Growing up overseas, far from extended family and the communities that our parents have known as home, is a complicated way to begin life. There are frustrations. We feel connected both to our “passport country” and to the land (or lands) that we have lived in, always feeling caught between worlds and never feeling that we completely belong or fit anywhere. Yet there are also immense joys. We experience adventure that the kids back home would never dream of. We make friends across the boundaries of language and culture. We eat incredible food. Relationships with family and friends, while challenged by distance and movement, gain a special kind of depth and richness.
Marilyn Gardner, in her autobiography “Passages Through Pakistan: An American Girl’s Journey of Faith,” has captured all of this. She describes her girlhood in Pakistan, growing up as the daughter of American missionaries. She sails in great ships, rides trains from one end of Pakistan to the other to get to boarding school, hops into tongas (horse drawn carriages) to explore the Pakistani community that her parents call home, and ultimately flies back to the U.S. at the end of high school. We watch her grow from a child who easily embraces life between worlds, to a teenager battling insecurities, to a brave young adult, eager to take on the world as she ventures into the unknown.
This book works for me on several levels. First, she paints a vivid and exciting picture of Pakistan in the 1960s and 70s. She has a deep love and appreciation for the country that she called home for a large part of her life, and that passion spills off of every page. We see Pakistan in the news a lot, and not necessarily for good reasons. Gardner describes Pakistan in a way that honors its rich culture, natural beauty, fascinating history, mouthwatering food, and hospitable people. It’s a picture that we would all do well to study before allowing the news to shape our perceptions. Second, she uses that same fine brush and bright palette to describe the joys and struggles that she faced as a child. She writes with courageous honesty, exploring doubt, fear, and feelings of inadequacy in a way that is refreshing to hear from a person of faith. She leaves it all on the field, and invites the reader to weep and laugh with her in equal measure. I was sorry to see it end, and eager to jump into the (as of yet unwritten) sequel to see what kind of an adult this remarkable young person becomes.
I have an unfair advantage on this last point, as Gardner is my Aunt, and I know quite a bit about the passionate, fun, and wise adult that she grows up to be. I have heard many of the stories in this little book before, but it remains a precious reminder of the treasures that come from living between worlds. Both of my parents grew up as Missionary Kids in Pakistan. I spent four years of my childhood there as well. My son, though he doesn’t yet understand it, is beginning his own journey of life in this in-between place. Exploring many cultures and settings. Probably never being exactly the same as the people with whom he finds himself surrounded. I worry sometimes that life as a global tumbleweed will leave him with insecurities. But this book reminds of the rich heritage to which he belongs, both in our biological family, and also in this big, diverse family of global wanderers who we are privileged to call friends and colleagues. This book reminds me that he’ll be okay, just like my Aunt was, and just like I am. Give it a read!