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, January 27, 2013

La Malbaie – A Not So Bad Bay

Being second only to Russia in terms of landmass, Canada has a lot of space and nature to play in. Few realize that for us, a 6-hour drive is something we consider routine when we hop into our car heading out for a short vacation. If you come visit someone here and you want to see a lot, be ready to spend a significant amount of time in a car watching the countryside through the window with short pit stops at service centres. In other countries, well… you would be in a different country after spending that kind of time in a car – maybe I am overextending myself, but it all helps in proving a very valuable point that I hope I manage to get to at some point.

A cozy rental property in La Malbaie, Quebec

At the end of the summer of 2005, the Bickfords took an amazing road trip – about 6 or 7 hours driving through Quebec (pretty close to home in Canadian standards) – to la Malbaie. Rural Quebec has curious breaks in the countryside such as Eco-museums selling cheeses and other fine local produce, small sandwich shops to buy your casse-croûte and from time to time, the odd strip club in middle of nowhere – it may be somewhere in the Quebec charter of rights to grant equal access to the ladies of the night. The roadway to the final destination hugs the last stretch of the Saint-Laurent River (also known as the Saint Lawrence River) as it pours out into the bay that coincides with your arrival into town.

La Malbaie sits on this great bay – originally named The Bad Bay in olde French – but there is hardly anything bad about it. The pirates and buccaneers have long left, so the crime rate has tanked. The main drag has a small shopping centre with the bare necessities such as a Metro supermarket, clothing stores (picture local brands you never heard of instead of Saks Fifth Avenue) and a trusty Société des alcools du Québec. We were able to buy most of our provisions for our stay there, including horsemeat – I know, it sounds like an animal rights violation – smoked trout, ostrich cold cuts and other meats that would haunt any strong defender of a hardcore vegetable diet.

As the Bickfords are usually discrete individuals, we booked perhaps the biggest vacation home in the whole village. Three people rented a house for 12 people over an entire week. It belonged to an American industrialist back in the early 1900s. In our defense, it was actually cheaper than a small, roach patrol cottage in Ontario and we needed the space of course. Now, I don’t mean to be unpatriotic towards my dear birth province but Quebec does know how to take care of their people and visitors. First impressions are everything, don't you know. The house sat at the highest point of a hill, looking over the town out at the bay and on a clear day, you could make out Rivière du Loup in the distance.

The barbecue in all its glory

Road trips may be quite long in this country but they certainly are worth it for a change of scenery and relaxation. Most areas that service many tourists tend to shift the environment, overwhelming locals and even other visitors. Travellers tend to forget their common sense back home – don’t leave home without it - and respect for others. The region used to be a vacation spot for the rich and famous Quebeckers and Montrealers who stayed at the Chateau Richelieu - a still very pricey resort hotel now managed by the Fairmont hotel chain. I highly recommend this destination for peace, whale watching, fine meals and your budget can go a long way.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Brain Maladies… Among Other Follies

What is the common link between Axl Rose, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Michael Phelps and Abraham Lincoln? Well, the answer is mental illness. A few months ago, I never would have guessed. The occurrence of any kind of mental disorder can directly affect 1 in 4 people in their lifetime and the repercussions often do spill over onto families and close friends. The trigger to these diseases can be anything from a death in the family, the use of recreational drugs, genetics, diseases, injuries (such as head trauma) and even the result of traumatic experiences including war or child abuse.

The fact is that mental illness can develop in anyone regardless of the person’s age, social status, skin colour, etc. During the month of October, the CBC published significant material promoting awareness of mental disorders and even more alarmingly, the incredible lack of availability and coverage for treatment relating to these conditions. It can usually take up to two years to actually sit down with a psychiatrist just for a basic evaluation and their waiting lists have their own waiting lists. This is certainly the opposite for those who are diagnosed with cancer, heart disease, stroke, or any other major impairing ailment, who get quasi-immediate high-priority care. Furthermore, there isn’t the same stigma attached to these conditions as with mental disorder.

More recently on the local news, I heard that a woman in Ottawa, a wife and mother of two known to her neighbours as an outgoing and involved member of the community, killed her 6 year-old and 4 year-old while her husband was at work. When the husband came home later that evening, he found the lifeless bodies of his children on the floor and his wife’s light just about ready to extinguish. He called an ambulance but his wife passed away on the way to the hospital. It was a case of mental illness which had gone under the radar not only in the community but even in their family home. It is indeed a tragedy for the whole family and for our failing healthcare system that is letting too many people fall through the cracks.

Now, this is not to send you all out on a witch-hunt to uncover these possible menaces to society. The facts speak for themselves, you need only to listen. You may very well have a friend, relative, co-worker or acquaintance suffering from an acute depression, bi-polar disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, you name it. I lived with a person for a long time without knowing this was possible or even knowing what to do as it feels you are constantly walking on eggshells. The reason why I am pointing this out is that, once you may have identified their sense of feeling lost and the existence of an illness, it is easier to become their supporter and advocate.

In the past, we used to say that people were just badly brought up and blamed much of their programming on bad behaviour rather than believe it was a mental disorder. Many general practitioners continue to attach this label rather than referring patients down proper channels to receive the care they require. Many sufferers tend to exhibit unusual patterns we tend to equivocate with irrational, eccentric, disorganized, oblivious, insensitive and self-centered traits. Mental illness is a very selfish disease that makes the sufferer feel like it is himself or herself against the world. They push away everything and everyone until eventually – worst case scenario without proper treatment or support – they begin to trap themselves into a lonely existence experiencing too much stress, leading them to contemplate suicide.

As a parent, spouse or friend, it can be extremely complicated to deal with people who have mental illness. Although our loved one may appear extremely focused at work, creative in their arts and have every under control, they will rarely seek help convincing themselves everything is fine. As an outsider, you notice this person is almost lifeless, sleeping long hours (or not sleeping at all), missing work often, hardly eats, never on time and distracted. You know something is wrong but they will never admit it. If you need help coping with these situations, there are excellent peer support and family education programs offered by NAMI that can assist in finding tools to do just that. Remember what Bob said: “Judge not, before you judge yourself.”

Sunday, January 13, 2013

2013: Anyone for Doomsday?

Happy New Year everyone! I am pleased to return to the blogging sphere following a well deserved break – at least from social media and the like. At first glance, it appears not much in the world has changed since I last posted in December. The planet did not mysteriously implode, there were no massive tidal waves, the tectonic plates did not break out into a wild samba dance, the rise of the machines has gone unnoticed, the aliens did not come for a humanoid buffet and the apes have yet to enslave humanity. Does it not seem odd to anyone how popular these “end-of-the-world” theories are? Thankfully, people are feeding less into these themes than in the past.

Sure buddy, whatever you say.

New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day soon followed what many implied the Mayans’ prediction of the end of days – they just ran out of stone for their calendar – a time for many people to partaaay as if it really was the end of the world. For many, it is traditionally a time to spend with friends at a house party, a club or an iconic place such as Times Square in hopes to exchange a memorable kiss with a special someone as soon as the first minute chines in a new era. I have always preferred to be with the family as we have done over so many years, although the crowd seems to be getting smaller but there is still quality in attendance. The closing ceremonies are a way to toss out every unfortunate event that happened over previous year, deleting every file from the hard drive. The problem with this clinical strategy developed using a strong dose of intestinal fortitude is that those former issues are often blamed on others, making it possible and inevitable for history to continue to repeat itself.

It is more convenient to blame others than to be accountable for our own actions, is it not? If we take a trip down the history books, there are several chapters on authoritarian regimes and international large-scale conflicts triggered by those adopting this particular doctrine. To err is human and we all do it – except for Michael Jordan: he just never seemed to miss! This is how the learning process actually begins. There are those who are convinced they are never wrong and everyone surrounding them is inept. What can I say? They are in for a rude awakening. To forgive is divine (a common phrase following the first italic in this paragraph). Now this is a wonderful theory that must make its way into practice by not only forgiving others, but forgiving ourselves as well. Give yourself a pat on the back. This is how real personal growth actually occurs. Even the greatest intellectual minds have lessons pending in their pursuit of knowledge and have made a mistake or two.

Our resolutions are also a blueprint to our year. We often blame life for happening, which forces us to discard these resolutions and wait until the following year to come up with brand new ones. There is nothing wrong with drafting out a life mantra as you go along and tweak it from time to time, ensuring you give yourself a richer and fuller life that you deserve. Our lives are not dictated by tragedies. We have a chance to shape everything by determining how we face each challenging situation and rise above them. Rise above it! Furthermore, if we dig around frequently, we can find a plethora of sources to motivate us, leading to a more positive outlook on life. Now I know, it is easier said than done, but as they say, like attracts like. If you need an extra “pick-me-up”, listen to the video posted below this paragraph. George thinks you are amazing!

I wish you all a Solid Gold 2013, as coined by the Bickford family during our Christmas holiday. It is true that a suspended NHL season because of an incomprehensible strike has put a damper on the year’s initial face off, but if you look at it in from a positive perspective, the Toronto Maple Leafs are having their best season yet – now there is a wonderful joke to get things going for the year! We are only a few days in and I have already been blessed with reconnecting with some good friends who had been collateral damage of time and physical space resolved by a touch of serendipity and chicken wings. There is promise when we are willing to work for to fulfill our utmost desires and establish a finish line (or a new beginning) to get out of that tunnel. Here is to new beginnings and following through!