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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)



The Least of These

Quick link: They Want to Be Here

The kids in my neighborhood prompted to write about sexual harassment and rage.

My daughter and I have both been inappropriately and aggressively touched, mere steps from our front door. I’ve been called every name imaginable, in several languages, and I understand them all. I’ve heard comments about all my body parts and I’ve seen people mimic how I move or what they would like to do to/with those body parts.

Several things help me move beyond the anger but some of the most powerful things are when I see local people countering these negative experiences.

When a teenage boy tells his friends to knock it off.

When an older man apologies to me on behalf of something someone he doesn’t even know said.

When a truck full of young men stop, tell me and my kids to move on, and tell me that they will handle things with the group that was harassing us.

When women loudly shame the people who have shamed us by reminding them we are all made in the image of God.

And, when I see people striving to live a different way, to teach kids about a different way to interact with people.

This last thing is what I found when I went to visit a school around the corner from where I lived. The kids in this school were incredibly well behaved, polite, and engaged in their education. The women working here were pouring out their lives, time, money, and energy to invest in kids many other people might have ignored or shunned.

(I also wrote about this school, and one of their unique students, for the Sahan Journal)

the least of these

Almost fifty children ages four to twelve are crammed into a single classroom in Djibouti City. The windows are open and a couple of ceiling fans swirl the steamy air and cause papers to crinkle and fall to the bare cement floor. A young woman who recently graduated from the University of Djibouti stands in front of a blackboard. She has written the days of the week and the months of the year in chalk, in French, and the students are copying down the words.

Some of the kids hunch over their notebooks with their pens gripped in their fists. Others lean back, done with the assignment already while the youngest nibble on their pens and glance around the room, not sure what, exactly, they are supposed to be doing. One little girl, tired of struggling to copy down the words, tears open a bag of potato chips. The chips fall to the floor and she carefully picks up each and every crumb. I’m surprised. This is a country where plastic bags and candy wrappers fly out car windows, where no one thinks twice about dropping a soda can or an egg carton on the side of the road. But this classroom is spotless. It is also nearly silent…

Click here to read more about this school that provides education, food, and healthcare to low income kids and their families, They Want to Be Here, at EthnoTraveler.

International School of Djibouti

International School of Djibouti

The government of Djibouti has identified two significant needs for the development of the nation:

  1. English
  2. Education

My husband’s work for the past thirteen years in the Horn of Africa has focused on two things:

  1. English
  2. Education

Djibouti is a Francophone country in a sea of English. The regional countries: Ethiopia, Somalia, Yemen, United Arab Emirates, Kenya…they all do business in English. Companies coming to Djibouti to build railroads and hospitals and the port…they primarily want to function in English.

But Djibouti’s educational system is traditionally done in French. Our own children have been educated in French and it has worked well for our family, though the language was one (of many) reasons that we opted for boarding school in the upper level grades for our own kids.

Many other parents from all over the world come to Djibouti to work and don’t bring their kids with them. Or they bring their kids and homeschool or bring their kids and try to force them into the French schools.

Both homeschool and French school are great options, for some kids. But not all. Try taking a fourteen year old and throwing them into a year of French. Or homeschooling a kid when there are almost zero outside social and creative outlets.

As Djibouti develops, one significant need has become increasingly obvious.

English-based education, both for expatriates and for locals.

And so…


My husband is launching the International School of Djibouti.

The mission of ISD is to provide students in Djibouti a world class education in English that focuses on discovery, creativity, and problem-solving to develop noble-hearted, global citizens.

Eventually this school will offer K-12 education.

The launch, coming in September, 2016 will be for Kindergarten and First Grade, with one grade added each year. As needed, there will also be the opportunity for older students to learn in a homeschool co-op kind of environment, guided by a teacher trained in working with multiple grade levels.

Do I even need to say what a huge deal this is?

It is a HUGE DEAL!

So huge, I just used exclamation points.

I’m really excited about this project. And a little daunted by it. But I can think of no better person to head up the project than Dr. Tom Jones. With nearly thirteen years of experience teaching in the Horn of Africa, building relationships across all kinds of educational institutions, the personal experience of being a father guiding his own children through school here, and a PhD in Education, I think he is well prepared and well connected and has the heart of service and vision to launch this school with excellence. I kinda like him.

I don’t often write about the actual work that my organization (Resource Exchange International) does in Djibouti but this is such a big project that I wanted to get Djibouti Jones blog readers involved.

Some of you might have found Djibouti Jones because you are moving to Djibouti, I hear from a lot of you. There are so many questions when you’re moving here and one of the biggest ones is: what about education for my kids? I would love for readers like you to explore the International School of Djibouti website and then I want to invite you to consider enrolling your kids.

Some of you might be Djiboutians who would love for your children to have access to a world-class education in English that will prepare them for the workplace in Djibouti or abroad. I’d love for you, too, to explore the International School of Djibouti website and then I want to invite you to consider enrolling your kids.

Others of you might be people who are curious about life in Djibouti but don’t intend to move here and I’m happy to invite you into our work and vision.

No matter who you are or how you found Djibouti Jones, I have one action point for all of you.

I have never done this before.

I’m asking for your help.

To get this school launched in the best possible way, we need start-up funds. We already have a shipping company committed to shipping supplies free, equipment donation (including a playground), and some funds coming in both locally and internationally. We’re working every possible angle from grants to donations to equipment and time donations…

My husband and I are foregoing a significant portion of our own salary for this year, to funnel that money into the school start-up, that’s how much we believe in this.

I’m asking for you, Djibouti Jones readers, to come alongside us and help make this happen.

Our organization here is about ‘building people to build nations’ and we can imagine no more fitting project than this English school for accomplishing both of those aims.

And so, would you consider becoming part of the most exciting educational project in Djibouti?

Click here for the ISD website.

Click here for the Go Fund Me campaign.