“Some of the people have no color,” says one of the boys who has made it to the refugee camp. [referring to the aid workers at the camp]
“That’s because they were born without skin,” “There are people here with no skin!” [Giggles from the children erupt]
“No one stares anymore!” I said this through tears and the people surrounding me were clueless and confused. What is she talking about? What do you mean no one stares? Staring is a good thing? On what planet?
On planet TCK, third culture kid, global nomad. That’s what planet.
As little, white missionary kids – and then older, white missionary kids in Pakistan we were stared at. All the time. In the words above from the film The Good Lie – we looked like we had no color, we were born without skin.
Think about it. If you’ve never seen someone with a different color skin they are a novelty. Many places where we went in Pakistan, we were a novelty.
And many times the attention was unwelcome. There were times when we hated being stared at, times when more than anything we wanted to lash out at those who stared, when we mocked them. And as those of us who were girls grew to be young women, there was more attention. But sometimes it was welcome. Sometimes it made me feel special. Sometimes it made me feel like I was better than those around me.
I was set apart as a little white girl in Pakistan. But when on home leaves going to churches in the United States, I was also set apart. In fact churches were far worse then being in villages in Pakistan. For the missionary kid, going to strange youth groups in New England was like being paraded as a new animal in a zoo.
“Look at the missionary kid!”
“Do they talk funny?”
“Look at their clothes!”
At that time New England was an area of the United States that saw far less movement than other parts. People had lived here since the Mayflower – their ancestors came on “the boat” and they knew if you didn’t. The only thing that troubled them more was if you, like my dad, had relatives who came on the Mayflower and then dared to leave.
I had learned how to work with stares and attention in Pakistan. I learned how to discern when the stares were rude and demanded response, and when they were just curious. I knew what to say and how to live. I didn’t know how to respond to Christian youth groups in the United States.
And then I moved to my passport country to go to college. No one stared. No one bothered to look at me at all. I was one of the crowd. And I hated it. I hated that I looked like the majority population and anyone who saw me assumed that I had never left the country. I hated that no one knew my story. I hated that nothing set me apart.
And so my tears that day were about several things. Firstly, they were about how I was used to being different, used to being stared at, but also used to being privileged. And I was no longer different. I was no longer stared at. I was having to realize my privilege. I was one of many nursing students, all working hard to become nurses, and all gaining weight through late-night snacks of trail mix loaded with chocolate and Chicago deep-dish pizza.
Second – I may have been stared at in parts of Pakistan, I may have been ‘different’, but I had my people. And in this new land I not only had no stares, I had no people. My people were gone. They were far away, accessible only by thin blue aerogrammes that didn’t fly over the seas quickly. So the tears fell hard and long.
It’s lonely to be different and assumed to be the same. As third culture kids in Pakistan we had each other and we had our parents. We had a small community that we belonged to and that made being different in the outside world okay.
As I have grown I have come to realize that most of this is about pride. I hate to admit that – no one wants to admit the pride that has learned how to hide itself so well, has learned how to dress in socially acceptable ways. But there’s the reality. Oh the loneliness was real, still is real at times. The struggle to belong is real and valid. But there has been an element of pride that I have had to recognize — and confess.
A group of verses in the New Testament book of Philippians say something about dealing with pride:
“In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!”
I have had to commit these words to memory so they can become more a part of my being. Jesus made himself nothing. Jesus took the nature of a servant. Jesus, equal with God, gave up all the privilege his status warranted, did not use it to “his own advantage.”
And all I’m being asked to do is accept that there will be times when people don’t know my story? Don’t see me as ‘special?’ Wow. Makes me stop and pause, and maybe cringe a little inside.
Maybe cringe enough to confess and move forward.
How about you? Have you lived in a place where you have been stared at? Did you learn how to cope so that when there were no longer stares, it was hard? How about privilege? Do you live in a place where you are one of the privileged? I know I’ve got a couple different things going here, but would love to dialogue about this.