Today I am delighted to introduce you to Jenni Gate. Jenni and I met online through another third culture kid. It was instant connection and we have said more than once that we have lived parallel lives, the most obvious being both of us graduating from high school in Pakistan, two different schools, in the same year. Read more about Jenni at the end but for now enjoy this beautiful post on memories within.
I am a universe with the memories of each place I’ve lived orbiting around my brain like stars within a galaxy.
Each TCK or global nomad carries the memories of all the places lived in their own unique universe. When we discuss our experiences, we offer a shimmer, a glimpse into our individual universe. A scent or a word spoken in just the right way may trigger a flood of memories, like a meteor shower crashing into a planet, carrying the memory of one culture as it impacts another and another and another. In an instant, we remember every moment we had to say a good-bye or every moment we were the new kid at school. When our planets collide, the shock of one culture compared with another, we may be immobile until we understand the new realm of experience, the new rules of gravity, the new physics of our interactions with one another.
Worlds of memory are packed away inside us, pushed into the dark matter of our minds.
I first realized this when I started writing memoirs of a life growing up globally. I began describing some of the people who took care of us when we were little. Like most westerners living in the Third World, we had household staff. In Benghazi, Libya, we had a neighbor who was about 12 years old. She loved to keep my mother company, eager to help bathe us and dress us and comb our hair when I was an infant and my older sister was 3 or 4 years old. In Nigeria, we had Marta, a nanny who carried us, fed us, played with us, and babysat us when our parents were out. We also had Ussman, who organized every aspect of our lives. In Kinshasa, we had Mousa, a timid, quiet man who cooked and cleaned and looked out for us. In Islamabad, we had Rafiq and our cook Ashraf, who made incredible after-school snacks to please us.
As I wrote about each of these people, people I once loved as close as family, it dawned on me that with each move, we said good-bye to people we loved and trusted. We never took time to grieve these losses.
I began to categorize the things we lost and the things we gained. I listed schools, toys, games, houses. I listed holidays and cultural norms. I listed identities. There was Jenni the ballerina, Jenni the swimmer, Jenni the hockey player, Jenni the cheerleader. I listed pets. We left so many pets behind when we moved. We were grateful for those we moved with us. We left pets with close friends and distant acquaintances; we left pets behind into the unknown during wars and evacuations. We got to a point that we refused to get large dogs because they could not come with us when we moved, and it was too hard to separate from them.
We gained new insights into religions of the world. We gained cultural norms and social expectations. We gained new friends, new enemies, new people we may or may not remember. We gained languages. We gained dreams and hopes, and new ways of perceiving. We learned that the universe was open, and the infinite is possible.
Each time we move, we pack up our memories along with our possessions. Sometimes the boxes that hold specific memories aren’t opened again for years, if ever. We look to selected memories to help define us, clinging to a whisper of what we might have become if we had followed a certain trajectory or lived our lives in one place. We do this because with each move, part of our identity is packaged into its own separate planet containing memories, cultural norms, activities, hobbies, friends, pets, places and people that we may never do or see again. These memories inevitably spin from our minds as we turn to new experiences, new cultures, new planets to be explored and integrated into our universe, always seeking a foundation we can call our planet earth – home.
Jenni was born in Libya, and as a child she lived in Libya, Nigeria, the Congo, Pakistan, the Philippines, and the Washington DC area. As an adult, she has lived in Alaska, England, and throughout the Pacific Northwest.
With a childhood enriched by travel and diverse experiences, Jenni learned early that the only constant in life is change, and she developed skills to manage each change as it happens.
She has worked as a paralegal, a mediator, a small business consultant, and a writer. Her published work includes several articles for a monthly business magazine in Alaska and a local interest magazine in Idaho. She has written several award-winning memoir pieces for writing contests. Jenni currently writes fiction, drawing upon her global experiences. She blogs at nomadtrailsandtales.com.
- Cross-cultural parenting: Reflections on autonomy and interdependence (eurekalert.org)
- Contradictions of Home (Nomad Trails & Tales)
- 7 ways to increase cultural awareness through letter writing (cfcausa.org)