New Expats, Old Expats, Hold On to What You Believe

Quick link: Don’t Forget the Things You Know Are True

In case you missed it, A Life Overseas published my post this week about some of the things we know are true that are deeply challenged in the first year abroad. And in every year after that.

All the training, preparing, packing, and planning has left you utterly exhausted, unprepared for reality, insufficiently packed, and carrying plans that will be chucked out the window upon arrival. Those who sent you and those you received you have done their best, but they haven’t been perfect or complete, and I want to remind you of some important things.

There are some things you know to be true. These things will be challenged to their very deepest core in your first few months abroad. You’ll forget them. You’ll call people liars (even if just in your head) when they remind you of them. You’ll wonder how you ever could have been foolish enough to believe them. That’s part of the process. That does not change the fact that these things are things you know. They are true. They have not changed, even while life is only wild, chaotic, and stressful.

Read the rest of Don’t Forget the Things You Know Are True here.

Dengue Fever and Boarding School

Quick link: Split Me Open

This week The Other Journal published an essay about parenting in hard places. My struggle to mother one child in my living room with dengue fever and one child at boarding school, about to go on her first ‘real’ date, pales when I watch mothers raising children in refugee camps. How do any of us make it through whole? Maybe we don’t. Maybe our hearts are split open all over the place.

What Am I Going to Wear in the Marathon?

I wrote another post, years ago, about what the heck am I going to wear? I was heading to New York City for a movie premiere. Now doesn’t that sound exciting? It certainly was exciting, it was the premiere of the Finding Strong documentary which featured Girls Run 2. That week in NYC I also ran a 5k, peed in a port-a-potty next to Shalane Flannagan, met my (no longer) literary agent, watched Captain Philips in an actual movie theater (still don’t have one here), hung out with my amazing siblings (who made me cry) and shopped for clothes because I had nothing to wear.

Yet again, I face the conundrum of what to wear and this time I’m heading east, not west. Heading more conservative, not less. Heading to cooler weather. The perennial question for women here is: What should I wear?

I promised you months ago that I’d show you what I’ve decided to wear for this marathon.

It took some practice and some experimenting, but I think I have a good plan, knowing full well that it might change last minute.

I’ve counted up the total items of clothing I wore in my previous marathons (socks count as 1 and shoes count as 1): Five. Five items of clothing.

For this marathon? Nine. Nine items of clothing. Yowsers.

Everything needs to be considered carefully when training for a marathon. Shoes, socks, underwear (or none), sports bra, shirt(s), pants, and this time, a scarf.


I used to wear Asics but recently the toe box seems to have gotten narrower. Or, my feet have gotten fatter. They aren’t working for anymore. I tried Brooks Ghost. I fell in love. I find that rotating my shoes helps protect against injury, so I currently have three pairs I rotate through. One pair of trail shoes: Brooks Cascadia, which are also too narrow and I had to cut slits around the toes. One pair of Asics, because I had brought them with from Minnesota and can’t buy shoes here, so need to wear them even if they aren’t quite perfect. And the Brooks Ghost. I’ve saved up the Ghosts, only wearing them on my long runs. The different shoes challenge me to run slightly differently – lower heel drop, or the trail shoes, and keep my legs fresh.


I’m still with Asics on my socks, mainly because that’s what I brought with me. They are seamless, don’t chafe, and don’t give me too much trouble with blisters.

Sports Bra

I have trouble with sports bras. It is so hot here, I sweat so much, I need something completely seamless and they just don’t seem to exist. I have one Champion bra, pretty seamless but also pretty unsupportive. As one of the only women running here, I want something that locks me down. I wear that one for volleyball or for walking. The Nike bras I have used to work great, but lately, even my new ones, leave me bloody at the center of my chest and along my collarbone. I turn them inside out, which helps a bit, but not enough. I found some new Nike bras last summer, which have a kind of fuzzy elastic band. Those are a bit better, though they still chafe, so I turn them inside out as well. In other words, this is what I plan to wear, but it is the weakest link in my clothing lineup and I’m open to suggestions (just know I won’t be able to shop until July).


This is the shirt I’ve chosen. But, it will be under a long-sleeved shirt, or maybe over the top, since I’m writing people’s names on it. But two shirts? During a warm-ish race? Aiyayai. What have I gotten myself into?

It is also Nike. I don’t love the color (why does every women’s running shirt here have to be pink?). But, the shirt doesn’t chafe, is nice and light, and is the longest and loosest shirt I have and doesn’t have a v-neck or low cut scoop neck. So it is the most conservative running shirt in my closet. It is a size Large, which is why it hangs past my butt, and was a hand-me down from a runner who left Djibouti. This is the shirt, that will bear the names of everyone who donated to the Go Fund Me campaign.

I tried a shirt from a Muslim-friendly athletic apparel store, a shirt-dress. I hated it. Way too much material for a marathon in a warm climate. Too much flapping. I know from experience that flapping and sweat leads to chafing and bleeding, which is why I wear spandex here. Plus, it would get so dang heavy. It was really comfortable and I could wear it for anything less than an hour, or for someplace cooler than the Horn of Africa, the material was great, but nope. Too much of that great material.


After my shoes, I’m most excited about my pants. I love these pants. Brooks Chaser. I had to take a big risk and ordered them online, unable to try them or or return them once they got to Africa. But they fit perfect, they are incredibly lightweight and breathable, they aren’t tight but aren’t so loose that they flap. They have four pockets.

But still, they are pants. And my shirt is long-ish but not super long.

So I’m adding a little bonus, which might be removed once I see how things are on the ground.

I used to have a pair of leggings with a skirt attached. I wore them out, the seams got all hard and crusty from sweat and use, so I was almost going to throw them away. Instead, I cut off the legs and saved the skirt part. Now, I can pull that on over the Brooks pants and, if I feel like my shirt isn’t modest enough, I’ll wear the skirt, too. But because it is less material than the t-shirt dress and is more designed for running, it isn’t as flappy.


No photos, but I have a good plan.


I got this from the same store, Veil Garments, as the shirt dress. I love it. The color, the material, the fit. It doesn’t feel like I’m wearing anything and doesn’t make me feel much hotter or sweatier.


I’ll also be wearing my TomTom Spark watch, sans headphones so I won’t miss any of the fun of the race. And, I’ll have my phone in an armband, so I can snap photos if the chance comes up.


My marathon outfit. At least in my plan.

Everything could change…


Running Afraid

Y’all did it. You helped me raise the funds for the marathon and education fundraiser in Somaliland. Thank you.

And now that means I have to do this.

Uh, I mean get to do this.

But kind of? I mean I have to do this.

I’m kind of a chicken type of person.

You might not believe me. People call me brave. I rarely feel brave. I rarely feel competent. I often doubt my decisions, question my ability, cower before negative self-talk.

I am also stubborn. That’s one thing I have going for me. Stubborn works well for long-distance running. It works well for long-term cross-cultural living. It works well for the years of research and rejection and revising that go into book writing.

But stubborn is not the same as brave.

So I confess that I’m feeling nervous.

I have my plane ticket. I have my visa. I paid my fees and made our donation. I won’t back down (thank you Tom Petty), but I’m doing it afraid.

Anything can happen.

Anything can happen at any time and in any place. I know this full well. I’ve written about it several times.

There’s the marathon nerves that any runner feels before the start of a big race. We’ve spent months training our legs and lungs and brains. We’ve read for inspiration, woken up way too early, pooped in places we wish we hadn’t, downed GU by the bucketfull, kept pasta-makers in business. We’ve tweaked training plans and figured out the best shoes and running gear. We’ve given up on ever having ten toenails all at the same time. So we’re ready, but also not ready.

Its a frickin’ marathon.

That’s a long way.

26.2 miles. 42 kilometers.

It hurts.

The nerves are excited-nerves. I love this stuff. Running, education, the region, the people I’m meeting and spending time with. I love it.

But it is also outside my comfort zone.

So I’m nervous.

I’m nervous about being one of only a few women, only a few international runners, about the location, about what I’ll wear (I’m bringing several options). I’m nervous about the meetings I have arranged for before and after. I’m nervous that not everyone will be thrilled about this event.

My husband tells me to stop being so self-conscious. To not worry about what to wear or what to say or who to talk to, to not doubt myself, to be strong and assertive. He says, “Its all strange.” Meaning: female, running, white, foreign, Somali-speaker. He says to stop thinking so hard and to enjoy it.

He’s right.

I think that’s what it takes to do something while afraid. To jump in with both feet. Forget about dipping one toe in at a time. Forget about self and focus on what I know is true. This is such a unique opportunity. I should not waste time being timid or afraid.

I should be all me. Meaning: curious, interested, hopeful, excited.

Instead of bringing all my baggage of:

I’m too slow

Women don’t run here

I stick out

Its unsafe

I look ridiculous

What was I thinking? (this will come in mile 22, if not before)

I should bring:

My love for Somali culture and the ways it has molded into my American-ness

My dreams of competitive female athletes from this region

My thrill at being part of this unique experience

All the Somalis who have loved me, welcomed me, helped me laugh my way through these years abroad, all the people who have fed me and clothed me (quite literally) and embraced my kids, and forgiven my faux pas, and shown me how to create a home here, and given me their courage when I lacked my own.

So yeah, I get to do this.

Here we go!

(Here are a couple of videos I made of my last two long runs, if you want a peek at running in Djibouti)



Expatriates and the Comparison Trap

Quick link: The Expatriate Balance Sheet

At A Life Overseas today, writing about comparison and envy and the grass that’s always greener.

A friend visited me once, coming from a country further east. She brought boxed blueberry muffin mix, Cheerios, and other American brand name goodies. I thought, ‘oh, her life must be wonderful and easy.’ When she left, she packed a few cans of Dr. Pepper and bags of Doritos and thought, with such luxuries at my fingertips, ‘Rachel’s life must be so easy.’

I also read Under the Tuscan Sun, or From Paris to the Moon and I think, well of course they love being an expatriate. They live in Paris. They live in Tuscany. For crying out loud. What are they whining about?! This makes me feel both proud, look where I’ve lived! And sad, look at where I could have lived!

Expatriates easily succumb to this lie that the grass is always greener. This is especially true when there is no grass, like where I live. If you have grass, even dead grass, I guarantee you it is greener than my grass. That small truth aside, believing the euphemistic meaning of the phrase is dangerously easy.

*image via Wikimedia