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, September 25, 2011

All Roads Lead To Santa Rosa de Lima

Success in a mission abroad lies primarily in becoming a spin artist. The reality of your own circumstances depends on how you define your status quo. The most appropriate motto I can think of is from Monty Python’s: The Life of Brian, which plainly states: “Always look on the bright side of life.” The easiest – and worst - thing to do in this type of situation is to face your reality negatively, locking the door to prevent contact with the outside world, confining yourself to isolation. You no longer deal with the situation, opting to run away from your problems. The other option, which I highly recommend, is to swing that door open and let yourself and your family be exposed to something new. The psychological trauma of being on “lockdown” mode for an extended amount of time can be extremely harmful. The sooner you realize this will not be like home – whatever that means to each person individually – the sooner you can learn from your surroundings and the richness around you. You will be proud of your accomplishments when you look back. You allow yourself to expand your horizons and have a real perspective of the world. Of course, similarly to being back home, some things are good and others are not. We, the Bickfords, always opted for scenario number two, which leads me to the story of our first day trip out of Lima.

Santa Rosa de Lima by Claudio Coello

In the early going, the Bickfords had become friends with the Lambert family, facilitated by the link of a working relationship in the Embassy between our heads of household and at the following generational level, through school. Over one of our first weekends, the Bickford gang met the Lamberts across Primavera and Velasco Astete, the main thoroughfares dividing our homes, where we would be joining another French-Canadian family on an interesting adventure. I can only remember the last name, Thibault, and he ran some sort of orphanage for underprivileged young boys in the city. Out of the three families, Mr. Thibault was the one who knew more about Lima, having lived there the longest. He had suggested we make our way to a hidden gem, Santa Rosa de Quives, a holy place the importance of which had not been properly explained to me at any point. He was in fact the only one to have been there, so we were basing this trip on pure good faith in him. Since both Alain Lambert and him had SUVs, they decided to split passengers up into men and women in their vehicles. Curious as both drivers were men so the division would not work in its entirety. Mr. Thibault would be the lead car of this expedition loaded with our women. It made sense for him to be the guide as he was the one with the intel. Alain, the RCMP veteran, would drive the escort car hauling all us hardy and handsome men. He even joked around reminiscing about his time spent trailing suspects early on in his law enforcement career as he agreed with his task in this adventure. We all settled into our proper positions and hit the road toward Santa Rosa de Quives.

Through the disorganized driving patterns of a busy Lima, my motion sickness began to kick in as I sat in the back seat with Brian and Mario. I could see through my discomfort the famous pueblos jóvenes – local name for shantytowns - surrounded by dust, dirt and tons of rubbish as we progressed. We passed the mighty Rimac River, which flows through the centre of Lima. Sometimes a raging torrent, when we passed, it was a coffee-coloured trickle. Mario suggested it was the only river in the world where one could do brown water rafting. The cityscape was still enveloped in that persistent thick fog accompanied by that lingering curious odour. Eventually a tabernacle, pronounced in a colourful Lac Saint Jean accent, resonated from the driver’s seat as Alain explained that he had lost the lead car. Maybe his cop skills had undergone a sort of attrition after years of desk-related work. We were now five gringos on the road to who knows where, surrounded by the pueblos jóvenes and all their décor. He pulled off the highway, not to give us a closer look as to the living conditions but to ask for directions. In his thick French-Canadian accent he asked an indigenous-looking Peruvian how to get to Santa Rosa de Lima. Everywhere we went, no one knew what he was asking but they were kind enough to give us even more vague directions, hoping this would help us attain our objective and catch-up to the party. Hope was lost. We ventured through the hostile streets with everyone who gazed upon us wondering what we were doing there. We figured nobody knew where this place was, but in fact, Santa Rosa de Quives was the actual name of a place, whereas Santa Rosa de Lima was the name of a virgin. She was the first saint hailing from the Americas and the Patron Saint of Peru. I guess Santa Rosa de Lima was everywhere so to speak.

After our failed attempt to rejoin the party, or find the site of Santa Rosa de Quives, we decided to stop at a reasonable looking place to grab a bite to eat. Since we had no cell phones or military radios, we were unable to communicate with anyone else to let them know what had occurred. We stopped within the Lima city limits to a district called Ancón, which Alain explained was a treasured destination to many limeños looking for some fun in the sun over the summer months. It was hard to imagine what the place would look like without the fog and that cold humidity always upon us. Regardless of being indoors or outdoors, your clothes always felt somewhat wet and sticky. We parked in a playa ­– usually means beach but in Peru, parking lot – where the only vehicle that seemed to be properly parked between the lines and in front of the curb was a row boat. Even the oars were safely stored inside the vessel. This seemed comical from a North American perspective, as a parking officer from our home country would have had a field day in this city. People routinely parked wherever they felt was convenient and driving seemed to have few rules. Sure it is odd as an outsider but it is not up to us to judge and expect everyone to be like us. When in Rome, do as the Romans do. Nearby we found a local seafood bar, a simple-looking place that appeared to have a great menu. It is common fashion there to have someone just outside a restaurant or bar approaching passers-by to coax them into their unique and fine establishment. Alain asked the friendly young waiter if they sold a drink called Sangre de Tigre. It was evident he did not understand Alain’s request but in a very “can-do” entrepreneurial attitude, he said they had anything we could ever want. The rest of us also had no clue what this was but we were all famished. We quickly learned that sometimes, the simpler the place is, the more genuine the food. I have no recollection to what this place was called, but the food was amazing. I ate perhaps one of the best ceviche mixto – a coastal seafood dish, usually fish cooked in limejuice, but this one had octopus, fish, shrimp and all sorts of good stuff – in my life. My bowl seemed to contain half of the ocean. What an incredible unexpected treat. We later tried Sangre de Tigre – a mixture of ceviche juice with vodka – a thoroughly vile concoction that we never drank again. After the meal we proceeded to the shore and boardwalk.

The bay of Ancon without the fog

The walk through the insidious fog was tough, especially after filling ourselves to the brim with incredible food. We saw several monuments telling their story about local heroes who gave their lives valiantly defending their beloved country. The Peruvians had fought battles against their neighbour and long time rival to the South, Chile. It was funny but I was quite familiar with their conflicts as history was fascinating to me since a very young age, and now I was listening to the Peruvians as they shared their tale. During our walk, we came across a motorcycle taxi service – a motorcycle hooked up to a sort of rickshaw – and we hired two of these to give us a tour of Ancón. We would have a chance to see more without having to walk with full and heavy stomachs. The drivers did not seem to express concern having three teens on one and two rather large adults, one more than the other, as passengers. They flew through the tight streets – and sometimes sidewalks - not really explaining much or giving us time to admire the scenery until eventually, I noticed we were on the highway travelling in the opposite direction to traffic. That was living on the edge! The drivers seemed to race each other and as we passed by, we greeted our fathers with gestures and waves of all sorts. Both vehicles merged once more into streets and sidewalks, completing a circle that took us back to the boardwalk where they picked us up. Maybe a 15 to 20 minute flash tour of Ancón. I am sure there was more to see but we shared many laughs and great anecdotes afterwards on our way back home to rejoin the women. I heard later from my Maman and Mario’s mother, Angèle, that their tour was rather dull. Perhaps our failure to reach the objective was a blessing in disguise. Santa Rosa de Lima was with us on that day.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

From Russia With Love

As I mentioned near the conclusion of my previous blog entry, the world has its own way of making things work out, returning a sense of balance. The same energies would come into my life during the next few months of being a High School freshman. I was feeling further alienated seeing my bridges burned after attempting to join the Peruvian population. It was no longer an option for me to continue to that end and I was not willing to take any more chances. If my environment would be subject to further bombardment, I would not make it through the posting. Two years could turn into an eternity when being on the wrong end of a conflict. I was now moving away from “adaptation” to more of a “coping” mode in regards to my situation. At this point I was able to find several similarities between my life and prison movies. If I was going to survive high school, I needed a plan: someone to watch my back. My brother had kindly volunteered to be my backup – perhaps noticing things were off to shaky start, to say the least, but I could not have my brother fight my battles. I needed my own posse.

Ivan Drago during a press conference

I figured the smaller groups of students were more closely knit, therefore harder to break into. Other groups were made up of Americans and other English-speaking kids and more quiet and distanced groups such as the Japanese and Koreans. I felt a sense of equal opportunity in evaluating my chances for proper integration as I shared the same ingredient with all of these other kids: a bunch of nothing. We were foreigners but, in my mind, this was not enough to click together. For a while, I navigated alone through the world of Roosevelt observing my peers during my classes and lunchtime. I saw from a distance how they interacted and I did not feel outgoing enough as I gauged my appetite for risk. I did not have any particular preferences, although I began to form a bond with Mario Lambert, a French-Canadian the son of the RCMP attaché in the Embassy and David Williford, whom I believe was the son of an American missionary or something of that nature. They were both in my Spanish and Debate classes and had a great sense of humour. Our Spanish teacher was a former Miss Peru – must have been a very long time ago – named Ms. Saco who had difficulty commanding respect and controlling her classroom. If you have ever seen an episode of Oz, well this was somewhat similar during the riot scenes. The only difference is that class would eventually come to an end while in Oz everyone’s sentences were different. The environment was so relaxed there, I was able to chat up a storm with both of them and build a closer connection.

During the course where I was regularly used for target practice (Physical Education) I began to befriend a Slavic-looking kid. He looked to me as a shorter and chubbier version of Ivan Drago, the Russian Red Army boxer who took on Rocky in one of Stallone’s movies. No one seemed to include him in their team when organized sports would take place. I did not want to pick a side, as I knew I would be picked on regardless of my decision. Students also seemed to periodically insult him using all sorts of words that I had never heard of before or care to repeat. It was evident to me he was another outsider. We seemed like a perfect match. If I was not liked, and I was an “alright” kind of kid, he must have been better at that time in my own mind than the average student. The first time I approached him, I attempted to communicate in English with him, as my Russian was nonexistent. I hoped this would be a common language. We were supposed to play volleyball and I did not have a partner and he did not appear to have one either. He responded verbally to my initial contact yet, although his lips were moving and his speech level struggled against the incessant sound of bouncing balls on the hardwood gym floor, I had no idea what he responded. We somehow managed to understand each other communicating through various gestures and facial expressions, such as waving towards each other so one would get closer and the almost universal thumbs up. We continued for a long time exchanging further gestures and actually laughing as we kept each other company during our sentence in the gym. It was funny but we seemed to find a connection without having to speak.

I later realized this Soviet buddy of mine was also in my World History class. Kevin “El Chivo” Jameson, who I swear to this date, was a clone of Woody Harrelson, taught this course. He was a young American, perhaps teaching high school kids for the first time in his career. He was a shy individual as well, something that was not a key to succeeding as a teacher there. The reason he was nicknamed el chivo (the goat) is because on several occasions, while he lectured on the topic of the day, a random person in the classroom would belt out “Kevin chivo” at the top of their lungs, and the rest of the class followed in unison with an “ey yeay yeay yeay”. Every yeays would get louder and given the day and circumstances, there could be several of them added on. He never seemed to have an answer to this behaviour and although I found this hilarious, I was also astonished at how little control teachers in this school had over their students and the overall lack of discipline. I had never seen this kind of behaviour in my life and in my other schools, there would be no place for this nonsense. This did not impede my newfound Eastern European buddy and my contributions to the chorus. We may have on occasion belted out our own chivos, creating the tsunami of ey yeay yeays. As a matter of fact, this was a very good stress relief technique. I remember leaving Mr. Jameson’s class usually feeling quite refreshed and ready to tackle the rest of my hostile surroundings. Kevin was a nice guy and did not exhibit any resentment or hostility from uproarism in his classroom. Perhaps he was just happy that the class would eventually come to an end. I often had chats with him about basketball as supposedly, he had played for Duke in the NCAA. I was young but that did not mean I was gullible. He did not seem to have the makings of a Varsity athlete.

Alejandro, Kensuke and I

The Russian and I finally began to speak once I realized his name was Alejandro. I now managed to discern the language as he tried to converse with me through a thick accent known internationally as Andaluz. It is close to Castilian (Spanish), but many letters are not pronounced, and the pace is somewhat quicker. It did not help that it was the first time I heard this regional accent. He did not have much English in his repertoire as this too was his first ever experience studying in the language. I possessed the advantage of having a prior oral record. Thanks to this new connection, I was reunited with my passion for basketball, playing at lunchtime with him and his Korean and Japanese ESL buddies. This was also where he introduced me to Kensuke Kobayashi, a good Japanese friend who became our gateway into a whole new language and culture. Kensuke taught me something I will never forget: Onara no nioigasuru (it smells like fart). This tied in to that lingering guano smell in the city air. He was a very nice kid and with a great sense of humour. Both of them also allowed me to learn a lot from cultures I had never been exposed to in the past, and share some knowledge of my own home. I had become a much prouder Canadian in response to the feeling of rejection that I felt originating from my hosts. It was now looking as I had finally found my place in the school where I could be at peace and let the good times roll. We were all kids in no man’s land.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Second Blood: How To Survive Bullying

Being the new guy on campus was nothing new to me. I never had my Col. Trautman to walk me through it. I had been in this situation many times before and overcame this challenge successfully. This time however, was much more complicated than my previous experiences. I was now a teenager and at this age, toys, cartoons, snacks and other elements important to young boys are completely irrelevant. This was a brand new game with higher stakes. Students in Roosevelt conformed to wearing a common uniform. However, it appeared that looks, a sense of being cool and popularity were rules of engagement. I failed to see any advantage to being the new kid on the block. I searched for something which allowing me to transform my shyness into a go-getter attitude and build a new image for myself. It could have been a chance to start from scratch. Instead, I figured people would embrace the difference I would impart to my classmates and accept me for who I was. Be yourself and everyone will love you, that is what they say. For the most part, I think I managed to stay under the radar as I kept to myself, reading books in the library during my free time and observing from day one how the student population mingled and the various clicks.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt, architect of the New Deal

Obviously the largest group in the many divisions of my grade 9 classes were the Peruvians. My previous successful integration with Venezuelans and Chileans led me to believe this was the proper place for me to fit in. After all, this was my continent! As the school functioned on a credit system toward graduation, it was rare to have classes with the same classmates. I suppose Americans must have designed their high school system in this way to prepare their pupils for university, as it was also the first time I got to choose electives. This was an interesting concept. Sometimes, you could take a few courses which overlapped with those of a few other students. Among my first friends was Lucho Zuniga, a friendly Peruvian guy who was a surfing fanatic. I sat with him a few times in the library during study hall where I joined him at a table to read some books I had always been interested in picking up. He was also in my Algebra, English, World History and my Physical Education class so I figured we had a good shot at becoming friends. He did not appear to mind my presence. Another one of my Peruvian acquaintances was Cristian Hajossy who was in my physical science course taught by Ms. Zalecki. We walked on occasion towards the elementary school at the end of day where we would both get picked up to be driven home. On our walks he curiously asked me about my background, my country and mentioned some of the pretty girls in the school to keep an eye out for. It seemed everything was off to a slow but good start.

The only unwelcome problem I faced in the beginning was actually from a new kid, Rafael Benavides. It was my understanding his father had been in the Peruvian diplomatic corps and had recently returned from London. I introduced myself hoping to build a friendship based on our common experience yet it appeared upon every interaction things were getting worse. I had study hall with him as well, so I asked my teacher as many times as I could if I he would allow me to go to the library. It was the best solution I could think of as he and other students would team up to pester me, insult me and hit me with various objects (erasers, books, chalk and all kinds of wonderful projectiles) as the teacher frequently left us alone in his classroom. I guess he figured the “studying” would flourish if we were unsupervised. I feared that study hall period but never spoke to my parents, my teachers or anyone about this issue. I did not want to be seen as a snitch or someone who could not handle his own business. I figured that weakness could result in worse treatment and I remember that by the first month, all I prayed for was for our posting to get cut short. I adopted different crisis management techniques if I was forced to stay in that classroom, such as being quiet and pretending I was alone, politely asking him and others to cease and desist, but nothing ever seemed to work. I remember once asking Rafael to leave me alone and as a result, he took a chalk board eraser in his fist and smacked me on the back of the head. I had no idea what to do from there.

To add insult to injury, after Physical Education, Lucho and I would run together to our Algebra class across the campus hoping to make it there before the next bell would ring indicating the beginning of the next class. Otherwise, we would be subject to a warning. After three tardies, a detention would ensue, and who wanted to spend precious after-school time in school? One day, Lucho and I arrived late and our teacher, Mr. Brenig asked us to mark ourselves off as “tardy” on the board at the entrance of his classroom. I was through the door first and as I searched for a pen to write my name on the list, Lucho kept after me to pass him a pen. I remember telling him after his continuous insistence that I would lend him my pen as soon as I was finished with it. After all, it made sense to me since I was first in line. I learned soon afterwards that he was not in complete agreement about that procedure. During the rest of this semester and the next, Lucho, Rafael and other guys from P.E. used me for target practice. If I ever walked past them, they blasted soccer balls trying to hit me and taunted me in the hallways trying to trip and push me. “Welcome to Peru!” I would tell myself. I wondered how in God’s name could I become public enemy number 1 for telling someone to hold on before I hooked him up with a pen. All of this was ridiculous to me. Subsequently, they did everything to ensure I would have a hard time settling in to my new environment. They once stole my school uniform from the gym locker while wearing my sporting clothes and I had to spend the remainder of the day in sweaty clothes. I went to see Mr. Weinrich about this and of course he was in shock as this type of behaviour never occurred in his school. I began to think that the orientation session I had gone to leading me to pick this school was a greatly prefabricated public image campaign to brainwash parents into believing the students were future leaders and outstanding citizens.

John Rambo was taken away from peace and serenity when called upon

It was true that no one else had gone out of his or her way to treat me badly. Nonetheless, it was my first look into the world of bullying and how horrible someone can feel as a victim. I reacted negatively, closing myself off to the rest of the Peruvian students, feeling they were all against me. Perhaps this was true, perhaps not. My first year, although I began making good friends – I will delve further into this in the next posts, you can be sure of that – this treatment made me feel like a complete outcast making me want to board a plane bound for Ottawa and taking refuge back in my old school where I could be among friends. However, retribution can always come in unexpected and mysterious ways. Perhaps it is better to say, what goes around comes around. Near the end of the first year of school, we were playing soccer in P.E. and of course, all the bullies seemed to be playing against me even if they were in my team. Rafael kept making runs where he would charge me and push me, while he laughed as I hit the deck. After several weeks of this, I lost my cool, charged at him like a freight train, kicked the ball with all the possible gathered momentum and, by pure divine intervention, caught his foot as I went for the ball. Upon making contact, I clipped him off his feet, forcing him into an aerial somersault leading him to land on the floor breaking his ankle. This was completely unintended. I pretended I had gone for a legal challenge and kept moving. As a consequence, he wore a cast for the rest of the semester and the others backed off for the rest of my existence in this school. Both of them has apologized to me - which I was quite surprised - for their nasty treatment at the end of the school year. I earned respect through a total fluke and became untouchable. 

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Keys To Choosing Your High School

The most important right of passage for a teenager is his or her school and for the first time in our lives, Brian and I would have to pick one. The first fine institution subject to our detailed inspection was the Lycée Franco-Péruvien, near Avenida Primavera and the Panamericana Sur. It was an ideal location as it was about 5 minutes away through the morning traffic from our SQ. The greatly revered Proviseur (the equivalent of a Superintendent) gave us the five-cent tour of the grounds and facilities, mentioning that as we were older, we were not required to wear uniforms. That was a relief, as we had not needed a uniform for school since 1992. The buildings seemed lifeless and the sports facilities were limited to a cement basketball court/soccer field heeding a warning of conflict for sport. It is somewhat difficult to play soccer and basketball simultaneously. Afterwards, he sat us down in his office, looked at our grades and proceeded to explain that the school curriculum was based on the Southern Hemisphere. As this was mid-year for them, we would be obliged to repeat half of the year we completed back in Ottawa. This meant that Brian now had 2 and half years to go to finish school instead of 2 and just add two more years to that to figure out my conundrum. Since the scholastic year ended at Christmas, Brian would have to wait until September to start university. In effect, we could lose even more time. We left with a bitter taste.

Colegio FDR Media Centre

The next school was where most of the Canadian Embassy kids were enrolled, Colegio Franklin D. Roosevelt. This was an American high school, home to children of diplomats, foreign business executives, political figures and Peru’s elite. The neighbourhood seemed somewhat friendlier in comparison to the Lycée, and the property was immense. It resembled a country club with the downside of having to go to class. The administration had organized an orientation meeting in the media centre, where the staff had prepared a presentation for parents and potential students alike. Everyone was in awe of the quality of education, allowing kids to graduate with an American High School Diploma (great for us as these studies are generally recognized by Canadian Provinces), and the prestigious International Baccalaureate. The presenters focussed on the great spirit of camaraderie, honesty, integrity and discipline. They further mentioned that a student who had recently stolen a painting during an art event sponsored by the school had shocked their community, as these sorts of events were unheard of at this fine institution. We were all very impressed and I am sure everyone was ready to sign up.

Afterwards, Brian and I met individually with the Principal, Mr. Brian Weinrich – who looked exactly like Dr. Frasier Crane - for a brief interview. I suppose this meeting was for him to judge our moral fibre. I was really nervous after that eye-opening presentation and I hoped that I was good enough to join the student population. Brian was in the office and I waited, thinking about key personality traits I should highlight and my previous record of academic excellence. I was not sure this would be enough. Eventually Brian came out and I was unable to ask him for any pointers or how the conversation went. It was my turn now. He suggested I sit across from him and I followed suit, sitting as straight and confident as I possibly could. I concentrated on creating a halo over my head that could be visible to the world. He threw in some questions to break the ice and up to this date, I was so nervous that I was unable to remember a thing we talked about. All I can recall is that once we finished, he smiled and said I was a great kid and I would do great in this school if I felt it was a fit for me. He put the ball in my court so I assumed I must have said something impressive to be given such a privilege of having the option to choose. I was proud of myself. He further commented that if I should encounter any problems, his door was always open for everyone. Wow! I really made an impression! I met my brother who also had a smile on his face and my parents, and we were ready to celebrate our victory.

            The following step was to meet the guidance counsellor in his office, next to the Media Centre building. He would be our secret weapon in achieving scholastic excellence. This was Robert Piper, an older gentleman from New England. I felt that I had the momentum to walk in there and seal the deal for my next two years. Once more, after Brian, it was my turn to schmooze him up and bring him on to my team. As we sat down, we spoke about my previous school, the courses I liked and what living in Canada was like for me. He immediately mentioned there were many Canadians in the school so I would feel at home. He suggested that in order to smooth my transition into this school, I should be enrolled in grade 9 to be among my age group – according to the Lycée system I should have been in grade 10. He gave me the choice and I followed his suggestion as I figured he was my fountain of knowledge. Afterwards, we spent about a half hour talking about NBA basketball where I mentioned I was disappointed to miss the first year of the Toronto Raptors franchise. He responded that he was a Celtics fan and I could not understand how he preferred them to the Lakers. I explained the beauty of the Lakers and their potential to come together and return the city to its deserved place in the league. It was just a matter of time.

Section of the High School buildings

            Long story short, Brian and I eventually picked Roosevelt over any other school in Lima. We did not have to look any further. No one in the school’s administration appeared to have any concerns that we had never actually studied in English before. Sure we spoke English at home with Dad, but that was it. We had never written the language before or had to study in this language. I knew I was going to have to work very hard to keep my place in a school that promoted excellence and represent my country properly among my peers. The first day of school was right around the corner and things just seemed more complicated than ever before. I knew other students again had the advantage of having shared many years in the same school and perhaps it would be hard to find my place among them. I had no idea what to expect in terms of my classmates, as I had little to no exposure yet to kids of my own age in Peru. I was confident nevertheless that I had made the right choice in Roosevelt and having my brother there, I knew we would look after each other and form a stronger bond. The Bickford boys had always triumphed in the past and this was just another test we would have to overcome.