Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The New Beirut

Tina and Nancy in New Mexico 1974

Voluntary Nomads excerpt "The New Beirut" comes from Chapter 1 of Part One: New Mexico Genesis:

The call came in November 1974, six months after Fred submitted his application, even though it seemed like at least a year had gone by. Fred mouthed the words "State Department" and held the phone up so I could hear too. 

"Congratulations, your application for the position of Communications and Records Officer has been approved and you are assigned to Tehran, Iran." 

Fred's polite response didn't register with me. The expression on his face asked, "What did she say?" 

The woman's voice chirped with good cheer. "Tehran is a marvelous first assignment. You might not know that Beirut used to be considered the Paris of the Middle East, but since the threat of civil war escalated in Lebanon, everyone has been calling Tehran the new Beirut. I've heard that caviar is so plentiful, you'll be spreading it on bread like peanut butter." 

Tehran-Beirut-Paris-Lebanese civil war-Iranian caviar. It was too much to absorb all at once. Fred grabbed my hands and whirled me around the living room in a crazy victory dance. We flopped down on the sway-backed sofa and Fred picked up our tattered National Geographic World Atlas from the coffee table. He opened it to the map of Iran and poked the circled star symbol indicating the capital, Tehran. 

"There it is. That's where we're going -- where we'll be for the next two years." 

Of course our trip didn't follow a straight line. No, our journey from Los Lunas, New Mexico to Tehran, Iran included some hurdles, a couple of detours and several stops along the way. 

A few days after the phone call announcing Fred's assignment we received a hefty packet in the mail giving us guidance on the mechanics of becoming a Foreign Service family. Once we sorted out our belongings into sea freight, airfreight, and storage categories, we had to decide how to get to Washington, DC for Fred's eight-week orientation and training course. We could fly or we could drive. Both choices had advantages and disadvantages, but we chose to drive, in order to have our own car in Washington rather than a rental. With the help of our parents we financed a shiny black 1967 Volkswagen beetle. We loved our new car. It was an incredible improvement over the rattle-trap Plymouth. 

On departure day, Fred folded down the back seat of the VW and I spread out two well-worn flannel-lined sleeping bags. First in, our son Dakota, aged 20 months, followed by our daughter Tina, not quite one year old. They babbled, cooed, gnawed on their teething toys, and took frequent naps. The highway hum and car motion lulled them into a relaxed state that allowed Fred and me to have wonderful long conversations. When Tina wanted to nurse, I swung her into the front seat with me. Dakota snacked on unfiltered apple juice and graham crackers in the backseat play-lounge. Even though a road trip with two toddlers might not be everybody's ideal, it worked for us, and the ease of our maiden voyage foretold the spirit of twenty-odd years of travel to come. 

Somewhere in East Texas, early in the morning of the third travel day, with the rising sun bright in our eyes, I leaned back to see if the glare bothered the babies. They were fine, but I noticed a small empty space on the sleeping bag. For the past hour I'd had that nagging feeling that I'd forgotten something, and now I knew what it was. 

"Oh, dammit, Fred, you have to pull over." 

"What's wrong?" 

"I don't see Baby-Kinsey. You know how Dakota is about his Baby-Kinsey." 

Fred stopped the car on the shoulder and we searched for Dakota's lovey, a baby pillow covered in the soft birds-eye diaper material that he always rubbed across his lips when he was sleepy. I went through everything in the back seat while Fred looked in the suitcases. 

"We must have left her in the motel room," I said. "We have to go back." 

"Are you sure? We'll have to backtrack eighty miles or more." 

Fred closed his eyes for a second, then looked at Dakota and smiled. I nodded. We piled back in the car and Fred made a U-turn for the rescue of Baby Kinsey.

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