For the Child Challenging the Adult

6 Jun

age 4

age 4

I was an impertinent child. I was an only child. My parents put me through a lot of adventures and adapting to many cultures taught me quite early on that you can not only be a different person in each world – you can also easily adapt rules from one culture into another. This sometimes created loopholes. But it mostly just broke the rules.

age 6

age 6

When I was 12 my family lived in a research compound: originally built as a research center, the International Institute for Tropical Agriculture (IITA) quickly understood that welcoming scientists was one thing; keeping them meant welcoming families.


So IITA built several recreation facilities (tennis courts, swimming pools, football fields, bars, etc) and a school.

I grew up around this pool

I grew up around this pool

And we all lived in there, encompassed by a large fence with barbed wire that was supposedly heavily guarded against armed robbers.

Nigeria outside IITA

Nigeria outside IITA, road to my school

When I was 13, I started climbing over the IITA fence, because my best friend lived on the other side of it. One day my father found out and his words to me were: “Don’t forget the 12th Commandment: don’t get caught!”

My friend and I delighted in this. We spent that summer stamping about, shouting our mantra at the top of our lungs. Don’t! Get! Caught! Don’t! Get! Caught! 

us, many years later in Brighton

she & I, many years later in Brighton

It’s 4 am on the morning before my 2nd crowdfunding and I can already see the dawn changing the sky into the flamboyance of a cocktail. I’m going through old photographs because these last few weeks, several mirrors were held up to me – sometimes by people, other times by the stress of crowdfunding – and as I grow older, I find issue with my sometimes snappy, stressed out, basically bitchy reaction. It reminds me of the impertinent child. So I’m looking at pictures of her.

age 8

age 8

I am wondering many things about her.

Like: if she hadn’t been brought up to be so cheeky, would she have gotten all those tattoos, the piercings, the dreadlocks and the colourful black-light dreadlocks?

age 22

age 22

If she hadn’t been brought up as a Third Culture Kid, spending most of her life in airports – would she still have felt so lost?

I used to be carried to my plane in those days

I used to be carried to my plane in those days

age 1

age 1

India, age 4

India, age 4

age 6

age 6, still at airports

From my film workshops at international schools, I’m now in touch with a few Third Culture Kids currently reaching their teens. I follow their blogs and read their tweets; and so often I just want to hug them. I want to tell them that it’s all going to be alright. So if you’re reading this – Chris, Maddie – I swear to you that I know how shit it is; how confusing and messed up, growing up not really know who you are, how each culture has molded you and how you’ll ever manage in the next. It’s hard as hell, and I won’t lie: the alienation goes on for a while. You’ll often find yourself with people whose jokes just aren’t funny, whose definition of “fun” really ISN’T; and you’ll wonder what’s wrong with you.

I just want you to know that I really understand – and that it does get better. I see you now and I don’t worry, because all this pain you sometimes feel is really making you so strong & beautiful. You might not see it now, but I can see it. You’re turning into fine adults. Unfortunately, you sometimes have to suffer to get there, but trust me: it’s for the good cause of turning you into beautiful adults who understand the meaning of empathy, the search for home, the quest for identity, and the depth of growth.

I know it’s hard, but you’re not alone.

age 13, "The Sound of Music": this is the Von Trapp Family. Skin colour doesn't exist

age 13, “The Sound of Music”. Here we are as the Von Trapp Family, singing ‘Edelweiss’. We played one family. Skin colour didn’t exist.

I have been writing, reading and performing my whole life. Now I’m trying to self-publish, trying to raise €2,500 in a small town that doesn’t really know the concept of crowdfunding. In 2 days we raised €250. I’m excited and panicking. I’m trying to stay calm – and I obviously can’t sleep.

I’m incredibly lucky: I have A Crew. I have the Fab Fab, who I can count on for anything. I have Power Ranger, with whom I can exchange mad business phone calls at midnight, discussing wildly what else we can do to make the crowdfunding work. I have an ingenious Pixie who seems to save people wherever she goes. Then there’s Mark, who is, and always has been: Mark.

Still I run around like a headless chicken, like a leaky calabash, and when someone asks me a helpful well-meaning question, I sometimes snap back. I get stuck in my head and can’t relax; can’t enjoy conversations; can’t enjoy company because I’m so busy thinking about how I can leave as quickly as possible so I can get more things done.

And I’m sorry I can be so silly, because somehow Wonderful People surrounded me and decided to support my project.

Yet I still hear that impertinent child stomping her foot, being demanding. So I take a long hard look at her and wonder how many traces she left in the adult. How many demons she gave me to exorcise.

age 4

age 4

And I love her for it, because had she not been so goddamn impertinent I’d have no battles to fight; no way to decide what kind of woman I want to be. If she hadn’t been so decisively independent, so cheeky, so eager to taste Everything life has to offer… Ah, beautiful girl, you’ve given me some great gifts for the road!

So here’s to the snappy, difficult, moody child I sometimes was. Here’s to the confused teenager who fought depressions, skipped school and buried herself in poetry. Here’s to the sleepless adult who is writing this and watching Sunrise Number I’ve-Lost-Count.

sunrise over the 6th June 2013

sunrise over the 6th June 2013

Here’s to the teenagers about to move again. To the teenagers wondering why the hell they’re being tortured like this and wondering what it feels like to have a world under your feet that doesn’t spin with this much insecurity. You are so very beautiful. Life is giving you a tough journey, but one day you’ll be joyful when you realise your wealth is these landscapes around you.

To the Third Culture Adults making their shaky ways: We still wonder if things couldn’t have been that much easier if our parents hadn’t just stayed in one place. Hadn’t confused us by showing us the whole world at once. Hadn’t taught us to understand society by teaching us how to break all its rules. Hadn’t taught us so many languages so we would eventually not know how to express ourselves.

Those impertinent, insecure, egocentric, hedonistic children we once were… I still see mine in how I act today.

I love that cute little toothless girl who taught me to the break rules. Who said, when she was 5 years old, “When I grow up, I want to be a writer.” And then spent the following years building up the necessary cheek, naivety, pain and innocence so I would have stories to write and balls to perform.

Here’s to the child challenging the adult. The child who asks cheekily: “How are you different from me? How do you act when you’re stressed / angry / feeling cheated / overworked?”

And here’s to how little the years will sometimes change things:

same shit, different year

same shit, different year



2 Responses to “For the Child Challenging the Adult”

  1. mblock750 June 6, 2013 at 6:06 am #

    Awesome post! It’s not often that someone completely understands what it’s like living in two or three different cultures, and each of them having conflicting standards and ideas. In the end though, I know it made me stronger, and it certainly turned you into the wonderful person you are today!

  2. Gerhard September 12, 2013 at 1:13 am #

    I just scrolled through your blog and read (again) this post. I must say that it definitely is one of my favorite posts. It`s fascinating how truly you describe your life and experiences as third culture kid and teenager. How you did suffer from it and how much you enjoyed a lot of things as well. It`s like a tattoo, it will not disappear. And your memory to it will always be strong and full of emotions. It`s hard to put it in words and the way you did it proofs that you`re professional in that. It helps a lot to those who cannot put their feelings in words, who cannot turn it (at least for the time being) to a conclusion and a sense. So keep on telling it and if necessary shout it out loud. It can be real medicine for those who are in the mode of struggeling. I`m glad that you`ve been an impertinent child (in your words). Otherwise you wouldn`t be the Ritti of today.

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