Worlds Apart, a Book Review

Worlds Apart, by Marilyn Gardner

This is the revised version of Passages Through Pakistan and I had the incredible honor of writing the forward. Marilyn has been an online shepherd for me for over five years now. Though we haven’t met (yet) in person, she knows and holds, with gentle wisdom, the deep waters of my heart. When I’ve agonized over boarding school woes or needed someone to pull me together after writerly rejections, Marilyn always has a word of hope and perspective.

Just because I love her, doesn’t mean you will. But. I’m sure you will, after you read her words. Don’t take my word for it, delve into her wisdom on your own. If you haven’t found her website yet, check out Communicating Across Boundaries. If you wonder about her thoughts on being a Third Culture Kid, read Between Worlds. And if you want to know what made her into the generous, creative, thoughtful, joyful person she is today, here is Worlds Apart.

Through trauma and laughter, boarding school in Pakistan to transitioning to the United States, Marilyn opens up her experiences so we can benefit from her perspective and example.

One scene, among many, that pricked my heart is of Marilyn’s mother attempting to plant a garden in Pakistan. She longs for the vibrant colors of the place she left behind but the earth is unrelenting and nothing will grow. Finally, she gives up and plants fake flowers, for the splash of brightness. From a distance, at least, it is beautiful. And then, it is stolen. Marilyn remembers thinking, as a child, “I thought we were loved.” Why would someone steal flowers from someone they loved?

The story captures the hard work, creativity, delight, devastation, and recovery inherent in so many experiences of living abroad.

The last chapter is especially pertinent to me personally, as I’m about to launch my twins back to the US for university. She offers practical tips and deeper, heart-level suggestions on how Third Culture Kids can process and grow in their unique lives.

If you are a Third Culture Kids, or know or love one, if haven’t lived abroad but you’d like to glimpse the realities of someone who has, if want to see beauty in crossing cultures, you will love this book.

20 Questions with Jordan Wylie

Oooo boy, if there is one thing I need to work on, it is interviews and podcasts and thinking on my feet.

I did it again. (Here’s my interview with the New York Times for the Modern Love podcast and here is my interview with the World Citizen podcast)

Check out the podcast episode Jordan Wylie and I recorded while in Somaliland. I don’t know what makes me more nervous – toeing the line for a marathon or posting the link to this podcast. (You have to actually click the link and listen on soundcloud, I couldn’t get the embed code to work.)

So. Voila. My inner shy child is again on the air. The one who was so shy she never ordered pizza because that would require talking on the telephone to strangers. The one who didn’t purchase things in stores because that would require interacting with the person at the cash register – a stranger. The one who pees like six times before public speaking and who shakes during it and pees again right after it. Yeah, that’s the one you can now listen to, saying ridiculous things, with the incredible Jordan Wylie.


For more about someone truly inspiring: check out more of Jordan’s podcasts here, his Running Dangerously campaign here, and his best-selling book Citadel, about fighting Somali piracy, here.


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.

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)