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15 Things I Want Tell My Graduating Third Culture Kid Seniors

Five years ago I wrote a post, 15 Things I Want to Tell My Third Culture Kids. I’ve been writing my kids letters and telling them things for years. When they return to school every three months, they return with packets of letters. One for each week, usually written on the back of a photograph of people and places they love. I’ve written them verses, prayers, quotes, poems (so much Mary Oliver), song lyrics, and rambling mom-junk. And we talk. So, they know this stuff. But, too bad for them, their mom is a writer and sends some of that mom-junk out to the wide, beautiful world.

I wrote this several weeks ago, a lifetime ago.

You can always come home. Home might not be this house but home is always this family. Come rejoicing, come weeping, come whole, come broken, come lonely, come with packs of friends, come in silence, come and spill it all. This table, meaning the table I’ve set in my heart for our family, always has room.

You can never go back. There is no rewind on life and no redoing spent years. You can’t go back, even if you come back. In You Can’t Go Home Again, Thomas Wolfe wrote, “Make your mistakes, take your chances, look silly, but keep on going. Don’t freeze up.” Keep going. Djibouti will keep going and changing, too. When you meet again, whether this country or the people you have known on the continent, know that you will have to reintroduce yourself and re-explore the other and rediscover who you can be together, or from a distance, now. You might want to go back, you might think things were better or easier or simpler back when…that’s nostalgia. That’s saudade. That’s okay. Those days were good and beautiful and hilarious and I can testify to that. They are part of you now, in your very being, the fabric of what makes you, you. But you can’t live them again. Hold them, honor them, and live into the now and the new.

Guard your heart, your mind, your soul, your body. Be wise, be discerning. Make good choices. Be patient, take your time. Stay in touch with old friends. Don’t sink into social media or the internet or porn or alcohol or consumerism.

But don’t lock it up. Don’t shut the door to keep out what might feel like overwhelming American culture. Don’t be afraid to be tender and loving. Don’t cling so fast to friends far away that you don’t have space for new friends. Be vulnerable, in the appropriate relationships.

Don’t treat Americans with contempt. Even, especially, when they have no clue what a ‘Djibouti’ is. Hear them out, learn their stories, ask inquisitive questions.

Don’t be afraid to be who you are. All that Djibouti awesomeness. All that Kenya awesomeness. All that you awesomeness. You can blend it up however you want, but don’t be ashamed or embarrassed or too proud. Be you.

Be honest about what you don’t know. Don’t be afraid to ask questions or to ask for help. People might think it is strange that you don’t know something they think is normal American life, but most of the time, they will also enjoy helping you and you never know what friendship might come of it. Be humble.

Explore and be curious and savor. Think of your college campus or your new city as though you have just moved abroad, which for all practical purposes, you have. Think of American English as a new language, restaurants as exotic local fare, a trip downtown as an exciting cultural exploration. Try stuff. Try broomball. Try downhill skiing. Try snowball fights. (Don’t try licking the flagpole in January). Try saying “oofdah.”

Seek out a trusted advisor with whom you can be completely transparent and ask for cultural guidance. Here gender and race conversations look different. Here poverty, justice, corruption, wealth, privilege these things look different and are talked about in different ways. It will be hard and you might feel confused sometimes, but try to learn to contextualize your conversations and learn from the people around you. Conversations in America have changed since mom and dad lived there and we can’t be specifically helpful in this regard because we are often confused, too. In this same vein, seek out a counselor, a trained professional, who understands cross-cultural issues.

Find a strong, healthy, joyful, creative, supportive, purposeful spiritual body to be part of. Maybe a church, maybe a campus group, maybe a small group of friends. Explore who you are, spiritually, apart from mom and dad.

Root yourself. You might be tempted to flit around and there will be potentially appropriate times to leave – to transfer or to study abroad – but don’t move just for the sake of movement. Settle in, make a home, even a dorm home, connect with people, invest in your community.

Call home. Text. Facebook message. Send photos. When you do, be honest. Goods and bads. Talk us through it. We’re transitioning, too. We miss you like whale sharks would miss the sea.

I am eternally grateful that we have had the honor of sharing this life abroad with you. Djibouti hasn’t always been easy, but what is easy? No place is easy. The way you love this small, fascinating nation blows my mind. You have embraced it, the heat and the dust, French school and Djiboutian best friends, Papa Noel and Eid Mubarak, volcanoes and ocean, with exuberance. And it has embraced you back. This is a rare thing. Including you, I can count on two hands the number of non-Djiboutian American children who have spent their lives, from toddler-hood to graduation in this country, and you have loved each other well.

You are not alone. You can cross the sea, go to the highest mountain, the lowest volcanic lava tunnel, you are not alone. God is with you, cliché and true. But also, all the people who have loved you and taught you and coached you and prayed for you are with you. You don’t leave friends or family behind, not when they have invested in you. They have become part of who you are, part of your character and your stories. You know this, from the Open Houses that we had/will have. We need to have them on two continents, with letters from people in dozens of other countries, because love and support is coming at you from all corners of the globe.

Live here and now. They might be hard words to live in and I’m still learning how to do this well. Right here, this now. And then this one and then this one. Pay attention to your here and your now and feel it. This actually builds new pathways in your brain. Did you know that? How you choose to receive and embrace each moment matters. Make it good, even the hard ones. Learn from them. Savor the good moments. Laugh when you want to, cry when you want to. Get angry and feel wonder. Here. Now.

Okay and a couple bonus, obligatory things:

I love you. I’m proud of you. Always and forever, to the moon and around to Djibouti and back around again.

What do you want to say to your graduating senior, TCK or not?

Read suggestions on helping TCKs transition to university in Finding Home.

Find more wisdom for graduating TCKs here.

Tips for Third Culture Kids Going on College Tours

So. You’re going to college. Maybe. Eventually. Somewhere. Where? To study what? Why? Who knows, maybe you do but maybe you don’t. In any case, you might tour some schools before making your final decision. Here are just a few suggestions for how to make the most of the tours. (tomorrow I’ll post tips for your parents, so they won’t totally humiliate you – if you’re lucky).

Be engaged. Be curious, look around.

Look the tour guide in the eye.

Smile at their cheesy jokes.

Ask questions. Of the tour guide, not of your parent. Unless you are asking for Swedish Fish (because of course your mom brought a bag full and is trying to eat them on the sly).

Don’t be afraid or embarrassed about what you don’t know. People like to be helpful and they like to feel like they know something.

Tell people where you are from in whatever form you choose to. You can be your passport country, your host country, your boarding school country, the country in which your parents pay taxes…be from where you want to be from but then own that, be proud of it. If you say you are from Kenya or Djibouti, you are intrinsically interesting and stand out, even if people don’t know what a Djibouti is.

Don’t expect your parent to talk for you. You do it.

Walk confidently. Don’t shuffle around with your head down. Pay attention, look up, notice. (Trust me, I saw a LOT of kids shuffling).

Imagine you are on an interview, don’t be a bump on a log. This is a huge decision, be involved in it. Make a good impression. The tour guide has no say over your acceptance but this is good practice.

Same idea regarding what to wear. Dress comfortably, like blue jeans and a t-shirt and tennis shoes, but don’t wear ultra-short sport shorts or pajamas. I’m being serious.

Know what you are looking for or what you are not looking for, at least as much as possible. Does the food or the sports or the music or the research facilities or the dorms or the cost matter most to you?

Enjoy it. Be curious. Enjoy exploring new cities and meeting new people and dreaming about what you can do in these places. Enjoy the chance to pick your parents’ brain on the drives and over meals. Enjoy their (probably dorky) company, they love you and are proud of you.

Chat with the other students on the tour. See what people are like who are interested in the same school as you.

Listen to your gut. How do you feel about a school? Your parents will want you to be objective but they also want to know that a place feels right. Trust your intuition.

Read Janneke Jellema’s essay in Finding Home for advice on transitioning to university as a TCK.

Read Marilyn Gardner’s book Passages Through Pakistan, especially the last chapter, for help in handling the emotional side of this major transition.

Read The Global Nomad’s Guide to University, by Tina L. Quick

What other tips have you found useful on college tours?

Should We Send Used Clothes to the Developing World?

Quick link: To Donate or Not to Donate?

At A Life Overseas today, I posted an updated essay for a few years ago, it includes new ideas, studies, articles, and experiences. I’m not an expert in development work. I’ve made my share of mistakes and have had many good intentions turn sour. I’ve learned some things and I think I’ve done some not-so-terrible things. This post is an attempt at stirring up the pot, at challenging us all to rethink how we can be both generous and wise.

I’m glad Amy Medina was brave recently and talked about similar things. And I’ve suggested many times that people read When Helping Hurts. I also suggest you read a book called The Crisis Caravan.

This book has more of a focus on how humanitarian aid impacts war and violence (as in, how it is implicated in the never-ending cycles) but I think many minds will be rocked (mine was and I’m used to stories like these) and ideas challenged.

We want to do good. We want to be generous. We have so much stuff. How can we also be wise and effective? I don’t pretend to have all the answers, but I do have some ideas.

*This was originally published as Don’t Send Your Used Shoes to Africa on Djibouti Jones in 2014. I bring it up again because on a recent flight to Kenya, my husband sat beside a Kenyan small business owner. Her clothing shop sells locally made dresses using Kenyan materials and Kenyan employees. She said these used clothes imports make it incredibly difficult to sustain her business. She gave my husband her business card and the next day he and I visited her shop and I bought a gorgeous dress. And then I read The Crisis Caravan: what’s wrong with humanitarian aid. Mind-blowing.

There is a debate in the development world about whether or not people in developed, wealthy nations should send their used shoes and clothing to less prosperous nations.

You have a pile of used clothes and old running shoes or sandals and purses and hats from last season. What do you do with it? Donate seems like the best answer, right? Is it? Is it the best practice for wealthy, developed nations to send their used items to Africa? (I’m using Africa because that is where I live. The issue is globally relevant.)

Click here to read the rest To Donate or Not to Donate?

What Am I Going to Wear in the Marathon?

I wrote another post, years ago, about what the heck am I going to wear? I was heading to New York City for a movie premiere. Now doesn’t that sound exciting? It certainly was exciting, it was the premiere of the Finding Strong documentary which featured Girls Run 2. That week in NYC I also ran a 5k, peed in a port-a-potty next to Shalane Flannagan, met my (no longer) literary agent, watched Captain Philips in an actual movie theater (still don’t have one here), hung out with my amazing siblings (who made me cry) and shopped for clothes because I had nothing to wear.

Yet again, I face the conundrum of what to wear and this time I’m heading east, not west. Heading more conservative, not less. Heading to cooler weather. The perennial question for women here is: What should I wear?

I promised you months ago that I’d show you what I’ve decided to wear for this marathon.

It took some practice and some experimenting, but I think I have a good plan, knowing full well that it might change last minute.

I’ve counted up the total items of clothing I wore in my previous marathons (socks count as 1 and shoes count as 1): Five. Five items of clothing.

For this marathon? Nine. Nine items of clothing. Yowsers.

Everything needs to be considered carefully when training for a marathon. Shoes, socks, underwear (or none), sports bra, shirt(s), pants, and this time, a scarf.

Shoes

I used to wear Asics but recently the toe box seems to have gotten narrower. Or, my feet have gotten fatter. They aren’t working for anymore. I tried Brooks Ghost. I fell in love. I find that rotating my shoes helps protect against injury, so I currently have three pairs I rotate through. One pair of trail shoes: Brooks Cascadia, which are also too narrow and I had to cut slits around the toes. One pair of Asics, because I had brought them with from Minnesota and can’t buy shoes here, so need to wear them even if they aren’t quite perfect. And the Brooks Ghost. I’ve saved up the Ghosts, only wearing them on my long runs. The different shoes challenge me to run slightly differently – lower heel drop, or the trail shoes, and keep my legs fresh.

Socks

I’m still with Asics on my socks, mainly because that’s what I brought with me. They are seamless, don’t chafe, and don’t give me too much trouble with blisters.

Sports Bra

I have trouble with sports bras. It is so hot here, I sweat so much, I need something completely seamless and they just don’t seem to exist. I have one Champion bra, pretty seamless but also pretty unsupportive. As one of the only women running here, I want something that locks me down. I wear that one for volleyball or for walking. The Nike bras I have used to work great, but lately, even my new ones, leave me bloody at the center of my chest and along my collarbone. I turn them inside out, which helps a bit, but not enough. I found some new Nike bras last summer, which have a kind of fuzzy elastic band. Those are a bit better, though they still chafe, so I turn them inside out as well. In other words, this is what I plan to wear, but it is the weakest link in my clothing lineup and I’m open to suggestions (just know I won’t be able to shop until July).

Shirt

This is the shirt I’ve chosen. But, it will be under a long-sleeved shirt, or maybe over the top, since I’m writing people’s names on it. But two shirts? During a warm-ish race? Aiyayai. What have I gotten myself into?

It is also Nike. I don’t love the color (why does every women’s running shirt here have to be pink?). But, the shirt doesn’t chafe, is nice and light, and is the longest and loosest shirt I have and doesn’t have a v-neck or low cut scoop neck. So it is the most conservative running shirt in my closet. It is a size Large, which is why it hangs past my butt, and was a hand-me down from a runner who left Djibouti. This is the shirt, that will bear the names of everyone who donated to the Go Fund Me campaign.

I tried a shirt from a Muslim-friendly athletic apparel store, a shirt-dress. I hated it. Way too much material for a marathon in a warm climate. Too much flapping. I know from experience that flapping and sweat leads to chafing and bleeding, which is why I wear spandex here. Plus, it would get so dang heavy. It was really comfortable and I could wear it for anything less than an hour, or for someplace cooler than the Horn of Africa, the material was great, but nope. Too much of that great material.

Pants

After my shoes, I’m most excited about my pants. I love these pants. Brooks Chaser. I had to take a big risk and ordered them online, unable to try them or or return them once they got to Africa. But they fit perfect, they are incredibly lightweight and breathable, they aren’t tight but aren’t so loose that they flap. They have four pockets.

But still, they are pants. And my shirt is long-ish but not super long.

So I’m adding a little bonus, which might be removed once I see how things are on the ground.

I used to have a pair of leggings with a skirt attached. I wore them out, the seams got all hard and crusty from sweat and use, so I was almost going to throw them away. Instead, I cut off the legs and saved the skirt part. Now, I can pull that on over the Brooks pants and, if I feel like my shirt isn’t modest enough, I’ll wear the skirt, too. But because it is less material than the t-shirt dress and is more designed for running, it isn’t as flappy.

Underwear

No photos, but I have a good plan.

Scarf

I got this from the same store, Veil Garments, as the shirt dress. I love it. The color, the material, the fit. It doesn’t feel like I’m wearing anything and doesn’t make me feel much hotter or sweatier.

 

I’ll also be wearing my TomTom Spark watch, sans headphones so I won’t miss any of the fun of the race. And, I’ll have my phone in an armband, so I can snap photos if the chance comes up.

Voila!

My marathon outfit. At least in my plan.

Everything could change…

 

Running Afraid

Y’all did it. You helped me raise the funds for the marathon and education fundraiser in Somaliland. Thank you.

And now that means I have to do this.

Uh, I mean get to do this.

But kind of? I mean I have to do this.

I’m kind of a chicken type of person.

You might not believe me. People call me brave. I rarely feel brave. I rarely feel competent. I often doubt my decisions, question my ability, cower before negative self-talk.

I am also stubborn. That’s one thing I have going for me. Stubborn works well for long-distance running. It works well for long-term cross-cultural living. It works well for the years of research and rejection and revising that go into book writing.

But stubborn is not the same as brave.

So I confess that I’m feeling nervous.

I have my plane ticket. I have my visa. I paid my fees and made our donation. I won’t back down (thank you Tom Petty), but I’m doing it afraid.

Anything can happen.

Anything can happen at any time and in any place. I know this full well. I’ve written about it several times.

There’s the marathon nerves that any runner feels before the start of a big race. We’ve spent months training our legs and lungs and brains. We’ve read for inspiration, woken up way too early, pooped in places we wish we hadn’t, downed GU by the bucketfull, kept pasta-makers in business. We’ve tweaked training plans and figured out the best shoes and running gear. We’ve given up on ever having ten toenails all at the same time. So we’re ready, but also not ready.

Its a frickin’ marathon.

That’s a long way.

26.2 miles. 42 kilometers.

It hurts.

The nerves are excited-nerves. I love this stuff. Running, education, the region, the people I’m meeting and spending time with. I love it.

But it is also outside my comfort zone.

So I’m nervous.

I’m nervous about being one of only a few women, only a few international runners, about the location, about what I’ll wear (I’m bringing several options). I’m nervous about the meetings I have arranged for before and after. I’m nervous that not everyone will be thrilled about this event.

My husband tells me to stop being so self-conscious. To not worry about what to wear or what to say or who to talk to, to not doubt myself, to be strong and assertive. He says, “Its all strange.” Meaning: female, running, white, foreign, Somali-speaker. He says to stop thinking so hard and to enjoy it.

He’s right.

I think that’s what it takes to do something while afraid. To jump in with both feet. Forget about dipping one toe in at a time. Forget about self and focus on what I know is true. This is such a unique opportunity. I should not waste time being timid or afraid.

I should be all me. Meaning: curious, interested, hopeful, excited.

Instead of bringing all my baggage of:

I’m too slow

Women don’t run here

I stick out

Its unsafe

I look ridiculous

What was I thinking? (this will come in mile 22, if not before)

I should bring:

My love for Somali culture and the ways it has molded into my American-ness

My dreams of competitive female athletes from this region

My thrill at being part of this unique experience

All the Somalis who have loved me, welcomed me, helped me laugh my way through these years abroad, all the people who have fed me and clothed me (quite literally) and embraced my kids, and forgiven my faux pas, and shown me how to create a home here, and given me their courage when I lacked my own.

So yeah, I get to do this.

Here we go!

(Here are a couple of videos I made of my last two long runs, if you want a peek at running in Djibouti)

 

 

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