expat

Trailing: A Memoir

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There has been much discussion lately about the term “trailing spouse” and whether it is appropriate or even polite. It projects a sense of “other” rather than something that makes up a whole. I usually conger up a vision of a dog’s tail. Other terms being used are “accompanying partner”, “expat wife”, “support partner”. Expat Lingo says she had been called a ‘stakeholder at home’. I have used the term ‘world juggler’ before.

But in the end, whatever you call it, the trailing spouse is usually the support system, the glue that holds it all together. Sometimes the glue falls apart and life can be rough.

In Trailing: A Memoir by Kristin Louise Duncombe, things fall apart.  Kristin grew up all over the world so when she met her Argentine husband, the thought of moving overseas didn’t seem so strange. Although she did have her reservations about putting her career on hold, she didn’t have a passion about what she did and had not clearly defined what she wanted to do. Her husband, a doctor with Doctors Without Borders was passionate about what he did and had no questions about what he was going to do. She was in love. She married him and went to Kenya.

Being a TCK (Third Culture Kid) myself, I also thought following my husband overseas would be no problem. Even though you have lived in many places around the world, the child TCK and the Adult TCK have different experiences and challenges. I had no support system behind me as we just up and moved. Kristin had a small “family” of doctors but it did not help much since most of them were single and always on the road. Her husband was gone much of the time.

On the other hand, I think she showed remarkable resilience. She found herself some work at a Nairobi hospital helping teens and eventually found a position with USAID at the US Embassy. Unfortunately the Embassy was bombed and she lost her job but by that time her husband had taken a position in Uganda. After having a baby, she finds a job in a small village outside Kampala. She never sees her husband and the marriage starts to unravel.

I found myself identifying with this book on several levels. I had a difficult adjustment when I moved to Russia. My husband was a freelancer. There were no benefits or perks. As soon as I landed I was expected to find a job and help with financial support. If found jobs mainly doing clerical administrative work but I also fell into a writing position for the American Women’s Club and was able to improve my writing skills and help other expat women at the same time. I edited and produced a newsletter that helped to build a community.

Everybody has a different experience when they live overseas. I knew couples who were both professionals in their own right. I knew women who moved around the globe on their own and met their husband along the way. One woman was a very successful diplomat and her husband did his own thing in another country but was able to work remotely. Some people take the time to write books. There is always something to do. I found my way and started writing and wrote a memoir.

The current challenge for international organizations is to find the balance and provide options for accompanying partners. With today’s technology, there are much more possibilities available.

Kristin’s happy ending was her husband accepted a position in Paris and she managed to set up a successful counseling practice working with expat families who are trying to cope with life overseas. After having gone through the worst of it, she now had all the tools necessary to help others in similar situations.Trailing: A Memoir is well written and engaging. It makes me want to know more about her. It is available on Amazon.com.

 

 

Books from Asia, Moscow and Turkey

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I’m always interested in expat stories, expat memoirs, and third culture kid stories. I usually pick them up, get a few chapters in and set them aside. I don’t know what it is about them but they just don’t grab me. Maybe it’s the writing, maybe it’s the focus. Although I usually finish them at some point even if I just scan through them. Here are a few I read recently and liked.

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The Sullivan Saga, Memoires of an Overseas Childhood by M.H. Sullivan, was an interesting story about a girl growing up in a Foreign Service family in Asia and Africa. In the TCK stories I can usually find some personal connection that keeps me going. The thing that grabbed me about this book was she started out talking about returning to the US for college and wondering if she was “American” enough. Her family was very different from mine but there were some similarities in the experiences she had. I could totally identify with the story about her father having to go into the bushes and take his pants off because he was being attached by army ants in Africa.

 

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Lenin Lives Next Door, Marriage, Martinis, and Mayhem in Moscow by Jennifer Eremeeva is about a woman married to a Russian and her experiences living in Moscow for twenty years. She fell in love with Russia at 13 when she read “Nicholas and Alexandra” by Robert Massie. She studied Russian history and language and eventually ended up in Moscow running tours and hosting trade show delegations. A fellow tour guide introduced her to her future husband and she has been there ever since. Her book is all about the characters she meets along the way and the challenges of living in Moscow. It is very funny and some things are hard to believe since truth really is stranger than fiction. I could identify with a lot of what she talks about having lived in Moscow for nine years myself. And funnily enough I actually knew Jennifer when I lived there. I recommend it – it’s fun and fast paced.

 

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Yesterday I picked up Perking the Pansies by Jack Scott. Yes, you can read it in a day. It is fast paced and light reading. Two married gay men from Britain decide to chuck everything, quit their jobs, sell their property and all their belongings and move to Turkey. Most people thought they were nuts. It is something many people dream of doing but would never actually do. They did it. The book covers their first year in Turkey. They were not completely prepared for what they were getting into and it seems they should have done some more research on the weather but they manage to keep a positive attitude and stick with it. After making some adjustments, and meeting some unpleasant expats, they eventually find their way and their own group of friends. It is a fun read.

 

Expat Gertrude Stein

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I discovered Gertrude Stein my senior year in high school when I was taking an Art History class. I was told to write a paper on something to do with art and I couldn’t think of anything so my teacher gave me a book called “Matisse, Picasso and Gertrude Stein with Two Shorter Stories” by Gertrude Stein. I think I wrote my paper on Picasso but what grabbed my interest was Gertrude. I was hooked. I had never read anything like it. I asked my teacher why they didn’t tell us about her in English class. I was informed not everybody appreciated Gertrude.

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Pablo Picasso, Portrait of Gertrude Stein, 1906, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. When someone commented that Stein didn’t look like her portrait, Picasso replied, “She will.” Stein wrote “If I Told Him: A Completed Portrait of Picasso” in response to the painting.

Gertrude was born 140 years ago on February 3, in Allegheny, Pennsylvania. Her father and her uncle owned a textile business with stores in Pittsburgh and Baltimore, Maryland. The brothers did not get along so in 1875 her father took the family to live in Vienna, Austria. Thus began Gertrude’s travels. Three years later they moved to Paris and lived there for five years. They spent 1879 with relatives in Baltimore where Gertrude learned English after speaking first German and then French.

The family moved to Oakland, California in 1880. Gertrude’s mother, Amelia died eight years later of cancer. Gertrude was 14. Two years later her father died and she returned to Baltimore to live with an aunt. She went on to study philosophy and English at Radcliff College and ended up back in Baltimore studying medicine at Johns Hopkins. She spent her summers traveling around Europe with her brother, Leo. By 1903, she was failing her classes and her scandalous lesbian love affair ended badly. She moved to Paris and did not return to America for 30 years.

Gertrude and Leo collected art and became friends with many artists of the day. Leo started to paint and Gertrude wrote. They held Saturday night salons in their home to meet and promote artists and writers. In 1906 Picasso painted her portrait and gave it to her. Her portrait of Picasso was published about twenty years later.

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She wrote The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas in 1933. This was her first “mainstream” piece and it was a bestseller. She was fifty-nine years old. Enjoying her new-found fame, she embarked on a lecture series across America, her first time back since moving to France.

“When I was in America for the first time travelled pretty much all the time in an airplane and when I looked at the earth I saw all the lines of cubism made at a time when not any painter had ever gone up in an airplane. I saw there on the earth the mingling lines of Picasso, coming and going, developing and destroying themselves. I saw the simple solution of Braque, I saw the wandering lines of Masson, yes I saw and once more I knew that a creator is contemporary, he understands what is contemporary when the contemporaries do not yet know it…” –Picasso

I admit it can be difficult to read some of her work. She writes long sentences without any punctuation and repeats herself endlessly. In Lectures in America she writes:

I began to get enormously interested in hearing how everybody said the same thing over and over again with infinite variations but over and over again until finally if you listened with great intensity you could hear it rise and fall and tell all that there was inside them, not so much by the actual words they said or the thoughts they had but the movement of their thoughts and words endlessly the same and endlessly different.  – Lectures in America

She returned to France and moved to the country during World War II living a low profile simple life. In 1946 she was diagnosed with colon cancer and died on the operating table. She left her writings to Yale University, her Picasso portrait to the New York Metropolitan Museum, and everything else to her lifelong companion, Alice B Toklas. She was buried at Pere Lachaise cemetery in Paris with a tombstone designed by Francis Rose. Her birthplace was misspelled “Allfghany” and her date of death was two days off.

I think her writings are wonderful pieces of art and I enjoy reading them albeit in short bursts. She had a wonderful sense of humor, said what she thought and lived life to the fullest.

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In an essay for Life Magazine in 1945 she wrote:

When General Osborne came to see me just after the victory, he asked me what I thought should be done to educate the Germans. I said there is only one thing to be done and that is to teach them disobedience, as long as they are obedient so long sooner or later they will be ordered about by a bad man and there will be trouble. Teach them disobedience, I said, make every German child know that it is its duty at least once a day to do its good deed and not believe something its father or its teacher tells them, confuse their minds, get their minds confused and perhaps then they will be disobedient and the world will be at peace. The obedient peoples go to war, disobedient people like peace, that is the reason that Italy did not really become a good Axis, the people were not obedient enough, …

General Osborn shook his head sadly, you’ll never make the heads of an army understand that.

– Off We All Went to See Germany

You can listen to Gertrude Stein reading from her work online.

 

- Original post at: Baltimore Post Examiner

52 Food Fridays

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My new book is finally out in paperback and Kindle.

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 I dedicated this book to my mother.

Here she is in up country Burma in the 1950′s.

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ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

My mother taught me to be adventurous in the kitchen. I grew up overseas, often in countries where supplies were limited and inconsistent. My mother is the queen of improvisation. She can find a substitute for anything. I took this viewpoint when I went to live overseas myself. I improvised and I invented. Cooking should be an adventure.

She raised three children in Burma, USA, Mexico, Colombia, Nigeria, and the Netherlands.

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Consumer Overload

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I am reposting this from the Eclectic Global Nomad blog:

I was walking around a supermarket the other day with a friend of mine who commented on how many different kinds of the same thing were for sale. Why do there need to be so many? How do you choose?

I have been suffering from consumer overload for a long time so I knew exactly what he meant. When I lived in Europe, there were no such things as supermarkets.  At least not like the ones in the USA. There were small grocery markets, open markets, and specialty stores. If you wanted bread, you went to the bakery. Cheese was at the cheese store. Meat was at the butcher. You had choices. French, wheat, rye bread. Gouda, cheddar, mozzarella. Steak, rib, chop. But you did not have to decide between Pepperidge Farm, Arnold, Nature’s Own, Sara Lee, Wonder….. This didn’t only apply to food. Buying a headache remedy could be a real challenge.

- See more at: http://baltimorepostexaminer.com/consumer-overload/2013/08/27#sthash.tFZHoUYM.dpuf

FREE BOOK: EXPAT ALIEN

 Free Book:  August 20-24

 

 

It has been about a year since I published my book, Expat Alien.  I have been blogging for about a year and a half. I have met a lot of interesting people and enjoyed myself immensely.  Over the past couple of months I have been working with a professional editor to clean up the details in my book… typos, inconsistencies.  I have updated the ending and made some minor changes.  The book is the same, only better.  To celebrate, the Kindle version is going to be offered for FREE from August 20-24. Get them while they are hot!!

 

 

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My next project is going to be Fifty-Two Food Fridays.  I hope to have it out by early December.  Stay tuned.

The Question of “Home”

Re-posting this, just because….

The eternal TCK** question –   Where is “home”?

Dictionary.com tells us the following

home [hohm]

noun

1. a house, apartment, or other shelter that is the usual residence of a person, family, or household.

2. the place in which one’s domestic affections are centered.

3. an institution for the homeless, sick, etc.: a nursing home.

4. the dwelling place or retreat of an animal.

5. the place or region where something is native or most common.

Synonyms

1.  abode, dwelling, habitation; domicile. See house.

2.  hearth, fireside.

3.  asylum.

For Third Culture Kids or Global Nomads, it is an ongoing topic.  The eternal question – where are you from?  Where is your home?  These are not easy questions to answer.  Home is here and everywhere.  I am from here and everywhere.

That very last word is my favorite.  Asylum.  The place where you feel safe.  That is where home is.  That is where home should be.  What makes you feel safe?  People you trust.  People who love you.  Mutual understanding and respect.  Comfort.  Growing up, my home was always where my family was, unless I was with them, and then it was wherever we were.  It didn’t matter if it was a hotel room or a house or an airport.  As long as we were together and had a pack of cards nearby, we were at home.  A good card game could get us through anything.  Some of my fondest memories are of blackouts during torrential rainstorms playing cards by candlelight.

We all continue to search for the elusive “home” but I think we know where to find it when we really need it.

“The strength of this family bond works to the benefit of children when parent-child communication is good and the overall family dynamic is healthy. It can be devastating when it is not. Compared to the geographically stable child, the global-nomad child is inordinately reliant on the nuclear family for affirmation, behavior-modeling, support and above all, a place of safety. The impact, therefore, of dysfunction in this most basic of units in exacerbated by the mobile lifestyle.”

Excerpt from GROWING UP WITH A WORLD VIEW By Norma M. McCaig

**TCK’s are people who lived outside their passport country as a child

Expat Book Review

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Here We Are and There We Go  by Jill Dobbe

Jill and her husband were school teachers in Wisconsin USA when one day they moved half way around the world and their lives changed drastically.

Like Jill’s children, I was born into the nomadic life of the serial expat.  I lived in West Africa, Mexico, Asia, South America, and Europe, so I can identify with many of her experiences.  I grew up speaking different languages, like her children did, and I continue to have the travel bug today.  Like her children do.

What truly amazed me about this book was that they just jumped headlong into it with no safety net and blinders off.  They made the decision to move to Guam almost on a whim.  They didn’t even know where Guam was.  That was either very gutsy or completely crazy.  And what was even more interesting was that they stuck it out, learned, and grew through it all.

It didn’t sound like Guam was the dream South Pacific location we all imagined.  It actually sounded pretty challenging.  But they worked through it and learned a lot.  That made their next posting to Singapore a bit easier.   Of course Singapore was probably not a hardship posting. But they were still half way around the world from family and friends in a place with a different culture.  They seemed to breeze through that one.

By the time the got to Ghana they were seasoned travelers.  Although, having lived in Nigeria myself, I know that Ghana was probably not paradise either.  But as they came to understand, there are wonderful things all over the world.  You just have to be open to them.  Jill and her family discovered the joy, frustration, sorrow, and unending surprises one finds when traveling.

I might be reading something into this but it seemed to me they decided to return to the USA for the sake of the children.  Their children spent their high school years (or most of them) in the USA learning to be US citizens.  This probably made it a much easier transition for them in the long run.  It might have given them a clear identity at a young age.  However, from my experience, it doesn’t work.  My son returned to the USA when he was six and now that he is about to enter college all he dreams about is going overseas.  And it seems their children were the same.  They were happy to continue traveling.

Returning to the USA was a difficult transition for all of them.  Jill says she realized people were not interested in her stories and could not relate.  I know exactly what she means.  It is so far from what people know, it is difficult to imagine and therefore not interesting.  Re-entry is a challenge for all expats but travelers know how to adjust and tweak and adapt.  Jill and her family were no exception.  They had a good few years back home with friends and family but the itch was still there.

At the end of the book they leave the USA again for distant lands and new experiences.  I think Jill has more to tell.  Perhaps she will write part two some day!

Check it out, it is worth the read!!