“From Mogadiscio To Montauk”
Now that the summer crowds are gone, I can finally hear the ocean’s roar from my front porch in Montauk. While sitting on an old bench swing, I watch how quietly my black Labrador, Princess Penguin Pilaria Pacis from Kauai, stares at a mother and two fawns grazing on our lawn while a rabbit scurries on by. I can’t help but smile at the wonders of nature enjoying the sounds of silence with the anticipation of more quiet days to come.
Under clear blue skies with a but a few scattered clouds, I feel a soft breeze on my face and smell the fresh sea air as I look at the horizon between two trees. The leaves have not turned golden as they should have by now. Oh, how I wish that this warm October day would last forever. Something about the day — the warmth, the feeling of contentment, even euphoria — brings me back to my childhood days in Mogadiscio.
I was only six, the youngest of four siblings, when my father was appointed as the Philippine Representative to the United Nations. Mom, Dad, sister, two brothers and I left our hometown Marikina, a suburb of Manila, Philippines, for New York on May 28, 1956. I remember the date because I celebrated my seventh birthday twice on Pan American Airlines while crossing the International Time Zone. I thought it was odd that I was sung “Happy Birthday” two days in a row but I didn’t mind. I found it fascinating that we gained a day when traveling from the Far East to America. Never in my wildest imagination would I have guessed that three months later I would be living in a big white house in Mogadiscio, Somaliland, East Africa, located across from the Indian Ocean, margined by sand dunes and with a backyard full of bushes and cacti where wild animals roamed freely.
Not knowing what our life would be like in a foreign country, especially Africa, which was considered a hard post, my Mom and Dad reluctantly decided to leave my nineteen-year-old sister and sixteen-year-old brother in the States to continue their schooling. My nine-year-old brother Jose (nicknamed “Joe” by our American friends) and I enrolled in an Italian Elementary School, Scuole Di Corso Italia, since there were no American schools at the time and Somalia was under Italian Colonial Administration.
I remember being picked up at 7:15 AM by a uniformed driver, Abdul, from the United Nations Compound, in a black Ford with diplomatic plates, to arrive at school by 8:00AM, I in my white school dress uniform, Joe in his white shirt and khaki shorts each carrying our brown leather satchel with fountain pen and black notebook called “quaderno” inside. Every morning, the students would line up with their teachers and, with our right hands over our hearts, sing the Italian national anthem followed by the Somalian national anthem. At first my brother and I found school very difficult since we did not know Italian, but we would come to know it well.
School was over at noon and we were brought back home. Mom would be waiting with lunch, often with a Filipino dish called Chicken Adobo that she taught our cook Mohammed how to make. Dad, who worked long hours at the United Nations Compound across the street made a point of eating most meals with us. After lunch, Joe and I would take a short nap, do our homework, and then change into our bathing suits (mine, hand-sewn by our Mom from leftover materials from our curtain, just as in the movie The Sound of Music)and we would go across the street to Lido Beach with our Somalian nanny, Shamura.
Sometimes, Mom would join us. Most of the time Joe and I played with our American friends, Nancy, Larry, Richard, Earl and Susan, our Italian friends Carla and Riccardo and our British friends Lesley and Clive, all accompanied by their nannies. Even though we all spoke different languages, somehow we had no problems communicating.
Unlike Montauk, the water of Lido Beach was always warm, since Mogadiscio’s weather averaged in the low 70s and high 80s all year round. The beach was a haven for families especially with young children because there was a reef that prevented high waves and sharks from rolling in. The sand was as white as Montauk’s with occasional seaweeds and jellyfish with bubbles on top that I loved to step on in my flip-flops to hear pop. One could see miles and miles of beautiful beach and clear blue waters with hardly anyone or anything in sight. I felt like the Indian Ocean was strictly my own.
We played games like potato sack racing, running with a raw egg on a spoon, or Tug-of-War. Most of the time I stayed in the water with my white and green, shaped-like-a-seahorse inflatable ring. Larry and Nancy had a huge inner tube which came from the Sinclair plane their father piloted, and sometimes three or four of us would try to squeeze inside.
One day while swimming, I felt something brush against my legs. I ran screaming like a madwoman out of the water. Shamura came to my rescue by grabbing a handful of wet sand and rubbing it all over my legs to lessen the pain of the jellyfish sting. I still remember that day as if it were yesterday.
Once when Lesley, Nancy and I were making sand castles, I noticed that my gold ring with an aqua marine stone that Carla had given me for my ninth birthday (and which I still have) had slipped from my finger into the sand. We looked and looked and did not find it. Our Mennonite Sunday School teacher Rhoda, who had taught me English, told me to pray very hard. I did, and a few moments later the ring was found. I learned then, the power of prayer and still say the same prayers I was taught as a child by my parents with the exception of changing the name of the countries that Dad was assigned to.
Always when going to the beach, I brought my magic blanket, a colorful flowered bed sheet, which my nanny said would bring us good weather. When my whole family was reunited in New York after four years in Mogadiscio, I bought a similar one of purple and blue-green daisies which I still have today.
My childhood experiences engendered a love of travel. In the thirty years I worked for Delta Airlines, I was never without it. For me, Mogadiscio is the beginning and Montauk is the end, connected by this magical beach blanket.