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.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

The Midnight Hour Is Close At Hand

Last Monday morning, I declared a one week deadline, a sort of challenge to the Universe and my buddy "Big G" to reveal my divine right partner. And to do it by midnight June 28th.

Of course, in the interim, the week has yielded some astounding psychic blows. It's like great hunks of my childhood were obliterated these past 7 days. I remember sneaking out of bed to watch "The Tonight Show" as a kid, and now the second pillar of that memory, Announcer Extraordinaire Ed McMahon, is dead. I remember praying with all my might that one day I would wake up with a flowing mane of hair like Farrah Fawcett's, and now she's dead. I remember being madly, hopelessly in love with Michael Jackson, circa "Off The Wall," and POOOF! He's gone, too.
Oh, and I just logged on to discover that bombastic Orange Glo/Oxi-Clean pitchman Billy Mays got conked on the head during a rough plane landing in Florida, and didn't wake up the next morning. Any American with a TV who's ever had insomnia knows that name. Like Michael, Mays was only 50.

Damn. At this point, that's all I can muster. DAMN. But I'm gonna try to start the new week focused on life instead of death. And I'm not gonna hold Big G to that June 28th midnight deadline for Mr. Right to show up. That's mostly 'cause it's almost 11 PM in Nairobi now, and if a man shows up at my door within the next hour, it likely would be to brutally murder me, which I'm really not in the mood for.

This dizzying past week has taught me many, many things, besides the life lessons on Regina Brett's list. Here's a new item: If you wake up in the morning, it's a good day. And here's another one: stop putting off stuff you've been meaning to do. For example, tonight, for the first time ever, I made Thai coconut curry. Thai food was one of my last culinary enigmas, an area I never dared enter for fear of failing miserably. But the 8 people who came over for dinner tonight said it really good. I'll check on their health status tomorrow.

The main thing is I've decided is to let go of that forced deadline and leave it up to Big G to make things happen when they're supposed to. All I can do is be prepared and ready to receive my blessings when they appear.

I've got a LOT more living to do. Unless I don't, which there's nothing I can do about. But if I do, anything can happen. Unless it doesn't, but at least I have some input in that realm. Whatever, dudes, it's almost midnight, and I'm babbling 'cause I'm exhausted and it's time to go to bed.

After all, tomorrow is another day. And it'll be here any minute now.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Never Can Say Goodbye, Until You Have To

Recently, when I told one of my Kenyan colleagues that my sister Julie died at age 57, she replied, "Well, at least she had a long life." I remember being taken aback, almost offended even. As far as I was concerned, Julie was just getting started. She needed to be here 20 years from now, when maybe I had a kid she could help spoil, or when we could at least be two old women in floral sneakers sitting on the upper deck of a cruise ship somewhere.

I thought about that colleague's comment last night. Just before heading to bed, I heard a CNN International anchor ask a guest if people were so affected by Farrah Fawcett's passing because she had died so young. At age 62.

It struck me that 30 years ago in the US, 62 was not considered young. (That still holds true in Kenya. A woman is definitely considered an "old mama" by the time she reaches her late 40's, even.) But in many countries today, if you're blessed with good genes, good health, a good attitude and lots of energy, 62 is considered way too early to check out.

And then I woke up this morning to the news that Michael Jackson had died of cardiac arrest. At age 50.

Now, I know babies die inexplicably, and children die of horrid diseases, and a fatal accident can happen at any age to anybody. But dying at age 50 seems unutterably cruel. If you're lucky, you've just got this life thing figured out at 50. You've made plenty of mistakes, suffered enough losses to know how to get through the inevitable myriad more to come with some measure of grace and strength. If you have children, you start considering what you need to do to make sure that you're still here when they have children. If you have a skill you've worked hard to develop, you can really start to reap the long haul benefits.

Basically, you finally start feeling comfortable in your own skin.

Speaking of skin, the whole world knows Michael Jackson's brilliance was overshadowed only by his bizarreness. In fact, through the years I've wondered if he would even live to be 50 at all. That's why in one sense, I take small comfort in my belief that with all the stress, anxiety and hard work Michael Jackson endured--and all the drama and problems he may have created for himself and others--he is in a better place.

But both Farrah's and Michael's passing have sent me yet another profound message. Come to think of it, it's actually one of the items on 90-year-old Regina Brett's list.

34. Don't audit life. Show up and make the most of it now.

And I might as well throw this one in, too....

35. Growing old beats the alternative -- dying young.

Remember what I wrote the other day? The items on that list are NOT NEGOTIABLE. One year ago today, my plane touched down in Nairobi. In the contract I renewed, I'm scheduled to leave Kenya one year from today. In a lot of ways, it feels like I'll never get things fully figured out over here, but there's one thing I know for sure. I must make a much more concerted effort to live every day like my life depended on it.

RIP, FARRAH AND MICHAEL. May flights of angels sing and moonwalk thee to thy rest.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Like Fine Wine

In "Hynde-sight," I should have known when I was rockin' out to Chrissie Hynde's "Middle of the Road" back in the day that girlfriend had some serious issues about getting older.

I loved that song, because it was such a hip way to confront the reality of cruising through the years. Eventually, you're forced to admit that you can't stay awake past 1 AM (unless you have perimenopause-related insomnia), or if you have kids, you can't be carefree and independent like you used to be. But I really didn't take the lyrics too seriously. I mean, Chrissie Hynde is one of the coolest female rockers ever. I always figured she'd be so chock full of pride and self-esteem in her musical accomplishments, she'd smack down the passing of years like President Obama did with the fly...and then keep on jammin'.

That's why it was deeply sad to read a recent quote from Chrissie, where she said she didn't mind getting older, she just didn't like getting "uglier." It breaks my heart to hear any woman equate getting old with getting ugly, because most of the truly beautiful people I've known in my life have been over the age of 50.

So kudos to Joyce Clark Hicks, my "Superior Mother, Wife, and Friend for Life" from Raleigh, North Carolina for reminding me that "Age Ain't Nothin' But a Number."

Yesterday, Joyce forwarded me a profound column written by Regina Brett. I'm assuming Brett is a former columnist for the Plain Dealer newspaper in Cleveland, Ohio, because she just turned 90 years old.

If God lets me live to be 90, I hope I'm still writing, and not drooling in a corner somewhere. But now that I'm half Brett's age, I can start fully embracing the incredible truth and sanity of the items below.


By Regina Brett

1. Life isn't fair, but it's still good.

2. When in doubt, just take the next small step.

3. Life is too short to waste time hating anyone.

4. Your job won't take care of you when you are sick. Your friends and parents will. Stay in touch.

5. Pay off your credit cards every month.

6. You don't have to win every argument. Agree to disagree.

7. Cry with someone. It's more healing than crying alone.

8. It's OK to get angry with God. He can take it.

9. Save for retirement starting with your first paycheck.

10. When it comes to chocolate, resistance is futile.

11. Make peace with your past so it won't screw up the present.

12. It's OK to let your children see you cry.

13. Don't compare your life to others. You have no idea what their journey is all about.

14. If a relationship has to be a secret, you shouldn't be in it.

15. Everything can change in the blink of an eye. But don't worry; God never blinks.

16. Take a deep breath. It calms the mind.

17. Get rid of anything that isn't useful, beautiful or joyful.

18. Whatever doesn't kill you really does make you stronger.

19. It's never too late to have a happy childhood. But the second one is up to you and no one else.

20. When it comes to going after what you love in life, don't take no for an answer.

21. Burn the candles, use the nice sheets, wear the fancy lingerie. Don't save it for a special occasion. Today is special.

22. Over prepare, then go with the flow.

23. Be eccentric now. Don't wait for old age to wear purple.

24. No one is in charge of your happiness but you.

25. Frame every so-called disaster with these words ''In five years, will this matter?"

26. Always choose life.

27. Forgive everyone everything.

28. What other people think of you is none of your business.

29. Time heals almost everything. Give time, time.

30. However good or bad a situation is, it will change.

31. Don't take yourself so seriously. No one else does.

32. Believe in miracles.

33. God loves you because of who God is, not because of anything you did or didn't do.

34. Don't audit life. Show up and make the most of it now.

35. Growing old beats the alternative -- dying young.

36. Your children get only one childhood.

37. All that truly matters in the end is that you loved.

38. Get outside every day. Miracles are waiting everywhere.

39. If we all threw our problems in a pile and saw everyone else's, we'd grab ours back.

40. Envy is a waste of time. You already have all you need.

41. The best is yet to come.

42. No matter how you feel, get up, dress up and show up.

43. Yield.

44. Life isn't tied with a bow, but it's still a gift.

Joyce, your email left off the 45th Life Lesson on Brett's list, so I'll supply one myself:

45: LAUGH YOUR ASS OFF AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE. And when you stop laughing, find something else to laugh about. Life is just too absurd most of the time, but you are blessed if you can laugh at yourself more than other people laugh at you, and if you can keep your sense of humor through the most difficult periods of your life.

I'm telling you, folks, this stuff isn't negotiable. Live by these rules, and you'll realize that about 3/4ths of the angst you're experiencing in your life is just a lot of sound and fury...signifying not a single damn thang.

So as Day 3 of the "Wait for My Soulmate" winds down, I'm thinking about how much I've learned in my 47 years, and how smart and tough and resilient I am. I figure whenever he shows up, he'll quickly rejoice in the knowledge that he's getting the best of me there is to offer.

And you can't put a pricetag on that, but you can definitely say like fine wine, we all get better with age.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Jon and Kate Don't Rate

Not that I'm noticing, or anything, but now there are only five and a half more days for me to connect with my Divine Right Partner. But I'm not worried about that Universal deadline one bit. See, me and Big G have an understanding. It may not happen when I EXPECT it, but whenever it does, it'll be right on time.

(As long as it happens before midnight on June 28th.)

But you know what? Even if it doesn't, I can at least count myself among the group of totally blessed and highly favored people who can state without the slightest hint of hesitation or equivocation that WE DO NOT GIVE A FLYING FAT RAT'S ASS ABOUT WHETHER JON AND KATE ARE GETTING A DIVORCE. I cannot IMAGINE having a life so devoid of purpose or meaning that this would be information worth wasting one millionth of a brain cell pondering.

I do feel sorry for their kids, though. Jon and Kate don't seem to give the aforementioned rodent's tushie about how their sociopathic behavior affects their platoon of children. Once again, I'm reminded how ironic it is that the people with the least qualifications, in terms of common sense and intellectual capacity, wind up producing the most offspring.

But maybe I don't know enough about them to be so harsh. Maybe if I actually watched the show, I'd have a different opinion. Sorry, but I have too many other more important things to do with my time.

Like clipping my toenails, fr'instance.

Monday, June 22, 2009

The Stars Don't Lie, People.....

Okay, here is my Soul Vibrations Libra Horoscope for the week of June 21st through June 27th:

"Lovers are playful this week. Get in sync with the mischievous mood. No harm is intended although annoyance will result if you keep a serious attitude about love or friendship. Let loose and enjoy as various vibrations provide playful entertainment. Good vibrations should make you glow with energy and fresh insights. All in all, a capricious spirit will infuse your work week with amusement and enjoyment. By week's end, a feeling of total abundance will reign, and you'll feel like the queen/king of your own Universe. And so you are!"

Thundercats are GO!!!!! Finally, just maybe the scales of "love justice" will align themselves in my favor! This is either an incredibly hopeful sign, or I have become so pathetically deluded, someone will write a country music song about me.
"When The Scales Fell Off My Eyes, I Was Gutted Like A Fish." Or something like that.
Oh, well. Still six more days to go......

Just be PRE-Thankful for What You're Gonna Get

Why did I wake up this morning ready to kick ass and take names later???

Well, I wasn't quite that aggressive, but as I lay there negotiating the terms of release from my cozy 600 threadcount sheets, I concluded that enough is enough. I need funny, smart, emotionally-available male companionship ASAP, and I deserve to have it. I also deserve a watertight sign that my work here has meaning and potential for the long haul.

So I placed my orders with "Big G" (my edgy yet totally respectful nickname for The Supreme Higher Power), and gave thanks in advance for these things actually happening. This week. Not next week, or 3 years from now, or 20 years from now, or never. Never is not an option. Like Kanye says, "It's "my time to shine," but not as in going Jacob the Jeweler's and dropping fitty-thousand or so on bodacious bling (although I would NOT turn down an invitation to behave thusly.)

No, it's just my time to embrace a higher level of life. For reasons I've probably already alluded to, or which don't need to be fully explored at this juncture, I have not yet experienced the joys and challenges of a long-term committed relationship. And while chatting about it last night with Big G, I was all, "What is UP with that, Homey? I mean, you have sent other people's mates to their front doors, for heaven's sake!!! My sister Marilyn's husband knocked on her door asking for directions, and they've been married 20 years now. My sister Julie met her husband Ron the day she went to apply for a job at Cairo High School in 1968, and the door was locked, and he came and opened it."

On the contrary, I've had so many doors slammed in my face, I've lost count. I SWEAR, if one more man tells me I'm beautiful, sexy and a wonderful human being, but he's decided to go with Door Number 2 instead, I will commit a brutal homicide involving both decapitation and evisceration.

On a much lighter note, part of the reason I haven't had any doors slammed in my face in recent years is because the last time it happened, I stuck a fork in myself. I knew I had to step off the Treadmill of Dating Doom and take stock. I had to admit that I was choosing ambivalent, unmotivated guys, and so at least half of the outcome was my fault. And I was just tired...of online dating, blind-dating, desperation was just time to STOP.

But that period of self-evaluation and meditation officially ended this morning. Now it's time to GO. Like I said, I've already thanked the Universe for sending me mine. Although I must admit to providing an escape clause of sorts. If Big G wants to steer a book contract, a winning lottery ticket or a 7-figure job offer my way, I'll settle for sloppy seconds.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Just Be Thankful For What You Got

It is World Refugee Day, and time to emerge from my fatigue-created fog of the past week and take stock.

Truth be told, I've done a bit of wallowing since I got back from Kampala Tuesday night. I was so exhausted I couldn't see straight, and just wanted to burrow into a sand dune on Zanzibar's Kendwa beach for a few weeks. But a few million things were waiting for my "input and consideration" here in Nairobi, and all of a sudden it felt like I was running on fumes.

I won't bore you with details, but it culminated in me sprawled out on the couch Friday evening, after a Skype chat with one of my ICFJ bosses, and lapsing into a minor bout of self pity. I was hungry, but didn't feel like cooking, tired, but not able to sleep, alone but not willing to admit to being lonely. I decided to catch up my Columbo DVD's with the Dutch subtitles, which I'd finally retrieved from storage with a friend in Kampala. But I wound up drifting off to sleep half way into 'em, and having to start from the beginning once I woke up again.

Then I remembered there was a slice of chocolate mousse cake in the fridge, which was the natural accompaniment for the bag of Orville Redenbacher Natural Popcorn I'd had for
"dinner." That was around 3 am. After a few more fitful hours of quasi sleep, I woke up with a mild case of indigestion and thought about another long day of "stuff" to do, and none of it was gonna make me feel like I was accomplishing anything important.

So thank God for the CNN report on World Refugee day that just aired. It really helped snatch me up out of the funk I was poised to nosedive into. It made me remember all the shocking, gutwrenching trips I've taken to refugee camps in the past few years. It also helped remind me of the "homes" the kids at PCEA Muniu have lived in for the past year and a half. It helped get my priorities back in order.

And it brought back some lyrics I hadn't thought about in ages:

"Though you may not drive a great big Cadillac,
(Diamond in the back, sunroof top, diggin' the scene with a gangsta lean)

Gangsta whitewalls, TV antenna in the back.

You may not have a car at all,

But remember, brothers and sisters, you can still stand tall.

Just be thankful for what you got."

So I'm thankful for the Oasis of Graciousness, and for all the blessings in my life. I hope you are, too.

Monday, June 15, 2009

......Speaking of Which.....

Please mark the date July 25, 2010 on your calendars. That's when I'm getting married! I haven't picked out the dress, or the venue, or the color scheme yet.

Or the groom.

But one of those infernally irresistable Facebook quizzes has deduced that next July is when I'll be taking my own solemn vows of holy matrimony. I just answered a handful of rather vague questions, and voila! The exact date magically appeared!

This tells me two things. First, I should probably stop spending so much time on Facebook. (Of course I won't.)

Next, another Facebook quiz revealed that my 'inner nationality" is...German. No offense, but that's just crazy talk! I couldn't tell a schnitzel from a strudel to save my life, and never actually followed through with my secret desires to rule the world.

So let's just say I ain't thinking "live band versus deejay" just yet. But who knows? Stranger things have happened (like me moving to Northern Uganda). I'll still be in Kenya next July, so to all my US peeps, start alerting your travel agents to look for sale fares to East Africa!

(Oh, and if you know any available men who walk upright, are free from the scrutiny of the criminal justice system and have at least 2/3rds of their own teeth and hair, drop me a line.)

Holy Matrimony!

This just in..........

More bad news for the Lizard Lovin' Pastor Kakande! His third wife, a bummy beauty named Emily from the Congo, has gone mad upon learning that he married a 5th wife from the Phillipines.

Girlfriend totally lost it. She kicked everthing in the house, bit her hair, screamed on the top of her voice and rolled on the carpet. Sources revealed that Emily is "so possessed with the sweetness of Kakande's whopper, she is on a rampage crying for it."

Don't you hate when that happens????

Sunday, June 14, 2009

You KNOW What You Know

I feel kinda foolish admitting that, after 6 years of leading journalism workshops for African reporters, I was actually nervous about coming to Kampala this past week!

Part of the reason is I've been focusing on newspaper journalism this past year in Nairobi. But my fellow Knight Health Fellow in Uganda, a veteran journalist named Chris Conte, wanted me to come over and do a training for radio journalists, because of my NPR background.

Even though it's only been a couple of years, it feels like I'd been away from radio reporting for AGES, and what the heck was I gonna tell those reporters??? Granted, my time in Gulu was spent doing radio training, so it wasn't such a far-fetched proposition. But while I gathered handouts and decided on stories to play during the workshop, I felt a twinge of self-doubt.

And then came Saturday morning, and it was "Show Time," jazz-hands and all. Since I don't get to do workshops in Nairobi (yet), it took a minute to relax and get into the flow of standing in front of a hot, airless conference room where a half dozen or so journalists are regarding you with a mixture of bored skepticism and hopeful expectation.

But you know what you know. It doesn't just disappear. I wasn't the greatest radio reporter who ever lived, but I grasped the most important concepts. And they made a lot of sense; radio reporting is like print reporting--in 3-D. Instead of just writing about the noisy crowd of people, you get to let listeners hear it. Instead of decribing a woman trudging across a gravel road, you get to let listeners hear her crunching footsteps. Instead of reading a woman's quotes about how horrified she was to learn her HIV positive status, listeners get to hear the tremble in her voice.

So for the past few days I've been "beating the drum" so to speak, about how SOUND, STORY AND SCRIPT are the three most important words in radio newsfeatures reporting. And I had a wonderful co-trainer today, a young man named Pius Sawa. I met him at the very first Internews Reporting workshop in Gulu, and I was struck by his deep booming voice, and how earnest his demeanor was. He had never done radio newsfeatures reporting before, but he took everything so seriously.

Well, two years later, Pius has won numerous awards for his features, and is making a comfortable living for himself as a journalist. In the picture above, I'm watching him use Adobe sound editing software on a laptop he was able to buy from his freelance earnings. Yesterday, he finished up a project with the BBC on the fishing industry in Lake Victoria. He's done trainings in Kenya and Tanzania, and he's just a delight to work with. I could tell the reporters were captivated by his stories about how he reported and produced his features.

And when he said he owed it all to Internews...well, actually, he said he owed it all to me and the way I taught him....I wanted to cry. Or maybe it was because I was so hot in that stuffy training room, I was about to pass out. Yeah, that's the reason.

Freedom of Information

Don't tell ME there's no hope for the future of journalism! Yesterday, I finally got around to picking up a copy of the Red Pepper newspaper in Kampala and learned that the lascivious, lunatic columnist Hyena, who kept me paralyzed in a state between hilarity and apoplexy during my time in Gulu, has changed his tune and now offers sex advice instead of outlandish (largely fictional) tales of own his satanic sexual appetite!

What a selfless humanitarian!

And today's edition offered stories of the woman who gave birth to a snake, how one pastor survived the unwanted attentions of a "sodomite," and the gruelling saga of the ex-wife of another pastor who endured his rapacious sexual advances (even if they only lasted for a minute), at which point lizards used to crawl into their bed and and start having their way with her, too!!!

It's funny and it's not funny. After all, if nobody was buying the Red Pepper it would have stopped publishing a long time ago. And I won't go off on an elitist, imperialist tangent about "Third World yellow journalism," because there are plenty of tabloids like this in the US.

But reading the Pepper helps deepen my commitment to my journalism training and mentoring work in Africa. Sadly, the quality of the writing in the Red Pepper is about the same as in other "mainstream" publications. And I know there are a lot of sincere, talented young men and women who want to improve their writing and reporting, and to produce stories about issues that make a difference in people's lives.

That's why I spent 8 months in Gulu, and that's why I'm coming up on my 1 year anniversary in Nairobi. That's also why I'm spending this weekend damn near suffocating in a poorly-ventilated conference room in Kampala, leading a radio newsfeatures training workshop.

But hey, at least I'm not being chased by a "sodomite." Sigh.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Just Call Me Holly Go-Darkly

If I had as much sex as people thought I had, I would be a very happy woman. I have only been in Uganda 12 hours, and I've already been mistaken for a 'ho.

Get this: I'm down having breakfast on the hotel patio, minding my own business trying to pour myself a cup of coffee, when this Indian businessman walks up beside me. Being a polite, friendly sort of gal, I smiled and said, "Good morning." He smiled and said, "You, come and join me. Keep me company."

A split second analysis ensued. Maybe, just like last night, I KNEW this man, but forgot I knew him! Or maybe he was somebody connected to the journalism workshop I was leading. But no, the workshop is at a completely different venue.

Ultimately, his leering grin told the whole story. So I'm standing there thinking, "Yo, even if I WAS a 'ho, it is 8 AM, dude! I've probably been on my back all night, and I'm just trying to get me some breakfast, a few hours sleep, and maybe a massage later, so I can hit the bricks again in another 12 hours. Chillax, okay???"

Come to think of it, I don't get taken for a 'ho as much in Nairobi. There've been a couple of incidents in fancy upscale venues where the overzealous scrutiny and borderline harassing behavior led to that conclusion, but in general, it's not a problem. But the minute I'm back in Uganda, it's like I'm Holly Go-Darkly, or something.

So, to all the men in Uganda, for the next four days, I. AM. NOT. A. 'HO. I am 47 years old, and I have to get up every 3 hours in the middle of the night to pee, not to pleasure sweaty, disgusting strangers. And even if I WAS a 'ho, at least wait until I actually start advertising before approaching me.

Bottom line? Back up off me.

Friday, June 12, 2009

"Welcome Back, Welcome Back, Welcome BAAAAACCCKKK......"

First, I should apologize for the blurriness of this photo. It's just that whenever you're in any kind of government-regulated facility on the African continent, where stony-faced young men shouldering AK-47's stand as silent sentinels ready to waste your ass at a moment's notice, snapping pictures can be a life or death decision.

But I couldn't resist capturing this image at Entebbe Airport, just after arriving this evening for a 3-day journalism training workshop in Kampala. You know, I've always believed that nothing says "Welcome Back!" like medical personnel wearing face masks, as if they were characters in a trashy movie entitled "Baggage Claim of the Zombie Lepers," beckoning you off to the side when you've reached your "final destination." And before you ask, I have been following the Swine Flu (oops......sorry..... "H1N1") news, so I knew why we were being greeted like third class passengers from the Ebola Express.

But a coupla things sprang to mind while standing in this scrum. First, no matter where you go in the world these days, YOU ARE NOT IN KANSAS ANYMORE. You either can't afford to fly anywhere, or you have to worry about your plane breaking apart in mid-air, or if you do land safely, there's a good chance a pandemic virus is waiting for you. Absolutely nothing in this life is simple anymore.

Second, about halfway across Lake Victoria headed from Nairobi, I got hit with a powerful rush of memories...all incredibly sad. I've mentioned before that for the rest of my life, coming to Uganda for any reason will likely always be connected with my sister Julie's passing. That's where I was when I had to accept that she was really gonna die this time, and where I had to come afterwards to try and resume some semblance of normality. To date, it was the most difficult period of my life, and so the closer the plane got to landing this evening, the more I was gutted by painful flashbacks.

So it almost made sense that the damned Angel of Death was trying to fuck with my head once I got off the plane. Not standing there with a sickle and a black robe, but wearing a crisp white nurse's uniform and a face mask to remind me that all it really takes is one little cough or handshake and your ass is grass.

I had to wonder if this was yet one more sign from up above that Uganda and me just do NOT agree.

But then I got to the good old Speke Hotel in Kampala, where I'd spent many an evening swilling "sweet" red wine (versus the other choice..."not sweet"), and snarfing down pretty decent pizza and pasta and gelato whenever we were on a brief furlough from hard time in Gulu. And the funny thing is, everybody there remembered me from two years ago, and treated me like a flippin' ROCK STAR! It almost got to feeling slightly creepy; people I was certain I'd never seen before in my life were being outrageously gracious. And my favorite bellman in the entire world, a little Luo guy named Jonah with the widest, friendliest gap in his front teeth I've ever seen, came up and literally hugged my neck. Instead of being slightly skeeved out, I hugged him right back, I was so happy to see him!

So, I may need to reassess this whole Uganda-phobia. Sure, I've only been here 4 hours, so check with me tomorrow. If somebody brings me "not sweet" red wine, I might just blow a gasket.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

On the Road Again...And Again....And Again....

Can somebody please help me understand why I am so always so gol-danged ready to forget that I am one of the luckiest women who ever lived on the face of God's Green Earth???

For example, why do I give in to brief yet epic bursts of whiny lamentation over something as benign as the story of 2 elderly widows getting married??? After all, just 6 months ago, I got all choked up over the adventure of 2 German kids, aged 5 and 6, who tried to elope to Africa. At the time, I even said the story warmed my heart, and made me hopeful about my own prospects.

But reading about Monica and Ebenezer yesterday cooled my jets, for a minute. I guess it's because it reminded me that I'm a lot closer to their stage of life than the German lovebirds. Those plucky children have a good 70 or 80 more years ahead of them to experience what real love and devotion are all about. Realistically, I'm looking at 30 or 40 years, max.

And then a day like today comes along to remind me that as a single, never-married African American woman who's almost 50, I have hit life's Adventure Jackpot! Get this: today, sitting at my desk in Nairobi, Kenya, I'm working on putting the final touches on a workshop I'm leading "next door," in my old Kampala, Uganda stomping grounds. Then I get an email asking me to participate in a Media panel in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. And THEN, just five minutes ago, I got a call from somebody at the U.S. State Department.

They want me to lead a weeklong health reporting workshop in August, in....hold onto your skull...Kigali, Rwanda!!!!!!

Oh, and somehow or another, I gotta squeeze in a trip to Cape Town before September, when one of my colleagues who has graciously offered me lodging, has to leave for a fellowship in Ghana.

So, yeah, I might be single, but I feel thrice blessed. Mama Africa appears to want me, even if Mr. Right is dragging his feet. Later for you, dude!

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Happily Never After

Okay, let me put down this tankard of haterade I'm swilling so I can admit having sunk to a new psychic low.

After reading an online news story about an 89-year-old woman who just married a 93-year-old man, I'm finding myself vaguely jealous of that connubial crone. First of all, you'd expect an 89- year-old woman to be named "Hester" or "Prudence," right? Well, this weathered wench is named "Monica." WTF?? I bet she was probably head cheerleader in high school or something--that is if they even had cheerleaders during the Paleolithic Age. And the heifer's already buried two husbands, and yet somehow managed to snag a 3rd.

Here I am half her age and have only had one proposal, and that came from the Hapless Haitian who bought my engagement ring from Sears. On layaway, probably. (But do NOT get me started on that!) Six days out of 7, being a "never married woman of a certain age" suits me just fine.

But what is the friggin' frequency when an 89-year-old woman can land her THIRD husband, and I'm lucky to have a few dates each year with guys possessing the minimally required level of chromosomes?? I mean, I am at the peak of my potency, in every sense of that word, but it's all just slowly drifting south, stalked by the twin spectres of Gravity and Dementia that do a brisk Australian crawl through the shallows of the Jones family gene pool. With all due respect, at 89 and 93, Mon and her betrothed could both drop dead attempting anything more amorous than holding hands. They got a year, tops, before one or both of 'em lapses into an irreversible coma.

What's the point???

Monica's new husband, Ebenezer Rose, summed it up best. (Now see???? OG got it right...a 93 year old man HAS to have a name like "Ebenezer," for Chrissakes! There are laws relating to this somewhere, I'm positive!!!) When he was asked that question, he replied,

"Each of us is living a lonely life. Why not get married?"

Somehow, from the depths of the Bile River coursing through my veins, buried deep in the folds of my bitter, Grinchified heart, that actually made sense. Just because a person is 93 doesn't mean they don't get lonely...OR that they don't have the right to do something about it. So maybe someday 40 years from now, I'll meet MY Prince Charming.

If the haterade doesn't pickle my liver first.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Estrogen's Last Call

Okay, so I lied. So I'm still able to be reduced to a state of babbling idiocy at the sight of chubby chocolate cheeks. So the hormones are still firing up occasionally.

So sue me, already.

"We Are Not Tourists" - IDP POV

Like I said in the previous posting, today was the first time I was really struck hard by the contrast between the vast, verdant beauty of the area around the Maai Mahiu Internally Displaced Persons camps, and the destitute lives people are living there. This part of the Great Rift Valley is lush and green, ringed by the kind of awe-inspiring mountain ranges I see when I travel through the American Northwest. In fact, the area reminds me a lot of the landscape around Jackson Hole, Wyoming.

But there are no rustically charming vacation homes here, or trendy cowboy bars, or golf courses or nouveau cuisine restauraunts with moose heads mounted on the walls. And I wonder about the thousands of displaced Kenyans living in squalor and degradation in white UNHCR tents. They're still waiting for the government to help them relocate, after languishing in tents a year and a half after post-election violence. Can they see the beauty from their point of view, from behind the tent flaps?

Check out more photos from my Facebook Album, "We Are Not Tourists" - IDP POV at :

Lunch Drill

I went back to PCEA Muniu Primary this morning, to check up on how things are going for the kids. Watching one of the teachers line them up for lunch was really heartening. It felt so good to know that they're heading over to a full portion, rather than half a plate. I'm told that before the generous infusion of cash from Project Archangel Julie's "Initial Angels," school administrators were starting to ration the meals. The children were getting half, or even a third of what they would normally get, to try and make the rice and maize and beans last.
Today I brought the second installment of PAJ funds. All told, Friends of PAJ have contributed $1,000! I've mentioned the tremendous generosity of Ron, and Deb and Glenda and Joan, and now I must add a few new names to the roster:
*Jenifer and Joyce are two young women I met about 15 years ago at the Detroit Free Press. They were great mentees and pals then, as a high school and college intern respectively. Now they're both great moms, both have a boy and a girl (Joyce's kids are my godson Ty and his sister Talia; Jenifer is mom to Jake and Molly), and both wanted to help support kids thousands of miles away.
*Dorothy grew up with my sister Julie back in Cairo. She was actually one of Julie's first and only friends back then, because they were both raised by Jehovah's Witnesses and had to depend on each other! Dorothy's support and concern for me during Julie's passing touched my heart, and her generous donation made Julie smile, I'm positive.
Well, you'll all be delighted to hear that PAJ funds will make sure there are school lunches until the end of this school term in August! What a wonderful thing you've all done. Thank you.
The other evocative thing about today was that this view of the school and the surrounding area really plugged me directly into the tremendous beauty of the Great Rift Valley, and the ironic juxtaposition of struggle and visual splendor it contains. I'll write about it in the next posting.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Jammed Up and Jelly Tight

This is how I spend most of my life in Kenya. Stuck in traffic. Or, as I put it during those numerous occasions when I'm already late and some Minister of Parliament's entourage has blocked the roadway again,

"F---ed in traffic."

This morning, it took 45 minutes to get from a meeting at the Panafric Hotel to Nation Centre. On the rare occasions when there's little or no traffic, the same trip would take 10 minutes, max. On Public Holidays, or most Sunday mornings before about 10 AM, road travel in Nairobi is a breeze.

And speaking of which, it's supposed to be early Winter over here, but you can't tell it from sitting in the back of a taxi. Ain't no breeze. It's always hot and stuffy, so you roll down your window hoping for a few quick blasts of moving air. Five minutes later you're gagging on diesel fumes. Or some hawker shoves a cheap geegaw up under your nose, and that totally skeeves you out, so you roll the window back up. And you sit. And you wait.

Fortunately, since acquiring my BlackBerry Bold 9000, I can at least feel like I'm getting something accomplished while I'm sitting there. Like taking the picture up top. (DAMN, I wish I could have gotten a picture of the rampaging cow that snarled traffic on Waiyaki Way yesterday morning!! But I was in the middle of a call at the time, and just didn't think it would be professional to ask that contact if I could call her back later, so I could photograph the Hoofin' Heifer outside my window.)

I get a lot of emailing done while I'm sitting in Nairobi taxis. I send a lot of text messages. There's time to think about appointments I've made and why I forgot to put them on the phone calendar. There's time to Google information I need, or catch the latest AP and CNN headlines.

But there's also time to notice that, for some reason, no matter where you are on Nairobi roadways, there always seems to be a large fuel tanker nearby, just ripe for wide-scale immolation if nicked by an impatient matatu or a clueless Toyota driver. So I guess the bottom line is that riding in Nairobi traffic never fails to "spark" my imagination.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

"PLEASE, Rachel, Don't Hurt 'Em"

I really like the girl who re-locks my locks over here. Aida is as sweet as sweet can be, and always tries accomodate my often last-minute pleas for appointments.

But the next time she peeks under my dryer hood just as my eyes start rolling back in my skull, my flesh starts to bubble and I damn near faint and chirps, "Rachel, is it hot?" I am gonna punch her right smack in her cake hole.

And then, while she was trimming my locks this evening, Aida had the nerve to mention, "Rachel, the gray hairs are many. You need color on your roots." I fantasized about following that punch with a vicious head butt. I mean, a few months back, Aida is the one who left the first batch of toxic brew on my head so long, I came out with a depthless color best described as "Elvis, Circa 1967 Blue Hawaii Concert." That coal black helmet just didn't work for the lighter, more peppy attitude I'd been rocking since I first got highlights in September of 2006, so I eventually went back to my previous salon. That's where some goofy young new guy left peroxide on my gnarly tresses so long, I looked like Billy Freakin' Idol for about 45 minutes before the salon owner came over and calmed the straight up Ghetto Girl winds that had started to blow.

(In short, somebody was gon' DIE up in that spot unless they got me straight, I promise you.)

Truth be told, my hair hasn't been the same ever since those back-to-back color calamities. I tried to get the tone adjusted when I was back in the States, but my groovy DC stylist, Gary, refused to touch it. "That color is fierce," he hissed, even when I begged for a little more juice to ramp it down a notch or so. In fact, when he touched up my roots, Gary took it one color lighter. So now, I don't know what do do with my poor noggin. A part of me just wants to let it alone, but I also don't want to walk around looking crazy with half caramel colored highlights and half ashy gray roots.

I should just shave the shit off, right? After all, I've been embracing India Arie lyrics lately, right?

"I am not my hair/I am not this skin/I am not your expectations, no...I am not my hair/I am not this skin/I am the soul that lives within..."

Well, after an evening with Aida, thet soul that lives within ain't tryin' to hear all that pacifist noise. The only thing musical I'm thinkin' bout is the title of an MC Hammer album. See the above blogpost title.


Bag Lady

So this morning, I'm walking home from the gym I just joined on Saturday, feeling as smug as if I'd just finished the Iron Man Triathlon, when all of a sudden this hella-hoofin' Kenyan "Mama" darts across the road and dang near knocks me down.

There I was feeling all "righteous and ripped" (after only about 40 minutes on the treadmill and a few reps of free weights, mind you) when this chick who looked old enough to be my mother and who was carrying a good 50 pounds on her back starts trying to racewalk a sister. I was fixin' to set it OFF on that stretch of Rhapta Road before managing to snap out of that temporary bout of road rage. She actually reminded me of all the Kenyan women I see on a daily basis working like pack mules caring for the homestead, the kids, the cooking...everything.

Those women are so damned strong. Physically and mentally, and many of them well into their 6th and 7th decades of life. Of course, I'm only assuming the woman in this picture was significantly older than me. Actually, she could very well be around my age, or maybe just a few years older. Access to facials, sunscreen, soy-based cleansing products and an occasionally healthy diet have graced me with a relatively youthful appearance--for an old bag.

I thought about that a lot while I was in Kisumu, talking to women younger than me who were grandmothers many times over. Decades of the kind of arduous toil I can only imagine had added an implacable thickness to their girth, and etched something like a mixture of abject resignation and stony resolve onto their leathery, sun-weathered faces.

Oh, and giving birth to 6, or 7, or 8, or more kids. And digging and scratching and clawing out a meager living every day, often while their husbands sit around in the marketplace, or at the local pub. And no, I'm not just being a feminist bitch by saying that. Sky high unemployment rates, coupled with a culture where women are expected to shoulder most of the burdens, results in the above-mentioned scenario, where women literally work like slaves while men don't. In fact, the husband of the woman in this picture was probably sitting somewhere under a shade tree, and she had probably been up and hauling heavy bags like these for 3 or 4 hours already.

But this post is not so much about the seemingly unequal division of manual labor between Kenyan men and women as it is about me, and my own off-and-on quest for physical fitness and strength. I really wish I could claim a consistent commitment to it, but the truth is I'm most likely driven to the gym when I can't fit into most of my clothes. And that's got to stop. Not so much because I want to be working like a pack mule when I'm 70 years old, but because if I had to, I could.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Deconstructing Susan

You know, I'm tempted to just make a brief, sheepish reference to my earlier blogpost about Susan Boyle by saying,

"Never mind!"

So much for my projecting a canny level of seasoned self-awareness and innate confidence onto that poor woman. Apparently, The Talented Ms. Boyle was the quintessential deer in the headlights, and all the worldwide scrutiny and pressure finally broke her down to a mass of quivering nerve endings.

I felt so sorry for her this morning, as every news report on every TV and radio station led with the story of her ingnominious journey to a psychiatric facility yesterday, following her second place finish in the "Britain's Got Talent" competition. I suspect that even more than the constant harassment by the press, the meddling-cum-support from her handlers, and the expected amount of Byzantine performance anxiety, what finally drove Susan Boyle over the edge was the fear that she had disappointed all the family, friends and fans in her hometown.

Put yourself in her shoes...or, the "hideously unfashionable footwear" mentioned in all the early stories about her. Susan Boyle rang in 2009 living in a modest flat with her cats, singing at the occasional pub but generally living a lonely, uneventful life. 6 months later, she's known worldwide, she's having microphones shoved under her nose and being blinded by camera flashes wherever she goes, and she's reading and hearing herself being described not only as divinely talented, but with other colorful descriptors like the "Hairy Angel." That's a level of scrutiny and critique that 95 percent of the population simply could not withstand, no matter how much money and fantasy makeovers were being offered.

Eventually, Susan Boyle will be just fine. I hope. Once she's pulled herself back together, she'll probably make goo-gobs of money from book, movie and record deals. But I hope Susan is able to move forward on her own terms. And I hope she's able to figure out what those terms are, because I get the sneaking suspicion that as much as the Simon Cowells of the world wave their magic wand and make dreams come true for undiscovered talent, they will still get seriously paid whether a Susan Boyle wins a Grammy or fades to black as the most talented, "Village Crazy Cat Lady" in history.