TCK Heroes

Our FREE parent chronicles  are written by an adult TCK and every issue includes unique insights into your kids’ lives and their experiences. Sign up for our Parent Chronicles to receive exclusive activities.

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RESOURCES, TOOLS, AND COMMUNITY FOR PARENTS OF THIRD CULTURE KIDS

(So you can be confident you're not screwing them up!)

What makes a better story than a character being plucked out of their culture and sent on an extraordinary adventure where they meet different and lovable characters along the way?! We often view movies, music, and TV shows as a means to pass the time, but what we might not realize is that we can use them as tools to help the teenagers in our lives process their experiences and become more self aware. The really cool part is that a lot of stories use third culture kids (sometimes without even realizing it!) as their heroes and heroines.

Guardians of the Galaxy is one example. In this movie, the main character, Peter Quill, happens to be a TCK. Peter was born on Earth, and when he was about 10 years old, was snatched away to grow up in space. The movie fast-forwards to when he is an adult, and we see him on an alien planet, surrounded by others who are unlike him. His “family,” friends, and even enemies not only look different, but belong to different cultures than he does.

We watch Peter face classic TCK situations:

like when his humor fails to come across properly…

...and he attempts (and sometimes fails) to get others around him to appreciate the aspects of his passport planet that he does.

Sometimes people think he’s a little strange…

…and we see him face challenges that are familiar to our own TCKs, such as accumulated loss, feeling alone and misunderstood, and unresolved grief.

What Makes TCKs Unique?

Our FREE parent chronicles  are written by an adult TCK and every issue includes unique insights into your kids’ lives and their experiences. Sign up for our Parent Chronicles to receive exclusive activities.

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RESOURCES, TOOLS, AND COMMUNITY FOR PARENTS OF THIRD CULTURE KIDS

(So you can be confident you're not screwing them up!)

Since our world is an ever-changing one, it is important to define the term TCK. In the new edition of Third Culture Kids: Growing Up Among Worlds, authors Ruth Van Reken and Michael Pollock present an updated definition that might be a little bit different than the one you are familiar with:

A traditional third culture kid (TCK) is a person who spends a significant part of his or her first eighteen years of life accompanying parent(s) into a country that is different from at least one parent's country(ies) due to a parent's choice of work or advanced training.

Mixing blue and yellow paint is a common way to explain what makes third culture kids unique. This is a fun, messy activity we do with your kids! Blue represents a TCK's passport country, and yellow represents the country they have spent time in, or their host country. When these colors blend together, it makes green. Rather than losing either color, a new color is created. The same thing happens when a child moves from the United States to Kenya, for example: a new, unique culture is gained!

Each TCK is a different shade of green depending on how much they are influenced by their host and passport countries. However, a unique quality TCKs possess is their ability to relate to one another, no matter where they are from or what their shade of green. Whether TCKs grow up in South Korea or South Africa, whether they are missionary or military kids, they all share this commonality of "being green."

How do people who have grown up on opposite sides of the world find themselves becoming best friends, you ask? Find out next time as we explore the unique pieces that make up this third culture.


WATCH

What better way to explain what a TCK is, then our good old friend, Buddy the Elf! In the movie Elf, Buddy is a quintessential TCK. Too tall to be an elf, but different than other humans, he has to try to figure out how he fits into the busy metropolitan life in New York City. Check out our blog post for discussion Q's, and theIMDB page for parental advisory content and plot details.

On God, My Friends, and People Like Me

Hi, I’m  Caleb, and I am a TCK. I grew up in Singapore and China for nine years. I worked with Kaleidoscope for the first time this past summer. The work Kaleidoscope does is very important, because it gives TCKs a safe place to open their hearts up to each other and to learn how to transition back to the United States or to another country.

For me, growing up overseas was  definitely  a highlight of my life and always will be. My experience was also really hard at times. Growing up overseas, you have people come in and out of your life very quickly, and I often felt really lonely. When we moved back to the States for the last time, I felt like no one knew where I was coming from or really knew me. I think TCKs sometimes tend to have really personal conversations about life after only knowing each other for as little as an hour. With people who don’t share this background, it seems that there has to be a trust built up in order for those conversations to take place. I would try to get into a deep conversation early in the  relationship,  and it scared people away. I remember feeling like that for a while, and eventually it got to the point where I was having very dark thoughts. Several things saved me from that time, and I want to share two with you.

  1. God. God was so faithful to me that looking back on it now, moving was probably one of the best things that could have happened to me. Without this part of my story in my life, I don’t think that I would have  ever learned God's character. I believe that God reveals himself most prominently  when we are in our darkest hours.  

  2. My friends and other people like me. One of my best friends told me something very powerful when she found out what I was going through. She said, "Put your hand over your heart. Do you feel that?" "Um... a  heartbeat?" "No, try to feel beyond that." "Honestly, I don’t know." "That’s  what is  called purpose! Caleb, God put you here on this earth for a reason and a purpose, and that is to live for Him and to bring Him glory through your life." That struck me and tore down walls in my life. From then on, I started to change my outlook on life. A year later, my family went to a program similar to the one that Kaleidoscope runs, and they showed me that there are a bunch of people who have stories like mine. That gave me hope to continue forward.

Being a Kaleider has opened my eyes to others' stories, and I know if I can be there for people who  desperately  need it, then I'm not doing work that is in vain. People took the time to listen to my story, and I can say for certain that I wouldn’t be here if that weren't the case.  

A note from Kaleidoscope: we are not licensed counselors, although we care a lot about you. If you need to talk to someone, we have access to an extensive network of resources and can put you in touch with someone. Please tell us if you need help!  

The Odyssey and the Third Culture Kid

The ‘Ship of Theseus’ thought experiment is one you are probably familiar with, at least in one of its many forms. This is the question of whether a ship that leaves home and has had all of its component parts replaced during the journey will return to its home port as the same ship. Can we call it the same ship? Or can we not? One of its corollary forms is the modern scientific ‘myth’ that the human body replaces every one of its cells every five or so years. I’m not sure if this has been refuted yet, but my guess is it probably will soon. It is my firm and unshakeable belief, however, that no one on earth is more attuned to the terror of this scientific possibility than the Third Culture Kid. 

A memory of poignant immediacy to me from my late childhood is watching the movie Cast Away. It is the story of Chuck Noland—a bit of an obvious play on ‘no land.’ He becomes adrift, cast away from the mad whir of modern life and happiness and into the slow, violent slog of life on an island in the Pacific after surviving a plane crash. His job before the crash was delivering packages; he was the means by which the world stayed connected and whole. All that he has now to get him through are the memories of his fiancé Kelly and a mysteriously winged package that comes in with the tide one morning and is addressed to somewhere very near where he lived back in the real world. He is determined to return the package some day. 

It was either my sister or someone else who first pointed out to me how the movie contains absolutely no orchestral music before the moment when Chuck has finally, after four long years, fashioned a raft and left the island. It’s only after he has cleared the worst of surf and climbed the worst of the waves, as he’s rowing out to sea, as the thrill of making it off the island begins to suddenly fade, and he looks back towards his home of the last four years, that the music comes in strong. The movie’s first moment of truly crippling pathos is not when his plane goes down, nor even when he returns home; it’s only when he has to say goodbye to his adoptive home, his second, alternate home, that the movie watcher is struck by the emotional complexity of his situation and the depth of the alienation the castaway feels and is about to feel. 

The moment of most impressive relevance to TCKs in the movie, however, is when he arrives back home. Chuck’s first encounter with human life after his four years on the island is the jarring blast of a massive cargo ship’s horn. This is our first sign of trouble. The rest of the movie—and it’s quite a hearty chunk of time—slowly, brutally details all of the important changes since the beginning of Chuck’s alienation. His beloved Kelly, after years of searching and mourning, has remarried their dentist and, even though she loves him still and seeing him again is traumatizing and wonderful, cannot just simply abandon her family for Chuck. So, all that’s left is the anonymous, winged package. 

The Odyssey tells the same story. 

‘Nostos’ is the term scholars use to identify the motif of heroic return to home by sea. The Odyssey is an epic poem participating in that genre as well. Odysseus’ heroism is defined entirely by his desire and ability to return to Ithaca and retake his place as King, husband of Penelope, and father of Telemachus.

It’s entirely about a man trying to return home and being crushed by the change when he does. Odysseus’s Penelope is true to him, but his son has become a man, the suitors have all but exhausted his material possessions and food supply, and Ithaca is in a state of political unrest. The saddest moment in the very long poem, however, is when Odysseus returns to his father’s house after killing the suitors and in lieu of a warm, tear-filled, heart-felt reunion, refers to himself for a second time as simply “Nobody.” What was before a simple trick to make his way out of the cyclops’ cave has now become his identity, which is exactly the lack of an identity. 

Is he the same man he was before?

There seems to be something that has changed within him as well. When he visits the Underworld, Tiresias prophesies over him that he will never find true rest in his life, that his return to Ithaca will not be permanent. Not only has Ithaca changed entirely, but so has he. He cannot come home because he is not himself and home is no longer itself either. Though there is hope, both at the end of Cast Away and The Odyssey, the hope is no longer for a return to what once was. The hope is for something else, something new, to become desirable, not for the desire of something old to be fulfilled. 

As an overwhelmingly emotional 13-year-old boy who had just himself moved across the Pacific Ocean (from the Philippines to the States), Cast Away hit far too close to home. What was supposed to have been my home, my place of nationality, the location of my blood-family, turned out to be something entirely foreign and terrifying to me. And leaving the island in the Pacific inspired in me feelings I had certainly never felt before, like hearing a song that made you sadder than you ever could have thought possible. 

Now, as an adult, studying English literature, in the security of a home, The Odyssey only really speaks to me in faint whispers. It only really evokes a shadow of the emotions I felt as a young teenager. But I’m haunted by the impermanence inherent in the message: that the only hope we can have is for something we have not had before. And moreover, in the Christian cosmology, there is a theological truth to that. We should not hope for the happiness of this life, and there will be no remembrance of things past in the world to come. 

But I do not think the emotion is less important, theologically or otherwise. Of what purpose are feelings for lost things? Why would God give us such stark nostalgia for the lost things of the world if heaven was not in part interested in the restoration of lost things, namely the innocence of the world that was the Garden? We are all spiritually adrift, and what is the resurrection but the restoration of a lost life?

And for the TCK, these ‘stark nostalgias’ are only stronger reminders of this. We are given, like Chuck and Odysseus, the gift of understanding the poignancy of lost things and, consequently, a more personal understanding of the need for restoration and return. 

The 8 People You Meet At A Kaleidoscope Conference

At every conference, you'll meet at least one version of all of these people. We promise we love them all equally. 

1. The basic white girl

    There's always that one little 4-year old with golden curls who's completely adorable, has the cutest name ever, and is also usually secretly hilarious, coming out with one-liners like, "I just don't think this is going to be a good idea" re: swimming in the kiddie pool.  

2. The kid who's your favorite but also the worst

    Disclaimer: having favorites is bad. But we always end up with a soft spot for the kid who is constantly getting into trouble.

3. The hot parents who are #goals

    Admit it: there's that particular family who makes you reconsider your life choices up to that point and wonder if you should answer a call to the field.

4. The kid who already knows everything you're about to teach him. 

    "Can anyone guess what TCK stands for?"

    "A third culture kid is someone who has spent all or part of their formative years in a country outside that of their parents." 

    OK, class dismissed.

5. Professor Pineapple

    Honestly, Professor Pineapple is a little sketchy; muddled accent, gender fluid, Minion glasses, rainbow hair? Hmmm. We love him/her anyway. 

6. The parents who have no idea where their kids are.

    As opposed to helicopter parents, these TCK parents are likely to not worry whatsoever about where their kids are at any given moment, as long as they're not being eaten by a shark.

7. The Kaleider who's the good cop

    Someone always has to keep the kids on track, and in this person's case, it's always someone else. This Kaleider is the "cool" Kaleider. They're not like the other Kaleiders.

8. Jesus, LOL. ^_^

What Are You Thankful For This Year?

In an effort to create an atmosphere of being seated around a Thanksgiving table together, we asked each of the Kaleidoscope ladies what she is grateful for this year. If you know anything about our team, it's that we don't get to spend a lot of time all together in the same place. We have to settle for one team retreat/workcation per year and, if we're lucky, several opportunities to work together during certain conferences and events around the world. Because of this, we strive to create virtual spaces where we can be productive together and supportive of one another. This year, we wanted the chance to share what we're thankful for this week and every day. 

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What am I thankful for this year? My dogs. I'm so thankful for my dogs! Maybe not Lulu quite yet, because she's still a little bit part dog, part devil, but Ellie's an angel and I love her. Obviously David; I'm thankful for a rockstar husband who just supports my craziness in galavanting off to different countries and foreign states such as Alabama, and who is willing and joyful in letting me leave all the time. I don't want to just give the cheesy my friends and family speech. What else am I grateful for? An exciting new change that is coming up in the near future! 

—Sarah

I am also thankful for puppies, both young and old! This time a year ago, Sofie ate a good amount of chocolate-themed candies. Her tummy was huge and she wasn't eating her breakfast (which is how we know that something is wrong and that she is at death's door). Amid the hustle and bustle of Giving Tuesday, I took her to the vet twice, tried and failed to induce vomiting, and checked her in overnight. This year, she is happy and sniffy as ever and still as squiggly as the day she was born 12 years ago. Plus, this year I got to know Goose, who is a wire-haired pointing griffon and maybe the best dog I've ever met. I'm thankful for puppy love in all of its forms. I'm also grateful for parents and parent figures who keep taking care of their kids long after they've flown the coop. 

—Grace

This year I’m definitely thankful that both God and Drew dragged me out of my comfort zone and asked me to do things that were terrifying but in the long run so healing. I honestly never thought I would have the guts to go on a Kaleidoscope trip, much less to England!!! But wow, it would’ve been such a loss if I hadn’t. Which reminds me...I’m thankful for all of the new friends I’ve made this year! I had really been praying for quality friendships and I’ve gained some amazing ones over the past few months. Lastly, I gotta mention the cats. They make me happy and I love their stupid little faces. 10/10 recommend getting a cat to relieve stress/make your life amazing/take over your insta.

—Kim

This year I think the biggest thing that I'm thankful for is the adventures that I've gotten to take and the  community that has grown out of them. There's been a lot this year: lots of new places and lots of new experiences, both personally and with Kaleidoscope, and there have been lots of new friends that have come along with that. My community both here and far away is growing as a result of these new exciting experiences and adventures, and I'm so thankful for that.

—Alex

There are about 1000 things that I’m thankful for this year. As always, the first thing that comes to mind is the people who have supported me and Kaleidoscope through everything. I talk a lot about our community and our Kaleiders and how thankful I am for them, but there's kind of an unspoken support group that I don't mention very often who have felt very close and meaningful, especially in some of the growing seasons of this year. They are my very dear friends who I have never met before: the authors who write on leadership, business development, personal strengths, business, and life as a whole. They’re the men and women who have chosen to share their lives and lessons with those of us who are trying to learn from them and have given us the inside scoop on the vulnerable moments, great lessons, and incredible insights from their own journeys. Throughout this year, through some big question marks, trying to learn to lead the core team better and train up our Kaleiders better, I have felt so grateful for these wise voices in my life. Great authors of great books who are willing to share the lessons they’ve walked through include: Brené Brown and her challenge to be a daring, brave, and vulnerable leader; Jon Acuff's tools on managing your time and energy and finding joy in the little things;  Ed Catmull’s lessons on thinking and problem solving creatively are perfect; and so many other wise men and women who have honestly felt like friends, family, and personal mentors by getting the chance to read their books and learn from them. I'm grateful for them and I highly recommend these books on your journey, as well. 

—Jessi

What are you grateful for this year? Tell us in the comments!

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7 Books to Satisfy Every Mood of the Average TCK

Alright guys, let’s be honest. The moods and emotions of someone who grew up overseas are turbulent and ever-changing. One day, we’re so well-adjusted and content with where we are in life and in the world (“Mature adult who doesn’t have any emotional baggage from a lifetime of goodbyes? That’s me!”). The next day we’re suddenly making a bee-line for the airport with a backpack of necessities and the cheapest international economy ticket on the market (“Just kidding. Get me out of this black hole of domestic American living.”).

Okay…maybe it’s not that extreme (for some of us). But TCKs and travel-lovers alike are definitely subject to some emotional, flighty tendencies. Luckily, there are a few stories that have calmed me down on my more extreme “I-don’t-belong-here” days. So, here it is: a list of seven books to satisfy the quirky moods of a TCK.

1. For when you want a flashback to your unconventional 90’s childhood:

Peanut Butter Friends in a Chop Suey World

by Deb Brammer

Okay, all you MKs out there probably had a copy of this book shoved in your face at some point in your childhood. If not, let me give you a brief synopsis. Young American girl moves to Taiwan as an MK. Goes to international school. Makes friends. Learns to like authentic Asian food. Basically, if life overseas was an hour-long Focus on the Family radio special, it would be this book.

2. For when you just want to pack up and leave everything (again)

Into the Wild

by Jon Krakauer

If the story of Chris McCandless doesn’t encourage your wanderlust, then I don’t know what will. Abandoning a life of prestigious degrees, white-picket fences, financial security, and even his own name, Chris burns all of his bridges (and his money) and treks from the Southwest to Alaska. His extremely inspiring and tragic story will certainly leave you itching to pack your bags and hit the road.

3. For when you feel like you don’t fit the status quo:

The Witch of Blackbird Pond

by Elizabeth George Speare

Raised in Barbados, with a later move to conservative, 17th century Connecticut, Kit Tyler is a textbook TCK. This chick goes through some major culture-shock moments (i.e. she gets mistaken for a witch just because she knows how to swim). This may be a children’s book, but you’ll find yourself connecting with Kit’s struggle to find belonging in a culture vastly different from anything she’s ever known.

4. For when the reverse culture shock hits you hard:

Brooklyn

by Colm Tóibín

Oh, this book will pull at your heartstrings in the most painful way possible. A story of loving and leaving, Brooklyn tells of an Irish girl named Eilís who emigrates to the East Coast. The theme of missing her birthplace and making a life for herself in her new home is woven throughout the whole book. Get ready to cry when you read this one. (P.S. The movie is equally magnificent and emotionally traumatic. Warning: the quote below may leave you in tears. Proceed with caution.)

5. For when you're craving some [obviously-superior-to-American] cuisine:

The Hundred-Food Journey

by Richard C. Morais

Travel. Mouth-watering descriptions of Indian-French fusion dishes. This book has it all. If you’ve been especially missing that homey comfort dish from your field country, be careful. This book may tip you over the edge and force you to buy a plane ticket immediately.

6. For when you need reminding that your overseas experience really wasn’t that bad:

The Poisonwood Bible

by Barbara Kingsolver

This story is quite literally the Greek tragedy of missionary endeavors. 1 abusive father plus 1 country in political turmoil plus 4 daughters and a wife subjected to the oppressive expectations put upon them by culture equals a freaking train wreck. Need a little reality check? Read this book. Your life really isn’t that bad.

7. For when you’re (still) trying to figure out where home is:

At Home in the World: Reflections on Belonging While Wandering the Globe

by Tsh Oxenreider

This memoir follows the story of Tsh and Kyle Oxenreider, a couple of Americans who spent most of their early married life abroad and feel much more at home outside their home country than within. As soon as their children are old enough to carry their own backpacks, the family decides to leave their motherland once again and become, as O. Henry puts it, “citizens of the world.” Tsh is basically the mother we all want to become, and her grapple with what “home” means will leave you saying, “Me, too.” 

On Your Birthday

I've always said that I would hate to end up married to someone if the first time they proposed to me, I said no. But really, that is kid of what happened with us. And here I am, happy as can be, three years deep into the longest monogamous relationship of my life. 

You like to say that our honeymoon was the first conference we did together in Turkey, our first time working together in a Kaleidoscope capacity. And it absolutely was such a dream-like phase! Three-hour afternoon breaks, all-inclusive wine and smoked salmon, 100 yards away from the beach, 9 of the most well-behaved children ever, and no newby Kaleiders to worry about. 

Whatever happened between now and then is honestly a blur. I remember chatting with you about you getting an apartment and me coming to help you renovate it (lol). And then all of a sudden we were walking around the Upper East Side in desperate search of wifi for a midnight deadline because you didn't have any yet. 40 grant applications, three team retreats, one 30th birthday, a boyfriend and a half later, and suddenly, somehow, we got here. 

And then this year, our first rough patch happened, with all the scariness of not knowing whether things were going to work themselves out in the end or not. But I think my biggest takeaway, and the biggest builder of trust in me, was the fact that rather than things working themselves out, it fell to us to do so, and we both made the decision to. That's enough to reassure me that we can do it again and again if we need to (seriously hoping we won't). 

We complement each other in so many perfect ways—I'm stingy, you're generous; you're a die-hard pessimist, I'm a bubbly optimist (lol, jokes); you're the bad cop, I'm the good cop. You're the brunette to my blonde. And we also contrast each other in so many fun and terrible ways. Neither of us seems to have an internal clock (or even know where to find one, let alone how to read one). We both love talking ecstatically about exciting plans for the future and letting someone else bother with the practical details. We both have a weakness for good food, and our eyes are both way bigger than our stomachs (in more than one way). Sometimes our partnership makes me question the great Matchmaker in the Sky and whether or not we were exactly the right two to have embarked on this thing together. 

Beyond all of our jokes about being work wives and also real wives, and mom and dad, and life partners, and etc, the honest-to-goodness truth is that our relationship has taught me more about what a partnership means than any other one has. It feels crazy to say that, but I think it's true. My favorite thing about all of this has been that every time I think that maybe it's over or maybe we accomplished what we set out to do, we get to wake up the next day and FaceTime for seven hours or drive to New York or have a very important meeting before a 6 a.m. plane ride or give each other tattoos or any of the other crazy traditions we find ourselves building. It's such a beautiful and constant reminder in my life of the things that are new every morning. I really do love watching you grow yourself, your team, and your vision in meaningful and unique ways. Thanks for being that and thanks for creating that in Kaleidoscope! I love us. 

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Flip the Script

Will I ever settle down some place?

Will I ever choose a nationality?

While looking at my life and the consistent struggles that come my way, I can’t help but laugh at how much of a TCK I am. I grew up in a country and a culture that are completely foreign to those of my parents. My parents are of Puerto Rican and Colombian descent, first-generation Latinos that grew up American. Then there’s me: I grew up in Central America, in Costa Rica. I’m your classic TCK who is used to traveling and trying out new things, a language learner who can’t help but not be still. And for some reason, I cannot choose a country to be from.

What is nationality? What is culture? What is identity? These are questions that could take forever to discuss and figure out, or spark a constant outflow of new questions with each answer that arises. While writing this and reflecting on the many times I’ve researched TCKs or sought anything to grasp that could explain or encourage me on this path of discovery in the realm of identity, I realize that we often tend to focus on our struggles and not so much on our strengths. 

I take myself out of the box that these questions build and take a look at my life experience. I can shout with full confidence that it is a blessing in disguise. It prepared me with a deep compassion for people and a great understanding of human action and intention. I am a citizen of the nations, and I can embrace this fact. 

Will I ever settle down some place? Will I ever choose a nationality? Those are questions that limit and box people like me from flourishing into who they have been born and molded to be. Why not ask, what is the next country you envision living in and exploring? Who are people groups that catch your attention? Why not flip the questions? Why limit the human heart from venturing into the foreign or the unknown?

 As a TCK desiring to encourage the TCK community, all I can say is, don’t put yourself in a box. Embrace the fullness of cultures you carry, and show off the beauty in each and every one of them. Don’t avoid the uncomfortable feelings in this voyage of belonging. There will definitely be grace for you as you’re humble and open with yourself about where you are in the journey.  

We are wired to explore, to venture into the unknown, into the uncomfortable, to understand and adapt a little faster than others, and to be wild at heart. Show it off. Don’t be afraid to be you. Deal with the consequences and make it a part of a beautiful story. Embrace God’s gift to you. Take a deep breath, look around you, and take on the adventure of living between worlds.

Photo by  Yoann Boyer  on  Unsplash

Photo by Yoann Boyer on Unsplash

I Am From: a poem

I am from Manila, where oceans of people meet oceans of cars.

I am from Taiwan, where the scents of my childhood fill my belly.

I am from Hong Kong, where the buildings smile coldly and the streets tell a story.

 

I am from the seaside, where what I don’t know and do know crash together.

I am from the hilltop, where ants heard our secrets and ate our lunches.

I am from the jungle, where trees spied on us and birds laughed with us. 

 

I am from my father, whose emotions fly and pride stands still.

I am from my mother, where wisdom has eyes and a heart has ears.

I am from my brother, where mistakes are stubborn and a song is always giving.

I am from my sister, where blame never points a finger and kindness always lends a hand.