Sunday, 30 August 2015

Second life

My husband and I were making a way to our seats in a dimly lit theatre hall where primary school children were about to perform a drama. The big auditorium was full of excited people murmuring, laughing, talking and finding their seats. There were two people, a young man and a middle-aged lady, sitting next to us and talking in a very musical tongue. My husband could not resist his intense curiosity so he asked, “Excuse me, if you don’t mind, can you tell me what language you two are using? I find it really beautiful.” The lady laughed sweetly and replied, “Oh, yeah! It is the Mauritian Creole language. Do you like it?” 

In the conversation that followed, we found out that she was the grandmother of our son’s friend, Calvin, and the young man beside her was his father. She said that she left her country, Mauritius, for Australia 26 years ago, searching for a better life. The amazing reality that she revealed to us was that even though she had been living in Australia for 26 years now, she missed Mauritius terribly, and when it rained in Australia she always smelled Mauritian soil and wished she could have been there physically.

In general, it is true that all immigrants of the first generation (who migrate as adults with their children) may feel the same way as Calvin’s grandmother; their hearts may always be in their native land with their families and friends that they left behind, and basically, they might not be happy living in a foreign country. Who knows, they may also regret leaving their country for the rest of their lives. The ‘the smell of soil’ after the rains might always make them feel nostalgic and think of their homeland, instead of their host land. Such immigrants, who I met and talked to, told me that the main or only reason for  their migration to Australia was to provide better education for their children, which would obviously lead to a better future for them in return.

But what about the children? Can they really live up to their parents’ high expectations of academic success?  Not necessarily. These children are sandwiched between their home culture and Australian culture. They get confused when they are placed in a completely different academic atmosphere. For example, I observed that children, especially from Asian countries, go to Australia with their experience of ‘highly textbook-based learning’, long hours of homework and strict teachers. An Indian mother told me that when her son was in India, he used to study many subjects, have different textbooks and also have regular homework. Similarly, a Filipino father added that teachers are very strict in the Philippines. In contrast, things were very different in Australia. Here, I found out that exploratory learning is emphasised, where students are expected to do their own research; textbooks are not the sole source of knowledge. And what is more surprising is that there is not a single ‘textbook’ in primary schools (from prep to Year 6), but the teaching-learning process is as, if not more, engaging as it would have been with textbooks. School teachers told me that in place of textbook-based homework, project-based homework is assigned. Projects require students to collect information from different resources, such as books, online sources, newspapers and magazines to complete their assignments. Regarding teachers, Australian teachers are not strict at all. They support student learning at the maximum possible level, but they are not coercive. Any form of corporal punishment is prohibited in schools.

In such an inclusive environment, immigrant students may misperceive the Australian schooling system and see it as easy and relaxed as J. Li’s 2010 research conducted on twelve Chinese immigrant children between the ages of 13 and 19 living in Canada, My home and my school: Examining immigrant adolescent narratives from the critical socio-cultural perspective,” shows. Because of this, they may gradually stop working hard or even listening to their parents. All they want to do is have fun, and do no work. As a result, they may fail to achieve as much as their parents had aspired for them before leaving their home country. There is a good chance that these children may be lost in the jungle of unlimited material exposure and an unfamiliar education system. Their identity neither resembles the people of their home country nor to the people of the host country. They may turn into Willie Chandran, the protagonist in V.S. Naipaul’s novel ‘Half a Life,’ who was taken to London, by his Indian parents, and Willie felt that he neither belonged to Britain nor to India. A Mongolian mother shared her fear with me. She was worried that her daughter would not be able to compete with her friends if they went back to their country. She said, “She may speak English fluently, but when it comes to academics what will she do? I’m scared for her!”

Therefore, before making a life-changing decision to migrate to a foreign country, it is wise to think twice; because the grass is not always greener on the other side as most of the people expect. All the sacrifices that first generation immigrants have to make for the sake of their children’s future may not be worth it in the end. One person’s success abroad can be another person’s disaster.

(Published in an English Daily The Kathmandu Post on Sunday, August 30, 2015)

 [The pictures on this blog are posted here with permission from their owners or have been gathered from various sources on the Internet. If you are the copyright-holder to any of the photographs herein do not hesitate to contact me. They will be swiftly removed if desired so.]

Saturday, 8 August 2015

Lifelong habit of a mother

Guest Post

-Zen Kaizen

After a decade-long self exile, I visited my mother last winter and found that she had not changed an iota. I’ve seen her for the past forty years and she is what she is.

A fragile old widow in her eighties, she has been commanding a hoard of kids - ranging from 63 to 30. Yes, even the kids of the kids have kids! She does not bother counting the generations of offspring; the number could be over eight dozens.

The day I reached the home where I had spent the golden times of my childhood, she was busy watering her flower garden adjacent to her newly built cosy cottage. The next moment, I saw her feeding a calf, and then a moment later she was caressing her favourite pet - a pregnant goat.

“Mum, would you mind taking some rest? You are too old and fragile to hop around like this,” I pleaded only to get a terse reply, “What for? You may have enough time to take rest but I am on my last lap and there is not much time left for me! Just do not disturb me, okay?”

Her routine is not only limited to these errands. I saw her observing the potato field; picking some insects from a patch of radish while at the same time asking people to irrigate a sprawling wheat field. In the midst of her busy schedule, she took some time off and said, “You kids are doing well. That’s fine…but what do I do with all my overwhelming emotions? I pour my feelings of love into the plants and animals thinking that I am feeding you. I look at those buds and smile at them thinking that my kids who reside seven seas away are smiling at me. What else can I do?”

All of her children were worrying about her shrinking figure coupled with her body aches, fluctuating sugar and blood pressure levels and her ever decreasing eyesight. We were requesting her to stop, take a breath, slow down and not to worry too much about the farm. But a bunch of PhDs and hoards of master’s degree holders shamefully failed to convince our unstoppable mom.

Mother with a grandson

The imagery that she had attached with the plants and animals was all about us. Unlike the scriptural myth, she was not replacing the gods and goddesses with us. But it was all out of love for her children that she was doing all these things incessantly.

It was just four in the morning; she had already finished her morning prayers and squatted beside the hearth sipping her herbal tea. She told me to wrap myself up with proper clothes as I was only in my pair of shorts and a sleeveless shirt. I had been doing just fine without her instructions for years; yet she was telling me off with a series of dos and don’ts!

Her health conscious grand-kids grumbled during the meal times as the old woman forced them to eat more. They grabbed their bellies and whispered in a hush-hush manner about how they were getting out of shape because of being forced into over-eating by the ‘old ducky’. Their silent grumbles had no effect on mom and she was stacking food on their plates. The serving was not even half on the plates and she was adding more ‘harmless and healthy’ salads and fruits. “Each time these fruits and vegetables are ready, I wish all my kids were around. I want you to finish them all; that’s where my happiness is. However, you guys come with a dried-up appetite and do not want to eat anything. You are disfiguring yourself; that does not make me happy.”

I was pretty sure that I would be able to convince her to work less and take more rest but I was wrong. I had no strength left to argue when I listened to the logic behind her work. Raising a dozen kids, she had made a habit of loving them in one way or the other and how can we tell her not to love us? That was her nature and that cannot be altered.

A small cell phone rings that she carries around in a small pouch. It was one of my brothers asking about her health. I was thanking the ease of the invention that helped connect so many longing hearts. “Your brother’s got a rather husky voice today, I am sure something is wrong with him. Can you ring him and ask what’s wrong with him?” I tried to convince her to not worry about the ‘old boy’, but she insisted that I call. She was right after all, the brother who rang her a while ago had a sore throat and a mild fever. Reflecting to myself, I thought, ‘This is the lifelong habit of a mother.’