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Claiming My Place in the World by Jennifer S. Alderson

Claiming My Place in the World by Jennifer S. Alderson

I thought I was so cool, handing over twenty-five Euros to a freshly washed junkie I’d met in a Red Light District coffeeshop, instead of one of the smellier ones lurking on the poorly-lit bridges crisscrossing the canals. As soon as he pocketed the cash, he scurried outside and charged down the street. I hurried after him, half-running to keep up. When he darted into a darkened alleyway, I froze and my guard went up. Was he robbing me, or worse? Before I could run, he’d already returned with a beat-up BMX mountain bike in one hand and a broken bike lock in the other. He passed me the handlebars and disappeared into the night.

Within minutes of my first cycling adventure on that crappy two-wheeler, I got knocked over by two huge Irish guys who’d unwittingly stepped into the bike lane. I’d only been in Amsterdam for a few days and was so fresh to the city I apologized to them.

When I later learned a true Dutchwoman would have responded with a string of expletives, I remember being furious with myself for not reacting ‘properly’.

It was the same when I lived in Darwin, Australia. Within a week, I was taking the piss out of the locals, loudly expressing my love of barbecue for lunch and dinner, and happily referring to the then Prime Minister by his derogatory nickname of ‘Johnny’. Locals often gave me funny looks; fellow expats simply nodded and asked for another charcoal-grilled sausage.

In Nepal, I scoffed at tourists using utensils instead of their right hand to eat, and laughed openly at those freaked out by the rather large insects and rodents scurrying about.

Whenever I move to a new country or city, I experience an almost primal urge to fit in. I can’t help but adopt local customs as my own, usually within days of arrival. I get edgy and irritated when people want to know what it’s like ‘back home’. I always have to bite my tongue, resisting the impulse to ask what they mean, this is home for now.

I’ve traveled through thirty countries and lived in three. For several years, I considered my backpack to be my best friend. I’ve obviously contracted a serious case of wanderlust. So why this desperate desire to assimilate?

If anything, my extensive travels have amplified this deep-seated need to belong, to feel as if I am a part of something – a stained glass class, volunteer organization, kayaking group, Frisbee team, or whatever tickled my fancy at the time. With hindsight I now realize my endeavors were a way of justifying my presence and claiming every new city as my own.

I did eventually buy a Dutch-style ‘grandma bike’ from a proper shop. After many months of searching, I found a decent place to live. I did most of my grocery shopping at the Albert Cuyp Market behind my apartment and spent my afternoons biking along the Amstel River or through the small fishing villages of Marken and Volendam. I did my best to befriend any and every Dutch person I came in regular contact with. And after a long year of intensive Dutch language classes, I was able to speak it fairly fluently. Despite the fierce competition, I was admitted into the (then Dutch language) Master’s degree program in Museum Studies at the University of Amsterdam. I was doing everything I could think of to root myself and set the foundation for my new life.

Yet even after living in Amsterdam for thirteen years – eight as a naturalized Dutch citizen complete with passport – I’m very aware that my Dutch is heavily accented, I don’t really get Amsterdammers’ cynical humor, and I don’t know most of the cultural icons of my husband’s childhood. My son will probably never live in – or really understand – the United States of America, the country I spent my formative years in, the land that shaped me.

Every time I think, now I’m one of them, a shop clerk or waitress will ask, “Where do you come from, South Africa? England? You have such a cute accent.” Or even more painful, “You’re Dutch is pretty good. My brother-in-law / co-worker / bus driver has lived here ten years longer than you and still can’t speak it.” Though it’s meant a compliment, remarks like these always deflate my ego and remind me that, no matter how perfect my accent or choice of words sounds to my ears, I’ll always be that foreigner who speaks Dutch with a funny accent.

The worst question by far, the one that really cuts deep and used to ruin my day, is: “When are you going back?” Back to where, I want to ask, but never do. Realistically, in a city full of expats working temporary contracts at a plethora of international corporations and foreign consulates, it is not a strange question to ask.

Yet when I do go back to the States to visit family, all I do is moan about having to drive everywhere, the fatty, salty foods on offer and the absurd selection of products available at any store you step into. Seriously people, does the world really need ten variations of chocolate chip mint ice cream?

I have to ask for directions wherever I go because my favorite cafes and shops closed or moved years ago, leaving me without any reference points. My open disapproval of typical American behavior and attitudes leaves my husband wondering why I lived in the good ‘ole US of A for so long. At the end of every trip, I leave feeling as if I’m the ultimate stranger in a strange land, yet this was once my home.

For a long time these questions about my accent and plans for returning to the States really bothered me. Then all at once, the aggravation disappeared. Or I should say, one day I finally accepted that this is how it was going to be for the rest of my life. My newfound homeland will never really accept me as a local, even though I see myself as one.

This realization has allowed me to connect with other expats, people I avoided like the plague when I first moved here. I no longer feel the need to ‘prove’ myself by only befriending those born here.

Because I am an outsider, I recognize and appreciate many of the wonderful facets Dutch society has to offer and value them perhaps more than locals do, those who have grown up with socialized health care, short work weeks, dirt-cheap child care, and state-subsidized culture institutions. Those who don’t know what it’s like to live in another society with a different set of values and priorities may never be able to truly appreciate their own.

Perhaps it is impossible to assimilate completely, to lose that outsider’s perspective. Frankly, I no longer want to. Being aware of the beauty inherent to the Dutch way of living makes being here that much more special. Why would I want to let that go?

 

About the Author

Jennifer S. Alderson worked as a journalist and website developer in Seattle, Washington before trading her financial security for a backpack. After traveling extensively around Asia and Central America, she moved to Darwin, Australia, before finally settling in the Netherlands. There she earned degrees in art history and museum studies. Home is now Amsterdam, where she lives with her Dutch husband and young son.

Jennifer’s travels and experiences color and inform her internationally-oriented fiction. Her first novel, Down and Out in Kathmandu: adventures in backpacking, is a travel fiction adventure through Nepal and Thailand. The Lover’s Portrait: An Art Mystery, her second book, is a suspenseful ‘whodunit?’ which transports readers to wartime and present day Amsterdam.

Both books are part of an on-going stand-alone series following the adventures of traveler and culture lover, Zelda Richardson. The third installment in the series will be released in the fall of 2017.

On May 13, Jennifer will release a travelogue recounting her experiences as a volunteer and solo traveler in Nepal and Thailand, Notes of a Naive Traveler.

 

“The ride back to Kathmandu was comfortable and relaxing. There were more overturned trucks (the gas-powered ones seem to tip the most, I’m surprised there weren’t more explosions), goats being herded across the highway by ancient women, children playing games in traffic, private cars and buses alike pulling over in the most inconvenient places for a picnic or public bath, and best of all the suicidal overtaking maneuvers (or what we would call ‘passing’) by our bus and others while going downhill at incredible speeds or around hairpin turns uphill with absolutely no power left to actually get around the other vehicle.”

Trek with me through the bamboo forests and terraced mountaintops of Eastern Nepal, take a wild river rafting ride in class IV waters, go on an elephant ride and encounter charging rhinoceros on jungle walks in Chitwan National Park, sea kayak the surreal waters of Krabi and snorkel in the Gulf of Thailand. Join me on some of the scariest bus rides you could imagine, explore beautiful and intriguing temples, experience religious rituals unknown to most Westerners, and visit mind-blowing places not mentioned in your typical travel guides.

This travelogue also provides insight into the experience of volunteering at a Nepali school and living with a traditional family during a long-term homestay, where religion and ritual still rule daily life.

A touch of self-discovery is inherent to this kind of journey, one spurred on by a young woman’s attempt to figure out what she wants to do with her life.

Notes of a Naive Traveler is a must-read for those interested in learning more about – or wishing to travel to – Nepal and Thailand. I hope it inspires you to see these amazing countries for yourself.

Front cover artwork: ‘Folly in Divinity’, acrylic on canvas by Don Farrell

Release date: May 13, 2017

Pre-order Notes of a Naive Traveler: Nepal and Thailand now on iBooksKoboAmazon, Barnes & Noble NOOK and Smashwords.

Fiction and Memoirs by Expats and Travelers Month Wraps Up

Fiction and Memoirs by Expats and Travelers Month Wraps Up

April is upon us which means ‘Fiction and Memoirs by Expats and Travelers month’ is now officially over. Many thanks to everyone who stopped by my blog in March to read the seven wonderful articles and interviews by Melissa Burovac, Jill Dobbe, Anne Hamilton, myself (Jennifer S. Alderson), Beth Green, Pamela Allegretto and Annika Milisic-Stanley.

It was an honor for me to feature their posts and I enjoyed learning more about all of their stories!

If you missed any of the articles, here is a quick linked list:

Introduction to Fiction and Memoirs by Expats and Travelers Month

How Traveling Abroad Turned Me Into A Writer By Melissa Burovac

Write What You Know By Jill Dobbe

A Blonde Bengali Wife And Me By Anne Hamilton

Staying ‘In The Moment’: One Author’s Adventure In Travel Writing By Jennifer S. Alderson

Stories Everywhere By Beth Green

The Birth of a Novel by Pamela Allegretto

Interview with Expat Fiction Author Annika Milisic-Stanley

Until next time, happy travels! Jennifer

 

 

Interview with Expat Fiction author Annika Milisic-Stanley

Interview with Expat Fiction author Annika Milisic-Stanley

I stumbled across Annika Milisic-Stanley’s debut novel, The Disobedient Wife on Goodreads while searching for ‘Expat Fiction’. After I had posted my 5 star review of her gorgeous novel, we came into contact via social media. I am glad she was able to take time away from her work as a fundraiser for a refugees center in Rome to share this fascinating interview with us.

 

Interview with Expat Fiction author Annika Milisic-Stanley

 

What is your background? 

I originate from Dorset, a green, pleasant county of the UK, abundant in country pubs, scones with jam and cream, delphinium beds and pony clubs. I attended the School of Oriental and African Studies, majoring in Social Anthropology. I have worked all over the world, as a social/ behavioural studies sociologist, project writer, fundraiser and programme manager for non-governmental organisations. Now, I have children and work as a program fundraiser for a small non-profit day centre for refugees in Rome (www.jnrc.it). I started writing creatively in my early twenties, venting my rage at the world’s injustices through fictional short stories.

 

How did The Disobedient Wife come about?

When I was in Tajikistan, I found out that women often lose custody of their children, even if they are divorced by their husband (through no fault of their own). Women are then thrown out, shamed by their communities and shunned, losing everything. I found this shocking, having two babies of my own at the time. I knew two women who went through this terrible experience, heard other stories, and was moved to write about it. As I wrote, a novel developed.

 

There seems to be a lot of personal experience in the book. Could you expand on this?

There is and there is not. I am not Harriet, in that I actually chose to live an expatriate life long before I met my partner, and I have a career in my own right. I have, however, met many women who share her difficulties with low self-esteem and who are lost in the chaos of underdeveloped countries, without opportunities to work or contribute. I have met many young wives with older husbands in the diplomatic core who fight depression and loneliness, left to deal with the constant moving by themselves. Moving with children as a trailing spouse can be very hard. I have had some bad times, especially when my children were very small, when I felt completely unrooted and lost and had no friends, no one at all in the new posting. I don’t have huge sympathy for trailing spouses who ignore hardship and poverty to disappear into the bubble of beauty parlours and leisurely lunches, but I do understand why they do it. I lived in Tajikistan during the time the novel is set, and obviously my own observations on culture, location and daily life litter the book. I have said before, Harriet is an amalgamation of many women I have known.

 

Did you have to do much research for The Disobedient Wife?

Yes, I did extensive research into the drug trafficking trade, Russian migration, domestic violence and services for battered women in Tajikistan. I researched Tajik proverbs, language and culture in order to ensure that I didn’t make mistakes when writing dialogue/ Tajik cultural practices.

 

The book touches on important themes such as the cultural differences between Eastern and Western women and the oppression and violence that Tajik women often encounter.  It handles these issues in an informed and sensitive manner. Can you talk about why you decided to include these subjects in the book?

I was personally moved by the situation that Tajik women find themselves in now. Economic collapse and migration have placed increased pressure on proud, hard-working people to survive. The stress on men as breadwinners and the cultural vacuum left by the fall of the USSR have impacted women and girls badly, leading to early marriage, increased high school drop out rates for girls and less female decision-making power in the home. As the brain-drain (of Soviet educated families) impacts the country, village traditions gain in importance, seen as culturally ‘Tajik’ in he new Republic. Women have lost the rights enshrined to them by the Soviet State, seen as ‘Colonial’. This has had cultural implications for the whole country, but especially for women and girls.

 

Can you describe how living in other countries shaped your thoughts and informed your writing?

Living overseas shaped my writing in as far as I am always an outsider, looking in.   My academic background taught me to observe and note, to remain politically neutral and to show examples of a hypothesis.  This has been useful.   I always write with an awareness of cultural relativism and my ‘otherness’.  Rather than getting hung up on gender/ racial/ spiritual/ cultural bias, I try to uncover the shared human experience that surpasses these differences.  I believe that this is what allows a reader, an American man, for example, to relate to a Tajik woman.

 

What books or writers have influenced your own writing?

I am heavily influenced by authors who write about outsiders in society, whether due to race/ religion, gender or other reasons, such as mental illness. I enjoy stories where cross-cultural clashes are examined in detail, creating emotional dissonance and identity crises. I love novels on other places, where the author is translating the culture to the reader, drawing humanity together in shared experience.

 

What has being a writer taught you?

One never stops learning.

 

About the Author

Annika Milisic-Stanley was born in 1975 to Swedish and Anglo-German parents, and grew up in Britain. After graduating from the School of Oriental and African Studies, she worked in Nepal, Kenya, Somalia, South Sudan, India, Burundi and Egypt as well as living in Tajikistan for several years. Annika lives in Rome. In addition to writing and painting, she works as a campaigner to raise awareness on the plight of refugees in Southern Europe.

 

The Disobedient Wife

 

Tajikistan is a harsh place of political and religious repression. It remains deeply patriarchal. The first modern-day novel in English describing Tajikistan, The Disobedient Wife is dedicated to the women of Tajikistan.

The Disobedient Wife tells the story of two very different women, both trapped in a fabric of a social environment that is hostile to them. Harriet Simenon is the rich wife of a powerful expat business man, with all the privilege that entails; yet her journal portrays a darker interior world of isolation and loneliness. Nagris is her Tajik nanny and maid who struggles with poverty and her subordinate role both at work and as a woman in society in general. Yet Nagris possesses a strength that Harriet comes to admire. As Harriet’s life unravels against a backdrop of violence and betrayal Nagris becomes her support and an unexpected friendship develops.

In a narrative rich with a sense of place and deeply humane, Milisic-Stanley brings the acute observation of an artist and social anthropologist to bear on this compelling story of two women surviving and thriving in difficult circumstances.

Buy The Disobedient Wife now on Amazon.

 

 

Enjoy reading this post? Check out Melissa BurovacJille DobbeAnne HamiltonJennifer S. Alderson and Beth Green and Pamela Allegretto’s fascinating contributions to ‘Fiction and Memoirs written by Expats and Travelers month’ while you are here.

 

The Birth of a Novel by Pamela Allegretto

The Birth of a Novel by Pamela Allegretto

Pamela Allegretto is the author of my favorite historical fiction novel of 2016, Bridge of Sighs and Dreams, a captivating story set in Italy during World War Two. Her own experiences as an exchange student and expat living in the country of her forefathers inspired the characters, plot and beautifully described setting for her debut novel. It is a pleasure to learn more about its inception.

 

The Birth of a Novel

By Pamela Allegretto

The tutelage of my Italian family launched my love for the Italian language the moment the first trilled “R” danced on my tongue and tickled my teeth. Animated conversations around the supper table often veered from current events to life in Italy during World War 2 and the impact the War had on our family. These conversations piqued my curiosity and planted a seed that nagged me to learn more.

I was 17-years-old when I took my first trip back to Italy with my parents. The moment the airplane touched ground, I had this overwhelming feeling of “home.” Meeting my Italian aunts and uncles in their Southern Italian village of Faicchio and listening to their personal accounts of the War sprouted that seed and it began to grow. The more I learned, the more I wanted to know.

‘La Zia’ at her farm in Faicchio. Paintings by Pamela Allegretto.

After high school graduation, I moved to Florence, Italy and attended L’Università Per Gli Stranieri, which heightened my passion for Italian history, especially those War years. My Florentine friends all had personal family stories relating to the Nazi-occupation and the brave Italians in the Resistance Movement. These first-hand accounts were a direct contradiction to the denigrating jokes I heard while growing up about Italian cowardice.

The seedling strengthened its stem. I determined that someone should write a book about the Resistance. Well, my research revealed that there were already dozens of books on the subject. However, the more I read, the stronger my conviction to write my own novel based on my family’s experience. I also felt compelled to write a war novel in which the women don’t play the role of wallpaper or objects of amusement to soldiers and politicians. I wanted my women to take center stage in a behind-the-lines battle between good and evil.

Florence, Italy. Photos by Jennifer S. Alderson.

As is often the case, life got in my way; and I shelved my anticipated novel for a few decades. Then one year, on what had become my annual visit to Italy, a conversation with my aunt thawed my dormant plant and ignited my shelved idea for a war novel. She told me about the suffering under Mussolini’s Fascist Regime, and how life in Faicchio became a daily challenge to survive: Human supplies dried-up. Whatever remained was rationed, including bread and flour. There was no salt or soap. New clothing didn’t exist nor did thread to mend the old clothes. Even if one was to recycle used thread, it was futile since there weren’t any needles. The steel was required for the army. There were a few bicycles, but the seats were made with straw, and the tires were crafted from a synthetic material. Rubber was for the army. The tires didn’t last long, and because they were impossible to replace, the bicycle was saved for emergencies. For those who were sick, it was a real problem. The few bottles left on the pharmacy shelves were empty. There were no antibiotics, no Band-Aids, not even aspirin.

She related how after Mussolini was overthrown, the Nazis commandeered her home and banished her, 8-months-pregnant with her third child, and her two small children from their home with only the clothes on their backs.

Castel Ducale, Faicchio.

By now, my plant was sprouting leaves left and right, and I was determined to find out more. I visited one cousin who supplied me with a detailed accounting of the Nazi occupation of the Village of Faicchio written by one of his professors, who had been a teenager during that time. It took me the remainder of my visit to translate this eye-opening account.

Strangely enough, a compassionate German soldier, whom I had initially incorporated into my fiction, was real, and the professor had fleshed out his back-story. After I left my family’s farm and traveled toward Rome, I spent some time in the charming hill-top village of Anagni, where on a narrow side-street I stumbled across Tarsie Turri, the tarsia lignea (inlaid wood) workshop of Carlo Turri. Since one of the proposed characters in my novel practiced this intricate art form, I found this a serendipitous occasion.

Not only was I able to glean information about tarsia lignea, but the data came from the best possible source. It seems Carlo Turri’s work has been collected by dignitaries world-wide, including Pope Paul and the President of the Republic. Carla Turri, Carlo’s daughter who carries on the tradition, gave me a detailed tour and demonstration of this Renaissance art form. Unfortunately, due to story “flow,” I was not able to include in my novel as much information about this art form as I would have liked. However, that personal experience is one I hold dear, and I consider the knowledge I gained to be priceless.

My next stop was Rome, where again fate stepped in. I came upon a vintage market, not far from Piazza di Spagna. There, I encountered a merchant who dealt in World War 2 paraphernalia. I had wanted to incorporate information on the treatment of Italian Jews under the Nazi occupation, and here I found real-time publications regarding the events that took place in Rome during that time-period.

The discovery of personal letters and journals augmented my study. The consistent manifestation of hope, scribbled across those abandoned pieces of paper on which the ink now weeps, afforded a valuable glimpse into the Italian sentiment during this horrific period. I deemed all this information to not be coincidence, but rather a sign that I was meant to continue with my novel.

Rome, Italy.

For once, I was eager to leave Italy, but only because it was time to write my novel. I concluded: if not now, when? My next step was to flesh-out my characters. I sought an eclectic collection of complex individuals, each with his or her own values, lack of values, dreams, and goals. I wanted Bridge of Sighs and Dreams to be a story of betrayal, dignity, and purpose that highlighted the brutality toward Italian citizens, under both Mussolini’s Fascist regime and the Nazi occupation, and that illustrated the tenacity of the human spirit. However, I thought it was also necessary to inject some light humor, not merely for the reader’s benefit, but to show that a sense of humor can serve as a valuable shield during dire times.

I will say, to weave my fiction around the time-line of events that I wanted to highlight was tricky, but I didn’t want to alter facts to fit my fiction; instead, I utilized truth to enhance my characters and their story. And so, after decades of research, translations, false starts, writing, editing, shelving, writing, editing, shelving, Bridge of Sighs and Dreams finally bloomed into a novel of which I am proud.

My one regret is that sadly, my beloved parents and some of my aunts and uncles who played such a pivotal role in this novel have all passed away before its publication. However, I do take solace in fate. Considering the serendipitous chain of events involved in the birth of the novel, it happened when it was meant to happen. Ecco la vita.

 

About the Author

Pamela Allegretto lives in Connecticut and divides her time between writing and painting. Her published work includes dual-language poetry books, translations in Italian literary journals, articles in local newspapers, book and CD covers, illustrations, and cartoons. Her original art is collected worldwide.

Visit her website to learn more about her books and artwork.

 

Bridge of Sighs and Dreams

Nazi-occupied Rome sets the stage for Bridge of Sighs and Dreams, where the lives of two women collide in an arena of deception, greed, and sacrifice.

Following an allied attack, Angelina Rosini flees to Rome from her bombed-out village and a ruthless Nazi officer bent on revenge. In Rome, the spirited portrait artist channels her creativity into the art of survival for herself and her young daughter. Unwilling to merely endure, and armed with ingenuity, wit, and unyielding optimism, she enters the shadow world of the Resistance where she zigzags through a labyrinth of compassionate allies and cunning spies.

Meanwhile, Lidia Corsini, Angelina’s sister-in-law, quenches her lust for power and wealth by turning in Jews to the ruthless Nazi Police attaché with whom she has formed an alliance. Her spiral into immorality accelerates as swiftly as the Jewish population dwindles, and soon neither her husband nor her son is immune to her madness.

Once Angelina discovers the consequences of Lidia’s greed, she conspires to put an end to the treacheries; but in doing so, she becomes the target of Lidia’s most sinister plot.

Bridge of Sighs and Dreams is a story of betrayal, dignity, and purpose that highlights the brutality toward Italian citizens, under both Mussolini’s Fascist regime and the Nazi occupation, and illustrates the tenacity of the human spirit.

Buy Bridge of Sighs and Dreams now on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Booklocker, and iBooks.

 

Enjoy reading this post? Check back here Friday to read an interview with Annika Milisic-Stanley, the last of the seven posts celebrating Fiction and Memoirs written by Expats and Travelers.

While you are here, check out Melissa BurovacJille DobbeAnne HamiltonJennifer S. Alderson and Beth Green’s fascinating contributions as well.

 

Stories Everywhere by Beth Green

Stories Everywhere by Beth Green

When I published my first novel, Down and Out in Kathmandu, one of the first ‘reviewers’ I emailed the good news to was Beth Green, Book Editor of The Displaced Nation, a global community of creative expats. Even though she politely informed me that she didn’t do straight up book reviews, we kept in touch and I have had the pleasure of contributing to two of her columns.

Ever since our first email conversation, I’ve been fascinated with her TCK (Third Culture Kid) background and jealous of her current hometown of Prague. While she’s shopping for an agent for her first novel, her first short story has been published in an anthology, Fish Out of Water. I am thrilled to be one of the first to let the world know about her publication debut!

Stories Everywhere

By Beth Green

You know what I like most about traveling? Meeting new people. Finding out where they are from. What they do. Why they are doing it. Basically, what’s their story?

In my life, I’ve met a lot of people, in a lot of places.

As a kid, in 27 countries. As an adult, in 30 plus more.

Beth in Beijing

People ask what it was like growing up on a sailboat, but it’s hard to explain. Your childhood is always just your childhood; it seems normal to you.

Meeting all these people, and deflecting that “what’s it like” question, I’ve coaxed people into telling me a lot of stories. It’s always seemed natural to me that I’d tell some myself—though maybe not the same ones that people first thought I’d write.

I don’t know exactly when I wrote my first story, but I remember the first time I realized I could be a writer. I was eight. We were in Venezuela for hurricane season, out of the normal path of the cyclones that regularly rip up the Caribbean and fragile little sailboats along the way. All the “boat people” (my family typically uses that term; “yachties” sounds a bit too upscale, sailors too mercenary, cruisers too impermanent) congregated in the same harbors, where the adults took turns at drinking rum in each other’s cockpits and the kids played board games on fold-out teak tables belowdecks and swapped dog-eared copies of whatever books we could get our hands on. For my birthday, friends of my parents gave me a diary. Not a half-used spiral notebook like I’d been scribbling in. A proper journal with a padded blue cover, a tiny golden lock and pink paper decorated with line drawings of a popular cartoon I watched sometimes on the Venezuelan public TV stations that crackled through the rabbit-ear antennae our ten-inch black-and-white TV.

 

Beth at Stonehenge

“You’ve got stories to tell,” the givers said. “Write them down.”

“Huh,” eight-year-old me thought. “If writers tell stories, then I’m going to be a writer.”

Stories shape the human experience; they’re vital even across generations and borders. And every culture I’ve lived in or visited has told me more stories than I’ll ever be able to write down. I’m continually fascinated by the way people anywhere, everywhere are so much more alike than they are different—everyone loves their kids and hates their boss and wishes they had more time for fun and more money for whatever money buys and everyone, everywhere, likes ice cream on a hot day—but those similarities are just broad strokes. When you take a microscope to the details, everyone’s telling their own meandering tale that oscillates somewhere between woe and joy.

I first went into journalism. What an abundance of stories there! I loved the research part, where I’d meet people, listen carefully to what they had to say and then try to get their story on the page. For a long time—long enough to get a journalism degree, do a couple of internships and work as a reporter in Florida for a year—I thought that telling other people’s stories would be enough for me.

 

But if you look at the stats for Adult Third Culture Kids (people like me who spent formative years in a culture that wasn’t their parents’), it’s not much of a surprise that I started to feel like the stories I told would be better with a side of travel. Or that I would be better at telling the stories if I had the freedom to roam. So I packed up and have been traveling and living internationally ever since. I currently live in the Czech Republic—about as far from the sea as I could get in Europe, but I promise that’s not by design—where I copy write and edit for companies as well as writing novels and short stories for my own enjoyment. Both the communications hat and the novelist hat fit under the umbrella of storyteller, and both are influenced by my own multicultural experiences.

On the communications side, I work with a lot of non-native speakers of English who want their companies to tap into the global market. As someone who has communicated across cultures basically since before I could talk, and who, like other Third Culture Kids, made adaptation a life skill, my intuition for what will resonate with different audiences is fairly sharp.

And on the fiction side, travel creates a wealth of possibilities. In my fiction, I relish creating characters that are out of their element—culturally, geographically, professionally. And I love setting these characters in (what appear to them to be, at least) exotic, boundary-pushing places.

One of the projects I’m working on now is a set of short stories in which all of the main characters experience something ordinary gone wrong. If you’ve traveled or lived abroad for a length of time, you’ve probably experienced a moment when you’re out of sync with what’s expected and you didn’t clue in fast enough. Like when I started attending public high school in the States and realized that class discussions were a real thing and not just something that happened in movies (not much discussing happens when you’re a homeschooled only child on a sailboat); or in China, when I could travel from my city to the provincial capital to buy a ticket for a train to Chongqing that would double back through my city (and stop there) but I couldn’t buy a ticket from my city to Chongqing. Or, after months, being told that your Czech neighbors probably think you’re rude because you’ve always been using the friendlier-sounding informal greeting and not the dour but proper formal one. English class and train stations and apartment block hallways aren’t obvious places for conflict, but for me, some of these seemingly ordinary places spark memories and then ideas for stories.

One of these short stories—set on a sailboat, natch—will be published in the FISH OUT OF WATER anthology coming soon from Wildside Press.

All the fiction projects I have in the works right now include some kind of international or intercultural intrigue—I suppose I’m still exploring a theme that’s been dear to me since birth: what it’s like to be a foreigner.

 

About Beth

Beth Green grew up on a sailboat but these days is most often found ashore—currently in Prague, Czech Republic. Beth is a former reporter, English teacher, and travel blogger; she is now a full-time freelance writer. When not writing for clients or plotting international crimes to take place in her fiction, Beth enjoys reading, scuba diving, and the art of slow travel.

Connect with her on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, via her website or sign up for her newsletter at this link: http://eepurl.com/cFxRMX.

Beth’s short story “Plan A: Kill the Fish” will appear in the upcoming crime fiction anthology FISH OUT OF WATER.

 

 

Enjoy reading this post? Check back here Friday to read former expat Pamela Allegretto’s contribution to my month long celebration of Fiction and Memoirs written by Expats and Travelers.

While you are here, check out Melissa BurovacJille DobbeAnne Hamilton and Jennifer S. Alderson’s fascinating contributions as well.

 

Staying ‘In The Moment’: One Author’s Adventure in Travel Writing by Jennifer S. Alderson

Staying ‘In The Moment’: One Author’s Adventure in Travel Writing by Jennifer S. Alderson

So far this month we have been introduced to three travel memoir authors – Melissa Burovac, Jill Dobbe and Anne Hamilton – and their unique stories. It has been a pleasure reading about their journeys and how their travels influenced their writing.

The rest of the month I will feature articles by former and current expats and authors Beth Green, Annika Milisc-Stanley and Pamela Allegretto here on my blog.

Today I want to share my own story about how I came to write a travelogue. I hope you enjoy learning more about why I decided to take a break from fiction and publish excerpts from the travel journals I kept while traveling through Nepal and Thailand.

 

Staying ‘In The Moment’: One Author’s Adventure in Travel Writing

By Jennifer S. Alderson

My travels around this crazy planet have directly inspired the settings, plot twists and several of the characters in my Adventures of Zelda Richardson series. While writing these novels, my journals, emails to friends, and postcards sent home served as memory aids when describing the landscape and people I’d met on the road.

Enjoying a boat ride around Ao Thalin, Krabi Provence, Thailand.

Before making the plunge into fiction, I did try to use these same journals and emails as the basis for a full-blow travel memoir, yet failed miserably. My attempts to write about the events I had experienced after the fact in non-fiction story form, lost all of their spontaneity and (in my mind) their appeal. So I concentrated on writing fiction and regulated my travel journals to sources of background information about the settings of my travel thrillers and mysteries.

My soon-to-be-released travelogue, Notes of a Naive Traveler: Nepal and Thailand, only exists because I recycle. After cleaning out an overflowing closet, I stumbled upon a box full of old printouts, copies of the emails I’d sent to friends and family while in Nepal and Thailand. Most of the pages were crisscrossed with circles and notes I’d made while writing the first draft of Down and Out in Kathmandu.

On every corner and dusty square in the Thamel district of Kathmandu, Nepal you will find snake charmers.

These printouts were reference material I no longer needed. Because they’d only been printed on one side, I threw the lot onto our family ‘scrap paper pile’ which we use to make grocery shopping lists, or draw and paint on. While folding paper airplanes with my five-year-old son, my husband began reading the back sides of the pages, my old emails. When I got home that night, he asked why I had never published them. Just as many friends and family members have asked me over the years.

After much waffling, I re-read all of the emails and realized I could publish most them; only a few paragraphs were too personal. But the emails alone were about ten pages long; not much of a book!

Trekking with my volunteer group in Tharatum, Nepal.

So I went back through my journals and realized there was a lot of material I hadn’t used in Down and Out in Kathmandu that could be interesting to others who wanted to travel to Nepal and Thailand or volunteer abroad.  I threw together the first ten pages and sent it off to trusted beta readers. To my surprise, they were all quite positive and strongly recommended I finish it.

So I spent most of last winter piecing together excerpts from my journal and emails, then editing the mishmash of styles into one cohesive manuscript. By using direct, unaltered excerpts, I finally managed to keep the text ‘in the moment’, something I was unable to achieve the first-time around.

Tiger Caves Monastery, Krabi Provence, Thailand.

Honestly, I am incredibly nervous about having these excerpts from my personal journal out there. I admire travel writers who are able to unabashedly describe their stupid decisions, strange actions, and sometimes horrid behavior that the stress of long-term travel can bring out in a rational person.

Yet, I am also heartened by early readers’ (and even reviewer’s) positive remarks and interest in my journey. I hope those who read it are able to put themselves in my former self’s shoes and enjoy their time as a volunteer, as well as their trip around Nepal and Thailand.

May it inspire you to buy a backpack and see more of the world!

 

Notes of a Naive Traveler: Nepal and Thailand

“The ride back to Kathmandu was comfortable and relaxing. There were more overturned trucks (the gas-powered ones seem to tip the most, I’m surprised there weren’t more explosions), goats being herded across the highway by ancient women, children playing games in traffic, private cars and buses alike pulling over in the most inconvenient places for a picnic or public bath, and best of all the suicidal overtaking maneuvers (or what we would call ‘passing’) by our bus and others while going downhill at incredible speeds or around hairpin turns uphill with absolutely no power left to actually get around the other vehicle.”

Trek with me through the bamboo forests and terraced mountaintops of Eastern Nepal, take a wild river rafting ride in class IV waters, go on an elephant ride and encounter charging rhinoceros on jungle walks in Chitwan National Park, sea kayak the surreal waters of Krabi and snorkel in the Gulf of Thailand. Join me on some of the scariest bus rides you could imagine, explore beautiful and intriguing temples, experience religious rituals unknown to most Westerners, and visit mind-blowing places not mentioned in your typical travel guides.

This travelogue also provides insight into the experience of volunteering at a Nepali school and living with a traditional family during a long-term homestay, where religion and ritual still rule daily life.

A touch of self-discovery is inherent to this kind of journey, one spurred on by a young woman’s attempt to figure out what she wants to do with her life.

Notes of a Naive Traveler is a must-read for those interested in learning more about – or wishing to travel to – Nepal and Thailand. I hope it inspires you to see these amazing countries for yourself.

Front cover artwork: ‘Folly in Divinity’, acrylic on canvas by Don Farrell

Release date: May 13, 2017

Pre-order Notes of a Naive Traveler: Nepal and Thailand now on iBooksKoboAmazon, Barnes & Noble NOOK and Smashwords.

 

About the Author

Author photo by Fototeam.nl

Jennifer S. Alderson (1972) worked as a journalist and website developer in Seattle, Washington before trading her financial security for a backpack. After traveling extensively around Asia and Central America, she moved to Darwin, Australia, before finally settling in the Netherlands. Home is now Amsterdam, where she lives with her Dutch husband and young son.

Jennifer’s travels and experiences color and inform her internationally-oriented fiction.

Her first novel, Down and Out in Kathmandu: adventures in backpacking, is a travel fiction adventure through Nepal and Thailand.

The Lover’s Portrait: An Art Mystery, her second book, is a suspenseful ‘whodunit?’ which transports readers to wartime and present day Amsterdam.

Both are part of an on-going stand-alone series following the adventures of traveler and culture lover, Zelda Richardson. The third installment, another art-related travel thriller (working title: The Anthropologist) will be released in the Fall of 2017.

To read more interviews and feature articles, please click here.

 

Enjoy reading this post? Check back here Friday to read expat and TCK (Third Culture Kid) Beth Green’s contribution to my month long celebration of Fiction and Memoirs written by Expats and Travelers.

While you are here, check out Melissa BurovacJille Dobbe and Anne Hamilton’s fascinating contributions as well.

A Blonde Bengali Wife and Me by Anne Hamilton

A Blonde Bengali Wife and Me by Anne Hamilton

I came across Anne Hamilton’s memoir A Blonde Bengali Wife a few months ago via an amazing Facebook group, Women Writers, Women’s Books. At the time, I was editing together Notes of a Naive Traveler: Nepal and Thailand and recall being quite pleased to find another travel memoir writer in the group!

Reading her posts and the description of her novel, I was immediately struck by the similarities to the start of our first trips abroad, and in awe of her decision to found a charity based in Bangladesh.

Though I haven’t yet had the pleasure, I hope to read A Blonde Bengali Wife soon. Did you know all of the proceeds benefit her charity, Bhola’s Children?

 

A Blonde Bengali Wife and Me

By Anne Hamilton

 

I fell in love on the sixteenth of February 2002. It was unexpected, a strangeness growing familiar, breeding contentment, and settling with a knowing certainty like a warm blanket around my shoulders. Quietly simmering over days and weeks, it probably began in a makeshift kitchen in Rajoir, developed on a bus in Jessore, reached the point of acknowledgement in front of the television in Dhaka, and was cemented in Chittagong. The honeymoon led me through Cox’s Bazaar and finally into the Sunderbans. 

(A Blonde Bengali Wife: Prologue)

Cox’s Bazaar, all photos provided by the author.

Arriving back in Bangladesh is like going home. I’m a forty-something, independent woman, now with my own child but when I go to visit my own parents, there’s a part of me eternally fourteen. After a while the excitement fizzles into mild irritation. The familiarity allows comments about choice of activity, clothes, food and sleep patterns – they always know best – and I remember that this holiday is actually quite hard work. For everyone. Yet it doesn’t matter. There’s an underlying bond of belonging that ensures the smiles outweigh the frowns.

That’s me and Bangladesh, and it’s the reason why the country is so special to me. I love it dearly. It fascinates me, drives me to distraction, still unnerves me a little bit – and I don’t doubt the feeling is mutual!

‘Who is Bengali wife?’ Mr Hoque appears at the merest sniff of food, rubs his hands, eyes alert. Bely, claiming responsibility for my transformation, gestures at my outfit and the hot food. Mr Hoque roars with laughter. ‘A blonde Bengali wife. Very good. Very funny. I must taste her first meal.’  (Ch17)

The People’s Republic of Bangladesh isn’t India. Situated in the Bay of Bengal, it was, until the War of Liberation in 1971, East Pakistan. It doesn’t have the spectacular palaces and monuments or the tourist trail of India, or the international profile of Pakistan.  What it does have is its people. I have never received a warmer welcome anywhere. I’ll always appreciate that, and I’ve mused on it again, in the wake of the international refugee crisis.

In Dhaka, Hasina and Mr Hoque (yes, he’s told me to call him Nozmul endless times, but he’s Mr Hoque, he always will be!) took me in without question, treated me like another daughter, and it was Hasina who made me the ‘blonde Bengali wife’.

In Khalia, the three brothers, Bachchu, Mannu and Munnu – I still only know them by their nicknames – tirelessly offer me shelter, food and companionship; Munnu accompanied me across half the country. It was they who offered the accolade, ‘Annie, you are just the same as a Bangladesh girl, but more pale.’

In Bhola, the community of Bhola’s Children is part of me. I’m a Trustee of this charity, which would not exist but for the writing of A Blonde Bengali Wife, and the insight and commitment of my then literary agent, Dinah Wiener. On our last-but-one visit, my little boy, who has – inexplicably – always wanted six big brothers, sighed with 4 year old satisfaction and said he’d found them. ‘Can we bring Bhola home for a visit?’ he asked, and then after a thought, ‘but not the girls, they’re too kissy.’

‘Ah ha! Dissention in the ranks! As I thought. Infiltrators,’ Mrs Begum accuses. ‘First you girls present yourselves as brides, albeit of the most feeble demeanour, and then you pretend to be ones of us. Where are you hiding them? Where are you hiding the marauding arsenic germs, you hussies?’ (Ch8)

I’ve never laughed as much as I do in Bangladesh. Some of it’s verging on the hysteria – the day I change buses four times because: a wheel falls off the first, the road runs out in front of the second and we need a ferry to cross a stretch of water fifty feet to reach the third bus, which doesn’t move because the driver can’t get the goats off the roof. The fourth bus is fine except there aren’t any seats – I don’t mean there isn’t any space to sit down, I mean there are no seats. Just springs sticking up where the seats used to be.

There is so much genuine humour too, and if much of it is based on my bumbling inability to survive unaided in this confusing country, that’s fine by me. I’m giving something back… even if it is entertainment by default. When I read A Blonde Bengali Wife now, I still laugh out loud. Is it shameless admitting that?  I’m not laughing because I’m a great, humorous author, but because I was there, it really happened, and I’m reliving it.

In seconds the table is covered by great glass dishes of desserts: a sticky vermicelli pudding, wet and dry halva, coconut rice balls, and two large bottles of RC cola. We all cram into the small dining room which doubles as a bedroom, and shovel, slurp and munch such that any passing alien would assume we have ten minutes to consume enough to see us through hibernation. (Ch25)

I fail dismally in the eating stakes in Bangladesh. I love food, I love cooking, I love sweets; my original diary on which A Blonde Bengali Wife is based, reads a bit like a Famous Five story. When we’re not out adventuring, we’re eating. Or doing both at the same time. I can’t keep up.

In the poorest rural villages, people have little to offer visitors, yet Bangladeshi hospitality is innate. When your guest doesn’t drink well-water because it will (no being fussy here, it will) make her sick, you borrow a dusty bottle of warm Coke from the market and you crack an egg or kill the chicken. I’m not a vegetarian but at home I choose not to eat much meat – in Bangladesh, now, I eat what I’m given (drawing the line at fish larvae, and cockerel crowns). Except if I don’t finish what’s on my plate, I obviously don’t like it so I’m brought something else. If I do finish, I automatically get another serving… And rice?  I come home dreaming of being trapped in a rice mountain.

It is only fitting that I give Munnu the last words.

He thinks carefully: ‘Say: I said goodbye, I got in the airplane, and went home. The End,’ he advises.

And this is what I do. (Ch30)

That end was just the beginning. I’ve been to Bangladesh about a dozen times now, and last year saw me and my little boy on our third visit together. When I first wrote A Blonde Bengali Wife, I never knew it would have such far-reaching effects. It has changed my life. It made me realise I could write a whole book. It gave me firm connections with a country the polar opposite to the one in which I happen to have been born. It helped me see that people are the same everywhere. That Bhola’s Children is supported by the book is the ultimate link. I’m on a journey into writing and a journey into Bangladesh and I plan that both will continue for a very long time.

 

About the Author

Anne Hamilton wrote A Blonde Bengali Wife after she fell in love with Bangladesh on her first (of many) visits there. The travelogue inspired the charity, Bhola’s Children, and continues to support it.

Before she became a full time writer, editor and tutor, Anne’s career was in social work and community health – which led to many of her earlier international travels. Anne can never quite decide if she comes from the East of England or the West of Ireland, so she compromises by living in Scotland, with her small son; they still travel when they can.

Connect with Anne on Facebook, Twitter or via her website WriteRight Editing Services.

 

A Blonde Bengali Wife

They all said that Bangladesh would be an experience…

For Anne Hamilton, a three-month winter programme of travel and “cultural exchange” in a country where the English language, fair hair, and a rice allergy are all extremely rare was always going to be interesting, challenging, and frustrating. What they didn’t tell Anne was that it would also be sunny, funny, and the start of a love affair with this unexplored area of Southeast Asia.

A Blonde Bengali Wife shows the lives beyond the poverty, monsoons, and diarrhoea of Bangladesh and charts a vibrant and fascinating place where one minute Anne is levelling a school playing field “fit for the national cricket team,” and then cobbling together a sparkly outfit for a formal wedding the next. Along with Anne are the essential ingredients for survival: a travel-savvy Australian sidekick, a heaven-sent adopted family, and a short, dark, and handsome boy-next-door.

During her adventures zipping among the dusty clamour of the capital Dhaka, the longest sea beach in the world at Cox’s Bazaar, the verdant Sylhet tea gardens, and the voluntary health projects of distant villages, Anne amasses a lot of friends, stories…and even a husband.

A Blonde Bengali Wife is the “unexpected travelogue” that reads like a comedy of manners to tell the other side of the story of Bangladesh.

All money earned from A Blonde Bengali Wife goes direct to the charity, Bhola’s Children, of which the author and her literary agent are active participants. A Blonde Bengali Wife isn’t about Bhola but it is a tribute to Anne’s journeys into Bangladesh and all the friends she has made.

Buy A Blonde Bengali Wife now on Amazon. All proceeds go to Bhola’s Children Special School.

 

Enjoy reading this post? Check back here next Monday to read my contribution to this month long celebration of Fiction and Memoirs written by Expats and Travelers, ‘Staying ‘In The Moment’: One Author’s Adventure in Travel Writing’.

While you are here, check out Melissa Burovac and Jille Dobbe’s fascinating contributions as well.

 

Write What You Know by Jill Dobbe

Write What You Know by Jill Dobbe

Jill Dobbe’s extensive experience as an international educator enriches her fascinating travel memoir, Kids, Camels & Cairo, a book I highly recommend to those considering taking the plunge and working overseas. It is quite an insightful read, as is this article ‘Write What You Know’.

 

Write What You Know

By Jill Dobbe

 

Hemingway said it and I write by it.

It’s the advice I remember receiving, and the reason I became a published author in my fifties. Upon returning to the U.S. after living and working as an international educator in India, where our circumstances were more topsy-turvy than ever, my husband proposed the idea of writing a book. “You should,” he remarked offhandedly. “You know a lot about working abroad in international schools and we have survived many crazy adventures for you to write about.”  He planted the seed that day and I have been writing memoirs and travel articles, ever since.

I am passionate about travel and education and found a way to combine the two into a lifestyle that suited me. I also learned that I have a passion for writing and as an international educator for twenty years now living in my seventh country, Honduras, I continue to have material inside me just waiting to be typed up. During our first 10 years when our two children were only babies, I kept journals so that someday they would know what our lives abroad had been like. Much later, I unearthed those journals and turned them into my first memoir. I relived our many journeys again as I read through my diaries typing them up into story form.

I’ve learned a great deal about writing, editing, and publishing since I wrote my first memoir. Even though I published traditionally, I was still completely naïve about the entire process. I knew about editing, but marketing was a whole new ballgame for me. Since that first so around, I also learned the importance of using beta readers for writing advice and other perspectives. It also goes without saying that good, strong editors are imperative. There are different types of editors who look at manuscripts differently. Sub-editors make articles accurate and readable, line-editors focus on the craft, and copy editors proofread for correct formatting of the text. Who knew there were so many types of editors? They all serve an important purpose however, and should be utilized before any author publishes.

My second book was published independently and I enjoyed the freedom of having my own timeline, while putting everything together myself-from the writing, to the cover design, to formatting the text, and choosing the font. I also felt I had a better grasp on the royalties I earned, and didn’t have to wait months to find out if I sold any books.

My memoirs are legacies I hope to leave my children one day. They are also informative travelogues that give educators wishing to go overseas, highlights of the lifestyle. Readers who like to travel can also learn about interesting and unusual places and sites around the world. My writings give a different perspective from that of a tourist, as living within the culture and experiencing life through the eyes of the locals is far different from visiting a place for a day or a week.

Writing personal memoirs can sometimes be difficult. It takes tenacity, honesty, and courage.  When I wrote about my years as an elementary principal in a Muslim school in Cairo, and the many negative issues I encountered with Islamic students, teachers, and parents, my husband was afraid I was going to be placed on an ISIS hit list. No one’s life is perfect, and memoir writers must include the good, the bad, and the ugly in order to be truly authentic. It takes a great amount of detail when describing the places, feelings, emotions, and events in someone’s life in order to make readers empathize with the author. In the narratives of my travels, I write honestly and openly about the different scary, ridiculous, dangerous, and crazy adventures I found myself in. I also chose those experiences that I thought readers would enjoy the most, be able to relate to, and learn something from.

For aspiring memoir writers, my advice is to get your story down on paper and keep writing. Enjoy the process and experience of writing your manuscript and don’t worry about who will read it, buy it, or publish it; you will find an audience. As you write keep in mind the following:

  1. Be truthful and genuine, even if it hurts.
  2. Include intriguing descriptions of your settings, with wobbly legs I crab-walked over the sharp rocks and squatted on sacred Mt. Sinai.
  3. Use vivid details and your senses when describing important scenes, the smell of sewage in the village invaded my nostrils and made me want to puke.
  4. Connect your feelings, thoughts, and emotions to the major events in your life, observing how animals were mistreated in Cairo will forever sadden me and tarnish my feelings toward Cairo.
  5. Include tension, plot, and character development; just like any novel, memoirs need these features in order to engage readers and keep them turning the pages until the very end.

“I decided that I would write one story about each thing that I knew about.”

~Ernest Hemingway

 

About the Author

Jill is an international educator and published author who writes about her experiences living and working in schools and countries around the world. She presently lives in her seventh country, Honduras, with her husband, Dan, and her Yorkie-Poo, Mickey. While working as an elementary principal, Jill also writes, reads, takes photos of the beautiful people and countries of Latin America, and muddles her way through the Spanish language. Jill loves her life as an international educator, and most days, feels like she is living her dream.

HERE WE ARE & THERE WE GO (2012) is Jill’s memoir/travelogue written about her family’s first ten years overseas and the humorous, crazy, and sometimes scary adventures they found themselves in.

KIDS, CAMELS & CAIRO (2016) is a book about Jill’s two years living and working in a Muslim school in Cairo, Egypt, where she lived and worked alongside Egyptians who taught her about their Islamic faith and reminded her when she was making another cultural faux pas.

She currently lives in her seventh country, Honduras. Learn more about Jill and her books on Facebook and Amazon.

 

Kids Camels and Cairo

A lighthearted read about my personal experiences as an educator abroad.

Traveling across the globe to work in an international school in Cairo, Egypt, was not exactly the glamorous lifestyle I thought it would be. I cherished my travels to the Red Sea, delighted in visiting the Pyramids, and appreciated the natural wonders of the Nile River. However, I also spent days without electricity or internet, was leered at by rude Egyptian men, breathed in Cairo’s cancerous black smog, and coaxed school work from rich, apathetic students.

Why the heck did I do it? So I could experience the unexpected, explore the extraordinary, and bask in the thrill of adventure!

Whether you’re an educator, a traveler, or just a curious reader, you will be astounded at this honest and riveting account of learning to live in an Islamic society, while confronting the frustrating challenges of being an educator in a Muslim school.

 

 

Enjoy this post? Check back Friday to read another travel-related article, this time by Anne Hamilton, author and founder of the Bhola’s Children Charity in Bangladesh.

While you are here, read the first post in this series, Melissa Burovac’s excellent article ‘How Traveling Abroad Turned Me into a Writer’.

 

How Traveling Abroad Turned Me into a Writer by Melissa Burovac

How Traveling Abroad Turned Me into a Writer by Melissa Burovac

I have the strong feeling Melissa Burovac and I could spend many enjoyable hours swapping travel stories. After reading her excellent memoir, Wandering, I was struck by the similarities between our experiences on the road, as well as how we – as women traveling solo – reacted to the people and places we visited.

One of the things I love about Wandering is how Melissa was able to stay ‘in the moment’. After reading her article, ‘How Traveling Abroad Turned Me into a Writer’, I now understand how she did it!

 

How Traveling Abroad Turned Me into a Writer

By Melissa Burovac

My first experience of living in another country was a somewhat spontaneous RTW (Round the World) trip, beginning with a one-way ticket to Mexico and a pocket full of margarita money from selling my truck. I had long been wanting to travel, but gifted at birth with an awful sense of direction and a giant helping of anxiety, I never imagined I could make it work. My soon-to-be best friend moved to Kauai, where I live, and brought with her tales of exotic countries and fascinating people, and a house full of beautiful artifacts purchased around the world from her years of travel. She persuaded me to face my terror and take the leap — life is short, she told me, get out there and see how much more there is. With her help, I found a place to live at a school in Mexico, a very safe first step until I could get used to being abroad and so far outside my shoe-box-sized comfort zone.

 

Around this time blogs began to gain massive popularity with ease of use for regular folks, and I thought a simple blog with pictures and short descriptions of my travels would not only serve as an electronic memory book, but would assure my mother that I was safe and did not die in drug cartel crossfire — which was the assumption of most people when I told them I was moving to Mexico.

My travels began with high hopes and expectations; I had instant friends at the school where I lived and this allowed me to explore without too much trouble. I detailed my adventures each evening on my blog, usually at a café or bar while sampling the locally made alcoholic beverages. Life carried on this way for a few months, and it was pretty darn pleasant.

Over time I became worn out being in other countries by myself and talking to other people I’d only see for a day or two; the newness and excitement of each place was not enough to mask my growing anxiety of being lost and alone. I tired of introducing myself over and over again to dozens of people every day — I am normally an introvert and a bit shy — and speaking to so many strangers just so I had someone to talk to was starting to take a toll on my mental energy. Don’t misunderstand, though; I love people, but the need to talk to friends who already knew me was growing, and my desire to make small talk was exhausted.

Instead of cutting my experience abroad short, I spent more time writing in near solitude. Everywhere I went I searched out an uncrowded, quiet spot where I could safely use my computer, and it gave me an excuse to observe and listen to people while not inviting conversation. I felt a part of the culture and scene while not directly being involved; my social anxiety eased and I learned a new way to exist while my mind was screaming to go back home.

Eventually, though, I did go home, and was unprepared for the feedback from my blog. My mom was happy I kept in constant contact through writing; my friends were delighted by the places I visited and the adventures I had; women expressed amazement at doing the entire year abroad solo and eagerly read how it was accomplished — many had never imagined braving the unknown without a man as a travel companion. Most of the time I spent writing was time spent drinking as well, and apparently I’m funny when I’m drunk — adding a bit of comedy to travel tales doesn’t hurt. The comment I heard most often was “You should write a book.” The material was already written, all I had to do was clean up the grammar and random intoxicated rants, and stitch the individual posts into one coherent story. I didn’t know if I could do this, never having written much of anything previously, but getting a job after a year of travel depressed me and I began to dream of a career as an author and traveling more, but in shorter bursts.

 

The project was not easy; I spent months working 80-hour weeks to create my first book. I worked 40 hours as a bookkeeper to provide myself food and shelter, and spent an additional 40 hours writing, usually sitting on the tailgate of my pickup truck while parked at the beach. I wrote on a $200 laptop with sticky keys, once writing several chapters without the letter ‘m’ until I figured out a small pebble had lodged itself in the keyboard.

My first travel book, Wandering, was published in June, 2014 after what seemed like an excruciatingly painful mental effort. Even though it did not become an instant best seller, or even provide me with enough income to quit my day job, I am proud of the book and what I learned by writing it. I developed a new kind of discipline — skipping social events with friends, or even watching TV, so I could make time to write. I developed a real love of writing and have since published another novel, Sylvie Writes a Romance, and several short stories and articles on a variety of topics. As a result of blogging, I also began a personal journal to help myself when life gets more complicated than normal.

My first adventure abroad created my habit of writing, and it has changed my life for the better. I hope I continue to create new work, and am able to use what I’ve learned about all aspects of writing, editing, and marketing to help other authors fulfill their dreams of publishing.

You can visit my blog at Wander With Melissa and Facebook page, or check out my books on Amazon. Thank you for reading.

 

About the Author

Melissa is a writer and photographer on Kauai, Hawaii. An avid outdoorswoman, Burovac enjoys outrigger paddling—both one-man and six-man—SUP, running, surfing, sailing, and scuba diving, as well as yoga.

She is always up for adventure and loves doing things that scare her a little. She is the author of Wandering (2014) and Sylvie Writes a Romance, “a feel-good romantic comedy with a resilient heroine” according to Kirkus Indie Review.

 

Wandering

Traveling solo as a woman certainly has its ups and downs, but Melissa Burovac will be the first to tell you to embrace the adventure as you encounter it.

Facing her fortieth birthday as a single woman in a job she was tired of, Burovac decided to “do something.” Always keen for adventure, she chose to buy a one-way ticket to Mexico-and quit her job, sell her beloved Jeep, and store all her belongings.

Though she’d gone on trips abroad before, Burovac didn’t feel like she’d ever earned the title of “traveler.” But that was about to change.

“Wandering” relates the adventures, and misadventures (she encounters so many major weather events that her friends start predicting where the next disaster will strike based on her next destination), of her nine months traveling through Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, Panama, Cuba, Australia, Cambodia, and Thailand. Her stories will crack you up-and they will inspire you. As someone with no sense of direction, no ability to plan, and plenty of social anxiety, her experiences prove that anyone who wants to travel “can”!

 

 

Enjoy this post? Check back Monday to read another travel-related article, this time by international educator and long-time expat Jille Dobbe.

 

Fiction and Memoirs written by Expats and Travelers

Fiction and Memoirs written by Expats and Travelers

In a few short weeks I will be releasing Notes of a Naive Traveler, excerpts from travel journals and emails I’d written while volunteering in Kathmandu and backpacking through Nepal and Thailand. This journey also served as the basis for my first novel, a travel thriller entitled Down and Out in Kathmandu.

My plan was to volunteer in Nepal for four months then backpack around Southeast Asia for another six. Things didn’t quite work out that way…

Traveling is an amazing adventure, one that can transform your world view – if you let it. Yet it can also be quite scary and lonely when you’re so far from home, especially the first time.

When I decided to set off from Seattle to Kathmandu, I was a twenty-six-year-old computer geek who didn’t have a passport because I’d never left the States. This first trip abroad ignited my wanderlust. This journey led to another and another, and after having traveled much of the world, I settled in the Netherlands and reinvented myself as an art historian.

Long-term travel and the expat experience are topics near and dear to my heart. To celebrate the impending release of Notes of a Naive Traveler: Nepal and Thailand, I’ve asked six incredible authors, travelers and expats to share their stories.

Every Monday and Friday during the month of March, I will be featuring fascinating articles by Jill Dobbe, Melissa Burovac, Beth Green, Anne Hamilton, Annika Milisic Stanley and Pamela Allegretto – as well as an article I’ve written about claiming your place in this world – on my blog.

I hope you enjoy learning more about these incredible women in the coming weeks, in particular their expat and travel-related experiences and the influence it’s had on their life and writing.

See you Friday!

 

“The ride back to Kathmandu was comfortable and relaxing. There were more overturned trucks (the gas-powered ones seem to tip the most, I’m surprised there weren’t more explosions), goats being herded across the highway by ancient women, children playing games in traffic, private cars and buses alike pulling over in the most inconvenient places for a picnic or public bath, and best of all the suicidal overtaking maneuvers (or what we would call ‘passing’) by our bus and others while going downhill at incredible speeds or around hairpin turns uphill with absolutely no power left to actually get around the other vehicle.”

Trek with me through the bamboo forests and terraced mountaintops of Eastern Nepal, take a wild river rafting ride in class IV waters, go on an elephant ride and encounter charging rhinoceros on jungle walks in Chitwan National Park, sea kayak the surreal waters of Krabi and snorkel in the Gulf of Thailand. Join me on some of the scariest bus rides you could imagine, explore beautiful and intriguing temples, experience religious rituals unknown to most Westerners, and visit mind-blowing places not mentioned in your typical travel guides.

This travelogue also provides insight into the experience of volunteering at a Nepali school and living with a traditional family during a long-term homestay, where religion and ritual still rule daily life.

A touch of self-discovery is inherent to this kind of journey, one spurred on by a young woman’s attempt to figure out what she wants to do with her life.

Notes of a Naive Traveler is a must-read for those interested in learning more about – or wishing to travel to – Nepal and Thailand. I hope it inspires you to see these amazing countries for yourself.

Front cover artwork: ‘Folly in Divinity’, acrylic on canvas by Don Farrell

Release date: May 13, 2017

Pre-order Notes of a Naive Traveler: Nepal and Thailand now on iBooksKoboAmazon, Barnes & Noble NOOK and Smashwords for 99 cents and have it delivered to your eReader the moment it is released!