The word “third culture kid” or “third culture individual” has recently gained credence to describe children living the amalgamation of two cultures. I feel I am a fourth culture adult and hence my summer memories span across several continents.
Most of my childhood was spent in the University town of Nsukka in post-colonial, post Biafran war, oil rich Nigeria. My family moved there from India in the early 1970s. Nsukkas claim to fame, among other things at that time, was the author Chinua Achebe who was a Professor on the campus and now of course the wonderful, extremely talented author and feminist, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.
Since my parents were educators, they were able to spend more time with us in the summer. Other than doing gardening chores with my mother and spending hours peering into the microscope looking at slides in my father’s research laboratory, mine was mostly the quintessential summer vacation.
My brothers, our friends, and I spent long idyllic warm days playing soccer, biking aimlessly around the campus, and picnicking on hill tops. We climbed trees in our back garden and plucked golden mangoes, pink guavas, and other fruits. The trees were heavily laden with fruit ripe for the picking, and we always had basketfuls to share with the neighbouring village kids.
We took many road trips in our childhood. We sang songs, played word and memory games, and most importantly, we learned to peacefully resolve battles in the car. Invariably, fights would ensue between my brothers and I over rolling the car windows up or down and what music to listen to on the car stereo.
Summer also meant birthday parties. My younger brother’s in June and mine in August. My parents invited all and sundry from our diverse campus community. Our house became a veritable United Nations. Nigerian staples such as moi-moi (bean cake) and chin-chin (fried pastry) wrestled for space on the table along with numerous home cooked Indian sweets and savories. The highlight was always the birthday cake, which my mother painstakingly baked and decorated from scratch. We played musical chairs, statue, pin the donkey’s tail, and Oga (a Nigerian clapping game); games that now seem to be part of an evanescent past.
Every other summer or so, we would pack eight large suitcases filled with our belongings and a myriad of gifts. We would then take the long arduous journey back to the Motherland. The hustle and bustle of New Delhi, India’s rapidly modernizing capital city was a stark contrast to our quiet campus town. There we would visit grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins creating lasting memories that still bind us together to this day. In addition, we witnessed the cultural cacophony that is India, first hand ,along with its wide economic disparity.
As a newly minted young physician and wife, I also spent a couple of summers in England. I can certainly attest to the unmatched beauty of the English countryside resplendent in the sunshine. Alas, my time there was short lived, though I managed to make a pilgrimage to Shakespeare’s birthplace.
Life eventually brought me to the beautiful, but cold and snowy state of Wisconsin. It was here that full realization dawned on me that summer was indeed manna from heaven. The shedding of heavy coats and boots was liberating and brought about a quickness of step and a lightness of spirit. Summer came to mean long walks, bike rides, and connecting with neighbors all over again. Barbeques with fresh sweet corn, trips to the Farmer’s market and botanical gardens started with Memorial Day and ended with Labor Day. The endless amount of ice cream flavors to be sampled should be truly an all American sport. The fireworks, festivities and patriotism of July fourth now forms part of my summer itinerary.
Reflecting pensively on summers past and present has reinforced to me that even across oceans and continents, we are bound by our common and shared humanity. The fun of road trips, the love of ice cream, and the joys of connecting with people transcends all boundaries and cultures.I feel that the diverse and vibrant summers of my life have shaped the woman and the physician I am today. I know that they played an instrumental role in my ability to connect deeply with all my patients whatever their cultural background or race. I am grateful to the summers of my youth for not only warming my body but shaping my soul.