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CULTURE SHOCK TOOLBOX: Expats and TCKs, humility is your best cross-cultural tool—and don’t forget to pack that golden triad!

marilyn-gardner-cst
This month transitions enthusiast H.E. Rybol consults with a prominent member of the former expat/Adult Third Culture Kid community on how best to handle culture shock. They also discuss reverse culture shock, though her guest finds that term something of a misnomer…

Hello, Displaced Nationers!

I suspect some of you may already know, or at least know of, my guest this month, the multi-talented Marilyn Gardner. She is a blogger, author, consultant and public speaker. You may have come across her blog, Communicating Across Boundaries, or heard of her book, Between Worlds: Essays on Culture and Belonging, which is drawn from her blog writings and gets rave reviews from Amazon readers, who call her a “master storyteller.”

Born in small-town Massachusetts, Marilyn moved to Pakistan when she was three months old. She returned to the United States for college, became a nurse, and then tried to go “home” to Pakistan, only to be deported back to the U.S. after three months. She resumed her travels with marriage, producing five children on three continents and raising them in Pakistan and Egypt. When she and her husband finally repatriated, they arrived from Cairo at Dulles Airport with five children, 26 suitcases, and an Egyptian Siamese cat. They now live in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Marilyn has a passion for helping under-served communities, including refugees and immigrants, with their health care needs. She started her blog in 2011 after returning from a trip to Pakistan where she worked as a nurse with internally displaced people. She also works with refugees in the Middle East, especially Iraq and Turkey.

Marilyn often speaks to groups and organizations on topics related to cultural competency, including culture and health care, faith and identity, and adult third culture kids.

She kindly took the time out from her busy life and travels to share some of her many cross-cultural experiences with us. (She conveniently lives 15 minutes from Logan Airport’s international terminal and flies to the Middle East and Pakistan as often as she can!) Check it out 🙂

* * *

Welcome, Marilyn, to Culture Shock Toolbox. Can you tell us which countries you’ve lived in and for how long? 

Pakistan, 20 years; Egypt, 7 years; United States, 28 years; and I have visited over 30 countries.

In the context of cultural transitions, did you ever put your foot in your mouth?

I have lots of memorable stories—some more embarrassing than others, all funny for various reasons. As a child, I wasn’t always aware of the cultural mistakes—but my mom was! At one point when I was three years old we had been invited to a feast in the town where we lived. The women were in one room and the men in another. We sat on the floor and we ate with our hands. Evidently, the minute the food arrived, I lunged toward it and grabbed the rice with both hands. The older woman in the room was none too happy—she sniffed and said loudly: “The child doesn’t know how to eat!” Every Pakistani kid knew that you eat with your right hand only! My mom was red-faced and fumbled over her words. She vowed that once we got home, she would teach us all how to eat in properly Pakistani style!
childrens-culture-shock-toolbox

Wow, I guess your mom needed a toy version of the culture shock toolbox? Did you continue making blunders as you grew up?

As an adult, the rules changed and some mistakes have to do with language and others with behavior. For instance, when I first arrived in Cairo, I had trouble flagging down taxis. Then I realized that Egyptians would just yell loudly “Taks” and wave their hand wildly. So I began yelling loudly and waving my hands wildly. One day I did this while out with one of my Egyptian friends and she was horrified! “Why are you shouting?” she said. I realized I’d been observing male behavior, not female. A woman stands calmly and daintily waves down a taxi; only the men are so loud and aggressive. It was a good example that it’s not only about observing, it’s also about observing and imitating the right behavior. Language mistakes are also common and almost always funny. My husband, for instance, once tried to tell someone he was thinner than another man—but ended up saying he was cleaner than him.

What tools do you think are most useful in scenarios like these? 

In health care we use the term “cultural humility.” You have to be humble enough to admit defeat when you get it wrong. In essence, this is a commitment to life-long learning about culture; a commitment to self-reflection and self-critique; a process whereby you continually place yourself in a posture of learning. I picture this as someone almost on their knees, looking up at another person and saying:

“You tell me what is important, you tell me what I need to know to function most effectively here.”

That’s what we expats, nomads, and Third Culture Kids all need to learn more about, continually posturing ourselves as being willing to grow and to learn.
cultural-humility

That’s a powerful image! But have there also been situations you think you’ve handled with surprising finesse?

There is something about growing up overseas that puts you in a different place from the beginning, and that has stood me well. But again I would stress that there can also be an arrogance that comes from growing up overseas, as in “I know better than you do because I’ve lived this longer”—which can be totally false. We only know what we know, and we can’t possibly have experienced every aspect of a culture, which is why we always need that toolbox. What I think is different from the adult expat is that we Third Culture Kids have been shaped, not just influenced, by cultures other than our own. That distinction is really important. When you’re shaped, it’s like a potter shaping clay. You are molded by different cultural viewpoints, which makes it much harder to be ethnocentric and think your way is best. You tend to see all sides. That in itself has its own issues, the “chameleon effect” I call it—but we won’t go there today!

If you had to give advice to new expats, which tools in their culture shock toolbox would they use most often and why? 

I have two. The first I’ve already mentioned: cultural humility. It is so easy to go as an “expert” and think you know it all. Cultural humility puts you in the place of a servant, a learner. You listen more, talk less, and observe everything. You ask questions not from a place of frustration but from a place of curiosity. In addition, I’d encourage new expats to develop what I call the “golden triad”—empathy, curiosity, and respect. All three are needed in equal measure and when even one of those is missing, we miss something in our experience.
golden-triad

I like the idea of the golden triad: that’s a great tool to add to the toolbox! Moving on to reverse culture shock: I’m not sure that we Third Culture Kids experience it in the same way as others, but can you comment on your reverse culture shock experiences as well? 

You are right, reverse culture shock is a misnomer for us TCKs. We don’t have reverse culture shock when we go to our passport countries—we have plain old culture shock. Reverse culture shock assumes a level of adjustment to our passport countries most of us have never attained. Once we are adults, and we (some of us) have lived longer in our passport countries, then we might feel a reverse culture shock.

What “reverse” culture shock experiences stand out for you the most?

For culture shock in my home country, one of the things that stands out for me is the cost of medications. I left a pharmacy in the middle of a transaction because I was given a bill for over s hundred dollars. I said with all the outrage I could muster “What? This medicine would be $3.00 in the place where I’m from!” To which the pharmacist looked bored and gave me a look that said “Well, obviously you’re not there so just pay up.” I left and said: “This is ridiculous!” I write about other examples in my book, such as paralysis in the cereal aisle and learning to speak “coffee”—I just couldn’t get the drink I wanted! There were so many choices and strange words. Expectations for who I was and how I would respond from dentist offices to work places also come to mind. Too many experiences to count!
repatriation-blues-mg

What are the best tools for dealing with (reverse) culture shock?

As I noted, my passport country was foreign in almost every way but language, so when I finally decided to treat it as foreign, I did much better. Not well mind you—but at least better! I watched and observed the rules, tried to follow the unwritten expectations. I cried a lot. I tried to find my happy places through coffee shops. I decorated my house with all the items I loved from the worlds where I had lived. I made friends with “locals.” I learned how to honor the goodbyes and to grieve even as I moved forward in the new. All of that helped in my adjustment. But what helped the most I think is giving myself time—it’s a process, and the longer we’ve been overseas, the longer the process of adjustment to our passport countries. Lastly, I’d like to note that staying in one place for a while doesn’t mean you grow stagnant. In the past I always equated stability with stagnancy, but that is simply not true. So slowly I have learned how to grow while staying in the same place.

Thank you so much, Marilyn, for sharing your stories with us. I love what you said about cultural humility. I think you’re right, once we start a life of living and communicating across cultures, there will always be a need for carrying a culture shock toolbox, and we should never forget that!

* * *

So, Displaced Nationers, do you have any stories to share that show a lack of cultural humility, and could you have used Marilyn’s customized toolbox at that moment?

If you like her prescriptions, be sure to check out her blog posts. You can also follow her on Facebook and Twitter. And if you’re interested in health care, you should check out the video series she has created with a film maker here and here.

Well, hopefully this has you “fixed” until next month.

Until then. Prost! Santé!

H.E. Rybol is a TCK and the author of Culture Shock: A Practical Guide and Culture Shock Toolbox and the newly published Reverse Culture Shock. She loves animals, piano, yoga and being outdoors. You can find her on Twitter, Linkedin, Goodreads, and, of course, her author site.  

STAY TUNED for next week’s fab posts.

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

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Photo credits: First visual (collage): Photos of Cairo and Pakistan from Pixabay; culture shock toolbox branding; and photo of Marilyn Gardner, her book cover and her blog banner (supplied). Second visual: Set Tools – Toys, by Suzette via Flickr (CC BY 2.0).
Third visual: Photo of woman kneeling from Pixabay.Fourth visual: Celtic triad vector graphic from Pixabay. Last visual/collage: (top left) Breakfast Cereal Aisle, by Mike Mozart via Flickr (CC BY 2.0); (top right) Specialty Drinks – menu seen at Jack’s Java in Paris, Tennessee, by Kathleen Tyler Conklin via Flickr (CC BY 2.0); and pharmacy cabinet photo via Pixabay.

LOCATION, LOCUTION: Columnist JJ Marsh bids farewell with generous book giveaway

JJ Marsh hands over the Location Locution reins to Lorraine Mace, who will start next month.

JJ Marsh hands over the Location Locution reins to Lorraine Mace, who will start next month.

JJ Marsh first graced the shores of the Displaced Nation two years ago. Growing up a Third Culture Kid in Africa and the Middle East, and now an expat in Switzerland, she was an immediate fit. For two years we have benefited from her love of language and place, and now, as she takes her leave from this column (though not from the Displaced Nation), she does something that makes us love her even more: hand picks a successor and offers a chance to win a set of SEVEN books from Triskele, the acclaimed writers’ collective she helped to found. Thank you, JJ!

—ML Awanohara

Two years after joining Displaced Nation with the Location, Locution column, it’s time for me to say goodbye.

It’s been a terrific experience and I’ve learnt so much from my interviewees, not to mention discovering wonderful books and unexplored places. Heartfelt thanks to ML Awanohara and the Displaced Nation team for taking a risk on me.

I’m going to hand over to a fresh face, with her own unique flair. From June, Location, Locution will be in the expert hands of inveterate creative and nomad, Lorraine Mace. I asked Lorraine to introduce herself to you next month by providing her own answers to the Location, Locution questions.

Finally, I’d like to leave you with a goodbye present. As international creatives, I know you enjoy exploring books that make a feature of place.

My colleagues and I at Triskele Books have created a box set of books to transport you across time and place, from 3rd century Syria to futuristic Wales. A Time & A Place contains seven award-winning novels that have in common the theme of this column: location, locution.

Come on a journey.
We’ll take you to another place.
And tell you a story.

And as my farewell gift to Displaced Nation readers, I have one free copy (ebook only) to give away. You can win by adding a comment in the box below. In no more than 50 words, where and when in the world would you like to go, and why?

JJ Marsh's farewell giveaway

JJ Marsh’s farewell giveaway

The winner will be announced in next month’s Location, Locution.

* * *

Where would you like to be taken?

1) Modern-day Anglesey on the trail of a psychopath
Crimson Shore, by Gillian Hamer (Contemporary crime)
“Hamer does for Anglesey what Rankin does to Edinburgh, what Dexter did to Oxford”

2) Post-apocalyptic Wales, surviving with a rat pack
Rats, by JW Hicks (YA)
“An absolute treat for fans of SF, dystopian, and YA novels, but I would recommend it to anyone who loves a great story brilliantly told.”

3) Contemporary Zurich, where everyone has a secret
Behind Closed Doors, by JJ Marsh (European crime)
“Warning: once you start this book you may not be able to put it down, and you may find yourself talking to it.”

4) WWII France to resist occupation and fall in love
Wolfsangel, by Liza Perrat (Historical fiction)
“Fascinating, forceful and extremely well researched… will thrill historical fiction fans.”

5) Ancient Palmyra to fight alongside a warrior queen
The Rise of Zenobia, by JD Smith (Historical fiction)
“Packed to the hilt with tension and adventure, it kept me spellbound.”

6) Charleville, France, and the poetic voyage of a manuscript
Delirium – The Rimbaud Delusion, by Barbara Scott-Emmett (Literary fiction)
“Beautifully plotted and written, this absorbing, enchanting novel is one of the best books I have read this year.”

7) Coventry – a 1980s crucible of racial tensions
Ghost Town, by Catriona Troth (Literary fiction)
“Unique and brilliant… not just a compelling read, but also a learning experience.”

JJ Marsh and her  fellow Triskelites.

JJ Marsh and her fellow Triskelites.

Can’t wait to get the set? It’s available for a limited period at the special offer price of $9.99/£7.99. Don’t miss this box of delights. Who knows what you’ll discover?

Or, to reiterate, you can try your luck at winning a FREE copy (ebook only) by adding a comment in the box below:

In no more than 50 words, where and when in the world would you like to go, and why?

Goodbye, thank you for reading the column and I wish you all excellent journeys.

Jill

* * *

Happy trails to you as well, Jill! I noticed you said in a recent interview: “My definition of literary genius is writing about places you want to visit.” May that become the Displaced Nation’s new mantra! Readers and JJ fans, let’s all bid JJ a fond farewell by answering the question: In no more than 50 words, where and when in the world would you like to go, and why? (Seven books, wow! That’s your summer reading…)

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, JJ finally settled in Switzerland, where she has been writing a European crime series set in compelling locations all over the continent and featuring detective inspector Beatrice Stubbs. She recently produced the fourth book in the series: Cold Pressed, which takes place on a luxury cruise bound for Santorini.

STAY TUNED for the next fab 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 weekly updates and much, much more. Register for The Displaced Dispatch by clicking here!

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LOCATION, LOCUTION: Canadian writer Lee Strauss uses busy, multicultural Dresden as setting for romance

Location Locution_LeeStrauss

LOCATION, LOCUTION: JJ Marsh (left) talks to author Lee Strauss about the craft of setting contemporary romance novels in foreign locations.

In “Location, Locution” expat crime series writer JJ Marsh chats with fellow displaced fiction writers about their methods of portraying place in their works. Her guest today is contemporary romance and speculative fiction writer Lee Strauss. Born near Chicago to Canadian parents, Lee might have grown up a California girl had it not been for Vietnam, which caused her parents to retreat back to Canada. At age 22, she married Norm Strauss, a Canadian folk rock musician—and signed up for a life of adventure. They have traveled extensively overseas and live part-time in Germany.

—ML Awanohara

Lee Strauss is the author of the Minstrel Series, a collection of contemporary romance novels set in the singer/songwriter world, taking place in Germany and England; the Perception Series, a trilogy of young adult dystopian novels; and several works of YA historical fiction. Under the alter ego of Elle Strauss, she writes fanciful younger adult stories about time travel, mermaids and fairies.

Lee is the married mother of four grown children, three boys and a girl. Because of her husband’s job as an indie folk musician, she has traveled to twelve European countries, Mexico, fourteen states, and six Canadian provinces. Currently, the couple divide its time between Kelowna, a town in British Columbia’s temperate Okanangan Valley, and Dresden, Germany. When not writing or reading Lee likes to cycle, hike and do yoga. She enjoys travel (but not jet lag :0), soy lattes, red wine and dark chocolate.

Now let’s talk to Lee about how she has woven European settings into several of her books.

* * *

Which came first, story or location?

It was a simultaneous decision. My singer-songwriter husband and I spent some time brainstorming on how we could merge our two worlds, indie publishing collaborating with indie music artists, and the idea for the Minstrel Series was born. (Each of the books has accompanying music.) The first two books, Sun & Moon and Flesh & Bone, are song titles of music used in the books. We live part of the year in Dresden, Germany, and I just knew that the books had to be set there, right in our neighbourhood.

Minstrel Series Set in Dresden

Cover art from first two books of the Minstrel Series; (middle) view of Dresden’s historical center, from the same spot where Canaletto made his famous painting.

I’ve also written a WW2 historical novel called Playing with Matches, about a group of boys growing up in Hitler Youth. The story takes place in Passau and Nuremberg. Traveling to both cities made a huge difference in getting the setting and ambiance right.

Playing with Matches Collage

Clockwise, left to right: Cover art; Nuremberg citiscape; view of Veste Oberhaus, a 13th-century fortress in Paussau, in lower Bavaria, Germany.

What’s your technique for evoking the atmosphere of a place?

Nothing like living in the middle of it! The street and building in Dresden where we lived are featured in great detail in Sun & Moon and Flesh & Bone. Many readers comment on how they feel like they visited Germany while reading my books.

Which particular features create a sense of location? Landscape, culture, food?

All three. I share a lot of Dresden images on Tumblr, including not just landscape but also food and the local culture.

Can you give a brief example of your work which illustrates place?

Here’s a passage from the Minstrel Series, describing a scene in Dresden:

Katja stood in one of the cutaways on the old stone bridge over the River Elbe that joined the Altstadt with the Neustadt, the old city with the new.

She shivered despite her winter jacket and the scarf wrapped around her neck and strummed her guitar with fingerless gloves. The limestone dome of the Frauenkirche—the Church of our Lady—peaked out over the city’s ancient, baroque skyline. Like all the buildings in the historic center, it had been completely demolished during the Second World War. The entire city was rebuilt to look much like it had before it was destroyed. In essence, the old town was now the new one, and the new town the old one.

It was majestic and awe-inspiring to look upon.

Most days.

Katja’s guitar case lay open at her feet. She’d thrown in the few cents she’d found under the sofa cushions, hoping to lure other donations.

The cold wind kept people hunched over and moving at a fast pace across the bridge, most with chins tucked down and hands shoved into deep pockets. No one took the time to stop and listen, much less drop money in her case.

How well do you need to know the place before using it as a setting?

Spending time living there is the absolute best way. There’s so much you see and learn about a place over time. The second best is to visit in person. After that, talking to people who have lived or visited there along with research and Google Earth.

Which writers do you admire for the way they use location?

Maeve Binchy has a wonderful way of pulling the reader deep into Ireland. (My next book in The Minstrel Series will be set in Ireland and Boston, where I’ve lived.) Susan Grafton does the same for Southern California with her Alphabet Mystery series, set in the fictional city of Santa Teresa, based on Santa Barbara.

* * *

Readers, if this interview has piqued your curiosity about Lee Strauss and her creative array of fiction works, we encourage you to visit her author site.

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, JJ finally settled in Switzerland, where she is currently halfway through her European crime series, set in compelling locations all over the continent and featuring detective inspector Beatrice Stubbs.

STAY TUNED for the next fab 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 weekly updates and much, much more. Register for The Displaced Dispatch by clicking here!

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LOCATION, LOCUTION: British expat author Carl Plummer turns his gaze upon his adopted home of China

Columnist JJ Marsh (left) talks to Carl Plummer,

Columnist JJ Marsh (left) talks to Carl Plummer, a writer of historical adventure fiction.

We welcome JJ Marsh back to the Displaced Nation for this month’s “Location, Locution.” If you are new to the site, JJ, who is a crime series writer, chats with fellow fiction writers about their methods for portraying place in their works. Her guest today is Carl Plummer, who writes World War II adventure spoofs under the pen name of Robert E. Towsie. Born in Hull, England, he lived in Cyprus, Paris and Libya before moving to his current home of China, where he works as a university lecturer. Today he does something unusual for this column: describes the place where he’s living right now.

—ML Awanohara

JJ MARSH: Once in a while, Location, Locution likes to surprise you. Remember the Paulo Coelho piece on monuments that immortalise cities? If not, go read it now. Is it any surprise this man is an international bestseller?

This month, I tracked down an author I’ve admired for a long time. Carl Plummer writes as Robert E. Towsie, in a classic comic style, setting his capers around Europe against the backdrop of its dramatic history.

But what interested me about Carl/Robert is where this expat creative lives. China. A place I find fascinating, mysterious and sometimes a little scary. So this month’s Location, Locution is his take on China, its people and and how he sees it. Enjoy.

* * *

CARL PLUMMER: In 2004, after a stint in Libya, I arrived in China and started a job at Nanyang Normal University to teach British and American literature. The city of Nanyang (pop. 1,000,000) in Henan Province was proud to boast ten lao wai, foreigners.

Every minute, on every street, in every shop, I was reminded I was a foreigner. Some reminders were harsh, nationalistic and racist with the “go back where you came from” we associate with racism in England.

Other reminders were through curiosity, the wish to speak English to and even touch a foreigner, the assumption all foreigners are American and a sense of me being something exotic, something new and different, and most of all—rich.

I wasn’t rich, am not rich. Teachers are the poorest working travellers of the world. We are the intellectual navvies from the western world. We are not businessmen with expense accounts; we are not oil people or wheeler and dealers. But we are approachable because we have to mingle, use the buses and the metros, and the trains. We do not have company cars with around-the-clock company drivers.

During the rainy season in a small coal-mining town near Pingdingshan the streets would run black when it poured and families would come out to shower beneath the torrents thundering off awnings.

What made me rich to such people? I had an apartment with a shower and I could afford the water it used—I didn’t have to wait for the rain.

In China, the iron rice bowl has long gone.

Why am I talking about money instead of garnishing the text with tales of magnificent walls, gaudy ancient temples or food conjured up with every living creature imaginable? Well, that’s all been done before.

I’m talking of money because poverty is not romantic; it never has been and it never will be. It is cruel and it doesn’t discriminate; there are no deserving and no undeserving poor.

That cradle-to-the-grave surety of Communism is a generation ago, but that generation brought up in it is still around. It is my age, brought up in the 60s and 70s, taught to root out the treacherous intellectual bourgeoisie, taught to spy on parents and teachers, taught to love the state above all else.

It worked in theory for a while because the state cared; it looked after your every need as long as your toed the line, as long as you never asked questions. Now it doesn’t. Now there is no line to toe.

The young are asking questions. That is their hope.

I meet many young people, in their 20s, who have something hanging around their necks; cultural and domestic demands, greatly exacerbated by the growth of capitalism and the cracking of the iron rice bowl.

Education is expensive in China, as is being healthy. Young people have shown me lists, lists almost like invoices saying: we spent this much on your upbringing and this is what you must pay back to us. It is easy to get the sense parents have children for one reason: someone to take care of them in their old age. Babies, especially boys, are glorified little emperors, smothered and mothered—especially grandmothered—to the extreme; but once in their teens they are seen as future life-support systems.

Rich CEOs and husbands framed

Haozhi Chen (CEO of Chinese mobile powerhouse Chukong), by Jon Jordan via Flickr; “Wedding couple in the clan house,” by shankar s. via Flickr. Both photos are licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY 2.0).

Boys are expected to become CEOs and girls are expected to find rich husbands. All are expected to become members of extended families because extended families are safer, more secure. Individualism and independence is dangerous.

The average salary in China is still about 2000 yuan a month (about 200GBP) for a ten-hour-day and a six-day week. Millions of workers live in dormitories more akin to barracks, and send home half their salaries to support families back home. Young people must pay back the money they owe their parents. This is how it is for the majority of young people in China. The majority has to save because everyone has to pay.

When the future is precarious you have to save.

When I lived in the Bai Yun district of Guangzhou (Guangdong province, in Southern China), I used to cycle through a huge housing estate (apartments by the thousand) and cut through the grounds of Jinxi Nanfang Hospital.

Those middle-class apartments sell for about 3,000,000 yuan each, rented out for between 3,000 and 4,000 a month.

From the higher balconies you can see the rows of beggars in the streets around the hospital. These are not the beggars we expect—those in shop doorways with mangy dogs for company.

These beggars are lying in makeshift hospital beds, out in the open, with drips hanging from stands. These beggars are families trying to get the 500 yuan a night needed for hospital treatment, or even the 100 yuan just to see a doctor.

Dontspend$$youdonthave

Lesson for all SL-ers, by Laurence Simon via Flickr (CC BY 2.0).

This is why so many Chinese people are savers, not spenders.

And those apartments—the richer you are, the higher up you live. The higher up you are, the farther you can see across the hospital surrounds where the aged and sick lie in the shadows of a hospital they cannot afford to enter. It is a world where education and health is a luxury, not a right.

For the growing middle-class it is different; for the Chinese aristocracy—very different. There is a Chinese aristocracy; it’s the cushioned group of party members—the 5 percent. (Google “My father is Li Gang”* if you wish to know how that works.)

The growing middle classes do not live with the fearful uncertainties of old age. They do not fear the need to see a doctor or the need to stay in hospital for a few days. They can send their children to good schools; send them to the UK, the USA or Australia to continue with their studies. They can send their children out into the world to be whatever they wish to be—something so many westerners take for granted. They do not need their offspring to look after them in old age. They can be spenders and savers.

I’d rather cry in the back of a BMW than laugh on the back of a bicycle.

"Cargirl," by Xuan Zheng via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0); (bottom) "Shanghai cyclists," by Gwydion M. Williams via Flickr (CC BY 2.0).

“Cargirl,” by Xuan Zheng via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0); “Shanghai cyclists,” by Gwydion M. Williams via Flickr (CC BY 2.0).

How about the girl who said on a TV show “I’d rather cry in the back of a BMW than laugh on the back of a bicycle”?

Yes, she was condemned and ridiculed, but she does not have the luxury of choice, the luxury of hope; the safety net is not yet there for her.

I believe and hope it will be for her children. Already, there are newly middle class young people who not have to choose between the BMW and the bicycle. Educated women are buying their own BMWs, their own apartments. They do not have to get married as soon as possible in order to be secure.

And more importantly, their individualism and prosperity is running alongside a new sense of social justice, political justice, and an awareness of the needs of others.

Religion, philosophy, or just simple humanism, whatever it is—the humanity is breaking through.

Twenty years ago, capitalism was raw in China; it was Darwinian and brutal, but it is slowly coming around, perhaps in the way it eventually did so in Britain until it was scuppered by the bankers who played with money as though it was Monopoly money.

We started with the Bounderby style of capitalism where Britain was the richest country in the world, populated by the poorest masses.

That is where China has been, perhaps still is, but it is moving through that. Communism denuded the soul, evicted compassion and turned the people into soldier ants. Capitalism came along to lift people out of poverty, but it did not fill the spiritual vacuum—the vacuum of feeling and compassion.

Christianity is becoming ever more popular in China. Confucianism is being taught again. The vacuum is being filled. The younger capitalist—who is not from the spoilt 5 percent—has a sense of social responsibility, the idea of giving back.

Mr Cameron’s “long-term plan” is but a sparrow’s sneeze in Chinese terms.

It’s a long process, but China has a long history and has always been about long processes.

The hope is, and I am confident about it, is the young; they have enough to eat, will have roofs over their heads, but more importantly, they can afford to be more thoughtful, more caring—they can afford humanity. Breaking free from poverty allows kindness to flourish (kindness in individuals and kindness from the state) if it is not smothered by the unacceptable face of capitalism or the dehumanization of totalitarianism.

I believe it will get there. But we cannot think in European terms; European terms are far too short. And remember why you can afford your cheap TV, cheap mobile phone and cheap computer; it is funded by cheap labour.

There are still millions and millions with a standard of living we would find totally unacceptable; but the fear of starvation has gone and the idea of a health service free at the point of use is slowly becoming more than just a dream. For most young people, going to university is still a dream.

It is changing. The young people are making it change.

* * *

Readers, if this interview has piqued your curiosity about Carl Plummer and his Robert E. Towsie books, we encourage you to visit his author site.

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, JJ finally settled in Switzerland, where she is currently halfway through her European crime series, set in compelling locations all over the continent and featuring detective inspector Beatrice Stubbs.

STAY TUNED for next week’s fab posts!

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BOOKLUST, WANDERLUST: Best of 2014 in expat books (1/2)

Best of Expat Books 2014

Kindle Amazon e-reader by Unsplash via Pixabay (CC0 1.0)

Seasons greetings, Displaced Nationers. That special time of the year is here again, when we publish our selection of this year’s books with meaningful connections to expats, Third Culture Kids, global wanderers, and others of us who have in some way led “displaced lives”.

Having assembled this list on my own in years past, I am pleased to be joined this year by Beth Green, our BOOKLUST, WANDERLUST columnist, who has also graciously agreed to sign over her column space for the month.

Let’s give Beth the floor:

Happy holidays, all! Preparing for this yearly special, I went back through all of the books I’ve read since January—not such an easy task; I read a lot!—and realized that I hadn’t actually read all that many that were published in 2014. I just now took a look at my TBR list, to which I’m constantly adding—and saw it includes a few that were written a couple of hundred years ago!

As is the case I suspect for many a well-traveled reader, I read most often on my Kindle, which means that I don’t often look at the title and publication pages to see when the book came out. Probably the book that has stayed with me for the longest this year is The Tiger’s Wife, the debut novel by Téa Obreht, an American writer of Bosniak/Slovene origin. But that came out in 2011!

* * *

And now for some 2014 picks in these three categories (stay tuned for a follow-up post with THREE MORE CATEGORIES!!):

  1. TRAVEL
  2. MEMOIRS
  3. CROSS-CULTURAL CHALLENGES

A few points to note:

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

* * *

TRAVEL

My_Gutsy_story_cover_smallMy Gutsy Story Anthology: Inspirational Short Stories About Taking Chances and Changing Your Life (Volume 2) (October 2014)
Compiled by: Sonia Marsh
Synopsis: Marsh celebrates the gutsy in each of us with this collection of stories from 64 authors who found the courage to face their fears and live their dreams.
Expat credentials: Born to a Danish mother and British father, who brought her to live in West Africa at the age of three months, Marsh has lived in many countries—Demark, Nigeria, France, England, the U.S. and Belize—and considers herself a citizen of the world. With a degree in environmental science from the University of East Anglia, U.K., she is currently living in Southern California with her husband but in 2015 intends to start a new chapter as a Peace Corps volunteer.
How we heard about: We have long enjoyed Marsh’s collection of “gutsy” travel stories and have followed her on Twitter for some time.


Luna_Tango_Cover_smallLuna Tango (The Dance Card Series Book 1) (Harlequin Mira, July 2014)
Author: Alli Sinclair
Genre: Romance
Synopsis: Tango is a mysterious—and deadly—influence in journalist Danni McKenna’s life. She looks for answers about her mother’s and grandmother’s lives, and finds romance in the process.
Expat credentials: Alli Sinclair is from Australia but lived for many years in South America, where she worked as a mountain and tour guide. She considers herself a citizen of the world.
How we heard about it:  I used to blog with Alli on the now-retired Novel Adventurers and have enjoyed hearing about her book’s path to publication. I was especially thrilled when Luna Tango won Book of the Year in the inaugural AusRom Today Reader’s Choice Awards last month. Congratulations, Alli!


Slow-Train-final-cover_smallSlow Train to Switzerland (Nicholas Brealey Publishing, April 2014)
Author: Diccon Bewes
Genre: Travel history
Synopsis: Bewes follows “in the footsteps” of Miss Jemima Morrell, a customer on Thomas Cook’s first guided tour of Switzerland in 1863, and discovers how this plucky Victorian woman helped shape the face of modern tourism and Switzerland itself, transforming it into the Cinderella of Europe.
Expat creds: An Englishman who grew up in “deepest Hampshire”, Bewes worked for ten years at Lonely Planet and the UK consumer magazine Which? Travel, before moving to Bern, Switzerland, where he is now a full-time writer. He considers himself a “permanent expat.”
How we discovered: I came across Bewes’s blog through a Google Alert and was impressed by how prolific he is. I also liked the fact that he admits to being a chocolate lover. (No wonder he has a thing for Switzerland!)


Kamikaze_kangaroos_cover_smallKamikaze Kangaroos!: 20,000 Miles Around Australia. One Van,Two Girls… And An Idiot (February 2014)
Author: Tony James Slater
Synopsis: Tony James Slater knew nothing about Australia. Except for the fact that he’d just arrived there. The stage is set for an outrageous adventure: three people, one van, on an epic, 20,000-mile road trip around Australia. What could possibly go wrong?…
Expat credentials: As a former writer for the Displaced Nation, what more creds does Tony need?
How we heard about: The Displaced Nation is committed to tracking Tony’s progress as a writer. We are especially fond of his ability to make fun of himself! He wears his travels lightly, you might say…


MEMOIRS

Year_of_Fire_Dragons_cover_smallYear of Fire Dragons: An American Woman’s Story of Coming of Age in Hong Kong (Blacksmith, forthcoming June 2015; available for pre-order)
Author: Shannon Young
Synopsis: When 22-year-old Shannon follows her Eurasian boyfriend to his hometown of Hong Kong, she thinks their long distance romance is over. But a month later his company sends him to London. The city enchants her, forcing her to question her plans. Soon, she will need to choose between her new life and the love that first brought her to Asia.
Expat creds: Shannon is an American twenty-something currently living in Hong Kong. (Reader, she married him!)
How we knew about: Shannon writes our “Diary of an Expat Writer” column and has also been sharing “chunks” from an anthology she edited of writings by women expats in Asia (see listing below: under “Crosscultural Challenges”).


Coming_Ashore_cover_smallComing Ashore (October 2014)
Author: Catherine Gildiner
Synopsis: The third and final in a series of best-selling memoirs by this American who has worked for many years as a psychologist in Toronto and writes a popular advice column in the Canadian women’s magazine Chatelaine. The book begins with Gildiner’s move to Canada in 1970 to study literature at the University of Toronto, where she ends up rooming with members of the FLQ (Quebec separatists), among other adventures.
How we heard about: Book #2 in Chatelaine’s 7 must-read books for November.


I_stand_corrected_cover_smallI Stand Corrected: How Teaching Manners in China Became Its Own Unforgettable Lesson (Nan A. Talese, October 2014)
Author: Eden Collinsworth
Synopsis: Collinsworth tells the story of the year she spent living among the Chinese while writing an advice manual covering such topics as personal hygiene (non-negotiable!), the rules of the handshake, and making sense of foreigners. (She has since returned to live in New York City.)
How we heard about: Book #3 in Conde Nast Traveler’s 7 Books to Get You Through Travel Delays, Bad Company.


Seven_Letters_from_Paris_cover_smallSeven Letters from Paris: A Memoir (Sourcebooks, October 2014)
Author: Samantha Vérant
Synopsis: At age 40, Samantha Verant’s life is falling apart—she’s jobless, in debt, and feeling stuck…until she stumbles upon 7 old love letters from Jean-Luc, the sexy Frenchman she’d met in Paris when she was 19. She finds him through a Google search, and both are quick to realize that the passion they felt 20 years prior hasn’t faded with time and distance.
How we heard about: From an interview with Vérant by British expat in Greece Bex Hall on her new blog, Life Beyond Borders.


Becoming_Home_cover_smallBecoming Home: A Memoir of Birth in Bali (October 2014)
Author: Melinda Chickering
Synopsis: Though born in small-town USA, Melinda never felt quite at home there. As an adult, her search for herself led her to the Indonesian island of Bali, where she found herself living a life she hadn’t anticipated, becoming a housewife and mother. This memoir of her experience with pregnancy and birth offers a window on life for a western woman living in an Asian culture that respects the forces of darkness as well as the light.
Expat credentials: Originally from Iowa, Chickering has settled in Bali.
How we heard about it: Displaced Nationer Melinda contacted me earlier this year to tell us the exciting news that her memoir was being published. Congratulations, Melinda!


The_Coconut_Latitudes_cover_smallThe Coconut Latitudes: Secrets, Storms, and Survival in the Caribbean (September 2014)
Author: Rita M. Gardner
Synopsis: Rita is an infant when her father leaves a successful career in the US to live in “paradise”—a seaside village in the Dominican Republic. The Coconut Latitudes is her haunting, lyrical memoir of surviving a reality far from the envisioned Eden—and of the terrible cost of keeping secrets.
How we heard about: Displaced Nation columnist James King interviewed Rita for “A picture says”.


At_home_on_Kazakh_Steppe_cover_smallAt Home on the Kazakh Steppe: A Peace Corps Memoir (August 2014)
Author: Janet Givens
Synopsis: The story a middle-aged grandmother who left behind a life she loved and forged a new identity as an English teacher, mentor, and friend in Kazakhstan, a newly independent country determined to find its own identity after generations under Soviet rule.
How we heard about: Recommended by the We Love Memoirs Facebook Community.


Good_Chinese_Wife_cover_smallGood Chinese Wife: A Love Affair with China Gone Wrong (Sourcebooks, July 2014)
Author: Susan Blumberg-Kason
Synopsis: A shy Midwesterner, Blumberg-Kason spent her childhood in suburban Chicago dreaming of the neon street signs and double-decker buses of Hong Kong. She moved there for graduate school, where she fell for Cai, the Chinese man of her dreams. As they exchanged vows, she thought she’d stumbled into an exotic fairy tale, until she realized Cai—and his culture—where not what she thought. One of our featured authors, Wendy Tokunaga, says: “A fascinating, poignant and brutally honest memoir that you won’t be able to put down. Good Chinese Wife is riveting.”
How we heard about: We had known about the book for some time but hadn’t realized it came out this year Jocelyn Eikenburg tipped us off in her comment below. She, too, highly recommends.


Into_Africa_cover_smallInto Africa: 3 kids, 13 crates and a husband (June 2014)
Author: Ann Patras
Synopsis: Patras was born and raised in Burton-upon-Trent, in the English Midlands. When her husband, Ziggy, is offered a two-year contract as site manager for building a new cobalt plant in Zambia, they discuss the pros and cons of leaving luxuries and England behind—and then decide it could be an “interesting” family adventure. They end up raising three kids, countless dogs and living in Africa for over thirty years. (She and Ziggy now live in Andalucía, Spain, and have absolutely no intention of ever moving again. Hmmm…have they encountered Charlotte Smith yet? See next item.)
How we heard about: E-book promotion.


PawPrintsinOman_cover_smallPaw Prints in Oman: Dogs, Mogs and Me (April 2014)
Author: Charlotte Smith
Synopsis: Smith was born, raised and lived in West Sussex, UK, until her persuasive husband, Nick, swept her and their youngest daughter off to live in mystical Oman. Her love of animals helped her to shape an extraordinary life in the Middle East—her first step being to convince a local veterinary clinic to employ her. (Note: Smith now lives in Andalucía, in southern Spain.)
How we heard about: Recommended by the We Love Memoirs Facebook community. The book was also on the New York Times best-seller list (“animals”) in October.


loveyoubye_cover_smallLoveyoubye: Holding Fast, Letting Go, And Then There’s the Dog (She Writes Press, April 2014)
Author: Rossandra White
Synopsis: A collision of crises on two continents forces Rossandra White to face the truth. Just as her American husband disappears to Mexico, her brother’s health crisis calls her back home to Africa, and her beloved dog receives a fatal diagnosis. She faces down her demons to make a painful decision: stay in a crumbling marriage, or leave her husband of 25 years and forge a new life alone.
How we heard about: Through a Facebook share of White’s Good Reads giveaway.


Lost_in_Spain_cover_smallLost in Spain: A Collection of Humorous Essays (March 2014)
Author: Scott Oglesby
Synopsis: Scott Oglesby moved to Spain to start over. When he discovered he was still the same person, now six thousand miles from home, the result was dysfunction, delusion, chaos and this book, which many readers have described as “hilarious” and “brilliant”.
How we heard about: E-book promotion.


Journey_to_a_Dream_cover_smallJourney to a Dream: A voyage of discovery from England’s industrial north to Spain’s rural interior (February 2014)
Author: Craig Briggs
Synopsis: Craig, his wife Melanie and their dog, Jazz, left their home town of Huddersfield, in England’s industrial north, and set off for Galicia: a remote and little-known autonomous province in the northwest corner of Spain. And so began their Journey to a Dream…
How we heard about: E-book promotion, as a result of which I am currently reading this on my Kindle. It’s very well written and entertaining.


Paris_Letters_cover_smallParis Letters: One woman’s journey from the fast lane to a slow stroll in Paris (February 2014)
Author: Janice Macleod
Synopsis: MacLeod found herself age 34 and single, suffering from burn-out and dissatisfaction. So she abandoned her copywriting job and headed off to Europe, where she ended up finding love and freedom in a pen, a paintbrush…and Paris! Macleod says her journey was inspired by The Artist’s Way, written by Julie Cameron.
How we heard about: From an interview with MacLeod by American expat in Paris Lindsey Tramuta, which appeared on Lindsey’s blog, Lost in Cheeseland.


lenin_smallLenin Lives Next Door: Marriage, Martinis, and Mayhem in Moscow (Small Batch Books, January 2014)
Author: Jennifer Eremeeva
Synopsis: Based on Eremeeva’s two decades in Russia, Lenin Lives Next Door is a work of self-described “creative nonfiction.” It knits together vignettes of cross-cultural and expatriate life with sharp observation, historical background, and humor. Each chapter explores an aspect of life in today’s Russia, told with the help of a recurring cast of eccentric Russian and expat characters, including HRH, Eremeeva’s Handsome Russian Husband (occasionally a.k.a. Horrible Russian Husband), and their horse-mad daughter.
How we heard about: Eremeeva sent me a review copy and we met up for coffee at Columbia University. I found her a delightful conversationalist. No wonder several reviewers have likened her style to Jane Austen’s.



CROSS-CULTURAL CHALLENGES

Soundimals_cover_smallSoundimals: An illustrated guide to animal sounds in other languages (November 2014)
Author/illustrator: James Chapman.
Synopsis: In English, we say dogs go WOOF, but in Romanian they go HAM HAM. Chapman regularly publishes illustrations of onomatopoeia and animal sounds in other languages on his Tumblr blog. This book (available through his Etsy shop) collects some of those plus a lot of new sounds that weren’t in the original comics, and a few new animals that haven’t been posted at all.
Expat creds: None that we know of; would love to hear more about how he got started collecting these sounds.
How we heard about: Pinterest.


The_Devil_in_us_cover_smallThe Devil in Us (CreateSpace, October 2014)
Author: Monica Bhide
Genre: Literary fiction
Synopsis: Short stories that carry you to a far away place, amidst people seemingly very foreign to you, but somehow create a connection—from the Indian-American cancer survivor escaping her pain and finding passion in Mumbai, to the Japanese teen in Georgetown discovering forbidden love. Bhide is known for her writings about Indian food. This is her first work of fiction.
Expat creds: Monica is originally from Delhi, India, but has lived in Bahrain ad now in the United States.
How we found out about: Pinterest.


Japanese_Husband_cover_smallMy Japanese Husband Thinks I’m Crazy! The comic book: Surviving and thriving in an intercultural, interracial marriage in Tokyo (October 2014)
Author: Grace Buchelle Mineta
Genre: Comics/manga; humor
Synopsis: The autobiographical misadventures of a native Texan freelancer and her Japanese “salaryman” husband, in comic book form.
Expat credentials: Mineta grew up mostly in Texas, but also spent her teenage years in Accra, Ghana and Sapporo (Hokkaido), Japan. She now lives in Tokyo with her Japanese husband (they got married in January) and blogs at Texan in Tokyo.
How we found out about: From a guest post by Mineta on Jocelyn Eikenburg’s blog, Speaking of China, titled The “Dark Side” to Moving Across the World for Love.



Kurinji_Flowers_cover_smallKurinji Flowers (October 2014)
Author: Clare Flynn
Genre: Historical romance
Synopsis: Set in South India during World War II and India’s struggle for independence, the book is centered on a young British colonial, Ginny Dunbar, who has arrived in India for a new start in life. She has to battle her inner demons, the expectations of her husband, mother-in-law, and colonial British society, and her prejudices towards India and its people.
Expat credentials: Flynn is a repeat expat, having lived for two years each in Paris and Brussels, three years in Milan, and six months in Sydney, though never in India. She now lives in London but spends as much time as she can in Italy. Almost needless to say, Flynn loves travel and her idea for this book came while she was on holiday in Kerala, India.
How we knew about: Flynn was interviewed by JJ Marsh for the latter’s popular column, LOCATION LOCUTION.



The_Haiku_Murder_cover_smallThe Haiku Murder (Josie Clark in Japan mysteries Book 2) (October 2014)
Author: Fran Pickering
Genre: Expat mystery series
Synopsis: A haiku-writing trip turns to tragedy when a charismatic financier falls from the top of Matsuyama castle. But was he pushed? Expat Londoner Josie Clark thinks he was, and that’s when the trouble starts…
Expat credentials: Pickering has lived and worked in Tokyo, and though she is now back in London (literally next door to where she was born), she travels back to Japan frequently to visit friends and do research for the Josie Clark mystery series.
How we heard about: Pickering was interviewed by JJ Marsh for the latter’s popular column, LOCATION LOCUTION.



LostinTranslation_cover_smallLost in Translation: An Illustrated Compendium of Untranslatable Words from Around the World (September 2014)
Author: Ella Frances Sanders
Genre: Illustration/Translation
Synopsis: Did you know that the Japanese language has a word to express the way sunlight filters through the leaves of trees? Or that there’s a Finnish word for the distance a reindeer can travel before needing to rest? This book is an artistic collection of more than 50 drawings featuring unique, funny, and poignant foreign words that have no direct translation into English.
Expat credentials:  A self-described “intentional” global nomad, Sanders has lived all over the place—most recently Morocco, the United Kingdom, and Switzerland.
How we heard about: From a post about the book by Maria Popova on her much-acclaimed Brain Pickings site.


Everything_I_Never_Told_You_cover_smallEverything I Never Told You (Penguin, June 2014)
Author: Celeste Ng
Genre: Thriller
Synopsis: A mixed-race family in the 1970s tries to unravel a family tragedy.
Expat credentials: Celeste Ng isn’t an expat, but she has a deep understanding of what it means to feel displaced. Her work deals with multiculturalism and race issues in the United States.
How we heard about it: It was voted the Amazon Book of the Year.


TheBook_Of_Unknown_Americans_smallThe Book of Unknown Americans (Knopf, June 2014)
Author:  Cristina Henríquez
Genre: Literary fiction
Synopsis: Arturo and Alma Rivera have lived their whole lives in Mexico. One day, their beautiful fifteen-year-old daughter, Maribel, sustains a terrible injury, one that casts doubt on whether she’ll ever be the same. And so, leaving all they have behind, the Riveras come to America with a single dream: that in this country of great opportunity and resources, Maribel can get better.
Expat credentials: Henríquez isn’t an expat, but her father was—he came to the US from Panama to attend university.
How we heard about it: Henríquez’s novel was Amazon’s No. 1 bestseller this year in the Hispanic American Literature & Fiction category.


TheOtherLanguage_cover_smallThe Other Language (Pantheon, April 2014)
Author: Francesca Marciano
Synopsis: A collection of short stories involving women who are confronted by radical change or an old flame, in locations that range from New York to India to Kenya to southern Italy.
Expat credentials: Marciano is an Italian novelist who left Rome at age 21 to live in the United States. She later moved to Kenya, where she lived for a decade. Although Italian is her first language, she chooses to write in English.
How we found out: From an essay by William Grimes in the New York Times Book Review: “Using the Foreign to Grasp the Familiar: Writing in English, Novelists Find Inventive New Voices.”


Dragonfruit_cover_smallHow Does One Dress to Buy Dragon Fruit: True Stories of Expat Women in Asia (April 2014)
Editor: Shannon Young
Genre: Expat non-fiction; anthology
Synopsis: In this collection, 26 women reveal the truth about expatriate life in modern East Asia through original works of memoir and creative non-fiction.
Expat credentials: To qualify for inclusion in the volume, writers had to be able to say they were, or had once been, expats.
How we heard about: We have followed Shannon Young ever since she contributed to the Displaced Nation on the topic of the London Olympics. She currently writes a column for us about being an expat writer, and we’ve been sharing “chunks” from her Dragonfruit anthology for the past few months.


Chasing_Athens_cover_smallChasing Athens (April 2014)
Author: Marissa Tejada
Genre: Romance
Synopsis: When Ava Martin’s new husband unexpectedly ditches her months after they’ve relocated across the world to Greece, the heartbroken American expat isn’t sure where home is anymore. On the verge of flying back to the States with her tail between her legs, she makes an abrupt decision to follow her gut instead and stay on in Greece, until a crisis back home forces her to decide where she truly belongs.
Expat credentials: A Native New Yorker, Tejada is an author, writer and journalist based in Athens, Greece. Living the expat life in Europe inspired her to write her debut novel.
How we heard about it: Again, from an interview conducted by British expat in Greece Bex Hall on her blog, Life Beyond Borders.


Moving_without_Shaking_cover_smallMoving Without Shaking: The guide to expat life success (from women to women) (April 2014)
Author: Yelena Parker
Genre: Guidebook-meets-memoir
Synopsis: Parker draws from the experiences and views of 9 women who have lived across 12 countries, to craft a resource for those who are dreaming of—or already facing—relocation abroad.
Expat creds: Parker herself is originally from Eastern Ukraine but has lived and worked in the US, Switzerland, the UK and Tanzania. She has chosen London as her latest expat location.
How we heard about: From a Google Alert.


QueenOfCloudPirates_cover_smallQueen of the Cloud Pirates (Crossing the Dropline Book 1) (March 2014)
Author: Andrew Couch
Genre: Fantasy novella
Synopsis: Far to the North of the Iron League core cities lies the Dropline. Beyond this line of cliffs the power of elemental Air rules supreme. The crucial region is threatened and two young men stand at the tipping point. In order to survive, they must learn to work together and rise above their own shortcomings. Oh yeah, and escape from pirates. Don’t forget the pirates….
Expat credentials: An American abroad, Couch lives with his wife in Freiburg, Germany. He says that much of the inspiration for the worlds he writes about is a mix of a wild and crazy imagination (he grew up reading fantasy books) and his travels around the world.
How we found out about: Couch contributes the HERE BE DRAGONS column to the Displaced Nation, focusing on the connection between the displaced life and fantasy writing (more powerful than any skeptics out there might think!).


What_Happens_in_Nashville_cover_smallWhat Happens in Nashville (March 2014)
Author: Angela Britnell
Genre: Romance (“choc lit”)
Synopsis: Claire Buchan, a straight-laced barrister from Exeter, UK, flies to Nashville, Tennessee, to organize her sister Heather’s bridal bash—and quickly finds herself out of her comfort zone and into the arms of a most unsuitable beau…
Expat credentials: Britnell grew up in a small Cornish village in southwestern England. She served in the Royal Navy for almost six years, culminating in an assignment in Denmark, where she met her American husband. Thus began a chronic expat life. The couple, now empty nesters, have settled in Brentwood, Tennessee.
How we heard about: Rosie Milne wrote about Britnell in an article that appeared on Telegraph Expat: “Expat romantic novelists inspired by real life.” (Milne btw lives in Singapore and runs Asian Books Blog.)


Monsoon_Memories_cover_smallMonsoon Memories (January 2014)
Author: Renita D’Silva
Genre: Literary fiction
Synopsis: Sometimes the hardest journeys are the ones that lead you home. Exiled from her family in India for more than a decade, Shirin and her husband lead a comfortable but empty life in London. Memories of her childhood fill Shirin with a familiar and growing ache for the land and the people that she loves. With the recollections, though, come dark clouds of scandal and secrets. Secrets that forced her to flee her old life and keep her from ever returning…
Expat credentials: Now living in the UK, Renita grew up in a picturesque coastal village in South India.
How we heard about: Amazon.


The_Shaping_of_Water_cover_smallThe Shaping of Water (December 2013—we’re letting it squeak in!)
Author: Ruth Hartley
Genre: Literary fiction
Synopsis: The story concerns the overlapping lives of several different people, expats and locals or some mix, who are connected to a ramshackle cottage by a man-made lake in Central Africa during the Liberation wars across its region.
Expat credentials: Hartley grew up on her father’s farm in Zimbabwe, which at that point was known as Rhodesia, at a time when struggles for independence in European-ruled African territories were spreading like a wave. As a young woman, she moved to South Africa to study art and then had to escape to England because of her political activities. She later moved back to Africa, as an expat. She now lives in Southern France.
How we heard about: I discovered Hartley via one of my social networks and then decided to approach her about being interviewed for the Displaced Nation.

* * *

Your turn readers: Have you read any of the above works and if so, what did you think of them? And can you suggest other works to add to the list? Beth and I look forward to reading your comments below!

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

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

STAY TUNED for PART 2 of this post: IT’S FOOD!, THIRD CULTURE KIDS & COUNTRY GUIDES/TRIBUTES.

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

Related posts:

4 observations after 3 years of holding up a mirror to expat (& repat) life

Las Meninas, by Diego Velázquez [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Las Meninas, by Diego Velázquez [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Earlier this month, I wrote a post in celebration of the Displaced Nation’s third birthday, which occurred on April 1st.

For three years we’ve held up a mirror, as it were, to what we’ve been calling the displaced life, writing and commissioning posts on what motivates people to venture across borders to travel and live.

During the past three years, here’s what our looking-glass has revealed:

1) We aspire to be the fairest of them all.

If our site stats are anything to go by, the Fountain of Youth myth is still alive and well. We may not be searching for water with restorative powers on our travels, but we never tire of reading about Jennifer Scott’s top 20 lessons she learned from Madame Chic while living in Paris, TCK Marie Jhin’s advice on Asian beauty secrets, or my post summarizing beauty tips I picked up on two small islands, England and Japan (three of our most popular posts to date). Heck, even 5 tips on how to look good when you backpack still gets plenty of hits.

2) We mostly just want to have fun.

The popularity of two of Tony James’s Slater’s posts—one listing his five favorite parties around the world and other other telling the tale of his attempt to overcome language barriers in pursuit of an Ecuadorian woman—suggest that good times and love still rank high on the list of reasons why people opt for the road much less traveled. That said, some of us worry about going too far with the latter, if the enduring popularity of my post four reasons to think twice before embarking on cross-cultural marriage is anything to go by.

3) But we love hearing stories about international travelers with a higher purpose.

Most of us do not venture overseas in hopes of changing the world, but we are inspired by tales of those who once did—how else to explain the golden oldie status of 7 extraordinary women with a passion to save souls? And our fascination with the international do-gooder of course continues to the present. Kate Allison’s interview with Robin Wiszowaty, who serves as Kenya Program Director for the Canadian charity Free the Children, still gets lots of hits, as does my post about Richard Branson and other global nomads who delve into global misery. Perhaps we like to bask in reflected glory?!

4) Last but not least, we think we know things other people don’t.

Indeed, the most common phenomenon that has occurred when holding up our mirror to international adventurers is to find our mirror reflected in theirs, and theirs reflected in the lives of people they depict, ad infinitum, in a manner not unlike a Diego Velázquez painting (see above). In my view, this mise en abyme owes to the conviction among (particularly long-term) expats that in venturing so far afield, they have uncovered things about our planet that are worth examining, reporting, and creating something with, be it a memoir of what they’ve experienced (think Jack Scott’s Perking the Pansies: Jack and Liam Move to Turkey, Janet Brown’s Tone Deaf in Bangkok, or Jennifer Eremeeva’s soon-to-be featured Lenin Lives Next Door: Marriage, Martinis, and Mayhem in Moscow), a novel based on their overseas adventures (think Kate Allison’s Libby’s Life or Cinda MacKinnon’s A Place in the World), and/or an art work that springs from what they saw and felt when living in other cultures (eg, Elizabeth Liang’s one-woman show about growing up a TCK).

In short, although many of us can relate to Alice’s feeling of having stepped through the looking glass, we also aren’t afraid to hold up a looking glass to that experience. I often think of Janet Brown telling us she almost went home “a gibbering mess” upon discovering that her Thai landlord was spreading salacious rumors about her, but the point is, she survived to tell us about the experience in her gem of a book. Surely, that’s the kind of hero/ine Linda Janssen has in mind for her self-help book The Emotionally Resilient Expat?

* * *

No doubt there are even more insights our three years of running the Displaced Nation have revealed, but I’ll stop here to see what you make of this list of traits. Does it strike you as being accurate, or perhaps a bit distorted? (Hmmm… Given this site’s proclivity for humor and sending things up, how can you be sure this isn’t a funhouse mirror and I’m not pulling your leg? Har har hardy har har.)

STAY TUNED for next week’s fab posts.

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

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Two expats in Senegal spin “wax” into Western lifestyle brand

6 Bougies Collage Drop Shadow

Clockwise from top: Six Bougies logo; Kim at the fabric market in Dakar; Megan at a craft fair in Dakar. Photo credit: Six Bougies.

Having repatriated some years ago to the United States, I occasionally still crave the adventure of living abroad. But then I console myself by recalling the Internet journeys I make every week on behalf of the Displaced Nation, in search of international creatives. Those virtual journeys can open my eyes to whole new worlds full of breathtaking color—rather literally in the case of Six Bougies, a siteI landed on from Pinterest several weeks ago.

It turned out to be the companion blog for a business of the same name, run by two American expats in Senegal, the equally bedazzling Kim Rochette and Megan Carpenter.

Kim and Megan are my guests today and will talk about how they came to a life of spinning Western clothes, accessories and home wares out of gorgeous West African fabrics.

In addition, Kim and Megan have kindly agreed to GIVE AWAY A SIX BOUGIES DUFFEL BAG (see photo below) TO THE PERSON WHO LEAVES THE BEST COMMENT! (Wow, a non-book giveaway, a first…)

And one more: Displaced Dispatch subscribers will receive a discount code for use in the Six Bougies Etsy shop. How cool is that? (What, not a subscriber yet? SIGN UP NOW!!)

But before we proceed, I want to make sure you know how to pronounce “bougie.” I initially made the mistake of pronouncing it with a hard “g”—which led to a vision of two American women in colorful garb boogying down the streets of Dakar, Senegal’s capital city.

Outlandish, I know. (Besides, who were the other four?) So take my advice and start practicing now practicing how to say “bougie” with a soft “g”: boo-gee boo-gee boo-gee boo-gee boo-gee boo-gee.

As for why there are six boo-gees, read on. Almost needless to say, it’s a colorful story!

* * *

Greetings, Kim and Megan. Before we get to the meaning of “Six Bougies,” something we’re all curious to know, let’s cover a few of the basics. How long have you been running the business?
KIM: For a little under a year. And don’t forget: it’s “boo-gee.”

In your Etsy shop you describe Six Bou-GEES as “a lifestyle brand that fuses West African textiles, colors and patterns with a Western aesthetic.” What do you mean by a “lifestyle brand”?
MEGAN: We’ve conceived of Six Bougies as a brand that appeals to people who yearn for travel and love to surround themselves with beautiful objects from around the world. Our pillows, neckties and bags can add a little of that spice to everyday life.

I understand that you have a blog that supports this brand?
KIM: Yes, as I try to show with the Six Bougies blog (I’m the the writer of our team, while Megan is the artist), the concept goes far beyond a selection of home wares and accessories for sale. I post about fashion, expat life in Africa, local decor, cultural events in Senegal, and related topics. A few months ago I did a post full of tips on how to have Western clothing made by African tailors. Dakar, where we both live, has affordable tailors at every street corner and a wealth of vibrant textiles for sale at the fabric market. Soon I will write about my attempt to commission furniture for my apartment with local materials from Senegalese artisans, but with a Western aesthetic.

Ah, that sounds like a good example of “African-Western fusion”—true of your product line as well?
KIM: Yes. We use fabrics purchased (and mostly made) in Africa and rely on the expertise of local tailors to execute Megan’s Western-influenced designs, with an international audience in mind. The duffel bags Megan designed are a perfect example of this African-Western fusion, as is our line of neckties in wax.

6 Bougies Merch collage

Six Bougies products: cushion, tie, and duffel bag (we’re giving one away!). Photo credit: Six Bougies.

Please tell me what “wax” is.
KIM: “Wax” is short for “wax print,” which is similar to batik printing. In Africa, these prints are made on colorful cotton cloths, which are mostly industrially produced.

When life gives you scraps…

So, where did the idea for Six Bougies originate?
MEGAN: I had been teaching in Senegal for about a year, acquiring (stockpiling?) wax fabric, beads, and other locally produced goods. It was everywhere, in just about every room and closet of my apartment. But I never had anything made because I was nervous as to how my vision would be executed. But at the end of my first year, I decided to bite the bullet and have 15 pairs of size 8 shorts made in wax. Most of my friends and family (females) are the same size-ish, and I would just give them out as gifts when I went home. They were a huge hit: some friends and family actually wanted more than one pair! That gave me the confidence to start making more products, and eventually transition this into a business.

KIM: About a year ago, I felt the itch to start my own blog on life in Senegal—but beyond the travel blog I had previously updated for family and friends, I wanted to create a space for telling the story of what it’s like for a young, international woman to live in West Africa and travel the region for work, trying to carve out a place in this sometimes crazy and always invigorating place. I also have a great love for design and textiles, which has grown exponentially living in such a tactile, sensory locale. Megan and I decided to join forces and build a brand that melds our passion for West African textiles while also empowering women in the process.

Before we get to the topic of women’s empowerment, it’s high time we learned how you got that unusual name…as I think it relates to that goal?
KIM: We named the business “Six Bougies” after an iconic African pattern by Vlisco that depicts six bougies (spark plugs). A person would wear this fabric to signal that they had a six-cylinder car, a sign of wealth. Eventually, the fabric came to symbolize female empowerment in Africa. Thus “Six Bougies” perfectly marries our passions for design and women’s rights.

Tailors Penda and Adji at work in Dakar

Tailors Penda and Adji at work in Dakar. Photo credit: Six Bougies.

Please tell me that I’m not the only one who mispronounces “bougie”?
KIM: People do mispronounce it sometimes, but it was a risk we were willing to take!

Moving over to your decision to donate a portion of your business’s profits to support and empower women: why that cause in particular?
KIM: In Senegal, tailoring is traditionally a male-oriented career path. Honestly, there aren’t a lot of jobs out there for women, especially single women and/or mothers. So when I meet a female tailor, I try to help them out by giving them business because I know how hard it is to branch out and do something different. And, as Megan and I are both involved in education, we hope to steer our business efforts to this cause as well. We are both very inspired by Della, a similar business based out of Ghana and LA which has really taken off in the past year, partnering with Apple, Urban Outfitters, and Vans to build a veritable social enterprise in Hohoe, Ghana.

“Sew” very happy in Dakar!

Moving on to your expat life in Senegal. What brought you to Dakar originally?
KIM: I first studied abroad in Dakar when I was a junior in college and returned after I graduated. I’ve been living here for nearly four consecutive years. I had always been drawn to African literature, film, and history; and then when I had the opportunity to live in Africa for a semester, I was drawn to Senegal for its complex history with France (I am half-French) and role as as a hub for development in West and Francophone Africa. After studying in Dakar, I was hooked.

MEGAN: I was working at an inner city charter school is Los Angeles as a teacher and decided it was time to teach in a different part of the world to have more access to places that would otherwise be difficult and expensive to reach. There were lots of offers for the Middle East and one for my current school in Senegal. I chose Senegal because the school is highly regarded as a stand out in the region and the country seemed like a fascinating mix of modern yet traditional ideologies. I’ve been here three years and am so happy I took the leap.

What do you like most about life in Dakar?
KIM: I love so much about it! I love the inspiration at every turn—the textiles and local arts, the warm and embracing people, the ocean and cliffs, the music scene. I also love living outside all year round in this coastal, tropical climate, especially after growing up on the East coast with such frigid and long winters! I love how nearly every experience, even and especially the challenges I encounter as an outsider, lead to personal growth. But in many ways, Dakar is also easy; as an expat, I am able to live a comfortable life, eating out, living in a spacious apartment, enjoying all the cultural events the city has to offer, and escaping much of the patriarchy to which most Senegalese women are subject. I am privileged in Dakar and I try not to take that for granted.

MEGAN: Even after three years, there is still so much to discover in this city. I am constantly finding new inspiration in the culture and the people.

Do you ever feel “displaced”?
KIM: I know what you’re saying: what’s a nice girl like me doing living in a boisterous, developing African capital?! It has taken four years, but I have definitely found my niche in Dakar—sometimes to the surprise of friends and family back in the U.S. and France. But there are inevitably moments I feel “displaced,” especially as women living in a patriarchal society. I encounter sexism on a daily basis and there are still cultural nuances that boggle my mind. I’ve written about Dakar’s “Bottom Ten” on the blog.

I also travel throughout West Africa for my “day job,” which entails working extensively in the male-dominated commercial sector. I’ve fielded many advances that might border on sexual harassment in the U.S., and sometimes I don’t feel taken seriously as a woman. In certain settings, I have to be very aware of how my “Western” actions (like direct eye contact!) might be interpreted by men and women of vastly different backgrounds. But learning how to carry myself and to pick up on cultural cues in these extremely diverse settings has also become some of my greatest strengths. I wouldn’t trade these formative experiences for the world!

MEGAN: I’m not going to lie, the first year was tough. The Air France flight I was on landed in the middle of the night, which is when most flights arrive and depart from Dakar. The director of my school picked me up from the airport, which is probably one of the most depressing ones I’ve ever seen, and then drove me through the main thoroughfare, La Corniche, to my apartment, which, in the dead of night, looked like block after block of deserted burnt-out buildings. I thought to myself, “I think I’ve made a terrible decision and how the $@&*% can I get out of here!?” Luckily, my impression of the city has changed dramatically. Getting to know a bit of the culture and cultivating meaningful friendships with locals as well as the expat community has helped me feel at ease.

Do you sometimes feel more comfortable in Dakar than you do back in the U.S.?
KIM: For now, Dakar is home to me. I have a solid group of friends, a real sense of community, and I live here with my boyfriend. But I’m able to travel back to the U.S. two to four times per year for work and holidays, and I relish these opportunities. To be honest, I feel comfortable in both countries. I grew up living between countries—France and the U.S.—and I think this has conditioned me to adapt easily to new environments and transitioning between them. That being said, I do plan to “settle” in the United States eventually, and suspect that reintegrating into American life will be challenging as I moved to Dakar right after graduation and haven’t really lived a typical adult life in the U.S. I’m sure it will be more difficult to build the kind of community you find easily with fellow expats living abroad. We’ll see if life goes according to plan!

MEGAN: When I first moved to Senegal I was in the downtown area people watching and spotted two young talibé boys, probably around seven or eight years old, having an argument. It escalated into blows but then was quickly broken up by a passerby, who was only a few years older than the boys. Watching this teenager mediate the fight instead of walking by like nothing was happening (or worse yet recording and posting it on YouTube) made me feel good about being here. The way people treat each other feels a little more humane, a little more civilized.

Words to sew by…

Was opening up your own business something you always wanted to do?
KIM: Honestly, its not something I had ever really considered! I studied Political Science and envisioned working in the development sector. And now I’m doing both… building a creative business while working as a consultant on various development initiatives.

MEGAN: Being an entreprenuer is in my blood. My dad has started several companies and family dinner conversations often included new business ideas. When I went to Summer Art Camp in high school I used my fake ID to sell cigarettes. I had a streak of badass in me back then 😉 I also set up a impromptu face-painting stand with my friends at an art festival, donation based. Between those two enterprises I made a killing that summer and was able to afford…you guessed it…more art supplies!

During college I studied fine art, mostly drawing and painting, which I now teach. Making paintings for example can be extremely consuming (time and otherwise) and has the possibility to take over your life, while making jewelry is instantly gratifying as well as therapeutic. So I really enjoy making jewelry and designing totes and accessories in my spare time.

What has been the biggest challenge?
KIM: With a demanding “day job,” it has been challenging giving Six Bougies the time and dedication the company really needs to get off the ground. I’m transitioning to pursuing freelance projects so as to devote a lot more time to Six Bougies in 2014—which I’m very excited about!

From a business perspective, it has also been very challenging developing reliable systems to support our creative pursuits. For example, it can be difficult to find tailors who are consistently available for work or willing to teach other women the skills necessary for making our products. In Senegal, most tailors are men so we are still trying to develop the most sustainable system for training women that we can work with longer term.

MEGAN: Kim summed it up pretty well. We are working on sustainability and exposure!

The most fulfilling aspect?
KIM: As the primary blogger in the duo, I absolutely love connecting with people through my posts, especially women who are moving to Dakar or are interested in following a similar path. And as Six Bougies’ social programs develop, I really look forward to the deeper connections and impact we will hopefully make in our Senegalese community.

MEGAN: I love it when people buy my products and really LOVE them. When I see customers wearing the products I make, it makes my heart smile 🙂

“Sew” much fabric, “sew” little time!

If you could do anything else, what would it be?
KIM: I already feel rather stretched, so for now I’d just like to work on Six Bougies and my other professional endeavors to my best ability and see the fruits of that labor!

MEGAN: I think I have the best of both worlds right now, but I would love to be able to be in my studio more and really dedicate time to my personal artistic pursuits.

What’s on your bucket list?
KIM: I have always wanted to live in Madrid and become fluent in Spanish—need to brush up on those high school courses! And I want to attend graduate school in the next couple of years. Let the applications begin…

MEGAN: Actually taking the leap and traveling for a year…or longer.

Do you have any advice for others who are thinking about setting up their own lifestyle brand and selling fashion/homewares? For instance, you’re selling your merchandise through an Etsy shop. Is that working for you?
MEGAN: Etsy is great for where we are at right now, very small scale. I think if business continues to grow and we need to do more shipping overseas, we may have to change our distribution system.

Do you have any big plans, travel or business wise, for 2014?
MEGAN: I’m traveling to Nigeria next month for a volleyball tournament with my students. Then the trifecta of New York, Texas, and California to see family and friends later this summer. As far as the business goes, I’d like to focus on perfecting the quality of our goods and hopefully getting them into boutiques in Dakar and New York.

KIM: I miss traveling for pleasure! I have a trip to South Africa planned for April with my mom and I’m thrilled. I also look forward to growing Six Bougies and pursuing my professional passions more freely. 2014 is going to be good, inshallah 😉

* * *

Inshallah, indeed. Readers, has this interview boo-gee-ed, I mean sparked, any thoughts or questions? Make your comments colorful, why don’t you…there’s an African-Western-fusioned duffel bag on offer!

STAY TUNED for next week’s fab posts.

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

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TCK TALENT: Why do so many Adult Third Culture Kids gravitate toward acting, and is that the best use of their talents?

Com & Trag Collage

Tragedy and Comedy, Scarborough Hotel, Bishopgate, Leeds. Photo credit: Tim Green via Flickr.

Elizabeth (Lisa) Liang is back with her monthly column about Adult Third Culture Kids (ATCKs) who work in creative fields, Lisa herself being a prime example. A Guatemalan-American of Chinese-Spanish-Irish-French-German-English descent, she has developed her own one-woman show about being a TCK, which will be the closing keynote at this year’s Families in Global Transition (FIGT) conference, “The Global Family.”

In my last column, I interviewed Laura Piquado, a professional actress based in New York who grew up in six countries, including Egypt, where we were drama classmates in high school. As a result of the interview, Laura, editor ML Awanohara, and I had a lively discussion about Laura’s career change from education/activism to acting.

ML said she was puzzled as to why so many intelligent, well-educated Adult Third Culture Kids feel so at home in the acting world. She expressed concern that acting might cultivate a narcissistic outlook on life, which is the opposite of a TCK’s worldly upbringing. She said she found it particularly jarring that Laura could go from go from almost doing a PhD on women’s education in post-conflict societies, to enrolling in acting school—and not look back.

Laura’s response was so eloquent that I am posting it here.

Before you read it, I recommend watching this TED Talk by British actor Thandie Newton:

Born to a Zimbabwean mother and English father, Newton always felt disconnected or “other” while growing up in the UK:

“From about the age of 5, I was aware that I didn’t fit. I was the black, atheist kid in the all-white, Catholic school run by nuns. I was an anomaly.”

Acting gave her a chance to play with her different selves.

And now from Laura Piquado:

I had a similar reaction to yours, Lisa, in seeing acting described by ML as a narcissistic endeavor. While I can certainly understand that reputation (indeed, the Golden Globe awards), I have always idealized what theatre can be: life-changing, hopeful, inspiring, and necessary. It’s the worst to be onstage with someone who’s “masturbating” their way through a show (and equally as painful for an audience member).

I was in Maine a few years ago at a craft school (I’m a potter), and I sat next to a visiting artist at dinner (the amazing Hungarian-born sculptor Gyöngy Lake). She asked me what I did. When I told her I was an actor she said:

“We love you! We need you! You tell the stories of our lives!”

Now while that sounds uber-maudlin, I was completely overwhelmed. I had known this woman for less than two minutes, but she had described, for me, what the essence of art is.

On the other hand, I don’t want to get beaten over the head with social and political commentary every time I go to the theatre. I mean, I love Brecht, but can you imagine if that’s all theatre was? Mother Courage after Mother Courage, after The Caucasian Chalk Circle, after Arturo Ui…ugh. People would stop going. There’s room for pomp-y, wacky, ridiculousness (all hail The Book of Mormon), and everything in between. But I do think theatre at its best, the stories that stay with you, are the ones that connect to a deeper human context.

I was reading an interview with Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer in the New York Review of Books where he recounts a story he heard while a law student:

At the turn of the last century, the court was called upon to decide a case on prices for theater tickets—could they be considered basic necessities, and could they be regulated as such? The majority thought the theatre was not a necessity. The great Justice Olive Wendell Holmes Jr. replied in his dissent: “We have not that respect for art that is one of the glories of France. But to many people, the superfluous is the necessary.”

The interview was a larger discourse on France and Proust, but the point Holmes made about the necessity of art resonates.

ML also made the comment:

An interest in international affairs implies that you care about effecting positive social change on behalf of less fortunate people… Do you foresee bringing those two strands of your life together at some point?

The notion of “effecting positive social change” is what I’ll respond to. Again, it’s what I believe theatre can be, from Winter Miller‘s In Darfur to Moisés Kaufman‘s The Laramie Project. Being a part of that kind of theatre is deeply gratifying and something I always seek out. (Or as a potter: being able to go to communities to work with local artisans to make pots that filter clean, potable water falls into that same category.)

The leap from one discipline (social justice through academia) to another (theatre) wasn’t so quantum for me. And while they are vastly different on so many practical and actual levels, “effecting positive social change,” for me, lies at the heart of both.

* * *

So, readers, do you have anything to add to the debate? Are we ATCKs doing ourselves, and the world, a disservice by turning to acting, or can acting be one of our more profound contributions?

STAY TUNED for next week’s fab posts!

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

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TCK TALENT: Laura Piquado, New York City Actress & One Well-Traveled Kid!

Laura Piquado Collage FINALWelcome to Elizabeth (Lisa) Liang’s monthly column about Adult Third Culture Kids (ATCKs) who work in creative fields, Lisa herself being a prime example. A Guatemalan-American of Chinese-Spanish-Irish-French-German-English descent, she recently debuted her one-woman show about being a TCK, which I had the pleasure of seeing during its too-short run in New York City in September of last year: stupendous!

—ML Awanohara

Happy new year, readers! Let’s start today’s interview by plunging right in. My guest is Laura Piquado, a professional actress based in New York who grew up in six countries, including Egypt, where we were drama classmates in high school.

* * *

Welcome to The Displaced Nation, Laura. It’s wonderful to reconnect with a Cairo classmate! I know you grew up as the daughter of a pair of teachers who were full of wanderlust. Can you give us a run-down of the countries you lived in as a kid?
My mother always told me that her earliest dream memory was of wanting to move to Africa. And as soon as she graduated from university in Canada, that’s what she did. She met my father in Sierra Leone in the mid 1960s. He was there with the Peace Corps, while she was being sponsored by CUSO (Canadian University Service Overseas)—a Peace Corps-style organization. They left when my mother was six months pregnant with my brother. My mother is tall, almost 5’11”, but at that time weighed only 120 lbs. I think having parasites, or the occasional bout of malaria was commonplace, but the risk to her health became too great.

After my (healthy) brother was born in Washington, DC, my parents decided to go overseas again. The first job my dad got was as an English teacher in a small village in northern Newfoundland, where I was born. Less than a year later, we moved to Beirut, Lebanon. Four years after that, when war broke out, we were evacuated to Shahin-Shahr, Iran, for almost four years. War broke out again, and we were evacuated again. The next stop was São Paulo, Brazil, for two years. My mom and dad hated the city, and we left every other weekend and holiday to get away from it. Consequently, my memories of Brazil are of travel, and of everywhere but São Paulo. After Brazil, we lived for four years in Bontang, Indonesia, which is in the province of East Kalimantan on the island of Borneo. After seventh grade we moved again, to Cairo, Egypt, where I graduated high school. That’s where you and I first met! My parents then moved on to Ecuador and China for 16 more years.

My parents loved being overseas, and at no point did they yearn to “come home.” They wanted their lives to be as teachers in international schools, and for 40 years that’s what they did. They retired a few years ago to a small town in New Hampshire.

A hard landing into adulthood

How did you feel about living in so many places?
I loved it, actually. Adjusting to new environments, new friends, new cultures, languages, was never difficult for me. I don’t know why. Perhaps I just got used to it. But I don’t think you ever get used to leaving friends and people you love—that’s always hard.

As an adult, do you find yourself drawn to other TCKs?
I definitely identify with other TCKS, though it’s not always a given we will hit it off. In fact, I used to be magnetically drawn to anyone who was a visible minority. “You’re from Indonesia?! I used to live in Indonesia!” “Hey, you’re Alexandrian! I lived in Cairo for 5 years!” I was always wanting to make a connection with a world that was no longer mine—and maybe never was mine, if I adhere to the rules of 3rd culture. But just because someone grew up all over the world as I did, or just because they are an actor like me, doesn’t guarantee I’ll be friends with that person—but it’s a starting point. And if a person grew up in different countries, at least their eyes won’t glass over when I answer the question, “Where are you from?”

You now live in New York City. How do you find life in the USA?
I’ve lived in the United States longer than I’ve lived anywhere else. Yet it’s the first place I’ve ever lived that doesn’t feel like home. For the first 20 years of my life I played with my friends, explored the jungle, hiked the Andes, swam in the Red Sea and the East Timor Straights, climbed salt flats, made forts in the desert, went horse-back riding around the Great Pyramids, woke to gibbon songs and the muezzin’s call to prayer. And then I came back here to go to school, get some degrees, get a job, and try to figure things out… I had this exhilarating childhood, and then this less-than-thrilling transition to adulthood.

Does your identity revolve around any one particular culture that you’ve lived in?
I am Dyak and atheist, Muslim, Christian, Bahá’í, Jain, Egyptian, Italian, Canadian—there is nowhere in the world that has ever felt foreign to me. I am all of these things, and none of them. After moving to the United States for the first time for college, being able to be all of them at the same time was what mattered the most. I was striving to understand who I was and what my life had been, and trying to share that with others, even if I couldn’t articulate it to myself. It’s taken a long time, and I suppose I’m still working at it. That said, I love meeting the kind of person who, unlike me, was raised in the same town he or she was born in, and still goes back there for family visits and holidays. I am attracted to the sense of being anchored somewhere, to a particular place. That perceived sense of belonging somewhere: it’s something I just don’t have; I don’t know what it feels like.

From an actor on the global stage, to an actor on a real stage

Tell us what you studied in college and how you made the leap to pursuing an acting career.
I did my master’s degree in Islamic Studies at McGill University in Montreal. I wanted, as an adult, to understand the cultural, political, and social environments in which I grew up. On some level I was looking for a path that would take me overseas again, which I was aching to do. I wanted to work in the development of women’s education in post-conflict societies because it was work that I was passionate about.

Just as I was finishing my degree, and thinking about streamlining into a doctoral program, I went back to Cairo. I hadn’t been back since high school. For a whole month I walked through the streets of my old neighborhood, saw my friends, went to mosques and bazaars and the Red Sea, and smelled and ate and absorbed Egypt again. It was glorious. But something changed in me after that, and made it okay for me to move on.

When I came back to Montreal, I started applying to drama schools. Although I had been involved in theatre since I was a kid, I hadn’t wanted to study it as an undergrad. There were other things in my life that I needed to address before I embarked on that.

But now I was ready for drama school—I enrolled in the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art. At LAMDA, I felt like I was flying. I was so happy. To allow myself the ability to change horses mid stream, and for it to feel natural and fluid and right—that was tremendous. I don’t think any of us is just one person, and we aren’t the same person at 15, 25, 35, 55. We have multiple loves and lives and wants, and finding ways to marry them all, if we’re lucky enough to know what they are in the first place, can be overwhelming.

How did your family react to your decision to pursue an acting career?
I’ve only ever had a supportive family. So instead of calling me a flake, or accusing me of lacking any sense of stick-to-itiveness when I told them I wanted to go to drama school, they became, again, my most enthusiastic supporters.

I think our peripatetic childhoods trained us to be actors—to observe, listen, and adjust our behavior to our surroundings. Do you agree?
I do agree, for the most part. But I also think personality has a lot to do with it. Just because you grew up all over the world doesn’t de facto make you a keen observer, or an astute listener, and not all kids who move around a lot are able to adjust to their changing environment. On the other hand, if you have had a peripatetic life, and you also happen to be a good listener, observer, etc., it seems it can only enrich your depths as an actor (and certainly as a human being). For me, adaptability became a defining aspect of my personality.

I think that for us TCKs, the challenge of convincing a casting director that you truly can be this other person is made easier because of all of those things we bring to the table—listening, observing, adjusting, maybe even having lived or known the character’s life. But also for that reason, many of us find it even harder to put up with being typecast.

Which sorts of roles are you attracted to, and do you think your upbringing influenced this?
I’m usually attracted to damaged characters, or quirky ones. And accents are always juicy! I’ve always been a mimic, and am grateful for that gift as it makes it easier to play a variety of roles. Why I’m drawn to quirky characters is less apparent. Does it have something to do with my upbringing? That’s an interesting thought. I’ve never made that correlation, but it makes complete sense.

So which parts have been your faves?
I loved playing Goneril in King Lear with the Texas Shakespeare Festival. I’ve always thought that she’s been inappropriately maligned as a character. Lear is not the easiest father—demanding, impulsive—and to require his daughters to prove, to prove, their undying love for him—for the sole purpose of measuring it against their inheritance—makes him something of a jerk in my book.

Playing the painter in Ionesco‘s The Painting with the Phoenix Theatre Ensemble was pretty great as well. Aside from the play’s absurdism, the part was perverse because of the the vocal and physical qualities we decided on. It’s not often that you get to play grotesque and obsequious, mismanage your voice, throw out your back, and sprain your jaw because the part demands it. Fantastic! 🙂

And a role on the damaged front, I suppose, was Charlotte in Sharr White‘s Sunlight, for its world premiere with the New Jersey Rep. While I’m less attracted to straightforward, modern dramas (though in truth, I love it all), the whole premise for who Charlotte is, for what motivates and oppresses her, is her having been in the Towers on September 11th and losing her child as a result of the trauma. And while that’s not what the play’s about (thank God!), it defines who she is able to become (or not become) in the ensuing decade.

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Wow, that’s an impressive list! Thank you, Laura! I wish you the very best in your career and hope to see you on stage and/or screen soon. Readers, please leave questions or comments for Laura below.

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s post, from our Global Food Gossip!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Making a life in Guatemala

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

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

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

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

Practicing the filmmaking craft

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

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Poster for the film screening at Columbia School of Social Work

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

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

“For the health of our people…”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

10 Questions for Beth Geglia

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

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

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

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

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

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