Monthly Archives: January 2012

How Did You ‘Coming to America’?

“I’m planning a trip to Africa, and I would love for you to join me.”

“Uhh…I dunno. When I think of Africa, I think of…”

“Women walkin’ around with their breasts going ‘jiggy-jiggy-jiggy’?” (Cackles and simulates jiggling breasts with her hands.)

“Hahahhaaa!”

Conversation between Phaedra Parks and Kandi Burruss during a recent episode of Real Housewives of Atlanta

I don’t know which is more tragic: That two African-American women have this dated view of Africa, or that I am even privy to this view as a direct consequence of watching trash TV. I believe the tragedy is the latter, but it’s like vaginal childbirth. You want to look away but you just can’t!

I’ve recently given a lot of thought about the West’s view of Africa, given that there is a new scramble for Africa with China leading the charge. Asia is gobbling up our resources like a ferocious cancer, and the majority are watching helplessly (or uninterestedly) from the sidelines. Why is Africa still viewed as the ‘Dark Continent’? With the advent of the internet and cable TV, surely the world ought to know by now that we have some of the best education systems and homes that money can buy? Why don’t the broadcasts on Africa include men of wealth cruising around in air-conditioned Land Rovers instead of armed thugs roaming the streets in open Jeeps?

My first inclination has always been to lay blame at the feet of a racist media whose only goal must be to present Africa as a desolate wasteland populated by famished waifs whose flesh serves no purpose but to nourish an ever increasing multitude of plump flies…but then I did a Michael Jackson and took a hard look at the woman in the mirror. Perhaps I am the one to blame. And if you’re anything like me, perhaps you are to blame too.

African Reader, do you remember when you first came to America fresh off of Lufthansa or KLM? Do you remember going to that first University class and sitting amongst your new peers? Do you remember how astonished they were when you were able to blow every exam and engage in enlightened discourse with your professor? Do you remember how astonished you were when they asked you how you got here?

“What do you mean, ‘how did I get here’?” I asked the pretty green-eyed girl from Texas.

“I mean, did you take a plane or…”

I paused and considered my next words carefully. Finally, I decided to recount a tale that my friend from Gambia had told a group of African-Americans in a salon where she was getting her hair done a few years before. I delivered the tale unsmiling, completely deadpan.

“I came by canoe,” I said. “It was a very difficult trip, but fortunately there was a crocodile at sea that gave me directions. When I landed in Virginia, I took the few clothes I had and came straight to Hampton’s campus.” I shrugged. “Now I’m here.”

She looked at me quizzically.

“That’s not true!” she challenged. She didn’t seem so sure when she asked her follow up question. “Is it?”

“Nah man!” I laughed. “I took a plane. I came through Europe on Lufthansa. It was a long trip.”

Some of my favorite questions from “ignorant” Americans are the following:

How long did it take you to learn English?

Did you live in a tree back home?

Do you want to marry Marshall because you need a visa to stay here?

Did you ride a zebra to school?

How did you get that scar? Fighting tigers and sh*t? (This one is my favorite, because everyone knows there are no tigers in Africa. Not indigenously anyways.)

Sometimes the questions are so ridiculous they can do nothing but elicit a laugh. Sometimes, they stun you into silence.

Just 2 nights ago I bought a pair of shoes for my BFFFL, Nana. They are a pink satin pair of Mary Jane pumps made by Jessica Simpson. I casually mentioned to the cashier (whom I work with) that the shoes were not for me, and I would be sending them to Ghana soon.

“They can wear pink in Africa?” asked Jen, an elderly blond woman from Michigan.

WTH? I was so astonished by her question that I was neither able to confirm or deny her query. I paid for my shoes and went back to the sales floor still trying to figure out what she meant by her question.

But how Reader, how are these people to know any better if we do not educate them? When you consider that there are people of my ilk roaming this nation perpetuating the vicious cycle of obliviousness, it seems like an indomitable task. My own sister was spinning tales on her university campus that did nothing to improve the situation.

“There are no airports in all of Africa,” she told one freshman. “Except in South Africa. And that’s only because White people live there. SO I had to walk from Ghana to South Africa and take a plane to here. That’s how I got to Atlanta.”

Of course, the twit believed her. I almost spit my coffee when she told me.

 So what are we to do? Don’t look at me to be part of the solution. I’m far too mischievous to stop the wheel from spinning. I don’t have that sort of personal discipline. That puzzled look when I know I’ve caught a foreigner in my trap of creative falsehoods is just far too amusing! All I can ask is that if you see me engaging in toil, be the bigger man/woman and tell me to stop! After all, how would you react if someone asked you if wearing clothes was a new experience for you?

By the way, how DID you react? What’s the craziest thing anyone has ever asked you? I’ll grab my coffee and wait for your reply.

What the First Lady’s Hair Tells You About the President

Three nights ago many in the nation tuned in to watch Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich exchange fire from their individual podiums during the GOP presidential debate. Rick Santorum and Ron Paul’s presence served no real purpose, but it was kind of them to show up in person to witness the exchange with the rest of us. Between Mitt’s calls for illegals to engage in self-deportation and Newt’s proposal that the use take another crack at the Bay of Pigs, Paul and Santorum managed to get a few whispers in edgewise, but failed to make any lasting impact with their utterances. I did get a sense on how each man would approach and settle foreign policy matters. If made president, Newt would declare nuclear war on all America’s enemies with the support of his friend, Santorum. Romney would only agree to these exploits if the targets were allowed to ‘self-deport’ from  homes and only agree to do so in an effort to uphold the appearance of diplomacy. If all else failed, our government could summon then Ron Paul to gather the rest of the world’s leaders and invite them to toast marshmallows and sing Kumbaya in an effort to rehabilitate our image. Everyone likes campfires and marshmallows.

Did you see the debate? I for one never thought that President Obama had a crack at a second term, but if these characters are the GOP’s only options Mr. Obama will be hosting a string of beer and kenkey summits this Christmas, just because “he can”.

After the televised travesty had ended, I left the room to get a cup of tea, neglecting to change the channel or turn off the TV. I saw something that nearly made me drop my cup:

 Callista Gingrich’s hair.

They say behind every great (or fairly decent) man, is a woman. You can tell a lot about a woman by judging her hair, and you can tell even more about the man’s she’s with based on that same coif.

For instance, I wear my hair natural and in an afro puff almost 89% of the time. This says that I don’t have time to style my hair, but I care enough to keep it neatly out of my face. It says I’m easy going and not looking to impress. The same couldn’t be truer about my husband. He could care less about others’ opinions of him, takes a simple approach to solutions and places high priority on just the basics. The way a woman wears her hair is a reflection of her man’s values. It takes a great deal of time and money to maintain a signature do (even if it turns out to be a fashion flop), and a man must be willing to divert these funds from the household coffers to achieve this. In the same vein, when a woman finds a style she really likes, she really wants her man to approve of and appreciate that style as well. What a man finds attractive says even more about him.

Let’s take a look back at some of the hair dos of some of our most well-known first ladies.

 Nana Konadu Rawlings

I like Mrs. Rawlings. She was/is hard core. She was first lady for – I dunno – 20+ years, and apart from the odd ordering of the disappearance of certain undesirables, was a pretty stand up gal. But not completely stand up, you see? She always wore these weird tuban-y looking head ties that looked like they’d been manufactured by enslaved children in Gabon. They looked entirely too tight and only covered half her head, instead of the full traditional cover most of our women wear. President Rawlings let her carry on this way for years because I believe in a Freudian way, it resonated with him. His regime was rife with half-truths and half kept promises, just like that half-head scarf/half-hat worn by his wife.

 Chantal Biya

OMG.

WTH?

WTF?

…and any other acronym you can think of. The way her husband runs the country is equally distressing and head scratching, but it stands to reason. Cameroon can’t figure out what they are about. They are half Anglophone, half Francophone and all Confusion…ophone.

 Nancy Reagan

She used to be Nancy Davis and was an American actress. Her hair was always kept short and classically reflected the style of her day. It was current, but not trendy. It’s debatable, but one could argue that it was a reflection of Reagannomics – a simplistic approach to restoring the economic integrity of America by cutting back on ‘non-essentials’. This was achieved by:

  • Reducing government spending increase
  • Reducing income tax and capital gains tax
  • Reducing government regulation of economy
  • Controlling  money supply to reduce inflation

Was the length of Nancy’s hair also not reduced and controlled?

 Hillary Clinton

What great hair. It’s got great body and color. She’s always kept it just below her neck line, leaving it neither long or short. It’s as though she refuses commit solely to either length. Her hair is barrel curled and then smoothed out to complete the style, and never will you find a strand out of place. Her hair says “I’m having a good time, but I also mean business!” Was there ever a president who had more fun in the Oval Office than Bill Clinton?

  Michelle OBAMA(!)

Hot dog. Every Black woman wants that hair. It’s blowy, it’s got shine, it’s got bounce and she changes it up all the time. You never know WHAT she’s going to do with it. It looks simple on the outset, and doesn’t look like it can achieve much, but I’ve seen her flip it, put in in a pony tail, pin it in an updo…you just never know what’s coming next! Did Ghadaffi or Bin Laden know what was coming for them? I think not people, I think not.

Callista Gingrich

Now, she’s not first lady yet, but she could be. We must never doubt the possibility. Unlike her husband’s affections, her hair just stays in one place. It won’t MOVE and it’s unnatural!  It’s unyielding and hard, like a boulder, or a helmet, or a skillet. It’s not hair. And Newt Gingrich is not a president. A president needs to be able to compromise when necessary, and take the side of right, not just THE Right. Look at Callista’s hair. Look AT IT!! Do you want that running the country for the next four years??

‘Nuff said.

Now That We Are All At Attention:

A few days ago I posted a blog entitled You Lazy (Intellectual) African Scum! The text sent to me via email and was written by Field Ruwe, who is a PhD candidate with a B.A. in Mass Communication and Journalism, and an M.A. in History. After reading it, I had to post it on by blog for two reasons. 1) It was masterfully written and 2) it hit a raw and painful nerve – a nerve that I myself have been guilty of concealing under the cloak of the pursuit of the ‘American Dream’ for the last decade. To my shame, I gave up my pursuit of the ‘African Dream’ long ago.

As of this morning the article has been read 18,694 times, and has been read 44,704 times since it has been posted. There are 293 comments and growing. Let those numbers sink in for a moment, and what the power of that could mean: 45,000 people, all of like/similar mind and focused on one agenda – the development of Africa.

Thankfully, the majority of the comments have been in support of the swift rebuke that ‘Walter’ meted out to us as people. The message is nothing new, but the delivery certainly is. While some people are (sadly) stuck on the fact that Field listed his credentials at the end of the blog, that in itself is nothing new either. Writers often list their credentials in any publication (Time Magazine, anyone?) and if the writer is an African, other Africans are often quick to pull out their PhD’s – Pull Him Down – in response. One of those trends has got to end today. I believe Mr. Ruwe’s exposing his many degrees was his way of self-rebuke. I believe he was having an inner dialogue with himself and saying “I’ve got all this book knowledge, now what of it?” and we were meant to decipher/perceive that.

Instinctively, every reader of this Article already knows what to do. After we’re done ‘weeping for Africa’ and calling for her to ‘rise up’, we know that the fate of the continent is in our hands. We’re the ones who hold the reins to her future…not our politicians, and certainly not the Western world. Imagine if all 45,000 people who read this article – many of whom are trained in physics, healthcare, and a myriad of subjects I can’t even conceive of – came back and focused their energy on developing one area in Africa, what would happen next? I’d much rather leave that to your imagination, rather than tell you. Perhaps that imagination would serve as a greater spark for the change we need than my merely informing you.

Has that not been part of the problem all along? Say what you will about Westerners, but they are a very imaginative people. Perhaps not intelligent in the book sense of the word, but certainly very creative. And that has been our downfall as a people; we are not creative enough. If I were to pit the average Ghanaian 3rd grader against a Georgian 3rd grader and give them a standardized math test, I have no doubt that the Ghanaian child’s grade would decimate the American child’s. However if I were to ask both children to take what that mathematical knowledge and apply it to a real world scenario, the Ghanaian child is at a disadvantage. Creativity is not part of our curriculum. Many of us have gone through primary and secondary school and done well by utilizing the CPPF method: Chew Pour Pass Forget.

The point that I really want to get to is our instinct as a people. Are we lazy? Of course we aren’t. It takes as much tenacity for a student to pursue a Master’s degree as it does for a village woman to sell a barrel of boiled corn. Both are equally motivated to succeed in their very different, but equally important goals. Instinctively, we know what to do to succeed in Africa; the question is if one is prepared to fight to succeed for the long haul. How much do you really want it? Are you willing to spill blood, sweat and tears to get Africa where she needs to be, or do you quit when the road gets a little too hard?

I’ll be the first to admit that I tucked tail and ran when I tried to move back to Ghana in 2010. I never made it past the first 2 months before I packed all my children up and came back to America. It was entirely too frustrating…for me. But while I was there, I saw many people, many intellectual people, doing their bit to make Ghana better. They were quietly engaging in private commerce, providing improvements in access to water in areas outside Accra’s metropolis, setting trends in fashion and music, and organizing events to bridge the gap between technology and education in Ghana. They were so driven…and I envied their drive.

Walter had many things right in his rebuke to Field, but there was one thing he was terribly mistaken about. The bulk of Africa’s intellectuals are not lazy; they are indifferent.

When the typical returnee gets to the airport of their native land, they are laden with old habits and carry around old expectations. Most of us who left the continent did so at 18/19 years old, in search of a university degree or a job (any job) in the West. When you get back home, what is the first thing you want to do? You want to go back to your old haunts and see your old friends. And I of all people get that. There is comfort in the familiar. The problem is, familiarity often breeds contempt and if you’ve come back home armed with your life savings, a blueprint for a new business and lofty dreams, it is often those most familiar to you who dash those hopes before they’ve even had a chance to get off the ground. Who among you reading this has not been told ‘go and come’ by someone you trusted – maybe even a relative – when you needed their input to get a project started? How many of you are still owed money by someone familiar to you for whom you provided a service or a product? Who among you has been discouraged from undertaking a project because you’re a small girl/boy and “that won’t work in Ghana”? Familiarity is the problem and it almost always leads to indifference in the end.

Familiarity à Discouragement à Despair à Indifference

The best thing any African who wants to make a change on the continent is to be self-reliant. When you got to the West, there was hardly anyone there to help you succeed, was there? And yet you made it, and made something of yourself, didn’t you? Why not do the same and explore the rest of Africa where all you have in common with the people is English or French? Is there a reason that you must be tethered to the land of your birth? Sometimes, that tether is a chain, not a root. A guy that lived a really long time ago once said “A prophet is honored everywhere except in his own hometown and among his relatives and his own family.”

When Wangari Maathai began her campaign to reforest Kenyan’s landscape, her success was not with the members of her government. It was with her people; local people without much education, but who had a vision bigger than any government official had the mind to conceive. Trickle down policies do not work in Africa, because there is rot at the head. Africa’s only way forward is a grassroots/wildfire movement. With one spark, you can ignite an entire continent. It’s not going to be easy, and change never easy. Sometimes you will have to take a beating – figuratively and literally – to get the change you want to see. Ask any person who has been successful if that success did not come with some measure of pain.

My sincere hope is that this conversation inspires true action from this moment forward. I hope that the readers of this post will find at least one other person with whom they can cooperate, generate a plan, and see it through to execution. Africa may not need 45,000 returnees, but she most certainly needs YOU. A mighty rainstorm always begins with one drop of water.

Once Upon Dolvett

  This morning I woke up bathed in sweat. My mouth was dry as desert sand, and my hair was matted to my face. My racing heart threatened to burn through my rib cage and beat its last on my cream cotton sheets. Dolvett Quince had come to me in my sleep.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with Dolvett, he is a new trainer on the Biggest Loser. He joined the show last season, and instantly became a new celebrity crush for ordinary people of all walks of life. Old and young; White and Black; gay and straight – we all love Dolvett.

I have made no secret about my admiration for his physique. I once joked that it would be my fondest wish to don a safari suit and rain boots as I hunted for Dolvett in the wild. I would capture him using nothing but a net and my wits, and once he was in my grasp I would mount him on my kitchen table and rub his cheeks every day for good luck as I left the house. Which cheeks would be at my discretion!

Last night, I had three dreams rolled in one. It was Saturday morning and Prince had just brought me pancakes. Before he left the room he sang a special rendition of Adore and bid me farewell until next time. Idris Elba asked me if I could join him for lunch in Buckhead, which I was happy to do. After I had feasted and was ready for a nap, my subconscious took me to thoughts of Dolvett. Much as I admire him, I have never devoted much thought to Dolvett past Tuesday nights. It therefore startled me to discover that he was a major character in my dream.

“Hello, Malaka,” he said in his velvety smooth voice.

“Dolvett?”

“Yes. I understand you’ve been thinking about me. So here I am.”

I drew a sharp breath. Wow. He was hotter in “person” than he was on TV!

“Yes…yes that is correct. How…?”

“How did I get here?” He chuckled. “All you had to do was send out the energy that you wanted me to be here, and so here I am.”

“Wow. Wow! Oh, okay, well there are few things I would like to see happen,” I began.

“Yes. I know all about the safari suit and the net,” he finished for me. “But Malaka, wouldn’t you like to do something more exciting than that? You know, something that’s going to leave an impression on you forever?”

“With you, Dolvett?” I whispered breathlessly. “Of course!”

He smiled and took my hand.

“Good, good. Because I have so many special things planned for you tonight, Malaka. There are things I’m going to do to your body that you’ve never dreamed of.”

I felt warm and giddy. An involuntary giggle escaped my lips.

“Let’s not waste time, shall we?” I suggested.

“Let’s not indeed,” he said smiling mischievously. His brown eyes twinkled and held my gaze.

In the next breath, he took his mighty man hands and clapped them twice. In the next instant, I was teleported to a treadmill. To my utter shock and horror, the speed was already set to 5.2. I began racing so that I would not fall off and injure myself. When I got some sort of rhythm going, I held onto bars of the treadmill.

“Do NOT touch my treadmill!” he barked.

When I laughed at his signature catch phrase, he glowered at me.

“Oh you think that’s funny? Take my incline up to 15!”

Of course I had no intention of doing this. I was barely able to keep up the pace at 5.2. To my dismay, I discovered that I no longer had control of my dream. Dolvett was holding the reigns and driving this team of horses at full speed. The machine harkened to the sound of his voice and automatically increased to 15. I was now almost perpendicular to the floor.

“Dolvett. Dolvett!” I gasped. “I…I…I can’t!”

Dolvett howled.

“What do you mean ‘can’t’. Huh? Do you know how much I hate that word can’t?”

I nodded, unable to verbally respond.

“Get off my treadmill. Get off my treadmill!” he yelled again and again. “Let’s go outside.”

He took me to a shady tree where there was a stone bench and sat down. I attempted to sit next to him, but he forbade me. When he spoke, it was in a low and confidential voice.

“I understand you’ve had some trauma to your core,” he said compassionately. “How many c-sections have you had?”

This was my cue to begin sobbing, just like the contestants on the show are perpetually doing. I forced my eyes to mist over.

“Four,” I replied. “Four c-sections and four wonderful kids. I don’t regret it at all.”

“Good, good,” he nodded. “Your core muscles have been through a lot, and we need to build them up. Do you like to swim?”

“Huh?”

“Do. You. Like. To. Go. Swimming,” he repeated deliberately.

“Yes, as a matter of fact I do.”

“Great!”

He clapped his massive hands again and we were transported to a lake. The water was bile yellow and violet. The raft we were standing on was only 4 feet wide, and barely big enough to support the two of us. I felt myself get sick.

“In this lake there is a 12 foot crocodile,” began Dolvett. “No one has ever caught him, but he’s caught plenty of other people. You will feel him before you see him. The visibility in this water is about 3 inches. By then it will be too late.”

Where was he going with this?

“You’re probably wondering where I’m going with this,” he continued. “Well, we need to engage your core muscles, and to do that you will have to swim to these 5 buoys, collect the flags from each one, and bring them back to shore…without getting eaten.”

“There’s no frikkin’ way I’m doing that Dolvett!” I shouted over the rushing water. “You might as well push me in.”

I folded my arms in defiance.

“Okay.”

Dolvett shoved me with his left palm and launched me into the swirling vortex beneath the raft. I came up for air and began to tread water. I hadn’t done that in 15 years.

“Good luck!” he called, and began to float down river.

At that moment, something brushed up against my sneaker.

“Oh God,” I cried. “Oh my God!”

If I didn’t drown, I was going to be eaten. I had two options: could fight or flee. I swam harder than I had ever swum before, snatching the flags off the bouys in record time. When I reached the last one, Dolvett magically pulled up beside me in a canoe. He hoisted my exhausted body out of the water and gave me a blanket. I shivered and fell into a heap on the floor of the boat.

“Dolvett,” I sobbed. “Please Dolvett. No more…no more!”

Dolvett looked surprised.

“No more?” he repeated. “No more?!? This is what you wanted isn’t it?”

I shook my head.

“You asked the Universe to send ME to you, didn’t you? Not Bob, not Jillian…ME. Now you got me, and you say ‘no more’?”

He spat the words and looked at me with contempt. He was a monster, and I wanted him to go away.

 He stood up in the boat and pointed his right index finger to the sky. He looked like a Black Flash Gordon. I could only assume he was about to float away.

He did.

“Good bye, Malaka. Next time don’t ask for more than what you can handle.”

He laughed at me as he uttered those words. I so wanted to assault him with some witty rebuttal, but by that point I had lost all control of my bodily functions. I farted and lay lifelessly in the boat, cursing Dolvett in my mind because I was unable to with my mouth.

The sound of the shower woke me up. I wanted to run into the bathroom and thank my husband for saving me. If he weren’t so loud in the mornings, I would have still been trapped in that horrible, horrible dream!

Yes Dolvett, you are fine; But like all fine works of art, I will admire you from a safe distance.

You Lazy (Intellectual) African Scum!

So I got this in my email this morning…

 

They call the Third World the lazy man’s purview; the sluggishly slothful and languorous prefecture. In this realm people are sleepy, dreamy, torpid, lethargic, and therefore indigent—totally penniless, needy, destitute, poverty-stricken, disfavored, and impoverished. In this demesne, as they call it, there are hardly any discoveries, inventions, and innovations. Africa is the trailblazer. Some still call it “the dark continent” for the light that flickers under the tunnel is not that of hope, but an approaching train. And because countless keep waiting in the way of the train, millions die and many more remain decapitated by the day.

“It’s amazing how you all sit there and watch yourselves die,” the man next to me said. “Get up and do something about it.”

Brawny, fully bald-headed, with intense, steely eyes, he was as cold as they come. When I first discovered I was going to spend my New Year’s Eve next to him on a non-stop JetBlue flight from Los Angeles to Boston I was angst-ridden. I associate marble-shaven Caucasians with iconoclastic skin-heads, most of who are racist.

“My name is Walter,” he extended his hand as soon as I settled in my seat.

I told him mine with a precautious smile.

“Where are you from?” he asked.

“Zambia.”

“Zambia!” he exclaimed, “Kaunda’s country.”

“Yes,” I said, “Now Sata’s.”

“But of course,” he responded. “You just elected King Cobra as your president.”

My face lit up at the mention of Sata’s moniker. Walter smiled, and in those cold eyes I saw an amenable fellow, one of those American highbrows who shuttle between Africa and the U.S.

“I spent three years in Zambia in the 1980s,” he continued. “I wined and dined with Luke Mwananshiku, Willa Mungomba, Dr. Siteke Mwale, and many other highly intelligent Zambians.” He lowered his voice. “I was part of the IMF group that came to rip you guys off.” He smirked. “Your government put me in a million dollar mansion overlooking a shanty called Kalingalinga. From my patio I saw it all—the rich and the poor, the ailing, the dead, and the healthy.”

“Are you still with the IMF?” I asked.

“I have since moved to yet another group with similar intentions. In the next few months my colleagues and I will be in Lusaka to hypnotize the cobra. I work for the broker that has acquired a chunk of your debt. Your government owes not the World Bank, but us millions of dollars. We’ll be in Lusaka to offer your president a couple of millions and fly back with a check twenty times greater.”

“No, you won’t,” I said. “King Cobra is incorruptible. He is …”

He was laughing. “Says who? Give me an African president, just one, who has not fallen for the carrot and stick.”

Quett Masire’s name popped up.

“Oh, him, well, we never got to him because he turned down the IMF and the World Bank. It was perhaps the smartest thing for him to do.”

At midnight we were airborne. The captain wished us a happy 2012 and urged us to watch the fireworks across Los Angeles.

“Isn’t that beautiful,” Walter said looking down.

From my middle seat, I took a glance and nodded admirably.

“That’s white man’s country,” he said. “We came here on Mayflower and turned Indian land into a paradise and now the most powerful nation on earth. We discovered the bulb, and built this aircraft to fly us to pleasure resorts like Lake Zambia.”

I grinned. “There is no Lake Zambia.”

He curled his lips into a smug smile. “That’s what we call your country. You guys are as stagnant as the water in the lake. We come in with our large boats and fish your minerals and your wildlife and leave morsels—crumbs. That’s your staple food, crumbs. That corn-meal you eat, that’s crumbs, the small Tilapia fish you call Kapenta is crumbs. We the Bwanas (whites) take the cat fish. I am the Bwana and you are the Muntu. I get what I want and you get what you deserve, crumbs. That’s what lazy people get—Zambians, Africans, the entire Third World.”

The smile vanished from my face.

“I see you are getting pissed off,” Walter said and lowered his voice. “You are thinking this Bwana is a racist. That’s how most Zambians respond when I tell them the truth. They go ballistic. Okay. Let’s for a moment put our skin pigmentations, this black and white crap, aside. Tell me, my friend, what is the difference between you and me?”

“There’s no difference.”

“Absolutely none,” he exclaimed. “Scientists in the Human Genome Project have proved that. It took them thirteen years to determine the complete sequence of the three billion DNA subunits. After they

were all done it was clear that 99.9% nucleotide bases were exactly the same in you and me. We are the same people. All white, Asian, Latino, and black people on this aircraft are the same.”

I gladly nodded.

“And yet I feel superior,” he smiled fatalistically. “Every white person on this plane feels superior to a black person. The white guy who picks up garbage, the homeless white trash on drugs, feels superior to you no matter his status or education. I can pick up a nincompoop from the New York streets, clean him up, and take him to Lusaka and you all be crowding around him chanting muzungu, muzungu and yet he’s a riffraff. Tell me why my angry friend.”

For a moment I was wordless.

“Please don’t blame it on slavery like the African Americans do, or colonialism, or some psychological impact or some kind of stigmatization. And don’t give me the brainwash poppycock. Give me a better answer.”

I was thinking.

He continued. “Excuse what I am about to say. Please do not take offense.”

I felt a slap of blood rush to my head and prepared for the worst.

“You my friend flying with me and all your kind are lazy,” he said. “When you rest your head on the pillow you don’t dream big. You and other so-called African intellectuals are damn lazy, each one of you. It is you, and not those poor starving people, who is the reason Africa is in such a deplorable state.”

“That’s not a nice thing to say,” I protested.

He was implacable. “Oh yes it is and I will say it again, you are lazy. Poor and uneducated Africans are the most hardworking people on earth. I saw them in the Lusaka markets and on the street selling merchandise. I saw them in villages toiling away. I saw women on Kafue Road crushing stones for sell and I wept. I said to myself where are the Zambian intellectuals? Are the Zambian engineers so imperceptive they cannot invent a simple stone crusher, or a simple water filter to purify well water for those poor villagers? Are you telling me that after thirty-seven years of independence your university school of engineering has not produced a scientist or an engineer who can make simple small machines for mass use? What is the school there for?”

I held my breath.

“Do you know where I found your intellectuals? They were in bars quaffing. They were at the Lusaka Golf Club, Lusaka Central Club, Lusaka Playhouse, and Lusaka Flying Club. I saw with my own eyes a bunch of alcoholic graduates. Zambian intellectuals work from eight to five and spend the evening drinking. We don’t. We reserve the evening for brainstorming.”

He looked me in the eye.

“And you flying to Boston and all of you Zambians in the Diaspora are just as lazy and apathetic to your country. You don’t care about your country and yet your very own parents, brothers and sisters are in Mtendere, Chawama, and in villages, all of them living in squalor. Many have died or are dying of neglect by you. They are dying of AIDS because you cannot come up with your own cure. You are here calling yourselves graduates, researchers and scientists and are fast at articulating your credentials once asked—oh, I have a PhD in this and that—PhD my foot!”

I was deflated.

“Wake up you all!” he exclaimed, attracting the attention of nearby passengers. “You should be busy lifting ideas, formulae, recipes, and diagrams from American manufacturing factories and sending them to your own factories. All those research findings and dissertation papers you compile should be your country’s treasure. Why do you think the Asians are a force to reckon with? They stole our ideas and turned them into their own. Look at Japan, China, India, just look at them.”

He paused. “The Bwana has spoken,” he said and grinned. “As long as you are dependent on my plane, I shall feel superior and you my friend shall remain inferior, how about that? The Chinese, Japanese, Indians, even Latinos are a notch better. You Africans are at the bottom of the totem pole.”

He tempered his voice. “Get over this white skin syndrome and begin to feel confident. Become innovative and make your own stuff for god’s sake.”

At 8 a.m. the plane touched down at Boston’s Logan International Airport. Walter reached for my hand.

“I know I was too strong, but I don’t give it a damn. I have been to Zambia and have seen too much poverty.” He pulled out a piece of paper and scribbled something. “Here, read this. It was written by a friend.”

He had written only the title: “Lords of Poverty.”

Thunderstruck, I had a sinking feeling. I watched Walter walk through the airport doors to a waiting car. He had left a huge dust devil twirling in my mind, stirring up sad memories of home. I could see Zambia’s literati—the cognoscente, intelligentsia, academics, highbrows, and scholars in the places he had mentioned guzzling and talking irrelevancies. I remembered some who have since passed—how they got the highest grades in mathematics and the sciences and attained the highest education on the planet. They had been to Harvard, Oxford, Yale, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), only to leave us with not a single invention or discovery. I knew some by name and drunk with them at the Lusaka Playhouse and Central Sports.

Walter is right. It is true that since independence we have failed to nurture creativity and collective orientations. We as a nation lack a workhorse mentality and behave like 13 million civil servants dependent on a government pay cheque. We believe that development is generated 8-to-5 behind a desk wearing a tie with our degrees hanging on the wall. Such a working environment does not offer the opportunity for fellowship, the excitement of competition, and the spectacle of innovative rituals.

But the intelligentsia is not solely, or even mainly, to blame. The larger failure is due to political circumstances over which they have had little control. The past governments failed to create an environment of possibility that fosters camaraderie, rewards innovative ideas and encourages resilience. KK, Chiluba, Mwanawasa, and Banda embraced orthodox ideas and therefore failed to offer many opportunities for drawing outside the line.

I believe King Cobra’s reset has been cast in the same faculties as those of his predecessors. If today I told him that we can build our own car, he would throw me out.

“Naupena? Fuma apa.” (Are you mad? Get out of here)

Knowing well that King Cobra will not embody innovation at Walter’s level let’s begin to look for a technologically active-positive leader who can succeed him after a term or two. That way we can make our own stone crushers, water filters, water pumps, razor blades, and harvesters. Let’s dream big and make tractors, cars, and planes, or, like Walter said, forever remain inferior.

A fundamental transformation of our country from what is essentially non-innovative to a strategic superior African country requires a bold risk-taking educated leader with a triumphalist attitude and we have one in YOU. Don’t be highly strung and feel insulted by Walter. Take a moment and think about our country. Our journey from 1964 has been marked by tears. It has been an emotionally overwhelming experience. Each one of us has lost a loved one to poverty, hunger, and disease. The number of graves is catching up with the population. It’s time to change our political culture. It’s time for Zambian intellectuals to cultivate an active-positive progressive movement that will change our lives forever. Don’t be afraid or dispirited, rise to the challenge and salvage the remaining few of your beloved ones.

Field Ruwe is a US-based Zambian media practitioner and author. He is a PhD candidate with a B.A. in Mass Communication and Journalism, and an M.A. in History.

Are We Afraid to Teach Black History?

This Monday we celebrated Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday. People in pockets all over the world feted his life and work by doing community service and imparting the lesson of equality. I’d wager that anyone over the age of 40 could share a personal story centered around the civil rights movement, either as a result of personal experience or first-hand accounts from parents and grandparents who suffered the malice of discrimination that plagued this country for centuries.

But what about the children of those people over 40? How much do they know about Black History, including the Civil Rights struggle? I’ll be the first to admit – with much shame – that my own children know nothing at all.

To be fair, Nadjah just turned 7 years old, so it’s unrealistic to expect her to know how many millions of human souls where shipped from Africa and died in the middle passage. Nor can one expect her to rattle off an account of what slave life might have been like in the deep South, or what it might have felt like to sit in a school kitted with the barest amenities in classrooms and communities that were 100% segregated. Or is it?

For decades, children just like mine were segregated and forbidden access to all the incentives that they enjoy today. My children can swim with Arabs, Caucasians, and Asians in the same pool. They can all eat at the same restaurants. They all share pencils and crayons with kids who look very different from them. But once upon a time, and not so long ago, it wasn’t always so…and more recently that you might suppose. I had a chat with a man a few weeks ago who told me that his elementary school in Alabama wasn’t truly desegregated until third grade. He’s 42.

The kids and I spent MLK day on a play date with friends who live in a predominately white community. During the course of conversation, my friend mentioned that a number of children in our church didn’t even possess a remedial knowledge of the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King. She had asked them to tell her what they knew of why they had the day off on Monday.

“Isn’t he the guy who did civil rights, and ummm, equality?” said one ninth grader shakily.

My friend was appalled. As the director of the children’s ministry, she vowed that some sort of lesson on civil rights, or in the very least, Martin Luther King, be added to the curriculum.

“But girl, if I’m honest, even my own kids don’t know so much,” she admitted.

“Shoot. Mine neither. I’ve never even brought it up,” I echoed.

Perhaps they’d been taught something of value in school? We decided to bring them down and quiz them. She summoned her eldest three, who are 10, 9 and 6. My 7 and 5 year old came traipsing in with them.

“Girls, why do we have the day of today?”

“Because it’s Martin King Luther day,” said her 9 year old.

Martin Luther King day,” she corrected. “And why was he important?”

At this point there was silence among the congregation. Finally, her 10 year old ventured an answer.

“Because he worked to help people with….”

Her voice trailed off.

I couldn’t bear anymore of this train wreck. As I fixed my mouth to launch into the details of church bombings that killed elementary girls, and fire hoses, and dogs sicked on protestors, my friend cut me off at the pass.

“Ok girls. Thank you. You can leave.”

They all scampered off, confusion plastered on their faces. What had been the point of this brief conversation, I’m sure they wondered. Only her 6 year old remained behind.

“Didn’t you get a book last year about Martin Luther King?” she asked him.

He nodded and went to his room to retrieve it. She took the manuscript and began to leaf through it. Her son is a kindergartener, so I don’t know if can read. If he can, I can say with some confidence that he’s never read that particular book. Kindergarten boys on care about Cars and Wii games.

I was pleased that Scholastic had published a book that told the story of Martin Luther King in a child friendly way. I waited expectedly for her to read the book to him. To my horror, and a bit of shame, she glossed over the majority of it, watering down the parts where children of different races had to drink from separate water fountains or play in different play grounds. When she was done summarizing the book, she smiled at her son and said “You’re doing alright boy! You get to play in the same playground as everyone else! Did you know that kids in those days couldn’t sit in the front of the bus? They had to sit in the back. Can you imagine that?”

“I get to sit in the front of the bus!” he said brightly.

Then he confessed that that was because he had assigned seating. I don’t know that he got the full impact of the intent of the lesson. Like his sisters, he soon fled to do something more interesting than sit with a pair of cackling biddies.

When my friend turned to look at me, the hurt and confusion I was feeling must have been evident on my face.

“I just don’t want my kids to feel bad,” she said quietly. “You know, all of their friends are white, and I don’t want them looking at their friends any differently.”

“Right,” I conceded. “It’s a hard predicament.”

“Plus, I don’t want them running up to their friends saying ‘Hey! You’re people discriminated against my people, etc etc.’ I don’t want them going into the world expecting discrimination or a certain type of treatment based on their race. Because I believe when you walk into the world expecting something, that’s exactly what you’re going to get.”

I nodded silently.

I get that, and I agree with that to a certain extent, but I cannot take pride in facilitating this level of ignorance on a subject so important.

When I was taught about Black history, it was instructed with a spirit of hatred. I was bombarded with the details of what White folks did to my people, and consistently reminded of the evils of the ‘blue –eyed devils’. When I teach Black History to my kids, I want them to empathize with the impact of slavery, feel pride in our ancient cultures, and understand how the rise and fall of each dynamic has gotten us where we are today. But I certainly don’t want them to feel hate.

Is it possible to teach Black History and not instill hate in a person? I posed the question a little differently on twitter:

Can we effectively teach Black History to our children without evoking the pain of that struggle?

My brother tweeted back:

Sure we can. But that would be like talking about Jesus without the whole crucifying thing. It wasn’t all sunshine and gumdrops.

How poignant. Isn’t that the point, in either case? When was the last time you went to a Black church and heard the pastor preach about Christ’s crucifixion? How his death was meant to bring us eternal life? We preach Jesus as though He’s a mythical fairy who  died so that we could drive a big car and live in a big house. And when was the last time a Black parent sat down with their child and talked about the many martyrs of the civil rights era? The truth is, we can’t teach Martin without teaching Malcolm, Marcus and Medgar. They are all equally important. As a culture, we seem to avoid both topics as though they were the flu and leave the lessons to loons who have hijacked them to their own personal gain.

Why are we so scared? Those who do not learn from history…

Going Out With a Splat

If you’ve worked more than a day in your life, chances are you’ve had a bad day at work at some point. If you have more bad days than good on that job, chances are you grew to hate that job. If you were economically stable enough to do so, chances are you quit said hated job.

In some cases, economics has little influence over the decision. I myself have quit many of job without the promise of a new one to replace it, but that was back in the early 2000’s, when a man or a woman could give her employer the sack and find new employment on the way home. I could afford to be selective and dismissive, and quit my position without having to give that dreaded two weeks’ notice. It is said that people do not leave bad companies: they flee bad management. In cases when an employee is on the cusp of quitting, it is those managers’ main desire to make those last 2 weeks as unbearable as possible. I surmise that it’s all in an effort to ensure that that individual never returns to that position ever again.

Have you ever found yourself in such a situation, Reader? Have you ever had the misfortune of being trapped in a position that was so unbearable, you cursed the sunrise because it meant that you had to go into work to face another day of guaranteed and perpetual hell? Have you and other co-workers ever sat around the lunch table or around the water cooler and discussed what you would do when you finally attained the means to quit that awful job?

“Girl, the day I quit Im’ma set this building on FIRE!”

“I’m gonna pour paint all over the hood of Theresa’s car. I can’t stand her @$$!”

“Me? I’m going to download a virus and infect the whole company’s mainframe.” (I actually worked with a guy in IT who did just that. While I admired his dedication and gall, it made my job very difficult until the rest of the team could fix the problem.)

I think it is every employee’s dream to go out in a blaze of glory, once the decision the leave has been made or made for them. I heard one such tale that shook me to my very core.

We have a new employee at DSW who joined the company about 2 months ago. His name is Rick. He’s a tale, very attractive man who relocated to Atlanta from Brooklyn a little under 3 years ago. He has caramel colored skin, wavy hair, a tattoo of the ace of hearts on his right forearm, and has the wit of Voltaire. He is, in a word: perfect.

When he came down here he began bartending at Bahama Breeze because he enjoyed it. Within weeks, he discovered that he had made a regrettable mistake by accepting the position. The management team was consistently on his case, nitpicking about any little infraction, real or perceived. All the same, he stuck it out for two years. One day at work, the entire team was informed of a new policy. There were to be no more cell phones allowed in the restaurant while they were working. To be caught with a cell phone would be grounds for termination.

The next night, Rick showed up for work on time as always. He went to his station and prepared to serve. To his shock, an alarm on his cell phone went it. He had turned the ringer off, but had forgotten to power down the entire phone or to leave it in his locker altogether. Unfortunately for him, a manager was standing right behind him when the offending alarm sounded. She made eye contact but said nothing.

That night, as the restaurant was closing and the crew was cleaning up, they called Rick into the kitchen.

“Rick, as we told you and everyone else yesterday, having a cell phone in the restaurant is grounds for dismissal. We’re going to have to let you go —“

Rick cut the pair off.

“You know what? You guys have been on my case since the day I started here. I’ve put up with you bulls— for long enough! F— you, and f— you!”

As he shouted obscenities at the managers, he took the broad expanse of his left arm and used it to knock down a row of cleaning supplies. In the background his fellow co-workers cheered him on.

“Go Rick, go!”

The managers sat silently watching the embers of this small rebellion slowly grow into a roaring flame. As his co-workers cheered and his managers sat red-faced, he turned to make a dramatic exit, promising to leave that very night! As he did so, his massive size 12 foot caught one of the buckets and he slipped, heels-over-head.

The remaining cleaning supplies fell from above, only adding to his shame.

“Ooooooooo!!!” his co-workers moaned in compassion. Some of them turned away, unable to bear the sight of the tragic end of something that began so gloriously.

Stunned, Rick lay there for a moment until he could make sense of what had just happened. Finally, he grunted and gathered himself. He took his coat out his locker and left Bahama Breeze, never to return again.

As he recounted this tale, I had to hold my belly to contain my laughter. To let the guffaw that was waiting to explode within me escape would have meant a reprimand for both of us. Tears streamed down my face as I begged for him to tell me no more.

“Yeah,” he said in conclusion. “If you’re ever having a bad day, just think of THAT.”

Have you ever known anyone to leave their job in such disgrace? Have you ever been so disgraced yourself? Come, come – do tell. I’ll wait.

Eat Sh*t and Like It!

 Has anyone ever told you to “eat shit”? Didn’t eat infuriate you? Didn’t it make you want to fly into a rage and smack the – well – shit outta them? Well, if you’re the average American, you’re either stuffing something into your face right now, or you’ve just got done stuffing it within the last hour. And, chances are, you just stuffed it with shit. In the food industry just handed you a steaming pile of it.

I just got done watching two films that have been making the rounds in the health circle for years, both of which launched me on a mission to change my misguided and misinformed ways. Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead and Food, Inc. (both which are available on Hulu) confirmed what I had been suspecting for a long time now: American food, produced en masse, is a load of crap.

The genesis of my concern all began with a bottle of lotion. 2 years ago, I bought a bargain bottle Wal-Mart brand of lotion that was a shea /cocoa butter bled from Wal-Mart. After I pumped it out and slathered it on, I noticed that I felt sick. The smell, quite literally, made me sick. I have a hearty constitution, so I was alarmed that the scent of lotion would make me sick. Furthermore, the substance didn’t smell anything like natural shea or cocoa butter. I turned the bottle over to see what the ingredients were and was met with a bunch of non-information. I looked to see if was a product of the USA; all the mammoth bottle confessed to was being shipped from Arkansas. That was a huge red flag. Where was the substance in the bottle really from?

I chucked the unused bottle a few weeks later and went back to using my nku cream, which is natural shea butter from Ghana. It consists of a pounded shea nut, and nothing else.

And that’s exactly how I like my food. For example, I like my chicken to be chicken, and “nothing else”.

As the average American gets larger and larger, the nutritional value in our foods gets smaller and smaller. We consume more calories, but get less nutrition. We’re addiction to potato chips and French fries – anything fried golden brown really – and instinctively we know that anything that tastes this good must be just as bad. It’s just that most of us don’t care.

But what about when you’re really making an effort to “eat healthy”? In my family, we’ve eschewed fried foods for baked and grilled, and have begun eating more chicken (more out of necessity than preference). Beef and lamb are too expensive, the kids don’t like shell fish and my husband is allergic to fish – so that leaves chicken. There was a time, not too long ago, that a meal of spinach, grilled chicken and mashed potatoes was chock full of nutritional value, but no longer! That plate of yummy goodness could be a petri-dish of disease, depending on what its source is.

Like I said, I just saw Food Inc., and it has radically changed my perception on food. Reader, you will easily recall in the late part of 2011, a number of people died in this nation after eating listeria tainted cantaloupe. In that same month, there was a spinach recall. It was infected with salmonella. In December, 4000 pounds of chicken was recalled by a North Carolina poultry company because it too was tainted by listeria. The list goes on and on. The point I’m driving at is no longer do we as American consumers have to concern ourselves with how we prepare our food, but we need to be even be more concerned that that food itself isn’t toxic in its raw form.

So what’s the problem here? As the film makers of Food Inc. put it succinctly, consumers and manufacturers want “more food produced as cheaply as possible on the smallest amount of physical space required.” Cue the crowded feed lots and windowless chicken breeding houses. Such cramped quarters are a breeding ground for all manner of bacteria and disease, which mutate over time. These bacteria become more and more resistant to the antibiotics that are constantly being pumped into the cattle and poultry (that we then ingest). These antibiotics where are meant, and fail to, fend off the ever mutating bacteria, when simply getting the cow outside in some grass to graze would clear that up in a manner of weeks! But who has weeks? There’s a line at McDonald’s right now.

I grew up in Ghana, where it is not uncommon to see chickens scurrying down our busy streets with the rest of traffic. Depending on what side of town you live in, you may see a Fulani cattleman herding his cows to graze in the nearest pasture. This is (and has always been) my concept of where my meat comes from – free range, naturally fed, not cloned. The same goes for my fruits. At any given Ghanaian person’s home, there is a fruit tree of some sort. We had 2 mango trees, a guava tree and an almond tree. If you needed a quick snack, you’d grab a stick and poke your flavor out of either tree. Again, I lulled myself into believing that my local grocery store is stocked with wholesome, natural fruits. What I find instead is that my orange juice is tainted with a fungicide from Brazil, and that eating a hamburger may kill me; because the cow (or cows) in that one pack of ground beef were reared in an environment where they stand knee deep in their own feces all day, and because the USDA, who has chosen to shut down 260 offices as of this week, is conducting less inspections in order to save money. Less inspections < less oversight < more mistakes/less propensity to clean up on the manufacturing floor = We all are literally eating shit.

So let that sink in for a moment. Marinate on that. Mmmmm….good huh?

But even Ghana isn’t safe. With a growing dysfunctional national psyche that idolizes anything foreign, we happily import meat from China that has been harvested, packaged and frozen after the animal has died on the feeding floor, rather than being slaughtered. And we think we’re eating “good”. No wonder people in the villages live longer, healthier lives. There not gorging themselves on –say it with me – SHIT!

But this is nothing new, is it? We’ve known this for years, haven’t we?! The question is, what are we going to do about it? I personally have decided to change the way our family eats. I’ve decided we are going to shop at locations that are right, and not just convenient. In a test of my resolve, I forked over nearly $100 at my grocery store (about $20 more than I typically spend), filling my cart with local produce and all natural fare. It hurt…a lot. But as one of my cousins-in-law who has been living this way put it so eloquently: we’re going to pay now, or pay later. That fee is going to be in (childhood) diabetes, (childhood) obesity, skin disease, migraines – you name it. I’d much rather fork over the money today and avoid the train wreck. I think an extra $20 is worth it.

I

Don’t

Eat

Shit

Watch Your Words and Make Them Count

September, 2014. It’s a date that I frequently repeat sometimes quietly; sometimes loudly; often mindlessly. September 2014 is when ALL four of my children will be of school going age, and for once, I will have some free time to myself. That is, all things being equal and the world doesn’t come to an end 3 days after Christmas this year.

As any person who has looked after young children will tell you, it’s incredibly hard work. It’s harder still when you’re not getting paid cold hard cash for it, and your only reward is in “smile equity”. When your children are as young as mine, those remittances are few and far between. My little ones spend more time yelling at one another (which in turn means I have to yell louder to get them to quiet down) than smiling at one another (which in turn means I spend less time smiling). An article that was published recently on Yahoo! only confirmed what I have known and felt all along – raising children under pre-school age is a depressive affair. Vindicated by this print article, I’ve spent the last 3 weeks repeating my mantra – quoting and re-quoting my expected date of emancipation from the bondages of this “depressing” phase motherhood: September, 2014.

However as of this morning, I’ve ceased this refrain.

My eldest daughter, Nadjah, as anyone who knows her knows, is keenly sensitive and wildly observant. As I’ve gone blithering on about “how I can’t wait for the kids to grow up” and “ooh! I can’t wait till they’re all in college”, she has interpreted it as “I can’t wait for you lot to get out of my house  – because I don’t want you.” She told me so last night.

“I know what you’re favorite day is going to be, Mommy,” she said as she undressed to get ready for her bath.

“Huh?”

“I know what day you can’t wait for,” she repeated. “It’s the day we all grow up and leave you alone.”

Her words stunned me, not only because they were unxpected and unrelated to anything to Once Upon A Time (which I was watching on TV and totally focused on), but also because of the wryness with which she said them. I could tell she was really hurt by the thought that her mother didn’t want her around.

As with anything that is difficult for me to deal with, I deflected by using humor.

“That’s not the day I look forward to,” I said solemnly. “The day I’m looking forward to is when I get old and you have to wipe my butt.”

She giggled.

“And you’ll have to burp me,” I continued. “Just like I did to you when you were a baby.”

I held my chin and patted my own back.

“Just like that.”

“I’ll wipe your butt for you Mommy!” Aya promised enthusiastically. Her unexpected offer was very amusing to me because of the earnestness with which she made it; As though she were promising to clean her room later. She was lying on the floor with her feet above her head, examining her toes as she uttered her words. Clearly the thought of wiping her aged mother’s butt was completely natural to her.

Nadjah seemed happy enough with this turn in the conversation, and then began to press me on who was the hardest baby to take care of, who was the easiest, and so on. By this time the commercial break was over and I was in no mood to either stroke her ego or possibly hurt her feelings any further. SHE was the hardest to look after. She was not only my first child, but she was also a preemie. Those first 8 months alone with her were no cake walk. I know my child well enough to know that she would take it personally, so I ignored her new line of questioning.

I went to bed last night a bit shaken by our brief conversation, and have decided to alter its ending. I’m going to take Nadjah out for some hot chocolate after school (or iced tea – depending on what this Atlanta weather does tonight), where I hope our chat will go something like this:

“Nadjah, I want you to know that I love you very much. I never want you to think that I don’t like having you around, because I do. I want you to grow up not because I want you to leave, but because I’m looking forward to doing MORE things with you. I don’t want you to think that I’m looking forward to you leaving me, because I know that I’ll be sad on the day that you do. I’ll be happy to see you grown up and accomplished one day, but it’ll still be sad to see someone that I’ve lived with for 18-20 years move on and out. But I know one day you’ll be back…because when I’m old and aged, I’ll need you to wipe my butt.”

As a mother, it’s often easy to get self-absorbed and caught up in the tangled pursuit of being a “good mom” and personal freedom. It’s a hard a tricky row to hoe. Words have power, and are the driving force behind any accomplishment. What do I want to accomplish with and for my children? It’s easy to also forget that we’re not lone sojourners in these pursuits, and that our children are our co-passengers. When you speak love, they feel love. When you speak frustration, they feel frustration. I am relearning that they are intuitive (and nosey) creatures and privy to almost every word, idle or intentional.  I must make those words count.

Who’s with me?

So I Got My Girdle Off Layaway…

…and these are the fabulous results! No, I’m just kidding. This was the point I got to in snapping it up before I had to enlist Marshall’s assistance in getting it done all the way up.

The other night I went to Northpoint Mall in search of an after Christmas sale. I parked on the Sears Automotive side because there’s always ample parking on that side of the mall. You’ve seen the news about Sears, so you can deduce the reasons why.

As I exited the department store doors, I saw a bright pink shop to my left.

“Fabulous Figures.”

Huh. I got a little closer and saw that they were selling corsets – coffee brown and black corsets. The woman standing in front of the shop was munching on sunflower seeds and looked extremely bored. I noted that she herself looked rather skinny, and that a woman so thin would not be in need of a corset. I decided then that she was disingenuous and continued on my way to Macy’s.

But for some reason, I couldn’t get those dreary looking corsets off my mind. I went to bed with the contraptions on my mind, wondering if I too could garner a “fabulous figure” after its purchase. You see, I have a kangaroo belly, which is what many women are left with after a c-section. I’ve had 4, which has rendered my core completely shattered.

My liver is here.

My pancreas is here.

and my lungs are here…

The little I know about biology tells me that all my vital organs are not only in the wrong order, but have not retained their proper spacing. Perhaps this corset was the key to getting some semblance of my figure back? Two days later, when I could bear it no longer, I went to enquire about the pricing.

The dark haired girl that I saw earlier in the week was on duty again.

“Hello,” I smiled nervously. “I’d like to ask about your corsets.”

“These are girdles,” she said in a heavy Hispanic accent.

“Oh.”

“But they are better than corsets. Would you like to try one on?” she asked.

I brightened.

“Sure!”

She directed me to their line-up and asked me what I was looking for.

“Just something to tuck in my mid-section,” I said non-committedly. Somehow, I felt like I was at a used car shop. There were no sticker prices on anything, and that always makes me nervous.

The sales girl asked me to lift up my sweater so she could judge what size I might be.

“I think you may be a large,” she assessed.

“No, no. I’m an 18/20,” I corrected. “I’m an XL at least.”

She nodded her head and produced and blue plastic bag from one of her drawers.

“You can go in here and try this on. When your clothes are off, you let me know.”

Huh? She surely didn’t mean what I thought she said. I walked into the room and disrobed. It was a 5×5 space with a huge mirror lining the whole wall. I noted with dismay that my large thighs were horribly ashen and that my deodorant had caked under my pits. I was SO glad that the girl wasn’t in the room with –

“Oh! Your clothes are off. Good,” said the Hispanic girl as she stepped into the cramped space with me. “Now what you have to do is step into the garment. You’re going to hear it snap. It’s okay.”

She was standing so close. I felt really uncomfortable with her proximity, to say the least, but I tried to play it off. I dutifully stepped into the girdle and pulled. It didn’t budge.

“Shake it!” she commanded.

“What?”

“Shake your fat. Like this!”

She shifted her hips from side to side. I mimicked her.

“Ah ha!” she said in approval.

Once I had the Lycra over my hips she got on her knees and began fastening it with deft and nimble fingers. I was very impressed. For the new few moments, we snapped, shifted and shook my body fat into the tiny garment. It was very much like stuffing a king sized comforter into a ring box. At last we were done. Wow…. What a difference! I was sold – that is, until I had to pee.

“How do I get this thing off when I have to go to the bathroom?” I said mournfully.

“When you wear it, you wear a thong. Then if you have to pee, you pull the thong aside.” She swept her hand across her crotch, moving her imaginary thong away from the stream of her imaginary pee.

A thong and a girdle at the same time? No can do. The worry I felt must have registered on my face. Ms. Hispanic then suggested that I wear my normal underwear ON TOP of the girdle.

“Oh. Okay! I can do that,” I sighed happily. “So how much do they cost?”

“$150.”

I let out a sharp breath. We were still confined to the cramped quarters, and I’m sure she didn’t appreciate the assail to her nostrils. I hadn’t eaten all day.

“You put your clothes on and we’ll discuss the price. I give you discount.”

After I released my body mass from the unnatural confinement, Talia (who shared her name with my after I handed over my MasterCard) gave me a $20 discount and told me that I was in luck. My purchase came with a box of slimming tea. I took it reluctantly. I had a bad (explosive) experience with “slimming tea” from China. I thanked her wryly.

So what do you think folks? Was it worth it? I’ll answer for you: Yes! There are few things scarier than an walrus in a slinky dress.