My First Heartbreak (it isn’t what you think)

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My First Heartbreak (it isn’t what you think)

Quick link: Borama, Somaliland. My First Heartbreak

This is in the second ever issue of Hidden Compass, a fantastic new travel e-zine.

Here is a link to the full magazine, check out the beautiful photos and stories.

I never really had a boyfriend-related heartbreak. The first boy I ever loved loved me back and we’re still married 18 years later. What a gift.

This story is about expectations, falling in love with a place and losing it and about what I still hold on to about our first months in Africa. It includes photos by Matt Erickson.

The dirt from Borama, wrenched from the earth and hurled down in swirling cyclones before a thunderstorm, seeped into me. It would stay for weeks beneath my fingernails, no matter how hard I scrubbed.

I said Borama was beautiful and my husband laughed every time. Was it the bumpy dirt road? The herds of goats? The expanse of empty earth, pock-marked with thorn bushes and camel trains? Was it the layer of dust that settled like a mosquito net over every surface and shimmered in the late afternoon Somalia sun? Maybe it was the distance from modernity, the isolation.

I insisted. Borama was beautiful, in a desperate way. The expanse that spoke of emptiness also spoke of wild adventure and discovery, freedom. The hollow drumbeat of a wooden stick on a yellow plastic jug so my neighbors could dance, the rancid flavor of laxoox, sorghum flatbread, offset by sugary tea.

Twelve years away from Borama, Somaliland and I still feel a sweet, wistful affection, a connection that dredges up fondness for the village that ejected me. We will never be more than 10 months when I was 24. We will never be more than my first footsteps in Africa on a journey that is ongoing. That is why I still love Borama. That is why, when I write, I still imagine myself sitting at a rough, hand-crafted desk in front of a wall painted half white and half aqua, listening to the mosque on the corner, the chickens in the yard, the donkey next door.

Click here to read the rest of this essay for the Chasing Demons column: Borama, Somaliland. My First Heartbreak

Did you ever suffer a place-based heartbreak?


  1. Em November 10, 2017 at 10:17 pm - Reply

    Liberia was my first heartbreak. It was my whole world, and then the war came when I was 10. I know that I’m lucky to have avoided what came next – so many friends lived through the war – but it’s taken years to heal the wound. Thank you for your story.

    • Rachel Pieh Jones November 14, 2017 at 3:51 am - Reply

      Thanks for sharing this, Em. I’m sorry you lost the place you loved, especially at such a tender age.

  2. Beth November 13, 2017 at 6:04 pm - Reply

    I lived in Sudan for almost 2 years, thought I would be there for another 20. It was hard, rough, and beautiful. I moved there at 24, and I loved it so much. It was this dusty city, and I made my home there. But then I was expelled. My circumstances were different than yours, but there was a measure of terror and of haste. Many of my belongings are still there. It was only 2 years, but, like you, my first overseas home. It’s where I learned Arabic, where I learned I could hack it in tough places, where I wanted to live til I was old and gray. My heart broke leaving, and though God has met me in that trauma and loss, I miss it so much. I’ll never love another place like I did Sudan. Thank you for capturing that experience so well.

    • Rachel Pieh Jones November 14, 2017 at 3:53 am - Reply

      Thanks, Beth. So sorry you had to leave Sudan. These kinds of experiences, though very different than refugees, I hope continue to make our hearts soft toward the well of emotions and shock they feel as they flee places they’ve known and loved. I hope you’re able to replant yourself well.

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