Friday, January 22, 2016


Well, that about wraps up my tales of the Epic Sudanese Adventure, though I am still having fun pasting and painting in my hold-it-in-your-hands travel journal. When I finish gluing in all the bits and pieces I collected in Sudan, and clear my head a bit,  I plan to flip it around and upside down, and start a Barcelona travel journal! Then I will share a few highlights on the blog, from the color-mad visual feast that is Catalonia. Things like this!

A Few of Gaudi's Rooftop Chimneys
Speaking of color-mad visual feasts, the Muses and I went splorin' in San Antonio the other day! We spent most of our time at the McNay art museum, which has an excellent permanent collection, but also some fun traveling exhibits.

Last time it was kinetic sculptures, this time it was...well...I'm not sure what exactly you would call this.

Life-Sized Cheese Doodle Robots

The Cardboard Art Studio

I do, however, know just what to call this...

Bakery Lorraine, at the Pearl Brewery Complex

I call it dee-licious, and the perfect way to celebrate a couple of birthdays!

Thursday, January 21, 2016


I forgot to mention that, at the end of the wedding festivities, we went over to say our farewells to Areej's grandma, since we were leaving for Barcelona the next day. With big brother Amin as our interpreter, we did our best to express our gratitude for all they had done for us. Afterwards, she turned and said something to Amin. He then turned to us and said "She wants to give you something. She says pick something. Anything you want." We were flabbergasted, but quick to reply "Oh thank you, that is so kind, but really not necessary!" More talking between them, then "She's serious. She really wants to give you something." "But I can't think of anything!" Slight pause, then Amin turns to her with a sly grin, and points to the stack of solid gold bracelets on her arm. "You could give her some of those." Grandma jerked her arm back, as if stung. I jumped in, saying "No! No! We don't want those!" Then, off the top of my head, I blurted "Tea! I like your tea! You can give us a box of tea!" She stopped giving Amin the Evil Eye, and turned to give me the "Are you crazy?" look. Finally she gave me an "OK. Whatever." shrug, and said something to Amin. "It shall be arranged." Then, with a sly grin of her own, she told him to say "And, perhaps you can give her an American passport, so she can come and visit all of her family more easily." If only I could Habooba. If only I could.

The next morning we slept quite late, had one last breakfast buffet at the hotel, then went upstairs to pack. We sent a text to Austin and Areej, in the room next door, telling them to let as know when they were up and about. He texted back, telling us to come on over and keep them company while they ordered room service. "Are you sure that's OK with Areej? I don't want her to have to get up and get dressed on our account. She's gotta be exhausted!" "She says come on over. She's decent, and we're starving. We never had dinner, remember?" Not sure what I was expecting, but it certainly wasn't to find my elegant new daughter-in-law standing there in a tatty old pair of Austin's hilarious holiday jammies. Cracked. Us. Up!

Not long after they finished eating, Areej got a call from her mom. Apparently Habooba had requested that we all come hang out at her place until it was time for us to head to the airport. Before hanging up, her mom reminded her that it was a new bride's responsibility to continue looking her best whenever she left the house. From the rolling eyes, I'm guessing that her reply was something akin to my own kids' favorite, "What-ev-er!" She hung up the phone, then grabbed a pretty sari, saying "This is the great thing about tobes", as she pleated and wrapped it around her, completely covering her tousled hair and goofy garb. Just don't tell her mama!

We spent a lovely afternoon with the family, sipping tea and munching on a sweet similar to baklava (love that stuff!). At some point her uncle called to say he was sending someone over to collect our passports and luggage, and that we would be met at the airport later by someone who would "take care of us." When it was time to leave, Sabit handed us a sack, saying "For you. From Habooba." In it was, not one, but eight boxes of tea. It took a bit of finagling to fit it all into our carry-on bags, but we did it!

So, can anyone tell me how to make shay bi-qirfa with it -- the black cinnamon tea?

When we arrived a the airport, we were taken directly to the VIP lounge, handed our passports, boarding passes and baggage claim tickets, given our own comfy seating area, offered refreshments, and told that someone would be along to collect us when it was time to board. If only travel was always like this! A short time later, a woman came over and introduced herself as one of Areej's aunts. Apparently she was there waiting for a flight to Egypt. Turns out she is a member of parliament, and spends one week out of every month in Egypt.

An interesting family, are they not? Areej's father is a fountain of knowledge when it comes to the history of his homeland, and has built a family tree for them all -- one with over 1,500 names on it! When he was last there in Sudan, he took it upon himself to go and visit every single living family member within traveling distance. Everyone I met seemed to be up on current events, and probably know more about U.S. government and politics than we do! Most amazing, however, is their love for, and commitment to, family. One uncle said it so well. I was having a bit of trouble keeping track of which relatives were on Areej's mom's side, and which were on her dad's. Finally her uncle said "Mom's side? Dad's side? Not important! We are all family. Now you are family too!"

Wednesday, January 20, 2016


As I was leaving Habooba's house late that afternoon, there was some discussion about when we should be picked up from the hotel and taken to the wedding venue. Apparently Austin was to be picked up separately from us. It was finally decided that he would be picked up at 7:00, John and I at 8:30. So, Austin went down to the hotel lobby a little before seven. When John and I came down 90 minutes later, he was still there! Assuming there had been a change in plans, we all climbed into the car together when Sabit arrived. "No, not Oh-stin. I think you don't belong in this car." Huh? Sabit pulled out his cell phone and made a call, then said "Oh-stin, you stay, we go. You must wait for special car." My baby looked so sad when we drove away! I think he was half afraid that it was all a trick, and he wasn't invited to the party after all!

Periodically throughout the week, everyone would be chattering away in Sudanese Arabic, when suddenly, a couple of English words would jump out at me. More than once, I thought I heard someone say "spark city", but then I'd think "Nah, couldn't be. That doesn't make any sense." Well, my ears hadn't deceived me. This is Spark City!

It's a humongous venue with two entrances, seating for hundreds, and two separate stages -- one for the band, and one for the bride and groom -- on either side of the dance floor. As soon as we arrived Areej's father approached us and escorted us to a prime table at the edge of the dance floor, where we could see both stages. He soon returned to his duties, greeting guests, but not before several brothers and uncles had come to keep us company. After a while I looked up, and noticed something strange. Every table I could see was filled with men! "Where are all the women?" Hubby grinned and pointed behind me, across the dance floor. DOH! I had totally forgotten how, in Bahrain and Indonesia, the men and women stayed separate at parties. I was afraid I had made a major faux pas, but one uncle said "No, no. It's OK. We mix." I guess it's more habit than rule, but I did feel strange, being the only female on that side of the room!

Finally, at around 9:30, we heard a car honking as it approached the building, and people started saying "They're here!" We glanced out the doorway to see a dark Sedan festooned with flowers and ribbons. Out stepped my beaming son, followed by his beautiful bride, who absolutely sparkled in a silver sari with glittering jewels on forehead, throat and wrists. Even her lips sparkled! Slowly Austin escorted her through the gauntlet of people, across the room and up onto the stage, making sure she didn't tumble off her silver stiletto heels, while everyone pulled out their phones and snapped away.

I guess this was actually more of a marriage celebration than a wedding. I think, as a rule, the official marriage takes place separately, and more privately. In our case, it took place before they ever left The States. Her uncle performed the marriage by proxy, over the phone, and filed all the paperwork for them. They seemed to think that would make their traveling safer and easier, so we were all for it.

The picture taking flurry was followed by a male singer and band, with much dancing and delicious food, of course. I stayed mostly in my seat, with Elsa and a few others coming over to visit. Then, however, my "good, good friend" from earlier that day, came to fetch me. She took me by the elbow and pulled me to the other side of the room, saying "It's OK to sit over there sometime. But sometime you come over here. Now you meet my family!" Next thing I knew I was out on the dance floor, right in the center of things. Every time I tried to drift towards the edge of the circle, and become an observer, one or another of my new friends would herd me back towards the center! I am ever so grateful for their persistence.

I should pause and apologize for the lack of quality photos from this point on. All I can say is, I was fully present in the moment! The professional photographers took scads of photos, however, and I hope to get my hands on a few of those later.

While we were eating, the bride and groom where whisked away. No food for them! Our meal ended with coffee or tea being served in a most unusual way.

Several servers circled the room with these unique metal urns strapped to their backs. In one fluid motion they would grab a cup in one hand, the spigot in the other, bend deeply at the waist to pour the liquid into the cup, then repeat, one after another. It was a dance, in and of itself! They served one other beverage that was a traditional drink made from fruit. I've heard they sometimes add a touch of yeast, and let it ferment just a tiny bit (one small instance where culture and ancient tradition trump law) but not this time!

At this point there was also a change in entertainment. I'm assuming the first band was playing modern, popular tunes, but now we switched to a mature woman who sang the older, traditional songs.

Habooba and some of the other women joined in and sang along. When the bride and groom returned, they had changed into traditional wedding attire. Areej now wore a red tobe (sari) for good luck, adorned with a great deal of gold jewelry, and had a red plaid cloth draped around her (later to be draped around them both, together). Austin wore a white jellabiya with red trim.

They ascended to the stage once more, and a tray containing special red containers to be used in the Jirtik ceremony -- where the bride and groom drink milk and are blessed with perfume and incense --  was set before them. At that point someone grabbed my elbow and actually pushed me up onto the stage with them, so that I could observe more closely, and there were no more photos taken from that point on! Needless to say, there was a great deal of dancing, singing, drumming and clapping after that, with a few of the women and Areej performing a bit of Sobheya, or bridal dancing.

Did I mention that weddings are one occasion where the midnight curfew can be relaxed, and that many of them go on all night long? Fortunately for Hubby and me, this one did not, and we were snug in our bed by 3:00AM.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016


While we're on the subject of participating with gusto, check out this photo that one of the relatives sent us, taken on the night when we were all getting our henna tattoos.

Once my hubby learned the Sudanese rules of dance and celebration, that boy put his heart into it.

I really, really love that about him.

Monday, January 18, 2016


After a late breakfast with my boys, Sabit picked me up and took me back to Habooba's house, where a hairdresser had been brought in to transform our kinky curls into long, luxurious locks. Areej calls this "party hair".  Afterwards, her mom took me to another bedroom, where several friends and relatives were gathered. She told me to have a seat, as these women were anxious to get to know me. As you can see, the bedroom walls are all lined with what we call "day beds", and that's where the women tend to congregate and visit, rather than out in the formal living areas. And, if they are amongst close friends and family, they actually lounge upon them and get comfy!

Now, as far as I could tell, only one of them spoke any English at all, and I only remember about two words of Arabic from our time living in Bahrain, 40 years ago. You might think this would be an awkward situation but, surprisingly, you'd be wrong. I am an introvert. We are usually way better at writing than at talking,  and the most painful thing in the world for us is having to make idle chit-chat with people we don't know. My biggest fear leading up to this trip was the thought of blurting out the wrong thing and offending someone horribly. However, since I didn't speak Arabic, and they didn't speak English, no one really expected me to converse. Suddenly, I was completely relaxed!

Habooba and her cousin, I think.

They chatted up a storm, I smiled and nodded a lot, and every so often, the lady on the right above would translate a few words for me.  After a while, a low table was brought in, and a big round tray of food was set upon it, which we ate in the traditional way, without utensils. Instead, we tore off pieces of flat bread, and used that to pick up morsels of food. It is a very intimate way to eat, and they seemed to be absolutely delighted that I was participating with gusto! At the end of the meal, our translator hugged me and told me I was now her good, good friend. I admit, it made me tear up!

Then it was time to head back to the hotel to dress. For, as Ed Sullivan would say, tonight we had a Really Big Show!

Sunday, January 17, 2016


Our little mama-to-be is turning thirty-three, and decided to go Full English in honor of the occasion. When we met there last it was a long drive south from their home up in north Austin, but now it's only five or ten minutes from their new house!

Lex invited four of her girlfriends to join us, but Austin and Areej ended up with house guests this weekend, so Areej couldn't make it. Good excuse to do it all again soon with her, right?

As you can see, this is not your mama's Hoity-Toity-High-Tea at some fancy-schmancy hotel. Which makes it all the more fun and relaxing.

There were freshly made scones with cream and jam...

assorted sweets, including a scrumptious Guinness Chocolate Cake...

and a variety of finger sandwiches, such as English Cheddar & Chutney, Ham & Mustard, and Cucumber Vinaigrette.

Plus, we each got our own pot of tea, in the flavor of our choice. All for just $15 each! (If I remember correctly, the Driscoll in downtown Austin wanted $40 or $50 each for their Christmas teas) We ate and sipped and talked and ate and sipped and talked for over two hours, and still managed to fill three take-out containers when we left!

Not a bad way to celebrate a birthday, or just while away a dreary afternoon, wouldn't you agree?

P.S. They also do Full English Breakfasts, Pancakes and Pasties all day long, plus Fish 'n Chips on Friday evenings, and are just an ideal little neighborhood hangout any time of day, with free wi-fi and a variety of great coffees, teas, and lattes.