Tales from the Expat Harem

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Tales from the Expat Harem: Foreign Women in Modern Turkey
Fourth Turkish edition cover
Author Anastasia M. Ashman and Jennifer Eaton Gökmen
Country United States & Turkey
Language English & Turkish
Subject Travel
Genre Non-fiction
Publisher Seal Press & Doğan Kitap
Publication date
2006
Media type Print (Hardback)
ISBN ISBN 1-58005-155-3 & ISBN 975-293-381-5
OCLC 61285623
956.104/086/91 22
LC Class DR432 .T29 2006

Tales from the Expat Harem: Foreign Women in Modern Turkey (Turkish: Türkçe Sevmek) 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 (2006, ISBN 1-58005-155-3) and Doğan Kitap in Turkey (2005, ISBN 975-293-381-5 Turkish edition, ISBN 975-293-372-6 English edition).

Edited by Anastasia M. Ashman and Jennifer Eaton Gökmen, two American writers based in Istanbul, it was an English language #1 national bestseller in Turkey in January 2006. Its Turkish edition, Türkçe Sevmek: Türkiye'de Yaşayan Yabancı Kadınların Gözüyle Türkler, contains a foreword written by one of Turkey’s foremost novelists, the controversial Elif Shafak.

In May 2008, the book and its editors were featured on NBC's Today, on its occasional 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 Göreme, coastal locations all along the Aegean and Mediterranean seas, to the borders with Iraq and Iran... and various towns and villages in between.

Concept[edit]

"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.

Editors Ashman (R) and Gökmen (L)

"The Expat Harem" is composed 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.

Members[edit]

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.

Contents[edit]

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.

Poster advertising the Orient Express

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.

Chapters[edit]

Below content reflects original edition. Stories not appearing in the North American edition are noted with additional indentation.

Chapter 1: Kervansaray[edit]

Traveling across the country, one witnesses places that still echo a way of life centuries old. Adventure on Anatolian homesteads, intrigue amid Turkey’s natural spectacles, and wonders of the world.

Chapter 2: Last Stop on the Orient Express[edit]

Ortaköy, Istanbul

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 (Eveline Zoutendijk) 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 town’s Ramazan drums instead.

Chapter 3: Hamam[edit]

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 women’s culture in Turkey is often full and frontal.

Chapter 4: Henna'd Hands[edit]

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 won’t 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 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[edit]

Darbuka drum

An innate part of the Turkish psyche, folkloric song and dance can erupt at any moment and overwhelm even the most intrepid expatriate.

Chapter 6: Kin, Cauldron and Kismet[edit]

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 Gündoğdu) 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 Yiğit) In a women-filled kitchen on the Black Sea coast, a pregnant Irish gelin, or bride, helps prepare a feast to welcome the family’s next daughter-in-law.
  • Cherry Pie (Mahira Afridi-Perese) A Pakistani who never learned to cook defends her American-born Turkish husband’s right to bake when a man in the kitchen upsets his family patriarch.
  • Water Under the Bridge (Catherine Salter Bayar) A clothing designer sets boundaries in the Selçuk home she shares with her Kurdish husband, his parents, his nine siblings and then some.

Chapter 7: Peddler in the Bazaar[edit]

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.

Chapter 8: Salves & Soothsayers[edit]

Turkish good luck charms

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?

Chapter 9: Homespun Hospitality[edit]

Konukseverlik, traditional Turkish hospitality, is both legendary and inescapable, especially for expatriates who seek to challenge it.

Contributing Writers[edit]

Amanda Coffin Erica Kaya Nancy Lunsford
Ana Carolina Fletes Eveline Zoutendijk Natalie Baker
Anastasia M. Ashman Jennifer Eaton Gokmen Pat Yale
Annie Prior Ozsarac Jessica Lutz Rhonda Vander Sluis
Catherine Salter Bayar Karen-Claire Voss Sally Green
Catherine Yigit Katherine Belliel Susan Fleming Holm
Claire Uhr Kathleen Hamilton Gundogdu Tanala OsaYande
Dana Gonzalez Louise Ruskin Trici Venola
Dena Sukaya Mahira Afridi-Perese Valerie Tasiran
Diane Caldwell Maria Yarbrough Orhon Wendy Fox
Eppie Lunsford Maureen Basedow

External links[edit]