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, January 29, 2009

So It's Not Just Me......

...who thinks there's something not quite brilliant about running towards a catastrophe, like the people in downtown Nairobi were doing yesterday. As I wrote then, my gut instincts eventually prodded me to flee the area when I noticed people pressing closer to the burning building whenever the flames leapt dramatically higher.

With my decades of journalism experience--and abundance of basic, down-home mother wit--I quickly deduced that if I was near the front of that crowd the next time a gas cannister exploded, I'd either be instantly incinerated or trampled by people who suddenly realized it is wiser to avoid an out-of- control inferno wherever it might occur.

Better I should watch the drama unfold at home on my astonishingly uncomfortable couch, I concluded. And now the wisdom of that strategy has been confirmed by my colleague Ruth, the one who came running through the newsroom to usher everybody out yesterday. Turns out she's actually one of the designated fire marshals for the newsroom, so she definitely gets top marks for her effort.

But she also made this comment in an all-staff e-mail today:

"I am tempted at this point to go into the "peculiar" habits of Kenyans who think nothing of running TOWARDS a raging fire while cylinders are exploding at will and throwing shrapnel in all directions. This must be the only nation in the world where the only thing that scares citizens into running AWAY are policemen on horses (mind, they quickly return once the police have moved on) and the rain."

As I wrote on my Facebook status line this morning, I do not drink nearly enough alcohol to be able to adequately interpret the experience of life in Nairobi. But I'm working on it.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The Way It Was

The folks in DC asked me to write about what happened today. I'm still pretty dazed, but here's what I came up with...

The first time the lights went out during this morning’s news meeting, it was just a minor annoyance. Ditto the second time. After all, at Nation Media Group headquarters in the heart of downtown Nairobi, you can expect a powerful generator to kick in quickly whenever there’s a power outage. It’s already happened several times during my six month tenure as a Knight Health Fellow based at the Nation Centre. Besides, I spent half of 2007 living in Northern Uganda, where you learn to build your schedule around large blocks of time with absolutely no electricity.

But when the power failed for a third time at the Nation Centre, everyone started to wonder if there was some sort of major power grid problem. So naturally, when a loud explosion occurred around 3:15 PM, most people concluded it could have been caused by an overburdened generator. I was sitting at my computer editing copy when I noticed most of my colleagues running to the windows to see what had caused the commotion outside.

Less than 10 minutes later, Living Magazine Editor Ruth Lubembe came running through the newsroom shouting, “Get out, get out!” That's when I noticed the smell of something burning in the air, and gathered my belongings. The third floor newsroom evacuation was surprisingly orderly until we reached the first floor lobby, which is usually flooded by sunshine during daylight hours.

That’s when the gasping started...the view out the lobby glass doors was as dark as night, the sky choked by thick black smoke.

But even that didn’t prepare me for the horrifying sight of flames leaping through the air less than half a block from the back entrance of the Nation Centre. They were coming from the Nakumatt Grocery/Department store on the corner of Kimathi Street and Kenyatta Avenue, opposite the Sarova Stanley Hotel. In fact, I soon learned that the entire end of the block housing the Nation Centre was engulfed in flames.

As a journalist who just happened to be carrying her digital camera in her purse, my instincts made me capture some of the disturbing images, once I got over the initial shock. And while navigating my way through the crowd, I also couldn’t help noticing the demeanor of most people gathered to watch the flames. Could memories of similar fiery images during Kenya’s horrific post-election violence last year be causing so many people to seem almost indifferent about the scene? And then I remembered something else…in August of 1998, a terrorist car bomb demolished the US Embassy in downtown Nairobi, killing 212 people and injuring nearly 4,000. Clearly, Nairobians have seen more than their share of terrible conflagrations, which could have accounted for some of the response.

Only when steady winds fanned the flames, causing them to shoot high in the sky, did the thousands of onlookers appear to be concerned about their personal safety. But even then, I was startled to see most people moving toward the scene of the fire, when my own instinct was to head in the opposite direction.

After 23 years as a professional journalist, I spent some difficult moments debating whether I should find a relatively safe yet close perch to plant myself and record the event. But eventually, my fears about being stranded in a massive crowd with no way to reach my apartment in suburban Westlands won out. I threaded my way out of the downtown area and found a taxi home, where I downloaded my photos and posted a few on Facebook, sent some emails and placed a few calls.

Ironically, I was deeply concerned that friends and family might see news about the fire on some major news network or online and fear for my safety. That concern was heightened when my Washington, DC colleagues shared reports that the explosion and fire might have been caused by terrorist activity. (At this point, it’s impossible to pinpoint the cause, so I’m refusing to entertain that prospect.)

By the time I reached home, the fire had been raging for about 45 minutes, but the three major local networks had not yet managed to transmit live images. They had all scrolled news of the blaze at the bottom of the screen. About thirty minutes later, NTV (owned by Nation Media Group) was televising live, uninterrupted coverage of the emergency response and crowd reaction. The government-owned network, KBC, and KTN, owned by the Standard Media Group, were splitting their coverage between the proceedings of Parliament and the fire.

So far, I’ve been watching CNN, Sky News, BBC and Al Jazeera for the past few hours, and there’s been no news of the explosion and fire. Am I being overly sensitive in suggesting that if a major fire and explosion had occurred in downtown Paris, London, or Washington, DC, regular newscasts would have been interrupted to make mention of it? I have to remember that the world is one week away from the one of the most historic Presidential inaugurations in history….and that 70,000 job layoffs occurred in the past few days, and that the world economic summit in Davos just started. And there’s also renewed fighting in Gaza. Let’s just say the global news hole is pretty tightly packed these days, so I probably shouldn’t read more into it than that. In a slower news cycle, the Kenyan fire probably would have made the cut, if for no other reason than there had been a deadly terrorist explosion in this major African capital city a decade earlier.

By 7 PM Nairobi time, the blaze was under control, and 99 of 103 Nakumatt personnel were accounted for. There’s still no official word on possible casualties, or now many customers were in the store at the time of the fire. There’s also still no word on what may have caused the fire, though the prevailing theory is that it was an electrical malfunction.

Still, the incident is a frightening reminder that nothing in our world today can be taken for granted, when a even a seemingly innocuous flickering light can be fraught with far-reaching geo-political ramifications.

Downtown Nairobi, January 28, 2009

First of all, I am totally, totally, TOTALLY okay. So do NOT panic. But I have just experienced one of the scariest situations in my entire life. There was a major explosion and fire about a half a block from where I work this afternoon, and nobody's quite sure what caused it.

There were several power outages during the day today, so when the fire broke out, everybody assumed it was an exploded generator. Anyway, the Nation Centre was evacuated, and now I'm sitting at home watching the horrifying images on TV.

The explosions occurred at the Nakumatt Grocery/Department store about a half a block away from the Nation Centre. I don't even want to think about what the death toll might be....this occurred at around 3 PM in the heart of the Central Business District, so there were plenty of people in the store...

God Help Us All. I'll keep you updated....

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

"I'm Just Sayin', Dawg...." Part 2

For the most part, I have refrained from discussing Kenyan politics on this blog because the prospect of waking up naked and violated on the cold cement floor of a Nairobi jail cell holds little or no appeal for me.

And so I will continue in that vein by letting the attached picture speak a coupla thousand words for me. It was taken over the shoulder of Parliament Speaker Kenneth Marende yesterday morning, in front of the Nation Centre building. Nation Media Group is sponsoring a group of staffers on a trek up Mt. Longonot in the Great Rift Valley, to raise fund for the country's famine relief.

Humanitarian aid organizations estimate that 10 million Kenyans face starvation because the country's maize reserves are depleted. There are allegations that some high level officials sold off those reserves and pocketed the funds for themselves.

Before yesterday's press conference began, I noticed a little street boy working the crowds. I'm not just dismissing the child as a homeless urchin; it's obvious that he should have been in school, and his clothes were filthy and tattered. He probably hadn't had a decent meal in days. I actually expected him to leave when the cameras started flashing, but he pushed his way to the front of the throng of reporters and passersby.

During yesterday morning's event, Speaker Kenneth Marende asserted the inalienable right of every Kenyan to have enough food to eat.

Also, yesterday morning's Nairobi Star reported that Speaker Kenneth Marende was just given 1.4 million Kenyan shillings to redecorate his home. (In fairness, that's "only" $17,772 USD.)

By the way, that's also the amount (1.4 million Kenyan Shillings)Kenyan members of Parliament receive each month, most of which is untaxed.

Finally, the average Kenyan teacher would have to work 14 years to earn 1.4 million shillings.

Oh, but wait....I was supposed to be letting the picture speak for itself, wasn't I????

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

"I'm Just Sayin', Dawg...."

Welcome to the first installment of a new occasional feature on NFAND (That's my post-modern shorthand for the blog, BTW.) It's entitled, "I'm Just Sayin', Dawg...." and will consist of relatively brief, insightful commentaries about things that occur to me when I should probably be doing something more productive.

To start things off, I just read online where yesterday was the beginning of the Chinese New Year. Their culture correlates each year with one of 21 different animals, and this year is The Year of the Ox.

I was born in 1961, which was another Ox year. Could this mean that things are gonna go my way in 2009?

Or will I get trampled by an ox during a safari vacation?

I prefer to expect the former. It's my time to shine in 2009!

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

Sunday, January 25, 2009

All They Are Saying Is Give Peace a Chance

I've been on fire creatively this past week! Inauguration night left me completely exhilarated. I know it's a totally cliched sentiment,
but the possibilities feel endless with President Obama at the helm of the White House, and firmly ensconced in the hearts and minds of people around the world.
I mean, if global goodwill is any indication, my Soul Brother-in-Chief will be able to leap tall buildings in a single bound!

In fact, I was so inspired by the event that I finally got around to editing and posting a group of pictures I took on July 7, 2007. At the time, I wrote about the irony of touring refugee camps in Northern Uganda on a day the whole world considered "lucky (7-7-07). While people around the globe were partying, marrying and fornicating like crazed weasels, I was witnessing some of the most squalid, horrifying, heart-wrenching images of human suffering you could imagine, following 20years of brutal civil war.

Astonishingly, I wound up feeling exhilarated during that experience, too. That's because of the children I met, who reminded me that nothing is stronger than the human spirit and will to survive. Kids are kids whether they're at Disneyland or a refugee camp, and I found myself laughing and playing with them rather than crying and dreading the experience.

Still, one image from that day stands out in my memory. For weeks after taking the photo above this post, I was haunted by the baby in the center of the frame. All the other children are smiling, waving, or jockeying for a position in front of the camera. I reached out to coo and smile at the baby boy being held by his sister to try and get him to smile and look at me, but was startled by his complete lack of affect or response. Obviously, hunger, fear and tiredness had to be part of the reason, but that baby boy conveyed an exhaustion and sadness that seemed as ancient as the world itself. I'll never forget it as long as I live.

And when I think there are still tens of thousands of children in refugee camps here in Kenya, following the horrific post-election violence that scarred the country last year, I want to go out and capture their little faces, too. They are the ultimate innocent victims of the madness and hatred of adults, and they have an important message to share with the world.

All they are saying is "Give Peace a Chance." Check out the rest of my photos, in an album entitled "Fortunate Child," on my Facebook page at:

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Hip Hip-po Ray!

I'm pretty darned proud of myself for spending most of today stalking wildlife in the Great Rift Valley.

One of my New Year's Resolutions was to be more adventurous and start taking advantage of the amazing geography that's dang near in my immediate 'hood. The first step was booking a trip to Zanzibar. Yesterday, I vowed to go to Naivasha, about 9O minutes away from Nairobi, to explore the town and perhaps go out on the lake. Naivasha is in the heart of the Great Rift Valley, and there are lots of game parks, lakes and other natural resources to explore.

I was planning to hire a driver, but yesterday afternoon, my new friend Monique texted to see what I had planned for the weekend. I'd actually met her briefly at a Barclay's bank ATM, right before heading to the States back in October. We'd exchanged cards, but never followed up. When Monique walked up to me on Inauguration night and reintroduced herself, I was pleased to find another American sister-girl to roll with.

After I talked Monique into driving, and we survived a really horrible stretch of road before finding a smooth highway, we reached Naivasha around high noon. We did a little light shopping at the local market before heading out to the Kenya Wildlife Reserve's Lake Naivasha Hippo Camp.

The ani-mules were so freakin' cool! We saw zebras and giraffes and water buffaloes and gazelles....and of course hippos during our one hour boat trip around Crescent Island. But none of those sightings topped what happened shortly after we arrived. As I checked in with the game warden, he wanted to try and charge the non-resident fee of $15, versus the resident price of $2. I tried to explain that we both live in Nairobi, but he was just focused on my American accent, and the prospect of fleecing us both. Then I pulled out the Nation Media Group ID that I had shoved into my bag almost as an afterthought.

He stared at the name, looked up at me and said, "Oh, I saw your article in the paper!" I figured he was mistaking me for some columnist, and waited patiently as he flipped through a couple of newspapers on the counter. Hey, if it was going to get me a $13 discount, I'd pretend to be a Daily Nation staffer. Ain't no shame in my game.

But then he actually pointed to a picture of me in the paper. I was startled, but then remembered the article I'd written after the November 4th election, about what President Obama's (GOD, I love saying and writing that title!!!!!) election had meant to me as an African American.

The warden said he had saved it because it was so inspirational, and that he had just re-read it before I arrived.

Coincidence??? I think not. It was the coolest thing that's happened to me in a very, very long time. Even cooler than those humongous hippos chilling in Lake Naivasha.

(Check out my Facebook album of today's adventure:

From Cairo to Kenya!

Since the whole world is crushin' on our new President, and everybody is intrigued with the whole "Senator from Illinois with Kenyan Roots" thing, I thought I'd get in on it while the gettin's good.

Here's a picture of me with Broadway's ORIGINAL Lion King, my buddy Chris Jackson, who's also from Cairo, Illinois! He's now starring in the Tony-winning musical "In The Heights." When I was back in the US for a hot minute last October, I brought back some Masai warrior shields from Kenya, for Chris and his adorable son CJ.

How ironic; Chris starred in a smash hit Broadway musical about Kenyan critters, and now I'm living in Kenya. Kinda makes you feel all tingly inside, don't it?

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Once in a Lifetime......

Okay, how many times in my life will I get to hug a Nobel Laureate?

I'm guessing it'll probably be just once. It happened last night, when the first African woman to win a Nobel showed up at an Inaugural celebration/prayer service in Nairobi. I'd seen environmental activist Wangari Maathai at a press briefing here a few months earlier, but she was so mobbed by the press and crowd afterward, I couldn't get up close and personal.

So when she walked through the doors at St. Andrews Church last night, I plotted my move carefully. Well, actually, I just waited for this sister named Monique from Brooklyn to pave the way. Monique freely admits to being a Maathai groupie, so I knew nothing would stop her from snagging that prized fan pic. All I needed to do was just ride her jet stream.

I snapped Monique's pic, and she snapped mine. I figure if I can't shake President Obama's hand, I can at least shake the hand of another living legend of Kenyan descent.

You gotta grab the magic when and wherever it presents itself!

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Glory Glory, Hallelujah!

That's all I can say. I just got home following a church service and a dinner honoring our new American President, and all I can say is,


I'm drained physically and emotionally, but spiritually, I'm soaring. The energy that flowed through both crowds tonight was just amazing. Now I'm watching the parade down Pennsylvania Avenue, feeling a little misty-eyed and sad that I'm not home, but just happy and grateful that I'm alive to see this day.

A Random Observation

It's kind of embarassing for me to have to admit this, but after closely inspecting yesterday's 21 year old photo of myself, I must acknowledge an eerie resemblance to Ernest Penfold, the bumbling yet loyal hamster sidekick to the British cartoon superhero "Danger Mouse."

I mean, with the frizzy fro and the GINORMOUS glasses, there's just no denying it. Would that my hair "issues" had ended atop that misty Hawaiian volcano in August of 1987. Rather, I'm still dealing with the blowback from last Friday's color switch debacle....

But I shall speak no more of these matters, because today should be focused on things far more important than my kooky cabeza. In a couple of hours, I'll be heading to a local church for a celebration of President Barack H. Obama's inauguration, followed by a dinner and viewing of his swearing in.

Still, I can't help feeling that if wacky shit keeps happening to me in 2009, based on the current pace, I'm likely to spontaneously combust no later than Easter.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Dreams From My Brother

It seems like the whole world is struggling to express what it means to have Barack Obama become President of the United States tomorrow. So I'm gonna take this opportunity to try and explain what it feels like to me.

It reminds me of being about 3 or 4 years old and waiting for my eldest brother David to come home from college. I have only one vivid memory of David from my early childhood, and it centers around that long-anticipated visitor from the University of Chicago to Cairo.

The main reason I remember that visit is because on the night David arrived, I was hiding beside the bed I shared with God know how many of my sisters. You see, I wasn't wearing any panties that night, just a flimsy little t-shirt, and there was no way I was going to flash my bony, nekkid little ass to this veritable demi-god that everybody had been raving about for ages.

David Lewis Jones, or "Junior" as we called him, was the first person on either side of the Jones-Blocker family to do just about everything. He was the first grandchild for my mother's parents. The first black student at Cairo High School. The first black valedictorian there. The first person on either side of the family to go to college (and not just any school...The University of Chicago on full scholarship, thank you very much!).

So to a little bare-bootyed girl cringing in the shadows, interacting with this guy was a big scary-assed deal. There was a lot of ruckus outside the bedroom when he finally showed up, and everybody gathered around him like moths to a flame. Eventually, my eldest sister Julie counted heads and noticed I was missing, and found me peeking over the side of the bed. After I explained my dilemma, she found me a pair of drawers and carried me out to meet this Hallowed Hero named Junior.

Part of what you must understand about why I'm the delightful yet aggressively neurotic, sarcastic person I am today is that it was incredibly
hard belonging to a group of siblings when there were about seven "Juniors" in front of you. (Though I think the others won't take offense when I say that none of them quite lived up to David's level of brilliance and overall cool.) By the time I came along, the bloom had worn off that particular branch of the rosebush. I ain't even gon' lie...I skated through most of my educational career in Cairo based solely on the strength of the "brand" that preceded me.

Anyway, at this point of my life, the saddest thing for me to accept is that most of my memories of Junior consist of epic, astounding achievements, the stuff legends are made of. For example, Junior was indeed the first black valedictorian at Cairo High School....and they canceled the valedictorian ceremony that year rather than give it to him. Junior worked his butt off to sell enough "stuff" to earn his seat on the Senior class trip, and was told he couldn't go because he was black.

Junior got drafted during the Vietnam War, but decided he didn't want to kill anybody. That's when I first heard the term "conscientious objector." What it wound up meaning to me is that when you decide to become one, you start teaching yourself how to survive in jail. I can remember watching him exercise and eat really nasty packs of dried food and go off on long walks, and I would think, "Why would anybody choose to go to jail?" War was an abstract concept; my mind couldn't really wrap around killing another person. But I knew what going to jail meant, and it was really scary to think Junior might have to go there.

I remember the day when we all packed into our two station wagons and headed to East St. Louis, where Junior would have to tell a judge why he refused to go to Vietnam. I can clearly recall how tense my mother and sister Julie and second oldest brother John were, because they expected him to be taken to jail immediately. I remember being outside the courthouse with my other sisters when Mama and Winky and John and Junior came out, smiling and happy. The judge had been so impressed with Junior's reasons for why he didn't want to go to Vietnam that he dismissed all the charges.

By that point, Superman didn't have nuthin' on my big brother Junior, the cat who was so smart and smooth, he could talk his way out of going to war AND to jail! And then to top it all off, he had the nerve to walk the Appalachian Trail afterwards. I mean, as far as I knew, only white people and bears spent a lot of time wandering in the woods, and both species were not exactly friendly to us, but Junior was gonna do it anyway!

Now, when I say thinking about these things makes me sad, don't get it twisted. David Lewis Jones was one of the most articulate, sardonic, brilliant, witty, urbane, intellectual, and accomplished men I've ever known. I consider it an honor and a privilege to say this man was my brother, and literally helped pave the path I walk today. I made it to Kenya because Junior made it to the University of Chicago. Seriously.

It's just that, like I said at one of his two memorial services, all that idolatry must have made for an intensely lonely existence. When Junior took his own life almost 6 years ago, I still largely related to him as a mythic symbol. I never talked to Junior as a grown woman sister talking to her grown man brother. He probably always saw me as one of the "kids," and so there's no way he would have asked me for help with whatever problems he was battling.

And yet David Lewis Jones saved his younger siblings in so many, many ways, through his stellar accomplishments against incredible odds. It must have hurt like hell when Cairo school officials refused to acknowledge all the hard work he'd done to be first in his high school class. It was one of a hundred, a thousand such brutally hard knocks he endured to become the man he became.

I'm probably rambling here, so I'll try to get to the point. While people around the world are excited and proud and happy for Barack Obama, many African Americans know exactly, intimately, exquisitely how much it cost for him to reach this historic moment. It is a dream we dared not dream that came true anyway.

There is one thing I probably did believe could have happened back when I was cringing beside that bed 45 years ago. If I could have imagined any black man becoming President of the United States
back then, it would have been my big brother Junior.

Superman, my ass.

P.S. Hawaii was one of David's favorite places in the world. He even got married on top of Haleakala volcano, on the island of Maui. Coincidence??? I think not. Hawaii just seems to help nurture amazing black men--go figure!!

Friday, January 16, 2009

In the Midnight Hour, I Cried, "More, More, More...."

Call the Guiness Book of Records people, because in just one week flat, I managed to morph from looking like Elvis to looking like Billy Idol.

That's all I'm going to divulge about today's installment of my follicular journey from darkness to light. Perhaps one day I'll feel emotionally stable enough to share the blow-by-blow details of this afternoon's salon equivalent of the Nuremberg Trials, but right now I'm beyond exhausted.

Happily, no lawyers will have to be consulted, my hair is still attached to my head, and the color looks great. So I'm just gonna suck down a bottle of wine and pretend it was a bad dream.

(Just think, there are only 349 days left in 2009!!! Imagine what marvelous adventures await, like a vibrant patch-work crazy quilt!!!!!!! With the emphasis on CRAZY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!)


Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Dye, Dye, My Darling!

"Every day, in every way, I am changing for the better. With each new dawn, I grow stronger in will and in peace of mind. I rejoice with each sunset, for I know it has endowed upon me the gifts of clarity and self-awareness that empower me to make this world a much more loving, harmonious place."

(If you believe any of that claptrap, I can get you into a sweet deal on a hedge fund run by one of Bernie Madoff's relatives.........)

Still, I've been forced to keep chanting that lunatic mantra every day since last Friday evening....or risk doing hard time in a Kenyan prison for Second Degree Murder Committed Upon a Hapless Aesthetician. That's when I fell victim to yet another senseless salon tragedy, wherein the shade I requested was NOT what I walked out the door with.

Don't's nothing truly horrific, like a tawdry, unnatural "Hoochified Hazel" or anything. It's more of an opaque, depthless, dark shade, a la Elvis, circa 1969. Actually, it's my own fault, because instead of sticking with what I knew had already worked at the neighborhood beauty parlor I've been frequenting, I asked the stylist at an upscale salon in the Village Market shopping mall to tone my color down a bit. I just wanted to try something new for 2009.

I soon discovered that while my young mane maven was a pleasant girl with a deft hand at twisting natural hair, subtlety was NOT one of her styling strengths. Not only did she leave her witches' brew on my scalp so long I almost had to call in the Haz Mat team, but upon my first post rinse self-inspection, I wondered who had slapped Robert Goulet's scalp on top of mine.

But the great news is that I didn't have an aneurysm about it, and I didn't make a scene.....and I didn't absolutely HATE the way I looked. I mean, I look like myself, just with a different hair color. Luckily, it IS a shade that occurs in nature....just not the shade I've been used to for the past 2 years. I've allowed myself to be seen in public since it happened, and so far noone has clutched their throat in horror.

Still, this weekend I'll be going back to my downscale salon for the highlights I've grown to love. Those folks knew what they were doing, even if they don't have the hi-faluting address in the leafy suburbs near the US Embassy.

(Oh, and don't even PLAY like you're gonna ask for photographic evidence of this latest coiffure-ial drive-by, 'cuz you ain't gettin' it. I prefer that you envision me with my honeyed halo intact!)

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

"And Now for Something Completely Different........."

I booked myself a flight to Zanzibar yesterday.

A decade ago, if you had asked me if I could ever imagine typing that sentence, I'd have called you "crazy as a betsey bug." Zanzibar is one of those places that always seems obscured by the mists of fantasy, like Tibet or Atlantis or something. You hear about it all your life, and it sounds really exotic, but you don't ever expect to actually go there.

But I'll be going there February 3rd through 8th. With a MAN, even! Sadly, he has absolutely zero romantic interest in people of my particular gender, but he's one of my dearest friends. My buddy Ron, the newspaper designer extraordinaire, will be coming to Nairobi next week. He helped redesign one of the leading papers in Nairobi and is coming back to check up on things.

I met Ron TWENTY-FREAKIN'-FIVE YEARS AGO, when we were both greenhorn Midwesterners interning at The Washington Post. The hay sticking from my collar came from Illinois; his came from next door--Indiana. In one sense, there was absolutely no basis for us to form a bond that would weather a quarter century, me being a po' black chile from Cairo and him being a white farm boy from LaPorte. But from the first time I heard Ron use the term "Swirling Nightmare of Doom" to describe a situation, my heart knew I would cherish his warped sense of humor til I took my last breath.

Ron arrives on Inauguration Day, kind of a reverse gift from America to Kenya. At least for me, anyway. If I'm honest, part of the reason I'm so thrilled to have him here is that it gives me the excuse to take a vacation. I mean, how STOOPID have I been?? For the past six months I've been a coupla hours away from places I've fantasized about for ages....the Masai Mara, Zanzibar, Cape Town, Madagascar, the Seychelles Islands, for Chrissakes....yet I haven't even made a half-hearted attempt to explore.

Okay, so I'm a bit intimidated by traveling alone. I mean, if I had to go to any of those places to report on a story, no prob. But I've never really just packed a bag and gone off on an adventure by myself.......

Cue the Go-Go beat: "HOLD up, WAIT a minute...."

Did I just write that ig'nint sentence? I mean, am I not the gal who overpacked her bags and headed to a village in Northern Uganda 18 months ago? Granted, that wasn't a vacation spree, but if that shit didn't intimidate me, why the hell would a solo trip to Cape Town be a big deal??

Something's making me hold back, and I gotta figure out what it is. I mean, besides the dread of being mistaken for a 'ho while I'm sitting by myself in a smoky bar in Antananarivo.

(On, SNAP! THAT'S why I haven't done any solo vacation travel!)

Still, even that's not really a good excuse. I mean, how many times over the next 30 years will I get to book myself a ticket to Zanzibar--and not have to win the lottery or rob a bank to do it? And though saving money for the diapers I'll need during retirement might seem a worthy pursuit, what if I get pulped by a Matatu in the interim? Wouldn't I feel like Boo Boo the Fool if I didn't at LEAST visit Dar es Salaam before it happened????

Mayhaps it is time for Princess Rachella to grab Life by the scruff of the neck and choke the ever lovin' snot out of it. And I probably should stop waiting for Mr. Divine Right Partner to knock on my door with Silversea Cruise Line tickets in hand, promising to show me the world. Especially since I've already seen a fairly impressive piece of it on my own.

So look for some missives and photos from Stone Town, Zanzibar in a few short weeks. After that, LOOK OUT VISA, 'cuz a sistuh gon' burn some rubber on the Internet booking long weekend getaways to exotic locales.

(And if you're reading this, Mr. Divine Right Partner, you're welcome to tag along.)

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

An Early Thaw

Clearly, the Universe is conspiring to melt the glacial boulder of ice encasing my heart and shove me toward the celestial heating-pad of hope and tingly expectation when it comes to matters of love.

And no, I'm not just blogging while drunk here. You see, at this moment I'm sitting at work absolutely verklempt over a romantic story I just read on the BBC website. It's about a German couple named Miki and Anna-Lena whose love was so intense, they decided to flee the subarctic temperatures of Europe and head to Africa, where they'd get married and live happily ever after. They packed their swimsuits and sunglasses, and asked Anna-Lena's sister to come along to witness their elopement.

Oh, here's the thing...the lovebirds are aged 5 and 6, and the witness is 7.

I don't know what's wrong with me these days, but I'm becoming so sentimental lately, I'm making myself nauseous! Anything that's cute reduces me to a quivering mass of girly emotions. And this has to be the cutest, sweetest story I've heard in decades. It's literally shattering the cynicism I've been nurturing for the past few years about love.

These innocent little children didn't understand that they needed money, and passports, and maybe parental permission, to seal their vow of devotion in a sunnier clime. All they knew is that it's too damn cold in Germany, and they truly loved each other, and they wanted to go somewhere warm with some really cool animals and stuff, and that they needed to get to the airport to do that.

So they walked half a mile from their home to the train station. They boarded one train, got off, and were waiting for the train to the airport when they were spotted by a policeman. He gently explained that they wouldn't be able to get very far without money, but offered to give them a tour of the police station until their relieved parents could come and take them home.

How could you punish them for such a spirited, life-affirming act??? Obviously, I'm thinking their parents admonished them for leaving home without supervision, which could have resulted in unspeakable tragedy. But I don't think they'll EVER see their children undertake a venture so pure, so unforced, and so love-filled again as long as they live.

Sigh. I totally can't stop smiling when I think of those precious little children!! And if they ever want to come to Africa anytime soon, they'll definitely have free lodging with me.

After all, thanks to their amazing saga of romantic pluck, I'm inclined to do anything in the name of true love nowadays.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Sasha Obama for President, 2044

I TOLD y'all there was something special about my baby girl Sasha Obama!!

I was scrolling through an online photo album for her Daddy-elect when I came across this picture of the Obama family when he was being sworn in as Senator back in 2004. First, you just gotta love the fierce, old-school afro-puffs Malia is rocking! I mean, how adorable can you get?

But check Sasha out! In this photo, she's THREE, for God's sake, and she's standing next to one of the most evil men in the history of humanity, and girlfriend has turned her back on him and is literally vogue-ing for the camera!

I intend to live long enough to cast a vote for that girl as the first African American female president. Sasha RULES!!!!

P.S. Check out the Chicago Tribune's impressive photo library of President-elect Obama. Such memories, such history, Oy!,0,6564040.photogallery

Luck Be a Lizard...

What is it about the New Year that makes creepy, crawly critters come after me like there's a mob hit on my ass?

New Year's Eve 2008, it was "The Behe-MOTH" that terrorized me under the mosquito netting in Gulu. Yesterday, I opened the cabinet in the bathroom, and a little lizard snaked out, eyeballed me for a second and then skittered away.

When you consider that I've lived at the Liza(rd) Apartments for 6 months now, and this is the first lizard I've seen, I'm doing pretty good. But DAMN! There's nothing like almost grabbing a lizard instead of the roll of toilet paper you were reaching for to give a sister a major case of the heebies.

Looks like "Princess Rachella's 2009 Madcap Adventure" is launching in grand style!

Thursday, January 1, 2009

"Peace Will Be Mine in 2009"

I've just decided to "name it and claim it," y'all.

Happy New Year!