Tag Archives: Asia

The Break

The Break

Sunday December 1, 2013 and Thursday January 9, 2014

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It felt like water breaking.

<Hi, my name is Talitha, and I can be dramatic.>

Though premature, they say it happens around three months, then again at six, this labor was intensive and the birth was full weight. I cried, wept until I was weak and my face and hands were drenched. Only silenced by my daughter’s gentle embrace, as though to say, “It’s ok. It’s all over now.”  I can only remember a few other occasions where this has happened; when I was so overcome with a range of emotions that they just broke through and tears violently flushed me.

I had the breakdown; the question everything, troubles seem to last always, pain comes through the mourning, ‘What the hell am I doing here (with oatmeal in my hair)’ breakdown! And, it paralyzed me. I couldn’t write about it. Hence, no blog posts. I couldn’t talk about it in depth to anyone, and I (still) couldn’t move around it.  I’ve just been moving through it; trying not to let it overshadow the incredible blessing and opportunities of being here with the uncertainty of the same.

For almost a year and half prior to that moment, we were assessing the notion of an international relocation, the shifting of my business, and the impact of uprooting and leaving our support system for a world unknown.  We were in “go” mode for about six months of that time, just moving, selling, packing, making lists, checking them off, & creating more. I was phasing out Black Girl Speaks in the U.S., preparing our daughter, and handling all of the remaining tedious tasks while living in a hotel after my husband moved a month before us. I believed in my husband and supported his ambitions wholeheartedly. I was excited about all this shift would bring. I was ecstatic about creating something new and greater in Asia. I wanted this as much for myself, as I did for him and our family. I was glossy-eyed and in love with the idea of being an expatriate.  And, the first two months proved to be an extended honeymoon of exotic new foods, amusing people, & cultural infusion.

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I woke up one regular Thursday morning with the day’s agenda cycling through my mind as usual. My two-year-old was especially “busy” that morning: running, playing, hiding, throwing and hiding essential household objects. You know, being a toddler. I had just finished cleaning the kitchen to a spotless shine after serving breakfast to my family, while forgetting to eat myself, only to find a mix of oatmeal and Play Doh streaked throughout the house and all over the kibibi’s already-dressed-for-the day body.

 The Day’s Condensed To Do List:

  • -Throw 3 loads in the mini-machine
  • -{Insert: Give her a bath…again.}
  • -Get her dressed…again
  • -Keep her entertained, while I: Prepare snacks, books, toys for the day
  • -Dust every room & all the ceiling fans (face fear of heights)
  • -Vacuum
  • -Mop the floor
  • -Get a shower and get dressed
  •  -Then, teach. (Homeschooling)
  • -Get ready to travel for an hour to Chinese class (question necessity)
  •  -Prepare grocery list in transit
  • -Feed her in transit
  •  -Go grocery shopping
  • -Prepare dinner
  • -Play-date
  • Give her a bath and wash hair

Not one task on the list was directly for me, though my husband would argue that cleaning is a chore of choice because he’s far less concerned about the dust balls that would form a small army otherwise.  This picture was drastically different from the one I painted in my mind. And, certainly not the upgrade in lifestyle I was anticipating and as advertised by the mister. Image

I had idealized being a stay-at-home mom when I was in the states. I realized shortly after moving to Singapore, that I’m that other type of mom. There’s the primarily SAHM that can seemingly juggle it all and finds the majority of her joy and fulfillment in solely serving her family. Even if she works outside of the home, she is completely tied to her family, and only does so to benefit them in some way. That was my mother, and she was/is phenomenal in this role. It used to rattle me to recognize that I’m the type of mom that needs something external to fulfill me….everyday.  (See The Help(er) Part III). 

So, as mentioned, we decided to get the highly recommended help (which has been a necessity in maintaining sanity), but the breakdown was right before (the catalyst for) this decision.  The stress of actually finding assistance did not help my disposition either. My process was not ideal in the least. I’ll have to post separately about that.

In the midst of this emotional typhoon, I’ve met some wonderful people, traveled to some amazing countries, celebrated birthdays of loved ones and wedding anniversaries, started a business, and had more assistant (helper) drama than my share.  It’s been an eventful few months, and I’m finally ready to SPEAK about it. Stay tuned. 

The Help(er) Part II (I’ve got a feeling this will have many parts.)

The Help(er) Part II

ImageHelp in Asia comes in the form of predominantly Filipino or Indonesian women from 16 (those who lie and say they’re 18) to about 50 who leave their homes, families, and support systems and come to live with you, strangers, to become yours.  They’re called “helpers.” Not maids, though they cook and clean your home to your liking. Not assistants, though they can be trained to assist you personally and professionally. Not nannies, though they care for, and in some households raise your children. They’re called “helpers” because they help with EVERYTHING. And, just about everybody has one, especially families with children.    

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When I first arrived, it was assumed that we had one already waiting for us. People were inviting us out for the evening, assuming we could leave our daughter with the help(er).  In fact, every week since we’ve been here, we’ve gotten multiple invitations to attend events that are not child-friendly with the thought that, “surely you have a helper by now.”  Wow, really? Really.

Before my husband and I made the move, we were made aware of this helper phenomenon and we agreed that it was not something we needed and it was too reminiscent to our ancestors’ plight. We just couldn’t take a woman from her family and expect her to live with us and serve us six days a week (most get at least one day off a week, but some only get one day off a month!), 24 hours a day under the guise that we’re giving her a better life because we’re freeing her of the criminal level of poverty in her home country. We would not be like the oppressors of our ancestors. We could handle and take care of ourselves. We’ve been doing it. This will be no different. Right? Right. We were on the same page. 

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Then, he moved here….first. All of a sudden, he was struggling to take care of himself by himself. By the time I got here, this man was convinced that the only way we could survive was by getting a helper. Remember the state of the home I walked into upon arrival. (See “Singapore Nice.”) And now, a month and change in, I’m torn about it.

It’s frustrating because I honestly can’t singly identify what’s so different about living here that makes me so much less productive during the day. I’m certainly not idle, but I just can’t get everything done, as it seemed I did in the states. That’s why these blog posts are so sporadic and infrequent. I’m always tired, and if it stays this way, we won’t be able to enjoy this incredible opportunity to its fullest.  Now, if we had moved to say Iowa, where we know no one, we still wouldn’t consider hiring a live-in maid/assistant/nanny. We’d just make do, and that would be that. But, we wouldn’t have Bali at our doorstep, or Thailand, or India, or all of Asia and many parts of Africa and Europe just a short and cheap flight away from us. We wouldn’t be living in one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen with a thriving and romantic nightlife. And, for all intents and purposes, we’d still be “home” where everything would at least be somewhat familiar. I could find a Target or something akin to it. 

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Soooo, you see my dilemma? I need help, but I don’t want to play the role of the oppressor by any means.  I also don’t want to lose all of my privacy and the intimacy of my home. I mean what if I just want to walk around and clean my house in the nude on a Saturday morning? Sue Lynn or whomever will be right there ready to take my mop. And, it is MY mop and I am the Queen of MY house. Yeah, there’s all of that too. Clearly, I need help. What to do? (Please post any comments and inquiries on the blog so that I can receive them.)

 

 

The Help(er) Part I

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The Help(er) Part I

“It’s the best thing about living in Asia!” 

“Everyone has one. Just do it!” 

“You’ll never want to leave if you get one. They change your life!”

These are all statements that have repeatedly been echoed to me since we did completely change our lives enough as it is and move to Singapore.  All are sentiments shared about Asia’s norm, the hiring of a “helper.”

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ImageMy paternal grandmother, Big Mama, and great-grandmother cleaned the homes of affluent white families in Georgia, among several other jobs, to help provide for their families. They would leave before my father and his siblings awoke and return home close to or after their bedtimes. There, they would enforce the standards of maintaining an immaculate household, always reminding their children to honor their labor by respecting their home. My father can recall few memories of quality family moments with his parents from his childhood, which is why those he can are even more valuable. Yet, he certainly remembers their lessons of the importance of work ethic and respecting that which you do have.

By the time I was in elementary school, Big Mama and my granddad had turned this job into a small business and cleaned several offices after their official day jobs, with me alongside them emptying trash cans, dusting off desks, sharpening and stacking yellow number two pencils neatly in gray cups with the lead pointing up like a cylinder of slate needles. I remember thinking they must’ve been so important to have the keys and be able to enter these big buildings in the dusk of evening when no one else was there. It was like we were invisible. I remember being proud. I remember feeling accomplished. I remember them being exhausted. Image

It was later that I realized that their invisibility was not a superpower, but a necessity as to not upset the environment of those who employed them.  I also realized they didn’t enjoy it nearly as much as I did as a child. Much like the characters in the book and film, “The Help,” they did what they HAD to do, not what they wanted to do with their lives. Choice was not afforded to them, as it was not afforded to many of my ancestors. Tasks and jobs were done as a means of survival, not fulfillment.  

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My whole life’s work now is about helping others find what fulfills them through living with purpose. I motivate people all over the world to tap into their potential and seek to pursue their passions. I do this through my own multi-faceted company, while raising a child, educating her, and caring for my household. I’ve only been able to do this because of my grandparents’ and ancestors’ sacrifices and the assistance of those around me. In the states, it was possible to “do it all” with a support system of family and friends who were but a phone call away from being at my door step.  The convenience and accessibility to everything I needed and familiarity with home also has been a tremendous help in doing what I WANT to do.

Now, I live in Singapore; a country, but also on a continent I’ve never seen outside of a map, “National Geographic,” or “House Hunters International.”   Nothing is familiar or easily accessible by comparison. They have great shopping, efficient public transportation and all, but I mean they don’t have Target for goodness sakes! They don’t have one place that I can go that has a plethora of high quality products at reasonable prices. (hmmm, business opportunity) There’s Mustafa, the nine-story megastore connected by an overpass in Little India that sells everything from cereal to diamond tennis bracelets. But, I get lost in the store every time I go, the lines are always wrapped around the building, and the quality is not always the best. Cereal shouldn’t crawl in your bowl. 

Since I’ve been here, I’ve been overwhelmed with getting the house in order (still not done), managing my rambunctious toddler, normal everyday household duties (that require a full day to complete), exploring a new country, and figuring out what I’m going to do with my life while I’m here to maintain some sense of sanity.  We’ve met many new wonderful people, but there’s nothing like family or at least friends who are like family that you can trust to watch your little one while you say, use the toilet in peace. (She’s my shadow.) I recognize I need help.

(Please post any comments and inquiries on the blog so that I can receive them.) 

Somewhere Over the Rainbow

Saturday, August 1, 2013 4:51 AM

During our transitional process, we traveled quite a few times within the states. (See Planes, Trains, and Auto Deals coming soon.) In one trip, while waiting in the airport, my daughter saw a designated children’s play area and gleefully darted in its direction. Already playing were three children, two girls and one boy, ranging in age from what seemed to be four and nine; all a bit older than my toddler. Two were white and one was Asian.

I only took notice of any of this at all because as soon as my daughter landed on the rubberized play mat and touched the glazed slippery slope, the eldest of the trio jerked at her presence and screeched venomously, “Run! She’s evil!!” They all fled. I leapt towards her. My daughter chased after them because she thought they were playing with her, not operating against her.  Her innocence allowed her to enjoy the “game.” My insight made me want to jump to her rescue. I halted in my steps to assess. Why would this child say that? Why would her onlooking parent not say anything?

It could’ve been because she was the youngest, but at some point someone else was, and yet they were eventually included. It could’ve been that she was the “new kid,” but also at some point…. It could’ve been that she was a girl, but…. It could’ve been that she had three ponytails instead of one. It could’ve been that I was hypersensitive, but… How tiring it is to have to decide whether you’re going to honor or trivialize your feelings.

Part II

We, Black Americans, want so much to be a part of the standard landscape. I remember being entranced by “The Wizard of Oz” as a child. My favorite two parts of the movie were when Dorothy sang the classic, “Somewhere over the Rainbow,” and when she landed in Munchkin Land and her world was suddenly in color; the irony that there were no people of color in the entire movie notwithstanding. We all loved the story, but longed to see ourselves in it. So, we created the more colorful cultural iconic version in “The Wiz,” which immediately became my favorite.

Fast forward.

On the voyage over, the GPS of the airline tracked our trip and we could see the mapping of our course on our personal screens. I took a picture of the digital map that displayed where we were in the world. By the time we reached Singapore, we had created an arc, a rainbow so to speak, with Africa deep in its center.  It was symbolic of the transition. I knew when I stepped off the plane, things were different in ways I hadn’t expected.

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When I walk around here, I feel invisible. It’s not in the, “If I can’t see you, then you’re not my problem, so…” or “I only see you as a problem that I want to fix or critique, so I’ll say I’m colorblind or conservative” way of America. More in the, “You’re not that different. We all have to get where we’re going. Let’s keep it moving. I have to catch this lift*, train, taxi, bus, or bike,” sort of way.  I’ve gotten everything from the cordial nods and smiles & the congenial chatter in passing to the failure to hold and pass the door when I’m a step behind with my child in arms & the complete brushing, bumping, shoving of shoulders as someone whips by and barely notices I’m standing in their path WITH MY CHILD IN ARMS.

But, I’ve noticed everyone gets the same royal treatment. Singaporeans seem to be no respecter of persons when it comes to their courtesy or callousness; at least such has been my experience in my (extremely) brief time here. (I’m told, however, that there is a very overt discrimination against Indian people in Singapore. But, because we decidedly live in an area called Little India, I have yet to observe it. I’ll address that in another post.)

It’s remarkable to even entertain the idea of not looking through the lens of race.  In America, we, Black Americans, are exposed to the idea of race and its impact on our livelihood very early. We are taught to recognize racism in order to know how to respond to it. We are taught the code of conduct in various environments throughout our entire educational matriculation and maturation. We are taught to walk, speak, & conform in a certain manner as to not alarm, agitate, or instill fear in the status quo. We are taught the rules of assimilation and double standards for our own survival and as an instrument to achieve at least a marginal sense of success.

…….

The timing of this move was impeccable.  In the wake of everything that’s happening in the states right now, my home state especially, I was eager to travel, and certainly more excited about moving than I was initially…at least for a time. The frustration builds so much sometimes that you must have an exodus, lest an explosion. To be free from the constant weight of always having to contextualize life’s circumstances through a racial construct is glorifying, even if it’s just for this honeymoon period, however long that may be.

My daughter has played alongside a surprisingly diverse group of new peers everyday since we’ve arrived in Singapore. So far, I’ve had no need to jump to her rescue.  That’s not to say that Singapore

Over the Rainbowis a perfect, harmonious, ethnically diverse utopia where racism against Africa’s sons and daughters goes to hibernate. I’m not sure whether it is or isn’t just yet; too early to tell. But, history tells me it’s highly unlikely. I’m not naïve enough to believe I won’t experience racism at all here. But, I don’t think it will be all I experience here. We truly are somewhere over the rainbow, or at least not in Kansas anymore.

*A lift is an elevator.  Along with “pram,” it’s a new term I’ve fancied.