Publication and acceptance

I got an email earlier this week that I was accepted into West Chester’s MA program in history.

Today I received an email with information on how to get temporary access to the article on poverty inDjibouti I co-authored with Annette Varcoe for the Sage Encyclopedia on World Poverty, volume 2.

And my husband and I are finally going to see the new James Bond movie Monday.

This post is short, but full of fun news.

Good doesn’t matter

Like any human, I have good days and bad. This weekend was hard for me. Blame hormones. A sick cat. Family members who don’t see eye to eye with me. Whatever you like. Reality is… Such is life.

I have been focusing a lot of time and energy on diet and exercise recently, but today (and yesterday) I couldn’t bring myself to lift my weights or go for a walk. Instead, I went to Dunkin Donuts. Had a 250+ calorie iced coffee and not one but two donuts. Some people get drunk, I prefer a sugar high. It didn’t work.

So I talked to some friends. Thanks to them, I felt more myself. My family challenged me to the first day’s training session from the app “Couch to 5K” (C25K). We did it. As a family. Now I can eat something small for dinner and not feel badly.

Looking over some of my notes from today I am reminded once again that the things that make you feel accomplished are those achievements outside your comfort zone: going for a run when you don’t think you have the physical strength, tap dancing when you’re really awful at it…

Or for me, even fashion illustration. And sharing it with the world. My fiction manuscripts are set in the high fashion world (and oddly enough, Francophone Africa). I have always designed dresses and clothes for the characters.

I am not an artist. But, while feeling poorly today, I designed the dress in the photograph. It’s worn by a French woman who marries a half-French, half Issa-Somali Muslim man from Djibouti. She’s a trouble maker who lost her left leg (and some other body parts) to an IED in Afghanistan.

Doughnuts might not be good for me. I might not draw well. I must look like an idiot running around my local park. But today, these things soothed me.IMG_1262.JPG


I posted an entry on my food blog today about creating my own variation of the Somali stew, Maraq.

It shares a lot of my thought process in the kitchen and may even reveal a bit about my family. Don’t mess with us when we’re hungry.

It also includes my recipe… But we have no taste test until later…


Nerd news: Poverty in Djibouti/France vs. Islam

July has brought much excitement into my nerd camp. It started with a call for proposals on H-net Africa for the second edition of Sage Publications’ Encyclopedia of World Poverty. They needed someone to write an updated entry on the Republic of Djibouti, only 900-1000 words so I thought I’d take a go. I emailed the editor. It bounced. Twice.

I quickly went into journalism stalker mode and found another email address. I apologized for not using the listed email, but she didn’t mind and thanked me for my persistence. The Djibouti entry was indeed available, but as I have no Ph.D. I could not write the article without a friend, with the appropriate academic credentials to co-author.

I reached out to my beloved friend, former college peer and in some ways my role model, Annette Varcoe. She’s interested in 19th century American history, I believe areas like temperance, suffrage, and other stuff I can’t even remember. She has no interest in Africa, or the postcolonial age, or the colonial influence of France on exotic locales. Yet, she speaks some French, has an interest in women’s/gender issues and shares my type of nerdiness. Poverty, and perhaps even more so in the developing world, has a great impact on women so there we found our overlap.

The beauty of this proposed project rested in the fact that I had researched the basic statistics on poverty in Djibouti during my capstone project for my international affairs seminar at Lafayette College. I merely needed to update the facts, condense relevant info into the required format, send it to Annette, accept her feedback, and add her name.

We had three weeks to submit. I think we polished seven drafts in five days. We haven’t heard from the copy editors yet, but it was a great collaboration and we worked well together. We also pulled ridiculous amounts of scholarly info on Djibouti not quite connected to our project but stuff that crossed our mutual interests. You know a friend is special when you’re emailing PDFs on female circumcision to each other…

From that experience, I reflected on my need for my own Ph.D. It’s on my list of things to do, but hey, so is “de-clutter the house.” I think the Ph.D. is more likely to happen. I figured I’d bold send an email to _the one person I would most like to study under_ because really, what did I have to lose? I will refrain from naming the person or the school, both are amazing, because I don’t want to find myself embarrassed if when he meets me and thinks I’m an idiot.

Yes, I said “when he meets me.” He not only responded to my email but said to contact him again in September so we could arrange for a visit to campus. At that point, we could discuss my previous work and my future plans.

Finally, today, after taking a week to focus on my health (short version: gained weight and lost some physical strength/balance after breaking my dominant hand this winter) and with that on the right path (talked to my doctor! lost five pounds! feel less achy and clumsy!), I received even more “Good News for Nerds.”

The apparently unstoppable Ally Bishop asked me to drop by her class “Topics in Multiculturalism” to present France as a case study in “Multiculturalism and Religion.” I will be talking about “French vs. Islam” as an avoidance of multiculturalism in favor of unyielding universalism and the roots of the what I would term Muslim discomfort in the colonial empire. This is the backdrop for the laws of 2004 and 2010 which outlaw, respectively, headscarves in schools and face coverings in public.

Exciting stuff for a nerd, right?

Recreating morning (food) memories from Djibouti

Cross-posted with my cooking blog:

Nearly everyday that we were in Djibouti, my traveling companion (M) and I visited the juice bar at Cafeteria Sana’a a couple blocks from our hotel. It was normal a late morning break, usually after our second walk around the city.

Around 7:30 a.m., we’d have breakfast on the porch of our hotel, a cup of café crême with a big cube of sugar accompanied by a basket of baguette slices and a couple croissants. The plates that came with the basket had a dollop of strawberry jelly and a large pat of butter. With my recovering broken hand, sometimes the butter started too cold to manipulate but within seconds it literally would begin to melt.

After this breakfast, we’d walk. With temperatures at 90 degrees F (even that early) and humidity around 85 percent, it didn’t take long to find ourselves drenched in our own perspiration. We’d return to our hotel to drink a liter of water and let ourselves dry out and then we’d repeat.

On the second morning tour, we capped everything off with a juice from Cafeteria Sana’a.

The first day I ordered ginger juice. I thought, since gastro-international issues can pop up during travels in Africa, ginger would help keep my insides healthy. It was fabulous. Spicy and zesty and refreshing, even 20 minutes later still walking around in the heat that ginger juice left and incredibly pleasant taste in my mouth.

The next visit they had run out of ginger. This afternoon, they said. I was heartbroken so I let M order me a mango. It was delightful but lacked the zip and surprise of the ginger.

We returned the next day. No ginger. Maybe tomorrow, they said. I ordered “melon.” I had no idea what type of melon to expect. I’m not a huge melon fan, but isn’t the point of traveling to expand your horizons and be adventurous? Would it be watermelon? Honeydew?

Cantaloupe. Served in a frozen mug. Not as breathtaking as ginger but a flavor I soon learned to crave after an hour or two in the hot sun. That day we had a second juice, lemon. Our server offered us lemon with mint, something not on the board, but at this point we may have become regulars. This became M’s pick.

The final trip to the juice bar we ordered large juices instead of regular. Still no ginger. So I stayed with my melon.

And today I made a breakfast that incorporates all of these taste memories:

– Take and bake Archer Farms baguette with Brie from Aldi and a chunk with butter.

– Simply Balanced green tea with ginger.

– Cantaloupe juice

My first attempt at my own cantaloupe juice smoothie included about 2 cups cantaloupe and 1/2 cup water in the blender. Suitable, but lacked the frozen mug.


Reflections on Eating in Yemen & Djibouti


Borrowed from my cooking blog:

One day soon I shall blog about my culinary adventures in Djibouti and Yemen. I fell in love with freshly made cantaloupe juice, could have survived on bread and butter (in temperatures so hot the butter melted on your plate) and decided maybe I’m not so fond of Ethiopian. The Yemeni cuisine was worth returning for– never have I eaten somewhere where the spices were so effectively used in a dish. I now believe I have never had a true saffron rice, the blend of saffron (which did more than merely turn the rice yellow) and the touch of clove really did tease the palate.

Oh, look at that. I did blog about the food. My true lament is that I did not bring home honey from Yemen. The color was so richly yellow it almost appeared orange. We had a small bowl of yogurt with this honey at our hotel and it was so simple and fulfilling. I miss it. Painfully.

I brought home American sauce as a joke for my family, purchased in the Nougaprix in Djibouti. I thought it was Thousand Island dressing and my husband confirmed it on our burgers tonight. Thousand Island without pickles. That works for my husband as he loves Thousand Island but hates pickles.

Finding my rhythm in Djibouti

Yesterday we traveled to Yemen, courtesy of Arabian Voyages Travel. We arrived in the middle of the night Thursday (seeing a variety of shops still open as we breezed through town) and left 24 hours later. I had no idea what to expect of Sana’a. I have never really studied Arab culture except in the context of French colonialism.
We were sponsored for travel by our agency, and we acquired our visas with no difficulty or delay. When we got into the taxi with our guide, he handed us each a bottle of cold water. At that moment, despite the proximity of the American drones and the warnings you hear about traveling in a conservative Muslim country, I felt immediately at ease. I also realized, after several days now in a land where heat is stifling and water limited, that if you offer me a cold bottle of water I will trust you implicitly. More on that later. Now back to Djibouti.

This morning, we went to bed at 2:30 a.m. (midnight flight) after a disappointing attempt to FaceTime with the family. I had hoped to use the hotel internet to contact them, but when planning to get the family together at a certain time, my American sensibilities did not factor that the outside area where M smokes as I play with wi-fi doubles as a bed for one person and the other place where internet is available, the lobby, also serves as a sleeping space for the person working the desk. The man outside slept on two tables pushed together with a flattened cardboard box as a mattress.

So, M and I woke about 8 a.m. to find the hotel out of coffee and croissant. We sat there with our Lipton tea and bread and the server went to the store for croissant. We then headed to Bunna House for coffee. We had heard yesterday from a cab driver that everyone knows the two white people who’ve been tooling around town. The coffee house (bunna is a green coffee that they roast, as the young woman at the Ethiopian restaurant showed us) was full of a wide range of people. At this point the staff knows us and smiles as we head in every day at some point.

Next came the ATM machine. I had been having issues getting money. It declined my requests. So a local explained to us that you have to use Fast Cash. You cannot enter your own amounts. Today, I used the Djiboutian Franc fast cash button. AND IT WORKED! I felt like I had played in Atlantic city and won (even though I completely understand it was my money the machine spit out).

We did some shopping. That in itself is an experience. For clothing, there is a pile of inventory on the table. If you don’t see what you want, the shopkeeper pulls out this giant plastic bag and starts piling his additional inventory on top of the table. If you still don’t see what you want, you tell him and he will go look for it.

I also needed stamps. The tourist office instructed us to visit the tabac. Weaving our way into a crowded group of coffee drinkers, we came to a high wooden counter where an old African woman, shriveled with gold teeth, sat at a desk with her cash box making change as quickly as her long, bent hands could do it. When we asked for stamps, once the crowd thinned, she crossed to the counter. Opening a big drawer, she rummaged within and pulled out a small plastic bag with Djiboutian francs and two stamps. She carefully unknotted the plastic. She pulled out the stamps, which had been stored decorative side in. She warned us that these were not for letters, only postcards. We paid 100 francs each for the two stamps, face value 70.

Stamps found, we went for juice at Cafeteria Sana’a. We also do this every day. Ginger is my favorite, but since our arrival the first day, there has been no ginger. It’s also a place where they have grown to know us. The juice— I got cantaloupe again— comes in a frosted mug and hits the spot when the humidity has all but melted you into a puddle.

M and I don’t design many plans for our travel, but we always develop certain routines. There’s something about a daily trip to the juice bar or an evening stop for coffee that allows me to watch the city and find a place for myself in its rhythm.


The Beauty of Djibouti

Day Five.

The time passes by so quickly, with each day bringing some sort of adventure. It could be simple, like the juice bar at Cafeteria Sana’a not having the ginger juice tasted on the initial visit and trying first mango, then cantaloupe, and also lemon-mint on each subsequent stop. Some adventures are frustrating, like when several atm machines refuse to give you money and the tourism agency and official money brokers have different ranges of American dollar bills they will accept. Remember when the United States added all those colors to our boring green money? Well, Djiboutians don’t like old money. Some adventures are hysterical, somehow causing the hotel room chair to fail when sitting.

The environment remains fascinating. People are surprised to see American tourists here. Not surprised to see Americans as we have quite the military presence. French workers and military are here, in addition to a Japanese base, though I have seen only a few French families (late in the evening in the classy restaurants) and no Americans nor Japanese.

The heat (90 degrees F) and humidity (85%) have not bothered me, and I feared it would be unbearable. I have consumed 2-3 liters of water a day. The town shuts down from 1-4 every day to keep everyone from melting. So this is our quiet time where we have snacks from the grocery store, drink more water, sit on the patio (fans blazing), M smokes, and then we return to our hotel room to cool.

Breakfast is croissant or other bread with coffee. Mid-morning we typically stop for juice. Yesterday we had lunch, primarily because we did a tour excursion to Lac Assal and the guide handed it to us. For dinner, we tried the pizzeria in the hotel (where the staff works very artfully on the product though they should have cooked it longer). Then we visited an Indian restaurant recommended by another hotel guest. That place had a delightful ambiance from the moment we entered. Le Santal features Indian and Chinese cuisine and pizza, the international food. (We returned there a second time, prompting the owner to chat with us and give us baklava.) Next, we had Ethiopian, another wonderfully decorated place, but neither M nor I really favor Ethiopian cuisine. With the broken right hand, it presents a bit of a hand-eating challenge. That said, tonight we shall delve into Djiboutian.

I am positively stunned by the geography, especially after our trip to Lac Assal. We would both like to go to Lac Abbé but are reluctant due to the ten hour drive. Tomorrow we will trek to Ile Moucha. Yesterday we visited a variety of places along the way to Assal. I will hopefully break those down later. I would like to save that for the photos and after I pick up a Djibouti book I saw in the store. Except I needed about 6,000 Djiboutian Francs and I only have 4,000 and the ATM refuses to give me money. By the time we figured that out, the shops had closed for 1 p.m. break. The book will at least provide correct spellings.

The tour guide, driver and company did a fantastic job with our excursion. If you are every in Djibouti, call Daniel Jean at Bambu Service Touristik. What I enjoyed, in addition to breathtaking scenery and warm water pools and the salt lake, was seeing the breakdown of how people live. You can see areas of Djibouti-ville that seem like your average developing (“third world”) city, and then there are areas for industry (I passed the big Coca Cola plant, one of the main employers here) and I’d like to believe we drove by some lovely French villas walled off from the rest of the city. In that respect, colonial ideals may still be in full bloom.

The roads are primarily straight. Road signs point to major cities or even the next country. Nomad villages are everywhere, as people move to find water. In some places, the huts are made of wood and metal, others sticks and tarps, and yet in what I assume are the more stable villages, the nomads take the volcanic rock and build their shelters. Because of the severity of drought here (and even our hotel often has water shortages when you turn on the faucet and nothing comes out), some international aid agencies (I believe Japanese UNICEF is one) have started delivering 50 gallon drums of water to these villages.

We ate lunch near the Salt Investment Company at Restaurant Randa (though we packed, courtesy of the tour) which was in the middle of, if I remember correctly, an Afar nomad village. Cats dined with us and of course goats meandered by. Goats are a major cattle animal here. No agriculture and minimal greenery. Goats are perfect for meat and milk and as everyone knows, they eat everything. Camels also, and occasionally donkeys, but not among the families near Restaurant Randa. (I also assume that the men work at the salt operation.)

I had the opportunity to use the nomad toilet facility, which while primitive by Western standards, was quite nice and included a bucket of water and water bottle scoop for cleansing. I mention this because I think it’s very important to understand that nomadic people don’t have a lesser existence than we do. Sometimes I fear that Western ideas of international development focus too much on issues like infrastructure and unemployment and not enough on basics like clean water and education.

The Afar nomads may not have jobs, electricity or running water, but why do they need it? They follow the rain and the water to feed and care for their cattle. Disease and malnutrition are of course serious for any society, especially among people with so little modern resources. But I envy one element of their simple existence: they have survival skills that I can’t fathom. If suddenly my bank cards, car, refrigerator and two-story house disappeared, I would have no clue how to build my own shelter out of sticks and stones. I could probably care for a goat, but slaughter it? No clue. Who, in the end, will endure?




The cat photo is from the restaurant, but the black stone structures in the background are homes.


And the facilities…