Tales from the Expat Harem
Tales from the Expat Harem: Foreign Women in Modern Turkey is a nonfiction anthology by 32 expatriate women from seven nations and five continents about their lives in modern Turkey, published by Seal Press in North America and Dogan Kitap in Turkey .
Edited by Anastasia M. Ashman and Jennifer Eaton Gokmen, two American writers based in Istanbul, it was an English language 1 national bestseller in Turkey in January 2006. Its Turkish edition, '''''Turkce Sevmek: Turkiye'de Yaayan Yabanci Kadinlarin Gozuyle Turkler''''', contains a foreword written by one of Turkeys foremost novelists, the controversial Elif Shafak.
In May 2008, the book and its editors were featured on NBC's Today Show, on its annual travel segment Where in the World is Matt Lauer. View here.
The collection includes women's true tales which span 40 years and the entire country, reflecting both rural and urban realities from Istanbul in the West, Van in the East, Giresun on the Northern Black Sea Coast, the central Anatolia Cappadocian town of Goreme, coastal locations all along the Aegean and Mediterranean seas, to the borders with Iraq and Iran... and various towns and villages in between.
"The Expat Harem" is a cultural and social concept identified and coined by the anthology's editors. If a harem is a confined community of women, and a Turkish harem in the time of the Ottoman sultans was primarily composed of foreign-born, non-Turkish women, then "the Expat Harem" is its virtual and modern day rendition: expatriate women living in present day Turkey, leading an (initially) insular life due to language barriers, cultural naivete, and a resilient ethnocentricity, yet who also find solace and wisdom in one another's Turkish experiences.
"The Expat Harem" metaphor is not intended to be pejorative; the editors aim to replace the negative connotation of the word harem with the positive acknowledgment of the feminine power base and collective wisdom that the harem denizens shared.
"The Expat Harem" is comprised of women whose lives have been deeply touched by Turkey in the process of their assimilation into Turkish friendship, neighborhood, wifehood, and motherhood, yet who, by virtue of their birth, remain outsiders to Turkish culture.
Among those who have recognized themselves as members of "the Expat Harem" are scholars, artists, missionaries, journalists, entrepreneurs, and returned Peace Corps volunteers from 14 nations across six continents. The writers, as well as hundreds of other women in similar circumstances, are modern similes for the foreign brides of the Seraglio, the 15th century seat of the Ottoman sultanate: wedded to the culture of the land, yet forever alien. Increasing numbers of women have claimed membership in "the Expat Harem" upon the growing visibility of the concept.
The anthology is structured to shadow the assimilation timeline, with events of increasing intimacy occurring over the length of time an expatriate spends in the country, or according to the depth to which they engage the local culture.
The collection starts with the Kervansaray chapter, named after the ancient system of inns that populated the Silk Road and other trade routes, where caravans (convoys) of soldiers, traders, or pilgrims could seek safe shelter.
In Tales from the Expat Harem, this chapter is a metaphor for the initial journey to and through Turkey, when a traveler is first able to compare secondhand information about the country with her own actual experiences.
The second chapter, Last Stop On The Orient Express, is named for the famous Sirkeci train station in Istanbul, and symbolizes the point of departure in which the expatriate settling into her new country must begin evaluating the values of her home culture against the unfamiliar values of the Turkish culture.
The book continues in this progression, culminating in the final chapter with stories relating life crisis points; a Dutch reporter illegally traveling to the Turkish-Iraqi border struggles to comprehend her local Kurdish hosts who brave land mines, gunfire, and the circumvention of their strict gender norms to afford her comfort, while in another essay an American Christian missionary in Istanbul decides to abandon her calling after living the extreme gentility of her secular Muslim host family.
Below content reflects original edition. Stories not appearing in the North American edition are noted with additional indentation.
Chapter 1: Kervansaray
Traveling across the country, one witnesses places that still echo a way of life centuries old. Adventure on Anatolian homesteads, intrigue amid Turkeys natural spectacles, and wonders of the world.
Losing My Gender at Troy (Maureen Basedow) Digging with rural workmen in the 1990s, a Bryn Mawr archaeologist tests the conventional wisdom of gender relations.
*Dangers of Turkish Travel The perils a Californian executive encounters on an Aegean trip are pleasantly different than those her well-meaning but ill-informed friends warned of.
Orienting Express (Jennifer Eaton Gokmen) A dispirited and dependent Michigan woman re-empowers herself, leading her visiting mother through adventurous cross-country road trip.
Hello, I Love You (Amanda Coffin) A computer specialist in her forties struggles to thwart amorous advances of tireless would-be suitors as she tours Eastern Turkey.
*Change of Continent, Change of Heart (Sally Green) Impressed by tolerant, ecumenical Turks, a born-again Christian teenager breaks free of a fundamentalist cult during a 1978 trip to Turkey.
Chapter 2: Last Stop on the Orient Express
Called Asia Minor by the Romans, continent-straddling Turkey -- the last country in Europe and the first in Asia-- naturally commits a storyteller to a state of limbo, caught in the ever-shifting flux between Occident and Orient.
The Painting or the Boy When a devout employee objects to an Ottoman painting hung in the lobby of her hotel, the Dutch owner has to decipher its mystery and decide a course of action.
Conversion in Erzurum (Susan Fleming Holm) In the 1960s, a Peace Corps volunteer in remote Eastern Turkey weighs her cultural assumptions regarding female clothing and taboo body parts.
The Beat of a Different Drummer (Pat Yale) A British person wishing to avoid a traditional livestock sacrifice as thanks for her new stone home hopes to repair the towns Ramazan drums instead.
*Sailing to Byzantium (Natalie Baker) A shy Englishwoman finds Istanbuls ferry system a manageable of the metropolis and its people.
Chapter 3: Hamam
Dynasties of mothers once inspected prospective brides for their sons in the hamam. The Turkish sauna and scrub remains a complex tradition of beauty practice and female retreat. But far from being cloistered, the impact of womens culture in Turkey is often full and frontal.
Coming Clean in Kayseri (Wendy Fox) In a steamy 13th century Cappadocian bathhouse, a morbidly shy English teacher confronts her self-image.
Haze (Katherine Belliel) A heart-broken Michigan girl finds closure in Bursa at an ancient Ottoman bath, nurtured by her would-be Turkish sister-in-law.
The Goddess Metamorphosis Taking part in a traditional bridal bath in 1995, a New Jersey scholar finds aspects of the ancient goddess culture alive and well in a Turkish hamam in Central Anatolia.
Feministanbul (Dana Gonzalez) A public relations professional seeking the cure for an intimate ailment in Istanbul agonizes over assumed cultural taboos.
*Waxing Feminine (Erica Kaya) A Tennessee tomboy who equates primping with promiscuity learns a lesson in the Istanbul idea of feminine from her savvy Turkish sister-in-law.
Chapter 4: Henna'd Hands
Courting etiquette and marriage rituals, from henna tattooing and traditional village bride bargaining to modern civil services of high society, receptions covered by voracious paparazzi. Dating and mating labyrinths.
Forever After, For Now (Tanala OsaYande) An African-American thirty-something reviews the rules of engagement of the Turkish dating scene, where rather than playing it cool the men wont stop calling.
Village Bride (Eppie Lunsford) In the 1980s, a young woman from rural Tennessee connects to her Appalachian upbringing while participating in theatrical village weddings in Central Turkey.
A Fine Kettle of Fish (Trici Venola) Love and chaos are one in the same for a dramatic Kurd and a mid-life Los Angeleno in Istanbul.
Tying the Knot, Ottoman Princess Style (Anastasia M. Ashman) A woman from bohemian California finds marrying into the glitzy Turkish culture, surrounded by paparazzi, is the fulfillment of a forgotten wish.
Chapter 5: Darbuka Drumbeat
An innate part of the Turkish psyche, folkloric song and dance can erupt at any moment and overwhelm even the most intrepid expatriate.
Dancing My Way Home (Diane Caldwell) A psychoanalyst answers the enticing beat of a Turkish darbuka drum and escapes her rigid, twice-divorced life in Seattle.
From The Hip (Sally Green) A writing instructor compares the synthetic, salacious approach to belly dancing in a Colorado recreation center with the spirited communal event she recalls from Turkey.
Chapter 6: Kin, Cauldron and Kismet
The importance of family and the often fatalistic rules of clan devotion require rituals of repast and a team-like sense of humor.
The Language of Family (Ana Carolina Fletes) Learning from her polished TV host mother-in-law, a Guatemalan grows into her femininity and her family, speaking Turkish with an unrivalled accent.
*Bogus Bride (Kathleen Hamilton Gundogdu) When a gregarious local family in Central Turkey plans an elaborate practical joke in 1981, a Texan agrees to play the lead role.
The Food Factory (Catherine Yigit) In a women-filled kitchen on the Black Sea coast, a pregnant Irish gelin, or bride, helps prepare a feast to welcome the familys next daughter-in-law.
Cherry Pie (Mahira Afridi-Perese) A Pakistani who never learned to cook defends her American-born Turkish husbands right to bake when a man in the kitchen upsets his family patriarch.
Water Under the Bridge A clothing designer sets boundaries in the Selcuk home she shares with her Kurdish husband, his parents, his nine siblings and then some.
Chapter 7: Peddler in the Bazaar
With the historic Silk Road from China to the Mediterranean coursing through Turkey and ending in Istanbul's Grand Bazaar, vending is in the Turkish blood. Brisk market scenes are a way of life.
The Business of the Bazaar A Seattle retail executive abandons the boardroom for Istanbul's Grand Bazaar.
Unpacking the Pazar Arabasi (Valerie Tairan) An American-born naturalized Turkish citizen reconsiders her assumptions about Turkishness and ponders the meaning of assimilation in a globalized Turkey.
Chapter 8: Salves & Soothsayers
Believers in talismans, for over a millennium Turks have clung to their shamanistic roots. Does the witchy wisdom of old wives tales and the insight of fortune-tellers apply to everyone on Turkish soil?
'''Ankara's Fertile Ground(Nancy Lunsford) A doubly pregnant Appalachian artist blooms in a land of fecundity and fortune-telling, where popcorn is magical and village midwives more accurate than sonograms.A Mother's Charms(Maria Yarbrough Orhon) Doubtful of shamanistic charms and rituals in her Turkish husbands family, a South Carolina woman nevertheless learns to conduct them on her own. Evil Eye Exorcism(Annie Prior Ozsarac) When a series of accidents befall a young couple in Istanbul, Turkish relatives call in their Black Sea matriarch to perform a shamanistic exorcism.
Chapter 9: Homespun Hospitality
Konukseverlik, traditional Turkish hospitality, is both legendary and inescapable, especially for expatriates who seek to challenge it.Rescued by Village Intelligence(Claire Uhr) Stricken with influenza, a friendless Australian finds surprise succor with unknown Cappadocian neighbors.
*Flattered(Louise Ruskin) A British person with a flat tire on an Istanbul road wonders whether she should be alarmed or relieved by the sight of burly Turks approaching.The Headman's Pyjamas(Jessica Lutz) Village men in a desolate, war-torn border town near Iraq in 1993 maintain impeccable standards of civility towards a Dutch journalist who smuggles herself into their lives. Hijacked(Kathleen Hamilton Gundogdu) Traveling alone by bus to Konya during a military coup, a young American secretary is unexpectedly detoured.
*Hediye(Amanda Coffin) Not bombs and terrorists, but an overly mothering landlady and constant gifts of food pose the largest threat to a peaceful life in Bursa for a lone New Englander.Failed Missionary(Rhonda Vander Sluis) A Christian evangelist from Iowa is transformed by the compassion of Turkish souls she hopes to save.