Ignorance Can Be Its Own Reward



More than half of my twenty years in the Air Force was spent overseas, living in places as far apart as Iceland, Pakistan, England and Japan.

And while I was there, the nature of my job required that I go out and spend as long as three months at a time in other places -- places like Guam, Italy, and Germany and many, many others.

The first thing I noticed when I got overseas was the sense of superiority that we Americans seem to feel wherever we go. I didn't think that was right and I did my best to avoid it. But there was one time, in Okinawa, that it rose to the surface.

The base at Kadena, Okinawa did not have enough housing for all the men and women who were eligible to bring their dependents over from the States. If you wanted to have your family with you, you had to find housing on the local economy. That was not easy. First of all, housing was almost impossible to find. Secondly, any housing you did find had to meet rigid standards set by the Air Force. It had to be able to stand up to a Katrina level typhoon, by no means an easy standard to meet, as you can imagine.

I looked and looked and looked, from November through April, with absolutely no luck. Then I happened to do a favor for a friend and he put me onto a place that was for sale. I got a loan, bought it, and joyfully sent for my wife and two children.

It was a small house, but a solidly built one, with concrete block walls, a four-inch thick, low-sloped, solid concrete roof, and heavy wooden shutters that battened down over every window. I soon found out that the Air Force was right.

All that heavy duty construction was needed when the typhoon season roared in. Altogether, 18 typhoons paid us a visit during the 30 months I was on Okinawa.

There was, however, one thing wrong with that little house. Here in the States we do the logical thing. We put the screen door outside and the solid door inside. That way when a stranger comes to the door you can open the door and still have the security of a closed and locked screen door to provide some protection. The Okinawans had gotten it backward. They put the screen door inside, so that it was necessary to open it, and then to open the regular door, to answer the doorbell. That gave no security at all.

"Dumb bunnies," I said. "I'll fix that." And so I reversed the doors. I put the screen doors outside, and admired my handiwork.

Then, one night, came our first typhoon, a rather small one actually. I spent much of that night nailing any stray piece of wood I could find in the house over the door facing the sea. The wind, you see, pressed against it so hard that it bent inward at its top and bottom, letting rain pour in as the door threatened to blow in. The only thing holding it in place was the metal tab on the lock and my belatedly added bits and pieces of lumber.

The next day I reversed the doors again. That way the wind blew against the solid outer door, pressing it against the jamb just as those poor "dumb" Okinawans, who lived year in and year out with typhoons, had planned it should.

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