Traveling United Nations Child

Traveling United Nations Child

If you ask me where I am from, I will tell you that I’m from around the world. This question also gives me great consternation because I don’t remember much of where I was born. I was born in Papua New Guinea. It is a little island country right above Australia. Unlike some who can clearly claim where they grew up through tradition, custom, community, colloquial language, music, and food, I call home where I currently live. Even more frustrating when others make a statement about where you are really from, meaning, “What is my ethnicity.” I am of Philippine ethnicity, but I don’t follow the same conventional or culturally expected mindset from growing up around the world.

My parents worked for the United Nations. They provided services that protected food aid in third-world countries. Teaching high school students were also part of their profession: Dad taught agriculture, math, and science, and Mom taught English. My younger brother, by two years, was born in Lesotho, South Africa. We lived through apartheid where we needed to travel to only internationally designated facilities and locations (i.e., gas stations, restaurants, schools, neighborhoods, and more.) I don’t remember learning how to speak Sesotho (Lesotho) and Tok Pisin “Pidgin Language (Papua New Guinea). Our family managed to navigate and be in these countries speaking English.

My mother’s fond stories of my growing up were the following:

  • She told me about a time when she couldn’t find me at home in Lesotho, the school campus not far from our home. I decided that I wanted to pay my Dad a visit to school while teaching. This little three-year-old girl walked with two pigtails and walked into my Dad’s class while distracting his students. I became the little mascot!
  • My parents attempted to enroll me in kindergarten at two years old but should have known that was too early for me! My Mom got a call from one of the nuns stating that I was not behaving enough to remain in school. You see, there was a bucket of water meant for me to wash my hands, and instead, I decided to use it as a bath by jumping on it. The nuns were frustrated and kept me outside. I was then compelled to knock at all the doors for the nuns to let me into class. It seems I was a nuance at that age. I got sick from being soaked in the water and left outside. My parents didn’t keep in school until too early age after that.

One of my favorite childhood memories of growing up was in El Progresso, Yoro, Honduras. I learned to speak, read and write Spanish here. The furthest that I can recall was when I was eight years old, in 1985. There are a few memories that sprinkle in between 1983 to 1985 that are vivid, like the beautiful temperate weather, clear shallow ocean that you see the urchins, yummy Chiquita bananas shared from plentiful crops, delicious burgers from many cow farms, sparkly stars at night and magical looking fireflies at night. I also remember visiting the Mayan ruins. I was appalled when I learned that the idols were used to sacrifice people.

I also remembered being bullied by little girls in front of one of our El Progresso, Yoro, Honduras houses. They kept throwing rocks at me. Even today, I don’t recall why. I became what you call a “Tomboy” due to the latter experience. I played with mostly boys, riding the bicycle, digging holes in the backyard, creating bubbles using hibiscus flowers, jumping fences to go adventuring, visiting and introducing my brother and me to our neighbors, building forts with my brother at home, hanging on the window curtain holder in the living room and much more. My days of experimenting with bathroom supplies didn’t bother my parents too much, thankfully. I also created made-up levers to automatically open the door using the pulley strings. I still remember building cans with strings for our makeshift telephones. I also opened up or broke apart unused electronics to see how they worked; sadly, I couldn’t figure out how to put them back together.

We also moved to the Philippines when I was around nine years old. Times are getting blurry for me nowadays. When we first moved there, I thought we were in China because I could not understand anything that people said. Their main language is Tagalog, and they have a least 71 dialects, 13 regions, and over 7,000 islands. By now, you realize that I was not born in the Philippines. This was a culture shock for me again. I also learned not to trust or had difficulty trusting people due to us jumping from one country to another and losing friends. I have become what you call a “Watcher.” I became a chameleon, constantly adapting to culture, language, customs, and new traumas. I struggled with the humidity, the dirty wet markets, the pickpockets, squatter areas where people live in mountains of trash in the main city, pollution, harassment, and corruption. This was where I learned how criminal adults could be. I will share that in another story.

My favorite memories are spending time with our only first cousins from our Mom’s side. They were her eldest brother’s four children. I also remember not having any curfew here. Unlike here in the United States, there was no curfew. It was common to hear food sellers yelling that they had coconut and sticky rice desserts and balut (halfway-cooked or cooked rare chick) early in the morning. There were foods like pig blood sauce “dinuguan” cooked with pig innards. Exotic fruits like lanzones, rambutans, durians and more. It was also fairly common to make fresh fish with rice. I learned to open up the fish, remove the innards, fry it and cook with different ingredients. This is also where I learned to use cold water repositories in outside bathrooms. We had to use buckets of water to flush the toilet. I also remember vividly when my grandmother, from my Mom’s side, chopped off the head of the chicken in her kitchen. The chicken does run around with its head cut off!

Our life is full of interesting adventures that I have yet to share through my writing and podcasting. Looking forward to more writing!

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Maybelyn H. Plecic

Maybelyn H. Plecic

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I am a mother of four amazing boys. My husband supports with all the positive initiatives we do together. I’m a curious adventurer who seek positive people.