Here’s to a New Year

In many ways 2015 was a good year, but it was also a hard year. A year filled with challenges, both professional and personal.

It was also a year of introspection, where I learned a lot about myself, found some answers, but also realized there were more questions than I had expected. Questions about identity, home, putting down roots (and where) or continuing the transient, nomadic life…

These are not unique to me – I know many TCKs (and non-TCKs) struggle with these questions. I just didn’t expect them to hit me so hard and to find myself searching for clarity in my own contradictory thoughts and feelings.

When I was finally able to define those questions, however, it was such a comfort. I had felt their shadows lingering in the back of my mind for a while, but had been unable to understand what weighed on my heart. I may not have the answers yet, but at least I now know what I’m searching for – and that makes all the difference.

These realizations, along with other challenges sorted by year’s end, allowed me to close off 2015 at peace and more than ready for 2016. I am excited for this new year and all the new adventures it will undoubtedly hold.

As for my blog: I unfortunately and unintentionally moved away from writing in 2015. I had much to say, but couldn’t find the words to express it. I am very grateful for all of you who still stuck around and took the time to read and comment when I did write. Your presence and comments are always a source of joy, motivation and comfort.

One of my hopes and resolutions for 2016 is to do more of what I love – and writing is very high on that list. Hopefully this is just the first of many more posts to come this year. So, here’s to more writing, more laughing, more loving, more travel and great adventures in 2016.

On that note, I wish you all a very happy new year and I hope 2016 is an amazing year!

Paris, Je T’aime

Je suis consciente que des attentats ont eu lieu dans d’autres pays (Liban, Iraq) avec de très nombreux morts et qu’il y a des victimes tous les jours en Syrie et ailleurs dans le monde. Le but du texte ci-dessous n’est pas de donner plus d’importance aux victimes de Paris, parce qu’aucun pays, aucune famille ne mérite de subir de telles atrocités. 

Ce texte est simplement un hommage à une ville que j’aime profondément. Je suis 100% libanaise d’origine et Paris sera mon foyer éternel. Mon cœur est doublement brisé et ma peine est débordante.

————————————————————-

Je pleure pour ma ville bien-aimée, mon cœur brisé déborde de tristesse. Paris – ville adoptée, adorée et chérie – tu souffres et je souffre loin de toi. Même si un océan nous sépare, mon cœur est avec toi et mes pensées traversent les distances et les vagues pour se poser à ton seuil.

Enfant du monde, mon âme est un mélange de cultures et mon cœur repose souvent dans plusieurs endroits, mais il ne quittera jamais Paris. Cette ville lumineuse a su bien s’emparer de mon cœur et c’est un amour éternel.

Il y a tellement de choses que je voudrais dire, mais je me retrouve sans mots face à ce tourbillon d’émotions qui remplit mon cœur et mes pensées.

Peut être suffit-il de dire ce qu’il y a de plus simple, de plus vrai et qui vient du plus profond de mon cœur:

Paris, je t’aime.

Tour Eiffel.JPG
Photo courtesy of Raya F.

Book Review – Expat Alien

Expat AlienExpat Alien – My Global Adventures

Kathleen Gamble | CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform

$10.95, 270 pages

Adult Third Culture Kid (ATCK) and writer Kathleen Gamble knows what it means to live a global life. Kathleen has lived around the world – Burma, Mexico, several US states, Colombia, various countries in Africa, Switzerland and Russia. In her first book, Expat Alien, Kathleen takes us through her experiences and her history, starting from her parents’ first meeting and working her way through the many countries and continents since then.

Throughout her book, Kathleen shares personal stories and anecdotes to bring her experiences to life. There is the more harrowing side of global living – political unrest in Burma, earthquakes in Mexico, or stopping at a roadblock in Nigeria and having a soldier jam his gun through the window. But there are also stories of friendships, boarding school in Switzerland, traveling through Europe, card games with family and making home across continents.

Kathleen also delves into the difficulty of repatriation and reverse culture shock. When she returned to the US for college, she realized how different her upbringing was and found herself struggling to fit in and trying to understand the racial issues in the US. Despite the initial difficulties in settling in, Kathleen remained in the US for several more years before heading abroad again with her husband – this time to Russia. She lived nearly nine years in Russia, in six different apartments before returning to the US again. The stories of her time in Russia are fascinating and their unexpected departure following conversations with the FSB reads like a thrilling spy novel.

Even though Kathleen and her son suffered through culture shock upon returning to the US, Kathleen managed to turn things around and create a new life. Despite passing through a few difficult moments in the years since returning, her book ends on an uplifting note of hope.

Expats, TCKs, travelers and anyone interested in learning about various parts of the world through personal stories would enjoy Expat Alien.


You can purchase Expat Alien on Amazon.

Make sure to check out Kathleen’s blog www.expatalien.com to follow her latest adventures and also read more about her experiences growing up. You can also connect with Kathleen on twitter @ExpatAlien.

Inside Out and Jumbled Up

I never expected that an animated movie could make me feel so much. That it could reach so far into my heart and find emotions and feelings that I thought were either gone or buried deep. Turns out they were just under the surface, waiting to be triggered. And maybe they will always be there.

The movie I’m talking about is the new Pixar film Inside Out, which is about an 11-year-old girl (Riley), moving from her home in Minnesota to San Francisco. A lot of the movie happens in her head, where we see the different emotions (joy, sadness, disgust, fear and anger) personified as individual characters. It is beautifully made and I was blown away by how imaginative, creative and magical it was.

I was equally impressed with how the filmmakers portrayed her emotions, how they dealt with sadness and how they showed the importance of acknowledging all emotions – because they all play a role in shaping who we are and how we live our life. It showed that sadness is not an emotion to ignore; it’s not something bad and shouldn’t be stigmatized. Sometimes all you need is to acknowledge the sadness, sit with it and let it out. Then you are more likely to find comfort and see the beauty and joy around you.

When we ignore sadness or push it down, we don’t address it and often other emotions/ reactions come out instead – fear, disgust and anger. As Riley struggles with her emotions during this new transition she becomes confused, lonely and angry. Confused at how jumbled her feelings are, lonely without friends at her new school and angry that she was dragged away from her home and her friends.

As a Third Culture Kid (TCK), this movie resonated with me in a way no other movie ever has. I felt like I was watching my story on screen. And I know my TCK husband felt the same. We felt the sharp ache of goodbyes; the deep loneliness of having no friends and eating lunch alone while others talked and laughed around you; the anger and confusion of being torn away from everything familiar and loved. But mostly we felt the sadness… And we were both caught by surprise at the intensity of our emotions.

I’m now 30 years old, and I had a very healthy TCK upbringing. My parents were always supportive, they prepared us for every move, gave us closure and allowed us to grieve. So I thought all those emotions were sorted and neatly packed away in ‘long-term memory’ as the movie showed us. I never expected them to resurface so easily and to overwhelm me the way they did. But when Riley finally admits her sadness to her parents and says how much she misses home, the emotion was so raw, so real and so familiar that my heart overflowed… And so did my tears.

But the beauty of the movie, and of life, is that once you acknowledge the sadness you can address it and you don’t have to deal with it alone. From there it’s uphill because you’re not fighting against it anymore and more importantly you’re not fighting alone.

The movie shows that as Riley strengthens her relationship with her parents, makes new friends and slowly finds her place until this new location becomes home. And that’s how it worked every time for us – once you get past the heartache, loneliness and sadness, you make friends and you make a new home… At least until next time.

I don’t regret this life and despite feeling such raw sadness, I loved the movie. It has so much wonderful humor and such poignant, touching scenes. It wasn’t a sad movie, but it also didn’t shy away from the sad moments. It embraced them and showed how they’re an important part of the bigger picture. I’m grateful that someone took the time to make such a movie and to make it so eloquently and beautifully.

Words cannot really do it justice, so I would recommend this movie with all my heart. If you’re like me you’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll think, you’ll be amazed by the magic of the movie… You’ll leave feeling inside out, upside down, jumbled up and moved to the core.

But you’ll also leave feeling warm, buoyant and just a little more lit up inside.

Longing

I long for something,

Without knowing what.

I long for somewhere,

without knowing where.

 

I long for change,

For that next adventure…

I’m restless and bored,

Ready to start somewhere new.

 

And yet I long to settle,

To put down roots.

To call some place home

And know it’s my own.

 

But where is that illusive home?

That place where I belong,

Where I am neither other

Nor outsider?

 

I am homesick,

But I don’t know for where…

For which country, which place,

Which home?

 

My heart aches,

Without knowing for what.

It longs for something

That I cannot define.

 

Such is the path

Of my third culture kid journey:

Sometimes confusing, often contradictory…

And forever longing.

DSC_2059

Book Review – Between Worlds: Essays on Culture and Belonging

Between WorldsBetween Worlds: Essays on Culture and Belonging by Marilyn R. Gardner

When I found out that Marilyn was going to publish a book, I knew it would be great and I was impatient to read it. I first read Marilyn’s writing on her blog, Communicating Across Boundaries, and I was immediately captured by her words. Her writing is always so honest, vulnerable, insightful and eloquent. Her book is no different.

Although I received Marilyn’s book a while ago (courtesy of the author herself – thank you!), I’ve taken a while to get through it and write this review. It wasn’t because the book is heavy reading or takes a while to get through, but rather because I didn’t want it to end. I wanted to savor what I was reading and have the time to reflect upon it.

Reading Between Worlds is like having a conversation with a TCK best friend. You may have lived in different countries and experienced different things but ultimately you understand each other to the deepest core. You can skip the small talk and trying to explain your background and just get right into the nitty-gritty things. The things that matter, that affected you, that shaped you. The way growing up between worlds is both blessing and curse, beautiful and heart-breaking…But that no matter how tough it can be you would do it all again.

Marilyn covers all that and so much more in this first (and hopefully not last!) book. She has divided her essays into seven topics that most, if not all, TCKs have dealt with: home, identity, belonging, airports, grief and loss, culture clash, and goodbyes. Through these topics we get a glimpse into Marilyn’s world growing up as a TCK and then struggling to adjust as an ATCK, especially upon returning to her passport country. But this isn’t a chronological book outlining each aspect of her life growing up, and I love that. It’s a collection of touching, heart-warming, humorous, gut wrenching essays about defining moments, memories or events. Her descriptions are so vivid and the details so precise that we can almost see, smell and hear everything. We can picture the Chai Shop, smell the curry, hear the raindrops on the tin roof and the call to prayer. We can also feel her sorrow, her intense joy and all the myriad of emotions that come with living between worlds.

On a very personal level, I connected deeply with many things Marilyn wrote. We are so very different in our TCK experiences – I have never lived in Pakistan, but lived in 7 different countries around the world; I grew up as a ‘corporate’ TCK, not an MK; we are of different generations…But none of that matters. I had already noticed how little it mattered when reading her blog posts as I often felt that she was writing my own thoughts and feelings. Reading Between Worlds was the same. She could have been expressing my own joys, fears and struggles. I felt understood and comforted. And I know I will be re-reading her book time and time again.

For those of you who haven’t read Between Worlds yet, please do. You won’t regret it. Everyone can find something to relate to, whether TCK or not. To tempt you and give you a taste of Marilyn’s beautiful writing, here are some of my favorite quotes. I could have included many, many more, but I hope that this selection will push you to read her wonderful book.


“Every good story has a conflict. Never being fully part of any world is ours. This is what makes our stories and memories rich and worth hearing. We live between worlds, sometimes comfortable in one, sometimes in the other, but only truly comfortable in the space between. This is our conflict and the heart of our story.” (p. 29) 

“My passport was my grown-up teddy bear. Its expiration was an identity theft of sorts, arousing a host of feelings for which I was unprepared. I was swept away in a tsunami of soul tears, tears that come from such a deep place that you do not think you can survive them. And in those soul tears, I made up my mind that no matter what, I would not let my passport expire again. […] It was a crucial part of the complexity of my journey of identity.” (p. 58)

“Third culture kid envy is one of the consequences of being designed for travel. It is what I feel when my feet are trapped on the ground for too long while I watch others travel.” (p. 73)

“Being able to travel is one of life’s greatest gifts. It simultaneously keeps one humble and fully alive. And for me the gift and magic begin at the airport. The airport is a place where I don’t have to try. It’s where I can be fully comfortable between worlds.” (p. 91)

“At airports, life seems full of endless possibilities. Whether I’m traveling to Rochester, New York or Karachi, I enter the terminal and get airport eyes, seeing the world through the lens of hope and opportunity.” (p. 105)

“As we tell our stories we realize that these transitions and moves are all part of a bigger narrative, a narrative that is strong and solid and gives meaning to our lives. As we learn to tell our stories we understand not only the complexity of our experience, but the complexity of the human experience, the human heart. So we learn to tell our stories – because your story, my story, and our stories matter.” (p. 162)

“Third culture kids, immigrants, refugees, foreigners. We find each other in unlikely spaces. In the shared experience of other, we find belonging and rest, whether in a short ride to an airport or a long-distance phone conversation. These moments of connection seem to come at the right time, sustaining us until the next encounter, preventing us from falling into an abyss of self-pity and isolation.” (p. 181)

“No matter where these goodbyes have taken place, whether it’s been on hot tarmacs, or dusty river banks; efficient European airports or train stations, the symptoms are the same. My stomach gets those characteristic ‘goodbye’ butterflies, my throat constricts, my body feels restless. Time passes too quickly; minutes count, hours horrify.” (p. 195 & 230)

“All the world feels caught in these goodbyes, goodbyes that bruise and hurt, yet remind us that our hearts are still soft and alive.” (p. 202)


And last, but certainly not least, a quote from Marilyn’s preface:

“This book is a product of that life, a life lived on both sides of the globe. It is a set of essays from a life lived between worlds. […] It is my hope that my words, stories, thoughts, and feelings resonate with those who, along with me, are living between worlds.”

Who I Am

I am a third culture kid.

Of that I will never be rid.

 

I’ve grown up among worlds,

Like many other boys and girls.

 

I am made up of one travelling heart,

Which is often spread worlds apart.

 

I am internationally grown,

But I have a hard time defining home.

 

I am made up of many places,

Like a dice of six faces.

 

The places I’ve lived and loved,

And those that run through my blood;

 

Each of them is a part of me,

Part of my story and my journey.

 

Much of it is yet to be told,

But to one thing I will always hold:

 

I’m an adult third culture kid,

Of that I never wish to be rid.

The Hidden Story

I started this blog to share my experiences growing up as a third culture kid and trying to navigate life as an adult third culture kid. Lately I had started wondering if I was still doing that or if my blog had moved away from its initial purpose and goal. I thought about all that and more for quite some time, not sure where to go from there…

My blog does have a whole mix of things: posts specifically on being a TCK/ATCK, photography, poetry, posts of simple observations and memories… It does not follow a simple straight line – it twists and turns, sometimes ending up in an unexpected place. Growing up as a TCK, I quickly learned that life does not follow an easy linear path. There will always be unexpected curves and surprises. I am learning that life as an adult third culture kid has just as many (if not more) challenges and hidden turns. That is what this blog has always been about, even when I didn’t fully realize it.

The blog posts that are not specifically about growing up as a TCK or adapting as an ATCK may seem out of place, but actually they are a very important part of my journey. They are how I see my current world and how I feel about this particular home. I realized that the posts I initially thought were deviations from my original purpose were, in fact, simply part of the story. They were just telling a different side of it.

Love, Laughter and Provence

For many people ‘home’ is a fixed notion – a house, a city, a state, a country… But for many others, including TCKs, home is a much more fluid, less tangible notion. Home is a place of comfort and solace, a safe haven. Home is the presence of loved ones, wherever in the world that may be. Home is those oft-read books with creased bindings that are lovingly unpacked from boxes time and time again. Home is the trinkets sitting on shelves – each one makes you smile and brings back fond memories. Home is not a geographically fixed location; throughout our lives we’ve called many places home, but really home moved with us every time. Home is where you love and laugh.

When we first arrived in France, I never thought I would grow to love it like I have. We had just left Sydney and I was very unhappy. I missed the rich blue sky of Australia, the ocean, and my friends. I felt I could never be as happy in another place, as TCKs often do, and I resented being in Paris. If someone had told me then that I would fall in love with Paris and with France as a whole, I would have dismissed that comment, saying it was impossible. I was so very wrong. France, especially Paris and Provence, has a hold on my heart that no other country has ever had. It is the country I lived in the longest, and it is home in so many ways, even if I’m not living there currently. I have loved and laughed more there than anywhere else in the world. Paris gave me the love of my life, and Provence sealed that love with our wedding.

I love Paris very much, and I’m so lucky to have spent many beautiful years there, but no place calms me and invigorates me quite like Provence.  From the first moment we visited, spending 3 weeks of summer exploring the gorgeous region, it had a hold on us. Perhaps it’s the rich green vineyards, heavy with their colored grapes, or the lavender fields filling the air with their sweet fragrance, or perhaps the proximity to the Mediterranean Sea, or the culture, the history, the food…There are so many reasons to entice you to stay, that it is hard to tear yourself away.

When we first went to Provence, I never imagined that I would choose to get married there. I believed I would marry wherever I was living, wherever was ‘home’ at that time. But knowing I could get married somewhere I could go back to, somewhere that meant so much to me, but also to my husband and my family, was so special. It means that I can return to the beautiful church where we got married, that I can sleep in the house where we celebrated, that I can see the same views I saw on our beautiful wedding day.

When my parents decided to get a house in Provence, I thought it was a nice idea, but I didn’t know then that it would also become a home. It wasn’t just walls and a garden, it was a true safe haven, a place of love and laughter; a place to call our own. After so many years of packing up and moving home with us, we finally had somewhere to go back to. For the first time in my life, a fixed location could begin to define home.

Home is indeed where you love and laugh, but it turns out that home is also a house is the heart of Provence.

How do you not fall in love with this?
How do you not fall in love with this?

“Please Do Not Touch”

“Thank you.”

These signs could be found all over our hotel rooms, in between moves, when my sister and I were playing a very creative (not to mention expansive) game of barbies. Yes, barbies. In a hotel room. But let me start from the beginning to explain this somewhat odd behavior.

These photos are unfortunately not the actual hotel photos, but they are the contemporary and creative work of my brother, Rawi Fayad. Expect more barbie posts simply to showcase his talent.

My sister and I are 2.5 years apart and we loved barbies. Obviously, as we grew older we played with them less and less, but they were still a measure of childhood comfort when we found ourselves in a new and foreign place. A lot of the moves we did usually required shipping our household items by boat, which meant that we would arrive in the new country before all of our things. This in turn meant that we would be staying in a hotel for a couple of weeks at least or a couple of months at most. We would be in a totally foreign country, starting in a new school, without even the comfort and familiarity of home. So our wonderful parents always tried to ease this difficulty by allowing us to select certain items to send by express freight (along with clothes and other necessary items) so that they would arrive earlier, while we were still at the hotel. The barbies were always part of that express shipment.

As we got older, the barbies became less of a game for us, but more of a symbol of comfort, of home, of having each other as friends during these tough times. We didn’t play with them as much anymore, and yet we still created an extensive and elaborate domain for them in our hotel room. Every available space was used to create bedrooms, living rooms, pool areas…We used hand towels, vases, flowers – everything that could be used to create their spaces was used. Hence the signs. We knew that housekeeping would clean everything up if we didn’t explicitly ask them not to. So we politely asked them not to. Poor housekeeping – we must have made things so complicated for them, even though we truly didn’t realize it at that time. They kindly left our crazy creations where they were, and we appreciated that so much more than words can say.

Yes, our barbies are in varying catastrophic states. They have had limbs broken, heads popping off, they’ve been held together by tape, had their hair cut (this was never a successful endeavor), travelled the world, and made two little girls very happy, time and time again.

The time spent in hotels was often trying because it was either upon arriving somewhere unknown or when leaving a place that was home. Memories stick from certain hotels, and for some reason I have a lot from the hotel we stayed in when we first moved to the Philippines. Those barbie memories are from there, but there are other things that immediately trigger thoughts of that hotel. When we stayed there, the movie of the month on HBO was Maverick with Mel Gibson, which meant they played the movie several times a day. I’ve always loved that movie, and since then, whenever I see it I have a clear picture in my mind of the hotel room. The same goes for The Fugees’ song ‘Killing Me Softly’ – it must have come out around that time so MTV played it over and over… It’s amazing the little things that trigger memories. And it’s astounding how much the little things matter – having something constant on TV was soothing in a way; at least we knew what to expect when everything around us was a whirlwind. And having our barbies with us was a source of comfort in the upheaval.

We had to make the hotel our temporary home and the barbies helped do that, as odd and childish as that may sound. It helped to have those few familiar items around us and to play with them as if we were home. They entertained us, but most importantly, they comforted us.

So, please, do not touch. Thank you.

Despite the obvious wear and tear (and lack of hairdresser appointments), these barbies were loved very, very much. The proof: we still have them.