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Kaye's Musings

Kaye's Musings

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Kaye's Musings

245 pagine
3 ore
Dec 6, 2019


Kaye is not your typical… (fill in the blank). As the only child to a free-spirited ForeignService Officer father and a Martha Stewart-meets-Betty Crocker mother, Kaye's lifehas been anything but ordinary. Though born in America, Kaye spent the majority of herchildhood abroad, so "home" included third-world areas in West Africa, Afghanistan, andIndia, as well as bustling cities in Switzerland, Turkey, and Hungary. Constantly movingand interacting with new cultures, populations and cuisines gifted Kaye with compassionand curiosity, as well as a healthy dose of anxiety — all of which flavor Kaye's Musingswith spice and a kick of umami from beginning to end (or more appropriately, from"appetizer to dessert."). Diners beware: portion-control is not an option! Thisblunt-to-the-bone memoir of Kaye's zig-zag life is marinaded with intellectual banter andwitty humor that will have you reaching for seconds… or devouring it whole. Dare wesay, "Bon Appétit"?

Dec 6, 2019

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Kaye's Musings - Kaye Lewis


The Rooted Rootless Childhood

The Color of Water

Aminnow out of water. It was one of the first visits in which she encountered America’s socially constructed racial divide. Movie theatre balcony. Small Southern town in 1956… she was eight years old. The other kids with her complained and threw popcorn in retaliation against the lucky ones below. They were the ones with a choice of seat — they were the ones born with a certain skin tone.

She liked the balcony. She felt special and could see the movie better. She also liked the popcorn. It was tasty. In her mind and experience, popcorn was a treat not to be wasted on top of other people’s heads. She thought about the starving people in her home overseas who would love to eat some popcorn.

Why did the other children resent those people sitting below?

It wasn’t until years later, when she matured, that she fully understood the issue of forced segregation.

Same minnow, different trip. Once again, the small Southern town. Same kids — her cousin and cousin’s friends. But no movie theater balcony. Instead, it was the front porch of her cousin’s house. The porch faced the main street in town. The others yelled out to the cars as they drove by and exchanged racial insults as if it were a game. She thought, What a strange summertime afternoon activity. Wasn’t there anything better to do than yell bad words at strangers? Okay, this must be what fun looks like her in America. She chimed in on this silly childish display of what she would later recognize as ingrained mutual animosity.

At ten years old, she just wanted to fit in, yet she still felt very much a minnow out of water. She wanted to leave. She wanted to explore and do something else. Those passersby were outsiders to her cousins, yet she also felt like an outsider — an interloper in a strange environment. At that moment, she felt more affinity with the vehicle occupants than her own flesh and blood. That small Southern town was not where she had been planted.

Hitting her head on that proverbial stone wall. Her father left the Foreign Service when she entered sixth grade. He intended to start a business with some Liberian colleagues. In the meantime, she and her mother lived with her grandmother in that small Southern town until he could firmly establish the business, and then, they would join him in Liberia. This meant she had to attend school in America — a novel experience. Her mother went on a crusade (that lasted almost an entire, miserable year) against the new segregated school system. Her unavailing efforts left her feeling abandoned by the town that she called home since birth. Even today, she sometimes looks back on this period wondering if her mother resented her father for leaving them… maybe she began to chase windmills because she needed to stir up trouble. Her mother met with school board officials and became an interloper at PTA meetings. She raised Cain about the system, insisting that her daughter enter the lack-of-pigmentation school.

The child’s emotions were torn. She was proud of her mother’s gumption to buck the system and courage to speak her mind. Yet, at the same time, the little girl wished her mother would JUST STOP. Yes, Mommy, she thought, please sweep me away from this school where I am unhappy and not really learning. No, Mommy, please stop making a fuss. Her eleven-year-old life was miserable and stuck out like a sore thumb physically (she was one of the few lacking skin pigmentation), in her manner of speech, and in her grasp of knowledge beyond small-town America. Yes, even for an eleven-year-old, her open mind made her an outsider in the country of her birth. The child was conflicted.

Hush little girl. She was very self-contained and shy. She survived that time in her life by keeping her head down. Not a peep was heard from this child, unaccustomed to sharing her thoughts and feelings. She neither complained nor whined. She was stoic on the outside, but recited her child-like prayers on the inside. She prayed for her father to return and take them away from their unhappy lives in this current land… take them back to their happy home overseas.

Her prayers were answered. Her father’s business venture did not work out, so he rejoined the Foreign Service, returned to that small Southern town, packed them up, and guided them to their next exotic location. The child was finally going back home!

Hindsight is twenty-twenty. As an adult, looking back on those home leave visits, I now understand how, day in and day out, discriminatory practices color one’s view of the world. What began as a lack of skin pigmentation, galvanized into socially-constructed hatred, put-downs and keep-downs.

Vitamin D deficiency and the divide. Ugly divisions still split along racial lines. How did we, as a species, get to this point… this place of constant partitions and strife? Blame it all on vitamin D — the vitamin that is essential for strong bones and healthy teeth.

Evolutionary science reports that migration from our common birthplace, sub-Saharan Africa reduced the need for vitamin D, which protected humans from ultraviolet rays. This diaspora resulted in lighter skin pigmentation and the beginning of racial divide. Skin tone differences led to discomfort with the un-like that evolved into negativity and condemnation. Experts in primatology exert historic links between skin pigmentation and beliefs about human worth.

The color of water. Remember that segregated small Southern town that reflected a larger, national narrative? Well, that was not my experiential DNA. It was the early 1950s — I was four — when I was swept away from small-town Virginia in the segregated South. That was my parents’ world… the one they grew up in. The small-mindedness was their history. For whatever reason, they did not unpack it and then repack it for me to bear. Starting with the first country I called home, I became part of fibers woven together to form a different type of fabric that I call, the color of water.

Long before the inception of Black Pride, dashikis and fist pumps, I played and learned alongside Liberian children. They had more of that vitamin D fortified pigmentation. I had less. No one cared. We taught each other games from our different cultures. We had fun. No strings attached.

Long before the curiosity and growing apprehension about the Islamic religion and Muslims, I learned about and respected their traditions in my overseas homes. As a youngster, I shared meals and stories with our family’s Muslim friends. We were welcomed into their homes and they into ours — always with a lot of laughter, shared interests and frank conversations about our differences, as well as what makes us all the same.

Looking for and then finding me. The neutral color of water is the only identity I have ever been comfortable with. There was a period in my younger life when I tried to fit my square peg of a self into a round hole. It occurred during those finding oneself late teen years. Just like that visiting child in that small Southern town, I chimed in with racially infused epithets and tried to adapt to the radicalness of the late 1960s and early 1970s. This was a time when America’s minorities of all stripes were demanding that their voices be heard, that more equitable policies be implemented, and more opportunities be afforded.

My search for identity included an infatuation with writer James Baldwin. He chronicled the stark realities of life as a black person and pulled the scabs from the painful, festering sores of injustices. This soul-searching phase did not last long, as racial angst wore thin in my life. It began to feel disingenuous. My youthful idealism ironically betrayed my own sense of roots — my own invisible tribe… the color of water. Because of where I was planted and where I grew, I have never bought into any hyphenated identity nor world view. So, I decided to just be me — a me without a home, metaphorically speaking. I desired no brick-and-mortar habitat, nor did I seek shelter in a specific racial, ethnic or religious affiliation. Unmoored. Unanchored. Truly nomadic. As a child, I was set adrift, and adrift I remain on the clear waters. I don’t know if my parents had serious conversations about a grand plan or an elaborately devised experiment in child-raising. I doubt it. We, as a family, never had discussions centered around race or religion. Politics, yes, but the generic kind, and with a generic list of values as in, "Kaye, do unto others as you would have them do to you." Heck, they even gave me Camille as my middle name. Maybe they had chameleon in mind? That might be a bit of a stretch… but maybe not.

James Baldwin remains a favorite herald, but now for different reasons. He was way ahead of his time. He was a gay man in a white world and spent many years abroad. His writings made room and space for individuality and accounted for all types of differences, as he recognized human complexities. He spoke truth to power and bared his soul. I will always feel an affinity for this brilliant mind and man.

Who the heck am I anyway? My favorite aunt happened to be one by marriage rather than by blood. She was very interested in family genealogy — her own and that of her husband (my father’s brother). She tried on occasion to pique my interest, and although I am a curious sort, learning about the family tree and all the various branches never really appealed to me… probably because I never felt a kinship to any one group of anything — racial, religious, ethnic or social. I didn’t then, and I still don’t care about my English ancestry any more than I care about the African or Native American branch.

When I decided to publish my musings, however, I wanted to share the whole story and provide answers to people’s inquiries such as, Who are you? and Where are you from? I didn’t want my answers to be the standard mixed bag spiel, so I took a DNA test. Oh, the wonders of technology and discovery. The scientific me was finally revealed. What were the results of a considerable amount of money spent on an accurate DNA analysis of maternal and paternal DNA heritage, you ask? Sixty percent English and Scottish, 30% sub-Sahara African and 10% Native American. Does that make me — my essence — something different than where I was planted and grew? Should this information affect my self-view differently at this stage in my life? Oh, I almost forgot… a cousin with whom I share paternal DNA commented that Lebanese may be in the mix. Surely that additional layer makes me something different than where I was planted and grew? A conversation with another cousin revealed that Meriwether Lewis [yep that one] is a distant ancestor. Okay, now that makes sense. My father and two of his brothers had wanderlust and worked overseas back in the day. The adventurous spirit lives on!

We, as humans, yearn to reduce as much uncertainty about our world as possible. Social Psychology 101 confirms that placing others in neat racial, ethnic, and religious boxes, makes us feel more comfortable. Using those neat boxes makes our world less ambiguous, more defined and ordered. My parents did not raise me to be boxed-in or to box in others. They set me adrift at an early age to explore the world and locate my own identity. As a result, I have lived on the fringes, identifying with all others and no one at all, simultaneously. Though not conventional by any means, it is my story. It may or may not fit comfortably within your story — your world view — and it may not even fit securely with what you think my story should be. Place me in a convenient box if that reduces your uncertainty. Place me wherever you think I belong or where you want me to belong, remembering it is about the labeler’s comfort zone. However, don’t be disappointed if I don’t live up to that socially constructed vision of me — that vision of how I should think, feel or act, according to my box. The only thing that I will ask of you is this: please do not call me late for dinner!

Santa Claus and Other Childhood Monsters!

Every year during the Christmas season in the United States, youngsters are exposed to the jolly overweight grandfatherly guy dressed in festive red and sporting that famous white beard. The promise of wanted toys and trinkets follow a lap visit and photoshoot. Many times, introductions to this good-natured American icon can be scary to children, as evidenced by so many unhappy expressions preserved in holiday photographs. But I knew a different Santa. A scarier Santa. A Santa I encountered as an impressionable

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