Emma has spent most of her life living outside the US. However, since she is only three, she also doesn’t yet remember “most of her life.” So when we moved to Cairo, after living in the states for six months, I was concerned about her adjustment. She had learned some Arabic words in Tunisia, but at that point even her English vocabulary was very limited. I was concerned that now that she could communicate any idea she wanted to, she may get very frustrated not being able to do that with Egyptians. I also thought she would really miss her family members that she left in the states after getting to know them so well over the six months. Now, she does miss them, I don’t want any Caspers or Van Dames to wonder otherwise, but for the most part, she seemed to go with the flow right away. Perhaps it’s because at age 3, as long as your mom, dad and sister (in her case) are with you and they are comfortable where they are, then you can be too.
Raising kids has been a lot of fun. Yes, a lot of work. But a lot of fun too. What a privilege as parents to see a character take shape, and a personality form; skills develop and ideas sink in. We’ve enjoyed watching both girls grow and change. But as we consider our girls, we think they are a little different than others. Of course, everyone thinks that, right? But as we watch Emma play and listen to her conversations, we wonder how much of her being a TCK has affected who she is. TCK stands for Third Culture Kids. This is basically defined as any child who has spent a significant part of their formative years living in a country other than their parents’ home or “passport” country. So since they don’t live in the passport country and therefore don’t quite “fit in” there, and they spend most of their lives in another culture where they are obviously different, they kind of develop a “third culture” within themselves…one that is neither of the two cultures they know best, but a mix of the two. Now, Emma is only three, and she still has a lot of formative years to go, but being a TCK has definitely affected her.
One example Jayson and I were commenting on the other day has to do with sheep.
Ask a 3-year old about sheep and they might say, “They say baa.” Ask Emma about sheep and she’ll tell you how they get “cut up.” It all started last year in Tunisia when we visited friends for their annual holiday of the sacrifice. We took pictures with the live sheep before the sacrifice,
and then I watched the slaughter while Jayson kept Emma and Hannah entertained. We didn’t think Emma should watch being just a little over 2 years old. So she missed the actual killing part, but wanted to watch what was happening as it was cut up and put on the grill.
Fast forward to this year when we came to Egypt. About two months ago we were in a shop where I was visiting a friend. Right next door was a butcher. It turns out they were slaughtering a sheep at that time, and as I talked to the girl in the shop, Emma watched the butcher take care of the sheep. I encouraged her a few times to come closer to us, but she was very interested in what was happening at the butcher. After it was finished and we were walking home, she started thinking about it and said she was sad for the sheep because it got “cut up.” And after waking up a few times with bad dreams about the sheep, she decided she didn’t want to watch a sheep get cut up again. I told her that’s just fine.
A few weeks ago we were walking somewhere and saw some sheep in the bottom floor of an abandoned or half-constructed building. We took this walk regularly and looked for the sheep each time after this. Once or twice they weren’t there and while I suggested they may have gone somewhere to get some food, Emma thought they were out visiting their cousins. (See, she does miss her family in America!) On our most recent walk past this building, the sheep were again absent. This time I figured they got “cut up” since the holiday of the sacrifice had recently passed. But Emma again suggested they were visiting cousins. However, on the return trip, she concluded that yes, they probably got cut up.
Speaking of the holiday, we stayed home this year. However, our landlord slaughtered one cow and a few sheep in the courtyard just below our balcony. We didn’t mention it to Emma who had already decided she didn’t want to watch this anymore, but we did go out to Sunday school, and on the way back, we rushed inside when we saw them cutting up a sheep. Emma said, “That gives me bad dreams. I don’t like that.” The slaughtering went on for several hours and at some points there were one or two animals hanging from our balcony, but Emma didn’t see anything else or have any bad dreams that night.
And just today, while I was hanging laundry on our balcony, I noticed some of our doorman’s livestock “grazing” in their yard. Turns out it was four sheep. First I picked Hannah up to see and she said “Sheep!” Then I picked Emma up. “It’s sheep! Why didn’t they get cut up?” Guess it’s a theme with her!