Goals—and how the impulsive selection of a desktop picture breeds hope

My last day in the office was March 17. We were practicing social distancing— not allowed to pass each other in the hall, speaking from inside our offices, wiping down doorknobs and the copy machine.

It was George’s mother’s birthday and he couldn’t go see her in the nursing home. That made him sad.

Tomorrow will be my 13th day of working from home. The fourth day of my second year with the agency. My first full day working on my new laptop. I had to reset windows and I managed to send myself this old picture from my phone for my desktop photo:


I took it on the road between Djibouti City and Lac Abbé four years ago. Other than my daughter, I’ve shown one person this photo and they didn’t even ask what it was.

“Some random African photo,” he said when I asked if he noticed it, “I know your fascination with Africa.”

So I explained. “Ah,” he said, “that makes sense.”

This is the original photo that I took in January 2016.

On the Road

There is beauty in that photo, and oppressive dry heat, and the implication of hardship. Where are they going? Is it far? Yet, such color and contrast. Simplicity.

The man in the front is wearing a traditional man’s skirt. They say it helps you stay cool in the heat. The women have such light but colorful layers, lovely hijab blowing in what appears to be a slight breeze.

This photo takes me away when I look at it, and for me, it offers perspective and optimism.

I do have a critical theorist’s fascination with Africa, but my passion is actually post-colonial Francophone Africa and how their colonial experience and subsequent (ahem) immigration issues and Muslim relations provide lessons for American imperialism in a post-9/11 world.

Though recent political upheaval in South Africa may provide an interesting cross-examination of the British colonial experience… and what that means for the next generation of African citizens across the continent.

But I digress… not uncommon.

I have some goals I want to set this week.

  • Have several meals with my daughter at our patio cafe.
  • Take 3 walks.
  • Do 5 push ups tomorrow, 10 on Tuesday, and as many as I can each day as long as it is at least the same as the day before.
  • Care for my nails.
  • Take a bath.
  • Cut the grass.
  • Do a blog series on Tarot cards
Happy Sunday

When your writing career carries on without you…


So today I got an unexpected email from the folks at SAGE Academic Publishing. About four years ago, I wanted to write some short encyclopedia entries for them and they said no because I didn’t have a Ph.D. It was one of the things that made me consider graduate school.

They advised me that if I could find someone to co-author who had the necessary credentials, I could write for them.

I enlisted my college era friend Annette Varcoe, a brilliant scholar in American history and Women’s studies who had a freshly-minted Ph.D. after her name. She allowed me the pleasure of helping her edit her final dissertation.

The topic at hand was one of my favorite places in the world, Djibouti, and the article was based on a capstone project for my international affairs degree I had just completed. She knew nothing about Djibouti but her critical eye brought life to my dream and she got hooked on this region of the world and conditions there. Our first article was on poverty in Djibouti. She approached me a few months later and asked if I would consider doing another on security.

We did. Both pieces were submitted fairly close to each other. We probably wrote them both in 2014. The poverty piece was published in July 2015. I got the email that the second has now been published. March 2018. My career looks current even if I have stalled a bit!

This refreshed my memory that I never actually saw a book review I submitted to Global Studies South. Since my husband is home from work today using up his vacation, I asked him to look me up in the academic databases to which the Lafayette College libraries subscribe.

And here I am!

A Walk Through Ali Sabieh

Ali Sabieh is a train town in Djibouti. The railroad to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, opened in the late 1880s, I believe. Ethiopia is landlocked and depends on neighbors for imports. 

We visited the old train and train station and walked through town. 

Next we visited the purple mountain in the background.

As the town shrinks…

At the bottom before lunch I saw strange things:

Lunch was chicken and many, many flies.

Our driver packed some French fries and fed them to these baboons on the roadside:


When we continued on our trip, where the standard highway meets the African desert road, our guide pointed out that Ali Sabieh has no petrol stations. We stopped at what appeared to be someone’s house and he filled our car with gas from jugs. They used a water bottle cut into a funnel and wrapped it with a scarf.


our guide, Momo, talking to the girl who found my tattoo

Meanwhile, I made a friend with a little girl in a green dress. She offered me a candy. I refused. She showed me the candy on her tongue as if I didn’t understand it was candy. Then she poked my arm.

I looked down. She had noticed my bat tattoo. She scurried away and returned with every kid in the neighborhood. I peeled up my sleeve and this horde of children poked and prodded my arm. The girl talked with Momo, our guide, but I don’t know what all the children said when they were chattering like crazy.

White lady. Head uncovered. Short hair. Strange bat on arm. I am indeed an oddity.

And then they left.

Dress Quest in Djibouti

There’s a dress I want, but every time I step into the women’s shop, surrounded by women, a man from the street dives toward me to help me with the purchase. He will then receive a commission from the shopkeeper and it aggravates me because I only receive this treatment because I am white.

I bought two dresses, from two different shops today, with a unwanted helper, but paid 2500 Dj Francs. That’s about $13.50. It’s also what I paid for my dinner last night at the sit-down restaurant of high quality.
The dress I want comes with the headscarf and my first helper wanted me to pay 5,000 Djiboutian Francs. 

I returned later, hadn’t even expressed interest in the dress when a different man swooped in upon me while a woman insisted on trying to sell us incense.

Today M and I started out early and wove through the side streets and alleys of the market to sneak into my shop from behind.

We did it. Walked up to the counter and asked for my dress. An older Djiboutian woman in a mountain of colorful textiles leaned over and pinched the fabric as I held it. She nodded her approval.

And so I bought it. For 1800 Dj Fr. About $10. With the scarf. And to think I paid 2500 yesterday. 


Morning upon return to Djibouti


The truly temperate weather as we arrived in Djibouti surprised us. Last time, in April 2014, the weather averaged 90 degrees F and 90% humidity. Today, it’s 82 degrees with 66 percent humidity “making it feel like” 88. Well, comparatively it is wonderful. Paris was cold, and Djibouti is not sweltering hot.
The international military presence at the airport seemed heightened compared to our last visit and taxis now congregate in a parking lot farther away from the actual terminal. Djibouti’s airport is very small, and there are no gates. Speaking of parking lots, the planes pull up from the runway and more or less just park in front of the airport.
We found a taxi without incident and I found it funny how instantly I relaxed as the heat built in the green-and-white cab, only the front window open and the air conditioning running as much as it could. The airport has various roadblocks that need to be circumvented to leave, weaving between them in an S-fashion. 

The area near the airport has a lot of what might best be described as European-style summer villas. As you come into town, the feel of the developing world increases. Men digging trenches and constructing buildings with nothing but their own hands and manual tools. Women in colorful robes and head coverings. The blend of European-influenced shops and homes mixed in with the rag-tag stalls and living quarters of the less affluent residents. And flies. Lots of flies. 

My traveling companion M had attempted to book a room at our regular hotel, but had been unable to reach them. So, we told the taxi to take us downtown to Hotel Ali Sabieh. When we were here previously, they had started construction on a new building across the street. I don’t think it’s done quite yet, but it is a big building and looks great.

The porter recognized us when our cab parked. The desk clerk is the same man it was last time, and I think he’s still wearing the same purple-and-white shirt. Our room features the same Third World rustic comfort as we’ve come to expect: a sink that pours water from the pedestal every time you use it; a toilet where the water needs to be shut off at the valve so it doesn’t overflow; a shower that’s more like standing under a hose; and my personal favorite: the curtained “window” that doesn’t have a window at all, but merely a wall. 
The businesses near us seem exactly what they were almost two years ago, including the man on center square who tried to get us to hire him as a tour guide every time we walked by. He managed to catch us today and present his spiel and phone number. 
We headed to the Nougaprix grocery store for water. And we slept and slept and slept. We set the alarm for a 45 minute nap and I believe reset it three times before we very reluctantly rose from our beds.
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