In July, 2008, I, Princess Rachella, Intrepid African American Girl International Journalism Consultant, pulled up stakes once again and headed to Nairobi, Kenya. Through my various adventures, I've concluded that if I get any MORE explosively fabulous in these prequel years to "THE BIG 5-0," I will have to register myself with the Pentagon as a thermonuclear incendiary device.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Criminally Content

If having fun was a crime, I'd be up for a serious dime bid in Attica right about now.

Hell, forget the dime bid. I'd get life without parole. This has been a glorious weekend. And I earned it. Deserve every minute of the happiness and relaxation I'm feeling at the moment.

In fact, the only stress I encountered the whole time was when these Maasai dudes got all up in my grill and pressured me about which of their trinkets to buy. I'm sure I wound up feeding the whole village by the time I got finished buying stuff, but it can be overwhelming.

Anyway, it's back to Nai-robbery for me soon, but the memory will linger on.

Life really is good, and lots of fun, when you let it play out that way.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Divine Destiny on Diani

I should have known that when my plane took off yesterday evening for Mombasa, and I looked out of my window and saw a rainbow where there had been no rain, that this was going to be a blissful weekend.

But then that gets me back to an earlier posting, about the amazing synergy that happens whenever my friend Kelly sets foot on the African continent. And since we've concluded that in previous lives we must have been the highly-ranked and favored wives of some Imperial Grand Poohbah Sultan, we decided to treat ourselves to a weekend on the Kenyan Coast, namely Diani Beach, about an hour south of Mombasa. I'd been there once before, but only for a conference. Never had the chance to lounge about and drink in the sights.

Well, Kelly worked her travel mojo and hooked us up with the sweetest deal EVUH at the Almanara Luxury Resort, smack dab on the Indian Ocean. We are staying in a 3 story villa with a chef. We are steps from the powdery white sand of Diani. We are being pampered senseless, and we deserve every second of it.

And I am scheming. There HAS to be some way to spend the rest of my life as one of the idle rich. I want to LIVE in Villa Silvia of the Almanara Luxury Resort, and have the Indian Ocean as my wading pool. After all, I AM PRINCESS RACHELLA, DAMMIT!!! It is my birthright, my ultimate destiny!!!

Umm, I didn't just publicly declare that, did I? Never mind....

Friday, March 26, 2010

A Matter of Course

This is a scene from my brief outing at the Kenya Open 2010 on Friday. To summarize the experience, I had a great conversation with my Barclays Bank "relationship manager," who invited me to the event, drank substandard Chardonnay, got shushed a few times for making noise while some guy was putting, or bogeying, or making an eagle, or a buzzard...HELL, I don't know!!!....and then almost got attacked by flesh eating ants.

Okay, so they weren't flesh eating, but they were getting on my damn nerves. Anyway, I have to say that while it was a beautiful day, and I enjoyed myself, the experience definitely made me question whether or not I could cut it as one of the idle rich. At least until the following day. That's when everything became clear.

They don't call me Princess Rachella for nothin'.....

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Blonde Ambition/Dynamic Diva

I am sitting under a hair dryer at noon on a Thursday waiting for my freshly shampooed and twisted locs to dry, and it is all this woman's fault!

My gallivantin' gal pal Kelly is back in town from New York, and I have to say, my social calendar is starting to run out of pages! This was the only time in the next few weeks that I could even pretend to eke out a few hours to get my hair "did," and I had to just go for it.

There's something about this woman's presence that brings all sorts of terrific energy into my often trying expat existence. For example, how many times in life do you get to drink a foul, fermented brew made of flour, honey and God knows what bovine glandular secretions, from a hollowed-out bull's horn, as we are doing in the picture at left?

One sip, and I was ready to puke my guts out, but get this....Kelly drank the whole thing! It's that "can do" attitude that makes her so much fun to hang out with, although I truly hope she won't further risk her immune system, or liver bile duct functioning, by sampling any other scary local brews.

Anyway, the thing about hangin' with Kelly is that the synergy is just amazing. We're both the same age (Okay, I'm a year older, dammit!), in the same industry, and with the same hopes and dreams for our career futures. We both find ourselves spending considerable amounts of time on the African continent, yet if you'd told us it would happen 20 years ago, we'd have probably laughed it off. We both have a powerful drive to make a difference in this industry, to do more than just clock in and clock out.

And we both sense an incredible amount of energy and possibility in the future of African media. Now, how a gal from Taylor, Texas and a another gal from Cairo, Illinois managed to wind up thinking they could actually be a part of that energy, half way around the world....well, that's the rest of the story. And it's a pretty exciting one, come to think of it.

But time will tell. In the meantime, look out Kenya: You are witnessing the rise of "Blonde Ambition and the Dynamic Diva." Together, we far exceed the legal limit of fun.

Eminent Domain

Exactly one week ago, I was sitting in this conference room at the Kenyatta International Conference Centre when this group of men assembled on this stage. It's a scene not unlike many you'll see in African countries; men in positions of power seated at head tables making speeches. But this group of men had a bit more "oomph" than most.

This was the opening panel of the Pan African Media Conference 2010, and seated at this table were the President of Kenya, Mwai Kibaki, the Vice President of Kenya, Kalonzo Musyoka, the Prime Minister of Kenya, Raila Odinga, the President of Rwanda, Paul Kagame, the former President of Mozambique, Joaquim Chissano, the former President of Tanzania, Benjamin Mkapa, and His Highness the Aga Khan, businessman, philanthropist, founder of Nation Media Group and a descendant of the prophet Muhammad.I guess he needed something to trump all that Presidential energy.

Anyway, sitting there at this exact moment, I knew I was witnessing something quite important. Not only were the logistics involved in getting all of these men together in the same room absolutely mind-boggling, but the topics they were discussing are absolutely pivotal to the future of the African continent:

The role of media in shaping societies, interpreting events, educating citizens, exposing corruption, and in fueling or quelling violence. I learned so much from not only this high-powered panel, but from the entire 2-day meeting. And part of the reason I haven't been blogging is because what I learned is so overwhelming. If I had to try and boil it down, it would be to say that as I experienced my own internal struggles and frustrations about why things don't work here, and why the barriers to progress seem so insurmountable at times, I have to remember that Kenya, and many other African nations, have only been free of colonialist rule for an average of 50 years.

I would love to think, in fact I often DO think, that 50 years is more than enough time to get your act together and make things run smoothly. I have pontificated more than a few times that blaming problems on colonialist oppressors 50 years after they're gone is pretty lame, and that a country's current leaders need to dig down deep, past the petty bickering and short-sighted greed, to find solutions that move their countries forward. And I have said that until powerful media companies like Nation Media Group truly invest in empowering and professionalizing their journalists, they will never be much more than stenographers recording the political back-biting while the people drown in neglect.

But something about last week's conference actually shifted a tectonic plate in my brain. I swear, I'm actually start to believe that maybe, just maybe, the winds of change have begun to blow on this continent, particularly where media is concerned.

I'll let the words of Nation Media Group CEO Linus Gitahi summarize what I think is happening, and why I think this is an amazing time to be involved in African media:

"This is that rarely–ever moment in history. History is turning a page. For over half a century, Africa has sprung, stumbled, run, fallen, rolled over, gotten up and dusted herself and sometimes lurched on. But now over 50 years of self rule, the ride has brought us to the edge of time’s great precipice, and one Africa – a tiny little voice at the back of the head is looking down at the bottom of the ravine and hesitating, the other Africa is looking up at the sky and saying it’s time to fly."

Gives one lots to think about, wouldn't you say?

Saturday, March 20, 2010

"I'm Just Sayin', Dawg," Part 16

I SWEAR I had just read about Sandra Bullock's interview with Barbara Walters a few days before the latest Hollywood Zippergate news broke. It resonated because the way she described her relationship history sounded a lot like my own.

There may be a million other reasons why I haven't found Mr. Right, but one of them is definitely because Eloise Jones and Julie Newell did a damned fine job of moulding me into one fully independent woman. I am not the shy, retiring, girly type. I do not seek a man to make all my decisions for me or pay all my bills. (Well, okay, maybe half of 'em.) At this point in my life, I definitely am not looking for a man to give me an identity. I think I've got that pretty well taken care of.

It's just the way Sandra described finally allowing herself to let a man "have her back" that really rang my bell. I've always kinda needed to show guys that I didn't need that. That I was fully self-contained and in control, and in fact, could probably provide them with a little back-bone if they needed it. I never wanted to appear weak, or even mildly vulnerable. That was just too scary.

Before I go any further, I must state that I am increasingly pitching tent in "Camp Get-A-Life" where obsession with the minutiae of celebrity scandal is concerned. Sure, I find the headlines appalling and will readily offer my gut opinion, but reading some of the online debates about what really happened among bajillionaire superstars usually leaves me incredulous! There is absolutely no way that Lulu in Dubuque, or Rachel in Nairobi, can have the faintest clue about what's going on between Brad and Angie, or Tiger and Elin, or Sandy and Jesse, so why spend so much time speculating and condemning?

One online comment today really sort of summed up the situation. The writer suggested that Sandra Bullock will be just fine. Granted, it must be horrible to have your marriage implode weeks after reaching the absolute pinnacle of your profession, after proclaiming your love and devotion to the world, and after slogging through five years of custody battles for a beloved stepchild.

But when these things happen to superstars, they're a lot more equipped to get over it that you or I would be. Money can't buy happiness, but being depressed in beachfront villa on Mauritius is a lot less crappy than being depressed in a one-bedroom rental apartment in Memphis. Having a nervous breakdown is less of a drag when you can afford the counseling and the anti-depressants, I'd wager.

Still, while I don't know the real story behind what's happening to Sandra and Jesse, my heart so totally goes out to her. And here's my bottom line about Jesse James:

"Brah, at least Tiger's Trash looked vaguely human."

In other words, if your man steps out with a consumptive, lizard-like, stank 'ho, cry all you want, go through all the stages of grief 3 times if necessary, but you must always remember--that is SO not about you.

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

Friday, March 19, 2010

But I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For????

Begging your pardon, but I have been totally all tied up these past few days with a little shindig going on in Nairobi this week. Basically, the company I've been working with for the past 20 months, Nation Media Group, has been celebrating its Jubilee...50 years ago this month since the first NMG product, the Daily Nation Newspaper, began publishing.

The Pan African Media Conference 2010 is a really, REALLY big deal. Especially for a mildly-burnt out cynic like me! In fact, it's a bigger deal than I ever really considered it would be, even though NMG is the biggest media company in East and Central Africa. More than anything else, it's offered me an amazing opportunity to reflect on my African training experiences during the past 7 years. Ever since the first time I set foot on the African Continent to lead a reporting workshop, in March of 2003, as a matter of fact, I have had some extraordinary opportunities to observe African media and all its challenges up close and personal.

And get this: the Pan African Media Conference is also making me question whether now's the time to leave the Mamaland. (Yeah, yeah, I know....) But there's so much going on, so much potential. Heck, the theme of the conference is ""Media and the Africa Promise"......

"Should I stay or should I go now? If I stay there will be trouble, If I go there will be double..."

Anyway, I'm still caught up in PAMC activities at the mo', so I'll share my thoughts and impressions over the coming days. But I couldn't help sending this little postcard--my Blurry Brush with Bono! Mr. Afro-Optimism himself, one of the most severely cool people on the planet. I actually got to shake his hand!!!!

Sometimes, I actually shock myself with some of the stuff that happens to me.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Sweet Sticky Thing

Pay attention, cuz this one's gonna get complicated.

I'll start by sharing this photographic evidence of the reason that my butt may need its own tourist visa in the near future. I stumbled across these lovely little treats yesterday. There was this big sign near the bakery at one of the malls I haunt on weekends for "Hot Cross Buns." I laughed to myself reading it, because it just sounded like something out of a Dickens novel, which my early life resembled, except with nothing so exotic as Hot Cross Buns. Naturally, I just had to check 'em out.

Over the past 20 months, I've had mixed results with baked goods in Kenya. I think it may be due to the altitude, but there's definitely something off about the consistency of the cakes and pastries I buy here. Put bluntly, most baked goods I've tasted are abominably dry, dense and flavorless. Pastries are okay if there's enough frosting or fruit filling to help you choke them down. But even the allegedly buttery croissants I'm able to find just ain't right.

These Hot Cross Buns thrilled me! It was only when I got home and did a little online research that I realized I was treading into the realm of paganism. Though they've been coopted by Christianity as treats to be enjoyed near Easter, Hot Cross Buns were definitely a staple of early pagan celebrations. Frankly, I simply don't care if I'm headed to Hell in a handbasket, because these dudes were PERFECT. After a proper re-warming, they were all fluffy and just sweet enough, not cloying, with a healthy dose of spices. And there were raisins...REAL RAISINS, not some bizarre tropical fruit that gum up my teeth and unsettle my nerves. There was just one weird thing about them...the frosting crosses on top refused to melt. I had to break them up and eat them separately. (I'm trying not to read too much into that.)

I ate two yesterday morning, and one this morning, coveting the last one for a later date. But who am I kidding?? These buns will probably be available for the next few weeks' run up to Easter, and I'm gonna buy as many as possible until then. In short, my appetite, which had taken a bit of a dive in recent weeks, is back in full force!

Which is diametrically opposed to another self-diagnosis I made early last week, after
reading an article, the No. 1 online destination for vicious snark. Without putting too fine a point on this discussion, I learned that I am likely "sexually anorexic." This means that I'm not only NOT getting any, but I'm not actively trying to. Geez, why did they have to go and medicalize being a charming yet mildly prudish woman of a certain age with high standards and a low tolerance for bullshit?

I mean, I've discussed my expat dating challenges on this site before. As a 48-year-old never- married woman living on the African continent, I am a bona fide FREAK OF NATURE. Most women my age over here have been long married, are divorced or widowed, and have children at least, most likely a few grandkids, to boot. You just don't find too many women near 50 looking to date.......

Although there have been quite a few articles since I've arrived about the growing phenomenon of younger men and older women---aka "Sugar Mummies." But when you hear it discussed in the media, it definitely makes you feel morally repugnant for even entertaining the thought. By the time you're 40 here, most men consider you an "old mama" who should be picking out dentures rather than sinking your teeth into younger men. Other women your age might cut you a bit of slack--until they start considering you a potential predator to their own 20-something lads. Then you start getting the evil side-eye and the clucking tongues from them. You're basically branded a pitiful old whore who needs to take up gardening.

Ultimately, there's only been one 20-something man I'd even fantasize about getting busy with here. But sadly, he has the unfortunate habit of giggling when he gets really tickled. I'm talking schoolgirl "tee hees." It completely destroys any potential lust. It's a constant reminder that I started my first newspaper job when he was 2 years old.

It ain't gonna happen.

So now I'm apparently sexually starving myself. It's like, I need rehab, or something. Or maybe force feeding, or a freakin' IV bag! No, dammt, I just need ROMANCE!! I need laughter. I need thoughtful conversation. I need a shoulder to lean on. And I also need to go back 35 years, to when the title of this posting was a song by the Ohio Players. It works well as a metaphor for the rapture I experienced when first laying eyes on these Hot Cross buns. But GOD, I remember the time when I used to think lyrics that contained saucy double entendres like "Sweet Sticky Thing" were downright nasty! I remember a time when I used to dream that Stevie Wonder would sing at my wedding, and as I walked back down the aisle, arm in arm with my new husband, Stevie'd be crooning,

"Oh so long, for this night I prayed, that a star would guide you my way, to share with me this special day, where a ribbon's in the sky for our love...."

When I'm honest with myself, THAT'S why I may be considered "sexually anorexic. I've just never been able to be a raging slut. Oh, I can summon the freak in the right setting, but only with somebody I've at least hypnotized myself into believing I wanted to commit to. But sluttery for sluttery's sake has never been my MO. So I'm taking an (extended) break.

Gawd, I'm rambling here, so forgive me! But I hope I've made a modicum of sense. Anyway, my bottom line is that I looked up the lyrics of "Sweet Sticky Thing," and it turns out they weren't even remotely nasty. They were actually kind sweet. Sticky, even.

"You just go from man to man, I just don't seem to understand, Why you're so very hard to tame, You sweet sticky thing.

If I could slow you down sometime, I'd like to try and change your mind. You're really not the one to blame, You sweet sticky thing.

Sweet, sweet stick thing, Sweet, sweet sticky thing....

Every time that you walk by, You really leave me paralyzed. If you just wouldn't play those games, You sweet sticky thing.

Your beehive is full of bees, I wish you had a place for me. I'm really trying hard to change, You sweet sticky thing.

Sweet, sweet sticky thing. Sweet, sweet sticky thing....

Little buzzing bumblebee, I'd love to take you home with me. Where you'd share my beehive with me, You sweet sticky thing.

You leave honey everywhere, Sometimes I wonder if you care Who sees you when you do your thing, You sweet sticky thing.

Sweet, sweet sticky thing. Sweet, sweet sticky thing.....

Da da da da da da da....."

Now that's the kind of lovin' I could gorge myself on.........

Friday, March 12, 2010

Six of One, Half a Dozen of the Other--The Sequel

It occurs to me that all of my recent postings are about black women. Well, I need to add one more to that list, for a fairly ominous reason. The following is reprinted from a news item I read online, about something that happened a few days ago:

"Juanita Goggins, the first Black woman elected to the South Carolina Legislature, was found alone in her home, having apparently died of hypothermia.

"Goggins, the youngest of 10 children, grew up the daughter of a sharecropper in rural Anderson County, about 100 miles northwest of the capital. She was the only sibling to earn a four-year college degree. Her bachelor's in home economics from then-all-black South Carolina State College was followed by a master's degree.

"She taught in the state's segregated schools, married a dentist and got into politics. In 1972, she became the first black woman to represent South Carolina as a delegate to the Democratic National Convention. Two years later, she became the first black woman appointed to the U.S. Civil Rights Commission.

"I am going to Columbia to be a legislator, not just a black spot in the House chambers," she told The Associated Press in 1974 following her victory over an incumbent white man from a district just south of Charlotte, N.C." End of story.

Thirty-six years later, Juanita Goggins froze to death, alone.

After living in developing countries as long I have, I can understand why many people think America is the Land of Milk and Honey, where everybody has enough of everything. To some folks, even the worst of what happens in the US is better than life for the average person in the Third World. But of course horrible things happen in America, of course some people are very poor, and go without the basic necessities of life. And this story horrifies me as much as some of the things I witness over here, maybe even more.

That a woman of Goggins' stature, who made an historic contribution to South Carolina politics, froze to death alone, just guts me. Who knows, maybe she was too proud to ask for help, or maybe she was a loner who isolated herself and nobody knew she was in trouble. Hell, maybe she was the Town Crazy Lady who cursed people out, or who ranted or raved and scared small children.

I don't know. I don't need to know. All do know is that Juanita Goggins should not have died that way. A human tragedy is a human tragedy, whether it's in Kenya or in South Carolina.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Another Piece of the Puzzle

About a week ago, a young female photographer walked up to my desk to politely inform me that she needed to take my headshot photo for a staff publication.

It was about 5 PM, and I was in the middle of a tough story edit, and I was NOT feelin' the love. I asked if she could wait until tomorrow morning, after a good night's rest and a fresh application of make-up, sans the constant sheen of grime one carries from interacting with Nairobi's often carcinogenic breezes.

Of course she said she needed it right away! I then launched into a 5-minute tirade about how most of their staff photos looked like mug shots of desperate criminals, and I did not want to go out like that in a public forum. Then I flounced off in a huff to the nearest bathroom, did what little touching up possible via my make-up bag, brushed my shoulders off, and made sure there weren't any errant locs standing straight up, a la Alfalfa. Then I flounced back to the conference room, where that young female photographer was waiting, wearing an amused expression that clearly said, "This black mzungu is nuts."

During that minute-long shoot, I tried to remember what my buddy Ron, who's taken all of the best pictures of me ever captured, says about having your photo taken. Always, ALWAYS angle yourself. Lean into the shot. Don't force the smile.

I did all that, but was still pissed that impromptu head shoot couldn't have waited til the next day.

But I just opened an email containing a couple of those shots.

Try as I might, I just can't find a damn thing wrong with them.

I LIKE me! I really LIKE me!

Monday, March 8, 2010

Gabourey's Gift

Thank God for hot stone spa pedicures and Ebony Magazine! Even though you have to pay about 3 times more for American magazines over here, it's worth it for me to stay in touch with the cultural zeitgeist back home. (And the GREAT news is that a hot stone spa pedicure here costs about half what it would in the US!!!)

Anyway, this morning after following some of the Oscars ceremony on Twitter, I remembered I'd bought the March issue of Ebony, with Gabourey Sidibe on the cover, but hadn't gotten around to reading it. I was thrilled when Mo'Nique won for Best Supporting Actress, as I knew she would, but I knew Gabby didn't have a shot for the Best Actress nod. After all, "Precious" was her first film role, even though she gave an incredible performance.

Everything else I've read about Ms. Sidibe lately leaves me with the impression that she's an incredibly smart, centered young woman, whose empowered persona and worldview are light years away from the character she played. She seems quite confident and, yes, I'll use that dreaded code word that has stalked me throughout my life, and which is generally bestowed upon African Americans whose vocabulary extends beyond that of a Wayans Brothers sketch--Gabby is very "articulate" in interviews.

I only invoke that "Ripley's Believe It Or Not" kind of label that gets attached to poised black folk because as I read her Ebony interview remarks, I realized that this young woman is also incredibly wise. Vastly more than I was when I was 26. You see, back then, I was completely, utterly focused on proving to the world that I was NOT the frightened, backwards and, yes, unattractive person I thought I was. It hurts and even embarrasses me to have to admit that back when I was 100 pounds fully clothed and soaking wet, had a washboard stomach and muscular legs--and fully functioning ovaries--that I actually believed I was....ugly. But yes, I did. And I thought I had to accomplish something big with my life to earn whatever scrap of love, attention, caring might come my way.

It would take far too long to fully explain why I felt that way, but here's the shorthand: 18 years of being poor, black and marginalized in a racist town did a real number on me. Toss in being raised a Jehovah's Witness, which meant you were supposed to be even more invisible and to renounce worldly trappings that might have helped you feel less worthless, and it has literally taken me nearly the entire 30 years since I left Cairo to achieve a steady, stable level of positive self-esteem.

There are actually times now when I look in the mirror, and I even think I'm...pretty. If I've had enough sleep, and I'm not bloated, and I'm wearing something really cute, I even feel blessed to be a good-looking 48 year old broad. And I look at my wide, African nose and my Hershey's colored skin and my spiky, matted locs, and I think they make me look exotic, even.

Granted, that feeling only happens about a couple times a month, but at least during the rest of the month I don't harshly disparage what stares back at me in the mirror.

Anyway, it took me 48 years to get here. But reading Gabby Sidibe's words literally took my breath away. She is a young African American woman born into the same society that made me feel invisible and ugly 40 years ago, and which even though things have improved slightly in terms of accepting women of color, there's still a long way to go (please refer to the previous posting). Gabby still has to confront the insanely persistent prejudice against overweight people around the world, especially for someone as large as she is.

And yet, if her words are to be believed, this girl has an astonishing sense of self that I couldn't have even fantasized about back when I was 26. I'm including her quotes here because after starting the day being demoralized by the Michelle Obama affront, Gabby Sidibe's interview was like a beautiful gift to all women of African descent, of every size, shape and color. Her words are excerpted as follows:

"Precious exists in people I've known. She exists in people I do know. She had to look in a mirror and see a blonde girl in order to leave the house. I know that girl. I've been that girl. It's really hard to get to the point where you are comfortable in your own skin. It takes work. I've been there so long, I've forgotten what the work is. But there came a point in my life where I was tired of being uncomfortable with myself. That's step number one: just reach the point where you are exhausted."

EDITOR'S NOTE: Amen girlfriend. I got there myself, about 5 years ago.

"Then, I found something about myself that I liked, the idea that I think everything is funny--a self-defense mechanism I'm sure, but I like it. And then I harped on it so much that I eventually loved it. Then I found more things that I liked about myself. (Pressed for examples, Gabby rattles off: chubby cheeks, straight teeth, her snort when she gets a good laugh going.)

EDITOR'S NOTE: I don't have chubby cheeks, but I've been pretty blessed to have teeth that look like I wore braces, mostly smooth,clear skin, and I can snort like a warthog when I'm really tickled! And frankly, if I was unable to find the humor in just about everything that happens to me, I'd have gone completely insane years ago.

"It's really like building a puzzle, the puzzle of you. I found more things I liked about me until I was able to completely love myself as I am now."

Wow. What a beautiful analogy. "It's really like building a puzzle, the puzzle of you." That's what I think I've accomplished, and I'm so thrilled for Gabourey Sidibe that she figured it out decades earlier than I did. No matter what happens with her acting career, she has already won a Lifetime Achievement Award that isn't plated in gold, but burnished with deep, dark Mahogany.

"I'm Just Sayin', Dawg," Part 15

When I look at this picture, I see a beautiful, strong, accomplished, historic black woman.

Maybe it's because I'm a black woman that my heart stirs a bit when I see her. Now, I don't know a thing about Michelle Obama as an individual. She could be humorless, or egotistical, or pushy, or downright unpleasant. All I do know is that she's incredibly accomplished, we share the same political, social, and humanitarian worldviews, and she's the mother of two beautiful little girls, that's she's married to a FINE brother I'd kill to be able to clone.

And I think she's very beautiful.

So that's why I've been disturbed all day, ever since reading about the CEO of the Tennessee Hospitality Association who thought it was a hoot to forward an email to 12 of his "closest friends" which essentially suggested that Michelle Obama resembles a chimpanzee. It was such an offensive and rude and disrespectful punk-assed move that it boggles the mind, even as I realize that a woman in her position is fair game.

God knows that throughout American history, the occupants of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue have been pilloried through cartoons and vicious satire. And I'd bet Mrs. Obama can take it, so she doesn't need me to pile onto this schmuck from Tennessee in her defense. But what I can't stop considering is how someone who is so obviously attractive and accomplished could be so publicly mocked, and characterized as anything less than human. I mean, it's one thing to slap some donkey ears on Dubya, or big rabbity bucked teeth on Jimmy Carter, but I can't recall a prominent political wife being portrayed as a pig or a mule or.....a chimp.

The only good thing about this story is that several of the "friends" who received the outrageous email were deeply offended by it. I mean, if he'd been some guy who works at the Post Office, it wouldn't have made national headlines. And I'm sure a few of the folks on that the Chuckle-headed CEO's email list probably forwarded it to a bunch of other folks, which means it's probably been already been seen by millions of people, a healthy percentage of whom may agree with its sentiments. But those who were outraged that a man in his public capacity could be so callously disrespectful of the First Lady of the United States, and feel totally comfortable sharing those asinine sentiments, called him on that shit, and made sure he was publicly reprimanded.

In the end, it doesn't seem to have made much difference. Sure, His Hospitableness lost a big contract, but he initially refused to apologize because he didn't think it was a big deal. He and his ilk have already written the controversy off to political correctness run amok. And millions of people who don't like the Obamas, and who cleave to the still overwhelmingly white standard of American beauty, may always find it ridiculous that this black woman is the First Lady of the United States, and may always look at this picture and not see anything even remotely attractive, forget about beautiful.

Like I said, I'd bet Michelle Obama can take it. And the millions of other people who also see her beauty can dismiss this kind of mindless pejorative. I'll be able to do that too, eventually.

But for the time being, it just really kinda hurts.

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

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Six of One, Half a Dozen of the Other

If you MUST know, I've been experiencing a goodly amount of guilt about the fact that I not only never wrote a blogpost about the Haiti earthquake, I'm not really inclined to opine about Chile. Or Taiwan. And if one happens tomorrow, I may not write about that, either.

I think Kenya has kind of maxed me out on the sight of people of African descent suffering untold horror. Granted, even though I've been to Kibera and refugee camps and seen myriad other examples of poverty and human suffering on the Continent, I'm certain nothing I've witnessed would compare to the death and destruction in Haiti. It's just anything I'd write would probably come off pompous and melodramatic. At least, moreso than usual.
But for some reason, all of a sudden, I feel like writing about polygamy. And I had two choices to illustrate this post....a picture of South African President Jacob Zuma, or the one I went with, Academy Award-nominated actress Mo'Nique. (Full disclosure: I LOVE MO'NIQUE. She is hilarious, she is real, and she was astonishing in "Precious." I'm praying she'll win.)
Now, in case you haven't heard about Prezzo Zuma's antics, that 67-year-old goat just married his 5th wife (one of the others killed herself, so technically he only has 4). And word has it there's another one on deck. But hey, he's a member of the Zulu tribe, which proudly practices polygamy, so that's not so much "news" in these parts.
What WAS news recently is that Zuma slept with the 39 year old daughter of one of his friends and got her pregnant. With his 20th child. Oh, and I forgot to mention that he was accused of rape a few years back, and that he had sex with an HIV positive woman once, but then said he was okay because he took a shower afterwards.
Not exactly the poster child for healthy sexuality and relationships, but then the information in the last paragraph isn't so much what this posting is about. What Zuma seems to embody is the age old debate about whether it's even biologically natural for a man to only have one mate. In quite a few cultures, men are free to marry as many women as they want. (Technically, religious leaders in those cultures insist that men must only marry as many women as they can afford to support. So why are most polygamists as poor as church mice, and don't seem to give a crap about comfortably feeding and clothing 4 or 5 wives and goo gobs of kids? It's like, "While God is figuring out a way to provide, let me just keep gettin' my freak on.")
My own views about man's ability to cleave to just one partner have shifted dramatically in the past few years. Well, technically, that shift began while I was still in the US, and found myself sharing several of my own men with other women. There's nothing more maddening than realizing, after you thought you'd been sizzling in the kitchen, the boardroom and the bedroom, that your man has a side dish (or two) on the sideboard. You're like, "Wasn't I enough? What was I doing wrong? What should I have been doing to keep him interested in only me??"
Apparently, Ms. Mo'Nique doesn't worry herself with those kinds of agonizing doubts. When she got married a few years ago, to a man she'd known for decades and who she considered her best friend, her fans were thrilled for her. Then came whispers and rumors that hubby had some outside interests, which Mo'Nique quickly countered by hinting at their "open marriage." Well, now those hints have been verified, because she recently confirmed her open marriage to Barbara Walters in a pre-Oscars special. And she added that she wasn't threatened or bothered by her husband's sexual dalliances.
10 years ago, I would have thought, "Yuck." Today, I'm mostly thinking, "Mo', girlfriend, that is WAAAAAYYY too much information." Look, if she isn't worried about diseases, and if she's emotionally secure enough to not consider his recreational diddling as rejection, then who's to say she hasn't just devised a healthy approach to modern relationships?
Thank GOD my sister Julie isn't able to physically slap the shit out of me for writing that. But a lot of people, men and women, all around the world, actually, think polygamy makes a lot of sense. After all, a lot of people, men and women, all around the world, sleep around on their partners. At least with polygamy, there's an attempt at some sort of legal responsibility for one's actions. At least when a mature woman agrees to be one of several wives, she knows what she's getting into from jump street. Sure, a lot of women can't really foresee just how jealous they're gonna feel until after they've made that choice. But nobody can say they didn't know what they were signing up for.
Moreso than The Four Mrs. Zumas, Mo'Nique has taken a pretty bold stand, one that African American women have been nudged toward in various guises for many decades now. We've been asked to consider "sharing" our men, even though we haven't had the legal cover of polygamy. Or we've been advised to just accept that men are dogs, and they're gonna cheat anyway, so we better get over it or get some on the side ourselves. I've never been able to adopt any of those strategies.
As someone who's actually fielded a polygamous proposal, I will say I'm a work in progress, kinda. Most days I think I wanna get married, to just one hilariously smart and sexy guy, preferably a grandfather of several children under age 6. Then I look at the odds and the pickins, and I become even more convinced it may never happen. But here's the thing: under the right circumstances, with the right guy, I would probably take more than the hour I spent convincing the Muslim chef from Lamu that I wasn't gonna be Wife Number 2, to consider all the reasons why, at this point in my life, it just might make sense.
After all, it's six of one, and half a dozen of the other, eh?

March Forth

I will ALWAYS acknowledge this day, albeit in a seriously subdued fashion, for several reasons. About 7 years ago today, I was reading an online article about this big-time pastor/motivational speaker whose name escapes me, who died on March 4th. Though they mourned his death, his followers and fans took it as a sign. Even in death, he was telling them to,

"March Forth."

Of course, two days after reading that article, I learned my brother David had killed himself on March 5th. Thus began the darkest period of my entire life, culminating in the death of my insanely beloved sister Julie four and a half years later. With my parents' deaths sprinkled in between, just to make things interesting.

I swear, sometimes I have no Earthly idea how I got from there to here.

And there are still times, like this morning, when I would prefer to spend the foreseeable future curled in the fetal position. It been rainy and grey lately in Nairobi, and nothing in my closet fits, and my salt-and-pepper roots are showing, and I'm PMS-ing and--look, just don't even ask.

But I must march forth. I WILL march forth. Never underestimate the power of a spa pedicure.