Category Archives: Making the World a Better Place

Caribbean Zoo with Kids

One bird.

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Two birds.

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Red bird.

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Blue bird.

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These colorful birds are just a sample of the animals at Sint Maarten’s zoo. Although the zoo is small, it has more than enough animals to delight anyone. There is a lot that makes this place special. One of those special things is that much of the zoo consists of endemic animals.

Endemic [en-dem-ik]  (Adjective):

“Belonging exclusively or confined to a particular place.”

This morning, Les Fruits de Mer, an organization dedicated to preserving and educating about the islands natural environment, hosted the Endemic Animal Festival at the zoo! The zoo was open to the public for free for three hours. I’ve been wanting to take some of the kids from our little league team to the zoo for a while now, so I was happy when Coach Tom asked for volunteers to drive the kids from the baseball field to the event.

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There is nothing quite like exploring the zoo through the eyes of a child. I love to see toucans, but even more, I love seeing little eyes light up when they see toucans.

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The Endemic Animal Festival was awesome. There were several activities for the kids: little jars of shrimp to examine, a checklist of animals separated in endemic and non-endemic categories, sidewalk chalk, and coloring. Anilda loved the coloring and crafts! I was impressed with the volunteers. They were so sweet with the kids, attentive to them, and made learning about the animals fun.

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The boys explored the zoo while Anilda colored. We caught up with them later, and here are a few of the things we saw:

Some of the boys were particularly interested in the snakes. Sint Maarten doesn’t have any snakes in wild, because European settlers released mongooses to kill them off. I tried to get a picture of the zoo’s mongoose, but it made a wicked fang face at me and hid in the shadows. Although the wild has no snakes, the zoo has a nice collection. Gabby was fascinated by a small snake that some of the volunteers and zoo staff were holding. They even let Gabby hold it for a minute!

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A few hours after the event, Ben and I went exploring on Green Cay. We saw an Anguilla bank anole lizard, and Ben pointed it out to me. “That’s an endemic animal,” he informed me. I guess everyone learned something new today! What wonderful memories.

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Underwater Egg Hunt

How chances will I have to do an Easter egg hunt underwater? Not many! Each year, Divi Little Bay Resort hosts an egg hunt to support the Sint Maarten Nature Foundation.

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The Sint Maarten Nature Foundation does a lot of good work to protect the island’s ecosystem. I briefly wrote about some of their activities in my article for Seven Seas Magazine. 

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The hunt was not just for a good cause, it was also incredibly fun! Imagine hundreds of people of all ages on the beach, outfitted with snorkel masks and fins, ready to collect 1,000 painted eggs hiding under the crystal-clear surface of the water.

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It was a little bit cut-throat! People are competitive. I went with the other strong swimmers to the deepest area, which seemed to be about 15 feet deep. I strained my eyes for glimpses of color peeking out from the gray-green floor of the ocean and managed to grab seven eggs. Fish flitted back and forth below us, unnerved by the sudden influx of human activity in the water.

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In the shallow area, small children hunted for eggs in knee-deep water.

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At the end, there was a giant raffle with dozens of amazing prizes, ranging from inflatable pool toys to a tow-day stay for two at Divi Little Bay Resort. It was my lucky day– I won two prizes! One was a lunchbox full of beach items and the other was a free sailing lesson with a Sun Bum hat.

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What a great thing to do on Easter Monday! I’ll be back next year for certain.

100th Post Jamberry Giveaway!

Jamberry nail wraps are pretty cool- all you have to do is order a kit, apply it at home, and forget about ugly chipping nail polish. Sound great? Well guess what? To celebrate 3rd Culture Wife’s 100th post, you could get one for free!

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You may not know that Ben and I founded a 501(c)(3) nonprofit a few years ago. It’s called Bariki Africa, which means “Blessing Africa” in Swahili. We raise funds to support the education of village kids in Africa. If you want to know more, you can visit our website.

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Me at the Kampande Village school in 2013

 

Due to paperwork complication and our international move, we were unable to do our spring fundraiser this year, which is a 5K race/fun run in Phoenix, Arizona. But don’t worry, Phoenix friends, it’s still happing this fall!

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A student leads the class in reading practice

 

Instead of a race, our wonderful intern, Mandy, came up with a great idea for an alterative fundraiser: a Jamberry Nails Party! She’s generously giving the organization 100% of the proceeds to her unique Africa designed nail stickers and 30% of her overall commission. That will translate into a whole lot of free lunches for the impoverished kids in the schools we support!

To join the party, you can visit the Bariki Africa Jammin Fundraiser on Facebook.

To win a free Jamberry Nails Kit, go to the Fundraiser Facebook page, find the design you like best, and comment here to tell me your email address and which one you like. Comments will not be published. A random winner will be chosen and notified on March 30, 2016.

We’d also love it if you’d support the village kids by purchasing a kit for yourself or as a gift. A little money goes a long way in East Africa, so your contribution can make a huge difference to a child.

The Trainless Island

What do you do when you have twelve kids who love trains but have never seen a real one? You take them on a train ride, of course!

The island of Saint Martin doesn’t have a train, but the kids from Player Development SXM know a lot about them anyway. Each day, these boys and girls gather on the little league field to practice for baseball games and improve their academic skills. Many days, my friends and I join them to help with reading and math or coaching.

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When practice and homework is done, the kids run inside the repurposed shipping container that serves as their clubhouse to play with their favorite toy: the model train set.

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The kids are excited, because this summer, they get to ride a real train. In August, they’ll be packing their bags for the long trip to Toronto, where many dreams will come true. They get to watch a Blue Jays game, see Niagara falls, play against a Canadian little league team, and ride a real train for the first time. For their homework, some of the kids have written about their hopes for the upcoming adventure:

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For many of the kids, this will be their first time off the 37 square-mile island.

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Many of the kids dream of being a pro ball player, and this will be the first time they get to witness a major-league game.

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This is a really big deal for them.

The logo for the team is, of course, a train. Coach Tom asked me to design it for the team, and my friend Andrea made it into a t-shirt for the kids to wear during the trip.

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Like it? You can actually buy one for yourself, or send one to one of our kids! All the proceeds of the purchase also go toward the kids’ plane tickets. Make a difference for these kids. Click here!

 

First Day of School (Again)

“So, what grade are you in?” the well-meaning youth pastor asked me, intending to invite me to high-school group. Ah, the familiar curse of eternal youthfulness. I smiled and explained that I’m actually in my twenties, swallowing the urge to snidely reply, “Seventeenth.”

Today, I can truly say that I am indeed in seventeenth grade; or, as it is better known, the first year of my master’s degree. Today is my first day of school, and I feel just like I did when I started my first day of kindergarten.

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Part of the reason that I’m so excited to start school again is that it does not involve any math this time. Can I get a hallelujah? The other part is that I get to study something that I enjoy and that I see as significantly impactful to the world. I’m earning an MA in Refugee Protection and Forced Migration Studies from the University of London International. The training will equip me to work with refugees, NGOs, and governments to be a part of the solution for people experiencing forced migration.

I don’t have a lot of experience working with refugees (a few days of volunteering at refugee events in Phoenix, a summer in East Africa, and many conversations with friends and family who have been displaced), but I’ve seen enough overseas and in my own hometown to show me the reality of the refugee situation and the great need for more workers in the refugee protection field.

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Photo Source: Rwandajournal

 

It’s a hard field in many ways, because you’re working with humans and not hard facts. This is one time when I do think math would be easier, because you either have the right answer or you don’t. Not so when you’re working with refugees. Often their wellbeing depends on what you do, there’s not one right answer when it comes to handling victims of conflict, and it’s often easier to see the right choice in retrospect. Just look at the knots that the Syrian refugee crises has put so many governments into. The U.S. is completely divided on how to handle the potential influx of immigrants. Europe is learning how to accept the change that a new population will bring. NGOs are working to protect people who have nowhere to go, and wicked people are doing everything they can to take advantage of their vulnerability. Somewhere in that mess, there are refugee experts working hard to make sure the displaced people are protected and resettled. It’s messy, it’s painful, and it’s amazing. I want to be in the middle of the chaos and the hurt and be a part of the solution.

I used to always ask God why I was born in a safe, privileged place. Why me, when so many people who are better than I am are born into places of suffering?  I eventually stopped asking Him why and started asking what. I don’t know if we’ll ever come up with an answer as to why God lets some people have more privileged lives than others. But I do think He gives us a very clear answer about what we can do with the opportunities we have. Sometime during my college days at Arizona Christian University, I heard a chapel speaker or a professor talk about pressing into places of pain. And it clicked with me. I can use my relatively painless existence to enter places of pain and suffering and “bring heaven down to places of Hell on earth,” as writer Palmer Chinchen puts it. That’s what I really want to do with my degree. I want to learn how to work at the highest level to alleviate that suffering as quickly as possible. I want to bring the messy warmth of humanity to the coldness of political policy. But most of all, I want to learn how I can enter into someone’s place of suffering and walk with them to the end.

To be honest, I don’t know what that looks like or feels like yet. I’m just sitting here at my kitchen table with my dog at my feet, first online assignment of my first class completed and an empty teacup next to me. I can’t image the realities of the things I’ll be studying over the next few weeks. I can’t picture what my life will look like in ten years when I finally get to get my hands dirty and do some real work with real issues and real people in East Africa. All I know is that for the next two years of my life, I’ll progress in my education, one step at a time, toward that unknown place. All I can do today is the task set in front of me.

It’s the first school day of many.

 

Atlanta and the Importance of Art

Who are more important, engineers or artists? My answer: yes.

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There are few things as abysmally boring as being stuck in an airport layover in the early hours of the morning. For this reason, I am thankful for airport museums. Currently, I am sitting in the E terminal of the Atlanta airport, following a wonderful hour-long art excursion through each hall.

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Ceramic artwork by Sunkoo Yuh

The wandering visitor will find the Atlanta, Georgia airport a wealth of culture. My personal favorite display here is the Ceramix series, which is disbursed throughout the terminal.  Click on the photos below for information on each piece.

There is also a fascinating series on the African-American experience in Georgia. Some things cannot be explained in words; only in art.

I also found a variety of other art displays, ranging from flying vegetables created by (you guessed it) an Iowan artist to what appeared to be African tribal Jedi light sabers.

The presence of these displays reminded me of a children’s book I flipped through the other day. Frederick by Leo Lionni is about a little mouse who seems to do nothing important. While his friends gather food for the winter, he gathers sunshine and colors. Everyone thinks he’s a little crazy– until winter comes. Then, everyone is sad, hopeless and hungry. Leo gives everyone hope by sharing his sunshine and colors in vivid descriptions of summertime. The message behind the story is that art is important. It sometimes seems entirely impractical, but the reality is that our souls crave art and beauty. Without it, we shrivel up inside.

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“Dad of the Day Award” goes to the man teaching his four-year-old to appreciate art

 

Some of us are naturally gifted to solve math problems, and other of us can create fantastic worlds with a paintbrush. Some of us have the guts to save people from burning buildings, and others of us have the heart to coax forth music from ivory keys. “Let each man pass his days in that endeavor wherein his gift is greatest,” said Propertius. Even if that means inspiring others with giant mosaics made from business cards! This is exactly what John Salvest has done. His Atlanta display is a giant two-panel rendition of Propertius’ quote.

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Our culture tends to highly value the sciences. This is good and beneficial for our society, but we cannot forget to also value art. This morning, scientists give me the gift of flight. Artists give me the gift of joy. I thank God for both. Use your gifts, whatever they are!

 

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Fairy Tale Puppets

Dr. Seuss Day!

On the SXM clubhouse on a warm Saturday

Twenty-five children gathered to read and to play.

The morning was filled with laughter and mirth–

We celebrated Dr. Seuss’ birth!

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We read Hop on Pop

And the words “Plip” and “plop,”

About a beetle bottle battle

And the goo-goose and cattle,

IMG_2568.JPG Continue reading Dr. Seuss Day!

Eight Things TCKs Want from Their Friends

Do you have a friend who grew up overseas in an expat family? Have you ever wondered how you can better connect with them? Often, Third Culture Kids can be difficult to get close to. They’ve had drastically different experiences than people who grew up in their home culture. They get asked the same questions a thousand times and have developed rote answers. They don’t expect most people to understand their perspective and experience, so they avoid the frustration and don’t often try to explain it. Instead of asking the same old questions, try this instead.

  1. Ask them about their life journey, not where they’re from. And be interested in the answer. Don’t ask where they’re from and expect a single answer. They don’t have an answer to this question! This week, someone asked this question to my husband, Ben, who is a TCK. His answer? “That’s a good question.” Ben will usually answer this question based on the person’s apparent interest level. To casual inquirers, he says “Phoenix,” which is where we lived in the U.S. To people he’ll see again, he usually tells them he grew up in Africa. To people who really seem interested, he will explain that he was born in Burundi, grew up in Tanzania, went to high school in Kenya, and lived in Phoenix for college.

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    Ben and his friends in Tanzania
  2. Ask thoughtful questions. I wonder how many times TCKs have been asked if they rode elephants to school. Or if they speak African. Or if they had a pet lion. Or if they know someone’s cousins friend’s sister, who lives somewhere on the same continent. Nothing will shut down a conversation like a thoughtless question. Instead, ask a meaningful question about the TCKs life abroad: Where did you go for family vacation? What was your favorite sport when you were a kid? What did you do in your free time?

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    Stevie at the source of the Nile
  3. Accept their life stories. When you’re sharing stories about childhood pets, and your TCK friend starts talking about the pet monkey or monitor lizard, just listen. Don’t make a snide remark about being shown up by your friend’s story. Don’t suggest that they’re bragging. They might be, but probably not. Remember that all they have are stories about cross-cultural life. While your normal was a suburban home, two cats, a dog, and a basketball hoop in the driveway, their normal was a cinder-block one-bedroom, a parrot and a herd of goats, and bilingual soccer games with a plastic-bag ball in the shadow of Mount Kilimanjaro.

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    Lizzie feeding a giraffe
  4. Be patient with cultural nuances. TCKs have grown up with a variety of cultural expectations, and although they’ve become adept at being cultural chameleons, they don’t always know exactly what expectation belongs where. That funny pronunciation, the way they use their fork, the avoidance of eye contact with the opposite sex, the different concept of time… all of that can be attributed to culture. Don’t make fun of it or act like it’s stupid. Roll with it. Or, if you feel it should be corrected and you’re in a position to do so, explain it with respect.

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    Zach on safari
  5. Make them your most trusted news source. TCKs get annoyed by Western media’s botched coverage of issues in their adopted countries. They get even more annoyed by people who trust the media more than their own experiences. Listen to your TCK friend explain the realities of their world, and believe them. You could never understand the issues better than they do simply by watching TV and reading a few articles.

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    Ruthie and a Burundian drum
  6. Let them teach you to think globally. Culture is so pervasive that we often fail to recognize our own cultural tendencies. Be open minded to the global perspective of your TCK friend. At times, he or she will challenge your Western attitudes, philosophies, and perspectives.

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    Crossing the river
  7. Recognize that they have deeper experiences than you do. Your TCK friend is likely multilingual, has lived in three or more cultures, and has seen things you’ve only ever heard of. Bilingualism means they can communicate with more people, and with a greater framework for thought. Multiculturalism means that they have a more well-rounded view of the world. More varied experiences means they’ve seen much of the world, experienced social studies in real life, and likely have gone through some sort of trauma that you cannot identify with.

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    Maiden voyage on Lake Tanganyika
  8. Be the friend that sticks around. TCKs are familiar with good-byes. They’re used to people coming in and out of their lives, and they certainly don’t believe you when you say you’ll stay in touch. People rarely do. Be the friend who follows through. Write letters. Ask how they’re doing. Set up Skype dates.
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    Ben’s zebra selfie

    Third culture kids, did I get it right? What else are you looking for in friendships?

Trash, the Island, and My Latest Article

What’s the worst thing about an island community? The eco-conscious among us would likely say sustainability problems. Image it: we have over 75,000 people on a 37 square-mile rock in the middle of the ocean. Where is all that nasty groundwater run-off going to go? Where is all the trash going to land?

Now, before you check out of what you think is going to be yet another Greenpeace-style soapbox rant, consider the delicacy of our microscopic ecosystem and the impact that you can make on it. Even if you don’t live in the Caribbean, you may want to visit some day for a vacation (Do it! It’s beautiful here). You may be surprised to find out that visitors have a gigantic impact on the appearance of sustainability of the island.

How? Find out in the article I authored for Seven Seas Magazine. The article’s title is “The Other Side of the Island” and it is on page 30. Let me know what you think! Do you have any other ideas for how tourists can contribute to a healthy ecosystem?

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Art in the Park and Canada!

We’re bound for Canada! But first, we’re participating in Art in the Park right here at home. One of my favorite memories of my childhood hometown is Art in the Park. Flagstaff, Arizona held it this festival annually on the lawn of the library. It’s something I missed when we moved to Phoenix. Now that we live in Sint Maarten, Art in the Park is back on the agenda!

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Some of my paintings that will be for sale at Art in the Park 

The best of SXM Art in the Park for me is that I get to be a part of a booth this time. If you’ve been following my blog for a while, you know that I volunteer with a local Little League team that incorporates academics into its daily program. This summer, we all get to take a trip to Canada to watch the Blue Jays play! The Rotary Club is sponsoring the trip, but of course we are teaching the boys responsibility by having them fund-raise as well.

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The kids have been working on their merchandise for a long time. Coach Tom and his wife, Lisa, came up with some great ideas. The team has a rock tumbler, and they’ve polished a couple hundred rocks over the last few months. We’ll put magnets on these and sell them for a few dollars. The kids are also making lanterns with a Canadian maple leaf on the front. I’ll be contributing some of my paintings to the fundraiser, as well.

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K. shows off one of her favorite rocks

Here’s how we made the rock magnets:

  1. The kids ran around the baseball field, gathering various little rocks.

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2. The first week, Tom tumbled the rocks with some abrasive. They came out clean, but still pretty rough. The kids washed all the gritty gray liquid off and Tom added new abrasive.

3. The second week and third weeks, the rocks were tumbled again.

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A. found an amethyst!

4. The fourth week was the last week of tumbling. This kids washed them off and shined them. We put a little lacquer on them to make them even prettier.

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5. Finally, we glued the magnets on the back. They’re ready to add some natural beauty to your fridge!

The older boys worked with volunteers to drill holes in coffee cans for the lanterns. Then everyone had a chance to paint the leaves Canada red.

Stacey and I are working on an informational display for the festival, too. All the kids and volunteers traced their hands on the background.

If you’re on Saint Martin, come visit us this Sunday (February 14) at Emilio Wilson Park in Cul de Sac between 10 and 4:30! Just head to Philipsburg, take the round-a-bout north instead of heading east to Cost-U-Less, and look for the park on your left a little past the baseball field. Let’s send these kids to Canada!

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One of our boys and Fred, a real, live Canadian! Also, note volunteer Andrea’s enthusiasm in the background. We have fun here.

 

 

 

Thanks to Stacey and Tom for providing the pictures for this post!