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FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD: Jo Parfitt’s creative life as serial expat


Columnist Doreen Brett is back, and she’s accompanied by another “great” in the expat publishing world, Jo Parfitt, who has published 30+ books herself while also helping at least a hundred new expat writers publish their first great works. Wow. Who among us can compete? —ML Awanohara

Hello Displaced Nationers! It is my pleasure to present to you the venerable Jo Parfitt, who has been an expat for more than three decades while also carving out a career for herself as author, journalist, writing mentor/teacher, and publisher.

This is not Jo’s first time on the Displaced Nation. A couple of years ago, another expat author, Ana McGinley, interviewed Jo about her decision to found Summertime Publishing, which specializes in publishing books by and for people living abroad.

Summertime, by the way, is turning 10 years old this year. Congratulations, Jo!

As Jo reported to Ana, one of her own books, A Career in Your Suitcase, remains one of Summertime’s top five bestsellers. Is it any wonder, given that Jo is her own best example? Among the many places where she’s lived and worked are three I know well: my native Malaysia, my husband’s home country of Britain, and my current home of the Netherlands, where Jo, too, now resides.

And now let’s hear about Jo’s experience as a serial expat—and how living in so many different places has fed her creative life.

* * *

Welcome, Jo, to the Displaced Nation. First let’s do a quick review of all the places you’ve called “home”. You were born in Stamford, a town in Lincolnshire, UK. A few years back, Stamford was rated the best place to live by the Sunday Times. But you were not content to stay put. Instead you have lived in Dubai, Oman, Norway, Kuala Lumpur, Brunei, and the Netherlands. What got you started on this peripatetic life?

I went abroad the day after I got married, when I was 26. My boyfriend had gone to Dubai for work and I had to marry him to follow him. Before that happened, I already knew I loved being overseas. I had done a French degree and a year abroad, so I was already travelling before I met my husband. But still, I hadn’t imagined living in Dubai and, in fact, did not want to go there at all. But my husband (he was my fiancé at the time) said: “Come for six months. If you don’t, you’ll regret it for the rest of your life.” And thirty years later, we are still living abroad…

Why didn’t you want to go to Dubai?

At that time I was running my own business and doing quite well. And I was really happy in my career and didn’t want to give it up. Career has always been really important to me. When I closed down my business (I was in a partnership) to move to Dubai, I found it absolutely devastating.

So Dubai was a hard landing?

I was the first expat wife in my husband’s company. They had no support for me at all. We weren’t given our own apartment. I ended up sharing a flat with some other chaps who were in my husband’s office. I was lost and lonely and I knew nothing about networking, I knew nothing about portable careers, I knew nothing about being an expat. But then I found a job opportunity for somebody to do some freelance CV writing. So I did, and eventually I became a journalist. When I submitted my CV they said: “Well you’re not very good but you’ve got potential. So you work for me and I’ll shout at you a lot and you’ll learn.” So that’s what happened. One thing led to another and I had a career again.

Can you tell us about where you went next?

From Dubai, we went to Oman for two-and-a-half years, which was heaven. We loved it. We left too soon because after Oman we went to Stavanger, in southwestern Norway. We went from heat and and living outdoors and having help in the house to a cold and rainy place with no help. We stayed 18 months—actually, we cut that posting short. (I’ve been back to Stavanger since and I thought it was wonderful, but at that time, it was just not for me.) We moved back to Stamford, but I didn’t fit in anymore. We were based in the UK for seven years while my husband would commute on the plane or bus or train for work, until finally we decided it was time we all stayed together as a family again, and we went to live in The Hague. My husband and I also moved to Brunei for a short posting, staying just a few months before returning to The Hague. From there my husband got a job in Kuala Lumpur. For me, living in Malaysia was a dream come true. We’d traveled to Southeast Asia while living in Dubai, and I knew right away I wanted to live in that part of the world some day. It was fantastic.

When you repeat being an expat so many times, do you end up being drawn to cities, where you’ll find other well-traveled people?

In Dubai and Oman it was impossible to get to meet the locals; one has no choice but to live in the expat bubble. In Norway, my home was on the edges of the expat bubble because I didn’t feel that they were really my kind of person. To be honest, I don’t know who I thought my kind of person was. I was depressed in Norway, so nothing would have made me happy. When I went back in England, I realized I didn’t fit in anymore because I’ve lived overseas, so I found my community by starting up a professional network of women writers.

In general have you found that living in cities tends to feed your creative drive?

I wrote a blog called Sunny Interval while based in Kuala Lumpur. I wrote briefly in Brunei. Wherever I went, I found things to write about, generally about transition. I am a poet and a columnist at heart. I love finding parallels and being able to compare and contrast cultures. That said, I lost my mojo in KL for quite a long time—I couldn’t seem to find the beautiful bits. But then I had an experience that absolutely changed my life: an opportunity to write a book on Penang, which is located on Malaysia’s northwest coast. As part of the research, I had to interview Penangites, I had to understand the history and get under the skin of the place. That’s when I realised that getting under the skin of a place is the thing that WILL feed your soul, even if the place is not inherently beautiful. It was such a privilege to get to know Muslims and Buddhists, Chinese, Malay, and Indian, and call them all friends.

Does language tend to be a barrier when you’re in a non-English speaking place?

Even though I’m a linguist, I didn’t learn Arabic or Norwegian, I know very little Dutch. But when I went to Malaysia, I decided that I would learn Malay, and it made a huge difference. Boleh lah! (Can do!) And now that I’m back in The Hague, I’m determined to speak more Dutch. I think it’s very important to learn the language, and I am ashamed that I didn’t learn Arabic or Norwegian, or Dutch the first time around.

How about the more remote places you have lived? Do they, too, feed your creativity and if so in what ways? And how do you keep from feeling isolated?

I write! As I mentioned, I did a degree in French. As part of my studies, I did a year teaching in France in a really boring small town and I didn’t have any friends there either. I would walk around the town for something to do. And I would walk in the shops and I would look in the windows. And I looked at the wonderful display of tarts and I just thought: “”French Tarts”—that’s a great title for a book. I’ll write it.” And what it did was it gave me something interesting to do and a way to meet people and eat (which I loved!). Because I couldn’t cook I decided to ask everybody I met in the town if they’d have me to dinner, and if they had me to dinner they had to make me a tart and I would write about it and would put their recipe in my book! I was 20. I had utmost confidence that they would say yes. So I went to dinner with the doctor, the dentist, the lady who ran the baby shop, teachers from the school, the man who ran the bicycle shop… I just said to anybody, I want to come to dinner. And I wrote the draft of French Tarts, which came out when I was 24. That was my first book.

What a great story! And I happen to know that’s not your only cookery book. After all, you brand yourself as a bookcook…

When I was in Oman, I had the idea with a friend of mine of writing a cookbook on dates because none of the expats knew how to cook with dates. So we wrote a cookbook on dates. We invented the recipes (I could cook by then!) and did everything else. Though it looked terrible, it sold very well because people wanted the content.

Are there any other remote places where you’ve lived that have fed your creativity?

The most remote place I’ve lived in was Kuala Belait in Brunei, which for those who don’t know if a small sovereign state on the north coast of the island of Borneo (the rest of the island is Malaysian and Indonesian). Kuala Belait was really remote. There was nothing to do there at all. I actually went online and googled bloggers in the area. And I found one blogger, who was 20 years younger. I met her for coffee. I did everything I could to find people. In the end, I started a writer’s circle. I ran a few writing classes and joined a French conversation group. And I was only there for three months. You have to make an effort to reach out to people, but the Internet does make it easier.

I know you’re a great networker. Do you tend to network online or in person?

I network with people online. But I also make sure I network with people in person. I sometimes think, it’s been three weeks and I haven’t seen anybody apart from my family, so I get on the phone and book lunches and things.

Do writers sometimes find it a struggle to meet people IRL?

When I was working from home as a writer, I realised that if I stayed in all day and all evening and wrote, I got depressed. And so I used to go for a walk at lunchtimes and at least try to engage with somebody in a shop. I am an introvert when I work. But I feed my soul by being out. I like to see people face to face every week. I don’t think you get much energy from talking to somebody through the email and texting.

You have 31 books! Do you have a favorite?

Out of my 31 books, I would say that a couple have been pivotal for me. One I’ve already mentioned: French Tarts. It made me realise that If you’ve got a good idea, then you can do anything. The other is A Career in Your Suitcase, which is now in its fourth edition and still going strong. I had the idea for writing it when we first went to Norway. There were no English publications for me to write for. I started working on this and an expat anthology called Forced to Fly.

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’m in The Hague now. I like belonging in a community. I love the fact that everything’s familiar. When you’ve moved and moved and moved, you really want to feel that you belong somewhere. And knowing the way and not having to use a map and knowing where the doctors is: it’s a great feeling. Here in The Hague I’ve also come back to old friends, and that’s been fantastic. I didn’t have friends in England really. They’d all gone off to university or wherever. England was difficult. I think Norway was the hardest. England was the next hardest. Coming back here to the Netherlands has been the easiest because it wasn’t a repatriation as I thought it might feel. It was a reposting. It had all of the positives and none of the negatives.

Tell me about your new venture taking writers away on retreats. I believe you call them “me”-treats?

This has been an ambition of mine for some time. I’m holding what I call Writing Me-Treats. These are residential holidays for four or five nights. They’re for people who love to write, to come and indulge in writing and sharing and doing beautiful things that will make them feel really inspired. For example, in The Hague, we will do the walk in the Jewish quarter and talk about what happened to the Jews. Understanding that has really deepened my love of the place. My first writer’s Me-Treat is in Penang, this month. My next writer’s Me-Treat is in The Hague, which I have timed to be exactly after the Families in Global Transition (FIGT) conference. The next one is in France, in a mini chateau. Then Devon. Then Tuscany.

Do you have any advice for other global creatives?

If you’re a writer, try getting into a writers circle. That’s where I found my soulmates. People come, we do some speed writing, we share what we’ve written, then I create a task and we do an exercise. It’s about being forced to write, not having an excuse or procrastinating. It shows people what they can do in 10 minutes. It empowers them to think they are good enough. I think a lot of writers want to keep what they’ve written to themselves because they’re too afraid to share it. Or they’re too scared that somebody else will plagiarise it. Which is a real worry. What you get in a writer’s circle is a safe space. People get very friendly. They get very close.

I should remind our readers at this juncture that you have your own publishing house for expat books.

Yes, I run Summertime Publishing. I’ve been helping people to write books since 2002. I teach people online and have three online courses: people can study by email as well. Four years ago I decided to run this writer’s scholarship, the Parfitt-Pascoe Writing Residency. I would train writers, they would cover the FIGT conference, and I would publish what they wrote. This is about to be my fifth year. It’s a wonderful opportunity for people to get training from me for free, to get lots of mentoring for free, and to increase their network.

Any recommendations for the wannabe writers out there?

The other thing I would recommend is that you either write a journal, and do it religiously, or write a blog. Whenever something happens, that I think is of note. I write a blog post. I write it for people I know, so I feel safe enough to be authentic and vulnerable, to show how stupid I am, and my mistakes. And I write as if no stranger will read it. And it becomes a record of my life. A lot of people are very scared to expose themselves like that. But don’t be.

Thanks so much, Jo, for sharing your story with us.

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Readers, any further questions for the extraordinary Jo Parfitt 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:
Photos via Pixabay.

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Top 10 diverting holiday posts for expats and world travelers

Top 10 diverting holiday posts 2015

‘Twas the night before the night before Christmas, when all through the house, creatures were stirring…because they had jet lag!

This is how I imagine many of you expats and world travelers may be feeling at this point in the holiday season. If that description fits—or even if you’re simply remembering with a mix of relief and nostalgia (as I am) how you once were in that category—the following “holiday” posts may give you a much-needed injection of Christmas spirit. At the very least, they may divert you long enough so that you can sleep again.

I’ve chosen some of them with the thought of bringing you back to Christmases past, when your world was more predictable; others because I think they help to provide perspective on your present life of travel and adventure; and still others to stimulate thoughts about what kinds of Christmases we globetrotters can look forward to in future.

Posts (pun intended) of Christmas Past

1) Dreaming of a white Christmas? Check this out, Lonely Planet, by Roisin Agnew (14 December 2015)
Are White Christmases becoming a thing of the past because of global warming? Some of us may be losing sleep over this question ever since the climate summit was held in Paris. Visions are now dancing in our heads of melting ice flooding the world’s major cities. Also keeping some of us awake is the strongest El Niño in 50 years, which has brought mild, humid weather to North America. Today, Christmas Eve, it’s 70°F in New York City! Meanwhile, the UK and Ireland have been experiencing the ravages of Storm Desmond. Don’t despair yet, though. According to Roisin Agnew, there are still a few places with a reasonable probability of snow this year. (Agnew is a journalist at Lonely Planet Online and founding editor of Guts Magazine, for new Irish writers.) Try this quiz before reading: Which is the one state in the United States with a near 100% chance of a White Christmas?

2) Rick Steves’ European Christmas (Rick Steves Christmas pledge special, published on YouTube May 14, 2014, but an evergreen, so to speak!)
In this hour-long TV special, European travel authority Rick Steves invites his American audience to accompany him back to the old country, to the original Christmas customs that various immigrant groups brought to the United States.

3) The Sweet and Sticky Story of Candy Canes, by Rebecca Rupp, National Geographic Online (22 December 2015)
How did candy canes come into being? We actually don’t know very much about them—but can make an educated guess that they’re a displaced European treat. Read this, and visions of sugar plum-flavored candy canes may dance in your head when you at last drift off…

Posts of Christmases Present

4) Americans Try Norwegian Christmas Food (A production of the Embassy of the United States in Oslo, 21 December 2015)
Witness the somewhat goofy reactions of staff at the U.S. Embassy in Oslo as they try traditional Norwegian Christmas dishes such as lutefisk, smalahove, cabaret and more. Comments Siobhán O’Grady of Foreign Policy magazine: this short video “looks more like it belongs on Buzzfeed than on the diplomatic mission’s YouTube channel.” Hey, but at least it fits with the YouTube tradition of posting videos about people sampling other cultures’ foods for the first time.

5) Rupert the Expat Reindeer (UKinUAE, 14 December 2015)
Another embassy video! This one is part of the British Embassy in Dubai’s effort to ensure that British expats in the UAE behave themselves in the run-up to Christmas. Inspired by the Johnny Marks classic “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” the lyrics follow the story of a group of expatriate reindeer who get a crash course in getting to know the local laws, customs and climate the hard way. They learn about alcohol licenses, drinking in public, wearing appropriate clothing and the use of offensive language. No red noses, guys, okay?

6) “On a Christmas visit, expat thoughts turn to ‘going home,'” by Nicolas Gattig (Japan Times, 23 December 2015)
If you’re one of the expats who has gone all the way home for Christmas, will you also use it as an opportunity to consider whether you will go home for good: as in, repatriate? Nicolas Gattig has returned to San Francisco with with that in mind, only to find himself wondering whether he, and the city, has changed too much for a 2016 reunion…

Posts of Christmas Future

7) Life as a modern expat: Happy (virtual) holidays, by Melanie Haynes in the Local Denmark (14 December 2015)
Some expat families still choose to juggle complicated travel schedules—and will go to any length to set up a family Christmas tree, even if they find themselves rendezvousing in a place like Roatán (see Julia Simens’s recent post). But relocation expert Melanie Haynes has decided it’s time her child got used to celebrating virtual Christmases with his extended family. She and her husband are Brits but have become permanent expats in Copenhagen. Both sets of grandparents are expats, too—one in France and the other in the United States. She now arranges to have her son open his Christmas gifts from his grandparents on Skype “so they can share his delight firsthand.” The way she sees it, her family is simply building a new tradition:

As a child, my husband and I held Christmases that followed a very familiar and lovely pattern with all our family coming together for the day. Now, Christmas for us and our son is very different but just as special.

Is the Haynes’s virtual Christmas the wave of the future?
8) Happy Holidays! (BostonDynamics, 22 December 2015)
Now it’s time to look even further into the future, when technology leads us to the point where robots have inherited the Earth. How will robots, and the last remnants of homo sapiens, celebrate? According to a tech firm in Boston, Santa and his reindeer will still be delivering presents—but don’t be surprised if Santa is female!

9) Star Wars Should Give Power to the Dark Side, by Scott Meslow (The Week, 23 December 2015)
While we’re on such cosmic themes, it’s time to contemplate whether the universe portrayed in the new Star Wars, easily the biggest of this Christmas’s blockbusters, has enough moral nuance. As we who’ve traveled the world know perhaps better than anyone else, every country on Planet Earth has shades of gray, so why should other planets and galaxies be any different? Hollywood scriptwriters, however, remain blissfully unaware, having chosen to sustain a world where good guys have blue lightsabers and bad guys have red ones.

As Meslow puts it:

Compare Star Wars to Game of Thrones, which forces the viewer to interrogate their perspectives on heroes and villains until the lines between them barely exist. There’s no reason Star Wars can’t do the same.

Post of Christmas Past, Present & Future

10) A Christmas WISH LIST, by Cinda MacKinnon (22 December 2015)
Cinda MacKinnon and her novel, A Place in the World, have been featured several times on the Displaced Nation. As the book’s title suggests, anyone who grows up among several cultures, as Cinda did, or who has chosen an adult life of repeat expat experiences (as I have), may have trouble finding their place in the world, especially at Christmas. However, the final wish on Cinda’s list, for peace on earth, is one that belongs to all people, however displaced—and to Christmases past, present, and future. I for one am extremely grateful for that reminder, Cinda!

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So, readers, if you are still reading at this stage and haven’t drifted back to sleep, does that mean you have other posts in mind that should be on the list? Do tell in the comments! And to all of you who celebrate Christmas: on behalf of the Displaced Nation team of writers, I’d like to wish and yours the happiest of times on December 25th. Oh, and don’t forget to extend the celebration into Boxing Day, a lovely tradition I picked up while living in the UK!

STAY TUNED for next week’s fab posts.

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

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CULTURE SHOCK TOOLBOX: Expats, when you find yourself out of tune with the local language/culture, throw back your head and laugh it off!

Byron Williams, Jr. with one of his performers (supplied).

Byron Williams, Jr. with one of his performers (supplied).

Transitions enthusiast H.E. Rybol is in holiday mode with her latest interview guest.

Season’s greetings, Displaced Nationers! You may be in full hibernation mode by now or, if you live in the Southern Hemisphere, perhaps you’re ready to hit the beach! Either way, I’d like to offer you some holiday cheer through this month’s column. My guest is singer, song-writer and long-term expat Byron Williams, Jr. Byron grew up in Miami, Florida, and Portland, Maine, before moving to Europe in the 1990s.

He started singing in a gospel choir when he was eight years old—and has been singing ever since. Since 1998 he has made his home in Fredrikstad, Norway, where he performs soul, jazz and rhythm ‘n’ blues with his duo/trio at all kinds of events: parties, anniversaries, festivals and more. He can go from Frank Sinatra to Barry White and everything in between.

During this cold and grey season, Byron has been spreading comfort and joy with his concert series “Christmas Joy N’ Soul.” Talk about holiday spirit!

Byron kindly agreed to share some of his culture shock experiences with us. Tune in as we talk about mistaken identities, language classes, mispronounced words and what to pack to get through awkward moments. Actually, as it’s the holidays, why not literally tune in to Byron? Click here to hear him croon…while you read on.

* * *

Hi, Bryon. Welcome to Culture Shock Toolbox. I know you were born in Miami and then went all the way north to Portland, Maine. Where have you lived abroad?

Spain (Mallorca) for three years and Norway (Fredrikstad) for almost 17 years.

In the course of your transitions into European cultures, have you ever ended up with your foot in your mouth?

When I moved to Norway back in 1998, I was getting off the train in Oslo and heading towards the central station, when a man approached me asking me something in Norwegian. And I, being the polite American, told him “No, I’m sorry and continued on my way to the station. He continued to ask me questions and I replied: “No, I do not have any money to give you.” As I was getting closer to the entrance to the station, he told me that he was a customs agent and needed to see my passport. I apologized to him for thinking that he was a beggar.

How did you handle that situation?

We both laughed and went our separate ways 🙂

Can you think of a situation you handled with finesse, and why do you think that was?

When I began to take Norwegian classes, I mispronounced the word for “brick” in English and what came out sounded like the Norwegian word for murder. Back then the words sounded the same to me and didn’t notice it. Then my teacher started laughing and told me that the words meant two totally different things 🙂 I laughed it off by saying that that’s what happens when you learn a new language.

You have to have a sense of humor in life.

If you had any advice for someone moving abroad for the first time, what tool would you suggest they develop first?

Carry a smile in your culture shock toolbox, it will take you further 🙂 And stock up on those smiley face stickers and emoticons for when you need a reminder!

smiley face toolbox

Thank you so much, Bryon, for taking the time to do this interview! As newbies in another culture, we aren’t always as inconspicuous as we’d like to be. Humor will definitely see us you through those awkward moments and make you feel more in harmony with yourself and your surroundings. Especially in this holiday season, why not crack a smile and try putting one on someone else’s face?!

* * *

Readers, what do you make of Byron’s advice? If you like what he has to say, I recommend you visit his site, where you can peruse his music. You can also find him on Facebook and Twitter.

And to keep you in that holiday spirit, listen to Byron’s tribute to Barry White:

As always, thanks for reading, Displaced Nationers! Well, hopefully this has you “fixed” until next month/year. See you in 2016!

Until then. Prost! Santé!

H.E. Rybol is a TCK and the author of Culture Shock: A Practical Guide and Culture Shock Toolbox. She loves animals, piano, yoga and being outdoors. You can find her on Twitter, Linkedin and Goodreads. She recently launched a new Web site and is now working on her second book.  

STAY TUNED for more fab posts.

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

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For this fearless and feisty travel photography pro, a picture says…

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

Steve Davey at a New Year's celebration in Laos, 2011 (supplied).

Steve Davey at a New Year’s celebration in Laos, 2011 (supplied).

A Picture Says… columnist James King is away this month, so ML Awanohara is pinch hitting in his place.

Greetings, Displaced Nationers who are also photography buffs!

Once again, I am the feeble stand-in for James King, who will be back in August. That said, I am happy to be the vehicle for bringing to you such an exciting interview subject: Steve Davey, a professional photographer who is also an intrepid wanderer around Planet Earth, with the creds to prove it. Steve has produced two best-selling BBC travel books, one about unforgettable islands to escape to, the other about unforgettable places that should be on everyone’s bucket list.

He has also written a photography book about festivals around the world as well as a guide to location photography.

And he has started up his own business leading travel-photography tours, about which a participant has written:

“Your love of photography and travel is infectious and I can honestly say I have never laughed or learnt so much on a holiday before!”

I recall that when I first stumbled across Steve’s photography site, I found him an amiable character—on his About Page he says is is a “crap sightseer” who is “more interested in how places work and often how they don’t, than in visiting monuments and museums.” I could also sense his insatiable curiosity about the wider world coupled with a certain fearlessness. This mix of qualities suggests not only that he takes great photos but also that he isn’t easily daunted.

Let’s find out if these impressions were right by giving Steve the floor.

* * *

Hi, Steve, and welcome to the Displaced Nation. Let’s start in the same way James always does: where were you born, and when did you spread your wings to start traveling?
I was born in a small village near Bristol. I longed to head out and explore the world, and as soon as I was old enough I headed off around Europe on an Inter-rail pass. That year I got as far as Hungary. The following year I got even further—to Romania in the days of Ceausescu.

Which countries have you visited thus far, and have you lived in any of them?
I have been to almost ninety countries in the course of my work. Some of these, I have been to dozens of times. I am a compulsive traveler but have always been based in London, travelling where the work takes me. As you mentioned in your introduction, I’ve shot a couple of books for the BBC. Each of these required taking all the photos for about twenty-five chapters in a single year. For the Unforgettable Islands book, I did the equivalent of 6.5 times around the world on 99 different flights.

So you’ve never been an expat?
There are some parts of the world I’ve visited that I would love to have lived in, but my feelings about this are always changing. So I figure it’s best to base myself in London and have the option of returning to the latest place that has taken my fancy.

Well, I love London, so that’s fine by me. Which part of the city do you live in?
South London. Brixton. About the closest you can come to living in a foreign land but without leaving the UK. It is an eclectic area with a multicultural flavour. My local breakfast cafe is Eritrean. There is a large Caribbean market nearby and people of every culture. My daughter’s school is like a 1990s Benneton advertisement.

I lived in South London myself at one stage: Kennington. I remember Brixton well and can picture exactly what you are talking about.

“Art flourishes where there is a sense of adventure.” —Alfred North Whitehead

Moving right along to the part we’ve all been waiting for: a chance to appreciate a few of your photos. Can you share with us three photos that capture some of your favorite memories of the so-called “displaced” life of global travel? And for each photo, can you briefly tell us the memory that the photo captures, and why it remains special to you?
Before starting, I should tell you that I love to photograph festivals. I love the chaos and the sheer exuberance of these events. They are when a destination comes alive and when a place is at its most characteristic for the people who live there (festivals are not put on for tourists). So I’ll be sharing three photos of the most memorable festivals I’ve had the honor of witnessing.

First, the Sonepur Mela (Cattle Fair) in the state of Bihar, India. I have attended a number of festivals in India, from the largest gathering of humans on the planet to remote gatherings in the Himalayas and elephant temple festivals in Kerala in the South, but the Sonepur Mela is one of my favourites. There’s a vast animal market including the Haathi Bazaar, where elephants are lined up for sale. There’s also religious bathing in the confluence of the rivers Gandak and Ganges. The Sonepur Mela attracts few tourists and I consider it one of the hidden cultural gems of India.

Sonepur Mela_India

Elephants for sale at Sonepur Mela in India. Photo credit: Steve Davey


Wow! I have a theory that it’s why we all travel: to see the “elephant.” Clearly, you’ve done that. So what’s next in the photo-fest, so to speak?
Next is one of a festival held by the Kalash people, who live in three remote valleys in the north of Pakistan on the border of Afghanistan. They trace their lineage back to the soldiers of Alexander the Great. They tend to have piercing blue eyes and fair skin. Animist non-Muslims, they drink, wear bright clothes, and permit men and women to dance together. This makes them rather unpopular in the region. Guarding this event were some 3,000 special forces commandos. Despite this, the festival atmosphere was lively and chaotic. It was one of the great privileges of my career to have experienced and photographed this event.
Kalash_Pakistan

The Kalash people have a handle on what it means to be festive. Photo credit: Steve Davey

Steve, you are opening new windows for me on the world. I never knew about this unique tribe of people in that part of the world. So what’s your last pick?
Last but not least is this incredible festival that takes place on Pentecost Island, one of the islands within the remote archipelago of Vanuatu, in Oceania. It involves the village menfolk hurling themselves from high towers, with their fall only broken by vines fixed to their ankles. I’ve wanted to photograph this ever since I saw the film of the so-called land divers shot by the great David Attenborough. I finally got the opportunity when working on the “unforgettable islands” book for the BBC. It was a humbling rite to witness, and I managed to shoot some stunning pictures, too! This photo represents for me the kind of doors that have been opened in my life due to being a photographer who specializes in travel. I have managed to witness, and take part in, so much more of the world than I ever would have done without a camera.

Vanuatu

The precursor to bungee jumping, but a lot more risky. Photo credit: Steve Davey


Truly, you have seen such a wide swathe of life’s rich tapestry. Being presented with what is clearly just a fraction of the photo evidence has been humbling for me.

“Travel makes one modest, you see what a tiny place you occupy in the world.” —Gustave Flaubert

Having seen your first three photos, I expect it’s a bit of a tough choice, but which are the top three locations you’ve most enjoyed taking photos in—and can you offer us an example of each?
It is a tough choice, so I’ll give you four:

I love India. I can’t get enough of the place. I love the utterly bewildering variety it offers. I have been all over the country and attended a number of religious festivals, including the Kumbh Mela—officially the largest gathering of humans on the planet. But that’s not all there is. Here is a shot of a Buddhist monk in Ladakh, in the Indian Himalayas:

Ladakh monk

A Thikse Buddhist monk blows a conch horn announcing prayers. Photo credit: Steve Davey

I first travelled to Laos years ago, soon after it opened up to foreign visitors. There were few roads up in the north, and the only way to get around was by boat. I love the country’s atmosphere, its people—and could not resist photographing this line of monks heading out at dawn to collect food, or alms.

Laos monks alms

The tak bat, or Buddhist monks’ morning collection of food (alms), in Luang Prabang. Photo credit: Steve Davey

I still love Morocco. It is the most crazy place that you can visit from London on a low-cost airline. Over the years I’ve noticed that the people have become less friendly to photography, making it more stressful to walk around and take pictures; but there are few places that excite me more than the Jemaa el-Fnaa square in Marrakesh. Home to snake charmers, acrobats, fake dentists, herbalists, drummers and some of the best street food this side of Delhi. Electric!

Morocco

Don’t make the mistake of catching the snake charmer’s eyes! Photo credit: Steve Davey


I have to interrupt for a moment to say that of all the photos you’ve shared thus far, this is my favorite. Even though I’m not fond of rattlesnakes, it captures an atmosphere that is utterly different and seductive. Now, you said you had four?
The last one is my wildcard. I usually love hot, dusty places with people. Svalbard is my Achilles Heel. I love the cold, the wildlife and the stunning scenery. I have seen it from ships, by snowmobile and on foot. I love the ever-present danger, the midnight sun and the sense of true adventure.
Svalbard

Polar bear viewing in the crown of Arctic Norway. Photo credit: Steve Davey


Incredible! The Moroccan rattlesnakes definitely scared me, but, though I know I should also be scared of the polar bears, I can’t help thinking how cute they look.

“Photography is the only language that can be understood anywhere in the world.” —Bruno Barbey

I notice that you often photograph people, whereas quite a few of the interviewees for this column stick to scenery. Do you ever feel reserved taking photos of people, particularly when they are conscious of your doing so? How do you handle it?
I seldom photograph people without approaching them and interacting with them in some way. Spend even a small amount of time with someone and you can come up with an engaged and atmospheric portrait. This is a difficult skill to develop, but once you have mastered it then taking people’s picture is a much less fraught experience and far more enjoyable for both the photographer and the person being photographed.

Here are a couple of examples where I’ve applied those principles:

A Sadhu (holy man) at the Ganga Sagar Mela (festival) in West Bengal, India; a pilgrim at the Korzok Gustor festival in Ladakh, Northern India.

Examples of Steve Davey’s people shots: A Sadhu (holy man) at the Ganga Sagar Mela (festival) in West Bengal, India; a pilgrim at the Korzok Gustor festival in Ladakh, Northern India.

“Eyes like a shutter, mind like a lens.” —Anonymous

And now switching over to the technical side of things: what kind of camera, lenses, and post-processing software do you use?
I shoot exclusively on Nikon pro camera and lenses. I shoot either with the Nikon D3X, Nikon D800 or Nikon D810. I have a cupboard of pensioned off cameras, including a brace of F4s and a brace of F5s. Cameras don’t tend to hold their value: especially when I have finished with them. I am a believer in going for the utmost quality in work. To me this is the mark of a professional photographer, shooting with the best lenses and filters. I always shoot in the RAW format and post process with Adobe Lightroom.

I suspect I need to read your photography guide or take one of your tours to fully appreciate the wisdom of what you just said. But I trust you!

“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a cash advance.” —Anonymous

Finally, can you offer a few words of advice for wannabe photographers who are traveling the world or living abroad?
Working as a professional travel photographer is bloody tough. There are a lot of talented amateurs who shoot a few good shots and virtually give them away; and a bunch of fauxtographers who have the website and the business card but the only way that they can get work is to work for free in the hope that they can break into the industry. Best to work at something that makes you money and take photographs for pleasure. Taking pictures for love and not money is a dream for most of us professional photographers!

Thank you, Steve! It’s been a memorable virtual journey into corners of the world I didn’t know existed!

* * *

Readers, that was something else! I’d never even heard of some of these places before, and Steve has been to them several times over. What do you make of his vast range of travel experiences and photography advice? Any questions for him on on his photos or extensive travels? Please leave them in the comments!

If you want to get to know Steve and his photography better, I suggest you visit his photography site. You can also follow him on Facebook. You may also be interested in checking out his travel-photography books:

Or why not consider joining one of his tours and getting some hands-on photography instruction? It would be an experience to go down in the annals!

NOTE: If you are a travel-photographer and would like to be interviewed for this series, please send your information to ml@thedisplacednation.com.

STAY TUNED for next week’s fab posts!

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THE DISPLACED POLL: Which of these 4 travel champions deserves an Olympic gold medal?

Hi there, folks! In keeping with our summer theme — we’ve been talking up the Olympics, in case you haven’t noticed — today I’ll be taking a look at some travely-types who have performed what can only be described as Herculean endeavors.

Which one of these travel worthies would you vote onto the gold medal podium for their efforts? Register your choice in our poll below.

1) THE SPRINTER: Gunnar Garfors

The 30-something Norwegian Gunnar Garfors (he’s a tech and new media guy as well as an avid traveler and former footballer) will never forget where he was on June 18th, 2012. Because he was in Istanbul (Asia), Casablanca (Africa), Paris (Europe), Punta Cana (North America) and Caracas (South America). Yup — all of ’em! He managed to create a new world record by visiting five different continents in one day!

Although the “day” was quite a long one, as Gunnar used the advancing dateline to squeeze a few more hours into his schedule.

It’s hard to believe that something like this is possible… I’m guessing he didn’t use Qantas for any of the flights. (Okay, that little dig was meant for Australians!)

Seriously, he makes me tired just thinking about it! Can you remember what you did on Monday? I think I got a hair cut…

Definitely an Olympian achievement.

2) THE MARATHONER: Jean Béliveau (no, not the ice hockey icon; we’re talking summer Olympics!)

Montrealer Jean Béliveau took a little longer to accomplish his feat than Gunnar Garfors — because Jean walked all the way around the word. No, really! 47,000 miles… It took him 11 years — and 53 pairs of shoes!

At 45, Jean went through a mid-life crisis with the failure of his neon sign business. In his own words:

“I played the game. It left me empty.”

Jean liked the idea of sailing around the world, but ocean-going yachts cost too much. Instead, he began to imagine running away as far as he could.  He started jogging and working out but told no one of his plans — not even his life partner, Luce Archambault. When he finally told Luce, she gave him her blessing — but insisted that he do it for a cause. Jean chose world peace and the safety of children, something no one could disagree with (at that point, he was after some peace of mind).

He began by running south, but by the time he’d reached Atlanta, his knees had started bothering him, so he switched to walking. He waked through the rest of America, Mexico, Latin America, Africa, Europe and Asia — six continents and 64 countries.

His interest in promoting peace didn’t stop him from being mugged, as well as imprisoned (the latter in Ethiopia). But he carried on and eventually even came to embrace his cause, telling people that to achieve peace, we must see the world through “eyes of love.”

It’s an achievement so staggering it begs the question: what can he possibly do next? Where do you go from there?

“Hey honey, let’s celebrate with a holiday…”

“NO! Already been there.”

Another record, of course, belongs to Luce, who has remained loyal to Jean despite his absence of 11 years from their home in Montreal and his falling for a woman in Mexico. Once a year, she would come to him and they would spend three weeks together, in one place.

Jean walked back into Montreal in October of last year. How does the couple find it being under one roof again? Rumor has it, they’re writing a book together! Talk about Olympian challenges…

3) THE PREPOSTEROUS POLYGLOT: Benny Lewis

Brendan (Benny) Lewis is a polyglot who hails from Cavan County in Ireland. (No, “polyglot” isn’t a type of glue; it’s a person who speaks four or more languages fluently.) Benny earned this title — he is also a vegetarian and a teetotaler — after nine years on the road, during which he taught himself to speak eight languages fluently (with more than a smattering of half a dozen more).

I know nothing about Benny’s musculature, but it’s clear his tongue has gotten plenty of exercise.

Benny now considers himself to be a “technomad” — a full-time technology-enabled globe-trotter. His Web site, Fluent in Three Months, is a treasure trove of tips and tricks for picking up languages (called “language hacks”), as well as a tribute to his mind-boggling achievement. (I’m actually surprised that his head hasn’t exploded from the pressure of all that knowledge.)

According to him, it is no big deal — anyone can do what he has done. All they need is dedication, hard work…and more of the same. (Times a million!)

You know, I have to hand it to Benny, he’s the very essence of — sorry, I can’t resist — a cunning linguist. (Well, I said I was sorry! Please stop throwing things at me.)

4) THE MASTER OF EXTREME ENDURANCE: Ben Hatch

The British novelist and travel writer Ben Hatch is the author of a hugely popular (and very entertaining) book about a recent adventure of his: driving 8,000 miles around Britain in a cramped Vauxhall Astra, while researching a guidebook for Frommers.

“But why is that worthy of an Olympics gold medal?” I hear you ask. “Novelists usually aren’t athletes. And he only traveled around his own neck of the woods, Britain.”

Well, there are lots of reasons I could pick: because he practically lived in his car for five months, because he purposefully inflicted dozens of tourist attractions on himself every week, because he had a car crash en route, or because he stayed in a haunted Scottish castle.

But the one I like best is the fact that he did all this with his wife and two children — aged four and two! — in tow.

Can you imagine? While the family was attempting fine dining in a posh hotel restaurant, his children engaged in food fights and eating mashed potatoes with their bare hands. There were tears and tantrums in the car — every single day. For months. It sounds like my worst nightmare! And I don’t even have kids…

The resulting trauma became his best-selling book Are We Nearly There Yet? 8,000 Misguided Miles Round Britain in a Vauxhall Astra — which I can only assume was written cathartically, in a desperate attempt to cling on to what remained of his sanity after such a grueling experience. I think he deserves a medal just for surviving the first week. And of course, once the kids are old enough to read what he’s written about them, he’ll be in for a whole new world of trouble…

* * *

Right! There’s my suggestions. What do think. folks? I just know there are loads of people out there making epic journeys, achieving the unachievable, and generally making the rest of us look like couch potatoes in comparison. Do you know of any? (Olympians, I mean, not couch potatoes — I’ve got enough of the latter in my house.) BTW, I toyed with the idea of including an older traveler, as unlike sport, there seems to be no real age limit on world travel, especially with all the recent growth in the international cruise-ship industry (see photo above).

In any event, I’d love to hear from you — let me know in the comments, or hit us up on Twitter: @DisplacedNation and/or @TonyJamesSlater

And don’t forget to vote in our poll!

STAY TUNED for Tuesday’s post on a historical traveler worthy of a gold medal or two.

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Image: MorgueFile

Dear Mary-Sue: Mad Mad Mad expat men & their fashion & beauty quirks

Mary-Sue Wallace, The Displaced Nation’s agony aunt, is back. Her thoughtful advice eases and soothes any cross-cultural quandary or travel-related confusion you may have. With this month’s theme being fashion and Mary-Sue being Tulsa’s answer to Donatella Versace, she’s keen to share her sartorial expertise with Displaced Nation readers. Submit your questions and comments here, or else by emailing her at thedisplacednation@gmail.com.

You Mary-Suers are an insatiable lot, aren’t you? One big helping of my advice wasn’t enough for y’all this month, so after popular demand following my earlier post on fashion, I’ve been asked back. So that’s two lots of Mary-Sue for you this month — or “double the trouble” as Jake (or Mr Mary-Sue Wallace, as my pastor calls him) likes to say. (My how we laugh at that little joke! Well, I do and the pastor does — Jake doesn’t.)

Anyhoo, if my latest mailbag is anything to go by, I’m finding some interesting (or should that be alarming?) insights into my readership. Seems a lot of my readership skews male and weird — story of my life!

Am I right, or am I right?!

___________________________________________

Dear Mary-Sue,

About a year ago, I moved to the United States from the UK and find I’m now in thrall to the Mad Men series, which has just now started up again on AMC.

My obsession has grown to the point where I’m thinking of getting a retro hair style similar to Don Draper’s. I’ve enclosed a photo of myself to get your opinion on whether that would look good or if it might be too natty?

Cheers,

Tim from Tunbridge Wells via Trenton

Dear Tim from Tunbridge Wells (incidentally my cousin Janine visited there last summer – MS),

Hmmm, I’ll be honest, I’m not convinced this Mad Men malarkey is going to last. Sure, it’s the flavor of the month at the moment, but will we still be talking about Don Draper and his style in thirty years’ time in the way we still talk about Magnum P.I.?

I think not!

My advice to you, Tim, is to grow a mustache like Tom Selleck’s. Having seen the photo you’ve enclosed, you’ll still look like a drunk manatee, but at least you’ll look like a drunk manatee with a Tom Selleck mustache. I can’t promise that it’ll make you look good or natty, but you will definitely be a talking point.

———————————-

Dear Mary-Sue,

I’m from Germany but am now living in London. At the suggestion of my new English girlfriend, I’ve been browsing this mantyhose site (http://e-mancipate.net/). TBH, I can’t decide among the white, the military green, or the ones with patterns (eg, checkerboard, stars, or stripes). Since I’m a newbie to this trend, I wonder if you could give me your thoughts? (I’ve enclosed photos of myself in the mantyhose.)

Hans from Hamburg via Holland Park

Dear Hans from Hamburg,

Thank you for the photograph you sent me. (I don’t know why everyone is so insistent on sending pictures of themselves to me this week. And not a looker among you. I mean I don’t expect all my male admirers to be Tom Selleck or Richard Chamberlain lookalikes, but when it gets to the point where I’d settle for you being an Al Roker lookalike — well, that’s one slim pickings I’ve got.) More importantly, thank you for including a return address on your envelope, the authorities say that will make it very easy to track you down.

I don’t know why you’d think I’d want to see that. You must have mistaken me for Dear Prudence over on Slate.

———————————-

Dear Mary-Sue,

I just moved from Oslo to Oshkosh. I have a suitcase full of trousers in different colors — salmon pink, sky blue, red rose, and kelly green. Back home, these are the latest trend, but looking around here in Wisconsin, I’m afraid I might stand out a little too far in the crowd. Do you think I can get away with wearing them and if so, which color(s)?

Nils from Norway

Dear Nils,

Quite why you’re so bothered with what people from Wisconsin think of your clothes is bizarre to me. Anything other than stretch denim is probably going to draw attention out there.

What I would suggest is that you go with yellow-colored pants. That’ll probably sate your Nordic desire for garish pants. What you can do is claim that they’re your cheese pants and that you’ve picked them out as they’re the same shade of yellow as a fine (though that’s a relative term in this context) Wisconsin cheddar. I’m sure you can convince them that it’s your weird pants-based way of paying tribute to the state’s cheese industry.

Best of luck!

___________________________________________

Anyhoo, that’s all from me readers. I’m so keen to hear about your cultural issues and all your juicy problems. Do drop me a line with any problems you have, or if you want to talk smack about Delilah Rene.

Mary-Sue is a retired travel agent who lives in Tulsa with her husband Jake. She is the best-selling author of Traveling Made Easy, Low-Fat Chicken Soup for the Traveler’s Soul, The Art of War: The Authorized Biography of Samantha Brown, and William Shatner’s TekWar: An Unofficial Guide. If you have any questions that you would like Mary-Sue to answer, you can contact her at thedisplacednation@gmail.com, or by adding to the comments below.

STAY TUNED for Tuesday’s post. Mary-Sue has heard it’s going to be great.

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