Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Hakuna Matata! The Africa Diaries Part 4

Previous posts in The Africa Diaries

Hakuna Matata! The Africa Diaries Part 3
Hakuna Matata! The Africa Diares Part 2
Hakuna Matata! The Africa Diaries Part 1

This post is going to be about 2 hours that I spent in the middle of the Indian Ocean. Operative word being 'in'.

The brave hearts amongst you will shrug their shoulders and move on wondering what the halla is all about but for (what can only be described as a )phuddu like me- it was an experience of a life time.

We  The others decided to snorkel. I merely shrugged my shoulders and politely informed everyone that while I will not stop any one from willingly offering themselves to the dangers that lurked in the murky waters of the ocean, I for one, won't touch it with  a barge pole.

Sid tried to convince me but I shook my head. That special, decisive shake of my head that says that 'No, pati, this is final. I shall not budge'

We would need to get on a boat that would speed into the Indian ocean for a good 30 minutes before we would anchor and get out to snorkel.

That thought alone freaked me out.

Sorry. Not me.

The others were pretty excited. and as we waited for the staff of the resort to sort things for our little adventure, I could feel their excitement rub off on me.

'So do you swim?' asked one of the members of the staff.

I shrugged my shoulders thinking of my swimming lessons from Sid and the flirty Aussie.
'I can swim from here to there' I said indicating a distance of about 20 feet. I still don't know how to breathe while swimming and this is pretty much all the distance I can cover before I begin to splutter for air.
The man thought for a minute.

'Not good' he said.

'So I can't snorkel?' I asked.

'No,' he said ' we wont risk it, after all it is the middle of the ocean'

I was surprised. Not because of what the man had just said (obviously it made sense) but because of the pang of disappointment that rushed through me. Wait a second, did I want to do this?

As others picked fins their size (and I never thought I would say this) I sat still.

'Go get the snorkeling equipment, the fins are kept in the bay' said Sid walking upto me.

'No, there is no point'


'That man says I cant do this' I said referring to the fact that I cannot swim.

Sid paused for a minute and said one of those things that I am sure meant something very non-profound in his head but came out sounding all deep. The second part of his comment murdered it with bare hands though.

'No one can tell you what you can or cannot do.' he said as I stared at him transfixed,  'Go get your fins now'

So I 'got my fins', just in case.

We piled onto the boat and before long were speeding into oblivion. The four of us climbed to the top of the boat. The Sun was shinning, the wind played its wild game with our hair and the only color I could see around me was blue. As the rest of my gang chatted away and clicked pictures I busied myself in doing what I do best. Striking up conversations with strangers.
The picture below  was taken by Sid (I did not know he was clicking me, of course).

The man, I forget his name now, was a fisherman before he took the job on our resort.

'So you ever feel afraid of the sea?' I asked him pointing to the expanse of blue ahead of me.

'Do you ever feel afraid of your home, Madam?' he asked me smiling.

'The sea is your home?' I asked charmed by his response.

'I was born in it. I live in it and one day, I will die in it...' he said quietly. I have no doubt he meant every word of what he was saying to me.

(Please note, it is the wind billowing my maxi dress. I am NOT this fat!)

Soon the boat stopped and dropped anchor. The waters, we were told were not too deep here- a mere 6-7 metres.

More than enough for me to drown in, I thought ruefully to myself.

In the meanwhile, Asan, the man who had been steering the boat, smiled broadly at us before leaping into the waters with a piece of bread in his hands. A little later, as the four of us gathered around the glass bottom of the boat, he appeared directly beneath it, the piece of bread in his mouth. In front of our astounded eyes , within seconds, tens and hundreds of fishes had congregated around Asan's mouth keen to get a share of the bread.

(The fishes feeding out of Asan's mouth. This picture gives you an idea of how things looked underwater...a lot like this but just more surreal, more mystical, more blue)
I admired the ease with which Asan had galloped into the waters. I admired how at home he was with fishes feeding out of his mouth. Ofcourse, I did not know it then but in a mere 2 days, I would have a fully grown giraffe eating out of mine. Like I say very often in this series, more on that later :)

Snorkeling was not going to be dangerous. The waters were fairly calm, the weather was great, Asan would with us all the time, we would be wearing life jackets and there would be the air tyre to cling to.

'Wanna come?' asked Sid right before he hopped into the water.

'No' I said shaking my head. It was a bit too much for me.

The other three began to snorkel and would pop back up every now and then , mumbling excitedly about how absolutely fantastic everything was under water. Sure that I would not go in, I found myself leaning over the edge of the boat taking every detail in. The way the water lapped gently. The sun rays falling on the waves. My excited husband.

(Asan and Sid)

I was engrossed in the sea when a gentle hand tapped me on my shoulder. The ex fisherman I had been chatting with earlier was standing there with a bright orange life jacket in his hands.

I smiled at him.

'You think I am leaning over too much and will topple over?' I asked eyeing the life jacket.

'No Madam' he said smiling ' I know it when someone the ocean calls out to someone'

 I grinned at him and shook my head.

'No, you are wrong' I said.

The man was silent for a second.

'Madam' he said quietly in a thick accent 'I never insist that tourists do this. But to you I will. You will not know what you have will change some part of you forever'

There was something about the way he said those last words...something about his voice or words that something in me told me to trust.

Without another word (and i am not exaggerating here) I put on the jacket and after listening to instructions that he rattled off one last time, I put faith in someone, something, let my fears flow by me and let go of the ladder that led into the sea.

(That's me about to let go of the ladder. The arms in the picture belong to the ex fisherman who was standing right there his careful eye on me all the while)

In what can best be described as a surreal moment, I realised with a start that I was in the middle of the Indian Ocean.

Okay, not literally, but you get the emotion.

And now I come to the most difficult part of this post. To describe to you the experience itself. It was not about snorkeling. I have snorkeled in Maldives where the water is clearer and the fishes brightly coloured. No, that was too perfect to be real.

Below the waters, a completely different world awaited me. It was almost as if someone had played a magic trick and transported me somewhere else. The waters were dark and deep. Subtle drama emanated from the dark, melancholy of the blue which was broken only by the weird shapes and colours of the coral on the floor of the sea far beneath us.

The fishes (mostly with white stripes and the occasional bright coloured one) roamed around us freely and fed from the piece of bread I carried underwater. I brought my hand closer to me and the fishes automatically drew closer to me. I was in their magical land.

Because I had the mask and breathing tube on, it was almost as if I was in a cacoon exploring another world. There were silence around me and in me. And there was magic, around me and in me.

After some time, I realised that I was muttering aloud to myself, my own voice reverberating and echoing inside the mask.
'Oh my gosh, this is so beautiful' I was saying repeatedly to myself, my hands moving in the water trying to grab the fishes.

A little later Sid joined me and we swam in the waters together communicating with gestures, pointing out to each other the odd shaped/colored fish or the extra green of funny shaped coral. It was not just spectacular, it was mind blowing.

I was the last one to go into the waters but i was also the last one to come out of the water.
(The pic shows Asan and I. I had just begun my snorkeling session)

'Was it good?' asked the ex fisherman as he offered me his hand and pulled me back into the boat.

'It changed some part of me' I said to him.

The man smiled but said nothing. Because he knew that I meant every word.

Back again at our favourite spot ( the top of the boat), the others chatted excitedly about the experience; I remained silent. The others lunched on fruits, I did not even even look at the food. Something had changed. And I wanted to hang on to what had just happened.

Even as I wrapped a towel around myself, my body aching, and stared at the waves gently bumping along the way, I knew this was not an adventure that i would gush about later to friends. In fact I have hardly spoken about it to anyone except for Mum, Dad and Sid. It was far more complex, far more complicated...

 I came out of the water feeling the calmest I have ever known myself to feel.  I had known for sure that a) I would not even attempt it b) even if i did, i would probably make a fool of myself and panic c) what's the big deal anyway? its just fishes in water, is not it?

The feeling of tranquility that descended on me the moment I submerged myself in the water was mystical. Others panicked a little bit but I took to the waters like I was born in it. I felt at home. At ease. At peace.

I was calm and wondrous and happy and wide eyed. That little time in the sea told me that there were many things I thought I could not do but I you know what, I can! That little time in the sea also told me that because of my own fears I might have missed out on so many many adventures that could have changed me and moulded me into a different person.

And most of all, and this bit really does not make sense, the little time in the sea told that  it would all be okay.

Thank you, the blue and the  black and the mystical and the magical of the Indian Ocean in Mombasa. A very heartfelt thank you.


PS: I know I am a day late. Sorry!

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Hakuna Matata! The Africa Diaries Part 3

I don't do water.

And certainly not the sea.

This began to change when I visited Lanzarote, Canary Islands in February this year for my birthday and Sid patiently spent hours in the shallow pool reteaching (if that is even a word) me how to swim. I got extra help from a very flirty Aussie swimmer who spent close to an hour 'helping me learn to walk the water, mate'


Coming to Mombasa.

We checked into the Serena Beach Resort and Spa. Leaving the boys to figure out the technicalities, S and I automatically gravitated towards the rich blue that we could see in a distance. A quick detour to the acqua marine of the pool surrounded by the lush green coconut trees that swayed gently in the breeze coming in from the Indian Ocean and we were smitten.

We spent less than 10 minutes in our rooms, long enough to change into swim suits and headed to the beach which we chose in favour of the more docile swimming pool (which was 'infested' with rowdy young boys at that moment anyway).

The gorgeous lush resort opened into the beach.

I breathed deep as I took in the sight of the beach.

White sand.
Bright Sun.
Coconut trees that whistled and whispered in the strong breeze
Clear waters.
Gentle waves.
Atrocious amounts of sea weed that oddly enough added a lot of character to the sight that met my eyes
A quaint yet brightly coloured masai boat anchored in a distance, a quiet reminder of who this beautiful land belonged to

Scared of water, I typically just go in ankle deep even when the waters are clear (yes, you read it right, ankle deep!) but there was something about this stretch of sea that seemed to simply call out to me. The clouds gathered and it became darker but I soldiered on and before I knew it I was a good 15-20 feet away from the beach! When I looked back and saw that the beach was so far I absolutely panicked, but that is another story all together and we are not going to go there.

The boys swam and hollered around and I gingerely picked out slimy weed from the sea, my nose wrinkled in disapproval that amused my husband no end. So there is yours truly having quite the moment, mesmerised by the ebb and flow of the waters around me when something would just slither past my legs. Not screaming with diffculty I would reach out and pull some more weed. That is when it was time to crinkle my nose and throw the weed away. In the sea.
So, yeah, it did not help much.

So there I was doing my thing, happy and content. Sid and B were far ahead into the sea hopefully swimming when I first spotted him.

With one hand dangling beside him and the other lightly on the sail, the contraption effortlessly in his control, he skimmed the waters with style.

Mombasa's own James bond.

Or Ronney as we would later find out. Crusing the waves like a pro. Ronney, the wind surfing instructer who offered a 45 minute course for less than two pounds. An hour later I was on the surfing board taking lessons from him.

'You' he said pointing to me ' seem to have a good body'
'I am sorry' I said indignantly settling my swimsuit as demurely as you can in the middle of the sea.
'Good wind surfer's body' he said.
'Aah, that ways' I said feeling kinder towards him.

And with that, feeling quite confident, I hopped onto the surfing board like a pro. Then proceeded to fall at the rate of about 30 falls per minute. I am not exaggerating. Okay, maybe a little bit. Suffice to say that I fell quite a lot. Ronney explained to the me the mechanics of the waves and the science behind the winds.

'Become the water ' he said passionately to me.

'Become the board' he said equally passionately a little later.

'Become Ronney' he then said dramatically pointing to himself as I tethered dangerously on the board unable to control the sails. The moment I heard him ask me to become him I guffawed uncontrollably, lost the little balance that I had and the entire contraption fell on me.

I carried on my right thigh a HUGE red mark for days afterwards.

Roney's conclusion, when we ended our session was that I have very good balance ( he told me I could dance on the board) but little strength.

'You eat too much rice' Roney said accusingly as I tried to looked ashamed of my rice eating self.
'Try eating more keri keri' he added helpfully.
'Keri keri?' I repeated.
'Yes, keri keri'
'Okay, keri keri' I said not daring to find out what keri keri was.

After my session ended, it was time for another first. My first fresh coconut. Okay, I have spent all my life in northern India. Coconuts don't grow there, so all you 'I gew up on coconut' freaks do not get all superior because my first fresh coconut experience was indeed quite special.

I sat crosselgged in the Indian Ocean, tired and exhausted from Ronney's wind surfing lesson and drank fresh coconut juice as the waves lapped around me.

It was during a lavish twenty course dinner at the resort later that night that I first spotted him. Blonde hair, blue eyes and the cutest smile I had ever seen...*swoon* but more on him in Friday's post.

After dinner, the four of us ambled along to our rooms walking past the multiple pools that the resort boasted of. Deciding to take a detour we found ourselves sitting on sun beds under the coconut trees beside one of the many pools, the muted  sounds of the sea reaching us in gentle rustles. (I worried all the while that a coconut from the trees around us would *ploink* fall on our heads, it was so windy after all)

'The stars' I said to Sid dreamily looking at the clear sky and pulling my jacket tighter around me ' Pretty stars! what are your names!'
A minute later, Sid had fished out his phone, directed it towards the sky, opened some app and began to rattle off names of stars that I obviously wanted to know.

However, I got pretty excited when the app told us that though we did not know it, we were actually looking at Saturn.

That is how the day ended. With Sid and me trying to figure out which of the million stars that twinkled back at us was Saturn.
I was content and already in love with Mombasa. What I did not know was that the next day would bring withitself the single most incredible experience of my life. An experience that would teach me so much about myself.  More about that on Tuesday



Hakuna Matata,

PS: I am trying to post on Tuesdays and Fridays. See you on Friday. Or Tuesday ;)


Friday, June 14, 2013

Hakuna Matata! The Africa Diaries- Part 2

Such is life

Previous Posts in 'The Africa series' :Hakuna Matata! The Africa Diaries- Part 1

We had heard horror stories about Kenya before we left London. The usual warnings included things like:
-Do not even think of stepping out at night
-Women get raped
-Do not stop your car at a red light. It is just not safe
-Locals make life miserable for tourists

The wise nurse from the Medical Centre who had given me the three jabs had spent an hour with us explaining how:
-African mosquitos can kill you. ( Me (proudly): I have had malaria in India, She: African malaria can kill in 24 hours. That kind of shut me up!)
-Flies can be very dangerous (Me: I know flies. there are many of them in India. *Glare from wise nurse*) 

With the warnings sounding in my head, I gingerly stepped onto the tarmac at the Kenyatta International Airport at 9 in the night, not too sure of what to expect.

As we (Sid and I were travelling with another couple, lets call them B & S) made our way to the immigration counter, S remarked in a matter of fact ' of-course-you-know-this' voice ' You do know that Indians are specifically targeted in Kenya.'

 I gulped. Right. Good to know that now that I am in Kenya. 

The four of us were met by the hotel staff. Pleasant, friendly and warm. 

Dazed from our nine hour flight, we all seemed to wake up as the car (which did not, I noted, stop at any red light) sped into the city. Nothing excites expats more than going to a third country and seeing bits and bobs of your own. So there was Mahindra, Tata, Airtel, Sameer Shopping plaza etc etc. The four of us excitedly pointed out all of this to one another. In the night, Nairobi seemed like any other city in India, chaotic and hot yet familiar in its own way.

Once we reached the hotel, we all got very excited when we noted that the uber polite hotel staff would not even let us press the call button for the lift! What luxury!

By mid night, tired, excited and maybe a little apprehensive of what the next few days had in store for us, we crashed in for the night. There was, we knew, a lot of travelling to do the next day.

The next morning, happy after a huge and lavish breakfast in the shaded gardens of the hotel ( the menu included Dhokla as well!) ,  I chatted with the guard of the hotel as Sid checked out.  The guard was 6'5 tall and I got a few pictures clicked with him as we chatted. He told me that he had one wife and three kids, 2 boys and a girl (his words not mine). While the man was remarkably tall, his wife, as he told me, is short.
As luck would have it, the sons take after their mother  and are short and his daughter at 16 years of age is already 5'11.


Such is life.

Amongst the things we were warned about was the traffic in Nairobi. The hotel staff too told us grand tales of how horrible the traffic could be and recommended that we leave well in adavance for the domestic airport to catch our 45 minute flight to Mombasa. It could take us, they said, two hours if the traffic was bad.

 As luck would have it, traffic was not bad.

We reached the airport in 35 minutes flat and spent four LONG hours waiting at the tiniest airport I have ever been in, for a flight that ended up getting delayed and delayed!

Once in the plane, and munching on Macademia nuts, I settled into my window seat. I always get a window seat because of two reasons:
1)      I love to see how the world looks like from the skies
2)      The clouds never cease to fascinate

I read through Dan Brown’s ‘Inferno’ as the landscape below me changed from the red of the Tsavo National Park to the lush green of Mombasa where the sun, the beach and a air conditioned taxi were waiting for us :)

As the taxi sped, I took in the salty smell of the sea I knew was not far from us and realised with  a mental whoop of joy that our Africa holiday had now truly begun!

Before the day would end, I would have learnt my first water sports, injured myself and made friends with a parrot.

More on that in the third part of 'The Africa Diaries'

Hakuna Matata,



Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Hakuna Matata, the Africa Diaries

First things first.
Africa is not a country. It is a continent. I do not understand why people say things like ' I would love to go to Greece, France, Africa...' It gets on my nerves each time this happens. I am quite the puritan when it comes to countries and continents. For me, a country is a country and a continent is a continent, just as an apple is an apple and a coconut is a coconut!

*R, breathe easy, do not get carried away*

Any way.

So Africa (as a continent) has been on my list of places to travel to for the longest time eveeerrrr. I have been to Morocco but it is more Arabian/ Indian really than African and I wanted to visit the real Africa.

Since i do not talk about work (either mine or Sid's) here, lets just suffice to say that thanks to Sid being Rocket Singh of the year (second year in a row, *proud smile*) the company decided to send us to Kenya. And since we were going to sit in a plane for 9 hours anyway, we decided to extend the trip.

After multiple rounds of planning, cancelling, re planning and re cancelling, we finally zeroed in on our plan. The trip was consist of 4 days in Mombasa and another 4 in Masai Mara.  In the meanwhile, other things had to be taken care of.

Injections. Jabs. Tablets. Injections.

Yes, you get the picture, mainly injections.

All in all, i visited the medical centre twice and got punctured thrice(Don't worry darling, said the wise nurse when i expressed concerns about being given two jabs one after the other, I can give you 8 injections without any issue) Both times I got appointments on Tuesdays which resulted in sore arms which in turn resulted in missed dance classes. Aaaarrgghhh.

At the end of it all, I had the yellow fever, Hep A ( its the hip 'n happening way of saying Hepatitis A) and DPT (Diphtheria, Polio Tetanus) jabs in case you are interested in the details.
And malaria tablets that I was told to take for 14 days.

As the day of our departure grew closer (and it became increasingly difficult to make me sit still~)the usual drama that precedes a long-ish holiday began. There was a lot of office work, Sid was travelling till Thursday ( we were flying out on Saturday morning ),  I wanted to feed home baked cakes to everyone in this world and beyond, packing, last minute shopping....the madness.

Friday evening my entire house was strewn with our clothes. Errmmm,....ok, my clothes.The kitchen was dirty, the house was a mess, there was no food and i was dead tired from the last couple of days at work which had been quite busy.

Working like a woman possessed, I got everything in order. My luggage was packed and locked before i went to bed. Of course, at 6:45 am the morning of Saturday, with our airport transfer cab due at 7:10, Sid politely informed me that I had used the wrong suitcase. Out came everything and it ended up being the usual mad dash towards the end.

I did not know it then, but the next ten days were going to be the most incredible few days of my life so far. I am back in London now, no longer the fair-ish girl that boarded the BA flight to Nairobi but a dusky, tanned girl who wears a bracelet with Kenya colours on it and a HUGE round, red/ black mark on her leg.

Keep watching this space for 'The Africa Diaries'

Hakuna Matata,