It’s Not Real Life

The kids had a question. They’d watched a story on the ABC about a Pakistani girl going to a white bred, middle class Australian school where she’d been bullied about her head scarf and skin colour. “Mum, was it like that when you went to school in Australia?”

“I can’t remember anyone with a headscarf? But I can remember oodles of kids whose parents were immigrants, maybe 50% of the school, maybe a bit less? My school was full of children whose parents spoke Greek or Italian at home, we had a few Vietnamese kids and Turkish kids.”

“Why didn’t the Turkish girls wear headscarfs?”

“I’m not sure? Maybe their Mums did? I don’t know – I never asked. I was pretty clueless when it came to understanding other peoples culture. I barely understood my own. I was one of those white bred middle class kids. It’s only been since I’ve travelled that I’ve considered what it is to be Australian.”

It was over a year ago when a girlfriend of the first little traveller sent out an email letting everyone know she’d be wearing a headscarf from now on. A few weeks before that another girlfriend began wearing an Abaya. In the transition age of 11 – 14 I’ve watched a group of young girls make choices on how they will culturally represent their womanhood. And while personal decisions have been made party invites have continued to be handed out, band practice has gone on, and soccer training attended.

In an expat child’s world there is no talk of assimilation or blending. They may be asked to follow the rules, (shoulders covered, nothing too short) but they will never be Qatari, the option is not there therefore never considered. The French are French, the Americans American, the Indians Indian – but we refer to ourselves as an International community. Each of us fronting up each day in our jeans, saris, Abayas and Thobes while working at the tuck shop, helping out with reading, and coaching the baseball.

At a dinner last week I sat with a woman who works in a private school in Adelaide. She asked about the children’s school, their facilities. I explained how lucky we had been, the technology, the baseball field, the free wifi for parents, and teachers who have travelled all over the world. “The school is well funded, we have great libraries and nifty things like a rock climbing wall, indoor and outdoor pools, and a Subway in the cafeteria.”

“Well, I guess it’s important you get them back to the real world, because that’s not real life is it.”

“No it’s not.” I agreed.

“But it hasn’t been a bad way to grow up.”

I thought about it later on the drive home. It’s not real life.

There’s 2000 kids at our school. Do they realise it’s not real?

It’s not real life.

Maybe it’s not.

It’s not real life.

But it’s our life.

It’s not real life.

She’s right. In her reality.

It’s not real life.

It hasn’t been a bad way to grow up. For all of us.

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