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Travel Shame

I’m going to list my own travel shames and then I’m going to cast a whole lot of shame-blame. Won’t this be fun?

Here’s me when I fly

I pick my nose. All those painful crusty boogers? They have got to go. I use a Kleenex but I gotta get them out.

If there is gas, it will be passed. Sorry. Doesn’t happen often. Helps save time in the bathroom (see below: don’t take too long in the bathroom).

I pack too much in my carry-on bag sometimes. Not every time, but often it is way too heavy. Books. I’m an author and a reader. Its all books.

I get anxious. I try not to let it show and I sincerely think it is decreasing, finally. Anxious about making my connections, or about being on time for the very first flight. This means I am an early-arriver at the airport. I hate the stress of rushing. I also get anxious about finding a space for my roller-bag. I think this is because of Kenya. Anything you check runs a high, very high risk of being stolen. I do not trust the employees to leave my stuff alone. They won’t. They don’t. Experience speaking here. I get anxious about using the bathroom so I dehydrate myself. For this, I blame small, sketchy airlines and their terrifyingly filthy bathrooms. Anxious about getting hungry (ever since cancer my hunger is always a hangry and it gets scary, fast) so I bring way too much food in my bag.

No talking. I sit down and plug in, even if there’s nothing playing in my earbuds. I know soon the plane will get really loud and it will be hard to hear, I know I’m exhausted, or will be soon, and I’ve been looking forward to this long haul flight as a chance to finish a book or two. Exception, and perhaps lesson learned, the one time I did chat with the woman next to me, we hit it off so well that we got coffee a few week later, in Minnesota, and we’re still in touch. (shout out to Cathy P!)

And here’s my tips to avoid your own travel shame. (Though part of me feels like: as long as we are civil to others, kind and externally patient, a little nose-picking and farting shame aren’t so bad. We’re traveling. We’re exhausted and stinky and can’t remember what country we’re in, we don’t need to be classy or composed. Maybe that’s just me. If you run into me on an airplane, I will not be my best self.)

Don’t

Judge parents of young children. They aren’t pinching them to make them cry. They didn’t give them speed to make them hyper. They also would like to sleep in peace and eat without spilling. They are more tired than you and carry the burden of loving the crying child while also carrying the burden of judgment and guilt. They are generally doing a really good job and getting small children across the planet is a serious accomplishment. If you have the chance, tell them they are doing a good job, even if the baby cried the whole flight and the toddlers block the aisle with a temper tantrum. They deserve medals, not rude stares.

Take too long in the bathroom. I don’t know what some people do in there. Well, okay, I can imagine what they are doing and we can all smell it when they come out. But if it is at all possible, do the big ones before or after your flight. I know it isn’t always possible. I know traveler’s diarrhea is a real thing. But if you can help it, hold it. You know its been a while when the passengers start making smirky eyes at each other. Well, you don’t know that, because you’re in there doing your thing, but rest assured, we’re out here making smirky eyes at each other.

Change into pajamas. I don’t know, I guess you can, if you want. But do you need to? Do you really need to change clothes (see: don’t take too long in the bathroom) in order to get a horrible sleep? It feels weird, like we’re strangers sharing a king-size bed in a hotel or something.

Overflow your carry-ons. Totally, totally overfill them. Fill them, fill them! But hide it, hide it. Pretend that 2-ton carry-on is lightweight. This is to spare yourself the judgment others might cast upon you, who probably have just as much in their carry-ons, they just packed it better. Don’t have three plastic bags stacked on top of your carry on, a backpack, and a pillow the size of a toddler. Okay, again to be honest, go ahead, have all that stuff. I don’t really care, but you will get some snarky looks and side comments behind your back. Who cares, we’re all strangers. You do you.

Barefeet. Stocking feet, questionable. Bare? Gross. I’m telling this to my very own precious and gross family, so there’s that. Seriously. There is never a good reason to go into a public bathroom in bare feet and I dare say it is problematic even in socks. Have you ever looked, I mean really looked at the floor in an airplane bathroom? Have you thought about what is likely down there? Plus, your feet stink. I know mine do after hours and hours on a plane. If you don’t have stinky feet and if you put your shoes back on to go to the bathroom, fine, take ‘em off while in your seat.

Snore. Not only is this loud and sounds painful, it reminds the rest of us that you are soundly asleep while we toss and turn. How do people manage to fall asleep so deeply on planes that they actually snore? On our most recent epic flight which took 72 hours, I slept maybe 4 hours. My husband thought I was going to lose it and I nearly did, and then he started snoring.

Take out your frustration or anger on the airline employees who are not the ones who broke your plane, lost your luggage, and do not have stinky bare feet. They are doing the best they can.

Lastly,

Don’t listen to me.

Do what you need to do to get through the flights as happily as you can. Its hard and you’re about to land and experience culture shock. Brace yourself. Pick, fart, stink, snore, overpack, and just get there in one piece.

What are some of your best travel tips?

 

About the Sexual Abuse of Third Culture Kids, Resources and Way Too Many Links

(trigger warning: sexual abuse and mental illness)

A few weeks ago a report came out updating and filling in holes regarding the ongoing sexual abuse of kids at a school run by New Tribes.

Marilyn Gardner wrote a prayer of repentance at A Life Overseas. As a TCK who went to boarding school at a young age, Marilyn has a special tenderness and insight into what this kind of abuse did to those kids.

The Southern Baptist convention has been rocked by accusations of rampant abuse. Protestants cannot and dare not point fingers at the Catholic church or priests. This article is long and devastating. And the Southern Baptist convention has responded, finally.

Just in the past six months, I know three TCKs who lost the battle with mental illness. I’m not saying mental illness and abuse necessarily go together, but that there is a lot of brokenness and grief that isn’t often addressed well in the world of expatriates. TCKs face this in unique ways, sometimes by nature of living in the home of their abuser at boarding school, sometimes leaving a country before resolution has been found, sometimes having no safe place or safe person to tell. There are so many goodbyes, so many losses, so many fears and insecurities. There is so much vulnerability and hunger for belonging.

Books and Resources about abuse and Third Culture Kids

The Poisonwood Bible, by Barbara Kingsolver. A novel, yet it rings deeply true on many levels. The person who loaned this to me almost two decades ago said, “If you go to Africa, don’t you dare live like this.” I like to think we haven’t. There is so much to wrestle with here.

Between Worlds, by Marilyn Gardner, about her experiences growing up in Pakistan and boarding school. Also, Worlds Apart, which digs deeper and goes into vulnerable places. I love her words.

Rachel Cason’s site: Explore Life Story

Amy Young lists 8 resources for expats walking through darkness at A Life Overseas.

Finding Home, Third Culture Kids in the World, especially the essay by Sezin Koehler

Letters Never Sent, by Ruth Van Reken

Misunderstood, by Tanya Crossman

The Story Women Need to Tell, about sexual harassment. We need to lead our kids in conversations about harassment and abuse, so they will know their stories are safe to tell and that they are not alone.

The Trouble with Third Culture Kids, by Nina Sichel Nina also has an article in this incredible book, Writing Out of Limbo, about growing up abroad.

Noggy Boggy writes candidly about his experience with mental illness and life as a TCK.

Time Doesn’t Heal Assault if Victims are Silenced

12 Resources for Churches (and others) to Prevent Sexual Assault

How to Really Talk about Mental Illness

(Thanks to Sarah Bessey for the last three links)

Belonging Everywhere and Nowhere : Insights into Counseling the Globally Mobile by Lois Bushong

I know I’ve covered a ton of material and provided an overwhelming amount of links. Everything from sexual abuse in the church to among Third Culture Kids to mental illness.

Maybe it is too much to be actually useful.

Maybe one link to serve one person. In that case, I’m content.

Be blessed, be healed.

*includes affiliate links

A Belated Merry Advent Letter

*please note! I wrote this last year and then never published it. It felt kind of scary and raw. I have another letter drafted for this year’s Christmas/advent letter. But then I read it again and while parts are not relevant because I’m in the US and the twins graduated, parts were exactly what I needed to be reminded of personally, again. So maybe it will resonate with someone else who needs to choose joy this season. So, I’ll publish it now.

Merry Christmas from Abroad,

Our four-foot tree is up and shedding quite sadly. The Santa costume is being borrowed by a very Saint Nicholas type of fellow. The stockings, for once, are hung on steps and not over the air conditioner with care. The temperature is a chilly 87 degrees. The kitchen smells like ginger snaps and apple cinnamon candles. The grocery store has a horribly skinny Santa, barefoot, with no shirt under his costume, a rather sexy Santa with bright blue eyes. More stripper than Santa.

Its beginning to look a lot like Christmas.

This is our Christmas letter, the one in which we tell you about our exotic summer vacations (Minnesota is, truly, exotic to desert-dwellers) and about our children’s stellar performances at school (define ‘stellar’), about all the things we are really good at (like forgetting new vocab words in one of the three languages we’ve learned), and then show pictures of things we secretly hope you envy, ala the humble brag (like our incredible, rundown house with rats in the ceiling and roaches in the bathrooms).

What if, instead, I’m totally honest? What if, instead, I told you that this year I’m tired?

A few nights ago as we drove to church, a local boy made the shape of a gun with his fingers and shot at my face through the car window. A few days before that while I was running, a man drove by on a motorcycle and punched my ass. I miss my kids almost the whole year ‘round because all of them are at a boarding school two countries away. My husband and I started up a big new project, thirteen years in the dreaming and our hearts bleeding all over our sleeves, and no one told us that start-ups in Africa take a toll on a marriage.

I would like to go to a movie theater and disappear into the cool darkness and forget about it all. There aren’t any movie theaters in the country. I would like to enjoy a nice evening out with my husband but if we go for a walk we are harassed or are simply just bored of the same, limited, not beautiful route. We’ve tried almost every restaurant in town, there aren’t many cultural events like concerts or plays or dances. Plus, sometimes it takes too much energy to go out the front door.

It can be lonely here. This year, I have a full life, rich with new staff and new friends. People who speak my language, people I enjoy deeply and am coming to love. But I feel lonely creatively, if that’s a thing. Lonely for my people, people who pursue a life of creativity and words and I don’t even know if I have people anymore because I don’t seem to fit anywhere. Lonely spiritually, for a community that speaks my language – both the language of my tongue and of my heart.

What a depressing Christmas letter. At least, that’s what I thought when I reread this. But you know what? This isn’t a Christmas letter after all. Its an advent letter. A letter of longing, of waiting, of seeing the holes in things and the struggle of being alive while being fully convinced that hope is never in vain.

Someone asked me what I want to experience of Jesus this advent season. I want to experience joy. Not happiness, not glibness. Deep, abiding joy that acknowledges there are so many broken things in the world but that chooses to delight in the healing, beautiful things in the world. Joy that says, all is not right in the world. But, “all will be well and all will be well and every kind of thing shall be well.” Julian of Norwich

So, I conjure up joy because that is what I want. Joy is what I need. Joy is what my family needs. It feels like the snow falling in a snow globe. The flakes rest on the bottom and then the world is shaken with strenuous effort and a veneer of cheer falls over the scene below. The scene is the same old one, the flakes change nothing, but for a few minutes while they fall, it is Christmas. It is beautiful. And maybe that’s enough for this year.

Merry Advent,

Rachel

Gifts for Third Culture Kids, 2018

This site has hilarious gifts for TCKs. T-shirts that say, “Where am I from again?” or “Invisible Immigrant” or “Yes, I speak African. If by ‘African’ you mean one of the 1,500-2,000 languages spoken on the African continent.”

Uncommon Goods has beautiful, fun things, especially search ‘travel’. (I make no commission, just love the site!) I especially love these coloring coffee mugs.

Color Map Mugs

This sticker, from Etsy. “Where am I from? It’s complicated.” Only $3.00

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A world map and push pins. The push pins are for them to mark places they’ve traveled or where people they love live. Or, this map has a scratch off-able cover, so they can scratch off the places they’ve been.

10 Days in Africa game. My kids love this game and of course we made our own pieces to include the countries (ahem, Djibouti) that aren’t included. It has helped our relatives, in particular, to learn geography and gives the kids a chance to talk about the places they’ve been.

Another game, geography of Africa and the Middle East.

Ticket to Ride has an Africa map version but the cover is deeply problematic. Check out these other games instead.

Magnetic poetry, this links to a French version. This is a great way for kids to engage with their new language or to remember and use their old one, if they are no longer in their host country (ala university students)

Food. Always, food. Passport country food, host country food, food you make for them, food you ask them to make in order to celebrate and honor their upbringing…food.

Books

Finding Home, by yours truly.

Between Worlds, by Marilyn Gardner

The Global Nomad’s Guide to University Transition, by Tina Quick

Misunderstood, by Tanya Crossman

Home, James by Emily Steele

 

*contains affiliate links

*For more ideas, check out the list from 2017

A Christmas Story about a Surprising Baby Named God (not that one)

Quick link: A Muslim, a Christian, and a Baby Named God

 

This is a story close to my heart because it is about my first friend here, someone who was and remains exceedingly precious to me and my whole family. Someone who made me believe that this place, so different from Minnesota, could become home. Someone, without whom, I sincerely doubt we could have stayed so long.

When I needed someone to love my kids, she did. When I needed someone to make me laugh, she could. When I wanted to understand a cultural thing, she untangled it for me. When I need someone to hear my anger or my sorrow, she welcomed it.

This is a story of two women, coming from such different places, with such different faiths and such different ways of living, and finding each other, finding ourselves, together. It is about becoming mothers and about digging into our souls and finding beauty there.

When God and his mother were released from the maternity ward they came directly to my house to use the air conditioner. It was early May and the summer heat that melted lollipops and caused car tires to burst enveloped Djibouti like a wet blanket. Power outages could exceed ten hours a day. Temperatures hadn’t peaked yet, 120 degrees would come in August, but the spring humidity without functioning fans during power outages turned everyone into hapless puddles. I prepared a mattress for Amaal* and her newborn and prayed the electricity would stay on so she could use the air conditioner and rest, recover.

In 2004 when my family arrived in Djibouti, I needed help minimizing the constant layer of dust; Amaal needed a job. I needed a friend and Amaal, with her quick laugh and cultural insights became my lifeline. My husband worked at the University of Djibouti and was gone most mornings and afternoons, plus some evenings. We had 4-year-old twins and without Amaal I might have packed our bags and returned to Minnesota out of loneliness and culture shock.

I hired Amaal before she had any children. She wasn’t married yet and her phone often rang while she worked, boys calling to see what she was doing on Thursday evening. To see if she wanted to go for a walk down the streets without street lights where young people could clandestinely hold hands or drink beer from glass Coca-Cola bottles. She rarely said yes until Abdi Fatah* started calling. He didn’t drink alcohol and didn’t pressure her into more physical contact than she was comfortable with in this Muslim country. She felt respected. She said yes.

Click here to read the rest of A Muslim, a Christian, and a Baby Named God

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