Expat Alien: My Global Adventures: Chapter 3 - Baltimore Post-ExaminerBaltimore Post-Examiner

Expat Alien: My Global Adventures: Chapter 3

By the time Kathleen was 18 she had lived on five continents. When she starts college in California, she experiences severe “reverse” culture shock. She talks about traveling around Europe, seeing the sites from London to Athens, hiking up Swiss mountains, and living in Africa. She survived a plane crash, a coup d’etat in Burma, earthquakes in Mexico, driving through the Andes in Columbia and army ants in Nigeria. Her college peers talk about football games, high school proms and television shows she never heard of. She can’t relate to them at all and they think she is bragging about all the places she has been. It is like an alien landed in their dorm room talking about visiting the rings of Saturn. Follow Kathleen on her journey through the ups and downs of being a Third Culture Kid.  Read the previous chapters here.

For the next few weeks we will publish a few chapters of her book. We encourage you to purchase the entire book. You can get the paperback or digital format for Kindle, or  the Nook from Amazon. and Barnes and Noble.

  • Paperback edition sells for $15.95
  • Kindle/Nook editions sell for $9.95

That year I was enrolled in kindergarten at the International School where I had a Burmese teacher who wore beautiful lon-gyis (the traditional wrap around skirt) and tied her hair up in a bun.  She had taught my brothers and remembered them so that made me feel a little more comfortable. I only went for half a day so I was always home for lunch. Since it was an international school, there were kids from all over the world but the language was English.  Most Burmese could not afford the tuition.  I mostly remember being in a room with lots of toys and playing on the floor.

One day we had an all-school fire drill.  We had to file out in line and stand away from the building and look at the building and the fire alarm was going and I was in hysterics.  I cried and screamed.  I was in a panic.  I could literally see the flames shooting out from all the windows.  Where were the fire trucks?  My teacher tried to comfort me and convince me that there was no fire.  The other children looked uncomfortable and confused, but I was inconsolable.  My mother had to come for me.  No one there knew about our explosive landing just months before, that I was still reliving in my imagination.

expatWe lived in a large one-story house on University Avenue with a big front yard, a horseshoe driveway and view of Inya Lake. (see feature photo above)  We had a cook, housekeeper, driver, wash-nanny and my nanny, Mary.  Some of our servants lived in a small building behind the house looking out over the road below.   Most foreigners had servants to help them maneuver the ins and outs of living in a strange new place, and also because they could afford to.  The dollar and Western salary went a long way in most developing countries.  It took my practical, Mid-West mother a while to adjust to other people doing the cooking and housework and even though she had servants most of her 30 years abroad, she never really was comfortable with it.  My parents always felt a strong sense of responsibility for the servants and tried to help them when possible.

In 1962 my Indian nanny, Mary, had a granddaughter who was very ill and was diagnosed with TB meningitis.  She was in hospital and died soon after my father had gone away on a business trip.  There were no mortuaries or anyone who took care of the deceased.  It was a family responsibility and since Mary was my nanny, it was my family’s responsibility to help Mary.  My mother gave Mary money to buy a coffin and, since she was Catholic, they arranged for the body to be taken to the church for a short service.  Then they had to arrange for someone to dig the grave in a Catholic cemetery and Mary’s family and friends took the casket there for burial.  All of this had to be done within 24 hours of death.  My mother always said all crises happened when my father was away.

I had a few American friends in our neighborhood but I also spent time playing with the servants’ children. In April, a very hot time of year, the Burmese celebrate the New Year with the Water Festival, which symbolizes a cleansing for the New Year.  I would get buckets of water and sneak out back with one of the servant’s children and throw water on unsuspecting passers-by.  It was great fun!  The Burmese were used to this tradition and usually didn’t mind getting drenched.  I remember an exquisitely dressed woman passing below our balcony.  We were thrilled because she was an excellent target for our water bucket! As we discharged our ammunition, she amazingly opened her umbrella just in time.  What a disappointment!

My brothers would show up from time to time during holidays.  One day Tim came to pick me up from school in a three-wheeler taxi as a surprise.  I thought it was so strange and funny.  My other brother’s main focus in life was to torment me.  At one point the doctors thought I had worms and I was forced to drink the most awful tasting medicine which they “sold” to me saying it was chocolate flavored.  Even at that young age I knew what chocolate should taste like!  After that, Tom loved to tell me in detail how people got worms.  “You know how you got worms, right?  By going barefoot. They crawl in between your toes and into your pores and that’s how they get into your body. Squishy worms crawling up through your toes.”

I didn’t believe him.  It was the most disgusting thing I had ever heard of.  Everybody in Burma went barefoot all the time.  It couldn’t be possible.  He was just being mean.  Years later I found out he was telling the truth.  Of course by that time he had moved on to other forms of torture, but it still gives me the creeps thinking about it.


About the author

Kathy Gamble

Kathleen Gamble was born and raised overseas and has traveled extensively. She has a BA in Spanish and has worked in publishing, printing, desktop publishing, translating, and purchasing. She also designs and creates her own needlepoint. She started journaling at a young age and her memoir, Expat Alien, came out of those early journals. Over the years she has edited and produced an American Women’s Organization cookbook in Moscow, Russia, and several newsletters. Her first book, Expat Alien, was published in 2012 and she recently published a cookbook, 52 Food Fridays, both available on Amazon.com. You can also follow her blog at ExpatAlien.com. Contact the author.
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