One year of Stronger than Death: Unforgettable Conversations from Book Tour

One.

In Washington D.C., I was preparing for my first ever book tour event. I felt nervous, out of place, uncertain of what to expect, and a little bit like a fraud – who would actually come out to hear me talk?! And then…friends, strangers, and even a family member showed up. Friends from my church in Minnesota, a young woman who had spent her entire life in Djibouti and whose mother helped me translate throughout my second pregnancy, David Brown journalist with the Washington Post, and my brother-in-law who came bearing gifts of snacks, a plant, and skull socks (don’t ask, I’m not sure!). At the second event, the former ambassador to Djibouti came and we took a selfie together. She lived in Djibouti before I had even heard it existed, but we know and love some of the same people.

Two.

In Colorado Springs I got to meet Dimity McDowell of Another Mother Runner. I totally had my own little fan girl moment when she came to my book event! I wanted her to sign my book, what a treat. Also Amy Young, author of so many wonderful books and whom I had not yet met in person. Internet people are real people, internet friends are real friends, go figure!

Three.

In Chicago worlds collided as I met for the first time the editor of some of my very earliest published work, in EthnoTraveler, and friends came from Indonesia, many friends from Djibouti showed up, and more internet people turned real.

Four.

In Minneapolis. Ah, Minneapolis. Afro Deli hosted the most wonderful book launch party ever. We packed out the place. I had hoped a few loyal friends and family would come and almost 100 people turned out. Chef Musa and Kahin were incredibly generous and joyful and it was such an honor and privilege to be welcomed into that space, for this book.

White Minnesotans told me at many events, how much they appreciated this book for how it opened up the world of their Somali coworkers, neighbors, and friends in a new way. They said it helped them think of conversational questions and topics, and that they hoped it could be a bridge to deeper relationships. Somali Minnesotans told me the exact same thing, in reverse.

At one event, two Somali Americans sat in the back, and we enjoyed a question and answer period so much that afterwards, they took my phone number, then called that night and said, “We have to keep talking!” I was leaving the country in two days so we had a quick breakfast in the morning and have stayed in touch. What I loved about our conversations is that we understand so much about each other – the American and the Somali parts – and barely needed extra explanations.

I was invited to speak to a class at St. Olaf University in southern Minnesota. When we lived in Somaliland, my kids played with a neighbor girl. When we fled, my daughter cried, specifically about not seeing this girl ever again. In 2018, this girl turned up at St. Olaf University in Minnesota as an exchange student. I invited her to come to my event and we had the most incredible conversation, as both of us heard stories from the other that we had never heard before about the aftermath of Annalena’s murder and our sudden departure. She said something I will never forget, and I loosely quote it, “We used to think foreigners were dangerous and shouldn’t live in our town. But because of Annalena, even though she was a white Christian, we now are open to letting other foreigners, even Christians, Americans, white people, anyone, live among us, because we have seen her love.” What a testimony to the power of how Annalena’s practical service has opened the way for ongoing partnerships and relationships.

At my last in-person book event, a Somali man arrived early and we started chatting. He said he grew up in Wajir, Kenya, where Annalena had initially worked. He knew her, and Maria Teresa, and others quite well. He remembered the Wagalla Massacre, after which he had fled the region and eventually the continent, to settle in Minnesota. Then he said, “You know how Annalena smuggled the list of names of the dead out of Wajir during the massacre? The person who carried those names out, that was me.” I almost fell over. He started to tell the story of getting that piece of paper that would expose the government’s crimes, from the town to the capital.

Through all these conversations, one thing stood out. I had the immense privilege of writing this story. But writing it wasn’t about earning Annalena glory (she would turn over in her grave) and certainly not for earning me glory.

It was for these stories, for honoring these memories, for forging these new connections, for moving into dialogue and conversation and relationship.

 


Plough: Stronger than Death: How Annalena Tonelli Defied Terror and Tuberculosis in the Horn of Africa

Indiebound: Stronger than Death: How Annalena Tonelli Defied Terror and Tuberculosis in the Horn of Africa

Barnes and Noble: Stronger than Death: How Annalena Tonelli Defied Terror and Tuberculosis in the Horn of Africa

Amazon: Stronger than Death: How Annalena Tonelli Defied Terror and Tuberculosis in the Horn of Africa

One year of Stronger than Death: Learning and Humility

Celebrating the one-year birthday of Stronger than Death: How Annalena Tonelli Defied Terror and Tuberculosis in the Horn of Africa.


Typing notes from interviews in Italy at a park outside the once-fortress of Caterina Sforza, now turned into a prison.

So many note cards! I need to see my work and touch it and move it around, not just on a computer. This filled our living room and I refused to use fans because the cards would fly around. Imagine! I also refused to let anyone else from the family enter the room for weeks on end.

Did you listen to The Caliphate podcast by Rukmini Callimachi? I did and I loved it. Now, a lot of her reporting (for that podcast and other pieces) is being called into question. This is so disappointing, frustrating, infuriating, confusing. And she, like many others, is doubling down rather than admitting she might have made some mistakes, might have been misled, might not be immune to human fallibility. By doubling down, she seems to be making things worse. Can we not just admit that every single one of us will make mistakes? If we can’t admit our own, how will we respond to others’ mistakes? We need grace, we need so much grace, and I want to be always practicing grace on me and grace on you. I tend toward cynicism and critical spirited, so this is a check on myself.

Let’s start with the parts that make me nervous.

Why on earth would a writer spill the beans on things that aren’t quite right in her work? Partly because of my pride. I want you to know that I know they are there. But that’s weird because it means pointing out things you might not have noticed otherwise. So at the same time, it takes me down a notch – revealing the imperfections. So why do it?

Because I find it fascinating. That is literally how much of a word nerd and book lover I am. I love this stuff – understanding why and how mistakes get made and overlooked, digging into the writing process, mental games, and even the publishing aspect of it all. I nitpick because it is interesting to me. I expose the nits I find because it is interesting and because I wish other authors did this more.

And let’s be clear, I am not blaming anyone for these things except myself.

Oh the folly of trying to do anything with perfection.

I cannot tell you how many times I read this book. I even read it out loud to myself. I read it so many times I could complete sentences in my mind or tell you which draft page they were on. But that’s a problem because it means the mind skips over things, or reads words and spellings that aren’t actually there.

There are some typos. And y’all know how I feel about typos. But, I keep finding them in other books (and I’m not even an editor, how must actual editors feel when reading these things?!), which helps, no one gets this right all the time. Not even National Book Award winners. What the what?! Its true. Finding them in my own work helps me have more grace on others. Take the plank out of your own eye first, right?

There is a factual error which partly comes down to being a sentence I had in my mind one way but the way it came out onto the page was different. The Somali President I mention who is assassinated wasn’t the first Somali President. He was the first Somali President to be assassinated. Grrr. I hate that I missed that. Most of you probably didn’t even notice.

(Oh and guess what – if you buy enough books and we do another edition, I get to fix these things! So go buy it, give it to people, use it as a giveaway, go nuts!)

Maybe we shouldn’t admit to mistakes like this in public, as authors. I don’t know. What’s the proper protocol here? Humility and transparency seem best but I could just be hopelessly naïve.

All of us make mistakes. It is OKAY. Let’s do our best. Let’s accept that everyone is doing their best.

Grace. Gentleness. Humility. Kindness. Oh how badly we need these traits in 2020.

Now you can leave comments telling me what an idiot I am, both for telling you these things and for making the mistakes in the process. I won’t read them. Or maybe I will. Or maybe not…

Buy the book!

Plough: Stronger than Death: How Annalena Tonelli Defied Terror and Tuberculosis in the Horn of Africa

Indiebound: Stronger than Death: How Annalena Tonelli Defied Terror and Tuberculosis in the Horn of Africa

Barnes and Noble: Stronger than Death: How Annalena Tonelli Defied Terror and Tuberculosis in the Horn of Africa

Amazon: Stronger than Death: How Annalena Tonelli Defied Terror and Tuberculosis in the Horn of Africa

 

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One year of Stronger than Death: Love and Service During a Deadly and Contagious Pandemic

Covid has made me think about tuberculosis many times (I also wrote about the way it connected with my cancer treatment here). Contagious, deadly, different people’s bodies have different responses, the feeling of being made a pariah or a leper, fear, societal changes, new vocabulary, life-long repercussions even when cured, global, no great treatment (yet), no vaccine (yet), racial dynamics, economics…

The overlaps could go on and on. And there are also the medical workers saving lives, risking their own lives, choosing to care for the vulnerable, and doing this in the middle of, in some places, broader violence and danger.

Like Annalena Tonelli did with tuberculosis in the Horn of Africa.

If you want to read about how a woman and a community faced their own “pandemic”, read this book. Read about how she consistently chose love and service over fear and rejection. Read about how she kept on choosing joy and life, even during war and terrible loss.

One reader asked if I hold Annalena as an idol. I don’t think I go to that extreme but I do admire, respect, and feel challenged by her. I know her weaknesses and the ways she frustrated some of the people around her. I know she wasn’t perfect and I don’t even come close to emulating her my own life. But I do find an example in her, an inspiration, ideas for how to live a little bit better, how to love a little bit more.

Every day this week, the 1-year birthday for Stronger than Death and the 17-year anniversary of Annalena’s murder, I will share experiences that I’ve had over the past year in talking about the book.

I’ll tell you about some mistakes and Lord knows I hate mistakes. About the value of reviews and how that little yellow “this book has issues” button that used to be on the Amazon page made me so mad. I’ll tell you about some of my favorite experiences while on book tour, share some reviews, share some reader concerns/issues, and give an update of the impact of the book. Be sure to check back in each day this week for these little tidbits.

And if you haven’t read the book yet, check it out! Also leave a review! Look at how excited I am, I’m using exclamation points!

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Showing Up Matters, by Dorina Lazo Gilmore-Young

Today I am sharing a guest post by Dorina Lazo Gilmore-Young. Dorina is launching a new book this week(!) Walk, Run, Soar, a devotional highlighting the intersection of faith and running and if you’ve been following this website for long, you know this is one of my sweet spots.

Order the book here.

Check out her podcast here.

***

The announcer for the Miguel Reyes 5k race introduced the elite athletes. I watched in awe as the elite group lined up first. Each man and woman were unique – some tall, some shorter, some with shaved heads, some with long hair, but all with that similar lean frame and chiseled muscles. The rest of us fell into place behind them.

The whistle sounded, and we took off. This 5k course winds through the undulating dirt hills and green spaces of Woodward Park in Fresno, California. This is the same course that high schoolers run for the State Cross Country Meet. As a coach and runner, I’ve traversed this course for many races, but I still felt out of place that morning.

I didn’t have much get-up-and-go to tackle those hills or sprint it out at the finish. I slogged along and battled with my thoughts: You’re not in shape for this. You are getting too old. You’re carrying too much weight these days.

I’ve been a runner most of my life. I ran my first 5k when I was eight with my daddy in our Chicago neighborhood. In high school, I was a track and field athlete. I took up distance running and trail running as an adult, completing dozens of races over the last few decades.

These last several years, I’ve had the huge realization that my running glory days are probably over. I’m not standing on podiums or hitting personal records much anymore. My pace is getting slower the older I get.

My forty-two-year-old body has birthed three baby girls and navigated a tough grief journey these past five years since my husband soared to heaven. I’m mushier around the middle. I look in the mirror and see these laugh lines dancing around the corners of my eyes.

My goals and focus have shifted. Now, I run to clear my head. I run for therapy. I run to feel God’s presence.

A few weeks ago, I found my first gray hair. That wild thing sprung out from the side of my temple with much gusto as if to announce a new season. I plucked it and laughed. I raised it up in the car like a trophy for everyone to see and joked that my three active daughters might be responsible.

Perhaps you might say I’ve arrived. I’ve reached what we call this middle season of life. I wear the middle-sized jeans. I’ve kids in middle school, high school, and one still in elementary school. The middle can be exhausting, but I also know I have a deeper understanding of who I am as a mother, a runner, and a woman of God.

That day in the 5k race, God reminded me of something important: Showing up matters. My goals may shift and my pace may wane, but I’m still running. My race isn’t over until it’s over. Being older and slower doesn’t discount me from the race. In fact, maybe this is just the beginning. Maybe He’s leading me down a new path to a new purpose in this season.

When I was in my twenties nursing babies and running a non-profit, I dreamed of days when my kids would be in school, and I could spend my time writing. I whispered little seed prayers to God about book ideas and creative projects. Now I have more of that space to cultivate and grow these seeds, compared to days when I was changing poopy diapers and fighting kids at bedtime.

Today, I’m clinging to these words from the Apostle Paul:

            So we’re not giving up. How could we! Even though on the outside it often looks like things are falling apart on us, on the inside, where God is making new life, not a day goes by without his unfolding grace. 2 Corinthians 4:16 (MSG)

A few years ago, a younger mama came up to me and asked if I would mentor her. I paused at first because I didn’t feel “old enough” to be a mentor. What wisdom did I have to offer? The more we chatted, the more I realized what she really wanted was someone to run alongside her in this race called life.

Now, we set our eyes on the finish line together. Some days we run; other days we kneel. Finishing well and leading our people to God’s glory is the goal.

Friend, whether you are still raising babies or launching them out into the world, whether you are hoisting your broken body out of bed or speed walking on a nearby trail, it still matters. Someone is watching you run your race, and you moving forward today could make all the difference.

After the Miguel Reyes 5k race, I savored tacos, agua de jamaica, and paletas with my daughters. I was sweaty and out of breath, stretching there on our red picnic blanket near the finish line. My seven-year-old looked up at me with her dark chocolate eyes and said, “Good job, mama!”

Another unexpected reminder that showing up still matters: we are teaching our baby birds how to fly.

***

Bio: Dorina Lazo Gilmore-Young is a “glory chaser,” who meets God running trails in Central California or near the Pacific Ocean. She is a speaker, spoken word artist, Bible teacher and mama to 3 passionate girls. She is the author of two Bible studies, Glory Chasers and Flourishing Together, as well as the award-winning children’s book, Cora Cooks Pancit. Dorina is passionate about helping people discover God’s glory on life’s unexpected trails. She and her husband Shawn started the Glory Chasers running group on Facebook where they serve up coaching, courage and community for Christian runners. Dorina’s new devotional book, Walk, Run, Soar is releasing September 29, 2020. Subscribe at www.DorinaGilmore.com to get all the insider details on the book.

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Go Back to the Broken Places

*A post from 2014, reposted. It feels still relevant and I hope it encourages all of us that we can find beauty and hope and perspective even from our painful experiences. What will we think about this pandemic period when we look back from ten years after? How will we be different? How will we be better?

somalilandTwo weeks ago I was in Hargeisa, Somaliland. For the first time since we evacuated in 2003.

I haven’t written publicly about it yet because I didn’t know what to tell you. It felt both normal and terrifying, right and humbling. I was surprised at the physicality of my response to returning. I hadn’t expected to feel so much anxiety, so much hyper-vigilance that in retrospect seems laughable. Probably the suicide bomb in Djibouti two weeks prior didn’t help. Probably the al-Shabaab attack on people watching the World Cup in Kenya, while we were in Hargeisa didn’t help. Probably the way we left in 2003 didn’t help. Probably my own cowardice, weak faith, and the way I have gotten comfortable in Djibouti didn’t help.

But spending a week in Hargeisa did help. Some things have changed, many things have not. But the longer we stayed, the looser my tense shoulders became and I experienced fewer wild images (completely in my own mind) of violence that made my heart race.

The week was a mix of market trips, women’s gym hours, delicious food, remembering how to tuck a headscarf, ideal weather, my fifteenth wedding anniversary, Tom spending hours and hours completing his PhD research, and a hike up one of the hills known as the Girl’s Breast.

There are so many things to share, to reflect on, to say. But for now, I’ll leave you with one thing: Go back.

When something scared you and wrecked your dream and changed your life, and when you are healed and holding a new dream and thankful for the way life changed, go back to that broken place.

What was shattered just might be redeemed. You’ll likely still bear a scar, you always will. But in Bev Murril’s words, it is a scar of honor and you might be surprised at the stories you discover, the gifts you’ve been given, through that very pain.

somaliland2

You might find a slice of beauty there.

 

By |September 18th, 2020|Categories: somalia|Tags: , , |8 Comments
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