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.

Friday, April 30, 2010

"I'm Just Sayin', Dawg," Part 18

All-righty-THEN! Word on the street has it that Canadian model Gabriel Aubry couldn't handle the 9 year age difference between him and Halle Berry, and decided to bail on their 5 year relationship.

Is there some directly proportional relationship between how gorgeous and talented you are and how unlucky you will be in love?

Maybe there really is a curse attached to the Best Actress Oscar. Or maybe the neurotic, obsessive drive required to reach the top makes some people a bit nutty and hard to live with. Or maybe some other people are inherently incapable of using their reproductive organs on only one other person at a time (*cough*MAN WHORE*cough*).

Or maybe some people are just doomed to make lousy choices every time. But if they're internationally famous screen goddesses, maybe they're supposed to just comfort themselves with that. I mean, how ungrateful would you seem to complain about bad luck with relationships when you're rich, talented, and consistently named one of the most beautiful people in the world?

Besides, Halle Berry got an insanely pretty baby girl out of the relationship, so I suspect she'll be able to get over it and get on with it.

Still, if HALLE BERRY can't keep a man....?????

You know the drill.

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

Thursday, April 29, 2010

The Best Revenge

I am so happy for Sandra Bullock, I could cry. Even though this puts me in the ranks of those achingly sad individuals who believe they somehow know jillionaire celebrities, and like their opinions actually matter.

Still, she seems like the kind of woman who wouldn't be creeped out by my intense empathy. After all, I'm also a single, forty-something woman who's had her share of being dogged out by dudes (though I have to say, at least my guys cheated on me with humanoid life forms, instead of sleazy Nazi nympho lizards who look like they probably smell really bad.)

Like millions of other people around the world, when I heard that Sandra Bullock was holed up in her various mansions following the devastating revelations, I figured she was lying on her back a couch clutching a remote, with a pizza box on her stomach and a Prozac bottle on the coffee table, right next to the Glen Fiddich. Few would argue that she had earned a major funk fest, after what Jesse Jerk had subjected her to.

So I am plum tickled to learn that she was actually walking the floor over this precious little chubster named Louie. Strangely enough, it gives me hope--although I instantly snap back to reality when I realize that Sandy started the adoption process when she was about 40. And married. And worth a hundred million dollars or so. It's a lock I'll never be 40 again, and the other two variables....well, let's just say I'm "cautiously optimistic."

Still, by the time I got married and earned a hundred million dollars, there's not a country in the world that would let an old-assed woman of 50-something adopt a newborn. So for the moment, I'm living vicariously through the joy of Ms. Sandra Bullock, who the whole world assumed had been hurled down into the Valley of the Shadows, but who was actually traversing the Olympian heights of maternal love for a precious new baby.

Prosaic stuff aside, though, am I the only person capable of accurately interpreting the expression on Little Louie Bullock's face??? It's quite clear to me that instead of being all googly-eyed and infant-like, his gaze is clear and coldly-focused, and he is staring directly at Jesse James, and his little baby brain is telegraphing these words:

"When I am 21-years-old, and 6 foot 2 and 190 pounds, I am going to hunt you down, and I am going to totally FUCK YOU UP for what you did to my mother."

At least, one can only hope that's what he's thinking.

"Miss Rachella Regrets"

I often find myself hoping my life has achieved the poised, elegant sophistication of an Ella Fitzgerald song.

"Miss Otis regrets, she's unable to lunch today, madam,
Miss Otis regrets, she's unable to lunch today."

It would mean I'm a woman of substance, charm and grace. It would mean that I issue invitations like this one I just received, all gold foil and lacy ribbons. It would mean I have arrived, and that attention must be paid.

Come to think of it, though, I suppose my life IS like an Ella Fitzgerald lyric. After all, Miss Otis is sending her regrets through her loyal minion because she just caught a case for blastin' her cheating lover with a handgun concealed under her velvet gown. Girlfriend got dragged off by an angry mob, and was later strung up on the old willow across the way.

"Dysfunction Junction," for reals. Not that my life holds quite as much homicidal passion, unless you count the way I want to strangle the dumbass cretins behind the wheels of the matatu death sleds that choke Nairobi roadways.

Anyway, besides l'il orphaned babies, I'm also thinking of things like RSVP's and social graces these days, after receiving my first Kenyan wedding invitation! It's from a young woman I mentored briefly before she decided she wasn't interested in health reporting and switched to covering courts. I actually don't see her very much anymore, so this gorgeous gold invitation took me by surprise.

But when I thought about it, it's not so different from what happens in the US, when people you barely know send you invites to their 3rd wedding, or to their kid's graduation or bar mitzvah. It's so obvious they're fishing for presents, you almost wanna just puke into the envelope and mail it back to them. Now, I've been hit up often enough over the past few years in Kenya, mostly to help with burial costs, or school fees and real-life stuff like that. You feel like a real asshole if you turn down that kind of request. But I'm actually kind of shocked that it's taken this long to be invited to a wedding.

But then maybe I shouldn't be. Kenyan weddings seem to be extremely boisterous, extended family affairs. The operative word being family, or at least people who you feel close enough to consider family. With family sizes being what they are on this side of the world, this rarely leaves room for outsiders. Which is what I continue to be considered by most people here, after all.

So, like I said, it was a pleasant surprise to be invited. I've wanted to experience a Kenyan wedding for quite a while. It's a pity I have to send my regrets, though. You see, I was also invited to a golf tournament in Arusha, Tanzania that same weekend, and that happened before I was handed this gold envelope.

Few mortals can truly comprehend the crushing burden of being in high demand on the social scene. It's like a butterfly having its wings pulled in two directions at once, desperately attempting to rise above the clamor of its own blinding beauty and popularity.

Or something like that.

Clothes Minded

See, I just knew I would get caught up in a lot of heart-tugging drama if I kept thinking about Baby ANC!!! And I also knew that I would drag my feet just long enough to hear something that would make my heart sink a bit.

When I finally screwed up the courage to go back and see her again, Elizabeth the social worker told me that Baby ANC is no longer a resident of the Pumwani Maternity Hospital Abandoned Babies Room. She's gone. And not into a loving home, where there are baby bottles and warm blankets and smiling faces. She's was taken to one of several dozen orphanages in Nairobi. She's in a "baby home," and she's all alone, except for probably a few other babies lying next to her in the same rickety crib.

Don't act surprised that I'm already building up some Dickensian melodrama in my mind, which will likely provide even more reason for me to procrastinate about seeing Baby ANC again. The spartan conditions in Pumwani were bad enough. But so far, in my seven years of traveling to and living in African countries, I've actually never been inside an orphanage.

Something tells me I already know exactly what I'll see when I get there, and it will be a major bummer, and I will spend several days afterwards trying to pull myself together.

But then, maybe I shouldn't be so negative. Maybe it won't be so bad, and I'll even be uplifted a bit. That's why I went to Toi Market yesterday to buy these clothes to take with me when I go to the orphanage. It was actually a lot of fun picking out all the teeny tee shirts and jumpers and and dresses and pants and overalls...for once, being a shopaholic was a positive thing. But I know the folks at the different stalls must still be talking about the mad Black Mzungu, barking orders for onesies with "More color, that one is so drab! Do you have one with shorter sleeves? And that one...SIMPLY HIDEOUS!!!"

Anyway, I'll have a nice gift basket for the babies and toddlers I see when I finally get around to visiting Baby ANC in the orphanage. And the good news is, there'll be room to smuggle her out with me when I leave.

Yeah, yeah, I can hear what y'all are thinking.

"That's our Rachel. All Talk, No Action."

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

We Are Bound Together By Our Soul Food

Scenes like this are what I miss most about not being in the US right now.

When I saw this picture, I was instantly transfixed by the imagery. It's a photo of President Barack Obama ordering lunch at the
12 Bones Barbecue Restaurant in Ashville, North Carolina, during a recent weekend getaway. He had visited the spot during his campaign, and vowed to come back someday.

Here's why this picture takes my breath away. At 48, I can still call up vivid bits of Civil Right era drama. I can definitely remember segregation, and not being able to go inside certain stores, and being warned to stay out of certain neighborhoods, because of the color of my skin.

And then there were the harsh images that got seared on a kid's brain. Marchers being blasted by firehoses, angry mobs, snarling dogs, lunch counter protests. I remember that whenever my family took summer trips to cities like Memphis and St. Louis or Chicago or Indianapolis for Jehovah's Witness conventions, we always had to carry our own food and drink in picnic hampers. These days, you take off-ramp stops at Wendy's and KFC for granted in most parts of America, and the only color proprietors are interested in is green. Fifty years ago, most of the restaurants we drove past along the way wouldn't serve food to black people.

As I soaked up this recent image, I remembered that the actual lunch counter from the Greensboro, North Carolina Woolworth's is in the Smithsonian Institution. Fifty years ago, four black college students sat down at that counter and refused to move unless they were served. Deep in my heart, I believe those young men must have felt something stirring deep in their hearts, something that couldn't be uprooted by fear. I know most people say they had no way of knowing their bold actions in the heat of the moment could lead to something profoundly historic. But I believe part of what those guys were feeling at the moment had to do with this photo of Barack Obama.

It's so astonishing that I've lived long enough to witness a black man ordering soul food at a lunch counter in North Carolina, and that black man is the most powerful man in the world, the President of my country. My home.

Even the way the young woman taking his order is smiling makes my heart sing! Every time I read about the racist hatred and disrespect being aimed at President Obama, a part of me is glad to be away from it. But now I can remember the shy smile of this blonde, pony-tailed young white woman, who was probably thrilled to be meeting the President of the United States, and I can start missing my home all over again.

Because every white southern American isn't a teabagger. Most of them would probably enjoy sitting down with this man over a cold glass of sweet tea.

Monday, April 26, 2010

"I'll Come Home When I'm 50!"

Been thinkin' a lot lately. Thinkin', thinkin', thinkin'. Then I changed my mind. Then I changed it back. Then I started thinkin' again. Thinkin', thinkin', thinkin'.

And what, pray tell, have I been thinkin' about? Stuff. Life stuff. Career stuff. Future stuff. Present stuff.

Like, where is my home? That question always has multiple answers, I guess. I was born in Cairo, Illinois, so that's my original home. I lived in Washington for 13 years, so in many ways, DC feels like home, I guess.

And of course, America, writ large, will always be my ULTIMATE HOME.

But I don't have a "home" of my own, really. No piece of real estate that I can claim as my base, bought and paid (or paying) for, lock, stock and key. Sure, I've had a hell of an adventurous life lately, but somewhere along the line, I never really embraced the wisdom of establishing a postal address of one's own.

Truth be told, I guess before 3 years ago this October, I used to always think that wherever my sister Julie was would always be my home base. I'd naturally have a life of my own, and a (rental) place of my own (because, really, who needs to fool with storm gutters and mold and flood insurance and such??). But whenever I needed to go someplace to let down my guard, relax, and just be, I just knew it would be wherever Julie was.

Geez, this is really starting to sound retarded!! I mean, here I am, old as Satan's armoire, and instead of talking about sharing my life with a husband and/or a kid of my own, in a place of my own, I'm whining about not being able to hang out with my big sis! Am I a total emotional amoeba, or what??

Anyway, this riff stems from the main reason I've been so quiet lately. Just over a month ago, my boss asked me to consider staying in Kenya a third year. Which was kind of funny, because when I was back in the States over Christmas, I'd asked her to be a reference for a fellowship I wanted to apply for. Which, if I got it, would begin in September. Which means I would have to leave Kenya by August at the latest. We were both pretty clear on that trajectory. She agreed to write me a reference letter, so I pretty much assumed she knew I was mentally disengaging from the program.

But a lot of things happened last month. A reporting workshop I led in Kibera really recharged my batteries. It got me back to the original reason I started doing this work, because lots of young African journalists really need the help and support. Then a few weeks later, the Pan African Media Conference I mentioned in a post a while back gave me a lot more to think about. Basically, there are scads of reasons to believe that the East African region is about to experience a tremendous metamorphosis when it comes to journalism. Oh, I could easily walk away, because I miss...


...but then I started thinkin'. THINKIN', THINKIN', THINKIN'. Then I changed my mind. Then I changed it back. Then I started thinkin' again: "Is "home" a geographic location for me? I have plenty of friends and family who love me in America, and I'm sure many of them would let me crash with them for a while, but where is my "HOME"?

Well, for one more year, it' s the Oasis of Graciousness, in suburban Nairobi. Strap yourself in, dear readers. Something tells me it's gonna be a hell of a ride. After all, I turn 50 in 2011....

WHEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!! Now THERE'S a hell of a way to make a triumphant return, half a century old, with a pretentious, fake-assed expat accent, and nowhere to live!! Can't wait!!

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Child's Pose

This one's for you, Baby ANC. Can't get you out of my mind, girlfriend. Think I'll try and get back to Pumwani Hospital to see you later this week. I know, I know, heading down that path can only lead to fits of remorse and downright heartbreak the day I find out you're gone, but I can't help it.

Just call it the last gasp of maternal instinct and leave it at that. I'll deal with the fallout somehow.

I guess.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Why Must I Feel Like That?

"...nuthin' but the dog in me." The downward facing dog, that is.

This shot explains why I just popped 3 Advil Liquigels. Those yoga tapes and books make doing poses like this seem relatively easy.

But let me tell you, I admit that I look more like "Deputy Dawg" than downward facing dog here. And I am hurtin' for certain after a couple days of this routine. Truly, I have a long way to go along the yoga path. But you have to start somewhere.

"I'm Just Sayin', Dawg," Part 17

This is how Anne and I were greeted when we arrived at the Shaanti Holistic Yoga Retreat. Damn, I almost look buffed in this shot! Check out my biceps...those guns are blazin'!!

Okay, I know I'm tripping. But I do look kinda sorta toned. Imagine what I'd look like if I actually hit the gym more often.

But then, "The journey of a thousand miles begins when you finally accept that every glass of wine consumed by a middle-aged woman goes straight to her thighs, ass and gut, unless she burns that shit off on a regular basis."

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

"Hush Now, Don't Explain"

Y'all should be so proud of me! I just got back to the Oasis, after two and a half days at the Shaanti Holistic Yoga Retreat south of Mombasa, and I didn't write a single blog post the whole time!

I have been hearing rave reviews about this place for ages, so it didn't take much for me to agree to accompany my friend Anne back to my beloved Diani Beach. And as soon as we stowed our bags and started wandering the property, I immediately felt that Billie Holiday mood returning. Mellow, seasoned, cool.

I also decided to return because I suspect yoga may be the answer for me, in the long term. It's about being flexible, and pliant, and open. It's about being in the moment, about listening to your own breath. It's about being receptive and focused. All things I need to be, in all areas of my life.

When I reclined on a lounge chair Saturday afternoon, shortly after we arrived, this is what I saw. And it was beautiful. Peaceful. Breezy yet calm.

Don't overthink this. It's simple. I needed to seek balance. I needed to slow down.

The word "Shaanti" is Sanskrit for serenity. That's what I'm aiming for.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Nice People RULE!

There is a steep price to pay for being a fabulous hostess, and I think I got double-billed this morning. It's not like there was a chance in HELL I was gonna make it downtown for a 7 AM staff meeting this morning ANYWAY, but the fact that I consumed about a bottle and a half of white wine, a "tetch" of Johnny Walker Green Label, and several healthy snorts of champagne last night at one of my legendary "Candlelight Suppers," definitely destroyed any possibility that I would be upright before 8 AM.

I guess I was just happy to be back in the hostessing swing of things, and glad to welcome the woman in the middle of this shot to Nairobi. Anne is an editor extraordinaire for NPR, and it has been too damned long since we've had time to get caught up. Over the past few years, whenever I've been back in DC, her work schedule and my frantic attempts to get a million things done in my slim window of time on American soil have sorely eclipsed our girlfriend gab time.

Also featured in this picture is our friend Gwen, who's the East Africa correspondent for NPR. She travels so much that for the first year I was here, I may have seen her 3 times. But because Gwen may be headed back to the US soon for a fellowship, I'm seeing her more often and loving it (although she is headed to hot, dusty, politically wacky Juba, Sudan tomorrow for 10 days...Ahhh, the life of a foreign correspondent...).

The person taking the picture is Susan, another friend who's lived in Nairobi 15 years, and is a former AP foreign correspondent. Susan is one of the smartest people I've ever met, and I swear you can mention any subject in the world and she either has personal knowledge or has read up on it. Sadly, Susan does have one minor flaw---she refuses to forget the first time I invited her to dinner after I had just moved into the Lizard Apartments, and I served her some locally produced ostrich egg pasta that dissolved into a mushy pulp the minute it hit the boiling water. To her credit, Susan choked that hideous mess down like a trooper, while I spent the entire evening apologizing. But ever since, she has taken malicious pleasure in threatening to publicly expose that Byzantine culinary blunder at every possible social opportunity. So I've decided to strip her of that power by outing myself. Take that, you evil brainiac!!!

If I'm honest with myself, moments like these make expat life quite lovely. If you light enough candles, and keep enough adult beverages flowing, and share enough funny stories about life on the road, and welcome enough good friends from home to experience the really wonderful parts of the country you're living in, and you relax and tell yourself that, for the most part, life is pretty damned good, all of a sudden, you start actually believing it.

Still, a sista's gotta get a handle on the hooch at some point. I've felt like 4 miles of bad road all day today. Fortunately, a remedy is in store....

Thursday, April 8, 2010

The Bitch is Back!

Look, I would prefer not having to nag people, but sometimes it's the only thing that works!

By way of explanation, I think I've mentioned how much of a jolt of positive energy I got from attending the recent Pan African Media Conference here in Nairobi. I've been working here almost two years now, but until lately, it felt like I was tilting at windmills. There's only so much "skinnin' and grinnin' " you can do to get people to buy into your game plan, and then you start thinking, what's the point???

While I take a great deal of credit for coming into an overwhelmingly male newsroom culture and getting editors and managers to take me AND my opinions seriously, it really seemed like nothing was gonna pierce the obsessional approach to covering political wrangling and corruption. And all I was trying to say is that readers care about other stuff, too. Like, er, um, THEIR HEALTH.

Even the handful of fairly significant successes I'd achieved weren't enough to stop burnout, until the conference. Being in an atmosphere where major media managers were acknowledging the problems, and making tangible commitments to change, really lifted my spirits. But apparently not enough for me to rattle off an all-staff email Wednesday morning that my mother would have concluded was quite patently "nice-nasty."

Don't worry--I led with praise. I raved about three recent stories which I think did a great job of diffusing all the oppressive political coverage. One was about dangerous trans fatty acids contained in the cheap cooking oils used to cook Kenyan fast foods, another was about a ballet program for girls in the Mathare slum, and the third was about a program that teaches children about the damage caused by political corruption. I gave each reporter major props for their work--and then I blasted editors for not thinking to put stories like this on the front page. Frankly, I'm sick of waking up every morning and seeing the same five politicians staring out at me, yammering about the same issues that they have no intention of doing anything about. I said it would be a major gift to wake up one morning and see something else that matters to readers on the front page.

Now, I can't definitively prove that today's Page 1 Daily Nation story, about the unhealthy eating and lifestyles of Kenyan children, was a result of my hormonal rant, and I haven't been in the office today to nail that down. Still, I get the sneaking suspicion that some of the guys in Nation Centre aren't entirely convinced that I won't walk into a morning news meeting one day, take off my earrings and start slapping everybody sitting around the conference table if they don't start doing what I say, dammit! Occasional hot flashes often lend a woman like me an aura of ominous gravity. They probably read my email and decided it was a quick way to throw a sister a bone.

Hey, whatever works! "The bitch, the bitch, the bitch is back, Stone cold sober as a matter of fact! I'm a bitch, I'm a bitch, and I'm better than you. It's the way that I move, the things that I do, whoa, whoa!"

"The Impossible Will Take A Little While"

Yesterday was Billie Holiday's birthday. And the crazy thing is, I was listening to her "Greatest Hits" on my iPod Nano all day before I even knew it was her birthday!

"Crazy he calls me, Sure, I'm crazy...."

Anyhoo, the title of the post comes from one of Billie's classics, and it reminds me of the picture at right, which is my favorite of all the images from my visit to Pumwani Maternity Hospital Monday morning. It's me feeding my precious, abandoned little Baby ANC--or at least it's me giving her a milk bath while she inadvertently swallows a few drops. Like I mentioned the other day, the hospital can't afford baby bottles, so every 3 hours, nurses come into the Abandoned Babies' Room and cradle their little heads while trying to pour milk down their teeny little gullets using spouted little cups.

I love this image because you can see that Baby ANC is balling up her fist like she's ready to punch me dead in the snout. If she could speak, it would be, like, "Dammit, Lady, what part of "I AM A 1-MONTH OLD INFANT WITH A SUCKLING INSTINCT THAT CANNOT BE SATISFIED USING A CUP" do you NOT understand??? In case you are blind, most of this milk is running down my neck and back! Could you at least slow down a bit and let me try and swallow the 1 out of 5 drops you're trying to strangle me with????"

Like I said, at least I was there for her, in that one moment. I hope to get back to Pumwani and check on Baby ANC really soon. But the experience reminded me that I owe some of you readers an update about PCEA Muniu Primary School, near the Maai Mahiu Internally Placed Persons camp near Nairobi. Several of you have been committed supporters of my drive to start a school lunch program, in honor of my late sister Julie Newell, and for the last term of 2009, your generous donations literally kept it up and running.

You may be wondering how things are going. I'm embarrassed to say that so am I. You see, a combination of burnout, compassion fatigue, a suddenly crazy work schedule has made me detach a bit from that project. You don't have to tell me that the Archangel Julie is probably greatly disappointed. Trust me, I watch my back every time there's a thunderstorm.

But somehow or the other, I've got to get myself in gear. I'm going to try and get back to the school really soon. I'll send you an update when I do. And I'll also let you know if Baby ANC has forgiven me for my inept feeding attempt next time I get to Pumwani. I just hope she's still there....or then again, maybe I hope hospital officials will have found a loving home to send her to.

It's just a shame it can't be mine.

Can it??

Monday, April 5, 2010

Me and "Baby ANC"

Here's how I spent my morning today. And no, I am NOT cradling a tiny South African Freedom Fighter in this shot.

This precious, scrumptious, adorable little creature wears a teeny green plastic armband bearing the label "Baby ANC" because her mother, who was likely desperately poor and either already overwhelmed with several other children she couldn't feed--or was much too young herself--bundled her up and left her on a desk at the Pumwani Maternity Hospital's Antenatal Clinic (hence the "ANC" moniker).

Baby ANC is about 1 month old, and she is beyond perfect. I suppose that throughout my lifetime I've considered just about every baby I've personally interacted with to be perfect, so maybe you should take that appraisal with a grain of salt. Still, this itty bitty cherub was clearly THE most perfect, the most placid, the sweetest baby in the Abandoned Babies Room.......

....which I almost didn't make it to, after a minor meltdown in Ward 6 of Pumwani. That's one of the delivery wards for the 80 or so mostly poor women who give birth at Pumwani every day. It was full of mothers recovering from a gruelling process I still have a great deal of trouble determining why someone would willingly put themselves through.

Anyway, I was there with 3 other women delivering the baby clothes and personal products we'd brought for the moms and babies. Ruth, one of the young women I've mentored here over the past few years, was actually born at Pumwani, so this project is dear to her heart. And when I saw the conditions at the struggling facility, which is actually the 3rd largest maternity hospital on the African continent, I understood why Ruth is so commited to helping.

Anyway, my meltdown occurred while I was handing out the sanitary pads I'd purchased over the weekend. I remember standing in the Nakumatt Superstore Saturday afternoon and thinking, "How many is enough?" After about 35 years of dealing with the whole "cycle of life" hassle, I realized that even if I emptied my wallet, it still wouldn't be enough. It would last those women through 2 or 3 cycles, maybe, and then they'd be back to ground zero. Too poor to buy pads--or even rags to use.

I wound up buying 20 packs of 10. Wasn't sure how many moms we'd meet, but at least it was a start. Elizabeth, the hospital's only (INSANELY DEDICATED!!!!) social worker, suggested we split the packages in half and give each mom 5. I gadded about the ward like a flight attendant on steroids, smiling and cooing at the newborns cradled in their exhausted mothers's arms as I doled out pads. But when I reached one new mother's bed, the Ward Matron told me to give her a whole package.

"No one has visited her," she said. "I don't think she has anywhere to go. It would mean a lot to her." That's when I really looked at the girl sitting on the edge of her bed. She looked about 15. She looked terrified. She looked emotionally scarred. She looked desperate sitting there trying to get her baby to latch onto her slight, malnourished breast. She looked poor, and she looked psychologically damaged, and she looked....

Like me. Not physically, and actually not even figuratively, other than the fact that we are both women of African descent. When I say she looked like me, what I guess I mean is she looked like the me that could have been, without God, and the Universe, and Eloise Jones and Julie Newell and my own inherent will. All of a sudden, standing in that hospital wearing shoes and a watch and clothing that could have fed everyone in that ward for a month, I realized that one twist of fate 48 years ago, one decision made differently along the way, could have found me perched on the edge of a public hospital bed clutching a baby I had no hope of offering anything other than the abject misery of my own existence.

Bottom line? I lost it. I started walking out of Ward 6, and didn't stop until I found a hallway with a cool breeze blowing through it, to clear out the smell of bleach and filthy water and various bodily effluvia, and I cried for that girl, and that baby born on Easter Sunday. I cried for myself and for my own unfulfilled maternal instinct. And I also probably cried because as much as I adore babies, I now realize that not only will I probably never have one, I am also forced to accept that I probably never really wanted one that I would have to be fully responsible for, and make sacrifices for, and alter my own life course for in anyway.

So basically, I was standing there in Pumwani Hospital cursing my own selfishness, and the fact that I hadn't bought 400, even 600 sanitary pads, and that I hadn't contributed more money for the infant clothes, and that I had been so damned thoughtless about childbirth 20 years ago when my ovaries didn't resemble raisins, and didn't just get pregnant, for God's sake, and let the details work themselves out, because now even if I wanted to, and met the man of my dreams who would be the best father ever, I probably couldn't.

Ruth and the others probably think I'm just a kind-hearted soul who just wants to do more, and THAT'S why I was standing there dabbing my eyes and clutching my chest. And I suppose I am, in some ways. But after I pulled myself together and made it to the abandoned babies' room, I also accepted that most of time, especially in a developing country like Kenya, by yourself you just can't do more. You can only do what you're able to do in any given snapshot of time. Sure, you can torture yourself about the overwhelming scope of the problem, and you can look at what other people have beeen able to accomplish and beat yourself up for coming up short.

Or you can just pick up the abandoned baby in rusted old crib in front of you, and you can cradle her and coo, and you can give her a bath while you sing to her, and you can hold her head while you feed her milk from a cup because the hospital can't afford bottles, and you can just know that in that moment, you were there for her.