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Interview: What’s It Like Being an Expat in South Africa With a Toddler?

In our series presenting different experiences of expats all over the globe, let us introduce you to Tushita, who is hailing from India and living actually with her family in Johannesburg, South Africa.

As she shared with us when we first chatted, the decision to move and to explore the ‘unknown’ has surprised her! She has always been in Delhi and thus, to take the huge step of leaving not only her city, but the country, has been her biggest achievement. How does she deal with the remoteness from her family, questions of cultural identities while raising a toddler in another country and what are her biggest challenges?

KITnDO: How was your relocation to South Africa?

Tushita: While in India, my husband and I travelled across Italy, New Zealand, USA, Malaysia, Thailand, Turkey on holidays, we always wondered how ‘living’ abroad would be like. Our son was born on Feb 7th, 2017, and two days later, my husband gave us another life-changing news – that we were to move to Johannesburg as he was offered a global movement in his company. With a newborn, life anyway turns upside down and now with this news – I was speechless. We always wanted to experience living elsewhere, especially with increasing pollution in the city. But the move came at a point when I was at my most vulnerable phase.

The idea of having to leave my professional life and managing the baby on my own was a big weight on my shoulders. I felt overwhelmed. We reached Jo’burg, with our 5.5 month old, leaving behind our loved ones, my job and a life we were super comfortable in. Starting afresh and doing things I never did – like cooking, managing the baby single-handedly and leaving my passion – my career was taking its toll. I had good and bad days… But we managed to find people who helped us settle here.

KITnDO: How do you describe your cultural background?

Tushita: We are Bengalis, originally from East India, however, my grandparents moved to the Western part of the country and I was brought up in Delhi, the Capital and melting pot of cultures. Our community is known for its vivacious literature, performing arts, movies, among others. We are foodies and extremely proud of our culture that boasts of feisty women, our ability to question the norms and our sweet mother tongue – Bangla. We have rich culture and heritage and most children are involved in learning either music, dance, theatre or sports – primarily football. Our people are well read and enjoy a healthy discussion that we call ‘adda’. Our community is enriched by many stalwarts – from Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore, Satyajit Ray, Amartya Sen to Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose, Swami Vivekananda, Sarojini Naidu, Raja Ram Mohan Roy and Saurav Ganguly.

KITnDO: What do you miss from India? Have you found places in Johannesburg that bring you a little bit closer to your homeland?

Tushita: I miss our family and friends, street food, the chaos and the noise of the city – thankfully, access to street food, albeit occasionally is sorted!

Fordsburg (a suburb of Johannesburg) is the place to go if you’re looking for South Asian spices, herbs, vegetables, fish or small restaurants. You have small shops keeping stock of Indian sweets, savories and street food. Our go-to places are Dosa Hut that offers south Indian, Indian-Chinese and North Indian cuisines. For tandoori items, I go to a small Pakistani shop called Pehelwan – their roast chicken is to die for! For Biryanis and other such items, I usually go to Al Makka run by a Bangladeshi gentleman.

Other than this, there are several restaurants across the city that offer delectable Indian cuisines. For South Indian/coastal cuisine: Thava Restaurant and for North Indian: we like Classic India.

KITnDO: What language do you teach to your son? How is it important to transmit him your culture? Share some example.

Tushita: We speak in Bengali with our son while he learns English in his play school. We intend to teach him Hindi – the national language of India – a bit later.

As a student of history, I understand the importance of knowing one’s culture and heritage as it not only gives a sense of belonging but helps shape one’s identity. It is thus, important for me to provide a glimpse of my culture to my child. Knowing where I came from, helped me understand and respect those from diverse backgrounds. It helped me see what’s good and encouraged me to question norms that I wasn’t comfortable with. Reading and learning music nourished my soul and made me who I am today.

I’m not high on rituals or traditions, I believe in transferring the beauty of our culture – dance, music, literature to my child. Yet, my favorite celebration is Durga Puja – because it’s more than a religious tradition. It is a social occasion where we see our deity – not as god but as daughter visiting her family. Humanizing Goddess Durga and celebrating her and her children was my favorite since childhood. Here too, I’m happy to have founded my community people and we celebrated Durga Puja together – by performing and eating galore!

Tushita and her family

KITnDO: How did you find this community?

Tushita: Before moving to Joburg, I did my own research and found the Bengali Association of South Africa (BASA) page on FB. I contacted them and upon landing immediately became its member. The thriving community has 80+ Bengali families and organises many events during the year – starting from an annual picnic, Celebrating Tagore’s Birthday to the Durga Pujo. The warm and friendly members meet occasionally and I have made some lifelong friends through the association. We all participate and take our responsibilities extremely seriously!

KITnDO: What is most challenging for you as an expat spouse?

Tushita: As an expat spouse, the biggest challenge has been to give up my job and accompany my husband. I have a decade-long experience across nonprofit and private sectors with expertise in communications, CSR and programme management.

To face it, I have recently restarted my career as an independent consultant/freelance specializing in nonprofit communications, content development, M&E reporting and documentation. Finding work is an arduous task and though I regularly apply for positions at UN and likes, it’s proving to be extremely difficult.

I am looking for a development consultancy or an organization that doesn’t shy away from hiring a person like me and I would very much like to work in the social sector space and hoping to work in the mecca of international development – Africa. (And we are happy to share the link to Tushita’s Linkedin Profile!)

KITnDO: Finally, what represents community for you and how you deal with fact having to look for new friends?

Tushita: I feel lucky to have this opportunity of exploring another country and meeting new people. Yes, it’s a challenge to make friends and expand your professional network – but one needs to be open minded and embrace this as part of this journey… after all how many get such an opportunity? It’s best to focus on the positive, and for me community is all encompassing that shares common values like love, respect and acceptance.


So inspired? Have you ever moved abroad to follow your spouse? How did you manage in this new life? If you want to share something, don’t hesitate to do so in the comments section below. We’d like to hear about it!

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Interview with the author of the new tote bag that you should get soon!

When you share addresses of places for specific country of origin, reviews or pictures, you help other users to find necessary resources or to facilitate their decision process. This is essential to the KITNDO community and the reason the rewards program was integrated since the beginning.

Starting today, thanks to your contributions you can earn a free tote bag, designed by Petra from “Czech this out, when you reach level 3 (make sure your address is filled in your profile so that we can mail it to you).

Tote bag DOWe are very excited to work on this project with “Czech this out”. It is a young brand created by a couple, originally from Czech Republic: while David focuses on metal sculptures, Petra draws, knits and makes jewelry. In the heart of their projects – one common thing: the inspiration from the nature. And this is not surprising, when living in British Columbia, the couple spend most of their weekends hiking and wandering in nature. Their products are sold online on Etsy and We Shop Canadian or at craft markets in and around New Westminster.

When we asked Petra to create a design for us, she related right away with KITNDO’s mission. In fact, the couple has been travelling and living abroad since few years: Scotland, Slovenia, New Zealand and now Canada. They moved to New Westminster, British Columbia in March 2017 and even though it meant to be a one-year stop, they fell in love with Canadian nature and they are not ready to leave.

New Zealand and lighthouse

When interviewing Petra about her Czech roots, and how does she see herself as opposed to other cultures, she pointed out a huge difference in the nation pride between Czechs and people from countries where she has lived. She took an example in the way how Canadians or Americans celebrate their Independence Day. Once, when they hiked the Garibaldi Lake on the Canada Day, she was blown away by the number of people carrying the Canadian flag and wishing them “happy Canada Day”. She wishes something like that exists on September 28 back in her native country.

Petra also describes what she misses most from Czech Republic, her answer was short and clear: “Friends and family for sure”. “I feel like there are always Czechs wherever we go :D. Even in Scotland where we lived in a small town of 8000 inhabitants. The community is even bigger in Edinburgh where you can find a Czech pub called “Pivo”. While living in Wellington, in New Zealand, we attended a few monthly Czech meetings and even though we did not particularly look for these events, as we wanted to get to know more about other cultures, we had a lot of fun… I know here is a strong Czech community- especially people on Working Holiday visa as British Columbia is very attractive with its stunning landscape and it’s relatively easy to find a job.”

Canada

Finally, the question we are always curious to ask to people living abroad, is what traditions do they keep alive? Petra told us: “We celebrate Christmas the Czech way (we bake cookies, eat fish and potato salad for dinner and unwrap presents on Christmas Eve- I still don’t understand how people can wait the whole night to open the presents in the morning- impossible :). Also, during Easter time I dye eggs and my husband cannot forget the “pomlazka tradition* on Easter Monday. And, of course, we keep celebrating our name days*”.

*”Pomlazka”: a braided whip made from pussywillow twigs – therefore used for centuries by boys who go caroling on Easter Monday and symbolically whip girls on the legs. Name Day: consists of celebrating a day of the year that is associated with one’s given name. The celebration is similar to a birthday.

Photo credits: Czech this out

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Interview time with Naomi

Let’s discover about some expats living far from their homelands and how they share their culture(s) with their children. Today, let’s get to know a bit more about Naomi, a Canadian born to a Japanese father and a Canadian mother with Scottish ancestry, living now in Slovakia. Naomi has completely embraced the culture of her Slovak husband. This has just added to her already multicultural background and influences the way she raises her four kids.

KITNDO: Do you pay special attention on transmitting to your kids their cultural heritage and how?

Naomi: I didn’t learn my father’s native language as a child and feel I missed out getting to know that side of the family as well as the culture. So, making sure my children are bilingual is very important to me.
Food and special holidays are the easiest ways to transmit their Canadian cultural heritage. For example, on New Year’s Eve we have Slovak Kapustnica for supper and Japanese sushi during the night. This year we celebrated Canadian Thanksgiving properly for the first time and one of my children asked what Thanksgiving was. Oops. We incorporate both Canadian and Slovak traditions for holidays like Easter (Easter egg hunt) and Christmas (food, opening presents both in the evening and gifts from Canada in the morning).
I also sing with the children and teach them songs I learned as a child. We read books aloud, from children’s books centering on Japanese culture to historical fiction chapter books (like Anne of Green Gables and the Canadian Girls series). Here in Slovakia, the children go to a children’s folklore group where they learn traditional songs and dance, as well as wear the traditional dress for performances. It is easy to take for granted that what I know as an adult, everyone must know, but we need to be intentional about teaching children.

KITNDO: What do you miss the most from your homeland?

Naomi: Besides friends and family, I grew up on a farm in the mountains and miss that lifestyle. There is not much snow where we live, and I grew up doing lots of winter activities outside in the Canadian Rockies. Having all that land with animals, living far from town.
I also miss the availability of ethnic foods from all over the world. There is a lot more here now than there was 10 years ago, but I still have to go to the city to get some.

KITNDO: Are you in touch with any Canadian community or with other expats in Slovakia?

Naomi: I know a few expats in my town from various countries, but don’t have connections with any expat community in particular. I live in a small town and it is logistically difficult to go often to Bratislava.

KITNDO: What other ways help you to keep in touch with your homeland?

Naomi: Video calling with family, two of my children have pen pals, I always bring books back with me when we go visit Canada.

KITNDO: What new tradition or recipe, that you learnt in the country you live now, would you take with you if you should move somewhere else?

Naomi: My favorite Slovak dish probably: strapačky (potato dumplings sautéed with sauerkraut and bacon). I love the traditions associated with food, like the process of pig butchering or making sauerkraut.
I also really appreciate traditional Slovak crafts, like embroidery and pottery. Music is one of my favorites – I always enjoy and marvel when a large group of people are together and everyone can sing along because everybody knows the songs.

almostbananas-cooking

Naomi is the creator of the blog ALMOST BANANAS where she shares about life in Slovakia, from recipes to traditions to places worth visiting. She also offers you her free eBook of 10 Slovak recipes.