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
Friday, June 26, 2009
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
Tuesday, June 23, 2009
Monday, June 22, 2009
Saturday, June 20, 2009
"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.
Monday, June 15, 2009
Sunday, June 14, 2009
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
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
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
Tuesday, June 9, 2009
Friday, June 5, 2009
Thursday, June 4, 2009
"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
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.