We used to believe that dinner would magically appear on our dining room table and that our daughter’s long long hair could easily be braided - French braided - in a matter of seconds. And we thought our toddler’s t-shirts actually did look better when they are ironed.
For you see, we were an American family that moved overseas and had household help. We were a family of four but we added more people into our home. How many of you have had staff? It can be a dream come true! Some of us even believed that folded, stacked and ironed underwear is common.
But here’s the thing - Let’s talk today about the neglected souls we leave behind as we move from assignment to assignment. As our friend Eva calls them, “Beloved strangers”. They are the nannies, the maid, the drivers and the cooks that are part of our global families framework.
Raising my own two children abroad- five different continents, 9 different countries and in a variety of homes, we have had our share of support people or “additional family members” such as Shri, Watti, Khun Oil ,and Somchai to name a few -they were a much-loved part of my children’s lives.
My 3 year old son was comfortable speaking bahasa Indonesia he would often fall into that language, did it bother me? no Did it make me worry about the sharing of love he has for his nanny who taught him this language? Did I perceive it as a competition for his love? No – not at all.
Well perhaps when late at night as he snuggled into bed and I’d ruffle his hair and he mummer in Indonesia.... “saya suka” I knew this meant ” I like”...but late at night in his soft baby voice, it often felt more like “I love” Who was that directed to?
Living in Jakarta during the overthrow of their government, we had a set of security guards for our home. These 4 guys worked a very complicated rotation of shifts to protect our home 100% of the time. Our company defined them by their job description, such as night watchman, day guard, and at times I did to.
My son knew which one would gladly give him a piggy back ride from the car into the house, which one would share his soda with him and even who had children about his own age. These were things I didn’t know about until my own son shared that with me. I am not proud of this.
These-Cross-cultural relationships take effort to foster. It’s not easy – sort of like trying to eat cookies like this. These relationships can be eye opening, they come with their share of hardships and misunderstandings as well. Making families mesh and understand each other when they come from completely different backgrounds isn&apos;t always easy.
When you open your home for a beloved stranger, they get to visit your world. But you can also visit their life by being introduced to things you never thought you’d see, do, smell, taste or feel. My children left pieces of their hearts in many locations around the world.
My son is a writer; he said, “The hardest part about a life overseas is the fact that nothing lasts forever. You can never know if it is your last year in one place, and whether or not you have to say your good-byes. He announced that he would love
to take back all those good-byes and turn them into “welcome back”. He said, I would not just keep my clothes, gadgets, and idle playthings; I would keep my friends, my family, my nannies, my cooks and my drivers -everything that matters most to me.
At this young age he was trying to combine his four cultures he said I can live anywhere in the world- It wouldn’t matter to me, as long as I am with the people that matter most to me, and I’d go anywhere. As for now, my house is simply a plane, moving me from location to location, dropping me into new memories and new faces.
Often staff seem invisible, defined only by their job description - their personality and character traits do not seem of great interest in many expat families. At least not to the adults in the family. Kids are often much more interested in them.
My son’s art shows the confusion for these neglected souls that were in our expat family. They warranted an equal space on the page but only in pencil.. They were the same size as his family of four but in pencil -.Is this because they are easily erased or changed as we relocated?
My time is almost up and I still haven’t had the nerve to say the word -servant. This is an uncomfortable word to me. Yes, I paid them. But we prefer... Much Loved Reference Person we long to appreciate their service beyond the material compensation that I paid.
We need to Validate our memories we need to admit our feelings of appreciation We need to show our gratitude BUT we need to feel our loss. Many of these family members are untraceable even if we return to their home country. We don’t have enough information about them.
These neglected souls are the ones who comfort, who protect, who reassure us daily - and they are there for our family with out fail - they are solid as a brick wall, supporting us always but easily fading away as we move on.
So let’s face the facts – redefine the expat family – include those forgotten neglected souls we leave behind as we move from assignment to assignment. These “Beloved strangers” - Are a part of your family - And you are a team now, a progressive cultural force to be reckoned with.
Will your beloved strangers become visible and recognized? Let’s kindle the relationships of these beloved strangers in our homes here and abroad. Let’s continue this discussion. For the sake of your children, please continue the discussion.
Hired Help or Much Loved Reference Person?
Beloved Stranger:Beloved Stranger: