Thursday, April 28, 2011


My improvised sewing table.

Dearest Friends,

That first week in the new apartment was a crazy one!  First of all, we had to figure out how to use the space.  A middle-eastern floor plan is very different from a western one.  Usually there is one big room in the center of the house, surrounded by much smaller rooms on all four sides.  The tiny pieces of rattan furniture we had ordered would have been dwarfed in that huge center room, so we decided that would be our dining/party space, and we made a cozy sitting/TV area (yes, we would finally have TV again!) in one of the smaller rooms.  Another tiny room, only about 6x10, that had a window into the central room, became my sewing/ironing space.  I still wonder how a Bahraini family would have used that space.

We had yet to find blocks to set the bed frame on, but I was done with sleeping on the floor, so we filled it up anyway...then spent another sleepless night trying to control our chattering teeth.  First thing the next morning I caught a taxi downtown, and spent most of the day searching for some kind of mattress pad that could insulate us from the bone-numbing chill of that water-filled mattress.

I didn't have any kind of washing machine yet, and hadn't seen anything that looked like a laundromat, so I figured I would just wash our clothes in the kitchen sink for a while.  First though, I had to clean out our little back walkway, so I'd have a place to hang them.  I was beginning to understand that this "premier" ground floor apartment might not be so premier after all.  You see, the Bahraini garbage collection system was a bit different than what we were accustomed to.  It was not unusual for people to just toss their trash out doors and windows each night, and since we had several apartments above us, much of that landed on our front stoop and back walkway.  The rats got first dibs, then early each morning a little fellow with a broom and cart would come along, to gather whatever was left.  My mom told us she boo-hooed when she saw the photos of our neighborhood, with all the trash in the street.  That's when we decided that perhaps it would be better not to share every little detail with them.

The Lemon

One day I went to meet John at the office, then we had to go get eye-tests (two hours of waiting, five minutes of testing), a prerequisite for getting our driver's licenses.   Another day we had to go get more shots (ick!).  In between all of this, I was busy painting kitchen cabinets, searching for curtain fabric, and planning what furniture we needed to scavenge or build.  John spent his lunch hours trying to find us a car -- not an easy task when you have a wife who doesn't know how to use a stick-shift, and really, really, really doesn't want to have to learn how in a foreign country with such strange traffic rules (or lack thereof) and a million round-abouts.  Against his better judgement, he bought that Chevy Vega, which ended up spending more time in the shop than out of it (there was no Chevy dealership in Bahrain, and all parts had to be shipped from abroad).  I felt kinda bad about that, but then again, he did make me leave that comfy hotel and sleep on a hard terrazzo floor.

Monday, April 25, 2011


"You mean to tell me this isn't wallpaper?  It's all been roller-painted on?  In every single room? No wonder the rows are so wobbly!"
Dearest Friends,

As soon as John went to sign the lease and pick up our keys, we got down to the business of trying to make the place livable.  One thing we had picked up while in the states was a waterbed mattress (remember, this is the mid-seventies we're talking about!), so the first order of business was to find lumber and build a frame for it.  John borrowed tools and we worked on that in the evenings, and I divided my days between scrubbing down the entire place, waxing terrazzo floors, and getting taxis to take me around to various shops, trying to find the things we would need just to get by.  I think most families stayed in the hotel at least until their air shipments arrived, but I had a feeling that would never fly with my hubby, and that I'd best get my rear in gear!

JH and his wife V loaned us a folding table set, so we'd have a place to eat, and we bought a hideous but cheap sofa and chair from some bachelor who was leaving, just to have somewhere to sit.  We figured we could always pass it on to the next set of rookies, once our own stuff arrived.  We must have bought some used appliances as well, for my diary mentions having them "moved over", and it mentions my sanding down a refrigerator and painting it bright yellow!

This is when I first began to realize that I enjoy anticipation much more than my hubby does.  I savor the period building up to a holiday or event, while he prefers to just jump right into it.  Well, at least that's how he was back then, before I converted him to my way of thinking.  Anyhoo, I was having a great time puttering around at the apartment and scouring the markets, but I also enjoyed coming back to the hotel each afternoon, to soak in the tub or sit out by the pool.  I especially enjoyed getting to try out the various restaurants that were available, since we hadn't had any to go to in Cilegon!  The night we found the apartment, we celebrated by trying a Chinese restaurant we'd been told about.  It was surprisingly good, even if they wouldn't serve anything that was made with pork.  Another night we went to check out the restaurant in the only other upscale hotel in town, the Hilton, and you'll never guess what we found there!  As soon as we walked through the doors, we heard someone calling "Mr. John!  Mrs. John!"  We turned to look, and there stood several of the waiters from the Singapore Hilton -- the very same ones who had waited on John the whole time he lived there, and spoiled me rotten on our honeymoon!  I couldn't imagine why anyone from Singapore would think it was an exciting adventure to come work in Bahrain, but then again, there are probably lots of people who long to visit America, and who wouldn't understand why we'd had the urge to go off and live in the places we went to, either.

My husband, on the other hand, was not enjoying himself nearly as much as I was.  If you recall, what with home leave and all, we'd been living out of suitcases for over a month at this point.  He was fed up with that, with eating at restaurants, with trying to juggle a new job and everything else that needed doing, and with finding ways to get back and forth between all these different places, when we didn't even have a car yet.  He just wanted to come home to his own house each evening, and he wanted some simple, home-cooked meals.  I couldn't really blame him, so, against my better judgement, I let him talk me into moving out of the hotel just five days after we signed the lease on the apartment.  The frame for the waterbed was built, but we still hadn't found any blocks to set it on, so we couldn't fill the mattress with water yet.  "But," he asked, "how hard would it be to just sleep on the floor a night or two?"  Well, when you're talking about terrazzo floors, and you've got nothing but a sheet and a thin blanket, it's not just hard.  It's impossible!

Friday, April 22, 2011


Apartments in our Hood-To-Be
Dearest Friends,

After a few hours of sleep that first morning, we managed to pull ourselves together.  Good thing we did, because that's when JH, a guy John had worked with back in Houston, showed up at the hotel.  He gave us a mini-tour of Manama, took us by to see what their house looked like, showed us the fab yard where John would be working, and then took us to a B&R baseball game (the first of many!) where we met some of the other families.

Our new home would have a tiny back porch, about like this one, where I would hang my laundry.

Over the next few days, John divided his time between learning the ropes at his new job, and searching with me for a place to live.  We didn't have a car yet (someone must have been giving John rides), so while he was at work, I was pretty much stuck at the hotel.  I ate all my meals there, went to the salon to get my hair done (must not have packed my portable dryer), sat out by the pool a bit, and spent the rest of the time in our room reading, doing needlepoint, or painting little stained-glass-like Christmas ornaments from a kit I had picked up while in the states.

One day, while looking at apartments, we stumbled across something wonderful -- a bookstore, with books in English!  We also got invited to go to the movies with a very nice couple, B & S.  Knowing there would be a bookstore and a movie theatre helped to make up for how crummy most of the apartments we had seen were.  The theatre was a bit strange though.  It was modern enough, and there was a snack bar of sorts.  I just didn't recognize anything they had for sale in it (mostly seeds and nuts, or little cakes of some sort).  This was also where I got the first hint that, though I had thought the women in Indonesia were still living in the dark ages with regards to "liberation", I hadn't seen nuthin' yet!  Other than a small handful of expat wives (who were getting lots of stares) there wasn't another female in the entire theatre.

Almost all the buildings had flat roofs like this, which were used like our backyard patios.
Finally, on our fourth day of looking, we found an apartment in our price range that we thought we could live with.  We were to have the whole ground floor of a multi-story building (I think it was the one on the far right in that top photo), right in the heart of town.  I would be able to walk to shops and enjoy the aromas wafting from our little street-side bakery, where you lined up at the counter and watched as they slapped a piece of flattened dough onto the ceiling of the wood-burning clay oven, caught it just as it dropped off, then handed it to you, fresh and warm.  I loved the idea of being surrounded by Bahraini neighbors this time, instead of isolated on an American compound.

Catty-corner from our place was a tiny shop with a louvered metal door, which an elderly gentleman lifted up early each morning, and slid back down late each evening.  The whole shop was probably no bigger than an American walk-in closet, and he sold cigarettes to the young men who congregated on the corners, and candy to young children going to and from school.  A day or two later, when we were there at the apartment, scrubbing floors and painting, he suddenly showed up at our door holding two cold bottles of fruit flavored soda.  He didn't speak a word of English, but we got the message.  We had a friend in the neighborhood.  We didn't know any Arabic yet either, but at least we had learned one, most important word.  Chukron.  Thank you!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011


Not sure if this was a mosque, the palace, or our hotel (which I seem to remember as being gold and white, with a dome)?
Dearest Friends,

When John was at the Houston office, tying up loose ends, they informed him that there was one more thing we had to do.  We must stop off at the Bahraini embassy -- in London!  Believe you me, that was one sacrifice we were more than willing to make, especially on someone else's dime.

We arrived there on Tuesday, March 30th, put in a few hours at the office and the embassy, then spent the rest of that day and the next wandering around Piccadilly and Hyde Park, shopping for a kilt, lunching in pubs, visiting museums, and dining at a cozy little French cafe.  On Thursday we got up early and packed our bags, then decided to eat one last hamburger (who knew when we'd get another?) and kill some time at Madame Tussaud's Wax Gallery, before catching our 4:00 flight to Bahrain -- a twelve hour trip, thanks to stopovers in Amsterdam and Rome.

We arrived in Manama, the capital of this island country (which is only about thirty miles long and  ten miles wide from top to bottom) at 6:00 AM on Friday, April 2nd, 1976.  We checked into the Gulf Hotel, ate some breakfast, and barely managed to make it to our room and crawl into bed before crashing completely.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011


Dearest Friends,

The place that was to become our new home, Bahrain, may have been another island that was part of an archipelago, just as Java had been, but that's where any similarity ended.  Thanks to its centrality to trade routes, and the pearl-rich waters that surrounded it, it had a long history of being fought over, ruled, and influenced by others, including the Sumerians, Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians, Portuguese, Arabs and British.  The following excerpt from Wikipedia, about the period when Bahrain became a British protectorate, explains a lot about the mix of people that are there today:

"Peace and trade brought a new prosperity. Bahrain was no longer dependent upon pearling, and by the mid-19th century, it became the pre-eminent trading centre in the Persian Gulf, overtaking rivals Basra, Kuwait, and finally in the 1870s, Muscat.[35] At the same time, Bahrain's socio-economic development began to diverge from the rest of the Persian Gulf: it transformed itself from a tribal trading centre in to a modern state.[36] This process was spurred by the attraction of large numbers of Persian, Huwala, and Indian merchant families who set up businesses on the island, making it the nexus of a vast web of trade routes across the Persian Gulf, Persia and the Indian sub-continent. A contemporary account of Manama in 1862 found:
Mixed with the indigenous population [of Manamah] are numerous strangers and settlers, some of whom have been established here for many generations back, attracted from other lands by the profits of either commerce or the pearl fishery, and still retaining more or less the physiognomy and garb of their native countries. Thus the gay-coloured dress of the southern Persian, the saffron-stained vest of Oman, the white robe of Nejed, and the striped gown of Bagdad, are often to be seen mingling with the light garments of Bahreyn, its blue and red turban, its white silk-fringed cloth worn Banian fashion round the waist, and its frock-like overall; while a small but unmistakable colony of Indians, merchants by profession, and mainly from Guzerat, Cutch, and their vicinity, keep up here all their peculiarities of costume and manner, and live among the motley crowd, ‘among them, but not of them’. WG Palgrave, Narrative of a Year's Journey through Central and Eastern Arabia (1862-3)[37]
(Inserted by Miss Becky: For some reason, this description reminds me of the bar scene in Star Wars!)
Palgrave's description of Manama's coffee houses in the mid-19th century portrays them as cosmopolitan venues in contrast to what he describes as the ‘closely knit and bigoted universe of central Arabia’.[38] Palgrave describes a people with an open – even urbane – outlook: "Of religious controversy I have never heard one word. In short, instead of Zelators and fanatics, camel-drivers and Bedouins, we have at Bahrain [Manama] something like ‘men of the world, who know the world like men’ a great relief to the mind; certainly it was so to mine."[39] 
(The one thing I would not find in any of the coffee houses when we got there, was women -- Bahrain was most definitely a "Man's World"!)

The great trading families that emerged during this period have been compared to the Borgias and Medicis[40] and their great wealth - long before the oil wealth for which the region would later be renowned - gave them extensive power."

Just as the pearl industry took a huge hit from Japan's cultured pearl industry, Bahrain became the first country in the Gulf area to drill for oil.  They didn't become an independent country until 1971, when the British decided to end all treaty relationships in the Persian Gulf.  By the time we arrived, in '76, the U.S. Navy had moved onto the base formerly occupied by the British, and civil war had broken out in Lebanon.  So, just as their own oil supplies were becoming depleted, Bahrain was able to step in and replace Beirut as the banking center at the heart of the booming Persian Gulf.  However, though everyone claimed it to be "the Hot Spot of the Middle East", that is not really how it appeared to us when we first arrived.  To us it just looked, well, hot!

Monday, April 18, 2011


One of many get-togethers organized during our brief time at home.
Dearest Friends,

How can I describe our first annual home leave, other than to say "It was the best of times.  It was the worst of times."  It was: major jet lag, mild nausea, exhausted days and sleepless nights; hopping from Dallas to Odessa to Austin to Houston, with constant packing and unpacking; greeting friends and loved ones ecstatically one moment, then saying tearful goodbyes the next; trying to divide our time evenly between parents and in-laws, and between each of the siblings and grandparents, so that no one got their nose out of joint; eating, eating, and more eating; catching up on doctors, dentists and allergists; shopping, shopping, and more shopping, while trying to guess what all we might need over the next year, in a place we'd never been to and which we knew nothing about, then trying to fit it all into our designated number of bags while keeping under the allotted weight.

Mostly, it was wondering how things could have possibly changed so much, in the short time that we were away?  For instance, when did all the normal foods in the grocery stores get replaced by all these "convenience" products, and when did all the traditional beauticians get replaced by young blow-gun-wielding "stylists" who didn't have a clue how to handle my curly hair? (see photo above)

It was terrible.  It was wonderful.  We thought it would never end.  It was over in the blink of an eye.

Friday, April 15, 2011


Some of the rattan furniture we ordered in Singapore.

Dearest Friends,

Before we headed home to Texas, John had arranged for a most wonderful treat--three days in Singapore!  I was absolutely giddy with excitement.

We caught the 3:00 flight out of Jakarta, checked into the Singapore Hilton, then headed straight for the Harbour Grill restaurant there in the hotel.  I'd been salivating for some of their buttery lobster, and Caesar salad prepared table-side, ever since John told me where we were headed.  Afterwards we went down to the club "Le Bistro" to listen to a bit of music (so glamorous compared to the only bar in Cilegon!) before turning in for the night.

The next morning John had to go into the B&R office to take care of some paperwork, but we met for lunch at the outdoor cafe on the roof of our hotel.  Next it was furniture shopping!  Or, to be more precise, furniture ordering.  There was one company that specialized in rattan furniture, and so many of the B&R families had ordered from them that they knew all the ins and outs of getting it added to our sea shipment when it stopped there in Singapore, to be combined with others that were heading for Bahrain.  We just sat there flipping through photo albums, saying "We'll take one of these, and one of these.  Ooh!  And what about one of these?"  And, of course, it was all dirt cheap compared to what it would've cost us back in the states -- especially since John's company was shipping it for us.  After that I went to a beauty salon (for the first time in months!), then we had dinner at our favorite Chinese restaurant, The Bamboo House.  How embarrassing to glance over at the table next to ours, and realize that we had ordered twice as many dishes as that family of four!  We couldn't help it though.  It had been so long since we had eaten anything like this, and everything on the menu sounded sooo good.  We finished off the evening at a disco called "Barbarella", of all things!

The next day, we had another exciting mission.  After we got engaged, I sent John some pictures of the china, crystal, pewter and stainless that I was thinking about registering for.  When he saw that most of my china choices were from Noritake, he told me not to register for that.  He said he knew of a special place in Singapore where we could get it really cheap, and this way we would get more of the other things we needed.  When he said that the Noritake place was "special", he wasn't kidding.  It was like no other store I had ever experienced.  In fact, it was more like going on a treasure some grandma's attic...with boxes and crates and loose dishes stacked the ceiling!  Right away I fell in love with this sort of 60's flower child pattern with, of course, lots of color on it (I have a thing for color, you know) but it took us several hours before we managed to scrounge together place settings for twelve and all the serving pieces, and arranged for it to be packed and shipped.  What an adventure!  John was so worn out afterwards, he had to go get a massage.  That evening we returned to Harbour Grill and Le Bistro, where we ran into some people John knew.  They then took us to an authentic Chinese dance hall.  Two adventures in one day!

Friday was our last day there, and while John went back to the office for a few hours, I decided I would get my first (and as it turns out, my last) massage.  For one thing, I thought it hurt like hell, and I couldn't understand how anyone found that relaxing.  For another, I have never been all that comfortable being nude with strangers.  Last, but not least, my little shrimp of a masseuse was working on the back of my thighs when she suddenly says "Oooh!  Mrs. has very tiny waist, but veeeerrrry big 'ties'!"  Well.  Thank you for pointing that out.  We have a plane to catch, so I think I'll be going now.

After a final lunch at the rooftop cafe, we boarded our flight for the states.  Twenty seven hours later, at 3:00 AM their time, we came stumbling into the Dallas airport.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011


Dearest Friends,

The last of our straggling birthday and Christmas packages from the states finally arrived in early February.  A good thing, since that's when we received a telex from the office in Bahrain.  They had a position for John, and they wanted him there by April 1st.  What is more, they wanted us to go ahead and take our annual month-long home leave before we got there.  I did the math in my head, and when I realized that meant we only had three or four weeks left in Indonesia, I almost collapsed.  Yes, I was excited about possibly going back to work, meeting new people, and furnishing our first real home, but was I really ready to leave this place, and these people, forever?  I'd only been here eight months, and there was so much I'd yet to see and do!  Though John had been there once, before we got married, I'd still never been to Bali!  Imagine living in Indonesia, and never even going to Bali.  Heck, I never even made it out of Cilegon!

I. Plays Host
The next few weeks were a mad blur of taking inventory (how did we ever accumulate so much, in such a short period of time?), cleaning out trunks, and in deciding what needed to be sent ahead in our air freight shipment (I ask you, which is more important, cooking equipment or electronics?), what needed to be bought in Singapore and sent by sea, what we would need to pack in our suitcases in order to get by during our month of travel, and what could be given away.  If only I'd known how many times I'd have to go through this throughout our marriage, would we have bought so much stuff? (my hubby would give a resounding "Yes!") Would we have let ourselves get that close to people, that fast? (less and less with every move)  Oh yes, and there were parties to be attended!  Lots and lots of parties!

Kicking back with I & I, after an amazing good-bye dinner.
The movers came to pack up our air shipment (we never could agree, so we sent a little of each) on the 19th.  On the 24th Miss F. had a big luncheon for all the women, as a going away for me, and a welcoming for Miss P., who'd just finally returned.  On the 25th there was a pizza dinner at Young S's house, and on the 27th we went to an unbelievable dinner at the home of I&I.  If I'd known what an amazing cook she was, I would have been hanging out at her place every day, to see what I could learn! Ere then, I had no clue that some people actually heated their dinner plates in the oven, before placing the food on them, and chilled their salad plates!  And that dessert!  I remember it to this day: multiple thin layers of crunchy-sweet meringue, with pillows of whipped cream and syrupy fruit sandwiched between!  Oh, and the soundtrack I still hear from this? It's definitely Gloria Gaynor.  I & I were mad for Gloria Gaynor.  On the 28th one of the bachelors, Infamous A., actually cooked dinner for us (equally impressive in its own way) then had the entire community over for a party afterwards.

The next day the packers came to get the rest of our stuff, and I went to card club for the very last time.  They had a special prize for me, even though I didn't win that day -- a small brass paperweight, shaped like one of the little green lizards that watched over my bed that very first night in Indonesia, and which I'd eventually grown rather fond of.

 The following morning we were delighted to find that I. had sent his air conditioned car and driver to take us all the way to Jakarta, where we would then catch a plane to Singapore.  Much better than being on one of those VW busses, I assure you, but hard to appreciate when I was so distracted by thoughts of what I was leaving behind.  What if I never saw any of these people again?  What if I never, ever lived anyplace near as beautiful as this again?  Had I made the most of my time while I was here?  For three hours, I listen to the soundtrack in my head - Gloria Gaynor singing Never Can Say Good-Bye...

Monday, April 11, 2011


 I was not a great cook when we got married, much to John's surprise.  After all, he'd married a Home Ec. major, right?  Unfortunately for him, my specialty was Clothing & Textiles, not Nutrition, which meant I had to take organic chemistry (home ec. being a B.S. degree at that time) but not any cooking classes.  I hadn't picked up much from my mother either, for though she loved to bake, when it came to putting dinner on the table night after night, let's just say, her heart wasn't really in it.  So, she used every convenience product they came up with, and we ate out.  A lot.

Well, my heart was in it, but when it came to cooking from scratch (what other choice did I have?) my only experience was when it was my turn to cook at the co-op I lived in those last two years of college.  I had collected a few good recipes there, but they were mostly stews and casseroles that served 20 or 30 people!  Soooo, my only choice was to pay very close attention to the women around me.  Whenever we were invited to someone's house for dinner, I'd take note of those things John really liked, then I'd go back later to get the recipe, and maybe even a cooking lesson.  You had to be careful with my hubby though, because he wasn't always 100% honest about what he liked and didn't.
Miss N. (right) and two of the wives from Louisiana, who all knew a thing or two about cooking!
Back when we lived at the beach, one of our neighbors was Miss N., and to welcome us, she brought over a big bowl of still-warm, home-made banana pudding.  The next time John ran into her, he thanked her and told her it was very good.  What she didn't know was that he was basing that opinion upon my report, for he wouldn't touch banana pudding with a ten-foot pole!  She brought him a big ol' bowl of it almost every week, from then on.  

Later, when we had all moved into houses, N. & L. had us over for supper one night, and she served us a very simple cucumber salad.  The salads I grew up on were always iceberg lettuce with bottled dressing, so I was shocked by how much I loved this simple country salad -- even more shocked when John took two or three helpings!  In fact, that salad might just have been the catalyst -- the thing that opened my eyes to what it meant to eat real food -- and I still use that recipe on a regular basis, to this very day.

The other thing that improved my cooking immeasurably was a book.  It was kind of like one of those Junior League or church circle cookbooks, but it was published by a chapter of the American Women's Association.  It was put together by women who were living in S.E. Asia at the time, and not only did they give you their favorite recipes, they also taught you how to substitute, improvise, or make from scratch the many, many things that weren't available locally, and, how to prepare some of the yummy local dishes that weren't going to be available once we went home -- the single best purchase I ever made!

Miss N.'s Onion and Cucumber Salad

Combine 1/2 c. white vinegar, 1/2 c. water, 2 tablespoons of sugar, and 1/4 teaspoon salt in a small bowl.  Whisk together until the sugar and salt have dissolved completely.

Slice two small or one large cucumber very thinly and place in a medium bowl.  (Peel it first if you like, or just run the tines of a fork down it, all the way around).  Add 1/2 onion, thinly sliced.  Pour dressing over the vegetables and stir to combine.  Cover and chill in refrigerator for a couple of hours before serving.

Friday, April 8, 2011


Precious Little K., trying John's hat on for size.
Dearest Friends,

One couple, M. & C., had brought two daughters with them to Indonesia -- a small one, about 5, and an older one, S., who was about 15, I think.  There was no school there for S. to attend, but B&R had hired a doctoral student, wishing to do some research, to sort of homeschool any kids over 5 that were there.  Unfortunately for poor S., I was closer to her age than any of the other kids, and the schoolwork didn't take up near enough of her time, so she fell into the habit of dropping by to visit at least once or twice a day.

One day John had only just left for work when she showed up, banging on our door, and the news wasn't good.  The night before, her parents had invited R., E., and little K. over for dinner.  After the meal, the adults visited downstairs, and the two little ones went upstairs to play.  Our townhouses had a sitting area on the upper landing, surrounded by an open railing about waist high.  Little K. decided to climb on it or lean through it, or something, to wave to his parents, lost his grip, and fell to the floor below.

According to young S., they were all terribly relieved when little K. managed to stand up, but then his father grabbed him and started shaking him, yelling "Didn't I tell you not to climb on that?"  He didn't stop until C. came over and grabbed him, saying "E!  Stop!  Look at his arm!  We've got to get him to a doctor!"  Of course, that meant driving that poor baby all the way to Jakarta, on those horrible bumpy roads, with a compound fracture in his arm, then driving all the way back the next evening.  The following morning they woke up to discover that his hand was turning blue, and realized that the arm would have to be re-set.  They may have taken him back to the same hospital, but if I remember right, they actually flew him to Singapore the second time.  Anyway, this time they got it right, thank heavens!

A  few weeks later we were at a party, and John must have been a wee bit tipsy, 'cause I caught him looking all googly-eyed at someone's baby.  You could have knocked me over with a feather when he suddenly asked me, "When are we gonna get one of those?"  Well, I was tickled to death to know that he was looking forward to being a father, but perhaps you'll understand why I had to say "Not until we're safely back in The States, with good doctors, and less vermin!"  Of course, if I'd had any clue what we'd have to go through, or how very long it would take, before we finally held our first child in our arms, I might've dragged him away from the party right then and there, and insisted that we get to work on it immediately!

Wednesday, April 6, 2011


Dearest Friends,

At last we have reached the point in this saga where my memory gets some assistance.  Did I mention that, when clearing out my closet in the townhouse, I found a box of old diaries?  Only, calling this a diary would be a bit of a stretch.  Agenda is probably a better word, for though I wrote down everything I did each day, I never said anything about how I felt, or what I thought!  Too bad.

Me and Young S -- sadly for her, I was the closest thing to a girl her age!
I can tell you what I'm thinking now, though, as I read back through those first few months of 1976.  I'm thinking "Geeze Louise!  My days were a whole lot more boring than I remembered!"  See what you think:

Friday, January 9
Went to exercise group at N.'s house, but no one else showed up, so I came back home and worked on my macrame projects.  Ate lunch, then did macrame some more.  M&C's daughter S came down to visit a couple of times.   The electricity and water went off, so I took a nap.  Did some needlepoint, then finished one of the macrame plant holders.  Fixed pepper steak for dinner.  John developed some film and I started the other hanging basket, then we gave each other pedicures.

The Bandung Man
Here's one of my more exciting days:
Wednesday, January 28
Washed and rolled my hair, then sat under the dryer.  Spent the morning waiting for the Bandung Man and getting ready for Conversation Group, which met here today.  It went pretty well, but there was a lot of food left over.  Fixed shrimp for dinner.  Got a letter from D.  We've had no water upstairs for about 2 weeks, which means hauling buckets up from the kitchen to flush the toilet or take a bath.  All the electricity in the neighborhood went off after dinner, so we went up to Dayeah Kuring for a coke.  Came home and John packed for his trip out to the barge tomorrow.

Speaking of shrimp, I wonder if this was the night I dipped them in that special beer batter recipe before frying them.  I was so proud of myself!  I went on and on about it at dinner, asking John "Doesn't that taste amazing?  Didn't that beer make a huge difference?"  Only, when I went to put the leftovers away, there was my little container of beer batter, still sitting in the fridge, brewing!  Well, if I didn't dip them in beer batter, what did I dip them in?  As it turns out, leftover pancake batter fries up pretty well.
Another Door-to-Door Salesperson
Hope I haven't disillusioned you too much, about my exciting life abroad.  Another thing I can tell you is that, no one is more creative than a bunch of bored expatriate women.  If there's not much to do where we are, then we will make our own fun.  That is how we ended up with a bowling league, coffee group, exercise group, card club, sewing circle, conversation group, etcetera, etcetera.  It wasn't bad, but perhaps you'll understand why I sometimes felt, oh, I don't know, useless?  And then maybe you'll understand why I got so excited, when John whispered the rumor that we might be trading our tropical island, before long, for a desert island in the Persian Gulf.  How could that be a good thing, you ask?  Well, in Bahrain, B&R's people were living in a real city, along with lots of other people from lots of different countries and companies.  And they lived in real houses, of their own choosing, with real furniture and household goods of their very own.  Best of all, the wives were allowed to drive...and get jobs ... and they weren't required to have maids!

Tuesday, April 5, 2011


Dearest Friends,

Here are a couple of new photos, courtesy of Miss P.

This "Holiday Inn" sign was one of the photos John sent to me in his "Welcome to Indonesia" packet, only I'm pretty sure it was mounted on a post in the ground in his photo, and it was in front of a much shabbier-looking building.  I was so gullible at the time (some would say I still am) that I believed it was the real deal, and thought, if that was what their Holiday Inns looked like, the rest could be very, very scary!

Monday, April 4, 2011


Princess D. and her Umbrella

Dearest Friends,

You'll never guess who I got a lovely long letter from yesterday! Remember my friend Miss P., from this earlier post?  Well, she was kind enough to share some of her memories of this time and place with me, and even a few photos, so now I'm going to share them with you.  Enjoy!

Miss P. Shops for a Broom

I have been enjoying so much your memories of Indonesia -  just haven't had time to comment.  It made me get out all my old photos and I even had a sharing session with (daughter) Becky when she visited.

There were a lot of new marriages among us in those days.  I agree that even though some broke under the pressure, for most of us it made us stronger.  There was no running home to mama complaining about what "he" did.  To this day there are references that only Boss B. gets - "this looks like a queue at a railroad crossing in Indonesia".

It felt a little like pioneering.  Who would guess that a house in Cilegon with a kitchen would be such a thrill?  I remember one time in Malaysia that frozen strawberries came in to Mrs. Yap's (the grocery store that catered to expats). One lady happened to be there and bought them all - boy, was her name mud when everyone else found out.  Another time in Singapore, 3 of us bought a $6.00 Georgia peach and shared it right there in the store.  I had to cook from scratch back then.  Sadly, processed foods have gradually made major inroads over the years in the States.

A Beca Ride for Miss P.
Oh yes, bowling, legs eleven, and whist.  I remember it well.  Have often wished I could remember the rules to Whist.  We had such an active social life with no TV or movies.  Volleyball and dinner parties and some really fun Christmases.  I think you left before BM set up his putt-putt golf course at the yard.

I also hated servants - one of the major reasons that Jakarta was one of my least favorite places to live, although I admit I didn't want to mop those vast marble floors.  I found a two story house helped a lot.  When they were up, I was down and vice versa. I really treasured the luxury of driving myself when I got back here.  Reminds me of when we were in Jakarta and the wives had to share a company van.  Sounds simple, but what a complicated mess.  The first plan was that each wife would get it one day, but doctor's appointments took precedence. Mysteriously some people's appointments were always on other people's days.  The next plan was the van would go to a different shopping place each day, but that failed as well.  I am sure we drove some male office manager batty.

Speaking of transportation.  You left out the narrow gauge steam train that traveled near the road way.  I remember those grass hut gas stations where everything was in cans.  When we returned to Indonesia for our second tour, all the structures were made out of cinder blocks with tile roofs.  I know it was better for the locals, but I missed the look of those woven bamboo homes.

Southern accents - when I would go home for a visit, apparently my accent got thicker.  Had one British lady say, "Pat, you don't talk like tha . . at.

Attached are a couple of photos of me in the market and my favorite of Princess D.  She didn't have access to a car and talked naive me into requesting one to go up to the natural springs in the hills.  On the way it started to rain and she showed me how to use a local umbrella.  "All you need is a large leaf."  The cart photo was when Miss F. was showing me the ropes.

Keep it coming.  You express it so beautifully.

And remember, Krakatoa is west of Java (unlike the movie).

Miss P."

P.S. Miss Becky here!  For some reason, I had no memory of that train, so I asked John about it.  He said "Yeah, I remember it!  I tried to take pictures of it several times, but every time I sent my roll of film off to be developed, it would come back with all the pictures of the train missing.  I guess the government was censoring them -- maybe they thought we were trying to steal their technology!"


Dearest Friends,

I've been busy all morning turning a lovely letter and photos, from a long lost friend, into a special guest post for you all to enjoy.  I'm just waiting for final permission to push the magic "publish" button.  Wish me luck!

Oh yeah, in case you're wondering who it was from, think "role model"!

Sunday, April 3, 2011


Dearest Friends,

To me, this is the wonder of Indonesia: the grace and beauty seen in simple, everyday activities...



  ...whilst being surrounded by the epic magnificence of nature.