that this must be a new type of cake for them. This is how they left it:

The Victoria sandwich - an unfamiliar foodstuff

The Victoria sandwich - an unfamiliar foodstuff

Cultural differences can be surprising.

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