Log Cabin Chronicles

A U.S. foreign service brat remembers

old friends
Old friends together again

Anita Donohoe, daughter of a US intelligence officer, grew up overseas as a foreign service brat. There were thousands of 'brats' -- children of U.S. military and foreign service personnel -- who shared intense experiences in far-off places, loved one another, and then dispersed, never to meet again. Or so they thought. The two men in the photograph -- the one on the left is her brother Rick -- were best friends when they graduated from Ankara High School in 1962, and both joined the U.S Marines upon returning to the States. In July 2000, they met for the first time in four decades in Texas. Here's Anita's story...

Rancho San Julian
6000 San Julian Road
Lompoc, California 93436

First posted 08.08.00
Updated 10.18.04

When my father reentered my life in 1954 and invited my mother to join him in Afghanistan, my fondest wish to visit a foreign land was granted.

Although my brothers grumbled, she accepted. We moved into a sprawling house, surrounded by gardens, a high wall, and a staff of eleven. My father was an intelligence officer in the US Foreign Service, which meant my brothers and I were foreign service brats.

For my seventh birthday, my father gave me a bright red push-scooter that had a bell, a seat, and tires that really went flat. I was given the freedom to go off on my own, exploring the cobblestone streets of Kabul. I was content to live at the end of the world, where even the food and fragrances were different from what I had known all my life.

After Kabul, we lived in a farmhouse outside Washington DC. I was sent to a parochial school, where I refused to be confirmed. I just didn't see much difference between the Catholic religion and what I'd been exposed to in Afghanistan. Besides, I couldn't say the Apostle's Creed and believe it. The nuns couldn't argue with that.

We left Virginia for the intense heat of Jeddah, in Saudi Arabia, where we would spend the next two years.

It was while camping deep in the Saudi desert that my father's Lebanese hunting buddy lured me into a water hole and wouldn't let me out until I proved I could tread water. Little fish nibbling at my toes inspired me to catch on quickly.

After that, my father supplied all of us with flippers, masks, and snorkels and took us skin diving in the visually rich coral reefs of the Red Sea.

1959, we moved to Turkey, where we remained until my late father retired from government intelligence in 1967.

As he had in Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia, my father insisted we learn the language, eat local food, and get to know the people. This time I ended up with two sets of friends; Turk and American teens didn't mingle much.

When I was 15, the Americans didn't have much to do with me because I dated a Turk. Fortunately, that attitude had changed by the time I left. Ankara was our first tour of duty to offer a large community of American dependents, mostly Air Force.

Tours of duty were 18 months. We had our own school, located in downtown Ankara. Between people leaving and new arrivals, the student body held steady at about 200. Those of us who were in for a long tour envied those returning to the States, never dreaming we'd lose touch.

It took much less than 18 months to form strong bonds as we rode the Blue Bus and attended school together. Air Force buses ran on a regular schedule, taking us from our homes to school to the Armed Forces Exchange (AFEX) snack bar, the service club, and Lake Golbashi during the summer. Riding the bus was a social event, and we rarely went anywhere without friends.

When we didn't ride the buses, we were taking taxis for a mere iki buchook (two-and-a-half Turkish Lira) to meet downtown for a Turkish meal or the Pic Nic for a beer. There was no age limit for alcohol or tobacco in those days.

Well, you did have to be 16 before you were issued a ration card for cigarettes.

Anita DonohoeWe had school dances, slumber parties, and gathered at our friends' houses where the hosting parents would spike the punch, provide snacks, and leave us to our own devices. We gloried in our independence, our ability to have fun, never noticing how much we depended on each other.

My turn to say goodbye came in 1965, when I moved to a boarding school in California. Contact with Ankara came to a close. I was fortunate that my boarding school had a large international population. I knew I was an American, but I didn't feel like one.

Growing up in the Middle East had made me different somehow, and I just didn't fit. It was the international students who made me feel at home. Unlike their American classmates, they didn't blink an eye when I told them I'd learned to swim in a water hole in the middle of the Saudi desert.

In '92, I received a stunning phone call. The voice of a long-lost friend informed me that I'd been "found" and that I was invited to an Ankara High School reunion to be held in Dallas that summer.

Disbelief was impossible; I knew this voice. I flew to Dallas. I arrived on a Friday.

The hardest drinking, heaviest smoking, most exuberant crowd I'd ever been exposed to drank the hotel dry by midnight.

Normally, I stay away from crowds -- memories of riots and revolutions happening before my eyes were too vivid, but we were actually recognizing each other. I felt safe, welcome.

Bodies had weathered, but the eyes and the smiles were the same. Here were people reentering my life whom I'd thought lost to me, friends with whom I'd bonded as a teen living in a faraway land. My life would never be the same.

Our second Ankara High School Reunion was held in '96, again in Dallas but in a bigger hotel. Why Dallas? We are spread all over the world, Dallas is easy to reach, and the rates are good when the season is sticky. This time, my high school sweetheart was there.

In July 2000, I flew to Dallas for the third time to join more than 400 American dependents who had attended high school in Ankara, Turkey between 1953 - 1979. The occasion was AnkaraReunion2000: The Millennium Party.

Since I had been to the previous two Ankara High School reunions, I arrived this time thinking it could not have the intense emotional impact I experienced at the first one in '92. However, there were several small moments of reunion so meaningful my eyes would fill. I came away feeling loved.

It was a deeply moving moment when my brother Rick and his best buddy Rich met each other's eyes for the first time in 38 years. They were the best big brothers any sisterless girl could wish for. They looked out for me until I reached my mid-teens, when they graduated from high school and left Ankara to join the Marines.

Early Sunday evening, two newly found old friends and I made our way to the local Turkish restaurant for dinner. The food was excellent, and there were just three of us, making for good conversation.

However, Cafe Istanbul didn't have sugar cubes.

I have vivid memories of placing two sugar cubes in the rim of the glass. The hot tea would cool as I sipped through the slowly dissolving sugar, the last sip unbearably sweet. The idea of no sugar cubes was enough to make me pass on a glass of after-dinner tea.

That would be like a cup of Turkish coffee with no mud at the bottom. No fortune to tell.

By Monday, my contribution to the cacophony generated by 500 exuberantly emotional people, conversing in a shout with dear friends I hadn't seen since the early '60s, laughter, and lack of sleep had muted my voice. Dallas was miserably hot, but spirits were high as we celebrated our lives in Ankara, where everything we did we did together.

The three major reunions have inspired several minis throughout the US, and our old friendships are very much alive and thriving.

My life has been powerfully enhanced.

Anita DonohoeAnita Donohoe was a foreign service brat in Kabul, Afghanistan 54-55; Jeddah, Saudi Arabia 57-59; Ankara, Turkey 59-65; and lived in Athens and Volos, Greece, from 73-76. She currently makes her home on an old family ranch in California where she participates in ranch management, lures her cousin's cows to eat apples from her hand and crop the grass around the house, indulges in macro photography and plays her mountain dulcimer. She has several photographs on exhibit here.


Copyright © 2004 Anita Donohoe/Log Cabin Chronicles/10.04