In the mid 1990’s I felt like a hot dog sharing the same plate with chopped suey. I was definitely placed on the wrong menu. I was transported to this “plate” (Okinawa, Japan) by my husband’s military orders. Although I exchanged smiles with the locals, that was the extent of our meaningful communication. Buying anything off-base turned me into a real “mystery shopper.” I would have wrecked driving my car except for an experienced wife’s sage advice: keep your hiney on the white liney. I drove with the steering wheel on the passenger side of the car while manoeuvring around crooked, narrow streets on the side of the road that would send me to jail in the U.S.
No spring chicken to this nomadic life since I’d been a Marine’s wife for thirty years, but I hadn’t bargained for being stationed in the twilight zone. I longed for the familiar – Wal-Mart, CVS, or even Payless Shoes. I dreaded going off the military base and venturing alone into a city where, for the first time in my life, I stood out from everyone else like a Coney Island hotdog in a sushi bar. I was home sick.
I cocooned myself inside our safe on-base quarters. Then one day I saw a new face sitting on the concrete steps of the base house across the street. I walked over to say hello, and I knew she was going to be a friend because she made me laugh. She also laughed at my attempts at humor. When I told her my frustrations or silly mistakes of living in a foreign country, she got me.
We would often call each other with, “Hey, want to go exploring?” One would drive while the other tried to follow a Japanese map. We stopped to eat at places where neither of us knew what we were ordering. We tried everything even if the food was raw, rubbery, and unfamiliar to our American pallets, but we survived with a little Pepto waiting at home. We both socialized with other friends but having her there changed everything about my experiences and memories in the orient. We were never stationed together again before our husbands retired.
You don’t have to live in a foreign country to feel homesick. Since Florida is known to be a melting pot for people all over the world, moving here might seem like the twilight zone to some. Like the other day at the community pool. I looked up from my book and noticed an unfamiliar face. He said, “Hi, I’m Dave. My wife and I just moved here from the southeast coast of Florida.” Several others in the pool heard him; and before long Dave and his wife were invited to the Friday night Happy Hour.
As everyone was getting acquainted, my cell phone rang. I smiled when I recognized the number…my Okinawa friend! Whether it’s across the states or across the oceans…
“True friends are always together in spirit.” L.M. Montgomery