I was introduced one time in Cairo as “This is Marilyn. She DOES things with the food here.” The person I was introduced to looked at me in holy awe. “You can DO things with the food here? How?”

To me, Cairo was a thriving metropolis that had cheese. Doing things with the food in Cairo was easy. It’s all perspective. When you’re straight out of Katy, Texas and you enter the developing world, cooking can be a shock. In my case, I’d grown up with all manner of substitutions and learned early in life that cooking and baking were about experimenting.

In a group of expatriates or missionaries it doesn’t take long before you begin sharing “cooking” stories. From marinating meat for a week in CocaCola so you can chew it, to figuring out how to make chocolate chips (more likely chunks) out of local chocolate, the stories abound. We spend hours figuring out, and passing around, substitutions for ingredients common in our passport countries. Some people have food shipments and commissary privileges, and I have been the recipient of their generosity many times. But the rest of the time, it’s us and the local market.

One time my friend Betsy invited someone who worked for the US Embassy to her home for Thanksgiving. He called up to see if he could bring anything. She replied that if there was a favorite dish that he would want, then he could feel free to make it. Yes, indeed he did and he would. His favorite dish was a cranberry-orange salad. Betsy was over the moon. Cranberries! Real cranberries. She too had a recipe, but while in Egypt it was the joke that you made cranberry orange salad without the cranberries. Oranges were ubiquitous and delicious, while cranberries hadn’t made their way from the cranberry bogs of Massachusetts to the dusty streets of Cairo.

On Thanksgiving Day, the man showed up empty handed. Trying to hide her disappointment, Betsy welcomed him in her characteristically gracious manner. “About that salad….,” he said, apologetically. “I would have made it, but there were no oranges in the commissary.” Betsy took a deep breath. What she wanted to say was “You idiot! Every street corner has people selling oranges! The oranges in Egypt are the best! Why don’t you look around you!” But instead she just said “No problem! Welcome!”

Cookbooks make the problem worse. Too often they are so western specific that you’re left with a useless book adding insult to something that can already be difficult.

Because humor aside, we want to create home and belonging for our families. Cooking is a time-honored way of doing this. When we are stripped of all our abilities, from language to creating a home to cooking for our families, it takes its toll on us.

It’s into this conversation that I bring Rachel Pieh Jones. Two years ago, my daughter handed me a present. It was a cookbook called  Djiboutilicious. In  the expat world of connections, Rachel had gone to New York and stayed with a college student. It turned out that she was one of my daughter’s college friends. The cookbook traveled from Djibouti to Boston via New York and sits with pride in my kitchen. As someone who grew up in Pakistan, this book is a practical taste of ‘home.’ And for you at A Life Overseas – it may just be a game changer.

Because for many, making a cake without a box mix is a first time experience. Creating sauces, desserts, sweet breads, and pickles just doesn’t happen…. because we don’t know how.

But Djiboutilicious does! And now, it’s in electronic format as an E-Book. Here is what others have said about Djiboutilicious:

How do you cook in a country with no jars of Ragu or packaged cake mixes? The first time someone handed me a tomato in Somaliland and asked me to make spaghetti sauce, I was at a total loss. Popcorn without a microwave? Were such wonders even possible?

They certainly are and hundreds of chefs have proven it, using Djiboutilicious.

And now, even if you live in a country without reliable postal service, you can get a copy of Djiboutilicious.

“Djiboutilicious has become my go to cookbook in Dji – and I know that I can find most of the ingredients here,” Paula P.

“Djiboutilicious is my go to book when I want to cook something I know is truly homemade. No, “add a can of this” or a “package of that.” All ingredients can usually be found in my kitchen or just around the corner at the dukaan (store),” Jess D.

The first three people who comment on this blog, will get this cookbook FREE! Yes, you heard that right! I will connect with you and have it delivered to your Kindle or other E-book thingy today.

Part of being called to another place is creating a home within that place. It’s not only important to us, it’s important to God. Yes, souls are more important, but more souls have been saved through offering hospitality through tea and cake then we will ever know.

You can purchase Djiboutilicous  here :

Or here:

And please, will you share your cooking misadventures and substitutions with us in the comments? We would love to hear!


6 Reasons Furloughs are Awesome (sort of)

by Jonathan Trotter on October 6, 2015

6. A furlough is one of the best “weight-gain” plans out there. It’s sort of like pregnancy, but with furlough, the cravings occur every-mester. During furlough, scales become toxic and should be avoided at all cost. No worries, though, ’cause if you’re wondering whether or not you’ve gained weight, just get back on the plane and return to the foreign field. Your neighbors will poke your belly, tell you you’re much fatter than before, and smile. God bless ’em.
5. A furlough is great practice for dying. No, really. You get the unique chance to look back on your life (or term) and justify your existence to anyone who wants to listen (or send you money). You get all things “in order” for your departure, making sure all will go well during your absence. You make sure pets are taken care of. You make sure all the important documents are up to date and easily findable. You prepare yourself and your loved ones for “a long journey” that will be worth it because, at the end of it all, there will be Chick-Fil-A. And grandma.
4. A furlough’s like a really long vacation. Who else gets to take months off at a time? Actually, on furlough, you’re sort of like a backpacker, but without the dreadlocks. Or the pot.
3. Potable water (which, it should be noted, has nothing to do with the aforementioned pot). Clean drinking water is in the pipes, people! What kind of alternate universe are we in? On our first furlough, my son took a break at the public park, stating he was thirsty. When I pointed him to the water fountain, he looked at me incredulously and said, “Is it safe?” “Yup.” “For real? And it’s free?” “Yup.” “WOW! That is so nice!” I won’t tell you what he said about the toilet.
2. You get to trade in friend-sets. With a furlough, it’s sort of like you get to have two lives, but without all the complications (and secrets, which make for great TV but bad newsletters). Want to reboot your friend-set to a prior decade of life? Simply hitch a ride on a big metal tube with movies and free toothbrushes and you’ll be on your way. But be warned, as with all time travel, weird things (like Miley Cyrus and self-checkout lines) happen.
(And now for a serious one to justify the time you just wasted reading this list. Unless you’re reading this while on vacation, I mean, furlough.)
1. You get to share (and listen to) the Story of Stories in your own heart language. Yes, the Gospel is amazing in any language, but when it’s your language, when those are the actual words you first heard when you first heard Jesus, something magical happens. The Gospel is omni-cultural, for sure, but it’s also inherently personal. And the honor of serving in the churches that birthed you, that sent you, that love you, well that’s something to write home about.
Since I’m currently on vacation, er, furlough, I took
the liberty of adapting an old post from


Would Jesus Give an Addict a Clean Needle?

by Editor

Would you give an addict a clean needle, so they could stay alive until they found freedom from their addiction? Would you give a prostituted woman condoms, so she could protect herself until she found freedom from prostitution? Clearly, the famous evangelical leader I was speaking with in Cambodia didn’t think we should be helping […]

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Ask a counselor: how do we process loss and grief?

by Kay Bruner

A couple of months ago, I put out a call on our Facebook page for new questions for the “Ask a Counselor” column, and I got a whole slew of TCK questions.  To those questions, there is pretty much one answer. What’s the most common reason that adult TCKs seek counseling? Unresolved loss and grief. […]

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When Someone You Love Dies, and You are Far, Far Away

by Rachel Pieh Jones
Holy Ground w quote

Note: This was written a year and a half ago, but still holds true for today. My Grandma Jeanne died last week. Death sucks. Or, in the gentler words of my wise (and gentler) friend Sue, “I hate death.” Even if she was in her upper 80’s and, as Lucy says, “That’s what happens to […]

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People are not our Project

by Chris Lautsbaugh

As a zealous, young missionary I seemed to make  the same mistake over and over. Now as a veteran, I find the same never-ending truth must remain continually before me. People are not our projects.   We never set out to do this intentionally. Our mistakes are made in ignorance. Our desire is to do good, […]

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Resources For Men Serving Cross-Culturally

by Amy Young

I received the following email from a man I’d met at MTI’s Debriefing and Renewal. Brian, his wife, and I were in the same debriefing group. I was recently talking to a former missionary friend of mine who was going through some tough times in his re-entry to the States despite the fact that he has […]

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How to Keep Running When You Have Fallen

by Abby Alleman
How to Keep Running

The clouds wisp along the sky like cotton candy in rosebud pink, salmon and peach colors. It is early morning. I pound the concrete with sure steps and even breaths. I have started running again. I have only run but a time or two in the nearly nine years since I was pregnant, and sick, […]

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The Far Side of Somewhere

by Elizabeth Trotter

I remember my first home service. All those awkward experiences like drinking water from the tap and flushing the toilet with potable water again. Or feeling naked and exposed with no metal security bars on the windows. Or handing payment to cashiers with two hands (like I do in Cambodia) and then being embarrassed, because […]

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Nine Ways to Save a Marriage

by Editor

If there is one place where your marriage will suffer, it’s probably on the mission field. My husband and I waltzed into marriage crazy in love and stupidly naïve. After knowing each other only 4 months, we eloped on a white sand beach in Zanzibar, Tanzania. Then we spent the next five years running a […]

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That One Safe Friend

by Craig Thompson

Do you have that one safe friend? When I went overseas, I didn’t. In fact, I didn’t even know I needed one. Don’t get me wrong. I had a lot of friends, good friends, but I didn’t have one particular person who was committed to the role of being that one safe friend. Since then I’ve come to […]

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On Harassment: Freedom from the Silence of Shame

by Marilyn
silence of shame

Long ago on a spring day in Cairo, I was walking across a small footbridge to the area of the city where I lived. I had crossed the footbridge hundreds of times, usually with one or three children hanging on to my skirt and in my arms. This time I was alone, lost in my […]

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