Djibouti Life

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Quiz: Should You Stay or Should You Go?

Just for fun. Don’t take this too seriously.

What are your results?

When Things Crash and Stories from the Horn

Don’t let me hold your phone, drive your car, or borrow your computer. Don’t ask me for tech help on your blog, newsletter, Facebook account, or anything else.

I have been run into twice in the past few months by motorcycles. They literally ran right into the car. Once on the driver’s side and once on the passenger side.

Both times the motorcycle driver was at fault, like going the direction on the road, passing on the wrong side, not using turn signals, multiple witnesses all agreeing with them being at fault, all kinds of at fault. I will not publicly go into all manner of not okay-ness in how I was held to blame.

Sometimes, Djibouti wins.

I downloaded an update on my phone and it never worked again. Go to the Apple store, says the internet. I say, “The nearest Apple store is off the continent.

The water proof bag I used to carry items wasn’t actually water proof. Not for me. For so many others, yes. Me? Not this time.

My website crashed.

My computer crashed.

I ruined my newsletter list.

I can fix it. We can fix it. The technician and mechanic can fix it.

But what a headache. Aren’t all these things supposed to make life easier?

I’ll tell you what was easier: not having a phone because it broke. No pressure to take photos – just memorize the moment, just experience the moment. No pressure to respond to messages. No need to post updates.

Still.

Writers gotta internet. Or something like that.

And nowadays, writers gotta newsletter.

This is what is drilled into us everywhere I go online. Build your email list. Facebook and Instagram could crash or close (like they did on July 3 this year – anyone else have image issues? I swear I had nothing to do with that). Don’t let someone else have control of your work.

And I’ve discovered that I really love working on my newsletter and building that email list. People don’t comment on blogs that much anymore and Facebook and Twitter sorta overwhelm me. But in my newsletter, I get to be myself without blabbing it all over the internet. And I get to respond, one on one, to comments and questions and feedback.

I get to work on essays that in the past I would have tried to pitch to magazines but now I love keeping them just my newsletter.

Here are some of the wide-ranging recent topics:

  • How love in dating is different to love in marriage
  • Female genital mutilation from the voices of Djiboutian women
  • The story of a man who lived with a bullet in his head for 18 years and what happened when it came out
  • The next one will be about the cheek kissing greeting. Ever wonder if people accidentally kiss on the lips? I don’t know about people, but I do know about me

I curate stories from the Horn of Africa and Somali news from all over the world. I love doing this – keeping myself and readers up to date on what’s happening in the places we care about, super cool stories about the new superfood: camel’s milk or about Somali yoga lessons on the beach in Mogadishu or about the apparent new Cold War between China and the US taking place in Djibouti, about disastrous White Savior problems in Uganda…

I give loads of book recommendations, including Kindle Deals for the best books, usually under $3.00.

And we do this silly thing where I take quotes from famous people from Gandhi to Oprah to Mr. Rogers and replace the word “struggle” with the word “snuggle.” Because we could all use a little more snuggle in our lives these days.

Its kind of like letting people see the things I love to talk about. Like if we sat down over coffee, I would probably ask you what great book you’re reading. Or what fascinating story has gripped you lately? Or do you have any idea how to untangle the mess or how to celebrate the successes in the Horn lately?

Last week, I switched email providers because I wanted to be better able to provide great content and meet the needs of readers.

Alas.

Remember how nothing was working?

That didn’t work either.

I feel like an idiot. I probably am one. Or didn’t read the instructions well enough, though I felt certain I did. I don’t know.

In any case, a lot of people’s emails fell through the cracks. Like a lot, a lot.

And if you don’t want to read Stories from the Horn anymore and your email fell through – no worries! I’m glad you hung around for a while and you’re welcome back any time, but you are also totally free to head out in other reading directions.

If you do subscribe and still want to, Aweber has assured me, they have solved the problem. So hang tight, some of you have contacted me and I will make sure you’re all added in correctly. I’m so sorry for the hassle and confusion.

If you have never subscribed but are intrigued by what is on offer, I’d love to have you join in. Its totally free, I will never sell or give out your email address. You’ll get a free download: 25 Things You Need to Know but No One Will Tell You about Moving Abroad (and a bonus, secret free download too, once you confirm.)

And if you do subscribe and hit reply to the email when it comes into your inbox, to send me a message or ask a question, I promise to respond. I read every single email and (so far) am able to respond to them all. It might take a day or two, but I love hearing what drew you to Stories from the Horn or ideas on what you’d like to hear more about from me, suggestions on how I can serve you better, or just a “hi!”

Here’s a link for signing up, if you haven’t already seen it posted like, everywhere, on the blog.

Do you have a newsletter? I’d love to check it out.

Send me your link or include it in the comments.

A Belated Merry Advent Letter

*please note! I wrote this last year and then never published it. It felt kind of scary and raw. I have another letter drafted for this year’s Christmas/advent letter. But then I read it again and while parts are not relevant because I’m in the US and the twins graduated, parts were exactly what I needed to be reminded of personally, again. So maybe it will resonate with someone else who needs to choose joy this season. So, I’ll publish it now.

Merry Christmas from Abroad,

Our four-foot tree is up and shedding quite sadly. The Santa costume is being borrowed by a very Saint Nicholas type of fellow. The stockings, for once, are hung on steps and not over the air conditioner with care. The temperature is a chilly 87 degrees. The kitchen smells like ginger snaps and apple cinnamon candles. The grocery store has a horribly skinny Santa, barefoot, with no shirt under his costume, a rather sexy Santa with bright blue eyes. More stripper than Santa.

Its beginning to look a lot like Christmas.

This is our Christmas letter, the one in which we tell you about our exotic summer vacations (Minnesota is, truly, exotic to desert-dwellers) and about our children’s stellar performances at school (define ‘stellar’), about all the things we are really good at (like forgetting new vocab words in one of the three languages we’ve learned), and then show pictures of things we secretly hope you envy, ala the humble brag (like our incredible, rundown house with rats in the ceiling and roaches in the bathrooms).

What if, instead, I’m totally honest? What if, instead, I told you that this year I’m tired?

A few nights ago as we drove to church, a local boy made the shape of a gun with his fingers and shot at my face through the car window. A few days before that while I was running, a man drove by on a motorcycle and punched my ass. I miss my kids almost the whole year ‘round because all of them are at a boarding school two countries away. My husband and I started up a big new project, thirteen years in the dreaming and our hearts bleeding all over our sleeves, and no one told us that start-ups in Africa take a toll on a marriage.

I would like to go to a movie theater and disappear into the cool darkness and forget about it all. There aren’t any movie theaters in the country. I would like to enjoy a nice evening out with my husband but if we go for a walk we are harassed or are simply just bored of the same, limited, not beautiful route. We’ve tried almost every restaurant in town, there aren’t many cultural events like concerts or plays or dances. Plus, sometimes it takes too much energy to go out the front door.

It can be lonely here. This year, I have a full life, rich with new staff and new friends. People who speak my language, people I enjoy deeply and am coming to love. But I feel lonely creatively, if that’s a thing. Lonely for my people, people who pursue a life of creativity and words and I don’t even know if I have people anymore because I don’t seem to fit anywhere. Lonely spiritually, for a community that speaks my language – both the language of my tongue and of my heart.

What a depressing Christmas letter. At least, that’s what I thought when I reread this. But you know what? This isn’t a Christmas letter after all. Its an advent letter. A letter of longing, of waiting, of seeing the holes in things and the struggle of being alive while being fully convinced that hope is never in vain.

Someone asked me what I want to experience of Jesus this advent season. I want to experience joy. Not happiness, not glibness. Deep, abiding joy that acknowledges there are so many broken things in the world but that chooses to delight in the healing, beautiful things in the world. Joy that says, all is not right in the world. But, “all will be well and all will be well and every kind of thing shall be well.” Julian of Norwich

So, I conjure up joy because that is what I want. Joy is what I need. Joy is what my family needs. It feels like the snow falling in a snow globe. The flakes rest on the bottom and then the world is shaken with strenuous effort and a veneer of cheer falls over the scene below. The scene is the same old one, the flakes change nothing, but for a few minutes while they fall, it is Christmas. It is beautiful. And maybe that’s enough for this year.

Merry Advent,

Rachel

When Health Issues Interrupt a Life Overseas

Quick link: 6 Good Things about a Cancerous Life Overseas

I forgot to let you know that last week I wrote about what I am learning to be thankful for as I walk through cancer for A Life Overseas. It is similar to what I shared on the blog yesterday, about gratitude, sorry for the repetitive nature of the two posts!

But it is also different, because there are some specific things I’ve learned about living overseas through this experience. Like how meaningful it is that people from a variety of faith backgrounds love me and are praying for me, or that people literally pray around the clock because of the time change and knowing people all over the world.

Not gonna lie, doing this while we maintain our life abroad sucks. It is not awesome and I do not recommend it. It certainly makes a lot of things harder.

But, it also makes me intensely more grateful, helps me take less for granted, reminds me tangibly of the power of community, makes me thankful for my diverse friendships.

And apparently, God had a plan for my life. That plan included the superb timing of me getting cancer while living in a country that has the medical prowess to detect and treat it. #miracles

But, ahem, God? What about my husband? One big perk of marriage is having a companion for life’s junk. I don’t like that part of this plan, that part that has him in Djibouti and me in Minnesota, and there is a poor telephone and internet connection and so instead of beating around the bush with something like, “The doctor found papillary thyroid carcinoma,” or, “the test results aren’t exactly awesome,” or even, “They found cancer,” which would imply it was not exactly me, or mine, or inside my body, I had to shout, to be very clear and to make sure he got the message before the internet shut off, “I HAVE CANCER!!!!!” (again, those darn exclamation points).

Anyway. My point is that this international life is hard and beautiful and amazing and sometimes, it really really stinks. Sometimes it means periods of unwanted and un-chosen separation. It means money spent changing plane tickets at the last minute. It means feeling divided. It means lonely grief. Work and team and home on one side of the ocean. Sick wife or worried husband on the other side.

But there are good things, too, about a cancerous life overseas. #learninggratitude #perspective

There are incredible aspects of the life overseas that truly manifest, to my surprise to be honest, during times of pain, grief, confusion, and sorrow…

Click here to read the rest of 6 Good Things about a Cancerous Life Overseas

What Happens Every Time I Write about Sexual Harassment

Quick link: Let’s Talk about Sexual Harassment

I wrote about sexual harassment for A Life Overseas today but I still had more to say. So here is the follow-up piece.

I’ve written about sexual harassment in the past and inevitably, a friend will tell me that they’re surprised by my stories, that they have never been harassed. I immediately whip through a range of internal reactions. One, great! I’m so glad for them. Two, shame. Why me? Three, doubt. I don’t believe them. Four, anger. Why are they saying that to me? Do they not believe? Do they think I’ve “asked” for it in some way? Am I doing something wrong?

Like I said, I’m glad other women don’t experience harassment.

But.

I think there are reasons other than that I’m just asking for it.

  • I speak the local language. It is hard to know someone is insulting you when you don’t know the language. I’ve been called a whore more times than I can count but not one single time has been in English. I’ve been told that I will be the first one someone would choose to kill, but it wasn’t in English, or that my breasts are nice and my butt is jiggling but never in English.
  • I spend a lot of time outside. I run, outside. Most of the time I am encouraged and cheered on by men on the streets. But not always. Not always. I bike, I walk. Apparently, a woman on a bike is cause for boys or men to shout, “Sex! Sex!”
  • I spend time in certain sections of town. I don’t spend time only at the upscale hotels or grocery stores or neighborhoods.
  • I understand the culture. I know the hand and facial gestures, at least some of them. I know the lip and tongue noises. I know some slang, some history. Some words seem benign but they aren’t when you know the backstory.
  • I’ve been living internationally for sixteen years. I’ve been a woman for forty years. I’ve built up a lot of stories.
  • I used to live by several schools. Never again. Things got so bad on one particular street that even my daughter was being harassed: touched, pinched, stopped on her bike, chased, mocked. We spoke to the director of the school, we spoke to our landlord, for a while a police truck patrolled the street. Eventually, we moved.

I know I’m not the only one because I’ve spoken with other women and hugged them and cried with them. I’ve been with them when it has happened, both local and expatriate women. But sometimes it can still feel like I’m the only one, especially when I hear others express that they haven’t experienced these things.

Should I stop biking? Should I drive the car two blocks to pick up a baguette? Should I move into a neighborhood with rents higher than our salary? Should I stop running? Should I wear a cardboard box from head to foot? Should I never speak or laugh when outside? Should I not tell these stories?

Should I, as a few commenters have suggested, pack up my children and leave? But where would I go? Nowhere is safe from harassment, it has happened in every country where I’ve spent significant time. Should I concede, as one commentor suggested, that harassment can’t happen to me because it happens at the American military base? As if the harassment of women in one location cancels out the harassment of women in another?

Should I feel bad that I seem to be one of the few expatriate women to be on the receiving end of harassment?

Should I say, kids will be kids, with the feel of my breast in their palm and the reality that if they actually do trip me while I’m running, I might be seriously injured? Should I pretend like these boys won’t grow up to be men, stronger and faster, with wives and daughters?

Should I pretend I was terrified when a man punched me in the butt, his fast swinging with the force of the motorcycle he rode? Or that I wasn’t disgusted when someone dumped a bottle of liquid on me and for a moment I had to wonder whether or not it was urine or something even worse?

Should I pretend it doesn’t happen here? Didn’t happen in Italy? Didn’t happen in Turkey? Didn’t happen in the United States? Didn’t happen in the UK? Didn’t happen in Kenya?

No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No.

I hope I’m the only person who experiences sexual harassment but I don’t believe that’s true. So I’ll keep talking about and keep hoping it stops and keep hoping other women will be willing to talk about it, even through the shame or anger.

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