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.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The MOTH-er and Child Reunion


Wait a minute, I've been through this routine before, haven't I??? Well, it's not a butterfly, but I think it just might be a sign from my two dearly departed "MOTH-ers," Eloise and Julie, just like the one I got in Gulu two years ago.

So I guess I have to live and let live. Here's to you, ladies! (Just keep it down a tick so I can get some sleep, okay???)

Sesame on Wry

I just came across the program for one of the shows I saw while I was in New York, and it reminded me of yet ANOTHER of my critical life lessons of late.

If you haven't seen the off-Broadway musical "Avenue Q," and if you were ever even vaguely curious about it, I would strongly urge you to check it out. That is, if you are not even remotely prudish. And you have a healthy appreciation for all things absurd. And if you don't find injecting adult scenarios onto a beloved children's television program obscenely offensive.

If none of those conditions apply, you really oughta catch it, because you will come dangerously close to busting a gut at various points during the show. It's a twisted take on "Sesame Street," with actors manipulating large felt puppets. Those young adult puppets are trying to make their way in the world, with hilariously varying results.

I won't give away too much about the plot, except to share ANOTHER critical life lesson that has bedeviled me of late:

When freakin' puppets have hotter sex than you've had in ages, you know you really gotta start shaking things up, somehow. You are skirting dangerously close to a social "DEFCON 5" level. That's all I shall divulge at this point in time. I won't even resort to jokes like the need to get "felt" up, or to have someone pull your (G) strings, or to explore your "carnival" nature.

(Okay, you didn't REALLY believe I wouldn't go there, did you???)

"Things I Have Learned Thus Far in 2010"

I ain't even gonna lie, folks. To date, 2010 has used a big-assed pair of pliers to peel back my eyelids and force me to examine reality more intently than I have in quite some time.

Including nearly the exact moment that this image was captured. It was right outside of Nation Centre on January 15th, near some spirited concrete tossing between protesters and passersby, during a riot over the jailing of a Muslim cleric. In a way, I'm glad a staff photoprapher caught me playing Citizen Journalist, because it documents the last such time I will ever be THIS big of a puredee fool.

That's because if you refer back to the photo accompanying my last blog post, you'll see a chunk of the aforementioned concrete on the ground near my right foot. It was not unlike another piece of concrete that sailed through the air, landed about a foot from where I stood and ricocheted directly into my left ankle. I'm fine, except for a big ugly scab on that ankle and a bit of lingering soreness...and the occasional disquieting reverie about what might have ensued if my skull had broken that concrete missile's angle of descent.

This incident taught me one of the most imortant lessons of my entire life. When people in a developing country with a recent history of dramatic civil unrest tell you to keep your ig'nint butt inside when there's a fracas going on outside, you had best heed their advice. Nothing will ever make me this curious again.

Onward to lesson Number 2, for which there is a merciful lack of photographic evidence. It's based on something I've experienced about a myriad times through the years, with invariably painful results. Long story short, when a man wants you, you can have spinach in your decaying teeth, a smelly, greasy hair weave and be 40 pounds overweight, but he will walk over broken glass to get at you. But if a man is NOT interested in you, you can be wearing the sluttiest lingerie ever produced by Victoria's Secret, have long silken REAL tresses and the tiniest waist coupled with the biggest, perkiest, natural boobs ever birthed, and he still won't take the bait. That's an extremely metaphorical way of saying that I finally saw the light about yet another pointless quest for male attention I was about to plunge head-first into. The relief mixed with pride I felt over pulling myself from the precipice was surpassed only by the prolonged funk that accompanied my wondering when the HELL I would ever find somebody willing to put forth half that much effort for me.

Lesson Number 3 involved the intrinsic mothering instinct that made me go out of my way to extend a dinner invitation to someone who showed up 2 and a half hours late with no apology and no explanation. Now, this shocking lack of social grace wasn't about cultural differences or language barriers. This was about me extending a hand to a fellow American who I thought might benefit from networking with some of the other expat friends who'd be at the party. When he was an hour late, I said, "Well, maybe he's stuck in traffic. Let's start eating." When he was 2 hours late, I thought "Gosh, I hope he hasn't been involved in an accident or something!" When he called after 2 hours and 10 minutes and said he'd be there in 20 minutes, it took all the will I could summon to keep from suggesting he go eff himself instead of showing up at my door.

But home training won out, and I even managed not to blow a fuse when that knock came, thinking he would at least apologize when I opened the door. Nope. Just breezed on in and sat on down. It was at that exact moment that I wished I'd salvaged one of my mother's perfectly seasoned cast-iron skillets, because I would have chased his ass down two flights of stairs if I'd had it in my possession. Lacking that handy culinary implement, and stymied by the presence of 7 witnesses, I warmed up a plate for him and spent the next few hours rolling my eyes and biting my tongue.

That incident added to the list of people I never again have to fool with in my life, which is getting shorter and grayer by the minute due to the growing list of people who truly don't seem to give a flying fig about how their actions affect other people! But the good news is that once you show your ass to me, I don't need to see it twice.

I could go on, but those are the major lessons the Universe has imparted thus far in 2010. I'm not so naive as to ignore the possibility that these episodes will be pre-school fodder compared to what might lay in store. But I'm ready for whatevuh. After all, I managed to dodge a rather concrete finish just 11 short days ago.

Friday, January 15, 2010

You Wouldn't BELIEVE the Day I've Had!

Been meaning to write all week, but jet-lag did a world class number on me since I got back from the States. Haven't been able to sleep more than a couple hours every night these past 7 days, and the snooze deficit had me straight trippin'.

So I guess it was inevitable that the week would end like it did. You really wouldn't even BELIEVE what happened to me today if I told you, so I'm not even gonna get into it. Let's just say I found myself between a rock and a hard place, but I'm good, for now.

I'll tell you all about it, in great detail, some day. For now, I'm too busy swilling a sub-standard Chilean Sauvignon-Chardonnay blend. For medicinal purposes, mind you.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Out of the Mouths of Babes

Most of y'all will be quite surprised, but I'm actually happy that I was seated next to a real life, washed in the blood of The Lamb, self-proclaimed Alabama "good old boy" on the Detroit to Amsterdam flight yesterday afternoon!

If I'd had a crystal ball, and had known I'd wind up stuck at the gate at Detroit Metro Airport for four--count 'em--FOUR HOURS, I would have risked complete mental collapse. Mostly in a good way, because while I had an absolute blast with friends in New York and DC, I also ran myself ragged, too. And shouldered a half a ton of guilt for not contacting or seeing everybody I wanted to contact or see. When I caught that Super Shuttle to JFK Airport Thursday morning, I was praying for a non-eventful, on-time journey back to Nairobi.

Maybe the half hour delay out of JFK to Detroit should have been my first sign, but I chose not to acknowledge it. By the time I headed to seat 25J on Flight 252 to Amsterdam at Detroit Metro, I was planning to pull on my Bose noise-canceling headphones, slam a few Tylenol PM and sleep through most of the journey. When I got to my row, this lanky, perky-looking young man in a bright orange t-shirt and a baseball cap looked up from his book, smiled broadly and chirped, "Great, now I have a seat buddy!"

The Rachel of a few years ago would have rolled her eyes and thought, "WTF?? Have I been seated next to a reject from "Up With People?" But this guy's friendliness totally disarmed me. So I smiled and said, "Well, let's hope you think that when I start snoring in a few hours!" He laughed, helped me stow my bags overhead, and then started talking--for the next few hours. Usually in those situations, unless it is a gorgeous man not wearing a wedding ring, I can be terse as hell. On long haul flights, I just want to get caught up on my reading, listen to my music and sleep as much as possible. But this kid, who we'll call "Christian" for reasons alluded to above, simply would not shut up.

And I loved every minute of it!

In fact, his overall positive energy and sense of humor made it a lot easier to handle the news that one of the engines wasn't working, and that because the snowfall was getting heavier, we'd need a lot of de-icing. Then we heard that the engine part they thought they had wasn't there, so they'd have to send for it at another terminal. In the past, I might have squirmed, rolled my eyes, cursed and muttered under my breath at these announcements, but Christian just shrugged and made a snarky comment every time. And then he'd say something like, "Life's too short to let this stuff get to you." Or, "I'd rather be safe than dead, so let 'em fix the engine."

That junior at Auburn University was just as bubbly and friendly and completely without guile as a big old St. Bernard! Christian was headed to a five month stint in Istanbul to coach an American football league there, and was really excited about his first time living abroad. Several times, he professed his love of Christ without the least hesitation, but he wasn't a zealot about it. In fact, we talked more about TV and movies than religion. We even talked about race. He mentioned that his great great grandfather was a Confederate colonel, and that his family had owned slaves, but that things in Alabama were different today. I told him that as a black woman with locked hair and dark skin, things were mostly cool for me, but that I could still feel the impact of racism in America. We talked a good long while about it, and I could see he was getting more and more comfortable to speak his mind.

Christian was at his cutest when he talked about girls and relationships. At several points during our wildly divergent conversations, he would mention how he didn't have a girlfriend, or how he was clumsy around girls, or how he hadn't had a date in ages. This from a young man who was 6 foot 3 inches tall, a former football player himself, and who kinda resembled a younger Ashton Kutcher. I finally looked him square in the face and said, "Well, what's wrong with you?? Because from what I can see, you are an attractive, charming, friendly, funny guy. And you don't seem shy. So, what's the deal?"

He was totally taken aback. I'm sure nobody ever broke it down for him like that, but then he'd been warned I was a journalist, so he handled it fairly well. Then he mentioned wanting to have children before he was "old," like his parents had done. They'd married around age 25, but took a decade to travel and just enjoy each other's company before having Christian and his sister. They're 55 now, so, oh, yeah, that makes Christian about 21.

He wants to have his kids within 5 years, he said. And then Christian asked me, "Do you ever think about having kids?"

"Oh, sure," I replied. I did NOT add, "I've been thinking about it for about the past 28 years, brah." I just said that I'd focused so much on my career, I never really prioritized babies.

Then, without blinking, winking or choking on his words, Christian asked, "So, do you think you'll have one in the next 5 or 10 years?"

This was when my Number 2 New Year's Resolution had to kick in big time: stopping my automatic tendency to reject compliments, and to quit using self-mocking humor to defuse emotionally uncomfortable situations. I almost bit my tongue in half to keep from saying, "Dude, fertility doctors would need the Hubble Telescope to locate my shrunken ovaries! What are you, blind??"

You see, I'm still having trouble believing that kid couldn't detect the obvious signs of menopause in bloom....the fine sheen of sweat, the layered clothing, the air vent pointed at my face on full blast. I mean, he's a 21 year old Alabama frat boy--surely during one of his biology classes somebody explained to him that after a certain age, women lose the power to procreate--and that the woman sitting next to him on that delayed flight had delayed childbearing just a wee tad bit too long?

But then I relaxed, exhaled, and accepted the wondrous compliment that this 21-year-old Alabama frat boy had just paid me. He had looked me square in the face and concluded that I was at least 10 years younger than I actually am. I gave him my brightest, widest smile, and said I still might adopt someday.

In fact, if Christian was ever in the market, I'd gladly adopt him! At least I would have, if just before we landed, and were receiving our orange juice and snack, Christian hadn't turned to me and said, "Boy, you sure were right about that snoring."

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Empire State of Mind

From Lanpher's balcony, you can see the Empire State Building. Reminds me of the Jay Z/Alicia Keys song, "Empire State of Mind." It also reminds me that as a gal from Cairo, Illinois, I will always, ALWAYS be in awe of skyscrapers.

And it reminds me of how far I've come, and how far I must still go, and how I must always reach for the sky. I'll be spending a lot of time in it very soon--2 hours to Detroit, 9 hours to Amsterdam, 8 hours to Nairobi.

Au revoir, NYC. And DC. And the people I love, those I actually saw and those I couldn't. I'll be back now, ya hear?

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Of Pot Roast, Laughter and Lanpher

I've noticed that something about true friendship makes me glow like a lightbulb. The past week and a half has been as restorative as an extended aromatherapy massage on the beach in Zanzibar.

Or an exquisitely marinated pot roast. Like the one my Uber BFF Lanpher made last night, in her cozy apartment with dual views of the Empire State Building and the Hudson River. In fact, almost exactly a year ago, Lanpher was sitting in that apartment when she saw US Airways Flight 1549 go floating past. This January, more airline drama occurred in the form of moi, refugee from the Craptastic Christmas Aircraft Crisis.

I've tried to explain in past posts why Lanpher is such a dear friend. It boils down to this...her energy is like a balm for the soul. When you make her laugh, you know you've really accomplished something, because she's an expert at making you snort liquids out of your nose at a moment's notice.

She's just full of light. She's full of wisdom. She's genuine. And we've noticed that over the years, it usually only takes about 90 minutes of conversation for me to start bawling like a newborn baby, because with Lanpher, I'm able to reveal how I really feel, and to admit that sometimes, the 7 year old girl inside doesn't feel like being poised, articulate and confident, and she just needs to be heard and hugged. Well, this year marked a critical milestone....I made Lanpher cry first! Don't worry, I was appropriately comforting, but we've been friends so long, she didn't mind when I also performed what amounted to a version of an NFL End Zone Dance to mark the occasion. While wiping away tears, Lanpher muttered something like, "Even a blind squirrel finds an acorn every now and then." Now, THAT'S true friendship!

The only thing more certain than Death or Taxes is that an evening with Lanpher will revive your spirit and reconnect you with your core. I think you can see it in both of our faces up above. It was cold as a witch's refrigerator outside today, yet we're both glowing brighter than the sun.

This is what I miss in Nairobi, but this is what I know is always there for me when I come back. It keeps me hangin' on.

No Expiration Date

I just can't stop thinking about the newest young widow of my acquaintance. I first met her when she was about 5 or 6, and looking like she had just climbed out of a Norman Rockwell painting. She and her younger sister were bouncing up and down an Hawaiian beach like two Golden Retriever puppies, and it was fun watching their little round, apple-cheeked faces grow progressively more golden, their already blonde hair get even more incandescent.

They were flower girls at a wedding, and they were little troopers. And every time I think of her growing up and marrying and having a beautiful baby and then becoming a widow a few days ago-on her birthday-it just guts me. At this time of year, everyone's focused on new beginnings. Tomorrow, this young woman must go to a funeral carrying her 6 month old son who will "know" his father only through photos and videos.

I need a time machine. I would set the dial for 1987, and I would go back to that beach, and I would try to find a way to warn that little girl! I would tell her that sometimes, even when people leave, and you can't see them anymore, they are still with you, and you will see many signs that prove it. I would find the age-appropriate terms to explain that sometimes you will feel so much pain you would do anything to make it stop. But eventually that pain will make you very strong, and you will feel even stronger than Superman or Wonder Woman!

And I would tell her that there is always, always a reason to keep living. Always.

But of course there's only one time machine available, and it's called Tomorrow. And there's only one setting: Plus One. Add another day. And another. They might both be horrible. A hundred of them might. But there's a hidden, 100 percent, money-back guarantee:

Time may expire, but love never does. Never.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

A Candy-Coated Command

Today got off to a good start, actually. I spilled a half a cup of Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Latte in my lap, but that was a good thing. As the spicy liquid soaked through the crotch of my jeans, I realized it was the warmest sensation I'd felt since Flight 243 touched down at Detroit Metro on Christmas Day.

While stumbling around near Times Square today waiting to have lunch with friends, listening to the blood in my veins crackle and freeze, I couldn't resist taking a few tourist snaps. Even after all these years, the bright flashing signs and the tall buildings still leave me speechless. But then I realized that was partly because my lips had frozen and fallen off somewhere near the intersection of 47th and 6th. Anyway, you might think I took this particular picture because of the yummy looking M&M's on the huge electronic billboard.
But if you look closely at the lower center of the frame, you can see a stark, chalk white lettering command to, "GO FORTH." After almost 2 weeks in two of my favorite American cities, I was kind of pissed to see a message ordering me to steel my nerves and "go forth" from my homeland and return to an amazing, exasperating country I've established a tenuously committed relationship with. I kind of wish the lettering had spelled out, "Stay Your Ass Here In America, Where You Have Many People Who Love And Support You, And Where You Feel Far More Relaxed and Happy."
And then I remembered my Number One New Year's Resolution: to always remember that unless you are at peace within yourself, unless you feel whole and fulfilled inside, it really doesn't matter where you are. You could be in the front row at Fashion Week in Milan holding 2 American Express Black Cards, but if you're filled with anxiety and doubt and frustration, and you're always looking over your shoulder at past regrets, or craning your neck trying to see beyond the present and learn what the future holds, you might as well be huddled in a cave somewhere. ANYWHERE. And you might as well hand in the keys right now, because you are NOT really living, and you just never, ever know what tomorrow will bring.
Believe me, I got quite the wake up call yesterday afternoon, and I'll write about that next. But this stark command at the corner of 49th and 7th was just the nudge I needed to get me back on that Amsterdam-bound plane at JFK Thursday morning. Though the path I've chosen can be daunting, lonely and emotionally challenging, I must go forth and forge in the smithy of my soul.
Let's just hope this time that while I'm swinging my metaphorical blacksmith's hammer in that metaphorical smithy of my soul, there'll be no sparks flying in the crotch of some numbnut zealot's Underoos.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

17 Degrees of Separation

Awoke this morning to the cheery news that it is 17 degrees outside! With the wind chill factor, it feels like 1 degree! I think I've finally found something that makes me miss Nairobi. I don't even remember EVER feeling as cold as I did yesterday afternoon, trying to run some errands and meet up with some friends.

But at least I've been having a fantastic time in Washington. My friends Deb and Ray have made me feel so welcomed and comfortable in their lovely home. They threw a terrific dinner party Friday, and yesterday, Deb and I laughed till we choked watching Robin Williams at Constitution Hall, while Ray chilled with a good book in front of the fireplace. And last night, at a party I almost tried to worm my way out of, I danced harder and longer than I have in years, to music performed by people with names like "Lady Gaga," and "The Flaming Lips." Both of which sound like troubling physical ailments.

I also saw friends I hadn't seen in ages. I worked with Jodi for 3 years at Knight Ridder's Washington bureau, and she's now a successful freelancer (I've never even met her 8 year old daughter!!!). Her husband Terry has been running a wildly successful online news portal
geared toward African Americans, but will be switching to directing communications for a environmental advocacy group soon. Lynn covers President Obama for a major newspaper, and is a network news analyst. Alicia, our graciously grooving hostess, is the Ombudsman (Woman? Person??) for NPR. I went to the party with my friend Kitty, who's an NPR editor. I'd actually seen Kitty a few months ago, in Nairobi of all places, where she was part of a group of editors studying issues in developing countries.

Here's the thing. Lynn reminded me that back in 1996, when I was living two blocks from the US Capitol, I threw a big party as a mixer of sorts, because I was about to assume the presidency of the Journalism and Women Symposium, or JAWS. I decided it would be a great PR for the organization, and a good chance to network. I started cooking on a Monday for a Thursday evening party which remains my personal best: about 40 people packed into that second floor townhouse. I even invited some of the bigwigs I'd brushed shoulders with as a DC reporter, and so folks were shocked when Eleanor Smeal and Marjorie Margolies Mezvinsky arrived and started working the room.

Last night, Lynn told me she had just started hearing about JAWS when she came to that party, and now she's been a devoted member every since. She even started throwing the annual DC JAWS mixers! It was a wonderful reminder of how much power we have as women, if we're not afraid to reach out and support each other.

So I 've decided there's really something to that six degrees of separation concept. And for the rest of my time in the US, I can't let little things like 17 degrees and a windchill factor of 1 degree keep me from reaching out to reconnect.

Friday, January 1, 2010

"I Will Rise Yet Again in 2010"

I had forgotten all about this picture of myself from last February's Zanzibar adventure, but I absolutely LOVE it!

It reminds me to embrace my playful side. It reminds me not to obsess over how I look in a bathing suit. It reminds me to have fun as much as humanly possible, as often as humanly possible. It reminds me to smile more often, as much at myself as anything else.

And it also reminds me to keep popping back up to the surface, no matter how often the pressures and frustrations of life try and hold me under water. Before I got on that plane Christmas Eve, I felt like my joy, and my spirit, and my energy had all been corked, or muffled. I desperately needed to let loose and get back to myself again. I'd like to think that for the most part, this picture embodies the essence of my spirit, and that it sends me a critically important message.

No matter how hard life gets, still I rise.

No matter how low I get, I'll make it back to the heights.

No matter how dark the skies, there is usually a rainbow behind the clouds.

This picture helped me develop my New Year's motto.

"I will rise yet again in 2010." After all, you just can't keep a good woman down.