Review:  Caribbean Crown in Tampa

Instead of going to Jamaican this summer, we brought Jamaica to us.  My dad and grandmother came to visit us in Florida from Kingston.  While I was excited about the visit, meal planning was giving me a headache.  Cooking for my grandmother is easy because she can appreciate a good meatless meal and loves taking a break from her own cuisine.  My dad, on the other hand, is not as open to new foods.  Like most Jamaican men I know, a meal is not complete without meat and gravy, rice and peas, and fried plantains.  To assuage his appetite, we found a lovely restaurant on Busch Boulevard where Muslims businesses thrive in a tight cluster.  The Trinidadian owners were wise to market themselves as halal, since the typical fare available for Muslim diners is Middle Eastern and Indian/Pakistani cuisine.

We enjoyed our favorite foods from Trinidad like doubles, roti, and dhal, while our relatives feasted on curry goat, ox-tail, and jerk chicken. Needless to say, everyone was left satiated.  We kept finding excuses to return and made a grand total of three visits to the modest eatery in a three-week span.  The only damper to the delicious dining and warm service was their use of Styrofoam and plastic plates and utensils. The Trinidadian auntie occasionally peaking through the kitchen curtains cooks up a storm in such timely fashion that the dishware may be the least of her concerns.  Regardless, the environmentalist in me can’t help but notice these things.

If you’re in the Tampa Bay, stop by Caribbean Crown.  Everyone is sure to find something irie!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

for a grieving mother

i have no poignant words to share

nor wisdom to lift your grief

i have no proverbs or parables

to offer you relief

 

in the midst of sorrow and pain

we are left asking “why?’

not even time can heal some wounds

as the days go by

 

the woes of this life are plenty

and even in times like this

we must remember this is not our home

there is a greater bliss

 

this world and its disappointments

at times seem so unjust

but the nature of life is that it ends

parting is a must

 

there is only one constant, one truth

which we can apply

God never fades nor ends

on this we can rely

 

God is never far, always close

to God, we must draw nearer

until the certainty of faith

makes it all seem clearer

 

our only lasting source of peace

and Giver of every good

has a greater plan for us

even if not understood

 

so cry your tears, grieve your loss

and recall the memories passed

but thank God for every moment

even if they did not last

 

keep gratitude on your tongue

until you feel it in your soul

and pray that God heals your hurt

and makes your heart feel whole

 

i pray that the joy you find with God

will outshine these dark days

and that you and your family remain

in God’s loving gaze

 

Review: Spicy Village in Nizwa

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Our former home of Nizwa often gets a bad rap.  With no mall, cinema, or spa, many expats arrive and leave in dismay.  Some also complain that the town has no decent restaurants but I have to contest.  Spicy Village is Lil’ Z’s absolute favorite but she’s biased—she’s been enjoying the food since she was in utero.  We’ve all been well-fed by this cozy little Indian restaurant off the main road in Firq, not too far from Lulu Hypermarket.  The food is always freshly prepared, tasty, and satisfying.  Our favorite dishes are Spring Rolls, Yellow Dal Fry, Chana Masala, Garlic Naan, Sauteed Spinach, and Vegetable Manchurian.  Efficient and friendly waiters attentively take order and serve the dishes with ease.  As per our request, they omit chili peppers from our dishes and prepare our breads without ghee.  Next time you’re in Nizwa, stop by Spicy Village for their lunch buffet from 12-3pm every day except Friday or any evening after 7pm for a sumptuous meal.

Our American Eid

Henna art

Six years have passed since our last Eid holiday in the United States.  Our first Eid abroad was in Yemen, then Saudi Arabia, followed by Oman, Indonesia, and Ethiopia.  Each country and culture adds their distinct flavor to the religious holiday, but none can compare to the American Eid experience.

DSCF7985

Given the unique circumstances of the Muslim community in America, there is no uniquely American Muslim dress.  Ladies and men swap and borrow both Eastern and Western styles of dress regardless of their ethnic heritage.  Arab, Indian, and African fashions were interspersed amongst American suits and ties, blouses and skirts.  The diversity and festivity of the day was reflected vividly in attire.

DSCF7987

Because Muslims are a minority in the United States, the Eid holiday has to be big and bold enough to rival the religious holidays of others.  Carnivals and festivals following the Eid prayer evidence their desire to make the day memorable.  Horseback riding, inflatable play pens and bungee bouncing replaced cars in the mosque parking.  Stalls for henna painting, ice cream trucks, and bazaar sales wrapped the length of the property.  From prayer to play, the joy was seamless for children and adults alike.

DSCF7986

 

From Oman to Philly

Landing in Philly

Our exit from Oman was swift.  We had a chaotic day of cleaning out our apartment, loading our compact car with overweight bags, and scooting our little caravan to Muscat before sunset.  A delicious meal awaited us in the home of dear friends, but time was not our guest for the evening.  We ended our fast, grabbed a few handfuls of food, and found a large vehicle loaded with our luggage in waiting.  Like a non-stop train, we had to keep moving and didn’t pause until we reached the airport.

After redistributing the weight of our luggage, we turned around to meet a co-worker tasked with ushering us out of the country.  A satellite office of the Ministry of Manpower took our passports and stamped our resident visas rendering them invalid.  We entered a narrow white passageway with no sign or direction but understood that this was our “door of no return”.  The security and stability of returning to Oman as our home had ended and returning will mean a totally new relationship with new terms of engagement.

Rajmah (Stewed Kidney Beans in Tomato Paste), Basmati Rice, and Aloo Matar (Potato and Peas)

Rajmah (Stewed Kidney Beans in Tomato Paste), Basmati Rice, and Aloo Matar (Potato and Peas)

Like a generous last gift before a break-up, our departure flight was booked on Qatar Airlines and we were looking forward to their promise of five-star service.  Our economy class seats were adequately comfortable and our vegetarian meal requests were honored.  Like most carriers in the Middle East, the vegetarian meal options were familiar Indian dishes.  The tastiest offering was an Aloo Matar wrap filled with lightly spiced potatoes and green peas.  The other meals weren’t too impressive but a Sponge Bob activity bag for Lil’ Z compensated for what was lacking.

Aloo Matar Wrap

Aloo Matar Wrap

Transiting through Philadelphia, we had dates, frankincense, and nuts to clear through customs.  There was a painfully long wait for the customs officers to arrive, especially with so many travelers trying to make their flight connections.  After a thorough review of each bag, two more officers came for questioning.  No matter how cooperative and friendly we remain nor how redundant the questions may be, we find ourselves returning to the US with the same unpleasant welcoming.  It’s an old routine that has become increasingly inconvenient, especially when it means we’ve missed our connecting flight and have to wait another nine hours before the next one.

Art Installation at Philly Airport

Art Installation at Philadelphia International Airport

On a rainy day after a 14-hour flight, our options in Philadelphia were quite clear.  We could putz around Philadelphia International Airport, befriending the curious albeit unstable gentleman in a waist wrap.  We could find the nearest bus or train to explore the city.  Or, we could contact two families in Philly that we know from Facebook and were anxious to meet in person.  Relying on the generosity of a smart phone user, I was able to send a quick message on Facebook and get the phone number of a friend.  Then, my handy coin purse of quarters enabled me to use a pay phone and in about an hour we were on our way.

On the outskirts of Philadelphia, we found sunshine, dense green trees, and quiet suburbs.  Our friends welcomed us with the warmth of their good company and vegan treats to enjoy.  Watching our daughters giggle and play and finally sitting face-to-face for heart-to-heart conversations carried over from online chats, it became obvious why we were delayed in Philly.  Not only did we meet virtual friends in person but we also met the only other vegan Muslim family we know.  The jetlag stepped aside long enough for us to relish in those moments.

Congee (Rice Porridge with Tofu, Chickpeas, and Cashews) and Blueberry Muffins

Congee (Rice Porridge with Tofu, Chickpeas,and Cashews) and a Blueberry Muffin

The time that eluded us in Oman resurfaced in Philadelphia.  We were able to sit in conversation and silence, enjoying the certainty of our presence and pondering the uncertainty of our future.  Just as our extended layover in Philadelphia panned out perfectly, we know that we are in the care of the Divine.  These detours and stopovers seem unplanned but in reality, they sit in the scheme of a larger plan.  After parting with our friends and thanking them for their kind hospitality, we returned to the airport for the last leg of our journey. The two-hour flight was just enough time to recollect what was left of our stamina and press on to our final destination where we were welcomed with warm hugs and delicious vegan, Southern cooking.  With our first opportunity to recline horizontally in about 36 hours, we slept without stirring until dawn.

The Five P’s of Preparing for Your Life Abroad

 

Nouakchott, Mauritania


Purpose

When my brother moved abroad more than thirteen years ago, his life seemed like an Indiana Jones adventure.  Unreliable internet access and expensive international calls made communication scarce.  Whenever we did make contact, he would engage us in long and winding tales of the people, places, and circumstances he encountered in the deserts of West Africa.  At that time, moving abroad seemed unimaginable, unpredictable, and risky.  But now, it seems easier to leave your homeland than ever before.  Folks are not only crisscrossing borders with greater ease but also blogging, tweeting, and Facebook-ing the entire journey along the way.  Everyone from Wanderlust Wendy to Computer Geek Gary has found a place for themselves abroad and you can too, with a few steps of preparation before joining the growing community of expatriates.

With seven continents to choose from, it’s hard to know where to begin your life abroad.  There are various languages, cultures, and climates to consider but knowing your personal goal and objective can be a powerful navigator through the sea of choices.  A great starting point would be assessing your finances.  If financial freedom is your goal, you may want to look at destinations where you can earn big and spend little.  Once the “man” is off your back and debt collectors no longer address you on a first name basis, it’s time to look at destinations that have personal or spiritual significance to you.  Many a traveler find their expeditions unexpectedly cut short, so try to prioritize the fulfilling and meaningful experiences that memoirs are made of.  See those sights, make those pilgrimages, and bask in those precious, unforgettable moments.
 
The Door of No Return, Goiree Island, Senegal

Papers

Half-finished degrees do little to secure a respectable income abroad (if earning is your goal).  Once you’ve decided on a course of study, training, or certification, see it through to completion and don’t belittle your accomplishment.  Carry the banners of your hard-earned efforts and keep scanned and hard copies readily available. Even first-aid or scuba diving certificates have helped people secure their dream job abroad. Other important documents might include your birth certificate, background checks, recommendation letters, marriage certificates, name change documents, etc.  Even with e-tickets and mobile check-in, sometimes a printed itinerary can come in handy.
Plans
Flying by the seat of your pants has its place and function but a little planning can save you time and money.  A flexible plan that allows for contingencies can help you keep the ball rolling when you run into roadblocks and brick walls.  If planning is not your spiritual gift, then consider conditional plans like “I will start here unless…” or “I will do this until…”  Sitting back and charting your path will help you move more efficiently and cost-effectively through the land.  Even if the wanderers among us could care less about such formalities, it will certainly assure your more grounded family and friends that you haven’t completely lost it.
 
Sana’a, Yemen
Patience
What you think you possess of patience will not only be tested in your life abroad but also stretched, beaten, and contorted until it sits like a hard-won trophy on your mantle.  I really used to think I was patient, but perpetual frustration in my first destination showed me that there was more left to be acquired.  Challenges in everything from communication and correspondence to health, wealth, and sanity can leave you perplexed and aggravated.  Keep in mind that new experiences are often powerful teachers in the subjects of life, yourself, and your place in this vast world.  When the bewilderment really starts to get to you, take the time to pause, quit beating yourself about the past, and let your purpose guide your next step forward.
Piety
If landing yourself in prison abroad is on your bucket list, then feel free to ignore this piece of advice but for others, please take heed.  Even if sainthood isn’t your aim, a basic sense of good character and upright conduct can be life-saving in the most and stress-saving in the least, as you find your way in a new country.  Expats are not above the law and the rights and freedoms you enjoy in your home country may not travel with you.  If your lifestyle or personal views are illegal or in conflict with the laws and customs of your location and you feel the need to broadcast, publicize, and express them openly, maybe living in such a country would do more harm than good for you.  Drugs, drinking, or delinquency can make ugly turns and blemish not only your record but also your reputation, both socially and professionally.  Save risqué behavior for your own turf, and be on your best behavior when you’re in someone else’s home.  Also, don’t forget to align yourself with the social and spiritual resources needed to be your best you wherever you go.
 
Mecca, Saudi Arabia

This post was originally published at Women of Color Living Abroad.

Leaving Oman: From Here to Where?

 

Jabal Akhdar (Green Mountain)

Jabal Akhdar (Green Mountain)

Looking around at the bare closets, empty shelves, and boxes of books that dwarf our dusty suitcase of clothing, it’s evident that our caravan is pulling out.   Four years–the longest stretch of time our family has ever lived in a single residence or city–has come to an end.  For two years, we lived out of our suitcases in Yemen and Algeria, but here in Oman we had a reason to unpack.  We hung our clothes on hangers, bought bed sheets and spoons, and put our backpacks out of sight.  We nested ourselves into a cozy home, just in time for Lil’ Z’s arrival.

The quietude and serenity of Nizwa was the perfect first home for our daughter.  Urbndervish’s work schedule that year was light which gave us long hours to revel in the miracle of a little human form growing and changing in front of us every day.  We watched her eyebrows and eyelashes grow and stroked her silky black head of hair.  We kissed her at least 100 times daily and cuddled her even more.  The pace of any other place would have vied for our attention.

Lil' Z at 4 days old

Lil’ Z at 4 days old

Our apartment had more space than we were accustomed to and gave us ample room to tuck and put away stuff–the kind of stuff you keep only because you can.  Three weeks ago, we started to confront our stuff and sifted through the clothes and items to keep or give away.  Most of what we accumulated belonged to Lil’ Z, who had no attachment to anything other than her curious cloth diapers and books.  Unlike her, a flood of memories engulfed me when I recalled the people and events connected to her little outfits and dresses.  Part of me wants to hold on to them but practicality trumps my nostalgia when Urbndervish points out the signs of wear and milk stains on the collars.  There is little room for sentiment in the life of a nomad.

My favorite outfit

My favorite outfit

I’ve grown a special attachment to this particular apartment because of the memories each room holds.  The first time Lil’ Z raised her head was in the bedroom, the first time she reached up to touch my face was in the hallway, and her first steps were in the guest room.  I can’t separate her from this space.  When she thinks of home, this is the only place she will conjure for some time.  Last night before going to bed, she asked how much longer until we return to the US.  I counted ten days on my hands and she squealed.  “Then, we come back home?”  “No, not this home.  We’re not coming back to Nizwa”, I tried to explain.  Naturally, she responds:  “So, where?”  And to that, we have no answer yet.

Every adventure is tempered with some amount of anxiety.  Much like riding a roller coaster, some grit through fear, some reel in exhilaration, and some can’t stomach it.  Fortunately, we can make peace with this uncertainty because we’ve prepared for it.  We made special efforts to soak up all of the Oman we could- through personal connections, road trips, and hosting guests here.  This has been a welcomed resting place for us but it is not likely our journey’s end.  We may return but regardless, the process of mentally preparing to leave for good has been cathartic.  With every bag of clothing we set aside for donation and every book we decide to leave with friends, I feel lighter.  Our possessions are manageable without being overwhelming.  Perhaps we will find our home one day—a little piece of God’s green earth that we’re content to return to and find respite in.  Even then, the same principle applies for us, whether resident or migrant:

Be in this world as if you were a stranger or a traveler” –translated saying of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him)

Dinner Hosting Made Simple

Platter of fruits, dates, and coffee

When it comes to homemaking, I’m no Martha Stewart.  I love taking care of my home and family but there is no inherent joy derived for me by the means, only the end.  I cook and clean happily but there is no euphoria involved.  With my limited domestic skills, I used to be deterred from having guests for dinner.  I would be too concerned that my home isn’t spotless and my cooking isn’t spectacular. But after being reminded of the tremendous blessing in hospitality, we decided to make hosting our habit in spite of our shortcomings.  At times, we underestimate the bounty of a simple meal shared with sincerity, but we always find that these gatherings and moments are the tastiest.  So, here’s our strategy.

Select your guests wisely

I personally find it easier to have more frequent meals with a few guests at a time, as opposed to hosting a large group seasonally or annually.  For us, we have the natural limitation of space and utensils.  It took a bit of coordination to host a family of five for our first Ramadan iftar (fast-breaking) meal this week. When we host even more this weekend, we’ll have to ask them to bring their own spoons.  But once you know how many people and who to expect, you can assess your supplies and plan accordingly.

Also, consider the chemistry between the guests you invite.  Don’t pair strangers unless you have some reason to believe they will get along and don’t assume that buddies are always on friendly terms.  I was grateful when a guest I invited informed that she was no longer on good terms with another who I was about to invite.  Instead, I invited someone else which made for a smooth evening without creating an awkward conflict.  Thankfully, the two later resolved their tiff.

Almond Burger Salad with Homemade Dressing

Match your meal to your guests

As I mentioned before, it’s a good practice to inquire about food allergies and preferences before you plan your meal.  Consider which meals you can prepare confidently and capably without too much risk involved.  If you want to try new and complicated recipes, practice on your family first.  Evaluate which dishes in your repertoire best suit your dinner company.  Take special effort to accommodate diabetic or hypertensive guests who might be tempted by the sight of sugary or salty foods.  If you’re hosting guests who are free of health challenges but have poor eating habits, your meal is a great opportunity to showcase how tasty and nourishing a healthy meal can be.  Some of our most carnivorous guests have been pleasantly surprised and inspired by our vegan pizza, fruit smoothies, and raw desserts.

Stewed fava beans, roasted eggplant, curried mung beans, sauteed green beans and brown rice

As for cuisine-matching, I personally feel self-conscious when attempting Arab food for Arab guests, Indian food for Indian guests, and the like.  Instead, I prefer to use the opportunity to introduce my non-American friends to some of our Afro-Caribbean cuisine.  Why?  It’s like throwing seven different types of smoke.  They generally have no idea what to expect and it makes for good cultural exchange.

Black-eyed peas, sauteed cauliflower and green beans, and roasted eggplant

Start your prep early

Don’t wait until the big day to clean the whole house and start your meal.  Start your cleaning 2-3 days prior.  Cleaning the floors, dusting the surfaces, and tidying your home can be done well in advance.  Unless you have a bathroom designated for guest use only, you might want to freshen up your sink and commode on the day of your engagement.  Desserts—whether baked or raw—should be prepared first either the day before or the morning of your dinner.  Dips can be prepared the day before and salads earlier on the same day.

Tag team the effort

Enlist your family to help out where possible.  Sometimes, Urbndervish and Lil’ Z will welcome our guests and serve refreshments while I finish last minute dinner prep or clean up the kitchen before dinner starts.  Whoever finishes eating first will usually clear the dinner dishes from the table while the other chats with guests.  Then, the other might serve tea and dessert.  When Lil’ Z and her dad are ready to walk our guests to their cars, I’ll jump in the kitchen and start the first round of dishes.  After the little hostess is readied for bed, we’ll switch places again—I’ll put Lil’ Z to sleep and Urbndervish will finish up the dishes.  Sharing the load means that we can all enjoy the company of our guests, savor the food, and not feel burdened by the clean-up that follows.  If we’re particularly close with our guests, whoever is washing dishes will invite a friend to join them in the kitchen so the conversation can continue while washing up.

Kidney beans, pineapple salsa, and cashew sour cream on a bed of lettuce

Set the aesthetic

I have difficulty making my food look really enticing and presentable, so I compensate by combining dishes of varied hues.  For example, our iftar last week centered around black-eyed peas, which are a bit bland in color, so I added yellow rice and steamed okra and tomatoes to brighten up the plate palate.  You can also serve your food in decorated plates and dishes, set a nice tablecloth, and burn incense in the home to satisfy sensory appetite.

Minimize your waste

We can’t stand the sight of wasted food, so we generally start our guests with a modest plate and offer refills.  When we’re guests in the homes of others, it’s uncomfortable to be pressured to eat more than we normally would or be served increasingly more food when we’ve already expressed we’ve had enough.  My Omani friends, for example, explain that they want to make sure their guests are not being shy and taking less food than they desire but this can get frustrating when you feel like you’re being force-fed.  We don’t encourage our guests to overeat but we offer them as much as food as they would like to eat.

It’s also common to buy disposable dinnerware when having guests but please don’t give in.  In college, I would carry a box of dishes and utensils to potluck dinners and volunteer to wash the dishes every time.  I felt tremendous guilt drinking from red plastic cups and eating from Styrofoam plates with plastic utensils while calling ourselves activists and revolutionaries.  Yes, some water is saved but I believe the energy and waste consumed is not worth the convenience.  Feed the people but don’t neglect the planet in your hospitality.  Consider the use of a large, shared platter of food or use paper plates, if you insist.

Remember your intention

Sharing the gift of food is an honor.  It implies that you have the means to share and the friendship of others worth sharing it with.  Intend to serve for the sake of God and you may find facility in your efforts as I often do.  My food almost always taste better when we have company but we often attribute this to the blessing they bring with them when accepting our invitation.  When you keep the close companionship of upright people and serve them pure and wholesome food with love, there’s very little room to fail.  Even if your guests are not the most inspiring or positive people to be around, try to set the tone for an enjoyable evening, free of backbiting, ill speech and negativity.  Whether during or outside of Ramadan, try to keep your home illuminated by service to others.

Ramadan Festivity for the Not-So-Crafty

Candle Jars and Paper Lanterns

If you own a hot glue gun, X-Acto knife, or a MacBook, perhaps this post is not for you.  This post is for the artistically-challenged.  Those of us who struggle to draw straight lines, lack innate artistic ability and have never owned a set of cookie cutters.  There are great companies and creative individuals who save us from our artlessness by selling beautiful decorations, streamers, and banners.  But my inner minimalist prevents me from substituting someone else’s efforts for my own.  Besides, I’ve concluded that it’s more fun to craft with my child instead of for her.  She deserves the same quality of beauty that those fortunate children of crafty moms enjoy but our goal is to make her experience tangibly memorable, not our own.  With a few simple activities that revolve mostly around a child’s artistry, not an adult’s, this is what our Ramadan 2014 looks like.

Ready for Ramadan Party

We joined efforts with another family to kick-off our Ramadan this year.  We planned a simple Islamic trivia game, read a story, painted used jars to make candle holders and folded paper lanterns, followed by a tasty lunch and dessert.

Vegan Pineapple Upside Down Cake

Ramadan Love Packages

We found a simple cake recipe and made greeting cards for Lil’ Z’s friends.  She was quite proud of her cake and card.

Lil' Z's cake

The four-year-old boy she shared this card with was so happy to receive it that he kept asking if he could keep it.

Ramadan Card

Ramadan Calendar and Decorations

We made our calendar together and it’s great to see how much more Lil’ Z can contribute now than she could last year.  It really is starting to feel like her holiday, not one we’ve prepared for her.  We strung lights and stuck stars around the calendar and ended the night with the recitation of the Qur’an and sound sleep.  A blessed Ramadan to you and yours!

Ramadan Calendar

 

 

 

Raising Global Citizens: Our Hopes and Hardships

After drifting asleep in the car, my daughter woke up sleepy-eyed in Muscat.  Not sure where we were, she asked “Suwayq?” “No, sweetie, we’re going to Suwayq on Monday.”  “Ma-wocco?”  “No, we’re not going to Morocco today but maybe later”.  At two, she can’t quite understand what ‘next month’ or ‘next year’ means.  She does not yet realize the reality of how far or near places are but as I flip through the pages of her worn little passport, I wonder at want point will she begin to realize how blessed she is to see many places that most have only dreamed of.
While parenting is an adventure in itself, parenting abroad is like an adventure on wheels.  What or where ‘home’ is is a blurry concept and it takes a strong family bond to ride out the constant waves of transition.  As parents raising young children abroad, we’re sometimes branded as ‘selfish’ for torturing our own parents, forcing them to travel long distances to see their grandchildren in between annual summer visits.  Some brand us as ‘opulent’ for actually traveling to learn about new countries as opposed to picking up books and Hollywood movies in their place.  Some consider us down-right crazy and irresponsible for taking our children to developing countries where ‘all those poor and diseased people live.’  In the fraternity of families abroad you find a variety of folks who may be all or nothing of what others assume but in my circle of fellow parents, we seem to have common aspirations and frustrations with our life abroad.
The advantages of a childhood abroad can be tangible and appealing.  Young children can learn about cultures, languages, and world history in the context of where they live, as opposed to textbooks and tutors.  Authentic connections can be made with others before learned biases set in and make color, race, and religion points of difference.  Traveling matures children and gives ample opportunity to learn flexibility, adaptability, and agility in the face of life’s unexpected surprises.  Many of us find a better quality of life abroad and actually spend more time with each other, cultivating a home life and a vivid montage of memories for our families to savor for years to come.
One sacrifice that seems to hit us all pretty hard is the distance from our extended family.  Virtual grandparenting is challenging.  Children grow in leaps and bounds from summer to summer and no time is enough time every single vacation.  The luxury of sending children to Grandma and Grandpa for the weekend or even a night is forfeited in place of finding trustworthy babysitters and friends or simply opting for a night in as opposed to a night out for a date.  Depending on where you reside, you may not always find common principles and practices in parenting.  Varied notions of discipline, different styles and standards of education, and the role of children in society may not agree with your understanding and experience.  Even at the playground or in the neighborhood, if your child looks unlike their peers or don’t share the same language, making friends and finding playmates may be a hurdle too.

In coping with all of the challenges it entails, many families abroad have to seek out strategies to keep the wheels of our life abroad churning.  Some set up social groups or clubs for expat families to find a familiar haven when you need a break from being the foreigner.  Some rely on media tools like Skype, Whatsapp, and Viber to stay in touch with loved ones back home.  Some fly relatives over for visits to make the time abroad shrink just a bit.  Between care packages, video chatting, and fellowship around familiar foods, we make it through.  Sometimes other expats become stand-in family members while we’re abroad.  Just last month, our family along with two other American families met up in Abu Dhabi.  The long drive and border drama were not beyond the lengths we would go to be a family for each other.  We go out of our way to help each other and bolster one another on this journey.

As true as the etymology itself, there is no ‘utopia.’  Every place and circumstance has its benefits and challenges.  Life ain’t all rosy abroad but neither is it back home.  An economic downturn, rising costs of living, and mass shootings are enough to make our countries feel less homely and inviting.  Out of all our relatives, we own the least but financially have the most because we are debt-free.  Some of our dreamy goals and idealistic values are better actualized on the other side of the planet, making the sacrifices worthwhile not only for ourselves but also for our children.  Whether at home or abroad, our hope is that the compassionate, peace-loving, globally-minded citizens we raise today will become the pioneers of a better world tomorrow.
Being able to choose a life abroad is a gift which helps us, humbles us, and sometimes hurt us, but it is not in vain.  While my daughter may not have roots in any particular land just yet, it’s more important that she has wings. Allegiance to any one place shouldn’t prevent her from trying life elsewhere because who knows- she just mind find happiness, peace of mind, and security on the other end of a plane ride.
 
Photo credit:  Labinsky

This post was originally published at Women of Color Living Abroad.