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
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
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.
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.
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
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.