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.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

One Moment In Time

It has taken me nearly 50 years to acknowledge that I got my smile from my mother. I mean, how can you argue with proof like this???

I've actually had this photograph for years now, and only recently noticed the date on the side...July, 1968. I believe this was taken at my Head Start Teacher's house. I'll never forget her, because her first name was Cabrini, which sounded insanely cool to my 6 year old brain. Clearly, I had no appreciation for the Catholic connection; it just sounded like something out of Dr. Seuss to me. Anyway, I developed my obsession with instant mashed potatoes in Head Start, and with Miss Cabrini. She was tall and blonde and lovely, and extremely nice to me. This was at a time when it was kinda hard to find people who would be nice to a poor black girl with 8 infamously smart older brothers and sisters who was also raised as a Jehovah's Witness.

I think Mama made us all get dressed up to pay a visit to Miss Cabrini's apartment, though I can't remember if we were invited or if Mama made the first move. This was back in the day when people paid social visits, and could even dare to show up with a passel of kids. And even though it was the summer of 1968, when the entire nation was gripped in racial hysteria, a few months after Dr. King had been assassinated and just about a month after Bobby Kennedy fell, Eloise Jones saw no problem with stopping by the home of one of her daughter's favorite teachers. Who just happened to be white.

Come to think of it, enough with the poetic license, already!! My memory may be totally faulty, and this could could all be just a bunch of revisionist history twaddle. In a million years, I couldn't explain why I think we were visiting Miss Cabrini in this picture. The only thing I can confirm are the smiles. We were poor and black and hopeful back then, and when somebody said "Say Cheese!" we cheesed like our lives depended on it.

Oh, there were a few reasons to smile, I suppose. My eldest brothers David and John had gone off to college by then, so I guess I was starting to believe that one day I could do the same. Julie, the pretty "big girl" seated second from the left was 17 in this picture, and in a few years would meet Ron, the man she'd spend the rest of her life with. When we were growing up, she was never more than half a mile away, and both she and Ron loved us and helped take care of us.

The girl seated to Julie's right, Sarah, would become an immigration attorney in San Francisco. Rebecca, the littlest one being held by Mama, would run Sarah's office. The girl sitting next to me, Marilyn, would devote her life to "The Truth," the only one of 10 siblings who remained a Jehovah's Witness.

I guess I'm assuming you know which one is me in this picture. I'm 4th from the left. And you know every twitch and tremble about me by now. And Mama? Well, one day I'll write a book about Mama. When I'm sure I can do her justice.

What strikes me most about this picture is how happy we all seemed, despite whatever challenges we faced. And when I look really closely at my sweet little face, I realize I was a lot cuter than I ever knew, and that I have exactly the same smile now as I had back then. I just never used it very often, because I've had to fight and claw my way to a place where I even began to believe it was a pretty smile.

I've never really seen a lot of pictures of myself from childhood, but this is the only one I need. I'm surrounded by the first women who ever inspired and nurtured me, and I'm happy. It's like a Mark Twain quote I just saw, actually:

"I've experienced many terrible things in my life, a few of which actually happened." When it gets right down to it, there were probably more times when we smiled back then than we do now.

Friday, July 23, 2010

The Eye of The Storm

This is how busy I was during my 4 days in Kampala...I'm back at my desk in Nairobi, and this is the first chance I've had to write about it!!!

It was a regional meeting for all the people like me who do what I do in various African countries for the International Center for journalists. Won't go into detail, but I will say that this picture details one of the highlights. It was a session featuring Ugandan editors discussing how they had reported on the recent terrorist bomb blasts that killed more than 80 people.

I have to say, I was greatly impressed. Having never actually reported on anything more turbulent than an impending hurricane, I can't imaging being a reporter thrust into the aftermath of an horrific explosion. OR being the editor charged with decided what stories to write and how to run them while the chaos is occuring.

What's more, I can't imagine doing it in the newsroom settings and overall political atmospheres in many African nations. Sometimes every choice you make has the potential to end your career...even your LIFE, depending on the circumstances. As I've written many times before, most of the things I took for granted when I was reporting back in the US simply don't exist for journalists and editors here. Half the time, you're just making stuff up as you go.

I take my hat off to the (mostly) men and women on this continent who work so hard, against impossible odds, to produce daily journalism. It's why I keep hanging around, to try and help out if I can.

Three Degrees of Separation

These days, I can't escape the feeling tha the older you get, the smaller the world gets. The more likely that there will be just 3 or 4 degrees of separation between you and everybody you meet, instead of 6.

For example, the woman in this picture with me is named Sylvia, and she does what I do in Ghana through the ICFJ program there. We both know a woman named Brenda who has reported on HIV/AIDS for NPR over the past decade or so.

Brenda's birthday was this past Sunday, while Sylvia and I were both in Kampala. So we had someone take a picture of us together, holding a "Happy Birthday" sign, and we posted that picture on Brenda's Facebook page. Just two gals in East Africa sending a shout-out to our mutual friend in DC.

Like I always say, just keep on living long enough, and anything's liable to happen. So far, for me anyway, it's mostly good stuff.

Mama and Me

This is a picture of the people who do what I do for the International Center for Journalists, in Mozambique, Senegal, Tanzania, Zambia, Malawi, South Africa, Uganda and Ghana. And, of course, Kenya.

Is it just me, or do we all look middle-aged?? I guess that's 'cause we are, huh? It's actually the first time I've EVER looked at a picture of myself and been so thoroughly convinced of that fact.

It's probably because I look a lot like my mother in this shot. A lot. A WHOLE VERY LOT. Same face shape, same smile, same height, everything. In fact, I'm starting to see her frequently these days--every time I look in a mirror, to be specific. That's mostly because I'm putting on weight that probably ain't going anywhere anytime soon, and my face is filling out more.

Now, I wish I could say I was totally cool with that. And please know that I mean no disrespect to Eloise Jones by admitting that seeing her face in the spot where mine used to be is starting to freak me out a bit. It's just that you hear about these things happening to other people, and you blithely hum along thinking it'll never happen to you.

But there you have it. Actually, I suppose it's kind of fitting that in a picture of the participants of the first ever of its kind meeting of people doing what I'm doing for the organization I work for, I would see Eloise Jones staring back at me.

After all, if she hadn't been so dang-blasted determined that I would get an education, get the hell out of Cairo, Illinois, be independent and make something of myself, I might not have been in this picture. In fact, she always told me there was something different about me, that she knew from the moment of my birth that I was different than the others. As I've written before, it took 19 years of neurotic trauma for her to clarify that shit and tell me she meant that in a good way.

Whatever it takes, I suppose. Hell, look at where it got me.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

"STOP - In The Name Of All That's Holy..."

THIS is what you look like when you're dancing like nobody's watching. And after you've had several vodka and cointreau concoctions, and you still aren't completely over your jetlag from the two cross-contiental flights you took during the previous two weeks.

I could share more about the middle-aged female debauchery that took place in a leafy Nairobi suburb Friday night, but let's just let these pictures be a warning. They were taken at one of the most enjoyable birthday parties I've ever attended, but there really is such a thing as too much fun. When I finally roused myself at 3:30 PM on Saturday afternoon, I realized that the critically important flash drive I needed for tomorrow's trip to Kampala was still in my computer at work, an I felt like ASS and still hadn't packed and I SWEAR I'll never even look at vodka again as long as I live.

At least until next time....

The Best Years of Our Lives

I'm utterly convinced that unless tragic attempts at hip dancing are involved, middle age is the best era of life, if you know how to work it. If you made good friends, tried to love somebody along the way, and survived great losses without losing your damn mind.

Actually, last night put the icing on the cake about that for me. The woman sitting awaiting her birthday cake is named Velvet, and she's in Nairobi visiting her friend and mine, Gwen. They just got back from a grand tour of Ethiopia, where Gwen was reporting a story about the Nile River for NPR. Tomorrow, they head to Egypt, for more reporting on that same story.

Velvet's birthday celebration has had several layers. She was actually here about 3 weeks ago, and got another present from our friend Susan...a baby blue burqa from Afghanistan. You'd have thought it was made of diamonds and gold foil the way Velvet raved!

Gwen and Velvet have known each other since their childhood in New Orleans, and you can tell by the way they interact there's a deep sisterhood bond. And I bet back then, when they we skipping rope or playing with dolls or doing some other kind of girly-kiddie stuff, they never in their wildest dreams imagined hanging out in the rock-hewn churches of Northern Ethiopia, or floating down the Nile.

But they made it. They survived the slings and arrows of outrageous adulthood, the loves lost, the children, the job stresses, the deaths, the emotional pain - you know, the bricks and mortar of life - and they can celebrate that victory at a birthday party in Nairobi.

Why not? After all, these are the best years of our lives.


See what I mean?

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Highway to the Danger Zone

There is something seriously wrong with me. At least more than what you've already figured out, if you've been reading this blog over the past 3 years.

It occurred to me yesterday, standing at the pick-up window at the Ugandan Consular office in downtown Nairobi. I was there to retrieve my passport containing the new single entry visa for a Sunday flight to Kampala, Uganda--my old refugee haven from hard-time in Gulu.

Now, if this had been 5 years ago, and a major terrorist bombing had occurred in Kampala the week before I was scheduled to be there for a meeting, my formal RSVP would have read as follows,

"There ain't enough money, love or wildly over-priced footwear in the universe to persuade me to attend said meeting. See ya--wouldn't wanna BE ya!"

Instead, I watched the news reports about the 2 bomb blasts last Sunday with an eerie detachment. Obviously I'm sad for the victims and their families, but this type of event is almost a part of everyday life over here. I just told a friend that if you agree to work in East Africa, you kind of have to adopt three major strategies--stay out of political rallies, crowded bars and matatus--and maybe you'll be okay. Maybe.

Then she reminded me that she lives in New York City, which after 9/11 carries its own measure of palpable, ever-present threat. And when you start hearing about mass murders in sleepy Northern England villages, or at schools in Finland, for God's sake, you begin to accept that you can get iced almost anywhere these days. Evil does not respect geographic boundaries.

Still, part of me wonders if I haven't numbed myself into a state of reckless bravado these days. Whatever. I'm definitely playing these Kenny Loggins lyrics in a loop in my head these days...

Revvin' up your engine
Listen to her howlin' roar
Metal under tension
Beggin' you to touch and go

Highway to the Danger Zone
Ride into the Danger Zone

Headin' into twilight
Spreadin' out her wings tonight
She got you jumpin' off the track
And shovin' into overdrive

Highway to the Danger Zone
I'll take you
Right into the Danger Zone

You'll never say hello to you
Until you get it on the red line overload
You'll never know what you can do
Until you get it up as high as you can go

Out along the edges
Always where I burn to be
The further on the edge
The hotter the intensity

Highway to the Danger Zone
Gonna take you
Right into the Danger Zone

Highway to the Danger Zone

"Are You Not Entertained?"

You're lookin' at the only pair of Gladiator sandals I have ever seen that ever made a lick of sense to me.

Most of them look like cheesy cast-offs from the Ben Hur backlot. They're flimsy and tragically antiquated, and they don't look like anything I'd ever be caught dead wearing in public. The only time they've ever even looked remotely plausible to me was when I saw them in Russell Crowe's tour-de-force, but that's only because "Gladiator" the movie was so frakkin' awesome, I've wanted to take on a couple snarling tigers in a stadium full of bloodthirsty peasants my DAMN self each time I've watched it.

So I'm guessing that when I saw these sandals in the window of the pretentiously hip shoe store in Georgetown last month, I was drawn by an irresistibly powerful subconscious force. I probably thought that Maximus himself would appear before me the first time I zipped them up. I DO recall thinking that, technically, I could purchase them, which infused me with a sense of bipolar power. And besides, I might get clonked on the head by a piece of concrete hurled by an angry Muslim protester shortly after I returned to Nairobi, so it didn't really matter whether I was spending myself into oblivion.

Regardless of what I was thinking, I'm guessing you're thinking they probably weren't worthy of being the most expensive pair of footwear I've ever bought. Although you gotta admit the leather craftsmanship is pretty dang kewl. And when I wore these bad boys yesterday, I felt strong and hip and au so courant. I felt like I could trod the road to Damascus wearing these sandals. I felt like I could slay Maximus himself.

And then I remembered that they cost more than a lot of Kenyans make in a year, and I snapped the hell out of it.

"Maybe Next Lifetime...."

Gawd, I hope the man in this picture never finds out about this blog!! I'll never be able to look him in the face again if he does. And that would be a shame, because this Ghanaian journalist named Robert is still just as hot as he was 7 years ago when I met him, while leading that first journalism workshop in Accra.

So not only was I nervous and uptight about whether I knew what the hell I was talking about back in 2003, but there sat Robert in the front row staring intently at me, looking like a taller, vastly more fine version of Wesley Snipes. He was a TV reporter with a popular program about HIV and AIDS back then. And his voice. HIS VOICE!!! It was deep, and mellifluous. And I don't use the word "mellifluous"very often, so it probably has something to do with the fact that whenever he spoke, I wanted to take my clothes off.

You need a really dramatic word to describe that kind of uncontrollable autonomic response.

Anyway, I somehow managed to keep my cool during that week in Accra, because I figured I'd never see Robert again, and I didn't want to end my first journey to Africa by earning a rep as an American 'ho. So just imagine how nervous I was when he responded to my recent pre-Accra email by saying how happy he'd be to see me again. Dude had no way of knowing how happy I would be.

Before he showed up in the lobby of the Novotel, I was really hoping he'd shrunk, or developed a potbelly. He hadn't. And his voice. HIS VOICE!!! I guess it's the same phenomenon with just about any hot man with a foreign accent. When they say your name, it sounds like nothing you've ever heard before, and you just want to keep on hearing it. Over and over and over.....

Okay, I'm getting off track. To complicate matters, Robert showed up with a lovely present for me, a vivid print shirt. It made me remember that he had been the one to organize my goodbye party back in 2003, and that he made the formal presentation of my very first strip of Kente cloth and a little Africa plaque, as a group thanks for my efforts. I have no idea where those gifts are, but I DO have pictures of them somewhere in the stuff I brought to Kenya.

Just like Stella, Robert wants to go back for another degree soon, perhaps law or public health. And here's the thing...he's 38 years old, and single. Using my finely-honed journalistic skills, I weaseled it out of him that he'd been in a 'traditional marriage" type relationship for some years, but that's over now. (In Kenya, they call them "customary marriages" or "come-we-stay" arrangements. In family and community circles, they're considered legitimate, but they don't have as many legal protections. In America, we just call it getting the milk for free.)

For some reason, Robert and I spent a couple hours talking about relationships. To hear him tell it, he'll be married before he's 40, because he's finally ready to make that serious commitment. I'm very proud that I was able to resist inviting him back to my room to explore the nuances of his plan. But when I look at this picture, I can't help thinking we'd make a great-looking couple...... a parallel universe where a 38-year-old African man would be caught dead marrying a 48-year-old non-African woman who didn't have a hell of a lot of money and social or political connections, as well as some powerful juju to revive her dried up ovaries.

"Maybe next lifetime...."

Friday, July 9, 2010


When I first met the woman in this image, I was struck by how much she looked like..ME. Or like she could be one of my sisters. We had the same nose, and the same smile. And the same cheekbones. Then she told me her name was Stella. That was my mother's mother's name!

My meeting Stella Addy was probably fated. At the time, she was a struggling young reporter at a local radio station in Accra, one of a couple dozen guinea pigs who sat through my very first reporting workshop on the African continent. Hell, I had no earthly idea what I was doing, and I agonized every step of the way. But from the first day, Stella clung to me. She told me I reminded her of her mother, who lived in Lincoln, Nebraska, and whom she hadn't seen for a very long time.

Me being the maternally-inclined sucker that I am, I took the bait. I probably worked a bit more closely with Stella, listening intently to her stories about the challenges for a young African female reporter. I even visited her radio station, to observe her working conditions. I don't remember details, but I'm pretty sure I was appalled.

The day before my first African voyage ended, Stella insisted on being my guide through Makola Market, the first of many such shopping excursions in different countries. I know I must have stood there with my mouth hanging open when we first arrived, absolutely flabbergasted by the vast sea of vendors and stalls, the oppressive heat, and the smells. Stella hooked her arm through mine, kept a close eye on my purse and bags, and negotiated the best prices. Come to think of it, that was where my reputation as an absolutely ruthless, bottom line bargainer began, watching Stella haggle.

There was lots of drama trying to leave Accra the next day. I arrived at the airport for a 7 PM flight at 5:15 on a Sunday, and was told that check-in closed at 5, and to come back on Tuesday when the next US flight left. I won't go into details, but I spent the next hour showing my Ugly American ass until they reopened that counter and checked me in, and everybody else who had showed up after me. Stella was nearby during that sideshow, and in hindsight, I'm surprised she didn't just slink off without looking back at my obnoxious behavior.

Instead, just before I headed to the gate, Stella flung herself into my arms and started crying. Sobbing. She wailed because she might never see me again, and told me she loved me so much. To keep myself from losing it, I was appropriately comforting, but concluded it was probably just an act, one Stella used with every American visitor to try and keep a steady stream of money and gifts flowing back across the Atlantic.

But it moved me. And that one short week convinced me there were a lot of young journalists in African countries who were desperate for the kind of support and mentoring I could offer. Meeting Stella was also the first time my maternal instincts had been ignited that way by an adult, a grown professional who I could have also given birth to. I pictured hundreds, thousands of young African women like her striving for a vision of their future that included so many things I took for granted: a voice, a forum, the confidence to look their colleagues in the eye, an opinion they didn't have to apologize for or negate, goals they didn't have to use sex to achieve.

So when I knew I was heading back to Accra, I sent an email to the last address I had for Stella, to try and reconnect. Truth be told, I almost hoped I wouldn't hear anything, rather than learn some horrible, depressing truth about her life that would overwhelm me with guilt over losing touch. So when I opened my hotel room door yesterday and saw her standing there with two adorable children, I was incredibly happy!

Stella is just fine! And she married the handsome young man named Frank who she was dating when I met her. He's a marketing manager for a mobile phone company, and Stella is finishing up her Master's Degree in Public Health. And you know, at this point, it doesn't even really matter whether I inspired her or not. It just felt like coming home, especially when Stella reminded me of something she swears she told me 7 years ago.

Her father is Ghanaian, but her mother is Ugandan. And her grandmother lives in Gulu.


Meet Sesi. His eyes take up half his face. He'll be three this month, and he's already half as tall as I am. And Stella says he usually takes forever to warm up to strangers.

It took Sesi about 10 minutes to start climbing all over me like a Jungle Gym. He hurled himself at me! He grabbed handfuls of my locs and tugged. He made rude faces and obnoxious noises, and then laughed his guts out when I objected. Stella finally had to tell him to behave, or Auntie Rachel wouldn't take him to America with her.

Let me tell you, the thought crossed my mind............


Meet Selini. She'll be one year old later this month, too. She was the ultimate cool customer, refusing to come near me until just before it was time to go. And then she wanted to boogie, in that way only babies can do so well.

You know what I'm talking about. They adopt that pseudo-Sumo stance, and then start bouncing up and down to no particular rhythm. It was HILARIOUS! Selini is such a doll. And the minute I laid eyes on her, I knew she looked just like her daddy.

When Frank finally showed up, he was just as handsome as I remembered. And I'll never forget the way little cool customer Selini's face lit up like a firecracker. And the way she started babbling like a fountain. And the way she reached for her daddy.

And the way it made me long so desperately for something I never had.

A Family Affair

I LOVE it when a plan comes together!! Back in 2003, when I met Frank, over dinner the last night I was there, he pretty much laid out his plan for life with Stella. Marriage, kids, an extra degree or two. She told me later that it was quite a surprise, because he had never shared those plans with her!

Looks like Frank had the right idea. Please Lord, let me find a man with this kind of focus......

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Lucky Sevens

On July 7, 2007, I considered myself lucky because I was touring refugee camps in Northern Uganda. It helped keep me focused on why I had chosen to uproot my life and go live in a rural African village to help journalists improve their skills. It immersed me in a sense of perspective and gratitude, while other people were celebrating the allegedly "Lucky 7/7/07" in a more hedonistic manner.

Exactly three years later, I wound up standing in Kotoka airport in Accra, seven years after my first voyage to Africa in Accra. I'll always remember that when I got off the plane back then, consumed by equal measures of excitement and anxiety, airport security guards kept directing me to the Ghanaian citizens' queue. Before they heard me speak, just by looking at me, they thought I was one of them.

Once I got past Immigration, I'll always remember being startled at seeing folks who looked exactly like members of my family. In an instant, I made a connection to the African continent in a way I could never have done solely by reading books or watching documentaries. In that moment, I knew where I came from, and it was one of the most powerful moments of my life.

It's why I keep working on the continent, and why I've almost reached the point where I feel at home on African soil. It's why on 7/7/10, 7 years after my first trip to Africa, I feel like one of the luckiest people I know.

Accra or Bust!

FULL DISCLAIMER: Look, it's not like I take pride in becoming a 48-year-old sex object. Having spent the vast majority of my life fighting to be taken seriously, it's mildly tragic that I've been reduced to using fatty tissue to get my way these days.

But the boobies were back in rare form this morning, at the JKIA Immigration Desk! No delays, no questions about my work status....and no eye-contact. Whatsoever.

Now, I could also get away with claiming that I've been exposing myself purely for purposes of ventilation. After damn near melting when I was back in the US, I'm taking every opportunity to expose every morally acceptable inch of skin to the cool air of Nairobi's winter season. But truth be told, whenever I travel these days, the girls take the lead.

Thanks for the mammaries! ("You knew it was coming, so don't even play like you didn't!!!") In about an hour, I'll be off on the road to Accra!

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

A Wing and a Prayer

Sitting by the pool at the Intercontinental Hotel last Friday night, watching the Ghana vs. Uruguay World Cup match, I was still so jet-lagged, I could barely keep my head propped up.
But I do remember thinking how cool it would be if Ghana won, because I was scheduled to actually be in Accra on July 7th, when they'd be playing the Netherlands team. A few hours later, after Ghana's heartbreaking loss, I figured I'd at least get to join in at one of the consolation parties.

So imagine my pure horror yesterday when I realized that I couldn't get a visa at the airport in Accra. I'd have to apply for it at the Ghanaian Embassy in Nairobi. And it could take two days to process. And the Embassy closes at 3, which was about the time I was calling a friend to confirm my erroneous belief. Which meant there was only one day left to snag a Ghanaian visa before I had to board a plane to Accra.

Ya know, sometimes--in fact MOST times--I suspect that I subconsciously create drama in my life as the only way to ensure I still have a pulse. I push deadlines, wait 'til the last minute, flout rules, bust the name it. Come to think of it, one good blast of sex would probably cure me of this reckless adrenaline-seeking behavior. At least I'd like to think it would.

But until that fine day, I suppose I'll always find myself in scenarios like the one this morning. After creeping into the High Commission of Ghana, where I smiled my broadest smile, and adopting my meekest posture and most beseeching tone, I pleaded for an emergency visa, for travel within 24 hours. The young woman at the counter shook her head as she reviewed my materials, but I'm thinking my shtick must have gotten through. She told me to come back at 2 PM to pick up the visa.

Somebody up there must really like me.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

The Most of the Worst

Been drifting in and out of consciousness during a particularly brutal bout of jet lag, and just remembered it's the 4th of July. When I was in the States, I wished I'd arranged to return to Nairobi after today, so I could possibly snag an invite to a barbecue or two.

But it's just as well. As it is, I gained at least 5 pounds during my travels, mostly because whenever I got the chance I indulged in uniquely American cuisine like in this picture. This was lunch in Atlanta at the 285 Diner, with my sister Marilyn and her husband John. When I told them I wanted some down home soul food, they knew just where to take me.

As giddy as I was about tucking into this treat, the experience was dampened somewhat during the trip to the cash register. A hugely obese woman had waddled into the restaurant just as John was parking the car, but by the time we joined the lunch line, she was sitting in a chair shouting her order to the teenage girl just in front of us.

"Get me the pork chops and the chicken, and the mac and cheese, and the collards, and a order of yams. And don't forget my cornbread." As the girl conveyed that order to the ladies dishing out the food, they kept teasing her about ordering so much. "You cain't eat all that," they said in their delightful, Georgia drawl. The shy, polite girl kept explaining that it wasn't for her, it was for her grandma.

Looking over at the woman wedged into the chair (or, to be more accurate, whom the chair was wedged into), I was probably safe in guessing that she's around my age. Decades of eating food like this had turned her into a barely mobile, obscenely obese woman who can't even stand in line long enough to order the food that will eventually kill her "dead as a doornail," as my own mother used to say.

Speaking of my mother, I had an interesting conversation with Marilyn down in Atlanta. She mentioned a visit she had with our mother at one of the nursing homes she lived in, before the dementia destroyed her memory. Mom was being weighed by a nurse, and Marilyn mentioned how much weight she had lost compared to years ago.

Marilyn said Mom gave her one of her patented glares and snapped, "You didn't have to bring THAT up." For Marilyn, it was the first time she ever considered that Mom was sensitive about her weight. The way she had gorged on food, and the way she barreled her way through life, we just figured it didn't bother her.

For most of my life, I never thought much about weight because I was always pretty thin.
It's only been within the past decade that I started noticing thickening in my hips, and budding love handles around my waist. The Gulu Diet restored my slender teenaged frame for about a year, but then I quickly rejoined the Middle-Aged Crew once a consistent food source appeared. And though I still don't obsess about my weight, I realize it could easily get out of control if I'm not careful.

So it's just as well that for the 4th of July 2010, I'm sitting upright on my couch in Nairobi for the first time at around 4 PM, having slept off an on all day, with no appetite to speak of, as opposed to being in the US slamming hot dogs and burgers and chips and ice cream all day. I love America, but the one thing I don't miss is the way we tend to eat the most of what's worst for us without giving it a second thought, just because it tastes so damned good.

Independence Day

Faith was right.

The Oregon Duck looks pretty terrific on my mantle. It joins the ebony antelopes from Gulu, the doll from Dakar, the little wooden door frame from Rio and the statuette from the 50th Anniversary party for the Daily Nation.

And every day, it'll remind me to be patient. To remember that I DO deserve to have someone like me as much as I like him. And to have him demonstrate that to me in ways big and small, without me having to prime the pump.

I think the decision was made last night, when these lyrics popped into my head:

"This old man's acting lame, He most surely ain't got game! Per my knick-knack, dude you're whack! Throw a gal a bone, Or this cute duck is staying home."

Bottom line? On Independence Day, 2010, I'm declaring freedom from unrequited longing. Life's too short, and I'm too terrific. Bring on the guy who gets it!

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Excess Baggage

This is a picture of a wooden stool I purchased about 6 months ago. It was carved from a log by an artist who uses natural media like wood, metal and cast off, "found" items.

I loved it on sight, especially because of the slightly spooky little face etched into it. Even though it's heavy as hell, and I probably won't be able to take it with me when I leave Kenya for good, I had to have it. Like some of the stuff I just brought back from America.

The rectangular slips of paper atop this stool represent that stuff. Besides my 2 free checked suitcases, there were two others, and they were overweight. Oh, and there was the small rolling carry-on I'd hoped to stow overhead. Problem is, I already had a backpack and a shoulder bag, so the guy at the KLM counter made me check that one, too.

Now, in my own defense, I would have only had 3 suitcases, except that when I visited my sister Marilyn in Atlanta, she made me take one of the suitcases I'd stowed in her garage post-Gulu. She also forced me to go shopping with her at this fantastic consignment store where I picked up some really nice suits and dresses that were so cheap, they were almost free.

Oh, and then I HAD to bring back the yoga mat I bought before I first moved to Nairobi but forgot to bring. And then there were the DVD's; my brother-in-law Ron loaned me all of his "24" and "Lost" discs so I can finally figure out why people were so obsessed about both series. And then there were the health and beauty-aids I can't get in Nairobi....oh, and the shoes that were on sale at Macy's, and the spices from DeKalb Market in Atlanta.....

You get where I'm going with this? Well, maybe you will when you find out how much I paid. When the counter agent told me the amount, I was stunned into a horrified, bug-eyed, carp-mouthed silence. I'm still reeling. I felt like somebody hit me over the head with this heavy-assed stool. But I had to consider my options. I could have unchecked those two extra bags, called a friend to come and take them back to DC....and then I would have missed the plane. Or I could have started screaming and cursing and crying and pleading for mercy. And then I would have missed the plane and been arrested.

So I paid the........$800. And as they swiped the various cards, I knew it was probably the karmic cost of a couple other times when I'd flashed a little cleavage and received a huge discount from the guy behind the counter. Cleavage and a smile used to be my most effective travel companions. This time, they let me down Big Time.

I'll keep these receipts as a painfully profound reminder of the cost of "stuff." Stuff I thought I needed to have. Stuff that would make expat life a little less lonely. Stuff that would make my skin smoother, and my butt look a little tighter in jeans. Things that would make my feet look sexy. Things that would make my food taste better. Things that would make me work out harder.

Stuff that I'll mostly wind up giving away and leaving behind. What a price to pay for mindless materialism, eh?

Bird Flew

This is one of the first things I unpacked this morning, after making a quick call to my US cell phone so I could hear the message I'd told my friend Lisa to leave on the voicemail. Sure enough, she had faithfully shouted,


Lisa was with me when I purchased this really cute knick-knack duck at a gallery on the Central Oregon Coast. When I told her I wanted to find a little memento for a certain someone back in Nairobi, she patiently tagged along while I poked through gift shops, before spotting this duck on a shelf. It's carved from a club from one of the oldest courses in Oregon. I don't play golf, but this certain someone in Nairobi does, and I thought he might appreciate it.

Now before you even ask, I ain't giving up the deets on this guy. It's just not the right time. It may never be the right time. When or if it is, I'll let you know. Until then, just know that this Oregon Duck made the 9,000 mile journey to East Africa freighted with a lot more meaning than it needs to have! In fact, when I told my best friend Faith in North Carolina that I had purchased this duck as a small present for a certain someone to let him know I'd been thinking about him while I was away, Faith spent more than an hour damn near preaching a Sunday morning service about the folly of said endeavor.

"Why are you so focused on this guy? What has he bought for you? What has he done to show you that he's thinking about you?" Faith queried. After all, she'd been hearing about my surprisingly teenaged-style crush for months, and knew I had little more to show for it than one date and some mild flirtations. Like the dutiful best friend she is, Faith reminded me that when a man wants you, he's usually not ambivalent. No matter how busy he is, no matter how stressed he is, no matter who else might be jockeying for his attention, if he wants to be with YOU, you won't have to guess his feelings.

And if you do find yourself guessing, it means "he's just not that into you."

Long story short, Faith advised me to keep this duck as a reminder to stay strong and wait for the guy who knows how terrific, and smart, and beautiful and funny I am (Faith's descriptors, not mine). Though her admonishments were a slight buzz kill, I actually rang off feeling a lot less anxious about this duck, and the response I was hoping to elicit with it. That is, until I was standing in the security line at Dulles, vetting that conversation with Lisa, who kept saying,

"IT'S JUST A DUCK!!!!!" And then she accused me of over-thinking the situation, and immersing myself in the mistakes of the past as an excuse to avoid taking a risk this time around.

Now I don't know what to do. So for the first time with this blog, I'm requesting help. If you are a regular reader of "Notes" and feel you have a thorough grasp of my particular brand of neuroticism, please share your advice about whether I should give this duck to a certain someone, or keep it as a reminder that I deserve a guy who spends a lot of time thinking about me while I'm away.

Just go to the comments section and opine away. I'll even take input from the Asian reader who's left a couple dozen comments in either Japanese or Chinese over the past few months. Hell, they could be cussin' me out for all I know, but since I can't read it, I don't care. However, if he or she responds to this request, I'll get it translated.