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Running While Tired

You may think I wrote this post if you’ve read about my Go Fund Me campaign. I’m training for a marathon in Somaliland, to be run this winter. (funds also go toward a full University scholarship for a Somali student – almost to halfway!). But, I didn’t write it. It simply came into my inbox at the perfect moment.

I’m in peak training weeks and I feel it. Mostly, I feel it in my hunger and in my attitude. Once I’m on the road, I feel good, but rolling out of bed when it is still dark and then stumbling back home after my teenagers have woken up means I’ve spent a looong time running. And I’ve been internally grumbling about it.

Then I read Kathleen’s essay and it was right on. Running while tired. For so many reasons. And yet, we run on.

This is a late addition to the Strong in the Broken series. Enjoy!

The sun casts long rays on crimson tipped leaves. The September sky invites me out but I’m tired.

I’m tired of nights spent ping ponging between beds too small, in rooms deemed too dark or alternately too light. I’m tired of my heavy sneakers. I’m tired of rushing from home to work, to the bus stop, to the store, to the dinner table, to the bath. I’m tired of trying to start running again after too many years spent idle and too many false starts. Still, I tie my laces and start to run.

I start slow and decide to take the short route. It’s been a while. I wonder if my legs will remember the easy tempo that used to come naturally, if my lungs will remember how to adjust, if my mind will remember to unfold.

The first half mile is uncomfortable and unfamiliar. I want to stop. I am already tired.

I’m tired of the relentless march of age and time and hormones. I’m tired of biting my nails, feeling soft and caring what people think. I’m tired of judging and being judged and making excuses. I’m tired of my mind running faster than my body. I’m tired of feeling like there’s not enough time.

I open my stride. My muscles tighten, my breath quickens, my feet find the beat of the pavement.  The streets are narrow and winding so I forego music. Instead, I set small goals: make it to the red mailbox; keep going until the black fence; stay strong until the middle of the hill. I give myself permission to walk.

Seven years ago, I never walked. When I went for a run, I ran. The road stretch long and lean ahead of me and my body responded in kind. I ran in rain and snow. I ran in the mornings or at night. I ran alone or with friends. I ran when I felt great and when I didn’t.

But now I’m tired.

I’m tired of my kids asking for another snack while I’m making dinner. I’m tired of needing to plan an extra 30 minutes to get out the door, of stepping on Legos, of the Paw Patrol. I’m tired of trying to follow the latest research on car seats, screen time, homework and hugs. I’m tired of the mundane worry that’s settled into the space deep within — the space that first exploded open when I met my baby boy and then, impossibly again when his brother joined our family.

I walk up the steep hill and when I near the top, I start running again. The shift between walking and running is subtle, like a change of cadence. I concentrate on lifting my feet higher and moving them forward faster. Looking down makes me feel dizzy so I let the thoughts go with each exhale. I try to think about the satisfaction I’ll feel when I’m finished. But in this moment, I can’t help thinking, I am tired.

I’m tired of walking into my classroom and being greeted by bored teenagers waiting to be entertained. I’m tired of applying new technology like a band aid knowing it could never cure what ailing the American public education system. I’m tired of trying to fight the inertia of the pendulum swing I know is inevitable, test scores to creativity, standardization to individualized learning, content to skills. I’m tired of grades meaning everything and integrity meaning nothing.

I check my watch and immediately regret it. Ten minutes feels impossibly long and impossibly short. I crowd out thoughts of turning around with blinding positivity. I try chanting: every step forward is another step closer; just keep running; you can do it. This starts to feel silly (and useless) so I think about my to do list. My muscles waken like my kids from a nap cut short: groggy, cranky, annoyed. I abandon my to do list and start to craft this essay because I still can’t stop thinking about how tired I am.

I’m tired of watching the world burn and quake. I’m tired of waters rising, ice melting and deniers denying. I’m tired of too much talking, too little listening and misguided rage. I’m tired of seeing fear disguised as power, money guiding morals and leaders not leading. I’m tired of sound bites and platitudes and bullshit. I’m tired of fake news and real news and celebrity news. I’m tired of guns and bombs and disease. I’m tired of seeing the world default to competition over cooperation. I’m tired of feeling helpless.

My feet are heavy against the pavement and I worry my body is too old for this kind of abuse.  Cars race by me with mechanical ease while my own gears grind. I know I’ll be sore tomorrow and I wonder if I’ve pushed too hard too soon. But I don’t stop.

I tuck my worries and exhaustion into the tiny pocket of my shorts and listen closely to the trees whisper into the expanse of blue above.

I keep running until I reach home. I don’t look at my watch, I don’t check my distance. My heart reminds me of its function. My face is fiery. My skin is wet. My feet hum. My tiny pocket is empty.

Later, I will watch my son’s chest rise and fall and wonder what thoughts run through his resting mind and which stay to lay with him. I will review my lesson plans for tomorrow, knowing that some kids will remember what I say, others will focus on how I say it and others won’t hear a word. I will turn off my phone, the news, the world outside and turn toward my husband, thankful for these things I can control.

When I finally lay down and close my eyes, I think about the days piling up like layers of an endless canyon of exhaustion. My legs are achy and sore. But I will run again. And again. I run to grow stronger against the weight of the days and to remember the whispers of the grass and trees and sky. They echo in the valleys of my body.

I’ll keep running towards the canyon. Running is a kind of religion. I have faith that when I reach the edge, I will fly.

Kathleen Siddell is a teacher and writer living in Connecticut. She and her family returned to the US in 2016 after spending four years living in Asia. She hopes her tired legs will lead them on another adventure soon. You can find her drowning in the Twitterverse @kathleensiddell.

Strong in the Broken: Sick While Stuck

Today’s Strong in the Broken guest post is by Beth Watkins, about sickness, trauma, refugees, and healing.

On our first weekend in Cairo, almost two years ago, it happened the first time. A sudden, extremely painful episode that doubled me over on the floor, unable to speak, vomiting from the pain.

We went to several doctors, had several tests done, and they all told me the tests were clear. Every couple of weeks, it would happen again, and leave me sore and tired for days. More doctors, more tests, more of everyone telling me I was fine.

We were working at an organization assisting refugees out of the church. It was a stressful, demanding job, managing a multi-cultural team and overseeing job training and placement services, and the adult education program. Working with vulnerable people and with people from multiple countries and cultures is challenging.

The season in life prior had been no bowl of cherries, either. In the previous four years overseas I’d been robbed, had a house fire, was interrogated in a second language and eventually expelled from my first desert home. I had to be evacuated from a warzone the same year, returned, got married, travelled constantly for nine months, and then…Cairo. The stress and trauma of the last few years finally caught up.

After a year of the pain attacks, my British husband and I decided we had to move back to the US. So we began the long, expensive, stressful, and uncertain process of applying for his permanent American residency.

From there, it was one month, one week, one day at a time.

I was exhausted all the time, stressed all the time, and in pain part of the time. I was anxious for our refugee friends, worried about my weakening body, and terrified we’d be stuck in Egypt longer than planned. I’d cry myself to sleep at night over negative changes at the organization for our refugee coworkers, while not knowing if I was doing lasting damage to myself by just being there.

I wanted to stay and fight for my vulnerable friends. And I wanted desperately to leave and not feel stuck anymore in a place where I was feeling weaker and more damaged by the day.

I was only working three days a week, and sometimes barely managing that. But in those three days a week, I was able to do more than I ever thought possible. I fought for our refugee coworkers to have equal rights. I quadrupled enrollment in our adult education program. I created new jobs, and rewrote contracts for those jobs to protect the rights of refugee workers. I worked with other organizations in the city to coordinate services, and held new workshops for HIV+ women. In a country where relationship is everything, as much as I could I sat with people, asked about their families, shared my snacks, helped in menial tasks that weren’t mine to do, and tried to make everyone feel important.

Somehow, in my two weakest years overseas, working the least hours in a week in any other season in my life, I managed to contribute more and grow more than during any other time in my life.

It took eleven months of bureaucracy and endless mountains of paperwork to get the green card. We left Cairo for good six days after we had it in hand.

We are still searching for answers, and my health still has a long way to go to get better. The anxiety has decreased. The pain is lessening. For the first time in almost two years I feel as though I’m getting stronger, and not weaker. But I have been told by doctors and counselors that I won’t recover my capacity for at least a year, and maybe never. I am still sick, but no longer stuck. And I am grateful.

All the while, in the back of my mind, are the refugee friends we left – some of them struggling with worse illness then mine – who have no outs or options. While I am back in my home country, they are in a country without welcome.

And I’m sick over the fact that they are still stuck.

Beth Watkins has spent the last 6 years working in North and Sub-Saharan Africa with street children, refugees, and other vulnerable populations, and is currently settling back in the US with her British immigrant husband. She blogs about living toward God’s kingdom and finding our neighbors at, where you can also download a copy of her free e-book, “For the Moments I Feel Faint: Reflections on Fear & Showing Up.”

Strong in the Broken: Female in Saudi Arabia

Today’s Strong in the Broken essay is by Ersatz Expat who lives in Saudi Arabia. The essay is a bit longer than I usually post but her experiences are unique and eye-opening, so I decided to publish the piece in full, in one post, rather than breaking it up.

A little over two years ago, over supper in our house in Ipoh, Malaysia, my husband, Mr EE told me he had been approached by a school in Jeddah looking for a new headmaster. My response was immediate visceral: ‘over my dead body’.  A bit of research ameliorated my position and a few months later we moved.  Family and friends were wary, concern for me barely hidden behind a façade of congratulations.  There is no getting away from it, Saudi Arabia has a reputation for being a hellish place for women.  Unable to drive, unable to go anywhere without the consent of her guardian, hidden, controlled, second class.  Why would I, a confident, outspoken, opinionated woman submit myself to that?

A year on and I can say that my experiences of being female in Saudi are nothing like I expected or how the media portrayed. But, time has also shown me that I am extraordinarily privileged in my freedoms and my experiences are not the same as those of others.

Everyone gets something different from a posting, even within the same family. Jobs, friends, and colleagues see to that, but Mr EE and I have had broadly similar experiences in every country we have lived in, until now.  His position, nationality and gender mean there is an inherent level of respect for his opinion and an open ear not automatically there for me, although it is given freely and generously when earned. 

Over the last year there has been much talk of Brexit and elections in key western nations. His views were actively solicited while mine were not, at least at first.  When people (ie men) see that I am informed, interested and knowledgeable, they respect my opinions and contributions but I have to prove myself in a way Mr EE does not.  My parents, my schooling, my whole life experience have given me the innate belief that my opinion matters and  built the confidence to articulate it.  I see, however, how easy it would be for women who do not have such benefits or whose cultural heritage and experience denies them the ability to develop those skills could be sidelined without overt malice, but the result of centuries of ingrained cultural expectations.

In the same way that the experience of doing business with Arab men is closed to me, there is a side of life Mr EE will never see: women’s spaces. I took a course at a local women’s university.  Demure, black-clad Saudi and Middle Eastern expat women walked in and, once past the screens, transformed into the same lively, fashionable women on campus at any university.  With the windows obscured, they were free to behave as they wished.  I asked one woman why everyone stayed until closing time every day and did not go home after lectures. ‘We are free here,’ she said.  Some worked, some socialized over coffee and others danced (more seductively than Beyoncé) to Western and Arab music.  Women love to party and dress to impress, the difference is that it is for other women not for men.

They were fascinated by my family life, so different from their own and I spent a lot of time answering questions.  Many told me they live almost parallel lives to the men they married.  One moved in with her mother-in-law post marriage and her mother-in-law knew her better than thehusband, as he was rarely with her.  She wept bitter tears when her mother-in-law died, her friend of 7 years leaving her in a house with a stranger.  One asked if I loved my husband when I married him and one told me she wished she had been able to delay her children, the way we had, to have time to get to know her husband and settle into married life.  I was often asked how I felt when my husband ‘told me’ we were moving to Saudi and they were incredulous when I said he never told me to do anything, that we discussed and agreed on big decisions and, had I said no, we would not have come.

I have freedoms many of those women will never have. With the exception of driving, I am as free in Jeddah as I would be in London or the Hague, yes there are areas I would not go alone but those are everywhere.  If I want to get on a plane and go to Dubai or Khobar or anywhere, I can. I can work, I can study.  Not all women are so lucky, a woman’s mahram or guardian, typically a father, husband or brother can control her every move, a woman’s freedom depends on her mahram’s enlightenment.  Some are as free as I am, others are heavily controlled, being told when they may or may not leave the home, for how long and where they may go.  It is this guardianship system, more than any of the other restrictions on women, that annoys my local friends.  Lawyers, teachers, business managers, 18 year old college students, they are all subject to this system which many have told me they find insulting and infantilising.  There have been recent changes in the law however, and there are hopes the guardianship system is coming to an end, a relic of an earlier age when women did not work and were rarely seen.

Are the clothing laws oppressive?  From a personal point of view I don’t mind my abaya, although it is restrictive.  Trailing hems trip people up and get caught in escalators (I recently helped rescue a women caught in one at Riyadh airport), sleeves knock over drinks and the popper buttons open at the most annoying moments.  It is almost impossible to run or exercise in public and I get undressed to go out, changing from the proper clothes I wear in the compound into leggings and a strappy top to keep cool under the abaya.  For me and women like me these are minor annoyances.  What I really mind is the compulsion, that I am not trusted to make appropriate clothing choices.  Even more than that, I mind, on behalf of Mr EE, our son and all the kind, wonderful men I know and trust, the implication that all men objectify women and that it is our responsibility to prevent them. 

There are cultural sensitivities at play, women wearing abayas here is as normal as men wearing thobes and the fact that many of my friends do not cover as extensively when they are abroad shows they have personal choice.  I know Western female converts who have taken a positive and personal decision to cover in full and some who simply wear a hijab.  I know Middle Eastern expats who cover only when they pray and wear the most daring of abayas and others who told me they never covered their hair in their father’s house but were made to after marriage.  Clothing is complex and nuanced, different in every circumstance but, naturally, the law here does make it easier for women to be forced to dress in a particular way.

Saudi is changing. My friends tell me women today have more freedoms than they had for decades.  The mutawa, or religious police has had its activities curtailed, there are moves to end the guardianship system and there are campaigns (supported by many men) to allow women to drive.  Saudi universities cater to more women than men, the number of career options open to women is increasing by the year.  The Saudi men I know are not misogynistic bullies and the women are no shrinking violets. But, but but, it remains a segregated and divided society, even young children, unless they go to one of the consular schools, are educated separately with more study and leisure options for boys than girls. 

When we are out by ourselves Mr EE may not enjoy the friendly and welcoming atmosphere of the family section of a restaurant while I may not join the men’s section.  There is a palpable sense of ‘two steps forward one and a half steps back, for example recent proposals for the establishment of sports colleges for women failed to pass the consultative council.  When change happens, it will happen (as it should) Saudi-style, slowly, uniquely but hopefully sustainably. 

A no longer 30 something perpetual expat I am Irish (but never lived there), was born in the Netherlands and am on country number 9 and posting 11 (or 12 or 13 I’ve lost count).  I lived in The Netherlands (many times) Norway, the UK (more than once), Nigeria, Turkey and Venezuela with my parents.  I thought I had settled in the UK with my British husband, two children and a dog but a few years ago we decided to have an adventure and became expats again.  In that time we have lived in Kazakhstan, various locations in Malaysia and Saudi Arabia, somehow managing to acquire a second dog, a third child and a cat along the way.  I blog about muddling through daily life as an expat in general and our postings in particular at

I can be reached at

*image via Flickr

Authentic Mobility

Today I am posting at D.L. Mayfield’s blog in her series on Downward Mobility. It is an honor to again be part of her series. Amazing how this woman I have never met in person can write things that change the way I think and live and can write things that I can’t stop thinking about.

This post was incredibly difficult for me to write and I ran through many drafts. I’d love to hear your comments on the piece, to have you share and tweet it so I can learn from your responses. How do I write about downward mobility when I feel that the last decade has been a single, drastic plunge into the deep end of downward mobility followed by a slow creep of upward mobility?


In 2003 my family moved to a village in northern Somalia (Somaliland). In one swoop I moved into a world with no running water, electricity 4-5 hours per day, market-fresh food daily, no prepackaged anything, no English, no clothing I was used to, no paved roads, no drinking water, no green vegetables (canned peas are not food), sparse internet, sporadic phone service. Lots of walking and lots of labor-intensive work. Lots of time with people. There was no other choice, there was no other way to live.

Now, in Djibouti, I have consistent electricity (except when there isn’t) and running water (no temperature controls) and a house with toilets that flush (mostly) and doors that shut (mostly), and I feel like I live in luxury.

So I felt conflicted when D.L. asked about writing for the series.

A personal focus for the last year has also been the challenge to live authentically. To be open and honest and to not hide certain parts of who I am depending on the context. So I write about Jesus because I love him and I write about Islam because I’m challenged (in a good way) by it and interested in the interaction between those two things. I write about my temper and about my grief and about tucking my dress into my underwear and picking my nose in public.

That’s where the piece, Authentic Mobility, is written from, that place of conflict and confusion and the search for authenticity, of not being sure whether I am moving up or down. In comparison to whom? Americans or Djiboutians? With what end goal? In which areas of life to focus? It is all too much to address in a single post and I encourage you to read the other posts in the series as well.

Excuse my babbling and head on over to read the actual post.

I would love to hear your thoughts, both on this post as well as on the series and the topic. I need to continue thinking about this, just as I have not stopped thinking about War Photographers and your words convict, encourage, and challenge me. Please join the conversation. Click here to read the full post: Authentic Mobility.

Third Culture Kids Series: Painting Pictures

Today I’m announcing a new guest post series and giving a call out for submissions.

It is something precious and dear to me, and something I am currently navigating my way through, and something I have so much to learn about.

The series will be on the wide-open topic of Third Culture Kids. The title is Painting Pictures, taken from Sara Grove’s song Painting Pictures of Egypt. The goal is to create and provide word (and image) pictures of the tapestry of experiences involved with being or loving a TCK. There are loads of quality resources available – blogs, books, websites, conferences, songs – and we’ll share those over the series as well.


by Graziella Leblanc, a Djibouti-based painter, interviewed for the Djibouti Post

There are all kinds of viewpoints

Being a TCK (young, teenage, college, adult)

Parenting a TCK

Married to a TCK

Friend/coworker/roommate of a TCK

Educating a TCK

Counseling a TCK

Child of a TCK

Grandparent of a TCK…


And all kinds of perspectives








And all kinds of experiences, from highly positive to devastatingly negative.


I want to hear and share all of it.

Next week I’ll tell you more about this painting above and why I chose it as the image for this series. The series officially starts in two weeks and you will not, will not, want to miss the opening post. I am beyond thrilled and honored that this particular writer has agreed to launch the series but I’m going to make you wait to find out who it is.

So, what do I need from you? I know there are a ton of people I don’t know but need to hear from. Sometimes the conversation on TCKs, both in real life and in blog spaces, seems dominated by Americans or by faith-based folks. I’ve heard from military kids and career kids that they have felt left out. I want to include all aspects. I also want to include a global perspective. A TCK is not just an American child raised elsewhere. Its an Indonesian child raised in Kuwait. A South African in China. Hopefully we’ll be able to hear from a wide variety.

Please email me or leave a comment if you are interested in contributing, if you know someone I should contact, if you have questions or topics you’d like to see covered, if you have resources…

painting2I am making a commitment to my own Third Culture Kids and to readers of Djibouti Jones to learn and listen and speak and pray with an extra-intentional focus over the course of this series, for however long it lasts. Will you join me?

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