The Displaced Nation

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TCK TALENT: In response to “Where are you from?” a few more TCKs wax poetic

Columnist Dounia Bertuccelli is back with a second round of poems composed by Third Culture Kids in answer to that vexed “where are you from?” question.

Hello Displaced Nationers, global nomads, expats, Third Culture Kids and other curious travelers! Since the last time my column appeared, I trust you have moved on from an enjoyable summer (or winter, for our friends in the Southern Hemisphere) to a splendid fall (or spring).

In celebration of the change in seasons, I’d like to present the second post in my series of TCK poetry here at the TCK Talent column. If you missed the first, be sure to check it out here. As I explained then, the poems are the work of a group of 11th and 12th graders at an international school in Malta. Their teacher wanted them to think more deeply about what “home” means for them, given that they are all growing up in more than one country.

Perhaps because I never even lived in the country of my ancestry (Lebanon), I find it endlessly fascinating to read what these young people had to say in response to the fundamental TCK question: where are you from? The older I get, the more I realize that, although there are places I feel more connected to and that hold a big piece of my heart, I’m definitely not “from” any of these places. I don’t belong entirely to any of them.

And by now I’ve also grown used to the bittersweet flavor of living in-between. At the same time, I feel confident that, given the choice, I would do it all over again—because the sweet far outweighs the bitter.

See what you think of the poems below, readers. Are the young writers on the road to the place where I am now: can they taste more sweet than bitter?

* * *

Where I’m From
By Arabella Ovesen

I am from the tall coconut tree
towering over a blue sea
where the Rhum Runner runs
under the midnight sun.
I’m from the yellow, luxurious castle
Azzurra where father taught me to dazzle.

But one day we went up north,
back to the Vikings’ home
where they work back and forth
in a frozen zone.
And that day, I lost my
Spice Ilse throne.

I’m from the pure white snow
of the Northern Pole.
From being surprised;  
At the age of fourteen,
they didn’t want to survive.
I’m from time being slow, dark.
A place where Caribbean purity
lost its innocence,
and left a burnt mark.


Arabella is from Grenada; she has also lived in Malta and Sweden.

Where I’m From
By Clarissa Meyringer

I am from trams
From steel and cement
I am from cold, glistening snow,
It feels like whipped cream.
I am from the towering pines,
giants whose evergreen leaves
were sharp like knives.

I’m from horses of stone
From Fabio and Ben
I’m from the jokers
And the loners
From turning and turmoil
I’m from shadows,
Seen, never heard or spoken of.

I’m from the shallow sea, crystalline.
From the late night snacks
of my grandmother,
The dangerous soccer fan tales of my uncle
I’m from lore and religion, Supernatural;
A friendship with Luci, Castiel and an alliance with Crowley.

On a wall in my room is a drawing
Colors bright
A breathtaking sight
A crayon mess
I am from that place—
Chaotic and free—
Everchanging.

Clarissa is Austrian-Italian; she was living in Malta at the time of writing.

Where I’m From
By Gianluca Chincoli

I’m from the mixed sounds of farm animals
The mud, those painful marble stairs, and a giant old farmhouse.
I am from fresh air and immense woods
Extending in all directions like a green ocean.

I’m from those two spiteful creatures
That made my life a horror and a fight since the beginning.
I am from big toothless smiles to every stranger
And all those cheeky jokes we crew of three planned every day.

I’m from the wind of the night and the day,
Warm and cold, strong and weak like a zephyr.
On those plastic crafts with sails it was always a tough adventure
But the prizes were always priceless.

I’m from the screamings of my father
New experiences, like no one else in the world.
I am from the orange porch of golden sunsets,
Where the wolf was acting drama in front of the innocent children.

From Italy, Gianluca has been living in Malta.

* * *

We love to hear from our readers, so please leave any thoughts, questions, suggestions, and yes, poetry in the comments!

Born in Nicosia, Cyprus, to Lebanese parents, Dounia Bertuccelli has lived in France, UK, Australia, Philippines, Mexico, and the USA—but never in Lebanon. She writes about her experiences growing up as a TCK and adjusting as an adult TCK on her blog Next Stop, which is a collection of prose, poetry and photography. She also serves as the managing editor of The Black Expat; Expat Resource Manager for Global Living Magazine; and is a freelance writer and editor. Currently based on the East Coast of the United States, she is happily married to a fellow TCK who shares her love for travel, music and good food. To learn more about Dounia, please read her interview with former TCK Talent columnist Lisa Liang. You can also follow her on Twitter.

STAY TUNED for next week’s fab posts!

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

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Photo credits:
All photos from Pixabay except:
– Photo of Rum Runner boat in Grenada: 1252 Rhum Runner II in Grenada (19), by Mark Morgan via Flickr (CC BY 2.0).
– Photo of Italian football fans: AC Mailand – VfL Wolfsburg (2:2), by funky1opti via Flickr (CC BY 2.0).
– NOTE: The final photo (from Pixabay) is of a hiking path in the Garda Mountains, in northern Italy.

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And the June 2014 Alices go to … these 4 international creatives

 © Iamezan | Dreamstime.com Used under license

© Iamezan | Dreamstime.com
Used under license

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

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

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

Today’s post honors June’s four Alice recipients. They are (drumroll…):

1) ANDREW CREELMAN, British expat in São Paulo, blogger and author of the memoir Trying to Understand Brazilian Culture

For his post: What It’s Like to Watch World Cup Games on the Streets of São Paulo, on his blog, What About São Paulo?
Posted on: 19 June 2014
Snippet:

Watching England vs Italy
The day I’d been waiting for had arrived! I’d managed to recruit a Dane, an American and a couple of Brazilians to support England with me, and we all headed over to the Fan fest area just in time for the English national anthem. I belted this out with gusto, and I noticed I wasn’t alone; there were at least 100 other Brits I could almost hear singing too.

Then the Italian anthem started, and things took an unexpected turn. It was as if EVERYONE else was singing along to this, waving their Italian flags. But then São Paulo is home to a huge number of Brazilians of Italian descent, and for some reason, I hadn’t even thought about this before arriving. To make things worse, there was a group of big, burly Italians stood by us, clearly very passionate about this song and the team.

Citation: Andrew, we’re surprised you didn’t perfect your capoeira kicks before venturing into the FIFA Fan Fest area of São Paulo to watch England play Italy. But it seems you were that clueless. Your story in fact puts us in mind of Alice when she was handed a flamingo and gopher and told to play croquet. She was “in such confusion that she never knew whether it was her turn or not.” Likewise, we note that you were jumping up and down when you imagined England had scored a goal when in fact the ball had hit the outside of the net. Still, it’s a good thing you were mistaken or else those “big, burly” Brazilians of Italian descent might have screamed “Off with his head!”. As it was, their smirks must have made you feel a right wally. Welcome to the Fédération Internationale de Alice (FIA). And, yes, it’s time to invest in the Brazilian equivalent of Spec Savers.

2) CLAIRE BOLDEN MCGILL, British expat in Maryland and blogger at UKDesperateHousewifeUSA

For her post: Brazil 2014: The World Cup Widow’s Guide to Surviving It Stateside, to Lawrence Brown’s blog, Lost in the Pond
Posted on: 12 June 2014
Snippet:

List of activities for making World Cup widowhood fun

3. Buy a big hat and pretend you’re a rich British aristocrat. There is no other reason to do this, other than it’s something fun to do when the game is on.

Really go to town on the British accent. Order or make tea and be all lah-dee-dah, and poo-poo lemon and sweetener, get a proper milk jug and dunk in a Custard Cream. Keep being posh and drink tea and say posh British things during the game.

Citation: Love it, love it, love it, Claire! Only can we make just one wee suggestion, that while outfitted in this rather outlandish garb, you borrow a line from the March Hare and say to your husband, very earnestly: “Take some more tea.” Then when he says he hasn’t had any tea yet so can hardly take more, you can say:

“You mean you can’t take LESS. It’s very easy to take MORE than nothing.”

Just think, he may look away from the screen for an instant, wondering whether you’ve gone totally barking. Mmmmm… Okay, probably not. Still, a Mad Hatter Tea Party would be marginally more entertaining than playing World Cup bingo with yourself (No 6).

3) JANE DEAN, blogger, editor, writer; English-born global resident (but currently in the Netherlands)

For her post: The Non-Expat Expat: Not Fitting The Box to her blog, Wordgeyser
Posted on: 28 May 2014
Snippet:

Today we have no concept of “home” in a geographic sense. This used to worry me and I know it caused consternation for our families that we no longer felt, or identified ourselves as, “British”. I used to feel wholly American, now not so much. I find I can’t identify with any given nationality, but am most comfortable surrounded by people like me, who are from everywhere.

Citation: Jane, at a time when America is about to celebrate its independence from Britain, we find it refreshing to encounter your “nothing is permanent, not even nationality” perspective. British one day and “wholly American” the next—it’s a pivot that can only be rivaled by the German football players on Team USA. What’s more, it’s impressive that you’ve renounced expat-hood as an alternative identity. We, too, have never identified with the expat label and, upon reading your post, suddenly understood why: it’s because we’ve all been “local” (only one of us has had an expat package, in Japan). Like you, we would advise others who feel they are “from everywhere” not to spend too much time on the Alice-in-Wonderland puzzle of “Who in the world am I?” The sooner one can get over the feeling of having arms and feet poking out of the windows and doors of the White Rabbit’s house—or, as you would put it, Jane, “not fitting the box”—the better. To echo your words: “The worst disasters make the best stories down the years.”

4) BRITTANY JORDT, diehard Wisconsinite, “almost expat” in New Zealand and travel blogger

For her post: Reflections on a year and a half abroad, from an almost expat on her blog, Today I’m 20-Something
Posted on: 13 May 2014
Snippet:

Which brings me to my point: anyone who tells you they don’t miss home is either lying or doesn’t have a home worth missing. In the first case, you can hardly blame a person for denying how much they long for the land of their birth, especially when (as is often the case) it’s not feasible to go back. The second scenario is one I don’t envy, even if the homesickness sometimes drags me down.

Citation: Well said, Brittany! Listen, a rainy day in Auckland, the kind that makes you wear socks with your slippers and huddle around the propane heater, would bring out the homesick in anyone, even those of us who don’t have homes worth missing. But your point is well taken. You’re not in Wisconsin any more. To return to Alice (don’t you imagine she and Dorothy would be friends?), a person who is living abroad, particularly on the other side of the world, in the Land of Feijoas no less, would be lying if they didn’t occasionally admit to having a moment like this:

“It was much pleasanter at home,” thought poor Alice, “when one wasn’t always growing larger and smaller, and being ordered about by mice and rabbits. I almost wish I hadn’t gone down that rabbit-hole—and yet—and yet—it’s rather curious, you know, this sort of life!”

We also love that you refer to yourself as an “almost expat—a person who still feels the tug of home on her heart”. It’s the perfect way to describe the existential ambivalence that goes hand in hand with a life of displacement, that persistent feeling of: “There’s no place like home…There’s no place…” Is it any wonder that the Kiwi granny thought you were a keeper? 🙂

*  *  *

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

STAY TUNED for more fab posts.

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

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

Denglish 3 Collage

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

HowtobeGerman_cover_ds

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

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

Is your German not the yellow from the egg?

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

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

denglishforbetterknowers_cover_ds

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

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

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

With the German language is very good cherry eating

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

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

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

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

Is your English all under the pig?

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

To reiterate, alles klar!

STAY TUNED for next week’s fab posts!

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For this global travel buff who meditates with camera in hand and HDR on screen, a picture says…

Andy Harvard A Picture Says Collage

Canon zoom lens; photo credit: Morguefiles. Andy Harvard enjoying an ice-cold Hansa in a hotel bar off the coast of Durban (photo source: Andy Harvard).

Welcome 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 the 45-year-old South African photographer, traveller and chef Andrew (Andy) Harvard. Most chefs enjoy eating and are by nature creative people. Andy is no exception and his creative talents, ideas and passion spill over into his passion for photography, which he indulges on travels in South Africa and worldwide. He has a blog that celebrates all three passions under the descriptive title “snap fly cook”.

An early bird, Andy often wakes-up at 03h00 in summers to be on the beach in Durban, where he lives, in time for first light and sunrise an hour or so later. He is also fond of seeking out “hard to access” locations and revels in the hours spent working and reworking his photos through his favorite software packages. As he puts it:

I find this process very calming and am sometimes like a kid in awe when something magical happens. It is a meditation of sorts for me, an “addiction” that has to be fed. Oh! The wonders of HDR processing.

* * *

Hi, Andy. Even though we haven’t met face to face, we’ve had a fair amount of electronic communication over the past six months, and I’m pleased we’re finally doing this interview. Before we start I’d like to thank you for the support you gave me when I was grappling with the real basics of DLSR and HDR photographylike how to take the lens cap off so my photos wouldn’t look so dark! I know you were born in Durban, which was the first place I visited in South Africa, in 1990. When did you spread your wings and start travelling around photographing different places?
It all started in 1999 at the end of a relationship. My ex-girlfriend and I had travelled to destinations such as Mauritius and the Maldives luxuriating in 4 & 5 star hotels and resorts. As part of our very amicable breakup, she gave me a free return flight to England, where I met my (now) best friend, Jason. He and I flew from England to Amsterdam for three nights. Remember the adage “what goes on tour stays on tour”? Well, I will say no more than it was a good tour and the start of my real travel and photography adventures.

Now we all want to know more; please carry on, Andy.
Well, I have mostly travelled alone and up until meeting my wife, have enjoyed adventuring by myself. I found that travelling with others has the potential to cause unnecessary complications. Maybe you want to eat Italian and your companion wants to eat Indian. One wants to head into Northern India, and the other wants to go spend a week in a houseboat in Kerala, a state in southwest India. I have no problem talking to strangers, mingling and keeping myself very busy. Budget accommodation and street food are my favorites, although I have been known to spend 5,000 INR (Indian rupees, around 80 USD) on a lobster and 14,000 INR (around $2,300 USD) on a hotel room in Mumbai, as well as similar amounts in other locations. But that is only once in a blue moon. It will, therefore, come as no surprise that on each occasion I have been to India, I have suffered from food poisoning.

Concentrate the mind on the present moment – Buddhist precept

You’ve been to quite a number of places in the world. Can you give us a clearer idea of the range?
I have travelled on business to Swaziland and many other destinations in South Africa. In pursuit of the Buddhist spiritual path, I have been to Germany, Spain and the UK to participate in retreats and festivals. I have an appetite for grassroots communication that has taken me to countries such as Brazil, Thailand, Croatia, Turkey and Lesotho. Meeting people from various cultures has been a great inspiration. According to Trip Advisor, I have been to 18 countries and 115 cities.

I understand you like to disconnect completely when you’re on a trip?
When I travel, I have minimal to nil contact with my home country. I purposely detach myself from everyday life for the time I am away so that I can dissolve into a dreamland of new discoveries and possibilities.

Despite having gone North, South, East and West, you are currently living in your birthplace, Durban, a city of which I have fond memories. It’s so long since I was there! What is life like in your hometown these days?
Durban (Zulu: eThekwini, from itheku, meaning “bay/lagoon’), for those who don’t know it as well as you do, is the largest city in the South African province of KwaZulu-Natal and the busiest port in South Africa and Africa. Though a major manufacturing hub, it’s also a major centre of tourism because of its subtropical climate and fabulous beaches. I don’t think it’s changed much since you left. We Durbanites have always been “laid back”. Our roads are nowhere near as busy as those in the capital, Johannesburg. The beach is still magnificent for surfers and sun lovers, but swimmers must take care. The surf is big and the sharks bite! It’s never cold as you will know, but often the humidity is high. Let’s see, what else can I tell you? Oh, I know. Durban is the home of the Sharks Rugby Union, who are usually title contenders (rugby being our national sport).

It still sounds like a great place to be, but as I became an adopted Capetonian, I afraid I can’t support the Sharks. It’s the Stormers for me.

Receive the present moment, pleasant or unpleasant, just as it is… – Buddhist precept

Let’s get down to one of your passions that is fast becoming one of mine, too—photography. First, you have kindly agreed to share three photos that capture some of your favorite memories. Can you describe the story behind each one and what makes them so special for you?
These three photos are from 2009 and 2010, before the photography bug really bit me hard. But they have each etched a place in my heart.

Calcutta_1

The grim reality of poverty in Kolkata; photo credit: Andy Harvard.

This photograph, taken in Kolkata (aka Calcutta), India, shows an elderly, thin, grey-haired lady in an orange sari. The lady in the white sari, lying curled up on the ground, I’d previously seen walking hunchbacked, slowly and in considerable pain, toward Mother Teresa’s home. I had a strong suspicion she was desperately trying to reach Mother Teresa’s Home for the destitute, sick and dying. I do not recall having ever having seen poverty of this magnitude when walking the main and side roads of South Africa, or anywhere else.

The picture alone tells a tragic story but your explanation adds a lot more. Thank you.

Calcutta_2

Another view of poverty in Kolkata, slightly more uplifting; photo credit: Andy Harvard.

This photo, also taken in Kolkata, indicates how desperate the lives of some people still are. The driver shovels refuse onto the truck while the crows watch in anticipation of scraps as a lady and her son appear to do so as well. The lady was searching for food and maybe something of value whilst her son sat quietly guarding their personal belongings. The dog, relaxed, watched as drivers constantly hooted and maneuvered around one another. A lot of noise but minimal fuss, no road rage or the time-consuming jams we tend to associate with dense traffic. The Kolkata experience was very brief, but I felt a sense of spirituality here. Small shrines are erected on the sides of most roadssometimes seen every fifty metres or so. Every person (other than the beggars at the temple), including the crows, dogs and cows appeared to be busy, desperately doing something meaningful in their quest for survival.

Knowing the story behind this photo helps us to appreciate how well you have captured a small corner of peace and quiet surrounded by a cacophony of noise.

WorldCup_SouthAfrica

The 2010 World Cup quarter-final match Uruguay vs. Spain, held in Durban, SA (Spain won to eventually take home the title); photo credit: Andy Harvard

Spain beat Germany in Durban on 7 July 2010. They reached a World Cup final for the first time and went on to beat Holland in Johannesburg. The only goal in Durban came from a header by Carles Puyol. This was the first time I had witnessed extreme soccer fever, and this photo won a competition in one of Durban’s newspapers.

In this photo you have captured the spirit of the occasion, which is now upon us again in Brazil. Congratulations on your award.

The key to happiness is inner peace – Buddhist precept

Next we’re going to talk about some of your current favorite places to take photographs. Can you explain why these three places inspire you and how it shows in the photos you’ve selected?
1) Huge mountains, deep valleys, tranquillity, big skies, rural living, clean fresh breezes, golden lightMonteseel, in the Valley of One Thousand Hills, makes one realize how small and insignificant certain problems we all have actually are:

Monteseel, in the  Valley of 1000 Hills, South Africa; photo credit: Andy Harvard.

Monteseel, in the Valley of 1000 Hills, South Africa; photo credit: Andy Harvard.

2) This unspoiled coastline with restricted access is literally around the corner from Durban’s Central Business District, which we call CBD. It’s a photographer’s paradise:

SouthAfricanBeach

Northern Bluff coastline, Durban, South Africa; photo credit: Andy Harvard.

3) Early mornings at this spot are full of activity: surfers, ski boats, fishermen, sailboats, people exercising, seine netters, photographers, holiday makers, recovering late night revellers and more. After a year of hard slogging, I managed to take this serene pier shot:

MoyoPier

Moyo uShaka Pier, Durban, South Africa; photo credit: Andy Harvard.

This photo actually won first place in my photo club’s monthly competition. The chairman said:

Brilliant, love the symmetric composition with a warm and cold side, slightly reminiscent of Turner’s sky in The Fighting Temeraire.

I know that Monteseel is an awesome place, so powerful it’s almost overpowering. It’s a great capture. Your photo of CBD is so dramatic that, although I know how warm the sea is, it looks positively cold. Why have you never shown me this before? It’s awesome. So you had to work a bit to get the last one! Well done.

You should move with a sharp consciousness… – Buddhist precept

Would you say that photography and the ability to be able to capture something unique, which will never be seen again, is a powerful force for you?
Yes, but more importantly, photography is the way I choose to meditate. I go into a semi-transcendental state when shooting and later when processing the photos on the computer. I believe the habit dates from my mother’s death in early 2013. When we visited her in hospital, we would all sit on the veranda outside the ward while I took night-time photos. Later, when going through some boxes of photos she had taken in her youth, I learned that she had been a photographer of “social” note. Not long after, I got hooked on HDR photography. I was a member of a Buddhist tradition for two years, attending teachings and meditation classes about 6–7 hours a week. Now my “meditation” is taking photos while a new day dawns in near complete silence and then sitting for hours post-processing photos to create a work of art. It isn’t a jobit’s a passion; and I want to keep it that way and share the results with others.

Thank you, Andy, for sharing such a fascinating personal story. Now for the technical stuff. What kind of camera and lenses do you use?
I have a Canon 6D, 17/40mm and 24/105mm. I also have my “old” baby Canon 550D which uses either lens above when not in use by “big brother”.

And which software do you use for post-processing?
Which software do I not use? I will use any software available to manipulate my photos to achieve the look I want to see. I know no bounds in this regard. I started with Photomatix HDR software and would attempt to “HDR” everything I could at any time of the dayi.e., dogs, people, machinery and trees. Later I learnt that this was a little foolish but, as I realized when reading this article on the topic, a necessary part of my progression. Lately, I’ve been shooting fewer exposures and manually blending them in Photoshop with layers and masks. I am new at this and on another learning curve.

Sounds like you are a post-processing junkie. I can identify with that and hope to move up to your level when I understand a lot more about the various programs. Finally, do you have any advice for wannabe photographers who are traveling or living abroad?
Be confident and take charge. Keep the camera in hand or on a sling (not deep in a bag). Take lots of photos and even different angles on the same scene. Go into a tunnel zone where you are only thinking about and taking photos. Get down on the street and get dirty. Find top photographers who you admire and follow them. Study their work and every word on their pages (great tips sometimes come hidden in a few sentences). Look at the best photo you find and think “I can do this and better, it might just take some time”. Some really kind photographers offer free tutorials in video or written formatmake the time to find them and work through them.

* * *

Thank you, Andy. I have really enjoyed our interview. Your story is so compelling and you do approach things from a different angle to many of us.

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

And if you want to know more about Andy, don’t forget to visit his blog, Snap Fly Cook. You can also connect with him on Facebook and visit his gallery of “special” photos on Pixels.com.

(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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From soccer hater to World Cup fanatic: A most peculiar expat tale

FIFA World Cup Collage

The Brazilian player Edmilson Santos, by AK Bijuraj; CocaCola FIFA World Cup Soccer, by Mike Mozart; FIFA World Cup trophy, by Warrenski (all CC).

To mark the start of the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, I have updated a post I wrote four years ago, in time for 2010 World Cup, in South Africa. I wrote it for the now-defunct Pond Parleys, the brainchild of esteemed writers Toni Hargis (a British expat in the US, with an American husband) and Mike Harling (an American expat in the UK, with an English wife).

In America, of course, we call it soccer. But I am content to say “football.” If there’s one thing I learned from living in England for nearly ten years, it’s to use the English language with precision (in which case, shouldn’t it be “foot-and-head ball”?).

So, herewith, an attempt to tell the rather twisted tale of my conversion to football fandom, though part of me will always wonder: is my story more typical than one imagines? Surely, a taste for football isn’t easily acquired by those who don’t have it in their national DNA?

PART I: Why I Never Liked Football Whilst Living in England

This little tale of mine begins on a dark and stormy night in the latter years of the 20th century. I am living in football-mad England but am rapidly developing an aversion to the sport, squandering my first real opportunity to see it played at a professional level.

Chalk it up to my contrarian nature. I’m not one to throw myself into chanting, banner waving, and other tribal behaviors before I’ve had a chance to study what’s going on and make a full appraisal. And it did not take me long to find things I was less than enamored of, including:

1) The game itself—the endless running up and down the pitch with hardly any scoring. The few times I watched a football match, I inevitably got up to make a cup of tea, or dozed off, just as the one goal of the match was being made.

2) The fans—mostly male, many of them yobbos (some of whom are now chavs?). But even if we leave social class out of the equation, a good number of the UK’s football fans appeared to be hooligans, not exactly the most appealing lot—especially to a grad student like me, whose images of England had been formed from a steady diet of Jane Austen novels and Merchant-Ivory period movies. Occasionally violent male bonding rituals weren’t on the agenda. (I’m sure it didn’t help that my arrival in England coincided with football hooliganism reaching new levels of hysteria.)

3) The jingoistic tabloid coverage—which reaches its height whenever England plays Germany. I happened to be living in London in 2006, when the semifinals of the European finals, between England and Germany, took place at Wembley Stadium. What a palaver! The British mass-circulation paper The Daily Mirror ran a front-page headline “Achtung! Surrender!” over a photo of two England stars wearing World War II helmets. Years later, when England met Germany in the 2010 World Cup, held in South Africa, John F. Burns contributed an article to the New York Times contending that such “rib-poking” has provided catharsis for England and Germany over the years. Who am I to contradict Burns, the Times‘s London bureau chief and an expert on interpreting his native culture? Still, I couldn’t help but think of the late American historian Howard Zinn‘s warning that harmless pride can become an “arrogant nationalism dangerous to others and to ourselves.” Red card!

It’s perhaps worth noting that of all the reasons I came up with not to like football, none of them included the argument that occasionally surfaces in right-wing circles in the United States, which is that football is collectivist and carries the threat of “socializing” Americans’ taste in sports.

As an expat, I had a choice: keep skating along the surface and pretend football doesn’t exist, or else try and go closer to the beating heart of my adopted culture and see what makes it tick.

So I gave football a miss and moved back to pursuing a life of cream teas, theatre performances, cricket…wait did I just say “cricket”? I must be getting batty… (hahaha)

PART II: How I Came to Change My Mind About Football, or At Least the World Cup

Am I looking forward to this year’s World Cup championship games in Brazil? Why soitenly! Numbskull that I am, I’ve finally gotten with the program!!

Herewith, the second part of my most peculiar tale. As explained in Part I, I never paid much attention to the sport despite nearly a decade of exposure; on the contrary, I developed an abhorrence for it.

But four years ago all of that changed. Having settled back in the United States, I found myself powerfully drawn to the championship that took place in South Africa, and I expect it will be no different this time around, with the World Cup being hosted by Brazil. (While I’m sad that Paul the Octopus is no longer with us, I take comfort in the thought of Nelly the Elephant taking his place—her punditry is apparently on a similar level.)

I can’t pinpoint the precise moment when my conversion happened, especially as football still has all the same drawbacks I’d once noted: goals are few and far between, the fans are predominantly male, and jingoism reigns, particularly between the English and the Germans.

All I know is that it wasn’t until I was back in my own culture that I felt comfortable giving the sport a chance. Yes, I know this is ironic considering that the UK is considered to be the cradle of the game (the English have been kicking balls competitively since at least 1314), whereas we Yanks still aren’t quite there.

My top three reasons for fanning football are:

1) It’s the World Cup, stupid. Living in England, I couldn’t see the World Cup forest from the local English football club trees. But when watching the very best players in the world compete, even a hardened skeptic like me can start to appreciate why they call it The Beautiful Game. Those feet of theirs—they are using them like hands! That Messi fellow: it looks as though the ball is glued to his feet; how extraordinary! Xavi Hernández and Andrés Iniesta: it’s incredible how they can pass the ball through the midfields! And let’s not forget Yaya Touré and the way he switches gears. Robin van Persie has a left foot to die for! And so on…

2) It’s a much-needed distraction from other kinds of world events. There’s nothing quite like a soaring soccer ball to lift the spirits, not to mention the vicarious pleasure of seeing a team, and a nation, carry off the trophy. I can still recall the thrill of watching the first European team win outside Europe, at the tournament in South Africa. ‪Viva España!‬

3) It’s on a par with, or perhaps even better than, the Olympics. Ironically, even though there is nothing quite like football to arouse nationalistic urges, the World Cup is, as the name suggests, a world competition, with 32 nations competing. (Compare that to America’s World Series—now that’s a misnomer!) Repeat expats like me, who are a hybrid of nationalities, are the ideal supporters of such sporting events. I think it also helps that I don’t really have a dog in the race. Though America competes, we aren’t yet a serious contender for the cup. This leaves me free to throw my support behind almost any athlete or team that I think are the world’s best. The Olympics of course provide many such opportunities; but that’s the problem: there’s too much choice. What I love about the FIFA World Cup is that it’s a singular occasion. There can be no bigger stage, literally as well as figuratively, than the vast pitch on which this ultimate sporting drama takes

*  *  *

It’s time to hear from you, dear reader. Is my conversion complete, or should I be bending the case for football still more, by stressing its potential for opening up intergalactic communication and fostering truly universal harmony? And even if you don’t share this new-found enthusiasm of mine, can you at least relate to the experience of getting to know and love a sport outside the ones you grew up playing and watching? Do tell!

STAY TUNED for next week’s fab posts!

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