Transitions. What does the name dial up for you? Perhaps “life transitions” such as getting married, starting a new job, or having a baby. Those are all definitely transitions. However, if you are a global nomad, a TCK, a military brat or perhaps you work for an NGO, you have all the “normal” transitions such as having a baby and changing jobs while also moving to another country.
A case in point: my mom was six months pregnant with me and my older sister was a two year old when my parents decided to move to Brazil. Ok, so big deal you say. After all, Brazil is a modern country; it is going to host both the world cup and the Olympics, right? It would be so wonderful to live there! Or at least visit.
Well, some history here. I was born in 1960 when most Americans could not put Brazil on the map. To Americans, it was a world of jungles and monkeys, exotic people and….what? So little was known about this land that was the size of US. At the time, it was a third world country; it had not entered the world stage just yet.
So my very pregnant mom got on an airplane with dad and my "big" sister and trekked down to Brazil on a very long flight, with many stops along the way. Then the “fun” began. Finding a home, a car, the nearest hospital, doctor, grocery store, clothing store, gas station and the myriad of other things needed that make up life—but all in another language, way of doing business or expectations. Did you know that dogs in Brazil only understand Portuguese? Can’t even give a dog the command to go lie down. Just simply looks at you like you’re the dumb one.
Need to buy a simple bag of nails to hang your beloved pictures? Well, just look it up in the dictionary and go for it. Only there are different words for the kind of nail you put in the wall and the one on the end of your finger. Poor dad tried to buy a bag of fingernails. The look he got from the store owner…. Priceless.
Then the day came to deliver me into this world. Fortunately for my mom, there was a fellow American colleague, a nurse, who accompanied her to the hospital. Some of you who are moms, can you imagine the scene, the translations that would have had to go on for my mom to understand what she had to do while in labor? Ugh. Just give me the drugs and wake me up when it’s over. Before I hit someone.
Well, I made it safely. I was the only white kid in the hospital. Later, when I wondered if I could possibly have been adopted, that I was somehow switched at birth, mom just laughed. It simply wasn't feasible! The nurses were wonderful, they gave me tea to let mom sleep through the night! Caffeine addiction started early, lol! However, to make sure I made it past my first birthday, they gave her strict instructions to be sure not to put manure on my umbilical chord. What?! I guess it was a Brazilian custom at the time, the belief that manure cauterized the wound in some way. Well, my mom had no such intention, being brought up in the good ol’ US of A.
So back to the theme of transitions. My parents experienced a new job, new baby, new home. Those of you who live cross culturally know what it’s like to make the big transitions that everyone makes, while also adding a layer of cultural transition. Your kids know it too, they experience it but may not know how to express what it feels like except to other global nomads. Just a few words like, “I’m going away to college in my passport country, but not my home” say it all. The fellow TCKs nods, understands, gives a hug. Those few words carry so much weight, so much heartache and loss, so great a burden of identity confusion and angst.
I love the heritage I have in spite of all the pain it caused me. I love the fact that I am Brazilian and American, that I had two passports as a child. It gave me a rich outlook on life, an appreciation for so many ways of living and thinking.
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