Tag Archives: Reflections

Everyday Signs That We Are Back in America

We have been back in the U.S. for a few days. We’re still getting re-acclimatized but have noticed several things that struck as as relatively strange about America. Most of these are everyday things that we never thought about when we lived here but seem odd after 10 months of being away.

The strangest material thing has been Styrofoam. On our flight back from Rio to the U.S. we were served coffee in Styrofoam cups. We didn’t even notice it until Kayan started eating the Styrofoam. It struck us that we haven’t seen Styrofoam cups, or much Styrofoam at all, since we left. It turns out that many countries have banned it due to its negative health and environmental impact. Only on our flight back did we remember it had been part of our lives.

While we’re on the topic of coffee cups, let’s turn to coffee sizes. In Turkey and Greece, the coffee came in small dainty porcelain. Even in Brazil, the standard caffeine boost comes in the form of a cafezino, short and black, often with a wallop of sugar. Take-out coffee is not a common practice in most countries we visited, where food and drink are meant to be enjoyed at leisure and are excuses to break from commitments, not rush towards them.

Coffee cups aren’t the only large things in America. The size of cars has also been an adjustment. It’s no wonder. Gas prices in the U.S. are the lowest of any country we visited. Turkey has the dubious distinction of having one of the most expensive gas prices in the world, and we felt every Lira on our drive from Cappadocia to Istanbul.

Dealing with dollars also seemed strange. The only time we used dollar bills was in Myanmar, where they had to be in pristine condition in order to be traded for Burmese currency. We haven’t seen a wrinkled dollar in 10 months. We’re also getting back into the habit of using credit cards everywhere, even at the smallest of establishments. We spent so much time counting money at food stalls and in taxis that paying for a slice of pizza and a cab ride in New York a Visa made us feel as if we were skipping on the cost.

We have made a lot of effort trying to adapt to customs around the world. While we were told to keep our clothes on in certain places…

We were never advised on which side of the walkway to stand.

After 10 months of oscillating driving sides, this was a helpful reminder than Americans drive and stand on the right and pass on the left.

In a few weeks we’ll be paying for huge Styrofoam cups of coffee with credit cards, filling up our huge cars with cheap gas and hopefully driving on the appropriate side of the road. Until then, we’re still adjusting back to everyday America.



Filed under New York City

Back in New York City Dazed and Excited

Over the past 10 months our family has been a very tight unit. Because we built bonds with new friends and met old ones and family along the way, we never felt homesick. However, on arriving in New York and being greeted by family we realize that, while home has been a portable concept for the four of us, we still had a lot of home to come back to here. Sitting down to a meal made by my mother, a cake lovingly selected by our aunt and having the kids swept up by a horde of eager arms were feelings that we realized we missed.

On November 1, 2011 we left New York City, determined to hit ten countries in ten months.

Getting Ready to Leave at JFK

We succeeded in our mission and arrived back yesterday, somewhat changed. There are obvious differences. Our bags are dirtier and we no longer need to worry about pacifiers.

A globetrotting friend said that sometimes a journey needs to end in order for the reflections to begin. We hope that this is true. We know that this journey has changed each of us and adjusted the lens from which we see each other and our world. Over the next few weeks we’ll share reflections of our journey and explore the joys and challenges of settling back down again. After all, this trip was a minor diversion and getting back on track is part of the course.


Filed under New York City

Seven Year Journey Celebrated on Cloud Nine

Today is our seven year anniversary. On August 14, 2005, hundreds (we don’t quite know the count…) of people traveled from all corners of the earth to celebrate our commitment to each other in Kerala. We got married in The Santa Cruz Basilica, a Portuguese church built in 1558. It was around that time that Portuguese explorer Pedro Alverez Cabral discovered Brazil (on his way to India via Cape Town, no less). After getting married in a Portuguese church we think it’s apt to be closing off seven years of marriage in a former Portuguese colony.

Given that we are both world wanderers since birth, we have chosen to celebrate each of our anniversaries with a trip. In 2006 we were set to mark one year in the Lake District of England for a friend’s wedding. I had to work so Sandeep went a few days ahead of me to support the groom. While he was gone I started losing sensation in my body. A neurologist told me I may have multiple sclerosis. Looking back I’m not sure if I was more disappointed at the thought of canceling the trip or scared of the prognosis. I called Sandeep in tears and he was on the next flight back in NYC. We ended up spending our first anniversary testing our vow to care for each other in sickness and in health. It wasn’t the Lake District, but somehow, in a sterile NYC clinic, our appreciation and love for each other inexplicably deepened.

In 2007 and 2008 we went to Maine. We drove to what seemed like the end of the earth, rented a cabin, ate lobsters and cut ourselves off from the world. We celebrated our fourth year in Portugal, where our love for the culture was solidified over copious amounts of port and dorado. The travel escapades continued at a castle in Salamanca, Spain in 2010. We’re not ones to think of such romantic destinations and were there to celebrate another friend’s wedding. It seems that a lot of people get married over the summer months because we marked our six year anniversary at another wedding in Toronto.

After the realization that I had a chronic disease, Sandeep and I reevaluated our lives. We decided to have kids sooner than we had originally planned, and our identity as parents has existed nearly as long as our identity as spouses. We wanted to focus on creating new experiences together as a family. The kids, as much as they perplex us, have made our journeys as a couple all the more meaningful.

We’ll be spending our seven year anniversary flying from Brazil back to NYC, ending the last international stop in our around the world journey. A Boeing 767 is not a romantic venue in the conventional sense, but for two souls bound by travel it’s perfect. This ten month journey has confirmed that we value each other and shared experiences more than we care about stuff. The things that accompanied us for 10 months are packed one for last time into two bags and ready to make their way back to their port of origin. We’re getting ready to start the next chapter of our lives. With each other as co-captains, and our two babies as in-flight entertainment, as it’s bound to be an adventure.


Filed under Brazil, New York City

Ava and Mama Go on a Date in Cape Town

Seven months ago Sandeep and I were getting ready to go out on a date in Kuala Lumpur. As we were walking out the door, we saw Ava all dressed up and Kayan with his shoes on.  Ava announced, “Kayan and I are going on our own date to the playground.” Her interpretation of a date was spending time with someone she cared about doing fun stuff. That made us realize that kids need dates and special bonding sessions just like adults. Even though we love spending time as a family, Sandeep and I take opportunities to go on dates while we travel. We get some drinks, listen to music or catch some local theater, like this memorable clown play in Istanbul.

Ava and Kayan go on their own dates, often engaged in made up games.

We have found a lot of value in this one-on-one time and decided to implement dates with our kids. Ava and I had our first date today over haircuts. You may be familiar with Kayan’s haircuts around the world. Ava’s last trim was in New York but we haven’t felt the need for a cut since her hair just grows into tighter curls instead of gaining any length. Ava told the stylist she wanted a haircut like Kayan’s, but luckily I managed to convince her out of that. Her second request was, “Cut my hair straight.” Ava gets continuous compliments on her curls, but I suppose that she is like any girl in wanting what she doesn’t have. We enjoyed an hour of mom and daughter bonding, fussing over each other’s hair and talking about our trip with the stylists. As we walked back home Ava said, “When I get home I am going to write A-V-A so that Dada knows who I am, because I don’t look like Ava anymore.”

Without other distractions, Ava and I had great conversations. Now we’ll have to figure out date activities for other adult-kid combinations.


Filed under Africa, South Africa, Travel With Kids

Where Are We From? The Third Culture Kid Conundrum

While we were at a chocolate tasting yesterday, a hostess showed us a map of the world’s cocoa producing areas. When she said India Ava piped in, “I am from India and New York.” Not wanting to miss out on the conversation Kayan added, “And Cape Town.”

Sandeep and I always had difficulty answering the “Where are you from?” question. It turns out that we have successfully passed this confusion on to our children. Sandeep and I collectively lived in six countries and eleven cities before we started this trip. New York was home for nine years, the deepest place we ever planted roots. Kayan has spent just about as much of his life on our around the world journey as he did in New York. While Ava still carries many memories from New York, Kayan’s identity is transient and tied to wherever we are at a particular moment. The more we travel, the more we identify with we each new place. As it becomes easier to fit in it is harder to answer the question, “Where are you from?” I’ve always had slight envy for people who still call the house in which they were born home. We can barely identify ourselves with a country at this point.

A few weeks ago, a women asked if she could interview us an Indian family traveling around the world. She just launched desi globetrotter, an indie travel blog geared for the South Asian traveler, and wanted wanted to share our story with her readers. We were excited to participate but nervous that we wouldn’t come across as Indian enough for her audience. It turned out to be a fun interview because we decided to just be ourselves. Here is the link to the interview. Even though this is a travel site geared towards South Asians, I feel as though it could be a great interview from any cultural perspective. I was starting to get a little worried about our family’s lack of cultural identify when I read about Third Culture Kids.

“A third culture kid is a person who has spent a significant part of his or her developmental years outside their parents’ culture. The third culture kid builds relationships to all the cultures, while not having full ownership in any.” – www.tckworld.com

What’s interesting is that TCK research finally shed light on why we sometimes don’t feel Indian.

“Many TCKs take years to readjust to their [original] passport countries. They often suffer a reverse culture shock upon their return, and are often perpetually homesick for their adopted country. Many third culture kids face an identity crisis: they don’t know where they come from. It would be typical for a TCK to say that he is a citizen of a country, but with nothing beyond his passport to define that identification for him. TCKs’ sense of identity and well-being is directly and negatively affected by repatriation.”

Sandeep and I are clearly TCKs. Ava and Kayan, as kids of TCKs and world travelers are already cross-culture kids or trans-culture kids. Even though the TCK research gave us a framework to understand our cultural confusions, we don’t yet have an answer to “Where are you from?” I’ve toyed with “earth” and now “I’m a third culture kid” but I suspect those wouldn’t make us any friends. For now, “New York and India and Cape Town” seems as legitimate an answer as anything else.

We continued our chocolate tasting today over a game of scrabble. The rules were that we could put foreign words on the board as long as everyone knew what they meant. Cross cultural scrabble.


Filed under Africa, India, South Africa, Travel With Kids

How We Discipline the Kids While Traveling

Anyone who has met a two-year old or a four-year old knows that there are times when things break down. Sometimes parents can isolate it to either hunger or sleepiness. However, there are plenty of instances when Ava and Kayan act up because they’re testing their boundaries and our sanity. Just because we are traveling does not mean the kids get a pass at discipline. Sandeep and I have gone back and forth with how to encourage good behavior. We haven’t wanted to go down the smacking route, although that is perfectly acceptable almost anywhere in the world except America. Reasoning with a toddler seems silly. After figuring out that many of these breakdowns were the result of over stimulation, we’ve come down to disciplining the kids through reflective time outs.

Here is Ava in her time out on a Greek beach. She was being naughty by insisting on throwing things around our restaurant table. We gave her five minutes of silence and contemplation.

This was Kayan today at a vineyard in Franschoek. He refused to stop trying to jump into a water fountain. Of course a two year old loves to play in water, but it became a safety issue so he got a few minutes to himself.

Kids, like adults, need time to reflect. Sometimes all they need is to be removed from the scene and from their parents for a few minutes. In New York City, time out was usually against a stark white wall. We’re not really sure if Ava and Kayan process the tapestries that serve as their new time out spots, but it sure makes it easier for us as parents to discipline them on the road. In Greece we ate our calamari while Ava decompressed. She returned to the table and finished her meal with no more incident. Today we enjoyed our wine and burger parings while Kayan decided it was best to stay dry. He spent the rest of the time pouring juice back and forth from the bottle to his cup. That’s the type of liquid play we’re fine with.

We’re not sure where time out will be when we return home. They certainly wont be over turquoise waters or dramatic mountains. On the other hand, if Ava and Kayan know that a stark white wall is all that awaits them, perhaps they wont get into any trouble.



Filed under Africa, Greece, Travel With Kids

The Ugly and Hopeful Sides of Xenophobia

This picture was taken at the District Six Museum in Cape Town. Thankfully these benches no longer appear in South Africa, but it was not too long ago that Europeans and the rest of us were segregated in this gorgeous country. To put it in perspective, if Sandeep and I had grown up in Cape Town, we would not have been allowed to sit on this bench. The sight of Ava and Kayan (and tiger, since I don’t think he technically counts as European) sitting here felt like a triumph.


Filed under Africa, South Africa

When America Did Not Feel Like Home

I had to make a quick trip back to The States while the rest of the family stayed here in Cape Town. The result was that I spent 40 of the past 72 hours on planes.

Solo travel was a non event when I was working. I had only myself to worry about and enjoyed the alone time. Back then, traveling with the family was what made me nervous. However, after the four of us have spent eight months on the road and taken more flights than I can count, I felt uneasy about embarking on a journey alone. Sandeep wasn’t there to look after my passport. No one was there to goof off at the Duty Free stores. There was no one to talk with on the flight. There were no laps on which to rest my head. Even worse, there we no heads to rest on my lap. I felt a dull but very obvious pain that I hadn’t experienced in a long time. An hour into my first flight I realized what it was. Loneliness.

I had mixed emotions being back in The States. It was somewhat comforting to hear the Delta air hostess’s drawl as she asked, “Would ya’ll pleease sit daawn til we switch awf the seatbelt sain?” I was happy to see George Washington’s face as I pulled out a tip. Central air-conditioning felt so good. But despite the U.S. immigration officer telling me, “Welcome home,” I knew I couldn’t wait to actually be back home in Cape Town. Upon my return, the crisp air welcomed me back with a glorious slap on the face. The lights of City Bowl looked even more beautiful than I remembered. My heart did back flips when I heard the patter of little feet running towards the front door.

After traveling to foreign countries with my family and then going back America without my family, I realized the adage “home is where the heart is” is so true. My face may be Indian, my passport American and my history confusing, but home could be a tent in the Himalayas or a sprawling condo in Penang. It doesn’t matter as long as my family is there.


Filed under Africa, South Africa

Freedom to Roam This Fourth of July

For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.
– Nelson Mandela

Dear Ava and Kayan,

Today is the Fourth of July, a day when we celebrate our freedom as Americans. We’re observing this day from South Africa, a country that gained its independence in 1934 but continued to oppress the majority of its population via Apartheid until as recently as 1994. We have been traveling around the world for eight months and we have seen the many ways that freedoms are curtailed and enjoyed around the world. All of this has awakened us to freedoms we enjoy as Americans but take for granted.

As an American and as travelers, one of the greatest freedoms we enjoy is the freedom to roam. We are able to visit 10 countries in 10 months because we have the right passport. Many people around the world, even those with the means to travel, don’t have the freedom that you do to hop on a plane and cross borders. At two and four years old, you’re both already running out of pages on your first passports. We hope that you use and wear out dozens of passports in your lifetimes. Use this freedom to roam and explore our world, but always be respectful of wherever you land and defer to your host country’s way of life.

You may find out, as we have in our travels, that you aren’t always happy with how other people live. You are both already well versed with the Internet and enjoy watching episodes of Dora the Explorer on You Tube. However, the world’s second largest economy, China, doesn’t allow its people to access many user generated sites. Even this blog was blocked there, probably because we used the f-word (Facebook). As Americans, you have the freedom to read and watch what you want. Use it to educate yourselves and spread what you have learned.

You also have the freedom to say what you want. Ava, you use this freedom constantly for the 12 hours a day that you are awake. When we were in Myanmar we saw that the only widely distributed daily newspapers were government run and they told the people only what the government wanted them to hear. In contrast, we have been able to share our own travel stories with whoever wants to read it on one the world’s most widely read online news sources. When you grow up we suspect there will be information everywhere in forms that don’t exist today. Every story, even those you will read in school, have a point of view. Absorb as much as you can, but take the time to form your own opinions and then use the freedom you have to speak your minds.

Tell stories about what you currently think and what you foresee, but also share stories of where you have come from. You have the freedom to be be anything you want to be because prior generations fought for both of you to have equal opportunities. Your great-grandmother was denied the opportunity to become a doctor because of her gender. Things have changed. Ava, America chose to elect its first non-caucasian president the year you were born. A woman came very close. Take advantage of the path that has been paved for both of you.

Excel at whatever professions you pursue. But also use your the freedom you have to grow yourself spiritually. As an American you have the freedom to follow whatever religion you want. Even if you choose not to follow any religion, find what connects you on a deeper level to our world. Kayan, at only one year old, you already showed traits of quiet contemplation. You enjoyed every temple we visited in Thailand and seemed to instinctively know that they are places of quiet reflection. We hope that you hold on to this side of your personality as responsibilities grow in your life.

As an American, serving your country’s military is usually a choice. Your great-grand father chose to serve in the Indian Army and in Malaysia and Myanmar we visited the places where he was stationed. In some countries that we visited, such as Turkey and Greece, military service is a requirement. The decision to serve the military will be yours. If you choose not to, be sure you still serve the country by using your freedom to vote, your resources to give back and your education to be contributing citizens.

In Namibia and Greece we were free to appreciate so many natural wonders, from endangered animals to pristine beaches. These marvels are here today but you need to take care of them so that your own kids can enjoy our earth. Remember what we taught you about simple things taking care of plants and flowers so others can enjoy them, putting things in the garbage so our world stays pretty and turning off the water so that there is enough for everyone else.

We will be spending next month in Brazil, where our friend Joe and his boyfriend are going to come stay for a few days. America gives you the freedom to love who you want to love. You are free to commit yourself to anyone of your choosing. Whatever love ends up meaning to you, love yourself first and foremost and know that we will always love you.

As Americans we enjoy many freedoms. However, there are so many things that we can do to continue to enhance freedom within our own borders. You are lucky to have friends from a variety if backgrounds, but the reality is that most of our country still lives in pockets and you will have to make an effort to form relationships with people who are different from you. While we have the freedom to speak, we rarely talk openly about our most sensitive issues. There are things we would like to do but can’t because everybody is worried about getting sued. So even in America we have created our own borders and boundaries and some people would say that we aren’t really free. Freedom is a matter perspective, but take time every once in a while to appreciate the freedoms that you do enjoy.

Like our nation’s first settlers, your own grand parents immigrated to America in hopes of giving their descendants a freer future. Today you can embark on whatever journeys you want. Remember that it is not enough for you to be free, you must use your freedom to improve our world.

Roam free.

Dada and Mama

This post was inspired by the Facebook Families on the Move Group. Several members from all over the world chose to write posts today about freedom and travel. You can read their stories below.

Let Freedom Ring by The Nomadic Family

Are we free? by Living Differently

The Freedom to Choose by Living Outside of the Box

Freedom and Straying off the Beaten Path by Barts go Adventuring

Living a Free and Meaningful Life by Flashpacker Family

What is Freedom by Family on Bikes

Do you know what Freedom is by Bohemian Travelers

Free Falling by Break Out of Bushwick


Filed under South Africa, Travel With Kids, Traveling Family Writing Projects

Reflecting on Memorial Day From Greece

Despite being citizens of a country that has been at war for over a decade, we embarrassingly never really stopped to think of what the Memorial Day weekend truly signifies. For our family, it signaled the start of summer, quieter weekends in Manhattan and a cue to dust off our bikes.

Over the past seven months, in almost every country we have been, we have seen reminders of war and of those that have given their lives during service or lost their lives caught in the middle. When we were in India we also learned more about the roles our family has played in war and defense.

Sandeep’s grandfather was in the Indian Army and served in places such as Penang and Burma. In his honor, we visited the Penang War Museum. Our starkest learning was that living and dining quarters were divided on nationality. The British had real bathrooms and things got progressively worse the further east or south one hailed.

We also stopped by the World War II Cemetery outside Yangon, close to where Sandeep’s grandfather almost lost his life fleeing air raids towards the end of the war. We read the names of his battalion members who had fallen that day.

My grandfather retired as Commodore of the Indian Navy. In his earlier years he captained mine sweeping expeditions. After his formal retirement, he served as the naval point for RAW, India’s external intelligence agency.

Both our grandfathers participated in wars though luckily both lived well past their duties. If they were alive, would they have war lessons to impart on their great-grandchildren? Being defenders and ultimately men of peace, we’d like to think they would support us in how we are raising our children to promote peace.

We are trying to raise kids who make every effort to understand other people’s points of view. It’s hard enough to understand people when they speak the same language and follow the same customs. Try understanding someone when they speak a foreign tongue and act in seemingly strange ways. We want Ava and Kayan to be comfortable in these situations. Our babysitter in Thailand spoke no English and our babysitter in Greece speaks only Greek. The kids have been to pre-school in India where their classmates only spoke Malayalam. Not only did the kids keep an open mind and figure out a way to find friendships in these situations, they actually form bonds that last after the goodbyes.

We are also trying to raise kids who don’t pass judgement on nationality, religion or orientation. We have successfully confused our kids into not being able to answer the question “Where are you from?” When asked this the other day, Ava answered, “Vouliagmeni“. We’re thrilled. It shouldn’t matter where you are from. Our geographical boundaries are increasingly porous, our environment interlinked and our social, political and economic decisions have contagion effects that Ava and Kayan’s great-grandfathers never experienced.

We never lose wonder at watching our kids adapt to and navigate our world. The very fact that we, as parents, think that personal differences are something to be acknowledged and actively respected tells me that we are more judgmental than our children. Our kids, being at an age when they are so young and so innocent, just accept differences. Any questions are out of curiosity and not judgement. The reality of age is that these traits will not last forever. However, as the world gets closer, hopefully Ava and Kayan’s generation is encouraged to be more comfortable with personal differences than the generations before. It is an idealistic view but what better day to have this hope than today.


Filed under Greece