Saturday, April 30, 2016

My Intercultural Love: Nikita & SG

(Img via Timothy Colczak)

Nikita is a Blindian blogger who lives in the U.S. with her North Indian husband & daughter!

Introduction....
I'm Nikita and I'm African-American. I'm originally from Chicago, Illinois and now reside on the East Coast of the U.S. My husband's family is originally from Northern India. He was born and raised in Michigan. I have one child and no pets. I write a blog called Growing Up Gupta.

Three words that describe you...
Driven, Passionate, Classy.

Favorite childhood memory...
Going to Walt Disney World with my parents for the first time.

Where/how do you feel most inspired? 
My husband is currently my muse and I feel inspired daily.

Where/how did you meet your spouse? 
We met at work at a mutual friend's cubicle. I thought he was cute and that was it. He said that "it was like a light shined down from Heaven that said I was the one." After that, we saw each other at a work outing on May 5, 2004 and just started to talk to each other and we just clicked. We became friends, enjoyed talking to each other on the phone, and then he asked me out on a date on August 15, 2004. On that date, he wooed me by opening my door when I arrived (we decided to drive separately because I didn't want it be an official date), and handed me an orchid and said that he was going to treat me like a princess. We headed to dinner and just talked and talked, and talked. We had so much in common and our lives mirrored each others in so many ways. Neither of us wanted that date to end and so we stayed up all night and morning talking and we have been together ever since.

How long have you been together? 
We have been together for 11.5 years. We started dating/courting in August 2004.

What qualities do you admire in your spouse? 
I admire his intelligence, sensibility, loyalty, and work ethic. 

Favorite memory together as a couple... 
There are numerous I just can't choose one.

What did you know about your spouse's culture prior to your relationship? 
I knew that Indian men did not customarily marry outside of their ethnicity. Also most Indian marriages were/are arranged by their families.

How did you tell your friends/family about your intercultural relationship? 
I traveled home to Illinois and told my parents (both church Pastors) that there was a guy that I liked. My dad uttered his first name and asked what kind of name is that and I told him an Indian name.  They wanted to meet him, get to know him, and loved him after they met him. Some of my girlfriends were ecstatic for me, while others at the time frowned their nose up at the relationship because they had never heard of an Indian man and African-American woman being together. Let's just say we are no longer friends.

How has your relationship enlightened your life? How has it changed you & your outlook on life? 
It has given me a bigger picture of the world and human race. It has made me see that you don't have any control over who you fall in love with it . It may be with another ethnicity although you grew up thinking it would be with someone from your own ethnicity. I think life is so much more flavorful and beautiful since marrying my husband and having our daughter.

Who proposed and how? 
My husband got down on one knee at a beach in Michigan.


Describe your wedding...
We had two weddings. Our Christian ceremony in St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands (a destination wedding due to initial resistance of our union), and a traditional Indian ceremony in Michigan.

What does being married mean to you? 
 It means that I have made a decision to dedicate my life to a partnership with someone and them to me.

What are your dreams for your future together as a married couple? 
 Continued travel, more kids, greater successes, and growing old together.

What's the best marital advice that you received from elder family/friends? 
Never go to sleep angry - always resolve a conflict before you go to bed.

What positive cultural values do you bring to your relationship? 
We bring a joint love of family and cooking to our relationship.

What do you do to keep your relationship alive? What kinds of things do you do to connect with your spouse? 
 We make each other a priority. We make sure to talk about everything and anything that we believe the other needs to improve on. We do little things like sending a cute text during the day to say I love you. And when the baby is asleep we enjoy having dinner and movie date nights.

In what ways have you adopted aspects of your spouse's culture? 
I have embraced wearing Indian clothing and preparing Indian food, and even observing a yearly fast for him.

Has your family adopted aspects of your spouse's culture? 
My parents will wear Indian clothing to Indian events.

(Img via Ankita Ku)

What aspects of your spouse's culture do you find difficult to embrace? 
 The language has been difficult to learn without adequate resources on the Hindi language.

Name some cultural faux-pas that you have unknowingly committed...
We made sure not to commit any. However when we went to India last year we almost kissed each other in public!

What was the most challenging time in your intercultural relationship? 
When we were dating and he wanted to introduce me to his parents. They did not want to meet or hear about me. His parents didn't want to meet me because I am African-American. We overcame it with help from his family (sister-in-law) and childhood friends that got the chance to know me and loved me. His dad came around 6 months before our wedding, his mom didn't come around until about a month before our wedding.

What's the best and the worst part of being in an intercultural relationship? 
The best is sharing in a unique fusion of cultures. The worst is the language barrier and sometimes wondering if you are truly accepted.

What do you think are the biggest misconceptions that people have about intercultural relationships? 
That perhaps that they are all the same when they are not.

What are the biggest misconceptions about African-American women?
That we are all the same and we are not.

Have you come across people who disapprove of your intercultural union? If so, how do you deal with them? 
Yes, some of my husband's friends didn't approve and they bluntly said to him that my parents would never accept and that I would be disowned. He told them that it's sad that you would let a wonderful person walk away because of the color of their skin and that your parents wouldn't trust you to make great decisions; after all they raised you didn't they?

Take-away advice for other intercultural couples... 
Being in an intercultural relationship may not be easy at first. You may get uncomfortable stares, jibes, and even find yourself confused about cultural practices, etc. However as you grow in your relationship things will become easier and you will see how the fusion of the two cultures is an amazing thing that not everyone gets to experience. Make sure that your relationship is not built on sand and that you are truly invested in each other. I think we are all brought together for a purpose outside of ourselves.

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Be sure to follow Growing Up Gupta on their Facebook page!
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Thursday, April 28, 2016

Now Featured On: Masalamommas ("Don't Ask Me If I'm the nanny!")


I am super excited to share my latest article on Masalamommas as part of a special intercultural series that they are featuring - by none other than yours truly! Lately I have been repeatedly asked the annoying question, "Are you the nanny?" nearly every time I take my daughter to the park. Ever since we got back from Hawaii, it has happened in a steady stream, especially as Maya grows to look more like her dad. So, of course I had to write about it! Unfortunately this is a reality for a lot of mixed parents, or even parents whose children don't necessarily look like them.

Click HERE to read my article and share it if you like it!

Have you guys ever been asked if you are "the nanny"? If so, how do you deal with it?

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Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Life Lately (in pictures)

Just a few snippets of our life lately, in pictures...




Maya's hair has grown longer than ever...



We got to visit my new nephew Siddharth...


I finally organized my spice cabinet and everything is neatly jarred and labelled...


We have been loving the seasonal produce at our local public market...


We had a major heatwave which brought out the gorgeous cherry blossoms...


My parents are shifting houses so we have found so many amazing things, like my dad's old record collection...


We have been eating delicious dosa's for breakfast every morning...


We have been doing so much art together recently...



Which means I find these funny little scribbles in my notebook...


Maya wants to walk Ziggy and hold the leash by herself...


And has to give him a kiss & a hug before bed each night...



And I'm feeling more in love than ever with our little family!

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Monday, April 25, 2016

Best Children's Books about Mommies


I am so excited about Mother's Day coming up soon. Husband-ji will be out of town so I will be spending the day with my baby all to myself. Maya's school is also putting on a special Mother's Day tea party and song performance which I am eagerly looking forward to! Lately I have been finding a lot of wonderful children's books that celebrates the special bond between a mother and child. These would make great mother's day gifts for a family member or friend who has small children.

Here are some of our favorites:

Llama Llama Red Pajama (all ages)
This one is such a funny book and one of our favorites - we always laugh because the story is so relatable. Little llama calls out for his mummy at night while she is doing housework and works himself up into a tizzy when she doesn't come right away. The language is written in rhymes which makes it all the more playful. It is short enough to read to an infant, but funny enough to read to an older child too. This one is a must for building your child's home library.

The Mommy Book (all ages)
This book is a wonderful picture book to celebrate diversity when it comes to mommies and motherhood. It is paired with bright, playful illustrations that will keep your child engaged. It is a good reminder to children that not all mommies are the same - some stay at home, some work, some have short hair, some have long hair - but all mommies love their babies.

When Mama Gets Home (age 3+)
This is a lovely book that celebrates working mothers, and also sibling relationships. The children get home from school and work as a team to prepare dinner and set the table. This book encourages siblings to work side by side peacefully and to help their mother out. It also celebrates children's independence and confidence.

Wherever You Are: My Love Will Find You (age 3+)
This book is so well written that it will make you want to cry! This book is about a mother's love for their child and that they will love them whether they go near or far. It assures children that their parents will love them no matter what. It is paired with beautiful understated illustrations and gentle prose. It also serves as a reminder for parents that one day our children will fly the nest, and they might live far away. This is a wonderful book for a first time parent or a new mother.

I Love My Mommy (age 0-5)
One of my friends gave me this book at my baby shower and it has been one of our favorites. It portrays a day in the life of a mommy and baby - going out grocery shopping, to the park - all from the viewpoint of the toddler. It is paired with rhyming verses and cute illustrations. A great book that celebrates all the things mother's do for their children.

Are You My Mother?  (all ages)
This one is a classic that has been around for years. A baby bird falls out of the nest, gets lost and searches around for his mother, asking every animal/object he comes across if they are his mother. Toddler children will enjoy answering, "No, that's not his mother!" as it becomes into a game.

Mommy Calls Me Monkeypants (age 0-5)
This one is a funny book that is so relatable to me, since we parents always call our children by funny pet names. The story follows a child playing, and the mom calling her pet names like "monkey pants", and "peek-a-boo" based on her activities. The story is quite endearing, and perfect for small children.

Little Mommy (age 3+)
This book is a quite traditional set up with the mom staying home and the dad working, but I still love it. In this book, it depicts two children playing house and looking after a dolly - the little girl plays "little mommy" and looks after the baby all day. I liked this book because it shows the nurturing side that children have towards babies/baby dolls. The book has beautiful old-fashioned illustrations that really takes you back to the 1950's.

Because Your Mommy Loves You (age 3+)
This book is a lovely story about a special camping trip that a boy and his mother take - and each step of the way the mother encourages the boy to do things on his own, instead of doing it for him. This story fosters independence, confidence and problem solving skills. It is also a great reminder for parents that we need to let our children figure things out on their own and that it's the best way they will learn.

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What are your favorite children's books about mommies?

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Saturday, April 23, 2016

My Intercultural Love: Kathleen & Abhijeet


This lovely couple met in the office in India, lived in Bangalore and then moved back to the US!

Introduction....
Kathleen and Abhijeet (Abhi) - Kathleen is originally from Ohio, USA and Abhi is originally from Bhopal, India. Kathleen is half Italian and half German and grew up with a large Italian family who immigrated in the 1920's to US (many relatives spoke only Italian). Abhi is Marwadi and an only child but his dad has 6 siblings and his mom has 3 siblings so he grew up with many cousins in a joint family set-up. We currently live in Ohio after living in Pune and Bangalore together for 5 years and we have 2 boys from Kathleen's first marriage.

Three words that describe you...
Kathleen: Talkative, Inquisitive, Foodie.
Abhijeet: Relaxed, Practical, Expensive.

Favorite childhood memory...
Kathleen: My sister and I grew up doing a lot outside. Our property had a creek and forest that my parents would take us for walks around. We had a pool and spent HOURS swimming daily in the summer. We would collect beautiful fall leaves with all the colors, we learned how to skip rocks across the quiet areas of the creek. I think growing up this way instilled my love for being outside!
Abhijeet: When I rode the scooter with my grandfather and he let me steer (I was like 5 years old)

Where/how do you feel most inspired?
Kathleen: Out in nature, I have always loved taking walks, listening to the birds and just observing the beauty of our world.
Abhijeet: In the comfort of my home.

Where/how did you meet your spouse?
Kathleen: I had moved to Pune India for a new job and we met in the office. Abhi was designated by my manager to help me out as I was getting settled. I had to change a bunch of money and he helped me count it all (I wasn't familiar with Indian money yet).

How long have you been together?
We have been a couple for over 6 years now! Married for 3 years in May 2016! 


What qualities do you admire in your spouse?
Kathleen: I feel Abhi is the most supportive person I could have asked for. He listens to me as well as to others and provides thoughtful, logical responses and feedback. He is objective yet so loving and caring for me and our kids.
Abhijeet: Kathleen is the realistic one in our relationship. We balance each other nicely. On a lighter note, she stresses a lot and I don't at all. 

Favorite memory together as a couple...
Our many frequent trips to Goa! We love to travel but being able to take quick trips from Pune to Goa or from Bangalore to Goa was refreshing, fun and allowed us to reconnect as a couple

What did you know about your spouse's culture prior to your relationship?
Kathleen: I felt like I knew a fair amount - I had traveled to Delhi/Gurgaon for work and spent 2 months there. I absolutely fell in love with India and the culture and decided I would move there. 1 year later I had landed a job in Pune and I realized I didn't know as much as I thought about Indian culture! I was constantly asking if names were boy or girl when I first arrived in my office (just reading a name in an email and being unfamiliar I had no clue if I should reply "he" or "she"!). I also didn't realize how different Pune culture would be from what I had experienced in Delhi and Gurgaon. Luckily I had some great colleagues to help me learn quickly!
Abhijeet: I didn't really know much about it, but I really got to know more as we were dating. 

How did you tell your friends/family about your intercultural relationship? 
Kathleen: I told my family I was dating a guy from work in India and honestly, they weren't surprised. I had been living and working there and it was a logical next step. They were a little concerned how difficult would it be and if Abhi had good intentions (my sister really grilled Abhi...ha ha!) but after getting to know him they think he is perfect for me!
Abhijeet: I told my mom that I found a girl that I want to get married to. I took Kathleen home to meet my entire family and I didn't care what anyone thought, as I had already made up my mind. 

How has your relationship enlightened your life? How has it changed you & your outlook on life?
Kathleen: It has made me realize that you really need to be open to any and all experiences. If you had told me when I was in high school that I would become a world traveler and marry someone from the other side of the globe I would have never believed it. 

Who proposed and how?
Kathleen: We had previously bought our rings during a trip to the USA and were just waiting to decide how we were going to exchange rings (the traditional Indian way or the more American way). Abhi proposed to me, we had planned a trip to Goa and it was pouring down rain so we couldn't get to the bus stop (they ended up canceling the bus anyway). He was adamant that we HAD to take this trip so we quickly booked a flight for the next morning and ended up arriving just slightly later than we would have by bus anyway. So we went to dinner at this amazing Greek restaurant called Thalassa that overlooks the ocean in Little Vagator Beach. We had AMAZING food and even better baklava! So delish that we made a sunset reservation for a great table 2 days later. Well 2 days later we arrive back at Thalassa and had the best table in the place, we were watching this amazing sunset and eating delicious food! Little did I know that Abhi had brought along a thumb drive with the Bruno Mars song "Marry Me" and asked the restaurant to play it over their sound system. When it was playing he pulled out a gorgeous ring and asked if I would officially marry him! In true Indian fashion, both men and women get engagement rings. So when we got back home to Bangalore I began planning how I would propose to Abhi. I took his favorite song, Bryan Adams "I want to be your underwear" and wrote new lyrics to parts of the song. I had the music all ready and one night when he was home from office I was pretending to be working on my laptop but then started playing the song and singing the new lyrics I had written. Then I gave him his ring. This was about a week after he had proposed to me.


Describe your wedding...
Kathleen: Small, simple and yet chaotic. Originally we were planning the traditional Indian wedding in Abhi's hometown of Bhopal. But then I got an amazing job offer back in the US and decided to move up the wedding. We planned the entire thing in just 2 weeks! We were living in Bangalore but decided to go back to Pune, where we met, to get married and had a lot of our friends. We flew from Bangalore to Pune and the day we landed we had the Mehendi, I was exhausted by the time we were done! Then the next day we got up and had to clean off the Mehendi get showered and dressed and show up at the Registrar Office by noon for our official court marriage. We signed all the papers and had friends and family with us as we took our official legal vows. Then we went out for a lunch with our guests. After lunch, I went home and took a quick nap before getting up and getting dressed in another outfit for our temple wedding that evening. We had a temple wedding (in a Hanuman temple which is really ironic) and a mix of Marwadi traditions (Abhi is Marwadi) and Marathi traditions (the priest was Marathi). After the temple wedding, I again changed clothes and we had a reception. This honestly was the best part, being surrounded by many of our closest friends and having free flowing drinks and food! Honestly it was just the best party I ever attended! Then the next day we had to get up early to bathe and dress to do some more Hindu rituals and visit a few temples for blessings. Then the next day we flew back to Bangalore and again had to do more rituals before we entered our home as a newly married couple!

What does being married mean to you?
Kathleen: Having my best friend for laughs, support and discussions (and people watching) for all the rest of my days!
Abhijeet: Trusting in one person and being complete.

What are your dreams for your future together as a married couple?
Both: Keep traveling and having new experiences together. Sharing as much as possible with kids and family.

What positive cultural values do you bring to your relationship?
Kathleen: The desire to see and try new and different things. Keeping your family close and taking care of each other.
Abhijeet: Keeping family and friends close and taking care of each other (there is no formality - when you need something it is expected that they will help, and when they need something it is expected you will help).

What do you do to keep your relationship alive? What kinds of things do you do to connect with your spouse?
Both: We love to travel both as a couple as well as with family. We try to plan at least 2 trips a year, 1 couple trip and 1 larger family trip (including the kids, parents and sometimes extended family). When we aren't taking big trips we still like to do weekend getaways (there are a lot of nice places within 8 hrs drive from Ohio) and we do also love to be outside taking walks in the park or hiking or going to movies when the weather is too cold/snowy!

In what ways have you adopted aspects of your spouse's culture?
Kathleen: When I was living and working in India I had adopted most of Abhi's culture. I would wear Indian clothes to the office; I was self sufficient in getting my own rickshaw to/from the mall; eventually I bought a car and drove myself daily to the office or for errands and we ate Indian food daily (thanks to our cook). Now that we are living back in the US we still eat Indian food but probably only half the time (I cook the "western" dishes and Abhi cooks the "Indian" dishes). I wear Indian clothes (suits or saris) when we go to Temple or attend functions. We celebrate Indian holidays in addition to US holidays (we've done this from the beginning, the more holidays the better!).
Abhijeet: I use toilet paper on a daily basis (ha ha joke!!!) but seriously I have attended Church more often than Temple since moving to the US (mostly for convenience purposes), I am learning about and celebrating US holidays and have learned to drive on the "other side of the road" since moving to the US.


Has your family adopted aspects of your spouse's culture?
Kathleen: My family knows that Abhi is vegetarian so they have adapted that they know to always cook something (or a few things) that Abhi can eat. They also have tried Indian food and some they love (Abhi's potatoes always get requests) and a couple people just aren't crazy about Indian food at all (which is ok, they tried but its just not their thing).
Abhijeet: Not really no.

What aspects of your spouse's culture do you find difficult to embrace?
Kathleen: I am ok with most everything, except I don't like the keeping of secrets. I just can't get on board with not answering honestly when someone asks me a question. Its been very difficult to purposefully give a vague answer. One other thing that I find difficult to embrace is the mentality that the woman cooking needs to provide hot roti while everyone eats and then eat last, alone. When we are with my MIL I prefer she make the roti and keep them in a warmer so we can all sit and eat together. In terms of rituals, I am pretty much OK with all of them if the significance can be explained to me. I am NOT a proponent of doing things "because that's the way its done" - if it doesn't make sense then I don't do it.
Abhijeet: I am pretty flexible and don't really have any problems except for the tradition of eating fish at the New Year for prosperity, I just can't stand that.

Name some cultural faux-pas that you have unknowingly committed...
Kathleen: When I was first in India colleagues would ask if I wanted to go for chai, or if I wanted a snack and I would always reply "No, I'm good" not realizing they were trying to be good hosts and I was offending them. Also, its very typical for American's to say "I don't care" as in, what do you want to eat? "Oh, I don't care". Well my colleagues in India really took offense to this phrase taking it very literally when I really just meant to say "I am good with anything and defer to your decision". One of the funniest misunderstandings (not necessarily a faux-pas) was that an Indian colleague of mine and I had just finished a presentation and had gotten some feedback we needed to incorporate in the slides. I asked him what he wanted to do and he said "Lets sit on it." I was a little upset because I took that to mean "Lets sit and wait, we will get to it eventually" but what he meant was "lets sit together and complete it now"!
Abhijeet: We borrowed something from a friend - and in India we would usually keep the borrowed item until the owner asked for it back (say, borrowing a DVD or a Xbox game from a friend) but here in US, Kathleen said its important to return a borrowed item ASAP before they have the need to ask you for it.

What was the most challenging time in your intercultural relationship?
Kathleen: For me the most challenging time was when we were apart for 12 months during immigration proceedings. I moved from India back to the US in July 2013. Luckily I was able to go back and visit for Diwali, then Abhi was able to come to US and visit for Christmas and New Years. Then I spent the months of May and June 2014 in India working remotely before Abhi finally came to the US in July 2014. But being apart was definitely challenging. 


What's the best and the worst part of being in an intercultural relationship?
Best: You get to meet and really know other people and their culture more than when you visit as a tourist or on a work trip.
Worst: Being spread out across the globe - sometimes you just really miss family and friends.

What do you think are the biggest misconceptions that people have about intercultural relationships?
That you are in it for some ulterior motive such as money or a green card or anything other than what the relationship is truly about: two people who are compatible and love each other and want to be together.

Take-away advice for other intercultural couples...
Be open minded and flexible. Have faith and support your partner. 

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Click HERE to read more intercultural love stories!
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Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Indians & Canadians: No "five minute friendships"


India and Canada. One place is a smoking hot land, filled with flavorful food, eccentric characters, ancient traditions, a billion people and a million languages. The other place is a cool, calm, and polite land which is one of the least populated countries on Earth. It's basically a big friggin' forest. With English and French speakers.

Yet these are the lands we hail from, which seem so different at times it's like they are separate plants in another universe. Sometimes it seems like we have nothing in common at all. The way we interact, communicate, the things we value, our priorities...sometimes it's all different.

Mostly, I find Indians similar to Americans in a lot of ways. Both countries are wild in their patriotism that you'd practically get murdered or directly asked to leave if you question them, how their country is run, or their politics. They are both passionate and wear their hearts on their sleeves. And also very loud. From the North to the South, to the East to the West of America and India, the volume is up-up-up. One thing that prepared me to marry into an Indian family was actually living in the U.S. before, and having people constantly tell me to "speak up"...and at the same time, talk over me!

With Canadians, I don't find as many similarities as I do with Americans, when relating to Indians. Maybe this is why so many Indians flock to living in the U.S., since they have more in common with people there.

However, recently I was reading Where the Peacocks Sing by Alison Singh Gee from my April reading List, and something struck me.

[At this point in the novel she has flown to India to meet her fiance's parents and she is a bit upset that they didn't love her immediately.] She writes in the novel:

So far, my arrival in India and my meeting with my new family had not brought the fusion of lost souls I had imagined. I sat down on the edge of the bed and put my head in my hands. "What's wrong?" Ajay said, as he entered my bedroom.

"Why is it that my newspaper column could charm half of Asia but I can't even get my own future in-laws to like me?" I shook my head. "Your father hardly spoke to me. Your mother doesn't understand a word I say and she thinks my favorite shoes are horrid. She barely faced me at breakfast. Things are not going very well."

"Give it time," Ajay replied. "Indian relationships take longer than American ones. We don't believe in instant noodles and we don't trust in five-minute friendships. There's a different rhythm to how we do things here."

Now this is one way that Indians and Canadians are very similar. Especially Canadians here in Vancouver.

When I came booming back from the U.S. with my fancy degree and resume, I was shocked to experience that here in Canada it is actually very difficult to make friends. People are very stand-offish. I totally forgot this when I was lived in America because I had not experienced this as an outsider. When we moved back to Canada, it took years to build good friendships with people, and at times, we were very lonely. Most of my good friends now are actually my old friends from high school, because I found it so difficult to strike up new friendships with strangers.

Now it has been 7 years since we settled back here, so I have again become almost fully Canadian in my personality. First of all, I only start talking to someone if I have seen them about five times already and completely observed their mannerisms and demeanor. I realize that this is actually quite stalkerish. For example, the mothers at my daughter's various extracurricular activities - I see them every week, we wait in polite awkward silence in the same room as we pick up our children, I smile and stare at them, but I do not really say anything until mid-semester, because I am too busy feeling them out and soaking in their whole vibe. Sometimes I even see the same mothers at different events, outings and classes, and we very rarely speak. It is not that I don't like them, in fact I really do like some of them a lot, but it is just slow to develop. I hate it when I start talking to someone and then we don't become good friends, like ugh, I just wasted the effort to speak! Exchanging phone numbers with somebody is practically like getting married in friendship. This kind of behavior is totally Canadian, and very politely standoffish. I am comfortable with this cultural dance now, but when I first moved back here, it felt very foreign to me. That is why I am drawn to American expats who are living in Canada, because it does not feel forced with them to have an "instant noodle" friendship.

Just like in the novel, up here in Canada, it takes a lot of time to develop relationships. There are no instant friendships. Relationships take time to develop as people observe each other and feel each other out.

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Saturday, April 16, 2016

Call for Submissions: Your Intercultural Love Stories


One of my favorite sections on my blog is my weekly Saturday love stories which feature real intercultural couples from around the globe. These have been our most loved, most shared stories that I have personally learned so much from.

I am currently on the hunt for more couples to share their stories and I am looking for ALL mixes! Please email me at: madhmama@gmail.com and I will send you back a Q&A that you can fill out. You can be anonymous (using an alias name) or you can use your real first name. My only requirement is that you and your partner have had to be in a relationship for a minimum of 2 years. You do not have to be married to be featured.

It is important that we share our stories because we can learn from each other regarding cross-cultural specific challenges, we can make others' feel less alone because many intercultural couples know very few couples like "us", and our kind of relationships are not represented in the media at all.

Check out the couples I have previously featured HERE!
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Wednesday, April 13, 2016

The Day I Got Recognized


As my blog gets bigger and better, I knew the day would finally come that I'd be recognized somewhere....

In Vancouver, I am relatively anonymous. I don't have a lot of blog readers here (my reader base is mostly USA/India) and people are generally stand-offish here. Early on, when my blog was just getting a reader base, we were recognized once when we were walking downtown - the lady stared and whispered "Madh Mama" but didn't approach us - in true Canadian fashion!

Another time, husband-ji - who is arguably more recognizable than me with his crazy fashion sense and full arm sleeve tattoos (very rare to see an Indian man with tattoos like that!) was recognized by one of my blog readers and followed at a New York airport last year. They did not approach him, but they followed him, stared at him, and then emailed me about it. It was pretty funny...husband-ji had no idea!

I knew if I myself was going to get recognized anywhere it would definitely be on one of our family trips to Seattle. Seattle is jam-packed with South Indians from Microsoft/IT companies that it's basically a Brahmin's paradise!

Lo and behold, on our latest trip to Seattle (heading back from Portland, on Easter weekend), we were leaving Madras Dosa Corner restaurant (of course it had to happen here) and a woman called out, "Madhavan! Madhavan!" as husband-ji and his cousin-brother were crossing the parking lot. Husband-ji was perplexed because the only two people he knows in Seattle are his cousin-brother (who was there with us) and his other cousin, none of which were calling his name. The woman came up to him and said, "I read your wife's blog!" At the time, I was actually taking Maya to the bathroom, before we left the restaurant. When I stepped out, the woman came up to me and spoke to me about how much she loves my blog and told me that I write so well - which is truly the best compliment ever. I was feeling quite shy so I just awkwardly thanked her. I didn't quite know what to say, since everyone knows so much about our life but I don't know anything about theirs. It was really wonderful to have my work appreciated, and the positive reinforcement that yes, I can write - and that people do notice me for it.

Most of my blog readers and commenters are anonymous and I have no idea who they are, so it was really nice to meet one of them in person - especially a really nice one! It was quite an odd feeling to be recognized and I felt quite exposed in person. Lately I have been feeling so self-conscious about myself since the fertility medication that the OBGYN prescribed me has made me put on weight and has made my skin go crazy. I am totally fine about my size, but it makes me feel so ugly to have bad skin. I am really good at putting on makeup, but when you're having acne it is very hard to cover up properly. I usually do not wear makeup, but thank god I wore it that day...on the day that I was recognized!

If I could have a do-over I would have talked to her a bit more, but I was just so stunned that anybody even recognized me in the first place! Now I need to start mentally preparing myself for possibly meeting some of my blog readers when I'm out and about! I should probably try to wear make-up more often in case anybody recognizes me! Ha ha!

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Tuesday, April 12, 2016

What podcasts do you listen to?



Lately I have been totally addicted to listening to podcasts. I love listening to inspirational ones when I wake up in the morning, driving in the car, and also when I'm doing my creative work, like painting, illustrations, or pattern-making. Husband-ji thinks I'm totally crazy!

Recently, I started listening to Elizabeth Gilbert's Magic Lessons podcast, which helped me get over a recent creative block when it came to painting. I had all these ideas of paintings that I wanted to do, but I was feeling scared and also too tired to start one. After listening to her podcast, I put aside some time at work and magically pumped out 6 beautiful illustrations in a span of only a few hours. Some of them will become paintings, and others I'm thinking will be patterns. Her podcast is such a gem for creatives of all kinds and for women in particular. She talks about getting over guilt, pressure, making time for oneself, and an artist's divine entitlement to make art.

Now I am on a search for other podcasts, since I am totally into it now. Which ones do you listen to? Do you have any favorites?

Plus, don't forget to check out my podcast interview on World Citizen Storycast!
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Monday, April 11, 2016

Interview with Nadia Hashimi on her book "When The Moon Is Low"


When the Moon Is Low was one of the first books that I read this year, and even though many months have passed, this book stuck with me - it got under my skin and it made me think deeply about the state of affairs in our world. - namely, the plight of refugees around the globe. My own Russian grandmother was a refugee, but she died before I was born so I never got to hear first-hand about her experience, although I have certainly heard some of the horrors which have trickled down to my generation. Every day, when I turn on the BBC news it is something about the Syrian refugee crisis. In recent months, our own province has accepted Syrian refugees, although not hardly enough as millions of refugees flood into Europe every day. Before that, it was Afghanistan - which is where Nadia's novel begins.

Nadia's novel is brilliant and so relevant. The novel weaves back and forth between the narration of the mother and the son, as they face a harrowing journey as a family with young children, and no money, jobs, or father figure to offer them protection. The novel documents the fall of Afghanistan and the difficult decision it took to leave their homeland (and family) forever behind. They come across many dangerous characters across the way, but they also rely on the help of a lot of good Samaritans, which gives them hope to keep pushing forth. Many times during the course of reading this novel, I just wept. To be a parent of young children and to come to the realization that your homeland is too dangerous to live in...is a heartbreaking situation. This novel reminds us that this story could happen to any of us, no matter where we live, or how fortunate our lives are. It also reminds us that we need to help others, because we might just be the only hope they've got.

Since this book touched my heart so very deeply, I reached out to Nadia and asked if she wouldn't mind doing a little interview for my blog. Not only is Nadia a talented storyteller and a bestselling author, she is a truly wonderful and gracious person. I am absolutely thrilled to introduce you to Nadia and her book!


I read that you are a pediatrician by profession. When did you start seriously writing? Or were you always a writer?
Nadia: I didn’t start writing until 2009, a year after I’d completed my pediatric training. The long hours of residency did not leave much time for exploring outside passions like writing. My husband knew that I had a love for the written word and encouraged me to give it a go. I’m so glad he did! I can’t imagine what my life would be without this happy adjunct to my chosen career.

How did the idea for this novel come into fruition? When did it begin?
Nadia: So many of my family members fled Afghanistan over the years of war. The exodus began in the early 1970s and has continued since, with family members fleeing to any country that will offer safe haven or opportunity. I’ve always had the idea to write about the hardship of leaving one’s homeland under duress. I came across a news article in 2009 that noted the many young Afghan refugees lingering in Greece who were asked to return to Afghanistan. They had neither the means nor the desire to do so, having spent all their savings on traffickers to get them to a safe country where they might find work and stability. I began to imagine a life for one of those young individuals and Saleem’s story was what came of exploring those circumstances.

Are any of the characters based on real people?
Nadia: The characters are not based on real people but their stories are based on the realities being faced by so many individuals from Afghanistan, Syria and the many other countries that feel too hazardous to continue to call home.

I read that both your parents are from Afghanistan - in what way did that influence your novel(s)?
Nadia: Both my parents were born and raised in Afghanistan. Living in the United States, I was raised with an acute awareness of the happenings in Afghanistan, both politically and socially. The unrest and destruction of the past thirty years has devastated the nation and resulted in many ongoing crises: opium addiction, poverty, illiteracy, excessive infant and maternal mortality. I wanted to write about something that I found compelling and worthy of conversation. These are the issues I tackle in my novels.

What are the conditions like in Afghanistan now, after the war?
Nadia: Afghanistan’s been in a recovery and rebuilding phase since 2011. Though there is ongoing violence, much progress has been made. Schools have been reopened, hospitals have been erected or remodeled, girls are pursuing higher education, television programming has blossomed and businesses have expanded to meet the needs of the Afghan population. The cities are bustling as they are the epicenters of reconstruction.

One of the most heartbreaking themes in this novel was witnessing one's own homeland become too dangerous to live in and having to make the difficult decision to flee. Fereiba ultimately has no choice but to flee after her husband is viciously murdered. How difficult do you think it is for people to come to the realization that "there is no future in my homeland"? Do you think many people come to this decision too late?
Nadia: There’s the old myth that tells us a frog will leap out of boiling water but if a frog is placed in water that is slowly brought to a boil, he will not leap out of it. Though it’s only a myth and not scientifically valid, it’s still an apt metaphor for the actions of people who live in those countries where civil unrest starts off as protests, then small clashes between governments and dissidents. Without a major catastrophic event, people may feel like they can “wait it out.” There’s never a perfect time to flee one’s homeland because the destination is a big unknown and the journey is perilous.

In the news, there is so much hatred and fear for refugees and people who are seeking asylum, when they are just ordinary people who have done nothing wrong. People judge refugees, and many people don't want refugees to settle in their country. In the book you say, “It's never easy to leave one's home, especially when there are only closed doors ahead of you.” What do you want your readers to understand about refugees by reading your book?
Nadia: I want people to understand that a refugee is not just a refugee. He or she may be a refugeed student, physician, engineer or shopkeeper. These are not one-dimensional people. Refugees are humans with aspirations, hopes for their children and a desire to live in peace. We should see them as people in, hopefully, temporary crisis. The refugee label need not be seen as a terminal diagnosis. Refugees are very capable of resurrecting themselves. I personally know plenty of refugees who are now practicing physicians, lawyers, administrative assistants and more – productive members of a healthy and diverse societies.

As I was reading this novel, during the height of the Syrian refugee crisis, I noticed so many similarities between what Afghan refugees have faced (depicted in your novel) and what Syrians are currently facing. Oftentimes while reading, I forgot it was Afghan family - because it could have so easily been a Syrian family. Do you think the struggles that refugees face are somewhat universal?
Nadia: The similarities go well beyond Afghans and Syrians to include a host of other nationalities who are now landing on Europe’s shores seeking safe haven. There are so many struggles common to people leaving a homeland in crisis. The best thing we can do is to see the commonalities between nationalities.

In the novel, Fereiba's family is helped so much by the kindness of strangers that lifts them up with hope to the next leg of the journey. How is the kindness of strangers important - especially to people who have nothing?
Nadia: When I wrote this story (in 2009) and described humanitarian volunteers at every turn, it felt a bit generous and optimistic. Since then, I have watched the disheartening expansion of the refugee crisis but have been reassured to see that there is an outpouring of assistance. It is by no means enough but it is proof that humanity rises up in catastrophic conditions and that we are not all willing to watch our fellow humans flounder when war has ripped them from their homes. The kindness of strangers can mean the difference between life and death or it can mean the difference between hope and despair.

How can the average person help refugees in their area?
Nadia: This is a great question. The obvious way to help is to donate to an organization assisting refugees but there are lots of other ways to assist. Advocate for refugee aid and resettlement with your local representatives by writing letters or making phone calls. If refugees are resettling into your neighborhood, volunteer to teach ESL classes or driving lessons. Smile and wave and ask them where they’ve come from or what their lives were like in their homelands. You may be surprised at what you learn. Many refugees are highly educated and the transition can be demoralizing. Talking helps. The more these individuals feel welcomed and integrated into the local society, the better off everyone will be.

As a mother myself, it was touching to read Fereiba's immense bravery when it came to trying to find a way out for her children and their futures, against all odds. Her strength is remarkable and empowering to read. Your last novel, The Pearl That Broke Its Shell also featured a strong female narrator. What about a strong woman appeals to you? Why is important to write about women? Especially Afghan women?
Nadia: I write about strong female characters because that’s what I see in my family, my friends, and in the world around me. The women of Afghanistan have demonstrated a resilience and determination that is quite remarkable. They are not in need of saviors. They need only our support. They are doing the hard work themselves to regain their status as equal citizens of Afghanistan, even when their lives are threatened for it. Strong women have inspired me and I hope that my characters will be an inspiration to others.

   The emotions in this novel were through the roof! I often had to stop and pause the novel to keep myself from crying my eyes out. You capture emotions so brilliantly and realistically. How on Earth do you do that?
Nadia: This makes me so happy to hear because I really wanted readers to connect with the characters emotionally. I do my best to put myself in the shoes of each of my characters and think of what it must feel like to depend so heavily on your adolescent son, to have one’s father ripped from the home one night, or to wonder if one’s mother is making the right life-changing decisions. It’s important for me to listen to my characters so that I can do their emotions justice.

I read that you are also a mother to 4 children - how do you find the time to write? You must be an incredibly busy person!
Nadia: I’ve been blessed with four absolutely incredible children. They light up my mornings, make me laugh even in their mischief, and inspire me to write stories that will hopefully do some good in this world. They do keep me busy but life is full of challenges. I make schedules for myself so that I write while my eldest two are in school and while my younger two are with a caregiver. Other times, I write after I’ve tucked everyone into their beds. We all juggle life and work. This is my juggle and I’m incredibly grateful for it.

This is your second novel. What advice do you have for aspiring writers who are just starting out?
Nadia: Find a story that absolutely must be told. Make writing a priority. Write without fear or inhibitions. Set goals. Get feedback from others. Read. Believe that it can be done.

What's next for you? What projects are you working on right now?
Nadia: I’m happy to have a third novel releasing this August called A House Without Windows. Zeba’s husband is found with a hatchet to the back of his head. With his blood on her hands, fingers point to her as the murderess. She’s thrown into one of Afghanistan’s prisons for women where she meets women jailed for various crimes of immorality or crimes of love. Her public defender is a US trained lawyer and her mother is a jadugar, a woman skilled in black magic. The two of them struggle to find ways to free Zeba and return her to her children.

I also have a middle grade novel releasing this fall, One Half from the East. It features a young girl, Obayda, whose father is maimed in a bombing. Her mother decides to dress Obayda as a boy so that her father’s spirits may be lifted at finally having a son, even if it is nothing but a ruse. Obayda, relishing the freedom and strength she feels as a boy, seeks out ways to make the change lasting instead of temporary. I’m particularly excited about this as it will give me the opportunity to talk about the true potential of girls with a younger audience.

I’m currently wrapping up my second middle grade novel – a story about a young boy struggling with a very special kind of seizures. After that, I’ll be tackling my next adult novel but you’ll have to stay tuned for details on that one.

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A huge thank you to Nadia Hashimi for sharing her amazing book with our readers. For more information on Nadia and her book, click HERE. And don't forget to follow her on Facebook and Goodreads!

Click HERE to purchase this book on Amazon.


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