Bula Vinaka, Matangi! Magic in Fiji– Part I

Flying over Fiji

Flying over Fiji

“Bula means hello, good, welcome… it has many meanings, but all things that are good. “ Marica (Maretha) patiently explained to me, my second night in Fiji. “Vinaka is thank you, but it also has many meanings. Together, they mean many things, all of them good. Bula Vinaka; it’s all good!” Her smile so warm and sincere is reflected in all of the faces I have met in this enchanted place. Everyone smiles; everyone calls out Bula, wherever you go.


Smart Guy and I arrived at Matangi Resort three days ago and have been floating on a cloud ever since. The resort is on the private island of Matangi, owned and operated by the Douglas Family: Flora, Noel, (both 5th generation Fijians) and daughter Christene, who runs the office and handles arrangements with guests. Upon arrival, we were welcomed, as all guests are, with beautiful native song, fresh coconut juice, shell leis and wonderful smiling faces. And every minute since our arrival has been heaven on earth! The color of the water– how many shades of blue are there? The greens of the jungle and gardens, the flowers that are everywhere, the constant lull of the sea lapping the shore… there could not be a more peaceful, wonderful place– and if there is, I am perfectly content and happy to have landed here instead.

I won the airline tickets for this trip on Bucket List Publications (vinaka Lesley!), in a contest they hosted with Fiji Airlines, fifteen months ago.  At the time we had a German exchange student arriving and our youngest child, Little Man, was entering his senior year of high school. It was not the right time to take a trip to Fiji– a trip that I’ve dreamed of since going to Australia in 1982, when I could not afford the stopover in Fiji. We have been very fortunate and lucky, to have done some remarkable travel as a family, but Fiji was always in the back of my mind. When I won the tickets it was truly stunning, but as we put it off part of me thought it might not happen.1920190_10152326824381300_3495453710150240257_n

However, this past spring we finally booked the air portion and started reading resort reviews on Trip Advisor. Honestly, the options were totally daunting! Even with free airfare, a trip to Fiji is not for the faint of heart, cost wise or travel wise– it took us 30+ hours to get here (4 planes, one van, and a boat), from the west coast! Of course, there are many options for accommodations– from back packer stays to resorts that can cost upwards of $5000 a night; trust me, we looked at most of them! There are 322 islands that make up Fiji, and after hours of reading, we decided to spend our two weeks at two different resorts. Turtle Island was our first choice, and when we were running out of steam, someone suggested we look at Matangi as the other destination.

After three days here, I can’t imagine wanting to go anywhere else!

Imagine a South Pacific paradise that is run as if you are good friends, or family, returning home. Imagine owners who share their stories– amazing tales of a Fijian princess and an Australian adventurer, who marry and buy an island in the 1800s, and the generations who have since loved and treasured that island. Imagine a family who has worked hard to make their dream of a creating a very special resort, that you get to be a part of that… this is all a part of Matangi. Admittedly, I’m not an expert; this is my first resort in Fiji. However, my husband and I don’t like too feel removed from the places we visit; we love to share in the culture and magic of a place. While we’re not naïve enough to believe that we are enjoying a purely authentic Fijian experience, it’s hard to imagine that any tourist can. However, if you are looking to find a piece of paradise, that is seamlessly operated and designed to make every moment peaceful and exceptional, it can be found here, at Matangi. From the staff in the beautiful open air dining room to the women who rake the beach, or work in the spa, or feed the animals, all day someone is calling out “Bula!” If you like privacy and quiet, then they respect that and give you your space; however, if you enjoy chatting with people who live here about Fijian culture and lives, they are warm and generous.

Tomorrow we will go to a private beach, Horsehoe Bay, where we’ll be able to explore the spectacular reef; enjoy a crescent-shaped beach all to ourselves, and take in the natural beauty of this stunning place. The staff will deliver our lunch at 11:30, but otherwise we will be on our own to enjoy this island paradise.

Bula Vinaka, Matangi!

If you are considering travel to Fiji, check out Matangi Private Island Resort– for the traveler who enjoys a truly cultural, completely relaxed exchange and experience, while still enjoying exquisite accommodations. Matangi is family owned and run and it really shows!  Book directly with Christene Douglas: admin@matangiisland.com for reservations.  Mention this post and receive a 7 night stay, for the cost of 5 nights.  (good if mentioned through January 2015, and booked directly) Check out their website here: http://matangiisland.com/

Note: this is part one of what will be several posts. There are too many details to focus on, for one post. Instead, I wanted to introduce readers to this incredible place, and then take them along as we make new discoveries each day.  All photos were taken with and used here, with permission of the people in them.

* I did not receive any goods or services in exchange for any reviews I’m writing here.

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Make me smile; HELP ME REACH MY GOAL:  I’d love to see my Tales From the Motherland Facebook page reach 500 likes in 2014. Have you stopped by to spread some fairy dust? Follow me on Twitter, it’s where I try to be brief.  Most importantly, if you like a post I’ve written, hit Like and leave a comment. I love to hear what readers think. Click Follow; you’ll get each new post delivered by email, with no spam.  If you see ads on this page, please let me know. They shouldn’t be there.  © 2014  Please note, that all content and images on this site are copyrighted to Dawn Quyle Landau and Tales From the Motherland, unless specifically noted otherwise. If you want to share my work, please give proper credit. Plagiarism sucks.

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Sometimes The Stars Align; And You Get Very Lucky…


I wrote this post more than a year ago. None of the writing “luck” panned out; I didn’t hear back from most of the agents/editors who asked to read my work, and while 2 wrote very encouraging emails to me, ultimately they rejected my novel. However, after hosting an exchange student last year, and getting our youngest through high school graduation, we are finally taking that trip to Fiji– that I won 15 months ago! Today, Friday October 10th, the adventure begins! I have dreamed of Fiji since I was 18 years old. I may be busy taking it all in for the next two weeks, but you can be sure… this, I will blog about! Bula!

Originally posted on Tales from the Motherland:

I consider myself a lucky person, in ways that really don’t involve pure luck. Those of you who have read this blog for a while, or consistently, know that I have traveled a lot, and done some very cool things. I live in an incredibly gorgeous place, surrounded by pretty unique and wonderful people. My husband is successful, my kids are truly inspiring, and my dogs are adorable. And for the record, I don’t brag like that very often, but it’s easy to see why I opened with I’m a lucky person.

But, none of that is really pure luck. All of it, every single detail, took a lot of time, hard work and commitment. None of it just came in one lucky stroke, or the draw of a magic ticket. And I get it: lots of people work really hard, and are very committed, and put in the…

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Friday Fictioneers: I’m Talking to You!

Friday Fictioneers, the most wonderful flash fiction on the interweb! Warning: highly addictive! Rochelle Wisoff-Fields pulls it all together, asking participants to write a 100-word story, with a beginning, middle and end, in response to a photo prompt, and to interact with our peers. This week’s photo comes from Rochelle. Check out other stories or join us, by visiting Rochelle’s blog, Addicted to Purple.

Last week I managed to visit 2/3 of the posts, and appreciate all of you who read my story– especially given how late I was! However, this week I will be away again. I leave Friday for two weeks in Fiji, a trip I won a year ago. Needless to say, I’m not sure how much time I’ll have, or what kind of wifi there will be. Given my addiction for FF, I’ll do my best to join in next week. If I’m not around… I’ll be swimming with the fishes, in the best possible way!

Positive or constructive feedback is always welcome; please leave your calling card.

©Rochelle Wisoff-Fields

©Rochelle Wisoff-Fields

I’m Talking to You! (100 words, exactly)

Madly attracted to you, I hung pictures on my wall– snapshots of you, often taken when you were distracted, looking elsewhere.

                Shout, shout, let it all out!

In the Polaroids, you looked anywhere but at me; my feelings unrequited.

                                  These are the things I can do without, Come on,

Every song seemed to be about you, about us… waiting to be us. I looked at the snapshots and wished.

                                                    I’m talking to you,                 

I walked past your apartment– notice me, notice me– singing along, and hoping…

                                                                         Come on.                                

Still married, all these years later– the song still gets to me.

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Make me smile; HELP ME REACH MY GOAL:  I’d love to see my Tales From the Motherland Facebook page reach 500 likes in 2014. Have you stopped by to spread some fairy dust? Follow me on Twitter, it’s where I try to be brief.  Most importantly, if you like a post I’ve written, hit Like and leave a comment. I love to hear what readers think. Click Follow; you’ll get each new post delivered by email, with no spam.  If you see ads on this page, please let me know. They shouldn’t be there.  © 2014  Please note, that all content and images on this site are copyrighted to Dawn Quyle Landau and Tales From the Motherland, unless specifically noted otherwise. If you want to share my work, please give proper credit. Plagiarism sucks.

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It’s About the Bread and Buttah… And Yes Peter, I’m Talking to You

I’ve owned this before: I watch reality TV. More specifically, I’m addicted to a Bravo fan. I’ll concede that I watch more than one of the Real Housewives series; I love Andy Cohen and his late night show, and I even got sucked into Vanderpump Rules. There’s no point in trying to defend my interests; I know how bad this looks. My kids slam me regularly for it, from: “Mom, you’re too smart for this,” (a backhanded compliment if I ever heard one) to: “Seriously Mom? You really like this crap?” I’ve stopped trying to explain; it is what it is. Something akin to “I yam what I yam!” It’s been used against me more than once, when I try to tell them that too much video game use is bad for their brains… Admittedly, I don’t have a leg to stand on, when they start drawing comparisons. But there it is; I watch these shows and I find them entertaining. In the big picture, I’m so much more than the sum of a few shows I watch; so frankly, my kids can bite me.

IMG_7250A few months ago, as my nest was mostly emptying out, and I saw an opportunity to finally do some things I want to do– that don’t include said ducklings or Smart Guy, it seemed like a really fun idea to plan a girl’s weekend in LA, complete with a visit to Sur Restaurant. For those of you who are smart enough not to follow who don’t know, Sur is the chic restaurant, owned and run by RHoBH diva Lisa Vanderpump. It’s featured in both the RHofBH and in Vanderpump Rules, and if you watch the show, you inevitably have a waiter or bar tender who you like best– unless you find them all vapid, narcissistic and shallow– which would not be completely unreasonable, based on what airs. Nonetheless, Peter (one of the managers of Sur) was the guy I wanted to meet. The “was” in that sentence is where things get interesting.

For the sake of maintaining my friendships, I should be clear– four of us went on this weekend, and only two of us are actually regular viewers of the show. The two of us follow the stories, have our favorites and wanted to go to Sur and check it out for ourselves. One of my friends has seen enough of Bravo programming to vaguely know who is who, but she doesn’t follow the shows, and doesn’t really watch Vanderpump Rules. My other friend joined us from Chicago, and had no idea who any of the characters were. She was came for a reunion with me; fun in LA, and a chance to meet my other two friends. Translation: she is a stable, intelligent woman, who was not part of the ensuing silliness. The later two, would want you to know those details. The most important details: we are all old enough to know better; we’re married to men who are very successful and attractive; our goal for the weekend was to have fun. Peter just happened to be on duty and on our radar.



If you don’t watch Vanderpump Rules, let me give you the Cliff Notes™ version: Sur is owned and run by Lisa Vanderpump and her charming husband Ken Todd. It is chic, popular, and anyone who works there has to be young, sexy and a wee bit into themselves. This is not a difficult thing to find in LA, where beauty is king and eternal (with the help of injectables, waxing, surgeons, and denial) and the overriding atmosphere is impersonal and self-absorbed. Coming from a place where things are as opposite to that as they could conceivably be, I find LA amusing and fun. It reminds me of Vegas, but with much prettier geography. So, the staff of VR (as presented on the program) are overly concerned with personal grooming/appearance, generally insensitive to the “friends” they work with, and seem to sleep with anything that moves… or, at least flirty with anything that moves. It makes for constant drama and outlandish TV, but Sur seemed a fun place to visit. One of my friends was hoping to see Tom Sandoval, and I thought it would be fun to see Jax or Peter. We all agreed that on the show, Peter Madrigal, the manager and former bartender, seems to be the most decent, and more mature than his cast mates– and he is undeniably hot. To have seen Lisa and Ken would have made this a star studded bonus score.

Admittedly, our fantasy trip to Sur changed on a dare. I’ve never been one to walk away from a dare easily, and when one of my friends challenged me to use a “line” I’d been playfully throwing out at the table, I called Peter over. “Why oh why did you dare her,” my Chicago friend of 25+ years said. It was a Sunday; the place was not very busy, and our table was in an ideal location for watching the goings on. Peter had passed by us countless times without any sign that he noticed us, and I was dared. Do not hold this against me, I’ve already admitted that we were being silly… and ok, a drink or two might have been involved, but a dare is a dare. I called him over, and I said:

Peter, my friends and I flew all of this way to sleep with you– But since we all know that is never going to happen, we’d be happy to get a photo with you.

I can only be thankful that the restaurant is dimly lit, and I was in the corner; my face was beet-red. And this is where the disappointments began.

He was polite enough to smile, briefly, and say “sure,” but it was not his Bravo, flirty, charming Peter smile. It was a bored smile. A “man, do I have to do this again,” smile, and then… he walked away. Ok, so it’s obvious that this was sexist and totally stupid on my part. If I heard a man say that to a female manager, I’d be appalled; I see the irony and giant double standard– but, this was Peter. This is the guy who flirts with everyone, on the show. This is the guy who posed nude (as in a Bravo TV blur mark over his parts) for a calendar shoot, in the season finale of VR last year. This is Peter: of sexy smiles and seemingly sweet nature. If I was ever going to use such a playful and over the top come-on, with who else but Peter? We had been clear that we flew there to have dinner; we were clear that we were fans, and it should have been pretty obvious that we didn’t really expect him to sleep– though that was clearly stated in the come-on, lest there be any confusion.  Instead, he walked away, and we all felt pretty stupid. So what else could I do? I called him over again.

Peter, I’m really sorry about before. It was a dare… We came a long way to see Sur and we are fans. We are all happily married, and were just being silly. I hope you wouldn’t mind a photo?

I might have batted my eyes. I might have been a bit flirty, when I said it. He might have thought I was the same age as his mother… I’m not. Given that the place was practically empty, we thought maybe he’d play along, make a few fans feel special. Nope. Not so much. When one of my friends let him know that her Kir Royale was served with a maraschino cherry and that when she ordered a classic champagne cocktail, they didn’t know what went in it (champagne, a sugar cube, bitters and a twist), he took some interest. At my Oscar party each year, Kir Royale is the drink, and it does not have, nor should it ever have, a maraschino cherry. Perhaps a raspberry, but preferably creme de cassis and champagne. Period. Peter explained that he’s a “mixologist” and knows all of this, and that he was disappointed that we encountered these slips. But, that was pretty much the end of his interest in us, and off he went again.

IMG_7234We’re not gluttons, and we know we have it good at home, so we did not call him over again. We did have a blast with our fantastic waiter Gabriel. He was good looking, charming and not affected. He got that we were there to have an experience and he did his best to make that happen. Take notes Peter. We’re pretty fun ladies, and Gabriel had fun with us. We gave him relationship advice; we got him to put his ring on and took photos, and we all laughed a lot. We didn’t expect a “made for Bravo” encounter, but we thought Peter would be more fun. We thought it would be a little more interesting than it was. We thought he might take a minute and pull up a chair, or charm us the way Gabriel did. Again, the restaurant was very quiet. We expected something that said: “Hey, thanks for watching the show; thanks for flattering me, and thanks for visiting Sur.”

One of these rings might have gotten one of us lucky that night... right Gabriel?

One of these rings might have gotten one of us lucky that night… right Gabriel?

If truth be told (and why not), of all the places we ate that weekend, the menu at Sur was the least interesting, and I’ve written enough food reviews, traveled and dined enough, to know what I’m talking about. My steak was very good, but the menu was surprisingly boring, overall. The experience was a bit underwhelming, given the build up and excitement we felt going there. And maybe that makes us groupies, fans, silly TV watchers– all things that don’t play into our generally respectable and well-lived real lives. Maybe the let down had a little to do with soberly (despite many drinks) realizing that it is after all just a show, not “Reality.”

When we were done eating, we asked if we could still get a photo with Peter, and our waiter went to find him. He appeared near the entrance, and with a visible roll of his eyes, Peter deigned to pose with us. We all saw it, the eye roll, and that’s when we got a little pissy; we got a little insulted; we called the spade a spade, and behaved a little bit… LA– even my solid, totally grounded friend from Chicago.

Peter, we’re really happy that you’ll take this photo, but let me be clear: we were only joking about sleeping with you. It was all in fun. I am married to an extremely attractive man, who is very successful. You’re clearly good looking, but my life is pretty damned good. A photo is all we were really want. A little fun, in a place that makes it look like fun is what you serve, on TV.

My friends piped in, and let him know that all of us are lucky at home. We’re not really groupies, when push comes to shove. We are fun, and we had a pretty amazing night– after we left Sur– to show for it. At this point, Peter relaxed a little and seemed to finally get that. He laughed, genuinely (finally!) and posed for some photos.


So, I might have cracked a joke... but we got the Peter smile, finally!

So, I might have cracked a joke… but we got the Peter smile, finally!

The next morning, when we all gathered in one of our rooms at Shutters on the Beach, my wise friend from Chicago put it all in context. Vanderpump Rules is a TV show. From a viewer’s perspective: they make their ratings by behaving badly and putting out an image, that may or may not be accurate, but that’s what they put out there. Their waiters flirt, they make manscaping and lady grooming look like a religion, and they give the impression that if you visit Sur, you can play along too… at least a little. That is what they’re “famous” for, those lovely folks who work there. But working on a reality show, you really should know what side your bread is buttered on, and who butters it. The fans do. Fans watch the show; fans drive the ratings; the fans are what make Bravo TV a success. Andy Cohen (who we all agree is one hot mensch) knows this, and has made a wonderfully entertaining empire out of that knowledge. He is fun, entertaining, and kind to his audience. He knows where reality begins and Reality ends. Peter, as cute as you are, you don’t seem to know who butters the bread. Seems a few photos and some genuine smiles are a small price to pay, n’est c’est pas?

In the end: we had dinner at Sur; we had a good time and we can check it off the L.A. bucket list, for our next trip. We will look at it all a little differently when we watch the show– if it comes back for another season. If. Our real lives continue with or without it and that’s the irony. We went looking for a dose of Reality, and left understanding that it was ours all along. (Yeah, thanks Dorothy)

IMG_7299After notes:  Given that George Clooney went and picked our girl’s weekend to get married in Venice, our celebrity sightings for the weekend were not at a premium. We had Joan Jett on our flight from Seattle to LA, which led us to use the phrase “put another dime in the jute box baby” way too much. We saw Peter, and the model Edda Peturdottir.  For one thrilling second, I thought I saw Julia Roberts at Shutters, but then realized she was inevitably in Venice too, and it was the bellini talking. We made our own fun. We danced into the wee hours after dinner at Sur; thanks to our charming driver Simon, who told us he was the “Sur driver” (and wasn’t) and charged us 6x what we paid to get to the restaurant in the first place! We shopped at Fred Segals (which was cook beyond cool); we walked to Abbot Kinney, Venice Beach, and all over Santa Monica. We turned our heads every time we saw someone filming or taking photos, until we realized that was everywhere. We fell in love with Lift and met some of the greatest drivers (Michael, Beck, Gabe, Ryan) who were fair, entertaining and fun to be with. We felt free and fun, and laughed a lot.  Sadly, I bought a beautiful scarf that I wore to Sur, with my new Johnny Was dress. I took it off for the photos with Peter, and set it on the table near the entrance. Though there were only 2 other tables, and we can see it in all of the photos, when I left it there and called first thing in the morning, it wasn’t there. They promised to ask around and call me back either way, but I never heard back. Maybe Peter kept it as a reminder of those hot ladies he’ll never meet again? Reality bites. (Joan Jett and Fred Segals)

IMG_7198 IMG_7220

And finally, if you don’t know tongue in cheek, if you think any of this is terribly serious– alas. It was a girl’s weekend, not real life.

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Make me smile; HELP ME REACH MY GOAL:  I’d love to see my Tales From the Motherland Facebook page reach 500 likes in 2014. Have you stopped by to spread some fairy dust? Follow me on Twitter, it’s where I try to be brief.  Most importantly, if you like a post I’ve written, hit Like and leave a comment. I love to hear what readers think. Click Follow; you’ll get each new post delivered by email, with no spam.  If you see ads on this page, please let me know. They shouldn’t be there.  © 2014  Please note, that all content and images on this site are copyrighted to Dawn Quyle Landau and Tales From the Motherland, unless specifically noted otherwise. If you want to share my work, please give proper credit. Plagiarism sucks.

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Friday Fictioneers: She Drifts…

I’m late, late, late this week, with too much on my plate! Sorry I haven’t been as good with visiting as many stories as I’d like to! Thanks to those of you who have made time for my writing; it means a lot to me, and I always appreciate your feedback.

Friday Fictioneers is an addictive, wild and wooly weekly flash fiction challenge. Check out the photo prompt, provided this week by Kent Bonham, and write a 100-word story, with a beginning, middle and end. Rochelle Wisoff-Fields is our multi-talented, devoted leader. Check out her blog, Addicted to Purple to join in, or read the other stories in this series.

©Kent Bonham

©Kent Bonham


She Drifts (100 words)

She moans in the dim room– with the beep… beep… beeping, of the machines. I wipe her forehead, tell her that it will be ok, but we both know this is not a fight she can win; only my feeble wishes.

I wipe her arms, her feverish face, whispering that I love her, that I will stay right here. She’s weak from medications that don’t work, that won’t spare her life; the cancer has won.

The Fentanyl lollipop brings relief from the pain, and she dozes in her fuzzy world– moaning for what is gone, and what is to come.

*   *    *

Note: A fentanyl lollipop is used for pain management for patients who can’t tolerate other meds. It is often used with kids.

Make me smile; HELP ME REACH MY GOAL:  I’d love to see my Tales From the Motherland Facebook page reach 500 likes in 2014. Have you stopped by to spread some fairy dust? Follow me on Twitter, it’s where I try to be brief.  Most importantly, if you like a post I’ve written, hit Like and leave a comment. I love to hear what readers think. Click Follow; you’ll get each new post delivered by email, with no spam.  If you see ads on this page, please let me know. They shouldn’t be there.  © 2014  Please note, that all content and images on this site are copyrighted to Dawn Quyle Landau and Tales From the Motherland, unless specifically noted otherwise. If you want to share my work, please give proper credit. Plagiarism sucks.

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Friday Fictioneers: I Am Born

I immediately knew where this story would take me, but find the way was much harder than I anticipated.  Welcome to Friday Fictioneers, where this band of international writers struggle to do the same thing: make sense of a photo (contributed this week by Marie Gail Stratford), tell its story, in 100 words or less. Rochelle Wisoff-Fields leads our merry band. Check out her blog, Addicted to Purple, to read more stories or join in the fun. Caution: it’s highly addictive.  I always welcome positive, or constructive feedback. Please leave a comment.

© Marie Gail Stratford

© Marie Gail Stratford

I Am Born (100 words)

She’s all I’ve ever wanted… her voice, her touch– so tender and sweet on my skin; the happiest place I know is in her arms.

The sound of her voice, singing only to me–has lulled me to sleep, kept me company, as I waited. That wondrous voice– loving and true, a safe haven in the dark.

For her I face the agony– the crush of air and light; I reach for her.

She rubs me with scented oil, and holds me to her naked skin, singing softly in my ear–promising she will never leave.

And I am home.

*    *    *

Make me smile: I’d love to see my Tales From the Motherland Facebook page reach 500 likes in 2014. Have you stopped by to spread some fairy dust? Follow me on Twitter, it’s where I try to be brief.  Most importantly, if you like a post I’ve written, hit Like and leave a comment. I love to hear what readers think.  Click Follow; you’ll get each new post delivered by email, with no spam.  If you see ads on this page, please let me know. They shouldn’t be there.  © 2014  Please note, that all content and images on this site are copyrighted to Dawn Quyle Landau and Tales From the Motherland, unless specifically noted otherwise. If you want to share my work, please give proper credit. Plagiarism sucks.

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Mohamud Drives… (A Somalian Journey)


Mohamud was my driver from San Diego to Del Mar.

I don’t say something like that very often. I don’t have drivers. I am happy to carry my own bags; I don’t fly in first class, unless I am upgraded for smiling at the right person (as happened on the way to San Diego this week). In general I’m a woman who is happy to save some money and do it myself; I love the thrill of finding a deal, and not paying more than I think is reasonable. But my husband was attending a training at a big medical company and they treated us very well in return. So, we had a driver.

The driver pulled up to the Marriott in a shiny black Escalade, just like the ones you see on Real Housewives, or that the President is whisked around in. Big. Shiny. Impressive looking. All the bells and whistles. When he opened the door for me, taking my bag from my hands and setting it in the car, the running boards automatically came down, so that I could step in with ease. I tried not to gush too loudly, but seriously, other people were now straining to see who we were. That’s what happens when you get into a shiny black Escalade with tinted windows, in Southern California– people think you’re famous. Admittedly, I felt a little famous right about then.

Our car edged out slowly and silently; a sleek carriage carrying Smart Guy to corporate headquarters and then taking me to our hotel on the water, in Del Mar– a beachside community north of San Diego and south of La Jolla.

Our driver didn’t introduce himself. He was quiet, focused, very professional– glancing back at us occasionally in the rear view mirror. He avoided eye contact but I caught his glances a couple of times and smiled anyway. When he made a sharp turn to avoid a traffic snafu, a few blocks from the Marriott, I congratulated him:

Way to go! THAT is some fine driving!  He smiled in the mirror. I would have taken that same turn, and Smart Guy here would have gotten mad at me! (I don’t really call him Smart Guy, just to be clear).

He laughed good-naturedly, but remained focused. “There’s traffic on first; it’s crazy to sit waiting.”

“She’s not a good passenger,” Smart Guy added, in response to my comment. The driver smiled again. He was diplomatic in his attention, but clearly amused.

Admittedly, I’m not a good passenger when you drive– maybe not in general… I piped in. But, I don’t mind being his passenger (I smiled at our driver, who was watching me now and smiling back)– he can drive!

He laughed again at our playful banter, but remained quiet as we merged onto the 101.

The two towers: I took this photo from our room, before meeting Mohamud.

The two towers: I took this photo from our room, before meeting Mohamud.

How long have you lived in San Diego, I asked him.

“Nearly twenty-three years.”

We began to chat about the hot dry landscape, as well as our appreciation of all that sun.  He nodded politely. When the subject of real estate followed, our driver became more animated.

“When I came here, it was a small place, nothing happening really. It was mostly military families and retirees. The two towers across from where I picked you up– they were selling for $200,000 then, for very large units, big windows with sweeping views of the water. They could not give them away. The building sat empty for nearly 3 years, until they finally rented them. No one would buy them. ” he continued. “Then Bob Dole based his campaign here when he ran for President in ’96– the Republican convention, and then theSuperbowl XXXII was played here– Brett Favre, John Ellway– everyone was coming to San Diego! The prices of those condos didn’t just go up, they skyrocketed!”

He took one long, animated finger and drew a line straight up in the air between us. I was mesmerized. His soft accent, his focus on detail, held me.

“The same units that no one would take for $200,000, were suddenly selling for $800,000. Today they are $2.5.” He shook his head. “I think about that every time I drive by there.”

All these years later–Why?

“It reminds me that I was foolish. I should have borrowed money, bought five of those units…” His voice trails off. I am spellbound. He chuckles, “Oh, that would have been so smart…”

He continued talking, easily and naturally, telling us about the changes in San Diego since his arrival. I was struck by his extensive knowledge and ease in conversation, but reminded myself that he does this for a living– of course he knows a lot; he must talk to people like this all the time. We told him that we were from the Seattle area, that we weren’t used to such dry landscape, and then we shifted to water issues.

Smart Guy was quiet, but I chatted away, wanting to hear more. I shared that I remembered water restrictions when I was a child in California– not being able to flush every time we used the toilet (only when you had to!), dry brown lawns… He smiled. We talked about the ice water challenges for ALS. So much water wasted, I said.


Matt Damon co-founded a non-profit  (Water.org) that focuses on clean water for people around the world, I told him. He did the challenge with water from the toilets in his house! He pointed out that the water in his toilets was still much cleaner than people all over the world are forced to drink and live with.

“This is true.”

Matt Damon used the ice water challenge to focus on clean water for others… It made me really think about all the clean water that was just dumped, in all of those videos.

He nodded and watched me for a moment.


“People here don’t take the drought or the restrictions seriously. They water their lawns and throw it away; they think that there will always be more water.”

I think that as Americans we don’t really think about water very much, I contributed. Even in the poorest parts of the U.S. water is not that hard to find. We don’t really understand that in other countries, people walk miles for water. Images of my two trips to India flashed through my mind– women with huge jugs on their heads, Peru and Johannesberg, South Africa, where children told me that they carried water two times a day in large plastic containers, dragged along in small wagons. In these places, water is not taken for granted; it’s precious and limited.

As we pulled up to the impressive corporate headquarters, an enormous fountain greeted us at the base of the hill. Water cascaded down, mocking the state-wide drought. Wow, real water shortage I see…. I stated, sarcastically. All three of us laughed uncomfortably.

He looked at us in the mirror and smiled, a frustrated, cynical smile. “No one will conserve water when they see something like this.”

We were quiet as we drove up to the impressive compound, and he escorted my husband inside. The bright sunlight was jarring, as the car door opened and the spell inside was broken for a moment. I watched as the driver ran back to the car, in the hot sun.

You don’t have to run in this heat, I assured him as he got back into the cool dark car.

“Thank you,” he replied politely.

Where are you from originally, as we pulled away.

“East Africa,” he glanced at me in the mirror. I nodded. “Somalia.”

I’m sorry, I answered. He glanced my way again. I’m sorry that your country has suffered so much. Our eyes met. It must be painful to see the place where you grew up, change so much.

“Thank you. Yes, it is terrible, it is so terrible.”

Do you still have family there?

“Some, but I brought all of my immediate family with me. They are all here.”

Wow! That must have been really hard. I’m glad they are all safe.  Still, it must be horrible to watch that happen to a place that was once home.

I watched his eyes soften in the mirror, even as he frowned.

“Yes, it is awful.” His voice had taken on a solemn tone, but he seemed more comfortable with me.

Did you see that movie? The one with Tom Hanks… the ship, Somalia?

We talked about the movie Captain Phillips, and the real crisis that the fishermen of the region have suffered, leading to the piracy that the world focuses on– while generally ignoring the reasons for these desperate acts.

It was hard to sit there, listening to the audience cheer when the Somali pirates were killed, I stated. They were so desperate, I wanted it to work out for everyone­– though I remember the event… I knew the end of the movie. 

We were both silent as we drove back down the driveway.

He watched me, quiet for a moment, but then took the time to explain how the situation developed there, carefully detailing the characters and factions involved. How foreign ships had come in and pushed the local fisherman out. How Somali fishermen had held one large foreign ship for ransom and told these interlopers to stay away… that they were ruining it for the Somali people, who relied on the fish and waters for their survival.  Some of it I’d read about, but his details were personal, more balanced. He was eloquent in his story telling, peppering the history with personal thoughts: “It was a wise decision;” “This was a good idea, at first.”

Then he was quiet again, as we merged back on to  the freeway.

“You know, when we were talking about water before–“ He shifted.

I nodded.

“When my family was fleeing from Mogadishu, from tribal issues– we lived in the city, we didn’t know about the tribes, but we had to go– running to Kenya, even though we weren’t involved with the tribes. We had to leave. People knew about the animals, there are wild animals outside the city; and,  we brought enough food… but people didn’t think about water. That is how so many died; they had no water.”

I watched his eyes, as he told me the story. I could see him going back in time, and it humbled me, in the back of that cool, black car.

“It was horrible– no water anywhere. But we had no choice, we had to keep going.”

How old were you?

“13, almost 14.”

He watched me for a moment and then continued, as if weighing whether to say more.

“When we were running to Kenya, the water– there was no water. People watched for the places where they knew there had once been water, and they would dig, until the soil was damp…” He paused, going back further as I held my breath. “My grandmother–” his voice caught, but he went on. “My grandmother told me that she had to dig and dig, waiting to find the damp place, and then–” I watched, stunned as I saw his eyes fill with tears. “My grandmother, she would suck the dirt, to get some water.”
He was crying now, quietly, and I could barely breathe, but felt my own tears burn my eyes.
“She was so thirsty… that my grandmother… my grandmother sucked the dirt…” he choked on the words again, and our eyes blurred together in the mirror.

I reached around and held his arm, rubbed his shoulder. I tried to comfort him from my backseat sanctuary– his story changing everything– in that car, in my perspective, in the sunny world outside. I rubbed his arm and simply said, I understand.

After  a few moments, he pulled himself back together, wiping his eyes and focusing on the route. I was still stunned, his words echoing in my head: She sucked the dirt, to get some water.

Your story makes me think about all these children coming in from Mexico, Central and South America; they’re so desperate. He nodded, wiping his eyes again.  I just don’t understand how so many Americans can be so callous– thinking they’re coming here for free stuff.

Now he nodded. “It’s terrible.”

They don’t want our free shit; they are just trying to survive. A parent must be so desperate to let a young child make that trip, a child must be very scared to do it… how can we be so cruel, to send them back.

“Yes. It is wrong.”

I understand the laws; I get that there are regulations… but there must be a better way, than sending babies– young children, back to such horrible conditions, that their parents sent them off alone to come here… My voice trailed off. She sucked the dirt, to get some water. 

We continued talking; he told me about arriving in San Diego, how he and his younger brothers had been so amazed by everything they saw in this new world.

“My younger brothers were seeing all of these big houses, these shiny cars and they would say to me: ‘ I want that house! I want to buy that car’ Over and over they were saying this. And I told them, you can have that car, and you can have that house– but first you will have to work very hard. You will have go to school and study, and you will work very, very hard. And when you have them, you will still work hard.”

As he spoke, he continued to wipe his eyes, reclaiming his calm. I barely noticed where we were or the passage of time, I was so absorbed in his story.


“The next day, I took them to the a very different part of San Diego. There were no nice homes or cars. I parked the little Corolla I was driving and put the club on the wheel, so no one could take it. We walked for several blocks, with people we didn’t know. There were men sleeping on the street, drunk, others with cups held out for money. I told my brothers to put some coins in their cups. My brother looked at me and said ‘but we have only just arrived here! I have very little in my pockets.’ But I told him, put the coins in there anyway, so you will remember what it’s like to not have very much. Tomorrow, you will begin to work hard so you never have to hold that cup.”

As the stunning blue ocean came back into view and we turned along a store-lined street, I realized that we must be coming to my hotel soon. When had we left the highway? How long had we been talking? It felt like hours, but it had only been a half hour, perhaps more, perhaps less. I wasn’t sure. I felt removed from everything but the dark interior of the car and the driver’s eyes as we spoke, as I listened to his wondrous words– Alice, down the rabbit hole.

What happened to your brothers? What are they doing now? I had to know.

“One of my brothers is a cardiac surgeon. He studied at the Mayo clinic and he lives in Minnesota. My other brother is an engineer in Ohio. “ He smiled broadly at me.

Oh my God! Imagine, the people who must have seen you as you fled Somalia. They might have thought you were simply more children who needed something for free, or that you were worthless, like the children at our borders now… but now your brother is saving lives! My eyes burned as I became overwhelmed and tearful. All of those little children, fleeing places where they are not safe, where they live in fear and then they are turned away! Who knows which of them might be someone who changes so many things! I understand that there are laws, and regulations, but how can we just turn them away, or treat them like criminals! I rubbed my eyes, as he watched me. And now– we are both crying!

We laughed, and I saw that we were turning into the hotel. I didn’t want it to end. I wanted to drive in that cool, clean, sleek car all day, with those kind, wise eyes in the mirror. I didn’t want to say goodbye.

But there we were, pulling up to a beautiful hotel on the water. The bellmen were all coming forward to get my bags and greet me, and I only could think of my driver and how I didn’t want to get out.

He stepped from his seat and opened my door. Again the sleek floorboard dropped down, but I no longer felt like a celebrity. I felt humbled and touched and overcome. I stepped out and said, I’m Dawn, extending my hand.

“My name is Mohamud,” he held out his hand, with a beautiful smile, and our eyes met face to face.

I threw my arms around him, hugging Mohamud, and he hugging me back, both of us grinning, as the hotel doormen watched in bemusement.

Minutes later, Mohamud drove away, waving to me, as I walked into the beautiful lobby to check in.

*   *   *


Mohamud drove us to dinner that night, and we talked a little more about our earlier conversation. I told him that I wanted to write about the day and he told me it was fine with him. It’s a story that should be shared, I told him. “Yes, it should be shared,” he replied, looking directly at me in the mirror. I asked if I could take a picture of his eyes in the mirror and use it in my story and he laughed. As I tried to focus my iPhone, he adjusted the mirror allowing me various angles. We all laughed as I joked that his eyes would be very famous, hoping a few people would read this long, magical story. It doesn’t matter; the time we spent in the car changed everything about my few days in a beautiful place, being treated like royalty by a generous and wealthy company. As I walked the beach or ate my meals, I thought of Mohamud and his grandmother, many times. She sucked the dirt, to get the water. It changed everything.

Mohamud also drove us back to the airport when we left California. We talked about his children– his daughter, in college, hoping to be a doctor, his twin boys graduating high school this year. One wants to be an engineer and one wants to go into finance. With such a wise and gentle father, I know that they will all do very well. We talked about the changes in public schools– dismal and disturbing to all three of us. I felt like I was talking to an old friend, but sad knowing we would not see each other again, anytime soon.

When he opened my door, that final time outside the terminal, he said: “It has been an honor and a privilege to meet you.”

No, the honor and privilege has been all mine.

We embraced again, and then I watched Mohamud drive away, tears burning my eyes, as we headed in to catch our flight home.

I hope when he reads this, Mohamud smiles. It was my privilege, indeed.

*Please follow the links above to learn more about clean water for people around the world. Every minute, a child dies for lack of clean water; this is something we can all change. Share this story.


Then, watch this video. Take a few minutes. Sonia Nazario, author of Enriques’s Journey, speaks so eloquently on the subject of our borders.


*     *     *     *

What do I want? I’d love to see my Tales From the Motherland Facebook page reach 500 likes in 2014. Have you stopped by to spread some fairy dust? Follow me on Twitter, it’s where I try to be brief.  Most importantly, if you like a post I’ve written, hit Like and leave a comment. I love to hear what readers think.  Click Follow; you’ll get each new post delivered by email, with no spam.  If you see ads on this page, please let me know. They shouldn’t be there.  © 2014  Please note, that all content and images on this site are copyrighted to Dawn Quyle Landau and Tales From the Motherland, unless specifically noted otherwise. If you want to share my work, please give proper credit. Plagiarism sucks.



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