This week has been kind of up and down. The war in Europe is messing everything up. I know a guy who is actually Russian. He is related through marriage. I met him when we were living in Moscow and he was like 14 years old. His mother had just died. He had no father. His grandmother or a great aunt or somebody was looking after him. He was very sweet and eager to learn new things. I spent many days helping him with his English and with his Spanish and feeding him. He was probably one of about 5 people I missed when I left Russia.
I got an email from him the other day. He is now a father of 3, with one who is 16 years old. He is very scared they will haul him away to war. They are all scared they will be pressed into service. He has good friends in Ukraine. He was checking to make sure they were safe and chatting with them often. What a shit show. On top of that his wife is a journalist and scared she will write the wrong thing. They are all trying to get out. One word I learned in Russian that stays with me is Kashmar — Nightmare.
Conde Nast Traveler published the “Best Travel Books of All Time, According to Authors”. They list 89 books that were nominated by travel writers. The list is varied and interesting. I’ve only read about ten of them. One is about Isabelle Eberhardt who moved from Geneva to Algeria, converted to Islam, lived life as a man, and died at age 27. Now that has to be pretty interesting. I was glad to see a Redmond O’Hanlon book on the list. One of the funniest books I have read was his Into the Heart of Borneo.
Ah, yes, hurricanes. That Ian was something else. Hurricanes and earthquakes. And floods. They happen every year but people just build back, go back, stay. I guess many don’t have a choice.
I watched the movie Elvis last night. It was kind of a weird move. What a sad story. To be honest, I didn’t really like it that much. But I learned a couple of things about the guy that I didn’t know. I really ended up feeling sorry for him. Two songs I discovered are very relevant today. This one was written in 1968: If I can Dream. It was actually the highlight of the film. You can watch it on Youtube.
And this one was recorded by Elvis in 1969, but written by Mac Davis. Many many people have covered it since.
“In The Ghetto”
As the snow flies On a cold and gray Chicago mornin’ A poor little baby child is born In the ghetto
And his mama cries ‘Cause if there’s one thing that she don’t need It’s another hungry mouth to feed In the ghetto
People, don’t you understand The child needs a helping hand Or he’ll grow to be an angry young man some day Take a look at you and me, Are we too blind to see? Do we simply turn our heads and look the other way?
Well, the world turns And a hungry little boy with a runny nose Plays in the street as the cold wind blows In the ghetto
And his hunger burns So he starts to roam the streets at night And he learns how to steal, and he learns how to fight In the ghetto
Then one night in desperation The young man breaks away He buys a gun, Steals a car, Tries to run, But he don’t get far And his mama cries
As a crowd gathers ’round an angry young man Face down on the street with a gun in his hand In the ghetto
And as her young man dies, On a cold and gray Chicago mornin’, Another little baby child is born In the ghetto
Somebody recently told me I am a terrible writer and I will never be good at it. So then I had a mini existential crisis. I couldn’t write anything. I thought maybe I should just stop. Why do I do it?
I never considered myself a literary genius and would never deem to compare myself to great writers. But what makes a great writer? In English class we learn that prose full of beautiful words and images is great writing. I spent years studying English and Spanish literature analyzing books and poems. What was the author saying? What did it all really mean? What did the images represent? The writing was beautiful and sometimes the stories were interesting. But I have to admit I did and still do skip over a lot of the wordy prose to get to the content.
When I was in the fourth grade I started reading biographies of famous musicians. I read about Mozart, Beethoven, Bach, Hayden. I was intrigued by their lives, where they came from, how they became who they were. My fourth grade English teacher didn’t like it. She though I should be reading Little Women. She told me I could not check out any more books until I had finished reading Little Women. Of course I read it but it was boring. Who cared about a bunch of women looking for a husband? I was nine years old.
As I got older I grew to appreciate the classics and at one point I was a voracious reader of anything and everything. When I lived in Africa if there was a book lying around, I would read it. Didn’t matter what it was. But my first love was history. Books about real people and real places.
After I had my child I stopped reading. I tried to read for a while but I kept picking up books that did not hold my interest. I read picture books, books about fantastical explorers, Harry Potter but not much else.
The truth is a lot of writing is not very good. A lot of books aren’t worth reading. They are boring or don’t make sense. I used to think I had to finish a book I started. I don’t anymore. If it doesn’t hold my interest I don’t bother.
Don’t get me wrong, I have been wowed by great prose and beautiful images. One of the reasons I like Gertrude Stein so much is the way she plays around with words. I can’t sit down and read a whole book by her but it is fun to pick one up from time to time and read a paragraph or a chapter.
Writing, like any art, is subjective. People like different genres and styles. I used to be a painter and some people liked my art and some hated it. I never cared because I always did art for myself. I never aspired to fame or fortune in that area. I went from painting to drawing to needlework. I make art because I love the creative process.
The same has been for my writing. I started out writing poetry in the seventh grade. I wrote dark poems about death and the meaning of life and the futility of it all. The tumultuous teens. It was a release that helped me muddle through. Journaling also helped me maintain my sanity and keep things in perspective. I did it for myself.
Writing my book was a difficult emotional process for me. It brought out joy, fear, disappointment, grief, and love. It was never about great writing. I hoped to convey a message and tell a story and inform.
And that is why I do it. And I will continue to do it.
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 am currently reading, Overseas American: Growing Up Gringo in the Tropics byGene H. Bell-Villada. It is a very personal account of a difficult childhood. Throughout the book he quotes from other books about TCK’s and Global Nomads.
“The Absentee American belongs to no culture, or perhaps to all cultures… To the Absentee American, all countries, including the United States, are ‘foreign.’ By the same token any country can be ‘home.’ “– Carolyn D Smith, the Absentee American
“Reentry is a significant event for the Absentee American; the experience may be vividly recollected decades later. Respondents described reentry as difficult, painful, turbulent, or traumatic… The experience is often referred to as a shock.. . In professional literature on the subject, this transition is generally referred to as euphoria, irritability, hostility, gradual adjustment, and adaptation.” — Carolyn D Smith, the Absentee American
When I first saw these quotes, I went looking among my books for the Absentee American, Hidden Immigrants, Letters Never Sent, and Strangers at Home. All books I knew I had read and was sure I had. Then I remembered. No I didn’t.
While I was living in Russia, I discovered there was a label for people like me – Third Culture Kid, or Global Nomad – and I wanted to read everything I could get my hands on about it. I accumulated a small library and I poured over them and re-read them. It was my great moment of self discovery.
My apartment in Moscow had a long hallway with floor to ceiling bookcases along one side. They were full of books, music CD’s, videos, and a few knick knacks. My special TCK books were prominently displays on those bookcases.
After almost nine years living as an expat in Moscow, we unexpectedly had to leave quickly. My husband, son, and I landed back in the USA with six suit cases. Everything else, all the things we had accumulated over nine years of life remained in Moscow. At the time those things were the least of my problems. I had never grown particularly attached to “things” and didn’t think much of it. It is only now, ten years later, that I find myself thinking, “what ever happened to…?” or ” I sure wish I had….”. Most everything was replaceable, of course, but some of these books in particular are now out of print, expensive and hard to find. It would be nice to have them to refer to as I work on my book, but not necessary.
I stole these pictures and summaries from Amazon. I know, shame on me.
I am currently searching for memoirs on Third Culture Kids/ Global Nomads/ Cross Culture Kids/ or whatever label you prefer. I have found that there are quite a few Missionary Kids with books. I find them compelling but I can’t always identify with them.
When I first discovered who I was and had my ‘aha’ moment (see About), I tried to find anything I could to read on the subject of Third Culture Kids. At that time it was very limited. This was in the mid-90’s and I was living in Moscow. I didn’t have a library or a local English bookstore. I trolled the internet and I found these two books:
Hidden Immigrants: Legacies of Growing Up Abroad
Entering the foreign service in 1965 as a relatively new bride, the author accompanied her husband, Charles, on a 26 year odyssey that took her to Morocco, Tunisia, Ivory Coast, Norway, New Zealand, Zimbabwe, and Zambia. Both Bell daughters were born in Africa and brought up in different parts of the world. This book is a story of their growing up in foreign lands.
Letters Never Sent, a global nomad’s journey from hurt to healing
Ruth Ellen van Reken
Born and raised in Nigeria as the daughter of American missionaries, at age 39 Ruth needed to understand why, despite a life filled with rich experiences, a meaningful spiritual component, and family and friends who loved her, she often battled a secret depression. Through the journaling that became this book, she discovered that the very goodness of her life kept her from dealing with some of the challenges that also come with a global lifestyle – the realities of chronic cycles of separation and loss, reentry, and questions of identity. How could there be any struggles when she loved her childhood world so much? As a way of examining this ‘other side’ of her story, Ruth’s began to write many letters home such as the girl known as Miss Question Box might have written. This book contains her story from ages six to thirty-nine. Today, in her mid-sixties, renowned internationally for her compassion, knowledge and insight into what it means to be a child growing up among worlds, van Reken, looks back over her life and adds a fascinating and reflective epilogue to a memoir that has already sold 32,000 copies and has helped and inspired its readers.
Letters Never Sent has just been re-released and I am told has additional information and photos. They were both good books and I was happy to have found them. It was the beginning of my education.
Several years later I met Ruth Van Reken at a Global Nomad conference and she signed my Third Culture Kids book written by her and David C Pollock. Now that was a real eye opener! It is kind of like the bible of TCK’s.
Now that I am working on my own memoir, I am searching for books to read. Research! So here is a list of books I have read, am reading, and want to read.
Do you know of any good memoirs? I would love to know about them!!
BOOKS I HAVE READ
For The Souls and Soils of India
Helen C Maybury
Helen Maybury (ne Conser) was born in India in 1924 and attended two international schools in India, Kodaikanal and Woodstock, before coming to the United States for university studies in 1942. She has produced a heartwarming profile of her mother and father, two courageous individuals who were confirmed in their resolve to serve God and His people. In all, Helen’s parents spent 37 years in India, as well as 9 years in home missions in the United States after their retirement. Alongside the personal history, the letters tell the story of India during a time of tremendous upheaval and historical significance, as the country fought its way to independence. There are letters that tell of meetings with great leaders such as Jawaharlal Nehru, Mahatma Gandhi, and Vinoba Bhave, the author of the land-gift or “sarvodaya” movement. A non-violent revolutionary in the tradition of Gandhi, he collected millions of acres of land to distribute to the landless. Helen’s parents were an American couple who clearly cared deeply for equality, human dignity and social justice.
In the small world department… This woman lives in my apartment complex and I found out about this book though our monthly newsletter. When I told my parents about the book, they told me they know somebody in their apartment complex who went to school with Helen! –expat alien
Fly Away Home
‘Clean freak’ Maggie tries so hard to keep her life in order but is foiled at every turn. The descendent of second generation Norwegian immigrants to America, she grows up in New Jersey, spending her summer vacations on an idyllic island in Norway. Later, in the wake of an abusive marriage, she and her three young children leave America and return to the Nordic Island of her ancestors, where she rekindles a relationship with her childhood sweetheart. Pulled between two worlds, her life continues as she seeks meaning, identity and happiness. With her true love by her side and three more children to care for, Maggie discovers her traveling days are far from over. Life’s unexpected twists see her return to America before being catapulted to the Netherlands. At last she can begin to make sense of her experiences until, that is, she is on the move again. In the process she learns that life comes full circle, from the hopes and dreams of her forebears to the place where she can finally find peace and come to terms with her past. Follow this Jersey girl as she flies back and forth across the Atlantic Ocean looking for love and a place to call home.
From marauding monkeys to strange men in her bedroom, from Africa to Australasia to America, with stops in Melanesia, the Caribbean and Europe along the way, Apple Gidley vividly sketches her itinerant global life. The challenges of expatriation, whether finding a home, a job, or a school are faced mostly with equanimity. Touched with humour and pathos, places come alive with stories of people met and cultures learned, with a few foreign faux pas added to the mix.
This has some good insight and lessons learned –expat alien
Home Keeps Moving
Home Keeps Moving follows Heidi and her missionary family on their many moves through the eyes of a Third Culture Kid (TCK) and the unique phenomena of having four very different home countries to relate to. It tells the true story of being catapulted from continent to continent constantly: leaving friends and starting all over again, her unquenchable search for a home and sense of belonging in this world, her desire for a life-partner with the odds all but against her due to constantly relocating (even into adulthood). You will laugh and cry along with Heidi as she recounts hilarious and heart-breaking tales from her childhood as West blends with East.
That is the true beauty of Heidi s upbringing, it crossed borders and defied logic but she lacked for nothing.
This is a very short MK book that touches on some important points. It also incorporates other people’s experiences so gives more than one perspective. —expat alien
Unrooted Childhoods: Memoirs of Growing Up Global
Faith Eidse, Nina Sichel
A fusion of voices and deeply personal experiences from every corner of the globe, Unrooted Childhoods: Memoirs of Growing Up Global presents a cultural mosaic of today’s citizens of the world. Twenty stirring memoirs of childhoods spent packing, written by both world-famous and first-time authors, make the story of growing up displaced feel universal. Best-selling fiction and non-fiction authors Isabel Allende, Carlos Fuentes, Pat Conroy, Pico Iyer and Ariel Dorfman contribute powerful and deeply personal accounts of mobile childhoods and the cultural experiences they engender. The memoirs touch on the opportunities and difficulties of growing up in the ever-changing landscape of expatriate communities.
Potato In A Rice Bowl
In the memoir Potato in a Rice Bowl, Peggy Keener shares her wacky misadventures as a sincere-though misguided-Minnesota housewife struggling to create normalcy for her family while living in Japan during the 1960s. Through charming vignettes, Peggy takes a look back at her bewildering foray into the Japanese culture after her husband accepts a military assignment in a country thousands of miles away from the small prairie town of Austin, Minnesota, where she was born and raised. The mother of three boys, Peggy chronicles how she managed to settle her disoriented family and flounce headfirst into the thorny, baffling culture while her husband was miles away on military missions. As she bungles through her boys’ Japanese school, grapples with the eccentricities of her home and neighbors, and reconstructs the language to her liking, she somehow ends up as a personality on Japanese national television-all with the earnest hope of melding with her new country. In this humorous, irreverent, and even soul-searching collection of anecdotes, Peggy provides an entertaining glimpse into the enigmatic Land of the Rising Sun.
Voluntary Nomads: A Mother’s Memories of Foreign Service Family Life
Nancy Pogue LaTurner
Nancy LaTurner’s engaging memoir begins in 1974 as her young family struggles without a livelihood in rural New Mexico. When a welcome stroke of luck lands her husband Fred a job with the State Department, Nancy eagerly packs their few belongings and bundles up their 20-month-old son and 12-month-old daughter for the journey from Los Lunas, New Mexico to Washington, DC and onward to any of the 200 U.S. Embassies around the world.
Empowered by Nancy’s enthusiasm and Fred’s optimism, the naive little family embraces their first assignment in Tehran during the final days of the Shah’s regime. Dropped straight into a different culture and language in a country suffering the turmoil of revolutionary unrest, the LaTurners learn how important adaptability is to their new way of life.
Throughout Voluntary Nomads, Nancy’s recollection of raising two children in extraordinary conditions demonstrates that the triumphs and heartaches of family life go on, no matter how exotic the locations or unique the experiences. Nancy’s stories of Foreign Service family adventures in Iran, Cameroon, New Zealand, Somalia, Dominican Republic, Austria, and Bolivia, told with warmth, insight and candor, celebrate the resilience and resourcefulness of a spirited American family.
Ride the Wings of Morning
A conventional English girl arrived in South Africa, to help a friend run horseback safaris on a game reserve in the Northern Transvaal.
It was 1992. There were yellow road signs declaring “Dit is die Volkstaat”.
Sophie had heard of “biltong” but knew nothing of Afrikaans culture. She was aware of poachers, but not of the danger of sausage trees. Nor how to cook a gemsquash on the campfire without causing an explosion. She understood there were rhino on the reserve, but not that she would end up working as the safari guide. In the dark. On a stallion. Lost. With completely innocent tourists on other horses.
This upbeat true story, the sequel to her book ‘Funnily Enough’, is told through correspondence sent back and forth between Sophie Neville and her family in England.
ON MY LIST
Overseas American: Growing Up Gringo in the Tropics
by Gene H. Bell-Villada
Born in 1941 of a Hawaiian mother and a white father, Gene H. Bell-Villada, grew up an overseas American citizen. An outsider wherever he landed, he never had a ready answer to the innocuous question “Where are you from?”
By the time Bell-Villada was a teenager, he had lived in Puerto Rico, Venezuela, and Cuba. Though English was his first language, his claim on U.S. citizenship was a hollow one. All he knew of his purported “homeland” was gleaned from imported comic books and movies. He spoke Spanish fluently, but he never fully fit into the culture of the Latin American countries where he grew up.
In childhood, he attended an American Catholic school for Puerto Ricans in San Juan, longing all the while to convert from Episcopalianism so that he could better fit in. Later at a Cuban military school during the height of the Batista dictatorship, he witnessed fervent political debates among the cadets about Fidel Castro’s nascent revolution and U.S. foreign policy. His times at the American School in Caracas, Venezuela, are tinged with reminiscences of oil booms and fights between U.S. and Venezuelan teen gangs.
At Home Abroad: An American Girl in Africa
At Home Abroad is a stunning autobiography of Nancy Henderson-James’s youth in Africa. Heart-wrenching is her uprooting at age 15 when the war for independence began, from Angola, whose natural world, people, customs, languages she so loved. Nancy bravely and articulately recounts a true saga of personal loss and bereavement. But out of the crucible of conflicts between herself and her parents, the Africa she loved and the America from which she felt estranged, comes crystalline strength, confidence, humor, and self-knowledge. Her journey to wholeness, with its exquisite analysis and detail, enlightens us, so that we, too, see our own lives with new understanding and compassion and recognize better our place in the 21st century as citizens of the world.
Judy Hogan, Founding Editor of Carolina Wren Press, 1976-91.