In July, 2008, I, Princess Rachella, Intrepid African American Girl International Journalism Consultant, pulled up stakes once again and headed to Nairobi, Kenya. Through my various adventures, I've concluded that if I get any MORE explosively fabulous in these prequel years to "THE BIG 5-0," I will have to register myself with the Pentagon as a thermonuclear incendiary device.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Nairobi or Bust??????

Hey, I just realized something.....I arrived in Kenya 2 months ago today! Happy Anniversary to Me!

Maybe that's why I've spent today making a pest of myself among the local Masai crafts vendors here in Eldoret. I found out there's only one morning flight each day headed to Nairobi, which meant I couldn't leave tonight like I had hoped. So after meeting with the Nation bureau folk, I decided to pick up a few Masai mementos.

I am a seriously hard-nosed bargainer. I'll start off all polite and reasonable, and then I'm all, like, "So, what you have to do is decide whether you want to take what I'm offering, or just take this stuff home with you tonight." I know, I know, I will totally roast in Hell for denying these hard-working craftsmen and women a few extra dollars, but "it's the princi-pality of the thing," to borrow a line from one of my favorite guilty-pleasure movies, "Friday."

Anyhoo, the highlight of my shopping excursion was when I found the traditional Masai skirt and top that I was literally created to own in a shop near the hotel. It's made of a beautiful honey-colored cloth that matches the highlights in my hair....but it's also adorned with cowrie shells and silver beads....I swear I almost collapsed at the sheer fabulosity of the garments.

There was also this wooden Masai bust of a woman with the most bodaciously perfect boobs on anything made of flesh or other substance that I have ever seen. After a fierce bargaining session with a Kalenjin girl named Chepto, I broke it down to Chinatown and told her she could either take MY price for the outfit and the bust, or just the money for the outfit.

Chepto was not having it. I even left and came back a couple of hours later, holding the money that I wanted to pay. Chepto said "Add 500 shillings." I said no. Chepto wrapped up my dress and basically suggested that I not let the screen door hit me where the good Lord split me.

That ruthless little wench has nerves of steel. And I now have a gorgeous Masai bust of a woman I've named Chepto.

Feelin' Elderly in Eldoret....

I am writing this post from the lobby of the Sirikwa Hotel in Eldoret. I got here Sunday night, after a marathon drive over some of the most fucked up roads I've ever traveled....and I say this after having lived in Northern Uganda.

I'll elaborate and elucidate on the past 72 hours once I've returned to Nairobi and can download some photos and get a hot stone massage and a stiff snort of an alcoholic beverage that doesn't contain goat's blood or diesel fuel. I am in desperate need of one, after my hike through 80 degree angle hills near Kakamega.

Have you ever watched a basket of puppies playing in an open pasture on a warm, sunny day? Well, that's what it's like hanging out with men in their 20's. I mean, they're really cute and cuddly, and it's so hilarious watching them tussle and bite each others ears and chase around after each other. You just want to take them home and hug 'em to death.....but you probably don't want to trust them to make decisions that could result in your tragic demise.

This is to say I had a lot of fun hanging out with my friend Rosemary's son's best friend Bryan, and his zany So Cal bud Ian, and their German entomologist buddies........that is, when I wasn't fleeing for my life, gasping for breath, or gorging myself pie-eyed on the best pizza I've had in years.

These are all things that most 20-something males consider normal entertainment. But by Sunday morning, I knew I had to escape Kakamega or risk being airlifted to the closest ICU.

Like I said, I'll explain later. Gotta check out Eldoret, meet with some reporters, and then get my ass on the next thing smokin' back to Nairobi.....

Friday, August 22, 2008

"Go West, Young Woman......."

".....or Middle-Aged Woman," as it were.

I'm typing this post at a cyber-cafe in Kisumu, in far western Kenya. I decided to wear my black cowboy boots for this trip, because, like, it IS the West, right?? Besides, I'm feeling daring, and bold, and totally grown these days.

In fact, I'm actually feeling a bit TOO grown these days. I leave for Kakamega tonight, where
I'll be hanging out with a man named Bryan and his friends. Bryan is in Kenya working for a technology company based in Kakamega. We met briefly in Nairobi on Monday, where he was having meetings with UN folk.

Oh, and he's the best friend and former college roommate of the son of one of my friends. You know you have messed around and gotten old when you can actually admit to something like that. I was thinking about this horrifying phenomenon yesterday....I am only 2 months younger than the next President of the United States. I mean, how scary is that?

Anyway, another reason I'm feeling so bold is that just 8 months ago, Kisumu was one of the hotspots during the post-election violence. I'm getting a tour of the city later today, and it will be really eerie seeing the places that were consumed in flames and fury in the year. That I'm here in the aftermath of that violence, to work with Nation bureau reporters, makes me feel downright gutsy..... a point. I mean, I know I'm one seriously game sister after surviving Gulu. Remembering how petrified I was during my first boda boda ride, I've come a long way in just one short year. In some ways, I'd even call myself a bad-ass. But the limit of my bad-assery was sorely tested this morning when I went to buy a paper outside the Kisumu Hotel, and this row of young men leaning against bicycles started beckoning to me.

FYI, boda bodas come in different forms throughout Africa. Some are motorcycles, and some are regular bicycles with padded rectangular seats attached. This morning, these guys were enthusiastically offering to take me wherever I wanted to go.....on the back of a flippin' bicycle.

How can I describe the expression on my face that instantly silenced their clamor? Like furrowed brow and pursed lips were the physical version of the oft-posed hip-hop question,

"Jigga WHUHHHHHH?????" I mean, with my jeans and cowboy boots, I'm ready to straddle anybody's motorcycle in a heartbeat. But I am too damned grown to go bouncing over the rutted roads of Kisumu on the back of some kid's Schwinn. At least there would be some James Dean style bravado associated with being mangled in a motorcycle crash. How would I look lying splayed on the side of the road with a bicycle chain wrapped around my throat???

I ain't going out like no punk, you feel me?

BTW, WHY the hell am I writing this nonsense?? It must be the cowboy boots. More later, after my trip through the Kakamega rainforest.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Confessions of a Praise Pig...

You know, I can honestly understand why people think I'm certifiable for agreeing to live in places like Gulu, Uganda, and even Nairobi.

Gulu moreso than Nairobi, of course, because Gulu is basically a large outhouse with a police station attached. Also, it's smack dab in the middle of a formerly active brutal war zone....but with the way recent talks are going between the Lord's Resistance Army and the Ugandan Goverment, it could become active again real soon.

On the other hand, Nairobi is a remarkably modern, cosmopolitan African capital city with enough great restaurants to keep me occupied for another 2 or 3 years. Ain't no shame in my game for agreeing to come here, y'all.

Still, in hindsight, I do feel kind of guilty for subjecting family and friends to the inevitable wrenching concerns about my safety during my travels through Africa. But then, I guess I'm not too guilty, huh??? Because five months after escaping Gulu with my hide intact, I turned around and agreed to move to Nairobi, just 5 months after horrifying violence ravaged the city and the rest of the country.

So, am I nursing some unrelenting subconscious desire to be julienned in my sleep? Am I a hardcore adrenalin junkie who has decided that life ain't worth living unless there's a constant risk of death in the air? Naaah, I just like it when people tell me I've helped them in some way.

I got the following e-mail response today from one of my Ugandan radio trainees, Pius Sawa, after I found him on the Linked-In website and invited him to join my list of contacts. I think it's fairly self-explanatory.


On 8/5/08 2:19 AM, Rachel Jones wrote: --------------------
Sawa, I'd like to add you to my professional network on LinkedIn. -Rachel

On 8/20/08, 10:50 AM, Pius Sawa wrote:-----------------
Thanks Rachel,

Nice to hear that you are in Nairobi. I am doing well here, and i have just won a marantz digital recorder from BBC World Service Trust, for my feature about transitional Justice. The whole credit goes to you who taught me how to make a feature. Pius


Now, is the occasional brief, warm fuzzy e-mail from a grateful African journalism trainee worth risking life and limb?

Yeah, I guess it is.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Perfect Timing

I'm telling you, there IS a God. How else do you explain that the fact that the one song that would have completely destroyed all of my stoic reserve and left me a quivering, blubbering, emotional wreck had I heard it before August 17th aired on a local radio station two days later?
OR the fact it played as I was in a taxi stuck in traffic on the way to my office in downtown Nairobi? I almost bit my top lip off trying to keep my composure, but I made it...mostly because I feared a day-long case of raccoon eyes if I cried and smudged my mascara.

It was my theme song for my sister from the day it was released. And I've never heard a version more beautiful than the original, sung by Bette Midler. So here's one more birthday message to Julie...

It must have been cold there in my shadow,
To never have sunlight on your face.
You were content to let me shine, that's your way.
You always walked a step behind.

So I was the one with all the glory,
While you were the one with all the strain.
A beautiful face without a name for so long.
A beautiful smile to hide the pain.

Did you ever know that you're my hero,
And everything I would like to be?
I can fly higher than an eagle,
For you are the wind beneath my wings.

It might have appeared to go unnoticed,
But I've got it all here in my heart.
I want you to know I know the truth, of course I know it.
I would be nothing without you.

Did you ever know that you're my hero?
You're everything I wish I could be.
I could fly higher than an eagle,
For you are the wind beneath my wings.

Did I ever tell you you're my hero?
You're everything, everything I wish I could be.
Oh, and I, I could fly higher than an eagle,
For you are the wind beneath my wings,

Oh, the wind beneath my wings.
You, you, you, you are the wind beneath my wings.

Fly, fly, fly away. You let me fly so high.
Oh, you, you, you, the wind beneath my wings.
Oh, you, you, you, the wind beneath my wings.

Fly, fly, fly high against the sky,
So high I almost touch the sky.

Thank you, thank you,
Thank God for you, the wind beneath my wings.

I'm going to try and post Julie's high school graduation photo from 1968. Then you'll understand what I mean.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Why Fight It?

I feel like such a fool. I have wasted the past 2 decades trying to build my credibility and skill as a journalist and writer, when Fate keeps sending me sign after sign that my destiny lies in becoming one of the world's oldest purveyors of the world's oldest profession.

After all, as I've written several times before, as a well-dressed, attractive black woman traveling alone in Africa, too often I'm automatically assumed to be a hooker. And yes, it's already happened here, as it has in every African country I've visited. It was even funny for a while last year in Uganda, when everywhere I went with my 23 year old white intern, people assumed he had paid for my company.

But a couple of weeks ago, when I went to one of the poshest hotels in Nairobi to make an appointment for a massage, it wasn't so funny. The African front desk staff eyed me warily, and tersely gave me directions to to the spa in tones they'd have never used with a white female...even one who may have actually looked and dressed like a hooker. When I got to the spa, the African women behind the counter looked at me like I smelled bad, and informed me that non-guests couldn't use the facilities without a letter of introduction from a guest (Obviously, I'd already been told that wasn't the case).

Having lived in DC the past 13 years, I've gotten spoiled by being able to go wherever I want and expect to be treated civilly, if nothing else. In Metro DC, a region with the most middle and upper middle class African Americans in the US, the first assumption when you show up at an upscale venue, appropriately dressed, is that you can not only afford to be there, but you're probably someone whose regular business would be greatly prized. And because so many single, professional, affluent African American women travel alone, American businesses tend to see green above any other color.

Not so in Africa--at least not for me. Even with the American accent, I've still been given the frequent fisheye. I wish I could take some lasting comfort in the possibility that my youthful vigor and bounteous feminine charms have become a curse, but that prospect has long since worn thin.

But guess what? When I asked one of the snippy spa receptionists if I could get someone from the Nation Media Group to write me a letter of introduction, suddenly her demeanor changed and she instantly booked me an appointment. Clearly, if I was connected with NMG, I couldn't be a common trollop.

Sadly, my prostitute problem does not end there. Tonight, I checked my e-mail and found a message from some guy in the US who's traveling to Kenya next year and came across my blog. He's looking for a female travel companion for 7 to 10 days, all expenses paid, and would even consider a fee, if appropriate. He was hoping I could help him find someone.

Please, dear friends, I'm begging you to tell me if there's something about this blog that gives the impression that I am a whore. Or a whore monger. Cuz if that's the case, I want to stop sending that message. I mean, sheesh! For somebody who hasn't even had a freakin' DATE in aeons, I am developing quite a reputation.

Perhaps I should just stop fighting it and launch my own little sideline? Maybe I'll call it, "Homegirl Holidays," or something.

Or maybe I'll just go pull the covers over my head and pretend it never happened. Yeah, that's the ticket.

P.S. The most logical name for my new sideline just occurred to me. Considering my rather seasoned stature, how about "Hot Flash 'Hoes"? Look, people, I GOTTA laugh at this stuff or I'll be go completely loony!

Medal Madness

The newsroom has just erupted in a roar that would've scared the crap out of me if I didn't know the Olympics were underway.

Two Kenyan women have just taken gold and silver in the 800 meter race, and the whole building is rocking. The only other time I've heard anything like this was when I was in Rio de Janeiro in 2002, during the World Cup games. I was on a press trip, and remember how eerily empty the streets were as we did our van tour of the city. But every now and then, an ominous roar would erupt from the houses and apartment buildings and bars, and we knew Brazil must have scored a goal.

I haven't been following the Olympics this year, but I'm glad I was able to share in this joyous moment for Kenya. Makes me wish I'd been in a Sports bar in the US when Michael Phelps won his 8th gold medal.

And it also makes me wonder if I should start thinking about finding some really good earplugs for November 5th........

Sunday, August 17, 2008

A Very Special Day

Okay, hold onto your skulls, people, 'cause what I'm about to write is MAJOR.

Today is an overcast day in Nairobi, and it's also what would have been my sister Julie's 58th birthday. Here's the kicker.....I feel terrific.

Seriously. No foolin'. I mean, I'm getting settled here, and I really like the work I do, and my health is good, and God is GREAT, because I'm still standing.

Most of the reason I feel so good this morning is because my brother-in-law Ron sent me an e-mail saying he'd placed a dozen yellow roses on Julie's grave for me. Homey got my back, BIG TIME. But when I remember the crippling dread I felt back in early May, bracing for that first visit to Julie's grave, it's almost like that was another lifetime. That was when every minute of every day was dedicated to fueling the pain and frustration of not being able to see her, or hear her, or hug her, or tell her how much I loved her.

But for some reason, now I'm able to hang on to one very simple bottom line: Julie would not want me to spend the rest of my life grieving her loss. She'd want me to get on with it, just like she always did.

I'm not going to promise that my Inner Child will never throw another pity party again. I'm not promising there won't be days when all I want to do is just curl up in a tight ball under the covers and weep like my heart is broken.

My heart is broken. But it's also starting to mend, because that's what Julie wants.

So my beloved sister, there's no disrespect intended in the following birthday felicitation. It's just that I'm happy you're not hurting anymore, and I'm happy I'm not crippled by depression today, and I'm happy Ron's doing okay. And I'm glad you were my big sister for 46 years.

Here's a silly birthday greeting for you:

Hippo birdie 2 ewe,
Hippo birdie 2 ewe,
Hippo birdie deer Julie,

I can just SEE her rolling her eyes and shaking her head over that bit of fluff. And I can also see her smiling.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Going With the Flow


I woke up to the depressing realization that I am NOT yet officially a completely dried up old maid. After almost 4 months, I was really starting to enjoy freedom from monthly tyranny. I was embracing my new persona of Sage Warrior Woman, one who had vanquished the fears of fast encroaching menopause because it offered a new type of carefree life, one not defined by a messy, painful, completely involuntary physical cycle.

But now, I find I STILL have to worry about unwanted pregnancy.........

HA, HA, HA, HA! I am busting a gut over here! I mean, even I couldn't finish that sentence without laughing! I slay myself!

Flower Power

It's about 1 AM in Nairobi, and it just occurred to me why I've been buying flowers like they're going out of style this week.

Sure, these days it's as reflexive as breathing. Flowers are so glorious and plentiful, and cheap here. It's been absolute heaven to have fresh roses every week, in just about every room, and only spend about 10 dollars to boot.

But I've been a total petal perp these past few days!! I'm talking roses and birds of paradise, and lilys and a couple of stems of something I can't even pronounce, but they were such a vivid shade of orange I HAD to have them.

I've been thinking maybe it's because the weather is so much better these days, and I'm really feeling settled, and it's such a joy to have beautiful flowers in your living space. But now I know the real reason.

Sunday will be the first August 17th in ages that I didn't buy flowers for my sister Julie's birthday. Some imprint on my heart is making me do this, I just know.

Now, if I could just figure out what's making me head to the freezer for some Snickers gelato right now....

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Honor Thy Father

I've noticed that Africans are big on revering the dead. I mean, they take out huge notices
in newspapers honoring a beloved family member with poetry, scripture and heartfelt sentiment on the 10th, 15th, even 20th anniversary of their death. It's really quite impressive. After a decade or so, I'd be inclined to just light a candle and save a few bucks, but that's just me.

My father died 5 years ago today, and I'm gonna take some time here to talk about Lewis Jones. I started thinking about him early this morning, as I was getting ready for work. Some CNN International anchor said it was August 14, 2008. It reminded me of where I was 5 years ago. Physically and emotionally.

Physically, I was at the hospital in Sikeston, Missouri for most of that day, having flown in from DC a few days earlier. We all kinda knew that at 86, after several mild strokes and an ongoing battle with prostate cancer, this was probably the last go-round for Lewis Jones.

Emotionally, I had just entered the most psychologically and spiritually paralyzing period of my entire life. In August of 2003, my family was still reeling from my brother David's suicide when we had to prepare for Daddy's death. At one point, when I wound up alone in the hospital room with my father, I told him I loved him. It was the only time I ever spoke those words to him. Sure, he was in a teensy bit of a coma at the time, but at least I got them out while he still had a pulse.

If you've been reading this blog regularly, you could probably do a bit of amateur sleuthing and conclude that my rather disjointed, ambivalent approach to relationships has a lot to do with my relationship with my father. In short, I've spent a lifetime chasing men who were not available to me. Oh sure, they were there, in the sense that they weren't invisible, but otherwise, they made very little attempt to respond to my overtures.

The only difference between those men and my father is that the more they ignored me, the more I HAD TO HAVE THEM. Where my father was concerned, not so much. You see, by about age six, I had accepted the cold, hard reality that Lewis Jones was incapable of affection, interaction, or even basic communication with his children. Daddy LOVED playing with and cooing at babies and toddlers, but as soon as a child was able to form sentences, he had no idea what to do with them. It's like he literally turned to stone.

Now, don't think this is going to turn into some "Daddy Dearest" tell-all posting, because Lewis Jones never beat any of us with a wire hanger or otherwise abused us physically. And I think we all give him credit for sticking around, for 2 reasons. First, my mother was crazy as a betsy bug (I'll write more about why later), and second, he had all those damn kids and only a piece of a minimum wage job, and little education.....he could have just turned tail and ran, like so many other men did.

But Daddy stayed. He got up every morning, went to work lifting bags of grain onto barges, came home exhausted every night and covered with grain dust, plopped down in front of the TV to watch Walter Cronkite in his trusted recliner, went to bed, and then got up the next morning to do it all over again. Though I wondered why he never talked to us or tried to interact with us, even as a little girl I was able to respect the fact that he never left us.

I've written before about the moment I gave up any vague notion of ever being "Daddy's Little Girl." It was the day I left for freshman year at Northwestern University, in September of 1979. My mother and brother Fred were driving me from Cairo to Evanston, and the rest of my siblings had helped pack my meager belongings into the station wagon outside. All that was left was to say goodbye to my father, who was in his trusted recliner watching TV. I stood at the foot of that recliner to say goobye, I wanted him to get up and give me a hug. He said goodbye, but he didn't get up out of that recliner. So I turned and walked out the door, and I cried half the way to Evanston.

Years later, I realized that was the day I began to uncork all of my bottled-up longing for male acknowledgement and started spewing it over the most unreceptive men I could find. That's what felt normal. Hell, I wouldn't have had a clue how to act with a man who was actually interested in my attention. I mean, what would we have talked

See, that's the beauty of being 46, and living through 5 years of loss, and grief, and coming out on the other side. I've learned that "me" is actually a pretty fascinating subject! I know who I am now, and I know that I deserve to have someone think I'm worth getting up out of that recliner for. I know that I deserve to be loved and supported and nurtured. I know that I am strong enough to wait until the right man comes along.

And you know what? On this, the fifth anniversary of Lewis Jones' death, I know he loved me. I know he didn't know how to show it, but I know he did. And I know he heard me say I loved him on the day he died.

Only now I know I actually meant it.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Monday, Monday....Can't Trust That Day....

I did NOT need to wake up to the news that Isaac Hayes had died. And THEN learn that Bernie Mac's birthday was the same as mine...October 3rd.

But hey, I gotta soldier on. It's another beautiful sunny day in Nairobi. And my life totally doesn't suck.

Still, I can't help thinking the world has lost about 2 million "cool points" now that Bernie and Isaac are gone.

They were both some bad muthas.......

But let me "shut my mouth" til I can think of something happier to write about.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

The Mau Mau, Me and Muthii

Now, I don't want you to get the wrong impression when I tell you I invited a 63-year-old cab driver to catch a movie with me last night. I haven't resorted to "Looking for Mr. Goodbar," or anything desperate like that.

It's just that from the minute I climbed into the cab belonging to a man named Muthii (pronouced "Muh-THEE") a few weeks ago, I liked him. Never mind that less than five minutes into the drive, Muthii started extolling the virtuous nature of the Kikuyu tribe, and how other Kenyans were just "haters" because the Kikuyu were so resourceful, hard-working and God-fearing.

Since we were stuck in a traffic jam in a torrential rainstorm, my first instinct was to just sit there and mumble, "Hmm" every now and then while he unspooled example after example of why the Kikuyu were blessed and cursed at the same time. Finally, when it was clear we wouldn't be moving any time soon, my journalistic curiosity got the best of me. I asked Muthii if he really believed the Kikuyu were the only Kenyans who possessed those positive character traits.

I suppose that after the post-election violence earlier this year, that probably wasn't the safest thing I could have done. Especially since the whole time I've been here, people have suggested I look like I belong to the Luo tribe. Actually, I could pass for either a Luo or a Luhya, as long as I kept my mouth shut. Whichever, most folks here say I look like I was born, bred and buttered in Western Kenya.

Here's the salient point in this discussion....most of the violence occurred between the Luo and the Kikuyu tribes. The current Prime Minister, Raila Odinga, who's Luo, protested the election results that returned Kikuyu President Mwai Kibaki to office. Pent up Luo anger and perceived continuous disenfranchisement drove people into the streets and fields, and well, I don't have to tell you what happened next.

Anyway, as an American observer, it's been way too easy for me to scratch my head and write it all off to man's deeply-entrenched inhumanity to man. As I told Muthii that evening in the rainstorm, as an African American, I simply can't relate. I mean, we have our divisions based on social class and skin color, but there's never been any sworn blood vengeance between African Americans from Mississippi versus those from Georgia.....unless it was on a football field.

Muthii conceded several of my very polite observations, but the discussion always seemed to get back to Kikuyu virtue. By the time I finally got home, I didn't want to get out of the car. The conversation had been so fascinating, and Muthii was such a charming gent. He gave me his card, and I made a mental note to call him soon.

It took a couple of weeks, but when I did call him again, for a pick-up from the Sarit Centre Mall, he was speedy and graciously helped with all my parcels. This trip was shorter, but no less enjoyable. I think it's partly because of the formal, Brit-inflected English most Kenyans use,
and because Muthii has a slight speech impediment that makes him sound so delightful.

Anyway, during that brief trip, Muthii revealed he'd been orphaned at about age 8. His father was dragged away in the middle of the night, and never seen again. His mother was arrested and spent many years in a prison camp before she died. I didn't ask why...I guess I expected him to tell me eventually, if not during that trip, another time.

Well, I finally learned last what happened last night. I'd called Muthii for a ride to the Alliance Francaise building, which was hosting a Mau Mau film festival. I'm completely embarrassed that I knew less than zero about what the term "Mau Mau" really meant. The only real connotation it held for me was rebellion. I knew it was linked to African history, and I knew it struck terror into the heart of white colonialists, but beyond that, nada.

But I came across a listing for the film festival and decided it was a good way to start filling that knowledge gap. So after climbing into his cab, I told Muthii that I was headed to see a film about the Mau Mau uprising. He replied, "My father was Mau Mau. That is why they took him away."

I was beyond stunned. While I was still trying to gather my wits, Muthii asked if the film was free. I told him I didn't know, but that I would consider it a privilege to watch the movie with someone who had experienced that history first hand. He readily accepted my invitation, and thus began my first "date" in Nairobi.

I won't even try to fully capture what it was like watching the movie. Ironically, it was a documentary from the early 1960's, narrated by NBC legend Chet Huntley. It was a typical corny old newsreel, but it was just the tip of a huge iceberg of historical curiosity for me. I didn't realize the so-called "Mau Maus" were all Kikuyu, and that the future President of post-colonal Kenya, Jomo Kenyatta, was considered their leader. I had no idea that they considered themselves freedom fighters, attempting to win back land they claimed was stolen from them by the British. I had no idea of the extent of death, torture and destruction that ensued.

And I still have no idea what was going through Muthii's mind as he watched the flickering images. All I know is after the movie ended and he was driving me home, he said the documentary had only scratched the surface. It had left me reeling, so I'm wondering if I could even handle delving deeply into the history.

As Muthii drove off, I was once again reminded how little we know about the people we see around us every day. And today, as I walked down Kimathi Street--after learning last night that it is named after one of the leaders of the independence struggle, Dedan Kimathi--I made a silent commitment to learn as much as I can during this absolutely extraordinary experience in my life.

And I'm gonna keep on reaching out to people, and stop being so darned insular. That doesn't mean I'm gonna get friendly with every cab driver I meet. Miss Eloise didn't raise no fools, OR no 'hoes. But I can't help thinking it's time to turn the focus outward, to stop hesitating and really just relax and be myself. The kind of woman who can befriend the son of a Mau Mau rebel just as easily as she can make breezy chit chat with embassy officials. I mean, why hold back...what's NOT to like???

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

"Picture It...Cairo....1978...."

Okay, my buddy Ron just threw down the gauntlet. He read the last blog entry and reminded me that any blogger worth a rat's ass usually manages to put pictures on his/her site.

Shortly after launching this blog in May of 2007, I totally stopped trying to find creative ways to illustrate my posts after about a month of Internet Hell in Gulu. Once I realized I'd need the patience of Job and a military satellite hovering directly behind my left shoulder to accomplish that technological feat, I just gave up on trying to post pictures.

But lo and behold, it works like a charm here in Nairobi!!! So I thought I'd start off with two being what I think is probably in the top 5 of the best pictures I've ever taken in my life, and the other the hands-down winner for the worst (described below). I'm actually so geeked, I think I'll start taking some shots of Nairobi to post, to give y'all a glimpse of my new life.

(Yawn..) I just got home from my first "date" in Nairobi..." but I'm too tired to write about it. I'll post tomorrow.

That's right....gotta keep you on the edge of your seats!!!!!!!

Here Comes The Sun....

I can't lie.....Seasonal Affective Disorder arrived a bit early for me this year.

The kind of psychic gloom that usually settles in during the cold, slate-gray days from January through March has held me hostage the past week or so. It was just so freakin' dark and chilly here in Nairobi, and my poor system was really raggin' on me. First it was the hot flashes, and once they calmed down, the mental fog moved in.

It didn't help when my brother-in-law Ron alerted me to a 30-year-old picture of myself that was posted on the Cairo High School Alumni website. One of my former classmates had snapped me and my sister Julie on the night of the Junior/Senior Prom in 1978.

Now, I've heard all the psychobabble about taking a picture of yourself from childhood and cooing at it lovingly. You're supposed to embrace the inner child, and pour out love and acceptance for the girl you were, flaws and all.

Well, somebody get me a net before I try to get anywhere near that po' fugly thang!! (For those of you who don't know, "fugly" is an amalgamation of the words "f---ing" and "ugly," and it's definitely appropriate for this discussion.) I don't know what could have been going on in my tortured brain at that moment, but I looked like some feral creature poised to attack. I was wearing one of those polyesther, 70's lime-colored prom creations, with some sort of tie around my skinny little throat, and my teeth were bared...

WTF??? I mean, I know I wasn't the happiest teenaged girl in the world (I adopted Janis Ian's "At 17" as my theme song), or the most popular, or the most attractive, but what wuz up with the snarl? And I was so skeletally thin back then. In that picture, I look like Ichabod Crane as a pissed-off, African American transvestite.

But I'll stop being so hard on myself. If I'd seen that photo on a bright, sunny day like today, I'd have just laughed it off instead of cringing. Today is a beautiful day in Nairobi, no question. It's got me ready to plan a long weekend in Mombasa, perhaps at a bed and breakfast near the beach, where I will lie on a beach chair and stare out at the Indian Ocean. Or doing something cool like that somehwere in Kenya. And I will, in the next few weeks.

Oh, there's one more thing about that 30 year old picture. My sister Julie was absolutely the loveliest woman I ever knew. I guess that's part of what made me so crazy about her when I was a little girl...she was so durned pretty, like the Barbie doll I desperately wanted but never got. And the funny thing is, I don't think she ever really knew just HOW beautiful she was, inside and out. In my experience, beautiful people who don't know they're beautiful are the coolest people ever, because they don't waste a lot of time worrying about how to maintain that beauty, or whether somebody else is MORE beautiful. That's the way Julie was.

I'll never be as pretty as she was, I guess, but I'll at least try to never again look like I did in that picture from 30 years ago. That was some scary shit, y'all.