Riots

School had just started. But there were riots in the city and we were at home. They told us to stay on the compound until the riots were over. No going into the city. It was so boring.

Our shipment was still on a boat...or in customs...or something. So no games, no books, none of my stuff. Just the other kids in the compound. There were a lot, but I barely knew them. They were barely my friends. And they all knew each other really well. I hated being new. It's the worst. It's like you're the odd man out every time. Like they have their inside jokes and their routines, and you're just trying to catch up. 

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Asha SundararamanComment
Shipment

Weeks before we left the States I went to Sam's Club with my mom. She got one of those big shopping carts and went up and down the aisles pulling things off the shelves: giant bags of flour and sugar and nuts; cans of tomatoes; jars of olives. Frozen food got ignored, but everything else was fair game.

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Asha SundararamanComment
Tanzania

This time we hopped a prop plane to the Serengeti from Dar. Last time we drove. For hours. Along bumpy roads with a myriad of S-curves. Up into the hills and down again. It was 1996, a time before iPods and wireless and smartphones. Before airlines decided to squeeze as many seats as they could into economy class. Before the in-flight entertainment gave you dozens movies and tv shows at your fingertips.

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Asha SundararamanComment
First friend

I stepped past Mrs. Bauer into the house. The changed from the heat of the outside to the air conditioning was abrupt. Inside was cold. Very cold. Goosebumps formed on my arm and I shivered a little.

The house could have been a copy of ours. To my right was a living room. Theirs had a big blue couch and a couple of matching arm chairs. In front of the couch was a glass coffee table with a mask in the center.

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Asha SundararamanComment
The Compound

Breakfast was done and I was bored. Mom and my little brother were still asleep. Dad had gone to the lab.

"I'll only be an hour or so," he had said.

There was nothing to do in the house. It was furnished. I think that's the word. But with borrowed furniture. And a TV with channels that I didn't know. I didn't like TV really anyway. I wondered if anyone would care if I went exploring. It was better than sitting around this strange house. I wrote a note to my mom on the back of my boarding pass and left it on the kitchen counter.

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Routines

My piano has arrived. I skim the surface with my fingertips, feeling the cold keys. I sit down and the bench cushion sags a little as if to welcome me. A long forgotten song struggles to the surface of my memory. It doesn't matter that my fingers play haltingly, this is where I belong.

The literature says that a mobile family should have a routine. Routines help ease the transitions. Our routine was breakfast. I'm not sure my parents set it up to be that way, but that's the way it worked out. I generally knew what day it was based on what we were having for breakfast.

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10 year anniversary

It was a morning like any other morning. Except it wasn't. I was living in a grad student housing in London near Kings Cross Station. Classes were done, exams were over, all that was left was my dissertation, so I spent most of my days in the library researching and writing.

Not having class anymore meant there was no need to get out of bed before 9am, so I was barely coherent when it happened. At least, when the first ones went off. I was fully awake for the bus bombing. That was an accident they said. It was supposed to go off in the tube, but something had happened. I can't remember.

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First morning

The mattress was not my mattress. The bed was not my bed. It was too low to the ground, and too hard. The wood was light, not dark. And it was too narrow. I lay there staring upwards. The ceiling was not my ceiling. The room was bare except for my suitcase and this bed. Dad said at some point my stuff would get there. When it got through customs. I had to be patient. He really used the word "patient" a lot.

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Baggage Claim

Baggage claim was small. Only three belts. One was moving. Maybe it was the luggage from that British Airways flight. There were the usual black suitcases. Maybe blue if you wanted to get really crazy. But then there were these bags that I'd never seen before. Red, white, and blue plaid bags. Or red, white, and green. Clearly made out of plastic. There were dozens of them on the belt. People pulled them off the belt and stacked them up on their luggage carts. They had no wheels. And no real way of carrying them that I saw besides two thin handles.  Really they looked like big plaid cubes stuffed full, and very heavy. Some bags were getting stuck and falling off the belt. Or getting pushed off by the rest of the luggage, I'm not sure which. Workers ran around rescuing the bags and putting them back on. Actually they weren't running, they were strolling casually. 

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