Saturday, May 13, 2017

The STILL Global

The ‘act’ of repatriation is well behind us. The stories of those who are still global – but no longer living a mobile life – are a collective of voices relatively unrepresented. We are the quiet ones for whom ‘repatriation’ happened a long long while ago.

That doesn’t mean we are done or feel comfortable or entirely at peace with our lives in our passport country. Ruth van Reken answers that question simply: “When do we adjust to repatriation? We never adjust. We adapt.”

Global Minus the Mobile
So where are our stories? How have we adapted? 'We' being the-global-without-the-mobile?

Like me, you might never have lived in your passport country until you were 18. And like me, your path likely followed a unique set of sequences that landed you, well – landed in your passport country as an adult.

That belief that we are the TCKs who chose stability and rooting? This story does not necessarily represent us.     

We are those who ‘returned’ and through the quick-sand of circumstance, remain. There is pleasure and love for my life here. And still, a certain sadness. The Families in Global Transitions conference awoke me to my false sense of aloneness in an experience within the global community: the voices of those of us who are STILL globals, those who are not currently mobile... we have a place at the table too.

We carry a different form of grief – not better or more or less – just different than other groups of globals: the TCKs-turned-expats, the trailing spouses, the freshly repatriated. We are the-STILL-globals and we need a place to tell our stories too.

Sarah Stoner is an American-born writer who was raised in Uganda, Morocco, Belgium, and Thailand. Her descriptive nonfiction has appeared in a variety of local magazines and national journals as well as the anthology The Chalk Circle: Intercultural Prizewinning Essays (a Skipping Stones Honor Award Book). Recognition for her work includes first place in the National League of American Pen Women essay contest and selection as a featured author for the City of Seattle Office of Arts and Cultural Affairs project, TreeStory.

Her family’s roots run four generations deep in the Pacific Northwest where she now lives—on a 20-acre land trust property with her husband and two children. With half her life spent navigating foreign soils and various cultures, Sarah is learning the language of living in her passport country. She explores identity and belonging at

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Bowie in Bangkok. Now Gone. And Still With Us. Like the Memory of My Shoe.

Bangkok 1983.

I was 13, and there were no seats. We stand in the vast oval of the Thai Army Stadium in Bangkok, crammed with Thais and me and my brother. Not sure who came on before Bowie but we waited and waited and waited for what seemed like hours after the taxi dropped us off.

He walks on stage finally. Platinum hair, Royal blue pantsuit. The arena comes alive. and the crowd presses forward in one solid piece. I am pulled downward then forward then my feet lift off the ground and I think, This is what it's like to die crushed in a crowd. 

I can see my brother trying to push space for me and for him but our small bodies have no power. We surge apart. One shoe comes off my foot. A fragile white mesh flat, ballerina slipper. Really impractical footwear when trying to survive a stampede. I feel frantic, undone, one bare foot feeling the packed dirt of the stadium floor. But I am upright and I know this is good. The pushing stops, it might only have been a moment stretched out by adrenaline, and I feel relieved to be standing, relieved that the undertow of the crowd was gone as fast as it came. The music starts. No, maybe I just can hear it now. My heartbeat slows. And I watch as a fragile white mesh slipper passes hand over hand above the crowd, seemingly straight towards me. I don't remember signaling or waving, "Hey that's my shoe." Kind of like the magic of a 3D movie, when it comes straight to you and you don't even ask. I slip my white mesh shoe back on. I am breathing and taking in the world-sized beat of Bowie.

My brother and I decide that Bowie was late because he was dying his hair hours before the show. It shines white in the spotlight and he sings Oh Baby Just You shut Your Mouth.... Shhhh...... Hands rest on my shoulders throughout the show, Thai-style, where bodies aren't separated by personal space bubbles and we are all connected and very much alive, thrumming to the energy of one Mr David Bowie in Bangkok 1983.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

As a Teen TCK, What Are Your Memories of Music?

Bootleg tapes on the street corner.

Pop songs when all I wanted to hear was alternative New Age.

"I Just Called To Say I Love You"????? AGAIN!?!?!??!

My favorite typo entered into my TCK Lexicon: "Comfortably Nump" on my Pink Floyd The Wall tape. Like most TCK jokes, you had to be there. I mean that literally. You had to be there, in that country, at that time.

Rick Springfield. David Bowie. The limited rock concert choices of an American teenager growing up in Bangkok, Thailand.

What I would have given - to see The Clash, Violent Femmes, Yazoo -

As a teen TCK, what are your memories of music?

Our access to music played an influential role in our experience of TCK teenagerdom. I was in Bangkok for my late teens, my US summers spent recording tape-to-tape from my cousins' music collection, the likes never found among the stacks of bootleg tapes on street tables in Thailand. Oingo Boingo. Siouxsie and the Banshees. The Cure. Belgium for my early teens, leaving me imprinted with a European version of fantastic 80s music. Pass the Dutchie. And I called them Yazoo. Not Yaz, which I still can't get used to.

And I did get to see David Bowie. With the news of his January 10 death came the memory of his concert. Bangkok 1983. I always thought of it as Bowie's "Let's Dance" concert, but it was actually his Serious Moonlight tour. I know this now because I just looked it up. At 13, I went to the show in Bangkok on December 5, 1983. I loved it. I was there. That's all I knew.

In this "information age" I can access from the bird's eye view: from May to December, 15 countries and 95 performances. How many TCKs saw this tour? Standing in our own mini-worlds, in our own mini-moments? Were you there? Maybe you saw him in Auckland, New Zealand - the show he played before Bangkok.
"The David Bowie Serious Moonlight Tour was thus far Bowie's longest, largest and most successful concert tour. The tour opened at the Vorst Forest Nationaal, Brussels, on 18 May 1983 and ended in the Hong Kong Coliseum on 8 December 1983; 15 countries visited, 96 performances, and over 2.6M tickets sold. The tour garnered mostly favorable reviews from the press.

"The tour, designed to support Bowie's latest album Let's Dance, was initially designed to be a smaller tour, playing to the likes of sub-10,000-seat indoor venues around the world, similar to previous Bowie tours. However, the success of Let's Dance caused unexpectedly high demand for tickets: there were 250,000 requests for 44,000 tickets at one show, for example, and as a result the tour was changed to instead play in a variety of larger outdoor and festival-style venues. The tour sold out at every venue it played.

"The tour was a high point of commercial success for Bowie, who found his new popularity perplexing. Bowie would later remark that with the success of Let's Dance and the Serious Moonlight Tour, he had lost track of who his fans were or what they wanted. One critic would later call this tour his "most accessible" because "it had few props and one costume change, from peach suit to blue."

Thanks, Wiki. It is what I remember he looked like. White hair. Peachy white suit.

Friday, December 11, 2015

News Flash: Jimi H is Black

I never knew that Jimi Hendrix was black.

I moved to the U.S. in 1988. When I saw a poster of him on a college dorm wall, I was stunned. I read the puffy yellow letters under the image of a wild-haired man holding a guitar that told me who he was.

“Jimi Hendrix is black?!” It was a rhetorical question I supppose.

It wasn’t so much that he was black or blue or purple. It was that I had never thought about him one way or the other. He existed in my mind as his music. He existed as sound, not skin. “Of course Jimi Hendrix is black,” I was told. “How could you not know that? Listen to his voice. He has a black voice.”

He does?

I listen closely sometimes. Even now in my 40s, I listen to him on NPR during today's feature segment. I strain my ears, listening for signs of black-ness. I hear his jamming wild guitar sound, his raging power in the form of uncontained beat. After two and a half decades in the U.S. I now know more of his story, not simply his music.

And as I listen today, as I drive along the Seattle streets of his hometown, I laugh, and remember, “Hey! Jimi Hendrix is black! Who knew!”

Because most of all I like to remember the 18 year old girl who didn’t know he was any color at all but purple haze.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Memories of Air

This is one of my favorite childhood photos.

My grandmother Margaret is in the foreground. I'm flying a kite on the beaches of Calpe, Spain, near Alicante. We spent summers and a few Easter breaks in the warm Spanish sunshine when we lived in Belgium (which is filled with as much rain and as many rhododendrons as Washington). Wow, sounds like the life, eh. When I tell my traveling stories, I become envious. Wait, it was my life and I'm envious?

But remembering "some other grand time" is not why I like the photo. I like this photo because when I came across it in my grandmother’s album I had never seen it and -- it surprised me. I look so comfortable flying a kite. As if standing on the earth with my head tilted into the wide open air is the most comfortable thing in the world. I look at ease on terra firma, like I belong to the space around me - water, air, wind. That's what I love about it. I look so darn grounded – and I don't remember carrying that feeling with me.

The photo makes me remember that what I remember can be different then what also was….

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Haunting the Customs Line

"Ow, Mom, that hurts!" Noah says to me, after his first swipe with third-world toilet paper.

We're on our first international family vacation. Isla Mujeres, Mexico. He's five years old. Okay, we'd all been out of the country before that but sorry, Canada, you don't count.

My first steps off the airplane, into the tube walkway, and then Wham! It smells of my childhood. It smells like home. That wet musty air hiding underneath the scent of machine-cooled air. An overworked A/C system. Leaky windows. Who knows what it is. I had to spend a minute sniffing it to figure it out. The smell of humidity. The smell of imperfection. The smell of a third-world HVAC system.

American air conditioning smells, well, perfect seems like an odd way to describe it. Clinically clean is more like it. You can't smell wetness, age, and a certain thickness. American HVAC air has no personality, no oomph. Here I was, sniffing stinky canned air and feeling quite happy about it. It meant I was overseas again.

The last time I was overseas in 2005 -- five months in India with my husband -- feels like -- decades ago, xx,xxx leagues under the sea away from who I am now. I am a mama. I now exist in an entirely new dimension, one that I never even knew existed. And I am now traveling overseas for the first time as a mother. Two kids in tow.

I stand in line, holding four dark blue passports now. Not my usual, solitary, One. The customs line winds around the poles. Katherine thrashes at my feet and makes a break into the crowd, too many hours on a plane for a one year old. Noah wants to be held, tired, heavy for a five year old. The whining, begging, chasing, thrashing sets in.

I am desperate for calm. To be left alone, really. I dig out the kingsize Blow Pop from my purse, it's been in emergency stash for a few months now. Sticky pink saliva immediately stains the front of Katherine's shirt. And she refuses to remove the sugarbomb from her mouth now that she's had a taste. She shrieks when I try to pull it away. Okay, I'm only slightly mortified. Because it works.

The sticky Blow Pop affords a few minutes of calm in the line (once I stop trying to rip it from Sticky      Paws' hands). I look around. I find myself looking into faces, wondering. I am looking for myself. that girl I knew. The one who stood in customs lines at the foot of her mommy and daddy, two, three, four times a year. That girl who never thought twice about standing in customs lines. It's just the way it was -- to get home, to leave home, to go most anywhere.

I want to find her in someone else's face. I want to recognize myself. Remember myself. This girl feels far far away from me. I want to find her, so that I can be sure she actually was a part of me. Is a part of me. More and more, I hardly believe I was her.

We're next. Hand over the four passports. It's my name on the customs form as Head of Family now. Hola. Small smile, make eye contact. Small nod. These are the people giving me passage to another country. They are the final gateway and I always take this moment seriously, and with a slight smile.

Passports flip open to the picture. A glance up from photo to actual face. Check. Boom! Stamp, stamp. The mechanical bang of stamps echoes down the line of customs desks, those square hard boxes each with filled with boxed unsmiling men. Travellers flow in one by one. Leaving home. Coming home.

I look at my Mexico entrance stamp, first one in my new passport. I've had a passport since I was six days old. And I wonder -- when will I come home? After forty years, here I am, still looking for myself in a customs line.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Diversity Under Cover

Rural Skagit Valley seems very white. It is very white.

And like yesterday, I'm often pleasantly surprised to uncover, by happenstance and casual conversation, the deep connections to the larger wider, less white, world.

I'm a prime example, walking around here looking like I fit in, me and my pale skin and my complex colored background (checkered past?) spending my formative years in countries much less white than this.

Yesterday, in a room filled with pale skinned people again, I uncover the hidden diversity. All seats taken, just a few on the squeezed against of the walls of the room are open. Skagit Valley Writer's League meeting. A woman squeezes in next to me. She is smiley and turns out as we chat to be Anne, gives me her card. I glance down at it quickly during the meeting. "Horticultural Professional & Therapeutic Gardener. Alizetti Gardens." I smile inwardly, that she likes plants, that I like her title, the possibilities it contains. I muse on the possibile actualities of "Therapeutic Gardening"  -- what she means by it versus all the things that could mean.

A lull in the meeting and I glance down again. In teeny less-than-6-point type at the very bottom of the card, I squint to read,"Alizetti: Swahilli for Sunflower from Kenya, East Africa - where our family took root..."

Initially I miss the comma after East Africa. It's the size of a dirt speck. Swahilli... hmmm. Not a common reference, really. During the meeting break that includes chocolate cake with plastic-y frosting that I do not eat, I ask, Why the Swahilli? A stint in Peace Corps in Kenya, and then she meets her husband so they stay a few more years after that totalling seven. Again, I smile and get excited. Kenyan husband, I wonder? Awesome. She explains, second generation white Kenyan. She describes his heritage as "colonial." I call him TCK.

We connect more. I mention, likely in a low mumble she doesn't catch, that I'd love to meet him, that I'm a TCK too. I don't think she heard me. As usual these days, I downplay this part of me. Though it always lives, in shimmering excitment at the news of someone else maybe a bit like me, in this part of the world.

[photo credit: Alizeti's flickr photostream]