I want to share a glimpse of the globe-trotting adventures with my oldest daugther today. I teach internationally with many amazing and bright young minds all over the world. I am always looking for ways to encourage a love of reading and learning. Find out why books can be the best travel souvenir you can possibly bring home after one of your travel adventures!
I used to think the sign of a good vacation is a tan, a selfie in front of a historical monument, and a shot glass or refrigerator magnet. All that changed when my daughter was born. The trinkets won’t take up much room in your suitcase and the photos are posted online to ensure positive affirmation or jealousy. The magnets can also remind you of your glory days every time you go to get a beverage. But I dreamed of the day when my souvenirs could be so much more than refrigerator magnets that I inevitably lost or broke before the end of the trip.
For my first overseas teaching assignment, I was in Central Asia in a country called Turkmenistan in 2008. Every time I traveled on our school holidays, 90% of my flights took me through Istanbul, Turkey. I would religiously go to in the Turkish Air lounge, (let’s be honest, Burger King and Starbucks too… all of you expats can relate☺) and on my way, I would always stop in the D&R bookstore to get to ANY reading material I could find in English. In a country like Turkmenistan, ANYTHING in my mother tongue was pure gold. I would get enough reading for my trip, but I would always stock up on duty-free magazines and books on my return flight, and then pass them out like candy at Christmastime to all the other expats.
My suitcase was NEVER too full for a book.
Until I got pregnant with my daughter in 2010, I had never seriously thought about my choice of souvenirs. I found out I was 12 weeks pregnant the week I was leaving Turkmenistan after 2 years. I would be moving to Cairo, Egypt in the fall for my next teaching post, and needless to say, my world had effectively shifted. I was on my way back to San Diego, California for the summer but first took a two-week holiday in Turkey, Italy, and Morocco. As I meandered through the streets of Rome, relishing in my strawberry gelato (yes, I remember those tiny details… again, TURKMENISTAN for two years☺), I found a bookstore that had the cutest version of “The Three Little Pigs”, “Tre Porcellini”.
It was small, light, and I felt proud of my wonderful and worldly choice of a souvenir for my unborn child. In Fez, I once again found myself in a wonderful little book shop in the maze of the city Medina. This time I found a book about a pig (it must have been due living in the Muslim country that my unconscious gravitated to the books about pork☺) called “Ti-cochon beut jouer”. Little did I know that 5 years later, I would be living in West Africa where I had no more excuses not to read that little story to my now 4- year old who now corrects my French grammar. Excusez-moi!! 🙂
This simple souvenir choice grew into a global tradition shared by so many people.
After that particular trip, I went home with my modest collection of Turkish, French, and Italian children’s books and the story really began. I talked about my new-found, awesome pig books with a few of my family members and it prompted them to show me a few books they had collected from other countries. It was absolutely lovely to bond over international experiences with my grandparents, and to reminisce about our travels even though we weren’t able to actually read most of the texts.
I met up with my husband in Istanbul on the way to my next home in Cairo, I bought a FIFA basketball World Championship book from the tournament we attended (my basketball obsession is for another post☺). When I arrived at my new school in Cairo, I talked to a few friends about my love for books from all the places I traveled to for my daughter, and they caught the enthusiasm too. On our first holiday break in October, colleagues brought me back book souvenirs in Thai, Arabic, French, and German. And I had gone to Abu Dhabi and bought a book about seals in Arabic.
The months slipped away, and all too quickly for a scared rookie mama, my daughter was born on January 5, 2011. The Egyptian Revolution occurred January 21st when she was 3 weeks old, so the first books that I was reading to her had the background noise of gunfire and men shouting from the top of tanks as they drove by to clear the streets for the 3pm curfew.
I read the books in English from my library, but then I would pour over the characters from all over the world with imaginary tales of what they were saying in all the amazing languages to attempt to tune out some of the overwhelming chaos outside my apartment window.
I was evacuated with my daughter on February 1st, 2011 and returned to San Diego while I waited for my husband to finish his deployment. Then I met up with the ever-inspiring and book-revolutionary friend, Jessica, who so generously allowed me to tell this story on her blog today. She challenged my whole mindset towards my reading goals and further inspired me to keep going on my journey to help my daughter fall in love with language through a good book. In turn, it helped in my process to get over the trauma I had experienced in Cairo.
Fast forward the next four years of living in Ukraine, Latvia, and Mauritania with many gypsy adventures in between, it is a non-negotiable stop to find new books as I walk through an old town, into cobblestone mom and pop shops, or a trash filled alley….. and in my conversations with other travelers, inspired them to do the same. I have so many more wonderful books in my daughter’s collection thanks to friends and family who always find joy in getting her a book from their travels.
I am brought to tears when I open up a book from someone who finds this unique souvenir important enough to spend a few minutes shopping for my own aspiring Itty Bitty Gypsy.
We laugh and butcher how to pronounce the beloved Russian character “Cheburashka”, the Polish adventures of “TinTin”, the poor little Spanish bird in “Eres mi Mama”, and our go-to animal voice exaggeration character is always the wolf in the German Little Red Riding Hood “Rotkappchen”. I am homesick more often than I care to admit, but I feel infinitely better knowing I can treasure watching my daughter travel to all of these wonderful memories through her books.
This blog post is dedicated to all you wonderful mamas out there rocking it every single day, and the most wonderful child in the world.
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