Africa gets in your blood

It was another afternoon around town, from a market we visited to get those beautiful quirky materials – chitenge, if I spell it right. It was hot, alright. The windows in the taxi were rolled down, and I let the wind mess with my hair. I wanted to take it all in, because I was supposed to be flying away soon.

 

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Me, being the cliche Mzungu. Also this one is actually a cub. 

“Africa gets in your blood” an old man said. He was sitting in the front, looking straight ahead. It was unusually quiet for a taxi ride in Zambia, but he must’ve noticed my sad smile. That’s all he really said to me, the most he addressed me. He didn’t really say goodbye when he got down, didn’t offer a comforting smile like most people would, didn’t even turn around to look at the girl he simply threw some wise words at.

 

Africa gets in your blood, it does. It doesn’t touch your soul or win you heart, oh no. That is what any other beautiful place would do. Africa, it becomes a part of you. Africa makes you cry sometimes, and it gives me an adrenaline rush almost everyday. You will stop in your tracks to look at the flowers in Africa, or you might just end up playing football with random kids. Oh, the high-fives you’ll get. You’ll probably end up with a ton of myths and legends, and even more soveniers, because each of them signifies everything that Africa is.

Hell, you’ll want to yell at Africa sometimes. What is even happening with their politics, and why are the people not on the streets already? But then you’ll see the mother who is only trying to feed her three children and get themselves through another day. And you’ll also see the Mzungu (like myself) trotting their privilege around. And just then, you’ll see all the warmth and the affection the locals will shower on you. They will ensure you don’t go hungry, or aren’t lost, or that some heckler isn’t ripping you off.

The sheer vibracy will send you trippin’. And the fools, the fools who generalise the cultures across countries, let alone the entire continent! Every day, you’ll hear a new language, come across new traditions, see from more perspectives. And just when you think you’ve seen it all, there’ll be more.

A few weeks isn’t enough to know Africa. A lifetime isn’t enough to even begin to understand Africa. Maybe the greatness of Africa lies in its ever so increasing complexity, the intertwining of so many intriguing and strange and even awfully normal things. Maybe, the beauty of Africa is never ever really understanding it. But I promise you, it’s worth it when you try.

And so, this Mzungu isn’t going to give up anytime soon. You’ve mesmerised me, Africa, you’ve gotten into my blood. You’re part of me. And everyday, I long for you.

Until I can have the privilege to emerse myself in you all over again, Africa.

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Help Get Christine a Home

Hello, everyone.

I spent my summer in Zambia, teaching in a community school. That’s where I met Christine. She is 20 years old, likes to draw, has tremendous amount of swag. She also has cognitive impairment due to birth complications and other childhood neglect. She has lived in poverty and despair most her life, and the doctor we took her to suspected child abuse in her past. She takes shelter with her ailing mother in an abandoned bar, and they struggle for having a meal

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We managed to get her admitted into a special needs school – which focuses on the intervention she needs and teaches her skills that will help her get some income and sustain herself in the future. She was finally happy, enjoying school, comfortable where she is.

However, I was told that the land owner has asked them both to evacuate. Christine is facing homelessness, which makes her vulnerable (both physically and emotionally). She also faces the risk of not being able to attend school anymore, which is perhaps the one hope for her future.

People back in Zambia and I are trying to find her some accommodation, and we need your help. The smallest gesture on your part could help us get Christine and her mother a roof over the head for that much longer, keep her in school, and secure her future.

Please click here to donate : https://milaap.org/fundraisers/getchristineahome

Do spread the word among your friends and family, and please do not hesitate to get back to me for any questions.

Your help means the world to us.

Edit: All the money will directly go towards their rent. More the donation, the longer we can hope to keep her in school.

Lessons from Africa

It’s been months since I’ve left the red African soil (thanks for ruining half my wardrobe, by the way) and I’m still not over it. Every single time someone asks me about my trip, or I see a feature on TV, or when I hear the President Lungu talk – God, do I detest him – I go right back to those five weeks.

It wasn’t just my first time travelling to Africa, it was my first time travelling alone. And when your tickets are messed up, your vaccinations are a tad bit delayed, your visa situation is tricky, you are jittery. But God bless Kenya Airlines and their crew, because they were the best I’ve encountered. A lady schooled a guy all up in my personal space (reminder – my shoulders are not your head rest) and this other guy from the crew and I had a legit conversation at the very back of the plane at about 5:30 am in the morning. Because why the hell not?

And that was my first impression of Africa, before I even landed in Africa. Warm, friendly, genuine, brave, strong. So many adjectives in my mind, I got down to collect my bags. Guess what? They lost my bags. The airline freaking lost my bags. Losing my cool and almost crying, I went to a kind man named Martin. Martin, I will never forget you for helping a shaking, scared me in getting her bags back. Also to the old man who gave me his email ID while aggressively flirting, there’s one finger I have designated for you.

And so it happened. I saw how Nairobi’s traffic is slow but nobody bothers honking. People overtake, and the others let them. There is some rush to get places, but then again, most drivers are chill. They just wait for cars to move and reach whenever they do. The security about the airport in Kenya bothered me – I kid you not, we don’t have that kind of security even in our vulnerable, conflict zones. To think that terror is the one battle we all fight, it makes you wonder how ridiculous it is to spread hate on lines of race and religion. And that applies to every aspect – to the girl who pulled her skirt a little while walking down the road, to the school kids who were crammed in a long bus ride, to the beggar on the street. We all have the exact same battles, and yet we choose to deny it.

With these thoughts in my head, I landed in Zambia. No customs, basic immigration formality, and I was out. Rebeccah, who is one of my favourite people on the planet right now, was waiting for me. And she hugged me, she hugged me tight. Finally, I knew there was someone I told rely on in this foreign land. I knew a person, and her smile was genuine. She cared, and it made me feel safe for the first time in two days.

In just a few hours of reaching my new home, Sunbird, I realised how wrong I was to assume it would be just one person I could rely on. My fellow Mzungus payed for me because I had no forex, and the staff was quick to show me around and make me feel at home. I could rely on our house moms to get me blankets and warm water at 2 am when I had a malaria scare, and I could depend on people who worked around to get a bug off my freaking mosquito net. I could rely on the children who escorted me to my placement when I was lost. I could depend on a nice taxi driver who spotted me, sobbing on the street, and took me home and offered comforting words. I could trust the Shoprite security guard to stand with me while I waited for a taxi.

But most of all, I began to trust myself. I had more faith in my instincts and intuition more than ever. And for the first time in my life, I stroke conversation with complete strangers in a village, and had some locally brewed beer – hated it, but no regrets. I jumped off a bridge between Zambia and Zimbabwe, and totally accepted that I could perhaps die of a cheetah attack or an infection as the aftermath. I am glad neither of it happened, but I when that cheetah had grabbed me, I had come to terms with death and a possible feature on TV. It did teach me, however, to respect the wild and to never, ever, undermine the strength of an animal. However seemingly docile that little cheetah cub was, her jaw was inches away from my neck and claws inside my skin.

On my second day there, Kennedy – Rebeccah’s husband and the most patient person I know – told us about Africa time. Everything happened on a relative time. The clock there is just for the sake of us Mzungus, he said, but everything in Africa happens when it happens. And so it did. The school didn’t follow a timetable, the taxi drivers were almost never on time, the immigration office didn’t really care about deadlines. And it irritated me, but for a short while. Because then, I got swept into the concept of time being relative. I began prioritising having breakfast and high fiving random kids over reach the school on time. I began to learn to be and just let be – except when it came to food, I needed my food to be on time. But the point was that even though I take pride in being punctual, this new philosophy made sense in a strange manner. To live life in the moment and not as slaves of two wands on a round glass with numbers on it. It made perfect sense, and I began to embrace it. I was happy.

This one part, I cannot generalise, but I do vouch it to be true for Livingstone. People are so much more liberal than one would assume. The teachers in my school and I had a talk and they were all about safe sex before marriage, they had no shame in talking about HIV prevention. Hell, if I had been drinking and kissing on the streets in Mumbai, I would’ve been arrested. Not there, not in Livingstone. Bar hoping with my hunter’s gold in my hand was the weekend routine, and I appreciated the freedom.

However, it wasn’t all fun and games that I learned things through. For a country with so many people being politically aware, they could do nothing to stop Lungu from being re-elected. That doesn’t speak for the failure of democracy only in Zambia, but across the world. It might be more subtle in our countries, but if we look closely, democratic spaces are fast shrinking. What is left is an illusion, a false sense of control, which people in Zambia never felt they had.

Although I felt safe for most of my trips to and from town, there were also times when my hand would be grabbed, I would be pulled by my waist. I have never experienced such violent street harassment, and what made it worse was that there were no measures to protect women. Granted that locals claimed it happened way more with Mzungu women than Zambian women (apparently we’re exotic), the fact that someone can grab, grope and try to force a kiss on me is scary beyond measure when I know the law and the social construct is not by my side.

It’s easy to forget the privilege that we have, that our forefathers fought for, the causes youth comes on the street when your rights aren’t violated. The truth is, most humans face aggression in multiple ways, but we refuse to acknowledge them. Perhaps because we’re normalised, perhaps because we’re blinded. Going to other cultures, other countries forces you to revisit your entire life and principles, and you become so much aware of the situation we are in, as humans. That some people do have some privilege, and others face hardships based on their sex, their gender, their race, their religion, their beliefs. Witnessing violations as a foreigner in a completely different context than we’re normalised to makes it more glaringly obvious.

Africa reminds me of the human roots – both angelic and demonic. It’s such a diverse continent, and I haven’t seen much of it. I would be stupid and ignorant to generalise things, I know. There’s much to see and learn from this continent, the continent I plan to move to (honestly, I would if I could). But man, is it exquisite, that place. They are so rich, in resources, in reason, in wisdom, in hope, in energy. There is so much to learn, so much to understand. An entire lifetime isn’t enough to even begin and appreciate the continent, but that wouldn’t be stopping me.

On that note, I would be happy if someone is willing to fund my next trip – ideally to Zambia, Botswana, Namibia, Tanzania, Malawi and Kenya. Thank you.

What they write books about

Drunken mess, a broken bottle. Ciders and vodka, some gin and some sprite. Music I don’t understand but groove to clumsily. Him sitting next to me, looking at me so intently.

“I really, really like you. You’re so beautiful, and so crazy.” he says to me and I smile. I had seen this coming, and I hadn’t held back. I had decided to trust this one, and go out alone with him when nobody else would that night. It was Fez Bar Friday, and the tradition had to be honoured. It was more than that, though. I wanted to spend some time with him, getting drunk. For once, I trusted someone enough to let my guard down.

He kissed me on the cheek, and I smiled. It felt good, warm. Not pushy, not demanding. Just a safe show of affection. I look into his eyes and then place my head on his shoulder, as I had loved to do often. His arms around me, talking about things. Things I don’t quite remember, things I do remember well. Things not so important, things about other boys, things about politics. And then, he wants something.

We step out of the bar, and cross the streets towards the stores. It’s probably past midnight, but probably not. I don’t know. But I was cold, and had my hand in his, trying not to shiver. We walk and then I turn around to him. He looks down, and I look him in the eyes. It was the empty streets and the stars that witnessed magic that night. I, for one, am glad only the two of us will ever get to tell the tale.

And there we went, so attached to each other, so aware of impending doom. We knew it was a bubble we were living in, it would burst come next week. Because the sparks of today would turn into fire tomorrow, and it would turn us into ash. But in those few days, nothing mattered, not even the inevitable end.

So we had what others call a fling. So special for me, and I would imagine for him. A story of two people, never meant to be together, but inseparable at the same time. This is what, I thought to myself while staring into the sky, people write books about.

 

Less than 24 hours

This time tomorrow, I’ll be at Johannesburg. Time flies by.

I’m not yet ready to leave, and the feeling hasn’t hit me yet. I threw a small party for my kids at school and got them treats, and danced with those toddlers. I hugged them and took about 100 selfies with everyone, because why not?

I met Christine and saw her in her school uniform, so excited to finally be able to learn.                                    Her mother started crying to me, and told me “You’re like God to me.” I didn’t know how to respond back, so I just hugged her, and told her to take care of herself. And then, I took photos with them, just so I remember them forever. Christine danced her heart out today, which was phenomenal. I’ve never seen anyone be so happy, never.

We had burgers for lunch, which were humongous. And now, after getting gelato, I’m at Kubu’s. Just like any other day, I’m here and ready to go to Fez. But I forget, this is the last of everything. Last of paying 5 kwacha for a taxi ride .Last of riding past Limpos which is a pub, grill and a car wash. Last of listening to “Do it like I do” everywhere I go. Last of seeing the presidential electoral rallies and campaigns. Last of having kids wave at us and gleaming with joy when they see Mzungus wave back.

Last of Zambia.

I thought I was here to teach kids and take care of them, and I reckon I did a decent enough job. But here is the time to be cliche. I’ve learned so much more from the kids than I could teach them. I learned to be loving and to show affection, to be free yet gentle, to be fiercly loyal to friends, to be flexible and adaptive to people, to be content with what I have and still share my favorite things. And oh, the people. The world needs to learn how to be humble and welcoming from Zambians.

 

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What am I going to do without (kinda/ trying to) playing football with these kids every day?

 

Oh Zambia, you will be missed. I am hoping to come back to you, one day. One day I will see Sarah, Christine, Mark, Rhoda, Kennedy and Dennis again. One day, we will meet and form a bond even deeper, even stronger than the one we have now.

Till then, Tionana

Stars, secrets and safaris

There’s some things I wish I could put on the internet. Those poetic, perfect little moments that are milestones in my life, the things I will cherish forever. Those things I will be nostalgic about, those bitter-sweet butterflies in my stomach. But not everything is meant to go according to my will, and for the sake of others, those will remain secret with me.

In other news, since the Indian Passport is so weak and we don’t get visa on arrival for most countries, I couldn’t go to Botswana with the others. It kind of sucked, but being the stubborn little bitch that I am, I decided to spend a lot more money and go to Kafue National Park. Do I regret it? Maybe a little bit. But it was beautiful. We were the only ones in a 2000 sq km area, which is saying something. I stayed in a chalet next to a massive waterhole and went to sleep to the roaring of lions. It was terrifying, but now I feel like I would do it again. Being alone at the fire, staring at the brilliant stars in solitude. I could get used to it.

 

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That was the view from my room

 

We got to see some animals, but since the grass was so tall, the pictures weren’t all that perfect. It was amazing, nevertheless, to go on a game drive alone and not in the midst of tourists. It felt like an experience most people never have, just being with wildlife. Almost dangerous, sometimes frustrating, but definitely worth it.

 

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Some random antelope not liking me 

 

After all the game drives and a long, long drive back home, I did nothing special throughout the week. Tuesday was the day I got my visa extended, and today I went to school again. The kids were absolute monsters (I’m sorry, but they really were). My hair my pulled at and vaseline was applied to it, some kid almost kicked me, another did pinch me because I was trying to get her to stop choking a toddler. They were a mess, and I hated life. But guess what? I’m out of there now, and I just had fries. Life seems normal-ish again, something I can handle.

Meh, that’s about it. Apart from me dreading going home again, nothing special. Damn, someone just freeze time for me. Thank you.

Christine

Most my week was spent with Christine, and it worked. We got her into a special school, and she’s going to be funded by the school itself. We got it done.

The actual process itself was tedious. Government hospitals in Zambia are a lot like those back home – least amount of facilities, lazy staff, crazy levels of bureaucracy. This particular Doctor named Gongo absolutely refused to work, no matter how much I tried to explain to him the desperate situation we were in. The psychiatric department had no facilities, the doctors there had no electricity in their cabins. There is little understanding of mental health within the medical community, so much so that they don’t even have a psychologist.

Nevertheless, we got it done. Some kind beings did help us, and I’m not ashamed to admit that I used my mzungu privilege to get some things moving faster than they would have. We didn’t have lunch and went around the entire place around half a dozen times, but we got it done. And now, Christine is going to be in a place where she will learn to sustain herself.

What we did find out in the hospital, though, shocked me. Her father died of HIV/ AIDS, her mother is suffering from HIV, and so is Christine. Her mother doesn’t look in a good shape, which made this intervention even more important than before. Without her mother or siblings, she wouldn’t be able to survive. Also, another doctor added that he suspected child abuse in her case. Her mother had sent her away to some relatives, who may have forced her into child labour and neglected her upbringing. Just the (unfortunately) usual story that millions of children share. But her fate is not going to be the same. She is going to have a life of dignity, I need to make sure of that.

The entire thing made me content. I didn’t waste my time here, and I did manage to make a small change in someone’s life. But at the same time, it makes me very sad. That she didn’t get help when she should have, and all of this wouldn’t be necessary. If she had gotten intervention, if there had been proper medical help during birth, if she wasn’t abused as a young girl. There’s so many things to fix in this world, and so little time. Christine is just one human I could reach out to, but I see ten more little kids who are in desperate need of a helping hand.

This post isn’t to brag (although I am proud I got it done, it’s not something that should be bragged about). This is just post where I think out loud. The entire ordeal made me think and stay awake on nights, wondering about a lot of things. It made me think about fate and faith, about healthcare systems and human rights. This is just a short insight into what went about in my head.