A third-culture kid (TCK / 3CK) or trans-culture kid is "someone who, as a child, has spent a significant period of time in one or more cultures other than his or her own, thus integrating elements of those cultures and their own birth culture, into a third culture."


Sunday, August 28, 2011

Peru – First Blood

Prior to arriving in the great land of the Inca, I had ample time to picture Lima, Peru. This was before the golden age of Internet where access to information was slightly more limited. How did we ever manage back then? Even as I sat on the edge of my seat in the airplane carefully listening to the crew’s announcement about our descent to Jorge Chavez International Airport, I thought the city could resemble a blend between Santiago and Caracas. Memories of these two places were still somewhat fresh. As the aircraft continued its approach to land, I was not even able to see city lights in the dark. I always adored night flights as there were lights indicating a sign of life and civilization. A deep fog enveloped our plane, hiding everything as if keeping some kind of secret or hoping to surprise me. I impatiently kept gazing through the window hoping to catch a glance of a skyline, challenging the thick fog with a determined stare that met an even more determined contender. Neither of us gave up until eventually the plane touched down on the tarmac inching me closer to my new home for the next two years.

Peruvian flag adopted in 1825.

Our plane taxied to the terminal but did not park in front of the usual sleeves transporting passengers from the aircraft into the building. The flight attendants opened the doors preparing the travellers for their exit and a heavy smell penetrated the aircraft. This smell is something hard to forget. To say it stunk would be an understatement. The foul stench originated from fishmeal, garbage and perhaps a pinch of guano all engulfed in the thick, humid fog. We learned that the thick fog was called garua and would be our constant companion day and night for the next 6 months. I figured we would have to tough it out until leaving the airport, as in several large cities these are built in industrial areas. Upon stepping down a ladder leaving the Aeroperu plane behind, we boarded a bus that would take us to the terminal where we would have to go through customs, the international bureaucratic procedure officially granting the right of entry to the country. At this point, an Embassy admin officer, Mr. Stuart Bale, who had been on posting with his lovely family in Caracas, Venezuela overlapping with our time there, met us to provide a briefing on Peru. It was a lovely surprise to start this adventure with a familiar face. We went through customs through a special diplomatic line without any trouble eventually getting to baggage claim followed by our departure on an embassy van. All of this accompanied with that awful smell. There were several hundred people gathered outside the airport, milling about waiting for their loved ones.

We met our driver, a hefty Peruvian named Wilbur, who would take us to our overnight accommodation. As the vehicle made its way through the crowd, some kids began throwing rocks to our car, apparently in an attempt to irritate passing drivers enough to stop the car and exit the vehicle. Those who were not experienced in this kind of confrontation would soon find their vehicle swarmed by several dozen kids - called pirañitas - releaving you of any contents of your car. Stuart was kind enough to fill us in on some of this useful local intelligence. This part of the city was called Callao, and the cityscape was quite striking. We travelled along a large avenue where the median was covered in all manners of garbage, as the city did not have an organized collection system and contributed to the smell. On the opposite side, buildings appeared to have been demolished in some sort of terrorist attack. This was actually a way to save on property taxes, as the owners did not have to pay the maximum taxable return if the building was not completed. As we moved along, much of the city seemed to be distributed in a similar manner, although upon our arrival to Miraflores – a downtown for foreigners as well as a business centre for the city – things seemed to improve.

Our first night in the city, we checked in to the Hotel Pardo where we had reservations. It was a perfect location as it was literally right across from the Embassy of Canada and it was in the heart of the entertainment district for the gringos. That night, Brian was still upset at having to leave Ottawa behind so he had decided to stay in the hotel room. Dad, Maman and I went to the famous Calle de las Pizzas (Pizza street to us foreigners) to enjoy a locally made pizza and their own brand of sangria – a drink tracing its origins in Spain made of red wine, bubbly water or citrus flavoured soda mixed in with some seasonal fruit. It was a delightful meal, the service was excellent and the price was reasonable. There were perhaps anywhere from 30 to 40 pubs serving their own pizzas with special deals for the Pisco Sour, their national drink. Although I had heard of this drink during my time in Chile, I had never had the chance to try it as it was an alcoholic beverage. Peruvians would always proudly state that it was their drink and their neighbours to the South had copied their idea. I never debated with my hosts out of respect. In the streets as we made our way back to the hotel, there were several Peruvian kids selling roses to passers-by, many vendors with their moveable kiosks, all catering to the busy Miraflores nightlife. We did not stick around as the next few days would be action packed having to start our lives again from scratch and this time, Brian and I were going to have to go school hunting.

View of Pizza Street from Parque Kennedy, Lima, Peru

We were determined to make the best out of this situation and continue our seasoned adventurous spirit developed during our previous South American adventures. Our first night, as we readied ourselves for a good night sleep on foreign soil once more, we watched some local television hoping to find news providing more insight on the country’s happenings. Unfortunately it was a little too late and we were only able to see an end of the day commercial with a patriotic tune. The video had this attractive woman dressed in typical Quechua attire running around fields and there were also images of different regions of the country and the soundtrack was a song repeating “Así me gusta mi país, Perú.” (This is how I like my country, Peru). After this cute uplifting video, we settled into our beds for a goodnight sleep, as we had to be early in the morning in the embassy for a meet and greet. Instead of the sandman coming to ensure our dreams were sweet, an earthquake woke us up from our slumber. It was quite a scare, especially as it was the first one I had experienced in my life.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

For Those About To Leave, We Salute You!

By my 14th birthday, I had already lived in four different countries and visited seven others. Nine years of my life were spent living as a foreigner and the last three were spent at home base. I must have gotten accustomed to living as an expatriate, which contributed to a sentiment of self-alienation while in Ottawa. It was similar to admiring a beautiful painting from the outside as an art enthusiast rather than being part of the canvass. I had given this chance my best effort to become part of the Canadian picture, something I felt I represented while residing overseas. My increasing shyness had made the adaptation slightly more difficult than previous transitions. English was customarily the language when the big four were together, French was for school and Maman, which remained unchanged in Ottawa. My intake of Spanish with friends outside of school became seriously limited. Juan Alberto and his parents (my adoptive uncles) were my source of Spanish and a culture in which I felt naturally comfortable. It also made me feel uncomfortable that in my own country, people often suggested I was an outsider when I was trying to personify the Maple Leaf and all it stood for in my life, feeling pushed away from a successful adaptation.

Ottawa friends: Eric Soublière, Alexandre Mehiri, Adriano Damjanovic and one of Adriano's buddies

In the past, time played an integral role as a medium to make sense of my new transition and ensure stability quickly followed suit. As familiarity with my surroundings increased, I made good friendships and I immediately began feeling I belonged. I was just one more kid among the many people making up a beautiful uniform local culture and society. My presence in the melting pot was similar to adding spice to the recipe to kick it up a notch. After two years completed in our posting, having adjusted to a sweet new life that I worked hard to make, I could never imagine my time would run out. Of course I never blamed these circumstances on my father or his job, but it happened every time without exception. Departure was inevitable. I was born into this type of lifestyle so I had no point of comparison. It was becoming difficult to settle in, knowing things were temporary, having to uproot every three years sacrificing a stable life. It broadened kids horizons, but there were always pros and cons. After becoming somewhat used to this routine, Canada seemed as yet another posting, but having my father’s family nearby was a definite advantage. Although they were not exactly next door, it made a significant impact to the way I experienced this country as they were supportive and committed to spending holidays and special occasions together as a family. Perhaps if I could have gone from school to my Grandad’s, my Uncle John and Aunt Amy’s or my Uncle Rick and Aunt Margaret’s on a regular basis, Ottawa could have been different.

In the spring of 1995, as was customary after a two and a half year stretch, news came home once more about another move. This time, my parents felt unusual pressure, as their two boys were older and treasured the freedom of their suburban lifestyle along with the small things that contributed to their stability. Their major concern was regarding our possible dramatic, maybe volatile, reaction to leaving on another posting once again. This marked an end to our monthly visits to Grandad, our closer and more frequent relationship with the Ontario Bickfords, our basketball net, street games and our friends. My Dad and Maman sat Brian and I down in the living room where for the past years we had helped to put up our Christmas tree and decorations, to share the news. My father started the conversation by mentioning we were being posted to Lima, Peru for two years. The first thing that popped up in my brother and my mind was Brian’s school buddy, Daniel Seminario. He was obsessed with Michael Jordan and the Bulls and sacrificed most of his responsibilities as a young adult for basketball – which he was not particular good at - and had lived far too long away from his South American homeland. We figured it was not the best point of reference for Peruvians. My mother proceeded to quiz us about our knowledge of the country and both Brian and I responded with the Incas - an advanced pre-Colombian civilization that saw its demise at the hands of the Spanish conquistadors. They proceeded with a basic overview of the political situation, mentioning Fujimori was the political strongman and the Andean nation was resurfacing out of a quasi civil war against the Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path).

I remember Brian was upset about the departure more than ever before. He had made some great friends, mainly Manu, Tariq and Grégoire who were great kids and were always really nice to me as well. They generally included me in their basketball games or outings to watch sports games. He had become quite the young entrepreneur in finding opportunities to make some money in our community, mowing people’s lawns, shovelling driveways and babysitting. Many Ottawa South residents knew him and this recognition was special for him. He was seen as the “go-to” teenager. Anything you needed to have done around your house, you could count on him. He saved his money to buy CDs, posters and other items indispensable to teens. With this new posting, he was witnessing his hard work slowly fading away helplessly along with his freedom of riding his bike anywhere he wanted. He did not want to leave. I saw my own life in retrospect and did not see a need to balance the pros and cons. My brother was two years older than I was, so the elements in his life affecting his attachment to the city of Ottawa had a much deeper meaning. My best friend, Juan Alberto and his family were also scheduled to leave for Quito, Ecuador (right next door to our destination), so this contributed to my nonchalance. If my best friends were going, not much point in me staying and perhaps the change could be for the better. It would give a jolt to a life that had become monotonous.

With my family during my confirmation in Ottawa

The last summer in Ottawa was short. It was relatively boring for me as usual since most of my buddies from school were off on summer camps and Juan was in solitary confinement as his family packed for their own posting. My Maman made her rounds putting stickers on household items each marked by transport method: air, sea and storage. I had grown used to seeing these tags. They marked the closing ceremonies of every posting. Eventually, the movers would show in a huge truck, sending our more necessary items in boxes by air, the heavier parcels in a container heading to meet us by ship and the furniture would rock out in storage until the owners would return - after two years this time around. Psychologically, it was easier to make this move because it was for a shorter duration than others. Two years can just fly by. The shipment however was always a burden on its own having to deal with customs upon arrival. After the house was empty, we hit the road one last time to our familiar Kingston, Varty Lake and finally, leaving Canada from the Pearson Airport, our point of entry three years ago. I was sad to leave my family behind and nervous wondering what Peru had to offer in my life’s adventures.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

And The Host Of The 1994 FIFA World Cup Is…

The international football world was taken by surprise when the United States of America won the draw organized by FIFA’s to host the world’s marquee sporting event. Waves of disappointed seem to resonate in the build-up to the World Cup, with fans from all around expressing their outrage that a country, which referred to the sport as “soccer”, would organize this prestigious event. Certainly, this decision was a real touchdown for the FIFA organizing committee in sparking interest in a new, relatively unexploited market. I did not pay much attention at the time to the politics of the game, as I was overjoyed to be reunited once again with one of my favourite traditions. Every great civilization had their calendar and mine was the World Cup, every 4 years. At this crucial point in my journey, noticing the evident lack of enthusiasm in most of my peers, I realized that I was not part of some uniform culture. I seemed to have adopted elements of others I had lived in trying to make sense of my world. Although I was cheering for what I identified as my continent – South America – this was not my official home. If the Brazilian national team routed a top tier squad such as Germany, you would barely hear a car drive by your house honking its horn in celebration. Canadians were anxiously waiting during the heat of summer for Hockey Night in Canada and were somewhat oblivious to football. In Brazil however, if the same were true, governments and businesses would declare a national holiday to commemorate the victory and everyone would pour into the streets in celebration.

Diana Ross during the opening ceremonies on Soldier Field, Chicago, USA

The Americans managed to put on quite a spectacle during the ceremonial inauguration, regardless of foreign sceptics watching from their living rooms at a distance. The opening ceremony was directed by Oprah Winfrey from Chicago’s Soldier Field, where she introduced top performers of the time, Daryl Hall, Jon Secada and Diana Ross displaying their talents to the largest audience in their musical career. I remember Diana Ross strutting down the field, waving her arms, as she was lost herself in the beat of her music, passionately singing away until she met a ball on the opposite end of the pitch, kicked it well wide off the mark and the goal collapsed. She was supposed to direct her kick into the back net and the idea was that the force behind the blast would crack the net in half – that was supposed to be the illusion anyway. It was funny nonetheless. Regardless, I salute the Americans for their outstanding job as hosts, as they managed to set records in average attendance (nearly 69,000), breaking the standing record from the 1966 World Cup in England. The total match attendance of nearly 3.6 million for the final tournament remains the highest in the competition’s history, despite the expansion from 24 to 32 teams in the 1998 World Cup. Shortly after the entertaining show welcoming teams and viewers to the wonderful United States of America, the wait was finally over as defending champs Germany and South American minnows, El Diablo Etcheverry’s Bolivia kicked off. Of course, my key match opener came a few days later as Diego Armando Maradona returned to the football world from retirement in another attempt to lead the Albiceleste to glory and regain his sainthood in the competition.

Their opener was in Foxboro, in the outskirts of Boston, facing Greece. The Argentines opened with a star-studded line-up with José Antonio Chamot, Roberto Sensini, Oscar Ruggeri, Diego Simeone, Fernando Redondo, Abel Balbo, Claudio Canniggia, Gabriel Batistuta and El Diego. They completely routed the Greeks 4 – 0, leaving their fans ecstatic and believing that the team could go all the way. Batigol scored a hat trick but Diego’s cracker was the real highlight celebrating his comeback. After this match, Juan Alberto, Brian and I took our ball to the street to kick around, trying to replicate the impeccable Argentine futbol lindo. The following game, this same line-up struggled to topple Nigeria easy past them 2 - 1. The Super Eagles put in an outstanding performance proudly representing the African continent and eventually topped Group D, ahead of Bulgaria, Argentina and Greece. The end of this game however, signified the end of an era for Argentines and a knockout punch to the Pampa heroes’ morale. Maradona was instructed to pack his bags and withdraw from the competition as he failed a drug test, testing positive for ephedrine doping. He gave a brief press conference following this disastrous news rocking the world where he seemed to be at a loss for words - something unusual throughout his life. I will never forget what he said at that moment: “Me cortaron las piernas (they cut off my legs).” I felt as if a family member of mine had been shot as my idol was forced out of a game he blessed for years and the first player to ever make me dream as I watched my first ever international fixture. Later on, it was claimed that Rip Fuel, a supplement he used in training in Argentina, did not contain the doping ingredient but the US version did. As he ran out during the competition, he was took the local blend without he or his personal trainer understanding the difference. He would never dress the colours of Argentina ever again, a true loss for the beautiful game.

As Argentina carried on, the players lost their flair and elegance on the field. The motivation, the belief, and all ingredients of success were packed in Diego’s suitcase headed to Buenos Aires. The stars seemed to fade along with any hopes of redemption exiting early in the first stage of the knockout round to Romania. Other teams in the CONMEBOL such as Bolivia, Colombia (dubbed favourites by former Brazilian international Pelé) followed the same draconian fate so the hopes of an entire continent rested on the shoulders of Dunga, the Brazilian skipper and his lads. For the first time in my life, I saw myself supporting the verde amarelha. The street footy had turned to Romário and Bebeto, squaring off against the evil forces of the Netherlands and Sweden. Nothing would stand in the way of the most coveted trophy on the planet going to South America once again. A sweet triumph was brewing once more with the little guy taking on the deep pockets and fat wallets of the industrialized and developed world. Top clubs in the European leagues may have had exceptional training facilities to develop their players and long standing academies attracting wonderkids, but the Brazilians possessed a natural talent that could not be learned. Day in and day out, it seemed the samba boys were having fun, smiling away and dancing as the other teams fought to touch the ball. This was the famous joga bonito of a day I had never had a chance to witness from the country’s golden age. Teams facing them grew frustrated as they were forced to become spectators.

Brazil's National Football Team in 1994

On July 17th, 1994, the city of Pasadena, California was hosting the final, this time between Roberto Baggio’s Italy – a striker in top form both domestically and internationally – and Brazil. In Ottawa, the Bickfords and the Marquez got together to watch this fabulous show unfold, cheering on the South Americans. The only thing Italian in the house was a pizza we had ordered. Without any offence to the inhabitants of Il Bel Paese, it was Brazil time to shine that day. It was a long match, not because of the lack of goals, but the nerves and intensity of the players radiated out of the television and into our psyche. There were very few clear chances in favour of the in-form Brazilians and those that were on target met an invincible Gianluca Pagliuca, keeping his country’s hopes alive. The match went on to penalties and Italy’s Roberto Baggio skyrocketed his shot far from troubling Brazil’s Taffarel between the posts, leading in turn to a sea of yellow and green flooding the field as a the Samba Boys won their fourth title. The tournament came to a close and we piled into the Marquez’ van driving down the streets of Ottawa honking the horn and waving the Venezuelan flag in solidarity with the new champions. Some people waved at our vehicle, perhaps thinking our country had recently achieved its independence. I was happy my adoptive continent of South America had once again shown its resilience.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

To The East... And Beyond!

Our major expedition for the Bickford four was eastward to Atlantic Canada, during the summer of 1993. The Plymouth Voyager saw one of its inner rows of seats retired to our garage waiting to be called upon after our return. We needed all the space we could get for our suitcases, our cooler, canned goods, water and other useful provisions, such as PC Cola. My Dad was already rallying the troops early in the morning of our departure, making the van’s motor purr like some kind of house pet requiring attention from its masters. Our bearing was to Quebec City, heading through beautiful but traffic congested Montreal on the way. There were no quick alternatives in order to avoid Montreal, as the 460 km drive would be even longer on slower country roads. In my father’s mind, we could not afford losing much time anywhere along the system of checkpoints he had devised on his road map. In case we did fall behind, this would further limit the time allocated to new sights and areas of interest.

The Welsh Battle Goat and the Royal 22 Regiment

Captain David was once again at the helm, leading us fearlessly into Quebec City (a significantly anti-Anglophone region of our beloved Belle Province) and Brian was the second in command, returning to his familiar position of navigator from our South America adventures. Our first stop: the Quebec City Zoo. The gardens in this zoo were so properly maintained, full of colourful flowers and freshly trimmed grass, we were almost under the illusion of being in a storybook. The only thing missing now were the talking animals. The closest communicative creatures were the lively apes (whether they be orangutans, chimps, monkeys, all are always loveable animals). I am not interested in sparking a debate on evolution – although my father kept mentioned an orangutan who was a carbon copy of his Uncle George who I had never had the pleasure of meeting - but there is something about a monkey’s expressions and habitat that make you look back on better days. Their sense of community, simplicity and the all-you-can-eat flea buffet show that perhaps as evolved Cro-Magnon Man, we have failed down the road. What a lesson we can learn from our ape brothers, who do not have any barriers of language, tradition or culture impeding their way of life, leaping about and making funny noises.

We moved on to the Montmorency Falls Park, slightly outside Quebec City, where we boarded a small cable car to visit the summit of the hill. The British had built fortifications on the very top, during the lengthy battles with the French for their prized city in 1756. The following morning, we were among the first to enter the Citadelle to observe the changing of the guard. The construction of the fort, as my Dad explained, was all British as the French had very basic defences in comparison, and the Canadian Forces now occupied this as a regiment base for the Royal 22 Regiment. Our boys were out on peacekeeping operations in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Meanwhile, I suppose we had the more junior soldiers and officers parading for us, with the company of their trusty battle goat. Many British regiments adopted a Welsh breed of goat as their mascot. Who would not give absolutely everything in their power for their country and their goat? This was our secret motivational weapon in the war of 1812 against the Americans. Why were they unsuccessful in invading British North America? Because of the special and unique bond soldiers possess with Welsh goats and their powerful aura.

Further down the holiday road, we made our way to the Gulf of Saint Lawrence in the region of Gaspésie, Quebec. This was nature in its purest form. There were no enchanted oaks or utterly exotic wildlife, but it was an ideal place for a Griswold-like occurrence. We had arrived late evening on this part of the coast and as some of you may imagine, there is not much in terms of civilization around there. There were very few houses, farms, bed and breakfasts or motels. Each neon sign, on every location previously mentioned (including farms and private homes) seemed to challenge us with the most dreaded response: “No Vacancy.” Awesome! It was now way too late to head back to Quebec City or further down the road to New Brunswick. My Dad was insistent on staying in the region as the Percé Rock was close by and we could not miss it. We finally ended up finding a campground where we paid something like a $5 access fee, parked the car, rolled down the windows and tried to get as comfy as possible in our van. We used some beach towels for privacy, so people could not see us inside the van and begged for the night to go by quickly. Dad and I got the front seats (which thankfully reclined), Maman got the middle bench seat and Brian the corrugated rear floor along with the cooler. Not much of a night for any of us. The next morning dawned clear and bright, but who cared. All four of us groggy, got to the port and on a motorboat to tour the waters around the Percé rock and the bird sanctuary on Bonaventure Island. We took a good look at everything but could not wait to get to New Brunswick for a good night sleep.

Aerial view of the Percé Rock in beautiful Quebec

Our next stop, Bouctouche, New Brunswick had even more highlights. We had trouble finding our hotel as this was before the GPS era, and my Dad stopped to ask this pirate-looking individual for directions. My Dad asked in English, the man answered in French so my father switched to French and the man concluded the conversation in English. Weird couple of minutes. We followed his directions and found historic Bouctouche Inn, only to discover it had been a monastery and there were “no vacancies”. We then went to the Presbytère de Bouctouche, a lovely old home converted to a hotel. For once the Griswolds had some good luck! As we settled into our room, I looked out the window and saw a quite large cemetery. Perfect setting to film a Tales From The Crypt episode. Toward Saint John – a town dear to my father due to having spent his teenage years there but smelled of pulp and paper - and Saint Andrews-By-The-Sea, where we saw the change of tides in the Bay of Fundy and were completely awe-struck. There are some places along the coast where you can clearly observe the tidal changes from high to low and on average, there can be about 17 meters (55 feet) difference between the two. We capped off our tour of Atlantic Canada sleeping in the upper level of someone’s house (supposedly a hotel) where if you had a tendency of rolling around in bed, you could have fallen out the window and woken up the next day on the roof of the car. We were all four crammed in to a small room, where Maman and Dad shared the bed; I slept at the foot of the bed and Brian on the smallest fold out bed in history – perhaps a coffee table with wheels.