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.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Talkin' Turkey

I was dressed and almost on my way out the door before remembering that today is Thanksgiving in America. There was a time, enshrined in the mists of memory, when I'd have rolled out of bed before sunrise on this day, and headed straight to the kitchen for some serious strategizing.

"Should I go ahead and make the pies now so they can be cooled and settled, or should I just spend the morning chopping veggies? And how much time will I need to let the bread dough rise twice? Or maybe the morning should just focus on scrubbing floors and dusting? Oh, and is there enough wine, or soda, or whatever beverage might be required??"

But this is the third year in a row I've been outside the US during Thanksgiving. I'll probably never forget my first Expat Turkey Day, because it was about a month after Julie died, and it was in Gulu. I actually could have had some poultry that time, if I'd been willing to murder the gift I'd received after returning to Uganda from her funeral. But I still haven't grasped the concept of eating something you've actually met, so I passed on slaughtering my "welcome back chicken" to mark the holiday.

I'm actually having trouble remembering what I did for Thanksgiving 2006. Ditto 2005. But I'll certainly never forget Turkey Day 2004, when I worked like an Alabama fieldhand preparing a spectacular feast for the Ambivalent Archivist I was dating. From the minute we agreed to spend the day together, I vowed to woo him into submission with my culinary skill. Sure, I wasn't in love with him, and didn't even want a long term relationship. But because I knew he felt the same way about me, every feminine wile in my body was ignited. Using sex on demand and near-gourmet food, I was determined to make this man cleave to me. This would grant me the overall victory, and improved leverage for dumping rights, I concluded.

Anyway, I became absolutely OBSESSED with forcing the Ambivalent Archivist to sample butternut squash. While vetting potential recipes, he mentioned never having tried it, and not really wanting to. Oh, HELL no, I said to myself. You gon' eat my butternut squash risotto, and you will fall prostrate at my feet in sheer bliss and gratitude that I led you to this Pulpy Promised Land.

I also brined a turkey overnight for the first time in my life, using garbage bags, because I didn't have a pan big enough hold the bird and the gallons of brine. AND I made sweet potato pies. And homemade rolls. There were other mouth-watering entries, but you get the drift. I figured after he finished eating, and getting sexed up a few times, this man would have no other choice but on-the-spot commitment.

Well, to his credit, the Ambivalent Archivist ate the risotto without flinching, even said he liked it. He went back three times for everything else, and then we flopped onto my sectional couch and watched a Marx Brothers Marathon on TCM. Then he fell asleep. Then I fell asleep. I think we both woke up around dawn the next day, and then he got up, thanked me for everything, and went home. No nookie transpired, tragically.

Suffice it to say, I am not currently Mrs. Ambivalent Archivist. But that experience definitely marked a big turning point in how I view holidays in general. Ever since the Jones Family "Death-Off" began in 2003, my own notions of family have taken a hit. My siblings are doing their own thing, and I'm doing mine, and there's not really a solid center of gravity anymore. So my theory these days is that unless you're part of an immediate family unit with a mate and/or children of your own, holidays mostly just do not compute.

As a single woman nearing age 50, I'm fairly lucky. If I were in the US now, I'd probably snag quite a few invites to join in on other people's Turkey Day feasts. But there's no denying my status as "Perennial Fifth Wheel," or more bluntly stated, "Old-Assed Social Orphan."

I mean, what the hell do you DO with me? I'd be pretty content to sit at the kids' table for the most part, so that's a plus. I find large gatherings of (well-behaved) children quite refreshing, especially when I know I can walk away at any time. But with the adult crowd, how do you explain who the hell I am??? "This is Rachel, a dear friend who has nowhere else to go." Then of course there's the option of trying to pair me with your Cousin Leonard, who's about the same age and either thrice divorced or has 4 baby-mommas and a teensy substance abuse problem, and who's hasn't worked in 12 years. And who has to get back to the Halfway House before 8 PM, so we'd better go ahead and start eating now.

Oh, well, enough of this self-absorbed riff. I did actually have a pretty cool Thanksgiving last year in Nairobi, but the folks who threw that catered bash opted out this time. I'm dining on Indian food with a few friends tonight, at a place I haven't tried but hear is really good. If that's true, I'll be very thankful for that. But I chose the cartoon above as a way of summarizing yet another Expat Thanksgiving Experience. The frustration of not quite being understood, the sense of deflation and loss, and more often than not, the prospect of staring at a plate full of something that will surely NOT satisfy what you're truly craving.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

A Numbers Game

Kenyan media recently highlighted a demographic survey which finds the average Kenyan man has about 7.6 sexual partners. (That ".6" offers even more incontrovertible proof that most men would bonk anything with a pulse...arms, legs or other critical organs are optional.) For graphic illustration purposes, I have rounded that statistic upwards (see accompanying photo).

By anybody's standards, especially in a country with lots of HIV/AIDS-related challenges, that statistic denotes sheer madness. But it also yields insight into my relationship challenges in Kenya. Specifically, it offered instant clarification for what happened last Saturday afternoon, when the colleague who'd suggested getting together for coffee never showed up.

I'd noticed this guy in the newsroom, but he always seemed so busy....AND so young. I'm guessing he's in his early 30's. (Don't worry, I'm not closing any doors and windows in that respect, but I'm not going out of my way to open them, either.) I always spoke and smiled when our paths crossed, and never gave it a second thought. But when another colleague gave me a tribal name that just happened to be the same as this young colleague's mother's, he made a move.

He started stopping by my desk to talk, or to offer a snack. I jokingly told him about an encounter with an "overly friendly" guy from his home village, which he assured me was proof of his tribe's romantic prowess.

(What part of that dialogue did NOT contain my first clue, you may well be asking yourselves???)

Anyway, when he suggested getting together, I admit I hesitated. Maybe he doesn't know how old I am, I thought. Maybe when we're sitting over our lattes and he finds out I'm 5 years younger than his mother or something, he'll bolt. Frankly, I'd rather stay home and catch up on my "East Enders" reruns than face that kind of rejection.

But I said "yes." Nothing ventured, nothing gained, I told myself. Maybe he's enlightened and unintimidated by older women. Or maybe he's looking for a Sugar Mummy, which if his sugar was sweet enough, I wouldn't turn it down. Or maybe he'll just be a new person to hang out with. I gave him my number, and suggested he call or text if anything came up.

I don't REALLY have to go into specific details, do I??? Bottom line, not only did this guy not show up, he didn't text, and he didn't call. Now, you know how most women automatically go for the emotional default button in situations like this, and spend far too much time rationalizing, "He must have been in a traffic accident, or had an appendicitis attack, because surely that's the only way he would be so clueless and insensitive as to waste my time by not showing up or calling, right?"

Well, earlier today this guy came and stood by my desk, wearing a sheepish, cheese-eating grin, and whispered conspiratorily, "I shall explain to you later what happened." It's been a while since I was completely stunned, but that did the trick for a few seconds. When I recovered, I said that all he really needed to tell me was what happened. "Lay-TAH," he decreed, in that quaint Kenyan way, before walking off.

Now, I axe you, all the Single Ladies in the house--and in fact any ladies reading this--"On what planet would it be okay for some schmuck to walk up to you, 3 days after standing you up, and declare that an explanation is forthcoming....and NOT get his kidneys ripped out and stuffed up his nostrils, at least verbally, anyways???"

Why, "Planet Kenya,"that's where! It's a place where men have 7.6 sexual partners, and that's just the average guys. If you have money and power here, your scope is limitless! In my colleague's mind, I'm guessing, not only is it okay to make a date and not show up, you've got a built-in excuse. You are juggling 6.6 other women, after all. Scheduling can be a real bear, unless you have a personal assistant to help you juggle things. (Except you'd probably have to screw her, too, which would eat up even more of your precious time!)

Anyway, this little vignette is my way of answering one dear reader's query about why I don't share more of my relationship hijinks in this blog. This posting should clear things up once and for all. In nearly seventeen months in Kenya, I have had the following brushes with intimacy:

1. A GREAT DATE (I thought), followed by non-communication for 5 months, then a phone call to reconnect, during which he apologized for the disappearing act by saying, "I enjoyed meeting you, but there was no 'spark,' and I didn't want to just f--k you."

2. Another great date, followed by a phone call 10 minutes after parting in which I was told he had far too much going on in his life to pursue anything. (I give this guy mad props either for SINCERE SELF AWARENESS or SHREWD EFFICIENCY.)

3. A marriage proposal from a Muslim chef who gets STRAIGHT A-PLUSES for being willing to accept a 2nd wife who is 8 years older than him, and who would be more likely to sprout a third boob than produce his second set of children.

4. What I am convinced will be a HIGHLY ENTERTAINING explanation (which shall be forthcoming, forsooth) from a Junior Leaguer who stood me up.

I'm sorry, dear readers, but the numbers just don't add up for me over here. Agewise, the men I'm attracted to are already married AND have girlfriends I could have birthed. OR if they're younger guys, they think of me as a kindly, vaguely hip "Auntie" who when she takes off her makeup and industrial strength Spanx probably resembles Miss Jane Pittman. I would LOVE to spice up this blog a bit with some juicy episodes, but I'm not willing to change my name to Rasheedah, contract a deadly disease, suffer fools, or otherwise stand in line at the "Jiffy Lube of Love," waiting to be serviced a few times a month.

So for the time being, until "Big Guy in the Sky" stops being so freakin' obsessed with famine, war, and geopolitical drama and sends me a viable male humanoid, the most dishin' you'll get from me is about who's sleeping with whom on "East Enders."

Sunday, November 22, 2009


I've spent most of the weekend questioning the existence of God, in a way that didn't happen during during the darkest periods of my life.

Even when all the tragic personal life stuff went down in recent years, I was always able to cling to a core belief in a Higher Power who may not have hooked me up when I wanted, but who was always right on time, somehow. All that changed yesterday morning, when I opened a local paper and read about Ben Stiller spending a week in Gulu, Uganda recently, hanging out with kids in a Save the Children project.

Fate can be a really lackadaisically random BITCH most times! I mean, it's hard enough to even admit you're a fan of movies like "The Cable Guy," and "Zoolander," and "Meet the Parents" after a certain point in life (And did you see how buff Ben was in "Tropic Thunder'?? Me likey...). People want you to be all serious and deep when you get to be my age, but that maturity stuff never completely gelled for me. I just like to laugh 'til I choke most times, usually at really asinine stuff. I can appreciate nuanced satire, too, but generally speaking, I enjoy a rip-snorting, juvenile comedy like the ones Ben Stiller directs and stars in. (I've drawn the line at "Night at the Museum 1 and 2" so far, but figure I'll eventually catch 'em on cable.)

Anyway, suffice it to say I'm a really ginormous fan of Ben Stiller. So to sit there and read that he had spent a week in Gulu...TWO YEARS AFTER I LEFT.... was just too breathtakingly cruel. My closest brushes with stardom during my Northern Uganda stint were having lunch at the Boma Hotel while Ewan McGregor was staying there doing research for a movie, and talking to a guy who had rounded up SUV's for one of the Google founders to travel to an IDP camp.

If I were still living in Gulu, I'd have found a way to hang out with Ben Stiller. I'd have tried not to stalk him, or anything, but we would have met. And I'm pretty sure I could have wrested him away from that bony Marcia Brady look-alike wife of his, too. We'd have definitely clicked.

But NOOOOOOOO, I have to read about him spending a week in the hell-hole I lived in for seven months!! And if I'm really honest with myself, I'm also pissed because he'll probably make a movie about it, based on that week's visit, and film part of it on a Hollywood sound set and the rest in rural Mississippi (the closest thing to Gulu America has to offer.)

Yo, Big Guy in the Sky, dude, throw a sister a bone down here......

Friday, November 20, 2009

"I'm Just Sayin', Dawg," Part 12

Picture it. Nakumatt Superstore, Suburban Nairobi, 2009. I'd dashed in just for a bottle of wine to take to a dinner party, but the siren song of the popcorn stand near checkout wore me down. I walked over, smiled politely and asked one of the two young men standing near the stand for a bag.

He paused and said, "Are you eating it while you shop, or will you be taking it with you?"

Curious question. In my head, I was all, like, "Brah, if I wanna shove every kernel of it up my ass, it ain't your concern. Why you all up in my Kool Aid????"

But I caught myself and said, "I'm just heading out the door, thanks." He scooped up the golden nuggets, filling it almost to the brim, and then placed it beside the machine. I reached for the bag. The young man actually pulled it from my grasp, reached down into a drawer, retrieved a stapler, folded the top of the bag and then stapled it closed. Three times.

ANYEURYSM ALERT!!! Dude, WTF? Once again, one of the myriad cultural nuances of expat life had reared its deformed little head. What is it about Kenya that makes service people staple, fold, tape, and stamp the bejeezus out of every receipt, bag, or envelope during every transaction???

That's when I knew for sure: "Dear Sweet Baby Christ on a Cracker, I need a week in America real soon."

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

Beside the Point

Okay, I confess...I'm still thinking about Dakar's Stupendo Statue. Here's a sideways view of it. Yeah, yeah, I know it's a sin and a shame that Senegal found $30 million dollars for the project, when there were so many other good uses for that money.

But damn, that thing is awesome! Just found out it's the tallest monument in the world, standing 150 meters high. You almost have to see it to even believe it.

My friend Brenda helped put it all in perspective. She reminded me that there are many bones encased in the pyramids of Egypt, from the thousands of workers who died building it. When it comes to statues, monuments, and memorials, humans can be relentless about ignoring practicality.


Second "Snapshot Nairobi"

This picture, taken right out in front of my building yesterday morning, works for me on so many different levels. In case you can't read the lettering on the back of this bright yellow smock, it says, "Corruption is Evil, Parking Attendant."

Okay, I've been here now almost 17 months, and it would be a pretty safe bet that Yellow Smock Guy is actually extracting a bribe in this very instant, before signalling to some half-starved urchin to move away from this guy's bumper and allow him to exit the parking space. (Hey, you gotta admit the urchin strategy is a lot cheaper than a mechanical boot.)

Next, while I can appreciate these walking billboards for a less corrupt society, I can't help thinking the people who need to be ruminating on this message are getting somewhat of a pass. The average citizen ekeing out a grim existence on a dollar a day already knows corruption is evil. That's why they're living on a dollar a day...and probably can't even afford a parking space. Mayhaps a few of these walking billboards should be employed in the halls of Parliament???

Finally, can a sister get a big "DUH!" from her peeps? Hells YEAH, corruption is evil! How bout fleshing out that message like this: "Corruption is strangling the soul of of our nation, and until we decide to prioritize the basic well-being of the many over the luxury of the few, we are surely doomed?"

But wait, all that lettering would cost too much money, and there are far better uses for it. I hope I'm still here when those uses are actually employed.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

It's a Wrap

I guess I've said all I need to say about my quick trip to Dakar, except for this...I was almost torn limb from limb in a fit of religious fervor while trying to purchase a few more hilariously lewd Senegalese undergarments called "pagnes." Seriously!

With just a few hours left before flying out last Tuesday, I headed to Marche HLM, the main market in Dakar. I was told that's the best place to find pagnes. When I got there, I stopped at a stall near the entrance, where a woman was sitting beside a pile of cloth. With my high school French, I asked, "Je veut acheter pagnes." (I THINK that meant "I want to buy pagnes.") She looked at me like I had a third eye nestled on the tip of my nose.

Luckily, I had thought to bring mine along as an example, so I pulled it out of my bag. Now, I'd noticed a guy standing off to one side staring at me, but I didn't see how his expression changed from curiosity to fury once he saw the pagne. Just as I started unfolding it, he rushed over and commenced to snarling. I couldn't understand what he was saying, but the fact that he snatched the pagne out of my hands and got all up in my grill told me all I needed to know.

For about half a second, I felt like giving him a taste of African America, DC Style, and was fixin' to start swiveling my neck and snapping my fingers. But the look in his eyes stopped me cold. Then I remembered: Senegal is mostly Muslim, and the Muslim community was already upset about Stupendo Statue's pagne problem, and here comes this American infidel waving a private garment in public like a flag.

Reclining on the couch in the Oasis while reflecting on that incident, I'm feeling enormously grateful to still be alive. After all, if that guy had decided to capitalize on my clueless affront, and recruited a few of his buddies to join in, they probably could have gotten away with stoning me to death as a disrespectful American harlot. Just imagine CNN's coverage: a pool of blood, the offensive garment draping my battered torso and a 20 pound rock where my head used to be.

So, you might say these pagnes were the bargain of a lifetime! And I've learned my lesson; you'll note that for this blog post's picture, they are discreetly folded. I ain't tryin' to go out like a total punk, thank you very much.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Err, Say, Can You STILL See????

What did I TELL you? Snapped this just before boarding my flight back to Nairobi, and Senghor Airport is at least 5 miles away from Stupendo Statue. SHEESH! Enough already with the ostentatiousness!!

Statutory Gape

There just wasn't enough time to get a true feel for Dakar during this past week's trip, but I will say one thing--that ethereal city by the sea possesses the most astonishing statue I've ever seen, and I have seen Michelangelo's "David," so that should tell you something.

I mean, I literally gasped when the taxi rounded a curve and there stood the massive bronze "African Renaissance Statue," commissioned by Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade. Even from a distance, you can tell it's just humongously imposing. And it instantly reignited all my childhood paranoia from watching those old Ray Harryhausen movies where statues came to life and climbed down off pedestals to wantonly lay waste. I reckon this behemoth bronze mother, father and baby trio could put a seriously fatal hurtin' on a dozen square miles of humanity if given half a chance.

Once I got over the shock, I tried to embrace the statue's aesthetic potential. It certainly has incredibly fluid lines. It's actually quite graceful, the way the woman's head is arched back, and how her right arm and leg are extended in parallel fashion. Even the baby is in on the the fluidity act, pointing in perfect symmetry as his powerfully muscled daddy hoists him to the heavens. I actually got all prosaic and stuff during that first viewing, noting that the family was facing inward, with their backs to the sea that had claimed so many lives during the Slavery era.

For the first 24 hours, I ain't gon' lie...I just thought it was frickin' kewl. But then somebody told me the Muslim community was offended by it because the woman's undergarment (actually the smutty squares of cloth I was hunting for, known as "pagnes,") was pointing directly toward Dakar's main mosque. Then somebody else told me the statue cost 21 million Euros. That's about $30 million US.

In a country where the gross national income stands at about $820 a year per family, it's actually nauseating to think how much food, clean water, medicine, and schooling $30 million dollars could provide.


Now I just consider the Stupendo Statue as another jaw-dropping example of misplaced priorities. Another case of the sound and fury signifying nothing that plagues the African continent.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Fertile Myrtle

This is Ali, my tour guide on Goree Island. He's like a younger, taller, cuter Wesley Snipes. I generally avoid paying guys like him to guide me around during these types of outings, because they usually just talk a lot of fake local patois shit and get on your nerves, and you don't really learn anything useful.

But from the minute I looked up into his chiseled, deep cocoa face, I knew I'd need to spend some quality time with Ali, and I'd pay top dollar for the privilege. (No, we didn't duck behind some bushes and get Le Freak on, but in hindsight, I wish we had.)

In fact, now that I think about it, I was horny the whole time in Senegal. I swear to God, West African men are the hottest on the continent! Since I arrived in Kenya, there's only one guy so far that really fires up every nerve ending in my body. In Dakar, I was engulfed by wave after wave of raw lust. Even the kid who delivered room service one night almost got attacked, and he wasn't even really that cute per se. It was only because he was about 7 feet tall, and I could picture myself climbing all over him like a jungle gym!

I'm thinking this probably happened because I'd talked with my friend Roberta about how "sex obsessed" the Senegalese are right before the trip. Whatever the case, it's been years since I felt this ripe. And to top it all off, just when I was praying for a few more months of barrenness to confirm my entry into the blessed freedom of menopause, on Monday I got a surprise command performance from Aunt Flo! I'm talking gullywasher action, and I can't remember being so flabbergasted and completely unequipped to handle a bodily function before in my life. It's like I'd made my peace, bid adieu, psyched myself for another 20 or 30 years of complete freedom from monthly tyranny, and then, all of a sudden, I'm all "Fertile Myrtle" again.

It's "Always" something. Get it??? "Always?" Speaking of which, you should have seen me struggling through a fake-assed mime routine trying to get the guy at the stall across from the hotel to understand I needed some "feminine accoutrements." Guess I've received my time I'm in West Africa, it's gon' be ON til the break of dawn!!!!!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Pret a Porter

My goal is to one day own at least one dress from every country on the African continent. That is, if I don't catch a fatal beatdown during a fierce marketplace bargaining session. Sometimes, I even question my own lack of scruples for haggling over that last shilling, or franc, or pazooza, or whatever the currency du jour might be during my shopping excursions. Like I've said before, the difference between 5 dollars and 4 dollars doesn't really mean much to me, but it could buy a couple days' meals for families in many countries.

Anyway, this shot was taken at a market stall on Goree, after I'd finished my tour of the slave house. Once the women stopped gaping and running their fingers through my hair, they fell on me like flies on a red velvet cake. "Madame, Madame, I give good price," they pleaded. "Sees-tah, Sees-tah, you buy me."

After all these years, I've perfected the art of playing deaf in loud, crowded markets. I can sidestep with the best of them, and learn the proper term for, "No thanks," in many languages. But these Goree Gals wore me down. I fully intended to just finger a few items and head back to the ferry, but they weren't havin' it.

Now, don't ask me why I chose this particular dress, which makes me look like a walking purple TV test pattern, but by that point, I just wanted to get away. I'd been told that the best shopping was at Market HLM in Dakar, and besides, I needed to find the lewd fabric swatches like the one my friend Roberta gave me on Halloween. Still, I'll always remember Goree's Market Mafia, and how persistent salesmanship can erode even the most savvy shopper's resolve.

The Fourth Angel

Meet Ruth, the "Cheryl Tiegs" of the Dakar Dolls. She's the one who took a huge leap of faith and boarded a plane to Nairobi from Entebbe without any visa information, wound up on a waiting list, was stuck overnight, and finally made it on a flight to Dakar just in time to miss the entire pre-conference workshop.

But Ruth's determination and courage are exactly why I recommended her for the confer-
ence. By the time I left Dakar yesterday afternoon, she was right on board with everyone else, lining up interviews, preparing her radio
equipment...handlin' her bizness. Just like Irene and Joy, she's got the right stuff. Young women like them make me feel really great about the future of journalism on the African continent.

Monday, November 9, 2009


After a challenging few days it hit me: I really DO know when to hold 'em, AND when to fold 'em. And I'm sitting on the balcony of the swanky-swank Le Meridien Hotel near Daker listening to the waves crashing along the shoreline, and I am fucking GOLDEN. 48 Karat, to be exact. One for every year of my richly blessed life.

"La vie est belle."

Dakar Dolls

You've heard of Charlie's Angels? Well, meet the "Dakar Dolls."

The one on the left is Irene. She's the the tall, skinny, model type, sorta like Farrah Fawcett. The one in the middle is Joy, who embodies the lovely bravado of Jaclyn Smith. The one on the end? That's me, Kate Jackson all the way. The nerdy/nymph-ish blend of beauty and brains (and belly).

We've just finished a journalists' workshop before the Early Childhood Development conference that starts tomorrow. I came as a co-trainer, and when organizers asked me to recommend a few participants, these two gals were first on my list. They are smart, dynamic and destined for great things in their respective countries of Rwanda and Kenya. I've been working with Joy ever since she entered a journalism training program at the Daily Nation in August 2008. I met Irene at the Kigali workshop I organized in August of 2009.

Young women like these two won't let me leave this continent, for heaven's sake!! They are so smart and resourceful and committed to making a difference. There are always 1 or 2 in every newsroom I encounter, and they latch onto me like baby chicks, hungry for any advice and support I'm offering. And because I never had any kids, I figure this a great way to nurture and mould young minds without changing dirty diapers or standing in a stuffy classroom all day.

I'm not saying women like Joy and Irene don't have any female journalist role models, but I'm positive they don't have very many. And I'm not saying that issues like Early Childhood Development would never be covered in African newspapers without my help, but I know that if I DO support people like Joy and Irene, the odds are better.

So there you have it: a journalistic vortex of African/American brains and beauty, so to speak. Basically, this picture is worth several hundred thousand words, if these young women just keep on writing. And this, er, "seasoned" woman just keeps on cheering them on.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Getting "Over" It

I probably shouldn't admit this, but at the moment this picture was taken, I kinda felt like Chevy Chase's character Clark Griswold, in the original "National Lampoon's Vacation" movie. Remember when he and Beverly D'Angelo and the kids were standing at the Grand Canyon viewing rail, and Clark stood there for a few reverent seconds, bobbing his head as if trying to absorb the majesty in a quick intravenous burst, and then abruptly ushered everybody back to the station wagon for the next leg of their hellish journey.

In my case, I had just shoved my camera at my tour guide, a FINE chocolate young brother named Ali, and asked him to snap me peering at the "Door of No Return" on Goree Island. That's what you do in a situation like this, right? I mean, it would have been crassly inappropriate for me to stand there facing the camera cheesing like a hayseed, given what some of my ancestors endured hundreds of years ago in a setting just like this. I figured as symbolic, reverential poses go, this one was adequate.

And then I waited. Waited for the gut-wracking sobs that hit me at the end of the Elmina tour in 2003, near Accra, Ghana. Waited for the voices of the foremothers to whisper, "You made our struggle worth it, Daughter of the Diaspora," or something equally lyrically mystical. But I got nada. Zippo. Oh, I'm glad I went, and I got some great photos.

But then I started to think, what's different now? Well, for one thing, in 2003 I was still smarting from Election Theft 2000, and enduring the Cheney presidency. I suppose if I'd known Dubyah was going to win another term, I might have flung myself through Elmina's door and crashed onto the rocks below. But six years later, there's an American President of African descent.

Is it finally time to stop looking backwards, and stay focused on the future? Should African Americans just get over all the slavery and racism and victimhood stuff and admit we've come a long way, and that we possess the power to do even better? Do we need to stop whining and just pull ourselves up by the bootstraps and embrace the opportunities and challenges of the 21st Century?

Yes, of course we should. But it's still not quite that simple. Here's how I see it: You don't ask a victim of horrible abuse to pretend that what happened didn't happen, even as you help that victim move on with their life. Personally, I still don't think there's been enough discussion about, and acknowledgement of, slavery and its aftermath. At the same time, I fully acknowledge that I personally got over it years ago. Even when racism affects me now (and it still does, more than you might think), I'm still able to move forward on my own terms.

Anyway, here's my 'bottom'' line, so to speak. When I look at this picture, it doesn't just create a solemn perspective on how far Americans of African descent have come, or infuse me with gratitude for the agonies endured by my ancestors. It mostly makes me wish my butt wasn't so big. Now THAT'S progress.

"Was I Lyin'?"

...or did this kid need to sit his monkey-ass down somewhere???

He almost caught "Un Beatdown," vraiment. Fortunately, his equally drunk and smoked friend eventually regained enough consciousness to realize dude was making a damned nuisance of himself and led him away.

I mean, I know the spirit can overtake you sometime, but when your spirit looks like it's having a grand mal seizure during the concert of a lifetime, keep that shit to yourself.

B.B. and Baba

I know I promised to explain the skewed picture below, but for the moment, I just HAVE to process the experience I just had. It's about 4:30 AM Nairobi time, 1:3o in Dakar, and I should seriously be asleep, but I can't stop thinking about the amazing concert tonight!!

I am so damn lucky to have scored a ticket to the 50th Anniversary of "Jazz a Dakar," which was headlined by the legendary Senegalese musician Baba Maal! I've heard his music throughout the years, but my God, the man's voice just soars, and lilts, and transcends, all at once.

I almost wanted to pinch myself during the whole gig. The other artists were great, too, but Baba. BABA! It reminded me of the last time I felt so joyful, so wired, so privileged at a concert. That was during BB King's 75th birthday party in Memphis. I was there interviewing for a job, and the managing editor got me a ticket; I could not BELIEVE my astounding good fortune.

This time, a Welshman named Ian who used to run the UNICEF office in Dakar had an extra ticket and invited me along with a group of his friends. We wound up sitting in the front row. The only downside was the drunken (or high--or both)Peace Corps volunteer who flailed about like Jed Clampett on crack and blocked my view a few times.

Otherwise, it was one of those experiences that, down to your very marrow, make you feel happy to be alive. From now on, pour moi, B.B. + Baba=Blessings.

Friday, November 6, 2009

A Different Perspective

I don't know why I like this picture so much.

It was taken this morning at the "Door of No Return," during my tour of Goree Island, one of the major embarking points for slaves headed to the US from Africa. You may recall that it's my second such trip; I've also visited the Elmina slave "castle" near Accra, Ghana, where President Obama and his family went earlier this year. As you might expect, it was yet another sobering, disquieting event. And yet......

But I gotta run now, to a jazz concert at the French Cultural Institute. I'll tell you all about my first day in Dakar later. In the meantime, I thought this picture would give you a clue about how the journey struck me. I definitely came away with a different perspective, one that surprised me quite a bit.

Keep watching this space. That is, if this skewed picture doesn't piss you off. "All will be revealed..."

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Caught in the Grippe

Okay, it was bad enough that I had to spend 9 hours sitting in the middle of a noisy scrum of Chinese businessmen on the way to Dakar, and one of the guys kept playing with the window shade like he was a friggin' 3 year old while I was trying to sleep, and then we had to sit on the tarmac in Abidjan for an hour with no air conditioning and no bathroom access before finishing the trip to Dakar.

Then I get off the plane, head to Immigration, reach for the form and....

"Quelles Horreurs!!" I discovered Senegal is confronting a potentially deadly, yet somehow elegant sounding health scourge called, "La Nouvelle Grippe."

Which at least sounds better than gut wrenching cramps during a 12 hour shitstorm, or something....

Oh, wait, that's just French for Swine flu!! Okay, I need "une bier froide, tout de suite," or somebody's gon' get hurt up in this joint....

Mais, attendez....the hotel I'm staying at for the first two nights is Muslim owned, so no hooch.

Merde. (Stop playin'...y'all know what that means...)

Oh, well, at least the drive in from Senghor Airport was just lovely. Can't wait to get started exploring tomorrow.

Au revoir...a demain!

(Please note that I'm rapidly reaching the end of my repertoire of high school French. But hey, "repertoire" is a French word, right??? DAMN, I'm tripping...)

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

"Happy Anniversary, Mr. President....."

It's really been a year since the Election that changed everything, everywhere. Wow.

Don't know if time is just passing quicker, or if I'm just too preoccupied to notice it slipping by. Whatever, it's just incredible that it's been 12 months since I spent an entire day perched on a razor's edge, thinking I'd never be able to return to America if John McCain were elected President.

Now, a year spent immersed in Kenya has definitely given me a more mature, and robust view of all things geopolitical, so I'm not just hangin' out in La La Land about America's 44th President. After the intial euphoria of Election '08 wore off, I realized Barack Obama had just signed himself up for the most complicated, stressful, gut-wrenching, high-stakes, low rewards gig in the history of humanity. He'd be the "Most Powerful Man on Earth" in theory, but how much does that mean when you're juggling 2 wars, an economic meltdown and lingering, blatant disrespect and contempt based on solely on the color of your skin?

All I can say is, better him than me. I predict he will eventually be sporting a fluffy white afro, ESPECIALLY if he seeks and wins another term. But then, this morning I heard about the two big Democratic losses in New Jersey and Virginia gubernatorial races. I know, I know, it doesn't necessarily mean he's down for the count. But things sure doesn't look so hot at the moment.

That said, I still fervently believe America made the right choice last November. I'm still profoundly proud of my country, and my President. After all, no matter what his flaws and challenges might be, he did help produce my personal pick for "Most Powerful Person in the World 2044," President Sasha Obama!

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Fire on the Mountain

This photo bears repeating....if for no other reason than it will replace the raunchy wrap from Senegal as the first image people see when they link to the blog these days!

It's the picture of the peaks of Mt. Kilimanjaro and Mt. Meru that I took a few weeks ago, on the way back from Arusha. It was taken from the window of a plane, so it's kind of blurry and indistinct, but you can still see some streaks of snow and ice on Kilimanjaro's peak. Well, this morning, there was a BBC report suggesting that in 20 years, all the snow and glaciers atop Mt. K may be gone, zapped by global warming.
Now, I don't pretend to be an expert on climate change, or an impassioned enviromentalist. But I just don't understand why it's so hard to get consensus on the fact that we have completely fucked our planet's atmosphere, and that in 50 years the whole world could be like that episode of Twilight Zone" with one of my favorite character actresses of all time, Lois Nettleton, where she plays one of the last people left on an Earth with constant, scorching sunlight and dwindling water supplies. It's probably not too hard for you to believe that I consider my entire life to be a "Twilight Zone" episode, but there you have it.
Anyhoo, I was relatively young the first time I saw that episode, but I remember being totally convinced that scenario could actually occur. And like so many Zone episodes, it scared the crap out of me to imagine the human race dying of thirst and heat stroke because we were too stupid to do something about it before it was too late.
It kind of reminds me of these lyrics from one of my favorite singers these days, the Nigerian artist Asa. Her song, "Fire on the Mountain," sums up my feelings about global warming, and about possibly living to see a dry, dusty peak of Mt. Kilimanjaro, perfectly.
"There is fire on the mountain,
And nobody seems to be on the run.
Oh there is fire on the mountain top,
And no one is'ah running."
We all need to just get a clue, before we're all starring in our own global Twilight Zone episode.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Dashin' to Dirty Dakar

I really struggled over whether to use this photo for this posting, primarily because I didn't want y'all to think I've lost my damn mind, or get myself in trouble with the Internet Morality Police or something. But I can think of no better way to herald my upcoming trip to Dakar, Senegal, than to share this gift my Italian friend Roberta brought back from that city for me.

Roberta is married to Bilal, who was born near Dakar. They have the most precious, precocious little girl named Sophie who I first met as an adorable 1 year old dumpling in Kampala, and who is now 3 and just a vivacious joy to behold and overhear, with her bewitching blend of Italian, French and English. I was mesmerized by Roberta's story of her first visit to Bilal's village, and how love conquered all for the multi-culti couple. I was also kind of tickled by her tales of how frank and open the Senegalese are about sex. Especially the time she was at her father-in- law's house and some other relatives came over, popped in a porno tape, and everybody gathered around to watch like we might check out re-runs of "Lost" or something. But when Roberta described these sexually-explicit cloth wraps that were sold in Senegalese marketplaces, often by wrinkly old ladies, I figured girlfriend was just piling it on a bit.

Well, Roberta was determined to prove she wasn't lying, and whipped this thang out on me after inviting me over for dinner tonight. Now I'm sitting here at home struggling with another impulse...whether to fold the danged smut smock neatly, wrap it in brown paper and shove it into the back of my closet, or to have it (you should pardon the double pun) mounted and hung on the wall! It's just the most outrageous thing I've ever seen in my life! (And damn, does it ever bring back distant memories...)

But who knows, maybe it'll get some carnal energy flowing up in The Oasis! Anyway, yes, I am headed to Dakar, Senegal next Thursday morning, to help lead a workshop on Early Childhood Development for African reporters. And maybe if there's some free time while I'm there, I'll "take a little stroll in the marketplace," if you follow the drift of my meaning......