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.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

"I'm Just Sayin, Dawg," Part 11

You know, I was gonna use a photo of a Western Kenya slum to illustrate this posting, but then I caught myself. After all, I've actually been to Eldoret, near the Ugandan border, and I know firsthand that there's a whole lot more to it than the typical stereotype of an African rural village or slum. So I went with this aerial shot of downtown Eldoret.

Indeed, the town has (mostly) paved roads, and a (relatively) major hotel, and many shops and restaurants (again, relatively speaking). In fact, I bought a pair of my favorite eyeglass frames in Eldoret. And I had a GREAT grilled tilapia dinner while I was there. But one thing I didn't get to do was tour some of the locations that were hardest hit by the rioting after the December 2007 elections.

I suspect part of the reason was subconscious, like when I was in Rwanda. Even after my harrowing trip through the genocide memorial, I still wanted to visit one of the Kigali churches where the most egregious atrocities occurred. You see, I've developed this theory that if I witness enough of the effects of the worst humanity can unleash, it will somehow inoculate me. Maybe one day it won't depress me so much if I can just accept that these events are a unfortunate yet non-negotiable part of being human. But other than my Golden Monkey trip, I spent most of my time at the US Embassy in Kigali, and probably preferred it that way.

Anyway, back to Eldoret. I'm mentioning it today because of an item I read in one of the local papers. It was newsbrief, only a few sentences long, but I could actually feel my blood pressure rise while reading it. Apparently, a group of Eldoret City councillors are taking a trip to Rwanda, to observe how the country has grappled with the impact of the genocide, and the strategies being used to keep moving forward. Because Eldoret was the setting for one of the worst post-election atrocitites in Kenya, the Kiambaa Church massacre, that kind of official junket seemed not only appropriate but logical.

But then I saw that 35 Eldoret city councillors would head to Rwanda on a 10-day trip. I felt myself going numb. I wanted to turn to somebody and ask, "Is this a misprint?? They can't be serious."

First of all, I gotta say I'm impressed that there are 35 city councillors in Eldoret! The town itself ain't big enough to swing a cat in comfortably, but hey, maybe there's more to it than what I saw, and maybe it needs that much administratin'. But can Eldoret really afford to have 35 publicly-financed employees spend 10 days away on a "fact-finding mission"?

Okay, let's say they went by road. One goodly sized tourbus would probably cost a lot less than 35 plane fares. And maybe they doubled, even tripled up on accomodations, instead of billing 35 hotel rooms for 10 days.

But as a lone foreigner who's spent the past few months trying to help fund a school feeding program for some of the children displaced by the post-election destruction and mayhem caused by Kenyan public officials, am I out of order to be thinking those Eldoret bureaucrats should have rented a freakin' DVD to learn about Rwanda's peace and reconciliation process??? Am I qualified to consider how much bottled water that money could have purchased for some of the thousands of Kenyans who are literally dying of thirst throughout this country at this very moment? Is it any of my bloody business to suggest that money might have replaced some of the school book funds that have allegedly been stolen by Ministry of Education staff, or pave a few of the deathtrap roadways in Western Kenya?

After all, just yesterday, I read that some members of Parliament were refusing to trade in their huge fuel-guzzling SUVs for smaller, more fuel friendly Volkswagen Passats because the VW's couldn't withstand the difficult terrain in their constituencies.

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

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Art Therapy, The Sequel

Reading the profile of Washington, DC art patron Peggy Cooper Cafritz in the August "O" Magazine made me feel like I've completely miscalculated the overall arc of my life. Or in plain-speak, nearly 25 years since my first full-time job, I find myself, in terms of accumulated wealth, property, or long-term financial security, without a pot to piss in nor a window to throw it out of.

I mean, there Cafritz stood in the entryway of her fabulous DC house, in front of an amazing piece of artwork, wearing a dress that probably cost more than everything in my entire closet, and looking like the cat that swallowed the canary, regally speaking. The article was about her passion for collecting artwork by African Americans, but what struck me most was her peppiness. She even made a point of mentioning that, at age 62, she was still available and looking for Mr. Right. This after having already divorced a guy from a wealthy family and having several children.

Don't get me wrong...I admire the hell out of Cafritz. As far as I know, she's always been a passionate champion of DC, and children, and the poor. But that article produced one of my increasingly rare moments of naked, quivering, unabashed envy. Wealth, taste, class, grown children who will likely produce adorable grandchildren in the very near future...girlfriend has it made in the shade sipping frosty lemonade.

I mean, if you have to be be a "woman of a certain age," Cafritz is, to borrow an LL Cool J lyric, "Doin' it, and doin' it, and doin' it well."

As pour moi, there are moments when I think my major retirement decision will focus on whether to place my cardboard box over a heating grate or next to a bakery's exhaust fan. Looking back, I suppose I've always wanted enough money to travel as much as I wanted whenever I wanted, and to buy as many shoes and clothes as my heart desired, and to eat at really fabulous restaurants five days out of seven. Oh, and I always wanted enough money to share with friends and family, to make sure that nobody I care about ever had to struggle. But I've never really planned on being an extremely financially comfortable, sophisticated black woman living in a fabulous house, playing urbane urban hostess and surrounding myself with amazing artwork. Reading about Ms. Peggy, I was all, like, "Shit! This chick has hijacked the future I didn't even realize I deserved to have!!!!"

So I was literally stunned earlier today to learn, while reading the October "O," that Peggy Cooper Cafritz's beautiful home with all of that amazing artwork was completely destroyed in a fire shortly after being featured in the magazine. Now, I'm not exactly crying her a river, because I'm guessing she has a few other cribs she can chill in, as well as scads of wealthy friends with spare houses. Hell, for what Cafritz had the artwork in that house insured for alone, she could probably rebuild from the ground up.

But for me, the news was yet another art-inspired thump upside the old pumpkin from the Universe. It reminded me that envy is a waste of time, because anybody's life can be reduced to rubble in a heartbeat, no matter how rich they are. And I'm sure that as much as Cafritz may still be grieving the loss of that beautiful house and all its contents, she's also probably extremely grateful to be alive, and that no one was injured or killed.

Like I noted yesterday, every time you wake up on top of the ground instead of underneath it, there's hope. There's reason to believe tomorrow could be better. Besides, a great work of art never dies, as long as it can be envisioned in the mind's eye.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Coming To

"Oooh, Oooh, child..."

"...If you're lucky, eventually you realize that the only way things are gonna get easier is if you get up off your ass and make it happen yourself."

I came to that conclusion over the weekend, while lying flat on my back on my bed directly under my oscillating fan. You recall many descriptions of me lying in that position, don't you? In fact, if any compromising photos of me ever turn up on the Internet, that's
what they'll depict: A flop-sweaty, Jockey-drawers wearing Rachel, arms and legs akimbo, deep in the throes of a mind-bending, flash.

Last week was so bad, in fact, that my blood pressure shot up to 190 over 101 at one point. Deciding it might be prudent to avoid delving the antediluvian horrors of the Kenyan Health Care System while in full cardiac arrest, I sought help. I was given another hypertension medication, and told to go home and rest. Which I would have done, if it weren't for the blasted night sweats and hot flashes. Most times, if you put your hand on my skin, it's like placing it on a dry pancake griddle that's slowly getting warmer. That is, until the sheen of sweat rises, and your skin feels clammy and hot at the same time. And your emotions? Fuh-geddaboudit.

Like I've said plenty of times before, I bore myself when describing my perimenopausal peregrinations, so I won't venture too deep into this train of thought. Just know that for most of last week, I gave myself full permission to marinate like a goat shank in self-pity, frustration and bottled water, using the occasional Double Stuff Oreo f0r fuel. Thanks to recent musings, you already know part of why I've been in the emotional dumpster. Add another upcoming birthday into the mix, and basically, I've been a useless heffalump.

But then, last Saturday morning, something clicked. Right near the tail end of those lost
days of hormonal despair, I flipped past a CNBC International documentary about legendary book and magazine illustrator NC Wyeth and his family. I knew the name, and of course had heard of his equally legendary painter son Andrew, so I decided to watch. (Hell, it was better than logging my thousandth viewing of "Mr. Bean" on BBC Entertainment.) Turns out Daddy Wyeth was a tortured genius of sorts. He always wanted to be known as a great painter, but was largely recognized solely for his illustration work.

That's why he devoted himself to nurturing his children's artistic talents. Especially Andrew; because of his frail health, Andrew was home schooled, his every artistic instinct lovingly indulged. By the time Andrew was a teenager, NC was raving over his skill. Sadly, he was also despairing over what he saw as his own failure to move beyond "mere" illustrator status.

Anyway, two comments from that documentary hit me like a depth charge. First, one of Andrew's fabulously successful siblings, inventor Nathaniel Wyeth, described the day in 1945 when their melancholic father was killed, on a railroad crossing, with his beloved, beautiful, curly-haired 4-year-old grandson Neely on the front seat beside him. Now, the official conclusion is that the car stalled on the tracks in the path of an oncoming train. In fact, the engineer recalled seeing NC Wyeth place his arm in front of the child, as if trying to shield him.

Still, the family knew NC Wyeth was often depressed, even hopeless at times. But even if he was suicidal, surely he wouldn't take that adored grandchild with him?

Would he?

Nathaniel's voice caught as he described the event, and then he was silent for a few seconds. Then he continued, "Sometimes, I think fiction writers are overpaid. Because when you look at real life, my god," he said.

Now, I've done my share of grieving over deceased family members. After all, I was "orphaned" at 44. And I still bear the "Scarlet S's" that all suicide survivors have emblazoned on their souls, thanks to my eldest brother David's choice. And I readily admit I'll probably never get over losing Julie. But can you imagine having to live with even the faintest possibility that your beloved, anguished father may have killed himself and your young child??? (Note: I hate to pile on here, but I also just read that NC and Nathaniel's wife were alleged to be having an affair...could that be why he took the boy with him? GEEZ....)

Anyway, the next 2-by-4 to my psyche came when Andrew Wyeth described how his father's death affected him. He bitterly regretted never doing a formal portrait of his father, and recalled how NC's love and nurturance had shaped him so profoundly. But then he concluded that, if you're lucky, the death of a loved one makes you "come to." It's like you've been existing on auto-pilot before hand, possibly in part because that person loved you so much, or because you depended on them for so much. When they're gone, you're frog-marched towards a more conscious awareness.

When that documentary ended, I took it as more of a sign than all the rainbows I've seen since October 19th, 2007 put together. After all, both Nathaniel and Andrew were quite elderly when they shared those remembrances. Nathaniel lived 45 years after his father and son died so horrifically. "Frail, sickly" Andrew died just 9 months ago at age 91--64 years later. Imagine all those decades of enduring profound losses, and somehow still functioning.

Kinda made me reconsider the whole "Lying On My Bed Feeling Sorry For Myself For Being a Bloated, Hot-flashing, Middle-aged Cry Baby Who Misses Her Big Sister" scenario. After all, the younger Wyeths managed to live up to their father's pride in their talent and accomplishments, to even surpass his wildest dreams for them. They even managed to embody the goal he felt he'd been denied.

So, I decided to use one of Andrew Wyeth's paintings to illustrate this posting. It's called "Groundhog Day," and I remember watching the Bill Murray movie of the same name with Julie once. It reminds me that yes, quite often every day can be a challenge, even a boring burden at times. But as long as you "come to" the next day, you're obligated to venture forth, to at least explore what's gonna happen. And unlike the movie, more often than we're willing to admit, we get to write our own script.

P.S. Okay, I try not to read too much into things, but sometimes, instead of hot flashes, I get chills.......

I just finished reading NC Wyeth's Wikipedia biography. He was born on October 22nd.

He died on October 19th.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

"Ooh, Ooh, Child, Things Will Get Brighter.."

I sometimes wonder if, for the rest of my life, the period between August 17th and October 19th is going to feel like this picture looks.

Yeah, I've been pensive lately. Remembering where I was headed 2 years ago. Back to Cairo from Gulu. Back to Julie. Back know.

It's hard. It just is. And it saps the creative energies, fer shure. I keep meaning to update the blog, but just can't find anything clever or witty or pathetic to say.

So I marinate. Try to let the memories come, and then gently usher them out out of my head as quick as humanly possible. I'm just trying to get on with it. But I also chose this picture to help remind me what's behind the gloom. That it, too, shall pass.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Angelina of Mercy

You know, I'm still trying to live down the torrent of cyber-hooting that occurred after I jokingly compared myself to Angelina Jolie for doing the work I do.

I had barely pushed the button on that blog post when the sarcastic bile began to spew. People, I am many things, but dangerously delusional is NOT one of them! Other than a set of plumpish lips, Ms. Thang leaves me in the dust on so many levels, it's hard to know where to start. She's about 14 years younger, 40 pounds lighter, has six kids to my zip, and by all accounts, gets OUTRAGEOUSLY jiggy whenever she wants with Brad Pitt.

Really, you viciously fickle readers! The only parallel I was drawing between us is that Ms. Jolie also spends a lot of time thinking about the plight of desperately poor people living in profoundly harsh circumstances, when she really doesn't have to. That's all.

Otherwise, in my mind, she'd be just another Hollywood actress I don't really give a damn about. However, I must admit that the first time I saw her act, in the movie "Gia," I was blown away by her ferocity. I figured having a famous father wouldn't hurt her prospects either, even though their relationship is bizarre and strained. I basically concluded she'd pretty much coast through her career on gilded wings.

Now, I'm not discounting her strenuous effort as an actress. (Except for that Clint Eastwood snoozer). Like I said, for the most part I don't follow her work, but even in fluff like Lara Croft, she seems to exert a lot of energy. But dammit, when you're you're that beautiful and that skinny and that rich in America, you can't help but I right, or am I RIGHT?????

So when I started hearing about her journeys to Cambodia and Africa, I thought they were just guilt-induced side trips during her luxury vacations. When she adopted Maddox, I figured he'd just be one of her rare and expensive accessories, like a Louis Vuitton bag with lungs or something. When I first heard she was planning to adopt an Ethiopian baby, I suspected she might just be trying to switch up the color scheme a bit. But all these years later, I sense something incredibly sincere about Angelina Jolie's humanitarian journeys. I suspect that even though she might spend 38 million dollars on a French Chalet with 30 bedrooms, she also feels obliged to do things like travel to Dadaab Refugee camp on the Kenya/Somalia border. It's temporary "home" for about 300,000 Somalis who've fled the ongoing war in their country, but it was originally designed for about 90,000 people.

When I read about that trip a few days ago, it reminded me of how I felt the first time I went to Ethiopia for a journalism workshop. I stayed at the Addis Ababa Hilton Hotel, and was shocked by how many white couples, or single white women, were pushing Ethiopian babies in strollers. My gut reaction was utter disdain for these these tourists who came to pick out babies like other people choose puppies or kittens.

By my third trip to Addis, I was applauding each and every white person I saw clutching a brown baby. They were doing something extraordinary...removing a child from epic squalor, disease, exploitation, and early, traumatic death. I wasn't contemplating whether those white people would be able to comb nappy hair, or give those children a sense of their culture and history.

They could give those children a decent life

Now, back to Angelina. When people started criticizing her for adopting Zahara from Addis Ababa, I was mystifed. (Incredibly jealous, too.) I knew that if any of those critics spent 5 minutes in an Addis slum, they'd be nominating her for a Nobel. But after all these years, her generous spirit may be taking a toll. To hear the supermarket rags tell it, Brad is just about to dump her for traveling to dangerous war zones and squalid refugee camps like Dadaab. Apparently, he wants her to stay at home and spend more time with their passel of kids. (If that's the case, maybe Dadaab is their swan song...and Brad will be back on the market soon! That is unless he runs straight back into Jennifer Aniston's arms, a sentiment which leads me to conclude that I read WAAAY too much online Hollywood gossip...) If it's true, I gotta say that the fact that she's willing to risk losing him for these trips is all the proof I need that she's committed. Hell, I'd park my butt in front of a stove wearing an apron, kitten heels, pearls and nothing else if Brad Pitt asked me to.

Instead, I sense that Ms. Jolie has made a conscious decision to use her power and influence to address one of the most potent ongoing humanitarian crises in history: the brutal plight of the refugees from war, political oppression or natural phenomena. Trust me, people, after having visited my share of refugee camps, slums, and rural hovels, I can attest that you don't make a trip like that for a photo op. You don't go there to try and score brownie points or revive a flagging career. You don't go there to just make yourself feel better about what you have, or to hand out a few care packages.

Anyway, you might go once or twice, but you wouldn't KEEP going back. Once is quite enough to witness mind-bending filth and disease and starving babies and toddlers playing on freshly dug graves and rats as big as cats and open sores on stumpy limbs and pools of human waste......all of which I have seen. Multiply those images by a thousand, and that's what Angelina saw in Dadaab.

That's how I know there's something more to this woman. There's something deep and genuine and empathetic. There's something sincerely human and complex. And there HAS to be something incredibly strong, because after 5 years of travelling in African countries, in August 2008 I saw some sights in Kibera that were so disturbing, I haven't been back since. All of a sudden, I had enough, though since then I've seen some sights in Eastland, and Eastleigh, and Mathare, and Maai Mahiu, that are about as bad as Kibera.

So no matter what people may say or think, I have decided that I am Angelina Jolie's Number 1 fan. Not because I've seen every one of her films, or envy her beauty, or wish I had her man. I'm rooting for her because she keeps going back to witness the absolute worst of what humanity can inflict upon itself. And she not only gives her own resources, she knows her trips can result in other people helping.

And I don't even CARE that she and Brad rented an entire Maasai Mara Safari Camp while they were here! After what I know they saw, more power to them.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Standing My Ground

This picture reminds me of my mother, Eloise. That little hula hoopin' mama from PCEA Muniu had never even seen a hula hoop before I brought some to the school earlier this year. None of the kids had. But just like with most kids, it didn't take her long to figure out how to use it.

To become an expert hula hoop-er, you have to know how to stand your ground. You have to square your shoulders even as your hips are pivoting like a ball in a greased socket joint. If you wanna earn serious props, you have to keep that hoop swirling even when your hips get a little sore and you might be getting a little dizzy, and you might just wanna give up. To win, you gotta keep going. You don't ask how or why, you just do. Just like Eloise did.

Oh, and this picture also reminds me of my sister Julie, the Master Hoopster, able to keep multiple rings swirling at any given time. She certainly stood her ground. She was unparalleled in her ability to stare down life, square her shoulders, ball up her fists and propel herself forward.

Now, you may wonder what's got me contemplating the foremothers. Well, I was looking at some pictures of me that were taken while I was at PCEA Muniu last Friday, and I couldn't believe how much I looked like my mother in them! Gone are the malnourished lines from my Northern Uganda days. Oh, I'm not morbidly obese or anything, but I've also concluded I'll never again in life reach the Size 4 I attained in Gulu. Nowadays, Baby got back, front and sides to boot. But more than my body, I was totally focused on my face in those pictures. I have never, EVER seen Eloise so clearly and sharply before! It's kind of scary-yet-comforting at the same time.

Also, this is about the time of year 2 years ago that I learned Julie was beginning her last journey. Of course, next month will bring another solemn anniversary. I'm hoping maybe 10 years from now I won't be as pensive during September and October. For the time being, the memories come unbidden.

But like I said, this picture helps me sort of consolidate everything that's going on in the old noodle right now. The little girl who will always exist in my mind's eye. The strength and flexibility I inherited from Eloise and Julie. The focused, take no prisoners, shoulders squared stance. The determination to succeed.

Looking at this picture, I realize that no matter what storms may come, I will stand my ground. And I won't back down.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Thank You!

The kids and staff at PCEA Muniu kept trying to thank me for the gifts and donations, but I told them they came from my friends and family, people who had heard about their story and wanted to help.

So all of these waves and smiles are for YOU!

Special Delivery

I just sent my friend Simone an email saying how much I wished she and her boys could have been there when the kids at PCEA Muniu saw the books and toys and clothing she sent.

The people still living in tents in Internally Displaced Persons camps throughout Kenya have been completely abandoned by their government. Many go for days and weeks without food and water. They're barely protected from the elements, and now they're bracing for the "short rains" next month which will probably flood their campgrounds. Desperation is about the only thing there's plenty of.

It must be hard for them to imagine that people living 7,000 miles away cared enough about them to send those gifts, when their own politicians don't seem to remember they exist.

A Warm Welcome

I wondered what kind of greeting I'd get when I went back to PCEA Muniu Primary, after being AWOL for so long. Last time I was there, the kids were still treating me kind of warily. With my crazy orange hair and "Black Mzungu" accent, I bet half of those poor children don't know whether to run or alert the proper authorities when I show up.

So I was really touched when so many of them came up to shake my hand, without being prompted. The shy smiles and giggles made it clear that they remembered me, and that "They LIKE me. They really LIKE me!!!"

School's back in session.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Back to School

I suppose if I hadn't already roused my conscience and started thinking about reconnecting with the kids at PCEA Muniu Primary School, a story in this morning's Daily Nation newspaper would have done the trip.

That story estimates that 1.8 million Kenyan children haven't returned to school this week because they're too busy foraging in drought-stricken fields and forests for food. Another story noted that thousands of children have been abandoned by their mothers, and left with elderly, ailing grandmothers. Those moms just couldn't feed their kids anymore, when they themselves are starving.

You know, that's another challenge connected to Expat life in a developing country. I suppose if I were able to wear blinders and stay totally focused on the work at hand, it might not be so emotionally draining. But every day, there's a new absolutely mind-boggling statistic, or devastating natural phenomenon, or consequence of staggering poverty and squalor. My natural instinct is to try and figure out who's to blame and what they ought to be doing about it, or to think of a way I could help solve the problem.

But stay here long enough and you realize you can't. There's just too much that's broken to think about the situation writ large. There's no magic wand big enough to wave away drought and famine. So you scale down. You think of one thing you can do, and you do that.

So the kids at PCEA Muniu Primary don't know it, but they're helping me more than I could ever help them. I can't help feed 1.8 million Kenyan schoolchildren, but I can do everything in my power to see that 60 of them get to eat. And I'm doing it with help from the Archangel Julie's earthly representative, my brother-in-law Ron, who sent an extremely generous donation. My Zanzi-buddy Ron also kept the kids in mind when he made a contribution, as did my hometown friend, Joan.

This means the kids will have enough food to last a few months. I can't tell you how happy that makes me feel, when it would be all too easy to focus on the larger, vastly more desperate picture. And it even helped me finish running the final gruelling gauntlet at Posta Pay, to pick up the boxes my friend Simone sent. Now when I head to PCEA Muniu, I'll be bringing toys, clothes and books for the kids, too.

When I see them again on Friday morning, it'll be like I'm starting school again myself. I hope I make the grade.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

"I'm Just Sayin,' Dawg...." Part 10

Oh, who do I think I'm foolin'? I've spent the past few posts whining about existential angst, when all my psycho emotional challenges of late are directly related to these three yellow slips of paper.

They are all package delivery notices from my friend Simone, and the first one landed on my desk at Nation Centre in June. As I've mentioned, Simone is one of the dear friends and family who've pledged to support PCEA Muniu Primary, the school I've helped adopt near Nairobi. Remember? I've been so caught up with travel, and work, and navel contemplating these past few months that I'm totally guilty of putting that project on the back burner.

The good news is that all your generous financial contributions helped keep the school open and serving lunches for students during the August break. For most of those kids who live in an Internally Displaced Persons camp, that school lunch is the only meal they get each day.

Anyway, back to these infamous yellow slips of paper. Simone's big, loving heart led her to gather up all of her own two boys' old clothes and toys and books, box them up and ship them to me 7,000 miles away. When that first box arrived, I trotted over to the appropriate Kenya Posta office, innocently thinking I could just flash my ID, pay a small fee and take it home. After waiting about an hour for somebody to locate the box, I was directed to a rather large, scary woman wielding a junior machete of sorts. She gutted the box like it was a Lake Victoria tilapia and ordered me to take everything out and count each piece. Then she directed me to a man with a calculator who spent about 10 minutes sizing me up to determine exactly how much he could get away with bribing me for, jotted down that figure and then sent me to an office in another room.

The woman in that room typed some figures into a computer, printed out a form and then led me over to a window. That's where she leaned out, pointed to a building about 2 blocks away and advised me to go there, pay the fee, and then come back and pick up the package I'd just endured the rigors of the damned to locate.

I swear to GAWD, It took me 3 days and two bottles of wine to recover from that mind-numbingly pointless exercise. I mean, it almost made me long for the days when a trip to a US Post Office was fraught with the ominous risk that Postman Pat would snap and spray the lobby with automatic weapon fire. An instantaneous death seemed so much more preferable than standing in another long-assed line in a hot, airless bank building, paying the bribe and then coming BACK to where I'd started from to begin with to pick up the freakin' boxes.

So you can understand why I put if off. And put it off again. Then, for good measure, hid the slip and tried to pretend I'd never received it. But when I started emerging from my mid-life crisis cocoon recently and decided it was time to check on my PCEA Muniu kids, I dug out that slip from June and vowed to find or make the mental fortitude required to descend once more into the 9th Circle of Kenyan Postal Purgatory.

Guess what? That's when two MORE slips from Simone arrived! So last Thursday, I went through the first part of the drill for those two boxes. The machete-packin' mama took pity this time and just weighed the parcels after she'd savagely hacked them open, instead of making me remove and count every item. My bribe payment was calculated, I picked up the two necessary forms, and vowed to brave the payment queue early one morning this week, retrieve all three boxes and then move on with my life.

But once again I'm forced to ask, "Who do I think I'm foolin'?" When has life ever been that simple for me? Just today, I learned that the controversial Commander of Kenya's infamously troubled police force has just been named Postmaster General. Oh great. Now, if my papers aren't in order, or some counter guy doesn't like the way I look, I can expect a Special Delivery, Grand Coalition ass-whoopin' along with those packages.

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

Saturday, September 5, 2009

"It's My Party, And I'll Cry With Laughter If I Want To!"

Cream always rises to the top, and where tonight's impromptu Expat Labor Day soiree was concerned, it was primo Grade A dairy!

If I'd had to hand-pick the handful of female friends I actually wanted to show-up, I couldn't have done a better job. We howled with laughter so long and so loud, I fully expect to receive a gentle reminder about noise levels when management returns on Monday morning. I won't spill all the details on tonight's event, but let's just say that at one point, I was forced to refute the comment that there are no comfortable thongs by actually producing one, which was passed around, examined, stretched and measured for the official record.

I mean, come on. You really didn't expect a group of women of any nationality to get together without discussing clothing and/or sex toys. We did both. Anyway, there's still a butt-load of dishes to wash, but I don't care. My hostess street cred is still intact! Looks like I couldn't even give a bad party if I wanted to. At least there's that.

G'night, all!

Do You Remember?

One more person just texted to say she can't make it to my party, about 45 minutes before the merriment is scheduled to begin.

But you know what? I don't care, because my iPod just reminded me what's important. Earth, Wind, and Fire reminded me, that is.

"Do you remember the 21st night of September? Love was changing the minds of pretenders While chasing the clouds away Our hearts were ringing In the key that our souls were singing. As we danced in the night, Remember how the stars stole the night away Ba de ya - say do you remember Ba de ya - dancing in September Ba de ya - never was a cloudy day My thoughts are with you Holding hands with your heart to see you Only blue talk and love, Remember how we knew love was here to stay Now December found the love that we shared in September. Only blue talk and love, Remember the true love we share today Ba de ya - say do you remember Ba de ya - dancing in September Ba de ya - never was a cloudy day Ba de ya - say do you remember Ba de ya - dancing in September Ba de ya - golden dreams were shiny days."

It's not the 21st of September, but it's still a good evening. Whether I spend it by myself or not.

Holiday Humbug

I have never, ever, in my entire existence as an Internationally Renowned Hostess with the Most-est, felt LESS like giving a party than I do at this very moment.

Fortunately, nearly half of the people I've invited to an impromptu Expat Labor Day Party have sent their last minute regrets, so maybe there won't be a huge mob to clean up after. At least there's that.

Pardon this temporary relapse, but I can't stop remembering that this is the 3rd Labor Day in a row that I've been outside of the US. Granted, at least I'm not in Gulu chomping on the shank bone of an emaciated goat. But I am experiencing a MAJOR charred hotdog deficiency. I haven't had a decent piece of barbecue in ages, and I'd KILL for a Bud Light with Lime. And the End of Kenyan Winter doldrums are about to drive me batty! It's still chilly and gray here most of the time, and I'm fed up with wearing socks to bed.

In short, I miss the American Summer Holiday Vibe like crazy.

Which is partly why I invited some folks over this evening, to try and recreate that spirit. Let's see what happens. Chin up, and all that rot. Happy Labor Day On Foreign Soil To Meeeeee...

Friday, September 4, 2009

Sasha To The Rescue!

Leave it to the delightfully irrepressible Sasha Obama to grab me by the scruff of the neck and force me to get over myself, already! I came across this picture today, and it provided a healthy dose of much-needed perspective on my "existential speed bump." First, I could have been born in 1861 instead of 1961, in which case I'd have been born a slave, just like my Great Great Grandmother Sally was. I never knew her, and don't know even know when or where she died, but I'm sure it was in exceedingly humble circumstances, and with no expectation of ever living to see a sight like this:

Or, I could have been born in in 2001, which would make me 8, like Sasha is now. I often wonder how young black Americans are processing this juncture in history. I'm sure that on one level, they understand the historic depth of this moment, but they simply aren't equipped to grasp the astonishing journey we have traveled. They can read about Slavery and the Civil Rights movement and understand it intellectually, but they can't feel it.
I was born in 1961, and I can. And even though I was only about 7 during 1968, when Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King were assassinated, and when American cities were burning, and when Nixon ws elected and the Vietnam War was claiming thousands of young Americans, and the last vestiges of segregation and racial terror were still playing out, I think I understood something profound was happening. I didn't know it would lead to an image like this, but I knew it meant something had to change.
This picture says it all. So even though every now and then I'm gonna give in to bouts of mid-life panic, underneath I'm gonna feel very lucky that I'm the exact age I am. That I lived long enough to be a little black girl who didn't know where her next meal was coming from who grew up to be a strong black woman witnessing a little black girl hiding from her Daddy on the floor of the Oval office.
Perspective is a wonderful thing. Thanks again, Sasha!

Thursday, September 3, 2009

An Existential Speed Bump

You know, I suspect most people simply couldn't begin to comprehend what kind of a burden it is to be a sensitive genius. At times it can be sheer agony.

There, I knew that would get your attention! Those of you who follow this blog on US soil have just snorted coffee out your nose. People reading it in other international time zones are shaking your heads and thinking, "This chick is straight trippin'." But people who know me really well understand where I'm coming from. You know how utterly sarcastic I am about 90 percent of the time, but that underneath that sarcasm there's a kernel of unblinking self-scrutiny.

All this is to explain why I have not been creatively inclined of late, for a lot of reasons. First, as I wrote in a recent posting, this Summmer of High Profile Mortality has sapped some of my generally upbeat energy. This particular spiral began with late June's Michael/Farrah double date with the Grim Reaper, but my friend Karen's death on July 6th really packed a wallop. Come to think of it, I'm still struggling with it, even though we weren't close when she passed. Like I've said before, 47 year old women shouldn't die, not just when we're finally figuring this life thing out.

Last week, I explained what Ted Kennedy's passing meant, and then I learned that the
woman who wrote "Going to the Chapel" and "River Deep, Mountain High" died. At that moment, I felt like shouting, "Stop the World...I Wanna Get Off!" You know how little things can some time hit you the hardest? Not to say that Ellie Greenwich's death was "little" to the people who loved her, mind you. It's just that I was surprised by how sad it made me feel.
But now I think I understand what's going on. I figured it out last Friday, while sitting in a taxi watching a toddler wearing a tiger suit playing near the park bench where his mother was sitting. The child was so adorable, I considered whether a prison stretch for kidnapping would be worth the risk, if it meant I could hang out with him for a while. My 25 year old brain's first impulse was,
"Why don't you just go ahead and get pregnant and have one of your own? You don't even have to get married, or even like the guy. Hell, you don't even have to meet the guy, for that matter. There's still time......."

But then my almost 48 year old ovaries chimed in to remind me that, "It would require the expertise of Dr. Frankenstein and an epic thunderstorm to create the electrical surge powerful enough to initiate life in your overheated oven, Ms. Jones."

I know, I'm rambling here. I guess what I'm trying to say is that lately, I've been confronting the possibility that 2/3rds of my life may be fork-worthy. DONE, people. That sounds a lot less upbeat than considering the glass half full, or all the ways middle aged people convince themselves that "Life Begins at 50," and "The Best is Yet to Come," and all that other psychobable stuff.
"It's like memories of a time when you danced around with a towel tied to your head while Jackson Five albums were blaring, and you could run like the wind, and 30 seemed "old," and the future seemed endless, are disappearing, inch by inch, relentlessly....."

Don't worry---I know this is just an existential speed bump. In fact, I'm convinced that one good roll in the hay would probably erase this mindset completely. But until such a fortuitous opportunity presents itself, a sensitive genius like me must endure the mental agonies that ensue when one accidentally backs into a mirror and notices that cellulite is NOT just something that happens to other people. That shit is harrowing, people.