Chronology of a Terror Attack

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Chronology of a Terror Attack

It started like every other story like this starts. On an ordinary day…

Saturday May 24, 2014 5:00 p.m. End of the year Girl Scouts bridging ceremony at Camp Lemonier.

The ceremony took place outside the Green Bean café at the US military camp where there is a short bridge-like wooden platform. Two Daisies, one Brownie, one Junior, and one Cub Scout, each graduating to the next level, walked across the bridge.

5:30 p.m. Scouts hand out miniature flags to the service men and women.

The kids say thank you for serving and happy Memorial Day. Lucy asks me what Memorial Day is, not a normal holiday in Djibouti. The kids are a little shy but no soldier can refuse a cute kid in Scout uniform delivering American flags.

6:00 p.m. Buffet dinner in the galley.

This is a huge treat for we lowly civilians. Salmon, barbecue ribs, steak, asparagus, kiwi, corn on the cob, root beer, Breyers ice cream. The best part, though, was when Lucy said my homemade bread and mac and cheese tasted much, much better.

7:00 p.m. The long walk out of the military camp, through security, back to our car.

Lucy and I talk about Memorial Day, the American flag, how the camp has changed over the years, and all the goodies we have in our plastic sacks, purchased at the NEX. Lifesavers, a set of headphones, Scotch tape.

8:00 p.m. Lucy goes to bed.

She is excited about school on Sunday. She has an early morning meeting, her group is making a small sail boat out of materials found at home. She packed an empty plastic water bottle, a battery-operated fan, and a scrap of cloth before bed.

8:10 p.m. (or somewhere around there) There is an explosion on this block downtown.

la chaumiere

I don’t know this yet. I am still untouched. What if I went to bed early? What if I didn’t check my phone? What if I read a book instead of checking email? Would life have changed? Would my host country still be at rest?

8:20 p.m. I notice six missed phone calls and three missed, vague, texts on my phone from while I was putting Lucy to bed.

8:25 p.m. The landline rings.

The landline never rings. I answer it, surprised. It is my good American friend. She speaks quiet and quick. “Did you hear about the bomb? Call your coworkers.”

8:27 p.m. I get another text.

This text is from my coworker. There has been a bomb downtown. People killed. What do we do?

8:30 p.m. I call a friend at the US embassy.

She confirms the rumor but doesn’t know much else. “Stay home. Pack a go bag, just in case.” Her calmness soothed me since Tom, the usual ballast to my raging emotions, wasn’t home. The last time I packed a go bag I lived in Somalia. It had diapers in it. I used it when we fled.

8:35 p.m. Instead of packing the bag I gather information.

I check Twitter and Facebook and send texts. I hear from French, Argentinian, American, Djiboutian friends. Some of them were downtown when it happened and are scared, crying. I ask our guard and the neighborhood shopkeeper what they know. They are gathered around a radio. Two dead. Three dead. Seven dead? Twenty? Ten injured. Twenty injured. Thirty-three? Who knows? La Chaumiere restaurant. I know it well. Djibouti is small, we all know it well. This is like my backyard. I feel crazy, trapped, exposed. I want to do something, I want to run ten miles, so I flutter around the house doing nothing because I don’t know what to do, there is nothing I can do.

8:45 p.m. I try to call my husband.

He is in Somalia. He doesn’t answer the phone, texts, or emails. I just want to hear his voice. I feel vulnerable without him here and know I would feel less frantic if he were here. But he will be shortly and I just wanted to hear his voice. I’m thankful Lucy is now asleep.

8:55 p.m. School is cancelled.

A French friend calls, school is cancelled on Sunday. Monday was already off for the Prophet Mohammed’s birthday. I wasn’t going to send Lucy on Sunday anyway, I had decided that during the very first phone call.  She can make the sail boat at home.

9:00 p.m. I lock everything.

I lock all the windows, every door in the house even the ones to inside rooms like the storage closet and bathrooms.

9:10 p.m. I pack.

I do pack a go bag. A change of clothes, cash, paperwork, passports, water, granola bars, chargers. I hate packing it and want to scream or throw it out the window but Lucy is asleep in the same room. I probably don’t need to pack it. But then again, I have used one in the past. How many people have actually used their go bag? And how many more wish they’d had one packed but it was too late?

9:20 p.m. I change clothes.

I want to be able to hear what is going on outside so open one of the locked windows but it is so hot. I sweat through my clothes. I put on my Love Somalia t-shirt.

9:30 p.m. I zone out.

I watch old episodes of House that I borrowed from a friend. I compulsively check Twitter. I alternate between doing sit-ups and planks and crying and whispering, “Jesus.”

11:00 My husband calls.

I’d had one of those feelings when he left. But when someone is staying in Djibouti and someone is going to Somalia, the one you worry about is the one in Somalia. After he hangs up I read. I never stay up this late.

1:00 a.m. I can’t sleep.

I read This is the Story of a Happy Marriage by Ann Patchet. I read Psalm 91 and Psalm 46 and Psalm 23. I’m glad Lucy climbed into Tom’s empty space on the bed and I curl my fingers around her warm ones. She is breathing. She is breathing. I toss and turn all night, alternating between awake but barely and asleep but with wild dreams. Sometimes I cry. I’m still wearing the Love Somali shirt. I haven’t chosen clothing with such clear intention since my wedding day.


Sunday is quiet. There are rumors and texts and Twitter messages all day. I feel sick and I feel bored and I feel shaken and I feel vulnerable. I wish I knew what happened with verifiable information. Two grenades? One suicide bomber? Two? Grenades and suicide bombers? A man and a woman, wearing a niqaam and jillabiib? From Somalia? al-shabaab? Now women wearing this are searched, are kept off buses, my house helper says she is searched because she wears one. She doesn’t mind, she has nothing to hide.

Djiboutians are angry, heartbroken. They have been proud of their peace, and they should be. I don’t believe they will stand for this. From what I hear, there was a quick response by authorities, a heroic response, even, by taxi drivers who drove the wounded to hospitals even while one of their own lay among the dead.

A police chase of a third suspect? How many killed? Injured? Who? What is being done? When will school start again? Am I ready for that? Are French expatriates really talking about leaving?

This is the first terrorist attack like this to occur in Djibouti. Ever. Djibouti is a small place. There aren’t a ton of people or a ton of restaurants. In many articles I have written about Djibouti and called it a ‘bastion of peace in a tumultuous region.’ I have never been afraid to send my daughter to school here before or to go to the grocery store.

What can I say now?

What can I say?

*update: RTD (Radio Television Djibouti) now has some video and information and a speech by the Minister of the Interior discussing the details.


  1. Anna May 26, 2014 at 11:16 am - Reply

    I’m so sorry to read that! I know it must be quite a shock and disorienting. I’ll pray for your safety, wisdom in decisions, and the country in general.

  2. Ruth May 26, 2014 at 11:53 am - Reply

    I’m so sorry. Nothing else to say. Praying for Djibouti.

  3. Wendy May 26, 2014 at 12:52 pm - Reply

    {{{{hugs}}}} 🙁

  4. tom thulin May 26, 2014 at 1:04 pm - Reply

    Praying for all the team and the citizens of Djibouti for their safety. Especially you family while Tom is away.

  5. Hamda May 26, 2014 at 1:10 pm - Reply

    I hope things are well Rachel , i was completely heartbroken when i heard. I am scheduled to travel to Djibouti soon and now I’m contemplating .

  6. Kay Bruner May 26, 2014 at 1:22 pm - Reply

    Love and prayers to you, Rachel. When the place you love becomes a place of terror, what can you say, indeed.

  7. Sherri May 26, 2014 at 3:44 pm - Reply

    I remember when there was a bombing near the Addis football stadium before a big game. The bomb was intended for the stadium many believe. We stopped going to obvious places for a while. Now our fear is down and we are back to going to ‘foreign’ places. I was reading to pray for our enemies. I am, but struggling to pray in a way that is not like some of David’s prayers. ‘Just sic them God’.

  8. Angela Maria Weinmuller May 26, 2014 at 4:57 pm - Reply

    Please pray for Rüştü Gürbüz a Turk who was killed in the bombing He had a wife and young children.

  9. kathrin May 26, 2014 at 5:05 pm - Reply

    Thinking of you. Not much better here in Nairobi. May God bless you. Love Kathrin xx

  10. S'ambrosia May 26, 2014 at 5:43 pm - Reply

    I’m very sorry to hear about the chaos that interrupted your life last week. I’m an American living in Kenya, just outside of Nairobi, and my husband uses public transportation to get in and out of the city for work. The feelings and wonderings you described are very similar to what I feel those days when there are bombs in the area and he’s gone. I hate those feelings, but I do realize that they serve to thrust us into the ever-powerful arms of our Father. Praying for you and thank you for sharing the play by play. I love your writing style.

  11. Tina Gibbs May 26, 2014 at 6:36 pm - Reply

    Rachel, Thank you so much for your very honest, well-written post. I am a missionary going to Nigeria. The missionaries that we are going to replace have been there for ten years. All ten of them they have had a “go” bag packed. We have been delayed since the Nigerian girl kidnappings. We were supposed to be here last week.
    Know that I am praying for you and thankful for your blog! Love and peace in your heart and soul.


  12. Alicia Stokes May 27, 2014 at 2:45 am - Reply

    We will be praying for you, Lucy, and Tom. And especially for the people of Djibouti

  13. Shannon May 27, 2014 at 11:11 am - Reply

    Rachel, My heart just entered into your journey. I am praying for you, your family, your neighbors, your friends and for peace, protection, provision. May you be comforted and surrounded. Much love, Shannon And thank you for writing this – I think it must be hard to enter this process.

  14. Angela Maria May 28, 2014 at 1:53 am - Reply

    I’m so sorry to have to post this…just in case you have’t seen it….my husband lives/works in Djibouti…I confess I’m so scared…..i don’t think it’s lack of faith….I’m just scared and, as a priest once told me, “cling to the Cross!” I’m clinging!

    This threat was posted:

    full text of the article;:

    I shall keep you and your family in my prayers. God be your hope. God be your strength. God be your comfort. God keep you in the Bosom of His Most Infinite Loving and Merciful Heart!

    • Rachel Pieh Jones
      Rachel Pieh Jones May 28, 2014 at 3:50 am - Reply

      Thanks for being honest about your clinging Angela. I think it is okay to be scared and then to cling. It must be so hard to have your husband here and you so far away. Sometimes I think things like this are almost scarier for the people away because you can’t see the day-to-day or the things that don’t change. Will pray for you as well. (and thanks for the links)

  15. […] I am amazed at how, even though this particular essay reflects a time of life years ago, it connects to recent events, with the suicide bomb attack in Djibouti on May 24th. […]

  16. Teri mcintyre November 15, 2014 at 7:10 am - Reply

    My son is leaving for Djibouti in January with 5 kids and wife! He just told me today he had training on being kidnapped and how to deal with it! Reality has set in and I am so scared! He will be going to Somalia as your husband does! I sure need a friend in dealing with this! I am just sick over it but would never share that with my son!

  17. […] and religious extremism is not hypothetical for my family. A week after suicide bombers blew up a restaurant in Djibouti my daughter asked how we could be sure the Somalia-based terror group al-Shabaab […]

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