The Displaced Nation

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Category Archives: Other creatives

EXPAT AUTHOR GAME: Chandi Wyant’s algorithm for “Return to Glow: A Pilgrimage of Transformation in Italy” (1/2)


Hello, Displaced Nationers—or should I say ciao in honor of our special guest, Chandi Wyant, player number three in our Expat Author Game?

Born in California, Chandi has lived in Qatar, India, Italy, Switzerland, and England, but of these, Italy easily stands out as her favorite. Her passion for the boot-shaped country began when she lived there in her late teens, a commitment that has only deepened over the years. Having learned Italian, she went on to earn a master’s degree in Florentine Renaissance history (giving her an excuse for plenty more visits).

And now she’s living in Italy again! Back in America for a while, Chandi relocated to Lucca a few months ago, a city on the Serchio river in Italy’s Tuscany region.

I ask you, who wouldn’t want to be displaced in Lucca? As Lonely Planet puts it:

“Lovely Lucca endears itself to everyone who visits.”

But life for Chandi hasn’t always been an Italian idyll. When she reached her early forties, her marriage of 10 years imploded, and she was struck by a debilitating illness from which she nearly died (in an Italian hospital!).

Her solution to this mid-life crisis? To take a 40-day-long walk along Via Francigena, the historic pilgrimage route that runs from France to Italy. She reasoned that, although she had been weakened by illness, she could still walk. And, like pilgrims of long ago, she hoped that trekking over the Apennines, through the valleys of Tuscany until reaching Rome, would help to restore her in body and spirit.

To find out what happened on her solo adventure, I urge you to read her newly published memoir, Return to Glow: A Pilgrimage of Transformation in Italy.

Hm, for an author who has withstood so much pain, including having to do most of her epic walk while suffering from plantar fasciitis (that’s what walking on asphalt for several days, with a pack on one’s back, will do to the feet), I wonder if Chandi might find our Expat Author Game a bit of cake walk?

In any event, let’s see how she handles Part One: namely, developing an algorithm for her new book. (Part Two is available here.)

If we like Return to Glow, which movie/musical/play/TV series would we also like?

The first two movies that come to mind are Wild and The Way. In Wild you’ve got a single woman on a long-distance walk, so that’s the same as my book, although mine takes place in Italy and is on an ancient pilgrimage route. So then The Way comes in because it is on a European pilgrimage route—albeit in Spain, not Italy, and the protagonist is a man. Now, to add a movie that honors the sensuality of Italy, I would choose Stealing Beauty. It’s about an American girl’s summer in Tuscany and it’s very visually lush. Bertolucci is masterful at bringing alive a sensual and sybaritic Tuscan summer. My pilgrimage was not at all sensual or sybaritic, but what Bertolucci captures in this film is also what captured my heart when I first fell in love with Italy at age 19, and what kept me returning there for the past 30 years.

What meal or dish would go well with reading your book?

If I may, I like to reference a post I wrote for my blog, Paradise of Exiles, about the three best dishes I ate in Florence last year:
1) Arista di maiale con salvia e rosmarino (roasted pork loin with sage and rosemary)
2) Tagliatelle con porcini e nepitella (pasta with porcini mushrooms and calamint, aka basil thyme)
3) Pizza bianca con asparagi, cipolloti primaverili, fiordilatte, e pecorino Romano (pizza with asparagus, spring onions, fresh mozzarella, and pecorino cheese)

Any of these three dishes would go wonderfully when reading my book!

If your book had a signature cocktail, what would it be?

Vin Santo, Tuscany’s dessert wine.

Are there any special clothes/headgear/costumes/accessories we could wear to put us in the mood for reading your book?

In a museum on the pilgrimage route I saw a replica of what a pilgrim from the middle ages wore, including the long staff that was carried with a gourd tied to it (the medieval Nalgene bottle!). You need a cloak, a seashell hanging around your neck, and a long staff with a gourd.

If we wanted to take a mini-trip to understand your story better, where would you recommend we travel and which one or two sights should we take in?

Pick any location on the Via Francigena in Italy! Or take my suggestions in this post of four small places found along the route, that are perhaps less familiar to tourists, and that contain historic sites worth discovering:
1) Pontremoli, a town at the base of the Apennines, on the Magra River.
2) Bagno Vignoni, a town in southern Tuscany where the main piazza is a pool of steaming thermal water!
3) Bolsena, a town in the region of Lazio, near the shores of Lake Bolsena.
4) Sutri, a town in northern Lazio that was one of the last strongholds of the Etruscans.

* * *

So, readers, tell us: Has Chandi come up with a winning algorithm? Does the thought of slipping into a medieval travel cloak and taking a swig of Vin Santo from your gourd while trekking along the Via Francigena make you want to buy Chandi’s book? How about supping on pizza bianca while recalling the excitement of reading/watching Cheryl Strayed’s Wild and/or imagining yourself immersed in the relaxing thermal baths at Bagno Vignoni?

If by now you’re starting to feel your inner glow, be sure to check out Chandi’s author site and its companion Facebook and Instagram pages.

And STAY TUNED for Part Two next week!

If you enjoyed this post, we invite you to register for The Displaced Dispatch, a biweekly round up of posts from The Displaced Nation—and so much more! Register for The Displaced Dispatch by clicking here!

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Photo credits: Book cover and other photos (supplied).

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EXPAT AUTHOR GAME: Paul Shore’s algorithm for “Uncorked: My year in Provence studying Pétanque, discovering Chagall, drinking Pastis, and mangling French” (1/2)


Hello, Displaced Nationers. When I introduced our Expat Author Game series last October, I had no idea it would take until June to play another round. I have no excuse except to say the Game of Life intervened.

In any event, I am thrilled we are picking up the series again this month and I can introduce you to the next player, Paul Shore. He recently published a memoir, Uncorked, about the year he spent living in southern France, in a quaint place called Saint-Paul de Vence.

Just how did he, a Canadian techie, end up landing in a medieval walled village in Provence, you may wonder? Back in the late 1990s, he was working for a start-up software company in Vancouver, and the founder asked if he would move to Nice to open their European sales and marketing office. He agreed. And being an adventuresome sort, with a “Why not try?” attitude, he eschewed the idea of living in an expat enclave, opting instead to be the rare outsider within a Provençal village.

When Paul readily agreed to play the Displaced Nation’s Expat Author Game, I was pleased and flattered…that is, until it dawned on me he has yet to encounter a game he wasn’t eager to play.

My goodness, he even learned how to play pétanque, an obscure (at least to me) form of boules (you’d think boules would be obscure enough!) while living in Saint-Paul. In fact, that’s one of the principle ways he “uncorked” traditional French culture—the other ways being working on his French, navigating a sporty car through roundabouts with the confidence of a Grand Prix driver, and drinking pastis at 9:00 a.m.

Pourquoi ne pas essayer? Time to roll the boule so to speak and see how he does…first, with the task of creating an algorithm for his book. Please note that while Paul may seem like the archetypal nice Canadian, he’s a fierce competitor. Pétanque is just one of many sports he has played to win. And, although he says he originally wrote his book for his kids, it recently hit #1 on Amazon in travel books about Provence!

If we like Uncorked, which movie/musical/play/TV series would we also like?

The film Under the Tuscan Sun, based on the memoir by Frances Mayes of that name, because it is also an evocative, heart-warming story based in Southern Europe. Although I wasn’t escaping a cheating spouse and I didn’t fix up a house, I did achieve a breakthrough into the traditions and culture associated with living in an ancient village in south Europe by learning how to play the game of pétanque. This adventure proved to be both humorous and life-changing.

What meal or dish would go well with reading your book?

Tarte Tatin (French upside down apple tart), a sweet, delicious, comfort food that I first ate in Saint-Paul in a small cafe that I came to frequent. As my book explains, not only did I indulge in this upside-down pastry while living in Saint-Paul, but as a result of living in this ancient village, I began to see that flipping the priorities of work-life balance more towards the “life” side of the ledger leads to a more fulfilling lifestyle and general level of happiness.

If your book had a signature cocktail, what would it be?

Given the subtitle of the book, that one’s easy: Pastis on ice.  It’s the go-to drink of the region and tastes refreshing on hot, humid summer days.  When the anise-flavored liquor mixes with the ice water, it becomes cloudy…much like I found the process of finding my way within local French culture.

Are there any special clothes/headgear/costumes/accessories we could wear to put us in the mood for reading your book?

You might think about donning a pair of open-toed leather sandals, especially as summer is now approaching. Sandals are popular footwear in Provence on hot summer days.

If we wanted to take a mini-trip to understand your story better, where would you recommend we travel and which one or two sights should we take in?

In Saint-Paul de Vence, you cannot miss Le Café de la Place. At the foot of the village ramparts, it has a terrace overlooking Place du Jeu de Boules. You can watch locals play pétanque and absorb the French culture all around you. The other must-see is Fondation Marguerite and Aimé Maeght. Here you can take in the French modernist works of displaced Russian-French artist Marc Chagall (he settled in St. Paul for the remainder of his life after returning from New York) and those of other famous local artists.

* * *

So, readers, tell us: Has Paul come up with a winning algorithm? Does the thought of slipping into a pair of open-toed leather sandals and sipping pastis on ice while watching a rousing game of pétanque make you want to buy Paul’s book? How about feasting on some freshly made tarte Tatin while recalling the joys of reading/watching Under the Tuscan Sun and/or contemplating Marc Chagall’s Saint-Paul years (most of his paintings from that period were vibrant odes to love)? If so, be sure to check out his author site. You can also follow him on Twitter. And be sure to tell us: do you want to see Paul move on in the Expat Author Game?

STAY TUNED for next week’s fab posts. Hm, but will they include Paul’s next test?

If you enjoyed this post, we invite you to register for The Displaced Dispatch, a biweekly round up of posts from The Displaced Nation—and so much more! Register for The Displaced Dispatch by clicking here!

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Photo credits: Book cover (supplied); sandals from Pixabay; other photos from Flickr creative commons.

EXPAT AUTHOR GAME: What score does Lisa Morrow earn on the “international creative” scale? (2/2)


Readers, I’m happy to report that Lisa Morrow aced the algorithm test for her latest book, Waiting for the Tulips to Bloom: Adrift in Istanbul, and will therefore be advancing to the second half of the Expat Author Game.

For this second round, we’ll be looking to see how closely she measures up to the Displaced Nation’s (admittedly somewhat quirky) notion of an “international creative.”

On the face of it, Lisa most certainly qualifies as “international”. Originally from Australia, she nurtured a passion for Turkey for many years, to the point where she and her husband finally took the leap to become full-time expats in Istanbul (they live in Göztepe, on the Asian side—extra points, Lisa, for that!).

Likewise, I think it is fair to call her “creative”. In addition to her latest book, recounting the couple’s permanent move to Istanbul, she has produced two books of essays:

But let’s see how Lisa does with this series of challenges on less tangible, but equally important, indicators of international creativity. Is she truly, madly, deeply “displaced”?

Welcome back, Lisa, and now let’s get started. Many residents of the Displaced Nation have had a moment or two when they’ve felt like a character in Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, myself included. How about you? Please illustrate, if possible, with quotes.

Sure, I welcome this new series of challenges. Here are my top two picks for Alice quotes, with explanations:

1) ALICE TO CHESHIRE CAT: “But I don’t want to go among mad people.” What is madness anyway? Some people might define it as packing up all your personal belongings and moving to the other side of the world where you don’t speak the language, share the religion or properly understand the culture. A lot of my family and friends certainly thought my move to Turkey was risky, but if I’d stayed put in suburbia, where I’ve never ever felt at home, I’d have slowly wilted under the burden of trying to conform and eventually drowned in a rule-bound, limited life, before succumbing most definitely to madness.

2) ALICE TO MOCK TURTLE & GRYPHON: “…it’s no use going back to yesterday, because I was a different person then.” I’ve met more people in six years living in Istanbul than I’ve met in the whole of the last twenty years. The majority of them have been Turkish, and as I worked through the cultural differences to develop close friendships with some, I’ve had to question who I am, how I relate to people, and what I want in all my relationships much more intensely than at any other time in my life. I did the same when I struck up friendships with foreigners. Such ties are equally fraught because you have to push past the tendency to think you have a common bond just because you all live in a particular country and aren’t natives of that country. Along the way, I’ve had some of my beliefs, in particular my tendency to think everyone is naturally generous and supportive, rather painfully disproved. That said, it’s been a positive experience overall because by being exposed to so many different people, beliefs, behaviours and lifestyles, I’m a very different person now than when I first came to Turkey, much more confident in my judgements of people—and that makes me happy. Nonetheless I’ll always be a work in progress. Feel free to ask me this question again in ten years’ time!

Moving on: According to George Elliot’s Maggie Tulliver, the best reason to leave her native village of St. Ogg’s would be to see other creatures like the elephant. What’s the most exotic animal you’ve observed in its native setting?

muffin-of-istanbulThat’s easy: Muffin the Street Cat. Part untamed domestic tabby, part savage cheetah, Muffin prowled our Istanbul neighbourhood in search of prey. Whenever I came back from doing the shopping he’d be waiting for me, drawn by the rustling of my plastic bags. Brought up never to feed wild animals, I’d fend off his ferocious claws before running for the front door. (That’s him in the photo: it’s as close as the beast ever allowed me to get. A very camera shy breed!) Even more spectacular than Muffin was his former pack mate Son of Satan, last seen struggling to get through the front gate after eating too much kibble. They breed them tough in Istanbul.

Last but not least on this series of literary challenges: We’re curious about whether you’ve had any Wizard of Oz moments when venturing across borders. Again, please use a quote or two.

For this challenge, there’s really only one quote I can use:

DOROTHY (WHILE CLICKING HEELS): “There is no place like home.” As well as being a writer I’ve worked as an ESL/EFL English teacher for many years and know how to teach the difference between the word ‘house’ and the word ‘home’. I teach that the former is a concrete structure of bricks and mortar and wood, while home is a conceptual idea of place and belonging. I can say that one gives solid, quantifiable shelter and protection, while the other gives, what? This is where I come unstuck because I have no meaningful comprehension of the idea of home. I can list what it’s not. It’s not my country of birth, it’s not the place where I spent my childhood, it’s not a house, apartment, flat or condo I’ve lived in. My furniture and belongings give me comfort but they aren’t home. Of all my possessions, my private library that packs up into 30 boxes and spans more than thirty years of my life, is the one thing I can’t imagine doing without. And yet I am still at home when my beloved books are in storage and I only have a poorly stocked public library for sustenance. I have to conclude that home—be it in me, a person or a place—is where I am most myself.

Moving on to another dimension of creativity: telling tales of one’s travels through photos. Can you offer a couple of examples?

My writing is fueled by the desire to examine the way tradition and modernity clash in Turkey, and meld to form something new. I’m also keen to dig behind the popular tourist images of mosques and beaches, to show the little everyday oddities that make Istanbul in particular such a fascinating place—like these goats I took a photo of in the Eminönü neighborhood:
goatsin-eminonu_lisamorrow

The photo below is from a street in Paris, which seemed unremarkable from the pavement but when I looked up I was rewarded by finding something extraordinary in the ordinary—another theme I explore in my writing.
parisstreetart_lisamorrow

And now for our interplanetary challenge: Can you envision taking your exploration of other modes of being beyond Planet Earth? How about a trip to Mars?

To answer this I’m going to borrow a line from Wendy Fox’s new novel The Pull of It, which is set in Turkey. She writes, “What kind of person doesn’t wonder about other people’s lives?”—and I have to say too many kinds of people. The two types that bother me most are those who run the world and don’t seem to care what others suffer, and those who write, vlog, tweet and Instagram their travels as lists of countries they’ve ‘done’, devoid of any reference to the actual inhabitants of whatever city or place they proclaim themselves expert. If ever our planet is left with just these two types of people—and no one is writing, thinking, exploring, documenting, experimenting, painting, and creating work based on wondering about other people’s lives—then I’ll go to Mars. My only caveat being that non-wonderers aren’t welcome.

* * *

Congratulations, Lisa! You have reached the end of the Expat Authors Game. I like the way you played it, not always giving us the obvious answers. Readers, it’s time to score Lisa Morrow’s performance on Part Two. How do you think she did with the three literary references? That was an interesting comment she made, about preferring the madness of Istanbul to the Sydney ‘burbs, and she even came out with her own non-definition of “home”! And what about that animal of hers, did you find it exotic enough? (Are we sure there aren’t any cats like Muffin in Sydney?) Still, that photo of the Istanbul goats more than makes up for it…!

Finally please note: If you’ve given Lisa Morrow a high score and her formula for international creativity appeals, we urge you to check out her author site. You can also follow her on Facebook (she adds photos, tips and vignettes about Istanbul and Turkey to the page nearly every day) and let’s not forget Twitter.

STAY TUNED for next week’s fab posts.

If you enjoyed this post, we invite you to register for The Displaced Dispatch, a biweekly round up of posts from The Displaced Nation—and so much more! Register for The Displaced Dispatch by clicking here!

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Photo credits: Photo of Lisa supplied; her comment: “Although I look happy in this photo taken in Bayonne, France, I don’t speak a word of French. It’s like being two years old and no one can understand you, but because you’re an adult you can’t throw a temper tantrum to get what you want.” All other photos from Pixabay.

EXPAT AUTHOR GAME: Lisa Morrow’s algorithm for “Waiting for the Tulips to Bloom: Adrift in Istanbul” (1/2)


This month I am delighted to welcome Lisa Morrow to the Displaced Nation as the very first guest in our new author interview series, which, in my inimitable style, I’ve devised as a kind of game expat authors can play.

I told Lisa that her first challenge would be to supply an algorithm for her latest book rather than leaving it up to Amazon: if we like Waiting for the Tulips to Bloom: Adrift in Istanbul, what would we also like?

Then, assuming she comes up with the goods, her next challenge would be to take the Displaced Nation’s “test” to measure how well she qualifies as an “international creative”—the results of which will be published in a second post.

It’s to Lisa’s everlasting credit that she was “game” to be the first to take on these considerable challenges. For those who haven’t read it yet, her most recent book, Waiting for Tulips to Bloom, tells the story of what prompted Lisa and her husband to pick up and move from their native Australia to Göztepe, on the Asian side of Istanbul, in 2010. Now, Lisa’s decision to move to Turkey was a long time in coming. She’d first developed a passion for the country and its people when living and working in London many years before. She’d visited Turkey for the first time as a tourist and somehow found her way to Göreme, a town in Cappadocia (central Turkey), where she’d ended up staying for three months. That first stay marked the start of a period of traveling back and forth between Sydney and Istanbul, living between both places, culminating in the “permanent” move almost seven years ago.

Given Lisa’s long exposure to Turkey, the transition to full-time expat life in Istanbul wasn’t as smooth as expected, and her new book recounts both the “drama and the joy involved,” to use Lisa’s words.

And now let’s roll out Lisa’s algorithm, beginning with…

algorithm_entertainment

If we like Waiting for the Tulips to Bloom, which movie/musical/play/TV series would we also like?

One film that closely mirrors some of the major themes in my book is The Dressmaker, based on the novel by Rosalie Ham, directed by Jocelyn Moorhouse and starring Kate Winslet. After making herself into everything her mother wasn’t and escaping the stifling norms of Australian society, Tilly Dunnage (Kate) returns to her hometown. Once there she’s tested by living in a community bound by strict rules governing social intercourse and an unquestioned social hierarchy. Although The Dressmaker is set in Australia, with a main character who’s a native speaker born into the culture, Tilly is as displaced in the fictional town of Dungatar as I have often been in the real world of Turkey. Though a long ways away from 1950s small-town Australia, Turkey is equally rigid about social interactions and power structures. To live here I’ve had to get a handle on them or risk forever being ostracised. However, in order to be comfortable in both my new home and myself, I’ve had to learn to what I’m capable of, and what principles I’m not prepared to relinquish. I’ve also had to be flexible enough to incorporate different ways of seeing and living into my own perspective and daily practices. In both The Dressmaker and my book Waiting for the Tulips to Bloom: Adrift in Istanbul, belonging, and feeling happy as a result, isn’t predicated on living in your place of birth. It’s about understanding that being displaced is a point of reference from which to start living, regardless of where you find yourself, and not a condition to be cured.

What meal or dish would go well with reading your book?

The dish that would go best with reading my book is Çerkez Tavuğu, or Circassian Chicken as it’s known in English. This dish doesn’t require infinite culinary skill, just a lot of time and patience to prepare it. What results is a cultural and historical delight harking back to the complexity of Turkey’s multicultural past. It reflects my experience of coming to live in Turkey, where I learnt that what I thought was important to know wasn’t helpful, and only by being patient would I ever get what I wanted. I particularly like the inclusion of walnuts in the sauce because they’re a symbol of strength and power. I’ve come to realise I have a lot more of both than I ever knew.

The recipe is quite long so here is a link to the website that gives the closest version of the one I cook. Naturally I make it using a whole chicken because if I’m going to this much trouble, I want to share the results with all my friends. I also add bay leaves to the chicken when I cook it, and freeze any leftover stock to use in soups and casseroles later on. (You never know when you’ll need it!)

drink-algorithm

If your book had a signature cocktail, what would it be?

It would have to be a champagne cocktail. According to the International Bar Association:

“A champagne cocktail is an alcoholic drink made with sugar, Angostura bitters, champagne, brandy and a maraschino cherry as a garnish.”

I prefer mine with just a sugar cube at the bottom of a chilled champagne flute, two or three drops Angostura Bitters or cognac when available and then filled to the top with brut champagne. It’s the perfect signature drink for my book because like the champagne cocktail, Turkish culture, although bound by regulations, is extremely versatile and adaptable. Few people actually follow the rules and when things go wrong, which they often do, they’re very good at finding alternative ways of doing things. As a person prone to getting hung up on details and subsequently unable to creatively problem-solve, living in Istanbul and constantly having to re-negotiate ways of being stops me falling back into old habits.

fashion-algorithm

Are there any special clothes/headgear/costumes/accessories we could wear to put us in the mood for reading your book?

Definitely a scarf. Not because I live in a predominantly Muslim country, although I do cover my head to show respect when I enter a mosque, but because I’m never without one. For the early chapters of my book a light cotton number in strong summer colours will put you in the mood for my optimism and enthusiasm as I pounded the pavements in Istanbul in search of a new home. As autumn sets in and things start to go pear-shaped, you’ll need something with a bit of body to wind around your neck and shoulders to give comfort when none is on offer. Winter brings biting cold and overwhelming stress, so wrap up tight in a shawl that covers the outfit you’re likely to wear day after day as you battle your fears and doubts. Spring passes in a minute so when summer comes around again choose something to wrap around your hips. Make sure it’s sewn with coins, so you jingle with delight when you join me as I dance for joy.

travel-algorithm

If we wanted to take a mini-trip to understand your story better, where would you recommend we travel and which one or two sights should we take in?

It would have to be to Istanbul, because it’s a city without substitute. Come on a Friday and head straight to Kadıköy, on the Asian side of the city. It’s a place to experience rather than see, so plunge straight into the crisscross of streets and make your way through the crowds of Friday shoppers, skirt the overflow of devout congregants praying on rugs rolled out onto the sidewalks, take in the scents, sight and sounds of Fish Street, and eat spicy lahmacun with parsley and lemon at Borsam. You’ll see plenty you want to photograph but first just stop, look and feel the energy swirling around you. Living in a city with so many people can be overwhelming, so I always try to balance the mania with more peaceful days out along the shores of the Bosphorus. Two of my favourite neighbourhoods are Kuruçeşme and Arnavutköy, because they offer a glimpse into Turkey’s multicultural past under Ottoman rule. You can find out more about these neighbourhoods in the Discover Istanbul section of my blog, Inside Out Istanbul, and from my book of travel essays with that title, recently updated.

* * *

So, readers, tell us: Has Lisa come up with a winning algorithm? Does the thought of wearing a jingly scarf, sipping a champagne cocktail and feasting on Circassian Chicken, watching Aussie flicks, and traveling to the Asian side of Istanbul (at least from your armchair!) make you want to buy Lisa’s book? At the very least, does it make you want to keep in touch with Lisa and her adventures? If so, be sure to check out her author site You can also follow her on Facebook (she adds photos, tips and vignettes about Istanbul and Turkey to the page nearly every day) and let’s not forget Twitter. And please leave any questions for Lisa in the comments.

STAY TUNED for next week’s fab posts. Will they include Lisa’s next test? (You tell us: do you want to see her move on in the Expat Author Game?)

If you enjoyed this post, we invite you to register for The Displaced Dispatch, a biweekly round up of posts from The Displaced Nation—and so much more! Register for The Displaced Dispatch by clicking here!

Related posts:

  • LOCATION, LOCUTION: An expat life in Istanbul frees Oliver Tidy to write crime novels set in places he knows well (and Turkey, too!)
  • Ten years after “Expat Harem,” foreign women will have another say on expat life in Turkey
  • BOOK REVIEW: “Perking the Pansies — Jack and Liam move to Turkey,” by Jack Scott
  • Photo credits: All photos from Pixabay; book cover (supplied).

    An expat’s valentine to her adopted home is podcast series and now book

    Kay Mellish Valentine CollageThe Displaced Nation aspires to be a home to international creatives. As such, we are fond of showcasing memoirs written by those who have spent large chunks of their lives abroad or novels that were in some way inspired by international travels.

    Very occasionally, though, we come across an expat who has written a guide to life in their new country that strikes us as being highly creative. Not long before the Brazilian Olympics, for instance, we featured works by two expats living in Brazil because of having a Brazilian spouse: Mark Hillary’s Reality Check: Life in Brazil Through the Eyes of a Foreigner; and Meagan Farrell’s American Exbrat in São Paulo: Advice, Stories, Tips and Tricks for Surviving South America’s Largest City.

    Both authors felt justified in producing their own guides to Brazilian life because they’d noticed so many newbie expats falling into the trap of becoming an “exbrat” (to borrow Meagan’s term)—constantly complaining about Brazilian food, prices, bureaucracy, and crime and thus missing out on one of the world’s most fascinating cultures and friendliest peoples.

    And both books, while offering practical information and advice, also communicated the authors’ affection, even love, for the land of carnival and samba, beaches and jungles—warts and all.

    My guest today, Kay Xander Mellish, has composed a similar kind of ode to her adopted home of Denmark, which, too, has its attractions even if if Danes are far less sociable than Brazilians and their culture a great deal less lively.

    Yet apparently not all visitors seem to appreciate the many appealing features of the country that was recently crowned the the world’s happiest, which is what led Kay to produce her podcast series, How to Live in Denmark, and now a book of the same name.

    Born in Wisconsin and educated in New York City, Kay has lived in Denmark since 2000, speaks Danish, and after working in the corporate world has founded her own company to help Danish companies communicate in English. She hasn’t married into the culture but is a single mother bringing up a daughter.

    Ironically, Kay’s valentine to Denmark has come out at a time when another foreigner in Denmark, the British journalist Michael Booth, is in the news for a book expressing disillusionment with the Scandinavian way of life. We’ll talk to Kay about that development as well.

    But first let’s get to know her a little more.

     * * *

    “Santa Claus has the right idea: visit people once a year”—Victor Borges, Danish-born American comedian

    Hi, Kay! I once lived in England and then in Japan, and there were times in reading your book that the Danes reminded me of the English and the Japanese: easy enough to like but not so easy to love. Is that a fair description?
    It can be difficult for outsiders to make friends in Denmark, because for Danes friendship is a serious business. A real friendship is a lifelong relationship, sometimes starting in kindergarten or even before – my daughter, for example, has a friend she “met” when they were four weeks old! The idea of casual chat with strangers is alien to Danes: they have to force themselves to do it, and it is nearly always uncomfortable for them unless a great deal of alcohol is involved. Once you are within their friendship circle, Danes are excellent friends, reliable, supportive and direct. But it is difficult to come into that circle. Danish society is based on trust, and it takes Danes a while to be sure that they can trust you.

    HTLID_cover_and_hearts

    Kay Xander Mellish’s book cover; random Valentine’s hearts and one kiss.

    Humor is of course an important element in any long-term relationship, and your have subtitled your book “a humorous guide.” Tell me, are you laughing with or at?
    With! Danes are very good at making fun of themselves; in fact, one of the highest compliments they can give a famous or accomplished person is that he or she has “self-irony,” or the ability to make fun of himself. By contrast, anyone who is selvfede (literally, “self-fat”) and thinks he or she is God’s gift to the world is held in contempt. So, in general, humor is not hard to come by in Denmark. You just have to be willing to make fun of yourself. Danes have an old tradition that if you’ve fallen down in public or otherwise made a big mistake or fool of yourself, you’re supposed to buy kvajebager (failure beer) for everyone who saw you. My book, which is based on a podcast series, is very popular among Danes, which it would not be if they could not make light of themselves. Occasionally I get a few crabby emails from people with Danish names, but not many. I’ve found a lot of Danes buy the book for their foreign friends.

    “To be of use to the world is the only way to be happy.”—Hans Christian Andersen

    Oxford Research recently published a study finding that 9 out of 10 expats enjoy living and working in Denmark and close to half choose to prolong their stay—mainly because of career opportunities. What makes Copenhagen’s work opportunities so loveable?
    If you can get a job in Copenhagen, the working conditions and benefits are excellent. Most people work 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. and then go home to their families, so it’s common to see an office entirely empty by 5:00 p.m. And there is less of the cutthroat competition, both internally and externally within companies, that you see elsewhere in business life. You also have the ability to do work you will be proud of: Danes demand quality, so you rarely meet anyone who is incompetent. But getting a job is difficult, even for the Danes, and it is extremely difficult for foreigners who do not speak Danish. Many foreigners with only rudimentary Danish either work in the “caring professions,” such as state-sponsored jobs caring for the elderly or the very young, or in IT roles that there are not enough Danes to fill. If you are looking for anything else, besides the usual cleaning and waiting tables, plan for at least a 6-month job search, possibly a year.

    “I’m afraid I have to set you straight…”—Michael Booth, Copenhagen-based British journalist

    Meanwhile, the journalist Michael Booth has just published a book The Almost Nearly Perfect People: Behind the Myth of the Scandinavian Utopia.
    Denmark is a small country where everyone knows everyone, so I should start by saying that Michael Booth is the friend of a friend, although I have not met him myself. Michael has developed a great shtick for himself, which is running down the Scandinavian countries while continuing to enjoy their benefits. (The fact that Michael is a white male from a friendly country allows him to get away with this performance: I don’t want to even think of what the reaction might have been if such a book had been written by someone from the Middle East.) At any rate, his timing is excellent: it’s become fashionable, particularly in left-wing Western circles, to paint Scandinavia as a utopia, which it most certainly is not. Michael’s book is a strong antidote to that.

    An excerpt from Booth’s book appeared recently in The Atlantic, where he says Denmark is “stultifyingly dull” and “boring” because of its “suffocating monoculture.” You don’t agree with any of that?
    Personally, I don’t find Copenhagen dull, and this is from someone who used to live in downtown Manhattan and be very involved in the New York art and nightlife scene. I find Copenhagen sophisticated without being too intense. There is certainly less of a gallery or theater scene here, but by contrast people have more time to enjoy the arts events that take place.

    “I come from a culture where you don’t divide it up [between] what you can do on TV and what you can do on film.”—Danish actor Mads Mikkelsen

    You are a professional voice actor, and, unusually, your book is based on a podcast series. Since we’re talking about love today: which do you love more, podcasting or writing?
    The podcast series was actually based on an old group of essays that had been mouldering on a rarely-updated website I started when I still I lived in New York. (In those days, the days before podcasts and before the web, I used to put up parts of my stories as flyposters in a graffiti format—but that was the 1990s!) When I came to Denmark, I wrote a few essays about the experience, but then I pretty much abandoned the site while working full-time at a corporate job while raising my daughter. The site was still online, and newcomers to Denmark kept finding these old postings and emailing me, saying how much I had helped them adjust to living here. I began to feel an obligation to help people just arriving in Denmark. It can be a difficult place to get used to. So when I left corporate life and was in the process of building my own voiceover business, doing the podcast How to Live in Denmark was a natural move. I soon found out that many people weren’t listening to the recordings at all: they were just reading the transcripts available on the podcast site. By this time, I was spending so much time on the podcasts that I needed to earn a little money off the project, so I turned the transcripts into an eBook. Customers then kept asking for a paper book, so I published one of those as well. Now we also have the Chinese version, and there are so many Syrian refugees in Denmark that there have been requests for an Arabic-language version, so we are working on that as well. I really feel it’s important for me to serve to others who may be facing the same challenges I once did.

    “Give to a pig when it grunts and a child when it cries, and you will have a fine pig and bad child.”—Danish proverb

    Turning to your daughter: what do you love most about raising and educating a child in Denmark?
    Children in Denmark given much more freedom and responsibility than children in many countries. My daughter has been riding the Copenhagen trains and buses alone since she was eight, for example. Even when they are very young, children are expected to sort out their own playground disagreements with little interference from adults. There’s no such thing as a “helicopter parent” here. Also, children don’t spend most of their childhoods trying to get into a good university, going to cram schools and trying to build up their CV with impressive-sounding activities. They relax; they have time to play, time to think, time to develop themselves and their creativity. There is very little standardized testing in Denmark and not many grades of any kind until the kids are 13 or 14. I think that’s a healthy way to go about things. My daughter enjoys living here; she enjoys her school, where there is very little pressure but the kids learn to put knowledge together in a holistic way, which I think will be much more useful for the future just learning how to spit out facts or repeat the teacher’s viewpoint back to her. Most importantly, parents in Denmark have a lot more free time to spend with their kids, since working hours aren’t particularly long here. So we do a lot of stuff together—sports, travel, crafts. I don’t know if I would have had the time and energy to do those things had I been a single mother in the US.

    Do you think she misses out on anything by not being in the United States?
    Of course, she’s missing out on the ethnic diversity of the US, as well as the ambition and drive and energy of living there. But she speaks frequently of going to college in the US, so she’ll have a chance to experience those aspects when she’s a little older.

    “There was the constant, tinny squeak of a thousand rusty bike chains.”—Greg Hanscom, senior editor at Grist: “An American in Denmark”

    You’ve now lived in Denmark for nearly 15 years, longer than many marriages last. If you had one irritating habit about the place you could change, what would it be?
    I suppose it would the Danes’ general rudeness in public places. When someone brushes closely by you, or even runs right into you, there’s never an ‘Excuse me’ or the Danish equivalent. Instead, you get a sour look or a grunt that signifies “Why were you in my way?” Customer service in Danish shops or restaurants is not much better: in Denmark, the customer is always wrong. Some of the nonwhite foreigners I’ve met here assumed that they were being treated so badly because of racism or racial discrimination, but that is not the case. Sad to say, everybody gets bad customer service, even other Danes.

    And if you and Denmark were to “divorce” and go your separate ways one day, what would you miss the most about it?
    Probably the biking culture and the great mass transit. While I have a drivers’ license and enjoy driving a car, I love that I can hop on a bike and get anywhere quickly. No parking problems, no stopping to buy gas, and it’s a very easy and convenient way to keep fit. That said, bringing home groceries on your bicycle can be a headache. And trying to bring home fresh dry cleaning on your bicycle is the worst!

    Thanks, Kay! It’s been a pleasure. Taking a closer look at your work, we see you’ve created an intricate valentine to your adopted home, full of love and irreverent humor, the perfect tribute.

    * * *

    Readers, if this interview has piqued your curiosity about Kay Xander Mellish and her creative output, we encourage you to visit her author site, like the How to Live in Denmark page on Facebook and/or follow her on Twitter: she has a personal account and a podcast/book account. Also please note that Kay was the recipient of one of our Alice Awards for an irreverent post explaining why public nudity is okay in Denmark, whereas public ambition is not.

    STAY TUNED for next week’s fab posts!

    If you enjoyed this post, we invite you to register for The Displaced Dispatch, a round up of weekly posts from The Displaced Nation, with seasonal recipes, book giveaways and other extras. Register for The Displaced Dispatch by clicking here!

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    Soccer players for sure, but shouldn’t Germany also be loaning us words? With cherries! say British expat comedy writing duo (huh?)

    Denglish 3 Collage

    Adam Fletcher (bald) and Paul Hawkins at a book fair, in a screenshot from their Denglish video; Paul atop his Batman car in Prague. All photos supplied by Paul Hawkins.

    Like other U.S.-based World Cup fans, I’ve been thinking a lot about Germany lately. The nation certainly has been generous in loaning the U.S. national team all kinds of soccer coaching and playing talent. Coach Jürgen Klinsmann is a German soccer legend, and five players on the U.S. squad spent most of their lives in Germany, including one of the team’s star players, Jermaine Jones (his father, an African American U.S. army soldier, met his German mother while stationed in West Germany; they later divorced).

    But is it possible Germany should be offering us even more, as in new words and language possibilities? The answer to this question will require the help of today’s guest, Paul Hawkins, a young British expat in Berlin. With his writing partner and fellow British expat, Adam Fletcher, Paul recently produced Denglish for Better Knowers, an illustrated book of German words and sayings that, in the view of this comedy duo, ought to be imported into the English language.

    (German, really? Doesn’t it have lots of rules and too much grammar??)

    AND WE ARE GIVING AWAY A SIGNED (PAPERBACK) COPY! Just leave a comical comment on this post, to be eligible.

    Paul and Adam may be expats but they are tapping into the long and great British tradition of finding comedy in the quirkiness of everyday life, something I came to value during my expat years in the UK (and still miss). What’s unusual about this pair, however, is that they aren’t afraid to dig for material in a country that has long been reviled by the English (see my recent post on the World Cup). It helps, no doubt, that they’re Millennials. But has their creativity also been sparked by the sheer act of being displaced, of having to navigate another cultural and linguistic tradition? Let’s hear what Paul has to say.

    * * *

    HowtobeGerman_cover_ds

    The book was published in German and English, each language beginning at either side of the book, by C H Beck.

    Hi, Paul, and welcome to the Displaced Nation. Before you and Adam came out with Denglish for Better Knowers, Adam produced an earlier work, How to Be German in 50 Easy Steps. What exactly was the impetus for this series?
    Well, How to be German was sort of this big, happy accident of Adam’s, where he poked and prodded the various eccentricities of his long-suffering German girlfriend, Annett, and then extrapolated his findings to about 80 million people. But to be fair, he’d also lived in Berlin for seven or so years, during which time he’d had lots of humorous experiences with the curious creatures known as Germans. In fact, the book grew out of an article of the same name Adam wrote, full of his observations about what makes Germans German, from their love for sparkling apple juice to collecting insurance contracts and tilting their windows. His post struck a massive nerve and went viral. Adam describes the book as a “love letter to the German people,” who had somehow adopted him for having such profound insights into their national character. Thanks to him, they were no longer being portrayed as eating sausages, drinking beer, and wearing leather shorts…

    Is your German not the yellow from the egg?

    And Denglish?
    Denglisch for Better Knowers is a follow-up of sorts, a kind of “love letter to the German language,” where we get to celebrate and poke fun at Deutsch (even as we struggle to learn it!), in hopefully a way that only dumb aliens to the language could. Oh, and although I’d assisted Adam with the first book, this time around he roped me into being a co-author. I don’t remember why, but I think it might because I have hair.

    And the pair of you also run an online business of sorts, called The Hipstery. In fact, that’s how I first discovered you. How does your entrepreneurial venture fit in with the book writing projects?
    Adam and I are creative, but we don’t have very long attention spans.The Hipstery has proved the perfect way to exploit these independently useless character traits. It’s a kind of long-running shambles of a gift business. In fact, it’s been a few different things at a few different times, depending mostly on mismanaged excitement, deluded whims, and confused expectations—perhaps the least impressive of which was an actual shop in Berlin, which, by the end of its short, lazy lifespan was only open for about two hours a week, on a Thursday afternoon, sometimes, maybe. We would get excited, make a little product (a poster, a T-shirt, a game, for example) and quickly release it, after which we got bored and moved on to the next thing.

    denglishforbetterknowers_cover_ds

    Published in German and English, each language beginning at either side of the book, by Ullstein Verlag.

    And at some point the “next thing” became Denglisch for Better Knowers?
    In fact, the book began its life as a nice design on a poster, and then one day we saw a lot more humorous potential in the concept.

    Let’s talk about Denglisch the word. What does it mean exactly?
    Denglisch refers to the increasing amount of English words sneaking into the German language, in place of working, pre-existing German alternatives. It gets used a lot in the German media and tends to consist of ‘”cool”, buzzy, international, marketing-type words such as upgedated, downgeloadet, outgesourcet… Well, our idea was that German has so many great and often humorously unique words that English doesn’t, it should lend us some words, too. In the book, we make a case for our favorite “German” ways to enrich the English language.

    With the German language is very good cherry eating

    I visited the picture gallery of ten colorful German expressions, watched the promotional video, and even took the Denglish Quiz (got 70%) on the book site. Of all the German words and expressions that appear in your work, which are your top three faves and why?
    I guess my three personal favorites would be:
    1) Ear worm (Ohrwurm)—describes the phenomenon of getting a song stuck in your head. It’s such a simple, perfect word, it’s amazing English has nothing like it.
    2) Hand shoes (Handschuhe)—German for gloves. It’s so lovely. I know this flies in the face of everything I just said about German words that English doesn’t have, but I don’t care. I want it!
    3) Is it art, or can I chuck it? (Ist das Kunst, oder kann das weg?)—a wonderful idiom and great example of German humor. I don’t think it needs explaining. It just needs using. It becomes especially useful whenever the British artist Tracey Emin is selling something…

    Hmmm… Were there any German words or expressions that didn’t make the book, as the concepts they express are too foreign to be used in English?
    There’s quite a lot which didn’t make the book, but I have the time-bothered memory of a deranged old lunatic, so I can’t think of that many examples now. Oh, there was that expression Himmel, Arsch und Zwirn!, which we didn’t include for some reason. It translates literally as “Sky, Arse, and Thread!” and serves as an exclamation of annoyance, like shouting “Damn!” or “Blast!” or “Bollocks!” (if you’re English). It’s pure nonsense (or “nonsense, with sauce,” as you’d say in German), and I guess that’s why we couldn’t include it. You can’t fight fire with fire, and you can’t write nonsense with nonsense, because galactic haircut trouser squabbling. Indeed.

    OooKay! Probably I need to read the book to interpret that last statement. I’m curious, how did you and Adam meet, and was it “collaboration” at first sight?
    Despite us both being English and both living in Berlin, in fact we first met in the Czech Republic. Basically, I flew out to Prague on a whim in 2012 because friends of mine were driving a convertible painted like Superman there as part of a car rally, after which they planned to dump it. I told them to give it to me. I didn’t have any plans or ideas what to do with the car… all I knew was that if you can get a Superman convertible for free in Prague, you’d be an damned fool/respectable citizen not to do so. Not long after my arrival in the Czech Republic capital, I posted a message on CouchSurfing…something like, “Hello, I’m an idiot who came to Prague, and I don’t know any one, and I’m bored, and do you want to meet for a coffee or a beer?” Well, Adam, who was also in Prague with a friend, replied to my message, and we met up. We soon got talking about what we did: writing, well, actually comedy writing…actually, fairly absurd comedy writing. And upon realizing we were pretty much writing the same kinds of stuff, in the same kind of style, with the same kind of humor, it wasn’t long before we decided to try something together. Pretty weird, right?

    Um, what’s the best and worst part of working as a team?
    Writing as a team is mostly very fun. The best part is getting to make and hear jokes all day—as opposed to sitting alone, typing gibberish, and always wondering: “Is this funny…? Maybe it’s funny… I don’t know…” The worst part, however, is when you come up with a hilarious punchline like “Congratulations, Binky!”, only to find Adam wont let you use it for some boring reason like: “It doesn’t make any sense.” Which might be true, of course, but let’s not take Adam’s side here.

    Is your English all under the pig?

    Which part of the UK do you and Adam come from?
    I come from London, or North London, or North of London, or Broxbourne, depending on whether I think you know where it is. Adam is from a different place, most notable for it being totally unmemorable. I guess he’s told me about forty times where he’s from, and the only thing I can tell you about it for sure is it has a dreadful school and might be vaguely near Norwich.

    And how did you end up choosing to live in Berlin?
    Adam moved to Leipzig for a job around seven years ago and then to Berlin about two years later when he became self-employed. I moved here a year and a half ago, for similar reasons. It’s a great place to live and roam free amongst all the freelancers. We call it the Mecca of Delayed Responsibility.

    Do you think you will ever repatriate back to the UK?
    I don’t think Adam will repatriate because he was never a big fan of England (small talk, weather, having to think before speaking, etc.) and because he’s increasingly becoming somewhat of a reluctant, and highly unqualified, pundit of German culture—something he’s trying to correct throughout his next book, Make Me German. As for me, I could still imagine living in London, just as soon as I become a mega rich oil-baron oligarch with unlimited Oyster card funding. One key difference between me and Adam is the amount of German we’ve learned. The more time you’ve invested in the language, the less you can bear the thought of wasting it by leaving! He’s a lot more invested than I am…

    You said that Adam is working on another book. How about you: any more creative projects in the pipeline?
    Yes, Adam is hard at work on his next book, Make Me German, which entails undertaking a series of amusing challenges in pursuit of finally learning enough about Germans and Germany to justify his nonsensical position as a spokesperson for their sense of humor. He was last seen trying to write a Schlager song and Nordic-walking in the most German place of all German places, Majorca. As for me, I’ve just finished a book, which comes out in Germany at the end of August, called How to Operate a Human (Gebrauchsanleitung Mensch, in German!) It’s a fun little book rather like an iPhone manual (except for people), which I won’t be able to read.

    What do you mean you won’t be able to read it? How is your German coming along these days?
    Mein Deutsch hat sich verbessert, aber ich kann meinen eigenen Unsinn immer noch nicht lesen.

    Which leaves me with only one thing left to say: Alles klar!

    * * *

    So, readers, any COMMENTS or QUESTIONS for Paul? Or do you find yourself nonplussed, without words, for what you’ve just heard? In case his rants have made you curious, be sure to:

    YOU CAN ALSO LEAVE A COMMENT BELOW to be eligible to win your own free copy!

    Can’t wait to order the book? Paul suggests doing so from the Hipstery site, which offers worldwide shipping.

    Finally, should you wish to follow Paul’s brilliant career, he can be found at his author site, Hencewise, on Twitter and on Facebook.

    To reiterate, alles klar!

    STAY TUNED for next week’s fab posts!

    If you enjoyed this post, we invite you to register for The Displaced Dispatch, a round up of weekly posts from The Displaced Nation, with seasonal recipes, book giveaways and other extras. Register for The Displaced Dispatch by clicking here!

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    Why did the chicken cross an international border? Because this expat told it to!

    sharon lorimer chicken hat

    Sharon Lorimer graces the cover of Coop du Monde sporting a chicken hat; photo credit: Kim Khan.

    Sharon Lorimer is joining us again today. Last time she and I met, she had on her entrepreneurial hat to tell me about the ingredients she used to start up her company, doshebu. We discussed the company’s mission of helping overseas employees become versed in the “art” of being an expat—her knowledge of which is based, in no small part, on her own experience of being a Scottish expat in New York City and of her husband’s experience as an American ATCK (he has lived in London and Singapore).

    This time around, however, Sharon is sporting a chicken hat. Why is that, you may wonder? For the simple reason that she has her eggs in more than one basket. She may be a businesswoman but she also loves cooking. She self-published a photo cookbook named Coop Du Monde at the end of last year, which offers suggestions for jazzing up your basic roast chicken recipe ranging from Pilgrim’s Fowl to Nippon Coop to Mi Amore Coop.

    And just now she put out The Seasoner’s Handbook, a companion to her very first cookbook, From the Global Scottish Kitchen, in which she reinvented dishes from her native Scotland by adding flavors picked up from her “gastronomic journey.”

    Cock a’ Leekie Udon, anyone?

    Sharon’s culinary creativity will be our topic today. She tells me that she has always enjoyed experimenting with food, but by now it should be clear that flying the Scottish coop has pushed her in some new directions.

    * * *

    CoopduMonde_cover_dropshadowHi, Sharon. Welcome back to the Displaced Nation! Tell me, why did you decide to write a book about roast chicken?
    I think it grew out of my fondness for the Sunday Roast ritual in the UK. Even when I was growing up in Scotland, I always preferred to spice it up. But since coming to the United States and leading a more international life, I’ve taken these experiments up a level.

    But why chicken? When I lived in Britain, I remember having a lot of lamb and beef.
    Well, chicken is probably the most popular for the home cook and besides, it’s eaten all over the world.

    I’ve had a look at your book and I’m impressed that it offers a step-by-step guide to roasting a chicken and then suggesting a number of variations.
    In fact, the point of the book is not so much to give people recipes as to help them be creative when they cook. I explain the process of blending spices and herbs together and choosing vegetables so that you can invent your own Coop du Monde.
    TheSeasoner'sHandbook_cover_dropshadow

    Which came first, spices or travels?

    You seem to be obsessed with spices. In your newest book, The Seasoner’s Handbook, you explain how to use chili peppers, pomegranate seeds, saffron, mole, truffles…
    These are some of the flavors I’ve picked up on my gastronomic journey. Take the pomegranate seed, for instance. I first had a dish seasoned with this fruit in London. As I explain in the book, I hadn’t tasted it before but it made the meal so enjoyable that I thought about how I could use it in other dishes. It has a mellow flavor that combines well with stronger and more subtle flavors.

    Your Scottish cookbook, to which this book is a companion, reinterprets your native cuisine in light of what you have learned about the cuisines of the US, Mexico, France, Japan and Greece. In a post discussing the book on your blog, you say:

    If I had created a cookbook that represented my travels, the contents would be traditional dishes made authentically. Thinking globally about taste lets you use different aspects of cuisines to develop new ideas.

    It sounds as though you’re making a case for fusion cuisine, but is that right?
    Cuisines are identified by nationality, and fusion means blending two national cuisines. I want people to understand that it’s less about replicating other people’s cuisines, or competing to be the best at a style of cuisine, and more about exploring what you like. Lots of us expats want to find ways of expressing all the influences we’ve picked up on our travels. What better way to blend them than in cooking?

    “Ain’t nobody here but us chickens” – Louis Jordan

    How big a role does cooking play in your everyday life?
    My husband and I make very simple food during the week. He is a good cook, too, and we take turns cooking for each other. One thing that makes it on to the table every month is Anthony Bourdain’s recipe for whole roasted fish Tuscan style, which essentially means baking it in salt. Bourdain just talks about it in his book Kitchen Confidential. We tried replicating it from the description. It’s really easy. You just stuff herbs, garlic and lemon it to the belly of the fish. Pour olive oil on the fish and encrust in lots of Kosher salt and bake for 45-60 minutes at 375°F.

    Mmmm…sounds good. Fish has been one of my staples ever since I lived in Japan.
    Well, don’t overlook the beauty of chicken. My new favorite easy meal is a Cook Yourself Thin recipe for butterflied chicken breast marinated in olive oil, rosemary and lemon juice. It only takes 30 minutes to marinate and 10 minutes on the grill. Delicious.

    Struttin’ her stuff on Blurb

    Moving back to the two books: Why did you choose to publish them on Blurb?
    Blurb makes self-publishing easy, and it’s ideal for coffee-table-style books that feature photography.

    Yes, I know you’re a keen photographer, but was there a learning curve for taking photos of food?
    I’m a professional photographer, but there’s a learning curve with any new project. The most important thing to remember when you start to make books is that printers need higher-resolution shots than websites. You have to print a hard copy with Blurb, even if you don’t want to sell it. Make the shots good enough so that you can display it in your home or give it to family and friends. The other thing I had to learn is that I have to shoot with the book in mind. I had some old chicken shots I wanted to use for the Coop du Monde, but the resolution was wrong and they looked out of place. In the end we had to work from the concept to create a cohesive book. In fact, my husband shot the front and back covers.

    I see you’re getting into video more and more these days, and that Coop du Monde includes a teaching video.
    I always find it easier to replicate a recipe if I have watched someone else do it first, don’t you? Yes, the video is embedded in the ebook.

    What’s the biggest challenge in putting together a cookbook?
    My biggest challenge is writing down recipes. I cooked for years without documenting any of it and even today, I still forget to write down what I’ve done. I have an app but it hasn’t really helped me solve the problem. I never cook to a recipe and I don’t really want to. It spoils the experience for me.

    What audience do you have in mind for your photo cookbooks, and are they reaching those people?
    The most popular post ever on the Art of the Expat blog is “Indian Meat and Potatoes” (it centers on a keema recipe that’s from From the Global Scottish Kitchen, which, believe it or not given that keema is Indian, includes pomegranates!). Food tends to be more accessible than other topics. People are always looking for ways to incorporate and understand other nations’ cuisines, especially ones they usually can’t have unless they eat out. I thought the Brits would like Coop du Monde because of their love of roast chicken, but most visitors to my blog are Americans. More recently, we’ve had a lot of Swedish visitors…but presumably they are also fans of chicken.

    What’s next—more cookbooks? Other creative projects?
    My husband and I are planning lots more live broadcasts at doshebu.tv focusing on news events and expat topics. On the creative side, I’ve started to write another screenplay. I think this will give me the outlet for creativity that I need when I get depressed about troubleshooting code!

    * * *

    Thank you, Sharon! Readers, don’t be too chicken to leave questions or comments for Sharon. Or perhaps you’d like to suggest a roast chicken recipe that you’ve enhanced with spices or other exotic ingredients? Just think, if Sharon were to include it in her next Blurb book, what a coup it would be…

    STAY TUNED for next week’s fab posts!

    If you enjoyed this post, we invite you to register for The Displaced Dispatch, a round up of weekly posts from The Displaced Nation, with seasonal recipes, book giveaways and other extras. Register for The Displaced Dispatch by clicking here!

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    Repeat expat Manal Khan lives in fact, in fiction–and everywhere in between

    ManalinSpain

    Manal Khan, taken by her husband on a day trip to Segovia.

    The Displaced Nation is on a mission to celebrate the contributions made by borderless travelers and global residents to creative pursuits.

    Owing to our Western bias, we tend to feature Westerners who have ventured to other parts of the world, but there are plenty of other internationals who, too, deserve kudos—I refer to our counterparts in the less developed world, many of whom flock to the United States and Europe for higher education and employment opportunities, and in the course of that, find their own creative paths.

    Is that because they feel as displaced as we do?

    Perhaps I’ll uncover some answers in today’s post. I’ll be talking to journalist, poet, essayist, photographer, and storyteller Manal A. Khan, who says that she lives in fact, in fiction—and everywhere in between. Born in Pakistan, Manal has a journalism degree from Berkeley and has worked for an independent news organization in New York City.

    I discovered Manal’s magnificent blog, “Windswept Words.”, around the time the Displaced Nation started and have been eager to interview her ever since. But when I tried contacting her, she’d just repatriated to Pakistan. She did not see my request until recently, when she and her husband (also Pakistani) moved abroad again, this time to Europe.*

    I am so pleased to be able to catch up with Manal in her latest port of call: Madrid, Spain. I predict that you, too, dear reader, will be as blown away, so to speak, as I was by her windswept words…

    * Ironically, on the very day when Manal answered my request, she was awarded one of our Alices for a recent blog post that expresses, at one and the same time, her love for her native Pakistan as well as her discomfort with its social inequalities and excessive religiosity.

    * * *

    Greetings, Manal. It’s so good to have the chance to catch up with you at long last. I’d like to start by quoting from one of your poems, called “Foreigner”:

    sometimes, i wish
    i didn’t feel like such a foreigner
    in my own country
    among my own people
    that i wouldn’t be polite,
    embarrassed, awkward
    that punjabi or urdu would flow from my mouth
    as effortlessly as english…

    What led you to compose these words?
    I wrote “Foreigner” eight years ago, during my college days in my hometown, Lahore. Pakistan is an extremely socially-divided country. If you happen to be born “privileged,” chances are you will get the best lifestyle, the best education, and the best work opportunities that the country has to offer. And if you happen to be born outside of that tiny privileged class—the middle-class barely exists in Pakistan—chances are you will be struggling most of your life just to put food on the table. I happened to be born into the former class, and while I know that I was fortunate, that terrible divide is something I could never reconcile myself with.

    And it was not just about money, or wealth. It was about culture, and language, and a sense of belonging. Pakistan used to be a British colony, and gained independence in 1947, along with the rest of the Indian subcontinent. But in many ways, we remain “colonized” by the English language. English is still the language of the powerful, of the elite, and a huge divider of class, culture and people.

    So all these different things were swimming in my head when I wrote the poem. You could say that I felt “displaced,” even when I lived in my native country.

    I can relate—and I was born in America! Another poem of yours I enjoyed was this short one: “Not Being,”. Allow me to share the first two lines:

    If home is where the heart is, my heart is forever moving, a gypsy
    If a piece of cloth and a stadium slogan is a test of nationalism, I have no nation…

    “Not Being” was written in New York. It was inspired by many different things, but the theme of not belonging, or not quite fitting in—in this case, to Pakistani society—is similar to “Foreigner.” For instance, the definition of a “good” Pakistani, according to accepted norms, is basic and black-and-white: intensely patriotic, passionate about cricket, virulent about America, and careful about fasting in Ramadan and attending Friday prayers; somebody who is dutiful to family, loyal to friends, lives up to expectations, and sticks to his or her roots. I was getting a lot of pressure, directly and indirectly, to be this sort of person from people I knew back home, and from feedback on my blogs published in The Express Tribune. I felt confused. I didn’t agree with or conform to any of those norms, so did that make me a “bad” Pakistani? The poem was an expression of that conflict.

    Was the audience you intended for these poems primarily Pakistani?
    To be honest, I intended no audience. I published “Foreigner” on Windswept Words a few years ago—it had been sitting in an old notebook till then; and “Not Being” only reached my regular blog readers. But now you mention it, I may submit the poems to one of the Pakistani blog sites I write for. It would be interesting to see people’s reactions.

    “Embrace the day with laughing heart…”

    Did writing about these themes help you to process the peripatetic life you’ve led as a young Pakistani woman who went to j-school in California and has lived in New York City?
    Not only the poems, but most of the writing on my blog over the past few years has revolved around these themes. It’s interesting to see how one’s feelings of displacement evolve over time. Initially, when you are “fresh off the boat,” a foreigner in a foreign land, you feel compelled to uphold a sense of distinction, your separate identity (see my post “When in America, do as the Americans don’t”). At another level, you also want to assimilate, because you don’t to be viewed as an outsider forever (“Change”). And then there is that other level, when you stop waxing nostalgic and start viewing your own country critically (“The Freedom to Be”).

    Is writing therapeutic?
    Oh yes, definitely. My experience living abroad has changed me inalterably, and writing about it helps to make sense of things, to sift through the good and the bad of places, situations.

    LakeSaifulMalook_MK

    Photo credit: Manal Khan

    You also translate Pakistani stories into English: I’m thinking of your work-in-progress “The Legend of Saif-ul-Malook.” Can you tell us how that got started, and the audience you hope to reach with these tales?
    Oh yes! Saif-ul-Malook is the name of a beautiful lake located in the Himalayas, in the northwestern province of Pakistan. It’s a breathtaking region, full of snow-capped mountains, lush pine forests, and startlingly blue lakes. When I was growing up, our family would travel to the mountains every summer, driving from the torrid heat of flat and dusty Lahore to the cool green valleys of Kaghan, Swat, Nathiagali. I first visited Saif-ul-Malook when I was 12 and fell in love with the place for its beauty and for the enchanting legend associated with it, a fairytale that has been penned in several local languages but never in English. So, the next time I went there (four years ago), I was sure to take an audio recorder and capture the full version of the story in the words of the resident raconteur.

    This I transcribed, translated into English, and re-wrote with my own little additions (see “The Legend of Saif-ul-Malook Part I”). I have still to write the last part, the epilogue.

    But the response I’ve received to the story has been truly wonderful, and so encouraging. English-speaking Pakistanis are thrilled to find this favorite tale of theirs in an accessible form.

    I want to continue this sort of storytelling, translating and transforming Pakistani fairytales, many of them unwritten, into English, for an English-speaking audience. I have a few stories in mind, told to me in childhood by an old lady called Bua, who used to work for my grandmother and later lived with my family for many years. She was the quintessential storyteller, silver-haired and toothless, with fabulous tales at the tip of her tongue and a different twist each time she narrated one. (See my profile of Bua.)

    Where did you meet your husband, and does he share your feelings of being between cultures?
    I met my husband in Lahore many years ago. Like me, he grew up in Lahore, though his family is originally from a Pashtu-speaking tribal region of northwest Pakistan. He also studied in the U.S., and we both lived and worked there together, so, yes, he does share many of my feelings about being in between cultures. But he does not dwell on it as much as I do; he is quite at peace with himself, wherever he is and whatever he is doing. I, on the other hand, have to think and think and write and write before I am able to find that peace, that balance, the position where I stand and where I am comfortable! Still, it helps a lot to be able to discuss these things with him. He is also always my first reader!

    “My heart is forever moving…”

    In your search for that peace and balance, as you put it, do you recall one moment in particular when living in America that stands out as your most displaced?
    I can’t think of any one moment in the U.S. when I felt especially displaced. I think it’s because I lived in such big, multicultural cities (San Francisco Bay Area and New York City), where people were mostly very tolerant and open-minded, and where there were always so many “ethnic” options. In New York if I missed Pakistani food, I could quickly hop over to Haandi or Lahori Kabab Restaurant on Lexington Ave for a hearty, spicy, almost-authentic meal; if I missed the music and dancing, there was no shortage of Bhaṅgṛā– or Bollywood-themed dance clubs; and if I missed Urdu conversation, Pakistani jokes, or just reminiscing about home, there were many lovely people from Pakistan whom I knew from before or had met in the U.S.; and we congregated quite regularly for these chai-biscuit sessions.

    How about in Madrid?
    In Spain, the experience has been a little bit different. There is hardly any Pakistani or Indian community in Madrid. The American or British expats mostly hang out within their own cliques. Madrilenos are very warm and welcoming, but language is the biggest barrier to cross before you can really feel like a part of the city. Still, we are very new, I’ve started learning Spanish, and we’ve already met some terrific people. So I am not too worried about settling in!

    And during your repatriation?
    During our recent year and a half in Pakistan, one thing I could not bring myself to get accustomed to was our culture of live-in servants. Even though I had grown up in that environment—and we were always taught to be extremely courteous with the domestic staff—it was very difficult to go back to it after living independently for so long. I think I experienced moments of displacement every single day, in my interaction with the servants in my parents’-in-laws home, where we lived. A part of me abhorred the idea of making a distinction between “them” and “us”—the employers, the masters. But the practical part of me knew that even the servants would consider it wrong, or strange and awkward, if I was to behave in any other way, outside of the conventional master-servant relationship.

    I also remember certain conversations, with friends or family, in which somebody would innocently discuss: “Where should the new servant girl sleep? Not in that empty bedroom upstairs, no—she may steal something. Perhaps in the hallway?” To be followed by: “I bought a gorgeous new outfit from so-and-so designer’s store the other day—only Rs. 30,000 (US$280) on sale!”—probably ten times the servant girl’s monthly salary. I always felt so uncomfortable, and so out-of-place, for feeling uncomfortable—yet powerless to do anything or say anything that would make any difference.

    What was your least displaced moment, when the peripatetic life made sense, and you felt as though you belonged in the Western world?
    For me, feeling at home somewhere is all about making meaningful connections with people, and being free to be yourself. It doesn’t matter where you are, and it need not necessarily be the land of your birth.

    One of the places I felt most at home at was the International House in Berkeley, California. A six-story dormitory for both American and foreign students at UC Berkeley, the I-house was a cozy, colorful, microcosmic universe in itself. There we were, young people from every corner of the world, each with our own unique culture, language, background, story, sharing the singular experience of studying and learning in a foreign land, a new place; a place that was beautiful and accepting of our differences, that celebrated our diversity. Even an ordinary meal in the I-house cafeteria—notorious for its tasteless food—was an adventure. I could be sitting next to a Lebanese civil engineer on one side, a Japanese-American graphic artist on the other; an Italian composer and a Korean mathematician in front; and conversation never ran dry. We laughed a lot, and learnt much from each other; and we never felt alone. That life wasn’t “real,” I know; it was and could only be a temporary phase. But I cherish those memories everyday. My one-year fellowship at Democracy Now in New York was a similar experience. We were a diverse, energetic team, united by a shared vision; and we all loved our fair-trade coffee and double-chocolate cupcakes!

    How about during your recent sojourn in Pakistan: despite your conflicted feelings, were there moments when you felt entirely at home?
    As for Pakistan—it is and always will be home, home at the end of the day. What I loved most during our recent sojourn was traveling within Pakistan. We explored the Karakorum Mountains, the Hindukush, the Himalayas, the Salt Range. We camped by flowing white rivers, under dazzlingly starry skies. We ate unbelievably delicious chapli kababs at nameless roadside restaurants, washing them down with steaming cups of sweet kaava. We tracked brown bears and chased golden marmots in the second-highest plateau in the world. We had tea with a jeep-driver and his eight daughters in their warm three-room cottage on the hillside. I discovered a Pakistan that I had never known before—a Hindu Pakistan, a Buddhist Pakistan, an animist Pakistan, the ancient Pakistan of the Indus Valley Civilization. A much richer Pakistan. And being outside of Lahore, outside of the noisy, constricted city, I felt at home. I felt like another character in the sweeping history of this aged and beautiful land that I loved, yet did not conventionally fit into.

    A picture says…

    Lahore_MK

    Photo credit: Manal Khan

    I understand you also use photography as a creative outlet. Can you share some examples with us?
    I took this photo in the Old City of Lahore last summer. It was early evening, and the moon had just come up. All the different sources of light—the full moon, the halogen lights in the shops, the headlights of the motorbike behind the tonga—gave the scene a very magical, unreal feel. I love the lights, the shadows and silhouettes in this photo, as well as the depth of the crisscrossing cables overhead, fading away into mist.

     

     

     

    Gypsies_MK

    Photo credit: Manal Khan

    I agree, it’s enchanting, and the cables are an amazing juxtaposition. I believe you have one more photo to share?
    Yes, one that I took this summer in Deosai Plains, the second-highest plateau in the world, located in the remote Baltistan region of Pakistan. This region is also home to K2, second-highest mountain in the world. We were crossing the plains in jeeps, when we came upon a caravan of gypsies, traveling in the opposite direction with their children, mules, dogs and horses. I cannot find any information about these people, where they come from, what their destination is, even what language they speak. But they make the trek across Deosai Plains every summer. I love the clarity of this photo, the crispness of the colors; and generally I loved the mystery of these people, in this remote, unpeopled part of the world.

    What are your writing plans for the coming year? Will you attempt to put some of your writings together in a book?
    I wish! Writing a book, either a novel or a collection or short stories or essays, is definitely something I hope to achieve within the next five years. For the coming year, I want to focus on writing regularly on my blog, about my adventures and experiences in Spain, from multiple perspectives of displacement! I also want to continue the translation, or “transformation” of Pakistani fairy tales into English.

    10 Questions for Manal A. Khan

    Finally, I’d like to ask a series of questions that I’ve asked some of our other featured authors, about your reading and writing habits:
    1. Last truly great book you read: Samarkand, by French-Lebanese writer Amin Maalouf
    2. Favorite literary genre: Magical realism, historical and fantasy fiction, creative nonfiction, short stories
    3. Reading habits on a plane: I always take one book with me, normally a novel, slim enough to stuff into a handbag, easily readable but thought-provoking: e.g., The White Tiger, by Aravind Adiga.
    4. The one book you’d require Mamnoon Hussain to read, and why: He is so new to the Pakistani political scene that I really don’t know much about him! But I would recommend every Pakistani leader to read Jinnah, Pakistan and Islamic Identity, a revisionist biography of Pakistan’s founding father, by Akbar S. Ahmed.
    5. Favorite books as a child: The Anne of Green Gables series, by L.M. Montgomery; The Faraway Tree Stories and The Famous Five series, by Enid Blyton; Chronicles of Narnia, by C.S. Lewis; all of Road Dahl; abridged versions of Jules Verne.
    6. Favorite heroines: Anne Shirley of Anne of Green Gables and Scheherazade of The Arabian Nights.
    7. The writers, alive or dead, you’d most like to meet: Gabriel García Marquez, J.R.R. Tolkien, Ismat Chughtai
    8. Your reading habits: I read mostly at night, before bed, or while traveling, or on lazy afternoons curled up on the sofa with a cup of tea.
    9. The books you’d most like to see made as a film: One is a novella by celebrated Indian-Muslim authoress Ismat Chughtai, translated from Urdu as The Heart Breaks Free. The other is a collection of satirical short stories by Naguib Mahfouz, titled Arabian Nights & Days. I would love to see both these works as short films, and maybe even produce them myself one day!
    10. The book you plan to read next: Don Quixote—because I am in Spain!

    * * *

    Thank you, Manal! I must say, I love how you combine the spirit and creativity of Anne of Green Gables with the story-telling power of Scheherazade! Like most gifted writers, you are still a child at heart!

    Readers, do you have any further questions or comments for Manal? Once again, if you want to read more of her insights, be sure to check out her blog, Windswept Words.

    STAY TUNED for Monday’s post, another episode in the life of Libby, our fictional expat heroine…

    If you enjoyed this post, we invite you to register for The Displaced Dispatch, a round up of weekly posts from The Displaced Nation, with seasonal recipes, book giveaways and other extras. Register for The Displaced Dispatch by clicking here!

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    Main image at top of page: Manal Khan, taken by her husband on a day trip to Segovia. All other images are by Manal Khan, and are posted here with her permission.

    Beth Geglia’s calling to make films on Central American human rights stories

    Beth_Geglia_tdn

    Beth Geglia (photo supplied by Beth and used with her permission)

    Since the Displaced Nation began billing itself as a “home for international creatives,” we have covered plenty of fiction writers, memoirists, and foodies, as well as a few entrepreneurs (I contributed to the latter with an interview with Alison McGowan about her tourism-related business in Brazil).

    But there are also expats whose creativity is expressed in political activism: they work for the causes within (and across) the countries they visit.

    Today I talk to one such activist, Beth Geglia, an American who, having dedicated her life to human rights issues in Central America, has now developed filmmaking skills and released a feature-length documentary on the resilience displayed by an extraordinary group of Afro-Hondurans.

    * * *

    Buenas, Beth, and thanks so much for agreeing to be interviewed. Let’s start by having you tell us a bit about yourself. What first awakened your interest in human rights?
    I got involved in high school, after the September 11th attacks. I was adamantly against war in both Afghanistan and Iraq, and participated in student walk-outs, teach-ins—all the big mobilizations. Next I volunteered with the Indigenous People’s Council of Oaxaca in Mexico and the Movement of Worker-Occupied Factories in Argentina, which got me working on issues of economic justice and alternative economies as part of the student fair trade movement.

    Guatemala has figured large in your life. What led you there in the first place?
    As a student activist, I worked closely with a local fair trade coffee-roasting cooperative in Madison, Wisconsin, called Just Coffee. They sent me to Guatemala to do work with a coffee cooperative of former revolutionary combatants and returned refugees from the country’s internal conflict, known as Santa Anita La Unión. Later we organized a delegation of student activists from Wisconsin to meet with Guatemalan producer cooperatives, and I went back a few times.

    Making a life in Guatemala

    I understand you ended up living in Guatemala?
    I became overwhelmed with the history of Guatemala, the U.S.’s interventionist role there, and the movements to restore the memory of the violence that had taken place. I felt I was learning and changing an incredible amount, so I moved there ten days after graduating college. I stayed for two years.

    I assume you speak Spanish, but were there any moments when you felt displaced, in the sense of being alienated from your surroundings?
    Yes, I spoke Spanish so language was not much of an issue. However, many communities in Guatemala speak their indigenous languages, none of which I was able to learn. There were definitely moments of struggle, but I wouldn’t necessarily relate them to feelings of displacement. After all, I was working with communities who were trying to defend their rights against gold mining and other resource extraction companies—it was they who were facing displacement. Some had been forcibly displaced, while others were threatened with displacement from environmental destruction, militarization, and loss of land. The communities were still healing from the violence of the internal conflict, and some people were experiencing the threat of being locked up or assassinated. Seeing this kind of suffering close up was the hardest, most painful part of my experience. Then there’s always the challenge of understanding your role as a foreigner: what’s appropriate, what’s helpful—fully aware of the privilege of being there by choice and able to leave.

    I usually tell people that living in Guatemala was the hardest thing I ever did—and, at the same time, the most important and dearest to my heart. It truly transformed me.

    So, for the most part, living in war-torn Guatemala felt right to you?
    Things make sense to me whenever I am surrounded by good people doing good work. The people I lived and worked with in Guatemala City, for example, are still some of the people I most respect. Cooking meals with them, hanging out on the roof or patio with a few chelas (beers)—these things really felt like home.

    Practicing the filmmaking craft

    At what point did you decide to become a filmmaker?
    It wasn’t until I moved back to the United States and quit my job with a human rights organization a year later that I began to study documentary filmmaking. Video and film are one of the most useful tools for helping people who are struggling to get their voices heard. It’s an important skill.

    RevolutionaryMedicine_poster

    Poster for the film screening at Columbia School of Social Work

    You have just now released a documentary, Revolutionary Medicine: A Story of the First Garífuna Hospital, a collaboration with journalist Jesse Freeston. The film is set in Honduras and tells the story of the Garífuna people and the community hospital that they built. Can you fill us in a little more?
    Sure. Garífuna history has been rife with forced displacement and resistance, from the slave trade to expulsion by the British from the island of St. Vincent. Most Garífunas in Honduras live on the northern coast, on lands their people have occupied for 216 years. They continue to face many pressures, such as a lucrative foreign tourism industry, the expansion of African palm production by the country’s largest landowners, resource extraction, and foreign investors wanting to build charter cities. In addition, they face ongoing discrimination and neglect from the state, which has failed to provide them with medical services. This film is about the community coming together to build their own hospital, while fighting for their human right to health care. It’s a story about self-organization and persistence, but also about a different model of medicine having to do with community survival. According to this model, improving the health of the community is a first step in addressing structural and political issues in need of change.

    It really is the “first” Garífuna Hospital?
    Yes. It’s the first hospital to exist in the Garífuna’s territory.

    “For the health of our people…”

    How did the making of the film come about?
    I was still in Guatemala when the military coup in Honduras happened in June of 2009. The people around me were remembering Guatemala’s internal conflict, which lasted 36 years and amounted to genocide: it been sparked by a CIA-orchestrated coup. Everyone was feeling the weight of that history, and there was a sense of urgency around what Honduras could suffer as a result of the coup. Upon returning to the U.S., I got involved in local activism that was exposing the DC-based lobbyists who’d been hired by Honduras’s interim coup government to essentially whitewash the coup and restore normal relations with international institutions and the Organization of American States.

    That’s when I met Dr. Luther Castillo, one of the founding doctors of the First Garífuna Hospital. He was on a speaking tour denouncing the political violence and repression taking place in Honduras. I took up his invitation to come visit the hospital.

    Jesse Freeston and I knew each other from DC. He had been working as a journalist in Honduras and other parts of Central America for a few years and had also gotten to know the story of the Hospital and what Garífuna communities were working to create.

    It was great working with Jesse. He had years of documentary experience under his belt and in fact is now finishing up a feature-length film called Resistencia, about land-occupying farmers in the Aguán Valley of Honduras. It should be released in the spring. I think we made a good team, and I learned a lot from the collaboration.

    When was the film released, and what has been the reaction amongst the Garífuna people?
    We started screening the film in August. Jesse took it down the West coast of the U.S. and I went to screen it in Honduras. The Garífuna community of Ciriboya reacted very positively. You know when you make a film, you can’t cover nearly everything you’d like to, but I think the doctors in particular felt it presented a balanced version of their story. They’re now using it to raise awareness and educate others. Actually, the most gratifying thing was to see the reaction of medical students who attend the public university in the capital city, Tegucigalpa. They were so excited, they ended up organizing their own screening of the film and have entered into a longer-term relationship with the Garífuna Hospital.

    What about in the United States?
    In the U.S. we’ve screened for lots of different audiences, including activists, organized medical professionals, social work students, med students, and youth. We’ve worked with the Garífuna Health and Education Support Institute in New York to reach Garífuna diaspora audiences, mainly in the Bronx, and the response has been phenomenal. It’s been exciting to help connect diaspora communities with what’s going on back in their homeland. Generally, people seem to come away feeling proud and/or inspired to act. I think the best compliment we received was: “This is a great organizing tool.”

    If our readers are interested in watching the film how can they go about it?
    Very soon anyone will be able to order a copy of the documentary online. Until then, I suggest you follow our Facebook page to find out about screenings and distribution. You are also welcome to contact Jesse and me directly by email: me@jessefreeston.com or bgeglia@gmail.com.

    What further hopes do you have for the film?
    Besides the documentary being used as an educational and network-building tool—that’s why we’ve been focusing on community-based and university screenings—we hope it will give ideas to people who are working on related projects. Particularly in the U.S. I would like for it to make people think about our own health care system and what might be possible.

    Having already lived in Guatemala, did making the film help you to connect with Central America in any new ways?
    I learned a ton about a part of Central America I knew very little about. One thing that continuously inspired me was the resilience of communities—in particular, their ability to construct alternatives that challenge our assumptions of how society can be organized. Also, the idea of doctors playing the role of protagonist in the process wasn’t something I’d anticipated. Now I’m learning that there is a long history of health workers playing a central role in social movements, to which I’d been largely oblivious.

    What are your plans for the future, both with the film and your activism?
    I’m actually back in school now in DC, studying for a Ph.D. in Public Anthropology. It’s an interesting program because it leaves room to use documentary film as opposed to simply writing academic papers that will have little reach. The program promotes activism as well as embedded and participatory research, so I feel it’s a good home for me. I don’t have much free time, but when I do, I like to volunteer with a local documentary project called Lessons from the ’60s. It’s an oral history project organized by a group of older activists who want to document memories of the movements that took place in DC in the 1960s and ’70s before they are lost forever. Preserving historical memory was one of the reasons I wanted to do documentary film, so it’s great to be able to participate in this kind of a project in my hometown.

    10 Questions for Beth Geglia

    Finally, we’d like to ask a series of questions that we’ve asked some of our other featured authors, about your reading and writing habits:
    1. Last truly great book you read: Golden Gulag, by Ruth Wilson Gilmore, on the prison system in California (being in school means I only read non-fiction).
    2. Favorite literary genre: Science fiction.
    3. Reading habits on a plane: It’s actually really hard for me to stay awake on planes! I’m usually passed out, and when I’m awake I listen to music to calm my nerves because I’m scared of flying.
    4. The one book you’d require Barack Obama to read, and why? Am I allowed to say Open Veins of Latin America: Five Centuries of the Pillaging of a Continent? Maybe The New Jim Crow, by Michelle Alexander.
    5. Favorite books as a child: I was a huge fan of Roald Dahl books when I was a kid. The Witches was my favorite one. I also loved The Chronicles of Narnia.
    6. Favorite heroine: Itzá in The Inhabited Woman, by Giaconda Belli.
    7. The writer, alive or dead, you’d most like to meet: Audre Lorde.
    8. Your reading habits: Since I’m in school, I read all the time and I skim a lot. Coffee in hand is usually a necessity.
    9. The book you’d most like to see made as a film: The Inhabited Woman, by Giaconda Belli.
    10. The book you plan to read next: Pathologies of Power, by Paul Farmer.

    * * *

    Readers, did you find Beth’s story as inspiring as I did? Be sure to check out her documentary if you get a chance. And feel free to leave further questions or comments for her below.

    STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s post, some species of Halloween confection by Anthony Windram.

    If you enjoyed this post, we invite you to register for The Displaced Dispatch, a round up of weekly posts from The Displaced Nation, with seasonal recipes, book giveaways and other extras. Register for The Displaced Dispatch by clicking here!

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    images: Beth Geglia; poster for the film screening at Columbia School of Social Work.

    After 6 years, this expat still finds his adopted home utterly enchanting

    Michael in CuritibaLand CollageMany of us “international creatives” are attracted to the world’s major cities. Take me, for instance. I live in, and write about, São Paulo, the largest city in Brazil, and in the Southern Hemisphere. Today I’m happy to introduce a fellow expat who has ventured out as far as Curitiba, the largest city in Brazil’s South Region. B. Michael Rubin has a creative job, and he also finds Curitiba, a forerunner of the eco-city, a source of daily enchantment.

    —Andy Martin

    My first night in Curitiba, I awoke at 3:00 a.m., jet lagged after too many hours of solo travel with a ridiculous amount of luggage. I got up and drank some water, and it was then I noticed birds singing outside my window. I wondered if all expats were greeted by nocturnal serenades.

    In the morning, surprisingly, it seemed the same birds were still singing. I could hear their melodious songs even though my apartment was on the tenth floor, making them a flock of super-birds.

    The conclusion of an American on his first expat experience: the birds here are so happy they can’t stop singing; they must think they’re in paradise.

    Adam and Eve discovered that paradise can be transitory, but after six years I have no desire to leave the lovely city of Curitiba, in the Brazilian state of Paraná.

    Through the Curitiban looking glass

    As every expat ascertains, adjusting to a new world is not easy; it’s a challenge simply to be polite in a foreign culture. I’ve learned to say “Excuse me” when I enter someone’s home, and that it’s acceptable to kiss a woman I’m meeting for the first time.

    I’ve discerned it’s impolite to ask anyone to close her window at home or in the car, even on a cold winter day in the south of Brazil. Unfortunately, this lesson was revealed while asking my frail Brazilian mother-in-law why she had her apartment windows open, as she sat buried under a mountain of blankets.

    For expats, daily life is an adventure in wonderment. I wonder how no one expects a tip herenot the taxi driver, the barber, or the pizza delivery guy.

    I wonder how the price of everything is negotiable, and when I negotiate with an offer of cash, I can still pay with a credit card if I don’t want parcelas [paying in installments]. When I pay a doctor, I get a discount if I don’t request a receipt.

    I marvel at the everyday site of twenty people in a Curitiba restaurant having a pleasant family lunch. In the US, this only happens at a wedding or a funeral because twenty family members don’t live in the same city. If they did, there would be trouble.

    There is always more mystery…

    Living in a new world becomes easier when we focus on the similarities—aren’t we all humans sharing the same planet? There’s a crazy comfort in knowing Brazilians are as preposterous as everyone else.

    In other words, every country is a mystery.

    For instance, I can’t explain how Brazilians have so effortlessly embraced the 21st century: Forty years ago, no one in Curitiba had a telephone, a car, or had been on an airplane.

    I don’t understand politics in Brazil. How can a country govern itself with more than thirty political parties? In the US, two parties are sufficient to create chaos.

    Meanwhile, the electronic banking system here is outstanding. Americans don’t believe me when I tell them it’s possible to pay the mortgage at an ATM.

    Another wonderful mystery: In the days of the military government, Curitiba “elected” a visionary urban planner to be mayor for 12 years. It is a rare opportunity when an urban planner/architect runs a city. During that time, Jaime Lerner built one of the best urban bus systems anywhere; established mandatory recycling for all homes and businesses; created the first outdoor pedestrian mall in Brazil; and expanded a park system that made Curitiba one of the greenest cities in the world. Senhor Lerner was so good at city planning that the population has doubled in 40 years. Who knew.

    After I’d survived my first melodic night in Curitiba, my future wife suggested a leisurely walk around the neighborhood. Having moved from New York, I was accustomed to seeing the homeless camped out on sidewalks. I remarked that I hadn’t seen any in Curitiba. “Don’t worry,” she said, “you will.”

    Sure enough, a few minutes later we entered the local mall, and I observed three young men in the mall’s restroom brushing their teeth. My girlfriend, however, refused to accept my homeless sighting, a trio no less, and insisted we wait nearby.

    When the three men emerged from the restroom, I noticed they were very well-dressed for homeless. “See, they work in the mall,” she said, with a look of “I thought Americans were smart?”

    It was my first, but not my last, moment of supreme cultural stupidity. Men in their twenties brushing their teeth at work. Who knew.

    The myths are true!

    Today, I know that my wife keeps a toothbrush in her office so clients won’t see food in her teeth. For the same reason, women in the supermarket on Saturday morning are in full make-up and high heels with silk scarves that match their nail polish.

    Like the proud, beautiful city of Curitiba, Brazilians are a proud, beautiful people.

    The myths I’d heard are true. Who knew.

    * * *

    Readers, your turn! Do you feel similarly enamoured of your adopted land, or has the enchantment worn off? Please leave your thoughts for Michael and me in the comments!

    B. Michael Rubin is an American living in Curitiba, Paraná, Brazil. He is the editor of the online magazine Curitiba in English.

    STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s interview with this month’s featured author, Cinda MacKinnon!

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    Images (from left): B. Michael Rubin in João Pessoa (no, he doesn’t have a photo of himself in Curitiba!) and the Curitiba tubo, courtesy marcusrg via Flickr (Creative Commons license CC BY 2.0). We think it doesn’t take much imagination to see the cylindrical, clear-walled tube bus stations as the Curitiban equivalent of Alice’s rabbit hole or looking glass. After all, the city’s Rapid Bus Transit System (Rede Integrada de Transporte, or RIT) is rather wondrous: the first of its kind in the world.

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