August 29, 2016

The Wonder of America // A TCK's Experiences

When we were in America two years ago our friend took O for a walk around her neighborhood. When they returned, he walked in the door and said, "Mama, Nina says I'm inquisitive." After I picked my jaw up from the floor, I replied,
"She did? What does that mean, that your inquisitive?"
He said, "It means I ask a lot of questions." I wasn't completely surprised that our just-turned-three-year-old was inquisitive, that's a pretty typical thing for that age. I may have been shocked at his grasp and understanding at that new vocabulary word though - but I never really thought anything else of it.
Until now.
Our son is now five, and has spent some of the most formative years of his life living in Tanzania, East Africa.  From ages two through five he's known nothing but dirt roads, optional carseats, only the freshest produce, no air conditioning or heating systems, power outages, and never drinking out of a faucet. He's known livestock roaming the streets, monkeys climbing in our trees, open-air markets with used clothing and textiles, mini-busses rushing down roads with passengers hanging out the doors, and more friends that don't speak his language than those that do. He knows Christmas & New Years vacations on the Indian Ocean, camping on the side of Kilimanjaro with armed guards walking around the camp, a home with one computer for his occasional entertainment, and temperatures that range from 60*F to about 98*F.  He knows when it rains, it's cold because it's winter. He knows when it's hot, it's dry, because it's the "dusty season" (his words.)
So naturally, at five years old, the world is his oyster and coming to America has been an eye-opening experience for him. And for his parents. Who have learned to be patient and very thorough at explaining every. single. thing. he wants to know about. Because, unlike his parents, he didn't grow up in America and he doesn't have any basis for most of the things we pass by without noticing.

I've been keeping a running list of a few of the things we've needed to explain, some of the quips Owen's come up with and just a bit of what Owen's America is like to him. I write them here to chronicle them for the future grown-up Owen, and for us, but to also help others (like you) understand what it's like to be a Third Culture Kid, and maybe to enjoy a chuckle or two along the journey of understanding our little O.  :)

Bathrooms - To a kid accustomed to *maybe* finding a western toilet in a public bathroom (rather than a squatty), an automatically flushing toilet is absolutely terrifying.  Not only is it loud but the force with which it flushes is probably enough to suck his little hiney down the tube! Not only that, but every bathroom here has soap?! AND a way to dry your hands?! WHAT?! Forget those blowers though, he hates the hand blowers. They're too loud and unpredictable. Are they automatic? Do you push a button? Are they hot air? Cold air? (sometimes he still walks out shaking his wet hands all over the place to dry them off, and has completely forgotten to use soap) One particular occasion we were in a public restroom and he reached up to grab a paper towel from the dispenser and it shot out and hit him in the nose because it was automatic. At first he was scared and looked at me like, "Seriously?! What just happened!?" But then we both just started laughing hysterically.  Because who doesn't like an adventure every time you step into a public bathroom?

Vending Machines - While we were still in Tanzania, we saw kid got a gumball from a machine on one of Owen's shows. So I googled "Gumball Machine" to show Owen a little more about them, and try to explain the concept. Our first trip to a store with a vending machine was in Phoenix, at a Goodwill. There was one of those big ones with like 6 different ones all attached together. He RAN over to it when he saw it and said, "Mama, it's like that THING!" I was checking out, so Bill went over with him and explained how it all worked. Then he's at my side, "Mama, can I have a - what's it called papa?" Bill whispers "Quarter," in his ear. "Mama, can I have a quitter? It's to put in that thing and get some M&Ms! Don't worry though, I won't eat them because I know it's candy. Papa said he would eat them."  {well played, husband}
So of course I gave him a quarter and watched him react with awe and wonder at the way the vending machine worked when he turned the knob and it spat out the M&Ms. He runs over to me again with something, very obviously, in his mouth, and with garbled speech says, "Papa gabe me one! What do I do wif it? Can I chew it?" And all the while the cashier is looking at us like, "Where in the world are you people from that your kid doesn't know what a quarter, M&M's or a vending machine are?!" Don't worry Goodwill Cashier Dude, I promise we weren't locked in a bunker waiting for the world to end since Y2K, we just live in East Africa. Carry on.

Electronic Everything (and also fire hydrants)- TVs in restaurants, music playing everywhere you go (even in bathrooms), announcements over loudspeaker, video games and TV's as far as the eye can see in stores, even at the petrol station there's music playing. There is just so much stimulation here, and we can see it's affect on O anytime we leave the house. By the time we return home, even if we've only been to one store, we are all exhausted and brain-fried from it all. We've taken to not even having the radio on in the car most of the time just to enjoy the silence. One day when I needed to get some necessary clothing items, O & Papa went to play the sample video games they had set up. They were playing some super hero lego game and Bill told me (after the initial lesson on how the controller made the people on the screen move) he was telling O to pick up a fire hydrant to throw at the bad guy, and O had no idea what he was talking about. So Bill pointed to it on the screen and O walked his guy over and picked it up. This caused a huge stream of water to shoot out of the ground and Owen shouts, "Why is there water shooting everywhere?!?!???" To which Bill explained what a fire hydrant was.  And then firetrucks, and the service they provide.
And then, several weeks later, we got the awesome opportunity to explore Cousin Andy's firetrucks, then at a ServeCLT event, O got to see how the hoses work and even control one after he helped put it together!

Reliability - If I'm honest, we struggle with this one too - at least at first. But we've really had to teach O about the reliability of things here, especially of power and grocery stores. See, we have one 'super market' in Moshi, and one store that we shop at that is known for carrying a lot of imported pantry goods, that's more like a 'Ma & Pa' shop. But at either store, you never know what's going to be there from one day to the next. Or if that thing you bought on Sunday will *ever* be back in stock again. So if we find something we like, or have been wanting/needing/craving, we tend to stock up on it, because who knows if we'll ever see it again. So naturally, when Owen saw they had toothpaste with Avengers characters on the tube, he wanted us to buy all of them. And when he saw the produce section filled with heaps of grapes? Same. Or a toy that he really wanted, but we told him "Not today," he genuinely got upset because he thought he'd never see it again. He's getting a better understanding of it as we've revisited stores a few times now and he's been able to see consistent stock of everything, but it's been an adjustment to not be in 'stock-up-while-you-can' mode. 

Fast Food/Delivery - Our first day in America we landed right at dinner time, so my mom took us through a drive through because we were all famished and it was easy. Owen was mind. blown. that: 1) You order through a speaker and someone talks to you 2) You never had to get out of your car 3) They hand you food out the window (he thought that was ridiculous, actually) and 4) It all happened within a span of about 6 minutes. With the exception to street meat (street vendors), restaurant dining in Moshi usually takes about an hour or two.
Then there was that time we ordered a pizza. And the guy brought it to the front door. After only clicking a few buttons on the computer we had dinner. The concept is quite mind numbing if you think about it. I mean, it takes me a solid hour-hour and half on an average night to prepare and make dinner for our family back home. Using fresh ingredients and cooking on a stove (we don't own a microwave) takes quite a bit longer than clicking some buttons and opening the door to a hot pizza from a guy with a hat on. 

That's all for now... I should probably get some things done. But stay tuned for part two - where Owen is pretty much always lost, his first big thunderstorm, comparing a deer to an impala, and learning what a lightening bug is.  :)