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.

Thursday, December 31, 2009

To Serve Rachella

It is about a quarter til New Year's Day, 2010, and I am happier than I've been in a very long time.

I'm at my BFF Marcy's apartment in Brooklyn, and we've both crashed after a great meal at a great neighborhood Thai restaurant with her friend Janet and two hyperactive, adorable daschunds, and now I'm sacked out on Marcy's couch watching the Twilight Zone marathon on the SyFy Channel. The "To Serve Man" episode, to be specific.

This is what I miss in Nairobi. Not the feeling of being in the Twilight Zone, but the comfort and love and support of dear friends. Of being heard and understood and validated. Of peace.

So I'm soaking it up over the next week. And I'm remembering that real friendship never fades. And that I'll be watching the Twilight Zone New Year's Eve Marathon whenever I can for the rest of my life, whether it's by myself or curled up in some man's arms. God willing, next year this time, it'll be the latter.

That would be MY recipe for a happy, healthy New Year.

2009, in Black and White

At the moment, I'm sitting in an overstuffed armchair at my friend Kelly's apartment on Central Park West, and I'm completely engrossed in an Alfred Hitchcock Movie Marathon on Turner Classic Movies. After about 4 days of running around New York City trying to see as many friends as possible, and consume as many of the flavors of America as possible, last night jet lag hit me between the eyes like a 2-by-4. I could barely move this morning.

It's been a wonderful, wonderful trip so far. Except for that whole "close brush with terrorism on Christmas Day" episode. And my Zanzi-buddy Ron flew in from Chicago last Monday, so we've had some time to hang out and get caught up, too. I've spent literal hours on the phone, on email and Facebook getting caught up with folks, too. There's never enough time to do everything during an international furlough, but I really tried until I got gobsmacked last evening.

In fact, near the end of the first act of my third performance of "In The Heights," the Broadway musical starring my hometown buddy Chris Jackson, I almost started snoring. Literally. But at a critical point in the action, all the lights went out, after a big "popping" noise that sounded like a transformer had blown. Most of the people in the theater were startled, but I just shrugged. Actually, I'd forgotten that the first act ends with a big electrical blackout in the Washington Heights neighborhood the musical is set in. While the rest of the audience experienced a few seconds' panic, I just thought I had somehow wound up back in Nairobi.

And then I awoke this morning to a blizzard. Well, not quite a blizzard, but it was definitely snowing, hard. Now I grew up in the Midwest, and it's only been about a couple of years since actually saw snow falling in person, but I have to say, that was one scary scene. I even had to beg off on a couple of "dates" I'd had planned with friends, using the convenient jetlag excuse. But there wasn't no way in HELL I was gonna leave that warm, cozy apartment to stumble around in an Arctic Nightmare.

So I've been chillin' like a stone cold villain all day so far, mostly in this overstuffed armchair, staring at this computer screen and thinking about life, the past year, and what's on deck for 2010. Ron and I just had a long chat about the way forward, especially in our personal lives. The bottom line is we'll have to make room for love and light, and banish fear and uncertainty, if we want to attract positive energy and lasting companionship. I think we're both very ready for that.

And of course now I'm watching "Psycho" on New Year's Eve, after catching "Shadow of a Doubt." Two Black and White classics that I could watch a hundred more times and still not tire of. All my life, there's always been something strangely comforting, even restorative about watching black and white movies. Even ones where psychotic, sexually confused young men stalk and fatally slash hapless young embezzling co-dependent hussies. And I'm recharging my own battery, to forestall a personal power outage. There's still way too much to do over the next week of my time in my homeland.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

"Scenes of Wretched Excess: Take 4"

.....Speaking of which, here's one more thing I've been absolutely obsessed by this past week...electricity. Again, it's just something you take for granted in America that around Christmas time, everybody goes completely batshit loopy about flashing lights and ornaments and electric trains and non-stop holiday movie viewing on new 52 inch flat-screen TVs and such.

Cities light up, and neighbors compete for best outside decoration prizes. Department stores like Macy's cover every available surface with big-assed lighted displays that startle, stun, and hypnotize you into having a merry-fucking-Christmas, dammit, and leave your wallet at the door to help us pay for all this high-wattage holiday spirit.

Again, after the past 3 years in Uganda and Kenya, with their rolling blackouts and rationing, I just don't take electricity for granted any more. I just don't believe that it will always be readily available. I've lost that automatic expectation that all I need to do is flip a switch, and there'll be light.

Maybe that'll be a good thing for when I come back home for good. Maybe I'll take fewer things for granted.

Or not. After all, I AM Princess Rachella.

"Scenes of Wretched Excess: Take 3"

This picture really doesn't do the Macy's Mob Scene justice. It's just that this was the first time I was able to break free from the throng and actually reach into my pocket for the camera without having somebody jostle me from behind or bark at me for slowing down.

I swear to God, all I went in there for was a pair of warm socks. Sure, I peeked at the 75 percent off racks, too, but for the first time in a long time, I was actually repulsed by the act of shopping. I mean, there were more goo gobs of people in there than on the streets of Nairobi at high noon, and you can't imagine how many people there are on the streets of Nairobi at high noon. I'm telling you, you just don't even want to think about it, because a lot of them are, like, missing limbs or thrusting their mewling infants at you whilst begging for money, or ready to jack you at the first available opportunity.....

But I digress. I took this picture because it struck me that all the stuff I've been reading online about America's economic challenges seemed to be a flat out lie, based on the sea of humanity in Macy's. Kinda makes you wonder what to believe......

"Scenes of Wretched Excess: Take 2"

This is a shopping cart at the Gigantoriffic Bed Bath and Beyond near the Gargantuan Apple Story near 64th and Broadway. I usually enjoy browsing at Bed, Bath and Beyond, because you always come up with ideas for stuff that would make your life more organized and civil, if you are willing to sink a small fortune.

That has to be the biggest B, B and B I've ever seen in my life, with more doo-dads, travel-sized items, health and beauty products, linens and things, and all and sundry other junk than you and 1,000 other people could use in a decade. It was big as a small East African village.

More than all the stuff, one thing that left me agog was this escalator thing-y type contraption for shopping carts. I'm probably so far behind the rest of civilization that this thing may be standard issue these days. But I actually stood there for a couple of minutes wondering what the hell it was. It runs parallel to the regular escalator, but I couldn't decide if it was for wheelchairs, or for loading delivery boxes or what.

Then I saw this young woman nose her cart into the entry of this contraption, and some little gizmos attached to the front wheel, and then the whole thing glided along beside her as she moved to the upper level. I'm sorry, but the whole process was vastly more entertaining than most of the content of Kenyan television! Leave it to Americans to keep finding ways to make spending more money than you earn a much less physically challenging experience...

That is, unless you are fool enough to enter a major department store like Macy's during the after Christmas period, which is where the next Scene of Wretched Excess occurred....

"Scenes of Wretched Excess: Take 1"

The past few days in New York have amounted to insane sensory overload, to say the least. When you've spent most of the past 3 years living in developing countries, and then your re-entry is into cities like New York and DC, you can't help noticing just how much of everything there is.

And the weirdest thing is, stuff you used to take for granted starts to look really excessive and over the top bourgeois. I'm labeling the next few quick posts "Scenes of Wretched Excess" not because I really think that about them, but because when you've experienced so much lack, and deprivation, and desperate need for basic stuff, you begin to wonder if a 10 year old kid really needs to spend a morning at the gargantuan Apple Store on Broadway and 64th Street learning how to use his new Garage Band software??

This is the scene I witnessed the other day. I'd been pondering trying to increase the memory on my Macbook, but after peeking into the massive cavern that was only the entrance lobby before the huge store one floor down, I almost faltered. Still, I steeled my nerves and headed down the escalator, where about 7 bajillion people were wandering the aisles or peering at sleek laptops placed conveniently on every available surface.

The two boys in this picture were having the time of their life playing around with their music software, but I couldn't help thinking that their laptops at home were probably top of the line, and loaded with way more memory than my basic starter unit. And once this lesson was over, their parents probably let them pick up a few more goodies on their way out of the store. Meanwhile, I got so overwhelmed by the vast range of electronic and technological doo-hickeys that I eventually just asked someone for the 1800 My APPLE number and fled.

To the nearby Bed, Bath and Beyond store, locale of the next Scene of Wretched Excess....

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Hunger is a Relative Term

Pardon the blurriness of this picture. But I can't stop thinking about it. It's the first one I took once the plane touched down at JFK, from the TV monitor near baggage claim. I almost dismissed it as just more CNN background noise until I looked up and saw the backpacks.

In case you can't read the blurry lettering, it says "Hungry Kids." It reminded me of a story I had pitched, but didn't get to do, for NPR a few years ago. In fact, it may have been about one of the very first programa in the country that sent poor children home with backpacks full of canned goods and other simple foodstuffs over the weekend. I pre-interviewed one of the teachers who started the program, and she said it began after she was working in her classroom one weekend and some of her students came to her window and asked if she had anything to eat. She gave them some peanut butter and crackers, and that was her "lightbulb moment."

This was why some kids were extra lethargic and hard to teach on Monday mornings. They hadn't had much to eat over the weekend. The teacher figured if they could go home with a bit of extra food to help tide them and their families over, it might improve learning and performance.

I thought it was a great idea, which is why I pitched it to editors. And I also thought it spoke volumes about the things we Americans take for granted. I think that's part of why my editor didn't greenlight the story. He probably thought it was just a small pilot project, and surely not a big enough problem to warrant a national feature story.

Well, that was before the Fall of 2008, and the Global Economic Crisis. Clearly, my timing was off, because it seems that all across America, food banks are running out food, soup kitchens are reporting triple the clients, and for poor kids, hunger is a growing problem.

In America.

That's why CNN was doing the backpacks story. It was quite a wake-up call for me, arriving in the Land of Plenty after a year and a half in a poor Third World country. There's actual famine in Kenya now, thanks to a major drought, and theft of emergency grain reserves, and overwhelming levels of intense poverty. I see hungry, desperately poor women and children in the streets of Nairobi every day. You get to the point where you simply accept it as part of the scenery. If you tried to help every one of them, you'd find yourself in a financial bind.

But the CNN story reminded me of the energetic discussion at Cousin George and Cousin Carole's Christmas Eve supper, right before I headed to the airport. One of the other guests, an African American professor at a Nairobi University, was arguing that the obscene political corruption in Kenya was threatening the country's future development. When Education officials steal so much money, it means Free Education for kids will be suspended, that has a direct, negative impact on the country's future.

Cousin Carole's argument was that corruption in Kenya was no worse than the policies in the US that lead to layoffs, lousy educational systems, high unemployment and other ills faced in American society. She said it's even worse, because on the surface, America has so much. Yet when millions of American kids either drop out or leave high school having no skills and barely able to read, that's corruption. It was an intriguing take on a topic I've focused on for years--Poverty in America.

You see, I've spent a lot of time feeling inundated and overwhelmed by just how much lack and need and desperation there is in Kenya. So it was quite a wake up call to touch down in America and be reminded that there are many people struggling here. Is it any better or worse to be poor and hungry in America? Should we be just as disturbed about an American kid tapping on his teacher's window and begging for food as we are about the child in a Northern Kenya village who's malnourished and suffering?

I don't know. I guess hunger is a relative term.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Eat, Pay, Lug

I WISH my life boiled down to more than this. I WISH I was able to say that after my dramatic Christmas Day brush with mortality, I leapt into the arms of a waiting lover, or headed to a soup kitchen and opened my wallet, or pledged the rest of my life to volunteer work with orphaned refugees.

Instead, here is how I spent Saturday afternoon, after my arduous journey to New York was finally complete:

I went to Macy's, and then I went to Katz's Deli on Houston Street. Jet lag be damned; I never felt more alive than when I scored great clearance bargains, and had that first orgiastic taste of pastrami. I didn't realize my Katz's obsession was so well documented until I got to the counter, where they offer free samples while carving your meaty masterpiece. The cute guy of indeterminate ethnic origin smiled and said he remembered me. That's when I realized that for good pastrami, I would track down Death himself and kick that sickle-bearing bastard's ass. I would snatch that Nigerian Knucklehead Terrorist by the neck and fuck him up TWO TIMES if he was blocking the clearance shoe aisle at Filene's, even if he was carrying a suitcase nuke.

The first bite of that velvety, juicy, flavorful pastrami erased all the stress and jet-lag. It elicited the obligatory moan of culinary ecstasy. It was better than a warm embrace from my dream lover, Idris. (Okay, that's a lie, but it was close.)

On the way home from Katz's in a cold rain, struggling with paper bags from Macy's that eventually fell apart, I realized the arc of my life is fairly straightforward. Barring great sex and a messianic mission, the true essence of my spiritual journey can be summarized in three words:

Eat, Pay, Lug. "Can a sister get a book contract?"

Saturday, December 26, 2009

"Pop, Puff, Panic"

Now, I know it ain't all about me, but I've naturally been thinking a lot about landing at Detroit Metro Airport yesterday, and my peripheral role in what was apparently an aborted terrorist attack. Apparently, the targeted Amsterdam flight was number 253. I had booked Flight 243, which left about an hour later.

At some point during my Yuletide wanderings in Schiphol Airport, I may have walked past the guy who tried to kill at least 277 other people on Christmas Day. And while I was sitting there thinking how lucky I was for traveling on the biggest holiday of the year, I could just as easily have booked that earlier plane and, and Mr. Asswipe could have actually made his homemade bomb work.

Ironically, a few days before leaving Nairobi, I had been talking to someone about how almost 10 years after 9/11, airport travel was somehow bearable again. By now, you know the drill...take off all your belts and rings and jewelry, don't wear complicated shoes, drink your water before you go through screening, take out your laptops. Every now and then, they'll let you slip a tube of lip gloss through, but you pretty much need to pack all your other lotions perfumes and goop in your checked bags, because you got at least a 30 percent chance that some screener will confiscate it (especially if she likes the color herself).

In one puff of smoke, all those gains have been erased. Watching CNN's coverage of what happened, it's clear that we have just been plunged back into Gulag era security routine at major airports around the world. And lucky me, I get to return to Nairobi through.....
AMSTERDAM!!!

Anyway, it all seems surreal at this point. After 16 hours of flying, I sat on Flight 243 on a Detroit Metro runway for 4 hours, and it took about 2 hours to get through Immigration, and another hour to get a new flight for this morning. In the re-booking line, the wiry, fedora sportin' Greek guy named Demetrios in front of me says he helped put the bomb out. (He was also mackin' me hard. Kept trying to explain how the experience was a divine lesson about what's really important in life. Kept telling me about how much money and property he has in Atlanta, buy how it doesn't mean anything if you don't have someone to share it with. Hell, if he'd been taller, cuter, a bit less tipsy, and had a shave sometime in the past month, he might have REALLY gotten lucky last night.) Behind me in line, two 20-something Indian brothers who were born in Kenya but live in London now say they were questioned for 2 hours, as was everybody else on that plane. In hindsight, except for the occasional squalling toddler, everybody going through Immigration was nearly mute with shock, once we realized the "security breach" was not just some drunken Dutch teenager who set off a firecracker to celebrate landing in America.

Oh, well. At least I scored the last seat on today's 9 AM plane for New York, so I'll be leaving the Best Western Romulus shortly. Odds are, yesterday took care of all the "Recommended Complicated Drama Requirement" for this journey. Looking forward to a very Blessed Boxing Day.

Friday, December 25, 2009

"I'll be in Romulus for Christmas..."

"You can count on me. Please have Coke, and those Fritos, and don't be drama-free...."

Actually, all things considered, these Fritos and this Coke are probably the best Christmas meal I've ever had in my life. That's because I'm eating them in the Best Western, Romulus Michigan about 8 hours after I landed at Detroit Metro Airport on Christmas Day. That's also about 3 hours after I should have landed in New York City.

I know you guys have been busy with other mundane stuff, like, say, CHRISTMAS MERRIMENT, but in case you haven't had time to catch CNN, I was almost kinda-sorta involved in a major terrorist incident. I'm just too exhausted to get into details at the moment, but let me say this..

Karma is a MUTHAFUCKA. This is what I get for being a smug bee-YOTCH about my blissfully stress free holiday travel agenda!

I'll probably unspool details over the next day or so, when my addled brain and weary bones that are still operating on Nairobi time aren't screaming, "What the hell are you doing awake and typing at dawn on a Saturday morning????" But hey, it's still Christmas Night in Romulus, Michigan and I'm still alive. And there ain't a brined turkey in the world that could top this meal, after a day like today.

"Upon Further Reflection....."


...the longer you live in Sub-Saharan Africa, the more you wonder why anyone would willingly subject themselves to living in a snowy climate. I mean, some people simply never have to deal with it, and generally speaking, they're just fine with that.

So, I'm sitting here waiting to board my plane to Detroit, and then another one to New York, where it will be cold. VERY cold. And there may even be snow. LOTS of it, before I leave.

Damn.

I ain't hatin' on winter, y'all I'm just sayin', dawg...."

A Traveler's Tale

Being in an international airport on Christmas Day is the best present anyone could give themselves.

First, unless said airport is in a Third World war zone, somebody has already done all the decorating for you…all you gotta do is go, "Oooh!" and "Ahhhh!" The downside is that you’ll pay 25 bucks for some weak-assed cappuccino and a cinnamon roll, but at least it’s Christmas.

Second, it’s such a pleasant window into a less crazed way to live one’s life. I can actually hear myself think in Schipol Airport today. So far, not a single person has bumped into me with a luggage trolley. There’s no need to rush to the gate, because like the flight from Nairobi to Amsterdam, the plane probably won’t be full.

Some things never change though. Every now and then, the blood curdling, nerve shattering squeals of a hungry, sleep-deprived infant or toddler remind you of where you are. But for a single female traveler with no children, even that is a gift. It reminds you that no matter how worn out you might be from your journey, at least you don’t have to deal with THAT bullshit.

In fact, I spent a few minutes’ extended reverie considering the pluses of being unattached with no family obligations on Christmas Day. First, I didn’t have to spend the past week cooking, cleaning, shopping and wrapping. Most mothers are so exhausted by Christmas morning, the thought of serving dinner later in the day is lodged in their brain like a lump of coal. Fathers may be game helpers, but they’re also wondering how the hell they’re gonna pay those credit card bills come January.

And that’s if they’re even still married to each other. If not, Christmas is more a day of recriminations that celebrations. After the protracted battle about who gets the kids on which holiday, and what time they need to be returned home, and how much did he spend on HIS kids versus that other bitch’s kids, a parent might be pardoned for feeling less than merry.

Yep, I was really feeling mighty smug for a minute there! Bought some $35 Chanel mascara and thought, “Shopping for myself is so freakin’ stress free!” But seconds later, a bow-legged toddler in a fuschia onesie stumbled across my path. She had a short, curly 'fro and skin the color of Crème Caramel Bailey’s Irish liquor. She was probably Sudanese, or Ethiopian, or Somali. Whatever she was, she was so precious, I SERIOUSLY could have done a bid for shoving her into my carry-on bag.

This cherub had taken it upon herself to toddle away from her mother in search of her errant big sister, In that squeaky, half-duck, half Munchkin voice that people under age 3 have perfected so well, this little girl stood directly in my path, her little brow knitted and her arms extended, and cried, “Ha-DEEE-ja! Ha-DEEE-ja!” And she kept yelling and gesturing until Hadija bopped over from wherever she’d been roaming, her long curls flopping wildly.

All of a sudden, I got it. THAT’S why you’d work yourself to exhaustion and go into debt and link every beat of your heart to someone or something other than yourself. That’s what makes the Christmas Crazies worth it.

Still, I’m thoroughly enjoying sitting here drinking my weak-assed cappuccino and watching the Christmas snowfall at Schiphol airport on Christmas Day, 2009. Maybe one day, I’ll even have a reason to make sure I’m NOT in an airport on Christmas morning. Until then, this feels right.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

"Twas the Night Before Christmas at JKIA"


"Twas the night before Christmas, and here's what I say,
It's so thrilling to be here at JKIA!
I'm very relaxed and peaceful--Who knew?
Feeling vastly much better than back in Gu-lu.

Never thought I would ever consider this season
As anything other than gloomy--for reasons
You all know too well. I won't go there for now.
'Cept to say that I'm healing, and the feeling is, "Wow!"

For the rest of my life, this time of the year
Will remind me of one I held so very dear.
But time has helped me remember the love,
And the fact that she watches me down from above.

Julie'd pimp-slap me senseless for stewing in grief.
I'm unswerving in that wholehearted belief.
So I'm headed back "home" to refresh and regroup
And to eat steaming bowls of Pho (Vietnamese soup.)

Soon enough, I'll be back---but before I take flight,
Merry Christmas to All, and to All a Good Night!

A Carefully Crafted Life

Just got in from an early Christmas Eve supper at my Cousins George and Carole's house. They're not really my cousins, but since their last name is Jones, we've been making that joke ever since we met early this year.

Even though I'm thrilled to be getting a break from Kenya, today's wonderful get-together reminded me to stay focused on the positive things about life in Nairobi. First, put together any group of expats in a social setting, and you're guaranteed stimulating conversation. Everybody has THE solution to poverty, corruption, and development challenges. Everybody has at least 5 tales of maddening frustration in trying to get anything done. Everybody has an opinion about why things back in their country of origin are vastly superior....or at least on the surface, anyway.

It also reminded me to keep my eye on the ball over here. Sure, I was at the end of my rope and ready to chuck it all before booking tonight's flight. But talking with the stimulating, energized, committed people around that table, I realized how lucky I am to be doing this work, especially with all the economic and employment challenges in America now. And especially at this point in my life, when I could be newly-laid off, or listing aimlessly in some boring gig trying to hold on until retirement.

Everybody at that table has lived abroad at least a year, and some for more than 30. And they all do it because they want to make a difference in the world. Some say you will never be able to fully adjust to all the reasons why no matter how much you plan ahead while living in a developing country, almost everything WILL go pear shaped and you will want to pull your hair out strand by strand. But they also believe that you will never, ever get this kind of intellectual and spiritual stimulation any other way.

It's giving me a lot to think about as I head to one of my favorite cities in the world, New York. I will enjoy every single second of being there, and I will explore and shop and see Broadway shows and freeze my ass off and deeply revel in how much I understand how things work there. I will breathe deeply and eat lots of crispy, hickory smoked bacon, because you simply can't get decent bacon anywhere in Kenya. But I will also remember that I have a deeply privileged, exhilarating life in Nairobi. And that like these amazing ebony wood napkin rings Carole had made in Tanzania back in 1976, there is enormous talent, beauty and strength here, if I will only just stop and take the time to really see it.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Yule Be Surprised....

....when you see this picture. I know I was! If I looked as bitchy as I've been feeling lately, I would resemble a withered crone with a huge wart on the tip of her nose and a dessicated hump on her back.

Come to think of it, I've been in a pissy mood for the past month and half now, after the completely dysfunctional training experience in Dakar. Loved the city, and most of the people I met, but otherwise, after 4 days I was ready to hit the Scotch HARD by the time I got back to Nairobi. And it seems like ever since then, I have taken every available opportunity to be a snappy, waspish, impatient, "Ugly American" Grade A Prime butthole. Like last Friday morning, when the ATM machine at one of the local malls ate my card, and the young woman in the bank branch told me to come back on Monday to "get sorted." Well, you can imagine what I almost told her she could get. I bet she's still talking about that black American shrew who demanded to see the branch manager and railed about why on EARTH people in Nairobi think everybody else in the world has as much time to waste getting nothing accomplished AS THEY DO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Coupled with another burst of hormonal hell, and I naturally concluded that lately, I have resembled, if not in flesh then in spirit, none other than Dr. Seuss's immortal Grinch, complete with the foul, dank soul and bitter, twisted pout. I certainly never expected to emit even the faintest glimmer of life, light or pleasant spirit when I asked a colleague to take this picture of me today, to use as my email holiday greeting for friends and family. In fact, I told him to back up, and kind of angle the camera a bit, maybe to soften the harsh edges that I just knew I was throwing.

I swear, when he handed me the camera, I almost dropped it. I might actually approach this woman and say "hello." If she smiled a bit wider, I might even want to get to know her better. She even seems kinda, well, nice.

Imagine what I'd look like if I were actually getting laid these days! Anyway, I just wanted share this snapshot update on how Princess Rachella is doing this holiday season, and to wish you all a "Merry Masai Christmas," courtesy of the colorful local outfit I actually felt like wearing today in honor of the season. I'm really quite stunned that I'm even acknowledging the holiday this year, and even looking forward to having a great time back the in States soon.

After two incredibly difficult holiday seasons, this time, "Time" has been the greatest gift of all.

"Ho, Ho, HUH????""

As if I needed MORE of a reason to take a break from Kenya, I awoke today only to be greeted by this headline in one of the local papers.

Like it didn't take every second of my 48 years on Earth to come to terms with, and move on from, growing up under American Apartheid, now I gotta deal with the emergence of the KKK on yet another continent! And even though in this case the K's stand for "Kikuyu, Kalenjin, and Kamba," trust me, this alliance is just as fucked as the other one.

Speaking of K's,

"KLM, take me away......"

Monday, December 21, 2009

Art Imitating Strife

I have never seen the movie "Clueless" from beginning to end. But you really don't need to have seen the whole thing to understand its enormous pop cultural influence. I'd even argue that "Clueless" ranks second only to "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" as the ultimate snarky, "totally self-contained independent teen" movie.

The first time I actually did see a portion of the movie, I found Brittany Murphy's Tai character the most appealing of all the iconic roles. She was so baby-faced and sweet and plucky. Ironically, soon after that first partial viewing of "Clueless," I stumbled across the Lifetime movie "Double Jeopardy" with Brittany and Joe Penny, which had been released during the same year. She played a nubile young waitress from the wrong side of the tracks who was pursued by a married police officer, had his child and finally swallowed a bullet for threatening to expose him if he didn't dump his wife and marry her.

Afterwards, I remember being really impressed by Brittany's acting range. Even though she was essentially the same vulnerable, doe-eyed character in each movie, she had dredged up an edgy grit and determination for the Lifetime role. In fact, while I've still never seen "Clueless" from start to finish, I've probably watched "Double Jeopardy" 5 or 6 times.

Anyway, as I'm learning more about Brittany's tragic death yesterday, I'm thinking in some ways, her life mirrored her work way too closely. Consider the evidence: She also played Eminem's slutty girlfriend in the movie "8 Mile," and she was a fragile neurotic who hung herself in "Girl Interrupted," and she was a psychotic psychic in "Don't Say a Word." In other words, most of Brittany's major film roles oozed a frenetic, dark, negative energy. To top it all off, she wound up marrying a guy who some folks consider a sleazebag con man, and who's already being suspected of hastening her death.

I don't know. I guess I'm not suggesting that Brittany should have only accepted G-rated Disney roles with fluffy bunnies and rainbows. But I can't stop thinking that maybe, just maybe, there's something to that whole "Laws of Attraction" theory. Maybe if she had been able to create more positive energy in her career, she might have attracted more positive, nurturing people into her life. Maybe that would have made producers send her more positive scripts. Maybe she'd be remembered for lightness and uplift, instead of tragedy and confusion.

You know, come to think of it, I'm probably worse than the folks who sit huddled in their mother's basements and log onto Internet gossip websites to leave asinine observations about movie stars, in between X-Box rounds with their loser friends. After all, I'm 9 thousand miles away from Hollywood, involved in positive work that I hope makes a difference in somebody's life, yet here I sit drawing parallels between a Lifetime movie and the death of a young woman I never met and have no way of knowing anything about--other than what I'm reading on Internet gossip websites.

But whatever else comes to light, I do know that, at 32, Brittany Murphy had just cranked her engine. No matter what past mistakes, missteps, or wrong choices she may have made, there should have been time to start again, from scratch, if she needed to. Somehow, you could tell there was so much more to her than those flaky, fragile, flickering images on the screen.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Hold That Thought

You know, I'm getting SO excited about heading back to my good old US of A on Christmas Eve!!!! I'm also rather naively trying to convince myself that being parked in New York City this time next week will be just as soul satisfying as strolling along a beach like this one near Mombasa, on the Kenyan coast.

But I've spent most of this weekend monitoring the monster blizzard that socked the Mid-Atlantic and the Northeast. Now, I know I've occasionally complained about the Climate Change related mischief that's creating lingering, unseasonably chilly temps over here in Nairobi. But something tells me getting off that plane in New York on Christmas Day will make me long for the cool breezes on the balcony of the Oasis of Graciousness. After all, I'll be encountering sub-freezing temps and snow for the first time in...well, I guess a couple of years now, considering I've mostly been toiling in Sub-Saharan Africa since June of 2007.

Guess I'll just need to hold this thought the entire time I'm back on the East Coast. (And maybe book myself a ticket to Mombasa before I leave.)

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Good Googly Moogly

Besides yesterday's great cancer research news, it also took this googly-eyed cow thing-y to help shake me out of the holiday humdrums.

It's been sitting in this bag on one of my dining room chairs since mid-November, when my friend Kelly brought it over from New York. She has ferried over literal suitcases full of books and clothes and dolls and balls and crayons and markers and games and stuffed animals for the kids during her recent Nairobi trips. Kelly feels it's the very least she can do for the kids of the Maai Mahiu IDP Camp.


Now THERE'S a name you haven't heard in ages!! That's because I haven't written about, or visited Maai Mahiu in ages. Once a flurry of work-related travel kicked in a few months ago, it's been too easy to let myself fall into a pattern of postponement and procrastination about getting back to the school. Plus it seemed like every time I came close to getting my act together and actually going, something else came up to keep me stuck in Nairobi.

Every day I walked past this bag of toys and thought, "Damn, Kelly sure cares about the Maai Mahiu kids more than I do!!!! I bet they would really love playing with some of this stuff." Meanwhile, the every day stresses of life in Nairobi have left me resembling this googly-eyed cow a bit more than I care to admit.

I'm definitely battered and lightly fried these days, dear readers. Feeling scattered and about a quart low on my usual zest and pluck. And so I will be taking a break from my Sub-Saharan Sojourn starting on Christmas Eve, when I will wing my way to New York City and DC for a few weeks.

Meanwhile, please rest assured that by the time you read this post, this Krazy Kow will have arrived at the PCEA Muniu School, where a holiday party took place today. Since it kinda looks like I do these days, it'll have to stand in for me. The school has been closed for a few weeks now, but thanks to your generous donations over recent months, the local sponsors have been able to keep serving lunches during the break. I won't hit y'all up for more support during the holidays, but once I finally get my butt in gear and make time for a trip to the school next month, to see where things stand with the lunch program, I may just call on you for help once more.


After all, your support has been udderly invaluable! HAH!

Santa is REAL, People!!!!

Yada, Yada, Yada....you already know the drill. I haven't "done" Christmas for quite some time now. It's why I haven't been blogging much lately. Just trying to put one foot down in front of the other, basically.

But Santa just swapped the lump of coal that's perpetually lodged in my craw this time of year with a big hunk of Archangel food cake.

Check out this link from CNN.com...MAJOR news about Cancer research.

http://edition.cnn.com/2009/HEALTH/12/17/cancer.research.breakthrough.genetic/index.html

I'm smiling now. It'll be okay, I think. Might even have myself a Merry Little Christmas...

If one can accomplish that during a 9 hour flight between Amsterdam and Detroit.

"Keep watching this space for more details...."

Friday, December 11, 2009

Beddie Bye

Just got home tonight, walked into the bedroom and beheld an image that set my pulse racing at full gallop. But sadly, not for the reason you might think.

Yesterday, I'd been informed that the Oasis of Graciousness management would be replacing my bed. But that didn't prepare me for a scene from "A Thousand and Frakkin' One Arabian Nights." I mean, I can appreciate a girly, ornate four poster as much as the next incurable romantic, but this thing looks like it's straight from a Uzbekistan torture chamber. And it's about 6 inches higher than the other bed, which should come in really handy after a Ladies' Night outing at the local Japanese Korean restaurant.

Once my mild heart attack subsided, I couldn't help ruminating about the vastly different stages of life. At age 8, if I'd seen a bed like this, I'd have tied a towel to my head, called myself Scheherazade and waited for my Sultan to come and clasp me in a swoon-y embrace, just like in the Disney movies. At age 48, I just worry that I'll trip and lose an eye on one of those spiky bedposts, or roll over and bust a hip during one of those 2 AM bladder runs.

Sweet dreams are made of this???? OY!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Driving Mrs. Crazy

I really didn't expect to find myself sitting in the middle of the newsroom with tears rolling down my cheeks earlier today, surrounded by Kenyan colleagues wondering just what the hell was wrong with me.

But they soon figured out that I was crying tears of laughter while watching a You Tube clip of last week's 'Saturday Night Live" Tiger Woods sketch. Sure, it was totally sophomoric, and made light of the serious issue of domestic violence, but I'm sorry, I laughed my ass off.

Once again, I'm feeling somewhat isolated yet privileged to be watching this bit of uniquely American melodrama unfolding while living in Kenya. Over here, the reactions range from "Why is this such a big deal?" to "See??? If he had taken the golf club to HER, it would have been a major crime!" On the one hand, like I've mentioned a few times lately, research suggests that the average Kenyan man has about 8 sexual partners, and a great many Kenyan women either don't know, don't want to know, or refuse to acknowledge the proof that's staring them in the eye. Or they agree to be one of many wives or girlfriends because that's just what men DO.

Still, quite a few women over here are applauding Elin Woods for expressing her objection to her husband's man-whorish behavior so strenuously. Others think she should just get herself tested for STD's and then spend a few months doing some hard-core retail therapy in Paris before returning to a vastly increased pre-nup. Others believe that if SHE had been guilty of adultery, he would have been obliged to beat the crap out of her with no legal interference.

All I know is that I am thoroughly disgusted by Tiger Woods, even as I'm grateful to him for further strengthening my ever-deepening suspicions about the average man. Each day spent in Kenya strengthens my belief that most men would prefer to fool around with as many sexual partners as their time, wallets and libido would allow. Even if that percentage is just 51 to 49, I'm still talking a majority. And note that I said "prefer," suggesting that even amongst that majority who think it's a good idea, there are still quite a few who have the good sense, conscience and moral fortitude to conclude that though other people make their naughty bits tingle, acting on it would betray their commitments to current partners whom they might actually respect and not wish to hurt.

It's all a simple matter of male wiring, basically. And if your culture supports a rather liberal, un-regulated use of said wiring, most men will act on it. Or, if your wallet and "fame" present you with unlimited access to sexual adventurism. Many famous professional athletes partake, and Tiger's no different than the thousands who've preceded him. Except I will say this...based on the photographic evidence, his tastes definitely tend to lean toward the less refined, to put it as gently as I know how.

Anyway, the story just keeps getting weirder and weirder, and truth be told, I'm almost starting to feel sorry for him. Based on what I'm reading, everything in his life conspired to groom him for a sense of invincibility, with no monitors, no self-regulation. All that was expected of him was that he be a demi-god on the greens. Apparently, his agents, handlers, lawyers and toadies ALL knew about the darker side, and the reckless behavior, but nobody wanted to halt the gravy train. And no disrespect to the late Earl Woods, but the fact that he apparently left a wife and three kids BEFORE Tiger came along, and was more devoted to "The Myth" than to his son, could only lead to what we're witnessing at the moment: a rudderless disaster.

But I'm sorry, I also can't help feeling just a teensy bit glad that Elin Woods went straight up Compton on his ass. I know, domestic violence is wrong no matter who's doing the beating. And God knows that young woman is suffering, no matter how many zeroes he winds up slapping onto the prenup. I mean, can you imagine trying to smile and pretend you're committed to making things work with your husband when his trail of trailer scum seems to be endless?

All of a sudden, being a 48 year old single, childless African American woman doesn't seem so bad after all. It sure feels better than being an utterly played, 29-year-old blonde beauty with 2 young children, a sex-addicted jackass for a husband, and a hundred million reasons why people around the world are pitying you, and PRAYING that you will undergo HIV tests every month for the foreseeable future.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

A Travel Perk

The good news about being in Nyeri is I'm told that for the most part, the mosquitoes that are draining my arteries are not malarial.

The better news is that the rubbery plate of vulcanized roast beef or "nyama choma" that I just tried to tuck into didn't wreck the $5,000 worth of dental work I've invested in over the past few years.

But the BEST NEWS OF ALL was finding the only coffeehouse in Nyeri, and getting yet another sign that my Archangel is always on the case.

I'm still smiling. My Christmas Blend came early this year.

Nyeri, A Moment's Peace

Even though I spent last night huddled under what must by now be the thousandth ratty mosquito net of my life, I'm actually really glad I escaped Nairobi yesterday and headed a few hours north to a town called Nyeri, in Central Kenya.

All it takes is a few deep breaths of fresh air, some free flowing traffic and a lowered blood pressure reading to remind you that people really don't have to live like rats packed into a smoggy, dusty, unbearably loud maze. If I stayed here 17 more YEARS, after my 17 months so far, I still wouldn't get used to the mad crush of Nairobi's Central Business District. There are just too many people, and too little of everything else...roads, food, water, you name it.

I'll be in Nyeri today and tomorrow, working with folks at the Daily Nation's office and doing a bit of poking around. I'm staying at a "quaint" little establishment called the Green Hills Hotel; the name, coupled with the rather spartan, grey concrete exterior, is disturbingly more befitting a mortuary, but I'm trying not to think about that for the time being. In fact, whenever I feel like complaining about the lack of luxury in local lodgings, I just need to remember my torturous week at the Tee Jay Palace Hotel in Zaria, Northern Nigeria. To this day, I can't explain why I don't have lockjaw, persistent malaria and cholera, and a permanent nervous tic from THAT stint.

I'm hoping to find time for a quick side trip to Mt. Kenya, to at least lay eyes on it while I'm here. There's still waaaaay too much of this country I haven't seen, and my time in Kenya grows short. I'd like to be able to share a vision of this country that doesn't just include Parliamentary mischief, traffic, and suburban malls. I've been to the West, I've been to the East, and now I'm adding Central to the mix. If I keep this exploring thing up, maybe I'll even wind up appreciating Nairobi before I leave.

A gal can dream, can't she?

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Test Drive

Per a recent communication with my brother in-law Ron, I am obliged to begin this posting with a warning. You see, all of a sudden, he's turned into this BIG BABY who can't handle some of the rough edges of my life, and would prefer the option of skipping any of my more, shall we say, "earthy" entries.

Okay, Ron, here goes: the following post, though illustrated with a shot of the gold foil encased condom that was left by my keyboard this morning, is ABSOLUTELY RATED G. Nothing that follows will turn your stomach or make you question the accuracy of the highly moral compass implanted in my brain by the "Twin Furies", aka Miss Eloise and Miss Julie. In fact, as I waited my turn for an HIV test this afternoon during Nation Media Group's "World AIDS Day" activities, I actually considered lying if they asked when I last had sex.

After all, they'd probably think I was lying, physically impaired or half dead if I told them the truth. So I wondered if it would somehow raise my social profile to fib and say I'd just returned to the office from a quickie at the hotel next door. Fortunately, the young man who couldn't stop laughing when I told him my age came up with a great compromise. He asked if I'd been intimate within the past 6 months. Telling the truth about that didn't feel so loser-ish.

Anyway, let me once again assure you, RON, that is will not be a gross, girly blogpost full of personal junk that I probably shouldn't be revealing in public. All I really want to share is my opinion that on the African continent, the battle against HIV will never be won until men take full responsibility for knowing their status and protecting themselves and their partners. The survey I mentioned in an earlier posting pretty much backs up my opinion, I think. If the average Kenyan man has 7 or 8 sexual partners, and only about 3 out of 10 Kenyan men know their HIV status, there's no way to argue that the epidemic is NOT driven by men.

My own test result was reassuring, even as it confirmed that my last potential exposure occurred sometime during the Pleistocene Era. But hey, maybe this is a step in the right direction, a sort of "Greenlight for All Systems Go," so to speak.

But let me stop there, before Ron barfs all over his keyboard.

:-)

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Talkin' Turkey

I was dressed and almost on my way out the door before remembering that today is Thanksgiving in America. There was a time, enshrined in the mists of memory, when I'd have rolled out of bed before sunrise on this day, and headed straight to the kitchen for some serious strategizing.

"Should I go ahead and make the pies now so they can be cooled and settled, or should I just spend the morning chopping veggies? And how much time will I need to let the bread dough rise twice? Or maybe the morning should just focus on scrubbing floors and dusting? Oh, and is there enough wine, or soda, or whatever beverage might be required??"

But this is the third year in a row I've been outside the US during Thanksgiving. I'll probably never forget my first Expat Turkey Day, because it was about a month after Julie died, and it was in Gulu. I actually could have had some poultry that time, if I'd been willing to murder the gift I'd received after returning to Uganda from her funeral. But I still haven't grasped the concept of eating something you've actually met, so I passed on slaughtering my "welcome back chicken" to mark the holiday.

I'm actually having trouble remembering what I did for Thanksgiving 2006. Ditto 2005. But I'll certainly never forget Turkey Day 2004, when I worked like an Alabama fieldhand preparing a spectacular feast for the Ambivalent Archivist I was dating. From the minute we agreed to spend the day together, I vowed to woo him into submission with my culinary skill. Sure, I wasn't in love with him, and didn't even want a long term relationship. But because I knew he felt the same way about me, every feminine wile in my body was ignited. Using sex on demand and near-gourmet food, I was determined to make this man cleave to me. This would grant me the overall victory, and improved leverage for dumping rights, I concluded.

Anyway, I became absolutely OBSESSED with forcing the Ambivalent Archivist to sample butternut squash. While vetting potential recipes, he mentioned never having tried it, and not really wanting to. Oh, HELL no, I said to myself. You gon' eat my butternut squash risotto, and you will fall prostrate at my feet in sheer bliss and gratitude that I led you to this Pulpy Promised Land.

I also brined a turkey overnight for the first time in my life, using garbage bags, because I didn't have a pan big enough hold the bird and the gallons of brine. AND I made sweet potato pies. And homemade rolls. There were other mouth-watering entries, but you get the drift. I figured after he finished eating, and getting sexed up a few times, this man would have no other choice but on-the-spot commitment.

Well, to his credit, the Ambivalent Archivist ate the risotto without flinching, even said he liked it. He went back three times for everything else, and then we flopped onto my sectional couch and watched a Marx Brothers Marathon on TCM. Then he fell asleep. Then I fell asleep. I think we both woke up around dawn the next day, and then he got up, thanked me for everything, and went home. No nookie transpired, tragically.

Suffice it to say, I am not currently Mrs. Ambivalent Archivist. But that experience definitely marked a big turning point in how I view holidays in general. Ever since the Jones Family "Death-Off" began in 2003, my own notions of family have taken a hit. My siblings are doing their own thing, and I'm doing mine, and there's not really a solid center of gravity anymore. So my theory these days is that unless you're part of an immediate family unit with a mate and/or children of your own, holidays mostly just do not compute.

As a single woman nearing age 50, I'm fairly lucky. If I were in the US now, I'd probably snag quite a few invites to join in on other people's Turkey Day feasts. But there's no denying my status as "Perennial Fifth Wheel," or more bluntly stated, "Old-Assed Social Orphan."

I mean, what the hell do you DO with me? I'd be pretty content to sit at the kids' table for the most part, so that's a plus. I find large gatherings of (well-behaved) children quite refreshing, especially when I know I can walk away at any time. But with the adult crowd, how do you explain who the hell I am??? "This is Rachel, a dear friend who has nowhere else to go." Then of course there's the option of trying to pair me with your Cousin Leonard, who's about the same age and either thrice divorced or has 4 baby-mommas and a teensy substance abuse problem, and who's hasn't worked in 12 years. And who has to get back to the Halfway House before 8 PM, so we'd better go ahead and start eating now.

Oh, well, enough of this self-absorbed riff. I did actually have a pretty cool Thanksgiving last year in Nairobi, but the folks who threw that catered bash opted out this time. I'm dining on Indian food with a few friends tonight, at a place I haven't tried but hear is really good. If that's true, I'll be very thankful for that. But I chose the cartoon above as a way of summarizing yet another Expat Thanksgiving Experience. The frustration of not quite being understood, the sense of deflation and loss, and more often than not, the prospect of staring at a plate full of something that will surely NOT satisfy what you're truly craving.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

A Numbers Game

Kenyan media recently highlighted a demographic survey which finds the average Kenyan man has about 7.6 sexual partners. (That ".6" offers even more incontrovertible proof that most men would bonk anything with a pulse...arms, legs or other critical organs are optional.) For graphic illustration purposes, I have rounded that statistic upwards (see accompanying photo).

By anybody's standards, especially in a country with lots of HIV/AIDS-related challenges, that statistic denotes sheer madness. But it also yields insight into my relationship challenges in Kenya. Specifically, it offered instant clarification for what happened last Saturday afternoon, when the colleague who'd suggested getting together for coffee never showed up.


I'd noticed this guy in the newsroom, but he always seemed so busy....AND so young. I'm guessing he's in his early 30's. (Don't worry, I'm not closing any doors and windows in that respect, but I'm not going out of my way to open them, either.) I always spoke and smiled when our paths crossed, and never gave it a second thought. But when another colleague gave me a tribal name that just happened to be the same as this young colleague's mother's, he made a move.


He started stopping by my desk to talk, or to offer a snack. I jokingly told him about an encounter with an "overly friendly" guy from his home village, which he assured me was proof of his tribe's romantic prowess.


(What part of that dialogue did NOT contain my first clue, you may well be asking yourselves???)


Anyway, when he suggested getting together, I admit I hesitated. Maybe he doesn't know how old I am, I thought. Maybe when we're sitting over our lattes and he finds out I'm 5 years younger than his mother or something, he'll bolt. Frankly, I'd rather stay home and catch up on my "East Enders" reruns than face that kind of rejection.


But I said "yes." Nothing ventured, nothing gained, I told myself. Maybe he's enlightened and unintimidated by older women. Or maybe he's looking for a Sugar Mummy, which if his sugar was sweet enough, I wouldn't turn it down. Or maybe he'll just be a new person to hang out with. I gave him my number, and suggested he call or text if anything came up.


I don't REALLY have to go into specific details, do I??? Bottom line, not only did this guy not show up, he didn't text, and he didn't call. Now, you know how most women automatically go for the emotional default button in situations like this, and spend far too much time rationalizing, "He must have been in a traffic accident, or had an appendicitis attack, because surely that's the only way he would be so clueless and insensitive as to waste my time by not showing up or calling, right?"


Well, earlier today this guy came and stood by my desk, wearing a sheepish, cheese-eating grin, and whispered conspiratorily, "I shall explain to you later what happened." It's been a while since I was completely stunned, but that did the trick for a few seconds. When I recovered, I said that all he really needed to tell me was what happened. "Lay-TAH," he decreed, in that quaint Kenyan way, before walking off.


Now, I axe you, all the Single Ladies in the house--and in fact any ladies reading this--"On what planet would it be okay for some schmuck to walk up to you, 3 days after standing you up, and declare that an explanation is forthcoming....and NOT get his kidneys ripped out and stuffed up his nostrils, at least verbally, anyways???"


Why, "Planet Kenya,"that's where! It's a place where men have 7.6 sexual partners, and that's just the average guys. If you have money and power here, your scope is limitless! In my colleague's mind, I'm guessing, not only is it okay to make a date and not show up, you've got a built-in excuse. You are juggling 6.6 other women, after all. Scheduling can be a real bear, unless you have a personal assistant to help you juggle things. (Except you'd probably have to screw her, too, which would eat up even more of your precious time!)


Anyway, this little vignette is my way of answering one dear reader's query about why I don't share more of my relationship hijinks in this blog. This posting should clear things up once and for all. In nearly seventeen months in Kenya, I have had the following brushes with intimacy:


1. A GREAT DATE (I thought), followed by non-communication for 5 months, then a phone call to reconnect, during which he apologized for the disappearing act by saying, "I enjoyed meeting you, but there was no 'spark,' and I didn't want to just f--k you."


2. Another great date, followed by a phone call 10 minutes after parting in which I was told he had far too much going on in his life to pursue anything. (I give this guy mad props either for SINCERE SELF AWARENESS or SHREWD EFFICIENCY.)


3. A marriage proposal from a Muslim chef who gets STRAIGHT A-PLUSES for being willing to accept a 2nd wife who is 8 years older than him, and who would be more likely to sprout a third boob than produce his second set of children.


4. What I am convinced will be a HIGHLY ENTERTAINING explanation (which shall be forthcoming, forsooth) from a Junior Leaguer who stood me up.


I'm sorry, dear readers, but the numbers just don't add up for me over here. Agewise, the men I'm attracted to are already married AND have girlfriends I could have birthed. OR if they're younger guys, they think of me as a kindly, vaguely hip "Auntie" who when she takes off her makeup and industrial strength Spanx probably resembles Miss Jane Pittman. I would LOVE to spice up this blog a bit with some juicy episodes, but I'm not willing to change my name to Rasheedah, contract a deadly disease, suffer fools, or otherwise stand in line at the "Jiffy Lube of Love," waiting to be serviced a few times a month.


So for the time being, until "Big Guy in the Sky" stops being so freakin' obsessed with famine, war, and geopolitical drama and sends me a viable male humanoid, the most dishin' you'll get from me is about who's sleeping with whom on "East Enders."

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Gulander

I've spent most of the weekend questioning the existence of God, in a way that didn't happen during during the darkest periods of my life.

Even when all the tragic personal life stuff went down in recent years, I was always able to cling to a core belief in a Higher Power who may not have hooked me up when I wanted, but who was always right on time, somehow. All that changed yesterday morning, when I opened a local paper and read about Ben Stiller spending a week in Gulu, Uganda recently, hanging out with kids in a Save the Children project.

Fate can be a really lackadaisically random BITCH most times! I mean, it's hard enough to even admit you're a fan of movies like "The Cable Guy," and "Zoolander," and "Meet the Parents" after a certain point in life (And did you see how buff Ben was in "Tropic Thunder'?? Me likey...). People want you to be all serious and deep when you get to be my age, but that maturity stuff never completely gelled for me. I just like to laugh 'til I choke most times, usually at really asinine stuff. I can appreciate nuanced satire, too, but generally speaking, I enjoy a rip-snorting, juvenile comedy like the ones Ben Stiller directs and stars in. (I've drawn the line at "Night at the Museum 1 and 2" so far, but figure I'll eventually catch 'em on cable.)

Anyway, suffice it to say I'm a really ginormous fan of Ben Stiller. So to sit there and read that he had spent a week in Gulu...TWO YEARS AFTER I LEFT.... was just too breathtakingly cruel. My closest brushes with stardom during my Northern Uganda stint were having lunch at the Boma Hotel while Ewan McGregor was staying there doing research for a movie, and talking to a guy who had rounded up SUV's for one of the Google founders to travel to an IDP camp.

If I were still living in Gulu, I'd have found a way to hang out with Ben Stiller. I'd have tried not to stalk him, or anything, but we would have met. And I'm pretty sure I could have wrested him away from that bony Marcia Brady look-alike wife of his, too. We'd have definitely clicked.

But NOOOOOOOO, I have to read about him spending a week in the hell-hole I lived in for seven months!! And if I'm really honest with myself, I'm also pissed because he'll probably make a movie about it, based on that week's visit, and film part of it on a Hollywood sound set and the rest in rural Mississippi (the closest thing to Gulu America has to offer.)

Yo, Big Guy in the Sky, dude, throw a sister a bone down here......

Friday, November 20, 2009

"I'm Just Sayin', Dawg," Part 12

Picture it. Nakumatt Superstore, Suburban Nairobi, 2009. I'd dashed in just for a bottle of wine to take to a dinner party, but the siren song of the popcorn stand near checkout wore me down. I walked over, smiled politely and asked one of the two young men standing near the stand for a bag.

He paused and said, "Are you eating it while you shop, or will you be taking it with you?"

Curious question. In my head, I was all, like, "Brah, if I wanna shove every kernel of it up my ass, it ain't your concern. Why you all up in my Kool Aid????"

But I caught myself and said, "I'm just heading out the door, thanks." He scooped up the golden nuggets, filling it almost to the brim, and then placed it beside the machine. I reached for the bag. The young man actually pulled it from my grasp, reached down into a drawer, retrieved a stapler, folded the top of the bag and then stapled it closed. Three times.

ANYEURYSM ALERT!!! Dude, WTF? Once again, one of the myriad cultural nuances of expat life had reared its deformed little head. What is it about Kenya that makes service people staple, fold, tape, and stamp the bejeezus out of every receipt, bag, or envelope during every transaction???

That's when I knew for sure: "Dear Sweet Baby Christ on a Cracker, I need a week in America real soon."

"I'm just sayin', Dawg...."

Beside the Point

Okay, I confess...I'm still thinking about Dakar's Stupendo Statue. Here's a sideways view of it. Yeah, yeah, I know it's a sin and a shame that Senegal found $30 million dollars for the project, when there were so many other good uses for that money.

But damn, that thing is awesome! Just found out it's the tallest monument in the world, standing 150 meters high. You almost have to see it to even believe it.

My friend Brenda helped put it all in perspective. She reminded me that there are many bones encased in the pyramids of Egypt, from the thousands of workers who died building it. When it comes to statues, monuments, and memorials, humans can be relentless about ignoring practicality.

Indeed.

Second "Snapshot Nairobi"

This picture, taken right out in front of my building yesterday morning, works for me on so many different levels. In case you can't read the lettering on the back of this bright yellow smock, it says, "Corruption is Evil, Parking Attendant."

Okay, I've been here now almost 17 months, and it would be a pretty safe bet that Yellow Smock Guy is actually extracting a bribe in this very instant, before signalling to some half-starved urchin to move away from this guy's bumper and allow him to exit the parking space. (Hey, you gotta admit the urchin strategy is a lot cheaper than a mechanical boot.)

Next, while I can appreciate these walking billboards for a less corrupt society, I can't help thinking the people who need to be ruminating on this message are getting somewhat of a pass. The average citizen ekeing out a grim existence on a dollar a day already knows corruption is evil. That's why they're living on a dollar a day...and probably can't even afford a parking space. Mayhaps a few of these walking billboards should be employed in the halls of Parliament???

Finally, can a sister get a big "DUH!" from her peeps? Hells YEAH, corruption is evil! How bout fleshing out that message like this: "Corruption is strangling the soul of of our nation, and until we decide to prioritize the basic well-being of the many over the luxury of the few, we are surely doomed?"

But wait, all that lettering would cost too much money, and there are far better uses for it. I hope I'm still here when those uses are actually employed.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

It's a Wrap


I guess I've said all I need to say about my quick trip to Dakar, except for this...I was almost torn limb from limb in a fit of religious fervor while trying to purchase a few more hilariously lewd Senegalese undergarments called "pagnes." Seriously!

With just a few hours left before flying out last Tuesday, I headed to Marche HLM, the main market in Dakar. I was told that's the best place to find pagnes. When I got there, I stopped at a stall near the entrance, where a woman was sitting beside a pile of cloth. With my high school French, I asked, "Je veut acheter pagnes." (I THINK that meant "I want to buy pagnes.") She looked at me like I had a third eye nestled on the tip of my nose.

Luckily, I had thought to bring mine along as an example, so I pulled it out of my bag. Now, I'd noticed a guy standing off to one side staring at me, but I didn't see how his expression changed from curiosity to fury once he saw the pagne. Just as I started unfolding it, he rushed over and commenced to snarling. I couldn't understand what he was saying, but the fact that he snatched the pagne out of my hands and got all up in my grill told me all I needed to know.

For about half a second, I felt like giving him a taste of African America, DC Style, and was fixin' to start swiveling my neck and snapping my fingers. But the look in his eyes stopped me cold. Then I remembered: Senegal is mostly Muslim, and the Muslim community was already upset about Stupendo Statue's pagne problem, and here comes this American infidel waving a private garment in public like a flag.

Reclining on the couch in the Oasis while reflecting on that incident, I'm feeling enormously grateful to still be alive. After all, if that guy had decided to capitalize on my clueless affront, and recruited a few of his buddies to join in, they probably could have gotten away with stoning me to death as a disrespectful American harlot. Just imagine CNN's coverage: a pool of blood, the offensive garment draping my battered torso and a 20 pound rock where my head used to be.

So, you might say these pagnes were the bargain of a lifetime! And I've learned my lesson; you'll note that for this blog post's picture, they are discreetly folded. I ain't tryin' to go out like a total punk, thank you very much.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Err, Say, Can You STILL See????


What did I TELL you? Snapped this just before boarding my flight back to Nairobi, and Senghor Airport is at least 5 miles away from Stupendo Statue. SHEESH! Enough already with the ostentatiousness!!

Statutory Gape

There just wasn't enough time to get a true feel for Dakar during this past week's trip, but I will say one thing--that ethereal city by the sea possesses the most astonishing statue I've ever seen, and I have seen Michelangelo's "David," so that should tell you something.

I mean, I literally gasped when the taxi rounded a curve and there stood the massive bronze "African Renaissance Statue," commissioned by Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade. Even from a distance, you can tell it's just humongously imposing. And it instantly reignited all my childhood paranoia from watching those old Ray Harryhausen movies where statues came to life and climbed down off pedestals to wantonly lay waste. I reckon this behemoth bronze mother, father and baby trio could put a seriously fatal hurtin' on a dozen square miles of humanity if given half a chance.

Once I got over the shock, I tried to embrace the statue's aesthetic potential. It certainly has incredibly fluid lines. It's actually quite graceful, the way the woman's head is arched back, and how her right arm and leg are extended in parallel fashion. Even the baby is in on the the fluidity act, pointing in perfect symmetry as his powerfully muscled daddy hoists him to the heavens. I actually got all prosaic and stuff during that first viewing, noting that the family was facing inward, with their backs to the sea that had claimed so many lives during the Slavery era.

For the first 24 hours, I ain't gon' lie...I just thought it was frickin' kewl. But then somebody told me the Muslim community was offended by it because the woman's undergarment (actually the smutty squares of cloth I was hunting for, known as "pagnes,") was pointing directly toward Dakar's main mosque. Then somebody else told me the statue cost 21 million Euros. That's about $30 million US.

In a country where the gross national income stands at about $820 a year per family, it's actually nauseating to think how much food, clean water, medicine, and schooling $30 million dollars could provide.

THIRTY MILLION DOLLARS, people.

Now I just consider the Stupendo Statue as another jaw-dropping example of misplaced priorities. Another case of the sound and fury signifying nothing that plagues the African continent.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Fertile Myrtle

This is Ali, my tour guide on Goree Island. He's like a younger, taller, cuter Wesley Snipes. I generally avoid paying guys like him to guide me around during these types of outings, because they usually just talk a lot of fake local patois shit and get on your nerves, and you don't really learn anything useful.

But from the minute I looked up into his chiseled, deep cocoa face, I knew I'd need to spend some quality time with Ali, and I'd pay top dollar for the privilege. (No, we didn't duck behind some bushes and get Le Freak on, but in hindsight, I wish we had.)

In fact, now that I think about it, I was horny the whole time in Senegal. I swear to God, West African men are the hottest on the continent! Since I arrived in Kenya, there's only one guy so far that really fires up every nerve ending in my body. In Dakar, I was engulfed by wave after wave of raw lust. Even the kid who delivered room service one night almost got attacked, and he wasn't even really that cute per se. It was only because he was about 7 feet tall, and I could picture myself climbing all over him like a jungle gym!

I'm thinking this probably happened because I'd talked with my friend Roberta about how "sex obsessed" the Senegalese are right before the trip. Whatever the case, it's been years since I felt this ripe. And to top it all off, just when I was praying for a few more months of barrenness to confirm my entry into the blessed freedom of menopause, on Monday I got a surprise command performance from Aunt Flo! I'm talking gullywasher action, and I can't remember being so flabbergasted and completely unequipped to handle a bodily function before in my life. It's like I'd made my peace, bid adieu, psyched myself for another 20 or 30 years of complete freedom from monthly tyranny, and then, all of a sudden, I'm all "Fertile Myrtle" again.

It's "Always" something. Get it??? "Always?" Speaking of which, you should have seen me struggling through a fake-assed mime routine trying to get the guy at the stall across from the hotel to understand I needed some "feminine accoutrements." Guess I've received my warning...next time I'm in West Africa, it's gon' be ON til the break of dawn!!!!!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Pret a Porter

My goal is to one day own at least one dress from every country on the African continent. That is, if I don't catch a fatal beatdown during a fierce marketplace bargaining session. Sometimes, I even question my own lack of scruples for haggling over that last shilling, or franc, or pazooza, or whatever the currency du jour might be during my shopping excursions. Like I've said before, the difference between 5 dollars and 4 dollars doesn't really mean much to me, but it could buy a couple days' meals for families in many countries.

Anyway, this shot was taken at a market stall on Goree, after I'd finished my tour of the slave house. Once the women stopped gaping and running their fingers through my hair, they fell on me like flies on a red velvet cake. "Madame, Madame, I give good price," they pleaded. "Sees-tah, Sees-tah, you buy me."

After all these years, I've perfected the art of playing deaf in loud, crowded markets. I can sidestep with the best of them, and learn the proper term for, "No thanks," in many languages. But these Goree Gals wore me down. I fully intended to just finger a few items and head back to the ferry, but they weren't havin' it.

Now, don't ask me why I chose this particular dress, which makes me look like a walking purple TV test pattern, but by that point, I just wanted to get away. I'd been told that the best shopping was at Market HLM in Dakar, and besides, I needed to find the lewd fabric swatches like the one my friend Roberta gave me on Halloween. Still, I'll always remember Goree's Market Mafia, and how persistent salesmanship can erode even the most savvy shopper's resolve.

The Fourth Angel

Meet Ruth, the "Cheryl Tiegs" of the Dakar Dolls. She's the one who took a huge leap of faith and boarded a plane to Nairobi from Entebbe without any visa information, wound up on a waiting list, was stuck overnight, and finally made it on a flight to Dakar just in time to miss the entire pre-conference workshop.

But Ruth's determination and courage are exactly why I recommended her for the confer-
ence. By the time I left Dakar yesterday afternoon, she was right on board with everyone else, lining up interviews, preparing her radio
equipment...handlin' her bizness. Just like Irene and Joy, she's got the right stuff. Young women like them make me feel really great about the future of journalism on the African continent.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Innervision


After a challenging few days it hit me: I really DO know when to hold 'em, AND when to fold 'em. And I'm sitting on the balcony of the swanky-swank Le Meridien Hotel near Daker listening to the waves crashing along the shoreline, and I am fucking GOLDEN. 48 Karat, to be exact. One for every year of my richly blessed life.

"La vie est belle."