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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That’s displacement.

Child-rearing on the frontlines

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

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

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

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

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

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

Writing a book, but from the backlines

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

“What!” Ben is horrified.

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

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

“Where is his village?”

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

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

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

“I thought Muslims looked like Arabs.”

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

Ten Questions for Rosie Whitehouse

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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I’m an explorer — not a traveler

This week, the Displaced Nation is drifting away from March’s initial theme of beauty/fashion tips picked up from world travels. Hardly surprising, given that all of this week’s writers are males! Today’s guest poster, James Murray, a displaced Brit in Boston, is a prime example. The only new fashion he’d like to start would be replacing the word “travel” with “explore.” Sounds pedantic, right? Well, see what you think!

— ML Awanohara

I was never really one for traveling. When all the kids went on their gap years before college, I called them on it: I knew it was a waste of money; a way to delay the inevitable intrusion of the Real World into their lives — in short, I didn’t see the point.

Receiving emails from abroad about how wonderful these experiences were and how life-affirming and eye-opening and incredible the world was, I simply smiled to myself.

How naïve they were, I thought.

Whereas I would be a year ahead; a year closer to a job; a year closer to money, and a year closer to actual freedom.

I did not see work as some black hole into which you pour all of your efforts with no hope of ever getting anything back. On the contrary, I thought it would be pretty good to have a job and a flat and friends and the cash to support a lifestyle I could be comfortable with.

Travel for travel’s sake

I still think that. In fact, I’m not entirely sure I was ever wrong on this point. Sorry to disappoint. And particular apologies to Jeff Jung, whose book on career-break travel was favorably reviewed on this site at the end of last month.

Don’t get me wrong. Yes, I’ve traveled and, yes, I love being “elsewhere,” doing things differently, as much as the next displaced nation resident. In fact I’m a bit of a neophile when it comes to food and culture…

But being enamored of the new doesn’t mean you have to travel.

Travel provides a set of obvious novelties: new tastes; new currencies; new transport; climate; a different view from the window.

But just being somewhere different doesn’t make you an explorer; in order to get that badge, you need to set foot outside your comfort zone, step away from the hotel, the package tour, the guidebook — and look with your own eyes.

Cross that one off the list!

That Facebook app that challenges you to prove you’re a world traveler by listing all the countries you’ve visited irrespective of how long you were there or where exactly you were: what does it really show? It makes a three-day hotel stay in Shanghai look as though you’ve conquered the entirety of mainland China, and it reduces that beautiful holiday in Wales — you know, the one that reminded you what it was like when shops closed on a Sunday — to a complete non-event.

The way we think of travel is all wrong: the political boundaries on the map say that I now live in the USA, but that doesn’t really say anything about where I actually live or the aspects of American culture that I’ve actually experienced.

My life would be completely different if, say, I lived in the desert or the mountains — it would even be different if I lived in New York instead of Boston.

I don’t anticipate ever being able to say that I’ve seen it all.

Explore, for heaven’s sake!

Exploring as opposed to traveling is a question of quality against quantity. I did a lot of exploring in London and Edinburgh that opened my eyes just as much as wandering around Thailand and Romania.

A few curiously exploratory examples:

  • Getting a haircut at a weird little barber’s in Shepherd’s Bush. It was an all-male barber’s, where men could “come along and say what they like in whatever language they like,” as the proprietor put it. I remember being very quiet amid a torrent of very macho conversation. Not a totally unpleasant experience, but I never went back.
  • With my flatmate, laying Russian roulette with the pastries at Vanna Patisserie, a Chinese bakery in Shepherd’s Bush. They were either sugary and delicious or curiously tough with a peculiar secret ingredient. There was no way of telling from the outside.
  • Spotting a Portobello (Edinburgh) art exhibition displayed outside people’s homes that featured, amongst other things, a fat-and-seed bird feeder in the shape of the artist’s head, hung from a tree, where it was gradually and gruesomely pecked to pieces.

These bizarre titbits are the wages of the explorer but not necessarily the traveler, who might see only those accepted “landmarks” to which his eyes are directed.

Avenues for exploration are everywhere. In fact, when I first moved to London, I was so inspired by the tube stops that I wanted to develop a guide to each one.

My idea was that I would use some algorithm to pick a different tube stop each weekend, go there and simply wander around in a roughly spiral shape from that stop, looking carefully at architectural details, stopping in parks and perhaps interviewing the proprietors of particularly interesting local businesses.

I would document these things not so much as a guide for others to visit exactly the same places, but in hopes of inspiring them to look at their own neighborhoods with new eyes.

Exploring the New World

I try to do the same kind of thing in Boston, although I confess I find it a bit harder — there’s the sheer fact that London is 1) massive and 2) very, very old that makes it rather easier to find the gems at the ends of the nooks and crannies.

But I’m not discouraged — I’ve still barely explored the North End with its windy little streets and ample opportunities for getting lost (I don’t have one of those phones that tells me where I’m going).

And just the other day we were introduced to a bar not five minutes down the road, which will make a superb local, with its walls plastered in kitschy tut. I’m sure I’ve passed it before, but, like all the best things, it’s a bit hard to spot.

In amongst these streets are histories, idiosyncrasies and mythologies — of that I have little doubt. Finding them is just a matter of retiring my traveler’s shoes and donning an explorer’s hat.

* * *

So, world travelers — sorry, I meant to say “explorers” — what do you think? Is James right in saying that all of this obsession with the quantity of travel (how many countries, etc.) is misguided? And what do you think of his assertion that Edinburgh can be as fascinating as Bangkok, if you take an explorer’s approach? Please leave your thoughts in the comments…

James Murray is a self-described “itinerant Brit.” After a stint in New Zealand, and some travel in Southeast Asia, he and his American girlfriend — now wife — are practicing “staying put” in Boston, where James is pursing a career as a wordsmith for marketing and fiction, and as a non-professional theatre director. He is also a Utopian idealist and SingStar enthusiast. You can find more about his views by reading his blog, Quaint James, and/or following him on Twitter: @quaintjames.

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s post by Andy Martin, about a unusual source of beauty in his new home town of São Paulo.

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

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img: MorgueFile

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

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

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

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

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

Wendy_Williams1) WENDY WILLIAMS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SuzanneKamata_festive2) SUZANNE KAMATA

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jeff at Turkish Embassy3) JEFF JUNG

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

15 films that depict the horrors of being abroad, or otherwise displaced

Readers, we’re getting goosebumps and our blood is curdling. Horror novelist, former expat and Third Culture Kid Sezin Koehler is here to remind us that, however glamorous the life of an expat or world traveler may seem, it has a netherworld — one that horror movie makers are fond of depicting. To proceed is at your peril.

As if moving or traveling abroad isn’t scary enough, there is a whole host of films that would put the kibosh on even the most adventurous of people. For today’s guest post for The Displaced Nation, I’m breaking down these tales of terror into three groups:

  1. The expat.
  2. The world traveler.
  3. The otherwise displaced.

What follows is a rundown of some of the best horror films that will make you never want to leave home again.

1. Expat Horror: Caveat expat, or expat beware (or in some cases, beware of the expat!).

1) Ils (Them) (2006), dir. David Moreau and Xavier Palud.
In this terrifying French film, two expat partners, a teacher and a writer, living outside Bucharest in Romania are terrorized and psychologically tortured by an unknown group for days before their murder. Based on a true story, the villains — who were apprehended in real life — turn out to be even more shocking than the events they perpetrated.

My big question: Why on earth do you choose to live out in the middle of nowhere in Romania? Tragic story indeed, but really, they should have known better. Now you do.

2) Suspiria (1977), dir. Dario Argento.
Considered one of the classic horror films and what many now consider to be the father of the arthouse horror genre, Argento’s dark and twisted tale features a ballet school in Rome full of young girls from all around the world who live and study within walls haunted by a chilling presence that picks off the girls one by one. The score by Goblin is enough to give you nightmares and make you reconsider sending your children away to school. Ever.

3) & 4) Red Dragon (2002), dir. Bret Rattner; & The Silence of the Lambs (1991), dir. Jonathan Demme.
In Red Dragon Dr. Hannibal Lector is just a British expat living and practicing psychiatry in the United States. In fact, he’s helping the police with a brutal series of murders in which specific body parts had been taken as trophies. Detective Will Graham eventually discovers that not only is psychiatrist-to-the-stars Dr. Lector responsible for these grisly killings, he’s also eating the missing pieces.

The next time we meet Hannibal the Cannibal is in The Silence of the Lambs, where he is safely tucked away in a maximum security prison until the FBI needs his profiling assistance in uncovering the identity of a man who is kidnapping and skinning women.

Maybe Dr. Lector is a reason why locals are so wary of expats around the world?

5) The Omen (1976), dir. Richard Donner.
It’s hard enough being the wife of the American ambassador to the UK, but when Lee Remick discovers that there is something very wrong, very evil with her son, Damien, matters only get worse.

In many ways this is the kind of expat horror to which we can most relate: being in a foreign country, going through a difficult time, and not having the kind of support one might have at home. Even though the Thorns are wealthy and have a full staff at their beck and call, Mrs. Thorn cannot confide in them her misgivings that her son is the Antichrist — nor can she with anyone else since she’s the ambassador’s wife. In the end she goes mad from fear and frustration.

As expats, we’ve all been there. Luckily, though, we didn’t have the incarnation of Satan as our son. At least I hope not.

6) Freaks (1932), dir. Tod Browning.
This magnificent film follows a group of sideshow circus performers in Dust Bowl America — the majority of whom are European expats from all over the continent. As foreigners as well as displaying physical deformities of all kinds, this group is the marginalized of the most marginalized in America not just at that time, but even today.

The gorgeous German and “normal” trapeze artist Cleopatra finds out that Hans, the midget, is fabulously wealthy and sets out to steal him away from his same-sized girlfriend Frieda — with disastrous consequences as the group of freaks tries to bring the wicked Cleopatra into their embrace. Cleo finds out well and good that one does not mess with members of the sideshow.

The message here? Respect your local customs, even if you think them freakish. It could be what stands between your body as it is or being turned into a human-chicken hybrid.

2. Traveler Horror: “Let your suitcases gather dust!”, cry these films.

1) Hostel (2005), dir. Eli Roth.
A group of backpackers passing through the Slovakian capital city, Bratislava — it has no semblance to the real place whatsoever — gets kidnapped by an organization that sells young people to the highest bidders so that they can be tortured and murdered in the Slovakian outback with impunity. While the film is rife with cultural and geographical blunders, it nonetheless preys on a legitimate fear of kidnapping and/or human trafficking while traveling, especially for young women as we see in the two follow-up films in this gory franchise.

Kids, don’t fall for the local pretty girl/handsome boy who picks you up in a bar. You have no idea whom they could be working for.

2) American Werewolf in London (1981), dir. John Landis.
Two American backpackers (uh-oh) in the Scottish highlands stray from the road and are attacked by a wild beast. One dies, the other is in a coma for three days with horrible gashes across his chest. When the doctor informs him he was attacked by a madman he’s confused, claiming it was a wolf that had killed his friend and wounded him. Come full moon, young David Kessler finds out it was neither man nor wolf, and he’s becoming one.

There’s nothing like a story about a horrific accident taking place while traveling, especially when said accident turns you into a monster. Always remember, STAY AWAY FROM THE MOORS/MUIRS!

3) The Descent (2005), dir. Neil Marshall.
After the tragic death of Sarah’s husband and daughter in a wicked car accident, her fellow British extreme-sporting friends decide to take a trip across the pond to Appalachia for a spelunking expedition. Why anyone would think that crawling around in caves would be a good idea I haven’t a clue — let alone choose to take an already-traumatized woman into that scenario. But hey, they do. And not only do they find themselves in an unmapped cave system that has no way back to the surface, there are others down there in the dark who’d like to ensure the girls never leave.

Dear People Traveling to America: For Pete’s sake, avoid the US’s back country! Monsters are above and below.

4) Wolf Creek (2005), dir. Greg Mclean.
Two British tourists in Australia pair up with a local to check out a supposed alien-landing site in the middle of nowhere. All is fine until their car battery dies. Stranded in the badlands of Oz, grateful are they when a mechanic rolls up and tows them to his place to fix their vehicle. But oh, he’s not a mechanic at all. He’s a serial murderer who waits for tourists to come out to the Wolf Creek Crater, and takes his good time torturing them before their slow death.

The film is based on a true story — one of the British girls actually survived and made it to the authorities. It turned out the man had killed hundreds of people over decades, and nobody even suspected a thing. Shiver

5) Primeval (2007), dir. Michael Katleman.
During the Rwanda-Burundi conflict, bodies were dumped into the Ruzizi River at such alarming rates that the crocs began eating human flesh. One of these crocs, nicknamed Gustave by the locals, gets a taste for human flesh and begins hunting humans inland. An American team of journalists are sent to capture and bring back the beast amidst an ongoing civil conflict between warlords and villagers.

The best thing about this movie is that there really is a 70-year-old, 22-feet-long croc named Gustave who swims the Ruzizi. He was last sighted in 2008, but I know he’s still out there. I can feel him.

3. Displaced Horror: “Think twice about moving or taking a sojourn outside the ‘hood” is the moral here.

1) The Amityville Horror (1979), dir. Stuart Rosenberg.
As if moving doesn’t suck enough, can you imagine moving into a house that not only was the site of a brutal family murder but is also haunted? I don’t even know how many whammies that makes the scene. Also based on the true story of the Lutz family, who were terrorized by their house to the point where they fled without any of their belongings and never went back to collect them.

Word to the wise: Always check about the house’s history before you move in, and always remember to burn sage throughout, even in cabinets and drawers, before you move anything in anything at all. Trust me on this one.

2) Se7en (1995), dir. David Fincher.
Heralding a promotion to detective, Brad Pitt gets transferred to an anonymous city with a reputation of being among the worst in America. *Cough* Detroit *Cough*. His wife is miserable as she wants to have a family, but cannot imagine raising children in that town. The first case he lands is a serial killer murdering people based on the Seven Deadly Sins — one that quickly sucks both him and his wife into a horrific spiral of torture and murder.

Women, don’t let your husband drag you to a horrible city. Just don’t. Your life very well may depend on it.

3) The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003), dir. Marcus Nispel.
A group of friends on a road trip through Texas and — oh crap! — their car breaks down. It’s just their luck that the person who finds them is the patriarch of the psychotic and inbred Hewett family, known for killing and cooking their victims. There are no happy endings here, people.

If you’re going on a road trip, stick to the main roads, for God’s sake! I mean, jeez, everybody knows that. And while you’re at it, stay the bloody hell out of Texas!

4) El laberinto del fauno (Pan’s Labyrinth) (2006), dir. Guillermo del Toro.
Set in 1944 fascist Spain, the film tells the story of Ofelia, a young girl who accompanies her mother to live with her new stepfather, a barbarous Spanish general. Amidst the horror, Ofelia discovers a fairy world underneath the very grounds of their home, a place to which she escapes when the torture around her becomes too much to bear. But even fairy worlds have their horrors, as she soon finds out.

Moms, jeez, don’t marry jerks and then don’t agree to live in their military camp. Seems like logic to me, but I guess it needs to be said.

* * *

So, are you ready to burn your passport and throw away all your travel gear yet? 😉

And do you have any other films you’d add to my best-of abroad horror list?

Sezin Koehler, author of American Monsters, is a woman either on the verge of a breakdown or breakthrough writing from Lighthouse Point, Florida. Culture shock aside, she’s working on four follow-up novels to her first, progress of which you can follow on her Pinterest boards. Her other online haunts are Zuzu’s Petals, Twitter, and Facebook — all of which feature eclectic bon mots, rants and raves.

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s post, which has Kate Allison continuing our horror theme.

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Images: From MorgueFile: Cinema; Hat and suitcase;  Bridge from biplane.

Photo of Sezin, from her newest FB page, ZUZUHULK, used with her permission.

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