Strangers in a Strange Land, Part I

Can I think about this?
Our family was living in a dream location – within an hour of idyllic Napa Valley in northern California, on the corridor between San Francisco and Sacramento. Our Travis Air Force Base home was a small, tidy, circa 60s ranch with a carport. Despite the somewhat cramped quarters and our pink tiled bathroom, life was good. We enjoyed friendly neighbors, a picturesque tree-lined street, and arguably one of the safest locations anywhere, the ultimate “gated” community. Moreover, we had found an excellent private Christian school in the area for our girls and a small church nestled in the vineyards of Napa Valley. I was content….at least, that is, until the day my husband came home excited about a new job opportunity.

“What would you think of moving to Turkey?”

In a split second, I processed this unexpected piece of information with what little I knew. Turkey – a Muslim country, the place my arch nemesis, Lt. Bishop, had suggested I volunteer for as my own first air force assignment – a recommendation that I had perceived more as a threat than a bona fide show of support.  (“Miz Lynch, how would you like to go overseas for your first assignment?”  “That would be great!” I responded with visions of quaint English countryside.  “Volunteer for Turkey, you’ll get it.”)

My reaction was immediate and reflexive. “No.”

After all, we had two daughters in tender adolescence, on the cusp of entering high school. I had visions of veils and smothering cultural restrictions, not to mention a dim memory of my own marriage proposal from a taxi driver in Bangkok when I was 14 and living in Thailand with my family for a year.

Unfortunately, David was more enthusiastic than I had seen him in some time. It had been almost a year since he had left his squadron command, his dream job, and the thought of tackling something completely new and challenging more than intrigued him. It was a major career risk, certainly not the safe route to take, but he was always someone who wanted to make a difference, to “move the mission”.  Also, this would be a way to keep our family together, being one of the few places he could serve overseas accompanied and receive short tour credit.  The alternative would be to leave us for a year or more.   I examined my own objections and was ashamed to admit they were largely out of ignorance and fear.

Much like other key junctures in my life, I realized that, while staying put was comfortable, I was potentially shutting the door to a growth opportunity that might be life-changing, not only for me but our family. So, as a family, we decided to take the leap.

David volunteered. Our lives changed course. Within weeks we were sending more of our belongings into storage and made the trek to Monterey, California in June of 2001 for David to spend a year at language school. He would ultimately be working for the Office of Defense Cooperation in Ankara, part of a cross-service team that would partner with the Turkish military on defense challenges – no small job in that volatile part of the world. We lived in former Fort Ord housing, and made the difficult decision to home school our middle-school aged daughters in an attempt to maintain the quality of their education until they attended the small George C. Marshall dependent school in Ankara.

We adjusted to our temporary home; it wasn’t too difficult. Monterey is beautiful, and it was a nice break. Although David worked hard at learning Turkish, we had lots of family time. I was, let’s say, adequate, as a teacher. I had no idea how challenging it is to redefine your parental relationship to one of instructor and student, not to mention discovering how rusty I was in basic science and math knowledge. If you are a home educator, just let me say that you have my undying respect.

“Mom, how do I do this algebraic equation?”

“Um, let me look.” (Brain fills with white fog populated with elusive dancing numbers and abstract symbols.) “Um, how do you think you should approach this?”

“Hmm. Oh, I see. I got it.”

“Great!” (Another potential crisis averted. My eighth grader would get herself through Algebra I, after all.)

Of course I started the year with every intention of learning Turkish myself; I even had my own set of weighty textbooks courtesy of the Defense Language Institute. I’m proud to say that my track record was perfect – the books were in pristine untouched condition at the end of the year. I didn’t even learn the words for “yes” and “no”. Fortunately, David was a star student.

On September 11, I was home with the girls.  It was early morning; I was peacefully enjoying my first cup of coffee.  Abruptly, the phone rang.  Turn on the television, now.  Horrific technicolor images shouted from our screen, shattering all pretense of calm or order —  images of fire, of smoke billowing from towers, of desperate employees and emergency personnel, the lucky ones emerging soot-covered and disheveled from the carnage, then the incredible, unbelievable imploding of those two behemoth structures.  I couldn’t breathe or fully comprehend the enormity of what was happening.   This time it was our country that would change course as we struggled to deal with the aftermath of this brutal attack on our soil. I was fearful, not only for our own nation’s security and future, but for our own as we were preparing to move to the threshold of the middle east in just a few months.  I had no idea what lay ahead.

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