Johnny, at the park: MONGOOSE!
Me: Nope, that's a squirrel. Wrong country, Buddy.
Josiah, staring with interest at the stove: What kind of stove is that?
Me: It's electric. It runs on electricity.
Josiah: Oh, so if the power goes out, it stops working?
Josiah: That doesn't sound very good. You could be in the middle of cooking and then have to stop.
Me: Yeah, but the power doesn't go off in America.
Josiah: Not EVER?
Me: Well, sometimes in big storms, but yeah, not really ever.
Josiah (very impressed): Whoa.
Amusing quotes aside, the truth is that my kids are somewhat of an enigma. They don't fit into any particular category. They are Tanzanian by blood, but their parents are American. They are similar to other internationally adopted kids, except that they aren't being raised in their adoptive parents' home country, but their own birth country.
A Tanzanian friend once asked me if my kids identified more with being American or Tanzanian. I told him that I'm not really sure (and I don't think they are really sure), but that I would guess that they feel more American when they are in Tanzania, and more Tanzanian when they are America. Because they don't fit in perfectly in either place.
They can greet their elders with Shikamoo without an accent, but they would never yell Wazungu! when they see a white person walking on the road, like other Tanzanian kids their age. They love chips mayai and macaroni and cheese and wali na maharage and Pizza Hut. They have been taught to eat with a knife and fork but know not to use their left hand if there aren't any utensils available.
This would be true of any missionary kid who had lived in Tanzania, but my kids are different from even them. They know all about hair salon culture, but, of course, they go there with their white mom so they always get odd looks. They can go to the market and not stand out--that is, until someone assumes their Swahili is better than it actually is.
Haven of Peace Academy is a perfect place for my children, and so they've stayed insulated from a great deal of this struggle. Josiah has one friend who is ethnically Indian but has a passport and culture from Australia. Another friend is half Tanzanian and half Zimbabwean, but was born in South Africa. Another is half African-American and half Kiwi, but born in America. All are being raised in Tanzania. Josiah, with his complex identity, fits right in.
HOPAC is a middle life, a life in between worlds. Yet the life that HOPAC gives them is not sustainable.
It's like an airplane: Passengers from all over the world, all walks of life, a hundred different backgrounds--all crammed into a tiny tube hovering over the earth. Not belonging to any one place; suspended, for a short period of time, above all the world's nations. My kids live there, in that plane, at HOPAC. Yet at some point, that airplane has to land. And the older my kids get, the more I wonder and worry about how that landing will go for them.
I grew up in Liberia, so to some degree, I understand what it's like to grow up between worlds. But I was not adopted, I was not Liberian, and my parents always had a house in California for us to come back to. Yes, losing Liberia was traumatic for me. But it also was not my country. How do I help my children to navigate an identity that I can never fully understand?
My eldest daughter is a sketcher, and as we have been traveling in California these last three weeks (six cities so far), I've caught her sketching in fancy lettering--on Best Western Hotel notepads, in the sketchbook she bought in Istanbul, on any scrap of paper--I am a TCK. I am a Third Culture Kid. She is processing that identity--that life hovering above the nations, that life in between worlds.
I see this, and my eyes mist over. I am so proud to be her mom. It takes courage to be her. There is much she will teach me.