What about Our Passport Countries?

Quick link: Don’t Ignore Your Passport Country

Its hard to care about more than one place in the world. I tend to focus on where I am and forget about where I was, my heart can take only so much. But I don’t think that’s necessarily healthy in the long run.

home country

I have a confession to make. I don’t pay much attention to news from the United States. I’m much more likely to click on the BBC or Al-Jazeera than on CNN or my more local, Minneapolis Star Tribune. I sort of follow election news, trying to keep my cynicism in check. And I follow the big stories, like the shooting at the night club in Florida, albeit mostly only reading headlines as I can’t bear the horror and grief of faraway places and close by places anymore.

July forced me to reconsider this policy of simply scanning. Children with guns. Police officers slaughtered. Trump and Clinton. The shooting of a black man by a police officer after being stopped for a broken taillight with his girlfriend and a child in the car and caught on videotape that happened ten minutes from my childhood home. I can picture the intersection.

Something is happening in the country of my birth, something massive and important and heartbreaking and, I hope, something that will force the country to change. And even though the struggle and pain cut deeply, on top of cuts that are already deep and caused by more local and physically close hardships, I don’t want to miss this moment in history.

Click here to read the rest of Don’t Ignore Your Passport Country

Djibouti at the Olympics

Quick link: Dreaming of Djiboutian Olympic Glory

At EthnoTraveler you can read about my interview with Ayanleh Souleiman, Djibouti’s current hope for a medal in the Rio 2016 Olympics, in the 1500-meters.

I’ve been close to a few Olympians and in fact, while watching the track and field events, a former Djiboutian Olympian was staying in our house with us. We have become close friends. I once had an Olympian babysit my kids so Tom and I could go out on a double date with another American couple who also loves running. I once beat Shalane Flannagan. It was at a 5k in New York City. We headed into the port-a-potties at the same time. I made it out first.

And, I’ve trained on the same track as Ayanleh. Before he was a household name in this country, back when he was unknown but could still lap me. He called out encouragements to me and other slower runners. He remains as down to earth as he was back then and I loved sitting down with him at the Buna House Cafe a while back, to talk running and dreaming and being a role model.

Ayanleh

Ayanleh Souleiman is Djibouti’s best hope for an Olympic medal in nearly thirty years. Athletes from this tiny nation have struggled to make even qualifying standards since Hussein Ahmed Salah won the bronze in the 1988 marathon, the country’s only medal.

Until Ayanleh. In 2016 he set an indoor 1000-meter world record. He won the Bowerman Mile in Eugene, Oregon two years in a row, while setting a meet record. He holds Djiboutian records in all distances from the 800-meters to the 5000.

Although Ayanleh failed to make the 800 final in Rio. He is still in contention for the 1500-meter final, which will be run on Saturday, August 20.

I’ve known Ayanleh since 2008 when I started to run and when he, reluctantly, made the switch from being a footballer to a runner. Ayanleh’s friends had urged the then sixteen-year old to enter a 5k race. The thought of running without kicking a ball sounded impossibly boring but Ayanleh relented. He placed fifth, with no official training.

Coaches convinced him to come to the Hasan Guleed Stadium to train and Ayanleh was soon leading groups of young men in laps around the track. At the time, I also trained at the stadium, though my training was more for health than competition and as Ayanleh would lap me, several times over the course of an afternoon, he often shouted, “Bon courage, Rachel!” While he could run two laps to my one, I felt stronger simply by proximity.

Click here to read: Dreaming of Djiboutian Olympic Glory

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The Ministry of Recognized Brokenness

Danielle Mayfield’s book Assimilate or Go Home is being released TODAY. If you’ve read her blog, which many of you have, you know that Danielle is a prophetic, broken spirit who has eyes for the poor and the oppressed and her own weaknesses and a longing to see justice rule and mercy reign.

That’s what you’ll find in this book. Honesty, vulnerability, mistakes, and hope as she wrestles with how to love people well. Does that require doing something massive and radical or can it be simply baking cakes?


One of the things Danielle writes about (through the example of her own life) is the great variety of ways that we can love people (like cakes or Halloween parties or holding babies…). For me, one of the most significant ways I have felt loved, or in her words, ministered to, in the past year happened in December 2015.

The Ministry of Recognized Brokenness

One of my dearest friends suffered the most terrible loss imaginable and I needed to go to her. She lived a few countries away and I needed to get there as soon as possible. This was going to require plane tickets, cash, arrangements, obtaining local identity cards that weren’t quite ready yet, and people to take care of the rest of my family while my daughter and I traveled.

I had only a few hours to arrange these things.

Here is what happened:

My mom and dad, who happened to be visiting, said, as soon as they heard what happened, “You need to go. Don’t worry about us being here. Go.”

People who love me gave money for two tickets without me ever asking.

At the airline ticket office, I showed up without passports and without cash, forgetting that almost no place here accepts credit cards and that I needed identity documents to travel internationally. The employee looked at me, as I started to cry, and said, “Don’t worry. Here are your tickets. Just bring the passports to the airport. I will figure out how to work the credit card machine.”

The identity card staff person was three hours late to work, meaning I needed to get these cards with just minutes to spare before packing and rushing to the airport. People, who don’t form lines here, could tell by my face (I guess) that I needed to go first when she finally showed up. She handed me the cards.

On the airplane, I journaled and cried and realized that in the haste of packing, I had forgotten Kleenex. The flight attendants graciously brought extra napkins.

Upon arrival, I filled out the immigration forms wrong. The officials asked why my daughter and I were here so suddenly, for so short a time. I told them and with gentle, kind words, they waved us through.

My daughter didn’t always know what to do with me for the time we spent abroad together, while I kept crying or rambling on and on about silly, or deep, things. But she let me hold her hand. She let me put my head on her shoulder. She held me up, physically, at the service. She listened and laughed or passed me more napkins.

Upon returning home, people asked how we were doing. They didn’t ignore pain and they didn’t rubberneck to look into it. They were compassionate and thoughtful and sincere.

Sometimes the best way to love people, to minister to people, is to let the brokenness show up. Sometimes it is hard to be that honest or vulnerable, sometimes, like me on the airplane or for weeks following, the effort to hide it is too much and it overflows unbidden. That allows people to come in, to share the pain, to see it and honor it and hold us up under it and that, I’m learning more and more, is a ministry. To let people into our brokenness.

And sometimes the best way to love people, to minister to them, is to be on the other side. To see that brokenness and acknowledge it, to hold it, to understand that this other person is trying their best to remember the cash or the passport or their birth date on paper forms. It is to be kind, to be present, to give, to inquire, to sit in silence.

Danielle doesn’t have everything figured out about how to minister to people, how to love people well, but she is willing to ask hard questions and to push herself to do better.

This is a book about how massively huge little things are. About how cake can heal, how airline napkins soothe, about finding hope in dark places and about learning that we were never meant to save the world. We are simply meant to love the people in it.

Click here to buy Danielle’s book: Assimilate or Go Home

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Is Parenting a Real Job?

Quick link: Get a Real Job

This month Brain Child published my essay about my encounter with a strange, angry woman sixteen years ago. I have never forgotten what this woman shouted at me or the bizarre circumstances in which we met.

Officially I am a stay-at-home mom. Meaning, I am a mom and I don’t have a ‘real job’ in which a salary comes every month from a boss or in which I have to report to anyone. At the same time, whenever I call myself a SAHM my family protests.

Twins

I am a freelance writer. I have been an English teacher, a manager of micro-enterprise projects, a language tutor, personnel manager (basically meaning I am responsible for making sure staff who come to Djibouti to work with us learn how to function and thrive), cultural consultant, small business developer…I could spin the many things I’ve done any number of ways.

But, when the twins were born, I really was a SAHM and mostly what I did was: stay at home. Anyone with twins knows how in those early weeks and months you are lucky if you shower or eat or sleep. Here’s what one lady thought about my choice.

Minnesota winters are brutal on stay-at-home mothers with young children. It is so hard to get outside. Slippery sidewalks, slushy roads, kids who take twenty minutes to get bundled up and only then announce, “I have to pee!”

The winter my twins were infants, I felt nearly suffocated by the early darkness, the cold, the isolation. I needed to exercise and to get out of the house. I started taking the twins to the Mall of America. It was a thirty minute drive on a non-snowy day and the mall had four floors, each an entire mile in circumference.

I never shopped, we couldn’t afford anything but diapers and the basic groceries that supplemented our WIC coupons. I walked. The mall was free, warm, and not my house. It had that white noise background that can (sometimes) soothe anxious babies. In the middle of the day it was filled with two kinds of people: other stay at home moms who were empathetic and equally desperate, and elderly people also out for a non-slippery walk. The elderly were my favorite because they loved seeing infant twins. Their comments and smiles would remind me, in the haze of those sleepless months, that my children were precious and cute and treasures.

So we walked…

Click here to read the rest of Get a Real Job

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Running the World

I’m super excited about last month’s Runner’s World magazine. And I’m late in sharing it here but better late than never!

Running the World: Djibouti

Run the World

This story was a long, long time in coming, through many pitches and edits and months and even years. I originally wrote it at half the length but the editors decided Fathia was a fascinating person with an intriguing enough story that she needed almost double that.

I’m so proud of this young woman and this team. And I’m just a little happy about being published in Runners World (eee!)

If you haven’t already seen the article, check it out here:

Running the World: Djibouti