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TCK TALENT: Lisa Liang takes her show back on the road; first stop: Valencia, Spain!

This month our TCK Talent columnist Elizabeth (Lisa) Liang updates us on her own creative life.

¡Hola, amigos!

As those of you who subscribe to the Displaced Dispatch will know, Alien Citizen: an earth odyssey, my one-woman show about growing up as a Third Culture Kid, or TCK, of mixed heritage, was accepted by two international conferences in two of the world’s most appealing locations: Valencia, Spain, and Cape Town, South Africa. Thinking I’d be a fool to pass up this kind of opportunity, I launched an online crowd-funding campaign to fund both journeys. Two of us would be going: myself and my husband, Dan, who also serves as my “techie” for the show.

It was my fourth experience with crowd-funding—the most recent being last year, to cover expenses for taking the show to an arts center in Reykjavík, Iceland; and once again, the campaign worked. (A relief since I feared I might have tapped out my supporters’ goodwill, but people were as generous as ever—and I won’t ever fundraise for this show again.) We didn’t quite make our goal but could afford to cover the balance. We would be able to attend two international conferences on two continents in two months—hooray!

In this month’s column I’ll recount our trip to Valencia, Spain, to participate in the 2015 SIETAR Europa Congress, on May 21–23. SIETAR, which stands for the Society for Intercultural Education, Training and Research, is the world’s largest association dedicated to intercultural issues.

TCK Talent Lisa Liang takes her show on the road to Valencia, Spain.

TCK Talent columnist Lisa and her husband (and techie), Dan, head to Spain. Photo credits: (from left) Alien Citizen poster; Dan and Lisa in front of Ciudad de Artes y Ciencias (supplied); “Naranjo y el Campanario Valencia,” by Emilio via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0).

First impressions of the Land of Sweet Orange Trees

Dan and I had a couple of days of sightseeing before the three-day conference took place at the Universitat de Valencia. We drank lots of fresh-pressed zumo de naranja (“orange juice” in Catalán)—and yes, the oranges are the best we’ve ever tasted!

We toured the wonderful old section of the city, including the Cathedral and its Torre del Micalet, and the spectacular Ciudad de Artes y Ciencias (City of Arts & Sciences)—a futuristic outdoor/indoor complex near the beach, with an awesome aquarium. We even took the long bus route back to our hotel, which gave us a chance to see a lot of the Turia Gardens, a park built on a riverbed.

Dan got to carry on sightseeing while I attended sessions (workshops, panels, and lectures) during the first two days in order to meet people, learn more about the interculturalist professional world, and get the word out on Alien Citizen.

First impressions of SIETAR

In general the other conference participants seemed very nice but a tad noncommittal when I told them about my one-woman show. I think it was rather unusual to have a theatrical piece at the congress, though I noticed there were several sessions on storytelling as an important means of generating intercultural understanding.

Most of the attendees were what I would describe as interculturalist entrepreneurs—perhaps not your usual fringe theatre-goers? Still, I appreciated learning what sort of cross-cultural issues Europeans have been facing, and there was the bonus of generous lunches and yummy pastries along with coffee, tea, and zumo during the breaks. (I may have gained a pound or two.)

At the end of the second day, I was beat—but still had to do a run-through of my show in our hotel room that evening. Theatre takes stamina, so perhaps my two full days of attending conference events had done me a favor.

attending performing SIETAR

First she observes; then she performs. Lisa Liang at Congress Valencia 2015. (Photos supplied.)

Show Day!

The third day of the congress: show day! And some tension… For one thing, I didn’t realize until then that many congress-goers would take the day off to go to the beach or do sightseeing. I feared I might only have five or so attendees, which would be enormously disappointing after making the long journey from California (not to mention the fundraising!).

And for another, I was performing in a classroom like all the other session presenters, which meant we had just 10 minutes to set up. Ten minutes may be fine for a PowerPoint presentation but, especially as the session before us ran a little late, Dan and I really had to hustle to set up all the props, as well as the laptop, old-fashioned slide projector with voltage converter, my tape marks so I would know where to stand when projecting words onto my torso, and chair. We were in such a hurry that I forgot to set up chairs to stand and dance on “upstage.” I had to grab them from the front row in the middle of the performance. Funfunfun!

Despite these challenges, the show was a hit! People did turn up, and there were many more than five, thank goodness. They stayed for the whole performance, which was a coup—there had been walkouts from every session I attended in the previous days (with all the concurrent sessions, people were constantly session-hopping).

After the show, the applause lasted for such a long time that I exited the room to give the audience a break. But they didn’t stop, which was deeply gratifying and a huge relief, so I came back in and took some more bows. Many audience members stayed afterward to thank Dan and me, and in some cases draw parallels with their own lives. Those who found the story relatable included not just people like me, who grew up in different countries, but also people who’d lived only in Spain. One woman said she would distribute the show’s flyers at international schools in her country…so here’s hoping!

Most importantly: the show seemed to help people feel more connected and better understood, which is its ultimate mission.

Post-show celebrations

Post-show, Dan and I went out for a celebratory drink of horchata (made with tiger nuts) at one of Valencia’s oldest and prettiest horchata joints. Then we ambled over to the formerly half-Moorish, half-Catholic quarter, where we ordered a pitcher of sangria (since it cost the same as two glasses).

It may well have been the best sangria I’ve ever had—certainly worth the headache afterwards.

We made it back in time to attend the conference’s gala dinner, which took place in a lovely courtyard at the university. A couple of people who came to the performance approached me to say they were telling everyone at their tables about Alien Citizen. Again, I felt a mix of pride and relief.

Congrats Collage

Brava, Lisa, to another fine performance! Photo credits: (top and bottom) Lisa and Dan celebrating with sangria and at the gala dinner (supplied); (right) “A glass of horchata, Spain” via Wikimedia Commons (CC-BY SA 2.0).

To sum up…

Reflecting on the experience, I came to the conclusion that if the show is accepted at another non-theatre conference in the future, I should perform it only if it can be a keynote (as it was at the FIGT conference in 2014). Practically speaking, it takes time to set up the equipment and props, and as a performer I need space/room to relax and warm up before the show, which runs 80 minutes non-stop and takes my entire being to perform with the energy, precision, and authenticity that the audience deserves.

Still, I’m glad that we brought the show to this intercultural gathering, and I’d love to visit Valencia again. Food-wise, we had truly fantastic tapas and excellent wine, and as a night owl, I appreciated the late dinners. Virtually every Valenciana/o was very polite and friendly, and they all understood my slightly-gringa-inflected Guatemalan accent in Spanish.

The jet lag was only a problem on our first night. It took about a week to recover from it back in L.A., but that may partially be due to wistfulness: we’re not in Valencia anymore (woe!). Between its delights and our appreciative SIETAR audience, it was a fantastic, and very worthwhile, trip.

Next stop: South Africa!

At the time of writing I am preparing to attend the 10th Women Playwrights International Conference, being held in Cape Town from June 29 to July 3. WPI has brought together women playwrights and allied theatre artists, cultural workers and scholars since 1988. It facilitates communications and collaborations among the international community of women in theatre by holding conferences every three years.

It sounds like my crowd. But South Africa: that’s a first! We’re hoping to do a winelands tour and maybe a one-day safari tour. Watch this space for my next update.

* * *

Thank you, Lisa! I enjoyed taking that vicarious journey into a part of Spain to which I’ve never been. Imagine being able to drink fresh-pressed zumo de naranja to one’s heart’s content! (I’m not so sure about the horchata, though.) It was also interesting to hear your take on SIETAR: I know several Displaced Nationers were planning to attend. Readers, please leave questions or comments for Lisa below.

STAY TUNED for the next fab post!

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For this wanderlusting Californian for whom photography and travel are a perfect fit, a picture says…

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA
Writer, world traveler and photography enthusiast James King is back with his latest interview subject.

Jenny in Ireland

Jenny Schulte in front of an old church window ruin near Kinsale, County Cork, Ireland.

Hello again, readers! My May guest is 38-year-old Jenny Schulte. who never had any thoughts of leaving her Northern California home until she travelled to Ireland in 1999 to explore her Irish roots. Now she is an ardent traveler who combines her love of photography with her travel experiences in her captivating blog Bulldog Travels, subtitled “Everything and Nothing Plus Some Pretty Photos.” Jenny is wrong to call it “nothing”: her blog is her her outlet for sharing her travel adventures along with the kinds of “photographs my friends have always enjoyed,” as she puts it.

On her About page, she says:

[Those] two wonderful hobbies of travel and photography fit perfectly together.

A woman after my own heart!

* * *

Hi, Jenny, and welcome to the Displaced Nation. Thank you for getting in touch and offering to share your photo-travels with us. Can you tell us where you were born and when you spread your wings to start travelling?
I was born and raised in Sacramento, California, and consider myself fortunate to live in such a beautiful part of the world. San Francisco, Lake Tahoe, the gorgeous California Coast, Redwoods, Yosemite, Napa Wine Country—all are on my doorstep. But while I have always loved to travel within the United States, when I was twenty I decided I really wanted to delve into my Irish heritage and see Ireland first hand. I had a very romantic vision of the country and figured I would be disappointed if I never went. Well…the moment my tennies hit the ground, a restlessness took over and I have been globetrotting ever since. I made a good friend in Ireland who is from Germany. and together we have seen much of western Europe (Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Italy, France, Monaco, Spain, Andorra, England and Scotland). In more recent years I have been fulfilling an archaeological interest of mine exploring Mexico and Central American sites and ruins.

If you’re lucky enough to be Irish…you’re lucky enough!

So once you finally got the travel bug, you were up and running in those tennies of yours. I have only managed the UK and France from your entire list. I’m envious. Can you share with us some of the highlights of your travel adventures?
I really enjoy history and from Ireland I went to my first European countries: Germany, Switzerland, and Italy, where I could not only delve into history but also enjoy great food, culture, and scenery. From there I went on to other destinations such as France, Scandinavia and the UK. My search for ancient ruins took me to the Yucatán, Belize, and Guatemala. The animals and the raw nature of Costa Rica stole my heart. At home, where I have travelled California and the entire west on shorter trips, I really love Joshua Tree National Park, Portland, Southern Utah, San Francisco and Mendocino.

Now that you have gained so much real travel experience, I would love to hear more about what inspired you to travel originally and sustains you on your many trips.
No one in my family has ever travelled very far, with the exception of a few who travelled for Uncle Sam’s benefit. They tend to stick close to home preferring to take a drive rather than fly somewhere exotic. My family built a cabin in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, and we still enjoy it whenever we can. But my grandmother had told me stories of Ireland since I was a child, and I always dreamed of seeing it one day. After that initial Irish adventure, every trip has left me wanting more. I have averaged one or two main trips per year and as many small trips as I can fit in. As a photographer I tend to focus on areas I know will be wonderful to capture. But I am always surprised and pleased when I get great photos I never expected.

So tell us about where you have travelled most recently.
I recently returned from a trip to Belize and Guatemala. I tend to spend my home time in Sacramento, San Francisco, California Coast, the Lake Tahoe area, and the Sierra Nevada Mountains. I will probably stay in California until I retire and then I plan to be more nomadic, visiting places that are difficult to visit on a two-week trip. Then I hope to live in areas longer, to fully appreciate the culture and the environment.

Don’t leave it too late like I did. You need a lot of energy for the expat life.

“Laughter is the brightest where food is best.”

Now let’s move on to a few of your shots that capture favourite memories. Thank you for sharing and for describing the story behind each one and what makes them so special.  
Of course! For my first photo, I present you with a little boy cleaning a fish out front of his grandmother’s restaurant, Maggie’s Sunset Diner, in Caye Caulker, Belize. His family’s BBQ was fired up just out of the frame. The boy so badly wanted to be like his grandmother. He was begging to BBQ his own fish like an adult. My husband and I observed this charming scene while having dinner. I believe that good, inexpensive food in a place full of local ambiance is better than a five-star restaurant anywhere in the world. The photo was taken only with my iPhone but I think it captures the mood and the vibe of this small island off the coast of Belize.

Q9.1 Boy cleaning fish

Boy in Belize cleaning a fish. Photo credit: Jenny Schulte

The second photo is of some donuts my husband I consumed in Maui, Hawaii. I was driving around the rural part of the island looking for something to eat for breakfast when I stumbled upon a locally owned and run donut shop. The donuts were glorious and became a highlight of our visit. We have actually contemplated going back to Maui just for the donuts! Then again, you wouldn’t have to twist my arm very hard to go back to Maui. The older I get the more food tends to be an important part of my travels.

Maui donuts

Donut feast in Maui. Photo credit: Jenny Schulte

The last photo is of a two-headed jaguar you can see in the ancient Mayan city of Uxmal, which is located in Yucatán, Mexico. Something about Uxmal really spoke to me. I think what makes it so special is that the architects for these structures were so clearly artists. They went beyond function and focused on form in a way not seen elsewhere in the Yucatán. Their work is magnificent and the detail is phenomenal. I never grow tired of looking at photos from this visit, and I offer this one in hopes of transporting readers to these spectacular ruins.

Uxmal

A Mayan jaguar. Photo credit: Jenny Schulte

I am really impressed by the picture of the boy cleaning fish. And I agree that the experience of eating wholesome home cooking in basic local surroundings is better than any clinically manufactured setting. I am sure you take a lot of photos but where, so far, are your favourite places to shoot and can you explain why these places inspire you.
Photography is an integral part of travel for me. It doesn’t matter if I’m travelling to a faraway exotic location or hitting a local California beach—taking photographs helps me recall the trip in a way my memory alone doesn’t, and inspires me to be creative in a way I find difficult at home. I have many favourite places to take photographs, including zoos, gardens, and historical sites. In recent years, I have photographed the San Diego Zoo and the Belize Zoo. I am looking forward to a weekend-long photography expedition at Safari West in Santa Rosa in the fall. I enjoy shooting botanical gardens like Mendocino, DuPlooys in Belize, San Diego, Lake Constance (Germany) and the Maui Garden of Eden. One of my favourite architectural structures is the Eiffel Tower at night. I’ve had fun attempting to shoot it from angles not often seen.

Well, Jenny, since you left it up to me to choose three photos that represent your favourite spots, here my selection. My first choice is your photo of a rickety old building in Paris, which houses a gallery of some kind. I think your capture is wonderful because it looks as though the building won’t be standing much longer, and the shop is a relic of a bygone era.

Business in Paris

A rickety Parisian gallery. Photo credit: Jenny Schulte

Next I’ve chosen one of your Eiffel Tower shots. This one is not immediately recognizable as most shots of this iconic landmark are. So it asks a question—who am I? And the photo of the lighting on the structure in the night sky is beautiful.

Eiffel Tower

A new angle on a famous angular building. Photo credit: Jenny Schulte

Finally, I love this nature shot of yours, taken in Du Plooys Botanical Garden in Belize, with its contrast of the crimson flower, green leaves and shadows. I think it would make fine wall-art.

DuPlooys Botanical Garden Belize

Botanical blossom in Belize. Photo credit: Jenny Schulte

“Better good manners than good looks.”

So do you feel reserved about taking photos of people, particularly when they are conscious that you are doing so?
I definitely do. I try to live my life in a considerate way. I would never feel comfortable embarrassing or offending anyone. I would never be able to look at the photo afterwards with a clear conscience. Sometimes I shoot images of people from an angle where they might not be aware. This is because I prefer candid photos versus asking for permission and taking what I would consider more of a portrait. I admire photographers who do portrait photography, but I suppose it makes me uncomfortable. It can also take the fun out of it.

On occasions where you do ask for permission, how do you get around any problem of language?
Sometimes what I do is show the person the photos I have taken of them. Recently, for example, I photographed a little girl in Belize whose mother owned the dive shop we were visiting. The girl was coloring a picture and smiling at me. I held up my camera and made an O.K. sign with my fingers. She immediately started hamming it up for the camera and then begged to see the image of herself on the camera. The girl and her mother spoke some English, but in this case it was more fun to ask without words. Miming can work pretty well. Holding up a camera or pretending to take a selfie generally gets a smile from a stranger.

Would you say that photography and the ability to be able to capture something unique which will never be seen again is a powerful force for you?
For me, photographing events or moments has the power to capture something that is both crisper and more emotional than if I wrote about the place or just relied on my memory. My photos represent what is in my heart and mind better than any other means of communication. Sometimes I will look back on an old photo and remember a moment or a place that I had completely forgotten about. The memories that come flooding back are what keep me planning for the next trip.

Clearly, a picture says a thousand words for you. When did you realize that, and how has it changed your perspective?
I don’t think there was a particular moment. I have always been that way since I had enough money to buy and develop film—I always took too many photos. But for me, and ultimately for my subjects, it is worthwhile to capture a special moment. That said, I sometimes have to force myself to put the camera down so that I can be in the moment.

“May the blessing of light be on you—/light without and light within.”

Now for the technical stuff. Can you tell me what kind of camera and lenses you use?
I use an iPhone 5s, Nikon D800 and Nikon D700 cameras. Nikon Nikkor DX 18-135mm and Nikon Nikkor AF 70-300mm lenses.

That’s quite a collection. And which software do you use for post-processing?
I just use Lightroom for post processing.

“Your feet will bring you where your heart is.”

Finally, do you have any advice for wannabe photographers who are traveling or living abroad?
Be responsible, show respect, be a good advocate for your home country and for the human race and, if you can, travel while you are young. If you aren’t young anymore travel anyway and it will make you young! Follow your instincts, have fun, stay inspired, take breaks from your art when necessary to keep the spark, try new things, talk to people, eat the food, take the back roads and get lost…the world will all of a sudden become very very wonderful.

That is very good advice, Jenny, and I’d like to thank you for taking the time to tell your story in this interview.

Editor’s note: All subheds are from Irish sayings or blessings.

* * *

Readers, what do you make of Jenny’s experiences and her photography advice? And do you have any questions for her on her photos or travels? Please leave them in the comments!

If you want to get to know Jenny and her creative works better, I suggest you visit her travel site. You can also follow her on Instagram or contact her at PhotosbyJenny@aol.com.

Born in England, James King is now semi-retired in Thailand. He runs his own photography-based blog, Jamoroki. If you are a travel-photographer and would like to be interviewed by James for this series, please send your information to ml@thedisplacednation.com.)

STAY TUNED for next week’s fab posts!

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EMERALD CITY TO “KANSAS”: Lynne Door on seeing the Wizard of Expat Life and returning home too early

Lynne Door Emerald City to Kansas Collage

The Ruby Slippers (CC); corn path (Morguefiles); Lynne Door portrait, taken in her home (supplied).

Welcome to “Emerald City to ‘Kansas,'” a series in which we focus on expatriate-into-repatriate stories. Today’s subject is Lynne Door, a graphic designer and self-proclaimed “typophile” who runs her own business specializing in branding, web design and print. Originally from New England, Lynne is now based in California, but she also managed to squeeze in two years living, working and studying in Singapore. Let’s hear about how that overseas experience affected her life.

—ML Awanohara

To Oz? To Oz!

My boyfriend (now husband!) and I had been dating just a little over a month (I had known him for a year before that), but we knew there was something good between us. So when he received an offer from his company to work in business development in Singapore, we had an open and honest conversation and agreed it was something we both wanted to do together. We said: “Why not do this? Let’s have fun, let’s go do this and experience it together!” We couldn’t think of any reasons not to move, and if our relationship didn’t work out in the process, it would be okay, I would just fly home. At least we’d given it a shot. That’s why we were both willing to take the chance.

Follow the yellow brick road…

Well, the first feeling was, “Uh oh, I’m not a local anymore!” That felt weird and a little scary. I felt like I stuck out like a sore thumb. Especially since I only knew English. Luckily, Singapore is Asia for Beginners insofar as one of the main languages is English. At least I could navigate down the yellow brick road so to speak and converse with the people I encountered along the way.

What have you learned, Dorothy?

I had the pleasure of both working and going to school in Singapore, so my experience was very broad. I worked for a local Singaporean advertising/design company while also attending LASALLE College of the Arts to continue my studies towards a graphic design degree. Every day I would go from encountering people within a corporate business environment to hanging out with a group of young, artsy students. I had never lived outside of the United States before and was completely enthralled. The whole experience gave me a much broader perspective on myself and others. Ultimately what I learned was no matter where you are on the globe, we’re all human and ultimately we all go about our day with the same intentions. It’s only geography—and a smile goes a long way!

Oh dear! I keep forgetting I’m not in Kansas!

While working for the Singaporean company, I did experience an unusual business practice. “Scolding” is where managers shout at employees for doing something wrong in front of other colleagues and/or behind closed doors. For the manager it’s a way of getting everyone’s attention and reminding employees who is in charge and why mistakes won’t be tolerated. I remember my scolding like it was yesterday, the repeated shouts of “Why did you do this?”, “How could you do this?” and “What were you thinking?”. I was absolutely speechless. I felt perplexed and completely thrown off by such aggressive managerial behavior. After the incident, I told him I would have responded more positively had we sat and calmly talked about the situation with the team. Looking back, I think we both realized we had a significant culture clash.

I feel as if I’d known you all the time, but I couldn’t have, could I?

LynneDoor_Singapore

Lynne with her Singaporean student friends at LASALLE College of the Arts, a cherished photo (supplied).

I made some great friends at the design school and discovered the world isn’t such a big place. I keep this photo of me with my classmates on my desk. I just love it! It was an amazing time for me and hold them all so dear to my heart.

Going so soon?…Why, my little party’s just beginning!

We stayed in Singapore just two years. While it felt good to return to California life, I don’t know if I’d agree that there’s no place like home. In the comfort of being “home,” I went back to my usual routines, shutting out my surroundings. Whereas in unfamiliar territory, you need to be present every moment: observing, exploring, absorbing, learning about all that’s around you, making decisions. That’s the beauty of travel, expat life and experiencing new places, it opens up the mind completely. It’s invigorating and stimulating in every way—mentally, emotionally and physically. I miss those feelings! And I believe it can’t happen any other way but when traveling to new, unknown places!

LynneDoor_PalmSprings

Lynne with her husband, Jim, at their favorite Mexican restaurant in Palm Springs (supplied).

* * *

Thank you, Lynne, for being willing to be Dorothy and show us the yellow-brick-road you experienced in Singapore, as well as your mixed feelings about returning home. Having lived in Japan, I think I can relate to the “scolding” experience that took place in your Singaporean office. Definitely a Wicked-Witch-of-the-West moment! Readers, any questions for Lynne? If you’re curious about her design work, be sure to visit her design site, where you can peruse her personal collection of “wanderlust” photos. You can also follow her on Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. Finally, if you need a cover for that book you’re writing, Lynne can help you with that as well! (She designed the cover for HE Rybol’s Culture Shock. HE Rybol is of course our Culture Shock Toolbox columnist.)

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A valentine to displaced creatives: Let a thousand friendships flourish!

Valentine_Displaced_Friendships

Photo credit: PublicDomainPictures via Pixabay.

In my nearly four years of managing the Displaced Nation, I’ve had about as many face-to-face meet-ups with the creatives I’ve “met” on this site. Let me see…the last one was was about eight months ago, when the delightful Jennifer Eremeeva and I had coffee. Among many other things, we talked about her autobiographical novel based on her two decades of living in Russia: Lenin Lives Next Store: Marriage, Martinis and Mayhem in Moscow (don’t you love the alliteration?).

I suppose it’s not surprising how rare these real-life encounters are, given that, by definition, displaced creatives tend to be on the move and/or opt to live in far-flung corners of the globe. (Jennifer was on her way to her summer home—or dacha, as she jokingly referred to it—in Northampton, Massachusetts, when we met, but would soon be heading “home” to Russia.)

Still, putting a gravatar to a name is one thing, putting an actual face to a name quite another. It cements your friendship in a way that nothing else can.

No doubt that’s why I was so thrilled to learn that another such meet-up has taken place between two writers who first encountered each other here: Cinda MacKinnon, author of the novel A Place in the World, and Rita Gardner, author of the memoir The Coconut Latitudes.

Both Cinda and Rita have kindly agreed to answer a few questions about their flourishing friendship (there’s that alliteration again!). This being February, I offer it as a kind of valentine to the pair of them, who have been great friends not only to each other but to TDN, as well as what they represent about the site’s potential to be a haven from the storm of the displaced life, a “home”.

* * *

Rita and Cinda, welcome back to the Displaced Nation! Why don’t we start by having you recount how you discovered each other on this site?

Cinda&Rita
RITA: I first discovered Cinda when she posted a comment on James King’s interview with me in his delightful “A Picture Says” column for the Displaced Nation. I immediately responded to her and we began our online friendship, which evolved into our discovering we were practically neighbors in the San Francisco Bay Area—and subsequent in-person get-togethers.

CINDA: It is ironic to think that James, who lives in Thailand, is responsible for connecting two writers who now live in the San Francisco Bay Area. James’s blog, Jamorocki, and the Displaced Nation are my two favorites.

Thank you for that lovely compliment, Cinda! We’ll be sure to pass on to James… Tell us, what was the thing that immediately drew you the two of you together?

CINDA: We were both expats who grew up in Latin American and her story reminded me of other foreigners I knew, whose parents exchanged a comfortable life for a more adventurous, exotic one…but sometimes with devastating consequences—have you read/seen Mosquito Coast? Actually, I told Rita that Cocoloco—the name of her family’s coconut finca (plantation) in the Dominican Republic—would have served as an apt alternative title for her book. She said it was her working title but then she changed it to The Coconut Latitudes just before publication.

RITA: Besides the obvious—that Cinda was an expat and a TCK who grew up in Latin America—I was intrigued that she’d written a novel that is set in Colombia.

Cinda, you’ve also been a guest of James King’s photography column. Can each of you tell me what which photo of each other’s you liked best?

Rita & Cinda Fave Pix
RITA: My favorite photo of Cinda’s was “A Profusion of Wildflowers in Arvin.” I liked the subtle angles and composition and it reminded me of the unexpected beauty that can be encountered everywhere flowers bloom.

CINDA: I think the “Wading Chairs.” That is so Latino! You can just picture a couple of islanders lounging there and keeping their feet cool.

By now, I assume you’ve read each other’s books. What were your impressions?

Cinda&Rita covers
RITA: I read the TDN interview with Cinda before reading her book. The first line struck a chord, about how her fiction “was a way to revisit homes she has cherished.” I also appreciated learning about Cinda’s life and her writing process and her list of favorite books, many of which mirrored my own. Once I got to reading the novel itself: I loved so much about it! The first thing was its sensory lushness; I could see, smell, taste, and feel the cloud forest setting and the coffee finca. I felt for Alicia, the main character, as she ached to find her own place in that world amid complicated relationship struggles. It was a satisfying read.

CINDA: I loved reading Rita’s memoir. The honesty—a lot of soul searching went into this work. Although her upbringing was difficult and her entry into adult life harsh, the writing is straightforward. And I have to say, her mother must have done a marvelous job with home schooling. For those who aren’t aware: Rita mostly taught herself to write, I believe. The results are extremely impressive.

One of you chose to write a novel based on your TCK life, whereas the other wrote a memoir. Do you think those were the right choices?

CINDA: If Rita had written this story as fiction, we would have assumed that she was exaggerating any real life background that went in to it. It is a haunting and compelling memoir.

RITA: I wondered of course if Cinda’s novel was autobiographical (which I’ve learned it is not, other than being influenced by her South American roots and her love of botany). I thought it was perfect as fiction. A memoir would not have produced A Place in the World—and since I liked this book just as it is, I’m glad she chose that route. However, I’d love to see her write a memoir, too!

Both of you grew up as Third Culture Kids, which gives you something in common right away, though not all adult TCKs become fast friends, of course. What are the closest parallels you’ve discovered?

RITA: Goodness—the parallels are uncanny: We both grew up in families that roamed the world before settling in Latin America. We both love nature, writing, photography, many of the same authors and books. We both wrote our books as ways to revisit our own past. We both arrived in the U.S. as teens, wearing “the wrong clothes” and struggled to basically “become” North Americans. I could go on!

CINDA: I could immediately relate to this line in Rita’s author bio: “She continues to dream in Spanish and dance the merengue.” Like many TCKs we are multilingual and have a tolerance for and interest in other cultures. Both of us had parents that were somewhat negligent and we were on our own by the time we were 18 (maybe 17 for Rita—and I did have some encouragement elsewhere).

You almost sound like the Bobbsey Twins, but I guess you also have some differences?

CINDA: One major difference is that as children, Rita lived in a very isolated village, home-schooled and restricted to certain contacts, whereas I went to international schools with a mélange of teachers and friends. My siblings and I didn’t see our parents as often as most kids, but they were stable individuals. Also, between the ages of 6 and 12, I spent a month every summer stateside with my cousins and affectionate aunts; this helped me both emotionally and gave me a glimpse of American life.

RITA: Also in terms of our adult lives: Cinda pursued a life as an environmental scientist and has had a successful academic career. She possesses a deep knowledge of botany and geology I’ll never have. I’m sure there are a lot of other differences—and look forward to continuing our friendship and discovering more about each other, whether differences or connections.

Finally, can you each tell me something about the other you think might be interesting to Displaced Nation readers?

CINDA: Rita is not just as a writer but has had a big job reporting to the Vice Chancellor of Administration at UC Berkeley. She also garnered a good review from the acclaimed Dominican American author/professor Julia Alvarez, who declared her an “honorary Dominicana”. Rita is an accomplished artist as well; supporting the TDN theory of the creativity of expats .

RITA: Cinda has a generous heart—evident both in person and through her blog posts. For example: Through her blog I’ve learned about a Cuban musician who defected to the US and now is in the San Francisco Bay Area; she did an excellent interview with him and included links to his music. In ways like that, she expands everyone’s horizons. Likewise, she has gotten the word out to friends and readers about my book, and has introduced me to other writers in the area. Oh, and she loves Burmese food!

* * *

Thank you, Cinda and Rita! Readers, be sure to check out their books if you haven’t already! Any further questions for these two writers and adult third culture kids? Any of your own meet-ups to report?! Let a thousand friendships bloom!! As usual, please let us know in the comments…

STAY TUNED for PART 2 of our 2014-2015 reads!

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BOOKLUST, WANDERLUST: Best of 2014 in Expat Books (2/2)

Best of Expat Books 2014 Part 2Season’s greetings again, Displaced Nationers. And welcome back to our end-of-the-year bookfest!

Pass the eggnog!! (She takes a swig…)

Moving right along (hic!). In the first part of this BOOKLUST WANDERLUST series, posted yesterday, our BOOKLUST, WANDERLUST columnist Beth Green and I presented a list of 2014 expat books in the categories of Travel, Memoirs, and Cross-cultural Challenges.

In Part Two, we present our last three categories (hic, hic—hey, it’s the holidays!):

  1. IT’S FOOD!
  2. THIRD CULTURE KIDS
  3. COUNTRY GUIDES/TRIBUTES


A few points to note:

  • Books in each category are arranged from most to least recent.
  • Unless otherwise noted, books are self-published.
  • Contributions by Beth are in green (most appropriate, given her surname!).

* * *

IT’S FOOD!

Colour_of_Maroc_cover_smallColour of Maroc: A Celebration of Food and Life (Murdoch Books, October 2014)
Authors: Rob Palmer and Sophie Palmer
Synopsis: A collection of Moroccan recipes, both traditional and contemporary, interwoven with stories and anecdotes inspired by people, food and travel experiences as seen through the eyes of Rob, an Australian photographer, and Sophia, his French/Moroccan wife.
Expat Credentials: Rob first met Sophia in Sydney, who had freshly arrived in Australia from France. They were both on a food photo shoot for an ad agency. Fascinated by her half-Moroccan (she was born in Casablanca), half-French heritage, he was only too happy to join her on an extended tour of Morocco, which resulted in both marriage and this book.
How we heard about: Social media.


Cucina_Siciliana_cover_smallCucina Siciliana: A taste of the authentic Sicilian flavors (August 2014)
Author: Wanita
Synopsis: Wanita shares recipes she has collected from her elderly neighbor, her mother-in-law, and Italian friends she has made during her six years in Sicily—recipes that have passed down from generations, several of which, she suspects, have never been outside Sicily!
Expat creds: Wanita met her Sicilian husband on the Internet. After a 3-month online romance, he visited her in California; two weeks later, she accompanied him back to Sicily to get married. They now have an infant daughter.
How we found out about: We’ve pinned several of her Sicilian recipes to our IT’S FOOD! board.


My_Paris_Kitchen_cover_smallMy Paris Kitchen: Recipes and Stories (Ten Speed Press, April 2014)
Author: David Lebovitz
Synopsis: A collection of 100 sweet and savory recipes that reflect the way modern Parisians eat today, combined with Lebovitz’s personal stories of life in the world’s culinary capital. The book also features lush photos of Paris and of Lebovitz’s kitchen.
Expat creds: Lebovitz is an American pastry chef who has been living the sweet life in Paris for a decade. Before moving to France, he made his name at Chez Panisse in Berkeley, California, with celebrity chef Alice Waters as his mentor.
How we found out about: We are among his throngs of followers, keeping up with him any way we can: Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, his monthly e-newletter… My Paris Kitchen (his 7th book!) has been named best cookbook of the year by Amazon.


The_Edible_Atlas_cover_smallThe Edible Atlas: Around the World in 39 Cuisines (Canongate, March 2014)
Author: Mina Holland
Genre: International cookery
Synopsis: Not just a cookbook, The Edible Atlas introduces readers to the cultures behind the flavors and looks at why people eat what they do.
Expat credentials: Mina Holland, from the UK, has lived both in the USA and in Spain. She’s the acting editor of Guardian Cook.
How we heard about: Titles about food always catch our eye, and the idea of traveling around the world a mouthful at a time? Tantalizing! A review in Guardian Books first brought it to my attention.



THIRD CULTURE KIDS

TheWorldsWithin_cover_smallThe Worlds Within, an anthology of TCK art and writing: young, global and between cultures (Summertime, November 2014)
Editors: Jo Parfitt and Eva László-Herbert
TCK Credentials: As the editors point out, that this is a rare book BY third culture kids, not about them.
Synopsis: Your mother is Swiss, your father is from the Philippines and you have so far lived in five countries, none of them your passport country. Who are you? Where are you from? Where is home? And what did you eat for breakfast? If you are a friend, this book will guide you. If you are a teacher, it will enlighten you. If you are a parent, it will spell it out for you and if you are an employer, it will convince you. Here they are, the cultural chameleons, the young global nomads, the TCKs—Third Culture Kids—from around the world, telling you their story.
How we heard about it: Initially from a Facebook post. Word is spreading fast on social media. One of the coolest things about this book? It features TCK art as well as writing.


The_Secret_Place_cover_smallThe Secret Place (Dublin Murder Squad Book 5) (Penguin, August 2014)
Author: Tana French
Genre: Mystery
Synopsis: In Book 5 of the Dublin Murder Squad series, two detectives are given new information about a cold case—a boy’s murder on the grounds of an exclusive school for girls.
(A)TCK credentials: Tana French was born in Ireland but grew up in Italy, the USA, and Malawi during the years her family traveled with her father’s career as a development economist.
How we heard about it: I’m an avid reader of murder mysteries and fell in love with this series by French last year. In fact, I wrote about her Dublin Murder Squad series , and how it deals with issues of displacement, for my first Booklust, Wanderlust column.


Home_Leave_sonnenberg_cover_smallHome Leave (Hachette, June 2014)
Author: Brittani Sonnenberg
Genre: Expat fiction
Synopsis: In a story that mirrors the author’s own life as a TCK, an expat family’s daughters search for their own identity and confront tragedy.
(A)TCK credentials: Sonnenberg was born in the USA but lived in the UK, Germany, China and Singapore as a child and teenager. She now lives in Berlin and treats Hong Kong as her second home.
How we heard about it: ML is always on the hunt for a good book about TCKs, so when she mentioned having read a review of the book last summer in the New York Times, I agreed to write a column about it.



COUNTRY GUIDES/TRIBUTES

They_Eat_Horses_cover_smallThey Eat Horses, Don’t They? The Truth about the French (Thomas Dunne Macmillan, December 2014)
Author: Piu Marie Eatwell
Genre: Multicultural nonfiction
Synopsis: A series of entertaining mini-essays examines the stereotypes of French life, so beloved of the British in particular, only to discover that many are completely false.
Expat credentials: Eatwell, of mixed Asian and British descent, went to France for a long weekend one August summer holiday many years ago, and never left (how could she, with a surname like that?). After graduating from Oxford University, she trained first as a BBC television producer and then as a lawyer. Over the years she has worked as a documentary film maker, barrister, teacher, mother, and—most recently—full-time writer, both in London and Paris. They Eat Horses, Don’t They? is her first book.
How we heard about: Eatwell’s book is the winner of the 2014 Next Generation Indie Book Award in Amazon’s Multicultural Non-Fiction category.


Dutched_Up_cover_smallDutched Up! Rocking the Clogs Expat Style (November 2014)
Authors: Various
Genre: Anthology
Synopsis: A compilation of stories by expat bloggers in the Netherlands.
Expat credentials: Too numerous to relay.
How we heard about: From a tweet by one of the contributors, Australian expat in Almere Nerissa Muijs. Once upon a time, Muijs was featured on our site as a Random Nomad. (She definitely rocks—we can vouch for it!)


Moving_to_Spain_cover_smallMoving to Spain with Children: Essential reading for anyone thinking about moving to Spain (November 2014)
Author: Lisa Sadleir
Genre: Expat self-help
Synopsis: Spiced with the author’s own heart-warming anecdotes, the book aims to help you arrive at the same place her own family is now—but in half the time: living and loving family life in Spain!
Expat credentials: British born Lisa Sadleir is mother to two young, bilingual children. Educated in the UK and France, she has been a resident in Spain for over 23 years. She works as an independent relocation advisor and personal property finder.
How we heard about: Social media.


Paris_in_Love_cover_smallParis in Love (Chronicle Books, November 2014)
Author: Nichole Robertson
Genre: Photography
Synopsis: A photographic love letter to Paris from the author of the best-selling Paris in Color, capturing the hidden corners and secret moments that make Paris the most romantic city in the world.
Expat credentials: After a successful career in New York City as a writer and creative director for ad agencies, Robertson moved to Paris, which rekindled her love of photography and led to creating a series of prints and now books celebrating her relationship with the City of Light.
How we heard about: Social media.


At_Home_with_Madame_Chic_cover_smallAt Home with Madame Chic: Becoming a Connoisseur of Daily Life (Simon & Schuster, October 2014)
Author: Jennifer L. Scott
Genres: Beauty/Fashion, How-to, Home Improvements
Synopsis: In this follow-up to her best-selling Lessons from Madame Chic, Scott has divided the book into two sections: 1) Chez Vous: exploring how to get your home in order and how to love it again; 2) Les Routines de la Journée: covering the pleasures of the morning, the pleasures of the afternoon, and the pleasures of the evening.
Expat credentials: Once upon a time, Scott was a college student living with a “chic” family in Paris, France, and her books represent her attempt to translate all that she learned from that European experience into her American lifestyle.
How we heard about: I interviewed Scott about her first book just before it was picked up by Simon & Schuster, and have been a big fan of hers ever since. (Her interview still gets lots of hits!)


How_to_live_in_Denmark_coverHow to Live in Denmark: A humourous guide for foreigners and their Danish friends (July 2014)
Author: Kay Zander Mellish
Synopsis: Life as a foreigner in Denmark, one of the world’s most homogenous countries, isn’t always easy. In this book, based on her popular podcast series, Kay Xander Mellish offers a fun guide to Danish culture and Danish manners, as well as tips on how to find a job, a date, someone to talk to or something to eat.
Expat credentials: An Wisconsin-born journalist, Mellish has lived in Denmark for more than a decade.
How we heard about: Mellish’s humorous and somewhat irreverent take on expat life caught our attention about a year ago, when she posted a story about the first woman to guard the Royal Palace at Amalieborg, who was fired not for being a prostitute but for refusing to follow orders and stop moonlighting—a post for which Mellish earned her one of our coveted (?!) Alice Awards. We were pleased to learn she’d published a book, and plan to feature it soon.


SoYou're_Moving_to_Australia_cover_smallSo, you’re moving to Australia?: The 6 essential steps to moving Down Under (June 2014)
Author: Sharon Swift
Genre: Self-help
Synopsis: Swift has distilled her formula for a successful international relocation into a 6-step process, outlined in this book for those making the big leap from the UK to Australia.
Expat credentials: Since her birth in Singapore to a British father and Singaporean mother, Swift has lived across five continents, experiencing life and cultures of 14 countries. Her move to Sydney from London in 2005 was her 18th international relocation. She lives in Sydney Inner West with her husband, both now Australian citizens.
How we heard about: Pinterest.

* * *

Your turn again, readers! Have you read any of the above works and if so, what did you think of them? And can you suggest other works to add to these three categories or to the ones presented yesterday? Beth and I look forward to reading your comments below.

From Beth:
Intrigued by some of these titles? Go ahead, download a few! ‘Tis the season to support the output of other international creatives.

In closing, please note: Beth and I may repeat this exercise in six months (summer reads). But if you can’t wait until then, I suggest that you sign up for our DISPLACED DISPATCH, which has a Recommended Read every week, and also follow our Pinterest board: DISPLACED READS.

Without further ado, we thank you for making this year great and wish you a season full of mirth and good cheer, along with the odd quiet moment for a displaced read or two!

(Oh, and pass that eggnog!!)

STAY TUNED for more fab posts.

If you enjoyed this post, we invite you to subscribe to The Displaced Dispatch, a weekly round up of posts from The Displaced Nation, plus some extras such as seasonal recipes and occasional book giveaways. Sign up for The Displaced Dispatch by clicking here!

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And the October 2014 Alices go to … these 3 international creatives

 © Iamezan | Dreamstime.com Used under license

© Iamezan | Dreamstime.com
Used under license

If you are a subscriber to our weekly newsletter, the Displaced Dispatch, you’re already in the know. But if you’re not, listen up. (Hey, why aren’t you? Off with your head!)

Every week, when that esteemed publication comes out, we present contenders for a monthly “Alice Award,” most of whom are writers or other kinds of international creatives who appear to have a special handle on the curious and unreal aspects of being a global resident or voyager.

Not only that, but this person tries to use this state of befuddlement as a spur to greater creative heights.

Today’s post hono(u)rs our three Alice recipients for October. They are (drumroll…):

2) Maya Kachroo-Levine, New Yorker in Los Angeles

For her post: “5 Things an East Coast Transplant Misses on the West Coast,” in Thought Catalog
Posted on: 15 October 2014

"But I'm not used to it!" pleaded poor Alice in a piteous tone. And she thought of herself, "I wish the creatures wouldn't be so easily offended!" "You'll get used to it in time," said the Caterpillar; and it put the hookah into its mouth and began smoking again. Photo credit: Arthur Rackham [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

“But I’m not used to it!” pleaded poor Alice in a piteous tone. And she thought of herself, “I wish the creatures wouldn’t be so easily offended!”
“You’ll get used to it in time,” said the Caterpillar; and it put the hookah into its mouth and began smoking again. Photo credit: Arthur Rackham [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

Alice Connection:

[Y]ou occasionally find yourself feeling that your sarcasm is falling flat, and you want someone to appreciate it. Or better, you want them to argue with you. I miss that.

Citation: Maya, if you think navigating between East and West Coasts is bad in terms of sarcasm and irony, try the UK versus the USA. The former is a lot more irreverent, a difference can cause misunderstanding and even offense (not to mention homesickness for the perpetrator). You have our deepest condolences. What’s more, your point about having to drive two hours merely to go apple picking reminds us of Alice repeatedly trying to reach the garden at the top of the hill at the start of Through the Looking Glass. Likewise in your case it seems reasonable to ask: how hard can it be to reach a deciduous fruit tree? Thank you for your thoughtful (no pun or irony intended!) post. We wonder if the best way to endure this domestic culture shock would be to seek out a Caterpillar equivalent, who in the current California context would most likely manifest itself as a mindfulness guru. Until then, deep breathing; and, as one of that state’s more renowned self-help proponents used to say, try not to sweat the small stuff!

2) Sarah O’Meara, former lifestyle editor for Huffington Post UK turned China expat

Alice_in_Wonderland_by_Arthur_Rackham_The_Pool_of_Tears

It was high time to go, for the pool was getting quite crowded with the birds and animals that had fallen into it: there were a Duck and a Dodo, a Lory and an Eaglet, and several other curious creatures. Alice led the way, and the whole party swam to the shore. Photo credit: Arthur Rackham [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

For her post: “The art of swimming in China,” for Telegraph Expat
Posted on: 27 September 2014
Alice Connection:

Many young Chinese men prefer to conquer, rather than swim, in the water. They thrash their arms around, causing enough splash to choke fellow lane users, yet never quite enough to move them forward. While underneath the surface, their legs flail, neither acting as propellers or buoyancy aids.

Citation: Sarah, we have to say that after reading your wonderfully amusing post, we are still processing the image of women wearing pencil skirts walking very slowly on running machines in heels. Still, we commend your decision to focus not on Chinese sports centers but on the risks one faces “of being half-drowned by frothing waves, or hit in the face” when venturing into China’s public swimming pools. And, just as Alice concludes she may be better off swimming to shore, we applaud your solution to the problem. Joining a private pool, where, as you say, the proportion of non-swimmers is lower, must be much safer, even if you can never quite escape the young men who have adopted the walking and thrashing style of Mao crossing the Yangzte. (My, my. That Mao has a lot to answer for…)

3) Jenny Miller, NYC-based food and travel writer

For her post: “I Ate Tarantulas In Cambodia. And Liked It,” for Food Republic
Posted on: 23 September 2014

'—then you don't like all insects?' the Gnat went on, as quietly as if nothing had happened. 'I like them when they can talk,' Alice said. 'None of them ever talk, where I come from.' Photo credit: John Tenniel.Slatifs at en.wikipedia [Public domain or Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons.

“—then you don’t like all insects?’ the Gnat went on, as quietly as if nothing had happened.
“I like them when they can talk,” Alice said. “None of them ever talk, where I come from.” Photo credit: John Tenniel.Slatifs at en.wikipedia [Public domain or Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons.

Alice Connection:

We might have gone on sampling this towering insect buffet, but Megan made our excuses in Khmer and we walked down the road for an ice cream instead.

Citation: Jenny, we’ve got to hand it to you. What kind of traveler knows exactly what to say when, bumming around Southeast Asia, they find themselves on a bus sitting next to a Peace Corps volunteer named Megan who says she lives in Skuon, Cambodia? Only one who has read her Lonely Planet Cambodia guide from cover to cover! And then, as though being able to conduct a lively conversation with Megan about Skuon’s insect-eating habits were not enough, you take her up on her offer to visit and eat some tarantulas! Now that takes some guts, as you appear to realize once you reach “Cambodia’s spider central.” For sure, you show greater courage than poor Alice, who, upon being informed by the Gnat that a bread-and-butterfly is crawling at her feet, draws her feet back “in some alarm”. She certainly doesn’t think about eating it, even though, compared to your spiders, a bread-and-butterfly meal doesn’t sound half bad:

“Its wings are thin slices of bread, its body is a crust, and its head is a lump of sugar.”

Hmmm… Perhaps you should have read Lewis Carroll more thoroughly?

*  *  *

So, readers, do you have a favorite from the above, or have you read any recent posts you think deserve an Alice Award? We’d love to hear your suggestions! And don’t miss out on the shortlist of Alice contenders we provide in each week’s Dispatch, which are sources of creative thought if nothing else! Get on our subscription list now!

STAY TUNED for more fab posts.

Writers and other international creatives: If you want to know in advance the contenders for our monthly Alice Award winners, sign up to receive The Displaced Dispatch, a round up of weekly posts from The Displaced Nation, with news of book giveaways, future posts, and of course, our weekly Alice Award!. Register for The Displaced Dispatch by clicking here!

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For this global nomad, botany buff and blossoming novelist, a picture says…

Cinda 1000 Words CollageWelcome to our monthly series “A picture says…”, created to celebrate expats and other global residents for whom photography is a creative outlet. The series host is English expat, blogger, writer, world traveler and photography enthusiast James King, who thinks of a camera as a mirror with memory. If you like what you see here, be sure to check out his blog, Jamoroki.

My guest this month is Cinda MacKinnon, an American who grew up overseas and is the author of an award-winning novel set in one of her former homes, Colombia. Called A Place in the World, the book was featured almost exactly a year ago on the Displaced Nation.

Cinda shoots mainly “macro” (extremely close up) pictures, a habit she developed because of her interest in nature and plants—especially wildflowers. A writer, former university lecturer, and environmental scientist, Cinda is trained in geology and has also nurtured a life-long passion for botany. It’s telling that the protagonist of her novel is a botanist!

Cinda enjoys hunting down rare plants and taking photos that show their minute details, such as the number of anthers (the part of the stamen that contains pollen), so that botanists will be able to identify them.

She now lives in northern California, where the California Native Plant Society has become a fan of her photos and sometimes asks her to supply a few of them for their newsletters and exhibits. Who knew?

* * *

Hi, Cinda. Welcome back to the Displaced Nation. I’m pleased to have the opportunity to discuss your photo-travel experiences. When I first started following your blog, I assumed you were a writer—but then was delighted to discover that you’ve also taken some excellent photos. I know you’ve already been over some of this ground in your interview with ML Awanohara, but can you tell me where you were born and when you spread your wings to start traveling on your own?
I was born on an Air Force base in Louisiana, but lived there only a week. My dad was already stationed in Greece, and my mother followed him as soon as she was able to travel. I lived in Greece and Germany as a pre-schooler and then in Colombia when my father changed his job and began working as a military attaché for U.S. embassies. Having fallen in love with Latin America, my parents retired in Costa Rica when I was in seventh grade so, happily, I was able to stay in that part of the world through high school…and beyond. After college in the United States, I moved to New Zealand with my husband (back then, they told us we had to get married to immigrate together!). We came to California when he finished his PhD. And here we’ve been ever since, although I view that move to California—I was in my thirties—as the first time I actually lived in the States. Even though my passport said I was a citizen, it has taken me a while to feel like I belong here.

You have been an expat almost since birth—what is known as a Third Culture Kid. Would you say that your wanderlust comes from your nomadic upbringing?
Once I grew up, I wanted to see more of Latin America and as a young family we could do that cheaply. Next I visited Europe to see some of the places I’d lived with my parents, but like so many others ended up falling in love with Italy and France. I think language had as much to do with it as the culture and people. Growing up speaking Spanish, it was fairly easy for me to be understood in Italian, and I found French so beautiful that I have become a perennial student. Recently, my husband and I explored Central Europe along the Danube River, from southern Germany to Budapest. That splendid trip provided fodder for at least five blog posts.

Mais oui. I have always loved the French language, too. Where exactly do you live in northern California?
We live in a semi-rural area nestled in the hills and yet are only 30 minutes from San Francisco—an unusual situation due to geography, which insures our immediate surroundings will never be developed.

“Are not flowers the stars of the earth…”—A.J. Balfour 

And now let’s have a look at a few of your shots that capture favorite memories. Can you tell us the story behind each of them, what makes them so special?
This is one of the first wildflowers I photographed and is still a great favorite of mine: a shooting star, or Dodecatheon clevelandii:

Dodecatheon clevelandii, aka shooting star. Photo credit: Cinda MacKinnonn.

Dodecatheon clevelandii, aka shooting star. Photo credit: Cinda MacKinnonn.

The next photo is of the odd-looking Tiburon Lily, Calochortus tiburonensis, which blooms only a few weeks a year and is quite rare; it evolved on serpentine soils, which gives rise to unusual plants that can tolerate this somewhat toxic chemistry. Indeed, you can find this little lily in only one place: on Ring Mountain (a single hill really), north of San Francisco:

Calochortus tiburonensis. Photo credit: Cinda MacKinnon.

Calochortus tiburonensis, found only on Ring Mountain. Photo credit: Cinda MacKinnon.


Another peculiar wildflower is C. tolmiei, nicknamed “pussy ears”. It is challenging to capture the tiny hairs and other features as it is barely 2.5 cm across—plus it tends to grow on coastal slopes where the wind wreaks havoc with your focus!
Calochortus tolmiei, aka pussy ears. Photo credit: Cinda MacKinnon.

Calochortus tolmiei, aka pussy ears. Photo credit: Cinda MacKinnon.


I’ve taken quite a few photos of wild flowers without having a clue what their names were. I’m getting a real lesson in flora here. Thank you, Cinda. I can see why they call botany the “science of beauty.”

“I perhaps owe having become a painter to flowers.”—Claude Monet

I know you have photos of scenery, too, and these next four, I believe, have a special significance for you.
I mentioned I am a bit of a Francophile and a favorite region of mine is the Dordogne Valley. This is a place with history, from Richard the Lionheart to Joan of Arc; pre-history (the Cro-Magnon cave paintings); and beauty. I talked my husband into renting a canoe and we paddled down the Dordogne River, past castles, ancient bridges and towns. This photo with the medieval Château de Castelnaud in the background is a memento of that glorious day:

Canoeing on the Dordogne in glorious weather. Photo credit: Cinda MacKinnon.

Canoe with a view, la rivière Dordogne. Photo credit: Cinda MacKinnon.


Next, I’d like to show you a photo of a very different place, in California. Actually, I can give you a choice of two: would you rather see the California desert before a rain storm or one of Arvin, a city in southern California? Arvin is interesting because it’s set in hilly grassland that half of the year is dry and dormant but explodes into wildflowers in the spring (if the winter is wet). What’s your pleasure?

Can I have both?
Mais oui! Here’s the Sierras:

The stormy Sierras. Photo credit: Cinda MacKinnon.

The stormy Sierras. Photo credit: Cinda MacKinnon.


And now for Arvin in all of its glory:
A profusion of wildflowers in Arvin. Photo credit: Cinda MacKinnon.

A profusion of wildflowers in Arvin. Photo credit: Cinda MacKinnon.

Both photos are so lovely! That’s why I decided to give you this bonus. But if I really was forced to choose, the desert before the rain is so dramatic. I think you should turn it into a photo-painting using Topaz Adjust or Impression. What’s your last shot?
Another California landscape I’m fond of is Monterey County. When I was a teenager, I read all of John Steinbeck’s novels, never dreaming I would live in California much less end up working in the Salinas Valley as a hydro-geologist for several years. On arriving I felt as though I’d been there before. The town of Monterey itself has become a tourist attraction, but if you go out into the countryside there are still scenes like this one, with the adobe house on the hill:

An enchanted realm near Monterey, California. Photo credit: Cinda MacKinnon.

An enchanted realm near Monterey, California. Photo credit: Cinda MacKinnon.


Please God, don’t let them turn it into another orchard or development!

Here here! I noticed you haven’t included any photos of people. Do you feel reserved about taking photos of strangers?
Yes , and I don’t like portraits to look overly posed. So first I try to take photos surreptitiously. If that’s not possible, I try to be respectful by asking if it’s okay– preferably in their own language. No matter where I travel, I learn some basic phrases in the language of the country (Hungarian was the hardest so far!), but I’ve found that “okay?” seems to be a universal word.

You are right: “okay” seems to have been adopted by most of the planet, though it’s origins are unclear. One theory is that it was derived from a shorthand way foreign-born Americans in the 1830s developed for writing “all correct”—only they’d spelled it “korrect”!

“I will touch a hundred flowers/And not pick one.”–Edna St. Vincent Millay

What motivates you to record what you see through photographs? Is it the ability to capture something unique, which will never be seen again?
Hmmm… I barely think of myself as a photographer; it is one of several hobbies! But certainly, what you say is true of fleeting blooms, and photos do help to preserve memories of wonderful places, whose beauty could vanish. But I think what really led me to photography was my interest in plant nomenclature. I like to block out weeks of time every year to hike in hills, valleys and deserts and search for rare blooms. It is a bit of a treasure hunt, and my photos of evidence of the riches I uncover.

Your modesty is charming, but I think you definitely have an artist’s eye and many of your photographs could be transformed into beautiful pictures with a little more post processing. Which leads me to the technical stuff. Some of our readers may want to know what kind of camera and lenses you use, and how you handle post-processing.
I use a Canon Digital Rebel XT SLR with a macro lens when I am looking for wildflowers in the spring. But for traveling I’ve started to just put my trusty Canon PowerShot in my pocket. I usually use Photoshop for post-processing, but as you’ve pointed out, I’m not adept at all the advanced features. I use “auto” first, and that is generally all I need, except I often crop a shot and, if needed, adjust the lightning or clean up stray blemishes.

Finally, do you have any advice for wannabe photographers who are traveling or living abroad?
It is not the equipment—it is in the eye. Some of my better pictures were taken with a point and shoot. I asked a professional photographer friend if he thought I should buy some filters or another lens, and he said his best shots are sometimes with his cell phone! I guess the motto is “be prepared” for something that catches your eye—be ready for the special moment when the light is right. Make sure your subject doesn’t appear to have an antenna sprouting out of his head at that moment. Don’t use the “sharpen” feature for portraits as it accentuates flaws (unless you want that for character) and can give a severe look. And don’t make your friends look at 200 mediocre photos of your vacation—please cull out the unappealing or out-of-focus ones! (My rule of thumb for talks is 1 to 1.5 slides per minute—that’s 60 to 90 per hour—nobody wants to see more than that.)

Very succinct and good advice, Cinda—right up my street. I’d like to thank you for taking the time to tell your fascinating story in this interview.

* * *

front-cover-place-in-worldReaders, what do you make of Cinda’s close-up photos of exotic plants and her photography advice? I find it curious that she writes about people looking for their place in the world, yet is obsessed with the kinds of flowers that bloom where they are planted. As Georgia O’Keefe once put it:

“When you take a flower in your hand and really look at it, it’s your world for the moment.”

Please leave any questions or comments for Cinda in the comments!

Meanwhile, I suggest that you check out Cinda’s Pinterest boards for more of her botany photos. You can also get to know her better by visiting her author site and blog, and liking her Facebook page. And don’t forget to read her book if you haven’t done so yet, many glowing reviews for which can be found here.

(If you are a photographer and would like to be interviewed by James for this series, please send your information to ml@thedisplacednation.com.)

STAY TUNED for next week’s fab posts!

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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…

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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.

The 10 Muses of Expat & International Adventure Writing and their 5 most popular tunes

10 muses collageGreetings, Displaced Nation-ers! Ready for a little more intellectual stimulation?

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about Great Thinkers who can help with task of embracing the well-traveled life and teasing out its deeper meaning, in the new year.

And today I will address the needs of those who have resolved to tackle a major writing project in 2013.

It’s a well-known fact that many of us who live in foreign lands aspire to write novels, memoirs and travelogues about our overseas adventures. But many of us also live in isolated situations (by definition).

So who can aid us, provide our inspiration?

Why, the muses of course!

Tell us, O muses, how to tell our stories…

And we don’t even have to look heavenwards to invoke them! The 10 Muses (that’s one more than the ancients got!) of Expat and International Travel Writing are right in our midst. They have already shared the joys, wonders and value of writing with Displaced Nation readers:

  1. Barbara Conelli, author of the Chique Travel Book series, filled with the charm, beauty, secrets and passion of Italy…
  2. Martin Crosbie, who is writing a trilogy entitled My Temporary Life; in December of last year, he published Book Two: My Name Is Hardly.
  3. Helena Halme, author of the novel The Englishman (2012)
  4. Laura Graham, author of the novel Down a Tuscan Alley (2011)
  5. Matt Krause, author of the memoir A Tight Wide-open Space: Finding love in a Muslim land (2011)
  6. Meagan Adele Lopez, author of the novel Three Questions: Because a quarter-life crisis needs answers (2011)
  7. Edith McClintock, author of the mystery novel Monkey Love and Murder (2013)
  8. Alexander McNabb, who is writing the Levant Cycle, a trilogy of books about the Middle East; he released the second book, Beirut — An Explosive Thriller, last September.
  9. Tony James Slater, erstwhile regular at the Displaced Nation and author of a two-book series: The Bear That Ate My Pants: Adventures of a real idiot abroad (2011) and Don’t Need the Whole Dog!, which came out in December.
  10. Wendy Nelson Tokunaga, author of Marriage in Translation: Foreign Wife, Japanese Husband (2011) and of several novels that explore cross-cultural themes between the United States and Japan.

Over the past year on our site, if you were listening closely, these heaven-sent muses were singing a number of tunes. Here are their five top hits:

SONG #1: “Yes, it’s hard; yes it’s uphill. But you’re living the dream, which makes writing a thrill!”

In one of the Displaced Nation’s most popular posts of the past year, Tony James Slater tried to make it out that the life of an expat writer is far from glamorous. Don’t believe him. He was pulling your leg, as usual — or singing off key, to continue the metaphor.

Alexander McNabb has the more accurate rendition. Here’s his account of the prep for his latest thriller, Beirut:

While writing it, I spent hours walking around the city, along the curving corniche and up into the busy streets that cling to the foothills rising from the coast up to the snow-capped mountains. Walking with friends, walking alone — day and night, spring and summer. From the maze of funky little bars of Hamra to the boutiques of Verdun, from the spicy Armenian groceries of Bourj Hammoud to the cafés overlooking the famous rocks at Raouché…

Barbara Conelli is another inspirational example. She explores every nook and cranny of Milan so as to take the reader on an armchair journey. And now she is doing the same with Rome, which will be the subject of her third book in the Chique Travel series.

Great work, if you can get it!

SONG #2: “It’s time to make your creative debut — so why not make it all about you?”

These days it’s hard to tell the difference between a heavily autobiographical novel and a memoir, though one of our muses, Helena Halme, insists that there is a distinction. When questioned about her decision to write The Englishman as a novel — it’s about a young Finnish woman, Kaisa, who meets a dashing British naval officer, a plot that echoes very closely her own life story — she had the following to say:

I tried to write a memoir, but couldn’t! Much of this story is, however, true — but I didn’t think I could call it a memoir as some things were pure fiction. I am a novelist and just keep making stories up.

Hmmm… By that reckoning, perhaps Tony James Slater should be a novelist, too? As regular readers of this blog will know, his favorite topic consists of his own, rather daring but also bumbling, world adventures.

But did a bear really eat his pants, or is he exaggerating for comic effect?

The mind boggles…

But whatever the form, the point is that quite a few of our muses have found plenty of material in their own life experiences. Besides Halme and Slater, we have

  • Martin Crosbie: His protagonist, Malcolm, leaves Scotland for Canada at a formative age, just as he did.
  • Laura Graham: Her protagonist, Lorri, arrives in Italy as a forty-something single and finds a younger Italian man, just as she did.
  • Matt Krause: He has written a memoir on the portion of his life that involved meeting a Turkish woman on a plane and following her back to Turkey. (Reader, he married her!)
  • Meagan Adele Lopez: The protagonist of her debut novel, Del, is offered three questions by her British fiancé (just as Lopez was offered three questions by hers).
  • Edith McClintock: Her protagonist, Emma, works as a researcher in the very Amazonian rainforest where she once conducted her own research.

To conclude, the old adage is alive and well, even (especially?) in expat and travel writing: “Write about what you know and care for…”

SONG #3: “Looking for inspiration from above? The answer lies in cross-cultural love.”

Another theme running through the works of several of our muses is the love that takes place across cultures, usually resulting in marriage. I just now referred to the cross-cultural love stories at the heart of the books produced by Helena Halme (Finnish woman, English man), Laura Graham (Englishwoman, Italian man), Matt Krause (American man, Turkish woman) and Meagan Adele Lopez (American woman, Scotsman).

To this list should be added Wendy Nelson Tokunaga, who has written about Western women getting involved with Japanese men — one of the stranger of all possible unions, to be sure! 😉 — in both fiction and nonfiction (the latter being a bit of a self-help book).

SONG #4: “As your brainstorming proceeds apace, never forget the appeal of place.”

Since travel is a constant for all of us, it should come as no surprise that particular places can become a pull for certain expat writers. They cannot rest until they’ve depicted a place they’ve experienced so that others can live vicariously. Several of our muses represent this principle:

  • Barbara Conelli and her love for “capricious, unpredictable” Milan. To quote from her book: “When the streets of Milan ask you to dance, there’s nothing else to do but put on your ballet shoes and surrender…”
  • Alexander McNabb and his obsession with Beirut. “There can be few places on earth so sexy, dark, cosmopolitan and brittle…,” he writes in his Displaced Nation post.
  • Edith McClintock and her preoccupation with the rainforest and a place called Raleighvallen in the Central Suriname Nature Reserve. As her main character, Emma, says:

    I fell completely and irretrievably in love with the rainforest that week — the deep rich smells of dirt and decay and teeming, thriving life; the warm soft light of the rocky moss-covered paths hidden beneath layers of climbing and tumbling lianas and roots; soaring tree trunks wrapped in colorful bromeliads, orchids, moss, and lichens; and the canopy of leaves of every conceivable size and shape….

SONG #5: “Growing weary of fruitless writing sessions? Time to take some acting lessons!”

Four of our ten muses could double as the muses of acting and entertainment:

  • Tony James Slater and Meagan Adele Lopez trained as actors (Lopez actually starred in a bad horror film!) before embarking on their world travels.
  • Laura Graham enjoyed a long career as a stage actress in Britain, working for the Royal Shakespeare Company and the Young Vic, and on television, before setting herself up as an expat in Tuscany.
  • Wendy Nelson Tokunaga first went to Japan because she won a prize in a songwriting contest sponsored by Japan Victor Records. She is an accomplished karaoke artist who can sing jazz as well as j-pop and enka, a type of sentimental ballad.

Why are so many of the Muses of Expat Writing multi-talented, you may ask? Does a former acting/singing career work to one’s advantage when it comes to overseas travel and writing? I like to think so.

Just as Dickens used to act out the dialogue of his characters, I like to think of Tony James Slater reenacting his wild adventures on the road, in the confines of his flat in Perth…

And sometimes this versatility can add a further dimension to the writing. Last we heard from Lopez, she had created a trailer for her book and was trying to convert it to a screenplay. Tokunaga composed and sang an enka to accompany her novel Love in Translation. (It’s impressive!)

Plus these four could always hew to the tradition of wandering minstrel, one of the oldest careers in the book, if their works don’t sell. (Hey, it’s never a bad idea to have a fallback option when you’re a long ways away from family and friends…)

* * *

So, writers out there, did our 10 Muses sing to you? And will you listen to some of their songs again as you face the blank page in 2013? Let me know in the comments. (Only, be careful of criticizing the Muses — they have been known to be vengeful!)

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s post, another installment in the life of our fictional expat heroine, Libby. (What, not keeping up with Libby? Read the first three episodes of her expat adventures.)

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: Our Ten Muses (left to right, top to bottom) — Edith McClintock, Barbara Conelli, Tony James Slater; Laura Graham, Martin Crosbie, Helena Halme, Alexander McNabb; Meagan Adele Lopez, Wendy Nelson Tokunaga, Matt Krause.

RANDOM NOMAD: Maggie Eriksson, Displaced Californian in Sweden and Student of Swedish

Maggie_pmPlace of birth: Arcadia, California, USA
Passport: USA & Sweden
Overseas history: Sweden (Landskrona, Malmö): 2005 – present.
Occupation: Unemployed and looking for a job. Meanwhile, I’m studying more Swedish since I’m far from fluent.
Cyberspace coordinates: Mag Wheels (Posterous) and @magsinsweden (Twitter handle).

What made you give up California for Sweden?
My husband is Swedish. After working for five years at the California lab for a small pharmaceutical company, he really wanted to go back home. We started the process in 2003, and a couple of years later, in spring 2005, we finally made the move.

How did the pair of you meet?
He was working as a chemist in Sweden and the company transferred him to their lab in California. We met on a Yahoo message board — he was looking for people to meet in California before he moved. I had been online dating a bit, and when I saw his message I replied. We started to exchange e-mails, then letters and phone calls. After six months we met in real life. 🙂 We dated for a few months and got engaged soon after. We have been married for 12 years. We have no children but share of life with our seven-year-old border terrier named Jake.

What things about Sweden did he miss when living in your part of the world?
Besides his family and friends, he missed Swedish Christmas, Swedish candy, the country’s socialized health care, and its four seasons.

So now you’re displaced. Do you share that fate with anyone else in your immediate family?
No! I’m the only one in my family that lives between cultures.

You’re also job searching in a foreign land. Are jobs hard to come by in Sweden?
Without fluent Swedish, finding work is very hard, especially if you want something more than a temp job. I worked in the retail industry in the States. It took me six years to find a job in that field — and then I was laid off last spring.

Since so many Swedes speak better English than us native English speakers, companies will hire the Swede over the expat. That said, even without Swedish, expats who have good IT skills, a university education and are young may find more doors open to them in this market than someone of my background.

Since we live in Malmö, I’ve now extended my search across the Øresund Bridge, to Copenhagen, Denmark. The job market is better over there.

In March of this year you’ll have been in Sweden for eight years. When have you felt the most displaced?
When I first started learning Swedish — and was facing all the challenges that come with learning a new language. For a long time, I didn’t understand anything people were saying around me. And even now, after almost eight years of living here, I don’t feel like myself when attempting to speak the language.

When have you felt the least displaced?
When I became a citizen and went to the lunch for new immigrants, where I was given an official certificate saying that I’m SWEDISH!

You may bring one curiosity you’ve collected from the country where you’ve lived into The Displaced Nation. What’s in your suitcase?
Difficult… From Sweden I think I would bring this little book of Swedish verbs that I carry around since I always get the verb form wrong! 😉 From California — well, it’s impossible to pick just one thing as there’s so much of everything!

You are invited to prepare a meal for the Displaced Nation, based on your travels. What’s on the menu?

I’ll make you a casual dinner of pyttipanna, similar to bubble and squeak in the UK. It’s a dish made with fried potatoes, onions, and bell peppers. Sometimes you eat it with a fried egg. Most people put ketchup on it.

As you’re such a diligent student of the Swedish language, can you donate a Swedish word or expression to the Displaced Nation’s argot?
Actually, I’ll lend you two:
1) Fika — it refers to a taking a break with a coffee and an open-face sandwich or pastry. Most Swedish people have it once or twice a day. I think you would enjoy it.
2) Farthinder — that means speed bump. I love this word. It makes me laugh every time I see a signpost for one.

This month, we’ve been focusing on the need for mentors: people who teach us what we need to know, or remind us of things we have buried deep. Have you found discovered any new mentors, whether physically present or not, in your life abroad?
I have met people along the way that I would never have been friendly with in my old life in California. Living abroad has given me a new appreciation for people from other cultures whom I’ve gotten to know by having dinner with their families or joining in their celebrations. For instance, I have a friend from Iraq who has been wonderful to me when I was really struggling to fit in and get Sweden. She moved to Sweden with her kids in the 1990s.

If you had all the money and time in the world, what topic(s) would you choose to study in your adopted country?
Well, I’m already studying Swedish, but assuming I were fluent, I would study the history of Scandinavia. I would particularly like to learn more about the people who have come from other places to live in Sweden. How do they adjust to the life here? I love my adopted country but still find it a culture shock in many ways!

Which part of the culture is still shocking?
To be honest, I think it’s the Swedes themselves. Most Swedes are very reserved and it’s hard to befriend them. People don’t talk to each other on the bus or in shops. As a American I have always been very friendly and will chat up a stranger. But now I very rarely do it.

Readers — yay or nay for letting Maggie Eriksson into The Displaced Nation? True, she and her Swedish hubbie have a special chemistry, which must help to alleviate the symptoms of displacement — but could she have picked a more different place to live from California? Doubtful… (Note: It’s fine to vote “nay” as long as you couch your reasoning in terms we all — including Maggie — find amusing!)

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s thought-provoking guest post by Andy Martin, comparing the forcibly displaced to those of us who’ve made the choice to be displaced.

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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Img: Maggie Eriksson outside her flat in Malmö, Sweden (October 2012).

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