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.

Monday, February 28, 2011

"Moving Right Along...."

Well! All RIGHTY-then!

February's been quite a month. That is, if you prefer that your months SUCK ASS.

But hey, there's always tomorrow.

No...wait, March reminds me of my brother David, and his punk-ass exit from life. And March 21st is...WAS...Fred's birthday.

"Like sands through the hourglass, So are the days of our lives." And the months. And pretty soon, there won't be a single freakin' month left when I won't be reminded of some tragic circumstance involving my kith and kin

And once again, I think the Universe needs to unclog its damn ears, 'cuz it didn't hear me right on New Year's Day. Remember when I declared I'd be "Grateful Times Seven in 2011"??

Now, I'm grateful FOR seven. And hoping none of the other Jones siblings takes "The Big Dirt Nap" this year.

But hey, I'm not trying to be morbid or anything. Just had to get that out of the old system.

"Moving right along...."

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Hump Day

Y'all need to pray for me, but not just for the reason you think.

You see, today I bought these two bags for one reason and one reason only. Not because I needed them...God no. That would be too much like right. Nay, I bought these two amazingly beautiful, well-made, sturdy bags because they were made out of.....camel leather.

A freakin' CAMEL, people!! The "Ship of the Desert," and all that rot!! One of those tall, spindly-legged, goofy lookin' mo' fo's with the humps and the cloven hooves. One of those critters that should probably be on the endangered species list, but escape that fate because they're so friggin' horny, you couldn't kill 'em off if you tried.

Not that this means they should wind up being a purse because of their loose morals, but there was just something so borderline creepy and guilt-inducing about owning these bags! I've long since stopped worrying about the immortal soul of cows; they shouldn't taste so damn good if they don't want me to flaunt their skin. Hell, it would just go to waste if somebody didn't dry it and stretch it and dye it and tailor it to my exact, buttery-soft specifications.

But camel leather. CAMEL LEATHER, FOR CRISSAKES!!! And both bags cost about one third of what one of them would have cost if I'd bought it at Nordstrom's!!!!!

I swear, if malaria doesn't kill me, the amazing creativity and craftwork of this continent WILL.


Don't hate, appreciate. And don't forget to pray for me, while you're at it.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

"It's Been a Long, A Long Time Comin'..."

".....But I know, A change is gon' come, Oh, yes it will."'s already here. If you'd told me five years ago, hell, even
LAST year, that millions of people would storm the streets of ANY capital city of ANY country on the African continent to demand that a corrupt, greedy, cruelly indifferent leader resign, I would have called you puredee batshit crazy.

I've just seen too much mind-twisting, gut-wrenching, soul-shattering poverty, neglect, and thievery over here. I've seen too many people accept it as the just the way life
is. I've watched too many people stuff themselves into too many crowded matatus, headed to a job that pays less each month than I've paid for a pair of boots, working 8 hours or more every day just for the privilege of barely surviving, forget about educating their children or buying medicine.

I've seen children playing on fresh graves in IDP camps in Northern Uganda after decades of war, and I've seen them lying on the hard, drafty dirt floor of the Great Rift Valley in tattered tents in Kenya after election-related violence, and each time, I've lost a bit of my faith. I'll admit it. It is just so
hard to keep believing in justice and heavenly intervention when you see children suffer. It's so hard to believe that one day, things will get better, and that mean people will get what's coming to them.

I'm not a fool. I realize that the proud elation in Egypt has
already been replaced by harsh reality. I realize getting rid of Mubarak was not a panacea. I know there are even scarier, greedier, meaner demons than him walking the Earth, and they'd gladly take the reins if they got a chance.

I guess all I want to say is, I'm just so very glad I got to see what's happening Up North in
my lifetime. May the rest of the continent get in on the gettin' while it's good.

Black Like Us

"Stay with me here."

I already know that half of you will dismiss this posting as long-distance Obama idolatry, from someone who's only spent about a month and a half living under his "rule." You'll mutter about my appalling lack of poli-sci expertise for arriving at the hypothesis I'm about to share with you. You'll just dismiss what I'm about to state as a girlish crush, or blind nationalism, or old-school "race pride," or some other such tomfoolery.

But I remember feeling the tectonic plates of the Earth move while watching President Barack Obama give his speech at Cairo University in June of 2009. I made a point of leaving my desk at Nation Centre and joining the guys in the Sports Department to watch it on one of the office TVs. I also mentioned that I had grown up in Cairo. They were quite impressed, until I added the "Illinois" part, and then I became invisible again.

I watched as much of it as I could before having to return to my desk, but remember thinking how extraordinary the image was. An American President, of African descent, addressing a predominantly Muslim crowd in an Arabic nation on the African continent. Again, if you had predicted that would happen in June of 2008, I'd have done my best to try and have you committed, for your own safety.

Now, here's that hypothesis I promised to share. I think the seeds for the uprising in Tahrir Square were planted in June of 2009. I believe that after 8 years of watching George W.'s addle-pated international diplomacy, people in the Middle East were more stunned than the rest of the world that America was able produce a Barack Obama. And before you even "go there," I realize that just because he has a Muslim sounding name, it doesn't mean he's universally accepted, or even liked in the Middle East. After all, he's still associated with "The Great Satan."

But look at the picture up top. Take your time, really LOOK at it. Like most biracial people, if you didn't know Obama is the product of an African man and a white American woman, you could conclude he was from Spain. Or Argentina. Or Greece....

Or Tunisia. Or Algeria.

Or Egypt.

Imagine what it must have felt like to be sitting in the auditorium of Cairo University in June of 2009, watching a youthful, vibrant man, the "Leader of the Free World," who looks kinda like your people, talking about freedom and democracy and respect for women a bunch of other "radical" ideas. When all you've experienced from your leaders for the past 3 decades is greed and brutality and utter contempt.

No need to give him another Nobel for it, but you'll never convince ME that President Barack Hussein Obama didn't light the spark that lit the match that eventually lit the path to Tahrir Square.

Oh, and one more thing: If loving him is wrong, I don't wanna be right.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

"I'm Just Sayin', Dawg...." Part 27

Can I take a second here to admit that I think Gwyneth Paltrow is cool as hell? For a skinny rich b---h, that is.

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

(And now, back to our regularly scheduled grief....)

Papering Over The Grief

For almost a week after I learned my brother Fred had died, I literally didn't have time to think about it. I had to put up or shut up, and there was far too much at stake. Like my reputation. Like being exposed for a lot of sound and fury which signified nothing. Like having talked myself into a project I couldn't produce.

Thing is, when I shook the dust of the ill-fated Kilifi journalism workshop off my heels back in December, I was truly ready to pack it in and head back to America. Back home. I was pretty much convinced that doing the kind of journalism training and mentoring I'd won a grant to do was impossible in Kenya, because journalists just weren't feeling it. Journalism isn't considered a "craft" here; it's a job. For too many journalists, "ethics" are for chumps who don't have any influential connections. And who has time to take a week--even half a day--to really think about issues, and to work on improving their writing skills?

I believe I've mentioned that the only reason I'm still on the continent is because I had such a marvelous experience working with Sudanese radio journalists immediately after the Kilifi workshop. They reminded me that not everybody is cynical and unmotivated. Besides, I had already proposed producing a special section in the East African weekly newspaper about the new government initiative to provide free pneumococcal vaccine for infants. The research was conducted in Kilifi, and it was actually a big deal for Kenya. Heck, if nothing else, Melinda Gates' visit a few weeks ago proved the significance of the event.

Mercifully, the only two writers who took the Kilifi workshop seriously--and another reporter who I SHOULD have invited instead of the handful of complaining jerks who wasted my time and theirs--saved my bacon in the end. One of them is my assistant in the new journalism project, who turned in a first draft that almost made me applaud the laptop screen, it was so perfectly on point. The second is a former malaria researcher with three young kids who approached me late last summer, wanting to shift from scientific writing to journalism. Without her analytical expertise and skill, half of these pages wouldn't exist. The third contributor fought long and hard to do more health-related reporting with no support from his editor, and finally had to threaten to quit before they took him seriously.

So....these pieces of paper symbolize weeks of pensive planning, plotting and praying. And just when I really had to dig in my heels to gut this thing out, I learned Fred had died. For many hours after hearing that news, I contemplated flying home for the funeral. Even though family members talked me out of it, in those fevered, eerily still hours before dawn, I almost pushed the button on a flight.

Something made me stay. And it wasn't just fear of losing face. It was the spirit of Eloise and Julie. It was pure mulishness. It was sheer will. It was the ultimate "In yo' FACE!" to the naysayers, to the folks who'd turned up their noses at all my hard work back in December, and then had the nerve to go around bad-mouthing me afterwards.

And it was therapy. I picked up a copy of the published results at around the same time Fred's funeral was occurring, thousands of miles away. Somehow, I hoped it would make him proud. And everybody else up there watching out for me, holding me up.

One Thing to Do When the Grief is Enuf

Yesterday after work, I was suddenly obsessed with making a batch of sukuma wiki.

This time, I was gonna be creative and add some smoked neckbones, and some leeks. I'm sure I'd be chased out of the country if a Kenyan got a whiff of my impromptu experiment, but I wanted to add an African American spin to it.

All the washing and chopping and dicing and simmering took about 3 hours last night. I was almost too exhausted to eat it. The first bite didn't knock me off my feet, so I think the next time I'll stick to the authentic recipe. I've made it before, and it's turned out really well. This time, I just needed to focus on doing something other than marinating in grief.

Another Thing To Do When the Grief is Enuf

I've slept with this iPad more than any man I've ever known. I got it just before Christmas, and it is without a doubt the coolest gadget I've ever owned.

As usual, I haven't really figured out one tenth of what it's able to do, so it's basically just an outsized iPod/email tool. Coupled with the new, outrageously expensive headphones Kelly brought over for me (I left my other pair of outrageously expensive headphones in the back seat of a taxi last summer), I have been indulging in electronic escapism every single chance I get these days.

Probably shouldn't be listening to "The Essential Michael Jackson" collection these days, given how hard HIS passing hit me, but great headphones get you so focused on the amazing sound quality, you forget everything but the beat.

The operative word here being "forget."

Saturday, February 12, 2011

In Full Bloom

I bought these lillies on Friday, February 4th. It was the day before what I considered THE best dinner party I've thrown in almost 3 years in Nairobi. I love having them in the bathroom; they're so pretty, and they smell so sweet. Now that I think about it, that party was on February 5th. That was the day my mother died, in 2005.

Usually, after a couple of days, my lillies start to curl up and turn brown. By the fourth day, the sweet smell goes sour, the water gets murky, and the leaves start falling off. By day five, they're in the dumpster.

This morning, eight days later, was my brother Fred's funeral. These must be magic lillies, because they're in full bloom, and they still smell sweet. I'm not exactly sure when Fred died; they found him on the morning of February 7th.

I'm going to bed now. Rest in peace, lillies.

And Then There Were Seven

Okay, this is gonna sound really macabre, and I apologize for it in advance. But I bought 7 bird of paradise flowers today because when Marilyn and I were talking on Monday night, she raised a solemn reminder....

There are seven of us Jones siblings left now. David, Julie and Fred are gone.

Let's see how long these flowers last.

Friday, February 11, 2011

It's In The Bag

It is astonishing how sometimes, the least little innocuous thing can completely rattle you, throw you worse than you ever could have imagined.

After all, this particular "least little innocuous thing" happened less than 12 hours after I learned that another of my older brothers, Fred Wesley Jones, had died. I was walking from my bedroom to the living room this past Tuesday morning when I noticed what was written on the front of the bag my friend Kelly had ferried from New York to Nairobi the week before. Kelly has been a real life-saver these past couple of years, generously agreeing to be the "mule" for all my online shopping. And she always meticulously packs everything, making sure to tape the tops of liquids and put them in gallon-sized Zip-loc bags, and carefully ordering all the packing receipts. She also puts everything in really cool bags, like from Henri Bendel or Barneys. I've kept quite a few of them, hooking them onto a doorknob or over a rack in the closet, so I can pretend I still have
access to Upscale East Coast shopping.

seeing the front of this bag felt like somebody thwacked me in the center of my forehead with a log. I had lain awake most of the night before, after talking to my brother-in-law Ron and my sister Marilyn, trying to sort through the shock and the details. I guess I'll be able to write about it one day, but right now, I just can't. It's too raw. But I know I didn't think of him as "Fred Wesley" as I tossed and turned in the tangled sheets. I thought about what we used to call him 40 years ago, when he was young and strong and healthy and a high school football star and had the whole world as his oyster, it seemed.

We called him Freddie.

So even though it's not spelled the same way, and even though there's a rip on one side, I think I'll keep this bag right where it is for a while. Maybe I'll even keep it forever. To me, it feels like somehow, I was with him when he passed.

"I'm Just Sayin', Dawg...." Part 26

Here's another reason why the most valuable thing I own is my sense of humor.

Late Monday night, when my sister Marilyn and I finished clawing our way through the shock and profound sadness of accepting that our poor, tragic brother Fred was finally at peace, Marilyn sighed and recalled what the old school rappers used to do when one of their homeys got smoked. They poured a little booze on the ground, and then solemnly declared, "I'll meet ya' at 'The Crossroads,' dawg. "

With tears of pain stinging in the corners of my eyes, once again I found myself utterly unable to stop the sarcastic remark that spilled out.

"Yeah, but at our age, instead of pouring booze, we just pop a high blood pressure pill and say, "Meet ya' at the Blue Cross, Blue Shield clinic." Trust me, laughter can save your life, sometimes. Or at least your sanity.

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

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

"And the Fake Kenyan Accent Oscar Goes To...."

I am a woman on the cusp. More and more these days, I realize I've been living here so long, it's definitely "fish or cut bait" time.

Here's a perfect example. I've resorted to hanging out of car windows to buy DVD's of recent movie releases. I'm not proud of it, it's just a fact of life. But it really sunk in yesterday as I was poking through some guy's wares in gridlock traffic, and asked if he had one of this year's Best Film Oscar Nominees, "True Grit."

"Eh?" was his puzzled response, and I hear it at least two or three times a day from various sources. Every time, I get defensive, because it's like my ability to speak clearly and articulately is being challenged
. I'M SPEAKING ENGLISH, DAMMIT! English is one of the official languages over here, right??? All I want a copy of the movie, "True Grit," not the Armenian language version of "Das Boot." I gave it one more shot.

"True Grit!"

"Eh?" The furrowed brow and look of utter incomprehension only poured gasoline on an already explosive situation. It was friggin' hot in the back seat of that car, and the traffic was crawling, and I just wanted to get home. WTF is the problem??

And then I remembered.


"Ahh," he replied. "It is here."


(Note to that handful of Kenyan readers who have once again concluded that I am a patronizing, American elitist jerk: "Get over yourselves, already!" All I'm really saying with this post is that if I stay here much longer, I need to commit to learning Kiswahili,or intonate in a way people can understand. It's not about imperialism. Don't be so tetchy.)

Black Beauty

It's been a while since an image of myself startled me. Usually, it's for the wrong reason. For example, there's a picture of me taken at the journalism workshop I hosted in Kilifi last December where I was caught completely off guard, and just about ready to pop a blood vessel because those reporters had worked my last nerve, and I was exhausted from all the work I'd done to get the danged show on the road, and plus my hot flashes were REALLY kicking in, and all I wanted was to go sit by the pool....after I slapped the bejeezus out of a few folks, and, I mean....

I looked
busted. (And no, I ain't NEVER posting that picture, so don't even ask.) It was a side view shot, and I looked like I was slowly melting down into myself, arms hangling limply at my side, shoulders slouched as I leaned back into a chair, wearing a grim, flat-line expression. Seeing that image scared me because I looked so much like my mother. Not from Miss Eloise's halcyon, "Fierce Force of Nature" days when she was in her 30's and 40's, but just like she looked just before she died. Resigned. Worn out. Too through.

Like a sad old lady.

Even though I know
why I looked so bad in that picture, it haunted me for a while. I was like, "Wow, if that's how I'm gonna look in 20 years, I better start saving for daily facials and a 24-hour, on-call personal trainer, because...DAY-um!!" So just imagine how startling the image above was for me. If I do say so myself, I think I look quite lovely in this picture taken last Friday night. But then, I was probably just reflecting the glow from the women surrounding me, who were celebrating the birthday of the diva named Tina Monique who's wearing the dazzling diadem.

Let me just say that there is nothing like the range of beauty contained among women of African descent. I've traveled enough of the continent to have finally counteracted the last vestiges of an internalized European blonde, blue-eyed gold standard for beauty. I'm sorry, but African beauty is not only physically alluring, it has rhythm. And passion. And flow. And diversity. It can be as black as ink or as fair as cafe latte, and it's just as stunning. Just like the smiling, shining happy faces above. One in particular stand out, of course: mine. For the first time in ages, I almost didn't recognize myself.

I look so thin in this picture!!! I'm flashing a respectable amount of leg, and it doesn't look like a haunch of beef hanging in a store window. I'm wearing a nice, sunny, controlled smile, not like I usually do when I'm happy and wind up baring my gums like Mr. Ed. I look poised. In fact, my face looks significantly younger than what the calendar says it is.

So, look, here's the thing. Every now and then, we're all gonna have our bad days when we look and feel like 12 miles of bad road. But always remember that somewhere inside that sad wreckage staring back out at you from the mirror is the REAL you. And when you get right down to it, she's a stunner.