The Displaced Nation

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Tag Archives: Colombia

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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TCK TALENT: Gene Bell-Villada, literary critic, Latin Americanist, novelist, translator and TCK memoirist

Gene B-V TCK Talent

Professor Gene Bell-Villada (own photo)

Elizabeth (Lisa) Liang is here with her first column of 2015. For those who haven’t been following: she is building up quite a collection of stories about Adult Third Culture Kids (ATCKs) who work in creative fields. Lisa herself is a prime example. A Guatemalan-American of Chinese-Spanish-Irish-French-German-English descent, she has developed her own one-woman show about growing up as a TCK, which is receiving rave reviews wherever it goes.

—ML Awanohara

Happy New Year, readers! Today I’m honored to be interviewing Gene Bell-Villada, author of the Third Culture Kid memoir Overseas American: Growing Up Gringo in the Tropics and co-editor of my first published essay in the TCK/global-nomad anthology: Writing Out of Limbo. Gene grew up in Latin America and “repatriated” to the USA for college and beyond; he is a Professor of Romance Languages (Spanish), Latin American Literature, and Modernism at Williams College in Williamstown, Massachusetts. He is also a published writer of fiction and nonfiction.

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Welcome to The Displaced Nation, Gene. Like me, you’re an Adult Third Culture Kid of mixed heritage. Since you were born in Haiti and grew up in Puerto Rico, Cuba, and Venezuela as the son of an Asian-Polynesian mother from Hawaii and a WASP father from Kansas, your identity development was complex and nuanced, as you make clear in your memoir.  Can you tell us how you identify yourself these days?
Like the title of my memoir, I identify myself as an Overseas American, of mixed WASP and Chinese-Filipino-Hawaiian ethnicity, with a Caribbean-Hispanic upbringing. I wrote my memoir in great measure to disentangle and explain that background—for myself and others! More broadly, in my middle 20s, it dawned on me that, by default, I happened to be a cosmopolitan, and that I couldn’t feel “local” even if I wished to. And so, I set out to make the best of that cosmopolitanism and build on it.

OverseasAmerican_cover

Tell us two things you miss about each of your childhood countries.
From my three childhood countries, I miss mostly the Latin informality and warmth…and salsa dancing! From Puerto Rico, I’ve fond memories of the University campus that was next door to my first home in Río Piedras, and where my mother would take us for walks. From Cuba I miss the richness of the music and folk culture. About Caracas, 3,000 feet above sea level, I remember its mild climate and “eternal spring.”

“Puerto Ricans do a lot of hugging, Dickie reflected. His parents and relatives almost never did.”

Your TCK childhood had extra upheaval due to your parents’ divorce and your two years at a military school in Cuba while your parents each lived in other countries. I imagine that affected your feelings about where you lived.
I must admit, I don’t “miss” most of what I lived in my 17 years in the Spanish Caribbean. I had a very difficult childhood, in which I never really “belonged” to any of those countries, had little contact with the expat community, and was leading a painful, dysfunctional family life. Since my brother and I were put away in a military school in Cuba, it’s not a place that I would “miss.” The circumstances of my upbringing have made childhood nostalgia an elusive sentiment for me.

After a young adulthood in New Mexico (briefly), Arizona, California, Massachusetts, and New York—and some trips to Europe—you settled in Williamstown, MA.  When did you come to feel that it was home, inasmuch as any place can be for an ATCK?
My wife and I actually have had homes in two locations in Massachusetts: Williamstown and Cambridge. So we lived both in the city, where we had our home life, and the country, where I taught. And I guess I realized sometime in the 1970s that New England had become my home. The place had enough cultural density, layered history, and overall cosmopolitanism for me to feel at ease in those parts. (I’d also earned my Ph.D at Harvard.) I even turned down a job offer from UCLA in 1976 because by then I felt attached enough to Massachusetts to stay there. Plus, I didn’t look forward to living in my car on the LA freeways, or putting up with Los Angeles pollution, which was fairly serious back then!

“‘Ah, but you speak such good Spanish…'”

Have you returned to any of the Latin American countries in which you grew up? 
I’ve been back to Puerto Rico and to Venezuela, always experiencing those mixed feelings. When I visited my old neighborhood in Hato Rey, PR, in 2012, I found it largely changed. Moreover, during a previous visit to San Juan in 1985, I went for a stroll at the University grounds. At the sight of the palm trees at the entrance and the tower looming above it all, I fell to the ground, crying. It was a reminder that much of my youth there, when I’d believed that I was an “American” boy in the tropics, had been illusory.

As for Cuba, I could only go back under very specific conditions—not because of the regime, which I’m not against, but owing to my painful personal memories of the place. I worry that seeing certain streets and buildings might elicit a wrenching sadness in me.

Since you’re a professor of Latin American literature and have written about the heavyweights in the field, I presume you’ve also visited quite a few countries in the region at this point. What were your impressions?
Inasmuch as I’ve written books and articles about Borges, García Márquez, Vargas Llosa, and Mexican literature, I’ve been more than once to Argentina, Colombia, Perú, and Mexico. Going to and traveling in those countries brought insight into their literary works that one cannot get simply from reading them in one’s study. On the other hand, my Latin American and Caribbean background proved enormously helpful in accessing the culture and the society of those places. Indeed, García Márquez’s world is the Caribbean coast of Colombia; exploring that area in 1982 and 1988 was a lot like being back in San Juan and Havana! Writing about it was fun, a bit like a return to my childhood, without the pain.

“She was from New York. Didn’t people from New York listen to classical music?”

Although you have always had a passion for classical and Latin music, you ultimately found ways to express yourself through writing fiction and nonfiction. Does music still play a big role in your life? 
Music is my first love. If I hadn’t had a late start at the piano (a fact that unfortunately set me back several years), I might have stayed with it. I turned to literature, in some measure, because it didn’t require advanced hand-muscle skills! But once I got involved with the written word, I strived to make my prose style as artistic, expressive, and fun as music can be, and I worked to give it rhythm and melody. (Someone has remarked that I write like a musician.) I still play piano, though.

Is there a particular work that you are most proud of having written, and if so, why?
I feel equally attached to all of them! Each one has had its role in my life. My books on Borges and García Márquez (which have sold well and gone through second editions) are used in AP courses, and are consulted by general readers, here and abroad. From early on, I had set out to be a “cultural mediator” between Latin American literature and U.S. readers, and those volumes serve that purpose.

My book Art for Art’s Sake and Literary Life, on the other hand, grew out of my cosmopolitanism and my desire to deal with the uses of art as both escape and expression. (In some subliminal way, it’s autobiographical.) The volume covers the phenomenon of aestheticism in Europe, the U.S., and Latin America. I felt vindicated when the thing was a finalist for the 1997 National Book Critics Circle Award (there I was, sharing space with Cynthia Ozick and William H. Gass). It also got translated into Serbian and Chinese! When I asked my two translators just what had drawn them to the book, they both replied that what I’d said about Latin American aestheticism was also applicable to analogous 19th-century movements in Serbia and Taiwan. So my cosmopolitanism had shed light on some corners elsewhere in this world.

My two books of fiction focus in part on TCK issues, plus such cultural-specific matters as American relativism or the seductive influence of Ayn Rand.

But I finally turned to memoir because I felt it was the way to confront head-on the question of my crazy, mixed-up background, to make sense out of it all and give it a living shape. The process of remembering that past, and crafting it and getting it out there, has proved enormously therapeutic. It also led to my meeting Nina Sichel and, then, you, Lisa, via our essay collection, Writing Out Of Limbo!

My latest volume is a kind of experiment, starting with its very title: On Nabokov, Ayn Rand and the Libertarian Mind: What the Russian-American Odd Pair Can Tell Us about Some Values, Myths and Manias Widely Held Most Dear. Besides dissecting the two authors, I tease out my troubled relationship to them, delve once again into my own life history, and finally move on to the larger problem of a rising, spreading libertarianism in this country. There’s even an Appendix in which I throw in a number of spoofs of my own of hard-line libertarians! (I’ve been playing with satires of something or other ever since I was in middle school in Puerto Rico…)
on-nabokov-ayn-rand-and-the-libertarian-mind_cover

You’re a true international creative, with works that run the entire gamut! Tell us, what’s next? Fiction? Nonfiction? Something else?
I have stuff in the works, but am in the process of rethinking my projects in the wake of my wife’s death in 2013. (Widowerhood does things to your mind and spirit, alas.)

Where can people find your works?
All my books are available from Amazon and local bookstores, as well as from any good library!

Thank you, Gene, for sharing your wonderfully inspiring story with the Displaced Nation. So, readers, any questions or comments for Gene? Be sure to leave them in the comments!

Editor’s note: All subheadings are taken from Gene’s book The Pianist Who Liked Ayn Rand: A Novella & 13 Stories.

STAY TUNED for our next fab post.

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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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GLOBAL FOOD GOSSIP: The Mysterious Case of the Missing Pastries

global food gossipJoanna Masters-Maggs, our resident repeat-expat Food Gossip and Creative Chef, is back with her column for like-minded food lovers.

This month: The regrettable global takeover of the Cronut, and what should be getting the publicity instead.

* * *

“What in dog-breeding hell is a Cronut?” demanded my son Seb, reading over my shoulder while swigging milk from the bottle in that annoying way 16-year-olds have. Baffled for a second, I realized the confusion and laughed.  My German Shepherd, Sophie, is my obsession and I am always reading articles about breeding and training.  Today, though, I was reading a food magazine which discussed trends for the New Year. Seb had seen a headline that asked:

“2013 was the year of the Cronut and Duffin but what does 2014 hold?”

Those of you elsewhere — anywhere except France, that is — may laugh, but Seb’s assumption that a Cronut is German Shepherd-related rather than food-related was completely justifiable.  My own ignorance of Cronuts and other “blended” pastries was only brought to my attention in December, when a friend living in Kuala Lumpur posted that they had finally arrived there.

I think it true to say that the Cronut hasn’t yet arrived in France and probably never will.

Some dishes deserve to go global

I do hope the same will not be the case for other treats that, my magazine suggested, will be sweeping tastebuds worldwide this year.  I was particularly happy to see the arepa from Venezuela and Columbia on the list. My hips might not want to revisit my interest in these delectable goodies, but I am smacking my lips in anticipation.

I first met arepas in Maracaibo, Venezuela, and our friendship deepened while I lived in Caracas.  These flattened balls of unleavened maize flour-based dough are fried and then filled with a cornucopia of ingredients, depending on the region. North Western Venezuela, where I first fell in love with the arepa, has its own speciality, the Arepa Cabimera, whose filling consists of the improbable combination of cheese, jam, chicken and boiled eggs.  You know when someone is eating a Cabimera as the arepas are unusually square.  Other varieties often include queso guayanés  — a mild, medium-soft cheese similar to mozzarella, shredded chicken and, if you are very lucky, crispy pork rind.

Global — with the exception of France, that is

The idea that I will miss such delights as they sweep the world is distressing, but our ignorance of the Cronut is a sad portent of what might come.  How had the Year of the Cross-bred Pastry missed France? Perhaps it’s not such a surprise; France is not culturally inclined to faddy trends as is, say, London or New York.  Why a “need-to-please” hybrid, when a classic, small, and delightfully buttery croissant is available?  How intolerably vulgar to take such perfection and, presumably, add jam and deep-fry it.

I can feel a thousand thin and elegantly clad Parisian shoulders shudder at the thought.

Hybrid – it’s the new pedigree

On further reflection, my less-thin shoulders shudder too.  As my son’s comment shows, cross-bred dogs are very much at the front of people’s minds at the moment.  Maybe the Cockerpoo, Labradoodle, and Schitzpoo are the canine equivalents of our human desire to have our cake and eat it.  A dog that doesn’t shed and mess up the carpet and sinuses, and a croissant that doesn’t — oh, wait. It does crumble.  Well, a pastry that isn’t a croissant or a doughnut but which still makes a crumbly mess…

Why?  Why make a mash-up of existing pastries when you could come up with something less plagiaristic or stick with what already works?  Oh, listen to me: maybe I do belong in France!  After all, for each hybrid that works there are the unlucky ones in each batch which fail to inherit the best of both worlds and instead exhibit the worst of each.  A croissant where the delicate buttery flavor has been killed by over-sweetening?  A  Labradoodle which sheds anyway and isn’t a pedigree but which costs the same and has the potential to inherit the congenital defects of two different breeds?

What’s more, the frying of such a delicate thing as croissant pastry is not for amateurs.  Getting the layers of pastry and butter to open in the heat of an oven is no mean feat; getting them to do the same in hot fat is entirely different.  Apart from that, think how easily butter burns.  That’s a lot of worry when pâtissierières across France already have mastered the art of injecting chocolate into croissants to make pain au chocolate or, better, almond paste.

For me the almond croissant is the pinnacle of pastry pleasure.  This marriage of crisp pastry with nutty and unctuous almond paste represents the Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward of the Pâtisserie.

The Cronut is, as yet, a Brangelina wannabe and everyone is already asking how much longer is it going to last.

“New” but not necessarily “improved”

The French disdain for change for change’s sake can be seen everywhere.  Fashion classics which stand the test of time are valued over the new and the shocking.  London fashion is all about iconoclasm and rebellion, rather than restraint.   Surely, when it comes to food, good taste should not be derided.  Maybe the French are right not to jump on the bandwagon of each new craze, instead waiting to see what stands the test of time and has what it takes to become part of the pâtisserie canon.

I doubt that the Duffin will ever be the Little Black Dress of the pâtisserie world; certainly not with a name that makes it sound like something an ageing hippie would wear on a cold winter day in Glastonbury, UK.

Hmm, pause for thought indeed.  At least with baking, we can bin the rejects; we cannot do the same with our canine friends who don’t pass the successful hybrid test.

How, then, can a modern culinary classic find acceptance in France?

So, let me find order to my reasoning.  The French, so far, have not accepted the hybrid pastry which tries too hard to please and lacks the elegant restraint of better behaved French patisserie staples.  However, history reveals that the French will eventually accept what will not go away: dishes with an enduring appeal, such as the pizza so…

…let’s return to my arepa whose pedigree cannot be questioned.  This is a traditional, tried and tested, and regionally variable dish.  Given time, I am hopeful that the French, who enjoy regional variety in cheese and wine, should be open to accepting this newcomer.  France has already embraced with overwhelming enthusiasm the pizza and tweaked it to French tastes – crème fraiche anyone?  There is a little van with a wood burning stove on most street corners in every city, town and village of the country.  For every Domino there are scores of restaurants, parlours, and vans, nearly all of them French owned and run.

For the arepa this is hopeful news indeed. I may have to wait longer than a resident of London, Birmingham or, indeed, Kuala Lumpur, but I have hope that the Venezuelans are coming to Aix.

* * *

Joanna was displaced from her native England 16 years ago, and has since attempted to re-place herself and blend into the USA, Holland, Brazil, Malaysia, Venezuela, Saudi Arabia, and now France. She describes herself as a “food gossip”, saying: “I’ve always enjoyed cooking and trying out new recipes. Overseas, I am curious as to what people buy and from where. What is in the baskets of my fellow shoppers? What do they eat when they go home at night?”

Fellow Food Gossips, share your own stories with us!

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s post!

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: All images from Joanna’s personal photo albums, and used here with her permission

2013 Holiday Special: Notable books for, by and about expats

Looking for last-minute gifts—or have your holiday celebrations brought you to the point where you might need an escape for yourself?

In the tradition of looking back at the past year’s highlights, I present, on behalf of the Displaced Nation team, a list of books for, by, and about expats that were featured in some way on this site in 2013.

Click on the category that interests you:

  1. FICTION
  2. MEMOIRS
  3. HANDBOOKS & GUIDEBOOKS
  4. COOKBOOK (singular because we have only one!)
  • Books in each category are arranged from most to least recent.
  • Unless otherwise noted, books are self-published.

Go on, download a few! It’s the time of the year to be generous to one’s fellow human beings. That said, on the Displaced Nation it’s always the season to support the creative output of those who’ve embraced the life of global residency and travel.

* * *

Fiction

Shemlan Ebook_coverShemlan: A Deadly Tragedy (November 2013)
Author: Alexander McNabb
Genre: International thriller
Synopsis: The third in McNabb’s Levant Cycle, Shemlan tells the story of a retired British foreign service officer who, dying from cancer, returns to Beirut in hopes of meeting the Lebanese love of his youth one last time. But then his past catches up with him, threatening to do him in before the disease does—until British spy Gerald Lynch gallops to the rescue…
Expat credentials: Born in London, McNabb has lived in the Middle East for more than a quarter century. He often receives praise for getting the historical and cultural details right in his books.
How we heard about: We encountered McNabb a year ago when we were doing a series of food posts! We love his books and are giving away Shemlan this month, as well as doing an offer for Displaced Dispatch subscribers on all three books in the cycle. Check it out!

ImperfectPairings_cover_pmImperfect Pairings (May 2013)
Author: Jackie Townsend
Genre: Women’s fiction
Synopsis: American career woman Jamie had not intended to fall in love—and to a foreigner no less, a man who tells her his name is Jack, short for John, but it’s really short for Giovanni. Insanely handsome and intense but unreadable, Giovanni has left a complicated family life back home in Italy. Is this more than Jamie signed up for?
Displaced credentials: In real life, Townsend is married to an Italian and has spent 16 years backing and forthing to her husband’s family in Italy.
How we heard about: ML Awanohara, who rightly or wrongly considers herself something of an expert on cross-cultural marriage, read the book on her Kindle and was so impressed with its depiction of cross-cultural relationship woes that she asked Townsend to be our featured author of November. Read the interview.

SuiteDubai-cover_dropshadowSuite Dubai (April 2013)
Author: Callista Fox
Genre: “New adult” lit
Synopsis: As Callista tells it, the book grew out of a story that entered her head that wouldn’t go away: “There was this girl, young, vulnerable, naive, walking along a concourse in an airport, among men in white robes and checkered scarves and woman in black gauzy material. Where was she going? What would happen to her there?”
Expat credentials: Fox moved to Saudi Arabia when she was eight and lived there off and on until turning 19. She went to boarding schools in Cyprus and Austria. Now back in the United States, she thinks of herself as an adult Third Culture Kid, or TCK.
How we heard about: Noticing our fondness for serial fiction (see Kate Allison’s book below), Fox sent us a note saying she’d written a serial novel reflecting her experience of growing up in the Middle East. We responded by asking if we could publish her series in even smaller parts. Part 1 and Part 2 have already gone up, and there are six more parts to come in 2014. Warning: Highly addictive!

Libby'sLifeTakingFlight_coverLibby’s Life: Taking Flight (April 2013)
Author: Kate Allison
Genre: Women’s fiction
Synopsis: 30-something Libby Patrick is just regaining some post-baby control over her life when a change in husband’s job means they must move from their English home to Woodhaven, a town in rural Massachusetts. The book is Libby’s journal covering the first year of her life as trailing spouse.
Expat credentials: Born and raised in Britain, Kate has lived in the United States with her family for almost two decades.
How we heard about: We were the first to know! Kate is a founding member of the Displaced Nation and has been publishing regular episodes of Libby’s Life (on which the book is based) since the blog began. She has accrued countless fans, the most faithful of whom is Janice. (Libby to Janice: xoxo for your support in 2013!)

APlaceintheWorld_coverA Place in the World (March 2013)
Author: Cinda Crabbe MacKinnon
Genre: Romance
Synopsis: Third Culture Kid Alicia meets a young Colombian man at college in the United States. She follows him to Bogotá and the pair end up marrying and settling on his family’s remote coffee finca (farm) in the Andes. Educated as a biologist, Alicia revels in the surrounding cloud-forest. But then her idyllic life starts to unravel…
Expat credentials: Crabbe MacKinnon grew up in several countries as a military brat and diplomatic kid and, though she has since repatriated to the United States, still thinks of Latin America as home.
How we heard about: Crabbe MacKinnon commented on one of Elizabeth Liang’s “TCK Talent” posts and ended up becoming October’s featured author. Read the interview. We love her and her work, and are sure you will, too!

CoffeeandVodka_coverCoffee and Vodka (March 2013)
Author: Helena Halme
Genre: Women’s fiction
Synopsis: A Finnish family emigrate to Sweden in the 1970s and find themselves in turmoil, caused partly by the displacement, but also by the cracks in family dynamics. At its heart, the book reveals what it is like for a young girl to be uprooted and transplanted to a country where she doesn’t speak the language and is despised for her nationality.
Expat credentials: Halme grew up in Tampere, central Finland, and moved to Britain at the age of 22 via Stockholm and Helsinki, after marrying “The Englishman” (how she always refers to him on her blog, Helena’s London Life). She spent her first ten years in Britain working as journalist and translator for the BBC. She and The Englishman now live in North London.
How we heard about: Halme is a big favorite of ours! She was one of our earliest Random Nomads as well as serving as an expat style icon back in the days when we covered fashion. More recently, Kate Allison reviewed Halme’s first book: The Englishman: Can Love Go the Distance?, and we did a giveaway of Coffee and Vodka. And that’s not all: Halme’s latest book, The Red King of Helsinki, received an “Alice” Award in July. (As noted then, the Alices could hardly ignore a book of that title!)

MonkeyLoveAndMurder_dropshadowMonkey Love and Murder (February 2013)
Author: Edith McClinton
Genre: Adventure mystery
Synopsis: A jungle environment in Suriname (spider monkeys and all) is the setting for a closed-door mystery surrounding the death of the renowned director of the International Wildlife Conservation followed by the machete murder of one of the researchers. None of this bodes well for poor Emma Parks, who has joined the research project on a whim. (So much for that budding primatologist career!)
Expat credentials: MacClintock volunteered for the Peace Corps in Suriname for two years, and joined a monkey research project afterwards.
How we heard about: One of our Random Nomads, Patricia Winton, referred us to the now-defunct blog Novel Adventurers, where Edith was one of the writers. We invited her to guest blog for us about the muses behind her monkey mystery.

ArchangelofMercy_dropshadowArchangel of Mercy (Berkley – Penguin Group, December 2012)
Author: Christina Ashcroft
Genre: Paranormal romance
Synopsis: The first storyline in Ashcroft’s new series focusing on a group of angels and archangels and the lives of the people they come in contact with every day.
Expat credentials: Ashcroft is an expat Brit who now lives in Western Australia with her high school sweetheart and their three children.
How we heard about it: We encountered Christina online and asked her to be one of our Random Nomads for a Valentine’s Day special. In that interview, she said she attributes her success as a writer at least in part to her expat status: “I’ve often wondered whether my career would have followed the same route if we’d stayed in the UK. While I’ve always loved writing it wasn’t until we moved to Australia that I decided to to write with the aim of publication.”

SpiritofLostAngels_dropshadowSpirit of Lost Angels (May 2012)
Author: Liza Perrat
Genre: Historical novel
Synopsis: Set against a backdrop of rural France during the French Revolution, the story centers on Victoire Charpentier, a young peasant woman whose mother was executed for witchcraft and who herself suffers abuse at the hands of a nobleman. Can she muster the bravery and skill to join the revolutionary force gripping France, and overthrow the corrupt aristocracy?
Expat credentials: Liza grew up in Wollongong, Australia, where she worked as a general nurse and midwife for fifteen years. When she met her French husband on a Bangkok bus, she moved to France, where she has been living with her husband and three children for twenty years.
How we heard about: The redoubtable JJ Marsh (see below) interviewed Perrat on writing a location to life, for her monthly column, “Location, Locution.”

BehindClosedDoors_dropshadowBehind Closed Doors (June 2012)
Author: JJ Marsh
Genre: Crime mixed with literary fiction
Synopsis: A smart, technologically sophisticated mystery set in Zürich and surrounding countries, featuring a bipolar detective named Beatrice Stubbs, and quite a few surprises… NOTE: JJ Marsh was listed in the Guardian “readers’ recommended self-published authors” this year, for Behind Closed Doors.
Expat credentials: JJ Marsh grew up in Wales, Africa and the Middle East, where her curiosity for culture took root and triggered an urge to write. After living in Hong Kong, Nigeria, Dubai, Portugal and France, she has finally settled in Switzerland.
How we heard about: We owe displaced author Helena Halme (see above) a king’s ransom for telling us about JJ, who since April has been contributing a monthly “Location, Locution” column. Don’t miss her posts under any circumstances! Highly stimulating and cerebral.

snowdrops_dropshadowSnowdrops (Anchor/Random House, February 2011)
Author: AD Miller
Genre: Literary fiction
Synopsis: Lawyer Nick Platt trades his dull British life for pushing paper in Moscow at the turn of the 21st century. He is soon seduced by a culture he fancies himself above. Snowdrops was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 2011.
Expat credentials: British born and educated at Cambridge and Princeton, Andrew Miller joined The Economist and was appointed, in 2004, to become their Moscow correspondent. He covered, among other things, the Orange Revolution in the Ukraine.
How we heard about: JJ Marsh interviewed AD this past July about bringing foreign locations to life in fiction.

odessa_brit_cover_smallMoonlight in Odessa (Bloomsbury, August 2010)
Author: Janet Skeslien Charles
Genre: Women’s fiction
Synopsis: With an engineering degree and perfect English, Daria longs for a life beyond Odessa, Ukraine. And then she moonlights for a dating agency that facilitates hasty, long-distance matches between lustful American men and impoverished Ukrainian women. Her big chance?
Expat credentials: Skeslien Charles went to Odessa, Ukraine, as a Soros Fellow, living through blackouts, heatless winters, corruption and so on. She stayed for two years before returning to the U.S. Then she found a job in France and met her husband. She now lives in Paris but leads a multicultural life. As she puts it: “The novel is set in Odessa, Ukraine. My agent is English. My editor’s assistant is Japanese-Danish, my copy editor is from New Zealand. I’m American. The book was written in France and typeset in Scotland. My first fan letter came from a Swede.”
How we heard about: JJ Marsh picked Skeslien Charles’s brain on “location, locution”, in her November column.

Memoirs

AddictedtoLove_cover_dropshadowAddicted to Love (April 2013)
Author: Lana Penrose
Synopsis: Penrose is the kind of Australian who throws herself wholeheartedly into adventure, which is why her years spend living in Europe have merited not one but three memoirs! This one is the third. In the first memoir (published by Penguin/Viking), To Hellas and Back, she marries the love of her life, an Australian Greek, and accompanies him back to Greece, only to find him becoming increasingly Greek and herself increasingly isolated. In the second, Kickstart My Heart, she moves to London, single and desperate to find love again. And in this third memoir, she returns to Greece, where she encounters a seemingly perfect man named Adonis. (Hey, she never gives up!)
Expat credentials: From Sydney originally (she is back there now), Penrose lived in Athens for five years before moving to London.
How we heard about it: We happened across Penrose online and asked her to guest-post for us a year ago on what it was like to spend Christmas in Greece. At that time, we also did a giveaway of her first memoir. We invited her back this past April to write about Addicted to Love.

MagicCarpetSeduction_cover_pmMagic Carpet Seduction: Travel Tales Off the Beaten Path (May 2013)
Author: Lisa Egle
Synopsis: Travel with the author to China, Latin America, Turkey and the Middle East, and watch while she takes risks off the beaten path, and dances with strangers in strange lands…
Expat credentials: Egle characterizes herself as a lover of offbeat travel. She’s been to 36 countries on five continents and has been an expat twice: in Ecuador for a year and half, and in Spain for a year.
How we heard about: We got to know Egle first through her blog, Chicky Bus, and when we heard she’d put out a book, asked her to be one of our featured authors. Read the interview.

Pilgrimage-Cover_pmRunning the Shikoku Pilgrimage: 900 Miles to Enlightenment (Volcano Press, January 2013)
Author: Amy Chavez
Synopsis: After losing her job at a Japanese university, Chavez undertakes a solo journey running Japan’s 900-mile Buddhist pilgrimage, a distance equal to running from San Diego, California to Oregon. A Buddhist priest who is also a friend gives her “cosmic tools” to take with her.
Expat credentials: American expat Amy Chavez has been a columnist for Japan’s oldest English-language newspaper, The Japan Times, since 1997. She lives with her husband and cat on Shiraishi Island in Japan’s Seto Inland Sea.
How we heard about: We interviewed Chavez about her pilgrimage, and what it took to write the book, in April.

Don'tNeedtheWholeDog_dropshadowDon’t Need the Whole Dog! (December 2012)
Author: Tony James Slater
Synopsis: In the summer of 2004, Slater went to Ecuador, thinking that the experience would turn him into a man. He went back to his native England fueled by a burning desire to do something that mattered—and, ideally, to get the heck out of England in the process. He dreamed of going to Thailand and becoming a professional diver. This is the story of what happened next.
Expat credentials: A Brit, Slater now lives in Perth, Australia, with his Australian wife.
How we heard about: Slater made himself known to us for failing to include his first book, The Bear That Ate My Pants: Adventures of a Real Idiot Abroad, about his time volunteering at an animal shelter in Ecuador, in our 2011 holiday round-up. He probably should have left well enough alone, though, as next thing he knew, we had him writing for the Displaced Nation. His post on the world’s best parties remains one of our most popular!

TruckinginEnglish-dropshadowTrucking in English (December 2012)
Author: Carolyn Steele
Synopsis: This is the tale of what happens when a middle-aged mum from England decides to actually drive 18-wheelers across North America instead of just dreaming about it. Nothing goes well, but that’s why there’s a book.
Expat credentials: Born and bred in London, Carolyn and her son are now Canadian citizens and live permanently in Kitchener, Ontario.
How we heard about: One of our featured authors in 2012, Martin Crosbie, sent Steele our way, and Kate Allison reviewed her book in March. Steele later contributed an amusing post to our “New vs Olde World” series, about the difficulties of mastering the Canadian “R”.

Finding-Rome-on-the-Map-of-Love_dropshadowFinding Rome on the Map of Love (September 2012)
Author: Estelle Jobson
Synopsis: When her Italian diplomat boyfriend gets posted to Rome, Jobson throws up her career in publishing in her native South Africa to accompany him. There, she reinvents herself as Signora Stella, a casalinga (housewife). The book captures a year’s worth of quirky observations about life amongst the Italians.
Expat credentials: Originally from South Africa, Jobson now lives in Geneva, where she works as a writer and editor.
How we heard about: Jobson was our featured author in February. Her book and sense of humor are terrific!

Travels with George Book CoverTravels with George: A Memoir Through the Italy of My Childhood (April 2012)
Author: Olga Vannucci
Synopsis: In five separate trips to Italy with her young son, George, in tow, Vannucci strolls and hikes through the landscapes of her Italian childhood. She looks at Italy both as local native and awed visitor.
Expat credentials: Born in Italy, Vannucci lived in Brazil and came to the United States to attend Brown University. She lives in rural New Jersey with her son.
How we heard about: Vannucci was our featured author in September. Read the interview. We loved this quote from her son: “Where are we going? How much longer? I have something in my shoe. I want to go back. Why are we doing this? Do you know where we are? Do you know where we’re going? Mammaaaaaaa!”

AreWeThereYet_cover_dropshadowAre We There Yet? Travels with My Frontline Family (May 2009)
Author: Rosie Whitehouse
Synopsis: A vivid, funny, and very human account of the author’s travels with her family through war-torn Europe.
Expat credentials: Whitehouse spent five years as a housewife in the war-torn Balkans married to a correspondent of The Economist, caring for their growing family.
How we heard about: We happened across Whitehouse’s work online and asked her to be a featured author last summer. Read the interview. She’s absolutely fascinating, as one might expect of the kind of woman who trails her spouse into a war zone.

HoneyfromtheLion_coverHoney from the Lion: An African Journey (Dutton Adult, 1988)
Author: Wendy Laura Belcher
Synopsis: Brought up in Africa, Belcher returned to Ghana in the early 1980s to work with a “national linguistic group” that is spreading literary into rural areas by translating the Bible into native languages. A coming-of-age story that was called “lyrical” by the New York Times when first issued.
Expat credentials: An adult Third Culture Kid, Belcher grew up in East and West Africa, where she became fascinated with the richness of Ghanaian and Ethiopian intellectual traditions. She is now an assistant professor of African literature at Princeton.
How we heard about: Elizabeth Liang interviewed Belcher for her TCK Talent series.

Handbooks & Guidebooks

cathy_feign_coverKeep Your Life, Family and Career Intact While Living Abroad, 3rd Ed. (Stvdio Media, September 2013)
Author: Cathy Tsang-Feign
Synopsis: A survival manual for those who are living abroad, with real-life examples and easy-to-understand explanations about the unique issues faced by expats: from preparing to move, to daily life overseas, to returning home.
Expat credentials: Tsang-Feign is an American psychologist who lives in Hong Kong, specializing in expat psychology and adjustment issues. She has also lived in London.
How we heard about: When Kate Allison learned about the book, she decided it merited one of our “Alice” awards for the understanding displayed of the “through the looking glass” complex.

realitycheck_bookcoverReality Check: Life in Brazil through the eyes of a foreigner (September 2013)
Author: Mark Hillary
Synopsis: Targeted at those who plan on living, working or just visiting Brazil, it covers issues such as the difficulties of finding new friends, using a new language, and finding a job. Also provided is some background on the fast-changing society in Brazil that resulted in extensive street protests during 2013.
Expat credentials: Hillary is a British writer who moved to Brazil in 2010, bought a home, started a company, and has experienced both difficulties and joys.
How we heard about it: Andy Martin, another Brit in Brazil and a writer for the Displaced Nation in 2013, is a friend of Hillary’s and was jealous he’d produced a book that is not only a practical guide but also provides much of the cultural backdrop an international resident needs for a country as complex as Brazil. The next best thing, Martin thought, would be to do an interview with Hillary, which he delivered in two parts. Read Part 1 and Part 2.

TERE_cover_dropshadowThe Emotionally Resilient Expat: Engage, Adapt and Thrive Across Cultures (Summertime, July 2013)
Author: Linda A. Janssen
Synopsis: A guide for those facing the challenge of cross-cultural living, with candid personal stories from experienced expats and cross-culturals, and a wealth of practical tools, techniques and best practices for developing the emotional resilience for ensuring a successful transition.
Expat credentials: Janssen lived for several years in the Netherlands while her husband, an adult TCK, worked in the Hague. She recently repatriated to the United States.
How we heard about: We’ve had many satisfying interactions with Janssen since starting the Displaced Nation and were thrilled to hear about her new book—a natural for one of this year’s “Alice” awards, particularly as Janssen has been running a popular blog called Adventures in Expatland.

AmericanExbratinSaoPaulo_cover_pmAn American Exbrat in São Paulo: Advice, Stories, Tips and Tricks for Surviving South America’s Largest City (May 2013)
Author: Maggie Foxhole (Megan Farrell)
Synopsis: Aimed at those who are moving or traveling to São Paulo, it is designed to be a companion on the journey through the ups and down, ins and outs, and the curious roundabouts of life in that city.
Expat credentials: Megan/Maggie moved to Brazil with her Brazilian husband and their daughter. She keeps a blog: Born Again Brazilian.
How we heard about: Farrell/Foxhole was one of our early Random Nomads. She kept in touch and we were very pleased to learn about her book, which ML Awanohara read and admired for its comprehensiveness. Andy Martin, a Brit who also lives in São Paulo with a Brazilian spouse, reviewed the book for our site this past July.

101reasons_dropshadow101 Reasons to Live Abroad and 100 Reasons Not to (March 2013)
Author: Chris Alden
Synopsis: Targeted at the wannabe expat, the aim is to help you discover if living abroad is right for you. It’s an uplifting guide to the positive sides of life as an expatriate and a reality check about the challenges that relocation brings.
Expat credentials: A professional writer, Alden lived for three years in a beautiful village in the Troodos foothills of Cyprus, which resulted in his first travel guidebook: 250 Things to Do in Cyprus on a Sunny Day.
How we heard about: Alden was the recipient of one our “Alice” awards for this book. We were impressed that he offered a final, 101st reason to live abroad for those of us who, having been offered as many as a hundred reasons both for and against, still find ourselves dithering…

career-break-travelers-handbook_dropshadowThe Career Break Traveler’s Handbook (September 2012)
Author: Jeffrey Jung
Synopsis: Intended to inspire people to go for it and take the break they’ve been seeking from their jobs and go travel, with tips and tricks Jung learned from his own and other career breakers’ experiences.
Expat credentials: Having left the corporate ladder, Jung now lives in Colombia, where he founded his own business to help others do the same: CareerBreakSecrets.com.
How we heard about: Jung was one of our Random Nomads. He let us know about his book, and we reviewed it this past February. Not that he needed our help—it also got a shout-out in Forbes!

finding-your-feet-in-chicago-3D-Book CoverFinding Your Feet in Chicago: The Essential Guide for Expat Families (Summertime Publishing, August 2012)
Author: Véronique Martin-Place
Synopsis: A down-to-earth pocket guide to help expats settle into the USA’s third largest city with their families.
Expat credentials: As the wife of a French diplomat (they have two daughters), Martin-Place is accustomed to moving around the world. Chicago was one of her more enjoyable stops, but she also enjoyed Sri Lanka(!). The family is now in Shanghai.
How we heard about: ML Awanohara had interviewed Martin-Place on her blog, Seeing the Elephant. She had fun interviewing her again, this time about the process of composing a guidebook.

Cookbook

FromtheGlobalScottishKitchen_cover_tdnFrom the Global Scottish Kitchen (Self-published, November 2012)
Author: Sharon Lorimer
Genre: Cooking
Synopsis: Recipes based on Scottish cuisine but influenced by the restaurants and other kinds of cuisines Lorimer has experienced as an expat: e.g., Cock a’ Leekie Udon!
Expat credentials: Born in Scotland, Lorimer now lives in New York City and is married to an Asian American.
How we heard about it: We interviewed Lorimer about her decision to start up Doshebu, a business providing training to company employees being sent abroad on the “art” of being an expat.

* * *

Questions: 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 the list? My colleagues and I look forward to reading your comments below!

STAY TUNED for some upcoming posts, though we’ll be taking a bit of a break over the holidays!

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For TCK writer Cinda MacKinnon, fiction is a way to revisit “homes” she has cherished

Cinda MacKinnon CollageWhen I first returned to the United States after my extended expat journey, I remember humming to myself:

There’s a place for me,
Somewhere a place for me.

But then last month, when I went to see our monthly columnist Elizabeth Liang perform her one-woman show, Alien Citizen, I realized that my displacement, which took place as an adult, does not compare to that of Third Culture Kids. Most expats have been global residents by choice, whereas TCKs had no choice in being dragged around the globe by their parents. They and they alone have earned the epithet of “global nomad”.

Elizabeth has found a place for herself in theatrical circles. And today we talk to another adult TCK, Cinda Crabbe MacKinnon, who has found a place in fiction writers’ groups. Based on the first novel she produced, tellingly entitled A Place in the World, it seems fair to say that Cinda thrives on creating fictional characters whose lives resemble her own in some way, and then placing them in a part of the world where she has fond memories of spending some portion of her formative years, as a TCK.

In brief, A Place in the World centers around a young American woman named Alicia, who marries a Colombian and goes to live on his family’s remote coffee finca in the “cloud” forests of the Andes Mountains. Calamities strike one after another and Alicia ends up running the finca alone.

According to the book description, A Place in the World is a romantic adventure story, with a multicultural cast of characters, in the same vein as Isak Dineson’s Out of Africa.

Unlike Dineson’s work, however, it is not a memoir. Cinda may have loved her time in Colombia, but she didn’t marry a Colombian. And though she always wanted to be a biologist, she became an environmental scientist instead.

Well, enough from me. Let’s find out more about Cinda, why she wrote the book, and the book-writing process. And don’t forget to comment at the end of the interview! As Cinda has agreed to be this month’s featured author, we will be giving away ONE FREE E-COPY of her book to the person who leaves the most interesting comment!

* * *

APlaceintheWorld_coverCinda, pura vida. Thanks so much for agreeing to this interview. Let’s begin at the beginning: what made you decide to write a novel about an American woman who lives in the cloud forests of Colombia?
Well, like all writers the story was simply in my head. Contrary to what I’d been told to do, I wrote for myself, without the idea of publishing—at least when I first got started. But I guess there were also some motivating factors. As you mentioned, I grew up as a Third Culture Kid, or TCK. My family lived in Greece, Germany, Colombia, and Costa Rica because my father was in the United States Air Force and then worked as an attaché to American embassies. I spent my formative years—and by far the longest time—in Colombia and Costa Rica. I wanted to be a rainforest biologist. That didn’t happen, but I’ve been able to live this dream through my protagonist, Alicia. Writing the book gave me an excuse to visit and study tropical nature in several places.

What impact did writing about the experience have on you overall—did it help you process what you’d been through as a TCK?
I love Latin America—the setting and culture are comfortable to me. The book gave me a chance to write about the people in that part of the world who were enormously kind to me. Growing up as a girl without a country, I came “home” for the first time to the States for college and felt totally out of place. Writing gave expression to some of this unanticipated culture shock.

What kinds of books have influenced you as a writer?
When I look at my Goodreads list of top 40 favorite books I see there is a definite multicultural theme: 30 are set in other countries, written by foreign authors or about expats. A few eclectic examples:

  • The Poisonwood Bible, by Barbara Kingsolver
  • Crime and Punishment, by F. Dostoyevsky
  • Zorba the Greek, by N. Kazantzakis
  • Tortilla Curtain, by T.C  Boyle
  • Small Kingdoms, by A. Hobbet
  • How the García Girls Lost Their Accents, by J. Alvarez
  • Eva Luna, by I. Allende
  • Caravans and Hawaii, by James Michener
  • The Thorn Birds, by C. McCullough
  • Pillars of the Earth, by K. Follett;
  • The Paris Wife, P. McLain;
  • Lost in Translation (different from the movie), by N. Mones
  • Dreaming in Cuban, by C. Garcia.

A fish out of water…

As you know, we like to talk about “displacement” on this site. When you were growing up as a TCK, what was your most displaced moment?
When I was working in New Zealand as a young adult. I’d lived in four or five different countries and could make myself understood in several languages so wasn’t expecting that to be a problem in NZ. I remember being with a colleague trying to order a milkshake, and the lady behind the counter asked me to repeat myself. “A chocolate milkshake, please,” I said as clearly as I could. She looked at me blankly and said, “Say it one more time dear, I’m trying very hard to understand you, but your accent is so thick.” As we left the shop, I told my work mate, “I don’t know what I got, but it sure isn’t chocolate!” Alistair smiled and replied, “I thought you asked for ‘banahnah’”!  Go figure!

Yes, having been to New Zealand, I can kind of imagine that! What was your least displaced moment, when you felt that the peripatetic life suited you, and you were at “home”?
As an eighth grader arriving in Costa Rica from Colombia. My first week I was accepted as part of the class and invited to a party. I spoke Spanish and felt I fit in. Costa Ricans are a hospitable people, but I think I was also especially lucky to have been in that particular class. They were—and are—an exceptionally nice group of people; they still meet every month or so for dinner, and any classmate who happens to be in town is invited to drop in. I found life in Costa Rica to be nurturing.

You mentioned the counter culture shock you experienced when coming back to America for college. What was the biggest challenge you faced at that moment?
Well, it wasn’t one thing but all the little things: I was dressed “wrong”, didn’t know the music, had never been to a football game… I just really felt like a fish out of water and wanted to go back to Costa Rica—so, after a couple years, I did! (For a while…)

Clearing the writing & publishing hurdles

Moving on to A Place in the World: what was the most difficult part of the book-writing process?
Beginnings are the most difficult for me, as well as writing synopses for agents and publishers. In general, however, the answer is: time. Finding time to write while I was still working; finding time to meet my indispensable writing critique group; and once edited and published, finding time to speak at bookstores, do interviews, and write posts for my own blog!

What was your path to publishing?
Like any previously unpublished author, I had a difficult time. I had one agent hold onto my novel for six months as we discussed strategies and then (with the downturn in the markets) told me they had decided not to handle unpublished writers anymore. This has become a mantra with traditional publishers. (J.K. Rowlings was turned down dozens of times before finding a publisher for Harry Potter.) After a couple of years (during which time I was polishing the manuscript with my critique group), I decided to “indie” publish. There is a range of providers between traditional publisher and self publishing; and my publisher, VirtualBookworm, is one of those in the middle. I paid for my own editor (she was great—an expat who married a Latino) and a very small fee towards printing; but I get a bigger percentage per book than with a big publisher. I’ve been happy with all the support they have given me and would do it again.

What audience did you intend for the book? Has it been reaching those people?  Can other kinds of expats, who haven’t lived in Latin America, relate to Alicia’s story as well?
I think of it as “mainstream” fiction that will appeal to anyone who likes to read about other places and cultures; but yes, it has been popular with expats. I rather thought that alumni from the overseas schools I went to would be interested, and that has been the case. I’m heartened and amazed at the support and e-mails I’ve received from adults of all ages.

Are you working on any other writing projects?
Yes (she says hesitantly). Hesitantly because, as you might guess from what I’ve already told you, I’m working pretty much FT—and finding time for creative writing is harder than usual! I do have several ideas that I’ve started: one set in Hawaii, another in Costa Rica, and a third in Europe. This last might be of interest to your followers, as it will be about a group of kids in an international school in Switzerland written from the point of view several different characters, taking their experiences into adulthood. And then my writers group thinks I should do a memoir. So I don’t know which of these schemes will “win”, but I intend to set priorities before the New Year.

10 Questions for Cinda MacKinnon

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: The Help, by Kathryn Stockett, comes to mind, but how great is great? I could go back to Zorba the Greek, by Nikos Kazantzakis.
2. Favorite literary genre: Literary and mainstream—especially multicultural or historical.

3. Reading habits on a plane: Anything—even the airline magazine in a pinch, but I usually take my Kindle with a good novel. Also, planes provide great down time to write!

4. Book(s) you would recommend to other TCKs, expats: Other than my “multicultural” fiction list above, it would be two books: Tales of Wonder, a fascinating autobiography about growing up in China almost a century ago, by Huston Smith; and I’m a Stranger Here Myself—Bill Bryson’s funny take on coming home after years abroad.

5. Favorite books as a child: Fairy Tales, by Brothers Grimm. When I was a little older, the Nancy Drew mysteries and I enjoyed reading Dr. Seuss to my little brother.
6. Favorite heroine: In fiction: Nancy Drew? In real life: There are too many to choose just one.

7. The writer, alive or dead, you’d most like to meet: Barbara Kingsolver and John Steinbeck.
8. Your reading habits: I take a break every afternoon and I get a little reading in, and then my husband and I always read before turning out the light.
9. The book you’d most like to see made as a film: A Place in the World! Seriously, two fans have suggested this and I love the idea. I visualize the opening as the cloud forest seen from the air and then zooming in to the tiled roof house with the veranda and bougainvillea. (This is actually a possibility! A colleague of mine is a script writer and mentioned that it would make a good movie.)
10. The book you plan to read next:  I just started Flight Behavior, by Barbara Kingsolver. Then I’ll probably read The Old Way: A Story of the First People, by Elizabeth Marshall Thomas, or Cristina García’s new novel, King of Cuba.

* * *

Thanks, Cinda! Though I’ve never been to Colombia, I find myself enamoured of the idea of finding a place for myself in a cloud forest. It’s actually an apt metaphor for how many of us “displaced” types live: with our heads in the clouds, pretending we are somewhere else half the time.

Readers, how about you? Is your head in the cloud (forest) after listening to Cinda? BTW, if you’re as new to Colombian cloud forests as I am, I suggest that you check out Cinda’s Pinterest boards. 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 comment on this post! Extra points, as always, if you’re a Displaced Dispatch subscriber!

The winner will be announced in our Displaced Dispatch on November 2, 2013.

NOTE: If you can’t wait to read the book, you can always get a softcover copy here and the e-book version in various formats on Smashwords or Amazon.

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s post, when monthly columnist JJ Marsh talks “location, locution” with best-selling Brazilian author Paulo Coelho.

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 (left to right): Valle de Cocora in Columbia, with wax palms towering over the cloud forest, courtesy McKay Savage on Flickr (Creative Commons license CC BY 2.0); Cinda MacKinnon as a child in Colombia; Cinda MacKinnon now (she lives in northern California); and Cinda with her husband in front of Monserrate, a mountain that dominates the city center of Bogotá, Colombia, taken just this past summer.

Catching up with this year’s Random Nomads over the holidays (2/3)

RandomNomadXmasPassportWelcome back to the holiday party we are throwing for the expats and other global voyagers who washed up on our shores in 2012. Remember all those Random Nomads who proposed to make us exotic meals based on their far-ranging meanderings? Not to mention their suitcases full of treasures they’d collected and their vocabularies full of strange words… How are they doing these days, and do they have any exciting plans for the holidays? Second in a three-part series (Part One here).

The second third of 2012 brought quite an intriguing (albeit as random as ever) bunch of nomads our way — intriguing because most of them have had experience with spouses from other cultures, suggesting that the point made by one of their number, Wendy Williams, about the globalization of love has some validity. They are:

  • Wendy Williams, the Canadian who is as happy as Larry living with her Austrian husband and their daughter in Vienna.
  • Suzanne Kamata, an American writer who went to Japan on the JET program, married a Japanese man, and made her home on Shikoku Island.
  • Isabelle Bryer, a French artist who feels as though she’s on a permanent vacation because of landing in LA — she’s lived there for years with her American husband and family.
  • Jeff Jung, formerly of corporate America but now an entrepreneur who promotes career breaks from his new base in Bogotá, Colombia.
  • Lynne Murphy, the lovely lexicologist who landed in — I want to say “London” for the alliteration, but it’s Sussex, UK. And yes, despite not being the marrying type, she now treasures her wedding ring of Welsh gold!
  • Melissa Stoey, the former expat in Britain who, despite no longer living in the UK, has a half-British son and remains passionate about all things British.
  • Antrese Wood, the American artist who is busy painting her way around Argentina, having married into the culture.

I’m happy to say that three of this esteemed group are with us today. What have they been up to since nearly a year ago, and are they cooking up anything special for the holidays?

Wendy_Williams1) WENDY WILLIAMS

Have there been any big changes in your life since we last spoke?
Yes, I’ve spent less time at my desk and more time travelling since the publication of my book, The Globalisation of Love. Given the title, I guess I should have expected it.

Where will you be spending the holidays this year?
Since I have “gone native” in Austria, I will be skiing during the holidays. Yipppeeee!

What do you most look forward to eating?
I most look forward to eating a Germknödel, which is a big ball of dough filled with plum sauce and covered in melted butter. Apparently, it has 1,000 calories and I savour every last one. If no one is looking, I lick the plate.

Can you recommend any books you came across in 2012 that speak to the displaced life?

  1. A Nile Adventure — cruising and other stories, by Kim Molyneaux — a light-hearted story of one family’s journey to and adventures in Egypt, both ancient and modern.
  2. Mint Tea to Maori Tattoo!, by Carolina Veranen-Phillips, an account from a fearless female backpacker — is there anywhere she hasn’t been?!
  3. Secrets of a Summer Village, by Saskia Akyil: an intercultural coming-of-age novel for young adults, but a cute read for adults, too.

Have you made any New Year’s resolutions for 2013?
More time with friends & family and more writing, the two of which are completely counter-productive in my case.

Any upcoming travel plans?
I am only happy when I have a plane ticket in my pocket so there are always trips planned. Didn’t René Descartes write, “I travel, therefore I am” — or something like that? The year will start with Germany, Ukraine, Spain and Canada.

SuzanneKamata_festive2) SUZANNE KAMATA

Have there been any big changes in your life since we last spoke?
I sold my debut YA novel, Gadget Girl: The Art of Being Invisible, about a biracial (Japanese/American) girl who travels to Paris with her sculptor Mom, to GemmaMedia. It will be published in May 2013. I was also honored to receive a grant for my work-in-progress, a mother/daughter travel memoir, from the Sustainable Arts Foundation.

How will you be spending the holidays?
We are planning a little jaunt to Osaka between Christmas and New Year’s, but mostly, we’ll be staying at home.

What’s the thing you most look forward to eating?
I’m looking forward to eating fried chicken and Christmas cake, which is what we traditionally have here in Japan on Christmas Eve. There are all kinds of Christmas cakes, but my family likes the kind made of ice cream.

Can you recommend any books you came across in 2012 that speak to the displaced life?

  1. The Girl with Borrowed Wings is a beautifully written contemporary paranormal novel featuring a biracial Third Culture Kid. The author herself, Rinsai Rossetti, is a TCK. She wrote this book when she was a student at Dartmouth. It’s unique and lovely and captures that in-between feeling of those who live in lots of different countries.
  2. I also enjoyed I Taste Fire, Earth, Rain: Elements of a Life with a Sherpa, by Caryl Sherpa, an American woman who went on a round-the-world trip and fell in love with a Sherpa while trekking in Nepal.
  3. Oh, and Harlot’s Sauce: A Memoir of Food, Family, Love, Loss, and Greece, by Patricia Volonakis Davis.

Do you have any New Year’s resolutions for 2013?
Hmmm. Exercise more (same as last year). Also, I resolve to finish a draft of my next novel.

Last but not least, any upcoming travel plans?
Yes! I’m planning on taking my daughter to Paris.

Jeff at Turkish Embassy3) JEFF JUNG

Have there been any big changes in your life since we last spoke?
Since the interview, I launched my first book, The Career Break Traveler’s Handbook. It’s available online at most major book stores in both print and e-versions. And, we’re on the verge of launching Season 1 of our TV show, The Career Break Travel Show, internationally. It includes adventures in South Africa, Spain, New Zealand and Patagonia. We’re just waiting for the new channel to launch.

How will you be spending the holidays this year?
After spending a quiet Christmas in Bogotá, I’ll head off to Washington, DC for my best friend’s wedding on New Year’s Eve. Then I’m off to Texas to see my parents for about ten days.

What’s the thing you most look forward to eating?
As far as food goes, I’m most looking forward to turkey and my dad’s award-winning BBQ.

Can you recommend any books you came across in 2012 that speak to the displaced life?
This year I read Dream. Save. Do., by Betsy and Warren Talbot. It’s a great book to help people achieve whatever goal they have.

Speaking of goals, any New Year’s resolutions for 2013?
Personally, I need to drop a bit of weight. I spent too much time writing and editing in 2012! Professionally, I want to see The Career Break Travel Show find its audience so we can head out to film Season 2!

Last but not least, any exciting travel plans?
I plan to travel for the filming of our second season (countries still to be determined). I also have the chance to go to Romania to volunteer at a bear rescue with Oyster Worldwide. It’ll be a mini-career break for me. I can’t wait.

* * *

Readers, this lot seems just as productive, if not more so, than the last one! Any questions for them — don’t you want to know their secret?

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s post by the Displaced Nation’s agony aunt, Mary-Sue — she wraps up 2012 by paying a visit to several of this year’s questioners: did they take her advice?!

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Images: Passport photo from Morguefiles; portrait photos are from the nomads.

RANDOM NOMAD: Jeff Jung, American Expat in Colombia & Career Break Travel Guy

Jeff JungPlace of birth: Fredericksburg, Texas USA
Passport: USA*
Overseas history: South Africa (Vanderbijlpark): 1988-1989; Argentina (Buenos Aires): 2007 (on and off between March-December 2007, continuously from September-December); Colombia (Bogotá): 2009 – present.
Occupation: Editor of CareerBreakSecrets.com and producer/host of the soon-to-be-globally-televised “The Career Break Travel Show.”
Cyberspace coordinates: Career Break Secrets Website/blog, Facebook page and YouTube channel; @CareerBrkSecret (Twitter handle).
*It’s filled up again so time to get to the embassy to add pages.

What made you leave your homeland in the first place?
Originally, I left to go travel the world when I took a career break from the corporate world in 2007. When I left, I didn’t know that I was going to start as an expat. But, while traveling, I met someone here in Colombia and wound up staying.

Is anyone else in your immediate family “displaced”?
I have many family members who have a bit of wanderlust in their soul. But, I think I am the only one who is living as an expat.

Can you describe the moment when you felt the most displaced?
That would probably be my trip to Egypt in 2008. I normally feel at home on the road. I love to travel. But, in Egypt, I just couldn’t seem to make a connection with the people, the culture or the country. I spent about ten days traveling with a friend. The combination of the heat, the constant sales pitches in the streets, and the culture of backsheesh just wore me out. It wasn’t all bad though. I had a few days on a felucca on the Nile and a few days to hang out in Luxor. But, when we returned for our final two days to Cairo, I didn’t go out. I hid in my room — not my travel style at all. I just wanted to rest and wait until it was time to go to the airport and leave.

Is there any particular moment that stands out as your “least displaced”?
That’s easy. I was an exchange student to South Africa just after high school. I had such an amazing year. Between four host families and a lot of great friends that I made at my host school, I didn’t want to leave. It’s probably why I’ve been back six times since then. On my last trip in 2009, I got to see the country preparing for the World Cup. I was so proud of South Africa. I’ve seen it go from pariah apartheid state to emerging world influencer — with many bumps along the way. It really is a special place. It’s been a few years since I’ve been, so I’m probably due for a visit again. I’m missing a good braai (barbeque) with my friends. My dream is to have a place in or just outside of Cape Town someday, with a view onto the ocean.

You may bring one curiosity you’ve collected from your adopted country into The Displaced Nation. What’s in your suitcase?
From Argentina: Breakfast foods — coffee, facturas (sweet Argentinian pastries with various fillings) and medialunas (Argentinian croissants).
From South Africa: Some bottles of wine, probably red. No, definitely red.
From Colombia: My mochila (over-the-shoulder daybag). These are used by everyone in Colombia, men and women, and they are perfect for carrying your stuff while you’re out running around.

You are invited to prepare one meal based on your travels for other members of The Displaced Nation. What’s on your menu?

Oh, this is going to be fun!
Appetizers: A selection of dips and finger foods from Turkey. I love the food there and really miss it.
Main course: A pork barbecue prepared by my dad who is a national award-winning BBQer in the US. Maybe we’ll have some fresh Patagonian lamb with it too. The meat will be served with a Greek salad and lots of veggie dishes — the veggies will have been bought fresh from La Vega Central, the produce market in Santiago, Chile. Finally, there will be plenty of my Dad’s award-winning sauce to go with the meal.
Drinks: Of course there will be plenty of wine from South Africa and we’ll also have sparkling water for a non-alcoholic option.
Dessert: Why select one? It’s a dinner party so there should be a variety! Brigadeiro (chocolate bonbons) from Brazil, ice cream from Argentina (unexpectedly amazing!), fresh fruit from Ecuador and Colombia, and churros from Spain (that can be a dessert, right?).
Nightcap: Amarula (cream liqueur) from South Africa, served with Segafredo coffee from Italy.

And now you may add a word or expression from the country where you live in to The Displaced Nation argot. What will you loan us?
Chucha (pronounced choo-chah): This Spanish word has multiple meanings across Latin America. In Chile, Ecuador and Peru, where I picked it up, it’s an interjection meaning “sh**” or “shoot.” In Colombia, it has two entirely different meanings depending on where you say it. In Bogotá, it means armpit odor and in Cartagena, it means vagina. People often look at me funny here when I say it. I’m sure the Displaced Nation has occasions when you could use a confusing swear word…

Put it this way: we like anything that makes people laugh! And this month we are looking at ways of achieving “la dolce vita” — by that we mean, indulging in life with all your senses. Can you describe an instance on your travels when you felt you were living la dolce vita?
In 2008, I traveled through Patagonia and had an amazing six weeks. The first part of the trip was on a Chilean ferry called Navimag, which cruises north to south from central Chile to the southern tip. You are in protected waters (most of the time) and on both sides of the ship is this beautiful, untouched landscape full of snow-capped volcanoes, lush green countrysides, enormous glaciers (some of the biggest in the world), and tiny, remote villages. You can also see marooned ships and the occasional dolphin. The weather can change from clear, sunny skies to blustery snow in a heartbeat. That trip is one of my most special trips ever. I really felt like I was living La Dolce Vita during those four days.

I personally think that the yearning for la dolce vita increases as one grows older. I know you are an expert on adult gap years. What made you decide to take one for yourself?
My catalytic moment was the night I went out with some friends to dinner on the River Walk in San Antonio, Texas, on a hot, balmy Friday night. They could tell I was down, and had been for some time. They asked me what it was going to take to make me happy. I didn’t have a good response that night. But, the question haunted me all weekend. I finally had an epiphany that I really wanted to leave my corporate job and get out in the world and travel. I traveled for almost two years mostly through South America, parts of Europe, Turkey and Egypt.

And then you decided to set up a business to encourage others to do the same?
Once I decided to settle in Colombia, I chose the entrepreneurial path and set up CareerBreakSecrets.com. I wanted to help popularize the idea of taking a career break and show other people that they can do it with just a little bit of guidance and inspiration. We’re now in our third year and will be releasing a book and launching our show, The Career Break Travel Show, globally later this year. I love hearing from real people who have decided to take their own break and if they set up a blog, follow them around the world on their travels. The people I’ve encountered have ranged from teachers to social workers to business people who have done some amazing things like volunteer and share their skills, hike Patagonia, bike across New Zealand, or take transcontinental train rides.

Readers — yay or nay for letting Jeff Jung into The Displaced Nation? Tell us your reasons. (Note: It’s fine to vote “nay” as long as you couch your reasoning in terms we all — including Jeff — find amusing!)

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s diary entry from our fictional expat heroine, Libby, who is desperately trying to hang onto her sanity…and her marriage. (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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img: Jeff Jung with baby cheetahs near Oudtshoorn, South Africa, September 2009.

Ladies and gentlemen, may we present: THE EXPAT OSCARS! Um…hello? Anyone there?

TheExpatOscarsThe Expat Oscars — really? Now that would be an unusual event. What would it look like?

I live in Spain. Oscars are something that are on TV Sunday night. Basically, very late at night. You don’t watch, you just read the news after who won or who lost. — Javier Bardem

Well, for starters the Expat Oscars would be held via Skype. If we had our own version of the Kodak Theatre, it’d be big and posh and empty — ’cause folk from ’round here…ain’t from ’round here! We’re displaced — all over the bloomin’ planet. Which is kind of the point. If we had to collect our awards in person, that ceremony would have a carbon footprint the size of a football stadium.

So we’re streaming live on the Internet. The Red Carpet is a million pixels long and is digitally re-mastered in every country participating. Unfortunately, Jennifer Lopez wouldn’t be invited as she’s never been displaced, only her clothing! Indeed, you won’t want to make a slip-up — or down — as the clip would literally be on YouTube before you knew it.

But if there wouldn’t be any wardrobe malfunctions, we could at least look forward to getting that delicious hang-fire moment when the Skype picture freezes, and then it cuts back in, seconds later, like this:

“Ladies and Gentlemen, the winner is…” PIXELATE — jittery jump — lips purse with a hint of spittle and stay like that — and pause — and pause —

Cut back in to rapturous applause, the digital wheeling of spotlights and we’ve got to sit through another five minutes of high-volume celebrating before we finally make out the individual giving an acceptance speech. (That’s if it doesn’t cut out again before we get that far!)

Who would host?

Milla Jovovich, you did a great job hosting the sci-tech awards for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, so you’re being promoted — to hosting the entire Expat Oscars shebang! We’d love it if you’d wear that white-sequin, one-shoulder gown you wore for the main event last night — and leave the granny glasses you donned for the sci-techies at home (wherever “home” is!).

From Long Beach to Pacific Palisades? Sorry, Billy Crystal, but that’s not displaced enough. Jovovich is Ukrianian, has lived in Europe and the US, and acted in films in several languages. All of that counts for a lot in our book.

Should Milla request a co-host, it would have to be either Keanu Reeves (he was born in Beirut, a third culture kid!) — or why not go for the daddy of successful expat movie stars, the man who redefined the phrase “I came, I saw, I conquered”: Mr. Arnold Schwarzenegger himself!

No? Well, it’s either him or Borat. With his penchant for embodying other nationalities rather too literally, Sacha Baron Cohen belongs more with our tribe than with the Academy’s. At the Expat Oscars he will be free to attend in his dictator’s uniform without having to get special clearance and can “ash” anyone he likes in the name of terrorizing fashion — the mess will only be virtual.

We’re talking a looooong ceremony

Besides, his antics might keep people awake. The Expat Oscars will have to be a long, LONG show — either that or we’d insist that everyone stay awake all night, and it would be 4 a.m. for someone.

Listen, you think it’s bad at the real Academy Awards sitting on the edge of your auditorium seat for several of hours, sipping champagne while you wait for your category to be announced — what if it’s being announced by someone eight time-zones away?

Charlize Theron*: “Ladies and Gentlemen, here to accept this prestigious award, please welcome Mr. Sung, live by satellite from Hong Kong! Please excuse the penguin pyjamas. And the fact that he’s drunk eight vodka-Red-bulls just trying to keep himself awake…”
Mr. Sung: “Fangssshhhverymussssh…hic!”
*With her South African pedigree, Charlize more than qualifies for the role of Expat Oscar presenter.

Best Foreign Language Film — is that second or third?

Our next category is for Best Film in a Foreign Language…but wait a minute! That’s not a foreign language! That’s my language! Ah…

So could we have Best Film in a Second Language perhaps? But would that category also include people who’ve made a film in their third language — or should they get their own category? And so on.

How about “Film in a Language So Obscure Even the Director Has No Idea What’s Going On”?

No politics/fashion, please, we’re expats

What a thrill. You know you’ve entered new territory when you realize that your outfit cost more than your film. – Jessica Yu, Academy Award Winner 1997 for Documentary Short Subject*
*Breathing Lessons: The Life and Work of Mark O’Brian, about a person with a breathing disability.

The traditional Hollywood bash is often clouded by politics not to mention gossip and verdicts on the gowns of the nominated actresses.

It wouldn’t be like that for us. The Expat Awards would be about the films.

Because we just don’t get each other’s governmental strife — we haven’t got time for sorting it all out.

For instance, I’m sure there’s plenty of fascinating developments in the politics of Milla’s Ukraine (they’re a Presidential Representative Democratic Republic, don’t you know!) — but to be honest, I don’t think that would figure in anyone’s acceptance speech.

How could it? I don’t even know what a PRDR is — do you?

And the fashion would be a bit more varied than in Hollywood. We’d have people walking down the Virtual Red Carpet in burkas, galabiyas — or board shorts and “thongs” for the Aussie nominees! And there’s bound to be a few unwashed backpacker types trying to get away with khakis and a vest…and not shaving. Okay, so that’s me.

And my speech — probably on accepting the World’s Most Ridiculous Person Award?

Tony: “I’d like to thank my Mum…”
Milla: “Well actually, we have your Mum on the phone right now! She’s asking where you are, and why you haven’t called her in the last six months…”
Tony: “I’d like to thank the Academy…and ask them to keep her talking long enough for me to get to a taxi.”

* * *

What else would go wrong with a displaced film award ceremony? Would the statuette be a little gold Buddha? Or a waving cat? Or a mermaid from “Here be dragons”? What would the categories be? And who would win?

Please share your craziest thoughts in the comments!

You could win…hmm, let’s see: the respect of the international film community?

Nah. Not even the real Oscars have that… 🙂

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s review of A Separation, which won the Oscar for Best Foreign Film, by expat author Matt Krause. Krause’s book, A Tight Wide-open Space: Finding love in a Muslim land, was featured on our site this month.

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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RANDOM NOMAD: Aaron Ausland, NGO Research Director & Development Practitioner

Born in: Eugene, Oregon (but raised in Plains, Montana, a town of 1,200)
Passport: USA*
Countries, states, cities lived in: Washington (Yakima, Tacoma, Spokane): 1989-95; Alaska (Anchorage): 1995-97; Bolivia (Bañado de la Cruz & Santa Cruz): 1997; 1998 – 2002; Washington (Seattle): 2002-03; Massachusetts (Cambridge): 2003-05; Guatemala (Guatemala City): 2004; California (Duarte): 2006-10; Colombia (Bogotá): 2010 – present.
Cyberspace coordinates: Staying for Tea | Good Principles and Practice of Community-based International Development (blog); @AaronAusland (Twitter handle); Aaron Ausland at Huffington Post (column)
*My passport is only three years old, but multiple entries to about 40 countries filled it right up and I’ve had to add more pages. By the end of this year, I will have slept somewhere other than home about 190 of the 365 nights.

What made you leave your homeland in the first place?
My late first wife and I wanted to make a difference in the world and were particularly passionate about issues of justice, peace, and poverty. After graduating from university, we decided that maybe the best place to match our greatest gifts with the world’s greatest needs was in the public policy arena. We thought it would be good to represent a view on behalf of the marginalized — those uninvited to the table where policy decisions are made that nevertheless affect their lives in profound ways. In particular, we were thinking of illiterate poor persons living in underdeveloped countries ruled by bad or incompetent leaders and subjected to all the crap that comes with weak institutions of governance.

But we realized it would be pretty lame to run off to graduate school straight out of undergrad and then find some job in a policy think tank or as a Congressional aide in the hopes of working our way up to having a place at the table with a mind to represent these unrepresented views when we really hadn’t a clue what they were.

So we made a three-year commitment with the Mennonite Central Committee to go live and serve in a Bolivian village with people who fit this description.

We were young, hopeful, idealistic, earnest, and naïve. I can say that I’m not so young anymore.

Is anyone else in your family a “displaced” person?
I have a brother who served in Iraq for a couple of years, but he now lives about a hundred meters from our dad’s house in Yakima, Washington. I’m really the only one in my family who has chosen a lifestyle for which the question “Where are you from?” generates a confusing jumble of explanation rather than a simple city-state combo. 

Unless you count my son, Thiago. He’s six and is definitely more “displaced” than me. He literally speaks of living in two different “worlds.” In one “world” he speaks Spanish, has a home and school in Colombia, where his sister was born, and has family in Bolivia (his mother is Bolivian). In the other world” — where he says he is really from — he speaks English and has friends in California and a large family on my side including a whole set from my late first wife. Yesterday he told his mother: “My brain is confused, I don’t know where I should live. All my friends are in California, but my cousins are in Bolivia, and I go to school in Colombia and have friends there, too.” Poor little nomad.

Describe the moment when you felt most displaced.
For me the question was “How the hell did a small town boy from Montana end up here?” Physically, at that moment, “here” was a stainless steel operating table in a dark and empty hospital room in Santa Cruz, Bolivia. But more profoundly, “here” was a situation so far from my expectations, I was literally struggling to connect the dots and figure out how I had gotten myself there. I was 25 years old. Somewhere in a ravine a hundred miles away lay the broken body of my wife. A few hours earlier, the public bus in which we were riding had missed a turn on the narrow, winding road that passes through the Andean foothills and tumbled 1,000 feet into the dark.

She and I had gone to Bolivia with a long-term vision of our lives together, and now I was here, in a foreign land, alone, the slate of the future wiped clean. It was so profoundly disorientating, I just kept coming back to the question: “How did I get here?” Maybe it was a way to push off the searing emotional pain that would come with facing into my new reality, but the question wouldn’t go away. What sequence of events and decisions led me here? Did I make a mistake?

I remembered scenes from my idyllic boyhood in small-town Montana when my whole world was contained in a 100- mile radius and a handful of friends and family members. How had the world gotten so big, so uncertain, so complicated? And what was I doing wandering around in it like a lost child? How had I gotten here?

Much later, I would decide that I hadn’t made any mistakes. My first wife and I had made decisions based on a set of values that we held in earnest and I continue to hold. The fact that those decisions led to tragedy does not diminish the certainty of those values — it just means that those who hold them are not exempt from catastrophic loss that come to all who live.

I know you were probably hoping for a funny anecdote about crazy food or wacky cultural misunderstanding, but this is my one true displacement story.

Describe the moment when you felt least displaced.
Nowadays, I feel a sort of indifference about the whole location thing, to be honest. Whether I’m living in Cambridge attending the Kennedy School of Government, or setting up a new home in Colombia, or sitting where I am at this moment at an outdoor bar in a hotel in Bamako, Mali, I feel neither particularly at home nor particularly displaced. Feeling at home has a lot less to do with place than it used to, and it’s often unpredictable. I can feel more at home in Albania when I have a good macchiato and an Internet connection to video Skype with my children than I might in a hotel in Atlanta after a missed flight, with a dead computer battery. I can feel more at home when I’m sharing a beer with a fellow expat I’ve just met in rural Cambodia than I might sharing a beer with an old friend I grew up with who never left Montana.

I’ve experienced profound moments in my adopted homelands — from becoming a widower, to getting married, to rejoicing at the birth of my daughter, to undergoing major medical treatment. In each of these, it was the people who surrounded me that made me feel at home, and the uniqueness of the event that made me feel displaced. The location or culture has ceased to hold much power over my perception of self at particular moments.

You may bring one curiosity you’ve collected from each of your adopted countries into the Displaced Nation. What’s in your suitcase?
I’ll bring my wife from Bolivia, my son from the USA, and my daughter from Colombia. They are certainly a curious bunch, but I can’t live without them.

You’re invited to prepare one meal based on your travels for other Displaced Nation members. What’s on the menu?
Well, the cuisines of places like India, Thailand, Ethiopia, and Mexico are always worth sharing. The rich complexities that have come from centuries of experimentation with combinations of local flavors as well as some exotic additions from old trade routes are heritage gifts to the world. But, I’m sure someone will bring a few dishes from these parts into the Displaced Nation, so maybe I’ll bring some less likely ones such as the rich Malian sauce made in part from the boiled fruit of the baobab tree; the surprisingly filling chicken hearts strung on a kabob, flavored with soy sauce and charcoal smoke, sold on the streets of Bolivia; or maybe a lesser known dish from Mexico — the corn smut omelet made with cuitlacoche, a purplish fungus that grows on corn; or maybe I’ll just bring the beer…

You may add one word or expression from the countries you’ve lived in to The Displaced Nation argot. What will you loan us?
I think I’ll pass on this one. Pole sana (so sorry!) as we say in Swahili. Actually, maybe that’s a good one. Pole (pronounced POH-lay) doesn’t have an exact English equivalent — it’s used to say you empathize and understand someone’s problems, without the connotation of inferiority that “I pity you” might have.

This month we are looking into “philanthropic displacement” — when people travel or become expats on behalf of helping others less fortunate than themselves. Do you have a role model you look up to when engaged in this kind of travel — whose words of advice you cherish?
I’ve never really had a specific role model for philanthropic displacement. That said, I’ve always been impressed with people who make long-term commitments to live among the people they wish to serve and voluntarily forego access to comforts and safety they might otherwise enjoy.

There are some famous examples like Mother Theresa, but the ones that have had the biggest personal impact on me are unknowns — volunteers and professionals I’ve met and worked with along the way. Such people taught me how to live with a kitchen stocked with just 12 items — that’s counting the spices. They taught me how to bring my water up from the river in the morning and hang it in a tree from a bucket painted black so that the sun would heat the water throughout the day, in preparation for a warm evening bucket shower. I learned how to capture rain water, how to build dry latrines, how to trust local medicinal practices, how to enjoy silence, how to walk the equivalent of a marathon a day to visit local families, how to sit and unhurriedly share tea over conversations that circle around rather than cut to the chase, how to embrace simplicity as a virtue… I also forgot how to complain and remembered to be grateful in the midst of scarcity.

Most of my role models didn’t do anything spectacular — they didn’t invent microfinance or the treadle pump, they didn’t negotiate peace accords or write a best seller. But the way they displaced themselves so thoroughly, the way they embraced their local communities with such authenticity — this had a big impact on how the communities valued their presence and their contribution, and on me.

Voluntourism is said to be the fastest growing segment of the travel industry (itself one of the world’s fastest growing industries). Do you think this kind of travel can help the uninitiated understand the problems our planet is facing?
No, not really. It’s not that I think voluntourism is unequivocally a bad thing, but I just don’t think you can expect people to gain a very accurate understanding of complex problems under such circumstances. In fact, I think it’s more likely to leave them with a distorted understanding. There is a saying I picked up somewhere that goes something like this:

Travel to a new place for three weeks and you can write a book, travel for three months and you can write an article, travel for three years and you’ll likely have nothing to say.

There’s just something about a short and intense exposure that seems to set very strong ideas into the minds of those who’ve experienced it. But their ideas are biased by the specificity, narrowness, and brevity of that experience.

For example, someone who has had a high-impact experience volunteering in an orphanage for a week may feel they know more about the issue than people who haven’t had that experience. In fact, they may actually know less due to the biases they have picked up. It’s like believing you know something about the average person in a country from a single observation.

Sometimes, people know just enough to be dangerous; they mistake their shallow knowledge for an actual understanding of some enormously complex problem, and they act on it in ways that are ultimately irresponsible.

The truth is, the problems facing our planet are complex and we should all be grateful for the specialists who have dedicated their lives to understanding and addressing them. Doing something serious about addressing these problems will require professionals, not hobbyists; lifers, not tourists.

Again, it’s not necessarily a bad thing to pass through as a tourist, but with regards to your question here, we need to guard against self-deception. I’ve taken a few tours of a number of hydro-electric projects across the Western USA. I think they are really interesting. But, I know better than to believe I know the first thing about harnessing the power of water to generate electricity while balancing the ecological, economic, legal, social and political interests of farmers, consumers, industry, and the environment.

Likewise, you can’t take a two-day tour of an urban slum in Kenya and think you understand poverty, urban migration, economic development, or whatever other angle one might give such a tour.

For a broader scope of my thoughts on voluntourism, I encourage you to see my blog posts:

Readers — yay or nay for letting Aaron Ausland into The Displaced Nation? Tell us your reasons. (Note: It’s fine to vote “nay” as long as you couch your reasoning in terms we all — including Aaron — find amusing.)

img: Aaron Ausland in Mexico City (he’s the suit!). While on a lunch break from her work conducting a month-long operations audit of an NGO office, Aaron happened upon a lucha libre wrestling match putting on an outdoor show, and decided it would be amusing to pose with the star luchadore.

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s installment from our displaced fictional heroine, Libby, when we get to find out whether she’s recovered from eating her mother-in-law’s undercooked Thanksgiving turkey. (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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