The American Coffee Conundrum

The first non-airport interaction I engage in with a stranger in the United States takes place in an airport, but at a Starbucks. We want one of those drinks with chocolate and coffee and ice, but blended ice not chunks of ice. And we don’t want cream and we want a small one. I have no idea what this is called. We start to read the menu.

coffee shop menu

That takes too long, its like a book written in a foreign language. I decide to ask the cashier. I explain what we are looking for and she tells me we want a mocha frappacino and shows me the size of the various cups. I say small but there is no small. I just point at the smallest cup, which seems quite large, and say we don’t want all that whipped cream.

She tells me how much it costs.

The line is growing longer.

I rummage through my purse. I’ve tried to keep the money from the last three weeks in different zippered pockets but it got confusing and the Somaliland shillings, Djiboutian franc, Kenyan shillings, and American dollars intermingled.

I pull out 2000 Djiboutian franc and it is wrapped around a five dollar bill. All the coins in my coin purse are Kenyan. There are some quarters in the pocket that has SIM cards from different countries and the necessary safety pin for popping that thing-a-ma-job in and out. But there are also other coins in there and American coins are so dang small and light weight, they feel like fakers. I pay with these lightweight coins but it feels like I’m paying with toy money.

I mumble something about how hard it is to order coffee in America.

The cashier smiles and says, “Where are you from?”

“Africa,” I say.

She looks confused but there is no time to linger. The line has grown longer. People want their coffee. No, this is America. People need their coffee and no amount of friendly conversation has a right to get in the way of the order of things, the process, the exchange of money and goods.

The drink was too sweet and the lemon bread my daughter got was way way too sweet. But we split the small/large frappacino between the three of us and threw away the last bit of lemon bread.


Welcome back!

*image via Flickr

*image via Pixabay

Airsick Kids? Here’s How to Cope

Quick link: Kids Who Vomit on Airplanes and the Parents Who Travel with Them

airsick bag

Today I’m writing at Babble about kids who get airsick, which we have in our family, and some things we’ve learned about helping them and helping ourselves and helping our fellow passengers. No one wants to smell like vomit for forty+ hours of international travel.

Click here to read Kids Who Vomit on Airplanes and the Parents Who Travel with Them

*image via Flickr

My Refuge, in Literary Mama

Quick link: A Djiboutian Refuge

I’m excited to share an essay I have published today at Literary Mama. I actually wrote the first (rough) draft of this essay a few years ago, as part of an exercise in a class at the Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis. We were supposed to write about place and the place I tried to capture was my yard in Djibouti. When I read the piece out loud to the class, they clapped and encouraged me to continue working on it. I returned to it off and on over the years and eventually felt satisfied enough to send it out for publication.

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.


We had such an amazing yard at our old house, with wonderful Djiboutian neighbors living downstairs and our family upstairs. All of us miss the yard and the friends, though we are grateful for our new house as well.

Here is an excerpt:

My yard in Djibouti is a porous refuge. Thieves climb over the stacked stone fence, braving shards of glass and barbed wire for a single handful of ripe dhemal fruit. My iPod disappeared from the car one morning, along with the car battery, and when there are riots, smoke from burning tires curls between bougainvillea bushes.

I sit on the brown chipped-tile steps and the coolness seeps through my skirt. I lean my head against the metal banister, hoping for some relief from the sweat and it clangs against the wall where the nails have wiggled loose in the five years since we moved in. Lucy, my youngest, is running around the house and I time her on my stopwatch. She comes around the corner, jumps over the one-wheeled faded green scooter, and slides toward me.

Click here to read the rest of A Djiboutian Refuge


Between Worlds, a Book for Third Culture Kids

between-worldsLast week Marilyn Gardner released her first book. I wanted to post this the day of the release but between travel and continents and trying to remember which time zone I’m in, which money I should use, and how to order coffee in America, it  has been an overwhelming few weeks and I’m late to the party.

But you don’t have to miss the party! You can purchase and enjoy her book, Between Worlds, any day.

This is a beautiful book, it reads like a gift from a gentle, wise heart to Third Culture Kids.

Between Worlds: Essays on Culture and Belonging (click to pre-order from Amazon)

Between Worlds is a book for Third Culture Kids and anyone who knows and loves them. The essays are brief and evocative and probe deep matters of the heart and soul. Marilyn is including a study guide and I highly recommend families or schools or organizations read the book and go through the study guide questions together. I, for one, will be doing that with my kids and my spouse. Essays range in topic from providing a meaningful welcome to a boarding school kid who comes home during a school break to figuring out how to raise kids in the United States when you, the parent, weren’t raised in the US.

Marilyn is a kindred spirit. I can vent and rejoice to her, bounce ideas off her and tell her about the days I want to quit, and she receives it all with grace. Her wisdom is hard-earned and stems from a solid foundation of thoughtful faith. I’m so excited for her book launch day and for the people who will read this book and be helped, challenged, and encouraged by it.

Here’s what I said about Between Worlds:

Between Worlds is a kaleidoscope of memory and family, grief and celebration. Marilyn explores the experience of both being and raising Third Culture Kids and raises topics that will serve as valuable conversation starters among expatriate families and organizations. Especially for TCKs, this book will read like a homecoming and offers the gift of multiple me, too, moments. For anyone living ‘between worlds,’ this is a treasure trove of wisdom and perspective from a talented writer.

Here are what others are saying about it:

“To read this remarkable collection of essays is to journey with Marilyn Gardner between the worlds of East and West, home and not-feeling-like-home, touching with her the boundaries of culture, the inspirations of faith, and the comforts of loved ones. Her stories are compelling and unforgettable. And while her essays will instantly resonate with those, like Marilyn, who have lived between worlds, they speak volumes to those like me who have not. Every one of us has been at some point between two worlds, be they faith and loss of faith, joy and sorrow, birth and death. Between Worldsis a luminous guide for connecting – and healing – worlds.~Cathy Romeo, co-author,Ended Beginnings: Healing Childbearing Losses

And others:

“Drawn from her honest, penetrating blog writings, Marilyn Gardner’s Between Worlds invites us into her memories with loving hospitality, connecting the various and vivid threads of her fascinating life without over-sentimentalization. She is a wise raconteur, knowing that memories are living, formative things. Her richly evocative descriptions of the places that have formed her engage every sense (and will likely leave one a bit thirsty for chai), and the book is delightfully adorned with her daughter’s pen drawings. Throughout her essays, Marilyn presses in on the questions with which every human soul wrestles, particularly our God-given desire to belong, and to live securely and coherently with oneself and others.

In a world that has grown ever more globally connected, her recollections engage us all to think through how “God uses place” — and, at times, acute feelings of displacement — to make us into the people we are. Adult third culture kids will find in Marilyn a compassionate, empathetic friend, and anyone who has lived “between worlds” will appreciate her gentle approach to the more disorienting facets of a globally nomadic lifestyle.” Laura Merzig Fabrycky, The Washington Institute for Faith, Vocation, and Culture

Click here to view (and purchase!) Between Worlds from Amazon.

The Value of a Single Degree

Yesterday I quickly wrote and published a blog post called Sixty-Three Degrees. I did some hasty math and wrote some numbers. Then I realized it needed a photo. I had written that the temperature when I left Djibouti was 115 degrees. But the only photo I have of our car thermometer says 116 degrees. So I used that photo and edited the line that said it was 115 when I left.

I wrote that it was 116, to match the photo.

Which isn’t true. It was 115.

I thought, one degree. Who cares? Who would even notice?

Problem is, I didn’t edit the rest of the piece. Which meant my math was wrong.

So people noticed.

And, the other, bigger problem is, it wasn’t true.


Getting math wrong is a little embarrassing, especially in such a silly blog post that I really only published because it has been so long since I posted and I wanted to just get something up there.

So I edited the post but left the first comment about the math issue. But then I realized that email subscribers had already received their email blog post, with the math error. It was too late to stop the flow of people who would read about my stupidity.

Ah, humiliation! In the long-run, not a huge deal. But to me, as a writer of creative nonfiction and an avid consumer of it, the issue of truth telling in journalism and in writing is a big deal.

Three Cups of Tea, anyone?

Somaly Mam?

A Million Little Pieces?

And these are just the well-known ones.

One degree matters.

The pit in my stomach when I realized what I had done is awful, over this one, single degree. I have to tell the truth. Or, as Sheryl Louise Moller, I have to “tell the truth, tell the truth, tell the truth.”

I’m sorry for the one-degree lie. Clearly, I can’t even keep it together over a stretch of the truth as small as one degree. This is a good thing, in my opinion.  I can’t think of another lie I have knowingly written, which is also a good thing and I will carry that forward into far more important stories and details and truths.

Thanks to Grandma G for pointing out my mathematical error and for noting that one degree matters.

What do you think about stretching truth, writing lies, creating lives around falsehoods? Does one degree matter?

*image via Wikipedia