Author Archives: Malaka

How Do You Cope With People Walking Out Of Your Life Without An Explanation?

Friday nights are when Nadjah catches up with her friends back in Atlanta. As her mates are preparing to finish up sixth grade, she has just started the second term of seventh. This is a hard time for all of us, but Nadjah most especially. We’re dealing with puberty, popularity and what seems to be a never-ending cycle of parting ways with people whom we’ve held dear for years. It is that last concern that disquieted my daughter enough for her to come and seek my advice this Friday evening. It would appear that certain ones of her friends no longer wanted to have any contact with her, and she was distraught. Now that my daughter is a preteen and therefore less inclined to speak to me and more inclined to seek sullen solitude, I wanted to make the best of this rare opportunity. When she walked into the room, inquiring whether she could ask me a question, I sat up and smiled broadly, careful not to appear too eager.

“Have you ever had anybody walk out of your life without any explanation?” she asked. Her voice was earnest and shaky.

I laughed. Not because the question was silly or amusing, but because laughter is the reaction that is often elicited from me when I recognize the irony of a situation.

“I have people walk out of my life without any explanation all the time.” I tried to be measured and serious in my response. Losing friendships is a new sensation for her, whereas for me, it’s old hat. It’s like the first time you have an menses induced accident in math class and have to walk around school with your friend’s cardigan tied around your waist for the remainder of the day. You’re mortified and embarrassed. However, by the time you get to my age, you’re threatening to free-bleed all over public transportation, office chairs and the steps of City Hall. Some events no longer faze you after you’ve matured past a point in your life.

“As a matter of fact,” I continued, “I will probably have someone walk out of my life this week!”

Her question caused me to reflect on the numerous friendships I’ve lost in the last six years in particular. I have had relationships broken off with me without a word and also have discarded a few wordlessly. I draw the same conclusion from either circumstance.

“How did it make you feel” Nadjah asked. “How did you feel when someone you were so close to just stopped talking to you for no reason?”

“In the beginning, it was hard,” I admitted. “It hurt a lot. But by the time you get to 40, you kinda get used to it. People are going to walk in and out of your life all the time…and so will you.”

“But you’re not 40 yet,” she pointed out.

“Hush up and learn the lesson,” I retorted.

The conclusion I have drawn about people walking out of your life without an explanation is this: If you are willing to break a relationship with someone whom you’ve called a considered a friend without taking the time to seek reconciliation, then that person probably wasn’t a true friend anyway. If the effort of making a call or sending a text to say, “What you said/did really hurt me and here’s why” is not worth the kinetic energy to you, then that was never a friend to begin with.

We all go through seasons with our relationships – be they romantic, filial or cordial – that go through storms. Because we care about the people with whom we share some form of intimacy, the first reaction to a perceived slight is to say, “Hey! What you did wasn’t cool.” And if that person values those bonds of affection, their general response will be to apologize and ask for forgiveness.

We do this not because human beings are good, but because we’re selfish. We like how having that other person in our space makes us feel. We like to feed off of their skills, the banana they never seem to want in their lunch box or tingly feeling the thought of them elicits long after we’ve left their presence. All friendships are based on a need that the other person meets and therefore are all selfish endeavors. When that person stops meeting a specific need for you, or if you’ve determined that that gift is not requirement enough to maintain your affections, it is that same selfishness that will motivate you to break fellowship without a backwards glance or a single word.

Like I said, I’ve perpetrated this dastardly act, but I’ve been on the receiving end with far more frequency. When someone whom you’ve loved – genuinely loved for who they were – decides that you’re no longer good enough to be considered a sister/friend, it can have a devastating effect. But as I told my daughter, you get used to it the older you get. In a sick way, you come to expect it…especially when friendships are formed in their 30s and beyond. Unlike those bonds that are formed in first grade, the ones that you think are going to last forever, you have an understanding that these new friendships are provisional. Remember when you thought you were going to marry the first guy you dated? Yeah…We’re 30+ now. We know that most dating endeavors are not going to culminate in marriage unless he’s a really special guy who’s really committed.

There’s a big word: Commitment. Kids my daughter’s age are usually fiercely committed to each other. It’s why they form cliques and alliances, because everyone wants to belong to something/someone/some cause to believe in at that stage in their lives. That changes when you’re older. Yes, we believe in causes, but most of us aren’t going to wed ourselves to some newfangled ideology. That’s why young people are always out there marching on the frontlines, while the over 40 crowd is sitting at home watching the revolution on Google. We’ve had the commitment wrung out of us.

But back to friendships.

My favorite example of commitment in friendship is the one shared between Frodo and Sam. Samwise Gamgee was without a shred of doubt a far better friend than Frodo was to him. Through Frodo’s One Ring induced mood swings where he put a knife to Sam’s throat, almost let him drown, told him to bugger off when Gollum framed him for eating all the lembas bread and beat him in the face when he refused to throw the One Ring into the fire, Sam stood by him because he’d made a promise to do so and was committed. And you know what Sam’s reward was after all that? Frodo left him. Left him and went with the Elves to whatever distant shore they needed to go to in order to live eternal Elvish life. Unreal! But as Madea said in one of her numerous movies, “Chile, when somebody is ready to walk out of your life, sometimes you gotta let ‘em. You just gotta let folks go!”

What my daughter has to decide is if she’s going to be a Frodo or Samwise in her relationships. Personally, I prefer the Gandalf route. All these annoying little Hobbits running around here breaking my fireworks. Humph. I’m just going to jump into a fire pit and DIE on you. Maybe I’ll see you in the next life, but Imma be someone else when we next meet!

I ain’t running through no more caves and ish with y’all. BYE!

 

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Jidenna’s Appearance on the ‘Good Morning America’ Vexed Me

Jidenna and his shiny pocket watch. Image source http://www.billboard.com

You see what happens when you underestimate a man with a conk and a pocket watch? You think he’s innocuous and then one day: BOOM! You are sitting on your sister’s sofa with your heart in your throat, swallowing, breathing and pumping blood through your veins, simultaneously failing at all three. Why because the shiny conk man is pulling words from the spiritual realm to trouble your bohdi.

Oh Jidenna! Why?!? Is your father Yoruba? Are you one of the Yoruba Demons my Naija sisters have been complaining of on Twirra? Because if you are not, you are certainly displaying the tendencies of those dreaded heart breakers. Chai!

I know, I know. You’re sitting here wondering what has Malaka in such a tizzy today. What is it THIS time? Surely by now you’ve seen the video of which my title speaks? Here. Let me help you. Just watch it.

 

 

Ahaaaa. Now, aren’t you also angry? As a fellow lover of beautiful men, are you not also in the throes of vexation? Who sent Jidenna on a fact-finding mission today? It was Satan. It had to be Satan. Who else roams the earth as roving lion looking for whom he may devour, if not Lucifer himself? And did not Jidenna himself warn Bambi (i.e. ME) that there were lions out here? He did! You heard it, and so did I.

But what was this fact-finding mission that the Lord of Darkness commission and Jidenna happily accept? It was to prove that women DON’T LISTEN. But he kraaaaa, who asked him to go and pull this evidence? We were all happy in our state of inertia and now Jidenna has gone and set a forest fire of confusion in motion.

First of all, let’s discuss this coffee mug that he entered the stage with. See his face. Like he is advising me like he is my father – my father who has called me to the living room to give me a strong warning. But does my father look like Jidenna? Does yours? Then why is he giving me advise to stay away from sweet things like we share a filial bond? Just gerrarheah mehn! Just walking around under purple lights, sipping the drink he didn’t finish before he left the green room like the whole Good Morning America was his personal pool hall and he is the God Father or Heartbreak.

Oh Bambi I won’t lie

If I weren’t in this spider web of mine

If grandfather never had seven wives

Then darling you would be love of my life
Oh Bambi it’s my design

To run the jungle I must be a lion

Or be a cheetah but neither is fine

Don’t wanna hurt my dear love of my life

 

WHO

ASKED

YOU

JIDENNA?

Maybe I want my heart broken. Maybe we like it like that. After all, there is nothing that God and a little E6000 together can’t fix. Isn’t this pain you are trying to keep me/us from feeling the reason the Japanese invented kintsukuroi? I mean, sometimes the heartbreak is worth it. Something beautiful can come from a broken heart. But only if YOU break it for us, Jidenna. It’s those fiyanga boys that come into our lives as a destabilizing force that we don’t care for. But when a man such as yourself enters our romantic realm, Jidenna, there is confusion from start to finish. So issorai. You can’t tell me there is a woman you’ve ever dated who has been in her right mind from introduction to break up, where you are concerned. So please, this your Bambi cautionary tale is unwarranted. Believe us, we know. We have counted the cost from the beginning and we are okay with the price. But instead of you to be secure in that knowledge, you’ve gone to put pen to paper to craft a song revealing our proclivities for self-destruction for all to see.

Jide (pronounced Ji*day), why have you lied to us? You know the video you shot didn’t end that way in real life? Please, if you arrive at any red-blooded woman’s wedding in a cream suit and ostrich shoes, crying as you make your way to the bridal vehicle, you know very well that she’s not going to willingly just drive away fwah lydat. Tears? From Jide? Oh no, no, no, no… At least the three people involved: the bride, the groom and you will have some discussion. Who will leave fine Jidenna to sit outside of a cathedral to weep and be held back by common area boys? No one with a heart and conscious!

And that is why your appearance on the television annoyed me so greatly. Because you have been taking advantage of my heart and the heart of my sisters since the release of that single. Just causing confusion and inner turmoil. “He’s telling me he’s no good for me, but I still want him! I want him like I want a fever dream! I want to feel this delirious always!” This is a dilemma 98% of women will face in her dating life. It’s something we don’t talk about, and now you and your Merry Band of Acapella instrumentalists made us FEEL it….are still making us FEEL it at unscheduled hours for these sorts of things. Do you know how many times that performance has been shared on my newsfeed alone today? Spirit of the living God! This is not the season for skin pain! When we are ready, when we are ready…

Sir. Please. Enough. Go and wear your Ankara shorts and sin no more. Stop making songs about American antelopes and let nature take its course. And you… Next time you want to make a woman analogous to an animal, please choose something more representative of our shared West African heritage. Warriz ‘Bambi’? Dem get Bambi for Nigeria? You are a lion. I am a goat. Just devour and stop this plenty talk. Have you not read your sister Nnedi Okorafor’s book, ‘Who Fears Death’? You think we fear to die if e go be you wey you go chop us? I say again, your cautionary tales are not welcome here!

I’ve warned you for the last time.

See his face. Heartbreak Police in Chief. Tseewwww

Beyond Otiko: Thoughts on Rape, Responsibilities and Roles

In Matthew 11:15, Jesus spoke to the multitude of all the prophecies concerning John the Baptist and the fulfillment of the law. He exhorted those who had gathered in his presence saying, “He who has ears, let him hear!” I interpret the tone of the phrase as coming from a man who was weary of repeating himself on an issue that should have been done and settled, given the remarkable life John had led…the fruits of which the people had had the opportunity to witness. Nevertheless, and despite the signs and wonders and evidence, there were still those who doubted the word of the Lord regarding his mission to fulfill the law and John’s mandate to prepare the way. They rejected the call to repentance. The people did not have ears to hear because they were wedded to the old information they had been indoctrinated with. They were dumb to the truth for no other reason than they could not bear to open themselves up to the possibility that their belief system was flawed.

So it is with many philosophies that guide our lives. So it is also with our beliefs about rape. Who has an ear to hear?

Fresh off the heels of her troubling remarks at a Speech and Prize Giving Day at an all girls’ high school, Otiko Djaba Minister for Gender, Children and Social Protection went on to double down on her position wherein she drew a correlation between attire and incidents of rape, despite the fact that research and evidence show the contrary. Studies show that the cultures with the most rigid views and laws that police women’s bodies have the highest incidents of rape, globally. Furthermore, a 2013 United Nations-funded survey of more than 10,000 men, the most common reasons for rape included sexual entitlement, seeking of entertainment and as a punishment. Masculinity, dominance over women and participation in gangs were noted as associated factors in the report. This is in direct contradiction to the to the advice was giving as mother to her children and that she was speaking to her “sisters and children”.

I’m a mother as well, and this is neither information for advise that I would ever give my children – male or female – because it reinforces stereotypes about a woman’s worth and the clothing choices she makes day by day. It is “advice” that serves as an excuse to absolve men of their responsibility for the crime that is rape and sexual assault. And thirdly, it ignores the real reason men…and women prey on victims. They do it because they CAN.

This matter goes beyond Otiko Djaba, a woman who won early praise for her confidence and her unbending position on issues under her purview. The world needs more confident women in positions of power; however there is a point where confidence becomes conceit. Otiko Djaba is teetering dangerously close to the latter, and there is no room for vain gloriousness in a ministry charged with the protection of children. If one has erred, one must seek wisdom, regroup and be prepared to do better in the future. Otiko Djaba has shown no indication that she’s prepared to take any of these steps, the consequences of such failure will have negative repercussions that ripple throughout the culture. She says she is pleased that her utterances have “sparked a conversation about who we are”, but that’s where her imagination stops. Ghanaians are always talking about who we are. At what point do we begin talking about who we want to become?

Really, do we want to be a nation that raises weak-minded men and timid women neither of whom can trust themselves or each other, or are we going to strive for a time where we grow in strength, character and co-operation? At some point, we must eschew this dogged pursuit of mediocrity that is guiding the nation – and its citizens – to ruin, and pursue a course of enlightenment. That begins in large part with listening…something as a culture we fail abysmally at.

In preparing to write this post, I was compelled to review global statistics on rape, as well as the myriad circumstances under which rape occurred. I also took the opportunity to talk to a few members of a demographic that goes largely ignored whenever the topic of rape and victims comes up: African men.

Contrary to what those in moral authority would have us believe, rape seldom has anything to lust or failure to control it. Rape is a weapon – a tool to exert dominance and control over a person whom one considers inferior. It’s been an effective method to demoralize one’s enemies during times of war and unrest. When the Janjaweed went on a violent genocidal rampage through Darfur, part of their strategy included rape with the aim of ethnic cleansing. It was methodical and intentional and had nothing to do with the length of the skirt of any woman in the region. South Africa currently holds the record for the highest number of reported rapes (an average of 500,000 cases a year), crimes that include corrective rape (i.e. a sick attempt to turn same gender loving women straight), gang rape, baby rape and rape of the elderly. Consider also the case of Theo, the Black youth worker in France who was violently sodomized with a baton during a police baton…a rape that the unit deemed an “accident”.  Rape is about humiliation and control, not lust and desire. Let those who have ears hear and understand that rape is a very black and white issue. Without the element of consent, any sexual contact with another human being is considered an assault, and using “provocative attire” as an excuse is no excuse at all. Do you know how many drivers provoke me on the road with their incompetence? Is a failure to yield then an excuse for me to get out of my car and grab ‘em in the crotch?

The frustrating part remains that there is no definitive demarcation for what falls under the category of rape. There is no uniformity. Under federal definitions of rape, Brock Turner would have received a much longer and harsher sentence. However the jurisdiction in which he was tried defines rape as penal penetration. Turner violated his incapacitated victim with his fingers and was released within mere months. There needs to be uniformity in the definition of rape if we are to get true justice for victims. Having a standard will also eliminate confusion for those people who cannot wrap their heads around the idea of consent.

But back to the Gender Minister and Black and African men.

There is a group of men who live with silent and suppressed guilt and shame. They are fathers and husbands and by all accounts live normal lives. You know them. You may even be one of them. They go to work, maintain relationships, discuss current events with bravado and so on. But if you have the opportunity to have an honest conversation with these men, a fair number will admit that their first sexual encounter(s) were not consensual or that they had an acquaintance whose first encounter was coerced in some way.

“I would not say the first time I had sex, ‘I’ was having sex,” one man explained. “I would say sex was being done to me.”

“My mother used to leave me with the house help when I was 7 or 8 years old. As soon as my mom would leave she would pull my pants down and start sucking my penis,” said another.

“I know several of my friends who used to have sex with their baby sitters.” He continued with a smile, “But you know…when you’re 10 years old, you think that’s great!”

“By the time I was 12, all of my friends had had sex…and it wasn’t with someone our own age. It was usually an older woman.”

*source apa.org

My son turns 8 in May, and I can’t imagine someone touching him this way. It moves me to violence just to think about it. So what makes the Minister for Gender, Children and Social Protection’s utterances so shocking is not the content itself, but rather the source. To be so willfully obtuse about an issue that has so much breadth and depth – an ignored portion of which can be uncovered in the span of 30 minutes if you would just take the time – is not befitting of someone in that role. Madam Djaba likes to talk a lot about rights and responsibilities, but I think it would behoove us all if she spoke more about her responsibilities in her role. The misogynist in the street can almost be forgiven for his ignorance. She cannot be. Her statement that girls attract unwanted attention and rape is one laced in violence, and we cannot have a ministry guided and staffed by people who permit and excuse violence against any segment of society and then advocates that victims look inward to see what part they played in their own victimization. That goes for Ghana. That goes for anywhere.

People (men) often ask why rape is such an “emotional” topic for us. Invariably, someone will patronizingly advise us to calm down during the course of the conversation. This powerful scene from the Netflix series Luke Cage accurately depicts to sort of baseline rage that survivors of sexual abuse carry with them. See what happens to Cottonmouth after he accuses his cousin of “wanting it”.

 

 

A true “mother and sister” would recognize that there are a lot of injured people of both genders walking around in broad day light, trying to do the best they can while managing the burden of violation. They would listen, and then take than information to implement real solutions. A true “brother and father” would do the same. It’s time to start addressing perpetrators of rape and stop diverting responsibility onto the victims because it’s easier and those charged with protection are too lazy to do otherwise. We need someone who is going to be a voice in the wilderness, who will speak to those who have an ear to hear and carry a fresh word into their communities. And if that task too difficult for her, then Otiko Djaba is not the mother we need.

Post Carnival Relief: These Are My Confessions

You guys are probably going to see videos of me on ratchetblackness.com or World Star – but before you judge me, allow me to confess and explain how all of this happened.

 

Before he was struck by an illness that has kept him housebound, a friend of mine used to go soca parties every other weekend. Not only did these parties keep him connected to his Virgin Island culture, they gave him veritable LIFE. There aren’t words rich enough in the English language to describe the light that emanated from him in the wake of his post soca party euphoria. I determined then that I would attend a soca party one day and promptly added the activity to my bucket list.

Why a bucket list for a mere party, presumably that would be held in a warehouse in Any Metro City near you? Because of one detail – that little hiccup that would make my presence at such an event unseemly: I was married to a deacon, now a pastor. ‘Going out’ for us is dinner at the Cheesecake Factory and/or catching a movie, not getting sweaty to samba and certainly not shaking it to Caribbean tunes. Saints don’t participate in those forms of debauchery: dancing yourself into a molten hot puddle. But as I mentioned on Facebook a while back, my decision making post-surgery can generously be described as questionable, so when my sister (now a soca fanatic since her return from Carnival in Trinidad) said that she wanted to take me to a soca party before my return to South Africa, I did not refuse the opportunity! That’s how I ended up on my back in the middle of the club with a stranger dry humping me.

So, what had happened was this:

I spent two weeks watching soca videos in order to do research on how to conduct myself at this club/party. We only play worship music in our house, if ever at all, and I needed to familiarize myself with soca protocol. Nothing in any of the handful of videos I watched looked anything like what my body was capable of, so I resigned myself to the fact that I would have to rely on some old faithful boogies, namely azonto, cultural dancing and the running man if it came down to it.

Next came the question of attire. As the mother of four human beings sporting a belly that looks like I’m about to deliver a fifth, there was no way I was going out looking as though I was going to a soca club. I opted for jeggings, high top sneakers and my Cobra Kai Dojo tee from Walmart. As I applied moderate make-up, I felt and looked comfortable…until I started sweating.

“Are you hot?” I asked Adj.

She was fanning herself vigorously, replying in the affirmative. She scuttled off to her bedroom and turned on the standing fan to cool herself down. It was at that moment that I toyed with the idea that the spontaneous burst of heat we both experienced was probably due to the fact that I was going to hell, and had not warned my sister about the ills of club life as a good Christian ought. But whatever. It was too late and the plans had already been made.

At 6:30pm, my brother-in-common-law prepared dinner for the house; oven fried chicken and broccoli. He doesn’t salt his meat, so I loaded up on the broccoli and reluctantly nibbled on the chicken. Adj (my sister) had announced that we’d be leaving at 8:30 to drop the kids off at an auntie’s house before heading to the party.

“It starts at 10pm, and I do NOT want to open the party,” she said.

When we arrived at 11:15pm, the party looked like this.

Where the people at???

But that’s not even the worse part. The worse part is the drive to the event. We had to take my adorable niece and nephew aaaaaall the way to Bowie, MD for the evening, and for the duration of the 45-minute drive, I was subjected to an inane line of questioning from a 3-year-old wanting to know who was driving the car and why were the street lights on. In addition to this, my sister did not want to listen to music because it was “too loud”, which meant there was no ambient noise to drown out the sound of my niece’s voice. I sat in the back seat yawning, contemplating how different this pre-partying experience was from my college days when I used to go out. I thought fondly of my bed and yearned for it.

“I don’t see how people go from parenting to partying so quickly,” I mused. “Especially when the lead up to your night out is the ride we just took.”

Chris agreed, adding, “You just gotta push through that hurdle and commit!”

So commit we did and on to Karma we went for the post Carnival relief party! (Side note: there have been relief parties all over the city, since revelers tend to experience withdrawal after leaving Trinidad/Carnival so severe that it can lead to depression.) After a 10-15 minute jaunt from our parking space down the road, we were greeted by security at the doors who asked for ID (which I proudly remembered to bring with me) and subjected us to a vigorous pat down. I gasped as a husky woman sporting box braids lifted each of my breasts and pressed into my sternum.

“You ok?” she asked.

“Yeah…it’s just that that was the most physical contact I’ve had with anyone in two months,” I replied.

The other members of the security team howled with laughter, and she muttered something that might have passed for an apology. I told her not to worry about it.

“I’m sure it was just a precursor for what I’m about to experience in there!”

Laughter ensued. We ducked into the club. We sat and looked at each other for what seemed like an eternity. The music was NOT good, although the set up and décor was very pretty. There were a lot of people at the bar just standing there, giving a creepy voyeur vibe. And then there was this guy running around covered in flags with a whistle around his neck. The whistle indicated the nature of his employment – Mister Floor Opener, Dancing Facilitator or Winding Orchestrator. I’ll send a box of Cheerios to anyone who has correctly guessed that this is also the individual who would end up dry humping me into oblivion. We’ll get to that.

Bored and quickly becoming aggravated that my first soca party was clearly destined to be a dud, I stood to my feet and began to sway to beat with Chris – a man who needs NO excuse to party and had already committed to winding his waist against the raw atmosphere. Sensing my disappointment, he told me not to worry and promised that things would really start humping at 1 am.

“1 am?” I thought to myself. “You mean, I won’t be back hom and in bed by then? Crap!”

I began to wind atmosphere along with him.

Woman dancing borborbor. And yes. I made that same face. Image source: For God & Nation

At this point, my other “sister” had joined us at our perch and was scanning the room. She recognized two women that she’d gone to school with and they formed a part of our circle for the night…and number that would eventually swell to 11 women, plus Chris. Now that the music was getting slightly better and that I had committed to having fun no matter what, I began to dance in earnest, twirling my towel and doing borborbor or whatever other move came to mind. That’s when I felt someone behind me.

I braced myself for the impact that was coming, remembering Chris’ clarion admonishment about Carnival/soca: “You must accept the wyne.”

So when a man’s paw pushed my neck towards my kneecaps, I submitted and let him push up on me. Ah. But he was so aggressive! Why? It seemed to go on forever, and it was only until I resurfaced for air that he released me…but only momentarily. By this time I was in a playful mood, so I shook my wobbly bits to the beat, which he took as an invitation to jump on my back.

Yes, you read that right. I had a 6’3” nigga on my back in a darkened club lit up only by fluorescence and the roaming spotlights. But that’s not the worst of it.

As time went on, more folk began to trickle in and we few were determined to make the most of the scene. By now I was dripping in sweat (which is not unusual) and I was just happy to be amongst such happy, unpretentious Black people. I sat on the edge of a sofa and The Facilitator popped out of nowhere. Since I was seated, I figured there was no way he could force me into any sort of position where I would be compelled to ‘accept the wyne’.

WRONG.

He grabbed me by my feet and lifted them around his waist. I immediately pulled a move I learned from my 6 year old and went limp. Dead weight. All 245 lbs of it. It didn’t matter. He hoisted me onto his hips and began to pump/wing/grind aggressively. I held on for dear life, fearful that he’d drop me in the middle of this club and burst my still-healing cranial stitches. When our interaction exceeded the threshold of comfort and reason, I bucked and tried to get down. It was at THAT point that he laid me on my back, parted my legs, and began to simulate the act of dry humping. There was never any pelvis-to-pelvis contact…just the appearance of it. Over his shoulder, I saw a woman pull out her pink iPhone and begin filming. Why? My sister sprang into action and tried to get this massive, and deceptively very strong man off of me, but because I was laughing hysterically at the absurdity of it all – ME, a pastor’s wife in a Walmart t-shirt, struggling to hold in explosive flatulence brought on by the broccoli eaten hours early, on the club floor at her first soca party – she assumed I was enjoying the experience and walked away. As in she left me there. The wave of hysteria passed quickly though, and I scooted away from under him and sought refuge on the sofa again, breathless and bewildered. (Honestly, I was really unnerved by how quickly and efficiently he was able to maneuver my body into such a compromising position. I’m no willow.)

If you see me on some ratchet Black website, please know that it was not my intention to disgrace my family or myself. It simply just went down that way! I thought about all of my friends who work in entertainment and who so carefully guard their public persona; People who I admire. I relayed what happened to one such woman early this morning.

“Oh girl, please,” she said. “I had something similar happen to me when I was in New York!”

I told her that it felt good knowing that we would both be in soca hell together when Judgment Day came. How will Saint Peter allow us into the pearly gates after exhibiting this level of no behavior?

And speaking of no and worst behavior, boy did I show it all.

I jumped.

I ducked.

I wyned.

I even stood in place and marched.

We jammin’ still!

I had THE best time I’ve had in a long time. There were no egos, no women were fronting on each other and apart from the crazy man with the whistle (who I spent the rest of the evening avoiding), the men were respectful. And as promised, by 1:30 am, the place was packed, the dance floor was covered in puddles of sweat and a guy impersonating PM Dawn was gliding through the crowd, like an apparition after a fever dream.

 

This morning I got home at 5:30 am with no regrets.

 

 

PS: Just so you ladies know, it is only mandatory to accept the wind at Carnival. In America, you can shoo a man away with a flick of the wrist or a waggle of a finger. I only learned this after the rottweiler had had his way with me. This was a great experience, but it will certainly be my last. I need to redeem myself with prayer and fasting and Hillsongs…

Someone Show Swagger Mama Otiko This Chart

You ever get tired of repeating yourself? You ever just get bone weary of saying the same thing over, and over and over again? You ever wish that you could find the words to make the carrousel of madness come to a grinding halt? That must be it; maybe it’s the way we’ve been saying it. All us feminists, and human rights activists and people with common sense and decency…perhaps our semantics just don’t connect or compute with the rest of them. And by ‘them’, I mean Otiko Afisa Djaba and her merry band of patriarchal, rape culture supporters attempting to defend the woman’s most recent contribution to the debasement of the Ghanaian mind.

Otiko Djaba is a Ghanaian politician and minister for Gender, Children and Social Protection. Speaking at the 90th anniversary and Speech and Prize giving Day of the Krobo Girls Presbyterian Senior High School in the Eastern region, she concluded her soliloquy with the following admonishment for the impressionable students, saying:

“In conclusion, I want to say to you, be bold, be confident, be respectful. If you wear a short dress, it’s fashionable but know that it can attract somebody who would want to rape or defile you. You must be responsible for the choices you make”.

These are the words of the minister for social protection.

I can’t spend too much time on this, because everything that has been said on the matter on the supposed (bogus) relationship between rape and sartorial choices has been said an infinite number of times before. If you’ve read a book, read the news, watched Lifetime for any significant period of time – or hell – watched National Geographic, you will walk away with the understanding that the only responsible party in the act of rape is the person(s) perpetuating the crime. The rapist. Not the victim…the rapist.

otikoWomen like Mrs. Djaba are particularly dangerous in an environment governed by rape culture. She is a traitor to justice, although she probably believes her admonishments will positive long-term consequences. Quite the contrary. In putting the blame on girls who wear short skirts for their violent sexual assault, she gives would be rapists a free pass to use what they consider “provocative dress” as an excuse for their vile actions. Over the course of the 20th century, we saw and heard horror stories about women who were made to relive the incident of their attack on the witness stand.

“What were you wearing?”

“How much did you have to drink?”

“Were you flirting with him?”

“What did you think would happen if you were working at those late hours of the night?”

The treatment rape victims are subject has contributed to the dismal numbers of reported rape. Adding to how few convictions follow a trial, there is a sense among survivors that the follow up trauma is just not worth it. Otiko ‘Swagger Mama’ Djaba’s advice only adds rocket fuel to a freight train that’s long been running over rape survivor’s lives and teaches women and girls to blame themselves before such a possible attack happens.

Her statement, aside from being absolutely ludicrous, is completely false. Hemlines are not a factor in the propagating of sexual assault. If that were the case, there would be no cis/hetero male victims of rape…and yet the CDC reports that 1 in 71 men are the victims of rape. (I searched for statistics on male victims of rape in Ghana and found none.) What length were the skirts these male victims were wearing at the time of their assault? And what about the women who rape men? It would shock her and her supporters to know that this is a real phenomenon that stretches back centuries. I don’t blame her for her ignorance. Patriarchal systems have made it almost impossible to have a real conversation about sexual assaults on male bodies. Some aid organizations in Africa won’t even give funding to help victims of sexual assault if the reported statistics include men. Men in these situations are punished twice. Furthermore, it perpetuates a culture of silence that can only lead to greater frequency of rape, molestation and assault.

It might behoove Mrs. Djaba to take some extended courses in gender studies if this is the ministry she means to lead. Rape is a scourge on the Ghanaian populace, and it cuts across age and social status. Rapists are found in the slums of Agbogbloshie as well as the highest and most prestigious positions in the land. There is no way to “spot a rapist”. They are teachers, pastors, husbands, fathers, brothers and neighbors. They are not boogey men lurking in the dark. Most rape survivors are attacked by people they know, trust and/or are familiar with. That information needs to be a part of the national conversation and any ‘advice’ well-meaning but ill-informed people need to give. The circumstances under which people find themselves victims of rape are varied and complex, nevertheless they all have one thing in common: The motives and the intent of the rapist, those being to exert dominance, power and to fulfill a selfish and perverse sexual desire.

But lets talk about the boogey man, and what so many people think he/she looks like or where he lurks:

 

Screen Shot 2017-03-26 at 12.02.18 PM

Image source: Dailymail.com

An Iraqi refugee who raped a 10-year-old boy at a swimming pool has had his conviction overturned because a court didn’t prove he realized the boy was saying no.

The rapist, identified as Amir A, 20, violently sexually assaulted the boy in the changing room of Theresienbad pool in Austria claiming it was a ‘sexual emergency’ because he had not had sex for four months. This kid was swimming at the pool – a supposedly safe space – and had his body invaded in the most cruel and vile manner because this 20 year old man could not control his urges.

*****

While on Hajj, my friend’s cousin was walking back to her camp after completing her prayers. A man was following her, which was not out of the ordinary. There were thousands of people there and there is rarely an opportunity for privacy.

When they reached an alleyway the unknown man grabbed her, pulled her into the darkness, forced her face against the wall of a building and began to rub himself against her backside, stopping only until he had ejaculated through his clothing and onto her prayer clothes. He ran off immediately afterward. She was also in a supposed “safe space”: a pilgrimage to Mecca, where you would think that everyone’s mind was on Allah and dutifully fulfilling a pillar of faith. How could she know – or even fathom – that her fellow Muslim brother would have such vile thoughts on his mind at such a sacred time?

*****

I myself have written about my molestation at the hands of my now deceased uncle. I was 8 years old, barely pre-pubescent with a dry jheri curl. At the time he cornered me I had gone to my room to go and get a toy with my sister. After he stuck his tongue in my mouth, he turned to my sister to perform the same lewd act on her. Fortunately, my sister’s flight instincts have also been keen and on point. After she witnessed what he did to me, she ran out of the room. I on the other hand had not been so fortunate. I ‘let’ him do it, because it had already been drilled into me that adults were right and you always obey your elders. My reward for that obedience was enduring a sick feeling any time his name was mentioned and footing the bill for his funeral. Is the boogey man supposed to be your father’s blood brother? Convention says no.

At what point do we begin to counsel men and women about self control, rather than legislating bans on miniskirts, or forcing girls to cut their hair so as not to appear so ‘grown’, or ironing breasts of pre-teen girls in the hopes that a flat, disfigured chest will deter any unwanted attention? When will girls have the opportunity to experience the same freedom in their bodies that boys do?

mabuse.cameroon.breast.ironing.cnn.640x360

The irony of Otiko placing the blame for sexual assault on victims is not lost on many. This is a woman who sports a half shaven head, and who had to endure all kinds of denigration during her vetting process because of it. People said she did not represent Ghanaian culture, that she looked like a hooligan and loose woman who didn’t have common sense or morals. Those of us who defended her did so because we know that it’s not what’s on a woman’s head that makes her effective at her duties; it’s what’s in it. She was a symbol of the new, liberated Ghanaian woman who could defy convention and STILL earn the respect of the office she inhabited. These young, hopeful girls nicknamed her ‘Swagger Mama’, a moniker she apparently takes great delight in. She was cool, funky and confident and many high school age girls looked up to her. They still do.

So for her – Otiko Djaba in particular – to champion the most baseless tenant of rape culture and all its hypocrisy is not just shocking: it’s disappointing. And until Otiko does an about face on this issue, the woman herself will wind down the same path as her predecessor…as an utter disappointment herself.

But as always, I’m here with solutions. Perhaps this chart will help all involved and clear up any confusion.

ef9136203ab412b9d33addaac2360b9f

It ought to be clear, but today is Sunday and I know that in a Church Near You, a ‘man of God’ is preaching about how provocative dress makes men rape, so we’ll have to have this same conversation in the near future.*Blank stare*

Heaven save my son and brothers from such men who would instill and nurture such a demonic and weak spirit in them.

Everything About Jung-a Kim Hitting the Deck Screamed “Mom”. And It Is Hilarious.

By now you’ve most likely seen the hysterical video of Robert Kelly being interrupted by his two cherubian children in the middle of a very serious interview with the BBC. If you haven’t, you absolutely have to watch the video of the incident before we carry on.

 

 

The man being interviewed by the BBC is Robert E. Kelly. He is a political science professor at South Korea’s Pusan National University. The woman who came crashing into the room like a Looney Toons character is Jung-a Kim. She is his wife and mother to the two little children. The video is a testament to the very real – and often dismissed – hazards of working from home when there are small children present.

If you’ve been following this story, will also have seen that the warmth and glow of the unanimous amusement we shared in globally was quickly doused by a healthy deluge of shame. It appears that many people, regardless of race, ethnicity or gender, mistook Jung-a Kim for the nanny. It was an unfortunate misnomer. Of course (and I say ‘of course’ because the average understanding of what racism is and how it works is about as accurate as Donald Trump’s understanding of how the presidency in a democracy works), these people were quickly labeled as racists. That’s what it takes to be a “racist” these days: To see an Asian woman in the presence of a white male and children and (wrongly) assume she’s the help. To do so certainly betrays a level of unconscious bias, and it certainly demonstrates that anyone who would leap to that conclusion needs to get out of the house with much more frequency, but it certainly doesn’t betray a sense of sinister superiority that oppresses one group for the benefit of another. I think it just merely shows how unobservant we’ve become as a society in general.

Any parent who has worked in the home, or functions as the primary caregiver for their children in the home can probably identify with Jung-a in that moment. We all know what she was thinking because her body language was screaming her thoughts at us. I’ve seen some people defend their position for mistaking her for the nanny due to the clumsy way that she extracted her children from the room, followed by her graceless exit. They said that she was likely crippled by the fear of losing her job for allowing the children to interrupt the broadcast. These people either don’t engage with the real world because they 1) spend too much time on their mobile devices or 2) don’t have a diverse group of friends that includes stay-at-home moms/dads or 3) have hired help in their homes that they treat very poorly. Jung-a Kim’s bodily motions were not driven by fear, but rather by a matrix of passions that included embarrassment, panic, disbelief, urgency and humility.

Here her husband was, an invited guest on THE British Broadcasting Corporation to discuss the political upheaval in Korea. He was brought on to provide an expert’s voice and perspective on an issue of international importance. There was probably a discussion the night before about how the day was going to go for the few minutes that constituted the duration of the interview.

Robert: Bae, you’re going to make sure the kids are quiet during my interview with the BBC, right?

Jung-a: Oh yes. Of course! It will only be 15 minutes long at the most, right? I can make them some snacks and put them in front of the TV/Legos/Whatever Tool Mom has handy to distract her kids.

Robert: Perfect. Hey! Do you think you can help me position the camera for the video? The office is a little drab and I want to give the best impression.

Jung-a: I think you should have the map of the world as your backdrop. It makes you seem professorial.

Robert (laughs): That’s good, because I AM a professor.

Jung-a (giggles girlishly): Tee hee!!!

The two drift off to sleep, clinging to each other in a warm embrace. What a lucky family they are…two healthy children, a happy home and a father who is sought after by a huge international news organization for his opinion. Jung-a goes to sleep, swelling with pride and dreams of the great feats her family will accomplish.

And then, the next day, to her absolute horror…in burst the children… to interrupt her knowledgeable husband in the midst of his erudite delivery on a very serious topic. The family’s honor and dignity is at stake! She’s failed to keep her end of the bargain and keep the kids out of sight and earshot. Just as a nanny (or any other adult) would have done, she rushes in to rectify the situation by grabbing the kids and extracting them from the room. But that wall slide and drop to the floor? That was a TOTAL mom move. I’m cracking up just thinking about it. Give me a moment. AHAHAHAHAA!

This can only end badly, but I gotta pull out all the stops to catch these here kids!

I’ve observed nannies. You see, a nanny would have simply walked out and closed the door behind her, dignity in tact. Mothers in the presence of their children are different creatures. Jung-a was trying to make herself disappear from the camera frame, so as not to take away her husband’s shine in the moment. I’m telling you what I know, because I’ve been there are before and have watched my stay-at-home friends react in similar fashion when the kids provide sideshow entertainment. You haven’t tested the limits of your professional demeanor until you’ve had to negotiate contracts from the confines of your coat closet; or organize a national event from the obscure blackness of your garage (I see you, MX5!); or hit that mute button so you can hiss at your children TO. JUST. SHUT. UP! only return to your conference call with pre-hiss professional demeanor, as though nothing had happened.

And video conferencing is even worse. Video conferencing from home – from any unregulated environment, really – has no guarantee of control. Jung-a Kim’s presence was supposed to be that guarantee, and she failed in the discharging of her duty. That’s why she turned into a puddle of good on the floor and tried to flow away. Hilarious!

 

*****

What do you make of this whole “You’re a racist because you thought the wife was a nanny” narrative? Do you agree with it? Have you ever had to save your family’s dignity by sacrificing your own? Discuss!

Of Tumors, Humor and the Joke the is the American Healthcare System

This is an attempt to condense a 2-and a half-month saga into less than 2,000 words. There will be gaps in the information and series of events, but hopefully it will explain my extended absence from the blog.

 

In the Beginning…

Dec 29, 2016

In early January I hinted that I was experiencing my first migraine. It was both terrifying and thrilling. Terrifying because there was no pain to rival what I was experiencing in my cranium at the time, and thrilling because it was exactly the sort of pain I’d always hoped to gain familiarity with. I used to witness my cousin endure frequent migraines, and at 19, I thought it was so sexy. She would pop her prescription pills, sit quietly at the kitchen table and let her lashes rest against the dark circles beneath her eyes. The picture of serenity was in complete contrast to the outgoing and gregarious woman I’d known my entire life. What kind of relief did she feel after taking the pills? What was it like to be THAT quiet? I wanted to know!

Image source: paindoctor.com

Nearly 20 years later, I got my wish. After spending three days at some of the Western Capes most beautiful beaches, I began to suffer some of the most debilitating headaches I’d ever experienced. They felled me…kept me in bed for the majority of the day. There wasn’t an over the counter pill I could take that would dull the pain for more than an hour. This must be the migraine I’d so desired as a college sophomore! Now that I’d diagnosed myself, my husband dutifully went to Clinks to pick up some migraine medicine – a two-day supply cocktail of pills that rendered me barely coherent and almost motionless. A week later, I will still living with excruciating pain in my head.

Eventually – after much necessary and needed nagging from the wonderful women in my life – I found my way at the doctor’s explaining my symptoms. We ruled out meningitis (which I’d survived in 2013), as well as allergies. The doctor surmised that I probably had a tension headache, which lead to the migraine or vice versa. She prescribed 6 different pills and told me that if the headaches didn’t go away, we could investigate with a blood screen or a CT scan.

Those words proved to be key.

While on the medication, I felt wonderful. I was functional (not able to drive, though) and back to interacting with my family. I called my doctor to tell her the goodness. We were both thrilled and made no plans to see each other again. But two days after the meds ran out, the pain was back. By this time, it had been 12 days since my first headache. I did not remember my cousin suffering migraines for this long, and I was alarmed that my first migraine should last this long. However, I figured it would go away on its own if I sat still, avoided loud noises and drank some tea. It didn’t work.

I spent my birthday week alone in a cabin in agony.

 

The Diagnosis…

Feb 1, 2017

When I could no longer endure the torment, I went back my doctor. She ordered blood work and a CT scan. We had to drive to the next town to fulfill the latter. The radiologist gave us the disc with my images without a word. We then went to the otolaryngologist (ear, nose and throat doctor, aka ENT) to investigate if my discomfort was due to allergies as my GP suspected. The man was a congenial man with an intense stammer. After greeting us and making small talk, he casually popped the CD into his computer and grew very pensive.

I asked him if I could put my head on his table, as by this time I was experiencing fierce pain.

“S-s-s-so this is your b-b-b-rain…,” he said. “And n-n-n-n-not to alarm you, b-b-b-but there’s a mass that sh-sh-sh-sh-shouldn’t be there.”

It took me a while to register what he was saying because of how it was being said. I had a tumor, he revealed: it was slow growing and about the size of a golf ball. Judging by its dimensions, it’d been growing for about 10 years. It appeared to be full of fluid and was most likely the cause of my persistent headaches. It did not appear to be malignant, however.

“A neurologist would have to confirm this diagnosis,” he admitted.

I lifted my forehead from his desk to acknowledge that I’d heard him. Then I began to both cry and fight back my tears. I mean, you hear the words “brain” and “tumor” and you expect the worst. Marshall took my hand and squeezed it. The otolaryngologist placed his hand on top of ours and did the same. Struggling through his stammer, he assured me it was not as bad as it seemed.

“Besides, you have worse things to worry about. Donald Trump is president!”

I laughed, despite the pain, despite the grim prognosis, despite it all.

Yeah. Things could always be worse.

 

Go With the Money! Follow Your Insurance.

Feb 4, 2017

 My South African medical Avengers gave me options and advice about where and how to seek treatment to remove my tumor. There were several skilled surgeons in the country who could easily remove it, “Or since your insurance is in the States, you could go back home and have it removed there.”

Besides my husband, I had only told a handful of friends about my diagnosis. All of them offered well wishes and prayer. Two of them paid for and arranged my flight back to America, and a mere 3 days after I discovered I had a meningioma I was on my way into the country.

There was a herd of cattle on the South African Airways flight all the way from Jo-burg to Dakar, something I was both horrified by and grateful for. One of the side effects of the tumor+medication+altitude was severe gas, so while I was sickened by the stench of cow manure in the hull, it concealed the stink of the intestine coiling gas I was releasing in my seat. I pitied the guy sitting next to me, but only a bit. He commandeered the armrest between us, so fart guilt-free I did.

I arrived in Washington, DC on the 5th. After we’d deliberated about where to get surgery, a friend of mine had already begun making arrangements for me to receive care at Johns Hopkins Hospital (JHH) in Baltimore. Johns Hopkins has a system whereby new patients are routed through a medical concierge who handles your case, the pertinent paperwork and functions as a go-between for the patient and the doctor(s).

My concierge was awful. The woman was mediocre in the performance of her duties at best and rarely engaged her brain in the execution of those duties. I’m not saying this to be cruel – it’s just true. In the week I spent working with her, I was no closer to getting surgery than I was on the beach in South Africa. After five days of emailing back and forth with her (and she would only respond to my emails at the end of the day just before she was leaving the office) it was determined that I could not see a neurosurgeon for a consultation until I’d had an MRI done. Why could she have not told me that on Day 2, at least? Despite knowing that I was staying in Fairfax, VA, she scheduled my MRI to be done on the JHH campus, 2 hours away from my address… and for February 20th, 11 days away.

By this time, I had run out of the steroids my SA doctor had given me to help shrink the tumor and had no prescription pain pills left. It being Black History Month, my confidence in John’s Hopkins was already low, given its history with kidnapping and experimenting on Black bodies in the early 20th century. Everyone around me was exasperated, which was making me anxious. My cousin (the one with the migraines) suggested that I go to the emergency room to seek care and eventually an MRI. I declined to follow the course of action because of respectability. Can I tell you, respectability rarely gets results? I decided to drop Johns Hopkins, their ridiculous process and inefficient staff entirely soon afterward.

Why I gotta almost kill someone to get access to healthcare I pay for by LAW every month???

I spent the next two days trying to find a neurosurgeon who would order an MRI for me so that I could get a consultation. No neurosurgeon would see me for a consultation unless I had an MRI, and I could not get an MRI unless I was a current patient…and I could not become a new patient without an MRI. It was frustrating and exhausting. Eventually, I ended up at an urgent care center and explained my dilemma.

“I just want the pain to go away,” I said to the attending physician. She was a compassionate woman who took on my frustrations as her own.

“This is just not right,” she muttered. She and an attending nurse worked diligently to get me in contact with a neurologist, who spent an inordinate amount of time talking about how “good my insurance was” and that it should be no problem at all for me to find care. He then wrote the order for an MRI and referred me to a neurosurgeon: Dr. Joe Watson.

 

Income Determines Outcomes

Feb 14, 2017

 My MRI was scheduled for Valentine’s Day at 10pm. The out of pocket cost for the procedure was $2,746 payable at the time of service. I had just met with the neurologist on the 10th, which meant that if I did not have a spare $2700 plus hanging around, I would only have four days to raise the funds or forfeit the procedure. Fortunately, and by God’s good grace, Marshall has developed the traits of a miser and provides our savings account with regular infusions. After depleting all the funds in our health savings account, I paid the balance with money from our personal savings account. Mind you, this was my personal cost even with the benefit of “good insurance”.

I was grateful to finally get the ball rolling, but the whole 2-week ordeal was troubling to me. Accessing healthcare in America was proving to be less like Grey’s Anatomy and more like John Q. The ego, bureaucracy, nonchalance and indifference of the gate-keeping paper pushers on the front lines was staggering. Unlike civilized countries – like the UK, Canada and South Africa where the life and health of patient comes first – healthcare in America is a luxury industry, socioeconomic factors, such as class and disposable income dictates quality. It also dictates outcomes.

Once behind the Iron Insurance Gates, however, I found myself treated to an entirely different experience. There were no more frustrations. The course ahead of me was clear and well plotted, and I had my surgery scheduled almost immediately. On Wednesday, Feb 22nd, I was at Inova Hospital where I submitted myself to the administrations of Dr. Watson’s skilled hands and numerous metal utensils. The surgery took 5 hours to complete (only because there were two arteries feeding my tumor and Dr. Watson had to take care not to sever them and induce a stroke) and an hour later I was groggy and talking way more than I ought to have, but I was in my right(ish) mind. A sampling of the things I am reported to have said are:

“I’m hungry. Don’t feed me like a Charles Dickens orphan!”

“Donald Trump is possessed by a demon.”

“People like penis books, but they try to act like they don’t like penis books. They wanna judge me for writing penis books, but they like them….don’t they? That’s why I stopped writing penis books!”

“Mitch (who I had been calling ‘Chan’ until he corrected me. Mitch is of Philippine descent) has soft hands…soft hands for touching my boobies…and we’re going to find him a boy toy…”

“Emily Bronte does not get her due as a writer!!!!”

I’m angry about Emily Bronte not getting her props.

On February 25th I was released from the hospital. Had I still been screwing around with Johns Hopkins, I’d probably still be waiting for a consultation TODAY.

*****

 

This is why I have been AWOL on the blog. I briefly entertained the idea of ‘bravely writing through the pain’, but I decided that doing so was. Not. My. Life. I wanted to spend the weeks that morphed into months focusing on myself, my family and the people who have shown me genuine care and concern in this span of time. Besides, not writing gave me the opportunity to do a lot more reading, an indulgence I rarely get to participate in anymore.

All the same I did miss you, MOM Squad and for those who reached out to me privately and personally, your words of encouragement and prayers have meant the world to me. If you ever find yourself in need of a neurosurgeon, I recommend Joe Watson. He’s not just a great doctor, he’s a good man. He also keeps a bowl of delicious candy in his office, which on their own are worth the trip!

 

Are you looking for copies of ‘Madness & Tea’ or any of my awesome/hilarious/colorful books? You can find them on the internet! And guess what? The internet will deliver them straight to you if you click this link.