Djiboutian summers are a season of flight and have the potential to be a lonely, boring expat summer. Expatriates: diplomats, aid and development workers, teachers, military personnel…everyone leaves, or at least the women and children leave. And if mom is working, the kids get sent away. Djiboutians: professors, doctors, business owners, the unemployed…everyone leaves, or at least the women and children leave. And, again, if mom is working, the kids get sent away.
The expats go to Europe or neighboring African nations like Kenya or Ethiopia, some head all the way to the United States. Djiboutians head across the borders to Somalia or Ethiopia, and some travel further abroad.
They may be fleeing the intense heat, topping 120 degrees Fahrenheit. They may be eager to reunite with family. They may simply want a vacation and I don’t blame them. Other than the beach there is little to do – no movie theater, no library, no air conditioned shopping mall, no sports clubs, no summer school, no dance class. This week 2 out of every 3 eggs I cracked was rotten and I sifted palmfuls of bugs and worms from our flour. There was no money in the ATM machines for eight consecutive days (only one store sometimes accepts credit cards) and we can only get gas in the early morning or late evening because the heat causes the pumps to shut down. You get the idea.
But my family stayed this summer, for July and August. All but a handful of our local and expat friends left and literally all of my children’s friends left. They are scattered across Somalia, Ethiopia, Kenya, the US, France, Romania, Thailand.
There are no play dates. There are no pick-up games of football or meet-ups at the tennis court. We don’t invite kids to the beach with us. We don’t join other families out for pizza or ice cream.
When is the last time your family spent seven weeks with, essentially, only your family? I anticipated arguments, complaints about the heat, and a steady stream of “I’m boreds.”
That didn’t happen. This was not a lonely, boring expat summer.
This was quite possibly the best thing that could happen to my family.
Instead of complaining and arguing, I hear our teenage daughter and our seven-year old playing Littlest Pet Shops and dress-up and tea party. I hear our teenage son and our seven-year old staging Lego battles and Nerf sword wars and wrestling matches. There are long (too long if you ask mom) games of Cities and Knights and conversations about life at school during the drive to the beach. We listen to A Series of Unfortunate Events as an audiobook and mimic Tim Curry’s voices, creating a litany of inside family jokes. Sleep in, bake brownies, read The Mysterious Benedict Society out loud together.
Staying in the hottest country in the world when everyone else seems to have left didn’t seem like the best decision when we made it last spring. But now I wouldn’t change it for anything.
Have you been part of the summer expat exodus? Did you take off or get left behind?
What’s a family to do in the summer, all on their own? Here are some Djibouti Jones Family tried and true ideas.
- There They Go 1 of 9
- Build Something 2 of 9
A plank of wood from the market balanced on top of six action packers. Paint it green, use masking tape to mark out lines and voila, a pingpong table for rousing Round Robin matches or just for whacking the ball at each other with a net in between.
- Shoot Something 3 of 9
Dad is a scientist, used to teach Physics at Amoud University in Somalia and so we always have rockets on hand. We went to Turtle Island, near the airport and spent an afternoon shooting rockets.
- Physical Activity 4 of 9
The heat and the lack of enough people to form decent-sized teams could make playing sports rather boring. But we need physical activity or we'll get antsy and agitated and start picking on each other. So take a ball and head outside, add in bare feet and loads of goopy mud and you've got a game.
- Dance Party 5 of 9
I don't know if it is more fun to participate in Wii dance parties or to watch the people dancing. Either way, we get deep belly laughs at each other and burn off some energy.
- Learn Something New 6 of 9
Like how to drive. There aren't many cars out in the desert at this time of year. Or how to sew - our daughter knit a stocking cap for her younger sister. Not necessary in the heat, but adorable and a decent way to pass the time. We've learned new games, tried new recipes, and met new neighbors, too.
- Explore the Country 7 of 9
Try out new places you maybe didn't have time to experience during the hectic school year. The beach, a hike in the mountains, a new restaurant, a new park or museum (if your country has museums, ours doesn't).
- Eat 8 of 9
Food, mom's homemade food, is one of the top priorities for kids home from boarding school. This is how we get chocolate chips here - chop up a bar of chocolate. We have to move quickly before it melts. Tacos and lasagna are the most requested foods in our house during vacation and so we have spent time perfecting the sauces, perfecting the tortillas.
- Boring? I don’t think so. 9 of 9
Who says the summer needs to be lonely? Who says hanging out with just your family is boring? It doesn't have to be. It can be relaxing and creative and bonding. When all the expat moms and kids leave just might be the most precious time for your family.