Thursday, 22 September 2016

TCKs, Identity and Love

So it happened. My first heart wrenching mom-of-a-TCK moment. TCK stands for Third Culture Kid. For those of you who are unfamiliar, TCK is a term used to refer to children raised in a culture other than their parents’ or the country on the child’s passport. My Aziza is a TCK. My Rowan is a TCK. When we first started thinking about a life overseas, I did a little research on TCKs and learned that they are pretty awesome but also face some unique challenges. To be honest, reading about their challenges freaked me out a little. Rootlessness, restlessness, lack of belonging, and identity crisis are real struggles for a lot of TCKs. And I HATE the idea that my children are going to have to wrestle with these things. But, my babies are, well, babies. Identity issues wont surface until they are much older, right? So, I just catalogued all of that useful TCK information somewhere on a dusty shelf in the back of my mind and hoped I wouldn’t have to pull it out until much, much later.

Apparently, much later means two and half years into my daughter’s life. A week ago, we were out as a family having a quick cup of chai. Some young men saw my curly-headed, spit fire of a daughter ordering ice cream in perfect Hindi. This intrigued them, so they struck up a conversation. The normal stuff. How are you? What’s your name? She shot back confident replies (again in perfect Hindi) without missing a beat. Then, they asked her where she was from. “India!” she exclaimed with joy. And the guys busted out laughing. For the first time in this little conversation, she was confused. She turned to me as if to ask if she’d given the wrong answer. Her big brown eyes, furrowed brow and little frown read, “I am from India, right?” I looked at her and nodded my head, and said, “That’s right baby. You live in India.”

As soon as I said it, I didn’t like my own answer. “You live in India,” I said, but not that she was from India. It seemed to imply that she doesn’t belong here as much as she feels she belongs here. She was born on Indian soil. And I love the India I see in her. I love her respect for elders and the way she gives everyone she knows a familial title. I love how she chows down on rice, dal and spicy subzi with her right hand. I love how she scolds her brother with the intonation of a loving Indian aunty. I love that she loves bindis and bangles and churiya. I love that her rooster says, “Ku-ku-ru-ku” instead of “cock-a-doodle-do”. I love that she says “Salam” and “Khuda hafiz” to her Muslim loved ones and “Namaste” and “Pranam” to her Hindu loved ones. Actually, I just love that she has Muslim and Hindu loved ones! She was born here and fits so well here in so many ways. Yet, she will never be Indian.

In the same way, she holds an American passport, she speaks English with a Texas accent, can put down b-b-q in epic proportions, loves Daniel Tiger like every other American toddler, and loves her American family with her whole heart. But, at this point in time, she hasn’t had the same experience as the majority of her American peers. So, while she is American in the most technical sense, she doesn’t have the roots of experience in her passport culture to make her feel truly at home there either.

I know this. But, she doesn’t quite know it yet. Those five minutes at the chai stall might have been her very first taste of not fully belonging to this world or that one. Those five minutes at the chai stall were my first taste of truly recognizing this reality. Every fear I imagined when I read my first book on TCKs years ago felt real and present to me in those slow moving minutes.

Leaving the chai stall, Aziza was unfazed, but I replayed the scene in my head for days. I found myself really praying for Aziza, and wondering if our lifestyle choices were causing her harm. And then, thanks to the inordinate amount of political postings on Facebook, I stumbled across one of the many videos about Trump and the whole birther “controversy”. I watched it with sadness for the complete irreverence of truth and the undisguised, blatant racism in a man who may or may not become our next president.

As I watched the video in utter dismay, God brought my Aziza to mind. It is times like these that world needs bridge builders. People who can see things from a wider perspective. People who have had a long experience of loving those who are not like them and know that the “other” is not to be feared but embraced. America needs people who are willing to look for ways to connect, not erect walls.

Although Dustin and I are your average, white, middle class Americans, Aziza (and Rowan) has not had your average, white, middle class life experience. She will understand the white, middle class world because it is our world, but God has called our family to serve and love people living in desperate poverty. So, she will also have an intimate knowledge of what life is like for those on the very margins of society. God has called our family to a place that is religiously diverse. So, bless her heart, Aziza has so many Indian moms, some Hindu, some Muslim, some Christian. She loves them well, and they love her. Because of this somewhat rootless life we live, my Aziza will know how to love her Muslim neighbor as much as her white, west Texan grandfather. And that is a gift. God has called us to a nation full of brown people. Aziza sees color and culture, and loves people regardless of what color or culture is theirs.

She may not ever have the same sense of physical place and belonging in the world that many of her non-TCK peers do, but this life has given her the ability to look at the many different places of the world and the many kinds of people who belong in it with LOVE. And while American politics are becoming more hateful and fear-driven, racial tensions are on the rise, and my childrens’ paths as TCKs are yet to be made clear, I can rest in that. I can rest in the fact that in this uncertain, shifty world, God is teaching my Aziza to love. And in the meanwhile, I will pray that she will find her roots, not in a place, but in the Lord who loves us all in all of our many differences.

Monday, 2 June 2014

We're not in Kansas anymore, Toto!

Every now and again, I’m just living life and the thought catches up with me that my life here is drastically different from my old life in the states. Honestly, most of the time I don’t even think twice about these kinds of things now. But, when really reflect, it is kind of remarkable how different my two worlds are! So, for all of my friends who are stateside, here are a few snapshots from my week that remind me I’m not in Kansas anymore!
  • I rode in an auto rickshaw with 10 other people across town and back, and no one even chuckled or made a reference to sardines… not once.
  • My mirror on my scooter broke when a rouge cow decided to take it out.
  • I went down to the veggie market and bought 6 kgs (roughly 14 lbs) of vegetables for under $3 USD.
  • There was a low of 83 degrees Fahrenheit one night and I got cold. That’s the power of life without an air conditioner!
  •  Random strangers want to hold my daughter and take photos with her, and I let them and don’t even think it is weird.
  • Okay, don’t freak out, but we ride our scooter with our baby. Not only is it legal, a scooter is considered a great vehicle for a family of 4. So, we’ve got room for more!
  • A man brought his demon possessed wife to our Sunday fellowship for healing and no one even blinked.
  •  Everyone is going crazy for lychees because they are only in season for a few weeks.
  • I passed two camels, a monkey, donkeys, one elephant, and a white horse on my way home from the park.

Ah, life as I know it! I’m certainly not bored J

Thursday, 20 March 2014

Aziza's Birth Story

I’ve always liked school, mostly because there are a bunch of right answers, and if you learn them you get rewarded with good grades. Sometimes you even get a plaque or shout out in class or something. It is a fairly controllable system. Go to class, learn the information, study, take a test and all is well. Being the achiever that I am, I quickly got busy learning and approached Aziza’s birth a bit like a university course.

After reading several convincing blogs, watching a documentary or two, and reading a book, I was fairly convinced I had “the right answers”. In all my wisdom gleaned from my studies, I decided that natural was the only way to go. Why on earth would I want to sabotage what is natural, after all? I typed out a highly official looking birth plan that I gave to my doctor. I had done my studying, learned the material. But, birth is not a science exam, as I would soon discover.

On December 29th, I woke up feeling a little funny. Tired, headache, nausea. I had read the books, so I knew that some of these things are normal experiences for the start of labor. Sure enough, by afternoon I started having contractions. That day, I had gone with my family to see Red Fort in Delhi, so we were in a crazy, old, congested part of the city. In the beginning, contractions were pretty easy, although the nausea was heating up. When contractions set in about 20 minutes apart, we decided we’d better catch the subway back to south Delhi so that we’d be closer to the hospital. By the time we hit the subway station, I was feeling intensely nauseated, but some 500 people (this is not a joke) were in line for tickets, so I found a little open space by the stairs and started praying that I wouldn’t throw up while I waited for Dustin to return with our ticket home. It didn’t work, and I ended up projectile vomiting down two flights of stairs. I’ve never seen a mob of people form a single file line so fast, all the while staring at the hugely pregnant foreigner. It was pretty amazing.

(My mom and I on a rickshaw when the contractions were becoming more steady)

At this point, my brother pointed out to my mother that I had, without a doubt, lost my mucous plug. He said he saw it on the stairs. Ha ha. Anyhow, on the way home I called my doctor who told me to come to the hospital ASAP for a checkup. So, around 7 pm I ended up at the hospital. They gave me a little gown and put some clean sheets on the hospital bed. Not five minutes after getting all settled in for a checkup, I began vomiting again. The little metal kidney bean bowl they gave me wasn’t quite big enough, so some new covers and a gown were required. Then, the fever and chills set in. Turns out I had the stomach flu. Awesome.

After the check up, we discovered that while I was having reasonably strong contractions I was only 1 cm dilated and 0% effaced BUT I couldn’t go home because I was vomiting uncontrollably and had to be monitored. Well, to make a rather long story shorter, 27 hours later, I was still vomiting (and having some issues at the other end), having INTENSE back labor and contractions roughly every 3 to 4 minutes, and had only progressed to 3 cms and was 50% effaced. What the heck? At this point, they decided to use Pitocin to help my body along. That made my back labor astronomically more intense. I was loosing steam, and was starting to worry that I’d be too tired to push when it came time. At this point, any normal person might start to think an epidural was a good idea… ahhh, but remember, I had a birth plan!

(Me feeling more than a little exhausted) 

My well informed, but now potentially unrealistic, self-expectations for labor were hitting me like a freight train. The countless blogs and books were running through my head reminding me of the million and ten ways in which natural was best, how I could be putting my baby at risk by doing anything “unnatural,” how natural was “normal” and basically anything else was wrong. I seriously almost had a meltdown, so my sweet husband and awesome mom prayed with me and read me scripture. In that moment, I was struck by the realization that the conversation surrounding natural child birth had really painted the picture that those who choose an epidural or any kind of medical intervention are less womanly, not natural, careless with their children, anything but brave/strong and terribly uninformed. Those voices were drowning out the reality that having an epidural while battling the stomach flu might very well be the best choice for my baby and me. After we prayed, I felt free to release my self-expectations, trust Jesus, and deliver Aziza with a little help. So, 28 hours into labor, I got the epidural. And I am so, so glad I did.

(Me in post-epidural heaven, ha ha)

Aziza was born 8 hours after getting the epidural. I pushed for the entire last hour. The effects of the epidural were much weaker at this point, and I was actually able to push really well for someone who had an epidural. But, her head would just crown and then pull back up. The doctor realized something wasn’t right and called in a few other doctors. I could hear them whispering about a potential emergency cesarean. About that time, Aziza’s heart rate was dropping, and we lost power and were unable to get her heart rate back. This is when my mom says that everyone in the room turned into “little labor and delivery ninjas”. The power was cutting on and off while my doctor did an episiotomy and two others jumped up on the table and pushed hard on my stomach as I pushed through a contraction. It was by far the most painful thing I have ever experienced… and that was with an epidural! As it turns out Aziza’s umbilical chord was short (something the ultrasound technician missed), about half the length of what it should have been. Her chord was holding her back. At some point, possibly while they were pushing on my stomach, Aziza lost her oxygen supply.

She came out. Blue. Limp. Silent. Doctors and nurses were everywhere. There was a little huddle around Aziza, and they seemed to be buzzing like bees. I kept asking if she was okay, and everyone would say, “Everything is fine.” But she wasn’t crying, people looked tense and doctors were giving terse orders. My husband’s face was white as a sheet. Never before had life seemed so delicate, so fragile to me. After what felt like an eternity, I heard Aziza sputter out a little cough. My mom held my hand and I just bawled. She was alive! Pretty soon after she coughed, they set her on my chest for about 30 seconds before whisking her away to the NICU. At this point, I just passed out. I think it was God’s grace for me. My heart couldn’t handle any more.

(My first time to hold her!)

Dustin went with Aziza to the NICU but they wouldn’t let him stay, so he paced outside of the door until he heard her cry nearly an hour after she was born. It is a cultural thing, but patients are given very little information here. So, no one told us anything. We just had to wait. Three hours after she was born, they brought her to us. She was pink everywhere except her hands and feet. We just held onto her and to each other. The whole experience was the scariest, most beautiful, overwhelming, tender, sacred time in my life. So many emotions surfaced during her birth that I couldn’t even tell the story without bawling until recently (she’s three months old now). I am utterly overcome with how much I love her.

(Sweet Aziza on her second day of life)

When we got home from the hospital, I opened my email inbox to discover that people around the globe felt led to pray for us at the exact time things were becoming a little dicey in the delivery room.  It was amazing. As I read email after email, I wept. I was just overwhelmed at how God preserved Aziza’s life. This wasn’t a science exam. I didn’t have the answers, or the power to achieve a perfect birth. But that didn’t matter, because the One who has the answers and the power was there with me, with Aziza.

Thursday, 31 October 2013

Culture Shock Round 2: Going Postal

Culture shock is quite possibly the weirdest phenomenon in the world. After being here for about 9 months, I remember doing a little happy dance. I thought, “Wow, I’m really starting to feel at home here. I love it here. I’m rockin' this language and people are making sense. Things are great!” But, this came only after some real wrestling with culture mind you. There were many moments where I thought I would never, EVER understand anyone around me! But, after some time, there was a shift in my heart. I still didn’t understand everything, but I was seriously happy and adjusted. Well, at least I was adjusted to what I was experiencing on a daily basis thus far.

Alas, in the past three months or so, we’ve entered into a new phase of life here. Our first year was about learning to survive in this culture, making friends and learning language. But as we’ve transitioned into our second year here, we are starting to enter into some new roles, namely as business people and parents. Let’s just say life isn’t all biryani and roses these days!

It is crazy how the introduction of these two new roles has given us a totally different wave of culture shock woes. I’m normally pretty go with the flow, but suddenly, with the thought of bringing my sweet baby into this world, poor health care, mice infestations, crappy plumbing (pun completely intended, but that is another story altogether) and flooding haven’t seemed like only a tiny nuisance. Instead they seem huge, annoying, even scary. When we moved here, we laughed it off that it took two months to get a government approved gas connection and the irony of the post office never having stamps (seriously? This is a post office, right?) became a joke of sorts. But, now that we are in the big middle of trying to get a legal business entity up and running, it is quite possible that I will go postal on someone at a government office. So, if one day, you see on the news that some American woman totally freaked out in some Indian government office and now is in a mice infested jail cell because of her crimes, just know it is me, ha ha.

 Lately, it seems I am always fighting… for my unborn child, for our business, for my house to not fall apart or be overtaken by mice, sewage or mold. It isn’t really individuals I am fighting, although a few poor souls have certainly suffered the brunt of my frustration! It is nature, lack of education, a corrupt government, broken bureaucratic systems, poverty, prejudice towards foreigners, gender biases, barriers between communities, religious strongholds, and deficiencies in my own language skills. To be totally honest, it scares me a bit that we are only just beginning and I’m already feeling a little exhausted by it all.

So, as I see it, I have two options: insanity leading to a government office freak out and jail time, or a serious encounter with God that gives me a tenacious, fighting persistence combined with love that is far beyond what I am capable of on my own. So friends, lets pray for the second option.