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EMERALD CITY TO “KANSAS”: Amy Rogerson on seeing the Wizard of Expat Life and returning home (for just six months)

Amy Rogerson wrapping up warm in the UK at Christmas (her own photo); the Ruby Slippers (CC); corn path (Morguefiles).

Amy Rogerson wrapping up warm in the UK at Christmas (her own photo); the Ruby Slippers (CC); corn path (Morguefiles).

Welcome to “Emerald City to ‘Kansas,'” a series in which we focus on expatriate-into-repatriate stories. This month our subject is Amy Rogerson, an Englishwoman who blogs at The Tide That Left about trailing her husband (aka “Mr Tide”), at breathless pace, all around the globe. The couple now live in Dar es Salaam in Tanzania, but in the past four years have also made homes in South Africa, Angola, Qatar, Russia, and Libya. As we catch up with Amy, she is back to the UK (as of April 7th) for a six-month stay. What is it like going “home” again after such a life of adventure? Without further ado, let’s dig into a slice of Amy’s “back to Kansas” story.

—ML Awanohara

To Oz? To Oz!

I didn’t really choose expat life. Rather, it chose me when I fell head over heels in love with a nomadic man. I met my husband five years ago in his final weeks in the UK before he moved to Libya. We continued our relationship long distance for a year, but eventually knew that one of us had to move. I was in a job that made me miserable, whilst he was welcoming new opportunities at work, so it seemed for the best that I move to Benghazi to be with him.

Lions and tigers and bears, oh my!

Moving to Libya was so far beyond my comfort zone that I shocked both myself and those who loved me most. All I knew is that I wanted to be with the man I loved. I never expected my life to become that of a serial expat. As well as living in Libya, we’ve also lived in Russia, Qatar, Angola, South Africa and Tanzania together. In fact, my home is still in Tanzania; repatriation to the UK is just a temporary move for a project I am working on, and I fully intend to return to Dar es Salaam and my wonderful husband in just under six months from now.

We’ve been gone such a long time…

I’m surprised at how much I’ve grown to love my new lifestyle. I’d never wanted to travel or live abroad before I met my husband, but now I struggle with the idea of ever “going back to Kansas” permanently (not that I don’t think I will one day!). I’ve discovered that life can be different from what I was brought up to believe. If choosing the expat life has meant I’ve had to say goodbye to any dreams I had of the picket fence, the family home, the stable job—that isn’t going to happen, at least not for a while—it isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

What have you learned, Dorothy?

Living in six countries in four years, I’ve learned to adapt to change. Nothing stays the same, and I’ve had to be flexible. That flexibility doesn’t just apply to where we live and work, or what our holiday plans are. I’ve also had to learn that there is not just one way of doing something, especially once I started working for a South American company in the Middle East and now in Africa. I’ve had no choice but to get my head round different ways of doing things that I used to believe we do best “at home”. As a Brit working with people from different parts of the world, I’ve often felt as though my colleagues and I weren’t talking the same language when it came to business practices and relationships. But I’ve come to see that instead of believing the British way is right, it helps if I can open my mind to other approaches, some of which may work if you’re willing to give them a try. With time I’ve been able to overcome the differences and pick up skills that will no doubt help me in future.

No place like home?!

Repatriation is bitter-sweet for me. I didn’t really want to return to the UK right now, but circumstances have dictated otherwise. Having been gone from the UK for four years I’m really struggling with settling back in. Much of what I knew before now seems unfamiliar. My time abroad has coloured my behaviour and expectations. In a sense, I’m having to relearn some of that most basic stuff that I found so hard to let go of when I became an expat.

Oh dear! I keep forgetting I’m not in Kansas!

I once thought huge shopping centres where I could buy everything I needed in one go were the perfect solution to hectic British life. Now I find myself shying away from the crowds of people, the flashy goods, and the elevated prices for things with a short shelf life. During my life abroad, I often missed the choices that were available to me in the UK, be it in the supermarket, on the high street, even on the television, but now I just feel overwhelmed and a tad spoilt by all the options. In adapting to new ways of living and thinking abroad, I no longer completely fit in the country I was born and raised in. Perhaps I need to look at this six-month repatriation like a new expat assignment and approach it like I would any other move. I need to be open to adapting. I need to forgive myself for not “feeling at home” immediately when I wouldn’t ask that of myself anywhere else. I’m incredibly lucky to have so many wonderful connections here in the UK. I expect it won’t be long before I feel more settled at home than I do after a few weeks. One thing I do know: the call of expat life hasn’t quietened yet.

* * *

Thank you, Amy, for such an honest, heart-felt account about what it feels like to go home again, if only for half a year. It’s interesting that you’re now having to apply the adaptability you learned from expat life to feeling more at home in your native UK. Readers, can you relate to what Amy says?

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s fab post!

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For this displaced Irish writer and cultural chameleon, a picture says…

Aisha Ashraf Collage

Canon zoom lens; photo credit: Morguefiles. Aisha Ashraf at Air Canada Centre, Toronto, for her very first live ice hockey game, 2013.

Welcome to our monthly series “A picture says…”, created to celebrate expats and other global residents for whom photography is a creative outlet. The series host is English expat, blogger, writer, world traveler and photography enthusiast James King, who likes to think of a camera as a mirror with memory. If you like what you see here, be sure to check out his blog, Jamoroki.

A happy new year to one and all at the Displaced Nation. My guest today is 38-year-old Irish expat, blogger, traveller and photographer Aisha Ashraf. She is currently based in Canada with her husband and three children. A freelance features writer, Aisha has published articles in newspapers, magazines and a range of expat and mental health websites. She says she has been a cultural chameleon since she first emigrated from Ireland to England at the age of eight. She is also a friend to the Displaced Nation and a recent recipient of one of its “Alice Awards” for a post on her Expatlog blog, provocatively entitled “My mother was a nun.”

Today I’ve asked Aisha to shares with us her experiences and view of the world via a selection of photos from her peripatetic life. I have followed Aisha on Expatlog for a short while and am so impressed by her pictures and the stories behind them.

* * *

From the glamor of Europe (Paris, France)…

Hi, Aisha. It’s good to meet you here at the Displaced Nation. I understand you now live in Canada. But where were you born, and when did you spread your wings and start traveling?
I was born in the same Dublin hospital as Bono from U2 and spent my early childhood roaming the family farm on the broad plains and bogs of Co Kildare, Ireland. Following my father’s diagnosis of bipolar disorder (“manic depression” in those days), we emigrated to England so that my mother could be nearer her family, swapping the farm for suburban living. I was eight when we left and it was many years before the night-time tears of homesickness subsided.

I have seen U2 twice. A great experience and I wonder if Bono knows he was born in the same hospital as you!! I trust those difficult times are now a distant memory, and I know travel has featured quite a lot in your adult life.
Aside from travelling all over the British Isles (we moved house almost annually after leaving Ireland), I didn’t travel abroad again until I met my husband. Together we explored Europe—we drove all over Malta in a yellow convertible. We also loved Paris so much we kept returning. He proposed to me in the bar of the Metropole Hotel in Brussels—a gorgeous historical landmark in the centre of Belgium’s capital, the setting for numerous films and host to royalty, foreign dignitaries, presidents and film stars.

That gives us quite a lot in common. In 1995 I had a great holiday in Malta, and Paris is a favourite of mine, too. And now I would love to know how you and your husband finally ended up in Canada.
Just before our second child turned one, my husband took a post in Libya while I held the fort at home in the UK. He travelled around the country seeing the sights and even sleeping under the stars in the Sahara, but the long absences were tough on all of us. After six months we were certain we didn’t want to continue living apart and considered moving our family to Tripoli. Luckily for us a post in Canada was offered because in the following months expats were evacuated when the revolutionary spirit that had taken Tunisia by storm spread to Libya, and the Gaddafi regime crumbled. We began the Canadian chapter of our life in 2010 and have been here since.

…to the rugged beauty of North America (Paris, Ontario)

scenefromAishaslife

Paris, Ontario. Photo credit: Aisha Ashraf

Canada is a big country. Where exactly do you live, and what is life like in those parts?
We live in Ontario, just outside Toronto. Initially my husband was slotted for a Toronto office but when Canadian HR learned he had a family they felt we’d be happier in Whitby, a once-bustling port on the banks of Lake Ontario, now a haven for families. It’s a great base from which to explore natural wonders like Niagara Falls and Algonquin Provincial Park, along with historic settlements like Kingston, Stratford, Bracebridge and Paris—Ontario!—which you can see in this first photo. I took it from the bridge spanning the Grand River.

A moment

A moment in the Distillery District, Toronto. Photo credit: Aisha Ashraf

Boywithtincup

The local ribfest. Photo credit: Aisha Ashraf

Thank you for sharing some of the photos that capture a few of your favourite memories of Canada thus far. I’ve never been there, but I can see it is an amazing place. Can you tell us a bit more about these next two photos, which I believe are of your children?
This first one, of my son standing awestruck before a monstrous sculpture with an exploded head, brings to mind a bitterly cold winter’s day spent exploring Toronto’s Distillery District, where the kids got to meet Santa and the Victorian architecture and cobbled streets made us nostalgic for home. Back then we still felt like tourists. The second one is of my youngest child taking a deep draught from a tin mug at the local ribfest. I’m recalling a day of competitive rib-eating and blazing sunshine that melted into a night of flashing lights and fairground rides. Children are always such rewarding subjects—their innocence and unselfconsciousness makes them great fun to photograph—and the photos I take of my own children of course have special meaning.

hawkbyAisha

Soaring turkey vulture. Photo credit: Aisha Ashraf

And this next must be a New World bird of prey?
Yes, it’s called a turkey vulture. I got lucky after several attempts of zooming in and losing it to the vastness of a magnified sky. The photo always reminds me of an afternoon spent at the slipway, watching people get their boats in and out of the lake whilst navigating some particularly plentiful algae—it was more entertaining than TV.

The irresistible pull of the Great Outdoors

I think that is so interesting because, recently, I have been looking back over photos I took 35 years ago in many different countries and there isn’t a single one that doesn’t bring on a flood of memories. Photos are like that for me, a trigger, and they always have a story attached. Your two shots of the children are quite compelling—I love the girl picking her nose in the fairground photo—and the vulture is a great shot. Do you have any favorite places in Canada to take photographs?
Without a doubt, it has to be Lake Ontario—it’s where we head to chill, explore, reconnect and refocus. I actually get withdrawal symptoms if I don’t go regularly. The ever-changing light and character mean I snap lots of pictures that, once home, I usually find I have failed to capture whatever elusive quality it was I was trying for. We go for walks on trails and in conservation areas so I have countless photos of woods and water. Here are just a few that I really like:

Daughterwalkingoncliff

Cliff walk near Lake Ontario. Photo credit: Aisha Ashraf

boyinpumpkinfield

Pumpkin field near Zephyr, Uxbridge, Ontario. Photo credit: Aisha Ashraf

Wavesofthelake

Lake Ontario. Photo credit: Aisha Ashraf

The one of your daughter in the field full of pumpkins is so vital, and the naturalness of the colours brings your lovely composition to life. By complete contrast, your daughter on the rocks is positively Neolithic and, although it’s Canada, so Cornish! Nourishing stuff. And I understand that the black-and-white photo of the sea lapping the shore of the lake is a real favourite of yours. Can you explain why these places inspire you?
I love nature—perhaps it was growing up on a farm and spending most of my time outdoors. I have a condition called Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) and getting outside is a big factor in alleviating its debilitating hold. I see incredible, uncomplicated beauty in the natural world that I find soothing and strengthening. I try to capture it with my camera in a way that may allow others to be moved/nourished by it, too.

Thank you for your honesty about your condition, Aisha. I feel exactly the same about photographing the natural world: it allows us to capture not just the picture but the way we feel at that particular moment. Unfortunately, unlike you I am only at a level where I am trying to move and nourish myself. If others are moved also, that’s a bonus. Now I know you enjoy photographing your kids, but do you ever go to the other extreme: ie, taking photos of people you don’t know in the places where you visit, and do you find that awkward?
Absolutely! I know my shyness has cost me many a great photo-op. I’m not sure if it’s my BPD or my peripatetic life, but I always feel like an observer, standing in the periphery looking in. This translates into a preference for my subjects to be oblivious to me and my camera. I like to capture the raw moment.

Yes, I know that feeling. You want to melt into the undergrowth and take the most natural shot possible. Do you ask permission before taking people’s photographs and how do you get around any language barriers?
I have, on occasion, screwed up my courage and asked someone if they’d mind if I took their picture—come to think of it, no one’s ever said no. I think if language were a barrier, it might make things easier. Tourists get away with a lot!

I understand. Taking people photos can be a bit personal. It’s so much easier shooting a mountain as it’s too far away to argue! 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?
Capturing memories and the perfect picture are my twin obsessions. I’m in love with light and the effect it has on everything: the study, the photographer, the viewer. Is there anything else so intangible, potent and unspoken, and whose experience is unique to each individual?

When did you come to realise the importance of light?
Ever since I can remember, I’ve been transported by the tone of light or the way it falls—it triggers memories for me like nothing else can. Not so much of occasions, but of feeling and being. For a few brief seconds I’m caught in a flashback. Time slows so that even the dialogue in my head is distorted, becoming deep and stretched like treacle, a voice on a tape recorder played too slow.

Such powerful analogies. Now for the technical stuff which I am not very good at. What kind of camera and lenses do you use?
I have a Fuji FinePix f750EXR—it’s just a regular compact camera, no fancy lenses or anything. If I couldn’t fit it in my pocket, I wouldn’t be able to take it everywhere with me. Photography is as much about identifying a good picture as it is about capturing it, and many great photographers have started with a basic machine. A good eye is evident whatever tool you have at your disposal.

I can’t tell you how much better that makes me feel! Finally, do you have any advice for wannabe photographers (like me) who are traveling or living abroad?
Never leave home without your camera. Mine even comes grocery shopping with me—you just never know where that next great shot will be. Sometimes you find the sublime in the ordinary, and for me that’s the sign of a great photographer—that ability to show the beauty in the everyday.

Thank you so much, Aisha, for joining me in this interview. It really has been a pleasure talking to you.

* * *

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

And if you want to know more about Aisha, don’t forget to visit her excellent blog, Expatlog. You are also welcome to contact her at aisha-a@hotmail.co.uk +/or follow her on social media:
Twitter: @AishaAshraf1
Facebook: Expatlog FB Page
Linkedin: Linkedin profile
Google+: Linkedin Profile

(If you are a photographer and would like to be interviewed by James for this series, please send your information to ml@thedisplacednation.com.)

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s post, when our fictional expat heroine, Libby, returns to the Displaced Nation to update us on her many adventures. (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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RANDOM NOMAD: Kirsty Rice, Freelance Writer & Blogger

Born in: Renmark*, South Australia
Passport: Australia (no one else will have me!)
Countries lived in: Australia (Adelaide & Perth): 1997-98; Indonesia (Jakarta): 1999 – 2001; Malaysia (Kuala Lumpur): 2001-02; Libya (Tripoli): 2002-04; Canada (Calgary): 2004-08; USA (Houston): 2008-09; Qatar (Doha): 2010-present.
Cyberspace coordinates: 4 kids, 20 suitcases and a beagle (blog)
*A small town of 7,500; my parents still live there.

What made you leave your homeland in the first place?
I am married to a former expat child. I know the term is Third Culture Kid, but I don’t really think it applies to him. He was always keen on doing the “expat” thing. I, on the other hand, was raised in the same town that I was born in and wasn’t a great lover of change. Our first move was the result of a promotion for my husband and the fact that I was pregnant with our first child. The plan was to do a two-year posting in Indonesia and to return “home”. That was 7 countries and 12 years ago. I now thrive on change.

So your husband was already “displaced”?
My husband’s parents were expats. He was actually born in New Zealand and then they went to the Philippines for many years before moving to Sydney, then Melbourne, and finally to Brisbane.

How about your kids?
My children were all born in different countries. We were living in Jakarta when I had my first child, my second was born in KL, the third in Malta and the fourth in Canada. Although none of them have lived permanently in Australia (our longest stint has been during school holidays, so a maximum of 12 weeks), they all think of themselves as Australian. My husband and I have both worked hard for that to be the case.

Describe the moment when you felt most displaced.
When we first moved to Tripoli — it was the middle of summer and I had a two-week-old baby and a two-year-old. We then had to endure months of housing hell — we couldn’t find one! For a while, I shared a “guest house” with about sixty men who were rotating in and out of the desert: there were no other women. Breast feeding amongst men who hadn’t seen a woman for a couple of months was a rather unique experience. Due to the weather, fruit and vegetables were limited and small in size. I can remember standing in a fruit and vegetable stand with a screaming baby and a restless toddler wondering how I was going to cook carrots the size of my little finger. I was continually getting lost, and the simplest of tasks seemed very overwhelming. There were many days that I considered getting on a plane — but I’m so pleased I didn’t. Three months later, we had a house, the weather was better, I made friends, and I loved our life in Libya. I was devastated to leave.

Describe the moment when you felt least displaced.
I feel like that here in Qatar. Our children are at a fabulous school, I have a place to write, and my husband works for a Qatari company and really enjoys it. There is so much here in the community for expats, and we are made to feel very welcome. I have made local friends and love heading to the local souqs. I feel that this is very much our second home. In other locations I have felt that we were passing through, but not here.

You may bring one curiosity you’ve collected from your adopted country into The Displaced Nation. What’s in your suitcase?
From Indonesia: A jamu (traditional medicine) woman made of silver, given to me by a very dear friend.
From Malaysia: The Selangor pewter tea set I was given as a gift. Each time I use it I think of my friends.
From Libya: A wedding blanket with traditional jewellery pinned to it, which was given as a farewell present. It is such a unique gift and always a talking point when people spot it in our house.
From Canada: Nothing material, just the memory of what it was like to be back to work full time. In Calgary, I returned to the “old” me, remembering who I was pre children and travel. That was Canada’s gift — along with a huge appreciation of weather!
From the U.S. (Houston): A fantastic painting of an American flag that I picked up in San Antonio. It’s 3D and not in the traditional colors. It reminds me that America is far more layered and multidimensional that what I’d given it credit for.

You’re invited to prepare one meal based on your travels for other Displaced Nation members. What’s on the menu?
We’ll have some kind of soup for starters: either Indonesian soto ayam (chicken soup), Libyan soup* (I love it!), or the Canadian version of Italian wedding soup. Though I come from an area in Australia that has a large Italian community, I’d never heard of Italian Wedding Soup — turns out it’s more of a North American thing.

For the mains, perhaps I’ll offer a choice between Malaysian curry or maybe a nasi goreng from Indonesia.

And for drinks, we’ll have margaritas. I learned to make a mean margarita in Houston.

For dessert, a caramel cheesecake — a recipe I picked up from a fellow Aussie in Houston.

You may add one word or expression from the country you’re living in to The Displaced Nation argot. What will you loan us?
From Indonesia: Satu lagi (one more) — I said that way to often!
From Malaysia: I just loved how you could put lah on the end of everything and automatically make a sentence sound friendlier.
From Tripoli: Shokran (thank you). It was the first Arabic word I learned and makes me think of how special the people in Libya are — so kind and helpful. Incidentally, in learning how to say “pregnancy test,” I discovered that hamil is the word for “pregnant” in Indonesia, Malaysia and Tripoli.
From Canada: Hey — kind of the same as lah in Malaysian.
From the U.S. (Houston): I found myself describing things differently. It wasn’t just “the big tree out the front” but “the big ‘ol tree out the front.”
From Qatar: Right now I’m back to learning Arabic (unsuccessfully). Oh how I wish I had a chip I could just insert into my brain to switch languages. Why haven’t they invented that yet?

It’s Zen and the Art of the Road Trip month at The Displaced Nation. Robert M. Pirsig, author of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, famously said: “Sometimes it’s a little better to travel than to arrive.” Do you agree?
I disagree. I like to arrive, settle and learn how a city/country works. You can learn so much about a place just by trying to get the telephone connected! Traveling through is just a brief picture. I love that we’ve been able to become part of a community everywhere we have lived.

Pirsig’s book details two types of personalities: 1) those who are interested mostly in gestalts so focus on being in the moment, not rational analysis; and 2) those who seek to know the details, understand the inner workings, and master the mechanics. Which type are you?
If you read my blog you’ll see there is usually a romantic viewpoint or flowery end to a posting. I’m a big believer in things happening for a reason and not always being logical. Having said that, I am a stickler for details, I hate to enter into things blindly and have to know exactly what the story is. Which personality am I in my expat life? I’m a bit of both. I don’t believe that anyone can be a successful expat without having the flexibility to change with the situation. In our daily lives as expats we need to quickly learn the rules, find out the details, go with the flow and just enjoy the ride. You have to be both.

* Libyan soup is a tomato-based soup. There are many variations. The one I loved was with lamb.

Ingredients:
1/2 to 1/3 lb. lamb meat cut into small pieces
1/4 cup oil or “samn” (vegetable ghee)
one large onion
1 tablespoon tomato paste
2-3 tomatoes
1 lemon
1/2 cup orzo, salt, red pepper, Libyan spices (Hararat) or cinnamon

Directions:
Sauté the onion with meat in oil.
Add parsley and sauté until meet is brown.
Add chopped tomatoes, tomato paste, salt, spices, and stir while sizzling.
Add enough water to cover meat, simmer on medium heat until meat is cooked.
Add more water if needed, and bring to a boil.
Add orzo, simmer until cooked.
Before serving, sprinkle crushed dried mint leaves, and squeeze fresh lemon juice to taste.

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

img: Kirsty Rice with her family (sans the beagle) at Souq Waqif, Doha, Qatar.

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s installment from our displaced fictional heroine, Libby, whose rather dramatic road-trip adventure has come to an end. Time to face reality again in Woodhaven! 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. Includes seasonal recipes and book giveaways. Register for The Displaced Dispatch by clicking here!

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