Sunday 1 March 2015

Thought Picnic: The wonder of identity in kids

Were we ever kids?
There is a Yoruba song from which I derive a very poignant saying, and it goes, "Wonder if you grown-ups can swear that you were never kids before."
Such was it that as I queued up to check-in my baggage at the poorly manned KLM/Air France desk at Hamburg Airport, a family with two small kids arrived behind me, just as I offered to help a lady going to Ghana get her boarding pass when her German husband was flummoxed by the touch-screen technology.
All for play
They helped move my baggage along with the queue, but the boys were playfully boisterous that their mother was quite apologetic.
I dismissed her concerns as what was to be expected of kids excited about travel, to which she ruefully opined, it was not like the adverts of well-behaved and quiet kids holding the hands of their parents.
I responded we were all kids before and she replied with, 'Karma!’
The boys with probably 18 months between them with the older looking no older than 4, conversed agitatedly whilst jumping around a bit and then I saw an opportunity to introduce myself.
I shook hands with the elder whilst the younger was overcome with shyness that he ran to the refuge of his father's legs and started the hide-and-seek peeping game.
Polyglots by nature
They were returning to France, and yet I could see what the future of the world was in them, as the question, "Where are you originally from?" Will make no sense to them as it doesn't to me.
They spoke German with their parents, the parents conversed in English, she being probably a speaker of English as her first language as the father was German and the kids attended a bilingual French-English school.
As it happens, the kids will naturally speak German at home, French at school and will only speak English to people who could manage neither German nor French.
Identity by influence
I do not know where they were born, these are the archetypal third-culture kids who are defined more by environment and experience than by where their parents are from. The issue of originality is complex, if not confused, just as it is for me.
When I am asked where I am originally from, it is not an identity crisis to say I am English, I was born in England, yet my parents are Nigerian, but we have different identities and experiences.
I have lived in Nigeria and have been fortunate to master Yoruba as a second language and Hausa at a rudimentary level, but I am more defined by the wealth of many cultural influences - English, Nigerian and lately Dutch.
No pigeonhole identity
The fact is many will have to begin to appreciate is that we no more fit into the traditional pigeonholes of singular national identities and we will not repudiate any of those influentially diverse identities, but embrace them as third-culture kid world citizens.
The passport is just a travel document, we are a lot more than what it says we are. As for the boys, they could not care less who they were, they were happy and it is really the system that forces us to identify with a nationality, they probably have the choice of one of three passports, a decision will be made by their parents until they decide otherwise.
Yet we must never belittle the world of wonder that is the world of kids, oblivious of these strictures and expressive of their will within the loving care of responsible parents.

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