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  • Susie Csorsz Brown

The good, the true, and the hunky-dory

(aka 10 things I am so very happy that my kids have learned from us during these years overseas)

Life stuff

1. Good toilet paper is a good, no, a necessary thing. There is no point at all ever that 1-ply toilet paper is appropriate. Nor should toilet paper be colored. White. 2-ply. Period. I've tried, honestly we have but we just can't do the local stuff. Okay, I admit: I can't do the local stuff. I am a toilet paper snob. The same can also be said (but perhaps not quite as strenuously) about dish soap, paper towels and laundry soap.

2. Going back to the States, we wander slack-jawed in grocery stores and goggle at the abundance on the shelves. In U.S. grocery stores, there is always going to be selection, and even if you buy 10 of something, there is more in the back. There is no lack of supply. Overseas, it's not quite like that, which makes us appreciate the steadiness of supply to be found stateside all that much more.

3. Being able to drink water from the tap is pretty freaking special and awesome. We are astonishingly lucky to have grown up in a country where clean water is a given. For so many other reasons, too, but this one thing alone is huge. Our kids don't have that luxury. To them, the distiller or the water bottles are the source of drinking water. In fact, my kiddos think that vacation happens in places where you can drink water from the tap. This underscores (and we often emphasize this for the kids) just how special it is to live in a country where clean drinking water is something the majority of people have. Things like proper sanitation and secure housing is not a given in the countries where we live. In fact, in most, the neighborhoods are completely integrated - extremely rich live right next to squatters. It's an eye-opening experience to those who visit us; for my kids? It's just the way it is. They've seen such extremes in poverty, and still life goes on, even without 'stuff' because life is what you make of it. These families around us, who don't have regular access to clean water, this is what is normal to them. They can’t even imagine what a distiller is, let alone imagine drinking from one.

Food stuff

4. Veggies and fruits should come from as close by as possible. In the States, one can buy fruit and veg from countries on the other side of the globe. That is both astonishing and really kind of sad at the same time. Yay, you get to try dragon fruit even though you live in Virginia! Boo, that's an egregious waste of fuel and probably won’t even taste good as that is a lot of unripened fruit being shipped. So ... a happier (and greener) solution is to eat what is growing around you in the season that it is grown. Often in the countries we live in, produce from other countries is more easily flown in than the beautiful fruits and veggies from even as far as 50 kilometers out of the main city. We can spend the extra money and get the imported stuff, sure, but it's a lot more fun to see what's available locally. Maybe that's an extra incentive to get outside of the capital: while you're out exploring the countryside a bit, you can pick up some of the produce you find on the street side markets, too.

5. Eat what you can find. Try what you can. Try the local dishes. Live by the ocean? Eat more fish! Mango season? Eat mango everything. Tea leaf salad? Bring it on. The favorite local dishes will combine the foods that are readily available; it's worth trying. You might like the combinations. You might not, sure, but you never know until you try.

6. All foods should be given a try; you never know what you're going to like. In other words: you can choose to be picky in your food selection, but if you are, then you won't have a lot to choose from. Again, you might like what you try. You might not, sure, but you never know until you try. Isn't this something we learned when our kids were just starting on solids? Some foods need 10 or even more tries? Just because you are an adult does not mean that you will automatically like all new foods. Some things I really question why anyone would put them in their mouths (fried grasshopper, anyone?); others look rather repulsive but are actually really tasty (case in point: truffles. The fungi, not the chocolate).

Bigger picture stuff

7. Skin color makes no difference. What does make a difference? What people think and how they express it. How they treat other people. What is in their hearts and minds and how open they are to what others have in their hearts and minds. Sometimes 'gray' is the right answer because it just can't be black or white. And that is okay. Sometimes the question does not warrant an answer, and sometimes even the big person is wrong and to find the right answer we have to look stuff up. What I know for sure, though, is that skin color is just a pigmentation, and it has nothing to do with what is inside.

8. Religion is okay to talk and ask about. We can't be afraid to ask questions about what people believe. At the heart of every religion is some big thing to believe in, to embrace, to follow, to be true to and to keep in one’s own heart. In addition, it’s important to let others do the same for their own beliefs. There is no religion that declares others wrong. In inquiry - especially about a subject as complex and individual as religion - we can learn so much more about other cultures, customs and beliefs. We may learn something new, and we may learn of an action or practice that we would like to adopt as our own as well. Closing our minds to the questions that come from religion will result in closing our hearts to those who practice anything beyond what we know and do ourselves. We can't know everything; so of course we have questions. It's one big circle.

9. A toy does not have to be battery power or be connected to the internet. My kiddos can play just as long with a ball or a pile of sticks as they can with a board game or a computer. They have amazing imaginations and vision. They can build immense creations with legos, have grand battles with their pirates and soldiers, and then go outside to investigate the myriad of bug life that continues to thrive no matter how much Terro I throw at it. They love to read, love to draw and love to get dirty and sweaty. You know why they love to do this? I honestly believe they have these incredible imaginations and easy gift of finding fun in great part because we limit their time on the computer and other screens. Entertainment - especially self-entertainment - does not have to involve an electronic device if one can find joy in what is available around them. And, studies show, the more time a person spends on an electronic device they in turn 'need' even more time (so they get 'addicted') and they are less able to find entertainment value in things that require effort and input on their part. Screens are a source of completely passive entertainment, and the images and programming produced by and on screens stimulates the part of the brain that requires the most repetitive input (the reptilian part of the brain). So, literally, screens feed the beast ... and little else. Anything can be a toy. Put your screens away and let your kids be kids; soon enough they, too, will discover that toys don’t need to be battery-operated.

10. There is beauty where you look to find it. If you look with the purpose of finding something beautiful, you will see it. It doesn't matter where you are looking: in the dusty neighborhood streets, in the crowded markets, in the queue of cars waiting at a point of traffic congestion, in the bustling airports. You can find people to watch and interact with, you can find amazing creations, you can smell new smells (some, admittedly, not so favorable), and you can find things to appreciate. Likewise, you can choose to do the opposite. I like to think my kids continue to appreciate the amazing places we live and visit because my husband and I do the same. Marvel at what is around you; it is all beautiful, captivating and unique. Appreciating that will give you the gift that keeps giving: the gift of gratitude of experiencing life. It's the gift that really is priceless and that keeps on giving (thank you, Visa and Hallmark).

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