Hatching Baby Sea Turtles

sea-turtle

I’m in a cocoon of snow. The entire world around me is white and cold. I am happily non-essential so there is no need to go anywhere and I am so grateful. I wanted to take this day anyway, to think about life as I enter a new birth year, to do some writing, to rest. And I get all those things because of this snow.

As I sit here thinking about life, my mind goes back to the baby sea turtles of my youth. I don’t know why – perhaps it’s because it is my birthday, perhaps it’s because there could not be a greater contrast between the world out my window, and the world of the baby sea turtles.

But I remember the sea turtles as though it were yesterday.

The mama turtle lumbers up the beach in the moonlight. It’s a long, lonely walk. She is trying to find somewhere safe to lay her eggs, a place where she can dig deep, where predators will not find those precious eggs – her eggs, her babies.

She is heavy – hundreds of pounds – and this journey from sea to land is not only arduous because of her size, it’s miles and miles long. She knows her job. It’s to find a place on shore, excavate a large hole big enough to put around 80 eggs. Then she will need to cover it with sand and make it look as though there is nothing buried there. As if it has already been disturbed and nothing was found, tricking the forces that would harm her young into believing there is nothing there.

Exhausted she heads back to the ocean, finally resting her heavy, weary body, allowing herself to be carried away in the ocean waves of the Arabian Sea.

She doesn’t know that she is being observed, watched by a family who is staying in a small hut nearby. She will never know the life lessons she brings, the quiet that comes upon us so that we don’t disturb this important work.

The eggs will hatch in around two and a half months. And we, the missionary kids of Pakistan, will be there to see them.

And it will be magical and amazing. But we won’t realize this until later. 

A lone dog will be the one that alerts us to their arrival, sniffing at a pile of dirt and beginning to frantically dig for the tiny turtles. But we will run and shout and wave them off, fiercely protective, taking on maternal roles as we ensure that these turtles make their way in a safe passage to the sea.

These baby turtles are like us. They are vulnerable and small. They are facing a big, dangerous world and their task is enormous. Make it to the ocean. Survive. Grow. Thrive.

We who were raised across oceans and boundaries of nations are so much like these baby turtles. We are cocooned for a while, and then we have to go, we have to make it in a world that can be hostile to who we are and what we believe. While buried in our sand there are those that wave off the predators, but once we begin the journey to the sea, it’s a journey we make alone in many ways.

As a child, I never tired of watching baby turtles make their way to the sea.
As an adult, I never tire of remembering, of seeing faded photographs of Hawke’s Bay, where children gather around baby turtles anxious to help yet knowing they can’t. Because for sea turtles to make their way to the ocean without help is critically important. It’s their first step in gaining the strength to survive.

All of this magic happened in Pakistan, a land that has sustained many catastrophes, much political upheaval, and tragedies from both man and nature. Yet on Hawke’s Bay you could always forget the bigger world and succumb to the spell of the ocean, get lost in the waves, and fall into the magic that is baby sea turtles.

Today in the snow, I remember the baby sea turtles and smile.

Picture Credit: http://pixabay.com/en/sea-turtle-baby-young-survival-356125/

When You’re Told to Pull up Your Bootstraps but You’re Not Wearing Any Shoes

rubber-boots-

It’s not often our expertise but the exploration of our own suffering that enables us to be of real assistance.That’s what allows us to touch another human being’s pain with compassion instead of with fear and pity.We have to invite it all. It is an intimacy with our own inner life that enables us to form an empathetic bridge to the other person.” (Ostaseski, 2008)

The words stung. “You need to just pull up your boot straps and get on with life. I mean how long is it going to take you to be okay living here?”

A hard slap across my tender face would have been more welcome. We had moved from Egypt three years before, a difficult move by any standards.  I thought I was doing well. I had landed a job; my children were doing well in school, and top of their classes. They were acting in school plays and had friends and confidantes. We were involved in the school and the community.

In a matter of seconds, none of that was enough.

I needed to do more. Be more.

But I couldn’t. There was nothing more I could do. I was at the end of my resources. We lived in a small town that was 10 minutes from the ocean. Our house was a magical 165 year old Victorian home with over 26 windows and enough space for 5 kids to sprawl. On the surface we were living the American dream.

The problem was that we never wanted to live the American dream. We never thought we would buy a house. We never thought my husband would work at Harvard University. We never anticipated the quintessential small town Main street address.

And so every day was learning to live with what was, not what I wanted. The script had been re-written by a Master Author, yet I as one of the characters was not playing my part very well. My resources had failed.

I had no shoes, let alone boots. I couldn’t pull up anything. But I was told to pull up my bootstraps and get on with life.

There are times when being told to pull up your bootstraps helps – but usually you have to be wearing boots for that to work. There are other times when you wish people would look beyond the surface, would see your lack of shoes, and walk beside you – holding your hand, warning you of the rocks and pebbles that are inevitably a part of the journey.

There are times when instead of telling people to pull up their bootstraps we need to buy them shoes; other times when we need to take off our own shoes and walk with them barefoot.

It’s called empathy. 

Leslie Jamison, author of The Empathy Exams puts it this way: ”

“Empathy isn’t just remembering to say That must really be hard, it’s figuring out how to bring difficulty into the light so it can be seen at all. Empathy isn’t just listening, it’s asking the questions whose answers need to be listened to. Empathy requires inquiry as much as imagination. Empathy requires knowing you know nothing. Empathy means acknowledging a horizon of context that extends perpetually beyond what you can see….”

I’ve thought about the above encounter many times. It no longer hurts to think about it, instead it is from a past that is covered with grace. But I don’t forget it – because hurts in the past when healed can inform our future, can change the way we relate with others. How often have I looked at others and, instead of entering their pain and asking them their story, expected them to just try harder? How often have I acted as though they needed to pull up their bootstraps and get on with life instead of looking to see if they had any boots?

Every day there are people around us with a story, a life narrative. How we choose to meet them can make all the difference. Will we enter with empathy or with judgment?

*The Empathy Exams” published February 2014 in The Believer

Readers – purchase Between Worlds before December 15 and all proceeds go toward refugees in Turkey! Read reviews below!

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Picture Source: http://pixabay.com/en/rubber-boots-shoe-old-broken-509967/

The Good Ole’ Days: Remembering Thanksgiving in the “old” country!

We (Robynn & I) wish you a Happy Thanksgiving from the United States! Enjoy this post by Robynn about the “Old Country.”

thank-you

Those were Thanksgivings where kimchee lay down next to the roast chicken and we celebrated with true gratitude the extraordinary community we got to be a part of.

One of my favourite days of the year when we lived in India was always Thanksgiving Day. I’m referring to American Thanksgiving with sincere apologies to Canada and other nations who have similarly marked days for thankfulness or to celebrate a successful harvest:  The Netherlands, Grenada, Australia’s Norfolk Island, Liberia, Germany’s Erntedankfest or Japan’s Labor Thanksgiving Day. Thanksgiving Day isn’t celebrated in India, except of course among expatriate communities of Americans tucked around the country. On the second Monday of October, Thankgiving in Canada, it was always far too hot to celebrate with any vigor! But by the end of November, the temperatures were favorable. The hot summer was over, the messy monsoons after-mud was all dried up and there was nearly, if you used your imagination, a Fall-like atmosphere in the air! It was time to party! We took that celebration to a whole new level in the way we honoured American Thanksgiving. In fact the day became affectionately known as, the International American Thanksgiving Hosted by a Canadian! (And I was that Canadian!)

Our house was perfectly situated for such an event. We lived in an ancient stone house built right next to the Ganges River. Our house was built around a central courtyard with a massive mango tree growing out of the center. There was a staircase up to the roof with a glorious view of the river on the eastern side, a view of the city from the other three sides. From the roof top you could also look down into the open courtyard in the center of our home. While the house was actually quite small, the courtyard was large and hospitable. The last year we were there 111 people attended our Thanksgiving day and all managed to find a place to sit down: on chairs , on mats, on cushions, on the roof, in the living room, in the tree house!

With no turkeys available and no pumpkins in the market we had to improvise. We hosted a potluck. People from all over the world find themselves living along the banks of the Ganges river in the vibrant little city of Varanasi. Those same people are often nostalgic for their favourite foods. Once a year, at our International American Thanksgiving, they’d give into their memories of home and food and family, creatively substituting ingredients where necessary, they’d bring amazing dishes to share at our table. Typically we’d have mountains of mashed potatoes and gravy with roasted chickens and stuffing piled high. But we’d also have kimchee salad and fruit platters and sushi and tandoori chicken. There was often rice pulau with chunks of lamb and oodles of raisins. There was cabbage salad and sweet glazed carrots and green beans cooked up with onions and garlic. If the season cooperated, and we were lucky, someone might have found sweet potatoes in the bazaar. Those were smothered in a syrup made from coarse sugar and raw molasses to make a tasty vegetable side dish. Often we had curried dishes next to more traditional thanksgiving fare. Aloo Gobi. Muttar Paneer. And one of my favourite eggplant dishes: Baingan Bharta. Usually someone’s mother had sent a tin or two of cranberry sauce to complete our meal. Those were shared with joy and rationed out by the teaspoon! The dessert table was always divine. It held squash and carrot pies, apple pies, banana cream pies, lemon or key lime pie without the key limes. There was milk tart, dumplings, spice cakes, lamington and Ute’s special tiramisu. It was an international feast of international treats lovingly prepared by international cooks with whatever ingredients they could find, or had saved especially for the day.

After everyone had eaten their full and the coffee and tea had been served, we cleared the plates and got ready for the afternoon’s entertainment. With no football game to distract us, we found our own fun! A stage was created to the west side of our courtyard. Everyone turned their chairs, or their cushions on the courtyard floor to face the stage. People sat on the roof and watched down below. Babies crawled through and around and over the legs and laps of aunties and uncles. Toddlers toppled and played with leaves fallen from the mango tree in the center of our courtyard. Every year we had a talent show as part of our unique Thanksgiving Day celebrations. There were classical Indian dances from our little girls in dance class, there were silly songs and sad songs, there were painful magic shows, my husband Lowell would demonstrate our dog, Koyla’s, ability to understand 5 or 6 languages, someone would tell a story, another would have a series of jokes. And then the afternoon would be over. We’d linger long over another piece of leftover pie, another cup of hot chai. Slowly people would trickle out, no one really wanting the day to be over.

Our first Thanksgiving back in the US was in 2007. As we were making plans for it, our kids asked what we were doing for the talent show. Lowell laughed gently and then told them that the talent show wasn’t really a part of a traditional Bliss family thanksgiving in Kansas. Our children were aghast. How could you have thanksgiving without the talent show?

Making plans for a different type of Thanksgiving this year, with Lowell’s mom now living with us, and Lowell’s brother’s family now out at the farm, I wonder what changes we’ll see. It makes me remember those other Thanksgivings, a world away, on the banks of the Ganges. Those were Thanksgivings where kimchee lay down next to the roast chicken and we celebrated with true gratitude the extraordinary community we got to be a part of. Those were, in my mind, the good ole days.

(Although, truth be told, I don’t miss the annual awkward moment in the talent show where Lowell played his tin whistle with his nose….!)

Picture Credit: http://pixabay.com/en/thank-you-gratitude-appreciation-490607/ adapted by Marilyn Gardner

Everywhere is on my List

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Could there be a more perfect quote for those of us with who wear travel like we wear our favorite shoes? I don’t think so – but let’s find out. I invite you to share through the comments your favorite travel quote. There are so many of them and so many great ones. Share them in the comment section and I’ll do what I can to create a picture quote to share on either the Facebook page or here at Communicating Across Boundaries. Make sure you include the source.If it’s your original quote, all the better.

Have at it!

Readers – I’ll be in Phoenix for the next few days. If you live in that area I’d love to see you on Sunday evening at a book signing/reading event! Contact me at communicatingblog@gmail.com for more information!

I’m From….

I’m From…by Robynn and Adelaide

passport-Adelaide

Adelaide is a sophomore in high school. She’s in grade 10. The Language Arts teacher wanted them to write a poem introducing themselves to her and to the class. It was a simple assignment. Five short stanzas. Two lines each. Begin each stanza with, “I’m from…”. Apparently the teacher’s included lines like, “I’m from the yellow kitchen, blue popsicles and red posies. I’m from the white house, the fenced yard, the barking beagle”.

It’s a good assignment.

Theoretically.

Unless where you’re from is convoluted. Unless you’ve inherited some confusion on that particular subject. Unless it’s too long of a story to be captured neatly in five short stanzas.

And then it’s not such a great assignment.

Adelaide cranked out a rough draft. The teacher read it over Adelaide’s shoulder. She cautioned her on being too vague. It wasn’t specific enough. It didn’t describe where Adelaide was from. She should give it another go.

Over the weekend, sprawled on her bedroom floor, Adelaide read her first draft out loud. I loved it. Tears sprang to my eyes. My young daughter had captured the ambiguities of a globally scattered childhood succinctly. She discerned her own angst. She understood mine too.

We talked about what she should do. I didn’t want her to make any changes and yet she needed to meet her teacher’s expectations. Eventually she tweaked it some. But it was her original first draft that I connected with.

   I’m from the wide airplane wings

                                Swooping me up and setting me down.

                I’m from the navy blue passport

                                Filled with endless destinations.

                I’m from the suitcases not always full

                                Yet always tucked away in the corner.

                I’m from the experiences, the people, the places

                                From North America to Europe to Asia.

                I’m from never knowing where I’m from

                                       But always feeling at home.

 

Now it’s your  turn – using the same format, where are you from? And many thanks to the beautiful Adelaide for starting the conversation.

For more posts on Third Culture Kids go here.

Between Worlds: Essays on Culture and Belonging available NOW! 

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Picture Credit: http://pixabay.com/en/united-states-usa-passport-blue-315266/  and word art by Mgardner

Related posts:

When you Realize you can Love Two Places – and not be Disloyal

Transition: Building a RAFT

Honor the Grief, Honor the Goodbye

Honor the Grief, Honor the Goodbye

grief and goodbye

“Make sure you say goodbye” I text these words to my youngest son, followed by “It’s important to say your goodbyes.”

He is only leaving for the summer, he will be back on the same campus next year. But it is critical to me to say this to him. I want my children to be able to say goodbyes, to honor them. I want my children to be able to honor their grief, not suppress it as though it is unimportant, as though it will go away and not leave an imprint on their hearts.

I do the same for my youngest daughter. She is graduating from college, ending one stage and moving on to the next. “Say your goodbyes.” I tell her.

These kids of mine? They’ve moved so much. They’ve lived on different continents, in different countries, cities, and communities. And I am desperate for them to know how to honor the goodbye.

Most TCKs go through more grief experiences by the time they are 20 than monocultural individuals do in a lifetime. – Third Culture Kids Growing up Among Worlds

It’s June and for the transnational family or child, this is the month of goodbyes. This is the month where parties and packing fill all the days and worry and tears interrupt the nights. This is the month of graduations and school endings, job changes and home leaves; the month where lives are dictated by lists and deadlines, by leaving in peace or sometimes just leaving.

And in the midst of all of this it’s easy to forget that grief must be honored and goodbyes must be said. 

So I can’t shout these words loud enough. I can’t speak them clear enough. I can’t emphasize them strongly enough. Honor the goodbye. Honor the grief that comes with the goodbye.

My bookshelves are filled with books on cross-cultural living, on identity, on belonging, on growing roots in a global world. Every day I think about these things as I read about military brats and third culture kids, kids and their parents who live like bridges between worlds, gathering up their portable lives into suitcases full of mementoes as they move on to the next place. I interact with moms who are worried they are ruining their children, moms who fantasize that life in their birth countries is stable and perfect even as they try to plant roots in countries that are unfamiliar. I connect with third culture kids who never want to move again, who establish their bodies and souls in one place even as they decorate their homes with remnants of their past lives. I also connect with third culture kids who are itching for that next move, that next step – restless and longing in the small towns where they find themselves, unable to see the threads that begin to tie them to these towns. And every day I am more sure of the need to honor the grief, to honor the goodbye. 

And I think about what honoring the grief and honoring the goodbye means. We grieve because we are losing places and people that we love. Each goodbye is a little like death, it’s saying goodbye to permanence and the relationships as we know them. They will change, they have to change. Comfort and hope will have their place, and they are part of the process, but sometimes we need to just sit with the grief before being forced to move on. The global transnational family has developed an amazing capacity to adapt, to move forward, but sometimes we need to just stop where we are and honor that moment.

Years ago we moved from one part of the city of Cairo to another, a seemingly small move. But the move still came with loss of connection and community. The kids were leaving their school, we were leaving our neighborhood. We planned to move all our belongings before leaving for the U.S for a home leave. After we returned we would settle into our new space. Part of this move meant giving up our small, red Zastava car. The car was tiny and we barely fit in it but we loved that car. We would arrive places and pile out while others looked on in amazement that we could fit so many children in a car that is smaller than a Volkswagen Bug. The night that we watched another family drive away in our red car my son Joel was inconsolable. I remember walking with him that night, his small hand reaching up to my larger one, and hearing his tears, his sobs. The car was symbolic of this move. “Why do we have to sell our car?” he wailed. Walking beside him I remember part of my heart breaking as well. “I’m so sorry Joel. I’m so sorry.” There was nothing else I could say. I look back at that time and I’m glad that’s all I said. Because in truth, there were no other words.

I think that is what it is like to honor grief. It is sitting with it, not trying to push it away, not providing false reassurance, just sitting. I often think about Job from the Bible and his infamous friends who showed up and talked and talked and talked. They offered a lot of solutions, but no real comfort, pages of words, but nothing that honored the situation. What if they had just showed up and sat with him through his loss? That’s what I think it means to honor grief, to honor goodbye. I think it means to sit with it and let it flow, to sit quietly with ourselves or with others and not push an agenda of false happiness.

So if you are one of those people, one of those families that is saying goodbye this June, I offer this: Sit with your grief, let it flow, don’t try too hard to analyze, don’t push yourself or others to some ‘right’ response. Just sit with it. Because as the grief comes, so will the comfort.

And for your goodbyes? Say your goodbyes. The goodbyes will hurt, they will smart. Like a wound feels when the salty ocean water washes over it you will brace yourself. But just as the salt in the ocean provides healing so will goodbyes offer healing to your mobile soul.

Are you one who is saying goodbye this year? I would love to hear from you on what you think makes a ‘good’ goodbye. Others, what do you think about honoring grief and honoring goodbyes?

Blogger’s note: Elizabeth Trotter wrote an excellent post on goodbyes this past week at A Life Overseas. Click here to find it.

A great resource is the RAFT plan: Reconciliation, Affirmation, Farewell, Think Destination. Take a look here for details on this.

Picture credit: http://pixabay.com/en/autumn-cemetery-grief-78825/

*Dave Pollock

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Remembering the power of the narrative – bearing witness to the stories of others.

Marilyn R. Gardner

It is the function of Art to renew our perception. What we are familiar with we cease to see. The writer shakes up the familiar scene, and as if by magic, we see a new meaning in it.~ Anais Nin

While living internationally, we rarely went a day without having a story to tell that demonstrated our clumsy negotiations in a country where we were guests. Whether it was wrong translations on birth certificates, getting completely lost in a city of millions, or using the wrong word when communicating, there was always a story. At parties a game favorite was Two Truths and a Lie. While many in the United States may have played this, the responses are totally different when you live overseas. Responses such as “My maid of honor was a Nigerian gentleman”I had dinner with Yasser Arafat’s brother” “My appendix were taken…

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