Proud to be an Expat

Many, many years ago I read an article in a Turkish newspaper asking for contributors for an anthology about foreign women in Turkey. I felt like it had been written directly to me.

When I first came to Turkey I shunned all foreign company. That sounds very high and mighty but it really wasn’t hard to do in Çanakkale of the early 2000s, there were very few foreigners to avoid. My reasoning was that I had to throw myself into my new life in this country, immerse myself completely in the culture and absorb the language. In short I was an immigrant and language was the key to me being comfortable in my new home. Mainly I feared I would end up like many who live for long periods abroad but never fully grasp the language for a multitude of reasons. I was planning to raise my children here, for their future sake I needed to be able to communicate. Interesting that I’m framing this as something I did for them, I was the one who was very frustrated by being unable to speak or understand for myself.

Picture of kisir, Turkish bulgur salad.

So this newspaper article came at a time when I was coming out of that period. I’d been in Turkey over three years, had a reasonable ability to communicate and a new baby bouncing on my knee. I wrote a very hurried account of my first trip to Turkey and it was rejected very quickly. The reason was that the editors wanted stories about life in Turkey, so I wrote about my mother-in-law’s kitchen and became a contributor to “Tales from the Expat Harem”.

The title of the book received some criticism as people didn’t realise that in Turkey the harem refers to the private quarters of a house and not just the place the sultan’s wives lived. The expat also struck a nerve with the baggage of white colonialism that comes with it. While the word simply means someone living outside their own country, the implication is that the person means to return at some point. Expat is often used for the roaming executive who moves from country to country, but it should also be accurately used for a Filipino maid who sends her paycheck home or construction workers in the Gulf states. Conversely, it also tends to bring up visions of English retirees on the Costa del Sol, who may never intend to return to the UK.

I managed to keep in touch with some of the contributors through the years. When Katie Belliel announced she was looking for contributors for an anthology by women based around food and flavours I jumped at the chance. That was quite a few years ago, and there have been changes large and small in the meantime. Katie moved back to the states, one editor left and was replaced by Italian chef Francesca Rosa and the book evolved from an anthology of stories into a cook book. The publication process was delayed, not helped by a currency crisis but finally here it is… Expat Sofra; Culinary Tales of Foreign Women in Turkey.

The book Expat Sofra on a table covered with a colourful tablecloth

It’s available in Turkey at the link above and the Turkish translation of the book will be out soon.

I included a definition of the word sofra at the start of a blogpost I wrote for the Expat Sofra website. In essence it is both the act, the place and materials required to sit together and eat. Expat remains in the title, though I remain an immigrant. As a search term, there’s no doubt it is the easiest way to find foreigners in any country. Expat Sofra contains 33 stories and mouth-watering recipes and pictures contributed by women from Poland, the US, Canada, Italy, Australia and more, about their adventures around food and eating in Turkey.