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…”

Quasimodo (Cuasimodo) Sunday in Chile

DSCN2081

..one fine morning, on Quasimodo Sunday, a living creature had been deposited, after mass, in the church of Notre- Dame,”

Victor Hugo

DSCN2084

     Quasimodo geniti infantes, alleluia: rationabiles, sine dolo lac concupiscite, alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.

Translation- Like newborn infants, you must long for the pure, spiritual milk, that in him you may grow to salvation, alleluia.

1 Peter 2:2 

     If you are unable to attend Easter mass in Colina, Chile the Low Sunday mass comes to you, by the thousands, on horseback.  The church  celebrates the breaking of bread, the Eucharist, with those who are not able to attend Easter mass by way of a procession unlike any other in the world.

DSCN2185

     With the participation of over 3,000 Chilean cowboys or huasos Colina’s celebration is considered the largest in the country and since this custom is unique to Chile, the world.  In fact it continues for the following two Sundays in neighboring villages.  According to oral history this tradition dates back to colonial days when Dominican priests in an effort to offer holy communion to the disabled, elderly and ill required the escort of huasos not only as guides but as guards against thieves.

The name of the celebration Cuasimodo hails from the Catholic tradition of naming a mass after the first words of its introit. An introit being the first portion of the processional psalm chanted  at the beginning of mass.

quasimodointroit

On this occasion the huasos do not wear their traditional wide brimmed hats out of respect for the holy sacrament. Instead they wear scarves on their heads and capes mimicking the priest’s attire. Once varied in color they now dress in predominantly white and yellow to reflect the papal colors.  These colors are also visible in the decorations welcoming the procession to each parish.

DSCN2260

DSCN2258

When they do arrive you hear them before you see them. Thousands of hooves pounding the earth  accompanied by the repeated cry  of “Viva Cristo Rey” – Christ the king lives.

DSCN2093                                                  DSCN2113

There is no photograph that one can take to capture the magnitude of this event.  Any one image will only represent a moment’s worth of people passing by.  It is truly a “Holy Marathon” in that it begins at sunrise and ends at sunset.  The huasos hold the flag of Chile with one hand and a bottle of water in the other, deftly hidden under their capes so they may have a sip  while the priest gives his blessing at one of the many stops.

And then there are the children.

IMG_1046

All whom dress up to honor their loved one who is riding on this sacred day.  Families wait eagerly on the sidelines to wave at, take photos of and then send the children off to ride with their huaso.

DSCN2265 2

    DSCN2155                                                              DSCN2277 1

During his visit to Chile in 1997, Pope John Paul II called this holiday “…a treasure of the people of God.”  It is and one that they generously share.

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.

Quick question: Why Chile?

Back To School in Chile

jumbo

I would love to compare notes with fellow expat parents in Chile.  People often ask me about the education system here, which are the best schools and how to handle many dilemmas. Of all of the adjustments I had to make to a new culture, life as the parent of a school-aged-child was the most challenging.  I still can’t answer questions about the schools here because I am but one parent with kids at one school.  This time around I  do have a much better understanding of how my children’s school functions after getting a degree at the ” University of Trial And Error” consisting primarily of errors on my part.

Within one household my relationship with the school was totally different based on which of my children was involved.  On the one hand everything was smashing and on the other a nightmare.  This is to be expected anywhere as each child’s personality and academic ability present a totally different picture of life at school. Never had I felt so isolated or at times insane, because quite frankly I began to think it was all in my head. Nobody else seemed to have the same problems, then again nobody else had the same child.

Over time I slowly started to learn which circumstances were unique to my child, my child’s classroom or my child’s school.  Now I want to know what is unique to our school population’s social circles, our geographic location, ethnicity and generation (Remember our fellow Chilean parents grew up under Pinochet).

Whenever something comes up over the school year please share it with me in the comments section below.  Any questions, complaints or anecdotes i.e. Supply lists requesting “jockeys”and “panties”. It’s all good. Gracias.

Sobreviviendo El Verano

El año pasado esta madre pasó el verano en Chicureo, Chile, error. Aunque tenía sus hijos en campamento por unas horas cada día no bastaba para la Madre. La Madre estaba eternamente cansada y sudada. La Madre soñaba con robarle la manguera a un bombero y pegárselo a su hogar para eliminar de una vez la Atacama, perdón el polvo y refrescarse.
La Madre se rindió ante la falsa esperanza de mantener un aspecto limpio con su auto. La Madre decidió que esa capa de polvo servía como un carnet identificándola como verdadera residente de Chicureo. Todo auto limpio era un impostor, un Santiaguino “escapándose” de la ciudad por el día.
Los malditos bichos: Escorpiones, grillos, hormigas, arañas de rincón, todos igual se refugiaron del calor en su hogar. Fumigar era inútil ya que el calor la obligaba a abrir su puertas. La Madre aprendió a convivir con las criaturas . El marido le preguntó si tenía algún remedio para los bichos y la Madre le contestó “Sí, se llama ‘ invierno ‘ “.
La Madre intentó refugiarse en el aire climatizado de sus negocios favoritos, pero los encontraba cerrados, “De vacaciones”. Un día mientras que esperaba que un muro de polvo cruzara la calle anunció a lo Roberto Durán “¡No más!”
Este verano renunció su fidelidad a Chicureo , empacó sus maletas y se fue con otro…. la playa. La playa se encargó de cansar, digo, entretener a sus hijos. La playa la refrescaba con su agua fresca y brisa constante. El polvo y los bichos se quedaron atrás esperándola… hasta otoño.