Another Marathon and I Need Your Help

Dear Djibouti Jones Reader,

I’m going to ask you for something. I try not to ask for a lot or to ask very often. I will, eventually, ask you to buy, read, and help promote my upcoming book, but that won’t be for quite a while.

This time, on #givingtuesday and beyond, I want to ask you to help me participate in a race and to help me fund a University degree for a student in Somaliland. Click here to go straight to the Go Fund Me campaign.

What’s the race?

It is a marathon. 26.2 miles. 42 kilometers.


Hargeisa, Somaliland.

Am I sure women are allowed and welcome?

Yup. This is the first ever full marathon in Somaliland and the directors are explicitly encouraging females to run.

Will there be many?

I have no idea. There is also a 10k, so I assume there will be women in that race, too. But a few or many, no problem. I’m used to running alone. I’m used to being the only female I see running and I’m even used to coming in absolute last place. Though all newbie runners fear being last, I am the only person I know who has quite literally finished last (still got a huge trophy. Third woman. Out of three.)

Will it be safe?

I have asked the director several questions about security. Living is inherently unsafe. You can read what I think about safety here and here and here. (Christianity Today, Brain Child, and Babble)

Why do it?

I really want the t-shirt.

Also? What are some of the things I love most? Living in the Horn of Africa. Check. Running. Check. Education development. Check.

Education what?

The race doubles as a fundraiser. Each international participant is challenged to raise enough money to fund a full scholarship for an entire 4-year degree program for a Somaliland university student.

The race fee includes security, translation, housing, a trip to see a few historical sites in Somaliland, and special visit with the Somali runners participating. So my total cost is this fee, plus my flight and visa, plus what I hope to contribute to the scholarship program.

This is what my husband and I do – education and running (and so much more!) in the Horn. Plus, I hope to write about this experience, including the horrible, miserable training I’ve already been enduring in Djibouti. I always said it was too hot to train for a marathon in Djibouti. Well…a marathon in Somaliland is what it took to inspire me, I guess.

I’ve completed two marathons, 5 and 6 years ago. I have absolutely no time goal for this one because it will be warm. My training has been really, really hard. The conditions will be uniquely challenging. I will be fully covered, which will increase the heat factor and the rash factor. But I know I can do it. It won’t be pretty and it won’t be impressive, but I can accomplish this goal.

Will you help me? If each person who reads Djibouti Jones gave even $1.00, I’d beat my goal: $3,500. (Anything donated over that goal will also go toward funding education in the Horn.)

I opened a Go Fund Me campaign. Here’s what I’ll do for those who donate.

$10.00 donation: I will write your name on my clothes or skin so you can run the race with me

$20.00 donation: I’ll do the above, plus you’ll receive a free copy of the Djiboutilicious e-Cookbook

$30.00 or more: all that, plus I’ll send you a Girls Run 2 button, made by my sister, in honor of the girls running team I helped launch here in Djibouti (while supplies last).

If you’ve enjoyed Djibouti Jones over the years, been encouraged or helped by even a few of my posts and essays, would you consider saying ‘thank you’ by donating to this race and university scholarship?

Thank YOU for reading along!

Wishing you many happy miles,


Click here to go straight to the Go Fund Me campaign.

17 Things to Know Before You Come to Djibouti

I get many emails from people coming to Djibouti wondering about everything from where to get decent Wi-Fi to whether or not there are local classes for harpists. On days when Djibouti Telecom services flounder, I’m not sure which is more impossible to find – the Wi-Fi or the harp players. Anyway, I could write a book full of tips for visitors or people moving here (oh, wait. I did! Check out Welcome to Djibouti or Djiboutilicious, my award-winning cookbook.) but here are just a few tips, things to know to help plan your trip.

Changing money

There are ATMs, at Casino grocery store, at the banks, at Al-Gamil. Don’t try to get money out on the first of the month, they’re likely to be empty. And make sure to check with your bank on withdrawal fees, which can be quite steep. Or – bring cash and exchange it with the money ladies. These women sit on street corners downtown. They have huge bags of cash in their laps. Franc, Euros, Pounds, Dollars, Yen, Shillings, Biir…Hand them your bills and they’ll exchange it for you, with a good and honest exchange rate.

Know where you are going

If you aren’t going to a major hotel, you will need help finding your destination. There aren’t many street names that people or taxis actually know, and few house or building numbers. Check Google Maps to get an idea but don’t expect it to be super accurate, many roads (like ours) don’t show up.

Get high on khat

If you like to try your hand at local (and legal) narcotics, you’ve come to the right country. Khat is a leafy amphetamine chewed mostly by men, mostly in the afternoons. It is sold by young women from wooden stalls along every road in town. Bring a towel to wrap your bundle in, to keep it fresh and cool. Beware if the khat plane doesn’t come in for a day or two, people get upset. Also, beware of taxis or buses zooming around town at the time of khat delivery. They will stop for no one and will take any side of the road.

Go for fish

Find a Yemeni restaurant and order mukhbasa with all the side dishes. For the most authentic experience, try one of the restaurants on Avenue 13. For a cleaner, more family and female friendly (and more expensive but air-conditioned) experience, try Janateyn, across the street from the Al-Gamil grocery store.

Drink the tea

The water tastes a bit salty but is safe for drinking so pull up an overturned aluminum can near a tea stand and indulge. Don’t be surprised if someone offers to pay for your drink and feel free to engage in conversation with strangers.

Have a friendly banter response ready for anyone who offers a marriage proposal

If you are a single foreigner, one of the highest compliments a local can give is to offer you a wife or a husband. Even if you aren’t single, men can have up to four wives. One of my husband’s common responses is, “I can only handle one woman at a time!”

Dress wisely

Yes, you can wear sleeveless shirts and shorts but this is a Muslim country and doing so will likely attract at least some unwanted attention. Feel free to be yourself, but also be respectful. You’re a guest here.

Learn Fromalishicar

The official languages here are French and Arabic. But mostly, people mix it all up. A little English, a lot of French, Somali, Arabic, and Afar, sometimes in the same sentence, sometimes even in the same word. I’ve been known to start a verb in Somali, end it with a French ending and follow up it with an English word.

Save your airplane ticket stubs

All those tiny pieces torn off your ticket? The ones you usually stuff into the seat pocket in front of you or drop on the floor? Immigration officials at the airport will ask for all of them. Not sure what they do if you have an e-ticket, but be ready to pull it up on your phone.

You don’t have to stay at the Kempinski

You can, if you are able and willing to pay. And if you want to be sheltered from the rest of Djibouti. But there are lots of other hotels (and Air BnB’s) that offer decent prices, clean rooms, helpful staff.

Be discrete when taking photos

Ask permission. Many people are happy to be part of your experience, especially when you treat them with respect and ask for permission or tell them how beautiful you find their blue scarf blowing against the yellow doorway, or their line of laundry or the way the men choreograph cement-tossing while building a house. Don’t photograph the many military installations or the police or embassies.

Get out of the city

Local tourist sites include a juniper forest that is home to the endangered francolin bird, kayaking near flocks of flamingos, Djibouti’s Grand Canyon, an active volcano, the Salt Lake, Tadjourah and Sable Blanc, Obock – home of the oldest, still functioning lighthouse in Djibouti.

Expect to see military, local and international

Djibouti hosts the largest US military base in Africa as well as contingents from Japan, China, France, Germany, Italy, Turkey, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia is currently in talks to open a base.

It is hot

Nicknames for Djibouti usually include a reference to hell or demons. Summer temperatures pass 120 degrees Fahrenheit. So yeah, its hot. I really have baked cookies in my car. But it is also so much more than hot. Almost every single news story out of Djibouti focuses on: heat, the salt lake, and the military bases. So sweat and drink a lot of water and talk about something else.

Ask for help

While rare, there are occasional muggings or issues of sexual harassment that occur. If you, especially if you are female, ever feel in danger, like you are being followed or that someone is talking to you inappropriately, you can ask for help and locals will step in to protect you. Djiboutians are kind and proud of the peace in their country. They want visitors to have a positive experience and aren’t afraid to step in, even to come to the assistance of a stranger.

Feel free to crash a wedding

If someone invites you to a party, it doesn’t matter if you know the bride or groom, you are more than welcome. Be sure to greet the wedding party with either a handshake or cheek kisses, wish them congratulations (hambalyo) and stand for a photograph, don’t smile, stare straight ahead as disinterestedly as possible.

Ask for a mélange of halwad in the market, Suuqa Riyaad

This is a sticky candy, best eaten fresh and warm and you can get a small bag full for less than a few hundred franc ($2-3.00). Cheap and delicious sugar high.

Enjoy your visit! Djibouti just ranked in #4 on Lonely Planet’s list of top countries to visit in 2018. So if you are coming based off that recommendation, I hope you have a wonderful experience.

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Parenting and Risk, Outside the Camp

Quick link: I’m Not Called to Keep My Kids from Danger

This is an article published by Christianity Today Women. (I hope fathers as well as mothers read it, or are thinking about these topics as they parent!) The piece was commissioned in response to a recent post John Piper wrote about bringing kids abroad, to live in risky or dangerous places.

His piece focused on spiritual risks. I’ve written a lot about fear and danger, mostly in terms of physical aspects. I believe, as I wrote in the Proper Weight of Fear, that safety is an illusion, it can even be crafted into an idol. No matter where we live, our kids are never guaranteed any level of safety. What are we going to do with that sobering reality? My piece responds to Piper’s, with a personal take.

Fifteen years ago, my husband and I did the riskiest thing we could imagine and took a job in the Horn of Africa. People often responded by asking, “Are you bringing the kids?” We had two-year-old twins at the time.

…Yes, we were bringing the kids.

It still amazes me that people ask this question. But I heard from a friend who arrived in Africa about a year ago, she too, had been asked this. And several others have commented that people ask the same question.

Yes! We’re bringing our kids. And we don’t believe we are destroying them.

As I drafted this essay, I asked my kids if they thought they lived a dangerous or uncomfortable life. One responded, “I think its pretty comfortable. But from the outside, someone might not think that.”

One thing about risk and danger and pushing beyond our comfort zones, is that it is, partly, a matter of perspective. I look back at the US lately, and I feel a tingle of fear! I’m starting to understand my African friends who ask, “Aren’t you afraid to visit the United States?” and who assume I would have no fear about living where we do. Clearly, some places are more dangerous, physically, than others. I have never been to Mogadishu. Also, we do face unique risks regarding disease and healthcare. I am not ignoring those scary realities. But, the conversation about fear and risk is more than physical danger and more than simply thinking everywhere outside the US is less safe.

Anyway, head over to CT, and read the piece, about going outside the camp.

I’m Not Called to Keep My Kids from Danger


Good Things, the Fourth

Taking note of one good thing, one beautiful thing, one thing to be thankful for each day.

1 lunch with friends at an Indian restaurant

2 ordered a cinnamon sugar waffle, received a crepe

3 open mic night, the first, at the African Village

4 a dream, coming true

5 Kenya

6 all five Joneses together

7 pancakes and coffee on the edge of Nairobi National Park

8 six teenage girls lounging on beds, talking serious, talking nonsense

9 giraffes, zebras, warthogs, wildebeest, ostriches, elands, verver monkeys, baboons, antelopes, gazelles

10 a new and eager student

11 overnight oats with frozen blueberries, bananas, and cinnamon

12 shower drains that drain

13 a gift of fresh fish

13b an interview with Kenyan Henry Wanyoike, vision-impaired world record holder in the marathon

14 blindfolded run, a fundraiser. How much does it cost for a blind school to have more than one toilet for 80 students?

15 Henry Wanyoike, speaking to our students about overcoming

16 running fast in the desert, along the ocean

17 a young man pulled, alive, from rubble in Mogadishu after being buried for 40 hours. Hope is not an option.

18 sugar, olive oil, and lavender essential oil foot scrub

19 gifts for a friend about to get married

20 pool party with friends from around the world, barbecue chicken legs, chilled watermelon, French chocolate mousse

21 conversation with Somalia’s female football (soccer) and handball coach

22 a friend who took over my kitchen and made me Chinese fish and rice

23 chatting with my dad

24 a batch of chocolate chip cookies x 6

25 puddles

26 the grocery store employee who walked me to my car, through a torrential downpour, with an umbrella

27 blueberry pie and chicken tortilla soup, in that order

28 productivity, with the Civil Wars in the background

29 a new word, chork, the sound feet make in shoes full of water. My feet, when I run in Djibouti. They chork.

30 my dad, a successful surgery

31 witches, skeletons, Jedi warriors, Dorothy, Batman, Santa Claus, bunnies, baseball players, Frankenstein, princesses, chefs, pumpkin heads, doctors, and a pink Power Ranger

What are your good things lately?

good things 1

good things 2

good things 3





Broken Things

You might think this will be a deep, vulnerable, moving essay about brokenness and healing and loss. Nope. It is about things that are broken. Just a few things around my house to give you a taste for the reality of living here.

My kitchen faucet. Crooked, but works so I guess it isn’t technically broken.

My kitchen sink drain. It is at a slight upward angle from the rest of the sink so I have to push all the water with my hand to drain it.

My shower head. Try to shower at that angle. Just try.

My shower drain. Drains, but only when plunged every other day.

My shower pipes. Somehow they just can’t get the spacing right. This means we only use one faucet or water will spray out the side. No worries, there is no temperature control anyway. Not because that is broken, just because it doesn’t exist here. Summertime=hot showers, winter=cold showers.

My bathroom door. Pieces of it are peeling away in large chunks.

My bedroom wall. If my husband and I fight and we slam the door, chunks of wall fall to the ground, from several walls, not just this one. Oh wait, we never do that, so no worries.

My shed door. Used to hang on hinges but once it fell off we used it to cover the gaping hole in our patio over the sewer so that no one (else, sorry) will fall into our (actual, in the truest sense of the word) crap. Now it just leans against the shed (inside of which, the ceiling is falling to the floor).

My door frame. Why, oh why would you build a door and a frame to actually fit each other?

My bathroom light switch. Nothing like risking electric shock from 220 volts while damp from a shower or after washing your hands.

Loose cords. They must be broken, because they must have been attached to something at some point in time. But that thing is no longer here and the cords just dangle. All over the house.

My washing machine. The bottom is rusting off so water pours out this corner.

All in all, we love our house and are so thankful for it. We live in a quiet, boring, lovely neighborhood. We have a big, ugly, thorn-strewn dirt yard that is perfect for volleyball and soccer. We have a house that is a good size for our family, with an imperfect but pleasant design. We have stairs inside. They go nowhere, but they provide the illusion of space. We have running water, most of the time. We have electricity and internet, except when we don’t.

We have memories and game nights and delicious barbecues and holiday parties (just don’t all stand over the sewer at the same time…). Sure, things are broken, but we’re okay with that.