Countries of My Youth

 The World

I grew up in eight countries:

  1. Saudi Arabia 1952-1953
    My father was a telecommunications officer for the U. S. State Department, and I was born in Washington, D.C. while he was training for overseas duty. He left for Arabia right after I was born; my mother and I waited the three months the doctors advised before following him. We lived in Jeddah. One of the earliest photos I have seen is my family on the beach on the Red Sea, picnicking next to our car. There isn't anyone else in the picture, and the beach obviously stretches on for miles. I still have a picture of my father, my mother, and me on vacation in front of the Great Pyramids at Gizeh.

  2. Cyprus 1953-1954
    I have a little scar on the inside of my thigh from the time my tricycle fell into a sinkhole in the yard. Our compound was built on landfill.

  3. The Philippines 1954-1956, 1965-1967
    My earliest memories are of the Embassy swimming pool in Makati, outside Manila. The employees liked me, and were thrilled to see how I had grown when we came back ten years later. Mom says I learned Tagalog before I learned English.

    After we were evacuated from Indonesia in a coup d'etat, I went to Wagner High School at Clark Air Force Base. Before we moved onto the base, we lived in Angeles. I used to go to a little slot car racing shop, where I raced 1/48 scale models. I enjoyed Angeles and Clark AFB immensely. It was exciting watching the F-102s scramble off the flight line, and to earn my Boy Scout Aviation Badge by pre-flighting a real Learjet. There were giant brown moths that would sleep on the camouflage paint, delta-winged animals resting on delta-winged fighters. There was a squadron of B-57 Canberras, and the mainstay of the air was the C-130. F-4 Phantoms and F-105s filled out the picture. We used to go camping on a Navy base at Subic Bay. The air was warm and sweet all over the island. I had a joyous religious experience in the clouds on a retreat in Baguio, where I bought my mother a silver wire butterfly brooch. Rain in the Philippines was as solid as a concrete wall.

    At the end of the tour we rode the President Cleveland to the U.S. The itinerary was Manila - Yokohama - Honolulu - San Francisco. Kamakura was a little heaven on earth. The ship had a teen club to keep us happy. We had a Neptune party when we crossed the International Date Line, which was a thrill for everyone. When I saw San Francisco I knew I had to live there some day -- the high-rise apartments that caught my eye were my own home 32 years later.

  4. The Netherlands 1957-1959
    I can remember crossing the Atlantic in a TWA Lockheed Constellation, the plane with three tails. When it was bedtime we pulled down bunks overhead and climbed into them. That's where people put carry-on luggage today. They gave us certificates for crossing the Atlantic back then.

    Holland was the safest place I ever lived. I remember only happiness there. We lived in Wassenaar, and I used to bicycle through the sand dunes to the beach alone. There were three road systems: one for motor vehicles, one for bicycles, and one for boats. A canal went past the back yard, and once a babysitter and her boyfriend rowed us to the Queen's palace for lunch. They celebrate the arrival of Saint Nicholas, or Sinterklaas, in early December. Santa Claus and two Black Pete assistants debark from a ship and parade through the country on a horse-drawn coach, throwing candy to the children who line the parade route. My father came out to pick me up, and found me missing. He simply short-cut to the end of the parade route and waited for us to show up; he correctly figured I'd followed the coach. I studied kindergarten and half of first grade in Dutch. I learned to ski in Arosa, Switzerland, and I remember a train ride up the Rhine river. My biggest interest on the train ride was a ball-point pen I had received from a cereal company. It had a flashlight, a compass and a whistle built into it.

  5. Venezuela 1960-1962
    In Caracas we lived in an apartment building in Los Palos Grandes. Dad suffered a minor injury when the Embassy was bombed. I used to play for hours on walls with three-story drops to parking lots, while a neighbor woman would lean out her window yelling, "¡Cuidado, cuidado!" There was a creek that ran across the back of the lot, and a nice swimming pool inside the wall. I also spent many, many hours playing in an empty lot next door. I was especially fond of climbing a four-story mango tree. The branches were thick and easy to hold. I once told my mother I knew the school bus driver's name; it was Joe Fair. The school was beautiful. We had miniature banana trees growing in the gardens. We listened to John Glenn's three-orbit Mercury flight on the short wave radio from launch to recovery. I was a Venezuelan Cub Scout. Girls started to be very interesting in the fourth grade. I saw my first television in Caracas. A talking head in a studio -- TV didn't impress me. Dad's duty during the Cuban missile crisis earned him a ribbon that would make customs officers look the other way as we passed through.

  6. The United States of America 1959-1960, 1962, 1967-1968
    After we were evacuated from Venezuela in the Cuban missile crisis, I went to Tomahawk School in Prairie Village, Kansas. Kansans were very enlightened people. When I told them my father worked for the State Department they wanted to know which state. When I told them I had been to Paris, Egypt, and other foreign lands, they called my parents in to tell them I was a habitual liar. After they talked with my parents they were sure they knew where I had learned to lie.

    I came back for the fifth grade, and a lot of classmates were very happy to see me. I was an American Cub Scout. The Cub Scouts helped me make friends with my neighbors, and it gave us all something to do under adult supervision.

    My sophomore year I attended Shawnee Mission West High School in Overland Park, Kansas. Several of my classmates recognized me and were very happy to see me again. I lettered in debate, competing all over eastern Kansas. I was an Explorer Scout, and I learned hiking and campfire cooking. We went to New Mexico, and hiked for ten days at the Philmont Scout Ranch. My father took a year off to finish his degree in political geography, and my mother earned her degree in literature. I attended their graduation from the University of Missouri at Kansas City. Somehow a census was taken that year, and the census taker couldn't understand that nobody in the family was working.

  7. Indonesia 1963-1965
    I never understood that danger might be part of the environment. I used to take long walks at night around Djakarta, and nobody ever bothered me. We lived in an elegant house rented by the Embassy, had a Mercury sedan, and had live-in servants during the week. We had two maids, a cook, a houseboy (we'd call him a butler in the U.S., I'm sure), and a chauffer. I knew we were rich when my father counted up the dependents and learned his salary supported about 30 people. I kept a 1,000,000 rupiah note as a souvenir for years; it was worth about $4.00 when I first decided to keep it. Djakarta was heaven or hell, depending on my parents' condition. Mom had a bout of "paratyphoid," something that would be called a "rare tropical disease" in a novel. Sometimes the electricity worked, sometimes it didn't. Water came from a well, or from the city plumbing, depending on conditions I didn't understand. Often the morning "shower" consisted of splashing cold water out of a cistern over my body with a plastic mandi pan. The food was delicious! People sold food in the street. We spent several idyllic vacations in the mountains in Bandung, and we visited Bali and watched an evening dance of an episode of the Ramayana. We saw the Sultan's palace at Jogjakarta, and we saw Borobudur, a huge Buddhist temple complex. There were many visits to Hong Kong, and a wonderful tour of Bangkok. We were right on the equator, and it was 80 degrees at sunrise and 90 degrees at sunset, every day of the year. Half of the year the ground parched and broke up like a dry lake bed, the other half of the year it never stopped raining and we were slogging through the puddles. They put up a fence around the school, and the lumber took root and grew branches. At the International School my best friends were a Pole and a Pakistani. We studied Indonesian history, the United Nations, and the legends of King Arthur. I had a romantic rivalry with an American girl, and she and I would always wind up captaining the "boys against the girls" spelling bees against each other. One of the highlights of the week was the "America's Top 40" countdown with Casey Casem on the short wave radio. I was an "illegal" Boy Scout, registered in a troop in San Mateo, California, because "paramilitary" organizations were outlawed. Near the end of our tour we moved to a compound in the suburbs that surrounded the Embassy swimming pool. One of my last memories of Indonesia is of the army tank posted in the street in front of the school. We were evacuated on 48 hours' notice. My father stayed behind to cover the civil war, and he met up with us in the Philippines after he finished his tour.

  8. Okinawa 1968-1970
    I graduated from Kubasaki High School, "the home of the dragons." My diploma reminds me we weren't in Japan, but in Okinawa. It didn't revert until after I had graduated and gone back to the U.S. Counsellors couldn't figure out why my academics were low -- I was too busy having fun. I crashed my Dad's car a couple of times street racing. We used to tear through the rice paddies on the dirt roads, ignoring the island-wide 30 MPH speed limit. Naha was a giant amusement park, and we used to go watch risque Japanese movies in Sukiran. All the Americans had rapport for each other, and many of them thought the Japanese hated them. Actually the Japanese were friendly and sweet. They always treated me with love and respect, and I treated them the same. Kadena Air Force Base was impressive -- it had a runway that later qualified as an emergency landing strip for the space shuttle. That's because it was a base for the SR-71 spy planes, which would pop their 'chutes and circle the island until they could slow down enough to land. They would take off from Kadena after breakfast, land in Turkey for lunch, and be home for dinner. The SR-71 is legendary now; back then it was like looking at living science fiction. We lived at Camp Chinen, a little base at the south end of the island. It had a nine-hole golf course and a teen club to keep us out of trouble, but we only used the club as a rendezvous. Only luck kept us out of real trouble. I remember the Nike missile site testing its systems across the valley from my bedroom window. The mountain would open up, the missiles would quickly move here and there, and then they would disappear into the mountain again. I remember waking up to the sound of 300 Marine Corps helicopters flying in formation up the valley, coming back from Vietnam. I got my 15 minutes of fame on television as I wore my Explorer uniform in a local public service announcement and urged Americans to vote. I remember camping at the Yamada Hot Springs with the Explorers, and eating squid popsicles at the beach with the Japanese. The Obon festival at the fishing village below the base was an annual attraction. Typhoons came through regularly, and I remember watching the car jumping up and down in its parking space in 100 MPH winds. Dad showed me the fantastic satellite gear he was working with, and that may have had something to do with my choice to be a Radioman when I later joined the U.S. Coast Guard.

As an adult I still travel, and of course I see the world with different eyes than I did as a child. But because of my childhood familiarity with the world, I probably see it with eyes that are different from those of most of my fellow Americans. Let us remember that we are all brothers and sisters, all children at heart. Let us do what we can to nurture our brotherhood, and to promote peace and harmony.



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Last updated 8/8/2017 by David Dull, david@daviddull.com.
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