Who says the world isn’t a friendly place? Having lived in thirteen countries on five continents, we met kind and wonderful people everywhere. You don’t even need to speak the same language to become good friends.
When we were stationed in Kampala, Uganda, I had two neighbors. On my right was an East Indian couple. The wife could only speak her native tongue so we never could never really talk to each other. I had not yet learned how to play bridge or tennis so was at home a lot. We would wave to each other and we would go to each others’ homes and usually ended up in the kitchen teaching and cooking for each other. She had a big kitchen but completely without furniture, so we sat on the floor on straw mats. On one side of the kitchen there was a huge stack of shelves divided by many little cabinets where she kept her Indian spices to make curry. She also had a heavy stone mortar and pestle. I realized then that curry powder was a little different in each Indian home, depending on the cook’s choice of ingredients. She would mix a little of this and a little of that and throw it in the mortar and then with her pestle she would pound it into powder for the delicious curry she was preparing that day. Certainly not the same as buying curry paste or powder in a bottle! She taught me how to make Naan, and Puri and Indian deserts. We had a wonderful time gesturing and laughing. Some days she would come to my house and I would show her how to use my Chinese cleaver to slice and dice the ingredients that go into Chinese cooking. I even showed her how to make Chinese spring roll skins. We would leave my kitchen in one big mess which did not make John, my houseboy, very happy. This lasted for over two years; I have not forgotten her and I am sure she thinks of me when cooking Chinese meals.
On our left was an American couple who also worked for the Embassy. One summer their son, Danny, who was 17 years old, came to visit. We became good friends immediately. When the men went to the Embassy, Danny would come over and visit me. He had rented a beautiful Harley Davidson for his means of transportation. One day he took me for a ride. At 75 mph, I felt that my head would fall off or I would lose all my hair. It was scary but lots of fun. I had a brand new gold convertible Corvair, and when I went shopping I would put the top down, and Danny would ride his cycle behind me acting as my security guard. Everyone would stop to stare at us, which we found very amusing. When Kasalina, the nanny for my two small children, Jeffrey and Leslie, had to take the day off, Danny would come over and be their baby sitter. He was always so patient with them, playing hide and seek, riding Leslie’s tricycle, making funny faces and joking until the kids would be giggling with delight. Of course Danny left when the summer was over to go back to the USA to begin college.
When we were in Chile, we decided to take a vacation in Barilochi, a famous and very beautiful resort area in Argentina. With both children in tow, we drove from Puerto Montt, Chile, to San Carlos de Barolochi in our Pontiac Firebird. It was the custom of truck drivers to take a break by parking the truck under any one of the large shade trees that lined the dirt road between the Argentine and Chilean customs posts, a distance of about ten miles of open countryside. The driver would chock the truck wheels with a couple of rocks, then just drive off. Unfortunately for us, it was very difficult to see the rocks in the shade of the tree and we had the misfortune to drive our low-slung car over a couple of them. A horrible screeching sound coming from the underside of the car brought us to an immediate halt. It was around five in the afternoon and the shadows were growing long. We knew that we had damaged something, as we could see a little oil leaking onto the dirt. As twilight fell there was no sound other than from a few birds and there was not a car in sight. We were getting very nervous and really did not know what to do next. I thought I heard the sound of a vehicle approaching, so I hopped out of the car and prayed that somebody would come by and help us out, since the next town was quite far away. It seemed like an eternity before I saw a Volkswagen Bus coming towards us. I stuck my thumb out and struck the hitchhiker pose. The Volkswagen pulled to a stop and out jumped four young German men. One of them could speak some English. They talked among themselves for a few minutes and then seemed quite happy with their decision. In the bus they had a small kitchen and under the stove they had a rectangular linoleum rug. They pulled it out of the bus, together with some cord. One of them then managed to crawl under the car and made a temporary blanket to cover the leak and pulled the damaged sheet metal away from the flywheel. We started our car and drove slowly into Chile and on to Puerto Montt, where we could have proper repairs done and find a place to eat and sleep. The young men followed us all the way into town, but declined our offer of a meal. They wanted to drive on to a destination nearer Santiago. We thanked these kind young men and gave them our address in Santiago, but unfortunately we never saw them again. I have many German friends now, a very special one is a director at my duplicate bridge club, and when I see him every week, I am always always reminded of our saviors of long ago.
When we were in Guatemala, Dick was kidnapped by Marxist Guerillas. He was at a senior staff meeting at INCAP campus, part of the World Health installation, when four young men came bursting into the room with submachine guns. One pointed it to his forehead, and another man tied his arms behind him with shoelaces around his thumbs and they took him away. I did not know if he was dead or alive until I got a photo of him looking like a prisoner of war. My children were back in the United States so I was alone to deal with this dreadful situation. It was then that I realized how kind people were. My Guatemalan friends took me to their fincas on weekends, others would bring me food, trays laden with everything from soup to nuts. A wealthy American lady married to a Guatemalan, offered me her tennis court from eight to ten every morning and the American Ambassador promised that the Embassy would be watching over me. One of the ladies who worked with Dick offered to come and live with me. Marilu, had cancer, but she forgot her problems, left her family and moved right in. My German landlord had me over many times for dinner and served me sausages, black bread and other specialties from his country. After Dick was released, we had to leave Guatemala the next day with forged passports. A month later we went back to pack up our belongings, and were overwhelmed at the welcome we received.
Ten years later, after we were already settled in Tucson, Arizona, we got a long distance call from our Guatemalan friend, Dorothy, and her German husband Hanno, inviting us to return to Guatemala to celebrate the tenth anniversary of Dick’s release. They were going to Germany to visit Hanno”s family, and we stayed in their fabulous house for three weeks. The next house was where the Vice President of Guatemala lived. They left us a Mercedes to drive, memberships to the German and American Clubs to play tennis and bridge, and a maid, cook and gardener to cater to our every need.
I could circle the world and write about all the wonderful people we met and loved, but it would take forever. One thing I know for sure, people are people and love and understanding is in all of us. I will write about the latest incident that happened right here in Tucson, Arizona, with a most adorable lady.
One of my favorite pastimes is reading cook books. About six months ago, I found a recipe in a one book that called for pie crust mix and I was determined to try it out. I went to my favorite Fry’s on 1st Avenue, and was told to go to the aisle where they sold the Bisquick Mix. Two store workers were helping me. We looked and looked but no luck. Standing nearby was a very cute older lady and she was determined to help me find it. Her name is Nancy North. She said she had been baking and cooking forever. She took me to all the counters where we might find the mix, but again with no success. I thanked her for being so helpful and went home. I forgot about the incident. Several days later, Nancy called me,saying that she had three boxes of the pie crust mix and that I should meet her the next morning before ten at the same Fry’s. She explained that she was in the middle of looking for a place to rent and was very busy with rental agents. I asked her where she had located the mix and she told me that she had telephoned her daughter, Cheryl, in Bay City, Michigan. She said that Bay City was a small town and that Cheryl knew almost everyone who worked in the town supermarkets. One was able to supply the pie crust mix, and Cheryl had it sent it by overnight mail. I met Nancy the next morning and she handed me the crust mix and would not allow me to pay her. We will be getting together as soon as her family leaves after Halloween. I will tell her about China and she will tell me about life back in the good old days, a half century or more ago. By the way, Nancy has four daughter, ten granddaughters, and ten great granddaughters, and one pit bull dog. I can’t wait to see her again.
What a life! What a world!