What Lies Beneath: Making the Case For Cultural Understanding

I pull from a box, loose magazine pages peppered with photos of my kids and a byline with which, post divorce, I no longer identify. The words though are familiar, and eerily consistent to how I feel some ten years later. I used to write for a parenting magazine and was allowed free run with a regular column in which I sorted through my experiences as a new mom living as an expat in Switzerland. I’d made small volumes of these columns for my daughters before we left hoping one day they’d be able to look back to recognize a consistent effort to discover the honesty and sometimes humour of situations as I navigated my way through a foreign culture. With these columns splayed out on my desk today, I realize I’ve forgotten much of what I wrote but as I read through them, the thread running through my life, from South Africa to the creation of Culture Dock pulls surprisingly taught and vibrates with what I hope was always an understanding tone.

One column snags my attention. In it, I had written about visiting an online chat forum for expat moms in Switzerland where more than a few members weren’t exactly seeing the best of their adoptive country. The group moderator felt the need to step in, remind everyone to think twice before hitting the ‘send’ button as tempers flared. I chirped in with a little input, something to the effect that if expats can’t work at understanding what’s beneath the surface in a country like Switzerland, what hope do other places have that have genuine racial problems. They were obviously just overwhelmed Mamas, probably missing home like crazy but there was a reason I felt my opinion here, mattered. It was because of my columns in the parenting magazine that I was recommended to author a book about Swiss culture for a global guidebook series, and I’d just put the final draft to bed when I took it upon myself to ‘educate’ the poor expat moms.

I remember when the email came in from the publishers of Culture Smart and how scattered I felt as I was pulled in too many directions; unconvinced I could research anything outside of my own experience. I recognized the opportunity for what it was and knew I was in no position to turn it down but I had no idea how I was going to pull it off. I had written a book a few years prior and understood the commitment it takes of both time and focus. The project was daunting – not just for these reasons but because I was to be a resource of information for an entire culture of a country that despite its small size, wasn’t culturally homogenous. I lived in the ‘German part’. There was also the French, Italian, and Romansh areas and the urban/rural factor to consider. I feared perpetuating damaging stereotypes and imagined responses from Swiss friends who may take offence or point out exceptions to the rule as I attempted to navigate the customs, etiquette and history of their home and of a land and people I had grown to love. In my columns, I’d been cracking jokes about the phonetics of a gas station attendants wishing me a ‘gute fahrt’ and spewing concerns about my daughters’ mastery of their first language of English, as they played in Swiss German and did homework in High German. I wasn’t sure if I was ready to depart from my personal voice and speak authoritatively for a collective of ‘outsiders’.

Of course, I accepted the gig with Culture Smart. Drawing from my own experience while also utilizing the help of Swiss friends, books and articles, I addressed such things as making friends and doing business in Switzerland; I discussed values and attitudes, holidays, languages and in less than 15 pages I summed up no less than two thousand years of the country’s history. These are concise volumes that deliver the essence of countries and their populations in handbooks fit for travel. Because I wrote Culture Smart: Switzerland, my experiences in the country became richer and my perspective more tolerant. As a visitor to a foreign country, the moment one decides to not be offended or assume there’s only one way of doing things; to be curious about traditions and behaviours, everything changes – doors open. Not only do we learn something but we’re changed forever, and for the better, in the process. We never look at our own lives again the same way and cease to hold ourselves to be so precious.

A headline from Britain’s Independent newspaper after the Manchester bombing said, There’s only one way Britain should respond to attacks such as Manchester. That is by carrying on exactly as before. I’m dismayed by those taking this as an opportunity to criticize such a tact; attempting to make the courageous embarrassed for being too politically correct or too passive. It’s time again, for me to chirp in. This is just another example of social media being used to polarize people into disparate views. Beyond the headline, the article in The Independent goes on to say, That is not to say police should not track down who was responsible for such vile murder. That is not to say the security services should not step up their efforts and do all they can to stop a repeat of such slaughter. What the article implies, is that we average human beings do not have to let terror attacks spread terror or let cowards and control freaks turn us into something we’re not. Most importantly, we don’t have to lose our sense of tolerance for one another.

It reminds me of something a councillor once said to me when I was going through my divorce.  When someone acts so disturbingly don’t let them move the goal posts, don’t let them change the rules of the game to suit just them. Pressing on is not putting our heads in the sand, it’s courageously standing by principles despite people who are insisting you should be afraid. It appears more and more obvious to me that apart from those who wreak havoc in the world, the rest of us fall into two camps — there are those who understand bullies and those who fear them; I figure it’s the former that’s going to move the world forward.

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Reason 1 1/2

Yeah, kinda like the platform in Harry Potter that will take you to distant, unexpected places. As much as I’ve become a tech entrepreneur, pitching an app that facilitates cross-cultural understanding, I am, at my core, a writer. Reason # 1 for starting Culture Dock got personal. Where it left off, is also where I began writing my next book, over eight years ago when my husband left me.

It took me awhile to steady myself to write, but I did. I had been a hausfrau, writing when I could. I wrote a regular column for a Swiss parenting magazine called The New Stork Times (yeah, you read that correctly). I authored a book about Swiss culture. I penned a feature for The World & I about Bosnian refugees in Switzerland and a couple of freelance pieces for The Globe and Mail, one about the return of the Cabaret Voltaire in Zürich’s old town — the birthplace of Dadaism, the other about an Igloo hotel in Zermatt. I told myself this work wasn’t much because I, deep down, hoped to be a prolific writer while raising small children in a foreign country with a husband who worked pretty much all the time. I poured my heart into everything I wrote. It all mattered to me. Even when I couldn’t sit down to a computer to write, when I had no idea who I was writing for, the words were always there backing up inside of me. I’d have scraps of paper and grocery receipts with notes scribbled on them of things I wanted to write about scattered in my car and around the house. Sometimes St. Bernard Switzerlandthey came together, sometimes they didn’t but right now, after all these years, I’m stringing them together in a story that even I find hard to believe.

I’ve been through a series of small explosions that are not strong enough to kill me but powerful enough to take me down, for a beat. Below, you’ll find the beginning of my book. I’ll keep posting, hoping you’ll share if you want to read more. It’s the preface to a story that led me to meet some of the world’s top female photojournalists in destinations around the world, to travel with my daughters so they could understand the world beyond their own pristine doorstep, to conceptualize an app that helps people around the world better understand one another. Throw in there a battle with breast cancer (that could be a book itself) that ends up being the impetus for rediscovering my own core strength.

If you are more into entrepreneurship than a woman’s journey to reclaim what matters in life and want to help get a cool product out into the world here’s our crowdfunding site. It explains, in detail, the app and our intentions for its growth.

Today, when we can put ourselves out there so easily; say what we’re about and what we care about I thank you for taking notice of the ‘blue bits’ that have held me together and have kept me moving forward — perhaps they’ll do the same for you.

 

(Preface) 

THE BOX 

You may not realize it, but every time you bring your camera up to your eye you’re making decisions about composition. Simply put, composition is how you choose to frame the picture you’re about to make. 

Dragging the heavy cardboard box outside into the sunshine, I struggle to remember what’s inside. This was the box left behind, stored away in a friend’s basement after packing our belongings and sending them off to Canada. Kathrin gently reminded me of its presence when I arrived. ‘Perhaps while you’re here, pick a sunny day, take that last box outside and go through it to see what you need’. I’m staying at her home near Zurich while my two daughters visit their father who still lives here in his native Switzerland. The box had been taking up space in their basement for a year and a half now. She was right, it was time for me to deal with it.

With a knife, I slice open the packing tape and tentatively peel back the flaps. On top is a decorative hat made by one of my daughters in art class. This must be the box of things too fragile to ship, I’m thinking as I gently remove the hat, wondering what lies beneath. Peering in, I find, layer upon layer, the many paintings and drawings made from kindergarten through grade school. The ones I could never throw away.

Beneath the art, at the box’s core is something solid, heavy. It’s a black case that I immediately recognize, I remember. The strength mustered to drag the box into the fresh spring air dissolves as I anticipate the case’s contents. Sitting down on a cement wall, perching its bulk on my lap, I gently unzip its sides, causing photographs to fall to the pavement at my feet. Precious images of little girls in princess costumes, riding bicycles and holding pet rabbits; those of daddy and his daughters with the majestic, powerful Alps as backdrop splay around me. Mixed in are other images. One of my ex-husband in the mountains of Lesotho in Southern Africa from the time we’d met when I worked as a photojournalist in South Africa. Others, a right-wing Afrikaaner with arms in the air, moments before his execution, and one of me, in a flak jacket, flanked by South African soldiers, confront me.

Finally, scattered on the box’s floor are heaps of photos and negatives, all taken at any given time over the last eighteen years. After I remove each one individually, I sit motionless, staring at the chaotic stack in front of me — an abandoned game of cards after all hands have folded. If only it had been a game. This was the box of things too difficult to bring forward; it was all that was just too much. Moving ahead without them for a time created a buffer, one that allows me now, one image at a time, to endure. In a long game of Solitaire, I hold each photo for a time, allowing memories to wash through me. By recognizing pairs and sequences that no one else could have possibly seen, I am, bit by bit, being pieced back together. Not until I’m finished do I begin to understand, it was I who held the camera. There was someone who existed outside the frame of these photographs, who was strong enough to stand in the world bearing witness to all she loved and all she feared.

Putting most of the photos neatly back into the box ready to be shipped, I choose several of my kids with their father, some of the children alone, and a handful of my ex father-in-law who recently passed away.  I put them in a large envelope. Tomorrow, I’ll give them to my daughters, to give to their father. I don’t know why. It’s the only hand I feel I have left to play.

Please like, share and hashtag #bluebits. Thank-you.

 

Keepin’ It Curious


An email I received a few weeks ago was asking me to provide my most memorable travel experience. It was from the publishers of one of my books, Culture Smart: Switzerland. About to launch a new website for their global guidebooks, they were asking all their authors to summon up a favourite travel memory and say it in no more than a hundred words. The challenge for me was not writing a single memory in so few words but choosing only one memory. So, I didn’t. Instead I submitted a paragraph that described more than one trip and spanned a couple of decades. As you can probably imagine, doing that in 100 words was next to impossible but it has prompted me to flesh it out because somewhere in those scarce words, that implied so much, lay the thread that led me to the creation of a video and photo-sharing app that facilitates cross-cultural understanding for travellers and the culturally curious. Since Culture Dock is soon to be released, I figure it’s a good time to fill people in on its beginnings.

As a young woman in my early twenties, I sat on a university campus in Durban South Africa listening to an Afrikaaner band called the Kalahari Surfers sing songs of protest and saw South Africans line up under a marquis announcing a first showing of ‘Cry Freedom’ some five years after the rest of the world watched this film about their own country’s struggle. It was 1991, Nelson Mandela had recently been released from prison and I was experiencing a country awakening as music and art (and political parties) were being unbanned. I was hooked, enough to return within two years to work as a news photographer as South Africa lurched toward democracy. I spent a year holding my camera to marches and rallies and even an execution. I photographed Nelson Mandela the day it was announced he co-won the Nobel Peace prize with F.W. DeKlerk. I took pictures of a ninety year-old woman with crutches, heading to the polling station to vote for the first time in her life. There is no one memorable moment. They stack up, one on top of the other, each one breathing life into the next whispering ‘don’t ever forget this’; urging me to not ever stop learning more about the world around me.

But there is one trip that brought me to tears, not because of the beauty (or the horror) that I saw through my camera’s lens but because I’m now a mother and looking out at the world is never with a single gaze; it’s done with the knowledge our children too are taking this all in, learning from where we’ve been, what we’ve done and will be the ones that will eventually move this world forward.

In 2013, I returned to Johannesburg with my daughters, then age thirteen and fifteen. I introduced them to the family that welcomed me with open arms, into their home in Soweto; to Tsholofelo who was around the same age as my daughters when I first met her and her mother and grandmother. We spent a day with my old friend, the photojournalist Victor Matom, who teaches youth photography in Soweto. With him, we wandered dusty roads taking photos, engaged with people as Victor reached out his hand and gargantuan heart to passersby who all seemed to know him. All of this, and the smell of coal burning stoves, the vibrant clothing worn by women, the explosion of colour as the sun plied its way through a hazy sky toward the horizon stirred memories that banged up against the moment I was sharing with my daughters. We visited the Apartheid Museum where they saw the country’s dark history on display and events I’d attended before they were born.

To be there with my daughters could have felt surreal but instead it became one of the few times in my life when everything made sense. There were reasons I traveled, reasons this country seeped into my heart. I was showing my daughters a place that literally changed my life and the message to never forget this, to never stop learning about the world around us, was being amplified. Somewhere in all of that, the seeds of Culture Dock were born. At the time, I didn’t know if it was going to be a series of books, or a website, or the app it’s ultimately turned out to be. What I envisioned was a space that encouraged curiosity about the world that would be relevant to today’s traveler. Through much trial and tribulation an app called Culture Dock has been born. Its roots go back twenty-five years but took force in earnest three years ago when the idea of an app to facilitate cultural awareness first came into my mind. Through wrong turns, delays, technical glitches and a few other unexpected obstacles, the app will soon be rolled out onto what feels like a precarious world stage.

My intention is to begin a ‘global love affair’. As Canada takes the lead by sharing our rich cultural diversity for our 150th anniversary of Confederation, the rest of the world will be asked to join in. People as well as those in the tourism and culture sectors will be invited to upload photos and videos of local culture onto the app’s channels, sharing such things as local customs and traditions; geography and landmarks; nature and wildlife, you get the gist.

Despite all the crazy delays with the app, it’s helping me to now feel like I’m doing something productive, beyond liking a few posts I agree with on Facebook or feeling my temper rise with arguments that lack reason or empathy. You may be asking yourself who is this woman who thinks she knows what the world needs. I’m not assuming I do. I’m just someone who’s pulled the thread in my life and come up with a platform where I hope people will say ‘hey look what we like to do in our corner of the globe!’ Or, ask a question of someone who does something they may not understand. What I can say for sure is that I know my life has been enriched by people I’ve met who have grown up in parts of the world that are different than what I’m used to. I can tell you how my life expands when I’m curious about different traditions, customs and values.

One more thing, before I exit this expanded travel memory, it’s almost an aside but it happens to fit in perfectly with the points I’m making here. A few weeks into development of the app, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I’m healthy now but I’m not going to let a bitch like cancer knock me to the ground without saying I learned a thing or two. In this life, we need to focus on the healthy parts. Cancer may run through us, through society; we may allow toxic substances into the system to try to kill it but it’s at the expense of our own life force. By focusing on the healthy parts, the ones that by far outnumber the unhealthy parts, it’s the only way we can feel empowered when life gets crazy. This is how we keep the energy flowing, keep wanting to live for a better day and in the process, we learn just how strong and empathetic we humans can be.

So, who’s up for a global love affair?

Visit Culture Dock and subscribe to our mailing list or follow us on Facebook to keep up with our news because it’s almost time to start filling the app with everything unique to your neck of the woods!

Closer to Om: Raw Bircher Muesli

So I started out a little “flat footed”. If you read my last post I explained an intention to tackle the recipes of my wildly creative and health conscious sister. (Mystee @OmCooking)

The first recipe of choice was her, raw bircher muesli. Truth be told, I was bamboozled by her comment: “This raw breakfast cereal goes together in minutes before bed and is ready to eat when you rise in the morning!” Bingo! I was familiar with this traditional Swiss breakfast and I could get it over with in “minutes!”

But, there was a hitch. One, that as I headed off to the local organic market, I hadn’t yet decided how to address. Was I going to go the regular Kendall in the kitchen, “speed and convenience is of the essence”, route, or “Mystee mode”? My first stop at the Big Carrot, here in Toronto, was at the bulk bins for oats and pumpkin seeds. It was when I turned the corner; heading straight for the cartons of Almond Breeze, when a truly organic wave of guilt rushed over me.

In Mystee’s recipe, in parenthesis next to 1 ½ cups of Almond milk it read: “(from previous recipe)”. I had my reasons for this challenge, to up my culinary game; to face the lingo of milk bags and soy lecithin granules and push ahead. That “previous recipe” was telling me the almonds I needed to buy, should I decide to actually press my own almond milk, had to soak for 12 hours. This meant I’d be throwing this “quick and easy” recipe together in the wee hours of the morning if we were going to have it for Sunday brunch.

Fresh almond milk

My fresh almond milk!

Text to Mystee: “ Do almonds really have to soak so long for the milk?”

Mystee:  “at least 8 hours”.

I’d be home with my groceries by four. Mixing muesli at midnight was something I could manage, even if it did sound like a really bad Swiss folk song.

The nut soak was only one of my challenges. My daughter’s drool over the mere thought
of bircher muesli from Confiserie Sprüngli in Zurich. Sliding this under their noses for a Sunday brunch wasn’t going to be an easy feat. There was also the realization at 11pm (well after supermarket closing hours) that I had not one banana left in the house. Thanks to the ubiquitous Starbucks and their banana basket at the till, I was (queue alphorn) blenders a blazing by 11:30. (what’s a half hour anyway?)

Bircher muesli classique at Confiserie Sprüngli, Zurich.

Bircher muesli classique at Confiserie Sprüngli, Zurich.

Aware of my nighttime shenanigans, my daughters awoke this morning eager to taste.

“It’s so good! A lot like Sprungli” says my youngest, Jemima. (keep in mind they haven’t been back to Switzerland in a year and a half) “…but the fresh berries make it different.”

Just as I’m thinking I’ll stir in slivered almonds next time (if there is a next time) instead of pumpkin seeds, my eldest, Sadie, calls up to me as I tap away at my computer:

“Mom, can I have this for breakfast tomorrow before school?”

Now that’s what I’m talking about…

Thanks big sis!

Bircher Muesli a la Om Cooking.

Bircher Muesli a la Om Cooking but made by me!

Recipe for Raw Bircher Muesli

This raw breakfast cereal goes together in minutes before bed and is ready to eat when you rise in the morning! The combinations of fruit and nuts are limitless.

1 cup gluten free rolled oats ( oats only contain gluten because they are tossed in flour to prevent them from sticking. Gluten free oats are readily available at most natural food stores)

11/2 cups almond milk (from previous recipe)

1/4 cup chia seeds

1 large ripe banana mashed

1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon

1/3 cup raw sunflower, pumpkin seeds, or almonds

fresh berries if in season or grated organic apple or chopped organic pear

a splash of maple syrup if you like it a little sweeter

Before bed combine oats, almond milk, chia seeds, mashed banana, and raw seeds or nuts in a tupperware container. Stir to combine and then place in the fridge.

Upon rising, stir in desired berries or fruit and sweeten if desired!

Enjoy!

Recipe fresh squeezed nut milk

My (read Mystee’s) favourite nuts for making nut milk are raw almonds and hazelnuts. You will need a good blender and a nut milk bag which you can purchase for around $5 at your natural foods store.

Soy lecithin comes in granules and a liquid form. The granules are much easier to work with and more cost effective!

This basic recipe can be enjoyed by the glass, in a smoothie recipe that follows, or in the muesli recipe that comes a little later!

1 cup raw almonds or hazelnuts

4 cups water

1 pitted soft date

1 tsp. pure vanilla extract

1 tsp. soy lecithin ( to emulsify)

Soak the nuts in 2 cups of water for 12 hours. Drain and rinse well with fresh water.

In a blender combine the soaked nuts with 2 of the 4 cups of water to start and the rest of the ingredients. Blend on high for up to 2 minutes until the mixture is homogenous. Add the remaining 2 cups of water and blend again for 30 seconds.

Place your nut milk bag over a large bowl. Pour the nut milk mixture into the bag. Gather the bag around the opening with your hands and squeeze gently until all of the liquid has been extracted into the bowl beneath. There is very little nutrition left in the pulp but you can save it to mix into oatmeal or even to feed to the dogs! If you have a dehydrator there are lots of options once the pulp is dehydrated and ground into flour.

Pour the milk into a pitcher and store in the fridge for about 4 days.

Closer to Om

A recent post by my sister on her “Om Cooking” FB page, sums it up:

“My mom makes the best cheesecake, the baked kind that fills a gigantic spring form pan, the kind that you keep slivering away at until you have eaten the whole thing! This is my raw variation. Cashews and macadamia nuts kissed with lemon and vanilla, cultured with acidophilus on an almond crust with fresh organic strawberry balsamic coulis and fresh berries!”

mystee cc

Mystee’s not so cheesy cheesecake

She’s posted a photo of the cake, so perfect in its presentation it could sit in the window of a Patisserie on Rue de Seine in Paris.

Mystee is the daughter who inherited the cooking gene… and then some. She has taken a course at The Natural Gourmet Institute in NYC and studied with Matthew Kenney at his raw cooking school in Santa Monica. She’s taken numerous workshops (that sound, to me, to be straight from the pages of Harry Potter) on elixir craft and fermentation and spent over 25 years healthily honing meals for her own family while gaining a loyal following in the Rocky Mountain community of Banff —the epicentre of all things healthy and wholesome.

Mention “raw” to me and I’m more likely to be thinking about a file on my camera than something I’m about to ingest. Of course, as the mother of two, (who lived as a hausfrau in Switzerland for ten years where kids still leave school for a hot lunch every day) I do, of course, cook but it would be fair to say that it’s not the kitchen that inspires my creativity and I can be rather impatient when it comes to following a recipe. My ideal dinner leans more toward a bubbling pot of Gruyere cheese with a dry Chenin blanc and perhaps a closing grappa to settle the tummy. If this all comes with a table of good friends and family, even better. I’m not prepared to totally give this up, but I admit, I need to up my nutritional game.

raw pizzas

Raw Greek Pizza from Om Cooking.

In six months I turn 50. There’s been talk, (that hasn’t entirely omitted the idea of climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro), about what to do for this monumental birthday. But on the phone recently with Mystee, the truth comes out.

“I just want to be on solid ground for my 50th birthday. To reach professional goals that will help to secure the future, for the girls and me, but I also want to make some changes that will keep me feeling half my age, for the next fifty years”.

Our father recently turned 89 and has the vigour of someone in his thirties. He’s frequently spotted, by bemused locals, gliding on his rollerblades or rising a couple of hundred metres in elevation over Banff Town, on his mountain bike, to take in the view. Yes, we’ve been graced with good genes and I figure if I’m going to be living in this body for another half century, I had better be looking after it.

So, instead of bracing myself for my sister’s next culinary Facebook post, I’ve decided to gather my strength and face it head on. Shortly after our conversation, I send her an email:

“Here’s the deal Myst. I want to be inspired to make meals that are healthy, for myself and for the girls. If you could send me some recipes, meals, snacks and drinks, I’m going to make one each week and write about it — even if the result isn’t pretty. Kind of an “If I can do this, anyone can, Julie and Julia, scenario.

So, this is what I’m going to do. I’m going to stare down the unrefined, the whole and the raw and turn them into something my teenage daughters will eat. Stay tuned and wish me luck but feel free to mock and/or encourage me as you see fit. I can’t do this on my own!

 

Fondue. So easy, so simple. so good....

Fondue. So easy, so simple. so good….

 

 

 

 

 

Funny Underpants: Confessions Of Some Unruly Undies

It’s not easy to say this — I’ve got to come clean,

‘bout the problems I’ve caused, in the places I’ve been.

 

To be Poppy’s underpants has been my fate.

I could ruin her life if it’s not yet too late.

 

You can’t really blame me for not liking the dark;

making her throw off her tights right there in the park.

 

My underpants are funny!

 

Poppy’d scream from above

and she’d reach down and give me quite a rude shove.

 

What happened to summer? I’d solemnly reminisce.

The fresh air and sunshine, that’s what I miss!

 

What’s with all the tights that pinch and squeeze;

just let me out, I don’t care if you freeze!

 

So I made life miserable for that little kid;

I know that I shouldn’t but that’s what I did.

 

Sit still!

 

Her mom would constantly yell.

I just knew in Poppy’s eyes, tears were starting to well.

 

My underpants are funny!

 

Poppy’d repeat;

as I kept slipping then gripping, letting her take the heat.

 

Poor Poppy, she said I was driving her crazy,

I overheard her cry to her best friend Daisy.

 

Is it me? Is it my bum?

I must figure this out cause Im feeling quite dumb.

 

I squirm and fiddle – I tug at my middle.

They never feel better, not even a little!

 

The day soon arrived when things came to a head.

It was a battle of wills like no other — it’s said.

 

Little Poppy, more than anything, loves to ski;

but under those layers, I don’t wish to be.

 

Just off the lift at the top of the run,

was where I decided I’d have a little fun.

 

I started with the left cheek and then with the right.

Yup, I was up for a grand old fight.

 

Oh no, not here! Poppy shouted, aghast.

 

She’d have to think of something

and think of it fast.

 

Her mother, she knew, would tolerate no more.

Funny underpants for her had become a real bore.

 

If Poppy let out the tiniest whine,

Victory I knew would solely be mine.

 

Then I heard something strange; it was in Poppy’s voice.

What lay ahead of her clearly wasn’t a choice.

 

My underpants are funny!

 

But she took off like a dart.

To look at her mom’s face, she hadn’t the heart.

 

She wriggled and jiggled and flew down the slope.

If she was going to make it down, she could only hope.

 

Finally, my goal I believed was in reach.

These snow pants would be off and we’d move to a beach.

 

I clutched and pinched as she maneuvered each bump.

Little Poppy skied wildly, even taking a jump.

 

Her parents stood, almost afraid to look.

Then finally, in wonder:

 

Wow! Our little girl COOKS!

 

At the bottom Poppy stopped, her face full of snow.

Unbeknownst to her, she’d skied like a pro.

 

From the chalet, applause suddenly rose from a crowd.

Poppy ignored me completely as she rose and she bowed.

 

She’s ungrateful to me for all that she’s learned.

My part goes unnoticed; I’m feeling quite burned.

 

My season will come and I’ll soon be free.

Till then, Poppy must learn…

                   

                      I’ve just gotta be me.

 

What’s Happened To Me?

For those of you who’ve been orbiting this adventure and catching a few FB posts, it may not yet be clear what exactly it is, that I’ve been up to. The same, in a sense, goes for me. 😉 The path hasn’t always been clear but I’ve been following one, nonetheless, that takes me back to a time in my life when I worked as a photojournalist. It’s essentially to regain a sense of being in the world that I, for some reason or another, let slip away. This is why you’ve seen FB posts of photojournalists, whom I’ve met over the last couple of years, doing amazing and incredible work all around the world.

Anyway, this week, I happened across a few articles that I wrote some eleven years ago while living in Switzerland that, quite astonishingly, remind me of just how long I’ve been searching to “regain the spirit.” I kind of throw myself under the bus with this piece entitled, “What’s happened to me?” but here goes.  At the time of writing, I was regularly contributing to a parenting magazine called “The New Stork Times” (yes, you read that correctly). It’s not going to make it into the pages of f/16 but it’s entirely relevant and I feel compelled to post it. 

Here’s a quote for ya, “Somewhere, at some time, there has to be an integration of who we once were and the life we are now leading”.  I said that, not yesterday but over a decade ago and in the context of this journey, that has become f/16, it gives me goosebumps (and a bit of a kick in the pants). If you enjoy it, I may dig up a few more…..

Grand San Bernardino weeks before leaving Switzerland

Grand San Bernardino weeks before leaving Switzerland

From the September 2003 issue of The New Stork Times:

Where am I? I’m not talking about the physical surroundings, I’m talking about me, the person inside a body that is simultaneously taking on house, kids, kindergarten, playgroup, extracurricular activities, marriage etc. Remember those days when you were convinced that all the experience you were gaining pre-marriage, pre-kids, was going to get you through the tough stuff later on? That the life-enriching smorgasbord of a world that you were feasting upon was going to make you one heck of an interesting person and a kick-ass Mom? Then the family whirlpool begins: you’re adhering to feeding times, nap times, completely preoccupied by the hours of sleep they’re getting and the one’s you’re not. Life is eddying about you while you lay sprawled over the plug hold clinging to a personality that’s being sucked down the drain.

“So what do you guys do — I mean in your spare time?”

My husband and I were on our first weekend away without our kids. I hadn’t been away since I was nine months pregnant with three year old Jemima. An American dinner guest at the wedding we were attending in Lugano, was curious about our life in Switzerland.

“Like, what are your hobbies?”

My mind went blank. Surely, I thought I could think of something to say. I heard myself mutter. “We have kids. Umm, two. They’re young…five and two.”

He nodded understandingly but my answer registered on his face as being quite insufficient.

Surprisingly, to me, my reply was enlightening as I struggled to think of something I, myself, enjoyed. I started to feel like a high school graduate applying for my first ‘real job’ with an embellished Curriculum Vitae. Hobbies, hmmm, well, I like to read (not a lie, I’ve gone through seven different books just this week, who has to mention the author’s were Dr. Seuss, A.A. Milne and Lewis Caroll. I love travel (I live in a foreign country doesn’t that speak for itself?) Skiing. (Haven’t skied upright without a kid between my legs for five years but have mastered this backbreaking technique). Photography (drawers full of snaps of my kids that will some day be put in an album). Oh yeah, and let’s not forget —learning about other cultures — even if it is an every day survival tactic living here in Switzerland.

The guest went on to talk about his horseback riding experiences and I went into hyper self-analysis.

What’s happened to me? My kids are at an age when it’s getting easier to do things. The routine is changing. They’re capable of so much  more and I, as a Mom have to pick up the ball and move into new territory, so to speak.

I used to dread even the thought of a holiday. Honestly, with all the challenges of adapting to a new country with small children in tow, why would I want to take this show on the road and go to yet another new place? I’d much rather stick to my house and work at the somewhat fragile roots I’ve planted. I wasn’t proud of this attitude but quite frankly, it’s where I was at.

But, now I realize things have got to change. This is when it should all kick in — where we draw upon life as it was rather than gripe over how much life has changed since having kids. Somewhere, at sometime, there has to be an integration of who we once were and the life we are now leading.

Am I getting too philosophical? I’m up late. It’s when I think best. It’s when I think! I’ve taken to enjoying this time after all have gone to sleep and the house is quiet. I absolutely, with all my heart appreciate a silent house. Original thoughts fight for their rights inside my head. As I gradually concede the worries of the day, flow away. I’m tempted to veg, to turn on the TV and not think too seriously. Contemplating my options. BBC, CNN..a German flick to see what little bit of the language I can now actually pick up, I eventually put down the remote.

I think about what I remember of family life as a kid. Mostly, I remember the holidays. The day to day stuff is mostly a blur but the family activity is the manna that enlivens my memory. Living in a new country is, in a sense (to steal a phrase), like being a perpetual tourist*. If only we could adopt that curious, fresh perspective and apply it to every day; convey that sense of trying something new to our kids without focusing only on our limitations. Somewhere within all of that emerges someone I’m familiar with; someone who isn’t doing all the things she once did but who has regained the spirit that made her want to do them in the first place.

*”Perpetual tourist” is term used by Paul Bilton in his book of the same name, ‘The Perpetual Tourist‘ — published by Bergli Books

 My book on Swiss Culture: Culture Smart: Switzerland

Pulling the Thread

“One day it will be Christmas! Not some day… one day.”

The photojournalist Victor Matom’s booming voice resonates across the New Nation news room. The year is 1993 and his country, South Africa, is lurching toward democracy; anticipating the first all-race elections only months away.

Victor worked freelance for the paper I was volunteering for. He took the time to show me the kids he was teaching photography to in the townships and introduced me to a woman named Ethel Mabala who was caring for over 100 children in a her small home in Soweto. We happened to be among the first on scene when right-wingers were gunned down in the homeland of Bophuthatswana, weeks before free and fair elections were declared. Continue reading

Monsoons of Change. Guest Post for Laura Zera.

Hey everyone. I’m trying something new today and have picked up a guest-blogging gig with an old pal. I know Laura from the days when we danced to the African Jazz Pioneers at a Shebeen in the suburbs of Johannesburg while South Africa moved toward its first democratic elections. Who knew eighteen years later we’d be blogging authors still intrigued with the whole idea of connecting cultures. Kinda fun. Laura’s the author of a really cool book called Tro-Tros and Potholes that chronicles her solo adventures through West Africa. She’s now working on a second book, a very touching memoir about being raised by a schizophrenic mother.

It’s a pleasure to invite you to read my post about travels to Myanmar http://laurazera.com/?p=928

Program Mode — Not an Option

I’ve been bobbing to the surface as waves of jet-lag wash over me. From a muggy S.E. Asian climate I’ve flown to crisp and chilly mornings in Banff; a good sleep finally affords me an extended breath of fresh mountain air and I’m feeling good. Good enough to sit down and make sense of the last five weeks.

Five photojournalists whom I’ve been trying to peg down for the book were to be in one place, Chiang Mai Thailand for the Foundry Photojournalism Workshop. Once I found out, I had to go. FPW takes place in a different locale every year; previously taking place in Mexico, India, Turkey and Argentina. Next year will take them to Sarajevo. I booked our flights only three weeks before take-off, somewhat apprehensive about the idea of flying across the globe merely to sit down for a conversation with five women. Skype may have sufficed, but in my heart I knew it wouldn’t be the same. Continue reading