The Displaced Nation

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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!

Related posts:

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.

* * *

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

Beth_Geglia_tdn

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

Making a life in Guatemala

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

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

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

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

Practicing the filmmaking craft

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

RevolutionaryMedicine_poster

Poster for the film screening at Columbia School of Social Work

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

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

“For the health of our people…”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

10 Questions for Beth Geglia

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

* * *

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

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

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

Meet author Rosie Whitehouse, who trailed her spouse into a war zone (and enter to win her book!)

Rosie Whitehouse CollageOne of the expressions I picked up from living in England for many years is “Keep the home fires burning.” For some reason, that expression, along with the WWI song from which it comes, is running through my head as I contemplate talking to today’s featured author, Rosie Whitehouse (click here to hear it being sung):

Keep the Home Fires Burning,
While your hearts are yearning.
Though your lads are far away
They dream of home.
There’s a silver lining
Through the dark clouds shining,
Turn the dark cloud inside out
Till the boys come home.

For me, Rosie is an up-to-date version of what the songwriters had in mind. Educated at the University at London, with a career as a BBC journalist, she chose to stay at home with her children and keep the house warm and welcoming, and the family’s spirits up, while her husband, the journalist Tim Judah, went off to report on various wars for The Economist and other newspapers.

Rosie even went the further step of moving the family home to be closer to Tim for a time. Ironically, she kept the home fires burning in the very place where World War I began, the Balkans. She flew out to a crumbling Bucharest—it had been knocked down by the notorious Ceaușescu, whose secret police killed hundreds during Romania’s 1989 revolution—with one child in tow and another one on the way.

Then, when it seemed possible that her own home could go up in flames as war spread across the former Yugoslavia, Rosie did not give up. She stayed for a total of five years before returning to London, by which time “keeping the home fires burning” was second nature both for her and the couple’s five kids (Tim carried on covering wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Congo).

Having revived her career as a freelance journalist, she decided to write her first book: Are We There Yet? Travels with my Frontline Family—a copy of which we’ll be giving away! (See details below). The book is a tribute to families who have been “burners of the home fires,” whose emotional pain tends to go unheralded. It is also, in her words, “quite funny.” (Hey, growing up in Bucharest, Belgrade, Croatia and Bosnia can be fun!)

By now you must be as curious as I am to meet the intrepid Rosie Whitehouse and learn more about what motivated her to seek out such an unusually displaced (at least by most of our standards!) life. I note that she has an Irish mother—perhaps that explains it?! (I’m thinking Queen Boudicea…)

* * *

AreWeThereYet_cover_dropshadowHi, Rosie. In your book you say that your husband’s journalist colleagues in Romania, all of whom were single, were shocked to hear he had a two-year-old son and another child on the way. Did people often tell you you were crazy?
Yes, lots of people thought I was crazy.

As a former journalist with a background in Russian studies, do you think you felt a tinge of envy for Tim’s opportunities—which made you want to be on the scene?
Not really, as I would not have been able to cope with going to morgues and so on.

I know you’re going to challenge our definition of “displacement,” but I’ll go ahead and ask: what was your most displaced moment during your stay in the Balkans—when you had to explain Daddy’s muddy boots (he’d been walking in a mass grave), when you visited empty supermarkets, or when you heard the first shots of the conflict in Bosnia while strolling around Sarajevo with the kids?
Those things were reality so in that one doesn’t feel displacement. Quite the opposite in fact. I was intimately plugged into life and death at those moments.

How did you keep yourself sane?
I coped with stressful moments by bunkering down. I wouldn’t send the kids to school and cuddled up with them instead. As long as I shut my front door, where ever I am and whatever is going on, and it is just us, I am able to feel at home.

But getting back to your question about displacement: My best moment in a foreign country was when I saw my mother drive off in a taxi in Bucharest and realizing that apart from my two year old son I didn’t know a soul in the country (my husband was away in Albania for weeks). Wow, at last no one to tell me what to do! Freedom!

More seriously, most displacements do not happen by choice, and my most displaced moments have been as a result of this. I recount a story in the book when I took the kids to Berlin ten years ago. My mother-in-law was born there but fled in 1933 as she was Jewish. The family settled in Paris. As a result I have half French children who speak fluent French and we don’t speak a word of German.

It was a rather stressful visit as we searched for old family homes, one of which the family were still trying to reclaim. My daughter Esti got a headache. I pointed to the department store and suggested that we go in to buy an aspirin. It was Wertheims. My mother in law’s mother was a Wertheim and was murdered in Aushwitz. Esti said:

What, first they give me a headache by stealing the department store and murdering my great granny–and now I am expected to go in and buy an aspirin to make it better? You have to be kidding!

That’s displacement.

Child-rearing on the frontlines

What was the biggest challenge about having children with you on the frontlines?
The biggest challenge was often the simplest thing such as getting them something to eat and getting hold of baby milk.

Did anything surprise you?
Life never ceases to surprise me where ever I am and what ever is going on. The terrible things and the good things always amaze me.

What do you think the kids got out of the experience?
The kids learnt a lot. My eldest son, Ben, would ask about why there was no food in Romania. For me it was a matter of telling simple tales of communism and 1917. For him it began a life-long interest in Russia. He is following in his father’s footsteps.

My eldest daughter, Esti, would like to work for an NGO like Human Rights Watch.

For all of us, it drew us closer together. We are a tight-knit family.

I’ve heard of war reporters feeling bored when they come back to “reality” in their home countries. Did your family experience any of that after five years in the Balkans? What was it like to go “home” again?
Going home is just as difficult as moving to a new country. By the way, the wars didn’t stop either after we got back. My husband has since covered lots of wars and famines including Afghanistan, Iraq and the Congo.

Writing a book, but from the backlines

After you left the Balkans, it took quite a few years before you decided to write the book. What was the catalyst?
It was during the invasion of Iraq in 2003. I was standing in the supermarket and they had just installed a TV with a live feed from Iraq by the checkout. Some soldiers were running across a street in Basra, where some of the heaviest fighting took place, followed by a reporter and camera man. All of their faces were clearly visible. My husband was in Baghdad covering the story for The Economist. I had actually popped out for five minutes of fresh air before the bombers took off from the UK and the countdown to the blitz on Baghdad began.

I realized, to my horror, you could be buying a packet of frozen peas and watch your husband killed in front of your eyes. I know this thought had never entered the mind of the supermarket manager who had simply installed the TV to attract customers.

That evening I found my ten-year-old glued to a grainy grey screen showing an image of Baghdad as the cruise missiles were expected. What do you say? I had to make dinner and she had to do her homework. The UK had a huge debate about the war and the way it was covered, and I felt nobody knew what it was really like to be part of it and a kid to boot.

I also found that very quickly after the Berlin Wall came down that people forgot in Western Europe just how hard life had been under communism, especially in Romania and Albania. No surprise in that, really, as since 1945 most people in Western Europe just forgot the East existed.

I also found people in the UK quick to judge and condemn people in Southeastern Europe as being violent and prone to war. I wanted them to realize we are no different. That is why I’ve also included a chapter on Ireland in the book.

And I wanted to describe the multicultural experience of bringing up half-French, half-Jewish, part-Irish children in various countries, something I found fascinating.

Was it also part of your mission to show others what it is like to be married to, the child of, a war reporter?
Yes, not just to a war reporter but also those who are married to soldiers—especially those who are part-time soldiers and live in the community.

Did you have any personal motives in writing the book, to help you process what you’d been through and to provide your children with a record of where they’d lived?
No, not really. I didn’t write it for us but to make people think about what was going on. I am sure that the kids will appreciate it when they are older.

What was the most difficult part of the book-writing process?
Getting time to do it. I often wrote with my computer on the kitchen side as I was cooking dinner, which was good as I could hear kids talking; and as I was writing about them, it helped to have them there doing their thing.

Did you find it easy to find a publisher for the book?
No it was hard. publishing is a tough business. I started my own publishing company, Reportage Press, which closed a few years ago. Are We There Yet? is on Amazon as a self-published download these days. We also have a number of journalist friends who are taking the self-publishing route quite successfully.

What audience did you intend for the book? Did you think it would also appeal to other kinds of expats, who don’t go to war-torn countries?
Yes, there is a large expat element to the readership, and I know the book has touched the hearts of women feeling lonely and bewildered in a new country. I have been hugged and kissed by quite a few of them. One lady said reading the book had saved her marriage. I’m not sure it was me, but I hope I helped her realize it wasn’t so bad being lonely in London. It is hard being in a strange country with children. It is you who have to interpret it for them and as you are far from the family support group and friends, it is inevitably all up to you to be their world. It’s a tough job. That said, the book is far from serious. It’s actually quite funny.

Can you give us some examples of humorous moments in the book?
The kids are a laugh a minute, so whatever was going on they would often say or do something funny. For example:

For me the market in Piaţă Amzei is the focal point of life in the city centre [of Bucharest]…

“Let’s see the old ladies with the cheese. Come on!” shouts Ben as he darts out of the pushchair and into a smelly covered hall, where they sell heaps of yellowy looking curds, which are akin to feta.They are covered in flies.

The old women with their long black skirts and headscarves beckon him over and offer him little crumbs. He watches their lips and toothy grins with fascination. They look unnerving, like witches with crunched up dirty teeth, but he doesn’t run away. He has come deliberately to stare at them. He studies an old lady’s face carefully as she says something he can’t possibly understand. He is like his father, never frightened of anything and intrigued by the smallest thing. He loves the bizarre and the quirky.

* * *

“Where’s Mr Parking? Why doesn’t he find us a space?” asks Ben as we drive up and down the street outside our flat. Ben loves Mr Parking. I can’t see him anywhere.

Mr Parking is the man who organises the parking lots outside Belgrade town hall. It’s an elegant 1880s building that was once the royal palace and is right next to our block of flats. For a tip, he lets us park in the lots reserved for local officials. I haven’t seen him for weeks and have to be careful where I put the car, or we’ll be towed.

“I think he has gone back to Bosnia to fight, Ben.”

“What!” Ben is horrified.

“Why? I want to park the car. Doesn’t he want to stay here?”

“No, I expect he wanted to go home and defend his village.”

“Where is his village?”

“He’s from eastern Bosnia, the bit between here and Sarajevo [Bosnia’s capital city]. He told Dad he comes from Kamenica. It’s in one of the last bits there that’s still under Muslim control.” It’s a village close to the town of Srebrenica [the town where a massacre took place in 1995, said to be a crime of genocide].

“What! He’s a Muslim?” Ben is amazed: “But he looks like everyone else!”

“Of course, he does! You don’t look different if you’re Muslim. Bosnians look the same whether they are Muslims or not.” My mother has just sent him a book about the Crusades.

“I thought Muslims looked like Arabs.”

Are you working on any other ambitious writing projects?
I would like to write an expat guide to Britain. I spend a lot of time explaining Britain to people as I live in an expat world in the UK to a certain extent as my children have been or go to the French Lycée, and we have a lot of foreign friends who live in London.

Ten Questions for Rosie Whitehouse

Finally, I’d like to ask a series of questions that I’ve asked some of our other featured authors, about your reading and writing habits:
1. Last truly great book you read: Malaparte is on my mind as I am driving to Ukraine. His book on the 1941 invasion of Russia is unforgettable.
2. Favorite literary genre: Novels
3. Reading habits on a plane: Nothing. I am too tense on a plane as I hate flying. If I am calm enough I love to look out of the window.
4. The one book you’d require President Obama to read, and why: My son Ben’s book on Russia: Fragile Empire: How Russia fell in and out of love with Vladimir Putin. It’s a great portrait of contemporary Russia. I am his mum—what else am I supposed to say to this one?
5. Favorite books as a child: I loved Little House on the Prairie but above all I loved the stories my dad used to tell me.
6. Favorite heroine: She doesn’t have a name. She is one of the millions of women who have struggled to keep their families together against the odds. These are the mums who keep the world turning.
7. The writer, alive or dead, you’d most like to meet: I always wanted to meet William Shirer. He must have had an extraordinary experience living in Berlin at the start of World War II. Perhaps the ultimate expat experience! I suggested an interview programme with him to BBC World Service in the 80s but they didn’t have the cash to send me to America to do it. A pity as he died after that.
8. Your reading habits: I read a lot. If you want to write you have to read. I also have to read a lot for work.
9. The book you’d most like to see made as a film: None, really. If you love a book, the last thing you want is for it to become a film as you have the pictures in your head and they are your pictures not someone else’s.
10. The book you plan to read next: Vasily Grossman‘s An Armenian Sketchbook is in my suitcase. I love Grossman. He is a fantastic writer. If you haven’t read Life and Fate, you have really missed out.

* * *

Thanks so much, Rosie! Personally, I found your story very moving and think we should confer on you a “home fires” medal for all you’ve achieved!

Readers, it’s time for you to ENTER OUR DRAW TO WIN A FREE COPY of Rosie Whitehouse’s book. Rosie is giving away ONE COPY and will favor comments that tell her why you’d like to read the book.

Extra points, as always, if you’re a Displaced Dispatch subscriber!

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

Rosie Whitehouse is a parenting journalist and mother of five. She is one of the UK’s leading experts on family travel. She has written widely on family matters and traveling with children for The Sunday Telegraph, The Independent, The Guardian, The Daily Mail, Sunday Express, Family Circle, The Economist, and others, as well as for the Web sites B4Baby.com and Raisingkids.co.uk. She has also spoken at events and on television and radio on parenting matters, promoting her travel books and her autobiography, Are We There Yet? Travels with my Frontline Family. You can follow her latest adventures at http://www.rosiewhitehouse.co.uk/.

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s post in our Olde vs New World series, by guest blogger Claire Bolden.

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 (clockwise from left): Rosie Whitehouse at “home” in London; Ben and his baby sister, Esti, living it up on the balcony in Bucharest (July 1991); Ben trying on his dad’s new bulletproof jacket, with Rosie’s mother in background (Belgrade, May 1992).

And the April 2013 Alices go to … these 5 international creatives

 © Iamezan | Dreamstime.com Used under license

© Iamezan | Dreamstime.com
Used under license

As subscribers to our weekly newsletter, The Displaced Dispatch, may have noticed, we are now presenting our “Alice Awards” in that esteemed publication. Each week, we give an “Alice” to someone who has a special handle on the the curious and unreal aspects of the displaced life of global residency and travel. Not only that, but they have used their befuddlement as a spur to creativity of all kinds.

Today’s post honors our first five Alice recipients, beginning with the most recent and this time including citations.

So, without further ado: The April 2013 Alices went to …

1) MICHELLE GARRETT, expat blogger

Source:Has Your Expat Life Inspired You To Write A Book?” in Expat Focus (e-zine for anyone moving or living abroad)
Posted on: 19 April 2013
Snippet:

By definition is an “expat novel” about an expat? Or does it need to be more than that—does an expat novel need to be about an expat experiencing expat life? You know, the culture shock, the language differences, the homesickness …

I have always written and always wanted to be a Writer so for me the motivation to write a novel was more about “you want to write? Start by writing what you know’” rather than, “I’m an expat with adventures—I think I’ll write about them!”

Citation: Should we expats write books about the wonderlands we’ve experienced on our travels, or should we write because we enjoy writing (and just so happen to live abroad)? Michelle, you’re sounding a little Mad Hatterish by posing this riddle with no answer, and we feel duty bound to point out that Alice herself felt that her adventures could be worth writing about:

When I used to read fairy-tales, I fancied that kind of thing never happened, and now here I am in the middle of one! There ought to be a book written about me, that there ought!

But listen, if our enjoyment of your blog, The American Resident, is any indication, we’re going to love the novel you’re writing about an expat woman but that isn’t an expat novel. We also look forward to your book of tips for expats with long and sad tales, like the Mouse’s.

2) JUDY LEE DUNN, award-winning blogger on blogging and former humanitarian aid worker

Source:Judy Lee Dunn on words, maps, and inspiration“—an interview with Judy conducted by author Lisa Ahn (notably, Lisa’s own favorite words are “once upon a time”!).
Posted on: 17 April 2013
Snippet:

For as long as I can remember, I have been enchanted by the power of words to transport readers to a world they don’t yet know.

And when I was a child, maps were a metaphor for a world I had not yet seen …

Whenever my two passions intersected, I was truly inspired. As manager of Writing Resources for World Vision, words and maps perfectly converged to send me to West Africa as part of a documentary team to tell the stories of projects helping third world families become self-sufficient. …

Now, I’ve finally reached the point where I am putting together the pieces of my life, word by word, shining a light on one of the recurring themes of my life. Finding just the right words to express a life map of sorts: to understand where I started and where I am going.

Citation: Judy, we feel certain you would approve of our fondness for Lewis Carroll, believing as you do in the power of words to transport us to other worlds (and also having worked as a first-grade teacher!). We’re with you on the map thing, too, as evidenced by our “Here be dragons” banner. And we love the idea of someone who has worked abroad, as you have (in West Africa), writing a “life map.” May we borrow this term?

3) ANN PATCHETT, best-selling American author

Source:What now? Advice on Writing and Life from Ann Patchett“—a post by Maria Popova on her Brain Pickings blog, containing extracts from Patchett’s 2006 commencement address at Sarah Lawrence, which has been published as a book, What Now?
Snippet:

Coming back is the thing that enables you to see how all the dots in your life are connected, how one decision leads you to another, how one twist of fate, good or bad, brings you to a door that later takes you to another door, which aided by several detours—long hallways and unforeseen stairwells—eventually puts you in the place you are now. … But when you look ahead there isn’t a bread crumb in sight—there are just a few shrubs, a bunch of trees, a handful of skittish woodland creatures.

Citation: Ann, we know you intended your words for the ears of graduates from your alma mater, but they could easily apply to us displaced types, who spend a good deal of our time feeling lost and clueless. You go on to say: “Sometimes not having any idea where we’re going works out better than we could possibly have imagined.” What a marvelous assertion! Far more reassuring than the series of unhelpful responses Alice elicits from the Cheshire Cat after asking him: “Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?” (What’s more, you’ve followed your own advice, booking a trip to the Amazon as soon as you decided to set your sixth novel there.)

4) LAINIE LIBERTI, world traveler and blogger

Source:Reentry Observations—Washington DC,” an entry on her blog, Raising Milo on the Road of Life—a single mom and son’s nomadic adventures as they travel around the world together.
Posted on: 29 March 2013
Snippet:

I imagined this country’s politicians, their assistants, their staff, all rushing away from the Capital, eager to go somewhere else. I imagined this was the group of stressed people who were running the United States of America. … I clearly have a different feeling about the United States now. I feel as if I’m on foreign soil. I don’t perceive the energy as welcoming.

Citation: Lainie, your description of Washington VIPs dashing about reminds us of Alice’s encounters with the White Rabbit. And we join you in wondering: don’t they realize that someday their actions will seems as trivial as some might perceive the ancient cultures of Peru? (Certainly puts it in perspective!)

5) LAURA J. STEPHENS, psychotherapist and author

Source: “Overcoming Isolation,” an entry on her author blog (she is the author of An Inconvenient Posting: an expat wife’s memoir of lost identity).
Posted on: 9 March 2013
Snippet:

For me, there was nothing in my experience quite so isolating as arriving in an unfamiliar country and trying to orientate myself, whilst experiencing the losses of “home” and all the while thinking I should be grateful for my new existence.

Citation: Laura, it’s great to know that someone out there understands the tendency for us expat Alices to declare “I am so very tired of being all alone here!” and then to suffer “pool of tears” moments… Not only that, but you provide practical tips to keep from drowning. What more can we ask?

* * *

So, readers, do you have a favorite from the above, and do you have any posts you’d like to see among May’s Alice Awards? We’d love to hear your suggestions! And don’t miss out on these weekly sources of inspiration. Get on our subscription list now!

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s post—more writing advice from Jack (the Hack) Scott!

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

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Dipika Kohli on world community art, defining a future, and why “wait and see” won’t cut it

tumblr_m7b7kmftdt1qaqyfmToday TDN welcomes Dipika Kohli, author of The Elopement, which we reviewed in September last year. Raised in America by Indian parents, Dipika now lives with her Japanese husband, Akira, in Durham, North Carolina, where the couple run a design company

Together, they are the driving force behind Stitch, a community art project for which they are currently raising funds on Kickstarter in order to take the project around the globe. 

Dipika, who has channeled her own feelings of displacedness into writing and art, joins us today to tell us more about this exciting project, the first in a series.

We begin with an intro to what Stitch is all about…

Stitch 101

Stitch is about supporting local artists and the art scene; it’s about a community defining the fabric of itself and its future. It’s community art, and an exercise in word-driven intention-setting at the same time.

Dipika and Akira say:

Now, we’re bombarded by images we never chose for ourselves—we let brands and labels do the work to define and express who we are. It doesn’t have to be that way. What if we could choose what we see? In simple, uplifting, people-nominated and people-chosen words and images? Would we, as a community, behave differently? Would we know who we are?

5d4954b68a302fd6081cb8f67e904ad2_large-1

The 276 words representing Durham, NC, in a word-cloud indicating frequency/popularity

For two months, Dipika and Akira talked to hundreds of people in their town of Durham, North Carolina, asking them one question:

What would you like to see Durham become, in one word?

After collecting many words, the residents of Durham voted for those that described their vision of the future Durham — the Durham they would like to be part of.

The resultant 276 words were passed onto two dozen local artists, who created work inspired by these words. Collectively, these pieces create a vision for the town, while money raised from the selling of these pieces will take Stitch to other communities in the world,

“connecting disparate communities with a common thread of art and collective visions.”

And now — over to Dipika:

Insane…or brilliant?

You have to either be insane or brilliant. To do it, I mean. To get up and do the crazy thing that no one believes will ever work. Everyone who says they care about you and your future likes to say, “Just wait, and see.” See if you can save enough. See if you still feel like doing something wild and crazy. Wait. See.

I’m done with that approach.

You see, I’ve been “waiting and seeing” for about a year now. I’ve been wanting to get back on the road, but why? How? What would that accomplish? A little Descartes reincarnation was sitting on my shoulder, niggling.

March, I said, was when I’d pull the trigger. Whether it made “sense” or not to jump ship and move out of my apartment for some unknown adventure ahead.

Taking Flight

March 16. My birthday. The day I launched the book that took me 13 years to get the nerve up to actually publish. So romantic, I thought, to finally upload Flight of Pisces and then move out of my apartment, and “away.” Wherever that might be.

Flight of Pisces was about the time I left Durham, NC, to trek about in India. Footloose and in search of “identity,” I wanted to see the place where my parents originally come from. New Delhi, and Old Delhi. I went solo, and I did it big, culminating in something that all these years later, I shake my head about, thinking, “Did I have some kind of death wish?”

Maybe I did.

Maybe it was survivor’s guilt. Or more, or less. Who knows.

What I do know, and what I can say, is that it had to be the way it was. I had to go and try something that seemed like it was the most absurd and off-the-track kind of thing in the world, in the universe, even, because without having gone and done it, I wouldn’t have ever gotten it. “The glimpse.” A feeling that the world was shifting beneath my feet. And, indeed, it was.

Now, the same feeling is resurfacing.

On the road again

I’m getting lost in the world, again, and on purpose one more time. It’s okay with me that I have a four year-old who’ll be my classmate on this new tour as we go on an educational field trip together to someplace new. I can’t disclose all the details (yet), but I’m trusting it’s going to be okay.

We’ll have just one text with us, in our imaginations. A book that’s got a bunch of blank pages inside, and one image. It’s the cover, and it looks like this:

It’s the drawing I made back in 1994, when I met my husband, Akira Morita. He’s from Japan, and I’m Indian-American, and we eloped to Ireland in 2000. You could say we like to mix it up. Or just trust that we’ll find something wherever we go. One thing’s for sure, we’re always getting to know a bunch of people well, and anyone who’s into the displaced feeling of being elsewhere knows what I mean.

I held a roundtable last year called EXPAT at a place in town called Mad Hatter’s. It’s a little cafe, and about a dozen of us got together to talk about our experiences in places like Ghana, Madagascar, and all parts of Europe, too. Conversations like that made me feel like I was on the road again.

From T-shirt designs to Stitch concept

Now, Akira and I are 18 years older than we were when we met, and we’ve evolved a lot from those days when we thought printing a T-shirt design on a shirt was cool. Our style has gone conceptual, and now we’re doing our biggest art project together yet. It’s called STITCH, and it’s on Kickstarter now through April 28.

Part of the reason we’re doing this is to shape the community for the place where we both have spent the biggest chunks of our life: Durham, North Carolina. But there’s more, too. Lots of things I want to talk about with you in upcoming posts from this new series. I hope you’ll enjoy the journey with me.

Find out more about STITCH here at the Kickstarter website!

* * *

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

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

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A once-displaced author on muses, monkeys & murder — and your chance to win her new book!

EdithmcclintockOur first featured author of the new year, Edith McClintock, is today’s guest. Her post should help to alleviate the January doldrums and this “brass monkey” weather. By way of introduction, I should point out that even though she does write mysteries, she herself is a bit of a mystery. Tee hee-hee ha-ha! On the one hand, she is a former Peace Corps worker, and has worked to preserve rainforests. On the other, she has harbored dreams of killing off her fellow researchers in the Amazon! Indeed, working with Edith sounds about as much fun as a barrel of monkeys! But let’s find out more about her creative muses, shall we, before leaping to any conclusions…

— ML Awanohara


I can’t pinpoint the moment I decided to write a novel. The idea percolated for years starting in my early teens. I did, however, always know — to the extent I even understood book categories, which was not much — that my first book would be a mystery, heavy on romantic suspense, and definitely a touch gothic.

Maybe a modern-day version of M.M. Kaye’s light mysteries (before she wrote The Far Pavilions), each set in an exotic locale.

And maybe a little Barbara Michaels mixed with Elizabeth Peters’ humor.

They were all early muses.

But so was travel. I knew the setting would have to be international, exotic…romantic. I wanted my characters to be trapped in a confined setting — like the best Agatha Christie.

From my first trip to Spain when I was thirteen, across Europe and Central and South America in my twenties, I contemplated castles, ruins, plunging cliffs, and remote islands based on their novelistic setting potential.

We are not aMUSEd: “Writing is hard”

But I needed more than a muse to write a book. I needed an obsession. For me, that’s the only way it could have happened, because writing Monkey Love and Murder was hard. Writing is hard. The rejection was crushing.

I cried. My sister cried. The rewriting and rewriting and rewriting again often felt meaningless. More sacrifice than joy. Sometimes exhilarating. More often tedious and lonely.

The truth is the time lost probably wasn’t worth it. I had demanding, more than full-time jobs. I wrote on weekends and evenings. My friends and family were celebrating, playing, gathering, the sun shining. I was hunched over a computer screen talking to my make-believe world.

It takes a certain arrogance to believe you can even write a book. To believe it will get published. To believe people will actually like it. Maybe love it. I had that in the beginning. For years, really. I had to love the idea, the place, the characters.

The place as muse

Because it took an obsession to keep writing and rewriting, in my case probably much longer than I should have. But it wasn’t a person that grabbed me and wouldn’t let go. My muse, my obsession, was the rainforest and a place called Raleighvallen in the Central Suriname Nature Reserve.

MonkeyLoveAndMurder_dropshadowI think my protagonist, Emma, expresses it best:

Even with all the frustrations, I fell completely and irretrievably in love with the rainforest that week — the deep rich smells of dirt and decay and teeming, thriving life; the warm soft light of the rocky moss-covered paths hidden beneath layers of climbing and tumbling lianas and roots; soaring tree trunks wrapped in colorful bromeliads, orchids, moss, and lichens; and the canopy of leaves of every conceivable size and shape. Each day was a new adventure, new wildlife (some good, some terrifying) and ever changing forest, from the sunlit traveling palm groves to the dense, swampy marshes near the river; to the rocky, open forests with the towering trees the spider monkeys loved. I enjoyed watching the spider monkeys too, but I could have been just as happy watching any number of wildlife. It was simply being in the rainforest I loved most.

Like Emma, I spent two years as a Peace Corps volunteer in Suriname living in the capitol, Paramaribo. Unlike her, I joined a monkey research project post-Peace Corps simply because I wanted to spend more time in the rainforest — and chasing monkeys through the jungle seemed like fun.

It was. Hot, frustrating, itchy and wonderful.

I was there for six months, ideas percolating, but I didn’t begin writing until I came home. That’s when I moved beyond the idea of writing as abstract concept and into deep obsession.

Ignorance plus arrogance — a lethal combo?

I came home to the United States, spent three months working full-time and decided I couldn’t continue. Not yet. I was in the throes of a typical angst-ridden readjustment process combined with the initial bubbling of obsession. So I quit my job and drove cross-country to housesit for my sister and then a friend while I pounded out that first draft. I finished and returned to full-time work again, sure my first draft was destined for the bestseller lists.

I clearly had the arrogance. Unfortunately, I also had heaps of ignorance. I still do. I don’t understand publishing. I may never understand publishing.

Nine years later, following hundreds of rejections, countless rewrites, frequent tears and regular quitting (for months, even a year), my first novel is finally published. People, friends, strangers, will read it. Judge it.

It’s wonderful and scary and it took a passionate, often-painful obsession. But still, I’d do it again. I am doing it — I’ve just finished my second mystery (I hope). I have a plan for the next and the next and the next.

As for Monkey Love and Murder, thankfully, I’m finally over that obsession. And it turns out the best thing about finally being published is that I NEVER have to read or rewrite it again!

But still, I hope you’ll read it. I hope you’ll like it. I certainly did. For years.

* * *

Whoop! Whoop! Thank you, Edith! Readers, to whet your taste even more, here are a couple of reviews for Edith’s debut novel, Monkey Love and Murder:

Kirkus Review:

This debut from McClintock, who served in the Peace Corps and worked on a monkey research project, has the ring of authenticity, along with romance and a mystery that keeps you guessing.

Library Journal Review:

This romantic-suspense debut is perfect for those seeking adventure mixed in with their mystery. McClintock creates a vivid jungle environment, a perfect venue for a closed-room mystery. Her characters run a little larger than life, making the story feel like a reality TV show. With a bit of Scott Smith’s tone, this would work for Hilary Davidson fans too.

And let’s not forget the blurb:

Emma Parks joins a monkey research project deep in the South American rainforest on a whim. She refuses to admit it might have something to do with a close friend’s death from which she hasn’t recovered, but it’s certainly not because she knows anything about spider monkeys, least of all what they look like. She’s barely arrived when International Wildlife Conservation’s renowned director drowns during a party celebrating the group’s controversial takeover of the park. Tension mounts following the machete murder of a researcher, threatening Emma’s budding primatology career, her secret romance with an Australian zoologist, and more importantly — her life.

Can’t wait to read it? Why not download the first chapter?

I know, I know, one chapter isn’t the same as reading the whole book. SO ENTER OUR DRAW TO WIN A FREE COPY — in 3 easy steps:
1) Comment on Edith’s post
2) Like her book’s Facebook page
3) Subscribe to our Displaced Dispatch
Yes, of course you can take just one of these steps, or two — but do all three and you’ll have an even greater chance of winning!!! @(‘_’)@

The winners will be announced in our Displaced Dispatch (and on Edith’s Facebook page) on Feb. 2, 2013. She will contact you for your address and is open to shipping anywhere in the world.

NOTE: If you’re not lucky enough to win one of Edith’s books, you can always order it from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or The Book Depository.

Born in a school bus in the Tennessee woods on the largest commune to come out of the sixties, Edith McClintock works in the conservation and development field and blogs about travel on Novel Adventurers. Although a lifelong reading addict, she didn’t write fiction until post–Peace Corps, when she joined a monkey research project deep in the Amazon. Trapped in a tiny jungle cabin for six months, there was little to do but imagine creative ways to kill off her fellow researchers (all of whom were too nice to make it into her first novel, despite their begging). To find out more about Edith, visit her author’s blog.

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s post, also on expat writing.

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: Edith McClintock’s author photo (yes, that’s her — in Chinatown in Seattle, buying mangoes) and book cover.

Do refugees and migrants have anything in common with us expats? No, and yes…

displacedvdisplacedBelieve it or not, the Displaced Nation has occasional qualms about whether “displaced” is the right word to describe a group of expats and internationalists. What does a group of privileged travelers have in common with refugees or migrants who’ve had no choice but to leave their homelands? We thought we’d begin the new year by touching on this vexed question, this time with the help of a mentor, Andy Martin. Andy is now an expat in Brazil, but he previously worked with refugees in London.

— ML Awanohara

Before moving to Brazil in February 2012 I worked with refugees as a social worker in the UK, and my last job entailed supporting unaccompanied minors: children as young as 11 who flee conflicts and persecution in countries such as Afghanistan — on their own.

And it is of them that I remind myself when I reflect upon my own struggles and anxieties at being “displaced” from my own country. Suddenly, my tongue-in-cheek British moans about uncomfortable buses and lopsided pavements (yes, pavements), or my frustrations with struggling to learn Portuguese, seem trivial when contrasted with the experiences of the young people I worked with.

Given this, it would seem bizarre for a rich (relatively) migrant like myself to even contemplate comparing my experiences of displacement with those who flee poverty, persecution or some other unimaginably unfortunate situation that most of us will thankfully never have to experience.

Or is it?

Well, I guess the differences are probably easier to distinguish — for example:

1) The reasons for the migration

Whilst refugees are forcibly displaced through circumstances outside of their control, more fortunate gringos like myself possess far greater agency when it comes to the motives for our movements: love, jobs, travel, etc.

2) The journey itself

Forcibly displaced people often leave their homes unexpectedly with no belongings, or else hurriedly sell whatever possessions and land they have in order to fund their flight, whilst my wife and I had carefully planned our move for over two years (well, we read a few books and, to be fair, she is Brazilian herself — which helps).

What’s more, the route a refugee takes is often perilous, taking months or even years, and in turn may comprise many different means of movement: on foot, by car, on overcrowded boats, airtight lorries or refrigerated trucks. On top of that, their destinies also usually lie in the hands of people smugglers.

My wife and I, though, as middle-earners in the UK, booked our flight with a click of our laptop, and the path from our flat in London to our new life in São Paulo was no more than a day’s inconvenience — and a relatively smooth and comfortable one at that.

I had the cabin crew to serve me unlimited amounts of Cabernet Sauvignon and my biggest anxiety was which of the in-flight films to watch: Moneyball or Midnight in Paris?

3) The arrival at the new destination

Refugees are typically at the complete mercy of the host countries they successfully manage to reach. Most likely, they are from countries for which there are strict immigration controls and they are typically confronted not with empathy but with a culture of disbelief — yes, 11-year-old kids from Afghanistan with no family.

A British citizen like myself meanwhile, merely through my place of birth, possesses a passport that requires one of the fewest number of visas to travel around the world. Even when there is a requirement, particularly to live or work, it’s often pretty straightforward.

Refugees, though, even if they are granted some form of status, will by the nature of their former lives typically have to start from scratch, their qualifications often meaningless (that’s if they can even prove them) — and thus with access to only menial jobs and bottom-of-the-rung housing.

And then, once they’re settled, the mental scars from the trauma they’ve experienced will slowly emerge.

Fortunately for me — with the education I’ve received, the qualifications I’ve gained and the work experience I’ve accumulated — I’ll be in a far better position to start my dream life abroad.

Just take me to the beach already!

* * *

So far, so different then.

Is it really possible then that the experiences of forcibly displaced people can ever be compared to those whose displacement is chosen?

Well, yes, I think they can. Here’s a couple of ways we are similar:

1) The requisite adjustments to a new culture

One of the fascinating things about my job back in London was listening to people describe their reactions and adjustments to their strange new worlds. And, as you can imagine, the youthful frankness of the kids I worked with often made these accounts hilarious and, perhaps, more honest.

For example, I remember one young person seemed bemused as to why on one particularly hot day (well, relatively anyway) in London, so many people were stripping off their clothes and heading to the local park to sunbathe. He only realized why when by the next time I had seen him, there had been subsequently been 20 successive days of rain in London.

“Welcome to the UK,” I joked.

2) The occasional bouts of homesickness

It wasn’t, of course, just the things they were discovering which were intriguing, it was also what they were missing. For some it was their homelands, for others it was speaking their language, whilst often it was specific things like their mother’s home cooking, although most commonly it was the weather — of course.

However, a common and I guess obvious sadness amongst all of them was missing people — whether that be their friends, family or both.

* * *

In sum, writing my blog over the past year has made me realize that despite our very many differences all migrants share some common behaviors: that of exploring, adjusting and, inevitably, comparing (in my case moaning), as well as reflecting upon the losses we have to make in order to get to where we are.

At the same time, I’ve also acknowledged that my own anxieties are not trivial just because they might seem so in comparison. They are real and probably shared by many people. However, thinking about those kids back in the UK just gives me the motivation to try even harder.

Thank you, Andy, for that reality check! Readers, what did you think of Andy’s analysis?

British by birth and slowly becoming a little more Brazilian each day after moving to São Paulo a year ago with his Brazilian wife, Andy Martin is also a qualified social worker in the UK, who specialized in supporting refugees in negotiating the process of displacement. Now, as a migrant himself, he is finding out whether any of the advice he gave them was of any use in the first place. Andy is also known to drink tea, warm beer and play cricket, none of which Brazilians seem to be massively convinced by. You can learn more about him by following his blog, The book is on the table, and/or following him on Twitter: @andyhpmartin.

STAY TUNED for next week’s posts.

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Images: The photo of the boy is from Morguefiles; the other photo is of Andy Martin (his own).

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

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

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

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

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

Wendy_Williams1) WENDY WILLIAMS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SuzanneKamata_festive2) SUZANNE KAMATA

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jeff at Turkish Embassy3) JEFF JUNG

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

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