Home/Tag: fear

The Coronavirus, Zombies, and Africa, and Maybe I’ll Eat My Words Later

We all know that zombies are really just misunderstood creatures who want their own kind to be safe and healed as badly as we want that (I Am Legend) and if we could only cure them, the world would be safe (though we might all be zombies by the time we figure out the cure). Also zombies only like darkness and cold weather and are scared off by dogs. So here in Djibouti, we’re safe. We have walls around our houses, perpetually sunny days, hot weather, and loads of wild dogs that haven’t had their barks or their meanness trained out of them. We’re good.

We also all know that zombies only really want to devour the healthy and turn them into zombies (World War Z) so if we can just get collectively sick, kill the zombies, and then get cured, the world would be safe. So here in Djibouti, we’re safe already because most of us have malaria or dengue dormant in our blood, or parasites in our intestines. We’re good.

And, we all know that zombies really only attack people in New York City or maybe L.A. or Tokyo. So those of us in tiny countries, especially tiny countries in Africa (which zombies have either never heard of or think is a single country without any value), are safe during zombie apocalypses. Unless said apocalypse starts in “Africa” because that’s where monkeys live, but in order to make the disaster appear serious enough, the disease or monkeys need to get out of Africa and into New York City because who really cares about people in Africa dying from disease or zombies (Outbreak). Again, here in Djibouti, we’re good.

To reiterate, in Djibouti, we’re safe.

Zombies don’t care about us and people here are creative, resilient, and used to trouble, invasion, and disease. People here aren’t so surprised that the elderly who were already sick might die from a virus. They’re sad, of course. Death sucks. But they aren’t so shocked by deaths thousands of miles away that they empty store shelves, wear masks, and refuse to go to work.

I feel reasonably confident that the coronavirus is in Africa. Zombies may or may not be here, they just haven’t made the big screen in Hollywood yet. Heck, coronavirus and zombies are probably in Djibouti, too. I’m saying this with absolutely no evidence or reason, other than common sense in terms of infectious disease and travel and human movement. I don’t think there is much capacity for testing for it and in general, people seem much calmer than they were in the USA when I was there just last week. Possibly because of the lack of evidence. Or maybe because they are already worried about their loved ones with chikungunya. Or maybe because they are working hard to provide food and shelter and can’t be distracted by a flu-like illness. Even if it is a specific strain they haven’t had before.

Maybe we’re being foolish and stupid. Maybe the zombies are just hovering, waiting for their moment. Maybe the coronavirus is going to take us all. I’m not trying to be cold or cruel about people being sick and even dying. I don’t want anyone I know and love (or anyone at all) to get sick or to die. God forbid. I don’t want them to get cancer or TB or the flu or dementia, either. Maybe I will eat my words, along with a big dose of medicine.

I’m just saying Syria is on fire, men and women and children are being slaughtered en masse, starving and freezing to death.

I’m saying the billions of dollars lost by economies or spent by sports organizations to move and reschedule events could be spent on helping refugees, on curing malaria and tuberculosis, on solving our climate issues.

I’m saying what the world does not need right now is one more fear-induced and panic-inspiring reason to divide ourselves along ethnic, national, or racial lines.

Maybe I’ll write something else as the situation evolves. And I’ll apologize for being ignorant about epidemiology and a jerk.

Maybe I need to run out and stock up on toilet paper. Though, bonus tip: toilet paper isn’t really a necessity. There are other kinds of paper, hands, water, towels. You could shake it off or air dry. Maybe I need to buy a lot of food. Not because people in Djibouti will freak out but because the rest of the world has freaked out and what if our supply chains get blocked?

I’m more concerned about global fear than a virus.

More concerned that someone else’s fear might mean I can’t access my medication.

More concerned that someone else’s fear might mean a diabetic friend can’t get insulin.

More concerned that someone else’s fear means we forget how to take care of each other.

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A Quiz about Fear

Quick link: 10 Dangerous Things for Kids and One True Danger, a Quiz, at A Life Overseas

I recently heard an interview with Kim Brooks, the author of Small Animals, parenthood in the age of fear, and was reminded of how irrational fear can be. Understandably so, but still, in an age of fear and also judgment and rage, parenting can feel fraught with risk.

I had written this quiz several years ago, but found it again in my drafts and pulled it out to publish now. What are we generally afraid of? What should we actually fear (if anything?)

A quiz:

  1. Are Americans more at risk of dying by terrorist or dying by an appliance falling on us?

Death by appliance.

  1. Is a predator more likely to attack a child walking home from the playground alone or to attack a child playing in the home?

Child playing at home.

  1. Does a child face more of a health risk while climbing a tree or while staring at an iPad?

Staring at an iPad.

Click here to continue with the quiz and to read my conclusion: 10 Dangerous Things for Kids and One True Danger, a Quiz, at A Life Overseas

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)



Parenting and Risk, Outside the Camp

Quick link: I’m Not Called to Keep My Kids from Danger

This is an article published by Christianity Today Women. (I hope fathers as well as mothers read it, or are thinking about these topics as they parent!) The piece was commissioned in response to a recent post John Piper wrote about bringing kids abroad, to live in risky or dangerous places.

His piece focused on spiritual risks. I’ve written a lot about fear and danger, mostly in terms of physical aspects. I believe, as I wrote in the Proper Weight of Fear, that safety is an illusion, it can even be crafted into an idol. No matter where we live, our kids are never guaranteed any level of safety. What are we going to do with that sobering reality? My piece responds to Piper’s, with a personal take.

Fifteen years ago, my husband and I did the riskiest thing we could imagine and took a job in the Horn of Africa. People often responded by asking, “Are you bringing the kids?” We had two-year-old twins at the time.

…Yes, we were bringing the kids.

It still amazes me that people ask this question. But I heard from a friend who arrived in Africa about a year ago, she too, had been asked this. And several others have commented that people ask the same question.

Yes! We’re bringing our kids. And we don’t believe we are destroying them.

As I drafted this essay, I asked my kids if they thought they lived a dangerous or uncomfortable life. One responded, “I think its pretty comfortable. But from the outside, someone might not think that.”

One thing about risk and danger and pushing beyond our comfort zones, is that it is, partly, a matter of perspective. I look back at the US lately, and I feel a tingle of fear! I’m starting to understand my African friends who ask, “Aren’t you afraid to visit the United States?” and who assume I would have no fear about living where we do. Clearly, some places are more dangerous, physically, than others. I have never been to Mogadishu. Also, we do face unique risks regarding disease and healthcare. I am not ignoring those scary realities. But, the conversation about fear and risk is more than physical danger and more than simply thinking everywhere outside the US is less safe.

Anyway, head over to CT, and read the piece, about going outside the camp.

I’m Not Called to Keep My Kids from Danger


Going for a Walk. In Somaliland.

Quick link: Walking in Somaliland

At EthnoTraveler I address, again, the perennial question for expatriates living in the Horn of Africa: Is it safe?

Short answer: What do you mean by safe?

Long answer: Read the essay.

Walking in Somaliland

Here’s an excerpt:

My husband and I went for a walk in Hargeisa, Somaliland. Before we left the house where we were staying with friends, the Somali woman employed there swore Hargeisa was peaceful. “There is no danger?” I asked. “No,” she said. “Only in Hamar.”

Hamar is the Somali word for the southern capital, Mogadishu. There may not have been any overt danger in Somaliland but there were checkpoints every few blocks and more visible weapons than I was used to across the border in Djibouti. I wasn’t supposed to go out walking alone. And after dark, my husband needed to ride in a car the two blocks between where he watched a football match and our guesthouse.

I wore baggy pants and a loose t-shirt covered by a shimmering blue floor-length robe. A tight cream scarf covered my hair and a tablecloth-sized scarf draped over my head, down past my shoulders to my fingertips. This was not a romantic stroll through a quaint foreign village. It was more of a sanity walk. I hadn’t left the walls of the compound in three days and needed to get outside. We didn’t hold hands. I walked nearly a foot behind. We barely spoke…

Click here to read the rest of Walking in Somaliland

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