The Expat Child

The Expat Child

Apparently I am an ” Expat “. That identity crisis only took some thirty some odd years to figure out.
It sure explains a lot.
As a child I remember designing different flags with my best friend. A flag to represent our own country where we both fit in. Her parents were from Argentina, mine from Switzerland and the US. When we entered our homes our language and customs instantly changed.
I was raised under the “melting pot ” theory. Which meant our home was a bubble of the USA. We were all going to speak English, watch TV from the USA and eat ‘ American ‘ food. As a result I have little beyond a passport to show for my Swiss heritage. It also meant that any language or customs that I acquired locally were frowned upon.
To confuse matters even more I attended a school where the students transferred in and out every three years from other countries. This was before the internet era and long distance phone calls were expensive. I tried desperately to stay in touch as a pen pall, but none lasted.
I remember exploding in anger one day after hours of crying. I was mourning the loss of another friendship transferred to some other country. “That’s it! No more!” I was not going bother bonding with anyone anymore at school. I was going local.
My act of rebellion was to recognize and embrace the local culture I had absorbed all along. I had already grown up speaking the local language, listening and dancing to its music and watching local television programs. Over time I looked at my family as the foreigners.
I remember begging to study at the local university. No, I had to study in the USA. So I went thinking, ” I have cable TV , a dad from the US and studied at an American school” I am ready. No, I was not. It was incredibly difficult.
Imagine a Zulu speaking Japanese. That was how I felt. My looks did not match my identity and it angered everyone. They could not pigeon hole me. People yelled at me saying I was lying about who I was, where I came from.
College was temporary, so were those relationships. I knew about that already. All I did was look forward to going home. When I did my parents were surprised. They thought I would fall in love with the “Motherland”. Whose mother? Not mine.
My mother sent me off to Switzerland hoping to kindle that bond that was forbidden in our home. It was too late. I was a tourist and will always be. My roots had not found any sustenance. I responded by mutating. I found a way to grow my own roots.
Since then the “salad bowl” theory replaced that of the “melting pot”. It is how my husband (local of course) and I have chosen to raise our children. You see our family has also packed and unpacked, started over and over. Always the new kid in school… Always the new employee…
Except we do not live in our bubble. We do not melt all of the separate cultural ingredients into one stew. Like a salad, every component of our culture retains its shape, color and texture, its integrity and best of all, we can always add more with every new experience.
“Citizens of the world” is how my children have been described by fellow expats. I tell my kids not to worry about losing their friends because like mommy and daddy, they can stay in touch with social media, e-mail and Skype. I am more open now to new friendships, but sadly still a bit icy on the edges. I am still haunted by the thought of “Why bother, I will be leaving soon anyway…”

Long Day

  huasa

 

     Amongst the 3,500 Chilean cowboys known as “Huasos” riding through town on Cuasimodo day there was a singular pink dot.
A girl who rode with her proud and stern faced father. A girl who started riding at sunrise and was now hot and tired after 7 hours of going from parish to parish. A girl who still had several more hours to go on this holy marathon.
A pink rose whose thorns the father gave room to grow instead of clipping them.

The Hideout

 

“So mom, want to go with us to our hideout?”  – Sure.  “Yippee!”

My children have asked me to tour their hideout and I was always busy or honestly not that interested.  As part of my campaign to kick the kids out of my home for as long and often as possible I suggested they trek through our “backyard” which is not ours nor a backyard.  I had previously scoped out the area, but not in detail.  I knew it was an abandoned ranch and after today’s stroll, I must say a pretty nifty hideout.

Behold the entrance.

hideoutentrance

Please note that all of the stones you see in the photos are stacked and not held together by mortar.  This leads to many a rock slide under one’s feet at the risk of twisting an ankle and to my children’t delight the option to remodel as though they were Lego blocks. So for now it is a tie: Mom’s nerves 1 vs. Kid’s cool factor 1.

romana

We suspect “Romana” is the name of the horse who once rode with the cowboy in charge of this land; this land that in the last several years was literally split by a fancy new highway.  On the one side a hill and on the other side the ranch slowly being invaded by hundreds upon hundreds of new homes, including mine.

stonefence

When I first moved here the cattle grazed in this part of the ranch and still do nearby. The cowboys have had to be very creative in maneuvering around the construction boom.  It is not uncommon to walk right into some stray cows, leisurely resting on a freshly manicured lawn whilst cars zoom by.  As of late my kids have taken to bringing stray dogs to this spot so they can have some shelter.  Loose rocks, stray dogs… I know, I am keeping count.

        hideoutporch              sticksnstones         cattleentrance

“…and there is a basement.”  Mind you that “basement” was previously covered and like the great explorers that they are they found a way to get in.  So naturally I asked what exactly was down there, because you know, I was not feeling that adventurous.  No bodies, good, just don’t linger because you know, we have earthquakes on a regular basis here and mommy doesn’t want, oh you know the speech. So let’s review the count: Sprained ankles, rabid dogs and crushed children.

basment

As we strolled past the hideout onto the ranch the eldest reminded the youngest ones to watch out for tarantulas.  “You see mom  just yesterday we got to watch a full wrestling match between two of them right here where we are standing! ” He wasn’t kidding either, they are native to Chile and referred to affectionately as “Baby Chick Spiders” since they too are fuzzy and um adorable? Keep walking kids!

ranch

gateway        entryway

playing

Not only is this an escape for my children it is also for our dogs.  I love that my pets can also sneak away, off the leash and romp.  Somehow I know the “pack” is safer with the four-legged ones in tow.

obstaclecourse

…and now for the anxiety driven parent test. How many objects in this shot set off your “Hover Parent” alarms?

     Just in case you were wondering, note the rusty nails on the log, the coil of rusty barbed wire and the fresh pile of horse manure.  Yes, the cowboys, or huasos as they are referred to locally still patrol the area, but rarely by daylight.  They still herd the cattle by weaving them in and out of the suburban sprawl throughout the night when the traffic and pedestrians are least likely to get in their way.  We have learned to drive very slowly when coming home late in the evenings. Once we managed to get ourselves completely surrounded by a herd and all we could do was wait, they were here first you know.

Signs of life at the ranch featuring the unforgiving thorn bush.  It is absolutely everywhere and at all ranges of height. I ONCE made the mistake of zoning out while jogging in this area, not realizing the sidewalks were lined with them … at eye level.

barbedwire     horseshoetrack     wiltedcactus

     Like a moth to a flame the piles of dirt were calling.    We ran as fast as we could up those hills, yes we, I still find them irresistible.  Our feet sank in up to our knees, the shoes left buried underneath the freshly dumped earth.  During the week truck after truck from the new developments dump earth  once held together by the roots of this ranch to its new resting place. I doubt it is the final one.

dirtpiles

     The pleasantly cool part of the day was ending. The temperature here swings from sweater to shorts weather within hours.  Now how do we get out of here?  They had no clue, they had not dared stray so far from their hideout before. Point for mom.  So the kids found the space in the barbed wire fence where they agreed I would most likely fit and off we went down the somewhat beaten path.

limbo     offwego

     So the next time my kids ask me if they can go out and play what do you think goes through my head?  Sprained ankles from the rocks, rabies from the dogs, buried alive in the hideout by earthquakes, tetanus thanks to rusty nails and barbed wire , eyes poked-out from thorn bushes, bacterial infections from horse and cow feces and tarantulas swallowing them whole.  ” Yeah, sure, go out and play!”

hideoutexit