There are some jobs and duty stations that you just know are going to test your limits—either people have cautioned you with their experiences or through your own research you’ve uncovered pitfalls that have the potential to swallow you and your family whole. Yet, because you’re military, you accept the orders without debate and move forward, doing the best you can to find strength and joy in the adventure.
When my family accepted orders for an attaché tour in Djibouti, we knew we would be in for a wild, stress-filled ride. But beyond the basics of the job itself, we were advised repeatedly to make time for relaxation because we would need it living there. The work was hard, but the environment was worse. Armed with that knowledge, our family—my active duty spouse, our tweenage son, and me—headed to our new duty station, the hottest country on earth.
Let me preface the rest by explaining that many of our postings have fallen squarely into the adventurous category. When your spouse is an Africa specialist, you tend to end up in interesting places, Djibouti being just one of many. But this is true of so many military families. Everybody has their own definitions of adventure or hardship. The important thing is that when you are faced with a challenge you find a way to embrace it, to thrive as a family, and not let it get the best of you.
The job in Djibouti did indeed take a toll, just as we had been warned. It demanded 24/7 attention, and though we were technically together at some events and receptions, it didn’t mean that we were focused on each other. We were often together but separate. Where was the joy in our adventure? Where were the moments when we could just be a family? We tried our best to not lose sight of the fun and opportunity that our chosen lifestyle afforded us. But when you coupled work stress with the country’s harsh environment, the solution was not always straightforward, because with temperatures that often hit 120 degrees Fahrenheit, relaxation was not easy.
When we arrived on post, our ambassador told us, “The best part of Djibouti is underwater.” It took us awhile, but at one point when we were all hitting a wall, we remembered his advice and set off to inject a little local adventure into our lives and explore the cooler, wetter side of our host country.
DISCONNECTING AND BEING TOGETHER
We found simple day trips into the Gulf of Tadjourah a welcome and easy escape from our hectic life. More importantly, there was no cell phone reception (gasp!) when we were out on the water. When you live your life tied to a phone that could and would ring at all hours of the day, being out of reach for a while was pure bliss. These snorkeling trips were short, leaving just after dawn and returning before dusk, but they gave us the escape we needed. The air was still hot, but the water was cool. We laughed about the dolphins that escorted the boat, pointed out brightly colored fish as we bobbed on the water’s surface, and simply chatted about life in general while drying off on the deck. These were all the types of moments that had drawn us into the lifestyle to begin with and the ones we could not afford to lose sight of. By going out on a boat, onto the water, we found uninterrupted moments of togetherness.
STRENGTH THROUGH SIMPLICITY
It’s release that is important. I have found, over the years, that our little family is strongest when we can find quietness in life. I don’t mean literal silence, rather just a break from the noise of the world. It’s easy to trick our minds into thinking that a jam-packed schedule is the only way to find adventure, but it’s also just as easy to overlook the strength that’s built when taking a step back. A constant hum can lead to stress, but quiet can lead to release and resilience. When we lowered ourselves into that clear turquoise water and floated slowly away from the boat, we also floated away from all the things in life that weighed us down. Sometimes we were lucky enough to swim alongside whale sharks, sometimes we only saw a sea turtle, but each time we were fortunate to just be there, savoring the moment. These short trips offered us an opportunity to have simple adventures in a place where simplicity was not always a given.
It’s so easy to lose focus in the military lifestyle. As part of something bigger than all of us, we sometimes forget that to be a functioning part of that larger entity we also need to be the strongest versions of ourselves . . . and that starts at home. Balancing our lives is an important part of the mission. For us, during our tour in Djibouti, finding time to float on the water helped with the balance.
Starting out as a cowgirl in northern California, Julie Tully has spent the past two decades as a nomadic Navy spouse. The wife of a foreign area officer, she has lived overseas since 2004, with seven and a half of those years being in Africa. A former public relations and marketing specialist, she turned to writing when her life began to resemble a book. She writes about life, culture, and the places where they intersect. Her stories have appeared in Legacy Magazine and in books by Tales from a Small Planet and AAFSW. She currently lives in Italy with her husband, son, and their adopted Djiboutian street cat.