It will be six more years before I have spent as many fourth of July’s in the United States as I have overseas.
In capitals like Islamabad and Cairo, the celebrations were a highlight of our year. Free food and entertainment combined with celebratory fireworks and raffle prizes were enjoyed by all passport holders. Our children loved the chance to meet with friends and eat the uniquely American fare of hamburgers and hotdogs coupled with canned soda and topped off by ice cream cups.
In Islamabad the parties were held at the large compound that housed the American club and pool. As life has become increasingly more precarious for Americans living in Pakistan, I have no doubt the celebrations are far more low-key if at all. Cairo’s venue was Cairo American College, the large international school compound and hundreds came to these events.
One of my best memories came in the summer of 1992. We had received news of the death of my maternal grandmother only days before the 4th of July. She was my only living grandparent and a compassionate soul who deeply loved all of her grandchildren. My mom and dad had left Pakistan after making it their home for 35 years in December of 1988 to be closer to her, knowing that her earthly body was declining and longing to be near her during the remaining time she had left. On news of her death I experienced a deep longing for family. Coupled with that I had given birth to my fourth child, a baby girl, just six month before. The only relatives who had met this personality-filled baby were my sister-in-law Terry and my niece, Christi-Lynn. With a tiny, still breast-feeding baby in my arms and three other small children, I wanted the comfort of blood relatives but knew that the trip was financially impossible.
It was during this time that we packed up our young family and set off by foot to the large 4th of July party. There my sadness was in temporary reprieve as our kids got their faces painted, ate hotdogs until they were sick and played with friends.
There was also a raffle. Companies like Coca-Cola, Pepsi, and Swiss Air had donated large prizes like nights in hotels, and free airline tickets to the lucky ticket holders.
At the time my husband was taking a summer Arabic course at the American University in Cairo. He had befriended other classmates, some American, who had come to our home to escape the inevitable culture shock that had overtaken them. He told them about the “Free party on the 4th!” and as a result a couple of them had come. They were on their way back to “real Cairo” when they saw Cliff and asked him if he wanted their raffle tickets. Realizing that he would lose nothing, he took them and so we had in our possession 8 tickets.
You know the rest of the story before I put it down – Yes, we won. Not one prize but two. The first was a breakfast at the Marriot Hotel in Zamalek, renowned for its amazing morning spread. The second? A round-trip airline ticket, generously donated by Swiss Air from Cairo to my choice of anywhere in the continental United States.
To say I was over the moon does not adequately describe my excitement, or gratefulness. I felt in that time when I needed to know my heart was heard, God with great grace gave me a free pass. Like I was losing at a game of Life, only to land on a “Win a TV Game Show, Collect $100,000!” only this was real.
While other 4th of July celebrations have come my way, each holding their share of beautiful fireworks, fun foods, and a grudging recognition that it is one holiday where I proudly carry my U.S. passport, none will ever come close to that day when God met me at an expatriate celebration.
- Marty’s Balcony (communicatingacrossboundariesblog.com)