What to do without television? Oy vey!

Under my parents emotional and financial pressure, I was extricated from my first college to transfer to the Henry W. Grady School of Journalism at University of Georgia in 1968. In revenge I majored in Radio-Television-Film, a field of study that offered theater as a minor, and the opportunity to not have to take a foreign language. Neither decision was smart.

But my major did confuse blind dates. "You're majoring in what?" they'd sputter as I crossed another loser off my list. "Whatcha gonna do, honey? Fix televisions?" at which they'd break into merry laughter at their imagined cleverness.

 

Landing in Lima, Peru in 1972 I was fuzzy from a sleepless overnight flight. My boyfriend's mother Bea told me to take a nap, so on autopilot I turned on the black and white 12 inch TV in the room I was led to. The 1950s show Robin Hood came to life, in Spanish. Only the songs were in English, and I loved that little bit of home.

As for 'the news' I was so enamored of, I don't remember any televised news in Peru under the dictatorship of General Juan Velasco. For TV news expatriates went to the weekly mash-up of US news offered at a US diplomatic office. The mash-up was the previous week's CBS News half hour nightly news cut into an hour's worth of news. Water for a parched expatriate.

 

In the upriver backwater of Asuncion, Paraguay under the dictatorship of President Alfredo Stroessner in 1979 there was only dictatorship approved news. The television day began around noon when the one and only TV channel would suddenly spring to life. The programming was always the same, long silent panned shots of tables laid for the President's lunch that day. As dictator from 1954 to 1989, Stroessner was always surrounded by legions of smiling yes-sir military men wearing operatically, clownish military uniforms.

After lunch with "Fredo", the television went dead again. Around 3:00 PM it would erupt to run hour after hour of telenovelas (soap operas). Pablum for the masses, these Cinderella story lines were always the same. The poor girl working as a maid, makes good by marrying the Señor or his son, and living happily (and richly) ever after.

At random times a Spanish version of Sesame Street would appear. The first time my two-year old saw it she ran screaming from the room crying, "That is NOT Sesame Street!" With an entirely different set of characters and a snotty, grotty green Big Bird, she was right. I don't think she even noticed it was in Spanish.

 

Without eyeballs glued to television, I had the gift of time. I read an average four books a week. Books I'd borrow from bookclubs, friends or very new acquaintances, anyone who had books in English. When the electricity went off for yet another 12-hour outage, I looked at the outage in a different light. Literally. There's nothing like read the Sherlock Holmes by kerosene lamp to take one back to the Victorian gas lit era.

My daughter and I spent hours together, or just side-by-side, each of us doing our thing. She'd create imaginary worlds with her dolls and imagination; I'd visit imaginary worlds in my omnipresent book in hand. There were playdates for the two of us, dinners, parties or drinks for my husband and I.

One particular evening after several gin and tonics, we created The Cockroach Game. One-by-one you dashed into the darkened kitchen, flipped on the lights to see the expected hundreds of cockroaches scurrying on the counters and floors. At this point you'd whip off your flip-flop sandals to try and smash as many cockroaches as possible. Then it was the next person's go.

 

Living abroad where I was disallowed financially remunerative work, I used skills of my lonely childhood to create entertainments and challenges. Or as my Nordic born friend said when asked to introduce herself to groups of women, "I was born north of the Arctic Circle," she'd pause skillfully before adding, "we had to learn to play with ourselves."

 

Needs must.

 

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    Candace Drimmer

    I was an accidental expatriate; love and marriage led me to it. One day I was a bandy-legged kid sitting atop my dogwood tree looking out of my small backyard world in 1950s New Jersey, wanting to move somewhere--anywhere, different. Next thing I knew my father had accepted a job in Houston TX. I was ecstatic, it was a foreign land in 1961 America. After high school graduation, my parents’ gave me a matched set of fawn-colored hardsided American Tourister luggage. Taking the hint, I went to college; well four colleges in five years--it was the 60s after all. Meeting a young hirsute anti-war, soon-to-be-Peace Corps volunteer, I fell in love. After finishing up college coursework for my degree, but before I even walking a graduation stage, I grabbed the paper airline ticket my boyfriend had sent me, my brand-new passport, and was off to the airport and Lima, Peru.

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