I am featured on “My Gutsy Story” this week. Check it out!
I am featured on “My Gutsy Story” this week. Check it out!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
I dedicated this book to my mother.
Here she is in up country Burma in the 1950′s.
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.
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.
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!!
My next project is going to be Fifty-Two Food Fridays. I hope to have it out by early December. Stay tuned.
The eternal TCK** question – Where is “home”?
Dictionary.com tells us the following
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.
1. abode, dwelling, habitation; domicile. See house.
2. hearth, fireside.
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
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!!
I am re-posting this from my other blog – Eclectic Global Nomad.
My parents were married at 2:00 in the afternoon. My father was on medical leave from the US Navy after having his appendix out. The year was 1943.
My mother remembers driving with her father to the church. They lived in a small town in Iowa. As they drove through downtown my mother noticed the bank clock said 1:55. When she and her new husband drove back the same route to her house for a small reception, she again noticed the clock. It now said 2:15. The minister had married them under the wrong name. Nobody mentioned it.
My father’s father ran the family farm so he had petrol coupons. He filled the car with gas and gave them coupons so they could go to Kansas City for a two day honeymoon before my father returned to his post at Lakehurst, New Jersey. He was training to fly blimps. My mother was teaching school and had to finish out the year before joining him.
They were separated again when my father went to fly blimps off the coast of Brazil searching for German submarines. He remembers Christmas Day, 1944. He and his buddies drove through the Brazilian countryside on their way to find a beach to play volleyball. It was the first time he had ever seen that kind of poverty. He noticed the crops in the fields and decided that very day he could help people by teaching agriculture.
He had planned to be a vocational agriculture instructor when he returned to civilian life but this gave it a whole new dimension. He wanted to work overseas. His mother had always told him he could do what ever he wanted if he set his mind to it.