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.

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Resolution Review....

See, the thing about New Year's Resolutions is that you almost ALWAYS wind up eating a big-assed helping of crow after you've made them. Most people never lose those 20 pounds, or remember all their friends' birthdays or stop smoking or drinking so much.

Take me, for instance. If I had truly "embraced my fate in 2008," I would not have been so completely deflated after seeing the love story of Herman Rosenblat and Roma Radzicki on TV this Christmas Eve.

(NOTE TO SELF: STOP watching those blasted, sappy reruns of "Beyond Chance," hosted by Melissa Etheridge! Not only is the show, like, 10 years old, but it's completely calculated emotional manipulation. Most of the segments are about astounding medical mysteries that get solved, or once in a lifetime coincidences that reunite adoptees with their birth parents, or corny stuff like that. But they also manage to squeeze in at least one incredible "Love Against the Odds" tale on each episode.)

This time, the story of how Herman met Roma, how fate separated them, and then brought them back together, left me feeling like three day old romantic leftovers. Here's the deal--Herman met Rosa when he was a teenager in a concentration camp 60 years ago. Right before their fateful meeting, Herman had a dream where his mother, who had already been murdered by the Nazis, said she would send him an angel.

One day, a girl appeared near the fence at the concentration camp. Their eyes met, and their spirits connected. She passed Herman apples and bread each day through the barb wire fence, which helped keep him alive for seven months. But then one day, Herman learned he was being transferred to another camp, so he told the girl to stop coming.

Herman survived the camps and wound up living in New York. He dated often, even got engaged a few times, but never married. Then a friend set him up on a blind date with a charming, dark-haired girl. They got to talking, and at one point shared their experiences of growing up during World War II. The girl mentioned a boy she had known in a concentration camp near her village.....and how she had passed him food each day through a barbed wire fence.......

Talk about your one in a trillion odds! Talk about your mother "sending you an angel." Talk about a love beyond all reason. And talk about why the hell my karma must be so fucked that the Universe won't even throw me a relationship bone, no less my heaven-sent savior and lifelong soulmate.

Trust me, I wanted to be happy for Herman and Roma. The story was immensely touching, heartwarming and even inspiring. I actually pondered it a lot, while curled in the fetal position on my astonishingly uncomfortable couch on Christmas Eve.

I just wish I'd known at the time that it was a bald-faced lie.

Yesterday, I noticed the wire story where Herman's publisher admitted the story is fake, before a book about the romance was scheduled to be released.Ironically, Herman probably could have taken that lie to his grave, if he hadn't been invited to tell the tale on the "Oprah Winfrey Show." Oprah was so touched, she invited him back on the show again. That led to the book contract....and that led to the eventual unmasking of the romantic legend to beat all romantic legends.

Anyway, here's how it relates to me and my 2008 resolution relapse. If I had fully embraced my fate in 2008, would I be so gut-punched every time I see a couple in love, or hear a touching story about an enduring romance? I mean, why can't I just accept my single status without this gnawing sense of regret and raw, bitter envy of other peoples' relationship happiness?

It's definitely something to ponder while settling on my 2009 motto. Now,
I'm incredibly grateful for one whole year without a single funeral in it, so in that respect, I've managed to manouever through the twists and turns of 2008 quite successfully. But the thing is, if I'm honest with myself, I really haven't embraced Fate. Maybe I've given it a couple of quick air kisses on the cheek. Maybe I've draped and arm across its shoulder for a half-hearted hug. But I can't really say I've given Fate a full-fledged, all-encompassing embrace.

Look at it this way....all the evidence points to Fate having pointed His/Her fickle finger at me and said,

"Look, girlfriend, here's the deal. You've had an amazing life by anybody's standard. You've traveled the world, had your writing published nationwide, been a national've achieved an inordinate level of career success.

"But there's just some stuff that ain't ever gonna happen for you. You aren't going to be anybody's mother, and you probably won't get married. Hell, you may not even date too much anymore, because you're too set in your ways, too picky, too self-centered and too impatient.

"On the other hand, you WILL continue to have an astoundingly adventurous life. I'm talking off the charts amazing. You know, like the Chinese curse..."May you live an interesting life...."

"That's YOU, Rachel. You just don't get anything else, so get over it, okay?"

I mean, why the hell would I want to hug somebody who delivered news like that???

Besides, I just can't accept that edict! I think that's part of what's had me so emotionally jammed up lately. I keep waiting for this magic awareness that will make me really calm about being single--and possibly staying that way. I keep waiting for the moment when I'll see a couple holding hands and NOT hear the tinny screech of "RELATIONSHIP REJECT!!!!" in the recesses of my brain.

I keep waiting for some peace of mind.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Mea Culpa, Dude

It will soon be time to reveal my annual New Year's Motto. At the end of each year, I try to spend some focused time examining the detritus of the past 12 months, contemplating what I've learned, forgiving myself for what I didn't learn, and deciding how I'll use the experiences to move forward more authentically into the next year.

But mostly, I just try to find words that rhyme with the number of the new year. For example, THIS year's motto was "I Embrace My Fate in 2008." Last year's motto was, "My Life Will Leaven in 2007." (That was a real dud...and my life managed to reflect just how clunky it was.)

Before I do that, I have a major piece of business to clear up. It occurred to me Sunday night, when I was having some monstrously delicious Ethiopian food with my Kakamega buddy Bryan. He was in Nairobi with his mother and sister, who came to visit from Florida, and one of his Peace Corps buddies. Bryan and his folks were on their way to spend New Year's Eve in Mombasa, and he invited me to join them at Habesha restaurant.

I've passed this place lots of times, but had never eaten there. Ethiopian food is best experienced with a large group, because they bring you out this big honkin' tray of delectable delicacies ladled onto spongy flatbread called injera, and then you just scoop up clumps of it as you go along. If you overthink this rather messy, intimate process, it could really make you gag, so you definitely want to have the experience with people you trust.

During dinner, I mentioned to Brian's mother that he's a great cook, and had made some of the best pizza I've ever wrapped my lips around while I was in Kakamega. I briefly acknowledged it in a blogpost at the time...the dessert pizza with bananas and crushed Cadbury chocolate bars was absolutely to die for! Bryan and his So Cal buddy Ian, and their German Entomologist buddy George, worked like trojans that night preparing pizza so good, I must have had 8 pieces.

Bryan even sent me pictures of them holding their culinary masterpiece, that insanely delicious "Gerschmakt" dessert pizza, and I promised to give them a big shout out on the blog. But when I wrote about my trip to Kakamega, my main themes were the forced death march up the Nandi Hills, and almost getting my throat cut in a seedy bar. To top it off, I recalled Bryan and George hotfooting it out of said bar without a backwards glance to confirm whether I was safe.

Now, Bryan remembers that bar episode differently, but that's not the point. Here's the point--when he described telling Ian that their masterpiece pizza would be featured on the blog, my heart sank. And then Bryan reminded me of my snarky focus on how "dangerous" it can be to hang out with men in their

When I went back and read the post, I had to cringe. In my relentless pursuit of creative license, I'd described Ian and Bryan as the human equivalent of a basket of puppies. I mean, could I possibly have managed to be more patronizing than that???? See, the thing is, as a veteran, hard-core smart-ass, I'm able to separate my actual feelings about people from what I may wind up writing about them, because my actual feelings sometimes aren't hilarious enough. It's totally nothing personal.

But for some reason, I can't stop thinking about what Bryan said Sunday night. "Damn my agile, whipsaw wit! Curse these nimble fingers for typing sly cyber-satire, anyway!" Seriously, Bryan and Ian and George are great guys and fabulous pizza chefs, and as long as they're willing to hang out with a hungry old broad like me, I'm down for whatever.

So here's a picture of three young hotties in Kakamega, the hosts of one of the best dinners I've had since I got to Kenya. Oh, and time you're in Nairobi, dinner at the Italian restaurant named after the city in Mexico is on moi.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Tunnel Vision

This time, the light at the end of the tunnel was the clear blue sky.

I think I've finally made my way out of a period of pretty deep sadness. It settled in right at the beginning of the month, and not even a flamethrower could have cleared the clammy, misty fog that settled around my mind and heart. But now I think I fully understand what happened. Even though I was just as alone and away from family and friends last holiday season as I am this time around, last year, the shock and numbness immediately after my sister Julie's death somehow insulated me from the third-degree acid burns of deep emotional pain.

"Okay, maybe it was the Scotch, which I seem to be losing my taste for, by the way." (You wanna talk tragedies, that gruesome reality will yield bitterness and agony for years to come!)

Anyway, last year, I blogged pretty steadily following Julie's death, which astounds me in hindsight. Then again, maybe blogging was the only way I survived without going insane. When I try to remember actually writing the epic poem, "'Twas the Night Before Christmas in Gulu" last Christmas Eve, it's almost like somebody else did it. I couldn't have pulled that off this year if you'd held a gun to my head.

I'll spare you the gory details. Let's just say I made it through Christmas Eve, Noel, and Boxing Day. And that's another thing...when I remember opening the last care package Julie ever sent me on December 26th, 2007, and then writing about the experience, I'm forced to conclude that the only thing between me and complete emotional obliteration last year was.....

Julie. Or at least Julie's spirit. So maybe what happened this holiday season is that the full grasp of her passing finally hit me, like a two-by-four smack in the middle of my forehead. I spent the weeks before Christmas day fueling that sense of loss and longing, embellishing the dread, stewing in the sorrow.

But then this morning, I suddenly noticed that the sky looks a lot bluer than it has in the past few weeks. Of course it isn't, but for some reason, riding into work this morning, everything seems clearer and brighter. There's been a steady breeze here in Nairobi lately, so maybe it's helped blow away the fog. I don't know.

All I truly know is that there was no way around this tunnel, or under it, or over it. I had to move through it. And I'm really proud of myself for recognizing that the light at the end was waiting to enfold me in a sense of hope, rather than smash me into a million pieces.

Onward and upward.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Five Shopping Days Left 'Til Christmas....

Really, if you're reading this, you should all consider abandoning family, friends, and everything that's comfortable and comforting and go live in a developing country for a couple of years. I'm telling you, it's an incredibly liberating experience. ESPECIALLY around this time of year.

That's my sarcastic way of admitting I hit a rough patch of late--emotionally, spiritually, creatively, the whole schmear. Still, I'm only being half sarcastic, because it is a tremendous relief for me to spend another Christmas in another African country, far from the madding crowd of American Yuletide mania. I haven't even thought about buying a single gift, ornament, decoration, card, nada. Zip. Nuthin'.

And once again, I've been spared the visual assault of Christmas season Stateside. Just the other day, in a cab on the way to work, I was considering how few holiday decorations there are in Nairobi public spaces when I started noticing these wiry Kenyan guys wearing Santa suits and passing out goodies near every traffic circle. I mean, there's no pretense of Santa as a merry, fat old gent over here, what with food shortages and such. These Skinny Black Santas are the only outward sign of the holiday season I've seen, and they make me laugh rather than tense up thinking how much shopping and baking I still need to do before Christmas Day.

Yep, there's nothing to stress me out about Christmas obligations over here. Now, in the interest of full disclosure, I must admit that I didn't completely abandon my holiday hostess proclivities this season. Just last Saturday, I had 7 people over for dinner, which was prepared on the equivalent of an adult-sized Easy Bake oven. I made a sirloin roast (with no meat thermometer or proper temperature gauge, it was all EXTREMELY well done), baked fish with capers and lemon, butternut squash risotto (the absolute HIT of the evening!), and herb roasted veggies. Without a proper dining table, our group of eight had to split up into to dining squads, but we all came together afterwards for Italian vanilla gelato and warm apple tart.

I usually don't like to brag, but this time, I gotta say, I knocked it outta the park, when you factor in the conditions I performed my culinary magic under.

Anyhoo, the post party let-down was huge. First, it took about 3 days to clean up afterwards. I swear, my love of cooking is surpassed only by how much I despise washing dishes. And even though I absolutely ADORE entertaining, once that party was history, the rest of the holiday season loomed like a big-assed threat. Don't worry, I've been invited to a handful of holiday bashes, and I'll go to all of them. But for some reason, unless I'm up to my elbows in pie crust or a turkey carcass filled with cornbread stuffing, I kinda feel bereft.

But you know what? I'm not going down that woeful path. I refuse to willingly hurl myself into that particular Briar Patch of Self-Pity. Granted, about 5 minutes before I started writing this post, I was more than ready to spend the rest of 2008 in the psychic fetal position, with a promise to unfurl myself on January 1st, 2009.

But something just came over me. Maybe it was the second scotch and soda. Or maybe I'm just tired of focusing on what I don't have. Maybe it's time to be grateful for what I do have. At the top of that list is a lot of free time to think about something other than how much stuff I still have to do before Christmas Day.

All I have to do is show up on time for dinner at the home I've been invited to. How great is that??

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

A Pig By Any Other Name Stinks Just As Much

I know this will sound pretty shocking, but I'm eternally grateful to Illinois Governor Rod "The Tool" Blagojevich for being a brazen, disgustingly greedy old school pol with nary a moral or scruple in sight.

He's actually given me the only Christmas gift I really need this year. You see, after nearly six months of living in Nairobi, I was really starting to feel battered by the constant onslaught of media coverage and public debate about political corruption in Kenya. Every day, there's a new "scandale" related to the post-election violence, or the food shortages, or Parliament's refusal to pay taxes on its obscene salaries and perks. And it's all rooted in a culture of impunity, lack of accountability and complete self-interest among politicians.

Because I work in the media, I can't put it out of my mind. What's worse, TV channels here are so limited, I can't even come home every night and tune out and turn off my brain with a steady dose of TV Land or Seinfeld reruns. (Even my beloved Turner Classic Movies are only aired from about 7 PM to 7 AM each day, and I swear Africa must be getting their third-tier offerings. Most of the movies aired don't interest me in the least, and I rarely say that about a classic movies channel.)

Let's just say my consciousness has been marinating in political chaos for almost 6 months straight. And not just from Kenya--I also can't avoid the quagmire of Zimbabwe and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Oh, and what would my day be without an update from the hurly burly of South African bureaucracy?And then there's Rwanda, and Burundi...

Pour a couple of quarts of Holiday Humdrums on top of that toxic stew, and I've been pretty morose lately. I haven't posted anything here because it seems trivial to moan about my problems in this atmosphere. Plus, it's been sooooo easy to indulge in a bit of homesickness. Everything over here seems so corrupt and out of control, I thought. If I could just get back to America, where this level of malevolent self-interest at the expense of the electorate doesn't occur.....


Along comes Rod to remind me that maniacal greed, ravening ego and stellar self delusion do not respect geographic boundaries. I mean, his behavior makes all the other Illinois governors who've been indicted or gone to jail look like choirboys who stole a few quarters from the collection plate. His sewer of a mouth makes Nixon sound like a Holy Roller. His naked ambition makes Madonna look like an understudy.

Although my heart breaks over yet another scar on my homestate's battered political reputation, Blagojevich's astronomical political sleazebaggery has helped jolt me out of the doldrums. I would love to keep pretending that because vastly more than 50 percent of Americans have access to clean water, and any girl there can go to school, and myriads of people don't starve to death every day, that means that political corruption in the US is less appalling than in developing countries.

But Rod has hipped me to the haps. There's no place on the face of the earth to escape the human condition, which includes insane piggishness like Governor B's. And if it oinks like a pig and stinks like a pig, it's a pig, whether it's in Nairobi or in Chicago.

Dude, thanks for the badly needed reality check.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

The Reason for the Season?????

It is getting increasingly easier for me to consider never celebrating Christmas again for the rest of my life.

I don't think I'll ever totally give up on Thanksgiving, because it's such a terrific gorging opportunity. And it feels a whole lot less fraught with drama and unrealistic expectatons than Christmas. But now, more than ever before, I am SO not feelin' the Yuletide spirit.

The two recent Holiday Homicide stories from the US really helped steer me toward this bittersweet conclusion. I mean, what deep discount at Wal Mart possibly could have been worth trampling some hapless employee to death during the early morning hours of the day after Thanksgiving? How can the people who were even remotely involved in that stampede go on living with themselves, knowing that their rabid materialism helped extinguish another person's life?

And then there's the Toys R Us Massacre. The stories I've read suggest the double homicide wasn't directly related to just happened to occur the weekend after Thanksgiving in a crowded toy store where most parents forget to set boundaries for themselves and their children, hoping to get the latest, hottest item that will make them seem like the "bestest mommies and daddies ever," even though the whole family may eventually wind up living in the basement of Grandma's house because they got a teensy bit behind on the mortgage payments.

So don't tell me those shootings weren't related to holiday shopping! Overall Pre-Christmas stress, plus knowing you can't afford to buy all that wildly overpriced shit anyway, plus somebody looking at you funny, or maybe bumping the wheels of their cart into the back of your ankles equals steely gray death, plain and simple. It probably wouldn't have happened if they'd been standing in line at the Goodwill store.

Or maybe it would, I don't know. All I do know is the absolutely mindless consumerism that occurs every holiday season has become utterly disgusting to me. Besides, since the Angel of Death started hovering over my family about 6 years ago, I haven't really felt anything remotely resembling the Christmas spirit, anyway.

Last year, being in Gulu for Christmas, so near the passing of my sister Julie, wound up being a complete blessing in disguise. As I wrote then, NOTHING there reminded me of Christmas, so I was spared the incessant, relentless trappings of Christmas in America....the millionth Bing Crosby song, the billionth Hallmark commercial reminding you of how fucked up YOUR life is compared to the people onscreen, the trillionth mouthwatering feast that won't add a single ounce to your already cholesterol-clogged arteries...... It was such a relief to be numb, emotionally empty and unharangued by those things.

This year, I'm in Kenya, where skyrocketing food prices and outrageous corruption by public officials are putting quite the damper on Christmas festivities for the general public. This after many people hoped for a joyous season, following the chaos, death and destruction of the post-election period, which started around Christmas last year and continued through the early part of this year.

The end result? Being a grinch is a total breeze for me during Chrismas 2008, y'all. I'm not thinking about decorations, pies, roast beast, Who pudding....BAH!

Maybe one day I'll catch the spirit again. It might even be nice to actually care about having a tree to decorate, or staying up all night to make pies and brine the turkey and finish wrapping gifts. And to not kill anybody in the process. Meantime, I'll just get through another December not unlike all the others of late.

Ho Ho Hum.