In July, 2008, I, Princess Rachella, Intrepid African American Girl International Journalism Consultant, pulled up stakes once again and headed to Nairobi, Kenya. Through my various adventures, I've concluded that if I get any MORE explosively fabulous in these prequel years to "THE BIG 5-0," I will have to register myself with the Pentagon as a thermonuclear incendiary device.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Kids, Cupcakes, and Caring

First of all, I just have to point out that my godson Ty's 2-year-old sister Talia looks like a human Dora the Explorer. Come on, just look at those eyes as big as dinner plates!!! And she's cuddly and sweet and funny, and just about as adorable as anything that ever lived on the face of the Earth...

...except maybe for her big brother Ty, who if you can believe it, was just as adorable as she is when he was a baby, and who is now a surreally beautiful 8-year-old boy. Yeah, yeah, I know he wouldn't appreciate being called beautiful, but he is. He's smart and funny and hard-headed and silly as you might expect an 8 year old boy to be...except when he's your opponent on Wii, and then he's all IN YO' FACE, cuz he knows your creaky old joints won't let you beat him. EVER.

I'm telling you about these two precious kids in my life because I just got back from spending a long weekend at their home in Raleigh, NC with their parents Joyce and Cuong, and my Rio Road Dawg, Jamila. We played Wii, and watched movies, and watched Ty play soccer, and chased Talia around the house...and we ate. We ate like food was going out of style. We ate full meals, and then we went back and ate again. Joyce (who was one of my dearest friends 'til she got on Facebook and commented on my snoring one night!!!) is a terrific cook, and Jamila is a flat out, undisputable gourmet. I just sat back, feigned ongoing jet-lag, and let these two wonderful women cook for me all weekend.
Specifically, I think I craved this time with these two terrific children because I'd been in in Kenya for 10 months, and I've seen so many desperately poor, hungry, struggling children. I needed to remember that there are children for whom life is no more complicated than getting a cooking lesson on how to make coconut cupcakes. I needed to remember the joy and support and love that exist when parents can provide amply for their families, and when circumstances aren't so far beyond their control that they are helpless to watch as their innocent children suffer.
And, well, truth be told, I needed Jamila to help me set up the PayPal account for Project Archangel Julie, my plan to help provide free meals for the children of the PCEA Muniu Primary School near the Maai Mahiu Internally Displaced Persons Camp. For years, Jamila has been my technical guru. She kept insisting that I get an iPod until I finally did, and now I can't imagine life without it. Whenever we're in the same general vicinity, I get her to synch music libraries, defrag computers, explain basic Internet priniciples...and I even understand about 25 percent of what she's saying!!!
So, if you look at the upper left hand corner of the blog now, you'll see the notice about Project Archangel Julie, and how you can contribute. If you'd like to learn more about it, please go back and read my March 20th blogpost. To summarize, I'm doing this in memory of my sister Julie, who was the fount of love and support for me and my entire family, and whose presence nurtured our lives. And the amazing thing is that once I got over the exquisite grief of losing her, I realized that she's STILL nurturing our lives.
And she's also keeping the bar high in terms of what she expects from me. You see, once I visited the school and saw how much the children were lacking, I knew Julie would want me to do something. I could feel it inside my bones. She would wonder how I could stand there and watch those children trying to survive on their meager portions of food and not do something about it. So I'd like to help fund a program that would provide breakfast and lunch for the children at PCEA Muniu.
I know my brother in law Ron wouldn't want me to mention it, but he really launched Project Archangel Julie with an extraordinarily generous donation. (He's just as afraid as I am about those errant lightning bolts, I reckon.) Several other friends have promised to donate as well, and I'm so grateful that people care.
For me, here's the thing about spending time back in America this past week, after 10 months in Kenya. I realize that as an American, you can't expect to travel throughout the developing world and not see things that will rip your heart out. You also can't help every desperately poor, struggling person that you encounter. But when you find yourself in a situation where you actually can help, you have to. You just HAVE to.
So if you can help out, with whatever amount, please know that nearly 100 percent of it will go for food. We can't provide gourmet cupcake lessons for the kids of PCEA Muniu Primary, but we can help them believe that somebody cares enough to help them focus on learning, and not just struggling to survive.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The Word On The Street....

Other than wasting 3 hours at the DC Department of Motor Vehicles yesterday, I got quite a lot accomplished. The skin care products I use are on sale at CVS, so I picked up a few bottles, along with some other supplies. Found a great pair of comfy cross trainers. Had a holistic facial, including blueberry scrub, thank you very much, in Takoma Park. Came home, and my brother Peter prepared a fantastic steak dinner.

And I'm almost back to normal. Slept a lot better and feel less foggy-headed. And I'm still thinking about a couple of things I heard yesterday while out and about. During my first stop at Duke's Shoe Repair in the U Street Corridor, I was dropping a few quarters in the meter, grimacing while trying to determine whether a quarter provided 15 or 30 minutes.

Just then, a stone-cold DC, righteous, OLD SKOOL BRUTHA walked past. I'd say he was mid to late 50's, the kind of guy I used to respect as my elder...except now he's almost my contemporary!! Anyway, he saw me squinting at the meter and stopped dead in his tracks. And then he said,

"You are one beautiful black sister, but if you don't put a smile on that face right now, I'm gon' bust out crying."

I could have kissed him! I broke out with one of my world class, gums gleaming, Kool-Aid smiles, I was so happy to hear him say that. And it's funny, I used to get ticked when strange men ordered me to smile, like it's my duty to look pleasant at all times. Now, I'm just grateful they're still looking at me at all.

A few hours later, after my abortive mission at the DMV, I had a hankering for some Vietnamese Pho, so I headed to a nearby restaurant in the heart of Georgetown. (GAWD, I love Georgetown. And I look forward to actually being able to afford most of the stuff there one day soon.)

As I waited for my order, I naturally couldn't help eavesdropping on the couple at the next table. They were white, maybe mid-30's, and talking about recent trips President Obama has taken to various countries.

(DOUBLE GAWD, I love writing the words "President Obama." It still feels like a dream...)

Anyway, at one point, the woman says,

"You know, for the first time in a long time, I'm really proud to be an American."

Now, the cynic in me just HAD to recall the scorched earth annihilation campaign that occurred when Michelle Obama said something similar during the campaign. And I'm sure there are still plenty of red-meat conservatives out there who would excoriate that young white woman for saying what she said.

But you know what? I bet the majority of Americans feel the same way. And that made me feel just fantastic. I tell ya, the "Welcome Home" gifts just keep on comin'.....

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

"There Are No Storms That We CAN'T Weather...."

I have been in serious recovery over the past few days. I mean, I'm always constantly aware of how blessed I am to get to do so much traveling to interesting places, but jetlag just doesn't get any easier as I get older.

Of course, the fact that I celebrated my second night of being back in DC by having 4 martinis made with a lethal Peruvian brandy called Pisco didn't help much. I am still suffering from that escapade. In fact, I think I destroyed a few chromosomes as a result.

On the other hand, my joy at being back in the US is absolutely unbounded. Even with all the challenges the country faces, it is just so much more (comparably) sane and functional here. That probably sounds really elitist and Ugly American, so if you're offended by that, I'm sorry. (And you've also probably never lived in Kenya.)

Anyhoo, one of the million reasons I'm so happy to be back is that I finally got to see You Tube singing sensation Susan Boyle. Over the past few weeks, I kept noticing online stories about some Scottish singer who had never been kissed and who had absolutely astounded Simon Cowell on some British talent competition. All I knew was she was my age, and that the whole audience had pretty much written her off before she even opened her mouth, based on her appearance.

But forget about downloading You Tube in Nairobi. I mean, there's this young whippersnapper at my office who manages to do it, but I just can't make it work for me. The download itself takes ages, and then once it finally starts playing, it's so herky-jerky that I usually give up in disgust. But in the mighty, mighty District of Chocolate, in my brother's fully wired house in Northwest, downloading is instantaneous, and videos play like a dream.

I'm no different than tens of thousands of other people who have watched Susan Boyle's performance and been inspired, even moved to tears. But for me, the reasons have less to do with the "Ugly Duckling, Hidden Talent" angle. I find myself more intrigued by the juxtaposition of this woman of my "certain age"--who lives with her cats and has never been kissed, who could have descended into depression or bitterness, or allowed herself to be emotionally and/or physically abused by some despicable man just to stave off loneliness--and the lyrics she chose to perform.

Fantine - I Dreamed a Dream, Lyrics from "Les Miserables"

There was a time when men were kind
Their voices soft, their words inviting
There was a time when love was blind
And the world was a song, And the song was exciting
There was a time, Then it all went wrong

I dreamed a dream in time gone by
When hope was high And life worth living
I dreamed that love would never die
I dreamed that God would be forgiving

Then I was young and unafraid
And dreams were made and used and wasted
There was no ransom to be paid
No song unsung, no wine untasted

But the tigers come at night
With their voices soft as thunder
As they tear your hope apart
And they turn your dream to shame

He slept a summer by my side
He filled my days with endless wonder
He took my childhood in his stride
But he was gone when autumn came

And still I dream he'll come to me
That we will live the years together
But there are dreams that cannot be
And there are storms we cannot weather

I had a dream my life would be
So different from this hell I'm living
So different now from what it seemed
Now life has killed the dream I dreamed.

I suspect there's a subconscious reason Susan Boyle chose that particular song from Les Miz. When she told the judges that she wanted to be a singing star, but had never been given the chance, she was setting them up like punks. They were expecting to be cringing soon after she started, but then all of a sudden this aesthetically-challenged, dumpy-looking woman consorts with the angels--singing a song about desperation and loneliness and bitterness. About how life had killed the dreams she dreamed.

Come on, Susan!! Don't give me that meek, eccentric British villager crap! Even through all those years of missed opportunities and snickering behind your back, and the inevitable loneliness and longing, you knew you had the GOODS, Miss Thang! You knew down to the tip of your toes that you had enormous talent, that you were just as good or even better than three fourths of the people you watched on TV or in movies. You may have had your moments of doubt, but somehow, you KNEW.

And you also knew that belting out that particular song, while people were still reeling from shock and trying to comprehend the astonishing talent of a woman who appeared to literally embody the lyrics, would take your performance from good to mind-boggling.

Personally, I think Susan Boyle also embodies the beauty of growing older. If you do it right, you realize that as long as there's still breath in your body, and as long as God gives you the strength to function, and as long as you believe in yourself, there are no storms that you can't weather. So even though my 47 year old body has been giving me the blues the past few days, by tomorrow afternoon, I'll feel myself again, and be ready to make the most of my time back in my beloved America.

(And I'll also be ready for a few more Pisco martinis, because there are some cautionary things that even when you know them, you should just give it a freakin' rest and enjoy yourself, for crying out loud! In other words, when you're a grown-assed woman, you can handle yo' bizness!)

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

"Toy Story 2: Dangerously Fun!!"

Okay, so I've been more than a bit triflin' lately. I've been so completely consumed with getting settled into "The Oasis of Graciousness," it's almost like I didn't actually tour an Internally Displaced Persons Camp just a few weeks earlier.

As I've reveled in my spacious new abode, I almost forgot about the squalid tents where dozens of family members huddle each day and night, listening to the wind whistling across the dusty plains of the Great Rift Valley. As I played around in my new pantry, lining up bottles and cans and boxes, I stopped thinking of the kids at PCEA Muniu Primary School, scampering across their barren playground chasing a raggedy tennis ball....

....At least, for a minute I did. And then I remembered that there's an Archangel named Julie hovering over me, just waiting for me to mess around and not follow through on my pledge to help start a feeding program for the kids at PCEA Muniu. She's up there juggling lightning bolts even as I type these words, trying to find the perfect one to gently singe my butt enough to snap me back to reality.

So I returned to the Maai Mahiu IDP camp recently and dropped off the toys I'd bought, as a start. A few of the tykes were so excited, they couldn't restrain themselves from bonking me on the head with the very pink plastic bowling pins I had greedily coveted. (It's just what I deserved for contemplating keeping them for myself.)

Anyway, as I prepare to board a KLM flight out of Nairobi tomorrow night, to spend two weeks back in the good old U S of A, I'm hoping all my US Homeys, Road Dawgs, and Gal Pals For Life will help me get the PCEA Muniu feeding program started off with a bang. I had hoped to get my PayPal account up and running by now, but no such luck. Maybe while I'm struggling through jetlag back in DC, I can get that accomplished.

Til then, feel free to email me at to learn how you can donate while I'm still in the US. I'll be there April 17th til May 1st, so if our paths happen to actually cross, feel free to "give til it feels good." If not, where there's a will and a mailbox, there's a way!!!

It's what the Archangel Julie would want. And I sure don't want to piss HER off.....

Thursday, April 9, 2009

My Own Private "Beit al Ajaib"

I've decided to borrow the name of the Zanzibar National Museum to christen my new apartment. "Beit al Ajaib" is Arabic for "House of Wonders," and every day I wake up here, I'm in awe.

Here's what's it's like. In the 1995 remake of the Shirley Temple classic, "A Little Princess," the main character is the daughter of a wealthy British Army Captain who gets sent to an exclusive boarding school right before Papa has to go fight some battle in Africa. The evil head mistress, Miss Minchin, totally sucks up to the Captain and treats his daughter like...well, like a Little Princess. That is, until word gets back that the Captain has been killed in the Battle of Mafakeng.

Oh, SNAP!! The Minchin Bitch does a sharp 180 when she realizes Papa won't be paying those exorbitant fees anymore. She promptly evicts the Little Princess from her comfy lodgings and forces her to move to the drafty, dank attic, where she must work from dawn to dusk cleaning and serving her former school chums to pay her debts.

But one morning, through a bit of magic, she wakes up and the gloomy attic has been tranformed into something out of "A Thousand and One Arabian Nights." There are vivid, sumptuous fabrics and beautiful clothes draped everywhere, along with a table groaning with delicious food. She and her fellow urchin friend have to pinch each other to make sure they aren't still dreaming, but when they confirm it's all real, it is on and CRACK-A-LACKIN' up in that attic!

That's how I feel in my new "House of Wonders." Each morning, when I wake up to the the vivid orange silk pillows and the jewel toned wall hangings, I feel blessed, and lucky, and sort of like "A Little Princess." Okay, not so little anymore, but I am still Princess Rachella, after all.

Anyway, check out some more shots of the fa-BU new crib in my Facebook album:

Kenyan Internet access is nightmarishly slow lately, so the album is a work in progress. It'll probably take a week to get all the photos posted. But by that point, I'll be back in DC.

Oh, wait did I forget to mention? I'm headed back to the U S of A next Thursday!!! WHEEEEEEEEEE!!!!!!!!

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Better Late Than Never

I now have a pantry. And it's so big, I can actually walk inside and close the door behind me, if I want to.

I am 47 years old, and I have never had a pantry before. I'm still trying to decide if that's either just plain hilarious or downright tragic, considering how much I love to cook.

Oh, and yesterday, I bought a bottle of vermouth. For the first time ever. I've probably imbibed 47-hundred martinis in my life, and yet never purchased a bottle of vermouth before. No need to overthink that's irrefutably tragic.

But it's never too late to become a social doyenne, and that is my personal vision of moi in my brand new "Oasis of Graciousness." At Casa Rachella, expect to hear the clinking of martini glasses mixed with the tinkling of laughter often, and to be enveloped in various titillating aromas wafting from my vastly more spacious kitchen, and to hear the mellow strains of Coltrane emanating from my iPod attached to my Bose portable speakers that I only used once or twice at the Liza(rd), because who really needs bangin', boombastic sound when you're by yourself in a sparse, temporary, uninviting environment?

Yes, dear readers, I fully intend to make my mark in Nairobi as the Hostess With The Most-est. But only people with positive energy are welcome...don't need any bad vibes in the Casbah. Don't bring me any phoniness, or drama.

In fact, I'm thinking of having a sign made. It'll read,

"Abandon Hype, All Ye Who Enter. There's Jes' Chillaxin' Up In Here." Or something classy like that. Anyway, I plowed through a lot of unpacking and organizing this weekend, and will post some pictures soon. I promise.

Hey, better late than never!

Friday, April 3, 2009

"Don't MAKE Me Take My Earrings Off!"

It's Friday night in Nairobi, and I'm just getting home from a late-night experience that afforded me the precious opportunity to freely embrace my inner "Crabby Old Battleaxe."

You see, I had originally gotten home at around 6 o'clock, poured myself a glass of proseco, and stretched out on my startlingly comfortable new couch in my new oasis of graceful living. But hovering over me like a rumbling thundercloud was an invitation to late dinner at a popular nightspot. I'd been there a couple times before, had a credible margarita and a tasty appetizer or two, but never sampled their dinner menu. So I agreed to join the group.

By about 8:30, though, I was thinking I really needed to have head examined. Why on earth should I leave my quiet, peaceful apartment to go sit cheek by jowl in some noisy, smoke-filled hipster restaurant/bar where the only way to communicate is to scream yourself hoarse? Still, I'd made a promise, and concluded maybe I should break out of my sedentary patterns more often.

Walking into the place was like entering a frakking sauna....and one filled with cigarette smoke and various hygiene issues, to boot. It took two trips through the joint to even find the group I was supposed to be joining. My Italian friend Roberta, who works for UNHCR and who I actually first met in Gulu back in 2007, finally waved me over. I squeezed into a corner and started shouting back and forth with her.

After about 15 minutes of being ignored by listless waitrons, I huffed my way to the bar and ordered a margarita. It still hadn't arrived 30 minutes later. Cigarette smoke was burning my eyes, and I kept thinking I must be completely and utterly insane to have left my apartment to join this obnoxious circus.

So you know what? After an hour of waiting for a drink, I told Roberta I was going home. She understood completely, but even if she hadn't, I totally didn't give two figs. Then I walked over to the bar where the staff stood around waiting for more dead lice to drop off, and I pointed to a margarita that looked like it was watery and tastless anyway, and asked, "Is that mine?" When someone finally replied that it was, I said, "Keep it. You took too long, and I'm going home. And I'm NOT paying for it."

It felt so good, and so surly, and so "gruff old goat-like" to stalk out of there. But not before casting them a head to toe look that said, "I wish you WOULD try and say something to me. Go on, try and stop me from leaving, so I can lose my damn mind up in this spot!!!!"

Anyway, I'm back home now, comfortably ensconced on my couch and quite convinced that I will never, ever, EVUH EVUH try and socialize in a loud, smoky bar again as long as I live. It just ain't my scene any more. Besides, I am performing a vital public service by avoiding as many situations that pluck my last nerve as I possibly can.

Dontcha think????

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

April Fuel

On April 1, 2008, I was standing in line at the grocery store when I got a phone call summoning me into an OB/GYN's office in DC for a medieval procedure to determine whether or not the Angel of Death had one more stop to make with the Jones Family.

On April 1, 2009, I woke up in a brand new, charming apartment in Nairobi, headed to a local TV studio to participate in cable program about being 40-plus and fabulous, and had my yearly Pap smear appointment with one of the coolest OB/GYN's I've ever met.

I'd say the Universe has seriously thrown a sistuh a bone these days. Remember back around New Year's, when I wrote about meeting a local celebrity who has her own cable chat show in one of Nairobi's trend-oid boutiques? It was actually one of the proudest moments of my life when I realized that I had the exact same taste in clothing as Patricia Amira, this skinny, dark and lovely Kenyan woman with the killer British accent.

Well, since that moment, our paths keep crossing. First indirectly, when I participated in her "Bachelor Auction That Wasn't Really an Auction." Today's show was a lot of fun, too. I met some really great people, and started to feel like I've actually almost kinda sorta become a local. Of sorts.

Then I headed straight to Nairobi Women's Hospital, where I'd made an appointment with Dr. Carol Odula-Obonyo. I'd met her when I co-hosted a local "Science Cafe" on women's health. It was great being part of a group of women just chilling in a local bar and getting valuable information about hot flashes, cervical cancer, nutrition...and yes, somebody brought up sex toys, so what the hell--we went with the flow. Dr. Carol was absolutely terrific, and kept reminding us women that we just keep giving and giving and giving to everybody else. It's time we gave ourselves the gift of health and strength.

During the cafe, I told the audience that not only was I happy to be there that night, I was happy to be ANYWHERE, because of what last April Fool's health scare. So today, as I raced from place to place keeping appointments and picking up a few odds and ends for the crib, I kept saying little silent "thank you's" to God, the Archangel Julie, Buddha, and anybody else who might have had a hand and making this one of the most incredible years of my life.

(Oh, and I also found time to book a head to toe rejuvenation at the luxurious Maisha Spa in the 5-star Serena Hotel for tomorrow afternoon. Hey, I may be in a deeply philosophical, devoutly grateful mood lately, but I'm still Princess Rachella, after all...)

"Please Come-a-Knockin' If The Front Door's Moroccan..."

Did I or did I NOT warn you that my new front door is the most Freakadelically, Fantasmagorically, Off the HIZ-OOK-ishly Fabulous Front Door in the History of Humanity????

Just had to get that gush out of the the way. As most of my friends can confirm, I have never really cared much about where I was living, never longed to own my own house or fretted over whether the drapes were the right length or the grouting was absolutely perfect. But for the first time in my life, I am truly, madly, deeply in love with my new "home."

Once the boxes are cleared and everything is tucked neatly in its place....and I've bought tons of flowers....I'll post more pictures. For now, just know that it will be simply delightful to come home to my front door each night.

(Now I gotta work on getting a man waiting for me on the other side of it......)