Paola Fornari Hanna is the trailing spouse par excellence. She's been been following her husband around the world for thirty-three years -- before that she was a trailing daughter. She was born in Tanzania — then Tanganyika — where her father was a doctor. Her parents moved house, and often village, twelve times when she was a child. With her husband, she has moved a further twelve times and has covered four continents. At present they're living in Dhaka, Bangladesh.
IMBO: Paola, how did you get started writing?
Paola: Montevideo, Uruguay, where we were posted in 2004, was our first posting without children. When I wrote to them describing my experiences, they suggested I try getting published — so I did. Then it became a fun challenge to have my articles accepted by 'different' magazines: I have managed to get into Practical Fishkeeping and Cycling World. My present niche is The Oldie, but I feel I need to crack something new. I wouldn't say I've published a huge amount...but maybe, one day, there will be a book...or two.
I am Italian, but I always write in English, which I consider my mother tongue, although it's not my mother's tongue. I speak other languages, but I wouldn't trust my writing skills in them.
My writing, I suppose, comes under the category 'travel and lifestyle'. I observe what's around me, chat to people, and write everything down. I am always ready to penetrate beyond 'classic' tourism: wherever I go, I want to get as close as I can to learning about other people and how they live. At the moment I'm keeping my Banglablog, an account of my experiences in Bangladesh.
Besides writing, I do loads of things. I used to be an interpreter/translator, then I trained to teach English as a foreign language to adults. I dabbled in suggestopedia and N.L.P.
Now I am an examiner with the British Council. Many people who wish to emigrate to the UK or Australia, or want to study abroad, need to sit an exam called IELTS (International English Language Testing System). I trained to be an IELTS examiner about three years ago. It's a great way of meeting local people.
I also give training courses in Presentation Skills, and CV Writing/Interview Skills.
I work freelance, so I have time for my other interests: yoga, swimming, old-fashioned skills like knitting and cross-stitch — and exploring. It's the exploring that forms the basis of my writing.
IMBO: How has being an expat affected what, and the way, you write?
Paola: It must have done, somehow, but I can't tell you how — I have never not been an expat, though I don't have a pat!
IMBO: Great line! I'll have to use it one day. OK, let’s say you’ve just boarded a transatlantic flight. As you make your way to your seat, adrenaline shoots through your chest. You’ve dreamt about this moment with this person for years. He/she is sitting in the seat next to yours. Who is it and, assuming you get the nerve up, what will you talk about — for nine hours?
Paola: Ah, now this is not an easy question. I would not like to end up beside someone famous: I would feel intimidated and not know what to say. And anyway, I can see famous people any time on TV, or find out about them on the Internet.
The Bangladeshi Wetlands
I have had brief meetings with so many interesting people over the years, and would have loved an opportunity to chat with them for nine hours. In Tanzania I met a beggar who ended up going to the Special Olympics in Manchester. In Uruguay a taxi driver told me he healed people with magnets. Just yesterday I met people living in the Haors. These are the Bangladeshi wetlands where for six months a year monsoon rains drown the paddy fields, and people are isolated on teeny islands, which they struggle to protect from the elements. One group, who had been homeless, had been given the opportunity to build their own island, and can now be self-sufficient. Give me an interpreter, and just one of the new island inhabitants: nine hours would not be enough.
IMBO: Care to share some of your work with us?
Paola: Okay, I'll give you an early piece and a recent piece. Click on this link:
Horseback Riding in Chiloe, Chile
This is one of the first pieces I had published: it's about a trip I made with my niece to Chiloe, in Chile. It took three and a half days to get there by bus from Montevideo. I gave my niece Graham Greene's book 'Travels with my Aunt' to read on the way. The weather was wet and cold, and it was one of those experiences that teaches you that you don't need to be comfortable to have fun.
Doin' Dhaka is a recent story about a trip to the heart of Dhaka. My friend Anette and I try to go out and discover something new every week: this was the first of our Monday Adventures.
IMBO: How about a link to a story written by another expat?
Paola:"Working the Windows" is a recently published piece by Susan Carey. That's her pen name. Her real name is Angela Williams and she's a fellow-member of the online writing group, Writers Abroad.' I found it interesting because when I read it I had just watched a National Geographic documentary about prostitution, which covered everything from the 'high-end' brothels in Sydney to trafficked women in Bangladesh. Here's the link:
Through her interview with a woman right there in the sex trade, Susan's article gives a close insight into a world many of us are so unfamiliar with. Unfortunately, not many prostitutes can control their fate like Mariska.
One of my recent 'Monday Adventures' was to see a project in Dhaka which helps women who have been trafficked start a new life: these women are among the lucky few: getting out of prostitution in Bangladesh is extremely difficult.
Paola: I don't have a permanent home, so not really. I miss my kids and grandson, and I miss certain feelings. Here in Bangladesh I miss freedom: the freedom to walk, cycle, or drive where I want, the freedom to be alone. But I know that I can just take a break and go elsewhere if the traffic, noise and pollution get to me.
I am incredibly fortunate to have this opportunity to see the world, so I try my best to make the most of it.
Paola, thank you for sharing your world with us. I've enjoyed getting to know you over the last few months. The world needs lots more people like you.
I must be off,
READ MORE ABOUT BANGLADESH
Christopher Allen is the author of the absurdist satire Conversations with S. Teri O'Type.