Global Nomads and TCKS- 6: The difficulty of fitting in at new schools

Edward Said on the global nomad’s struggle to fit into a new school:

It was as an American businessman’s son who hadn’t the slightest feeling of being American that I entered the Cairo School for American Children (CSAC) in the fall of 1946, the first day made easier by the fact that the Greek bus driver who picked me up early on a sunny October morning in Zamalek and drove me with a lot of totally unfamiliar, loud, unself-conscious American children in gaily colored shirts, skirts, and shorts was a driver at my Auntie Melia’s college. He recognized me at once and always treated me—as no one did—with deferential, if familiar, courtesy. I had never seen such an assortment, or concentration, of Americans before. Gone were the uniforms and subdued, conspiratorial whispers of the GPS’s English mostly Levantine children; gone too were English names like Dickie, Derek, and Jeremy, as well as Franco-Arab names like Micheline, Nadia, or Vivette. Now there were Marlese, Marlene, Annekje, several Marjies, Nancy, Ernst, Chuck, and lots of Bobs. No one paid any attention to me.

 “Edward Sigheed” did pass muster, and I was soon able in some way to belong, but every morning when I stepped on the bus I felt a seething panic when I saw the colored T-shirts, striped socks, and loafers they all wore, while I was in my primly correct gray shorts, dress white shirt, and conventionally European lace-ups. For the class I’d settle my inner consternation into an efficient, albeit provisional, identity, that of bright, yet often wayward, pupil. Then at lunch, as they unwrapped the same neatly cut white-bread sandwiches of peanut butter and jelly—neither of which I had ever tasted—and I my more interesting cheese and prosciutto in Shami bread, I fell back into doubt and shame that I, an American child, ate a different food, which no one asked to taste, nor asked me to explain.

 Out of Place: A Memoir

Originally posted Wednesday, March 3rd, 2013

Global Nomads and TCKS- 5: Split loyalties

Andre Aciman’s Aunt Flora on the split loyalty of being from two places:

 “Even today, I continue to live my life that way.  I cross the street on the slant, I always sit in the side rows at concert halls, am a citizen of two countries but I live in neither, and I never look people in the eye,” she said, as I, conscious of her effort to do so now, averted my own.  “I’m honest with no one, though I’ve never lied.  I’ve given far less than I’ve taken, though I’m always left with nothing.  I don’t even think I know who I am, I know myself the way I might know my neighbor: from across the street.  When I’m here, I long to be there; when I was there I longed to be here,” she said, referring to her years in Alexandria.

 Out of Egypt: A Memoir

Originally posted Wednesday, February 27th, 2013

Global Nomads and TCKS- 4: Multiple experiences and multiple selves

Milosz writes of one of the global nomad’s particular challenges: the problem of integrating multiple sense impressions and selves, and of having no sturdy culture against which to shape oneself:

 My own case is enough to verify how much of an effort it takes to absorb contradictory traditions, norms, and an overabundance of impressions, and to put them into some kind of order.  The things that surround us in childhood need no justification, they are self-evident.  If, however, they whirl about like particles in a kaleidoscope, ceaselessly changing position, it takes no small amount of energy simply to  plant one’s feet on solid ground without falling.

What then is ordinary? Films and books or some other reality entirely? War or peace? The past or the present? An old-time custom or a parade with red banners? This chauvinist point of view or that? Doubtless, in order to construct a form one needs a certain number of widely accepted certainties, some kind of background of conformity to rebel against, which none­theless generates a framework that is stronger than conscious­ness. Where I grew up, there was no uniform gesture, no social code, no clear rules for behavior at table. Practically every person I met was different, not because of his own special self, but as a representative of some group, class, or nation. One lived in the twentieth century, another in the nineteenth, a third in the fourteenth. When I reached adolescence, I car­ried inside me a museum of mobile and grimacing images: blood-smeared Seryozha, a sailor with a dagger, commissars in leather jackets, Lena, a German sergeant directing an orchestra, Lithuanian riflemen from paramilitary units, and these were mingled with a throng of peasants—smugglers and hunters, Mary Pickford, Alaskan fur trappers, and my drawing instructor. Modern civilization, it is said, creates uniform boredom and destroys individuality. If so, then this is one sickness I had been spared.

 Native Realm

Originally posted on Wednesday, February 20th, 2012

Global Nomads and TCKS- 3: Temporariness

Czeslaw Milosz on the mobile life:

Throughout all my early childhood, rivers, towns and land­scapes followed one another at great speed. My father was mobilized to build roads and bridges for the Russian Army, and we accompanied him, traveling just back of the battle zone, leading a nomadic life, never halting longer than a few months. Our home was often a covered wagon, sometimes an army railroad car with a samovar on the floor, which used to tip over when the train started up suddenly. Such a lack of stability, the unconscious feeling that everything is tempo­rary, cannot but affect, it seems to me, our mature judgments, and it can be the reason for taking governments and political systems lightly. History becomes fluid because it is equated with ceaseless wandering.

 Native Realm: A Search for Self-Definition

Originally posted on Wednesday, February 13th, 2013

Global Nomads and TCKS- 2: Loss and the desire to hold things still

Andre Aciman on the exile’s loss and wish to hold things still:

On a late spring morning in New York City four years ago, while walking on Broadway, I suddenly noticed that something terrible had happened to Straus Park.  The small park, located just where Broadway intersects West End Avenue on West 106th Street, was being fenced off…

Why should anybody care? And why should I, a foreigner, of all people, care? This wasn’t even my city. Yet I had come here, an exile from Alexandria, doing what all exiles do on impulse, which is to look for their homeland abroad, to bridge the things here to things there, to rewrite the present so as not to write off the past. I wanted to rescue things everywhere, as though by restoring them here I might restore them elsewhere as well. Seeing one Greek restaurant disappear or an old Italian cobblers turn into a bodega, I was once again reminded that something was being taken away from the city and, therefore, from me—that even if I don’t disappear from a place, places disappear from me.

I wanted everything to remain the same. Because this, too, is typical of people who have lost everything, including their roots or their ability to grow new ones. They may be mobile, scattered, nomadic, dislodged, but in their jittery state of transience they are thoroughly stationary. It is precisely because you have no roots that you don’t budge, that you fear change, that you’ll build on anything, rather than look for land. An exile is not just someone who has lost his home; he is someone who can’t find another, who can’t think of another. Some no longer even know what home means. They re­invent the concept with what they’ve got, the way we reinvent love with what’s left of it each time. Some people bring exile with them the way they bring it upon themselves wherever they go.

I hate it when stores change names, the way I hate any change of season, not because I like winter more than spring, or because I like old store X better than new store Y, but because, like all for­eigners who settle here and who always have the sense that their time warp is not perfectly aligned to the city’s, and that they’ve docked, as it were, a few minutes ahead or a few minutes behind earth time, any change reminds me of how imperfectly I’ve con­nected to it. It reminds me of the thing I fear most: that my feet are never quite solidly on the ground, but also that the soil under me is equally weak, that the graft didn’t take. In the disappearance of small things, I read the tokens of my own dislocation, of my own transiency. An exile reads change the way he reads time, memory, self, love, fear, beauty: in the key of loss.

False Papers: Essays on Exile and Memory

Originally posted on Wednesday, February 6th, 2013