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
Thursday, April 29, 2010
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 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.
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
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
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
Monday, April 12, 2010
Friday, April 9, 2010
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....