Survivor: A Family Tale MAG

By Danielle S., Weaverville, CA

     Have you ever seen those survivor shows where the only way to get off the island is to band together and come up with some weird plan? That's what real life was like for me. I was in fifth grade and living in Arizona when my dad came home and told us, "We're moving to the Seychelles!"

"Where's that?" I asked. Ever ready, Dad pulled out our world map and circled a group of small islands off the east coast of Africa, 800 miles north of Madagascar. A mere 10 miles south of the equator, Mahe, the main island, is a tropical paradise. We got on the internet, looked at beach pictures, and found out the population speaks French and Creole (and, thankfully, some English).

I was sort of excited! I really loved the ocean, but I had some good friends at school, and I liked being 20 minutes from my grandparents and cousins. But, my dad had been working overseas a lot, so, what the heck, better together on an island 9,000 miles away than staying in Arizona without him. In the past we've spent as much as six months dad-less, and that just isn't cool. Besides missing him a lot, my mom goes kind of crazy.

In the space of a month, my mom had bought me three navy-blue skirts and five white polo shirts, plus a year's supply of Benedryl and toothpaste. I would be going to a private, international school (the only one where they spoke English) and uniforms were required. Because it was on the British system, I jumped ahead a grade and would be a sixth grader! Suddenly I was anxious and didn't think this was such a good idea.

In March 1998, the five of us landed on Mahe, the city of Victoria, in the Republic of Seychelles. The choking, suffocating humid air hit us first, and then I noticed the babble of other languages and realized I was the only white girl (besides my sisters) in the crowd. As we got into our car, I saw the steering wheel was on the wrong side! Our luggage followed in a separate truck because cars were as small as Tonka toys. It took half an hour to get to our hotel. As we checked in, I remember people staring at us.

Even after the initial shock of moving to this third-world country, I found that Seychelles was not really an easy place to live. We were the only American family, and we were not liked. My first week at school nobody wanted to talk to me; and a lot of the other kids pretended not to understand English. At our first house, our neighbors threw headless chickens in our yard. One lady said she had cast a voodoo spell on my dad so he would die. He did not die, but it was things like that that showed us we weren't liked.

So, the day the USS Duluth arrived, I was ecstatic! We were going to see people from our country! This was not the first time an American ship had come to town, but it was the first time an American family went to their barbecue. We showed up at three o'clock ready to meet some of the officers, chat with people, and go home. But when we got there for some odd reason, they had brought us gifts, things we could not get here. The Executive Officer had brought my mom corn meal because he was from the South and knew what it was like not to have it (my mom loves making cornbread) and he had brought me and my sisters real soda. His name was Dorrian and was one of the greatest entertainers I had ever seen. He too had children, two little girls he hadn't seen in months!

I remember looking over and seeing my parents with linked arms engrossed in a conversation. That's when I realized how close we all were becoming, almost like family. If that weren't great enough, my older sister had these gigantic platform sandals. Well, Dorrian thought it would be fun to show them off to the boys and strut around in them. This entertained us greatly until he accidentally broke them. Kate did not find it funny.

Have you ever had so much good food put in front of you that you just can't stop eating? That's what it was like. I was thinking how full I felt when the Head of Amphibious Operations decided to show us a video.

"If you ever see one of us in a Zodiac coming your way, just get in and don't ask questions," he told us as we watched the video. It showed a tiny boat that was in such a rough ocean it looked like the people were going to fly out any minute. I thought he was being funny.

Now, on board the USS Duluth there were 20-plus seals, the Chief Officer, the Commanding Officer, 365 Marine amphibious units, and 400 sailors who all were in Seychelles for rest and relaxation - or so we thought. Then the CO told us they were actually there to do a reconnaissance of the island, which basically meant they were assessing the strengths and weaknesses of the military. The president of Seychelles was well acquainted with Libya's Muammar Qadafi and two weeks before the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania had been bombed.

The video they had shown us wasn't for entertainment; it was what they would do to evacuate us, if necessary! At the time I did not understand what was really going on. I just thought we were having a nice barbecue and fun with the officers, but then I saw the reality - they were deciding if they were going to evacuate us!

I never did see that Zodiac flying toward me, but I do remember the CO asking us if we would leave every possession we owned and live on their ship for awhile. I thought maybe it would be fun to ride on their huge boat, to see all those cool people day in and day out, but then I thought, What about my dog Max? I was sad just thinking about him, and really didn't want to leave, even though no kids liked me. I was getting used to swimming in the ocean every afternoon after school, getting a tan, having a big house and a maid. I knew that my sisters were there if I had no one to talk to. But then, sitting there listening to somebody say I might have to leave, I realized my family would still be with me. The truth was they wanted to save me from the rest of it! I was only seeing the trivialities of my life instead of the big picture.

If I hadn't had my family those two years we lived there, I think I would have been booted off the island. But I'm not just talking about my immediate family, I'm talking about Dorrian, the CO and the Lieutenant - they all made sure we were not harmed. They would have done anything, including taking me away from my "important" material possessions, to keep me from being hurt. I can now look back and see that they only wanted to help. I'm happy they did not have to complete their mission, and for that I thank them.

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