Tag Archives: Zambia

“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.

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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.