We Need to Talk About Economic Migration

About two years ago, when I first explicitly asked friends about their experiences of economic migration, I was surprised to learn how many didn’t see working abroad as a dream, or even a choice. Many told me they’d much rather be in their home countries but they didn’t think there was anything waiting for them there. To go and create wasn’t incentive enough. “Reforms and opportunities need to come first, then people will follow,” a Brussels-based though Italian-at-heart public health expert told me.

 

When someone braved a return home, we who stayed abroad raised our eyebrows. “You’ll be back before you know it,” was the catch-phrase at most leaving-dos.

 

At home, returners were welcomed with cautious skepticism. “People tell me to keep my expectations low,” I learned from someone who moved back to Egypt following his Ph.D. in Egyptology. “Everyone who could make a difference here picks up and leaves, so it’s hard. But I think people appreciate that I’m trying to contribute,” he said.

 

Moving home is tough and many of us migrating adults end up in our childhood rooms. With our foreign qualifications and experiences often unrecognized, without credit or tax history, we start from scratch in the old country. Unwilling to accept the terms and conditions of junior positions we’d already held ten years before, and which don’t give us much hope for ever moving out of our parents’ house, many leave again.

 

“I spent two years looking for a job in Naples. It’s home, it’s where my family are and where I wanted to stay. But there was no way,” an Italian friend told me. With an extensive background in finance and sales, she recently moved to London for the second time.

 

“I’d rather be home, but there’s no way,” is a sentiment I hear more and more often from increasingly reluctant migrants.

 

“The hardest thing about moving here was leaving mum behind,” a Polish friend said. With a Ph.D. in life sciences and experience in translation, he recently moved to the UK to work in project management for a biotech company. “Dad died a couple of years ago, mum is on her own. I worry every day. But, the way things are [economically and politically], what can I do?”

 

When we move for work, it’s not just places we leave behind, but also the people and the support structures they form around us, and which our absence weakens. Checking in on an aging parent or having a sibling or a friend-who-is-practically-a-sibling for emergency childcare is out of the question when we live abroad.

 

“Moving to a new country is exciting until you realize that you’re giving up all your life and everything you’ve ever known,” said a UK-based medical researcher originally from Kenya.

 

This is no small concern for anyone wanting a family. “Our baby was born just before we moved to England,” a French colleague said. “Without grandparents or state support for childcare, it is very difficult for both parents to afford a full-time job. Sadly, the way things are in France means that there aren’t any [science] jobs for me.”

 

Although moving parents closer seems like an idea, it’s rarely if ever an option. Finances aside, there are cultural differences that can be impossible to overcome. “We tried to get mum here after my dad died,” a lady who works at my local coffee place told me the other day. “She didn’t last. At home, she’s independent, she has friends, she knows the city like the back of her hand. Here? With barely any English, she was entirely dependent on us, which was probably more traumatic for her than being on her own back home.”

 

This language barrier is something I understand very well. My parents don’t speak English. When they visit, they depend on me and so they visit rarely. Any social or professional life I built in English is not something I can easily share.

 

As a result, my parents and I don’t know each other the way we did when Sunday breakfasts were part of our weekly routine. They can’t read my writing or get to know my friends. I know only vaguely what excites them about their days. Hard as we try, our realities are so far apart they don’t transmit over Skype.

 

It’s a shared experience. “We try to keep in touch, but, over time, more and more calls are missed and never rescheduled. Connections fray and next thing you know, you lose track of your own family,” my Kenyan friend said.

 

As adults, we rarely admit the toll it takes on us to miss out on time with our parents as if ceased to matter on the other side of eighteen. For some of us it certainly does and putting physical distance between our parents and ourselves is a source of relief. For others, it’s a source of longing and regret.

 

“I was a very different person when I first left for London fifteen years ago,” my Italian friend said as she packed to return to England. “I will always be grateful for the time I had with my parents in the last two years in Naples. We got to know each other as adults and that’s really important.”

 

As I grow older and migration is no longer an exciting episode but a complicated lifestyle, I increasingly wonder why certain locations absorb all the talent and skill while other parts of the world provide solid training but not enough opportunity. I also wonder about the economic and social consequences of such state of affairs.

 

For example, the staff crisis within the British health sector has received plenty of media attention. At the same time, relatively little has been written about the decisions of consecutive governments that allowed it. Now, the NHS is able to absorb many foreign-trained professionals. Professionals who, evidence emerges, are often paid lowered wages and whose visa payments appear to be a source of profit for the UK government.

 

Meanwhile, countries that had invested in the training of their staff are left with shortages they can’t easily plug. When well-trained workforce decides to emigrate despite relative job security, they’re most likely looking for higher quality of life or better work comfort compared to what they have available in their home countries. Even if migrants from other countries replace them, it’s usually for a short time. People who already moved once tend to move again.

 

Overall, contemporary economic migration raises three types of serious and complex questions. One: Who is responsible for training and retaining a nation’s public workforce within a state? Two: In times of mass migration, whose job is it to create social support structures and professional incentives for people to remain? Three: What are the dues and responsibilities of individuals to societies that invested public money in their training and development? In other words, as “global” citizens, to whom do we owe our taxes and who will pay for our care?

 

Economic migration is not without dilemmas and sacrifices some of which aren’t immediately apparent. We need an open, global conversation about the costs and benefits of moving for work. A conversation that allows us to understand the motives to leave or remain, and which will ultimately allow us to create solutions that support a globally collaborative society.

***

Zuzanna Fimińska is the community organizer behind Project Neighbours and a writer aiming to fill the world with great conversations and many points of view.  Her work has been published Mslexia, eyeforpharma, Time Out Amsterdam, Polish Express, TRANSITION, Cadaverine, Hospital Drive, Prick of the Spindle, Examined Life and others.  She occasionally performs and a podcast featuring her short story is forthcoming with The Other Stories.

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Turkish Literature in Retrospect

A swift, a puddle, a piece of sky.

They must have dropped from a poem.

So said the passerby.

—Ilhan Berk

Turkey, as the country I got to know, is a country caught in-between parallels: East and West; Asia and Europe; fundamentalism and secularity; the Ottoman Empire and the Republic of Turkey; the written and the spoken. This fluidity of appurtenance and its manifold identity, as I found out later, is deeply rooted in Turkish literature.

 

Turkish literature can be separated into the First Wave (the 1940s and 1950s) and the Second Wave (the 1960s and 1970s). The First Wave poets—Orhan Veli, Melih Cevdet and Oktay Rifat—are remembered by the name of the first poetic collection they published together: Garip, or Strange. They brought the language of the streets into modern poetry. Magnificent with their wit, these poets rejected the formal conventions of the official language, as well as the oppressive, authoritarian world that they reflected. These poets are important because, until the republican period, Turkish poetry was dominated by arcane Ottoman conventions that obeyed rather rigid and ornate rules. Thanks to the modernizing language reforms of the 1920s and 1930s, however, poetry changed, too. Nazım Hikmet was the pioneer to revolutionize poetic language and shatter the old inviolate rules. The Garip poets followed and build on Hikmet’s smashing of the status quo while addressing the reading masses. Thus, poetry followed the internal logic of the Turkish society and started to become a better reflection of its collective consciousness, its passions, and its complexity.

 

During my stay in Turkey, I was also inspired by those of the Second Wave (Cemal Süreya, Turgut Uyar, and Ilhan Berk, to name some) who took this innovative spirit to the next generation. They introduced narrative to poetry, and imbued it with expressiveness, while at the same time bringing a mixture of Dadaist, surrealistic and ornamental motifs into its compositions. Unlike the First Wave poets, they resisted what they saw as its restrictive tendency to address “ordinary” concerns. Inspired by the European avant-garde, their poetry no longer obeyed the ordinary rules of grammar and semantical structure. Rather, their beauty was in the disrupted word order and grammatical rules, in their deformed lines and long blank space in between words. This is how 19th-century French symbolism emerged 100 years later in Turkey.

 

Once again, the history of the Turkish of poetry showed me that literature and its country’s social-political issues go hand-in-hand. Struggling for survival among the crushing impact of Westernization and Europe, what could the local poets save from the rapidly disappearing Ottoman-Turkish literary traditions? How could they achieve that? Which of the Diwan poetry created by the Ottoman elite under the influence of Persian literature would survive? And what was its significance for modern poetry now when its beauties and literary traits could be understood by later generations only with the help of dictionaries?

 

I found the answers while I was sloping towards the Bosporus from the backstreets of Çukurcuma. My gaze was diverted to a bloody red house. This derelict building was no one’s home. A writer’s imagination turned it into a collection of items straight from a work of fiction. This was “The Museum of Innocence,”  a namesake of Orhan Pamuk’s novel. Inside the museum were objects that evoked stories and memories of the Istanbul of the 1970s. National Lottery tickets, bags of buttons and a quince grater were a part of the exhibition. Pamuk’s attempt to construct a novel based on scavenged objects was what made them so remarkable.

 

What I liked the most about this place was not the objects themselves but the story behind them. I knew from his book The Naïve and the Sentimental Novelist that Pamuk had bought many of them on impulse from flea markets. For instance, he had bought Füsun’s dress (one of the main characters in the book) from a second-hand bookstore because he decided it was just right for his heroine. Then he proceeded on describing how she was learning to drive while wearing that very dress. On another occasion, he spotted a black-and-white photo from the 1930s. He imagined that it shows a scene from the early life of one of his characters and channelled his story through the objects is depicted.

 

Evoking the authenticity of sounds, smells and images of the world from the novel to life itself was what fascinated me. It removed the feeling of possessiveness I had when reading a novel. Because of my efforts to understand and visualize the written, I often felt that I was the one that brought it into existence. Alas, it was the writer who completed the realization of a novel.

 

This was further proven to me by a book, which was often strongly recommended by my Turkish friends – Hah by Birgül Oğuz. This novel starts from the mourning of the individual, passes through the childhood memories of a grieving daughter, and ends with the shock and the mourning of a society experiencing severe traumas. It was a book like no other—a hymn, a parable, and a poem poured into a rhythmic prose. The author defined the genre with the multifaceted literary term “öykü.” This in Turkish means a novel, a tale, a parable, a legend.   Hah is highly intertextual as it draws upon texts from the Old Testament to 20th-century European poetry, from 16th-century ghazals to contemporary Turkish verse, from cornerstones of Turkish literature to the likes of James Joyce and William Shakespeare, from workers’ anthems to folk songs. This is what makes it a universal work of fiction. Although it is a product of specific time and place, it resonates with anyone who has ever experienced loss.

 

I once again came to the realization that literature is unbridled, yet malleable. It is susceptible to the ethos of the culture, the processes of class struggle, and to the mind of its writers. As such, literature can become a tool for challenging a country’s socio-political status and ultimately changing it. This is of great significance in times of Westernization and rapid modernization that many countries face today. The main issue – not only for Turkish literature but also for all literature outside the West – is the difficulty of describing the dreams of tomorrow with the colours of today, dreaming of a modern country with modern values, while enjoying the pleasures of everyday tradition. Writers, whose dreams of a radical future have pushed them into political conflicts, often ended in jail, and misfortunes gave their voices and views a hard and bitter tone.

 

Nazım Hikmet was the most important Turkish poet in the 1930s before he went to jail for his revolutionary ideas. Fast forward to 2016, there is Aslı Erdoğan – a writer and a prominent defender of Kurdish minority rights, blamed by the authorities for “disloyalty to the state”. One could make a whole library of memoirs, novels, and stories of Turkish intellectuals and journalists who had been imprisoned.

 

Ultimately, it was the Museum of Innocence and my friends’ recommendation that showed me that literature is the mirror of society. It is literature that has shaped civilizations, changed political systems and exposed injustice. It confirms the real complexity of human experience, which allows us to connect on basic levels of emotion. Literary traditions do not disappear, they just take a different form and adapt themselves to the pressing needs of the society.

***

Nesrin Nazlieva is a Psychology student at Erasmus University.  She decided to follow the example of her predecessors who, back in 1460, left the Karamanid beylik and immigrated to Bulgaria.  Instead of Bulgaria, however, she chose the Netherlands.  Her short story with a not so short title ‘The Story of a Wanderer Who Traveled the World in Search of His Hat’ earned her a second place in one of the most prestigious national literary contests in 2015.  When she is not glued to a book, she spends time working out in the garden, learning Spanish, and trying very hard not to be the worst player at Ludo.

Reading the Gothic in the 21st Century

Reading the GothicDarkness, mystery, eeriness, the supernatural, setting, isolation, and morality – a combination of these components forms the skeleton of the Gothic genre. Whilst its origins are often attributed to Horace Walpole’sThe Castle of Otranto, the genre evolved into famous classic novels such as Dracula and Strange Case of Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde subsequently leading to modern works like The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories and The Wasp Factory. With the advancement of technology in the 20thand 21stcenturies, the platform of cinema has embraced the Gothic by spinning existing tales into visual masterpieces and creating original stories inspired by the genre, increasing its accessibility. From reading classic and modern pieces to viewing cinema in the 21stcentury, the Gothic still retains its charm in serving as an escapism into a fantastical world, spooking and prompting questions of morality along the way.

The Allure

Suspense

And she is all the time trying to climb through. But nobody could climb through that pattern—it strangles so; I think that is why it has so many heads

– The Yellow Wallpaper (1892) Charlotte Perkins Gilman

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Reading in Spain: A Walk from Train Station Kiosks to Bookshops.

Courtesy of Ugur Akdemir

An assessment of the reading rates and the types of readers of any country could be metaphorically imagined as an itinerary from train-station kiosks to bookshops. From literature understood as a pastime to reading thought as something adding meaning to one’s life. Indeed, I think we should look at reading from this angle where it becomes something else rather than just the processing of information contained in some pages.

The latest account developed in Spain on reading habits points towards this direction by saying that ‘reading might be understood as a wide set of cultural practices or as an activity reduced to something much more specific’ (FGEE: 2017, 81)—I agree with this conception of reading as something that might be lived in other ways beyond paper. Actually, I believe most part of the reading we do daily doesn’t happen through books. Read More

The Unsparing Confessions of an Outsider: James Baldwin & Istanbul

All art is a kind of confession, more or less oblique.

All artists, if they are to survive, are forced, at last, to tell the whole story;

 to vomit the anguish up.

—James Baldwin

Courtesy of Fatih Yürür

When my lit professor asked: “Who has heard of Yaşar Kemal?” – the room immediately filled up with raised hands. And “Engin Cezzar?” – she asked over the excited buzz in the room. As an exchange student in Turkey, those names didn’t evoke any emotions in me. Nor did the next name: James Baldwin. Upon mentioning Baldwin’s name, the class fell silent. We didn’t know who he was.

His name would remain with us over the next two weeks as we studied the novel Giovanni’s Room. The story centres on David—an American in France. Separated from his girlfriend Hella, who has gone to Spain to find herself, he meets an Italian, Giovanni. The two men begin an affair and they spend their time together in a room that Giovanni rents from a maid. When Hella returns, David decides to marry her and submit himself to mid-century American norms and expectations. In turn, the already penniless Giovanni succumbs to poverty and desperation, [spoiler alert] until he commits a murder and is then sentenced to death.

The novel offers an internal portrait of David’s sexual awakening, and the frustrations that prevent him from achieving a stable romantic and sexual relationship with another man. It’s in David’s homosexuality—his identity and internal struggle as an ‘outsider’—that Baldwin empathised with. As an African-American living in Paris and as a gay man himself, Baldwin knew what it was like to be the ‘other.’ Read More

What Do Writers Read?

That is part of the beauty of all literature. You discover that your longings are universal longings, that you’re not lonely and isolated from anyone. You belong.

—F. Scott Fitzgerald.

You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read.

—James Baldwin

Courtesy of Suzy Hazelwood

Reading a good book is like spending time with a good friend. When you leave, feeling warmhearted and thankful, you look forward to coming back to them as soon as possible. To me, they are both a privilege and a treasure. Reading, like friendship, is essential to our quality of life—helping us relax or sleep, enhancing empathy or reducing stress by sharing new realities—but it also stimulates memory, critical thinking, and intelligence. In addition, and especially if you are a writer, you might have heard that the best advice for good writing is good reading.

So, what do writers read? What can we call a good book? Of course, the options are innumerable, as vast as people and tastes are on Earth, but I have narrowed a list of writers and books that have talked to me in the past, or hopefully will touch my life soon. I am quoting below the reading preferences of the following extraordinary authors: Ernest Hemingway, Joan Didion, Ray Bradbury, Vladimir Nabokov, Samuel Beckett, J.K. Rowling, Maya Angelou, Henry Miller, Jhumpa Lahiri, Haruki Murakami, Paul Auster, Ursula K. Le Guin, and Barak Obama. Read More

Culture Shock: A Literary Passage from New Zealand to Poland

Courtesy of Jerzy Gorecki

In New Zealand, the only borders are where land stops and water begins. There we speak of going overseas. For that is the only possibility to travel, one must literally go overseas to get to another country, be it on boat or aeroplane. But what do Europeans mean by ‘going abroad?’ Is it to go where the language is different, where they live under different rules and regulations, where they have something else for breakfast, where they behave differently? All while sharing the same piece of land?

The first time I came to Europe I was excited. The thought I’d be breathing the same air that Kafka had, walking the same dog-shit Parisian streets Celine did, seeing the same night sky that Hamsun saw… but then I realised it wasn’t the same as I’d imagined; it was actually similar to what I already knew. I’d dreamed of Dostoevsky’s adventures across the continent. Instead, when I got off the train, having arrived in yet another European city, the kids were listening to Eminem and wearing T-shirts with cheap English phrases on them. My dream of Europe was a myth, a romantic notion, a ridiculous expectation, an idealisation. The reality was different: I certainly wasn’t drinking whiskey with James Joyce and Samuel Beckett. Read More

The Relevance of Science Fiction

Courtesy of NASA

Ever since I was young and watched my first episode of Star Trek: Enterprise I’ve been fascinated by science fiction and the stories that can be told in this genre. Since then, I have watched many other science fiction shows, and I have read a good amount of science fiction novels. I feel this genre is often misunderstood as a literary genre and not always taken seriously or fully appreciated. While I understand it might not be everyone’s cup of tea, I think the beauty of science fiction is that there are so many layers and ideas inside of these stories that can make us reflect on whatever issue or aspect of society we care about.

While by definition speculative, and often considered as futuristic, science fiction has a long and rich history. Arguably the first work can be dated all the way back to the 2ndcentury AD when Hellenized Syrian satirist Lucian wrote A True Story. This novel contained themes that are still explored today in the genre, such as travel to outer space and alien life forms. Some stories from The Arabian Nights also include elements that could be considered science fiction. However, science fiction really took off with the dawn of the Age of Reason and the emergence of modern science. Isaac Asimov, famous for his Three Laws of Robotics, considers Johannes Kepler’s novel Somniumto be the first real science fiction story. Read More