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Posts Tagged ‘culture’

Expat Harem has a new global niche.

The Expat Harem — a concept I coined in 2004 with Jennifer Eaton Gokmen and brought to life in 2005 and 2006 in the foreign women in Turkey anthology Tales from the Expat Harem – has always been about a modern and virtual community of cultural peers.

windows into the expat harem by Leslie Dann

Now the (softly) relaunched ExpatHarem.com is expat+HAREM, the global niche and aims to bring its community to life online as a neoculture hub for global citizens and identity adventurers as well as travelers and culturati, fans of the anthology, and Turkophiles.

Re-imagining the role Expat Harem plays in the cultural conversation, this new venture acknowledges the permanent liminality of today’s multicultural, global existence. Like the nation of Turkey itself — its struggles are both personal and universal, self-perception East yet also West, looking toward Europe or Asia, ancient empire persisting under the surface of new republic. In some small or large way, all of us are coming or going, crossing threshold after threshold but never arriving.

I’m looking forward to engaging with you about the crossroads and dichotomies of our hybrid lives….

  • modern existences in historic places
  • deep-rooted traditions translated in mobile times
  • limiting stereotypes revisited for wider meaning
  • the expat mindset as it evolves from nationalism to globalism

COLLABORATION WELCOME: Guest contributors are invited to make this global niche their own. Peruse the (very basic) guidelines.

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Happily at home in Istanbul in 2007, I flipped through Unsuitable for Ladies. Edited by Jane Robinson, this anthology of female travel writing crisscrosses the globe and stretches back into ancient history. Complete candy for me.

Around the same time I was ruminating in an essay for a global nomad magazine why I’ve come to employ a defensive strategy for my expatriatism

Sense of self is my most valuable expatriate possession.

During my first long-term stint overseas in the ’90s my boundaries were over-run by circumstance and culture. Language and cultural barriers prevented me from expressing my identity. I’d tell Malaysians I was a writer. They’d reply, “Horses?”  I was mistaken for a different Western woman in Asia. A crew of Indonesian laborers working at my house wondered when I was going to drink a beer and take off my shirt. Like leather shoes and handbags molding overnight, expat life on the equator made me feel my sense of self was decomposing at time-lapse speed.

A thunderbolt from Robinson: “Southeast Asia has more than its share of reluctant women travelers.”

She compiled Wayward Women, a survey of 350 female travel writers through 16 centuries so her conclusion about Southeast Asian travelers is drawn from a massive canon. In that moment, my hardest-won lessons of expatriatism felt vindicated. 

Travelers and expats: What happens to your unique experience if you consider yourself part of a continuum?

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“Can you share a travel secret?” asked an online travel site for women prepping its annual feature of tips from women writers worldwide.

“Read the women who went before us,” I replied. “Or, read about them.”

For this expat/archaeologist/writer/traveler, cultural wisdom pools at the intersection of women and travel.  The romance and grit of historical travelogue connects me to the land — and reminds me of travel’s transformative force in the lives of women. Reputation-risking. Life-threatening. Culturally redeeming. Personally empowering.  (My post about a related controversial history.)

on set of "Anna and the King"

on set of "Anna and The King"

Adventurous Women in Southeast Asia (Oxford-in-Asia), a selection of traveler sketches by historian John Gullick, gave my own struggling expatriate experience new meaning when I was sweating it out for 5 years in the Malaysian jungle. Playing an attitudinal extra aristocrat on the 1860s filmset of “Anna and The King” with Jodie Foster and Chow Yun Fat in 1999 (next to a pig farm during a swine flu outbreak, but that’s another post!), I appreciated learning about the dark side of the iconic governess to the Siamese court. Foster may have played Anna Leonowens prim, proper and principled but actually the lady was a scrappy mixed-blood mistress of reinvention. There was hope for me!

If you plan a trip to Turkey maybe Cultures in Dialogue holds similar promise for you. The print-on-demand series resurrects antique writings by American and British women about their travels in Turkey (1880s to 1940s), along with surprisingly political writing by women of the Ottoman empire. Contempo analysis by spunky scholars Reina Lewis and Teresa Heffernan refreshes the context of a region in transition.

Next post, more titles which add new dimension to travel. Any favorite antique travel reads? What draws you to by-gone reports?

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A longtime friend messaged me on Facebook yesterday to alert me I need to change my profile photo to a more flattering one.

I snapped it in my sunny Istanbul kitchen on my iPhone last month. I’d just had my hair done — and a facial, so not a stitch of makeup. I look somewhat natural, and somewhat my age of almost 45. I liked the image for that reason. An actual unvarnished look rather than the airbrushed Turkish portraits in my book publicity materials, my playful Photoshop-manipulated avatars on social media sites, or the pound-of-make-up glamour shot from my Today Show TV appearance in 2008. The current pic is not the only way I can look, and I’m not cementing it as my favorite of all time. There are some surprising wrinkles, but also a touch of grey in my eyes I’d forgotten. The image makes sense at the moment, relates to creative work I am doing to be my authentic self, and I am proud of who I am in it. I’m using it across the web.

Byzantine mosaic by A.Ashman

Byzantine mosaic by A.Ashman

When my Facebook friend and I first met (before she rushed me to the hospital with a high fever), she looked me over in my sick bed and told me all I needed was “a little eyeliner”. For two decades I’ve cherished that line as her special brand of caustic Southern comedy. She was raised in places where American women have been known to sleep in their makeup – just in case. Even if I enjoy a little maquillage and lighting magic too, I’m from a rather stripped down area in Northern California. It’s only natural at our core we have different sensibilities about female presentation.

Delivered with love and true concern, yesterday’s message was a reminder to me. Only we can determine what our best self looks like.

What do portraits (and self-portraits) demand of us? Which version of yourself do you want to show the world today, and why?

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It’s that time of year — for what’s euphemistically called “Romance on the Road.” Getting your groove back in foreign zipcodes. Shirley Valentine’s Day.

In 2006 I reviewed for Perceptive Travel a somewhat academic book about the controversial practice of “sex pilgrimage”, traveling for the purpose of sexual adventure. I’m no proponent of behavior that often falls outside the bounds of a traveler’s own culture as well as severely straining mores at international destinations. I warned the assigning editor he probably had more optimistic reviewers in his stable of cutting-edge travel writers. But he couldn’t find anyone who wanted to be associated with the dense “history & how-to cum memoir”. Shipping it from Nashville, Tennessee to Istanbul was his best option.

Viewing the situation from the sex-toured Near East and my five years in South East Asia, it’s clear that one forgettable fling has the power to affect systems far larger than the person, family, village or region which witnessed and absorbed the behavior. Plus, the environment of sexual predation many Western women face overseas is bound to be heightened by the wanton choices of sex pilgrims. Travelers and expatriates like me strive to modulate our behavior to find social acceptance with native friends, families and colleagues, aware we must differentiate ourselves from sexual opportunists who don’t have to lie in the messy bed they’ve made.

Which cultural product are sex tourists exporting? Is the practice of hot-and-bothered globetrotters empirical evidence that Western culture is morally corrupt?

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