The Bookshelf: Rachel Held Evans

The Bookshelf Rachel Held Evans

Rachel Held Evans just released her third book. I haven’t read it yet but it is on my list.

I encountered Evans through her blog, then her first book, Evolving in Monkey Town, now called Faith Unraveled: How a Girl Who Knew All the Answers Learned to Ask Questions.


Evolving in Monkey Town: How a Girl Who Knew All the Answers Learned to Ask the Questions

I read this on an airplane ride between Djibouti and Minnesota. Her youth group childhood could practically have been my own, which I think is one of the reasons this resonated so powerfully with people of my generation. Here was our story! What I appreciated most about this book was her honest struggle, her willingness to ask questions and her openness about being on a journey that wasn’t over yet. My own faith has been challenged and sharpened since those youth group days and I sometimes feel I could write a book, “Evolving in Djibouti Town, how an American Christian relearned faith while living in a Muslim country.”

A Year of Biblical Womanhood: How a Liberated Woman Found Herself Sitting on Her Roof, Covering Her Head, and Calling Her Husband ‘Master’

I read this a while ago. Some parts were great, some parts were a challenge for me to relate to. For example, because I am lazy and ultra-casual when it comes to hair and clothes, I struggled to connect with her trauma over not being able to cut her hair for a year. Plus, once you’ve lived under a headscarf in Somalia for almost a year, clothing and hair becomes an entirely different thing than it is for most American Christian women. But I willingly and quickly acknowledge that this is a silly thing to take issue with, the book is still worth a read.

Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving, and Finding the Church

The new one!

I haven’t read it yet so I can’t say anything about it. I’ve read about it, does that count? Not really. I’m confident this book is full of challenge and grace and humor and honesty. Whether or not a reader agrees with Evans theologically, her words hold powerful sway among American Christians. I appreciate how she leaves room for dissent while standing firm on her own convictions, not an easy thing to do.



 What I’m Reading This Week

Home Leave: A Novel by Brittani Sonnenberg. Actually I am listening to this one and I’m almost finished. I really enjoyed it. The author uses unique voices (like the voice of a a house and you’ll have to make it all the way to the end to understand the significance of this) and shifts in time, place, and perspective to keep the storyline fresh. It is a cuttingly insightful look into the life of an expatriate family who is dealing with both the unique challenges of living abroad but also deep family grief and secrets. I especially enjoyed the chapters about one of the daughters, when she tries to transition as a TCK into adult life, both in the US and abroad.


The Turtle of Oman: A Novel, by Naomi Shihab Nye, a book for ages 9-12 or so. We are reading this one out loud together and so far I am really enjoying it. It reads smoothly and is about places familiar in our region of the world. Oman, Dubai, people speaking Arabic. Really a fun world to enter through fiction for this age. I’d like to read more like this.

Still reading this one, it is really fun to stop and hear my kids say, “Hey, we’ve been on Turkish Airways.” Or, “That is what it felt like to move.”


It’s What I Do: A Photographer’s Life of Love and War, by Lynnsey Addario. Am further into this book now and am thoroughly enjoying it. She is honest about the challenges personally and interpersonally, about feeling conflicted regarding when to photograph and when not to, about the impact of war on who she is. The photos are hard to see in the Kindle version, so I’m not sure I’d recommend it just for the pictures, but for the story and the perspective, I totally recommend. Anyone remember D.L. Mayfield’s series: War Photographers? Here is the real deal.


What are you reading this week?

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Muufo Bread

Quick link: Where the Bread is Hot as Hell

Over at EthnoTraveler today, ever wondered if you would like bread that tastes like spaghetti? Or how it is made? Find out in this essay published today. Also find out about how bread cooked in a charcoal oven leads to a conversation about prayer and hell.

Where the Bread is Hot as Hell

The March afternoon in Djibouti is still relatively cool at 90 degrees, but Fathia is drenched in sweat. She stands over an open wood-burning stove made from clay. She never stops moving. Hers is an aerobic effort of bending, standing, rolling dough, tossing bread into a bucket. Fathia works on Avenue Vingt-Six (26th Street), across from the “Big Mosque,” where the road curves slightly toward the stoplights. I drove all over Djibouti Town to find Fathia and the beehive-shaped oven where she bakes muufo bread (pronounced mofo). But I should have known I would find muufo here. Avenue Vingt-Six is a vibrant four blocks of Djiboutian culture unlike any other street in town.

On one corner pillows are stacked ten and twelve high, balanced on top of hand-carved bed frames. The opposite corner has stacks of car tires, equally precariously balanced. In narrow alleyways women labor with tib iyo mooye, mortars and pestles, the mortars as tall as small children, the pestles like thick oars. They are pounding grain, two women to a single mortar, alternating with a steady rhythm and deep echoing thuds. Other women sit on the cement steps of hardware stores or food stalls and weave dried grasses into short-handled brooms, mafiiq

Click here to read more: Where the Bread is Hot as Hell

Our Tribal Elders, the Integration of Norma McCaig

Where did the term Global Nomad come from and what inspired the woman who coined it? I never knew, until reading this lovely tribute to Norma McCaig.

Continuing today with part 5 in Our Tribal Elders by Paul Asbury Seaman. Paul attended Murree Christian School in Pakistan. He currently lives in the Bay Area, California with his wife Catherine. He has published several articles about the impact of growing up overseas as well as a memoir, Paper Airplanes in the Himalayas: The Unfinished Path Home (West and the Wider World)

Integration with Norma McCaig1

Integration… Norma McCaig (1945-2008)

The North, at the top of the medicine wheel, represents the Elder stage of life, coming fully into our own in both responsibility and self-expression. It is the embodiment of mindful stewardship: having the ability to effectively apply our knowledge and resources for the greater good. It is also the place where we come to terms with death—the ultimate form of self-acceptance.

Norma Marie McCaig was born in Teaneck, New Jersey. Her father was an executive with an international pharmaceutical company and when she was two years old the family moved to the Philippines, where Norma attended the American School in Manila. When she was fourteen her parents moved to Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) and Norma spent a year and a half at Kodaikanal International School, a missionary boarding school in South India; she then went back to the Philippines to graduate from high school in 1963. Her brother Doug, several years older than Norma, had already returned to the United States and her parents were now living in Hong Kong.

McCaig’s first significant job after college was with the Florence Crittenton Home for Unwed Mothers in Washington, D.C. But it was the Meridian International Center, also in Washington, that became the foundation for Norma’s life mission. The Meridian Center is a private not-for-profit institution dedicated to international collaboration and cultural understanding. Among other activities, it manages the U.S. State Department’s professional exchange programs. At the Meridian House McCaig worked as Home Hospitality Coordinator, providing part of the orientation for foreign students and government employees coming to live in the United States.

The time at “Kodi,” the boarding school she attended in India, had a lasting impact on Norma. Perhaps it was being in her early teens, that pivotal identity-establishing period, but I never heard her wax nostalgic about any other place from childhood. She loved Indian food and with the slightest coaxing would lapse into her Indian alter-ego, “Rani,” who spoke English with an affectionate parody of an Indian accent. (Think of the Dalai Lama’s distinctive lilt, or J. Z. Knight’s channeled entity “Ramtha” on steroids.)

In 1984 Norma McCaig went to a reunion of Kodaikanal International School. Initially wary, she found herself struck by an incredible sense of homecoming, far beyond what nostalgia might warrant. Not satisfied with the colloquial connotations of “third culture kids,” she wanted something more inclusive, something that would describe how wide this experience truly was—a phrase that alluded to our continuing journey as well as our upbringing. Thus was born “global nomads.” When Norma gave her first presentation on the subject a few months later, David Pollock was in the audience.

In 1987 McCaig attended the Second International Conference on Missionary Kids in Quito, Ecuador, where she met Ruth Van Reken. Norma stayed up all night reading Letters Never Sent and, like me, wept throughout. Ruth remembers vividly how she and Norma stayed up until the wee hours the following night discussing the commonalities between her upbringing as a missionary kid and that of Norma who grew up in the international business community. Along with those from volunteer agencies, foreign service, and military backgrounds, it is where these experiences overlap—and what we carry into adulthood—that offers the most insight. Norma McCaig was the first to see this so clearly.

McCaig borrowed heavily from her own retirement accounts to pull it off, but in December 1988 representatives from all these communities came together in Washington for the first conference of Global Nomads International. Norma never married or had children of her own; while this was not necessarily her preference, it did give her the freedom to pursue her vision. McCaig’s decades-long association with Meridian International Center made for an easy transition to more and more consulting work, lecturing at the Foreign Service Institute and writing articles for its Journal, leading cross-cultural workshops for the Foreign Service Youth Foundation, for Berlitz Language Centers, and at conferences sponsored by SIETAR (Society for Intercultural Education, Training and Research) and NAFSA: Association of International Educators.

McCaig went through Georgetown University’s Training Specialist Program and used those skills to work with educators, counselors, and mental health professionals to increase their awareness and ability to better serve the globally mobile population. In 1990 she persuaded George Mason University (located in Northern Virginia, just outside Washington) to provide her with office space, even though she had no official position there. Along with David Pollock, Norma was among the first researchers and advocates to emphasize the importance of re-entry—and having an organized structure to support TCKs coming “home” for college.

At George Mason she started the first collegiate global nomads club, soon followed by one at American University and George Washington University (both in Washington) and at Duke University in North Carolina. Meanwhile, global nomad discussion groups had sprung up in Boston, New York, Atlanta, San Diego, and Seattle. In 1993 a Danish global nomad, inspired by a talk on the subject her Argentine fiancé had heard in France, started the first European group—in Geneva, Switzerland.


Norma McCaig’s life was about making connections—between individuals, groups, and ideas. She could muster an impressive turnout for a meeting, a project, or a social event better than anyone I’ve known. Global Nomads International (GNI) never became the institution McCaig worked so hard to establish, with formal chapters across the country and around the world; but her vision of a vibrant, interactive global nomad community has certainly become a reality—in no small part because of her early efforts.[i] Norma’s slogan for GNI was “Affirmation, Exploration, Action.” For those of us in leadership roles, our mandate was “to create an environment for global nomads to affirm their experience, explore it, and discover ways to use it.” We were to be “catalysts for the healthy integration of this special experience into the lives of global nomads, but also for effecting positive change—locally, nationally and globally.”[ii]

When Norma learned she had bone cancer in 2004, at first it only slowed her down a little. Her professional and personal lives had always overlapped, and in recent years she worked more and more out of her home in Reston, Virginia. Norma was known for her annual pumpkin-carving parties in the fall, and her summer birthday (July 25) was a major affair—bringing together people from many different walks of life. Norma was the networking queen, constantly putting friends and associates in touch with someone else who shared the same background or concerns. And this gift for connecting with people is perhaps our greatest loss with her passing.

Norma McCaig died in November 2008, after an unexpected relapse of the cancer she had successfully fought three years earlier. To me, it felt like the end of an era. In a few short years the global nomads community lost three of its guiding lights. (Ruth Useem died in 2003, David Pollock in 2004.) When I shared with Ruth Van Reken the huge loss I felt at Norma’s passing, she told me to think of the thousands of lives Norma has touched, just as Ruth had reminded herself when David Pollock died. (She and Pollock had worked closely on TCK issues for more than fifteen years.) Those many lives, Ruth said, are like seeds floating through the air, dispersed around the world, now blooming with the same generosity of spirit; continuing the vision.[iii] In a tribute letter read at McCaig’s memorial service, Van Reken recalled her as “this tiny red-headed marvel who packed so much energy and joy and brilliance into her little frame. . . . Norma is an example for all of us of how one person with a vision, a dream, a heart, and courage can, in fact, change the world.”[iv]

There used to be a life-size self-portrait of McCaig hanging in the hallway of her home, just inside the front door. She created this painting in celebration and gratitude after her first bout with cancer in 2004. A typewritten note taped beside the picture offered this description—one that is also a remarkable summary of Norma’s character and the strength and grace of her spirit:

“From the darkness of facing the end of this life to the deep blue of spiritual intention and constant loving support of countless people to the vibrant green of growth that comes when moving beyond adversity to the sense of being enveloped in bright, healing, life-giving Light, I feel the joy expressed in the face of the woman, Norma, who meets you eye-to-eye.”

Always connecting from the heart; pursuing a vision of service, supported by her creativity and respect for the sacred—Norma was an Elder, a leader who used all her resources to benefit others. Because of Norma McCaig, many of us have found reconciliation with our past and a new perspective on our future. We have found fellowship, friendship, and a sense of family. Norma helped us discover and create a community we can call home. A place to stand. We can now more confidently face the world because we better understand who we are and where we came from.

More than anyone, Norma McCaig worked hardest to make us a culture, not just an identity or a researchable “population.” The various local seminars, workshops, dessert-and-discussion evenings in someone’s home, the annual winter holiday potluck, and the national conferences—all of them expressed that holy trinity of connection, meaning, and nourishment. Norma’s life, and how she taught us to embrace the whole of our experience as global nomads, brings to mind the attitude of the Lebanese American poet, Kahlil Gibran: “I would not exchange the laughter of my heart for the fortunes of the multitudes; nor would I be content with converting my tears, invited by my agonized self, into calm.”[v] Norma McCaig helped us embrace the rich mosaic of our lives—a mosaic created by both accident and intent, from all the broken-tea-cup moments of ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances.


[i] Whether coincidence or synchronicity, it’s interesting that a spate of memoirs and other books on TCKs came out in the 1990s, just a few years after the first Global Nomads International conference.

[ii] Global Nomads DC (August 1991), 4.

[iii] I’m reminded of the quip made about Lou Reed’s proto-punk group, the Velvet Underground: Only 700 people bought their first record, but all of them founded a band.

[iv] From letter read at McCaig’s memorial service in Reston, VA, November 16, 2008.

[v] Kahlil Gibran, Tears and Laughter (New York: Wisdom Library, 1949), 7.


Website: Paul Asbury Seaman and you can contact him at


The Heart of Ruth Van Reken

Identity with Ruth Useem

The Wisdom of David Pollock

A Somali Folktale and Lessons on Cultural Adaptation

Quick link: 5 Things Cigaal Shidaad Taught a Foreigner


Cigaal Shidaad is a character in Somali folktales and he is a coward, a bumbling fool, the butt of jokes. In this essay for the Sahan Journal, I write about five things I learned from him, that anyone can learn from him, about cross-cultural adaptation.

In 2003 my husband, two-year-old twins, and I moved to Borama, Somaliland. My husband taught at Amoud University and I focused on managing these toddler twins and life in a strange, new world. One of my favorite things about living in Somaliland was the discovery of local folktales and folk heroes. I begged neighbors to tell me stories and they talked about Dheg Dheer, Caraweelo, the Diin iyo Dawaco (Turtle and the Fox) and, of course, Cigaal Shidaad.

I couldn’t relate with the cannibal woman or the queen who castrated all the men but I could relate with a coward. I understood his perspective, the fear that paralyzed him in the middle of the road in front of a tree stump/lion. But while I empathized with Cigaal Shidaad, I didn’t want to be like him. So I had to learn from him.

What could Cigaal Shidaad teach this foreign woman about how to live and thrive in the Horn of Africa?

Click here to read the rest: 5 Things Cigaal Shidaad Taught a Foreigner

For some more stories about him, see The Travels of Igal Shidad/Safarada Cigaal Shidaad: A Somali Folktale

*bonus: (here is the biggest clickbait I will ever give you, except its for real) the artwork accompanying the essay in the Sahan Journal is a painting done years ago by my husband, man of many talents.

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The Bookshelf: 6 Important Books about Aid and Development

6 important development books

We want to do some good here and we want to do as little harm as possible. Along with learning from locals, asking what people need and what people think will help, learning from experience, and a lot of prayer, I turn to books for help. Here are some that have been useful, interesting, and challenging.

If you are involved in the world of aid and development work, whether internationally or locally, you need to read When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor . . . and Yourself by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert. I think I am currently on my third reading of this, with many returns in between complete reads to remind myself of the concepts in it. What is poverty? What do poor people have to say about poverty? What are the four sectors involved in poverty? This book provides excellent fodder for communication and tools for rethinking our engagement with ‘the poor,’ which includes people just like me. Even if you aren’t involved in development work, I can’t recommend this book highly enough for the way it will challenge your worldview. It is a faith-based book and relies on Biblical ideas alongside non-faith based research and experiences.


After you read When Helping Hurts, you need to read Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl Wudunn (I wrote more about it here, though this post is mostly about the film and not the book). Of course my favorite chapter was the one about the Edna Aden Hospital in Somaliland, where we hunkered down for a week in 2003 in the middle of our evacuation experience. But the entire book is well worth reading because we need to know what is happening among girls and women, the vulnerable and the exploited, in order to know how to best invest in whole communities.



The Blue Sweater: Bridging the Gap between Rich and Poor in an Interconnected World by Jaqueline Novogratz. Imagine you donated a sweater. You put it in a box destined for who-knows-where and you go about your life. That life leads you to Rwanda as an adult and you are walking down the street when suddenly, right in front of you, is someone wearing that sweater. Not just a sweater like it, not a replica, but that specific sweater that once kept you warm or itchy. That is what happened to Novogratz and while it sounds far-fetched, I believe her. I have seen kids here wearing my kids’ hand-me-downs. Of course we live here and this is a small town, but still…This book is about helping women develop small businesses and is a mix of memoir and development ideas.


The Bottom Billion: Why the Poorest Countries are Failing and What Can Be Done About It by Paul Collier






The End of Poverty: Economic Possibilities for Our Time by Jeffrey Sachs

I don’t agree with all of Sachs’ ideas and, interestingly enough, he and the author of the next book, William Easterly, also disagree. There are no easy or one-size fits all solutions. I was captivated by this book until the end when he writes about Millenial Villages and the conversation leaped far over my head and my ability to engage or be involved. But Sachs is still an excellent author to read for learning about and thinking about development.



The White Man’s Burden: Why the West’s Efforts to Aid the Rest Have Done So Much Ill and So Little Good by William Easterly





What I’m Reading This Week

Every Man in This Village Is a Liar: An Education in War by Megan K. Stack I listened to this while running over the past week. Her writing is poetic, which struck me as being at odds with the gory, horrible situations she was writing about. Sometimes it felt a bit over the top but I also appreciated her effort to find beauty, life, and hope in devastation.





Home Leave: A Novel by Brittani Sonnenberg. This is another one I’m listening to while running, recommended to me by Marilyn Gardner. Sisters, family life focused on international moves…sounds like something I can easily connect with. I just started this one and am eager to wake up tomorrow morning, go for my run, and hit ‘play.’ That’s the best motivator for getting out the door – a good story waiting for me.




The Turtle of Oman: A Novel, by Naomi Shihab Nye, a book for ages 9-12 or so. We are reading this one out loud together and so far I am really enjoying it. It reads smoothly and is about places familiar in our region of the world. Oman, Dubai, people speaking Arabic. Really a fun world to enter through fiction for this age. I’d like to read more like this.





It’s What I Do: A Photographer’s Life of Love and War, by Lynnsey Addario just started it, can’t say much yet but I’m fascinated by the premise, basically what the tagline says: a photographer’s life of love and war.



What are you reading this week?