“Live overseas for a month and you’ll want to write an article about it.
Live overseas for a year and you’ll want to write a book about it.
Live overseas for a few years and you won’t want to talk about it.”
I don't want to tell my Africa stories.
This past year, CultureBound launched our children's training to equip whole families for the transition to life overseas. After each training, I have asked the children what they liked about the program and what they would change for the next kids who come through the training.
Every single group has said they "want more Africa stories." So, the next time, I added in some stories about lions and elephants and our pet monkeys and the time we drove through a river. I asked that group of kids the same question at the end of the program. This group was older than the others that had come through before them. They said, "We want more of your Africa stories. But, not just the fun, happy ones, the hard, sad ones, too."
Oy. That is NOT what I wanted to hear. See, I have the stories that I share when somebody asks me about Africa. The safe ones. But then there are the others. The yucky, messy, raw stories.
We came back to California for furlough my Sophomore year in high school and stayed through my Junior year. When I started at a public high school in the 10th grade, everyone asked about Africa and that was great, because, really, I didn't have much else to talk about. So I shared my stories (the cheery ones), but I soon realized that I could only go so far before their eyes would start to glaze over and they would lose interest. I quickly learned that sharing Africa stories made me un-relatable.
In October of that school year, someone shared a story, and to relate to what they were saying, I said, "Oh yeah! This one time in Africa..." I was quickly cut off by a sarcastic, "Here goes Lauren with another Africa story...." Shortly after that, I was told to "stop bragging about living in Africa." And shortly after that, I stopped telling my Africa stories.
Now I am an adult, working with kids who are about to have their own life overseas. Their own Africa or Asia or Europe stories. And they want to hear mine. And so do their parents who are about to embark on parenting overseas. And not just the fun, cheery ones about weird foods and strange bathrooms, but the other ones. The hard, sad ones. The stories about difficult transitions and evacuations and war. The stories about friends who died and my journey through processing the wealth of grief that I carried.
I actually had some of these stories in a previous blog post about processing grief. Then I deleted them and went for a more "factual" instead of "personal" approach. Honestly, I just did it because it felt safer (go figure, since "Talk About It" is one of my main points in that post. Guess I should get on my own bandwagon!). But, the more I research, the more I talk to parents, the more I ask kids what would be helpful to them, the more I think about who and what has impacted my life, the more I'm finding that the personal approach, despite the fact (and maybe, because of the fact), that it isn't pretty, is probably the way to go.
So, I'm working on it. Working on the courage to be that raw, that vulnerable, that exposed, because I'm realizing that place is where I am going to have the greatest impact on these families. It's great to tell the kids a story about an elephant, but it is the stories of grief that will help them to process their own. Hopefully by carefully letting these kids into those dark places that I prefer to keep hidden, they will find the freedom share their own difficult TCK stories. I'm finding that telling those stories is good for the soul, for mine and theirs, too.
So bear with me as I struggle to loosen my white-knuckled grip and learn to let you into the raw, messiness that's inside there. Bear with me as I learn to tell my Africa stories.