"A Dependent Remembers" by Mrs. H

I was in Kagnew from 1963 to 1967(age 9-12), and by military standards at the time that was a long period of childhood in one place for a dependent. I have never forgotten Kagnew Station.

I think the reunions are a wonderful idea. I am certain all of those who knew each other so many years ago enjoy them. I like the idea of the auction as well. Where are all those rugs sold outside the main gate? Where are all the Ethiopian baskets? Are there any jackets all decorated with the map of Africa on the back? Where are the flags they sold outside the main gate? Why can’t I remember the name of the Ethiopian guard who was always at the front gate?

I have yet to see anyone on the Kagnew Station web site in my age group that I am able to remember. I chipped a tooth running into someone's head on the playground at school but I simply can not remember who had a head that hard. In my class, 5th grade I believe, there was a deaf girl; no I don't remember her name either. By now you can guess I am horrible at remembering names. If I attend a reunion it is possible I would not know a soul.

I remember the days of SRU, camel rides, picnics, and the long and winding road. How many children growing up only in the States ever learned what a switchback is? I still try to imagine how big the ants were that made those giant ant hills. People in the States have never seen a real ant hill. How many children in the States ever rode on camel? A vivid memory is of a man sitting on the side of the street covered in flies. Christmas may not have had snow, but it had the most beautiful manger scene outside SRU-9. Did anyone take a picture of the manger scene?

The Shah of Iran was one of the visitors I saw. Queen Elizabeth was another. One thing is certain, it is always a long wait on the side of the road before they pass by. Hallie Selassie was really small. I was told Hallie Selassie’s dog was his food taster. Nothing quite like VIP visitors to get an entire city cleaned, painted and fixed up. No, this was no typical childhood.

Our maid, Anasanta, used to warn me, rather often, "Mommy itch chu!" She was trying to warn me that what I was doing was so out of bounds that my mom would spank me. One day Anasanta was gone. I never got to say goodbye. Anasanta’s brother had talked with the Soviets. I am certain I do not have to explain that to anyone who was at Kagnew.

I lived two years off base. The Ethiopians paved the street in front of my home off base. It took them over a year to complete the street. I watched over the months as the workers laid the foundation for the road by beating boulders into place using only hammers. I remember the smell of chlorine and how water was turned off part of the time. Water came in five gallon cans. My memory still races with thoughts of high walls and the broken glass cemented on the top, and the iron gates with spikes on the top with the slips of papers left in the gate by the night guard. To the adults the walls may not have been considered high, but to me as a child they appeared to be very high.

Kagnew was less restrictive than Vint Hill Farms Station. I mean, from a child's perspective, Vint Hill had more fences within the outer fence than Kagnew Station. Kagnew Station was the opposite. Kagnew’s sites were without, so much of its additional fencing was outside the outer fence. These fences would be permanently etched in my mind as the fences within and the fences without. As an adult I struggled a bit with the residue related to the fences within and without, but that’s another story.

On one side of my home, when we lived off base, just over the wall was an Ethiopian construction yard. The Staples sponsored our family. Two of the three Staples girls were twins. The Fulkerson's were friends. My daughter was named after one of the kids I met at Kagnew. I have not bumped into any of these names at the Kagnew station web site.

Children were protected. I was told Shifties were bandits, not that they were ELF. Keren was a delightful paradise for a child. Do you know how few American’s have petted a gazelle? Sometimes us children would hear things, like the time I heard about the EM who was quickly shipped home after he shot an Ethiopian in the eye with a bb gun. Was I the only child living among spooks who developed good ears!

A black high school student, lived across from us on the second floor of the new housing that was across from the football field, but his name escapes me. Shall I share a secret or two? We were not supposed to crawl out the stairway window and get on the roof over the door, but we did. My favorite hiding place was to slide (yes, I was skinny) between the packing crate that was under the stairs and the wall. The worst thing I ever did as a child was start a fire in the park at Fort Mommoth, but I didn't get caught, the boy that was with me got caught. The MPs drove him around the base for the longest time, but he never was able to remember where I lived. I lived right next door to him. He was a good friend. It wasn't a big fire, just cut grass we put into piles and lit with a match. (Wouldn’t surprise you to know my parents disowned me would it?) One boy at Kagnew added lighter fluid to a bbq grill when I was living on base and set himself on fire. I guess I wasn’t the only dependent who was curious about fire.

I can't help but wonder what the reunions are like for dependents. Are some dependants like me, unique creations instead of shining examples of perfection?

Wow, have I wandered! I was thinking of going to the Kagnew reunion, but I’m worried about going as well. I never was one of those Leave It To Beaver kids. If I do not know anyone, will the wonderful common things known only to Kagnew dependents and adults make meeting those from Kagnew Station easier? Since I was at Kagnew for four years, in some ways Kagnew represents home to me. I can never go home. Perhaps a reunion might be close to home.

Mrs. H


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©Copyright Rick Fortney 1998 All Rights Reserved