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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



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



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


Too Much Trash

Quick link: Beirut Has a Trash Problem

What happens when trash takes over a city?


Truck drivers in Djibouti regularly toss empty Coke bottles from windows. School kids unwrap candy and let the wrapper waft to the street without even thinking about it. Plastic bags float like leg-less jellyfish through the air on blustery days and snag on thorny acacia trees.

There is a garbage pick-up service. The orange truck drives through neighborhoods with its cheerful ice-cream truck jingle calling out the guards to bring bags and bins to dump in the back. There are also street cleaners, usually women, wearing bright orange cloaks over their dresses and headscarves over their faces to keep the dust out of their eyes and mouths as they sweep up dust and garbage.

Still there are mounds everywhere, some streets are almost entirely covered with flattened plastic water bottles. Parts of the ocean are nearly plugged up with trash, even protected areas like where sea turtles flock. I thought Djibouti had a trash problem. Then I saw photos coming out of Beirut, Lebanon. Trash problems, it turns out, are relative.

Beginning in 2015, Beirut underwent an apocalyptic trash crisis. Mountains of white garbage bags, as tall as ski slopes, appeared in the city. Literal rivers of trash, on the move from their own weight and momentum, slowly oozed down roads and clogged waterways. Some streets were too full to drive on. Some sidewalks became impassable. The stench was overpowering.

Some people said rain washed toxins from the trash into the water supply. The piles became breeding grounds for rats and disease. Though little attempt was made to clear the trash, the government did sprinkle white powder on it, hoping that would discourage the rats and the disease. The mounds were also dangerous fire hazards. A construction site-cum-garbage dump in the Dbayeh area north of Beirut spontaneously combusted in September 2016.

In picture after picture and article after article, I saw residents of Beirut walk past the piles with their hands over their faces or drive by without glancing at the trash. Had they accepted it? Were they resigned to live in this rubbish hell? What caused this crisis?

To read the rest of the story click here: Beirut Has a Trash Problem

*limited time offer on Djiboutilicious, now through January 1, 2017, only $1.99



Hawa Tako, Stories and Memory

Quick link: Who Was Hawa Tako?

I once asked this question on Twitter and got responses that ranged from: a heroine in the fight for Somalia’s independence from Britain to an imaginary person, a myth, a legend. Those answers only made me more curious about this woman. Who was she? What did she do? What does her life symbolize? Who gets to tell her story? Does it have any relevance for today?

somali culture

Hawa was either a mythical legend or a pan-Somali warrior killed either by a poisoned arrow or by a bullet either while helping a fellow fallen nationalist or while throwing stones at heavily armed Italian forces who were either fighting in desperate defense or viciously slaughtering peaceful Somali demonstrators who either wanted Somali independence or didn’t know what they wanted and had been stirred up by anti-Italian British officers.

As an oral people, Somalis have not traditionally kept foolproof, written, factual historical documents but rely on the verbal testimony of eyewitnesses and elders. As stories are passed down, they take on the personalities of their tellers and the contexts in which they are told. Memories take on the sheen cast by the story-shapers. Hawa Tako’s story is a powerful example of this.

To read about she did, how she died, and how she is memorialized, click here: Who Was Hawa Tako?

*image via wikimedia


Hunting for Water in Bankoualé

Quick link: Letter from Bankoualé


Today I have an article over at EthnoTraveler about the time my family went on the search for a rumored waterfall in Djibouti. We saw many fascinating things, including a man the owners of the encampment where we slept called “Jesus.” Did we find water?

I heard a rumor that there was a waterfall in Bankoulé, a village in northern Djibouti. Because the entire country averages 6.5 inches of rain annually, the image of water pouring over rocks with enough volume and force to create a waterfall compelled me to visit Bankoulé with my family.

The village is 45 kilometers from the coastal city Tadjourah, the largest city in northern Djibouti and requires a rugged 4X4 to reach it. A single sign pointed in the direction of the village, or used to, before the paint faded and the sign tipped over. Now there was only a fork in the road. I took the path that veered away from a village called Randa and hoped it was the right guess.

We inched around boulders and over tree roots and kept repeating out loud that this had to be the road. After all there was no other road and we knew Bankoulé wasn’t an imaginary place. At one point the path went over such a steep hill with such an abrupt drop off that I couldn’t see the road below and had to trust that rocks or dirt or something would catch the vehicle as it crested the hill.

After ninety migraine-inducing minutes, we reached the tourist encampment, about a kilometer after the actual village, and stumbled out of the car, our legs wobbly as they tested out the firm, smooth ground after the intense bouncing and vibrating of the trek to get here.

Rusted-out pickup trucks, heaps of trash, and empty gas cans tipped on their sides littered the parking lot. A narrow walkway led from the parking lot to an outdoor, roofed eating area, and a dozen huts, each equipped with beds, lanterns, and mosquito nets. A few bangles of silver tinsel were tacked to the walls of the eating area for decoration and seemed incongruous dangling next to a tusbah, a string of Islamic prayer beads.

After dumping our belongings in the huts and drinking steaming tea, we prepared to hike to the waterfall. I wasn’t sure what we would find and tried to keep my expectations low. I’ve been to Niagara Falls, I’ve canoed on the Mississippi, I come from Minnesota, Land of 10,000 Lakes, I grew up with a river in my backyard. I love running water. And I have lived in Djibouti for twelve years. I know how little water there is in the desert, how unlikely it is to fall in substantial cascades.

Click here to read the rest of Letter from Bankoualé



Djibouti at the Olympics

Quick link: Dreaming of Djiboutian Olympic Glory

At EthnoTraveler you can read about my interview with Ayanleh Souleiman, Djibouti’s current hope for a medal in the Rio 2016 Olympics, in the 1500-meters.

I’ve been close to a few Olympians and in fact, while watching the track and field events, a former Djiboutian Olympian was staying in our house with us. We have become close friends. I once had an Olympian babysit my kids so Tom and I could go out on a double date with another American couple who also loves running. I once beat Shalane Flannagan. It was at a 5k in New York City. We headed into the port-a-potties at the same time. I made it out first.

And, I’ve trained on the same track as Ayanleh. Before he was a household name in this country, back when he was unknown but could still lap me. He called out encouragements to me and other slower runners. He remains as down to earth as he was back then and I loved sitting down with him at the Buna House Cafe a while back, to talk running and dreaming and being a role model.


Ayanleh Souleiman is Djibouti’s best hope for an Olympic medal in nearly thirty years. Athletes from this tiny nation have struggled to make even qualifying standards since Hussein Ahmed Salah won the bronze in the 1988 marathon, the country’s only medal.

Until Ayanleh. In 2016 he set an indoor 1000-meter world record. He won the Bowerman Mile in Eugene, Oregon two years in a row, while setting a meet record. He holds Djiboutian records in all distances from the 800-meters to the 5000.

Although Ayanleh failed to make the 800 final in Rio. He is still in contention for the 1500-meter final, which will be run on Saturday, August 20.

I’ve known Ayanleh since 2008 when I started to run and when he, reluctantly, made the switch from being a footballer to a runner. Ayanleh’s friends had urged the then sixteen-year old to enter a 5k race. The thought of running without kicking a ball sounded impossibly boring but Ayanleh relented. He placed fifth, with no official training.

Coaches convinced him to come to the Hasan Guleed Stadium to train and Ayanleh was soon leading groups of young men in laps around the track. At the time, I also trained at the stadium, though my training was more for health than competition and as Ayanleh would lap me, several times over the course of an afternoon, he often shouted, “Bon courage, Rachel!” While he could run two laps to my one, I felt stronger simply by proximity.

Click here to read: Dreaming of Djiboutian Olympic Glory

*image credit


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