Wednesday, August 26, 2015

The Emotional Response to China

So we’ve been back in South Africa for just over 3yrs following our family’s 5yr adventure in Beijing, and one thing that continues to surprise me is the extreme emotive response that the word ‘China’ conjures up in most South Africans. It has only increased over the last 3 years, with hot debate on both sides of the aisle.

Now some may think that because we run a trilingual preschool and are determined for our own children to learn Mandarin, that we are firmly planted in the ‘pro-China’ camp and have lost all our allegiance to Africa and our roots. This is far from the truth: we have not had the wool pulled over our eyes regarding China’s intentions for this continent, nor have we been brainwashed by Chinese propaganda during our 5years abroad. We have, however, been privy to attitudes in both countries and are in a unique position to identify and address some of the problems and opportunities that are intricately linked. We think so anyway.

The other side of the argument is to be anti-China because they are ‘taking over the world’ and are here to colonize Africa; as if we didn’t have enough to worry about in this country. It’s all too overwhelming and the default position from this camp is shut down mode. Do. Not. Let. Them. Enter: Enter our schools, our homes and our industries. If we keep them out we can somehow protect ourselves from being taken advantage of and being duped.

Well, in my opinion, you’re duped if you think that approach is going to work.

Whether you believe China is a threat or an opportunity not engaging with them isn’t an option, they are here anyway. I am not here to say that your emotions around China aren’t accurate: If you feel threatened by the fact that they have close ties to our current government, you are not wrong. If you are afraid because everything we make, they can make cheaper and faster, you are right. If you are overwhelmed by how many Chinese people there are globally, you are not alone. And if you feel threatened because they don’t play by the same rules, that they are just so different, then you would be right there too. This global superpower can be a bully. They have the foresight and the clout to come in and get what they need from us, but my question is why does that have to leave us feeling powerless? It only does because we’re not prepared to stand up and play hardball with them. It’s only lose-lose if you give up before you’ve even begun.

As a proud South African I am surprised at how the enormity of China leaves us trembling when as a nation we brought Apartheid to it’s knees. How can a country, and a people, that have triumphed over such adversity be overcome with fear when we see the Chinese flag flying. If we start acting like the entrepreneurial, possibility-seeking, creative thinking, challenge-driven nation that I know we are, we can squeeze the marrow out of China’s business in Africa.

Why do we cower at the announcement of Mandarin Chinese (alongside 14 other languages introduced in 2016) being brought into our schools? We should be encouraging our youth to tackle the challenge of this language, not because China is out to colonize us, but because their future is bright if they can leverage all their knowledge for the good of OUR People. OUR Nation. I am not arguing that Chinese should be taught instead of an African language – I advocate for both – with equal value and importance. But it is foolish to leave one’s head in the sand because of fear, and in turn disadvantage our nation’s children.

Our experience in China taught us a lot - one valuable lesson was that being exposed to other cultures different from your own makes you stronger in your patriotism not weaker. If you want the next generation to know they are African, show them how different they are from the Chinese and then help them to bridge that divide for the good of their own people. That is my own hope as a mother: to raise bold and brave leaders of this nation who will help us safely navigate the waters of China’s growth. I hope you will join me.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

All it takes is shoes

I was the kind of new mom that stayed in her pajamas WAY too long into the day. I know in the beginning when your body is a mobile feeding machine it’s the obvious way to go, but I’m telling you I took the slob look to a whole new level. I remember when my first child was born in Beijing, and at about 6 weeks old my mom flew in from South Africa to help me with her for 2 weeks. On day no. 2 of her trip it was MY MOM that pointed out that I had yet to wear a top. I had been loafing around for the last 6 weeks with my boobs on hand at every turn and covering myself up with a fluffy gown only when ‘airing my sore breasts’ was no longer a valid excuse. In fact I am quite sure that the only reason I started getting dressed was because maternity leave was over, but I am quite sure that for 4 months my husband didn’t see me in anything that wasn’t loose and pajama-like. Fast forward to baby number two and we’ve landed in South Africa as a family of 4 and with 6-week old Titus in tow. Once again I am spending my days in nothing more than my white fluffy gown (the same one from my first child mind you although looking a lot less white). There are days poor hubby does not see me change for days, and not because I have not cleaned myself, but because the pull of that fluffy almost-grey gown is just too strong. I get up in the morning, and even if I am going out, it’s the first thing I change into when I get home. And just try to be productive in your floppy gown. It is physically impossible. No matter our intentions you just cannot get down to anything serious looking like the Michelin man. The day my then 2-yr old smashed her face into the coffee table and bled for an age through her mouth, I ran to my neighbour’s house in…you guessed it….my white fluffy gown. Thankfully she has 4 kids of her own so I am hopeful there wasn’t too much judgement, although with 4 kids she still managed to be dressed by 12pm.
Now you realize that the gown is just the icing on the top of a very disheveled package. It goes hand in hand with unshaven legs, hubby’s slippers and whatever hairstyle gets the hair off your face.
And this is a common reality for most new moms, and moms in general, at some stage. I have personally read loads of self help books on the matter (I kid you not there is a book entitled FRUMPS TO PUMPS that I flipped through once). I even confided in a friend who tried to help me with accountability in this area who in a very helpful way suggested showering at the start of my day rather than the end as a way of prying the gown off me first thing.
But the amazing discovery I made regarding this topic has actually only occurred after baby number 3. Yes, I have looked and felt frumpy for almost 6yrs if you count pregnancy. The trick is in the shoes! Yes ladies of slump, this is where you need to make the change. It’s not with your hair (although a bit of hair and make up effort never hurt anyone), its in the shoes.  Like that old Sonny and Cher song – if you wanna know if she* loves you so, it’s in her shoes, that’s where it is.

So there you have it. My pearls of wisdom with 3 kids under belt. Nowadays, if I want to be productive I wear good shoes ALL DAY and that seems to do the trick. I am unlikely to slink back into my slothful ways wearing a cool pair of shoes, although when those shoes come off and those feet make their way onto the couch it is seriously down hill from there. Beware. The previously white fluffy gown is sure to follow suit.

Saying goodbye to my Facebook profile

It’s the strangest thing really. When you go to delete your profile you get a sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach. Gosh – will I survive this? Will I exist without this in my life? Will I be OK if I do this? That sinking feeling that just confirms I have an unhealthy connection to this virtual existence. That I don’t know who I am unless I know what people are doing, where they are and with whom, and if, in turn, they know what I am doing and ‘like’ it, or at the very least – envy it. Yes, that is the sad reality that is life in 2015. 6 years ago when I signed on to facebook for the first time that wasn’t the case, the 24yrs I lived prior to facebook was also not like that. Back then, I relied on good old stories from people I was still in contact with to find out what people were up to, and if I didn’t know so-and-so got married I didn’t care. But that is not the existence my children will have. They have grown up watching mom on her phone checking people’s status’ and standing over a bowl of half-poured-cereal posting pictures of their latest birthday cake or a family event so everyone would know what adorable kids she has. I admit I have missed out on eye contact just because I wanted facebook to know what I was up to. And that’s about to stop. I am bout to start living life the way it was intended, in the present, with actual people around you. Not virtual friends, not connections from the past that you forgot long ago (for a reason!)

I am forfeiting my facebook persona (along with my twitter account) and getting my time back. Time to write, to blog, to be creative, to read. To have the chance to form ideas and thoughts that are entirely my own and not a copy of something I have seen elsewhere or read. And I am going to get back to engaging with my family and my REAL friends, and finding out how their lives are over a real conversation and a cup of tea rather than through a newsfeed. But I am a certified facebook addict and they say addicts are always addicts so I will have to keep myself in check. I’m sure when my children want to start having their own accounts I will once again become tempted to step into virtual reality, but it’s here again I feel the strong sense that I must lead by example. That I must show them that an existence on facebook does not equal an existence as a human. That the human interactions we have every day and the really important things we preoccupy ourselves with are what matter, not what so-and-so said about such-and-such. I want them to form their own opinions before they decide to be bombarded by what everyone around them thinks.

I am overcome with fear as I do it. All the things I’ll miss out on, all the things I won’t know. It’ll be like everyone around me is walking around with access into an elite social club and I’m not cool enough. FOMO kicks in (Fear Of Missing Out). I also think…should I announce it to people? Should I let people know that this is the end of the road for me? That I am signing off for good. Surely they have a right to know – to be sad for my (and their) loss. Perhaps we’ll have a moment of silence. But they will probably judge the sentiment, and spin me as some weirdo so I won’t do that afterall. I’ve decided to slip away quietly. Like I never existed. Like vanishing from all eternity. Only that’s the lie isn’t it? That’s what facebook would like you to believe, and yes that is what society in general is telling you. But once my account is deleted, I will still be here. In the flesh. I will be alive and breathing and thinking and I won’t have ceased all cognitive functions. I will be OK. I am enough. My family is enough. My life, just as it is, is enough. I do not need to plaster it on status updates for it to be more important, or more wonderful than it is right now, when only I know about it. My children’s births, birthdays, first days of school, missing teeth and broken hearts will not feel less real not published for all to see. Our holidays and travels will be just as special. And instead of taking selfies in cool places just so people will know we were there, we’ll just enjoy being there. Right there. In the moment. And only we’ll know how truly amazing it was. And that is enough.

I can do this. I can take the plunge. I can be enough. For myself and for my kids, and for my husband. Just as I am. Before facebook I had a life. And now, 6 years later, I am getting back to living it.

Side note* I completely went off facebook for 3 months after writing this post, and then accidentally (while logging onto pinterest) re-activated it. I am now keeping myself in check like an addict who attends AA meetings. Some days I am better than others, but I have vowed to my kids I won’t relapse.

Friday, January 4, 2013

The Rhythms of Life

First of all – Happy 2013 to you all! I still can’t believe that we are here, 6 years almost to the day, of this incredible journey. Having married, moved, lived and worked in a foreign country, had two children, now back and navigating re-entry into our own culture - what an incredible journey it has been! And as I look back I am struck by God’s faithfulness and His goodness through it all. The changing seasons. Work and rest. The rhythms of life.
The rhythms of life here are different to life in China and this past festive season has clearly shown me just how much. We have just come out of probably our busiest festive season as a married couple. I never understood why some people call it ‘the silly season’ but after we have eaten our way through three Christmas feasts, spent the last month hand-making all of our family’s gifts, hosted and stayed with family across several days, and indulged in more Christmas treats than we care to admit, I now understand how one can get to the end of December feeling rather ‘silly-ed’ out. Don’t get me wrong, I am a Christmas fanatic – all things traditional and tinselly, wrapped up in large doses of family together-ness is right up my street, but after 4 rather low-key festive seasons during our time in China, I think I may have forgotten how to do big Christmas?!
I am also not used to having a hot Christmas these days. Southern hemisphere warmth has escaped us during December the past 4 years and I think it is safe to say that the weather plays a huge role in keeping Christmas time in Beijing rather low key. Of course, in our later years in China we mixed a lot in western circles, eagerly embracing the British tradition of mulled wine and the American tradition of elaborate tree decorations on the back of Thanksgiving. But overall, we had only one or two Christmas engagements with friends before the snowy blanket of white kept you indoors (particularly with a baby). December is not an active time in Beijing, in fact, once all the foreigners escape the city and head back to their homelands, the Chinese get on with business as usual and one would be forgiven for thinking Christmas was just another work day (it actually is for all the locals!)
Our first Christmas in Beijing epitomized the low key traditions that became the norm in years to come. It was our first as a married couple, and my first away from my family. It was cold, and we had a little little gimmicky Christmas tree that lit up on the ends. I made some ornaments out of left over scrapbook supplies and there were only two gifts to open come Christmas morning – the ones we had bought for each other. We ate ferrera rochers in bed just the two of us, and then headed to a restaurant with some western friends for a turkey lunch which paled in comparison to my mom’s lamb roast. There were no Christmas decorations in the shops as a reminder that we were in the season of giving, and if I heard jingle bells playing once it was a lot.
December is also not the biggest holiday of the year in China. As a local Chinese, practically nothing changes over Christmas. Their real holidays come about 1 month later for Chinese New Year when there is mass exodus from big cities and into the rural homes. No local would take leave in December but for the week before and after the national CNY holiday, productivity in China is at its lowest and there are only westerners are at their desks during this time. As foreigners, we worked off a slightly different calendar: Schools dictated the typical northern hemisphere system of a September to August year with the long annual break occurring over summer – the June to August period. We started our terms in September after a 3 month holiday of travel and relaxation, and while Kyle studied and I worked at a school this was our main holiday period. We got used to this way of life and come September, were fresh and ready for the coming year. With December only 3 months later, and that much colder, westerners seldom made as much fuss over Christmas break which was only 1-2 weeks at most.
Being back in South Africa, I can now see how our typical way of life won’t fit into the ebb and flow of Joburg society. We unwittingly opted out of a December holiday while the rest of the country had a break from life. We are now seeing people returning from their coastal bliss feeling ready and excited for 2013 and the 12 months of slog ahead of them before another break is due. We on the other hand, are Christmas-ed out, having arrived in 2013 quite disheveled and unprepared. We are both tired (a combination of too many Christmas commitments, no deliberate R&R time, warm weather that screams activity and a teething baby), but we are also in need of a holiday, just when everyone else is getting back from one!  In essence, we are out of sync with the rhythms of the southern hemisphere, and need to get our clocks back to the South African way of doing things.
But we are all the wiser now. We are rectifying things by bringing our scheduled holiday forward and ducking to the coast in February. We also plan to keep next Christmas to a minimum – in terms of effort and commitments – and might return to some of our China Christmas traditions and use the weather as an excuse to stay at home. And so as we go into 2013 my prayer for us, and you, is that we give ourselves the grace to move with the ebb and flow of the seasons, and have due rest when the time comes (and everybody else is doing it too!)

Friday, December 14, 2012

China Ruined Church

A controversial title I know and perhaps a little too dramatic, but it is something I have been reflecting on since our return and I can’t help but compare our China experiences of Church to what we are finding back in Africa.
Many don’t understand the religious set up in China and a lot is hidden from international view; but there are three main Christian ‘churches’ operating in China: The first kind are the International Churches – these are similar to western evangelical churches but are open only to foreign passport holders and this is checked at the door every service. These churches also tend to be ‘spread too thin’ in our opinion because they are expected to cater to such a large, varying Christian population with hugely varying degrees of expression and theology. The second type of church is the Three-Self Church or government sanctioned Church which are supposedly Christian and preach good morals and lessons from the Bible but omit to teaching about Jesus (the revolutionary) and His grace and salvation for all mankind. The third type of Church is the house church or underground church which is commonly understood as the persecuted church because these are Chinese Christians who believe in Jesus, meet in secret and hide from the government because the communist government of China does not appreciate radical religious thought.
While in China we had first-hand experience of both the International Churches and the Three-Self Church and although we did meet several people operating within the underground church, generally foreigners attract too much attention for them to worship regularly at these house church meetings. The International Churches were the most disappointing, in our opinion not meeting anyone’s needs while trying to cater to everyone’s spiritual ‘tastes’.  The Three-Self Church experience was very interesting (for Kyle, as it was all in Chinese so it was lost on me) and these services were surprisingly packed in all services on a Sunday. Many people believe that the Chinese are majority Buddhist, but during our time there we found them to be mainly agnostic, with a lack of spiritual awareness at all. Many are searching though, which is why the Three Self Church was so full on Sundays – people were genuinely curious to learn about being more than just a physical being.
However, despite being ‘spoilt for choice’ so to speak, overall we found Beijing to be a spiritually dry place and struggled throughout our first year to find a place of worship to call ‘home’.
That was until an SA friend introduced us to Robert Glover, a man who changed our China and Church experience for the better. Not only did he eventually become my boss and Zipporah’s god-father, but he also introduced us to a group of like-minded families who were also disappointed in the way church was being done in the city, and who were craving an authentic Christian life alongside fellow believers. We began meeting with this group of families every Wednesday, even though the bus trip there and back took us almost 3 hours every time. Those times together were so sweet and so honest: someone bringing a word, a song, a prophecy, and even though no one came prepared, everyone brought their gifts and their vulnerability. It was a special time.
About a year after that God spoke to us as a group about moving our meetings to a Sunday so that more families and children could be impacted. We were one of 5 original “church planting couples” who said yes to the idea, and thus began probably one of the hardest spiritual seasons of both our lives.
Anyone who has ever been involved in a Church plant knows that it is not for the faint hearted, and lots of “stuff” comes to the fore when you start leading others. By the end of the first year only one other original couple remained in the church. But we had grown and new families had joined, and God always gave us enough to go forward – enough encouragement, enough of Him.
By the end of the 2nd year we were (by complete default) the only original couple left and by that stage were shouldering the heavy weight of the church plant both spiritually and practically. Between running children’s church, band, setting up the chairs and coffee, weekly home groups and choosing the message or preaching the word, we were spiritually spent. But again, God gave us just enough people to encourage us to continue, and although we wanted so often to call it quits, there was the sweet presence of Jesus in the faces of the people who, over time, had really drawn closer to Him, and that we couldn’t deny. And so we stayed, until there was no venue to meet in and God called us back to Africa.
We had high expectations of just being pew-warmers when we got back following our long, hard season in China. We actually spoke of our church-hiatus often in the last few months in Beijing, but now that it’s here our valuable rest is mixed with feelings that we wont ever fit into mainstream church again. It is probably still too soon to tell, but our initial feelings of SA church-life have been less appealing than we originally thought. China has changed our view of Church and of how to “do” church, and our perspectives have really shifted from being that of a consumer, to that of a participant. We believe in doing life together, openly and honestly; of everyone bringing their gifts and actively seeking the Lord’s presence. We don’t understand the appeal of the flashy, slick display you see in most mainstream churches because we have been part of a church stripped down to the bare. Only Jesus. People didn’t come because of anything we did, they came because of Jesus. And when everything in the service went horribly wrong and we were sure that would be the end, people came back. But only for Jesus.
So I suppose my title isn’t too dramatic. We had a prophesy before we left that we would experience Church in a new way in China, and be able to come back and teach others about it. We had no idea just what kind of ‘new church’ we would discover, and although it wasn’t always pretty, it was God’s. And so for that experience, however difficult, we are so grateful. We can only pray we find that same authenticity in our spiritual walk with believers here in SA. 

Monday, October 29, 2012

The Grass is always Greener...

This last weekend I said goodbye to two dear families emigrating from South Africa, and I also know another good family making their way back to SA after almost 5 years in London. And so because moving countries is something I’ve had a bit of experience with…and because I think it’s good for people to know the reality of such a move I decided to put my thoughts on the subject down in this blog post.
When we lived away from Africa for our 5 years in China, there was a lot that we missed. I’m sure that most will agree that absence does indeed make the heart grow fonder, and if we’re really honest with ourselves, we romanticize what life in a new country (or with new people, or with more money, or less crime) is like. We focus on all the good stuff, and in our little bubble far away from the realities of that place, can make it sound however we want it to. (Of course there are those who, for whatever reason, make another place seem worse than it is in reality but that is a post for another day).
In all honesty, I found going to China a much easier transition than I have found this return to Africa. Although we speak a lot about reverse-culure shock I think sub-consciencely we feel that a return home must be easier than a foreign move and dismiss all the warnings that we should consider any move to be drastic and life changing. We were prepared for the differences and difficulties we would experience in a Chinese culture, but we weren’t as prepared as we could have been for the differences and difficulties of a place we once called home.
That being said, we have no regrets about our recent move - and like those first few difficult months in China – what gets us through is knowing we are where God wants us, and things will eventually get easier. But if I can put my two cents in and highlight some helpful tips when moving countries:

Put the well-being of your spouse and your children above everything else, including other people’s feelings and expectations. The most important thing is each one of your family members adjusting (and each do it at their own pace and have their own difficulties). Take days off to be together and be sensitive towards one another and to heightened emotions. When we arrived in China, Kyle was busting out of his skin to be submerged in the language and the culture, but he had to take things slowly for my sake (taking me to McDonalds a little more often than he would have liked for example) but in the end it was in his best interests too because once I was adjusted, we were happy there for a long time.  With my 2yr old daughter, having her whole world turned upside down, I have needed to stay available to her, and some days just allow her to be clingy and needy, in order for her to adjust to her new environment and these new people in her life.
Rome wasn’t built in a day. The entry process into any “system” is a long one. Forget all the logistics of bank accounts, cell phones, home loans, schools – there is also the seemingly trivial adjustment of learning where to shop, where to park, who the best doctor is, where is the closest family restaurant etc. These things seem like the small things, but when you are having a tough day, these are the straws that break the camels back! Our saying from our China days often comes back and helps us even here in Africa – if you are losing the battle, go home, and live to fight another day. When things are not going well, that is when you need to call it quits, find a warm spot with a good book and forget all about the endless list of chores to be done. They can be done. Tomorrow.
Nothing is as bad or as good as you think it is. Don’t make mountains out of mole hills and don’t romanticize things. Be realistic. Denial will hurt you. When you are privileged enough to live overseas for a while, your perspective does change and you can see situations differently. When you return, you need to fight hard to keep that perspective and not become so insular that insignificant things overwhelm you. Be a help to your partner in this, when they are struggling to keep things in perspective, help them remember what’s really important and what’s not. On days when you are feeling more emotional, allow them to be your ‘adjustment bureau’ too.
I would echo this is a good point when starting a new job as well, but for the purposes of a big move it’s important to remember that even though you may ‘feel’ energetic and want to get settled in as quickly as possible, making big decisions when you have first arrived can be detrimental. You are not in a good frame of mind to be taking on big debt or signing yourself up for courses/classes/long term obligations. As my mom says, make your standard answer “NO” and then let people know when things change, it is much easier to add to your plate than to take things away. Also, those first 6 months is such a steep learning curve for everyone that it’s highly likely what you first thought when you arrived could well have changed once you’re settled.
When the rubber hits the road, you will probably forget what brought you to a new place in the first place. Write down your goals or the plan you had for your family and put it up somewhere for everyone to see regularly. You will need regular reminders.
Most people and very well intending, but can be very limited in their understanding of your situation. So don’t listen to what 99% of the people you come into contact with have to say. I am not saying this to be mean, but everyone looks at things from their own perspective and their own worldview (based on their experiences) and you must understand that your perspective is now very different from those around you. You need to do what feels right for your family, and not pay too much attention to what other people have to say. Especially in the news.
If you are going to choose to live in a new place, then for goodness sake – LIVE THERE. Don’t live in the past or in the “if only” days. Engage with the place you are in (I have blogged about this before) and get involved with the things that locals do. Don’t be too quick to set up your old life in a new place because more often than not you will find it lacking and become despondent. Make new traditions, start new things (when you ready) and be open to new stuff. Each place is different with loads to offer, you would be foolish to miss out on these opportunities because you are sad about all you are missing somewhere else. Engage in a city’s problems too – don’t be so insular that you have an “us vs them” mentality. Be part of the things that make a place great!
My tip to my friends as I said goodbye to them this weekend was, “If you see everything as an adventure, nothing will get you down”. I have blogged about some pretty hideous things that happened to us in China, but the only way we were able to deal with them and eventually laugh about it all was to see it with a sense of adventure. Oh how wonderful life can be when we grab it by the horns! The good and the bad…it all turns out good. So smile and enjoy no matter what gets thrown your way.
Whether you are building new friendships, reviving old ones or maintaining long distance connections staying connected is so important. It takes LOADS of work (oh the hours I spent writing newsletters or dealing with internet issues on SKYPE) but it is so worth it. Make making new friends a priority, get connected to a local church, take up a new hobby or fork out the cash to make the long distance call once a week. You can’t do this alone and neither should you want to. Your friends will be your greatest source of encouragement (if they are the right friends of course) and they will keep you sane. Understandably, some friendships will not last and that too is OK. But you will discover some jewels through this process and they are worth their weight in gold.
My closing point is that making any huge move can be a bit like a splash of ice cold water on your face in winter; because no place is easy and everywhere has it’s problems. If you are running away from something you are very unlikely to find it somewhere else but if you are running TO something, and are prepared for whatever challenges and difficulties you are going to face there, I believe you are in a much better position to be able to stick things out and make it a success for you and your family. The saying should read: THE GRASS IS ALWAYS GREENER…WHERE YOU WATER IT. So here’s wishing all my friends, both coming and going, a very fruitful, fun, joyous and fulfilling moving experience, and remember to water where you are planted!

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Raising a Multi-lingual Child the Bailey way

This title is actually inspired by the Montessori book I’m currently reading and reflects much of what we as a family have been working on since our arrival back from Beijing.
I must preface this post with some background on my husband: a passionate learner of language he has (at one time or another) been proficient in six languages simultaneously, although more recently has dedicated all of his language-learning capacity to Mandarin for the last 6 years or so. He never travels to a country without picking up a phrase book and working hard to bridge the language barrier between him and the locals; and lets just face it, he just has a gift for language acquisition. The structure of language and learning language simply fascinates him and it has been one of his core passions since he started sneaking to the workers’ shed just to listen in on them speaking Shona when growing up in Zim.
It is because of this passion that one of Kyle’s main goals for our children is for them to be fluent in Chinese from a young age. His aim is to provide them with both opportunity and grounding in the language in the hope that this will give them an advantage in their future workplace. He feels passionate about them learning an African language too, and so we already have schedules in place that allow them sufficient Mandarin and Zulu interaction on a weekly basis and our children are all of 2 years and 4 months! We do this because the benefits of raising multilingual children are enormous (developmentally, emotionally, culturally etc). As a family we also have very close ties to both Africa and China – both our children were born in Beijing and it was the very first language they heard around them after all – and so Zulu and Mandarin made sense to us. But it’s the principal of multilingualism that we feel is so important and so we make A LOT of effort in order to achieve this goal. Or shall we say, Kyle makes the effort to plan how much time our children need to spend immersed in Chinese/Zulu environments and I have to make it happen!
Our Chinese commitments currently comprise of two 2 hour sessions per week for our 2 year old Zipporah with a lovely lady who plays with her and interacts with her solely in Chinese. We were fortunate in that Zipporah has understood Mandarin from birth as our nanny in China spoke to her only in Chinese up till the time we left. When we started taking her to these Chinese classes her interaction with the language was very passive; she understood everything that was said but always responded in English if at all. This was especially the case if I was around and no matter how much I encouraged her Chinese interaction, she felt that the dominant language around me and in our home was English and battled to make the switch. She also originally struggled to understand that the same thing could have more than one name. On one occasion, while her Chinese teacher was building blocks with her and reinforcing the names of different colours, she stopped after her teacher said the Chinese word for green and told her in no uncertain terms - “No, Mama says this is GREEN!”
Thankfully we have a very persistent and patient teacher working with her (who happens to be quite strict too) and she is very good about forcing Xiao Ying (Zipporah’s Chinese name) to repeat things in Chinese and respond only in Chinese. We have also got smarter about the lessons and they only take place at her teacher’s home (a completely Chinese environment) and I am never present. It seems Zipporah is more comfortable with this deliberate shift and now, after only a month, she is saying more Chinese words than I have ever heard her, using words appropriately and interchangeably, and with perfect tone. We are so proud!
Her Zulu lessons currently take on less structure as we have our maid Gladys 3 days a week and she only talks to her in Zulu. And although their time together is not as deliberate, Zipporah is picking up a lot of what she says and knows the appropriate way to greet any black person she sees without being asked. Sometimes our quest for multilingual geniuses gets us in quite a pickle though especially when we are not as proficient in all the languages. One such occasion was when we heard Zipporah interacting with her cousin and saying something to him that sounded a lot like a swear word! Kyle immediately assumed she’d learnt it from me, and I denied ever having used such language in front of my kids (not too regularly anyway). We worried for about a week as this became a prominent word in her vocabulary, until one morning I heard Gladys tell Zipporah to put the cereal in the bowl. The Zulu word for “put in” is “fagga” and in 2 year old speech this sounds a lot like… well you get the picture. Needless to say we were quite relieved and I was finally off the hook!
While Zipporah got a lot of Chinese input in her first 2 years we believe our son Titus is going to have a similar foundation in Zulu. He and Gladys share a very special bond and she is constantly chatting away to him. We are so thrilled at the start they are both getting in these languages, and although it’s quite a lot of deliberate effort on our part, we are committed to seeing this through for all our children and believe it to be well worth any sacrifices, financial and other.
I will close with one last anecdote that happened just today. Kyle took Zipporah to one of the Chinese churches in Johannesburg this morning, and despite being quite the spectacle as the only foreign child in the Sunday school class, our daughter was able to follow and participate in a lesson on the 5 loaves and 2 fish. She was counting away in Chinese and felt more at home in that class of Chinese children than I have seen her be in a while. One day we know she will thank us for our determination to see her submerged in the language, and we so appreciate that she enjoys it too. Because it’s been all she knew from birth it is effortless for her. Kids are amazing little sponges and so I suppose the lesson therein is to be deliberate about the ‘water’ you choose for them to soak up and watch in amazement when they do it with such ease. 

Friday, August 10, 2012

A Turning Point

As this blog reaches 50 published posts - and with our China Adventure no longer taking place in China - it feels only fitting that this be a transitional point for the blog too. I really don't believe that we Baileys have closed the book on China forever, for we are too changed and our experiences there are too ingrained in who we are to go back to the people we were before. Kyle has also worked too hard in the language for it to go unused, and of course, we had our first two children born in Beijing, and so we will certainly return there often for them to be able to fully appreciate the rich heritage into which they were born.

But we are definitely in a new chapter in this journey, and so to conclude these last 5 years I am putting a book together of all our experiences and photos which I'm sure only my sweet Gran will be interesting in reading. But I have also decided to keep up with my blogging. Probably not very often (as is my style) but I still definitely want to keep track of our China encounters and experiences in Africa. Maybe together we can learn a bit about the Chinese community in Johannesburg, raising Chinese-speaking kids, and navigate the animosity between the Chinese and the locals on a practical level.

I am proudly South African, and a fierce defender of my country and countrymen. But as a family I believe we are also acutely sensitive to the Chinese way of doing things, and probably always will be. So maybe we are ready to start our adventures IN AFRICA.

With a thankful heart

As of 31 August 2011 I became a stay-home-mummy. I wrapped up my end of a very rewarding 3 year project setting up Beijing's only special needs school and therapy support clinic, and I handed over the reigns to two very competent gents who took over as principal and clinic director in my stead. It was the biggest learning curve of my professional life to date and for every frustrating moment, I relished in the life-changing difference we were making for those desperate families in a desperate nation. I thank Care for Children for such an awesome opportunity and particularly Robert Glover for his faith in my abilities despite my lack of credentials, the amazing team I worked with and the remarkable families and students who journeyed along with us.

It was a difficult transition from the fast-paced day of a full time job to being a stay-at-home mommy, but it was a very deliberate decision I do not regret for a minute. While I love working and feel a great passion and gift for what I do/did, I was very grateful to have the option to stay home with Zipporah and get to know her at such a vital stage of her development. Stay-home-mums get such a bad wrap, but I thank the women in our church for being such an example of moms who enjoy their kids, that I became more and more open to the idea of doing it myself one day. And to be honest, I hardly miss working now at all. I really thought I would - and don't get me wrong, I do miss feeling important and having smart clean clothes to wear everyday - but I like being a stay-home-mum so much more than I thought I would and Zipporah and I have had such a super duper time since I stopped working on my career and started working on my home.
I have also become a bit of a gourmet chef so besides the potty training, processing the pureed foods, sleep training, disciplining and educating my time at home has not been wasted :P

It is sad that the school and clinic I was part of setting up wasn't able to survive long term though. In September 2012 the school had to close for lack of funds and the families in Beijing were once again left without a special needs option for educating their children. It is terribly sad, but I will always remember my time at CFCS and be forever grateful for the many lessons I learnt through the process of setting up a school. I am truly thankful, both for the role I played in such exciting work, and for the opportunity to leave it behind and focus on being a mother.

Of all the things I am thankful for during our time in China, those are certainly two of the biggest.

The Chinese land in Africa

In preparation for our trip back to SA, and to try and include her in the transition process, we taught Zipporah about "Africa" - pronounced in her world "Affuka" at the time. We told her about the aeroplane we would take, we mentioned the list of family we would see when we arrived, and we explained how Ayi was from China and would therefore be staying behind :(

It's now been a month since left Beijing and as many of you know it has been a busy month indeed. The transition has not been easy for any of us and we are all missing Ayi Lisa. Our 'Chinese-ness' has also shown up in the weirdest of ways - for example my daughter still doesn't constitute being in the back garden as outside, because in China we went out the front door when we went outside, so outside must entail walking out the front door and being in the streets (and so she demands this here now too!) Another quirk has been in our navigation. Although I am actually from Johannesburg you would never be able to tell by the amount of times I get lost these days! And then there is the grocery stores which take me right back to those first days in Beijing when I cried because I couldn't read anything or know what things looked like/were called. I find myself wandering the aisles of Checkers trying to find the ingredients I got used to cooking with in China, and I often leave without my shopping list completed because I don't know where to find something or what it should cost/looks like. Shameful I know.

The difference is that in Beijing I had an excuse for looking like an idiot - I didn't speak the language and foreigners can get away with a lot more than locals. Here, I look and sound like everyone else, but I am just as clueless as I would be on Mars. I don't know where to park, where to pay, who to go to and who sells what around here, hence it is taking a while to find my bearings.

When people ask me how we're finding life in Johannesburg I usually reply by saying that I have not yet arrived in Jhb - my shipment is still sailing to Durban harbour and on most days I feel like I too am floating somewhere over the Indian Ocean. We are not yet settled, but it is good to be here. We are taking things one day at a time and I am happy to say that the children are doing remarkably well. They are really enjoying life in "Affaka" - having lots of time with their cousins, playing with animals and being outside despite the cold (because lets just be clear for all those Joburg wimps, winters here are mild!)

Kyle's job is going very well too and he is going to be pioneering relations with the Chinese construction companies in Africa which is very exciting stuff and just up his ally. This is very important work we believe given the growing distaste for the Chinese in Africa and he feels privileged to be working with such a forward-thinking company.

And when I get this shopping thing down, I will also be feeling happier in SA. Until then, please forgive this bumbling idiot from Beijing who may look like you, but feels more like a China-women!