Jennifer Gokmen

Turkey's Top Selling Novelist Elif Shafak Recommends Expat Harem in The Telegraph

Screen Shot 2013-09-20 at 9.13.43 AM Thanks, Elif!

Turkey's highest selling novelist Elif Shafak recommends Tales from the Expat Harem, the anthology I coedited with Jennifer Gokmen, in the United Kingdom's Daily Telegraph.

In "Flights of the imagination: Elif Shafak on books about Turkey", she writes about Expat Harem:

"It brings out the voices of Western and Eastern women in Turkey. Travellers, students, teachers, housewives – the cultural shock that some of them went through, their personal encounters and how they made Turkey, or perhaps limbo, their home."

Elif also wrote the foreword to our book back in 2005 for the Turkish Dogan Kitap editions in both English and Turkish!

My Global Niche: An Interview With Today's Zaman Newspaper

American reporter in Turkey Brooks Emerson asked me about the foreign edge, and the challenges of finding my niche in Turkey for his series on expat success stories in national English-language newspaper Today's Zaman. In the far-ranging interview, Emerson asks me what the initial impetus for my success as an expat was, and how I've evolved.

No surprise to those who know me, foreign language adoption has not played much of a role -- once I realized that taking business meetings and doing live television interviews in Turkish literally was rendering me mute! But mentoring in all realms of my personal and professional life has been a "secret weapon" in the creative entrepreneurship of self that I aim to practice.

Emerson asks me how the environment affects the outcome of an expat's endeavors. I tell him how sense of place can inspire a sense of self.

"Anastasia says that she has always been attracted to places with an amalgamation of people and cultures. However, the biggest pull is “the idea of crossroads … like Rome, where [she] studied in college … and now here on the Bosporus,” where she senses a positive energy and vibration for self-discovery and reinvention.

"Anastasia believes that working and living abroad is an excellent way to discover new self-potential."

Read Emerson's entire July 2011 interview "The global niche of Anastasia Ashman" online.

Creative Entrepreneurship Through Social Media: The Case Studies of Anastasia Ashman and Tara Lutman Agacayak

From Andrea Martins' ExpatWomen.com Creative Entrepreneurship Through Social Media: The Case Studies of Anastasia Ashman and Tara Lutman Agacayak

Anastasia and Tara are expat women entrepreneurs who have used social media to successfully grow their businesses and online profiles. We asked these two progressive business women to write an article for us, sharing their experiences and tips. 

Interestingly, whilst they both herald from the same part of Northern California and both currently live in Turkey, their paths did not cross until they met on Twitter.  

Creative entrepreneurship means thinking innovatively to both create a business and to promote it.  Expatriate women make ideal creative entrepreneurs because they usually require flexible and fluid work to fit their lifestyle (which typically means that they need to be creative in their business concept) and they are increasingly internet and social media savvy (which means that they are typically more willing to use social media creatively, to promote them themselves and their business).

Social networks like Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter, together with easy-to-use blogging systems remove many of the personal disempowerments far-flung expat women have traditionally experienced.  They can also be powerful professional tools, especially for expat entrepreneurs.  The niche nature and 24/7 cycle of the web can diminish cultural, linguistic, geographic and time zone disadvantages to both career development and entrepreneurial endeavours abroad.

Social media makes it easier to create these one-of-a-kind businesses by helping define and embody your brand, whether you are a writer, a coach, a consultant, a photographer or so on.  Applications and tools such as blogs, Twitter and YouTube enable you to extend your brand across the web and convey your multi-media message in text, video or graphics. You can monitor your brand, see how others connect with it, and evolve it as your expat journey transforms you. Well-curated Tweetdeck and Hootsuite columns and specialized LinkedIn groups provide access to state-of-the-industry practices, trending thought, and leading players in your field of business, as well as the opportunity to become known as the experts that you probably are.

 

How Do We Use Social Media?

The best way to explain how social media might be able to help you and/or your business, is to share with you our own real-life case studies…

Case Study One: Tara Lutman Agacayak

Anastasia: Tara, going online solved your information technology (IT) career disruption after accompanying your husband to a small town in Turkey. How?

Tara: I first started experimenting with online sales by offering trinkets on eBay. Shortly afterward I started Citara's, an online boutique selling handmade Turkish products with my husband. Setting up an independent retail site was entirely different than selling through a hosted site like eBay. Getting our products in front of the right people required a unique set of tactics on the web. In this new attention economy, social networking and content marketing became vital to our online business. Citara’s started as a static website, but the brand has extended to a Twitter handle and Facebook page. We have also partnered with a non-profit called Nest where we donate a portion of sales to their microloan program generating funds for women's craft-based businesses. The work we do is editorialized through our blog and disseminated through channels we have set up on Twitter, Facebook and Kirtsy.

After building an offline network of artisans in Turkey I partnered with my expat friend Figen Cakir to start Behind the Bazaar, a site promoting independent artists and designers in Istanbul. It relies solely on social networking for digital word of mouth marketing. Using our blog as a content hub we offer a unique perspective on the local creative community. Content is then re-broadcast and re-packaged through Twitter, LinkedIn groups, and our Facebook page. We also act as experts on Localyte providing – an alternative view of Istanbul through the eyes of its artists.

Last year, Figen and I also started Intarsia Concept (IC) as a place for people to congregate and share resources for building creative businesses. Many creative entrepreneurs are their own entities. They manage their own PR, define their brand, and handle their own marketing and customer service. We envisioned IC as a supportive and informative environment for those starting their own creative businesses. Using our blog to centralize content we extend conversations out to LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and bookmarking sites like Kirtsy and Delicious. I monitor HARO (Help A Reporter Out) requests for press opportunities and respond to questions on LinkedIn and Twitter. I engage in forums and groups on Ladies Who Launch to look for opportunities to collaborate or barter services.

Social networking is not just about getting your message out, but about opening two-way channels of communication and listening as much as you speak. It is the opportunity to learn from the greater community and create win-win opportunities.

Case Study Two: Anastasia Ashman

Tara: Anastasia, your writing and cultural entertainment-producing career is built on the publishing world's "author platform".  What does this mean and how is it related to social media?

Anastasia: I have been location-independent for eleven years, arriving in Istanbul from New York City in 2003, after Southeast Asia in the ‘90s where internet access revolutionized my estranged life. I virtually compiled and edited the book Tales from the Expat Harem with Jennifer Gokmen,  through email with more than 40 people in four different time zones. My second book and cross-media projects like intellectual global nomad salons and screen development of Ottoman and Byzantine princess stories require a vast rebuild of web presence and activity.

The publishing concept for launching a career – the author platform –  is a good model for the globally mobile woman entrepreneur. In order to make sales, land assignments, get project funding, attract collaborators and partners, a professional needs to demonstrate her platform of influence and credibility. She needs to pinpoint her market, get substantial attention, deliver the goods, including: a targeted mailing list; an audience; and alliances with others with similar audiences; access to media outlets (generating her own newsletters, blogs, podcasts); making appearances; and other speaking engagements.

To this end, social media offers opportunities to build a more robust and far-reaching platform with fewer resources. I interact with readers, agents, marketers and publishers in live chats on Twitter, meet peers in networks like SheWrites, TravelBlogExchange and the small business community Biznik, while SocialMention and Google alert me to people discussing my subject matter so I can join the conversation. I share thought leadership with fellow writers, travelers, globalists and culturati by posting favorite web finds to Twitter and Facebook feeds, and bookmarking them at Delicious. I upload presentations to SlideShare, and contribute to LinkedIn groups for: filmmaking; my college alumnae; the expat life; Turkish business; blogging; and digital publishing.

On my main sites I develop my own material, community and skills. I revolve ideas about female identity, history and culture at my individual blog, and foster relationships with my global niche of Turkophiles, intentional travelers and hybrid lifestylers as founder of the expat+HAREM group blog. Technology helps me amplify with syndication to Networked Blogs at Facebook, to Kindle, my LinkedIn profile, and Amazon Author Central. My ultimate goal is to create viral events – a worldwide rave for my most shareable ideas and properties – where my network voluntarily distributes my digital content to their connections, deriving their own meaning and use, telling my story their way. As I locate, interact with and help interested parties across the web, I create my ideal word-of-mouth market worldwide.

 

Anastasia & Tara’s Social Media Tips

 

Do:

  • Present yourself thoughtfully, accurately and honestly;
  • Mind-cast, not life-cast: aim for a high signal versus noise ratio;
  • Provide value: offer your expertise and knowledge, solve problems, be generous, connect people, be authentic; and
  • Monitor who is following you (be aware of who you are congregating with).

Don’t:

  • Allow incriminating words and images to be attached to your name;
  • Believe get-rich-quick and get-followers-fast schemes;
  • Use your birth year or publish information people can use to find your physical location; and
  • Use copyrighted material without permission.

Think Long-Term

 

        • Social media is a way to carve out your niche and congregate with like-minded people. Whilst this can happen quickly, it usually does take time – so think long-term.
        • The good news is that if you are patient, dedicated, committed, giving and authentic, you

will 

          find allies in your field. Your networks

will 

          support and promote you. They

will 

        offer solutions and encouragement and challenge you to be better. And the best part is… just like your own ‘career in a suitcase’, your social media contacts are portable and they will go with you wherever you go.  So good luck and happy connecting!

 

 

Anastasia Ashman aims to further the worldwide cultural conversation, raising the feminine voice on issues of culture and history, self improvement and the struggle for identity – from one family to entire hemispheres.

Tara Lutman Agacayak works with creative entrepreneurs around the world in multiple facets to craft viable and lucrative businesses.

 

January 2010

 

Additional Resources:

 

 

Discussing Life At The Crossroads On Satellite TV With Martin Anthony

Talking about foreign women in modern Turkey, the making of Expat Harem the book, and other cultural crossroads, in a live television interview with Turkey's 6 News. Expat Harem coeditors Jennifer Gokmen and I appear in THE CROSSROADS, an English-language TV talk show broadcast out of Istanbul via satellite -- from Ireland to Mongolia!  The channel broadcasts programs in Turkish, English and Russian, which is why the news crawl appears in Russian.

Click on the photo to view Expat Harem on the Crossroads at YouTube. ⇒

Canadian host and personality Martin Anthony kept us on the hot seat for an hour in this lively session...we may be sitting next to a refreshing-looking pool in the city's breezy Etiler district, but can you tell it's the muggiest day of the year? Ooof, July 10, 2009.

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Taping The Joey Reynolds Radio Show

Anastasia Ashman on The Joey Reynolds ShowPleased to appear on the Joey Reynolds Show this week when he was broadcasting live from Istanbul to the United States. The WOR Radio Network show is heard on radio stations from New York to Hawaii and has more than 5 million listeners.

Jennifer Gokmen and I met with the veteran radio show host -- often called the father of "shock talk radio" -- and his producer Myra Chanin at the offices of Turkish national broadcaster TRT for an hour on-air to discuss Tales from the Expat Harem and life and work as American women in Turkey.Joey Reynolds, Jennifer Gokmen, Myra Chanin and Anastasia Ashman after taping The Joey Reynolds Show

Explaining Turkey to 5 Million Americans on NBC's Today Show with Matt Lauer

When America's most popular morning talk show came to Istanbul, they asked me and my Expat Harem coeditor Jennifer Gokmen to explain Turkey to five million Americans. Here, we talk with NBC Today Show host Matt Lauer in front of the Haghia Sophia, a 1,500 year old architectural wonder of the world, on a breezy May first.

If the embedded video doesn't work for you, you can view this interview here

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Interviewed By Istanbullum Magazine

When did you move to Istanbul? What is the first memory you have about Istanbul? AA: My husband and I moved in 2003 and stayed in Ulus with my brother-in-law for a few months, so my impressions from those days are of the sun setting over the Topkapi Palace far in the distance as the family ate barbequed lamb chops on the balcony, an assembly line of kuzu izgara. Sprinkling dried marjoram and oregano on the chops. But my first memories started when I visited in 2000 ( I felt ages of winter chill emanating from AyaSofya’s old stones as I gazed up at the Byzantine mosaics). Then when I married in Istanbul the balmy summer of 2001, at Esma Sultan in Ortakoy, the memories punctuated by the flashbulbs of a glitzy Turkish wedding. The overall memory of Istanbul? A lot of kisses, for everyone, coming and going, every day, every night.

What does Istanbul mean to you? 

AA: Since I have a degree in Classical Greek, Roman and Near Eastern Archaeology,  Istanbul’s historical significance as the center of the ancient civilized world is never far from my consciousness. It’s a place of power and energy and ideas, and has been for centuries. There is no mistaking that this is an important place on the globe.  But as a New World woman from cutting edge California, I also love that with its heavy history it’s not musty and dead like a forgotten museum. I can appreciate its new layers of lives and dreams, and find modern day Istanbul to have more than its share of fabulous places, people and events.

Which part of the city do you live in? How do you like it?

AA: I lived in bohemian Cihangir for four years and loved my scenic view of the Bosphorus overlooking Kabatas ferry terminal. Perched on the cliff the view had all the energy of a transportation hub but at the same time was completely serene – and quiet, if you don’t count the taxicabs honking at all hours of the night! The proximity to Taksim and Istiklal was wonderful, and with the new tramway and metro extension, it really felt like the center of the world! My husband couldn’t take the commute to his Maslak office though so we just moved to Istinye, where we have a much more intimate view of the bay with its teal-colored water. I’m liking all the hillsides covered in wildflowers. But I’ll miss the cafes of Cihangir, like Miss Pizza, and Savoy Pastanesi for simit toast on Sundays and of course in a neighborhood so full of feisty street cats, the great veterinarians. I adopted my cat Bunny from Kazanci Sokagi, so where ever I go I’ll always have a bit of Cihangir in my heart, and in my home.

How does Istanbul look like from U.S.? Are there any misconceptions about the city?

AA: Physically I think the general image of Istanbul does not include so much water, waterways, vistas of water. The hills are also a surprise to many people.  It’s hard to conceive of a metropolis made of so many small villages, how Istanbul can go on for miles and still be Istanbul, even if each kilometer is like a new world.

Do you have any favorite spots in the city?

AA: My favorites are the ones I haven’t been to yet! They exist in my dream of Istanbul. There are so many places I yearn to go. Like the Ilhamur Kosku in Muradiye, the Beykoz pavilion, and Beylerbeyi Palace. The Horhor market in Eyup with its Levantine antiques. A strange restaurant in Gunesli specializing in huge platters of chicken wings.  Things you hear about, things you see from a distance, things you have to find a special time to do. The problem is more time I live in Istanbul, the longer my list grows.

Some of the stories take place in Istanbul in the book “Tales from the Expat Harem”. Is Istanbul a good setting for works of literature?

AA: I think so, (and for film too! Why aren’t there more films set in Istanbul?)  The Expat Harem tales set in Istanbul show that the city offers a colorful and diverse backdrop for personal histories, and adds true depth to the narrator’s every day life. When a young Guatemalan woman recognizes two hatun speaking Ladino on a Mecediyekoy bus, she feels pride in her Spanish linguistic connection -- and at the same time she acknowledges the chain of history that brought this medieval language to Istanbul.  What echoes in that moment is that the Guatemalan came to Istanbul through her own chain of history…

 What does Istanbul need? How would it be better?

AA: A more extensive Metro network, servicing coastal spots like Beskitas, Ortakoy and Bebek. Imagine how that would alleviate street traffic!

 What are your future writing projects? Is Istanbul somehow in them?

AA: Istanbul absolutely will play a role in many of my upcoming cultural essays, in fact the title of my travel memoir in progress is “Berkeley to Byzantium: The Reorientation of a West Coast Adventuress”. It’s about the physical (and metaphysical!) journey from my utopian hometown in California, around the world through classical Italy and the media worlds of New York and Hollywood, to the plantations and palaces of South East Asia, finally ending up in Istanbul. The challenge is to fully explain how my life has culminated in this incredibly meaningful place. Another challenge is to stay home and write when Istanbul beckons!

 What do you think about Istanbul being the “European Culture Capital for 2010”?

AA: It’s about time! It seems to me that Istanbul makes good use of its breathtaking monuments and historic settings for cultural activities (like concerts at Rumeli Hisari and the Aya Irini, and exhibits at the Darphane and Tophane-i Amire, and receptions at Feriye and Dolmabahce), and the yearlong festival will be a perfect opportunity to show off  to the world the city’s priceless heritage, and the life that the people of Istanbul inject into these wondrous spots.

How is the expat life in Istanbul? Is Istanbul an easy city for expat living? 

AA: There are tons of options for expatriates in Istanbul, social and business clubs and general communities, and lots of support networks and foreign language media. I’ve been an expat in Rome and Kuala Lumpur where I learned some expat survival techniques and put them into practice as soon as I arrived here.  I think Jennifer Gokmen would agree that making the anthology helped make sense of our own lives in Turkey as foreigners -- the Expat Harem is an apt metaphor for us.  The title positively reclaims the concept of the Eastern harem just as we consider ourselves and our writers inextricably wedded to Turkish culture, embedded in it, though forever foreign. The virtual walls are there: our initial lack of language skills, undeveloped understanding of the culture, and even some of the ethnocentricities that we cling to.  Luckily for us, Istanbul has a long history of welcoming foreigners, and being able to accomodate many different cultures and mindsets.

Cocktail Expat Harem Signing, 7th Annual Ladies Lunch, Bodrum Marina Yacht Club

Expat Harem signing at The Seventh Annual Ladies Lunch, Bodrum Marina Yacht Club, 2006From the Expat Harem blog: We were invited to give a presentation at the Marina Yacht Club for the 7th Annual Ladies’ Lunch, organized by and for the local expat population. The area has about 5,000 foreigners in residence.

Despite heavy thunderstorms early that morning, 120 women streamed into the event as rain and clouds gave way to sunshine. During the Buck Finns cocktail hour on the veranda, we signed books until they sold out.

We were thrilled to meet so many of Bodrum’s energetic and enterprising foreign women.

Among them were event organizers Jane Baxter, Christine Davies, Leslie Joy Rhoades, and Priscilla Windsor Brown, whose voluminous rolodexes played a part in the inception of this annual event; Dina Street of Zephyria Yachting; chef Angie Mitchell, whose book Secrets Of The Turkish Kitchen has been known to save cross-cultural marriages; Victoria Boz, an adventurous New Zealander; translator Antonella Culasso who claims to be “the only Italian in Bodrum!”; then there was fiesty Lucy Nazim, a Turkish Cypriot/British repat, who is following a path in neuro-linguistic programming; Duygu Nayir, the owner of seafront cafe Kırmızı; German yoga instructor and writer Monika Munzinger; one of the four Gillians present was inspired to begin writing the book she knows she has in her.

Expat Harem Book Tour: 49 Days, 10 U.S. States

Expat Harem Book Tour at Los Angeles'  Book SoupWe did this and survived to tell about it! Jennifer Gokmen and I spoke in front of more than 800 people in 10 states, including conferences, festivals, a consulate, bookstores, alumnae clubs, cultural organizations, and a cigar factory (that place smelled the best). See photos of this nutty feat. EXPAT HAREM EDITORS U.S. BOOK TOUR SPRING 2006

--13 April, New York City, NY, 7:00PM NEW YORK CONSULATE GENERAL OF REPUBLIC OF TURKEY 821 United Nations Plaza

--15 April, Providence, RI, 1:00PM BOOKS ON THE SQUARE Books on the Square 471 Angell St.

--21-22 April 21-22, Buffalo, NY GENDER ACROSS BORDERS II Gender Institute, University at Buffalo

--April 23, Washington, D.C. 1 PM BRYN MAWR CLUB OF WASHINGTON, DC Private residence

--25 April, Washington, DC, 6:30PM CANDIDA WORLD OF BOOKS 1541 14th Street, NW

--26 April, Washington, DC AMERICAN TURKISH ASSOCIATION OF WASHINGTON DC (ATA-DC) Türkevi, Dupont Circle

--28 April, Dayton, OH, 7:00PM BOOKS & CO. 350 East Stroop Road

--30 April, Nashville, TN, 2:00-4:00PM CAO Cigar Factory 6172 Cockrill Bend Circle

--1 May, Tucson, AZ, 7:00PM ANTIGONE BOOKS 411 North 4th Avenue

--2 May, Tempe, AZ TURKISH AMERICAN ASSOCIATION OF ARIZONA (TAA-AZ) Private residence

--3 May, Los Angeles, CA, 7:00PM BOOK SOUP 8818 Sunset Blvd. West Hollywood

--5 May, San Diego, CA, 6:30PM TURKISH AMERICAN ASSOCIATION OF SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA, SAN DIEGO CHAPTER (TAASC-SD) (open to public) Location TBA

--6 May, Irvine, CA, 2:00PM ORANGE COUNTY TURKISH AMERICAN ASSOCIATION (open to the public) University of California at Irvine

--7 May, Los Angeles, CA TURKISH AMERICAN LADIES LEAGUE (TALL) Private Home, Beverly Hills

--9 May, San Francisco, CA, 7:00PM CODY'S BOOKS 2 Stockton Street

--10 May, Berkeley, CA, 7:30PM BLACK OAK BOOKS 1491 Shattuck Avenue

--15 May, Lake Forest Park, WA, 7:00PM THIRD PLACE BOOKS Lake Forest Park Towne Centre 17171 Bothell Way NE

--16 May, Seattle, WA, 7:00PM WIDE WORLD BOOKS & MAPS 4411 Wallingford Ave. North

--18 May, Ann Arbor, MI, 7:00PM BARNES & NOBLE 3235 Washtenaw Ave.

--19 May, Ann Arbor, MI, 7:00PM BORDER'S 3527 Washtenaw Ave.

--21 May, East Lansing, MI, 2:00PM BARNES & NOBLE 333 E Grand River Ave.

--May 23, New York, NY 7:00 PM BRYN MAWR CLUB OF NORTHERN NEW JERSEY Private residence

--25 May 2006, New York, NY, 6:30PM MOON & STARS PROJECT'S MAYFEST Middle East & Middle Eastern American Center The City University of New York 365 Fifth Avenue

Academic Conferences featuring EXPAT HAREM contributors rather than the editors:

--30, 31 March and 1April, Valdosta, GA CHANGING TIME(S): FEMINISM THEN AND NOW The Southeastern Women's Studies Association (SEWSA) The Women's Studies Program of Valdosta State University

--31 March-1 April, DeKalb, IL 2006 MIDWESTERN CONFERENCE ON LITERATURE, LANGUAGE AND MEDIA (MCLLM) English Department of Northern Illinois University

--24-28 May, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada THE IMMIGRANT AND ARTISTIC LICENCE AICW 2006 Conference University of British Columbia

Expat Harem Event At Turkish House, Dupont Circle, Washington D.C.

Özge Ovun and Yalcin Sert from Voice of America News filmed the event to air on Turkey’s national TGRT TV and Erju Ackman and his partner Goksin Carey filmed a segment to air on Virginia’s Channel 10 (WSLS NBC). Organized by the ever-supportive Didem Muslu of the American-Turkish Association of DC, the event was held at the homebase of the Assembly of Turkish American Associations — the Türkevi (Turkish House), and was attended by ATA-DC president, Pelin Aylangan (who is currently penning a Turkish culinary history and memoir) and secretary, Patsy Jones (whose Fenerbahçe-loving Turkish inlaws are scandalized by her love of the rival football team Beşiktaş!).

Audience members included: Yalçın Sert, director of student portals at the University of Maryland and owner of various forums and web portals; Ralph and Linda, who are currently enrolled in US State Department Turkish language courses for Ralph’s impending posting to the US Embassy in Ankara as an FDA specialist (both Ralph and Linda told us they wished their entire Turkish class would have attended our event); Turks like Ayşe, a Crimean Turk, and Özge’s parents visiting from İzmit; and other daring American gelins, like Jetta Karabulut who has road trip adventures of her own to tell, like a trip from Istanbul to Mersin in 1968 with her two year old in tow!Expat Harem event at The Turkish House on Dupont Circle, Washington DC, 2006

Expat Harem Talk, Candida's International Bookstore, Washington D.C.

Expat Harem display at Candida's International bookstore, Washington DC, 2006 We were pleased to be joined by journalists, travelers, culture hounds and artists including: Liz Gracon and Danielle Monosson, friends we met in Istanbul during their posting to the U.S. Consulate there; Kay McCarty, whose daughter has worked in Diyarbakir and Mardin, Turkey (a fan of Expat Harem, Kay bought her 9th, 10th, and 11th copies of the book at Candida's!); traveling an hour from Baltimore was Jeannette Belliveau, the author of soon-to-be-released Romance on the Road, a book documenting the controversial 'sex pilgrim' movement which Anastasia reviews (from an opposite stance) in the upcoming July/August issue of Perceptive Travel; Dawn, two-time visitor to Turkey for classes in the art of glasswork at the Cam Ocagi /Glass Furnace (inspired by EH contributor Diane Caldwell, Dawn may soon find herself relocating to Turkey); and Kirin Kalia, an editor at Migration Policy Institute, who brought the Bryn Mawr alumnae count on this tour to 10.

Expat Harem Are Women On The Brink

This is the introduction Jennifer Gokmen and I wrote to the book Tales From The Expat Harem:

If there were ever a place tailor-made to play host to wanderers, travelers and those pursuing lives outside their original territory, surely Turkey is that place.

 

The perpetual evolution that travel and cultural assimilation visits upon the foreign born women in this collection echoes the continuous transformation that envelops the entire country. Threshold to worlds East or West depending on which way one faces, Turkey is itself a unique metaphor for transition.

Forming a geographic bridge between the continents of Europe and Asia and a philosophical link between the spheres of Occident and Orient, Turkey is neither one of the places it connects.  Similarly, foreign women on Turkish soil are neither what nor who they used to be, yet not fully transformed by their brush with Turkey.

Our Expat Harem women are on the brink of reclassifying themselves, challenged to redefine their lives, to rethink their definitions of spirituality, femininity, sensuality and self.

Aligned in their ever-shifting contexts, both Turkey and the expatriate share a bond of constant metamorphosis.

 

  • Delirious with influenza, a friendless Australian realizes the value of misafır perverlik, traditional Turkish hospitality, when she’s rescued from her freezing rental by unknown Anatolian neighbors bearing food and medicinal tea;
  • a pregnant and introverted Irishwoman faces the challenge of finding her place in a large Black Sea family;
  • a Peace Corps volunteer in remote Eastern Turkey realizes how the taboos of her own culture color her perceptions;
  • and a liberated New York single questions the gallant rules of engagement on the İstanbul dating scene, wondering whether being treated like a lady makes her less a feminist.

 

These are among the Tales from the Expat Harem.

The titillating, anachronistic title acknowledges erroneous yet prevalent Western stereotypes about Asia Minor and the entire Muslim world, while also declaring that our storytellers share a common bond with the denizens of a traditional Turkish harem.

 

Much like the imported brides of the Seraglio, İstanbul’s 15th century palatial seat of the Ottoman sultanate, our writers are inextricably wedded to Turkish culture, embedded in it even, yet alien nonetheless.

If a harem in the time of the sultans was once a confined community of women, a setting steeped in the feminine culture of its era, then today’s Expat Harem surely follows in its tradition.

Virtual and mainly of mindset, this newly coined community of expatriate women in modern Turkey is conjured by the shared circumstance of being foreign-born and female in a land laced with the history of the harem.

 

Like the insular life in the Seraglio of the past, foreign women in today’s Turkey can often be a self-restricting and isolated coterie, newcomers initially limited in independence and social interaction due to language barriers, cultural naiveté and a resilient ethnocentricity.

Tales from the Expat Harem reveal both the personal cultural prison of the initiate and the peer-filled refuge of those assimilated. Our harem is a source of foreign female wisdom, a metaphoric primer for novices and a refresher for old hands.

Our Scheherazades, modern day counterparts of that historic Arabian Nights harem storyteller, are drawn from a worldwide diaspora of women whose lives have been touched by Turkey.

When our call for stories reached them, through networks of people and computers, we heard from a multitude of expatriates in West Africa to Southeast Asia to America’s Pacific Northwest, all desiring to be counted and to recount their sagas.

By telephone from her home in California, an artist who studied illuminated manuscripts at Topkapı Sarayı was the first to admit the precious affliction she shares with many of her harem sisters: “Turkey gets into your blood. I’m an addict now.”

As editors we faced the delicate task of administrating the Expat Harem’s stories, preparing womanly wisdom for safekeeping. Managing the epic enterprise with its ticklish spectrum of cultural appreciation and feminine self-portraiture, our nights were nearly as sleepless as Scheherazade’s!

 

For months we coaxed diplomats, nurses, chefs and others to explore and express their truths about Turkey in a culturally balanced tone.

Some were not professional writers and some were unable to commit their tale to paper. Of those who did, only a fraction survived the editing process.

But affinities emerged as each woman divulged her internal journey and lasting emotional connection to the place and its people. Systems engineers and hoteliers, missionaries and clothing producers, artists, journalists, and others each share a fierce affection for Turkey.

Revealing what Turkish culture has yielded in their lives, they unspool humorous and poignant adventures at weddings in cobbled Byzantine streets, Ottoman bathhouses, and boisterous bazaars along the Silk Road.

In atmospheric travelogue through a countryside still echoing the old ways, through Giresun and Göreme, they transport us on emotional journeys of assimilation into friendship, neighborhood, wifehood, and motherhood.

Modern women in the real world, they take us along on their quests for national identity, business ownership and property possession.

What follows is a literary version of the virtual, modern harem’s never-ending gathering of women, day melting into night, a relaxed feast while delighting in each other’s diverse company, acting out scenes of cultural contrast and discovery.

 

The country rewards seekers, a veiled place insisting on being uncovered. In the process of discovering Turkey, contemporary women of the Expat Harem unmask themselves as well.

In narratives illuminating imperfect human nature and the fullest possible cultural embrace, our Scheherazades wrestle urges to overly-exoticize the unfamiliar and strive to balance self preservation with the fresh expectations placed on them by Turkish culture.

Some delve deep into interiors of country and psyche, like the shy teacher transformed by the full frontal impact of a 13th century Central Anatolian hamam.

Others teeter on the comic edge of a cultural divide, like the archaeologist who sparks hilarity in the trenches at Troy before language skills supplant vaudevillian pantomime.

In attempting to reconcile countless episodes of unconditional native generosity, expatriate women of the harem learn to accept a new emotional calculus.

 

A mid-life dancer mincing her way through the alleys of İstanbul’s bohemian Beyoğlu district to the beat of a darbuka drum invokes Mary Oliver’s poetic revelation, one that echoes in every tale from the Expat Harem:

 

“I was a bride married to amazement."

Speaking At The Istanbul Book Fair

Speaking at the Istanbul Book FairWe conducted an Expat Harem panel at the 24th Istanbul Book  Fair with editors and writers including Kathy Hamilton, Katie Belliel and Valerie Tasiran. The anthology was also launched there, featured at the Dogan Kitapcilik stand.  

Expat Harem Book Featured At Istanbul Book Fair