Getting rescued from Somali pirates by Navy SEALs is one thing, but at the end of the day Jessica Buchanan had to save herself.
An Ohio native, Buchanan was an aid worker in northern Somalia when she and fellow aid worker Poul Hagen Thisted were kidnapped in October 2011. With an untreated thyroid condition worsening, she was kept on a starvation diet and slept in the open desert for 93 days. She was rescued by a team of 24 U.S. Navy SEALs, and President Obama phoned Buchanan’s father to inform him on the news of her release.
In the 11 years since her rescue, Buchanan became a mother of two, a New York Times best-selling author, motivational speaker and podcaster. Now with the anniversary of her rescue approaching on Jan. 25, she’s celebrating with the release of her second book, “Deserts to Mountaintops: Our Collective Journey To (re)Claiming Our Voices.”
The book tells aspects of Buchanan’s story, as well as those of 21 other women.
“I think I’ve learned how to rescue myself,” Buchanan told ALXnow on a Zoom interview. “It’s like the hero’s journey, right? Like you go through the whole thing and you learn your lessons and then the last stage of the journey is to complete that cycle and share them. Yes, I was rescued, then I had to figure out how to rescue myself. Now I’m helping other women figure out how to rescue themselves.”
The book will be available online and in bookstores on Jan. 25.
ALXnow: When were you last in Africa?
Buchanan: At the time of the kidnapping, my home was in Nairobi (Kenya) and afterward my husband and I went back there for a year. My son was born there in 2012, and I got pregnant with him about three weeks after the rescue. We moved to Alexandria in 2013 with the intention to move back, but life had other plans for us. We also have an eight-year-old daughter.
ALXnow: How have you talked to your kids about this?
Buchanan: We always thought that when they were ready to hear about it that they would come to us with questions. It’s probably been in the last year that we’ve talked about it more. I do a lot of fundraising for the Navy SEAL Foundation. In February of last year, I brought my family with me to one of their fundraisers and it was the first time they’d heard me speak. It was really difficult for them. They knew about it, of course, they’ve seen the book laying around.
ALXnow: But this was the first time they witnessed you holding court and openly talking about your story.
Buchanan: It was. My son was fixated on the men with guns, and my daughter, who is very empathetic and sensitive, felt a lot of sorrow. She understood that this was something that was super hard.
But it was a teachable moment, too, because I could say to them that this was the hardest thing I’ll ever go through.
“Look at me now,” I tell them. “I’m okay, and I’m strong and you’re a part of me, and that means that you’re strong, too. So, whatever you’re gonna face in your life, because you’re gonna face hard things, you go back and know that you’re made out of tough stuff.” That’s kind of the message that I try to portray to my kids.
ALXnow: Can you tell me about that folded flag behind your desk in the case?
Buchanan: This is the flag that SEAL Team Six presented to me on the plane on the way out of the desert.
ALXnow: It must have been dramatic holding that.
Buchanan: I couldn’t talk. Like, I couldn’t form any words for hours (after the rescue). Nothing would come out of my mouth. I would open it and nothing would come out. I was just in so much shock… I was sitting on a bench on the plane, and I’m wearing rags. The whole thing, it’s just so bizarre, and then the SEAL handed me something and just put it on my lap and I looked down and it was this flag and he said, “Welcome home, Jessica,” and I started to sob uncontrollably. Then I could start talking. Then the words came.
ALXnow: How have you been able to overcome this trauma? Therapy, antidepressants, saunas?
Buchanan: All of the above, and you don’t get over it. You just learn to carry it. It’s with me every single day. It’ll never not be with me. I will always think about it. It will probably be one of the last things I think about before I die. It changed my life trajectory. It changed me on a cellular level. I think that’s what parlays into the work that I do now. It’s like I had to make it mean something in order to bear it.
ALXnow: To be rescued by Navy SEALs is one thing, but ever since then you’ve been on the mission to rescue yourself from the depths of trauma and depression.
Buchanan: I think that that’s a really interesting way of putting it. I think I’ve learned how to rescue myself. It’s like the hero’s journey, right? Like you go through the whole thing and you learn your lessons and then the last stage of the journey is to complete that cycle and share them. Yes, I was rescued, then I had to figure out how to rescue myself. Now I’m helping other women figure out how to rescue themselves.
ALXnow: Now you’re publishing a second book, “Deserts to Mountaintops,” an anthology of stories from 21 other women who faced challenges in what you describe as reclaiming their voices. What does “reclaiming their voices” mean?
Buchanan: It means that you know your boundaries and that you stick to them, that you don’t feel pressured or guilted into doing things that you don’t want to do. It means that you not afraid to be yourself. It’s about showing up in the world unapologetically and not trying to make yourself small, not trying to fit into somebody else’s idea of who you should be, not being embarrassed by the things that you want, the things that you like, the things that you say. It’s about self-love and acceptance.
I’m the lead author on this book, and in my story everybody always thinks that it started for me on the afternoon of the kidnapping when our car was taken over. But it really starts several hours before then. I knew something was off, that something bad was gonna happen. My intuition was screaming at me so much so that I had nightmares all night long that I — I kid you not — that I was going to be kidnapped by pirates. I chose not to listen because I would let too many people down. I was afraid I would look stupid. I was afraid I would lose my job. I had been bullied into the situation in the first place.
ALXnow: You thought you would be fine.
Buchanan: Right. I was a girl from America in her early 30s. I’m a school teacher from Ohio. And I think that that’s the hardest thing to carry, that I have to really work and manage, that bad things happen. Life is really hard. None of us are exempt and none of us are immune. But what I know now is that is that things are survivable.
ALXnow: You’ve become a hiker.
Buchanan: So, the inspiration for “From Deserts To Mountaintops” is metaphorical and it’s also literal for me. I spent three months living in a desert, and part of my therapy and healing has involved hiking. My dad lives in the Blue Ridge Mountains and he’s an avid hiker. We lost my mom really suddenly the year before the kidnapping happened, and he really got through his grief through hiking.
So, I have spent the last 10 years putting one foot in front of the other. A lot of times I don’t listen to music, either. I hike a lot of times with my kids and my family, and then when I do get to be alone, it’s sacred, beautiful healing work. It took me a long time to learn how to trust and love the outdoors again, because I was so traumatized by living outside for so long.
ALXnow: Jan. 25 is around the corner. Is that a big day for you?
Buchanan: It’s my rescue day. It’s a huge day for me. I’m never really sure how I’m going to react to it. This year is going to feel like absolute celebration and reclamation. Next up is volume two of “Deserts To Mountaintops: Our Journey To (re)Claiming Our Bodies.” I am looking for women who want to write about their journey to reclaiming their bodies, whether it’s their health or self-image, and I would love to have a story of someone who has transitioned for their outsides to match their insides.
ALXnow: What’s the unifying thread in the stories in your new book? Your writers have all faced adversity. Is it about the moment they decided to change?
Buchanan: It’s the moment when they decided to love themselves. They decided to rescue themselves, and no one can really do that for you. You have to do it for yourself.
ALXnow: Are there any aphorisms that you live by?
Buchanan: Things don’t happen to us, they happen for us.
ALXnow: Did this event happen to you so that you could help people?
Buchanan: I think it happened so I could learn to love myself and then help teach other women how to do that.
A volunteer-led group representing the rapidly-developing Old Town North will now have paid leadership, with funding from the City of Alexandria.
The group will be focused on assisting the city’s goals of turning Old Town North into an arts hub, amid several sweeping developments in the works there, including the eventual demolition and redevelopment of the GenOn Power Plant.
The city is giving the group $83,000 in American Rescue Plan Act funding, which it will spend on staffing.
“This grant will enable OTNA to move beyond the all-volunteer stage with new professional staff, and to intensify its work toward its goals of implementing the Old Town North Small Area Plan and the Old Town North Arts and Cultural District,” per a release.
The grant comes as big changes are in the works to the area, facilitated by the same density trade that creates affordable housing to create arts spaces. The move has created some concern that it sets arts and affordable housing up as competing interests.
Last October, the Alexandria Economic Development Partnership announced it would be allocating $535,000 in total to several community organizations around Alexandria, including the Old Town North Alliance.
Former Vienna Town Council member Edythe Kelleher was hired as the first executive director.
A 28-year-old Alexandria man was released on bond after allegedly firing a handgun in Old Town on New Year’s Eve, according to the Alexandria Police Department.
No injuries were reported. The incident occurred at around 8:55 a.m. in the 1500 block of Princess Street, near Jefferson-Houston Elementary School.
Chauvez Diggins was arrested and charged with attempted malicious shooting, willful discharge of a firearm within 1,000 feet of an elementary school, use of firearm in a commission of a felony and carrying a concealed weapon without a permit. Diggins was released on Jan. 3 on a $3,500 unsecured bond and goes to court on Feb. 17.
APD is asking anyone with information on the incident to call its non-emergency number at 703-746-4444. Callers can remain anonymous.
Notification:: There is a heavy police presence near and around the 1500 block of Princess Street. This is in response to a shots fired call for service. No injuries have been reported in connection with this incident. APD is investigating. pic.twitter.com/bkZkIlKoio
— Alexandria Police (@AlexandriaVAPD) December 31, 2022
Updated 4:15 p.m. — After nearly 30 years in Old Town, Deli News & More closed last month for the last time.
The 7,800-square-foot space at 1406 King Street has since been leased to Ed McIntosh, one of the founders of Chop Shop Taco (1008 Madison Street). The shop will remain a convenience store, and it will be reopen in March as Eddie’s Little Shop and Deli.
“We will be specializing in prime rib sandwiches and handmade mozzarella along with a few other highlights,” McIntosh said.
The former owner of Deli News & More left a note of thanks on the front door of the business.
“It has been a privilege to be a part of this community,” owner Jong Suk Choi wrote. “Thank you for letting us serve you and please be well.”
Deli News & More opened as a newsstand in 1994, and served light breakfast fare, sandwiches and more. The “more” got the convenience store into trouble, prompting a City Council action approving the sale of alcohol on the premises in 2019.
Both streets were identified as high crash corridors in the city’s Vizion Zero Action Plan. The city said over a dozen people have been struck and injured walking on Patrick and Henry streets in Old Town since 2016.
The city said restricting right turns on red lights can be a cost-effective way of reducing collisions with pedestrians. Nearby D.C. voted last year to ban right turns at most red lights by 2025.
“[No turn on red] restrictions are a low-cost safety treatment that protects pedestrians by reducing collisions between pedestrians and people turning right at a red light,” the city’s website said. “These are typically coupled with signal treatments known as leading pedestrian intervals, which give pedestrians a head start into the intersection and further enhance safety.”
The City is proposing "no turn on red" (NTOR) restrictions for some streets turning onto Patrick and Henry Streets. The proposed changes would take effect in early 2023. For more information >> https://t.co/Uc0ZXHXXVa pic.twitter.com/bpMoa7HUNp
— Alexandria Transportation & Environmental Services (@AlexandriaVATES) January 5, 2023
Patrick and Henry Streets are the parts of Richmond Highway split into separated northbound and southbound streets that run through the Parker-Gray (or Braddock, depending on your preference) and Old Town neighborhoods.
The restrictions would be put into place on these intersections with Henry Street:
- Wythe Street
- Oronoco Street
- Princess Street
- Queen Street
The restrictions could be in place for these intersections with Patrick Street:
- Montgomery Street
- Wythe Street
- Pendleton Street
- Oronoco Street
- Princess Street
- Cameron Street
Potentially getting rid of the right turn on red option for those intersections is part of a broader Vision Zero effort, which includes a push to overhaul some of the city’s more crash-prone intersections.
According to the website, the city is soliciting public feedback on the potential change until Feb. 6.
The City is accepting public comment on the proposed changes. To submit a comment, please email [email protected]
Image via Google Maps
After 10 years, EagleBank is closing its Alexandria branch on Friday, March 3.
The EagleBank branch at the Atrium building (277 S. Washington Street) will then transfer all its accounts to its Ballston Branch (4420 N. Fairfax Drive).
Customers received the news in a Dec. 27 letter from Conchita Lumpkins, EagleBank’s director of community banking.
“It has been an honor and pleasure to serve your banking needs at this location for many years,” Lumpkins wrote. “We look forward to continuing to serve you at the Ballston location or any of our branch offices.”
EagleBank CEO Susan Riel told the Washington Business Journal in November that the company faces staffing issues, real estate lending challenges and rising interest rates.
Last year, EagleBank and its former CEO Ronald D. Paul were fined millions for violating insider lending regulations, and Paul was banned from banking.
A DoorDasher‘s car has not yet been recovered after being stolen in broad daylight during a home delivery in Old Town on Wednesday.
The incident occurred just after noon in front of a home in the 400 block of N. Alfred Street, near the intersection with Princess Street. The blue Toyota was stolen when the DoorDash driver left his car open and running while making a delivery.
The customer reported the incident on social media, and said that the car was stolen by suspects driving a dark four-door sedan missing a rear passenger side window. Photos of the vehicles were captured with a DoorCam.
“He dropped off the food and someone got in his car and took off with it,” the customer reported on social media.
Police provided no information on the incident, except to say that it remains under investigation.
“We sent everything to the police and to the poor DoorDasher,” the customer wrote. “Otherwise watch out this just happened.”
Hot on the heels of Trattoria da Franco reopening, another Italian restaurant is coming to Old Town next week.
The restaurant’s menu features a range of Italian classics, like gnocchi to saffron malloreddus.
The restaurant will be open from 5-9 p.m. Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, opening 30 minutes earlier Fridays through Sundays. The restaurant will usually be closed on Tuesdays, except for the opening day.
According to a release from the restaurant, bar seating will be available on a first-come, first-serve basis. Takeout won’t be available next week, but will start soon thereafter.
Prospective patrons can already book a table online.
Image via Thompson Italian/Facebook
After a busy season, Brandon Byrd finally wrapped things up at his Old Town custard shop with a special event on Christmas Eve.
Byrd will reopen Goodie’s Frozen Custard & Treats (200 Commerce Street) sometime in the spring, and like the ingredients of his vanilla custard, he isn’t planning on making any changes — that means no new flavors or price increases.
“My intention is still to not raise prices when I reopen in the spring,” Byrd told ALXnow. “I try to maintain consistency day in and day out, and that means I want customers to have the same experience 10 years from now that they first had.”
Byrd refused to raise prices for his products this year, and has dealt with supply chain issues and up to 200% cost increases for ingredients. It’s part of his long-game strategy of giving folks consistency — from a product and price standpoint — and he admits to taking a hit business-wise.
“Not increasing prices hurt business to a degree,” Byrd said. “But I have to stay consistent. That’s key.”
The special event on Christmas Eve was a toy giveaway for needy kids, just one in a handful of community get-togethers Byrd has hosted over the last several months. Byrd says the events have grown a loyal base of customers.
Byrd and a lone employee run Goodies from the 1930s-era ice house at 200 Commerce Street. The business began more than 10 years ago in Byrd’s custard truck, Gigi. The shop sells one flavor of Wisconsin-style custard — vanilla — and customers choose from a myriad of toppings, all for $8 to $10.
The shop was named one of the top 40 ice cream shops in the country this year by Thrillist.
Byrd said he will spend his downtime with family, and that he may take a vacation before reopening sometime in the spring.
“I have a definite feeling of accomplishment,” Byrd said. “Like tools in a toolbox, our tools are that we’re stable. We’re very consistent and now we get a much-needed break.”
“Word on the street is true — after 14 years, Robert and I are permanently closing the shop December 24th and moving to warmer climates,” Hubbard wrote.
The 1,160-square-foot location will be available for lease on Jan. 15.
Hubbard and her husband, co-owner Robert Ludlow decided to close after she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. The couple will be moving to a warmer climate to be near family, she wrote.
“Last summer my body decided to stop working and I wa diagnosed with MS (that’s right, I’m in the cool kids’ club with Selma Blair and Christina Applegate),” Hubbard wrote. “Thanks you all for your generosity and support! Stop by this week to grab some holiday chocolates and say goodbye!”
Photo via fleurirchoc/Instagram