(For Part 1 to this story, go here.)
We are in the year 1965 and have been aboard the SS Canberra for about two weeks, having sailed from Perth, Western Australia.
Leaving the squalor of Colombo, Sri Lanka behind, we boarded the ship and headed for the tip of the Arabian peninsula, a voyage of several days. Upon docking in the city of Aden, a port city in Yemen, I remember remarking at the sameness of the landscape and cityscape — all a desert sand color. We children were not allowed to go ashore, so we stayed behind and kept ourselves busy while our parents disembarked for, I suppose, a day of shopping in the suqs. (I don’t particularly remember questioning why we had to stay on board the ship; I suspect I didn’t question nearly as much then as I do now.)
What followed was a voyage up the Red Sea, from south to north. I remember someone pointing out Mt. Sinai in the distance to the east, and that is the closest I have come to Israel (so far). Our ship then made its way through the Suez Canal to the port city of Alexandria. (I wish I had known then what I do now about that city and the prominent place it once held in civilization.) We somehow ended up in Cairo, where I remember feeling nauseated as we made our way by bus through the hot, narrow streets. I remember only that about the city itself, but as sketchy as my memory is, no 9-year-old can ever forget a camel ride in the desert or climbing the stifling inner staircases of the Giza pyramids.
Our last leg on the SS Canberra took us from Alexandria across the Mediterranean to the Italian port of Naples. I’m sure it was with some regret that we said farewell to the vessel that had been our home for the last three weeks. Whatever stomach bug I had picked up in Egypt followed me to Italy, and I unfortunately had to stay in the hotel with my mother while the rest of the family visited Mt. Vesuvius and the ruins of Pompeii. (I still haven’t made it back there.)
Wherever we went, whether in Asia, the Middle East, or Europe, I remember being enthralled as a nine-year-old with the chatter I heard coming out of people’s mouths. This was my first exposure to foreign language, and my mother told me later that I would walk along the streets babbling as if I were speaking the language of the locals. This fascination has not only continued, but shaped my life more than that of any of my siblings.
After Rome, a whirlwind tour through Europe by train.
To be continued….
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