This week was International Week at Kiddo's school.
Every year when International Week rolls around, it strikes me as slightly odd. We're talking about a school in which over 2,000 kids from more than 80 nations come together on a daily basis. Seriously, every day is international day for them!
My Canadian Kiddo's best friends are South African, Indonesian, British and Qatari. She has a silent crush on a little Scottsman, a little Dutch boy has a crush on her, and her other BFF from Ireland moved State-side at the end of the last school year.
But then I stop and look back on my own expat childhood, and I realize that I didn't actually learn THAT much about my Indian, American, British, Venezuelan, or Lebanese friends' cultures. We were far too busy playing and just being kids to actually learn about the meaning behind Ramadan, or Diwali, or Chinese New Year.
Moving back to Small-town Canada in my teens, I was confronted with a completely different reality: you were a phenomenon if you'd just moved there from the nearest town 60 kilometers down the wooded highway. Coming as I was from South America, it's fair to say everything about me was perceived as odd. Even though my blue eyes, skin tone and fair hair blended in seamlessly, my neutral accent and trilingualism were often a topic of great interest. It's fair to say I never quite fit in. In fact, for the first time in my life, people focused on what made me different, rather than what made me the same.
I tried really hard to fit in. I adopted the same speech patterns as my new friends (speech emulation is apparently quite common in third culture kids), I cut my long hair to channel Canadiana via an eighties feathered mullet style, I tried to avoid anything that would make me stand out. I lost any desire to be the lead in the school play, contenting myself with the blessed anonymity that came from playing the part of the tree at the back of the stage, simply swaying in the wind.
But I was never really happy being what I was expected to be. I never necessarily wanted the lead; I think I simply wanted to get off the stage. I wanted to stop pretending and get back to being that girl who could hang out with others so different than her, yet so very much the same. I wanted to go back to a place where diversity and differences were the norm. Oddly enough, as much as I yearned for a return to those differences, I never really figured out what those differences were.
When I moved to Qatar, I found myself somewhat at peace, relishing my 'sameness' as an expat in a sea of expats. Yet life here is amazingly not that different to a small northern Canadian town. Within a short while, I was quite surprised to find myself spotting the 'differences'. Shortly thereafter, I realized that my small-mindedness could not be blamed on where I lived, it was result of what I had failed to learn.
As a young child, I could get away with ignoring the differences and continue playing; worst case scenario, I could get upset about the differences, have a small hissy fit, and stomp away until the urge to play again wiped the slate clean. But as an adult, pouting and stomping away are no longer viable solutions when confronting things I don't understand. I realize I have to TRY to understand, LOOK for happy mediums, STRIVE to find the beauty in our differences, and sometimes PRAY for enlightenment when it comes to finding commonalities.
And I realize that having celebrated International Week once a year from a very young age might well have made things much easier for me as an adult. And Kiddo's yearly school celebration starts to seem much less odd. And I start to embrace the tradition, as she proudly wears her National dress to school one day (nothing so unique as a sari, or an abaya, or a kimono for us Canucks .... It's a tuque, plaid vest and moon boots all the way), Qatari colors the following day, and a hockey jersey the next.
This morning before work, as I stood by the stove cooking what seemed like a thousand French-Canadian crepes for Kiddo to bring to the international buffet, I wondered if, despite our many differences, moms of all nationalities were at this very moment equally frazzled and behind schedule for the sole purpose of contributing to their child's international palate enlightenment.
I wondered how many of them realized like me that they were thirty minutes behind schedule, still hadn't showered, and were going to be late for that very important meeting. Were they all wondering at their brazenness for sealing still-steaming food items into plastic containers in defiance of every food packing guideline on earth?
Were they watching their child dissolve into hysterics on the kitchen floor at the mortifying thought of having to pick up a tardy pass because Maman hadn't properly scheduled her early morning baking marathon?
I pondered all these things calmly, finding comfort and solace in the thought of that shared 'one-ness'.
As I dropped Kiddo off at school just as the first bell rang, I proudly watched her line up excitedly with dozens of other kids just beyond the school gate to hand over the plastic bag filled with food containers, so like all the other plastic bags filled with food containers laid out on the receiving table. As an Indonesian volunteer mom dressed in traditional garb graciously accepted Kiddo's bag with a smile, I watched other parents scurrying with kids and plastic bags in tow, trying to make it to the gate before the final bell rang.
And I started back across the parking lot, thinking to myself, "none of us are that different".
Which is when I saw a lovely little Qatari girl alight from a G63 Mercedes SUV with her nanny. Her driver reached into the rear and pulled out a cake box (from an uber-expensive local bakery) the size of small house. I couldn't take my eyes off that golden box, and I watched the trio as they made their way across the cross walk to the gate, thinking to myself "we're NOT all the same."
Until I saw the little girl's eyes light up and her grin quickly spread as she took her place proudly in line, so excited at the prospect of her golden contribution being laid there amongst a sea of cheap plastic containers. Her obvious joy at being a part of it all exactly mirrored my daughter's.
And I thought to myself "we're not the same, but we're really not that different after all".
What else could you expect when a thousand nations collide in a small town?