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.

Word Made Art, a Book Review

My friend Heather Lynn Caliri is releasing a book today, a Lent devotional unlike anything you’ve probably read before. It takes the Word and makes it art, it gets us to engage physically with the Bible again, rather than just reading it on our phones: Word Made Art: Lent: A Scriptural Encounter for Ash Wednesday through Easter

The book itself is short but that’s because it is mostly suggestions and directions and then sends you to the Bible to interact with the pages, the words, the ideas, and your own self. Heather asks deep, probing questions that can guide your time and she has you do art projects with the word. I love this unique way of getting back in literal touch, after spending the past few years on my phone.


I already read the book myself, but am going through it again, with a small group. Each time, it can be fresh, which is something I long for and need, in my faith walk. Lent isn’t a practice I knew growing up and I enjoy this guided way to think about this time before Easter. I really loved this book and am happy to recommend it. Head over to Amazon and get your own copy, Kindle versions are just $2.99 and a paper copy just $7.99.



I received an advance review copy of this book

Running Inspiration

I’m in the high miles, tired legs, growling stomach, ‘do I really need to run again today’, time of marathon training. And honestly? I’m kind of loving it. Yes, its hard to keep rolling out of bed at 5:00 a.m. But also, yes, I love hearing the call to prayer and the hundreds of voices that sound out in chorus from the three mosques that surround our house. All these men, seeking God in community, while I pull on my running clothes and get ready to pursue a crazy dream, in solitude, and essentially, alone. I will most likely not see another female running, unless she is inside the barbed wire fences of the French or American military bases. If I do see other, male, runners, they will most likely pass me, literally leaving me in their desert dust.

On the mornings when it is harder to get out of bed, when I wonder why the heck am I doing this, in this country, preparing for this race, asking people to fund this project…when my legs feel like bricks, when the miles tick by too slowly, when the funds come in at a trickle (you can help change that!!)…I need motivation.

This training is not being done with my sisters, urging my nephew along. I’m not training in shorts and a t-shirt. I’m not training in the woods or near green grass. I can’t rely on things like that to push me along.

Then I remember these kids from the blind school who came to the track to race, inspired by the Kenyan World Record holder for the visually impaired, Henry Wanyoike.

And I remember these girls, with Girls Run 2, the only all-girls running club in Djibouti, which also has the goal of keeping girls in school.

I don’t need reminders of why I’m doing this. I know why. I love running. I care about Somalis. I believe in the power of education. A Somali proverb says, “Aqoonta waa iftiin.” Knowledge is light. A Somali educator at the university where my husband first taught, told us one reason education is so powerful in Somaliland is that it keeps young people out of trouble. It keeps them motivated for their future. It gives them hope and purpose and goals. So, no I don’t need reminders for why I’m doing this.

I need motivation from books and podcasts, I need to feel like I’m not alone. I need to hear from other runners who talk about the pain in their legs but with the kind of awe and respect that sounds slightly nuts to non-runners. Reading books about runners surmounting ridiculous challenges and the love-hate that turns into joy-pride at the end of it.

Where do I turn in those moments?


It Takes a School by Jonathan Starr

About a school in Somaliland. Not running, but a school. Education. What this race is all about. I haven’t finished it yet, but so far, I love it.

What I Talk about When I Talk about Running by Haruki Murakami (read it twice, listened to the audio book once, its in my ‘holds’ list from the Kindle library. again.)

“Its precisely because of the pain, precisely because we want to overcome that pain, that we can get the feeling, through this process, of really being alive – or at least a partial sense of it. Your quality of experience is not based on standards such as time or ranking but on finally awakening to an awareness of the fluidity within action itself.”

And: “What exactly do I think about when I’m running? I don’t have a clue.” Right on.

The Long Run by Catriona Menzies-Pike

I loved this. I had just read Running, a Love Story, which was okay, as is Rachel Toor’s Personal Record, a love affair with running. But these left me wanting more running. More history. Running is already fairly narcissistic, writing about it even more so. The Long Run provided exactly what I was looking for – a book structured around a woman becoming a runner but loaded with fascinating historical information and stories of women running throughout history.

My Year of Running Dangerously by Tom Foreman

I enjoyed this for the unique aspect of the father-daughter relationship that Foreman focuses on. I’ve done a few runs with my kids, too, and it made me kinda teary in a few moments.

The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner by Alan Sillitoe

Fiction. Fiction! I know, I just don’t read much. But, voila. Fiction.

The Perfect Mile by Neal Bascomb

The quest to break the 4:00 mile. Amazing.

The Terrible and Wonderful Reasons Why I Run Long Distances by The Oatmeal

Light reading, silly. Helps me not take it all too seriously.

Run Fast. Eat Slow. by Shalane Flanagan and Elyse Kopecky

Because, I’ll say it again, I peed in a port-a-potty next to the port-a-potty in which she peed. I peed faster. She ran faster.

The recipes in the cookbook? Awesome. The attitude behind the food? Love it.

Pre by Tom Jordan

About Steve Prefontaine, ‘America’s greatest running legend.’

Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand

This is probably my favorite book, if forced to pick. Or at least in my top five. Running plays a minor role in the story but you can’t read it and not feel inspired to persevere.

Born to Run by Christopher McDougall (of course, right?!)

I tried my own barefoot experiment after reading this. Djibouti with heat so hot roads melt, streets littered with everything from condoms to syringes to shattered glass to thorns to camel poop, wasn’t such a great location for the experiment. It lasted for a few runs, then morphed into affecting my shoe choices. I now alternate between shoes with a low heel-to-toe differential and a more supportive shoe and for that, I’m grateful.

Once a Runner by John L. Parker, Jr.

Fiction. Again! What?! That’s right, the runner’s cult classic.

Runners World Magazine (including my own stories, pretty cool!)

And right now I’m reading The Way of the Runner by Adhanarand Finn, author of Running with the Kenyans. (another good book) Haven’t finished this new one yet.



Another Mother Runner

Ali On the Run

Personal Best

Sometimes I find it hard to relate with runners in the United States. They think women have totally overcome hecklers warning us our uterus will fall out if we keep running. They think an 80-degree days means it is too hot to run. They are terrified of coming in last (done it) or being the only person of their gender (been there). Maybe it is time to find (start?!) a global running podcast or website…what am I saying? I think I’ve fried my brain on too many long runs.

What inspires you to run? And run and run and run?

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Check out Djiboutilicious, my award-winning cookbook. If you are moving or traveling to Djibouti, you’ll love the information and tips in Welcome to Djibouti. And if you just want more Djibouti Jones, sign up for my monthly newsletter, Stories from the Horn.

(Click here to support my Somaliland Marathon and Education Fund)

Djibouti’s Artists

I wrote for a couple of books last year and didn’t get to see the actual books for months and months. But now, I have them in hand and am happy to share them with you.

I wrote the introduction to an art book and have one (my first) published photograph in the other.

Here are the books and where you can find them.

Imago Mundi, the Luciano Benetton Collection. Art that breaks the isolation: Contemporary artists from Djibouti, Central African Republic, and Chad

The book is a gorgeous, hardcover collection of paintings from these African nations, with translation in English, French, and Italian. I was asked to write the introduction for Djibouti’s artists, one of the biggest honors I’ve felt so far in my writing work.

My intro is titled Djiboutian Paintings: Revealing What Is Hidden and it is based on the line by Rumi, in Story Water,

Water, stories, the body,

All the things we do, are mediums

That hide and show what’s hidden

The book brings together art and artists, who usually work in isolation here, and cumulative effect is one of beauty, depth, and hope.

This book is available from the Frabica store in Italy, here.

Other books from the collection are available on Amazon, like this one featuring artists from Senegal.


And here’s the book with my photo in it.

En Verden Af Fodbold, by Pelle Mortensen

This is a compilation of incredible football (soccer) photographs from all over the world, including one from Djibouti, one of the few photos showing girls playing football.

The photos are so much fun, kids and adults enjoying play in front of the Eiffel Tower, in Marakesh, barefoot, on beaches, Mogadishu, mountains, schools…

The captions are not translated into English, but the book still makes a fabulous coffee table book for football lovers anywhere.

You can purchase a copy here.

It isn’t available on Amazon but if you only buy stuff from this one behemoth and are inspired to purchase a book like En verden af fodbold, here’s another football (soccer) photography book: Magnum Soccer.

The Bookshelf: New(ish) Books about Somalia

A Man of Good Hope by Jonny Steinberg

This is the story of a Somali man who fled the civil war as a child and ended up in South Africa. From the book’s Amazon page:

“Throughout, A Man of Good Hope is a complex, affecting, ultimately hopeful portrait of Asad’s search for salvation, suffused with dreams and desires and a need to leave something permanent on this earth.”

The Mayor of Mogadishu: A Story of Chaos and Redemption in the Ruins of Somalia by Andrew Harding

This is a book about, clearly, the mayor of Mogadishu. I actually met this man at a conference several years ago, while I was working as a translator and sat at his table. I can only imagine what his life looks like in these devastating days after the awful bomb a few weeks ago.

From the Amazon page:

“The Mayor of Mogadishu is a rare an insider’s account of Somalia’s unraveling, and an intimate portrayal of one family’s extraordinary journey.”

Somalis in the Twin Cities and Columbus: Immigrant Incorporation in New Destinations by Stefanie Chambers

This book compares the lives and adjustments of the Somali communities in Minnesota and in Ohio. As a native Minnesotan, I’ll give you a spoiler: they are more integrated in MN than in Ohio. This is most recently evident in the election of Ilhan Omar to legislature. This book is more academic than the others on this list, but it is well-researched and both informative and challenging.

From Somalia to Snow: How Central Minnesota Became Home to Somalis by Hudda Ibrahim

Speaking of Somalis in Minnesota, how did they come to settle here? I remember going out with young Somali girls when we lived in Minneapolis and my friends wore high heels and thin dresses even in the middle of January, while I stomped around in boots and fluffy winter coats.

I have not had the chance to read this book yet, but am glad to see Somali women producing their own works about their experiences and community in the US.

An Olympic Dream: The Story of Samia Yusuf Omar by Reinhard Kleist

This graphic story follows the journey of Somali Olympian Samia Yusuf Omar, from Mogadishu to the London Olympic games, across North Africa, and into the sea as she attempts to cross to Europe. Samia is seeking a better life, where she can run and live free. The book highlights the plight of so many refugees trying to cross into Europe.

I had the privilege of meeting and interviewing Samia for Running Times and Runners World in 2008, both in Ethiopia and in Djibouti.

What have you been reading lately?

If you are living outside your home country, do you read books by and about the people you now live among? If you don’t – you should!

other Bookshelf posts about Somalia:

Me Against My Brother

About Somalia, by Somalis

*photo by Matt Erickson