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, August 31, 2010
This was Julie's spirit, too. Stubbornly willful, impish, lively, playful, vivacious. Girlfriend definitely knew how to work it. I'd like to think I do, too.
Monday, August 30, 2010
Sunday, August 22, 2010
Thursday, August 19, 2010
Wednesday, August 18, 2010
Tuesday, August 17, 2010
Though I'm loathe to admit it, the above picture closely resembled my facial expression throughout most of today.
Just think...yesterday, I was waxin' all poetic about today being my late sister Julie's 60th birthday, and how much I missed her, while waiting to board a plane to Western Kenya. Well, I spent most of today bouncing across the rain-slicked rutted roads of Bungoma District in a wildly backfiring RAV 4, desperately praying I wouldn't be seeing Julie again before sunset.
The day had started off weirdly enough. Now, I am in no way, shape or form a morning person, so having spent another mostly sleepless night huddling under my thousandth dingy mosquito net that only served to provide a breezy canopy for the greedy little bastards while they feasted on my flesh, my phone rang at 6:45 AM. After my strangled "hello," a lilting Kenyan male voice wished me a "Good morning, Rachel." At first I thought it was someone in the group I'd checked into the hotel with, but this dude said his name was Michael, and he'd met me at some conference in Nairobi.
Maybe the line was bad, or my ears were clogged, but he said the name of said conference 3 times and I still didn't know WTF he was talking about!! He kept on being relentlessly cheery until it occurred to me that unless you are fine as HELL and lying right next to me, you ain't got no danged business playin' on my phone at 6:45 AM. And I told him as much. I was all, like, "Dude, unless you can provide a bit more info, I gotsta go." It suddenly dawned on him that his prospects for a dawn booty call were fading fast, and he muttered something about calling later. Although the way I'm sure my voice sounded, I'll never hear from Homey again.
In other words, I was channeling Miss Julie. That woman could take on the crispest, iciest, bluntest tone that would fall on your ears so hard, you'd wind up with a closed head injury! People have told me for years that I sound exactly like her, and I think it's most true when I'm tired or just seriously not amused.
Anyway, I spent most of the rest of the day wondering if I had just rebuffed my only chance of catching a case of Jungle Fever during my remaining time in Kenya. That is, when my brain wasn't being jarred from its moorings in the back of that RAV 4, while some chromosome-missing mofo gunned the sputtering motor on that god-forsaken hoopty. After stifling a few screams, I finally queried the dimwitted driver about the safety of speeding in driving rain in a vehicle that sounded like it was about to explode. As the only woman in the conveyance, my question was quickly dismissed with a side of laughter all around.
Enter Julie, Stage Left.... "Frankly, I don't see what the hell is so funny." Dead silence followed, as those men contemplated cutting my tongue out before or after pushing me out of the moving vehicle. Quite frequently, I suspect that even the most evolved Kenyan men are stunned when a woman speaks without permission, or expresses any kind of opinion. But the way I felt at that moment, for 10 cents I would have given everybody in that ride a DC style beatdown before they ever got ahold of me.
Anyway, I'm safely back in my hotel room, bracing myself for another night as a blood donor, and I can't deny that I'm considerably miffed. I mean, come ON, Winky!!! Where's my birthday sign from you that you're okay and I'm okay, and that things will only get better?? That love still swirls around me, and that the best of life is out there for the taking???
Oh, SNAP...maybe Mr. 6:45 AM was your sign!! Maybe you were serving me up a hot hunk o' Mandingo meat, and I basically pissed it away with my bitchy attitude!
"I mean, seriously, Julie? SERIOUSLY?? Did you run out of rainbows or something???"
Monday, August 16, 2010
Friday, August 6, 2010
Thursday, August 5, 2010
Hear me out. I'm not exactly a borderline fame whore, or anything. I don't need to know that hundreds of people are reading this blog to motivate me to keep writing. I've said it often enough: this exercise is my personal, highly affordable mental health regimen. If I didn't do some regular purging during this era of my life, I'd go starkers, for realz. I'm writing more for myself than I EVER could for my readers.
That's right, you guessed it! Ads for Asian call girls. So now I have to check every day to see if some chick named Mai Shen is commenting so I can hit "delete." It's rather a humbling experience. And I was about to do it again this morning, to a comment on the bottom of yesterday's posting, when I decided I'd better read it first, just to make sure.
I'm so glad I did! It was written by a Kenyan woman, born and raised in Nairobi, but now living in the U.S., on the "Left Coast." Her main reason for writing was to set me straight about how I'd translated the term "pole" in yesterday's post. Apparently, instead of meaning "Sorry," it's an expression of empathy that roughly means, "I feel your pain." She said the Swahili word for "sorry" is "samahani."
"Samahani, girlfriend!" I was actually really grateful for this correction, but then I got
to the gist of her comment. As an occasional reader of the blog who appreciates some of my foreigner's insights about Kenya, she wanted to know, "Why are your views of your current host country (and continent) frequently laced with condescension?"
Now THAT stung! For a minute anyway. And then I re-read yesterday's post. For the most part, it was sincere expression of support and enthusiasm about the vote for a new Kenyan Constitution, but then there was the line about me being a "tourist taking photos of the natives" during a rock-throwing incident back in January. And the section where I rebuked Kenyans for basically being nice to me when something goes wrong (cringe). Reading that on a screen isn't the same as seeing and hearing me say it, with all the irony, sarcasm and eye-rolling I can muster. If you don't know me, I can definitely see how it would come across as condescending. And because I don't expect my Kenyan-in-America reader to closely scrutinize three years worth of my postings to develop a better overall understanding of my psyche, I had to honor her perception.
She doesn't realize that I was weaned on the withered teat of bitter irony, and that sarcasm is my life's blood. She doesn't know that in about 70 percent of all my interactions, I lead with cynicism. She doesn't know that one of the mainstays of my sanity is my ability to laugh at just about every foible Fate visits upon me, but that over time, that behavior causes you develop a significant emotional callus, which if you're a writer, renders you increasingly insensitive to how other people interpret your musings. You're totally focused on going for the satirical "kill."
So I'm offering this posting to that Kenyan reader on the US Left Coast as a "mea culpa." I've probably been condescending more times than I'd be comfortable admitting, and had more of my witticisms fall flat than I care to consider. But while I'm acknowledging those things, I also need to explain what's fueling some of those seemingly elitist critiques. Basically, I've concluded that EVERYBODY thinks where they come from is better than where they are, in some way, shape or form. Even if it's only in one way, at some point nostalgia for home tends to influence your perceptions of where you are.
That probably sounds really strange coming from an American, because everybody else in the world thinks every American arrogantly thinks America is the best place in the world, and that everybody else in the world would rather live in America than where they're originally from. (I HOPE that made sense...) But I had a real eye opening experience when I was back in the US in June. I spent an evening with four Kenyan women, laughing, joking and sharing stories. And then at one point, one of the women started talking about Black American "soul food," and how greasy and unpalatable it was, and how she missed having ready access to Kenyan food. Another woman mentioned some insidiously stoopid cable program about teen pregnancy, and issued a blanket condemnation of American culture for glorifying it, adding that this would NEVER happen in Kenya.
I sat there quietly as these women opined about the superiority of Kenyan culture, religious values and social mores, and somehow managed to keep the snark at bay. I didn't invoke female genital mutilation at age 8, or early marriage at age 12 to some 50 year old with 3 other wives, as being a wee bit more problematic than teen pregnancy. I didn't mention the rapacious political corruption that locks more than half of the Kenyan population in poverty. And I didn't mention the green, starchy glop with maize kernels in it that is a staple of the Kenyan diet, and which I would rather eat stewed pig intestines any day than consume.
I didn't mention any of that because I knew exactly how those women feel. Even though most of them had lived in the US for years, they were still Kenyan, and proudly so. And they didn't consider the fact that slamming American culture in front of an American might be condescending. They weren't going out of their way to be mean or to look down on me. They were expressing their opinion from a wellspring of identity so deep, it trumped the personal nationalistic sensitivities of anybody who might be listening.
Now, I don't share this as a way to cover my ass, or to deflect responsibility for how I express myself. I think going forward, I WILL be more mindful about whether I'm being patronizing about some aspect of life in Kenya, or in any of the African countries I'm privileged to explore. I want to sincerely thank Ms. Left Coast Reader for that wake-up call. It's just that when you get right down to it, I consider myself a daughter of Africa, whether I'm viewed that way by the people in a particular country or not.