Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Tales from the Expat Harem

I stumbled across Tales from the Expat Harem: Foreign Women in Modern Turkey. The title is rather off putting, but this collection of 29 essays is perhaps the most helpful book I’ve read in my preparations for moving to the country.

English-speaking women from around the world, though mostly Americans, write about their experiences living, working, and sometime romancing throughout Turkey (though most do live in Istanbul). Only of few of the authors are professional writers. Although the writing is not always stellar, it is more than adequate and sometimes even better than many of our current bestselling authors.

The women provide a variety of perspectives, but almost all openly admit to struggling with adapting to a culture so different from their own. In “Forever After, For Now,” Tanala OsaYande writes about maintaining her identity as an independent American woman while navigating the Turkish dating scene. Several women also write about experiencing the Turkish bath for the first time, and Rhonda Vander Sluis in “Failed Missionary” describes working as a Christian missionary who eventually rethinks her calling.

Only one essay is set in the city where I will be living. Unfortunately, it takes place in the 1960s, and the author has apparently not returned since then. I’ve been told Eastern Turkey is far more conservative than the West, but I suspect life has changed dramatically in the last 40 years, so I won’t take any advice from the essay.

Another story mentions a tradition I’m convinced Americans should adopt. Brides write the names of single women on the soles of their shoes, and grooms write the names of single men. Maybe if someone had done this for me, I would be long married. Then again, maybe someone will do this for me in the near future.

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