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Jet-lag with Twins

5 Jun

We are back in Samui, un-doing our 11 hour time adjustment to two weeks in NYC. Of course, it was only in the last 3 days there, that we made it out to a 10 am museum opening, and didn’t have angry hotel guests complaining about the, “two bratty kids screaming in the hallways in the middle of the night.” Central Park at 6 am became our hang-out as well as The Disney Store at Times Square. And not a person looked at me twice for pushing a double stroller down 7th Avenue at 1 am. In fact, there were lots of other little kids at the store dressing up as Rapunzel and Ariel waving their wands at the magic mirrors.

The first few days adjusting to a 180 degree shift in time means that at least one of the four of us is asleep during all 24 hours of the day. What might be naps are a little longer than usual. “Sleeps” are a bit shorter than a typical full night. While one twin is having a nap, the other is playing then falls asleep for the “night”. And then the napping twin wakes up, is ready to snack, play, have dinner, then sleep for the “night.”  Soon after, the other wakes up for the “day.” One of us adjusts to Paris time. The other stays at New York time. Phew, we’re finally all back in Samui!

Here’s a post I wrote a year-and-a-half ago about some jet-lag experiences of our family trip from China to Canada.

Jet-lagged in Montreal

It’s early September, 3 am, in downtown Montreal. The night-streets abound with young people, bar-hopping, club-hopping, bunny-hopping; many strange things happen during Frosh, the first week at university. Teenagers go out in teams to discover the city, and each other.

This year we are part of the drunken masses, 10 years, OK, well over 10 years after we were freshmen here. But this time with a twist. We’re with our almost 2-year-old twins. The thing is, 3pm in Chengdu, is 3am in Montreal, and like most toddlers, Leila and Rahul need to exhaust their post afternoon-nap energy surplus.

I clearly remember three o’clocks decision time: coffee, pizza, or shawarma? Home or an afterhour’s club? The children could do with an afternoon snack. We head to my favorite 24 hour café on Park and Milton, bang in the student Ghetto.

We stroll past the smokers on the terrace, and push through the café’s narrow, double doors. You’ve got to get through one, and then another door. It’s when you have a double stroller that you notice these things. We sit next to a man with dreadlocks, cup of coffee in his hands; working on his laptop, and studying through massive text books. He smiles.

I ask for 2 hot-chocolates and an opinion of the café’s least-sweet chocolate cake. A man with the Second Cup logo embroidered in gold on his black t-shirt grins. “It’s chocolate. It’s all sweet,” he replies in his tall, blond, Russian accent. I get a bagel and cream cheese. Leila and Rahul can’t sit still. No surprise. We are fresh off a 30 – hour trip, and a full day at home. They pull on the leaves of a large plant, run around leaving a trail of crumbs. I clean up behind them.

Three young guys in smart, blue jeans, and preppy t-shirts, gelled hair and all, peer into the café windows. One is holding a red rose; he’s serenading a couple of young women who’ve just walked into the café. The two girls in high heels and tight, short skirts are not amused. Leila and Rahul watch intently.

It’s now or never. We collect our stuff. I go to the washroom with Leila. A homeless man leans against a graffiti’ed wall, waiting his turn. We are back in the real Montreal sharing common spaces with all. A female student walks out of the Ladies; her look of disbelief says it all:

Are you out of your mind? I should call Social Services on you.

I smile, walk into the booth with Leila. Change her diaper. Repeat the process with Rahul, pee myself, and we head out. If only she knew.

Rahul and Leila insist on walking back. Of course that means they explore every stone, leaf, and empty beer bottle along the way. Despite our pace, we pass the 3 guys from outside the café, there’s a waft of alcohol in the air, rose still in hand. They’re arguing about something.

“Shouldn’t they be in bed by now?” one of them slurs.

My thought: Shouldn’t you?

With Leila on my shoulders, Rahul on Maher’s, we enter McGill University through the Milton gates, all very familiar to us. The crickets are doing their thing; the stars theirs. At first sight of the football field, the children throw themselves head-first off our shoulders. They pick up some wet maple leaves and run around the field like crazy kids. Moments later, we’re all running.

Amidst our excitement, we almost miss a couple walking by: a man tightly holding a woman in an elegant green dress with matching heels. She’s wearing her partner’s black jacket. There are uncomfortable glances. The woman leans even closer into her man, and whispers something. Well, it is 4:30 am, and we’re on campus playing with our toddlers. Maher suggests that we paint a “Jet-lagged,”sign on the stroller. We both laugh.

While Maher and Leila are still running around, I introduce Rahul to James McGill. Rahul manages a quick wave and a forced hi. The statue of Mr. McGill, small as it is, can be scary at this time of night. While I pick Rahul up, I notice a security guard watching the 4 of us intently. He’s standing upright, muscles flexed under his all-black outfit. He fidgets with his flashlight as he waves it around. We all meet at the stroller and decide to head home.

image

Just outside the gates, Leila asks for milk. I prepare it quickly. Then Rahul says “num num.” Think fast. It’s lively at Amir, the Lebanese sandwich joint on Maissoneuve and Cresecnt. I wait outside with Leila who is fast asleep by now. Maher and Rahul order some food.

A skinny woman, with dark circles around her protruding eyes sticks her palm out. She asks for change in a hoarse voice. The wind blows through her stringy, brown hair.

She looks defeated; she’s one of the city’s many junkies.

A young man who must have spent his night clubbing on Crescent Street, motions her through the large open windows, to wait. He puts what’s left of his fries, pita bread, and chicken into a brown paper bag, and hands it to her. She wolfs it down.

A moment later, Rahul has his first taste of a chicken shawarma sandwich, and of potato squares sautéed in garlic and coriander. The hummus makes him scrunch up his face.

“Too much garlic?” I ask.

“Garlic,” Rahul repeats.

Over the next few days, many things taste like garlic.

As we climb the hill, close to home, Rahul falls asleep.

It’s 6:15, I can still catch the Mysore class at the Ashtanga Yoga studio a few blocks away.

My body is warm and flexible from the night out; my mind tired and ready for sleep. The yogis around me are fresh, ready for the day to begin.

—————-

Natasha: I am mum of 3-year-old twins Leila and Rahul, recently moved to Koh Samui, Thailand after 7 years in China. Just started teaching yoga part-time again.  My first class back last week, after NYC, was 4 hours after I got off the plane. I didn’t believe I’d make it through my heavy eyes!

Catch more of our stories at Our Little Yogis 

Feeling like a Fake

10 May

A blue sari with gold border detail.My daughters’ school held an event to celebrate the diversity of the student body. Parents could volunteer to put together a display of artifacts representing their culture. Since Bangladesh seemed likely to be more mysterious and interesting than the United Kingdom to Texan elementary school students, I offered to represent Bangladesh.

My parents are originally from Bangladesh; it was still part of Pakistan when they were born but was an independent country by the time they started their PhD work. I was born in the UK, where my father was teaching chemistry, and split my early childhood between England and Scotland. Our whole family moved to Bangladesh when I was nearly 8. I spent a decade there, in the capital Dhaka for the most part, although I spent a year in deep rural Bangladesh, at the orphanage my mother managed in Kurigram. I left Bangladesh for the US to go to college when I was 18 and have lived in the US since. I’ve been here nearly 16 years.

Bangladesh circled on the world map.

Bangladesh is (almost) surrounded by India.

You’d think that spending 10 years in Bangladesh during key formative years of my childhood would bestow me with a deep degree of identification with Bengali culture, but it didn’t. I spent those 10 years feeling like a foreigner, likely in part due to my early childhood in Britain. The other contributor to my sense of alienation was that I lived with one foot in the expat community. Although my parents were Bangladeshi, and countless cousins were nearby, my life revolved around the American school I attended along with many embassy, UN, and non-profit kids from around the world. I felt little kinship to the few extremely well-off and entitled Bangladeshis who also attended the American school.

Let’s return to Texas in 2013.

The weekend before the diversity event at my twin daughters’ school in suburban Austin, I went shopping for clothes for my girls. We thought it would be fun for them to wear Bangladeshi clothes, but they’d outgrown all such outfits we owned. As luck would have it, I had run into a lady who lived near our home and imported traditional clothes from India. We went to her home to shop. M selected a shalwar kameez, J a lehenga. As usual, while they started the shopping expedition with the intent of getting matching outfits, they couldn’t agree on anything that they both liked.

J and M

The house where we were shopping was full of women and children, sifting through bright, bejeweled clothes. I spoke to the lady and gentleman of the house in Bengali; everyone else was speaking Hindi/Urdu, which I kind of understand, but don’t speak. I felt like a fish out of water. I didn’t know whether the girls were allowed to try clothes on. I didn’t know how to appropriately get the owner’s attention to ask. I had no idea what length of kameez or style of shalwar was fashionable. I committed a faux pas by whisking my checkbook out in the room where the clothes were laid out, instead of waiting until I entered the private office. I was wearing the clothes I’d worn to work: jeans and a solid coloured top. All the other women were in South Asian wear.

I’d felt similarly out of place when I’d attended the local Bengali New Year celebration a few weeks earlier. I’d intended to take my daughters with me, but their father and stepmother were suddenly able to spend the day with them, so I went without them. The only person I ended up having a real conversation with was the older sister of an old classmate from Dhaka, a woman who, like me, considered herself part-British and had married a white man. As she put it, “Our kids don’t even look Bengali.” Except when I was chatting with her, I felt like I was being judged, something I hadn’t felt since I was an awkward teenager. I was convinced that I was being sized up by the top to bottom looks some of the other attendees gave me. I was wearing a sweater dress, not a sari or shalwar kameez. I didn’t trust myself to drape a sari correctly, and I knew all the shalwar kameezes I owned would be terribly out of date. I smiled at strangers, as I would anywhere else in Austin. Unlike elsewhere in Austin, the smiles weren’t returned and no conversations took off, except with young, presumably Bengali-Texan, children.

When the diversity event came around at the girls’ school, I wore one of my old salwar kameezes, 12 years out of fashion. I put together a collection of trivia on Bangladesh on sticky notes, pulled up a looping slideshow of images from home on my laptop, and laid out my entire collection of saris and knickknacks on a cafeteria table. I made sandesh from cottage cheese, sugar, and cardamom, and I offered to show kids what their names looked like written in Bengali script.

Miniature rickshaw made of brass.

The whole time, I felt like a fake. I may look the part and speak the language, but I’m not Bangladeshi in any meaningful way. Perhaps I never have been.

My daughters know that Bangladesh is part of their heritage, and that I used to live there, but they’ve never been. They understand only very basic Bangla. They don’t have a single Bangladeshi (nation) or Bengali (ethnicity) friend. On the rare occasion that I cook Bengali food, they won’t eat it. I sing the 4 or 5 Bengali songs that I remember quite frequently, but my Western classical repertoire runs into the hundreds of songs.

Have I failed my daughters? Should I teach them more about this culture that feels so foreign to me? Or if I try, will I just be faking it?

Sadia is a divorced mother of two who lives in the Austin, TX area. She works in higher education information technology.

National Education: China vs. Japan

14 Sep

Recently there have been demonstrations, assemblies, and a hunger strike to fight against Moral & National Education (so-called ‘brain-washing education’) which was to be introduced into all primary and secondary schools in Hong Kong within the next 3 years.

120,000 people assembled outside government headquarters on 8 Sep against the introduction of Moral and National Education

Fortunately the HK Chief Executive said the government would leave the decision to include the subject, as well as the subject content, to the schools. That has stopped the hunger strike and the week-long assembly outside the government building.

I think that since the handover, HK people should have anticipated a gradual ‘nationalization’ by the Chinese government. Most countries mainly teach their school kids the positive history of their country – be it a victory or a defeat in a war – the home country is mainly right. At least that’s what I thought until I talked about this with my husband.

Me: I just don’t understand why the HK people are so radical. Come on, all countries are doing the same at school.

My husband: No, Japan is not like that.

Me: (suspiciously) Oh really? Did they teach you about the Nanking Massacre in school?

My husband: We are not sure if it really happened. Why would it be in the textbook?

Me: Uhhh…

So there are no exceptions. My husband was brought up in the Japanese education system.  To me, history is history. We always say, “we must learn from history in order not to make the same mistakes”. But if dwelling on history could ruin the current friendship between two countries, I’d rather have everyone forget the past.

If you were me, would you tell your child that his dad’s people were part of a crazy killing machine yet they say they are not sure if the massacre really happened? Or maybe we should let the kids find the truth out by themselves? In this world of propaganda, what is the truth anyway?


Contributing author Sharon Takao is originally from HK. She lives in Tokyo with her Japanese husband and 3 year-old son. She works at a local advertising, event planning company. She enjoys reading, writing, singing, dancing and playing basketball. She is a member of the online writing community Fanstory.com

“Where are you from, mum?”

26 Aug

My children started preschool on Thursday.

At lunch on Friday Leila asks me, “Where are you from?”

I feel the skin on my forehead scrunch up as my eyebrows move toward each other. I catch Maher’s subtle uncomfortable movements.

“Well, we live in Chengdu.” I begin my answer as I would if anyone asks me where I’m from. “I’m Zambian and of Indian origin,” I continue. “Did someone ask you that question at school?”

“My teacher.”

“Well, you’re French.” Maher says, speaking in French as he always does with the children. He looks at me and continues on, “One of your great grandfather’s is from India. And you know where nana and nani live?”

“Zambia,” Rahul replies.

“And you know where teta, jiddo, and jiddo Raymond live right?”

“Lebalon,” Leila says.

“So you’re French, Zambian, Indian, and Lebanese,” I say.

Unconvinced with the heaviness and level of disconnection from our reality in that answer, I take solace in the fact that these two-year-olds, whose favorite foods are egg and tomato noodle soup and Sichuanese style fried spinach with rice, whose toys live in our apartment in a tall building in Chengdu, don’t yet know what the question really means, nor what we’re going on about. I stop short.

They were ready to get out of their seats and play anyway.

“Let’s go on the boat quickly, before the crocodiles get us. Come on Princess Leila.”

“Ok Prince Rahul. Let’s go to Zambia on the boat. Take your horse with you.”

Heritage plays a role of course. But how much can you really carry with you? Will R and L feel Zambian, Indian, Lebanese, and French, and respond that’s where they’re from even though they probably won’t live in any of those countries, and might not know much about the traditions, history, politics, and way of life there.

We’ve begun to celebrate Christmas with Maher’s family, and Raksha Bandan (a Hindu festival that celebrates the bond between brothers and sisters) with mine. That’s about it for family traditions.

We enjoy visiting these countries and spending time with family there. L and R have strong memories of the people we meet and places we visit. They go on fantasy trips to Paris, Zambia and “Lebalon” in the playground when they swing high in the sky, or when they ride their horses from country to country room to room in our apartment.

But then, they also trip on playing with their friends in Koh Samui, sometimes they go to the park in Hong Kong, and in the last two days their travels have taken them to Montreal.

Other than their heritage, part of it depends on where we live and what interests them. If we lived in Canada say, in time we could be considered Canadian, where in China we are always going to be lao wai or foreigners. But that’s a topic for another post, and Catherine Platt talked about that poignantly in her post White Ghosts.

How do you deal with, “Where are you from?” And how can we help our children figure this one out either from a sense of belonging, or peaceful detachment from it all?

 

I live in Chengdu with my husband Maher and our two-year-old twins Leila and Rahul.  I was an Ashtanga Yoga teacher until Our Little Yogis became the teachers.

Cool Doctor

1 Jul

It was on the 1st day of my 16th week, a Sunday, that I felt like my water broke; and then I bled buckets. I thought I was in the clear – I was in the second trimester after all.

I called our doctor.

He was at the Chengdu People’s First Hospital as quickly as we were.

On a Sunday, my friend’s 10 year old son fell down and seriously hurt his arm. She called our doctor. He happened to be 5 minutes away, playing basketball. He rushed over.

Another Sunday, a cat bit me. I called him.

When Rahul developed a rash and there was no way I could make it to the clinic before they closed, he came by after work; had a look and didn’t charge us a cent.

Our super cool American doctor, yoga student / teacher, surfer, slam poetry enthusiast, friend has answered many calls from me during my pregnancy and later, as a new mother.

It was the same a couple of months ago when Leila rolled off our bed. They were jumping and playing; we were laughing. After the thud, there was silence. Now it must be said that my kids have fallen on their heads before. MANY. times. So for the first few seconds I didn’t think anything of it.

Then, Maher who was closest to Leila, picked her up. Her pupils had rolled back. An impulse to throw up seemed to start at her toes. I saw the panic in Maher’s face and breath. I insisted on taking her in my arms. By then, she was limp.

“Leila’s OK. You’re OK Leila.” I repeated over and over as I walked around. Rahul was dead silent.

Finally, she came to. And then she cried her heart out for the next half an hour. Rahul looked at me. “You want to give her a kiss?” I asked. “She’s OK now.”

He nodded.

Maher handed me my phone. “Call the doctor.”

It was 7:30pm so I sent him a text message first explaining that it was an emergency. He replied immediately. He was on leave, but I could call him in a few minutes.

“It’s normal to pass out for a few seconds after a concussion. Watch her closely for the next few hours. If she throws up, slurs her words, or is suddenly lethargic, take her to the hospital. The emergency department at the First hospital can do a head  CT scan. Also, wake her up a few times during the night and see if she can make eye contact.”

She seemed OK. But she couldn’t keep her eyes open. I’d seen this in the past where a surprise hit to her head or elsewhere left her fatigued. But she seemed to be slurring her words. After a bit of back and forth, we decided not to spend the night in uncertainty.

In the mean time, we reached Marwan, Maher’s brother, and Liu Yan, his Sichuanese wife. My basic Chinese isn’t sufficient to deal with the hospitals here in Chengdu. Liu Yan could lead and translate for us.

At 8:30pm we followed Liu Yan and Marwan into the Chengdu People’s First Hospital. I pushed the stroller. The children were in their pyjamas busily pointing out ambulances, doctors, and nurses. Maher rushed off to find a bank machine.

Liu Yan asked around for the doctor on duty.

After fifteen minutes or so, a doctor led us into a bright little room with a bed and other hospital equipment. It smelled like medicine. Leila and Rahul panicked. “I don’t want injection mum, I don’t want injection.”

“We don’t deal with children here. It’s too much radiation to do a CT scan for a child just like that anyway, and there is no MRI machine. Go to Hua Xi (the main provincial hospital in Chengdu).”

“Won’t you even do a basic eye-contact and reflex check, to see if she is OK?” Marwan barked.

Liu Yan translated.

He refused.

I walked out coolly.

If it’s Hua Xi hospital, it means a long night for sure. It’s a nightmare there – there are thousands of people from all over the province of Sichuan seeking attention day and night.

“Let’s go to the Woman and Children’s Hospital.” I suggested. “Certainly they will see Leila.”

Not many cabs drive by the massive, but suburban Chengdu People’s First Hospital. Business Opportunity! Some guys hang around the hospital gates in their cars offering rides for money. We didn’t’ bother with negotiating the price; we dumped our stuff into the back of one little car and drove to the Women and Children’s hospital.

On the way, I called our doctor; apologised because it was almost 9pm. He couldn’t believe that the emergency doctor hadn’t even looked at Leila and didn’t mind her traveling half way across the city without confirming her stability. I remembered that Leila had a minor IVH (Intraventricular Hemorrhage) at birth, particularly common for babies born prematurely or at low birth weight. Leila was both.

“Well, since she had no issue with it later on, there’s no relationship with tonight’s fall. But yes of course the risk now is that she might have a brain hemorrhage. Let me know how it goes.”

I was having a déjà vu. After my big bleed at 16 weeks, the First Hospital sent me to the Women and Children’s Hospital. As we walked in, Maher, Marwan and Liu Yan also had flash backs of that day and the two weeks I spent there. Same gang.

It was not a pretty sight, even outside the hospital gates at 9pm. There were men carrying collapsed pregnant women on their backs; babies heads wrapped in bandages with Intravenous (IV) tubes stuck into their scalps. That’s how fevers are dealt with here – with an IV. And when it’s children the needle goes in the head.

Liu Yan and Marwan discovered that the Woman and Children’s Emergency Department only sees babies with colds and fevers.

With the children already asleep in the stroller we decided to walk to the Hua Xi Hospital. It’s only fifteen minutes away. That’s when I told the gang that our doctor was going to be transferred to Shanghai. Maher and I shared a wordless sense of helplessness at that news. And I didn’t stop thinking about it all night.

Despite directions from friendly doctors and nurses, after an hour of walking through many sections of the massive provincial hospital, going back and forth between locked doors and sections that looked exactly like the previous one, we made it to the Emergency Department. Once the paperwork and payments were sorted out, we waited.

The waiting-area is nothing more than the sidewalk – off a busy street with no escape from the second-hand smoke. We gulped down the bottles of water that Maher bought us from a little corner store. Liu Yan and I tried to figure out what a couple of kids in school uniforms were doing out at the corner store at 10pm,  gorging down instant noodles. Visiting hours had probably just ended.

1466 finally showed up on the screen. Leila woke up when I unbuckled her. She clutched me with her life, and repeated, “No doctor, no injection mama.” Marwan stayed with Rahul in the brightly lit hallway while the rest of us went into the doctor’s office. There were 10 other patients in there listening in on our conversation. They joined in the conversations at times.

The pleasant and confident doctor who examined Leila said she was fine for now. Considering she only fell off a bed, it can’t be higher than a metre, so she should be OK. However, we must watch her closely for vomiting, lethargy, headaches, and so on for the next 72 hours. He gave us an express ticket – valid for 3 days –  to have a CT scan if the need arises.

Maher and I slumped into the back seat of a cab, holding our children; we were exhausted but relieved. Marwan decided to walk home. Liu Yan opted to go with us, it’s a long way back.

The next morning I received a message from our doctor; he wanted to know how Leila was doing.

I am grateful that he was present that night, and before. And especially for his friendship.

Maher and I live in Chengdu with our two-year-old twins Leila and Rahul.   I was an Ashtanga Yoga teacher until Our Little Yogis became the teachers.

Family Stories

18 Jun

We’re both new parents in our 40’s. There aren’t major differences between new parents in their 20’s and new parents in their forties – both are learning as they go on the wonderful journey of parenthood. Perhaps there are subtle differences: finances may be in order, careers more established, and older couples are more settled. Most people are a bit more tempered and practical at 40 than they were at 20.

But one thing I do think is different is we seem to have an increased sense of urgency about researching family history. Maybe it’s because our daughter is “new”; maybe it’s because we are older and subsequently our parents are older. We think more about the possibility of caring for aging relatives than we once did. And I know our sense of urgency is amplified by the fact that we are from two different cultures. I was born and raised in the US; my husband was born and raised in Japan. We both live far from our families and there is the strong possibility that there are relatives she will never know. I sit here and I think, what will be our family story?

I used to wish for the day when I could discover some secret hidden diary that would reveal all of my families’ secrets. It is the writer in me that has a tendency for the theatrical. I have reluctantly come to terms with the fact that such a thing is not likely to happen. I will not receive a stash of hidden wartime love letters or stumble across the name of a grandparent in declassified government files. A mysterious stranger will not show up on my doorstep claiming to be a long lost sibling nor will the discovery of keys to a safety deposit box lead me on an intercontinental chase.

If my husband and I are lucky in our family research we will track down some birth certificates. Perhaps, we’ll find a yellowed piece of paper where someone had attempted to write a family tree or an old Bible with everyone’s names spelled correctly. We currently have two cardboard boxes of photographs with names scrawled on the back. We spend long afternoons trying to put names to faces that we barely recognize. I received several photos at a family reunion. They were left over from my grandmother’s things when she passed away. When I don’t know who is in the picture – which I am ashamed to admit is often – I make up little stories about them to whisper in my daughter’s ear.

My husband has photos stuffed in envelopes. Many of the people he cannot identify beyond “aunt” and “uncle”. Though, like most people, he does much better with cousins from his own generation. Japan has a complex system of record-keeping, so a few years ago, he decided to go through city office records and gather any information that he could.

There is a part of me that envies the ability to have such ample paper records. For most of my family’s African American history, those sorts of things are not possible. Slaves were not considered people. Even when slavery ended, most poor, ‘colored’ people were simply not considered important enough to register or have their lives recorded. If it were not for the work of dedicated scholars – like the late John Hope Franklin – the importance of keeping African American history would be lost.

I am fortunate my maternal grandparents’ hometown was one of the first freed “colored towns” – in the nomenclature of the time. Their town was the subject of a research project and though my family was not directly mentioned I was able to get something other African Americans do not often get – a peek into the lives of my forebears and the town they helped to build.

I end with this anecdote. I once attended a seminar on memoir writing. One woman was a particularly gifted storyteller. She delivered a grand tale about some long gone uncles and aunts. It was filled with picturesque descriptions, elaborate gestures, and lots of jokes. At the end of her performance, she confessed that she wasn’t sure if the uncle and aunt in the story were actual blood relatives. Nor was she certain that she had the correct year or the proper names of all the characters.

But did any of us care? Not at all, because it was a great story.

 

Winnie Shiraishi is a contributing author at Multicultural Mothering. She’s an expat American writer living in Japan. Her work has appeared in Tokyo Art Beat blog, Kyoto Journal, and other publications. She can be reached at wsinjapan [at]gmail [dot] com.

Zamsick

3 Apr

I’m finally going home in May. It’s been 9 years.

I moved from Montreal to Lebanon, then to Moscow and back to Lebanon, and to Chengdu during that time, got married in Montreal, dropped out of a master’s program in Beirut, took up yoga, did a Teacher Training in Thailand, supported Maher through a stroke, seen a few too many gynaecologists and IVF experts, trusted a fantastic doctor in Ahmedabad and gave birth to my twins in Hong Kong – so, that I didn’t stop off in Zambia since my last 3 week visit many years ago is beyond me. I constantly go back and forth about how that happened.

How could I have been that complacent?

I thought my mum was crazy when she told me she was going back to Bombay after 10 years. I will never be like that when I grow up. I remember how alive and confident she was weaving around Fashion street and Crawford market in Bombay, chatting and bargaining with the salespeople. She proudly  introduced us to Badsha, her favorite falooda (ice cream drink) joint in Bombay.

I can’t lie, I have  I’ve had a mental drama about home, what it means, if the concept will ever exist for me again, and especially for my children? When I recently told my brother how long I’d been away, he did a quick mental calculation and said, “But that’s almost a third of your life, can you even call it home?”

I can’t lie, I miss home. I don’t have the words to express it. My first, only attempt at a poem ever, was inspired by an uncontrollable nostalgic moment.

Whenever I’ve brought up my need to go home, Maher reminded me that we’ve seen my family here in China, in Canada, and in India, depending on where they or we were.

But it’s not just that –

It’s the smell of the wet grass when the drumming rain keeps me curled up in bed devouring book after book, the feel of the red earth between my toes, the mango trees at my grandparents house in Livingstone, and the size of the avocados, of my solitary bike rides and road runs around our neighbourhood, of the rocks along the banks of the Zambezi river, of my school and my friends – some still there, many also living in different places.  But then it’s also the Rotary clubs, and politics that my father was always too busy with; it’s the street kids, the AIDS, and the corruption.

When I was 13 or 14 I decided that I would become a doctor. I was adamant. My parents and I went to see the principal, who was also my English Literature teacher, and running-group leader – without a doubt my most inspiring teacher. Now, I realise that during that meeting he gently tried to persuade me not to switch out of history and literature, that there were other possibilities out there for me. He bothered to try. I was stubborn, and I had my father’s backing on this one. My mother understood me better than I thought I knew myself, but she never imposed anything on me. She’s always trusted me, and in her typical manner, she let me figure things out my way. But she always listened big when I mentioned switching into naturopathy, or anthropology during my university career.

Back to when I was 14 in Zambia, I asked one of my parents doctor friends if I could intern at her clinic for the summer. I went in at 8 every morning, mainly helped with computerizing patient files at the reception, spent a couple of hours with the lab technician every afternoon, and went home for my evening runs. That’s the thing, while I was a teenager in Lusaka, there wasn’t much to do over the holidays; kids were either involved in sports and engaged in the community, or doing drugs and having sex. I fell into the former category.

But I digress…

One afternoon the lab technician was showing me how to actually carry out a malaria test. He put a drop of blood that he’d drawn earlier, on a glass slide. We examined the sample through a magnifying glass to identify if the parasite was present. The patient had come in specifically with a malaria query, but the lab technician was on a teaching spree and decided to show me how to perform a HIV test. He took a little more of the blood (don’t ask me about the ethics / human rights of it all especially since he knew who the patient was), and it was positive.

A number of caregivers from my past have died, usually young, and after a lot of suffering. More often than not, it’s AIDS. The man who cooked for us throughout my childhood and until a few years ago is one of them. The man who drove me to school and back every day, who taught me how to drive, who told me it was his dream to drive trucks – the only person who ever called me princess, playfully, just because he knew I hated it, is living with HIV now. He sent me gifts when my children were born – 2 chitenges (traditional cloth that women wrap into skirts, and use to carry their babies on their backs). He quit working for my parents a little while ago. I can’t wait to see him; to hear him joke.

I couldn’t wait to leave home when I was a teenager; now I can’t wait to return.  I’m not sure how I’ll react after so long, but I want my children to feel a slice of the simplicity, play in the dirt with the chongololo’s (millipedes), imagine the white clouds are cars in a blue sky, run barefoot in real green grass, play football with their uncle, eat nshima  (thick maize porridge – local staple food) and curry, see elephants, kudus, and lions in their natural habitat, all that alongside people who smile wide, who smile for life.

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The idea that we can and should feel at home anyplace on the globe is based on a worldview that celebrates the solitary, mobile individual and envisions men and women as easily separated from family, from home and from the past. But this vision doesn’t square with our emotions, for our ties to home, although often underestimated, are strong and enduring.
The New Globalist is Homesick, the International Herald Tribune

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I live in Chengdu with my husband Maher and our two-year-old twins Leila and Rahul. I was an Ashtanga Yoga teacher until Our Little Yogis became the teachers.

Dragon / Phoenix Twins

27 Feb

“Are they Dragon Phoenix Twins?” I am asked every day, everywhere, and by everyone around me in Chengdu.

“Yes, they are,” I reply.

“Waaaaa” they exclaim with glee, and huge smiles,

“You are very lucky. How happy you must be.”

Twins generate as much or dare I say more excitement here in China as anywhere else; in particular, the Dragon / Phoenix (boy/girl) combination. The ancient Chinese emperor was symbolised by a Dragon, and his wife by a Phoenix.

Since boy / girl twins have the honour of being called the Dragon and the Phoenix they are at the top of the hierarchy, the best outcome possible, and so the highest blessing.

Total strangers seem genuinely happy for me, and always remind me of the gift of having them. They smile, caress the children, and try to carry them. Almost without fail I am told: “How cute, what curly hair, and big eyes they have.” This line sometimes reminds me of the scene where the wolf pretends he is Little Red Riding Hood’s grandmother.

But I have yet to come across someone who is envious or jealous. This is amazing considering the one-child policy in China.

Quite the opposite in fact. People here associate twins with joy and luck to such a degree that almost no one seems to realise that at times raising two same-age babies can be tricky and tiring.

Our ayi (nanny ) once asked, “Isn’t it strange that out of all the people who stop to talk to you and the children, no one ever mentions how much work it must be to take care of them?!” This came up on a day when both L and R were sick and in need of extra attention. My husband was out of town for work. Our ayi and I were exhausted and had to laugh at that thought.

Only once, a mum playing with her 2-year-old son in the kids area of a neighbouring housing complex asked if I wasn’t exhausted taking care of two.
Almost immediately, the 3 mums around us responded for me: “It’s pure joy to have two, and especially if they are a Dragon and a Phoenix.”

Had my Chinese been better, I would have answered myself: True I complain at times because I am tired from lack of sleep, or irritated by L and R’s constant hair pulling, biting, snatching… but man am I happy to have my Dragon and Phoenix.

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I live in Chengdu, China with my husband Maher and our two-year-old twins Leila and Rahul. I was an Ashtanga Yoga teacher until our little yogis became the teachers. Our Little Yogis

An Orange, 3 Mandarins, and 2 Sesame Candies

20 Feb

An orange, 3 mandarins, 2 sesame seed candies, 2 mango candies, 1 Dairy Milk bar, 1 yogurt drink pack, an apple, many cookies, 2 chocolate wafers, yaoyao rides –colourful, musical, electronic animal rides- and many more things that I can’t even recall, have been gifted to Aarav – my 19 month old son – mostly by ayis(aunties) and sometimes by shūshus(uncles). Ayis often say how cute he is and give him something from their bag, to show their love.

I took their words seriously. My son must be an outstanding and beautiful little guy. So, wherever we went, I kept collecting the goodies and saying thanks for such wonderful comments. Hence, I was looking forward to such compliments and brief talks, when we went on a short trip to Hong Kong and Australia; but not a single person stopped by our side to flatter my boy. Was it the rain in Hong Kong or the hot summer in Australia?

I was really becoming uneasy with all of this. In a Melbourne elevator, we met a Shūshu from Beijing. He smiled when he saw my son and took out a strawberry milk pack from his bag. He gave it to Aarav and said he is very “kě’ài” – the Chinese word for cute.

I finally calmed down and told myself that my son is still kě’ài and I should not worry at all. Back in Chengdu, the ayis and shūshus continue to make him feel special by showing their affection.

After giving birth to my son in India, when I joined my husband in Chengdu, I was really worried about how well I would do? As it is my first experience as a mom, I read a lot about raising a child. I also had long chats with my sisters, my mother and my friends back-home. But when it comes to local conditions and survival strategies, then my good friends in Chengdu have been a great guide to me. However, I never realized that I would get great advice and tips from nǎinais – meaning grandmothers – who are total strangers to me.

When I am out with my son, nǎinais often hold him. In the summer time I receive suggestions like, “He weighs good. But he is red, so give him much more fluid and try to take him out without a diaper because it is very hot.” They would check if he had his meals on time and what his favorite foods are. They do not like the idea of Aarav being a vegetarian little guy. They would strongly suggest that meat is a very important source of protein and that he needs it very much at this growing stage. But they do not insist.

Being out with my son in Chengdu and interacting with ayis, shūshus, and nǎinais is very interesting. I get a good chance to see others’ perspective on raising children and yes, to continue listening to how “hao kě’ài” my baby boy is!

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Deepty Tiwari is a contributing author at Multicultural Mothering. She has lived in Chengdu for the last year and a half with her husband and son. She used to work for United Nations; since becoming a mum, she is also a freelancer for humanitarian development projects.

Lei La the Lao Wai

16 Feb

This evening my children and I spent a couple of hours running and playing at a neighbouring housing complex. A friend joined us. While the children were playing on the slides and mini monkey bars my friend stayed close to them, allowing me to respond to a text message on my phone.

A little girl accompanied by two men came over to play. Through the chatter, I heard Rahul say, “Ni hao shu shu,” (hello uncle), as he typically does when a Chinese man engages in some form of communication with him, or if he instigates the conversation himself.

Leila chimed in with her Ni hao!

One of the men asked how old the children are. My friend responded with the whole “They’re two and three months old, they know mandarin, yes they’re twins, not only that, they’re dragon / phoenix twins,” spiel.

“These foreign kids are the same age as you. Why don’t you play with them?” the man asked the little girl. He was beaming, bouncing internally, and obviously over-excited by the situation.

The little girl joined Rahul and Leila.

At one point the man shared the bars with Leila to stretch is his hamstrings; still smiling, he asked her, “Ni shi bu shi lao wai?” (Are you a foreigner?)

I was stunned.

“Lei-la,” she responded.

My daughter’s dignified response, albeit due to her ignorance impressed me.

Should I intervene? I wondered.

“Ni shi bus hi lao wai?” he repeated.

I couldn’t believe it.

“Lei –la,” she enunciated.

My friend, who is of Chinese heritage and fluent in the language explained that she is called Leila.

I wanted to say something; at least ask how he expects a two-year- old without the slightest notion of this concept or of the word at all, to respond. I mean he insisted.

But his “blissful” demeanor made me think that he obviously didn’t think it strange at all to ask this of a two year old, let alone ask it.

Or was he making fun of us because he thought I had no idea what he was saying? I have no idea.

I joined the group and a few minutes later Rahul and Leila were chasing me around the play area. The man told the little girl to join in, to chase “the two little foreigners, and the big foreigner.”

We ran and played.

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I’m Zambian; I live in Chengdu, China with my Lebanese husband Maher and our two-year-old twins Leila and Rahul. I was an Ashtanga Yoga teacher until our little yogis became the teachers.
Our Little Yogis:(http://natashadevalia.com)