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Posts Tagged ‘harem’

Since the Ottoman royal harems were filled with women from both the Mediterranean and the Baltic — Italian families even casting their daughters on the Adriatic to be picked up by the sultan’s sailors — my Turkish husband jokes he finally brought me back to Istanbul where I belong.

I don’t know, in the span of history and forgotten connections of family, anything’s possible. My Lithuanian family name, echoing a town and river on today’s Belarus border, also sounds a lot like the imperial Turkish bloodline of Osman.

family name derived from this town

As a fourth generation immigrant, I’m so far removed from who and where I come from I’m visited by ghost urges from genes and culture long ago severed. Today I post at expat+HAREM, the global niche about how the mysteries of our extended lineage often crop up as synchronicity, wanderlust, and quirks of taste.

For instance, why does this Northern California girl raised on turkey burgers crave the beet soup borscht? When I feel kinship with my Ukrainian, Estonian, Jewish, Italian and Greek friends, what do their wide brows or brown eyes, their stoicism or talkative personality, remind me of? Do they mirror the mix that is me?

What ethnic or regional mystery reverberates in you?

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I’m looking forward to attending TEDGlobal in Oxford next month especially since the conference’s theme is “The Substance of Things Not Seen”.  Invisibility, hiddenness, misapprehension — all are threaded  through my own work.

Consider Expat Harem‘s anachronistic, titillating concept. It taps into robust yet erroneous Western stereotypes about Asia Minor and the entire Muslim world: a forbidden world of cloistered women. When infused with a modern and virtual positivity — the Expat Harem as peer-filled refuge and natural source of foreign female wisdom  — a masked reality emerges: the harem as a female powerbase. This is an Eastern feminist continuum little known in the Western world.

“Help people talk about what they’re most afraid of,” is a mantra I’ve been hearing a lot from thoughtful personalities in my life. But first we have to surmount our own resistance to the topics.

I’m discovering with my latest book project, a forensic memoir of friendship, that taboo has an unintended cloaking effect. Societal taboos may be meant to protect us from harmful practices yet banishing from our thoughts the most unimaginable and unspeakable human acts only makes us blind to them happening in our midst.

By finding it so unthinkable, we make possible for taboo behavior to continue in our communities.

Name a taboo from your life.  When you hear it mentioned, what’s your reaction?

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