Month: March 2012

Ado Rock

I spent the summer of 1976 in Ibadan, Nigeria.  I made a few friends and we went on day trips exploring the surrounding countryside.  I lived on an agricultural research farm so the guys I went exploring with were mostly scientists.  On our trip to Ado Rock there was me, Simon who was a British summer intern in the farming systems section, Francis, also British, who had three children and loved to collect orchids, and Ed, an American scientist who loved to party.

The day we went to Ado we stopped for some fruit along the way and pulled up to some stalls by the side of the road.  Ed and I stayed in the car in the back seat.  I was smoking a cigarette and a group Nigerian women gathered around my window and started pointing and laughing.  Ed and I were feeling a little paranoid at this point, and we could not figure out what was so intriguing about us.  By the time Francis and Simon returned, we had seen some of the women mimicking me and we had figured out that it must be a rarity to see a woman smoking.  Of course, once we figured it out, we started giggling and could not stop.

We had heard of this village not too far from Ibadan that had a huge rock sticking out of the plains and once you had climbed up it, you could see for miles and miles.  We decided it would be a good day’s outing.  Of course we didn’t have a map and only had sketchy directions, so we kind of had to feel our way there, stopping to ask people who invariably had no idea what we were talking about and made up whatever they thought we wanted to hear.  But we did finally did find Ado village and right next to it was Ado Rock.  It must have lodged there when the glacier receded, because landscape-wise it was very out of place.  The village was on just one side of the road and not very big.  We walked through it and watched women weaving cloth and saw a group of children studying the Koran. As we got closer to the rock, we started to look for a path up.  By this time all the children of the village had latched on to us, and started following us around.  We asked them the way up but they didn’t speak English and would just point in different directions.  Finally, they led us to the Chief’s hut and we figured out that we had to ask permission to climb the rock.  The Chief was building a new house and would welcome any contribution that we could give him since he was generous enough to allow us to climb his rock.  We told him that we were just poor students and could only afford five Naira (he wanted 20).  He said that was not enough so we turned and started to leave at which point, of course, he accepted the money. After some more discussion, he agreed to let us go alone without the children in tow.  They showed us the path and left us to it.

View of Ado Village, Nigeria

The rock was flat on top but slanted up at one end.  We climbed up at the lower end and worked our way to the higher side. It was about a mile from one end of the rock to the other and about two thirds of the way down, here was a small gully where trees and long grass grew.  We could see vultures circling above this area and we were a little leery of crossing it.  We also thought there might be snakes in the grass so Ed went first making a lot of noise and clapping and I was last in line listening to Ed shout back at me “It’s usually the last person in line who gets bit, you know, Kathy”.  Very funny, Ed.

As we came up the other side, we saw a small cave with animal droppings in it.  But it wasn’t until we got to the highest part that we realized what lived there.  We just caught a glimpse of a hyrax jumping from the rock onto the ground.  The hyrax is a distant relative of the elephant that is about as big as a large rodent.  They make a shrill screeching noise.

The view from the top of the rock was really spectacular.  You could see miles of green trees, bush and flat land.  It was so quiet and peaceful up there, I wanted to stay forever.  We sat in silence and admired the view for a long time.

Two years later Ed and I returned to Ado.  I couldn’t believe how much it had changed.  The village had doubled in size and was now on both sides of the road.  The Chief had a big new house on the other side of town and the going rate for climbing the rock was 40 Naira – non-negotiable.  We climbed up and had a picnic but didn’t go all the way to the other end.  Ed told me that he had taken a girl we knew up there not too long after we had gone up the first time because she wanted to do some hang-gliding.  He said she almost got killed.  She fell and fell before she caught any wind and there wasn’t that far to fall.  After that, she took her glider to Mount Cameroon, and jumped off of there.  She landed in some small village, and all the people thought she was an angel, fallen from the sky.  They practically worshipped her for days.

When we came down from the rock, we had to go across a stream and through some bushes before coming out into the village.  I was first in line and as I was going through the bushes I came upon a child alone on the path who must have been about two years old.  When the child saw me she started to scream – it was as if she had seen the scariest site possible; she was terrified.  Her mother came running up from the stream and picked up the child and started to laugh.  Ed came up behind me and was laughing.  I was confused.  Finally Ed caught his breath and said “you are the first white person she has ever seen”.  And I realized he was right; she probably thought I was a ghost.

Years later, I was traveling with my two year old on an airplane from Moscow to the USA.  We lived a pretty “Russian” life in Moscow, not coming across many foreigners and virtually no Africans.  My son and I came out of the toilet and a beautiful African American woman was standing in the aisle.  All of a sudden my son exploded into screams of terror.  I immediately thought of that day in Nigeria.

Shopping

Whenever I landed in the USA after being away for a while, I would have a lot of trouble shopping.  I would go into a store like Target or Safeway and there were so many things and so many different kinds of the same item, that I would end up with sensory overload unable to process it and I would just stand in the middle of the store, frozen.

 

Seriously how do you decide what kind of tinned tomatoes you should buy?  Does it make any difference?  Is one better?  Which one?

 

 

Or orange juice?  Pulp, no pulp, calcium, extra pulp, from Florida…. and on and on….

After a while I would leave without buying anything.

To this day, if I am not focused and have a specific list of things I need and am able to find them quickly, I can drift around one of those stores for an hour or more.  Just fascinated by all the things you can buy that I don’t need or have any use for.

And the mall!  OMG!  All those stores luring you in, promising to give you all kinds of satisfaction.  I find I am usually disappointed.  I am always searching for the perfect practical item that will be functional and yet eclectic and unique.  Ha!

I read recently that TCK’s (Third Culture Kids) are not materialistic.  People and friendships are more important than having a lot of things.  It is certainly true in my case.  The less stuff I have, the better.  Who needs the luggage?  It’s a backpack for me!

Growing Up TCK

Growing up as a Third Culture Kid, or TCK or Global Nomad, meant constantly adapting and adjusting to new places and new people.  After a while I became a chameleon, able to blend in to any background.  I learned to hone my power of observation and I would always spend the first few months in a new environment reserved and quiet, watching everybody else.

Once I built up my confidence, I would break out like a phoenix, and my new persona emerged as I reinvented myself for my current surroundings.  I was always sad to leave a place and friends behind but I looked forward to becoming something new.  It was an adventure, a challenge.

As I grew older and started travelling on my own, I lived in fear of being spotted as a tourist or “foreign”.  I researched every new place I went and poured over maps and transportation routes.  I could land in most places and know my way around in no time.  People would actually stop me on the street and ask for directions, and oftentimes I could direct them!

Then I had a child.  It is kind of difficult to blend into any situation with a screaming child in tow.  I would cross the Atlantic regularly, flying between Moscow and the USA, and one time I actually became that person you hate who lets her child run wild on an airplane.  My son met up with another horrible two year old who was sitting across the isle and they disappeared.  Normally I would be concerned and go look for him and make sure he didn’t do anything to bother anybody.  But in this case, I just couldn’t move.  I pretended it wasn’t happening.  I had a blissful 15 or 20 minutes where I imagined I was travelling on my own.

And then I saw the Steward walking up with aisle with a child in his arms asking people who he belonged to.  I hesitated for just a second….  Yes I did… but then I came to and reclaimed my child.  Ah, yes, my adorable little monster!

Now he is a very tall teenager who follows in my footsteps when it comes to travel.  We went to Berlin last summer and he landed in that city like he had lived there forever.  He had the public transport mastered and knew his way around.

I was happy to let him be my guide.  He was in his element.

I wonder if they will find the TCK gene one day.

Places I have lived

On my walk today, I thought about how pretty Washington, DC is.   I take it for granted, walking in a lovely manicured park along the Potomac River.  People out in canoes, and kayaks, people biking and walking.

I started to think about all the lovely places I have lived.

– Boston with the Charles River and the Bay

– Minneapolis with its parks and lakes

– Denver looking up to the Rocky Mountains

– Oakland across the Bay from San Francisco

– Dunedin, Florida, 8 blocks from white sand beaches on the Gulf of Mexico

– The Hague, The Netherlands, with the beaches at Scheveningen and, of course,  the flowers

– Lugano, Switzerland, overlooking Lake Lugano and the Italian Alps

– Bogota, Colombia, atop the Andes Mountains

– Rangoon, Burma, with its Pagodas

– Mexico City, with it parks surrounded by mountains

– Austin, Texas, overlooking Lake Travis

– Moscow, Russia, with all its parks and trees, and of course the Kremlin by the river

And I was trying to think of something nice to say about Lagos, Nigeria, but I had some difficulty.  We lived in a nice house on the Bay, and we had neighbors who kept turkeys.

gobble gobble

Switzerland

Last summer I went to visit my brother who lives in Switzerland.

I have a soft spot for Switzerland.  I went to boarding school at the American School in Switzerland in Lugano.  It was an amazing time in a beautiful place.  We traveled all over Europe, hiked up mountains, skied, figured out train schedules, learned to drink beer, and generally had a great education.  In 2000, I went back to the school for the founding Director’s 90th birthday party.

Mrs Flemming (we always called her Mamma Flemming) started the school in 1956 with 12 children, three were her own.  When I graduated in the 70’s there were 200 of us.  And now there are several schools around the world and many more students.

The birthday party in 2000 was a lot of fun because some of my dear friends were there.  Two old roommates and an old boyfriend.  We hiked up to see Herman Hesse’s house.  There was a lovely garden at the bottom of the steps where people would hang out and smoke cigarettes and make out.  Now they have a small museum next door dedicated to him.  We looked around for our old stomping grounds and found that the “hole in the wall” where Serafina served us wine and beer out of her own kitchen was now closed up.  But the main restaurant in the small village of Montagnola was still there.  We spent a pleasant afternoon sipping grappa that the owner had made himself.  He even sold us several bottles.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Now I was back in Switzerland with my teenage son.  Mamma Flemming died at the age of 98 and is buried in the cemetery just down the mountain from the school.  The same cemetery where Herman Hesse can be found.

In the 11 years between this and my last visit, the place had changed dramatically.  Lugano was still as beautiful as ever although much more built up and congested.  The piazza was there full of tourists and the pizza was still good.  The local department store where we had purchased my son his Action Man toy in 2000 was still there but had a new name and was under new ownership.

And I almost didn’t recognize the school.  There were so many new buildings!  It has become a formal school with students in uniforms and actual rules.  When we went there it was very much a family atmosphere and we all were encouraged to strike out on our own and explore our surroundings.  Now TASIS is all grown up.

While I was wandering around the campus, I ran into an old friend in the lobby of the main building.  Angelo, the guy who owned the local sandwich shop was now working in the business office of the school.  He pretended to remember me but I don’t know if he really did.

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Cars

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I have been seeing Fiat 500’s in my neighborhood lately. I want one. Of course my boyfriend wants the Arbath souped up version. I have a feeling I wouldn’t be driving much if we get that. But they are cool looking. The original “cinquecento” was produced in Italy from 1957 to 1975. I remember it was tiny. We used to squeeze into them hitching rides in Italy. We used to make jokes about them. It was a mere 10 feet long and honestly not very comfortable. The new Fiat 500 sold today is a full foot longer!

When I moved to Russia, I came across the Zhiguli. When I first saw it I immediately thought of the cinquecento. Interestingly enough, in the mid 1960’s the Zhiguli was produced by the Volga Automobile Works (VAZ) in a collaboration between Fiat and the Soviet government. The Zhiguli was modeled after the original Fiat 500 and was exported to the West after 1975 as the Lada.

The Zhiguli is small and boxy. I would sometimes see very large Russian policemen cramming themselves into the Zhiguli four at a time. I wondered what would happen if there was an emergency. Would they be able to extract themselves in time?

The Russian car that I really liked was the Volga. It was the car used most for city government officials and usually came with an official driver. In Moscow there was no taxi service, you just hailed down a passing car and negotiated a price and they took you where you wanted to go. When my son was in pre-school, I would go out every morning and hail a car to take us to school. I was too harried to manage a stroller, a screaming child, and a bus in the middle of the Russian winter. And the cars were usually pretty cheap.

One day I lucked out and managed to flag down a black Volga. Volgas are mid sized sedans with comfortable seats and plenty of room for the child and the stroller. Much better than a Zhiguli!! I was in heaven. The next morning I went out as usual to flag a car, and there was the same Volga sitting at the end of my drive. He was waiting for me! Apparently our schedules were in sync. For the next couple of months, I had a driver every morning waiting for me. I even managed to talk him into taking me other places as well, like the airport, and the vet.

And then one day, he wasn’t there anymore.

Oh well, it was great while it lasted!!

The Lady

The Lady”, the movie, is to be released in the USA April 13, 2012. It is already out in other parts of the world. It is the story Aung San Suu Kyi and her husband Michael Aris.
I can hardly wait!!!

Aung San Suu Kyi spent over 20 years in house arrest off and on in a house on University Avenue Road overlooking Inya Lake in Rangoon, Burma. We lived on the same street just down the road. Much earlier, of course. When the coup came in 1962 and Burma was overtaken by military dictatorship we lived next door to the former president. His son was shot in a struggle during the coup. We heard the gunshots without knowing what was happening.

Burma has had hard times since that fateful evening. It went from being one of the richest nations in Asia to one of the poorest. Now the elections are in April, Suu is out of house arrest and up for election. Hilary Clinton, US Secretary of State, has been on an official visit – first time in 50 years such a thing has happened. Things are starting to look up. Let’s hope it continues and all of Suu’s sacrifices finally pay off!

I was born in Rangoon, Burma. That was before it was called Myanmar. My mother knew Aung San Suu Kyi’s mother when they worked together on an International Cookbook. Her mother donated her favorite entertaining menu and recipes.

Burmese Meal for Guests
Mrs. Aung San has this Burmese menu for her company luncheons and dinners, because these are the dishes she has found her friends and guests like most. Like many distinguished women with very public careers, she finds delight in domestic arts and skills.

White Pumpkin Broth
Fish Lethoke salad
Prawn Curry
Balachuang
Chicken Curry
Mixed Vegetables
Fried White Gourd
Coconut Rice
Sago Sweet”

The cookbook was published in 1954 and has lots of fabulous ads in it.

Coconut Rice

Serves 8

Ingredients
5 cups rice
3 coconuts
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1 tsp sugar
1/3 tsp salt
2 onions

Grate the flesh of 3 coconuts. Pour some hot water and squeeze the milk through thin muslin. Repeat till all the milk is extracted. Wash rice thoroughly. Put rice into pot. Add this milk until it stands ¾ inch above the rice. Peel, quarter and wash the onions. Add to the rice, oil, sugar, salt and onions. Stir till well mixed. Cook till the milk is evaporated and the rice tender.

Today you could probably just buy coconut milk, eh?

Ants

The Nigerian

I came home the other day and my son told me he had been vacuuming up ants.  He showed me a small hole near the kitchen that was the source.  The ants had traveled out of this hole, down the hall, across the living room and over a barrier into where our plants are being kept temporarily while the balcony is worked on.  He explained to me how the ants must move up the high-rise from floor to floor and arrive at our apartment through this little hole in the floor.  They are those very small ants that you can barely see but when they are traveling across the floor you notice them.

This reminded me of an evening I spent on my porch in Ibadan, Nigeria, many years ago.  I wasn’t much older than he is now.  I was by myself one evening having a beer and bored out of my mind and I happened to glance onto the floor.  The ants in Africa are large and can be lethal.  Army ants can devour a small lizard in a matter of minutes.  Fortunately the ones I saw that night were not Army ants.  I think they must have been vegetarians.  I followed the river of ants and found that they were coming out of the kitchen, across the dining room, over the sliding door tracks onto the porch and out a hole near the floor to the outside.  I was mesmerized by them.  Scouts ventured out at regular intervals to either check for danger or look for food.  They would report back and another one would be dispatched.  Pretty soon I noticed a potato chip moving across the floor.  Several of them had hoisted it onto their backs and were carrying it out.  I couldn’t believe my eyes at first.  After a while I saw another one.

This got me thinking.   I just happened to be eating chips myself although I’m pretty sure they were plantain chips.  I wondered what would happen if I placed one where a scout might find it.  Sure enough a scout found it.  He reported back and the river actually split off!!  None of them missed a step.  They picked up the chip and rejoined the parade.  Ever since then I have had great respect for ants!