Home   |  Issues  |  The Daily Star Home | Volume 3, Issue 20, Tuesday December 20, 2005




Three Culture Kids

For many of you, this term might be a first. There is a certain cultural identity associated with the term “Three Culture Kid” that may or may not sound new but is often misunderstood. I left Bangladesh at the age of four and I've been caught in a self-contained time-warp of a cultural ecosystem where I was obliged to reconcile three different cultures into myself at any given point in time. Having lived in three other countries so far, I was, and probably still am, a three-culture kid.

The sorts of pressures exerted on the mind of a tender child to catalyze such a transformation may vary but carry the essence of living and adjusting in Diaspora while trying to preserve or propagate the ideals and traditions of the homeland.

At school, I was to learn the international languages of English and French and follow the curricula set by a European body governing international educational institutions all over the world. Outside of school in the playgrounds and marketplaces, I would have to engage the locals in their own lingo (Arabic and Japanese were ones I delved into) and exchange stories of our respective cultures. And last, but not least, at home I would be schooled in the language of my forefathers so as to carry on traditions held so highly by them.

The interesting thing about this was that for me it all seemed to be part of one universal language to the point where, for a while when my family came back to Bangladesh, they would be the only people understanding my trilingual hodgepodge of Arabic, Bengali, and English.

Besides languages, there were molds and casts set for cultural and moral thought and seeing as there were not one but three different sources of such molds, the emerging fiber spun from those threads was quite fascinating to watch and experience to say the least. One example of such hybrid thought is the way I forged relationships with different people.

At home, I was taught to respect my elders, address them with the superlative pronoun (apni), pay my salaam to them before they could say hello to me, and never look straight into their eyes. At school, my teachers joked around with me and would tolerate a jab or two back without it being a big deal.

The situation didn't seem conflicting in my mind until a few times I found my parents admonishing me for joking around with a teacher or an older friend. But even at that age, I had the knowledge to assure my parents that it was ok because that's how their culture is.

This chameleon-like quality of being able to mix and adapt to different groups and cultures is a marvelous skill to have for anybody in today's global culture. The insatiable thirst and voracity for knowledge of all kinds is another consequence of such an environment.

I engaged myself in the art, sports, community services and found that within each and every area I dug my hands into, I discovered another piece of myself and with each piece came a desire to complete the whole puzzle.

Versatility is a skill that people would kill to have and yet I have it in me to dive into whatever field required of me regardless of whether I'd done it before or not. Despite not really liking being constrained by being an engineering major at university, today I work as a software engineer precisely because I dove in with the "What have I got to lose?" attitude. Thus far, I’m glad I took the chance.

I don't suppose all three culture kids look at things this way. Some feel frustrated at having to move around so often and losing touch with friends and family. Others feel conscious about speaking in the tongues of their parents because they haven't been able to learn it as well as English.

As far as cultural knowledge is concerned, there's a spectrum of that as well given the amount of time and concentration parents need to take to make sure they slip in their dosage of traditional enculturation to their children while they're exposed to the world outside.

I have to admit that it was and still is very difficult being a three culture kid. It's harder to find people of the same mindset or wavelengths and even harder to reconcile such things as dating or marriage conventions of conflicting cultures. Suffice it to say that being a product of cultural diasporas isn't easy but can produce a multitude of interesting results.

By Sarwar Bhuiyan


My memorable years spent in Africa

We, all of us in the teaching group at the Polytechnic became very busy after Christmas celebrations as we were going to attend the Exam Board Meeting with our External Examiners. Two senior professors from U.K Bath University came to attend the meeting and infact, they used to come twice regularly; once in June and another time in December to evaluate the examination procedures, promotions, correct numbering of the scripts, teachers's teaching standard etc. If a student failed to sit in the final exam, we tried to give him promotion for the next year on the basis of a continuous assessment of his activities for the whole year. And to me, it's really a justified decision taken for a sick student, as the situation is not controlled by his whims but by sheer unseen natural phenomena. Also, these external examiners used to interview each student separately to evaluate the whole education system there. I forgot the name of one of the professors but I can still remember the other one who is called Dr. Richard Fellows and I remember him very distinctly as at that time during 1991-92 he had long straight hair upto his waist and he moved around with a beautiful ponytail. Once, after the meeting was over and we were all outside the meeting room, Mr. Vaishnave, one of the Assistant professors from civil Engineering Department commented, “Lets see, whose hair is longer, Mrs. Zafar's or Dr. Fellow's?” Dr. Fellow laughed loudly and agreed to take the measurement during our dinner that night. I came back home right after the meeting feeling exhausted and took a shower and decided not to attend the dinner and I informed Mr. Udashi (Professor of Mechanical Department) about the possibility of my absence for the dinner. But my husband said, I should not miss it as that hotel was a very renowned one for its excellent food.

After an hour's rest I went to the hotel and the moment I stepped inside the restaurant they were all very happy to see me. After the dinner party was over, I drove home all alone around past 10:30 at night although my house, was not that far from the hotel. I never felt insecure whenever I drove late at night in Botswana and I wish we had that same type of security here in our country

Botswana is basically a landlocked country, you can enjoy its wildlife, its natural wild beauty, but you miss the sunny warm beach for which you have to go to South Africa, especially Durban, Cape town beach areas are famous for heavenly enjoyment. So, I decided to go for a two-weeks holiday programme to South Africa. We had to do a lot of work to make this plan a success. Luckily in the meantime, we got an invitation from Raymond, one of our South African friends to visit his house, his industries in Pretoria, the capital of South Africa. Then there was Ayesha, another Indian born-South African friend who for a long time was requesting me to visit her home on top of a hill in Durban.

Before that, I had to call a group of my friends of different nationalities for dinner one day. I have loved cooking from my childhood days, I love to try different foods from different countries infact, I go for blending one with another type always. That day, I placed most of the typical Bangladeshi dishes on the table, especially, “begoon bhorta”, “shutki bhorta”, “borboti bhorta.” And the very next week when we went to have lunch at one of our Ghanaian friend's house, I was awfully surprised to see the same type of “Begoon bhorta” on their table. I could not suppress my excitement and asked Mrs. Koarmein, “Do you people eat brinjals the same way we eat them?” She replied that she prepared it following exactly the same recipe I gave her. I marveled at her intense interest in learning, in trying to prepare new food. I thought “Good! At least a foreigner appreciated our deshi 'bhorta' wholeheartedly. Alex Koarmein was the Regional Director of UNESCO posted in Botswana and had a huge Farm-house where we were invited and it was almost 100 kilometers from Gaborone. I can still remember his completely round-shaped red-bricked house decorated with plywood furniture only. There were some clay sculptors from Ghana artistically placed inside the huge lounge.

I feel, every decoration reflects each person's inner feelings a bit. It does not matter in which part of the world you live in, you always crave secretly for your own sweet homeland. That homesickness is flushed upon your way of decorating your house, your eating habits, your dressing up, your listening to music and what not! Every now and then I used to feel, if only for once I could try that magic I saw in a film called, ”Hirok Rajar Deshey” and opened my eyes to find myself just beside my mum? Well, I could never stay away from Dhaka for more than two years, inside my heart I always thought when am I going to come back home for good?

To be continued……………..

By Suraiya Zafar


home | Issues | The Daily Star Home

2003 The Daily Star