On army brats and insular societies.
November 20, 2007
I wonder about army kids. A friend of mine, a major (I think) in the army, has just been deployed to Kyrgyzstan (either that or Azerbaijan… not positive) and… I’m just wondering about his wife and children. I know him from Russian class, where he would make everyone laugh with his accent and bizarre jokes. We’d go out for drinks after class sometimes, a small group of us: me, Boris, this girl Nina who had was covered in tattoos and who had alternately been in publishing, a model, and in a punk band prior to coming to Harvard, and him. A slightly bizarre grouping, but he was always funny with his GI Joe name and take on life.
It was always funny to think of his reality in the army, with a wife (who was NOT happy about his hanging out with girls in their twenties) and two children, both with names equally fit for an action hero. I worry, though, about his wife and children in whatever Central Asian republic he’s been assigned to. The world of army bases is terribly foreign to me, and it’s so strange to think of a community, located in a foreign country, where nothing but English is spoken, and the currency is the dollar. There are schools on the bases, or if the bases are small enough, the students are bussed to the local American school, which is why I went to school with several kids with perfect military haircuts and Midwestern accents, who brought in Twinkies and Fruit-by-the-Foot from the commissary. They didn’t speak a world of Italian, and confined their activities to the base and the company of other American children. Their mothers formed little blonde suburban communities in their houses, yards edged with white picket fences. Driving onto the base was an instant trip to suburban America, located right outside Milan. A creepy contrast.
So then I think about this wife and kids going to Central Asia. This wife who will probably never learn much Russian beyond the words for hello, thank you, and goodbye, and the children, who will spend some of their formative years in one of the most interesting, for its sheer alien-ness, places on Earth… but will learn very little of it. It’s similar to what scared me so very much about Seoul, where the expat community simply did not interact with the locals, except for those who had been educated elsewhere. It’s truly scary how insular expats can be when living abroad.