Category file 'Sandra Hanks Benoiton'

Nov 05 2010

Female Nomad and Friends Interview: Sandra Hanks Benoiton

Mutts in Mexico is back again with author interviews after a brief lull to get the blog working up to snuff and to throw in a Halloween story. I apologize for not providing the update on the Noche de Muertos celebration here in Pátzcuaro as promised. We had a houseful of guests so our time was spent mostly with the living. We had to sneak out the back door, so to speak, to spend time with the dead. I’ll save the post for next year. So now, on to our interviews.
We’re back in the Seychelles for the final part of our interview with Sandra Hanks Benoiton.

“Was going back the dumbest thing I’d ever contemplated? How embarrassing would it be to show up again only to find I’d completely misunderstood the situation! But I had no way to evaluate any of this without actually flying back … “

An excerpt from Sandra Hanks Benoiton’s story Fairy Godmothers…Who Needs ‘Em! (page 202 in Female Nomad and Friends: Tales of Breaking Free and Breaking Bread Around the World).

After reading Sandra’s blog, I see the last ten years since doctors cracked open her chest for by-pass surgery have been full of some very unpleasant surprises. She shares these with us today.

By far, the deepest, darkest valley would be the death of my oldest son. That happened in June of last year and I have yet to come up with a way to make it through a day without sadness, and I don’t expect to. That’s okay with me.

My divorce was a difficult disappointment to deal with that has long-term effects I deal with daily.

I read how on November 2nd, it was seventeen months to the day since Jaren died. That has to be one of the hardest things for a mother to endure. I loved your story about how you were in a room with a first-time mother and you were each given your baby. You looked over at the other baby and thought UGLY. Then the nurse came in and said there was an error and switched babies giving you the “ugly” one.

Actually, I had the ugly one, thinking it was Jaren. Turns out, that one was hers. My son was beautiful!

Oops. Sorry for reading so quickly. Never pays to do that. Do you have another special moment from later in Jaren’s life that helps you deal with the loss?

I have endless moments I conjure when I need Jaren close to me. He was the smartest, funniest and kindest man I’ve ever met, and he left me many memories that comfort. On the anniversary of his death, I was in Paris, so made a pilgrimage to the grave of Jim Morrison, then walked that famous cemetery for hours. When I came across the tomb marked “Family Bony-Ness” I knew Jaren was there beside me, guiding me to the funny names and giving me smiles.

I see you did NaNo to get back in the writing groove after that doubly down time in your life. What was the book about? Did you finish it? Was it just a good writing exercise or a keeper?

It must have been an exercise, because I don’t remember it at all. I’m working on a few things now … a collaboration, a translation and memoirs … and jump between them according to need. I also do social media management for a number of people and companies, so spend WAY too much time online.

My excuse for never trying NaNo is that I only write non-fiction. Besides I’m such a slow writer even when I’m on a roll I can’t imagine myself managing the hefty word count every day for a month. Did you keep up with the 2000 word a day grind? How? Plan on doing it again?

Non-fiction is certainly easier for me to grind out than fiction. When I was blogging for a living, my daily output was 2500 per day, plus some contract book gigs and a lot of speech writing.

With fiction, I can warm to that pace, but that takes more emotional commitment than I have been able to make lately, so I’m tending to spend that energy on short stories.

I may again do NaNo, but not while my kids are so small and I’m so far from the school!

I’ve had a website where I post travel articles since 2004 but I’m new to blogging. Many say it’s an absolute necessity given the reality of today’s publishing world. I can’t help but think if everyone’s blogging along with their own writing, how do they find time to read other blogs? You are active on blogs, Facebook, twitter, tweet, the whole enchilada. How do you manage and what do you think are the advantages?

As mentioned, I do social media management, so know the value of online communication made easy. I administer accounts across platforms for musicians, restaurants, small hotels, etc., and see first hand the benefits gained through effective posting.

On a personal level, I’ve made so many wonderful friends I will possibly never meet, but have almost-daily contact with. Given my geographic isolation this is a bonus.

After the break-up with Mark, why did you decide to stay in the Seychelles? What is there that makes the place so special?

I had been in Seychelles for many years by then, and it is home. I no longer understand life in the good old USA, and this island seems a much healthier place for Sam and Cj to spend their childhoods. With only 85,000 people in the country, Seychelles is like a small town, and the beauty is stunning and everywhere you look. There are, of course, issues that come with life on a tiny island thousands of miles from anything bigger, but I’m used to those, although not beyond being really, really annoyed from time to time. (My crappy Internet connection being something that drives me mad regularly.)

Over the years I’ve lived here, the place has changed dramatically, now being much more like the rest of the world than it was in the early ’90s. We have supermarkets now, and Coca Cola, and more than one TV channel, and many of these changes seem quite the intrusion.

As the world becomes more homogenized, Seychelles has lost some of its cream, and although that makes life easier in some ways, it also makes it less special. It is still home, though, still a natural jewel.

Your life seems to fit at least a third of Elizabeth Gilbert’s trilogy Eat, Pray, Love. How about telling us about the new love?

Uh … no. Can’t do that. Although he is happy to share his music with the world, private stays private.

So there’s a bit of sequel to Fairy Godmothers…Who Needs ‘Em! after all. So we’ll leave you with the music and some more shots of the Seychelles.


Oct 23 2010

Female Nomad and Friends Interview: Sandra Hanks Benoiton… Intermission

In the interest of getting all the bugs out of the system and making this site available to more people, Mutts in Mexico is taking a week off to switch over to a new hosting site. As of Wednesday, October 27, we will have a taste of two cultures—a Halloween tale and some photos from Noche de Muertos here in Pátzcuaro.

November 3, we’ll be back in Seychelles with the finale of Sandra’s interview.

In the interim here, I’d like to do a little promo for her book, Papaya…and other seeds.

Here’s an excerpt from the book’s introduction…

“I’ve been told I have a fertile mind, and although that may sound like kind flattery it has often been offered as evidence that my head is full of the sort of stuff animals contribute to the growth cycle of plants. Seeing how many seeds are germinating in the space between my ears at any given time, that interpretation is as good as any.

This book is a collection of those seeds; some are mere sprouts while others are fully grown in present form but may hybridize someday. Fact and fiction stand side-by-side, occasionally cross-pollinating as happens in the natural order of things casually cultivated.

The decision to publish what amounts in many ways to a seed catalog rather than develop each piece fully to stand alone comes with the startling realization that life is short, so stories can be, too.”

Papaya…and other seeds by Sandra Hanks Benoiton, available by contacting Sandra via a comment on her blog

Or you can go to Seychelles and check out the local bookstore, where it looks to me like they did a dynamite book launch.

I can’t think of a better time to peruse a “seed catalog.”

Hasta pronto.


Oct 13 2010

Female Nomad and Friends Interview: Sandra Hanks Benoiton

“Following an ever-twisting path, I write, love, parent, and watch the sun set into the Indian Ocean from the veranda of my tropical island home in Seychelles.”


Today, Mutts in Mexico interviews Sandra Hanks Benoiton, the author of Fairy Godmothers…Who Needs ‘Em? (page 202 in Female Nomad and Friends). Now, straight from her island paradise home and without further ado, here’s Sandra.

“I’m one of the readers for whom Tales of a Female Nomad resonated deeply enough to prompt a note to Rita with my praise and thanks. Of course, having trod similar paths we hit it off well and began a conversation that eventually led to her inviting me to participate in the ” … and Friends” project.

I’ve always loved the part in Fairy Godmothers…Who Needs ‘Em? where you are trying to book passage back to the islands from Singapore. You write, “I took off down Orchard Road and began hitting the travel agencies. Who could sell me a ticket on Air Seychelles? Not this one, not that one. Seywhere?”

For those in need of reference (like me, the geographically challenged one), here’s the location of the Seychelles.

North of Madagascar and to the east of Africa in the Indian Ocean.

Seychelles does seem to be one of those little jewels that gets lost in the glitter of a lot of world-wide baubles. The link: is a great source of info for anyone wanting to know about the area. You have to love a country with a botanical sense of humor or a love of the erotic (however you look at it) with the male and female coco de mer palms.

In our last blog posts with Janie Starr, she told us a bit of her journey through lymphoma. Like you, my husband was also told his mortality to be a month or so down the road. The “or so” turned out to be thirteen years and counting. So what does it feel like to have that new lease on life after a major by-pass operation? We packed two trunks and two dogs and moved to Mexico. You were already in Seychelles. So what did you do?

I had already done the shuck-the-world-and-move thing, and since I’d had no idea how little time I had until I was granted the reprieve, there were no dramatic changes. With the extra time, however, I did eventually bring Sam, and then Cj into my life. Parenting little ones again after so many years was something I would not have predicted, and they are the greatest gift these years have given.

Tell us about how they came to join your life. You adopted past the normal (whatever “normal” means) age, right?

Sam –now 7 — and Cj – 5-years-old — were both born in Cambodia and adopted at the age of 13 weeks. I was in my 50s by then, although my husband was 30-something when the kids came home. We had fostered a little boy for a couple of years, and when he went back to his mother we realized that, although we had been happily living childless, parenting suited us and we were good at it. We looked into local adoption here in Seychelles, but the size and culture of the country makes that virtually impossible.

Cambodian orphanages are bursting at the seams, so adopting from there felt right.

You have since become quite active in writing about adoption. What I don’t understand is the flak you seem to be taking from birth mothers. Can you explain?

There is a large contingent of anti-adoption folks in the world, and frankly I don’t understand the stance. As international adopting becomes progressively less possible, more and more children are sentenced to lives of little hope. The pendulum swing against international adoption gains momentum from many quarters, with organizations like the UN insisting that it be considered only as a last resort. Terms like “cultural genocide” are tossed around in arguments that begin at the notion that removing a child from its birth country is akin to robbing it of identity, no matter if life there is guaranteed to be short and tragic.

It is true that my children don’t speak Khmner, the language of Cambodia, but rather English and Creole. They haven’t learned many of the traditions of their birth country, nor do they know their biological families. These are losses, no doubt, and adoption does come with loss. To insist, however, that they would have been better off growing up in an orphanage in a country suffering grinding poverty is a mental step I can’t follow for an instant.

You mention that you live far out in the boonies. That has to be a gutsy thing to do. How does it affect you besides that loooong commute to get your kids to school?

I actually have my place on the market now, hoping to sell and move closer to town. I need to simplify my life, and with it being difficult just to find someone to keep my acre-plus of land tidy, scaling down will be a good thing. My social life suffers with my distance from friends, and that twice-daily drive to school … an hour in each direction … does me in.

It is certainly a beautiful place to come home to after that drive, although I can see how all that time behind the wheel could become tedious.I had to Google Seychelles to get an idea about the island. One of the things I miss as an expat in Mexico is access to books. I think how I used to haunt libraries and bookstores and feel a hole in my gut. Do you have any special things you miss? Give us an idea of the pluses and minuses of island life.

Amen, Hermana! The lack of bookshops does my head in. I was in Europe a few weeks ago, and spent hours in English-language bookstores just sniffing. Fortunately, Amazon delivers here, and I have a network of fabulous friends who all read, and share.

We do have one small bookshop here, which is lucky since they sell my latest book Papaya…and other seeds…also available via my website

What I miss most … people. My daughter and granddaughter are in North Carolina. My mother is in California. My brothers are all over the US. Many friends of the heart I haven’t shared time or wine with for far too long.

Oh … and I do miss Mexican food!

Having first come to Pátzcuaro in 1972 and seen tons of changes in the area, I can imagine that you have witnessed some major changes in the local scene in Seychelles. Do you have something you can share with us that illustrates some of those changes?

…”I’ll start with the nuts, admitting that my mother sends me walnuts from California, but you can now often find almonds in the shops, and hardware-ish establishments seem well stocked in screws, bolts and tacks, although most are Chinese-made and break easily…” Find out more on how Seychelles has changed

As she quotes from Bertold Brecht, “Because things are the way they are, things will not stay the way they are.

Come back next week for another visit to this island paradise…