Tag Archives: Home

“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.

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.

—————–

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

—————–

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.

Three Cheers for Family by Maro Adjemian

7 Dec

Maro: I speak English, French, Spanish (although it’s getting rusty), and not as much Italian as I should. I grew up in small towns not far from Ottawa, first on the Quebec side and then on the Ontario side, but my background and extended family reach from Armenia to Hawaii. My husband, Eric, was born in Montreal to Italian parents. He speaks English, French, Italian (although he denies it, since he doesn’t think his grandparents’ dialect counts), and a bit of Spanish.

We have a baby girl, Myriam, who was born in March 2011. She’s working on her consonants these days- baba, dada, ida, lida, nana… but I’m not sure which language, exactly. I’m not sure she knows, either.

Three Cheers for Family

Yesterday, Myriam and I went to visit her Nonno (grandfather in Italian).  He came to the door to let us in, and immediately bent down to see M in her stroller.

“Myriam! Come stai?”

She beamed and waved her arms in excitement.

He plucked her out of her stroller and peeled her snowsuit off of her, tossed her up in the air a few times while she shrieked with joy, and then handed her an orange to play with. She was delighted.  As an afterthought, he said, “Hi, Maro, how are you?”  M didn’t even look at me. She was engrossed in her orange.

My father-in-law retired this year, just in time to become an eager and available babysitter.  He took fine arts in University once upon a time, and used to do ceramics. He still has his potter’s wheel and equipment, and a couple of years ago he gave me pottery lessons at my request. Now, we go and visit once a week. M hangs out with her Nonno, and I work on my pottery. It’s a win-win-win arrangement. I’m not sure who enjoys their time together more: M or Nonno. And I treasure the couple of hours a week I have to spin a wheel and get lost in my thoughts without worrying about my baby. It’s nice to have an opportunity to zone out and completely lose track of time in the way artistic creation allows you to do.

I grew up 5000 kilometers away from all four of my grandparents, so I never had the sort of relationship with them that my daughter has with hers. We wrote letters to them, and spoke on the phone, and once a year they came and visited us or we went and visited them. I always felt close to my extended family. I never really thought about what a difference it would make if we lived close by.

I never really expected my kids to live close to their grandparents, either. As a child, I used to proudly tell people that on my father’s side of the family there had been one immigration per generation for the past four generations. People would ask me, “And will you continue the trend and be the fifth generation to emigrate somewhere?” and I would reply, “probably”.  I used to flip through my parents’ National Geographic collection and dream about all the places I could go.  When we were little, my brother and I played a game with our globe. We took turns spinning it as fast as we could, and then letting one finger drag on its surface as it turned. Wherever that finger landed when the globe stopped spinning is where we would live.  Often, of course, we ended up living in the Pacific Ocean. But many other possibilities also presented themselves.

A decade or so later I went to University and studied International Development, and then Geography. I assumed I would end up living somewhere in Africa or Latin America, at least for a few years. It’s funny how life happens to you. You take one step after another as they present themselves, and you often end up somewhere very different from where you expected to find yourself. I read somewhere once that life is like “stepping stones in the fog”. You only see one at a time, and you step forward not knowing where the trail of stepping stones will lead you in the end.

And so here I am, living in a Canadian city where I have spent most of the past twelve years, surrounded by extended family. Almost all of E’s family lives in Montreal, and in the past couple of years my parents and two sisters moved here. Myriam sees her entire extended family on a very regular basis and she’s only 8 months old. And I think it’s great. It’s convenient and wonderful to have excited and available family members around who can babysit when I need to do something or go somewhere baby-less. After Myriam was born they filled up our fridge with good food and helped clean our apartment. When we visit them, they play with her and give E and I a chance to eat dinner uninterrupted. The traditional family support system makes a lot of sense.

When I thought about being the fifth generation of immigration in my family, I thought mostly about the benefits of living in another part of the world. The richness of leaning different languages and getting to know other people and cultures, as many of you on this site have talked about.  I didn’t think about the richness of living surrounded by family in a familiar place and culture. Right now I’m happy to be here, both for the extra help and support it gives us, and because of the relationship my little one can have with her doting extended family.

Between Worlds

20 Nov

I was born in Crete, Greece and raised in Maryland, USA, on a beautiful, 86-acre, off-the-grid homestead. My parents, products of the hippie era, were inspired by the simple, self-sufficient lives of the Cretan villagers, and we had no electricity or indoor plumbing in the hand-hewn house where I grew up. Instead of a TV, we had a trapeze in the living room. It was a paradise for kids, and I grew up with an innate love of nature and a keen sense of responsibility for the health of our Mother Earth. My parents strove to awaken in us an awareness of the effects of our actions and to provide us with an alternative to the modern lifestyle of rampant consumptive greed. They supplemented our public school education with frequent journeys overseas, and by the time I was 18, our family of four had toured nearly 25 countries, mostly on tandem bicycle.

As an adult, I continued to travel widely and for longer periods, eventually spending nearly seven years in India and Nepal studying the Tibetan language and practicing Buddhism. Before long, as hormones would have it, I fell in love and married into another culture, another race, another language, another dimension. Tsultrim and I come from wildly different worlds—he a monk from a tiny village in Tibet, I the product of an American subculture of left-winged eco-hippies. We were married in 2003, first on the black market in Nepal and later in our flower garden in Maryland. During eight tumultuous years of marriage, we have made nearly that many moves across the planet, from my country to his and back again, one of us always suffering from culture shock and social isolation. The learning curve has been, and continues to be, incredibly steep. Yet for some reason—no doubt our stubborn Taurean personalities and a fat load of karma—we’re still together, still laughing.

Along the way, we have been blessed with two gorgeous kids—our daughter Clara, aged 4 ½, and our son Tashi, aged 17 months. Admittedly, part of the reason I wanted to have a second child was to give our first-born a companion, someone who would truly appreciate the complexity of her multi-racial, multi-cultural, multi-lingual situation. I worried that she would be friendless and alone in her ever-shifting world, with no one to share the long airplane rides, discuss her weird parents, or understand who she really was.

We traveled in Asia during both of my pregnancies, but I drew the line when it came to their births—those were occasions when I truly needed my own family, culture, and language, everything that I equate with the safety and comfort of home. Both our children were born in my parents’ new home in Oregon, USA, gently lifted onto my chest by the loving hands of homebirth midwives. I love to think that Tsultrim’s graceful presence at the births of his children purified generations of Tibetan tradition, in which men have avoided (and been excluded from) the ‘filthy’ scene of childbirth.

Shortly after both births, we returned to Tibet bearing the new baby, washing our cloth diapers in the freezing winter water and soaking up the salt-of-the-earth goodness of Tsultrim’s beautiful family. These journeys were terrifying and traumatic for me, the fretting new mother of an infant, and with each passing year I have yearned more and more intensely for a stable home, for roots in nurturing soil, for a solid community of like-minded mothers and the support of my family. The carefree wanderlust of my youth has long since faded away, leaving in its place an anxious, fearful woman rapidly approaching her 40th birthday, still without a place to call home and no prospects for one on the horizon. The Buddha’s teachings on non-attachment and impermanence do little to ease the ache in my heart, the pull to plunge my fingers into warm brown earth. We are settled in the Chengdu mega-metropolis for the (un)foreseeable future, not living the lavish life of the typical expat but camped out in my brother-in-law’s apartment, while Tsultrim tries his luck at selling construction supplies in the booming Chinese economy. We all sleep in a row on the floor of our single bedroom, our clothes and medicines and children’s books stuffed into a few small shelves. Clouds of fog and smog hang heavy in the Chengdu sky, and miles of constipated highway snake around us in every direction.

Even as I celebrate our children’s immersion into diverse cultures and languages and watch them grow and thrive in each, I wonder how I will share with them the lessons of my childhood, the deep reverence for the natural world that comes with being of and near the earth, season after season, year after year, in a place called home. Can a family of nomads engender a sense of place and belonging in its children? More importantly, will there ever be a place where we all feel at home, such that we can live a gentle, carbon-neutral existence on this fragile planet?

Far From Home

19 Nov

By Kalley: I grew up on a cattle ranch near Steamboat Springs, Colorado. I couldn’t wait to leave my small home town after graduating from high school and attended university outside of Los Angeles. That transition was perhaps the biggest change I have experienced to date, and I loved every minute of it. After university I served in the US Peace Corps in Kyrgyzstan and Ukraine, meeting my husband in Kyrgyzstan where he was also a volunteer. We both lived in New Mexico on the Navajo nation, and then moved to China. We are currently living in Zurich, Switzerland. While neither of us is fluent in a language other than English, we have both studied a number of languages and hope our daughters will surpass our abilities.

——————————————–

I have a strong sense of home and it pervades my personality. My father recently moved out of the home he had lived in since he was 2. My mother had lived there her entire married life. My older sister has moved into that same home with her three young children and they will likely live there for the next 20 years. My childhood home was a 45 minute drive from any gas station, grocery store or friend’s house so my sisters and I learned well to find entertainment at home and would stay there for days on end. Thankfully, this home is a beautiful Colorado ranch with all the fresh air and open space a kid could want, but our dedication to this one place has built in me a strong desire for place based traditions and experiences – perhaps to a fault.

My husband and I have chosen to raise our family overseas – moving from place to place as wanted and needed – as international teachers, and this decision invades my thoughts on a weekly, if not daily, basis.

At least once I month I am angry. I am angry because I can’t find a suitable place for my perception of a birthday party. I am angry because our small apartment has a cramped concrete balcony where my 3-year old rides her new bike around in circles. I am angry because my daughters will not experience Friday night high school football games – growing from the young kids who play tag in the dark to the preteens who practice flirting to the teenagers who actually watch the game and cheer for their classmates.

About once every other month I feel guilty. The guilt comes from not being able to support my mom as she goes through a medical crisis (and from hoping that my older sister is strong enough to help our mom on her own). It comes from not seeing my niece grow from an 8-month old who can barely sit up to a walking, talking toddler, and from not meeting my nephew until he is 10 months old.

More often than angry or guilty, I feel sad. I am sad because my dad doesn’t have the chance to wiggle my infant’s kneecaps and fold her ears while marveling at the flexibility of little ones. I am sad because my daughter doesn’t always recognize pictures of her aunts. And I am sad because it feels more appropriate than angry or guilty.

And more frequently than any other negative emotion I am scared. I am scared that without the consistency of place I experienced growing up that my daughters will feel lost, and that, more realistically, they will wander the globe leaving me far from my grandchildren when that day comes.

Fortunately, for as many times as I have negative reactions to being far from home, I also have positive thoughts about the experiences we have. My daughters will know the absolute deliciousness of bitter lemon soda. My oldest calls churches “temples”, and knows to be quiet and respectful inside both. She can count to 10 in three languages. We make the most out of every new friendship and every old visitor. And our home is our family unit, able to feel joy whenever and wherever we are together.

Do others have fears similar to mine? Do you also find they are balanced with positive experiences? Where and what do you seek on the days when the scales tip toward negative?