A Sugarcane Life

I received my first Yearbook ever when I completed Freshman year at college.

I wasn’t sure what to do with it. Yes, I knew effort had went into it. I was even on the Yearbook staff! But effort or no effort, chunkiness just doesn’t travel well.

The week before I flew to Uganda, I tore it up to make a collage.

The original book with beginning, middle, end and index did not represent my year anyways. The collage, with jagged edges of torn pages superimposing images, re-created Chicago into what I had seen: a blur.

That was my first attempt at visualizing transition: multiple realities, each strong and defined, colliding into confusion.

When I left Uganda two months ago, for Germany and on to West Canada, I went through this familiar turmoil again.

People who travel overseas for some time and then return often speak of being disturbed at how their home culture, which they had always accepted, suddenly seems so hard to fit back into.

It’s the opposite for me. What makes the Africa-Canada transition hard is how mindlessly I fit back in. I switch which language I use and how I use it, I dress differently, think differently, interact all day with a completely different worldview, shop differently, walk differently down the street, completely switch my diet, and pick up thrift shop adventures and buying second-hand books. All this I do without conscious thought.

It’s jarring to see how familiar it has become to switch an entire lifestyle. It just takes one flight over an ocean.

But there are moments.

Moments when the absurdity of my two worlds coexisting breaks through to me. I began wondering how I could visually communicate this.

My initial movie idea had no voiceover, no music track. It was going to be clips of similar activities on both sides of the world (walking, washing clothes, cooking, talking, traffic, etc.) but sped up. The confusing, spinning visuals of countries and cultures blurring, with the accompanying garbled sound track, was what I was going for.

Your eyes and ears may now thank your lucky stars that I didn’t do it. 🙂

The concept of a sugarcane life came up as I was brainstorming. I didn’t want to use it. Partly because of an issue I have with Dr. Seuss, who said “Don’t cry because it’s over, laugh because it happened.” Too often I’ve laughed when I should’ve cried. Just for a few minutes, I wanted to stick Dr. Seuss in a tea kettle and let you in to the bewilderment and loss of a transition.

I wanted you to leave the movie wondering what had hit you, because that’s how I walk away from a transition. Kinda dazed, like you suddenly felt the world spinning as you have always been told it does, and it knocked you clear off your feet. I wanted you to feel dizzy. So that you could understand, a little, how an innocent plane ticket can bring a lot more baggage than the 50-pound suitcases you check in.

I wanted my fellow Third Culture Kids to be able to identify themselves in the chaos, and for a few seconds to be ok with that. We’re so good at plastering our walls with happy smiles.

But alas, Dr. Seuss eluded my efforts to imprison him, and here is one more feel-happy movie.

But as my transition becomes more distant, I like this version more. I can’t understand my life apart from the growth that has come through transitions. Growing up in so many places is like being butter spread on too much toast. The funny thing is, you get thicker instead of thinner. I can’t imagine life without moving between continents; I’m not sure I want to try.

‘Course, the chaotic version is probably still coming. This is only the seed version. I didn’t have the clips, time, or expertise I needed to make what is in my mind. So, here it rests. Tucked away on this blog, in the dark. Maybe someday it’ll sprout into something else.

Until then, ladies and gentlemen, enjoy the seed version of “A Sugarcane Life”. 🙂

A Sugarcane Life


3 thoughts on “A Sugarcane Life

  1. Beautifully captured, Maaike! I love how you’re able to chew over your life experiences, like you chew on the sugar cane, savor the sweet juice and leave the masticated fibers on the ground behind. You’ve distilled the difficult-to-describe essence of life for a TCK and presented it as a beautiful gift from the Creator. May God continue to give you words to encourage, bridge, and glorify. With love and big hugs from Arua, Vikki

  2. My eyes are full of tears as I watched your video the day of our latest transition–ending a visit in our birth country and back to our home. I have four young children who are TCK. What a wonderful message of hope. Growth in the midst of confusion. Sweetness in the midst of heartache. Thank you.

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