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FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD: Ruth Van Reken’s creative life as Adult Third Culture Kid


Columnist Doreen Brett is back, and she’s accompanied by someone whose “homes” have ranged from Africa to the American Midwest, and who knows better than any of us here what it means to feel culturally displaced. Hm, who else could it be other than the indomitable Ruth Van Reken? —ML Awanohara

Hello Displaced Nationers! It is my pleasure to present to you Ruth Van Reken, an expert in cross-cultural identity and globally mobile families. She is renowned internationally for her compassion, knowledge and insight into what it means to be a child growing up among worlds, otherwise known as a Third Culture Kid.

An American, Ruth was born in Kano, Nigeria, to missionary parents. Although her mom was raised in Chicago, being a TCK is a tradition on the paternal side of her family: her father, too, was a TCK (he was born in Rasht, Iran, then known as Persia, where his parents lived). It’s a tradition Ruth has continued: both her children and first grandchild are TCKs.

Among her many accomplishments, Ruth is co-founder and past chairperson of Families in Global Transition (FIGT), a forum for globally mobile individuals, families, and those working with them, the signature event being an annual conference. She is also the co-author, with David Pollock, of the now-classic Third Culture Kids: Growing Up Among Worlds, soon to be out in its third edition.

Ruth often speaks about issues related to the global lifestyle and has developed the website Cross Cultural Kids as a hub for children of refugees, immigrants, minorities, career expatriates, mixed race, and bicultural families. The way she sees it, not just TCKs but all children who have experienced a globalized upbringing or some form of displacement from their parents’ home/culture are forming a “new normal” in today’s globalizing world.

Now let’s hear about Ruth’s own experiences of living in various locations abroad—and how those locations have fed her creative life.

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Ruth, I understand you’ve just celebrated your 72nd birthday. Happy birthday! And welcome to the Displaced Nation. As I mentioned just now, you were born and grew up in Nigeria. What I didn’t mention is that you lived in Liberia and Kenya as an adult, with your husband and family. How did you come to spend so much of your life in Africa?

Spending 13 years of my childhood in Nigeria was the result of my parents deciding to accept a teaching job in that country. Later, when I got married, my husband and I chose to live and work in Liberia—he as a pediatrician, and me as a nurse. It didn’t go quite to plan. I didn’t end up doing nursing because they were trying to use Liberians for nursing, and we couldn’t get visas to visit my parents in Nigeria even though I had grown up there and loved the country. It was postwar, and all the Nigerians cared about is that I had an American passport. When I finally got to visit my parents, it was a journey of clarification for me. Nigeria wasn’t my world. There had been big changes politically. There were soldiers in the airport. I still really loved the country but could see it wasn’t mine. Later we moved to Kenya.

Would you say it’s normal to live in this way?

For some of us, for whom the seeds are planted early, it’s normal to live like this. Some may think that it’s radical, or how would you dare. But for me it’s the way life is, and it’s good. My hardest move was from Kenya to my current home of Indianapolis, when I thought my travels are over! I’ve come to enjoy where I live right now, but at the time, I thought the international lifestyle was missing. Everybody’s lived here forever and is the same.

How did you keep from feeling isolated through your many moves?

Feeling isolated? I’m an EE (Extreme Extrovert)! There are always people, as long as you don’t demand that they have to be just like you. My hobby is that I like to talk, and I also like to go out, even if it’s to shop for groceries in a little mud hut someplace. So I never felt isolated. Africa is a very social environment. It’s warm all year. In Kenya I joined an International Women’s Club. We had a group of 17 women of 14 different nationalities meeting together every week.

Many of us expats or people who’ve grown up as Third Culture Kids gravitate towards global cities as that’s where we think we’ll find work and our “tribe.” Has that been your experience?

Chicago is quite a global city now, but it was very different when I first moved back home, pre-immigration days. My family lived in a neighborhood where everyone was segregated into traditional communities. That’s why, when I came back as a 13-year-old, everybody was from there and white, and although I looked like I should fit, I didn’t. That was a bad year for me. After one year, I did the chameleon thing and pretended to blend in. I would not tell anyone I was from Africa.

What about when you moved your own family back to the United States?

When my husband and I moved back to Indianapolis, we chose the suburbs as we were specifically looking at schools for the kids. I saw one school and thought, “Everyone looks the same. My kids won’t fit in here.” We found a school where the kids had many looks—a school with multi-nationalities and multi-backgrounds. I felt our kids are going to fit in here better, they have more space to be themselves. You know, somebody here once said: “You think you know everything and you’re so proud because you’ve been everywhere.” I was shocked and horrified. I told her:

“If I just try to be the suburban housewife, then I have a place. But if I ever let you know who I am, then I have no place.”

How did your life in Kenya compare to this?

Kenya was easier for me. When we were sitting with the other expats, we would often be talking about who we are and where they’ve been. That conversation was acceptable for that group. I realized that I don’t understand my neighbor’s job in tech, and he doesn’t understand mine, but we can be great friends on a million other subjects. You can make a bridge of the human story. The more stories we share, the more we connect in those spaces of humanity. In time, I found my space.

I know from reading your books that you think TCKs have special gifts.

I think the biggest gift of being a TCK is that I can connect, and I am sure you do too, to the humanity in people who don’t look like me, and who are from different backgrounds. We can connect with different cultures in some ways. We understand how much the human heart wants to belong.

Can you give us a concrete illustration of a work of yours that was nurtured out of the places you have lived in?

Although my parents were teachers for local schools, they sent me to an international boarding school when I was six years old, as was the norm, so I would learn American history and culture and be prepared for repatriation. I was there for three years, and after that I spent a year in the United States with my gran. Finally, my mother asked if I would like to be home schooled, so from fourth grade onwards, she taught me lessons in her classrooms in the Nigerian schools. I was able to connect to my family, I had Nigerian friends, I learnt the language and played games with them. Years later, when my husband and I had been in Liberia for some time, my daughter wanted to go to boarding school because all her friends were going there. I got depressed, with unresolved grief from my childhood. That was a discovery for me, of the impact of transition on my life. I started writing letters to my parents as if I were six years old again. These then became my memoir, Letters I Never Sent: A Global Nomad’s Journey from Hurt to Healing. Here’s an excerpt:

May 1958. “Today we’re leaving Africa… It’s unbearable to think that I may never again see my home or closest friends or the country that I love so much. It’s sort of like a death—to lose your whole world in one moment.”

Readers responded that they’d felt this way too. This was when I first heard of “TCK”. My first book wasn’t a conscious choice. My second book, Third Culture Kids: Growing Up Among Worlds, which I co-wrote with David Pollock, was bigger than me and my story. I traveled to 50 different countries for the TCK work.

And let me tell you about my home here in Indianapolis. When I first arrived, my life in boxes, I put up some African things on the walls. My daughter’s friend took it all down, and said you’re in America now. But my bookcase still has musical instruments from all around the world. Every culture makes music through four ways—percussion, string, wind, and brass. These are the same four ways to make music all over the world. This display, too, is a creative expression of my life.

You still live in Indianapolis. Does that city feed your creativity as well?

With immigration, I realized the world was coming to Indianapolis, but people here weren’t attuned to it (for example, in human resources and schools). I started seminars here, and with the help of some friends with organizational skills, my efforts grew into Families in Global Transitions (FIGT).

What’s next for you, travel-wise and creativity-wise: will you stay put where you are or are other cities/artistic activities on your horizon?

On September 8th, we will be releasing the third edition of Third Culture Kids, with more stories and more diversity of TCKs. My interest is in the innumerable ways people are growing up cross-culturally now. I think a lot of Cross-Cultural Kids (CCKs) feel lost and aren’t feeling internally where they belong. Human beings need a place to fit, we need to find new ways to name identity so people can belong in positive ways. They should be able to say: Given the reality of my life, I can accept where I’ve come from instead of trying to fix what’s different about me.

Do you have any parting advice for your fellow ATCKs?

Come for the next Families in Global Transitions (FIGT). I think we find our tribe there. You don’t have to explain yourselves to the group. And whatever project you’re working on, that book, that website, there’s an empowerment to go back and continue and finish the writing, finish the project.

Ruth, your story resonates with me in so many ways! Thank you for sharing it.

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Readers, any further questions for the amazing Ruth Van Reken on her thoughts about place, displacement, and the connection between the communities you’ve lived in and creativity? Any authors or other international creatives you’d like to see Doreen interview in future posts? Please leave your suggestions in the comments.

STAY TUNED for this coming week’s fab posts.

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

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Photo credits:
Opening collage: 245 Kano City Nigeria 1995, by David Holt via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0); Chicago Skyline from Grant Park, Chicago, Illinois, by Ken Lund via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0); Waterside Stores (Monrovia, Liberia), by Mark Fischer via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0); 774 Redbud Lane (Greenwood, Indiana), by Bart Everson via Flickr (CC BY 2.0); photo of Kenya via Pixabay and photo of Ruth supplied.

Photo of girl via Pixabay.

Book covers supplied.

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FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD: Cristina Baldan’s creative life as serial expat


Columnist Doreen Brett is back. Having introduced herself to us in her opening column, she will use this second post to interview serial expat Cristina Baldan, about the impact of her various “homes” on her creative output. Did she appreciate living far from the madding crowd, or is it crowds that give her inspiration? Or perhaps a bit of both? —ML Awanohara

Hello, Displaced Nationers! As ML mentioned, I’m excited to welcome my first guest to the Displaced Nation: photographer, graphic designer and serial expat Cristina Baldan. A native of Italy, Cristina has lived in eight different countries in the past 16 years. Her present abode is in Maastricht, the southernmost point of the Netherlands, spanning the border with Belgium. On the creative side: she was involved in the creation of the site Expatclic, a multilingual platform that supports expat women, and is currently developing the site What Expats Can Do. It’s a new kind of initiative, and she’ll tell us about it below.

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Welcome, Cristina, to the Displaced Nation! I understand you grew up in Italy but have lived on five continents and eight different locations. How did that come about?

I grew up and lived in the same town in Italy for 30 years, but then things started to change: I found a better job in a bigger city, and I got married and had my first child. My husband’s career then brought us to eight different locations in 16 years: Saudi Arabia, Nigeria (two different cities), France, Australia, Italy again, Canada, and now Maastricht. In the meantime, my family grew to five members plus one dog and, without completely realizing it, I was the living embodiment of the trailing spouse who would never be able to go back to her career in finance. Nowadays I am more aware of the richness that this kind of lifestyle has brought to my personal identity, and I am starting to find ways to rebuild my purpose and contribute something of worth to the wider world.

Those of us who have been Third Culture Kids or repeat expats tend to gravitate towards global cities as that’s where we think we’ll find work and our “tribe.” Have you found this to be the case?

I enjoy living in big cities. The anonymity allows you to move around and explore the location despite cultural, social, linguistic or even physical constraints. It is easier to open yourself to new experiences, meet people at your own pace, and navigate the cultural challenges. When I was living in more isolated places, I found life much harder. In those places, locals can identify you immediately as a foreigner and this can be difficult to manage. Getting in touch with the local culture is not an easy process, and in rural or small-town environments it may require a huge amount of time—time that an expat like me doesn’t have, as the next move is always approaching. In cities, by contrast, people are more used to people coming and going, and the settling-in process is accelerated. Big cities also offer activities as ways to meet other internationals. An expat spouse who cannot work because of being home with kids and/or for visa reasons risks staying at home too much and never really facing up to culture shock.

So would you say that cities nurture your creativity more than rural environments?

All the places I lived in as an expat have nurtured my creativity in different ways. The nomadic way of life opened my mind: there was an entire world out there I had not been aware of, and I was eager to share it with others. My first hosting country was Saudi Arabia, where tradition and culture are fascinating but also difficult to explore. As a woman I was not allowed to be alone in public, walk alone in the street, drive, or indulge in conversations with men who weren’t relatives. Logistically this meant being confined mostly at home or in “Western adapted” locations. I had very few contacts with locals and few possibilities to get to know the local culture. Writing was the first thing I tried to do; it began mostly as a way to tell stories to the family and friends left behind: letters, emails, blogs… But then when I moved to Africa, writing became insufficient. There were so many new colours, situations, people: words were not enough any more. At that point I discovered documentary photography. Then, as I was gaining more and more knowledge about connections among cultures—and found myself particularly interested in the visual effects of those connections—I began to study graphic design and visual communication.

Can you give us a concrete illustration of a work of yours that was nurtured out of the places you have been to?

The images you see here were selected for, and displayed at, the first LagosPhoto Festival (in 2010). They belong to my photo series “Streets Economics – Lagos through and behind windows”.

all rights reserved © Cristina Baldan – the above four images cannot be copied, downloaded, or used in any way without the express, written permission of the photographer.

You’ve lived in so many places, but have referred to just two of them, Saudi Arabia and Nigeria (Lagos), in this conversation. What was it about these two locations that stimulated your creativity?

For me, it wasn’t the remoteness of these two places on the map that I found stimulating; rather, it was the remoteness of their cultures, which I wanted to get to know but there were so many constraints. Creativity grows when you’re facing external constraints, at least that’s been my experience. In Saudi Arabia, my freedom was restricted in various ways, so I turned to writing. In Nigeria, I tended to take photographs through the windows of my car, as this was least intrusive. And in Nigeria, photography was also the answer for me as I couldn’t get the requisite materials and colors from the market for painting pictures.

What’s next for you, travel-wise and creativity-wise: will you stay put where you are or are other cities/artistic activities on your horizon?

I am currently organizing our move back to Canada: it is time for us to settle down in one place after so many years of nomadic life. As soon as I get there, I am planning to open my freelance business as an intercultural graphic designer and photographer. Meanwhile, I am nurturing my new project, which was launched a few months ago (we presented it at FIGT 2017): whatexpatscando.com. We are trying to engage as many expats as possible in working toward a better world by leveraging our experiences and skills in managing cultural diversity. Please join us!

Thank you, Cristina!

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Readers, any further questions for Cristina on on her thoughts about place, displacement, and the connection between the community you live in and creativity? Any authors or other international creatives you’d like to see her interview in future posts? Please leave your suggestions in the comments.

STAY TUNED for this coming week’s fab posts.

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

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Photo credits:
Opening collage: All images are from Pixabay.
The four photos of Lagos were taken by Cristina Baldan and supplied by her for this post.

TCK TALENT: Mary Bassey, Writer, Storyteller, Advocate and Scientist

Mary Bassey TCK Talent

Columnist Elizabeth (Lisa) Liang has invited a member of the up-and-coming generation of talented Adult Third Culture Kids to be her guest this month.

Welcome back, readers. This month’s guest is Mary Bassey, the first ATCK interviewee for this column whose talents extend from writing all the way to biochemistry! Mary is a self-described multiethnic (Efik & Igbo) Nigerian-Canadian-American. She was born in Nigeria, grew up mostly in Canada (the West Coast) and Kentucky, and currently resides in Southern California.

Mary has a talent and a passion for storytelling and writing, particularly when it sparks cross-cultural discussion and helps to effect change. She contributes to The Black Expat, a site that features first-hand accounts, personal narratives and key advice about cross-cultural living from members of the Black Diaspora. She has her own site, Verily Merrily Mary, where she coaches writers in how to have an impact, and she recently started a new blog on the Huffington Post. (Her first post was about the need for millennials to always be hustling, to the detriment of self-care.)

Mary received a prestigious TCK award to take part in this year’s Families in Global Transition (FIGT) conference, in Amsterdam, where she spoke on a panel about storytelling as a means of communicating the experience of a global or Third Culture Kid lifestyle.

I met Mary on Twitter at #TCKchat, a bimonthly Twitter event for which she is one of several co-hosts (@verilymary). I found her so interesting, I decided I had to learn more of her story.

* * *

Welcome, Mary. Please tell us all the places where you grew up and why your family moved.
I was born in Ilorin, Nigeria, a city mostly populated by those from the Yoruba ethnic group. My father is Efik and my mother is Igbo and I fluently spoke both Yoruba and English as a small child, so even before leaving Nigeria for North America, my early childhood was already quite multicultural. My sights were set even further along the global cultural landscape once my father landed jobs as a physics professor in various cities and my mother, siblings, and I moved along with him. Our first move was to Victoria in British Columbia, Canada (on the Southern tip of Vancouver Island), for nearly three years. Then we moved to Kentucky for about seven years. Our last move was to Southern California, which has been my home for over eight years.

Were you happiest in a certain place at a certain time, and if so, why?
My life in Victoria was by far the highlight of my life. Growing up, my siblings and I were involved in the activities of the city’s community center, which catered to the needs of kids living in the city, providing parents with time off while giving us the opportunity to play and explore the outdoors. I had my first camping experience in Victoria and actually saw a moose in person at around age six (one of the most Canadian moments of my life!). Hiking, swimming, and wading in the lakes and beaches were normal, nearly everyday parts of my life. Victoria opened up a new world of outdoor life, and I absolutely loved it. I was so carefree.

“Being in a STEM field has given me another avenue to put my mind to use.”

What drew you to studying biochemistry?
I decided to get my bachelors degree in biochemistry because science was something I have always liked, especially the life sciences. I couldn’t choose between biology or chemistry so I decided to pick biochemistry. My task now as a graduate is to figure out how to merge my intellectual curiosity in the sciences with my love of culture and storytelling.

Science and storytelling

The world could use your combination of gifts! Speaking of storytelling, which makes me think of writing, what made you decide to work as a writing coach in California?
When my family moved to California because of my father’s job as a physics professor at a university here, I was entering my second year of high school. I’m now in my early 20s and am still here. I decided to become a writing coach because I knew that I had something to offer to those who are struggling with their writing voice and/or need guidance in order to effectively communicate their message. I have been helping people with their writing since middle school. I decided to make my services more public and created an online platform to do so. It has been a blast working with so many brilliant and smart writers.

“I never thought of myself as a global citizen because I am not a citizen of the globe; I am a citizen of two countries.”

Do you identify most with a particular culture or cultures?
I only partially identify with the cultures that I have grown up in. When I say that I am Nigerian, Canadian, or American, there is an invisible asterisk attached to each nationality because they each require a bit more of an explanation. For example, I am Nigerian, but I have spent most of my life living in North America. This may cause some people to question the validity of my Nigerianness because it is inevitably in juxtaposition with my Canadianness and my Americanness. Regardless, I know that my being Nigerian is valid.

Did your TCK upbringing inform your choice to become a writer? 
I think so. With so much of my life in transition and in flux, writing has been one of the few constants. Paper and pen is readily available in every place I have lived, and nowadays, of course, we also have laptops and tablets. When you are living a cross-cultural life, you become introspective by force. As a kid, I had plenty of those moments of introspection—though I may not have taken them to heart or perhaps was not yet able to understand my feelings fully.

Has writing helped you to process your TCK upbringing?
I only found out about the term “TCK” four years ago! It has helped me put words to my childhood experiences and write more about my TCK life. Finding other TCKs in the blogosphere and via social media encouraged me to be more confident in making my stories and experiences public on blogs and other kinds of publications. But even with the various opportunities I have been given to write on public platforms, I do not neglect writing for myself (journaling, etc.). I am such a strong believer in people—writers especially—journaling privately. It’s like the socially acceptable version of talking to yourself.

“How many of us millennials are more concerned with growing our ‘Countries I’ve Been To’ list instead of having in-depth interactions with the citizens of those countries?”

As an ATCK, do you have “itchy feet”?
One thing I like to say is that I find instability in stability. My obsession with wordplay aside, the statement rings so true for me. The fact that I can say I have been in the same spot (here in California) for over eight years is mind boggling—and makes me feel a bit anxious. The idea of being anything close to 100% established and settled in a place is not a source of comfort for me at all. My upbringing was not like that. I liked looking forward to my next plane, ferryboat, or long-distance bus ride during school holidays as a kid. My childhood was indeed nomadic. However, already this year, for the first time in five years, I took two international trips, giving me a whopping total of 10 planes already taken this year. That constant movement has kept me sane. It’s the madness of travel that keeps me centered.

Do you prefer to travel for business, pleasure, or both?
I would not mind a lifestyle that affords my moving frequently. And, while vacations are fun, I would not want all of my travel to be rooted in pleasure alone. My latest trip to Amsterdam was around the middle of March of this year. As you mentioned at the outset, I traveled there to attend the Families in Global Transition (FIGT) conference and I was one of five ATCKs to be awarded the Pollock Scholarship, which covers our cost of attending. I was also one of the conference presenters! I was on the plenary panel led by Julia Simens, called “Stories You Need to Tell.” There was a strong sense of purpose and duty with my going to Amsterdam. While the city was gorgeous, it was not just a vacation for me. That is the kind of thing that I want to happen regularly in my life: traveling with a purpose beyond pleasure.

The Worlds Within

I can relate and I’m sure it will continue to happen for you. Per your site, Verily Merrily Mary, you’re involved in many worthy causes: you’ve worked with organizations that aim to encourage grade school kids to get excited about STEM fields, especially children from underrepresented groups. You also support and volunteer with organizations that empower cancer patients and cancer researchers. Last July, you received the title Miss Efik USA, and you advocate for the Nigerian Efik people who live in the United States as well as in Nigeria. Congratulations on these contributions and achievements! Is there anything else you would like to share?
I had the absolute honor to be published in the book The Worlds Within: An Anthology of TCK Art and Writing: Young, Global and Between Cultures, which was launched in 2014 as a way of giving children and adolescents a voice regarding their TCK experience.
Editor’s note: The Worlds Within made our Best of Expat Books for 2014.

 

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Thank you, Mary. Readers: you may learn more about Mary, her writing, and her various projects at her Verily Merrily site. If you have any questions or comments for her, please be sure to leave them below.

Editor’s note: All photos were supplied by Mary Bassey or are from Pixabay, with the exception of the two FIGT conference photos, which are from their Facebook page. The quotes are from Mary’s posts on Verily Merrilly.

Elizabeth (Lisa) Liang is a prime example of what she writes about in this column: an Adult Third Culture Kid working in a creative field. A Guatemalan-American of Chinese-Spanish-Irish-French-German-English descent, she is an actor, writer, and producer who created the solo show Alien Citizen: an earth odyssey, which has been touring internationally. And now she is working on another show, which we hope to hear more about soon! To keep up with Lisa’s progress in between her columns, be sure to visit her blog, Suitcasefactory. You can also follow her on Twitter and on Facebook.

STAY TUNED for more fab posts!

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BOOKLUST, WANDERLUST: Beach bound? Check out summer reading recommendations from featured authors (1/2)

booklust-wanderlust-2015

Attention displaced bookworms! Our book review columnist, Beth Green, an American expat in Prague (she is also an Adult Third Culture Kid), has arrived with a treasure chest full of recommended reads to take you through the summer. NOTE: Check out Part Two here.

Hello again, Displaced Nationers!

Summer is upon us—well, for readers in the northern hemisphere, that is! And for those in the United States, Fourth of July weekend is coming shortly. Even if you’re not beach bound, perhaps you are at least picturing yourself sitting in a beach chair feeling the sand through your toes, the waves pounding towards you, the fresh, bracing sea air filling your lungs…

And what’s that you have in your hand—a book or a Kindle?

I find the sound of the waves and the ocean breeze the perfect conditions for escaping into other worlds that writers conjure up for us in their books. This summer, I’ve already been to a few local parks with my e-reader, and I’ll soon be topping it up with some of the books from our best-of-2014 list for an overseas trip. But I’m always on the look-out for fresh new material, and as there are miles to go before I can flop down on the beach of my dreams, I fear I’ll run out of prime reading matter by then. With this eventuality in mind, I decided to reach out to a few of the authors whose books I’ve recently read or reviewed, along with a few of my bookish friends, to see what books they recommend taking on vacation. I asked them to tell me:

Summer Reading 2015

Photo credits: Amazon Kindle PDF, by goXunuReviews via Flickr (CC BY 2.0); beach chair and sandy feet via Pixabay.

They responded with recommendations that seem tailor made for an audience of international creatives. Enjoy! Part 2 will be posted on Friday.

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ALLI SINCLAIR, world traveler, Australian romance author and former co-blogger at Novel Adventurers: I recommend that you bring one travel book, one classic, and one novel. The following make a good combination:

ChasingtheMonsoon_cover_x300Chasing the Monsoon: A Modern Pilgrimage Through India, by Alexander Frater (Henry Holt & Co, May 1992)
There are some books that touch something in your soul that stays with you forever. For me, Chasing the Monsoon falls into that category. Originally published in the early nineties (and thankfully, still available!), Alexander Frater follows the monsoonal rains from the Kerala backwaters in southern India to Cherrapunji, in northern India—known as the wettest place on earth. Frater connects beautifully with the people he meets and he writes for all senses, giving the reader a full immersion into one of the most captivating countries on Earth.

The Ascent of Rum Doodle_cover_x300The Ascent of Rum Doodle, by W.E. Bowman (Vintage Classics, 2010)
Originally published in 1956 but still in print, this book is one of the most celebrated mountaineering stories of all time. The 1950s saw some of the world’s highest mountains successfully climbed (including Everest), and this book is a parody of mountaineering at it’s finest…er, worst. There’s a route finder who is constantly lost, a diplomat who continually argues, and a doctor who is always ill. Rum Doodle will most definitely appeal to fans of Bill Bryson, who wrote the introduction to the book’s international edition (published in 2010).

HellofromtheGillespies_cover_x300Hello From The Gillespies, by Monica McInerney (Penguin, 2014)
I’m a long time fan of Monica McInerney’s books, maybe because Monica is a “displaced” person: having grown up in Australia, she has split her time between Australia and Ireland for the past 20 years. This book is mostly set in outback Australia but with ties to England. Angela Gillespie, a mother of four adult children, has sent out a regular Christmas letter to friends and family for thirty years. The notes are always cheery and full of good news but this year, her note details the unsettling truth of how her family has fallen apart. If you enjoy family sagas with humour and heart, you can’t go wrong with this book. (True, some people recommend it for the holidays, but it’s summer in Australia at Christmas time, remember?)


BRITTANI SONNENBERG, adult TCK, current expat and author of Home Leave (which we reviewed in November): I would pack the following books (assuming I’d be packing it for someone else, who hadn’t read them yet).
Sonnenberg_collage

The Dog, by Joseph O’Neill (Vintage, September 2014)
It’s a devilish, compelling take on cosmopolitan and expat life by the TCK author of Netherland. (Joseph O’Neill was born in Cork, Ireland, in 1964 and grew up in Mozambique, South Africa, Iran, Turkey, and Holland. He now lives in New York City.)

Ghana Must Go, by Taiye Selasi (Penguin, 2014)
This is an intimate examination of a splintered family, set in Accra, Lagos, London, and New York.

All My Puny Sorrows, by Miriam Toews (McSweeney’s, 2014)
One of the saddest and funniest books I’ve ever read; an honest, moving portrayal of sisters and mental illness.


CHRISTINE KLING, author of travel- and sailing-related thrillers: I’ve just finished up the edits on a the third novel in my Shipwreck Adventure series, and I’m looking forward to taking a bit of time off from writing and working at reading my way through some of the long list of books I’ve been wanting to read. The three books I’d take in my beach bag include two novels and a combination cookbook/memoir/travelogue.

The-Janissary-Tree_cover_x300The Janissary Tree, by Jason Goodwin (Sarah Crichton Book, 2006)
My husband and I are contemplating building a new boat in Turkey, and after our recent visit, I’ve fallen in love with the country. Jason Goodwin has written travel books, histories, and thrillers, and I’ve been waiting for the chance to begin reading his work. The Janissary Tree, winner of the 2007 Edgar Award for Best Novel, is the first in what is now his five-book series set in in the waning days of the Ottoman Empire’s Istanbul. The series features a very unique protagonist Yashim Togalu, a eunuch guardian. In this book, Yashim is called upon to investigate a series of crimes including murder and theft of jewels.

Marina_cover_x300Marina by Carlos Ruiz Zafón (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2014)
The first book I read by this author was The Shadow of the Wind, which I often cite as one of my favorite books of all time. I knew Zafón had written a young adult novel that was published in 1999 and became a “cult classic” in Spanish, and since I enjoy good YA novels like the Harry Potter series and the Hunger Games, I was happy to see this book finally released in English in 2014. Marina is set in Barcelona around 1980 at the end of Franco’s regime. This gothic tale is touted as containing elements of mystery, romance and horror as a young boarding school boy meets the exotic, dark Marina. Together they embark on a series of adventures where they meet the kind of grotesque Barcelona characters Zafón does so well.

Sea-Fare_cover_x300Sea Fare: A Chef’s Journey Across the Ocean, by Victoria Allman (Norlightspress Com, 2013)
Years ago I worked as a chef on our owner-operated charter sailboat, and I know what it is like to have to create meals for demanding guests. Victoria Allman is in an entirely different category as she trained as a chef and has worked your years on multi-million dollar yachts. In Sea Fare, Allman has combined the tales from her beginning as a green Canadian chef looking for a job in the charter yacht industry to the joys of shopping in exotic markets from Italy to Vietnam. From the descriptions of her experiences on board the yacht, dealing with crew problems and falling in love with the captain, the stories are grand, but the recipes and the outstanding color photos of the food, will probably cut my trip to the beach short as I head home to try some new dish.


HEIDI NOROOZY, adult TCK, translator and author of multicultural fiction: I just returned from a research trip to Germany, and my choices seem to reflect that! (I went there because I’m writing a novel about an East German detective, Johannes Christian Alexander Freiherr von Maibeck—I know, it’s a bit of a mouthful—I created for a short story I once wrote. The setting is Leipzig, German Democratic Republic, 1981.)

The-Leipzic-Affair_cover_x300The Leipzig Affair, by Fiona Rintoul (Aurora Metro Press, May 2015)
Set in 1985, this novel tells the story of a Scottish student at Leipzig University who falls in love with an East German girl and stumbles into a world of shifting half-truths. Well written and fast paced, the story captures the atmosphere of its setting very well, a world where nothing is ever quite what it seems. As one reviewer writes: “The book is expertly written and seems to me to be a very comprehensive picture of what it was like to live in the East German state.” (Rintoul, a Scot who lives in Glasgow, gathered her material for the book by visiting East Germany and meeting a woman who had been imprisoned. She also looking at extracts of STASI files on people she met.)

Zoo-Station_cover_x300Zoo Station: Adventures in East and West Berlin, by Ian Walker (Atlantic Monthly Press, 1988)
British journalist Ian Walker, who once covered Central America for the Observer (and never managed to write his promised volume on Nicaragua), produced this travelogue on the two Berlins back in 1988. It depicts bohemian life in the once-divided city, where everyone seemed to be from somewhere else: West Berlin was full of Brits, Asians, Danes, Turks and East German exiles; East Berlin, of Anglo-Austrian expats. Walker’s descriptive narrative and reflections on the broader social issues of the day are what make this book stand out. As one of Amazon reviewer puts it:

Having read “Zoo Station”, I was able to understand why some people regarded East Germany as a pinnacle of socialist achievement, much more preferable to its capitalist twin in the West. It is good travel writing, and is both politically and culturally astute.

The-One-That-Got_Away_cover_300xThe One That Got Away, by Simon Wood (Thomas & Mercer, 2015)
Okay, this one isn’t about Germany, and I haven’t read it yet—but it’s at the top of my summer book bag. Tag line: “She escaped with her life, but the killer’s obsessed with the one that got away.” The story of two grad students in California who decide to take a road trip to to Las Vegas, this suspense novel deals with survivor’s guilt and is bound to be a thrilling ride. (Originally from England, Simon Wood lives in California with his wife.)

* * *

Readers, that’s it for this round; we’ll have another round on Friday (update: check it out here). Meanwhile, have you read any of the above and/or do you have summer reading recommendations to add? Please leave in the comments!

And if you need more frequent fixes, I urge you to sign up for the DISPLACED DISPATCH, which has at least one Recommended Read every week.

STAY TUNED for PART 2 of this post on July 3rd!

Beth Green is an American writer living in Prague, Czech Republic. She grew up on a sailboat and, though now a landlubber, continues to lead a peripatetic life, having lived in Asia as well as Europe. Her personal Web site is Beth Green Writes. She has also launched the site Everyday Travel Stories. To keep in touch with her in between columns, try following her on Facebook and Twitter. She’s a social media nut!

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And the November 2014 Alices go to … these 3 international creatives

 © Iamezan | Dreamstime.com Used under license

© Iamezan | Dreamstime.com
Used under license

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

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

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

Today’s post hono(u)rs our three Alice recipients for November. Listed in order of most to least recent, they are (drumroll…):

1) Becky Ances, American expat in China and creator behind the Moo-Cow Fan Club, an award-winning children’s magazine & book series

For her post: “No I DO NOT Want to Drink F&%#%$ Hot Water,” to her personal blog, Writer Traveler Tea Drinker: Doing all three in China
Posted on: 18 November 2014
Queen Alice Drink CollageAlice Connection:

“Drink more hot water”
This is the most annoying piece of advice you hear ALL THE TIME when living in China. My friend smashed her elbow, the bone, and went to the hospital. Their recommendation? Drink hot water.

Citation: Becky, please forgive us for having found your post about what happened when you came down with a “major disgusting, hocking, snotty nose, bleary-eyed” case of flu in your adopted home of China highly amusing. That is actually a compliment, coming from us! We also think, moreover, that you may have overreacted slightly to being told repeatedly by Chinese students and friends to drink hot water. We refer you to the “Queen Alice” chapter in Through the Looking Glass, specifically the section where Alice, having found herself wearing a golden crown, arrives at a party being held in her honor. She is surprised to be serenaded by a solo singer with a shrill voice pretending to be her stand-in. She is even more surprised when the hundreds of looking-glass creatures (animals, birds, even a few flowers) who are attending as guests join in a refrain that proposes concocting drinks full of cats and mice, treacle and ink, etc., for a special toast. Looping back to your situation in China: Be grateful it was only hot water they were prescribing (besides, isn’t hot water safer to drink in China?). Under other circumstances, your Chinese friends might have been foisting snake wine or other therapeutic drinks on you as curatives. You are absolutely right, however, to avoid people who sneeze and don’t cover their mouths. And we hope you are also sensible enough to know that if someone offers you a  bottle labeled 我喝 to pour the contents into a flower pot when no one’s looking. (The flowers will thank you for it!) Get well soon, Becky. We wish to read more of your posts!

2) Ruth Van Reken, Adult Third Culture Kid writer, editor, and lecturer; and author of the memoir Letters Never Sent

For her interview: “Exploring Her Third Culture Through Journaling with Ruth Van Reken,” by Eric for geodip
Posted on: 3 November 2014
Alice Connection:
Alice Cheshire Cat Collage

It is from this frequent changing of worlds and communities that the two main challenges of growing up global form. The question of identity: Which of my many selves am I? and the matter of unresolved grief. With so many cycles of transition, if people don’t process the inevitable losses as they happen, the grief that is inherent in losing things that we love will have to go somewhere deep inside.

Citation: Ruth, reading about your struggle to embrace your multiple identities and channel your grief at saying so many goodbyes at a young age—well, let’s say it makes Alice’s confession of an identity crisis to the Cheshire Cat seem a bit of a cake walk. Alice presumably had only one other self, that of a well-behaved Victorian girl, to reconcile with the adventuresome spirit she’d become in Wonderland. You by contrast have had to deal with multiple selves after spending your first 13 years in Nigeria with your missionary parents. We must say, it was brilliant of you to use journaling as your Cheshire Cat when you found yourself, in your late thirties, suffering from a depression about these unresolved emotions. Translating feelings of loss, grief and confusion into the written word has clearly been a tonic. It has left you with a grin about your cross-cultural life, which you’ve generously shared with others through your memoir and other writings. Kudos, Ruth, and thank you.

3) Hannah Reyes, photographer, travel enthusiast, Filipina expat in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, and National Geographic Young Explorer

For her interview: “I Heart My City: Hannah’s Phnom Penh,” in Beyond the Guidebook, a feature of NationalGeographic.com’s Intelligent Travel section.
Posted on: 22 October 2014
Tweedle Dums Collage

The most random thing about my city is the quantity of people going about their workdays dressed in matching, printed pajamas.

Citation: Hannah, our first concern, after reading your engrossing interview post, is whether there’s a way to tell “dee” from “dum” when you see two people wearing identical pajamas—and if not, would they consider embroidering their names on their collars? Also, the concept of wearing pajamas during the workday sounds most unusual to those of us who know Japan, where pajama costumes might be worn to the hot springs bath but certainly not to work. Finally, we are curious about the print on the pajamas. Most uniforms we’ve seen, including those for Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee, don’t involve prints (apart, that is, from the stripes on their caps). We hope for your sake that the print is subtle rather than garish. Otherwise, there might be too much “ditto”, as Tweedledum might say, or “ditto ditto” as Tweedle Dee would respond. To sum up, Hannah, your interview has left us curiouser and curiouser. Well done!

*  *  *

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

STAY TUNED for more fab posts.

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

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7 extraordinary women travelers with a passion to save souls

A week ago, I announced that The Displaced Nation will be dedicating the month of November to exploring the displaced lives of those who travel the world to do good works on behalf of those less fortunate.

Blame it on the years I spent as an expat in England, but the whole time I was writing that post, I had the sense of a Victorian couple — the man in a top hat, the woman in a full skirt — looking over my shoulder, whispering in my ear: “We tried to save the world, too, you know.”

To be fair, those phantoms of mine have a point. The Victorians ventured into the wilds of Africa, Asia and the Americas not just as imperialists looking for riches but also as missionaries looking to save souls.

And, just as we 21st-century people think we have the answers for people who live in developing countries — microfinance, entrepreneurship, mosquito nets, gifts of sheep and goats — our forbears thought they had the answers, too: Christianity, coupled with a strong belief in the universality of basic human freedoms.

Today I will attempt to put said ghosts to rest by paying tribute to 7 women missionaries from the 19th and early 20th centuries, from both sides of the Atlantic.

So, why the women and not the men? Three reasons:

  1. Being women, they tended to stand up for the rights of women and children wherever they went.
  2. Many also learned the language and assimilated to the local culture, thereby winning respect.
  3. And many were further willing to acknowledge the blunders committed by missionaries when attempting to penetrate the world’s most remote communities. As missiologist Ruth Tucker, who has read many missionary memoirs by women, observes:

These women writers one after another have allowed themselves to be vulnerable in painting a sometimes messy picture of their own character and of their missionary work. [Their] raw memoirs have much to say to us in the 21st century.

I’m going to take Tucker’s words to mean that even if you’re not religious, disapprove of proselytizing, or are something other than Christian, you might still concede that, on derring-do, fortitude, and decency alone, the following women deserve a place in the Displaced Hall of Fame.

Ann Haseltine Judson (1789 – 1826)

Who was she? A Bradford, Massachusetts native, teacher, and the wife of Andoiram Judson. Two weeks after they married, the couple set out on a mission trip — first to India, then to Burma.
Key achievements: While her husband was imprisoned in Burma under suspicion of being a spy, Judson wrote stories of the struggles she faced on her own in the mission field. She included tragic descriptions of child marriages, female infanticide, and the trials of the Burmese women who had no rights except for those their husbands gave them.
How she died: Of smallpox in Burma, at age 37.
Interesting fact: At least 16 biographies of Judson were published in the 19th century, the most famous of which had a new edition printed almost every year from 1830 to 1856. She and Andoiram were American celebrities.

Betsey Stockton (c. 1798 – 1865)

Who was she? A freed slave who left domestic service to travel as America’s first single female missionary to Hawaii, then known as the Sandwich Islands. In fact, she went partly as a missionary and partly as a servant to one of the couples on the mission, the Reverend and Mrs. Stewart.
Key achievement: After being asked by the son of the Hawaiian king to teach him English, Stockton started up a school at Lahaina (in West Maui) for the makeainana — fishermen, farmers and craftsmen who lived off the land — which continued after she left.
Why her mission ended: Stockton’s service in Hawaii was cut short when Mrs. Stewart became ill. The party decided to return to the States in 1826.
Where she died: In Princeton, NJ. She is buried in the Stuarts’ plot in Cooperstown, NY.
Stockton’s diary: Stockton kept a detailed written record of the mission, which conveys her somewhat turbulent, occasionally agonized, inner spiritual life; her interest in the natural world — including the kinds of fish caught from the ship, the color of the waves, and various bird life; and her spirit of adventure. Like others on board she was frightened at her first sight of the Hawaiian men who come out in canoes to greet the ship:

half man and half beast—naked—except a narrow strip of tapa round their loins…

But then she adds: “They are men and have souls.”

Adele Marion Fielde (1839 – 1916)

Who was she? A working-class native of Rodman, NY, who followed her fiancé, a Baptist missionary, to Bangkok, Thailand (then Siam) — only to discover he’d died of typhoid fever 10 days after she’d set sail from New York. She carried on nevertheless, remaining in Siam for a couple of years.  Later she went on a mission to China for training Bible women.
Key achievement: Fielde mastered the Chinese language and was also a powerful writer. She encouraged each of her Chinese Bible women to tell their stories, and then translated these stories and got them published in magazines back home. As one of her biographers puts it:

Their heart-rending sagas proved enormously appealing to American women, who could sympathize with their suffering Chinese sisters.

Where her life ended: In the United States. She retired from missionary work, went home, and became involved in scientific research.
Strange twists and turns: A free thinker since childhood, Fielde broke away from her family’s Baptist roots — only to return after becoming engaged to a Baptist missionary candidate. She faithfully served as a Baptist missionary for two decades — and then turned to science. Notably, the Baptists for a a long time sensed that she wasn’t quite one of them, accusing her of indulging in card-playing and dancing when she lived in Siam. She responded:

“I desire to be good. But I do not wish to be Pious.”

Lottie Moon (1840 – 1912)

Who was she? A highly educated Virginia native (she was born “Charlotte Digges Moon” on her family’s ancestral slave-run tobacco plantation). She became a teacher and then was called, at age 33, to serve for decades in China with the Southern Baptist Convention. Initially she went to join to her sister, Eddie, who was stationed at the North China Mission in the treaty port of Dengzhou.
Remarkable turnaround: When she first arrived at the mission, Moon made a point of wearing Western clothes to distance herself from the “heathens.” But then she mastered the language, became an admirer of Chinese culture and history, and started wearing Chinese clothes and adopted many of their customs.
Commendable behavior: When China was facing plague, famine, revolution, and war, Moon shared her personal finances and food with anyone in need around her.
How she died: Of starvation, in the harbor of Kobe, Japan, while en route back to the United States. (At that point she weighed only 50 pounds!)
Impressive statistic: Southern Baptists have named their annual mission fund after Lottie Moon. It finances half the entire Southern Baptist missions budget every year.
Part of her lore: She used to tell people she was 4′ 3″ tall. While something of an exaggeration, she was definitely petite!
Lottie Moon Cookies: Moon won over the children in her Chinese village by making tea cakes for them — they called her “the cookie lady” instead of “foreign devil.” Baptist families bake Lottie Moon Cookies for Christmas.

Mary Slessor (1848 – 1915)

Who was she? A Victorian mill girl who left the slums of Dundee to live among the tribes of Calabar, Nigeria, to take up the mantle of David Livingstone two years after he died.
Noteworthy friendship: While in Africa, Slessor became acquainted with the writer Mary Kingsley. Although the latter had never been baptized and hadn’t even been brought up a Christian, their common status — both were single females living among native populations with little company — presumably created the basis for lasting friendship.
Key achievement: The tribal people believed that if a woman gave birth to twins, one of the twins was the offspring of the devil who had secretly mated with the mother — and since the innocent child was impossible to distinguish, both should be killed (the mother was often killed as well). Slessor fought hard to end this practice.
Where she died: In Nigeria, at age 67. There was great mourning among the tribes to whom she’d dedicated her life.
A tribute from an unexpected source: During London Fashion Week in 2010, Nigerian-born designers Bunmi Olaye and Francis Udom named Slessor as one of the muses behind their collection, which fused Victorian costume with furs of the African tribe Slesson had lived in. The reason? Slessor had rescued Francis’s great-grandmother, who was born a twin, from human sacrifice.

Amy Carmichael (1867 – 1951)

Who was she? A small-village girl from a devout Presbyterian family in County Down, Northern Ireland (her father founded an evangelical church in Belfast). She was called first to work among the mill girls of Manchester and then overseas, finding her life-long vocation in India.
Key achievement: In those days, Hindu priests kept “temple children” — mostly young girls who were forced into prostitution to earn money for them. Carmichael tried to rescue them by setting up a sanitarium in Tamil Nadu, thirty miles from the southern tip of India.
Bold behavior: She would dress in Indian clothes, dye her skin with dark coffee, and travel long distances on hot, dusty roads to save just one child from suffering.
How she died: In India at the age of 83. She asked that no stone be put over her grave. Instead, the children she had cared for put a bird bath over it with the single inscription Amma, meaning “mother” in Tamil.
Cryptic remark: While serving in India, Carmichael received a letter from a young lady who was considering life as a missionary. She asked, “What is missionary life like?” Carmichael wrote back saying simply,

“Missionary life is simply a chance to die.”

A measure of her fortitude: Carmichael served in India 55 years without furlough and produced a total of 35 published books about her experiences.

Gladys Aylward (1902 – 1970)

Who was she? A working class London girl who left domestic service for to Yuncheng, Shanxi Province, China, in the tumultuous years leading up to World War II. She worked with an older missionary, Jeannie Lawson, to found an inn where traveling merchants could get a hot meal and hear stories from the Bible. Notably, Aylward was initially rejected as a potential missionary to China because of her lack of education. She spent her life savings on her passage.
Key achievements: Appointed by the local mandarin to serve as a “foot inspector,” she toured the countryside to enforce the new law against foot binding and met with much success. She also took in orphans and adopted several herself, and she intervened in a volatile prison riot, advocating for prison reform. When the region was invaded by Japanese forces in 1938, Aylward led around a hundred children to safety over the mountains, despite being wounded herself.
How her life ended: She returned to England in the 1940s, then tried to go back to China but was re-denied entry by the Communist government. She ended up in Taiwan, where she started another orphanage. She lived in Taiwan until her death.
Chinese nickname: She was known in China as Ai-weh-deh, or Virtuous One.
Celebrations of her life: Numerous books, short stories and movies have been created about the life and work of Gladys Aylward, including the film The Inn of the Sixth Happiness.
Not easily flattered: For Aylward, this 1957 movie was a thorn in her side: she resented being played by the tall, Swedish Ingrid Bergman (small in stature, she had dark hair and a cockney accent) and was further horrified to discover she’d been portrayed in “love scenes” with the Chinese Colonel Linnan.

Readers, what do you think of these 7 women? Have they inspired you?

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s post, a Displaced Q on the “pornography of poverty.”

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