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, September 29, 2008

"I loke u body"

I've gotta get out more. This business of sitting at home every night because I'm unattached has got to end, ASAP.

One of the main reasons I've avoided going to various events alone in Nairobi is I haven't felt like being treated like a whore when I get there. But with each passing evening at the Lizard Apartments, I'm realizing I don't even have to leave the premises for that to happen.

Turns out I can get disrespected every time I turn on my laptop at home. You see, in cyberspace, all women are frenzied nymphomaniacs just panting for some dull-witted 26 year old Moroccan named Mostafa who's suffering from undiagnosed borderline personality disorder to contact them on Skype and flash a picture of his penis.

I am not making this up. For those of you who aren't familiar with Skype, it's just another computer method of instant communication, like Yahoo messenger or AOL IM, or Facebook. Skype goes one step better, because you can also make phone calls to any other computer that has the Skype program and a microphone. It's pretty cool...when it works.

Anyway, I've gotten into the habit, whenever I'm at home, of signing onto Skype and leaving it on, just to see if I I'll hear from anybody I know, or get an interesting message from an interesting person in an interesting part of the world.

Okay, full disclosure time. I know that I wrote a few weeks ago that I had ended my search for "Mr. Right," and was leaving that aspect of my life to Fate. Well, Fate needs to get the lead out, cuz I'm extremely open to male companionship these days. And even though my track record on was dismal, I'm not averse to chatting up guys online.

Actually, Skype makes that pursuit a lot safer for me, because most of the men who contact me are at least a couple thousand miles away. Besides, I generally do a good job of screening out freaks. For example, any guy who calls without first introducing himself by email chat gets an instant hang up. Look, I wouldn't talk to a stranger who called my landline or mobile, so why would I accept a cold call from some dork in the Ukraine?

Also, I generally try to check a guy's profile before I respond to his instant message. If he's in his 20s, I often ignore the overture (unless it's accompanied by a smokin' photo...hey, at least that way I can pretend the hot flashes are caused by something else...)

Recently, I've actually had a few interesting conversations with British men in their 40's and 50's. It's easier to set ground rules with more mature guys, so I just let them know right off the bat that I'm not going to send them any naked pictures, I'm not interested in sex chat, and I don't want to see their nether regions, either. That winds up weeding out a good 7 out of 10 contacts right away.

If they're still hanging around at that point, chatting is really stress free. You can talk about politics, travel, news, a whole range of things, and then when you're finished, just sign out. If during some moment of abject desperation I ever decided I wanted to actually try and meet any of these people, I could trade contact information.

But getting messages from men older than 30 has been pretty rare, so I've decided
to view my Skyping as a sort of an anthropological expedition. I'm alternately amused and horrified by most of the guys who bombard me whenever I sign on. I'm getting a lot of messages from Italian guys, and guys from North Africa, and from Turkey, for some reason. I've also met a couple of Americans, like this really funny guy named Tim who was consulting in Germany until returning to Arizona last week. This past weekend, I had a lovely chat with a guy from India, but then he admitted he was 26 years old and "very lonely," and I knew where the conversation was headed. I'm sorry, but there's really not much I can do for a horny kid in Mumbai, so I usually excuse myself fairly quickly in those situations.

Sadly, most of the Kenyan men who contact me are of the "Beach Boy" variety. If you ever saw "How Stella Got Her Groove Back," you know what I'm talking about. I'm told there's an epidemic of young Kenyan studs hanging out at the hotels of Mombasa, looking to be "chaperoned" by lonely German women with more Euros than good sense or common decency. Amazingly, somehow these guys are able to take one look at my headshot, conclude I'm an African American in my late 40's, and craft an introduction that fairly reeks of corny machismo. This one dude sent a picture of himself actually flexing in front of a weight machine, and promised to show me the time of my life if I ever come to Mombasa. Oh, and his profile said he was 22.

I'm sorry, but my pulse is just NOT racing for some reason. Even though I'm actually headed to Mombasa on Sunday. People, there are things mixed in with my navel lint that are older than this guy. Besides, here's how I've analyzed the situation...I could hook up with Mandingo when I get Mombasa.....or I could inject myself with a vial full of a potent serum comprised of chlamydia and syphillis. Either way, the end result would likely be a major hospital stay.

You know, the worst part of this whole scenario is that I can't even consider myself a pretty hot tamale because all these guys see my headshot and fire off email kisses and pleas for my undying love. I mean, how much of a coup is it to be cyber-stalked by a guy whose idea of romantic prose is, "I loke u body...u want me penis?" It's actually kind of sad, imagining those men sitting in darkened rooms, apparently 24 hours a day, trolling the Internet hoping for the occasional onscreen coupling. Just think of the man hours lost to frenzied masturbation alone.

Anyway, the point of this posting is that, nearing the 3 month mark of my stay in Nairobi, I've concluded that fending off pervs in cyberspace will eventually make me feel really pathetic and lonely, and that I need to start creating frequent opportunities for social interaction. They don't necessarily have to be focused on finding male companionship, by the way. I just need to avoid falling into a rut.

You should pardon the expression.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

A Great Prognosis

Sometimes, it can take a while to get any sign that your work has meaning.

Trust me, I think about that a lot during my sojourns on the African continent...say, when I'm huddled under a mosquito net battling hot flashes and mutant insects, or when I'm being harrassed in a hotel bar because security guards think I'm a 'ho, or when I'm feeling kinda punk and realize that I'm not even sure if there's an emergency phone number I could call if I needed to be rushed to a hospital.

In other words, there are many times when I'm extremely aware that my middle name ain't Teresa, and I ain't nobody's mother, and that this kind of work ain't no cakewalk.

For example, looking back over this past week, I've visited two Nairobi hospitals, trying to figure out if I have malaria or not. Both facilities, Nairobi Hospital and The Aga Khan Hospital, are private, which means about 90 percent of Kenyans can't afford services there. I know it sounds really "Ugly American" of me, but while at both hospitals, I'm surprised by how surprised I was. It felt like being back home...the cleanliness, professional service, and modern facilities all reminded me of visits to my HMO clinic back in DC, or the two times I've gone to an emergency room there.

Remembering my one trip to a Gulu hospital last year...for another malaria test...I shuddered imagining what I would have done if I'd had to actually check in. At the time, I blogged about that visit, describing it as less scary than I'd expected. There were no puddles of infected blood, or discarded diseased limbs littering the hallways. But I'm positive that, if I'd had to be admitted, the lack of resources, equipment, medicine and staff would have made for a harrowing stay.

Thankfully, just like last year, I've learned I DON'T have malaria. That means I won't need a hospital stay or any kind of significant medical care for now. But for that 90 percent of Kenyans who can't afford a private hospital, seeking care during major illness means frustration, delay, squalid conditions, inferior care....and that's not just my opinion. A few weeks ago, members of the Kenyan Parliament released a report condemning the terrible conditions at most of the country's public health facilties.

Well, because I'm in Kenya to mentor journalists covering health issues, I saw a perfect opportunity to delve further. I suggested that reporters be sent to hospitals across the country to report on conditions there. Then, I worked with them to produce feature stories about those experiences. The result was a package that ran this past Monday, entitled "Shame of the Public Health Service."

Two days after the stories were published, Kenyan officials announced they'd spend the equivalent of 8 million dollars over the next year, to address problems like lack of staff, poor infrastructure, outdated equipment, overcrowding, etc.

I gotta admit, it's a terrific feeling to think my idea might result in better medical care for Kenyans. And if I feel this way, imagine how the reporters who wrote these stories feel. I do know that several of them have already lined up story ideas they want my help with.

So, I guess my key to good mental hygiene is to keep trying for great experiences like this during my year in Nairobi. I mean, if I'm gonna have to endure constant menopausal panic, greedy, potentially plague-bearing mosquitoes, and lack of access to pastrami and swiss on rye, there's gotta be something in it for me, am I right??

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Malaria or Menopause....Name Your Poison

Contrary to popular belief, life actually gets much simpler as you get older.

Take me, for instance. As a 46 year old woman who's been having sporadic bouts of dizziness, nausea, hot flashes and chills for the past few weeks, there are only two things that could be happening.

I was gently reminded of this yesterday afternoon, while enduring a pitying stare from a young intern at Aga Khan Hospital. Because I'd spent a week in Western Kenya recently, and foolishly neglected to take malaria prophylaxis while I was there (STOOPID, I know), I believed it was entirely possible I'd fallen prey to that winged contagion. I even took a blood test at Nairobi Hospital last Friday, which came back negative for malaria parasites.

This time, I knew I'd need to consult with a doctor, and have a broader range of tests. I decided to check out the digs at the hospital named for the fabulously wealthy philanthropist who owns the newspaper I'm working for. Figured maybe I'd get some priority treatment.

Well, the young whippersnapper who examined me clearly had NOT received the memo about treating me like royalty. He patiently listened to my littany of woes, glanced at my chart, and then remarked, "Excuse me, Madam, but you must consider that at your age, these symptoms could be menopausal."

NO SHIT, SHERLOCK!!! Why is it that young male doctors always go there with their "elderly" female patients?? After all, I do have SOME reason to suspect something else could be going on. I've been battling hot flashes and other symptoms of perimenopause for the past 4 years, and I haven't run to the hospital every time I woke up in a tangle of soggy bedsheets. This feels different.

Now, if all it means is that the pilot light in my fertility oven is about to blow out, I can live with that. But if there's some parasite laying about 50 million larvae in my intestinal lining, I'd prefer to know about it before I wind up as the lead segment on the Discovery Chanel's "Disease Detectives" show or something.

Anyway, after I put the medical whelp in his place, he gave me a thorough exam and ordered all manner of tests. Other than high blood pressure, I appear to be clear, so maybe this is just my reproductive system's death knell. But like I said earlier, I'm looking on the bright side. Better I should be choosing between a treatable tropical disease and official "Barren Womb" status, as opposed to a range of other heinous clinical complications.

Gee, and all this is happening a week before my 47th birthday!

"Umm, excuse me, Higher Power, but based on the past few years, might I request a simple cake, or a few balloons as a birthday present, instead of Byzantine medical drama??? Puh-LEEEEEEZE???"

Sigh. I'll keep you posted....

Saturday, September 20, 2008

A Vision of Change, Blurred

I need to apologize to all of my ardent Obama supporter friends for what I'm about to write. In particular, to my friend Deb, who just sent me an email containing pictures from an Obama rally in Oregon. The subject line reads, “This is absolutely BEAUTIFUL!!!!!!,” and as I scrolled down to view the images, I had to agree. The pictures featured thousands of supporters--probably about 95 percent of whom were white--gathered to hear Obama speak. Many were listening so intently, it almost hinted at rapture.

Those pictures literally stirred my heart--especially as a woman who grew up under American Apartheid in Cairo, Illinois back in the 1960’s. But it’s because I grew up in Cairo, Illinois that I am actually starting to prepare myself for profoundly bitter disappointment on November 5th. You see, I bear the scars of what hatred, fear, distrust, hypocrisy and greed can do to the dreams, hopes and aspirations of a small American town--and I have always believed Cairo was a microcosm of what the future could hold for the rest of America.

This morning, 8,000 miles away from Cairo in Nairobi, I read a newspaper story that has replaced any stirrings of hope in my heart with icy dread. It described a decision by one of Hillary Clinton’s former supporters, Lynn Forester de Rothschild, to support John McCain, because Barack Obama is too “elitist.”

Where does one BEGIN to tackle that kind of twisted logic? First, the woman married into one of the richest families who ever walked the face of the Earth, and she’s calling Obama elitist?? Second, as an ardent Clinton backer, how can Forester de Rothschild possibly defend supporting a man whose policies are diametrically opposed to everything Hillary Clinton stands for…..AND who has made a mockery of everything American suffrage and feminism stand for by picking Sarah Palin as his running mate?

But solely because she is female--and because her selection panders to the fear of everything that is NOT 100% white, Christian, and conservative--Palin will draw support from people like Lynn Forester de Rothschild, so-called loyal Democrats who have decided to “take a stand” of some sort, one so vastly removed from previously articulated ideals that it’s almost like deciding to play Russian Roulette with your vote.

And it’s not just peeved ex-Clinton supporters I’m worried about these days. Reading that article left me badly shaken. It reminds me of how I feel every time I go back to Cairo, Illinois, and witness the economic decay and feel the oppressive hopelessness and futility. As I wrote earlier this year, Cairo, Illinois had the potential to be a thriving tourist destination, with its seemingly prime location between the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers. Its vibrant history, with links to the Lewis and Clark expedition, the Civil War, Huck Finn and the Riverboat era, could have made Cairo rival Branson, MO as a vacation mecca for Americana-obsessed travelers.

Instead, most people who know anything about Cairo remember it as a racist hotspot during the 1960’s. Any positive hopes for Cairo’s future were destroyed by the early 1970’s, when the “powers that be” decided they would rather strangle the town than share power and economic benefits with black residents. I am one of the thousands of people who left Cairo soon after high school because if you possesed dreams and goals for your future, there was no other choice.

The handful of “powerbrokers” who may somehow still be profiting on Cairo’s shriveled corpse don’t even live there anymore themselves. My hometown is a tragic, empty shell, because when faced with the choice to denounce hatred, fear, distrust, hypocrisy and greed, Cairo’s “elite” made an illogical decision that was clearly not in the best interest of the entire community.

It almost doesn’t matter that the people who made this decision were white, and the majority of people who suffer its long-term consequences are black. The parallel between what happened to Cairo, Illinois and the decision America has to make on November 4th is not so much about race as it is about destiny. Just as the Civil Rights Movement offered America the opportunity to reclaim its humanity, this election is about a profound shift from selfishness to selflessness. I don’t say that to paint Obama as some benevolent, Ghandi-like figure, but as I listen to reports from the US about the housing crisis and Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers and AIG and $150 a barrel oil, I believe you don’t have to be an economist or a humanitarian to realize that America has to stop focusing on individual gain and start figuring out what it will take for more people to have a basic measure of stability.

Sure, that may get me branded as a socialist radical in some quarters, but I don’t care. I’m tired. I’d been holding my breath ever since I switched gears from supporting Clinton to supporting Obama, but just within the past month or so, I had started to exhale and feel really hopeful. I started to embrace the message of change, and began to be greatly energized and buoyed by the prospect of an Obama presidency.

For the most part, I still retain that hope. But after reading about Mrs. Forester de Rothschild’s decision, I’m now more focused on protecting my heart from the same kind of piercing pain I feel about my hometown…magnified a thousand times over. It reminded me of going back to Cairo and always wishing with all my heart that something could change there, and that most people could have jobs and economic stability and decent houses and schools, but leaving every time feeling frustrated and sad because it’ll probably never happen, because a handful of people are more invested in their own political ambitions than in the fate of the community as a whole.

And it reminded me of two other recent occurrences. The first was a BBC radio interview I heard with a white man in California who described himself as a Democrat, and said he thought Obama was inspirational. But the man said he would be voting for John McCain because Obama was African American, and he worried might NOT keep the interests of white America in mind as President.

The second was a letter to the editor I read in Nairobi’s Daily Nation newspaper. A Kenyan man who described himself as a student of American history declared his belief that Obama would lose in November because in spite of all that's positive in the nation, Americans seem quite capable of voting against their best interests.

Too often, little things like hatred, fear, distrust, hypocrisy and greed always seem to get in the way of common sense.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Moth Memories

I swear to God, there is a GIGANTIC moth fluttering around my apartment in suburban Nairobi this evening.

Does that plaintive refrain sound familiar??? It should, if you've been following my madcap adventures on this blog. If you'll recall, I ended last year battling a behe-MOTH in Gulu, a flying scourge the size of a hummingbird that was hypnotized by the light from my laptop as I cowered under my mosquito netting one late night in the cozy little cottage on Samuel Doe Road. I kicked and flailed and cursed the mutant freak a myriad times before it finally disappeared. I think it sensed I was teetering on the brink of emotional collapse and decided to give me a break.

Then a few days later, just after New Year's, I started to feel guilty. I realized the word "moth" is the beginning of the word "mother," and perhaps that moth was a sign from my deceased mother Eloise, and my big sis Julie, who had died just a few months earlier.....on October 19th, 2007.

Lately, I've started to think about what was unfolding last year around this time. It's about when I learned the end was near for Julie, and began frantically trying to arrange a trip back to Cairo, Illinois, to be with her. I tried to make myself believe I would be helping her survive yet another dire health challenge. But deep down, I sensed I'd be helping her take her last journey.

I'm starting to have flashbacks about those final weeks and days and moments. It's hard, it really is. Today is Sept. 19th--exactly 11 months since Julie died, at exactly around this time of evening.

But just when it would have been soooooooooo easy to let down my guard, fling open the floodgates and let 'er rip with some gullywashing sobs.....all of a sudden, this big-ass moth flies through my open window at the Liza(rd) Apartments.

I think Julie is telling me that if I can survive Gulu, I can survive anything. I'm thinking she's reminding me that she's still with me. I'm thinking Julie's reminding me that real love never dies.

I'm thinking I'm gonna be okay.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Chin Up, Old Girl.......

So much for my spontaneous bout of self-love yesterday. This morning, I plucked my first gray chin hair.

I mean, it's bad enough that my estrogen levels have plummeted to the point where I'm sprouting so many chin hairs, I could braid those bad boys if I wasn't vigilant about plucking them. Now they're turning gray.....

See what I mean about my endlessly entertaining life?? I mean, this shit is just too funny!

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

In Resemblance of Me

As a sort of penance for my last posting, I'm pleased to present the most recent photograph of yours truly, Princess Rachella.

I just received it today, and it couldn't have come at a better time. I still throw up a bit in my mouth whenever I look at the shot of me goofin' in the Naandi Hills.
But here's the thing.....I actually like this new picture of me.

Tell the truth, y' is so incredibly rare for a woman to instantly like a photo of herself. For me, it's only happened about 3 times in recent years.
The first picture is the top one on the left side of this blog. It was taken at a cemetery in Addis Ababa in 2007, when I was sitting next to an AIDS orphan. I don't know how I managed to radiate happiness in that setting, but the minute I saw that photo, I recognized that woman. And I liked her.

The next picture was from my trip to Rio de Janeiro in February of this year. At the time, I wrote about walking the streets of Ipanema wearing an orange bikini top, sticking my chest out and acting like I was all that and a bowl of grits. I even stopped some guy on the street and asked him take my picture, because I didn't know if I'd ever be bold enough to strut around in public in a bikini top ever again.

When I saw that picture, I thought, "Why WOULDN'T I strut around in a bikini top ever again??? I look HOT!" (FYI, Now that I've figured out this photo posting thing, I'm going to add that shot to that particular entry.)

And then there's today's photo. It was just sent to me by a young woman named Monicah, who I met last week at something called the "African Science Cafe." It's this really cool event where scientists hold forth in a coffee house setting
to talk about really weighty issues (this time, it was malaria). After we met, I remember thinking Monicah looked about 14 years old, and couldn't POSSIBLY be a college intern who planned to become a scientist one day.

Well, it turns out Monicah was helping with PR for the Science Cafe event, and while reviewing some of the photos taken that night, she came across this one of me. In her email, Monicah said she thought I'd "enjoy" seeing the photo above.

Now THAT comment made me literally snort, considering that in 46 years, I could count the times I'd enjoyed seeing a photo of myself on one hand. But at first glance of this picture, all of my automatic default responses failed me. I couldn't grimace at the way my hair looked, because I LIKE the way my hair looks. I couldn't moan that I was baring my gums like Mr. Ed, like I usually do when I see a picture of myself smiling, because I'm not smiling in this photo. But on the other hand, I couldn't complain that I look like I just smelled my own fart like I usually do whenever I see a picture of myself NOT smiling.

In this latest photo of moi, I am utterly relaxed. I'm listening to a really interesting discussion about malaria, and I'm not worried about trying to catch some guy's attention, or whether my forehead is shining or whether my gut is hanging over my belt in those jeans that were threatening to cut off my circulation. Really, folks, I spent a good five minutes scrutinizing this picture for even the faintest possible flaw....and I couldn't find a single one.

It's a picture of ME, uninterrupted. And, by Jove, I like what I see.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Oh, Grow Up!

You may be wondering why I never shared more details about my recent trip to Western Kenya. Well, here's one of the reasons--meet my Kenyan alter-ego, the rapper "50 Shillings" (which at the current exchange rate is worth about 71 cents US...which means that I'd be at least worth more than "Fitty..." for whatever THAT'S worth....)

But I digress. Getting back to the point of this posting, it seems whenever I find myself hanging out with people in their 20's, it's sure to result in lots of cringe-worthy behavior. For example, this pose was assumed about midpoint during the gruelling (at least for a 46 year old pre-cardiac patient) hike through the Naandi Hills near Kakamega. Most of the group had long since abandoned me, but my bud Bryan and his bud Ian were graciously lagging back to keep me company...probably sensing a potential duty to wave the buzzards away from my soon-to-be-dessicated corpse.

Anyway, near one fairly scenic vista, I stopped and asked Bryan to take a picture. By that point, I'd pretty much concluded I wouldn't be going much higher up, so at least I'd have proof of some semblance of hiking fortitude. Bryan grabbed the camera as I practised striking a pose. He suggested I turn my cap backwards. I laughed and obeyed his command. And then, of course, I just had to follow that up by flashing a few gang signs.

The rest is just another entry in my steadily blossoming "Secret Shame" photo gallery. Sometimes, I just plain wonder if I possess any sense of judgement or decorum at all! Like the night before the "Bataan Death Hike," when Bryan suggested we go to a Kakamega night club called "Illusions." Now, it's not like I didn't know what to expect...I mean, Kakamega is only about half a step up from the Gulu experience. In other words, you're less likely to DIE from the cholera you'll surely contract eating in any establishment there, because they probably have access to more counterfeit antibiotic drugs than in Gulu.

Anyhoo, I remember jokingly remarking to Bryan that the joint was probably called "Illusions" because you should check your illusions of safety and proper sanitation at the entrance. Less than an hour after we arrived, some stranger tried to shove his tongue down my throat as I made my way to the bar to order crude Kenyan alcohol made from sugar cane. Then, the beef dish we'd ordered arrived at our table....the savagely hacked remains of a cow that looked like it had endured unspeakable trauma before being dished up onto that plate. It was hot, and loud and stuffy in Illusions, and I was more than ready to leave BEFORE the sounds of a broken beer bottle and muffled screams broke through the din.

Just like in any other hell-hole bar in any other country on the face of the Earth on a Friday night, two drunken assholes were fighting over some drunken slut, and having a good go of it, too. But that's not what I remember most. As I stood mute with horror, wondering how on EARTH my family would be able to recognize my shredded remains for identification purposes, the thing I remember most was seeing Bryan's back make a hasty retreat out the front door. Dang, my US Homey didn't even look back to see where I was! I clung to the nearest wall as other panicked patrons pressed past, thinking surely Bryan would return in a few seconds to make sure I was okay.

There was time to finish my Tusker beer and try to calm my pulverized nerves before I finally escaped out front, where Bryan was standing with his hands in his pockets, chillin' like a villain with his German entomologist friend George. I was like, "WTF?? Dude, I could be getting my ass filleted up in there, and you're standing out here on the curb gabbing?"

But just as a hormonal surge threatened to part my lips and rain down on their heads with the demolishing fury of a Category 9 Hurricane, I caught myself. Bryan and George weren't at fault. They're two twenty-somethings doing what twenty-somethings do on a Friday night. In fact, when I wobbled over to join them, they were trying to decide which life-threatening, public health hazard of a bar they should head to next. I was the 46-year-old jackass who had no business being there in the first place, because I could have scripted those events well in advance.

So, instead of turning the air blue with invective, I politely told Bryan that I was heading back to my room at the Sheywe guesthouse, where I would huddle beneath the dingy gray sheets and the torn mosquito netting and thank GOD my hide was still intact. I waved down a young boda boda driver, hopped on the back of his motorcyle, and burned rubber outta there.

Oh....that reminds me of ANOTHER reason I have no business consorting with 20-somethings!! That same weekend, Bryan also talked me into riding in a Matatu bus, one of those rolling convection ovens of death, AND....into climbing onto the back of the other type of boda boda, the glorified Schwinn with the rectangular pleather seat attached. Bouncing along the rutted, dusty roads of Kakamega, with some skinny kid's ass bobbing up and down inches from my face, I vowed to seek long term inpatient psychological treatment as soon as I get back to the States.

Either that, or more age appropriate regular companionship while I'm in Kenya. Whichever opportunity presents itself first.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

The Twin Towers

I may be a bit prejudiced, but I think I work in one of the coolest office buildings on the African continent. I never get tired of seeing the Nation Centre, because in a way, its twin towers remind me of a Dr. Seuss illustration.

They're so round, and conical, and in my mind, whimsical. But that description isn't disrespectful, because I'm well aware of the power contained within those structures. The Nation Media Group is the second largest media company in Sub Saharan Africa, thank you very much. Like I've written earlier, compared to some of the other African media houses I've worked with the past few years, being here is like working for the New York Times.

And since I've mentioned New York, I can't NOT mention the fact that I'm remembering where I was 7 years ago today. I was at home, and spent the entire day glued to my television set...literally paralyzed by fear and horror watching the terrorist attacks in New York and DC and a field in Pennsylvania. It was one of my weeks off as a part-timer with NPR, so I was lying in bed watching the Today Show when Katie Couric broke the news about the first plane hitting one of the World Trade Center buildings. I remember thinking some drunken idiot must have flown a light plane into that skyscraper, and hoped the casualties would be minimal.

A few hours later, I was actually shriekiing in fear as I watched the World Trade Center buildings shudder and then collapse like a house of cards. And then there were the pictures of the plane flying into the Pentagon...played over and over and over and over. One part of me wanted to run screaming into the streets...but then I thought, "What if this really IS World War III, and we're being invaded? Maybe I'm safer just staying inside. Or what if the Jehovah's Witnesses and the Fundamentalist Christians are right, and this is Armageddon? Maybe I should just stay put until the Angel of Death comes a'knockin'. I mean, why make it easy for that sickle bearing bastard?"

Anyway, 7 years later, I still can't believe the World Trade Center is gone. I remember taking the elevator up to Windows on the World, the restaurant at the top of one of the towers, just a few months before
9/11. The view was absolutely stunning, and of course I vowed to come back and have dinner to see the magnificent night time vista of The Big Apple.

Life goes on. And somehow, though the memories of that painful day will never truly fade, I can actually smile when I realize that 7 years later, I get to see Twin Towers every day, thousands and thousands of miles away from the place where America survived a near mortal blow to its heart.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Bittersweet Surrender

So I was sitting in this briefing on Climate Change and health yesterday morning when all of a sudden I got hit with this tremendous wave of nausea and dizziness.

After puking my guts out a few times, I headed home, and I’ve been here ever since.

As I wrote on my Facebook status line shortly after waking up today, it is NOT what you might be thinking...unless you’re thinking I’m a candidate for a lead role in the sequel to The Immaculate Conception. Not much has changed since when I summarized my sex life last year on this blog. In short, I wrote that the UN has declared my uterus a “Sperm Free Zone,” and that designation still holds.

I was thinking about that this morning while chatting on Skype with my friend Jamila. She’s my fabulous gourmet chef/newspaper editor/road dawg girlfriend who lives in Atlanta, and she was just named “Empress of All Food and Drink” for the newpaper there. This means she gets to wear about 10 dining, entertainment and culture hats, including Food Editor, which is a dream come true for her.

Of course I always note during my early morning, before heading into the office Skype sessions with Jamila that for her, it’s about 1:30 AM. I always ask what the heck she’s doing up so late, and this time, she was sprawled in bed surrounded by 8 or 9 of the newest cookbook releases. They’re part of the sweet swag associated with being Food Editor of a major metropolitan daily. But Jamila was totally honest in remarking that while reading cookbooks brings her a great deal of pleasure, she’d be deliriously happy if one of those books suddenly morphed into a 6 foot tall stud of just about any race, creed or religious affiliation.

I could relate…up to a point. But as I shared with Jamila….and anybody else who’s inquired of late…I’ve reached that legendary zone where my pursuit of romantic entanglement has ended. Stick a fork in me…I’m done. Here’s just how done I am…the last time I had really great sex was October of 2004. Turns out it was probably just an inexpensive birthday gift from the Ambivalent Archivist I was dating at the time, who in the months prior had turned in some fairly lackluster performances. But for my birthday that year….WHOA NELLY!

Of course, 4 months later, in February of 2005, the Archivist dumped me the night before my mother died. (OUCH…that’s gotta leave a leave a scar....and it definitely did.) Anyway, he was also the last person I actually attempted to engage in any kind of intimate act January of 2006. He had crawled back into my life begging for a second chance, and I figured, what the heck….I'd throw him a bone. Or let him throw me one. Anyway, after about half an hour, I sent him home. I had an early interview the next morning, and figured I’d get more out of a good night’s sleep than enduring his fervent fumblings.

My last date was in November of 2006, with a guy I’ve branded as the Lame Little Lobbyist. We met on, and I confess to agreeing to meet him because I had totally drooled over his picture. But I must also confess that when we met, I was a bit disappointed by his stature…or lack thereof. Still, after meeting him and finding him absolutely charming, I decided to beat back my prejudices about short men and give this thing a chance.

After about a month and half of what I thought were some really great dates, the little troll invited me up to his apartment to tell me that though I was really terrific, he needed to let me know that I was NOT “The One.” That experience was a traumatic reminder of being dumped in 1996 by “The Love of My Life,” the former Iowa Farm Boy turned Newspaper Editor who left me a voicemail message saying that though I was beautiful, sexy, and a fantastic lady, he just couldn’t “do two women at the same time.”

Twelve years later, I’m grateful to him for introducing Prozac into my life, but the harsh reality is that I have been inordinately unsuccessful in the relationship sector. If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you know I’ve spent a lot of time pondering the reasons for this. But recently, all that pondering led me to a profound conclusion…

“Maybe you should just stop expecting to have a relationship. Maybe you should even stop hoping it will ever happen. Maybe it’s okay for you to just focus on making sure that your life has meaning.”

Granted, a lot of this conclusion stems from the final vestiges of regret over the whole childbirth and parenting thing. Even though technically I am still able to give birth….albeit in all likelihood only with a lot of costly and painful medical interventions….I realize now that I never will. Though I’m largely at peace with that, the strangest things cause me to ache when I think about it. Like today, when I was reading a story about a 66 year old man, the father of 7 and grandfather of 24, who died rescuing his youngest son from a fall into a septic tank.

First of all, I gotta tell you, dude was one hot 66 year old, based on his photograph. He’d been married for 43 years, and his youngest son, a 20 year old with Down Syndrome, was his constant companion. I almost cried reading that story, thinking of the end of what was probably an enduring romance between him and his wife, and of that beloved son, clinging to life in a hospital with double pneumonia.

Reading those types of stories makes me conclude that as much as I’ve longed for love and connection and children in the past, maybe it’s okay that I haven’t experienced them. I mean, how much would it have to hurt to be that man’s widow right about now?

But then those brief, craven reveries pass, and I realize that woman would probably go through it all again, knowing that the same thing would happen, if she could just have her husband back. THAT’S the beauty of love and connectedness. That’s what I have never known from a relationship. And at this moment, there is no tangible proof that I will EVER know it. So, what’s left?

My ceaselessly amazing, hilarious, adventurous, sometimes sad, often fulfilling, dramatic, and I hope, meaningful life. A life worth living whether there is a man in it or not. A life that has already made a difference to numerous people, probably more than I know. And a life that can make even more of a contribution, for however much time I have left.

Now, how does one arrive at that realization when in truth, all one really wants is to have the experience of having a man want her as much as she wants him? Well, I THINK I have that figured out, at long last. And I have the book “The Power of Now” to thank for that epiphany. You see, all of the really pitiful, painful, lackluster, empty and emotionally bruising relationships in my past ARE in my past. They’re over. Now, I can assign some sort of meaning to them, as I’ve spent way too many years doing. I can conclude that they mean I’m not good enough, or smart enough, or pretty enough, and that no man can ever love me. In fact, I have the option to continue doing that for the rest of my life, if I so choose.

But somewhere along the way, I guess while I was busy dealing with Life, I woke up one day and realized that all those thoughts were damned lies. I am a terrific woman. I’m just lucky I lived long enough to break through the cement tomb those lies had my encased my consciousness in.

As for the future….it doesn’t exist. It CAN exist, and I can plan for it, but of course, it doesn’t have to happen. God KNOWS I know that. So.....there’s just as much of a chance of me finding my Divine Right Partner in this mystical “future” as there is being hit by a rogue taxi in downtown Nairobi, or winning the lottery, or having an aneurysm, or eating a transcendentally delicious meal, or buying a new couch, or breaking a fingernail…..the possibilities for any of those things are equally endless and finite.

All that I truly control is now. Today. This moment. What am I doing with it? Well, at this moment, I’m lying in bed under my mosquito netting, feeling a bit better than I did yesterday morning when I was puking my brains out. I’m hoping I’ll feel well enough to go back to the office tomorrow, where I’ll be able to continue my work with journalists at the Nation.

You see, I am an accomplished, talented woman who’s achieved a lot in her life. As I’ve written before, what’s NOT to like? And if I keep living that life, there’s a chance I’ll meet someone terrific. But I’ll meet him as myself, a fully aware human being, not as an empty vessel hoping to be filled. THAT’S all I’ve really surrendered, I think…this obsessive need to be validated and completed by dating, sex, love, marriage…the whole megilla.

As I told Jamila, that’s when everybody says “it’ll happen,” when you stop looking. But you’re really healthy when even if somebody presented you with a guaranteed, Stamped by God, Buddha, or the Universe document certifying that it will NEVER happen for you, you’ll still be okay.

I think I’m almost there. At least for now. And really, that’s all there is.


Monday, September 8, 2008

It's a Groove Thang.....

You know when you're "in the zone"--and when you couldn't find it with a GPS tracker strapped to your butt.

I just have NOT been feelin' my zone lately, and there's no sense in dancing around why that may be the case. It's inescapable...October 19th will be one year since Julie died.

Don't worry....I'm not going to use every post until that day to explore my roiling psyche for every twitch, tremor and trauma related to that ominous memorial. There's a lot of stuff I simply couldn't share even if I wanted to. Besides, I can't help being mindful of the dreaded phenomenon of "oversharing".....even though I've probably been guilty of it about a million times since I started writing this blog.

But if I tried to plumb the depths of what I'm feeling around the one year mark of Julie's passage, it would probably lead to a long term journey on that train to Nowheresville, via Fetal Position on Cramped, Uncomfortable Couch Junction.

I've been through waaaaay too much in the past 11 months alone to deliberately take myself out of the game by surrendering to that temptation. Besides, I keep visualizing Julie saying, "Stop whining and get on with it.....there's no time to waste."

She's right, you know. In so many, many ways, it is time for "Rachella to Get Her Groove Back." Paralyzing grief will NOT help accomplish that. Been there, done that, got the tee shirt AND the commemorative mug to prove it.

I'll also be 47 next month. Three years from the BIG 5-0. And when I marked my birthday at Carbondale Memorial Hospital last year, I finally accepted the fact that Julie wouldn't be around to celebrate my birthday this year. But I never would have dreamed I'd be turning 47 in Nairobi.

My life is ceaselessly amazing. It's just really cool how I manage to wind up doing interesting stuff in interesting places, on my own terms and in my own way. It's time I started celebrating that about myself. It's time to "get this party started right," as far as I'm concerned. I am one seriously grown-assed woman who has schlepped through the Valley of the Shadow of Death far too much lately.

Time to move on. Time to get my groove on.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Past Tense

I knew that from the moment I realized that I had accidentally packed my wallet in my checked suitcase while I was waiting to board the plane at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport Wednesday morning that this would probably be one of the most difficult trips I'd taken in....about a year.

You see, I've been in Kampala for the past 3 days, meeting with my Knight Health Fellowship counterpart based here with the New Vision newspaper. He's this really great, friendly journalist named Chris, and getting to know him has actually been the only pleasant thing about being back in Uganda for me.

Now, don't think I'm reverting to my usual complaints about traffic jams, or diesel fumes, or the astounding lack of decent service in Kampala restaurants. Don't think I'm referring to the fact that, compared to Nairobi, Kampala is just an enormous Gulu. What it really boils down to is that being in Kampala reminds me of what stands so far as the most painful, agonizing period of my entire life....preparing for, experiencing, and grieving the death of my sister Julie.

Of course, it also reminds me of my battles with the psycho slut bookkeeper, and the psychotic contractor, and the shameful incident when I virtually damned a nun from Arua to the fires of hell for being a punitive bitch, and being lonely and mosquito bitten and hungry all the time in Gulu. So, you combine those two states of being, and I was an absolute neurotic mess during my entire stay in Uganda.

The sad thing is that I don't think I will EVER enjoy spending time here again. I'll certainly have to come back at various points, but no matter why I return, being here will always evoke those feelings, and that's really unfortunate.

Anyway, I'll be returning to Nairobi tomorrow morning (Hallelujah! Praise Jesus' Holy NAME!), and so once I've had time to regain some equilibrium, I'll try to get back into blogging mode more regularly.

Later, Taters.

Monday, September 1, 2008

"What Fresh Hell is THIS???" Part 2.....

I have been off my feed BIG TIME this past week.

First, I caught a wicked cold while I was out in Western Kenya. It's my own durned fault for not dressing warmly enough. Something is making me resist behaving like it's Winter over here, just because there's no snow or sub-arctic temps.

But it got downright bone-chilly while I was in Kakamega, and the mornings in Eldoret were nippy, too. Naturally, I didn't bring a jacket, and most of my shirts were tees or thin, long-sleeved types.

By the time I got back to Nairobi, I was snuffling and achy, and nursing a minor sore throat. But DAMN if hot toddies don't do the trick....put enough brandy in 'em, and you don't give a shit about the cold symptoms. I also found this cold medication called "Day Nurse, Night Nurse," which actually sounds like the title of a porn flick or something. But it really works. I started feeling much better yesterday.....

...until I became a victim of identity theft. You know, I always thought I'd never have to worry about that booming phenomenon. I figured if anybody tried to use my credit, by the time they got out of jail, they'd be completely reformed. I never considered the possibilty that someone could hack into your email account and send out bogus messages in your name.

That's just what happened to me, my peeps. I was at my friend Jackie's house last night, feasting on marinated goat leg and roast pumpkin, when she got a text message from my former Gulu colleague Akiki. Turns out my Kampala computer tech buddy Peter had received this email saying that I was stranded in London and desperately needed 1,500 pounds ASAP. Peter called The Intern, who now lives in Kampala and works with him, and they pondered whether or not it was legitimate. Then THEY called Akiki, who texted Jackie.

There I sat, just as innocent as a lamb, surely thinking this would be a minor kerfluffle that could be straightened out with a few computer keystrokes when I got home. Well, the jerk really screwed me over, because he sent the email to everybody in my Yahoo address book!!! I was up half the night reassuring family and friends that I wasn't holding a tin cup outside of Buckingham Palace begging for tuppence.

But you know what?? I was totally moved by how many of my friends and family were ready to send whatever they had to help me out. It's like, if there was any chance that the email actually WAS from me, and I DID need help, they were poised to spring into action.

Heck, my homegirl Veronica was even looking into flight schedules. I'm telling you, I am richly blessed.

And it could have been a whole lot worse. Just suppose the hacker had been some perv and sent out a pornographic e-mail with my address.....though come to think of it, I've already been mistaken for a 'hoe so many times it probably wouldn't have made much of an impact.

Sigh. Just another zany chapter in "The Adventures of Princess Rachella." Once my nerves settle, I'll be back with regular posts and pics.