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Sexual Harassment. Here We Go Again.

I was going to just put this on Instagram. But it got long.

Real talk about life in Djibouti.

Last night, while walking with a friend, we were assaulted not once, but TWICE, by boys. Using the word “assault” feels extreme, but what else do you call being followed, surrounded, insulted, and ass-pinched by 8-10 people?

I have developed the ability, out of sad and infuriating necessity, to shout and shame like you might not believe. I can turn it on and off, because I have to, on a regular basis. It doesn’t make a difference. I, and other women both local and foreign, continue to be assaulted.

It does not matter where we are, who are with, or what we are wearing. It has happened to me in all manner of scenarios. It has happened to me while with my husband.

I feel angry enough when this happens to me. But when it happens to one of my kids or to one of the people we have brought here to work, I rage.

Here is what I mean. If you’ve followed me long, you’ve heard it before:

Rock thrown and hit me in the head.
Rocks thrown and hit me in the back, legs, ankles, arms, scatter at my feet.
Cars and motorcycles and bikers swerve at me, intentionally.
Breast squeezed through an open car window.
Groped.
Blocked on my bicycle.
Butt punched by two man on a motorcycle. Hard.
Breast grazed by man on bicycle reaching out sideways.
Hair pulled by girls in market.
My daughter’s butt pinched.
My butt pinched. How many times? I’ve lost count.
Insulted with hand gestures, facial gestures, and words.
Words like: whore, slut, prostitute, sex, talk about my underwear and what movements various body parts are doing. I understand it. I wish I didn’t.
Bottle of liquid dumped on me at a stoplight.
Chased by men and boys.
Followed.
Attempted tripping.
Mocked.
Heard people tell other people to chase me.
Told my uterus would fall out.
Told I belonged in the kitchen.
Birthday presents snatched out of my daughter’s hands while walking literally around the corner from our house.
My daughter’s bike being pushed and chased and surrounded.

This is a partial list.

Many of these things have happened multiple times.

These are things that happen on regular days, while I do regular things. I refuse to cower in my house, that’s not a life. So I refuse to be kept down by this. But also? It sucks.

Assault and harassment feel like shame to women. It makes us feel ashamed and gross and vulnerable. But you know what? No.

Shame on the assaulters, the harassers. Shame on the people who see it or hear it and do nothing. Shame on the educators and parents and elders and friends who don’t model or teach better behavior.

I mostly enjoy living in Djibouti. When people hear how long we’ve been here, they say, “Oh! You must really love it.” And I do, most of the time. But this is a long list and it wears on a person. We actually moved out of our last house because I had developed so much anxiety about simply going outside the front door.

At that time, we involved our landlord, the police, the school director of the school across the street. Nothing changed.

Look, I know worse things happen. Bad shit does not make this stuff less bad. One bad thing does not erase another bad thing. I know it isn’t everyone. I know it happens in other countries too. Great. Fine. Still. Whatever. All of it needs to stop. I know rape and violent assault happen. I don’t hear people talk about it here, but we live in the world. And the world is violent toward women.

So maybe raising a stink about the bad stuff that happens to me will someday encourage someone to raise a stink about the worse stuff happening to them.

If someone says, “This list is nothing compared to the rapes that occur,” then I will respond with, “Oh really? Let’s talk about the rapes, then.” And the conversation will start.

Enough. I’m not asking for anything radical. I’m asking to be treated like a human. I’m asking to be freaking left alone.

Enough.

Writing about it feels satisfying and dissatisfying. My little angry posts aren’t going to make someone say, “Oh, maybe I shouldn’t reach for that breast.” I don’t expect this to change a thing. I even get told to shut up when I talk about this, so the opposite of what I would hope.

I’m taking it up a notch. Next time? I’ll snap a photo and go to the nearest police officer. I am going to report. Report. Report. Maybe no one else does. Maybe no one else talks about it. Well, I will. Probably, the reports will lead to nothing. Fine. I’ll still report it and maybe, after years, there will be some action.

Yeah, I’m angry. I should be.

 

Here are my other public posts about this. I also wrote one exclusive essay in a past newsletter about the most violent incident that happened to me. Maybe I will make that one public later this week.

The Story Women Need to Tell

What Happens Every Time I Write about Sexual Harassment

This is My Body. Thou Shalt Not Break It.

Talking to Third Culture Kids about Sexual Harassment

Going Crazy

Going Crazy and Jesus

Headshots. Schmeadshots.

I love having my photo taken.

False.

I am all about makeup and cute clothes.

False.

It is super easy to smile and look natural while also looking cute and smart and interesting and trying not to look like the dorky, nerdy, clueless person I am.

False.

Alas.

I had new headshots taken.

I wanted a picture that makes someone think, “Oh, hey! I bet that lady wrote a great book. I would really like to read that book. I would really like to sit down with her over coffee and talk about the things she writes. She looks like someone I can trust, someone welcoming.” I kind of also wanted to look like someone who vacillates between wild hope and desperate cynicism. Not sure that came across but that’s where I sit, swinging between those two extremes and wishing that I could just settle into the happy middle. That’s what, I think, you’ll find in a lot of what I write.

The old pics were almost seven years old. In those seven years, schtuff happened. Schtuff that continued to develop both the hope and the cynicism.

I got cancer. Took it out. It came back. I graduated two out of three of my children. They haven’t come back (yet). I got more wrinkles, lost a lot of hair, developed new scars. Started to get more of those weird bumps that just pop out with age and also some of those funny red dots. What are they anyway?

Jessica Lee Gardner took the pics. We took them at Villa Camille, the cutest new cafe in Djibouti. I didn’t sweat through my shirt until we were nearly done. We did have to stop a few times to wipe the sweat that was dripping, dripping I tell you!, off my face from the exertion of sitting still and moving my face muscles.

Ah, the natural Djibouti glow.

It is funny, the things you know and notice about your own face that probably no one else even thinks about. I have to be careful of curls boinging out at strange angles so as to avoid looking like I have horns. I can see my scar in some of the pictures, depending on how my head is tilted or if I swallowed right when she snapped. I see the veins and lines and they all tell the story of me. Jessica said she didn’t notice any of these things and never even thought about the scar. So. We are all vain and we should all knock it off because no one else cares.

Here are a couple, you might see a variety of them in all the places we writers put our faces.

And if you are in Djibouti and want some pictures taken, Jessica is amazing. Check her out here.

 

 

By |August 14th, 2019|Categories: Uncategorized|Tags: , , |Comments Off on Headshots. Schmeadshots.

One Word and Taking Risks

Here are two things that came out this week:

One Word: An Interview with My Teenager Daughter

This was super fun to do – interview my own kid? Yes, please. She’s so great. Check out our conversation about the word she chose for 2019, why she chose it, and how she is leaning into it.

And Part Two of my conversation with Jen Howat, at the Giving Up Normal podcast. This part includes my encouragement to those who might be struggling to take the leap into the unknown of something hard, or risky.

Enjoy!

 

Three Sisters Respond to Losing Rachel Held Evans

I attended the 2018 Evolving Faith conference with my two sisters. I posted this photo of us while there.

I brought with me a recent cancer diagnosis. We laughed about the Enneagram. We cried the way only sisters can, when facing fear and grief and brokenness, and also love.

I ran into, unexpectedly, one of my dearest college friends (shout out to Jessica Jones, designer of the Djibouti Jones logo and no relation except being soul-friends for life) and her husband. I met writing friends for the first time in person: Sarah Quezada, Tara Livesay, Sarah Bessey, Idelette McVicker, Tina Francis, Rachel Held Evans.

Living and writing from the Horn of Africa has meant most of my writing connections are virtual. It means I miss all the conferences and gatherings. It means my stories, though full of similar questions, doubts, joys, and hopes, sound foreign and strange. It means the chance to hug, shake hands with, and share actual voice exchanges with women I have long admired and interacted with, was intensely unique and precious for me.

Plus, I was there with my sisters. Which was awesome.

***

I woke one morning in late April, 2019, with a short WhatsApp message from one of those sisters.

“Did you see the news about Rachel Held Evans?”

We started to pray.

I woke a week later to another message from my sister.

“Did you see the news about Rachel Held Evans? So tragic.”

I started to cry.

(in case you missed it, Rachel passed away on the morning of May 4, 2019, you can read a tribute to her by her friends Sarah and Jeff in the Washington Post here.)

As so many of us have cried. And prayed, for her husband and children, her sister and parents, her friends, her people – us – the ones on the outer edges, the ones she challenged and who challenged her back in the push and pull of spiritually wrestling, and who always felt heard and like more than “just” internet friends.

It is just so, so sad.

I got another message from both sisters, two days later.

One wrote, “I’m so sad about RHE and I don’t even really know her stuff or her at all. Just so sad for her family and for all the people who have been impacted by her.”

I wrote back, “Me too. It is unreal. Death sucks.”

Then my other sister wrote, “I’m not sure why, but her death is really impacting me. I’m struck by the words of those she left behind: women, and especially women of color, LGBTQ folks, outsiders. It feels like a motley crew – like the kind of crew that gathered around Jesus. I didn’t follow her closely so don’t have a personal feeling of loss. But I’m deeply struck by how influential she was in her pursuit of truth, and her courage in doing so. I want to be that way. I want to stand up for women and the oppressed. Is that not what we are called to do?!

She went on, and I’ll quote her entirely because, dang, my sisters are awesome.

“I find myself being angry at ‘the church.’ It doesn’t make sense to me anymore that women can’t lead or that we wouldn’t accept gay people. I’m tired of old white male leadership. I’m not angry (ok, that’s not quite true) but I feel so disappointed. Somehow (thank you, mom and dad!) I still feel this deep love for Jesus, for God. I feel so deeply that he loves us and knows us, created and calls us. But I have no more patience for arguing about who is in the tent. Or who can lead or be at our table. We just don’t have the time for that. We are called to Love. We are called to give and forgive. That is hard and enough. We are called to go to the hard places. That is hard enough. Let us go to the hard places.”

The only words I could find in response were, “Amen and amen.”

I love my sisters. I am grateful to the point of tears for our relationship (and also our brother – shout out to you, bro!).

Which makes me think of Rachel’s sister, Amanda Opelt. I know that Rachel’s sister loved her, too. The hole must be immense. May she feel love. May she be able to laugh at memories, even while she weeps. May she feel held.

May Amanda somehow feel my sisters and I, gathering up her tears and sending tender sister blessings to her soul.

Rachel will be missed. The words my sisters expressed are part of her legacy.

A call to go to the hard places. A call to love. A call to courage. A call to cling to Jesus.

***

The next WhatsApp message we exchanged among sisters was a Mother’s Day image saying, “She pees her pants every time she coughs because of you. Send the woman flowers.”

Because that’s the kind of range sisters can cover in a matter of hours.

***

Here are Rachel’s books.

Inspired: Slaying Giants, Walking on Water, and Loving the Bible Again

Searching for Sunday: Loving, leaving, and finding the church (I was part of voting for this one when it won a Christianity Today award)

A Year of Biblical Womanhood: How a liberated woman found herself sitting on the roof, covering her head, and calling her husband “Master.”

Faith Unraveled: How a girl who knew all the answers learned to ask questions  (this one is on sale as of this posting, a Kindle deal. And a really good book.)

*affiliate links

The Bookshelf, January 2019

The holidays, my brother’s wedding, and family in town meant I did not read much in December.

But cancer and isolation in January meant I had loads of time to read. Plus, I received two gift cards for places where the only thing I could purchase was books. Awesome! I couldn’t repurpose the gifts to buy socks for my kids or groceries. I had to buy books, which I did with great delight.

A Tree Full of Angels, by Macrina Wiederkehr. Beautiful. This quote says it all, “You live in a world of theophanies. Holiness comes wrapped in the ordinary. There are burning bushes all around you. Every tree is full of angels. Hidden beauty is waiting in every crumb. Life wants to lead you from crumbs to angels, but this can happen only if you are willing to unwrap the ordinary by staying with it long enough to harvest its treasure.”

The Coddling of the American Mind. This book was fascinating. As a parent of two college students, a person involved in education, and an expatriate observing America from afar, I appreciated this balanced perspective on rage culture, “safetyism,” and changing ideas of what is violent or offensive. I admit to be slightly confused as to why a person feels unsafe because they are assigned a reading by someone they disagree with. Especially when in my world, I feel unsafe when people throw stones at me or grab my butt when I walk in the street. The dichotomy made it hard to understand aspects of American news. This book also brought about really great conversations with my college kids about campus culture, and mental health.

The Incendiaries, by R.O. Kwon. I read another novel, you guys! Must be the radioactivity going to my brain. I enjoyed it. Campus life, politics, religion…it was a quick and interesting read. According to NPR, “In The Incendiaries Kwon has created a singular version of the campus novel; it turns out to be a story about spiritual uncertainty and about the fierce and undisciplined desire of her young characters to find something luminous to light their way through their lives.”

Invitation to Retreat by Ruth Haley Barton. This was a gentle, sweet read to guide me into my days of nuclear-treatment and isolation for my cancer. If you are considering a few days of retreat, consider reading this ahead of time or bring it along.

Proud by Ibtihaj Muhammed. I love reading about women and sports, especially Muslim women and sports because there aren’t many stories in print (yet). And the story is a good one. My one complaint is that I found it a bit slow going.

Louder than Words: harness the power of your authentic voice, by Todd Henry. A lot of this book is geared toward writers, or creatives, but it is for more than just us. Its for for anyone trying to find their vocation, or passion, or obsession. The highlight for me was how Henry takes the reader through practical exercises to help develop a “manifesto” that can guide our decisions about work, creative or not.

Fear and Faith: finding the peace your heart craves, by Trillia Newbell. I read this in basically one sitting, while waiting in the waiting room and then the nuclear medicine room as I waited for my radioactive iodine treatment. They had to take a required pregnancy test, which meant I had a long time to wait. I love the title and there were plenty of wise words in this book. I appreciated her vulnerability about her own fears and losses. Sometimes, I find Christian books like this to be basically some nice stories and then some Bible verses. I wanted her to dig deeper. That could be a reaction stemming from my 16 years abroad – culture shock or culture shift or something. Like when she writes, like so many other American Christians, “For now, know what God wants to remind us that he will take care of all our needs…” and goes on to say how our basic needs like food and shelter will be met. And I want to shout, “But what about when they aren’t?!” Because that is what I see in the Horn of Africa and can’t yet find a book that is honest about how sometimes God doesn’t meet those needs we consider ‘basic human rights.’ Who is God then, and what is his plan? I believe he is still good and present, but let’s talk about that.

The Plot Whisperer: secrets of story structure any writer can master, by Martha Alderson. This book also comes with a workbook. For anyone working on a novel, screenplay, even a memoir, this book is incredibly practical and useful. Using the Universal Story as a guideline (ala Story, by Robert McKee), she breaks down what needs to happen over the course of a story, and when.

I Am, I Am, I Am by Maggie O’Farrell. A memoir of near-death experiences. This book was scary and hopeful and brave and interesting. Every chapter is about one of the author’s near-death experiences. It made me think about when or if I’ve had experiences like that and how I’ve responded.

 

By |January 14th, 2019|Categories: Uncategorized|Tags: |0 Comments