[31 Days] Day 27 Visit

It’s Day 27 of the 31 Days in the Life of a TCK series! Welcome! You can find more info on the series here. Don’t forget to subscribe!

Today I am very honored to introduce my last guest blogger to you. We have never met in person, but I follow her blog which always encourages me. A TCK herself and mom to TCKs, Marilyn just has so much wisdom and expertise which she knows how to put into touching and powerful words. Marilyn writes at her own blog Communicating Across Boundaries, but I am incredibly blessed to have her over at my small place today. When I read her post for the first time it deeply resonated with me, and I hope you’ll enjoy it, too. Thank you so much, Marilyn, for your wisdom! Please read more about her at the 
end of the post. 

“So – are you visiting?”

The question took me completely by surprise. 
We had returned to Cairo for our first trip two years after leaving. 
Cairo had been our home for seven years.

photo credit: Marilyn Gardner

It was in Cairo that we had watched three of our five children take their first steps. 
It was in Cairo where our youngest two were born, three years apart. 
It was our community in this city that had loved us and cared for us through pregnancies and sickness; through post-delivery chaos and family crises; and through packing up and leaving when the time came. 
The apartment we lived in still had markings of our children’s measurements on the doorpost. We had seen these just a day before while with our friends.

Cairo had been home for a long time and it broke our hearts to leave. 
We said goodbye to all those things we loved so deeply. 
Rides in huge, wooden boats called feluccas on the Nile River; Egyptian lentils (Kosherie) with the spicy tomato sauce and crispy fried onions to top it off; friendships that had been forged through hours of talking and doing life together; a church that was one of a kind with people from all over the world.

So when the woman asked me the question I didn’t know what to say. 
A lump came into my throat and I willed myself to hold back the tears.
“Yes. Yes – we are visiting.” Pause “We used to live here…..” my voice trailed off.

The words ‘Visit’ and ‘Live’ are worlds apart. 
Visit means stranger, tourist, one who goes and stays in a place for a “short time.” 
The dictionary definition is clear on this. 
It goes on to add “for purposes of sociability, business, politeness, curiousity…”

By contrast, the word live means “to dwell, to stay as a permanent resident.”
It was like being slapped on the face by someone you trust. 
We were no longer permanent residents in Cairo, Egypt. 
Our visas, stamped into our blue passports, no longer gave us legal resident status. Instead, they gave us only temporary permission to be in the country. 
We did not have permission to dwell, to live, to work. 
We only had permission to stay for a short time – to ‘visit.’

The grief that washed over me was acute and I wanted to bury myself in it. 
I wanted to be able to grieve with abandon, to cry the tears I had wanted to cry since leaving two years prior. 
I wanted to cry tears that would water the dusty ground that surrounded me, ground that had not seen water for a long time. 
But I couldn’t. 
Because indulging in the grief at that moment would have taken me away from the place that I loved, the people that I loved.

When a third culture kid suddenly finds himself or herself a stranger, a visitor in a land they once claimed the grief is acute and necessary. 
And there is no way around but through. 
Trying to avoid the reality is not helpful. 

But this I know: More difficult than a visit would have been no visit at all, far harder than facing my current reality would have been dreaming a dream in a country far removed and never getting to experience this beloved place again. 
So I held in the grief until a better time, swallowed hard, and went on my way.


Marilyn Gardner is an adult third culture kid who grew up in Pakistan and raised her own third culture kids in Cairo, Egypt before moving to the United States. She is author of the recently released book Between Worlds: Essays on Culture and Belonging available now at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Powell Books. 

Author: Katha von Dessien

Teacher. Believer in the Wilderness. Third Culture Kid. World Traveler. People and Food at the Table Lover. Writer.

17 thoughts on “[31 Days] Day 27 Visit”

  1. That surely must be tough sometimes to visit home as a stranger, Sarah! I hope you still enjoying seeing familiar friends and places and realize it's not that strange after all. May there always be people to make you feel at home despite the distance. Thanks for visiting!

  2. Great to hear, Barbarah! It's so important for missionaries and TCKs to have people in their passport countries to care for them and show understanding as they go through transition. Thanks for visiting!

  3. I haven't returned to Uganda yet, but today I write about returning to South Africa. Quite a painful but also healing journey…
    Jen, I read your piece on returning to the US quite abruptly, moving between homes is always quite difficult and more impacting than we think…

  4. Thanks so much for reading this piece. And I love your describing this as a window. I think that's what many of us who are adult TCKs long to do – provide a window.Every individual is unique, and there are no identical circumstances, but windows help! Would love for you to check out my book if you haven't seen. The link is in the post. It's all about the TCK experience as told from my window 🙂

  5. What a beautiful post – thank you for sharing 🙂 I felt very similar when I went “home” to Scotland. The country of my birth and first 32 years of life. The country where all my family live but now the country that I am a “visitor” in. It will always be home in my heart <3
    Blessings, Sarah Travis

  6. What a valuable blog this is. In a couple of precious churches I worked closely with supporting our missionaries and there first heard the term “third culture kids.” Thanks for this window into one aspect of their adjustments.

  7. It's so hard to know what you'll feel – there's so much excitement and nostalgia leading up to the visit. With the particular visit I talk about here there were so many feelings associated with it that I had to disconnect from those to really enjoy our time. When we got back to my passport country – that's when so much of my thinking made it on to paper or words expressed to friends. And I so know what it's like to dream about being back in a place. Thanks so much for reading!

  8. It absolutely should be on your wish list! There's a proverb that says “once you drink from the Nile you are destined to return” – we've found that to be more than true so just be ready to fall in love with the complexity that is Cairo. Thanks so much for reading the piece.

  9. What a beautiful glimpse into the struggles of living in other cultures. There's something about 'living' on earth that helps prepare us for 'dwelling' in heaven. Down here, every place we live is just a visit (I tell myself this to help me remember not to get too attached to all the places we've lived).

  10. I haven't yet been able to visit my African home, though I did dream about it last night. Must have to do with what I wrote about today.

    Anyways, what a beautifully written guest post! And goodness, I suspect when I visit SA again, I'll have many of the same feelings of “but this is home!” even though I'll only be visiting.

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