Countries of My Youth
I grew up in eight countries:
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.
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.
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. For some reason
there was a squadron of Canberra fighter-bombers, and the
mainstay of the air was the C-130. 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
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 apartments that caught my eye were my own home
32 years later.
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.
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.
The United States of America 1959-1960, 1962,
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
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.
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
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
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 9/8/2007 by David Dull,
(C) Copyright 1995-2007 by David R. Dull.
All Rights Reserved.