I was a Third-Culture Kid. I had adventures growing up in a kaleidoscope of sounds and smells, landscapes and climates, stories, cultures and contradictions.

1996. Our silver ute turned onto a road which snaked away through the lime-green gloom of a rain forest, under the shadow of the escarpment, amidst the acrid clouds of smoke spluttered by logging trucks crushed under loads of red, sap-bleeding teak. Just afterwards, we drove slowly through a mud village where smoke drifted and embers spat into damp air. On the roadside, women, with babies tied to their backs, fanned charcoal fires to fry yam chips in big iron bowls of oil or grill peanut-peppered kebabs. We stopped in that village for lunch and Dad bought chips and kebabs all wrapped up neatly in banana leaves. Then we drove up the mountain.

Up into mist the road wound before levelling out at the conference centre where the annual meeting for my parents’ mission was held. For two weeks then, while the adults sat in meetings, we ran amuck: hide and seek in mango trees, treks to a bat cave, walks to see Lake Volta stretched blue across the valley. In the afternoons, we taught local kids, who ran naked, how to kick an oval ball, trying to explain in pigeon the concept of “muks-up” and “foo-dy”. One day, we pedaled our bikes out along the road, pumping our short legs until, unexpectedly, the tarmac plummeted. Down that hill we flew, brakes on full, tires smoking, us screaming. When we finally reached the bottom I looked at my playmates from England and Korea and Canada and cried, “Let’s do that again!”


1997. Dust, flies and fierce sunlight – my parents roared away from my brothers and I down the dirt road towards Gambanga, a road that existed for one reason: to get people to a quality hospital. They left us standing anxiously on a hill rising out of wavy, yellow grass. A hot wind off the Sahel whipped across the valley beneath us, whirling dust-devils and shivering heat as a herd of cattle with saber-like horns lumbered past.

In all that landscape, the only tree was on our hill. It was a bulbous-branched Baobab with leaves rustling and dangling seed pods clacking together. Under its shade stood the home of a British aid worker constructed of a cluster of thatched, mud huts. There was a separate hut for each room. Stepping into the lounge, morning cool still hovered near the dirt floor and crept under my t-shirt. Then our baby-sitter showed us her collection of Asterisks and Tintin comics which we pored over while sitting on straw mats. Magic potions, wild boars and Roman-thumping Gauls as well as the ten thousand thundering typhoons of Captain Haddock were enough to keep three boys occupied until, in no time at all, our parents were back with the news that another little Australian was on the way.


1998. Driving the Gulf-of-Guinea coast, we found a little hotel called Oyster Bay. On its white beaches my brothers and I built sand castles with dikes and motes for protection against thundering Atlantic waves. Yelling directions and high-fiving, we pranced about in red budgie-smugglers as we tried to save our fiefdom from the tide. From under the palm trees Dad ran with our red, plastic wheelbarrow. He sprinted into the surf as the waves retreated and then stopped, waiting with a mischievous look on his face. Then, with a huge wave almost upon him and around him he trundled it in with the little wheel barrow. We were doubled over with laughter watching him waddle, stooped over, with a giant grin on his face and then the sea slammed over our castle’s wall. Finally, when the tide had beaten us, and washed the sand all clean and smooth we swam.


Later, we showered in the odd-shaped shower cubicles created by circular cabins. The walls rattled in an evening gale. Then, with hair combed damp against our foreheads, we tramped behind our parents down to the thatched-roofed restaurant with waves pounding just outside glass windows. Elmina Castle, the historic Portuguese slave-trading fort, was silhouetted across the bay against the last tangerine slice of day as the lights of oil tankers blinked off the sea.

That night it didn’t matter what was on the menu – beef stroganoff or guinea foul in groundnut stew – it all tasted the same. Before Dad ordered, he stipulated to the waitress- chopping his left palm with right hand in agitation – that no pepper was to be added. Later, when our eyes and noses were streaming he called her back. She shrugged and replied, “The cook put no pepper, only ginger and garlic.” Dad just sighed, scratched his beard and ordered more bottles of Afri Cola.

After tea, back in the cabin, we kids bunked down on the floor around the double bed. The wind howled outside and the beat of Michael Jackson’s I like to move it, move it playing in the bar thumped through the floor. With the lights dimmed and sleep hanging in our eyes, Dad flicked on the TV. Suddenly, we were bolt upright, yelling and throwing pillows in the air. CNN had just reported that the Adelaide Crows had won another premiership.


Published by Joel Ratcliffe