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, June 29, 2010

"I'm So Glad We Had This Time Together"

I just love DC so much. And I love AMERICA so much, with all my heart. I should be used to leaving by now, but it never gets easier.

I love how, 16 years after I moved to DC, I can catch a glimpse of a monument or a museum building and it still makes me catch my breath. And not just because of the oppressive humidity. I still can't believe a gal like me wound up living and working here.

Oh, well. Gotta head out, tonight at 6:30. I have work to do. But I'll be back. I promise.

"I'm Just Sayin', Dawg," Part 21

I'm probably just an overly proud aunt, but doesn't my nephew James look like a taller, much handsomer, 20 billion times smarter Taylor Lautner in this picture???

"Dude, ditch the whole "chemistry thing" and head to Hollywood, for Chrissakes!!! Auntie needs a chalet in Biarritz!!!!"

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

Like Finding Myself in a Haystack

This is my new most favorite picture of myself. It was taken on cold, rainy, foggy Cannon Beach, on the coast of Central Oregon, by my friend Lisa. I'm posing near the famous Haystack Rock in the waters of the Pacific.

When I first saw this shot, I was tempted to mention how fat I look, but I really don't, even with the fleece jacket on. I have to send yet another shout out across the miles to my Zanzi-buddy Ron, who told me to always angle myself when facing a camera. I think I pulled off a pretty decent angle in this shot. Shaved off 10 pounds in the process.

And I guess I just look grown in this picture. Grown-er than I've ever looked, I think. I look like an author posing for a book jacket in this picture. I look like a woman who's been somewhere and seen some things. I look quite content without being smug about it.

I like this woman. A lot.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Taking the Bitter With The Sweet

A lot of things about the past few weeks have made me smile, and I've indulged in a lot of long, loud, medicinal laughter. But I wasn't laughing when the TSA employee at the Portland airport confiscated this harmless little jar of jam because I'd forgotten to stick it in my checked bag.

I'd first tasted it in California, during my nephew's graduation weekend. When his Aunt Carol mentioned there was some Marionberry in the refrigerator, I laughed out loud. I totally thought she was joking.

If you're from DC, the words "Marion" and "Barry" go together in a way that's mostly bittersweet. I've learned enough about the city's former, infamous mayor to know that 50 years ago, his energy and commitment to Civil Rights were sincere. I've also learned that one reason the Metro DC area has the highest concentration of affluent African Americans in the country is because Mayor Barry kicked down barriers to contracts and business opportunities. Granted, there was probably a significant amount of cronyism thrown in to boot, but the term "equal opportunity" applies to a lot of things, I guess.

Sadly, the bitter outweighs the sweet when it comes to Barry's overall reputation. He'll always be remembered for being busted smoking crack in a hotel room. It would be funny if it wasn't so darned tragic.

So I guess I shouldn't have been surprised that my jam got me in a jam. With a name like "Marionberry," it was almost inevitable.

Little Rachel

I'll have few regrets from this lovely sojourn in America, but one would definitely be that I didn't get a picture of me with this little sprite's mother. Heck, she moves so fast, I barely got a picture of her! She's an almost 2 year old whirling dervish, and she's the only little girl, to my knowledge, who's named after me.

Little Rachel is the daughter of my friend Lisa, who lives in Portland. We met 22 years ago when she came to work at the St. Petersburg Times Clearwater bureau, after spending a few months living in Lesotho. As 2 of the youngest reporters there, we gravitated towards each other. I'll never forget that the first movie we saw together was "The Last Temptation of Christ," and we both stumbled out of there in a daze. Lisa was Jewish, I was a disaffected former Jehovah's Witness, and we both were like, "WTF was that about?????"

Lisa was damn-near obsessed with Africa back then, in ways I observed with mild skepticism. I was probably just jealous, but at the time I really never saw myself living in Africa, and wouldn't have gone out of my way to get there even for a vacation. I figured Lisa was just another young white female who'd seen "Out of Africa" and vowed to channel Meryl Streep until somebody slapped the shit out of her for being obnoxious. Now, 22 years later, a trip through her house proves Africa left an indelible mark on her. There's Motherland artwork and fabric everywhere, and photos of her stints in Lesotho and Namibia. Lisa would love to go back someday, but for now, Little Rachel, and her husband Drew, and her writing take up most of her energy.

Now I'm the one who's constantly in and out of Africa. Many of my friends think I'm living some grand adventure, and say they wish they could join me. But when I look at pictures like this, I sometimes think I'm the one who's missing out. There are moments when I think having someone like this look up at you and smile at least once a day would be more fulfilling than a 1,000 African adventures.

The grass really always is greener on the other side of the fence, isn't it?

Givenchy Me Enough Rope to Hang Myself

Okay, maybe I'll have one more regret about this past month, and it's related to this box. What you need to understand is that when I first saw the absolutely most perfect pair of gladiator sandals EVER that came in it, I had no idea they were high-end designer brand. I swear.

Then again, I should have known. They were in the window of this Georgetown store where the interior design is a pretentious blend of Soho boutique and Russian gulag. It was so grey and feng shui and spartan you just know it's frequented by Hedge Fund wives with sleek blond ponytails named Marissa who develop a rash in the presence of man-made fabrics and garish colors.

I expected the salesman to be an arrogant prat named Vlad from some formerly communist Eastern European republic, but it turns out Eric is from Mt. Vernon, Missouri, which is somewhere near Springfield. Anyway, Eric was extremely friendly and personable. And he told me that the absolutely most perfect gladiator sandals EVER were an affordable......

Ahhhhhh, I'm not even gonna tell you!!! Those of you who've been reading this blog faithfully are aware of my footwear issues, and how I suffered major guilt pangs over spending a couple hundred bucks on sneakers a few years ago. So after slipping my feet into those buttery, impeccably designed, ergonomically superior, devastatingly perfect gladiator sandals, as Eric cooed his approval, I couldn't help blurting out, "After you've worked in Africa, it's hard not to think that you could pay school fees for half a dozen kids for what these shoes cost!"

Well, that got Eric's attention. I guess he must be a store co-owner, because after asking what kind of work I do in Africa, he offered a modest humanitarian discount as an added incentive. It was tempting, but I still knew it was totally irresponsible for me to spend that much money for a pair of sandals. And it was morally wrong, and foolhardy when I'm not exactly flush with cash.

And then Eric asked what I used to do before I went to Africa. I told him I'd worked for NPR. WHOA, NELLY!!! That got me an even bigger discount, because Eric was rendered starstruck by those three magic little letters. He wound up whacking a third off the cost of those sandals, because he just lurrrrrrvvvves NPR and thinks I deserve the Nobel for doing what I do to help the world, and junk like that!

And the thing is, even with the discount the damned sandals STILL cost more than I have ever spent on footwear in my entire life, and as I stood at the counter with my breath coming in shallow gasps and my head spinning, I realized I was being reckless and shortsighted, and as much as I loved the sandals, if you saw them you wouldn't be able to figure out why in God's name they cost so much. And then he brought out the freakin' Givenchy box, and it all made sense, except for the fact that I should have run screaming into the streets instead of completing that transaction.

But at least I now own the absolutely most perfect pair of gladiator sandals EVER, and the upmarket box they came in, which I will eventually have to position over a heating grate and LIVE IN one day because of my spending habits.

D'ya think Eric would let me bunk in his basement if it ever came to that???

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Michael, I Want You Back!

I'm really very grateful that I was in America on June 25th. EXTREMELY grateful. This day last year, it was kind of eerie to be in an environment where most people kept going on about their business, and carried on with life like the very foundations of their childhood hadn't just been ripped out by the roots.

I'm not saying Kenyans didn't note the passing of Michael Joseph Jackson. I probably got the most comfort from the radio; everywhere I went in taxis during the week after Michael died, all I heard was his music. But there was no shared mourning, no reminiscences, noone to feel comfortable shedding a tear or two around.

I really think that was the zenith of my rather late life encounter with the daunting spectre of "Intense Loneliness." I've always considered myself a bit of a loner, more introspective than the average bear, but prior to this Kenya stint, I've also always felt like I never really been lonely per se. I've always been pretty cool with my own company, and never been the kind of person who called people just to talk about...nothing, really, or who needed to go to the club or to some sort of public venue to make human contact, even if only peripherally.

But there's something about expat life that can break down even the most stalwart, self-contained person. While I'm not a TOTAL hermit, I have my moments. I believe I've already detailed my challenges in that a single woman of a certain age, there aren't any "running buddies" in your age cohort. By 48, most Kenyan women are married, divorced, widowed, or grandmothers....every demographic category that I'm not.

I thought about that a lot in Atlanta, hanging out with my good friend and former mentee Jamila and and her friend Sabriya. Jamila is 13 years younger than me; Sabriya is 16 years younger. And it totally didn't matter....I had a blast, giggling and carrying on like a teenager. After all, we're all single women looking for love...a topic that leads to hours of drinking, gabbing, and rumination. Things I don't have as much access to over in Nairobi.

In fact, the people I'm closest to over there are--get this--TWENTY YEARS YOUNGER THAN ME. And they consider me a mentor and role model more than a friend. In fact, I'm older than the mother of one young woman, and yet I behave like a total mental case whenever she and I hang out, giggling and talking about men and career hopes and dreams, when her own mother is after her to produce some grandchildren.

So I guess you could say I'm slightly retarded. But I'd like to think I'm just eternally youthful. In fact, while I was in Atlanta, my sister Marilyn and I watched one of the Michael Jackson biopics on VH-1, and when "I Want You Back" came on, Marilyn straight up boogied! We laughed and sang along, and recalled that we had watched the Jackson 5 debut on the Ed Sullivan Show back in '69.

Now, I don't really want to turn back the clock to 1969 for obvious reasons, but I would love to have Michael back among us--but whole, and healthy and less tortured. I'd love to feel like I felt about him when "Off The Wall" was released, and I was totally in love and hopeful that one day I'd meet him, and he'd realize how much we had in common, what with the whole 9 brothers and sisters and Jehovah's Witness thang, and we'd fall in love and live happily ever after.

But since none of that will ever happen, I'm just so very grateful that I was here during the first anniversary of MJ's passing, amidst a whole country full of people who "got it" just as much as I did. So much so that when I started singing and dancing all by myself to "Wanna Be Starting Something," playing in my headphones at the Greenbelt Metro Station Friday afternoon, nobody batted an eye.

Diaspora Daze

I'm back in DC, having spent the past 2 days in recovery for the most part. I gotta say, I had the time of my life on the road these past few weeks, but I'm also slightly zonked out from all the running around.

I did make 2 attempts to try and end this journey on a raucous note. After spending Friday night with 4 Kenyan women drinking far too much champagne and dancing and singing every Michael Jackson song we could remember, I woke up late Saturday morning praying for the sweet release of death. But part of the reason I roused myself was because of the most obnoxiously loud thumping bass line I've ever heard in my entire life, emanating from the gigantoriffic-ly big speakers being used at the annual DC Caribbean Carnival, which was taking place on Georgia Avenue, about a block from where I lay moaning and groaning.

Figuring that my headache probably wouldn't ease in that enviroment, I headed out to catch a bus to the Ghana Cafe, where I would likely be one of a handful of Americans brave enough to watch the USA-Ghana World Cup Soccer Match. Buses had been re-routed because of the carnival, so I knew there'd be a wait. An hour later, in miserably humid heat, with no taxis to be found, I abandoned that plan and headed back to my hot-flash cave, aka my brother Peter's guest bedroom.

Later that night, I made one more attempt to secure public transportation, and was greeted by an elderly gent who fell in love at first sight, and spent the next hour and a half trying to persuade me to move in with him. He was actually a pretty interesting cat, a Smithsonian Institution retiree who says he used to travel a lot through South America cataloguing new animal species. The brother admitted to having a lady friend from Trinidad, but vowed to drop her like a bad habit if I just said the word.

Even though I was about to faint from the heat, I stayed there talking with him out of sheer fascination. Granted, I am closer to his age than he probably realized, so under the right circumstances, it might well have been a love connection. Say if he'd his own teeth. And several tens of millions of dollars. But OG didn't let those deficiencies stop him. I considered the encounter an anthropological expedition of sorts; what could have possibly led him to think he had a shot?

One answer was fairly obvious. He was one of those light-skinned, light-eyed brothers who you just knew was a stone cold PLAYA back in the day. If this was 40 years ago, and I had been 28 instead of 8, Lord KNOWS I might have taken the bait. But I guess I wanted to try and figure out why he was so persistent. And why that's pretty much been my fate through the years.

I am like freakin' CATNIP for old-assed men!!!!!! My goal, for the foreseeable future, is to elicit this same kind of earnest, persistent, heartfelt response from a man who has not yet formally enrolled in the Medicare program.

That encounter aside, I will say that spending time in DC has been a bit of a tonic for the ego. When many Black American men like what they see, they're not the least bit shy about letting you know it. I haven't felt this fine in ages! Kenyan men aren't as publicly aggressive about their appreciation of the feminine form. Except for the Maasai warrior who rushed me with the spear a few weeks ago, and made me seriously consider the wisdom of wearing adult diapers. Other than that, I almost feel invisible on Kenyan streets, even when I'm rocking my finest duds and looking all good, and smelling all good.

Anyway, this is quickly devolving into a erratically rambling riff, so let me try and glean some meaning from this posting. A lot of times in DC, I'm struck by how many different ways of being black there are. There's Island black, and Ethio-black, and Kenyan black, Ghanaian black, Nigerian, et al. But when you get right down to it, it's all from the same source. And even though I still feel very "alien" living in Kenya, I'll remember that whether they know it or not, I realize I'm rocking the same African flava as them.

It's a Diaspora thang, you dig?

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Good Hair

I'm in Atlanta now, and from the moment I touched down, I've been focused on trying not to melt into a puddle of chocolate sweat. The oppressive heat that's engulfing much of the US is leaving me drenched most days, from the top of my head to the soles of my feet. The only good thing about this situation is that I haven't had to worry about my hair.

If you're reading this and you're NOT African American, or of African descent, you may not understand the depth of my gratitude. You see, for the past 4 years, I've gone natural, first with short twists and now with dreadlocks (or "locs" as purists refer to them, because they think the word "dread" lends a negative connotation.) But actually, the word dread does a good job of describing the anguish black women endure trying to make their hair acceptable to everybody else in the world but themselves.

Since I started loc-ing, I don't spend nearly as much time obsessing about my hair. It seems like another lifetime when I worried about straightening, cutting, curling, or braiding my hair into submission. Basically, with locs you're just waiting for it to grow out and get so matted, it fuses together. Once that happens, you don't have to comb it, brush it, or straighten it. It's total hair freedom...

Up to a point. In the beginning, it's a challenge because once your stylist starts the process, you have to wait a few months before you wash it. You're actually trying to get a good jump start on the matting process by just letting it do what it does, and washing it would disturb that process. You're courting a serious scalp itch during that interim period, and you have to constantly massage and scratch your scalp, and maybe spray it with medicated concoctions that ease the tickling and prickling. Even once the loc-ing process has kicked in, you're only supposed to wash your hair once a month or so.

Well, after just a week and a half in sweltering America, I had to run to the nearest salon to get my hair "did." The picture above is from a shop near my brother's house in DC, off of Georgia Ave. NW. Sitting there for an hour or so felt like a scene from one of the Madea movies. Every stereotype about African American women came to vivid life, as sisters queued up to get their hair "dyed, fried and laid to the side."

My first week in DC was a blunt reacquaintance with what I refer to the phenomenon of "Hoochie-dom." Now, I love my black American sisters, because as one myself, I know what it's like to try and do your thing in a world that already has its mind made up about who you are based on the color of your skin. But sometimes, the stuff we do to our hair gives people a lot of ammunition.

Frankly, it's totally unbe-WEAVE-able. You see every shade of the rainbow, every manner of synthetic hair and human hair clipped and shipped from Third World Countries pasted, tied, woven and braided into our own hair. You see it clipped and snipped, flat ironed and pomaded, swirled and curled into the most outrageous styles. You just don't know whether to laugh, cringe or alert the authorities.

And the thing is, hoochie-dom has different permutations in different regions of the country. A DC hoochie's "flava" is different from an Atlanta hoochie. Sure, the spandex clothing and the precarious heels and the doorknocker earrings are the same, but there's just a different texture in each city. LA hoochies are more relaxed, DC hoochies have that East Coast attitude--but hoochies from the ATL take the cake, the pie, and the peach cobbler to boot.

Lest I venture into the realm of the insensitive and borderline self-hating Negro, I need to rush and assure you there's a healthy dose of admiration about the way some sisters rock their bodacious 'do's. And I began to feel bad about making disparaging remarks about hoochie-dom earlier today, when my sister Marilyn and I were out driving around running errands. Unlike me, she has seen Chris Rock's documentary "Good Hair", which explores the complex relationship between African American women and their hair. Marilyn said she left that movie feeling extremely depressed, because it seems like women of African descent are the only ones who go to such desperate lengths to negate something so essentially a part of who they are, just to be accepted by the larger society.

I definitely wasn't worried about what the larger society thought about me when I went natural, but I was thinking about that on Monday, after I went to an Atlanta salon to get the sweat and grime of the past few weeks washed right out of my hair. And as is usually the case with me, Karma paid a little visit to the salon and plopped down in the chair right next to me.

The next few postings below will highlight a process that I'll just sum up with the title.......

"Portrait of the Artist as a Middle-Aged Hoochie"

Okay, so when the young, eager, slightly star-struck young Atlanta stylist offered to give me a new 'do after shampooing and re-twisting my locs, I readily agreed. We'd struck up a pleasant conversation, and when she found out I worked in Kenya, I opened a window on one of her deepest aspirations: to be a traveling nurse for Doctors Without Borders.

By the time I let her transform my noggin, I was almost considering it another of my mentoring/humanitarian efforts. At the moment, her job is twisting and styling African American hair, and I'm sure she takes a great deal of pride in doing it. Perhaps giving her the opportunity to display her expertise in this field, with a woman who's sort of doing the kind of work she wants to do someday, would give her dream a boost.

As she scooped and scraped and tugged on my locs, I gently reminded her that my hairline has seriously receded, the result of nearly 15 years of wearing braids. The pulling and stress of synthetic extensions ravaged my natural edges, and so every style I've worn since abandoning braids has had to camouflage my "six-head" (a wider expanse than the average forehead). She assured me that with her creation, my semi-bald hairline wouldn't be noticeable.

I wish I could say that when I look at this picture, I totally focus on how cool the snaky, twisted strands look. If this was the back of anyone else's head, I WOULD be complimenting the regal artistry of her locs. But since it's my head, all I truly notice is that my hairline starts almost behind my ear, and it makes me kind of sad.

So maybe I still have a lot of issues about my hair. But I'm pretty clear on one thing...

"This is a hoochie hairstyle. And I ain't no hoochie."

Wait, just hear me out. Let's look at this thing from several different angles......

Portrait 2

"Hmmm...this isn't so bad. I mean there is a certain artistry to the swirling and twisting. Maybe I'm just being melodramatic."

Portrait 3

You know, I actually really LIKE this angle! It's the kind of messy, yet stylized up-do you might wear to a wedding or a party. I almost think I even look pretty from this angle.


.....But is it ever that easy??????

Portrait 4

The expression on my face says it all. Even if I HAD a healthy, lush hairline, this 'do is a 'don't. It's too severe and streamlined for my oblong face. It definitely wouldn't work in a professional setting.

And why would that young stylist even think it was appropriate for me??? I'd like to think she thought I was younger than I am, and therefore eager to walk around looking like a reject from a Bronner Brothers hair show. And based on how her friends wear their hair, and how most women she knows wear their hair, she probably thought this was a good look.

So did the toothless vagrant who accosted me on the way back to my friend Jamila's apartment in Midtown Atlanta. In his crack and booze addled brain, I was hotter than the day's sweltering temperatures.

And speaking of Jamila, she stared in not-so-mock horror when she saw my head. Her friend Sabriya paused and said, "That just makes me sad."

" many of us have them? Friends....ones we can depend on?"

"Before We Go Any Further, Let's Be FRIENDS!"

When I think of the people I've spent time with these past few weeks, the immortal lyrics of the legendary rap group "Whodini" come to mind....

"Friends is a word we use every day. Most of times we use it in the wrong way. Now, you can look the word up again and again, But the dictionary doesn't know the meaning of friends."

But the heart does. I have known the woman performing a mission of mercy in this picture since she was about 17 years old. Jamila is now a top editor at a major newspaper, and I'm proud to say she calls me her mentor AND friend.

And she pounced on my head without even asking, after she caught her breath and gasped, "We can't go out in public with you looking like that!!!"

Now THAT'S a true friend.

Monday, June 21, 2010

It's a DNA Thing

About 48 years ago, a young man named David Lewis Jones participated in a science fair at Cairo High School. He was one of just a handful of black students there at the time, but few would argue that he was one of the most brilliant people who ever attended that school.

And I'm not just saying that because David was my eldest brother. In fact, I got the link to this picture from a woman named Joan, who attended Cairo High with my brother and who has since become an incredible source of insights about my hometown and its tortured racial history.

Even before getting this picture, I had been deeply moved by Joan's frank, heartfelt remembrances of David, and how smart and poised he was during their Cairo High years. But she never pulled any punches. Joan has been brutally honest about the racial divide, and how at the time, she didn't understand what David must have endured as he broke down barriers during the tense, hostile, turbulent Civil Rights Era.

And the thing is, as a 16 year old kid in 1962, David wasn't even trying to break down barriers. What teenager is itching to be a Civil Rights martyr, for God's sake? I'm sure all he wanted to do was go to school, get good grades, and do his nerdy, wonky thing. David was the ultimate geek, because he was super smart, obsessed by math and science and science fiction and chemistry and stuff like that. If he had been born 20 years later, he might have been the black Bill Gates. If anybody could have invented the Internet all by himself, it was him. As it turned out, through the years he was pretty successful in financial circles, in banking, investment and consulting.

But then, as tends to happen frequently, the tables turned. For a lot of reasons, David eventually decided life wasn't worth living. It is truly too painful for me to think about why he made that decision, so usually I just don't. But I was forced to think about it, a lot, during James's graduation, when it felt so brutally wrong that David wasn't there to witness it.

But then again, he was. Look at the picture above. David is helping two of his Cairo High classmates on a project about "Monomolecular Films." (You know, just as I was typing that, I realized I don't have the foggiest idea what the hell that means, so I'm going to pause here for a minute to Google it.)

Okay, I'm back. Here is the definition of "Monomolecular Films," from

"A film one molecule thick; often referred to as a monolayer. Films that form at surfaces or interfaces are of special importance. Such films may reduce friction, wear, and rust, or may stabilize emulsions, foams, and solid dispersions. The broad field of catalysis, which is basic to petroleum refining and many chemical industries, involves chemical reactions that are accelerated in the thin films of reactants at interfaces. Moreover, thin films containing proteins, cholesterol, and related compounds constitute biological membranes, the internal interfaces that control the complex processes of life. See also Catalysis."

Even with the definition, it's still Greek to me. But James is probably familiar with the term. He graduated with a Chemistry degree from Cal Poly.

It was in his blood.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Father's Day

I have been very busy these days. Busy sowing seeds. Memory seeds. Shiny, fuzzy, happy memory seeds.

I'd had all these grand plans to blog while traveling since I got back to the States, but I have been one great big ball of perpetual motion. (And when I say "great big" I mean it. I have gained 10 pounds in the past two days, no less the past few weeks. But I'll touch on that later.)

Anyway, I figure the best way to try and make up for this lack of activity is with a bunch of short bursts of reminiscence. People, I have had such a remarkable, soul nourishing journey since my plane touched down on May 28th. You can't begin to understand how much I'm enjoying it, and how much I've needed to reconnect with friends and family.

The picture above is clearly the highlight of my sojourn, the main reason I'm back in America for a few weeks. This is my nephew, James Stewart Jones, a 22-year-old recent graduate of California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo. How I came to have a nephew old enough to graduate from college remains a mystery to me, but whatever.

Anyway, I will be forever grateful that I could witness this particular rite of passage for James. I wasn't there when he graduated from high school; work got in the way. And I wasn't there for him 7 years ago, when his father, my brother David, made his sad, lonely choice to opt out of life.

I gotta tell you, sitting there in the Cal Poly Stadium, I struggled to keep myself from crying. I was soooo happy that James had worked so hard and succeeded in earning his diploma. But my heart almost broke thinking of all the possibilities. And I suspect that James felt the absence a 1000 times more than I ever could.

But in part, I was there to stand in for David, and for Julie, who adored "Jamey." I was there to make peace with the past, and look forward with hope and optimism. And I was there to congratulate a remarkable young man who would make any father burst with pride.

Family Patterns

Let me tell you about the other half of my nephew James's family. Here's a picture of most of them.

In the center of this picture is Linda, who was married to my brother David. She is flanked on her right by her sister Carol and Carol's daughter Stacey, and to the left by Carol's other daughter Elise and her family's matriarch, Velna.

These are the people James grew up with, interacted with, learned with, fought with, and loved the most. These are the people who were there during the most triumphant highs and the most profound lows. These are the people who shored him up after David exited the picture. And whenever I see James and marvel over what a considerate and kind and pleasant human being he seems to be, it's mostly due to the influence of these people.

I first met these women on the island of Maui in June of 1987, when David and Linda were married atop Haleakala Volcano at sunrise. Stacey and Elise were adorable little chubby cheeked girls, bouncing around on the beach and basting in the Hawaiian sun. And I remember the early morning ride up the volcano on the wedding day, and the eerie arc of white light called a "moonbow" that lit our path. I remember freezing in the early morning fog and drizzle, until the moment when Linda's father Rollie, who performed the ceremony, pronounced them man and wife, and almost as if on cue, the clouds rolled away and bright sunlight flooded the valley. I remember the champagne and the laughter and the hopes and promise of that day.

Ironically, last week 85 year old Velna was the one who reminded me that June 13th, the day after James's graduation, would have been David and Linda's 23rd wedding anniversary. And last week, I was reminded how much these people loved and respected my brother David. And how much they miss him to this very day.

So much water under the bridge. So many rivers we've crossed. Such depths of passion and pain, so many fountains of tears, so many oceans of regret.

But what's left? Family, in whatever shape, form or pattern it comes in. That's why I brought a bunch of brightly colored kikoy and kitenge cloth from Kenya with me to give to Linda and Carol and Stacey and Elise and Velna. I wanted to thank them for all the love and support they had cocooned my nephew James in through all these years.

Hell, maybe they've helped create the next Obama!

Desperate Obama Linkage Number 1

Okay, so I've been hatching this scheme to use my Kenya connection to subtly influence my nephew to aspire to high political office. I mean, the parallels are incredibly strong; David and Linda were married in Hawaii, and loved that state dearly. James is biracial. I'm working in Kenya, the birthplace of Obama's father....

You see where I'm headed with this??? It's not COMPLETELY half-baked, is it???

Okay, so maybe it is, but I don't care. That's why I brought James this ornate gourd as one of his graduation presents. I had attended the Maasai rite of passage ceremony a few weeks earlier, and knew that the young men who take part in the rite carry gourds of sour milk for nourishment.

James has traveled far in life, especially over the past 7 years. He's scaled and vanquished quite a few mountains and foes. He's a warrior prince in my eyes, and I wanted him to have something ornate and unusual to mark this passage.

Which I hope he will enjoy even if he DOESN'T become the 51st President of the United States. No pressure, kiddo.

Desperate Obama Linkage Number 2

Call me crazy, but I really think I'm onto something..........

Friday, June 11, 2010

A Billion and a Half Reasons

I'm writing this post from the Super 8 Motel near LAX. After a week and a half of non-stop activity in Washington, DC, I'm on my way up the Left Coast. Flew into LA yesterday, hoping to spend a day with my friend Kelly, a fabulous entertainment writer who lives there. Found out on Monday that she had to head to London and wouldn't be around, so I'm cooling my heels here until my brother Peter's flight lands in a few hours. Then he, his friend Richard and I will drive up to San Luis Obispo, where we'll be attending my nephew James's graduation from Cal Poly tomorrow.

Soooo much going on. But it turns out the time at the Super 8 has been a blessing. It gave me a badly needed break from running myself into the ground. And it also gave me time to process one of the highlights of my time back home, attending the "Women Deliver" reproductive health conference on Monday. It was an amazing gathering of folks from all around the world who want to help improve maternal health for the vast majority of women who risk death and serious injury every time they get pregnant.

The ONLY downside of the gathering was information overload. Every hour or so, there'd be 4 or 5 concurrent sessions I wanted to attend. And I could only spend 1 full day there because there were so many other things I had to take care of (DMV, Passport Agency, yadda, yadda, yadda.) But I did manage to see Melinda Gates announce a 1.5 billion dollar grant for maternal and child health programs worldwide.

I'd never seen her speak before, and I have to say, she impressed the hell out of me. Not that I'm crying a river for billionaires, or anything, but you can't argue that most incredibly rich people get a bad rap. Thanks to the really evil types like Bernie Madoff and Kim Jong Il and most of the leaders of African nations, the average person equates extreme wealth with greed and corruption. And while I think most people know that Bill and Melinda Gates are extraordinarily generous philanthropists in the purest sense of the word, it's still kind of easy to put them in a separate category from the rest of us.

Melinda Gates struck me as a sincere, down-to-earth person who has an incredibly clear understanding of how blessed she has been in her life. She's also very connected to her power to make a difference in other people's lives. Just like I can decide to buy the pumps or the sandals, Melinda can decide whether to help tens of millions of women and children in Africa, or in Asia. Or heck, why not help them all? The scope of her power to make change literally takes my breath away.

The next few posts will be about women and power. Just some random observations about our remarkable capacity to give live and mould life and conquer life, and how I wish more of us could harness it to its fullest capacity. After attending "Women Deliver," I'm really optimistic that we're moving in the right direction. Especially with women like Melinda Gates on our team.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

"I'm Just Sayin', Dawg," Part 20

This is a picture of Sandra Bullock at her first public appearance since the shocking news of her husband's appalling sexual betrayals went public.

She was accepting an award at the 4th Annual Spike TV Guys' Choice Awards ceremony. Sandra Bullock was voted the Troops' Choice Entertainer of the Year.

They say living well is the best revenge. I say being 45 years old with a bangin' hot body and a beautiful face, a hundred million dollars or so, the love and support of VIRTUALLY THE ENTIRE UNIVERSE, and an adorable new baby son would qualify as living well.

You just never know. I mean, we look at this picture and see the pretty, quirky, funny, kind and spunky woman we've come to believe Sandra Bullock is through her movies. We can't imagine her as being anything other than sweet and loving, and we just assume that any guy would feel incredibly lucky to have her in his life, and would do nothing less than nurture and cherish the relationship.

But behind the screen, Sandra Bullock could be the biggest bitch who ever walked the face of the Earth. She could be mean and controlling and cold, and she could be lousy in bed and vindictive. She could walk around with no make-up and greasy hair, and she could have poor hygiene. Maybe she was part of the reason Jesse James dogged her out like he did.

Or not. I'm going with not.

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

We Are The Champions, The Sequel

You might look at this photo and think of just one champion, America's First Black Supreme Court Justice, Thurgood Marshall.

I look at it and see 2 others. Granted, my brother-in-law Ron and I didn't change any laws, or fight for justice our whole lives, but we stood toe-to-toe, chin up and shoulders squared, against the most indomitable foe ever: Death.

It robbed us, but we were not defeated. It hasn't been easy going on without Julie, my sister and Ron's wife, but we've managed to hold it together. We have our ups and downs, and not a day goes by that we don't think of her and miss her, but somehow, our hearts have gone on.

I think she is extremely proud of us. I know I am.

Me and the Mini Maasai

Don't try and act like this isn't the cutest picture ever! It seems I can't get away from young warrior males. They're everywhere.

Granted, I had a hand in fomenting this adorable ferocity. These two boys are Spencer and Kemp, the sons of my dear friend Simone. I couldn't come back to the States this time without seeing her and the kids, so I picked up a few Maasai shields for them.

It's astonishing watching how hard-wired little boys are! Granted, Spence and Kemp have probably seen quite a few movies and TV shows where soldiers fight, so they were partly just mimicking warfare. But their automatic reaction to the gifts was hilarious. That is, after they stopped trying to kill each other.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

There'll Be A Whole Latte More Of Me After This Trip

It's been a week since I touched down on US soil, and I'm offering the following random observations so far:

1. There is such a thing as HAM JERKY. Seriously. And it's insanely delicious.

2. A Code Orange Heat and Humidity Alert for a premenopausal woman is tantamount to a death sentence.

3. High Speed Internet is kewl. Insanely kewl.

4. The average American in the worst of circumstances is a thousand times better off than most people in the developing world. Trust me on that one.

5. African American men are VASTLY superior flirters than East African men. I always wind up smiling and almost blushing at some of the random compliments brothers pay me on the streets here. It's pure crack for the ego.

6. Warts and all, the DC Metro System is one of the best in the country. And it HAS to be one of the Top 10 in the world, I'd argue.

7. Going to the Kennedy Center will always and forever make me feel like a giddy 12 year old girl.

8. NOTHING is as comforting and fulfilling as a bag of Hostess Powdered Donettes, which I scarfed down the morning after consuming several glasses of wine and a pomegranate martini. Then I was informed that it was actually National Doughnut Day. On that very day. Seriously. I mean, how much do I love my country????

9. For quality and value, shopping in American discount department stores like Filene's and Marshall's provides the same serotonin rush as good sex. That is, if I can remember that far back.

10. America is like the picture up top. That's the Caramel Mocha I ordered the morning after I landed. When the kid placed it on the counter in front of me, I literally did a double take. First of all, the cup seemed HUGE, and for God's sake, why on Earth had she put so much whipped cream on top???? And then the answer came: because she could. Because it's the way they make 'em in America. Too much of everything, but marvelous anyway.

Which I hope will be the way people describe my ass after a month in America.