Saturday, March 17, 2007

International Relations

In the mid-1960s, my family moved to a suburb of Oakland, California, for what my parents called our ‘California vacation.’ Two years later we moved to Pittsburgh, Pa. Thirty years later, I revisited the Bay Area with a close friend.

We sought a lunch spot in San Francisco’s Chinatown, and one block seemed hauntingly familiar. I remembered eating Chinese food there with my elementary school Girl Scout troop. Our waiter taught us how to use chopsticks correctly and I tried in vain to pick up bits of chicken and vegetables. But, by the end of the meal, I had abandoned my fork.

My elementary school had a sister school in Japan, so I joined a singing group that learned and performed Japanese songs. I loved to wrap my tongue around the unusual syllables and know my words made sense in another country. I used those words again, a decade later.

While I worked towards a master’s degree in speech pathology, I lived in an international dormitory. As my Japanese roommate moved into our room, an Iranian friend repeated the words of ‘Sakura,’ a popular Japanese song, through the intercom – under my direction. The year I spent living with students from Japan, Quebec, Canada; Micronesia, Thailand, Nigeria, Iran, Iraq and China taught me more about life than anything I’d ever learned in a classroom.

Six years ago, a Pakistani friend from the dorm and I rekindled our friendship via email. He later visited our home and cooked for me, my husband and our teenage daughters.

Last week, my husband and I hosted ambassadors from U.S. embassies in Japan and Pakistan for Sunday dinner. As we talked and laughed throughout the evening, I once again felt at home.

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