“The Minority Report” by Lonna Lisa Williams (“The Liberal and the Immigrant”)

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It’s easy to say, “Let all immigrants come to America.”  It’s harder living with one.  I have been living with my Armenian/Turkish husband “Jack” for 5 years and 3 months.  We survived Turkey and then China and are now attempting America.  Because of language, cultural, and belief differences, our marriage has been difficult.  He can’t drive a car in the U.S., and a Green Card costs about $2000 plus proof of bank savings, home, job, etc.  We haven’t been able to afford one yet, especially since we used up all our savings when my Mazda 5 minivan was totaled in Houston, and I ended up in Texas Medical Center ICU with a subdural hematoma (bleeding in my brain from slamming into metal, no airbag deployed, seat belt bruising my ribs and pushing the air out of me).  Texas sheriffs blamed me for the accident, though I was the one hit by a speeding Houston driver.

We went back to California after that, in an American car with a high-interest loan, high payments, and increased driving insurance.  We slept in that car in the desert, then headed back toward the mountains where I lived before jumping overseas.  Jack got 3 manual labor jobs in a small town.  He quit one and was fired from the other 2, though his English now is pretty good.  After 5 years of teaching English and Journalism for universities, high schools, and private language schools in Russia, Turkey, and China, I have not been able to find a good job in America.  Nobody really needs an older, experienced English teacher in a country where the first language is English.

I found a job driving delivery for Uber Eats in Los Angeles, but with the one-hour commute from the truck stop where we live in the Inland Valley, I make no profits after gas and bill-paying (and my husband’s share, of course).  Uber pays drivers too little, though we wear out our cars, pay auto insurance, and risk our lives on steep, dark roads in the rain.

Turks love to talk, yell, fight.  Centuries of this aggression genetically infuse my husband.  My American friends don’t understand how much of a cultural difference this is and simply don’t like Jack for yelling too much.  Or maybe they question the high rate of abuse to women that Turkey records each year.

Then we lived with a Liberal couple in our small mountain town about 2.5 hours’ drive from Los Angeles. Continue reading

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Family

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Our social group meets at a restaurant

Here I am, teaching English in northeast China, far away from my children in California.  I miss Jessica (21) and Jonathan (18).  I wish I could be with them.  There’s an old saying, “If you can’t be with the ones you love, love the ones you’re with.”

So here are some photos of my “family” in China.

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My high school students and I pose together

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Me (in the red hat) with Filipinos, Indians, and Chinese members of a local church

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See more photos of northeast China here.

Writing my Way Home for Christmas

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Jessica as an angel and Jonathan as a gold-crowned king in a California play 2004 

Help me write my way home to see my children in California.  I haven’t seen Jessica (21) and Jonathan (18) in the 3 years I’ve been teaching English overseas.  After I got divorced from their father (who got everything, including them), I couldn’t find a teaching job in America, so I went to Russia in October, 2010.  After 6 frozen months, I flew to Turkey where I lived and taught for 2.5 years.   I met my Turkish husband there.  After nearly getting arrested for writing about the Turkish freedom protests and posting a photo, I went (with my Turkish husband) to teach English in China just 2 months ago.

In all these ups and downs, I’ve been able to support myself.  But I haven’t bought a much-needed new computer (my old Apple laptop is 9 years old and very slow).  I haven’t taken a real vacation.  And I haven’t been able to afford a trip back to Los Angeles to see my children.

From Sunday, November 3 to Sunday, November 10, all 5 of my books are only $.99 (less than a dollar) for Kindle format.  You can pick from my true cancer survival story, travel adventures, science fiction, and fantasy.  Or you could splurge and pay $9.99 for a paperback.  My books encourage people to survive anything, and they make great Christmas presents.  Light can shine in the darkest places.

Please buy one of my books for a friend, think of me, and share my story.

Thank you.  See my books here.

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Jessica, me, and Jonathan in California in 2010 before I left to teach overseas

Surviving Breast Cancer

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Lonna Lisa Williams sits inside the cave behind Duden Waterfall in Antalya, Turkey, 2012

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, so I thought I’d share my own cancer story:

I was nursing my baby when I found a lump in my breast. I told my doctor that I felt achy and tired all the time, and he said it was because I just had a baby and chased after a toddler all day. He thought my breast lump was a clogged milk duct and gave me a mammogram. Nothing strange showed up in the mammogram. But the lump didn’t go away, and I felt like I had the flu all of the time, with low-grade fevers and night sweats.

“Something is wrong,” I told my doctor when I returned, my two children with me. I knew that I was in charge of my body’s health, and I had done research on breast lumps and ways to test them.

“Give me a needle biopsy,” I requested. Jonathan started crying in my arms, and Jessica was running around the examining room.

“Just come back in 6 months,” the impatient doctor responded. “You are young, and it’s probably nothing.”

“No, do it now,” I demanded.

That action saved my life. Two days later my doctor told me I had cancer. Thus began my battle with a rare tumor that sometimes appears in women’s breasts: non-hodgkins lymphoma.

I had to stop nursing abruptly and have surgery. Luckily, I only had a lumpectomy (a lump removed from my breast). I faced four months of chemotherapy, shots, and blood work. I endured strange medical tests like CAT-scans and bone marrow biopsies. My hair fell out. I looked pale, not even eyebrows on my face to soften my vivid blue eyes. My family, friends, and church helped me by watching my children, bringing meals, and babysitting me after my chemotherapy treatments left me nauseated and weak.

I wanted to live for my children and believed that God could help me. I laughed when two boys tossed my blonde wig to each other or people stared when I forgot my wig. I joined a breast cancer support group and wrote two books about my ordeal.

Since those books were published, I have fought other battles like divorce, dependence on prescription medication, and a near-fatal car accident. I had to go overseas to teach English, leaving my children with my ex-husband. After Russia, I lived in Turkey , married a Turkish man, and took a new teaching post in China.  Now I’m trying to write my way back to California to see my children.

Last June, Jonathan graduated from high school. Jessica turned 21. I discovered that cancer was only one battle in my life, 17 years ago, and I’m grateful that the battles–and triumphs–continue.

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Read about my story in my book Crossing the Chemo Room.

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Lonna and her Turkish husband Omer at Duden Waterfall in Turkey

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Lonna with her children Jessica and Jonathan in California, 2010

Benefits of Being Nobody

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The 19th Century American poet Emily Dickinson once wrote:

“I’m nobody—who are you?

Are you nobody too?

Then there’s a pair of us

—don’t tell—

they’d advertise, you know.”

Emily never saw her poems published. Though a newspaper editor once offered to publish her insightful lines, she refused, stating that she enjoyed being nobody.

When I told this story to my Turkish students who were studying English, they exclaimed,

“She had mental problems!”

But maybe Emily had a point. There is great freedom in being unknown. An anonymous person, almost invisible, can walk through a crowd of famous people without being noticed.

There were a lot of professional journalists in Taksim last Sunday. They wore matching colors and had a huge television camera and tripod, a hand-held microphone, real gas masks, and backpacks full of goodies. But Turkish police targeted them, under orders from Prime Minister Erdogan to suppress the news so that Turkey doesn’t look bad to the international community. I saw a four-member team from Germany hanging in the background while I walked, almost unseen, toward the line of police who guarded Taksim Square. They didn’t notice a middle-aged woman, dressed like an English teacher, who carried a small camera.

Of course, the downside of being nobody means that you may operate on a shoestring budget and only with items you can pack into a purse. But you can travel light. That’s extremely handy when running away from police attack vehicles shooting pepper spray at your back.

Maybe someday Erdogan will know my name. That could be a bad thing. I keep waiting for that knock on my humble Turkish apartment door in the middle of the night. Until then, however, I will continue to be the nobody who records what is happening in Turkey.

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In the Background

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Notice the customers in the back of this dress shop, watching me take a photo

Sometimes we take photos of objects close to us and don’t even notice things (or people) in the background.  Here in Turkey, I am shy about taking photos of strangers because they may object.  But they can show up in unexpected places in the background!

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The florist, almost hidden in the back of his shop, also watches me

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My Turkish husband stands next to me as I take a photo of this Istanbul glass gallery

Spring in Turkey

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A family strolls along a hill by tulips in Seka Park, Izmit, Kocaeli

Spring has finally come to Turkey, and people enjoy walking outside in the sunshine, strolling through parks, planning weddings, and admiring tulips, an important flower for Turkey that can be found in tourism symbols, hand-made lace, and jewelry. Grown natively in Anatolia for centuries, tulips were first introduced to Europe by a German ambassador to the Ottoman Empire in the 16th Century. Tulips were the symbol of the Ottoman Empire, courtly romance, and love. Only the rich and refined could truly grow tulips, display them in their homes, draw paintings of them, and write them into poetry. The golden age of the Ottoman Empire, in the 18th Century, was called the Tulip Era (“Lale Devri” in Turkish).

 After a long, cold winter in northwest Turkey, spring finally arrived this April. Tulips of all colors graced parks and hillsides. People planned weddings, relaxed at open-air cafes, and gave each other bouquets of Turkish “lale.”  A duck bathed in a fountain.  I enjoyed all this with my Turkish husband as sunlight shone on his amazing country.  After two years of living inside the Turkish culture, I am hopeful for new beginnings.  I’m writing a new book about it!

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My Turkish husband Ömer and I in the park

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A duck enjoys the spring sunlight and a bath in a fountain

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Turkish tulips shine in the sunlight

My Life is a Mirror

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Can you find me in this picture, standing next to my Turkish husband in Istanbul and taking a photo of a mirror gallery we found in Taksim?  Sometimes my life feels like layers of glass backed by silver–a mirror to reflect life here in Turkey.

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I’ve always loved taking photos through glass and into mirrors.  Here is a shot of me taking my own portrait in a gilded mirror at the Greenpark Hotel on Kar Tepe mountain in Kocaeli.

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Sometimes glass is so clear that you can barely see it.  The treasures it protects appear to be close, as if you could reach out and touch them with your hand.  But they are shielded from us, like a dream, a faint desire, an absent child.  I took this photo of my favorite wedding shop in Izmit, Kocaeli where I have lived for two years.

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Glass works two ways (unlike a mirror), and sometimes people look back at us through it, as in this gown shop in Izmit where the customers inside wonder what I am doing outside with my camera.  How is your life like glass or a mirror?  What do you see–or reflect?  Do you capture images in pictures or in words?

Walk with Me to Turkey’s Kar Tepe Mountain

I was teaching basic English to private language school students on weekends when I decided it was time for a field trip. Since I had often stood in Izmit, Kocaeli by the banks of the Marmara Sea and looked up at the distant mountains, I thought of traveling to Kar Tepe, the tallest peak in Kocaeli and home to a five-star hotel and challenging ski resort.

The only way to get up the mountain is by car, since the buses only go to the village of Kar Tepe at the base of the mountain. The paved road is well cared for, thanks in part to business from wealthy Istanbul residents who want to ski at the closest location. One of my students offered to drive our small group, and we left early on a Saturday morning in September. Continue reading