Interview | Multilocalism, the Pandemic & Creative Expression with Neslihan

Interview | Multilocalism, the Pandemic & Creative Expression with Neslihan

We are so happy to kick off the ‘community’ section of our Multilocal Journal today where each month we talk to an inspiring soul about multilocalism, creativity, arts, wellness, spirituality, self development, community building, rituals and much more….

For the first in the series, we couldn’t think of anyone better than the amazing and inspiring NESLIHAN ÖZGÜNEŞ. Neslihan is a true Multilocal & creative. Having had her upbringing and schooling in Turkey, Belgium, and the United States, her job as a facilitator and civil society expert working in the field of conflict transformation, human rights and democratisation has taken her all over the globe ever since. She recently launched her first solo art exhibition (raising money for refugees in Lesvos) and also, quite simply ‘found her calling’ teaching dance, as she brought together a community spanning continents through her weekly online classes. These classes, incidentally, are what kept us going throughout lockdown!

Welcome Neslihan! Thanks for taking the time to talk to us.

Can you tell us where you spent the past year?

Normally, if someone asked me where I was in the past year, I would say: “I live in Thessaloniki, but traveled to Myanmar, Vietnam, the Netherlands and Spain” etc. But the past year has been far from “normal” and meant that I couldn’t travel for work any more – at all. So I spent the majority of the year in Thessaloniki, northern Greece, and enjoyed it more than I expected because of the daily rituals we developed during lockdown, meeting friends at the same park every day, baking, making sushi and pizza at home, for example.

Would you say you feel like a ‘local’ there?

Before I moved to Thessaloniki, I was living in Istanbul, a city for which I carry a deep love and passion. At some point, we felt the need to move on from Istanbul, for various reasons, and that was really difficult. Istanbul is like a charismatic, passionate, sexy, irresistible but abusive lover. You have to leave because the city is wearing you down, but every time you go back it’s like make-up sex and the relationship starts all over again.

My sister has been living in Thessaloniki for over 15 years and I have been visiting her almost every year since, and Greek culture is similar to Turkish culture in many ways. This made me think that it would be easier to adapt to Thessaloniki and to make it feel like home. I had lived in so many different countries, I thought that adapting to Thessaloniki would be a piece of cake. But it was not. First of all, language was a huge barrier, and it was only after we could make small talk and do our shopping in Greek that we began to feel a little more at ease. Second, there was nothing tying us to the city, and it took making friends, going to local dance classes and meeting up with other parents from the kids school to make it feel a bit more like “home”.

I think feeling like a “local” begins when the particularities of a place begin to feel normal to you. For example, in Greek tavernas – quite in contrast to Turkish restaurants – the waiters will not clear your table of any plates, leftovers or mess until you ask for dessert. For a Turkish person who is accustomed to a plate being replaced by a clean one in the middle of a bite, this Greek “way” comes across as strange. By now, I “get” the Greek way, where the removal of plates signals the end of a meal and where invariably everyone prefers to keep the drinks and conversation going. Another particularity is of course, siesta time. It took me a while to become a believer in the “sacred” hours between 3.30-5pm, where all houses must be silent, and many don their pajamas for an after-lunch nap. Stores close during this time, and at first, it was hard not to step out during siesta time for my errands.

What other places do you feel that you are a ‘local’ and what does that mean to you?

I think I had similar experiences of feeling “local” in other places that I lived; in Guatemala I began to incorporate the “siiiii pues” in my sentences and couldn’t live without eating corn tortillas and avocados, and knew that if someone gave you a time to meet, the actual meeting time was certainly a half hour later. In Sudan I would sit with the local tea lady to have fried donuts and sugary tea every morning before work and smoke shisha in the evenings and knew where to go in the market to get cool cloth and pretty beads. These little things combined with a group of friends were always what made me feel a little more at home in each of the countries I have lived in.

I suppose that living in different places has given me a slightly chameleon-like quality, where I can pick up accents and frequently used words with ease, or adopt new rituals without much ado. It also helps me question things, opinions, beliefs and ways of being – just because I am aware that it’s done differently elsewhere, or that there are different points of view on the same issue. It brings a bit more of a kaleidoscopic view of the world I suppose, with many colors and hues. It does make me less tolerant to monochromatic thinking however, and I cannot stand nationalism or racism.

 Where do you really feel you’re from? Where do you feel is home?

I may have lived in different countries and continents, but I always felt that “home” was my ancestral land of Turkey. But actually, I am also beginning to realize that home is not about a place, but about love and connection – home is my family, home are my friends, home are the quirky things I begin to adopt and love from each of the places I live in and visit -in that sense I am my own home.

Let’s talk about travel you usually travel a lot. How has this year felt without it?

This pandemic year has really changed my relationship to travel. For years I was constantly traveling for work and for pleasure, and never seemed to spend more than two weeks at home base without traveling again. This was the first year in over 15 that I spend so much time in the same place. I am grateful for this experience. It allowed me to connect with my children on a daily basis and through daily rituals and activities. It gave me time and mental space to focus on making art and I was able to have an exhibition of my work after six months. To keep active and sane I began taking a lot of online dance classes and started giving my own. This has become one of the most precious discoveries and activities of the past year.

Of course there are moments when I fantasize about traveling, especially to countries where I know I can dance, but the pandemic dampens my enthusiasm and is teaching me the art of patience and delayed gratification. I know there will be a time to travel and dance together again, but I don’t feel the need to rush into anything at the moment.

For the time-being, I try to practice gratitude for each and every day. Sometimes it feels like we are living the same day over and over, but I find that small things are what make the difference – cooking a different meal, meeting friends you haven’t seen in a while at a park, having a glass of wine with friends on zoom after dance class. 

Tell us more about your creative endeavours (your art and your dance) and how has the pandemic impacted them?

Dance has truly been what has kept me healthy – both physically and mentally. I dance at least twice a week, and often 4-5 times when I have the chance to take additional classes. This keeps me fit, but also gives me a sense of community, of sharing in a ritual that makes one feel good. Seeing familiar faces, exchanging a few words, laughing and enjoying the dance together, this is food for the soul. 

The pandemic, change in schedule and overall upending of our way of life has led me to question everything: traveling so much for work, burning out from overworking, living in the city, a system that loops you into spending/earning and keeps you tied down… and I may have planted seeds in the depths of my conscience for a change of lifestyle and location. I don’t have the answers yet – I don’t know what precisely I will be doing or where, but I know I am asking the questions, and that this will lead me where I need to go.

I question the individualistic “self-care” and “well-being” culture – I don’t think there can be self-care without community. Our need for one another, the need for community and connection has become even more pronounced during the pandemic and I think making sure I am keeping these connections alive is a central part of my wellbeing practice.

What do these words means to you?

Culture: we can create our own “culture” of doing things, and this will also be rooted in our individual “cultures” shaped by our experiences in our lifetimes… culture can change, it is temporary and timeless, it consists of intentions, rituals, connections.

Community: common values, common intention, connection, support

Creativity: we all have it, it just needs unleashing. the inner critic, the fear of failure, perfectionism are its enemies. risk-taking, playfulness, the willingness to explore and to not judge are its friends.

Tradition: community ritual over time.

Aging: less concern about what others think… better understanding of oneself… wrinkles, stiff limbs and failing eyesight, hahaha…

Check out Neslihan’s art on @curandera_art and follow her dance on @nesoula

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