The Displaced Nation

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

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

Jenny in Ireland

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

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

On her About page, she says:

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

A woman after my own heart!

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Laughter is the brightest where food is best.”

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

Q9.1 Boy cleaning fish

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

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

Maui donuts

Donut feast in Maui. Photo credit: Jenny Schulte

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

Uxmal

A Mayan jaguar. Photo credit: Jenny Schulte

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

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

Business in Paris

A rickety Parisian gallery. Photo credit: Jenny Schulte

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

Eiffel Tower

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

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

DuPlooys Botanical Garden Belize

Botanical blossom in Belize. Photo credit: Jenny Schulte

“Better good manners than good looks.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

STAY TUNED for next week’s fab posts!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Making a life in Guatemala

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

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

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

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

Practicing the filmmaking craft

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

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.

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

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

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

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

Who is it that can tell me who I am? Third Culture Kid drama!

AlienCitizen_posterAt the height of my own repeat expat experience—when I had a foot in Asia (Japan), Europe (UK) and North America (United States)—I often thought of this line from Shakespeare’s King Lear:

Who is it that can tell me who I am?

—King Lear (Act I, Scene 4)

Prone to being somewhat melodramatic and hyperbolic (yes, I know I don’t have three feet!), I decided I’d peaked out too early. After all, Lear was an old man when he cast himself out and then had to grapple with what it feels like not to have a home or identity, whereas I was still a young woman.

It’s a good thing I was never a Third Culture Kid, or TCK—that’s all I can say, or else we’d be in for some MAJOR drama on this site. Instead we can leave that to someone much more suited: the actress Elizabeth Liang, who is the subject of today’s post. A self-described Guatemalan-American business brat of Chinese-Spanish-Irish-French-German-English descent, Liang was brought up by peripatetic parents in Central America, North Africa, the Middle East, and Connecticut.

Having faced the existential question of “Who are you when you’re from everywhere and nowhere?” practically from the moment of birth, Liang has channeled her thoughts into the creation of a one-woman show, Alien Citizen, which will have its world premiere in Los Angeles with performances this coming Friday and Saturday, May 3-4  (closing June 1). It’s being presented by Liang’s own company, HapaLis Productions, in association with the Multiracial Americans of Southern California.

Any TCKs reading this post (and/or their parents) should be happy to hear that Lliang’s play is not a tragedy. According to the press release, which she shared by email last night, Alien Citizen has both funny and poignant moments:

It weaves humorous stories about growing up as an Alien Citizen abroad with American commercial jingles providing [Elizabeth’s] soundtrack through first love, language confusion, culture shock, Clark Gable, and sandstorms.

Hmmm… Clark Gable?

Though Liang is busy preparing for Friday’s opening, she was kind enough to answer a couple of my questions. Naturally, I wanted to hear more about why she’d written the play and the audience she had in mind for it. Here’s what she told me:

I wrote Alien Citizen for my fellow global nomads and TCKs, because we rarely see our stories portrayed on stage or screen. I also wrote it because I kept being asked if I was from the Midwestern USA and I wanted to set the record straight: my story is unusual, and, I hope, interesting. The play is about identity, which everyone grapples with, but I especially hope that everyone who has lived a cross-cultural life—anyone who has felt like a bridge or an island or both—will relate to it.

Aha, I knew it! It’s for the likes of me as well! And probably you, too, reader, if you’re a Displaced Nation regular. We could use a little drama in our lives…

A few choice lines from the drama

I also asked Liang to share some lines from the play. She obliged with the following list:

  • “We’re Guatemalan when I’m little.”
  • “Nobody on TV looks like me…except maybe Spock on the Star Trek reruns.”
  • “Fairfield County, Connecticut. With four whole seasons, including winter! And the people are even colder than the winters.”
  • “Morocco is like the moon to us at first.”
  • “I love Egypt so much in that moment, it knocks the wind out of me. And I’m just this useless teenager from… Well, I’m not from here.”
  • “And I make friends! Because in the theatre, everybody’s weird.”
  • “I’m not from a place, I’m from people.”

I must say, I like that one about everyone in the theatre being weird. Maybe I should have tried my hand at acting after repatriating? (Except at this point I’d choose to be a Korean soap opera star—yes, I know I’m displaced!)

Show our TCK performer some love!

Readers, it’s time we showed Elizabeth some love for what she’s up to this month. If you live in the LA area, get your ticket half price through May 25th and after that at regular price.

If not, you can:

Questions for Elizabeth, calls for encores? (Should we invite her to submit a post on how the play was received?) Please leave them below. And on Friday evening LA time, let’s all shout out, from wherever we are in the world, “Break a leg, Elizabeth!”

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

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img: Promotional poster for world premiere of Alien Citizen

Is The Displaced Nation for expats, travelers — or both?

When we started up The Displaced Nation on April Fool’s Day, many people wondered: is it a site for fools, be they expats, travelers, or both?

From the perspective of outsiders — people who aren’t in the biz — that distinction may seem frivolous. After all, many travelers become expats and many expats travel.

But from the inside, it’s very clear who the travelers and expats are. Both are interested in viewing the world’s rich tapestry firsthand — but expats tend to focus on the intricacies of particular patterns, whereas global travelers want to take in as much of the picture as they can, including the tattered bits.

So, who is more displaced — the expats or the travelers?

The answer is neither. Feeling displaced is a state of mind. To continue the tapestry metaphor, part of you identifies with the new patterns you’re looking at, while another part thinks it’s a confused mess compared to the patterns you’re used to.

Not all global residents feel displaced; same for global travelers. And there are even cases where a person has never traveled except in an armchair — but has ended up feeling displaced by what they’ve read.

As a student of Shakespeare, I’m often reminded of the King Lear line:

“Who is it that can tell me who I am?” – William Shakespeare, King Lear, 1.4.230

Except that King Lear felt this way at the end of his life; many of us global voyagers get there rather earlier. Is it any wonder we feel like fools?!

Now, if you’ve noticed that our site tends to be expat-centric, it’s because two of our writers are expats and the other one (me), a former expat.

Reflecting this imbalance, I’ve started commissioning guest posts by writers — switching metaphors here, but only slightly — who can spin the kind of travel yarn that focuses on the ways travel can make you feel misplaced, displaced, out of place — and, in the process, challenge who you are as a person.

Thus far we’ve featured three such yarns:

1) My first flirtation with the lawlessness of global travel: 4 painful lessons, by Lara Sterling
Sterling has done it all, from round-the-world trips to expat stints. In this article she reports on the shock/horror she experienced after falling in love with a German traveler and following him all the way to war-torn Guatemala — only to discover he was engaged in criminal activities. Part of her was with him, fascinated — they were in a lawless land, so was there any reason to abide by the laws back home? But another part of her was repelled, and couldn’t wait to get back to the United States.

2) In search of 007th heaven, a travel yarn in three parts, by Sebastian Doggart
Doggart — a Brit who lives in New York City and blogs for the Daily Telegraph‘s expat site — tells of the pilgrimage he made to Goldeneye, the Jamaican coastal retreat where Ian Fleming wrote all the James Bond novels. As a Bond fan, he had fun identifying the sights that made it into Fleming’s stories and films. But he also felt alienated that Goldeneye had become GoldeneEye, a playground of the rich and famous — sensing that Fleming, who wrote for the masses, would not approve.

3) How foreign is Fez? A travel yarn in two parts, by Joy Richards
Richards lives in her native England and travels whenever she can. Here she describes her first foray into Fez, Morocco, which was also her first time in an Arab country. She decided to go with the flow, finding that she could relate to the Moroccan sense of shame through her parents’ values, didn’t mind “covering up” (is it any worse than being urged by the Western media to put your body on display?), and had a knack for bargaining. But the flow stopped as soon as she became aware of corrupt police tactics along with some cracks in the society’s facade.

* * *

As The Displaced Nation assumes its normal schedule next month, we hope to feature still more travel yarns.

Meanwhile, can you kindly do us a favor by answering these questions:
1) Would you like to see travel play an even bigger part in our article mix?
2) If so, can you suggest any candidates for guest posts, as well as countries/regions you’d like to hear more about?

Much obliged, as always, for your input!

 

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s post on the less-than-enchanting challenges of vacationing with family.

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DISPLACED Q’s: In your global travels, which close encounter of the animal kind was the least welcome?

In yesterday’s article My first flirtation with the lawlessness of global travel: 4 painful lessons, our guest blogger Lara Sterling recalls the toe-curling time in Guatemala when she was attacked by a couple of dogs and had to spend a week in hospital queues, waiting for rabies shots to her stomach. It doesn’t bear thinking about. Most of us cringe at the prospect of a trip to the dentist.

Rabies isn’t something you consider where I come from; if you’re bitten by a dog in the UK, in today’s litigious society you’ll probably phone your lawyer rather than your local hospital.

Neither is rabies foremost in your mind if you have bats roosting in your attic – you’re more likely wondering how to evict them without breaching wildlife protection laws, since bats are a protected species in many parts of the world. But around 1% of bats carry rabies, as a friend in the US discovered when she woke up to find a bat flying around her bedroom and had to undergo a course of rabies shots, just to be on the safe side.

This was my first inkling that Connecticut wildlife might consist of more than, say, a few sparrows on the bird table.

Disney cartoons – the best place for rodents

While I haven’t had bats for roommates, I’m now used to seeing certain animals in my American back yard that I’d previously only seen in Bambi or Chip n Dale. Visitors from the UK exclaim over the proliferation of gray squirrels, but I’ve adopted the jaded attitude of a Connecticut native: squirrels are just rats with good PR. If you’ve ever had one fall down the chimney into your basement, where it runs amok and tries to eat the wall insulation, you’ll know what I mean.

Other wildlife guests in our back yard party have included deer, Canada geese, snapper turtles, wild turkeys, raccoons, and, while we were waiting for the school bus one morning, a fisher cat – a member of the weasel family that has been known to attack humans. This one, however, simply gave us a very superior look and shuffled off into the woods, never to appear again. I wish I could say the same for the local mice, who seem to think they have winter squatting rights in the attic.

The skunk in Bambi might be very cute, but until you’ve smelled this animal’s musk, you can’t imagine how foul it is; the odor carries up to a mile, apparently. I’ve never seen a live skunk, although I’ve driven past plenty of roadkill. The operative word there is ‘past’ — you don’t want to drive over a recently killed skunk.

A squirmy moment came one summer when we found a three-foot-long snake in the garage. Fortunately, it was a Black Racer, and therefore not venomous – although it easily could have been. About two miles away is a preservation area affectionately known as Rattlesnake Run. Local police logs in the newspaper often carry reports of callouts to houses because of a rattlesnake sunning itself on someone’s porch.

“Old MacDonald had a…”  Mum, what’s that thing called again?

The flip side of living in what is essentially a forest is that we don’t see many ‘normal’ animals. During our trip to the UK, relatives were amazed when our young children weren’t sure what the white woolly animals in fields were. They’d heard of sheep and seen pictures and Fisher Price plastic sheep…but never sheep in the flesh, as it were. Yet on the same visit, while Auntie was cooing over a stripy squirrel-like thing in a cage and wondering what it was, the kids scoffed. “Chipmunks? They’re all over the place at home. Mum can’t stand them, they dig holes everywhere.”

But definitely the most interesting encounter was when our five-year-old came in the house after playing outside, and told me that there was a dog in the yard. Wondering if our neighbor’s dog had decided to make a break for freedom, I looked out of the window. It was a dog all right, but not one you want your five-year-old to play with. While coyotes rarely attack humans, I’d seen too many episodes of Road Runner to take a chance with the statistics.

Waiting for the Big One

And finally – a few months ago, in the street where we go trick-or-treating at Halloween, police cars swarmed. A black bear had been sighted. Now, every time I’m in the kitchen and looking out at the maples and pine trees behind our house, I look a little farther into the woods, wondering what else is out there.

It can only be a matter of time.

So, tell us: Which wildlife encounter of your own would you rather not have experienced?

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My first flirtation with the lawlessness of global travel: 4 painful lessons

Today we welcome Lara Sterling to The Displaced Nation as a guest blogger. She wrote this post as part of our series on Gothic Tales, anchored by ML Awanohara’s “What did Agatha Christie know? Expats make great criminals.”  A native Californian, Sterling is an inveterate traveler. Her many adventures include a round-the-world trip and a stint as an expat in Spain (2001-2005).

Have you ever traveled to a foreign country, thinking you could get away with murder?

Maybe that’s what Amanda Knox was thinking…

Regardless of whether you believe Knox is guilty or not, I’m talking about getting away with murder on a trip I made to Guatemala.

Well, not actual murder — just a little bypassing of the laws.

War-torn tourism

This was Guatemala in 1993. The country was in the last days of a decades-long civil war. The nation’s social fabric had been torn apart. That meant there weren’t many laws anyhow. Or at least laws that anyone was abiding.
I remember one time drinking at a bar in Antigua, a city in the Guatemalan highlands. Plainclothes cops showed up to get bribes from the travelers who didn’t have passports.

I was twenty-three. I was a female traveling alone in a dangerous country. It was appealing to team up with the handsome German man I’d met in Antigua.

His name was Fritz. He wanted me to travel with him to the pyramids in Tikal, in the north.

I was nervous about travel to Tikal. I had heard many terrible stories about travel outside of the cities. Buses were high-jacked by bandits. Women were raped. But Fritz was gorgeous! I couldn’t resist.

Lesson #1: Don’t trust handsome Germans

Fritz and I traveled to Tikal without problems. I agreed to travel more, to Livingston, on the coast.

Livingston is an enclave in Guatemala. A slave ship wrecked there in a past century. The inhabitants speak a local patois, the Garifuna language.

Fritz and I disembarked the boat. There were men with machetes everywhere. They were returning home from work in the fields. My overactive tourist imagination went crazy. I thought we were going to be robbed at every corner.

Muggings and rapes were known to take place on the trails outside of town. Fritz wanted to hike, but I was nervous. We spent our afternoons at the beach and drinking coffees in the local cafes.

At some point, we were approached by one of the natives, a guy named Billy. He had a business proposition.

“Ya want to buy yaself some fun?” Billy asked.

“What’s that?” asked Fritz in English.

The man bent in close. “Crack.”

Crack cocaine? I asked myself. Surely, Fritz will say no.

He didn’t.

Lesson #2: Give a wide berth to a man with a machete

Before I knew it, Fritz and I were following Billy into a cluster of trees off of a back street. Billy’s eyes were bloodshot. He was armed with his machete. I was terrified.

Fritz handed over some quetzales. Billy handed over a small, plastic baggie.

Fritz and I retired to the room we were renting. I watched as Fritz got out some tin foil and a lighter. He began to smoke. The odor was metallic, and the smoke was blue. Fritz’s eyes glazed over.

I told him I was going for a walk.

I walked down to where the women washed their clothes in a community well. I can leave, I thought. I can get another room.

I couldn’t. I had a serious crush on Fritz.

Luckily, by the time I returned, the effects of the drugs had worn off of Fritz. He wanted to go out again.

It was still light. We walked to the edge of town. Fritz pointed to a small swathe of beige that looked like it was miles away.

“There’s a beach over there,” he said.

Between us and the beach was jungle.

Maybe in kilometers, it seemed shorter.

Lesson #3: Dogs are not the same the world over

Fritz and I began our hike. Because of the infamy of the trails, I was a nervous wreck. But I was also tired of buying into my fears. I had traveled all the way here. I might as well have some fun.

The sounds of birds chirping in the trees and of leaves rustling in the breeze calmed me.

Suddenly, two mutts appeared. They were small, and their coats were white and black. They were growling, barking.

I hoped they would go away, like the dogs I knew from home. They didn’t. The dogs moved closer, encroaching.

The mutts leapt at our bodies. One of the canines sank his incisors into my behind. I screamed.

Fritz was bitten too, in the leg.

A couple of Guatemalan children emerged from the jungle. They beat the dogs off with sticks. The dogs retreated behind the palms.

My bottom was bleeding. I needed stitches. Luckily, someone had called the local doctor. He was waiting for us on the street at the edge of the jungle.

The doctor led us to his office. I climbed onto his examining table. He numbed my butt, then sewed my loose flesh back up again.

“You must return to Guatemala City for rabies shots,” the doctor said.

I felt woozy, weak. “We’ll have to leave tonight,” I told Fritz.

“I can’t,” Fritz said. “I have to get to El Salvador.”

El Salvador?

“But what if you get rabies?” I asked.

“Then I will come and bite you,” Fritz responded.

He flashed me the same mischievous smile I had fallen for.

Lesson #4: Make sure you have a cubicle waiting for you back home

Fritz and I parted ways, never to meet again. Alone, I suffered through a week of visits to the Guatemalan hospital.

Each day, I took the bus to the hospital, then waited in the hours-long lines. Finally, I’d get my shot in the stomach.

The employees of the hospital were on strike. I was lucky I was treated at all.

It wasn’t until weeks afterward that I mustered up the gumption to leave the country.

Guatemala had changed me. I had learned a lot. A lot of lessons.

But I was also the same person: young, hungry, ambitious, confused.

I thanked my lucky stars there was a job waiting for me at home. In some cubicle!

I couldn’t wait.

Question: Have you ever encountered world travelers who think that the laws of the lands they visit don’t apply to them — and, time to ‘fess up, have you ever been in their ranks? We’d love to hear your stories.

Lara Sterling has contributed to many magazines, was a columnist for Spanish Playboy, and published one of Spain’s first non-fiction books on fetish sexuality. She currently teaches writing at www.yourplotthickens.com.

img: Lara Sterling on a lava bed in Iceland, on one of her many trips.

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