Saturday, March 22, 2014

not my childhood (thougths on raising TCKs in Africa)

Hello, out there!  It's been quiet here for awhile, I know.  We are all still alive and well, in case you're wondering. We did get to spend two fabulous, refreshing weeks in South Africa in January.  And we did get to spend two very memorable weeks with my mom and dad in February.  (STILL plan to share pics on a later post!)  To be sure, there have been some lows amidst these highs, but I don't feel really motivated right now to recount all the ups and downs of 2014 so far.

Actually, what has finally inspired me to break the blog-world silence is a post I made on Facebook a few nights ago.  If we aren't Fb friends or you didn't see it, it went like this...

it is "white ant season" here right now. this means there are these especially large ants with white wings flying around and everybody likes to eat them. yes, i do mean everybody - the hawks, the monkeys, our Ugandan neighbors, AND my children. yesterday, a neighbor gave the boys a bowl of them. they ate 3/4 of them and put the rest in the fridge. (i was not aware of this!) so, Reynah and i just had this conversation as i was pulling leftovers out of the fridge, trying to find her a something to eat.
Me: here's some potatoes. do you want potatoes like we ate yesterday?
Rey: no, i don't like potatoes.
Me: here's some chili. want chili?
Rey: no, i don't like chili.
Me: what is this?? ANTS!?
Rey: oh, yeah, yeah! i LOVE ants!!!!!! i want ants!

OK, if you read my last blog post about the fried grasshoppers, then you may be thinking that we live off of eating insects - not so, I promise!  The grasshoppers and ants are a seasonal delicacy that the Ugandans enjoy every few months.  It just happens that my children are very embracing of the culture and cuisine. I am so glad they are, but it has just given me thought about how their definition of "normal" is very different than my own.  

It does not feel normal to me to pull a bowl of ants out of the fridge 
and have my 4-yr old beg me for them.

So, I've been pondering some of the other abnormal things my kids don't think twice about - 
  • like when our history lesson on the veranda gets interrupted (repeatedly) by the monkeys invading our neighbors garden, and the boys HAVE to run and get their sling shots and tear down the steps screaming like banshees.  (It is their self-proclaimed duty to do so.)
  • when they get excited to see me open a bag of dried beans in the evenings in order to sort them, because they think it's so much fun to have a contest and see who can pick out the most weevil bugs.
  • when there is no water and they compliantly follow the routine of pouring water out of the jerry-can and taking a cold bowl bath.  
  • when their dad assists their bathing with a scouring pad (not lying!) and proceeds to scrub at their ankles and knees, while muttering something like, "I know there is white skin under here somewhere."
  • when there is no power, so we do entertaining things like play hide-and-go-see in the dark, or read Narnia by candlelight, or break out the glow bracelets that were sent in a care package. 
  • how they know the drill, and at the 1st sign of fever we hike out down to the clinic for a blood test so we can make sure it's not malaria
  • like the day I realized that they could sing the Ugandan national anthem but not even the 1st line of the American anthem.  (I have since rectified this.)  
  • like the day we were throwing sticks at the bull-frogs in the reeds of the Nile River, only to suddenly realize those "croaks" were actually coming from hippos!  
  • that my kids can speak English, broken English, and English with a very convincing Ugandan accent
  • that they can differentiate the nuances between American, British, and Australian English
  • the fact that Reynah has absolutely no concept what most appliances are (ie. clothes dryer, dish washer, vacuum cleaner, remote control... oh, wait... that's not an appliance)
  • the fact that there is a mild obsession over her blond hair, and that countless, random strangers have her pic in their mobile phone. 
  • the fact that another trans-Atlantic flight is no big deal, but the sight of a trampoline, a water slide, or a playground WITH SWINGS THAT WORK - oh, the unspeakable joy!  
This was taken at a community school shortly after we moved here.  She learned to accept all the attention rather well.

Sometimes (many times) I stop and look them going about their little, happy lives, and I think - 
This is not my childhood.  Not that I ever expected my kids to live my own childhood exactly.  My childhood was quite unique anyway.  But it was a wonderful childhood, and I feel a responsibility at times to "miss" stuff on their behalf (since they don't really know how to miss those wonderful things themselves).   Things like...
  • a back yard, inflatable pool
  • their own bicycles to ride
  • birthday parties with grandparents and cousins (and a thousand other things with grandparents and cousins)
  • jumping in leaves in the fall and snowmen and hot cocoa in the winter
  • being in a church Christmas program (or doing anything Christmas related when it's not 80 degrees outside)
  • Saturday morning cartoons
  • sleep overs with friends
I feel a bit intimidated sometimes when I think that they have become third-culture kids.  (TCK is an official term for kids who live between two cultures but don't fully belong to either one of them.)  It's intimidating because I know I won't relate exactly to the new, unique culture they will create and identify with.  I feel nervous sometimes when I think about the future for them, and wonder what it will be like when they do have to transition, when they become aware of the things that they are so happily oblivious to right now. Will they be resentful when it gets hard?

Sometimes I feel these things.

But, to be honest, most of the time, I feel like they are some of the luckiest kids on the planet. 

Living in Africa has given them some gifts that Thomas and I could never buy them at Toys R Us.
  • the graceful adaptability of being a minority
  • an in-your-face understanding that AIDS, poverty, injustice are the effects of sin
  • the realization that boredom isn't so bad really, and under-stimulation can be rather refreshing
  • a wide-open perspective of the world 
  • a sense of adventure... and a sense of humor
  • an appreciation for good books, close friends, and the great outdoors
  • the ability to pee anywhere, anyhow - on a squatty potty or "in the bush."
  • friends all over the world.  friends that are poorer than them.
  • an awareness that not all governments are created equal
  • the opportunity to trust God, to know that He and He alone sustains our family
They aren't normal kids, but I hope that they can be proud of that someday.  Because I am beyond proud of them  - and deeply grateful to God for this unique childhood He is allowing them to live. 

One of these kids is not like the others...


  1. Mika, I have to admit I was half laughing and half crying. This post reflects countless other families like yours (don't I know it well!!). However there is a distinction here: your children's happy faces are definitively a reason to reassure yourself. They are loved and this African experience will remain a pivotal time for each of them. They will adjust (and maybe even forget the ants!), never fear!
    God is good!
    Sending thoughts and prayers your way always,

  2. Haha! thanks, Noelle - yes, there are many things from Africa that I hope they carry with them all through their lives... but eating ants isn't one of them! :)

  3. Mika, I homeschooled and at times it was a challenge and wondered if my son was "missing" out. Your post certainly puts a new perceptive on my "wonders" and challenge.

    When your babies/kids are grown I think they will look back at the wonderful adventure Momma, Daddy and the Lord took them on.

    Blessings from you distant cousin,

    1. Hey, Bev! Yes, homeschooling makes you question those things as well, doesn't it? Thanks for your encouragement. :) They are God's kids and HE is faithful.

  4. Love this! It's amazing to think of the incredible adventures they're having now that you and I could only daydream about and pretend when we were younger! It's also hard to imagine the challenges they'll face as they transition to the next chapter of your lives... Whatever that may be. But you know? God helped with your shift from an odd, fun road life to college. He helped me when Mom and Dad started pastoring and when I went to Lee. Their transition will be way different and have its own challenges. But I know God's big enough to guide them through it as well. In the meantime, they are getting to live such a cool life!! And I love reading about their cultural experiences :) so fun!

    1. Yep, God did help us odd Gerhart gals alright, didn't He? :) I agree - it is great to see them living out adventures that we pretended... except for their animal hunts. Pretty sure we didn't have daydreams about shooting birds out of trees!

  5. Thank you for sharing this! I love reading it. This touched me!

    1. Hi, Stacey - thanks for commenting! always nice to know there are others out there who can relate. :)

  6. Hi Mika !! Just to encourage you. I know several MKs (I call them missionary kids) who grew up in Africa, came to the States for college,started career/family in the States and are now in several countries serving. What a mighty God we serve :) You are raising your kids right and remember God has plans for them !!

  7. Thanks for the encouragement! I know God's plans for them are much greater than my own, and that even now He is putting those plans into action.