The Little One in the form of an Owl...(but don't tell her I said that!)

May 24, 2012


              I have a new therapist, because my mother is a good person, but a terrible role model and I need somewhere to go to vent my fury over her behavior and seek guidance so as not to repeat such mistakes in my own journey in motherhood.  But I digress.  

              My new therapist asked me to come up with an empowering mantra, probably to combat my chronic acute worthlessness syndrome (don't look it up), and also because she is under a lot of pressure to match the momentum my old therapist had going, which threatens to cease during her temporary absence (nice of her to feel obligated to earn that ca$hmoney). The mantra is something that is supposed to be unique (fuck "everything happens for a reason" cliches) and have to do with me, myself (e.g not spiritual or externally directed).  I have actually been having a hard time coming up with something.  I just wasn't feeling inspired by any words of wisdom that I would find uplifting.  Then the other morning, I received this email ("received" was a new vocab word for Ms. V yesterday and the previous sentence is how she showed she understood the word; I said yes, but also you can receive normal mail, like from a post office; she had no idea what I was talking about-granted there are no personal mailboxes in Uganda or Tz, but it still made me shudder and a scene from Terminators came to mind) but I digress:

Dear Jill, [except he used a very intimate tribal name that NOBODY calls me except in traditional greeting and that he was specifically asked NOT use, even while we were dating that stuff happened]

                 How are u doing dear? its been ages [yes, yes it has, specifically because I begged and pleaded for him to dis-exist from my life.  I wrote a long email detailing exactly why we would never "have dinner as friends" and promised to not HATE him if he promised to leave me alone.....2 years ago, but emotionally it was never, as in it never happened. THIS NEVER HAPPENED!] I pray and hope you are fine and doing well [what is a good analogy for the creep factor in having someone you are so vehemently disgusted by "praying for you"?  Like a pedophile apologizing while molesting his victim, Prayer has never felt so corrupted to me] I have been thinking about you so much of late and i am wondering whether u can squeeze a little time and we have another cup of tea like we did last time [Eww, "squeeze".  Ha! This is funny.  The last time I did see him was after he sent a text that he had moved to Kampala from his village home and had been passing my house every morning for five months on his way to work, hoping to see me. Though he had betrayed me in a way that almost cost me my entire brand, my existential guilt won out and I thought God may be tricking me and I should reach out to this fellow Being with only Love and Mercy in my heart to prove I was better.  I had a terrible flu and he spent five minutes discussing the benefits of vitamin C: "as found in citrus, lemons, uhmmmm, there are others". I tried really hard to vomit on him, but unfortunately I wasn't that sick].   

Today morning, i have gone thru all the emails you sent me and was glad to see the two btful photos u once sent me.... [Grrosss, GROSS, GROSS, GROSS. What pics? I totally forgot about this.]

Also, i was happy to see an email which had our old, special  names... (Turtle and Trekker.)[For fuck sakes!] My whole morning has been great... and with old, sweet memories [Anyone who is PATHETIC enough to admit this is NOT in God's Favor-no existential guilt needed]

...i cant 4get the day we climbed the mountain and visited that family at the top..and gave them some money.. then the river, and stone throwing. [I remember how miserable and worthless I felt that day. I thought I had malaria, but in retrospect, I think I kept closing my eyes and doubling over in shame not illness.]

i lost my other fone, with your contact, i wld have called u.[I NEVER answer you're fucking calls ya DOUCHE] please call me on (0782--- --- or 0704 --- --)if u are within Uganda[ Someone must have tipped him off that I left.....ahhhhh! He went back to the old house. Ugandans are MAGNIFICENT stalkers....I should know] i will be glad to hear from u.

Best regards, "Ed"

              After dealing with the waves of nausea and fury that hit me after reading this (alleviated only by the idea of what a great post it would make), I had sudden clarity as to my own "remember me" shout-outs to past lovers.  I shuddered with shame.  I had just been musing about the sentimental logic of perhaps shooting a once-upon-a-BRIEF-time guy an email, just, you know, to see how he was doing (like it is to HIS benefit; like without my email enquiry he may suffer tremendously).  And now, with the roles reversed and my potential behavior reflected back at me, I have no choice but to acknowledge how WRONG, how painfully, humiliatingly, sacrilegiously WRONG it is to EVER send such an email when you know, by silence or direct communication, that your sentimental affections are UNRECIPROCATED.  

                As I contemplated this conclusion, my mantra came floating down to me like a whisper from an angel:

                           I AM BETTER THAN THIS.

May 13, 2012

Racial Profiling

          This weekend we went to a barbecue hosted by a colleague of my mothers.  It was a far better experience than I had expected.  I had expected a bunch of development people throwing acronyms about project plans involving players, all of which in no way clarify what it is they actually do.  Since this was a family dinner, I also expected children playing and significant partners chatting about.....partnering, or parenting, or some such things, which are subjects that, though I find much more interesting,  I have not much credibility in and therefore nothing to contribute.  Instead, I imagined I would have no choice but to awkwardly answer uncomfortable questions which would expose me as a fraudulent grown-up deserving judgment, condescension, and dismissal (it may be I have a skewed perception, but I have found myself in such scenarios enough to know that I am an annoying anomaly in the networking landscape).  

           It is true the small gathering did consist of five couples; my mother and I were the only singles, but as she is older than everyone, she rocks that whole token African grandmother shtick pretty well.  Almost everyone worked in the same field, and all, but I, had direct and mostly current experience parenting small children; I was an anomaly.  But none of my prophesied humiliations came to pass; instead I was fully and wholeheartedly accepted as: 1.) My mother's daughter 2.) My daughter's mother 3.) A grown up.  Huzzah! Individuals felt free to share intimate anecdotes about their lives as if we were......equals.     Having understood that I was jobless, everyone assumed this was a temporary and expected glitch in my transition, showed curiosity in my interests, and gave sincere advice to push me forward.  Similar things have happened while doing the play, but with the much more familiar tinge of judgment or at least.....wariness and disconnection (they are all British).

            It was only when we were leaving that my mother commented on the common thread amongst all those present, which I had overlooked: all the foreigners (except us) were Canadian, the host was Tanzanian but has been working with Canadians for many years (and has family there).   

            Canadians (even the French small doses) are so very nice, it can leave one confused.  I was confused: "wow! I!!"  They possess quiet amiability, humble pride, sincere curiosity, and a genuine receptivity to others.  Canadians are unabashedly unaffected.

            It is a pity they are generally lumped in with American and European whites (who make it a point to distinguish themselves from each other).  They are actually very unique in the white population; I don't think they know how nice they are; I don't think it's ever occurred to them.... (Oops, did my own ignorance just show? I guess this whole time I was referring to White Canadians-though one of the women at the party was Mexican Canadian-anyhow, the disclaimer is in the title, so pffft.)
            It has come to my attention that there are certain organizations in Africa that are owned and operated by Black Americans who use their race as a badge of expertise and empathetic fraternity when bidding for money for humanitarian projects in Africa.  This is a load of shit.  Black Americans are invariably explicitly derogatory and condescending towards Africans (even worse than Jamaicans).   

            My sister always said, she never knew she was black until we moved to America. Guess who told her?  I was only five when we moved.  School, for me, was simply about survival, about adaptation.  I was willing to be accepted by anyone who would take me.  It was white people who accepted me (well at the time I thought they were white, it wasn't until I got to college that I realized was taught New Yorkers make a firm distinction between Jewish New Yorkers, and White New Yorkers; it was the Jewish children who were always the kindest).  It was almost as if they, the Jewish whites, already expected my "otherness", while the blacks took offence to it. They readily shamed me for not having personal awareness of their history and the intimacies of slavery.  Even what I did know was not enough, because I wasn't angry enough, I wasn't.....wounded; I acted like that history was not mine (which it wasn't).  

           The American slavery system and decades of systematic racism were known to me in the same way I came to know of the Holocaust, the Apartheid System, Australia's history of native decimation, and so forth.  This was very confusing and unacceptable to them (right through to university this caused a lot of tension with my black classmates; despite the fact that we otherwise had similar socioeconomic and education backgrounds, the absence of a chip on my shoulder meant I was a sell out-an Oreo. Sorry dears, I'm just AFRICAN). Perhaps they had been taught to think of themselves as related to Africans-a historical fact, but a cultural misnomer.

            When Black Americans talk about Africa, or visit the developing world (including the West Indies), they are far more disgusted by the inconveniences of daily life than any other visitors: the heat, the lack of certain modern appliances, the animals, all the dark-skinned people.....and so forth.  No, really! They make a very big point of these things and do so loudly, almost as if (psychobabble in 4, 3, 2......) they are instinctively trying to distinguish themselves for that which they've been conditioned to themselves.  Growing up in America, for sure the cruelest most disgusting jokes about dark skin came to me from the black children.  I would go so far as to argue that most middle class white youths (at least in New York) who become prejudice or racist as young adults, learn their hate-filled humor from their black classmates.

          I've been feeling romantic 
again lately.  This is a very romantic time of year for me, that's for sure.  And it helps that I am becoming more social in Dar, though everyone here seems to come in couples only form-minus that douche from awhile back.  Due to the supposed "threat" I pose as a single mother in her thirties, I have decided to create a boyfriend I've left back in Uganda.  Since we began dating before I moved or decided to become a mother, the relationship is fragile enough to leave room should something better turn up, but hopefully reassuring to the women I meet that I do not want to steal their husbands (the feminist adage of my generation still sticks: chicks before dicks, simple and catchy).

             There is something wonderfully fantastical about thinking about romance when you are in no position to have any of the real thing.  It really stimulates the imagination, brings one back to the "when I grow up" days of promise and unyielding faith;  It keeps one from going insane and/or humping the gatekeeper.  

              As it is finally clear to me that I will never be satisfied with dating someone who looks just like me (apparently I have been this way since I was child), I have been musing on what race I would like my fantasy guy to be, like in the Sims, or some other such online world (I am such a nerd I don't even need the Internet to live an alternate life).
             Last week I apparently missed a Dutch throw down that had everyone but everyone there (thanks for telling me cast members).  I came home and lamented, "Damn! I missed my chance to make out with a Dutchie and find a husband!!"  My mother and Ms V were both sympathetic.  But I did the Dutch thing back in Uganda, and two years later I still can't get that man out of my system.  Dutch men are so casually complex and tiresomely enigmatic.  I don't think I'm up for it.

              American, British, (Canadians are too nice?) men would make sense, except, unless they are 60 plus, I would bet any man from those areas who relocates here would come with wife in hand.  Those men would be way too afraid to begin alone here.  Dar is a place to import a family; coming alone would be......uncivilized.

              The question then becomes, who would be likely to show up untethered and within an appealing age range?  Indians, for sure; South Africans, for similar managerial networking positions.  Both groups can be utterly racist, derogatory and oversexed, and hedonistically fun-I am interested in none of those situations.

               Then it hit me:  I want a man who is not bothered, nor even aware of societal conscripts about age and lifestyle; a man who easily immerses in other cultures without feeling an ounce of threat towards his own; a man who does much, thinks less, and knows everything worth knowing; a man who would find the intensity that I present an amusing challenge, and thus challenged by me, would feel committed by his own sense of loyalty; a man who believes in character not circumstance because that is how his mother raised him; a man who believes everything his mother ever told him.  He sounds deliciously fantastical, yes?  Well, it IS my fantasy! But the truth is, I have caught a glimpse of a more realistic version of this man a few times in my life, and he was always Irish.  

         I have never dated an Irish guy, these glimpses always happened at inopportune times when the subject could not be pursued, but this cowboy image has lingered in my memory.  I know little about Ireland, and obviously I don't want someone straight off the boat (though Irish men tend to get around anyhow).  Yeah, in my ideal fantasy world, I'd have to say, I want me an Irish bloke.  

          It's not like I'm losing my mind per se (my therapist is on holiday, but I'm sure she'd agree) but transitions, like grief, go in stages:  First there is the overwhelming physical stimulus of a new place-the way the light falls, the night sounds, the air smells, etc.  Then there is the nesting, the withdrawal into yourself, your home, your sanctuary, to clean, prepare, and make pretty.  And now I find myself in the level of emergence; I am not yet a part of this new world, I have not yet found my niche, but I have rested and rearranged myself for my big debut; the necessary step in finding where my prepared Self shall fit in-my niche-is to categorize this new environment in schemas based on past experience; it is with these schemas as my weapons tools that I shall brave this foreign jungle and conquer it as men women Expat Warriors have done time and again.  Thus Canadians: may seem bland, very nourishing, easy to find and cultivate; Pretentious NGOS: predatory, toxic, to be avoided at all costs.  Irish Single Men: potent, deliciously satisfying, though elusive, would be worth the hunt.

The question is, what is in season?

May 2, 2012

The Expat Bourgeoisie

Main Entry:
expatriate [v. eks-pey-tree-eyt or, especially Brit.-pa-tree-; adj., n. eks-pey-tree-it, -eyt or, especially Brit.-pa-tree-]  Show IPA
Part of Speech:noun
Definition:person thrown out of a country
Synonyms:departer, deportee, displaced person, emigrant,evacuee, exileexpellee, migrant, outcast,refugee, √©migr√©

(courtesy of
              I am stuck, uninvited, in someones home as the rain pours down in lightweight sheets and I wait for my mother to make her way to us, already 20 minutes late.  I have been in close quarters with this woman over the last six weeks, during rehearsals, but that is not the same as being "welcomed" in her home. Uganda has taught me to be weary of such boundaries of intimacy, so tricky to navigate since they are never mentioned, but so very apparent when you feel you've crossed one.

            This is one of the few expat homes I've been in, and my eyes paw through the things trying to asses if we measure up, making note of where we fall short.  Well, of course there is the location-it is always about location, but we know this is a temporary miscue on our part; we will fix that.  

            The forested garden outside must be almost an acre; the grill on the deck alongside cushioned, hand crafted lounge chairs, mock our isolated existence (a remnant of Ugandan life that we must lose if we mean to survive here). The children play on the computer, the parents sort through old photo albums, a task they have "been meaning to get to for ages".  

             Out of the corner of my eye, a woman rushes by the window, ducking the rain, clinging to clothes picked off the line.  My mother was right to hire a housekeeper; I breath a sigh of relief; we are not so badly off; we belong.

             Being in the play has given me a taste of the Dar Expat community.  Anyone who doesn't understand the homogenized nature of expatriate communities in third world countries, should just wait for the reality t.v series (they call 'em documentaries in the U.K innit); I'm sure there'll be one along shortly.  It is a fascinating community: people whose lives would look very different were they in their "home" countries (some expats live abroad for 20 years or more so this term gets.....tricky) all adopt the same laissez faire, privileged/humble, sheltered/exposed, paradoxical lifestyle that comes with the expatriate position.  It is a class that is at once peripheral to and the apex of mainstream society; the former being in regards to responsibility (and vulnerability), the latter in regards to privilege (and security).  Sort of like celebrities (this analogy can also help describe the difference between immigrant or Diaspora populations and expats; there are actors and then there are celebrities).

               It isn't really about the help:  the drivers, cooks, baby-raisers, always in the background, always an assumed aspect of life, even in speech: I get offered rides from rehearsal only to find they have to call up the driver and wait for him to come (though they live, "just around the corner").  During the tsunami scare my mother's colleague was also out of town at the conference; her husband was in town in a meeting, and didn't not make it home until 10 p.m.  The children were with their caretakers, the oldest is five.

              Though western (white) expats do it on a grander scale, having help is ironically common in developing countries.  Much of the population, across income levels, relies on some form of hired hands (even if it is more of an exchange for room and board, a barter, as opposed to a direct salary) to assist in daily living.  To me, the irony is the casual, easy way that those who were raised in societies were this is a privilege for the absurdly rich, adapt to this type of lifestyle.  Expats are experts when it comes to living the good life.

             In Uganda, I was trying so hard to claim my identity that I was willing to part with large part of my Self for the chance to be accepted as a Ugandan.  I spent three years proclaiming I was, for the first time in my life, a local.  I lived my life ignoring all that exists in Kampala in terms of expatriate life-and it, in turn, ignored me. But in many ways, so did the locals; they rejected my application to the fraternity. In my attempts to assimilate,  I failed wholeheartedly. At times I have thought I was ruthlessly punished for my false claim, but maybe it was more of tough love; maybe it was meant as an encouragement to really embrace who I am.  I was not born in Uganda; I was not raised in Uganda; why did I feel I should be a local? I am, born and raised, an outsider; I am an Expat.  I used to say I was a retired expat, well, I've come out of retirement.  I am me again.  It's funny how quickly you revert to those forgotten habits of comfortable disconnection, luxury, ease, and humble exclusivity:

             The door bell rings; I wrap my exposed legs and run to let Ana in.  She comes here three times a week, just enough for me to not feel invaded.  She can barely speak English.  I know where she lives, not far.  My mother tells me she has a child; I have not asked her its name; and I will not make a point of it.   I don't know her mother-tongue, or where her village is.  I have never met her parents; I do not know if she has siblings, how many, what they are doing.  She knows nothing about me except that I like to eat chocolate and stuff the wrappers under my bed.  She cannot claim a part of my history; she cannot claim to know my grandparents and their home better than I do. I am a stranger to her and she to me; both of us like it this way; it makes more sense this way.