28 November 2015

Sisterhood of the World Bloggers

I was very honoured to be nominated to a blogging challenge/award by the lovely Phoebe of LouMessougo.  I enjoy reading her blog immensely and the more I read it the more I think we are related somehow.  As a lifelong expat, Phoebe’s life has been rather similar to mine and I notice from her posts that she thinks along very similar lines to me.
So the award Phoebe has kindly nominated me for is the Sisterhood of the World Bloggers award.  She has asked me 10 questions which I will try to answer to the best of my abilities.  In turn I have to nominate another 10 bloggers and ask them 10 questions of my own and so on. 

1. When did you start blogging? What is your favourite blog post, and why?
I started the blog in early 2013.  I had been thinking about starting one for a while but had been very busy with work.  Starting the blog coincided with a quiet period for me and helped to keep me busy during a long cold Kazakh winter during which I had been rather unwell.

I am not sure I can really pick a favourite post, they all do different things for me at the time I write them.  I loved writing about the memories evoked by flicking through Miss EE’s passport when it was sent off for renewal.  Expat children get so many wonderful opportunities and grow with each one.  Her passport is like a map of her life to date.  Writing about the time complete strangers came to help us when our tyre blew on a dark motorway was humbling – it reminded me how kind people can truly be and I think I had the most fun with a post called Expat Gadget Hunt about all the weird and wonderful things I can buy here in Malaysia when I can’t even find something simple like a knife sharpener. 
The weird and wonderful gadgets you find in host countries
2. How do you describe your blog's niche?
Hmm, I’m not sure that I have a niche as such.  As a perpetual expat I think I am able to look at the challenges and benefits of expat life from the view of both adults and children and I think I bring an understanding of the stresses difficult and dangerous postings heap on children and as an extension of this I write a fair bit about coping with the ups and downs of expat life.  Very few people blog about life in Kazakhstan and so although we left there a year and a half ago I still get a lot of people contacting me for advice on a move to the country or how to sort things out once they are there and while there are a lot of expats blogging about life in Malaysia very few talk about life in Sarawak or outside the main cities.

We are about to move again and I will be reaching out to bloggers in our new host country.  There are a few but not that many so it will be interesting to see how my blog is perceived when I start writing about it.
Astana is still a niche destination
3. Do you have a day job other than blogging?  Do you support yourself blogging?
Sadly my chosen professions (litigation and politics a heady combination that makes everybody want to really like me!) are not compatible with expat life.  Mr EE was once offered a job by a company who happened to be looking for someone with pretty much my exact set of professional skills in the same location and we were offered the two jobs in tandem.  It would have been both fascinating and exciting.  Sadly we had some ethical objections to the set-up of the schools and had to turn the job down. 

In Astana I was a regular guest speaker at conferences on encouraging wider participation in democracy and the growth of local government.  In recent years I have also worked remotely as the relationship manager for a French company offering holiday rentals, been a school librarian and been the headmistress of a nursery school.   The latter was a surreal experience as my only background in education is being married to a teacher but the only qualification they wanted was an expat at a loose end willing to devote 10 hours a day to the school and who spoke some Russian.  Mr EE has devoted his professional life to climbing the career ladder to Headmaster.  He had just been appointed Headmaster Designate in Miri when I was approached with the job offer so I beat him to it by 6 months!

Visa restrictions have limited my ability to work here in Malaysia, I might get something in KL but opportunities are pretty much non existent where we are.  I don’t like doing nothing, however, so I have taken on some freelance writing jobs through an online freelancing portal.  They keep me sane and help me maintain my mental edge.  Mini EE will be old enough to go to the crèche in the next posting and once we are settled I might look into some possible opportunities in the local area.  

Politics - not an expat friendly career (but I don't miss canvassing)
4. Do you do other writing or photography professionally?
The freelance writing has really taken off.  When I started in January this year I had only the one client but as my portfolio has grown I have gained a lot of repeat custom and I am probably at capacity for the moment.  I don’t really have the time to do as much as I would like – school runs and the baby eat into the day and if I can’t find something in our new posting I will concentrate on the writing and try to grow my client base. 

I am a keen photographer but not a good one.  I have read the theory and understand the mechanics of photography but I do not have a natural eye and I keep forgetting to check simple things (one time a whole set of photos were ruined because Mini EE had fiddled with the camera while I was not looking and changed the ISO settings).  Mr EE, by contrast, knows nothing of the theory but gets a beautifully framed shot every time.  Between us we would probably do a good job!

A mediocre (but always hopeful) photographer
5. What is your most popular post?  Why do you think it's so popular?
The most visited post is one I wrote early on about how to bake without self-raising flour.  It talks about how to make your own baking powder and what to use if you can’t find any.  It is a very practical post.  Reading it back now I would probably write it very differently and it is on my list to review in the future. 

The post people have engaged with the most is a photo tour of Astana.  Astana is one of those expat destinations that is still very ‘out there’.  With little information available for future expats the page seems to be a popular portal for those wanting to find out a little more about what they can expect in Astana. 
How to make baking powder!
6. What's your biggest challenge or frustration as a blogger?
I would love to have more time to write.  I am also not hugely fond of the blogger format that I use.  I wanted to create a wordpress blog but access  was restricted in Kazakhstan at the time and we did not have a VPN.  Rather annoyingly the restriction was removed some months later but by then I was already tied in to blogger.
Time goes too fast
7. Name some of your favourite blogs.  Why?  What makes a great blog in your opinion?
I love Diplomatic Dog by Scruffy Nellie.  She is Britain’s Canine representative in Guyana but I knew her when she was rescued off the streets in Kazakhstan and she is a good friend to our two dogs.  Her blog is an excellent way to see how she is getting on and her owner takes excellent photographs to boot.  She runs her own (non-canine) site called Less Blather More Bite which is always worth a look.

The DawlishChronicles by Antoine Vanner.  He writes about many lesser known stories of adventure and derring-do in the latter part of the 19th century.  His blogs are always worth a read.
I often pop by the hugely informative Your Expat Child  run by Carole Hallett Mobbs– there is always something of interest on there and she is lovely to write to as well.  The Dumpling Cart run by Celia is an eclectic mix of stories from around the world, often told through some very innovative data analysis.   The Cujo Cat Chronicles always make me laugh out loud and bring a bit of light relief on hectic days.

I also read a lot of political blogs but there are too many to mention here as the list could go on forever  – of course I love reading all the blogs by the ‘sisters’ I am going to nominate and Phoebe’s Lou Messugo blog as well.

8. What is your best travel memory?  Why?
When I was studying for my A Levels we were living in Eastern Turkey.  The security situation, which is never really good there, was dire at the time and we were very restricted in where we could go.  We had to take 4 bodyguards with us wherever we went and, on some cases, even more.  Security would have been made available for us to go to even the most inaccessible places if we asked but it was a privilege we did not want to abuse too often. 

As such we did not get to see as much of the local area as we would have liked and some trips to Mardin and Lake Hazar aside we spent most of the time on the camp in Diyarbakir.  One weekend, however, we were able to arrange a driving tour to see Nemrut Dag.  This megalomaniacal mausoleum consists of a gravel pyramid on the summit of Mount Nemrut surrounded by terraces of a pantheon of Gods, the heads of which stand higher than a man.  Driving to the hotel we went past bridges built by Septimus Severus and an old castle discovered by the older von Moltke during his time in Turkey just  crying out for more detailed excavation but having to wait its turn.  The following day we went to visit the Attaturk Dam which was, still under construction and were given a guided tour of the whole project. 

I have been lucky enough to go to some amazing places and see some truly wonderful things but this weekend was special.  I am not quite sure why – perhaps because it was so unusual in our (necessarily) cloistered life at the time or perhaps because we were the only people sightseeing in the area that weekend but I felt very privileged to be there. 
Turkey holds some of my best travel memories
9. Travel bucket list: name the top 3 places you want to visit
Only 3?  I really want to go to Vietnam and Laos.  We were hoping to take our car up from Ipoh and drive across from Thailand over this last summer but the timings just did not work out.  Namibia is very high on my list – the animals, the scenery, it looks like a holiday dream destination.  Finally Mr EE and I have wanted to take an Antarctic cruise since around the time we met, Ideally out of New Zealand for the chance to see some of ‘historic’ Antarctica and  I would also like to do some diving while we are there.  The costs are prohibitive for us at the moment – it is expensive enough for 2 let alone 5 and Mini EE is far too young to get anything out of it so it is on the back burner for the moment. 
There is always somewhere new to explore

10.  Is food important to you when you travel (other than its obvious function as fuel!)? What is the weirdest food you've ever eaten?
I am not adventurous in the food stakes by which I mean I enjoy a wide variety of world cuisines but am not excited by the opportunity to enjoy weird food.  Mr and Master EE will eat just about anything (although they are not keen on chicken).  When I eat something I enjoy I try to collect recipes to try to replicate the dish at home.

As for the weirdest thing – I have been offered but managed to avoid eating Monkey (there would have to be a pretty dire threat to make that dish appetising) and I have bought and cooked a joint of something whose label translated as ‘swine cervix’.  I chose to hope that it was a neck cut rather than an actual cervix and I comfort myself that it did not look cervical in nature.  Horse was common in Kazakhstan and although not a meat I choose to eat I can and will if I have to to be polite.  I have eaten marmite once and once ever (I mistook it for chocolate spread on my first morning in boarding school – the mistress made me eat the whole slice of toast).  In Ireland white and black (blood) pudding are popular for breakfast, I ate it once ever at Granny’s house and was so upset that she never made me eat it again.  I have tried haggis and wish it had never crossed my lips! 

I find milk deeply unpleasant and some of the weirdest things I have had to drink involve it.  Milky tea in Britain (why would an adult put milk in tea?), I have since realised that you have to specify your tea (or what the British pass off as tea) black if you are not to be greeted with a mug of some hot milky vomit inducing liquid in some British homes.  Funnily enough British friends and family who ask for milk in their tea are absolutely revolted by the stuff  I give them even when it is made with their tea bags as I never seem to get the ratios of milk to tea right.  I now routinely ask people to make their own.  Ayran or fermented mare’s milk was popular in Turkey and Kazakhstan and was often given as a welcome drink; drinking it was always a trial.  I thought that was about as bad as milk got but it gets worse – Shubat or fermented camel’s milk popular amongst Kazakhs is truly vile.  In fact writing this has made me think of the idea of British tea made with Shubat which must be about as grim as it gets! 

Enjoy your swine cervix and other random foods...
So having got that part out of the way I get to do the fun part and nominate my chosen ‘sisters’, in no particular order they are.
  • Life With A Double Buggy (I love reading this Blog as it is the exact reverse of my experience of moving from the Netherlands to UK)
  • Bringing Up Brits (this resonates with my experiences of raising our children in the UK)
  • Chicken Ruby (a wonderfully eclectic blog with such beautiful photographs)
  • Tiny Expats (on point observations on life with expat children in some fascinating destinations)
  • Olive Feta & Ouzo (some really insightful posts on expat life)
  • The Dumpling Cart (a fresh viewpoint on a wide range of issues)
  • Scruffy Nellie (who would not want to learn more about this cute woof)
  • Seychelles Mama (mum to two beautiful little boys living a real life in other people’s paradise destination)
  • Your Expat Child (a goldmine of information)
  • MumturnedMom (who always seems to manage her expat life with such grace)

So without further ado the questions I want to posit are:
  1. What was your first expat posting?
  2. What was your most memorable posting?
  3. What is your advice for settling into a new posting?
  4. What are the biggest frustrations in your current posting?
  5. What are the best points of your current posting?
  6. How do you come to terms with saying goodbye when it is time to move on?
  7. Where would you like to move to next?
  8. What is the thing that you miss the most from your home country?
  9. Why did you decide to start blogging?
  10. Please tell us a little about your most embarrassing expat/cultural mishap.
I look forward to reading all the answers.

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Ersatz Expat


  1. Thank you for your lovely mention And thank you too for sharing some more excellent blogs for me to read.

  2. Thanks for joining in and answering my questions, I really do hope we can meet one day, I'm sure we'd have such a great time together! I'm fascinated by your revulsion to milk....usually I find people who don't drink it are either lactose intolerant or just don't particularly want to eat too much dairy but I've never come across such a hatred. You'd have a hard time in France with it's obsession with dairy, however you'd like the tea and coffee!!

    1. I must book your lovely place sometime and show the children your local area.

      Funnily enough I love cheese and yoghurt and I drink lots of hot chocolate/chocolate milk. Oma used to give it to me as a child so I got my calcium. I took up the habit again when I was expecting and have never let it go. The chocolate seems to mask the milkiness of the milk.

  3. I'm really sorry but i can't think of 10 other expat bloggers but i am going to write the post and ask 10 further questions that people can answer in the comments if they choose to do so. we can buy washing machine covers here in dubai also and with all the dust from the desert it's not a bad idea

    1. I look forward to reading your answers and the questions! I can see they would be useful in Dubai - here most people keep their washing machines outside so the cover helps protect from dust as well. I had never seen one before, however. We can also get gas bottle covers and little jackets for various other appliances as well.

  4. I've just realized that although I read (and really enjoyed!) this post at the time, a small child must have distracted me before I got a chance to post my comment! I've just thoroughly enjoyed reading it again, I love your stories :) Your comments on tea really made me laugh. I love tea, and it's one of the things that I find really difficult to find here in the US, well, good tea anyway :) I do take milk, but only a little skimmed milk in very strong tea, so you can't really taste it! But, I always get people to make their own. Thank you so much for tagging me, I enjoyed answering your questions, and for your lovely comment. I'm not sure I feel graceful, but I'm very glad that I appear that way :)

    1. I loved reading your answers, they were so very interesting and an insight for me into a different kind of expat life. I have heard that British expats struggle to get good tea in the US, presumably it is all still in Boston harbour! I think Tea is one of those shibboleths of the English, I will always stand out because of my reaction to it.