How Do I Pronounce Pieh?

My maiden name is Rachel Pieh.

I write as Rachel Pieh Jones.

Lots of people ask me how to pronounce Pieh.

For math geeks: think 3.14

For bakers: think apple

In other words, pi. Or pie.

Not Pee-eh

Not Peach

Not Pitch

Pi. Pie. Pieh.

Which means…today is my family day!

So nice of the world to celebrate us every year on 3.14, ie March 14, ie, International Pi(eh) Day.

Happy Pi(eh) Day and voila, that’s how to pronounce my name. And here’s my people.

A Box of Grace

Remember back in October when I went to New York for the premiere of Finding Strong?

The week was a whirlwind. I visited the satellite offices of Runner’s World, picked up a generous donation for the team from Saucony, watched Captain Phillips in an actual movie theater, ran the 5k through Central Park, used the Port-a-Potty right next to Shalane Flannagan. I shopped for something decent to wear, felt completely overwhelmed by culture shock on Halloween in Times Square (um, naked guitar-playing cowgirl and a girl dressed up as a penis aren’t things I see often in Djibouti), went to a Runner’s World/Saucony party, drank buckets of coffee, and reveled in the leaves changing color. I met with my agent. I went to Target. I acted like a tourist. And of course, I watched the movie.

It was an emotional week filled the things I love. My collegues from Djibouti, writing, running, travel, good food. But did I ever tell you all of my siblings were there?

There are four of us, I’m the second. My younger sister lives in Oregon and had work meetings in Boston that week and she planned to take the bus to New York City so we could catch seventeen hours together. When our older sister, who lives in North Carolina, heard we would both be in New York, she booked a ticket for herself and her newly adopted baby for the weekend. When our brother, the youngest, heard we would all three be together, he booked a ticket from Minneapolis.

pieh family1

Here comes my big confession.

At first, I didn’t want this. I didn’t want all my siblings in New York. I was there for work, sort of. I had to think about my book proposal, connecting with people I admired, networking on behalf of the team, simply trying to stay awake. And all the tickets were booked in a whirlwind, without time to talk about hotels or schedules or plans, everyone flying or busing to a different location on a different day.

My family is not about quiet or private or small. We talk fast, have strong opinions while always reserving the right to change them, laugh loud, and love deep. I knew that and I knew it would be such a short trip my brain might explode.

All of them were at the movie premiere. The movie was absolutely stunning. Next there was a chance to look at, and purchase, photos Brian Vernor had taken during the filming process.

My siblings listened to endless stories about the girls in the pictures. They met the two women who had come with from Djibouti, Lorraine and Cintia. My older sister asked which photo I liked best and I pointed at one Brian had labeled “Grace.”

It was a close-up shot of Nadia at her house. She wore a blue headscarf and stood in front of a sky blue wall the same shade as the scarf. She is half-smiling and beads of sweat are gathered on her forehead. A frayed thread from her scarf dangles down at cheek level. She stares straight at the camera. The photo is so clear it seems 3D, textured, as though I could reach out and brush the sweat, tuck the thread in.

I pointed at Nadia’s photo because of the title. Brian interviewed Nadia, and her mother, through translation, but he didn’t know her story, not deeply and not what happened after he left last summer. He didn’t know about her history, her family, her dreams. But I did. There had been such heights and such depths in our relationship with Nadia, there were tears and there was anger and there was delight. And it was all “Grace.”

My older sister and brother returned to the hotel while my younger sister and I finished talking  and then walked back on a chilly New York evening, enjoying being outside, enjoying the remaining few hours before she had to catch the bus back to Boston.

At the hotel I headed for the elevators, completely exhausted, but she saw the others sitting in big, cushy chairs near the front windows. A square box sat on the table between them.

“Oh good,” I said. “They got a pizza. I’m so hungry.”

We sat down and my brother slid the box toward me.

“Are you guys hungry, too?” I asked.

“Open it,” my older sister said.

I lifted off the top cover and inside there was no pizza.

There was Grace. Nadia, staring straight at me out of the box, out of her blue scarf and blue wall. They had bought the photo for me.


I started crying, the kind of crying where you can’t talk and you can’t explain why and the moment is so rich, so full, so want-to-remember-this-forever that the only response is tears.

The three of them sat in their chairs and watched me cry and listened as I shared why this picture meant so much. I blubbered some more and eventually we moved to other topics but while we laughed and talked about important, life-changing things, Nadia’s picture stayed in the middle of the table.

I was so wrong to think it would be too much to have a running, writing, and family weekend in New York. I had been afraid I would explode, burst at the seams, but I hadn’t considered how love keeps a person together. I hadn’t thought about how my siblings would watch the movie and see it as people who loved someone who loved the girls in it with everything in me, and that this would make them love the girls, too.

I hadn’t thought about how beautiful it is to look in an elevator mirror and see four noses that belong in the same family or about how musical it is when we laugh together at something that isn’t funny to anyone but us. I hadn’t thought about how profoundly I miss the sense of belonging, of knowing beyond a doubt that I fit here, with these people or about how I feel that with my siblings, down to the corest core of my being.

We walk alike, Cintia said so later. We gesture alike. We all knew we had to stop at the Pie restaurant on the corner and take a photo for our dad because that’s what he would do and would bombard us with photos in our inboxes so big it would take minutes to download them. I had been selfish and wrapped up so tightly in loneliness that I couldn’t even see how badly I needed to be loved the way my siblings loved me that weekend.

I’ve gotten too used to living in isolation from people who love me like this, gotten too used to living away from people I love like this. Oh, people in Djibouti love me and I love them, but not with blood or genes.

I don’t know that I ever felt so loved by my family, or so broken about the challenges our runners face, or so held together as I did when I opened the box of Grace. I’m crying right now, I have to lean back so the tears don’t drip onto the computer. That’s not the kind of love that makes a person explode. It is the kind of love that holds a person together when all around things explode.

Nadia now sits on the corner of my desk, watching me write about her, about the team. Every time I look up from the computer, her eyes meet mine and I am embraced by grace.

*image courtesy of Soul Brother

15 Things I Want to Tell My Third Culture Kids

*Get your copy of Third Culture Kids here

I get to visit two of our Third Culture Kids in four days. And then in eleven days they will be ‘home’ for thirty days. Life is good. Until forty-five days from now. No, it will be good then too, just quieter and slightly more teary.

Part of me hesitates to hit the publish button today, it feels private. Is the internet the place for these things? But part of me thinks I’m not the only parent overwhelmed and honored and pumped up about raising TCKs. And this part of me wants to acknowledge that alongside other parents and our kids and to share in all the emotions of it. So here is some of what I want to say, and have said, to my own TCKs…

  1. You are the coolest kids on the planet. You cliff-jump and climb up and then down into active volcanoes. You flew internationally on your own before becoming a teenager. You sleep under the stars on the beach and know how to pee on a toilet or in a hole or behind a bush or where-there-is-no-bush. 
  2. I know it is hard. I watched you, proud and teary, the first day of school when you didn’t know how to count to ten in French and on the first day of school in America when you didn’t know how to eat lunch in a cafeteria. I see your moments of hesitation when kids talk about something you don’t understand. I saw your shoulders droop that day you wore your traditional Djiboutian dress to church and then, once you saw how other kids were dressed, asked if you could take it off. I hear all three of you refer to a different place as home.third culture kids
  3. I don’t know what it is like. I know what it is like to parent a TCK but I don’t know what it is like to be a TCK. I’ve read books and listened to talks and attended seminars but you are forging a path I have not walked. I’ve got your back and I’ve got a box full of Kleenex and an ache in my belly from our shared laughter. I do not know what your particular journey is like but I will hold your hand, fierce, until the very end.
  4. I am sorry for the things this life has taken from you. The names of all the friends you have said good-bye to are branded in my mind. Grandparents and cousins at your birthday parties and school events. The feeling of belonging to a specific place, house, culture, language. A mom who can be a parent chaperone without having an accent. Sports and musical and academic activities at which you naturally excel but will never fully experience.soccer2
  5. I am thrilled for the things this life has given you. Adventure and a wide-cracked-open worldview. The opportunity to trust God when nothing around makes sense or when everything around makes sense. Friends all over the world of diverse faith and languages and skin colors and food preferences and economic levels. Multiple language fluency. Creativity and the intrinsic ability to look outside the box, to see from another person’s perspective. Real gratitude, stemming from an understanding that things are fleeting, gratitude for relationships and for time spent in togetherness. Adaptability. Courage. Courage. Courage.
  6. I want to hear from you. Tell me how hard it is, tell me the things you love, the things you wish were different, the things you would never change. I need to hear from you what it is like, I need you to be honest with me about the goods and the bads and then I need you to let me hold you. And I need you to hold me.
  7. I cry for the choices we’ve made. And then I defend them with passion. It isn’t easy to parent a TCK, or any kind of kid, and I have wept tear-stains into our couches and our pillows and the shoulders of dad’s t-shirts. Sometimes I wonder if we have been crazy or irresponsible. But then I look at you and I cry again, good tears, because you are beautiful and complicated and deep and these choices have been part of forming you into you.
  8. You are strong. You’ve been through evacuations and international moves and medical crises and hellos and goodbyes. You have tried new and scary things. You have laughed and cried but I haven’t heard you whine and complain. You have more than embraced life.
  9. You are unique. No one else in the world has your story. And yet, you are part of an amazing community of people with stories similar to yours and stories different from yours, whom you can listen to and learn from.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
  10. You have built awesome memories. Remember the time you camped at Arta Plage and the flood came and the French military rescued you? Remember the time you carried baby God through the neighborhood in Balbala, head of a train of singing and clapping families? Remember meeting the Harlem Globe Trotters?
  11. You have grief. And that is okay, mom and dad are not afraid of it and we want carry it with you.
  12. You are creative.
  13. You are empathetic.
  14. You are wise.
  15. I am beyond proud of you.

You know that book, I Love You to the Moon? Well, I love you to Somaliland. And Kenya. And France. And Djibouti. And Minnesota. And anywhere else. And back.

If you are a TCK parent, what do you want your kids to know? If you are a TCK, what do you want to hear? Or say?


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