Off the Coast of Africa… Expat File # 18

I’m delighted to welcome my guest today, Julz Ma Poon who has lived in eight different countries – but who’s counting? A lifestyle not for the faint-hearted. Here is a buoyant account of an adventurous woman.
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I have been what one would call an expat my whole life – well not completely true… I was born in 1976 in a small town close to Copenhagen, and my first ever resident/visa stamp in a passport is from February 8th 1982. I moved to south of France in March that year. My parents and bigger sister had already moved and I stayed with my maternal grandparents at that time. I missed my sister dearly. I remember the winter of ’81-’82 I was waiting for them to arrive from France one night. There were no mobile phones back then, so we never knew when they would arrive. Of course I fell asleep on the couch waiting. I woke up in the middle of the night and my sister had gone to sleep in the same bed as me. We went to my GrandMa’s kitchen and had a cup of chocolate. I still remember the happiness of seeing her again. Fun memories.

Little Julz with her father in France

If you ask me where I am from (and many people do) – well I say Denmark. I am proud to be Danish. I speak it fluently (if a little old fashioned, my friends would say), I love the Danish traditions and I do my best to keep them with my own children today.

I have never thought of myself as being a Third Culture Kid – Denmark, France – there isn’t that big of a difference – at least there never was for me. I used to live in one and moved to another. That was that. I grew up in France and had a pretty normal life – except we drove to Denmark twice a year and I used to love all the places I would see from the car, the hotels and the restaurants on the motorway. The chocolates we would buy.

After studies in Switzerland and a few moves across the Atlantic – I finally settled down with my husband in the UK. In the early 2000’s nobody spoke about ‘expats’ the way we do today. I always considered myself an immigrant, until our first big move for my husband’s work. I suppose then we became expats.

Citadel in Amman, Jordan (the Roman temple of Hercules is on the far right)

That move took us to Amman, Jordan. We moved (as with all our moves) without having visited . We landed in the middle of the desert on a cold January evening, with a 5 month old baby. There were holes in the road and no lights on the highway – but people were friendly, very friendly. We spend 2 and a half years in that amazing country. Jordan has culturally, religiously and historically so many things to offer: the baptismal site of Jesus, Mount Nebo (where Moses looked out over the promised land); Petra, the famous Nabataean site (known from the Indiana Jones movies), and the largest Roman ruins outside of Italy in Jerash – just to name a few examples. We left Jordan with a soon-to-be 3 year-old and a little baby boy – grateful for all the things Jordan gave us, but leaving great friendships behind.

Temple of Mengwi, Bali, Indonesia

Then came a couple of years in Indonesia, with a move to Bali. The Island of the Gods – and it truly is. Never have I been in a place where Spiritualism is so widely present. If one doesn’t believe in spiritual matters, all that is needed is a bit of time with the Balinese – and everyone changes their minds. How can I say this? Everyone believes so strongly that things happen…

Julz with her children in the Maldives

Another move, another country. This time, life took us to the Maldives – the small island country in the northern part of the Indian Ocean. Beautiful islands, nature and amazing underwater wildlife. But a hard life: one small island, one hotel – and that’s it: no shops, no schools, no friends.  Thus when we stayed longer than planned, I decided to take our 2 children to Mauritius, my husband’s home country.  I had to leave my husband behind until he could join us and we could be together again as a family. That is where we are today, reunited and happy.

Although I never thought of myself as a Third Culture Kid, my children are exactly that: they have been exposed to more cultures than most people will ever be. I often wonder if I did (do?) the right thing as parent, with this very nomadic lifestyle. My daughter is now 7 and has lived in five countries, my son in 4. But then I look at my children and see what this has brought them. They have lived in Christian, Muslim, Hindu and multi-religious countries. People  have cared for them on (more than) four continents. They never refer to anybody per the colour of the skin (except the one time when my daughter tried to wash her Balinese nanny’s arm!), the financial situation, the religion or even the nationality – for them it simply does not matter – it’s the girl in the white dress or the boy with the red shorts, it’s our friends from Singapore or London, Melbourne or Doha. They have a thirst for adventure, a true will to protect nature, a need to learn about their environment or new culture and so much to give, to share. And for all that I hope I am doing the right thing.

The Ma Poon kids on beach in Mauritius

 I always wanted to see what was beyond the next mountain, across the river, over the ocean. I guess that what I wanted as a kid is what I have created for my own children. That’s actually very selfish and I hope they will not be too hard on their mother for the lifestyle I have imposed on them as children.

The world I grew up in, was already a world in movement. The world we live in today, as no real borders. It becomes harder to keep traditions, it becomes harder to say I am from Denmark or Mauritius, but I knew where I was from; for my children it is a little harder than that.

I (CCM) confess that I had to look at a map to confirm exactly where Mauritius lies.  I learned that it has retained some of its French heritage but was also settled by the Dutch and British – among others.  Leave questions and comments for Julz below. To learn more about Julz and Mauritius visit: https://wanderingexpatfamily.wordpress.com/

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