For the Brothers

This August full moon, it’s down to recycling my Raksha bandan post from two years ago.

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Raksha Bandan – Bond of Protection

When I lived in Zambia my family celebrated Raksha Bandan, a North Indian festival that honours the love between sisters’ and brothers’. It falls on a full-moon in August every year.

My parents, aunts and uncles took a day off work, we a day off school. We wore traditional Indian clothes and jewelery, and gathered at one if the homes.
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My mum, aunts and I picked out beautiful rakhees weeks in advance. There is a range of choice, from simple threads to more extravagant ones with mirrors and gold fringes. A few years ago there was one that played a popular Bollywood song. This year the fashionable rakhees have green, red, and shiny diamond-like stones on them.

I always chose the simplest threads and tied one around each of my brother’s and “cousin-brother’s” wrists. This gesture was to symbolise my love for them. In return my brothers’ had the duty of protecting me. From what, I wasn’t always sure.

After I tied the rakhee, we hugged each other. I always whispered an awkward, “What are we doing guys? Do we need this string to symbolise our feelings?”

I was the pain-in-the-ass, no fun girl who wasn’t into rituals, or for that matter, kitsch Bollywood dance because as a classical Indian dancer, Bollywood dances were corrupt versions of the real thing.

So, back to the hugging, after that we fed each other Indian sweets that my mum and aunts had prepared over the last week or two. In return, the brothers’ proudly offered me envelopes stuffed with notes.

Next was my mum and aunts’ turn. They tied rakhees around their “cousin-brother’s” wrist. He was the only one in Lusaka. They sent the others theirs in the mail, without fail.

My dad received his two rakhees by post, usually in good time. Since his sisters lived elsewhere it was my job to tie them. I got two envelopes from him as well.

Once it was all done, we’d have a big meal, and spend the rest of the day together.

When I left Zambia at 16, I forgot all about Raksha Bandan. One July my mum called to remind me about it. She asked if I’d sent all the boys a rakhee. I replied that I hadn’t so she quickly bought some on my behalf.

On the full-moon day, she called me. My little brother had refused to wear the rakhee since it wasn’t an initiative of mine. I was taken-aback. I had no idea that this really meant anything to him, or to any of them.

I immediately apologised, and ever since, I’ve made a special effort. I don’t always send them a rakhee in the mail, but I call or at least email.

This year, my mum only “reminded” me about it yesterday. There is no way I can get them rakhees in time. Phone calls will be in order, and a promise of more planning and organising for the years to come.

In my mum’s typically thoughtful and unimposing manner, she mentioned, by the way, “I’ve sent you a rakhee that L can tie around R’s wrist, if you guys want to do that of course.” I can’t wait to see the mini-rakhee.

My brothers are dearer to me than I can express. I do in fact feel safe, supported and strong when they are around.

So why not have a special day that celebrates the bond between sisters and brothers.

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Raksha Bandan This Yeara

Raksha Bandan – Our Version

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This morning – Our version – two rakhees, one each.
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Hezbollah, the Cumin-timer, and the Box

At the Singapore airport last Sunday. We had South-Indian food for lunch, and North-Indian for dinner. I also got four Rasgulla, a Bengali paneer (home-made cottage cheese) based dessert.

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Me: Do you want to try this Leila? It’s called Rasgulla. I used to eat a lot of this when I was little. Really yummy.

Leila: Did you made the Hezbollah by yourself when you was little?

Me: WHAT? No Nani (grandma) used to make it for us a lot. Here, you want to try the rasgulla?

Leila: Yes, I want one Hezbollah.

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Me: Leila is the humidifier on? Can you check please.
Leila: Yes mum, the cumin-timer is on.
Me: It’s a hu-mi-di-fi-er.
Leila: Difier.

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Maher: Vous voulez aller a Starbuck avec moi, les gars? Comme ca on laisse maman faire son “practice”?

Leila: Starbox. C’est un “box” papa.

Me: Come on guys, it’s Starbucks.

Leila looking at me from the corner of her eyes: Ok papa, let’s go to Star BOX.

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How to Make Rasgulla: Indian Dessert Recipe

Frenglish

“We speak Frenglish,” Rahul and Leila say as they squeal with laughter at the discovery of this new “word”.

They often use both French and English words in their sentences. Although we are a OPOL (One Person One Language) family, and are pretty consistent with it, the kids are now mixing up both French and English words in the same sentence.

Sometimes, they even use French sentence structure in English, like Maher does when he speaks English. I don’t remember what is correct anymore myself.

Frenglish –
“Papa is travailling.”

“I am cherching the ball.”

“Can you leve up your arms.”

“I want to aller to the pont now.”

“Can you go avec moi?”

“Who c’est ca?”

And then Rahul hesitated with “what” in the two languages.

Quat?”

A Bilingual Family Shifts Easily Between Languages
Bilingual Brains are Better
Myths About Bilingual Children
Montreal Comedian Sugar Sammy on Multilingualism
Franglais

Papa speaks Francais

Early one morning a couple of weeks ago.

Leila: Where’s papa?

Me: He’s on a plane, going to Houston, in America.

Rahul: Like the pilgrims?

Me: Yah, to America like the pilgrims. But he’s on a plane, not a boat, so he’ll be there by tomorrow.

Leila: Can you be papa?

Me: What do you mean can I be papa?

Leila: Papa talks French. You talk French.

Me: Woah. Oh. Tu veux que je parle en Francais avec vous?

They both look up at me, eyes gleaming. And smile.

Rahul: Papa talks Francais.

Me: D’accord, on peut parler en Francais.

Leila: Papa. Papa, I want to go to Etats Unis.

Me: On va aller aux Etats Unis bientot cherie. T’en fait pas…..

(Ten minutes of French later)

Me: Ok guys, come on, let’s go downstairs for breakfast.

Leila: Nooooo, you are papaaaa…you talk French.

Me: Ah, oui. J’ai oublie.

Rahul: No talk Francais mama. Talk Anglais. Waaaa. You are mama now.

For Just Being There

In July last year, Maher bought me an iPhone for our anniversary. My frist ever Smartphone. Of course, I didn’t even open it for a few months. Now I’m hooked.

And then my brother introduced me to WhatsApp while complaining about how people don’t just pick up the phone and call for a few minutes. Instead they chat on this thing for hours on end.

Then last month one of my friends suggested I get it. So here I am now, chatting with my friends around the world, anytime of day or night – and yes, sometimes it’s more of a monologue than dialogue. But they understand, they know I’ve lived on the moon for the last ten years.

I was chatting with some of my friends while my kids were in hospital last week. Sending emails too.

A couple of weeks into the NICU experience in Nov and Dec of 2009, one of the nurses organised a Parent Support Group. After some hesitation, it being our first “support group” and all, Maher and I went. We were only two couples in the English speaking section, and the woman leading the group showed us a day-by-day photo album of her twin boys born there, at 26 weeks gestation. Actually, one of her 6-year-old sons was taking us through the pics himself. His mum openly discussed the challenges her family faced at the NICU and over the following years. Of course, she encouraged us to talk. What struck me was that the other couple had shared their baby’s photos on Facebook. Their naked baby with a ventilator, feeding tubes, bandages, IV’s, the works.

They found love, support, and strength through their network of family and friends.

I, however, was unable to call my own brothers. I almost dialed my closest childhood friend’s number a few times. Even did once, a few days after Rahul was already home. Chatted for a few minutes.

A couple of friends of mine dropped everything that was going on for them in Chengdu and came to see me in HK. I barely even spoke to the one who stayed two weeks. She got to know my mum amd mother-in-law a bit better though.

That’s the way I used to deal with things, and during the NICU time and later, this reflex kicked in more strongly than ever before. I felt that no one could help anyway, and isolating myself was the most efficient way to deal with what was in front of me. It made sense at the time because only parents were allowed into the NICU, and I wanted to savor every moment I had alone with my babies. I was too fragile to handle criticism and questions, stress from others, and least of all pity. And there was no way I would break down. Not then.

But then a few months later, both babies out of the NICU, and home in Chengdu, I relaxed. I started to comment on blogs. (Big step!) Then I started my own. I got a VPN in China, to access Facebook again, right after Zambia won the Africa cup. I couldn’t join the celebrations, not even over FB. That was too much for me to handle!

I tried to create a network of my mum friends via Multicultural Mothering.

When one of my friend’s twins were in the NICU a year ago, I felt the need to be present. He had no problem communicating with me, explaining, and even listening to me. I was impressed. And now while my kids were in the hospital last week that same friend along with others all listened, and shared their own experiences. It made everything more bearable. Others read my endless WhatsApp monologues.

Thanks for the support over the last couple of weeks, for the brainstorming sessions, the connection. For just being there.

When I saw this talk for the first time a couple of years ago, it was perfectly timed then. I immediately forwarded it to an exhaustive list of friends. A few days ago my cousin shared it with me again. It was just what I needed to hear. Again. For my friends – old and new.

Brene Brown on Vulnerability

Translating Bullshit into Bullshit

Rahul and Leila chopping play dough vegetables.

Maher: Qu’est ce que tu cuisine Leila?

Leila: Uhhh, I’m cooking mothika.

Maher: Ah bon. C’est quoi “mothika”?

Leila: Papa, ummm, en francais c’est lita.

How November Whizzed By…

A Family of Scorpios and My Non-Existent Asana Practice

November 1: Happy Birthday Rahul and Leila

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Birthday cakes at snack time

November 7: “He won,” Maher exclaims as I walk in. “Now I’m ready to move to America!” he winks.

“But I don’t want to go to America on the Mayflower,” Rahul says. “If we go to Plymouth, America, we will get sick. And then the small people will take care of the big ones.”

We laugh.

“Papa’s joking about moving to America Rahul, and we don’t have to go on a loooong boat ride like the pilgrims, we can take a plane.”

Rahul and Leila break into song: “The pilgrims went to America, America, America…”

November 11: Happy birthday tonton (uncle) Jalal

November 12: Welcome to the World and to Chengdu, cousin Mina XiaoYu Kassar

November 13: Happy Diwali

photo(6)We talk to my family in Zambia. We all wish each other a Happy Diwali. Maher and my Canadian, soon to be sister-in-law also exchange happy diwali’s on the phone.

Maher jokes with my parents that the children are learning all about Halloween and Thanksgiving at school, but they know nothing about Diwali.

“Hey, we did dress up, and take a photo!” I interject. “Maybe next time the diwas (oil lamps), sweets, and stories. I need to google it!”

November 15: Happy Birthday Nana (grandpa) Ravi

November 16: Happy Birthday Jiddo (grandpa) Kamal

November 18: Jiddo Kamal arrives in Chengdu to visit his three grandchildren.

November 22: Happy Thanksgiving

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Leila’s Turkey

Rahul's Turkey

Rahul’s Turkey

Thechildren have turkey and cornbread muffins at school. They talk about corn husk dolls and symbiosis.

November 23: L cries and R whines when I meet them at school. They want to do a full day, eat and nap with their friends. Thankfully I’d just discussed this with their teacher.

The evening after their first full day Leila is sure that she wants to stay all day, everyday. Rahul is sure that he wants to come home, always, before lunch.

November 26: Thus begins my three trips a day to the school, one refuses to come home, the other refuses to stay beyond noon.

As a mum of twins this is a big step – the kids first clear decision to do something important and rather long-term independently of each other.

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Thanks for sharing this crazy month with us teta Houda.

Thanks for sharing this month with us teta Houda. Finally not only one, but two people who can keep up with you!

Finally not only one, but two people who keep up with you!

"Papa and Teta" Photo by Rahul

“Papa and Teta” Photo by Rahul

Pre-school and a Post at Multicultural Mothering

My kids have been in pre-school for almost a week now. Thankfully, the transition couldn’t have been smoother. Day 1 was fine. They didn’t really know what they were in for.

Second day Rahul wouldn’t let go of me. Leila waved good-bye, and tried to get her brother to let go of my hand. “Come on Rahul, let’s go.” There was kicking and some crying.

At lunch that afternoon Leila looked at me and said, “Where are you from?” I was taken aback and unprepared for that one. I wrote about it at Multicultural Mothering. Please drop by when you get the chance. Also, mums out there who want to share a story, please, please don’t hesitate to contact us.

Third day being a Monday, I was a little apprehensive. Both of them went into their class room, put their folders into the basket, took their snacks in, flashed big smiles and waved good-bye.
Me: Bye guys, have fun!
Leila: Bye.
Rahul: Have fun!

At the end of every school morning, they are tired, almost collapsing into our arms. The first thing they ask for is MILK! No signs of trauma, so all is good…

Maher asked them if they made any friends in their class:
Rahul: Yeah, mi fan (Chinese for rice)
Maher: I think we have rice for lunch. But, what are your friends names?
Rahul: Uhhhh, mi fan, spinach, and whiskey.
Maher: Ah OK, you have 3 friends already!
Rahul: Yeah.
Leila: And my friends are Lili, Dede, Dada, and Juju.

Today was day 4. On the way to school Leila was whimpering, “but I don’t want to go to school today.” I asked her what was up. “Because I’ll be with myself (alone).”
Me: You’ll be with your teacher, Rahul, and all your friends. And we’ll pick you up when you’re done.

They enter the classroom and go through the first few bits of the routine. When Leila found her name for where her snack box goes, she was very proud. They both smile and wave good-bye. I noticed a hint of excitement in their eyes!

 

 

Raksha Bandan this Year

Last year we celebrated the bond between brothers and sisters in our first Raksha Bandan. Leila tied a rakhee (usually an ornate string that symbolizes a bond of protection), around Rahul’s right wrist. Leila had to have one as well – that bit is what made it Raksha Bandan – Our Version. They hugged and fed each other something sweet.

We had a repeat of our version this year at our Koh Samui hotel room. My mum was with us on the day, the full moon of August 2nd, so it was all the more special even in the simplicity of our unmade beds, daily wear, and impromptu rakhees – I cut out the bookmark-ribbons from two of L and R’s story books and used them as rakhees. (Don’t tell my little brother;))

Here’s Raksha Bandan – Bond of Protection, the post I wrote last year about this celebration during my childhood.

Past Tense

Some phrases I’m hearing often nowadays:

“I do’d it already.”

“I taked off / take offed my shoes myself.”

“I pick upped the clothes.”

“I comed here before.”

“I throwed it….”

“I bringed it…”

“I catched it…”