"Keep working on a plan. Make no little plans. Make the biggest you can think of, and spend the rest of your life carrying it out." Harry S. Truman

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Dandiyas, decorated cars, and a clay doll toilet.

It rains, and rains, and rains in Hyderabad. And here are a few tidbits from the last few days...
On Saturday, we finally attended a Dandiya dance ! I say finally because I’ve wanted to do this ever since I saw that scene in the movie “Bride and Prejudice,” with beautiful Aishwarya Rai. 

The Dandiya dance is usually held during the Navaratri festival, a 9-night long festival (Navara means 9, ratri means night in Sanskrit) which ends with Dushera, the immersion of statues of the Goddess Durga, and the burning of ten-headed effigies of Ravana (picture) who abducted Sita, Lord Rama’s wife, and took her to Sri Lanka, where Rama finally rescued her and killed Ravana. It is the festival of the Victory of Good over Evil.
Once more, I was reminded how I never feel so alive as when I’m, either dancing, or partaking in some celebration that allows me a glimpse into another culture. So, I was doubly blessed, on Saturday. What a sight it was to see all these Indian ladies, young and not so young, dressed in beautiful saris and glittering gagras, dancing round and round with their dandiyas (decorated bamboo sticks) ! 

Where there is dance, there I am, ready to fumble until I manage to understand and reproduce a number of steps, so I’m happy to report that I had an absolute ball ! It was funny, also, to notice the similarities between some of the rhythms, and those of the Senegalese Sabar dancing I used to do, while living in New York.

And this afternoon, as I stood at a crossing, a few minutes walk from my house, waiting for the bus that brings my children back from their new school, I couldn’t help but smile - fondly - as I saw all the cars, motorcycles and bicycles all decorated with flower garlands. This is also part of the Navarathri festival : a pooja where all manners of tools and implements used in the everyday life are worshiped.

The bus usually brings stories along with my children, as they adjust to their new school : it is also an international school, but Indian-run. They have several campuses across India, and the one they opened in Hyderabad, a year ago, is nothing short of beautiful. Their philosophy is sound, they offer lots of sports and extracurricular activities, and they’re academically much stronger than the previous school (the reason we decided to shift our children, in spite of the heartache of having them leave their friends - thankfully, a bunch of kids shifted, too, so that they both have friends from their previous class with them). 

Sometimes, the stories are funny, and other times, they make me cringe. Today, my older daughter shared her disappointment at seeing the teacher of the clay pottery class destroy what she’d spent an entire period working on : a toilet for her Playmobils. Apparently, and even though the teacher had given them all latitude to do anything they wished, she found that making a toilet was “nonsense.” Knowing the sanitation situation in India, and the stigma attached to anything related to a toilet (let’s not forget that to this day, among the Hindus, cleaning a toilet is something that only those from the lowest castes are expected to do) I suppose I could say that such strong, knee-jerk reaction is understandable. That is the culturally aware approach. Then, there is the mother’s approach, who really balks at the thought that a teacher could destroy a child’s work, something to which she dedicated time and energy - and knowing my daughter, I bet it was a very pretty toilet because she’s quite the artist, and really has an eye for detail. I mean, come on, what’s so wrong about creating a little doll toilet out of clay?

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Robin Pascoe's A Broad Abroad's Book Trailer

I'm waiting for Robin Pascoe's last book to travel the maze of the Indian Post Office all the way to my hands. In the meantime, we can watch the trailer. Don't you just LOVE that cover ?

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

TCKID, hacker attack, and the need to back up

I can't remember how I came across the TCKID community. A grassroots project started by a young TCK, Brice Royer, and strongly supported by Ruth E. Van Reken, co-author with David Pollock of Third Culture Kids : The Experience of Growing Up Among Worlds, they count 21 000 members, and 13 local groups from Singapore to NYC. They have (had, actually, but read on) a website, and Brice Royer filmed several You Tube videos where he shares his experience about growing up a Third Culture Kid.

Of course, I immediately subscribed. Then, today, I received an email saying that the website was shut down, following a hacker attack on Wordpress. Read about that, here.

As an aside, it suddenly downed on me that blogs can disappear, and if I didn't back mine up, well, who is to know what could happen? Do YOU back up your blog ? That thought had never even occurred to me, but I'm glad it's done, now. (and easy to do, too. Go to the help section, and follow the instructions. Of course, I downloaded a whole lot of undecipherable lingo, but I suppose that's normal.)

Anyway, any expat reading this can check the TCKID community, and answer their call for help if they want to. I know I'd like my children to be able to count on this kind of support, as they grow up. Follow this link, if you want to find out more.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Khalil Gibran said it so well...

My recent post on raising Third Culture Kids across diverse cultures, here, reminded me of Khalil Gibran's inspiring and oh! so humbling poem : "On Children." Thought I'd post it here, for easy reference.

Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.

You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them,
but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.

You are the bows from which your children
as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,
and He bends you with His might
that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let our bending in the archer's hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies,
so He loves also the bow that is stable.

Friday, September 11, 2009

A beautiful picture to celebrate the blog's new background

Well, considering it's been a while since my last move (five years in the same house, this had not happened to me since I was a child) and I'm feeling seriously fidgety, I've been trying to think of ways to bring a little change into my life. I first moved the furniture around my office. And now, I've also changed my blog's background.

Finally, here comes a picture of Isabella, in California. It's been a while since I posted a pic of a child reading "Amadi's Snowman." Isn't she adorable ? Thank you, Isabella. I'm so happy you enjoyed the book. And thanks, Tina, for sending me the photo.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

I'm not my children, and my children will not be me (thank Goodness for them)

There is an interesting article from Kerrie Wiseman in the Expat Women Newsletter, this month, about the kind of conflicting feelings parents may experience as they watch their children grow up and integrate the ways of a culture different from their own. I can certainly relate to that !

Now, I will not dwell on the numerous and well documented positives of growing up a Third Culture Kid. Nor do I need to stress, again, the fact that I strive on being an expat (not saying it's not an arduous and lonely road to travel a lot of the time, just that I seem to strive on that road - or maybe I've followed it for so long, I can't even remember how to branch onto another one, but that would be the subject for another post). I do believe it would be very hard for me to have to return permanently to my birth country after spending half my life all over the place. I was never such a good French to begin with, anyway. My Spanish half was always a part of me that I nurtured and felt very proud of, even though it set me apart from most everyone else. And yet, I can be sooo very French at times (as I realized again this summer while visiting my newly expatriated brother in Madrid ; even as I basked in the feelings of familiarity, I also experienced some culture shock of my own, to my astonishment). So, not only do I truly love some aspects of the French culture, I confess that I would like to see my children embrace them.

Kerrie Wiseman mentions very accurately that in the excitement of preparing for an expatriation, a person does not, for one minute, imagine all the implications that this new adventure will have. We can all plan. We can think ahead. But we can never imagine how living in a culture different from our own will end up moulding our children. And yet, it is inevitable. The exposure to different ways of living, experiencing and doing things will have an impact on them.

I try to prepare myself for that eventuality. I do tell myself regularly that this comes with the whole package. There are always two sides to a coin, etc.

Of course, that's the rational, logical part of my brain talking. We could also call it wishful thinking. Because the other more emotional and spontaneous part of that same brain will sometimes make me act in ways that have my hair stand on end... retrospectively :

"Don't eat with your hands, only pigs eat like that." I won't even comment on the absurdity of such statement. I mean, since when do pigs eat with their "hands" ??? But yes, I confess that these words have escaped my mouth a couple of times, only to leave me sweating, wondering how I could utter such enormity after years of living in two different countries where eating with the right hand is just the norm, and not considered pig behavior at all, Madame ! My only excuse is that I heard these words as I was growing up, because in Europe, eating with your hand was and still is labelled pig behavior. And the first mother or father who does not sometimes catch themselves uttering sentences that make them feel as if their own parents just spoke through their mouth can just throw the first stone at me.

Or, I'll find myself giving philosophical lectures to my bewildered children :

A few months after we arrived in India, I once heard my not quite 5-year old say in a sing-song voice, as I was changing her baby sister : "Shame, shame, shame !" "What do you mean, shame ?" I asked. She proceeded to explain that at school, whenever a kid showed a naked butt (going to the bathroom, or such, these were Kindergarten children) someone would laugh at them and sing "Shame, shame, shame." Imagine me going out of my way to explain that NO BODY PART IS SHAMEFUL. We were all made the same, with arms and legs, and a head, and a nose, and a mouth, and YES, a butt, too, and that butt is mightily useful, so where is the shame, I ask you ? Right. As if all that ranting wasn't going to fly miles over my 4-year-old's head. And yet, I've also learned that kids living in between cultures do learn to act a certain way here, and another, there. Basic survival, most likely. So, who is to know for sure whether my discourse might have an impact in the long run ? I can only do what feels right at any given time, and hope for the best.

One last example, to follow the writing rule of three :

The French in me, who tends to like understated elegance, also finds it hard, sometimes, to remain silent when she sees the way her two kids just LOVE piling up colors, and glitter, and bangles, and anklets, and bindis, and beads on them until they can barely move (the way an Indian bride, however gorgeous, looks with all the jewelry and heavy saris).

These are obvious (and in the last case rather innocuous) ways in which our children will be influenced by another culture, but there are others, more insidious.

What to think, for instance, of the fact that both my daughters have now lived in places where women are constantly diminished and treated with utmost disdain - when not unbearable violence ? Or, what to think of the fact that Bolly and Tollywood movie posters lining the streets of Hyderabad always show men in macho situations, wielding weapons, guns, knives, sabers, and their women counterparts are either threatened, or looking all teary and suitably helpless ?

Should I voice my disapproval, as in the shame-shame case ? Or should I wait for the subject to come up naturally ? How does one broach such big subjects with children, in a way that will impact them, but without being too forceful ? What is the right age to do it ? There again, I can only rely on my gut instinct, and learn by trial.

I could also mention how they use the word "maid" in a way that I can never get used to (not to mention that I barely ever use that word myself). It's not that they're scornful or rude. But their assumption is clearly that a maid is someone you go to when you need something done that you'd rather not do yourself. Like picking up your toys. And it honestly doesn't matter that Mom has repeatedly asked her house help (or nanny when we had one) to NOT be at the beck and call of the little tyrants. If Mom turns her back, the children know they can get away with basically anything. Not to mention that there are "maids" at school, too, and the way that some local children treat them is not lost on our kids.

And on and on. I remember hearing an expat with roots in two West-African countries tell me that after a few years in New York, they had decided to take their children (who where entering their teenage years) back home. I'm always careful not to throw all African countries in the same pot, but in this case, home WAS Africa to these people, because they felt that the values they trusted and wanted their children to grow up with could only be found back on the continent. Said children have now gone on to have extremely successful international careers, by the way.

A lot of expatriates decide to go home when their children become teenagers. Because it's hard to move them around - they become vocal, and friendships being so important to them, they understandably don't want to be changing places every two or three years. Do their parents also feel that at such an important stage of their lives, their children ought to be in a place that will instill the kind of cultural values that they themselves are attached to (as in the case of our friends, above) ? What to do when the parents do not have the choice ? Or, as in our family, when the parents themselves are culturally mixed ? I have a few years left to ponder that question.

In the meantime, I try to prepare myself for the fact that my children will turn out to be their own selves. This is an evidence that all parents struggle with at one time or another, but the parents of Third Culture Kids have that extra dimension to deal with : our children will grow up to become their own person according to their talents, their personality, AND the way their diverse cultural experiences shaped their ways of thinking, and behaving, too.

So, what do we do when we see our children embrace ways that don't quite resonate with us ?

I, for one, try to make a distinction between knee-jerk reactions caused by simple habit or taste (as in my example about understated vs. over-the-top fashion taste) and core issues that may impact negatively my children's sense of themselves and their own value.

In the last case, my approach will continue to be a mixture of explaining, lecturing, and generally throwing my weight around in every way that will help me make my point - with a lot of fumbling in between.

When dealing with simple cultural differences like eating habits, there is what is done outside, and what we do at home. Indians often use their fingers to eat, and we, at home, eat with a fork and a knife. But I'm also aware of the need for me to broaden my comfort zone so as to include my children's experience as much as I possibly can. What if one of my daughters were to become a fashion designer or an artist whose creations would wear the stamp and influence of her years in India ? Guess where Mom would be sitting, clapping and bursting with pride ? First row, of course, understated chic clothes and all.

I may need to gather a collection of mantras about letting go (it always comes down to that, doesn't it? This should be integrated into every curriculum across the world : a course on the art of letting go) to help with said broadening of my own comfort zone (a never-ending endeavor for serial expats like me.)

I have also pasted a quote by Harry Truman where I can see it often : " I have found the best way to give advice to your children is to find out what they want and then advise them to do it." This is a perfect example of a profoundly sound advice - if only it weren't so difficult to follow. So, I harbor the secret hope that by having the words around me, their full meaning will slowly penetrate my entire self until the day I wake up and discover I'm now able to implement its message.

Just don't hold your breath.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Baffled !

Well, this is yet another departure from my usual posts, but I just have to share how baffled I am, these days, whenever I read about the number of people who have reportedly died of shock (?), or by committing suicide, after the helicopter crash that costs its life to Andhra Pradesh's recently reelected Chief Minister, Y.S. Reddy. 122 people, according to some newspapers. But why ? What does this achieve ? M. Reddy's son had to come on TV and beg people not to commit suicide anymore.

Life seems to have so little value, in India. People commit suicide for the most absurd (to me, at least) reasons : children commit suicide because they received a bad grade, or failed an exam, parents commit suicide because their child had a bad grade or failed an exam, a mother will commit suicide because her daughter or son decided to marry someone who doesn't meet the family's approval, etc, etc. Now, some of the reasons here may be explained. Maybe. Upholding the family's honor is paramount, here (as in other societies, after all.) You don't want to face the shame. It's just too hard to have to live with it. Okay, fine.

But to commit suicide or go into cardiac arrest because a political leader died suddenly ? Nope, I don't get it.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Amadi gets his own podcast review

What a nice surprise - and a new experience for me, also... hearing people talk about the book, explain why they like it, only I can't see them. Listen to Andrea Ross and Mark Blevis at Just One More Book as they talk about Amadi's Snowman.

Thank you, Andrea and Mark.