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The best 10 days of my life!

 

I was on the last ship to ever sail to Europe, the SS Waterman, and we left July 20th, 1968.

We had 10 days on the ship – 900 students – everyone was going home to their different countries except 26 of us.  Twenty three went to Belgium and three went to Finland.  It was the last ship to take anybody home and we had the whole world represented on that ship, kids from all the European countries.

 

The SS Waterman (aka the AFS Party Boat)

The SS Waterman (aka the AFS Party Boat)

 

 

I fell in love with a boy from India on the very first day I met him.  He was leaving the US after having been there for a year.  We spent ten days and fell madly in love with each other, and we wrote for five years.  He went on to marry some Indian actress and I married my husband.

I had my 18th birthday on the ship and that was fun.  All day long the boys, especially from France, were kissing me.

We had lessons on the ship–in the mornings we had two hours of Dutch, we had to learn Flemish and about Belgium, we had classes, and some free time in the evening.  We learned how to eat the European way—how difficult that was at first and how awkward!  They had movies and dancing and organized games and all kinds of activities on the ship for 10 days.

The world was represented on that ship!

Star-crossed lovers — the movie Titanic

Not quite the SS Waterman…Image via Wikipedia

At the time I as so curious, I loved meeting people with different experiences, I wrote everything down.  We said goodbye to the kids from India and Pakistan—they had to get off a day early—standing on top of the ship and waving goodbye to my new love.

This was like the movie, Titanic.  We kept motioning to each other I love you, and we sailed off and I couldn’t see him anymore.

When we flew back at the end of the year, I was so disappointed that they took the boat experience out of the AFS experience.

That in itself was one of the best ten days of my life!

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Salaam aleikum

 

A recent anecdote: I was dissolved in tears at the end of “The Kite Runner.” My friend Tessa and I were probably the last ones out of the theater in Denver.  Some folks were still milling around in the lobby as Tessa went to the bathroom.

First paperback edition book cover
The Kite Runner. First paperback edition book cover (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A man who had sat a couple of rows in front of me made eye contact a couple of times.  I was just trying to pull myself together. I felt so fragile and still  on the verge of tears. But this guy approached me and said, “Salaam aleikum.”

Wa aleikum salaam,” I replied, “Have you been there?”

He said he was seven years old when his father took the family to Kabul. His father worked for USAID as an engineer. He said he could tell I was affected deeply by the movie, and he sensed that I had a story.

He told me he had seen the kite contests in the winters.  I was so addled, I failed to get his name or give him mine. So we parted ways in the parking lot, and I doubt I’ll ever see him again. But it was comforting to meet him and to say good bye (ba aman I khoda) in Farsi.

 

 

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I wanted to defect

 

 

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I wanted to defect when it was time to come home.  But I’m really strong on agreements, and I agreed that I would come home.  (Laughter)  I’m still really strong on agreements but I was not ready to go.  I was not ready to go.  We all cried.  It was not something that we were ready to do.

 

Oh, my gosh, [those last days] were awful.  They were really awful.  We were running about getting a few pictures of things that I didn’t have.  Going to different friends and shaking hands or hugging and saying good-bye, and exchanging addresses.

 

 

English: The Ferris Wheel at Liseberg in Gothe...

English: The Ferris Wheel at Liseberg in Gothenburg, Sweden. Svenska: Pariserhjulet på Liseberg i Göteborg. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

 

There was a dinner and everybody came to the airport.  The aunts, the uncles, the papa, the mama, the boyfriends of the girls.  And we just — it was really amazing, ’cause I was hanging out the train window and I didn’t want to let them go, and they disappeared, and it was awful.  It was awful.

 

But I came home and immediately got a lecture about the way I was dressed.  I wasn’t a wearing a bra.  I decided they weren’t necessary there.  I had a couple mini-skirts that were pretty doggone short, and when we stopped at the restaurant to have dinner when they picked me up, my dad swatted my rear end and said go put some pants on.

 

They found more self-confidence, both of them said.  I asked my mother about it when we were out to dinner a while ago, and I told her I was going to be cooperating with you on this, and she said “we saw a lot more self-confidence, and your dad learned to appreciate you.  He missed you –  a lot.”   So that was nice.

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Looks like a flower pot

English: Bidet

English: Bidet (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

We had a 4-5 day orientation in Milan staying with families and that was the first time we had seen a  bidet and I didn’t know what it was.

I went in the bathroom and here’s a pot of green beans in water sitting in the bidet with water swirling around and I thought it was a vegetable cooler!


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Get the Globe!

 

 

I just had an interest in international travel.  It was totally self motivated.  I always thought that it was nice that these foreign students could come here.  It sounded like a wonderful opportunity.

I grew up in a town where AFS was quite active.  They hosted several students a year and had a selection process which started with a large group of kids who were interested, then they had interviews, and then the application stage that whittled down to three of us.  Once we were selected from our community, we met up in New York City and the AFS staff matched us up to where they thought was a good fit.  Back then we couldn’t request a country, only a hemisphere, and I had requested the southern hemisphere because I wanted to go to Australia or New Zealand.  But instead they came back and said you’re going to South Africa and this is your family.

I found out the beginning of December and left about Jan 18, 5-6 weeks ahead of time. The phone call came in and they said you’re going to South Africa, and we in our ignorance had to run to the globe to check out where it was.  A whole education process began.  My parents were not particularly supportive of it.  What was I getting into?  My parents were incredibly concerned because it was shortly after the Soweto Riots, and there was a lot of unrest in the country.  I know my parents called the State Department to find out if it was safe and should I be going.  The news was not at all positive.  In hindsight, as I’m thinking about it, I was lucky that they agreed to let me go because there was a lot of concern back in the late 70’s.

 

 

Johannesburg, South Africa

Johannesburg, South Africa

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Feeling alone…and far away

 

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They brought us to the house and my host mother seemed completely surprised at the woman running the program and myself having arrived there.  My host father was working in the yard, and was wearing shorts and a tank top.

I saw the woman from the local coordinating group talking to him, and even though I didn’t speak any of the language, I could tell exactly what was going on.

She was saying, “Do you remember a month ago when we told you that we might be able to find an American student to stay with you?  Well this is it, he’s here.  Remember when we told you that?”

 

Indonesian soup bowl

Indonesian soup bowl (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

Clearly he hadn’t been told that I was coming that day, or any time really, and he may not have even known that he had been given a student.  So the contrast–with what we saw in LA with this informal but organized and deliberate process, and what we saw at our actual homestay, which was this kind of a let’s-see-what-happens attitude.  They were really just kind of playing it by ear.

Of course, over time I realized that it’s just the way things were done and there’s not an emphasis in Indonesian culture on rigorous planning.  It’s just not the same.

I remember getting into my room–and I shared a room with my host brother–and sitting there with my bags as I unpacked, and then feeling alone…and far away.