Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The Closer She Gets

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was impressed by our capital city, Nairobi. She was particularly impressed by the city's hairdressers. "My hairdos have been the subject of Ph.D. theses, so I want everyone to know I got a good one in Nairobi," she said.

The Standard of Nairobi, August 6, 2009

Clinton: "Yes, you, there in the back."

Male student: "Thank you Madame Secretary. Malcolm Kikwai, Ph.D. candidate, University of Nairobi, Institute of Anthropology, Gender and African Studies. My question for you, Madame Secretary, is that President Obama has called for closer ties with the African continent, yet so far we have seen little evidence of this. Do you anticipate that the President might, sometime in the near future, grow his hair out in a natural as a way of promoting solidarity with our continent?"

Clinton (smiling, bemused): "Thank you for that very innovative question. Of course, my purpose in coming to Africa has been to emphasize the need for enhanced understanding and collaboration between the United States and your great continent, for protection of African women against the horrors of conflict-based abuse and rape, and for better governance for all. President Obama and I did not discuss whether his support for this agenda might manifest itself in an Afro. However I'll be sure to bring this up with him when I return to Washington."

(Approving laughter ripples through Kenyatta International Conference Center.)

Clinton: "Yes, over there…"

Male student: "Endalkachew Gebresilasie, Ph.D. candidate, Addis Ababa University, Aklilu Lemma Institute of Pathobiology. Mrs. Clinton, across our great continent, elders are respected for their wisdom. In our country, the Oromo people say, 'Gray hair, even the pagans respect it.' Yet news reports from your country indicate that President Obama's hints of gray were considered somehow shameful. In your country does 'No Play for Mr. Gray' apply even to those occupying the highest heights of statehood?"

Clinton: "Well, ah, yes, as you know, I was able, for eight years, to observe the stresses and strains, the toll of occupying the world's most powerful office, but, having observed President Obama for many years now, first as fellow members of the Senate, then as adversaries on the campaign trail and, more recently, on the White House basketball court as well as in the cabinet room, I would say that 'No Play for Mr. Gray' simply does not apply in the President's case." (Puts hand to forehead to screen out television lights and peers around conference hall.) "Now perhaps we could have a question less to do with hair care and more with the status of US-Africa relations. Yes, the lady on the left."

Female student (in charming, French-accented English): "Harisoa Razafintsalama, Université d'Antananarivo, Madagascar. Candidat doctorat in media studies and economic development. Votre Excellence, please you to forgive my English. Many people in my country appreciate Monsieur Obama very much but we think he knows Madagascar only as a movie and not as a country."

Clinton: "Is that Madagascar One or Madagascar Two?"

(Knowing laughter sweeps through the conference hall. Clinton has them eating out of her hand.)

Razafintsalama (continuing): "If Monsieur le Président cannot - how you say - rendre visite to Madagascar, please my fellow students, female mostly, wish to know one thing?"

Clinton (curious): "Yes?"

Razafintsalama: "Would you say, Madame le Secrétaire, that in the case of Monsieur le Président, it is true (hesitates, looks down at notes) that 'The closer he gets, the better he looks'?"

Clinton (amused): "Without going into much detail, I would say that, yes, I agree President Obama is a good looking man and upon close inspection he looks, well, kind of hot."

(More laughter in the conference center. Many delegates elbow each other in the ribs.)

Clinton: "Yes, over there. By the metal detectors."

Female student: "Betty Achu, Ph.D. candidate, University of Ghana/Legon, faculty of social studies. Madame Clinton, the ancestral roots of your immediate predecessors, Secretaries of State Condoleezza Rice and Colin Powell, had their origins deep in our African soil. Concomitantly, their roots were dark and, some have suggested, that their personalities were dark as well. Would you agree, therefore, with the expression 'If I only have one life to live, let me live it as a blonde'?"

Clinton (momentarily stymied): "With all due respect to brunettes, redheads, those with black hair and those with no hair, Yes, I would rather live life as a blonde. Now if we could move the discussion toward…"

Achu (interjecting): "So you would then agree with the statement 'Blondes have more fun'?"

Clinton (wringing hands): "Yes, comparing my experience with that of my predecessors, I would say as far as being Secretary of State of the United States of America is concerned, blondes do have more fun." (Gesturing to the first row and a man with his hand raised high in the air.) "Yes, I hope you have a question that doesn't concern hair care."

Male student: "Moses Kwetchu, also from University of Ghana/Legon, juris doctorate candidate. My question concerns the protection of intellectual property rights."

Clinton (lightening up, chuckles): "Thank goodness."

Kwetchu: "Madame Secretary, beginning in the 1960s, Ghanaian barbershop sign painting was recognized as an art form worthy of prominent display in some of the world's greatest modern art museums. Many consider this oeuvre to be not only part of our national patrimony but protected intellectual property as well. However, Chinese knock-offs have flooded the market recently, destroying the livelihood of thousands of Ghanaians. We are concerned that - as regards barbershop sign art - the Chinese seek world hegemony. The World Trade Organization has refused to hear our case. Can our displaced artists count on you?"

Clinton: "The United States of America is always ready to help any nation defend its legitimate claims regarding intellectual property. Yes, over there. In the beautiful print dress and the hair wrap thing-ee."

Female student: "Fanta Kromah, Université de Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, candidate doctorat, faculté de filmographie et le diaspora." (Begins speaking African language. Secretary Clinton nods knowingly while waiting for translation.)

Translator: "Thank you Your Excellency for your graciousness today. In the film There's Something about Monica there is a scene in which the female protagonist…"

(Furor erupts among Secretary Clinton's staff and press corps. Translator stops translating, looks around helplessly.)

Clinton (livid): "Something about Monica? Something about Monica! You wanna talk about Monica, I suggest you call my husband and tell him that North Korea isn't the only place he can go. And while you are at it, you can…"

(Clinton aide tugs Secretary away from the podium while placing hand over microphone. Various officials confab with the translator who appears badly shaken.)

Translator (returns to podium, sweating profusely): "Excuse me, Madame Secretary. I misunderstood Miss Kromah's question which concerns the film There's Something About Mary."

Clinton (returning to podium. Tosses head to and fro in the style of a boxer loosening up, about to enter the ring.): "Yes…"

Kromah (resumes her question in African language).

Translator: "In the film There's Something about Mary, there is a scene in which the female protagonist takes a substance off the ear of the male protagonist and applies it to her hair. The effect, which leaves the hair rigid and gravity-defying, is one that has been used by African tribes since long before the advent of Hollywood and even the development of so-called western nations. We consider this use of our cultural heritage in the profit of a 'cheap laugh' to be unlawful expropriation of our African traditions and request that the United States…"

Clinton (cutting him off, impatient): "Yes, yes, yes. The United States stands ready to help Africa defend its intellectual property rights - as regards its traditions, native hair care products and hair care-related art. Now could we move on? Please."

Clinton aide: "We have just a few more minutes with the Secretary. Perhaps we could have a few questions of concern to the larger African community. Thank you. The young lady way way in the back."

Young lady: "Thank you. Constance Weah, University of Liberia, Ph.D. candidate, Ibrahim B. Babangida Graduate School for International Relations. My question for the Secretary concerns US - North Korean relations. My question is very simple; Does he or doesn't he?"

Clinton (perplexed): "Does he or doesn't he what?"

Weah: "You know, color his hair."

Clinton (aggressive, perturbed): "Who?"

Weah: "Kim Jong-il."

Clinton (losing it): "How the (expletive deleted) should I know if Kim Jong-il colors his hair? For all I know, his hair could be frigging radioactive."

Weah (unperturbed by the Secretary's evident hostility to her line of questioning): "Yes, but recently your husband had a chance to observe Mr. Kim at close range and so I thought that he may have shared his observations with you."

Clinton (Dumbfounded. Mouth is moving, but no words are issued.)

Weah (seizing the opportunity to continue): "And in addition to learning your husband's thoughts about whether Mr. Kim does or doesn't, I would like to know if Mr. Kim shared with Mr. Clinton any information about whether Mr. Kim's coiffure was inspired by Elvis, Johnny Cash, James Dean, Porter Wagoner, Johnny Hallyday or (looks down, refers to notes) Amy Winehouse."

Clinton (fingers now snow white and bloodless from clutching podium, babbles incoherently to self before abandoning all traces of diplomatic restraint): "Do I give a (expletive deleted) about my (expletive deleted) husband and a (expletive deleted) (expletive deleted) deranged (expletive deleted) sociopath and their (expletive deleted) hair styles? I am the (expletive deleted) (expletive deleted) Secretary of State and not some bubbled headed bleach blonde Breck girl for your (expletive deleted) information."

(Clinton aide approaches the Secretary with propeller-equipped spray bottle and attempts to cool the Secretary down. The Secretary unleashes a devastating right jab to jaw of aide who collapses in a heap. Secret Service agents storm the dais.)

Clinton (striking Bruce Lee, kung-fu pose): "Back off (plural expletive deleted)!"

Clinton (to audience, while jogging in place behind podium): "Alright, alright, you (expletive deleted) bring it on. Bring it ON!"

Female student (timidly): "Cornelia Ndimurukundo, Ph.D. candidate, Université du Burundi, long molecule polymer chemistry."

Clinton (still bobbing in place, turns to revivified aide and accepts a thorough spritzing followed by a pat down): "It's wonderful to see an African woman studying science. Africa, the world, needs more women like you."

Ndimurukundo: "Thank you, Madame Secretary. Your trip to Africa, and indeed your travels around the world, are inspiring to disadvantaged women everywhere. We cannot help but notice that no matter how challenging your schedule is, no matter how intransigent your adversaries are, you never seem to have a single hair out of place. Would you, therefore, agree with the statement 'A little dab'll do ya'?"

(Clinton, suddenly berserk, mosh dives off the dais and lunges for Ndimurukundo. Several minutes pass before Secret Service agents are able pry the last of the Secretary's fingers from Ndimurukundu's throat.)

Clinton aide: "The Secretary has time for just one more question, which, I think, in all fairness, we should reserve for our gracious Kenyan hosts. Yes, you sir…"

Male student: "Hiten Muchiri, Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology. Ph.D. candidate in urban transportation. Your Excellency, Madame Secretary, our great capital, Nairobi, suffers from terrible traffic congestion. Some see this as a sign of our robust economy. Others see this as a failure, of Africa simply following the environmentally destructive path trodden by the West. In any case, I am very happy regarding your visit, but many of my fellow Kenyans felt that your presence, your motorcade, your moving about, did not warrant the closing of dozens of streets which prevented thousands of people from getting to work, and, in general, has been a nuisance. Can you explain to the average Kenyan, who, with all due respect, thought it was your husband who was visiting Nairobi and not yourself, why all this trouble was necessary?"

Clinton (pauses, stares daggers): "Yeah, I'll tell you why (expletive deleted). Because I'm (expletive deleted) worth it, that's why."

Clinton (storming off dais, to aide): "Okay, can we get the (expletive deleted) out of here? I need a touch up."

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