Author Archives: Malaka

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!

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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.

80s Pop Culture Reared Me to See Myself as a Monkey

My husband says that my vast knowledge of obscure cartoons is evidence of my latchkey upbringing.

“I had parents who loved and nurtured me, and made sure they were home with me after school. Whereas as YOU had television.” He was joking, but there was an element of seriousness to his assertion. Marshall (my husband) truly is horrified that I consumed so much TV as a child.

On the other hand, I pity him. My husband has no working knowledge of the Gobots or their mission; has never heard of the Street Frogs OR the Tiger Sharks; and prior to this particular conversation, was oblivious to the existence of the Get Along Gang. That’s a lot of quality 80s animation to have missed out on, so I am compelled to reflect on his childhood with sadness on his behalf. Besides, I wasn’t a latchkey kid all the time. Some days I would be taken to Mrs. Scott’s house after school. She was a septuagenarian widow who would feed me Spaghetti-O’s and instruct me to watch Scooby Doo while she reclined in the sun chewing and spitting tobacco juice in the company of her faithful dog, Queenie. So yeah, I had adult supervision.

Sometimes.

Naturally I was curious if any of my friends remembered the Get Along Gang and as expected, my nerd friends did not disappoint. I’m proud to announce that two other people besides me harbor fond memories of Montgomery Moose and his merry band of do-gooder sidekicks. And naturally, as these conversations tend to do, another query sent us down a separate path on memory lane.

“What about that racist little cartoon called Monchichis?” (This was the Woke Nerd asking. Artist Nerd had bowed out of the conversation at this point.)

“I actually liked the Monchichis,” I replied. “I liked them because they had afros that looked like mine. I connected with them.”

Woke Nerd was aghast. I completely understood why.

If you’re unfamiliar with the Monchichis, they are a race of anthropomorphic monkeys who live in Monchia. They were a completely autonomous race of beings that developed their own technology and functioned under an orderly societal structure based on birth order. In other words, the oldest was in charge – and as the eldest child in my family, that power structure and hierarchy appealed to me. The Monchichis were frequently disturbed by another race of blue/black monkey anthropomorps who were less technologically – and therefore mentally – advanced.

Nowhere else on television was there a community of animated beings that shared traits and features similar to mine that had complete autonomy over their lives. In every other cartoon I watched, there were no brown/Black girls in positions of leadership.

  • Jem
  • Rainbow Bright
  • She-Ra
  • Nobody

Furthermore, all anthropomorphic characters were, by default, patterned after white characteristics, features and behaviors. The only time an anthropomorph exhibited Black characteristics if there was a deliberate attempt to depict that particular character was “Black”.

For example: In Thunder Cats, Cheetara is obviously a blond bombshell, while Panthro is portrayed with what would generally be considered “Black features”, down to his wide nose, reverberating voice and bald head. Furthermore, Panthro – like his human counterpart Roadblock on GI Joe – is a loner…A little unhinged and unpredictable, never completely integrated into the group but dedicated to the cause nevertheless. He has freedom to make decisions, but it only extends so far: Specifically as far as his garage or wherever it is he keeps the Thunder Tank. And as excellent as Panthro, Roadblock and Shana Elmsford (Jem) may be at their individual tasks, they will never be free to lead the multi-ethnic/ majority white group that forms their community/clique.

In response to my question about where else on 80s television one might find examples of totally isolated Black animated characters that had complete sovereignty over the affairs of their lives, Woke Nerd offered Fat Albert and his friends. But even he was quick to admit that they hung around Fred Sanford’s junkyard and wore ski masks in broad daylight, and therefore weren’t really positive or powerful examples.

This only supported the reasons for my unfortunate partiality to the Monchichis. They were the closest things I could associate with a normal, non-dysfunctional society of color. Freaking monkeys.

This is the sort of subtle every day racism that white people of my generation don’t get. There are certain indignities that they will never know, and it would take too much time and too much emotional labor to unpack to paint even a partial picture. They’ve never had to look far for representation that made them feel ‘normal’. The characters that looked like them were conquerors. They were multi-dimensional and had depth. You got a sense that they were in control of their destiny and that you could depend on them (or someone who LOOKED LIKE THEM in real life) if you were ever in a pinch. Beyond the images, the very language surrounding their whiteness spoke to their power.

He-Man was the leader of Masters of the Universe.

She-Ra was the Princess of Power.

Freddy from Scooby Doo could lead you in solving a mystery.

Inspector Gadget’s niece, Penny, was the real brains behind each crime solved.

Rainbow Bright and her noble (white) steed had the power to make any problem go away simply by putting little glittery stars in her belt and pressing a button.

Every powerful/smart/enterprising person in the 80s cartoon world is white and usually blond. Even Dottie Dog from the Get Along Gang was a blond cheerleader. Add to that, every other girl in the Gang had blue eyes, just to reinforce that these may be animals, and we can’t make them ALL blond, but daggonit, these are WHITE animals!

One could argue that Mr. T bucked this trend on the cartoon named for him, but I don’t accept that. If we apply the same character and plot development standards to his show as say, She-Ra, where every member of the Rebellion living in the Whispering Woods is white, 80s television might have imploded. It still might. Can you imagine a team of all Black gymnasts lead by a Black man in a cut off shirt and a Mohawk flying around the world solving crimes and subduing people with their physical prowess? It would result in cartoon TVs first police shooting.

But back to the monkeys, cultural representation and how I saw myself.

When you grow up in Africa or around Africans in the diaspora, there is a 99% chance that you will hear tell of a “monkey” story. My primary school teacher told us about how a young English boy stopped him in London one day and asked if he had a tail…and if he’d allow him to see it. When I was a child, an airport worker in Europe once referred to all the Africans in transit as a “bunch of monkeys”. The Lebanese woman who lived next door to my best friend could be heard screaming, “You f***ing monkey!!!” at her maid as she hurled household items at her.

Nevertheless and no matter what the world said around me, I never saw a monkey’s reflection staring back at me when I looked in a physical mirror. But what was beinf reflected back to me on a subconscious level was something else entirely. When I discovered the subliminal perceptions I held about myself– and my continent – it startled it me. It shook me. It shamed me.

One day, many Monchichi years later, I was at home when someone (I can’t remember who because folks were always dropping by in those days) brought over a printed piece of paper with an AT&T ad on it. They were angry and demanded we look at it. Horror and shock erupted from the adults around the room. I kept staring at it, trying to work out what was so awful about this whimsical telephone advertisement.

“Look at Africa.”

I looked and didn’t see anything wrong. Africa was the right shape, the geography seemed in order…

“Malaka. Look at everyone else on the globe with a phone in their hand!”

I still didn’t get it.

“There’s a monkey sitting in Africa. Every body else on the planet using the phone is human, but they got a MONKEY in Africa!”

An AT&T ad from 1993 depicting the company’s coverage around the globe.

Of course I didn’t see it.

Monchichis ‘look like’ me.

Monchichis have technology.

Monchichis also happen to be monkeys.

Monkeys are live in Africa.

Monkeys look like me.

Oh my God.

*****

Fortunately, my children’s generation and those beyond will (hopefully) be spared this sort of cognitive disjoining when confronted with racist art/advertising. We still have to fight against the effects of colorism, body dysmorphic disorder and hair texturism (a plague in the natural hair community), but I am confident that they will never subliminally associate their physical features or their personhood with a monkey. We have Doc McStuffins and Li’l Bill to thank for that. So when people ask ‘WHY do we need more characters of color on TV’, let my Monchichi story provide further evidence for why more – and better – representation is necessary. Not that that matters so much at our house now. In my absence, Marshall has cut DSTV, so television plays a lesser part in raising his children than it would if I were home. I suppose that’s a good thing.

 

Have you ever had a moment where you discovered that pop culture influenced you on a subliminal level? Was it a positive or negative experience?

In Defense of the Cowardly Marwako Employees Who Stood By As Their Co-Worker’s Face was Pushed into Pepper

Note: I will tell you all about the brain tumor that’s kept me from writing, but let’s table that for now so we can talk about this.

On the 4th of March in the year of Lord, two thousand and seventeen, it was widely reported that a 26 year-old restaurant manager named Jihad Thaabn grabbed Evelyn Boakye by the neck and rubbed her face in blended pepper while hurling abusive words at her. Ms. Boakye is employed as a member of kitchen staff at Marwako, a restaurant in Accra owned by Mr. Thaabn’s brother-in-law. The attack went on for 10 minutes before she was released from Thaabn’s physical grip. As she stood washing her face, Thaabn’s anger was reignited for reason’s that have yet to be explained. The attack continued. He grabbed her again and locked her in a room for 6 hours, refusing her medical treatment while forbidding her fellow employees from offering her assistance.

Marwako

It’s reported that Thaabn warned that if anyone tried to intervene, he’d have their job(s). All these men and women could do was stand by and watch “helplessly” as their co-worker was physically tortured and held against her will on the premises of their place of employment. Upon her release, Ms. Boakye alleges that she was warned not to report the matter to the police. It took her two days to gather the courage to report the matter, still not having recovered from the chemical effects of having pulverized scotch bonnets rubbed into her eyes.

index

As one would predict, there is a healthy dose of outrage expressed all over the country. There is also no small amount of indifference, with people very eager to move on from the incident because there are “bigger issues” plaguing Ghana than one Lebanese man abusing his subordinate. After Ghanaians have argued about whether Marwako should be boycotted/who really suffers in the wake of a boycott/whether we all shouldn’t just leave this to karma and God, we will spin in circles until nothing is actually done to address the root causes of employee abuses in the nation until the next horrifying event. Such is the Ghanaian’s cycle. We know it, and most importantly, foreigners know it as well. There is a reason that Ghanaians have a reputation for being “friendly”, rather than “proud”. Friendly in our context is a polite euphemism for push over. There’s no point in denying it.

Nevertheless, keyboard courage has been exhibited in profuse abundance. I have yet to see a single individual express solidarity or empathy with the other employees who watched Evelyn Boakye suffer through her 6-hour-plus ordeal.

“So what were her co-workers doing while she was being attacked?”

“If it was me, I would NEVER let that man put a finger on me!”

“Oh, if I was there, I would have intervened. Damn these Lebanese to hell! Can I come to their country and behave this way?”

We all would like to think that we would behave heroically in moments such as this – that we would muster all the gallantry of the ancients and right a horrible wrong in that moment. Nothing could be further from the truth. If we all exhibited the kind of courage we do while behind the glare of our screens, we wouldn’t let managers get away with sexually harassing the new hire; we wouldn’t sit by while a man beats a street kid to a pulp for scratching his car; we wouldn’t stand by while a trio of men walks into a chop bar in order to slap and punch two women for the crime of being lesbians…allegedly. In fact, we walk by atrocities committed in our communities every day because it’s none of our business.

Second to that, all this haughty talk is the privilege of those who have the benefit of financial security. If it’s one thing dependency robs you of, it’s the license to exhibit courage in the moment. Notice what Jihad Thaabn threatened his sympathetic subordinates with in the midst of his terrorism: the loss of their livelihood if they dared to intervene. The choice between dignity and paying school fees is not an easy one when you have so many people depending on your income. As I sit here and type, I can see the mental wheels of those Marwako kitchen staff turning. I understand why they where rendered inert. I’ve been there myself.

When I was 23, I worked at an organization that sold conferencing solutions. I was only there a short while before I was promoted from office admin to account manager, the direct result of a pending merger with a larger company. A week before the promotion was to take place, there was a brouhaha that I was drawn into between two other AMs and the operator, whose job was obsolete but spared because she was a friend of the CEO. Somehow, I ended up in the CEO’s office finding myself on the receiving end of a verbal assault. She cursed me and the other two account managers who’d gotten me embroiled in an issue that I had no stake in at all. The woman used language that my own father had never spoken to me with, and if the man who was responsible for my earthly existence and education up unto that point had never cussed at me like that, then there was absolutely no way in Satan’s hottest hell that this white woman was going to.

I cleared out my office and quit that afternoon.

This, of course, looked bad for the company (the accounts had already been divvied) and over the weekend I got half a dozen calls from managers and co-workers asking me to reconsider and come back. I refused to listen. I called my father proudly to tell him what I’d done.

“Why would you do something like that?” he asked incredulously.

“Because she CUSSED me, Daddy. How can I work for someone who would treat me like that? Even YOU’VE never cursed at me before…”

Less than impressed with honorable stance, my father said, quite sardonically:

“You should’ve waited until you got another job before you quit.”

Now, as a 23-year-old woman with no children, no car note and minimal bills, there was no reason for me not to have walked away from that toxic environment and say screw it all. What my dad was saying – without saying – is that I was a 23-year-old Ghanaian who had a family to help support back in Ghana and that they could not wait the requisite 3-6 months for a new job to pop. Doing so would stem the flow of that support. My personal suffering….and dignity, by extension…was of lesser consequence.

Three days later, I was loath to return to that job, but return I did.

“I knew she would come back,” my immediate line manager was reported to have said.

Whore.

Until Ghanaians get to the point where our dignity is worth more than a position frying rice or creating new customer accounts, there will always be a Jihad Thaabn, or an Obinim, or the myriad of powerful-yet-unnotable people at liberty to abuse their staff on a daily basis. The Marwako assault exposes yet again how privation robs a people of more than the things that readily come to mind when we think of the working poor and middle classes; like access to social services and utilities. It also has the capacity to rob one of the ability to express compassion.

Isn’t it scary to think that one day, someone will be too frightened to save you when you’re face is being ground into the proverbial pepper?

Seven Lessons in Seven Days

Somewhere along the way in late 2016, I (apparently) uttered the words “I desperately need a vacation from my family!”

Now, I don’t recall ever saying this aloud – but as the old Negro proverb goes, “From your lips to God’s ears!!!” That is how I ended up being banished to Tsitsikamma National Park for seven days and seven nights. It was my husband’s birthday gift to me: Solitude. Ostensibly, solitude to write, as I have also professed aloud that I want to go on a writer’s retreat at some point in 2017. (That I DO remember saying.)

It was a sweet gesture from a man who dotes on me, so I have tried my best to make it work to my advantage. Unfortunately, that attempt was in vain. I have discovered in these past seven days that though I often crave silence, I am terrified of it when bestowed to me over long periods of time. There is a silver lining, as luck would have it. My solitude forced me to pay attention to everything around me, as I had little to no access to the Internet (a cumulative one hour over the course of seven days) and only one DVD to keep me company in all that while. That DVD was Graffiti Bridge, starring Prince. I’ve owned Graffiti Bridge since 2006 at least, but have never watched it until this week. I watched it for four consecutive nights until my family came to see me on Sunday with more movies. As he always does, the Purple One taught me something special about this thing we call life.

 

Lesson 1: Divine Providence

“What God has for you is for you.” That is a saying I used to repeat in worship because it was cute, but after watching Graffiti Bridge, I firmly believe it. Did you see how many times Morris Day & The Time blew up the Glam Slam, or set a fire, or destroyed Prince’s equipment? The answer is LOTS. And STILL, no matter what, new instruments always appeared in time for the next battle or the Glam Slam was restored to its industrial splendor just in time opening hours; as though it had gone through a modest renovation rather than a demolition attempt. If something is meant for you, all the pieces will eventually line up for you to have it.

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Lesson 2: Effort

I opened my hut window to let some air in, which always runs the risk of letting other things in. On this particular occasion, a fat horsefly buzzed its way into my room. I was content not to bother it as long as it didn’t bother my food or me and as fortune would have it, it eventually got bored and decided it would leave. It buzzed its way back toward the window. Instead of following the breeze and flying out, it flew toward the pane of the adjacent window, desperately trying to fly through it.

Y’all.

I watched this dumb fly climb up the pane, ram its head into it, fly to the base, climb up it again, and ram its head into the glass – repeatedly – for 15 minutes. It did this until it DIED from exhaustion. The fly entered my room full of loud, buzzy piss and vinegar but would have died in silence if not for the undignified “thunk” of its corps hitting varnished wood.

screen-shot-2017-02-05-at-3-42-27-pmThis taught me two things: a) If you’re dumb to get yourself into an unfamiliar situation, be smart enough to plan your way out. b) Effort without strategy can have fatal consequences. Sure, the fly could see its goal – the woods outside – from the clear glass, but that barrier was there for reasons. Just because something takes on the appearance of your success doesn’t mean it’s true to form. If you keep running into the same clear glass wall, maybe it’s time to shift course just a bit.

Or else you gon’ die.

Lesson 3: Vanity

Vanity is often regarded as a negative characteristic, but I believe it can be put to good and positive use. Embodying vanity can be healing. An albatross showed me this.

With miles and miles of beach available at its disposal, this particular winged sea rat chose to waddle in the one rock pool formations that was closest to me. It bathed itself with thoroughness and surprising attention to detail. The albatross made a big fuss about making rings and waves in the water that was still and peaceful before its aggressive arrival. After its ablution, it then chose to preen itself on the singular rock that was directly in my line of sight. Every once in a while it would stop fussing with its feathers to check if I was checking it out. After we made intermittent (and sufficient) eye contact, it continued its grooming.

To the world, the albatross is an unattractive nuisance with an irritating bird shriek. But in its own eyes, it is a siren of the sea, the peacock of the waves. How else can a seagull gain the effrontery to assume its presence is a desirable one? In this way, I learned that we must all shine and glory in our own light; Yes, even we who qualify as winged rodents.

Lesson 4: Perfection

Have you ever spent the day in a perfect environment, where someone else has thought of EVERYTHING? Well in this case, that someone happens to have been God. As I said, I went to Tsitsikamma to write, but most of my time was spent in reflection and contemplation. Why? Because perfection does not inspire creativity. There’s nothing of value you can add to perfection. It’s as futile an act as gilding the lily.

Can you imagine throwing extra muscles on Indris Elba? No. No you can’t. Because what’s the point? See how perfection robs of you the very desire to take a creative risk?

Lesson 5: Honesty

Piggybacking off of perfection is a lesson in honesty. And if I’m truthful, sitting out in the woods alone was not the course to successful, productive writing…at least for me. This is because the woods, the darkness, the perpetual crashing of the waves and the very pine planks that housed and protected me from the elements invoked sheer terror within me. That leads me to…

Lesson 6: Courage

Most of our greatest fears begin in the mind. A lot of us don’t even get a chance to fail, because we won’t take the shot(s) needed to experience failure nor success. And even though I did not succeed in writing the Great African Novel during my sabbatical in the forest, I did at least walk away with a new understanding and appreciation for the part our cognitive framework plays in overcoming doubt and fear. In my case, I overcame my fear of being overridden by cockroaches.

screen-shot-2017-02-05-at-3-40-51-pmLook at these walls. Tell me these walls don’t look like cockroaches! Every night, I kept vigil with the light of my cell phone to make sure that the knobs in the walls did not come to life with beetle like pestilence with the sole aim of crawling into my ears and inhabiting my brain. *Shudder!!! *

I could’ve let courage fail me and insist that my husband pick me up long before the seven days had come to a close, but instead, now I get to boast to you all about how brave I was in my insulated cottage with plumbing.

Lesson 7: Trust…with Caution

A doe and her fawn came to nibble on the tender shoots that sprang up all around the campsite at the park. Although I was in striking distance of either on two occasions at least, I made it a point to keep a respectful and wide berth. Although the animals were somewhat comfortable in the presence of their human neighbors, I believe everything NatGeo tells us about animals and wildness. I can hardly think of a dumber way to die than a head-butt to the gut from Bambi’s mom.

This analogy works in the human world as well. It works for virtually any situation. From credit card sharks to the lady offering “free” samples to bonbons at the mall, it always pays to sprinkle your trust with a little bit of caution. Because one minute, you’ve lost yourself in the blissful delight of gourmet chocolate and the next, you’re $5,000 in chocolate branded credit card debt.

 

And there you have it! I turned my mess into Muesli. Have you had any impacting lessons come your way this early in the year yet? Do share!

Have You Ever Told A Lie That Ate Away At Your Insides?

As I type this, it’s been 3 days since my 39th birthday and I’ve been living in a forest hut in virtual solitude.

You see that? That’s not entirely true. In your mind’s eye, you probably imagine me sitting in some darkened hovel in the woods with only cheetahs and baboons for company, when in reality, I’m at Tsitsikama National Park, there is a well-stocked restaurant called the Cattle Baron just a lazy 15 minute walk away and a cleaning lady comes to tend to my cabin every day around 10am. Words have the power to create perception, which is why I imagine the bible advises us to use our tongues wisely. You can mess someone up with one false word.

I hate liars. Don’t you? There’s nothing more vexing than catching someone in an easily verifiable lie. What was the point in the endeavor, you wonder. People lie about the silliest of things – like their age, their income…even the size of a crowd at their inauguration. Eventually, it all comes out in the wash and instead of the respect/admiration/adulation that the liar hoped to earn by telling the falsehood, all it warrants them is mistrust and scorn from the audience.

Yeah…I hate liars. So what do you do when you become the thing that you hate?

I lied about something once, and it’s been tearing away at my spirit for several days. Unlike the sort of lie that only has consequences for yourself (e.g. a butt whuppin’ because you took all the Snickers from Grandma’s candy dish and swore you didn’t), a lie whose ramifications have a domino effect are the worst to contend with. Oftentimes, once the lie is told, there is no way to restore everything that could/will be taken from the accidental victim. For instance, I earned the reputation for being a slut in high school after some dude told his friends (and therefore half the school) that he’d got into my panties. The immediate consequence of this was that it emboldened a number of undesirable nyuggaz with a scrotal itch to request if they could use my vagina as a scratching post. It was now confirmed that I was “easy” after all. Fortunately, I’m sure if you ask around today, only a handful of people from my year group would remember the incident and the damage to my reputation it caused, but I do; naturally. And naturally, I imagine that the two young women who my lie affected will remember the circumstances and the effects for many years to come.

As I mentioned before, I’m sitting in this cabin/hut all alone, and it’s given me a lot of time to think, reflect and remember a myriad of things. For some reason, foremost among these thoughts are two sisters – twins – who came into the retail store where I was working in Alpharetta many years ago.

The sisters were about 5 or 6 years old at the time. They wore identical hairstyles: big, shiny braids and baby hairs impeccably laid as though an offering for the ancestors. They were friendly, sweet little girls who didn’t bother their mother as she shopped for her shoes. They were the type of kids you wanted to give things to because they were so good, you know? (We got a lot of bratty, darn near feral kids running in that store all the time, so the twins were a breath of fresh air.) So because they were the sort of kids one gifts things for no reason at all, I ‘gifted’ them a blank store gift card each to aid in their play. I’d picked the prettiest cards on our shelves.

“So you guys can pretend to have your own money as you shop at our store!” I said brightly.

“Yay!!” said the twins. “Thank you!”

And play they did.

Satisfied that I’d made two little girls day a little cheerier, I returned to my post at the check out lane, where I watched another cashier help their mom. She called for the twins to join her and they quickly obeyed. A few minutes later, the twins returned to the store, their mother raging ahead of them. She came directly to my station at the check out lane.

“Did you give these two girls THESE?” she growled, throwing the two worthless gift cards on the counter in front of me. She looked as though I’d given her children poison.

Now, before I go on and tell you what I did, you guys have got to understand: I’m afraid of Black women. I have been afraid of Black women MY WHOLE LIFE. You never know if you’re going to get cussed out, get the devil cast out of you, or be welcomed into a bosomy hug; And because this particular Black woman (about 10 years my senior) looked like she was about to cuss me out, I did the only thing that previous experience coupled with my flight or fight reflex told me would keep me safe, at least for the moment. I lied.

“Noooo…” I said breathlessly. “No.”

Her posture straightened and her forehead lost a few of its wrinkles. It was if I’d sucked the wind out of her sails with one word. She left without another word to me and shouted for her twins.

“Come on, y’all!”

As I stood there shaken and in a cold sweat, I watched the trio leave and heard the girls protesting mournfully. “But she did give it to us, Mommy. She did!”

And then they were gone. And I never saw the family in my store again.

Ohhh, but this week I’ve seen them in my dreams and in my waking moments! I don’t remember exactly how many years ago that incident was, but I’d put it around 7 or so. The store had just been renovated around that time. That means the twins are now 12, possibly 13 years old. The tween years are tough. Children are still trying to hold onto their innocence while adolescence quietly beckons them to all its drama. Today, I sit in my cabin and imagine what those twins look like. I wonder if they were ever able to convince their mother that they were indeed telling the truth and that I was a cowardly liar, not them. I wonder if she beat the brakes off of them when she returned to their vehicle and uses my falsehood against them on occasion. I wonder if my lie cost them the complete trust of their mother for a very, very long time.

That’s really what’s eating me up inside. I have no way of knowing if they turned out all right; and worse, I have no way of reconciling my sin other than to pray for them and hope I get the chance to make amends some day, by some miracle.

In our home, we have been dealing with two children who have problems telling the truth the first time, which is what probably has me reflecting on my own folly. Even when they know we know their lying, they stick to and build on the untruth until it crumbles all around them. Somehow, somewhere along the way, I/we have created an atmosphere that causes them fear the consequences of telling the truth rather than the horrible fallout that always follows a lie.

Or maybe a lying spirit is inherited. Who knows? I’ll ask a dreaded Black woman to cast it out of us all, if that’s the case.

If I could give an encouragement to just one parent today, I’d say this: When it comes to kids, don’t always assume that the adult at the other end of the exchange is telling the truth – not at the expense of a healthy relationship with your child. Believe your child first so that they know they always have a loving champion in you. Even if it does turn out in the end that the child was lying, at least they have that assurance that you loved them enough to have faith in them until the truth exposes them. I believe love is far more effective at drawing out an honest confession than fear and mistrust ever will be. I hope that in this way, we can teach our kids (and maybe a few adults) to love truth more than we hate/fear the lie.

 

Wait a minute! Allow me to disabuse you of the notion that I’ve lost all my savagery! I do believe that there are situations in which an untruth is prudent. For instance in answer to the questions “Was that good for you?” or “Do you like the way I styled your hair?” a response in anything other than a tepid affirmative will result in bruised egos and a fruitless attempt at a do over. But now I wonder, in this age of “alternative facts”, how precious is the truth? How precious is it to you, personally?

 

 

Vicki Yohe Unleashes Peak Beckery On The Church

When I saw a former co-worker refer to Vicki Yohe as ‘Tricky Yohe’ as a result of some foolery she had allegedly executed, I bristled. I challenged him to show me evidence of what the warbler had done to earn the moniker ‘tricky’. Surely this was a case of mistaken identity! I’ve seen Vicki Yohe perform live on at least two occasions, and on both she was all sweetness and light, sprinkled with a little bit of thunder. That’s how the church likes its worship leaders – saccharine; yet ready to rally the troops to war with a melodious battle cry if necessary.

Maybe that shield maiden spirit had momentarily overtaken Vicki, compelling her to publish this meme on Instagram just a few days ago.

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*Blink*
*Double blink*
*Siiiiggghhh….*

As if the meme itself weren’t abhorrent enough, Yohe doubled down on the disparaging posture behind it by appending her own, unambiguous thoughts, challenging those who oppose (now) president Donald Trump, his VP, his cabinet pick of unqualified dolts and his abhorrent taste in furniture by saying that they could “march all they want and protest all they want, he’s your president now!”

And then had the nerve to add a hash tag: exciting times ahead.

Exciting times for whom, exactly?

This is what postmodern, history revising Christians/Evangelicals like Yohe need to understand: This was a not a normal election and Donald Trump is not a “normal” president, let alone human being. Trump’s campaign was run – and won – on fear and hatred, which last time I checked did not constitute as fruits of the Spirit. The day after he was announced the winner, a number of college campuses suspended their classes in order to provide grief counseling for students, and elementary-aged children in with dense minority (and Muslim) populations went to class feeling a LOT less safe. In my own house, all the way in South Africa, my eldest child felt compelled to call up her immigrant and first-gen friends to make sure they wouldn’t be separated from their families in the wake of this new presidency. THAT’S the kind of president Yohe, Dobson & Co. support and helped get elected: A pussy-grabbing, tax-evading, offspring-lusting, adulterous cad who haunts the dreams of children. We haven’t even gotten to the bit where he promises to unleash ‘law and order’ (read: stop and frisk, which also happens to be a constitutional violation) on communities that are populated with people that look just like me and my family, rather than like Vicki Yohe and hers.

But about that…

vicki-yoheIf you’re sitting here wondering just WHO the heck Vicki Yohe is, don’t feel bad about your ignorance in the least. Vicki Yohe is a blonde, Amish-looking woman with a decent set of pipes. Performing on Church Chitlin circuit has buoyed her career. You see, Yohe sings Gospel, or a form thereof. She’s very much given to runs, and when no one else in the industry would really give her a chance, we took her in. “We”, meaning “Black Folk”. Because that’s what we do. We are constantly extending the hand of reconciliation. We take in everyone’s orphans, fix ‘em up, encourage them, put ‘em on and then the moment they get on, they leave us for a white girl. Or in this case, a tiny-handed, anus-mouth-shaped Tang Aberration that happens to occupy the highest seat in the land.

For Vicki Yohe to suggest that Jesus is excitedly sprinting His divine self – with luggage in tow – back into the White House because godliness is hallmark of the Trump administration is not only laughable, it’s insulting. Her suggestion smacks of the sort of idiocy that has so many people disgusted with the church body at large, and it makes a mockery of God the Father, the Holy Spirit and Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross. The only reason Joshua the Messiah would be running to the White House at that speed would be so that He could bleed all over it with the hope of redeeming it; not because He approves of any the shenanigans going on in there. Now, as you might imagine, the Internet grabbed a hold of her digitized foolishness and drug Vicki for filth. I can’t say she doesn’t deserve every word of verbal chastisement lobbed at her, and when the Sable Saints drag you, it’s bound to leave a mark.

It is in the realization that she’d been marked that caused Vicki to go full Becky on us, rather than leaving it be and letting time heal all wounds. Check out her ‘apology’:

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Right? You read that, right? Like, why is this in the third person? Because that coward couldn’t even craft her own “I’m sorry”! Oh, you were all big and bad when you told women all over the country – women who have survived assault, or had to comfort a friend in its aftermath, or who fear its impend for themselves or fellow woman/girl – that they could ‘march all they want’ because their voices didn’t matter, right? And then aren’t you the same woman, insulted by both your white AND Christian privilege who assured Donald Trump that if so many oppose him, he must being doing something right? Then why you running scared now? After all, you got all these people on the Internet streets opposing you…surely by your own logic… you’ve said and done something praiseworthy? But you’re scared, because now your livelihood and reputation is at stake.

As insulting as it was to insinuate that the Obama White House was devoid of God’s presence, it is even more repugnant that Vicki Yohe, through her publicist (who is clearly another white woman or a very, very young, very naive white man) would attempt to cause division among Black believers by putting the blame for her idiocy on the feet of Shaun King, a vocal voice in the BLM movement.

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All Shaun did was read your filth for what it was. That she would now try to cause a rift between Black Lives Matter and the Black church by alleging that “they” are trying to destroy her is some slimy white damsel in distress raggedy-ness that only deserves one place: the trash can. To now ask Christians – ostensibly Black Christians – to rally behind God’s will (i.e. her protection) while putting aside their Blackness and/or womanhood (i.e. our identity) is not just mischievous; it’s cruel. More so as I have yet to see an overzealous officer/sexual deviant/oppressor alive who takes the time differentiate if a potential victim meets any of these criteria before exacting their terror. Now we are being asked to choose between the two identities for her sake? Is this ever asked of white believers? In the words of Sister Whitney Houston the departed, Hell naw!

No one is trying to ‘destroy’ Vicki Yohe. Vicki Yohe played herself. Yohe posted that meme, Yohe added her comments, and now Yohe got herself uninvited from the Church Chitlin circuit, which happens to be populated by people that look like me, and which also happens to butter her bread. That’s what’s got her shook right now. She’s staring at red in her ledger with a potential loss of cheddar.

Unfortunately for her, most people have read write through her pathetic attempt at pivoting and punting, and true to their word will never buy another Yohe album or have her invited to minister to their congregation(s) again. And yet fortunately for Vicki Yohe, she insulted the first Black president’s administration, disregarded the safety of children of color, and rubbished the feelings of women. The spirit of patriarchy is strong in the Black church, and there will certainly be those pastors who invite her back to unload her warbling alto on their members. She won’t even have to repent. All she’ll have to do is weep some pretty white tears, brood over her “trials” (never mind that they were brought on by her own doing) and all will be forgiven. The elders of the church will be called to form a prayer circle around her so that “no weapon formed against her shall prosper”; when in reality they need to be praying for the spirit of self-control to come over that mouth. They will serve as Charlamagne to her Tomi Lahren.

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I could just vomit.

The American church – and all who emulate it – is in really bad shape. As we sit, the only two requirements needed to qualify as a godly person/government are tied up in opposing two concepts: Gay marriage and abortion.
That’s it. That’s all! As long as you oppose gay marriage and abortion, you get a cape and a certificate from the Evangelical/Charismatic movement that reads Super Saint.

However, these aren’t the only issues that are dear to God’s heart and it’s disingenuous to propose that they are when someone as prominent as Yohe says, “Barack Obama introduced policies that Christians did not agree with”. What you are saying is that the Obama administration made it easier to gain access to safe abortions and paved the way to legalize gay marriage.

But what was the Father’s mandate to Adam in the Garden? Was it not to watch over its protection and proliferation? And yet we have a climate change denier who removed all references to the phenomenon that is harming Earth. Is that a Christian policy?

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Or what about when God instructed His people to ‘make the alien welcome you, for you were once wonderers in the land.’ Do Trump’s attitudes towards immigrants and his policy on immigrants sound vindictive or godly to you?

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What about training a child up in the way that s/he should go? Have you seen Trump’s pick for Secretary of Education? Is this the way you want our future to go?!?screen-shot-2017-01-26-at-3-21-28-am

 

Ma’am! Vicki Yohe! Go have a seat somewhere. It’s going to take you a while to come back from this – not because of what you’ve done – but because of who you are. The Blessed Auntie Angelou said, “When someone shows you who they are, believe them.”
Today, we believe you to be Becky, Choir Leader of the Bedraggled and of the Highest Order of Messy.