Arrive, Survive, and Thrive in Djibouti

I get emails nearly every day from people coming to Djibouti either as tourists or to live and work. They need to know how to find a house, where are decent hotels, what should they do in a medical emergency? Are there playgrounds? What are the best school options?

I’ve compiled answers to these questions and so much more, in this e-book Welcome to Djibouti.

Phone numbers, websites, email addresses, tips and suggestions…you’ll find what you need here.


Creative Travel

Quick link: 7 Travel Options for Airplane-Weary Expatriates

Over at A Life Overseas today, as we head into a season of peak expat travel. Some of us are so.stinking.tired of airplanes. Some of us love them, but the cramped quarters, the sheep-herding mentality, the long immigration lines, the getting yanked from your seat and bloodied, the stress of no Kindles or computers in the cabin, the fear of what if they are in the cabin…it is getting to be a bit much.

We need relief! Thankfully, there are several better options for travel. Here are a few:

Run Fast (1 Kings 18: 45-46)

Tuck your skirt or man-skirt up into your belt and run like mad. You might outrun chariots and you might outrun a thunderstorm. Your swag might be a death threat from a queen. No worries, run on!

Fish Cargo (Jonah)

Get swallowed by a fish, nearly digested, and spit up on the land of your choosing. Er, no. The land you absolutely did not choose. But, there you are, undigested, make the most of it.

Click here to read the rest of your new (old) travel options: 7 Travel Options for Airplane-Weary Expatriates

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Famine in Somalia. How to Help. Or Not.

There is a drought in Somalia, growing into famine proportions. Something needs to be done. So, good people are doing something. And I sit here, writing, working, going to the beach, hiding Easter eggs, not really doing anything specifically related to the famine. And, I sit here with a lot of questions about what is being done. It is so hard to articulate them because I really, truly believe the people doing these things are topnotch people. As in, people with deep empathy and compassion, people who love with abandon, who take risks to serve, people who are not after fame or fortune or glory. I don’t want to hurt feelings or to disparage. But I do feel the need to raise some issues, to ask some questions.

And let me just start by saying Somalis are so much more than starving children and people covered in flies. Please. Seriously. Be wise about what images you share.

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Research has proven unequivocally that famine is caused by authoritarian regimes, by harmful politics and policies, by corrupt governments, by tyrannical rulers, by war. The root cause of famine is not the lack of rain or a failed growing season. Changing weather patterns contribute to drought but famine, starvation on a mass scale, is a different beast.

Here is an important article about the factors underlying Somalia’s current crisis, by Dr. Mohamud Mohamed Ahmed (Buyow). I wrote to Dr. Mohamud and in his response he stressed the importance of working with local organizations and local authority structures for long term solutions. He wrote, “…short projects and inappropriate responses will not be a long lasting solution to the recurrent droughts. The best way to address the root causes of the famine is  settling with the needy people and identifying the immediate needs and longterm support needs and provide the right intervention that suits the needs of the target people through working with relevant  authorities in that respective area rather than copying projects from other countries  and implementing  them regardless of the outcome and impact.”

He spoke about the historically strong agriculture, livestock, fishery, and business realities in Somalia and that the people need help strengthening those sectors, not just food aid, in order to end long term dependence on outside sources.

The cure for a famine is not a rain shower.

The cure for famine is not to provide meals.

I have seen both scenarios presented on social media as viable solutions.

One campaign promotes their efforts to ‘stop the famine’ by providing millions of meals, boxed in the US and shipped to Somalia. This will not stop the famine. This will give people food for a while. It will effectively delay their starvation, it will not stop it. And, based on history and current threats coming from al-Shabaab in Somalia, it is unlikely that all the meals will actually feed the hungry. So, if you must box meals, at least do so knowing that you are not ending a famine and that you might be feeding a terrorist. Truth in advertising seems important here.

Also, rain…

Rain in a land denuded of forests and trees, either due to systematic stripping or because people, desperate for food and shelter because of conflict and poverty, have been forced to cut their own trees down, can be catastrophic. Floods. Cholera. Typhoid. Malaria. Dengue fever. Diseases which, were they diseases that plagued western countries, might have had vaccinations or effective medicines developed to fight them by now. These diseases descend on the dry land and on weakened people with a vengeance when there is a little rain. And a bit of rain won’t make the agricultural industry boom again. Especially not when that industry has been destroyed by bad management and violence.

Yes, rain is needed so that crops can begin to grow again. But if all the farmers are gathered in feeding centers and it rains for a while one afternoon, that does not mean corn will spring from the ground around them and the people will now be satiated. A rain shower is not going to end a famine.

Some of the bad management and bad control that are contributing to this famine are, in fact, remnants of previous famine relief efforts. Western nations, goodhearted people, bring in food and seed and grain. This undermines what the local economy and farmers had been able to provide, cuts prices, leaves farms fallow, pulls people away from working the land and into feeding centers. Once they land there, it is almost impossible to return to a farm. It may be taken over by a neighbor or by a warlord. The ground might be destroyed. The herd animals die so a nomadic family has nothing to go back to. They are stuck. Perpetually.

So sure, box up your meal and stop the famine.

Sure, pray for rain and stop the famine.

What will you do tomorrow?

And the next day?

And the next day?

What will you do when the millions of boxed up meals ends? When another famine strikes because the underlying causes have not been addressed?

You’ll develop compassion fatigue.

Okay, pack the box of food. And then go to Somalia, make sure a hungry person eats it, make sure that hungry person is repatriated, along with their entire community, to their agricultural region or to their flocks (which have died so must be donated), so that they can become self-sustaining again, they way they once were. Make sure that person doesn’t spend the rest of their life dependent on meals that you box up in the US. Make sure gangs don’t rob, rape, or kill the people. Make sure violence doesn’t force them to abandon their land in the future. Make sure just and good governance is instituted.

People may have walked hundreds of kilometers to get to the food. Now what? They are effectively stuck in the feeding camp until you, who brought them there with your meal, help them go home. Will you do that? Will you stay involved and engaged for that long? Will you fund organizations who will do those things?

Sorry to say, but in the case of the outsider, the answer is most likely no. No, you will not stick it out for decades, a commitment some compare to a marriage. That long, that much effort. Nope. You will move on to the next crisis or to the next Netflix show.

Who will stay?

Somalis.

Somalis in Somalia and Somalis in the diaspora around the world, most whom still have relatives living in Somalia. These are the people who have proven track records of caring for Somalia. Remittances from abroad make up almost a quarter of Somalia’s GDP. Money transfer is keeping people from starving, is helping them set up small businesses or reestablish farms. Somalis who care about good governance and sustainable food security need to be supported.

Somalis who know the culture, region, and people intimately. There are Somalis leading aid work. Get behind them, support them.

This means you might not get your face on a brochure. You might not get a great selfie opportunity. You might not get the praise for risking your life to go to Somalia to see what people are already telling you, if you would just believe them. You might not get the glory of praying for rain and seeing it fall and tweeting about it.

But you might be able to make a difference, just without your left hand knowing what your right hand is doing.

If you are willing to support Somalis helping Somalia, then here are some ways you can get involved.

*There are loads of Go Fund me campaigns being run by Somalis: Somalia Famine Relief, they are partnering with the American Refugee Committee and the International Refugee Committee. And Somalia Famine Relief 2017, run by a group of Somali youth in Minneapolis (go Minnesota!), they are partnering with a Somali-run NGO Read Horn of Africa.

*Technology and social media are both playing large parts in responding to this crisis. Here is how some Somalis are using both to help.

*Abaaraha has developed a crisis mapping system to help aid providers see the big picture and know where there are urgent needs.

*If you have Somalis in your community, talk to their community leaders. Maybe at a mosque, maybe restaurant owners or shopkeepers. Find out what they are doing and ask how you can participate. I know Minneapolis restaurants recently had a Dine Out for Somalia evening, with the goal of raising $150,000 for famine relief. The list included almost 50 restaurants, most of them Somali, Horn of Africa, or Arab cuisine. You can still donate: Dine Out for Somalia.

What if there weren’t only Somali restaurants participating? What if they weren’t primarily Somali diners? Do you, non-Somali American, really need to start your own organization, project, or fund? Get behind what Somalis are already doing, join with them. I suspect you’ll find your donation of time, resources, or money will go further and you’ll be able to see more long-term impact both in your own life and in the lives of people you hope to serve.

*There are so many Somalis helping Somalis, unrelated to famine relief. But all development is positive and can move the entire region in the right direction. Saada Moumin is one such woman, with her school for low-income and special needs children in Djibouti.

*And, sure, I’ll encourage you to pray for Somalia. But keep in mind that you are not the only one praying. Millions of Somalis are praying, both in Somalia and in the diaspora. There are Somali Muslims praying and Christians who care about Somalis praying and I even know some Buddhist Somalis who pray. Don’t fool yourself that when God provides an answer to prayer, it was solely your powerful and effective righteousness that brought it. You are not standing alone in your hope and faith. You are not the hero.

*Read When Helping Hurts. Seriously. If you haven’t read this yet, read it now.

Now, with humility and generosity and critical thoughtfulness, go out and try to do something wise and good.

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Call for Guest Posts: Strong in the Broken

I find the writing community wonderfully and surprisingly generous. I think we all battle with the lie of scarcity – if one writer succeeds, that means less success for the rest of us. But the writers I’ve met and interacted with don’t live out that lie. Instead, they help each other toward success, offer tips, share stories, challenge and motivate each other.

I read an article once in which Jason Fagone said he’d be willing to talk with any aspiring writer who had a question about writing nonfiction boolproposals. I took him up on it, emailed, and he responded in just a few hours with tips and an example of one of his successful proposals.

Others further along than me have offered suggestions on queries, tips on how to pitch to particular editors at certain magazines, or answered my endless questions, either over email or coffee. Writers have retweeted, liked, shared, and emailed stories of mine.

Dan Maurer consistently highlights other writers and spreads their words far and wide.

Asad Hussein lives in Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya and recently had an excellent article in The Guardian. And the New York Times! I like to say, ‘I knew him when…’ We met over emails and blog posts and editing. Watching his work grow in strength and reach is one of my favorite things about working on this blog – those kinds of connections.

I would like to continue to use this space to share the stories and work of others. So I started thinking of another guest post series. I’ve done a few:

What’s the new topic, you ask?

Recently I listened to the Runner’s World podcast, to an episode called Running While Female. I had seen the episode in my list and avoided it but never erased it. I knew I would have to listen at some point, I just didn’t want to. I knew what it contained.

I was right. It was about the harassment women experience while running. I had to actually turn it off a few times because it was hitting so close to home. I cried. It took me a long time to get through the whole thing. Normally I listen to podcasts while cooking, cleaning, and running. This one? I sat down at the table and just listened.

This visceral reaction didn’t come out of nowhere. It came out of being touched, chased, grabbed, groped, stoned, punched, ogled, insulted, mocked, cursed. People have made throat-slitting motions at me. They have said I am the first one they would kill. They have mentioned my unmentionables.

I keep running. Partly because these things, at least not the worst of them, don’t happen that often. Partly because not running feels harder than dealing with this junk. Partly because in running, I find my strong. In doing what people seem to think I shouldn’t be doing, I am the victor. Not them. Not the harassment.

I wanted to know about what you experience when you do something that, because of who you are, where you are, or what you are doing, carries with it a unique challenge. I want to know how you respond, if you feel strong, if you feel victorious, or if you are still struggling to find that strength. If you are at all like me, it is both/and.

Running While Female. Driving While Black. Traveling While Pregnant. Writing While Uneducated. Studying While Working. Working While Foreign. Blogging While an Introvert. Eating While Dieting. Writing While in a Refugee Camp. Writing While in the Suburbs. Staying Married While Being an Alcoholic. Staying Married While He/She is an Alcoholic…

I don’t know. I have no idea what your stories in this realm might be. They don’t need to fit this paradigm of ____ while _____. But that is the gist.

Sharing stories helps us be brave and vulnerability makes us strong. These are stories of victory, even if we don’t yet feel victorious.

What’s it called?

strong-in-the-broken

 

The title of the series is: Strong in the Broken. I don’t mean the broken places of ourselves, like the Ernest Hemingway line from A Farewell to Arms: The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong at the broken places.

I mean parts of this world are broken. The parts that harass and terrorize and damage. Sometimes those parts are in us or are us, sometimes they are external to us. And in those places, places that aren’t all green grass and chocolate ice cream, we can still be strong. Or we can at least step toward being strong.

We can keep running.

How can you participate?

Send your stories. Email me at rachelpiehjones(at)gmail(dot)com if you have questions or want to submit a post.

I can’t pay (publishing while impoverished, perhaps?) but I can offer a wide, global readership and a byline with links to your own website and social media pages.

 

 

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Redefining Success for the Faith-Based Expatriate

Quick link: You Are Not a Failure

Over at A Life Overseas today, writing about something that’s been bugging me a bit lately.

I’ve read lots of blog posts and essays about failure lately, about people who grew up wanting to change the world and end up discouraged. Jonathan Trotter wrote about this a year and a half ago. Sarita Hartz wrote about it just last week. Abby Alleman wrote about it in February. I guess its my turn.

To people who made youthful commitments they didn’t follow through on, to people who moved back ‘home’ earlier than planned, to people who don’t see what they dreamed of seeing, I want to say: You’re not a failure. And, you didn’t even fail.

You were on a date and you’d been trained to think this was a marriage. You got on a train and mistakenly believed you could never, ever get off. You’re lost in a new city and you think U-turns are not an option here. You fell in love and like most first loves, you fell out of it again. Or, it was in truth just a crush. Thankfully no one expects us or pressures us to marry our sixth grade ‘boyfriends’ and none of us feel guilty for abandoning them on the playground. But if, in our youthful naiveté and with the emotional high of a summer project, we make grand pronouncements of a lifetime commitment to service in the name of faith and turn our backs on that – we call it failure.

No one should be berated, by themselves or anyone else, for getting lost and making a U-turn. Even with Siri and GPS, we are not infallible. And when it comes to lifelong decisions, even with the Bible and the Holy Spirit, we’re allowed to change direction as we grow and evolve.

Click here to read the rest of You Are Not a Failure