Wednesday, April 18, 2012

on what aid work is (or might be) doing to my kids' identity

photo of NY subway taken by the Princess

“momma, can we stay here for ever?”

This is what my 5 year old asked three months after our arrival to NY, a move  I resisted because I thought  my kids would be better off based in a small town in the north of Europe with swans, deer, and cycling paths amongst the trees. Turns out my monkeys prefer the concrete jungle. Trouble remained silent,  too in awe of the tractor digging in front of us to comment. Coming across a dead rat was another  highlight of our initial months here.

“momma, can we go live in India?”
This is what my five year old asked after 7 months living here.

A classmate of hers had gone to India for a month with her parents as volunteers in a school. They did a presentation in her class and she was mighty impressed. Now I can get her to eat anything as long as I say they eat it  in India.

Me – “you mean you want to go on holidays to India”

Princess – “no, when we are done living in NY, can we go to India, to live?”


Recently I was in Bangladesh for a job. Someone suggested I could explain to the kids why I go to these places. Try to help them understand what is so important for their mom to leave them for long stretches of time. I thought it was a good idea. The project at hand was on gender violence, which I decided a 4 and 5 year old were not ready for, so instead I told them about poverty, about how not all kids can go to  school, how they might not have new clothes or toys, ever. When I came back with shiny and tingly bangles the princess asked:

“can we go live in Bangladesh?”

Me – “I don’t think you’d like it sweetie, it’s very poor without all the nice things that India has to offer” (apologies to Bangladesh, but from what I saw I found it a very depressing, dirty, and over crowded place)


“all the people live here. We don’t. we go to different countries to see which one we like best”
This is what my 5 year old  said 9 months after our arrival in NYC.

“our home is Holland” replied Trouble.
A place that we lived in for just three years and with which we have no ties.

Every year we fly back ‘home’ to Italy and Spain in an attempt to secure their identities and strengthen their "mother tongues". These are the  places the hubs and I call home, even though neither one of us was born there.

Does this make them fourth or fifth culture kids? ...this is the first time in their short lives they can speak the official language of the country they live in.

At least I can say that they seem to like it. So far. Only god knows how they’ll feel about this  mess further down the road.