july fourth

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A Baby at Camp Lemonier

Quick link: A Baby at an American Military Camp

Today I have an article published over at Brain Child about taking Lucy to the US military base, Camp Lemonier. The piece is in honor of July Fourth and dedicated (at least in my mind as I wrote it) to parents all over the world who by choice or necessity live away from their children.

When my youngest was born one of the highlights of our weeks was going to Camp Lemonier, the American military base in Djibouti. Officially, we went for chapel – English sermon, semi-familiar songs. But honestly? We went for the two hours of free, frigid air conditioning and the possibility of a quick stop at the store for American snack foods and maybe a recent issue of Runner’s World magazine.

In those days there weren’t many non-Djiboutian American kids in Djibouti, three of them were my own. Children and women in civilian attire were rarely seen at Camp Lemonier and we drew quite a bit of attention on those Sunday evenings.

scouts at camp lemonier1

Click here to read the rest of A Baby at an American Military Camp

*image credit Lyn Englin

How Not to Celebrate July Fourth Overseas

expat july fourthLast year for the Babble website I wrote about 9 ways for American expatriates to celebrate July Fourth while living outside the USA. This year I decided to offer 9 suggestions for how not to celebrate, how not to be the ugly American, how not to be obnoxious or disrespectful. I love a good barbecue and picnic with friends and family as much as anyone (though fireworks displays have become more of a culture shock experience every time I see one Minnesota) but living overseas, especially if you live in a country or area hostile to Americans (or, what I find more often, where people warmly welcome individual Americans while vigorously despising America’s international policies), it may be to your benefit to be sensitive to your local neighbors.

1. Don’t drive through the neighborhood blasting Proud to be an American or Born in the USA

Your neighbors probably are already aware of both these things about you.

2. Don’t imagine yours is the only free country in the world

Americans aren’t the only people who deserve to be proud of their heritage and they aren’t the only people living in a free country, whatever ‘free’ means.

3. Don’t spend the rest of the year ignoring the celebrations that are important in your host nation

Take advantage of the incredible opportunity you have to learn and celebrate and enjoy new things: new history lessons, new foods, new customs.

4. Don’t ignore July Fourth

Either on the day or in the days leading up to it. This is a good opportunity for parents to teach their children about history. Its also a great time for a party and yummy deserts.

5. Don’t insist on celebrating with only Americans

Invite people from your host country to your barbecue or fireworks. Talk about patriotism and ask about their national holiday.

6. Don’t get angry or obnoxious if you don’t get the day as a vacation day at work

Be flexible with the date, throw a party on a different day. You probably had the local national day as a vacation from work, appreciate that and celebrate it.

7. If you live in a place cool toward Americans, don’t be overly showy

Don’t hang a flag outside your home or march around the office waving an American flag and chanting about how wonderful America is. You can still celebrate, but do so in your own home or at the US embassy or a friend’s home.

8. Don’t forget to use the day as an opportunity to introduce a new treat

Like s’mores might be a great hit among your local friends, or barbecue ribs or a red white and blue dessert.

9. Don’t forget to be grateful

America is far from perfect, all nations are far from perfect. You have the unique opportunity of living as an expatriate and experiencing both the United States and your host nation, or nations. Learn, grow, open your eyes and your life, and be thankful.

*image via Flickr

July Fourth, an Expat’s Perspective

Americans have a tendency to get really down on America. They talk about fleeing to Canada to escape the injustices and poverty and high unemployment rates and medical care expenses and differing political ideologies.

I think this is an amazing country. It isn’t perfect. It is far from perfect. But it is pretty good.

I sat in a cafe in Djibouti and watched Obama’s inaugural speech in January 2009. Former Presidents Bush and Clinton were there, as were politicians of various political parties. They were cordial, pleasant, even smiling. No one shouted at each other. No one shot at each other. There was this incredible, peaceful, transfer of power.

Don’t take this for granted.

At the playground near our house I can see, simultaneously, college girls sunbathing in bikinis and Somali women chatting in hijabs while Asian children scramble around the playground and no one is staring at me, no one is throwing rocks at me. The park is free. And green. And clean. I can wear shorts or do pull-ups on the monkey bars or scramble through tunnels chasing Lucy and still, no one is staring at me.

Don’t take this for granted.


My electricity is never cut, my garbage is always removed, my water is the temperature I want it to be. The grocery store is stocked and low-priced. The gasoline is especially low-priced. I can buy pork or drink wine. Or not. I can wear goofy clothes and kiss my husband outside if I want.


Don’t take this for granted.

I can vote based on my own convictions and worship in the church/temple/mosque/synagogue of my choice without feeling afraid, intimidated, or arrogant (*update: except in southern black churches in 2015 – what is going one, America?). There are quality doctors and hospitals that are clean and open.

Don’t take this for granted.

It has taken the United States of America 234 years to achieve this kind of peace and freedom and inclusion and opportunity. Expecting Iraq or Somalia or Afghanistan to come to terms with an American-enforced ‘democracy’ in mere decades is naive. And quite probably erroneous. Nations need to develop and establish their own flavor of governance. But that is for another post.

July Fourth is something to celebrate. Not because the United States is the ‘best’ nation on earth or because it is perfect or has reached some kind of ‘ideal.’ Not boastfully or ignorantly. But because it is ours, it is free, it is peaceful. It has been for a long time. I have no idea what the next 234 years will hold. And no, of course America isn’t the only country in which you can do these things.

But I’m an American and I appreciate the good things this country has to offer, even while I am free, no especially while I am free, to point out its weaknesses.

How did you celebrate July Fourth?

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