Photo by Louise Knight

Our neighborhood resembled the United Nations. Families from Germany, Holland, England, the USA, Cyprus, Greece, Lebanon, and a few other European and American nations lived in homes lining a central paved circular road, and rubble and dirt roads extending off the center.   Each home had a garden fenced in with a Palm Tree Branched or ribbed plastic fence. Only two homes had high concrete walls, the Khoury’s Home and another where an American family live.  The Khoury’s estate had large grounds, housing 2 large pools, a tennis court, a trampoline, and a golf driving range.

I spent a lot of time at Auntie Louise’s house.  She was Dutch, married to a Englishman (Uncle Ricky) she met in Kenya.  They lived with his two boys, Jeremy and Jonathan, and their two children Richard and Carrot (nick-named after her red hair).

Auntie Louise, her family, me & Nawara at the American School Fair

Theirs was the most inviting home in the neighborhood.  In addition to the family, Auntie Louise took in every stray animal, they had 5 to 7 cats at any given time, a dog, and at one point, a donkey that took up residence in their large front yard.  The neighborhood kids enjoyed being at her home so much, she converted one of her rooms to a nursery and began charging mother.

Auntie Louise’s house was fascinating for many reasons.  It was buzzing with work and entertainment.  Animals, art projects, a vegetable garden and an open invitation to get involved in one or all the activities. If I helped cook dinner I could stay for the meal, if I helped her finish her ironing quickly she played a game of monopoly with me and Jonathan. Working in the vegetable garden, gave us rights to spend an early evening in their pool.  As we worked, Auntie Louise told stories of her travels to Switzerland, the US, and Africa.  She worked as an Au Pair to working in a hotel in Kenya; she shared her adventures in the beautiful nature of Kenya, her encounters with wild animals in Kenya and the US forests and the personalities she met along the way.  As long as I followed a few rules in her house, I was welcome anytime.  “Take off your shoes at the door, eat with a fork and knife, DO NOT Shovel your food with the fork, eat with your mouth closed, mind your language and remember your please and thank you’s”.

Auntie Louise's house

Auntie Louise rallied the moms in the neighborhood to celebrate special holidays.   Easter Egg Treasure hunts, Christmas visits, it seemed she had ideas to make everyday a festive one. For Christmas, she put up a beautiful tree,  decorated their porch, put out bowls of nuts and candy and wore a Santa hat around the house. The mistletoe was the most peculiar part of Christmas.  Uncle Ricky would tease me and say “you know if you go under it you’ll have to kiss Jonathan”.  I was so shy that I would blush and make sure I never walked beneath the green leaf.  Why they had that tradition, I never understood.  She made birthday parties especially fun.  She organized games and contests, and finished off with a Fondue Dinner.  At age 8 or 10, we sat around a table, conversing like adults, waiting patiently for our meat and chicken to cook in the Fondue pot. The cakes were the highlight of the party, as we got to take part in decorating them.  I celebrated my birthday with them regularly because Jonathan and I shared the birth date.  So while technically it was his birthday.. we always had two cakes and they went out of their way to make me feel special.