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, February 5, 2012

Remembering The Old 97

No matter what relationship you have with your parents and siblings, these relatives are really the few that can genuinely understand what you are – or will be – going through. A strong nuclear family is of the outmost importance. Outsiders label the expat experience as a sabbatical where you will be rocking out under the hot sun on a sandy beach wearing a funny hat. They don’t usually associate this displacement with becoming a target for terrorists – as was the case in the aftermath of the Japanese residence – or random attacks – when Mario Lambert and I left an amusement park in Peru shortly after a group blew up it up – and having to go on with a regular life. Your parents and siblings know these stories are not exaggerations or some desperate cry for attention. They soldiered on through the same struggles that you had. It is not that the rest of your family or friends do not care to understand, but your mind, identity and even culture has been morphed into something quite different from that of your fellow compatriots in a positive way as you have sacrificed stability and a sense of daily continuity.

Roosevelt Softball Team:
bet you can't spot the heavy metal horns!

In 1997, my nuclear family was rocked by even more than gun blasts and body bags marking the end of a siege. My older brother, Brian, was now headed off to university to pursue higher education in Medicine, bringing an abrupt end to our comfortable routine and camaraderie. He was excited to leave the roost and overjoyed with his upcoming emancipation. I was delighted and celebrated this new step alongside him yet realized it was going to be difficult to live in the same house after his departure. No more Sepultura banging through the massive home-made speakers he built with his friend Paul. The Cowboys From Hell were packing their suitcases to the head bangers ball in London, Ontario. Our lazy day basketball “21”s were to be substituted for a solo shoot around the driveway. The pitching staff in our school’s ball club was going to struggle to replace him and his lefty swing attempting to beat the green monster on right field. Family trips were now going to be booked for 3. Little did I know the days of living under the same roof had come to an end. There was no tomorrow.

To make matters even worse, as a 10 year anniversary present for my mother kicking cancer out of our house, she was once more diagnosed with the same type of cancer shortly before Brian would leave home base. Dad and Maman called us into their room one evening to have a serious chat and my father used that infamous cliché phrase: “It is nothing serious.” In every past instance when I heard that sentence mentioned, it was always a big deal. Mom told me several years later, she had decided to spend quality time with her mother that summer as she thought it could be her last chance. Mom was admitted on August 15th, 1997 to the Clinica Montesur in Monterrico, Lima for surgery and she was to remain there for a good 5 days or so until she would be discharged. Brian stayed a few nights at her bedside during her stay and my requests to stand guard had been denied due to my school obligations. Everyone suggested – in my best interest of course - that it was best for me to continue my usual routine. I wasn’t a fan of people deciding for me. All I had on my mind was whether or not I was going to have a mother tomorrow or lose her to this cancer that did not want to leave our family alone. She was the glue that kept us all together.

School provided no distraction from the situation whatsoever. My mother had taken on the role of the school’s French teacher many moons ago and now… she was absent. This was highly uncharacteristic of her career in Roosevelt. Of course the staff knew why, but students began to ask questions and, as most kids and teens manage to, they got answers. Soon, my peers and others came up to express their sympathy, support and hoped things would get better soon. I preferred at the time that people pretended everything was normal. All is well. The icing on the cake was someone who came up to me and said: “My brother died of cancer so if you need someone to talk to, I’m here.” Gulp! Not a very smooth reassuring comment but I understood that the intentions were most noble. I felt as if I was treading like the Titanic in the academic seas as I prepared for the most important years of high school - the ones that universities really look at. However, I fought for my place, my grades and my permanence in the International Baccalaureate programme and tried to focus on what I could influence. I had to make it. Come September, Brian was gone. It was not a way of escaping his duties, on the contrary. It must have been difficult for him to leave knowing our mother had to undergo multiple sessions of radiotherapy. They had always been very close.

Maman (in red) and the FDR High School staff

We all have challenges to overcome and we often fail to consider how privileged we are in contrast to others. Many of us tend to dwell on the fact we were dealt the wrong card from the deck of life and resent God, life and others in a better situation than ourselves. I was somewhat guilty in the beginning of this crisis, feeling I did not have the proper support. An outsider could coldly say to you in a similar setting, “Toughen up” or “That’s life” – usually the last thing we want to hear – although this may be the best prescription. Everyone has their own coping mechanisms. Even in this darkest hour when faced with what looked like the end of my world as I knew it, I realized that you – the universal you - can always count on the kindness of others. Strangers can become friends, friends can become brothers and you may find redemption in a friendship you considered lost. It is up to you to deal with this pain and you owe it to yourself to carry on. Tomorrow, people you love may or may not be there, but the show must go on – of course while keeping those who are gone forever in your heat and thoughts. My mother fought and survived cancer once again and I never forget the support from strangers, friends and family that went out to the four of us. All of you are never forgotten in our household for your unconditional gesture of friendship in a time of need. I have always said, you always find out who your friends really are in times of hardship.

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