Translating Pat-a-Cake

Kelsey is now fourteen-years-old and has been lucky enough to have traveled throughout Europe, Asia, and Africa. She and her brother lived with her father, Laco, and me for one year in Cairo, Egypt. Just like anyone else her age, Kelsey has already had many experiences that have helped shape her worldview and her personality. When she was nine, we shared an experience together that I still remember fondly.

The four of us had left Cairo for a long weekend in Dahab, a small town in the Sinai peninsula that is situated directly on the Red Sea. One afternoon, we were hanging around The Blue Hole, where Laco and Alex were having an adventure snorkeling and identifying various fish and other marine life. Kelsey and I had decided to get out of the sun and hang out in the open cafe, which was wall-less but nonetheless afforded us some shade. We were lounging around on the thick blankets and cushions that served as seats and which required us to either sit cross-legged or to stretch out completely and eventually snooze off. While we were waiting patiently for the waiter to bring us two glasses of cold lemon juice, we were each reading from books we had brought with us on the trip. Soon, four young Bedouin girls ranging in age from about six-years-old to twelve approached us and began to show us their bag-full of hand-crafted bracelets. Some were made of beads and others were made of colorful, knotted string.

Immediately, I recognized how open Kelsey was toward these girls and how she happily looked through their bracelets not as a customer would, but as a young person appreciating her friend’s artwork. It didn’t take long for the girls to respond to that receptivity and forget their work of selling goods. They all filed in around the table alongside us and began to play what appeared to me as their version of what I grew up calling Pat-a-Cake (or Patty Cake).  The three younger girls explained to her, in Arabic and a tiny bit of broken English how to play the game and she made a strong effort to pick it up and play with them. As I watched them, I thought to myself: How beautiful and amazing this is. Is learning culture–or not being side-railed by cultural differences–similar to language learning in the sense that younger people are better able to wrap their heads, non-judgmentally, around what is new? I was so impressed by Kelsey’s intelligence, openness, and sense of adventure that day–I will never forget that experience.

As the younger girls and Kelsey were teaching and learning from one another, the older girl in the group had scooted up next to me and engaged me in conversation. She had a very strong grasp of English and seemed very mature and intelligent for her age. Her clothes were dusty and didn’t fit her properly, her face and hands were dusty–as one might expect since the girls were wandering around in sand all day–, and her eyes were bright, intelligent, and curious. She told me that she loves to speak English, she can’t wait for the school year to recommence, and that she plans to be a doctor one day. “The first woman doctor,” she beamed “in my town.” At that moment her face, her wit, and her intelligence made a deep impression on my heart and I sent a prayer to the universe that this girl would indeed have the opportunity to go to university and then on to medical school. How would she manage, I asked myself. And Then I looked at her again, her eyes filled with excitement, confidence, and hope and I glanced at Kelsey and the three younger Bedouin girls sharing, laughing, and playing together. At that moment, the sun seemed to shine even brighter, I perceived the breeze more keenly, and the taste of my lemon juice was intensified.

I bought a round of lemon juices for all six of us. Let’s drink girls and dream about our futures.

To your health!

What do you think? I’d love to hear from you. Please leave a comment! ;-)



About kalisaddhu

"The Method is to Know the Mind." View all posts by kalisaddhu

7 responses to “Translating Pat-a-Cake

  • jana

    This story is simply beautiful. You describe it so well I can almost feel the hot breeze and smell the sand, I can almost taste how wonderfully refreshing that lemon juice must have been.

    That moment when the girls engaged in communication – the primal interaction void of any social and cultural boundaries – and it worked, that is the moment I dream about for my children. See, I wonder constantly whether nomads like me have the right to have children and make nomads out of them, too. But experience like this one tend to, at least for a little while, tilt the scale for me towards what I call a concept of a “nomadic family”, or as Jordan calls us, “the Gypsies”.

    • kmariej

      Janka, I know what you mean. When the kids visited us in Japan last summer we were so amazed by Alex’s ability to make friends with a group of boys in our neighborhood the day after he arrived. The six of them spent weeks playing together and communicating through play–it was AMAZING!! The boys still stop by our house and ask for Alex. It’s so darn cute.

      All kids are different, I guess. Maybe some, like your sister, won’t appreciate moving about while others might really enjoy it. It’s a hard call. 🙂


  • elteee

    I think children who are exposed to life experiences outside of whatever country/city they call “home” become true citizens of the world in every sense. I believe they are also more tolerant of different cultures and peoples. My children, who are now all adults, have parents of two different cultures and religions as well as having had the opportunity of traveling to many different countries exploring with their adventurous parents. I think that our influence in wanting them to experience the world has helped them to see people for who they are as a person regardless of what they look like at first glance.

    In response to the post above, why shouldn’t you have the right to have children? Your children would be tolerant, compassionate, caring, intelligent global citizens. Who wouldn’t want that??

    Thanks for sharing, Kelly.


    • kmariej

      Lorrie, I think you’re right and I certainly hope that Kelsey and her brother Alex grow up to be intelligent global citizens. It seems they are moving in that direction. It is a wonderful opportunity to travel and learn about the world at any age.

      Janka, I’m with Lorrie on this one. You are clearly an intelligent and thoughtful woman. I bet you’d make a wonderful mom!

      Thank you both so much for reading and responding, I really enjoy the exchange!


      • jana

        Kelly and Lorrie,

        I agree with both of you. There is no better opportunity for children to experience different traditions and customs, cultures, languages, even scents and tastes than to travel outside of their own “home”.

        Lorrie, you must be tremendously proud of your children. And I am sure they are thankful for being allowed to experience what many other people only get to dream about.

        I guess I wasn’t and am not really questioning my “right to have children.” Rather, deeply touched by my own sister’s resentment of being uprooted at a young age and unable to completely adapt to the new culture, I worry about my right to raise a child without a “stable home.” The one that doesn’t move or change every couple of years. The one where the notches on the pantry door documenting how much they’ve grown each year will remain there for THEIR children to see.

        I have a few acquaintances who come from army families who say they’d have given anything for staying in one place when they were teenagers. And while we all are now adults, and aware of the advantages traveling has awarded us, I can’t hep but wonder if my children will end up resenting my good intentions. That’s all.

        But – on the brighter side – even if they do, the worst thing that can happen is that at the age of 18 they settle down and will never move again. And I guess that’s not so bad, either 🙂

  • alison

    wonderful, just wonderful!

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