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The Mysterious Letter In My Purse

Quick link: Letter from a Stranger

I have an essay at Brain Child today that feels important in this global moment. The essay is about a letter in my purse, about the love people feel for family and about why, on earth, do I keep this letter? But as I consider the relationship between the girl who wrote it and the sister she wrote it to, I’m reminded that, of course and it feels so ridiculous to even have to say it, but of course, these Muslim girls are just like non-Muslim sisters. Loving, teasing, gentle, hoping for the best for each other. Go figure. Humans being humans.

I have a letter in my purse written by a stranger, to her sister, also a stranger. It is written in blue ink on lined notebook paper, folded over several times and crinkling around the edges. It is written in broken English with a line of Arabic, a few hashtags, and a scribbled local telephone number.

I found the letter when we moved into our current house. The house was furnished but we weren’t keeping most the furnishings. The landlord asked us to move out what we didn’t want and keep what we did want. The things we removed would be tossed away.

I’ve always been fascinated by what goes on inside other homes. After dark, warm light spills out of living rooms and kitchens onto snowy Minnesota winter streets. I jog past and glance in. People’s mouths move but I hear nothing, they eat dinner but I can’t smell it. They watch television, the green glow reflects off glasses, but I don’t know what show they’ve chosen.

In Djibouti, where I live now, homes are often surrounded by high walls. Homes that don’t have walls often don’t have windows either, or have barred windows and curtains pulled tightly closed. This is to keep out mosquitoes, dust, heat, thieves, and prying eyes. Like mine. Much of life here is lived outside, sometimes kitchens are pots and pans placed over charcoal fires outside the home. People nap in the shade of trucks parked on the side of the road. Men play pétanque or drink tea while sitting on overturned tin cans arranged in circles. People eat spaghetti from aluminum plates, wrapping the noodles around their fingers while watching football at neighborhood restaurants. Women breastfeed on street corners, kids brawl in the middle of pot-holed avenues.

I enjoy people watching in these countries for opposing reasons. In Minnesota I am merely an observer. The image of life moving on without me, completely unrelated to me is comforting. The people inside could be fighting, grieving, celebrating. No matter what their specific circumstances, they are alive, they are pressing on.

In Djibouti, I enter it. I smell the fried onions, hear the religious debates, interact with the pudgy babies, or join someone for tea. But at the same time, I miss the separation between insider and outsider, like in Minnesota. I miss the mystery and the speculation. I miss the curiosity, the idea that courageous people leave their lights on and their curtains open after dark and that courageous people are what the world needs. And I miss the sense that this glance is a gift, that the people inside could pull the curtains shut at any moment…

Click here to read the rest of Letter from a Stranger

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Djibouti Jones Published Essays, 2016

I published more than 50 essays in 2016.

am writing

When I write that I feel shocked. What?! 50?! That’s a lot of words, some of them were longform, some super short, and that’s not counting blog posts but it does explain why the blog has slowed down. If only writing paid more than pennies by the hour. *sigh*

Here are some of the highlights:

Published in 2016

Runners World

Running the World, Djibouti

 

Outpost Magazine

Christmas in the Devil’s Lair

 

Brain Child

I Know I Should Boast about Battle Scars

Traveler, Writer, or Mother?

Can Kids Make Us Happy?

How to Wake Up a Teenager in 16 Easy Steps

Things No One Told Me About Grief

 

EthnoTraveler

Beirut Has a Trash Problem

Who Was Hawa Tako?

Around the World in Toilets

Letter from Bankoulé

Dreams of Djiboutian Glory

Tea Time at the TB Clinic

 

A Life Overseas

How Much Awesomeness Can We Really Handle?

Why Is It Always About Money?

White Savior Barbie Nails It

8 Ways for Expats Who Stay to Stay Well

 

Babble

Being an American Mom, Raising Kids in Djibouti

To the Mom Who Just Had Twins: You Can Do This

People Say We Fight A Lot

22 Ways Teenagers are Basically Super-Sized Toddlers

 

Pregnancy Scars

Quick link: I Know I Should Boast about My Battle Scars

What if I don’t want to brag about my jiggly belly? What if I refuse to post belly selfies? Social media makes me feel like we have to bare all and love it, or that if we wish we didn’t have stretch marks that means we don’t love our kids. I totally disagree and wrote about it for Brain Child Magazine.

pregnant-pregnancy-mom-child

 

So, this is NOT me, NOT my belly or my child, NOT how things looked while I was pregnant. We were more of the sweaty walrus variety. But this is how we’re told to feel and be during pregnancy, isn’t it? By ‘those people,’ the ones ‘out there’ on social media.

I know I’m supposed to boast about my scars, stretch marks, and shape.

I’m supposed to be empowered by naked selfies.

I don’t boast and I’m not empowered or posting those naked selfies (I’m not even taking them).

I have a stomach that looks like a saggy raisin. I never really had the chance to feel good about my body. I got pregnant at 21-years old, before I had grown into the idea of loving my size and shape. I was still in the high school and college years of hating it all, of never being thin enough or strong enough or having the right size ass or big enough boobs.

And then pregnancy changed my stomach permanently (the big enough boobs didn’t last long and leaked milk so they weren’t exactly what I’d hope for). The pregnancy was twins, it went full-term, I looked like a walrus. My skin stretched until it couldn’t stretch anymore and so it started coming apart, cracking open new seams that would never go back together, pushing the elasticity of young skin up to and then beyond the point of no return…

Click here to read the rest I Know I Should Boast about My Battle Scars

Is Parenting a Real Job?

Quick link: Get a Real Job

This month Brain Child published my essay about my encounter with a strange, angry woman sixteen years ago. I have never forgotten what this woman shouted at me or the bizarre circumstances in which we met.

Officially I am a stay-at-home mom. Meaning, I am a mom and I don’t have a ‘real job’ in which a salary comes every month from a boss or in which I have to report to anyone. At the same time, whenever I call myself a SAHM my family protests.

Twins

I am a freelance writer. I have been an English teacher, a manager of micro-enterprise projects, a language tutor, personnel manager (basically meaning I am responsible for making sure staff who come to Djibouti to work with us learn how to function and thrive), cultural consultant, small business developer…I could spin the many things I’ve done any number of ways.

But, when the twins were born, I really was a SAHM and mostly what I did was: stay at home. Anyone with twins knows how in those early weeks and months you are lucky if you shower or eat or sleep. Here’s what one lady thought about my choice.

Minnesota winters are brutal on stay-at-home mothers with young children. It is so hard to get outside. Slippery sidewalks, slushy roads, kids who take twenty minutes to get bundled up and only then announce, “I have to pee!”

The winter my twins were infants, I felt nearly suffocated by the early darkness, the cold, the isolation. I needed to exercise and to get out of the house. I started taking the twins to the Mall of America. It was a thirty minute drive on a non-snowy day and the mall had four floors, each an entire mile in circumference.

I never shopped, we couldn’t afford anything but diapers and the basic groceries that supplemented our WIC coupons. I walked. The mall was free, warm, and not my house. It had that white noise background that can (sometimes) soothe anxious babies. In the middle of the day it was filled with two kinds of people: other stay at home moms who were empathetic and equally desperate, and elderly people also out for a non-slippery walk. The elderly were my favorite because they loved seeing infant twins. Their comments and smiles would remind me, in the haze of those sleepless months, that my children were precious and cute and treasures.

So we walked…

Click here to read the rest of Get a Real Job

*photo credit

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Are We Happy as Parents? Or Better People? Maybe Both.

Can Kids Make Parents Happy?

Quick link: Can Kids Make Us Happy?

Published today at Brain Child, an essay about parenting with some thoughts from these two books:

Some parents I talk to seem rather disillusioned. They thought having kids would make them happy. They thought having kids would satisfy a longing or fill a hole or bring a sense of hope and purpose to their lives. Turns out though, for a lot of us, having kids reveals our selfish natures, impatience, inner rage, and makes us really, really tired.

What if our expectations are upside down? What if the reason people had kids was not to make themselves happy but to make themselves better people? Not to fulfill our own needs but to learn about service, not to satisfy our own longings but to help another person achieve their longings. There is fairly clear evidence anyway that children don’t make parents more happy, though it can be reasonably argued that ‘happiness’ itself is a difficult emotion to quantify.

Personal evidence: I don’t know about other parents, but I didn’t consider myself an angry person or a worried person or a controlling person. And then I had kids. Hello, impatience, rage, anxiety, and obsession.

Researched evidence: “Daniel Hamermesh and his colleagues published a study…finding that mothers reported a sharp rise in stress after the birth of a child…Another study published this year (2015)…found that the average hit to happiness exacted by the arrival of an infant is greater than a divorce, unemployment or the death of a spouse.”

I’m happy I have kids, don’t get me wrong. But it is a different kind of happiness than is implied by the simplistic, ‘kids will make me happy’ idea…

Click here to read the rest of Can Kids Make Us Happy?

*image via Flickr

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