Celebrations: What, Where, & How

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| FROM THE EDITOR I look out my window in Charlestown, Massachusetts. It’s a dormer window quintessential Boston looking out on a quintessential Boston scene. We live on the highest hill in the area and our guest room affords us the best views in all of Boston. It is this view that I have held to as I begin celebrations of the Christmas season back in this part of the world. A view that changes with the weather and the seasons, yet has its solid buildings, trees, electric poles, and fences that are not easily moved. My view has changed dramatically from one year ago. One year ago, my view was the minaret of a mosque, just steps from our kitchen window. One year ago, we could see a mountain range in the nearby country of Iran from our front balcony. Just one year ago we searched for Christmas decorations to fill our small apartment throughout small towns in the Kurdish Region of Iraq. We found a small shop, crowded with trinkets that boasted a ‘Made in China’ label and glittered with red, gold, and green. We filled two shopping bags with ornaments, greenery, lights, and a tiny, fake tree. This year, Christmas decor began filling shops in mid-October. So much can change in a year. This is arguably the resounding cry from every third culture kid on the planet. With all the change that comes through and around our lives, we struggle to hold

on to something tangible. We struggle to replicate celebrations and traditions in different contexts—and that is what this issue is all about. Jodie Stock takes us into the bright colors and joy of a Christmas in Pakistan, while Maryam Ahmad captures what it is to celebrate Eid as an expatriate. Grace Spaulding talks about how family celebrations change through movement and resettling, and Lucille Emmeline writes about discovering that Father Christmas was really her mother aided and abetted by her sisters. Our Spotlight Interview features Jessi Vance who founded the Kaleidoscope organization. There is poetry, there is prose, and there is one of my favorite Christmas stories called Lucy’s Harmonica. So whether you find your home in Portugal or Uzbekistan, in Pakistan or California, we hope that you find traditions that are portable and celebrations that capture the beauty of faith and family. Enjoy this issue of Among Worlds!

Read more ITCHY FEET online! www.itchyfeetcomic.com







Melanie Han




Rachel Pieh Jones




Maryam Afnan Ahmad




Grace Spaulding

Lucille Emmeline





with Jessi Vance




Michael Pollock


Editor: Marilyn R. Gardner Copy Editor: Riah Solomon Graphic Designer: Laurel Fleming Digital Publishing: Bret Taylor



The Magical Art of Celebrating By Grace Spaulding



When we lived in the Philippines, we were great at celebrating. We took family vacations to the beach to celebrate the end of school. We threw multi-family parties on Halloween complete with apple bobbing, donut-eating contests, full costume regalia and homemade haunted houses. We celebrated birthdays a week at a time. New Year’s Eve in the Philippines meant so many fireworks that it triggered my brother’s asthma, so we went out of town to escape the lion’s share of the pollution. We were surrounded by friends who felt like family that every day felt like a celebration — but we also threw plenty of parties with those same people every chance we got. Then, over the course of a year, came a lot of changes: A life-threatening head injury to my dad, the rescinding of 75% of our organization’s funding, an unexpected move back to the States the summer after my freshman year, a distinct pay cut and rise in the cost of living. These are the invisible transitions that happen to every

family, but when combined with a transnational move, it can cause a ripple effect, where each person confronts their own losses and grief. Our celebrations and our celebratory attitudes took a plunge and we found ourselves disoriented and lost. We bought a van to drive around the country visiting supporters and telling people about our new reality and sold it later that year. When we asked our parents whatever happened to it, my mom said, “We ate that van.” We had dumb Tracphones and all the kids in school had Motorola Razors with unlimited texting. Our vacations revolved around piling in the car and driving to California and Canada (sometimes in the same trip) to stay with relatives and visit people who gave our family money for our livelihood. The pastor of our original sending mega-church came out at the center of a mega-scandal. We tried and failed to get involved and make meaningful connections with people at a new church for what felt like an eternity. Other churches cut our support because we were no longer serving overseas. I ate in the bathroom, a la Mean Girls, during more than one lunch break at my new public school. There seemed to be very little to celebrate. We don’t have a lot of celebrations that are rooted in generations of cultural tradition. When people ask what my heritage is, I usually just say “American” because my dad’s side of the family came over before the Mayflower (although people tell me that’s impossible) and on my mom’s side we supposedly have a Native American ancestor (but doesn’t everyone?). Our traditions and celebrations are a combination of the absurd (we pull out the Redi Whip and give everyone whipped cream

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manicures and mustaches on Christmas morning, for example) and the kind that seeps into your family after you’ve lived in a place for long enough. For instance, driving just down the street to watch fireworks set off from the top of Pikes Peak with our noisemakers and party hats at midnight on New Year’s Eve There are times when the nostalgia rises to the top and memories resurface and become a part of life again, like when my dad prepares his annual homemade sushi dinner about once a year, making each ingredient from scratch, There are traditions we don’t completely understand but hold on to anyways. Our celebrations are borne out of necessity and a patchwork-like approach to life. Celebrating looks more like an art than a science. It’s more than just some special formula and combination of disposable income, good cheer, great weather and awesome friends. It takes something a little bit more than that: Maybe the willingness to hope and believe that life is wonderful. You just have to affirm that sometimes, and make it as good as it can be right where you are. My parents have been back in the US for more than 13 years now, and in truth, things have been hard to celebrate. The last two decades were marked with health trials, lost grandparents, unexpected transitions, goodbyes of every kind and the never-ending struggle of settling in and finding friends in this new world that is our passport country. Despite this, through a steady process, celebrations have increasingly become a staple in my family culture. My mom is inherently good in every way and seeks the pursuit of it in all things. It’s part of why her house is so clean even after the house-helper days of the 4


Philippines are long gone. It lends itself to her impeccable judge of character and judicious yet gentle opinions. But she also protects the beautiful quality of loving to have a good time. She finds the people who know how to bring the party with them everywhere they go and keeps them close. She revels in a luxurious evening meal on the patio and aspires to have a hot tub. So, as my parents have been both settling and growing where they have been planted (or uprooted, or scattered, or whatever metaphor speaks to their situation best), the spirit of celebration has risen to the top and trickled down to affect us, their adult children. They took an anniversary trip to Europe during which they hiked the Camino, backpacked across Spain and took a cruise — all in the same two week period. Though they are two individuals bound to duty, faith and service in every part of life, they’re discovering how to celebrate despite unexpected setbacks and losses, and they’re taking us on the journey with them. We’re reintroducing celebrations and traditions little by little, wherever we get the chance. Celebrations in our very vanilla (with just a few sprinkles on top) family look like sleeping under the tree on Christmas Eve eve, even when we have certainly outgrown it, and now have to convince a sister-in-law to do so; bottles of Stella Rosa Moscato d’Asti that my mom discovered at Costco; tapas nights in or out, depending on the bank account; and the once forgotten, ever-lovely, new luxury of family vacations that to date have revolved around major life events but now include the promise of cabin lodges and ski days.

We’re all grown up now. Or at least that’s what our driver’s licenses say. Celebrations take the form of three to four days together in the same city somewhere in the country, buzzing with the frenetic energy and excitement of being together again, with all of the old and new grievances, years of history, rehashing of old memories and promise of new ones, and the newest members of the family making us better. We meet up in beachside apartments from Northern California to the North Shore of Massachusetts. We meet up for memorial services, Thanksgivings, those weird days in between Christmas and New Year’s Eve, and for no good reason, right in the middle of a June or even October. We eat delicious food and have ridiculous conversations. Life here is just beginning to feel like our own, even though we’re spread out all over, and we owe a lot of that to the magical art of celebrating. Grace Spaulding knows what a life lived in transition feels like. Spending her childhood between the Philippines and Colorado, she has experienced the joy and sorrow of calling many places “home.” Acting as Assistant Director of Kaleidoscope, Grace communicates organizational vision and dreams up new ways of walking alongside your third culture kids. When she isn’t working at a conference or visiting one of her “homes,” Grace spends her free days at her house north of Boston. You can read more about her journey here.

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Often curious about the ‘why’ of things in culture, I find myself asking, “Why do we celebrate?” along with the how and when of our celebrations. In China, it was fascinating to take part in Chun Jie, the New Year, brought in with the color red everywhere and loud fireworks so that the evil spirits (the monster Nian in particular) would be forced away and good fortune, good harvests, and increases in families would be assured. Back in the US, our family wouldn’t miss celebrating Chinese New Year and we look for others to gather for great food, red decorations, warm conversation, and a few fireworks. (Calling our town hall for permission is whole ’nother story!) The ancient Jewish tradition records a fascinating account of celebration in the writings called Devarim or Deuteronomy, one of the five books credited to Moses. This tribal group had been slaves of Egypt in the fertile crescent of the Nile for 400 years. As they left, they were instructed in various ways how to live as free people. They were told how to set aside resources for a party. Let me rephrase that. Having not been free for 400 years, they had to be told how to party like free people because they had forgotten. The instructions included setting aside a portion of their goods each year; grain, new wine, oil, and first-born animals. They were to eat and celebrate together in the place that their God, YAHWE, chose. If that place was too far away from home, they could sell those goods and take the money to the gathering place and “spend the money for whatever you desire—oxen or sheep or wine or strong drink, whatever your appetite craves. And you shall eat there before the



Lord your God and rejoice, you and your household.” There isn’t space to explore each of those party items that are rich in symbolism; bread for sustenance, wine for joy, oil for healing and blessing. And the death of an animal? Atonement-- a sacrifice for reconciliation. It is the end of the instruction that grabs me. They were to make sure to include the priestly class that served them because those folks had no inherited land—they were intentionally poor. And every three years the people were to save up and gather in order to share with those in need. 28 “At the end of every three years you shall bring out all the tithe of your produce in the

same year and lay it up within your towns. And the Levite, because he has no portion or inheritance with you, and the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow, who are within your towns, shall come and eat and be filled, that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hands that you do. It was in preparing for a huge party and sharing it with the dispossessed, the marginalized, the expats and refugees, the politically disadvantaged, the powerless and the poor that their God was honored and His blessing bestowed. In all places and in all times this seems the best of reasons to celebrate! Across our many cultures may we all remember and party like free people.


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All I Want for Christmas is… Home By Jodie Stock



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Loud rhythmic music blared from the monstrous black speakers on either end of the makeshift stage, as I watched my full yellow skirt glitter and flare as I spun. The stage — several wooden tables placed together with a dusty carpet on top — creaked beneath my feet, groaning under the weight of seven other girls and me. I gulped in the crisp desert air, both exhausted and energized by the dancing. The other dancers and I could feel the music vigorously reverberating through the stage. We grinned at each other, adrenaline rushing through us as we added to the rhythm of the music with each clack of our brightly decorated sticks. The plastic ribbons taped to the end of the sticks gleamed whenever the floodlight rays hit them. It was Christmas night, and the whole community was gathered together to sing and dance into the night in celebration of Jesus’ birth.



Because there was nowhere to perform the many acts prepared for the night, the village had used the empty ground nearby to set up the makeshift stage, rented lights, speakers and a large tent filled with patterned mats for people to sit on. As the performance ended and we struck our final poses, I scanned the exuberant crowd, cheering and clapping. There were little girls, dressed up by their mothers in sparkly frocks and bright red lipstick, decorated with ribbons in their long hair. Some were restlessly wandering around while others stared up at the stage, their mouths wide open in awe at the dance performance. There were creased old men, crouched around small fires and tightly wrapped in chadors to protect themselves from the night chill. There were teenage boys and girls, gleefully wearing their new Christmas clothes and shyly casting glances at the other gender to see if they had noticed or were impressed. There were grandmothers,

huddled together under thick, colorful quilts, chatting away as they kept their eagle vision on the teenagers to make sure none of them were up to mischief. Mothers scurried around, handing out quilts, eager to ensure that everybody was comfortable, and some of them carried trays of steaming chai to the hundreds gathered under the tent. As my friends and I struggled to get off the stepless stage in our ankle-length skirts, various languages rang out, with cries of “Happy Christmas” and “Barra din mubarak ho” and “Natal mubarak” filling the air. We had begun the night with our upbeat dandiya stick dance, and people continued to greet each other as others arrived acceptably late to the multihour-long program. This was Christmas in Pakistan. Especially in the southern province of Sindh — the area of Pakistan where I spent nineteen years of my childhood — music, food and community characterize all celebrations. I grew up in rural Sindh, where there are over 40 unique tribes and languages. While most tribes are Hindu, groups of families have become Christians over the years, adding more ethnicities to the Church in Pakistan, which is primarily ethnically Punjabi. Because of the cooler weather, which is relief from the highs of 120 degrees Fahrenheit in the humid summers, Christmas is the most celebrated Christian event in the year, even though in recent years, news of church bombings or violence against Christians in Pakistan during the Christmas season is not uncommon. Despite these real security concerns for the approximately 4 million Christians in Pakistan, the Christian minority still

expresses its joy in song and dance and a burst of mismatched color. The Pakistani government, recognizing the increased danger for Christians particularly at Christmas time, posts armed policemen at churches for protection. Most of the police are Muslim who stay outside the church, but there were occasional times I would look up during Communion and see a Christian policeman kneel down for the bread and wine with his AK-47 slung over his shoulder. When I came to my passport country, America, for university last year, I experienced my first Christmas away from my parents in Pakistan. That year, Christmas did not feel like Christmas to me. I went to Christmas parties and participated in white elephant games. I sang carols at my grandparents’ church and helped decorate their apartment. But so much was missing. Christmas seemed too… reserved. At home, the Christmas season was always a time when I hardly set foot in my own house or had time alone with family. But in America, it seemed to be the time people mostly stayed inside and with family. At home, my extroverted self thrived on the communal and zestful celebrations. In America, I enjoyed the parties but wondered where were the booming loudspeakers, energetic choreographed dances, beating of tribal drums, and multi-generational families? I wanted to outwardly and colorfully express my joy at Jesus’ incarnation, but I did not know how to in America. I was not the only one in my family to struggle with this. I remember my dad telling me a story from his first experience of Christmas in America, as JANUARY 2020 11

he also lived in Pakistan until going to study at Westmont college in California. After months of trying to understand the intricacies of U.S. culture, like dinner starting at 4:30 p.m. instead of 9 p.m. like in Pakistan, my dad was thrilled to be doing something familiar to him: Caroling. He used to do it every Christmas at home, and that tradition still lasts in Pakistan until today. My dad and I both have memories of beginning caroling at midnight and carrying on into the early hours of the morning. Nothing would stop us, not even sheets of rain in the desert chill from going house to house with a drum and harmonium singing Kacchi Gujerati, Parkari, Punjabi and Urdu carols at the tops of our lungs. We knew we would be welcomed by each family, no matter what time of night — or early morning — it was, and we would be given something to eat and some money as a love gift. Everyone eagerly partook in the festive Christmas spirit, reflecting the Pakistani values of hospitality and warmth. We would often cross paths with other caroling groups, and sometimes people would hear the singing from their houses and join us in celebrating Christ’s birth through song. All this was in my dad’s mind as he headed out with excitement to the streets of Santa Barbara to carol with his American friends. The houses looked so welcoming, decorated brightly with Christmas lights and reindeer! My dad’s group of carolers gathered close to the door of the first house, and they rang the doorbell. A nice couple came smiling to the door and opened it. Naturally, my dad walked inside, but then he turned to see that his embarrassed friends were all still 12


outside keeping their polite distance. He saw the shocked look on the face of the couple, muttered an apology under his breath and exited the house as quickly as he could to join his friends, who then started singing a carol to ease the tension! No food, no money. Just a thank you and a smile. They continued to the next house. When they rang the bell and started singing a carol, the family inside turned off their Christmas lights and porch light-giving the strong message that the group was not welcome with their joyful carols and Christmas cheer. It was a foreign place with different rules. Both my dad and I longed to be where we knew what to do and felt at home. We longed to be where Christmas takes on a deeper meaning for us. In Pakistan, sitting cross-legged outside a mud hut amidst the sleepy water buffaloes and goats on Christmas eve, I find myself focusing less on gifts and more on the Gift: Jesus Christ, incarnate as a helpless babe for us. For me, the Chinese-born American raised in rural Pakistan. For the young husband, slaughtering his last chicken so that he can honor his guests by serving them meat. For the little girl, her hair streaked blonde because of the lack of nutrients in her diet. For the weary boy, unable to attend school because he spends over ten hours a day laboring in the fields. For the young woman, walking miles with a clay jar on her head so that she can fetch muddy water from the canal. For the great-grandfather, giving a toothless smile as he places his wizened hand on my head to give his blessings. For these people, the manger scene is not some heartwarming picture from a Bible storybook. For these people, the manger scene is the Creator

of the Universe choosing to associate with their lowliness and poverty. That is why we celebrate Christmas in Pakistan the way we do, with all the food, music, and hues. We celebrate unreservedly because Jesus entered the world unreservedly. Jodie Stock is a TCK who spent her first year of life in China before she was adopted by American missionaries in Pakistan. She spent the next 19 years of her life in Pakistan and is now a sophomore double majoring in Journalism and psychology at Biola University in the US.

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Jessi Vance of Kaleidoscope Follow the link to Kaleidoscope, and the first thing you will see is color! A beautiful site, Kaleidoscope welcomes the visitor into a “Community that Activates Third Culture Kids to not Only Survive but Thrive!” Kaleidoscope was founded by a creative entrepreneur and TCK, Jessi Vance. Growing up in Uzbekistan, Jessi was struck by the need for people in her life who understood what she was going through. She graduated from Hope International University with a desire to help families just like hers who were spending their most formative years between cultures — and voila, Kaleidoscope was born! She channels all of her creative energy into new and exciting ways to engage TCKs, wherever they are in the world.



Tell us a bit about your growing up years, your family and the places that shaped you? I’m one of those strange third culture kids that spent almost all her developmental years in one place. When I was six, my family moved to Uzbekistan and just fell in love. My dad fell in love with the eclectic gathering of culture and religion from stoic Soviet neighbors still inclined to whisper of KGB and listening ears to bazaars full of spicy Korean salads in rows upon rows of uncovered bowls, tangy aromas and chattering grandmas (I know, I don’t get it either. Google history of Uzbekistan at some point. It’s a saga.) and devout muslims dreaming of Mecca and a more supportive Islamic state to a thriving Russian baptist church.

It was never boring, that’s for sure. My mom fell in love with the craggy mountains and dusty streets, with the Uzbek housewives in bright dresses, perpetually sweeping the street in front of their house and inviting you in for a sweet piola of tea. For me it was the only world I knew. It was Russian ballet classes, school uniforms, gum wrappers collected from the corner kiosk and bootleg copies of Brittnay Spears listened to in my friend’s bedroom with the door closed, headphones on, stifled giggles and sneaking glances over our shoulders at our blatant rebellion from Amy Grant and Jars of Clay. We fell in love and just stayed. We stayed through my baby brother being born (the THIRD who didn’t come out a girl), through high school for me, through my mom’s journey with mental health and my brothers’ committed exploration of all the drugs Central Asian teens have to offer. Uzbekistan shaped me in the way I see myself as a woman, a paradox of the respectful and hospitable Uzbek mamas and the sexy, dominant, fierce Russian female. Uzbekistan shaped me in the way I meet God, the way I cook with more oil than is strictly necessary and the way I will always choose bright colors over neutrals. JANUARY 2020 15

What do you see as unique aspects of the I have to be willing to be the person who makes plans, and if new friends don’t TCK life and how have you leveraged reciprocate, it doesn’t mean they don’t those to your benefit and the benefit of like me. I have to remember that some those around you? people need consistent communication to maintain a relationship and that my style Living between the spiced streets of Tashkent and the perfectly paved roads of doesn’t necessarily exhibit love to them. I’ve just moved again (who’s counting), middle America shaped me in the way I love fast and fierce, think outside the box, and this is a familiar and painful challenge to be reminded of. I’m not sure I and am pretty confident that TCKs can have it figured it out at all. If you do, accomplish anything. please share! And now on to challenges. What has been your biggest challenge and how have you worked through that challenge?

How has your background as a Third Culture Kid informed your work and your passion?

Ha! That’s a loaded question since my For me the challenge is always going to be around relationships. I’m “textbook entire life and work and passion projects all revolve around my own third culture kid TCK” that way. I trust too fast, distance myself when things get tough or I antici- identity and helping other navigate theirs. pate a goodbye and can go years without so much as a texted “hey!” then show up on your doorstep. I invite perfect strangers to stay in my guest room, fall in love on a timeline that competes with any 90s rom com and overshare with the lady in line for coffee ahead of me. I’m the perfect extrovert when I feel comfortable and isolate to extremes when feeling insecure. It’s really fun. The relationships in my life — family, friends, and flings have always held a really important role in my security and sense of “homeness”. I’ve made massive life decisions around a temporary crush too many times to admit. The challenge is to find balance. And isn’t it always? I have to remind myself that TCK friendships and mono-cultural friendships are always going to be different. 16


What do you love to do in your leisure time? I’m such a grandma! I love yoga and reading books and window shopping and taking long walks in Central Park (or more recently Crane’s Beach in Massachusetts while I’m on a little mental health sabbatical). I also spend a lot of time on Instagram *covers face* but it’s such a great way to stay connected to friends all over the world! I love the glimpses of everyday life even when you don’t get to see people regularly. If you like photos of coffee and wordy captions find me @jessi_rue. :) Continued…

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Give us your top three TCK books and tell us why. My go-to recommendation is Arrivals, Departures and the Adventures In-Between by Chris O’Shaughnessy. It’s funny, informative, easy to read and especially great for TCK teens and young adults who are just starting to figure out where they fit into the third culture paradox. Personally, I love reading Marilyn Gardner’s two collections of essays. I constantly find myself picking one up, reading a chapter and dog-earing another page. They feel like home. And my absolute favorite is a total cheat but I LOVE finding good fiction with TCK themes. I think this is such a fun and easy educational resource that we overlook way too often. As I’ve re-read my beloved childhood books, I’ve realized over and over again that the protagonist is a TCK! No wonder I loved them! I have an ongoing list on kldscp.org, but top faves are all of the Harry Potters and an out of print British series called the Drina books.

You live in New York City, one of the most diverse cities in the world. How have you made NYC your home? I’m a big believer of learning to create home anywhere. I also lovingly call my New York apartment “the most expensive storage unit” because home is still often airports and hotel rooms. I’ve also just made a temporary move to north of Boston for some personal reasons. As I left New York, which really has become home mostly because it’s the place I’ve lived the longest in the US, I made sure to stretch all my homemaking muscles. Even though I’d only be gone a few months, I made sure to pack up my favorite coffee mugs, a couple throw pillows, some meaningful art work and lots of candles! Home is probably defined by different things for you, but creating beautiful and cozy space is my go-to. Even when traveling with a carry-on, I make space for a coffee mug and a candle because I know these will create home wherever I land. What is the token of “home” that comes to mind for you? Maybe running shoes or a stuffed animal. If you’re getting ready for a big (or small!) move, I definitely encourage you to give yourself and each family member permission to pack a few things of personal significance, even if they make zero sense to you. Tell us more about Kaleidoscope? What is the mission and vision of the organization? What convinced you of the need for this organization at this time? Have you heard that quote about being the adult your child-self needed? That’s why I started Kaleidoscope. As my family



walked through some tense times, I really felt the lack of an external support system, a safe space. For the last five years, we’ve been focused on this need and providing mentorship through in-person, tie-tye and glitter heavy events for TCKs. We’re really excited to be stepping into a new season where we are finding new ways to share the programs and tools we’ve developed to equip and train people who love TCKs even more than we do (like parents and pastors and member care teams!) Lastly, if you want to advertise for Kaleidoscope, please feel free to say when there may be programs and what you need. Yes! Get involved! We love new friends! We are still doing a few big events a year,

and we’re currently looking for volunteers for two conferences in Colorado Springs. Dates and all the details are at kldscp.org/ becomealeader or follow us on Instagram @kldscp for the inside scoop *cough* I mean scope. We’re also thrilled (and equally intimidated) to be wading into the messy conversations around personal faith with a cross-cultural mindset and how to navigate the world of international missions and the American church. Easy peasy! We have two exciting online workshops coming up: “3 Simple Steps to Create Safe Spaces with Your Kids” and “Faith and the The TCK: tools for meaningful conversations around messy faith”. Details will be available shortly at kldscp.org and on Facebook (@our_kldscp) and Instagram (@kldscp).

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Rite of Passage



My journeys to Nigeria have always been marked by the presence of all of my immediate family members: My dad, my stepmom, my sisters and my brother. For a significant portion of my life, North America has been my home. And with each visit to my birth country, Nigeria, my sole preoccupation lay in how I would blend in with my African home. How I would reconcile the uncomfortable paradox of being citizen and foreigner simultaneously. Growing up, I was grateful to have Victor by my side, my younger brother who wasn’t too far removed from my age. We were practically joined at the hip as we traversed the West African coast, the Canadian Pacific North West, the Southern conservative state of Kentucky and the more liberal state of California. Every visit to Nigeria, we were each other’s therapists, each other’s source of comfort as extended family and people our parents knew called us Mbakara upon the mere sound of our voices. Mbaraka. “White person,” though our skin was dark, our lips were full and our noses broad. “Foreigner,” though our tongues tasted the foods from Nigeria even while in California, and our father

did not dare let us forget from where we came. I was 19 years old the second to last time I went back to visit Nigeria. The year was 2011. I finished my freshman year of university, straddling the blurry line between childhood and adulthood. I remember having to mentally prepare myself, as I always did, to be at the mercy of my parents’ itinerary, of the many extended family and family friends we would visit, knowing that years later when my parents would say, “Do you remember so-and-so,” I’d likely forget. Then 2018 came. I was 25 years old and living on my own. And I was determined that this would be the year I would make the trip to Nigeria without my parents. It would just be my brother and me. And unlike prior situations, I would be the one who bore the financial responsibility for the trip. I knew that our journey to Nigeria in 2018 would begin, not with a flight to Nigeria, but with a flight to a Nigerian Embassy in the United States. My brother’s and my passport had expired, and we needed to reapply for new ones. I remember the feeling of dread as I saw that the reviews for all three Nigerian embassies had a 2.2 or less star ratings on Google. Atlanta’s rating made sense to me: In 2011, my family stayed in the hot embassy in Georgia’s capital for hours waiting for our turn. It was not a great experience. But as I read the reviews, despite the rating being 2.2, the most recent ones for

the embassy in Washington D.C. sounded positive. So one morning in early May, I booked the hotel for my brother and me. And later that day during my work break, I booked tickets for our two-day trip to the US capital. But despite those recent positive reviews, I still braced myself for the worst. To my surprise, my experience could not have been smoother. Even with not having the passport photos upon my arrival, the man there (Obi) directed me to the nearby Walgreens where passport photos were taken. Within a month, our passports arrived, and I could confidently get my brother and me tickets to Nigeria. Though our parents knew of our intention to go for several months at this point, they now knew it was official. I contacted my aunts and uncle to let them know. My Aunty A announced in our family group chat that we were coming. Just Victor and me. The day of our departure finally came that first Friday of August. It was the last day of teaching summer school and the time of class dismissal was just a few hours before my departure time. After a bit of last minute shopping, I headed to LAX to meet my immediate family. We checked in our bags, exchanged hugs with our parents and sisters, and said our goodbyes. This was a rite of passage for us. Our first time arriving to our Motherland as grown adults. The first trip home without our parents. After our layover from LAX to Amsterdam, Victor and I safely landed in JANUARY 2020 21

Lagos, Nigeria. We made our way out of the plane, ensuring that we had our passports handy as we were fast approaching the passport officer. “Welcome to Nigeria” greeted us in yellow letters in the light box above us as we descended down the escalator. I texted my Aunty Grace that we arrived, and she texted me back, greeting us and letting us know she was there to receive us. It was finally my turn to have my newly minted Nigerian passport stamped. The passport officer saw I was next and she gestured to me. “Come.” She briefly looked at me with a sweet, amiable smile. “Hmmm...fine babe,” she grinned approvingly. I couldn’t help but smile in response. As she looked at my personal details in my passport, she noticed my birthdate. “You don’t look like you were born in ‘92. You look much younger.” At this point, I was beaming: One because I was in the middle of halflaughing, two because I was a bit flattered, and thirdly (and most of all) because I have heard this far too many times. The countless Uber rides to work would begin the driver assuming my age to be somewhere between the age of a high school student and a university student. The drivers would ask me if I was headed to school. And I would say yes. And somewhere along in the icebreaker conversation, they would realize that I am headed to a school, specifically a high school because I am a science teacher there. Not because I was a student. I responded to the passport officer, “I promise you I was [born in ‘92]. I’m 25.” And she, like many of the Uber drivers 22


who drove me, looked at me as if she had seen a ghost. Once we got our belongings from the luggage carousel and we made another phone call to Aunty Grace, we were met with hugs and help to get our things in her car. We eventually reached her home and we were greeted by our other aunts, Aunty Eteawan and Aunty Mayen and our cousin, Amanda, who wasn’t too far removed from Victor and me in age. It was lovely and eye-opening to see her again. The last time I’d seen her I had been 12. My aunts and cousin hosted us so well. In true Nigerian aunty fashion, they made sure our bellies were full of food and Amanda helped us get around the city. They are blood relatives to my stepmom. Yet their love and hospitality showed (and continues to show) that family is where love is present. Now prior to this trip to Nigeria, I had expanded my circle on social media. In 2016, I found myself majorly questioning the faith I held dear. And in my questioning, I wondered, are there any Nigerians out there who are in the same position? I mean, yes, I knew they were out there. But all my life, all I knew was that to be Nigerian is to be religious. To be Nigerian is to believe in a monotheist God or the gods of our ancestors. It was this almost unwritten rule of how to be Nigerian. But to be atheist and Nigerian? To be nonreligious and Nigerian? Though unheard of to me, that pairing of being Nigerian and not adhering to any religion became very familiar. Thanks to social media, I got to meet some of them in person, my good friends that I interacted

with for several months to a couple years before we met face-to-face. Their very existence in my birthplace redefines what it means to be Nigerian. Not only that, but when I went to my cousin’s church, it was millennial led. With its integration of tech in the service and the scriptural teaching that was relevant to the everyday 20-something, I felt more at ease than the times we visited churches in previous trips to Nigeria. Though this church was in Nigeria, it had a familiarity that felt a lot like young adult themed services in the US. And even though I do not believe as they do, I absolutely felt at home. Our initial stop in Lagos came to a close and we said our brief goodbyes to our cousin and our aunts on my stepmom’s side. Victor and I were headed to Calabar, our hometown. The city that held most of my family on my Dad’s side. The city where my dear Papa, my grandfather, was buried. After our short one-hour flight, I texted my father’s eldest sister, my Aunty A, letting her know that Victor and I had arrived. After Victor and I grabbed our luggage from the luggage carousel, I was anticipating that my Uncle Etemma and Aunty A would be the ones to pick us up. But instead, there were two people, two young men that greeted my brother and me. Victor and I had to do a double take. They weren’t my kid cousins anymore. They grew up. Victory and David were grown men. The drive to our family home in Calabar was filled with laughter. It’s almost like during the several years since we last saw each other, Victory and David became comedians. It felt like every 15 seconds, I

was cracking up about something thanks to them. They were full of so much positivity and joy the entire time I was with them. I saw my Aunty A upon arriving and she urged us to sing worship music with her and pray with her, giving thanks to God for our safe arrival to Nigeria and our time we would be spending with her and other family members. So we all did, Victor, David, Victory, Aunty A and me. Eventually, I saw Uncle Etemma and we greeted, asking each other how the other was doing. Soon, I saw Aunty Ekaete, Aunty Nene (David and Victory’s mom), and Aunty Esienumoh (my stepmom’s eldest sister) again. I got one of the best surprises seeing Enobong, the cousin I am closest to. When we texted each other months before, he said he was unfortunately not available. I thought I wasn’t seeing him during this trip. He works as a medical doctor, so his time off work is quite limited. Victory and David surprised me, having all five of us – Enobong, Victor, Victory, David, and me – reunite. And just like my aunties on my stepmom’s side, Aunty A was adamant about us always having something to eat. That is one constant that will never change no matter how much older I get. But another thing that will never seem to change is how I’ll always be a little girl in their eyes. I found that to be the most frustrating. Every outing that was on my itinerary in which Aunty A or Uncle Etemma weren’t accompanying me was cut short. That included the time I spent reunited with my cousins that time Victory and David surprised me with Enobong. There was one day especially that I wanted to go out and meet a couple of JANUARY 2020 23

people I had arranged to meet months ago, one of them who happens to be (and continues to be) one of the most important people in my life. Aunty A was quick to warn me, “This is not like the US. People here are taking people for ritual.” I saw the idealism still in her assumption of the United States and I couldn’t help but retort, “The ‘me too’ movement started in the US, and we have a gun epidemic.” But it changed nothing. I was upset to have spent so much money on this trip for it not go exactly how I intended. You know, the way trips with my father went the way he wanted. I understood Aunty A, Uncle Etemma, and Aunty Ekaete’s caution though. They didn’t want to leave anything to chance, even if it meant coming to the family home once the sky was even the slightest hint of darkness at 5 p.m. Better my inconvenience than my safety being even slightly compromised. Nearly a week later, it was time to go and my Aunties A, Ekaete, and Nene prayed for Victor and me. As we exchanged hugs and well wishes, Aunty Nene repositioned the scoop neckline of my dress to make sure every hint of cleavage was concealed. I rolled my eyes and smirked, “Aunty, no one will die if it ends up showing.” And all my Aunties laughed. I loved that I could be my cheeky self with them. I’m glad that all of the people I cared for the most in Calabar saw me off, including the person I wish I could have spent more time with. In fact, my Aunty A and Uncle Etemma briefly talked with him as we were getting our bags checked in. After two weeks in Nigeria, our trip was nearing the end and Victor and I found 24


ourselves once again in Lagos in Aunty Grace’s house. The next day, I met up with my Dad’s childhood friend who has become a great family friend. We caught up a little bit, and it was so lovely to see her again. She left us with goodies, including the best tasting plantain chips I have ever had in my life. That evening, Victor and I headed to the International Airport to head back to Los Angeles. Instead of a line to the check in counter, there was disorganized crowd. So we took a spot in it. We eventually made it to the front and we were told that we were to get a security sticker on the back of our passport. But lo and behold, the small kiosk where the security officer should have been was forlorn. She was gone. In short, thanks to the disorganization of the airport, Victor and I – along with others – did not fly that night. We were furious. And my Aunties were too. But in the midst of our very profound frustrations, I could not help but notice how all three of my aunts in Lagos confronted our airline for their inadequacies. The way Aunty Grace, Aunty Mayen, and Aunty Eteawan conveyed their dissatisfaction was a lot like how lionesses would defend their cubs: Bold and without restraint. They were angry. And in their anger, I felt belonging. Despite us not being biologically related, I felt like one of their “cubs.” That was actually one thing I realized about my trip. Though I am grateful to have had my brother to discuss my joys and frustrations of the trip, none of them included the frustration of not feeling like I belonged. Yes, my accent was clearly North American and my worldview was largely shaped by my multinational upbringing. But for the very first time in

my life, not once did I feel out of place. Sure, the unstable electricity and the bad road conditions were different from back home. But we knew what to expect. And we came prepared. The bottom line is that I felt wholly accepted. Among believers and nonbelievers alike I felt at home. Among the elders and my agemates, the atmosphere felt familiar. One thing was majorly responsible for this: The depth of my conversations with my cousins who were around my age. It was clear that we all grew up and in our metamorphoses, our mentalities differed from our previous generations. Despite us growing up in separate continents, our outlooks on life carried many similarities. Much like younger generations in the United States, Nigeria’s millennials and Gen Zers are trying to make sense of the country they will soon inherit. A number of them criticize the government where it lacks, criticize unchecked power and authority, and denounce gender inequality among other things. And just like in the United States, there are Nigerian millennials and Gen Zers who are in the opposition. Another major contribution to my feeling of belonging was the effort of both sides of my family to make sure Victor and I were well taken care of. From food to their inviting presence, love was everpresent. There was no hiding it. We were well loved. Perhaps it was more profound since it was just Victor and me coming this time. Maybe it was due to us being older and thus more observant. Or maybe it was a combination of both.

*** We came back to the airport to finally go back home, our flight rescheduled at no extra cost to us. To make sure we were the first in line, we got to the airport in the afternoon despite our flight being late at night. Our layover in Paris that would have been eight hours was now cut to three. I didn’t get to see the Eiffel Tower. At least not this time around. The airline workers at the check-in counter profusely apologized for their mistake they made the day before. I accepted it. I was just glad that we successfully checked in our bags, and our return flight to Los Angeles was actually on the horizon. Aunty Grace, Aunty Mayen and Aunty Eteawan exchanged hugs with us, took pictures, and we said our goodbyes. And after what felt like an eternity at the airport, we boarded our flight to Paris. And after that flight, a short layover, and long 8-plus hour flight, we found ourselves back in Los Angeles and in the arms of our father.

Mary Bassey is a TCK who has lived in Canada, Nigeria, and the United States.

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God, Giver of Harmonicas By Rachel Pieh Jones I’ve learned, through sermons and study, through living ten years in Somalia and Djibouti, a little bit about suffering. But my six-year-old Lucy, with her harmonica, is teaching me about joy. Lucy started asking for a harmonica for Christmas in October. I asked if she wanted to buy one with her own money and she said, “No.” She was sure she would get one for Christmas. In November, Lucy sent an email to Grandma Pieh and Grandma Jones, asking for a harmonica. I hit “send” and she immediately asked if she could use the telephone. “I want to make sure they get the email,” she said. 26


By Thanksgiving, Lucy was asking for a harmonica every day and asking to email or call both grandmothers every other day. “I don’t want them to forget,” she said. In early December a package the size of a small suitcase showed up under the Christmas tree at Grandma Pieh’s house, wrapped in blue snowman paper. “I think that’s my harmonica,” Lucy said and gave it a gentle shake. Lucy reminded everyone about her desire for a harmonica, but at the same time, she appeared resolutely confident that she was going to receive one. Someone, somewhere, knew what she wanted and loved her and would make sure she got it. Yet she asked. Every. Single. Day. “What if you don’t get one?” I asked. “I asked for a harmonica.” She shrugged. “I know someone got me one. I just didn’t open it yet. It isn’t a hard thing.”

Then she leaped from her chair and attacked Grandma Pieh with a monster hug. She spun in circles, hugging the harmonica to her chest and tripping over piles of discarded wrapping paper. “Can you play it?” Grandma asked. Lucy puffed into the holes. I could barely hear her over the sounds of the other kids opening their gifts and shouting thanks to each other, but I saw the music on her face, in her round, brown bear eyes and in the crinkle of her lips. After gifts, we sat around the table for Christmas lunch. Roast goose, cheesy potatoes, fruit, salad. “Who wants to pray?” Grandpa Pieh said. “I will,” Lucy said. She kept her eyes open and took a deep breath. “Thank you, God, for Christmas. Thank you for my family and for this food. Thank you for Jesus. And now,” she sighed long and deep, “now, I will play a song for Jesus on my new harmonica.” Her face was solemn, her eyes heavy. She ducked her head and slid the harChristmas morning. Lucy opened her monica from her pocket. She cupped it, first present from her dad and me, a tenderly, with reverence. She inhaled and fluffy pink butterfly pillow almost as tall blew slow puffs. She swayed her head as she. Her face fell. back and forth in time with the soulful “I need to call Grandma Pieh,” she said, notes. She put her shoulders and elbows her voice cracking. “I need to tell her not into the music and I squeezed my eyes to forget my harmonica.” shut tight to keep from laughing or from Apparently, mommy and daddy had springing tears. failed. In reality, we were increasing her Lucy stopped, looked around the table delight by making her wait. at each of us in turn. “Amen,” she whisLater, at Grandma and Grandpa Pieh’s pered and slipped the harmonica back house, Lucy opened her gifts and found into the pocket of her blue jeans. …a harmonica. “Amen,” I said. Small, aluminum, in a narrow black case That evening, two hours away, we had lined with red velvet. Lucy stared at the Christmas dinner with the Jones family. shiny instrument. She held her breath. The table was laden with steak and JANUARY 2020 27

shrimp and pasta and red wine. Cousins, aunts, uncles, more grandparents. “I would like to pray,” Lucy said. Again she thanked God for her family. “And now I would like to play a song for Jesus on my new harmonica.” She repeated the song, note for note. I had to leave the room so as not to disturb the holy moment with choking laughter.

Lucy played her harmonica while ice skating and in bed. She played it and danced to her music, she taught herself songs and rhythms. Every time I heard her playing, my heart soared, overflowing with joy and contentment. She loved the gift, she turned it into praise, and I thrilled in her love for it.



This is faith like a child. To pray for something God knows I want with annoying consistency and fervor. To believe the answer is already purchased, that I have only to wait for the proper time. To trust the character of the One I am asking. And when the answer arrives, to turn it into praise. This is also how God is, the Giver of Harmonicas. I didn’t understand that for a long time. I still don’t fully understand it. I often look at the good things God gives and feel guilty. He answers prayers beyond what I could dream, and I hesitate to throw myself into the joy of it. Instead of diving in, immersing myself in joy, flinging and dancing and spinning, I tiptoe up to the edge of it and dip my toes in the shallows. I’m afraid. What if I love the gift too much? What about idolatry? What if I make a fool out of myself? What if, in embracing it, I’m using up all of God’s goodness toward me and something bad will happen tomorrow? This is unbelief. Pride. This is ignoring the profound, unfathomable goodness of God. It is being afraid of his sovereignty. We would have been crushed if Lucy opened the harmonica, glanced at it, mumbled “thank you,” and set it aside, too embarrassed or afraid to enjoy it. God promises fullness of joy. In God’s presence is fullness of joy, in His right hand there are pleasures forever. Fullness! Pleasures forever! When we experience full joy, when we give

ourselves over to the faith of a child, there is no inhibition, no shame, no fear. Joy spills over, pouring out in the form of a six-year-old’s harmonica prayer song for Jesus.

Rachel Pieh Jones has written for the New York Times, The Christian Science Monitor, EthnoTraveler, the Desiring God blog, and Skirt. She is the author of the recently released Stronger than Death - How Annalena Tonelli Defied Terror and Tuberculosis in the Horn of Africa published by Plough Publishing (available here at Amazon) and Finding Home She lives, writes, and runs in Djibouti with her husband and three children. She blogs at www.djiboutijones.com. Note: This article was originally written and shared at https://shelovesmagazine.com/2012/god-giver-of-harmonicas/ in October, 2012

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Finding Home Dar es Salaam Delicacies So predictable: Tanzanian rainy seasons. Nose pressed up against the window, I wait. Pitter-patters become pelting poundings and hundreds of flying ants rise upward. “Dad! Come on!� and he brings them as always: Bright yellow boots and clashing pink raincoat. Plastic Tupperware in hand, I run out, dancing to a buzzing chorus of wings. Into the air, I leap for flying ants. And soon the Tupperware is full of them. We return home, and with a smile on my face, I present my prized possessions to Mom. A dollop of oil and a pinch of salt; Sizzling in the pan, they fry quickly. Then around the table, Mom, Dad, and I sit, munching and crunching our seasonal snack.



in Poetry

By Melanie Han

Fertilized Love Giggles Why it is English that is “universal language?” They says to me “Everyone needs to learn.” It too hard. I too old. I try communicate with Granddaughter Doesn’t want learn language of mother Because she already speak English Universal language “My dear Yeast, It is a prized catch mother hen ignorance is special bond. I grabbed the hem of a mother, watching while trembling spit. Show me your fertilized love giggles. Love, Grandma” English is a universal language. The one that everyone needs to learn. It’s so easy so why can’t she just do it? I try to communicate with Grandma Doesn’t feel the need to learn English. Because she already speaks Korean But who needs that? JANUARY 2020 31

Can I Roll, Slice, Stack Memories? Hustle and bustle of lunchtime at Myeongdong Market with fried chicken feet, splayed out and curled at the ends, rows of hanging chilis in different shades of summer sunset, dried, whole squid piled flat on top of one another, their every tentacle preserved and intact. My eyes come to rest on a little pyramid of perfect, round kimbap. Restless hands move tirelessly to toast each sheet of salty seaweed. Rice, egg, carrots, radishes, cucumbers, beef. The predictable pattern of roll, slice, stack. Roll, slice, stack. The kimbap lady’s about my mom’s age, same short, dark hair turning silver, crow’s feet from smiling too much over the decades, apron wrapped around her once-slim waist, and suddenly, I’m staring at my mom standing at the kitchen counter of the house that we lived in when I was eight and insecure. Hidden by the door frame, I watched my mom’s predictable pattern of roll, slice, stack. Roll, slice, stack. 4 AM wakeup call for her to pack my lunch for the school picnic, and me getting up not too long after, unable to contain my excitement. Will they be impressed? Maybe even a little bit jealous of my mom’s perfect Korean cooking? Probably both. But when lunchtime finally rolled around and the kimbap container was opened, all I heard were the quiet “Eww”s as I felt the slight shift of people moving away from me. Reddened face, ringing ears, dragging feet. My shaking hands 32


found themselves tossing the kimbap that was my mom’s 4 AM work, the kimbap that had been my source of pride and joy, into the open and hungry mouth of the trash can, which readily swallowed my pride and my lunch, along with my favorite yellow plastic container, the one with the smiling ducklings on it. Their perfectly triangled white sandwiches, perfect pale skin, perfect light eyes (they looked easy enough to gouge out). Sunshine rested in their golden hair while night and fury nested in mine. Did I want to die or be white? At home that afternoon, I shut myself in the bathroom and scrubbed my skin raw and cried my eyes dry until exhaustion called my name. The front door clicked and I threw angry words at my mom before slamming my door shut. My mom never made kimbap again. We never talked about the incident after that. I avoided Korean food, suppressing my cravings for jjigaes and myun and kimbap, especially kimbap, food that wasn’t worthy enough to enter the pale, pale world I had created for myself out of triangled sandwiches, white skin, light eyes, and sunshine bleached hair. But, I find myself in a trance, walking over to the lady (is she my mom?) and handing over a 1,000 won bill, receiving a roll of kimbap in return. My tongue is momentarily stunned as it remembers long forgotten flavors, then my throat closes up. All I taste is salt as I pull out my phone and dial for my mom. JANUARY 2020 33

African Alphabet African women on the busy, bustling streets of Harare bearing Babies on their hips, wearing Colorful kangas around their waists – orange, blue, and green Dark hair gleaming in the sun like that of a pride tribal queen, Every strand forming a tight little curl. Far away from the center of town children play and twirl, Girls sit under trees, clutching dolls made of muarubaina leaves. Hidden amongst the bushes, several boys watch, silent as thieves, Intrigued and curious, trying to figure out their foreign, female games. Just a few feet away, their friends run around, calling each other’s names, Kicking a ball made of plastic bags, Laughing without a care in the world even though they’re dressed in rags. Men sit around inside, Not wanting to leave the coolness of their huts for the outside Opting for laziness in the heat of the day, Preferring to let their wives work and obey Questioning their values when they complain. Rolling up joints, indoors they remain, Smoking miraa, Taking in large quantities of illegally brewed changa Until they can no longer tell apart Vision from an actual work of art. What it all comes down to is the sad reality in which they exist, Xylophonic echoes of what they want and insist. Yearning for lives filled with peace and perfection Zambians and Zimbabweans, all alike, searching for some sort of direction.



Melanie Han is a Korean MK who grew up in East Africa. She spent the majority of her life in Kenya and Tanzania before moving to the United States for college. For her, home isn’t a city or a country; it’s her husband, it’s her friends and family, it’s her poetry. You can find her on Instagram @melhan. JANUARY 2020 35

Eid, Expats, an By Maryam Afnan Ahmad



I blame TV. It can present such a glorified version of holidays. Everyone is dressed and coiffed to perfection. Family and friends meet joyously. Starry lights twinkle in the background, and homes are clean to microscopic levels. All resolved; all at peace. Reality is that celebrations can be rushed and messy, especially as expatriates. Eid in Pakistan meant spending time with extended family: Dressing up, visiting, eating too much desert on Eid-ulFitr and too much meat on Eid-ul-Azha, small gifts of money called Eidi for children, bonding, laughter, togetherness.

It was in the first few years of our six-year, second expat tenure in Washington D.C. that Eid became challenging. America has a sizable Pakistani diaspora. Washington D.C. is one of the largest hubs and Pakistanis have well established circles. Many Embassy families also had extended family in the US. Simultaneously, Eid is often on working weekdays. Though life in the US presented various advantages, at Eid I was homesick. My stress level would rise as Eid approached but there was not much to do apart from the Eid prayer on Eid morning and maybe one Eid meal at a friend’s. Eid

nd Expectations Our first expat experience was kind to Eid. We were in China, where a smaller diaspora size and language barrier meant the community was tightly knit. Eid was spent at events at the embassy. A chand raat (the night of the moon sighting) for Eid-ul-Fitr was spent at a party hosted for mothers and children. Eid day was spent first at the Ambassador’s Open House and then visiting neighbors in the compound. After China, a two year repatriation meant we were back in the family fray and Eids were enjoyably spent.

namaz (prayer) was always festive. In and around Washington D.C., Eid prayers are held at multiple venues with hundreds present. After a lively, jubilant atmosphere coming to a quiet home was anticlimactic. I wanted magic, wonder, fellowship, and joy. I wanted to host cozy, relaxed gatherings. I wanted TV-advert-worthy laughter and socializing. The first few Eids passed that way. It was hard to make plans with Embassy friends. I would meander between hope and anxiety for the weeks prior to Eid and inevitably work myself up to a frenzied JANUARY 2020 37

disappointment by Eid day. Minor things would irritate me and I would sulk grumpily for the rest of Eid. The third year things began looking up. The demographic at the Embassy changed. A new, more extroverted group assembled. The Embassy’s Ladies Club became livelier and connected on WhatsApp. This group was receptive to plans. A month before Eid, conversation turned to the upcoming festival at a dinner, and everyone groaned about how boring the last one had been. Someone suggested we could make plans together. Eid that year was going to fall on the 6th of July, and the prior year we had discovered a great picnic spot for the 4th of July fireworks at Lake Fairfax Park. Fireworks began at sundown, which is the time for Iftar, and the fit was perfect. I suggested we meet for a picnic at the park on the 4th and volunteered to host a casual Chand Raat for children and mothers at my home on the 5th. Someone recommended we then meet up for lunch at a restaurant on Eid day on the 6th. Plans were excitedly set. On the 4th the sky poured cats, dogs, and even elephants that morning. We began exchanging worried calls. We created a backup plan to congregate with the food at a nearby home if needed. But ever optimistic, we opted to head to the park first. The rain pelted the car on the way to the park, and I got calls from friends who had reached the park and found it deserted. When we approached the parking lot, two friends were giggling, drenched under an umbrella while their husbands and kids sat apprehensively and downcast 38


in the car. Zaman laughingly suggested we all wait for ten minutes and then move on if the rain did not slow. He gave us all an encouraging smile and moved off to coordinate adjacent parking. As we giggled our way under that umbrella to the new inclined parking space, thankfully, the downpour slowed down to a mist. No sooner had the raindrops subsided than a stream of cars began flooding in. Soon we were amidst a sea of cars, and people were setting up picnic areas. A large group in the row behind us danced to Hispanic music while they barbecued. The atmosphere became festive, and spirits rose. We opened our car trunks, laid out our food underneath and waited for Iftar. We happily chatted away while the younger ones played. A message was sent to the Whatsapp group encouraging the rest of the families to come, too. At Iftar we broke our fast with the first shower of fireworks. We stood amidst a happy throng, sharing homemade snacks, oohing and aahing at the pyrotechnics with hundreds of people. Our first day was a success. In the middle of a large, very diverse crowd, I felt like our own little family had expanded. The success of the fireworks Iftar fueled the next two plans. Chand Raat was casual but hugely enjoyable. In bright finery, we ate desserts, applied mehndi and played spontaneous dholki (traditional wedding songs sung on a drum called the dholak) on my upturned steel salad bowl. Most friends left at 1 a.m. Continued‌

Things I Wish I Knew Earlier Maryam Afnan Ahmad Give yourself time and expect less: We could all save ourselves tremendous hassle if we built fewer castles in the air. It takes time to settle into a new country, home and culture. Enjoy your own family unit: I thought for the longest time that my children’s Eids were less magical if we did not socialise. Yet slowly over time we have come to appreciate each other’s company and will make plans of our own as a unit of four. Those times are some of our favorite memories. Start small with a core group: It helps to shrink your plan to start with a few families. When we first moved I was only happy if everyone was involved. Even if you have one or two friends who are agreeing to join in, make that plan. You can always invite everyone, but still continue with the plan with the smaller group if others cannot join you. Accept imperfection: Learn to go with the flow, for plans to be disrupted, for there to be no plans,

for the menus to be incomplete, and for friends to be busy. One of our most memorable Eids in the US happened when we could get no plans finalized. Instead a couple of close friends arrived in the morning for what were to be brief Eid visits. We ended up on the patio the entire day chatting and playing board games till late evening. When we got hungry, we just ordered pizza. Create your own routines: A chand raat is not celebrated the same way in every country or family. Many families will go to the bazaar and buy last minute trinkets, yet mine always avoided the traffic and crowds. In large cities across the US, Chand Raat festival bazaars are held and many people line up for entry. We created our own routine of the chand raat with a small gathering with friends. Initiate plans early: It helps to start discussing plans early. That way you have a lot more time to make, break and change plans. JANUARY 2020 39

By lunch on Eid day, the children had bonded, the men’s discussions were longer, and they congratulated us on our planning. We ended up at another friend’s home for tea — everyone wanted to continue conversations.



After that Eid, our pattern was set. We would initiate plans with friends far in advance of Eid day. Some friend would host a chand raat, and we would meet at restaurants for an Eid day lunch with additional plans when possible. Eid felt exciting once more. We had made our home.

Maryam Afnan Ahmad is the better half of a Pakistani diplomatic couple. She is raising two third culture kids and has co-authored books and spoken on expat issues. She writes, teaches, volunteers, and develops communities when she is not busy procrastinating. JANUARY 2020 41



There are two major annual Muslim celebrations: Eid-ul-Fitr and Eid-ul-Azha. Eid-ul-Fitr marks the end of Ramadan, the month of fasting. For their fasts, Muslims wake before sunrise and eat a sehri meal. They then neither eat or drink anything till the sun sets, and they then open their fast with an iftar. Aside from abstaining from food, Muslims focus more on prayer and attempting to abstain from any negativity or bad deeds. Ramazan teaches patience, tolerance, mindfulness and is akin to a month of spiritual detox.

Walking to a hilltop, Prophet Ibrahim (PBUH) blindfolded himself, reluctant to see his son dying after all. As he raised and lowered his sword, a bleating rang out. Surprised, he removed his blindfold to see a sacrificed lamb before him and his son standing safe at his side. A new revelation arrived congratulating him on his strong faith that had stood the ultimate test. On Eid-ul-Adha, Muslims (those of means) mark that act of faith, by sacrificing animals and distributing meat amongst family, friends, and those less fortunate.

Eid-ul-Adha commemorates the sacrifice story of Prophet Ibrahim (Peace be upon him, PBUH). The Prophet (PBUH) had a dream, a decree to sacrifice his son Ismail as an act of obedience and in strong faith he chose to comply. Even his son, Prophet Ismail (PBUH) encouraged his father to do as Allah decreed. A true Muslim is one who submits to the will of Allah.

Eid-ul-Fitr is a three day event, and Eid-ul-Adha is a two and a half day event. Since the hijri or Islamic calendar is based on the lunar cycle, each year the Eids fall on a new Gregorian calendar date. ~ Maryam Afnan Ahmad

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Christmas On The Move: the art of finding magic By By Lucille Lucille Emmeline Emmeline



I was eleven when I discovered Father Christmas was actually my mother, aided and abetted by her sisters. The discovery blindsided me; so intricately entrenched was my childhood innocence. My family and I had recently emigrated from England to South Africa and were staying temporarily with my aunt and uncle. Most nights I slept on the floor in my cousin’s bedroom, but on that fateful night, December 24, 1989, I chose to sleep on the couch in the living room. The crackling of wrapping paper was what woke me; any child knows what a present in the hands of its deliverer sounds like. Instinctively I pulled the covers over my head so I could peep out under the guise of slumber. And what to my wondrous eyes did appear? Three giggling women, and absolutely no reindeer. That first Christmas in South Africa was a perfect storm of rude awakenings. Nothing made sense to me. The stark African sun obliterated the hallowed traditions we had previously observed in snowy, dark, cozy England. I discovered that in Africa, Christmas was a summer affair. Instead of being bundled up in winter coats and woolen socks, we ran about in swimming costumes jumping in and out of the pool; instead of roasting horse chestnuts on a roaring fire, we ate giant smiles of watermelon and spat the pips at each other. When I inquired how, in the absence of a chimney, Father Christmas would deliver our presents, I was informed he would simply fly in through the window. I should have known something was up. My mother is South African, my father is Dutch and I was born and raised in England before moving to South Africa as

a tween. My mother worked hard to create unique traditions that took strands from our multicultural heritage. But looking back now, I realize that the Christmassy magic I adored in rural England was created not only by our wonderful family traditions, but also by our physical environment. We lived seamlessly in tune with the seasons so that you couldn’t have Easter without spring lambs or daffodils; you couldn’t have Halloween without burnt autumn leaves tumbling from the trees with each spooky gust of wind; and you couldn’t have Christmas without red holly berries, bright snowy days and cold, candlelit nights. That first Christmas in South Africa with its raging orange sun and exotic palm trees, its ice cream and giggling female Santas, its Christmas lunch instead of Christmas dinner, was my first Christmas without the magic. I bounced back, as all resilient children do. I think that abrupt deliverance into the world of adults at the tender age of eleven was the first step in what has been a lifelong journey of learning to embrace the foreign and somehow making it my own. Seventeen years ago when my husband and I moved to Saigon, Vietnam, I discovered a world without Christmas. It simply did not exist. And why should it? But even then, to my well-travelled mind, the lack of Christmas was a revelation, a shot of perspective to the vein, reminding me that our traditions are not universal. It was utterly liberating. Christmas does not need rules. By our second Christmas in Saigon the Sheraton hotel had begun to decorate its lobby with fake snow, the beginning of the appropriation of Christmas which wouold intrigue and delight me as we moved around the world.

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When we moved to Bangkok, I discovered a city in love with kitsch. And what better occasion than Christmas to pimp every corner of the city with giant plastic decorated trees, reams of glittery tinsel, plumes of fake snow, neon flashing reindeers and garlands of jasmine? In Istanbul, a devoutly Muslim city, I found Christmas embraced enthusiastically. The immortal city succumbed to a cloak of tasteful festive decorations: Beautifully decorated real cyprus trees; elegant baubles hanging in every shop window; delicate fluffy fake snow (pre-empting the real snow that falls in February); twinkling fairy lights; even jolly, waving Santas heralding shoppers as they pulled up their collars against the cold night air. And everywhere banners declaring, ‘Happy New Year!’ Only through speaking to my Turkish friends did it dawn on me that, in Istanbul, Christmas has nothing to do with religion. It’s a celebration of the coming new year. Living in The Netherlands reminded me that even Christianized countries can have different priorities. Sinterklaas arriving on his boat from Spain at the beginning of December is a much more anticipated event



than Christmas day. I have discovered that Christmas does not need snow, it does not need traditions, it does not even need religion. Christmas is entirely what you make of it. So what does this gradual relaxing of ‘traditional’ Christmas mean to my children? And how has it influenced my approach to Christmas as a multicultural parent raising global third culture kids? It’s been a delicate balancing act; I won’t lie. When we are with my side of the family, we stick to the traditions I grew up with. When we are with my husband’s family in South Africa, we do Christmas their way, which means presents on Christmas Eve instead of Christmas morning, and a braai (BBQ ) at lunchtime instead of the magical late night dinner. My kids accept that in South Africa things happen differently; their worldview is flexible, their traditions are inclusive. They still believe in Father Christmas, but they have also encountered the ‘real’ Sinterklaas and his mischievous helper, Zwarte Piet, in our village in The Netherlands (and discovered to their glee, that Zwarte Piet had slipped biscuits called pepernoten into their hoodies); they have heard the

beautiful Muslim call to prayer amidst a city glittering with tinsel and angels, and they have experienced many summer Christmas mornings. My children are infinitely more adaptable than I was. They have spent their lives on the move. Their identities are not bound to a single place. They are used to change, and they don’t perceive difference, just ‘what is.’ They have magic in their lives, just by virtue of being children and it’s my job to create the space for them to revel in it for as long as they can. But unlike mine that didn’t survive its uprooting, their magic shifts and moulds and deepens with each new place they call home. Life is kind, and this Christmas we find ourselves living in the country of my birth. We have watched the seasons change, have celebrated the sun and mourned its demise. Christmas time here in England is a shiny, warm, bright, beautiful nugget of joy in the midst of winter, and this year, for the first time in 28 years, I get to celebrate it as a child again.

Lucille Emmeline is a writer who has lived in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East and is now back in the English countryside. She has three nationalities and writes about creating an identity on the move, raising multicultural children, and finding magic in the world. She has co-authored five expat anthologies and is currently working on her first novel. Find more of her writing on www.expitterpattica.com or follow her on Instagram @expitterpattica. JANUARY 2020 47

Where Will Among Worlds Take You! Among Worlds magazine is open to submissions for the following themes! Email your nonfiction stories, poetry, photos, and graphics to Among Worlds at AWsubmissions@interactionintl.org. We can’t wait to see what you have for us. Upcoming submission windows: Kintsugi: The Art of Repairing the Broken Submission Deadline February 15, 2019

Journeys: From Here to There & Back Again Submission Deadline April 15, 2019

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