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.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Pretty As a Picture

I was telling somebody at a dinner last night that one of my biggest frustrations about living outside the US is missing out on the Obama presidency. Even though I follow news from home as much as possible, it's just not the same. And while I'm actually sort of glad I'm not absorbing some of the mindless vitriol directed at the President and Mrs. Obama, it's just weirdly ironic that I lived long enough to see a black man as President of the United States, but don't get to experience it firsthand.

Then again, I figure I'm saving a bundle on picture frames. I would spend every cent of my disposable income buying every image of the Obamas on every newsstand I came across, and would proudly display them on every available surface.

Almost a year after the Election, it's still unbelievable. It still makes my heart soar a bit to see photos like these. What a difference a lifetime makes.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Electrical Impulses


Looks like I'm gonna have to have a looooooooooong talk with that brother-in-law of mine!

For one thing, I've been meaning to call Ron all this past month, but have always had what on paper seemed like a legitimate excuse for not getting around to it. Sure, it's been extraordinarily busy lately, but I think I'm wantonly "embracing the busy" to avoid actually thinking. Like I've said, traveling to Arusha, Tanzania on October 19th eased the sombre-ness of the day. Being in Arusha, traveling back to Nairobi and prepping for the arrival of my boss here, throwing a big dinner party, recovering from said big dinner party, plunging back into work...

It's just been too easy to take another path this year: to acknowledge my sister Julie's passing, but not ruminate.

Besides, phone service in Kenya has been so lousy lately, the prospect of trying to call Ron seemed pointless, anyway. So you know how you just keep putting it off, thinking maybe tomorrow you'll find time, or get around to it, or whatevuh?

Well, damn if Ron didn't reach through the Internet and wring out all the tears I've been holding on layaway! He looked for his "sign" from Julie on October 19th, thinking it might come in the form of a rainbow or a butterfly. But she touched both of us the same way, through song. I have never heard "Electricity," from the movie "Billy Elliot," but it's perfect. You see, Julie had this electrical surge power thang going on that was spooky. She could walk into a room sometimes and lights would blink, or appliances would start acting dodgy. Shortly after she passed, several of her friends said their lights blinked, and one friend said the central heating stopped mysteriously.

Once I stopped boo-hooing over Ron's email, I focused on the lyrics. The movie is about how this kid Billy Elliot defies his father's and his community's expectations that he become a boxer, and pursues his dream of being a dancer. His impulse was so strong, it was like electricity. Ron interpreted the lyrics another way. He chose to believe that "Electricity" must have been what Julie was feeling right when she decided to let go of her earthly, pain-wracked body, and to glide into the freedom of a higher peace.

I've decided that, until I get the chance to see Julie again, it's also like deciding to keep on going, and even to thrive, without her.
Recorded for the musical Billy Elliot, Included as a bonus track on the Peachtree Road 2005 reissue
Music: Elton John Lyrics: Lee Hall Piano and vocals: Elton John

I can't really explain it, I haven't got the words

It's a feeling that you can't control

I suppose it's like forgetting, losing who you are,

And at the same time something makes you whole

It's like that there's a music, playing in your ear

And I'm listening, and I'm listening, and then I disappear

And then I feel a change, like a fire deep inside

Something bursting me wide open, impossible to hide

And suddenly I'm flying, flying like a bird

Like Electricity, electricity

Sparks inside of me, and I'm free, I'm free

It's a bit like being angry; it's a bit like being scared

Confused and all mixed up and mad as hell

It's like when you've been crying

And you're empty and you're ful

lI don't know what it is, it's hard to tell

It's like that there's some music, playing in your ear

But the music is impossible, impossible to hear

But then I feel it move me

Like a burning deep inside

Something bursting me wide open

Impossible to hide And suddenly I'm flying

Flying like a bird Like Electricity, electricity

Sparks inside of me And I'm free, I'm free

Electricity sparks inside of me

And I'm free, I'm free

Oh, I'm free

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Here Comes the Sun....

...and I say, "It's alright."

It's been super nutty crazy this past week, what with Arusha and then getting back to Nairobi where my newspaper designer gal pal Kelly has returned. We had an amazing 6 course French meal Thursday night, which I'm still trying to recover from. Then she headed to Mombasa for the the weekend while I prepped for a dinner party for 10 last night, in honor of my boss's final evening in Kenya. Another great success...I guess I can start believing it when people call me a gourmet cook. Not exactly ready to open my own restaurant or anything, but I really acquit myself rather excellently in the kitchen, if'n I do say so myself.

Looks like another busy week ahead, too. I'm in a really good place these days. But then, I guess I always knew that what lay behind those gloomy clouds would re-emerge.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

What Lies Above

Finally, the view I was longing for.

Monday, October 19, 2009

From Both Sides Now

It probably made sense that the first song I heard when I got in the cab this morning was "Missing You," by Brandy, Gladys Knight, Tamia and Chaka Khan.

"Though I'm missing you
(Although I'm missing you)
I'll find a way to get through
(I'll find a way to get through)
Living without you
'Cause you were my sister, my strength, and my pride
Only God may know why, still I will get by."

You know, I think I'm kind of over being astonished by the signs and signals I keep getting from Julie. Not in the sense that I don't want to receive them anymore. It's just that when they come, it's almost like they were already there.

Today is the second anniversary of Julie's passing, and I've been so very busy and preoccupied lately, I wasn't as somber about the run-up as I was last year, I guess. For the most part, I've been focused on getting ready for today's trip to Arusha, and my first glimpse of Mt. Kilimanjaro. Turns out most of that first glimpse was obscured by clouds, so it was a bit anticlimactic.

But then while I was walking across the tarmac at the airstrip, I suddenly stopped. I realized that even though it was partially hidden behind clouds, it is STILL Mt. freakin' Kilimanjaro, and deserves some respect, dammit! So I turned around, and then something struck me.

I was ignoring this majestic, awesome, natural wonder of the world just because I couldn't see the tip top of it. Forget the massive base...a mountain just ain't a mountain unless you can see what's above the clouds, right???

Wrong. You see, I decided it was just Julie sending me another message. Just because I can't see her, doesn't mean she's not here. It doesn't mean her love and strength and guidance and support aren't with me every waking moment. It doesn't negate that the only reason I'm still standing, and traveling the globe, and "getting by," is because she nurtured me with her own massive emotional base.

So, I guess I've looked at clouds from both sides now. Love You, Miss Winky!

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Snuggie Love!

I am coming off of another zany weekend, but in the best possible way. My friend Deb's friend Helen, who is is now kind of my buddy, too, was in Nairobi, and we made the most of a brief window of time. She's doing a work-related African tour of sorts--first stop Nairobi, then Lilongwe, then Jo'burg. She came loaded with information and gifts for each of those job-related stops, but she also had several special gifts for me. First was a thermal coffee press I'd been wanting, and then she even treated me to a terrific belated birthday dinner!

But she also had another special long-distance present. I've been hearing about Snuggies ever since they were introduced to a world longing for fuzzy shelter from the cold, but with all my traveling, never had the time or presence of mind to investigate. And then came this past "winter" in Nairobi, which I must have bitched about non-stop for the entire season. I don't care if you're tired of hearing me say it; you simply don't move to Sub-Saharan Africa and expect to wear socks to bed! EVER!!! The months of June, July and August were record-breaking cold for over here, and since nobody builds houses or apartments with central heating, the Oasis was uncomfortably chilly most of the time.

But I hung in there til early September, when things started warming up for a while. But wait, I forgot about the "short rains"...or are they the "long rains"???....of October. What-EVUH. After a few weeks' bright sunshine and warmth, I'm right back to where I started. Rainy season brings more chilly, gray weather. So guess what Helen brought????

A Snuggie, from my buddies Deb and Ray!! I guess being loyal readers of this blog, they got well and truly sick of my bitching and got one for me, and I am grinning like an idiot now just like I was when I first opened the package! I even had to call Deb and thank her in person. And here's the thing about Snuggies....they're just as fun as they are warm! It's like a baby bunting blanket with sleeves, for want of a more technical description. It opens at the front (or back, if you choose to wear it that way), but I relied on my burgeoning fashion instincts during the inaugural wearing. I pulled it together in the front and cinched it at the waist with a belt. Then I rolled up the sleeves, tied the loose ends up top into a jaunty knot, and honey, you cain't tell me NOTHIN' 'cept I was too fierce!

See, that's what friendship does for you. It warms you up from the top of your head to the tip of your toes. From the inside out. From 7,000 miles away. Thanks Deb and Ray, and thanks, too, Helen, for being the bearing of warm, fuzzy, Snuggie tidings!

Friday, October 16, 2009

"In My Mind, I'm Goin' To Carolina"

Last night, while waiting at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport for the 8:55 British Airways flight from London, I got hit with this overwhelming urge to talk to my best friend, Faith.

I was there to greet Helen, who's a good friend of my good friend Deb. They're both North Carolina gals, and I got to meet Helen earlier this year, while visiting Deb and her husband Ray in their beautiful vacation home in the North Carolina mountains. Helen has this equally lovely home filled with amazing African and "outsider art," which made me bond with her instantly.

Actually, Deb called me here in Nairobi just last week--in fact, right as I was saying goodbye to Homey the Muslim Chef from Lamu!!! I felt like a teenager, giggling into the phone while whispering, "Umm, can you call me back in 15 minutes?? Do I have something to tell you or WHAT!!!"

All the way home in the taxi, I howled with laughter as Deb gasped on the other end of the line. We talked for another half hour or so, and she even called back when the line went dead, something I've had to get used to when trying to make international calls. After we said our goodbyes and "Love ya, girlfriend", I felt really warm and fuzzy for a while. But then, the loneliness set in. I realized that, DAMN, this is what I'm utterly starved for over here.

Well, that and sex. But one thing at a time. What's probably bugging me more than the traffic and the crime and the job challenges and the language barrier and the lack of really good cheese is the absence of emotional balm that I'll call "Sista-Gurl Solidarity/Solace." I got sista-girls of every flava of the rainbow, from strawberry blonde to locked and lovely to bald and beautiful, and I adore each and every one of them. When I'm with these friends, I "exhale" in ways no man could ever induce. I feel relaxed, accepted, validated and heard.

Consider the the picture up top. The lovely and talented gal in the center, who was caught squinting, is my best friend Faith. God knew what He was doing when He made us meet, 'cause this woman has been through the fire with me, and will have my back til one or both of us checks out. I met her 30 years ago at Northwestern, and besides Julie, noone in my life knows more about why I'm the way I am than she does.

We're both in "gut it out" mode this month, because both of her parents passed in October, and of course I'm thinking of Julie this time of year. Last night, standing in the airport waiting for a newer friend, I was seized by this longing to see Faith strolling through those Immigration exit doors, smiling and waving as we shrieked into each others' arms. It would have been been more healing than a new hypertension prescription and a double martini combined (that is if I could find a really good martini over here).

The other woman in the picture is my girl Jamila, who I met when she was a high school intern in Detroit and I had just started at the Free Press newspaper there. Here's the thing about Jamila as a teenager: she was convinced she was fabulous, and wondered what the hell was wrong with the rest of the world for not acknowledging it. Of course, my motherly instinct at the time was to try and temper that bodaciousness with some mentoring support, but DAMN if that child didn't go ahead and prove herself right!! She's now the Sunday Features Editor of a major metropolitan newspaper, and the closest thing to a mini-me I will ever help produce. (I say that because, take a close look at the picture. She looks a lot like I did 15 years ago, trust me.)

In this photo, the three of us were at a restaurant on Ipanema Beach in February of 2008. I was absolutely over the moon about having survived Gulu, and got my brother Peter to let me crash at his Rio condo for a week. Oh, sure, it would have been nice to have gone with a man who would, to borrow a term I actually first learned from Jamila, "rodger me senseless" several times a day. But the next best thing was being there with 2 of my best friends. We ate Jamila's spinach crepes and pain perdu with macerated peaches and all kinds of fabulous gourmet meals each day, and took long walks on the beach, and then stumbled in and out of various joints in search of the perfect caipirinha each night. After 8 months in Gulu, half of which were spent mourning Julie, it was like the gateway to heaven.

Nowadays, when I'm chillin' in the Oasis, I realize that even peace and quiet in gracious surroundings just isn't enough to really nurture my soul. Oh, I'm always aware of how lucky I am to have a job, and a nice, clean, safe place to live, with enough to eat and clean water and electricity every day, especially in this challenged country at this extraordinarily challenging time. I'm also constantly reminded that nobody held a gun to my head and made me come here. I further acknowledge that that there is definite endpoint to this gig, and if I can hang on for 15 months, 9 more won't kill me. And I even realize that, given the right circumstances, I could probably develop friendships as strong as the ones I have back home, if I really wanted to.

But right now, all I really want to do is get in my Saab and drive to North Carolina, where I'd stop first in the mountains and watch hilarious movies and drink great wine with Deb and Ray, as steaks sizzled on the grill out on their fabulous new deck. Next stop would be Raleigh and my friend Joyce's house, to get hugs and kisses from her and her cherubim, my godson Ty and his baby doll sister Talia. In fact, that's where Jamila flew in from Atlanta earlier this month, recreating a weekend we'd all had back in April, last time I was in the States. And then I'd drive 3 hours south to Charlotte and spend endless hours laughing and crying and gabbing my head off with my best friend Faith.

But that's just a dream for now. Still, "In my mind, I'm goin' to Carolina," more and more these days. In fact, last night I called and left a long, rambling voicemail message for Faith while I was at the airport, waiting to see a face I recognized coming through those Immigration exit doors. I realized it was a lot cheaper than just calling the whole thing off and heading straight to the ticket counter.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

A-rushin' to Arusha

Sometimes, there's just too much goin' on. In fact, I find that even when there's nothing going on over here, it's still too much.

It's a strange phenomenon, and I finally grasped it clearly last night when I had dinner with one of my editor colleagues, who's about 10 years younger than me. He had just gotten back to the office after a month's leave, and when I asked him how his time off had been, he said fine.....except that a doctor told him his blood pressure was too high. This was during his vacation.

Boy, could I relate! The pace of life here in Nairobi is relentless, even when you're just trying to get from Point A to Point B every day. Anything else you might do during the day is just an additional aggravating stressor. But I'm coping.

Anyway, one thing I'm actually looking forward to is a trip to Arusha, Tanzania next Monday, for a global health meeting. The coolest thing is I'll be flying over Mt. Kilimanjaro to get there! Mountains inspire me so much, but I'm definitely a "looker" instead of a "climber." That's all I'd need is to have a hyperventilatin' hot flash at 12,000 feet. Y'all would NOT want to see what that looked like, I promise you.

So...let me just plow through the pile of stuff I need to get finished before I can head out the door. Busy, busy, busy!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

First "Snapshot Nairobi"

Startin' a new feature today, and it's solely because the sign in this photo made me laugh my ass off. I figure since I've decided to start being more mindful in general, I should try and capture some of the day to day images in Nairobi that resonate so much with me and share them with you.

So, here's my first offering, a sign I noticed while sitting in traffic on the way home tonight. I've probably been driven past it hundreds of times in the past 15 months and just never noticed before. Anyway, it's for "Titters Pub and Butchery."

.....because I don't know about YOU, but for ME, nothing says fun after a long, hard day at the office like piles of steaming entrails and hacked carcasses to go with that cold brewski.


Monday, October 12, 2009

Art Therapy, the Trilogy

I wasn't planning to purchase artwork from my favorite Ugandan Artist, Anwar, today. But I had lunch just around the corner from Gallery Watatu, and hadn't stopped in there in ages, and besides, I just knew I wouldn't find anything that spoke to me.

Well, as the fickle fates would have it, Gallery Owner Moses Mombaso had just received a new batch of canvases from this outrageously talented young man. There were 2 larger ones that I'm aching to own, but even someone as lacking in impulse control as I am realizes that you shouldn't drop 2 grand during a lunchtime whim.

Morris knows me by now, and while he's always pleasant enough and seems happy to see me, I'm sure he's also probably muttering under his breath, "How much discount is this bitch gon' try to get today?" Take these three pictures by Anwar: "Unity, Strongest Pillar," "The Stronger Woman in You," and "Year Planner." Before Morris arrived, the young staffer looked me up and down and said each canvas cost $600. I looked at him like his name was "Boo Boo The Fool." Or like he must have thought that was my name.

After a few outraged snorts, I tersely explained that 6 months ago, I had bought my Anwar entitled "Zanzibari Princess" for a third of that price. And it's slightly larger than these canvases! Now, I realize that art can appreciate in value over time, but as long as young Anwar still has a pulse, it ain't shot up like that so fast. Then Morris showed up, heaved a sigh, and rocked me a deal. Like, 3 for the price of one. Anything to get this haggling harridan the fuck up outta his gallery.

So now I'm the extremely proud owner of three new Anwars! And the names spoke volumes to me, as usual. Unity, Strength, and Planning Ahead....all themes I need to focus on. Hey, I'm no Peggy Cooper Cafritz, but I can still be pretty freakin' urbane when I wanna be!

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Doublin' Down

While chilling like a stone cold villain on a breezy Sunday evening at the Oasis of Graciousness, I'm finding it necessary to spend a few minutes reviewing the fantastic events of the past week.

Last Monday started with the unusual occurrence of seeing myself in the pages of a local newspaper. I suppose as long as you're not being arrested, led to an ambulance or lying mangled on the side of a road, there's nothing inherently wrong with that. But for someone who's worked in the media for 23 years now, it's still startlingly rare to see myself on the other end of the camera.

Next, I received an amazing long-distance "healing" from Oprah's Mystic in Chief, Marianne Williamson, during a show about women's mid-life transition. This morning, I realized that the past few days have been some of the most physically calm and comfortable I've spent in months. And it all started when I embraced Ms. Williamson's advice to stop resisting and dreading this natural phase of life. You never really know how much energy you're expending feeling miserable and frustrated until you just stop.

The very next night brought the hilariously touching "2nd Wives Club" proposal from Homey the Muslim chef from Lamu. In hindsight, there was some significant carryover from the previous evening's mystic awakening, because instead of processing it like some sort of offense, I accepted Homey's fulsome adoration. Unlike past years, I didn't automatically reject his praise as inauthentic, or make him feel guilty about "offending" me with such an outrageous request. Given my new mindset, it was entirely possible for him to fall head over heels for me, because I am an attractive, charming, nay, even sexy woman when I want to be. Hell, who wouldn't want to marry me?

Honestly, I really didn't think anything could top that, but then came the date that I hadn't even planned on having when I woke up Thursday morning and donned my fabulous new tailored jeans and racy fuschia blouse. I swear, I wore that outfit for myself, and wound up reaping some pretty remarkable benefits! It taught me a valuable lesson, one I've been out of touch with for a lot of reasons. But now I'm back in the groove. When you carry yourself like you know you look great, it attracts positive energy.

I had barely recovered from the remarkable-ness of the night before when I learned President Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize. By that point, I thought I was hallucinating! Then came my published column about it yesterday morning, which got lots of positive feedback.

So, here's what the past 7 days have utterly, indelibly convinced me of. When you exert your intention, with all your might, and you intend to have a positive experience, the odds are in your favor. Sure, there's still a chance that something could go wrong, and you'll just have to take that chance. But with mindful positive intention, it's different from sitting back and hoping something good will happen, or that things will turn out somehow. Last Monday, I "named and claimed" great things for the week ahead. And what a week it was!

So tonight, I'm gonna double down. I want a week that's even better than this past one was. And here's the great thing; this ain't no sucker's bet. I've got everything I need to make it a winner, and it's all inside of ME!

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Another Random Observation

I am such a huge fan of America's First Little Miss Firecracker, aka Sasha Obama, that I'm guilty of neglecting her lovely big sister, Malia. I've mentioned how charming and coltish she is, like the perfect blend of her amazing parents. But now I'm feeling to need to send a little extra positive energy and support her way.

Now, Malia is still a "baby" to me, at age 11. But in 5 or 6 years, she'll start thinking about boys and dating. So, whether her Daddy is still in the White House or not, riddle me this:

"How in the name of all that's holy will that child EVER find a male humanoid who could match up to her "Male Role Model In Chief," the Super Coolest World Leader In This Or Any Uncharted Universe, In The Entire Annals of World History????"

Somebody better figure out how to turn Superman into a real life human, wean him from that bony-assed Lois Lane, and prep him for life as the "First Son-in-Law," 'cause that's Miss Malia's only hope!

Peace Prize Postscript

Wow, what a wild ride! I spent half of yesterday exhilarated about President Obama winning the Nobel Peace Price, and then the rest of the day processing some of the wildly disparate reactions worldwide.

One thing I'll confess: When I first saw the news online, I gasped. Audibly. I even "clutched the pearls," honey. Like one of my young friends on Facebook admitted, I thought, "Am I missing something?? What did he get it for?" Because usually when that prize is awarded, a pretty huge event fueled the decision. Like brokering the end of a post-election violence, or stopping genocide, or ending a war, fr'instance. Now, I loooooove me some Barack Obama, but thinking back over the past 9 months, no such event sprang to mind.

Still, I was pretty miffed to read assessments of his honor ranging from bogus to yet another conspiracy theory. Most comments focused on the fact that this year's Nobel nomination deadline was in early February...just a few weeks after President Obama took office. I hadn't really thought about it, and it's actually a very valid point. Although my answer is that those Nobel guys have some really stellar instincts, because I believe his diplomacy and outreach since taking office are more than worthy of the award.

Or, you could sum it up in what I consider the "Headline Of The Year," from

"Did Obama Win The Prize for Not Being Bush?"

Anyway, another thing I've been mulling is the Kenyan reaction to the award. Shortly after the announcement, I heard several newsroom staffers say that Obama is the second Kenyan to win a Nobel, after environmental activist Wangari Maathai. I wrote a little column about it. Like to read it? Here it goes:


Applauding the ‘second Kenyan’ to win the prize

By RACHEL JONESPosted Friday, October 9 2009 at 20:26

Last November, after I described what Barack H. Obama’s election to the US Presidency meant to me as an African American, one of my Daily Nation colleagues posed a provocative question: “Why is it that whenever African Americans reflect on a major accomplishment, they always evoke their history of oppression?”


Well, on the day after the first African American president was also awarded a Nobel Peace Prize, I would like to pose an equally intriguing query: Why is President Obama being called the second Kenyan to win a Nobel Prize? I am not raising this issue to pick a fight, or suggest that it dampens my extraordinarily joyous emotion.

Rather, I am inquiring about that Kenyan label for President Obama because over the past year, I’ve been at turns delighted and puzzled by Kenya’s relationship with him. I felt unusually lucky to experience Election Day on his ancestral soil, but I also spent a lot of time cautioning that his Kenyan link would be tenuous at best.

Sure enough, when America’s Kenya policy began focusing less on blood ties than on post-election blood-letting, the bloom fell off the rose. When his first visit to the continent did NOT include a trip to the Kenyan Mamaland, that rose withered considerably.

And when the meddlesome nexus of Ranneberger, Clinton, Ocampo, and Annan became too much for proud Kenyans to bear, I considered booking my safe passage to JKIA before the forced deportation of Americans began.

But for now, I breathe a bit easier, because a “second Kenyan” has been awarded one of the highest honours known to humankind. I find it both funny and touching, this desire for a largely oppressed people to claim a global success story as their own.

To me, it embodies an innate craving for recognition by a group of people who endured extraordinary challenges and disenfranchisement, and who may still face considerable trials. They want the world’s acknowledgement that “one of our own” has done us proud. Perhaps Africans and African Americans are not so different, after all!

Granted, I still wish I were in Washington, DC, just for the next week. If I were in America, it would be more than appropriate for me to cry openly, because other black Americans would likely be teary-eyed too.

When President Obama and I were toddlers, Americans of African descent were still being lynched and beaten and cruelly discriminated against throughout the American South. And yes, 40 years later, a new day has dawned.

Perhaps we should just “get over it” and focus on the way forward, instead of peering over our shoulders at the past. So, let’s just applaud this African American, or Kenyan — or maybe we just settle on “extraordinary human being of African descent” — whose bright gleam is being cast around the globe.

Friday, October 9, 2009

O.....M....G..... To the Nth Degree....

I really don't know how much more of this week my heart will be able to stand!

Just got the news that President Barack H. Obama has just won the Nobel Peace Prize.

In the space of one year, I have lived to see a black man elected US President, AND to see that same man win a Nobel Peace Prize.

Be careful what you wish for. Thankfully, I was careful when I insisted on expecting great things this week.

FINALLY, my heart is racing, and I'm sweating, and about to cry, for reasons other than hormonal disturbance!

Thank you, God, for letting me live to witness this day!

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Denim Denouement, Indeed!

Those tailor-made blue jeans I just wrote about?? They possess magical properties. I just got home from one of the Top 5 best dates of my entire life wearing those bad boys. (And just in case your mind takes you there, they did NOT come off. They were never even unbuttoned!)

PLEASE bear with me, because that's really all I can say about it right now. Don't wanna jinx anything. But DAY-um, when I predicted on Monday that this was gonna be an interesting week, I had absolutely no freakin' idea whatsoever!

A Perfect Fit

You know, I never really had a formal rite of passage, so I'm starting to make plans for one in a couple years. You can probably guess why I would like to have one, say, in October of 2011.

Anyway, until that fateful event, I think I'll take a cue from my friend Katherine, who flew to Paris earlier this year and had herself fitted for the penultimate bra, by this legendary lingerie design house. Katherine wrote about the experience for More magazine, and last time I was in New York, she showed me that bra. At first glance, you might think it's not much different than anything you might buy off the rack, especially some of the more high-end brands.

But then, when you look closer, you realize the stitching is impeccable, and the quality of the material is unmatched in any department store. It was so light and film-y, it was like cradling a whisper. Yet somehow, it was so architecturally sound, you come to understand that this item was designed exclusively for one woman. Every detail, down to length and width of straps, type of clasp, curve of the cups, was meant specifically for Katherine, and just wouldn't do a thing for the next woman who might walk up to the rack and try it on.

I am TOTALLY determined to have that experience during my 50th year of life. Right along with the tummy tuck and getting my eye-bags hoovered. But until then, I've found the next best transformational rite of passage: tailored blue jeans.

You see, throughout my entire life, I can only remember one time that a pair of off-the-rack jeans fit me almost perfectly. They were from Banana Republic, a shop I had steadfastly avoided until my friend Marcy insisted I could find a pair there. I had always dismissed stores like BR and Anne Taylor because the few times I entered, every item screamed "Only 20-Somethings With No Hips Allowed; May We Show You Something In an Exit Sign?"

The saddest part is that when I was a 20-something with no hips, I was way too traditional and boring to shop for trendy clothes. In fact, I've really only started getting into fashion within the past decade. I can even pin-point the exact dawn of my fashion consciousness---Post 9/11, when I truly embraced the twin concepts of "tomorrow is not promised," and "cleavage is there for a reason...use it."

Anyway, that pair of Size 6R Banana Republic Jeans were a real revelation for me. As a child, I never had brand new clothing, and learned to sew to either make my own simple designs, or to adequately cobble together hand-me-downs or thrift store bargains. Those Banana Republic jeans were the perfect length, not too tight through the thighs, and had no gaps at the waist, which I'd always endured with blue jeans thanks to a near life-long bubble butt. I was SO thrilled, I paid full price for those suckas, something I rarely do.

The only other time I paid full price for a pair of jeans was during another New York trip, when I noticed a Diesel store across the street from my "temple"--Bloomingdale's. I knew the brand name, and decided it would be incredibly hip and daring to shop there. I found a pair of jeans that fit mostly. They gapped a bit at the waist, but were a good length, and I could sit down comfortably. I almost fell down while paying $175 for them, but figured I'd only do it once in my life.

I gave those jeans away last year, as I was leaving Gulu, I think. My weight has gone up and down so much, thanks mostly to my African journeys. I was a size 4 after my Gulu stint, a 6 after a few months in Nairobi, a 12 this past April, and now I'm a 10. And because I really think this size makes sense for me, and intend to maintain it, I decided to have a pair of jeans tailor- made to fit me. I had about 5 pair hanging in my closet: a couple from the US that I'd had to have taken in at the waist and hemmed, and a couple of local purchases of inferior quality and uneasy fit. What if I had a pair of jeans that didn't need to be hemmed, didn't cut me off at the waist or gap up at the back, and made my thighs look toned and me feel dangerous?

It's possible, y'all, because I'm wearing the aforementioned article today. With a daring, draping fuschia blouse and the wide elastic and leather belt I bought on the street in Rio last year, and which always makes me feel like I actually have a smokin' waist. And here's the thing...I've logged about five admiring tushie glances so far, and the day is only half over! Now, I'd like to think that guys have been ogling my butt all along, but I just wasn't noticing it. There's just something about wearing the perfect jeans that makes you hyper aware. I am the Blue-Jean Packin' SHIZ-nit today!

Anyway, I highly recommend having your own denim denouement. And even though I don't look anything like the woman in the picture up top, it's okay, because NOBODY looks like the woman in the picture up top, except the woman in the picture up top. Get it????
Trust me on this, a pair of jeans designed just for you is the next best thing to feeling comfortable in your own skin. And when you got both things goin' on, look out, world!

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

A Modest Proposal

Technical difficulties prevented me from posting this in a more timely manner. But before I reveal the fateful events of the evening of October 6, 2009, I must be clear about one thing....

It felt freakin' sweet to know that Homey the Chef had the hots for me, majorly! I could tell by his demeanor when he asked for my card when I left Lamu. I mean, it's been a while since a guy was totally into me, but not so long that I've forgotten what that feels like.

But even though there were all these "different world" vibes flowing, I agreed to see Homey this evening primarily to let myself be wooed. To reconnect with that kind of palpable admiration. And, frankly, to be 100 percent convinced that the guy sitting across from you would tear your clothes off if given half the chance. A woman needs to feel that energy every now and then, you dig?

So even when Homey responded to my text message earlier today by calling me "baby Rachel," I wasn't deterred. One part of my brain thought it was creepy and forced, like a line he probably uses on lots of women. And it was clearly inappropriate for use with me, 'cuz he don't know me like that. But you know what? For a moment, it was sweet to be called "baby," even in a cheesebag kinda way.

So I let it slide, and actually started looking forward to seeing him again. When he approached me in front of the building after work, I definitely wasn't shocked or disappointed. Homey has a pleasant face, a nice smile, the mustache I remembered, a bald head I hadn't seen because of the chef's hat, and he was shorter than I'd figured, about my height. (Like I said, I mostly saw him when I was sitting down and chowing down.) But the way he greeted me...WOW! It's like he smiled with his whole head. His eyes lit up. He looked at me and looked down, and then looked back at me, with a mixture of admiration and, well, lust.

Anyway, we walked over to a restaurant near the office and traded small talk and recipes. And he kept pausing, and staring deep into my eyes, and then he'd just bust out laughing with this huge smile and say, "I am so, so happy! My heart is full." I kept asking him why, and he dodged the question for a while. But then he said, "I will not scare you if I tell you what's in my heart?" I said no. Then he said, "I love you. When I first saw you, I thought you were so, so beautiful."

The Rachel of a year ago would have snorted in his face and suggested that he cut the crap. But I just let him talk. Again, it was kinda nice to have a man be so utterly besotted! Homey was about to earn himself a goodnight kiss, maybe even with a little tongue thrown in for good measure, if he kept this up. But then I learned that the Chivalrous Chef had buried the lede somewhat. Even though I give him mad props for honesty, it was at this point that Homey gave it to me straight, no chaser.

He asked me to be his second wife.

His first wife is 39, like him, and they have 3 children, 15, 11 and 6. Homey even told her about me. He explained she'd probably need to meet me before giving her approval, but he didn't think that would be a problem.

Now, the Rachel of a year ago would have responded by asking if he was nuts before storming off in a self-righteous huff. But the me I am now was actually kinda flattered. Dumbstruck nearly speechless, mind you, but also mildly impressed with myself. After all, when Homey pledged his troth, he already knew I had just turned 48. For a Muslim man to ask an "Old Mama" like me for her hand in marriage is actually kinda cool.

But damn, that came so far out of left field, I was utterly gobsmacked. Eventually, I recovered enough to explain to him that in my culture, his request was not only immoral but illegal. And that when I found the man I wanted to marry, I would not want to share him with another woman. At first, it seemed Homey really couldn't comprehend what I was saying. He kept asking, "Are you sure?" Then he asked me to take "some few days" to consider. Then he resorted to outright pleading.

It took about an hour, but I finally made him understand that I would never become Mrs. Homey the Second. And I know it's wrong of me, but I actually relished the genuine disappointment on his face! Homey looked gutted in a way that ran deeper than just regret over not getting laid that evening. It was like he had really been psyching himself up for a new addition to the family, because in his mind, he had a shot.

That's when I realized this improbable, insane, outrageous thing just happened to me for an important reason. As I began the process of Deconstructing Homey after we parted ways, I knew he came into my life to teach me about taking chances, about putting myself out there, about believing in the possibilities instead of automatically closing myself off. From the minute he laid eyes on me, Homey wasn't deterred by the fact that I was American, or beautiful, or older, or from a different social class, or anything else that might have made me "out of his league." It was plain old love/lust at first sight, and Homey went for it.

In a big way, that's what I did by agreeing to meet him, too. And I'm not the least bit disappointed! I'm actually deeply touched by his earnest, heartfelt proposal. It reminds me of what's possible, when I'm not afraid to put myself out there. And just a minute ago, Homey sent me the sweetest text message I've ever received:

"If I'm out of time, and I could pick one day, one moment and keep it new, of all the days I have lived, I would pick the day I met you. My heart is very painful. Rachel, goodnite."

See?? I told you it was going to be a week full of surprises. And hell, it's only Tuesday....

Higher Ground

Y'all can hate on Hollywood ascetics like Marianne Williamson all you want, but I've been a believer for a lotta years. And after last night, I am now a devotee. You see, last night I received a long-distance "healing" while watching her on "Oprah."

But let me back up a minute. Basically, Marianne Williamson literally saved my life back in January of 1996, when I got drop-kicked by the love of my life, the Numb-Nut Norwegian. That was a really, really, REALLY dark period for me. After he dumped me via voicemail the day after New Year's (which was two days after his wedding ceremony that he neglected to mention), for a while I thought I only had one choice left in life: jumping off a bridge or walking in front of a speeding tractor trailer.

Fortunately, I have really, really, REALLY good friends who were determined not to let that happen. Like my best friend Faith who flew me out to San Diego for a week. During that trip, I read Marianne Williamson's book, "A Return to Love." I don't really remember what made me buy it, especially as emotionally destroyed as I was, but I must have just been grasping at straws.

Anyway, even if you don't know who Marianne Williamson is, you've probably seen this quote or some portion of it somewhere:

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

Through all the raw, gut-wrenching, soul-shattering pain I was drowning in, those words connected a few wildly misfiring neurons in my brain. Oh, it took a year or two to approach something even vaguely resembling healing, but reading that passage while I was contemplating "checking out" over a man whose callous behavior had left me feeling worthless and rejected was transformational.
I think I read that book at least a hundred times while fighting my way out of the abyss. And even though it hasn't been roses and lollipops for me in the relationship realm ever since, somehow, I'm able stay connected to my core.........

At least mostly. I gotta admit that with my latest bout of mid-life "Flashdancing," I was starting to falter. At times, it's been too easy to visualize myself just withering on the vine, and that there's not a whole lot to look forward to once this misery ends. Without question, my symptoms of the past month or so have been the worst I've experienced, and that's really saying something.

Fortunately, I've found a good doctor here in Nairobi who's helping me move toward a diet and therapy routine that should help. But what seems to have instantly helped was watching Marianne Williamson and Oprah discussing women who'd had amazing mid-life epiphanies. One woman was a successful Cincinnati DJ for nearly 30 years, but never felt fulfilled until she quit and opened a florist's shop. She makes about 20 percent of her former salary and never felt more joy and energy. Another woman got laid off as an investment banker and started making designer chocolates. A 63 year old lawyer said her biggest accomplishment in life was earning her 4th degree black belt, starting when she was 50. The whole show was about embracing new chapters of life, and not letting fear of aging paralyze us.

There I sat with the fan pointed straight at me, reflecting on the next phase of my own life with all the joy and anticipation that accompanies a scalding hot coffee enema. But during that program, something shifted. What if I started thinking of what I'm going through as a "Graduation Ceremony" instead of a "Death Knell"? What if instead of dreading the uncomfortable physical symptoms down to the depths of my soul, I stopped resisting and just let them flow over me? What if I focused on how strong I am, and every other woman who's possessed my DNA is and has been, and how I can conquer this natural phase of life with the same willpower and fortitude that they used to get through life?

"What if I KNEW I was powerful beyond measure?"

Once again, the wildly misfiring neurons settled down. I felt a lot calmer when that program ended. Hell, I even turned the fan off for a while! And the funny thing is, I slept a lot easier last night. The sheets weren't as soggy, and my mind wasn't racing. This morning, instead of turning my back to the dawn, dreading the start of a new day, I rolled over and actually let the sunlight wash over me. And halfway through the next day, I really do feel a lot better than I've felt in weeks.

That ain't nothing but the power of of "The Big O," honey chile. With a little assist from Ms. Williamson, to whom I now owe a double debt. Through the sheer force of her words, she has once again pulled me up from the depths towards higher ground, just like Stevie Wonder always does with his music.

People keep on learnin'
Soldiers keep on warrin'
World keep on turnin'
Cause it won't be too long.

Powers keep on lyin'
While your people keep on dyin'
World keep on turnin'
Cause it wont be too long.

I'm so darn glad He let me try it again
Cause my last time on Earth I lived a whole world of sin
I'm so glad that I know more than I knew then
Gonna keep on tryin'
Till I reach the highest ground.

Teachers keep on teachin'
Preachers keep on preachin'
World keep on turnin'
Cause it wont be too long.

Lovers keep on lovin'
Believers keep on believin'
Sleepers just stop sleepin'
Cause it wont be too long.

I'm so glad that He let me try it again
Cause my last time on Earth I lived a whole world of sin
I'm so glad that I know more than I knew then
Gonna keep on tryin
Till I reach my highest ground.

Till I reach my highest ground.

No one's gonna bring me down
Till I reach my highest ground.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Great Expectations

I get the feeling it's DEFINITELY gonna be an interesting week. I knew it from the moment I saw myself in the paper this morning.

No, it wasn't one of those Sci-Fi Channel scenarios where you get a glimpse into the future through an unlikely means, or some random crowd shot that I happened to be a part of. After reading a Nairobi Star story about the government assessing the needs of 200,000 Internally Displaced Persons who still live in tented camps, I shifted focus to the accompanying photo. First, I studied the faces of the children, because I'm always inspired by how they can continue to smile and be playful even in the most dire surroundings. Then I noticed the man in the foreground handing out cookies to the kids. That guy looked vaguely familiar, but I didn't think much of it. Then I noticed the ragged condition of the dusty tents. And then I noticed...

Me. There I stood, staring at my Blackberry. I had probably just snapped some child's face and was checking to see how the picture had turned out. I always do that in those settings; you've probably seen some of my online photo albums of child refugees. Turns out the picture was taken during my very first trip to the Maai Mahiu IDP camp, when I was accompanying a Nairobi Star reporter for a story on Kenyan mental health. They just used a file photo from that trip for today's story.

It probably wasn't a completely random choice, because I've been working with Star reporters on health issues, so Star staffers know who I am. In fact, come to think of it, the photographer's camera was losing power halfway through our trip, and I let him borrow mine. So, today's Nairobi Star photo of me at an IDP camp was likely taken with my very own camera!

After a year of being bludgeoned by outrageous scandals from Kenyan public officials, nothing much surprises me in the pages of local newspapers. This morning definitely did the trick. Can't wait to see what else surprises me this week....

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Y'all so CRAZY!!!!

It is a doggone shame that the first order of business on my birthday has to be updating my crazy readers on yesterday's post! (I'm praying for ALL of y'all, okay???)

I had barely pushed the button on it when my girl Dorothy sent an email with the subject line, "Red Snapper." She giddily reminded me that my sister Marilyn's future husband showed up at her front door looking for directions, and that maybe this is my turn. Another email subject line from Joan screamed, "Call Homey!" And she reminded me that when we do meet, I need to make sure I had all the necessary ingredients ready, if you catch my drift. And then Denice was all, "Have a great birthday with Idris!"

First off, y'all need to stop playin', okay? You know good and hell well that if Homey had looked even vaguely like my dream lover Idris Elba, I never would have left Lamu in the first place! In that you can best believe. Ironically, that's a big part of my dilemma now, because I truly don't remember much about how Homey looked! I know he had a mustache, and I think he was tall, but then, I mostly saw him when I was sitting down grubbing on his food, so of course he seemed tall! Oh, and I never saw him without his chef's hat, so I don't know what shape his head is in. But then, even though I'm not totally shallow, I probably would have lied and told him I was fresh out of cards if he'd been completely hideous.

Anyway, by popular demand, here is a quick update on yesterday's events. I responded to Homey's text by welcoming him to Nairobi, and hoping he's having a great time. I also reminded him that I think of his coconut battered snapper quite often! Then I asked how long he'd be in town. He replied "2 weeks."

So, I've offered to buy him a drink one evening next week. He replied, "Ok, hakuna matata. Me, am free any day. Arrange." Now, for those of you who suggested I let him come to the Oasis and cook for me, here is my response:

"Have you lost your ever-lovin' minds???" First, for all I know, this guy could have
received his training from the Sweeney Todd Culinary Institute. He might want to sample my cerebellum with some fava beans and a nice chianti. Hence, our first meeting will be at a public, heavily-trafficked venue. Then we'll we see what's on the menu.

Anyway, now that I've got y'all straight, it's time to get this birthday thang underway. I'm treating myself to brunch and then an aromatherapy massage/oxygen facial combo, courtesy of the Archangel Julie's earthly representative, my dear brother-in-law Ron. And I'm just gonna stay focused on the blessings that another year of life can hold.

Friday, October 2, 2009

"What's Cookin'?"

I have just received the 'hottest' text message of my entire life.

It came from the chef at the Lamu Island guest lodge I visited back in August with my buddy Ron. Remember the fish I raved so much about that Ron called me a "snapper whore?" Well, the chef, who henceforth shall be referred to as "Homey," is the guy who's responsible. (Not for me being a snapper whore, just for preparing all the great food.)

Anyhoo, after praising his fresh, simply elegant cuisine each day, I left Homey a nice tip and and my hearty thanks as we departed. His gracious response included a request for my business card. Homey said he traveled to Nairobi frequently, and being an inveterate networker, I slipped him the card and jokingly invited him to make me some coconut battered-red snapper next time he hit town.

So why was I shocked when he actually called about a week later? First of all, I hate to admit it, but it's pitifully rare for me to hear a male voice on my cellphone. When I do hear one, I go into automatic business mode. Homey's deep, Swahili-inflected tones threw me so much, it was a rather awkward and incredibly brief conversation. He asked if I had made it home safely, and I said yes. I think I asked him how were things on Lamu, and he said fine. Silence ensued, and he quickly rang off. Afterwards, I felt guilty for being so reserved and hesitant, because I had given him my card, after all.

So the next time Homey called, I was more friendly. It was still a short conversation, but I could tell he was encouraged by my response. So encouraged that he called a third time. But I didn't think too much about it. Frankly, I considered those occasional chats as PR for my next trip to Lamu.

Okay, by this point you're thinking, "Can this heifer PLEASE get to the point she raised at the beginning???" Okay, here it is, in the form of the text I just received from Homey:

"Hi Rachel. Long time since we communicated. Now I am in Nairobi. If there's anything u want to be cooked, I am available. Have a nice time."

Hmm, where to start??? "Yeah, Homey. I got something I need you to whip, pound and fricassee. Can you say 'shake and bake'?"

FYI, that's as crude as I intend to get, in case you were wondering. But I'm so flummoxed because Homey's timing is astounding! And it's not even about HIM, per se. Actually, I really don't even remember what he looked like, although I recall not being repulsed or anything. This is more about my life, and its ingredients. Lately, I've been having a hard time remembering what a baseline of contentedness feels like. Between the hot flashes and the sad flashbacks of late, I've been overly focused on what's wrong, or missing, or broken.

This time of year is a convenient opportunity to plop myself down in the "Twilight Zone Marathon" of general frustration, sadness and self-pity. But something else I read in the October "O" magazine the other day also flipped a switch. Life Coach Martha Beck brilliantly captured my current zeitgeist with her concept of the "Designated Issue." This "Lifetime Movie Drama of the Moment" is blamed for all your life's woes, when it's really just a flimsy cover for other significant ongoing turmoil.

For me, what this means is that as an (almost) 48 year old woman who seriously needs to not only feather a nest, but to actually build one in the first place, mourning my sister's passing is only the tip of my "Overall Life Issues Iceberg." I need to settle down somewhere, to commit to a place. I need to be more open and receptive to finding my life partner and committing to him, in whatever form he appears. On the other hand, I need to ensure I'm not a bag lady 20 years from now, whether I'm still alone or not. And I need to jealously guard my health and make wise choices about my diet, stress levels and overall physical fitness.

But as long as I stay focused on my "Designated Issue," I avoid these other critical challenges. I've been digesting that article ever since, and it really makes a lot of sense. I have to be more mindful and honest about my life and where I am mentally, physically and emotionally, instead of ducking for whatever convenient "cover" is available.

So....the journey of a 1,000 miles begins with the first step. Which would be responding to "Homey's" text message. But lest you think I plan to live up to Ron's fishy slut label, it ain't that kinda party. I'm just just gonna stir the pot a bit, to see what's cookin'.

Stay tuned.