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.

10 Reasons Expats Should Start a Blog, Even in 2018

Blogging is so, like, 2010, isn’t it? Everyone is podcasting now, or vlogging, or has a YouTube channel. Right? Has blogging turned into MySpace? Who even remembers MySpace?

Blogging has changed, I’ll admit that. There are far fewer comments on blogs these days. Blogs are far less likely to get anyone a book deal or catch a literary agent’s eye.

But, there are a lot of good reasons to have a blog that have nothing to do with a writing career, and the comments that used to be on blogs have simply moved to places like the blogger’s Facebook page, or Facebook Group or Twitter live chat the blogger opened. Community engagement and finding that ‘me too!’ person from across the globe can still happen through blogs.

But what are some other, valuable, reasons to start a blog today, in 2018? (Here’s 11 things I learned, from way back in 2013, about blogging that might help you get started)

Keep a Record. We all want to journal, right? We wish we had the discipline and the time and the creativity and that our hand-writing muscles hadn’t atrophied after all these years away from pen and paper. But who among us really, truly, honestly keeps a regular journal? I don’t. Except, I do. Its more polished and far less vulnerable than a Dear Diary would be, but I have a pretty good record of the last eleven years, including photos.

Keep family and friends back ‘home’ informed. You can’t email everyone, you can’t Facebook everyone. But you can post a story or a photo and pass it along.

Have a landing place. You don’t know what the future holds. Maybe a book or music or painting…why not carve out a little place for yourself right now on the internet and see where it goes?

It will be good for you. You’ll learn some HTML, you’ll grow in courage every time you hit publish, you’ll work on ‘finding your voice’ or your art or your dreams. It can be a creative outlet that isn’t language learning or changing diapers or whatever your daily mundane is right now. You can grow in discipline and play with a new creative outlet.

Motivation to learn. You want to learn about local marriage customs but have lacked motivation? Want to try a new skill but can’t find the up-and-go energy? Maybe the idea of putting something on a blog can get you out the door or help you ask a friend new questions.

Earn money. It is still possible to earn money blogging. This is also super hard. I’ve been blogging for eleven years and still don’t make enough from my website to even pay for the website. I use Amazon’s affiliate program (which, by the way, it would be awesome if you clicked through when you’re doing your shopping, at no added cost to you, a few pennies kick back to Djibouti Jones, help keep the site alive!). I sell ebooks (slowly: Djiboutilicious Cookbook and Welcome to Djibouti). I host Google adsense. I’ve recently signed up for more affiliate programs. In total, I earn enough to buy myself a cup of coffee some months. So yeah, not a great income generator. BUT…that can really depend on your niche. Blog about tech, about cooking, about something people actually spend money on, and it is still possible. Blog like it’s a hobby, not so much. Blog like it’s a full time job, you could earn something.

Build a community. Albeit, online, but some of my online friends have become in real life friends, or at least on real phone calls friends. They are people I love, people I pour my heart out to, people I never would have met if I hadn’t started blogging and for whom I am eternally thankful.

Provide a service. You have a unique skill set or knowledge base that you could give to the world. Travel tips, cooking where there is no refrigeration tips, raising children in a multilingual environment tips…your information can be incredibly useful to someone out there.

People do still read. Yup. A-mazing. But true. They still read. I still read.

It is easier to skim a blog post than a vlog or a podcast. Yes, people still read, but we also skim. A lot. Sometimes I just want a recipe I can follow and listening to one isn’t helpful. Or I want some tips on transitioning Third Culture Kids to university or I need to figure out how to fix my TomTom watch. Vlogs and podcasts can be a waste of time when I want something specific. Blogs are better for this.

No, it is not too late to start a blog in 2018. Yes, you should start one if you’ve been considering it.

But how?

I’ll tell ya next week. For now, consider checking out Master Class where Annie Leibovitz Teaches Photography and Wolfgang Puck Teaches Cooking.

James Patterson Teaches You To Writer A Bestseller. Learn More.


*contains affiliate links

The Bookshelf: All Our Waves are Water, a Review

(I received a free copy of this book)

I first read Jaimal Yogis’s work in his book The Fear Project: What Our Most Primal Emotion Taught Me About Survival, Success, Surfing . . . and Love. Fear is a common theme in my own writing – feeling it, describing it, facing it, overcoming it, living with it…so I was curious about his perspective on fear, through the lens of surfing. It was a beautiful and challenging exploration of living with fear, but not bending to it. Here is just one quote, of many, that I wrote down:

“If we can understand fear rather than demonize it, reframe fear as a natural part of our biology rather than avoiding and repressing it, stretch our comfort zones just a little every day and walk peacefully and courageously into those scary memories of embarrassment and trauma, we will gradually learn to transform fear into focus and compassionate action, and our sons’ and daughters’ world can be better than the one we live in. Will we collectively freeze, fight, and stagnate? Or will we learn and act?”

When Jaimal contacted me to review his newest book, All Our Waves Are Water, I was eager for the book to get all the way to Djibouti. I’m not a surfer, but a runner, so a fellow athlete. I’m not Buddhist but I seek to uncover the holy and the Divine in daily life and the exploration of all faiths intrigues me. I am a lover of water. I grew up in Minnesota, land of 10,000 lakes. I’ve lived 15 years within a mile or two of the ocean. So – sport, faith, water, book. So many of the things I love, yes, this would be a great book for me to read and review.

I read it in two days, even during the holiday season.

Jaimal had a significant challenge on his hands in writing this book. Faith, especially the mystical aspects of it, is one of the hardest things to describe in words without sounding, well, not quite sane. And to get non-surfers to understand and appreciate the thrill, terror, and irresistible pull of a wave without sounding condescending, redundant, or confusing, must have felt daunting. I’ll admit I didn’t quite grasp all the surfing scenes, or quite understand some of his more deeply experienced religious moments. But that works in this book. Faith is embracing mystery. The surfer’s high, or low, like the runner’s high or low, is intangible. Writers throw words at meditation or the ocean or God and they are our attempts to name the unnamable. I didn’t mind that I couldn’t exactly picture what he described and instead, I imposed my own mystical faith experiences and sport experience over his, and felt a sort of kinship.

The book is poetic, especially when he writes about the water and describes waves. It is a story about friendship and love and faith and surfing around the world. But ultimately, it is a story about Jaimal’s search, which is the search of so many of us. Through nations, girlfriends, friends, studying, working, yoga, meditation, and surfing, Jaimal takes the reader along on his search for self and for grace.

He finds both, even while acknowledging that every day presents a fresh opportunity to search yet deeper. But grace and his sense of identity are not actually in the waves, or the water, not in his work, not in his romantic relationships, not in the experiences he had of traveling all over the world, not in the yoga meditation or retreats. At least not in any of these things exclusively or eternally. He finds himself and uncovers grace in daily life.

The holy in the ordinary, grace in the mundane, self where you are.

After a rather shocking experience, he writes, “…had given me a gift. He’d made me recall briefly that nothing beats spring pasta on a Tuesday with your girlfriend, the sensation of breath in your lungs, a walk on the dunes after dinner, the full moon sinking behind the city.”

I finished the book and wanted to do two things: run to the ocean and dip my fingers in, to taste the salty water that so perfectly accompanies the book, and to be more faithful in practicing meditation. A book that calls the reader to experience nature with joy and to sit quietly, exploring the soul, is a good book. Even if you miss some of the the surfing nuances or don’t follow the same specific faith ideas, there are depths of beauty and honesty to enjoy in All Our Waves Are Water.

And more of Jaimal Yogis’s work here

A Christmas Story about a Surprising Baby Named God (not that one)

Quick link: A Muslim, a Christian, and a Baby Named God


This is a story close to my heart because it is about my first friend here, someone who was and remains exceedingly precious to me and my whole family. Someone who made me believe that this place, so different from Minnesota, could become home. Someone, without whom, I sincerely doubt we could have stayed so long.

When I needed someone to love my kids, she did. When I needed someone to make me laugh, she could. When I wanted to understand a cultural thing, she untangled it for me. When I need someone to hear my anger or my sorrow, she welcomed it.

This is a story of two women, coming from such different places, with such different faiths and such different ways of living, and finding each other, finding ourselves, together. It is about becoming mothers and about digging into our souls and finding beauty there.

When God and his mother were released from the maternity ward they came directly to my house to use the air conditioner. It was early May and the summer heat that melted lollipops and caused car tires to burst enveloped Djibouti like a wet blanket. Power outages could exceed ten hours a day. Temperatures hadn’t peaked yet, 120 degrees would come in August, but the spring humidity without functioning fans during power outages turned everyone into hapless puddles. I prepared a mattress for Amaal* and her newborn and prayed the electricity would stay on so she could use the air conditioner and rest, recover.

In 2004 when my family arrived in Djibouti, I needed help minimizing the constant layer of dust; Amaal needed a job. I needed a friend and Amaal, with her quick laugh and cultural insights became my lifeline. My husband worked at the University of Djibouti and was gone most mornings and afternoons, plus some evenings. We had 4-year-old twins and without Amaal I might have packed our bags and returned to Minnesota out of loneliness and culture shock.

I hired Amaal before she had any children. She wasn’t married yet and her phone often rang while she worked, boys calling to see what she was doing on Thursday evening. To see if she wanted to go for a walk down the streets without street lights where young people could clandestinely hold hands or drink beer from glass Coca-Cola bottles. She rarely said yes until Abdi Fatah* started calling. He didn’t drink alcohol and didn’t pressure her into more physical contact than she was comfortable with in this Muslim country. She felt respected. She said yes.

Click here to read the rest of A Muslim, a Christian, and a Baby Named God