marriage

Love and the TCK

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I just finished reading My Berlin Kitchen by Luisa Weiss. Luisa was born in Berlin of an American father and an Italian mother. Her parents divorced and she lived her grade school years in Boston and her high school years in Berlin. She ended up in New York City, mainly for her career as a cookbook editor. In New York she fell in love with a man named Sam. Sam was nice and easy to be with and had an extended family in New York who included Luisa in all that they did.

This is where she ran into trouble. She loved New York, she had friends, she had an amazing career, and she had a great boyfriend but something was missing. She felt unsettled. One night she asked Sam if he would ever consider moving to Europe. He immediately said no and volunteered that he didn’t even like traveling. Huge red flag.

As a cross cultural TCK she went through all the confusion, uncertainty, itchy feet feelings we all have. She was pulled in different directions. She went through depression. She knew she should move on but had trouble finding her way. Intellectually it made sense to stay in New York and marry this man but it just didn’t feel right.

I won’t tell you how Luisa resolves her problem but I do recommend her book, especially if you like food. It is full of beautiful descriptions of the food she eats and cooks and each chapter ends with a recipe.

Boston

However, I will tell you about a similar experience I had. When I was in college in Boston, I fell in love. I mean the real kind of love where you are gaga most of the time and happy and everything you do together is meaningful. I met Chris at a dance at Simmons the first week I was there. He owned a Triumph Trident motorcycle (that he swore didn’t perform well under 90 miles per hour) and he offered to show me around the Boston area since I had never been there before. I accepted and we spent most of our time together after that. He taught me a lot about America and its history. Or at least his view of it. He also showed me everything there was is to see in the Boston area and more. And he loved to dance.

His father was sent to America from Germany at the beginning of WWII with his entire inheritance to get away from the war. Chris’ father spent all his money getting a PhD at Harvard and he taught philosophy at MIT. His family was killed in the war.

Chris’ maternal grandparents fled Belarus during the Russian revolution and went to Paris. His mother grew up in Paris and when she was 19 they immigrated to the USA. She spoke English with a French accent. Her father had died by the time I met her but I met her mother on a couple of occasions and she only spoke Russian. Chris grew up in a house where his parents spoke four languages combined and he only spoke English. The family lived in Europe when his father was on sabbatical but other than that he had done no traveling and had no desire to go anyplace. He wanted to live in Boston the rest of his life. And actually it was suburban Boston that he wanted to live in, not far from his parents.

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Of course things were not always perfect but I felt very close to Chris. I was never afraid to talk to him about anything. We were very open with each other about everything. If we were feeling smothered we said so and would take a break for a couple of days. We rarely fought. I almost always got whatever I wanted. I felt totally secure and adored. I reveled in it. I had my 21st birthday that summer and we had a wild party where neighbors were threatening to call the police – I think maybe they did show up at one point – and people were asleep on my couch the next morning. Chris cleaned the house and by the time I got up you never would have known there had been a party. It all seemed too good to be true.

One night that summer Chris asked me to marry him. I said yes.

The following Christmas I returned to Nigeria to see my parents and I met a guy named Peter who was studying at the University of Ibadan. He was funny and quick witted. We shared the traveling bug and a variety of experiences that come from living overseas. He made me realize how boxed in I had become by being with Chris. I had been living in a safe, predictable, all-American environment with few challenges and little true excitement. I can’t say it was boring because I wasn’t bored but it was maybe too normal. Normal is good sometimes but not all the time. At least not for me. Meeting Peter triggered a lot of feelings and I realized marrying Chris meant chopping off a part of myself.

Could I spend the rest of my life living in Boston and going to the in-laws on Sundays for dinner? Could I live without seeing more of the world? Could I live with a man who didn’t understand my story? It made me feel one-dimensional. So in the end I ran away and broke his heart.

Funnily enough he did move to Texas and traveled to Asia for work, although he said he didn’t enjoy it. He returned to suburban Boston and lived out his life there. There was a time in my life when I had some regrets. I wondered how different my life would have been had I stayed and married him. My life hasn’t been easy or safe but when all is said and done I think I made the right decision for me.

She Wore White Linen – Chap 4-6

IMG_04744. The neighbor comes to visit

Karen woke up late the next morning, not sure at first where she was or what day it was.  After lying in bed for a while she realized she had made the jump to her future and should probably get on with it.  She got up, pulled on a pair of jeans and a tee shirt and headed to the kitchen in search of coffee.  There was a note on the table from Ian.

“Off to work, help yourself to whatever, will be home around five.”

After some digging around she was able to find some coffee and bread to make toast.  At least there was electricity.

Ian told her they often had rolling blackouts because the infrastructure could not meet the demands of a growing country overloaded with people.

She turned on her computer and started making notes.

What to do with the rest of my life:

Write a best seller

Become a field reporter in Africa

Write travelogues

Join the Foreign Legion

Get to know Alex

 “Knock Knock!! Are you up yet?”

It was Sara from next door.

Karen jumped up to greet her, happy for the interruption.

“Yes, I just got up.  I was so tired, I slept late.  Who is this?”

“This is Greg.  He is two and terrible.”

“Hi Greg.  Come in.  Can I get you some coffee or something else?”

“No thanks, we just had a snack.  We are on our way to a play date but I wanted to stop in and see if you were interested in going to Women’s Coffee Morning tomorrow.  You could meet some people and get out for a bit.”

“Sure, I would love to, what time?”

“Why don’t you come over to my house around nine and we can leave from there?”

“Sounds great, see you then.”

 

IMG_04745. Cholera outbreak

Ian was, in fact, not a spy.  He was a Foreign Service Officer who mostly did program management.  It was not a glamorous exciting job but he liked it.  He spent much of his time running around meeting people, introducing people to each other, and trying to build relationships.  This particular morning he was about 40 miles away meeting with a village Chief outside his house under a shady tree.  Naked children were running about and most of the villagers were squatting or standing around having a look at the pale-faced visitors.

On this day the topic was water.  Cholera had started showing up around coastal West Africa and Ian’s job was to try to educate people in order to contain it.    Cholera was transmitted through contaminated water, food and human waste.  Most places in the area did not have running water or toilet facilities.  People used open fields or open drains, streams, and waterways for sewage.    The symptoms of cholera were diarrhea, vomiting, leg cramps, and in turn dehydration.  It was often fatal if not treated.   Treatment could be as simple as replacing lost fluids with a mixture of boiled water, salt, and sugar.

Ian and his team were there to tell the Chief that, in order to avoid an outbreak in his village, they needed to boil their water before drinking it, wash their hands with soap after defecating and before eating, peel or cook their food before eating, and dig holes for outhouses.  In this way they could have a more sanitary environment and people would not get sick.

It was tough going.  Nobody was sick, yet.  What was the motivation?

He would have to go back many times and work with smaller groups.  Eventually he would get through to them, or at least to some of them.  He had done it before.  He just had to be creative about it.  He thought Alex might be able to help and made a note to discuss it next time they met.

 

IMG_04746. What Alex left behind

Alex taught journalism at the local university and had been involved in PR campaigns all over the world.  He went to Africa on a two year contract hoping to do some good instead of promoting toothpaste and mouthwash.  He was 33 years old and recently divorced so he had another motive to get away from it all.  He caught his wife in the middle of a torrid affair with a colleague of his.  Ugh.  He still cringed every time he thought of it.

He was a highly successful PR man for one of the biggest agencies in London.  He was working on a campaign that would bring in a lot of money for his client and wanted to be focused and do a good job.   Therefore he had not been aware of what was going on in the rest of his life.  He worked long hours and had meetings on the weekends.  He knew he had been neglecting his wife but she had not nagged him lately so he figured everything was all right.

He was out for a drink with a client on a Friday night and it hadn’t gone so well.  The client was not happy about the latest ideas being thrown around and wanted Alex to come up with some new ones.  Alex was getting tired of his prima donna client who was never satisfied.  He just wanted to go home and relax for once and catch up on his personal life.

It was still fairly early so he decided to pick up some pastries for breakfast so he and his wife could have a lie in the next morning with coffee in bed.  As he was leaving the bakery, he noticed it was a starry night and the moon was full.  He smiled to himself, things were looking up already.

As he entered his flat, he immediately knew something was wrong.  There was a smell or a sound that alerted him.  He called out, “Julie, you there?”

He heard them in the bedroom, scrambling around.  He ran and entered the room.  They were both grabbing their clothes, trying to make themselves presentable.  It wasn’t possible.  They were beyond being presentable.  He was in shock.

“Julie?  What is going on?  Matt, that is my WIFE!  What the hell is going on?”

“Sorry, Alex.  Took me by surprise.  It just happened.  Sorry.”

“Julie?”

“You are never around, I was lonely.  Then I met Matt at the market and we just clicked.  I felt alive for the first time in a long time.  I am leaving you Alex.”

“Matt?”

“Sorry, Alex.”

Alex felt as though he would faint, he made it to the bathroom just in time to catch the vomit in the toilet.  He lay down on the bathroom floor and closed his eyes.  How did his life get so screwed up?

 

 

Sari for Baby

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Several years ago my niece married into a Bengali family.  She had a traditional Hindu wedding ceremony in the USA.  This of course, could not have taken place without her family, including her sister with blue hair and Freitag bag.

She and her new husband and all the parents left for India a few months after her wedding and spent a month meeting all the relatives in India.  She even had another ceremony over there.

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She embraced her new family and their traditions.  She was curious to learn all about them and incorporate their beliefs and rituals into her life.

Annaprashan is the Hindu ceremony celebrating a baby’s first solid food.  It is also known as the Rice Eating Ceremony as baby’s first food is usually rice.  The ceremony takes place when the baby is about 6 months.  For girls it takes place in odd months – the 5th or 7th, while for boys it is even months the 6th or 8th.

The child is very dressed up reminiscent of a bride or groom.  It is not only about the food but also serves as an introduction to society.  Friends and relatives are invited to join in the celebration.  A game is usually played after the ceremony where certain symbolic items are laid out in front of the child.  Books symbolize learning; jewels symbolize wealth, a pen symbolizes wisdom, clay symbolizes property, and food symbolizing a love for food.  The first item the child reaches for indicates their future.

Baby with her uncle at Rice Eating Ceremony

Baby with her uncle at Rice Eating Ceremony

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My niece rented a hall for her baby’s Annaprashan.  They invited all their friends and relatives. She wanted to wear traditional clothing and she wanted her baby to also wear a beautiful sari.  Living in the middle of the USA, it was difficult for her to find a sari for her baby so she made one herself.

That got her thinking.  If she had so much trouble finding something beautiful for her child to wear to the ceremony, other people might have the same problem.  There is a large Indian community in this country.  Wouldn’t there be a market for baby saris?

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My great niece

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Well, she is about to find out.  She just launched her Sari Baby website.  My great niece is the very cute model for these beautiful silk saris.

Check it out!

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70 years together

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I am re-posting this from my other blog – Eclectic Global Nomad.

My parents were married at 2:00 in the afternoon.  My father was on medical leave from the US Navy after having his appendix out.  The year was 1943.

My mother remembers driving with her father to the church. They lived in a small town in Iowa.  As they drove through downtown my mother noticed the bank clock said 1:55.  When she and her new husband drove back the same route to her house for a small reception, she again noticed the clock.  It now said 2:15.  The minister had married them under the wrong name.  Nobody mentioned it.

My father’s father ran the family farm so he had petrol coupons.  He filled the car with gas and gave them coupons so they could go to Kansas City for a two day honeymoon before my father returned to his post at Lakehurst, New Jersey.  He was training to fly blimps.  My mother was teaching school and had to finish out the year before joining him.

They were separated again when my father went to fly blimps off the coast of Brazil searching for German submarines.  He remembers Christmas Day, 1944.  He and his buddies drove through the Brazilian countryside on their way to find a beach to play volleyball.  It was the first time he had ever seen that kind of poverty.  He noticed the crops in the fields and decided that very day he could help people by teaching agriculture.

He had planned to be a vocational agriculture instructor when he returned to civilian life but this gave it a whole new dimension.  He wanted to work overseas.  His mother had always told him he could do what ever he wanted if he set his mind to it.

Continue Reading

 

African Marriage Proposals

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Ibadan

One summer I was living in Ibadan, Nigeria, working for my father at an agricultural research institute.  Ibadan was the largest village in Africa and sprawled across the countryside without any particular order.  There were a few hotels and “proper” restaurants but not many and we rarely went to them.

My British and American friends, Simon, Ed, David, Francis, and a couple of others decided to have a night on the town. We went to a rooftop Lebanese restaurant for a filling dinner of kabob and hummus and then on to a proper Nigerian nightclub.  It had a fence around it and a large grass roof and a dirt floor but no walls.  There was a very loud band playing at one end of the room and an area to dance.  We took over a table at the other end of the room and ordered beer all around.

Francis was being very protective of me and it kind of made it look like we were “together”.  Francis was married with five children.  A Nigerian came over to our table and asked Francis if he could dance with me.  Francis, quite embarrassed, told him he would have to ask me himself.  Of course he came right over asked me to dance. I had been in Nigeria long enough to know that this could only lead to trouble.  I was getting ready to say no, thank you very much, when Simon started kicking me under the table and making gestures like I should really go have a dance.  Simon, of course, was a trouble maker himself, but I got up and danced with the guy.  Keeping in form with most of my other white American girl/ black African boy experiences, by the end of the dance he had asked me to marry him.

About half way through the evening I really had to go to the toilet.  Everybody said I should just forget about it.  I said, “no really, I gotta go”.  So David escorted me to the ladies’ toilet. We went through a beaded doorway where women were just hanging around and inside there were two stalls with holes in the floor.  There were no doors to the stalls.  I went in and squatted and David stood guard.  It wasn’t that terrible, partly I’m sure because I was a little tipsy by this time, but it was interesting.  The women were obviously just waiting for business.  I didn’t get a chance to look around but I assume there were other rooms in the back for other activities.  David seemed very nervous about the whole thing and said I was not allowed to drink any more beer.  I think David might have been back there before.

Back at the table my dance partner had re-appeared, apparently not finding any other takers for his marriage proposal.  I was the only white girl in the place.  He insisted that he would be a good husband and would have no problem accompanying me back to the United States.  When we got up to go home, he said he could come with us.  He had no plans for the night and was happy to stay with us.  He followed us all the way out to the car and the guys acted like they were going to let him in.  I was totally appalled.  How could they be so mean?  Finally they got tired of him and kicked him out.

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Friendly me

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Later that summer I had a stalker show up at my office.  He knew who I was and all about me and said he worked in the building.  I asked around but nobody seemed to know him.  For a couple of weeks he was standing at my door at the end of the day and wanted to walk me home.  I never led him on or agreed to anything.  He kept asking to take me for a drink or to walk me home.  Finally I said I would have a drink with him.

He said he wanted to marry me and he had it all planned out.  We would be married and he would return to the United States with me and he would go to school with me and we would always be together.  I told him politely all the reasons why it was just not possible, the least of which was that we did not know each other at all and I was leaving the country shortly. And he had a counter proposal for every one of my reasons.  Finally I just became quite rude and told him to leave me alone.

I was sad to see the summer end but I was very happy to leave that situation behind when I returned to college in the fall.  Nigerian women were very blunt and straight forward.  They didn’t care if they hurt men’s feelings, they gave it to them like it was.  I think Western women had difficulty being so cold about it and in turn perhaps were more approachable.  On my next trip to Africa, I was much more Nigerian than Western when dealing with African men.  Its all about adapting to new cultures.

 

Anniversary

Last week was my parents’ 69th wedding anniversary.  My brother was there to help them celebrate and my sister in law suggested we start planning for the 70th.  I suggested a round the world trip.  Both my parents are 92.  My father tells me that he had been to 90 countries by the time he was 90 and still has a few on his list.  I know the wine country in South Africa is one place he wants to go.  That would be fun!

My parents met when they shared a ride back to college after Christmas break.  My mother was not feeling well and my father thought she was probably hung over.  If you knew my mother you would understand how absurd that sounds.  He soon learned this was not the case.  My mother didn’t drink.  My father was dating a woman named Lois at the time and my mother knew it.  She was not so very impressed with him.

However, my father pursued her and they became friends and enjoyed spending time together and did spend time together.  After he joined the Navy and saw his friends start to get married, he thought it might be a good idea to marry.  In 1943 he got appendicitis and had a few days of R&R.  For some reason he thought that would be a good time to ask Virginia to marry him.  He sent her a telegram asking her how quickly she could get a syphilis test.  In those days you had to have one in order to get married.  Luckily he followed up with a phone call and said he thought it might be a good idea if they got married.  Amazingly she agreed.  What a wacky woman!  She had no idea what was in store for her.

Nine years later my father went to work for the US Technical Cooperation Agency and he was assigned to the Burmese State Teacher Training College where he worked with students in agriculture.  My parents and my two brothers who were 4 and 6 years old started their great expat adventure in 1952.  Their friends and relatives thought they had lost their minds.  This was before jet airplanes, email or polio vaccines.  From Burma they went to Mexico, Colombia, Nigeria, and the Netherlands.  They did not repatriate until 1985.

Sixty nine years later they are still speaking to each other.  And all due to a ride they hitched back to school.