Thursday, December 17, 2009
Its my 40th birthday today so it's fitting, I think, that by tuesday I will be the closest to the place that I was born than I have been yet. As I think I've mentioned in a previous post I was born to a couple of young Kiwis finishing a PhD at Birmingham University in England on the 17th of December 1969. Six weeks later, at the end of January, my brave parents left the fog and drizzle of a brummy winter and moved to the thick 30C humidity of Makassar, Indonesia. Indignant and probably a bit confused I immediately embarked on a nursing strike and loudly refused to sleep. Eventually a Dutch doctor was called in. He sedated both mum and me and we all began again.
The first almost decade of my life was spent in South East Asia, outside of both the country of my birth and the country which passport I carry (although techniquely I could carry both a Kiwi and a British passport) making me an Adult Third Culture Kid (ATCK), a relatively new term used to describe someone who has spent significant amount time outside of their own culture during their developing years. Like many ATCK's, when we ended up 'back' in New Zealand the sense of belonging I had expected didn't happen. I looked the same, talked with a similar accent, spoke the same language but all the unwritten rules, the expectations, the unspoken cultural lingo that becomes a part of our psyche, absorbed by osmosis from the day we are born was, at best, patchy. I often felt exposed, different, slow and confused. I rebelled, self medicated and stopped eating, anything to try and regain control of a situation I didn't really understand. Then I turned 20 and we suddenly had B and I was responsible for more than me. I didn't fit became we didn't fit.
Eventually, after a few years of working on J (an Adult Lived Here All My Life Kid) he took a position in Apia, Samoa and I expatriated, again, 20 years on. It dawned on me sometime during that first year that I was much happier being different, where I wasn't expected to be the same, that I am comfortable boarderless and wear adventure and chaos like a favourite sloppy Tee. Two and a half years later I came back to live in Singapore and discovered despite her metamorphasis, her glamourous new clothes, like an old friend, she and I still fit and we had plenty to talk about! Cambodia too has a familiar feel, probably because she resembles Makassar in the 70's.
It has taken 40 years to begin work out who I am. It'll probably take another 40 to work out how to articulate it and by then I hope to have seen a lot more of the world and lived in a few more countries starting with the little boot shaped bit above the African coastline.