Winter Paradise

Via Ottawa Tourism

By grade 4, at the age of 9. I was happily settled in Canada, after back to back postings abroad. I lived only 3 blocks away from school, and in a 3 block radius of all my friends.  Like so many Canadian kids, I was spending every day at an after school program at the neighbouring high school, and my older sister would come pick me up at 5pm everyday like clockwork. One evening, we were walking home, it had snowed heavily, by Ottawa standards winter had just started to set in. The mountains of snow had built up already on the sides of the road, huge mounds had already been plowed into the corners of the curbside. Christmas lights were twinkling and reflecting softly against the snow. Christmas time was coming, and so were the holiday’s. I was getting excited. We started to walk home, the snow crunching underneath us, snow lightly fell around us, making the walk so magical. The silence was comforting, and safe, until my sister became irritated with me over something. She was 7 years older. Through the years, she had become a 2nd mother of sorts, holding my hand through illnesses in postings, taking care of me when our parents were out, being saddled with responsibilities she was too young to take on, but she did anyway.

That evening, our age gap showed, she harped on something I had done wrong. Instead of getting upset, I wanted to get even. She bent down into the snow to make a snowball. She was good at being the bully at times, she was going to start pelting me with snow. She was wearing jeans and running shoes, I was fully dressed. Yet, I had a slight advantage. I could see our house from where we were standing, and I knew, I could outrun my sister any day of the week, even with a full snowsuit on. As she bent into the snowbank to gather a good handful of snow, with all my might, I pushed her head first into the snowbank. She went in without even a hesitation, completely off balance. Like a cartoon character, her body went in, and made a good foot deep imprint of her body in a starfish position. I turned and ran like a bat out of hell. I sprinted like my life depended on it. I ran so fast that I could hear her screaming at me from down the street, and my legs kept pumping, and I leapt up the steps into the house, our front landing had a small powder room and closet, but I ran through the hallway to find my Father sitting in a chair enjoying a fire still in his suit, smoking a pipe. Me, still fully dressed in snowsuit and boots saw him, ran behind him, as snowballs came flying into the house. My Father could only muster up “hey hey hey!” as he sat completely confused. My sister arriving at the door yelling covered in not only snow, but icicles from head to toe like something out of a cave. She realized my Father sitting there, me crouched behind. My Father didn’t take long to realize that little sister got snowy revenge, and began to laugh so hard, that my sister’s nose went out of joint. Puddles of water formed all over the place, but my Father didn’t care, he was just laughing hysterically.

After we all calmed down, we looked at my Father, and realized something was off. We got undressed and cleaned up. My Mother stood in the kitchen drinking a big glass of whiskey. There were blueprints spread all over the kitchen table. We knew what was coming, we just didn’t know if we wanted the news.

My Father and Mother sat us all down, and broke it to us that we were going on posting again.

I sat frozen in place, and looked outside to our wonderful snowy paradise, I didn’t want to leave, and I was sad that I had no choice in this decision. Like every diplomatic kid, it was 3 years like clockwork.

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Slammed into Reverse Culture Shock

I am not exactly sure when I became aware of my skin colour, my identity, my accent, my Father’s unique job or even my birth country and how obviously out of place it all was to my surroundings. One move seemed to blend into another. The only thing I seemed to know, was how to navigate new schools, and airports.

I was sitting in my new classroom, we had just moved back to Canada from the Philippines, I unable to comprehend what was going on around me, it all seemed foreign. Our teacher, a New Zealander who was doing a teacher exchange for a year, had asked us all to tell the class what we had done over the summer. Everyone talked about their camping trips, their cottages, and road trips. One girl decided to tell everyone about her trip to the Edmonton Mall, which I remembered vividly, and was slightly jealous of hanging out in a mall. It was my turn, and I began to tell everyone my trip to Banaue the Rice Terraces before moving back to Canada. My teacher cut me off, and said “That is enough”.

I went quiet, the class fell to a dead silence. The teacher gruffly told me it was inappropriate to upstage my classmates. At that moment, I wanted to cry.

I kept it together, and stopped talking. I felt small, and felt more like an outsider than I had ever felt. At that moment, I had never felt reverse culture shock hit me harder.

For a month, I refused to look at the teacher. I had stopped sleeping again, my insomnia became intense. Parent teacher night arrived, and my Mother went off to meet my teachers. She came home and told a story about me upstaging my classmates about what we had done over the summer, the exact moment that I had been silenced for telling my story, but the version had been drastically altered. My Mother looked at me crossly, and said that I had apparently cut off the classmate and grandstanded in class. I was completely heartbroken. My Mother wasn’t in any mood to listen to my side of the story, as usual, she believed the teacher before even asking me what happened. My Mother repeatedly told me that discussing what we have done as diplomats is completely inappropriate to discuss outside of the house. So basically, my life, my history, the friends I had made, were not to be discussed outside of the house.

Instead of arguing, I walked away from my Mother and went to my room.  It was the first time I was completely aware that my life, my travels, my experiences, were not to be shared, not to be discussed. I had to become Canadian, and thats that, being diplomatic, being international, being a third culture kid was no longer a choice outside of the house.

Years after this experience, my Mother still claims I grandstanded, I never did, I simply answered a question. What I learned when I began working at Foreign Affairs, was just how much the outside world thinks of the diplomatic life, is one of privilege. That teacher, thought of me as wealthy, and privileged, and had thought of the feelings of the other kids, that maybe they didn’t have the money to travel, and my story was grandstanding. He never thought about my feelings or how hard it was to move back to a country I didn’t know, or that my experience in Banaue was life altering and profound, he hadn’t thought that maybe, me telling the class about my life abroad could help educate my classmates as to just how different my life was, and that it was o.k it was different. Instead, I was silenced by both my Mother and teacher, leaving me with a sense of embarrassment of  a life, I didn’t even choose, nor did I think of it as a privilege considering all the dangers I had faced. From that moment in 8th grade, I learned to never discuss my past, and I was forever silenced into embarrassment that my life of travel was not something to discuss, share, or be proud of. That is, until I started this blog!

The moral of the story, never feel embarrassed or silenced about your life, it is your life, and everyone has a story it is what makes us individuals and unique in every way!

Dip Kid