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.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Stalked by Rainbows

The Eagle Has Landed. And her goose is cooked.

I'm reclining in bed in my spiffy new apartment, and am officially zonked beyond all human comprehension. I'll try to pull myself together long enough tomorrow to tell you all about my new digs, but for now, I just wanted to share someting that happened on Monday evening, as I was frantically trying to tie up all the loose ends at work so I could take a few days off.

It was the worst possible time to ask me to focus on anything, and not just because I was overwhelmed by the move. You see, I had already put myself through an emotional meat-grinder on Sunday, just to top off the Byzantine level of move-related stress that was already roiling just below the surface. Right before I'd headed out to scrounge for empty boxes that morning, I'd flipped through the cable channels and saw that "Gladiator" was airing.

I LOVE that movie! And I'm the girly-girl type who normally hates violence and and epic costumed battle movies. And no, it's not just a Russell Crowe thing, although he was working those Roman get ups. I've seen "Gladiator" about 20 times now, and each time I'm utterly bowled over by the vivid symbolism of the movie. Every time Crowe's character Maximus envisions joining his brutally-murdered wife and son "on the other side," my heart leaps into my throat.

And even before I'd had to shut my sister Julie's eyes after she died, I had always been so profoundly moved by the way the Emperor's daughter was so selfless and compassionate as he lay dying, and the way she lovingly helped him pass by shutting his eyes. "Go to them," she whispered, even though he was the only man she had ever loved. She knew that for Maximus, death was the greatest gift of all.

This time, I started wailing like somebody had taken the last fried chicken leg I'd put aside for later. I sobbed so hard, I got self-conscious about it and started looking for somebody to apologize to for being so loud and out of control. The movie left me so emotionally shaken, that's probably why I passed out for three hours when I got home.

Skip ahead 5 hours to just after I gobbled down the take away Indian food and gave myself a wicked case of indigestion. After more cable channel flipping, I stumbled across "Hilary and Jackie," the movie about the tortured relationship between an acclaimed cellist and her sister. Long story short, the acclaimed cellist develops multiple sclerosis and dies shortly after her often estranged sister comes and visits one last time.

It's one of the more brutal dying scenes I've ever seen, because actress Emily Watson has to flail and moan and writhe to convey the agony a person experiences in the final stages of the disease. The actress Rachel Griffiths cradles Watson, trying to coax her to take some nutrition from a sippy cup, even though she's thrashing so wildly she can't down a drop. But something about the bond between sisters transcends everything, and eventually just being held by her sister and hearing her gentle voice made her made her stop flailing. She relaxed and her seemingly blank stare focused on directly on her sister.

Griffiths' character asks Watson's if she remembered a day on the beach decades earlier, when something bad had happened, and Watson's character had said, "Everything's going to be alright." Well, that's when I lost it again. That's when I started in with the soul-wrenching sobs, and the ache that reaches down to the pit of your gut. I desperately longed to see Julie once again, to touch her, and to have her tell me everything will be alright....even though I know it already is.

Oh, and I also longed to have her come and help me with my housewarming party. You see, Julie and I organized some amazing soirees over the years. Most of the major bashes I threw while living in DC were co-hosted by my big sis. Everything I know about cooking and hospitality I learned from Julie, and all of a sudden I felt alone and frightened thinking about trying to christen a new "home" without her by my side.

So by the time I headed out the door on Monday afternoon, the fact that the rains had come seemed totally appropriate. It had been bright and sunny for most of the day, but by 4, a heavy cloudbank moved in. By 5:15, there was a serious downpour. My phone battery had died, and so I darted through the streets near the Nation Centre hoping to find my driver Muthii, who was usually always parked nearby anyway. No such luck.

So I rounded a corner and decided to head for the nearest taxi stand before I got drenched. But then, something made me look up. What I saw made me gasp, literally and loudly. Stretched across the arc of the gray, cloudy sky was a rainbow.

That one had to be for my first "Gladiator" related-breakdown of the previous day, I concluded. I was literally too stunned to move, though I did notice the puzzled stares from passersby as they watched me standing there in the pouring rain looking up at the sky.

Anyway, I eventually found a taxi and headed out to the leafy suburbs. As we rounded a corner near Westgate Shopping Center....well, you guessed it. Another rainbow. This time the sucker was huge, and seemed to fill half the sky.

I laughed out loud, and realized Julie had just sent me two rainbows because I had seen 2 movies that had ripped my heart out and made me long for her.
And so I made the driver stop so I could hop out of the cab in the pouring rain to take a picture. I was so upset that my BlackBerry phone wasn't powered up, but then I remembered I had shoved my back-up phone in my purse that morning, something I often forget to do.

When I figure out how to get the pictures off the Motorola and onto the laptop, I'll try and replace the generic rainbow picture up top with a picture of another one of Julie's Rainbows. Once again, she's telling me that she's been here all along.

Monday, March 30, 2009

A Moving Experience

Here's how jacked up Sunday was. I spent all morning being ferried around the region looking for empty boxes before finally finding a handful at one of the local Superstores. When I got back home, I realized I needed more and so headed back to scrounge and plead for another handful. But by this point, the lines at the Superstore were so long I almost went starkers waiting to pay for them.

By then it was cool and rainy, so I laid down to take a quick nap and woke up three hours later!!!! Cursing myself for losing so much time, I plowed into the packing and winnowing process. Most of the time was spent knocking off the two inches of silt-like dust that settles on everything in Nairobi, especially when it's tucked away or out of sight. Then I gobbled some take away Indian food too fast and got a wicked case of indigestion.

Basically, I wasted a lot of time refusing to accept the fact that I have far more crap then I thought I had, which really hacked me off. By 11 PM, I was so exhausted, I decided to just pay Phyllis the Housekeeper to finish up what I hadn't gotten to and stumbled to the bathroom to prep for beddie bye. Reached for my toning towelettes (the ones I use to swab the first layer of Nairobi grime off my face and neck before the actual cleansing process begins), I noticed their scent varied greatly from the usual cucumber avocado aroma.

Then I recoiled in horror as I scanned the package from whence I'd just pulled said cleansing cloth. I had just toned and clarified my weary visage with a Mr. Muscle bathrooom wipe.

You know, even though I have only one piece of furniture to move, and not a whole lot of books, moving is still hell, what with the suitcases and dishes and shoes and purses and GEEZ LOUISE!

I should just fling open my apartment door and shout "Come and Get It!!!" The place would be stripped to dry wall in 5 minutes flat. But that rather cynical fantasy aside, I really must think minimalism in the new place.

Not minimal shoes or clothes, mind you, because I'm only human. Just less clutter and clouds of dust. I'm hoping that because the new place isn't right on the main road, there won't be so much constant smutz in the air and on every available surface. I'm hoping I won't hear as much traffic noise, or the incessant shouting and cheesy disco music from the gym that wakes me up each morning.

And I'm hoping I'll meet some interesting neighbors who'll stick around for a while. Most of the folks at the Liza(rd) were serious short-termers--no more than a month or two at most. Oh, and I already know there are a couple of women of African descent who actually live in the new complex, so I'm also hoping there'll be fewer cases where I'm denied entry until I'm forced to get out of the taxi and shake my fist at the recalcitrant guards.

(You see, most of the women of African descent at the Liza(rd) are the housekeeping staff, or they're providing carnal "aid and comfort" to the short-termers. Unless they've been given advance notice of visiting 'hoes, they can be real sticklers about letting you in.)

Anyhoo, it's almost time to head back home and see how much packing Phyllis the Housekeeper has magically taken care of for me. GOD, I'm going to miss Phyllis. I always thought noone could ever replace Pamela, the dear woman in Gulu who washed my shoelaces every day, so detergent-ically devoted was she to me. But Phyllis is just as incredible with my laundry; everything is spotless and perfectly ironed, in ways I couldn't even begin to try and replicate.

(Don't worry. I'm already plotting to double her salary and get her to work for me at the new place. After all, how many times in life do you get to dramatically improve a person's quality of life just by producing enough flop sweat to choke a camel?)

But enough of these disjointed ramblings, already. I guess I'm just a bit giddy about tomorrow. It'll be a moving experience.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

The Morning After a Lovely Evening

Waking up the morning after a great date is really exhilarating. But NOT for the reasons all you smutty-minded people are thinking right now!

It's just that it's been so long since I enjoyed witty, intelligent spirited conversation with an attractive man. I'm not going to say anything more about the situation, because who knows if there'll be a sequel at this point? Let's just say the evening was effortless, in part because at this point in my life, I don't have anything to prove.

You see, dating is different when you can relax and be yourself. And when you're confident. And when you kow that no matter what happens, as long as you're keepin' it real, you really can't have a bad time...unless the food sucks, or the guy picks his nose or "forgets" his wallet.

And that definitely didn't happen. In fact, I think the whole experience was a major upgrade for me. And it's about frakkin' time, I'd say!

Friday, March 27, 2009

Reel Life

Okay, here's the thing. At this very moment, I'm sitting at home on my astonishingly uncomfortable couch watching myself on TV talking about the kind of man I'm looking for, while I'm getting ready for my first formal date in Nairobi.

I was gonna just stop there, but I'll also say this...I looked as hot as I said I did when I wrote about participating in the taping of the so-called "Bachelor Auction That Wasn't Really An Auction." Quite simply, I was the smokin'est babe of the lot!

Oh, and I'll also say this...the producers of that same show called today and asked me to come on again next week, for a show loosely titled, "40 Plus and Fabulous."

I'm telling you, right about now, my life is more hilarious than a "30 Rock" boxed set!! I can't wait to see what's gonna happen next!!!!

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Boxing Day, The Sequel

It is amazing how much junk you can collect in a relatively short period of time! Well, I guess I should take that back. As the daughter of a Hellacious Hoarder, some of that junk gene had to have seeped into my DNA. A few years before she died, Miss Eloise had packed the house so full of rummage sale tchotchkes, jimcracks and hoo-hahs, there was barely enough of a pathway to get from one room to another.

It's clear she wasn't predisposed to maintaining a safe harbor for too many of her grown-assed children, OR having to raise grandkids, because the 3 upstairs bedrooms were packed to the ceiling with what Fred Sanford would have aptly referred to as "gobbage." A coupla times, several of my siblings had to do "interventions" where they virtually shoveled crap out of the house. It took days to even see the surface of the dining room table, during which time Mama pouted and sulked and accused them of stealing from her. The house would remain uncluttered for about a few weeks before Miss Eloise made a defiant return to the Flea Market Follies, where every 75-cent purse and gaudy crack-a-lack vase sang its siren song just for her.

Well, as I spend this weekend prepping to move from my bare-bones short-term rental at the Liza(rd) Apartments to a brand new complex a mile away next Tuesday, I'm pleased to say that my clutter proclivities are nowhere NEAR the epic proportions of Mama's. Granted, I've acknowledged my OCD plenty of times in this blog, so I gotta confess to having more Maasai beadwork jewelry than I will ever wear if I live to be 347 years old. And there are 8 months' worth of flyers and leaflets and newspapers and other diddly crap that I'll be spending most of this weekend trashing.

But I can't wait to get to my new digs! Wait till you see the front door of my'll blow your mind!! That's all I'll say for now...except for this. The new place has a second bedroom. Now, I know the Global Economy is totally f--ked, but I need at least one of my road-dawgs, galpals for LIFE, and assorted family members to come visit me while I'm still in Kenya!

(Oh, I guess I've buried the lede in the posting....I've agreed to stay in Kenya for another year. That means July 2010 is my new exit date. I think.)

Monday, March 23, 2009

A Touch of Class

I thought I'd share a few more images of PCEA Muniu Primary School, since I'm asking y'all to help me support the kids. I've posted some more pictures on my "Project Archangel Julie" Facebook Album; you can check them out at,

This was my first peek inside the corrugated tin classroom, and I have to say, I felt more warmth and energy in this setting than in many of the bustling, overcrowded buildings I've visited in the States. These kids are here to learn, because at least here there are benches and desks to write on, instead of the cold tarp floor of their tents back at the IDP camp, where they must lie on their bellies and squint at their homework by candlelight.

To Laugh or Not to Laugh...That Is The Question...

And now for a brief return to my prevailing theme, "The Power of Choice"....

I got an email today from my friend Jackie, the one who's doing a producing stint for a local Oprah-style cable show. I didn't have to open it to know what it was's the subject line,

"looking for menopausal women and I thought of you!"

I mean, what are you supposed to do in a situation like that? Depending on what time of the month it is, you might either burst into tears or call her up and curse her to a fare-thee-well. Fortunately, I'm currently within my monthly "sanity window," which consists of about 5 days when I don't feel like biting the head off a kitten, and so I just started laughing my ass off.

Good choice, I'd say!

Friday, March 20, 2009

Project Archangel Julie

I didn't include this picture in my "Dust Bunnies" photo album because I wanted to use it to tell you a little story. It's about me 40 years ago, the shy scrap of a girl who spent most of her energy trying not to be seen or heard. But that little girl had HUGE dreams, and always wanted to explore the world, and somehow make a difference. Back then, there was really no way to know if it would ever happen.

One thing I'll probably never be able to forget from those days is the feeling of hunger. Not just the occasional growling tummy, but the actual experience of going to bed hungry, and wondering if the next day would be any different.

Now, I grew up in America, so even back then, I guess I knew that eventually, we would get something to eat. Even if it meant waiting for the monthly deliveries of canned mystery meat and "gub'mint cheese" from the federal Commodities Program. If nothing else, we usually had a decent meal on Fridays, when Daddy got paid.

Anyway, this picture reminds me so much of the 1960's era Rachel. These children are eating their meager portions of beans, vegetables and maize meal, or "unga" with such gusto, the way I would savor prime rib or anchovies wrapped in sun dried tomatoes today. The schoolteacher, a lovely young woman named Jecinth, told me most of the kids bring their lunches from "home" (a.k.a. a tarpaulin UNHCR tent), but some children just don't have any food to bring.

Like the little girl sitting in the center of this picture.

Watching these children, I was catapulted back to the days before the Free School Breakfast and Lunch program made it to Cairo, when I had to sit quietly outside in the hall while the other kids munched on their elaborate baloney sandwiches and potato chips, or other lovingly prepared meals from home. Whenever she could, my big sister Julie did her best to make sure we had something to take, even if it was just a peanut butter sandwich, or the hearty soup she used to make with chicken necks and rice.

At that moment, watching these kids at lunch, I asked myself, "What would Julie do in this situation?" The answer was clear: Julie would have ordered somebody to drive her to the nearest market, bought every freshly plucked chicken available, along with vegetables, rice, beans, whatever, and she would have headed right back to Maai Mahiu and cooked it all herself, and made sure that each of these kids went to bed with full stomachs--at least for that night anyway.

Well, I am nowhere NEAR the force of nature that was Julie Ann Marie Jones Newell, so I'm not even gonna try and front like that. But I did learn that there's a fundraising drive for the kids of PCEA Muniu Primary School, to help provide them with breakfast and lunch each day.

It's called Project Angel. If you've been following this blog, you know that the only reason I'm still standing today is because of my own celestial guide, the Archangel Julie. Really, I have no other choice but to take on this project, because I totally believe that Julie will hurl a lightning bolt to scorch my ass if I don't stand in for her on this one.

As you know, I visited the Maai Mahiu IDP Camp on Friday, March 13th. The official population of the camp is 1,313. I'm hoping that for these schoolkids, 13 will turn out to be a very lucky number, and I'm inviting any of who read this blog to help out if you can. Whether you can spare 13 dollars or 13 cents, every single penny of it will go to buy food for the kids at PCEA Muniu Primary.

I'm still working on my strategy for collecting donations, but keep watching this space for more info.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Facing Reality

Okay, I've finally gotten around to posting more pictures of children from my trip to to the Maai Mahiu Internally Displaced Persons Camp. Here's a link to the Facebook photo album, "Dust Bunnies: The Children of Maai Mahiu"

As with the earlier pictures from Northern Ugandan IDP Camps, I guess I'm trying to convey the enormous humanity and grace that exists even within the depths of despair. You cannot begin to imagine the horror of life in an Internally Displaced Persons Camp. Sometimes, I wish I didn't know myself.

But the moment we stop acknowledging our common link to people who find themselves in these desperate situations, they automatically vault ahead of us in the human race. They leave US in their dust.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The Luck of the Unwashed

It's a good thing I'm fixated on antibacterial wipes over here. People make fun of me for ALWAYS having some on hand, but I was especially grateful for that particular layer of my OCD this morning.

Got up, threw the alarm clock against the wall, stumbled into the bathroom, turned on the tap in the shower only to watch a thin trickle quickly disappear. Turned the tap in the sink, and the same thing happened. Stumbled to the kitchen sink. Ditto.

"Ohhhhhhh," I thought. "THAT'S what those video billboards at the local grocery store were talking about when they warned us folks out in the leafy suburbs to prepare for some water rationing days."

Up til now, I'd been feeling incredibly grateful for life in Suburban Nairobi, because it's so dramatically superior to my sojourn in Northern Uganda. I mean, I can get fresh herbs here anytime I want!!! And even though there's the occasional power outage, it's nothing like those frequent pitch black evenings and airless days in Gulu, often punctuated by ear-splitting racket from smelly diesel generators.

In fact, I've frequently bragged about how (relatively) cozy life is at the Liza(rd) Apartments, compared to those days. But hey, why should I be able to have (relatively) clean hot water whenever I want it, when 3/4ths of Kenyan households don't?

So I guess it was inevitable that on St. Patrick's Day in Kenya, I'd be reminded that if you choose to live in a developing country, chances are that things like water shortages, famines, traffic jams and the intermittent bloody coup are bound to develop. Even if you try and surround yourself with the most modern conveniences you can get your hands on, eventually you gotta accept that you ain't in Kansas anymore. Hell, you ain't even in East Toe Jam, Mississippi no more.

So, thank God for Wet Ones and an incredibly elastic sense of humor.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Revel-A-tionary Road.....

I just CAN'T stop thinking about the movie "Revolutionary Road." I've only seen a handful of first-run movies since arriving in Kenya, and not only was it the best, it was actually the best film I've seen in a decade or more.

That may be partly because I wasn't expecting it to be so terrific. I've just never been able to fully accept Leonardo Dicaprio as anything other than a plucky lad. The last time I considered his acting "age appropriate" was in what I thought was a fantastic performance in "This Boy's Life." In everything he's done since, I just couldn't get past the boyish looks and the slightly nasal voice. He got mad props for "The Aviator," but I still couldn't fully suspend disbelief.

So even though I've always thought Kate Winslet is an amazing actress, I
didn't think they'd be able to pull off 1950's suburban married angst. Imagine my astonishment at being completely drawn into the plot-line, from the opening scene to the end credits. Across the board, the writing, acting directing, and pacing were perfect...not a single false note in the entire film.

There's one moment I thought managed to surpass brilliance. If you haven't seen it yet, I'll scrimp on details. Let's just say that Leo's character decides to confess a secret that could have a potentially devastating impact, as way to force a fresh start in a marriage that's gone almost completely off the rails by that point.

As he's trying to explain his wayward behavior, the camera focuses on Kate's face. I haven't seen such fierce intelligence, looming comprehension and abject power on the face of a Hollywood actress since...early Meryl Streep, and before that, Bette Davis. Without a word, without a lot of make-up or bells and whistles, Winslet exquisitely conveyed the incredible power of choice that human beings have, even in the worst emotional turmoil. The character could have lashed out at her trifling husband, slapped the shit out of him, burst into tears, played the guilt card, stormed away, or even shot his ass, as many a woman might have been inclined to do.

Instead, she chose the most psychologically ingenious, yet ultimately far more brutal way to get back at him. Though it was cruel, you had to respect the way she commandeered the reins of the situation. She gave absolutely no quarter. The more he tried to pierce the armor, the more she shoved the door shut. He was about ready to have an aneurysm by the time she got through using words as scalpels, but she absolutely refused to back down.

Now, by no means am I advocating emotional torture as a way to manage relationships. Like I said, I thought the character's behavior was cruel. But that scene stays with me because it highlights something I've thought about a lot in recent years...the enormous power of choice. In just about every situation we're presented with in life, we have a choice. Sometimes there's not enough time to make an informed one, but there's still choice involved. Even when the choice is just whether to complain about or accept a situation, to stay or go, to embrace or deny, it's ours to make.

You don't get to see what the end result of that choice will be--you can only hope that when those painful dilemmas occur, you'll be able to make your decision based on common sense, wholeness and some modicum of human kindness, rather than pain, fury or recrimination. Because here's what I've learned: no matter how much you think you can use that choice to seek revenge against an individual or avoid dealing with a scenario, Life always manages to prove that the person you damage the most by your actions is...


Sunday, March 15, 2009

Toy Story

I had a ball shopping this afternoon! And a coupla bats, and some jumpropes, and some adorable little pink bowling pins, and some hoola hoops.

But that's nothing compared to the fun the kids at PC Muniu Primary School are gonna have, now that they don't have to fight over who gets to play with the raggedy old tennis ball.

And this is only just the beginning. By the time I'm through, those kids won't know what hit 'em. Other than the errant soccer ball or foam rubber bat.

Having a Ball

This is the picture that finally made everything fall into place for me. Near the center of the frame, there's a little girl in her maroon school uniform crouching, holding one of PCEA Muniu Primary School's 2 toys...a raggedy tennis ball.

As I captured this image on my own beloved new toy, I realized that its purchase price could buy toys for every child living in the Maai Mahiu Internally Displaced Persons Camp. And if these children are squealing and shouting and laughing their heads off over a cast off tennis ball, what kind of joy would they experience with enough brand new toys for everyone to share?

That's when I knew I had some shopping to do this weekend. Thinking about it, I got excited as a kid in a toy store.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Collecting Dust Bunnies

I have never felt more victorious in my entire life as when I figured out how to get the pictures out of my BlackBerry and onto my laptop. After spending most of the afternoon and evening alternating between intimidation and muttered curses, I finally did it.

I'm starting a Facebook Album called, "Dust Bunnies: The Children of Maai Mahiu." It'll be a work in progress for a while, but I'll share the link once it's finished.

Meanwhile, it's 11:35 PM, and I'm about ready to sack out. But here's my "cover boy" who's so cute, it can't even be hidden by 3 inches of dust. And even though it breaks your heart that he and so many other children have to live like this, it also makes you remember that there's more dignity, strength and courage in an IDP camp than in any 10 State Houses anywhere in the world.

And if there's any justice left anywhere in this universe, this boy will live past the age of 2.

Friday, March 13, 2009

A Whole 'Nuther Perspective

I am exhausted. Spent most of today in the literal windswept dustbowl that is the Maai Mahiu Internally Displaced Persons Camp, about 90 minutes from Nairobi in the heart of the Greater Rift Valley. At some point, I'm going to post the picture of just how rusty and crusty my freshly pedicured feet wound up looking by the time I left.

Spent the rest of the afternoon and evening getting my roots retouched and retwisted. All I'll say is I think I'm the closest thing to an official blonde as I've ever been in my life. (Other than those 45 nerve-shredding minutes I spent as a platinum blonde a few months ago.) Don't worry, I'll explain later.

Once I've gotten some sleep and had time to emotionally process yet another transcendental experience, I will tell it like it was. But I wanted to share this photo today, while it's still Friday the 13th. It sort of sums up the startling epiphany I reached. First, I think I've developed a stronger, more emotionally complex and fulfilling relationship with my new BlackBerry Bold 9000 phone than I have with any of the men I've ever known. I just frakkin' LOVE that thing, and the fact that I can post pictures to my Facebook page while on a semi-remote island in the Indian Ocean or in an IDP camp just slays me.

Then, of course, there are the children. I've been wanting to add to my collection of photos of Ugandan children in IDP camps, because, unfortunately, the government doesn't seem motivated to help most of the people stuck in similar Kenyan camps get back to their home communities. Though I was there helping develop a story about mental health counseling services, I just had to go hang out with the kids for a while.

And then there's the boy in the front of the frame, rolling a bald tire. That tire, and a raggedy tennis ball, are the only two "toys" the children at the PCEA Muniu Primary School have to play with.

That's all I'll say for now, but keep the tire image in mind. You'll be quizzed on it later.

Good night, and I hope you're as grateful for every single thing that you have as I am at this very moment.

Friday the 13th...The Sequel

When I agreed to accompany a reporter to a crisis counseling session for rape survivors at an Internally Displaced Persons Camp in Mai Mahiu this morning, I didn't really take note of the date.

It's Friday the 13th, and I'm reminded of my first journey to similar camps in Northern Uganda--on July 7, 2007, or "Lucky 7/7/07."

I'm not as tense and anxious as I was before that trip, because in some ways, I know what to expect. And I remember how hopeful and buoyed I was that day, observing the beautiful little children "get on with it" in a way only children can.

But this time, considering the fate of tens of thousands of men, women and children who are still living in makeshift tents more than a year after Kenya exploded in post-election violence makes me think more of a horror movie than anything else. Freddy Krueger ain't got NUTHIN' on the reality of living in a squalid refugee camp in your own country.

Looking forward to sharing the journey with you later, knowing that what I will witness has the power to either leave me totally shaken or incredibly privileged to once again observe the strongest element on the face of the Earth-the human spirit.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

"Dontcha Wish Your Girlfriend Could Cook Like Me...DONTCHA???"

Okay, I may not have the lithe, supple, silicone-enhanced body of a Pussycat Doll, but I defy one of those heifers to come home after a hard day's work and whip up a penne pasta with chicken and peas in a parmesan/thyme/garlic and white wine cream sauce....


"In Yo' FACE, bee-YOTCHES!!"

"Re: Thanks, I have received the winning prize"

Sometimes, I'm just too damned cynical for my own good. I'm frequently guilty of leaping before I look. But let's not get into my relationship history at the moment.

For today's purposes, I'm talking about the fact that I almost deleted an
email with the subject line, "Re: Thanks, I have received the winning prize."

On the one hand, I have some justification for being so rashly dismissive. First, the email had been sitting in my Spam box for the past few days. Second, the sender had an African name. Okay, who among you has NOT received a fervent cyber plea from the orphaned only child of a recently-deceased African cocoa merchant who has left her 30 million USD in a Nigerian bank account, and who needs your urgent assistance to retrieve the funding?

(And who OF COURSE would be eager to break you off a little sumthin' sumthin' if you help by wiring her the 5,000 USD she needs to travel to Nigeria to take care of this matter?)

So when I saw the name "Gloria Aciro," I instantly pictured a strapping young hustler named Njoki Mtumba sitting in a Lagos cyber cafe trolling for suckas. Still, every once in a while, I read one of those emails just for a laugh, or even to admire the poignancy of the prose. Mostly I just delete 'em.

Well, for some reason, today I decided to take a minute and read this one. And then it hit me: Gloria Aciro is Gloria Laker, one of the Ugandan freelancers I had worked with during my Gulu days! Aciro is her married name. Gloria was so talented and committed and serious about her work, and yet so disarmingly, genuinely humble about it. I kept trying to interact with her as a peer, because we're about the same age, but she just wasn't having it. Because I was the "teacher," she always treated me like a respected elder.

Since starting this blog, I've tried a couple of times to explain why
I do this work, when there are plenty of times when I just plain don't know myself. And then something like this happens.

Read it and you'll see what I mean. Gloria did in fact receive the winning prize, from the BBC World Service Trust Program "Communicating Justice," for her news and feature reporting on the peace and reconciliation process in Northern Uganda. That was the theme of the trainings I helped lead in Gulu. I am so honored to even be mentioned in this note.

"On second thought, Gloria, I have ALSO received the winning prize!"

--- On Mon, 9/3/09, Gloria Aciro wrote:

From: Gloria Aciro
Subject: Re: Thanks, I have received the winning prize
Date: Monday, 9 March, 2009, 9:20 AM

Dear BBC WST team,

And TJ journalists in Uganda ,

I am glad to inform you all with great pleasure that I have received the winning prize for the just concluded Communicating Justice competition in which i emerged the winner following my radio feature on child-mothers.

i have been given a laptop with adobe sound editing and a digital marantz recorder

Nesryn and Julia thanks for selecting me to be part of the 20 Ugandan Journalists in the communicating Justice project. I promise to work even harder now that I have a good recorder and an editing facility. As a journalist I will remain neutral and independent in pursuing transitional Justice process in Uganda .

Winning this award therefore is one-step ahead in my career as a journalist communicating Justice in Uganda particularly in Northern Uganda where many injustices have taken place and are still taking place. I hope that my stories will sensitize and engage Ugandans into identifying proper justice mechanisms in solving the two-decade conflict in the North of the country, and with this therefore my focus will remain on Northern Uganda .

I would like to appreciate the cooperation of the child-mothers of Koro Abili Internally Displaced camp in Gulu who were very patient with me for the two days I spent in the camp interviewing and recording their activities and stories which resulted into my winning the competition.

Sincerely I would like to thank Ms Clare Ziwa whose training I was able to put into practice in line with location reporting, sound effects and presentation tips which she gave us during the Gulu training late 2008.

Clare, without your guidance, I would not have made it. Thanks Clare and a big hug

Paul Kavuma thanks for encouraging me. I still recall when you said to me that ‘work hard Gloria and win the computer to ease your work’ I have made it Paul.

My friends; Pius Sawa of Radio Sapiencia and Romeo Akiiki of Internews Gulu, thanks a lot for the studio support you gave me during the production of my stories. I cannot also forget to thank Ms Karen Williams and Rachel Jones formerly of internews who guided me many times with my story ideas, and how to produce a good feature story.

Then finally, I would like to encourage my TJ colleagues in Uganda that we maintain the spirit of teamwork and togetherness, by this we shall be able to learn and share ideas from each other on how best we can communicate about Transitional Justice Process in Uganda .

Colleagues, sharing story ideas is one good lesson. I must say Pius Sawa, Sam Lawino and Bill Okech are good at this and many times we put our heads together and it has worked well for us, personally I have learnt a lot from them.

We should be creative and also be able to read the books we were given at the Kampala training. There is a lot of information that can enable one to learn more about TJ. I must say that the first TJ/ communicating Justice training I received in Kampala transformed me from a war reporter into more of a peace and Justice Journalist. I am glad for this.

For sure we should not be waiting for BBC WST to come and give us training all the time on TJ. Lets also prove to them that from the books they gave us and the experience we have we can make good coverage on TJ issues in our country

As I conclude, I would like to congratulate my TJ friends who won the award starting with David Okurut, Wambi and Julian. Ms Julian well done lady, we have balanced the gender quite well lets keep the fire burning

I wish you success in your career

Thanks Aciro Gloria Laker

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

"I''m Just Sayin', Dawg..." Part 4

Woke up this morning to the following front page headline,

"Government Runs Out of Cash for Free School." Apparently, the famine crisis has sapped all of Kenya's reserve funding, so the 10 billion shillings needed to provide free education for Kenyan children during the first quarter of 2009 just isn't available.

Of course, during my 7 months here, the myriad corruption scandals I've read about have resulted in far more than 10 billion shillings gone missing. So far, nobody's being held accountable.

(Oh, and the reason the government had to spend big bucks importing maize to deal with the famine crisis is because some politician allegedly sold the country's maize reserves in a side deal and pocketed the money for himself.)

But you didn't hear that from me.

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

Friday, March 6, 2009

What a Difference a Day Makes

When I woke up this morning, the first thing I did was change my Facebook status line to,

"Rachel expects really great things to start happening very soon. Sometimes you can just feel the winds of change blowin'...

I'm not completely sure why I felt so radically different in the span of just 24 hours. Yesterday morning, I was so low, I could have milked a snake. And I was totally focused on bad memories, loss, negativity, and zero expectations for anything positive ever occurring anytime in the near future.

This morning, for some unknown reason, I just woke up feeling hopeful. Partly because I was still digesting the best meal I've had since arriving in Nairobi 7 months ago, at this restaurant called "Talisman." It's in the upper-upscale leafy suburbs called Karen (named after expat "Out of Africa" adventuress Karen Blixen). The clientele is largely comprised of hard-core affluent white folks, mostly European I'd guess, so you know the service and the food were impeccable. (Rich folks don't play that when it comes to spending big bucks on eating out.)

Anyhoo, I was there last night with my new "best friends," Dr. Mario and Kelly. Dr. Mario is actually my Zanzi-buddy Ron's mentor, a newspaper design legend in his own time, and all around delightful human being. Kelly is one of his top designers, a former newspaper art director and also a friend of Ron's. It's such an amazing coincidence that we wound up being in Nairobi at the same time; after years of hearing Ron talk about his work with Dr. Mario, imagine finally meeting him in Kenya of all places, and all because he's redesigning the same paper I'm based at!

No matter where I am in the world, it's just so soul-nourishing to linger over great conversation with great people and great food. And when I say great, I mean GREAT, people. One of Talisman's signature appetizers are these feta cheese and coriander samosas that would make you slap your grandma hard enough to knock her dentures out, causing you to help her reinsert them only so you could slap her again.

I DREAMED about those bad boys. I kid you not.

Bottom line, I think I'm just increasingly able to revel in perfect experiences, knowing that my overall time frame for having them is inexhorably shrinking. Sadly, most of those experiences involve food rather than sex, but I'll take what I can get until my Karma changes significantly.

Zanzibar was perfect. Scoring a front page health article is perfect. NOT having a soul-searing hot flash always feels just perfect.

It's all about attitude, I guess. When I choose to dwell on what's sad, or bad, or missing, I wind up feeling like ass. When I choose to focus on things like the divinely-inspired combination of feta cheese and coriander wrapped in perfectly flaky puff pastry, and how fortunate I am to be able to taste it in the company of incredibly cool people, somehow life doesn't seem so suck-y after all.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

March SUCKS.....

It probably didn't help my mood much last night to head home after a hard day's work and watch "Hush, Hush, Sweet Charlotte," with Bette Davis and Olivia de Havilland. I popped it into the laptop as I lay across my bed wearing nothing but my drawers, with the fan pointed directly at me. Somehow, though, observing the campy melodramatics of two middle aged divas was entirely appropriate for my current state of being.

I'm not even gonna get started about the severe hot flash routine that kicked in few weeks ago. I bore myself sometimes with it. But this morning, it dawned on me why my overall mood has started curdling lately. Six years ago today, my eldest brother David decided he didn't want to wake up anymore. And my sister Julie was diagnosed with Stage 3 Colon Cancer in March of 2006. A year after emergency surgery, during a visit to DC to celebrate one year of being "cancer free," she wound up back in the hospital. That was the start of the Ultimate Downhill Slide.

Oh, and those thoughts occurred BEFORE I checked my email and saw that my brother Fred, who has struggled with diabetes, obesity, back problems and a host of other health issues, was hospitalized yesterday with sky-high blood pressure.

I don't want to even think about the potential horrors that await on the ides of March.

So, I need to do something to jolt myself out of this suck-y mood. Maybe a game drive, or another jolt of Zanzi-bliss? We shall see.....