Tag Archives: cultural

Goodies from Secnarf’s Place

Today on Foodie Tuesdays, we are going to meet a local food wizard and learn to make sweet potato pudding.

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Meet Frances! Born and raised on St. Kitts, Frances moved to Saint Martin 30 years ago with her husband, who relocated for work. She can work wonders in the kitchen. I met Francis at a local event, where she was selling delicious meat patties, pies, puddings, and cakes.  She calls her business “Secnarf’s Place,” and you can find her at almost any public trade show or market event.

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As you can see, Frances loves to cook. Before she retired, she worked in a store nearby. Now, she spends a lot of her time in the kitchen, baking for her family or preparing for an event. She told me that she stayed up all night to make fresh-baked goodies for her booth. She doesn’t mind the work, though, because she loves what she does. “I like to use my hands,” she says, “It’s like a work of art.”

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Frances’ culinary skills aren’t limited to the oven. She also makes her own all-natural fruit and vegetable juices. All she adds is a little bit of sugar for flavor, if it’s not quite sweet enough. Passion fruit is her best seller. “It’s so much better than what you can buy in the stores,” she says. No preservatives, no shipping. Just natural goodness!

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I asked Frances what her favorite food is. She thought for a moment before answering, “Sweet potato pudding.” The pudding is actually what sparked Frances’ interest in cooking. When she was a girl, her mother would make sweet potato pudding every year as a special Christmas dessert. As she got older, Frances would help. The rest is history.

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Here is how you can make sweet potato pudding, as described on Jamaican Caribbean Favorites. You can visit their site to learn how to make many more awesome Caribbean dishes!

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Sweet Potato Pudding:

Ingredients:

  • 2 lbs sweet potato, grated
  • 4 green bananas, grated
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup grated coconut trash
  • 4 cups coconut milk
  • 3 tsp vanilla
  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp mixed spice
  • salt to taste
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • raisins
  • rum to taste
  • 2 oz melted butter
  • Greased 9 inch pan

Directions:

  1. Mix grated potato, banana, coconut trash, raisins, flour and baking powder.
  2. Combine coconut milk, vanilla, sugar, butter, rum, salt, nutmeg and mixed spice.
  3. Add milk mixture into potato mixture and batter until smooth.
  4. Pour mixture into greased tin and let sit for 30 – 45 minutes.
  5. Bake at 350 degrees F (175 degrees C) for about 1 1/2 to 2 hours.
  6. Serve hot or cold.
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Tropical Thanksgiving

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Happy Thanksgiving weekend from the Johnsons! This was my first Thanksgiving outside the United States. Here’s how we celebrated it, expat-style.

Since Thanksgiving is strictly a U.S. holiday, nobody on Sint Maarten got the day off work or school. We weren’t too bothered by this; two of Ben’s classes have ended, so he only had to be at school for three hours. We spent the extra two hours in the morning catching some waves at the beach.

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Waves at Mullet Bay

 

Usually, we run in a Turkey Trot (Thanksgiving 5K) on Thanksgiving morning. I have to admit that I felt a little guilty for not running on our family’s annual race day! Between my  bad knees, the humidity, and the lack of Thanksgiving festivities, though, I was definitely happy to “settle” for boogie boarding to earn my extra Thanksgiving dinner calories.

Another tradition that I missed was the annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Instead of that, I watched Phineas and Ferb in Spanish while Ben was in lab. Maybe I’ll be able to catch some parade clips on YouTube later.

The one traditional thing that I definitely did for Thanksgiving was cook! It was a little lonely to be in the kitchen by myself– usually, my mom, dad, sister, and I all work together to make Thanksgiving dinner. This year, we went to a Thanksgiving potluck with our church group, AUC’s Christian Medical and Dental Association. I made bread rolls and pumpkin pie. I didn’t have a pie pan, so Ben put a sign next to my casserole-dish pie that said ” πr2 .” I don’t know if anyone got it, but we thought it was funny.

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Pumpkin Spice Latte Pie

 

Since there were three other people also making pumpkin pie (Thanksgiving calls for a LOT of pie, people!), I decided to make pumpkin spiced latte pie with chocolate swirls. You’re welcome, Starbucks lovers!

Check back Tuesday for the chocolate pumpkin spiced latte pie recipe on my new weekly segment, Foodie Tuesdays!

I actually got to enjoy three Thanksgiving dinners! It would have been four, but I missed the one put on my the AUC spouses organization because we rented a car that day and needed to get all our shopping done.

The first Thanksgiving dinner I had was the Saturday before Thanksgiving. My friend Stacy invited us to share in their holiday celebrations with their visiting family. She and her future mother-in-law made a delicious, home-cooked, Southern-style feast!

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Thanksgiving Lunch at AUC

 

The second Thanksgiving meal I had was at lunch on Thanksgiving Day. American University of the Caribbean doesn’t give students the day off school, but they do give a free lunch with turkey, potatoes and all the traditional fixings!

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Thanksgiving Potluck with CMDA

 

The last Thanksgiving feast we had was the potluck with CMDA. There were about 30 people there– friends, neighbors, classmates, and people we’ve never seen before. There was a row of tables filled with aromatic dishes, and more dessert than anyone could handle. Yum! CMDA president Blake carved the turkey, Ben carved the ham, we said a prayer of thanks, and then we all sat down to enjoy the meal and the beautiful ocean view from the porch.

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I was thrilled to see these little guys at the potluck.

 

When we got home later, we Skyped my parents. Even though we missed them, my sister,who was in Wyoming for the holiday, and Ben’s family who are in various parts of the world, it was good to be able to talk to family and share a part of day with them, even if we could not share a meal.

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Ben carving up the ham

 

What an amazing sunset. What a great day. We have so much to be thankful for: food, friends, family, video chat and email, the kids and coaches on the baseball team, our island paradise, school, church, and so much more… most of all, the saving grace of God. He is so good to us, and has blessed us more than we could ever imagine.

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One Hour in France

One week after the attacks on Paris, the French flags in Marigot, French St. Martin fly at half-mast. Although the crowds of tourists seem to obliviously enjoy the sun, sand, and sea, the denizens of Saint Martin–on both sides of the island– feel a change in the atmosphere.

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Fort Louis in Marigot, French St. Martin flies the French flag at half-mast

 

Although French St. Martin’s port flies only France’s flag at half-mast, the Dutch side of the island is hoisting all flags at half-mast, a gesture of support and compassion for its French counterpart. “Je Suis France,” cries a sign in Simpson Bay. It is times like these that the unity of the nationally-divided island is most evident.

The significance of the bombing hits close to home for many– for us, exactly .70 miles from home. I’m sure you can image the underlying fear that many people on our island feel. Besides sharing our land with the French, many of us, Ben and I included, have loved ones who live in Paris.

Security on the island is tightening as events continue to unfold. On Monday, the Dutch-side newspaper announced the arrival of a small group of Arab men with false Greek passports. The men were detained as suspected potential terrorists. I’m pretty sure they’re not– real terrorists would certainly have more realistic passports and would know better than to use Greece as their cover country.

Tuesday, the police created a road block and checked every single car on the route to the capitol. I’m not sure why, but it certainly slowed down traffic and I was glad to be coming back rather than heading toward Philipsburg.

The attack in Paris not only brought our attention and compassion to Parisians, it also (finally) opened many Western eyes to similar tragedies around the world: West Bank, Somalia, Israel, Egypt, Lebanon, Iraq, Chad, and Cameroon all experienced acts of terrorism in the month of November, 2015 before Paris was bombed. We did not hear about those on the news because terrorism in Africa and the Middle East no longer shocks us.

Perhaps our horror at the attack on Paris will give us renewed perspective on terrorism in any country.

Maybe it will get our attention so that we will stop re-posting and start doing something about it.

Dutch Sint Maarten is not the only place Syrian refugees showed up with false papers. I heard of incidents in both Honduras and Texas in the last 24 hours. Of all the people currently affected by terrorism, certainly Syrians are at the top of the list. It seems they have nowhere to go, so they are going wherever they can. Wouldn’t you?

Unfortunately, there’s not much I can do for the suffering of Paris except put up a French flag on my Facebook account and bear with the haters and the cries of “white supremacy.” It’s not much, but it’s a way to join with St. Maarten in supporting St. Martin and France.

Fortunately, there are tangible ways that you and I can help the people escaping violence in Syria!

I found this article from a UK-based news source that gives practical ways that “regular people” can be a part of the solution.

One of my friends offered this updated Amazon link. You can spend that unused Amazon gift card and send needed items to be distributed to refugees.

Friends, the world can be a terrible place. The acts of wickedness shock us, petrify us, make us weep. But we don’t have to live in fear, without hope. We can be the hope. We can be part of the solution. We can pray for God to bring comfort, peace, and justice. Then we can stand up and be the answers to our own prayers. We can bring light into this dark world. We can extend the hand of compassion to those who are hurting. This is what God has called us to do, and we can all do it, wherever we are.

 

 

 

A Sint Maarten’s Day Parade

Twirling skirts, bright eyes, steel drums and johnnycakes… this is Sint Maarten’s Day! Upon hearing about this holiday, my first  question was whether the day celebrated the island’s heritage or the actual feast day of Saint Martin. As it turns out, it celebrates both. According to the story of the island’s earliest known history, Christopher Columbus stumbled upon our island paradise on November, 11, 1483–Saint Martin’s Feast Day– and named the island in honor of the day. Today, Saint Martin the man is more or less ignored, and the island people celebrate their heritage and homeland.

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Ben and I had been looking forward to this day since we landed here because American University of the Caribbean gives its students Sint Maarten’s Day off classes. I was also looking forward to the day-long cultural celebration in Philipsburg, the capitol district. We took a bus in the early afternoon to join the throngs of people in the streets of the capitol. The air was absolutely electric with energy!

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I immediately felt a little out of place– virtually everyone else was rocking red, white, and blue t-shirts; most of them even had patriotic designs! I was wearing a green skirt with a pink top. Oops. We went in search of Saint Maarten t-shirts. I could see that many of the stores in the shopping district were selling such apparel, but all the stores were closed, as per the law of the land. We finally found some in Festival Village, but all they had left were XXLs. “They run small,” offered the lady at the booth apologetically. I said no thanks, but bought a Sint Maarten flag.

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Festival Village, a large, purple outdoor complex on Pond Island, was filled with shouts, laughter, bubbles, and flashing lights. The kids were having a heyday on the inflatable bouncers! Their parents enjoyed fried food and bottles of soda at gaily decorated food stands around the edge of the complex. Under a canopy, domino players determinedly focused on their annual tournament.

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The schedule said the parade would start at 3:00, so we made our way through the streets, under the bunting-covered palm trees, to where the parade would begin. We waved at a recording drone that hovered overhead and watched the crowd fill up the streets.

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The crowd thickened around us and began to build upward– people appeared in second-story windows, on balconies, and on their daddies’ shoulders. We smiled and greeted people we know as they pressed through the crowd to their favorite parade-watching spot.

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Ten minutes passed, half an hour, fifty minutes, an hour. Finally, we heard the sound of steel drums and dancing feet. True to Sint Maarten, the parade started on “island time.” Nobody seemed bothered. We crowded closer together and strained to catch a glimpse of the first dancers.

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Sint Maarten is home to people of many heritages, so cultural St. Maarten dance is diverse. My favorite were the women in hoop skirts who twirled and whirled down the street. Click on the thumbnails below to get a better look at the photos. So much color, so much movement! The women danced to the rhythm of the drumbeats that filled the streets and echoed off the buildings.

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Dancing with a hoop skirt

We loved the drums! I couldn’t help but dance a little myself. The whole crowd swayed and pulsed with the beat of the drums. The Jolly Boys, a local band, played their calypso beats as they drifted by on a float.

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What’s a parade without the smiles of children? There were dozens and dozens of kids in the parade– some dancing in patriotic tulle dresses, some dressed in historical garb holding their mothers’ hands, some waving like princesses and others peeking through windows.

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The car enthusiasts also contributed to the parade. This taxi is a little spiffier than the ones you usually see on the roads, but it still has the typical giant front-window sticker.

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This is my friend Lisa. She marched in the parade wearing cultural dress. The cultural clothing was probably the most visually interesting part of the celebration. There were clothes from every era in every style, from the drab and dirty slacks of the salt pickers to the Princess Julianna dress with a hoop skirt the size of New Jersey. I was excited to see professors from Ben’s school, American University of the Caribbean, representing the school and rocking salt picker hats!

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I was amazed at the stilt-walkers! The parade lasted about an hour and a half, and these people walked on stilts the whole time. That takes some serious skill. There were probably fifteen of these– I wonder who made the clothes for them? Equally as cool were the living statues. They looked so real! I’m not sure, but I think they were based on some of the statues on Sint Maarten’s round-a-bouts. This side of the island has more round-a-bouts than intersections, and each one has a statue with local significance.

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As the sun began to sink, the parade marched to its final destination– Festival Village. Tired dancers and sweaty but happy walkers disbanded and began to enjoy the celebrations for themselves.

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Happy Sint Maarten’s Day, everyone! What a wonderful way to celebrate our island home.

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Diwali, the Indian Festival of Lights

As the sun begins to set on a small waterfront resort, people of all ethnicities trickle into the courtyard. One by one, candles and lights begin to illuminate the surroundings. As the courtyard fills, the aromatic scent of curry begins to grace the air. It is the second night of Diwali, the Indian Festival of Lights.
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This is the West Indies, not India. Yet even here in the Western hemisphere, we are eager to celebrate the triumph of good over evil– and, of course, what promises to be the apex of human culinary achievement.

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Someone announces that the food is ready, and we all line up, plates ready. The menu consists of rice, banir (vegetarian red sauce), chicken tika masala (red sauce with meat), yogurt sauce to cool our mouths after the spice, naan (Indian flat-bread), and samosas (fried dumplings filled with potatoes and peas). We find a group to sit with and dig in. It’s as delicious as it smells!

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The group we sit with is comprised of people who were born in India or raised in Indian homes. The conversation quickly turns to Indian culture and geography as people discuss and compare their location of origin, lingual heritage, and family traditions. I take the opportunity to ask questions and learn about the diverse and colorful nation of India.

A university student explains to me the origin and traditions centered around Diwali. Diwali is a traditional Hindu festival lasting five days. On the first day of Diwali, people hope for wealth and prosperity. The second day of Diwali celebrates the triumph of light over dark, good over evil. The third day is the actual day of Diwali, the Indian new year’s eve. The fourth day, the new year, celebrates love and devotion between husbands and wives. The final day is a celebration of sisters. Siblings honor one another and exchange gifts on this day.

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The night grows blacker and sparklers are lit, illuminating the party scene. Indian pop music wraps us all in an exotic sheath of sound. Children dance and spin in the candle light. People migrate from tables to the bar and the dance floor.

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Before long, the deck is crowded with smiling and laughing dancers. The sky is black, but for us, the darkest night of the year is bright and joyous.

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Caribbean Cooking: Macaroni Pie

Meet my friend Aqiyla! Today she is going to teach us to make a yummy Caribbean dish called macaroni pie. Aqiyla hails from Canada, but her family is actually originally from the Caribbean. This is a meal that her grandparents brought from these sunny islands years ago.

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First, gather your ingredients:

-Elbow macaroni

-2 or 3 eggs

-1 1/2 cup condensed milk

-Cheese to your liking

-Oil or nonstick spray

-Salt and pepper

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Next, boil, your macaroni. You want it to be al dente at this stage, so don’t let it get soggy!

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While the macaroni is boiling, crack 2 to 3 eggs in a bowl and beat them. We used three eggs, but you may only need two. I bought the baby eggs because they are literally half the price of jumbo eggs at our neighborhood Asian market.

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When your macaroni is done boiling, drain it and mix in the egg. Make sure to stir it in quickly, so that you don’t end up with giant chunks of scrambled egg as they cook in your hot noodles!

Also, preheat your oven to 350* F or 170* C.

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After the egg, mix in your condensed milk. Make sure you have enough enough to thoroughly coat your noodles with a thin film of milk left at the bottom of the bowl. This means you’ll need to stir it in a bit at a time and fold it into your noodles somewhat slowly.

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Next, salt and pepper to taste.

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Now, your macaroni is ready to go into the baking dish! Grease your dish and pour in the macaroni.

I used a pot because I don’t own baking dish.

That’s how it goes when you sell everything and start over.

Once you pour it into the dish, sprinkle cheese generously, according to your preference. Yum.

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Put the macaroni in the oven. Let it bake for 30-45 min. When it the cheese looks dark, crispy, and bubbly, it is done!

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Serve and enjoy!

This was a win at our house. It’s simple to make and a good break from the pasta dishes I routinely make for dinner. We’ll be adding this to the recipe box for sure!

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Arab Cooking: Manakish Za’atar

If I’ve learned anything about cooking Caribbean, it’s that Caribbean food is extremely diverse. The people who make up Sint Maarten are from every corner of the world. We come from Haiti, Curacao, the United States, India, Brazil, Serbia, Tanzania, and Syria… we are from across the globe, and we are Sint Maarten.

That being said, this dish is not traditionally Caribbean. It’s Lebanese. Our friend Soubhi introduced it to us about a week ago at a potluck.  I asked him for the recipe, and here it is!

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You need:

  • Naan
  • Za’atar
    • Sumac
    • Thyme
    • Sesame seeds
    • Marjoram
    • Oregano
  • Olive Oil

First, preheat your oven to 250*F (120* C) and prepare your naan. You can buy it, or you can make it yourself.

Second, mix your spices to create za’atar. Rule of thumb is to add them in equal parts and then adjust according to taste. Adding more sumac, for example, will make the mix a bit tangier.

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Mix the spice blend with enough oil to make it spreadable.

Spread the za’atar onto the naan.

Oil a baking sheet and place naan on it. Bake in the oven for about 20 minutes.

Remove from the oven and allow to cool. Cut into fourths.

Enjoy the deliciousness!

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Dear American Tourists

Dear American Tourists, please stop being so rude.

It is no secret that American tourists do not have the best international reputation. I am an American. I live on a Dutch island in the Caribbean, where my husband goes to medical school. We were asked during orientation to be courteous and not perpetuate the poor reputation American tourists have. I do not think of myself as a rude person. I think most Americans do not. I have noticed, however, that in every country I have ever visited, “the locals are so friendly.” Maybe I have only traveled to friendly places. Maybe not. Maybe, everywhere else seems so friendly because America is generally not very friendly at all.

So what is our problem? Why don’t people like us, and what can we do to change that?

I would say that many things are cultural. People have different ideas of how to greet one another (one friend here said that he was sternly corrected for saying “hello” rather than “good morning,” which is proper here). People have different standards of eye contact. People have different rules for tipping, eating, asking for directions, etc etc.

There are some things that you can control when it comes to cultural courtesy. You can Google whether tips are expected or insulting in a certain area of the world. You can ask what a proper greeting entails. You can watch to see whether greeting strangers as you pass is considered kind or creepy.

There are also some things that you cannot control. You will not pick up on the majority of cultural nuances. You will trespass because you are used to signs designating private property. You will shake hands “wrong.” It happens. People probably won’t care too much; they will hear your accent and realize you are foreign. They will probably ignore it or laugh a little. They might become annoyed, but, hey, you’re learning.

Finally, there are things that are very rude no matter where you are. Dear American tourists, please do not do these things.

Please do not act as if you are better than other people. Your taxi driver and your waiter are not there for you to unload your grouchy jet-lagged crabfest upon. And just because people do things differently than you would does not mean it is “wrong.” It’s just, well, different.

Please do not act as though America is superior to all other nations. We Americans all love the stars and stripes, and that’s a good thing! However, people don’t want to hear a string of comparisons that belittle their own beloved nation. America is a culture where things are dichotomistic, time-oriented, and efficient. Most places aren’t like that. So don’t freak out when things are relaxed, confusing to you, or just plain irritating. If you wanted things to be American, you would have stayed in America. So enjoy the culture, embrace it while you’re there, and look for the good aspects.

Please do not be ethnocentric. No matter where you come from, it’s easy to place anyone different from yourself in the category of “Other.” You know what I mean, those Other people. The ones who look or dress or work or speak differently. I think that if we aren’t careful, we often look at people who are different from ourselves as less intelligent, less skilled, less important. You see a woman in a third-world county who is illiterate and does not work outside the home, and has never touched a computer. You may have more education and technical skills, but can you keep eight kids clothed, fed, and healthy in a two-room mudbrick home with no electricity, no water, and no stove? Can you sort rice so that not one tiny stone ends up in the pot? Can you carry 50 pounds of stuff on your head with no hands? Do you speak three languages? Can you keep a garden that supplies most if not all vegetable needs for your family, plus provides a little income? That, my friends, takes some serious skill. Some things are easy to miss. Learn to appreciate them. And just simply LEARN! Don’t go somewhere expecting to be a guru of all knowledge. (Shout out to short-term missions trip people here.) If you want to teach, you must first be a student. You will get more respect if you are willing to ask to be taught. Plus, it’s fun. It’s an icebreaker. It brings much laughter.

Please do not devalue other nations’ autonomy. I cringed when I heard an American tourist say, “The Bahamas should just be another state. It’s basically just part of the U.S. anyway.” How uninformed. Please, Mr. Florida Guy. You visit Touristville where half the people are white and everyone speaks English, and suddenly you think you know everything about the nation! My advice is, forget the tourist traps and take a local taxi or bus to the places that the locals hang out. Then you can get a feel for how people live. Learn about their government and read about the very intelligent people who run the state. There’s so much more to a place than just its American-catering tourist industry.

Please do not offend the locals by the way you dress. There are places where a bikini is pretty standard. There are places where you really ought to cover up, even arms and legs. Know the difference. There is no reason to exercise your liberty to dress revealingly if it gives you, your organization, and your country a bad name.

Please be mindful when you take photos. In some places, you can get your camera confiscated if you take a photo of the wrong thing (military or police in some countries). In others, people simply don’t want to be in your scrapbook. In general, don’t objectify locals as if they were some interesting foreign specimen.

Please do not be pushy. Yes, you come from a place where you can get pretty much whatever you want almost as fast as you want it. When traveling abroad, be mindful that this is rarely the case. Do not intimidate, complain, or demand. Rather, be smart and be respectful.

Please just be kind and courteous. In the end, people know you’re a visitor. They expect you to be, well, a weirdo. However, it is possible to be a courteous weirdo. Say please and thank you, smile, treat people the way you would like to be treated. Kindness counts, and it can go a long way in improving our international reputation.

What Makes Me a Third-Culture Wife

I am a third-culture wife. I’m not a third-culture kid. I’ve never lived overseas, never been immersed into a new, semi-permanent cultural setting, never learned a second language out of necessity. I can’t tell you what it means to say good-bye to home and friends for the twelfth time. The longest I’ve spent overseas is seven weeks in East Africa—long enough to get a taste of the world, but not long enough to get homesick. I have never experienced these things, but I know their effects onone’s heart and soul. I know the heart-wrenching farewell to a loved one. I know the delight of finding that rare person who has visited your hometown or who can speak your second (or third) language. I know the silent shudder triggered by fireworks, reminders of the sound of bombs and gunshots. I know these things not because I am a third-culture kid, but because I am a third-culture wife. This is my story, and the story of my adventures at home and abroad.image

Those of you who are TCKs or are close to one know that there is so much more to a TCK than is initially obvious to the rest of us. Some of you may be wondering, what is a TCK? A Third-Culture Kid is anyone who has spent at least two years (roughly) before the age of 18 in a country other than the parents’ home country. This excludes immigrants who stay in the host country/ receive citizenship in the new country, although these individuals can certainly relate to much of what a TCK experiences. A TCK is generally expected to return to his or her parents’ home country. Third-Culture Kids include missionary kids, NGO kids, military kids, and any other expat kid. The Third Culture is the culture that all these people share. It is a unique culture. While most cultures include people of similar background, ethnic background, history, and language, the Third-Culture includes people from a variety of backgrounds: a Korean missionary kid in Kenya, and American military kid in Japan, a British NGO kid in Ecuador. In fact, this diversity is what defines the Third Culture. The Third Culture is characterized by mobility, adaptively, and change. The TCK shapes the third-culture individuals and deeply influences the way that they see themselves, others, and the world. Third-Culture Kids are, in my experience, some of the most compassionate, fascinating, and complex people in the world. I am glad to have several as friends and I blessed beyond measure to be married to one.