December 31, 2008

Another new year...

Peace and happiness in 2009.
Let us hope and pray for less meaningless violence in the world.

December 18, 2008

Africa 5: Africa = animals?

Not really. You need to look for them in national parks and reserves, at least in Maputo and Nairobi. We spotted these hippos in a lake at the Maputo reserve.

One of them came towards us and opened his mouth. Was he just saying hello?

Deer at the Nairobi national park

Signposts at the Nairobi national park

Impalas...same place


The striped beauties we were dying to spot

Baboons...walking around outside the park

Rescued baby elephants at the Sheldrake elephant orphanage

Playing around

Drinking water

Baboon on the footpath as we drove along the city roads

The giraffe center, where you can feed and touch the giraffes

Tara feeding a giraffe...we were warned that if you don't have food in your hands, the giraffes would butt you on the head...nothing to be afraid of; it was their way of asking for food!

Two Pumbas at the giraffe center

December 16, 2008

Africa 4: It is not fashionable to be Indian...

...even in Africa. It makes me sad to write this. But we faced discrimination twice on this trip. Once in Lilongwe, a country our plane landed in because of a problem. We did not choose to go to this place. When they told us that we would be put up at a hotel for the night, we queued up at the immigration counter. While European and American passports were stamped and the passengers boarded the bus to the hotel, Asians and Africans (about 20 of us) were asked to fill two forms, which they eventually did not use. What was very annoying and demeaning was that they took our passports, and made us wait for a few hours and then told us they would give them next day. We were extremely annoyed at the lack of proper information/communication, and alarmed that we would have to leave our passports behind.

What we did not know was that this was only the beginning of our troubles.

The next day, refreshed, we came back to the airport, only to realise that it was going to be a tension-filled, agonising wait for our precious passports. In a foreign land, that little book becomes your life...without it, you are nothing. We waited the whole morning, asking every official-looking person from the airport/Kenyan Airways again and again, but were only told that the passports "are coming".

It became more serious when we were told that our aircraft had been repaired and all other passengers began to board the plane. Without us. As they went past us (how could they?), we told them not to go away without us. Those were moments of anxiety. The officials continued to tell us, "The passports are coming."

Finally, the passports were given to us, almost 20 hours after they were taken. We then boarded the repaired plane. Someone nervously asked, "Has there been a test flight?" Another nervously replied, "No, they will test it on us!" The flight, luckily for us, landed safely in Maputo, and we clapped. And Tara and I shook the pilot's hand, and thanked him.

Kruger national park, South Africa: This was the other place where we faced discrimination. We were told that we would be given permission/visa to cross the border and go to Kruger national park in South Africa. But the moment they saw our Indian passports, the man a the counter shook his head...

Our friends Raman and Savitri stood up for us. For Indians. They said to the officials, "Gandhi has done so much for your country, yet you treat us like this. Europeans have only done injustice to you, yet you treat them with respect. This is very unfair." They said they were very sorry, but the rules said...

We had to turn back. But it felt great to have said something. We also told ourselves we should write to Nelson Mandela.

On the other hand, Mozambique was good to us. They were friendly, gave us a single-entry visa twice, without fuss. And so were the Kenyans, who have a no-nonsense visa-issuing system at the airport.

December 13, 2008

Africa 3: BluePencil is real!

I started BluePencil in 1993, when my daughter was born. She is now 15 years old, taller than me, sensitive and artistic. BluePencil too is 15 years old. It is therefore my child too. But an invisible one, whose height I cannot see clearly, whose growth I can perceive, but not measure.

BluePencil has been abstract, virtual. We have been, to many people, for many years, names in email messages. Vijay and I are its faces; I think I am its soul.

BluePencil is a quiet, peaceful work corner in our home, where the two of us are constantly on a mission that we are passionate about, that we try to give our best to. People walk in and out, and they tell us they love this corner. Our children do, too, and are often part of it.

In Maputo, which I reached after dodging the Mumbai terror, a stranded plane, and imaginary fears of being taken hostage by a foreign country---far far away from this warm corner---BluePencil became real for a brief 3 days.

It was a proud moment for me.

December 12, 2008

Africa 2: Maputo, where life moves in slow motion

Maputo is the capital of Mozambique, and is bordered by South Africa, Swaziland, Zimbabwe and Malawi. At first glance, Maputo is a lovely town... wide roads, ups and downs, beaches. But when you look closely, you find that the kachra-kundis on the main roads are overflowing, and public places are a picture of neglect and improper maintainance.

The Portuguese colonised Mozambique for over 500 years, and the country became independent only as recently as 1975. Portuguese is the official language and Ronga is the local language. The money is called Metical, with 1 USD being equal to about 25 Meticais, yes, stronger than the rupee.

View from our hotel window...couldn't this be Hyderabad?

The town hall

On weekends, on the beach road, young people make merry...they drink beer and dance to music from their cars. We later learnt that drinking has, of late, become a big problem with people in Mozambique. Apparently 75% of the people are addicted, and if they had limited money, they would rather spend it on a drink rather than on a meal.

Along the beach of a series of collages, apparently done by students of the art school.

The ferry is an institution, somewhat like the one in Goa (Portuguese influence?). We waited for 2 hours to get into this one. Cars, lorries, cattle and people park themselves on the ferry and it takes you across to the other side. This travel can take 4-5 hours! Life in slow motion! But people are calm and patient...I found myself very accommodative here. I am not, in Hyderabad!

It was great to see a place full of these beautiful people.

This one's a competition for our autos! These are called Hop-on, Hop-off, and take people on a city tour, where you hop-on, hop-off, of course!

We flipped for these beautiful crafts, Tara and I! Who wouldn't? They are out of this world. Fantastic craftsmanship, and loads of them everywhere. The pavement shop-wallahs are quite desperate to sell, and we used our Hyderabadi bargaining skills to get the right price!

...To be continued

December 11, 2008

Africa 1: Stranded in Lilongwe

I go to America, and the first internal flight I take from New Jersey to Dallas lands in Houston, because of bad weather. I set out on my very first journey to the African continent, and en route from Nairobi (Kenya) to Maputo (Mozambique) our plane develops a snag and lands in Lilongwe (Malawi)! My brother writes to me, "You seem to have a knack of getting into these adventures when you go overseas! What is the secret?" I don't know!

This was my first glance at Lilongwe, from the airport. The air looked clean and fresh and the trees looked very green. Actually, at that point, I was happy just to be alive!

Anyway, while the plane was being repaired, we had to stay overnight and were put up at a charming 5-star place called SunBird. From what little we saw of Lilongwe, the landscape looks very much like parts of India... sparse vegetation and flat land. The roads too are like those in India. During our 30-min drive from the airport to the hotel, we saw billboards which said things like "Stop corruption, develop Malawi", and "Stop Child abuse" and even a "This is a gun-free zone"! When I filled in the form at the hotel, there was one point I had to check out: It said, "In case of evacuation, do you need help?" Yes/No...what do you think I ticked?!

At SunBird, there was a party going on...lots of hip youngsters in stunning clothes began gathering, and they seemed to be waiting for someone. We were told that they were waiting for a local girl called Hazel, who had become a celebrity because she had participated in Big Brother...that irritating reality show (Shilpa Shetty fame)!

The next evening, after some more tension and delays because of visa problems, we flew to Maputo, Mozambique, in the repaired airplane. As we got off the plane at Maputo, Tara and I shook hands with the pilot and thanked him for doing a good job. We were truly grateful.

BTW, it is to participate in a conference that I am headed to Maputo. be continued

December 10, 2008